Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Middle East Uprisings and the Media

Enthralled with the wave of successful protests sweeping across north Africa and the middle east, I've been following as much as I can via daily visits to BBC with their continuously updating live feeds. Western media may be "losing the propaganda information war" as Hillary so boldly put it recently, but compared to the state of American media today, the Beeb is providing exceptional real-time world news coverage that would make McLuhan proud.

They've created thorough in-depth backgrounders on all the players in the region, both good and bad, going the extra mile with demographics and stability/corruption indices for each country presented in one of the many clickable maps on the subject.

But take a closer look at that map. What do you see? Or rather, what don't you see? It seems there is a sizable country comprised of a contented people brimming with peace, love, and tranquility caught right betwixt a hostile Syria and Iran. In the Middle East? Gee, what country could that be? Well, according to the Beeb, it's none other than that latest triumph of the west, Iraq.

Except it's not. You may not find alot of coverage in our western media concerning daily protests throughout Iraq, including the BBC. But it's boiling over just like its neighbors. And its government's tortuous repression tactics make the first days of Mubarik's ouster seem divine in comparison. I wonder, why aren't the aspirations of the Iraqi people being given the same respect by global leaders and their mouthpieces as say the people of Morocco? Do you even need an answer to that question?

On to Libya. Libyans were in full rebel mode a full week before the US had anything of substance to say about it. And our first official words were "we're waiting for other countries to say how they feel first, then we'll say something." I believe a more descriptive term for the administration's reaction would be impotence, and don't think for one minute this won't be thrown back at Obama come next summer. Who remembers GWBush's dogwhistle "we don't need no UN permission slip" targeting Clinton's dismal record of empire underachievement during his administration? Round and round we go.

But speaking of impotence, how about those British special forces, huh? British SAS captured by teenage malcontents! So much FAIL in that little episode. Who would have thought they're just a bunch of halfassed students of Klaatu? So, they set down in a strange land, disembark and promptly state, "take me to your leader?" It may look like failure to the average layperson, and of course it does, but come on, they accomplished their goal of establishing contact with rebel forces didn't they? Maybe they planned perceptions of failure into the mission to throw a wrench in Gaddafi's propaganda machine.

Tonight I was looking around to find out more information about the uprisings in Iraq and stumbled across this little gem. I have no idea who the author is, but I must say even if it's a complete work of fiction despite all the sources provided, it's an exceptionally captivating writeup. And well worth the eyestrain to read it all the way through.

What do you think?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Genuine Pound Cake for 1

My grandmother's satisfying and simple life can probably best be represented by the simplicity of her delicious Pound Cake. Pound cake = 1 pound of each of its 4 basic ingredients (flour, eggs, sugar, butter). Each ingredient is blended BY HAND in the proper order, and the total mixture beaten 100 strokes by hand before pouring it into the cake pan.

I've always remembered this recipe in part because it's called Pound cake (duh!), and in part because grandma let me lick the generously thick glops of batter left in the crevices at the bottom of the bowl and not quite dripping from the spoon once she put the cake pan into the oven. But I could never remember how long to cook it, and at what temperature. So a while back I went online to find comparable recipes to see the particulars like whether the oven should be preheated, etc.

One site that's obviously proud of its old-fashioned southern cooking had user-submitted pound cake recipes listing up to 15 different ingredients varying in complexity and stylish uniqueness. I couldn't help but chuckle to see these sorts of recipes submitted by users like "Margaret in PA" or "Nancy in Michigan." Well that explains it. Those liberal yanks never could leave well enough alone and always, ALWAYS make things so much more complicated than they should be. When you start adding 2 tablespoons of this and a quarter cup of that, well you're not making POUND CAKE anymore, are you? So stop trying to hijack perfection.

You want real honest to goodness genuine pound cake the way God invented it?
Here we go, in order:

1 lb butter (4 sticks)
1 lb sugar (4 cups)
1 lb eggs (10)
1 lb regular flour (4 cups)

Soften butter by either leaving it on the counter for a couple hours, or cutting it into square chunks and microwaving it for 30 secs (another 30 seconds if necessary, then another 30 secs if necessary, but don't cook it!).

Add the sugar and mix until smooth and creamy.

Add 1 egg and mix til the egg is well blended with the batter.
Add next egg and mix.
One at a time until all 10 eggs are added.

Add flour, a cup at a time, and mix about 20 strokes by hand. Then add another cup of flour and mix, and on like this til all the flour is added.

Now, beat the mixture by hand for 100 strokes. Pour into ungreased cake pan and place on center rack in a COLD oven.

Turn oven to 325 and bake +/- 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check doneness with a toothpick then let cool for about 5-10 minutes before removing from pan.

Then dig in if you're so inclined.

Since this post is intended to show you how to make a genuine old fashioned pound cake suitable for just 1 person on the fly (treat yourself!), it should be as easy as pie for even the most dense wannabe cooks to figure out how to make a "quarter pound cake."

Oh, and don't lick the bowl unless you know first hand exactly where your eggs came from.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Obamascare and other observations

This Ezra Klein commentary at the Washington Post blog site, It's Democracy, Not Health Care Reform, That's Sick, opens the door for me to respond to a number of issues emanating from the current shitstorm.

First, who are these protesters that allegedly sprang forth from a well-organized GOP weilding great power and influence over the grassroots, subsequently being branded racists by most media mouthpieces, and compared to Hitler's brownshirts by others of the same media?

I'm going out on a limb and assert that they're comprised of everyday Americans who have reached a tipping point as we sat idly by over the last year and watched our government take our money via taxes and inflation to "reward" failure on a massive scale through bailouts and handouts directed toward people and organizations who made ridiculously bad decisions, and in the process, essentially punishing those of us who played it safe, worked hard for what we have and lived within our means.

Before that, we were subjected to a government that, while under the control of our self-proclaimed "small government" representatives, rapidly metastasized into a more monstrous behemoth with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, expansion of Medicare, No Child Left Behind and other programs extending the government's tentacles ever further into our personal lives.

On this foundation of public sentiment, following the wonderful successes of NCLB and the glorious TSA, the government next wants to "fix" the country's healthcare situation, an enormous undertaking by any measure. I don't think so.

Next, when reading the Klein piece linked above, one underlying thought kept surfacing: all these people who are now expending any energy criticizing the current protests WISH they'd had the balls to disrupt town hall meetings 6-7 years ago when the evil Bush forced his wars, torture, and domestic spying programs on us. Some of this was supposed to have been ameliorated with the recent election, but alas... We might not be at this volatile point in our democracy had the people stopped the government's numerous and blatantly unconstitutional expansions then.

Putting the death panels and abortion mandates from the Party of Death aside for a moment, and intentionally ignoring the Schiavo case, let's look at one common phrase hurled at those opposing healthcare reform: "you'll just let all these people die who can't afford care?" This type of rhetoric strangely and inadvertently reveals the blemishes in the classic "evolution vs creationism" debate. Do you ever find it ironic that the liberals, or evolutionists, have spent their lives authorizing government to fight evolutionary processes, while the conservatives, or creationists, are fighting with everything they have for the freedom to let evolution play out as it may, when it comes to personal health and safety? I think history will bear out that the evolutionists will ultimately lose, or recalling a common phrase first heard as a child, you can't fight mother nature.

I mean think about it. The liberals are working so hard to erect safety nets around everything we do, sanitizing our environment of all the potentially harmful elements it contains, protecting everything, from our fragile egos to our porous skin and brittle bones. How in the world did we as humans ever survive all the harshness nature and our own fellow man threw at us, and in such massive quantities as we did, before our self-designated saviors came along? From all the rhetoric, you'd think we didn't even exist then, and won't be able to survive and flourish without them now. Used to, they'd put people suffering from such delusions of grandeur in the mental ward. Now they elect them to national office.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Iranian Revolution of 2009

"I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I'm listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It's worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I'm two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow's children..."

(extracted from an Iranian student's blog post June 18, 2009 (translated))

For several days I've been casually following the events of the post-election uprising in Iran. While the traditional news media have given some sporadic updates on the situation, nothing comes close to the eye-witness reports scattered far and wide across the internet via social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and hundreds of blogs direct from the ground level by the Iranians themselves.

One of the most concise locations where this information is being collated and shared is none other than the crass link sharing site fark.com. A community best known for its unabashedly crude sense of humor has generated some 36,000 serious posts directly related to the Iranian uprising, almost all of them in support of the Iranian Revolution. Iran discussion thread # XXVI on Fark.com is where I discovered the well-sourced quote you see above.

MousaviThere is alot of noise in the mix, alot of disinformation surrounding these events for whatever reasons, but the gist of the matter is that the people of Iran are standing up to the current oppressive regime. They've had demonstrations daily since the election on June 12, with estimates of 1-2million people gathering in city squares throughout Iran to oppose the announced election results declaring Ahmadinejad the winner with 60% of the vote (despite Mousavi's lead in pre-election polls), and more broadly to oppose the regime itself. The allegedly defeated populist reformer candidate Mousavi (pictured at right) is the face of this new revolution, but the movement itself has become larger than him and his failed candidacy.

Today, the Supreme Leader Khamenei delivered a speech in which he declared the opposition protesters to be against Islam, which quite literally translates into a death sentence for anyone who continues to oppose the election and the regime. This is supposedly a huge development that could further ignite or suddenly deflate the reformer protestors.

I think one of the reasons so many Americans on the internet have tacitly or directly supported the opposition is because it's framed as a genuine fight for freedom and self-determination. What red blooded American wouldn't support a people's actions to throw off their oppressors when they've finally had enough brutality, corruption and lies from their dictatorship? It's been an awe-inspiring week watching it develop.

There are reports that the US planted the seeds of instability with our covert meddling in their internal affairs by funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into Iran the last couple of years through various US-sanctioned "democracy" organizations. Some people attribute this Iranian uprising exclusively to our alleged government involvement and consider the ongoing actions over there to be fake and not worthy of our supportive attention. Nonsense I say. For the uprising itself it matters not one bit who may or may not have planted the seeds for it. Of course from a constitutional perspective, our government has no right to use our tax money to spread democracy around the globe. But what is happening in Iran right now is both inspirational and historic: the Iranian people have taken actions into their own hands to determine the future of their country at very grave risk to their own lives and livelihoods.

Freedom is a powerful motivator, indeed. I write this in solidarity with the brave Iranian protesters.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Fried Green Tomatoes, Fried Squash, Fried Carrots

Anxious for my tomatoes to hurry up and ripen on the vine, I decided to pick a few of these firm plump green ones and fry them up for a snack.

After scouring the internet for some good fried green tomato recipes, I settled on a very simple flour dredge: 1/4 cup flour dumped onto an empty plate. Since I wasn't particularly in the mood for an extremely tart finished product, I mixed into the flour about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. That's it. No salt, pepper, spices. Just flour with a smidge of sugar.

I also decided to make the most out of the prospect of making a mess in the kitchen and sliced up and parboiled some carrot stick quarters about 3" long, and cleaned up some squash and set them all aside to drain so I could experiment with all the various batter recipes I'd seen.

First I fried up six tomato slices about 1/4" thick in olive oil using the simple flour-sugar dredge, and let me tell you the sugar really does kill the tart aftertaste of fried green tomatoes. These were the best I've had in years.

For the remaining vegs, I used vegetable oil as it can get alot hotter without smoking. I wanted a really hot grease pan to keep the liquid batter from separating from the veggies so quickly.

I made up a tempura batter using buttermilk instead of water: 1 egg, 1/2 cup buttermilk, the rest of the flour from the tomato dredge and an additional 1/4 cup more, and two ice cubes to keep the batter cold.

I fried up half the carrots simply dipping them into this batter and dropping them into the oil one at a time. The batter did not stay on the carrots too well, but the carrots came out deliciously sweet and tender like I'd expected.

Next I fried up a handful of thinly sliced crookneck squash, by first sprinkling the slices with a dusting of corn starch then dipping them into the batter and dropping them into the hot oil. The corn starch, scant that it was, helped keep the batter on the veggie and also hardened into a tiny inner shell to give the veggies a crispier bite. This was pretty good, I can't say I've ever had crunchy fried squash before, but if that's what you're into, then definitely use a light corn starch dusting before you dip it into the batter.

For the next evolution, I mixed the corn starch residue into the batter, which was probably a little less than a teaspoon of corn starch. I fried up another handful of sliced squash by dipping them straight into this batter and into the oil one at a time. No pre-batter dredge of any kind. The batter stayed on the veggies much better this time, perhaps the corn starch helped stiffen it enough to stay on the flesh. These closely resembled the fried squash I grew up eating. Yum.

Next up, I sprinkled plain flour onto the squash before dipping into the batter. These came out very similar to the ones right before with just a tad thicker crust.

Finally I coated the remaining carrots with flour before dipping them into the batter and into the oil. OMG! THIS is the FRIED CARROT RECIPE of the CENTURY. The tomatoes and squash came out great, but of all the veggies you can fry, carrots are my absolute favorite. They always come out soft and so so sweet.

What a wonderful Sunday afternoon! By the time I was done, I'd eaten about half the outcome and was too full to even think about fixing supper.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Jesus Face on Peru Mountain

Stumbled across this image on google maps, which looks like a shadowy face carved into a sand dune in Peru, about 22km west of Arequipa:

View Larger Map

This same image appears on the aerial views at both Bing Maps and Mapquest (extreme zoom below):

After googling "Jesus Face in Peru," I managed to find two or three other references to this illusion, with no explanations for it:
  • http://www.geckoandfly.com/2006/10/03/strange-google-earth-objects/
  • http://www.gearthhacks.com/dlfile546/Optical-Illusion-(Jesus)-in-Peru.htm
  • http://www.sheffieldforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=49453
  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2005/07/20/more-pareidolia/
  • http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/07/15/google_spots_jesus/

    So. Does anyone have an explanation?
  • Sunday, April 19, 2009

    And now the angst of Tea Party Politics

    The Rally
    I attended the Macon (GA) Tea Party during lunch this past Wednesday. It was unclear who organized it, and which organization(s) were behind it, but being loosely billed as a tax protest I felt obligated to show my support.

    It was already being labeled in the media as an astroturf campaign organized by billionaires to create the illusion of a grassroots movement against government spending and taxes. Since I participated in several past "tea party" actions during the Ron Paul presidential campaign, and was aware of CNBC's Rick Santelli's impromtu call for a protest against the bailouts and how motivating that was to the libertarian/liberty groups I occasionally frequent, I assumed the media branding was more propaganda than actual truth.

    There were about 300 people present when I got there, and about half of them had all sorts of clever signs that mostly reflected an anti-tax, anti-government sentiment. Signs ran the gamut from "Don't Tread on Me" to "T(axed) E(nough) A(lready) Party" to "Don't Share My Wealth, Share My Work Ethic" to "Pass the Fair Tax." I walked around and through the crowd several times trying to read all of them while hoping to recognize friends I'd met through the Ron Paul campaign. I only encountered three or four that I knew, but it was pointed out to me several others who were also involved.

    I read somewhere that the state libertarian party was behind at least some of these rallies, and was aware that Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty supporters were enthusiastic about them also, but still was not sure who/what was really behind this one. Local talk radio personality Chris Krok assumed credit for organizing the event, but one of the speakers tried to attribute the organization "Americans for Prosperity" as the event organizer, and instructed people to sign up with the volunteer making her way through the crowd. Since I consider the DC-based AFP to be more concerned with redirecting government resources toward big business rather than reducing the size of government and spending, this Tea Party's significance suddenly began to wane.

    I started to realize that this grassroots effort was in the process of being hijacked by those whose agenda was not entirely in sync with the crowd's. This assessment became even more pronounced when the participating elected officials began to hoist "socialist/fascist Obama" above the crowd as the single unifying target toward which all our anger should be channeled.

    Prior to handing the mic over to some of the elected officials, a few regular folks made speeches that were right on point. Their speeches were focused on genuine conservative issues that included shrinking the size of government, reducing both taxes and spending, restoring freedom and returning to the principles of our country's founders (but alas no mention whatsoever of the insidious inflation tax). However, these speakers had the gall to suggest that we hold our representatives accountable by voting them out of office when their votes violate these principles (ie. the bailouts), be they democrats or republicans. And the crowd seemed to receive these remarks with enthusiasm.

    But as one elected official after another took the mic, the rally shifted from its original anti-tax tenor to the primal anti-Obama (and by extension anti-liberal) rage. I commented to a friend that the rally was starting to sound more like an attempt to reinvigorate the GOP than to address the issue of taxation. A stranger overheard me and turned around to say that's correct, that's what we're trying to do. I asked him what about the tax issue, and he said they talked about the Fair Tax a few minutes ago. I just rolled my eyes and sauntered on, trying to come up with a concise rebuttal that explains how horrible the Fair Tax is and how it's designed to keep the government as corrupt and well-fed as it is now, in case the opportunity comes up again in the next few minutes.

    By this time I'm no more hopeful that we'll accomplish any significant reductions in the government's size, spending or modes of taxation than before the rally started. This event had truly been overtaken by establishment party members and their accomplices intent only on deflecting all accountability and protecting the status quo.

    In retrospect, I wish I'd had the guts to ask for the mic for two seconds and thank everyone for being here and especially the speakers who remained on point, turn to the crowd and empower them with their first assignment as a participant of this tea party movement: charge them with the task to impose accountability on our representatives by firing every representative who voted for any of the bailouts, and rally them as an army who's got Congress in its sights. "We're coming after you, Congress! If you voted for TARP I, TARP II, The Stimulus, the Auto Bailouts, then you're fired! Accountability starts right here, right now!" Sigh.. the good stuff always happens in retrospect.

    The Groups
    So "Americans for Prosperity" has gotten its tentacles into the movement; how deeply or irreversibly remains to be seen. Browsing around the web to grasp the magnitude of the event nationwide, I ran across these tidbits that only convolute the whole thing into a heaping pile of mess.

    1. The libertarians have held tax-day anti-tax rallies for years, before Ron Paul's latest presidential campaign, though they weren't called Tea Parties. The libertarians are rightfully feeling a little bitter over the lack of attribution for this event, with not even an utterance of the word "libertarian" in any of the national media coverage. Thankfully, one tv station included a few words from local libertarian icon David Corr castigating the GOP for taking over and explaining the anti-tax rally origins.

    National media coverage: what a joke! ... more on that later.

    2. Apparently the "T(axed) E(nough) A(lready) Party" slogan is the brainchild of the American Family Association, whose theocratic extremist agenda includes more government control over all aspects of our lives, and is one of the main reasons the GOP has fallen out of favor with the masses. Come to find out the AFA, in concert with globalist Newt Gingrich and his American Solutions organization, are one of the leading sponsors of this event, which jades the movement even more. And it saddens me that I saw at least 20-30 Taxed Enough Already signs at the rally.

    3. FOX News heavily promoted this event, which should give us pause to consider whether the perceived intent of the participants far and wide is genuine, since FNC's one notable consistency is its commitment to run interference for any criticism of the GOP. However, I've come to the conclusion that alot of the criticism from the left over Fox's coverage of these rallies is actually rooted in jealousy.

    Over the last decade, the left held numerous nationally-coordinated rallies designed to draw attention to everything from human rights violations of corporations to the largely ignored anti-war sentiment felt across the country. But they never had the aid of a national broadcast network to bring these events into people's living rooms like they'd hoped would occur. So the mere fact that Fox promoted, and then spent ample time covering, these rallies makes them just a little upset. I think the word for that is butthurt, lol.

    The Solution
    My solution to preventing Newt, et al from being successful in their attempts to ride our angst back into power is to faithfully adhere to the accountability pledge, with only one condition placed on the leading challengers: no former congressmen allowed. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Newt.

    "I vow to support the leading challenger of every congressman and senator who voted "yes" on any of the bailouts, regardless of his/her party affiliation, and will continue to do so until the last one of the big spenders has been FIRED."

    How about you?