Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health Insurance and Life Insurance

I've said it before and I will say it again - the answer to our health care cost issues in this country can be at least partially solved by a change in pricing. If we charge for health insurance the same way we charge for life insurance, we would save a lot of money because the fatties would have to pay their fair, and this is important, their CONTROLLABLE share.

Here's an article that says 10% of our medical spending is going for our obese fellow Americans. Talk about waste in the system!

Let's take two people. I'll be one of them. I am 33 years old, I weigh 215 pounds, and I don't smoke. The guy next to me is 33 years old, weighs 350 pounds, smokes two packs of Marlboro Reds a day and drinks nothing more than coffee and Mountain Dew. If this person and I went to get life insurance, the other guy would have to pay nearly TRIPLE what I would pay for the same amount of coverage (those who have bought life insurance know what I am talking about). Let me put that in simple terms: over the 20 year span of our life insurance policy, my friendly co-worker is 3 times more likely to die than I am. But if this other person and I participate in our employer provided health insurance program, we would pay exactly the same amount per month, and we would have the same co-pays and deductibles. Does it seem reasonable to assume that we will consume the same amount of health services? NO. Then why do we pay the same amount?

I am NOT in favor of genetic screening for disease and pricing health plans that way. That's not fair - you cannot control the genes you were born with. But you can control what you eat, what you smoke and what you drink. I think it is reasonable to ask people to pay for the choices they make. I also think that if my coworker's out of pocket expense what three to four times what mine was, a lot of people out there would stop consuming all the bad things that are making them fat.

Who knows, we could probably pay for health insurance for all the kids in this country with the savings. But I guess that makes me a socialist.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Welcome Home from China Professor Gates

Debates about healthcare be damned! A prominent black man has accused a police officer of racism - we must get to the bottom of this!

Like the rest of the mainstream media, I think the debate about the healthcare system in this country is too complex to think and write about, so I am going to move onto something quite a bit simpler - a black man getting arrested by a white cop.

I'm not a constitutional scholar, but I have watched a lot of Law and Order. I have also read the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which reads as follows:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The racial element of this situation is what is getting most people excited, and I think it is unfortunate that that particular angle is framing the debate about Gates' arrest. As details are released, and each side tells and retells their story, what is becoming clear is that neither Professor Gates nor the arresting officer distinguished themselves during this incident. Did the Cambridge Police act "stupidly" as President Obama described? I don't know, but the facts seem to indicate that the Cambridge Police acted unconstitutionally, which is a far more serious matter.

Did the police have probable cause to ask Gates for his drivers license? Yes. However, the moment that the police confirmed that Gates was in his own home, their probable cause to ask Gates more questions evaporated. The police, under the constitution, should have said, "Good bye, sir." And that is all. It's not up to the police to decide if they can search our houses. Without a properly executed search warrant, it is ILLEGAL for them to search our "persons, houses, papers and effects". Whatever complaints and belligerence Gates demonstrated during the incident is completely irrelevant. ESPECIALLY after the police determined Gates was, in fact, in his own home.

Reports indicate that the officer asked Gates if he (the officer) could look around Gates' house. Gates said no. The right to not be searched or detained without cause is fundamental in our country, and is one of the cornerstones of the freedom we have here. The reaction of many right wingers out there is laughable. You may be familiar with this quote:

Extremism in defence of liberty is no vice.

None other than famous bleeding heart lefty BARRY GOLDWATER said that at the 1964 Republican National Convention. But now, some 45 years later, anyone expressing that kind of sentiment is laughed off as a wingnut liberal. Well I have grown tired of that attitude.

Reports have also indicated that Gates was agitated at the time, and was yelling at the cops who were there. Ask yourself this question: If you are ever arrested and handcuffed on the porch of your own home for "disorderly conduct" and the only people you were disturbing were the officers who were arresting you - arresting you illegally in your mind - don't you think you would be upset too? Don't you think that your friends would later say that the police had acted "stupidly" in such a case?

Liberty is being challenged in this country. The arrest of Professor Gates in his own home for "disorderly conduct" should be all the evidence you need to see that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Hold Steady really showed me something

The Hold Steady at the Basilica Block Party on Saturday was absolutely amazing. An amazing setting, a crowd ready to pop, and a band that not only loves what they do, but a band that was positively determined to make sure everyone had a great time.

Andy and Joanna met Nicole and I there about 15 minutes before the show started. I was pretty excited, and I hoped that Joanna and Andy would be treated to an excellent performance. They were going out on a limb, spending $50 a ticket to see a band they didn't know much about. My reputation was on the line a bit, but I was confident.

What did I think of the show? Nicole demanded to take my picture two songs into the set. Click on this and see if you think I was having a good time: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=528161&l=362291cdf9&id=1418517246

Nicole was raving afterwards as well. If you aren't familiar with The Hold Steady, the set list they played would be an excellent introduction:

Constructive Summer
Hot Soft Light
Chips Ahoy!
Sequestered In Memphis
The Swish
Massive Nights
Party Pit
Don’t Let Me Explode
Stevie Nix
Multitude of Casualties
Yeah Sapphire
Southtown Girls
Lord, I’m Discouraged
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
Stay Positive
Slapped Actress
How a Resurrection Really Feels

First Night
Stuck Between Stations
Killer Parties

I was amazed at how close we were - I'm not the kind of guy who is willing to push up through a crowd, so I usually just watch from where ever I get to when I walk in. But we had a great view, and the weather could not have been better. I've seen crowds that were into shows before, but everyone I saw there was absolutely THRILLED to be where they were. Honestly, the encore was so great that I would pay another $50 to get a concert DVD if they put it on sale today.

To make an awesome night even better, as we walked back with all the other people leaving the concert, we walk past Eli's, and wouldn't you know it, an outside table for 4 was there waiting for us. I mean, there is NO WAY that happens right? Between Basilica, Green Day and the Twins, I estimate there were 9 billion people downtown on Saturday, and there's a table just sitting there waiting for us.

A special THANKS to Joanna and Andy for joining us - those guys took a risk, and I was happy to see them having a good time. Your Hold Steady compilation CDs will be burned and ready for you the next time I see you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I Totally Smoked It

Well, I did it. After being literally obsessed with the terra cotta smoker episode of Good Eats for weeks, I finally put it all together, and made it happen. Here's the story - with pictures, of my journey to the land of true barbecue.


The smoker itself needs to be off the ground a bit so that there can be some air flow. There were lots of choices of course, including actual terra cotta pot stand things, but that seemed a little classy for me. I found these bricks for $0.49 each - which was good because by the time I got this the point where I was going to buy these, I was way over budget. And they match the pots pretty well, too.


Then I remembered that since there would be wood burning, it might be a good idea to have a fire extinguisher nearby.


That's the bottom half of the smoker, put on the bricks. See, this is not rocket science here. The terra cotta pots are the 16" size, which I picked because of the grill that fit inside best. Also, they were a little more than I thought they would be, around $22 each.


That's a $10 burner I got at Walgreen's. The best reason to go with bigger pots would be that the burner would probably fit inside better. This is a 1000 watt model, which is the minimum that is going to provide enough heat. If there was a 1500 watt one, I would have used it. As you can see, I ran the cord out of the bottom hole of the pot.


That's some wood in a heavy duty pie pan on top of the burner. You can't use those flimsy metal pie tins, as they will likely melt, which could wreck your whole thing. Plus - yuck, I don't think you want to eat that stuff. So I knew I had to have a pretty heavy duty pie tin. The wood you see there is Wild Cherry wood, which is nothing special really, I got a bag of it from the Co-op for $10. THERE IS NOT ENOUGH WOOD ON THAT PAN IN THIS PICTURE. I realized later that piling the wood on was a much better idea. It was hard getting it to be hot enough otherwise.


Then I put the grill on (after I turned the burner on of course). The fit was perfect, which is why I had decide on this size of pot. That's actually the bottom grill from a full size Weber, the one that the coals are normally placed on. It could not have fit in the smoker better.


The last pieces were to put the other terra cotta pot on top, and plug the whole with the thermometer. That's a simple replacement thermometer, and it has a short stem on it. I don't think it is the most accurate reading possible, but it looks cool and it does cover the top hole. Although at $9, it was a little steep.


Feel the love. You know that feeling when you can't stop thinking about something for weeks and then you finally make it happen? That's the smile I get on my face when that happens to me. It was cool.



Now this is where things did get a little dicey. I had three overall concerns before I began this project:

  1. Don't burn the house down.

  2. Don't give myself a third degree burn playing with this stuff.

  3. Make sure the smoker is not too hot, thereby defeating the purpose of the slow-cooked barbecue.

It turns out that the biggest problem I encountered was none of the above. I actually hard a hard time getting the whole thing hot enough to cook on. I had no interest in giving my family salmonella poisoning, so I had planned on pre-heating the smoker to make sure that it could get hot enough, BEFORE I put any food on the grill.

Much to my amazement, the thermometer on the grill seemed to be stuck around 175 degrees (I was looking for at least 225). I turned up the burner all the way, and then Nicole suggested I put more wood on, which was a great idea. I put a nice tower of wood on there, and then things got going. But the thermometer never registered above 200.

It was definitely hotter than that in the grill, which was very good news. I had always figured that it would be hottest at the top of the smoker, but I am almost 100% certain that it was much hotter lower in the smoker, closer to the grill. The bottom terra cotta pot was very hot to the touch, and when I finally put some wings on to give it a try, they sizzled, so I knew it was working.

Now, on to the meat:


I started with wings because they are cheap, and would provide some measure of instant satisfaction since they would be cooked in about an hour. I marinated these is beer, Dr. Pepper and Louisiana Hot Sauce most of the day. It was a very thin marinade, which I wanted because I didn't want lots of stuff dripping down onto the wood. These were on the smoker for around an hour, and then I slapped the on the grill for a couple minutes to finish them.

I thought they were awesome. Others likes them too, but not as much. But you could almost taste the cherry from the smoking wood - it was very cool, and very satisfying to know that the smoker was indeed hot enough to got for something bigger.


That is a 4 pound organic, free range chicken I got from the co-op. I love these chickens because they are cheap and very versatile. It's like a blank canvas - or something like that.

Anyway, I butterflied the chicken which was really fun, but not for the faint of heart. I wish I had had some surgical gloves - in fact, I might just buy a box because more and more I think it is a good idea to handle your meat that way.

After butterflying the bird, I did something I had never done before - I brined it. I made my brine in a small, clean cooler that I had. It was a mixture of water, salt, and molasses. There are about a million different brine recipes out there. I didn't want to cook my brine, because I didn't have time to wait for it to cool back down. It seems to me that if you aren't going to cook the brine, there isn't much point in putting a bunch of spices in it. Plus I was planning on using a rub for the chicken anyway, so no big deal.

I put the chicken in the cooler with the brine and a bag of ice to keep it cool and hold the chicken down. I brined for somewhere between 6 and 8 hours. I guess you aren't supposed to go too long, because your meat will turn to mush. Once the time was up, I took the meat out and rinsed it thoroughly, then dried it before applying my rub.

I have made my own rub before, from a recipe of course, and I really like to do it. Now that I can get bulk spices from the co-op, it's way cheaper to make your own rub. After you make a couple of rubs, you realize that SALT is the main ingredient in rubs. Since I had already brined this meat, I made my rub without salt this time.

Rub it up , and then I got it on the smoker. At this point, I was running up against the clock a little. The while process had already taken longer than I wanted it to, and the family wasn't going to wait until 10 pm to eat. So after 2 hours on the smoker, I took it off and finished it on the grill. When I put the meat thermometer in the chicken, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was already up to 140 degrees, on its way to 165. I figure another hour on the smoker would have done it. But it only took 15 more minutes on the grill.


That's the finished bird right there. From that point, I took all the skin off, and then tore all the meat off the bones. We cut the meat up and used it for sandwiches. They were crazy good at the time, but the surprising thing was that they were even smokier the next day! And Nicole's Mom absolutely LOVED the meat we brought over for her. I don't even think she was just being nice.

I will absolutely be smoking away some more! It wasn't THAT hard, and the food was really good, and it isn't something you have every day. I still want to do the pork butt from the original tv show I saw that gave me this idea, but beef brisket and ribs are totally going to be good on there as well.

It was an excellent experience, it totally worked, and other than needing a shower and new clothes when I was done (stinky stinky smoke and meat!), we all got through it unscathed.