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Richard Nixon famously remarked that no one could attain public office unless he had the “fire in the belly” impelling him to overcome the obstacles.

He was right, of course. Attaining office is an obstacle course so difficult that without the “fire in the belly”, the half-(or more) insane determination to get there, no one can possibly get there. Trouble is, that obstacle course selects only for “fire in the belly”, and not for intelligence, competence, or even sanity. Arguably it selects against those qualities, especially the last.

The result is as we see: a national “leadership” composed of arrogant dumbasses whose only qualification for office is fire in the belly. They don’t have the least idea what they’re doing, but they’re determined to do it — and to make the rest of us go along.

There is one difference: Whether you think Dick Nixon was good, evil, or something in between, you have to admit he was competent, so it’s a bit unfair to use him as the emblem for this gang of loonwaffles. He’s gone to his reward, whatever that may be, and no longer cares, so we’re free to use his name to characterize a gang of self-important idiots. A Congress of Nixons, with all-consuming fires in their bellies, vacuum in their skulls, and greed in their hearts.

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A Progressive can best be thought of as an addict.

“Progressive” is the (largely self-selected) term by which we refer to a sociopolitical tendency that is always present, but which is too diffuse and too dishonest to have a name of its own. It is the cuckoo of sociopolitics, adopting the label and memorizing the shibboleths of something that’s currently around and sounds good, then warping that to its own ends, which generally don’t resemble those of of the philosophy they displace. The pretense wears thin after a while, and they have to pick something else to ruin.

For about the last half-century they’ve been calling themselves “liberals” while being utterly opposed to all aspects of the liberal program; before that they were “socialists” while despising socialist ideals, and a lot of people who don’t pay attention still think of them that way and disparage them on that basis, which is a mistake. The original, veritable Progressives were thoroughly nasty: social Darwinists, ethnic supremacists, eugenicists, and advocates of tyranny with themselves as the tyrants, so the label “Progressive” actually fits better than usual.

Modern Progressives define themselves in terms of compassion and helping the unfortunate. “Helping” produces good feelings in the helper, a warm glow of accomplishment. It also gives the helper a heady rush of power. The helper is clearly bigger, stronger, and generally more powerful than the one helped, as a simple matter of logistics.

A Progressive is a person who is as addicted to the double rush of power and accomplishment as a junkie is to smack, and like the heroin addict will do literally anything to get another fix. This is why the “help” they provide is always short-term and ultimately destructive. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for life — and doesn’t need further “help”. Give a man a fish, and he eats for today — and is back tomorrow, hat in hand, offering the Progressive another needle. “Environmentalism” has been a Godsend to Progressives in that regard. Teach a man that fishing is a vile act, a sin against Nature and Mother Gaia which no decent person would ever commit, and you can pretty well guarantee that he will be back every day to provide the rush of “helping”.

The usual reaction is to take Progressives at face value, considering them good people who are trying to help but occasionally err by going to excess. This is wrong, exactly backwards in fact. The only people they are trying to help are themselves, and they are taking advantage of others’ weakness to aggrandize themselves and inflate their own importance. Call them what they are: cynical opportunists capitalizing on the misfortunes of others, and excusing it with sanctimonious blather. Conceding the moral high ground to people whose morality is only a few verbs deep is a mistake that has always, in the past, led to poverty and mass graves.

or III, rather; I made one that I didn’t report.

This is now a box I can tick in the “life experiences” section: I know how to make pecan pie. The third one came out near-perfect. Even my wife, who doesn’t really like pecan pie, thought it was good. Yay me!

Next goal: Pie crust. Up to now I’ve been using the pre-made ones.

Several of the search terms that led to the previous post have been interesting. One wails, “I want the pecans distributed throughout the filling.” Sorry. Won’t happen. The pecan meats are less massive (lighter) than the filling, and they float to the top. Another wants to know how to make it solid and not runny. That requires (1) fresh eggs, (2) real butter, (3) not too much corn syrup, and (4) the salt — it’s a chemical reaction, and the salt is required. It also requires that the oven be hot enough. The filling has to reach the “soft ball” stage in order to set.

Along the way I learned some things. Did you know that the pecan is really just a species of hickory? I didn’t, but that’s it — all the hickories are genus carya, and pecan is carya illinoinensis. I know from experience that hickory nut pie is great. One commenter said he could get hickory nut meats for $24 a pound. Having cracked a few in my time, I’d say that’s a bargain.

Walnuts are a separate species, juglans, but they, the hickories, and several others are part of a family, juglandaceae, with many similarities. I reckon any of the juglandaceae that produce edible nuts would make a good pie by my recipe.

One of the trees in that family grows in Asia but is cultivated in “Japanese” gardens, and is called (wait for it)

“wingnut”

I want one. I want to plant one in my yard. The articles didn’t say whether or not the nuts are edible, but if they are I want a cup and a half (350 ml) of the meats. I think baking a wingnut pie would be awesome.

Ovens, that is.

Years ago — I don’t remember exactly when; it was at least fifteen years ago — my wife and I bought a microwave oven, a little Sanyo. It worked very well for a long time. When we moved to this place we brought it along, and it worked for a while, then quit. The transformer in the power supply for the control panel burned out, and I wasn’t able to find out anything about it, so we went to Wal*Mart and bought a cheap Emerson; we will refer to this one later as “Emerson A”. I’m a confirmed pack rat who seldom throws anything away that might be useful later, so the Sanyo got put aside.

Emerson A rocked along for a while, then the magnetron went out. Things were tight, money-wise, so I recovered another (!) old microwave oven, a genuinely ancient Kenmore one, gigantic and complex. It worked for a while, then the control panel croaked. That left us bereft of microwave ovens, so I cast about for what to do. The old Sanyo caught my eye. I took it apart, pulled out the magnetron, and installed it in Emerson A. It worked! I took the dead magnetron apart. The magnets are incredibly powerful and fun to play with; the only ones more powerful you’re likely to find are in the head actuators of a hard disk, and those are comparatively tiny.

When we opened the pack&ship store a bit over two years ago we wanted a microwave oven in the back, so we went and bought Emerson B from Wally’s World. The newer one was visually identical to the old, but close inspection revealed some differences — some of the screws were Torx (and tamper-resistant Torx, at that) and the case only had one screw on the side instead of one on each. It worked about as well as any microwave oven does.

When we closed the store I brought Emerson B home. Since it was newer than A, I set it on the counter and put Emerson A in storage (pack rat, remember?) It rocked along for a little while, then one day there was a bright spark and a zzzzap!, and it stopped working. A brief inspection revealed that the magnetron had shorted across the filament leads — one magnetron, RIP, so I put A back on the counter and stored B.

Last night as I was nuking something for Bobbe’s dinner, there was a *sput* and it started making smoke. Electronic stuff, including microwave ovens, depends crucially on magic smoke; if you let it out, the stuff stops working. I took it apart and discovered that the high-voltage transformer was all black along the high voltage windings. Too bad, so sad.

B was still in storage, so I went and got it. Magnetron dead, good high voltage transformer; A has the reverse, so the obvious thing was to swap the good magnetron into B, which I did. It works. It even kept working when I put the leads on backwards. Yes, dear, it does makes a difference. The two pins look alike, but one is labeled “F” for “Filament”, and the other “FA” for “Filament/Anode”. The filament lead will pull power for a little while, but it won’t last long connected that way. I swapped them and nuked breakfast with it this morning.

But the good magnetron is the Sanyo one from years ago! The steel wool seal around the feed probe is rusty, it lacks a slot where the Emersons have a tab I had to remove, and the wires go out the side instead of the bottom so I had to extend the high voltage leads, but it keeps on working. I fully expect that it will soldier on for a while, too. There is a difference in quality sometimes. I just wish the magnetron from the ancient Kenmore (well, d’oh, yes, of course I kept it) would fit. The mountings are completely different, but if I could make it work it would give me one more iteration of the Frankenstein Microwave Adventure.

Pecan pie begins with pecans. (Whoa! Who’d’a thunk?)

We have several pecan trees on our place. Two of them are highly-bred modern varieties; one produces fairly large nuts with thin shells, the other nothing much — the green hulls never open and drop the pecans. My wife calls them “Choctaws”. I don’t know. Back in East Texas we would simply have referred to them as “paperhulls”. There is a third, much smaller tree that yields pecans a little smaller than the “Choctaw”, but it’s been in the shade of a big ugly hackberry all its life.

There’s also a big, old tree along the road fence line that produces what East Texans call “field” pecans — a little bigger than the first joint of a man’s little finger, aspect ratio about 3, with extremely durable shells, and a number of smaller ones that yield the same nuts. Then there are a few that make a somewhat larger nut, more nearly round, but just as hard, which is an “Indian” pecan in my childhood terminology.

Now, it’s long been my theory that the amount of flavor in fruits, nuts, berries, etc. is fixed based on species. Breeding and genetic engineering create varieties that produce larger and prettier ones, but the bigger, fancier versions don’t have any more flavor than the little hard originals, so the big ones taste bland and mealy in comparison. That’s certainly true of the pecans on our place. The “field” and “Indian” pecans are hard to shell and virtually impossible to get whole meats out of, but are oily and intensely flavored, where the “Choctaw” or “paperhull” pecans are big and pretty but relatively bland.

So when I decided to make a pecan pie — the first one I’ve ever personally made — I started by shelling Indian pecans. You need a specialized instrument to get much from the field pecans, but only persistence is required for the Indians. In half an hour I collected about half a cup of nutmeats, none of them whole, mostly in one-millimeter fragments. Since I wanted a bit over a cup of nutmeats, I caved in at that point and shelled enough of the Choctaws to fill it out.

Pecan pie, to me, is my mother’s recipe plus inferior imitations. Some of the latter use milk, for heaven’s sake. Note that my mother was, overall, a lousy cook — it took me years after leaving home to figure out that the reason I hated cruciform vegetables was because of the way she cooked them, especially cauliflower — but when it came to dessert, well, mmmm. She maintained the recipe in arch, imitation-old-fashioned form, but it’s pretty much the Joy of Cooking one, which I will give first as she did, then with “real” measurements:

9″ shallow pie shell, normal flour/shortening crust (but use lard, guys, it just tastes better), NOT “deep dish”
A lump of butter the size of an egg (1/4 cup)
A double-handful of brown sugar (one cup, packed)
Three eggs
A generous handful of corn syrup (half a cup)
A capful of vanilla (one teaspoon)
A dash of salt (1/4 teaspoon)
Two handfuls of pecans (1 to 1-1/2 cups) BROKEN UP

Which type of brown sugar and which of corn syrup is up to you. Mother used dark brown sugar and light corn syrup, or light brown sugar and dark corn syrup, according to what was available. Don’t omit the salt in a misplaced attempt at “low sodium”. The pie won’t set up properly. Pecan pie is not a health food, anyway.

It is important that the pecans be mostly fragments, especially if all you can get is pre-shelled packaged ones from the supermarket. The flavor-laden stuff from the nutmeats leaches out into the batter when the pie is cooked, so you get a pie that tastes like pecans rather than a sweet clear stuff with nutmeats on top. (If you want a pretty pie, with nicely arranged whole nutmeats arrayed across the surface, go elsewhere, please.)

Take the ingredients out of the fridge. Prepare the pie shell. The time needed to mix, roll, etc. the pie crust will give the ingredients time to warm to room temperature, which will help a lot.

Turn the oven on. You want it preheated to 350F (180C). While the oven is heating, cream the butter and sugar to a more or less consistent mixture, then add the eggs one at a time. (Don’t beat or overstir unless you want a sort of crusty browned meringue over the top of the finished pie — I like it that way, but lots of people don’t.) Add the corn syrup, vanilla, and salt, and stir thoroughly. Fold the pecans in throughout the mixture, then pour the batter into the crust.

When you get done with that the oven will be preheated, so put the pie on the middle shelf. Check it after half an hour. If the crust is starting to brown all the way ’round, the pie is done. If not, leave it in up to ten more minutes. I overcooked mine as well as over-beating it, so it came out a bit more toasted than I really liked, but hey! — like I said, it was my first personal effort thataway.

Important: Let it cool for a while before diving in. I like for pecan pie to have just a hint of warmth remaining. If you have done all that right, the pie will “set up” — that is, the filling will be a semi-solid, not runny. If you must garnish it, stay away from the ice cream. Barely-sweetened whipped cream is nice.

You can make the same pie with walnuts, and if you are a VERY patient and persistent nutcracker you can do it with hickory nuts, which puts the pecan version in the shade. Some people like to add chocolate chips, but I don’t like that. While making the pie it occurred to me: has anybody ever tried it with mesquite beans? They’re edible, with an odd smoky flavor that isn’t at all disagreeable. Maybe next year I’ll collect some and try it.

Enjoy. Things have been a bit hectic ’round Chez Locke the last couple of weeks, so I haven’t been at the keyboard much. How ’bout them CRUdites?

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