Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The gasoline tax holiday

I've seen mention of a gasoline tax holiday here and there, and seriously, it's one of the lamest political moves ever. Today, taxes over all make up 13 percent of a gallon of gasoline; crude itself is 72 percent. Back in January of 2000, taxes (federal, local and state) made up 32.1 percent of the price of a gallon of gasoline and crude was 47.1 percent. The world price for crude back in January of 2000 was between $23 and $25. In April of 2008, the price has ranged between $103.46 to $118.53/barrel (ignore the hijinks during the day -- it's the closing price that matters). In January of 2000, the average price for a gallon of gasoline was $1.50.

If you look at January of 2000, we paid approximately 48 cents per gallon in taxes. Average price in April of 2008 is $3.50, and we pay approximately 45.5 cents per gallon in overall taxes. Federal taxes -- which is what the gasoline tax holiday is all about -- are 18.4 cents* per gallon so the rest of the 45.5 cents goes to local and state taxes. You slice out the 18.4 cents and you drop the price of gasoline to around $3.32 for about 3 minutes, because the fundamental problem still remains -- the price of crude is what's going up, not the taxes which are a fixed cost (not to mention it would be politically unpopular to raise taxes on gasoline, even though personally, I think it might be a smart idea).

The proposed federal gas tax holiday would go from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which is approximately four months. Indulge me and pretend for a moment that the price of crude doesn't go up during the driving season. So someone like me with a fuel-efficient vehicle and a 10-gallon tank who fills up four times a month would save somewhere around $30 for the duration of the gas tax holiday. I can save that much by just eliminating two dinners out a month or heck, just waking up early enough so I don't take the toll road to work. And note from the exercise above -- it's the price of crude that's causing the pain, not the taxes. And crude's going to keep on going up and up unless we change our behavior, and that's not going to happen at all.

The taxes go to a highway fund that helps with road construction. When you have no funds, you have no road construction. When you have no road construction, you lose jobs. We don't want to lose jobs so we have to make up that shortfall *somewhere* and guess where the money comes from? Ding ding ding if you guessed China or some other foreign entity. The US is so deep in debt right now that China et al essentially owns our collective butt and that doesn't help with the value of the dollar.

So, in a nutshell, the gas tax holiday is stupid because:

1. In the grand scheme of things, most drivers won't be saving that much money to make a significant difference in their economic situation

2. Reducing the price of gasoline through government intervention will not change behaviors; instead, a reduction will influence people to drive *more*, thus driving up the price once again, essentially negating whatever savings might have been gained through the gas tax holiday

3. The US has to borrow money to finance this hare-brain scheme, which means we, as a nation, we're even deeper in debt and while I'm no economist, I'm pretty sure that doesn't help with the weak US dollar

I want to point out that crude is priced in dollars and for every 10 percent decrease in the value of the dollar, crude rises $4. I haven't figured out the exact way our debt figures into the devaluation of the dollar -- I only know how it impacts my daily life. What we need is a stronger dollar, less consumption on our parts, and then maybe we'll see a meaningful impact in the price of fuel. But the gas tax holiday, now that's just stupid pandering by politicians -- including *my* candidate -- who really want to be president.

Taxes on diesel are approximately 24.4 cents, so if you're driving a diesel vehicle you'll save around $40 for the gas tax holiday

The ants have migrated from my kitchen to my bathroom. They are attacking my mouthwash. Unbelievable.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Holy guacamole!

I'm having an avocado renaissance, which started with avocado sushi, and then this weekend, I decided to make guacamole. Guacamole is pretty easy to make and it can be as complicated as you want it to be. My uncle, world famous guacamole maker and keeper of the top sekrit family recipe passed down for generations, told me that simpler is better. Accordingly, my guacamole had just a few ingredients: avocados, green onions, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, and for flavor, red pepper flakes, fresh lime & lemon juice, salt and pepper.

veggie for avocados

Cutting avocados is a newly acquired skill for me. I cut them from the top and then all around the equator of the avocado. If I do it correctly, it doesn't turn into a big mess, and I can actually pop the avocado open and see the pit nestled on one half and a nice round indentation on the other half.

Gazpacho soup 058

I mashed the avocado with a soup ladle (for lack of a better mashing tool) and then mixed in diced cherry tomatoes, sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, and mixed it all together. I then sprinkled the whole thing with lots and lots of fresh lemon and lime juice and then added salt and pepper to taste. I didn't have chili peppers, so I used red pepper flakes sparingly to add that bit of spiciness. The end result was served with organic corn tortilla chips. Yum!

guacomole and chips

Sunday, April 27, 2008


The story about the polygamists' kids has started to bother me greatly in recent days as events have unfolded. Maybe the polygamists are winning their PR campaign with me, but I do feel horrible for these mothers who are so very obviously victims twice over and then with their children who are being ushered into foster care and clearly may have some development/adjustment issues and may not understand what's happening to them or why. I feel especially bad for underage mothers who might have already given birth to children. These women are being sent to foster care. Are they being sent there with their kids? It's like they're being punished for something that's really not their fault.

I just can't shake the feeling that the wrong people are paying the price here and I just don't understand how the state can go in and wholesale remove children from households without a) knowing who the parents are, b) which parents, if any, are abusive, and c)which children, if any, are being abused. I'd like to hear from the men who are clearly the ones wielding the power in this situation about how they feel. I heard some rumors that some of them have already left Texas and gone elsewhere to escape the law. Which makes me feel even more strongly for the mothers who have been abandoned and little hope of seeing their kids again.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Gazpacho soup

It's that time of year when the taste buds start yearning for something fresh and tangy, and this soup from Spain is a perfect starter or a side for any meal. I've always loved gazpacho, even though it seems weird to eat a soup cold. But this one is just perfect. I've sampled several different gazpachos over the last few weeks as the weather has gotten warmer and finally today decided to try it myself. In the past, I've made it using tomato juice as a short-cut, but today, I decided to go as authentic as possible and make it from scratch and selected a wide variety of delicious veggies to go into the soup. The only one I omitted was celery (by accident) but I had plenty of other veggies from red peppers to cucumber to flavor this soup.

Gazpacho soup 008

I chopped everything pretty roughly -- it was all going into the blender anyway. I added plenty of onion (white & green both), green pepper, red pepper, cucumber, and lots and lots of tomatoes -- 7 or 8, if I recall correctly. I then transferred it to a glass pan so I could season it properly. I squeezed fresh lemon juice on the veggies, and then drizzled everything with red wine vinegar and olive oil. I also added salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Gazpacho soup 015

Once I had stirred and mixed everything to my satisfaction, it was into the blender with the mixture! I used both the grind and puree settings. Gazpacho should be mildly chunky. If it looks like pico de gallo, it's way too chunky. Smooth like a tomato soup is way too pureed. There should be some texture to the soup, but not enough to actually have to chew or bite down on a piece. I had to experiment with a few settings before I got it to the right consistency.

Gazpacho soup 024

Once you have blended to the right consistency, transfer it into an appropriate container, and then chill in the fridge for 2-3 hours prior to serving. The longer you leave it chilling, the better the flavors will mesh together. You can top this soup with the avocado salsa I described in this post, tortilla chips, or croutons and green onions, as I did. In some versions of this soup, you can even add ice chunks for a little more textures and to get the soup really cold. This soup will make a great accompaniment to the southwest quesadillas or even your traditional grilled cheese sandwich.

Bon appetite!

Gazpacho soup 037

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Other women will appreciate this letter to Always, chastising them for the oh so lame and clearly misguided "Have a Happy Period" marketing campaign.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Southwest quesadillas

For Sunday brunch today, I made Southwest-style quesadillas with avocado salsa. It was a pretty tasty and filling lunch, which surprised me because I didn't really put much filling into the quesadillas, but I think the black beans and whole wheat tortillas helped tame the hunger pains for a good four to five hours after eating. These are incredibly easy to make and just really good and simple. For the filling, I used roasted red peppers, corn (thawed), black beans (thoroughly rinsed), green onions, and spinach (cut very finely), with a sprinkle each of salt, pepper, and red pepper.

Southwest quesadillas filling

I had two pans going on the cook top, one a Calphalon which didn't require any grease, and the other a plain stainless steel which I learned the hard way required a spray of Pam or something similar. I usually warm the pan up first before putting the tortilla on it and then I sprinkle about a teaspoon of Cheddar cheese and then spoon the filling on there. I then sprinkle a little bit more Cheddar cheese on top of the filling, and put the other tortilla on top. After about 3-4 minutes, I flip to cook the other side.

Quesadillas cooking...

The avocado salsa is super easy. Just slice an avocado, add diced tomatoes, and sprinkle the whole thing with fresh citrus -- either lime or lemon to keep the avocado from browning -- and serve. This is definitely one of those meals that tastes wonderful warm, but it will work cold as well, maybe with a gazpacho soup? Hmmm... I think I have my next project.

southwest quesadillas

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The tax man cometh

So I'm finally finished my taxes and now it's a question of just getting everything addressed and mailed off (certified, of course). Some people have been surprised that I've waited this long to mail my taxes, but here's the deal -- I owe Uncle Sam money, and I'm in no hurry to turn it over to him. I did my taxes back in January, discovered the sad truth, and have been sitting tight ever since. Of course, there's the thought that if I owe taxes, that means I've had income this year. Still, that's minor consolation when it comes to actually paying up.

I did learn something new while doing my taxes. I've always taken advantage of a particular tax "savings" strategy for the last few years and I've always thought I've made a smart financial move. Well, come to learn this year, I've been an idiot and a fiscal nicompoop. In a nutshell, to save $1 in taxes, I had to spend $7 and the net loss to me is $6. If I went to any thinking adult on the street and said, "Hey, if you gave me $7, you could save $1 on your taxes, how about it?", the any thinking adult on the street would laugh in my face and walk away. I should note that the $7 that I "gave away" for every $1 wasn't for the purpose of owning tangible property, so I'm essentially out assets all for a measly savings; I'd have come out ahead if I'd just taken the tax hit. Clearly, I won't be doing this again next year. Live and learn, I guess.

I think the same thing is true about a house about how you get a break for the mortgage, and I haven't done the math, but I think it's the same concept as my "learnings" above. Yes, homeowners get a tax deduction, but it's something like you have to pay $1 to get 33 cents back on your taxes. I mean, it's better than not getting the 33 cents back and if you're going to buy the house anyway, then it's moot and maybe even a bonus, depending on your circumstances. But the more I think about it, the tax arguments for buying a house seem kind of nicompoopish.* There's an interesting article here that basically says depending on your house, location, equity, etc., the tax benefits of a mortgage payment can vary. With my luck, I'll be the couple in Akron, OH, who get absolutely no tax benefit from owning a home.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

RL update

I started a new job on Monday and it's been busy and I haven't had time to blog when I come home, just because it's been kind of intense and I've been tired. Which is funny because I didn't have time to blog when I was house hunting and once I stopped that, I was blogging all the time. I'm hoping things settle down soon and I'll have more time to say things.

And oh! I filled up my tank for the first time in more than a week on Tuesday evening and I calculated during my experimental "hyper-miling" phase I got nearly 37 miles to the gallon (36.575 for those of you into precision). My Corolla gets 30-32 mpg on the highway and 25-28 mpg in the city. So yes, driving slower (when it was safe) and cruising to stop signs and traffic lights does work and saves gas.

That is all.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Mochi ice-cream -- I love this stuff. The sticky chewy outer shell and the yummy cool and rich ice-cream inside. I've only had it a couple of times and today I was elated to discover a nearby restaurant (walking distance!) has it on their menu. So far I've tried green tea, red bean, strawberry, and Kona coffee. I've also had lychee ones. The mango flavor is the only one I haven't tried. The green tea is by far my favorite. These things are fairly expensive as ice-cream goes so I found a recipe online for a day when I'm feeling pretty ambitious.

I've been aggravated with SeaMonkey ever since I upgraded from the last legit version of Mozilla. First, there was the minor issue of it erasing/losing all of my email (5-6 years worth!) and since then, it's been slow as rocks and just not as stable a client as Mozilla. I miss Mozilla :-(.

My latest problem concerns email -- namely email sent via SMTP. The email downloads from my web server just fine, but when I respond and go to click "send", I get two error messages. Eventually I'm able to send the email by jumping through a couple of hoops, namely going back into account settings, switching between "Default" and "AT&T" SMTP servers (which is stupid, because in this case, they are one and the same) and then making sure no other email window is open. Once this is done, I can sometimes hit send and actually have the email go.

I've been checking all of my settings and passwords and ports, and I still haven't figured out what the issue is. I don't know whether the culprit is AT&T -- though they eventually let me send the email -- or SeaMonkey, or some combination of both. I'd like to like the blame for the whole mess on SeaMonkey's doorstep though. The fact if I shut down all email except the one I want to send tells me that it is most probably a software issue rather than AT&T being difficult. I'm trying to test another SMTP server, but that's causing me another load of problems.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dinner is served!

The "after"(math) to the before shot.

The rice is the "lime rice" mentioned in gratuitous Chipotle post here. The recipe is pretty simple -- boil water, and then add lots of lime, cilantro, green onions, salt, pepper, and rice. Voila. A rather tasty rice dish to go along with the tofu.

The tofu was marinated in lemon juice and herbs with the veggies for two days. I then baked it at 450 F for 15 minutes and then let it sit. The tops of the tofu were nicely brown, but the rest of it remained a little soft. I'm going to have to work on that a bit.

All in all, I would say this entire meal took 45 minutes to make, and that includes prep. The tofu dish I pre-assembled on Sunday afternoon so all I had to do today was pop it into the oven. I also had plenty of leftovers, so that makes lunch at work pretty easy this week.

Now that's yummy!

I'm waiting for my veggie tofu bake to cook, and in the meantime, I generated this:

My Chipotle Burrito:


Which is really making me feel like I ought to say heck to the healthy veggie tofu bake, jump in my car, and drive to Chipotle and order one up. Clearly, I need to work on will power and resolve.