The Collected Thoughts and Musings of an Aspiring Political Philosopher

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mitch McConnell, The Tax Fairy

Inspired by the 11/30/2011 Rachel Maddow Show and a request from @susanlbrannigan, I created this:

Monday, October 17, 2011

John's Kick-Butt Lasagna

(Basic recipe borrowed from Barilla lasagna noodle package, the rest is all me)

1 jar Classico Florentine Spinach Spaghetti Sauce
1 jar Ragu or Classico alfredo sauce
1 can S&W Ready-Cut Italian Recipe Garlic, Oregano & Basil tomatoes, do not drain
2 tablespoons California Sun-Dry sun-dried tomato pesto
2 tablespoons Classico traditional basil pesto
1/4 cup Bella Sun Luci Julienne-Cut sun-dried tomatoes & herbs
2 tablespoons The Sauce Factory Mediterranean tomato topping
1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 cup chopped or sauteed fresh garlic
1 lb ground buffalo (substitute turkey or hamburger)
1 lb ground sweet Italian sausage
16 oz cottage or ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon dried or fresh chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 large eggs
6 cups assorted shredded cheeses (recommend Italian blend, mild cheddar, swiss and monterey jack)
2 cups mozarella or Italian blend shredded cheese
1 package lasagna noodles
13x9 glass casserole dish

Boil noodles according to instructions on package in large pot, ensuring they remain firm and not too soft. While noodles are cooking, place meats, garlic and Italian seasoning in frying pan and mix together thoroughly, chopping finely as meat cooks to ensure a smooth filling. Meat and noodles should finish at roughly the same time; drain noodles and allow to cool in collander. Using same large pot, empty in spaghetti sauce, alfredo sauce, tomatoes, pestos, sun-dried tomatoes and tomato topping along with finished meat mixture. Mix thoroughly and set to medium-low heat, stirring often to avoid burning at the bottom. As noodles will still be quite warm, handle carefully; spread noodles out on waxed paper or large cutting board to avoid sticking together.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In separate bowl, mix 6 cups of shredded assorted cheeses, chives, parsely, eggs, and cottage or ricotta cheese thoroughly until well-blended. Spray glass casserole dish liberally with your favorite cooking oil. After sauce comes to a light boil, remove from heat and spread approximately 1 cup sauce evenly over bottom of casserole dish. Lay 3-4 cooked noodles over bottom, ensuring complete coverage. Apply 1/2 cheese mixture evenly over noodles (some gaps are fine; when the cheese melts it will fill the gaps). Apply enough sauce to cover cheese mixture thoroughly without drowning, then top with another layer of noodles and repeat for another layer. On top of last layer of noodles, spread thin but even layer of sauce and then cover edge-to-edge with shredded mozarella, thick enough so that sauce is no longer visible.
Cover dish loosely with tinfoil, ensuring the top of the tinfoil does not physically touch the cheese topping. Place dish on a large cookie sheet (large enough to capture any boil-overs, or lay tinfoil down on oven rack) and put in pre-heated oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove tinfoil from dish and return to oven for another 10-15 minutes to brown cheese. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes. Makes 12 individual servings.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why customer service is so horrible... and likely to get worse

Under the Theory of Competitive Advantage, it is advantageous for companies to encourage the idea that all "customer service" is slow, unresponsive, aggravating, and generally BAD. Why?

Because customer service after the sale is a net loss to the company's profits. The whole profit aspect of producing a widget is in how much you can cut costs to get the raw materials and intermediate goods to make your thingy as cheaply as possible, then selling it at a price that brings in the biggest profit possible.

Customer service drains money away from these profits. Ideally, a company would like to make a product, sell it, and never hear from you again unless you're either buying another product from them or recommending that someone else does. Paying for customer service staff (even the offshore kind making a buck a day) is a complete and total loss, and is generally seen as a "cost of doing business" which would rather be eliminated any way it can to boost those ever-important dividends.

Used to be, companies thought they could get a competitive advantage by offering GREAT customer service. Thus, you had repairmen show up at your home (at no additional cost), gas-station attendants who filled you up, wiped your windshield and checked your tires, and could actually talk to a human being on the phone when you called with a problem. Then some nameless, faceless person with a "bright idea" (as seen from the corporate boardroom) realized that if you made customer service a universally unpleasant experience for people, the very term "customer service" would develop a negative connotation and most people would avoid it... and thus you could cut costs in that very money-sucking area.

So in the last 30 years or so we've seen company after company giving "lousy" customer service. Coincidence? Maybe. But If You Think Like A Corporate Executive it makes perfect sense: if everyone has lousy customer service, customers won't bother using it and we won't have to spend any of our dividend checks paying for it. If it becomes the national (or global) paradigm that customer service is worthless, then corporations get to cut even further back on the quality of that service until they are left with the most limited legal limits of it (essentially, to offer a refund or replacement if the product is not functional upon delivery... everything else is pretty much a "too bad" scenario).

Sure, people will still demand their problems be fixed if something is badly wrong... but this new mindset being imposed on consumers is one of "oh heck, why bother, just go buy another one, it's easier than going through the hassle of customer service". And, of course, unless people buy a different brand (which is often owned by the same company anyway), they end up giving the corporations a double-purchase... a double-win for the company.

And with many retail stores now restricting purchase returns to 30 days... sometimes even 14 or as little as 7... this means that if you buy it and it messes up within a couple weeks, you're screwed. The retail store is no longer the convenient "No problem, we'll take it back if it breaks" solution for consumers. In fact, corporate manufacturers are making this harder on retailers, so it's not even the stores' fault... many stores are changing their returns policy precisely because manufacturers and distributors and tightening them up.

Think this isn't something that goes through the minds of corporate executives daily? Call customer service about your newest electronic gadget and get a wake-up call. Then ask grandma what it was like when the TV technician showed up at her house... for free, always polite and helpful... to fix her console. THEN you will understand how much has changed in the last few decades. And how much we need to develop a sense of "customer SERVICE" back into the corporate world... in other words, if they have crappy service, DON'T BUY THEIR STUFF.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Most important quote of the day and the implications for America

I read this today, and the profundity of it made me realize it needed to be said over and over:
"The standards and quality of live that have been achieved in the United States in general, and in other Western states, didn't come about because because of some mythical invisible hand or because of industry insights into human dignity or the needs of labor. The safety and wage standards that exist today came about because workers in communities across America struggled to change conditions that often pitted a specific industry -- which often had interlocking interests with other industries -- against American labor." "Like the peasants of medieval Europe, [labor] needed work and were forced into conditions which which overlords could dominate virtually all aspects of their lives. Rebellion and the introduction of enlightened leaders paved the way for improvements in [labor's] standard of living ... [j]ust as the progressive ideas of democracy and capitalism were fought by conservative aristocrats in Europe, issues related to social and economic justice in America have always been fought by forces who warn of impending doom if changes are made." -"The Myth of the Free Market: The Role of the State in a Capitalist Economy" by Mark A. Martinez, Kumarian Press, 2009.

Understand this: conservatives, no matter what they SAY in public, abhore the middle class and labor. It goes against everything they believe, which is that there are those who are destined to be priviledged and those who are not. While a few still hew to the belief that "rugged entrepreneurs" have a place at the table, that is an idea that only comes from the middle 16th Century... those who harken back to a more "civilized" day (i.e. when blood-lines meant everything and peasants knew their place) have it engraved in their souls that nobody is entitled to anything unless you belong to the modern-day nobility. Anyone else is an upstart and pretender, and should be treated as such.

Conservatives, in other words, consider YOU inferior, worthless except for the labor you provide, and essentially meaningless in the world at large. Not exactly what you hear them say at election time, eh? But down deep, that's exactly what they are thinking and how they will treat YOU if you are stupid enough to once again elect them into positions of political power. Did I say "stupid"? Sure, because that's exactly how they view YOU if you either vote for them (and don't belong to the top 1% of the wealthy in this country) or stay home and encourage others to stay home to avoid voting for Democrats who have "disappointed" YOU in the past to "send a message". Do you want to know the message you're sending?

"Yes, I want more plutocracy, more corporate control over my life, less freedom and liberty, a militarized police-state, someone to tell me what I can and can't do with my own body, and more income and social inequality, because those lousy Democrats never deliver when I elect THEM into office".

If you're happy with the status quo, then by all means vote any way you want. If you think letting everything we've worked for during the past 100+ years is worth fighting for, then vote Democratic in 2012 and henceforth. Because even if the Dems have been infiltrated by the same corporate interests that busted unions in the 1930s and struggle every day to dismantle the New Deal and Great Society, they're still a damned sight better than the other side that makes no bones whatsoever about destroying every social and political gain the middle class has made in the last century for one and only one purpose: to once again gain the titles and powers of nobility they so desperately miss.

And don't think for a SECOND that they're not drooling at the prospect.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Luscious Crab Cakes

I've been making crab cakes this way for years; it's my own recipe (as far as I know... I kind of made it up as I went along) but you're welcome to share with friends if you like it. There are a lot of variations to this; change the veggie combination, add fresh garlic instead of powdered, use an egg or just substitute the equivalent amount of water, etc. You just can't mess it up too much by switching things around, just don't overcook them because they get tough as a brick if you do.


1 pound fresh crab meat, carefully shelled (or 3 6-oz cans of crab)
1 large egg (or approximately 1/4 cup water or milk)
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal (substitute 3/4 cup of bread crumbs or for extra richness use 3/4 cup of crumbled Club® Crackers; if you do substitute, you will need both the egg AND the 1/4 cup water or milk)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder (substitute chili powder or your favorite spicy stuff)
1 tablespoon Worstershire sauce
1/4 cup each diced sweet yellow onions, celery, parsley
1/2 cup diced cooked shrimp (salad shrimp work best and don't need chopping)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (substitute 2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic or to taste)
Salt, pepper to taste
Lemon juice
Olive oil (about 3 to 5 tablespoons total, use as needed during frying)

Pre-heat olive oil in large frying pan over medium-high heat. Combine cornmeal (or substitutes) with crab, shrimp, diced veggies, egg (or substitutes), butter or margarine, cayenne, Worstershire, garlic powder, salt and pepper in large bowl. Mix thoroughly until all ingredients are fully moist and mixture gets lumpy. Form into fist-sized balls, then flatten to form patties approximately 3/4 inch thick, making sure the edges are smooth (moisten some more if they seem crumbly). Carefully place crabcakes into frying pan to avoid splashing hot oil. Cover and cook approximately 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add oil to pan if necessary and repeat until all crabcakes are complete. Drizzle lightly with lemon juice and serve plain or with your favorite sauce (tartar, teriyaki, oyster and even ketchup all work nicely). Number of crabcakes depends on how big you make the patties, but usually makes between 6 and 10 total.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Palin's Comic Book View of History: Paul Revere's Ride

Apologists for Palin immediately struck against the "lame-stream media" laughing at their darling for getting the history wrong (again) about one of our iconic First Patriots.

There is a tiny bit of merit in their arguments, particularly the chuckles that Revere warned the British. In a sense, he actually did at one point, though it was never his intention to tell the British anything. He was captured (along with his two fellow riders, William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott, who are often forgotten in retellings of the famous Midnight Ride story) by a British patrol and informed them that he had been raising the alarm and they would be met by "five hundred Americans" ready to fight.

So that part of the account Palin gave had a grain of truth to it. But her word pudding, as incoherent as it was, didn't exactly give us any indication that she was talking about that incident at all (or was even aware of it). To hear her tell it, Revere might as well have been standing on a rooftop waving his fist at the British defiantly, a patriotic glow emanating from his body, as he warned the cowering British army that they were already defeated and might as well slink back to their ships and sail away.

Beyond the comic-book glorification Palin (and so many others who adore her) have of American history, the other details of her brief blizzard of nonsense lack historical basis as well.

She seems to think Revere shot his gun and rang bells. He was both unarmed and had no bells, at least as far as the historical account goes (although some pictorial depictions of him do show him ringing what looks like a teacher's school-bell, so it's hard to tell for sure). But by all written accounts, it was the people he warned from house to house that shot the guns and range the bells, not himself.

While Revere did in fact "warn" the British (while being detained and under threat of having his brains blown out) that's a little different than Palin's embellishing it with him telling the British that "we're going to be free" and "they weren't going to be taking away our arms".

Although he was either a member of or sympathetic to the Sons of Liberty, a group of Americans who (sometimes violently) fought depredations of the British against Americans, few of them wanted independence from Britain; most of them simply wanted fairness and self-determination under British rule. So while I'm no expert on Revere, there's a good chance Revere no more wanted independence from the Crown than most of the rest of the colonists did in 1775. Up until this time, in fact, they were sending delegation after delegation to Britain petitioning to allow the colonies representation in Parliament, hardly the actions of people who hated the Crown so much they wanted complete freedom.

It wasn't until AFTER the battle at Lexington and Concord that most colonists realized that the Brits were going to ruthlessly put their foot on the Americans and thus the first serious discussion of real independence rather than self-determination took shape, leading to the Declaration of Independence a year later.

The best resource for Revere comes of course from his own accounts as well as those of his companions. The website for the Paul Revere House is here:

It might do for Sarah Palin, as she visits all of these historic sites, to brush up a little better before spouting more word coleslaw in front of the cameras. While entertaining, we must remember that a good number of Americans consider her a leading light of Patriotic All-Americanness, and the more we encourage her by putting her ridiculous clown-show on the air and Internet the more her fans believe she's the model for their children and their children's-children. Do we really want to embolden future generations of historical know-nothings?

(Hat tip to Douglas Redecopp for pointing me to the apologist's article)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

They aren't going to stop unless we stop them

I encourage everyone to read the excellent op-ed by William Rivers Pitt in TruthOut on March 10, 2011, "Then They Came for the Trade Unionists"

Here's my favorite take-away from it:

Mr. Niemoller wrote his poem decades ago. It might read like this today:

First they declared corporations were "people," and I didn't complain because I'm already a person.

Then they made unlimited money "speech," and I didn't complain because the American Dream says I'll be rich someday, too.

Then they commandeered the means of production by shipping our greatest strength - manufacturing - overseas, because they don't have bothersome unions over there, and I didn't complain because WalMart has cheap stuff.

Then they bought Congress so they could write the laws, and I didn't complain because I can’t be bothered to vote.

Then they bought the Supreme Court so they could cement their rule, and I didn't complain because I don't have time to pay attention.

Then they bought the news so they could convince everyone it's always been this way, and I didn't complain because it's always been this way.

Then they manhandled an election and I didn't complain because I'm not from Florida.

Then they lied us into wars and I didn't complain because I'm not a soldier, or an Iraqi, or an Afghani.

Then millions died for profit and I didn't complain because the graphics on the news were totally awesome.

Then they started locking people up because they said they could and I didn't complain because nobody locked me up.

Then they started spying on everyone because they said they could and I didn't complain because I'm a real American.

Then they came for the worker, but thanks to supply-side trickle-down economics, I don't have a job.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Updated: Nuclear Power: Burnt-Out Light Bulb of the Millennium

Update: I posted this just a few hours before the horrific 8.9 earthquake in Japan, and I am now hearing reports of a potential nuclear reactor disaster in the making. At the very least, Japanese officials are planning to release radioactive gases to relieve pressure on the damaged reactor in hopes of preventing a complete blow-out. For more on the Japanese disaster, the Huffington Post has live updates.

Original Post:

On the subject of nuclear power as an "alternative energy source":

If we even have to CONSIDER the possibility that any form of "fuel" is so dangerous that we have to take into account the threat that some terrorist organizatin with use it in some kind of "weapon of mass destruction", then why in the HELL are we even using this shit?

Not to mention the huge costs of building the plants in the first place (which gets passed down to consumers), the huge costs of storing the nuclear "fuel", the huge costs of storing the nuclear "waste", and the huge costs of even the miniscule chance of a single Chernobyl-like event... just ONE, no matter how "safe" they say it is nowadays, is one too many (especially as densely populated as America is, not to mention how the wind currents carry particulates pretty evenly across the U.S.; if you don't believe that, then why do you see red sunsets in Minnesota, New York and Alabama when California is having a wildfire?).

While I'm all for real renewables, the idea of adding nuclear power to that mix is ludicrous. In my view, it's little more than a sop to the nuke industry and the corporate giants who back it. Let that dog die in peace; it's currently 20% of our generation capacity, but it needs to be replaced as soon as possible with actual renewables that can't be used to some day dirty-bomb our cities... or accidentally irradiate an area the size of Texas for decades to come.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why some cry joy, and others weep, about the revolution in Egypt

So while most of the world's common people rise up and applaud the success of the revolt in Egypt, why are so many American conservatives appearing on Fox News and other friendly media outlets decrying this as anything but a reason to celebrate? Why are they warning that "the Middle East has no history of democracy" and thus this will lead to chaos and terrible, terrible things (as if the burgeoning democracies within what was formerly the Iron Curtain had any history of democracy)? Why is Glenn Beck warning of "chaos" and "community organizers" and a return of the Caliphate? Why are these conservatives... who will take any opportunity to wrap themselves in the flag, call themselves Patriots, and claim to represent the "true values" of America, especially "freedom"... so appalled by the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and soon presumably to a dictatorship near you?

I could get into the various psychologies of conservatives, or point to political or ideological shifts that have occurred over the years, or perhaps even try to pull the race card and say that European democracies arising from tyranny are OK but those in the Middle East are not simply due to the fact that one has predominantly White populations and the other has mostly "brown people". But none of those are satisfactory, and ultimately lead to unresolvable arguments and (as in the case of the race card) may be largely untrue. But one thing stands out to me here. While claiming to be "freedom-loving Patriots", conservatives are at their philosophical roots anything but.

A little nutshell history lesson which we have as a nation conveniently forgotten: When our own country was but a colony in thrall to the whims of Mother England, a few brave souls put their lives and livelihoods on the line to stand up against tyranny. Some had been calling for change for years, and were ready to rise up; others, unsure, were tentative at first but eventually joined the cause. Still others did not join until British soldiers ravaged their homes and farms. Those who fought for fair treatment by the mother country did so at first as loyal citizens of England... until finally, they realized there was no path open to them but full independence. These revolutionaries then began calling themselves Patriots.

There were a number of colonists, however, who wanted nothing to do with the fighting, and wished only to remain loyal to England. There were various reasons for this: sentimentality, vested business interests with England, a natural pacifism, and many others. But in some cases, rather than simply remaining loyal to the Crown, they actively fought against the Patriots with the written word, public speech, and often with musket and sword. These people who sided with England against their fellow colonists were branded Tories; not traitors, per se, but still enemies to those who sought freedom and liberty.

Many Tories escaped to Canada and other British colonies once fighting broke out, and throughout the long Revolutionary War. Many others emigrated once the Patriots had won their battle and were finally independent of English rule. But many had stayed, and during the long healing process following the British defeat these fellow colonists... family, friends, and neighbors of those who had either remained neutral or joined the Patriots in the fight... rejoined society and began actively working to integrate themselves into the new political system that was taking shape.

Today's conservatives are the intellectual and philosophical offspring of the original Tories, whether they had actual ancestral ties to anyone in our war of independence. To understand this, one has only to look at the motivations of most of the Tories (as expressed in their own writings and speeches of the day): sanctity of hearth and home; limits to freedom and expression; loyalty to the authority of the Crown and its appointed governors; and a fear of "chaos" and "mob rule". These are exactly the tropes modern conservatives use, in modified form: family values and culture issues; using government to limit free speech and privacy if it offends their notion of what is and isn't allowable (re: censorship, '20's Prohibition); undying loyalty to icons of conservatism (Reagan, Bush, Norquist... not so much Buckley anymore) and any sitting President that happens to belong to their own party; and of course, an absolute dread of democracy erupting in the Middle East or any other place that is deemed "scary".

So while you marvel at the audacity of conservatives who claim the mantle of patriotism and freedom as their own, who denounce liberals or anyone else as "anti-American" because they aren't sufficiently conservative, remember that these flag-waving so-called "real Americans" are espousing the exact same principles that their intellectual and philosophical ancestors did 230 years ago: as Tories. The true Patriots in America are those who stand on the side of rule by, for and of the PEOPLE, always and without reservation. Democracy is messy, and revolutions don't always come out the way the revolutionaries wish, but never forget that if you are a Real American, a Patriot, you will remember who the enemies of freedom and self-rule were in our past, and recognize them in our present.