Risotto is Magic


1) sautee the shallot and fennel in olive oil and butter and salt until nice and soft. Clean the shrimp while you wait. Also make dinner for the kids and pour some whiskey. Put a box of pre-bought seafood stock [DO NOT JUDGE ME] on to warm up. 
2) Throw in some garlic. Mmmm, smells like garlic. It takes a minute.
3) pour in the rice and stir it until it sounds like you’ve got rocks in there. That means it’s absorbed the oil. Probably 2 minutes but I lost track of time because we were decorating for Halloween. Anyway, it sounds crunchy.

Description: A bowl of risotto, shrimp, and fennel in a black bowl. 

4) Add, I dunno, a cup of wine per cup of rice. Cook down. Stir a lot.. shrimp and save the shells and tails, then put on with some water to serve as shrimpy backup. You should have done this yesterday and made actual shrimp stock, but you don’t have a time machine, so it is what it is. Don’t use too big a pan as you’ll just need a few cups and want to get shrimp flavor in fast.

5) Figure out what the kids are eating cause they ain’t eating this.
6) Hey my wife bought a nice Italian cheese. I should eat some of that.

7) Add the seafood stock a few ladles at the time. Stir regularly. Not too regularly. Keep cleaning shrimp. Eat more cheese. Drink whiskey.

8) When the seafood stock runs out, use some of the shrimpy water.

9) When it’s almost done, add some lemon juice, black pepper, and salt. Taste a lot. Have my wife taste too as her palate is better than mine.

10) Then throw in arugula and stir until it wilts. Chop the shrimp. Toss in a bit more shrimp water.

11) Check with wife if we are adding parmigiana even though it’s shrimp. We are. Parm adds depth and salt. We’re not actually Italian. Add parm.

12) Add chopped shrimp and cook until just done, maybe 2-3 minutes.

13) Then serve and top with fennel fronds.

Las Vegas, Bump Stocks, and the NRA

NEW at Pacific Standard

On the day after the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responded to questions about gun control legislation by telling reporters that “there will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that’s not the place that we’re in at this moment.”

If there is a “place” and “moment,” are we there yet? And if not now, when?

In the weeks since a gunman fired more than 900 rounds into a crowd of concert-goers, killing 58 and leaving over 500 more wounded, we’ve re-learned the key lesson about reducing gun violence in America: We still can’t do it.

To be clear, the right wing is perfectly willing to use violence to make a political point, but only when it allows them to dehumanize already vulnerable people. Sanders, for example, concluded that press conference by talking about Chicago—which is to say gun violence among black people in Chicago. (In the interest of fact-checking: Chicago’s gun laws fail because right-wing states like Indiana and Missouri allow individuals to purchase weapons and traffic them into the city.) Speaker of the House Paul Ryan always responds to questions about gun violence by talking about mental health. And people with unmet mental-health support needs are vastly more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. Sanders, Ryan, and their partisans are uninterested in such details, of course, because the goal is to derail the conversation onto any topic except how to keep killers from getting powerful guns.

“Medieval” Madagascar

“Medieval” Madagascar: Plague and Inequality 

The Current Outbreak of Plague isn’t a Throwback, But a Sign of Modern World 

A guest post by Monica H. Green. 
Dr. Green is Professor of History at Arizona State University. 
Follow her on Twitter @monicaMedHist 

I see dead people. That’s my job. I’m a historian.

But in the past five years, I have seen many millions more dead people than I ever thought I would as a historian of medicine. In the past five years, I have had the experience of slowly realizing that the Black Death—the massive outbreak of plague that struck in the middle of the 14th century—likely affected many millions more people than we ever imagined in our wildest nightmares.

In most of the maps we see when we study this period of history, in most of the texts we read, we are usually taught to think of the Black Death as a pandemic that struck only the Mediterranean and Europe. We teach the Black Death through the stories of Boccaccio, telling us of social breakdown from the perspective of elite Florentines who could afford to escape the city, leaving others to their fate. We learn of the Black Death from manorial records in England, which show tenant after tenant having to pay the heriot, a kind of death tax, in order to inherit land from their deceased relatives. We cringe with horror listening to Ibn al-Wardi, writing from Aleppo, recount the terrifying progression of the plague across the Middle East and into North Africa.

But what we haven’t seen or heard, what we haven’t previously perceived, are the many millions of people beyond the Mediterranean who may have also been struck by the disease. Geneticists now talk of a “Big Bang” in plague’s history, a sudden branching out, an explosive expansion of the causative organism of plague, Yersinia pestis, sometime in the late 13th or early 14th century. This expansion of plague created four new branches in plague’s evolutionary tree. One “branch” went westward, reaching the Black Sea and then the Mediterranean. Two branches likely stayed fairly local in central Eurasia, and may have affected wild animal populations more than humans.

Minimum spanning phylogenetic tree of 133 Y. pestis genomes, with major historical events marked. From Y. Cui et al. 2013, fig. 1A, with additions by M. H. Green. Reproduced with permission.

But the fourth branch spread out just as widely as the first. Strains called by scientists 2.MED and 2.ANT can now be found across almost all of Eurasia, from Jilin Province in northeast China to Turkey and even Algeria, from Russia and Mongolia to Tibet and India. Perhaps as much as two-thirds of Eurasia, and maybe even major parts of Africa, were affected by this pandemic, which spawned continuing outbreaks for centuries.

How do we know this? Because strains of plague initially created in the 14th century still exist in the world today. The evolutionary history that I have just given has been made possible by the fact that this organism still persists on four of the five inhabited continents of the world. Plague outbreaks are not a routine experience for most of us today, but that is not because we ever “conquered” the disease. Plague has never been eradicated, and it won’t be. Rather, we have established an uneasy détente with the organism. We know where it lives, we know how it behaves. And we watch it. Closely.

And that’s why those of us who know plague are watching the situation currently unfolding in Madagascar with increasing alarm. The current toll of 1192 cases and 124 deaths already makes this one of the largest outbreaks in years. Equally alarming is the fact that, of the 22 administrative districts in Madagascar, 14—two-thirds—are reporting cases. This is a plague outbreak out of control.

Why is Madagascar suffering from this “medieval” disease? Because it’s part of the modern world. I live in “medieval” Arizona, a state—like most of the American West—where plague has also insinuated its way into the wild rodent population. Plague arrived in Madagascar and the American Pacific coast about the same time, around 1900, and for the same reason: it was being transported all over the world in the holds of steamships coming out of Hong Kong’s harbor. In both Madagascar and America, it spread inland, finding new hosts and taking up permanent residence.

Plague has changed very little in the past 700 years. It hasn’t had to. We control plague nowadays by using insecticides to get rid of the fleas that transmit the disease from host to host and by controlling rodent infestations. But plague never went away. Only our daily awareness of it did.

What is happening in Madagascar shouldn’t be happening. We know how to monitor this terrifying disease and we know how to control it. We know that a standard arsenal of antibiotics can halt an infection, if it is given very quickly after exposure. We also know that, if not controlled, plague has one of the highest mortality rates of any disease in history.

What we have not yet learned is a lesson the microbial world has been trying to teach us since the 14th century: we’re all connected. Madagascar is suffering now not because it is trapped in its medieval past. Madagascar was indeed connected to a larger world in the Middle Ages, but we have no evidence that plague reached it then. Rather, Madagascar is suffering from plague now because of its connections to the modern global economy. The mining, the textile production, even the very vanilla we use everyday has made Madagascar part of this global economy.

I see dead people in the past. And I cannot save them except by recovering their stories. The people of present-day Madagascar, however, are not beyond our reach. Or beyond our responsibility. We are all connected.

Sandy Hook Documents

I was writing a piece today about gun violence when news broke that the FBI was releasing 1500+ pages of documents about Sandy Hook. They are available here.

Experts in the case say there’s nothing especially new here, but I haven’t read them all before. Two things remain clear.

1) There were lots of warning signs and missed opportunities for interventions of all sorts.
2) Without the guns, especially the AR-15 Bushmaster, a lot of kids would still be alive.

Betsy DeVos: Theocratic Vandal

New today at Pacific Standard;

We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of the damage that the Trump administration’s particular combination of incompetency and vandalism can do. The Republicans have empowered a class of people who either don’t understand federal policy or actively resist enforcing federal protections for the people and places in need. The first victims have been those multiply marginalized by factors such as race, class, gender identity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and, of course, disability. We’ve seen this manifest in the actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement as the agency raids hospitals and prevents teenagers from accessing reproductive rights. But there’s no shortage of damage to come, and so many of the targets involve disability.

Someday soon there will be elections for local, state, and federal officials in your communities. Progressives need to explain that policy is a matter of life or death, so voters can see the consequences of these disastrous appointments in their lives. Because when a theocratic vandal takes control of the education system in America, no one’s access to a safe, high-quality public education is secure.


Ada Palmer and Invisible Disabilities

One of the great joys of living in Chicago was getting to know Ada Palmer, brilliant historian and speculative fiction novelist. I was privileged to interview her at her last two book launches in Chicago (one of which I subsequently published some of).

Last August, she received the Campbell award for best new writer at Worldcon, a major prize indeed, and mounted the stage with a cane and delivered a speech about invisible disability, on which she then expanded at length in this blog post.

I had not discussed this in public before because being public about disability (especially for women) so often results in attacks from the uglier sides of the internet, a dangerous extra stress while I’m working hard to manage my symptoms. I have been open about my disability with my students and colleagues at the University of Chicago, every one of whom has been nothing but outstandingly supportive. In fact, much of the strength which helped me get through last night came from the earlier experience of discussing my disability with my students this past year when I had to explain that I might miss class for surgery. Their outpouring of warmth and support was truly beautiful, but I was also awed by how eager they were to discuss the larger issue of invisible disability, and to hear about how I’ve worked to balance my projects and career with my medical realities, a type of challenge which affects so many of us, and many of them. Thinking of their kindness helped me keep my courage up last night, when having an attack at such a public moment made it impossible to avoid having this same conversation in a much more public and therefore scary space.

Go read Ada’s books!

Penn History Department Letter on Right-Wing Attacks on Graduate Student

I have been given screenshots of a letter which I transcribe below. My read is that this is an improvement on the letter from the PR folks, which did not specifically address the issue of right-wing targeting.


Dear History Department Graduate Students,

We want to acknowledge your concerns about recent developments. Please know we stand in firm support of our teaching assistants. We fully recognize, respect and encourage many of the innovative pedagogic methods designed to encourage the participation of marginalized students. We also deplore the ways that social media has been used to target those who seek to further this mission. While we cannot comment further at this time, we are cognizant of our responsibility to make all students feel welcome and included in our classrooms. We remain deeply committed to realizing these goals together.

We hope to have the chance to meet and hear your concerns in the coming weeks.


The document is signed by the Director of Graduate Studies for History, the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, and the Chair of the Department of History.

Study Humanities; Get a Job

In Pacific Standard, Noah Berlatsky and Ilana Gershon wrote a great piece about how humanities supports you getting a job!

The skills you learn in the humanities are exactly the skills you use in a job search. The humanities teach students to understand the different rules and expectations that govern different genres, to examine social cues and rituals, to think about the audience for and reception of different kinds of communications. In short, they teach students how to apply for the kinds of jobs students will be looking for after college.

This is a good piece. I have made similar arguments and will continue to do so, both as a writer and as an advisor in history.

That said, it’s still accepting the premise that the value in what we do is about capitalism. I’m not sure, long term, that’s going to work.

Chicago Public Schools Attack Special Ed

WBEZ has a breathtaking scoop about CPS hiring auditors, some of whom billed as high as $350 an hour, with no background in special education, to reshape CPS special ed! The results have been disastrous.

Here’s how it worked:

1) Declare CPS is broke.
2) Declare Special Ed is too expensive, especially for black and Latinx boys.
3) Hire auditors.
4) Pay them vast sums
5) Create new systems to make it harder and harder for kids to get benefits.
6) Declare victory, I guess.

In an interview with WBEZ, CPS officials involved with the special education overhaul said if students were denied services, it was because they didn’t qualify under the new criteria.

Yolanda Williams’ daughter was one of thousands of students affected. She has Down syndrome and had qualified for occupational therapy for years, Williams said. But last year the staff at Penn Elementary in North Lawndale suddenly stopped providing it to her, she said.

Williams’ daughter sees an occupational therapist outside of school at the University of Illinois-Chicago. That therapist says the girl still needs the extra help at school, Williams said.

“I am trying to understand what happened and why?” she said.

The UIC therapist is teaching her daughter life skills such as brushing her teeth and tying her shoes, Williams said. But she said her daughter’s handwriting is virtually unreadable and she doesn’t know how to read, which are skills an in-school occupational therapist could work on.

CPS has always depended on some parents not knowing their rights.  Now they have made it worse.