WikiLeaks Leak Not So Shocking

The NY Times has been running highlights of the diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks leaked to the public.  Most of what I’ve read so far comes as no surprise.  While embarrassing to the U.S. and its diplomatic partners, there is nothing that is terribly compromising as far as I can tell.  And as far as wow factor goes, WikiLeaks is tame compared to say the Weekly World News.

I was listening to The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell last night and he made the point that the U.S. should be a little more careful in its correspondence with foreign governments – that if they want to keep things secret, don’t write them down. And I couldn’t agree more.  There is a little clever invention called the telephone.

Transparency is a good thing for the most part.  However, I don’t want to and don’t need to know about every diplomatic meeting.  I have enough information to deal with in my own job and personal life.  Diplomacy is not a reality show.  There are some places where cameras just don’t belong.  Backroom deals are sometimes in everyone’s best interest.

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Swamp People

Have you ever been alligator hunting, or fishing?  Curious even a little bit about the subject?  If so, tune in to Swamp People, another reality show on the History Channel.

Who are these swamp people you ask?  Culturally, they are Cajuns who make their living catching gators in the backwater swamps of southern Louisiana.  The show is about father and son teams who go out during the month long alligator season to bag the biggest gators possible.  At the beginning of the hunting season, they purchase a set number of tags, which legally entitles them to catch big alligators.  They must use up all of the purchased tags by the end of the hunting season in order to be eligible for at least the same number of tags the following year.  Since each gator killed can be sold on the market, these tags represent an economic investment.  The tag system is the way Louisiana controls and protects the population of alligators.

The show puts the viewer on the boats with these gator hunters, known as the swamp people, at least this is their TV identity.  When I first heard swamp people, I imagined it’d be a show about some indigenous tribe that had recently been discovered by a team of ethnographers speaking a language that no one had ever heard.  Also, a carnival freak show came to mind, but it really is nothing at all like that, except that the so called swamp people really do live somewhat isolated lives in rural Louisiana and they do in fact have a peculiar dialect that few have probably ever heard before outside of Louisiana.

How does one catch a gator?  Not with a rod and reel, that’s for sure.  Lines are baited with rancid meat.  The hooks and line are then suspended from trees, not far from the surface of the water.  A hungry alligator jumps up, snags the bait and sometimes gets hooked.  The hunters come along and wrestle with the gator line, pulling in the line with the snagged 600 pound 10 foot beast with bare hands, as the armored reptile aggressively splashes and rolls.  When they get the gator to the boat, the hunter shoots the gator in the sweet spot on the top of the head.  The gator dies instantly and is then pulled into the boat.

Ok, it is all kind of gruesome, but this is not done for sport.  The gator hunters make their living from this animal.  It is there livelihood.  There is a market for gator meat and skin, just as there is a market for fish and seafood.  The men have great respect for the animal.  The don’t harm baby alligators, they don’t over fish or hunt and despise poachers.

The show is entertaining and interesting.  The swamp peoples’ accents are a little difficult to understand to the point that they are sometimes subtitled. Linguistically, their English is influenced by Cajun French, also known as Marsh French.  They may be able to understand standard French, but the producers did not appear to be too interested in addressing the unique linguistic heritage of the swamp people.

The show did feature segments on other cultural aspects of the swamp peoples’ lives from their alligator gumbo, prepared for the family by the men to parties featuring zydeco music and Cajun style dancing.

One theme that ties the episodes together is the swamp as provider and the importance of carrying on the tradition of alligator hunting to the next generation of swamp people.  The fathers felt confident that their sons would be able to carry on their legacy and pass it on to the next generation.

Swamp People captures a slice of Americana that most people will never see or experience.  For this reason alone, Swamp People earns an A rating.  It is a real gem of a show.

This is the 6th in a series of reviews on American reality shows.  To read the other reviews in the series, click the links below:

Chopped, Master Chef, American Chopper, American Pickers and Pawn Stars

Is TSA Security Unconstitutional?

A vocal minority of Americans are making a big deal about the new TSA security policies.  Many of the outraged Obama bashers claim the pat-downs violate our 4th amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.  These are the same Obama bashers who railed against the administration after the underwear bomber incident for not doing enough to protect the traveling public from terrorist threats.   Many of them simply want the TSA to institute a policy of racial profiling, one that would subject all non-white travelers, particularly anyone who appears to be of the Muslim faith, to the invasive procedures.  What they forget is that racial profiling  violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.   They might come back and say that it should only apply to non-citizens, but I would point out that this runs counter to several  anti-discriminatory international treaties to which the U.S. belongs.

Most do not object to their bags going through an x-ray machine, walking through a metal detector and being subjected to a wand, if the metal detector sounds.  Nor do people seem to mind having their behavior scrutinized by TSA agents.  Though inconvenient, folks don’t seem to mind having their bags checked for prohibited items such as razor blades, knives, lighter fluid, and other suspicious liquids.   With all of the unsafe items confiscated, I think it is clear that the skies are safer because of the tighter security.  If the pat-down and full-body scans make traveling safer by preventing an armed terrorist from boarding a airliner, the policy is a no-brainer.   For those who don’t want to be checked, scanned and scrutinized, please drive or don’t travel at all.  For frequent business flyers who object to airport security measures, try gotomeeting.com.

In the end, it is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens.  This is not my opinion, but straight from the Preamble to the Constitution.  Pay particular attention to the highlighted parts.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

So how could TSA security be just and constitutional?  With regard to justice, it is only fair and prudent and constitutional that everybody go through the same basic procedures.   Profiling violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.  Do scans and checks violate our 4th amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure?  Not if there is a reasonable chance that a terrorist could strike.  If one person intent on causing harm to all slips through security undetected, domestic tranquility is disturbed and the government could be accused of not providing for the common defense and general welfare of the public.  And to maintain liberty, we have to make some sacrifices.   There is no liberty in a lawless, unregulated society.

Turkey Day Wines

Not sure what Thanksgiving wine to serve?  You’re not alone.  You can do a little research ahead of time and decide on the grape, or grapes which might go best with your meal.  When the wine clerk asks if you need any help, you can say that you’re looking for a nice all purpose Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir for Thanksgiving dinner.  This way you’ll appear to know at least something about wine and not be so easily steered to the overstocked bottle they need to move.  If you don’t care and just want to get in and out as quickly as possible, tell the clerk specifically what foods you’ll have on your table and and ask for some suggestions in your price range.

If you’re stubborn like me, you can try to go it alone, looking at food pairing suggestions on the labels at the price point that best fits your budget.  If the store is big enough, you might also snag one of the store’s newsletters (if they have one) to see what’s on sale and to read reviews of recommended wines in stock.   When asked if you need any help, you can say that you’re just browsing.  If you really get frustrated and can’t find what you want, but aren’t yet ready to ask for help, eavesdrop on the conversations the wine clerks are having with other customers.  If the price is right, clandestinely grab a few of the suggested bottles, as if you had come to the choice all on your own, and go to the check out with your pride and dignity intact.

So what am I serving on Thanksgiving?  I am proud to say that I’m not serving Pinot Noir.  I liked the movie Sideways, but I’ve not had a decent bottle for under $15 in quite some time.   What’s more, Pinot Noir is better with gamier type fair, and we usually cook turkey breasts, not the whole bird and prepare a complicated stuffing/dressing with many sides, some creamy, some tangy with green vegetables both steamed and fried.  Pinot Noir just doesn’t compliment all of these flavors very well.  On the other hand, light whites, fresh rosés and medium-bodied Tempranillos do, and that’s what I’m planning to serve.  By the way, Tempranillo goes especially well with cheese grits, a traditional southern side.

Here’s what I’m serving on Turkey Day.  All of these wines retail for U.S. $12 or less:

2006 El Coto Rioja Crianza, a Spanish red made from the Tempranillo grape.

2007 Sipp Mac Pinot Blanc – a dry light white from the Alsace region of Northern France.  Should pair well with anything on your Thanksgiving table, even fried okra with tomato relish.

2009 Jean-Luc Colombo Rosé Cape Bleue – light and dry with cherry and strawberry notes.  A nice complement to the bird and whatever else you’re serving be it collard greens or brussel sprouts.

If you can’t find these wines, stick with something light and unoaked.  Steer clear of big tannic red wines. The French rosés will tend to be a little drier, but you can go with a New World pink. Resist the box wine and the cheap stuff, even if it looks inviting. You don’t want anything too sweet with your main course.  However, if you want a dessert wine, go with a fortified wine like sherry or port or try a Canadian Ice wine, delicious if you can find one.  Late Harvest Rieslings work too.

Happy Thanksgiving and Cheers!

Alternatives to the scan and pat down

Full Body Scan

Let’s see, the TSA has employed those invasive pat-downs and the full body scan, causing outrage among some annoyed travelers.  I don’t fly much, so the issue doesn’t affect me personally.  And when I fly next, frankly, I don’t care what they do.  I have nothing to hide.  And I believe we do have to sacrifice a little privacy for security.  But for those who wish to opt out of both the scan and the pat down, here are a few alternative options:  a German Shepard bomb sniffing dog.  I imagine the canine snout is just as accurate as the X-ray.  Or a cat – the Silver Tabby, Calico and Manx breeds are amazingly talented at detecting the nervous and allergic among us. I’m a cat person myself.  The lie detector test and truth serum are other options for principled travelers who are in no rush to arrive at their destination.  Maybe the best alternative to traditional airline travel is the flying car, soon to be available at a rental car agency near you.

Desperate Housewares

I was looking at the TV menu without my glasses and come upon what appeared to be at first glance some interesting new shows:

Desperate Housewares.  Must be a new reality show featuring little used cutlery and dangerous labor saving gadgets.

Stevie Wonder in Ancient Rome.  He really could be the 7th Wonder of the World.  And why not an Ancient Roman Coliseum as a venue?

Cold Case Flies.

QVC’s Big Grits. This really caught my attention because I’m a big fan of cheese grits.  Big Grits, I’m thinking maybe they’ve genetically altered the grain to produce an even grittier grit.  Awesome!

Van Halen.  I didn’t know they were still around, but I would love to hear the modern take on the band.  I wonder who the lead singer is these days, Valerie Bertinelli?  Oh wait, I knew it couldn’t be true, it’s not Van Halen, it’s Van Helsing.

Undercover Bass.  Now this show ought to be interesting.  A man or woman going undercover as a bass.  I’m sure they’d blend right in.  Or maybe an actual bass (you know Big Mouth Billy Bass acutally sings) going undercover to find the whereabouts of the Loch Ness Monster.

Chopped in 329 Words

Chopped.  Four chefs.  3 rounds. 3 mystery baskets.  3 judges.  30 minutes to prepare a dish using every ingredient in a mystery basket, plus anything else from a well-stocked pantry.  One chef is eliminated after each round.  The loser told: “you have been chopped”, by host Ted Allen.

Some of the mystery ingredients are pretty obscure – pickled daikon, beef jerky, quahogs, and vanilla wafers, or some wacky combination like that.  Most of the time, a chef will say they’ve never cooked the thing before or have never heard of some ingredient.  So they have to prepare something fit for expert judges, who are the world’s toughest and one could argue pickiest, even winiest critics.  A chef could be chopped because he played it safe, or that the flavors didn’t quite pop – maybe the rice was too gooey or something.  One chef was eliminated for using water instead of stock to prepare risotto.  Others have been chopped for sloppy presentations and quite a few for simply failing to incorporate all the mystery ingredients.

And some chefs have been eliminated for sanitation slip ups.  One budding chef nearly bled to death – it happens quite often that someone slices open a finger and resorts to a latex glove band-aid that turns completely red by the end of the round.  Not exactly appetizing.  One chef was nearly eliminated for continually using his hand to brush back an unruly cowlick that kept falling in his face. Another double dipped – that is he tasted the food with a spoon and then put the very spoon back in the mix.  And the typical mistakes like overcooked beef and undercooked potatoes and indelicately plated food have proven to be many a chefs undoing.

The competition is fierce, the judging intense and the entertainment factor quite satisfying.  One of the better cooking shows.  Better than Iron Chef, Top Chef, MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen, though admittedly less dramatic.

Rating: B+

One in a series of reviews on TV shows of the reality variety.

Time for New Political Parties in the U.S.

If you look at the maps of the 2010 Midterm elections, the states look awfully red.  The Republicans picked up 50 seats in the House, 5 seats in the Senate and 5 governorships.  They now have control of the House with 239 seats.  But do they really have control?  And is the new Speaker, John Boehner of Ohio, the leader Americans need and want? If you recall, this is the same John Boehner who held up his copy of the U.S. Constitution and said he would read from the Preamble, only to read from the Declaration of Independence, and not appear to recognize the mistake.

The question for Republicans is can they control their own House? Of the 239 seats now held by Republicans, 40 are occupied by Tea Party candidates, which may make the Republican ideological tent too big to manage –  especially for a speaker with unproven leadership skills.   Let’s see, there are the birthers, the anti-immigrant, the xenophobes, the homophobes, the strict constitutionalists, the obstructionists, the nativists (of know-nothing lineage) the fundamentalists, the anti-Islamists, the creationists, the corporate welfarists, the anti-scientists, anti-abortionists, the gun activists, the Ayn Rand objectivists, the isolationists, the oligarchs, and the bidness class.  Maybe the one thing they have in common is that they are beholden to the corporate conglomerates who may have anonymously funded their campaigns, thanks to the partisan Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. the FEC.

The Democrats have the same problem with the Blue Dogs who like the Tea Party seem more interested in ideological purity than anything else.  Given this dynamic, I see the real prospects of a war of ideas and struggle for a message the Party can get behind.  Just saying no, is no longer a viable strategy.  What will the message be?  Jingoism, Social Darwinism?

In the coming years, several new political parties could emerge from all the infighting which might spell the end of the Republican Party as we know it today.  The new Tea Party could unite with Libertarians and become a major force picking up some conservative independents along the way.  The Blue Dogs could break away from the Democratic Party and form their own attracting some moderate independents and perhaps even some moderate Republicans to their side.  The Democrats could finally become more progressive absorbing the Green Party.  Maybe the party should adopt a new name.  How about The Restore Sanity Party (John Stewart might approve) or the Better Days Ahead Party (credits to Pat Metheny) or the Do The Right Thing party (courtesy of Spike Lee)?  What’s left of the Republican Party might do well to bring back the spirit of the Know Nothing Party and become a lean Do Nothing Party.