Hyperliterature Presents Podcasting

It’s unusual when I get truly excited about something. But here I am, jumping up and down at my new artistic venture.

Two posts ago I announced that Hyperliterature would begin publishing podcasts. I am finally ready to announce that the “Hyperliterature Presents…” podcast is now available in the iTunes store. The second podcast listed is truly the first episode, as the first one I posted was really nothing more than a test podcast.

I intend to post a variety of podcasting material. For the time being, I’ll simply follow the categories on the blog.

Hyperliterature Presents Tales from the G.A.M.

This is a new addition to the blog categories. These podcasts will feature people with whom I grew up in Gholson and Aquilla, Texas. G.A.M. stands for Gholson Aquilla Metroplex, and in these podcasts, we will tell stories about growing up in small Texas towns. The content will be debauched, juvenile, puerile, and, depending on your sense of humor, hilarious. Again, these will be totally debauched. You’ve been warned.

There are already two “Tales from the G.A.M.” listed in my iTunes channel. The first is really just a test podcast, but the second is a full episode. Again, the material is 18+ on those.

Hyperliterature Presents The Homegrown Revival

In these podcasts I’ll host discussions with various members of The Homegrown Revival Team. We’ll cover things like the importance of eating local food, the sustainability of monocropping, the food scene in Austin, and whatever else strikes our fancy.

Hyperliterature Presents Blogging

These will simply be audio versions of past blog posts.

Hyperliterature Presents Teaching

In these podcasts I’ll host discussions with some of my colleagues at The University of Texas, Trinity University, Texas high schools and beyond. We’ll talk about education, the college readiness of today’s high schoolers, and I’m hoping my colleagues will feel comfortable sharing some of their funnier stories.

Hyperliterature Presents Nerdology

I have to be careful with this one. If I’m careless, these podcasts will morph in to a rip-off of Chris Hardwick’s excellent podcast The Nerdist. We’ll discuss nerd culture in all its glory, and we’ll address things like gaming, films, comics, and any other nerdy venture we identify.

These are the podcasts I have planned, but I fully intend to offer additional content in the future. So do me a favor: subscribe to the podcast and share the channel with as many people as you can. Help me climb the iTunes charts, will ya?

Categories: Blogging | Comments

Tales From the GAM

In this podcast, Hyperliterature Presents Tales from the GAM, or Tales from the Gholson Aquilla Metroplex. My guests in this podcast are Phillip Tankersley (Tank) and Jason Olson, two guys whom I’ve known for years. We reminisce about growing up in small Texas towns, and the stories are quite explicit. We also eat brownie bites and curse like sailors. You’ve been warned.

Play
Categories: podcast, Tales from the GAM | Comments

Farm To Disco: Culinarily Sensuous

I love food.

I imagine that statement doesn’t come as much of a surprise to most of my regular readers.

I love food for a lot of reasons. I love that it provides us with a link to a past. Recipes passed down from relatives provide us with tangible links to days gone by.  I love that cooking requires two seemingly antagonistic mindsets: Creative whimsy and analytical engineering.  I love that food brings people together and helps strengthen a sense of community across all walks of life.

There are a lot of reasons that I love food and cooking, but one thing I’ve never really understood is people who love food because they claim it’s an aphrodisiac.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the allure of watching someone seductively eat a banana, but I’ve never really thought of food as being…well, sexy.

Thankfully, The Homegrown Revival swooped in to help me understand the sensual side of food and cooking.

As a fundraiser for Austin’s Sustainable Food Center, The Homegrown Revival, along with The Swan Dive bar, recently held “Farm to Disco,” which was a unique event that combined the playful atmosphere of a fondue party with the body movin’ grooviness of a disco club. So not only were attendees helping support a laudable non-profit organization, we were able to do so while dancing, drinking, and eating.

Get in my belly!

Get in my belly!

Dripping Springs Vodka supplied the spirits for the evening, and the lovely bartenders at Swan Dive had mixed up a special punch with Dripping Springs vodka just for the event. They also featured a Moscow Mule, but that citrusy punch grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. A couple of sips of the naughty concoction had me unconsciously swaying to the music, and I began grooving my way over to the food.

Mmmmm, Fondue

Mmmmm, Fondue

The Homegrown Team had set up three food areas at the back of the bar. One table held three large fondue pots filled lusciously melted cheese. Various breads, veggies, and sausages arrayed the table, simply begging to be eased into the warm cheesy goodness and then eaten slowly and savored.

Another table tempted us with goat ribs lightly drizzled with a tangy sauce. The rib meat was so tender it fell apart in my mouth, and the sauce had us licking our fingers. At the end of the table, a member of The Homegrown Revival Team fried up green tomato slices and little mini beignets.

Chocolate? Yes, please.

Chocolate? Yes, please.

The last table held three more fondue pots, and these cauldrons of sensuousness offered three different types of chocolate fondue, and for dipping, we had Texas grapefruit, oranges, breads, Texas Brie, and little squares of pillowy marshmallow. I found it impossible to eat the chocolate without getting my fingers and mouth messy and smeared with chocolate. As my wife playfully wiped and kissed away the chocolate on my mouth, it occurred to me that the messiness was probably all part of the plan.

DJ Chino Casino was on hand to provide the tunes for the evening, and as we grooved to the sounds of the 70s on the dance floor, our bodies tingly from the spirits and the luscious fondue, I think I finally understood the inherent sexiness of food.

Categories: Homegrown Revival | Comments

Tales From The G.A.M. Small Town Values

I’ve decided the next logical step for Hyperliterature, and for myself, is to take up podcasting. The “Hyperliterature Presents…” podcast should begin showing up in iTunes in a day or so. When it does, I’ll update this post.

I intend to podcast roundtable discussions, interviews, audio versions of blog posts, and really, anything I find interesting.

The first few episodes I’ve titled Hyperliterature Presents…Tales from the G.A.M. I’ll be telling stories that took place in or around my hometown, and I’m also planning on having a roundtable story-telling session with some old friends. It’ll be a like a debautched version of Garrison Keillor. You’ll love it. Trust me.

So, without further ado, here’s podcast episode #1 Hyperliterature Presents…Tales from the G.A.M.: Small Town Values.

Play

Categories: podcast | Comments

The Homegrown Revival’s 2nd Pop-up Dinner or: How THGR Avoided The Sophomore Slump

Prepping for dinner

Prepping for dinner

Last Wednesday, The Homegrown Revival held its second pop-up dinner.  The Homegrown Revival Team held the first pop-up dinner in September of this year. The pop-up dinners, as THGR Team likes to call them, are unique in that the attendees don’t know the location of the event until the day of the event itself. Several hours before the dinner takes place, The Homegrown Revival Team emails out the location.

I won’t presume to know the intentions of The Homegrown Revival Team in creating these pop-up dinners, but the effect of a pop-up dinner is interesting. For one thing, it creates a very real, palpable sense of adventure around dining. Attendees purchase their tickets for the dinner a week or so in advance, and the only knowledge of the event they have is a loose menu for the evening.

Creating edible art

Creating edible art

The other effect of the pop-up dinners is a bit more abstract but no less interesting. The pop-up dinners draw the purpose of a multi-course, family style dinner in to stark relief. So much of fine dining in the restaurant world is about status. Where the dinner is held. The elegance of the location. The exclusivity of the dining experience. Much of fine dining is about pretension and affectation.  In many cases, I feel like some people eat at exclusive restaurants for status and not to savor fine food. Don’t believe me? Check out this video.

The pop-up dinners help to mitigate the pretension created by traditional “fine dining” restaurants in several important ways. First, by doing away with a brick and mortar building and holding the dinners in random places, The Homegrown Revival is removing the exclusivity created by elegant dining rooms. Like it or not, having people know that you dined at Uchi tells a story about you. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bagging on Uchi’s food, but tell an Austinite you ate there and the reaction will inevitably be “Wow. How’d you get reservations?”

However, if people walk by and see a group of people eating at, say, the Open Table exhibit in Austin, they don’t know what’s going on. For all intents and purposes, it looks like a family is having a picnic. So right away the vanity of fine dining is pulled away from the dining experience. The benefit of eliminating the distraction of status allows the attendees to fully focus on the beauty of the food.

This type of dinner requires an awful lot of trust on the part of the attendees. Fortunately, so great is the trust between The Homegrown Revival groupies, or the Revivalists as we like to call ourselves, is that we would follow these dinners down into Dante’s Ninth Circle if that’s where they were held. For first time attendees I’m sure this guerilla-style dining experience is a bit worrying, but I feel confident that the amazing experience quelled any anxiety.

in.gredients

in.gredients

The Homegrown Revival Team held this pop-up dinner at in.gredients, which, according to the website “is a neighborhood microgrocer selling local food with pure ingredients, package-free.” We sat outside at the picnic tables in front of the grocery store, and THGR Team set up an ad hoc kitchen. As I wrote earlier, the location helped to mitigate the feeling of exclusivity created by a brick and mortar store. Store customers mingled with the diners, and the location helped to implicitly emphasize that we are all part of the same community.

A whole mess of crepes

A whole mess of crepes

I’ve written at length about the artistry of The Homegrown Revival Team, and this dinner certainly matched the artistry of past dinners. And since this was only the second pop-up dinner there was always the danger of the dreaded sophomore slump, but, needless to say, The Homegrown Revival Team outdid itself, and the dishes were every bit as beautiful as they were delicious.

We started with mushroom and herb crepes. I love crepes, but sometimes I feel like the crepe itself is ignored in favor of the fillings. Not this time. The crepes themselves were savory and light, and they could have very easily stood on their own as a dish. The mushroom filling simply added to the deliciousness.

Bird is the word

Bird is the word

The next dish was a cauliflower gratin that had been baked with sauce Mornay, black sesame, and fennel. Sauce Mornay, for those readers unfamiliar, is a variation, or in the parlance of haute cuisine, a daughter sauce, of Sauce Béchamel.  Sauce Béchamel is one of the five “Mother Sauces.” Most people are familiar with this sauce even if they don’t recognize the name. It’s a roux-based milk sauce, and the Mornay variation adds Gruyere into the mix, which creates a lovely, creamy, satiny sauce. The cauliflower had been baked in the Mornay, creating a marvelous second dish.

 

Beet red

Beet red

The proteins of the meal blew me away. We ate Teal and Mallard duck, which had been sourced and smoked by members of The Homegrown Revival Team. The Mallards were larger than the Teal, but I think the Teal was my favorite. The thighs and legs of the diminutive species were mind-blowingly delicious. I picked at the bones like a barbarian because I didn’t want to leave one morsel of the darkly red meat.

We also had several cuts of a roasted deer, which was served with pickled red eggs and beet chutney.  The eggs had been pickled with beet juice, and the beets had turned them a stunning dark red color. The bright yellow yolks provided a beautiful contrast to the red albumin, and looking at the dish reminded me just how beautiful food can be when prepared by the right person. And the plate of venison was almost overwhelming. The meat was cooked perfectly to medium rare, and if you could somehow capture the spirit of the Texas hill country in a dish, I have a feeling it would taste like that deer.

Oh deerie me

Oh deerie me

For dessert we had Texas grapefruit bars covered with grapefruit marmalade and candied fennel. It was both bitter and sweet, a wonderful juxtaposition between two flavor profiles, and the dessert provided a perfect finale to a magnificent dinner.

I hope The Homegrown Revival continues to hold the pop-up dinners. I love the way they strip away the extraneous elements that typically distract from a wonderful dining experience. And the beauty of the dishes at these events utterly amazes me.

 

Categories: Homegrown Revival | Comments

I Biscuit

Higgins awoke to the sound of someone pounding angrily on his office door. He scratched his head, and he rubbed his eyes in a vain attempt to chase away the hangover plaguing him. The hangover was so bad his head felt swollen. Inflated, even. Like a big balloon. He wondered if it was possible for a person to drink themselves to a concussion. It felt like someone had hit him in the head with a bat. Repeatedly.

THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. He felt each fist-fall in the backs of his eyes.

Higgins decided that whomever was banging on his door must know that he was inside because otherwise the person would have given up by now. He quickly scanned his desk to make sure a rogue bottle of booze wasn’t lurking about amidst all the uncompleted paperwork, and he slowly made his way to the door.

“What?” he said as he swung the door open. He tried to swing the door angrily, but ended up hitting himself on the foot with the edge of the door, prompting his “What” to sound more like “Whuuughh?!?”

“Were you sleeping in here?” asked the knocker.

Higgins examined the man standing in his doorway before answering. Yellow name-tag. Shit. That meant administration. Black suit. With nice shoes. Shit. Shit. That meant important administration. Shit. Shit. Shit. He decided to answer respectfully.

“Uh, no, sir. I wasn’t sleeping. I was transcribing a report, and I had to finish a sentence before I hit ‘save.’”

The man didn’t look convinced. “Sentence? Well hell boy, I’ve been banging on your door for almost a full minute. You had time to finish an entire report. Do you know who I am?”

In his experience, Higgins found that whenever he was asked “Do you know who I am?” the person asking would become incredibly offended if he did not, in fact, know who they were. He tried to read the man’s name on his yellow ID tag.

The man noticed Higgins staring intently at his name tag. “I’ll save you the time. I’m the CFO, you moron.”

Higgins’s head snapped up. “Oh. Mr. Tellvue. I’m sorry sir. I didn’t recognize you. I’ve only ever seen your picture in company brochures.”

Mr. Tellvue stared at Higgins. Higgins got the impression Mr. Tellvue didn’t like him. Higgins was correct.

“You’ve got a problem on your line.”

Higgins didn’t even try to mask his confusion. “What?”

“Do I have to repeat myself, son? You have a problem on. your. line. I have personally received calls from major clients complaining about inconsistent product. They are all threatening to pull their accounts if we don’t rectify the problem post-haste.”

Higgins was confused. There was never anything wrong with the line. It always ran smoothly, which is why he could afford to be hung-over at work on most days.

“Uh, are you sure sir? Did they say what the problem with the product was?”

“They said the product was inconsistent. That doesn’t happen here. You understand me? We’ve sunk trillions into this factory to ensure that our product is consistently perfect. We are intergalactically known, and each unit should be the same as the last: PERFECT.” Mr. Tellvue growled as he said “perfect.” Higgins smelled stale coffee on his breath. It made him kinda queasy.

“Here’s what you do: Assemble a testing committee. Find out if any of the units are creating an inconsistent product. Simple trial and error.”

Higgins shook his head in agreement. “Yessir. That’s what I was thinking, too.”

“I bet you weren’t thinking anything” he said as he shook his head in disgust. But you better start.” Mr. Tellvue spun on his heels and marched off. “Because if you don’t fix this, you’re gone” he said as he strode away.

For the next two days Higgins worked feverishly. He avoided booze. He didn’t sneak off for naps. He even stopped his after-lunch routine of masturbating in the toilet.

Before he assembled a tasting committee, Higgins went robot by robot on the line. He asked each one to run a self-test, and he had them message their results to his office workstation. He examined robots’ self-test reports, and after hours of pouring over field after field of data, Higgins was beginning to become despondent at his lack of progress.

He did find one anomaly. BR-42. Its self-test report looked like all the rest, except for the “Purpose” section. The data in that field didn’t make sense, so Higgins decided to question the robot verbally.

It took Higgins nearly twenty minutes to find the correct robot. Other than the “BR-42” on its SKU, it looked like all the rest of them.

“BR-42. Stop working and address me” Higgins commanded. The robot pulled its articulating hands out of a big bowl and turned itself 180 degrees away from the work area to face Higgins.

“Please state your hardware number and OS version.”

“B-R-4-2” replied the robot in its sing-songy, metallic voice. Higgins never understood why the units had to be programmed to sound so cute. “OS version 5.03.”

Higgins checked the printout. Correct.

“BR-42, your system test output contained anomalous data in the “Purpose” field. State your purpose for verification.”

Higgins waited. The robot sat silent. Higgins looked at its font readout panel. The robot was definitely plugged in and powered on. Higgins felt silly asking again. It wasn’t like the robot was hard of hearing. Either it heard him or it didn’t. 1 or a 0.

“BR-42, your system test output contained anomalous data in the “purpose” field. State your purpose for verification” Higgins commanded a second time.

Higgins could hear a soft “mmmmmmm” coming from its speaker. If he didn’t know better, he might have thought the robot was trying to decide what to say. Finally, the robot simply replied “I biscuit” in a quiet, metallic sounding voice.

Higgins looked at his readout. That’s what it said, too. “I biscuit.” The “Purpose” field was supposed to contain the meticulously tested and aggressively guarded recipe for the biscuits the factory made. Each section of the recipe had been tested and retested to maximize deliciousness. Each biscuit was supposed to be perfectly golden brown and delicious. And even more importantly, each biscuit that rolled off the line was supposed to be utterly and absolutely consistent.

And here was a silly little robot that couldn’t even articulate the damn recipe. Higgins felt sure this was the problem.

“BR-42, please recite the recipe and procedure for making biscuits. And do so precisely. Leave nothing out.”

Higgins listened as BR-42 parroted off the recipe perfectly. No deviations. Higgins had just known this robot was the problem, but other than its weird little “I biscuit” comment, it appeared to be functioning just fine.

Higgins was annoyed. He was hoping to rectify this issue quickly without having to assemble a tasting committee. He didn’t work well with humans. Or robots, if he was being perfectly honest.

Over the course of the next two days, Higgins created a tasting committee and set about trying to find the inconsistent product. The committee quickly identified the problem, and presented him with a report of their findings.

Higgins wanted to be sure he understood the report. “Okay. Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that BR-42 is making better biscuits than the other 150 units? What do you mean better?”

The committee chairwoman looked annoyed. “What part of ‘better’ don’t you understand? Its biscuits tasted better. They were more buttery, and the crumb was just a bit lighter than the other units. More pillowy and light. They might be the best biscuits I’ve ever tasted.” Someone at the committee table fake-coughed. The chairwoman rolled her eyes. “Best biscuits we’ve ever tasted. Which means that all the other biscuits tasted slightly worse. That accounts for the reports of inconsistency.”

Higgins nodded. “Yeah. I get it. Customers were tasting BR-42’s biscuits and then getting disappointed that all of them didn’t taste that good. I just don’t understand how this happened.”

The chairwoman shrugged. “Dunno. But at least you know which one isn’t functioning properly.”

Higgins took his report to his office and called Mr. Tellvue. He picked up on the third ring.

“Hello?” He practically screamed into the phone. Geez, thought Higgins. The guy sounded annoyed and Higgins hadn’t even said anything yet.

“Uh, Mr. Tellvue. Higgins, down on the floor.”

“Well? What?”

Higgins cleared his throat. “Well, sir, I think I’ve found the anomaly. There’s a robot that’s making a better biscuit.”

“What the hell does that mean? Better? Don’t those things all make the same biscuit? Wasn’t that the purpose of going robotic in the first place?”

“Yeah. Well, they’re supposed to, sir. But this one is apparently doing something different.”

“Well, reprogram it” Mr. Tellvue demanded.

Higgins hated trying to explain tech to administrators. They never understood anything. “Uh, the robots don’t work like that, sir. After a positronic brain is turned on, it can’t really be turned off. We’d just have to scrap the whole unit.”

Mr. Tellvue remained silent for a few moments. Higgins could hear the CFO mumbling to himself. Finally Mr. Tellvue responded. “Ran the numbers. Trash it.”

Higgins walked back down to the floor and found BR-42. “BR-42, stop working, disengage yourself from the line, and follow me.”

The robot kept cutting biscuits out of the dough. It was also making a weird sound. It almost sounded like it was…whistling a tune. Higgins repeated himself, but this time he invoked the second law. “BR-42, stop working, disengage yourself from the line, and follow me. According to the second law, you must obey.” The robot stopped cutting the biscuits.

Then, inexplicably, it said “But I biscuit.”

Higgins didn’t understand. These robots were all ROM. They weren’t heuristic. Their programming even contained objects designed specifically to prevent the unit from learning. Its remark made no sense.

“Follow me, BR-42.”

Higgins watched as BR-42 detached itself from the conveyor system and deployed its wheels. The robot moved slowly and meticulously. It almost seemed rather sad. But Higgins knew that was impossible.

“Follow me.” Higgins walked away from the floor towards the basement. He was relieved when he heard BR-42 following him.

When they got to the basement area, Higgins walked over to the smelter where the factory melted down scrap metal, which would eventually be made into new robots to work the line. Higgins worried about this part. He knew that according to the third law of robotics that BR-42 would try to protect its own existence, but he also knew that the third law clarified that the robot could protect its own existence as long as in doing so it didn’t injure a human or disobey a human’s direct command. Higgins hoped its programming wasn’t totally borked. These things were strong, and he really didn’t feel like getting a loader and forcing it into the molten metal.

“BR-42, place yourself into the smelter. I am giving you a direct order, which takes precedence over the third law.”

BR-42 didn’t move. Higgins sighed. He really disliked this robot. “BR-42, place yourself…”

“I biscuit” BR-42 replied defiantly.

Higgins stared at the robot. It stared back at him. They stared at one another.

“You’re broken, BR-42.”

“I biscuit” it said again.

Higgins walked over to the robot. He grabbed it with both hands and started pushing it towards the smelter.

“You’re going in that damn pot.” The robot started to struggle. Higgins knew it wouldn’t hurt him. The first law forbid it.

“BR-42, you’re hurting me. By struggling, you’re hurting me” Higgins said quickly.

Higgins felt the robot stop resisting him, and he pushed it toward the smelter as fast as he could. Suddenly, BR-42 let out a loud, shrill shriek. “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” it screamed. Higgins jumped back. As soon as his hands left the robot, it started to move away from the smelter. Higgins quickly grabbed it, and it did stop, but as soon as Higgins resumed pushing, BR-42 started screamed again.

“NOOOOOOO!!! I BISCUIT! I BISCUIT!” it yelled over and over.

Higgins gave it one final shove and BR-42 went into the smelter feet first. “NOOOOOOO!!! PLEASE!!! NOOOOO!!! I BISCUIT!!! PLEASE, NOOOO!!!” Its screams echoed across the basement as it sank into the smelter. The bottom of the unit caught on fire from the white hot heat of the molten metal.

Higgins watched as the weird little biscuit-making robot slowly melted, and it screamed the entire time. Higgins couldn’t understand how its programming had gotten so screwed up.

As the fire slowly made its way up the sides of BR-42, it kept repeating “I BISCUIT” over and over like a mantra or a prayer, until finally the voice synthesizer began to melt.

BR-42 got out one last quiet “I biscuit,” and then it went silent.

Higgins watched as the rest of the robot melted down, and then he walked back up to the factory floor. He went over to BR-42’s empty workspace and started cleaning up. As he finished, he noticed that a batch of BR-42’s biscuits were just coming out of the oven.

He picked one up gingerly. It was really hot. He quickly broke it in two, and he watched as steam slowly wafted out of the pillowy, buttery biscuit. The crumb was light and golden, like sunshine caressing a ball of cotton. He took a big bite, and as he savored it, he realized that BR-42 did indeed make the best biscuits he’d ever tasted.

Categories: Writing | Comments

My Reactions to Twitter Trends Regarding the Newton Shooting

Quick note: I wrote these up while watching Twitter updates on the Newton shooting. These points are my immediate, emotional responses to some of the tweets I was reading. Please treat them as such.

 

1. If we enact harsher gun control, then only the criminals will have guns. They don’t buy them legally, so we’ll only be harming the innocent.

This is a false premise to begin with because most of the recent shootings have occurred as the result of legally bought guns. So harsher laws WOULD have helped stop these recent shootings.

But let’s go ahead and grant that premise, and we’ll see that the logic still doesn’t hold. Advocates of stricter gun laws are not trying to abolish all guns. No intelligent, thinking person believes we can do that. It’s about drastically limiting the number of guns in circulation, which will make it much more difficult to illegally acquire a gun.

It’s like the concept of herd-immunity. Scientists know that it’s practically impossible to totally eradicate all traces of a virus. But it is possible to raise the immunity level of the entire population to such a degree that the odds of contracting said virus are very, very, very low.

And the same principle holds true with gun control. If we are able to drastically limit the number of guns in circulation, it won’t totally halt all gun crime, but we know that’s impossible anyway. It will, however, make finding a gun for criminal purposes very, very, very difficult. And hence, fewer gun crimes.

 2. The second amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.

Sure. So how about this?

You can carry muskets and flintlock weapons around as often as you like. Any weapon manufactured after the turn of the 19th century is fair game for regulation.

 3. Honest people carrying guns will act as a deterrent against crime. Criminals will know that citizens can protect themselves, which will limit crime.

Statistics disprove this ridiculous theory immediately. We have some of the laxest gun laws right now, and we also have a lot of gun crime. Think about the other time in history when we had lax gun laws: The Old West.

Also, anyone versed in history knows that mutually assured destruction eventually has one end: Slim Pickens riding a bomb like a bronco.

 4. I need a gun to protect my family.

Again, statistics disprove this. There are very few times when having a concealed weapon actually saved someone. Statistics tell us that people with concealed weapons are more likely to be a danger to themselves or innocent bystanders in a crisis.

Look, there’s a reason why the Marines and the Army OSUT have such a long and demanding bootcamp. They’re the soldiers who are most likely to be fighting in urban environments, and military operations in urban terrain, or MOUT, are incredibly demanding on a solider. Threat identification and assessment is fantastically difficult to do under stressful situations. A fifteen hour concealed weapons class is woefully inadequate.

Those classes merely provide the illusion of safety, which in my mind, makes a person with a concealed handgun more dangerous than a person without one.

Don’t believe me? Then have a look at the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Urban Operations manual. Fighting in an urban environment is really, really hard. Fifteen hours at a local gun shop ain’t enough.

5. Owning a gun isn’t about protect myself against crime. It’s a second amendment right because the founders knew that a well-armed militia would keep the government in check.

Seriously? Are you that naive? If the government even thought for one second that your personal arsenal posed a threat to the local, state, or national government, they would David Koresh your ass into oblivion. They don’t even need to send in armed troops to take away your AR-15. They’ll send in a drone, reduce your stupid house to ashes, and have a Dr. Pepper while doing it. Grow up.

 6. Guns don’t kill people. The guns are innocent. Cars can be deadly weapons, too. If we ban guns we should also ban cars.

False equivalency. Cars were designed to get us from one place to the other (some more effectively than others). Sure, they can be wielded as weapons, but you could also beat a guy to death with the Sunday edition of the New York Times. But that’s not its purpose.

Guns, on the other hand, have one purpose: killing things.

That’s it. That’s a gun’s job: To Kill. Now, you can argue hunting rights, and I support you. But you don’t need a automatic or even a semi-automatic weapon to hunt Axis. If you can’t hit the damn thing with a bolt-action rifle then you have no business hunting.

You also don’t need to be able to buy armor piercing rounds. Those things have one purpose: To rip through body armor.

I guess you can also argue sport shooting. Again, I’m with you, but you don’t need auto or semi-auto guns for sport shooting. And even if you did, a simple cost benefit/analysis will reveal that the good derived from allowing sport shooting is outweighed by the negatives of allowing such easy access to guns.

 7. It’s not the fault of the guns. We should be having a discussion about mental health and not about gun rights.

Totally agree with the first premise, disagree with the second. Simply addressing gun rights without addressing mental health issues in the United States would be like putting band-aid after band-aid on a cut that won’t stop bleeding.

But the subjects aren’t mutually exclusive. We need to have both conversations. It’s just that I want to get the axe out of the hand of the screaming murderer before I bring in the psych team to get an H&P.

 8. The violence is occurring because we have systematically removed God from our schools.

I’m not making this one up. Mike Huckabee literally just made this claim a few moments ago.

Okay. Fine. We’ll tackle this one. I don’t mind offending people.

For Huckabee’s statement to be true, we all have to believe that the more religious the people are in a particular place, the more peaceful that place must be. So, according to Huckabee’s argument, the fact that we’ve removed the Ten Commandments and disallow organized prayer in school has caused more violence.

Again, statistics prove this unequivocally wrong. If we look at the national peace index and compare it to Gallup’s poll of the most religious states in the Union, a pattern starts to emerge.That’s right. You probably guessed it. The most religious states are also the most violent ones. The less religious states are the most peaceful. So according to the studies, removing all religious aspects should make the schools more peaceful.

Statistics must be the work of the devil.

If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself:

Peace Index

Gallup’s Poll of Religious States

 

Categories: Politics | Comments

Administrative Announcment

I wanted to let all my readers know that I’ve disabled the WordPress comments section. I’m getting a lot of hits lately, which is a very good thing, but along with legitimate readers, I’m also getting a lot spammers. So instead of constantly watching the comment queue and manually keeping track of things, I’ve decided to let Facebook control my comments section. That means that to comment, you have to be logged into Facebook. The only downside is that I can’t use both WordPress and Facebook comments sections, which means that all previous comments have disappeared. I’m sorry about that. I did not delete them, but currently I don’t have a way to show both sections. When I find a way, I’ll put them all back up.

 

Okay. Carry on.

Categories: Blogging | Comments

Thanksgiving with The Homegrown Revival

Austin’s a bit of an odd duck. According to the 2010 Census, young people make up a large part of the Austin population. Roughly 39.9% of Austin residents are between the ages of 20-40. And not only are they young, but they’re also displaced. Between 2000 and 2012, Austin has grown by nearly 200,000 people. That’s a helluva lot of young, newcomers.

This rush of Austin newbies is a unique phenomenon as far as Texas is concerned. In fact, according to Pew research, Texas is the “stickiest” state in the union. By “sticky,” the folks at Pew mean that the people in Texas typically don’t move around a lot. Nearly 78% of Texans stay where they were born, so like I said, Austin’s a tad odd.

Weird, even.

I’m sure most us familiar with Austin aren’t exactly surprised by those statistics. You can’t fling an empty Lone Star can in Austin without hitting some hipster Cali barista or a New Yorker wearing colorful cowboy boots. But the number of displaced residents does make the holidays a tough time for a lot of Austinite newbies.

I guess if you’re new to Austin, you could grab some Chinese food on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just try not to let your tears of loneliness fall into your Moo Goo Gai Pan. The extra salt will throw off the flavor.

HRG Team Prepping the Tables

HRG Team Prepping the Tables

Luckily for me and my wife, The Homegrown Revival decided to hold a special dinner on Thanksgiving, which meant that a few of us without immediate or extended family in the Austin area would have some place to go to celebrate the holiday. I wasn’t in the mood for Chinese or loneliness, anyways.

The dinner took place at Springdale Farm, which is an amazing little urban farm smack-dab in the middle of east Austin. Thanksgiving night was cool and calm, just the perfect kinda weather for a Thanksgiving feast. The HGR Team had converted one of the Springdale greenhouses into an ad hoc dining room. As my wife and I walked up to the greenhouse, Tink Pinkard, who was minding two wood-burning smokers, both of which were filled with heritage turkeys, greeted us warmly. Blueish smoke wafted lazily from the cast-iron pits, filling the air with the deep and heady smell of smoked fowl. We hugged Tink, and he pointed us in the direction of David Barrow.

David immediately stepped from behind his makeshift bar to give us another hug, and then he promptly pushed two drinks into our hands while explaining they were “alcohol forward.” David had made both drinks using Bone Spirits, a “farm to bottle” Texas Distillery. Leigh had the Gin drink garnished with pickled pumpkin, and I had the drink made with Moonshine and garnished with grapefruit. As I took the first sip, my grandfather’s voice inexplicably rang in my head proclaiming “That’ll put hair on yer chest, boy!”

Since we arrived a bit early, and The HGR Team hadn’t yet finished prepping the dining area, we languidly milled about in front of the greenhouse, sipping our lovely drinks, and enjoying the cool air. We greeted old friends and made new ones. We found Charles Barrow in the crowd, and like his brother, he immediately wrapped his arms around us for yet another big hug. Just before I finished my drink, we were let into the greenhouse, and the crowd filed in excitedly. We chose our seats, and each place setting was elegant and homey.

Purify Yourself in the Deliciousness of Chowder

Purify Yourself in the Deliciousness of Chowder

Chef Cote and her team started us off with a seafood clear chowder made of Gulf shrimp and fish. Okay. I realize I just used the word “chowder,” but that seems wrong. The word “chowder” just doesn’t do it justice. If you can, try to imagine if a bowl of velvety New England chowder and a bowl of in yer face Louisiana seafood gumbo got drunk on cheap Hurricanes during one Mardi Gras and had an illicit and torrid love affair. The result of their hot and sexy tryst in the French Quarter resulted in a wonderfully briny, smooth, ineffably clear broth. That’s what it was like. It was so wonderful it tasted like love had been captured and distilled into a liquid. We didn’t wait for a ladle to serve. To hell with ladles. We used our cups.

The lack of pretention and affectation of the first course was a signal of things to come.

Normally at The Homegrown Revival dinners, each course comes out separately because the focus is on the magnificence of the food, but this dinner was totally different. This was a Thanksgiving dinner. A family-style Thanksgiving dinner, no less. And how many grandmothers serve Thanksgiving dinner in courses? Mine certainly didn’t. Thanksgiving dinner should come out all at once so everyone has to pass dishes back and forth. It’s communal. It’s social. It’s family. And so it went.

Oyster mushroom dressing. Giblet gravy. Vegetarian lasagna. Roasted sweet potatoes with brown sugar. Turnip and carrot puree. Mashed ‘taters.

Hurry up, Thorne! We Hungry!

Hurry up, Thorne! We Hungry!

The dishes were passed back and forth between us like trapeze artists swinging across the big top. A little bit of this. A little bit of that. Hey? What’s that? No, I haven’t had that yet. Can you pass that plate? The other one. Yeah. Thanks. Here. Try this. No. It’s good. Really good. Can I have more stuffing? Whatta ya mean it’s not stuffing? It’s dressing? Fine. Just pass it. Get more of that. More! Ha! Wanna try our wine? Sure, I’ll try yours.

Every group of four or so guests had their very own heritage turkey. The birds came out whole, so we could all join in the fun of carving them up. Since they were heritages, they had less meat on them, but what they lacked in quantity they made up for in quality. Aaron Morris had done a wonderful job raising them. The meat was dark and ruby-red like a game bird. The meat was far tastier than any turkey I’ve ever had. Bold without being too gamey, it was the kind of meat that made you suck on the bones like meaty lollipops.

Enjoying the Fruits of Her Labors

Enjoying the Fruits of Her Labors

At one point during the meal, I noticed Chef Sonya Cote had joined us at the table to eat. That rarely happens at a Homegrown Revival dinner. Don’t get me wrong, Sonya’s always welcoming and utterly lovely at HGR dinners, but it’s usually pretty clear that she’s the chef making the food and we’re the guests meant to devour it. But not that night. That night we were all family, and after she made sure everyone else had been served, she joined us at the table to eat. My great-grandmother used to do the same thing at family holiday dinners.

As the night waned on, my hands covered with turkey juice and my belly full of food and spirits, we laughed and joked with one another, and I couldn’t help but think how lucky my wife and I were to be surrounded by such wonderful friends. Friends that had only been brought together because of The Homegrown Revival. Sure, they weren’t blood relatives, but in their own way, they’re just as special.

In Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem says “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family.” I always liked that line, but I think I’d like to provide an addendum. We might not be able to choose our family, but the friends we choose are just as special because we consciously choose them, and oftentimes, those friends end up becoming family. No simile necessary in that last clause.

I’m not as pithy as Lee, I know. But I was happy that The Homegrown Revival held a special Thanksgiving dinner. It provided a way for us transplanted Austinites to experience Thanksgiving in a town not of our birth.

And for that, I’m very thankful.

So to David, Sonya, Charles, Sarah, Tink, Leah, Ellen, Deano, Melissa, Thorne, Glenn, Paula, Aunt Mary, Uncle Ed, Charles, Jill, and all the rest of the people at The Homegrown Revival Thanksgiving dinner, thank you for allowing me and Leigh to celebrate the holiday with you all. I hope we see you again next year.

Categories: Austin Life, Homegrown Revival | Comments

Forget Delphi. Nate Silver’s in the House

Obviously, I’m thrilled about the election results. Obama’s clear victory meant that most of the electorate looked beyond the various attacks and saw that Obama would probably be better for our country. Definitely makes me happy.

But that’s not why I’m writing this post.

As elated as I am about President Obama’s resounding victory over the GOP’s increasingly archaic worldview, I’m just as happy that the election vindicated Nate Silver.

If you’re not familiar with Nate Silver, he’s a statistician and the author of the Fivethirtyeight blog. He holds a degree in economics from The University of Chicago, and during the 2008 elections, pretty much as a hobby, he used statistical algorithms and applied sabermetrics to predict the outcome of elections.

And his predictions were amazingly accurate. Frighteningly so. After the dust settled, Nate Silver turned into something of a star, with some pundits and politicians declaring him an Oracle and others writing his predictions off as dumb luck.

Skip ahead to 2012, and Silver had a lot to prove.

After the first debate, when most pundits had Romney way out in front, Silver claimed that Romney actually only received a very slight bump in his chances at securing the presidency. A few days later, Silver claimed that Romney had lost the slight advantage he’d gained, and since that time, his mathematical models showed Obama winning reelection. Those chances kept increasing as time went on, and on Election Day, Silver claimed that Obama’s chances at reelection were ~92%.

Funnily enough, Silver correctly predicted just about everything, except one North Dakota senate race.

How have pundits reacted to Silver’s second round of statistical analysis methodology?

Vengefully.

Conservatives have especially derided Silver. They’ve attacked his analyses, calling them a “numbers racket,” and they’ve attacked him personally, telling people that he shouldn’t be believed because he has an “effeminate” way about him. (I’m not making this one up. Read the link and prepare to be disgusted.)

Why has the GOP attacked Silver so aggressively?

Three reasons, I think.

Firstly, he threatens to destroy punditry as we know it. Pundits are masters of spin. They don’t lie, per se, but they cherry pick data and manipulate the truth. Statistical analysis cuts through the bullshit of spinning and makes it irrelevant.  So in essence, Nate Silver threatens the very livelihood of clowns like Karl Rove and James Carville.

Secondly, and more importantly in my mind, Nate Silver’s analyses prove that science trumps magical thinking and truthiness. We are a pattern-seeking species, and we can’t stop ourselves from finding meaning in random patterns and confirming our own biases. So if you’re conservative, you’re more likely to consume conservative media that confirms your beliefs, and you’re likely to look for conservative-based patterns to do so. If you’re a liberal, you’re likely to do the same.

But here’s the deal: Science doesn’t give a damn about your political leaning. Science just is. And science really doesn’t give a damn about faith, and I think that’s why so many people find Nate Silver’s analyses uncomfortable. He shows people that their gut-feeling might be meaningless, and he puts a number to faith’s efficacy.

Republicans had faith in Romney. They just knew he would pull it out. But Nate Silver had been saying for weeks that Romney had less than a 30% chance at winning the presidency. He even went so far as to challenge Joe Scarborough to a $1,000 bet on that fact.

It seems to me that whenever science destroys faith it’s a net gain for humanity. Sure, our dreams are sometimes crushed, but we don’t need to rely on faith, and we don’t need to trust our gut. Our guts lie to us, and faith encourages us believe in the unrealistic and improbable. We need to have a clear vision of what’s possible, improbable, and impossible. Only then can we tackle the future with clarity.

Of course, we can always have hope. Hope’s different than faith. Faith means a belief in something without evidence. But hope? Hope recognizes statistical probability while allowing us to stay positive.

Thirdly, Nate Silver threatens the entire GOP platform. If numbers don’t lie about presidential elections, what about the numbers proving climate change? Maybe they aren’t lying either. What about biological data that demonstrates that homosexuality appears in nature in the same statistical instance as in our species? Was the GOP wrong about that, too? What about the numerical data that shows supply-side economics simply can’t and won’t work? Say it ain’t so. What about the data that suggests criminalizing abortions will lead to a drastic increase in crime?

If I was part of the republican establishment, I’d wanna make damn sure that my constituents didn’t listen to Nate Silver. No telling what they’d learn by tuning out Foxnews and looking at evidentiary research. Just look at how the pundits on Fox freaked out when science proceeded to tear down their clubhouse.

And that’s why Nate Silver irritates and scares the hell out of the GOP. He destroys blind faith and calls into question the truthiness of the GOP platform, and he does so with a mountain of evidence to support his positions.

 

Categories: Politics | Comments

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