Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Catapault the Propaganda - New Logos For Iran War

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . / washington_dispatch / 2007

Focus Grouping War with Iran
A recent Virginia focus group test-marketed language to get tougher on Iran. UPDATED.

Laura Rozen
November 19 , 2007

The following article is an updated and revised version of a piece first posted on November 19, 2007. That piece misidentified Freedom's Watch as the sponsor of the focus group described below. We regret the error.

Laura Sonnenmark is a focus group regular. "I've been asked to talk about orange juice, cell phone service, furniture," the Fairfax County, Virginia-based children's book author and Democratic Party volunteer says. But when she was called by a focus group organizer for a prospective assignment earlier this month, she was told the questions this time would be about something "political."

On November 1, she went to the offices of Martin Focus Groups in Alexandria, Virginia, knowing she would be paid $150 for two hours of her time. After joining a half dozen other women in a conference room, she discovered that she had been called in for what seemed an unusual assignment: to help test-market language that could be used to sell military action against Iran to the American public. "The whole basis of the whole thing was, 'we're going to go into Iran and what do we have to do to get you guys to along with it?" says Sonnenmark, 49.

Soon after the leader of the focus group began the discussion, according to Sonnenmark, he directed the conversation toward recent tensions between Iran and the United States. "He was asking questions about [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad going to speak at Columbia University, how terrible it was that he was able to go to Columbia and was invited," Sonnenmark says. "And he used lots of catch phrases, like 'victory' and 'failure is not an option.'"

According to Sonnenmark, two fliers distributed at the focus group session bore the logo and name of Freedom's Watch, a high-powered, well-connected group of hawks. This summer, Freedom's Watch launched a $15 million ad campaign to support the escalation of troops in Iraq. It counts former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and former deputy assistant to President Bush Bradley A. Blakeman among its leaders.

The first flier handed to the group bearing Freedom's Watch's logo, Sonnenmark recalls, raised questions about Ahmadinejad's recent appearance at Columbia University. The second one was also related to Iran. Sonnenmark assumed Freedom's Watch had arranged for the session.

And the upshot of this focus group? "After two hours, [the leader] asked three final questions," Sonnenmark recalls: "How would you feel if Hillary [Clinton] bombed Iran? How would you feel if George Bush bombed Iran? And how would you feel if Israel bombed Iran?" Sonnenmark says she responded, "It would depend on the circumstances....What is the situation in Iraq? Do we have international support?"

When asked by Mother Jones about this focus group, Freedom's Watch spokesman Matt David responded, "As a general policy we won't comment on our internal strategy." And an employee at Martin Focus Groups who only gave his name as Steve declined to say anything about the session. (In 2003, Steve Weachter, the manager of the firm's Alexandria offices, told a local Virginia newspaper, "We help whoever calls. It could be about cigarette smoking, drinking, whatever. We could even have a group to evaluate Pepsi one day and Coke the next." In the same article Donna Carter, the assistant manager at Martin, recalled the time the outfit was conducting a Republican focus group in one room and a Democratic group in another.)

After an earlier version of this story attributing the focus group to Freedom's Watch was posted, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the founder and president of the Israel Project, contacted Mother Jones and said that her group had commissioned the focus group and that it was designed by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm. The Israel Project is a nonprofit group that supports Israel and conducts extensive polling on American public attitudes toward Israel and the Middle East. Its board of advisers includes 15 Democratic and Republican members of the House and the Senate, plus actor Ron Silver.

Mizrahi says that her group and Freedom's Watch share a common interest in "thwarting the threat of Islamic extremism" and in "dealing with the threat of Iran." But Freedom's Watch "in no way is directing our work, and it's not funding our work." She pointed out that the Israel Project is not "involved with Iraq," a major concern of Freedom's Watch. But the two outfits, she said, "shared information" produced by this focus group. She insisted the focus group was designed to help the Israel Project promote "our belief in pushing sanctions." She added, "We're working day and night to persuade people the options [concerning Iran] are very limited. We're pushing really aggressively on the economic and diplomatic fronts."

Mizrahi confirmed that Freedom's Watch material was distributed to members of the focus group but insisted that ads from "lots of other groups" were handed out. "We test a lot of messages," she said.

"Of all the focus groups I've ever been to," Sonnenmark wrote in a subsequent email to a group of fellow volunteers for the 2006 Senate campaign of Jim Webb, "I've never seen a moderator who was so persistent in manipulating and leading the participants." (Webb is lead author of a Senate letter warning President Bush not to attack Iran without congressional approval; see here and here.)) The gist of the event was "anti-Iranian," says Sonnenmark.

If the group's organizers were testing the case for military action against Iran—even as a last resort—Sonnenmark believes they could not have been encouraged by the results of this focus group. "I got the general feeling that George Bush didn't have a shot in hell" of winning public support for an Iran attack, she says. Some members of her group suggested that if Hillary Clinton were elected president she might have more credibility in making such a case. As for the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran, Sonnenmark's impression was that the group's members did not believe it was up to them to judge.

Sonnenmark left the session wondering if foreign policy hawks would soon be pushing publicly for military action against Iran using language that had been tested on her. But, she says, "It is not going to be so easy this time around."

Laura Rozen is the National Security Correspondent for Mother Jones.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This article has been made possible by the Foundation for National Progress, the Investigative Fund of Mother Jones, and gifts from generous readers like you.

© 2007 The Foundation for National Progress



November 21, 2007
Soon the Bread Will Be Making Itself

I THOUGHT the Dining section published the easiest bread recipe possible last year when Mark Bittman wrote about the no-knead approach of Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery.

The response to Mr. Bittman’s article was so fervid you would have thought he’d revealed a foolproof way to pick winning lottery numbers. It was a sign of how desperately people want to bake at home, and how painfully aware they are of their limitations.

The method he wrote about, though, looks like molecular gastronomy next to the one developed by Jeff Hertzberg, a physician from Minneapolis. His technique is more or less as streamlined as this: Mix flour, salt, yeast and water. Let it sit a bit, refrigerate it, take some out and let it rise, then bake it.

The crusty, full-flavored loaf that results may be the world’s easiest yeast bread.

Dr. Hertzberg elaborates on his recipe in the recently released book “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” (Thomas Dunne Books), written with Zoë François, a pastry chef from Minneapolis.

The key to both of these no-knead methods is a lot of liquid: maybe 30 to 50 percent more than recipes that require kneading. The extra water dilutes the gluten, the protein that creates the latticework for any dough, which makes it easier for the bubbles in the dough to inflate.

But Mr. Lahey’s recipe, which calls for a minute amount of yeast, requires fermentation for as long as 18 hours or more. It also results in a very loose dough that can be difficult to handle and must be baked in a pot to hold its shape.

With standard levels of yeast, Dr. Hertzberg’s dough rises more quickly and forms easily into a loaf that can be baked in a pan or on a hot stone.

You can refrigerate a four-loaf batch of dough, or even an eight-loaf batch, for as long as two weeks, cut off a piece when you want to bake it, and it’s ready to eat in about two hours.

The active working time for the recipe — not counting the hours spent waiting for the dough to rest, rise or bake — divided by the four loaves gives you the five minutes in the book’s title. Or so say the authors. Suffice it to say it’s easy and lets you have fresh bread for turkey sandwiches, or a pizza on the spur of the moment.

Refrigerating bread dough is not a new idea. Neither is wet, no-knead bread. Dr. Hertzberg has just put it all together in an unusually easy, reliable way. The book’s master recipe, a bite-size version of which is presented here, makes a simple crusty boule. But the book includes a number of other recipes, including a whole-wheat sandwich loaf as tender as any I’ve bought, several doughs that made great pizza and a rich, delicate brioche loaf.

Dr. Hertzberg developed his technique by trial and error.

“It was kind of a laziness in some sense,” he said in an interview. “I was baking bread to blow off steam and I tried to omit steps.”

That’s a good thing for the average cook. With the hands of a practiced baker, kneading, long rises, multiple rises and sourdough starters produce complex breads of great variety. For most people they produce frustration. That, Dr. Hertzberg said, keeps many people from baking bread.

“Don’t introduce this element of mysteriousness that makes it difficult for people,” he said.
November 21, 2007
Recipe: Simple Crusty Bread

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough


1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).

2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.

4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.

Yield: 4 loaves.

Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.

Mark Morford on Sushi Gluttony...

Give me sushi, give me death
This luscious tuna nigiri meets the ocean's plummeting fish stocks. Can you reconcile?
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It's times like this I wish I was a heartless Republican.

It's times like this I almost wish I didn't really give a damn, that I lived in happy, savage denial of humankind's true impact on the health of the planet, that I didn't have much of a conscience and therefore felt the world and all its natural resources and all its cute little squiggly creatures were merely here for my enjoyment and my wanton exploitation, all here to feed my omnivorous appetites and to hell with environmental protections and respectful, restrained consumerism and, hey waitress bring me another order, oh what the hell, make it a double because hey, I'm an American, I'm entitled.

Alas, that isn't me. It probably isn't you. Hell, it's not really even most Republicans. Just those in Congress. And maybe Utah. And Montana. But never mind that now.

This time, it was all about the sushi. It was all about a fine lunch I was enjoying with a friend over at a raw fish joint in the Mission when it struck me that it was the third time in a week I'd enjoyed a fabulous sushi meal — not at all an unusual rate, I realize, for sushi-drenched San Francisco, and also increasingly common in America overall as mall sushi explodes in popularity — but still, not exactly a cheap way to live, especially on a (non) humble columnist's salary. But hey, you only live once, yes? Sort of?

This is the problem: Sushi has become one of those things. Like Cate Blanchett, like a Led Zeppelin reunion, like enlightened anal sex, there is simply nothing else like it, no other comparable cultural experience. Prepared well (as most San Francisco sushi is), sushi remains a unparalleled delight, so much so that it's nearly impossible to adore it and not at some point say out loud to anyone who will listen, "Man, this stuff is so effing good, if I could afford it, I'd eat sushi every single day. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"

Except, of course, for the fish. Except for the nagging issue of the massive, unnerving collapse, for how report after report and new scientific revelation after dire international prognostication now says, with increasing alarm, that we are actually raping our oceans far more severely than we ever imagined, that researchers actually haven't been measuring all that accurately in the past and when we now seriously study the historic record, well, it appears that the overall volume of edible marine life is plunging faster than Dick Cheney's soul into the fiery pits of hell. Which, as you well know, is pretty goddamn fast.

In fact, a recent New Yorker piece (a profile of radical environmentalist and whaling ship-rammer Paul Watson), cited the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as stating that nearly 70 percent of the world's major fisheries are already "fully exploited" or "overexploited." One ominous report, appearing in Nature a few years ago, estimated that we've now lost a staggering 90 percent of our once-overflowing bounty of large predatory fish such as tuna, marlin and swordfish, and we're still hacking away.

It might very well not be that calamitous. Hell, it might only be, you know, 50 percent. Or the fish could all be lying. But no matter how you slice it, at the rate we're eating our way through the oceans right now, many scientists say that the seas could be nearly barren of most edible stock, from tuna down to calamari and sea slugs, by the time your toddler turns 40 and the ice caps finally melt and the sun turns black and God goes, "See?"

It used to be easy. Just a handful of years ago, you could simply look up the list, see which few wild-caught fish were severely impacted and which were in most danger and adjust your diet accordingly, simply avoid them at the supermarket and refuse to order that nice wild sea bass or swordfish from the restaurant menu, cast your vote and let your feelings be known through sheer market forces, and feel like you'd done your part.

Not anymore. Fact is, there exists almost no wild-caught species that isn't impacted, brutally overfished, or threatened with collapse — or soon will be. And that includes many shellfish. And farmed seafood is little better, in terms of both health and negative environmental impact. Not to mention mercury, PCBs, hormones and other toxins.

So then, the ever-present question: How do you respond? What to do with this dire and ugly information?

Slate ran a fascinating piece recently, a discussion between two authors, Sasha Issenberg and Trevor Corson, each with a new sushi-related book written from a different perspective (the former historic/economic, the latter culinary) but each complementing the others' research and both more or less dovetailing on the point that, while sushi makes for fascinating study as both a culinary phenomenon and example of global commerce in action, we are, at the current rate of engorgement, very much on the verge of collapse. With sushi in particular, it seems like it's a case of too much, too fast, too easy, too cheap.

Ah, ain't that America?

One notable takeaway from their discussion: America's (and the world's) sushi craze might very well be short-lived, a quick, gluttonous blip on the radar screen of hot culinary trends as increasing demand far outstrips global supply and meager international measures to protect the oceans do little to stop overfishing, and soon there's nothing left of sushi but some seaweed and the sticky rice (which, by the way, is what "sushi" actually refers to: the rice. Sushi does not actually mean raw fish. But again, this is America. Such facts matter almost not at all).

The fact is, sushi should not nearly be so cheap nor so ubiquitous. Like beef, we should actually be eating far less of it, honor it when we do, treat it like the precious delicacy it is (a point reiterated by the authors, who say they eat raw fish sushi only rarely, and very selectively, and really savor the fish when they do). But again, therein lies the problem: The free market doesn't do moderation. We don't do respect and restraint and honor. We just eat.

So then, where do you draw your lines? How far can you let yourself and your cravings go? Is it not easier to deny it all, to just pretend you're one of those heartless conservatives and simply shrug it all off and claim that the free market economy will figure it all out, just say "screw it" and eat up all the fish and burn up through the planet's resources and pillage whatever else we like until it's all gone, and then figure something else out? Hey, it worked for oil. Oh wait.

I do not know the answer. Or rather, I sort of do, but sometimes the answer seems so much larger and more hopeless than just limiting my raw fish intake (which I hereby vow to do) and staying informed and supporting the right anti-ocean-raping causes and eating more burritos.

Except not the kind with that horrible industrial chicken, because that's vile in an entirely different way. So maybe more soy-based foods, except, oh holy crap no, unfermented soy is extremely bad for you and GMO soy might be poisoning the American diet so maybe more ... what, organic cabbage? Goat cheese? Toast? Ice cubes? Lots of deep, meaningful gulps of (polluted, toxic) air, and praying?


Thoughts about this column? E-mail Mark.

Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle. To get on the e-mail list for this column, please click here and remove one article of clothing.

Mark's column also has an RSS feed and an archive of past columns, which includes another small photo of Mark potentially sufficient for you to recognize him in the street and give him gifts.