Monday, November 28, 2011

The "1%" and "99%"revisited

I find it rather amusing that I keep getting goaded into defending the occupy (/99%) movement of late. Amusing, because I don’t actually approve of most of their aims, or their methods.

I suppose it is because I am not a fan of bullying, and most of the conversations I have become involved in are of that ilk:

“The lazy bums should get a job” – Over-generalization, while there are certainly many looking for handouts, some are sincerely concerned about real problems.

“Americans expect too much. US poverty level is $30k.” – Misleading. Poverty level depends on family size. It is $15k for a family of 2, $22k for a family of 3. It doesn’t hit $30 until you hit a 6 person family (Alaska and Hawaii are slightly different numbers).

“They are a bunch of rioters and rapists.” – While I don’t wish to downplay the specific incidents, they are just that – specific incidents. It is a gross over-generalization to judge the group by the actions of a few. By that measure, the Catholic church should be abolished, fraternities should be outlawed,… The responsible people should be punished, not the organization they belong to (unless of course the organization as a whole, or majority, shows a true propensity for fostering, supporting, or protecting such behavior. That certainly does not seem to be the case here).

“They are picking on the rich, trying to take their hard earned money unjustly.” – Again, certainly some are, (and the “99%” movement is guilty of over-generalization in targeting the “1%”). However making a brief review of the past decade or so: Enron, Worldcomm, Seimens, Exxon, FannieMae, Firestone, Refco, Waste Management, Qwest, Health South Corp., AOL/Time Warner, Disney, Lucent… There have been plenty of cases where wealth among the wealthy was increased, without being earned.  Perhaps most grievous are those like AIG, who received tax dollars to bail them out of their financial predicament, and as they were receiving tax dollars, the news reported layoffs in the lower ranks, executive retreats at posh resorts, and hundreds of millions in bonuses to the "talent" which likely got the company in this predicament, and are now avoiding responsibility for their risky behavior .

I discussed the tax situation in a previous blog post, and thus far, I have found no hard numbers which invalidate my estimations, or resulting calculations. In fact, I discovered the following graphic (from this article: a worthwhile read...) which makes the point much more clearly. It is worth noting however, that at present, the federal percentages follow a reasonable, moderately progressive curve, and it is taxation at the state level which appears to be the source of the disparity.It is looking as if this may change (for the worse) next year, as lawmakers appear to be prepared to allow a middle class tax-cut to expire.

However in spite of this, and in spite of the fact that I keep standing up for the "99%" when they get bad-mouthed, I support neither their motives, nor their methods.

First their methods: Camping out. What exactly do they hope to accomplish? I appreciate the whole solidarity – holding hands and singing kumbaya and all that. But what a waste of resources. They are warm bodies, taking up space, consuming resources (food, water), creating waste. And for what? A little media attention? 

Surely they can find a more effective, more efficient way to utilize the physical and mental resources at their disposal.

Here’s one idea. Perhaps they could camp out in DC, link arms around the congressional buildings, ensuring that lobbyists don’t get in, and congress critters don’t get out until a balanced budget is passed, and special interest spending is trimmed.

Or they could initiate a door to door information campaign, to get citizens actively involved in the democratic process, restoring the representative democracy that we are supposed to be.

This whole Arab spring look-alike bit is just impractical. While we may have problems, they are nowhere near the scale of the problems which have led those people to do what they are doing.

Now to motives: What are their motives exactly? Do they know? Are they able to identify a practical number of demands which they can all get behind and focus on? They seem to be all over the place. There are all kinds of proposed demands, and multiple lists. (,

One of the above lists has over 20 demands, and includes among its topics, Internet Censorship, and Gender/Marriage legislation. Can you say "Random"?

Certainly, they have some good ideas among their demands, such as better separation between political and corporate interests, implementation of a fair tax code, sanctions against China to reign in currency manipulation, and the institution of a debt reduction plan. I think I could truly get behind those demands, were they the sole, agreed-upon list of demands of a focused, organized, acting effort.

The rest of the list ranges from the impractical (recalling all US military personnel worldwide, open borders migration…), to the irrational (guaranteed income regardless of unemployment , across the board debt forgiveness for all…). 

The US isn't an island, we interact with other cultures and ideals, we will of necessity have to to protect our ideals, that means a military force, and border monitoring. The planet is too small to practice isolationism today.

And get real. Nothing is free. If you want to eat, you've got to hunt/gather/farm. The government role in welfare should be to create jobs, not welfare victims. 

And when it comes to debt... hey, you spent more money than you had on crap you didn't need. An X-box is not a necessity, nor are movies, pro-sports events, 3D-TV's, cable subscriptions, SUV's, Cell Phones...

So, why do I keep sticking up for them? Disinformation, even for a just, is wrong. Certainly I can feel good about combating disinformation campaigns, but why does it always seem to end up with me "taking their side"? Why is it so hard to stay centered in the face of an extreme position?

Reminds me of an incident many decades ago, when as a high school junior, I stepped in to stop two big kids from beating up a little kid (probably 2nd and 3rd graders), No sooner was little kid on his feet, than he started smarting off to big kids. I found myself thinking “Maybe I should have just left it alone.”.


 "Understanding is a three edged sword. Your side, my side and the truth that lies between"
  - Kosh Naranek

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Alton Brown is my new Hero

I have been a fan of Alton Brown since I discovered GoodEats. It’s like… cooking for geeks. It is loaded with all kinds of great geek humor. And he spends time explaining the chemistry behind the cooking. You don’t just get a recipe walk-through; you also get history, and deep, fundamental background as to how and why it works the way it does. It is the kind of information that can be applied to other cookery projects.

Alton Brown gave me the confidence to depart from just following recipes, and create my own culinary concoctions (Not that I am a cooking superstar. I am purely hobby, but I do enjoy the adventure).
And recently he became my hero.

With the potential Crohn’s diagnosis and the related symptoms came a rather drastic change in diet. When you eliminate all the potential Crohn’s triggers, you are basically left with chicken, turkey, fish (which is prohibitively expensive when you live in the middle of the mountains),  most fruits, lettuce, celery and yams. Pretty much everything else is a potential trigger. I went on this very restrictive diet in an effort to get symptoms under control, with the plan to reintroduce foods and monitor results, in order to determine what my specific triggers were.

Several weeks into this, I was having a particularly dreary day, specifically bemoaning the absence of pasta in my life. I love pasta. I’m not especially picky about it. I don’t care what the noodle is. Pasta is about the sauce. I love to make sauce. Mostly tomato based sauce. I could eat spaghetti two or three times a week. And this doing without pasta was cruel and unusual punishment in my book.

Anyway, on this particular day, I was feeling particularly sorry for myself over this when I sat down to watch an episode of Good Eats with summer squash as the subject. One of the recipes Alton presented was a "pasta salad", using Zucchini as the pasta. As he described how to accomplish this, and why it worked, a small spark of hope was ignited. Surely these Zucchini noodles could serve as the platform for pasta sauce as well. 

We happened to have a couple Zucchini, from the last Bountiful Baskets. So I talked my wife into giving it a try one night. After the peeling and salting, she rinsed them, and tossed them in the microwave for a few seconds to warm them up.  When I got home from work, they were plated and smothered in Sauce. It was darn close to Spaghetti, with a slightly thicker noodle. The texture was good. The Zucchini taste was present, complimentary, but not overpowering. My favorite food was back on the menu!

So Thank-you Alton Brown, for saving my spaghetti. You are my hero!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Recipe: Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Diet  restrictions (Basically limited to poultry, fish, fruits, and veggies), led me to create this recipe so I can have a more enjoyable breakfast experience....

Turkey Breakfast Sausage

2.5 lb ground turkey
1 tsp ginger
1 3/4 t salt
1 1/14 tsp rubbed sage
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp anise seed
1 tsp fennel seed

Combine spices, mix thoroughly into ground turkey.

Spread into an 8" square baking pan.

Bake at 350 degrees (F) to an internal temp of 160 degrees (F).

Drain grease (unless you want the extra calories, in which case, let it sit, and the turkey will soak most of it back up).

Cool sufficiently to handle, remove from pan, cut in half, then cut the halves into 1/2 to 3/4 inch strips (so your dimensions will be approx 4"x 1.5" x .5").

Freeze for later use. (I place a strip of wax paper between each, to prevent stick-age during freezing, and then wrap in butcher paper.

Reheat "links" in a frying pan and enjoy.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chicken Tomato Cabbage Soup

I invented a new soup tonight. I kinda made it up as I went, so I am trying to recall the ingredients after the fact, but here goes.

Chicken Tomato Cabbage Soup

2 lbs chicken breast, cut into pieces (about 1/2" to 3/4" cubes).
1 onion, chopped
4 or 5 carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 or 6 medium tomatoes, diced
32 oz chicken stock or broth
1 read bell pepper
1/2 head cabbage, chopped
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp thyme
1 Tbsp celery Seed (I would have used celery instead, but I didn't have any)
1 bay leaf
olive oil

Fry the chicken in 1 Tbsp of olive oil.

In a stock pot, saute the onion, carrots and garlic in a Tbsp of olive oil, just until the onions are beginning to go transparent.

Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, oregano, thyme, celery seed and bay leaf. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat. Let simmer approximately 5 minutes.

Add the chicken, bell pepper, and cabbage. Continue to simmer until the cabbage and pepper are softened a bit.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Kings revisited

In a previous post, I discussed the benefits of a dictatorship, concluding that in spite of those benefits, it was a bad idea. But how are we at identifying dictatorships? Perhaps more importantly, how good are we at recognizing a burgeoning dictatorship?

Obviously, a leader who declares himself “king”, “supreme ruler”, or “president for life”, is a likely candidate, though at that point, probably already well-established and difficult to remove from power. The ideal would be to identify the threat of impending dictator-dom, and prevent it from occurring.
Using history as a teacher, we can look at the classic example of a rise to dictatorial power - Adolf Hitler – and gain some insight.

After a failed attempt at a forceful grab for power, Hitler returned from prison and became involved in the democratic process of 1925 Germany. He identified two enemies – Jews, and Communists – and began a subtle propaganda campaign against them. In 1930 Hitler capitalized on a period of financial crisis, and political extremism. The great depression left many without jobs. Also at this time, German politics had become much divided between the right- and left wing extremes. Hitler used these as leverage points to gain popularity for his party.

In time, this led to his position as a political figurehead, meant inspire the people, but without any real power. From there he managed to obtain control over the various governmental offices and in 1934, with the current president died, he and his supporters approved the merger of the presidential role, and the chancellorship (his position), establishing him as head of state.

There are several important lessons to be learned from this…

The First is division. Hitler leveraged the division between left-wing and right-wing political groups to obtain power for his organization.  The people were so busy being members of their respective political parties that they forgot to be members of their country. Does that sound a little like Republicans and Democrats? (I wouldn’t be too cocky over there, constitution/green/libertarian/etc… party members. It was a lesser known, third party that he rode to power).

Second is misdirection. The Jews weren’t the enemy of Germany, nor were the communists, yet Hitler vilified both, blaming the Jews for many of Germany’s economic woes, and accusing the communist party of acts of terrorism, including the burning of the Reichstag (German parliament building). He gave the German people nefarious enemies to hold their attention, directing scrutiny away from his own suspect activities.

Humans have an excellent capacity for finding patterns and similarities in things.  It is a useful capability, which allows us to classify things which we have never before seen, based on things we have seen before, and (generally) establish an appropriate response to said new thing. Unfortunately this capability can also work against us. Through clever marketing, incomplete or inaccurate research, or spurious observations, we can misattribute incorrect qualities to a particular group. We can be distracted easily with a few partial truths. 

Prevention of this requires constant vigilance. Fact checking, and rechecking, peer review and complete transparency are crucial. As Nicolo Machiavelli, author of ‘The Prince’ states, “….men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived”.

Finally, I mention consolidation (this one could be a post by itself). Hitler slowly and carefully gathered power over time. He didn’t become supreme dictator overnight. In fact, his position as chancellor was originally meant to be a relatively powerless position. But slowly, power was consolidated under him, or those loyal to him. Many people found it easy to justify granting him increasing power, after all, hadn’t he worked hard for it? Hadn’t he demonstrated the particular leadership qualities that justified him having that power? He got results. He was charismatic. It was, in a way, “Divine Right”.

As with misdirection, prevention requires constant vigilance. “We the people” must be constantly on guard to ensure no individual or group holds or exerts too much power, no matter how convincing their argument or how well-meaning their intentions.

Another good read on this subject is George Orwell’s ‘AnimalFarm’. It tells the story of the rise of totalitarianism on a farm, where the animals revolted against the tyranny of farmer Jones, and set about to establish a utopian society, only to end up oppressed by another tyrant (The book is a parable of the failed attempt at communism in the Soviet Union. It is a good read, based on the authors personal experiences, and is as entertaining as it is enlightening. I’d recommend everyone give it a thorough thumb-through).

The founding fathers established the government – a loose joining of largely autonomous states - to prevent this. We need to ensure this structure is not corroded by those who hunger for power, fame, or fortune, or who believe through “Divine Right” that they are “destined to lead the masses, for the greater good”. It is crucial for “We the people” to also be mindful that this threat comes not only from established government, but from any relatively small group who gains significant power over our resources.


After reading the last paragraph, you may conclude that I am against all governments, all corporations, and all forms of leadership; you might assume I am an anarchist. If that is the case, please let me correct this perception...

In chapter 9 of ‘The Prince’, Machiavelli points out what ultimately are the only three forms of government… 
“Because in all cities these two distinct parties are found, and from this it arises that the people do not  wish to be ruled nor oppressed by the nobles, and the nobles wish to rule and oppress the people; and from these two opposite desires there arises in cities one of three results, either a principality, self-government, or anarchy.”

I am firmly in favor of the second option. Self-government is the hardest to achieve and maintain. It is also the only system which can provide real freedom. It requires the constant, diligent, rational participation of everyone if it is to survive.