Matthew's Foray into Blogging

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Controversy Always Finds Government

Government always seems to be at the center of controversy. For example, there is the war in Iraq, in which the government has involved the country. There is the delayed and inadequate reaction by the federal and local governments to Hurricane Katrina. There is the same-sex marriage “debate.” There is school finance reform in Texas, social security reform, abortion, and flag burning. The list of points of contention could go on.

Is the ability of government to embroil itself in conflict a result of it falling upon government to deal with divisive issues that the private sector is not capable of resolving? Does the discord result from people who are drawn to government service being generally incompetent and in it to enrich themselves?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Five-Day Week?

Couldn’t we have eased back in to the week after coming off a holiday weekend? A four-day week would have been nice. I was thrown right into it, too, as Monday morning was rather hectic. I had to be in about four places at once.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Casserole

My dad is fond of casseroles – the cooked dish, not the cooking pot. He relishes “concoctions,” as he terms them, of rice, meat (frequently cooked chicken, the more processed, the better) and unmentionable ingredients (frequently condensed soups from cans) that he mixes together and sets to cook until something bad happens. (The cleanup never falls upon him.) A favorite “concoction” of his consists of the leftovers of the leftovers from Thanksgiving – what remains after we have made several meals from the feast on the Fourth Thursday of November. Everything from Thanksgiving dinner (save cranberry sauce, which he will not touch), and then some, goes into this “casserole.” Into a casserole – the cooking pot, not the cooked dish – go the last pieces of the turkey meat, gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes, carrots, celery, peas, and turkey stock (made by me, from the roasted turkey carcass). The result is, well, in this case, the whole is not greater than the sum of the parts.

Please, sir, may I have some more?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Out of Material?

Wow! Talk about lazy preachers! Christian pastors can search an alphabetical index of potential sermon topics at Bible.org, and they can even purchase already-written sermons for just $4.95 from Sermons.com. The Bible mustn’t contain enough material.

Bad Investment

I am totally not getting my money’s worth out if my health insurance. I pay a ridiculously high premium every month, and I haven’t seen a doctor in several years. Of course, when I did see a doctor a few years ago, it was to have brain surgery performed, and a hospital stay was involved.

“Organic Doesn’t Mean Free of Pesticides”

As much as I like the skins on potatoes (mashed, baked, au gratin, scalloped), maybe I should be peeling them. Even organic potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables contain chemicals, sometimes in higher concentrations than conventionally grown produce, according to an article in Science News. Or I could give up eating potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables. And produce altogether. And meat. And fish. We have really ruined our environment.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

So Tired

I have grown weary of hearing the phrases “Cut and run,” and “Stay the course.” “Staying the course” is idiotic, when, judging by media reports, admittedly not the most reliable source, the people of Iraq do not want the foreign occupiers there and appear uninterested democracy. Further, “staying the course” will result in the needless loss of more American lives. Dick Cheney[1] has averred that, if America leaves Iraq before accomplishing our mission, all those Americans who died in Iraq will have given their lives in vain. This is a most ridiculous statement. If we prevail in Iraq, the American deaths will not suddenly be legitimized. I would aver that a life lost in Iraq is lost in vain. What would we have gained from Iraq that would make it worth one life?


[1] Slate magazine is among the publications in which an interesting fact about Dick Cheney’s record of receiving deferments to avoid military service in Vietnam has been noted. After receiving four deferments from serving in Vietnam, Dick Cheney found himself ineligible for further student deferments, and he became eligible for the draft. With no student deferments left, the current Vice President took advantage of a newly enacted paternity deferment for fathers and expecting fathers. He impregnated Lynne Cheney with their daughter Elizabeth Cheney, thus rendering himself eligible for the paternity deferment.

Thanks for Nothing

I am thankful that we only give thanks once a year. Planning, preparing, and enjoying the meal is fun. However, cleaning it up and putting it away is quite the chore.

We observed Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day (as opposed to the Thanksgiving we observe the following day with only our immediate family) with paternal aunts and uncles at a relative’s residence some 80 miles distant. On this occasion, a particular uncle became rather obstreperous. He began by attempting to start a “therapy session” at the dinner table. He proposed that we proceed through the twelve of us around the table to state what regrets we had and what we would want others to learn from what we wished we had known. After this fell apart, he went on the offensive. He attacked one aunt for her views on men. He faulted her for not leaving her husband and he suggested that the husband, a recovering alcoholic/drug addict, should take a job at Home Depot. This uncle also chastised a nephew who tends not to know what not to say, rather than offering constructive criticism to the tactless nephew. The atmosphere was almost surreal. I hope we remember this when they invite us again next year.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Good Day Not to Leave the House

No way am I going to Best Buy on the busiest shopping day of the year!

Our Thanksgiving

Today, we have our Thanksgiving. This is the one where we prepare our favorites, with just the nuclear family in attendance, as mentioned in a previous post.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Reason to Give Thanks

This will be the first Thanksgiving in three years on which I will not be preparing for final exams. I will be able to enjoy the holiday free from worry. It is not my intention to rub it in for people who are not similarly situated. I feel for them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Battling I-45 Traffic

I have been selected to appear at an arraignment in Harris County today. It had something to do with me being the new attorney. I do not mind too terribly. At least this time they informed me earlier than nine o’clock the night before. It makes for a nice change to get out of the office. I have already reset the trip odometer, so I can obtain reimbursement at the IRS mileage rate.

While I am in Houston, I wonder whether I could make my way over to the Galleria. I have two articles of clothing I need to return to Nordstrom for tailoring. If I could run this errand while I am in town today, it would save me the trip on a weekend. I would not include this extra driving when I seek reimbursement for mileage, of course.

It’s All About the Food, or The True Meaning of Thanksgiving

This will come as no great revelation, but Thanksgiving is all about the food. That is the consensus among the people to whom I speak. Of course, giving thanks underlies the observance of Thanksgiving. “The most common view of its origin is that it was to give thanks to (the Judeo-Christian) God for the bounty of the autumn harvest,” states the ever-reliable Wikipedia. Thanksgiving is also a time to gather with family. (Not everyone thinks this is a good thing.)

We have a tradition (a tradition going back only a few years, but I’ll call it a tradition nonetheless) of my immediate family and a few of my dad’s siblings and their families gathering at a particular aunt’s house for the day of giving thanks, which is marked by (what else?) consuming a sizeable meal. However, we in my immediate family also prepare our own traditional Thanksgiving meal, which we enjoy in the days following the fourth Thursday in November. The food at my aunt’s house is good, but we would not want to miss out on our own favorites – a free-range organic bird, homemade cranberry sauce, rolls made from scratch, homemade pies, and fresh vegetables – and it supplies us with our own leftovers, which are almost as important as the meal on the big day itself. In fact, we enjoy this feast in stages over a couple of days, as it would be too much to consume all at once. We do not make known to our relatives this second feast, lest they think their food is not good enough for us. I think this further evidences that it is all about the food.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Off Days During the Holidays?

A number of other people probably share this concern along with me, but, with Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, and Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, I am fearful that there will not be any weekdays off work for Christmas. New Year’s Day also falls on a Sunday, so it is likely that a holiday that traditionally means an additional day off work will see many workers not enjoying an abbreviated week. How cool would it be to have the Friday before and the Monday following Christmas off?!

Since I am relatively new at my current job, I do not know what days off we are awarded for Thanksgiving. Of course we will not work on Thanksgiving day, but I hope to have Friday off, also.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Oh, the Horror!

I hope I will wake up from this nightmare! I broke the lid to my Le Creuset Dutch oven! The enameled cast iron will break if dropped, and that is what happened! I hope, oh, how I hope, I can obtain a replacement lid.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hairy Potter

My sister saw the new Harry Potter movie. She “loved it, loved it, loved it!”

This weekend...

I will do nothing. I do not intend to drive into Houston, go shopping for clothes, or dine at a restaurant that is not to my liking, as I have done the last few weekends.

Dining Firsts, and Hopefully Lasts

I have had two dining firsts this week. On Tuesday, I tagged along to everyone else’s favorite restaurant, even though I had already eaten a sandwich. I did not want to be antisocial, so I accepted my coworkers’ invitation to join them. This Tex Mex restaurant is not my favorite place to dine, and the fare does not meet my standards, so I thought I would have a cup of coffee and try a dessert. When I had the displeasure of dining at another Tex Mex restaurant the previous weekend, I saw “fried ice cream” on the menu. This most recent cantina also offered fried ice cream. I had not previously eaten fried ice cream, so I thought I would find out what it was. I envisioned a puddle of melted ice cream intermixed with globules of oil. I jest. Fried ice cream actually consists of a scoop of ice cream enclosed in a pastry of some variety, or perhaps a flour tortilla. I suppose the entire pastry/ice cream dessert is frozen, and then dropped into a deep fat fryer. The ice cream was still fairly frozen – not rock hard, but not melted. It was not homemade, like the ice cream at Hugo’s. The fried pastry was not that delectable. Instead of tender and flaky, or crispy, it was tough and resistant. I broke through the pastry and did not eat it, but I did eat the ice cream contained within. It was not a memorable dessert.

On Thursday, I joined my coworkers for lunch again, this time at one of the “half-restaurant, half-store” “Cracker Barrel” locations. The lunch special roasted turkey and dressing was one of the less grease-laden-sounding options. The two slices of “roasted turkey breast” were the insipid processed turkey meat I would expect to find at an inexpensive chain restaurant. The dressing was the gloppy variety that comes from a bag and is reconstituted with water and liberal amounts of butter.[1] The green beans came from a can and were “seasoned” with bacon fat. Not only was the food unexciting and a total waste of calories, but also the environment was quite objectionable. My eyes, nose, and throat became irritated from exposure to cigarette smoke. Even worse, I wore that odor around on my clothes for the rest of the day, a reminder of my unpleasant dining experience.

How do I tell the other people from the office that, although I enjoy their company, I would rather not join them for lunch?


[1] Glop. noun. “a soft lump or mixture of something, especially unappetizing food.” Encarta World English Dictionary (2000).

Friday, November 18, 2005

It’s Finally Cool in Houston

I prefer to bathe before retiring every night, but, at 65° in the house, it is too cold to shower tonight.[1] I will wait until the spring thaw to wash again. Or in the morning, when I am not so tired and cold.


[1] Don’t laugh, people from the colder northern climes.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Defeating the Purpose

Doesn’t the 305-hp Nissan Titan kind of defeat the purpose of owning a Japanese vehicle? The two primary reasons for buying a Japanese car, in my opinion, are fuel economy and reliability, two areas in which American autos are lacking. The four-wheel drive, 32-valve V8 Titan attains 14 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. The EPA formula is notoriously inaccurate, also, resulting in more generous fuel mileage numbers than vehicles will actually achieve. I guess the Titan is for those Americans who want the reliability of a Japanese auto, but the size, power, and efficiency of a tank.

Sticky Fingers

Don’t steal from the rich. If you have to pay restitution, it can be expensive.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Bar? On a Tuesday Night?

Telephone call to Matthew from a coworker at 5:30 p.m.: “Matt, come down to the Corner, so we can discuss the calendar.”

Matt: “You mean the Corner Pub?”

The calendar was among the topics we discussed.

No Free WiFi If They Can Help It

The possibility of the City of Houston building a wireless Internet network that residents can access for free has been raised. The proposed WiFi would not be funded with taxpayer dollars. One advantage of a citywide WiFi network is that it would make the Internet accessible to low-income residents. However, such a prospect has met with opposition from telecommunications giants like SBC Corp. and Time Warner. They contend that free WiFi puts government in competition with the private sector.

I disagree. I am not too sympathetic to the telecommunications companies, which I perceive as greedy. Is a public library in competition with Barnes & Noble or BookPeople? This is almost equivalent to a book retailer opening up next to a library, and then trying to shut down the library, on the ground that the library constitutes government competition with private business. The telecommunications companies can innovate and offer a product that people will be willing to purchase, despite the availability of free municipal wireless Internet.

Nothing Comes Closer to Home?

Does spinach soufflé count as a vegetable serving? I would argue that spinach soufflé is to vegetables as Cheetos are to dairy.

Monday, November 14, 2005

“Cafeteria Style”

My sister and I dined at Cleburne Cafeteria on Sunday. Thomas and I had plans to eat there, but Thomas was feeling under the weather. There was a New York Times Style Magazine article about Cleburne Cafeteria a few weekends ago. Cleburne Cafeteria is a Southern-style cafeteria, but it’s not your typical cafeteria. The ingredients are fresh and all of the offerings are homemade. “[T]he meat and poultry are delivered fresh, and the salads, dressings and mayonnaise are made from scratch every morning. The velvet okra, which comes from a little farm in Stafford, Tex., is sometimes picked and served the same day.” Established in 1941, Cleburne Cafeteria draws a sizeable crowd.

I was supposed to meet my sister for lunch. I arrived before her, so I waited outside. It was painful watching droves of people walk past me into the cafeteria, to all the food about which I had read, like the mac’ n’ cheese and squash casserole. I was fearful that there would be none left by the time we made it to the serving line!

After my sister arrived, we got in line. It took us thirty minutes to make our way through the line before we finally picked up our trays. Fortunately, the line was not yet “O.T.D.,” which means the line is “out the door.” Cleburne Cafeteria offers a vast array of foods. They have the standard green jell-o, but the also make a notable carrot salad. They sell standing rib roast, roasted turkey, chicken fried steak and chicken fried chicken, poached salmon, and blackened catfish, to name a few. I like to order fried liver and onions when I eat at a cafeteria. That is something one cannot cook at home, unless one does not have a problem with the entire house smelling like fried liver and onions. My sister opted for the chicken fried steak. The portions at Cleburne Cafeteria are quite generous, but the prices are quite reasonable. I did tell my sister that, if she ordered the $13 prime rib, she was paying. The chicken fried steak was as big as a dinner plate. I tasted my sister’s steak and, unlike most chicken fried steaks, which consist of gristle with a liberal coating of fried batter, this was a decent cut of meat. The two sizeable pieces of fried beef liver were tender and flavorful and the sautéed onions were nice and caramelized. My dining companion and I shared a mac’ n’ cheese and a squash casserole. The mac’ n’ cheese tasted like homemade mac’ n’ cheese. The salad of shredded carrots was lightly dressed and contained raisins and miniscule pieces of pineapple, which made for an interesting addition. For dessert, we shared a lemon tart. It was not spectacular. It was mostly sticky meringue on a pastry shell, with an insignificant creamy lemon filling. I wanted a lemon meringue pie but would have settled for the lemon icebox pie, but they had neither at the time. In retrospect, I should have spent the additional dollar and gone with one of the monstrously huge pieces of cake.

Cleburne Cafeteria only accepts check or cash. This was problematic, because I am not in the practice of carrying my checkbook with me, and someone has been taking the cash from my wallet. I did not learn about the limited methods of payment Cleburne Cafeteria accepts until I was at the cash register with a tray full of food. I had to wash dishes.

When we were leaving at 2:30, the line was O.T.D.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Weight Loss Is a Good Thing, Generally

I have lost a considerable amount of weight in the last few months. I did not have that much weight to lose with which to begin. The weight loss is attributable to reduced calorie intake and lack of exercise. With my new job, I do not have the opportunity to eat as frequently as I am accustomed, and exercise, particularly progressive resistance training, is essentially no longer a part of my life.

Some people have commented on my weight loss, and have suggested that I need to eat more. The problem with eating more is that, because I now lead a rather sedentary lifestyle, the consumption of calories in excess of what I expend will lead to the gain of unwanted weight, i.e., fat.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Not Too Stingy

The individual in whose employ I have been working for about four weeks now is not too stingy. In fact, he is rather generous. He has offered to pay me time-and-a-half for working on the weekends. The firm paid me four hours of overtime for staying beyond my normal hours last Friday to complete a project. They readily reimburse employees for mileage when we use our cars to travel on firm business.

When I mentioned to my dad the overtime I earned, he asked me why they were paying me time-and-a-half when I am a salaried employee. If they want to pay me overtime, I’m not going to argue with them. I can put it toward the clothes purchases I made last weekend that blew my budget.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I’m Not Either a Food Snob!

To express my gratitude to the person who recommended me to my new employer, I intend to take that person to dinner or lunch one weekend. I would like to treat this individual to a meal at a nicer restaurant to convey my appreciation and because I am picky as concerns dining out. Unfortunately, The Woodlands suffers from a dearth of nicer restaurants. The only non-chain and semi-non-chain restaurants, I learned when I attempted to schedule reservations, do not serve lunch on weekends. They do serve dinner, but dinner prices are higher than lunch prices, restaurants are more crowded in the evening, dining out in the evening would keep me up late, and dinner prices are higher than lunch prices. Did I mention that dinner is more expensive than lunch? Maybe I need to put aside my finickiness and realize that it is not about my preferences, but about treating my friend to a nice meal.

A Great Void in the Internet

A number of loyal readers of Thomas’s blog, me amongst them, recently made a disturbing discovery. Thomas is entering a very busy time in his life, and has wisely decided to go on a hiatus from blogging.

The Internet is not the same without If You Write It, They Will Laugh.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

How Shameful

Texas is not the place for progressive thinking and open-mindedness. Texans approved Prop. 2, writing a ban of gay marriage into the Texas Constitution.

Old Enough

Apparently, I look younger than I am. Since I started work, I have been receiving frequent queries as to my age, and surprise at my answer. People take me for about twenty-one, unless I am buying alcohol, in which case they take me for under twenty-one. Some people state, in jest, that they would have guessed that I was about twelve. On one occasion, when I mentioned graduating, someone thought I meant graduating from high school.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Muy Delicioso!

Sunday brunch at Hugo’s was muy bueno. It was a bit overwhelming, though. The problem with buffets is that I want to get my money’s worth. I also wanted to try some of everything yesterday. I tried to take small portions of the vast array of foods they had available, but with so many offerings, that added up.

It was an enjoyable experience, but I think I will stick with dining à la carte.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

What Are You Two Talking About?

What are you two talking about?

In an effort to expand my wardrobe, I went shopping today for a sport coat. In addition to a sport coat, I also purchased two pairs of slacks. The Nordstrom saleslady who assisted me was incredibly helpful

If one allows his or her suits to “air out” for three to five days in between wearing the suits, dry cleaning will not be necessary. With the number of suits I own, I could wear a suit about twice a week. How gross is that - “airing out” suits, rather than laundering them?

I could pay for today’s clothing purchases with one week’s worth of salary, before taxes. After taxes, it will take about a week-and-a-half to pay for my new garments.

Fiction or Reality?

If Jimmy Smits and Michael Gross are on television facing each other in presidential debates, it has to be fiction, despite the official-looking NBC logo.

Why Vote?

The authors of Freakonomics have an article in The New York Times Magazine about the futility of voting. I had taken a Law & Economics class in which we discussed the irrationality, from an economist's standpoint, of voting. Voting is pointless, economists would argue, because your single vote is not going to make any difference. Further, “voting exacts a cost - in time, effort, lost productivity.” So why do we vote?

Messrs. Dubner and Levitt note that, in Switzerland, amid declining voter participation, the mail-in ballot was introduced. This was predicted to minimize the “cost” of voting. However, voter turnout actually decreased. The authors, citing a paper by economist Patricia Funk, aver that the incentive to vote was in being seen at the polls, since there was social pressure to participate in the democratic process. “It may be that the most valuable payoff of voting is simply being seen at the polling place by your friends or co-workers,” they conclude.

I beg to differ. Who that you know do you see at the polling place? What kind of social pressure is there to cast a ballot? I think an individual's vote can make a difference. Messrs. Dubner and Levitt acknowledge the “voting-as-civic-duty idea.” While it is rare that an election is decided by one vote, if everyone took the position that voting was not worth his or her time, we might as well not have a democracy.

Votes do count in Texas when proposed constitutional amendments are on the ballot. Depending on whether enough people do or do not turn out, the success or failure of an amendment that writes discrimination into the Texas Constitution will be determined. If a voter supports a third party candidate or an independent, and wishes to express his or her dissatisfaction with the two major parties, a vote for Ralph Nader or Kinky Friedman is a good way to register that sentiment. This support for a candidate that is not affiliated with the major parties will be more apparent than a vote for a Dem or a Republican would be.

I think economists just like to take controversial positions. I am going to continue to vote.

Roadway Observations

I think people who ride Harleys just like the attention that the noise draws. Those things are damn loud.

I don’t like Cadillacs or the people who drive them. Cadillacs are nothing more than cheap American cars that are exclusively priced.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Do I Drink Too Much?

I received a bottle of THE Glenlivet 12 Year Old single malt Scotch whisky for my birthday. My brother is so thoughtful for recommending it to my dad and sister.

Abita Turbodog costs from $7 to $7.50 in Houston-area stores. I found it for the low, low price of $6.50 at HEB. That’s more than I generally prefer to spend on beer. (A 1/2 barrel keg will set one back $123.) I wonder if Abita Turbodog costs that much in Louisiana. The dark ale was quite good.

That's My Excuse

My mom made a chocolate cake for my birthday. The cake is exquisite. Since I missed my birthday party and did not have any cake yesterday, I had two pieces of cake today. That is how I am justifying it.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Working Late on a Friday… And Your Birthday

I missed my birthday party tonight. A deadline that had been pushed back (by other people on two previous occasions before I even began work) had to be met.

They saved the cake, though. We can eat it tomorrow. I will be celebrating a birthday weekend. We have extra special plans for Sunday.

Exercising My Right, Doing My Patriotic Duty

I escaped from work long enough to early vote on Wednesday. Participating in our democracy is fun. The only matters on the ballot were nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. The ladies at the polling place informed me that voting on candidates would occur later.

Some of the proposed amendments sounded innocuous, but I voted against most of them. I did not trust that the politicians that conceived of the legislation did not have self-serving, ulterior motives. I definitely voted against Proposition 2, “The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, likened the proposed amendment to the Jim Crow laws written by Texas senators decades ago to discriminate against blacks. “At least they had the good sense to never write their bigotry into the state constitution,” Ellis said. “In some of our sister states, they did write that trash into their constitution, and they’ve had holy H getting it out.”

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Promoting Global Warming and Traffic Congestion

I contributed to traffic congestion and air pollution yesterday. I joined the ranks of those single occupants of personal automobiles who clog I-45 on their daily commutes to work. Only, I was not commuting to work. A coworker called me on Tuesday night to inform me, “You’re going to Houston tomorrow!” I had to be in Harris County County Criminal Court at Law Number Five at 8:30 for an arraignment. I could have ridden the bus in. However, I also had to return to the office afterwards. (Alas, I did not have the rest of the day off.) A bus did not return to the outer reaches of the suburban region surrounding Houston until 1:00, so mass transit was not an option.

If the fourth largest city in the United States were not such a slouch in developing alternatives to putting every person in a single car to pack the roadways, perhaps I could have caught a light rail train into Houston, and caught a train back out to Montgomery County, such train conceivably making hourly (at most) trips.

I will submit to my employer a request for mileage reimbursement at the $0.405 per mile rate.