Not So Deep Thoughts

Part V: Just Like Starting Over

Archive for June, 2010

Review: Hot In Cleveland

Posted by jkhutchins on June 17, 2010

Betty White is on a tear right now.  Now, I’ve liked her for years.  She was wonderful as Sue Ann Nivens, great on the Golden Girls, and a hell of a Pyramid player.   So, I’ve been in complete approval of the Betty White renaissance.  I was amused when SNL, having finally given in on having Betty White host, arranged for a bunch of women to back her up because she was old and they didn’t really think she was up to it.  Hah.  While she definitely needed cue cards, she still had better comic timing than the rest of the cast put together.

So, I’ve been anxious to see Hot in Cleveland.  It looked very sitcomy to me, but I was willing to give it a shot.  The rest of the cast looked promising.

The show is in fact very sitcomy.  It has sitcom timing and blocking.  The show itself is reminiscent of Golden Girls or Designing Women.  But that isn’t criticism.  Both of those shows had a great cast and smart writing.  As does Hot in Cleveland.  Wendie Malick, Valerie Bertinelli and Jane Leeves are good, professional actresses, and have a nice rapport.  They seem to be having a good time.  Betty White, of course, is wonderful.

The other thing I liked about the show is that it features older women in a human light.  They aren’t all cougars.  They aren’t ashamed of their age.  The characters treat each other with affection.

I am not going to make an effort to see it every week.  I don’t really do that with any show with the possible exception of Daily Show/Colbert – and even so I don’t have a Tivo.  If I have other things to do, I do them.  But if I am home, and I remember it’s on, I will watch this show.  It’s very likeable, even if it isn’t revolutionary.

Good on you, Betty.

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Review: The A-Team

Posted by jkhutchins on June 17, 2010

The A-Team was never great television.  It was great guilty pleasure television, it was great entertainment for 10 year olds who enjoyed watching cars go boom and Mr. T in his glory.  Although I was always more of a Murdock fan.  The A-Team was a Stephen J. Cannell production, which meant that the characters had personality and a fair amount of humor filled out the time before stuff blowed up.  Blowed up.  It was a terrible show.  Nonetheless, I still have affection for it.  Yes, I have watched it as an adult and still gotten enjoyment out of it.

So I wanted to see the movie.  I wasn’t sure about it at first.  After all, does the world really NEED an A-Team movie?   It’s no Star Trek, no cult classic.  It is more of a cult b-lister.  Nonetheless, the fact that they used the Mike Post theme in the promos did tweak my curiosity.

I have great affection for Mike Post. My mother had an album full of Mike Post themes, and I’ve had an appreciation for him ever since.  Mike Post is the composer of many of the great TV themes, among them Rockford Files, Magnum PI, Newsradio and Law & Order.  He created the Greatest American Hero theme and that of Hill Street Blues.   Most importantly,  Mike Post is Stephen J. Cannell’s go-to guy.  His music tends to warm me up to a show right off the bat.  So, it was vital to me the theme be there.

The theme, in fact, was representative of the whole movie.  The theme was used in the promos, which made me want to go at all.  It was not used in the opening credits, which disappointed me a little, but I figured it was coming.  It was used to brilliant effect in the middle of the movie, by which time they had my full approval.  It was repeated over the end credits in a way that made me indecently happy.

The movie started off in a way that made me a little nervous, but I was cautiously optimistic.  But the characters seemed to have the spirit of the thing down, so I decided to just ride it out and see how it went.  More importantly, I saw something truly amazing; I kept seeing one name in the credits over and over again.  Stephen J. Cannell.  One of the truly great showrunners.  The man who created Magnum PI, the A-Team and Rockford Files.  Not to mention a bunch of quite watchable action shows like Simon & Simon.  Castle is his.  It wasn’t exactly Lost but you know, it was not an awful way to pass time either.    His shows tended to have great characters in them, if not the world’s most complicated plots.  Great shows like Burn Notice owe a lot to Cannell.  The minute I saw his name, my expections for the movie went WAY up.

I wasn’t disappointed.

While the origin story was tweaked (and honestly, it had to be), the characters were the same.  At the same time, the movie was not slavish to the originals.  B. A. Baracus was not a caricature of Mr. T.  Murdock was still manic, but played in a way true to the character, not just for easy laughs.  The catchphrases were thrown in, but not overused.  The movie was not a parody.  The movie was played straight; it was clearly derived from the show, just with a bigger budget.

And Stephen J. Cannell, king of the tv action drama, had a budget.  And he used it.  Oh wow did he use it.

The other thing about the movie was it stayed true to one of the most important rules of fiction.  You establish a world, you set the rules, ludicrous as you want, but one the world is set, stay within those rules.  The movie established early on that the A-Team lived in an exaggerated world where people could make helicopters do loop-de-loops and survive high speed drops.   The team wasn’t suddenly regular mortals in the middle, or suddenly powerful at the end.

Was it great cinema?  Of course not.  It was however very entertaining.  And sometimes, that is all you really want.  For a not particularly necessary movie, it was done well, and the kind of movie I would stop to watch when surfing channels.  On its own terms it is very successful.  Two thumbs up.

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Dear Miley Cyrus

Posted by jkhutchins on June 15, 2010

I feel that someone should point out to you that you have been making a lot of bad decisions over the last few months.  I think you should start taking the longer view of your career.  I’m guessing you think you have; you are desperately trying to shed the wholesome Disney image and prove you are a woman now.

That is not what you are doing.

What you are doing is displaying yourself as a vapid, self-involved, desperate and trashy human being.  You had a huge head start, being groomed by Disney.  You had a huge head start, having family in the business.  Now you are trying to throw all that away.  Are you sure that your new audience will be as big as your old one?  There is much more competition in the adult market and parents won’t be buying their daughters your concert tickets and CDs.  Your new fanbase favors piracy.   You were printing money, but you wanted to be more authentic to yourself, apparently.  Pop tarts are a dime a dozen, and very few last long.  You appear to be trying to emulate Britney Spears.. look how that worked out for her.

Now, as to your wardrobe and image.  You are trying far too hard.  It shows.  You are begging for attention, and it just looks pathetic.  More juvenile than your prior image, to be honest.  Being that obvious just creates contempt, and undermines any serious, long term aspirations you might have.  Additionally, how much more extreme can you really go?  You went for the major shock so quick you didn’t leave yourself a lot of room for your next stunt.  Madonna got away with much of what you are trying to do because she was older and knew what she was doing, but also because she went to the trouble of building up her career first.  She didn’t bare it all up front.

Giving your manager a lap dance?  Please.  The main response that got was ICK.  You don’t need an older guy.  You are supposed to be young and hot and have your pick of the litter.  Sleazy older guys make you look cheap.  You need to show some self-respect for your image’s sake.

And kissing girls is so done.  The shock value is gone.  Once again, you are trying too hard and it shows.  Unless you want to start having sex with animals I’m not quite sure what you can do in that direction that Madonna hasn’t already taken the edge off of.  Naked and actually masturbating?  Maybe.  Although in most jurisdictions I suspect that would get you arrested, and absolutely would at an all-ages show.

One major thing you need to do is stop giving interviews.  You really need to stop giving interviews.  They make you look really, really bad.  Because you demonstrate no humility, your teenage preening makes you look incredibly shallow.  In a very unattractive way.  Britney Spears appears to have serious mental illness.  Lindsay Lohan has at best serious substance abuse problems.  You just appear to be a self-obsessed twit.  It’s not unheard of at your age, but I am appalled your handlers aren’t doing a better job of masking that.  I promise you, you aren’t deep.  Your thoughts are not more meaningful than us mere mortals.  And you aren’t going to get any sympathy once your audience dries up on you.  Real problems will get goodwill back.  Ego won’t.

The other thing.  I’m not sure it’s really a good idea to flip off the Mouse.  Disney can really hurt you if they decide to blackball you; they control a lot of the media.  That’s how you got so popular in the first place, remember?

I half hope you can get your act together.  Otherwise, start looking for a rich guy with a steady income for when your career dies.

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Okay, I can’t stand this.

Posted by jkhutchins on June 15, 2010

This is going to be a legal and political rant.  I am going to be wildly and self-righteously liberal, so you may want to exit now.

Some people are arguing that gay marriage is a violation of freedom of religion.

It isn’t.  Full stop.

Freedom of religion is protected under the First Amendment.  This is protected in two ways; the government may not favor one religion, and an individual is free to worship as they please (although there are health and safety issues, and as a general rule you can’t violate the law).

Gay marriage violates neither.  Full stop.

Gay marriage does not favor any religion.  There is no religious practice that I can think of that demands gay marriage. There is however an argument that exclusive male-female marriage is a Judao-Christian construct, and as such is an imposition of religion.  I am going to leave that point aside.

So, is gay marriage stopping anyone from worshipping their particular deity?  No it is not.  Freedom of religion does not shelter you from practices you find repugnant.  You are not shielded from things you don’t believe in.  You have the right to withdraw from situations that upset you; you have the right to protest when the government appears to be imposing religion upon you (although that definition can vary).  You are NOT entitled to impose your religion on others when general society acts in ways you think violates your beliefs.  That is violating the freedom of worship of others and they are just as entitled to it as you are.

Americans should be happy about this.  I would just as soon not live under Sharia.

Freedom of religion, to a large extent, does not exempt people from following the law.  Accommodations may be made, but they frequently aren’t.  Just like people can’t legally violate the civil rights of minorities no matter how racist they are, Muslims cannot legally discriminate against women, Christians cannot legally discriminate against Jews, and religious individuals can not violate laws meant to protect the gay population.  This includes discriminating against gay marriage.  If it is legal, that marriage is a fact and discriminating against it in a laic setting is violating the law.  People used religion as an excuse for discriminating against miscegenation  too.  Exceptions usually are made for religious settings; priests are unlikely to be forced to perform ceremonies they are morally opposed to.

Outside of that – you are stuck with living in a country with the First Amendment, both pros and cons.

*usual not legal advice disclaimer*

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Why Libertarianism is a bad idea, reason #57.

Posted by jkhutchins on June 12, 2010

The oil spill in the Gulf right now is a perfect example of why libertarianism is not a good way to run a government.

So.  Assume Ron Paul won the election, and abolished all regulatory agencies overnight.  The Roberts court backed him up.  All preexisting regulations were revoked.   Interstate Commerce was reinterpreted to mean the states couldn’t impose tariffs on each other or block roads.

BP is drilling in the Gulf with no oversight whatsoever.  Since this particular well was planned long before the government turnover, they continue to go on with it even though they are also starting up operations in Alaska.  As a company, they will do what is best for them and presumably maximize their profits by using an appropriate amount of safety procedures.

The rig blows.  At this point, BP doesn’t really have to do much.  Sure, they probably want to plug up the hole so they don’t lose all the oil out of it, but nobody is going to enforce their doing so.   There is no one TO enforce their doing so. And if they decide it’s more cost effective to just leave it behind.. well, there is nobody to tell them different.

Individuals can sue for damage to their personal property.  It might take years, but the fishermen will have standing to sue.   People who have homes directly damaged by the oil will have standing to sue.   People who lose all value in their homes as the oil destroys the city probably won’t.  Whether people can sue for the destruction of the habitat is another story.  And of course, if the states involved have had tort reform.. well, there aren’t any punitive damages.  BP may not have a lot of incentive to settle, just wait out the court system.  Additionally, in this brave new world of corporate right to full free speech, what little power the government has left could limit damages.

Regulation doesn’t exist just to make life more inconvenient.

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Curry, the sequel

Posted by jkhutchins on June 8, 2010

Curry successfully made.  I think.

Actually making the curry took longer than I expected.  To be fair, it was my first time through and I was making two dishes, not one.

Partly I was exhausted by the time I got to the actual cooking stage.  My allergies have been bothering me, I haven’t been getting enough sleep, and I had to go out for more spices after I had gotten home from the long trip out I had made the first time.

So, I had to chop up everything.  That was fine.  For the vindaloo, an onion, the chicken, potatoes.  Cook the onions a bit, throw in the chicken, paste and potatoes, some water, let cook.   Simmer.   Honestly, with the paste it is a very manageable meal.  I had a rougher time than I should have because the pot I was using barely fit.  I’d make it again.  With the paste already made, it doesn’t require a lot of work.  I did precook the chicken, which made it take a little longer, but even so it wasn’t bad at all.  And as long as you have the spices on hand and a spice grinder, even then it isn’t too time intensive.  If you aren’t buying the spices, shopping time is minimal.

For the tikka masala, again, not too bad.  Chop up an onion and some cilantro, cut up a chili pepper (bad on the recipe to not warn about the oils).  Throw in pan with some crushed ginger (I used a jar instead of the fresh), saute for ten minutes or so.  I was also setting up rice and doing some cleanup while this was going on.  Add chicken.  Throw in paste, coconut milk, tomatoes and a can of water.  Boil then simmer.  Shopping time on this is a little longer, but not that much.

Both recipes were fairly simple, and half of the time required did not need much attention.  The table could be set, or doing cleanup.  Or both, really.  Both pans were easy to wash.

Tools required:  a knife (wash between cutting up chicken and the other stuff), a cutting board (ditto) and two pans.  Bowls for staging stuff (I used regular dinner bowls).  A rubber spatula for scraping out (optional), and two spatulas for the two dishes.  I could have used large tablespoons instead and have in the past.  (Buy spatulas though, they are cheap and well worth it).  Spoons for the curry paste and ginger.  I also made rice, so the rice cooker.  I could have used my spaghetti pot if I didn’t have a cooker already. (Rice:  2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice.  Cook until done).

And the food was good.  It had flavor and texture and wouldn’t be out of place at a buffet.  And was still mostly scratch.  Processed versions aren’t nearly as tasty or have the same full texture.

Jamie Oliver wins the battle of the home cook this time, at least if you like really hot food.  Because it was.  In the meantime, I have leftovers for at least a week after feeding two people, for a lot less than comparable takeout would have been.  So, all in all I call it a success.

I should probably link the recipes…

Chicken vindaloo (I used the first recipe except with Jamie’s paste).

Chicken tikka masala

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Home cooking

Posted by jkhutchins on June 7, 2010

I was in Costco and for some reason I was looking at Jamie Oliver’s new book.   Jamie Oliver has made a campaign out of getting people to cook healthy foods so they will EAT healthy foods.

One of his recipes was for curry.

More importantly, one of his several recipes for curry referred to making your own curry paste if you didn’t feel like buying Patak.  Since I am a pathetic Patak fangirl, he had my attention.  So, I checked the internet and lo and behold, his recipe for a number of curry pastes was there.

While I was researching all this, there were a number of discussions about the poor and cooking from scratch.  The argument tended to be that cooking is an awful lot of work/time, is expensive compared to processed foods, and requires knowledge that is less common.  I was thinking about all this.

I’ve been doing a lot of scratch cooking.  Right now I have the time, but it turns out for me cooking properly is less time intensive than I expected.  On the other hand, I more or less know what I am doing.  I also have the right tools.  One thing I won’t put up with is crap kitchen tools and for my budget level my tool array isn’t bad.  I have a mandolin, which isn’t found in every kitchen.  I don’t have a stand mixer or a food processor.  I do have microplaners, a blender and quality measuring cups/spoons and Henkel knives.  I have four major cookware pieces; an omelet pan, saucepan, a VERY large saute pan and a large pot for pasta.  So, I am better equipped than a lot of home cooks, although not much more so.  Quality tools make a huge difference.

So, today I am making two curries.  The shopping took forever because I needed to get spices.  I recently did a cleaning of the cupboards and threw out a lot of the stuff that had been sitting there for years.  (Spices do age and lose potency).  And curry requires a LOT of spices.  If I made this sort of thing on a semi-regular basis, I would have most of it already and could probably be done fairly quickly.

Now, my bill for most of the meal (minus the chicken and a few spices I did have) ran to $11.00.  This is doable for a lot of stuff that will get used over the next few weeks or months.  But I had access to bulk spices.  Multiply what I paid by 10x if you don’t have access to bulk spices.  Patak does sell excellent curry pastes for $5-6, if you can find them.  But I could see an inexperienced cook being thrown by all this.

Making the curry paste itself was easy.  For me.  I have the omelet pan, which does a really nice job of toasting the spices.  And Oliver does a good job of explaining exactly what to do for the toasting part at least.  I almost browned the ginger and garlic, too though, so minus points for not making that part more clear.  Then I threw everything into a spice blender.  And again I think about the inexperienced cook.  Why would someone who doesn’t cook have a spare, clean coffee grinder?  Assuming a) they have a coffee grinder in the first place and b) they realize you can use a cheap coffee grinder for spices.  (Mine has labels on it threatening death to anyone thinking of using it for coffee).  Suggesting they use a mortar and pestle isn’t any better.  I’m not sure that’s something just anyone would have enough proficiency at.  Once again, the inexperienced cook gets frustrated.  The fresh ginger he asks for?  I use my microplaner.  It would be a nightmare job without a food processor or decent planer.  I certainly wouldn’t want to do it with a mortar and pestle.

Once I get past that, though, actually cooking the food shouldn’t be that hard.  Throw it all in a pan and cook.  And I don’t think that part takes more than 20 mins or so.  Once you have everything chopped.  In Jamie’s favor, he does say you can use premade paste.  Still, this project did make me think about what hurdles do have to be climbed to cook proficiently.  I think it does oversimplify to just claim people are being lazy.  Using shortcuts is a lot easier, if you take into account shopping and the equipment that speeds up the process.  It would have taken me twice as long to mash up everything by hand, even if I did have the right tool (which I don’t).  I also would have spent a lot more time chopping up the chilis instead of letting the coffee grinder do the work.

And I do have access to bulk spices.  It makes a HUGE difference in costs.  I was lucky my recipe called for fresh cilantro.  A bunch of basil is much more expensive.  I got off pretty easy on this recipe, but having to start from an empty kitchen gets expensive.   A takeout hamburger starts looking a lot more cost effective.

On the other hand, my coffee grinder was less than $20.  Good knives can be had relatively cheap if you buy only a few good ones (a paring knife and an 8″ chef’s knife, santuku nice but optional).  I got by with an 8″ knife and a paring knife for years.  In fact, part of the time it may have only been the chef’s knife.  The four pieces of cookware I have are usually adequate for 90% of what I do.  Out of $11, I got enough stuff for the better part of two dishes and meals in the future.  It is cheaper to cook at home than to get comparable takeout.  I can make really good hamburgers for less than McDonald’s charges for their premium ones.

And, once set up, cooking from scratch (or mostly scratch) is frequently faster than leaving the house.  A quick stirfry can be had in a half hour and is full of vitamins.  It’s just that the learning curve and initial equipment costs put off many people.

I did see one interesting comment.  It used to be that cooking shows were about demonstrating how to cook.  Much less so now  (especially since half of Food Network’s programming are travel shows).  I do love Good Eats on that score; Alton Brown does a great job about explaining the why’s of cooking, even if I think his recipes are a bit fussy and he uses too much equipment.  But Julia Child was a legend for a reason.

In total, I think I am with Jamie Oliver on this one, even though he put me off a bit in the beginning. (And no, my new respect wasn’t just the curry paste recipes on his website.  Available for free).  Anyone can cook.  I just think many of us could use a little more help getting to the point where it makes more sense to buy ingredients than prepared food.  And subsidize vegetables instead of corn.  So, go watch Ratatouille again, and get inspired.  Make someone you love real food.

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The Bar

Posted by jkhutchins on June 2, 2010

I have decided to retake the bar.  I don’t know if I will actually get there, but I have taken solid steps in the direction of doing so.  In addition to reading the books I do have, I have gone ahead and spent $50 on a Property E&E.  (That is a study guide).  I am carrying around a book with me and actually reading it.

I don’t know what will happen if I do get a job.  I am far from working 8+ hours a day on my studies.  But I am working my way up to that; I’m hoping to soon figure out if I am up to the job or not.  Luckily I have time right now.  I don’t have to commit for a while.  I can’t even sign up to take the bar until October.

Am I scared?  Oh yeah.  It’s a lot of money and I nearly collapsed last time.

But right now?  I have the time.  If I do pass, that is a big demon slain.  A big one.  If I can pull this off, maybe I will even get my motorcycle endorsement.  But right now I have little to lose.  I might will be bored.  But I will learn something.  Worst case scenario, I get a job and can’t keep up.  Or I don’t get a job and I do take it again.  But I feel ready to commit right now in a way I haven’t since fall 2008.  Wish me luck.

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Oracles

Posted by jkhutchins on June 2, 2010

I am a junkie for fortunetelling devices.  I love them.  Now, I do have rules.  The most important of these is that there be no human intervention.  This is vital.  I love random chance.  Being manipulated, unintentionally or not, is a whole different story.

Am I aware this is pure superstition?  Of course.  But machines of random chance give me an artificial sense of control over a random universe.  Even as I know it is completely artificial, it gives me comfort.   People need belief emotionally.  This is how mine manifests.

I adore my Magic 8 ball.  I am dependent on it.  At the same time, I am also very aware that it is skewed towards towards yes.  This is a useful insight.  If I pay attention to how I structure the questions, I know what response I want.  I probably know this already, but I tend to think more about the details as I fine tune the questions while I am trying to get the answer I want.

Likewise, my I Ching set is great (mine is a deck of cards, even though classically it is coins or yarrow stalks).  The I Ching, like a tarot deck, says as much about me as it does about the universe.  The cards are so fuzzy, I can pounce upon whatever answer I want.  Do the cards tell me anything I don’t know?  Of course not.  Does it give me insight into my own thought process?  Very much so.  Plus, Dirk Gently had an I Ching calculator and Philip K. Dick used the I Ching in the classic Man in the High Castle.

Am I giving up my Magic 8 Ball, knowing as I do that it is ultimately meaningless?  I know it’s superstition.  You can only pry it out of my cold dead hands.

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