Monday, October 13, 2008

The Eats Sheet: Lentil & Spinach Soup

Autumn is a time for soups. When the temperature begins to dip, it's nice to have some pot of tastiness bubbling away on the stove filling the home with good smells. With the farmer's market abounding in all manner of squashes, I'm looking forward to trying my hand at Cabeza's latest offering.

Over the weekend, though, I discovered a new arrow to add to my quiver of soups: Lentil and Spinach. Lentils, the bean's less imposing cousin, are a perennial favorite of birkenstock-wearing whole foods shoppers. But they can also please a more refined palette. Less gassy and quicker-cooking than beans, lentils are sometimes translated in the King James Old Testament as "pulse," and were famously eaten by Belteshazzar (aka Daniel) and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego when they eschewed the Babylonian King's meat and wine. Since lentils are high in complex carbohydrates and a good source of iron, they're an important staple to a vegetarian diet; it seems the Hebrew expatriates were right to use them rather than meat.

If prepared wrong, lentils are utterly flavorless. Simply boiling them in plain water will not do. You get a bland, gag-inducing mess that's pretty hard to choke down. It's also a mistake to overcomplicate lentils by overwhelming them with with other flavors. They'll taste good, but they won't taste like lentils. But with a few simple accents, you can bring out their natural nuttiness and make lentils good---good enough to trade a birthright for.

This recipe begins with three or four slabs of bacon chopped up into slightly-smaller-than-bite-sized pieces. Throw them in a soup pot over just under medium heat. You want the bacon fat to melt out without burning or browning too much because you're going to use it to sautee some veggies. After about 6-7 minutes, throw in a half a yellow onion, and half a carrott, both finely chopped. Tip the heat up just past medium and let the onion get translucent, while the bacon fat browns just a little on the bottom of the pot. Then throw in two garlic cloves, finely chopped.

After a minute or two, toss in a tablespoon of tyme, a scant teaspoon of salt, a sprinkling of cracked pepper, and a cup of lentils. I used brown, but I suppose any color lentils would do. Scrape up any browned bacon fat from the bottom and dump in four cups chicken broth, a cup of water, and two tablespoons of tomato paste. Crank the heat up to high and get it boiling. Then knock it down to low, cover the pot, crack the lid, and let it simmer.

When the lentils are nice and tender (25-40 minutes), turn off the heat and dump in three packed cups of chopped baby spinach. Let the spinach soak up the flavor and wilt for about 3 minutes. It's done.

I served it with sliced apple and sliced cheese. I also topped off the bowls with some parmesan. To make a more substantial lunch today, I supplemented the leftovers with some leftover rice. It was a good addition. I also think barley or some small pasta could work well instead of rice. I'm also toying with the idea of using quinoa, which I think might be a nice complement to the earthiness of lentils.

The idea of Daniel and his three fire-proof friends sitting down to a bowl of this stuff makes me smile.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"Our system of checks and balances is designed to preserve the fundamental right of liberty": An Update on the Gitmo Habeas Petitioners

I previously noted D. C. district court judge Ricardo Urbina's decision ordering the government to release 17 Guantanamo detainees. As of yesterday, only the order was available. This morning, though, the full text (though redacted some) of the memorandum opinion was posted on the D.C. district court's website.

It's a pretty interesting read. Because the government admits that these 17 men were not terrorists or "enemy combatants," the only issue was whether the government has the authority to indefinitely detain someone because releasing them into the United States might interfere with the government's authority to decide who gets to come into the U.S. and who doesn't.

It looks like the government's argument was based separation of powers---essentially an assertion that admitting somebody into the U.S. is only a policy decision, not a legal decision, and that it therefore is entirely the decision of Congress and the President, and that the courts have nothing to do with it. This is a bold assertion, but there is some support for it. Courts generally do defer to the other branches of government on matters of immigration and foreign policy.

Judge Urbina recognizes this, and he discusses the cases that give such wide deference. Nevertheless, from the opening line, you know where stands:

"There comes a time when delayed action prompted by judicial deference to the executive branch's function yields inaction not consistent with the constitutional imperative."

And by the end of the introduction, you know where he's going with this:

"because separation-of-powers concerns do not trump the very principal upon which this nation was founded---the unalienable right to liberty---the court orders the government to release the petitioners into the United States."

The big deal in this case is not the Judge Urbina found the continued detention unlawful---that follows pretty logically from the Supreme Court's Boumediene decision, and is even more obvious when the government admits that the 17 Uyghurs are not enemy combatants. What is bold about Judge Urbina's order is that it finds that the court has the authority to order immediate release. Although in Boumediene the court found that Gitmo detainees have the right to file a habeas corpus petition, it basically only treated it as a procedural right. The fact that the district court ordered immediate release into the U.S. goes beyond procedure straight to the remedy that should be given to a successful habeas petitioner. As a matter of common sense, it seems like it ought to be a no-brainer that the remedy for illegal detention is release; but the Boumediene didn't explicitly go that far.

Instead, Judge Urbina turned to the history of the writ of habeas corpus, which makes for the interesting read. It isn't every day that you see a district court opinion quoting the Magna Carta. He then turned to the government's authority to deny people entrance into the U.S. and concluded that naturalization power is not unlimited, but that it must comply with due process, including the mandate that nobody can be deprived of liberty without due process. Finally, quoting John Marshall, he turned the separation-of-powers argument on its head, noting that if the courts fail to review such decisions, such failure would allow Congress and the President, not the courts, to "say what the law is." Accordingly, he concludes that

"Because the petitioners' detention has already crossed the constitutional threshhold into infinitum and because our system of checks and balances is designed to preserve the fundamental right of liberty, the court grants the petitioners' motion for release into the United States."


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Judge of the Day: Ricardo M. Urbina

Today Judge Ricardo Urbina, ordered the release of 17 Chinese Muslims who have been held in Guatanamo Bay as enemy combatants since their capture in Afghanistan in 2002. This is the first time that a federal judge has ordered the government to release someone held in Guantanamo Bay. That takes balls.

Born in Manhattan to a Honduran father and Perto Rican mother, Judge Urbina was President Reagan's first judicial appointee. Reagan appointed him to serve on the D.C. Superior Court in 1981. In 1994, when President Clinton nomiated him to serve on the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Urbina was the first Latino appointed to the Federal Bench in D.C. Now, fourteen years later, Judge Urbina gets to add being the first federal judge to order the release of a Gitmo detainee to his list of other firsts.

In June 2008, the Supreme Court decided that the constitutional right of habeas corpus (the right to force the government to explain its reasons for detaining a person) is not limited to people held on United States soil, but rather that it extends also to people that the U.S. government holds in Guantanamo Bay. Nevertheless, all that decision really said was that the government had to explain its reasons for holding prisoners---not that they necessarily had to be particularly persuasive reasons.

The seventeen men are members of an ethnic group known as Uyghurs. Uyghurs are ethnically Turkic, and practice Islam, but live in China. In 2002, seventeen the Uyghurs were captured in Afghanistan. They admitted to seeking training from the Taliban in order to defend fellow Uyghurs from the oppressive communist Chinese government. They denied being terrorists, and denied any intent to harm the United States, saying that it was China that they considered the enemy.

A military court called the Combatant Status Review Tribunal determined in 2004 and 2005 that fifteen of the seventeen Uyghurs were not enemy combatants. Earlier this year, the two others were also cleared of suspicion. Nevertheless, they were not released because of concerns about where to send them. They do not want to be sent back to China (for obvious reasons), and other nations are scared of offending China by granting them asylum.

Judge Urbina, however, didn't think that not wanting to offend China was a good enough reason hold people without trial when the government had already admitted that they were innocent. He ordered the government to bring them to his courtroom by next Friday. The DOJ asked for a stay of the order, which Judge Urbina denied. The DOJ stonewalled, saying that it would immediately appeal, and that immigration might have to detain them. Reminding the DOJ that they have already been held for seven years, Judge Urbina impatiently warned the DOJ not to create unnecesary delay.

Like I said, that takes balls.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Seinfeld Revue

Recently I saw Jerry Seinfeld live for the third time (and in my third state). Some of the material this time was the same as the second time I saw him last year in Richmond VA. After the show we wrote down some quotes that we could remember. I don't think any of these are direct quotes, but they are close.

No matter what restaurant you go to they won't serve you anything as good as a pop-tart.

People think that sucks and great are far apart, but they are actually right next to each other. You're eating an ice cream cone and the ice cream falls off and it sucks. What do you say? Great!

I used to not understand why people had kids. Why would you want someone in your house that poops their pants while they are looking at you? And my daughter will lie about it. "It's all circumstantial evidence. The leaning on the coffee table with both hands groaning; I was just thinking about rearranging the furniture. I want to move this table over by the window, because frankly, it stinks in here."

My favorite suicide bomber is the guy who blows himself up and no one else. He's like jihad-e-coyote. Do you think they are blowing themselves up over there because it's all sand and no beach? Why do they have the monkey bars on the terrorist training videos? Has any war ever been decided on a playground? I think we'd win this one. We could just put some of our fat kids on the see-saw. That'll scare them.

Single guys are meaningless and trivial. Oh you have a girlfriend? That's whiffle ball my friend. I'm out in a real war.

Being married is like constantly being in the lightning round of a game show. I'll take movies we might have seen together for $200. Give me details from a ten minute conversation we had eight years ago at three in the morning for $800 Alex.

What is with the violence towards donkeys at kids' birthday parties? We tell the kids to beat this donkey and eat whatever comes out of his carcass. Then we pin a picture of his brother on the wall and pin a tail on him.

Dad is like a day old helium balloon. You're not sure what to do with it. Play with it? Pop it? Throw it out? Father's Day is a day to show how little we know about him.

Ebay is a great idea. Let's email our trash to each other. Why talk to your family when you can bid $8 to $10 on a doily from Thailand?

I'm a thrower outer. "The wedding album? I thought you were done with that." But now I know that was a mistake.

What's with the Cialis commercials of the couples in two separate bathtubs at the top of a hill? Shouldn't they be in a hot tub? And who owns two bathtubs not hooked up to anything anyways and hulls them up to the top of the hill? That's why they are in two tubs, they're too tired.

Why are bathrooms made out of porcelain? Who decided to cover bathrooms with the most reflective surfaces there are? Why doesn't the bathroom stall come all the way down? It's not like it's an expensive door. I don't want to look down and see your lifeless pants and shoes under there. Maybe that's why we call it a stall. We could cut off the top of the door so we can stick our heads out and talk to people as they walk by. "Hey Tom, this is why I left the meeting early. But that was a good PowerPoint presentation from what I saw."

After the show we were giving him a standing ovation, then we all sat down but one guy on the second row. He didn’t sit down till way after everyone else. Then he stood back up. Jerry looked at him and asked him what he wanted. He started to talk “I brought this homeless guy with me to the show tonight…” Seinfeld cut him off and said that the point of the show is to forget all depressing things and have fun. The guy didn’t still didn’t sit down and was trying to say something, so Seinfeld called for security and then the guy sat down so Jerry waved off the guard.

The question and answer session seemed shorter then the other times I saw him. When asked about making more shows he said “I'm old. I'm rich. I'm tired. You're not seeing a motivated person here.” He seemed content to sit at home with his kids and do periodic standup tours. Whenever he comes close to you, go. It's I think the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life, all three times I've gone.