Roasted Chickpeas

This is one of the best snacks I’ve concocted recently, and with good quality canned chickpeas, so easy to make.


1 can chickpeas
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sumak
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red paprika

Heat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Layer a pan with foil. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, then arrange on foil in one layer. Bake for about 30 minutes, until chickpeas are crunchy.

The Benefits and Discontents of Incremental Reform

A few recent events have made me think about the advantages and drawbacks of reforming the correctional system incrementally, that is–by “fixing” one aspect of it at a time. Two things in particular came to mind.

The first is the tension between death penalty activism and life imprisonment, or long-term imprisonment, activism. Last year, at the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty meeting, I talked about the perils limiting activism only to the grounds that would “work”, such as innocence and cost. In the same meeting, Senator Mark Leno, for whose good intentions and immense contributions to correctional reform I have much respect, said that  abolishing the death penalty would not hamper public safety, as we could still throw dangerous convicted felons into prisons for the rest of their lives. This idea, of limiting the struggle to the death penalty under  the assumption that life imprisonment was somehow okay or even advisable, worked well in a room in which people were gathered as a narrow coalition – there were representatives of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation in the room, as well as law enforcement agents who oppose the death penalty but are otherwise on board with law and order policies. So, politically, narrowing the struggle to “just” the death penalty is necessary to bring together all these groups of activists. However, narrowing the focus of the struggle to the death penalty under the argument that life imprisonment in a supermax facility, say, under SHU conditions, is not as bad, is a severe blow to the struggle against isolation, debriefing, and other humiliating conditions suffered by inmates who were not sentenced to death–precisely the conditions leading to the hunger strike, now entering its third week. Is this why the strike is getting so little press coverage? Because, in California, it is now politically easier to stomach a potential death penalty abolition than humane conditions for presumed gang members? Both of these goals are worth fighting for, and I wonder whether patience and incremental gains here will be to the inmates’ advantage or detriment.

The second is SB9, the Fair Sentencing of Youth Act, which for all its noble purpose and fancy name affects the sentencing of very few juveniles in CA, and less than 3,000 nationwide should it become national policy. Happily, SB9 recently passed 5 to 2 in the Assembly Public Safety Committee meeting; that is a very good thing, and it may make a meaningful difference in the lives of the few young men and women behind bars with no glimmer of hope for freedom in their future. However, as some blog commentators mentioned here in the last few days, the proposal is limited in effect to those juveniles, rather than giving more hope to juveniles sentenced to life with parole (say, 25 to life) or to otherwise lengthy sentences. Both groups of inmates – and the second group is, of course, more numerous – are worth fighting for, and again, I hope the incremental system will work to the benefit of the second group over time.

Changes and reform in criminal justice policies have historically been incremental. SB9 would not have existed without Roper v. Simmons, after which many activists may have asked themselves why it made sense to separate the fight . Similarly, the current proposal to end the death penalty in CA would not have come to life without years of moratoria and incremental struggles about amounts of this or that drug. And none of this would have been achieved, in my opinion, without the mundane, gray backdrop of the financial crisis, serving as a constant reminder to activists and disinterested citizens alike that we cannot afford mass incarceration and punitive extravaganzas. The current hunger strike in Pelican Bay, which I hope will finally start attracting more media now (mainstream news coverage of this event of seminal importance has been pitiful, with the exception of the L.A. Times), might not have come into existence had the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Plata not given inmates hope for change.

So, the revolution will not come in a shiny parade. It will happen stone by stone, proposal by proposal, shutting down the mechanism not because all policymakers will suddenly come to the realization that what we have done is excessive, brutal and inhumane, but because we will gradually be unable to afford more and more pieces of the puzzle. It will be less dramatic, but the end result will be no less gratifying, and it is still worth fighting for, step by step, brick by brick.

Making Sentencing Reform a Priority

Sign this ACLU-California petition at

Save Money and Increase Public Safety

To Governor Brown, Senate President Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Perez:

As you work to solve the long-term budget deficit, please make sentencing reform a top priority. Sentencing reform will help balance the budget, balance our priorities, and balance the scales of justice.

Two simple sentencing reforms would save California taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually:

  1. Make possession of small amounts of drugs a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
  2. Make low-level, non-violent property offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies.

These two reforms fit with your realignment plan by keeping state prison for violent and serious offenses. But they provide additional benefitslowering court costs, shortening sentences and saving both state and local dollars that can be used for public safety, drug treatment, social services and public schools and universities.

You have the power to bring back balance to the State of California.

Monday Protest in Sacramento

click to enlarge text

This Monday, supporters of the striking inmates will meet at the CDCR headquarters in Sacramento.

Previous statements from CDCR denied the existence, or minimized the size, of the strike. Now, it appears that CDCR is admitting that thousands of inmates are striking. The disappointing bit, however, is that the interpretation by the authorities completely misses the point. Look at this odd CDCR statement in the Chronicle: 

Prison administrators said the 676 remaining inmates who have refused meals since the strike began July 1 probably synchronized their statewide effort through organized criminal networks.

“This goes to show the power, influence and reach of prison gangs,” said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “Some people are doing it because they want to do it, and some are being ordered to do it.”

What is being missed here is that, as opposed to the common race-related segregation and animosity within walls, this strike uniquely bridged people of different races. Probably, as in any form of public protest, there is leadership, and it would not be a big surprise if leaders are charismatic and had leadership status prior to the strike. What is remarkable here is CDCR’s refusal to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Why would thousands of people in deplorable conditions make their conditions even more deplorable by risking their health and well being in refusing food? Maybe the actual substance requires institutional attention? No, let’s just say “gangs”, and it will make the demands of thousands of people incarcerated in abysmal conditions disappear.

If you, too, are upset, and can make it to Sacramento on Monday, make your voices heard.

Edited to update: It appears that an attempt to negotiate with striking inmates has been made. CDCR has promised it would conduct a “comprehensive review” of SHU. Unsatisfied and displeased with these vague statements, inmates continue striking. Mediators report some of the strikers have lost 25-35 pounds and their health is deteriorating.

Aaaaaand… we’re back!

After a three-year hiatus, we’re back!

I’m sure all of you, gentle readers, have been around the block many times since our last post about compote in 2008. So have we! We now live and cook in San Francisco. Here we have access to wonderful farmers markets and grocery stores, and also to many new friends with many new recipes.

In this post, I’ll just quickly review some of the nutritional changes we’ve gone through here, and offer a glance at two inspirational food-related books I’ve very much enjoyed recently.

Back in 2003, I was diagnosed as wheat-intolerant after going through an elimination diet. I then figured out that dairy in large amounts, particularly cow milk, made me ill as well. So, no wheat and very little dairy. I do eat eggs, and in the years since Israel have gradually introduced some fish into my diet. I particularly enjoy cured salmon and sardines, but many other fish as well. Having been vegetarian for a long time, it was a difficult adjustment; but it was very much worth it in terms of my health and well-being. I have much respect for sustainable fishing practices and try to shop and eat accordingly; my relationship with water has become very intimate since I started swimming competitively, in the pool but mostly in open water. So, you’ll see the occasional fish on this blog, but for the most part, it’s all about vegetables and fruit, as it always was.

Also, I had the privilege to read Joel Fuhrman‘s Eat to Live.
I absolutely love this book. Usually, diet books aimed at providing “miracle cures” to average Americans exasperate me with their conciliatory tone; God forbid you tell Americans to eat vegetables and stop eating much of the mass-produced industrial crap they consume on a daily basis. Fuhrman makes no apologies in Eat to Live. Basically, he advocates eating vegetables and fruit – lots and lots of them – and add to that beans, and, in lesser amounts, whole grains. Eggs, fish, meat, dairy and the like are to be eaten in rather small amounts. This makes so much sense, not only from a weight loss perspective, but also from a health perspective. Basically, what it requires is something we’d done on this blog for a long time; regarded vegetables as the main course and protein/starch as the side dishes. Brilliant.

The other excellent book I’ve read recently is Phyllis Glazer’s new cookbook in Hebrew, which offers a myriad of ideas for salads, soups and the like, as well as excellent soups and incredible and healthy desserts. Many of the recipes are flagged as gluten and dairy free. And, she has a recipe for a chocolate cake made of chickpeas, which we’ve made once and was a phenomenal success.

i know that some of this blog’s followers in the past followed it because we were based in Israel. There is no shortage of excellent Bay Area-based food bloggers. We might do a similar thing to what we did in Israel, join a CSA and blog about what we cook, but we’ve both become much busier than we were in Israel and therefore posting might be sporadic. In any case, good food experiences should be shared, and should you choose to share ours, it’ll be a treat to have you in our virtual kitchen.

Leveraging Brown v. Plata to Achieve Correctional Health? Humonetarianism from Vera’s Michael Jacobson

Today’s Bloomberg News features a piece by Michael Jacobson of the Vera Institute of Justice, who is making points akin to the ones we made in the aftermath of Brown v. Plata. Yes, the decision was limited to the issue of medical services, but it is a grand opportunity to heal California’s broken corrections. Here are his operative suggestions:

Fortunately, there is a way to deal with this influx safely and humanely. Over the past three decades, jurisdictions across the U.S. have ensured that only those who present a genuine threat to public safety fill prison beds, while those who can thrive with supervision and services in the community get the help they need. California officials can begin emulating three steps, starting immediately:
— Statistical analysis has made it possible to accurately predict who is likely to commit new crimes and who isn’t. California officials, especially at the county level, should put in place risk assessment instruments based on this data to decide who needs to be held and who can be supervised safely in the community. Research has shown that overpunishing offenders who present little risk will in many cases turn them into real threats to public safety. Scarce taxpayer dollars need to be used explicitly for strategies and programs that we know will reduce crime, and not increase it.
— Invest in a network of community-based services that can serve those released under supervision, including formerly incarcerated people. Workforce development programs or drug treatment can go a long way toward ensuring that people can remain safely in the community. For instance, in a multiyear evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities, a transitional jobs program for former prisoners based in New York City, the nonpartisan education and social policy research organization MDRC found significant drops in recidivism, with the strongest reductions for former prisoners who are at the highest risk.
— Strapped local officials should resist the understandable temptation to use the money that accompanies redirected inmates and parolees for other needed programs, including general services that are being cut. Although public safety need not be as expensive as we currently make it, it can’t be done on the cheap. Besides, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative of the Department of Justice is designed to show that a shift in spending from incarceration to policies like those listed above actually makes communities safer.

As we argued elsewhere, one of the dangers of cost-oriented discourse is its fallacies in encouraging long-term health of the correctional system and its proclivity toward panicky, immediate solutions. The key to leveraging the cost argument to achieve correctional health is to think smarter, not faster.

News from Pelican Bay

Image courtesy: SPCR (full story here)

Yesterday’s protest at UN plaza was an inspiring and uplifting event, even as it reminded us of the horrifying, hellish conditions inmates are subject to at SHU units.

Anti-death-penalty activist, author and journalist Barbara Becnel gave us some news about friends inside, as did a number of family members and friends. It’s not easy to go without food or drink in prison, let alone under an isolation regime, in which food is one of the few things you have to look forward to. Health is deteriorating, but the men are determined to go all the way with the strike, said Becnel, because “we are already dead.”

Some of the publications I read, as well as evidence from visitors and family members, suggests that the CDCR publicized its 4th of July menu, which included items the inmates had not seen in a long time, in an effort to break the strikers’ spirits. And some former SHU inmates spoke up about their horrifying experiences in small, metallic, windowless cells, where they were locked for 23 hours a day save for a “dog run” for an hour.

The full formal complaint, including the inmates’ demands, can be read in this issue of Prison Focus (or, in a nutshell, here). The inmates ask for an end to collective punishment and “behavior modification”; for solid evidence, rather than conjecture, in labeling an inmate as a gang member; for an end to the abysmal, pshchologically harmful isolation regime; for adequate food; and for adequate programming. These are not demands for privileges, but rather for basic human rights.

Reports on the scope of the strike are misleading. Moreover, several newspapers have not even picked up the story. Please, inform the uninformed. Even in the era of Brown v. Plata, something must be done. Favorable decisions from the Supreme Court mean nothing if the outcome of relief isn’t felt in the darkest corners of the California correctional machine.