Not the Right Stuff: Winning At All Costs

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I was raised by an American patriot, a U.S. Air Force pilot who did, in fact, have the Right Stuff in every fiber of his being.

You know that phrase, right? Brought to national consciousness by the Tom Wolfe book about astronauts (The Right Stuff, 1979), this phrase has come to mean, in the very best sense, someone who embodies the qualities of courage, confidence, dependability, toughness, and daring. Someone who always chooses the high road, who always does the right thing, the fair, honest, trustworthy thing. Someone who doesn’t lie or make excuses.

I am just old enough to remember a time when just being American gave you the assumption of having the Right Stuff. You might say I drank the Kool-Aid of the American Myth. But I was raised by members of the Greatest Generation, people who worked hard, sacrificed for their country (and their kids), who believed in the nation and its founding principles, and who not only believed that American myth, they embodied everything good about the myth.

But they’re gone now, and I don’t believe the myth any more.

The reason I don’t believe it is the behavior of Republican Party. The party of Lincoln, they like to remind us, but don’t you believe that for a minute. As this article notes, Lincoln would be horrified by today’s GOP; he would identify much more with Democrats. (In fact, the Republicans and Democrats have essentially swapped platforms. So enough with the the false equivalencies, meme makers.) As recently as the 1950s and ’60s, Republicans in our nation’s capital played an important role in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (shepherded by a Democratic president), righting—or beginning the process of righting—so many wrongs caused by the Civil War. (Read about this here. And here.)

But something happened.

I started noticing it—the fraying of the fabric of the Right Stuff—in 2000, with those hanging chads in Florida. It was astonishing to see the GOP send a hoard of lawyers and PR people down to Florida to meddle, to control (to take over!), to shape the story rather than to just keep an eye on it, to win at all costs—and to ultimately steal the election from the rightful winner, Al Gore Jr., a Democrat. In a recount of all undervotes and overvotes conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, Gore emerged the victor under all standards. In his account of the election (Too Close to Call, which is on my bookshelves as I write), Jeffrey Toobin observed, “[I]t is a crime against democracy that [Gore] did not win the state and thus the presidency. …The wrong man was inaugurated on January 20, 2001.”

That wrong man, George W. Bush, ushered in an era of strongly partisan politics that continues today. (I won’t even get into his many inadequacies, but I’ll say this: I believe in my heart that my father, a lifelong Republican who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, would have been so disgusted by Bush’s failure to fulfill the requirements of his military service contract that he would not have voted for him. Daddy believed in being a person of your word. Don’t get me started on those awful Swift Boat Vets, who are as far away from the Right Stuff as you can get. Shame on them. Seriously: shame on them for the lies they told.)

It was clear to me, in 2001, that the Republican party had cheated to obtain power. It was clear to me that there was, in fact, a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” and its intentions were to win at any cost.

And if they didn’t win, they would obstruct government. We now know that while Barack Obama was celebrating his first inauguration, there was a secret meeting of Republican party leadership—who planned to obstruct his every move. This is a fact, not fake news, for those of you inclined to that sort of naysaying. Journalist Robert Draper’s book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives, reports that the GOP began plotting Obama’s defeat on the night of his first inauguration. This is not governance, people. This is not the Right Stuff.

It’s shameful, really.

And it was obvious, even before it was verified by our strong free press. “Nevermind the nation was falling off the fiscal cliff. Nevermind the global economic system was hanging in the balance. Nevermind we were on the verge of another Great Depression,” the Washington Post says. “When the nation needed single-minded focus, the Republican political establishment put power over the national interest” (emphasis mine). It wasn’t just in Washington. All over the country, Republican-controlled statehouses passed voter suppression laws, to remove voters from the rolls, to make it difficult for minority voters to be heard. This is more of that winning-at-all-costs thing, and it disgusts me. When we needed the Right Stuff, we got, instead, Republicans.

I should call them, probably, Tea Party Republicans—which is not the old-school Republican party of my parents (nor a few of my friends). This Republican party has declared war on people like me, to its detriment and to its great loss. I was raised (by my Republican daddy) on Right Stuff thinking, the thinking that says we need all voices and viewpoints at the table. Two heads are better than one and all that. Or, as they say, e pluribus unum (from many, one):

This shared foundation has been our motto from the earliest days. It’s an incredibly unique goal for governing, rarely successful throughout human history. It’s built around the simple truth that there is strength in unity, so we should seek it. Unity does not require agreement in all things. That is impossible. Unity is strongest, in fact, when it is diverse. Real unity is a setting aside of some disagreements and distinctions to rally around a central vision. This is the hard work of democracy.

Sadly, my daddy’s Right Stuff thinking apparently was lost on my Republican brother, about whom I’ve written previously. And he and his ilk, the Tea Party, brought us Trump, who is, it’s painfully obvious, the opposite of the Right Stuff.

He is, not to put too fine a point on it, mentally and morally deficient. I’m not going to bother to back up that statement with links because at this point you know it as well as I do. There were the lies, the rallies, the speaking to his supporters’ basest instincts. Lying. Ridiculing the disabled. Lock her up, throw them out. People of color being beat up. Pussy grabbing. Lying and more lying. And registered Republicans standing by, holding their noses, perhaps, but not speaking out against any of this.*

Even now, I have friends who continue to mouth the let’s-give-him-a-chance mantra, in spite of the mounting evidence that the 2016 election was manipulated by Russia—Russia! A hostile foreign power, for heaven’s sake! If this doesn’t enrage and unsettle you, it may be that you have placed ideology above preservation of the American way (as in “truth, justice, and …”). Or, as I say, lack of the Right Stuff.

Not long ago, someone I once worked with (he is a Tea Party Republican, lives here in my town) called me, on Facebook, “the enemy.” Not in a general sense. He called me by name, and told me that—because I’d just expressed my opinon—at least now he knew I was the enemy. About this warlike language, the author of the article I’ve quoted above says, “It is this sort of tribal thinking that we have seen wreck civilizations throughout history. The great American experiment is unique in so many ways but one of the most unique attributes is this voluntary setting aside of certain tribal priorities and desires for a shared greater good. We dare not dismiss these strong tribal divisions. They are deepening, not healing.” (Emphasis mine.)

The enemy. I gotta tell ya, that gave me a chill.

Some years ago I was told to my face I couldn’t possibly be a Democrat and a Christian. No, really. I’ve been called a hater by an old friend. Every few days my brother posts something on Facebook about haters (by which he means, I think, Democrats) or libtards (by which he means, I think, Democrats). Right after he unfriended me, he posted this: “Someone unfriending you because of your anti-liberal post is kind of like the garbage taking out itself.” Now, aside from the fact that, again, he unfriended me, how was I supposed to interpret that? I’ll tell you: that I—Democrat that I am from that day in 1971 when I first registered to vote—am garbage. And you know what? I’m at peace with that. I can look myself in the mirror.

And, strangely, I feel more like the hated than a hater.

I was raised to be fair, tell the truth, to treat others the way I would want to be treated (with kindness and respect, among other things). These are Right Stuff qualities, and though I know I sometimes fail, I do strive for them. I was raised to be competitive, to go after the things I wanted, but that winning in and of itself was not the goal. “Winning at all costs” is not the sort of human being I was raised to be. Winning at all costs is not a Right Stuff characteristic.

And failing to speak up when there is clearly something seriously wrong here is not a trait of those with the Right Stuff either. (The Washington Post says, “It remains unclear whether Republicans will ever act ‘as if larger principles are at stake,’” as they did during the Watergate investigation.) As I write, with new revelations daily about Trump and his associates’ Russian connections, there is just barely an inquiry, nothing that could really be called an investigation. Some Republicans, in fact, continue to obstruct calls for such an investigation.**

We’ve lost the narrative of the Right Stuff, y’all. And the longer we go with one party placing power and winning above country and people, we will continue to be lost.

* Well, at least two I know of—George Will and Max Boot—have spoken out and publicly left the party.

** Before I finished this piece, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to oversee an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. It’s a start.


Season[ing]’s Greetings!

I have never, ever been able to resist the spice aisle at the grocery store. I began cooking standing beside my mother when I was very young; from her I learned the basics—to wit, you generally can’t go wrong with salt, pepper, and garlic.

I’ve been cooking for a lot of years now, and while I’m still pretty fond of salt, pepper, and garlic, I’ve always been drawn to spice blends. Like, say, “Greek seasoning,” which has, one discovers, as many iterations as there are Greeks, it seems. Or steak seasoning. Italian seasoning.

One thing I have learned, though, is you just can’t beat fresh. Sure, I’ve been pinching fresh herbs for salads and seasonings off my plants in the backyard for years. But I’ve quit listening to the siren call of the spice aisle at my favorite grocery. You can buy fresher seasonings online.

My awakening came as a result of a wedding gift. A friend gave us a gift pack of six salts and seasoning blends from the Savory Spice Shop, and when I ran out of Black Dust Coffee Spice Rub (fabulous on steak) I ordered more. And … oh my goodness. I fell down the rabbit hole of spice blends. Over successive months, I tried more and more combinations. The main location for the Savory Spices Shop is in Denver (they also have franchse stores all over the country), but their service is fast and efficient, and they always send a little sample of something different when they pack your order. And I love being able to buy in bulk (cheaper) if I really like something.

Salt from the Salt Sisters, spice blends from Savory Spice Company, Lupicia tea … these are a few of my favorite things. 🙂

Here are some of the things I buy from SSS:

  • Vanilla (beans and extract): I haven’t bought “flavoring” (as opposed to extract) in decades but with the advent of essential oils, people are starting to realize that the closer you get to the actual thing, the better off you are. And yes, I’ve splurged on different vanillas. (Tip: When I use a vanilla bean for baking, I save the pod, clip it up into 1-inch pieces, and drop them into my sugar bowl. It seasons the sugar! We don’t put sugar in our tea or coffee but guests often do, and vanilla sugar is a treat.
  • Pepper: Mostly the Four Corners blend in bulk, because my Irish husband has a thing for pepper sauce on steak. I tried the Szechwan peppercorns once and they weren’t for me (I’m not a pepper user, much, and it wasn’t right for pepper sauce) but in Asian recipes it would be yummy.
  • Salt: Fumee de sel was in my original gift, and is quite nice (not as smoky as my other smoked salts, and a little coarser). I enjoy the little differences between sea salt, kosher salt, flaked, fine, coarse, and on and on. I love the crunch, for example, of Maldon sea salt flakes, and was exposed years ago to fleur de sel, which I also keep on hand. (Neither of which I buy from SSS, actually.)
  • Spice blends: The temptation here, of course, is to go crazy, but I would advise you to ease into stocking your spice cabinet. This Santa Maria blend is a wonderful mix that we love on salads and steamed veggies. Pike’s Peak Butcher’s Rub is my all-purpose go-to when I’m not sure where to start. Remember that some blends are salt free (California Citrus Dry Rub has a nice bite to it), so check the ingredient list. When I mentioned SSS on Facebook, a friend recommended I try Park Hill, which I’ve used on pork, and that led me to Barnegat Bay, which I’ve used on pork and chicken. Check the ingredients—you might be surprised. I get a lot of ideas of things to try from the “People also bought …” at the bottom of the page. I always find something interesting that piques my curiosity. And I haven’t even begun to sample the ethnic blends yet.
  • Single spices: This spring I was going to make a simple kale salad that called for a little cayenne—and I didn’t have any. So I decided to start trying single spices, since I loved the freshness of the blends. When my little baggie of finely ground cayenne arrived, I nearly swooned. You can really smell the difference.

So I’m sold. The SSS website does a great job of helping you get just the right thing, if you’re not sure.

I hasten to add that Savory Spice Shop is not the only online purveyor of fresh spices. A friend of mine recently bought some assorted blends and spices from Penzey’s, which he highly recommends. And I also patronize the Salt Sisters, which I discovered when a friend gifted us with a steakhouse seasoning blend and another called Tuscan Farmhouse—both of which we use and enjoy regularly.

Salt Sisters has a smaller inventory than SSS, but their customer service is also excellent. Here are some other things I buy from them:

Those of you who know me know I really prefer “real” tea to herbal, so that should tell you something about the tea from Salt Sisters.

Since we’re talking about tea, I’ll just throw in two other tea shops at which I enjoy shopping:

  • Gong Fu in Des Moines, Iowa; highly recommended by one of my authors.
  • Lupicia in Hayward (the San Francisco Bay area). A friend of my son’s went to college in the area, and she exposed me to Lupicia. The teas are packaged in beautiful tins that make lovely gifts.

Finally, no blog post about the things we use to make eating pleasurable in this house would be complete without a discussion of our local olive oil shop. Here we buy infused and pressed olive oils (they’ll sample anything) and balsamic vinegars. We trade recipe ideas (dark chocolate balsamic on vanilla ice cream? oh yeah) with the owners, succumb to their sales, and just can’t imagine a salad without oil and vinegar.

Bon appétit!

Funny Story, But You Had to Be There (Touring Howth, Ireland)

And speaking of private tours …

A year ago I helped a friend who was taking her family to Scotland on vacation decide what to do with a little two-day layover in Dublin. We talked about it a lot in email. And then I got busy and the trip came and went and I never followed up.

Last week my friend realized the same thing and sent me a funny email:

I was going through pictures of our trip and realized I had never sent you a followup and thank you for all of your help in planning the trip to Dublin. [I’m not giving you all of my friend’s personal details, of course.] … We stayed in the Clayton Hotel and it was just perfect. A nice walk to the park and the shopping. We also found a great tea shop in the opposite direction.

We wanted to get out of Dublin to show the kids the countryside so I scheduled a tour of Howth. I thought it would be like the Disneyish tour we were heading to in Scotland—they drive you to nice scenery and you walk a short distance to a photo op. It wasn’t like that. Our tour guide was a six foot five lunatic who led us on a five-mile hike/jog up the mountain. It has passed into family legend now …

This made me laugh out loud (it sounds so Irish to me!), though I know my friend is in a lot better shape than me. But Gerry and I tried to guide ourselves through Howth, in a car (with stops), and didn’t see much, so I have to say I think a tour guide would be a good investment.

I snagged this from the interwebs. 🙂

Here are some links to check for guides to Howth:

Howth Guided Tours
Little Gem Tours
Sandemans Howth Tours
Tours by Locals
Get Your Guide

Go! Enjoy!