Monday, May 31, 2010

Admiral Mullen's Spiffy Britches

This morning, not having anything else to read (lately I’ve been on a James D. Doss kick) I was sitting in the “reading room” (that’s bathroom to most of you) going through the most recent Newsweek. I came across an article titled “Secrets From Inside the Obama War Room”, a book excerpt by Jonathan Alter. It wasn’t too bad.

Then my eye traveled to a photo in the article. It looked just a bit odd. It was a photo of Pres. Obama, Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen. That’s not what was odd about it. Obama and Gates, of course, were dressed in suits and Mullen was in uniform (his tan dress uniform, which he seems to favor). But that’s not what was odd.

Here’s a scan of the photo (I couldn’t find it anywhere online and so the quality’s not real good). See if you can notice what’s just so goofy about the image:

Newsweek, May 24 /31, 2010, page 30

Did you notice Mullen’s britches? His pants? His slacks? They’re camo! Camo? Since when did Navy dress uniforms come with camouflage trousers? Tailored and creased with spit shined dress shoes! (Do you think the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs spit shines his own shoes?)

And I’m not even going to say anything about the red briefcase that looks like the most obnoxious kind of faux designer handbag that the characters in “Sex in the City” might carry.

Now I was aghast. Is the Admiral making a fashion statement? Is this going to be the new trend in military dress uniforms? I notice that now Navy seamen have a black and grey camouflage BDU uniform they wear on ships. Why is absolutely beyond me unless it’s to try and hide from the CPO who’s supervising a work detail.

So, after my stint in the “reading room” with this photographic quandary, I adjourned to the computer and my old buddy Google.

I did manage to find this photo in a couple of places. It’s apparently a White House photo taken in 2009. And, unless I miss my guess, someone at “Newsweek” photoshopped it putting a camo pattern onto regular Navy tan dress slacks. Now why they would have done this is beyond me. Either it’s some kind of smart-ass editorial comment or someone’s smart-ass idea of a practical joke.

But here’s the original photo from Whitehouse.blogs.Foxnews:

Mystery solved? Well, not unless I knew why “Newsweek” would do this in its magazine. Or maybe I just have to chalk it up to another of those WTF? moments.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cheap Bastids Memorial Day Grilled Sirloin Steak

Memorial Day is the first 3 day weekend of the summer. Time for neighbors getting together and stoking up the grill. One of the things I do like about living here in Southern California is the ability to grill pretty much year round.

Back when my kids were young, we lived in a neighborhood in the small town of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Summer holidays were always the perfect time to do what we called an “Alley Cats Picnic” in someone’s back yard inviting the families and all the kids who lived on our paved alley to party and enjoy. We would make shared dishes and bring our own meats and have a couple of grills going.

The kids would run around and have a good time and the adults would visit and laugh and play with the kids. And, lots of good food would be eaten.

But, this is a Cheap Bastid post on grilling sirloin. Now, sirloin is a pretty lean piece of meat so you generally don’t want to overcook it. It also works pretty well marinaded. I cook with it because, quite frankly, my favorite cut of steak—flank steak—as well as my other favorites, rib-eye and New York strip are just getting too expensive to buy. I have a hard time justifying $6 or more per pound for any food. So, I stock up on sirloin when it’s on special at the grocery store (a few times a year they’ll have it at $1.99) and then freeze it in about 1 ½ pound packages in freezer bags.

It’s really pretty simple. Thaw out your steak (skip this if it hasn’t been frozen). I like my sirloin to be at least an inch thick—preferably 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inches. Then put a really thin skim of cooking oil on the surface—just drizzle a few drops on each side and rub it with your fingers.

Then season your meat—it doesn’t come off the cow seasoned so adding a bit of flavor really makes a difference. Here’s a rub will add some good flavor to the meat. I’ve gotten to the point where I keep a big shaker on hand all the time of coarse Kosher salt, dried garlic chips and coarse ground black pepper (mixed in equal quantity). You get a bit of heat from the cracked pepper, flavor and aroma from the garlic and the coarse salt melts into the meat. Shake it pretty liberally over the sirloins and then pat it into the surface with your fingertips. Then let the meat sit for a few minutes while you get your grill ready.

Build a hot fire. If you’re using propane like I do or if you’re using charcoal, get yourself a nice hot fire going. The fire is ready when you can only hold your hand over the grill for about 3 or 4 seconds before it gets too hot. Now you’re ready for your meat. Put your meat on the grill directly over the heat. Now, close the lid. Leave it alone.

I’ve conditioned myself to cook based on time. I put the meat down. Personally, I time it for 3 minutes. Then I flip it. DO NOT, EVER use a meat fork. Use tongs. Or even a spatula. Stabbing a hunk of meat with a meat fork only lets the juices drain out, drying out the meat. What happens if the meat sticks to the grill? Don’t force it. Give it another minute. The meat will let go of the grill when it’s ready. Cooking, even caveman grilling over open flame, is chemistry. Flip the meat and let the other side have a shot at cooking. You should have some nice, sexy grill marks on the steaks you just flipped.

Cook the meat another 3 minutes. Now you’ve got some decisions to make. If you want a rare steak, you should be there. If you want it medium rare, give your meat about 2 more minutes per side. For medium to well done steak, put the meat on a cooler portion of the grill and let it roast so that the juices stay sealed in and it continues to cook. Medium should take about another 4 or so minutes per side and well done around 5 or 6. But hey, your cooking times are going to set by how many BTUs your grill throws out. Know your equipment and how it reacts to different air temperatures and humidity.

The only way to really learn it is to have done what I have done on more than one occasion—you have to have cremated some perfectly good meat and then had to chew the hell out of it soaked in A-1 to give it any moistness at all just to be able to choke it down. Like Tom Colicchio says when someone over cooks meat, “It was already dead and he killed it again.”

That's the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good! Eat Cheap! Be Grateful!

Oh, by the way--I LOVE to take a crust of bread and sop up the drippiings from the platter! Man, that's tasty! My Dad always called me a "gravy sopper"!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cheap Bastid's Summertime Corn Salad

During our weekly vegetable safari at Fraiser’s Farms grocery store Saturday, I came across the first sweet corn of the season. And it was pretty reasonable at 5 ears for $1, plus it was nice and big and fat. So I just had to get some.

I’ll put up with the aftereffects of corn the morning after for that sweet, roasted crunchiness the night before. And this was some tasty stuff. But then I got the bright idea of making one of my favorite warm weather salads to go with grilled chicken yesterday, and I even remembered to take a few photos (kind of after the fact but I still got some good pictures to share).

Now, this isn’t the cheapest of Cheap Bastid recipes, but it’s a good one. The reason it’s not real cheap is that you’ve got to buy some mozzarella cheese which runs about $5 a pound but that’s OK because tomorrow night we’re going to make my favorite grilled cheese sandwich for supper—grilled mozzarella and tomato with basil on sourdough bread.

So here’s a simple and fast summertime salad for grilled dinners, picnics or any other occasion:

Cheap Bastid’s Summertime Corn Salad
1 ear of sweet corn
2 Roma tomatoes--chopped
1/3-1/2 cup chopped red onion
½-3/4 cup mozzarella cheese cut into appx ¼ inch cubes
2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1-2 tbsp chopped basil (fresh is best or dried)
Salt & black pepper

Stand ear of corn up on a platter or in a shallow dish and cut the kernels off with a sharp knife. (Jab a fork in the top or use a “cob knob” to hang onto the ear of corn). This will give you about a cup and a half or so of corn kernels. Chop onion and tomato and cube mozzarella. Put everything in a bowl, add basil and balsamic then salt and pepper to taste. Put covered into the fridge to cool down for about a half hour. Serve as a side dish. And double the recipe if you’re having more than 3 or 4 people or want lots of left overs.

This is really easy and is really tasty. Give it a try.

Cheap Bastid Test: Corn was $.20 per ear and the tomatoes cost about $.50. I used maybe $.25 worth of onion and about $1.50 worth of mozzarella. Total cost: $2.25. A bit pricey and if I weren’t planning on using the mozzarella up this week I might have taken a pass. But this is just so tasty, that I had to make it as a treat.

That’s the Cheap Bastid way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Little Girls Bumping and Grinding--That's Just Wrong!

I'm still kind of spitting and spluttering over a story on this morning's Good Morning America show on ABC. The story featured Robin Roberts showing a "viral" video of 5 young girls (7-8 years old) competing at the recent World of Dance in Pamona, CA .

These girls were performing a choreographed dance "routine" to Beyonce's "Going Hard on Single Ladies". And it was pretty explicit. Now, their parents told Robin Roberts that their outfits were designed for movement and were nothing more than dance outfits with "ruffles and details". And the parents defended the routine as showing off "technical dance moves". Quite frankly, I was aghast at both the performance and the smug rationale of the parents.

Call me an old fart, but there's a lot of places where if high school dance teams wore outfits like this and performed a "routine" like this at halftime of a basketball game, they would be disbanded and probably suspended for being way too suggestive. And that would be girls twice the age of these elementary school youngsters.

I must confess to having seen dance moves like this before. But the dancers had $1 and $5 bills sprouting out of their tops and they also did some interesting things on a pole sticking out of the floor.

I just don't really know. In "Little Miss Sunshine" the routine was "stripperish" but it was done by a chubby girl and not very well. It also was a bit of a spoof on and negative commentary of "pagaents" for young girls.

Here's 2 videos. One of the girls dancing and the other of an interview on "Inside Edition" with parents. What do you think? The inner grandpa in me says "Hell No!" I'm just curious what your reaction is. (And I seriously wonder whether Beyonce Knowles would approve of little girls performing like this to her music).

And here's what a coach and a parent had to say on Inside Edition:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why is Newsweek for Sale? Because it Sucks

Well, today is a good day to write this post. It’s been sitting in my idea file for a month or more. Yesterday, the Washington Post announced that it wants to sell Newsweek because the magazine just isn’t profitable.

This in spite of Newsweek’s having gone through a total reformatting and overhaul last year.

As a subscriber, I think the reason is pretty simple. Newsweek sucks.
I’ve been a Newsweek reader for over 40 years. In that time it was a companion. It was a constant source of information. When I first taught American Government (Political Science 101) way back in the mid-70s I used it as a “textbook” rather than a more traditional tome. It was a great source for weaving a curriculum about the workings of the American government and stimulating a functional understanding in the minds of students on topics from VietNam to Watergate to Presidential Pardons.

And Newsweek really, really blew it last year when the magazine was totally re-formatted. When the new format first came out, it was literally impossible to differentiate between editorial and advertising content. In fact, it seemed as though pages and sections were intentionally designed to complement advertising both in terms of topic and graphics.

“In the old days”, Newsweek was a source of summaries of the events and happenings of the past week. It covered the gamut. Most articles were synopses of major news stories and every week there would be at least one full blown feature. Plus, the columnists and editors did a wonderful job “connecting the dots” between various stories. The magazine not only contributed greatly as an information source but it contributed just as much as a source of understanding.

But today it’s as though the magazine wants to be a print version of Huffington Post. Articles are written by people you’ve never heard of writing on subjects where you wonder about their source of expertise. Each is a full page of compressed grey type that gets intimidating as you turn through page after page after page of smarmy commentary notable more for the writer’s sense of smug certainty than for the use of topical expertise to illuminate issues.

So, to me anyway, the magazine has turned boring and has been made superfluous. It’s been made superfluous simply because it’s trying to be something it isn’t and because it’s not even doing that very well. For years, Newsweek did what it did very, very well. It quit doing that at all and now the best that can be said for it is that it sucks. I don't want a blog on paper. I want a newsmagazine and Newsweek forgot how to do that.

I’ve already told them that I would not be renewing my subscription. Too bad, because Newsweek has always been an old friend welcome in my home sitting on either the coffee table or the back of the commode. Now, the only way it’ll be on the back of the commode is if they start printing it on Charmin.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Forty Years Ago--5/4/1970--Four Dead in Ohio

(If you don't want to read a reminisence of that day, scroll down and play Crosby, Stills and Nash's anthem and requiem to Kent State "Four Dead in Ohio")

May 4, 1970. A spring day for a Freshman in college at the University of North Dakota. I was 18 and enjoying being in college. Then...the reports started to come in.

A demonstration at a small college in Ohio protesting Nixon's sending troops into Cambodia. No one had ever heard of Kent State before. The National Guard had been called out. We were kind of used to that kind of report from the media by then. There had been lots of riots. President Nixon was constantly invoking the phrase "outside agitators". Maybe there were. Nobody really knew.

We heard about shots being fired. About students being killed. Students? Wow! I was a student. These were kids just like me.

The most famous image of May 4, 1970 from Kent State University

I went home that night. I didn't live on campus my Freshman year. I lived at home at the local Air Force Base. I watched the news and was appalled at the black and white images of students running from tear gas and of bodies left behind.

When my father, an Air Force Master Sergeant, got home that night we got in a discussion about it which turned into an argument which turned into me getting punched and held against the wall with his hand on my throat and his fist cocked. I remember my father's rage. And I remember that the only point I was trying to make was that these were students just like me.

Well, not quite. This is where it gets a bit interesting. The next morning I left for school--with a black eye. It was Tuesday. I had AFROTC class. I was trying to get a scholarship. Not because I wanted to go to 'Nam. But because I wanted to serve and to fly.

Classes were cancelled. A crowd was gathering near the ROTC Armory. I went inside with some of my friends from ROTC. We decided that if the crowd were to storm the building then we would fight. We were ready. We weren't going to let things happen here that had happened on other campuses. A friend and I noticed something right across the street from the Armory on the flag pole just outside the Administration Building.

Someone had raised the Viet Cong flag and it was flying above the American flag. We went running out and lowered the flags. Then we quickly decided that the best thing was to put the American flag on top with the Viet Cong flag beneath it. No way was the American flag going to fly lower and we didn't want to inflame tempers by doing what our first instinct told us--which was to throw the Viet Cong flag in the trash.

Col. Woodard and UND President Tom Clifford on the steps of the ROTC Armory on May 5, 1970

Anyway, the ROTC Armory was the center of a protest that morning. My friend and I were threatened by a University Administrator with arrest if any violence occured because of what we had done with the flag. And ultimately the Armory was "bombed". Except in true pacifist style, it was bombed with paper airplanes and marshmallows. That was anti-war protest at the University of North Dakota.

I never truly understood what had so incensed my father. Maybe he was worried that I would find myself in the middle of something that I couldn't get out of. Maybe he too was confused.

I do remember that all the planes on the flightline of the base were moved away from their usual place near the highway to the other end of the runway--just in case. Dad and I used to joke though at how easily someone who had just a bit of local knowledge could get on the flightline. We even joked about doing it and putting tags on a plane that said "Boom!".

And, as the week of protests and the "spring of our discontent" rolled along we all changed. I think my relationship with my father changed even though we went back to throwing the ball in the yard and going out fishing together. But I don't think I trusted him as much. And it was the last time he ever hit me.

My American Legion baseball coach called me one night. He was the head of the base's Office of Special Investigations. He knew I was a student and was active on campus. He asked me to keep an eye out for military personnel participating in demonstrations or unrest and to let him know. I didn't want to "narc" but agreed to do that even though I really didn't. I think what he really meant was to let him know especially if there were any "black" airmen conspicuously hanging out with demonstrators.

And within a week the campus was back to normal. I was playing JV baseball that year and just trying to have fun.

But, I'll never forget that day. Four dead in Ohio. Every young man and woman in college remembers that day I think. It changed how we view the world. Four dead in Ohio. And it changed our world, too.

Finally--here's a note my wife wrote about this post that explains why my father hit me that day. Her words are far wiser and better than any I could come up with:

"...your dad was afraid because men like your dad and mine never feared anything but what they couldn't control with bravery and/or intimidation and anger. And the only way they could deal with fear was with anger and action, as had been, literally, drilled into them. What was he supposed to do to protect you or his version of the world?"

Thanks Carolyn.