Friday, October 24, 2008

On Stupidity and Elections

It's a common refrain, but I've been hearing it more and more of late from the American politics people at my Ph.D. program: American voters are stupid. They make poor decisions, they support parties and politicians who manifestly do not advance agendas that would help them. They elected Bush. What's the matter with Kansas, anyway?

And of course, the common response to these points is to throw one's hands in the air and shrug.

Now, I can certainly appreciate the frustration. I think certain voters have been making idiotic statements about how it was the Democrats that were ruining the country for the past eight years (nevermind that Republicans controlled all branches of government). However, I can't go along with the idea that Americans are dumb (at least when it comes to voting). There are a lot of smart people out there, certainly smarter than me in their own areas of expertise, and definitely more knowledgeable about the matters that affect their lives directly.

So, I want to claim that Americans are dumb, I have to include myself in that measure. The more I get into this Ph.D. program, the more I am convinced that people don't know all that much more about the consequences of political decisions. Sure, I may know more than the average person about the debates, facts, and theories surrounding a political question. But that doesn't mean that I necessarily know more about who will ulimately make a better president, whether a particular decision will turn out for the best.

It's like forecasting the weather. Sure, it helps a lot to have more information. But that doesn't mean you're going to be right. And so I'm wary of painting other Americans as stupid without recognizing my own limitations.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Jet Man

I hate to dumb down the blog with popular video, but I think this is the neatest thing. If only I could combine these wings with an exoskeleton or something... are mechs right around the corner?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Spicy Eggplant

Here's a decent slap together eggplant dish. It's based on a recipe my sister-in-law likes to make, though I've made a few strategic alterations. For example, she like to cook the eggplant with dried chili peppers and spices like anise. I prefer fresh pepper to the dried, and I can do without the anise, so I leave it out. She also prefers to cut the eggplant into large flat pieces, whereas I think cubing it makes things easier and cuts down the cooking time.

Of course I'm keeping things pretty simple here. It could be fun to experiment by adding cilantro or other fragrant herbs, or some other meatier vegetables like mushrooms, squash or zucchini. Try it out.

  • Three long Asian eggplants
  • one large juicy tomato or two small tomatoes
  • 2 long green peppers (Found in Asian markets. Are these wax peppers? Experience shows that the heat in these things can vary substantially, so watch out)
  • one medium onion
  • sichuan pepper corns
  • small hunk of ginger, about the size of the first knuckle on your ring finger.
  • two to three cloves of garlic
  • Scallions. There should be enough to give you two hand fulls after you dice them up.
  • Shanxi mature vinegar (chencu) or white vinegar or cider vinegar
  • Lao Chou--dark soy sauce
  • optional mushroom essence (granules)
  • salt
  • cooking oil
  • wok


  1. Cut up the eggplant into small pieces. I prefer to cut them into small cubes, but you can also cut them into thinnish half-dollar sized rounds and then slice the rounds into halves or quarters. Throw the cut eggplant into water, and let it soak while you prepare everything else.
  2. Dice the onion
  3. Dice the scallions
  4. Wash and slice open the hot peppers. Take out the seeds and remove the stems. Slice each individual pepper in half, flatten it out onto the cutting board, and then cut them diagonally into thin small rings or thin ribbons.
  5. Dice the tomato, and set it aside in a bowl along with the seeds and the juices that gushed out when you cut it open.
  6. Mince the garlic and ginger separately. Keep them separated.
  7. Throw the soaking eggplant into a colander and let it drain out for a few minutes.
  8. Carefully rinse the sichuan peppers under cool water.

Cook it up:

Throw two tablespoons (or even more if you can take it) of oil into the wok and turn the heat all the way up.

Put the ginger, green peppers, and sichuan peppercorns in first. Let them sit for a couple of seconds and then stir them up for another 20 seconds or so.

The onion goes in next. Stir the onion in with the hot peppers for about 40 seconds before piling the eggplant on. Put all the eggplant in, make sure you mix it in well, and take a breather. Eggplant can take a while to get going, but you'll need to keep an eye on it. If you let it sit for too long without stirring, it will burn. You want to keep everything moving inside the wok. What you're looking for is for the eggplant to begin to look wet or wilted, as if it has finally begun to absorb the cooking oil. If your eggplants have purple skin, they may begin to turn green.

Now it is time to toss in your cut tomato and your garlic. Mix it in well again, and keep stirring as you wait for the tomato to cook down.

You'll know when the eggplant is just about done. The tomato and eggplant chunks will be completely cooked down and there will be a sizable amount on broth down at the bottom of the wok. As you reach this point--it will be a few minutes after adding the tomatoes--throw in a half teaspoon of the mushroom essence if you have it, a teaspoon of salt (or more to taste), a small splash of soy sauce for color (Keep it small. This isn't Kikkoman; a little goes a very long way), and a splash of vinegar--say, twice as much vinegar as soy sauce. Just before you are ready to take the eggplant out of the wok, throw in half your scallions, fold the mixture a couple times and then empty it out onto deep serving dish. Throw another handful of scallions on top for garnish.

Serve with quality white rice.

This dish goes well together with stir fried dark greens and cheap red table wine.

Monday, September 1, 2008

When they read this...

Do you think they regret sounding like the way they do? Or do they not even notice?

I like pools, though I would expect them to make it a bit smaller.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Buyer's remorse?

One thing I am absolutely certain of is that Hillary Clinton wouldn't sit by and let a weak Republican candidate run his pickup truck all over her campaign.

September is almost here. Drop the freaking hammer already. Sheesh.

Friday, August 15, 2008

New Used Laptop

As it turns out, I'm going to be inheriting someone's laptop this weekend. This makes three computers for a household of two. The question is: what do I do with it? I'm thinking that I'll format the hard disk and turn it into a Linux machine. I'll then dedicate it purely to internet and minor word processing. Hopefully, the newly uncluttered hard disk will keep the computer fast.

I was previously thinking about doing the same to one of the two laptops that we already have, but I was too lazy to sort through and back up the data on the hard disk. Now I can completely bypass that potential hassle by working on computer #3.

Before going through with any of this, does anyone have any other suggestions of what I can do with a potentially creaky computer? Am I getting the most out of the computer with a format/Linux install?