April 20th, 2014

Happy Easter!

[NOTE: This is a repost from Easters past. But it still works for me.]

Happy Easter to all my celebratory Christian readers, and to all those who just enjoy the holiday as well!

One year when my son was little, I spent the week prior to Easter blowing out eggs and dying them. Now that he’s grown and away, the eggs are packed away in boxes and stored in parts unknown. If I could get my hands on them I’d photograph them for you, because even all these years later they are beautiful, with dyes both subtle and unsubtle, interesting etched patterns and rainbow effects—definitely one of my finest crafts hours (to tell the truth, I didn’t have so many fine crafts hours, although there was also a gingerbread house we made that was stored in the attic and alas, eaten by small creatures–and not human ones, at that.)

Blown-out eggs are well worth the trouble, and why? Because they last. And nothing eats them. You only have to make them once, and you’re all set. They are a bit fragile, but not so very.

So here’s my Easter present to you (not that you couldn’t find the information yourself)—some instructions for blowing eggs, from a link that has disappeared since I first wrote this post:

First, you’ll need to make a tiny pin hole on each end of the egg. A pin works well, or a wooden kitchen skewer or even the tip of a sharp knife. Gently work the tip of the pin/skewer/knife in a circular motion until a tiny hole appears. Repeat on the other side. Then insert the pin or skewer (the knife will be too big here) far enough into the egg to break the yolk. Use your mouth [blow] to expel the contents of the egg.

And here is a more complex–but perhaps better–way, for those obsessive-compulsives among us.

These aren’t mine, but they’ll have to do as substitute:

April 20th, 2014

The perfect jelly bean

There is only one jelly bean worth eating at Easter or any other time of year.

No, not those weirdly flavored “gourmet” Jelly Bellys (I consider the term “gourmet jelly bean” to be an oxymoron). The traditionalist in me abhors them, despite Reagan’s reported fondness. As for those jelly beans placed on the endless supermarket aisles of Easter treats that tempt us from Valentine’s Day until tomorrow—when the remnants go on sale and those get scarfed up as well—the vast majority should not be consumed by anyone above the age of four. Maybe not even by anyone below the age of four.

What should? I submit these, which are a tad more expensive but probably will not break the bank:

jellybeans.jpg

Traditionally fruit-flavored, made with smooth and succulent pectin, with a lovely and slightly translucent sheen, they go down easy. Maybe too easy; it is possible to eat quite a few before realizing what’s happening. Take it from one who knows.

How did jelly beans come to be associated with Easter? It seems a no-brainer because of their egglike shape, but apparently the tradition didn’t really get going until the 1930s. Jelly beans are far older than that, however, making their debut as the confection promoted by Schrafft of Boston for sending to Union soldiers during the Civil War (a crafty man, that Schrafft).

A little-known jelly bean fact (at least to me) is that, “in United States slang in the 1910s and early 1920s a ‘Jelly bean’ or ‘Jellybean’ was a young man who made great efforts to dress very stylishly, presumably to attract women, but had little else to recommend him…The word was also used as a synonym for pimp.”

Returning to the actual candy, I offer a caveat: there is hardly anything worse than the shock of thinking you’re biting into a normal fruit-flavored jelly bean and getting a spicy one. They should be identified by special markings, like those insects that are bad to eat, as a warning to others. I suggest racing stripes.

But if you buy the Russell Stovers, there’s no need to be on the spice alert. And remember: Monday the sales begin! Although, come to think of it, it’s a sign of this particular jelly bean’s superiority that not only are they generally available year-round, but at most stores they are exempted from the post-Easter markdowns. They’re that good.

[NOTE: This is a repost.]

April 19th, 2014

No, I don’t think so

No one should wear this dress. It’s just not possible to compete with it:

poppies

Perhaps the only proper use of the dress would be as camouflage in a scene like this:

April 19th, 2014

Not your father’s marijuana

Here are some cautionary tales about the strength and possible danger of legal marijuana edibles, whether they be sold as medical marijuana or in states like Colorado which choose to legalize general marijuana sales:

Last year, the poison center run by Bronstein received 126 calls concerning adverse reactions to marijuana. So far this year — after pot sales became legal on Jan. 1 — the center has gotten 65 calls. Bronstein attributed the spike to the higher concentrations of THC in marijuana that has become available.

Although millions of Americans have used pot without becoming violent, Bronstein said such behavior is possible depending on the type of hallucinations a user experiences. Toxicologists say genetic makeup, health issues and other factors also can make a difference.

“With these products, everybody is inexperienced,” Bronstein said. “It’s the first time people have been able to buy it in a store. People need to be respectful of these products.”

I’ve witnessed this firsthand, because I know people who use medical marijuana and I’ve observed its incredibly strong effect when ingested. Back in the 60s, marijuana was almost always a lot weaker than today. But apparently, officially sanctioned and state-controlled marijuana can be a lot stronger even than the current crop of illegal marijuana, which was already stronger than in the past:

The two recent deaths [in Colorado] have stoked concerns about Colorado’s recreational marijuana industry and the effects of the drug, especially since cookies, candy and other pot edibles can be exponentially more potent than a joint.

There’s no question that other drugs—including prescription drugs—can and are abused in dangerous ways. The same is true of alcohol, of course. But from what I’ve seen of legal marijuana edibles, they are uniquely positioned to have maximum appeal to children, and also to be unwittingly over-consumed:

Twenty-six people have reported poisonings from marijuana edibles this year, when the center started tracking such exposures. Six were children who swallowed innocent-looking edibles, most of which were in plain sight.

Five of those kids were sent to emergency rooms, and two to hospitals for intensive care, Bronstein said. Children were nauseous and sleepy, and doctors worried about their respiratory systems shutting down…

“One of the problems is people become very impatient,” Bronstein said. “They eat a brownie or a chocolate chip cookie and they get no effect, so then they stack the doses and all the sudden they get an extreme effect that they weren’t expecting.”

Plus, chocolate candy just plain tastes good. The marijuana-laced ones look so innocuous, just like a Lindt truffle. So if one is good, why not a few more? But these things pack a mighty, mighty wallop.

April 19th, 2014

Why does Obama keep saying the Obamacare debate is over?

Obama says the debate is over and Republicans need to reach the grief stage of acceptance, but Jeffrey H. Anderson begs to differ:

In short, [Obamacare is] bad because it raises health costs, undermines liberty, costs jobs, and seeks to put American medicine under the control of the same folks who brought you healthcare.gov.

It might seem surprising, therefore, that Obama would have chosen to declare victory yesterday, imperiously proclaiming that “the repeal debate is and should be over.” In reality, however, his words might actually be true—just not in the way he intended. The American people hated Obamacare even before the Democrats willfully passed it, they hate it now, and they never stopped hating it in between. There’s strong evidence that the debate is, indeed, over—and that Obama and his allies have lost.

According to Real Clear Politics, since July 4, 2009, 458 polls have been taken on Obamacare. Twenty have shown Americans liking it, five have shown ties, and 433 (95 percent) have shown them disliking it. Perhaps even more strikingly, 299 (65 percent)—including the five most recent polls—have shown Americans opposing Obamacare by double-digits.

Imagine if Republicans were so stubbornly pushing something that was so evidently unpopular—and then had the gall to declare the debate over (in their favor). Do you think the mainstream press would let that fly?

No, I can’t imagine it. Republicans sometimes push unpopular policies—witness George W. Bush, persevering in Iraq even after the public (with an assist from the press) had turned against it. But they don’t have the sheer audacity to say debate is over, nor would the press ever let them get away with it if they did.

But that’s Obama’s m.o., and it has several purposes and is not “surprising” at all. The first goal is to shore up the base. The second is to simultaneously infuriate and intimidate Republicans into keeping their mouths shut. The third is to re-label opposition as illegitimate. The fourth is to talk people into believing that what he says about Obamacare is actually true—in other words, to piss on the legs of the American people and say it’s rain (or rather, wine).

Why would Obama think that fourth effort will succeed? Because in his previous life he’s managed to do just that sort of thing, through the power of his words and his personality. Why not again? He may be forgetting that the effects of Obamacare on people are up close and personal, and therefore might be more difficult to deny or talk his way out of. But talking his way out of things is his way, and the power of words has always been his biggest and most reliable power.

If reality is something we construct with narratives, then why wouldn’t this particular narrative work? Way back in the early days of Obama’s 2008 campaign, I wrote a post comparing him to Humpty Dumpty, and I’d like to revisit that idea now:

[The blogger] Shrinkwrapped wonders whether Obama is the Emperor or the Wizard, but I would add that he’s also Humpty Dumpty of Through the Looking-Glass.

Here’s the famous dialogue from the Lewis Carroll work, in which Humpty arrogantly tells Alice he can manipulate words and make them do whatever he wants:

‘[T]hat shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents — ‘

`Certainly,’ said Alice.

`And only ONE for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’

`I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”‘ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

`But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.

`When _I_ use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’

`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master—that’s all.’

April 19th, 2014

The failure of desegregation

This New Yorker article by Jelani Cobb manages to discuss the failure of desegregation laws in the US without acknowledging some of the underlying reasons behind it:

And so, sixty years after Brown, it is clear that the notion of segregation as a discrete phenomenon, an evil that could be flipped, like a switch, from on to off, by judicial edict, was deeply naïve. The intervening decades have shown, in large measure, the limits of what political efforts directed at desegregation alone could achieve, and the crumbling of both elements of “separate but equal” has left us at an ambivalent juncture. To the extent that desegregation becomes, once again, a pressing concern—and even that may be too grand a hope—it will have to involve the tax code, the minimum wage, and other efforts to redress income inequality. For the tragedy of this moment is not that black students still go to overwhelmingly black schools, long after segregation was banished by law, but that they do so for so many of the same reasons as in the days before Brown.

There isn’t a hint in the article of the fact that many of the reasons are in fact quite different. Does the black community have no responsibility for what has happened to it in the intervening years, for its growing tendency to view education as something to mock rather than to pursue, and for its increasing violence and rampant illegitimacy? White flight from urban public schools in recent years has been much less about mindless and racist prejudice against blacks and much more about protecting one’s children from exposure to danger, and trying to ensure that they are schooled in an atmosphere that respects and values learning.

We can argue about how many of the problems black schools and black culture have faced in recent years have been a result of prejudice and how much a result of something going wrong within the community itself. Perhaps the latter is even a result of attempts to help through an ever-expanding welfare state and the fostering of dependence and entitlement. But there’s little question that we’re not just talking about something imposed from the outside that can be fixed by fiddling with the tax code and the minimum wage.

I was previously unfamiliar with Cobb’s work, and his essay is fairly short, but when I looked him up I found a personal history that seemed relevant to me:

William Jelani Cobb was born in Queens, New York, on September 22, 1967, the youngest of four children. Literacy and education were valued highly in the Cobb household. Both of Cobb’s parents had migrated from the South, where they did not have access to high-quality schools. As a result, they were determined to give reading and learning important places in their family life. Cobb counted being taught to write at an early age by his father, Willie Lee Cobb—an electrician with a third-grade education—among his earliest memories. On his website, Cobb described his father’s “huge hand engulfing mine as he showed me how to scrawl the alphabet.”

Interesting, no? That’s a stellar example of the importance of a family environment that treasures learning, one that I submit was probably vital in allowing Cobb to take advantage of whatever educational opportunities were offered him. As he writes in his essay, he graduated from Queens’ Jamaica High School in 1987, back when it was far more diverse (and probably a lot more learning-friendly) than it is today. Cobb later received his undergraduate degree from Howard, an all-black institution that I would guess he purposely chose.

[NOTE: The occasion for Cobb's article is the impending 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education on May 17th. Relevant to the discussion is also the history of forced busing, about which I've previously written in this lengthy post.

It's also interesting to ask what the purpose of desegregation may have been. Was it to have a certain representative percentage of whites and blacks in all schools? If so, it failed, and was always doomed to fail. Was it to remove the de jure barriers in the South that established separate but equal as an official state and/or community policy? If so, it succeeded.]

April 18th, 2014

Obama to Republicans: My friends, let us work together

What a guy:

President Barack Obama used his Thursday press conference to diagnose Republicans as fear-mongering, spiteful, obstinate, petulant and obstructive…

Obama coupled his passive-voice diatribe with his more-in-sorrow-than-anger promise that he “would much prefer a constructive conversation with the Republicans about how do we get some stuff done.”…

“This does frustrate me: [GOP-led] states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid for no other reason than political spite,” he said, while denying that the states would actually have to tax state residents billions of dollars to fund government-run healthcare for millions more people. “You’ve got 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now at no cost to these states — zero cost to these states — other than ideological reasons,” said Obama…

GOP activists are deceptive, he suggested. “We see accusations that the law is hurting millions of people being completely debunked — as some of you in the press have done,” he said.

What a nasty piece of work he is. And the press is his willing handmaiden, as he acknowledges in that last sentence I quoted.

Presidents used to think they had to take a high tone when they spoke in public, and at least pay lip service to respecting their opponents and crediting them with some sort of goodwill. Obama’s blown that idea out the water.

[NOTE: States will have to pay for 10% of the Medicaid expansion by 2020:

The federal government would pick up the tab for most of the Medicaid expansion when it is implemented in 2014, but states would be required to pay for 10 percent of it by 2020. Though a countrywide expansion would provide coverage for some 17 million Americans who otherwise do not qualify for Medicaid, some states, including Florida, Mississippi, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, say that paying for even 10 percent of the expansion is too much for their tight budgets.

Remember also that, unlike the federal government, states are required to balance their budgets.

Plenty more here and here.]

April 18th, 2014

Airline food: it’s the altitude, stupid

So now they’re saying that airline meals taste as bad as they do because at high altitudes people’s tastebuds go numb:

No matter what it is—fish, chicken, even pasta—every meal served in the air seems to taste undeniably worse than its on-the-ground counterpart. To get to the bottom of this dilemma, we consulted Grant Mickels, the executive chef for culinary development of Lufthansa’s LSG Sky Chefs—who had some surprising revelations. Namely: That the food’s not really the problem here.

“At 35,000 feet, the first thing that goes is your sense of taste,” explained Mickels. He explained that the quality of the food and its ingredients isn’t to blame, it’s the way you experience it. It’s even been tested: The Fraunhofer Institute, a research organization based in Germany, did a study on why a dish that would be delicious in a fine dining restaurant could be, as Mickels put it, “so dull in the air.” In a mock aircraft cabin, researchers tried out ingredients at both sea level and in a pressurized condition—and the differences in taste were startling.

The tests revealed that the cabin atmosphere—pressurized at 8,000 feet—combined with the cool, dry cabin air “makes your taste buds go numb, almost as if you had a cold,” explained Mickels.

Well, they can explain all they want, and research all the want, but none of it’s going to convince me. Although I haven’t actually eaten an official airline meal in many moons, I’ve certainly had plenty of them in the past, and they were uniformly abominable. What puts the lie to their research is that those nuts and pretzels they give out taste perfectly yummy, and that sandwich I got in the airport (the one with the chicken salad and cranberries, that cost about double what it would have cost had it been purchased anywhere else but another airport or Disneyland) tastes pretty darn good too.

So I’m not buying it. The research, that is, not the sandwich.

April 18th, 2014

The candidate as grandmother

Will Hillary Clinton’s impending grandmotherhood become a campaign issue, as in “softening” her, and adding “a compassion thing”?

I must admit that the mere notion puzzles me. I assume that Andrew Ross Sorkin, the NY Times financial columnist who suggested the idea, meant that the additional compassion would be by Hillary rather than for Hillary.

Makes me think of all the compassion the left showed Sarah Palin for her impending grandmotherhood back in 2008.

My sense of Hillary Clinton is that attitudes towards her are pretty much set in stone by now. There’s not a lot of play there, grandchild or no grandchild. But commentators have to talk about something, don’t they?

As do I. As do I.

April 18th, 2014

Planet resembling earth found

Is Kepler-186f The One? At 490 light-years away, we may never know:

“This is the first definitive Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone around another star,” said Elisa Quintana of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute at NASA. “Finding such planets is a primary goal of the Kepler space telescope.”…

…Kepler had observed five planets approximately the size of Earth and in the habitable zone.

But the “previously discovered worlds are larger than Earth, and consequently their true nature — rocky or gaseous — is unknown,” the SETI Institute said in a written announcement on Thursday. “On the basis of the observed dimming of starlight from Kepler-186, the authors estimate that this newly discovered planet is roughly the same size as the Earth.”

Theoretical models and observations tell scientists that planets the size of Kepler-186f likely have a composition of iron, rock and ice, like Earth, Quintana told reporters Thursday.

And speaking of resemblances, doesn’t this newscaster look quite a bit like Candice Bergen in her more mature years?

April 18th, 2014

Rage against the Republican nominee

As a still-rather-newish ex-Democrat (I’m not a Republican, but I vote that way), I remain surprised at the persistence of opinions such as this one on the conservative side. Yes, I understand the frustration with the Republicans and share it to a fair extent. But no, I don’t and won’t be railing against a candidate like Romney and asserting that Goldwater was a much better candidate than Goldwater actually was.

It’s a very human tendency to be angrier at the internal enemy at the expense of the external and far-more-important one. It reminds me of the common tendency, when one parent has abused a child, for the victim to blame the other parent even more, and to direct the greatest amount of anger against him/her for not sufficiently protecting that child by stopping the abusing parent.

The truth about Goldwater is that he was an awful* candidate. Go back and look at videos if you don’t believe me. The other truth is that he was the victim of an unfair smear campaign. Go back and look at videos if you don’t believe me. And the other truth is that I don’t think any other Republican candidate who might have run in 1964 could have beaten Johnson. All three things are true.

All three things might have been true of Romney in 2012, as well. You may not believe the third one, but rememberthat I’m comparing Romney (as I have from the start) not to an imaginary ideal other Republican candidate, but to the actual candidates who declared themselves. And let’s throw in the fact that internal warring in the Republican Party hurt him, as well. That sort of split could doom whoever is the Republican nominee in 2016, too, moderate or conservative, and enable a Democrat victory.

Moderate Republicans often like to say that, when conservative Republicans have lost, it was because they were too conservative. Conservatives like to say that, when moderate Republicans have lost, it was because they weren’t conservative enough. Most of the time, neither is true. Most of the time, the losses were because of the three reasons I listed, whether the Republican nominees were conservatives or RINOs.

I fully expect quite a few people to disagree with me.

[NOTE: *By the term "awful candidate" in this context I mean mostly in the sense of personality---in other words, whatever is usually meant by "uncharismatic" or "unexciting" or "unappealing" in the personal sense. We sometimes like to pretend that elections are won and/or lost solely on principle, but that is very far from the truth. You may not like that fact, but it doesn't change it.]

April 17th, 2014

All Things Scottish

After I posted that video about voice recognition systems and accents, a reader kindly sent me a link to this one:

The Scots accent is inherently funny (is that un-PC to say, or is it okay because they’re white?) because of its strange mixture of sentimentality and truculence. The sentimentality is also captured in the fact that traditionally speakers have liberally sprinkled their speech with cute diminutives—for example, “wee,” and the addition of “ie” to many words. Both tendencies are almost perfectly exemplified by the first two lines of the famous Robert Burns poem “To A Mouse,” one of my personal favorites:

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

Only a Scotsman would dare to rhyme “beastie” with “breastie” and come out on top.

But on YouTube one video leads to another, and so I found this one next, which I think is pretty funny as well:

But the granddaddy of them all is this classic from Saturday Night Live:


If It's Not Scottish, It's Crap!!! by shundriad

If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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