Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The blog is closed [Updated]

[Update: Okay, now my email address really is in my profile (View My Complete Profile). Thanks to DL Sly for letting me know it wasn't there before - and for figuring out how to let me know without the address being there.]

Perhaps permanently; I don’t know at this point. Comments are also closed but you can always email me; my address is in my profile over there ==> in the right margin.

I’ve enjoyed blogging for most of the time I’ve been doing it - almost six years now, wow! I’ve been looking back over some of my old blog posts and I think I’ve done some good work, some good writing, and I like knowing that. Now, however, blogging isn’t enjoyable for me and I’m not sure I’m doing particularly good work. Equally important, blogging keeps my focus on what’s wrong with, well, everything and keeps reminding me how little I can do about any of it. At this point, I’d rather focus on what’s right with everything and on what I can do something about.

On top of all that, I find that blogging - and especially the Internet reading I do when I’m blogging - gradually expands to fill the time available and then some. What can I say? I’m addicted to those little starbursts that go off in my brain when I click on a link and to those little starbursts that go off in my mind when something I read feeds one of my indignations.

I do like to write, which is part of why I’m leaving the door open to return to this blog someday. Or maybe down the road I’ll start an alternate blog - perhaps I’ll call it “IngleNook” - and write only about stuff like recipes and my grandparents and whether we lost one of our roses to the brutal winter.

I appreciate everyone who commented here over the years; your participation meant a lot to me. I’d also like to thank Cassandra over at Villainous Company for encouraging me early on: You made a world of difference to me, Cass. And I’d like to thank both Villainous Company and Grim’s Hall for taking me seriously as a blogger and for making me feel welcome as a commenter; I’ll be stopping by from time to time.

I wanted to close with a perfect quote or poem or epigraph or something and had fun running through some candidates. In the end, though, I always come back to this:

In the year 1652 when throughout England all things sacred were either profaned or neglected, this church was built by Sir Robert Shirley, Bart., Whose special praise it is to have done the best things in the worst times and to have hoped them in the most calamitous.

Ciao.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Speedy chili

I have a chili recipe. It started life in the recipe book that came with my aunt’s CrockPot, lo these many years (really decades) ago, but has been modified extensively through contact with outside influences: roommates, old boyfriends, that kind of thing. In its current incarnation it calls for: garlic, onion, ground meat; canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste; kidney beans; mushrooms; and eight different herbs, spices, and seasonings. Once upon a time I used Spice Islands Chili Con Carne seasoning along with a little salt and pepper and called it good. Unfortunately, Spice Islands stopped making their Chili Con Carne seasoning ages ago. When I called in desperation, the company was gracious enough to tell me the list of ingredients (although not, of course, the proportions) and I spent some time fiddling with herbs and spices until I achieved what I thought was a good approximation of their combination.

My chili is good. It’s thick and very spicy (hot, yes, but also multi-spiced) and it was perfect for the many years when I didn’t eat red meat (health reasons rather than ethical, moral, trendy, etc.) and so made chili with ground turkey. If you’ve ever eaten ground turkey you know it has absolutely no flavor whatsoever and needs all the help it can get from garlic, onions, various forms of tomatoes, and especially herbs and spices. However, it’s also kind of a pain to make and frankly the last few times I made it (now using ground beef) I wasn’t all that excited about eating it.

So a couple of weeks ago I was casting about in my mind for something to fix for dinner and after reviewing the contents of the freezer arrived at chili. Still I found myself oddly reluctant to start opening all those cans and dragging all those herbs and spices out of the refrigerator only to produce a dish about which I felt lukewarm at best.

I have the 1955 Edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cookbook (for the Hostess and Host of Tomorrow). I don’t know when I got it; I was one year old in 1955 and although my parents considered me the most precocious child in history I doubt even they thought I’d be cooking at such a tender age. I do know I’ve had the cookbook since at least the mid-60s so it’s been a while.

The cookbook languished in various out of the way places - inaccessible shelves in my mother’s house, a storage facility near me, in my basement - for decades. Then, several years ago, I developed a yen for egg salad sandwiches. I don’t know why. So far as I’m aware no cook in my family - mother, aunt, or grandmother - ever made an egg salad sandwich and I’d be surprised if I’d eaten more than 3 or 4 of them in my life. Still, there it was: I wanted an egg salad sandwich.

I turned to my various big fat cookbooks and I perused the Internet and what I discovered is that there are a lot of very strange egg salad recipes out there. They call for odd mustards and pickles (!) and strange seasonings. I didn’t want any of that; I just wanted a plain old egg salad. Searching my overflow cookbook shelves for a source I might have missed, I spied my Junior Cookbook. Surely, I thought, if any cookbook would have a simple egg salad, this is the one. Why, back when it was written, no one cooked with odd mustards or exotic herbs, at least no one who bought their cookbooks from Better Homes and Gardens.

So, with renewed hope, I opened the little cookbook and found exactly what I wanted: eggs, a little celery, a little green onion, mayonnaise, plain old yellow mustard, and salt. (The recipe called for the salad to be served in “coney buns” scooped out to look like little boats and to be decorated with wooden skewer masts with triangular construction paper sails but I skipped that part and went with rye.) The egg salad was delicious and my Junior Cookbook was promoted from the overflow shelf in the basement to a place of honor in the kitchen where I soon discovered it had an equally delicious deviled egg (or, as the cookbook calls them, “Stuffed eggs”) recipe.

I had no memories of cooking any of the recipes in the Junior Cookbook as a child or teenager but looking through it, I found two recipes that were well-spattered: BAR-B-Q-burgers and Speedy chili. I mentally bookmarked the burgers to try again someday (they call for Chicken Gumbo soup and that’s a whole other story) but ignored the Speedy chili. After all, I had a chili recipe, years in the making. I ignored it, that is, until that fateful day two weeks ago when I had decided on chili for dinner - and thawed the meat - but was unable to summon up any enthusiasm for all those cans and jars. What if, I wondered, I tried the Junior Cookbook’s chili instead?

I ran the idea by my husband and he was happy to agree, which perhaps means I’m not the only one who’d been feeling lukewarm about my old chili recipe. So I dragged out my little cookbook and set to work. Speedy chili was in fact speedy: it required two cans and two seasonings, one of which was salt. Speedy chili was remarkably good: it was possible to actually taste the various elements - meat, onion, bell pepper, beans - rather than just a general spicy flavor. Speedy chili was a big hit with the cook and at the table.

So for anyone who’s wondering what to serve for dinner tonight, I append the recipe. I have to admit I worried about copyright issues but this recipe can be found in various places on the Internet (here, for example) so it seems legal to spread it around.

Speedy chili

Ingredients:
2 Tablespoons fat
1/2 cup chopped onion [I used a little more]
1/4 cup chopped green pepper [I used a little more]
1 pound ground beef
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
1 1-pound can (2 cups) kidney beans [I drained and rinsed before adding]
1 teaspoon salt
Chili powder

Melt fat in pan (the recipe recommends using a “big saucepan”). Cook onion, pepper, beef until meat is lightly browned.

Add tomato sauce; cook on low heat 5 minutes. Add kidney beans, salt. Heat.

Stir in 1 teaspoon chili powder; taste. Add a little more if you like.

Ladle chili into soup bowls and eat with with big spoons.
Pass a basket of saltines. Another good “go-with” is dill pickles. [Have to admit I didn’t try the pickles.]
This recipe will make about 6 servings. [Maybe but it’s awfully good.]

Enjoy.

Monday, May 12, 2014

To hell in a handbasket

I’m pretty much convinced that the country is going to hell in a handbasket. I’m self-aware enough and have enough of a sense of humor to realize this may be a result of getting older. I turned sixty in January and when someone at my birthday party asked me whether being sixty felt different than being fifty-nine, I said yes. I’m now old enough to officially be a curmudgeon; I can talk about young whippersnappers without feeling like I have to do so ironically; and I’m old enough to pine for the good old days when everything was much, much better. But even after taking a mental discount for the nearly universal tendency to look back through rose-colored glasses, I’m still pretty much convinced the country is going to hell in a handbasket.

I’m also self-aware enough and have enough of a sense of humor to realize my conviction may be because the political party I like less is in power in Washington, DC - totally in power in the executive branch, half in power in the legislative branch. Yet throughout the Bush Administration’s tenure, I was pretty much Leftist and, although I was unhappy about some of what President Bush was doing (or what I thought he was doing), I never felt the whole country was going to hell in a handbasket. I always figured it would self-correct. So even if I give some weight to the sour grapes argument, I’m still pretty much convinced the country is going to hell in a handbasket.

Why you ask? Well, many of my blog posts in the category “The Great Divide” are about the reasons behind my conviction but a recent reading brought the issue into sharp focus for me. The piece was by Megan McArdle, entitled “Should We Force People to Save for Retirement?” After running through the practical, economic, and political pros and cons, McArdle writes:

You’ll notice that we haven’t even touched on the morality of the state telling someone how they have to spend this money. I think there are good arguments that this is wrong, and we shouldn’t do it. But those arguments are long and thorny and will never be considered valid by half the population.

And that’s the handbasket in which the country is going to hell.

Once upon a time we all pretty much took care of ourselves with our own money. Then the government began taxing money from all of us to give to all of us (in greater or lesser amounts) in the form of programs that many taxpayers liked but many objected to. We’ve lived with that and, indeed, one can argue that as soon as a government starts collecting taxes to perform any function, some of those taxed will be happy and some unhappy about the uses to which their money is being spent. The fact that more and more money was being spent on more and more programs that more and more taxpayers didn’t like was a simply an escalation of an existing condition and, although there was more and more unhappiness (e.g., the Tea Party), the basic idea of taking money in taxes and spreading it around was built into our reality.

Now, however, we’re not just taking money from people to support programs some of them don’t like; we’re telling people they must spend their own money on certain things - and we’re telling them what those certain things must look like. People must buy health insurance and it must be this kind of health insurance; that’s ObamaCare and it’s a done deal. In the proposal McArdle is writing about we would be telling people that they must save for retirement - and they must save this much and invest it in this way. We’re far beyond taxes and well into “plenary police powers”.

If we look at this in terms of ice cream (it’s summer weather here today): Once upon a time, if you wanted vanilla ice cream and I wanted chocolate ice cream, we would each buy what we wanted with our own money. Then we began to tax ourselves and buy you vanilla ice cream with some of the money and me chocolate ice cream with some of the money. Now, with ObamaCare and similar proposed schemes, all of us have to buy ice cream whether we want ice cream or not - and we all have to buy a double-scoop cone every day and it all has to be vanilla.

And that’s the problem. Not that half the country likes vanilla and half likes chocolate. Not even that the half that likes vanilla wants the other half to buy their vanilla ice cream for them. The problem is that the half that likes vanilla isn’t content with eating vanilla itself, isn’t even content with having the other half buy their vanilla for them. Instead, the half that likes vanilla wants to force everyone to buy and eat vanilla ice cream. The half that likes chocolate was willing to go along with buying vanilla for the first half but they believe that being forced to buy and eat vanilla themselves is wrong in a fundamental way. It is simply unacceptable.

There is no common ground here. One group is insisting everyone must buy what it thinks is best; the other group is insisting that no one has the right to tell them what to buy. So long as the first group just wanted money (taxes) to pay for its preferences, the second group could ante up - they might not like it but, in a way, it was tribute in exchange for being largely left alone. Now, however, the first group doesn’t just want money; it wants obedience. The second group will not obey - and the first group has absolutely no understanding of why that is.

We are at an impasse and the only way out of it that doesn’t involve hell and handbaskets requires that the demands for obedience cease. Unfortunately, I think that scenario doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in, well, you know.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

I got a truly lovely YouTube video of an Icelandic hymn from my husband who found it at John Scalzi’s website. Based on information in the comments at Scalzi’s site, the poem is from the 13th Century but the music was written in the 1970s.

At least a couple of the commenters at YouTube gave translations and one also gave some background information:

Hear creator of the heavens
what the poet begs.
Come softly to me
your mercy.
I trust in you,
you have created me.
I am your servant
you are my lord.

God, I trust in you
to heal me.
For the least, my king,
we need you the most.
Take, my God,
so powerful and inquisitive,
the sorrow out of our hearts.

My king, watch over me,
we need you the most.
For every moment
to hold ground.
Set the son of a maiden,
a beautiful matter.
All the help from you
in my heart.

This is written in a very violent time in the Sturlunga-age in Iceland. A few families were having disagreements over power and the man who wrote this poem was a member of one of those families. He was in the Ásbirninga family and his name was Kolbeinn Tumason. It is said that he wrote this just prior to "Víðinesbardagi", a battle in 1208. He said this poem over and over, so often that the people around him memorized it.

I smiled at “He said this poem over and over, so often that the people around him memorized it.” Since the commenter’s name seems to be Scandinavian, I assume he want to be sure non-Scandinavians understand bards and oral traditions. It’s rather sweet of him, I think.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Alumna?

According to NRO:

Islamist militant group Boko Haram said they abducted more than 200 girls last month in northeast Nigeria, and they “will sell them in the market, by Allah.” [snip]

Protesters in Nigeria are angered over government inaction. Nigeria’s first lady Patience Jonathan allegedly ordered police to arrest two protest leaders, and publicly doubted that any girls were kidnapped.

I’d like to think that no one - particularly no woman - would behave as Mrs. Jonathan is reported to have behaved but perhaps she’s a graduate of Brandeis. That would certainly explain her behavior if it is as reported.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Bandar-log

"They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten.”
Baloo warning Mowgli about the Bandar-log in “Kaa’s Hunting” from The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling


Yesterday afternoon I saw a very short teaser ad for one of the network news programs. I’m 99 and 44/100ths percent sure it was CBS. The teaser went something like this:

[Pictures of Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano on the screen]

Voiceover: Frank talk from the woman in the Sterling scandal

[Picture of Afghans moving rubble by hand on the screen]

A deadly earthquake hits Afghanistan

In what sane world is anything about the Donald Sterling matter considered as newsworthy as - based on placement, more newsworthy than - the death of hundreds of people in an earthquake?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Not so much

Someone at The Wall Street Journal is writing about “The Coming Two-Tier Health System” being created under ObamaCare. Why is ObamaCare going to give us a two-tier system? Because:

- fewer doctors are willing to take Medicaid and Medicare patients;
- the “bloating coverage requirements” imposed by ObamaCare are increasing the cost of private insurance;
- reducing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements increases costs for those with private insurance (or, I assume, no insurance at all);
- the government can decide at any time to enforce the ObamaCare requirement that it eliminate “affordable private drug-coverage options inside Medicare”;
- there are fewer, not more, health insurers available to those who buy insurance through the exchanges;
- narrow provider networks (and, yes, these are a result of ObamaCare not just business as usual) mean fewer middle-class Americans can get truly outstanding health care;
- really good doctors are looking at concierge practices that don’t accept any health insurance, meaning these doctors will be out of reach for those who can’t afford to both buy mandatory health insurance and pay their doctors themselves.

What’s the result of all this? The WSJ article puts it thusly:

The health-care law was generated by an administration promoting government as the solution to inequality, yet the greatest irony of ObamaCare is what will undoubtedly follow as a long-term, unintended consequence of the law: a decidedly unequal, two-tiered health system. One will be for the poor and middle class, and a separate system will be for those with the money or power to circumvent ObamaCare.

I have no argument with the writer’s list of reasons why ObamaCare will give us a two-tier health system. I also have no argument with the writer’s summary of what that system will look like: one for the poor and middle class, another for the rich and powerful. What I do dispute is the writer’s use of the phrase “unintended consequence” (and, thus, his use of the word “irony”). This two-tiered health system was very much intended.

Back in 2009, I wrote:

What is driving [some people’s] support for universal health care is not the desire to insure that everyone has some health care but rather their determination to insure that everyone has the same health care. This would explain why the House health care bill (HR3200) is apparently so sweeping. [snip]

... the House Democrats have not opted for any simple plan that would simply give everyone some health insurance. Instead they’ve opted for a Rube Goldberg machine that seems bent on giving everyone the same insurance. That leads me to believe that everyone having the same thing is far more important than everyone having something.[snip]

What this means, of course, is that the rich will continue to get superb healthcare, the poor will get somewhat better healthcare, and those in between will get not only worse healthcare than the rich but worse healthcare than they’re currently getting.

In other words, we’ve gone from our old three-tiered health care system - poor, middle-class, rich, with a relatively small gap between middle-class and rich - to a two-tiered one - rich and everyone else, with a yawning chasm between the two. And we haven’t done it by raising the poor to the level of the middle class; we’ve done it by raising the poor a little (maybe) and lowering the middle-class a lot (definitely). The system is more equal and that’s what was intended. Income inequality is far from the only inequality the Left opposes.

As for the rich and powerful, of course it was never intended that they would be part of the equalizing. That’s partly because it’s not possible to prevent them from getting superb healthcare. It’s also partly because the drivers of ObamaCare - people like Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid - are both rich and powerful. There’s no way they’re going to be “[queueing] for ... underproduced [healthcare products and] services which in turn will also be denied far more regularly than is the case with insurance.”

Right now, it is mostly those who buy their own insurance via the private market who are subject to this leveling. According to recent predictions, however, at some point everyone who is not rich and powerful will be subject to it:

According to a report by S&P Capital IQ released Thursday, S&P 500 companies will likely move their employees from employer-provided health insurance plans to the healthcare exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, saving employers nearly $700 billion through the year 2025. If current healthcare inflation stays constant, those savings could be greater than $800 billion, researchers found.

Should that come to pass, I can see myself 20 years or so from now, surrounded by a group of teenagers listening with disbelief to my tales of a mythical past when I, a reasonably well-off but hardly rich or powerful woman, had insurance that covered the incredibly expensive, experimental cancer treatments that saved her life. I’m sure they’ll think I’m off my meds to even imagine such a thing was ever possible - and seriously in need of those meds to claim I experienced it in my lifetime.