Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cornpocalypse

Looks like people are missing some meals due to ethanol, surprise surprise. Alas it's no wonder:

“It takes around 400 pounds of corn to make 25 gallons of ethanol,” Mr. Senauer, also an applied economics professor at Minnesota, said. “It’s not going to be a very good diet but that’s roughly enough to keep an adult person alive for a year.”
Amazingly enough America's corn farmers are full of excuses like "isn't it better to go hungry and make us rich than to send more money over to Saudi Arabia?" or "no one eats the corn made for ethanol anyway", sure people don't, but delicious chickens, pigs, and cows do. Another excuse in the offing, if you can look past the higher food prices that the poor in this country pay, is that it isn't America's responsibility to feed the entire planet if we see fit to use our crops for something else. This much is true if you want to carry it to it's logical conclusion, like 4 million starving to death in Haiti.

The case can then be made that it's up to the Haitis of the planet to get their own houses in order even if localized famines occur. However, when it comes to a contest between the corn grower who wants a bigger house and televised pictures of starving third worlders it's pretty obvious who would (and should) win. Fortunately for American agri-monopolies they have the dim bulbs that make up our elites to cover for them. For instance, instead of Bush* getting the corrupt agri-firms in the U.S. to cover their mistake, he cut a 200 million dollar check from the taxpayers to cover for them.

I still think, strictly from a personal saftey standpoint, that corn growers would want to pull back away from this at least a little bit. In an excellent ethanol article by Deroy Murdock, he notes:

Still, U.S. farmers won’t surrender quietly. Since they are hooked on handouts, let’s offer them one more: In exchange for accepting a two-year federal tax holiday on any income they earn, every actual, tractor-driving corn/biofuel farmer simply would walk away and let Congress relegate state-sponsored ethanol to the Unintended Consequences Hall of Fame.
Would walk away and should walk away! At this rate it's probably only a matter of time before some buses start pulling up to give greedy corn farmers the Zimbabwe treatment.**

At least now that congress is controlled by the Democrats, whose voters tend to A) Live in urban areas and thus B) not grow corn and thusly C) pay all the fees, taxes, etc. associated with ethanol while reaping none of the benfits, that they would be hot on the case with fresh legislation; and you'd be right!
Key House and Senate farm bill negotiators reached agreement today on the main elements of the farm bill...[T]he five-year bill would raise the target prices and loan rates for northern crops beginning in 2010, raise the sugar loan rate three-quarters of a cent and include a sugar-to-ethanol program.
Sweet Jesus those bone heads have found a way to make a bad situation EVEN WORSE. It's not bad enough that Americans have to pay twice as much for sugar as the world price due to a protection racket scheme (something that has just about killed off American candy manufacturing, and turned our sodas into corn flavored crap), but those already limited supplies are going to be pulled aside for this fuel fiasco as well!

It's stuff like that which makes me think people like this aren't completely insane:
An anonymous high-tech professional writing on an investment Web site, Seeking Alpha, said he recently bought 10 50-pound bags of rice at Costco. "I am concerned that when the news of rice shortage spreads, there will be panic buying and the shelves will be empty in no time. I do not intend to cause a panic, and I am not speculating on rice to make profit. I am just hoarding some for my own consumption," he wrote.
Lessie, I guess if he ate it EVERY day for EVERY meal, (which is doubtful for a guy who has enough cash to blow at least $300 on rice) that much rice would last him like a year; which is like, five years before Congress even has a prayer of thinking about fixing this.

Fortunately not all Congressmen are completely clueless:
The article, “The Ethanol Illusion” went so far as to praise Senator McCain for summing up the corn-ethanol energy initiative launched in the United States in 2003 as “highway robbery perpetrated on the American public by Congress.”
Hopefully he'll be able to make some of it on the campaign trail.

* Bush just needs to find a way to have his incompetence start a plague and he'll have the complete set!
**It's worth noting that when I searched for articles about the plight of white farmers in Zimbabwe, that there were many, many articles written defending the tactics as revenge for past colonialism. That's the kind of idiotic Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. type thinking that turns a bread basket country into starvation central.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bento Watch #37

This one features a healthy 'oven fried' tilapia which Mrs. Sandmich cooked up. I note it since it held up rather well as a 'packed' food, much better (and better for you) than you would get with a tempura type recipe.

Ahh where did this one go wrong? I made a valiant effort to cook larger portions of several recipes so that my prep-time per bento ratio wouldn't be so skewed for something that normally takes me twice as long to cook as to eat. Unfortunately I didn't know how the recipes would come out before I cooked five portions of something that I could barely tolerate once.

Anyway, on the left is a shrimp sukiyaki which is noted for only containing half the items that he original recipe called for. Worst of all I used a Chinese starch bread rather than the funky, unobtainable Japanese roasted gluten that was originally called for. I have to say though that it came out better than expected, kinda' like a Asian shrimp meatloaf. I was able to eat it for a couple days before Kid Sandmich put the rest of it out its misery.

On the far right there's a pretty acceptable cabbage and mandarin orange salad. Then on the near right we have the interesting smoked salmon rolled up sushi style with thin slices of daikon and cucumber. For those not in the know, a daikon has the exact same taste as a radish, but it's shaped like a giant, white carrot. Tasty enough in small batches, most of the recipes in the cookbook I have revolve around trying to find ways to make bulk amounts of daikon edible, and this recipe is no different.

First I peel the cucumber and daikon lengthwise for the thin strips, then I coat them both with salt and wring out the excess water. I then layer them out and roll them up with the smoked salmon in the center. The result is less than stellar. My first impression was something along the lines of "fishy bike tire" and I could only ever eat about half of what I made (Kid Sandmich seemed to like them a little better than I though).


Two of the items here are the same as the last, but on the inner right I have the award winner for edible daikon bento: a quick citrus daikon pickle. On the inner left I have a miso eggplant recipe that came out pretty good the first time I made it, before I decided to pad it out and add mushrooms and daikon to it - disgusting, it tastes like it looks in my opinion. Mrs. Sandmich on the other had, who is a much bigger fan of the eggplant, liked it fine.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Justice by Sob Story

From here:
"Prison is a harsh place to live," she told the judge at her hearing in February.
Poor thing. But to those of us who would argue that it's much too soon for her release into the community, her lawyer vehemently disagrees.
"No, it isn't," in -sists Stephen Gehl. "She has demonstrated in connection with her rehabilitation a true commitment and a genuine remorse for what she did."

And what did she do?
It was on Jan. 18, 2003, that the two Mississauga siblings -- 16 and 15 at the time -- set about their meticulous plan to rid themselves of their alcoholic mom. While nonchalantly chatting about their plot online with some pals, they plied her with vodka and Tylenol 3s laced with codeine. Then the older girl put on gloves and held her mom's head under the bathwater for four long minutes until she stopped convulsing and her final dying heaves let them know she was dead

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bento Watch #36

Holy amnesia, it's been more than a year since my last bento post!?! What's up with that? I guess that explains my folder full of bentos that I've never posted.

The star of this bit is some teriyaki'd sea scallops. With this lunch I also got into the short lived habit of padding my meal out with a giant salad (like, half a head of lettuce), until Mrs. Sandmich pointed out that I was just keeping my stomach overly huge for the next time I go to the pizza buffet.

It was also about this time that I had to pick up some more wakame seaweed bits for my miso soup. Previously I would cold pack my soup and put hot water in at work because the seaweed would be the consistency of....something not very pleasant by the time I got around to eating it. I discovered though that I had picked up Chinese seaweed previously and that my newly acquired Japanese seaweed held up quite well, enabling me to hot pack the soup and keep my rice warm. Guess the Chinese can't even dry out a vegetable correctly.

The original recipe called for swordfish, but I picked up some more affordable shark instead. It's cooked in a teriyaki sauce and wrapped with a little piece of nori to set it off. The BIG thing I picked up from this recipe, though, was that in addition to the regular teriyaki ingredients, this one called for fresh squeezed ginger juice, tasty! This added a layer of taste complexity which (unfortunately) a lot of Japanese food sometimes needs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Up Close

Take a tour of Sandmich's street courtesy of Google!

And no the address that comes up is not mine, though the attentive might spot the car that just robbed me for 2Gs!

More Google Street View here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Batman Does Anime

In the same vein as the Animatrix comes some Batman themed productions from Japan:
http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1809997857/video/7356000
Looks good. I know I had two gripes with the Animatrix; first most of the shorts were dark, and second the quality was uneven. The short bits ranged from masterpieces to unwatchable bilge. Since they're only doing six shorts for the Batman set, I'm guessing that they tightened up the standards.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Windmills as Ornaments

Any more red green energy like this and we'll need a whole new red green movement to replace it:
Tsukuba is a city with virtually no wind. Not a breath in summer, and strangely calm even during Japan's howling typhoon season.
The mad effect of this little oversight is that the expensive [windmill] generators generated absolutely nothing. Not a single watt of output. To make matters worse, the embarrassed local government was so ashamed of the ill-researched waste of public funds that it started to run power to the sails and have the generators work in reverse - turning the sails to make it look like they were being blown by the non-existent gale.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Immortal Pastry

Looks like the U.S. isn't the only country that has it's Goodwill and Salvation Army stuff sent over seas, check out this pic from Michael Totten's excellent blog:

It's Anpanman, in Iraq!

Imaginary Fence for Imaginary Countries

Maybe Bush's inability to build a real fence is tied up in this logic:
The key benefit to trading with a fictional country is that you control the terms and have all the leverage because, in order to continue to exist, they are dependent on you believing that they exist. This is why the US is able to extract such generous terms in its trade with Canada.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Final Fantasy III

Final Fantasy III

Chocobo a go-go!


Pluses: Redone artwork looks great on the DS, the music is nothing short of amazing for a Gameboy title.

Minuses: The game suffers from a poor 'fun-to-grind' ratio that becomes exacerbated as the game progresses.

Continuing with my journey through classic Final Fantasy games, I mooched my son's copy of Final Fantasy III for the Gameboy DS for a play through. For those not boned up sufficiently on the Final Fantasy universe, this is the first time Final Fantasy III has been released in the states, so it's a bit of a hidden treat with none of guilt of having missed it the first time around (the original Final Fantasy III that was released in the states was actually Final Fantasy VI). This re-release stays faithful to the original, but updates the artwork for the Gameboy DS platform.

This game opens up with one of the most amazing cut scenes I've seen, let alone on Gameboy hardware. Although it can be viewed online it doesn't do it justice without seeing it run on its native hardware. From there it starts out reasonably strong with a 'one man party' in a beginning dungeon. The game then follows a rather typical path for RPGs where the starting character gradually adds other members to his party (in this case three). One of the strong points of the redone artwork is the added facial expressions and body gestures to both the characters and NPCs, adding a level of depth which would have been non-existent in its original NES release back in the early nineties.

New to me for this release was a job class system where different members on your team could be one of several jobs. As I suspected it would be when I saw the high number of job classes available, most of them are a waste of space that merely serves to justify the existence of the job system itself. Most players will inevitably want to boil the party down to typical brawlers and magic users, especially since the leveling curve is so steep no one will want to spend hour after hour grinding away only to discover that the job class they were upgrading is worthless against more powerful opponents.

And speaking of level grinding, this game has it in spades. Supposedly one of the reasons the game never found its way to the States after its initial release was because of the perception of the Japanese developers that American gamers weren't hardcore enough for a game that required so much serious game play as their masterpiece. Truth be told, they were right, but for the wrong reason. This game requires a high, but not abnormal, amount of grinding early in the game; but by the time the endgame comes around it's all but expected that you'll be doing hour after hour of rather pointless and monotonous grinding against the same dozen or so monsters with an early gen RPG combat system that lacks the strategic depth to keep it interesting.

As I was approaching the end of the game I got in the habit of just half-playing by leading my party into a random battle (usually by just moving them back and forth in the same limited area) and then pressing the 'A' button (attack) a lot without looking so that I could at least watch TV at the same time to keep myself awake. This large scoop of unfocused game play was probably more acceptable back in the NES days when it was originally released. Even now, though, I can picture many a gamer back then as now not wanting to sink so much of their time and effort into a game for a comparatively limited set of rewards.

However, if the repetitive game play is the rough tasting medicine, then the standout music is the sugar that helps it go down more smoothly. At first it sounds like typical Gameboy music, but upon putting on headphones I discovered that it has a surprising amount of depth that doesn't come across the DS's small speakers. It’s a far cry from the ‘less is more’ strategy that’s typically employed to Gameboy soundtracks and is about as close as a Gameboy game is likely to come to having an orchestrated score.

For as much as the some of the excessive grinding may seem to put a bit of a drag on the game, this may actually work out to be a plus instead of minus, depending on your point of view, for the platform on which it was released. After all, what's Pok√©mon but a RPG with all 'grind' and no ‘story’? Seen in this light Final Fantasy III compares favorably to the competition and adds a level of casual game play to what would ordinarily be a product only for dedicated gamers.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

40

A special cheer to my brother-in-law Joe on his 40th birthday. I feel bad for him since he probably gets sick of saying "yes, it REALLY IS on that day"; I know I thought he was joking around for months before I decided that the joke really wouldn't be that funny, so it must really be April 1st! Anyway he's the closest thing I'll probably have to an older brother, unless my other sister marries Rupert Murdoch or something, so happy birthday.

BTW, I should point out that his employer who shall remain nameless (TOYOTA) can't make a clutch to save their ass. My ancient Saturn has now had its clutch outlast the clutches in two consecutive Toyota vehicles in the last ten years or so (to say nothing of the fact that it completely outlasted one of the vehicles). HU-MILIATION!*


I only mention this because he's such a zealot for the cars produced by his employer ;-)


*I finally found the keyword to use on Youtube for finding Japanese game shows