This is a quick reference page on things that are important to me and on which I get a lot of questions. Feel free to request a wuckerpedia entry.
Bully Breed Dogs
I have no patience for human bullies, but I love bully breed dogs: Boxers, pit bulls, Frenchies, and the like. For over a decade I was active in dog rescue in New York City, volunteering for Adopt A Boxer Rescue, Boxer Angels Rescue, and Bully Project. I adopted four rescued Boxers and fostered more than a dozen dogs over the years. I’m proud of the lives I saved and the matches I helped make between dogs and their new forever families. In April 2014, I started fostering a cute little American Staffordshire terrier who came out of the shelter on Billie Holiday’s birthday. She had pneumonia so needed a foster home where no other dogs would be at risk of catching it, and I signed up sight unseen. “Foster dog.” Famous last words. Yes, she ended up staying and moving to Chicago with me.
In 2011, I was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that causes the body to treat gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, like poison and to attack your own tissues as part of the immune response. This has been a learning experience not just for me but for anyone who shares a meal with me. Since I get asked about the following a lot, I though I’d put the answers here so they’re handy.
What celiacs can’t eat: Gluten, gluten, gluten. This is the sticky protein found in wheat, barley, rye, kamut, spelt, and products made from them. Bread is the most obvious, but you would be surprised how many places the pesky stuff pops up: soy sauce, spice mixes, gravy, soufflés, soups, broth, tea, coffee substitutes, malt vinegar (malt anything), candy, French fries, medicines, beer. Unfortunately, America takes that song about “amber waves of grain” very, very seriously.
What celiacs may or may not be able to eat for which it’s best not to take chances: All sorts of bizarre ingredients found in processed food may or may not have wheat in them: dextrose, maltodextrin, modified vegetable starch, modified vegetable protein, and xanthan gum. Unfortunately, not all products marked gluten free –including “gluten free” bread that contains xanthan gum— are actually free of gluten. We also have to be very careful what is cooked on the same equipment or nearby. If you grill a breaded chicken breast, then plop another piece of meat on top of the grill, that second piece of meat is right out, as it’s likely been cross contaminated. If you cook a pot of regular pasta, then put gluten-free pasta in the same water, the gluten free pasta now has gluten in it. French fries are a heartbreaker: if something containing wheat was fried I in the same oil first, the fries are now poison to celiacs. Yes, we’re that sensitive. The tiniest amount of gluten can trigger all sorts of unpleasant symptoms.
What celiacs can eat: vegetables, fruit, meat, potatoes, rice, plain (not malt) vinegar and oil dressing. Some of my favorite brands that make gluten-free versions of bread, pasta, crackers and cookies are Kinnickinick, Schar, Ancient Harvest, Tinkyada/Pasta Joy, Wausome Wafers, Mary’s Gone Crackers and Mediterranean Snacks.
My work has challenged traditional ways of thinking about citizenship, pointing out the connection between economic development and new forms of citizenship. In 2004, I wrote a two-part series for World Policy Journal on the economic impact of migrant worker remittances and drew attention to the ways in which countries were changing their conceptions of citizenship and political power to attract the funds workers sent home to their families. I’ve written about how dual citizenship and other expanded definitions of citizenship, like India’s overseas citizenship program, benefit both sending countries and host countries. I’ve also argued that non-citizen voting, also known as resident voting or municipal voting because it is limited to residents of cities in city elections, prepares people for citizenship and helps their communities. “Civics Lessons from Immigrants,” The American Prospect, July 1, 2003.
Not only am I big on animal rights, I don’t like blood. In fact, I pass out when I see blood, so it’s a miracle I made it through a year as a police reporter at the Milwaukee Sentinel. I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to do the reporting for my first book, Why the Cocks Fight. But having chosen cockfighting as the central metaphor, I had no choice. Watching fights in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, I pretended that the wet feathers on the birds just had water on them, not blood. Somehow I made it through but I’m glad I never have to watch another one. The metaphor works on two levels. The most obvious is that Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, rings the two countries which, like two roosters in a ring, were embroiled in conflict. Yet the more important part of the metaphor comes from the classic essay, “Notes on a Balinese Cockfight,” by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz. His point was that the cockfight was about more than the fight between the roosters; it was about the spectacle surrounding it, and really was about the drama playing out among the owners and spectators. That, to me, seemed a perfect parallel for the nationalism and anti-immigrant scapegoating, pitting people against each other, that politicians tend to pull out of their bag whenever they want to distract citizens from the real issues going on.
My 1999 book, Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola, addresses historical, economic, political and social dimensions of the relationship between the two countries sharing the island of Hispaniola, viewing conflicts over culture as the symptoms, rather than the root cause, of the tensions. It uses stories to show how political weakness and corruption, economic problems, colonial-era and modern proxy fights, and migration all played into the complex dynamic between the two countries. I continue to follow the two countries closely, particularly after the 2013 Dominican court decision that retroactively stripped scores of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship. I have supported the arts collective Border of Lights, whose members seek to change the public dialogue from one of conflict to one of conciliation and collaboration.
Gray Rhinos are the love child of the large but ignored Elephant in the Room and the unpredictable Black Swan crisis described in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s 2007 book. Unlike the Elephant in the Room, Gray Rhinos are moving fast and we don’t have to take for granted that nobody will do anything. Unlike the Black Swan, Gray Rhinos are obvious and highly probable. I introduced the term “Gray Rhino” at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland in January 2013, to describe highly probable, high impact yet neglected threats. I develop the concept further in my book, The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore, coming out from St. Martin’s Press in April 2016). The book shows just how bad we are at dealing with the obvious and how much those failures cost us. As part of a framework to help us to better recognize and act on highly probable threats, the book identifies five key stages of a Gray Rhino crisis and outlines the obstacles and strategic opportunities at each stage, from denial to action.
Sovereign Debt Crisis
In 1993, when I went to work for Dow Jones Emerging Markets Report, bankers and policy makers were hard at work restructuring debt from the 1980s debt crisis which mainly affected Latin American countries but also included places like Poland and the Philippines. For most of the following decade, I wrote about Latin America’s recovery after years of hyperinflation and default, as investors and traders made bets on newly minted bonds in a new frenzy that was bound to end badly. Months before Argentina’s 2001 default, I sounded an alarm that the lack of a process like an international Chapter 11 for sovereign defaults would increase the likelihood and costs of larger financial crises. Passing the Buck: No Chapter 11 for Bankrupt Countries.” World Policy Journal, Summer 2001. In 2011, I made the case for a pre-emptive restructuring and write-down of Greek sovereign debt in a World Economic Roundtable paper, Chronicle of a Debt Foretold, published by the New America Foundation.
US Immigration Policy
My second book, Lockout: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong When Our Prosperity Depends on Getting It Right, details the economic impact of the breakdown of the U.S. visa bureaucracy after 9/11. It flags the widespread American misconception that earlier generations of immigrants were more likely to stay than more recent arrivals, and warns that the United States is failing to capitalize on its greatest strength. My New York Times op-ed “Family Second,” raised a proposal that many immigration advocates would only acknowledge privately: reducing family preference visas for adult siblings of U.S. citizens in return for increases in employment-related visas.