Friday, February 23, 2007

Marriage of convenience in China

A piece this morning from the Washington Post talks of young Chinese gays and lesbians entering into marriages of convenience in order to please their parents by conforming to the status quo... I can't imagine how rough it must be to have to create and maintain an imaginary life because family pressure is so intense.

Stick with me - I'm going to take a detour but it all ties back in together: A quick look at Guilford County rates of HIV/AIDS infection will show you that black men are currently the highest risk group, by which I mean that the infection rate is growing more rapidly for black men than any other group. You would also see that while many of them contracted the virus through hetero- and homosexual contact, there's a huge percentage under the category of "risk not specified."

I asked a woman at the Guilford County Health Department about that late last year and she said that the stigma around homosexuality in the black community is so intense, that many men will say they don't know their risky activities and/or will say they are hetero then later admit to having sex with men. Maybe it's along the lines of the (maybe defunct - I researched this five years ago) belief held by some Latin American countries that only the bottom is gay.

Either way, these men seem to feel that they can't admit their homosexual desires because they feel intense pressure to conform... like the Chinese in marriages of convenience(see, it all comes full circle).

It seems to me that the fear surrounding gay men, in America at least, comes in great part from some socially ingrained discomfort with the gay sex act itself (though I'm guessing one can find people spending millions on male on female anal porn in dirty bookstores and Web sites across America) and with the GLBT community as a whole because we have a tendency to fear what we don't know.

When Rob and I were in our maybe-friends/maybe-dating phase, I took him to a party a friend of mine was throwing in which there were 40 or more gay men, a handful of lesbians and us. I didn't know Rob all that well at the time and was a little nervous about taking a straight guy to such a soirée. Of course, one of my friends gave him a hug that lasting quite a bit longer than the average hetero guy hug, probably as a little test, and Rob was neither uncomfortable nor did he somehow catch a gay germ and start liking guys.

It seems silly to have to say that but given the tv shows and commercials that show straight men becoming physically ill upon contact with anything even vaguely homosexual, it apparently bears saying. Regardless of what Haggard and the rest of the "formerly gay" say, people are born with their sexual orientation - unfortunately, stigma still forces some people to deny and repress their natural attractions.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Writing thank-you notes to Congress

I just penned a letter I never imagined I would write: a thank you note to Howard Coble. I write Howie all the time to complain so it only seemed fair to write and thank him for voting in support of the non-binding resolution on Iraq. I considered sending a $5 check with my note - meant to be a statement about how money-driven DC is but also kind of funny and kind of a jab since it's only $5... but with all the campaign finance laws, it was bound to cause more trouble than it was worth.

By the way, Walter Jones was the only other NC Republicans who broke party line to vote with their conscience. Way to go Walt!

I'm heading to DC this weekend as a representative of our local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, along with my friend/colleague/employer Tamara McLendon. NAWBO has teased us with offers to set up meetings with our representatives but as of yet, we're not sure who... what we are sure of is that small business issues will be only a piece of the conversation.

Barring the Internet closing for the weekend, I'll blog along the way.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The government needs a calculator

In my ongoing inability to say no to any odd job offer I get, I spent a little time recently researching statistics for The Business Journal. I took a spin by the Department of Commerce Web site where I ended up on the commercial service site, BuyUSA. And that was where I found this gem of a stat:

Of minority-owned businesses, 39.5 percent were Hispanic-owned, 30.0 percent Asian-owned, 27.1 percent Black-owned, and 6.5 percent American Indian-owned.

Sadly, I just skimmed it and missed that it adds up to 103.1 percent. Yup.

On the upside, my blunder was overshadowed by the fact that our government missed it too.

Schools cope with 'forced mediocrity'

This piece was originally published in the News & Record on February 21, 2007.

After an early childhood of private schooling, I entered public school in fifth grade at Bluford Elementary which, coincidentally, was the single year Mark Moore taught what was then called the AG, or academically gifted, program there.

While I learned many facts and figures from Mr. Moore, the most important lessons I learned were related to critical thinking, a skill that, according to a recent survey, is in short supply.

The survey was conducted over the course of 2006 by an alliance of business research and advocacy groups who set out to discover the skill set corporate America values in new hires and whether American students possess those skills. Four hundred American employers responded that while basic skills, such as reading, writing and math, are essential for job readiness, applied skills, such as critical thinking, are vastly more important.

Unfortunately, 69.9 percent of employer respondents said recent high school graduates lack applied skills, statistics made all the more alarming by the fact that these are among the first students to graduate under No Child Left Behind. According to the NCLB Web site, the program was enacted in order to, “ensure that all children receive a high quality education so that no child is left behind.”

Perhaps it’s mincing words, but if the majority of American high school students are ill prepared for jobs with earnings growth potential, are we keeping some children from being “left behind” by lowering the educational standards for all?

Though it has been nearly two decades since I lucked into Mr. Moore’s class, he was more than willing to shed some light on this tricky issue.

“Something had to be done,” Mr. Moore said recently, citing the all-to-common occurrence of valueless materials in pre-NCLB classrooms. “But it’s almost like they saw a mosquito on the wall; here’s a flyswatter and here’s a Howitzer cannon. Let’s use the Howitzer and let’s just destroy the wall.”

Every parent of a school-aged child has seen what replaced the wall: exam-lead lesson plans covering math and English almost exclusively and testing during which educators around the country have reported kids vomiting from stress.

“Don’t get me wrong,” said Mr. Moore, “kids need reading and math. But you’ve got to throw something else in there to make them want to do it.”

In my fifth grade class, “something else” included lessons on earth science coupled with environmental activism, physics with model rockets, world history with my first understanding of the word “irony” (a la destroying a village to save it). I left fifth grade with the tools for critical thinking and an unquenchable thirst for learning.

Perhaps proponents of NCLB believe that students can find their own way to critical thinking so long as public education leaves them proficient in the “three R’s”. Unfortunately, 42.2 percent of employers surveyed said that high school graduates were deficient in even these NCLB-intensive areas.

Meanwhile, private schools, unbeholden to the funding-cut threats of NCLB, continue to provide their students with-rounded educations. Is it so outlandish to imagine a future in which these educational disparities become earning disparities? Is it alarmist to suggest that kids educated under NCLB would see education as a source of valueless stress and therefore settle for a high school diploma?

Mr. Moore refers to education under NCLB as “forced mediocrity,” in which test scores are more important that true comprehension, challenging advanced students or captivating poorer students. Meanwhile, the opportunity to not only to prepare students for a working adulthood but also to instill in them a love of learning is passing us by.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Del Ray Wilson, Jr.

The N&R reported this morning that Del Ray Wilson, Jr. was charged with first degree murder for the shooting death of his estranged wife, Rebecca Ann on December 17th. Is there really an appropriate reaction to this? I'm glad he'll be held responsible but I'm sure that's little salve on the wounds of Rebecca Ann's family, especially her children.

Meanwhile, I've read about at least two more women who have been killed since then, allegedly by their spouses. Something's got to give.

Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Because of the advances in both combat medicine and the little bit of equipment soldiers have, this war is seeing more amputations and brain injuries than ever before - in previous wars, those soldiers would have died... making the fact that they're alive the good news.

It's no secret that Bush's dedication to the troops is only speech-deep - that's the bad, though not surprising, news. Literally adding insult to injury, these horribly wounded men and women are being neglected at Walter Reed Medical Center where mold, cockroaches, missing paperwork (and therefore the opportunity to deny services to a vet) and tons of bureaucratic bullshit are part of the status quo. Read the linked piece - it'll make you sick to your stomach.

Remind me again how this is supporting our soldiers?

Yet again: the only way to support our soldiers is to oppose the war.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Orange Goat Cheese-Stuffed Dates

As some of you may know, my life revolves heavily around food (sometimes more literally than I'd like). My first business (I get to say that now that I have a second business) was a personal chef service. I loved cooking for people... until I didn't, and now I focus my enthusiastic home cookery (not to be confused with gourmet - I assure you, it is not) within my home.

My food philosophy is by and large Slow Food which is beautiful both in its activism and hedonism. I want to eat really wonderful food that's good for me and that leaves the smallest possible environmental footprint - that's why I occasionally ramble about farmers' markets which easily achieve all those thing: fresh food, minimally processed (just whatever you do to prepare it at home), grown roughly 40 miles from where it was purchased, putting money in the pockets of local farmers.

I will admit that the picking are slim at the market these days but there is great food to be had: sweet potatoes, cabbage, dark greens, hydroponic lettuce and basil and Goat Lady Dairy is even back, selling a small selection of chevre and their cow's milk Gouda, the scrumptious Jersey Girl. Oh, and eggs, Middle Eastern food (from the chefs of Zaytoon), bread, sweets, including the incomparable Alita's Southern Cakes, and flowers. Just to name some...

Which brings me to perhaps the most important part of this post: the recipe. Solaris sells an amazing bacon-wrapped date tapa (sorry, mom) which inspired me for a snack/dessert - orange goat cheese-stuffed dates. (Goat Lady Dairy goat cheese is, of course, best but you could always stir a little orange marmalade into some plain chevre.)

These are really rich so you only need two or three dates per person. Slice them lengthwise until you hit the seed - leave the other side intact. Once cut, you can pick the seed right out along with any remaining stem, if there is any. They're fibrous on the inside - don't sweat it. Spoon a little orange goat cheese into each date - 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon - and smush the date back together. If you heat them, say in a saute pan, they would get melty which would be even more decadent but I haven't actually tried that yet... That's it - eat up.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Impromptu Ninja Fight

Just because it's fun to laugh, especially on Valentine's Day... and because witnessing - or being in - and impromptu ninja fight sounds unbelievably fun.

Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007

It's not often these days that a new story gets me all misty-eyed in a good way - but Senator Christopher Dodd (Conn) has me pulling my hankie out for joy.

The Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007 would counteract many of the shameful distortions of the Constitution put into place by the Military Commissions Act of 2006. As you may remember, the Military Commissions Act gives the President open authority to decide who is considered an enemy combatant and therefore stripped of all rights, including habeas corpus which says those charged with a crime have the right to their day in court so it can be determined whether or not they are be imprisoned justly.

Habeas corpus is only there to make sure individual civil liberties are not trampled in the name of, say, protecting our country or the whim of our President. No biggie.

So a big Valentine's cheer for Senator Dodd - I most likely won't vote for him for President but I sure will give him a big thumbs up!

Valentine's Day

My mom, in her usual precious way, sent Rob and me a Valentine's card in which she wrote:

Happy Valentine's Day to two very special people and one very special couple.

She always knows what to say. I hope someone says something equally sweet to you today - and if they don't, post a comment and I'll come up with some good Valentine's cheer!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Family detention centers

I was writing my silly little post below when I noticed a headline on one of my news feeds about families, including young children, being held in prisons on immigration charges.

It seems that the old method of releasing illegal immigrants between arrest and court was leading to too many missed court dates. So to prevent running, our government decided to imprison families. I mean, you can't just leave the kids alone in the apartment.

One such detention facility is a converted retirement home - more like a locked motel than a prison. But another one, the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center in Texas, was, in fact, formerly a prison. Despite the extensive renovations agency officials claim to have made, illegal immigrants, again including children, are held in cells, the kinds with the toilets sitting in the corner, wearing scrubs-like uniforms and with severely limited amounts of recreational time and space. Children, from infants to teens, are allowed an hour of play time and an hour of English instruction a day. One pregnant Palestinian woman was denied Halal food and prenatal vitamins; she eventually stopped going to prenatal appointments because her five-hour absence (thanks to a 4-hour round trip drive) upset her children so much.

I understand that these people were behaving in an illegal manner and that they should neither go unnoticed or unpunished, but these people, the majority of whom came to America for the understandable desire of giving their children a better life than they had, are being treated like dangerous criminals. I cannot begin to imagine the work it will take for those imprisoned children to recover from this kind of emotional damage.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he plans to open more such prisons.

Maybe there were no good old days. Our country's history is studded with tragedy: slavery, genocide of the indigenous people, WWII internment camps. But we have advanced enough now to be ashamed of those tragedies - we know better, and yet we're imprisoning children?

The good old days that I long for is truly an ideal, what America could be if people stopped trying to bastardize the Constitution for their own personal gain. Yes, right now "people" is short-hand for President Bush but there have often been leaders and citizens who twisted the words to fit the situation - otherwise slavery could have never existed here.

The family prisons are not the disease but another symptom - along with budget cuts to veteran services, the Scooter Libby trial, pre-war lies and warrentless wire tapping. The disease is this administration.

This is not okay.

Influential fiction

You may have noticed that I recently added news feed and a "Now Reading" list to my sidebar -->
And if you've noticed that, you may have noticed that one of the books I'm currently reading is The 101 Most Influential People who Never Lived.

This is one of those great books in which each fictional person is explained in a 2 - 3 page essay, making it the perfect book to pick up right before bed or in any free 5 minute span. The essays tend to be cutesy but also have interesting tidbits about the origin and/or influence of the character, legend, monster, etc being described. It's filled in some gaps for me about names that I've heard but knew little about - or knew the gist but not the history. All in all, a good enough read that I've been recommending it...

Sadly, the essay I just read about Buck from Jack London's The Call of the Wild, presented a sad turn in the book. Taking cute to an unfortunate low, the authors opted to write the essay as though it were a conversation with one of the authors' dog who not only read the book but could relate its story to the greater overarching sociological message.

And while I have occasionally been accused of anthropomorphizing my own dogs, I don't believe their take on literature is well-reasoned enough to pass on to my readers. Just a thought for authors Karlan, Lazar and Salter.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Wiesel and a big kid word

You know, as sailor-like as my casual vocab can be, I try to refrain from anything too shocking here... but sometimes only big kid words will do.

When Elie Wiesel is accosted by a Holocaust denier who probably wasn't a smutty thought on his daddy's mind when WWII took place, it's just such a time: What the fuck?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Obama - is this guy for real?

There are a bunch of "clean" and "articulate" people revving their engines at the start line of the coming presidential race. As much as I would like to see a woman in the Oval Office, there aren't enough showers or crisp dipthongs to make me support the poll-watching weasel that is our female front runner.

And while every day brings a new opportunity for good investigative journalism to turn up something I don't like about Obama, so far I really like what I'm seeing. I have been chided before for placing my hopes in what seem like pipe dreams but I, like most people (whether you admit it or not) am addicted to hope. I like to believe that Obama is speaking with all earnestness when he says,
If I think that the campaign is all about me, then I am going to lose. What I want is a campaign to be a vehicle for people to get involved, use their talents, feel connected to something larger than themselves."
He's Jimmy Carter, inviting the public into the campaign and, if all goes as planned, into the West Wing. But he has JFK's charisma and charm. The true test will be who he emulates in leadership... and while a few names come to mind - Clinton and his fiscal responsibility and global relations, Lincoln and his willingness to hear dissenting voices - my true hope is that Obama will remain as fresh and innovative if elected as he has seemed thus far.

When Obama asks:
Is the country ready for a conversation that doesn't presume that the other side are bad people and doesn't presume that everybody has got all the answers and doesn't expect its leaders to be perfect, but rather applies a certain practical, common-sense attitude?"
I want to believe that he truly is invested in the answer and in being the person to engage the country in that conversation.

Monday, February 05, 2007

AIDS in the black community

Back in December, I spoke with a woman at the Guilford County Health Department. She's worked in AIDS education, prevention and services for years. Many of her concerns were echoed in Leonard Pitts' column today - and the dreaded taboo strikes again, this time the taboo of homosexuality and drug use - the first a matter of image and social norms, the second of legality. No matter the reason for the taboo, though - the result is the same: incomplete data and increased complexity in identifying risk for education and treatment.

The hope on the horizon: even while Pitts largely sees apathy in the black community, Greensboro's Winter Walk for AIDS 2006 was filled with young black men and women, from high school to college and beyond - the future of AIDS research, education and treatment.

Ban would be good medicine for Greensboro

This column was originally published in the News & Record on February 4, 2007.

In a place like Greensboro, where one’s preference in barbecue is a statement of their personhood and fried chicken is a way of life, it seems unlikely that a trans fat ban similar to the one recently enacted in New York City would come to pass. But perhaps because of our penchant for these fatty Southern delights, North Carolina is among the states with the highest rates of obesity, diabetes and other obesity-related health problems.

Even as I rail against one more regulation dictating what I can eat, I can’t help but applaud New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s latest forward-thinking initiative, as it’s sure to have health benefits that continue to present and grow as time passes.

Though trans fats have only made headlines recently, companies like the makers of Crisco have been pumping hydrogen into oil to increase shelf-life and reduce cost for more than a century. These partially-hydrogenated oils, found in everything from restaurant fryers to baked goods to breakfast cereals, are what infuse so many foods with trans fat. Truly, other than the most vigilant of eaters, it is unlikely that any of us go a single day without consuming trans fat in one of its many forms.

Like saturated fats, trans fats have been shown to raise LDL levels – the so-called bad cholesterol. But it also goes the extra mile beyond saturated fats by lowering HDL levels – the so-called good cholesterol. Trans fats have been definitively linked to coronary heart disease and preliminarily linked to diabetes, colon cancer, infertility and more. Subsequently, no one is arguing any benefits of trans fats… at least for the consumer.

For food producers, trans fats in the form of hydrogenated oils are essential to business. While a 50 gallon container of partially-hydrogenated fat will run a restaurant roughly $15, the same amount of olive oil - which is mostly monounsaturated and therefore generally believed to be healthier - costs about $50.

As Rick Bissoondutt, owner of New York Deli and Pastry in Greensboro, said, “Obviously, what’s going to happen is increasing the price for consumers.”

In an industry in which survival requires the perfect balance of product quality, price, location and good luck, increased prices to offset increased costs could tip the scales toward untimely closing, particularly for privately-owned restaurants.

Bissoondutt bluntly said, “I can’t afford to buy a 50 gallon container of olive oil to fry our chicken and French fries.”

Those who oppose the trans fat ban, however, are more likely to cite infringements on their civil rights than the state of small business. After all, the New York smoking ban, enacted in 2003, saved non-smokers from the well-documented dangers of second-hand smoke. But trans fats hurt no one but the people who chose to consume them, meaning that Mayor Bloomberg has made it his business to protect people from themselves.

Restaurant owner Masoud Awartani argues that people need a little protecting from themselves. “It is an excellent idea to outlaw [trans fat] because people don’t know better.”

Awartani is in the catbird seat should the trans fat ban work its way south to our fair city. Zaytoon, the Mediterranean café Awartani owns with his wife, Anna, was founded on their strict ethical guidelines, utilizing whole foods, healthful fats and organic products when possible. Though far from the top-grossing restaurant in Greensboro, Zaytoon is an example of how independently-owned restaurants can be profitable without trans fat.

As a devoted foodie and former personal chef, my innumerable conversations with people about food suggest that Awartani is right in calling the trans fat ban “an educational issue”: People know the buzz words but they don’t understand the full implications of the health effects or all of the products in which these harmful fats hide.

Unfortunately, educating the masses is not as simple as wrapping city busses with a catchy slogan. Consumers are weary of conflicting nutritional information and their uncertainty – are eggs healthy this week or harmful? – makes them wary of any new finding to come down the pike. Piled on top of the apathy borne of distrust is the expense of eating healthfully. At a time when the Brookings Institution includes the three county region surrounding Greensboro in its listing of the 10 U.S. regions with the most suburban poverty, it is significant that a family can share two boxes of macaroni and cheese for just over $2 while a healthier meal, for example, a roasted chicken with broccoli and rice on the side, would easily cost four times as much.

It seems that the ban-or-not-to-ban debate comes down to the physical health of consumers versus the economic viability of both consumers and small food businesses. While no one wants a governmental finger in their Crisco-laden pie, part of the government’s job is to protect us, be it from terrorism, drunk drivers or even our own ignorance. That said, I don’t like the ban but I tend to think it’s necessary for the ongoing health of our county.

Fortunately for those of us outside of Mayor Bloomberg’s domain, the trans fat ban will no doubt send New York restaurants and food producers scrambling for a cost effective trans fat replacement. With any luck, those replacements will be in place should Greensboro eventually enact a ban, allowing us to have our New York Deli cheesecake and eat it too.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Florida storm

I was sitting with my mother-in-law when footage of Florida came on this morning. Houses with their roofs ripped off were among the happiest of the images. Fortunately, this isn't a Katrina-sized disaster, but coming on the heels of reports that, thanks to the war in Iraq, dwindling National Guard supplies are "seriously hampering the ability of citizen soldiers to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies at home," it is a brutal reminder of how badly this president has deteriorated the safety of our nation.

Perhaps that explains the state's use of "
30 low-risk jail inmates" to help in clean-up.

I'm not sure if Bush truly has complete disregard for anyone but himself and his inner sanctum of twisted rich guys, or if he's an idiot or if somewhere deep down he hates this country because his daddy loved the country more than him.

Not that they're mutually exclusive.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Rob and I were eating at the best sushi joint in the 'boro, Wasabi, tonight, when a waitress asked where my mom and brother were. Apparently I eat there with them all the time, despite the fact that I can't remember a single instance of eating dinner at a restaurant with just my mom and any of my brothers.

This is easily the fourth time someone has been positive they know me. The first time was a waitress at Solaris who I later became friends with. She blew me a kiss from 20 feet away then was mortified to realize I was not the person she thought I was.

So this is my call to action - my picture is right over there ----> If you know anyone who looks exactly like me in Greensboro, please ask her to email ( me - I'm dying to meet this chick!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

As though Bush has room to criticize

An Associated Press piece in the N&R today said that Bush disapproves of the lavish paychecks and severance packages given to some CEOs these days. Do you think he's mostly mad that he's not getting a cut? Last time I checked, this entire war was one big, gross, disgusting payday for contractors on Bush's payroll.

Let's see... We're spending approximately $195,000,000 per day (No, I didn't forget a decimal point), civilians are buying Kevlar for family members in the military because the army is not supplying proper equipment (claiming the expense is too great) and we sure as hell aren't going to be able to properly equip 21,500 additional soldiers when currently deployed battalions have had to resort to "hillbilly armor" because the standard-issue Humvees and tanks couldn't withstand IED blasts. Gee, I wonder where the money is going?

Certainly not to veteran health care or housing...

On the upside, at least Bush is a raving, juvenile rodeo clown (no offense to any rodeo clowns who may be reading). Maybe he intends to protect our freedoms by amusing our enemies.

March on Washington pic

My attempts to imbed this picture failed, sadly, so you'll have to go to the extra effort to click though and see a great protest sign held by Sigrid, the mother of my friend/employer/colleague, Tamara. Sigrid also has a great blog that showcases her many artistic talents and uniquely witty political commentary: The Dabbler.