Sunday, June 26, 2011

Take A Trip Outside Your Door: The Beauty of Local Day Trips

Pat Austin @ And So It Goes In Shreveport has developed a whole series of posts of one-day jaunts to nearby small towns: the "Take A Trip" series. I've written about them before, and her posts are themselves a bit of armchair travel that can help the cares of a crazy day fall away just reading them.

This week's "Take a Trip to Natchitoches and to Melrose Plantation" has a special focus on the architecture in the area: ranging from poteaux-en-terre to post-revolutionary African Congo-style construction to antebellum churches with copper roofs to sleek new design that's a pure study in the range of light and shadow.

Set aside an hour or so to immerse yourself in the images and follow her generous links to more information. Notice the surprises: how many knew the first American plantation built by and for free Black Americans was in Louisiana shortly after the Revolutionary War? That it was the home of primitive artist Clementine Hunter? Or that Natchitoches is the oldest permanent settlement in the whole Louisiana Purchase - dating back to 1714? Or that it now boasts the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and a great independent bookstore?

In the waning years of the Baby Boomer World where so many have become "jet setters" - dashing about on holidays to exotic locations, when it comes to renewing vacations, the bluebird of Happiness is still right in our own backyard. A lovely day spent exploring the countryside around our own home can be as memorable as, and probably more meaningful to our quality of life than the All-Inclusive Here's Your Menu 4 Days 3 Nights Fantasy Cruise.

There's something renewing about walking along the corridors of our own time, the trails of our own past. As we balance on the railroad tracks of our youth and look across the graveyards of those who balanced themselves before us, there's a great opening perspective.

This is real: right here, right now. The beautiful decay of rusting sheet iron made way for the shining stars thrown by the welding torch that builds a continuing future just as bright and exciting as the past we still admire and learn from.

All we have to do is turn 180 degrees and our future waits, just one footstep further along to the horizon.

Go see it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Regular Presidential Tax Speech/Tax Return Rant: Now with BACON...and Bono

Every so often I get indignant all over again at the President's eagerness to take all the tax breaks and loopholes he can find on his multi-million-dollar annual income - those same tax breaks he complains "the rich" are abusing. And every so often the media ignores the blatant contradictions of it and gives him a pass. Is that fair?

Now, U2's Bono is in the news because protesters are chastising him for legally avoiding paying maximum taxes.

Meanwhile, President Obama continues to sing the same song Bono sings, with nary a peep from anyone. He did it in April, taking a $22,000 Foreign Tax Credit while lip sinc-ing The White House Staff's latest Brand New Unprecidented Historic proposal to Take from the Rich and Give to the Poor by playing "Where'd Your Piggy Bank Go?".

And in a speech in Toledo in May, he did it again. Mr Obama had the audacity to say this: "We’ve got to live within our means, everybody’s got to do their part. Middle-class workers like you, though, shouldn’t be bearing all the burden. You work too hard for someone to ask you to pay more so that somebody who’s making millions or billions of dollars can pay less."  (see Page 13 at the link)

And so, once more, here's my same old hissy fit about it: Originally Posted 1/26/11:

Suppose I believe that it's a good thing to pay taxes in order for the government to provide services that make our society a better place, and that in fact it is the government's job to do this.

Suppose, theoretically, that I've decried special tax deductions loopholes & tax shelters for the wealthy to prevent them having to pay the full allotment of tax due on their income and assets. Suppose I have built a career on supporting this outlook.

Let's suppose that my income for one year is already $5.5 Million, and of that, I will pay about 33% in taxes (including Self Employment taxes), which is about the same percentage that nearly every self-employed person will pay on their income, even those who only made $50 Thousand. So while it looks like a lot to say I paid $1.5 Million in taxes, it's actually not any more, percentage-wise, than, say, Joe the Plumber pays.

What if I were to have a windfall of $1 Million, and the current tax laws (which I claim are unfairly tilted toward the wealthy) will allow me to shuttle that money into my favorite tax-free charities without paying any tax on it.

In the process, I don't get a "charitable deduction", but I get something even better: I get lots of priceless publicity as a benefactor to these charities, and I don't have to claim the windfall as income. So it looks like I am more generous than I actually am.

If I chose not to use the loophole (which I have despised), and did claim the windfall as income, and then made the donations directly, I'd have to pay an extra $14,700. But, instead, I redirect it and "save" the money for the charities, instead of "giving" it to the government.

So in this fantasy, I, a millionaire several times over, who is campaigning to close loopholes and raise taxes on "the rich", take the loophole and avoid paying any taxes at all on $1 Million dollars.

Now, pretend all that is true, and that it isn't me, but the President of the United States.

Welcome to reality.

That $1 million dollars bought a ton of PR for the man who is expected to spend a record One Billion Dollars running for relection.

You can read the rest here.

This isn't about a political changing of the mind, which anyone can understand even if they don't agree.

This is like if Donald Trump complained that the law allows companies to file for bankruptcy (no offense or criticism intended toward Mr Trump, just trying to present a sort of balanced comparison).

This is about saying one thing and deliberately doing the opposite. No matter whether it is a Democrat or Republican in the White House, no matter whether one agrees or disagrees with a president's policies, this kind of behavior is unacceptable from any elected official.

And especially from the President of the United States.

(HT Instapundit for many of the original links, and for a brilliant  proposal to elevate robust fairness in the tax system.)

America Called - It's Time For Your Run, Rick Perry.

Like Mrs Palin, Rick Perry is worthy of our forefathers - he holds true to all the best values that keep America strong and great as the land of opportunity and leader of the free world.  I could have sworn I saw a mention somewhere recently (will link when I find it again) that Sarah Palin had met with Perry to encourage him to run for President. (UPDATE I still can't find the link. Perhaps I dreamed it?) Ah well, if it were true, that would be consistent with her strategy as I understand it:  to restore America we must elect representatives who are citizens first and politicians only tangentally.

  He would be a meaningful and legitimate candidate for the highest office in America. Beholden to none, putting the country's best interests first, accepting his authority as a citizen, and taking responsibility himself instead of passing the buck.

If Rick Perry runs, he will not only capture the nomination, he will be our next President. A president who would represent ALL Americans with integrity and backbone.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mema's Potato Salad and Brand Name Memes

Christopher at "Word Around the Net" has an interesting post musing about the brands of products his family uses, and why they use them. I commented, and it got me thinking about all the day to day brands I rely on. I'd not ever describe myself as a "brand snob" but I do have my favorites. Many are brands my grandparents used, and I think about them briefly if i think about why I buy the brand. Come join the conversation and share your favorite brands.

Daddy and his ladyfriend - a lovely lady that we like a lot - came over today, along with my step-sister and her son, for Father's Day. Paul cooked burgers on the grill and tried a new seasoning from Fiesta Brand (we like their spices) "Uncle Chris' Gourmet Steak Seasoning". It is excellent! He melted Kroger's house brand cheddar cheese on them and put them on Sunbeam buns.

I made my grandmother's potato salad. I guess my grandchildren will think of me when they say "Mema's Potato Salad", but each member of the family will make it their own with small variations. Nick made it a couple of weeks ago, and I meant to post the recipe then.

Here's how:

2 to 3 pounds of potatoes (Russets are good but any irish potato will do), peeled, boiled, drained and mashed. Cool to room temperature.

Put in a large bowl and add:
1/2 cup chopped dill pickle (we use Claussen's Kosher Dills - Mema used her own homemade garlic dills)
1/2 cup chopped sweet pickle (we use Best Maid gerkins or Mt Olive sugar-free Sweet Relish)
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup diced red onion, more or less to your own taste (the color of red onion is really nice in this but if not available substitute Texas 1016's or Vidalia's or even green onions)
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped coarsely (in fairly large pieces)
1 large (4 ounce) jar of sliced pimentos, drained (we use Dromedary Brand)
Salt and black pepper to taste (go easy - best to slightly under-salt this)

1/2 cup to 1 cup Miracle Whip - start with a half cup and mix it in before adding more. Sometimes you'll need a little more, depending on how creamy you like your potato salad.  If you only have mayonnaise, add 2 Tablespoons of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of sugar to the mayo and mix well before adding it to the potatoes.

Stir it all together well, and put it into the serving bowl or container you'll be taking it in. Smooth out the top and decorate with 2 more boiled eggs, cut lengthwise into quarters.

Sprinkle over the whole top generously with paprika. Paprika is a spice that, like cinnamon, has different nuances depending on where it is from. We love Hungarian Paprika - it is sweet and pleasantly bitter. Very nice.

Cover with clear wrap and refrigerate until serving.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

No One Who Writes Can Hide His True Self For Long

Richard Fernandez at the Belmont Club has two posts on perception and public communication that dovetail into each other: "Words to Live By in the Online Age" and "Body Language". I commented on "Words":

Consider: that in the "post-literate age" of You Tube etc, the overwhelming passion continually returns to text-based communication: texting, tweeting, Facebook and Blogs. Every time the futurists proclaim the written word deceased, the public passion proves them wrong.

There is a great secret about the written word: it craves truth. And while lies may be written down they
cannot expand as far and wide and long as written facts and truths can. Human beings know this instinctively, it shows up in early childhood behaviour: every two year old will write his name on the walls, just as every
human being before him since mankind left the Garden, and God graced us with writing to help us along our lonely road.

No one who writes can hide his true self for long. Oh on the net, he may assume a persona of some type and promote a fiction for a spell, but contrary to popular myth, identity is not self. And it is self that comes
through when one writes.

Body language and tone of voice can hide the true meaning of spoken (heard) words. People may show more of their true selves in their written communication than is ever visible in their public behavior. Compare Mrs Palin's email correspondence with the email records from JournoList participants or from the Climategate files. Even comparing the textual nuances of speeches given by one speaker to differing audiences over time can reveal essential points audiences might miss: not simply talking points but the underlying marketing agenda is found in the words, not the body language.

It may take time, but in written form, even now, "at the length, truth will out", always.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1

Monday, June 6, 2011

I Stand With Israel

Israel is one of the USA's most trustworthy allies, and is under attack. Planned mass border incursions are military actions regardless of whatever status the attackers claim for themselves. Israel and the United States have every right to defend our borders by whatever means necessary. I'm not sure what the news will bring today, but whatever it may be, I feel a need to say this:


Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Few More Examples of Vintage Mexican Pottery

For those of us in the Southwest, the fusion of cultures has always been evident in our lives, and a big part of the reason we are so passionate about the places we live.

Who are we? We're Texans. We aren't Swedish-Texans or Mexican-Texans or African-Texans or German-Texans or Vietnamese-Texans or Spanish-Texans or Californian-Texans or New Yorker-Texans. No matter where we're from or how we grew up, we aren't hyphenated: we're all one. The American Melting Pot is alive and well and still doing its good work in Texas.

This applies to our decorating styles as well as the way we live and go about our business every day. And Mexican pottery is a part of the exuberant style that characterizes Texas homes of all sorts.

Some of Pecan Corner's more popular posts, week in and week out, are about collecting vintage Mexican pottery. So I thought I'd show off some more of my collection, and add a little information about the styles and types.

The pieces that stay with me are special in their own right - my focus has always been simply whether I love the individual piece. As antiquers, though, we've sold a lot of it over the years, and I tend to sell things if the price shoots up - mainly so I don't have to worry about breaking something valuable! So while I never needed to learn about it in order to collect, I did learn some things in order to sell those pieces that don't need to stay in my house.

There was a time where Mexican pottery chicken casseroles were as common in Texas homes as Singer sewing machines. For years, we bought them weekly and sold them just as quickly. So many of them have moved in to larger collections now that they are harder to find. This one was a present from Paul a couple of years ago. We think the "come hither" look in her eyes is adorable.

This pottery skillet is done in a style called "Fantasia", for obvious reasons. Most commonly found in the blue decoration on cream colored background like this one, it can also be found in other colors, such as green
on terracotta ground. The all-over pattern of stylized florals and animals in a single color is the telltale characteristic. Paul loves this, and is partial to the blue-and-cream.

The urn-shaped vases in this group are my favorite type of ware, called "Petatillo". The detailed crosshatching filling all the space surrounding the main images make it immediately recognizable. Written in pencil on the bottom of the largest one is "Guadalahara Bought in Tampico 1939". The middle-sized one has the partial remains of its original paper label "La Casa Del _____ Monterrey".

This colorful wall plate is purely decorative, and made of "burnished ware", meaning the partially-dried clay was rubbed, or burnished, to a sheen with a stick. Probably made in Tonala, this technique was shared by pueblo Indian potters, including the famous San Ildefonso wares. It isn't as highly fired as the lead-glazed redware that is my favorite, so it didn't last as long, but it has a character all its own.

My bean pots are just that: bean pots. Made for households to cook in, utilitarian but still decorated to make the work a little more pleasant. we all love pretty dishes, no matter what culture we come from. And that may be almost instinctual - pottery making was one of mankind's earliest arts, and those early pieces are identifiable because they are decorated.

In our globally-uniform professionally-marketed designer-driven retail culture, everything is the same, no matter where it is from. Machine-made or hand-made doesn't change that, and we can find ourselves driven from novelty to novelty in a fruitless search for the authentic and original.

This old pottery is both of those things. Authentic and produced by people who sold it to make a living using the materials at hand and the techniques developed by their grandfathers, original in the work of each artist that painted it using his own ideas and natural talent to express himself that day.

It is what it is. There's very little we can truthfully say that about these days.

6/6/11 Update: Thanks to Pat @ SIGIS for the link! :-)


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