Thursday, August 27, 2015

When nightmares become a reality

Five minutes after turning on my computer today, my Twitter started to get ominously mysterious. A news station tweeting two portraits, with the caption, "We love you." Poynter referencing broken hearts. I knew it was bad before I knew what it was.

What it was was two journalists basically executed during a live broadcast. One of those journalists was engaged to the producer of the morning show. The other was dating another reporter in their newsroom. They were both several years younger than me. One wanted to get out of journalism because he'd seen too much tragedy. The other was loving the pieces she was doing and itching for more.

While this shooting is no more tragic than the dozens of other shootings our country has experienced in these many years, it felt bigger to me because these are my people. It is very easy to put myself into the shoes of the journalists or their newsrooms because I've been a journalist on assignment and I've been in newsrooms. I have never, thank goodness, experienced anything remotely close to this.

The shootings sparked a wave of social media discussion ranging from gun control to fact-checking to how much, if any, of the station's video to show (overall feeling: not so much right now, at least not once the shooting began), and how much if any, of the shooter's sickening footage that he posted on Twitter during the police chase before he shot himself in the head (none. He doesn't deserve fame.)

If you, like me, count journalists of some sort as about two-thirds of the people you follow on Twitter, this was your day. After the news conference in the afternoon I had to walk away because it had all become too much. Other news started coming through, all of which seemed insignificant (sex rehab, a sentence of life plus 3,300 years, the Mormons and the Boy Scouts staying tight), I thought of the book club I went to last night, in which we started out discussing a book about gun rights and gun control and ended up discussing the sorry state of society in which there were no good answers.

We, a room of liberal women, all agreed that guns are not the sole or even the primary problem, that if a liberal genie made all guns in this country disappear that the underlying issues of violence, rage and antisocial behaviors would not magically disappear along with the guns. Granted, I'd rather take on a maniacal would-be killer who has a knife, but the real solution isn't putting less deadly weapons into killers' hands. It's to somehow derail a man's plans to kill other humans before he actually makes a plan and gets a weapon. Unfortunately, we had no good solutions for that.

We also agreed that there is something wrong in a person's mind -- not mental illness necessarily, but something -- when said person goes from angry about texting in a movie theater, loud music or getting fired to pulling out a gun and shooting someone. We all get angry. Many of us have thought about using violence when angry. I have wanted to punch people in the face before, I'll own up to that. That action would clearly have been an overreaction, but I've had thoughts of violence during a conflict.

But I've never acted on it, and I suspect that's true of most of us. Also, I didn't have a gun, so even if I did get so irrationally angry that I wanted to kill someone during a conflict, I couldn't have. That is where fewer guns could make a difference in this conversation. If this shooter, the rap music shooter in Florida, George Zimmerman, the movie theater shooter who shot a guy who was texting in front of him, if all of these men didn't have guns on them, the altercations likely would have ended with some punches thrown, a broken nose and an assault charge. There would still be a need for anger management, but no one would have died.

And yes, I have used man and men on purpose. Violence on a mass public scale is perpetrated almost entirely by men and boys. Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying all men are to blame or that men are solely to blame. As a society we seem to be failing some boys -- they're not maturing, they're not going to college as much as they used to, they're not getting jobs or getting married or getting out of the house or even progressing. They're not getting help for mental illness. They're not emotionally and mentally mature enough to handle the difficulties that are part of every human life. What happened? What needs to change?

Mental health may have been an issue in the shooting. Former employers said he was deeply unhappy, angry and looking for reasons to be offended. While the getaway, the camera, the police chase and the tweeting don't indicate someone who was typically "out of it," mental illness takes on a variety of forms. Regardless, the way this country handles mental health should be changed. It should not be easier to get a gun than it is to get treatment for mental illness, but as it stands today, it's not even close.

Which leads me to one more guess at one issue we need to address head-on. In a 23-page manifesto, the Virginia shooter said he was inspired by the church shooting in Charleston earlier this summer, a shooting that, as far as I can tell, was motivated by hate and willful ignorance. We have a serious problem in this country, as evidenced by the overwhelming support the Republican frontrunner for president has garnered by saying hateful and offensive things about non-whites, particularly Hispanics. His rhetoric is meant to speak to the basest emotions and instincts in human -- mistrust, dislike and fear of strangers. Whatever snapped in the Virginia shooter's head no doubt included hate and a sense of being wronged by these specific people, yes, but also a larger group. Life had not been easy for him, it sounded like, at least in part because he was difficult to work with. He may have blamed those poor experiences on others instead of seeing his own culpability.

The shooting also inspired a wave of social media conversation on fact-checking, how to cover a story when you're part of the story and where to draw the line at sharing video. In the morning, the station's footage, that started with Alison Parker on camera during an interview and ended with gunshots, screaming and the camera falling to the ground, catching a fuzzy image of a man pointing a gun, was everywhere. (General feeling: OK to show, but do so with discretion and for good reason, not to get clicks.) By mid-morning it was difficult to find. At about the same time, a video from the shooter that showed him walking up, pointing and firing, hit social media. I did not watch it. I understand it was horrifying. How could it not be? (Unanimous: There is no value to this video. Do not show it. Do not watch it.)

I hope we can somehow become a stronger nation after yet another tragedy. It is never too soon to talk about better gun laws and better application of current gun laws, but if that is all we do, which in and of itself would be a miracle, that cannot be enough. We have to look at mental health, we have to look at disparities in education and professional opportunities, we have to consider why a small but increasingly public group of boys and men are going off the rails. And we have to remember the Virginia shooter had family who lost someone they loved in a violent and horrifying way this week. It is very difficult to grieve for a man who brought so much grief and pain to innocent people, but his family likely loved him in spite of his many issues. They are hurting today too, in the same and yet very different ways as the Parker and Ward families, and yet they cannot make their grief public. We should pray for them too.

And after this long day and long screed, I need a happy smiling face.

Yup, that'll work. Here are a couple more just for fun.

Monday, August 3, 2015

What is not better covered with chocolate and sea salt?

You know the line about how dogs always want to crotch-meet the person who's afraid of dogs? Or give a big hello jump on the person who's allergic?

Well, they also have a sixth sense for suckers. I, in case it wasn't clear, am a sucker. I went on a walk with one dog this morning and came back with two.

It was short-lived; animal control came a couple of hours ago and the dog (part husky, I think, on account of his pretty blue eyes) seemed pretty happy to be going. He seemed very friendly and thought this was another friend. (I keep saying he; it's because in my head all dogs are male until proven otherwise. This is genetic. Ask my mom how Thor got her name.)

I might have just let him keep running when we got home except for one thing -- well, two things, I discovered -- the tick that was enjoying the all-you-can-eat buffet on this dog's eyelid. Ticks gotta go. He and Pippi played, he made eyes at the neighbor's dog through the fence and now he's inside getting taken care of by people who love animals. And we will speak of this no further.

It's cookie time! (Was talking about ticks a bad intro for this? Maybe.)

I bought somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 pounds of cherries a week ago. I love cherries. They have excellent health benefits, namely, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and melatonin to help with sleeping. More importantly, they're delicious, as shown when I brought a bag to a a family the missionaries were meeting, and the kids' excitement rivaled mine when someone shows up on my door with cookies. I dried a third, froze a third and have been steadily making my way through the final third. 

These cookies helped. They taste a lot like chocolate-covered cherries, but without that impossibly sweet juice that for some reason chocolate-covered cherry manufacturers feel is necessary. Guys, it's really, really not. You shouldn't even need an ingredients list for chocolate-covered cherries. It's in the name.

I don't remember the thought train that led to the chocolate-covered cherry cookies topped with sea salt, but the result was fantastic. I do remember I considered chocolate ganache on top; I recently discovered ganache and will never make it again now on account of I'll end up eating the entire batch straight from the bowl with a spoon. It's that good. The cookies take a few-steps but are worth the effort.

Cherry-chocolate bites with sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1.5 cups minus two tablespoons flour
2/3 cup plus two tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh cherries, halved and pitted (This is the worst part of the whole process.)
12 ounces of semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips (Rule of thumb: Darker is always better. I used 60 percent. Had I been making these just for me instead of for a group who may have an unexplainable aversion to dark chocolate, I would have broken out the 85 percent Colombian that has prime real estate in my freezer and is now my drug of choice.)
Sea salt

1. Cream the butter until it's fluffy. Of course. Why is no one selling fluffy butter?
2. Add the sugar; mix until it's all mixed together. You know what I mean.
3. Add the egg and vanilla. Mix as above.
4. Mix the flour, salt and cocoa powder. This ratio will make dark chocolate cookies, which I clearly love. If you would prefer to keep them a little later, don't add the extra two tablespoons of cocoa and do add the two tablespoons of flour. Add this to the mixer. Mix until it's chocolate sticky goodness that you want to stick your finger in.
Go ahead and stick your finger in. I did.
5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least an hour. It could stay for longer if needed.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
7. Flour a work area and your rolling pin and break out the dough. I rolled it pretty thick, probably close to a quarter of an inch. I didn't want these crispy. You can judge for yourself how you like them.

8. Using a small circle cookie cutter if you have one, cut out the cookies and put them on the baking sheet. These have no rising power so don't get much bigger in cooking, so you don't have to spread them out too far. If you don't have the required cookie cutter, and who does, because why would you buy such a boring cookie cutter, you can use a small goblet or do as I did and use the mouth of beverage holders masquerading as cute little milk bottles that Sam gave me. 

9. Bake for about 10 minutes. Let cool on the sheet for a couple of minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.
10. When they've cooled, put half a cherry on each cookie.
11. Using a double boiler (or a pot with a glass bowl), melt the chocolate. If you're using the bowl setup as I did, put some water in the pot, turn it on high, get it boiling. Put the glass bowl on top and put the chocolate in it. Stir occasionally. When the water is boiling, turn the heat down. You don't want to get water in the chocolate or it'll harden.
12. Cover the cherry and cookie with chocolate. Sprinkle a little sea salt on while the chocolate is still melty.

13. Let the chocolate set. I know this sounds weird coming from me, because I advocate eating cookies, particularly chocolate ones, as soon as you can without severely burning your mouth. But if you put the cookies in the fridge (or freezer to speed up the process), they will be even more delightful. So just do it.

I'm sad these are all gone.