Wednesday, April 19, 2006

dum dum DAH dumdum dum DAH dum deedledee...

OK, so I'm seeing these trailers for Mission Impossible 3 and I have just one thought:

If Philip Seymour Hoffman and Lawrence Fishburne can't kill Tom Cruise, well, I want a shot at Lennox Lewis. 'Cause there ain't no justice.

So here's a topic: past MI3 and Robin Hood: Prince of Wolves Thieves, when else have you really wanted to see the bad guy in a movie kick the snot out of the "hero"?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

You're working for no one but me

The Internal Revenue Service provides a vital civil function by giving all Americans with one thing which we can all piss and moan about as a unified people. And this being the right time of year, here's my entry.

I think the USA is a great country, and I'm proud to live in it, and, all things considered, I think the price is right. When I consider what some people have to give their governments, or what they have to take from them, I can't say I feel like I pay too much.

However, I feel it takes far too much stress, record keeping, and research for the average wage slave to fill out their taxes. Paying taxes is like some real world version of Deal Or No Deal. Except the shadowy banker might actually decide your number is negative, and you never find out what the right briefcase is, and if you play too aggressively, you end up as Willie Nelson's cellmate.

So I've got a modest proposal: eliminate all deductions.

That's right, all of them. Every line we can eliminate from the tax code makes it easier to know where you stand. It reduces the possibility of fraud, and the need to amend returns. It simplifies record-keeping and the need to spend money on professionals or software, for taxpayers and the government. Just add up all the income deducted, divide it by the number of taxpayers, and farm it out equally to all. If it's not so obviously a gameable system, there's no fear like you're committing a crime, and no worry you're getting taken unfairly to the cleaners.

We don't need deductions for mortgage interest. Every mythology since the dawn of time has known that Home is a very powerful concept in the human psyche. People will buy houses anyway.

Yes, there are some rich people who'll stop donating to charity if the government doesn't give them 30% of their donation back. Shame on them, and shame on their families for raising them so poorly. The rest of us know that kindness is its own reward.

I'm awfully, awfully happy to take your money because Alison started grad school. (Thanks for that.) But for the life of me, I can't fathom how it's better to have tax credits for education than just spend the money on scholarships.

As I see it, itemized deductions do two things: they let the government shape our behavior, and they let them patronize us on feel-good issues. So to heck with that. Let's stop pretending that the government knows when we're spending our money right.

It leaves the question of what we'll whine about this time next year, but I bet we'll think of something.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

No Irish Need Apply

Will someone please explain to me why the Order of Ancient Hibernians isn't calling for Lou Dobbs' head?

In commenting on the United States' illegal immigration "problem," Dobbs has said that he resents people "celebrating a distant history". In his own words, Lou Dobbs doesn't "think there should be a St. Patrick's Day."

This is not a post about immigration policy, but I'll pass on two quotes. Fareed Zakaria, on The Daily Show last week, wonders why "we do immigration very well, and we're looking to the French on this one issue for a solution."

The other quote comes from my local bar. A contractor was having a drink and looking at the news. He set down his beer, took a drag on his cigarette, glared at the TV, and said "Lou Dobbs wouldn't know competitive advantage if it bit him on the ass."

But this is far bigger than a policy debate. This goes to the core of what we believe about these United States. It appears to me that Dobbs clings to the "melting pot" theory of America, where "individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men." (Crevecoeur, 1782.)

But it's instructive to check the Oxford English Dictionary on this one, where we find that a "melting pot" is also "a situation in which things are constantly changing and the outcome is uncertain", a home for things "in a process of flux or change."

That sounds a lot more American to me than Crevecoeur's stable amalgam. Our nation is more than the dirt we're born on, more than our mixing bloodlines. The Constitution is our nation, a complex experiment which we have promised to keep trying to figure out.

We are the people of flux and change. The First Amendment guarantees us the right to assemble peaceably, which is to say, to be whom we like. It's part of our national mythology that, in America, you can always move west and start over - only as proud of your past, or as shackled to it, as you choose. In fact, you can pick and choose from as many parts of your past as you like, without monarch or caste to stop you.

And the First Amendment also guarantees us the right to tell you about it. How sad that Dobbs can't even see that. Racial or religious, ethnic or sexual, based on our geography or our interests, every pride gathering says the same thing. We came here. We chose this. We commit to it.

And that's what we need our Dash-American pride for. Not to remember where we came from, as much to remember that we all came from somewhere. Every festival is a little Independence Day.


Dobbs hasn't actually called for a ban on the sale of other nations' flags, as far as I know, or for the governments to shut down the parades on St. Pat's or Columbus Day or Puerto Rican Pride day. So it would be wrong, or at least premature, to write this off as Know-Nothing Bill The Butcher nativism.

Which is a shame, because that would be fun. Kind of like the fun I'm having imagining some of New York's proud Irish-American finest taking the time to check that Mr. Dobbs' auto is in perfect working order. Or some upstanding Italian-Americans inviting him down to their social club for a frank exchange of views.

Or just hordes of proud Dash-Americans turning CNN off at the same time.

I'm really enjoying that one.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Stir it up

I prefer to post about our culinary successes, but there is a dark side to being adventurous in the kitchen. In our household, this category of dish is usually called "Mistake a la Joe." So I'm posting this in the hopes that sooner or later, a more experienced baker will find this post and tell me where I went wrong.

I wanted to make some munchies to take to our weekly happy hour. There's a recipe for "Seedy Crisps" in I'm Just Here for More Food which I'd been looking forward to trying, so I figured I'd give it a go. The recipe says it either makes thin "crispy crackers for snacking" or thicker "hearty crackers for dipping." Unfortunately, what I ended up with was something more like quarter-inch thick pita bread, and I'm stumped as to why.

Now, the major error I know is my own fault. I thought some Osaka Salt from World Merchants would be good. It's a mix of salt, sesame seeds, seaweed, and red pepper flake. Sounds like a nice cracker, right?

Unfortunately, Osaka Salt, as a good cook might guess from the name, is mostly salt, not mostly sesame seeds. So when I added 3 tablespoons of it to a recipe which called for 1.5 teaspoons of salt, things went wrong. Did you know that salt enhances the bitterness of pepper flake? Well, it seems to. So I've got an aggressively salty bitter-hot bread on my hands.

(In fairness, this would be very effective free bar food, in the vein of roasted peanuts or salty popcorn. That is to say, immediately after putting one in your mouth, you want to drink about a quarter-pint of beer.)

On further research, Alton and Shirley agree that salt aids gluten formation, which maybe helps explain the texture. Also, I notice that the cracker recipe in Cookwise specifies that it's a liquid-heavy dough. The Seedy Crisps recipe says to add water "just until the dough comes together," and that you might not use a full cup. I'm thinking I was a little stingy with the water... so does that instruction not mean what I think, or is it poorly phrased?

The recipe also says that the crackers should be "toasty brown", and I like my toast darker than a lot of people. The crackers didn't seem to be browning enough, so I gave them more time. That's probably where the unpleasant burnt sesame taste comes from.

Of course, the most likely reason I've got thick crackers is probably that I just didn't roll the dough out thin enough. I still wonder if I should've docked the dough or something, but it didn't really rise much.

I guess most of this can be chalked up to operator error, but I am curious whether anybody else is having trouble with More Food. The recipes we've tried out of Alton's other two books have all been fine, but this sure went badly, and Alton's "Phase III Biscuit" turns out this weird thing which is very tasty but definitely not a biscuit.

So if you have advice, questions, answers, sympathy, a joke... let me know.