Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Candy Review Part II: More of the Same


This is a quick review of some new Halloween candy I picked up at the drug store.*

MEET THE NEW HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP SAME AS THE OLD HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP

As evidenced by my last post about Halloween candy this year, I made a conscious choice not to expect any pumpkin-flavored candy. I was probably right in doing so; however, it was mostly avoided. Still, I was at least glad that the candy conglomerates were at least trying. Except they weren't.

Well, perhaps that's unfair, but let's take a look:

Peeps Pumpkin: I should immediately point out that 1) this is a Peep, and 2) this is pumpkin-shaped and NOT pumpkin-flavored. So as you can see right off the bat it's got two points against it. That said, as I've written in the past few holiday candy posts, the Peeps Corporation has done a good job of tricking me into thinking that I like Peeps by 1) making the consistency a little more candy-like and less used-sponge-like, and 2) slathering it in a coating of awesome chocolate. So, as usual, it's not a bad candy, but still not something I would actively buy. Peeps fans or borderline fans should give it a try.

Coconut Nest: Russell Stover seems to do good work: reasonably high quality chocolate yet distributed through the mass market channels. Add to that fact that they've taken the awesomest part of their candy box--the coconut chunkish thing--and made a whole candy out of it is absolutely fantastic. So it's got a definite thumbs-up from me, and I eagerly look forward to the Russell Stover Dark Chocolate Caramel Brick. I also like the fact that they've made it vaguely Halloween-themed by calling it the ambiguous "Nest." Is that a rat's nest? Perhaps raven? Maaaaybe....BAT?? I dunno, but ambiguity tastes fantastic.

Halloween Kit Kat: I love the Kit Kat. So if you love Kit Kats, you'll love this--which is basically a Kit Kat with a printed design on it. No change in flavor, really. It's fun but nothing remarkable. (I was going to take a picture of the design, but you know what? It's supposed to be a surprise. Also: I'm lazy.)

Of course, I have one last bone to pick about this whole ordeal, and that's with Hurricane Sandy. My usual Halloween routine involves sleepwalking through the candy isles all month long, then the minute the stores open the day after raiding the drug stores and department stores for half-off chocolate pumpkins and stale-dated candy corn. This year, what with Trick-or-Treating being pushed until the coming weekend, I have no idea when this miraculous sale will begin. Now it will be a half-week of guesswork and tears.

It's worse than Guantanamo, I say.

*I find it terribly ironic that pharmacies--organizations supposedly set up to make us healthy and well--also have some of the most horribly unhealthy candy available. Not that I'm complaining, of course. That shit's awesome.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Three Things Not To Freak Out Over For The Upcoming Election


1. Don't get caught up with Congressional pay and perks

I have spoken about this in the past, but it bears repeating: pretty much everything you hear about how much Senators and congressmen get paid, and the “perks” that they get, are misleading or outright lies. While it’s true that they get a decent salary and pretty good expense accounts, you have to remember that these are professional individuals who are probably making much, much less than they could in the private sector, and that it does, in fact, cost a lot of money to 1) live in DC; 2) maintain two homes; and 3) give up significant portions of your time traveling not only to and from your home state but also to the thousands of functions you are obligated to go to.

People generally think of Congress as a whole as a collection of crooks, and yet they keep getting re-elected. Voters aren't stupid; they legitimately like their own representative, because generally speaking most representatives do a pretty good job at basic constituent service. 

No one really wants our representatives to get rich—they are civic citizens, after all—and we don't want people to be in it for the money. But we want people to be able to make a decent living. We have to provide enough wages to attract intelligent and capable individuals to run for office, and despite what people think being a representative is a fairly demanding and thankless job--think about where you work, and how it would be if about 49% of your co-workers and customers hated you and spent all their time actively trying to get you to fail. Don't get me wrong--I fully realize that individuals go in to this career knowing that this is how it will be, and they certainly get the benefits and prestige of being a Senator. But I will never understand the populist drive to make the job as undesirable and unappealing as possible. 

In the end, it may make us feel good cranking about congressional pay raises, but it makes up such a miniscule part of our spending as to be silly—less than a fraction of a penny for each taxpayer is spend on salaries.

2. Don't be an asshole to undecided voters

I have heard it in the past, but especially this season, that “undecided voters” are particularly stupid or illogical. I can’t really comprehend this.

Is it so bad that about 5% of our voting base might see both sides of our political landscape? Is it a horrible thing that not everyone is a kneejerk partisan who made up their mind four years ago and isn’t interested in researching their opponent? Can people not genuinely be torn between opposing viewpoints?

We cannot in our political culture complain about “partisanship” and “why can’t the parties just work together” or “our government is dysfunctional,” and then make fun of people who are most likely moderates and are weighing their options between the two candidates. Different people arrive at that decision in different ways. Maybe there's only one or two specific issues they are concerned about, and neither party has a lock on that issue. Or maybe there are character traits about one specific individual that override the party platform--someone may value a candidate's ability to make quick, sound judgements over their position on, say, illegal immigration. Or any number of reasons.

Basically, if you are calling someone stupid because they haven’t immediately supported your own preferred candidate, that says a lot more about yourself than that person.


3. Don't flip out if the electoral vote winner doesn't win the most popular votes

This one, at least, I can understand—it seems rankly undemocratic that the person who gets the most votes doesn’t actually become our President. It hasn’t happened often, but it has, and of course most famously happened in 2000. But hear me out: it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Of course, you may disagree with the concept of the electoral college to begin with, but that doesn’t matter; the electoral college is how the President will be decided in 2012, like it or not, not the popular vote.

In the end, however, the popular vote totals do not necessarily reflect the “true” popular vote.

Why? Because both candidates are campaigning based on the electoral college, not on the popular vote. Obama and Romney are fighting for votes in about nine different states, and with the exception of Florida are ignoring the most populated states (New York, California, Illinois, Texas, etc.) in favor of small and mid-sized states. Romney could probably squeeze, say, 50,000 more popular votes by campaigning in upstate New York and Obama could do the same in Texas, but they won’t—they’ll focus on gaining 5,000 votes in Iowa instead.

So this brings up two points: Firstly, we don’t know how many people who don’t live in swing states just stayed home on election day even though they would have voted had it mattered.

Secondly, people may have voted for one candidate over the other had the candidates focused their message to them. Perhaps had more individuals in Kentucky or West Virginia changed their mind because of a candidate’s position on coal mining, the popular vote would have been different. Maybe Obama’s popular vote would be more if North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, etc. know what his ranching and farming policies truly were. The candidates don’t necessarily have to change their positions--it’s just a waste of energy and money to sell their positions to voters if it won’t affect the outcome. If the popular vote selected the president, they would have changed the locations where they campaigned and what issues they emphasized.

Basically, candidates create their campaign strategy--who they target and the numbers of people they target--based on the electoral college, not the popular vote. Thus, you can't look at the popular vote and apply it to how the electoral college turned out--they are two different things.

Now, this may be a bit indefensible—voters who can’t be bothered to vote or don’t research their candidates are just lazy and maybe they shouldn’t be counted—but it’s also reality. And, to be fair, it doesn't make sense for someone in Utah to do a whole lot of research on either candidate, since their state is going for Romney (same for New Yorkers for Obama, and so on.) And thus the reality is that while the popular vote is usually a pretty good indicator, it is invariably not a true value of how many people really want to vote for a candidate for President.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

McGovern

Sadly, George McGovern passed away today at the age of 90.

McGovern, who ran against Richard Nixon in 1972 and took one of the worst drubbings in electoral history, has for decades been the poster boy for high-minded useless extreme liberalism whose only saving grace was that had he been elected we wouldn't have had Watergate. Only in the last decade or so have historians started to re-write the narrative that his candidacy was organically misunderstood.

To be fair, some of this is valid. Some of his plans and ideas were poorly sold even if said ideas ended up being used. A perfect example of this (for better or worse) involved welfare. McGovern championed a "guaranteed income" of $1000 to all Americans. Attempting to make it not sound like socialism while promoting it simplicity, he was so politically tone-deaf as to not realize that this actually made it sound worse. Meanwhile, Nixon ended up championing the negative income tax, a slightly more complicated scheme that, while it clearly emphasized an incentive to work, was still, in the end, another form of guaranteed income. For Americans, McGovern's plan sounded like rank, unadulterated socialist welfare, while Nixon's plan--which was never adopted--sounded more like "welfare reform" than any sort of blatant giveaway.

And yet, not really. McGovern's experience in the 1972 campaign was almost a textbook caricature of how conservatives painted liberals. The slogan of anti-McGovern activists--"Amnesty, Abortion, and Acid"--was everything that was wrong with the McGovern candidacy. (Roe vs. Wade had yet to be decided.) Even twenty years later, Newt Gingrich was able to call the Clinton White House a collection of "Counterculture McGovericks" and everyone knew exactly what he was talking about.

There were so many problems with the '72 campaign that even when things started looking up for him--the few things that were--it was too late. One of the biggest blunders was the selection of Thomas Eagleton as his vice presidential candidate. In and of itself this was a solid choice; a reasonably moderate and competent Senator from a middle-sized battleground state. Yet only about two weeks after his selection it was revealed that he had received electroshock therapy; back then, this was a major red flag (the procedure, at the time, was still controversial and misunderstood by the population). (Plus, in the Cold War days of heightened tensions, having someone with a history of psychological problems having access to nuclear codes was no doubt a concern.) McGovern then claimed to be behind him "1000%," only to days later drop him from the ticket (and selecting someone from the Kennedy clan, Sargent Shriver). The political incompetence of not vetting Eagleton first, combined with backing him up and then dumping him, showed a huge amount of political naivety.

However, a true nuts-and-bolts description of how far off McGovern was in his abilities can be found in the book The Making of the President 1972. The passage about the 1972 Democratic Convention in Florida shows how everything went wrong. Old party hands were frozen out; delegates (mostly inexperienced activists in their early 20s) were put in charge of their various committees; there was little filter or control over what message was being sent out to the nation. It was effectively giving a college class filled with radicals control of the entire Democratic Party, and the results were exactly what one would expect. Combine that with McGovern's simplistic and unrealistic positions on important issues--even anti-war politicians knew that an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam was a pipe dream--and it was a recipe for an unmitigated disaster. And although it might be extrapolated a bit too much, if his inability to manage something like the DNC was just a microcosm of how the White House was going to be run, voters wanted nothing to do with it.

His situation was similar to Jimmy Carter's, of course--quietly but forceful religious men who were genuinely decent public servants yet had a remarkably ineffective ability to interpret politics. While it's easy to write off his defeat as the result of Nixon's dirty tricks or a population unwilling to face hard truths, the details seem to show this to be false.

George McGovern was an unabashed liberal, and he had the forces necessary to translate his vision of America into a platform, but he was unable to either articulate this into a palatable package for voters. Nor was he effectively able to fend off even the weakest of criticisms. While it's tempting to rewrite history as the "what-if" candidate after Nixon's duplicity, the sad fact is that George McGovern did far, far more damage to George McGovern than Nixon, Republicans, or voters ever did.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Breakfast Review: Marshmallow Hot Chocolate Pop Tart Review

It's that time of year when the Limited Edition series of Pop Tarts gets released! This was a grand era two years ago with Kellogg's released the Pumpkin Pie Pop Tart, the ushering in of a new era of toaster pastry wonderfulness. They followed up last year with a pretty decent Gingerbread Pop Tart. This year's entry is the Marshmallow Hot Chocolate Pop Tart.

Why drink your hot beverage when you can eat it instead?

I'll be honest: there's another Limited Edition released called Spookylicious that I did not pick up. It's not that it didn't look good, but it appear to just be a chocolate filled Pop Tart with sugar icing. The bat-shaped candies sprinkled on it doesn't make it notable enough that I'll pick it up, I think, but I will immediately let all of you know if I end up changing my mind. (I swear I saw another Limited edition that was fall/winter-themed at the store, but I'll be damned if I can find it.)

Anyway, the Marshmallow Hot Chocolate Pop Tart is pretty good, even though it (to be honest) isn't much more different than chocolate crust and marshmallow icing. It seems, however, that the crust and/or icing is cocoa-flavored and not just chocolate, but I'm more than willing to chalk that up to the massive power of marketing persuasion.

Still, there is something remarkably unique when you heat one of these up. For whatever reason, popping one of these in a toaster and getting the marshmallow to melt and everything else get all crunchy honestly seems to turn this into exactly what a cup of hot chocolate would taste like if you ate it instead of drank it. I'm not sure if there is any other way of describing it.

That may be a little overblown, but the fact remains that I tore through this box pretty quick. I'm very much surprised that I liked the marshmallow filling; I normally don't, and the only way the S'mores Pop Tarts passed muster was because it was striped with chocolate. I don't think the Marshmallow Hot Chocolate would go over too well when eaten cold, but I never gave it a chance. I'll also admit that, like most limited edition flavors, this could get old, but I'm not even near that point yet.

Anyway, I recommend this as a perfect winter treat.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Candy Review: Snickers Chocolate

I have, in the past done a review for all of the new sorts of Snickers Bars that are available, as it seems the Mars Corporation was using the brand to branch out into wild and wonderful new directions. Of course, after a while the essence of a Snickers bar can easily be lost--the days of simple peanuts, nougat, and caramel wrapped in chocolate are long gone--so you can only move so many steps away.

Enter, however, the Snickers Chocolate bar. Actually, I think it's technically called a Snickers 3X Chocolate Bar, but whether that is its official name or just the work of some overzealous marketing department has yet to be determined.

The marketing department also put the words "Save One For Later" on the wrapper, which means they have no idea what they are doing.

I won't lie; I have been waiting a while to review this version of Snickers; I assumed that, given their previous actions, about six more variations were going to be released. Sadly, it does not appear that this is the case. However, it has been an excellent excuse to buy one of these bars, keep it "until I can review it," wait two weeks and then eat it, and then buy another "until I can review it." Ahem.

Anyway, that should give you a pretty good indication about this bar--I like it. In fact, I am pretty sure I like it more than an original Snickers bar. It doesn't deviate too much from the regular formula--it still has caramel, nougat, and peanuts--but it's chocolate nougat, chocolate caramel, and peanuts, covered all in the third type of milk chocolate. It also differentiates itself from other chocolate-and-peanut bars, since it is significantly more chewy (thanks to the nougat) and flavorful (caramel) than the standard fare.

So if you, like me, enjoys a regular Snickers bar but finds it long on tasteless nougat and short on everything else, this may be a straight upgrade to your candy needs. It is certainly worth a try for those who do not like Snickers in the first place.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Halloween Candy Review: The Great Pumpkin Scam


It's fall, which means that pretty much everything--from coffee to flu shots--are going to be flavored pumpkin. This is, of course, an undeniably awesome thing, since pumpkin flavored food is, in the worlds of the great Mohandas Gandhi, "the shit."

So I was quite pleased to see that Hershey has come out with pumpkin flavored Kisses.

These are much easier to pop in your mouth than they are to carve.

Hershey Kisses, at this point, have a wide range of different flavors, from cherry cordial to caramel, so it isn't too terribly surprising to see Pumpkin Kisses. Still, it's unusual enough that it's worth checking out.

The first thing to notice is that, unlike most other Kiss flavors, there is no chocolate involved. While there is a two-tone color scheme going on with this candy, it's basically just one thing: pumpkin spice. Also note what I just said: It's pumpkin spice, not pumpkin, and there's a difference. These kisses taste like whatever flavoring they put in desserts to make them taste like pumpkin, but do not involve any sort of actual pumpkin filling. This makes sense, of course, for candy such as this, since it wouldn't be possible otherwise.

Also the name of the least popular Spice Girl.

Still, the candy does taste undeniably pumpkinish...perhaps just a little bit too much. While it is good, it is very, very strong. I enjoyed eating these, but I stalled out about halfway through the bag. Not because they are bad, but a little bit of them goes a long way. If you are interested in pumpkin-flavored candy it's definitely worth a try, but you are going to run into a fairly steep point of diminishing returns fairly quickly.

And thus brings me toone of the biggest travesties brought upon mankind: every season, scores of false advertising fills our candy aisles and plastic jugs shaped like jack-o-lanterns.

When I say "Great Pumpkin Scam," I don't mean the story that that charlatan Linus tried to pawn off on gullible kids on the great documentary "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." I mean something different, something much more important: candy companies routinely label things as "pumpkin" not because they taste like pumpkin, but because they are shaped like pumpkins.

This has let me to be horrifyingly disappointed time and again. Clearly we have the capability of producing pumpkin-flavored candy, but Big Candy refuses to do so. Take a look at this:


 PUMPKIN-FLAVORED SNICKERS? I would invade small Middle Eastern nations for such a thing. Sadly, upon opening the packaging I find:

Snickers bars shaped like pumpkin, only smaller so you don't get as much candy. 

And upon eating it I find:

Zero Pumpkin. (That's, um, caramel. I.e., a regular Snickers bar,.)

If I wanted to buy a Snickers bar, I would buy a Snickers bar, not on your fly-by-night Fake Pumpkin Snickers business. Another offender:

Also, the Reese's Christmas Trees do not taste like pine.

So now we have a dual-caste system when it comes to pumpkin Halloween treats: Candy that tastes like pumpkin, and candy that looks like pumpkin. And there is no way to tell which is which until you've opened the wrapper. This is a scourge that must be stopped! Write or contact your local congressman!

Anyway, I don't think it will be resolved this season, though I am certainly going to try. I leave you with one last Halloween review, the Cadbury Scream Egg (get it?):

That rabbit needs to get to a doctor.

Basically, it's a Candbury Egg only with green filling. If you like regular Cadbury Eggs, you'll like these. If you are like me and you love Cadbury's chocolate, but the filling is too sweet, and you don't find any peculiar level of fun in peeling little slivers of foil off of it for ten minutes before you get to eat it, you'll enjoy these for a bit and then you'll just go buy a regular Cadbury candy bar where you can get all the benefit without the hassle. (Note: Despite this, I will still eat any Cadbury Eggs you place in front of me.)

Verdict: Hershey Pumpkin Kisses are good, but you'll be done with them pretty quick. Pumpkin-shaped candy is a fraud. Cadbury eggs are good regardless of color, and don't pretend to taste like pumpkin when they're not.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Level 85 Politician

Elections tend to bring our the weirdness everywhere. Each cycle, some wonderful and glorious individuals do ans say some of the strangest, least defensible things. And then when the dust settles, everyone realizes that there was more than one side to the story and the media (egged on by partisan pundits) skewed the whole thing from the start but now it's too late because everyone has moved on to something else. (Unless, of course, you are this guy.)

So: There is a State Senate race in Maine that has attracted a lot of attention because the Republicans have accused the Democratic candidate, Colleen Lachowicz, of playing Warcraft.

The initial reaction, of course, depended on who you were talking to. If you talked to one of the 180 million Americans who routinely play video games, including the 10 million people (not all Americans, of course) that play World of Warcraft, it's an insipid and stupid claim to make, as if holding a professional job and playing video games is somehow mutually exclusive. You ask some of the older voters, of course, who know little about video games and even less about a MMORPGs, and the strange and confusing world of orcs and clerics probably make them skeptical.

And the charge, as is, is fundamentally stupid. Video games are a hobby, just like anything else. At this point the video game industry is bigger than the movie industry. Anyone who has a smartphone probably plays games, but even discounting the casual hand-held market the number of console and PC gamers is extraordinarily large. Video games aren't the provenance of sickly-looking fat kids in panel-walled rec rooms anymore.

So for Republicans to call out a candidate just because she plays video games is unfair and makes them look old, stodgy, and amateurish.To be fair, state races are generally full of bush league antics anyway, so this sort of this probably wouldn't happen at the federal level (but, of course, one never knows).

But then, of course, you get to the details, and a different picture emerges. The web site created and maintained by the Maine GOP has details of the postings and online comments that she has made, and it's more than just someone who wants to play video games all the time. She's commented about wanting to "drown Grover Norquist" in a bathtub and she brags about slacking off at her work (which, as a social worker, is of course taxpayer funded). Her comments about non-game-related things come across as extraordinarily childish and amateurish, even by internet standards.

Obviously, not everything is as damning as the Republicans make it out to be--they spend a lot of time harping on the fact that she likes to "stab" everyone, even though it's clear she's talking about the game, not real life. And some of it is just sloppily worded opinions that millions of people have. Yet now that I've read the post, while 75% of it is bullshit, there's enough quotes from her that I think a lot of it is legitimate. Of course, none of it has to do with video game playing in and of itself, but rather the comments she has made about it.  While I think the party was wrong in how they spun it, it's still a valid political point.

Of course, this all brings to a head the future of politics: everything that you post online will, at some point, be used against you if you run for office. In some ways this is a good thing, but it's bad in a lot of ways; people's views change over time, and I know my own opinions (even since I've started this blog) have changed somewhat. And while I try very hard to be temperate in my opinions for just this reason it's incredibly easy to take things out of the context of the times (in addition to, say, Facebook and Twitter, where opinions have to be crammed in 140-character or otherwise short sentences, which removes the possibility of subtlety. In fact, I tend to not send out as many tweets as I normally would because of this reason--it's too easy to come off as a jerk when you can't explain it.)

The Pledge: Boo to the GOP for using video games as this year's witch hunt. But Colleen Lachowicz, you have to won up to the comments you've made, because a lot of them are pretty obnoxious.