Few mixtures in American life are more emotionally combustible than the one formed by the combination of politics and race.
That helps explain why Democrats, in general, and President Obama, in particular, have tended to steer clear of overtly raising the race issue to explain some of the opposition to Obama's presidency and agenda.
There seems to be a shift in recent days, however.
Top Democratic party officials have either directly or indirectly blamed race for some of the hostility to Obama, his policies, or both.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader from California, and New York Rep. Steve Israel, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, both cited racism, pure and simple, among some Republicans as explanations for the House GOP's resistance to legislation to comprehensively overhaul the nation's immigration laws.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder, took a slightly subtler approach. Speaking to the National Action Network, the largely African-American civil rights group founded by Rev. Al Sharpton, Holder suggested some Republicans had a racial animus towards the president and himself.
"The last five years have been defined by significant strides and by lasting reforms even in the face, even in the face of unprecedented, unwarranted, ugly and divisive adversity," Holder said.
"If you don't believe that, you look at the way, forget about me, forget about me. You look at the way the attorney general of the United States was treated yesterday by a House committee has nothing to do with me, forget that. What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?"
All of this has led to accusations that Holder, Pelosi and Israel are themselves guilty of playing the race card.
The attorney general later pointedly stated that he never explicitly said race explained the political right's treatment of him or the president. Instead, he claimed his complaint was about Washington's growing incivility.
Holder, an African-American, was like his boss — the first African-American president — who has also refrained from going there.
In any event, what Holder demonstrated is that just as those on the right can use dog whistle politics to motivate their base, those on the left can also send messages that are heard a certain way by theirs.
It's a safe bet, for instance, that many African-Americans who heard or read Holder's words didn't doubt he was talking about race. And he did it without ever uttering the "r" word like Pelosi and Israel.
Is this partly about activating minority voters during a mid-term election year in which Democrats stand a good chance of losing the Senate if their voters don't go to the polls in numbers? Could be.
When Obama has been on the ballot, minority voters, especially African Americans, didn't need much more motivation than that to vote. But a mid-term election when he's not on the ballot is different.
Social scientists who have studied voters have found that voter participation rises when voters are emotionally engaged.
For some voters, suggestions that some of the opposition to Obama and his policies is more than just honest disagreement — and is indeed racially based — could help do the trick.
The Democrats' use of voting rights strikes the same chord. Voting rights and race have been so inextricably linked in the nation's history, and in the African-American experience, that Obama can send a resonant message to many minority voters without ever explicitly mentioning race.
He did exactly that when he spoke to the same Sharpton group as Holder, a few days after the attorney general.
Obama portrayed Republican voter ID efforts as attempts to undo civil and voting rights protections enacted during the Johnson administration — protections won at the price of blood.
That those Johnson-era laws were needed to counter racist laws and practices that prevented blacks from voting, especially in the South, could go unsaid before an audience well-steeped in that racial history.
"You think about Brown v. Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and Freedom Summer," Obama said. "And with those anniversaries, we have new reason to remember those who made it possible for us to be here." He mentioned three civil rights workers who became famous after they were killed registering Mississippi blacks to vote.
"James Chaney and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner believed so strongly that change was possible they were willing to lay down their lives for it," Obama said. "The least you can do is take them up on the gift that they have given you. Go out there and vote. You can make a change. You do have the power. "
People-died-so-you-can-vote is a powerful emotional appeal. Come November, we'll see if it was powerful enough.
Everyone has a favorite Gabriel Garcia Marquez book, and mine is Love in the Time of Cholera. It's the story of a romance that lasts decades, unwinding through the pages of the book. It's verbose, vibrant and full of love.
But that libro isn't my favorite section of the Garcia Marquez canon. My favorite is actually something he didn't even write: It's an interview he did for the winter 1981 issue of The Paris Review, as thrilling a work of literature as Gabo ever penned — and wholly his.
Garcia Marquez was at a perfect time to sit down and reflect. He was a year away from becoming a Nobel laureate, old enough to look back but vigorously pushing off any talk of being an elder statesman. In the Paris Review piece, we see the author at his finest: witty, profound, demanding, transparent, simultaneously of the pueblo and the world. Garcia Marquez talked about his life, his books and how journalism influenced him. On the latter point, he joked, "I've always been convinced that my true profession is that of a journalist. What I didn't like about journalism before were the working conditions." Preach, hermano.
He bashes critics, praises Hemingway and Faulkner and admits to loving gossip mags. This is not the imperious giant of legend, but a blood-and-flesh hombre who'll answer to no one's tastes but his own. Asked to conclude with what his next project would be, he said, "I'm absolutely convinced that I'm going to write the greatest book of my life, but I don't know which one it will be or when. When I feel something like this — which I have been feeling now for a while — I stay very quiet, so that if it passes by I can capture it."
Fans of Garcia Marquez should read this masterpiece. And if you've never bothered with him? You're in for a treat: It's a love letter to literature, and the perfect gateway to the magic that is the prose of el maestro, Gabo.
Gustavo Arellano is the editor of O.C. Weekly and the author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.
As soon as you drive into town, it's pretty clear that Long Beach, Wash., is all about the razor clam. The first clue is the giant frying pan. It's 14 feet tall and a relic of the clam festivals of the 1940s. And then there's the clam statue that spits when you insert a quarter.
But if you really want to see how much people here love their clams, you'd have to be like Karen Harrell and get up before dawn and drive out onto the blustery beach to go clam digging.
Harrell is one of hundreds of people already out on the beach, just ahead of the low tide, tramping around in rubber boots. Her husband, Ron, points out the telltale dimples in the wet sand.
"See that one? See how it went down?" he says. "See him squirt and go down?"
Ron goes after it with a clam gun, which, if you've ever been clam digging, you know isn't so much a gun as it is a tube with a handle.
"You push it on down over the clam," Ron says. "And then you put your finger on the hole on the top, and it creates a suction. And as you pull, it just sucks all the sand up."
And chances are, that tube of sand will contain a clam as big as your hand.
Plastic guns cost $15, or you could pay more than $100 for the fancy ones. On this beach, you'll sometimes see an heirloom.
The one Andi Day uses has been in her family for more than 40 years. Day, who works for the local visitor's bureau, says her grandfather made it for her grandmother around 1974.
The gun is welded stainless steel, but the handles are wooden — that's a special touch. "The hands don't get cold," she says. "It keeps your hands warm."
Once you've got a good clam gun, even the kids can catch dinner. Heck, they can catch several dinners.
Fifteen clams is the daily limit, and around here, that's a magic number. When friends bump into each other on the sand, the first thing they ask is, "Did you get your limit?"
Inveterate clam digger Jim Neva admits it's kind of a race. "It's a guy thing. You want to be the first to get your limit, you want to get the biggest ones," he says. "You want to be down there washing your limit off when somebody else has got only one or two in their sack."
Clam digging also satisfies that primeval urge to go out into nature and find free food.
"To me, when I open the freezer door, and I see all those stacks of clams, it's like going to your safe deposit box and looking at your collection of gold bullion," Neva says with a laugh.
He says he gives most of his frozen clams to family because "the freezer is where food goes to die."
Like Neva, most people freeze their clams for later. Others smoke them and "can" them in jars.
Clamming is what separates old-time Washingtonians from the newbies, especially on the Pacific Coast. On the Long Beach Peninsula, locals talk about digging clams as being "in the blood," and they reminisce about long lazy evenings of bonfires and family fun on the beach.
But clambakes are not so common, at least not in the spring. In the Northwest, the Pacific tends to spit at you a lot more than any angry clam. So the clams are cooked indoors.
And as for cooking them, there isn't a single recipe that's typical of Long Beach. Every family has its own preference. The Razor Clam Festival traditionally focuses on clam fritters, but that may be because giant fritters lend themselves to giant frying pans.
There's also talk of rolling them in Ritz Cracker crumbs and frying them. But purists just sauté the fresh clams in olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper (and, for the citified types who've spent too much time in Seattle, garlic and cayenne). If the heat is high and you cook them quickly, they're as tender as the best calamari.
But this all went away for a while. Too much digging caused the clam population to collapse a few decades back. That's one reason they stopped needing that giant frying pan.
Tighter regulation has allowed the clams to rebound — a lot. The town even brought back the annual Razor Clam Festival — and another giant frying pan. The festival is this weekend, and organizers have drafted Neva to teach digging basics to an army of visiting newbies.
First lesson: Do not turn your back on the ocean. There's nothing more embarrassing than having a clam in your hand — and letting it get away.
Mohammed Ali Isaac's hands shook as he showed his Kenyan ID to the police officers. They let him pass, but his cousins weren't so lucky. The two women had forgotten their IDs at home, and the police were threatening to load them into one of three large trucks they'd brought for the purpose.
Today's raid, with dozens of armed police officers in the middle of the day in the predominantly Somali neighborhood of Eastleigh in Nairobi, was timed for just after people streamed out of Friday prayers. It was the latest — and perhaps boldest — roundup in a series of police sweeps that have caught up thousands of undocumented refugees, immigrants and Kenyan citizens of Somali descent in recent weeks.
"I'm nervous," Mohammad Ali Isaac admitted. He was waiting with his cousins while they sent another relative back home to pick up the forgotten IDs. If his cousins were arrested, he said, it would be difficult to get them out without a bribe. And bribes, he added, were higher on Friday, when the police could threaten them with a whole weekend in the cell.
At age 20, Isaac is already a veteran of the struggle of growing up Somali in Kenya. The community has always felt like outsiders, despite the fact that Kenya is home to hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees, and to many more ethnic Somalis who were born here.
"In Eastleigh, we're used to police operations and police crackdown," said Ahmed Mohamed, secretary general of the Eastleigh Business District Association with 20,000 members. "But this is unprecedented. We've never seen such security forces during the daylight and during the Friday prayers."
Wearing his customary blue blazer, Mohamed said he was trying to negotiate with the police commander to stop the arrests, while aiming to quell an increasingly restive crowd.
Thirty-two people were arrested in the sweep, including the mother of a 4-month-old child who was hastily tossed into the arms of a relative. When that relative presented the baby to the crowd, there was an angry roar. A woman named Fatumah Hassan shouted that she was born in Kenya, but that if this harassment continued, she would "give up her Kenyan ID" and fight back. The crowd cheered in support.
"The fear," added Mohamed, the business leader, is that Kenya "will exacerbate the very thing they're fighting, which is radicalization."
The police commanders says Friday's sweep is a normal operation. The Kenyan police enforcement campaign began last week in response to two terror attacks: a deadly bombing here in Eastleigh, and a church shooting in the coastal city of Mombasa that killed six people. Neither of those attacks has been directly linked to Somalis.
However, the attack on Westgate Mall in September that killed at least 67 people was claimed by militants al-Shabab, and some of those attackers used refugee cards to enter the country from Somalia. Since then, some Kenyan politicians have dusted off an old xenophobic pledge to drive all Somali refugees back to Somalia, though the Kenyan High Court recently declared that a violation of both Kenyan and international law.
Twenty-four-year-old Sadia, who asked that her last name not be used for safety reasons, said she was two months pregnant when police officers forced their way into her apartment last week. She showed them her refugee card from the United Nations, she said, that gives her protected status and the right to live in Kenya. She said the officers told her, "That's no good," and arrested her along with her three children, age 4, 3 and 1.
She had a miscarriage in prison two days later that she blames on rough handling by the police and sleeping on a cold cell floor comforting her toddler. When the bleeding wouldn't stop, two officials from the United Nations finally came to escort her to the hospital. But only long enough for a checkup — then back to her cell to spend a third night.
At a time when new technologies and social media are transforming politics, we turn to a decidedly old-fashioned campaign event. It's an annual festival known as the Shad Planking, a spring rite of Virginia politics for nearly 70 years.
It's a must-attend event for state politicians, who practice the oldest form of retail politicking among tall pine trees at a dusty campsite.
In Wakefield, about an hour southeast of Virginia's capital of Richmond, shad fish have been roasting by on an open fire since 5 a.m. They're nailed to oak planks.
By early afternoon, these oily, bony fish, which are now seared onto the plank, need to be scraped off, chopped and served to the hundreds gathering here for the annual event.
At the entrance, Hank Pedigo greets attendees as he collects tickets. He's a one-man welcome wagon.
"Welcome everyone, tear your yellow ticket down the middle, hand your map in right up here on the right hand side. Thanks for coming," he says.
The Shad Planking is the premier occasion on the commonwealth's political calendar. And if you are a candidate you'd better show up, according to Pete Snyder, who ran for lieutenant governor last year.
He didn't win, but he's back this time for the sheer fun of it. Even in a big state like Virginia, he says, there's an intimacy to its politics.
"Virginia is a large state geographically, but it's a small state in political circles. And here you get to see all the candidates up close and personal, where you get to squeeze the Charmin of these candidates, put them on the spot and see what they think about issues," Snyder says.
Virginia isn't the only place where you'll find a big, old-timey event like this.
Iowa has the Harkin Steak Fry. Arkansas has the Gillett Coon Supper. Florida has the Wausau Possum Festival. Kentucky has the Fancy Farm Picnic.
But Snyder said the Shad Planking — held in the backwoods of Southside Virginia — is a timeless event that captures the essence of retail politics.
"It's a throwback to a bygone era when people have a beer, get to talk up close and personal, you don't need the filter of cable news to get to know your candidates," he says.
And what better way to get to know a candidate than over a cold brew? Even better if the candidate serves it to you free.
Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, was handing out beers while answering questions about energy policy and jobs and Obamacare. He's the likely GOP nominee for U.S. Senate this year.
Gillespie's opponent is the event's featured speaker — incumbent Sen. Mark Warner, who struck a light note with this Republican-leaning crowd.
"Looking at this crowd, I realize I'm here as an endangered species — a Virginia Democrat. Looking around the crowd, that's kind of like Republican women here as well — not many of either of us," Warner said.
This kind of good-natured rhetoric and the neighborly atmosphere won over Dee Hoy, a first-time shad planker.
Hoy admitted she wasn't a fan of the taste of shad.
Sitting in a camping chair with a bluegrass band — aptly named "Common Ground" — playing in the background, Hoy said she'll be back next year.
"I enjoyed it. I loved the music and the speakers were great. It was a good time. A very good time," she said.
It's a promising start to Virginia's campaign season.