Saturday, November 29, 2008

I "Brined" the Turkey!

The older I get, the more things I find I don't know. Three days ago, while perusing one of my favorite liberal blogs, I found a glowing review of the San Francisco Chronicle's receipe for brining a turkey. After racing to the supermarket for a few ingredients, I did the following in less than 30 minutes:

Put 2.5 gallons of water into the inmost of two large, doubled garbage bags that were placed inside a plastic cooler.

Into the water I put 2 cups of Kosher salt, one cup of sugar, a clove of garlic (all peeled sections), a whole bunch of fresh thyme, 5 crushed juniper berries, and 4 crushed allspice nuggets. I thrashed it all around for a couple of minutes to mix it up.

Into the bag went the turkey, about 5 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving Day. I tied the top of the plastic bags tightly, put the top on the cooler and let it all sit until 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. Then I took out the turkey, dried it, and tossed out the brine mix.

The 20 pound turkey roasted for about 3.5 hours at 350 degrees (until the thigh meat was 165 degrees). No stuffing allowed!

Best turkey we ever ate, by a mile! White meat firm, moist, and flavorful, dark meat delicious! This was the first time I remember the turkey being the food sensation of Thanksgiving.

It's no wonder the Chronicle found this receipe the best of the 28 that they tested. Bon appetite!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Auto Bailout, Part 2

The auto bailout controversy continues to fester. Congress tossed the auto executives out earlier this week. Lobbyists and other advocates and adversaries are out in full force in the media. Information and misinformation abounds! What's the real story?

Well, I'm still hard-hearted. I have no sympathy for the executives, but I have less sympathy for the rank and file exempt employees and the union guys. I've been close to the industry just once in my life, but that was enough to get the ugly picture. Everyone involved in the big three has been complicit in an outrageous wage/price inflation that cannot stand if the auto industry is to survive. They all have to give something up - wages, pensions, health care, all of it. They are sadly out of line.

Much has been made by some commentators of the inaccuracy of the $70/hour or more that's been quoted as the average cost of a union worker. It's true that that number represents the per-worker cost of all salaries, benefits, and pension contributions for both current workers and retirees. The average worker makes much less, actually about $30/hour in wages, plus health care and statutory benefits. Pension contributions go on top of that, making the average fully-loaded cost of an average current union member a bit less than $50/hour. That's crazy. At $30/hour, the gross pay averages $62,400 annually. Fully loaded, the per-worker cost is almost $100,000 each year for a high school graduate who does manual labor. Add another $20/hour to take care of retired worker pensions and health care benefits, and you get the $70/hour that I started with. A union auto worker has a great job. Too great, in fact. And that also goes for all the exempt employees whose salary packages have been pegged to the union contract for 50 years. They're all overpaid.

I have a son who teaches eighth grade math in the combat zone of Phoenix. He's a top teacher, and he has a masters degree and five years experience. He makes less than $40,000 and he gets health care and a pension contribution. His day starts early and ends late, and he has a world of requirements to worry about. His job is far more difficult than an auto worker's job, but he makes much less. He loves what he does, at age 46 and after enduring the strain of several career changes. Before 9-11 he made six figures and drove a nice BMW, but the office he headed closed due to the terrorist attack and the recession that followed. So, he got a new education and adjusted to another lifestyle. That's what some people do, and that's one reason why I have little sympathy for the auto industry employees.

Some time ago I posted about military pay. I mentioned that an Army captain does a lot better than I did when I was an officer. Today that captain with a college degree and lots more training and tons of responsibility makes a base pay of $56,664. He'll also get on-base housing for free, or a housing allowance worth more than $12,000 each year. So, this guy makes just a little more than an average union auto worker, but he may have to lead 120 guys into mortal combat and likely be away from his family for more than a year at a time on several occasions. You think that captain feels sorry for Joe wrench-turner?

Don't get me wrong. I don't hate Joe wrench-turner, and I think he deserves to have a decent life. What's happened, though, is that for many years his unions have been extorting the big three auto companies and have had no concern whatsoever for the long term viability of the companies they work for. Those chickens have now come home to roost. Some auto workers sit around at off-site facilities and get paid for doing nothing. Nutty labor rules let some workers finish their "quota" in a few hours and then sit around for the rest of the workday. Featherbedding abounds. The cars they make are substandard compared to competition, partly because the big three can't compete on price if they put comparable value into their cars in addition to their high labor costs. Unless this entire employee cost base is rationalized, these companies are doomed to fail.

Here's the big question. Will the participants in this failed industry all get together and decide to take the hit? Are they willing to give up some pay and benefits to make their companies competitive? So far, I've seen not a single movement in this direction. They want life as it is today, and that's it. My response is, shut'em down and start over. Sorry, but they had their chance to do the right thing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Deer Season Opens Tomorrow!

Attention all deer! Southern New York's deer hunting season opens at sunrise, Saturday, November 15, 2008. Now is the time to get your affairs in order, 'cause my hunting buddies and I are coming after you!

Opening day is perhaps my favorite day of the year. Even with all the modern gizmo's that hunters now use, stalking a large, fast, smart animal in its native habitat is still a challenging activity. It involves sitting for hours; slogging through mud; walking through cornfields over my head; crossing creeks; walking slowly and stealthily; keeping the snow off my glasses; taking good aim with stiff fingers; field-dressing the animal; and, finally, dragging a heavy carcass back to the van. In one form or another, men have been doing these things for eons. Hunting connects me to history in a very basic way.

I always look forward to performing the other rituals of hunting: assembling the clothing, boots, firearms, ammo, and snacks; sharpening the Buck knife; charging the radio; and, getting up very early in the morning. And, without fail, checking my license and making sure the bores of my weapons are clear.

We four gather near the woods at 5:45 a.m. to say "hello" for the first time since last December. We pull on our tall rubber boots. We drink coffee from our thermos and maybe eat a donut even though we already ate breakfast at home. We check our radio's and confirm our starting positions. At 6:15 we walk out, and by 6:25 we're in position, waiting quietly for the sun to rise and our quarry to, perhaps, blunder into our sights.

When the sunset finally comes, I'll be tired. I'll have walked several miles wearing heavy clothing and boots and carrying a weapon. I may have helped drag a few deer to a road. We'll walk cross country back to our starting place, have a cold beer, and talk about the next hunting day. Some of us will then transport their deer to the processor. My first deer is donated to Foodlink, where it will make lots of meals for those who have a lot less than I. Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Auto Industry Bail-Out?

Our government has already committed $25 billion to the automakers to help them re-tool for the next generation of automobiles. Now, these same companies are coming back to Washington, this time asking for cash to keep them from going under in 2009. I say, "Wait a minute, here! Get your house in order first."

For all too long Detroit has been making inferior cars while paying its employees overly generous wages, benefits, and pensions. (Why should an assembly line worker with a high school diploma make as much or more than a teacher with a masters degree?) Recently some changes have been made in increasing auto workers contributions to their medical plan, but that should be just the start of a major adjustment in auto industry compensation. Until the companies and the UAW can agree on that, I would reject any bailout. We don't need a "bailed-out" auto industry that is still incapable of competing with foreign competition on price.

I don't hate the guys who design and build cars in Detroit. It's just that they haven't made the adjustment to competing in a world economy. Their cost structure has to be competitive in order for them to survive over the long term. If, to incent change, Washington has to threaten the companies and their pension plans by letting them go the brink of collapse, so be it. If we have a simple bail-out, the next one won't be far behind.

The fact is, if U.S. auto companies are competitive, there will be plenty of jobs there. They just won't be quite as cushy as they've been for the past 50 years.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Happy and Sad

Obama won! I'm happy. America voted for a smart, decent, successful family man who just happened to be (in his own words) a mutt. Unfortunately, white America voted for the other guy and his breathtakingly inept sidekick, complemented by Joe the Plumber. This election was a watershed, but the demographics of the win tell me that America has a long way to go. That makes me sad.

Bush has one foot out the door, and those who call themselves republicans (desecrating a proud name) have less influence in congress. I'm happy. Unfortunately, eight years of benighted rule have come to a crashing conclusion. The only good thing is that the crash happened on their watch, but it is a crash par excellance! America and the world are in for a tough time because employment is fueled by spending, and there will be a lot less of that for a good while. I'm sad, but not as sad as those millions who will fall from "barely making it" to a life of despair. Remember when we trusted government to regulate and protect our economy?

The price of oil has dropped precipitously due to the economic slowdown, so it costs less to fill up my van. I'm happy. But, the falling price of oil makes alternative energy sources expensive again. Will we be so shortsighted as to slow down our conversion to green energy? If so, I'll be sad.

World leaders are circling the wagons to come up with a joint economic recovery plan. I'm happy. But, hard times have often caused countries to combat internal distress by conjuring a foreign enemy. Sadly, wars are excellent depression-fighters unless your country is unlucky enough to be on the losing side.

My four daily workplaces (Cameron Community Ministries, Pittsford Volunteer Ambulance, Christ Clarion Presbyterian Church, and Lake Avenue Baptist Church) make me happy because they are filled with optimistic people who try to love their neighbors as themselves. The down economy is going to affect them like it affects everything else. I'm sad.

In times like this one is drawn to consider the long view. Things go up, things go down, things go up. Has the earth shrunk enough that all of us people will be motivated to join hands and work out some new ways to manage how we live on it? It's getting to be that time, and I'd love to see it happen before I die.