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