28 04 2010

Sorry I never got back to post—this Econ 401 exam is bearing down upon me rather quickly. The upside is, I pass the class so long as I show up (pretty much), and I’ll officially be done with the semester as of 3:30 tomorrow!

I’ll be around after that. Well, following a meeting in which a few of us are going to discuss what to do with the College Libertarians next semester. In the off chance that any of the club members are actually reading this, any suggestions? I have a feeling that immigration is going to be one of the hot issues on campus next semester, but the smoking ban and health care will remain relevant.


Immigration reform: never has such a serious issue been so hilarious

28 04 2010

I wasn’t even going to comment on Arizona’s shiny new immigration policies because my views are so brilliant and nuanced that they will take forever to type up, but after hearing about the refried bean swastika I could barely hold back.

Smells like reasoned discourse to me!

Now, after stumbling upon this important development, I feel I can remain silent no longer.

Looks like a bunch of lefties wrote angry letters/emails to Arizona Beverage Company, producers of delicious, refreshing, fascist beverages like Arizona Ice Tea and Arnold Palmer.  By their very nature as a company based in the neo-Nazi state of Arizona, the Arizona Beverage Company is acting as an enabler, allowing the little SS-wannabees in the Grand Canyon State to continue making it a crime to be an illegal alien. Or something.

There’s only one slight hitch with this grassroots, widespread effort to hit the fascist corporatocracy where it hurts via boycott:  the Arizona Beverage Company is based in New York.  Whoops.  But like every other left-wing protest, it’s the thought that counts, right?

Now, I’d like to fully get behind those in favor of Arizona’s new law, which is not nearly as draconian as it sounds.  Except that those reflexively opposed to immigration reform (fearing that “immigration reform” is code for “amnesty”) aren’t really much better in the long run, even if they don’t resort to smearing beans on windows.

To me, this looks like another one of those scenarios where both the left and the right have their heads up their asses (to varying depths).  Once you take a step back, this issue becomes more complex than a tasty Tex-Mex seven-layer dip.

This is going to get really long, so I’ll probably post the rest of what I wanted to say later.  I don’t really have any groundbreaking solutions to this problem—at least, not any solutions that are politically feasible at this moment.  But I’ve got some things for those seriously interested in solutions to consider…more on that later.

In the mean time, keep making bean swastikas and writing letters to any company with “Arizona” in its name.  The ignorance is really, really, entertaining.

More cooking-if only I didn’t have an exam looming

28 04 2010

I’m feeling a bit under the weather (allergy season is in full swing) and I have a long day of studying to look forward to, so I’m going to be brief:

I successfully made the “West African Peanut Soup” I was planning on cooking up.  I made my own vegetable stock from random vegetables in the kitchen as well, since I don’t really like the taste of store-bought vegetable broth.  Too salty, or something.

Anyway, here’s the base cooking away:

Definitely took the longest, but didn't really involve work.

After making the vegetable stock and sauteing onions, ginger, and carrots, I added everything to a pot with some sweet potatoes and let it simmer for a while.  Then, I blended everything.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of that since the blenders here are utterly incapable of handling hot substances.  There was some kind of pressure issue that sent the lid, which I was indeed holding down, flying across the kitchen and spraying me with scalding broth.  Awesome!

After cleaning up that mess and slowly puréeing everything, I added a ton of peanut butter plus some chives, and was finally able to enjoy some dinner.

And I have like two quarts more in the fridge.

I’m not trying to turn this into a cooking blog, but I think I’ve figured out why I like preparing food so much:

1.  It’s hands-on.  I’ve always been pretty hands-on.

2.  Room for experimentation.

3.  Gives me time to think.

4.  Tangible results.

Plus, nothing else of note happened today: I dealt with incompetent bank tellers (in the process of trying to change the signatories of the Michigan Review checking account for next year) and studied for my exam Thursday.  I’m pretty much fried mentally, so taking pictures of delicious food is about all I can handle.

Incidentally, I picked a good day for West African food.  The 27th was both Sierra Leone and Togo’s Independence Days.  So, uh, happy belated Independence Day, you guys.  Hope you guys are making the most of it.

There’s been some interesting limited-government stuff in the news lately, so hopefully I’ll be in good enough shape to post it here tomorrow.

If All Else Fails, I’ll Open a Restaurant

27 04 2010

The fraternity meal plan ended last week, so those of us still at the house have been subsisting on moldy hot dog buns and the cockroaches that we spear, caveman-style, with toothpicks.  Or so I’ve been told.  I was back in Grosse Pointe for the weekend.

I did find a lot of empty potato chip bags when I returned this afternoon, though,  which suggests that those horrific accounts are not far from the truth.  What little remaining wood furniture we had was also broken up and burned in the living room in a desperate attempt to stay warm and perhaps signal for help, or a passing catering van.  It seems that we truly are only three warm meals away from our inner savage.

Not content with this state of affairs, I decided to make myself a luxuriant dinner.  Or try to, anyway.  I wanted something substantial, but not too heavy.  I wanted to grill as well.  So I settled on Greek Lamb Kabobs.

Here are some pictures to prove that tire-burning, gun-loving rubes like myself are capable of doing the things typically reserved for the more sensitive, socially responsible types:

In the thyme/sherry marinade.

Skewered on rosemary kabobs. This is crucial.

On the grill. This used to be a propane grill, ghetto rigged for charcoal. The coals were a bit low...

Just about done, with some (soon to be) warm pita.


With the tzatziki-ish sauce. The presentation was, unfortunately, a little lacking.

These turned out great.  If I got to choose between working eight hours a day and surviving on drive through food or collecting a decent pension check and eating lamb kabobs instead, I’d choose the latter.  Food like this probably explains why Greece is such an economic embarrassment.

Anyway, the rosemary sprigs really made the dish.  I was going to use metal skewers, but the rosemary was worth the extra effort: the middle of the lamb absorbed the flavor nicely and the meat was not seared in the center.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find Greek yogurt, so the sauce was a bit runnier than I would have liked.  Thus, the final picture doesn’t look restaurant-quality.  So use Greek yogurt if you try this.

Tomorrow, I’m going to make West African Peanut Soup from the Sunday’s at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook.  I’ll probably make enough for the rest of the week; maybe I can avoid catching and eating mice to survive until after my last final exam Thursday afternoon.

As part of my “everything can eventually be somehow justified as a business expense” plan, I’ll be taking pictures of that process as well.

Last Day of Class/Weekend Update

20 04 2010

Today was my last day of class for the semester, glory be.  I can now get on with more important things, like…exams.  I’ve got two on Thursday, then one a week from Thursday.  But then, after that, I have a summer of campaign managing (for a State Senate run) to look forward to.  More details to follow on that—I’m not really sure if I’m supposed to give any details at this point.

I didn’t get around to posting this weekend since I spent about half my waking hours covered in motor oil, gasoline, and grease.  Yeah, there was a problem with the Wagoneer.  Fortunately, it was nothing out of the ordinary, though it took a bit of automotive CSI to diagnose the problem.  For the past few weeks, the vehicle had been leaking something.  I couldn’t figure out what it was; it felt like oil, smelled a bit like gasoline, and was dripping from the bottom of the front differential casing.

Well, it turns out that the fuel pump gasket was shot, so liberal amounts of gasoline would leak out whenever the engine was running.  But the underbody is so caked in two decades of grease and oil that the dripping gasoline dissolved the build up, making it seem more oil-like than gasoline-like. And it seemed to be coming from the differential casing simply because it was the lowest point on the underbody.

Since I don’t have a lift, I had to take most of the power steering apparatus out just to access the fuel pump.  I can’t say that I want to do that job again, but at least I know what I’m doing.  And I saved a couple hundred dollars doing it myself (cost of new fuel pump gasket: $2.48).  Plus, my fuel mileage has increased, and the likelihood of me dying in a four-wheel-drive fireball has decreased by a corresponding amount.

But it wasn’t all grease and oil last weekend, though Austrian Econ demands a certain amount of manliness as well.  I spent Saturday morning at an economic symposium hosted by the University of Detroit-Mercy Graduate Economics department, where I hope to study in the near future.  The event featured an interesting array of topics and speakers, discussing issues as varied as the origin and meaning of money, the state of the economy in the short run and long run, and the future of the auto market (with commentary by Manny Lopez of the Detroit News).

Oh, and last Thursday, I attended a Tea Party rally in Sterling Heights.  I was curious about whether there were going to be an “infiltrators,” but (sadly) I saw none.  What I did see was a lot of creativity in the signs of the attendees:

It would have been funny and/or depressing if there had been some kind of counter that continually updated the debt load...

I'm sure there are some racial undertones here, somewhere.

By contrast, the “opposition,” who were protesting to “Save our Services” or something, couldn’t be troubled to purchase poster board and markers:

Learn to protest, guys. Pre-made signs cost big protest points.

The pre-made signs gave their group a “rent-a-crowd” feel.  Besides, our side was more enthusiastic, and got a constant stream of supportive honks from motorists.  Oh, and we outnumbered the others by a huge factor:

Decent crowd, I'd say.

I know some dislike the Tea Party movement as a whole because they feel it has been co-opted by establishment Republicans, and I guess to some extent that appears to be true.  But it only appears to be the case because the bigwigs show up to the big rallies.  Last year, there were a bunch of large rallies at state capitals or big cities.  This had a huge visual impact, and struck fear into the hearts of statists everywhere.

Now, everyone wants to organize a Tea Party.  There must have been close to a thousand nationwide.  I haven’t tried to find nationwide rally attendance numbers, because I doubt an accurate count exists, but I think it’s encouraging to see many smaller parties that energize local populations.

One of the main issues of the Sterling Heights rally was a proposed 18% property tax hike; ObamaCare was definitely on everyone’s mind, but realistically, the citizens of Sterling Heights stand a better chance of having an immediate impact by battling government encroachment on a local level.  Plus, smaller, decentralized rallies don’t attract bloated GOP types, and they (hopefully) inject fresh, relatively uncorrupted blood into the political process.

Crazy Heart

15 04 2010

Back in March, I was finally rewarded for being one of six straight males nationwide who voluntarily watch the Academy Awards: Jeff Bridges, one of my favorite actors, took home the award for Best Actor for his role in 2009’s Crazy Heart (directed by rookie Scott Cooper).  Unfortunately, since I hadn’t yet managed to catch the film in theaters, I had to trust the Academy’s judgment.  Having finally seen the film, I’m now in a position to agree.

There are many reasons to be a fan of Jeff Bridges.  He’s been in the acting business for decades, deftly handling a staggering range of roles.  Recently, Bridges has played villain Obadiah Stane in Iron Man, new-age warrior Bill Django in The Men Who Stare at Goats, and businessman Charles Howard in Seabiscuit.  Most of this generation, however, probably best remembers Bridges as The Dude, the iconic protagonist of 1998’s The Big Lebowski.

Yet despite a prodigious list of memorable roles and four Academy Award previous nominations, it took Bridges’ performance in Crazy Heart to win him the Oscar—and for good reason.  Bridges plays Bad Blake, a washed-up, burned out cross between Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, minus the success and recognition those musicians have enjoyed.

In his day, Blake was a legend; today, he has been eclipsed by the likes of Tommy Sweet (played by Colin Farrell, who ably projects the modern rock-star country persona).  Blake drives himself from dive bar to bowling alley in a weathered old Chevy Suburban to play one-night engagements in front of the AARP-age crowds that form the last remnants of his fan base.  He’s a broke, overweight, chain-smoking alcoholic with nowhere to go but down—basically everything I hope to be in forty years.

To a fair number of us, Bridges will always be The Dude.  But his performance as Bad Blake is exceptional for its subtlety.   Early in the film, Blake rushes off a humble bowling alley stage during the middle of a song to puke his guts out outside (having consumed a bit too much whiskey), then gets back up on stage and finishes the song.

There are a million reasons to find this sequence of events comical.  But it wasn’t.  In fact, for me at least, it was pretty close to soul crushing.  With any luck, I’ll never hit a point that low over the course of my life.  But thanks to Bridges, I was able to feel like I was there, if only for a moment.  That’s the mark of a great performance, even if it doesn’t jump off the screen at you.

Of course, the pain just makes the eventual redemption more satisfying.  Yes, “redemption” is an overused word, and there’s a good measure of it in Crazy Heart.  But it doesn’t come cheap.  Blake’s romance with younger reporter Jean Craddock (a perpetually alien-looking Maggie Gyllenhaal) is train wreck-like for its inevitability, so we in the audience might as well sit back and enjoy the destruction.

Since this is a film about a country musician’s painful trip up from the depths of despair, there’s going to be a lot of country music in the film.  I’m not enough of a connoisseur to dissect the soundtrack of Crazy Heart, but even if you’re one of those “anything but country” types, you’ll still be able to endure the film.  The singing performances of Bridges and Farrell are respectable, and even Robert Duvall (playing one of Blake’s old friends) manages to warble a few bars.  You might even come away with a sudden desire to download the complete works of Merle Haggard.  Or that could have been me.

Crazy Heart will probably be playing at second-run theaters in the area for a while longer (I caught it at Dollar Movies, located at Briarwood Mall), but it will be released on DVD and Blue Ray April 20.  Whatever your preferred viewing method is, it’s a film worth seeing.

Oh, and one more thing: generally, I hate it when films work the title into the dialogue.  Crazy Heart does this, sort of—but it’s in a song.  So I think we’re cool on that front.

Made it into the Michigan Daily!

14 04 2010

I was quoted in an article appearing in the Michigan Daily today concerning the University’s Smoke Free Initiative.

Earlier in the semester, the College Libertarians drafted a resolution to be taken up by the Michigan Student Assembly that called for greater transparency and student involvement with regard to the implementation of the Smoke Free Initiative.  Last night, that resolution finally passed, 26-10.

Allegations of a conflict of interest on U of M President Mary Sue Coleman’s behalf—she earns nearly $230,000/year for sitting on the board of Johnson & Johnson, which just so happens to dominate the domestic market for over-the-counter smoking cessation products—are sexy.  Further, they raise a broader issue about conflicts of interest between public university faculty and corporations nationwide.

But I feel we have a strong case (stronger than any possible conflict of interest case, at least for the foreseeable future) on the personal liberty and student involvement fronts.  We’ll see where this all goes.