Weekend Links

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Duck, wraps in the vacuum pack, and sauce in the yellow package.
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The treasures: a large cubic zirconia, some kind of Christmas thing that broke, a 2+1 Nescafe instant coffee, and a homemade bookmark, I think.

I had no idea just how powerful this blog could be until yesterday. Recently, I wrote about how we used to have Beijing-style roast duck for Thanksgiving. On Saturday, a student who had just come back from Beijing brought me a duck from the very restaurant about which I had written. No way that kid reads this blog. It must be magic! I guess I need to write a post about how nice it would be to have, oh, let’s say 10 million dollars. No need to be greedy.

One of the perks of being a teacher is getting gifts from students. Another student gave me a gift later that day. You can see it wrapped in one of the pictures above. Since the wrapping was see-through, I just assumed it was a small cake. A bit busy all weekend, I forgot about it until after lunch this afternoon. I noticed it when I was about to head back to work, and noting its existence to my wife, she said I should put it in the fridge. I did, though I’m not really sure why she suggested that or why I obeyed.

I always want to thank students for their gifts because it’s the right thing to do and I’d hate for them to think they aren’t appreciated. So this afternoon I made a point of thanking the student, a 9-year old who goes by the English name Gloria, for her gift, saying it was really tasty. Then she cried out in Chinese that it wasn’t something to eat! I told her I knew that (I didn’t) and that I was just joking (I wasn’t). That’ll teach me to lie to little kids!

I opened the gift after dinner tonight and you can see its contents in the above pictures. Such a sweet collection of little treasures. The kids all know I like drinking coffee as I often use that as a language example. Same goes for reading as one of my hobbies. Christmas is coming soon, I guess. But I’m really not sure what about me says cubic zirconia. It slays me that she gave me such a big one with a nice chip broken off it.

Anyway, I will thank her for the specific contents next week. It’s nice to end the day with such a warm feeling.

So much for the warm feeling. Links for the weekend:

  • Just awful news out of Colorado Springs. If only there was a word that begins with the letter “t” to describe incidents like this one when white men use violence in the pursuit of political aims. Though he didn’t use the word that apparently cannot be used when white men use violence in the pursuit of political aims, good on Obama for not otherwise mincing words.
  • I see already that gun rights absolutists are trotting out different versions of “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” in response to the shootings. Stop, please. Cars don’t get people to work; people get people to work. Forks and knives don’t cut up food and put it in people’s mouths; people cut up food and put in their mouths. This is asinine. You’re not children. We’re not children. Time to put away childish rhetoric and think about what’s happening out in the real world.
  • Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone wonders what it means that Donald Trump can lie with impunity and concludes that the media itself is largely to blame. TPM‘s Josh Marshall reminds us why lies, insults, and refusing to apologize for one’s lies and insults works with the Right.
  • I share Marshall’s exasperation with much of the media for belatedly and grudgingly coming to realize that the Trump phenomenon is a thing that is real and that he has a real constituency. The inmates are close to complete control of the asylum and many of us have seen this coming since at least 2010. Even if Trump loses, which Marshall thinks is still likely, the Republican Party is beholden to the people fueling his rise. These would be the people who give us deposed Speakers of the House and government shutdowns.
  • This piece about the stupid pieces about arguing with your racist uncle during Thanksgiving made me laugh a few times. The author, Jeb Lund, says we shouldn’t argue politics at Thanksgiving; instead, save the energy for arguing against deep-fried turkey. Is Lund right? I’ve never actually had deep-fried turkey.
  • Not exactly the kind of positive note with which I want to end these links posts, but a good friend of mine passed on this article about “coywolves.” I want one.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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I’m wearing the oven mitt. Another one of our teachers, Collin, is standing to my left. Next to Collin is one of our Chinese teachers, and the rest are students. We were trying to pose for a couple of cameras at the same time, which explains how nobody seems to be looking at the same place.

Thanksgiving came early this year to Dali, Yunnan Province, China. That’s because Thanksgiving is not actually a holiday in China and not wanting to teach our Friday morning classes in a post-feast stupor, Collin (pictured with me above) and I decided to host Thanksgiving dinner for students in our adult classes on Wednesday night and give ourselves actual Thanksgiving Day to recover.

Unfortunately, fewer than half of our adult students were able to attend (again, Thanksgiving is not an actual holiday here and the day we chose ended up working out poorly for quite a few of our students). But the ones who came seemed to have a good time and enjoyed the food, or so they said!

They definitely liked my wife’s sweet potato pie, which you can read about here if you’re interested. If they were only pretending to like it, well, they deserve Oscars. My wife’s pie was definitely the star of the dinner.

It’s hard to choose between the two funniest descriptions, overheard in Chinese, of our strange foods. One student said that my stuffing tasted like Chinese medicine. Actually, I thought it turned out well, especially since I used enough bread for this batch. Maybe it has to do with the seasonings (thyme and rosemary) that they had never heard of. Or maybe it was so bad that it really did taste like Chinese medicine.

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My stuffing is in the big tray on the near end of the table, next to my wife’s sweet potato pie, the unquestioned champion of the evening.

The other funny description was of Collin’s sourdough bread. This was also very new for the students, and while they seemed to like it (and I thought it was good, too, FWIW), they kept calling it “ugly bread” in Chinese.

I guess the winner for funniest description is saying my stuffing tasted like Chinese medicine, if only because it turned out exactly as it was supposed to but didn’t quite bridge the cultural gap in culinary taste. The stuffing was the only leftover nobody wanted to take home (except for me, and Collin if he wasn’t just being nice). Collin’s bread was in a little more demand.

Our menu also included roast chicken legs, which I marinated in lemon and lime juices, olive oil, garlic, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried rosemary, salt, and black pepper. Collin made a huge batch of mashed potatoes, which were excellent. And I made a gravy from the chicken drippings, butter, flour, milk, salt, and ground cayenne and black pepper. We all ate too much and have too many leftovers, which I guess is what Thanksgiving is all about!

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I roasted 60 (!) chicken legs. I put way too many at a time in our small ovens, which is why they took more like 45 minutes rather than the 20-30 minutes (at 450 degrees) called for in the recipe I referenced.

And, Thanksgiving is also about being thankful. This year, I’m thankful for my wife, Ligaya Beebe. We’ve been together for more than seven years now, and married almost two and a half. We’re in the process of trying to move back to the US, and it is stressful at times, but I’m really happy and thankful that we’re doing it together. I’m a lucky guy.

I’m thankful for my parents and my brother, who have all been supportive of me in spite of my decision to live abroad for so long. I couldn’t have asked for better, more loving parents, and I’m grateful to my brother for picking up my slack over the years.

I’m also thankful for the friends I’ve made in China over these 11 years. They’ve helped me spend nice Thanksgivings away from home and family. I often regret that I haven’t been home for more Thanksgivings, and it’s been a real help to celebrate my favorite holiday with friends both foreign and local while living in China.

I’m also thankful for the opportunity Shambala Foundation has given me to play a lead role in creating an English-language training center. It’s very rewarding. We moved to Dali in 2013, started designing from scratch, opened Ivy Language Academy with 18 students in March 2014, and now we see a training center with 60+ students enrolled, plus we designed and are implementing the English-language curriculum for a private primary school, and we have our foot in the door of the educational tourism industry thanks to my wife’s leadership and hard work. That’s success by any definition. I’m thankful for the opportunity to make it happen, and I’m grateful to the organization’s leadership and the team that really made it all possible.

Finally, I want to say thank you to everyone who reads this blog. Honestly, the blog doesn’t have much of a readership in terms of numbers, but I’m very grateful for both the encouraging words and the challenges to think things through more deeply. Writing this blog is fundamentally an egotistical exercise, and if it somehow attracts readers who find it interesting and/or want to debate the ideas, well, that’s more than it deserves, and I’m thankful for it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sweet Potato Pie Guest Post

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Our Thanksgiving spread, with one of the sweet potato pies on the near end of the table, wedged between gravy, spicy radishes, and stuffing.

The following is a guest post by my wife, Ligaya Beebe. Her sweet potato pie was the star of our Thanksgiving dinner, which I’ll write about later in my own post. Anyway, take it away Ligaya:

This recipe is a relatively faithful adaptation of this recipe which is itself an adaptation from Cook’s Illustrated.

Pie Dough

1-1/4 cups flour

½ tsp salt

1 tbs sugar

4 tbs unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces

3 tbs bacon fat, chilled

4-5 tbs ice water

I watched a few youtube videos before making this because it was my first time making pie dough. My favorite advice came from Hands That Cook. She suggests you only make pie dough if your heart is light and merry. If you’re angry, you risk taking out your anger on the dough and overworking it.

Whisk together flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Use hands to incorporate butter with dry ingredients by squeezing butter into smaller and smaller bits. Do this until the mixture turns into a coarse meal. It’s okay if there are large chunks of butter left.

Incorporate bacon fat using the same method.

Sprinkle ice water into the mixture a little at a time. Fold water into the mixture until the dough barely comes together into a ball. I followed the original recipe’s advice for testing for dough readiness:

Test for readiness by squeezing a golf ball size portion in the palm of your hand. It should hold together, but not be sticky. If it’s still crumbly, add up to 1 tablespoon more of the ice water.

Gather the dough ball together and flatten into a round disk. This will make it easier to roll out later. Wrap your dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (or up to two days).

 

Pie shell to pie crust

Roll out the dough and place into pie pan. Make sure dough is flush with the pan. Trim excess dough around the edges and flute (either pinch around the edges or use a fork to press around the circumference). You now have a pie shell!

Put the pie shell in the fridge for 40 minutes. The original recipe calls for freezing the pie shell for 20 minutes after this, but I couldn’t wait and skipped this step. Heat oven to 375 f (190 c). While pie shell is chilling start cooking the sweet potatoes for the pie filling.

Cover pie shell in foil so foil is flush with pie shell. I don’t have pie weights, so I used 2 cups of uncooked rice. Place pie weights/uncooked rice on top of foil and bake at 375 f for 17-20 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and bake for another 9 minutes until the shell turns golden brown. You now have a piecrust! Reduce heat to 350 f.

 

Pie Filling

2 lbs sweet potatoes

2 tbs unsalted butter

3 large eggs

2 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

(2/3 cup whole milk)*

¼ cup packed dark brown sugar

Boil sweet potatoes until tender (around 40-50 minutes). They’ll boil faster if they’re in smaller pieces, but mine were practically whole. Drain sweet potatoes and let cool for ten minutes.

While potatoes are cooling, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, sugar, nutmeg and salt. Add vanilla extract. Forget about adding milk because you left it in your scooter.

In a different bowl, mash butter into sweet potatoes and mash to your desired level of creaminess.

Add egg mixture to sweet potatoes a bit at a time and mash to incorporate.

Sprinkle dark brown sugar evenly onto the bottom of your piecrust. If brown sugar gets on the edge of the piecrust it will caramelize and burn. The brown sugar on the bottom of your crust creates a gorgeous sweet layer between the crust and the filling.

Pour pie filling into your warm piecrust.

Bake at 350 f (177 c) for 45 minutes and let rest for 2 hours.

I had a ton of leftover filling so I made a quick crumble (2 cups flour, 1 stick butter, 1 cup brown sugar). I poured the leftover filling into another pie tin, topped with the crumble, and baked at 350 f (177 c) for 45 min.

I suggest you eat this incredible sweet potato pie as a side dish rather than a dessert.

*note: I made this recipe twice and completely forgot the milk the second time. The first pie was creamier, but much richer (actually I used heavy whipping cream instead of milk). The second pie’s filling was drier and had a more bread-like, rustic texture. I prefer the second, sans milk version.

Weekend Links

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Mmmm, stuffing.

Our annual Thanksgiving tradition when I lived in Xining, Qinghai Province, China was to go out for Beijing-style roast duck. We were lucky enough to have an outlet of the famed Quanjude chain of restaurants, and over my 11 (!) years in China I must have spent five or six Thanksgivings there, feasting on delicious Chinese turkey.

This year, our school is going to host a Thanksgiving potluck for our adult students on Wednesday. We don’t have ovens big enough for roasting turkeys, and we’d have to order a bird online, and it’s just too much hassle (and, I don’t feel quite as strongly as this person does but roast turkey is not all that great anyway).

So I think we’ll roast a bunch of chicken legs instead, with mashed potatoes and stuffing on the side, and sweet potato pie for dessert. The stuffing pictured above is today’s practice run stuffing based on this recipe; it’s very tasty but I didn’t use enough bread. Wednesday’s version will be better!

I’ll take pictures of our Thanksgiving celebration and follow up on this post later in the week. I’m interested to see how the students like our traditional Thanksgiving dishes, as well as to see what they bring. One student says she’s bringing a Chinese-style fish. Maybe we’ll create new Thanksgiving fusion fare.

Here are some links to some stuff I read today as well as to some of my previous posts, for perspective:

  • The Republican establishment is taking Donald Trump seriously enough that big time donors supporting different candidates are starting to pool resources with the aim of taking him down.
  • Whereas New Hampshire has helped the establishment kneecap unsavory candidates in the past, this time its voters appear unwilling to cooperate. I stand by what I wrote about Trump’s chances over two months ago here. If anything, the establishment’s position is worse than it was then, making my original instinct to confidently call Trump the favorite to win the nomination look like the one I should have stuck with.
  • As a reminder, “the ‘Republican establishment’ refers to the Republican National Committee, Republican officials who mostly care about winning elections in order to keep taxes low and regulations limited, and their donors. Any candidate likely to get killed in a general election, like Trump, Carson, or Ted Cruz, make the main goals of low taxes and limited regulations less achievable, and are therefore anametha to establishment figures.”
  • Where to begin with the racism and xenophobia manifesting among Republican candidates for president and Republicans in general around the country? Josh Marshall, who understands the rightwing zeitgeist better than most, explained how Trump’s policy-making-on-the-fly quickly becomes the new Republican standard. Trump, remember, is a favorite among white nationalists. Not that the others are any better than him, really, but Trump’s ability to set the agenda helps explain why Marco Rubio would equate Muslims with Nazis, and why Rubio would follow that up by suggesting that Trump’s threat to shut down all mosques may not go far enough. Rubio, remember, is the GOP establishment’s great hope and is supposedly the reasonable Republican candidate.
  • Republican fear mongering drives so many of us crazy because it flies in the face of American history and ideals. Even George W. Bush, in spite of the consequences of his policies, went out of his way to discourage anti-Muslim bigotry.
  • Sometimes, when things are looking bleak, a righteous rant can help raise the spirits. This is a little on the nasty side, and it’s not going to convert any of the people the author refers to as “dumb hicks,” but I recommend reading it if you’ve been appalled by the rhetoric and policy turns the Right has taken after Paris.
  • Welfare does not make people lazy. We’ve known this for decades now but it doesn’t stop people, such as Maine’s dumb hick governor, from saying it does.
  • I’ll try to end these on a positive note. Democrat John Bel Edwards won election for governor of Louisiana on Saturday. Edwards inherits a mess of a state left by Republican Bobby Jindal, who no longer has being too busy running for president as an excuse for destroying his own state’s economy. Edwards’ victory is sweet because he defeated Senator David Vitter, a candidate whose last minute anti-Muslim hysteria didn’t seem to work. Edwards’ victory is even sweeter because Vitter is also a “family values” guy who wants to legislate your personal life in spite of his own taste for prostitutes. Anyway, nice to see a Democrat win a statewide election in a red state and hopefully Edwards and his team are as good at governing as they are at campaigning (*see below):

 

*I know we shouldn’t make light of sex work. It’s a real industry in which workers (many of whom are disadvantaged women) face uniquely dangerous risks and they deserve dignity and to be taken seriously. My points here are that (1) hypocrites like Vitter deserve ridicule and defeat, and (2) Democrats ought to follow Edwards’ lead and fight campaigns with their gloves off.

Links Concerning Paris and Its Aftermath

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Map of the Middle East. By Central Intelligence Agency [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m better informed after reading the following pieces. I have no value to add to them. I’m still trying to sort out why I was dead set against invading Iraq in 2003, skeptical at best about invading Afghanistan in 2001, yet am ambivalent about what France, the US, or other interested parties should do now.

If readers want to recommend any other articles or essays, please leave them in comments. Thanks!

Weekend Links

By Benh LIEU SONG (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0- 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Such awful news out of Paris. I never understand what these attacks are meant to demonstrate or accomplish. The world is always worse off. Apparently ISIS is claiming responsibility and some preliminary evidence points in its direction. So France will have a target, and a lot of allies, and we’ll see what happens. Nothing good will come of this, I fear. Violence will beget violence, ad infinitum, though I hope I’m wrong. I’m not saying France shouldn’t retaliate; I’m just saying that nothing but bad solutions seem to present themselves every time something like this happens.

For now, the best one can hope for is that the survivors and the families and friends of the murdered heal. We Americans understand the grief.

Some links for the weekend:

  • Amazingly, the guy I called out earlier this week for saying there’s basically no difference between Hillary Clinton and Republican candidates has doubled down on the claim. Read Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money for an entertaining version of why this is stupid and dangerous. The author in question, H.A. Goodman, is either a master troll or an idiot who somehow gets paid real money to write dumb stuff on the internet. I suspect it’s the latter, but boy will my face be red if it’s the former.
  • Why does Goodman’s argument get me so worked up? Well, I WAS the idiot I’m accusing Goodman of being. If you read my post linked above, you’ll see how I talked myself into voting for Ralph Nader in 2000 and why that was, um, a poor decision. Here’s the short of it: the structure of the American political system itself explains why we have only two major parties; those parties happen to be called the Democratic Party and the Republican Party; the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have very different agendas; candidates running for a given party’s nomination have to adopt most of that party’s agenda in order to gain its support; therefore, the Democratic candidate for president will differ greatly from the Republican candidate for president; if you vote for a candidate from a non-major party or sit out an election, you threaten to hand the election to the major party candidate you least prefer; therefore, you should figure out which major party you prefer and vote for its candidates.
  • Speaking of trolls, I recommend this piece about master troll Ken M. His trolling is brilliant and mostly harmless. He won’t talk you into thinking there’s no difference between America’s two main political parties, but he may leave you wondering whether or not there are real people who feed Snausages to their grandsons.
  • I have a continuing series of posts explaining why the Republican Party cannot be trusted to govern herehere, here and here. Tierney Sneed at Talking Points Memo brings us up to speed on the Republican Party’s latest demonstration of incompetence and bad faith. This one involves Senate Republicans disagreeing with each other over how to get an Obamacare repeal bill on President Obama’s desk that they know he would veto anyway and they know they wouldn’t have the votes in the Senate or the House to override such a veto. I know this is going to sound harsh, but what kind of a party spends five-plus years trying to overturn a law that helps people not die preventable deaths and ensures they don’t go bankrupt if they get a serious diagnosis?
  • Going to make this tomorrow night. We’ll see how it turns out.

Enjoy the weekend!

The Agony of Debate: Voodoo Economics Cannot Fail, They Can Only Be Failed

The candidates on their way to tonight’s debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By DonkeyHotey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The verdicts are in, and there seems to be agreement that tonight’s Republican debate, hosted by Fox Business Network and the Wall Street Journal, was better and more substantive than the turd show on CNBC a few weeks ago. If you missed it, here’s a good recap at The Guardian‘s website.

Even though the moderators did an okay job of getting the candidates to debate actual positions with each other, there were still plenty of infuriating moments. For example, Carly Fiorina’s red-baiting routine is pure demagoguery that should have no place in American political discourse in 2015. She keeps trying to incite fear that “socialism” is destroying the country. Of course, nobody on the stage with her called her out on this nonsense. Real profiles in courage, these people.

Also, the flippant attitudes of the candidates, whether toward their confrontational postures that could risk war with Russia, or the plight of Americans trying to get by on minimum wage jobs, were appalling if unsurprising. And as usual, the candidates, moderators, and audience all proudly live in a fantasy world where President Obama has been a disaster and the facts don’t say what they want them to say.

From a policy perspective, the biggest takeaway from the debate is that the entire Republican field still believes in Ronald Reagan’s “supply side” economic policies. The theory behind “supply side” tax policy is that huge tax cuts will free up capital, which in turn will be invested and create economic growth that increases the tax base, which will more than make up for the revenue lost from ditching the previously higher taxes on the country’s wealthiest citizens.

The senior George Bush, running against Reagan for the Republican nomination in 1980, called Reagan’s economic policies “voodoo economics.” It turns out he was right. Economists have known for more than 30 years now that cutting taxes in order to raise revenue is exactly as stupid as it sounds. The theory behind the policy has failed to predict anything that has happened in the real world. In fact, the opposite is true. The theory predicted that the tax hikes associated with President Bill Clinton in 1993 would lead to economic disaster. The opposite happened. The theory predicted that President George W. Bush’s tax cuts would promote broad prosperity and increase tax revenue. The opposite happened.

I guess a theory that is always 100% wrong in its predictions is a kind of theory. In general, though, it’s a bad idea to empower people who believe nonsense and want to act on it. The country bought this stuff back when George W. Bush was selling it in 2000. Will we buy it again?