Clinton foreign policy: Deft hands or insanity?


It’s something people – me included – repeat, “The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing expecting a different result.”

You tell me – are you comforted by Hillary Clinton hammering away at the extensive foreign policy experience she brings to the table? In the wake of the Brussels attacks last week, Clinton believes that her experience on the global stage as Secretary of State should reassure Americans that a deft hand is at work as the terror level heightens. But what makes her – or anyone – think that a person who has been in charge (or close to it) and has contributed to the overarching conditions that encourage this kind of madness is the right person to elevate to even higher, more powerful office? Just more of the same.


Heeding the political precedent


Media, political parties, political analysts and pundits, popular culture and just about any person you talked to in the US or abroad laughed off the Donald Trump presidential candidacy as a joke. Whether because Trump himself would lose interest, because it was such an outlandish proposition that it seemed impossible, because eventually he’d go too far and no one would stand for it any longer, because people love sensationalized stuff (they do, after all, love drama and reality television), because one of the “serious” candidates would surge ahead, everyone chose to ignore what was unfolding. And they chose to ignore the real-world precedent of the laughed-off, joke candidate who swept into power and did real damage.

World history is full of examples (Ronald Reagan was just a bad actor), but I think back again to watching the Italian TV series, 1992, which explored the idea of Berlusconi as an unlikely, laughable political leader (and its joking about how that would be as ridiculous as a Schwarzenegger political career…). No one seems to heed the warnings of these previous disasters, and we are doomed to repeat what we have not learned from.

Photo is from Piñateria Ramirez’s Donald Trump piñata via the Piñateria Ramirez Facebook page.

One-pot spaghetti wonder


I suppose I am like a lot of people who know they must eat but don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking. I’ve been pretty obsessed lately with wanting spaghetti squash, which I have never seen to buy in Sweden and have not had the foresight, motivation or green thumb to grow for myself. Instead, I will for now stick with regular old spaghetti. Pasta is not my favorite thing, but sometimes it’s a quick fix.

And it’s an even quicker fix when you can whip up the pasta and the sauce all at once in one pot. In 15 minutes, you’re in the money.

You can experiment with what works for you, but here’s my attack plan:

Chop two onions, saute in a generous amount of olive oil. Let them caramelize before throwing in two cloves of sliced garlic and two cloves of crushed garlic. Let this saute for two minutes while stirring, throw in two chopped tomatoes or half a can of crushed tomatoes (whatever you have). Throw in a good amount of salt and pepper, rip up some fresh basil leaves and throw them in. Throw in some spaghetti (uncooked) and then add boiling water and let the whole thing simmer for about ten minutes. Obviously you will need to work out the ratio over water to pasta depending on how much you cook, but it turns out pretty well – is easy, quick and not too bland. You can add more herbs, spices or some parmesan, but I am trying to stay on the vegan side of things in my own cooking/consumption.


When The Economist is Your Greatest Pleasure


Nonetheless it is clear that pot is… a ‘performance-degrading drug’.

Unlike many, when I want to reward myself or give myself a treat, I don’t buy a bottle of wine or a new pair of shoes. I buy a subscription to The Economist.

I find myself falling a couple of weeks behind because I devour these weekly publications from cover to cover. I cannot even explain why I devour it this way. It’s not casual. It’s like an overdose, multiple weeks saved up to take in all at once. Does not matter if the current event news is outdated. Maybe it is the sometimes tongue-in-cheek delivery and play-on-word titles and subheadings in articles. Maybe it’s the topics. Sometimes it’s just the slightly annoying way the magazine prescribes “solutions” and offers up its opinions (I don’t always agree with its assessments but appreciate that such a thing is churned out weekly).

I could have taken a digital-only subscription, but I like carrying the magazine copies around with me to read whenever I am stuck waiting or flying or what have you. And I am never disappointed. There’s always something – even in a slow news week.

A few weeks ago it was an entire special report on Turkey and its move toward being a “sultanate” under Erdogan. Then it was an entire briefing on legalization of cannabis. When David Bowie died, which filled me with unreasonable, irrational grief, the magazine dedicated not one but two pages to his obit and titled/subtitled articles throughout the entire magazine with his song titles and lyrics (and even did this a few times weeks after he had died). Small touches here and there, small things that give me a chuckle. It feels like a strange indulgence, but there are worse, more destructive pleasures to indulge.

Making Do: Condensed milk cupcakes and icing


I recently “hosted” a cupcake-decorating session with a group of adults – not knowing what other kind of activity to offer up when my turn rolled around to plan an activity for the group. It ended up being fun enough, but the interesting part for me was that, being the baker whose idea it all was, I had to actually bake all the cupcakes for use.


When baking time rolled around, the weather was dismal – wintry, icy and everything I did not want to brave behind the wheel to go get the one missing ingredient – milk. Luckily, even though baking is a science, meaning that you can’t just throw whatever you want into a recipe and expect it to turn out, you CAN make successful substitutions.

I had a lot of sweetened condensed milk in the cupboard, and I decided to give it a go in cupcakes (and in frosting).

Let me just back up for a moment to mention condensed milk, as I am sure I have done before. I do not any longer take for granted that it is freely/readily available and something of a staple. When I moved from the US to Iceland, long ago, I was stunned to find that condensed milk was nowhere to be found. I asked a lot of Icelanders, who seemed confused or, worse yet, acted like I was stupid for not being able to find and use milk. Yes, they did not know that condensed milk is not just milk. Eventually Iceland got condensed milk, although usually only to be found in Polish and Asian shops.

Moving to Sweden, I found that pretty much every shop has condensed milk (hoorah), which lulled me into the false sense of security that I would be able to find it again upon return (and needing to bake) in Iceland. No such luck.


Vanilla condensed milk cupcakes (this should make between 20-24 cupcakes)
170 grams butter
500 grams condensed milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 teaspoons baking powder
250 grams flour (if making chocolate cupcakes, replace about half to two-thirds of the flour with unsweetened cocoa – I guessed on this proportion)

Preheat oven to 175C. Bake about 20 minutes, until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out clean.

Beat butter, condensed milk together. When well-blended, add eggs and vanilla. Then add the dry ingredients.

Line your cupcake pan with cupcake papers and fill each about halfway (or slightly more). Bake.

Let cool in pan for about five minutes after removing from the oven; move the cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely.

I am trying to remember exactly how I went about making the icing… it was butter, powdered sugar and condensed milk (the 500g called for the cake recipe above is about one and a half standard-sized cans; the leftover half-can should be used here, though you might ultimately need more). Icing is a lot more forgiving than a baked recipe – so you should just mix the stuff you want together until you get the right balance of texture/consistency and flavor.


Hillary Clinton: Benefit of the doubt or disingenuous cackling witch?


While not succumbing to or fully recognizing the “inevitability” of Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ pick for US presidential candidate, I do think it’s fair to dig in to see if I can at least extend the benefit of the doubt to her, as an entitled and “moderate Republican” Democrat.

After all, if she is ultimately the nominee, what alternative is there? Certainly not a Republican, probably not a third-party candidate … not voting at all?

I read an article about women around my age, who fall into the gap between the over-45 women who support Hillary and the Millennial women who overwhelmingly support Bernie. A Gen-X Hillary problem. As the writer points out, people our age think “Hillary is fine” without being particularly interested or in support of her. Her biggest, loudest supporters, though, tend to be rabidly loyal assholes, to put it mildly, who don’t inspire confidence or support for Hillary in others. (And this, coupled with loads of historical reading that make Clinton seem testy, secretive and non-collaborative, for example, in designing and trying to implement the universal healthcare plan in Bill Clinton’s administration, makes me cringe.)

We also have felt safe and distant from the kind of broad and loud feminism that women of Hillary’s generation had to champion. We have not been subjected to the same kinds of workplace humiliation (most of the time – and I know this article, and my thoughts now, are written from a particular perspective under layers of privilege, so I won’t pretend that everyone has it so easy). We, on the whole, can make the choices we want, have the careers we want and generally do not run into the same conflicts Hillary ran into as First Lady during Bill Clinton’s first term (i.e., widespread media opinion that Hillary should be more of a “housewife” with a gentler image). Needless to say, this was the beginning of Hillary’s national-level pandering and image “crafting”, trying to spin herself into something the American public could like (as the article points out, she published a cookie recipe in a popular “women’s” magazine). She’s been shape-shifting her way through her career ever since.

The fact that this is necessary (and this touches on the heart of the article), this is just sad. We never demand that men do anything like this. Hillary’s every action, every word, was questioned and analyzed through the “woman” lens and the expectations (spoken or not) that society has for women. The article’s writer questioned the insidiousness of hidden sexism – she believed that we were beyond a point that we should vote for a woman just because she is a woman. But then heard a man ask Hillary a question on the radio, and she was struck by the tone – condescending.

“It was subtle, but there was something in his tone I recognized. It was not a tone you would use to speak to someone who was a former secretary of state and senator. It was the tone you reserve for that dumb chick in your meeting who probably doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It was a tone I’d heard countless times over the course of my career, and in that moment I suddenly saw Hillary Clinton in an entirely different light.”

She recognized it from her own experiences – just so well-hidden in her daily reality that she had never stopped to think about it. Everyday conversations that inherently undermine the woman’s qualifications and abilities. Maybe she is just overly sensitive, but in truth, it happens all the time. There is a wall that you never quite scale as a woman (and this is not always true, but is frequent enough that it is troubling and needs to be acknowledged), and the wall is built with bricks of condescending and/or backhanded praise.

Even acknowledging this, though, and feeling like maybe I could take a second look and view Hillary through that lens, there always ends up being a stumbling block.

Every time I try to look beyond the Clinton fatigue, the Wall Street connections, the lip service and her moderate Republican record, with which my beliefs do not align, some new evidence bubbles up that shows this disingenuous nature and snippy impatience and temperament that I feel form the basis of Hillary’s real personality. We all have bad days, we all lash out and get snippy – but unless you are an orange Teflon ape – politicians on the stump, trying to get into the land’s highest office, cannot afford to let the mask slip. A recent clip of Clinton talking to a Somali-American woman, basically making her standard speech (and not making eye contact, you notice), shows Clinton lose her cool and tell the woman to “go run for something yourself then”! Naturally, she almost immediately tried to fold herself neatly back into form, pretending like the comment was actually one of encouragement, as though she wanted the woman to stand up and be more civic-minded and involved, but the fake pasted-on smile and dying-hen/witch cackling that followed the encounter were telling.

Ah, America, you get what you deserve.

Whatever the outcome of the election, there’s always Canada.

“How can I move to Canada?”: Innocent question, unintended consequences


It’s been all over the news – the question (or some variation of it): “How can I move to Canada?”  was one of the most searched Google queries during the US primaries’ Super Tuesday events.  At one point, a Google data editor posted to Twitter that this search query had spiked 350%, which eventually hit a 1,500% spike.

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And who could possibly have predicted that this innocent question, borne of the fear, frustration and panic brought on by the possibility of a Donald Trump (or a Ted Cruz!) presidency, would lead to the Canadian government immigration website being overpowered by traffic spikes? I think a lot about these kinds of unintended and unforeseen consequences – fascinating for sociological as much as technical reasons. I have been a frequent visitor to the site myself as a maniacal citizenship collector and lover of Canada (Canadian friends have even named me an honorary Canadian in the past). I have followed the changes in Canadian immigration laws/rules, which turned more conservative and closed during the Harper years. These will probably be revisited under the liberal Justin Trudeau administration. As I visited and revisited the Canadian immigration site, I hated seeing Canada become, well, less Canadian and less aligned with the values that the whole world associates with Canada.

Anyway in all the time and all the years in which I had visited the site, I had never been greeted by this:

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Every day, it seems, another website falls victim to its own success or demand.But in this case, a little-seen (unless you are trying to move to Canada, which is probably a high enough number but doubtfully website-breaking numbers on normal occasions) government website is not necessarily the kind of site you’d expect to be overpowered by stampedes of would-be Canadians. (Get it, Stampede?)

Sure, many government websites are not the most heavily trafficked web spaces, and an unexpected spike is just that – unexpected. Some such issues are quite predictable (referring here to the US government’s debacle, which US President Obama called a “well-documented disaster” that nevertheless led to a better government understanding of how to handle technology). And eventually that disaster was fixed. Big, small or somewhere in between, even public sector entities (in fact, sometimes especially public sector entities) are responsible for fairly high-stakes information – public safety, public health, economic data – you get the picture. For that reason, they should always be prepared. Not every flood of traffic is expected, but when it does happen, you hope – and they hope – the site is ready. I mean, uninsured Americans were required to use to sign up for insurance. Yeah – how, if they can’t even get into the site? And you’d really hope that when the time comes to escape the Trump demagoguery, Canada and its government websites will be ready for you!

For now, though, in the heat of the Super Tuesday returns, the Canadian immigration website, apparently not ready for the influx of potential immigrants from the US (or at least not ready for their website visits to the Great White North), struggled to keep up with demand, posting the warning pasted above to all its visitors (and today, several days later, the warning is still there).

Now if only anyone had heeded the months of warnings about Trump/Drumpf.