Cream Cheese Alfredo Sauce

16 March 2014

Now that high school basketball season is over I am home a bit earlier and have time to do some actual cooking in the evenings. We eat a lot of pasta and frozen ravioli or tortellini, and I have never found a bottled Alfredo sauce that I liked. After experimenting with a number of recipes from books and online, this is the one we have really liked lately:

Ingredients
2 Tbs. butter
3 Cloves garlic, finely minced
4 oz cream cheese, softened and cut into small pieces
1 C. milk (I use 1%. 2% or Whole will be creamier)
3/4 to 1 C. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Saute the garlic in the butter for about 2 minutes until cooked through but not burned. Add the cream cheese, stirring with a whisk until the mixture is smooth and creamy Add the milk gradually, whisking quickly and constantly until fully into the sauce. The sauce will seem very runny at this point. Stir in the Parmesan cheese until the cheese is melted and the sauce is the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat for a thinner sauce, or continue to stir over medium heat for 2-3 minutes for a thicker sauce.

Serve immediately over your favorite pasta or over steamed vegetables.

Yields about 2 cups of sauce.

This sauce takes about 10-12 minutes to make if you use pre-minced garlic, so you can whip it up while your pasta is cooking and your garlic bread is in the over.

The House Should Own Up To Their Own Shenanigans

13 October 2013

The Republicans in the House unequivocally are to blame for this shutdown. In the waning hours of the fiscal year, they literally changed the rules of procedure in the House to prevent a vote on a clean bill to fund the government. Read that again... THEY CHANGED THE RULES ON 9/30. If you disagree, before you jump down my throat, please read to the end, follow the links and watch the video.

Two factors combined to lead to this post. First, I am a politics geek; I did parliamentary procedure during debate in H.S., I read bills, follow debates on C-Span, listen during the Utah legislative session. I usually can't get enough. Second, because of the shutdown, I have a lot of time on my hands.

The normal way things work in the House is like this. The House send the Senate a bill, or resolution. If the Senate can pass it, or amend it and send it back. There is a back and forth where if the Senate sends the bill back to the House with amendments, it works it's way through the house and can be amended again. The amended bill is sent back to the Senate, and if it fails to pass the Senate as amended, any member of the House can then raise a question of "privilege" and bring the original, un-amended Senate bill to the floor for a vote.

What we all keep hearing about on the news, the "Clean CR" is the un-amended Senate version of House J.R. 59 - the bill to fund the government. In the last days of September the the Senate passed a version of House J.R. 59 without the clauses to defund the ACA and sent it to the House. The House added the clauses back, and sent it back Senate. It failed there, and the government shut down.

Over the next several days I listened to C-SPAN as House member after member tried to bring the "Clean-CR" to the floor, each time being ruled out of order. It made no sense to me. Finally, over the past few days, news of the rule change trickled out, not over mainstream news outlets, but over sites like Reddit.

Here is what happened. On 9/30, the House Rules Committee (which includes Utah's own Rep. Bishop) passed a resolution to change the rules. That resolution is here.

In case you aren't practiced in reading legalese, it says that rather than any member being able to raise a point of privilege to get the Senate bill considered, only the House Majority Leader, or his designee can do so. The original rule is on page 36 of the House Rules here. It's clause 4 of rule 22.

Don't believe me? Here is the debate chaired by Jason Chaffetz the House floor, with him responding to questions about the rule change:

click to watch on YouTube

Click to watch on YouTube

Clearly, the House can changes it's rules to whatever they want, whenever they want. But to do so in this circumstance means they intentionally obstructed the normal order of legislation, and they should own that.

I welcome contrasting points of view from responsible individuals, even though the FCC in 1987 overturned the Fairness Doctrine. However, comments are moderated because of the amount of spam I was seeing. Add your comment and I will approve it after I get notified.

A Scout Is...

14 March 2013

I loved being a member of the Boy Scouts of America as a young man. I built friendships that have lasted a lifetime. I first became interested in law, economics, electronics and computers while working on merit badges and participating in scout activities. With my troop, I backpacked across some of the most beautiful wilderness in the inter-mountain west. I served on staff at regular scout camps, as a trainer at Junior Leader Training camps, and attended the 1985 National Jamboree as a staff member.

I have been registered as leader for most of my adult life, and currently serve on the scout committee of the troop chartered to my LDS Ward.

But my relationship with scouting has been dysfunctional for years. Some time ago I began to feel uncomfortable with the BSA policy of excluding homosexuals (and atheists as well, but that's a different blog post...). I believe (and I am confident that scientific research clearly shows) that the range of human sexuality is not a binary state, but that it exists upon a continuum; and that same sex attraction qualifies as an innate and unchangeable characteristic no different from hair or skin color. I'm sure most people have heard this example before, but I know that there was no point in my life at which I said to myself "hmmm, I think I will be sexually attracted to women and not men." I no more made the choice to be heterosexual than I made the choice to have a second toe longer than the first.

It is on this basis, that gender identity and attraction is innate and no different from race, that I find that I cannot support laws and institutions that treat homosexuals differently than their heterosexual counterparts.

With the recent announcement that the BSA is considering changing it's policy of excluding homosexuals, I was asked to complete a survey by my local BSA council. The following is my response in the "other comment" section of that survey.

I am an Eagle Scout, Vigil Honor Member and District Award of Merit holder. I am also an active member of the LDS Church. Over the last several years however, I have been reducing both my financial support and my time invested in the BSA over precisely this issue. The following example presupposes an understanding of youth programs in the LDS church, but should still be easily understandable to those outside that circle.

Imagine a Mormon boy between 12 and 18. This young man also happens to be a homosexual. He has been interviewed and found worthy to hold a priesthood office and fulfill responsibilities in a quorum (openly homosexual males can have the priesthood in the LDS church). He attends the temple regularly with his young men's group (temple recommends are allowed for chaste homosexuals). With the recent change in mission age eligibility he plans to serve a 2-year proselytizing mission as soon as he graduates high school (allowed as well).

Yet, during these formative years, when he should be building character, relationships and skills that will last him a lifetime, he is excluded from camp-outs and activities. He can't experience the fun and learning of working on merit badges, or the pride of receiving awards his friends and fellow Mormons receive. This, solely because the BSA won’t allow him to be a Boy Scout. How can this be just? How can it qualify as being Kind, or Friendly?

While the courts may continue to rule that there is sound legal basis for such an exclusionary policy as is currently in place, not a single person has been able to state to me a rational, ethical or moral argument for continuing what is clearly offensive discrimination and unfortunate exclusion on an unjust basis.

It's time that we moved on and caught up with most of the rest of the civilized world on this issue.

(Note: My response was inspired by this post.)

The Salt Lake Tribune Is Biased, Just Not How You Imagine

23 October 2012

I had a somewhat testy exchange of Facebook a few weeks ago in which I posted a link to the Salt Lake Tribune (Trib) and someone (apologies again to that person...) replied that the Trib was far to liberal for their taste. I don't think there is any doubt that the Trib is considerably more "liberal" in their coverage than the Deseret News, but I don't think they are really off center compared to the rest of the country. As evidence that it really wasn't a left biased newespaper, I submitted that at the time the Trib had endorsed more Republicans for major state races than they had Democrats. 

That certainly is not conclusive proof of a lack of liberal bias on the part of the Trib. But I don't think that is really the issue. There is a bias, just not the kind of bias that you would expect. Below are the endorsements the Trib has now completed in the Presidential race, and races for Governor, Senate and all four House races:

  • President -- Obama (D) link
  • Governor -- Herbert (R) link
  • Senate -- Hatch (R) link
  • House 1 -- Bishop (R) link
  • House 2 -- Seegmiller (D) link 
  • House 3 -- Chaffetz (R) link
  • House 4 -- Matheson (D) link

I hope it's obvious right off the bat that the Trib has taken great pains to offend everyone. I don't recall in any of these endorsements that they gave any consideration at all to third-party candidates so fans of Ron Paul on the right or Jill Stein on the left are irritated already. The endorsements are split almost evenly with four republicans and three democrats. You can bet that the fans of Senator Hatch are planning on cancelling their subscription over the endorsement of President Obama, and vice versa. So... where's the bias?

It's highlighted by Seegmiller in House District 2. This is the only major race at this level that has an "open" seat. Due to Utah gaining an additional House seat, and the gerrymandering redistricting process, Bishop, Chaffetz and Matheson are running in redrawn seats, but seats that contained at least part of their old districts.

In other words, the Trib endorsed all incumbents except in the one race where they couldn't. They endorsed pandering to the status quo, and supporting the existing power structure. That is how you get a paper endorsing Obama relatively left of center (and far, far left in the minds of many Utahns), Seegmiller and Matheson who are centrists at best and who would be moderate republicans in any blue state, and Bishop, Hatch and Chaffetz who are among the most conservative members of congress. (I am going to keep my opinion of Herbert, and where he fits in this scale to myself, seeing as how I work for him.)

We would do well to remember that Congress, with its 10% approval rating, is made up of all these incumbents. I hope if you are voting for one of the incumbents it's because you have taken a long hard look at the issues important to you and your family. I hope you picked the candidate that truly will better represent your interests, and not because as the Trib argued when endorsing Rob Bishop "There is just one thing Bishop has that McAleer doesn’t have: seniority in Congress."

Just a reminder - comments are moderated because I get a lot of spam. Leave one and as soon as I can I will post it...

There Are Religions And Then There Are "Religions"

29 July 2012

I have been sitting on this post for a little over a month or so because I wanted to be clear in what I said, and I wanted to check some of my source materials. I've also been a little afraid of offending some people who I happen to really like, even though we disagree. At the same time, I need to be honest in what I feel and believe, and not sit by idly while those beliefs are ignored.

I am an active member of the LDS church. I try to attend faithfully, contribute and overall live a Christ-like life. The LDS Church demographically is very conservative, especially within Utah. That means, when discussions turn the least bit political, I am likely on the wrong side of the issue for most people in the congregation. This problem arose a few weeks ago in the adult Sunday School lesson. I won't bore you with all the details, but the main flow became one of outrage at the 'persecution' of religious people in this country, as well as the devastating social effects of 'removing god from our schools'.

After the 3rd or 4th comment, I could no longer sit quietly. I raised my hand and when called on said:

I think we need to be careful about the level or exaggeration and hyperbole we use when we talk about being persecuted for our religion. We are all sitting in a church that operates without government interference. We came today without fear that our presence was being recorded and tracked by the government. We can worship how we want and when we want.

We can talk to our neighbors and our co-workers about our beliefs without fear of imprisonment. We can wear religious symbols in public and at work without fear of reprisal.

There are limits on what the government can do with regard to religion, but as private citizens, I just don't see the persecution that keeps being talked about here.

There was a hew and cry about the governments "war on religion", and again comments about not being able to pray in school, to which I tried to respond but wasn't really effective. The instructor (who I respect and is a good instructor I should add) tried successfully to move along from that topic to the next bullet point in his lesson.

That would have been the end of it, had the instructor and I not found ourselves leaving the building through the same door at the same time. He mentioned to me that he appreciated my comments, and the fact that I felt comfortable expressing them. I thanked him, and said I thought he did a good job, and that these discussions are hard for me because I think the separation of Church and State is an important and often misunderstood topic. That lead to him bringing up some specific examples of religion in schools (prayer, religious choral music, etc) and said he would have not problem with a mainstream protestant prayer, or "even a Muslim prayer". I tried to explain my issue with the entanglement of government and religion, and especially the promotion of a particular religion by schools and then I used this example:

Most people who are in favor of organized prayer in schools don't have much of a problem with Christian prayer, and some are even okay with Jewish and Islamic prayer.

But what about that first parent-teacher conference when you find out that the teacher leading little Johnny in pray every morning is a Wiccan?

To which he responded:

Well, there are religions and then there are "religions".

Unfortunately that is where the conversation ended. I had no chance to follow-up with:

  • Yeah, but who decides which is which? How do we determine which is appropriate?
  • What about the atheist, who, regardless of what you believe, shouldn't be forced by the government to pray at all?
  • What about all the places in this country where someone is saying "But what about the teacher leading little Johnny in pray every morning that is a Mormon?" and the response is " Well, there are religions and then there are 'religions'."

I could certainly go on, but in reality, the constitutional law here is pretty well settled. The rule applied by the Supreme Court is the "Lemon Test". When there is legislation or government action concerning religion:

  1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
  2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
  3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

If the government's action is contrary to any one of these three statements, the action is said to have failed the "Lemon Test" and is found to be unconstitutional.

  • Students have the right to be excused from some activities if they conflict with their religious beliefs.
  • Individual students have the right to pray whenever they want to, as long as they don't disrupt classroom instruction or other educational activities, or try to force others to pray along with them.
  • Students can form a "Bible Club" or other religious club, as long as (1) the club meets during non-school hours; (2) school officials aren't involved in organizing or running the club, and (3) the school makes its facilities available to all student groups on an equal basis. 

Please click through the link above to read through more things that are allowed and disallowed. But ultimately remember this... We live in a pluralistic country with a secular government. The separation of Church and State is important for this society to continue to function, because without it, we are likely to fall prey to the tyranny of the majority. The Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the constitution guarantees that individuals can worship (or not) in public and private with strictly limited government intrusion, and at the same time, any government establishment of religion is prohibited.

I don't want anyone else deciding for me what is a religion, and what is a "religion".