Saturday, August 20, 2011

Would you eat this?

I found an online review of vanilla ice cream brands available in your local supermarket in the US, ranked both by taste and by nutrition. Not sure if I'd eat this one, though...

#2 Stonyfield Organic Gotta Have Vanilla Tuna in Spring Water

Nutrition: One serving (1/2 cup) = 250 calories, 16g total fat, 10g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 60mg cholesterol, 45g sodium, 21g total carbs, 20g sugars, 3g protein.

Ingredients: Organic Cream, Organic Whole Milk, Naturally Milled Organic Sugar, Organic Vanilla Flavor, Organic Carob Bean Gum, Organic Guar Gum.

Cost: $2.99 for a pint at Fairway Market in New York City.

Our Assessment: This was our #2 pick for flavor, and it's available across the country, so it's a good bet on all fronts.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tails, You Lose...

Imagine all the doom-sayers were right, and the US economy tanked, the dollar becoming expensive toilet paper like in the Weimar Republic of the 1920s. You realize that another country, one of the AAA-rated ones, perhaps, offers you and your children the possibility of a better life (I'm not talking about England, Canada or Australia here, either, but a non-English speaking land). You will probably have to take a low-level, low-paying job, even though you may be a university professor, doctor or engineer back home, since all of your certifications are useless and you don't speak the language well or perhaps even at all.

When you get there, you'll have to jump through hoops just to get and then keep your visa, filling out numerous applications, sitting in offices and standing in lines for hours at a time. You will be profiled as one of those "dan-jer-us furriners", and police will be able to pull you over at any time to see your registration card.

Of course, you won't be able to actually read any of the forms you are filling out, and you'll be working 10-14 hrs or more per day, probably at 2 jobs, just trying to make ends meet and give your kids what they need to learn and thrive. You won't have time to study the language, but if you're lucky, your kids will learn the language quickly and be able to help you fill out the forms, acting as unofficial translators whenever you have problems. People will assume you are either mentally defective or plain ol' lazy. And even getting around will be tough at first, since every sign is of course only written in that country's native lingo.

Think you could hack it? Are you flexible enough, do you have the cojones?

I came to Japan in 1990, mentally woefully unprepared for such an existence. Good thing I came to Japan, I guess, because I didn't even have most of the above problems. Signs in train stations are also printed in English lettering, for example, and most people at least speak a smattering of English (some speak better than I did in junior high, where "ain't" was the main word in my vocabulary). My immigration forms are all bilingual.

So, what's my point? Immigrants to the US live this every single day. So think next time you want to bitch about the immigrant who doesn't speak fluently or who has a thick accent; put yourself in his shoes.

I dare you.

Heads, You Win...

Imagine you live in a land where corruption is rampant. I'm not talking about someone 'forgetting' to report a small present they may have received from a supporter, inappropriate campaign donations or another NCAA booster gone wild.

I'm talking about politicians who plunder their nations' coffers, putting millions of dollars in their own off-shore accounts. Rulers who treat entire nations as their own petty cash fund, and the citizens as slave labor at best. Places where people starve to death because all the food aid is being taken by the military or whichever faction/warlord currently controls their area.

I'm talking about police forces who will torture or kill you at the whim of the rich and powerful (because you belong to a different religion/political party/tribe); where the only surety is that if the cops come a-knockin', you'd better have a hidey-hole or escape route. Places where the military, an organization intended and organized to wage war, is used as a police force (something they are singularly unsuccessful at).

In such places as these, the US is seen as the land of opportunity, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the land of freedom. And despite whatever faults it may have, for many immigrants it is just that.

Many people have come from other countries and built good lives for themselves; in many cases, lives a quantum leap better than anything possible in their homelands. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's family fled Czechoslovakia after the communist takeover. Einstein left Germany after fellow scientists expressed fears for his safety from the burgeoning Nazi movement. US Congressman Tom Lantos escaped a forced-labor camp in Hungary.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!...
...Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Monday, August 8, 2011

This Senate has Real Balls

I'm talking about clankin', ringing, giant orbs of brass.

I've been watching the congressional debates over the debt with a certain amount of bemusement (disbelief, actually), wondering just what they were doing. I understand that the Democrats have their agenda, the Republicans have theirs, and the Tea Party is running around, tipping cows because they can.

Don't get me wrong, I agree that something has to be done about the mess in Washington, the bottomless purse. When I came to Japan in 1990, the budget deficit was at around $150 billion, dropping to $290 billion in '92. But by 2000 it was a $236 billion surplus. Not enough to erase the national debt, but a fair chunk of change.

Then came 9-11, sweeping tax cuts in 2002, and 2 horrendously expensive wars. By 2004, the deficit was back to $490 billion, yoyoed a little, and by the time Obama took office, our yearly deficit was once again running at $407 billion.* Then came the Fanni Mae meltdown and the banking/mortgage crisis.

With me so far?

Now the Senate decides to play idiot and accomplish nothing over weeks of debate. Defend your position and try to get as good a deal as possible, I understand. That's what you're paid for. But not even attempt to deal, to negotiate a least detestable option for both sides, basically to not do their damn jobs? And to ignore all the advice from economists, even warnings from S&P itself?

"Gee, why did big, bad S&P downgrade our credit rating?" Besides the obvious factor of the debt being roughly 6 times this years revenues (think the banks would give me a loan, if I owed six times what I can make, and with no hope of paying it off?), S&P stated in their report that the political climate was a major factor in their decision:

"We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade.
Our lowering of the rating was prompted by our view on the rising public debt burden and our perception of greater policymaking uncertainty, consistent with our criteria. Nevertheless, we view the U.S. federal government's other economic, external, and monetary credit attributes, which form the basis for the sovereign rating, as broadly unchanged.

"The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year's wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently."

And now, the Senate announces that it will be holding hearings over S&P's downgrade of the US's credit rating?

Big brass clankers, indeed.

* all numbers from the FactChecker website, with forays on Wikipedia for budget info

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Power of Words

Words don't just have different meanings... They have different power.
An 11-yr-old student is sitting in front of me right now, proudly wearing the new trucker hat his mom bought for him.
In black letters on a white field:
Fuck the World
and facing the wearer on the underside of the brim:
Encouragement from mom? Or just a lack of power in the only word that ever got my mouth washed out with soap?