Explaining HB 1228, the Arkansas “religious freedom” law

For this assignment, I wanted to give Fold a spin by writing about the controversy surrounding the “religious freedom” bill, HB 1228, currently working its way through Arkansas’ government. I’ve tried to keep it as up-to-the-minute as possible.

Check out my explainer here:


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Annotating Mitch McConnell

Remember when you were in school, and you wrote one of your first essays? Your teacher probably pointed out that you should let your reader know where you’re getting your information. That way, you’re as transparent with the reader as possible. Look! These are the pieces I used to construct my argument. There’s no need to hide where I got my info. It all supports my argument, and you can check my sources, too, if you want to make sure they’re legit.

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A Conversation with Léa Steinacker

As I was doing background research for my conversation with Léa, I learned that our digital social circles overlap. My discovery that we share a mutual friend–thanks, Facebook and LinkedIn–opened up a wide-ranging conversation into our shared interests, as revealed bit by bit by Léa’s digital footprint. Here’s a podcast-style summary of our conversation along those lines.


Our conversation, though, ventured beyond our shared hobbies. We talked at length about her longtime work on issues related to gender-based violence and her transition into tackling a similarly vexing challenge: that of radicalization of Islamists in Germany. Her studies have taken her around the world and back again: With NGO positions in countries including Bosnia & Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Australia–not to mention study-abroad stints in the US, UK, Australia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Egypt–she has seen and done a great deal, all fastidiously tracked on her LinkedIn page. But I noticed that one little part seemed at first glance to be slightly inaccurate. Her work experience says that she worked with the NGO Search for Common Ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through March 2013. However, I dug up a November 2012 article from Walsroder Zeitung, her hometown German newspaper, saying that she’d been evacuated from the country. Why was there this discrepancy? Was it a discrepancy at all? Had she been evacuated, only to return to finish up in March 2013? Surely LinkedIn was hiding some fascinating details–and it was. Listen below for more:


In all, I’m struck by how examining a conversation partner’s digital footprint beforehand can influence conversation–for good or for ill. Revealing that we had a mutual friend on Facebook, for instance, was like an invitation from the “real world” to talk about that friend, easing us into conversation in a highly effective way. Other revelations, however, were more jarring. Léa was surprised or slightly embarrassed that I’d found some digital breadcrumbs (e.g. an uncomfortably enthusiastic review of her performance in a play), and in one instance, she’d forgotten she’d even created one of the online resources I found. Without warning, I asked her near the end of our conversation if she was a fan of the Trina Paulus book Hope for the Flowers. Shocked, she said yes, utterly confused as to how I knew that. It turns out that her fling with Myspace must have been near-instantaneous. Her old account, named “hopefortheflowers,” is still up and running, but she couldn’t remember making it–a digital fossil from an earlier time, I suppose.

It also hits home to me just how pervasive our digital footprints can be.

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Bringing the heat–and so much more

Turning the corner onto St. Mary’s Street in Brookline amid the snow and slush, my friend Seth perked up: He could smell the chiles from here, and he already approved. A group of friends and I had walked for half an hour to get here, slopping through the cold for the chance to warm ourselves up—mouths and all—at Sichuan Gourmet in Brookline, the fiery, fantastic Chinese restaurant with four Boston-area locations.

Walking inside—especially in from the cold—brings a sense of efficient comfort, an unpretentious amalgam of tile ceilings, dineresque seating and dashes of Chinese art framed on the walls. There’s no need for fanciness here. This operation is all about the food, a single-minded focus that owner Li Zhong and head chef Liu Lijun brought with them from Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital. The pair are committed to authenticity, serving up delicious dishes and correctives to a notion that “Szechuan” is less a cuisine from China’s misty, mountainous southern province and more a code phrase for “chili oil and peppercorns.”

The menu coaxes us away from that Sichuan-as-spice fallacy, offering up a suite of appetizers that give diners a way to dip their toes in the water. (That said, the more adventurous can gun straight for the “Sichuan Delicacies” just below, all of which run spicier.) Perhaps the best are their scallion pancakes, their crispy, still-hot exteriors gently protecting a buttery, flaky interior dotted with herby scallions. It’s almost impossible to think of ways to improve upon them—and then the waitress brings over a small dish of soy sauce for it. The pancakes don’t need it, but I’m a sucker for the added saltiness and flavor—and dabbing some on does nothing to diminish the pancakes’ fantastic crunch.

The scallion pancakes.

The scallion pancakes.

The deliciousness—and the spice—only goes up from there. Helpfully, the menu offers up chili peppers next to most menu items. One means that the food is “hot and spicy”; get two chili peppers, and you can bet that the food is “very spicy.” They mean it when they say it—the food will roast and toast you—but it’s not punitive in its heat. Each dash of burn is more than matched with rich flavor. It’s true for the beef with spicy chili sauce (two peppers), each peppercorn-flecked piece of beef and bak choi bathed in broth and chili oil to scrumptious effect. It’s true for the dried chicken with chili sauce (one pepper), each squared-off, orange-brown piece fried to a light crisp. They explode with flavor, each succulent piece like a savory, chili-infused firecracker.

Pan fried noodles with vegetables.

Pan fried noodles with vegetables.

And it’s true for the vegetable pan-fried noodles (no peppers), perhaps the most unwieldy of the dishes we ordered: a bed of water chestnuts, broccoli, bak choi, and baby corn dribbled over a bed of crunchy noodles that, at their center, had soaked up the vegetables’ juices. Dividing up the dish four ways was easily the most uncomfortable part of the meal but well worth it. The crackle of the noodles, in contrast with the tender baby corn, makes for a satisfying vegetarian treat.

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The dried chicken with spicy chili sauce.


As we finished up our meal—snapping up our final mouthfuls of rice and fully thawed from our walk in the cold—my friends and I exchanged glances, our faces gently reddened by the spice and the joy at finding such delicious food. “Yeah, we’re going to need to make this a thing,” Seth says. I’m happy to say I agree.

Sichuan Gourmet

1004 Beacon St, Brookline; 617-277-4227

OPEN Daily for lunch and dinner (closes at 10:30 PM Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM otherwise).

PRICES $4 to $25.

To see Sichuan Gourmet on Google Maps, please click here.

My Four-Hour Challenge

  • 2:00-3:00 PM – Eat at Sichuan Gourmet, take notes and photograph food
  • 3:00-4:20 PM – Back to MIT (by way of BU’s Insomnia Cookies)
  • 4:20-6:00 PM – Write review in Microsoft Word, transfer to WordPress
  • 6:00-6:20 PM – Wrangle with WordPress media uploads, add embedded Google Map


My online media habits

I put together a little summary here of the week of February 4-11 and, globally, my last two-ish years of online media consumption. I’ve focused on the digital because that’s almost exclusively how I get my media. I do subscribe to several print magazines–WIRED, Popular Science, and MAGIC Magazine, for instance–but over the course of a given month, most to all of my media consumption is via the Internet.

My record-keeping is also somewhat incomplete: While I track my laptop Internet use extensively, my smartphone use is also considerable. It’s my primary means of checking and responding to email, as well as my main news source (via Flipboard).

MAS 700 Media Consumption-01

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A couple of tools

I’m unfortunately unable to come in to class today, but I wanted to share a couple of tools I was introduced to this past year that I have found quite useful.

Pear Note ($40, OS X) is an app that integrates keystrokes, audio and video to dramatically improve the note-taking experience. It’s especially useful in interviews: As I record audio, my keystrokes are synced to audio timestamps. That way, I can easily go back and couple my notes with specific times in the interview. It’s also pretty freeing; I can take notes on facial expressions, ambiance, and other things while pegging these descriptions to specific moments in the interview. Check it out at http://www.usefulfruit.com/pearnote/

Skype Call Recorder ($30, OS X) does one thing and one thing only: it records Skype calls. This one-trick pony does its one trick especially well. Check it out at http://www.ecamm.com/mac/callrecorder/

My apologies to PC users for my staying in Apple’s walled garden. For Mac users, though, hope these are useful!

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