Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Goulash Soup

  • 1.2 liters broth (in a soup pot that holds two liters+)
  • 0.2 liters red wine
  • 600 grams beef or meat substitute (such as Dinki-Gulasch Goulash, 3 packets), in small cubes (1-2 cm diameter)
  • 1 packet (50 grams) "dodatak jelima sa povrcem za Goveđi Gulaš" Vegetable seasoning mixture for beef paprikash
  • 1 large onion sautéd in olive oil
  • 300 grams potatoes, peeled and cubed in 1 cm cubes
  • 1 small knollensellerie (celery root/knob, 200-300 grams) or similar root vegetables, peeled and cubed in 1 cm cubes
  • 2 carrots or similar root vegetables, peeled and chopped
  • 250 grams sweet peppers, red & other colors, chopped in small pieces
  • 1 jar (approximately 300 grams) "Ajvar" (spicy Serbian red pepper sauce)
  • salt, pepper, and paprika powder to taste

    Combine in the logical way:
    1. Boil the broth.
    2. Add the veggies in the order of which ones need to cook longest.
    3. Add everything else (including the olive oil the onions are sautéd in).
    4. Simmer for 1 hour
    5. Add salt, pepper, and paprika to taste.

    Monday, April 22, 2019

    Warren vs. Sanders from a purely political strategy perspective.

    I keep reading the claim that we have to support Bernie because he's the only one who can beat Trump in 2020.  But is that really true?

    First of all, if Trump actually makes it to November 2020 (without being impeached and convicted), then the deadly precedent of allowing blatant presidential criminality would essentially turn what's left of rule of law in the US into a smoking crater.  But the USA is too big to fail, and if Trump is still in the race in November of 2020, then -- even though beating him isn't sufficient to fix things -- it is absolutely necessary in order to prevent things from getting an order of magnitude worse.

    So I'd like to discuss the best strategy for getting a real progressive to be the one who goes up against Trump (or, ideally, up against some other Republican contender that they have to throw in at the last moment because Trump is in jail.)

    Once the primary season is over, I will naturally support whomever they pick and encourage others to do the same -- because of the critical importance of this election.  But I would prefer to vote for someone who will fight for economic justice.  I don't want to hold my nose and vote for Biden, who is the candidate of "Trump is just an anomaly -- if we just go back to what it was like under Obama, everything will be fine..."

    But Warren and Sanders are on track to make that happen by splitting the progressive vote.

    We can talk about their differences in policies and trust-busting chops later, but they are close enough that -- for the purpose of this discussion -- I would like to focus on this idea that "only Bernie can beat Trump," which I think is wrong.  Here are my three reasons why Warren is a better candidate from a political strategy perspective:

    1.  The Olive Branch

    One of Hillary Clinton's biggest liabilities going into the 2016 election was how passionately hated she was by a large portion of the country.  Personally, I went into that primary season with Bernie as my top choice, but after Hillary demonstrated cool-headed competence in the debates and acted as the adult in the room during those endless, pointless Benghazi hearings, I was happy to cast a ballot for her in November of 2016.  But regardless of her skills and experience, the people who hated her hated her ten times more than the people who liked her liked her -- so she wasn't able to win by a large enough margin to overcome the unfair vote-weighting system.

    Then, as I recall, there was an avalanche of vitriol from the Bernie camp directed at Clinton and her supporters.  And the women who supported Clinton were not happy about that in the slightest.

    What happened in 2016 (and following up in 2017) is a gaping wound in the Democratic party that hasn't healed yet.  I recall around the midterms watching a comedy sketch where two Democrats call for unity to build the "blue wave" -- and it immediately degenerates into a fight between the Bernie-supporting dude and the woman who supported Hillary.  And it's funny because it's so true...

    So, ironically, Bernie heads into 2020 with the same liability Hillary had in 2016.  Only this time it's maybe worse because the bad feelings and resentment aren't coming from the opposing party, they're coming from inside the house.

    Now, if you're a Bernie-or-bust person, you're probably saying to yourself that if Bernie wins the nomination, then all those Democratic women should just suck it up and get over it and get in line behind Bernie.  And, yes, of course they should.

    But will they?

    In order to really get out the vote, you need more than just a hated opponent -- you need a candidate that people are excited about.  Unfortunately, the leftover vitriol from 2016 is still sticking to Bernie.  It doesn't matter that it's not his fault.  Most of the vitriol against Hillary wasn't her fault either.  Those are the breaks.

    And to pin the tail on it -- that whole "Bernie Bros" thing...  Is it real or just an unfair slur?  Picking Bernie over Hillary was really about ideas and not at all inspired by sexism or misogyny, right...?

    Well, here's a fantastic opportunity for you to demonstrate that!!  Extend an olive branch and start the healing process by switching your support from Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren.

    2.  The Age Thing

    Yes, I know, Elizabeth Warren is also old.  And Bernie is in good health today.  But they are at an age where a decade matters.  (It's not quite a decade, but statistically women live longer than men, so Sanders is a good ten years closer to an unacceptably-high probability of age-related mental deterioration.)  He would be in his 80's for maybe half of his first term.  And of course the Democrats would absolutely run him again for a second term even if.... yikes, so tempted to make a "Weekend at Bernie's" joke here....

    It is completely disingenuous to dismiss this as some sort of "ageist" bigotry.  The country needs and deserves to have a leader who is physically capable of carrying out the job.

    3.  Passing the Baton

    Bernie helped build an amazing left-populist movement in 2015 and 2016.  He forced the issue and made Socialism go mainstream and become hip again.  But is it about ideas or is it about a cult of personality?

    I hope it's about ideas and not just a cult of personality.  But if Bernie himself and his supporters are convinced that only Bernie can do it -- and he can't bring himself to pass the baton and take his place as "elder statesman" given the above two strikes against him -- then it sure doesn't look like a vital ideas-based movement that can outlive him....

    In conclusion, I'd like to apologise for making this more about Bernie's negatives than about Elizabeth's positives.  So let me wrap up with a new video showing Warren leading the way on one of the most critical issues facing US democracy today:

    Guys, when Obama was running against Clinton, I whole-heartedly supported Obama because I felt he was more qualified and had a better stand on a number of important issues.  I was pissed-off at Gloria Steinem for writing an opinion turning the primary into an oppression olympics between blacks and women, which I didn't think that was appropriate or warranted.  And, as I said, in 2105 and early 2016 I supported Bernie over Clinton because of the difference in their ideas and policies.

    But, now that our candidate is the best candidate, we're done waiting.

    Sunday, April 14, 2019

    Top five wrongest parts of the creation story in Genesis

    I should not have to enumerate this. It should be obvious to the most casual reader of the beginning of the Bible that the creation story is a bunch of guesses by some ancient people -- and they got it wrong pretty much from top to bottom.

    Which is fine. It can be read as a charming poem or metaphor or something if you're from a tradition that cherishes this story. The problem arises when modern people doggedly insist -- in the face of all evidence and reason -- that this story gives an accurate description of how life, the universe, and everything began.

    So I will enumerate here the top five wrongest points in the story. They're not the only wrong bits, but these wrong parts are so egregiously wrong that I don't want to cloud the issues by nit-picking the lesser details like whether the two stories contradict each other, etc.

    #1. Day four: God creates the Sun.

    Yes, after having created daylight back on day one, and all of the worlds plants on day three, God finally gets around to creating the Sun.

    This is game over. It is sincerely not possible to get the sequence of events of Earth's formation more wrong than this.

    The only apologetic excuse I've heard for this one is that the Earth's atmosphere was originally so opaque that it wasn't until the Earth was covered with plants that the Sun and Moon and stars became visible, so -- to the observer writing this story -- it looked like the Sun and Moon and stars were created at that point.

    There are several problems with this excuse. The first is that's not what it says.

    There is nothing in the text to indicate that the other uses of "God created" something refer to Him actually creating the thing, but this one refers to the unnamed observer first noticing it. This interpretation comes from the popular Bible-literalist syllogism: 1. The Bible is not wrong, 2. The thing written in this Bible passage is wrong, therefore 3. What's written in the passage is not what's written in the passage.

    This interpretation of this passage is a classic example of the "Who are you going to believe -- me or your lying eyes reading what's written on the page?" school of Bible study.

    But, even if we were to grant that that interpretation is reasonable (which I don't), it's still wrong.

    The Earth's atmosphere was not opaque (or cloud-covered) enough to block the view of the Sun. Probably not at any point in the Earth's formation, but certainly not continuously from the beginning of the Earth's formation to the point where the land was covered with plants.

    And finally, if your own most charitable interpretation of this passage is that the author of the creation story can't tell the difference between God creating something and himself simply noticing the thing, why would you treat this story as accurate?

    #2. Day four: God creates the stars

    Yep, day four, as an afterthought to creating the Sun and Moon, God creates the stars -- which are described as lights that He placed in the expanse/firmament that He created to hold up the water when it's not raining (see below).

    This one is (in an absolute sense) even more wrong than #1 because the stars already existed for several billion years before the formation of the Earth. Also, they are other suns -- they are not little lights embedded in the firmament.

    I put this one after the one about creating the Sun, though, because it's not quite as bad. Ancient people couldn't really be expected to know that the stars are distant suns. Whereas, I would hope that even the most ignorant ancient person could be expected to figure out that daylight comes from the Sun -- it does not exist independently of the Sun. And hopefully they could also figure out that plants rely on the Sun, and hence wouldn't be green and growing before the Sun existed.

    #3. Day two: God creates the "Firmament" or "Expanse"

    At this point God created something that does not exist and never did.

    This one is easy for modern Christians to ignore because there's no modern word for this thing because no modern people believe in its existence. So it's easy to (intentionally or unintentionally) misread this passage as just referring to the atmosphere or something.

    In reality, this is a reference to an ancient belief that there was a solid physical barrier that "separated the water under the expanse from the water above it." In other words, this is supposedly the thing that holds up the rain except for on the occasions when God opens the heavens and makes it rain. It's also where He embedded the stars, as I mentioned earlier.

    If you don't believe me, the footnote in the  "NIV Study Bible" that I am quoting from gives the following cross-references for the term for this thing God created: "Hard as a mirror" (Job 37:18) and "Like a canopy" (Isa 40:22)

    #4. Days three, five, and six: God creates all living things in the wrong order

    The short version is as follows: day three: all plants, (day four: the Sun??!!!??!), day five: all water-dwelling and air-dwelling animals, day six: all land animals.

    The water-then-land part is kind of correct, but birds existing before any land animals is dead wrong. And the text says that each category was created completely in the above sequence -- which isn't true. New species of plants, water-dwelling animals, land-dwelling animals, and air-dwelling animals (along with other types of life forms) have continuously arisen concurrently from essentially the earliest days of complex cells.

    The evidence for this sequence, by the way, does not depend on the theory of Evolution. The evidence comes from the fossil record -- the millions of fossils that are found in consistent strata around the globe. Let me emphasise this point: the evidence shows that the Biblical creation story's account of the formation of life is wrong all by itself -- no reference to evolution is required.

    #5. God creates the first human by making a clay sculpture and then breathing life into it.

    In the earlier segment of the story, the author is really vague about the mechanisms by which God "creates" things. So you can believe it says that He brought these things into existence with a poof of magic or through some mechanisms that roughly correspond to the evidence. This is the first time that we get some specifics about how God makes things.

    And, unsurprisingly, the method described in the story does not bear any resemblance to any natural process that we have any evidence for.

    Again, I would like to emphasise that the creation story here is wrong all by itself -- without any reference to evolution. A lot of Bible-literalists weirdly single out the theory of Evolution as something they don't want to "believe in" -- because it somehow threatens the Bible. But that line of reasoning misses the point entirely:

    Even if we didn't have the weight of scientific evidence showing us that evolution of species by natural selection did occur and continues to occur, it still wouldn't mean that we have any reason or evidence to conclude that "blowing life into an inanimate statue" is even close to the way that human life arose. The Bible author's guess here is just wrong.

    I'm not going to throw in the creation of Eve at this point because I guess that some Bible literalist could claim that God cloned Eve from DNA in Adam's rib -- which (unlike the animating-a-clay-figure idea) is at least in the same universe with something that is possible. Still, with all the incest coming up later in the book, it's a little horrifying to imagine that the parents in the story were actually clones of one another (not to mention the fact that if Adam is biologically male with a functioning male reproductive system, his clone would not be a female with a functioning female reproductive system).

    Anyway, I hope this list is instructive. But I know it won't be because convincing yourself that the creation story in Genesis is literally true requires such a profound level of delusion that there's no hope that the light of reason will ever penetrate it.