Friday, October 23, 2009

Top Chef Blogging

Well, as predicted, since I couldn't get the information I needed, writing the goddamn brief took twice as long as it should.  Getting a straight answer from people is goddamn annoying. 

Anyway, while I try to break away from my legal woes for an instant - ugh - I want to do some more Top Chef blogging.  Yes, I am a foodie.  Or rather, I love watching people cook on TV.  Last Wednesday was the annual "Restaurant Wars" episode, and I ended up watching it like four times (Bravo reruns the episodes over and over again, there was nothing else on TV except for "Criminal Minds," and I'm in serious need of escape-ism right now).  So, for those of you who aren't following Top Chef, stop reading this now, because you won't get any of it.

As I've stated before, the level of competition is ridiculous this year.  In a typical year, the chefs are low-end sous chefs or even line cooks, or caterers (not that there's anything wrong with catering).  Anyway, this year, there are executive chefs everywhere.  Not just chefs at run-of-the-mill places, but chefs with Michelin stars, and proteges of famous chefs like Charlie Palmer and Eric Ripert.  One contestant, Michael Voltaggio employs Marcel Vigneron as a sous chef, and Marcel almost won the competition in Season 2 (and I think Michael Voltaggio employs Hung Huyuh, Season 3's winner).

So that said, here are my thoughts on the final seven:

The Contenders:

Michael Voltaggio - Personality wise, he's a total and complete dick.  He curses out his brother, and anyone else who gets in his way.  In the kitchen, shit has to be done his way, or else.  The thing is, he's a talented asshole, and has the personality that works in the kitchen environment (See Ramsey, Gordon).  In past seasons we saw chefs with the artistry, but not the flair or the natural understanding of flavor.  In this past episode, the judges were literally fighting over the last bites of his chicken.  If he manages to keep his head out of his ass long enough, he might pull off the win.

Kevin - Unlike Michael Voltaggio, Kevin is amiable, kind, and the kind of guy you want to hang out with.  He's also brilliant, but where Michael is brilliant in an Adria sort of way (changes your perception of food), Kevin is brilliant in making simple food amazing (like making "bacon jam"). 

The Almost Theres:

Brian Voltaggio - Michael's older brother is, sadly, not quite the chef his brother is.  This is a shame because Brian is exactly my age, and from all appearances is the professional and all around good guy his brother is not.   But at this point, I think he lacks the utter brilliance that his brother has.  In any other year, Brian would take this competition blindfolded.  But he's not the artist his brother is, nor is he the craftsman that Kevin is.

Jennifer - A protege of Eric Ripert, Jennifer is the fish cook extraordinare.  However, in the last few episodes she's had a real confidence problem, probably due to her perfectionism, if anything else.  So, she's a bit like Casey in that sense, only more talented.  If she gets her head in the game, she can run with the big boys.  If not, she's done for.

The Also Rans:

Mike Isabella - Mike is an asshole.  But Mike is the kind of asshole that you find among your friends - the guy who is so full of shit that you begin to ignore what he says because he'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.  He's a good chef, but not great.  At this point, he's trying to keep up, but ultimately, his days will be done.

Eli - Like Isabella, Eli is also an asshole.  Except, Eli has the excuse of being young (he's 23 or 24).  He's also quite talented for a young chef, but has a lot to learn.  Like Isabella he can hold his own, but is nowhere near where the Voltaggios, Jennifer and Kevin are.

Last and Least:

Robin - I feel bad for Robin because she's gotten shit on by the other chefs as not being worthy.  The truth is, Robin has been consistently the third worst chef.  That would make her bad enough to be on the bottom three, but not enough to be eliminated.  Plus, she's not bad, per se, just no where near the talent of the other remaining chefs.  The only people I thought should have left after her are Hector and Ashley (both good chefs but who screwed up royally).  Laurine leaving before Robin was all good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Profanity-Laced Tirade About Health Care. . .consider yourself warned

Two things about the health care debate have royally pissed me off.  First of all, Congress is currently debating whether or not to end the anti-trust exemption for health insurance companies.

WHAT.  THE.  FUCK????  Seriously, why the fuck to do health insurance companies have the right to act as a fucking monopoly?  When did we think this was a good idea?  Furthermore, why in the FORTY FUCKING YEARS OF THE HEALTH CARE DEBATE HAS THIS IDEA JUST COME UP NOW??????  45,000 people are dying every year for lack of health insurance coverage, and another 400,000 people every year are going bankrupt due to illness when they are insured, but I'm sure allowing health insurance companies to do whatever they fuck they want has nothing to do with it.  Unfuckingbelieveable.

Going forward, the public option is a good way to promote competition, and I hope it passes. But you know what else helps competition?  PASSING A FUCKING LAW THAT PROHIBITS ANTI-COMPETITIVE BEHAVIOR YOU HORSEFUCKED MORONS!!!! (Sidenote, I think I just created a new swear here - horsefucked - meaning those who have been fucked by a horse, as opposed to horsefuckers, wherein the horse takes the passive role of fuckee).  Anyway, I'm glad to see that someone has figured this out.

The second thing about this debate that royally pisses me off - Old people protesting health care reform as socialism.  Okay, I've written about this in the past, but today in front of my building there was a protest against health care reform (I think DiFi or Boxer's offices are located in my building).  Of the twenty people there, I'd estimate that at least 80% were senior citizens.

Now here's what gets a hair up my ass - all of these fucking old people are RECEIVING PUBLIC HEALTH INSURANCE THAT I FUCKING PAY FOR.  Medicare is a government run program, paid for by a 3% payroll tax.  That means 3% of my salary and bonuses goes to pay for the health care of old people.  The very same old people who are FUCKING PROTESTING in front of my building saying that government should stay out of health care.  In other words, they're protesting me getting what they got.

FUCK YOU, you DECREPIT, OLD, FAT, FUCKS!!!  I'll tell you what, if you don't want socialized medicine, the burn your Medicare card and get a fucking job.  Not only am I paying your medical bills, but I'm paying for your fucking retirement.  How dare you complain about socialism!  If anyone should be bitching about socialism, its me, the guy who's taxes are paying to keep you alive.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Totally Random Blogging

As I await the critical information for the purposes of writing briefs which, because I don't have the information for, I will end up having to work twice as long for the next few days (thanks guys), I've decided to occupy myself with a little bit of timely consideration: werewolves.  It is, after all, nearly Halloween, and my favorite type of fiction is horror/sci-fi/fantasy (though more horror than anything else).

Right now, of course, vampires are a hot commodity in general entertainment.  From the Twilight series, to "True Blood" and a fair number of other movies and fiction, people like vampires.  And why not?  Vampires are compelling because they trade immortal life with having to drink human blood.  Throw in a love interest with a mortal, and you have immediate, unresolvable conflict (a.k.a. a story).  So I get it.

But, I'm a little vampired out.  For one, the best vampires are anti-heroes, not mopey protagonists.  For instance, ask an Anne Rice fan who his or her favorite vampire is (or even Anne Rice) and the response will be the same: Lestat.  And there's a reason for it - among all the vampires in her books, Lestat is the one guy who didn't choose to be a vampire, but when he became one, he tried to be the best vampire he could.  He didn't bitch like Louis.

Now, of all the various other types of supernatural characters, werewolves are the ones who get the short end of the stick.  Yes, there are werewolf movies, but those films are either: protagonists are being attacked by werewolves (werewolves as random monsters); protagonists are turning into werewolves (werewolves as a proxy for madness); or, protagonists are being helped by werewolves against vampires.  In each case, the focus isn't on the werewolf, and the lycanthropy is a proxy for something else - our fear of nature, our fear of madness, etc.

There is one exception, of course, Teen Wolf wasn't about nature or madness or anything of that sort - Teen Wolf was about a teenager dealing with being a werewolf and trying to fit into society.  The lycanthropy was a good thing - though it was also a metaphor general talents.  I'm sure there are other examples, but I think my original thesis holds water.

And here's my big problem with werewolf literature - its based upon an outdated view of nature.  When the werewolf legend first sprung up, nature was a scary place and wolves were viewed as mindless, relentless killers.  We now know that to not be the case.  Wolves are highly intelligent, social animals, capable of adapting to multiple environments and who have been known to work with both humans and badgers (of all things, I know) to hunt prey.  So, the madness aspect of the werewolf legend is off.  So too, is the idea that wolves eat people.  In fact, wolves are generally scared of humans (which, considering that humans have wiped out wolf populations, makes sense), and don't consider humans prey animals.

My ideal reformation of the werewolf character then, is as follows:
  1. The Werewolf Should Be Able to Transform Without Going Crazy.  I could understand a first time craziness because the initial transformation would be horrendously painful, but after that, the werewolf should be able to switch from one form to another without issue.  Oh, and the full moon thing, which is tied with the idea that lycanthropy is a form of lunacy (as in, involving the Moon), should go as well.
  2. The Werewolf Should Not Eat People - Again, people aren't prey items for wolves or humans, so why should werewolves eat people?  Plus, that puts them a little bit too close to vampires.  Although, you could do a story where the vamps drain the victims and turn the bodies over to werewolves for consumption.  Hmm. . .anyway, for the protagonist werewolf, eating people shouldn't be in the cards.  Instead werewolves should eat like. . .dogs.  Now, I'm not saying dog food, but since dogs are wolves adapted to human life, they're the closest thing to a werewolf.  So the werewolf should eat all the crap that a dog would (which is just about everything except lettuce).
  3. The Werewolf Should Be Mortal.  Again, immortality basically makes werewolves like vampires, which is dumb.  The only possible trade-off is immortality for madness, which sucks because its too close to vampirism.  Additionally, let's make lycanthropy an inherited condition as opposed to something you get from being bitten. 
  4. The Werewolf Should Have Badass Powers.  I don't want to completely defang the whole werewolf story - after all, that would suck.  So aside from transforming into a wolf, the werewolf should be able to look like the werewolves in "Underworld" and basically rip things to shreds and run ridiculously fast.  I also like the silver allergy thing.
  5. The Werewolf Should Have Quirks - Every dog I've owned has been quirky, from barking at the sky during after a thunderclap, to jumping randomly on furniture, to fixating on cats/squirrels.  Its the odd combination of canine senses in a human world that makes dogs fun.  Werewolves should equally have personality quirks.
So to sum up, the ideal werewolf character should be sane, quirky, eat basically anything, inherit his/her powers, have badass powers and transform at will.  The rest?  I'm not sure yet.  But I've been working since 6:00 a.m., and I'm going home.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Back to Politics. . .

Today, Carville's polling group released an interesting report from one of their focus groups.  You can find the link to the poll here:

Link to Poll

Now generally, one has to consider the source when it comes to polling, but generally these post-election focus groups are pretty spot-on.  Luntz conducted a focus group in 2006/2007 about potential Democratic Presidential candidates and pretty much nailed Clinton - liked a lot at first, but the more the focus group looked, the less they liked. 

Anyway, this focus group looked at the conservative base of the Republican Party (or a portion thereof).  What Carville found was a deep fear that Obama was going to destroy the country with a socialist agenda.  This is completely nuts of course.  Obama can't even pass a friggin' health care bill (something Democrats have been working on since FUCKING TRUMAN) right. 

Now some of you are saying, "Duh."  Okay, that's a fair point.  But what's interesting is that race/perceived religion isn't a factor here.  I figured that the perceived religion thing would be bigger than it was.  No, instead, the vitriol is based purely on Obama being a Democrat.  That, and a total ignorance of what's happening as being fed by Glenn Beck (who the focus group members feared would be killed by Obama or something). 

So, with that cleared up, I think we can split the opposition to Obama into basically four camps
  1. The Normals (example - Bogart in Town) - Conservatives who live in the real world and whose differences with Democrats are philosophical.  Tax cuts good, government efficiency good, too much spending bad.
  2. The Tea Baggers - Populist-Conservatives who live in an alternate reality wherein Obama and his evil forces seek to undermine the Republic and install socialism.  William Ayers is believed to have written Obama's book.  Glenn Beck is the savior.  Rush is good, but has problems (primarily with race).
  3. The Birthers - Could be conservative, could be something else.  Freaked out about Obama's name, believing he is a secret Muslim or the like. Total nutjobs.
  4. The Racists - pretty obvious, but are probably a smaller group than most think. 
Now, there's really nothing that can be said about the Birthers and Racists - they're the lunatic fringe, and there's not much you can do about them (See LaRouche, Lyndon) - but the Tea Baggers are something else entirely.  If anything, they're the creation of men like Roger Ailes - people who live within their own echo chamber of conservative ideals.

And that, to be honest, scares me because I can very well see Democrats going the same way in 5-10 years.  That's why I'm thankful for Mike taking part in these discussions.  Sure he's almost always wrong, but he punctures the cocoon of my blog-fulled media world.  And that's a good thing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What? No Way. . .

Apparently, Roger Goodell doesn't like the idea of Rush Limbaugh owning an NFL franchise either:

The story links to a NY Times article, but regardless, this should come as no surprise.  Nor was it surprising when Rush got canned from ESPN.  Here's a brief factoid for you - a lot of NFL players are African American.  Now, is Rush a racist?  To be honest, I don't know.  I do know that he has said a fair number of things that lead me to believe he is.  And he is comfortable with racist humor.  But you never really know about these things one way or another. 

But, and I think this is important, Rush is perceived by players in the NFL (and other sports) as racist.  That's why ESPN canned him - it depends on the cooperation and participation of African American athletes.  Having Rush was too big of a risk.  So too is having Rush as an owner.  I could very well see a rookie refusing to go to the Rams because of Rush's ownership.  Forget about free agent signings.  No, having Rush as an owner would have been a disaster.

On a slightly different note, here is what I think the Pads should do in preparation for next year:

1) Trade Kouzmanoff - His defense is okay (what balls he gets to, he catches), but his batting average is low - .250ish - his OBP is only around 300, and he leads the league in double plays.  He does have some power, which should improve outside of Petco.  Meanwhile, Headley is about the same defensively, has a little bit less power (he hits doubles, not home runs), and hits for a higher average and OBP.    Plus, Headley hits better when he plays third and doesn't have to worry about playing the outfield (where he's not good).

2) Trade Heath Bell - Okay, I like Bell, and I think he's a top closer.  At the same time, he's older (around 30), and makes a decent amount of money.  I think Gregerson could be an effective closer, at a tenth the price.  Plus, Bell's value is probably as high as its going to get right now.  Considering that the Cardinals, Rockies, and Red Sox all had their closers blow saves in the playoffs, I think we could get a lot for him.

3) Keep Gonzo - Adrian is the face of the franchise, a local boy, and a hell of a player.  Yes, his value is high, but keeping him for at least another year (Adrian's contract runs through 2011) is a good call.  At the same time, if someone offers the moon. . .

With these manuevers, the Pads have an infield of Gonzo, Eckstein, Cabrera, and Headley, an outfield of Veneble, Gywnn, Blanks, with Hundley behind the plate.  That's a pretty good lineup, and its cheap.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Anarchism, Terrorism and Nihilism

I love the internet for articles such as this:

By the way, a round of thanks to Andrew Sullivan who pointed his readers to this article.  Anyway, you've read my earlier blog about the importance of the average Muslim in the War on Terror and why torture was a stupid idea.  But I've been thinking more and more about the War on Terror, and about the participants in the Islamic World.  Clearly, there is a disparity between the leaders of Al Qaeda, the soldiers and average folk.

The leaders of Al Qaeda appear, prior to 2001 at least, to be outcasts in their societies.  Bin Laden, for instance, left the relatively cushy life in Saudi Arabia to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and never really looked back.  He couldn't give up jihad.  A look at the other leaders of Al Qaeda shows them all to have various home life problems, times spent in jail, and what not.  I think this has to do with the fact that these guys are, for the most part, sociopaths.  Not only do they not care about killing other people, but they actually revel in it.  These guys actually do hate us, but not for our freedoms, but because we're there.

The fighters (like Muhammed Atta), on the other hand, fit the Nihilist as described in the Independent's article.  They view the world as corrupt, and that the killing of a few to save their homelands is worth it.  What strikes me about the article how it captures the sense of despair by even the well-to-do.  The anarchists killed and were killed because they felt that there was nothing left to live for.  So is the case with suicide bombers.  Their idealism is betrayed by the leaders' sociopathy.

The third group are the average Muslims.  While they do not engage in violence, they are willing to look the other way, and in some cases, help the jihadists hide from the authorities.  Like the soldiers, they are angry with the West.

Ultimately, what's hopeful about the article is that, of course, anarchism faded away when social reforms were enacted.  So too, I think, jihadism would fade as social reforms were to be made in the Islamic World.  Not because making such reforms would convince the jihadist leadership, but because the reforms would convince the soldiers to do other stuff.  Similarly, the average Muslim would less inclined to support or help the jihadists.  Without soldiers willing to die for the cause, and the populace willing to hide them, the leadership would, once again, be outsiders in their own communities.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

First Religion Post

As you might have noticed, the title of this website is "Politics and Religion," but all I've ever posted about is politics.  There's a reason for that - politics and religion are the two topics you are never supposed to talk about in polite company, and this blog isn't about being polite.  Still, when this came across my desktop, I had to comment. 

According to the Conservative Bible Project, "Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations."

Now, generally speaking, I'm not what many would consider a Christian.  I don't go to church, ever.  I swear, I drink, I try to fornicate (which is apparently the same as adultery, though I completely disagree with that notion) as much as possible, and I can be a real prick, even to the ones I love.  I'm also a cynic and a firm believer in science.  Man evolved from apes.  How that happened is still up for discussion (I like the aquatic ape theory, personally), but that's another story.

Maybe its my upbringing, or the theology classes, but there is some remaining sense of Christianity left in me.  I know my theology, and during the whole Da Vinci Code deal, I convinced myself that the Gospel of John should be titled the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.  So, I find the idea of changing the Bible - to the extent of taking out sections of the Gospels because they don't adhere to your political beliefs - to be anathema to core Christian beliefs. 

For those of you who aren't up on your Biblical studies, the New Testament basically has two parts: the Gospels, which describe Jesus' life, his teachings, and his death, and the second part is composed of letters by various Christian writers (like St. Paul) to other Christians about how to be good Christians.  So, at least in my opinion, the Gospels are much, much more important than the other stuff. 

So what chaps my ass in all this is that these Conservatives are seeking to change the Gospels, and, in some cases, take words out of Jesus' mouth.  And they aren't doing this because they believe Jesus didn't actually say them, but because they don't agree with what Jesus is saying.  I call bullshit. After all, being a Christian is about believing in that Jesus Christ was God the Creator Incarnate.  Whatever he said is literally the WORD OF GOD.  And to be honest, I can't think of anything more heretical than modifying the WORD OF GOD.

Again, this is in contrast with the rest of the New Testament, which you could basically throw out - writers like Paul and Timothy were learned scholars, and while their writings are learned and somewhat well-reasoned, they're the words of dudes, not the WORD OF GOD.  For those of you keeping track WORD OF GOD > word of dudes. 

Ironically, the conservative position on the Bible is that it is literally the WORD OF GOD, and as such, it has to be read literally.  (*Side note - the Koran is also supposed to be the WORD OF GOD, and has the benefit of having one writer/prophet, and has a disclaimer which states that the WORD OF GOD can't possibly be understood fully by mere mortals, and as such, reading the Koran literally is foolish*)  Thus, homosexuality is unclean, etc.  But how can the Bible be the literal WORD OF GOD when you can't agree what the Bible is supposed to say?

Monday, October 5, 2009

On Afghanistan

While in college, my favorite subject wasn't just politics, but it was comparative politics - the study of political systems from around the world.  While I liked the historical component, studying foreign political systems allowed me to study politics without my own personal views getting in the way.  So, the following is my view, in general, of the way things are going in Afghanistan. 

First off, all countries have two types of identities - a sociocultural identity (called a nation) and a political identity (called the state).  Thus, in classical terms, the ideal is to have a nation-state, where the political and sociocultural borders are identical.  Most of the countries in Western Europe have this to some degree.  The French, for example, live in a place called France, and speak French, and eat French food, and generally are part of French culture.  And France, the nation-state, has existed more or less for a thousand years.  At the same time, unstable countries tend to have more than one nation within the same state.  Yugoslavia, for instance, was a compendium of Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Albanians, etc., all kept together by Tito's force of personality.  When he died, the country dissolved into civil war. 

Now, there is one exception to this rule, and that's Switzerland.  The Swiss speak a myriad of different languages, practice different religions, and have four or five separate cultures.  Moreover, Switzerland is a confederation - the local governments are more powerful, in general, than the national government.  This works because the Swiss more or less came together because they didn't want to join any of the surrounding nations. 

Like Switzerland, Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic state.  It is a mix of multiple ethnic groups, speaking different languages with different cultures.  At the same time, Afghanistan the country has existed since at least 1747 - so there has to be some agreement among Afghans that Afghanistan should exist.  But the fallacy of Afghanistan is trying to build a strong central government.  The only way a country like Afghanistan has a strong central government is if the country has a strong and charismatic leader (like Tito), or is a brutal dictatorship (also like Tito, but also Saddam Hussein, etc.).   The Taliban fit the bill, but they assisted Al Qaeda.  And, in Hamid Karzai, we have neither a charismatic guy, nor a strongman. 

So, what should be done?  I think we should begin to devolve control to the provinces and turn the place into a Switzerland-type regime with a weak center and strong provincial control.  At the same time, the U.S. should make it clear to everyone that we are there for Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda only.  Okay, maybe we should also go after pre-2001 Taliban as well.  But that's it.  The key, I think, is to stop trying to dictate to the Afghans what their government should look like.  When we do that, Afghans end up looking to the Taliban to fight the foreigners, and we're stuck.  Like we are now.

So, I guess this is a long way of saying that we should ramp down our efforts to bolster Karzai, and instead, focus on the provinces.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On Alan Grayson

First, watch this:

Now, I am a liberal, and have been known to get a little bit fanatic, and yes, I gave the guy $100 yesterday.  But instead of arguing that Republicans are bad, I have a completely different reason for supporting Grayson as this time - he made, for the very first time, the argument Democrats should have been making from the get-go.

Look, everyone knows someone who got fucked by their insurance company.  44,700 people die every year because they lack health insurance.  70% of all bankruptcies are caused by health issues (and over half of those people HAD health insurance).  We pay more than any other country on health care (by a factor of two), but among industrialized nations, we're among the least healthiest.  And for the past 50 years, people have been clamoring for health care reform.

So why the fuck didn't the Democrats start this thing out by saying that health care reform is meant to SAVE LIVES?  Why hasn't Obama mentioned his mother, who spent her dying days fighting her health insurance company, once during the debate?  While the Republicans were talking "death panels" and other completely made up shit, not one Democrat came forward with a gut-level argument for health care. 

Grayson, who comes from Central Florida, of all places, finally did that.  Of course, he basically stole the joke about a few health insurance companies ("x insurance company is great until you get sick.") but at least he's making the argument.  Why has no one asked any Senator how many people have to die before you're willing to reform health care?  That would be a question that I'd love to hear Senator Lincoln's response to.