Voldy Heads to the Supreme Court

Posted in Uncategorized on July 10, 2014 by fromatozany

Honestly, if we want to truly vanquish Voldemort from the country, we need to get rid of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. Now, I would never wish ill upon anyone, so I’m just hoping that – prior to the end of Obama’s second term – Scalia, Thomas, or Alito will have an intense and insatiable desire to spend more time with his family and will step down, because OMG: America can’t take much more of this.

I’m thinking of announcing that I have created and joined a new religion: Smoofism. The deity we worship – The Great And Wise Smoo – has decreed that it is an affront to the Universe to pay taxes to a bellicose government, and so my corporation does not have to pay any taxes. The Great And Wise Smoo has also decreed that – in order that Smoofism may remain a dynamic and relevant religion – the tenets of Smoofism must never be written down, but only passed from person to person as it is revealed to them by The Great And Wise Smoo.

I predict several questions from the prosecution when I am inevitably dragged into court for nonpayment of taxes. Questions to try to determine whether Smoofism is relevant. “How many followers does the religion have?” they might ask.

To which I would reply that the number is indeterminate, but likely around 3 billion people. I would elucidate that according to The Great And Wise Smoo, if anyone, during their lifetime, converts to Smoofism, then they have always been a Smoofist. Smoofism retroactively applies, in other words. So there are 6 billion potential Smoofists, and at least one (me), the average of which is about 3 billion. So 3 billion seems like the most reasonable estimate.

They might also question the youth of the religion, having been founded less than a year prior, and question its validity on that score, to which I would reply with the following questions: Scientology was founded in 1952 or 53; does its youth invalidate it as a religion? Christianity was founded in approximately 33 AD with the appointment of Peter as the first Pope. In 34 AD, was Christianity an invalid religion? In which case, how many years did it take before it was valid?

Eventually, they would be forced to concede that my very religious corporation was, in fact, exempt from paying taxes on religious grounds, and Smoofism really WOULD have 3 billion followers: all corporations.

Smoofism: the #1 religion of corporations everywhere!

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Whatever Colicchio Wants, Colicchio Gets

Posted in Top Chef with tags , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2014 by fromatozany

So everyone’s probably forgotten about the Top Chef Season 11 finale by now, but with a four-year-old son and an infant daughter running around (okay, the infant does not run…yet), I’m just now getting back to Nick’s stunning upset win over Nina in the finale. His win seems to come down to one thing and one thing only: Tom Colicchio.

It’s safe to say that in every single season I’ve seen, whoever Tom wants to win, wins. Period. Two recent examples:

Season 10: Tom clearly preferred Kristen Kish for the win. He voted for her every course, even judging her second plate better than competitor Brooke Williamson’s, despite the fact that every other judge disagreed with him.

Season 8: Tom clearly wanted Richard Blais to win even after saying that Mike Isabella’s fish dish was the best he’d ever tasted on the show (“That was before I tasted Richard’s,” he explained).

And now, in Season 11, we have Tom clearly favoring Nicholas. How can one tell? Tom has a signature scowl that he gets when other judges disagree with him or challenge his opinion. I can’t really fault him for this, since I know how late those judging sessions run, and everyone gets grumpy when they’re tired…I can picture Tom thinking, “Cheese, people! Just frickin’ agree with me so we can end this and all get to bed!”

The Scowl was on display several times during the Season 11 finale judging session, like when Hugh Acheson suggested they take service into consideration (Tom looked ready to jump over Padma and throttle Hugh; I get the feeling those two may respect one another a lot but they annoy the snot out of each other). The Scowl also appeared when someone (Padma or Gail, I forget which) suggested that with each of the cheftestants having “won” two courses, the meal was a tie. Tom also waved away Emeril’s concerns that his duck was improperly cooked. Clearly, Tom was on Team Nick from the get-go.

And so, Nick won.

Some have attributed Tom’s favoring of Nick to sexism (someone has even posted this accusation on his Wikipedia entry, which I think is kind of a low blow). Personally, I don’t see it. If Tom was actually a raging sexist to the point that he would be willing to sabotage someone just for having two X chromosomes, why would he have let Kristen Kish win Last Chance Kitchen just last season? There were plenty of opportunities to eliminate her in favor of a man (when she was competing against Stefan, notably).

Yes, but if there is no sexism, goes the argument, why have the majority of Top Chef winners (and cheftestants, too, I think) been men? Well, the majority of chefs at fine restaurants are men. The field is dominated by men. I can name dozens of famous male chefs off the top of my head: Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Tom Colicchio, Grant achatz, Charlie Trotter, the Troisgros brothers, Hugh Acheson, Anthony Bourdain, Thomas Keller… . It takes me a while to think of even a handful of women: Madeline Kamman, of course…Michelle Bernstein…Julia Child never actually had a restaurant of which I am aware, so I’m not sure she counts…Kristen Kish and Stephanie Izard are well-known because of TOP CHEF… . And since, these days, you must already be a chef with a restaurant/catering company of your own to compete (OR you must at least have been a sous chef to someone well known in culinary circles), it makes sense that more men compete: there’s just a wider pool of potentials.

How to change this and get more women into the profession? Not sure. It’s not something that happens overnight: just ask the science and technology industries. But I’d like to see it.

Ultimately, whatever the reason, on TOP CHEF, Colicchio gets his way. Nina will have to content herself with Runner-up and Fan Favorite status.

Next time: the top three things I’d like to see on TOP CHEF.

Nicholas 2.0

Posted in Uncategorized on February 6, 2014 by fromatozany

Wow. Didn’t see that coming.

I know that, due to the hiatus between the bulk of TOP CHEF’s filming and its finale, that some of the cheftestants come back refreshed, rejuvenated…at times they almost seem like new chefs. I really wasn’t expecting it, though, from perpetual sad-sack Nicholas.

But Nicholas 2.0 proved himself to be a far better contender than his by-the-hairs-of-his-chinny-chin-chin road to the finale would indicate. Maybe he just doesn’t do well on no sleep? It’s a possibility I’ve often entertained about TOP CHEF cheftestants.

In any case, Nicholas 2.0 may have survived Louis, and has even outlasted my pick for runner-up Shirley, but he has still got to go up against Nina 1.0, and I still give the edge to Nina. The clear front runner has tended to win the TOP CHEF finale, especially in recent seasons (Kristen Kish, Paul Qui, Richard Blais, Michael Voltaggio). But even from the beginning, when clear front runner Harold Dieterle beat out Tiffani Faison, this has been true.

In fact, there have really only been a couple of seasons where the front runner didn’t end up winning: Season 7, when front runner Angelo Sosa got sick as a dog and lost to Kevin Sbraga, and Season 5, when Stefan Richter inexplicably lost to Hosea Rosenberg. I don’t count Richard Blais’s loss the first time to Stephanie Izard in Season 4: although they called him “the best chef never to win TOP CHEF,” Stephanie was on pretty sound footing throughout the latter part of the season, while Richard’s performance was erratic.

Anyway, it’s one thing to be well-rested and have a good day, but that’s a sprint and TOP CHEF is a marathon. Nina has shown she has what it takes to get to the finish line, so I’m calling this one for Nina, 75% chance of winning to 25% for Nick.

Voldy Calls BS on Tom Colicchio

Posted in Top Chef with tags , , , , , on January 30, 2014 by fromatozany

Well, my TOP CHEF handicapping of last week was accurate, as far as I know, because as expected, they did not reveal the winner of LAST CHANCE KITCHEN, so the same six chefs are currently in the running.

Handicapping this week, then, stays pretty much the same as last. I give Nina the slightest of edges over Shirley, 43 to 42 percent. I downgrade Louis for his overcooked LCK fish to 8 percent. Carlos gets 4 percent and Nick 3.

Although, if I could lump chefs together, I’d give Nina or Shirley a whopping 95% chance of winning and the other three 5% among them.

But I want to call out Mr. Colicchio for his contention that the final LCK tasting was “blind:” that nobody knows who made those dishes. Malarkey.

First of all, Tom himself said in his blog last season that attempting a blind tasting of dishes in TOP CHEF would be pointless, because by the third or fourth week, the judges have gotten to know each cheftestant’s food so well that they would know whose dish was whose even if it weren’t announced. So Tom, at least, who’s been eating Louis’s food in LCK all season, surely knew which dish was Louis’s and which was Carlos’s.

The other four chefs knew Carlos was eliminated last week, so they clearly knew his was one of the dishes. And I’m pretty sure that when faced with a French-style dish with mushrooms and an Acapulco-style dish with a molė sauce, that they’d have to be pretty darn dimwitted not to figure out which of the two was Carlos’s.

And if everyone at the table knows which cheftestant cooked one of the two dishes, it almost seems fairer to let them know who cooked the other. I doubt any of the three remaining cheftestants could have guessed that Louis was still in the competition, so they might be guessing that the other dish was Brian’s or Stephanie’s. Which, honestly, might help Carlos. Of those three, I’d say Carlos is the weakest competitor. Why eliminate him when you know it means you’ll have to cook against a potentially stronger – or unknown – quantity?

Now, while I can’t state with certainty that Emeril knew that the other remaining chef was Louis, he was present when Louis defeated Stephanie, so he knew that the other dish belonged to Brian or to Louis, and he’s been at Judges’ Table often enough to know what Brian’s food is like. My guess is he could suss it out without too much trouble.

So, who will be back in? Nick hates Carlos: would he deliberately vote against him out of spite? Or is he a savvy enough competitor to know to pick the weaker chef to compete against? How will Nina and Shirley choose to play it? Tom seems to like Louis; that should get him at least one vote. I’m not sure which way Emeril would lean.

But since I have to put down a prediction, I’ll guess that Louis ends up back in 3-2 or maybe even 4-1, but that the “double elimination” that was promised in the teaser at the end of LCK leaves only Nina and Shirley standing.

Voldy Handicaps TOP CHEF

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2014 by fromatozany

So I can’t exactly make it fit with the “Vanquishing Voldemort” theme, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of Voldemort-vanquishing going on in the house lately, since the arrival of new daughter Paige on Christmas Eve.  What there has been a lot of is TV-watching, since it’s one of the few tasks that’s possible with little sleep and a baby on one’s arm.

One of my favorite shows is TOP CHEF, but on Season 11 (it is Season 11 now, right? After a while the numbers run together), I feel like I have a pretty good idea of how they work.  So I’m going to take a stab at handicapping the remaining cheftestants and put my picks out to the public.

Last week, my choices would have been:

CHEFTESTANT and PERCENT CHANCE OF WINNING:

Nina: 45%, she has done some amazing work this season

Shirley: 30%, also excellent

Brian: 10%, the “best of the rest,” but has been dependable

Louis: 5%, as it’s tough for a chef eliminated so early to go the distance

Carlos: 5%, not on par with Nina or Shirley

Nick: 5%, ditto

I feel as though Nina has been in a solid first-place position all season; I had her chances of winning as high as 55%. However, in the last three weeks, Shirley – who I have always considered the runner-up – had moved up from a 20% to 30% chance of winning. Brian sank to 10% but was still a respectable third-place contender. My dark horse for most of the season was Stephanie, who had an erratic record but who seemed to have a lot of chops (despite her constant string of self-deprecating remarks).

And even though Louis was tearing it up in LAST CHANCE KITCHEN, I was pretty sure that he would lose to whichever one of the aforementioned cheftestants he faced first. Also, the odds were seriously against him. More on that in another post.

But Louis surprised me by beating Carrie, who had shown promise with several early wins, but who fizzled into mediocrity in the later stages of the competition. Then he upset Stephanie on a challenge she had absolutely no business losing, and I was intrigued. But I was pretty sure Brian would flatten him this week. 

***LAST CHANCE KITCHEN SPOILER AHEAD***

But he beat Brian, cooking – according to Tom Colicchio – “the best dish I’ve eaten all season.” Consider me suitably impressed. And with Brian now out of the competition, my odds are as follows:

Nina: 41%, still the frontrunner; this is hers to lose

Shirley: 40%, she’s peaking at exactly the right time

Louis: 14%, on the strength of his LCK wins, plus he’s clearly impressed Tom, and that in itself carries a lot of weight

Carlos: 3%, he only seems to perform well with dishes he’s made before, so unless the final few challenges easily allow for Mexican comfort foods, he’s toast.

Nick: 2%, he’s a dead man walking; it’s a miracle he’s even made it this far.

My prediction for this week: Nick or Carlos (probably Nick) loses; Louis mops the floor with him in LCK.

What do YOU think?

Idiotic Platitudes Don’t Kill People…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2013 by fromatozany

…people who speak idiotic platitudes kill people.

Friends, it’s time to have a serious conversation about how to reduce gun violence in this country. The level of gun violence in the USA is the highest in the developed world, and is comparable to that of nations like Somalia or the drug cartel-controlled counties of Mexico.

Some paranoiacs are already getting ready to accuse me of wanting to ban guns or “take their guns away.” So let me state right here at the outset:

1) I do not want to ban all guns.
2) Unless you are a criminal, a lunatic, or an untrained child, I do not want to take away your gun.
3) I love the USA and support the Constitution.

We’ve been talking about this for a long time, so there are certain arguments that the rabid crazies like Messrs. LaPierre and Jones can be counted on to make. Over the next several days, I will be eviscerating refuting these arguments.

The first and most cliched argument is the classic, “Guns don’t kill people: people kill people.” The idea behind this argument is that any form of gun regulation is inherently misguided because a gun by itself, as an inanimate object, is neither evil nor good: it is the gun owner that uses the gun for an evil or good purpose.

Of course, this argument is completely bogus. We could replace “guns” in the statement with the following:

“Nuclear bombs don’t kill people: people who drop nuclear bombs kill people.”

After all, if you believe the first statement, you have to believe the second one, right? So why can’t just anyone own a nuclear warhead? It’s an inanimate object: not inherently good or bad. The answer, of course, is that the destruction that could be unleashed by the misuse of said object is enough to justify not letting just anybody own one. The same could be said of certain guns.

Let’s do another replacement, shall we?

“Collapsing bridges and tunnels don’t kill people: people who design and build bridges and tunnels that collapse kill people.”

In other words, why have safety standards for bridges and tunnels? After all, a poorly-designed or constructed bridge isn’t inherently bad: it’s an inanimate object. Well, we have safety standards to protect people from the consequences of a poorly-designed or constructed bridge or tunnel. We ought to have similar standards to protect us from the consequences of a poorly-used gun.

Last one:

“Cars don’t kill people. People who drive cars kill people.”

Yes, and we have lots and lots of regulations on cars and their drivers. Cars must meet rigorous safety standards, and when they don’t, the manufacturer must pay to take them away from their owners and fix them before returning them. We don’t let certain people drive cars if they don’t meet minimum requirements. We even can hold a bartender liable if they sell alcohol to someone who is already obviously intoxicated who then drives off and hurts someone with their car. We even have laws about where a car can go, how fast it can go, etc.

So regardless of a gun’s lack of criminal intent, we can clearly see that in other areas, items without criminal intent are banned, prohibited, restricted, held to certain safety standards, and regulated. I don’t think anybody would argue to eliminate traffic laws, safety standards for bridges, or restrictions on citizens owning a nuke. So why try to make this argument regarding guns?

Again, not saying that guns should necessarily be banned, prohibited, restricted, held to certain safety standards, or regulated in any particular way, but this argument is just dumb.

The Trillion-Dollar Coin of Brilliance

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2013 by fromatozany

I was planning to start discussing gun violence and ways to reduce it today. But my attention has been distracted by something shiny. In this specific case, a shiny, freshly-minted trillion-dollar coin.

It’s not just a coin, though. It’s a panacea: a way for Obama to avoid another unnecessary and ridiculous debt ceiling debate without causing government gridlock or inviting coercion to cut Social Security.

Slate does a great job of explaining it here, but briefly, Congress has set the denominations (and weights and dimensions, incidentally) for all gold, silver, and copper coins minted by the Treasury. However, in a rare effort to allow the executive branch some discretion, they authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to mint platinum coins of any dimension or denomination (read: cash value) at his or her discretion. Congress’s intent was apparently to allow the Treasury the leeway to mint some limited-edition collectible coins without having to go to Congress.

Congressional intent, however, is only a factor for a court when a law is unclear. In this case, however, the law is very clear: it explicitly grants the Treasury Secretary “discretion” (read: full control).

So, legally, Obama could instruct Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to mint a $1 trillion coin. He then can take it to the Federal Reserve and deposit it (better use some heavy security: who wouldn’t want to plan a heist of that? It would literally be the world’s most valuable object). Suddenly, we have $1 trillion more dollars in the bank, and we can use that money to pay the people we are already legally obligated to pay, like Medicare doctors, soldiers, FBI agents, and people getting Social Security checks.

Incidentally, this absurd-sounding scheme is actually a lot more clearly legal and Constitutional than claims that Obama can raise the debt ceiling by citing the Fourteenth Amendment (the “full faith and credit” clause) or unilaterally by citing conflicting Congressional instructions (they have ordered money to be spent and also not to be spent).

But won’t it cause inflation? No. This magic money isn’t going into circulation, and the Fed has a lot of government bonds it’s bought (through Quantitative Easing) that it could sell to offset the cash.

But isn’t it a Stalinesque power grab? No. It doesn’t actually change any laws: it actually follows Congressional statute more than a potential default does.

But isn’t it ridiculous? Yes. Of course it is. But it’s no more ridiculous than a Congress refusing to pay bills it’s already run up, or refusing to allow the spending it has authorized. Or the process of sequestration, incidentally.

Here’s what I think Obama should do. He should instruct Geithner to prepare the plates to mint the coin. Not actually mint it (yet) but be prepared with a design and ready to mint it at a moment’s notice. Then he should announce to Congress that if they refuse to raise the debt ceiling, he will mint the coin, and he will not negotiate about it. Finally, he should announce that he will be happy to sign a bill that removes the platinum-coin option from the Secretary’s discretion if said bill also includes a repeal of debt ceilings.

Let’s face it: the debt ceiling is ridiculous to begin with. Why should Congress simultaneously be able to run up bills and refuse to pay them? Remember, for all that the GOP likes to blame Obama for the deficit, they’re the ones who have the sole authority to spend on the nation’s credit card. It’s like a teenager who runs up hundreds of dollars in data charges on their parents’ cell phone plan, except in this case, the teen (Boehner) has hidden the parents’ (Obama’s) wallet so they can’t pay the bill. All the trillion-dollar coin would do is let Obama make the Minimum Payment.

Oh, and it would be a lot of fun.