Friday, October 14, 2011

I Just Made Up a New Term: Assholitics

“So why,” you might ask, “have you come up with such a derogatory term?”
“It’s simple”, would be my response. “I just came across the most assholey piece of political crap that I’ve ever seen and I’m sick and tired of it.”

Or, the articulate political scientist in me would say, “I take extreme umbrage to the tone and tenor of the survey recently sent to my wife by the Republican National Committee.”

Yes, indeed folks, my wife is a registered Republican—but I love her anyway. I’m not sure if I forgive her for being a Republican but I love her. She puts up with my uber-liberal rants and even agrees with me some of the time.

Yep, my wife received a survey in the mail recently. On the outside of the envelope it says “2011 Obama Agenda Survey” and Republican National Committee. The 4 page letter inside “explaining” the survey and asking for donations is signed by Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus.

This diatribe is an absolute classic of every devious propaganda technique we learned in Dr. Tomasek’s “Political Propaganda” class way back in 1972. Hyberbole, reversal, half-truths run rampant both in terms of the description of Obama and Democrats and in reverence to the Holy Grail that is all things Republican. Good Lord, how can anyone with a measurable IQ buy into this crap?

And the “survey” itself. This is a classic of a “push poll” taken to the “nth degree”. It’s laughable. Here are some examples of questions in this “survey”:

Do you believe that Barack Obama deserves a second term as President?
(OK, not bad. A fair question although it smacks in the face for those who don’t believe he should have had a first term or for those for whom the word ‘deserve’ is a red flag).

Do you believe that Barack Obama’s nominees for federal courts should be immediately and unquestionably approved for their lifetime appointments by the U.S. Senate?
(OK, this is just wrong on so many levels. For some people if it were George Bush’s nominees then they would be fine with it. For others it’s the idea of a Democrat making nominations to the Federal bench. For still others the words “immediately and unquestionably” is a huge red flag. I’ve even got problems with that! And still others have issues with “lifetime” but that’s what the Constitution of the U.S. allows.)

Are you confident that new medicines and medical treatments will continue to be developed if the federal government controls prescription drug prices and sets profit margins for research and pharmaceutical companies?
(Huh? Confident? The evil federal government controlling drug prices and telling private companies how much money they can make? This is asking whether you think the “boogie man” will finally stay hidden under your bed and not jump out and scare you.)

There are a total of 16 questions in this “survey”. Yeah, I know that it’s only a pretense of a survey and really a pitch for donations especially since the bottom is a half page that is a “Contribution Reply”. Maybe this was written by someone who got their start doing mailers for a televangelist.

And I would imagine that it will appeal to only about 5% of those who receive it. Once upon a time I identified myself as a liberal to moderate Republican (socially liberal, fiscally moderate). But the organization turned mean-spirited in the mid-90’s. I can only hope that those who consider themselves “moderate Republicans” will read this and be appalled and turn away from those who would try to position their party in this way.

That’s why as soon I read through this I thought to myself, “Self, this is asshole politics”. And thusly a new term was coined “Assholitics”. We’re in for another 13 months of this and it’s only going to get worse.

I’ve always been naïve about politics—despite having both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Political Science. I believe it should be about issues and fairness (sheesh, how naïve is that!). I believe candidates should run “for” something rather than “against” someone. When I have been actively involved in campaigns I always strived to have the campaign focused in this way and was even successful in doing that several times.

But apparently Assholitics is now the way of American politics. I reject it and reject those who practice it. You know, if we all did that maybe we could get things to start changing just a bit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

You Just Gotta Love Those Folks in Gubmint

Remember the old saying “Think global; act local”. I’ve always been a believer in that. Take a look at what the world needs and then do something in your little corner of the world to make it happen. Touch the lives of people who are your neighbors. If we could, or would, do that, we could change this big old world in no time flat.

So, when an opportunity presented itself here in Vista, California, I volunteered. Here’s my tale of adventure and woe.

I live in an apartment with my wife on the edge of an area known as the Townsite Neighborhood. Whenever the local newspaper prints a story about something happening in our neighborhood, it invariably uses the description “hardscrabble Townsite Neighborhood”.

Redevelopment in an area like this is a good thing. When the City extended its redevelopment district boundaries 3 years ago, it had to form a “Project Area Committee” to provide advice and feedback to the City Council about the area and improvement projects—known as Redevelopment Community Improvement Projects.

In late June I was looking for the dates of a particular community celebration and happened into the City’s website. While there I came across a listing for a vacancy on the Project Area Committee (PAC). It was a seat specified for a “residential tenant”. In other words, a renter. Hey that’s me! I’d love to do that.

You see, I spent over 15 years doing this type of work—community and economic development. I’ve done redevelopment planning. I’ve set up TIF districts—especially in industrial parks to create new manufacturing jobs. I have huge empathy for the people who live in my neighborhood and would like to see our local government do a better job of serving their interests. I was a natural.

So I filled out the application. And I was accepted (actually I think I was the only person who volunteered—let’s be honest here). I was invited to the committee’s July meeting (They meet every other month for an hour and a half. That should have been a red flag).

The committee meets in a meeting room in the City's 1-year old $55 million City Hall right on the edge of our "hardscrabble" neighborhood. We call it the Taj Mahal. It was financed by a local sales tax imposed by the City.

I sat through the entire meeting, listening (not my greatest skill) to the discussion and keeping my mouth shut (again not one of my greatest skills). I sat next to a man who had taken to time to go out into our neighborhood and photograph areas that have no sidewalks and streets that have crumbling asphalt. Yeah, there’s a chunk of this area that’s run-down and neglected.

And I’m thinking to myself, “Self, this could be interesting”. Then it came time to introduce me (the very last item on the agenda) and tell a little bit about myself. I told the members of the committee—property owners, renters, Chamber of Commerce members all from this neighborhood—a bit about myself and a tongue in cheek summary of some of the things I had done in the City in the 6+ years I’ve lived here.

I managed to get a stripe painted on a street (what I asked for was a street light at a dangerously dark corner). I managed to get the fences fixed at the nearby athletic fields of a junior high school so people couldn’t trespass (what I asked for was for the gates to be left open so people could continue to use the football field for pick-up soccer games). And I’ve managed to get a half dozen higher end cars towed from our street at a community festival earlier this summer and then a “no parking anytime” sign posted. When all I wanted was to get the cars ticketed for hindering traffic. Heads bobbed up and down—hmmm they’ve heard of me. In fact, one of the committee members commented, “oh, so you’re the guy…” Yep, that’s me.

They vote me onto the committee and I have to stand up and take an oath of office pledging to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. OK fine, it’s a bit odd but I’ll do it—yep I just renewed my social contract, this time officially.

So, I’m waiting for the next meeting. Hmmmm, there’s no follow-up generated from the previous meeting. There’s no communication from city staff. What kind of committee is this? Well, it’s a city committee. It fulfills a legal requirement. Does the City really want it to actually DO something? The notion that it meets for an hour and a half every two months should have been a hint.

Well, about a week before the next meeting—I still haven’t received minutes of the previous meeting or an agenda for the coming meeting—I got a call from the Redevelopment and Housing Director of the City. He’s calling to inform me that the required 3 year term of this committee expires at the end of the month and that the coming meeting would likely be the final meeting of the committee. What?!? I just got on the damn committee. I’m just getting going.

He told me that the City Council could, at its discretion, extend the PAC for an additional year. “OK,” I thought, “we can just get the council to do that.” But, the Director told me, staff is recommending that it not be extended in order to save money.

“And why not,” I asked.
“Cost saving in the budget,” I am told.

Rather than belaboring this further, let’s advance to the next, and final, meeting of the PAC. As they say in government, “discussion ensued”. The 2 staff members from the City re-iterated their recommendation that the PAC be allowed to “just fade away”. And they renewed their reasoning that the statutory requirement had been met and that it was a cost saving measure.

Ever the skeptic, I asked these 2 gentlemen just how much would be saved from the budget by the demise of this group. They didn’t know.

“Wait a minute,” I started up—starting to head toward righteous indignation. “You’re both professional staff members of this department (actually the top 2 guys) and you’re saying that the reason for eliminating this group is for budget savings but you don’t know how much you’ll save? It would seem to me that if you’re making this argument that you would have run at least a rudimentary time and motion analysis to be able to estimate how much it’s costing.”

The 2 guys looked at each other. Their lips got tight. They had no response. I managed to keep my mouth shut as other discussion ensued.

The long and short of it was that eventually I made a motion to recommend that the City Council extend the committee for a year. The committee delegated to me the task of communicating the committee’s position to the Council. I wrote a short, impassioned letter about volunteers volunteering for additional service.

The Council vote was unanimous. The Project Area Committee was allowed to sink into the oblivion of its 3 year term. Of course, the City’s motion thanked us for our service.

Service? What service? I was only on it for one entire meeting and the last 5 minutes of another. Crap.

Just as I was getting over it, a large flat envelope arrived in the mail from the City. The cynic in me said, “looks like a certificate”. This morning I opened it. It was a form. The form was accompanied by a letter. The letter said that the form was a Statement of Economic Interests Form 700 from the California Fair Political Practices Commission. I have to fill it out. And supposedly list all financial interests I have including stocks and 401k, etc. It is a required form when someone “leaves office”.

Office? I didn’t have an office. I was on a committee. And I served for 2 months.

Here I was, expecting a certificate of appreciation and service. What I got was a state form to make sure that I didn’t profit from my long service on the committee. Remember the scene from “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie gets his secret decoder ring along with a certificate conferring “honors and benefits”. When he discovers that the “secret message” is really a commercial for Ovaltine he says “son of a bitch”!

I had hopeful expectations about being able to, in some small way, do some good for my neighborhood and community. “Son of a bitch.”

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cheap Bastid Does Sonoran Hot Dogs

I love Coney Dogs—a hot dog swimming in an ooze of chili. And I love Chicago Dogs—a concoction that’s a salad on a dog complete with iridescent green relish. But now, I lust after Sonoran Dogs.

What makes them so different from other “Dogs”? One word: bacon. Yes, bacon. Visualize a hot dog wrapped in crispy bacon, just waiting to be slathered with a host of toppings that will create a fiesta in your tastebuds. Wow! You’re going to like these.

The Tucson Citizen described Sonoran Hot Dogs as being “like a chili dog on steroids”. I disagree. I think they’re more like a Chicago Dog in afterburner.

Now, I don’t know where I came across these, but Sonoran Hot Dogs rule in Tucson and Phoenix and they’re making inroads here in San Diego and in L.A. They first appeared in the Sonoran capital of Hermosillo in the 60’s and erupted across the border in the 80’s. Now, they’re a staple of lunch-time and bar-closing time in the Southwest.

I’m doing the Cheap Bastid version of this recipe and find that I can get 90% of the taste for 60% of the cost. I’ll throw in the elements that make it pricier and more “up-scale” later.

So on Saturday Mrs. CB got a text from Miss Meggie that she wouldn’t be having dinner with us so we figured we were on our own with my newest concoction until she pulled up in the driveway and into the apartment at 6.

“So are you home for dinner?” Mrs. CB asked.
“What are you fixing?” Miss Meggie asked me (she knows who the cook is).
“Well, I doing Sonoran Hot Dogs. They’ve got salsa and beans and…” but she had quit listening, like 22 year olds do to old folks. “…and they’re hot dogs wrapped in bacon…”

Her eyes lit up at those 3 key words—hot dogs bacon. That was enough for her to become a willing participant in Cheap Bastid’s latest experiment. How about you? Here it is:

Cheap Bastid’s Sonoran Hot Dogs
• 1 package hot dogs
• 8 slices thin cut bacon
• 1 package hot dog buns
• 1 can refried beans
• 1 recipe Cheap Bastid’s Pico de Gallo
• ½ cup Mayonnaise or “salad dressing”
• Chipotle or cayenne
• Mustard
• Shredded cheese (your choice—jack, cheddar, mozzarella, blend, etc.)

Take out a skillet and put on the stove. Wrap the bacon around each hot dog (use shorter dogs so the slice of bacon thoroughly wraps around it). Take the mayo and add the chipotle/cayenne to it and mix thoroughly. How much chipotle or cayenne? Enough! To taste! Bear in mind, that as it sits, it’ll get hotter so start with a little, sample, add more, stir again, sample, etc. until it’s the way you want it.

Open the can of refried beans, put into a microwave dish and zap on high for 2- 2 ½ minutes until it’s hot—or put it in a sauce pan on the stove.

Get everything arranged for fixing the dogs—plates, bowls of pico de gallo, cheese, etc. so people can fix their own. Now turn the stove on to medium and put the dogs in the pan (see, do all this other stuff first because you’re going to want to pay attention to the bacon wrapped dogs as it cooks and keep giving them quarter turns so they brown and cook evenly.

When done, remove the dogs from the pan and put on a platter with a doubled over paper towel on it to absorb the bacon fat.

Assemble: Take bun and slather some beans on the bottom. Then drop the dog in. Put a line of mustard on the side and then top with the mayo mix, pico de gallo and cheese. Now you’re ready to really enjoy a taste treat.

Imagine, biting through this concoction! The flavors and textures explode in your mouth! There’s crunch from the fresh pico de gallo, there’s softness from the cheese, there’s tang from the mayo and heat from the spices. Then there’s more crunch of bacon followed by the meat of the dog with the taste and texture of the refried beans putting the finishing touches on the bite you just took. Oh man! This is good!

Now, you’ve just had the Cheap Bastid version. There’s other versions of this as well. Some call for freshly cooked pinto beans, others for a can of rinsed pinto beans. I used my Cheap Bastid “ends and pieces” bacon—which didn’t work as well because it’s thick cut. You might want to go with thin sliced bacon. And, most recipes called for “all beef” hot dogs. My problem with that is if I’m going to spend $4-$5 a pound on beef, it’s not going to be a hot dog! That’s how much all-beef dogs cost now.

Some people add guacamole which is fine but CB just isn’t a guacamole lover. And I left out the mustard the other night and a hint of mustard on these would make a big difference—with that hint of vinegary tang to add to the dog and re-frieds. Plus you can also add a fresh-roasted or even jarred pepper to the side (just like on a Chicago dog) for extra taste and texture.
Bolillo rolls are often used for these, adding authenticity and a more upscale taste and texture. If you want to do that, slice a “pocket” in them—don’t cut end to end like a hot dog bun. This will take the Sonoran Dog up a notch. And last but not least—next time I’ll use toothpicks at each end of the dog to hold the bacon in place while it cooks and then pull them out when I finish the dogs.

The Cheap Bastid Test: So how’d I do? Let’s see, the dogs were bought on sale at $.75 a package. The Pico de Gallo cost me about $1.50 and I used half a recipe so it was $.75. The re-fried beans were on special for $.89 a can. The buns were $1 at the dollar store. And I spent $2 on a pound of bacon and used, let’s say ¾ lb so the cost was $1.50. What’s the total for 6 Sonoran Dogs that provide dinner for 3? If my arithmetic is right: $4.89 or $.81 per dog. That’s pretty cheap!

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