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 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 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:

    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?


    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    Tea Party politics

    I went to the local tea party on April 15th and came away with mixed feelings that I'll share later. What I want to share today is a very inspiring clip from a tea party in South Carolina. The speaker is GOP representative Gresham Barrett, who supported both the $700 billion TARP bailout and the current Obama stimulus package. He's come to be known to his own as Bailout Barrett.

    The crowd relentlessly rejects him throughout his speech, and watching this renews my hope that we the people will indeed rise to the occasion and start tossing these faux conservatives out on their butts.

    I would like nothing better than to see the tea party movement immediately adopt an interim agenda to hold the big spenders in Congress accountable regardless of their party affiliation, by uniting the people to remove them from office. Anyone who voted for any of the bailouts MUST BE FIRED in the next election, and that means uniting behind the leading challenger in order to be successful in finally throwing the bums out.

    So here and now, I'll take the accountability pledge, as a grassroots participant in the tea party movement:
    "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."
    Hopefully this sort of action will diminish the clutches of neocons and party insiders on the movement and restore the integrity of the voters' intent. In addition to actually holding our representatives accountable for once by the only means available to us.

    Pass it on.


    Friday, March 27, 2009

    Count Your Change!

    You could say I'm fortunate to have eight or ten convenience stores within a two mile radius, because it provides ample choice in walking distance when one of them screws you over and rips you off, as was the case today. I walk alot, almost daily, and usually stop in one of these nearby convenience stores for a drink, newspaper, pack of smokes, loaf of bread, lottery ticket or whatever else comes to mind as I approach.

    Today I stopped in this unbranded mom&pop store and made two purchases: a lotto ticket at one window, and a bottle of cheap pineapple soda at the second window. I've stopped in this store many times, hundreds at least, and almost always purchase this same drink when they have it in stock. So I know how much it costs: $.89+ $.03 tax = $.92 total. I also know the staff at least by sight, and the clerk behind the second window was someone I'd never seen before. I put the drink on the counter for the clerk to see it, and as he clicked a few buttons on the register I slid a dollar bill into the recessed passthrough under the glass. Without a word, he takes it, places it in the register, and proceeds to place a nickel in the trough as my change. I looked him in the eye curiously waiting for some sign in his face that would help explain the single coin in change he's giving back to me. He didn't return my gaze, instead he looked past me to the next customer, indicating to me that we were done with our transaction. I took the nickel and the drink and walked out the door kind of slowly trying to figure out what was going on. Several things ran through my mind: maybe the price went up a few cents and I didn't see the new price on the cooler door; maybe his drawer didn't have any pennies. The further I walked from the store property, the more convinced I was that this sonuvabitch just ripped me off. I was about a block away when my confusion congealed into anger, and I spun around and walked purposefully back to the store.

    I swung open the door and stepped into the small crowd of customers that had accumulated since my previous exit and waited in line. The clerk now working this window was a member of the family who owned the store, while the first clerk was standing between the two service windows hidden from direct view. The customer in front of me was joking with the clerk about his purchase cost including or not including tax, and the clerk tried to hand him his change through the window, all 2 pennies of it. The guy told him to keep it, stepped aside and glanced at me to signal he was done. I told the customer that the clerk is about to give those pennies to me and plopped my bottle of soda on the counter, forthrightly asking him how much it costs. As I expected, it was $.89+ $.03 tax = $.92. Upon his answer I said, "you owe me three cents."

    He looked at me a second, hesitating, while I continued, "I gave the other guy a dollar and he only gave me back a nickel so you owe me three pennies." The sternness in my voice let him and everyone around me know I was pissed off for having just been ripped off so brazenly. The familiar clerk punched some buttons on the register, mumbled something to the new clerk in their native language, and kindly handed me the three cents. I slung open the door with a demeanor further signaling my anger and resumed my regular walking path with a briskness that would put me back home in half the time. I was pissed, and thankful I was already walking so that some of this tension would more healthily dissipate via the enhanced physical exertion.

    Fastfoward about three hours. My drains are gurgling as if they're about to seriously clog so I grab my keys, wallet and two fives off the table and run up to the nearest Kroger to get some drain cleaner. I had intended to get some earlier but kept forgetting about it. On the way I try to remember what else I might need while I'm there, and realize I'm constrained to $10 because that's all I grabbed off the table. Maybe I'll have enough money for a bottle of clorox also, so I can resume the laundry that's been piling up for a while.

    Always preferring the self-checkout, I quickly ran my items through the process and punched through to pay in a hurry. The total order came to $9.03. After inserting the two fives, the machine dutifully spits out a healthy quantity of coins, but as per usual, not quite enough. I scooped up the coins with my left hand extended, and my body turned so that I'm completely open to the attendant's view. I scattered them out in my hand to count them: I see three quarters, a dime, two pennies. What's that, 87cents? Goddammit. Hand still extended I call out to the attendant, "sir, sir... the machine gave me 87 cents, my change is supposed to be 97 cents. It's short a dime." He turned to his register almost as if this is a normal routine for him, pulls up my transaction on his screen to confirm the amount of change I'm due, and grabs a dime from his drawer to hand to me.

    I wish I could say this is the reason I normally never shop at this Kroger, but this same shit happens with startling regularity at the other Kroger I use. In fact it's been happening for at least 4-5 years, since they put these self-checkout machines in. In my experience, these machines almost NEVER spit out the correct coin change. You have to wonder how much money these stores amass this way. Afterall, machines only do what they're programmed to do. Hell, soda machines have been stealing your money for decades.

    The lesson for you is to ALWAYS COUNT YOUR CHANGE. ALWAYS. Whether it's the beady-eyed slimeball working at the convenience store, or the latest in automated self-service technology, assume you're being screwed. That's the only way you will stop it.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009

    Obama's press conference

    I only caught the last few questions of Obama's press conference last night, and am looking for a video clip or two online that would compliment my thoughts. In the meantime, here's what I saw.

    A question was asked about the progress of Obama's overall agenda, and he responded that all his time has been focused on the financial crisis. Where's that all-powerful multitasking Obama we saw during the campaign?

    Another question was asked about moral considerations regarding stem cell research. Obama fell back on scientific consensus concerning the need to lift the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, but he confessed to serious contemplation on almost a daily basis over this issue (There's our multitasker!). When the reporter asked if the scientific community was capable of exercising its own moral judgement, Obama immediately answered NO!

    Well he didn't call them atheistic heathens, but made it perfectly clear he believes the government is and shall be the moral arbiter on all things related to the "life sciences" field. Oh brother, here we go with legislating morality again.

    In response to another question, he said homelessness was bad, was especially bad for children and families, and more especially bad for veterans (most of whom are without child or family).

    Someone needs to ask him, being a constitutional scholar, how he feels about the possibility of being profiled as a potential domestic terrorist now that "knowledge of the constitution" has been deemed bad for the safety of our country.


    Saturday, February 07, 2009

    Amero trial balloon

    Researching some stock news the other day, I stumbled onto this article questioning the fate of our own currency, with the subtle suggestion that a unified North American Currency is in our future.

    Canadian economist Herbert Grubel first introduced a potential manifestation of this concept in 1999. The North American Currency -- called the "Amero" in select circles -- would effectively comingle the Canadian dollar, U.S. dollar and Mexican peso.

    On its face, while difficult to imagine, it makes intuitive sense. The ability to combine Canadian natural resources, American ingenuity and cheap Mexican labor would allow North America to compete better on a global stage.

    A smooth market recovery, one based on actual market values placed on assets and obligations, rather than artificial values papered over with government bailouts, would likely help us avert such currency evolution. However...

    If forward policy attempts to induce more debt rather than allowing savings and obligations to align, we must respect the potential for a system shock. We may need to let a two-tier currency gain traction if the dollar meaningfully debases from current levels.

    If this dynamic plays out -- and I've got no insight that it will -- the global balance of powers would fragment into four primary regions: North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. In such a scenario, ramifications would manifest through social unrest and geopolitical conflict.
    The conspiracy theorists among us insist this was the plan all along: to bankrupt the country with the most reckless fiscal & monetary policy imaginable, and force an evolution worlds beyond, and outside of, the limits of our Constitution. Though the Constitution has long been dead and trod on for decades, the blurry illusion that it holds some relevance to our way of life persists. The social unrest the author predicts would be our society convulsing at the final purges of it from our public consciousness.

    Consider for a moment what our country would be like without a Constitution. A modest comparison for this purpose would be to consider what life would be like without your bible.

    Welcome to the wilderness.