Food Processor Potato Pancakes

Potato PancakesI have family visiting this week, so obviously my mind turns to food — or more toward food than it normally does. This morning, I am making potato pancakes. I’ve taken of late to making huge numbers of the buggers and freezing them. They reheat in the toaster oven surprisingly well. But today they will be eaten the way they were meant to be eaten: hot off the grill. There really are few things in life that are better.

There is something that I’ve been doing to make my life easier. Instead of grating the potatoes, I use the food processor. This works okay. Or rather: it works okay. But there is a problem. The food processor changes the consistency of potatoes in two ways. First, the strings are not as long. Second, the strings are thicker. There is nothing to be done on the first point. But there is something that can be done on the second.

By processing the potatoes, compressing them into the bottom and processing again, you can get them to roughly the correct thickness. (Don’t use your fingers, for God’s sake!) I find this to be rather a pain to do. But freeing myself of potentially grating my fingers is worth it. And it is necessary. The pancakes just don’t taste right when the potato pieces are too thick.

As for the length of the potato pieces, this doesn’t much affect the taste. But it does affect the visual aesthetic. The pancakes end up looking more like mashed potato pancakes. There is none of the thin edging with the weedy texture. That’s a shame, because I really like that. But there is much to be said for convenience and the lack of pain.

I’m probably out for the rest of the day. We are going sightseeing. (It is morning as I write this.) And wine tasting — hopefully. Have a great evening!

See Also

Potato Pancakes
A Good Idea for Better Latkes
Perfect “Potato Pancakes”

The “TARP Paid for Itself” Distraction

Dean BakerIt seems that Timothy Geithner is going around patting himself on the back because TARP ended up bring in more money than it put out. Thankfully, Dean Baker is out beating down this ridiculous notion, The Profit on the TARP and Bernie Madoff. He provided a great example of how the federal government could have done the same thing for Bernie Madoff that would have saved his business and “made” the government money. He considers the issue, “The question is whether an important public purpose was served by rescuing the Wall Street banks from their own greed.” He doesn’t see one.

There is an even more basic consideration. Geithner is just looking at how much money it cost the government to borrow the money and comparing it to the amount of interest that the banks paid. That’s a ridiculous way to look at it. To begin with, the government could borrow for so little money because interest rates were really low. And interest rates were really low because the economy was terrible. And the economy was terrible because the banks destroyed it. Something is very wrong with that kind of logic.

The other issue is that the government doesn’t work for free. Timothy Geithner and a bunch of other people and institutions had to be paid. There is government overhead for all of this stuff. Why isn’t all of this taken into account of the costs to the government? Because the government would have to pay it anyway? That’s not how a private business would look at it in its accounting. So why should the banks get off in this way. Clearly, this is just a way for Geithner to argue (as if it were necessary) that it is always a great idea to shovel cash to the rich because it is always a good investment.

But there is a far easier, if less quantitative way of thinking about this. The government can only do so many things: it has limited resources. So there is an opportunity cost of doing any given thing. The question is never whether bailing out the banks paid for itself in the long run. The question is whether that was a better use for the money than other things. Personally, I have no doubt that spending that money on improving schools and infrastructure would have been better. But for obvious reasons, people never bring this up. Because helping out the rich is always the most important thing to do because the one thing we really believe here in America is that the rich can never, ever be allowed to fail.

Baker did mention in passing the “Second Great Depression scare story.” That’s the one where we are all supposed to deliver gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the feet of Timothy Geithner for saving us from the calamity that would have befallen us if the big banks hadn’t been save. In other places, Baker has mentioned a number of things that could have been done. But in this article, he just mentioned the most obvious: the government could have spent money. That is, after all, what the government did do. But if it had been regular spending, it could have been used on good things instead of the bonuses of top management at banks.

We Don’t Know if North Korea is the Sony Hacker

HackerI find hacking fascinating. Because I know a great deal about computers at the very lowest level, people often think that I know a lot about hacking. I really don’t. Over my life, I’ve found this or that bit of information. Of course, it was always because someone had made a change to a major piece of software because it had previously had some security hole. But the ways people find to circumvent security are often amazingly clever. If I had many lives to lead, I would dedicate one of them to understanding all this stuff. Unfortunately, I don’t and there are too many other things to do with my time.

Recently, I’ve been very interested in this Sony hack. The hack itself doesn’t seem all that interesting. Over three years ago, Sony was the victim of a major hack — the so called PlayStation Network outage. At that time, Sony decided that it really had to get serious security. But it would seem that they never did. I think it is rather typical of film companies (games are just an extension of film) where nothing really matters but what they do. “We don’t need no stinkin’ security experts!”

What bothers me is why everyone is so convinced this is an attack from North Korea. When I first saw the note the perpetrators sent, I was skeptical, “We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places ‘The Interview’ be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.” Really?! I suppose it is possible. But it reads more like a really racist SNL skit than what hackers would write.

I’m not alone in wondering about this. Michael Hiltzik has written a couple of articles highlighting some of the dissent. It isn’t that anyone is saying that North Korea didn’t do it. It is just that the information we have thus far doesn’t indicate that they did. Instead, it looks like the US government just wants it to be North Korea and the perpetrators want it to appear as though it is North Korea, and so everyone assumes it is North Korea. But other than that, there really is nothing.

Hacker Grugq makes an excellent point that laying this on North Korea is incredibly convenient, Lets Blame Our Perennial Adversary! He points out that we know how North Korea does this kind of stuff, and this is very different. “This is a media blitz campaign by a group that is steeped in Internet culture and knows how to play to it. They can manipulate it to maximum effect. This is definitely far more sophisticated than the usual rhetoric from North Korea.” And Jericho lays out a detailed case that nothing anyone has said comes anywhere near to convincing us that this was North Korea, Anatomy of a NYT Piece on the Sony Hack and Attribution. (Leave it to a hacker to do a better job capitalizing headlines than The Washington Post.)

In Hiltzik’s newest article yesterday, he talked to security expert Marc Rogers, who noted that the key element of the indictment is that the same tools used in this attack were used in two previous attacks. But no one has ever shown that those attacks were by North Korea. He wrote, “Lastly, it’s pretty weak in my books to claim that the newest piece of malware is the act of a nation state because other possible related pieces of malware were rumored to be the work of a nation state.”

Further, the FBI claimed that IP addresses of the hackers used were known to be used by North Korea. But that’s just silly. To start, hackers almost never attack from their own machines. Or rather, there is a Darwinian aspect here: hackers who attack from their own machines get arrested. Dr Krypt3ia took on the whole issue in some depth, FAUXTRIBUTION?

There are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is that the hacker community hates the government and so they will be skeptical of anything the FBI says. The other is that no one is saying that the attack was not from North Korea. It is just that the information that the FBI has made available does not make the case. And given that we know the FBI and the CIA are more than willing to tell the government whatever it wants to hear, we need to question this. Of course we won’t. The United States has never found the truth necessary when a falsehood was so nice to believe.

Americans Wants the Cruelest Punishment

Jamelle BouieIt’s not just that Americans want a system that metes out punishment, it’s that — despite our Eighth Amendment — we are accepting of the cruelest punishment. And while it’s not legal, it exists and it’s pervasive. In theory, our prisons are holding cells for the worst offenders and centers for rehabilitation for the others. Inmates can work, learn, and prepare themselves for a more productive life in society. In reality, they are hellscapes of rape, abuse, and violence from gangs and guards.

At the for-profit East Mississippi Correctional Facility, for example, prisoners lacked functioning toilets and were forced to “defecate into Styrofoam trays or plastic trash bags” without any way of “ridding their cells of the waste other than tossing it onto the housing unit through the slots in their doors.” Mentally ill prisoners were left to their own devices, with terrible consequences. “Prisoners engage in gross acts of self-mutilation, including electrocution, swallowing shards of glass and razors, and tearing into their flesh with sharp objects.”

These kinds of stories aren’t hard to find. Nor is evidence of our epidemic of prison sexual assault. “Roughly 200,000 men, women, and children reported being sexually abused in detention facilities in 2011, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has anonymously self-reported data from inmates,” writes Carla Murphy for Colorlines. Because of shame from the assault and fear of their assailants, the actual number is almost certainly higher, as many victims don’t report their abuse to the authorities, in part because guards are often as responsible for rape as other inmates.

Americans know this. They know that prisons are horrible. They know that going to jail vastly increases your odds of being raped, attacked, or worse. And yet, this does nothing to shift the overwhelming punitiveness of American public opinion. Indeed, prison rape is a punch line, summed up in don’t drop the soap or watch out, you might become a punk. Americans don’t recoil from assaults in our jails and prisons; they welcome them as deserts for people who commit crimes.

Our prisons, then, are sites for retribution. As Robert A. Ferguson, professor of law and literature at Columbia University, notes in his book Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment, Americans routinely transition from a rational view of criminals (“because your act and your mental state at the time were blameworthy, you deserve punishment”) to a moralized one (“you have a hardened, abandoned and malignant heart” and “you are evil and rotten to the core”), to a scornful one, where the criminal is “scum” and deserves “whatever cruel indignity I choose to inflict on you.” You see this most vividly in the reactions to police shootings of black Americans. It’s not enough for the shooting to be justified, as a grand jury decided in the case of Ferguson’s Officer Darren Wilson. No, the victim must be demonized, hence the chorus of critics against Michael Brown: He was a thug who deserved his fate.

—Jamelle Bouie
Dick Cheney’s America

James Burke

James BurkeToday, the great journalist and sort of historian of science James Burke is 78. When I was young, I was mad for his two series Connections and The Day the Universe Changed. The latter series was on when I was a physics undergraduate and it really fed my excitement for science and all that jazz. The Connection series does get to the heart of what he does. He combines disparate elements and connects them — often in ways that would make a real historian cringe. Add to this a lot of humor and you end up with an enjoyable and educational bit of television.

Since that time, he’s continued to do much the same thing. In between those two series, he did The Real Thing. In six half-hour episodes, he discussed the nature of perception. You can currently see the whole thing on YouTube, although the copy is just terrible. And in the 1990s, he produces the 20-part Connections 2 and the 10-part Connections 3. He seems to be largely retired at this point.

I can’t find any of the two series he’s known for online. This is probably because they are still big moneymakers for the BBC. But it looks like all of Connections 3 is online. So here is episode 5: “Life Is No Picnic.” I haven’t watched the whole thing, but it is classic Burke. It’s an interesting journey, but it isn’t clear that it means anything. However, it is interesting to know that American soldiers using instant coffee in World War II was the start of it taking off in general use.

Happy birthday James Burke!