Friday, 05 April 2019

Guilty Pleasures

My latest bread, a mixture of Bob's Red Mill organic whole wheat and Bob's Red Mill organic all-purpose flour is a hit in the house. I have a supposedly 'Amish' white bread recipe that calls for far more sugar than I would normally use and for vegetable oil rather than olive oil or butter. Using that recipe but with the flour I wanted, I made bread.

It rose nicely and the response in the family to it has been pretty funny as it is disappearing; made two days ago, one complete loaf was gone when I came down from the bedroom this morning.

Last night there was a still a fair amount of the first loaf left as I sliced off a thickish amount to make into two 'buns.'

The idea was to cook up two links of my homemade Ohio-German-style sausage (recipe courtesy of my neighbor, Irv Nichols) and put them between pan toasted (with olive oil) slices of the homemade bread.

I found some fancy french mustard (Maille Old Style) at the supermarket a week ago.

And so last night with some Argentinian Shiraz, and the fancy mustard, I had my homemade guilty pleasure. And the taste … well … it definitely qualifies as a guilty pleasure. I may not be a great chef, but damn, that was good.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Lessons in bread making

An acquaintance here, a fellow from Norway, referred to the two of us, the other day, as pensioners. It is not a term I think we really hear in the USA, but it fits. That's what I am. And so the question of how I spend my time, now that the house is built, the job, well and finally done for over a year, is a primary issue.

My 105-year-old mother has been voicing her concern that I should stay busy.

I have, for decades, been riding a desk. And, truth be told, I still do it a significant chunk of the time. I keep abreast with current events. I read books. I do some writing.

But I have also been doing some cooking. I purchased a pasta maker and have been making ravioli. I have the semi-permanent loan of a meat grinder with which I have been making sausage. Both the pasta and the sausage endeavors have been highly successful.

And then there is my bread making. It is not a disaster. Some of the loaves have been quite nice and all taste great with good internal structure. But I am still a novice. And I find that making bread in the Philippines with recipes that work fine in the States, comes with some real challenges.

When I actually faithfully follow recipes, it's a disaster, and so each time I have to adjust. Some of it may be the flour. We don't have 'bread' flour here, but we do have 'first class' flour which is allegedly the same thing. I am not convinced. I found some Bob's Red Mill unbleached all-purpose flour but it also doesn't behave as the standard 'all-purpose' flour recipes call for. My bread rises sure enough, but not as exuberantly as what the recipes indicate. My bread never rises once put in the oven as is shown in youtube videos.

I also find I always need more flour to liquid than the recipes call for. It's not that I don't understand that there may be some stickiness, but when the dough is so wet that it cannot be kneaded without the constant need of a scraper, nor made into a shape for a bread pan for the same reason, clearly the dough needs more flour.

I am not getting deep crusts. Yes I get a crust, but not the 'home-style' crusts that I am supposed to get. The consistency of the bread is good each time and it slices nicely. Everyone seems to like it, but I know I am missing something.

I have tried kneading longer. That doesn't help. I tried shortening the kneading. No dice with that. I tried lengthening the times the dough is allowed to rise and that helps a little, if it is the second rise. As opposed to many recipes which call for a shorter second rise time, my dough works better with a longer second rise, longer than the first rise. If I let it rise too long the first time, I don't get a good second rise.

All is done by hand. There is no stand mixer here. But, that should not be a problem. Stand mixers have not been around for long and folks have been making bread for thousands of years.

Clearly, I have a lot to learn.

Today's loaves.

The prettiest I have gotten, from two months ago.

Saturday, 01 December 2018

There are things

It has been five and a half years since Beth and I made the move — she to back home and me to become an expat.

In these five years we have built our home and created a new normal.

Driving a vehicle here is nothing like driving in the USA. My blind eye was not a big deal there, when driving. Here it is a big deal and Beth does much of the driving… all of it when we go somewhere together. It’s not that she is a much safer driver, but rather she pretty much freaks out when I am driving.

But overall, life is good here and I very much do not regret the move. I would not be regretful of having made the move, even if the political climate in the USA was less insane. This move works for me on many levels.

The reality that we were able to bring here what we had in the States has made it far nicer for me than I gather it is for others who sold or gave away everything when they made the move.

And so, when I now mention there are a few things that I do miss, I say it without regret. Sadly longing for something that is no longer attainable is foolish. There are things that I was missing but if I was in the States, there are things in the Philippines I would be missing.

But of those things I did miss… that list seemed intransigent.

In these five years, I have for the most part, eaten Filipino food. Filipino food does not include beef.

I have been missing good ground beef. Beef in general here is not all that good and what is sold here as ground beef just doesn’t cut it for me. I missed good Italian sausage. They have sausage here, but Filipino sausage is sweet. It’s good for what it is, and I like it, but I also like other types of sausage. I had found a guy, who, for a while, sort of made a decent version of Italian sausage here, once I gave him a recipe, but he is no longer an option.

It occurred to me that if I had a meat grinder I could make my own. I started looking around and was not having a lot of luck, finding one that would work for me. But then my neighbor, another expat, lent me his motorized meat grinder he had years ago brought over from the States. I have no idea how many years it has been just sitting and gathering dust here, but it is now sitting in our kitchen. With it I have made a sage based sausage for my neighbor, Italian sausage for me and real ground beef for both of us.

And with that ground beef I have made real and decent burgers for all in our house and meat loaf that was good for two nights after that. The nice thing is that everyone here, all the Filipinos, liked both.

So while I will continue to miss a good rib-eye steak, my other meat issues are no longer longed for.

I want to make lasagna but there is no ricotta or cottage cheese to be purchased here. Once again I thought I was just stumped. But I have found a way to make good cottage cheese here at home. So lasagna will happen maybe as soon as next week.

The last items on my list are bagels and good breads in general. I yearned for a bread with a real crust!

Years ago I tried making bread and failed miserably. But once again, I decided that as I am now retired, there was no reason not to try again. While I still have not found rye flour, I do have access unbleached white good flour and whole wheat flour.

And so today, with a good and new package of dry active yeast, I made two loaves some decent whole wheat bread. It was good enough that one of the loaves was gone three hours after it came out of the oven. I will make more bread in two days and bagels right after that.

The interesting thing is that, not only am I scratching my itches, but those who live here with me are finding new things to eat that they have never eaten before.

Now there is damned little left on my list of things I am missing. And that is a good thing.

Sunday, 07 October 2018

Saying goodbye to the USA

There sits, on the oak filing cabinet that must be over one-hundred-years old, here in my office/study, my official ballot for this November's election back in Wyoming. It is filled out. I did that over a week ago. It waits for my daughter to complete hers so that I might mail them back all at the same time.

It seemed important to me when I filled it out. Now, I am not so sure.

The country I knew, or thought I knew, is no more.

The staunchly conservative Republicans who were obsessed with high moral character have shown themselves to be nothing more than power hungry liars, willing to sell out all they believe in, for the ability to retain power. Sell it out even so far as to sell out to foreign enemies.

The Democrats have morphed into socialists and pandering populists.

The checks and balances we were taught to respect as a crucial and essential balance that would preserve the Union has been shown to be meaningless. There is collusion now between the Courts, Congress and the Executive. The age of American democracy is over. What comes next is unknowable.

But there is one thing that is knowable. It will not be the country I called mine.

I will not relinquish my citizenship for the simple reason that I need to continue receiving my monthly social security checks. I paid into the system and I am damned sure going to get those checks now. But if it were not for that? I don't know. Clearly the US passport allows me to travel in places a Philippine passport would not allow, even if I could get Philippine citizenship.

Still, though I had been following the news in the USA, I can't anymore. It just makes me sad and very distant.

My life is here, in the Philippines. That is not to say that I am enamored with how things are going here politically, but this is where I live. This is where we have built our house, our only home. This house is not owned by a bank. It is owned, lock, stock, and barrel, by my wife and me. I am not yearning to return to the USA. I am mourning for a USA that will never be, or maybe never was, what I thought it was.

I can't say I have gone through the stages of grief regarding it, but I know something has died. Whether it was my fantasy about what my country was, or it is the country, that actually was, that has died, something most assuredly has died.

It is time to let go and say goodbye.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Super Typhoon Mangkhut / Ompong

Super Typhoon Mangkhut barreled into the Philippines early Saturday morning as a category 5 with sustained winds of over 150 miles per hour. That is what the US press reported and while it is accurate, up to a point, it might leave you thinking that I and my family in the Philippines are dealing with the typhoon.

We are not. While we got some rain yesterday, Friday, and a few sprinkles this morning, we have had sunny skies most of Saturday.

The typhoon, which in the Philippines is called Ompong, hit the northern end of the northern most island on Luzon, in the chain of islands which constitute the Philippines.

We are on the southernmost end of the most southernmost island in the Philippines which is called Mindanao. In point of fact, the eye of the storm four hours ago as it rips through the Philippines is over 1,300 miles north of us. Yes, effects are felt less than 900 miles away from us, but in USA terms NYC is only 875 miles away from Atlanta Georgia.

So while this is a very large and deadly storm, it is not hitting all of the Philippines and it sure as hell isn’t hitting us.

Friday, 31 August 2018

The death of Democracy as we knew it.

It would appear that completely free and unfettered universally accessible free speech is anathema to real democracy. No less so than is control of media and communication by the State.

As the USA teeters toward despotic rule, as Russia and China are now back in the hands of despots, as the Philippines has freely elected a despot and may follow up by electing a Marcos next, as Europe unravels, via Brexit, via Hungary returning to strongman rule, via Italy electing a far right potentially pro-fascist government, … and, and , and… it seems that a relatively genial, democratic polity is increasingly unsustainable.

The ‘local’ gravitational social forces that moderated the fabric of democratic societies, pre-Internet, when you needed to listen to your neighbors, has been irreparably ruptured by Internet technology that makes meaningless the concept of local, destroys the guard rails of true democratic polity and in its place provides hothouse for nativism, hate, anger, and racism.

Welcome to the New World where truth is meaningless, knowledge is vilified, and vigilantism is popular.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

The Deep State

Those on the Trump side of the political divide often complain about the Deep State. A Machiavellian Illuminati type of evil thing controlled by dark personages, of whom we can only guess.

Those on the other side tend to scoff at the notion, snickering at the paranoid fantasy of those who make the claim. They assert that no such nefarious Deep State exists.

Both are wrong.

There is a Deep State. In the USA it is a very Deep State. It is part of the bone and sinew of all our governmental institutions and it is nigh on impossible to root out. And there is a very good reason why it is resistant to removal – it is headless.

The Trumpians are right to note its existence. They are wrong to suggest an active directorate leading it.

The Deep State has been with us for a very long time. It is, in fact, part and parcel of, the American experience.

It lives within the mindset of each American and, saying that, we can note that governmental employees are a subset of that group. The Deep State is the collective belief in what America is and what it must be.

Those whom the collective mindset are seen as disruptive to that ideal will find an intransigence, if not outright hostility, to their acts and wants.

There has been over the past two hundred and twenty-nine years more of a pushback against ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ ideas, than there has been support for such, as the Deep State is fundamentally conservative.

It is how we got the Dred Scott decision.

It is how we got Plessy v. Ferguson.

These decisions were not abnormal. They were emblematic of Deep State thinking.

Usually, it takes a very long time for the conservative Deep State consciousness to absorb and accommodate a new idea. And that has been the bane of the more liberal and progressive elements of our society.

For my 'Liberal' or 'Progressive' readers, think back to before November 2016. Did you really hold the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA in high regard? Was James Comey your hero? Were your heroes named Brennen or Clapper?

These men all represent, all epitomize, the conservative Deep State mindset. In saying so, I do not seek to diminish them, nor do I wish to disparage, and, nor are they are the head of the snake. No, they simply represent a mindset deeply enmeshed into our national psyche. On the extreme side, it gave birth to organizations such as the Federalist Society and the Cato Institute.

However, change in the mindset of the Deep State can also occur due to a cataclysmic occurrence.  

For a few decades, the Deep State engaged in an unhealthy tolerance with conservative, but highly undemocratic elements of the national consciousness. Better to side with those than accept the push from liberal and progressive forces.

The Deep State tolerated much hate, violence, misogyny, racism, neo-“Jim Crow” legislation, and high-jacking of the right to vote.

And its reward was Donald J. Trump.

Is the Deep State fighting back?

Yes, it is, but it does not command an army. It does not control cabinet officers. It cannot establish budgets. The Deep State is only a blocking mechanism, a defensive guard. It can slow down, hinder, and cause to nullify by inaction. It cannot ‘act,’ per se.

And so, yes, Donald J. Trump, the Deep State does not like you. But, Donald J. Trump, it is you who is the fool. Presidents are not dictators and all they can do is nudge things this way or that within the narrow confines of our slow moving national consensus. It is why politicians seek to tell the collective national unconscious consensus, should they actually achieve a large popular plurality of the vote, Hey, look! I have a national mandate! And even then it is just a way of saying, I am going to try to push us a little more than I would be able to without the mandate.

Mr. Trump, you were elected with no mandate. You are attempting to govern as a dictator. And worst of all, as all those in high office know, all and any unethical lapses you may have, will be ruthlessly exposed. This is true regardless of your party, your race, your religion, your parentage, or your wealth.

The Deep State will use all of this against Donald J. Trump. Those who think otherwise are without an understanding of the society, and the government of, the United States of America.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Trump's Criminals

Sunday, 19 August 2018

How to save money on call center staff at PLDT

Notify all your business customers to via text to dial 177 when assistance is needed.

  • When receiving a call on 177, tell your customers to look at a website that provides no assistance, and then, HANGS UP!
  • Should the customer call the basic assistance line, screen the phone number and then tell them they are a valued Enterprise customer and to call 177, and then, HANGS UP!
  • You know that sending them email, it can take a week or more for them to answer and you need to speak with them now. Via a google search find a page for support for the PLDT service you use, you click on it and…

    It tells you to do one of the following:

  • call 177 (which will HANGS UP)
  • text 177 from your SMART cellphone service which you do not have
  • Use a Cellphone app which does not support the need for which you need to speak to PLDT and never worked whenever you used it in the past, anyway
  • Use an online chat system that when you click on the link, DOES NOT WORK.
  • You go back to google and look for more options. You find a number (02)888-8171 and you call it. It screens your phone number and tells you to call 177, and then, HANGS UP!
  • So you send at email anyway. An auto-responder sends back a message,

    Dear Enterprise Customer,
    To assist you with your request, please click below icon.

    Where does the icon take you? Back to that same webpage!

    Addendum (the next day): I met with office staff at the local PLDT office. They report that due to manpower shortages, the only way for business class customers to get service is to contact the local office during business hours, but that they have expanded from five to seven days a week to mitigate the problem as much as they can. And so, while I am appreciative of the efforts of local staff, this is just pure nuts. All the advertised methods do not work and the only method is a non-noted and inadequate workaround. The wheels have come off PLDT in a serious fashion. Exactly why that is, is a story as yet untold.

    Monday, 16 July 2018

    The end of the Western Alliance and the world as we knew it.
    A Realpolitik perspective.

    Regardless of whether Donald J. Trump is a narcissistic egotistic psychopath, or in the pocket of Vladimir Putin and a traitor, or just a damned fool, he is singlehandedly dismembering and ending what has been a sixty year western alliance and a stable international order.

    He has done it via trade war actions, abrogations of treaties, hostile behaviors and hostile words, by casting the allies of the USA as its enemies and siding with its enemies.

    In his abrogation of the deal with Iran, he has forced sanctions against the allies of the USA should they not also abrogate that treaty, which they won’t.

    At the same time he has engaged in a trade war of vast proportions with China.

    Clearly, Chinese companies, most likely with the tacit support of the Chinese government, have been stealing intellectual property controlled by companies in the USA.

    If Europe was not under threat of crippling sanctions by the USA, the fight with China regarding that intellectual property might in some way make sense. If Europe was of a mind to ban Chinese product that used stolen USA intellectual property the USA might have a strong card to play to force China to act in accordance with international norms.

    However Europe is dependent on the use of that technology. The combination of both things happening at the same time, the sanctions against Europe (which Trump has now called a foe of the USA) and the war with China, creates a witches brew.

    If Europe cannot get USA based technology legally, and it needs it in the most basic and critical way, then it has every reason to ignore the protests of the USA and buy that same technology from China regardless of how China got its hands it the technology. In doing so, Europe will have ended the international recognition of patents. There will be no way back.

    By China modifying standards away from and making incompatible with standards in the USA, the world moves continually away from the USA and makes the reintegration of USA technology nigh on impossible to achieve.

    The USA loses essentially everything. It loses any control of its intellectual property, it loses its customers, and its economy suffers. It creates a new alignment between Europe and China. Chinese industry and Chinese technology becomes the main engine for the world’s activities. This includes communications technology.

    Without the USA as its strongest member, NATO will become a European only assembly and as Russian meddling in European politics continues to roil the public sentiment throughout the continent, NATO will splinter and fall away.

    Russia will re-assemble at least part of its satellites as petty grievances between previous NATO allies increase.

    In the short term Russia appears to have a leg up as its oil fuels Europe. But overall, Europe becomes an economic vassal of China, unable to influence China and unable to control Chinese accretion of intellectual property from Europe.

    All across the globe, banks will sever ties to USA financial institutions to avoid any USA retaliation against actions taken in contradiction to US law. USA banks will fail and the dollar will lose stability.

    Foreign investment in USA property will collapse, not only will the moving of capital into the USA become a huge problem, but investment in the USA will cause the investor to become entangled in the political sanctions regimes that have riven the relations between nations. This will engender a real estate market crisis in the USA.

    Having lost all its trading partners other than Canada and Mexico, and unable to sell its technology to any nation including those two, with a real estate market having tanked, and a banking system that has been destroyed, the USA economy crashes.

    And that is what it means to Make America Great Again.