Saturday, July 23, 2016

Here We Go Again

To the five people still reading, I bid you good day.  Checking in for an update:  Connecticut was not home and never would be, so I transferred within my agency down to Memphis.  City of my birth, the Bluff City, Grit & Grind, blues and BBQ.

All I've ever wanted was to live an a lovely old house in a lovely old neighborhood where I could take long walks admiring other lovely old houses and their beautiful front gardens under mature shade trees reaching across the street.  I now have that in spades.

When I saw it come on the market, I was in between naturalization ceremonies in Hartford.  I'd planned to drive down to Memphis the next day to house hunt.  I called my realtor and told her to write up the offer, I'd be there by noon the next day.  Truly love at first sight, at a *very* reasonable price.  I was approved for twice the asking price.

I put the pups in the car and drove straight down, stopping only to e-sign all the offer documents and field calls from my ninja realtor.  Three other offers came in at the same time, as we expected, and I offered just a little over asking.  And got it.  Impulsive?  Damn right.  Did it pay off?  It was the smartest decision I've ever made.

Two other big changes:  the animal pack lost one and gained another.  Wee AnnaMae died in a freak accident last year.  I cried for a month and still cry about it.  I loved that little pain in the ass.  I gained this one--Tallulah, whom I rescued just before execution at Memphis Animal Services with her seven one-day-old puppies.
We found homes for the pups, but Tallulah turned out very dog-aggressive, and a bit person-aggressive as well.  Can't adopt out an aggressive dog, so I had a choice to make--kill her or keep her.  I went with the latter.

We worked with one trainer for about eight months and made very little progress, and now we've been working with a guy who specializes in dog aggression...and we're making progress every time we go out for a walk.

When I decided to keep her, it was with the caveat that if her aggression couldn't be brought under control, I would have to put her down.  And I've put her in the car three separate time to do just that...but couldn't do it until I exhausted all avenues.  This trainer is the last avenue, and he will tell me when/if he ever feels she won't improve enough to prevent danger to others and liability to me.  If she continues to improve, we may just get there...but we're not anywhere near that point now.  Keeping my fingers crossed--I love this asshole dog.  We walk for at least an hour a day, morning and dusk, weather permitting.

Other big change--my job.  I just promoted to Fraud Detection / National Security Immigration Officer, which is just as it sounds.  I investigate immigration fraud (mostly green card marriages) and immigrants who may pose a national security risk.  I absolutely love it.

I somehow managed to land a very well-paying job, my perfect home in a city I love, proximity to my family and friends, and a level of peace and security I've never known before.

All the hard work of the last three decades finally paid off.  I know some people see a single, childless, middle-aged woman and think there must be something wrong, or maybe I'm gay, or worthy of pity.  Nothing could be farther from the truth and while I don't care about the lesbian assumption, the other two invite a good whuppin'.

Friday, January 10, 2014

After spending about 30 minutes recovering this blog after the move to Google, I'm able to provide a quick update.

I quit Tollison over a year ago, had some trouble finding gainful employment, opened my own firm, then closed it to take a position with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  I absolutely love the new job.

I also left Mississippi and moved to lovely northern Connecticut.  I live in Windsor Locks in a house built in 1833 that was a schoolhouse for over fifty years.  I don't know many people there yet, but I love it there already.

Sadly, the two dogs pictured at right have both crossed the proverbial rainbow bridge.  Moonpie, the Greyhound, suffered with advanced arthritis that became so severe, he could no longer stand up.  Despite my (and my vet's) best efforts to control his pain, there came a point when I knew his quality of life had deteriorated to the point of constant, extreme suffering, and I put him down.

Tiny Balzack died in Washington, D.C., while I interned at the Department of Justice.  He was very old, and spent so many years in a puppy mill that his little body accumulated years of damage and malnutrition.  I can confidently say he knew true dog happiness before his life ended.

My little pack now includes Junior, Louise, and AnnaMae, all rescued Chihuahuas.

It has been suggested that I start posting about all my cooking/baking experiments.  Not a bad idea.  I'm in training for six weeks in Dallas right now, but I'll be itching to get back into my lovely Connecticut kitchen when I get back.  And I've already bought seeds for my new garden in Zone 5A, in the fertile Connecticut River Valley.  Pics to come!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Absent Blogger

Thing is, I wasn't even thinking about this blog until a truly bizarre comment from someone I've never met (and likely never will) landed in my inbox for moderation:

Hey, you, nutjob. I care not if you're the gorgeous redheaded, kick-ass, super-dooper-girly in Wal-Mart who buys a slushy for your imaginary friend enjoying the feel of cotton. You go, girl!! Some people ain't wrong in the head. They're ZooIllogical, baby! And that's awe.some.cubed I love you! Let's enjoy the Extra-Corpus-Collosus-Outrageous-Splendour of God's Kingdom together. See you soon. God bless.

Kold_Kadavr_Flatliner is some dude in Topeka, Kansas, and I have no idea how he found my blog, or WTF buying a slushee in Wal-Mart means, but maybe the imaginary friend is God, who likely doesn't indulge in slushees. 

Thing about slushees, every so often on a hot day, you may crave the hell out of one.  Then you start in on it, and by the time you're about halfway done, you're grossed out to the point of wanting a shower.  Kinda like reality TV, Entertainment Tonight, and anything even peripherally involving a princess.

At any rate, I'm glad Mr. Kadavr sent in the comment.  Made me remember that I used to really enjoy blogging.  Also, that I do not love Blogger, as they don't allow much customization at all.  See how narrow the posting window is, and how one post will scroll down for miles?  Yep, you cannot adjust the width without picking one of their bloodless new templates.  And to add insult to injury, the "below the jump" feature doesn't work worth a damn.

In other news, I decided to stay in Oxford after accepting an attorney position with Tollison Law Firm.  I'm still a low-rent clerk until bar results come out in September, but I have my own office and I've taken ownership of a criminal defense case.  I can't try it, of course, but at this point the only thing I'm not doing for it is signing my name to the numerous pre-trial motions.

I've learned more while investigating this case than a whole semester at law school. 

Lesson 1:  Everyone lies, including (and especially) your client. 

Lesson 2:  When interviewing any witness you may call for your side, preface the conversation with the words, "If you have unfavorable information, that helps us even more than favorable, because if we don't know about the bad stuff, we won't be prepared when the prosecution brings it out.  You're actually helping [client X] more by giving us the bad information."  Until you speak those words, friends and relatives of your client won't tell you the truth.  Period.  And then you could find yourself at trial with some damning evidence staring you right in the face that you would have known about, had folks told you the truth.

But that's not going to happen in this case.  I went back and reinterviewed a couple of witnesses after learning that lesson.  It ain't like terrorist interrogations, these people actually want to help you prepare for trial.  You just have to tell them how by giving them permission to tell you the truth without betraying their friend/relative.

My job at Tollison will involve general practice--wills/estates, property, torts, etc.--and criminal defense work.  I had an excellent shot at an ADA position with the District Attorney's office in New Orleans, but it would have involved significant risk on my part, including many months without work and complete devastation of all my savings.  I still plan to take the Louisiana bar next February, and I'm not completely closing the door on that possibility after practicing here for several years.

Several family members have expressed opposition to my soon-to-be practice defending the accused, although the two uncles to whom I'm closest, including a former police chief, are all for it.  They get it.

The job is to ensure the client gets a fair shake and that any trial issues are preserved for appeal.  In Mississippi, those two outcomes are FAR from foregone conclusions.  You have to put up a helluva fight to avoid a Saddam-style conviction based on virtually nothing and decided by juries who will believe anything the prosecution tells them as a default position, especially if the defendant is black.  I mean, folks fell for Steven Hayne and Michael West's bullshit for decades.  People rot in Parchman based on insanity like a blue light exposing bite marks that don't exist and insect bites that pass for toothmarks.  Even the retired police chief gets upset at the mention of Hayne or West.  True believers in the Constitution and Bill of Rights understand that unfair criminal trials violate the very foundation on which this country was founded.  Have a problem with that?  Please re-read the Sixth Amendment and the SCOTUS cases interpreting it.

And if ya don't get it, I'll not waste my time explaining it.  And I bid you good day, accompanied by a dismissive little wave.  Since when have I made career decisions based on

Also on the agenda--a real garden, finally.  This is the first summer, about 1995...that I'll remain in one place long enough to plant, care for, and harvest the fruits of a real garden.  I don't count Arizona, you can't have a decent garden there.  I already started my tomatoes and strawberries indoors.

Next on the agenda, which I hope to start this weekend with a much-anticipated warm spell:  raised beds.  Given that I no longer have a roommie and don't start making real money until the fall, I can't pay someone to build these beds.  Gotta build them myself.  It's not the building that intimidates me, it's filling them with good dirt.  I don't have a truck or a muscle-man, and will need to shop around for something much cheaper than those big bags of Miracle Gro garden soil.  I'm hoping to find some cut-rate compost and mulch. 

Stay tuned.  I'm a true gardening novice, even after compulsive research and many hours listening to the Gestalt Gardener on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.  How hard can it be?  Stick stuff in the ground green side up, right? 

Ask me how simple it is in August, when it's too hot to work outdoors from 8am to 9pm and I'm fighting off rabbits, deer, and insect plagues.

Friday, April 30, 2010

If I'm ever pathetic enough to revenge-blog on Huffington Post about how I fell for a 50-year-old guy whose divorce was "pending," spent almost $30K on fertilization treatments, then got pregnant and dumped, put me out of our collective misery.  That's an order.

I get it.  I understand how it could happen to the best of us.  She loved the guy, desperately wanted a child, and it seemed like the perfect situation.  Except that he was STILL MARRIED.  And yep, he sounds like a Grade A, card-carrying douche.  So now she's very publicly suing him, rightfully so if it's for child support.  But I couldn't help but notice he talked her out of working, and my empathy just dried right up.

Why anyone would give up their livelihood before their second (wedding) anniversary with someone promising lifelong support (while "divorce-pending"), is beyond my ability to comprehend.  And she's suing him for that, too, because now she can't support herself?  I would sooner pull my eyes out and soak them in lye than entrust my survival to someone who's married to someone else, for God's sake.  And if I ever did end up there (following a prolonged kidnapping, no doubt), you can believe no one would know about it, because I'd keep that shit as far under wraps as I could get it.  Have you no pride???

But that's not the most pathetic part.  This is.  And this.  On Huffington Post?  You know, if I had a blog on HuffPo, I doubt very seriously I'd fill it with humiliating revenge-posts that go on and ON about this dickhead.  I'm embarrassed for her.

This woman's a life coach?  Holy crap, I suddenly feel so...healthy.  Well, if that's how she made her living before all this dirty-laundry blogging, no wonder she can't find work.  Who the hell takes life advice from someone whose rage swallowed her pride?

Baby-hysteria turns smart women my age into pathetic, hystrionic banshees.  I feel blessed--my clock must be digital, cause I don't hear a damn thing out of it.  I hardly ever think about babies, despite the near-constant bombardment of messages from the media that there's something "wrong" with me for not having them at 39.  Why sit around and think about whether I'd like to have a baby, when I'm content with the way things have worked out for me right here and now, thank you very much?

This is one gift that keeps giving since I left the Army--all the little, "You're single?!?" spoonsful of shit, dealt out by military wives who hated me on sight because I worked and deployed with their sorry-ass husbands, they're gone.  I can't even remember the last time I remembered what I'm "supposed" to be doing.  This feels like what I'm supposed to be doing.

I just don't have any of that pressure here, no one reacts like I've just offered them a crack pipe when I tell them I'm not married, they don't immediately wonder if I'm gay.  "But why?" one guy asked me a couple of years ago, "Why aren't you married?"

Why? Well, I haven't exactly made marriage a priority.  I know plenty of women who just don't do well on their own, without a boyfriend/husband/married guy they're doing/whatever.  I'm just not one of them.  Never have been.

Then there were all the years I struggled with depression, during which I was surely no picnic to hang around.  And then, the ten years with the Department of Defense, during which I moved, deployed, or went off to training a couple of times a year, all the while surrounded by men with whom I had little in common, as many of them didn't think I belonged there.  Not a majority, but you knew that guy when you saw him, and there were several in any crowd.

Don't get me wrong.  I love men.  I would actually very much prefer to have one around.  But I live in a college town, there are no available men here.  Period.  What in the hell would I want with a college boy, and vice-versa?

One thing about getting older, though, is that I just care less and less what people think.  I seriously doubt anyone who knows me sees me as a spinster or a cougar or any of the other derogatory terms that keep popping up, referring to women over 35.  And I even more seriously doubt anyone I know would describe me as lonely or unhappy.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

What is that so hard for some people to understand?

Monday, April 26, 2010

One More Week of Sleep-Deprived, Zombie Law School Finals Hell

Well, it seems Blogger won't let me use the "below the fold" feature unless I ditch my template.  Which I like too much.  I tried adding the little piece of code into the template html, but I'm sure the instructions only contemplate a different kind of template, the sort they want me to adopt.

If they force you to give up your pretty green template, the terrorists have truly won.

Any suggestions?

If you're not a law geek, stop reading here. 

I'm writing a 30-page paper on prosecutions after Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, which put an end to prosecutors' introducing certificates of analysis at criminal drug trials without satisfying the accused's right to confront witnesses against him.  Doesn't sound like a big deal, but it really is.  Even though only around 5% of drug cases go to trial, states report huge spikes in demands for analysts at trial, posing a significant strain on state resources already reeling from record budget shortfalls.  Producing an analyst at every drug trial, especially when the defense so often opts not to call them to the stand, constitutes unconscionable waste.

On the other hand, every week seems to produce another crime lab scandal, another forensic method proved unreliable, another case of crooked crime lab employees, bad-faith prosecutors, and factually innocent people ending up with life sentences.  The best means for ensuring reliability of these all-important certificates is to subject the analysts to cross-examination, keep them on track and within industry guidelines.

And it's VERY important.  These certificates identify the substance the cops pulled out of your pants pocket, and the weight of the sample.  The substance and weight (among other factors) determine the range of sentence you may be facing.  A one-gram inaccuracy could get you 10-to-life for powdered cocaine under the federal guidelines, as opposed to 5-40 years.  How do you reckon you'd take it if some bozo just wrote up a certificate after eyeballing your baggie without subjecting yo' shit to a single test?  It's called "dry-labbing," and it's part of the reason we sorely needed Melendez-Diaz.

It's a tough balance to strike, and my paper tries to find ways to balance defendants' constitutional rights with the needs for states to utilize their scant resources efficiently. 

Just incidentally?  The Mississippi Supreme Court mandated confrontation for certificates of drug analysis way back in 1994, long before Crawford or Melendez-Diaz.  Every so often, my little backwards state gets things least, in the courtroom.

I will be highly amused if this pops up in Google searches next to some of the really excellent academic work out there that has saved me many hours of research.  Except that I only found these open-source pages after conducting all the analysis myself, on Lexis, painstakingly Shepardizing each case to get to the bottom of the Abiding Questions After Briscoe: 

Who Must Testify?  Probably someone who directly participated in the analysis, drew their own conclusions from tests that may have been performed by someone else.

Chain of Custody?  Probably not.

Harmless error when forensic analyst doesn't testify?  Great question, wish the Supreme Court would take it up.

What about notice-and-demand statutes?  That's a much longer answer, but it seems that Briscoe tells us these things have to happen:  Defendant must receive notice of prosecution's intent to use the certificate, a copy of it, a window in which he/she must object, and his failure to object constitutes waiver of his right to have that analyst appear, if that's the case.  If he does object, the prosecution must call the analyst during his own case in chief. 

And that's about all it really says.  The rest is up to the lower courts to muck out.

It's due tomorrow night.  I'm on page 23.  I haven't slept much and I'll probably delete this post tomorrow when I wake up.  It's too damn long for any right-minded person to read.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

End of Second Year

So it seems I've somehow made it through two full years of law school, with one to go.  And it's been one hell of a ride.

At this hour, I'm working on a 25-page paper on the Fourth Amendment--specifically, the Patriot Act's amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA).  FISA works as the vehicle for intelligence agencies to access the personal information, including electronic surveillance, of suspected "agents of foreign powers."

I began this paper with scathing commentary on the erosion of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.  The Patriot Act amended FISA to allow approval of wiretap warrants without any real protective process.  Investigators can now attain virtually unlimited permission to invade the privacy of U.S. citizens through not just wiretaps, but physical searches (called "sneak and peeks"), access to any and all bank/financial records, placing bugs in your bedroom--you name it, they can do it.  Whatever information they gather, they can distribute to other federal agencies, and you can be prosecuted for crimes completely unrelated to terrorism.

And all they have to assert is that they *may* be interested in you for a terrorism investigation--no need to establish probable cause you've committed a crime, no need to specify limited places and things to be searched and seized, just pure carte blanche to comb through the most minute and intimate details of your life.

Most people argue, "Well, I haven't done anything wrong, what do I care if they listen to me talk to my mother?"  Which sounds innocuous enough.

But what about a listening device in your bedroom??  Think it can't happen to you?  Think again. 

As always, I'm ambivalent.  The Fourth Amendment has become a polite fiction in the wake of 9/11.  Most of us are somehow okay with that, as we don't fit the profile of folks most likely to suffer astonishing privacy intrusions.  Anything perceived as an aid to fighting terrorism has become a third rail in American politics--a "soft on terrorism" charge will sink many campaigns, even at the expense of our precious Constitution.

As I get deep into the federal court cases that seek to balance the interests of citizens' privacy rights with the ultimate governmental interest of protecting the nation, I'm getting less scathing in the analysis.  I have no question, on purely Fourth Amendment grounds, the current FISA configuration is unconstitutional.

On the other hand, having worked extensively in this field, I understand the need for near-instantaneous access to information in detecting and preventing terrorist attacks.  Brandon Mayfield's case represents a rare (albeit egregious) violation of a U.S. citizen's rights.  Is the occasional Brandon Mayfield the price we have to pay for protecting the nation?

I firmly believe there exists a middle ground, a means of doing a better job protecting Constitutional rights while still affording intelligence agencies the kind of quick access they need to accomplish their mission.

If I identify this middle ground in the course of writing this paper, I'll post about it.  Right now, I'm left with a glaring question mark hanging over my head.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lost All Comments

I just realized that when I changed to the new template, I lost six years of comments. 


Monday, November 30, 2009

WEEK 5: Disaster Pie, or Butterscotch Cream Pudding Cookie Shit

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 at 6:10pm--copied from Facebook note.

**WARNING**: Rated FB-MA LV. Mature audiences only. Strong language, brief violence. Don't bitch about my goddamn language if you keep reading. It's been THAT KIND OF DAY.

After watching the Good Eats episode on pie crust about four times, I figured any pie woman worth her flour must make beautiful crust. From scratch. Refrigerated pie crusts are for sissies, and don't even get me started on that lifeless, frozen, crust-in-a-tin shit.

I copied the recipe onto an index card, straight from the show, in which Alton Brown used science and special effects to create the perfect crust. Two little pugilist puppets, one sporting an F for flaky, the other T for tender, popped up from behind to beat the shit out of AB at strategic moments as he explained coating flour molecules with butter and how to perfectly roll it all out. I had that goddamn show near memorized.

I awoke obscenely early, excited to bake the butterscotch cream pie recipe that came out so well a couple of weeks ago for Thanksgiving Day dinner tomorrow with the fam. Except instead of the vanilla-bean whipped cream on top, a vanilla-bean meringue would put the fresh whipped cream to shame.

I stuck my nicely chopped, flour-coated butter chunks into the fridge with the dry ingredients and the metal bowl and the rolling pin, and allowed everything to get cold while I reread the recipe six times.

The first sign of trouble: the food processor didn't have enough torque to chop up the cold butter. You're supposed to pulse, since running it steadily heats up the motor and melts the butter. There goes any hope for the fucking Flaky puppet.

I pulsed that goddamn thing like 50 times. The asshole butter, most of it in its original size and shape without discernible shape change, mocked me from inside the plastic bowl. I could picture the gluten molecules forming as I kept pulsing, the ones that would toughen the dough. And there goes any hope for the fucking Tender puppet.

So then the recipe demands you drop it all into the chilled bowl. I knew the tablespoon-sized lumps of butter were probably not right, so I pulled them out and broke them up manually. I hit the top of it with the spray bottle, correctly filled with crushed ice, water, and frozen apple juice concentrate. Then you fold the cold water/juice in with a rubber spatula, spray, fold, repeat, until you can grab a handful of it, squeeze it, and it holds its shape.

On the show, AB squirted/folded I dunno, four times. I was up to ten and had refilled the squirt bottle when I figured I just wasn't squeezing the handful hard enough. So I gave it another good soaking, compacted it all into a ball, and chilled it for 20 minutes, after which it was supposed to magically emerge looking and behaving like dough. AB said the resting period gave the moisture a chance to get all up in the molecules, or some such shit.

I pulled it out, and it was still dry. It didn't make sense. I'd FAR exceeded the water content in the recipe. And I was sure there was enough overhandling-produced gluten at this point to make pretzels out of it, but soldiered on. I soaked it again, put it back in the chillbox, and pretty much said Fuck It when it still felt dry 20 minutes later.

This shit was getting old. The lump of "dough" looked about twice what it should have, enough for at least two pies. I rolled it out.

See this shit?? The edges are dry as fuck, and if you look, you can see the rolled-flat butter pats.

I tossed it in the pie plate, did what I could to make the dry edges look pretty, lined the inside with foil, and tossed in the pie weights for the blind baking phase.

After 10 minutes, I pulled it out and removed the foil/weights. Holy fucking shit, are you fucking kidding me? There sat a pool of butter, right on the crust. I kicked the dog. Back in the oven for the rest of the pre-bake, no going back now.

Would it make YOUR momma proud? If so, slap that bitch and tell her to stick to sissy crust.  It looks like a fucking Lorna Doone some retard burned in the toaster.

I sampled a bit—very buttery, actually tasted pretty good. So I said Fuck It again, started in on the butterscotch and meringue.

Having made the butterscotch before, I actually know what I’m doing there. You cook butter and brown sugar together, then add evaporated milk, then add a separate mixture of more evaporated milk, hot regular milk, egg yolks, vanilla, and cornstarch. You stir this on medium for about 13 minutes, until it’s thick and silky. It’s pretty damn good and don’t even try to keep your fingers out of it.

I have these perfectly lovely vanilla beans from Madagascar, but they're about three years old.  Rock hard and bone-ass dry.  I had to simmer them in the butterscotch milk for about 15 minutes to soften them up enough to split and scrape out the seeds.  At this point, I've been making this goddamn pie for a couple of hours.

I’ve never made meringue, let’s be clear on this point. Seems simple enough, you beat some egg whites, a dash of cream of tartar, sugar, plus seeds from three vanilla beans in my version, until you get stiff peaks. Spread that shit on top of the butterscotch, bake until the top gets all golden-delicious.

Ladies, do you remember that nail polish when you were a kid that you brush on, then it peels right off? Did it ever cross your mind that 30 years later, you'd make a pie that would remind you of that shit?

I swear, this shit was only in the oven for about five goddamn minutes. I peeled that goddamn meringue off to find some shit had gone all liquid on top of my prized butterscotch and soaked all the visible crust. I sopped it off like you do with a greasy piece of pizza, dabbing at it with a paper towel.

The kitchen looks like some asshole opened up a fire extinguisher. It’s now almost noon. I’ve been at this shit ALL MORNING. Out of curiosity, I looked up the recipe online. And it was TOTALLY DIFFERENT. Apparently, the 2.5 sticks of butter from the goddamn show was about half a stick too many. My hero failed me!!

I opened the trash can, poised to toss the whole fucking mess in. But then I looked at the butterscotch. I took a taste. Nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. Rich and silky.

So I extracted the soggy bits of crust, wrapped the pan, and stuck it in the fridge. The butterscotch has to set up overnight.

The aftermath. It looks like someone's goddamn stuffed animal that spent a year outside in the rain.  Oh, and that other pie pan in the background with shit all sticking up out of it?  Was the first pie crust.  The one I rolled out before putting the second asshole back in the fridge with more cold water.  It tasted great, and so became dog biscuits.  Moonpie and Balzac were very pleased.

In the morning, seeded three more vanilla beans, added some sugar, and whipped up some fresh vanilla cream. Great thing about that shit? You can make enough to cover Disaster Pie all the way to the edges, just cover that shit right up. I called it a backwards-ass cobbler and brought it to Thanksgiving anyway.

Where it was devoured.  Folks even went back for seconds.  That butterscotch soaked into the butter-laded trainwreck, and with the cream on top, tasted pretty damn good!

Here's the other project for the day:  TURDUCKEN.

I've never roasted one before, and it took ALMOST SEVEN HOURS.  Thing about turducken, it's solid meat and stuffing, compacted together, all 15 pounds of it.

It emerged from the oven after we'd eaten the other turkey and finished dessert.  As soon as it landed on the kitchen island, all the men descended like buzzards to poke and pick at it.  It more or less fell apart when we lifted it from the pan to a serving platter, which was quite the operation in and of itself.

WOW it's good.  I'm still devouring the copious leftovers.

The Pie Chronicles, Weeks 1-4

I've been baking pies, one a week, since mid-October. Well, and there was this one September pie when peaches were in season.

It turned out so well, I vowed to bake more. Most of September, however, got sucked into a Moot Court competition, during which there were no pies, just a lot of late nights in my little garage apartment/office.

I became somewhat obsessed with pies in October, during which it rained over 9 inches, setting records, flooding cities, and driving us all indoors to seek comfort food.

I started with a lovely pumpkin pie, for which I roasted a sugar pumpkin. Have you ever roasted a pumpkin? Best to don your fencing getup, complete with heavily-padded gloves, facemask, the whole deal. Slicing that bitch damn near put me in the hospital and entailed a comic display involving some pretty colorful language, several knives, the countertop, and the floor, which worked best of all for finally smashing the damn gourd.

I think next time, I'll just put the whole goddamn pumpkin in the oven, slice it once it's softened. It's not the same as a jack-o-lantern pumpkin--sugar pumpkins have much tougher outer flesh. I ate the entire pumpkin's seed content (roasted, of course) while working on the rest of the pie.

Most pies made from canned pumpkin look and taste roughly the same, which is to say, pretty damn good. But after all that drama, this pie better be fucking amazing.

It was. The roasted pumpkin bestowed a much richer flavor and a toothy texture you don't get from canned. I whipped cream with powdered sugar and Amaretto, and dobbed it on top.

Then came the butterscotch cream pie. The recipe came from Cooking Light, and involves actually making the butterscotch--no nancy-ass, ice cream topping bullshit here.

The pie came out much better than the picture, which simply cannot do the vanilla-bean whipped cream topping justice. The butterscotch tasted silky and rich, despite my using that Splenda brown sugar for baking stuff.

Then on to chess pie, which I haven't had in years and reminds me very strongly of my late mother. She baked amazing chess pies, and in the chaos that followed her death, I never found her little box of recipes.

For the uninitiated, chess pie is a Southern classic. It's like the filling in pecan pie, that fabulous, gooey, set-your-mouth sweetness. You're supposed to serve it with strong coffee, which makes a gorgeous contrast, two completely different richnesses.

I couldn't decide between lemon and classic chess pie, so I made one of each.  I prebaked the crusts, and MacGuyvered a little trick to keep the edges from burning:

Alligator clips.

I won't waste good chess by contaminating it with lemon again. The lemon overpowered all other flavors, the crust went gummy, the filling a bit watery, and there was just no redeeming it.  I gave a little away and nibbled at it, then tossed it.

The classic chess pie, though, a whole 'nuther story.

It was perfect with coffee, but a tiny slice at a time proved all I could handle.

*Sidenote*:  These pies get distributed throughout Oxford, mostly to my family.  I've brought them to the law school and to work.  Last Christmas, I gave my Uncle Gene a gingerbread-of-the-month club, and it wasn't one of those always-disappointing mail clubs.  Gene got gingerbread little cakes (FABULOUS ginger cookies), several variations on gingerbread, and anything else I could think of.  I bought several large packages of crystallized ginger to use instead of raisins, with very tasty results. 

I got busy and kind of fell off, and then came the DC summer internship.  I was behind on my promise.  So he's gotten at least 1/3 of everything I've done, all fall, from the peach cobblers to all the pies, and I always bake up a storm of biscotti during the holidays.  He seems to really like the steady supply, and it all stays off my ass.

Onward to Week 4, key lime pie.  There isn't much to note on this one--it's so easy, a refrigerated pie, came out well enough.  It's basically just lime juice/zest, sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks.  Nothing to get all excited about, as you can really only do so much with bottled key lime juice.  I'll work on this one when the weather warms back up and a cool key lime pie will refresh the palate.

This pie met an unfortunate fate.  Determined not to break my pie-a-week goal at only four weeks, I made it the night before driving down to New Orleans to meet up with an old friend for the weekend.  I left a slice for my cousin, and put the key lime pie in the back seat. 

It didn't travel well.  Thing about a refrigerated pie?  It needs to stay in the refrigerator.

The crust bugged the shit out of me.  It was a store-bought Nilla job, and completely fell apart on top.  The product design and quality are just piss-poor.  You have to ruin the edges just to get the plastic cover off the top.  Total crap.

I've also had some issues with the refrigerated pie crusts.  They are a bit too wet, and shrink up during the pre-bake.  And they just don't bring anything special to the party.

This Nilla crust bullshit was the last straw.  NO MORE, I vowed.  I have purchased my last crust.  Week 5=CRUST.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What I'm Doing This Summer

As I'm down to posting about once a quarter, I thought I'd post about my experience as a law clerk in the Department of Defense's Office of the General Counsel.  I'm in the Legal Counsel division, which puts out the considerable fires that inevitably crop up within the highest legal authority for the world's largest employer with two active combat operations underway.

The section as a whole deals primarily with Guantanamo. Which, as one could easily imagine, looks about like four monkeys, a football, and a can of Crisco.  I had a couple of research projects supporting it earlier this summer, but lately I've focused on KBR litigation.

For those of you who aren't familiar with DOD's alphabet soup, KBR is the Halliburton subsidiary that provides logistical support to the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There are a whole passel of personal injury actions against them, the latest of which involves environmental exposure.
One line of cases stems from their operation of massive burn pits.  Plaintiffs allege KBR burned any manner of toxins in there, and those exposed now suffer from a host of respiratory problems (including lung cancer, in a couple of the cases), allegedly resulting from their prolonged exposure to the noxious smoke and fumes.

The other cases arise from a restoration project in southern Iraq of a water plant that was, Plaintiffs claim, covered in hexavalent chromium, a highly carcinogenic compound.  The National Guard soldiers tasked with providing security for the restoration project have sued for medical care expenses, past and future, and other personal injury damages.

Political question doctrine is a judiciary mechanism supporting constitutional separation of powers.  In a nutshell, it means if you get injured/killed by, say, a plane crash caused by an F-16 that clipped your wing because you flew into protected / no-fly national defense air space without filing a flight plan, you're out of luck.  Reason being, the court would have to question the wisdom of sending out the fighter jets to visually identify your aircraft as friendly, and the tactics employed by the pilots.  Which means, decisions made by the Executive branch.  Not allowed.

Battlefield contractors have often employed the political question doctrine as an affirmative defense to these suits, with mixed results.  Most recently, one case (Harris v. Kellogg, Brown & Root) arose out of the electrocution death of a soldier in the shower in Iraq.  It was all over the news, you know the case, Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth.

Political question defense failed.  The Western District of Pennsylvania found that no military decisions need be reviewed in determining if KBR was negligent in their performance of the electrical maintenance contract.  The jury would not, as KBR contended, need to question the wisdom of housing the soldiers at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex, or the decision to contract for "Level B" maintenance.  

One would assume that "Level B" translates to not getting electrocuted in the shower.  That's a gross oversimplification on my part, I admit.

On the other hand, see Carmichael v. KBR, decided June 30 of this year.  Carmichael is the first and only federal appeals court decision affirming a political question dismissal in a battlefield contractor liability action.  

SGT Carmichael was severely injured when the KBR fuel tanker in which rode overturned.  The accident occurred outside the wire during a treacherous convoy mission on a curvy, cratered road right through an area in which insurgent attacks were common.  

The Eleventh Circuit determined that the military controlled virtually every aspect of the convoy, which was essentially a combat mission.  As such, the decisions made by military commanders (route, speed, distance between vehicles--all potential causes of the accident) would come under review.  Executive branch decisions=separation of powers issues.

So do the environmental exposure cases look more like Harris or Carmichael, given the facts in each?  I won't comment on it here--buy me a drink and I'll opine on it.

What this all boils down to:  I'm getting to work on national-level, emerging legal issues.  It has been amazing.  I've learned more in the last seven weeks than in my entire second semester of law school.  Well, maybe not, but it sure feels that way.  

I love this job.  I actually look forward to work.  I can only hope like hell that I can find a job as an attorney that feels this satisfying.  

Friday, May 15, 2009

*Sigh* Call me the queen of unfinished business. Things got far too busy in law school to get my seed flats into the ground. Now that finals are over, it has rained nonstop, and I can't till. So I've settled on a bunch of containers sporting varieties of brandywine tomatoes, strawberries, and herbs. They'll come with me to DC. I leave in less than a week.
So the subject for today is Delta tamales.

I was first exposed to tamales in El Paso, TX, when I was stationed there at Biggs Army Airfield from 2000-2002. Gas stations and convenience stores there sell tamales much like similar stores sell fried chicken and tater logs here in Mississippi. And like the Mississippi counterparts, the pickins in such places constitute some of the best regional food available.

The El Paso tamales were fairly large, the fillings about the size of a deck of cards. They were creamy with seasoned masa spiked with chicken, green chiles, and queso fresco, which they called "farmer's cheese" in Colombia. It's like the lovechild of ricotta and mozzerella--very mild, a bit crumbly, and creamy when melted. I bought these tamales by the dozen and kept them in the mini-fridge in my barracks room.

Then there was the unfortunate Arizona stint, but Sierra Vista is a completly philistine, strip mall town. I had wonderful tamales in Tucson and Cafe Poca Cosa, which is a must-do in Tucson. It's run by a former CIA (the cooking school, not the Agency) instructor, and there is no set menu. She writes it on chalkboards, and it depends on what she finds fresh that morning. Her tamales were much sweeter than the green-chile variety, and studded with mole-drenched pork. They elicited the same response from every guest I ever brought up there with my repeated, "You've got to try this place." Silence always fell over the table, broken only by the occasional, "Holy HELL this is good," etc. This came about when I was in military intelligence officer training in 2002, then again in 2005-2007.

Fast-forward to 2009, and I've moved back to Oxford. Enter Honest Abe's tamales, built onto the Rebel Barn, which was the smart-ass response to the ordinance against selling cold beer. Rebel Barn was a drive-through, open on both ends, and they stored the beer in the carport you drove through. So in the short winter, you could buy cold beer.

I'm willing to wait for my beer to chill at home, since the trade-off is the best Delta tamales around.

Delta tamales are very different from their Hispanic counterpart, and a great example of how ethnic recipes evolve into something entirely new and more appropriate to its "new" region. Where the non-Delta tamales are steamed, fairly large, and creamy from the masa, Delta tamales are about the size and shape of a large cigar, boiled in wonderfully spicy broths that can vary from cumin to garlic and everything in between, and filled with spiced ground beef and cornmeal. They are also sometimes filled with barbeque pulled pork--I have yet to try these and plan to road trip to Abe's Bar-B-Q in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I am a barbeque stalker and the combination of pulled pork with broth and cornmeal sounds like a gift from divine Providence.

Last night, on a friend's recommendation, I ordered up a dozen at Honest Abe's here in Oxford, in the now-rennovated Rebel Barn. I wasn't sure why the guy told me to hold it level, as he'd ladled in the cooking juices. I began to understand as I placed them on the flat floorboard of my car and the enclosure immediately filled with the smell of garlic.

At home, I opened the box to see these string-tied packets of cigar-shaped corn husks soaking in reddish-brown broth. Sensing that the broth was part of the deal, I untied them, unrolled and disposed of the husks, poured the broth onto the plate, and heated up some corn tortillas.

Tearing off little pieces of tortillas and grabbing up the innards is how I ate them out west. Here, most people eat them with saltines. I swear by the tortillas, though, it's the only way to go. So that's what I did--little pieces of tortilla, grab up some innards, sop up some of the juice...and it was heavenly. I ate six and could have tucked into the rest, if not for the portion-conscious habits that have kept off the 20+ pounds I lost in Iraq. Instead, I ate the other six for breakfast.

That spicy, garlicy broth perfectly set off the somewhat solid log of cornmeal and spicy ground beef. The texture is just right. Tamales can be slimy if not prepared by skilled hands, and these spoke of a master's touch.

They ain't pretty. They ain't sophisticated. They have a cult following and they've been traveling around the Mississippi Delta since before the Depression (the first one). It is said that they originated from a Mexican migrant worker, then adapted to ingredients available in Greenwood, Clarksdale, and all over the Delta. Former slaves sold them from carts, folks started making them in their own kitchens to sell off the porch, and small mom and pops added them to their menus of steak and fried chicken.

Want more? Check these out:

Given that I didn't linger to find my camera and snap pics before I tucked in last night, I've tactically appropriated Gourmet's picture. I'll take pics of Honest Abe's next time I eat 'em.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

New Direction

OK, since I can't get it together to write interesting posts these days, I think I'll document the progress of my first serious gardening effort here. I've taken some before pictures and will post them with progress pics as I get more into it.

Step one is just plain, backbreaking cleanup work. The entire perimeter of the house is covered in dead leaves and pine needles. I *may* just hire someone to get rid of those--for the flower beds, a leafblower is really the best tool. I don't have one and don't plan to.

The other issue with the beds--they've been neglected for a few years. The vinca and azaleas were probably gorgeous when in their prime. Now, however, the azaleas look pretty tired, the vinca is getting choked out by weeds, and the honeysuckle has completely overtaken several azaleas and the better part of a wall. Time to get rid of it ALL, start fresh. I'll keep the two azaleas that anchor the front flower beds--they are enormous and sprout so many flowers in the spring, the branches look as though they'll break under the weight. Once they finish flowering, I'll cut them down to stumps and let them grow back in a smaller, more controlled fashion. They have gotten so big, they block the light and view from the den window and more importantly, the porch swing.

I even bought an inexpensive tiller. My plan is to get most of the heaviest work knocked out during each morning of spring break, leaving me the afternoons and evenings to study and write the monster Appellate Brief. After the heavy lifting is finished, I can take my time planting and mulching, one small bit at a time when I find a couple of hours.

I am spending the summer in DC, true enough. So I won't get to watch it all flower initially. However, I've only chosen flowers and plants that bloom until first frost--so when I return in August, it will all be in full bloom. With a heavy mulching, weeds shouldn't be an issue and all Emilie will have to do is eat the tomatoes and water every so often. I can plant a crop of late tomatoes, peas, and lettuce in August and draw it out.

I went crazy buying flower seeds: Madagascar Jasmine, morning glories of every hue, daylillies, new vinca, black-eyed susan vine, delphinium, sunflowers ("cherry rose" and the big, yellow kind), coleus, petunias for the window boxes, hanging strawberries and brandywine tomatoes that will come with me, basil, purple coneflower, orange blanket flower, Brazilian Fireworks, balloon flower, passion fruit vine...even kiwi vines that produce full-sized kiwis this far south.

I may or may not get it all in. I'm finding that I love the process, though, even the ugly job of weeding. I spent a couple of hours yesterday cleaning up my daylilly beds from last year--they were not mulched and were completely overgrown with weeds. Pulled the undesirables out, fertilized, and mulched. Something's eating them, though, so I need to do some quick research to find a remedy.

I think it's slugs. I remember slugs getting on my mother's strawberry plants. She gave me two jar-lids of beer and told me to set them out in the beds. I squatted there for a long time, watching the slugs mosey up to the lids, slide inside, and drown in the beer.

Sounds like some people I know!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's absolutely absurd, the way I react to thunderstorms. They make me giddy. I get all over, checking the radar about every ten seconds, just to make sure it doesn't miss us.

Case in point, I'm in the Law Library. It's 8 am and I should be reading Contracts, or yesterday's Constitutional Law notes. But no. It's fixin' to storm and here I sit by the window, just waiting on it like a rube.

How can it already feel like spring around here? The daffodils are up, it's about 70 degrees every day, and all the girls are wearing shorts and Uggs. Not this girl. Uggs are fugly and on principle, I won't wear shorts until it's, you know, NOT FEBRUARY.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to toggle over and check the goddamn radar. It's getting all dark out there and these things must be monitored.

Friday, February 06, 2009

I Got It(s)

It # 1: the internship. I'm so excited it's the only thing I can think about (outside school stuff) most days. I'll get to see many of the friends I made in Baghdad, and the work sounds like it'll be right up my alley. If the Obama administration pays attention to the scores of intelligence and legal professionals calling for a National Security Court, it would become my lifetime goal to practice in it. DOD would play a large legal role, no doubt about it.

It #2: I just got diagnosed with severe PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome. Which explains just about every health problem I've had since high school. I've been telling doctors for years that something was wrong, and they always chalked it up to, what, hysteria? If untreated, it becomes full-blown Type II diabetes and quadruples your shot at fatal heart disease AND certain cancers. I'm borderline diabetic now, and if it weren't for all the exercise, I'd be Type II already. I'm on several drugs, including Metformin, which is actually used to treat diabetes.

It took a referral to an endocrinologist to finally get diagnosed. Thank God for the VA and all that free healthcare I get.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

So no shit, there I was, having taken my last final of the semester the night before and half-asleep in the Lazy Boy, remote in one hand and beer in the other, watching a 4-hour biography of Saddam Hussein. It was funny to watch them play this thing out speaking English. English out of Saddam Hussein's mouth. And I swear, they found one of Saddam's surgically-altered body doubles for the lead. Dead ringer. Speaking English. It was hugely entertaining and I should have been cleaning the house.

All sound was turned off on my phone from being in the exam the night before. But somehow, I noticed the screen silently light up, and I wasn't even quite sure it was a genuine phone call versus a text or something I could ignore. Then I picked it up and looked at the screen. A 703 number. Which would be the Department of Defense calling me about the internship I applied for at the Pentagon. It was as if someone dumped a cooler full of ice-water on me in the chair.

The lady introduced herself (and I have no idea what her name was), and said she was putting me on speakerphone so she and the other interviewer could hear me.

I don't know about ya'll, but if I'm to interview for the Department of Defense's Office of the General Counsel, I would really prefer to get an email first. I need time to cook up all the huah-sounding shuck and jive, you know, how you do for interviews. Plus research them a little better.

So the male interviewer told me they were "calling me as a member of the applicant pool they were interested in learning more about," and gave me an agenda for the interview--why do you want to work with us, etc. Then the lady chimed in and asked, "Can you confirm your clearance level?"

I explained out Lockheed had been kind enough to leave me on the books so my clearance would stay active, and I'd just been read off in July, and no I was not up for a Periodic Reinvestigation.

"Can you tell me about your experience with JAGs?" I told him about being the Counterintelligence/Human Intelligence Officer-in-Charge in Baghdad, and neither the JAG nor I had any training or experience with this kind of intelligence law. So we sort of had to figure it out on the fly, to put it mildly.

So then he went into the type work most interns would do, research, etc. And then the gentleman lobbed a nuclear bomb over the phone. "Then there's this big project we have going on with habeus corpus." Which would be Gitmo. As in, one of the biggest legal issues of our time with far-reaching and broad implications. As a first-year law student, are you kidding? "I don't know if you'd want to do something different, or if you may be interested in getting back into that?" Oh, that. As in CI/HUMINT. But this time rolled up with law.

I almost stuttered getting the words out about how much I'd be interested in that. And then told them that any position they have available would be an honor, but I would really like to use my intelligence experience.

I know I sounded nervous but holy shit, one moment I'm half-asleep watching Saddam Hussein speak English, and five seconds later I'm on speakerphone with executive-level Department of Defense. It's a wonder I didn't faint full out. I was in my pajamas, for chrissake!!

At the end of the interview, the nice man said I must be wondering when we'd hear back from them, and I'd so far been too polite to ask. "We'll be extending offers in mid-January."

And then I cranked on some music and cleaned the house.

I barely slept last night, thinking about how cool that would be. Holy CRAP if I get that job...I don't even know what to do with that, working detainee habeus corpus??? It made this summer look very, very different.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Why You Should Never Try to Steal a Law Student's Laptop

by Dan Reilly,
posted Nov 14th 2008 at 2:41PM

A thief learned the mistake of trying to steal a law student's laptop last week after after becoming a punching bag for an Arizona State student he tried to rip off. Armed with a baseball bat, the intruder, Gabriel Saucedo, allegedly climbed through an open window into Alex Botsios' apartment, waking the student and threatening to smash his head in. Botsios was willing to let Saucedo take his wallet and guitars.

Then the robber made the mistake that ultimately landed him in the hospital -- he went for the laptop.

According to Botsios, he said "Dude, no -- please, no! I have all my case notes...that's four months of work!" Saucedo, obviously underestimating the fury of an overstressed, overworked first-year, was unsympathetic. That's when Botsios could take no more. Wrestling Saucdeo to the floor, Botsios separated the bat from the thief and repeatedly punched him in the face.

When it was all over, police had to get Saucedo stitched up before charging him with armed robbery and kidnapping, while Botsios only suffered some scrapes and a bruised knuckle. Most importantly, at least to the student, is that his laptop, which he called "his baby," escaped unharmed. Next time, Saucedo might want to try robbing a third-year student, as they're generally more docile.

He's lucky the guy didn't kill him. If someone tried to make off with all my notes one week before finals start, I'd have to choke a bitch.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yay Election Day!!!

I have a deep and abiding respect for Election Day. In January 2005, I was the U.S. intelligence officer for a beast called IPOC West, or the Iraqi Police Operations Center for all of Baghdad.

Early in the morning of January 30, dawn of the first elections held in Iraq in over 50 years, the Commander put together a convoy to run around Baghdad and observe it. I jumped at the chance to go out and see it all come down.

And here's what we saw: thousands of people walking, some barefoot, all the way from Abu Grayeb (too dangerous for polling centers) to central Baghdad, over 20K both ways. Under the threat of death, and giddy-happy to do it.

We rolled up on a polling center where a suicide bomber had just detonated, and there were chunks of this guy everywhere. Yes, it was disturbing and disgusting. His head lay on the ground close to where the line to vote snaked. I almost cried when I saw the crowd's reaction--they spat on the head, slapped it with their shoes, stepped over it, and stayed in line.

And this one--a mortar landed close to another line, this one outside our jurisdiction in Sadr City. We heard the excited radio transmissions. Several people in the voting line were injured by shrapnel. They stood up, people tore pieces of clothing and helped each other wrap up their wounds, and they got back in line.

So when I hear folks whine about waiting 45 minutes to vote, it's tough for me not to tell those stories.

I didn't wait at all today, since I went at 3:30, not one of the more active times. I was excited all day--this is the first election since my experience in Iraq. And the first time I've been able to vote since before I joined the Army, which enraged me in 2000 and 2004. Both years, I was outside the U.S.--South Korea in 2000, and Iraq in 2004. I requested absentee ballots as early as July, and received them too late, both times.

I called the county commissioner in New York when I was denied my right to vote in 2004, and ripped him a new one. Do you mean to tell me that when I'm over here wearing this uniform, representing you, that ya'll can't get it together to send me a damn ballot in three months?? It felt like this was the first time they'd run an election! Have we NOT been at this for over 200 years?

So today I voted for the first time since 1996. I will never miss an election again, state, local, or national.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why I'm Voting for Obama...

...and I don't even have to hold my nose while I pull that lever. I'm excited to vote for the first time in many years.

I'm not voting for Obama because he's black. I'm not basing it on his position on abortion (I'm pro-choice) or gay marriage (I'm for it). But there's more to it than that.

I'm not voting against McCain, although his voting record on veteran's issues is abysmal, people. When he said, "I'll take care of you" during the first debate, it was all I could do not to throw my beer bottle off the balcony at the big screen on the Square. Look it up, his record sucks big donkey balls. The most recent insult was his opposition to the Webb GI Bill for the dumbest reason I've ever heard, that it'll hurt retention.

Know what hurts retention? Back-to-back, multiple, and/or 15-month deployments, that's what. Having to essentially choose between any semblance of a personal life and your career, because you ain't getting both with two wars raging. The military is a life you either love or hate, and most folks act accordingly. I honestly can't imagine leaving it because the GI Bill finally became worth more than exactly one tinker's damn. There may be a tiny percentage of soldiers out there who'll leave for it, but I would strongly argue that retention in the military is already in the toilet, and only a small percentage of those leaving will go back to school. We've earned those educational benefits with blood, sweat, and tears in abundance, and don't give me that crap about hurting retention with so many other, much better reasons for leaving the military out there.

But back on point--my vote for Obama is not one against McCain, either. As much as I loathe Sarah Palin, it's not even a vote against the specter of McCain dropping dead. Although, that would keep me up at night, Palin at the reins.

Here's my main reason for not only voting for Obama, but feeling rather excited about it. When I was in officer training, a wise First Sergeant told me that the best leaders are not the fastest runners. The best leaders know who their fastest runners are, and they're willing to use them.

In other words, you don't have to be an expert on the economy, diplomacy, health care, etc. Who the hell could be? But the sense I get from Obama is that he's willing to respectfully listen to a wide range of opinions and perspectives on any given issue, then reason through it all and come up with his course of action. What a refreshing change that would be, someone who didn't surround himself with yes-men and egomaniacs!

I want the smartest guy in the room at the helm, especially when he's deliberate and reasoned. Now that I'm in law school, I'm IMMENSELY impressed that Obama was #1 in his Harvard Law class. I'm no idiot, but there's no way in hell I'll finish #1 here at Ole Miss Law. I'd be very happy to be in the top 10% down here at my little state school, where the competition is nothing like what he was up against there.

So bottom line, I'm voting for Obama because I get the sense that he's a man of reason, who is interested enough in issues to educate himself on all the complexities of each one by using the fastest runners. You won't hear him referring to Muqtada al-Sadr as a Sunni (ahem, McCain).

So in other news, I feel much more in control, somehow. I feel pretty good about my chances to do well this semester. I won't make all A's, maybe not even majority A's. But it's okay, the world doesn't end. I'm going to have to reset my standard of performance from undergrad, when a B would've been...well, rare.

I think that getting back into the gym 4 times a week has really helped with the control factor. I'm even back to running regularly, tough hill repeats on the treadmill 2-3 days a week. My diet's not great since I stopped cooking (no time), but one could do worse than to live on Lean Cuisine and the occasional BBQ sandwich and piece of southern fried catfish. I've managed to maintain the Iraq weight loss within five pounds and that'll do for now.

And I'm looking forward to pulling the lever on Tuesday, with both hands this time.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What My Brain Felt Like Last Friday...

...and no, I wasn't drinking. I just needed to brush it off.

Some poor landlord went knocking for the rent and found this. Which convinced me to NEVER rent out my house. I'd feel better about walking into a meth lab. The most disturbing part? There were supposed to be two cats in there somewhere. They probably died of cholera.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ok, freakout passing. It happens from time to time. Just my brain's way of keeping me on my toes. I go through several of these a year and always come out on the other side reassured and ready to drive on.

I'll do fine. I may or may not make top 10%--it wouldn't be the end of the world and I can probably still poke my way into DOJ with all the veteran's advantages (and the clearance) if my grades aren't where I want them to be.

I just have to be OKAY with not getting straight-A's. It was fairly easy to get there in undergrad--hard work directly translated to a 4.0, and that's just not the case in law school. Again, I just have to be okay with some B's, not get upset and think it's failure. It's NOT.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

So it's been a rough couple of weeks, during which I've felt a bit unmoored and uncomfortable. I *know* this happens every time I make a big change--I feel really great about it initially, then the doubts start creeping in: Am I really going to be able to pull this off? Was it such a great idea to leave a lucrative career in which I actually knew what I was doing to this amateur status again? In this economy? What will I do if my Plan A (DOJ prosecutor) falls through?

The toughest part really has been moving from an established career where I'd figured things out, for the most part, and entering this completely alien field. At this point in my life, I HAAAATE going back to being an amateur. But we're all in the same boat, we're all total amateurs, no matter how hard we work or how well any of us thinks we understand the concepts. Thing is, I often feel I've got something down, only for that principle to be contradicted in the next lesson or case.

It's a LOT to keep straight, a lot to remember. I'm trying to spend this weekend going back through all my notes, keeping older material fresh in my mind. It's fleeting--I lose a lot when I don't put in the time to review.

Plus, I've had a couple of weeks of total personal chaos, fed even more by all the doubt, of course, just to keep things as stressful as possible.

One thing I really miss about Iraq was the comraderie--I had a wonderful group of friends there and I miss having so much in common with everyone around me. We'd all been through many of the same things, both separately and together, and there seemed to always be a recognition among us that I completely lack in my current environment. And we were all pretty close in age--I feel like quite the grandma here. It's an odd feeling--age in the military was an asset, and here it seems to be a liability. Or maybe I'm just paranoid. Yeah, that's very possible.

The thing I need to keep in mind is that I've been through this before. A few times, actually. And it always works out in the end. Rinse, then repeat.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How Many More Baby Kittens Have to Die???

What's this crazy shit I hear about PETA sending Ben & Jerry's a letter asking them to start using human breast milk instead of cow juice?!? Eeeeeewww!!! I'm every bit a teary-eyed, animal loving pansy (my animals are spoiled rotten and I get all choked up when I see certain roadkill...seriously), but PETA makes me a little crazy. Pissing folks off and making completely untenable suggestions like Boobie Ice Cream does nothing to further their cause. I wonder how many innocent baby kittens have been stomped on because PETA pissed someone off?

None, I hope, but this is a sick, sick world in some parts.

My mother once noted, somewhat wryly, that I always bawled like a little bitch at any movie or TV show in which an animal died--I moped around for a month after reading Where the Red Fern Grows--but couldn't care less when people died in movies. I remember thinking, the people probably deserved it.

And yet, I somehow didn't end up in prison and/or a sociopath. Go figure.

On another subject, it's just starting to feel like fall around here, and I'm googly-happy about that. See, it's been many years since I've been able to enjoy this season without (a) being in the desert, where fall looks about like any other brown, ugly season, (b) living under threat of impending deployment just as the leaves were starting to change, (c) in the middle of a great deployment--this last one--but only here in Mississippi for a couple of weeks, or (d) in the middle of a horrible deployment, home (in upstate NY) on leave, and walking around with a grapefruit-sized ball of dread in my belly, knowing I'd have to go back to Iraq and stay there for ten more months.

I lugged that tumor all over the Adirondacks in September 2004, which were just painted with glorious color that I couldn't enjoy because that deployment was making me so crazy I couldn't sleep at night. I had to go back and work for that horrible, spiteful man I detested so much my stomach curled in around the ball-o-dread whenever I caught sight, sound, or smell of him.

I hope I never meet another human being for whom I feel something that uncomfortably close to real hatred. I never had before and I have not since. I couldn't just leave that particular situation, but if I ever encounter it again, I'll quit a job, move, whatever I have to do to get away from it. That much disgust brings out the worst in anyone, me especially.

So this fall has special significance for me. I plan to ride Piglet all over the countryside when I can make time from law school work. I will spend Thanksgiving break studying, baking my famous gingerbread, and concocting some sort of fabulous dish to bring to the family Thanksgiving supper. I'm thinking sweet potato casserole with some sort of ginger, pecan-laced streudel on top. Molasses. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and a touch of cardamom. I may have to bake several of them to get it right, which would be just a damn shame.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

...Or Not.

Everyone is livid down here about the possibility of the debate getting delayed or cancelled. Seems a dicey move on McCain's part--I'm not at all convinced either Presidential candidate would be very useful in getting the bailout plan hammered out. Neither one is an economist, we have experts already on the job, and now, more than ever, we need to hear from the candidates.

What exactly does he think he can actually DO? Walk into Congress and start ordering people around? Claim credit when it gets passed? It's just like his otherwise-inexplicable selection of Palin--purely for his own potential political gain, with no real consideration for what's actually best for America.

The focus of the debate may (and perhaps SHOULD) focus on the economy. Foreign policy is critical, but right now, the abiding crisis that touches every single American is the economy. I've personally watched a very large chunk of my law school savings circle the drain through my mutual funds. Thank GOD I had the foresight last January to stop contributing to them and shift all my subsequent contributions to my money market. And as for the mutual funds? I just won't touch them until I absolutely have to. Maybe I'll be able to stretch everything out long enough to sit on them until they recover, however many years down the line that might be.

As far as Oxford is concerned, the citizens in this town and all over the state--the poorest state in the country, I might add--have spent millions of private dollars to host this debate during a time when we could afford it least. It's a slap in the face to even suggest not having this debate.

If anyone thinks these events are government funded, think again. 5.5 million dollars were raised, mostly through University alumni, from private citizens and businesses. That doesn't even address the money spent by Oxford on the big events on the Square, or the extra police presence, the logistical nightmares, or the big bucks local merchants have shelled out plumping their inventories and decorating for this thing. The hotels have been booked since last February in anticipation.

This is about the economy. Just not OUR economy.

I predict that McCain will milk as many empty photo ops and sounds bites out of this as he can, then "suddenly" decide to get down here sometime tomorrow. This move has already backfired here--people are furious, Democrats and Republicans alike.

I love how we've responded, though--we're having a party with or without one of the two guests of honor. I'm going to a big debate party at a law firm on the Square, and I am terribly excited about it. I'm even wearing a pretty dress so I can sit on the balcony over the Square, drink wine, and bitch about it all with my friends and the new ones I'll make.

I even managed to talk my date into going, even though this is a decidedly Democratic crowd and he's waaay Republican. Goes to show you, he is a good man, and for him (and ultimately, for me, too) it's about the event, the process, not so much about one candidate or the other. That's why I'm excited. And besides, this is not a crowd that would say anything untoward to him--these are reasonable people and this is a small town where his dad was an Assistant US Attorney for years. We're just not a fighting bunch, we're more like a "discuss it briefly, then agree to disagree" kind of town.

If our roles were reversed and he'd invited me to a big Republican shindig overlooking the Square at a law firm where I'd meet a huge chunk of the Oxford legal community, damn skippy I'd go. I'd wade right into red territory wearing a blue dress and an Obama button. Don't think I wouldn't!

Monday, September 22, 2008

FOB Ole Miss

It's on!

Ole Miss hosts the first Presidential debate this Friday, and today was the first day that Things Started Happening. My law school is around the corner from the debate itself, and the campus looks like a FOB in Iraq, only with you know, pretty trees and flowers and grass so green it'll knock your eyes out. (FOB=Forward Operating Base, by the way, the heavily-secured camps all over the International Zone and the city of Baghdad and well, the whole country of Iraq. And Afghanistan.)

There are big fences and blocked-off areas, crowds, satellite dishes going up. It's all very festive and I'm so proud of this little town--how could you come here and NOT walk away with a very different view of Mississippi? This town has restaurants that I'd put right up there with gigs in New Orleans. It's gorgeous and quaint and people here are exceedingly warm.

I have to park at the mall and walk about two miles to the law school. I could take the shuttle, but I'm told there were over 200 people lined up for it this morning and it took a long time to get on a bus. I wouldn't know, I was the first in the lot at about 6:30 and I walked right up Fraternity Row and through the oldest, prettiest parts of campus. The sun was just coming up, the birds were singing, a baby squirrel followed me for about a block...and I plan to walk every day this week.

I'm bringing my camera tomorrow--I'll post pics of my lovely morning walk and all the excitement here. The Grove is filled with soapbox speakers and journalists, and you'd have to be pretty jaded not to feel the patriotism, the pride, the festive mood. It feels like this event in this place is about voting and the joy we take in the democratic process, and less about the contentious nature of the campaign. I'd pledged to hole up in my house for all the events this Friday--the big-screen TV's in the Grove and downtown on the Square, the live bands--but now, I'm catching it.

It feels like the best county fair ever--one with international attention and significance, where we get to show our adorable little town to the world.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I'm always VERY leery of mass emails of any kind--but especially those concerning either political candidates or medical studies. There's usually a very good reason why the information isn't reported by credible news sources who may be held liable for defamation and subjected to a tortious law suit.

Anti-perspirants cause cancer. Camel spiders eat flesh and can leap higher than a basketball player. Our modern Santa Claus was created by Coca-Cola. George W. Bush , having been tested, has the lowest I.Q. of any recent President and refused to sell his home to a black family. If any of these things were true, we would've heard about them through other sources besides a forwarded email with no sources credited. Such is the power of rumor--perception, even when unfounded and rumor-based, is often considered reality.

I don't fully trust the media, either. But I trust emails with no quoted sources even less. They never contain a link to a real document or the actual name of a person from whom the information originated.

My source for fact-checking these emails is, which is a non-political, non-partisan site that investigates email/internet rumors by scouring the same credible news sources that generally steer well clear of the information these emails contain. McCain's page is much shorter than Obama's--perhaps there's a much more vigorous effort (although I wouldn't call it concerted or organized) nationwide to taint Obama’s character and candidacy.

Patently untrue--Obama's tax plan, rumored to cripple most Americans:

File under "Can't Prove a Negative." Biden's intention to claim health issues and quit the race in order to allow Hillary to run, which would basically guarantee Obama's defeat this late in the game:

Sarah Palin has her own Snopes page, but as with McCain, there just aren't that many inflamatory emails circulating about her. Although, it would be like shooting fish in a barrel to come up with a few rants not based in fact that people would believe, like "Palin intends to use American troops as instruments of God's wrath and declares she'll invade Iran that same day if McCain leaves office." Believable because she called Iraq "a mission from God." It's easy to take one factor of a person's character and twist it into some apocalyptic vision of what their Presidency might look like.

And if I got that email about Palin? Even though I don't trust her, I would have to look it up. Candidates don't get where they are by making statements that would amount to political suicide, like doubling the middle-class income tax or declaring intent to invade every Muslim country on the map.

I'm not lamenting this Presidential race as the end of the Age of Reason--politics have ALWAYS been soaked in spook-propaganda and rumors that play to people's most basic fears in order to sway them to one side or the other. At least now we have the interenet and it's relatively easy to research claims in blog postings and internet emails.