Monday, November 14, 2011

Dinner and Drinks: Crockpot Chili

When the weather starts to cool off in the fall, our thoughts usually turn to outdoor projects we try to avoid in the heat of summer. Recently we realized we couldn't put off raking leaves any longer and so, on a cool (~55°F) Saturday we filled bags (and bags and bags) full of leaves. And for good measure, I cleaned the gutters.

Thankfully I had the foresight to chill some beer in the fridge and start some chili in the crockpot before we went outside. There's nothing better than coming inside after a long day of working in the yard to a house that smells like a chili truck exploded. Except maybe knowing the fridge is full of cold beer.

Crockpot Chili

1 lb ground beef
1 large can of red or black beans
6 oz of tomato paste (one of those little cans)
32 oz can of tomato sauce
14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1/2 a large onion (diced)
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
4 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp salt (divided)
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper

If you can get good fresh tomatoes, by all means use them. Donna's parents can them so we get fresh stuff year round. But a crockpot can cover a lot of sins, and canned tomato sauce is one of them.

The trick to good crockpot chili is to hold off on adding the hamburger until you plan to eat. If you've ever put hamburger in a crockpot and let it slow cook, you've undoubtedly noticed that it tastes... wrong. The texture gets all mushy and that's no good.

So, set the hamburger, allspice, black and white pepper, and half the salt aside. Everything else goes into the crockpot on high for one hour. (Remember to drain the excess liquid from the beans. No one wants bean juice in the chili.) Then turn it to low and forget about it. Well, you can stir it once in awhile if you want. Maybe gaze at it longingly while you drink beer. Not that I would do that.

Let it slow cook for at least 6 hours. The longer it cooks the better. When you can't stand to wait any longer, brown the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat. Season with all those spices you held in reserve. Add the ground beef to the crockpot and stir. Then crack a beer and enjoy.

Speaking of beer, on the crisp autumn evening I enjoyed a (okay several) Sam Adams Black Lager. I'm not a huge Sam Adams fan to be honest, but the black lager has a nice balance of maltiness and lightness. It's a beer you can chug a little after a day of toiling in the yard but still has a little bit of heft to it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Macy's First Orchestra Concert

Macy has recently taken up the violin as part of her school's orchestra program. She recently had her first recital at the Festival Concert Hall on the campus of North Dakota State University.

Fifth graders from all the Moorhead elementary schools participated. Most of the songs were played utilizing the pizzicato technique (they've only been playing for a few weeks).

They had a dress rehearsal just before the performance, and their teacher was confident enough in their abilities to let them conclude the concert with this:

So far, Macy seems to really enjoy playing. She practices five nights a week. It would be pretty cool to have a violin player in the family.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Worst Comment of the Day: Not Understanding How Free Markets Work Edition

Consumerist has an article up about the lack of competition in the healthcare markets in various major cities. The commenters at the website are generally liberal, based on the comments that show up whenever politics can be injected into the conversation (which is way more often than one would think). And if there's one thing liberal commenters like to do, it's misunderstand how free markets are supposed to work.

According to the article:

The AMA study looked at commercial health insurance market shares and federal concentration measures for 368 metropolitan markets and 48 states and found the following:

*A significant absence of health insurer competition exists in 83 percent of metropolitan markets studied by the AMA.
Now, if you've ever studied the way insurance regulation works, you most likely would never write the following:
So much for capatalism and free-markets working their magic here.

Running a business so well that you can buy up all your competition is perfectly fine if your business is, say, beer. Not so much when your business is catagorically denying medical care claims to people while still increasing their premiums every year.
Something called crispyduck13 don't need no stinkin' research, however.

What crispyjackass13 doesn't know is that regulation helps to kill competition in the insurance market. Insurance companies aren't allowed to sell policies across state lines. Which means that if a New York insurance company wants to sell policies in North Dakota, it has to incorporate there. Some companies are big enough to do this (mostly the old players -- this is why there is a Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota and a BCBS of Washington, and so on).

Add to that the twisted system we have that ties health insurance coverage to employers, where the large companies can afford to undercut local suppliers' premiums (because they can spread the cost around) and you have a perfect breeding ground for undercompetition (if not outright monopolies).

All regulations are not bad, and no one I know has ever said such a thing. But the converse is also true: all regulations are not good. The word deregulation has taken on mystical properties that somehow make it sound to certain people like no regulations, ever. Regulation is supposed to provide a level playing field where companies can compete on things like services and cost. Current healthcare regulations are designed to throw up roadblocks to competition. Healthcare costs go up as a result.

This is what I wrote back in 2009:

First, end employer-based healthcare as it currently exists. I say this as the recipient of what may be the best employer health plan in America. I don't pay for jack. My daughter was on antibiotics for almost two years as an infant due to a medical condition that couldn't be corrected until she was two. I never paid a dime. Pharmacists used to run my insurance information multiple times because they thought it was a mistake that the amount due kept coming back zero. No co-pay, no deductible. My daughter ended up needing two week-long hospital stays, one of which included the surgery. Out of pocket I paid zero. I tell you this not to brag, but to show you that what I am advocating would cost me some kick-ass coverage.

The downside to this is that I am disconnected from the cost of healthcare. My decision to go to the doctor is not based on whether I really need to go. My employer picks up the tab, so why not go? Maybe I'll score some percodan for my acute back pain! In all seriousness, I don't go to the doctor for every little thing. However, it's more a function of stubborness and having better things to do with my time. The reason I don't go unless I really need to should be that I don't want to waste money or file an insurance claim that could negatively affect my rate for something trivial.

Right now companies use healthcare as a benefit. The coverage comes in lieu of more pay. I advocate companies paying more in direct compensation, allowing the employee to use that money to purchase their own coverage. This has the benefit of letting the individual make decisions about their healthcare based on direct knowledge of the cost. No more going to the emergency room because you have the snifles. Now you would have to decide for yourself if you want to spend the money on elective visits. You'd pay your own premiums and make decisions accordingly. Right now people with coverage like mine go to the doctor for all sorts of minor things that normally would handled through rest and over the counter medicines. Why not? The company's paying for it. When healthcare is "free" for everyone you can expect the same mindset on a national scale.

This would also address another problem. Right now, insurance companies bend over backwards to make companies happy. They work with hospitals to get reduced rates on procedures, office visits, and prescriptions because the company represents huge numbers of insured. Think of it like a bulk discount on health care. Those costs get made up somewhere. In this case, "somewhere" is a town populated by individuals who buy health insurance without the benefit of a corporation negotiating on their behalf. If health insurers were competing for individuals instead of companies, the same forces that exist virtually everywhere else in the marketplace would take hold.

You want cheaper healthcare costs?

Step 1: Decouple healthcare from employers. Let consumers get a feel for how much healthcare actually costs.

Step 2: Let insurance companies compete like any other business; meaning, under regulations that only level the playing field and ensure fair competition.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Marriage Urban Legend Still Persists

I read Dan Savage's column at the Onion AV Club every Wednesday. I do this because I think it's funny. I overlook his complete aversion to all things illiberal and his clear disdain for traditional one-man-one-woman monogamy. He's funny and unserious in a way that someone, like, say, Slate's Dear Prudence is not. Seriously, Slate, tell that woman to stop trying to be funny.

But while I can roll my eyes at Savage's unprovoked attacks on religion, Conservatism and monogamy, I had to refrain from firing off an email when I read his column this week. I'm a bit surprised that someone who considers themself as smart and savvy as Savage is still repeating this fallacy in 2011:

Half of all opposite-sex marriages end in divorce, TSBM, which makes it pretty easy to deflect arguments about a gay divorce somehow proving that same-sexers aren’t worthy. And divorce—access to the courts to divide up joint property, work out custody arrangements, determine spousal support, etc.—is one of the important rights that comes with marriage.
Oh, I should mention that Savage's column is not for the easily offended or those who like their sex vanilla and their gays in Paree in the 1880's. I guess this paragraph should have come earlier. Oops.

Anyway, the idea that half of all marriages end in divorce is an urban legend that grew from a misinterpreted study during the "divorce boom" of the 1970's. That's the time when "no-fault" divorce came into vogue and divorces became much easier to get. The numbers did spike after the rules were eased, but nowhere near the point where "half of all marriages end in divorce".

How did it come about? Well, it turns out that it's another case of schools spending too much time teaching about recycling and self-esteem instead of something useful, like statistics or basic critical thinking.

If you look at the statistics from a given year, there are years where the number of divorces is about half of the number of marriages. That's a 50% divorce rate, right? Wrong. Put the reusable grocery bag down and pay attention for a second.

Warning: made-up statistics for illutrative purposes ahead.

Let's say that in 2010 there were two million marriages. Also in 2010 let's say there were one million divorces granted. Does this mean:

A. half of marriages ended in divorce
B. half of marriages that took place in 2010 ended in divorce
C. neither a nor b is correct, but divorce lawyers probably made out all right.

The answer is C. If you have normal levels of self esteem you probably already see why. But if your sense of self-worth has been inflated to unhealthy levels by your years in the public school system -- time that would have been better spent on math -- I will spell it out for you.

The numbers in any given year do not take into account that there are already tens of millions of married couples in the US. The only way that two million marriages in 2010 + one million divorces in 2010 equals a 50% divorce rate is if the total number of married couples before 2010 was zero.

Furthermore, the only way that two million marriages in 2010 + one million divorces in 2010 equals a 50% divorce rate for marriages that took place in 2010 is if all the divorces were filed by couples married in 2010. In other words, any married couples that existed prior to 2010 all stayed happily married while only those couples married in 2010 were represented by divorce lawyers.

Is that possible? Sure, I guess. It's possible you'll get pinned beneath a meteorite only to be saved when that meteroite gets split by a lightning strike, revealing a winning powerball ticket that was embedded in the meteorite. That's not likely.

Anyway, the next time you read that "half of all marriages end in divorce" point and laugh, but don't believe it.

Update: I got asked on Facebook what I thought the real rate was. I answered the question with some off-the-cuff research, but I thought I'd update this post as well for posterity's sake.

You'd think this would be an easy question to answer, and it sort of was. Not in the "type 'what's the real divorce rate' into a search and engine and be done" sort of way, but I was able to piece together and answer.

From this article I was able to get the latest census claims that 48% of households in the US are married couples.

From here I was able to determine that in 2010 the census says there were 114,825,428 households in the US.

Simple math tells me that ‎48% of 114,825,428 = 55,116,205 married couples.

According to the CDC (apparently taking a break from finding a cure to the zombie apocalypse), there were over 2 million marriages a year each year from 2000 to 2009 and between 800,000 and 955,000 divorces over the same period.

Since we're comparing 2010 households with 2009 (and earlier) marriage and divorce data, I'll use numbers that are both plausible and err to the side of making my case seem worse off: the low end of the marriage scale (2 million marriages) and the upper bound of the divorce scale, plus a little to make it round (1 million divorces).

55,116,205 + 2 million marriages = 57,116,205 married couples. Divide that into the 1 million divorces, and you get roughly 1.8% as a divorce rate, which is a far cry from "50% if all marriages end in divorce".

(Thanks to for some of the background information in this post.)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dinner And Drinks: Grilled Scallops

I stopped at the local butcher shop early in the week and couldn't help myself when I saw some sea scallops the size of marshmallows. I saved them for Friday night when I could pair it up with some fresh steak. The grocery store where I buy steaks has better meat than the butcher (which I would not have expected but is true nonetheless). Unfortunately, they didn't have my favorite cut -- the bone-in ribeye -- so I picked out a couple of nice New York Strips and called it good.

Then it was time to open a bottle of wine and fire up the grill.

Sea Scallops (with a side of steak)

Sea scallops
lemon juice

chili powder
garlic powder

First, pat the scallops with a paper towel to get rid of any excess moisture.

I mix the dry spices in a small bowl. To be honest, I don't have measurements for this because I eyeball it all the way. Basically, use your best judgement. Dip each end of the scallops in the mix and put on the grill. Press down for a second or so. You want to get a good sear. Drip a few drops of lemon juice on each one. The juice should work its way into the crevices of the scallop.

It doesn't take long to cook a scallop; a minute on a hot grill is enough. Flip them over and give them a quick press with your spatula. After another minute, take them off. That's it.

Garlic mashed potatoes go great with scallops, but since I had just made those a couple nights ago I went with angel hair pasta. Once the pasta is done, toss it with some butter and oregano. Trust me.

While I was doing this I was thoroughly enjoying a 2008 Antigal Uno malbec that was given as part of a wedding gift by my good friends Sunny and Kris. It was a really subtle but powerful wine with a lot of oaky undertones. Really good wine. Thanks, guys!

Fall Soccer Ends Just Before It Gets Really Cold

My fifth grade girls finished the fall season today. Due to a front office snafu, Fargo teams combined 5th and 6th grade while Moorhead did not. This meant that my girls played against girls a year older (and two of the teams had only 6th graders).

I had another good group of girls who were eager to learn and worked hard, which is what makes coaching fun. We don't keep score or track wins and losses, but as always the girls do. We went 2-4 and lost one of the games by a single goal. Not bad for playing against older competition.

Like I said, the girls were great and I hope I see all of them next spring.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

This Week in the Decline of the British Empire: Blowing Up Balloons Is An Adult Activity

Under new rules debated and agreed upon by the British government (in concert with the European Union' toy safety directive) have identified a menace to children everywhere: blowing up balloons
Official guidance notes: "For latex balloons there must be a warning that children under eight years must be supervised and broken balloons should be discarded."
A government official, perhaps realizing that he is wasting his life, admitted, "You might say that small children have been blowing up balloons for generations, but not anymore and they will be safer for it". Right. Everyone knows that more children die each year from choking on balloons than the next three causes combined: coloring outside the lines; wearing shoes on the wrong feet; and removing itchy tags from the back of shirts.

At least some people can point out the absurdity, even if they have no power to change it:
Paul Nuttall, a member of the European Parliament's consumer safety committee, said the "kill joy" world of EU officialdom was being ill-equipped to understand the concept of children having fun.

"I would say that this is crackers but I sure children are banned from using them too. EU party poopers should not be telling families how to blow up balloons," said the Ukip MEP.
In other rules, party favors like whistles are to be banned, those things that unroll and make a little noise when you blow on them are to be labelled as unsafe for anyone under 14 years of age, and teddy bears for kids under three must be fully washable.

I'm not making that last paragraph up. They're actually doing this.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Blogging in the Key of Nerd: Accessing the GAC Through File Explorer

This is an old one, but it's served me well over the years. Have you ever wished you could dive into the GAC and see what was in there, maybe drop in some rebuilt assemblies or even debug with those assemblies?

There's actually as simple way to do this. All you're really doing is mapping a drive to the super-secret bunker that is the assembly cache. From a command line, use the subst command:

subst [drive letter]: %windir%\assembly

I use drive letter G: (for GAC, duh!). Once you run this command you can Run > g: and a file explorer window will open on the wonderful world of the GAC. You get all its greatest hits: GAC; GAC_32; GAC_64; and of course, GAC_MSIL.

I would highly recommend backing up the files that are already there, however.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wedding Diaries: Pictures

I'll update this post with interesting pictures as I get them. As always, click to enlarge...

UPDATE: Here are a few courtesy of Rob Wagner:

This first batch is courtesy of Tim Nolan:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wedding Diaries: The Final Report

The big day has come and gone. Everything went incredibly well, far better than we had any right to expect. The weather was perfect. There weren't any glitches worth mentioning. The food was great. The cake was incredible. The guys looked sharp and the gals looked amazing. The band rocked the roof off the place. It was perfect.

Things started on Thursday with rehearsal and dinner. We picked Grazie's in Fargo, an Italian place. The food was wonderful and even my brother Andy -- who isn't high on Italian -- was impressed.

My niece Aubrey.

The meeting of the Winkis and Marshall clans. It is hoped
our union will bring an end to decades of war.


Friday was bachelor's and bachelorette's night out. Not together because that would defeat the purpose. The ladies went out for Mexican food while the boys went out for steaks. A huge sigh of relief came out of me when my ribeye at Redford's (formerly Norman's, home of the Best Steak I've Ever Had) lived up to the standard I've come to expect. Afterwards we went to a Buffalo Wild Wings near the hotel, one because it was close and, two because I wanted to see the manager. He bought us a round so, yeah, be sure to book BWW as your liquor caterer at you next event. Yes, I am a cheap whore. The ladies showed up and no one at all made any inappropriate remarks or did anything embarrassing so there's no need to talk about it anymore.

Saturday I actually coached MJ's soccer game. I know, I know. But I had no responsibilities until 1:00 and the game was at 9:00 AM. The family got to watch MJ play. She scored the first goal of the match and Team America won 3-2, so that was pretty perfect.

Donna had bride things to do, so MJ and I grabbed lunch and headed out to the venue. With pictures at 3:00 I began hoping that someone would show up soon with a six-pack but it was not to be. We had only one minor glitch: we didn't have MJ's bridesmaid dress. Luckily Donna's brother Ryan was volunteered to be her errand boy, so he fixed that issue.


Donna and I are not traditional wedding types. With that in mind, we wanted the ceremony to be short and too the point. The kids marched in, Donna came down the path, the officiant said some things, we said some things, there were rings involved, someone tolled a bell, then we got the hell out of there and started to party. It was exactly what we wanted. The guy running the music and sound told me it was by far a record for shortest ceremony at their venue. I told him that I didn't want to know if anyone ever broke it.

I have some good news and some bad news. What's that? You want the good news first? Okay. The good news is that we hired Dave at Milestones Photography to do the pictures. He's the best there is at what he does, so our pictures will be amazing when we get them.

The bad news is that Shanna, a friend of Donna's, agreed to use our little point and shoot throughout the night to get us some candids. Well, that's not the bad news. The bad news is that neither of the batteries I had for that camera would hold a charge. Of course, I found this out after the wedding, so I don't really have anything to share at the moment. I've put out a call to friends and family to send all photos, but as of right this moment, I have no visual evidence that this event ever happened.

No photographic evidence anyway. I also brought my little video camera. My friend Tim did an excellent job filming the ceremony and getting some candid shots of the aftermath:

Then, of course, there was the big surprise for Donna at the reception. A special guest vocalist came to honor her with song. We had a band made up of Microsoft employees who worked incredibly hard to put on a great show for us (which they did). The twist was that the band would allow anyone to come up and sing any song in the set list. It was basically karaoke with a live band. Imagine Donna's surprise when this happened:

All in all it was tons of fun and exactly what Donna and I wanted. Quick ceremony, great food, all our friends together, a live band playing anything except traditional wedding music, and a reception that was more party than wedding dance. One of the most fun nights I've ever had.

Monday, September 19, 2011

This Week in the Decline of the British Empire: Man Arrested on Murder Charges After Stabbing Intruder With His Own Knife

This from the London Daily Mail:
A wealthy family man was arrested on suspicion of murder yesterday after allegedly stabbing a burglar to death with his own knife has been bailed until mid-October.

Businessman Vincent Cooke, 39, was relaxing when he heard a knock at the front door of his detached home.

When he answered he was confronted by two men, at least one armed with a knife, who allegedly threatened him and tried to force their way into the £350,000 house in the Cheshire stockbroker belt.
It's entirely possible that the charge gets dropped. But the fact that he was even arrested speaks volumes about Britain's policy toward robberies and home invasions. That policy is, in a nutshell, that it pays to rob someone because if they fight back, the victims can go to jail.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dinner and Drinks: Cornbread

All southerners eat cornbread. It's codified in all southern state laws along with owning guns and listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Cornbread is great because it goes with so many things and is so easy to make.

That said, there are a millions different ways to make cornbread, and aficionados generally fall into two camps: dry or sweet. Let the proclamation ring forth this day that I am firmly in the dry camp. Cornbread should be dry and crumbly and have a texture reminicent of... well that's the thing. If you make it right, the texture is unlike anything else. If you want it sweet and cake-like, stop reading.


1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tbsp canola oil
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Grease a 10" baking pan with margarine. Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl and whisk vigorously for thirty seconds. Pour the mixture into the pan. Bake in the oven until cooked all the way through (I use the old toothpick method), about 30-35 minutes.

As for cocktails, I made this as a side for my jambalaya (yeah, I eat a lot of that). That means a bottle (or three) of you favorite beer. You may remember that I like my jamabalaya hot.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

This Week in the Decline of the British Empire: Passive Overeating?

Remember how passive smoke inhalation (second-hand smoke) kills billions each year? Me neither. But while the exact effects are in dispute, there's no denying that the theory behind the delivery system is sound: someone smoking near you exhales smoke and you inhale it.

Does the same thing work for eating? Well, obviously not. I mean, what kind of...
The journal carries four new research papers by academics in the UK, US and Australia on what is termed "the global obesity pandemic", charting its causes, implications, likely progression and the ways it could be reversed...

Swinburn's paper comes up with a clear primary culprit: a powerful global food industry "which is producing more processed, affordable, and effectively-marketed food than ever before".

He said an "increased supply of cheap, palatable, energy-dense foods", coupled with better distribution and marketing, had led to "passive overconsumption".

The nanny-statism going on in the UK right now makes the American version look like child neglect. British politicians and social scientists need to sit down, light up, and have a good long listen to The Wall.

(Guardian link via NRO)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

For Once, The Camping Curse Left Me Alone

There will be blood.
Every year we go camping and every year there's a theme that emerges. Once it was angering the rain gods. Another time it involved massive blood loss. Last year it was reverse Arbor Day. So what horrible fate awaited us this year? Locusts? Fire? A chunk of the International Space Station crushing our tent?

In the end it turned out involve lots of bicycle crashes. For one, however, the curse missed me and instead splashed all over loved ones. First, MJ wiped out in some loose dirt at the campground. Thirty-four bandaids later and she was back up and riding. No broken bones or sprains, thank goodness.

The next day we went to Itasca State Park to go biking on the extensive trails there. Unfortunately, we weren't done with crashes; Donna wiped out on a hill. She escaped relatively unscathed except for a really nice scrape on her elbow. Her first thought of course was will this heal before the wedding? It will.

Other than all the mangled flesh and machinery, the weekend went really well. We had about 45 seconds of very light rain. Other than that it was perfect camping weather. We ate some food, drank some beer, stanched some wounds. It was great. I just wonder if, since the curse left me alone this year, does it mean I'm free or I get it double next year? Shudder.

During a break at Itasca.

MJ, Emily and Carly crossing the Mighty Mississippi.

A wooden walkway running parallel
to the Mississippi headwaters.

Keep Your Stupid Wine, Pennsylvania

Reason asks the question, "how does a wine monopoly lose money" when examining the Pennsylvania state liquor control board's plan to sell wine at kiosks in various stores (mainly grocery stores and retailers like Wal-Mart).
"...the kiosks dispense a limited selection of wines at limited locations and times (not on Sunday, of course!) to customers who present ID, look into a camera monitored by a state employee, breathe into a blood-alcohol meter, and swipe a credit card. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) originally expected to have 100 kiosks in grocery stores throughout the state, each selling 30 to 50 bottles a day. But only 32 machines were ever up and running at one time, and only 15 manged to hit the bottom end of that sales target. In June the Wegmans supermarket chain withdrewfrom the kiosk program, bringing the total number of machines down to 22."
 So, let a state employee spy on you through a vending machine, swipe an ID card, and take a field sobriety test just to buy a bottle of wine, or go next door to the liquor store that every grocery store seems to have attached these days. Tough choice, let me see... the wine is cheaper in the kiosks, though, right?
"The committee also worried that the lone bidder, Simple Brands (I shit you not) of Conshohocken, was vague about the fees it might be charging, did not respond to repeated requests for information, and 'continued to change its business plan 'on the fly' as the Committee has broached operational issues and concerns.'"
Okay, but at least since this is contracted out to a private company, the taxpayers (some of whom don't drink -- think if this involved cigarette machines instead of booze) aren't on the hook for anything, right?
"The PLCB says the company owes the state the money it has lost so far; the company disagrees. "

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Next Guitar I Buy Will Be A Gibson...

...if Gibson is still around. In what may be yet another case of the Obama adminstration trying to bully businesses it doesn't like, the feds raided Gibson's facilities in Tennessee over some wood (I'm not kidding).
What makes this possibly politically motivated? Well look at who gives money to whom:
It has come out that Juszkiewicz is a Republican donor, while the CEO of one of his principal competitors, C.F. Martin & Company, is a Democratic donor. Martin reportedly uses the same wood, but DOJ hasn’t raided them, leading to speculation that the Obama administration is sending a warning to Republican businessmen that they had better not oppose his re-election, lest they face criminal investigations.
Funny how that works out. If there isn't a political component to it, it sure looks like there is. Complicating matters is that a certain high-profile dignitary once gifted a Gibson to a foreign counterpart. Wonder if the investigation will extend that far. Nah, probably not.

All this sort of thing does is make me want to spend my money on a Gibson the next time I'm in the market for a guitar.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Does Everything Have To Be Political?

ESPN long ago went down the same dark, brimstone-paved road that MTV blazed back around the time it decided that music videos were yesterday's news. The sports network -- +1 million internet points if you even know what "ESPN" stood for when it launched -- used to be a nice little channel where you could see sports highlights and live events that centered around Australian Rules Football. It was the Little Network That Could.

Then it got too big and bloated and began breeding networks (did you know there are currently seven networks in the ESPN family, and that only includes the non-internet stuff?) like the last two rabbits on Earth. It started with forays into "serious journalism" as the network made a play for the prestige ostensibly enjoyed by "real" networks. Outside the Lines, The Sports Reporters; these were efforts by ESPN to gain credibility as more than a place for jocks to get their sports fix.

At the same time, ESPN went after various other audiences; it tried to woo the teen demographic by trying to singlehandedly elevate skateboarding, motocross, snowboarding, and other "X-Games" to the status of "real sports" among mainstream America. It went after the fantasy crowd by running stories about how Stephen Strasburg's Tommy John surgery would affect your fantasy rotation. Sure, that he would miss the pro season was news, but so was how that would affect draft strategies for rotissiere leagues. It shows Little League games. College softball. Scrabble. It wants to be everything to every sports fan.

Which makes it more than a little odd that it would jeopardize that in the name of politics, of all things. Why ESPN (or any network that wasn't involved in, you know, politics) would start wearing its politics on its sleeve is beyond me. What possible reason could the network have for announcing to the world that it leans one way or the other when it comes to something so unsporting as politics? Hubris, I guess. ESPN considers itself so big and untouchable that there will never be repercussions for its actions. Or maybe they just think sports fans won't care.

I care though, and when I see that ESPN has begun picking forks in the road of partisanship -- a road it never needed to go down in the first place -- I have to shake my head and wonder why. Oh, and begin to wonder if I need to go elsewhere for my sports.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Democracy, Wisconsin Style

Over at Say Anything, Rob has a post about a "Democracy Convention" being organized in Wisconsin to, in the words of the organizer, "... help people move back toward a more democratic country where the people have more say". I see. So all those elections where people voted weren't giving the people their say. The recall elections weren't giving people their say. Gotcha.

I have received from a covert operator some simple flow charts being used by the Convention to explain to new members how this whole "giving people their say" thing should work. Let's take a look:

Well, this certainly explains a lot.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dinner and Drinks: Greek Pizza

Greek pizza is basically the Mediterranean version of lavash. There's no sauce, so the toppings you add really have to carry the day. It's great as either a main dish or as an appetizer

Greek Pizza

3 x 6-7" diamater pita bread (or one large)
1 yellow or orange bell pepper (cut into rings)
4 roma tomatoes (cut into thin slices)
1/4 bacon or prosciutto (sliced thin)
2 cloves of garlic (sliced thin)
1/2 cup spinach (chiffonaded)
1 cup combined of asiago, parmesan and romano cheese
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

In a small amount of olive oil, sautè the garlic just until it begins to brown over medium heat. Remove the garlic and add the spinach to the pan, removing immediately from the heat. This will wilt the spinach. Remove and place on a paper towel to dry.

Brush both sides of the pita bread with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Layer the toppings (except the cheese) evenly around the pita, going to the edge all around.
Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top. Bake for an additional 5 minutes.

It was a pleasant surprise finding that pita bread makes a fantastic pizza crust. If you like your crust crispy, it's a really easy way to go.

I had a nice little Bogle merlot with this. It doesn't have the wow factor of some of the reds and malbecs I've been drinking, but it's a nice little wine at a nice little price ($11).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Worst Comment of the Day (8/17/2011)

Today's comment comes to us from SocialBlunder, accompanying a Slate article arguing against banning incandescent light bulbs:

If you think it is safe to wait for a deus ex machina to reduce CO2 before climate change caused agriculture failure, flooding, droughts then waiting for innovation is reasonable. Unfortunately we are already above 350 ppm ( Adding coal plants and developing tar sand oil are now moral issues. Patio heaters, heated car seats, light bulbs, and fireplaces in air conditioned hotel lobbies are those same issues writ small. 

It is the role of government to ban or tax undesirable behavior. This has to mean behavioral change – I don’t think we will find an energy source as calorie dense as fossil fuels, so “luxurious” patio heaters may have to give way to warmer socks and a sweater.

Who gets to decide what is undesirable? The government? Pass. It amazes me that anyone could write this with a straight face. I guess they think that if that sort of totalitarianism ever comes to pass, they'll be magically elevated to the role of arbiter based on their ideological purity or something.

Until that happens, excuse me while I point and laugh.

Does This Mean I Can Shop At WalMart Now?

"A coalition of groups that advocate for the elderly and poor are urging California online shoppers to boycott because of its refusal to collect state sales tax on purchases made through the website.

Organizations including California Alliance for Retired Americans, the Health and Human Services Network of California, Health Access, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the California Immigration Policy Center, the California Partnership held a Sacramento press conference on Aug. 15 to announce the creation of the Think Before You Click website. They urged people to cancel their Amazon accounts."

HAAAAHAAAAAHAAAAHAAAAHAAAHAA! No, seriously. Good luck with that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dinner and Drinks: Kitchen Sink Chorizo

I had no plan for dinner last night so I opened the freezer hoping something jumped out at me. A package of chorizo fell out an tried to break my toe. Close enough. What to do with it though? In the end I decided to start grabbing and chopping until I was tired and then see what I had. In the end what I had came to be called...

Kitchen Sink Chorizo

1 lb chorizo, cut up or ground
2 cups white rice
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1/2 cup green chiles (chopped)
1 onion (chopped)
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tomato (diced)
1 can black beans
1 tsp cilantro (2 if using fresh)
2 tsp salt (divided)
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp butter or margarine

Cook the rice according to package directions. Once done, mix in the butter and 1 tsp salt. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, peppers and onion. Mix in the remaining seasonings. Sautè for about five minutes. Add the chorizo and brown on all sides. Add the chicken stock, beans, tomatoes and chiles. Reduce the liquid over high heat for about 5-7 minutes, or until it reaches desired thickness.

Serve over the rice.

That's it. Pretty uninspiring that. Just cut everything up and throw it in a pan. No fancy plans, no culinary genius. What can I say? It was Sunday night and I was tired.

In keeping with the whole spontanaeity of it all, I paired this dish with a Breckinridge Vanilla Porter. The heavyness of the beer worked, through the vanilla really couldn't shine in a dish like this. I'd better have another to confirm that theory, however.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

As Long As You're Going To Take All Sides Seriously, Fargo Forum

I saw this in the Sunday, August 14th edition of the Fargo Forum and marvelled at the lack of awareness -- intentional or not -- on display.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Happy Birthday, Greatest Basebrawl In History!

When I was a kid I got to watch the Atlanta Braves on WTBS in Atlanta (you know it now as basic cable channel TBS, home of Seinfeld reruns and The George Lopez Show. Very Funny indeed). On this date in 1984, I saw the Braves play a game against the San Diego Padres. Pascual Perez was the pitcher for Atlanta, and he was, in a word, hot-headed. Another word might be crazy. He once missed a start because he got lost on the way to the stadium and drove the I-285 conntector around Atlanta for hours.

I don't know if it was the August heat or the offensive dog poop-brown Padre uniforms, but Perez' first pitch of the game nailed the batter right in the back. This set off the first of about 42 serious confrontations, mostly involving the Padres' attempts to hit Perez when he came to bat. There were three major fights, one of which involved Braves 3rd baseman Bob Horner and two fans(!) tackling a Padre who tried to rush the dugout to get at Perez. By the time it was over, 13 players and coaches were ejected and five fans were arrested.

Atlanta fans are accused of being too laid back and quiet. It was not always thus.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

This Week In the Decline of the British Empire: Squatter's Rights

I posted several links in the past to unbelievable news stories out of the United Kingdom highlighting the absolutely batshit crazy path our favorite cousins are traveling down. It happens enough that I'm going to start a new category of posts, called This Week in the Decline of the British Empire. For the unaugural installment, I give you this item detailing the travails of a man whose home has been invaded by squatters.

"Neighbours said the property had just been sold when the 12 squatters broke in during the early hours of the morning after a window was forced open.

Since then there has been more damage and endless parties – several of which have culminated in the police being called."
Now, you might think this would be a simple matter of calling the police. Not in the U.K. In the U.K., these squatters have rights. They include free legal representation.
"Mr Hamilton-Brown, 36, applied to the county court last week to seek an interim possession order to enable him to claim the house back.

He did not hire a solicitor because of the expense.

But when he arrived at Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court, in East London, he was amazed to find that two of the squatters had been granted legal aid and were represented by a duty solicitor.

Because they were EU citizens and unemployed, they qualified for free legal representation."
Yay! To pour a truckload of salt into the eyes of common decency and conventional wisdom, the squatters posted a sign on the residence to remind everyone just who is in charge (hint: it isn't they guy who pays taxes and owns the house).
"A legal notice put in the front window by the squatters states that anybody who enters without their permission could face six months in jail and a £5,000 fine.

A neighbour said: ‘They have more rights than we do."
So it seems. Enjoy oblivion, England!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Perception Vs Reality: the Debt Deal

All this handwringing over the budget deal makes it sound like there are serious cuts to governement spending involved. Tsk, tsk. You should know better than that! While all the discussion in the media makes it sound like the cuts are going to put poor people in the street, starve kids, and kill grandma, the reality is that the proposed cuts are spread over the next ten years, and, more importantly, represent reductions in planned spending, not real cuts to overall spending.

That's right. When politicians say, for example, that they're going to cut a budget, say, defense, by 4% in 2015, one might assume that that means that in 2015, the defense budget will be 96% of what it is in 2011. Pish posh. What if the plan is to raise defense spending by 8% in 2015. Now they're going only going to raise it 4% instead! Government math, kids, learn it. Know it. Love it. They do this all the time. If Democrats want an 18% increase in education spending, and they ultimately strike a deal with Republicans for an 8% increase, that is touted in the media as a 10% cut in education spending.

I'm serious. They really do that.

Is your head spinning yet? Maybe a simple visual aid will help.

Updated: Crossposted at Say Anything

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Music Diaries: Happy Birthday to Me

My old SPS acoustic guitar does not sound good. It's not really its fault; I bought it for a about $100 back in 1989 or so. Although I've taken pretty good care of it, it's simply a bottom of the line guitar. Since my birthday is coming up, I thought I'd treat myself to a new one. My requirements were that it sounded at least as good as Donna's Yamaha and that it be electric.

So I headed out to a couple of music stores in town. I sensed a pattern early on; if it was really cool looking it was really cheap and sounded like it. The best sounding guitars I could find were all pretty standard looking natural finish bodies. In the end I paid a little more than I was planning but I found one that sounds amazing. It's a Breedlove Passport Plus C250/SBe. I got it for $599 at Schmidt Music in Fargo. You'll notice, if you click that link, that I got it for $200 under MSRP. Finally, the recession pays off!

Anyway, it sounds incredible -- it's amazing how much better a $600 guitar sounds than a $300 guitar; I don't understand the hows and whys, but it's true -- and is even a bit easier to play than the old SPS. I'm not going to get rid of my old one, by the way. I still like the way it looks, and hey, nostalgia and all that. I think if we can ever get this house fixed up enough to sell it, the SPS would make an awesome piece of wall art.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dinner and Drinks: Chicken Marengo

Chicken Marengo is one of those dishes that takes a little while to make, though it's mostly simmering this and baking that, so it's not actually hard, per se. It's really fun to make though, as you can drink lots of wine during the process and it makes the house smell incredible.

It is was supposedly one of Napoleon's favorite dishes, so it may stunt your growth. Studies are inconclusive.

Chicken Marengo

6 chicken breasts (or a whole chicken, skinned and cut up)
1 medium onion (sliced thin)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1/2 tsp thyme (dried, double if using fresh)
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup mushrooms (sliced thin)
1/2 cup black olives (sliced)
1/4 cup butter
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 oz brandy
salt and pepper

Sautè the onions in the olive oil over medium-high heat until soft. Remove and set aside. Brown the chicken on all sides in the same pan. Add the wine, chicken stock, tomatoes, garlic and thyme and simmer, covered, for about a half hour. Make sure the chicken is done, as it won't spend too much time in the oven later. I turn the chicken halfway through but that's not law or anything.

You've got an hour to kill now, so drink some wine. I'm sipping on some Clos du Bois chardonnay, which is a dry white wine that I think goes well with chicken. I used it in the recipe as well, though you can use cooking wine if you prefer the extra sodium. I don't think this recipe needs it though.

When you've got about fifteen minutes left, preheat your oven to 350°, top off your wine glass and get a sautè pan going with the butter and lemon juice. Soften the mushrooms in it. After that, remove the chicken and set aside. Strain the sauce out of the pan, discarding the solids. Add the liquid back to the pan and reduce it for about 5 minutes on high heat.

Put the chicken, mushrooms, onions, olives in a casserole dish. Sprinkle a shot of brandy over the whole thing and add the sauce. Heat in the oven until everything is nice and heated. That's it: you're done!

I like to keep this meal light, so I make a little spaghetti-type pasta, tossing it with a little butter and salt, then spooning some of the sauce over the top. Ridiculously good.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Music Diaries: Muscle Shoals It Ain't

I've got an amp; the netbook is for
reading tabs; the atlas is for killing
spiders. No, really.
I have been plugging away at the guitar for about, what, ten weeks now. I am definitely making some progress. The next logical step after learning some chords and working on the transitions is to find some songs you want to learn -- some simpler ones -- and start practicing. Basically I find tabs on the internet, print them off and go down to my makeshift studio in the basement. I listen to the song on my mp3 player and play along until I get the feel for it. I ignore the solos, because well, I'm learning to walk. Flying comes later.

About my "studio": it's really a couple of chairs and a table in the basement (which is in the middle of repairs). It's far from clean, or comfortable, or, you know, nice. Oh well. It'll do for now. As for the playing, I'm not ready to headline Red Rocks yet, but I could probably make enough coin for a beer or two if I set up shop in a subway somewhere.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trends In Federal Spending

There is no area of the federal budget that couldn't use a little trimming. This includes the sacred cows of the Left (entitlements like welfare benefits and Social Security) and the Right (Defense). The easiest thing would be an across-the-board cut to the budget. Pick a number, something sensible. Five percent, say. That seems to be off the table though, and instead there's a lot of infighting and charges of wanting old people to die and children to go hungry, and so on. Meanwhile, nothing gets cut. Where does all this money go? Well, looked at one way, the biggest chunk goes to Defense ($925.2B). Of course, that includes all defense spending. Entitlements get broken up into subgroups like "Welfare" ($431.5B), "Pensions" ($805.6M), and "Healthcare" ($866.1B). Put together, entitlement spending far outstrips defense spending. That said, there's still room to cut defense spending. Perhaps we could stop building ships that never sail, for example.

But when you look at the historical data around government spending, some interesting trends emerge. First, take a look at Defense spending through the years. Note that I picked 1950 as the cutoff. I picked it because it's a round number and because the immense amount of spending on WWII skewed the chart's y-axis, making it a bit more difficult to read. Suffice to say that at the peak of WWII, defense spending accounted for over 40% of GDP.

The trend over the last 60 years is clearly a downward one. Even with the "massive" buildup in the 1980's, we're talking about 7% at the peak of the Reagan era. Fiscal Year 2010 projects around 5.8%.

Now look at the trends in Healthcare:

And Pensions:

These trends are not sustainable. They just aren't.

(Crossposted at Say Anything)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

2011 Schwan's USA Cup

MJ's traveling soccer team is finishing up their season in Blaine, Minnesota at the Schwan's USA Cup. After severe storms postponed their first game, the team had to play three times on Saturday. The dropped the first game 3-0. In the second game, they won 5-2 behind a hat trick by #59 (aka MJ). Clearly exhausted, they lost a heartbreaker in the third match 3-1.

MJ making a save.

And another.

Celebrating the first of her three (!) goals.

Dribbling in traffic.

Waiting for a corner kick.

MJ taking a shot.

The team (MJ in goal) waiting for a corner.

For all the pictures, visit the online album.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An Evening With Kinect

7:12 pm: Hey, let's play Kinect Adventures!

7:23 pm: This is fun! We should do this every night. It's great exercise.

7:28 pm: Hold on a second. I need to get a towel.

7:37 pm: *Wondering how Wild Turkey improves my reflexes*

7:41 pm: Please, no more jumping. (whimper)

7:48 pm: Pause to execute Bing search for "fastest recorded human heartbeat."

7:55 pm: ----^----^----^----^----^-----------------------------------------------

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fixing Airport Security

After hearing about this story this morning, in which a man used a fake Id and an expired boarding pass to get on a plane in New York, I had some questions.
Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi, a Nigerian-born man who was found with the stolen ID and up to 10 old boarding passes containing various names, was arrested Wednesday after attempting to board a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta; five days after passing through layers of airport security at New York's JFK airport to board a plane with a day-old boarding pass.
My first question was, how is that so many things that are a potential threat to airline safety get through TSA checkpoints? For example, a man can carry four knives through TSA checkpoints. A well-known myth buster, can get a 12-inch saw blade through TSA checkpoints. Bombs can get through TSA checkpoints. Guns can get through TSA checkpoints.

My second question was, how can so many things that obviously aren't a threat to airline security get caught. The bomb link above notes that a water bottle was confiscated. Toddlers are searched. Old ladies are practically strip searched. Somehow, a man with a fake Id and an old boarding pass got through. When asked, all the TSA spokesperson could say was:
Generally speaking, though, the TSA said in its statement, "Every passenger that passes through security checkpoints is subject to many layers of security including thorough physical screening at the checkpoint. TSA's review of this matter indicates that the passenger went through screening.
In other words, "We checked to make sure he didn't have a water bottle. We don't check to make sure your boarding pass is valid." Great.
I'm thinking that the TSA needs to spend more time checking the validity of Ids and boarding passes and less time worrying about water bottles and nail clippers. I understand that Ids can be hard to check since each state's looks different and very few (if any) agents can -- or should be expected -- to be able to spot a fake.

What if a passport were required to fly? U.S. passports now contain microchips, holograms, and other hard-to-fake features. The biggest argument against this is cost. While a typical driver's license is cheap to obtain, passports can cost over $100 and are almost as expensive to renew. What if they were as cheap to obtain as a driver's license?

Wouldn't it be a more effective security measure to be able to ensure that the person getting on the plane is the person who is supposed to be getting on the plane? That wouldn't ensure that no plane ever gets attacked or blown up ever again, but it would be a lot more sensible than the system we have to day, which focuses on water bottles and shoes rather than on who's getting on the plane. Partnered with metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs, we'd be a lot safer with a lot less hassle.

(Crossposted at Say Anything)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Photos from the Tri-Cities Tournament

This weekend MJ's travelling team played in the Tri-Cities Tournament, which is hosted by the Red River Soccer Association and held at locations in Fargo and Moorhead (I didn't say the team had to travel far). The Pumas lost all three games, showing how far Moorhead competitive soccer has to go. However the girls played hard and were in every game (4-3, 6-2, 2-0 -- okay maybe not that second one).

Here are a few photos:

You can see all the pictury goodness here.