Wednesday, January 30, 2008

President McCain

Now that Colonel Tigh has emerged victorious in the Florida Republican Presidential Primary, I reckon that I should start taking him seriously. Up to now, I have been confused about which candidates I should take seriously. All I keep hearing about the 4-5 tops guys is how this guy is wrong on that issue, and that guy is wrong on this issue, and this other fellow is more of a Democrat than Hillary, ad nauseum. No wonder I don't post so much anymore. It's very sickening.

My primary is still almost three months away, which is plenty of time for McCain to run away from it, or for Romney to steal it from him. Realistically, those are the two top choices at this point. If I can't make up my mind before then, I will go ahead and go with Ron Paul as I had previously announced. If the race has been decided before April 22, I will vote for Ron Paul just for the heck of it. You know what would be cool about voting for Ron Paul? My polling place is in a church; the very same church, in fact, where Ron Paul was married back in 1957. How cool is that? How many times does a guy run for President and you get to vote for him in the very building where he was married, born, baptized, or educated?

There you go, establishment bloggers! Since you guys like to point out that Ron Paul voters are a bunch of lunatics and idiots, what could be crazier or stupider than "I'm voting for him because he got married where I vote"?

As for the other candidates -- I'm not sure about Romney. He seems a little too well-groomed to NOT be some kind of phony. He has flipped and flopped on a number of issues, but lately he has been turning in the RIGHT direction. His religion is weird and flaky, but I don't have a problem with it. I have had more contact with Mormons that most of my peers, owing to the fact that I am an amateur genealogist. If not for the Mormons' odd practice of trying to "convert" everyone who has ever lived, I would never have been able to compile a massive family tree of over 25,000 names. (There's another one for the kook file: "I'm voting for Romney, because if it were not for his religion, I wouldn't have such a huge family tree.")

Fred Thompson would have been good. He was endorsed by the RIGHT kind of people, and few others had anything bad to say about him. Too bad he's out; he would have been my second choice.

Mike Huckabee...well, just go to Bogus Gold and read pretty much anything from the last few weeks and you will get a clear picture of the man.

Duncan Hunter was a good candidate, so was Tom Tancredo, but I couldn't see either of them getting very in the race from the very get-go. Alan Keyes should have been the nominee in 1996, not Bob Dole, but his time has long since passed. Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, and Tommy Thompson barely registered on my meter.

An interesting list of lesser known individuals who are running (God knows where) for the nomination appears in Wikipedia. The candidate with the most interesting name is "Jesus Muhammed of Dearborn, Michigan". His full name is Jesus Bilal Islam Allah Muhammed. I would vote for him if his full name were Jesus Mary Mother Of God Muhammed or Jesus H. Christ Almighty Muhammed, but alas, it is not so.

Rudy Giuliani is still in the race, too, unless he has announced otherwise in the last hour. I no longer consider him to be a viable candidate for President, but neither McCain nor Romney could go wrong by naming Rudy as a running mate. His positions on issues dear to social conservatives have cost him dearly in this race, but he is a generally solid Republican who would do well if he were elected.

What about McCain, this morning's front runner? Well, he has been hit by strong criticism of his voting record and his history of working too closely with Democrats on big issues. He would probably be the best man to prosecute the war on terror, given his personal background in wartime military service. I could get behind his candidacy, if only I could erase the image of Colonel Tigh from my mind's eye when I see McCain on TV.

On the other hand, voting for Colonel Tigh would be kind of cool...

Coming Out Of The Woodwork

Even though I don't post that much anymore, I still attract some interesting searches to older posts. This one, I admit, I brought upon myself, for having the audacity to blog about it. Most bloggers are closet exhibitionists, after all.

Two years ago I authored a post about Senator Harry Reid. I made a point of mentioning his home state, and one of its major tourist industries. Nowhere did I say anything about how much it costs to participate.

I guess this is a popular fetish in Spain, if a Google search is anything to go by.

Did the Psychosis-Gazette's resident ambassadorialist go on a wanton killing spree? If so, I missed it.

And the hits just keep on coming.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blog For Bacon: The Only Good Pig Is A Dead Pig

(This is a Blogs For Bacon Day post, fried in its own grease.)

I like bacon. In fact, I love it. You might even say that I have bacon on the brain. I might even smack you upside the head for saying that -- but I digress.

For years, bacon has been my number one choice for breakfast. I eat it on the rare occasion when I visit a breakfast buffet. I sizzle it up in my skillet on my kitchen stove. Three pounds, hot and crispy, just waiting for me to snarf it all down my gullet. Sometimes I even share it with my wife and five kids, but not too much. The less of it they get, the more they appreciate it. Always leave 'em hungry for more.

When I suffered through a health scare last April, I was concerned that I would be unable to eat bacon ever again. My blood pressure was way over 200. My cholesterol was climbing the scale trying to catch up with it. Once I had been sufficiently medicated and given good leave to leave the hospital, I asked the cardiologist what kind of diet I should follow. Normal diet, he said, but go easy on sodium and fat. Okay. Low sodium and low fat. Gotcha. Sounds simple enough. I'll just go to the market and read the Nutrition Facts. What's in bacon? Uh-oh. Here's how I reacted:

Now, bacon breakfasts were sacred rituals for me. I basically tossed the whole package of bacon in the skillet, fried until it wouldn't fry no more without becoming scorched, and repeated the process with 1-2 more packages, in case I wanted to share with the family. Having a nice skillet full of hot bacon grease, I would then crack open 5-6 eggs for those who were in the mood for unborn virgin chicken meat, and let the words collide. The eggs came out all bacony. Breakfast heaven, it was.

Now I was looking at hell. Low salt, low fat...there goes the bacon. Cholesterol? Eggs practically breathe the stuff. What was a bacon & eggs loving man to do?

As Mr. Spock likes to say, there are always possibilities.

The big name bacon brands sell a reduced sodium bacon for the same price as regular. I wouldn't call it LOW sodium, but I didn't feel like I was killing myself by eating it. I stuck with the eggs, rationalizing the cholesterol away by concentrating on what an excellent source of protein the ova are. I took some of the curse off, too, by pouring the bacon grease out of the skillet and pouring in some olive oil for frying the eggs. Olive oil is GOOD FAT. It washes the nasties out of your system. Try using olive oil in everything you eat for a couple of days and see what ends up in your toilet.

Just for kicks I have tried turkey bacon a couple of times. It's not bad, but there is just something inappropriate about the concept. Compare it to a Zagnut. Zagnut is a candy bar made by Hershey's that looks like any other candy bar...until you open the wrapper and there is NO CHOCOLATE anywhere in or on the thing. It's not bad, but it's just not right. Such is the reaction to turkey bacon. It doesn't taste like pig. It manages to look sort of like actual bacon, but that's not how turkey is supposed to look. It might as well be made of horse meat -- Trojan Horse meat, that is. Besides, turkey does not have the fat of the pig, and burns the skillet something awful.

All hail the pig, then, that magnificent creature that looks too fat, stupid and ugly to eat. Pot-belly enthusiasts aside, who would want to keep one of these creatures? Not I. A pig is one weird-looking dude. Put it in my mouth? Are you crazy? Yet, I do put in it my mouth, chew and swallow. And I enjoy it. Alive, the pig repulses. Dead, the pig nourishes. Death to the pig, for it gives us life!

If you crave adventure as well as Schweinfleisch, you could always try wild pig bacon with eagle eggs:

Suddenly I'm in the mood for fried slices of pig.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Riding The Friendly Rails

Perhaps my most interesting experience of the last two years was the vacation that I took to Los Angeles in Summer 2006. Rather than driving (too long) or taking an airplane (too short), I rode the train all the way from Pittsburgh to L.A. and back. I learned quite a bit about rail travel in America during that trip, and I always intended to say quite a good deal about it here on the blog, but never quite got around to it.

My interest in Amtrak was piqued by a couple of pieces in this morning's P-G, both of which are worth reading. The first is an article written by graphic designer Diane Juravich, who works for the paper; the second is an op/ed piece by the paper's travel editor, David Bear.

Juravich recently traveled to Washington, D.C. by rail. Her impressions of the train station in downtown Pittsburgh are fairly typical, based on my experience there: Unattractive, sparsely populated, and man, do you have to wait a long time for the train to show up. (Amtrak has a well-deserved reputation for constantly running late, though this may have a lot to do with the fact that it has to use rails owned by the freight railroads, and often gets shunted in favor of freight traffic.) The complete lack of security, both in the station and on the train, is noticeable. It's easier to catch a ride on Amtrak than on any airline in the country. If you don't like metal detectors, take the train.

Having boarded the train and left the station, Juravich takes in the view of her surroundings from a new perspective. This is one of the things that I enjoyed most about the local portion of my journey. On the eastbound Capitol Limited, Juravich catches a unique glimpse of familiar Oakland landmarks. I traveled west to Chicago on the same route, and I seriously felt a thrill when I rode past the playground at Rochester where I sometimes take my kids to play. Even if you never really have to go anywhere, I recommend taking at least one trip just to see things from the other side of the fence, as it were.

It's all there, in her article: The panorama of sights rolling past as she sits in the dining car enjoying a meal, or relaxing in the deck of the observation car; the comfort of the coach's reclining seats; the quaintness of the towns at every stop; and the glaring magnificence of the station at the end of the journey, in sharp contrast to the barren blandness of the Pittsburgh station. Oh yes -- and the anxiety brought on by arriving hours later than expected. Even the nocturnal return home from D.C. is reminiscent of my trip back from Chicago.

As for my trip, there certainly were some highlights as well as lowlights. Amtrak, I must say, takes care of its passengers. My late evening train did not show up in Pittsburgh until the next morning, experienced further delays crossing Ohio, and arrived in Chicago two hours late to make the connecting train to the west coast. Rather than stranding the passengers at Union Station for 22 hours, Amtrak bused everyone to a fancy hotel for the night. Everything was paid for, including meals. It almost makes you want to get "stranded" in Chicago again.

The best part of the westward ride on the Southwest Chief was the devotion of the dining car staff. One steward, a fellow named Flavio, was just brimming with personality, and we were pleased that he was also working part of our return journey on the Texas Eagle. On one of our visits to the diner, we were served by a gentleman who was nothing short of a wizard when it comes to serving chocolate milk. The man slathered the inside of a plastic cup with chocolate syrup, then poured what looked like a ribbon of white into the cup from around two feet in the air, on a moving train -- and he did not spill a drop! The kids were well-impressed with that feat. Most people wouldn't be able to do that at home in their own kitchen.

On the downside, such entertainment was the real value of the Amtrak diner. The dinners were a little pricey, by my standards, so we only purchased lunches there, otherwise subsisting on a selection of healthy snack items that filled our spare suitcase. It was a little painful to see that Amtrak served its prepared meals on disposal dinnerware, in order to save money on washing dishes and paying someone to do the dishwashing. Most dining car workers soldiered on as though they were working a fancy, high-class establishment. There was one exception: The lady in the dining car when we lunched near Dallas-Fort Worth did little but complain about the lack of federal funding for Amtrak that had reduced the passenger service to such meager dining accommodations. I really did not want to listen to her going on about this while I was eating, but I must admit she had a point. Passengers occasionally commented on Amtrak's budget woes, while also admitting that they prefer train travel under any circumstances. I felt the same way, and wondered what could be done to improve passenger rail in America.

That brings us to the David Bear opinion piece about the future of Amtrak. Rail travel in these United States has been in a sorry state longer than I have been alive. I was born at a time when railroads were going bankrupt, after it had become clear that competition from airplanes and highways were seriously damaging the railways' freight and passenger businesses. I have never known anything but Amtrak as an option for traveling via train in this country. Unfortunately, Amtrak has been steadily going downhill my entire life.

Bear points out a couple of problems in this sentence:

Even though every other industrialized nation recognizes the importance of having and subsidizing a vibrant intercity passenger rail system, the current administration in Washington has tried to eliminate subsidies entirely.

In the first half of the sentence, Bear compares the United States unfavorably to the rest of the world because it does not do the same thing that they do. This bothers me, because the whole purpose of the United States was to be something radically different from other countries. Using other lands as a model for what we can become is contrary to the spirit of the great American experiment. Furthermore, many of those other industrialized nations are much smaller than the USA, so it makes sense for them to stress the use of rail over flight for passenger services. Unless we fund Amtrak to the point where the system can stop using freight rail lines and build its own rights-of-way, including higher speed trains over long distance routes, it will likely die a slow death. To avoid that would require vast improvements over the current system.

Following some environmentalist propaganda and more stuff about how the rest of the world is better than us, Bear hits it on the head with this paragraph:
Obviously, creating a national grid of rail lines for passenger trains (as opposed to the current system where the vast majority of Amtrak trains are second-class citizens on rails where freight trains always have the right of way) will require a total change of thinking. Capital expenditures would be enormous. The PRWG calculates that its grand vision would cost $8.1 billion each year to 2050. Sums of that magnitude seem beyond the range of private enterprise, but who knows? It certainly took plenty of federal funding to build airports and the interstate highway system.

The amount of money required is painful to think about, but David Bear makes a very good point: The government has been sinking large amounts of money in air travel and highway travel for years, so why not cut some loose for rail travel? In the long run, it could be well worth it, and widen our options for getting from one place to another.

If something does not happen soon, Amtrak may well turn into Amtrek.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Or Maybe He's Too Creepy To Vote For

Depending on how the other candidates do in the primaries, I might change my mind about voting for "None of the Above" (i.e. Ron Paul) on April 22. It's not so much the recent revelation that he has "baggage", as it were, from the 1990s; it's the fact that someone out there would connect him to the world of fright and mystery in a Google search.

On the other hand, I might need to reconsider Giuliani, who thus far has not been a favorite of mine. This search actually makes him sound rather cool.

On a semi-related note, have you ever noticed how much John McCain looks like Colonel Tigh from Battlestar Galactica? I spotted the resemblance the other morning while watching C-SPAN. Not surprisingly, I'm not the first one who made the connection. I watched him addressing an audience's questions for over an hour just because I needed a BSG fix. Yes, I'm that desperate for quality TV. The presidential election just ain't gonna cut it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Blogger Slept Through It

I've been paying so little attention to this special place on the world wide web that I completely missed my third anniversary as a blogger. Happy anniversary to me, then.

It's nothing special, really. If you want to see a cracker of a third anniversary post, check out the one that the Kool-Aid Report presented last year. It's much more worthwhile than anything I've posted here.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

State Of My Consciousness

Political culture in America certainly is depressing right now, is it not? I have had little to say on this blog as of late because the presidential campaigns began far too soon, and my party's contestants excel at pointing out how much one another's positions on key issues make them sound too much like the other side's candidates.

So, basically, these fine gentlemen have convinced me to vote for "None of the Above" -- which, for some reason, is spelled "Ron Paul" on the ballot. I have talked about my modest support for Ron Paul before. I am not an activist. I'm not a "Paulbot" or a "Ron Paul minion". I'm just a guy who feels the need to express an occasional opinion, and there's not much motivating me to sound off at present.

In past election years, I voted for the Republican candidate most likely to scare the piss out of Democrats. This year, I'm voting for the Republican most likely to scare the piss out of other Republicans. It feels good already, and the primary is still over three months away.

It's on April 22nd. I think the Commonwealth moved it up. Didn't Pennsylvanians used to have to wait until late May to vote? In other words, after the nomination had been sewn up?

Once or twice in the past, I have mentioned how ineffectual the Allegheny County Republicans are at putting forth candidates in some heavily Democrat areas. The reasoning behind this, so I have heard, is not that the party wouldn't love to run someone in each race, but that it would be a waste of resources to invest time, money and effort in a campaign that is ultimately bound to fail. That's funny, because so many of those areas have a modest segment of the population that screams for a choice at the polls. The Republicans, in the long run, are not doing themselves any favors by deliberately neglecting potential supporters in untested areas.

A new blog called ALLEGHENY REPUBLICANS made a good point of this recently by listing some uncontested races from 2006. Blowing off 48% of the most important races in the county is not a way to build a majority. Republicans bow to the majesty of the Democrats in this region. Why?

That new blog, by the way, is not run by the establishment. The author identifies himself as a 24 year old who is fairly new to the area. He is the kind of guy the party needs to get things up and running again. He's not shy about pointing out what's wrong with Republican committees at both county and local levels. Have you seen the RCAC web site lately? Go there and learn a little about last year's judicial races! Very little, that is.

Should this year's Republican presidential primary be decided before April 22 (very likely, based on past experience) and Ron Paul drop out of the race (very unlikely, considering that he has a message to get out), I have another option available. I won't be voting for one of the establishment dorks -- at least, not until November when I won't have much choice. When I said above that I am not an activist, I lied -- just a little. I have made a contribution to another candidate, not financially, but as a volunteer. Given the lame choices that we have before us in this contest, don't you think we would be better off with fried strips of dead pig leading the country in the coming years?

I'd take bacon over any Democrat, any day.