Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Satire 202

I've mentioned the quasi-religious Karen Spears Zacharias (think of a white Oprah) and her tenuous grasp of comedy before. In fact, I'll just go ahead and revisit it. To Karen and her squirrel-brained readers, this is funny:

What matters to Americans is that Sarah Palin has great hair and a taut body even after birthing all those kids. That Todd, he’s sure a lucky fella. Wink.Wink. Nudge. Nudge.

Sarah Palin is the new pin-up girl for Alaska and all things American.

She’s the female version of George W. Bush.

She hasn’t read a book since Spot got ran over.

She thinks analytical is a brain disorder to be avoided.

You see what she did there, with Spot, the dog, who was featured in a children's book. It's a literary reference. This was written late last year, so she gets extra points for keeping it current.

You can read the rest if you like. No? Your loss. Oh, and she had the audacity to write this:

I’m bone tired of the snarky and the snide — aren’t you?
I boggle.

Today, Spears turns her irony-free gaze upon the bestseller "Go the F--- to Sleep", which takes aim and children viz. their unwillingness to perform the titular activity. The book is certainly ribald, but also observant and, really, trifling.

Not so, says the highly-disputed queen of comedy. Via CNN, she writes that:

Nobody is suggesting that there's a connection between Adam Mansbach's book and child abuse or child neglect. Still, there's no denying the reason "Go the F*** to Sleep" should be kept out of reach of children is because of its violent language and because of the way it demeans children.

Um, no, it should be kept out of reach of children because it has child-inappropriate language in it, just as a Jonathan Franzen novel should be kept out of reach of children.

She continues, by way of some Doctor:
"Imagine if this were written about Jews, blacks, Muslims or Latinos," says Dr. David Arredondo. He is an expert on child development and founder of The Children's Program, in the San Francisco metropolitan area, which provides consultation and training for those working with troubled youths.
Well, if you replace children with "blacks" or "Jews" in any context, you'll arrive at some squeamish results.

Ugh, the blacks threw a temper tantrum when I wouldn't buy them a candy bar, but I told them they already had a cookie. And then I come home to find the Latinos throwing pancake mix on the floor while my wife was taking a nap.

www.sh*tmyjewsruined.com is still available, if you're interested in perpetuating this meme.

Zacharias then, weirdly, goes on to lament the disappearance of the practice of reading to our children. That's all well in good, but hardly the fault of the author of this book. Her argument culminates as follows:

The violent language of "Go the F*** to Sleep" is not the least bit funny, when one considers how many neglected children fall asleep each night praying for a parent who'd care enough to hold them, nurture them and read to them.
But, to be clear, mocking "mama Palin" who is, by all accounts, a good mother, his hi-freaking-larious.

Look, if there is a serious issue with "Go the F--- to Sleep" (aside from the crass content), it is the underlying issue. Parents simply will not enforce the discipline necessary to get their kids to go to sleep. That, of course, is a different issue.

Pretending that toddlers are somehow a marginalized group (note: if you cannot wipe yourself, and do not have a disability, I will marginalize you) is the stuff of someone so inanely self-serious that she is no position to dictate what is funny.

Stick to recycling Sarah Palin jokes, sweetie, and let the funny people do funny.

Wait, one more... From her Christmas wish list:

Sarah Palin. Duct Tape. I can think of 50 Ways to put it to good use in the Palin household.
Because Palin should be quiet. Oh, for fun...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Monday Musings

Everything's on fire or underwater... Let's sweat the small stuff.

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Sometimes it sucks being the guy who over-analyzes everything. For example, sportswriters have hailed the Detroit Pistons' draft night as a victory. The reason? They drafted a point guard at the eight spot who was projected to go as high as third in the draft.

Only, the point guard in question, Brandon Knight, has yet to demonstrate that he can shoot or pass very well. Most are willing to overlook this inconvenient fact and talk about his "basketball IQ" (a non-falsifiable appellation that makes me cringe) and his team's final four run.

If I were the type to overlook information when forming opinions, I'd have a few months of happiness for myself before the anguish. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.

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New York passed legislation legalizing gay marriage this weekend. I don't really care much either way. My position is that government-endorsed marriage should cease to be, as it ceases to have any societal value once you factor in at-will divorce.

However, I am equally certain that gay interest groups will overplay their hand, especially in New York. From a Machiavellian perspective, I hope they do. Let's have a national conversation about whether a church must perform a gay ceremony, or whether scripture constitutes "hate speech". Then, let citizens in the rest of the country decide what it wants to do with marriage.

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But can't government use common sense to balance civil and religious liberty? Consider...

It is TSA policy to ask 95-year-old women to remove their adult diapers as part of a standard search.

So, no...

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Someone got paid to write that policy. If you are part of the half of America that pays income taxes, YOU paid someone to write that policy.

To which, if you don't make enough money to pay taxes, on what basis should I care about your thoughts on the economy? To possibly misquote Anton Chgur, if your rules got you here, what is the point of your rule?

Look at your choices before you start making mine.

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Certain people are fond of saying that Christ was political. The idea goes like this... The mere ACT of proclaiming himself as Lord (above Caesar) had political implications. This is true as far as it goes, but it's a bit obtuse. Jesus didn't proclaim himself Lord for the purpose of being political, but for the purpose of getting people to follow him. He would have said the same thing in any context.

To use the "politics of Jesus" to advance a partisan cause is wholly disingenuous. Just because you claim to be a Christian, and have opinions about politics, does not mean you are channeling Christ when you take a political stance. He is God; you are not, and so are thusly burdened with mounting an intellectual defense of your ideas.

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Also, if you are merely noting that Christ was political simply because he did things, because doing things is what politics is, you are producing words for the sake of doing so.



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Dear Internet: tax cuts and tax credits are different things.

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Cosmos has a new chef, and he is very good indeed. We celebrated our five year anniversary there on Friday. Highlights of our meal included a pitch-perfect rabbit risotto, a mezze course that pops in your mouth, and a panna cotta that actually tastes good. Five courses (plus amuse and mezze) for $45 is a great deal in that space.

And the space is beautiful, if not perhaps a bit intimidating.

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Victory 44 won the City Pages award for Best Burger. Great burger, but that's wrong. The reuben, however, is still off the charts.

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I've been hearing this more and more lately, but I am shocked at the degree to which downtown has deteriorated in the last couple of years. It was never a picnic, but it is clear that city leadership has not made the safety of citizens downtown a priority. There is no excuse for this.

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Speaking of, my friend told me the story of his brother, whose truck was stolen in broad daylight. The kids who stole the truck used it to shoplift from a nearby store. The owner decided to let them go. The police then pulled over the vehicle for a traffic violation, found that the driver had no license or registration, but let them go.

The then-ruined truck was towed, requiring the owner to pay for repairs and for the towing fee.

So yeah, I can maybe see why downtown has gone to hell.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Weekly musings

I can muse on days other than Monday, dammit. Nobody puts TPWK in a box!

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I am seldom as irate as I pretend to be on this blog, but this story renders me so.

The (paternal) grandmother of a child noticed red marks on the child's buttocks, and so naturally decided to take the child to the emergency room. As a result, the police arrested the mother, and charged her with child abuse. Turns out (gasp!) spanking was involved.

Spanking a two-year-old? Of course, everyone in the courtroom had a good laugh and sent the family on its way.

Nope. The mother was sentenced to five years probation, and has lost custody of her children, per Judge Jose Longoria. Check the video in the link above, where he scolds the mother, saying "we don't spank".

Regardless of your views on spanking (and if you are a parent, I know damn well you have spanked your children) I defy you to watch the video of that judge and his condescending little spiel and not feel violent urges. I hope someone is setting up a fund to defeat Judge Longoria in 2012. I pledge $50. For real.

For the record, spanking is legal in Texas. The judge and prosecutors apparently decided to invent a law on the fly. That's dangerous in general, but especially when applied stupidly.

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If Rick Perry does not speak out on the above, I see no reason to support his candidacy for president. He won't, and that's telling.

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In positive news, Meg Tuthill decided to table her ridiculous anti-patio ordinance before last Friday's city council meeting. She claims she had the votes, but the vociferous opposition from her fellow council members seems to indicate otherwise.

Instead, she will form a panel or something. A real profile in courage, that chick.

I'd love to see our city council actually focus on issues that are important.
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Wife and I planned to check out Tilia on Saturday. This restaurant is part of a trend (following in the footsteps of The Cheesecake Factory) of not taking reservations. Because, you know, the food is so damn awesome that you, the great unwashed, should be perfectly content to wait for it.

Per the website, customers should be willing to wait between 5-60 minutes during peak times. Customers are encouraged to visit the restaurant after 8p.

So we did, arriving at a quarter-to-nine, requesting a two-top. Suggested wait time: 75 minutes.

This is ridiculous. My wife and I go out to eat because we want to enjoy ourselves, not because we want to wait, in jubilant expectation, for whatever some (theoretically) brilliant chef decides to throw at us.

Apparently, this trend is catching on in other cities. Restaurant owners are quick to call it "democratic". Hogwash. Waiting in line for food is a hallmark of fascist states. If you can cajole your useful idiots into doing your bidding, and sell them alcohol in the process, more power to you.

As for me, I can do waiting by myself, thanks.

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That's your news for today. Stay away from tornadoes, kids.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

ATMs FTW

Quick huddle on economics, k? Billy, you listening? Billy!

Good...

So here's the deal. There is a direct correlation between your financial status and your buying power. We agree on this, right? If you can buy things, you are doing well. If you cannot, you are not, economically speaking.

To which, your salary is only relevant in context. If you make $175,000 per year, but a car costs $150,000, you are probably poor. Similarly, if you make $30,000, while a car costs $600, you are probably rich.

But also, if you make $175,000 per year, but cannot buy a car, because cars do not yet exist, then you are also, in a sense, poor. In a sense, poor Americans of today are far wealthier than the rich denizens of bygone eras. Would you rather have a castle or internet access and indoor plumbing?

And so, when Barack Obama blames ATMs for job losses (or cites them as endemic of a broader trend, or whatever... I don't want to split hairs) he is doing so out of ignorance. ATMs are a luxury, for which we pay very little. These marvels of technology allow us to access our money whenever we need it.

As such, they improve our lives, and give we mere citizens more bang for our buck.

Obama is reverting to the old liberal mentality that automation is bad because it replaces the good old American worker. This is facile. I would note that, while many sectors are badly hurting, banking is not one of them.

Innovation makes our lives better. If robots could do everything, from harvesting food to getting us to and fro, we wouldn't need money. We'd be set. We would, of course, need people to fix the robots, and we would have to find a way to compensate them. They would be extremely well-off, the robot fixing people.

But robots can't do everything, and so we have to compensate people to do all sorts of things. That's how our economy works.

Easy access to my money means I can go shop or buy a skateboard, or upgrade my swans in farmville or whatever. That creates jobs. Machines that dispense money must be maintained by skilled employees. That creates jobs. The existence of ATMs gives young people a compelling reason to open a bank account. That creates jobs.

So, let's be clear. Automation does not kill jobs. Lack of purchasing power kills jobs.

Leave ATMs alone, dummy.

Jesus never had to beg the question...

Phil Haslanger has this to say:

Jesus never said anything about collective bargaining.
Correct.

He never called for the continuation of the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers.
Yep.

He never addressed giving tax breaks to corporations.

Sure didn't.

There’s been quite a push from the faith community this year, you may have noticed.

Yeah, I guess.

That demonstration spilled over into the Capitol hallways as the Joint Finance Committee moved toward concluding its work on the budget even as protesters periodically disrupted the proceedings.

Unlike Jesus, who did nothing of the sort.

In a society where people hold differing religious beliefs or none at all, it’s not like a religious argument ought to be used as a trump card in public policy debates.
But let's do it anyway.

The standard pushback is that when Jesus said people should care for the poor, he was talking about individual acts of charity and not about governmental programs that take everyone’s tax dollars whether they want to help the poor or not.
No. The standard pushback is that your ideas do not help the poor. Also, Jesus would not use the term "pushback".

That overlooks another theme that runs alongside of charity in the Bible — it’s a call to justice.

The standard pushback, either Haslanger's or mine, does no such thing.

When a Jewish man named Zacchaeus was collecting taxes for the Romans and taking a nice cut for himself, he encountered Jesus and was so moved that he promised to pay back four times all he had defrauded and give half of his wealth to the poor. Another story of justice.

The poor don't pay any taxes in this country, so...

Consider this line from Isaiah, the prophet of old, speaking in God’s voice to the leaders of that era: “It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?”

Now that I have considered the admonition not to grind the face of the poor, I am now persuaded that public sector employees, who make over $50k per year on average, plus sterling benefits, must have the right to bargain collectively. Good point.

This goes beyond simply donating to a food pantry. It means paying attention to the way society is structured. In Jesus’ day, when the Romans occupied the land, the only route to help the poor was to create alternative structures.

Of course, the Roman Empire built itself.

They start with a recognition of the inherent dignity of each person that emerges from the Bible,

Except for the unborn. F@#$ them. Not Jesusy enough, fetuses.

That’s why there has been so much more action by Christians and people of other faith traditions in the past few months around the proposals of Gov. Scott Walker.
Jesus must be dragged into this, because he agrees with everyone, no matter what they believe.*

Those proposals tilt the balance away from that vision of a just society toward one that caters to the wealthy and enshrines private gain over the common good.
Can we coin a phrase for when Christians simply assert Christ is on their side to paper over intellectual gaps in their ideology?

Ralph: So, at some point, we need to consider whether we can sustain our entitlements without fundamentally altering our economy.
James: Isaiah warned us about grinding the face of the poor.
Ralph: Excuse me?
James: Jesus would overturn your table and whip you.
Ralph: The hell? I'm trying to have an adult conv...
James: Love wins, bitch!
Ralph: You've changed, man.

It’s exactly the kind of thing that provoked the ire of Hebrew prophets and that man from Nazareth named Jesus.

Told you so. Let's construct a syllogism:

1) Christ never said anything about collective bargaining.
2) Christ cared about people.
3) Therefore, Christ supports collective bargaining for public sector employees.

Let me play:

1) Christ never said anything about ninjas.
2) Christ loved children.
3) Therefore, Christ compels ninjas to wear green.

Also, what is the point of referring to Christ as "that man from Nazareth named Jesus"? It's not like Haslanger established that as a rhetorical device. Like, it would have made sense if this were a piece about the humanity of Jesus, and how he came from somewhere. But, mostly, it looks like Haslanger realized he hadn't argued anything, and so was left without any material for a concluding paragraph.

* - Unless you are a conservative. F!@# conservatives. Not Jesusy enough.

Monday, June 13, 2011

On basketball and Christianity

Monday, June 06, 2011

Melty Monday Musings

Minnesota, where "Spring? What Spring?" Happens. Let's muse.

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Regular readers know I hold the Minneapolis Inspections department in low regard. There is a reason for this.

Last week, a tree trimmer from Hastings, Mike Haege, answered R.T. Rybak's call to volunteer in the aftermath of the North Minneapolis tornado. He went around, helping chop up trees for trapped residents.

Not so fast, said some city inspector lackey, who insisted he be licensed in the city of Minneapolis before being allowed to chop up any trees in the city (Mr. Haege is licensed in Hastings). Never mind that Haege wasn't charging for his services and was registered with a volunteer organization, or that our police officers presumably had a million better things to do than drive away a good samaritan.

They literally did just that, and the inspections department leveled a $275 fine to boot.

I put a call into the city, and spoke with Henry Reimer, who explained that, after last year's tornado, numerous contractors came along to bilk the elderly out of their money. I asked if Mr. Haege was charging anything. No, so what was the point?

Reimer explained that Mr. Haege was advertising his services. I asked if he was passing out fliers or business cards, and Reimer said no, but that Haege's company name was all over his truck and his equipment.

At that point, I'm pretty sure even Reimer didn't even believe his own bullshit, so he recalibrated. It was a safety issue, Reimer explained. We can't just have volunteers running around "willy-nilly" (his word) after a disaster. Then, and this is the city's official line in the press, it was explained that he was in the wrong zone. See, he was only allowed to chop up trees in certain zones.

So will he drop the fine? Nope. Mr. Haege will have the opportunity to drive back up to the cities to appeal the decision in the City Inspections' Kangaroo Court.

No, seriously, the city is NOT dropping the fine.

Oh, and if that whole zoning thing sounds like a fabrication, that's because it is. When bureaucrats feel comfortable lying to the press and to citizens, it's time for reform.

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Of course, the inspections department and police can be forgiven for piddling with licensing issues. I mean, it's not like this is happening. You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie.

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A bit off-topic, but this quote from Ben Post in the Strib is, well...

"People were super ramped up to help, and frankly there wasn't much to do," he said. "The hard part is, I'm sure people were asking volunteers for help in those areas. But if we just released 600 people into the neighborhood, it would have been a nightmare."
I. Have. No. Words.

Dear Urban Homeworks, never let Ben Post talk to anyone, much less the press, again. Ever. Seriously.

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From the French:

" the punishment incurred – 74 years in jail – also seems inconceivable in our country. 'It is very difficult for us to understand, but we have to avoid judging the Americans, their sense of justice is linked to their culture', the Honorary First President of the Paris Appellate Court Jean-Claude Magendie warns.’"

This is intended condescendingly. For those who aren't aware, the prevailing attitude among the French people is that it is an absolute travesty that an esteemed Socialist should be held against his will for the petty "crime" of having a bit of fun with a peasant.

This is the country that provided safe haven for a pedophile, the justice of which, I sense, is strongly linked to their culture, or lack thereof.

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After eight years of myopically driving the New York Times into financial irrelevance, Bill Keller is out as Editor in Chief. This tidbit, from his interview with Media Matters, a left-wing media "fact-checking" outlet:

People say, 'Well Fox claims to be fair and balanced, but they're not. You claim to be fair and balanced, you must not be either.' And so all news organizations, including the ones that try very hard to play fair and to be even-handed in their reporting and writing get tarred by the Fox brush."
Really? People say that? I have never heard anyone say that. What people say is that Fox News is an inherently conservative outlet. Some people say that this is in response to the demonstrated bias of the New York Times. Others (whose political beliefs accord with those of the demonstrated bias of the NYT) do not.

That's okay. According to the new editor, the New York Times is worthy of religious idolatry, so it's long track record of being hopelessly out of touch is sure to come to an end.

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In more positive news, I can safely report that Evergreen Chinese is as good as ever. They have more prominently labelled the "self-serve" fridge as such, the existence of which should put this at the top of the list of great restaurants to dine with kids. Snuck some seaweed knots and spicy cucumber salad as a run-up to the always excellent lemongrass mock beef.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Why we're fat: Part II - Cooking

From generation to generation, Americans pass along the tradition of being completely and utterly incapable of producing a proper meal. For a nation that has hundreds of cooking magazines, thousands of cookbooks, and even entire television stations devoted to the practice of cooking, it is staggering how few people can actually do it.

This makes us fat. When you aren't cooking for yourself, you are eating something that someone has prepared for you. That someone, be it Stouffers or PF Changs, is driven by consumer demand. Consumers demand affordability and efficiency, but also something that tastes better than their own godawful cooking.

Thanks to the government, corn syrup and sugar (more on those later) are remarkably cheap and efficient. Because it is a byproduct, fat is pretty much cheap on its own. Because most people are raised on a diet of basically donuts, and because we can't cook, we assume that Stouffers and PF Changs are the standard bearers.

If you eat Stouffers and PF Changs on a regular basis, you are fat, or should be. So why can't we cook? Some reasons:

Stove settings

The vast majority of stove top cooking exercises go something like this. Cook starts with the stove on high. Stuff starts to sizzle and boil and look unstable generally. Cook turns stove down to whatever setting remedies this problem. Cook leaves kitchen. Food sits in pan for 55 minutes.

This is the proper way to prepare no dish I am aware of. The end result is often burnt, usually dry and always flavorless.

Why do people cook like this? They equate high heat with efficiency. Stuff cooks faster when the stove is hotter. It can also catch fire, and everyone knows that's bad, so they over-correct. People also overcook because they are terrified of...

Undercooking

Most people know two things about cooking. Fire is bad, and under-cooking makes you sick. Both are true, as far as it goes. But the result is that people err on the side of food safety... Big time.

People also apply this scrupulous attitude to food safety, out of habit, to items that can be consumed raw, like vegetables, or items that only need searing, like steaks. Habit becomes custom, and people begin to expect soggy vegetables, rubbery eggs and gray meat. Show the average person a properly prepared grass fed steak, and they will assume the thing is crawling with worms.

Seafood is the most frequent victim of our overcooked neuroses, which is too bad, because it is as healthy as it is ruined by overcooking.

Undersalting

Americans are weird about salt. We will blissfully consume it by the truckload via packaged foods, yet get all dainty when adding it to our cooking.

The reason for this, I think, is the physics of the salt shaker, which we generally use to season food once it has been prepared. The addition of a trace amount of salt on top of a prepared item radically changes the flavor profile.

Not so prior to heating. It takes two tablespoons (yes, tablespoons) added to boiling water to properly cook a pot of pasta. That's an awful lot of shaking, and feels indulgent and dangerous.

Salt is the most important seasoning on Earth. A good rule of thumb is to sprinkle in some salt with the addition of EVERY ingredient in a meal. Our unwillingness to add proper amounts of it to our food goes a long way toward explaining why we don't like our own cooking, and why we savor even the most mediocre of chain restaurant food.

More on salt

Part of the reason we don't add it is because we think of salt as unhealthy. We put it in the same category as sugar. The reason for this is that high salt diets tend also to be high fat and sugar diets. Correlation is not causation. Unless you suffer from hypertension, in which case the remote possibility that salt is a contributing factor, is reason enough to cut down, don't worry about salt.

Mistreatment of vegetables

I hope whoever invented the idea of steaming a bunch of vegetables and calling it a side dish is rotting in hell right now, because they have contributed to the early demise of millions of people. Steamed vegetables taste like pencils. Boiled vegetables taste like pencils, but also smell like goat farts.

Thanks to the anti-fat craze, and our penchant for letting the perfect get in the way of the possible, people are hesitant to "ruin" their vegetables by adding cooking oil and sauteeing them (or adding salt, for that matter). Never mind that, for example, asparagus sauteed in oil has about 200 calories, while a burger and fries have 1,500.

And don't get me started on non-fat salad dressing.

Monster grocery runs

In order to save time, we tend to buy our groceries all at once. That means that whatever we buy has to last as much as two weeks on the shelf. Chicken pot pies (the least healthy thing you can possibly eat) and tortilla chips (a close second) last forever. Avocados, not so much. You can't cook if you don't have ingredients.

Crappy recipes

Recipes are everywhere. On the internet, on TV, in magazines, in pregnancy books. Most recipes fall into one of three categories: Disgusting, impossible to execute outside of an industrial kitchen, or simply inaccurate.

I don't know why people feel compelled to share recipes that don't work. After awhile, you learn to figure out who's full of crap (hint: they are fond of throwing salad dressings into their food, and do not recommend seasonings other than garlic powder). Then there's the people who use the term teaspoon and tablespoon interchangeably. The latter being three times the size of the former, that's kind of a big deal.

And, let's face it, the average person doesn't have time to track down kaffir lime leaves. amchur powder, and pork hocks. And if it requires braising or broiling, forget about it.

Here's what happens, people scour their favorite resources for recipes, until they find one that looks nice and simple. They invest the time to make a recipe, and 80% of the time it tastes like crap. Next time, Arbys.

If everyone were issued a copy of Joy of Cooking, I'm convinced we would weigh, on average, at least one pound less.

Idiotic cooking devices

The George Foreman Grill... Making chicken and turkey burgers taste like cigarettes since 1994.