Monthly Archives: February 2010

Questions for the Tea Party

All, right, deficits are bad. No argument about that from me. Taxes can damage the economy. Again, I agree wholeheartedly. Now, Tea Party, tell me how you’re going to rein in deficits and cut taxes without bringing on a catastrophe to make the events of the 1930s seem like the “Not All That Bad Depression.”

The Tea Party is too little, too late. Yes, we fear deficits, but what politician is going to vote to dismantle entitlement programs? How are we going to get rid of entrenched politicians when the interest groups backing them have put so much money into discrediting their opponents? And how do we know if the replacements the Tea Party puts forward are mentally sound?

In War, Politics, and Insanity, C.S. Bluemel put forward the idea that many of the world’s politicians, particularly the populist ones, are certifiably insane. They grew up with hard lives and became rebellious mavericks – psychotic mavericks. The book was written in 1949, so the author was thinking of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, not Palin. The comparison still applies. The danger of populism is that it attracts leaders just like the common man that believe in themselves to the point of megalomania. My final question for the Tea Party is this: beyond your economic solution, how will you keep your movement from producing an American dictator?

Durian Smoothie and Rice Noodles

For my birthday, I headed down to the Huong Ly, a great little Vietnamese place just north of Belt Line, off Greenville. Don’t go there for the atmosphere: go there for the great food at very reasonable prices. We had four entrees and two appetizers for right at $30.

First to arrive were the spring rolls… delightful little things, full of contrasting temperatures and textures. Dip them into the sweet peanut sauce for more fun.

Next were the fried eggrolls. As mentioned here previously, these are full of meat and very little filler. Absolute heaven in a compact cylinder. They arrive freshly fried, very hot on the inside. I have to wait a little before starting on one of these so I don’t burn my tongue, but I definitely eat one.

Next arrival was the durian smoothie. I love durian stuff. I love the way it stinks at first and then becomes an irresistible flavor after tasting. Not everyone likes the durian, but I am truly blessed in that regard. Calvin took a taste and liked it, Yvette tried it and said, “meh,” because she has no sense of smell. Malia took a whiff of it and found it objectionable. Little kids can be like that.

Malia’s sandwich was next to arrive. She tried it, but the fish sauce on it was a bit too strong for her. The rest of us took a bite and found it fantastic.

The main entrees were soon in arriving at our table, given how they were on the same tray as the sandwich. Calvin had the chicken with rice noodles.

Yvette had the pork chop on rice…

… and I had the pork and shrimp on rice noodles. Those crumbly things on top are peanuts. There’s a little bit of sauce to pour on top of it and stir around. Everything in it tastes wonderful and there’s an amazing interplay of flavors. I could go on with more gastronomic praise, but suffice to say this stuff didn’t just hit the spot. It smacked it right on the nose.

And then, Malia asked to try the durian smoothie. I thought, sure, why not? I don’t want to try to talk her down from exploring new flavors. In spite of its smell, I soon saw this:

She ate about half of it! The flavor Andrew “Bizarre Foods” Zimmern can’t swallow, she ate half of! I couldn’t believe it. I’m proud of her for giving it a try and finding another new taste to add to her repertoire.

I decided to eat some of her sandwich in exchange for the smoothie. 🙂

Was it good? See for yourself:

We pretty much cleaned our plates. Thank you for the happy birthday, Huong Ly!

My Name Is Khan: A Review

My Name Is Khan This film was a real gem. Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol are fantastic together: they’re truly one of cinema’s greatest screen couples. I’m going to confess there are melodramatic scenes and moments of imperfection. I don’t care. There are also scenes with fantastic cinematography in the San Francisco sun and truly touching and heartfelt moments. The leads, SRK and Kajol, are in their prime and their characters drive the film through twists and turns and on to its satisfying climax.

The second half of the film involves touches of magical realism in coastal Georgia. I guess that’s a nice way of saying there’s probably nowhere in Georgia that looks like a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings set, but that’s what we get in the film. It serves as a metaphor for New Orleans, that much I get: so let it go at that. I still maintain this is an important – and entertaining – film. It’s a must-see, and bring the Kleenex.

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Is Bayh a Big Loss?

Not really. There’s 99 other guys just like him in the Senate. Check out Muckety for his associations. It’s the typical mosh pit of banking, defense, pharmaceutical, and special interest groups that fetters every other senator. Check out some of the guys he’s immediately connected to and who they’re one jump away from. Like other senators, he’s just a legal partnership away from a truckload of special interests. A brief search turned up Roche and JP Morgan among the clients of a firm he has a direct relationship with.

So, no, he’s not a real loss. The next senator from Indiana, be he Demican or Republocrat, will look a lot like Bayh: someone with a much closer relationship with the board of directors of JP Morgan than I’ll ever have. Still, the Muckety link is nice. Check out your favorite Congressperson or Senator with it!

Debt Limit Now 100% of GDP

The image to the right shows the national debt in 2004, when it was just over $7 trillion, or $7,000,000,000,000 for those who like zeroes. In scientific notation, it’s $7.0 * 10^12. Currently, the debt stands at $12 trillion or so, and the debt limit now lets it go to $14 trillion.

$14 trillion is 100% of GDP, and taking our debt beyond that number puts us in danger of going over a tipping point.

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Bureaucracy vs. the President

The director of the CIA recently testified to Congress that a terrorist attack was highly likely in the next 3-6 months. Coincidentally, it’s also budget time in Washington, as various departments scramble for increasing their share of federal dollars. Obama indicated he wanted to cut some spending down the road: all government bureaucracies want to avoid those cuts, so they’ll send out their respective heads to fight for their slice of the budget pie.

The CIA guy came in with the biggest splash. I’m not saying his announcement was false – and if it was, shame on him – but his announcement was timely. There was plenty of media coverage, as well. That means it’s likely the CIA prepared a media package to go with the Congressional testimony. Government agencies do that. They hand stories to the media and the media reads those stories to the cameras, often with little investigation on the part of the major media outlets, from Fox to CNN and all the major networks in between. They take the government word as gospel and pass it on to us. The pundits will howl one way or another to credit or discredit the sitting president or one of his close political cronies, but the bureaucracy itself is held sacrosanct. That suits the needs of the bureaucracy just fine.

When it comes to budget time, every bureaucracy wants a director or cabinet member that can get out and fight his president for every scrap of the budget he can grab. They don’t want someone that agrees with the president that, yes, the bureaucracy is overstaffed with middle managers and could do with a bit of a trim. There was one director of the USDA under Clinton that tried to rein in his department who soon found himself the target of an ethics query. When you fight the bureaucracy, one takes on a very powerful and resourceful opponent. It’s much easier to go native and become one of them than it is to support one’s president.

I’d expect other agencies to regard the CIA’s presentation to Congress with alarm. Not because the CIA pointed out a terrorist attack is likely to happen. Rather, because the CIA is likely to get a bigger budget at their expense. Look for more urgent meetings with Congress from other departments in the days to come as the budget fight thickens.