Maduro’s Days Are Numbered

Published at 21:18 on 29 January 2015

The top-down sort of state socialism that the late Hugo Chávez implemented had its inefficiencies, but it survived for two reasons:

  1. Venezuala is a petro-state and could afford to throw enough money around to (mostly) paper them over, and
  2. The status quo Chávez upset had such gross inequalities that it didn’t matter for most Venezuelans that there were shortages of certain key consumer goods from time to time, since access to same had still improved for them (they had gone from often not being able to afford things to much less often occasionally running into shortages).

But with the collapse in oil prices, the strains are now starting to show.

Unlike Saudi Arabia which has a lot of oil and only a few people, the situation is reversed in Venezuela. Maduro isn’t sitting on piles of money that he can draw on in the lean times. Plus, despite some of first Chávez’ and now Maduro’s admittedly authoritarian policies, Venezuela is still much more free and open a society than Saudi Arabia.

As a result, Nicolás Maduro’s popularity is now plummeting. So it’s safe to make a prediction that his days are probably numbered. Absent an unexpectedly sudden turnaround in oil prices, I expect him to be out of power within two years.

Hopefully that can happen without a total sell-out to the forces of imperialism and class rule.

Miscellaneous Things

Published at 07:08 on 21 January 2015

Random stuff, because I’m still very much alive despite not posting much here recently:

Charlie Hebdo. Yes, their cartoons do have a well-established history of being crude and insensitive. That’s absolutely no justification for the violence (though it does help explain it; justification and explanation are two different things). There is no right to not be offended. What probably sucks more than the loss of life, however, is that France does not seem to be taking the same moral high road Norway took after their recent terrorist attack. There’s way too much talk of “war” happening in France. Neither Al Qaeda nor terrorism is a country with a defined land mass (the first is a non-state actor, the second is a tactic), therefore it is is pointless to wage war on either. I’ve discussed this latter point before, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Construction at home. It’s was a week of not really having my home to myself, because I’m having the carpet replaced with hardwood flooring. And it looks like this disruption is going to last longer than expected, because the adhesive used to attach the stair tread really stinks, so I’m now coping with that issue for at least a week after the work ends.

Durian. Speaking of strong smells, I did finally have time to treat myself to a durian smoothie in celebration of moving and defeating the bedbugs. It was every bit as satisfying as I remembered, and now that the experience is fresher in my mind the addictive urge resurfaced. I actually tasted an almond aspect to it this time, which I believe is a first. One of the joys of durian is that it never tastes quite the same twice.

Sometimes, it’s best not to even try. That’s a statement that will make every motivational speaker cringe, but it’s true. One’s plans must be at least somewhat realistic. Consider the fate of the Kalakala. This historic vessel was “saved” from its fate of housing a fish-processing plant in Alaska by being towed back to its old home to await historic restoration. Alas, that latter part of the plan was very expensive, and funds to perform it never materialized. The vessel ended up bleeding its owners white in moorage fees year after year. Its current owner has decided to end the financial bloodbath and recoup at least some of his losses by scrapping it. If it had been left in Alaska, it would either still be a fish processing plant, or be sitting there abandoned (because in a rural area the moorage would be cheap or free and the cost to tow it south for scrapping would exceed the scrap value). It would, in other words, be waiting indefinitely for the right restorer to show up.

Sometimes, one has to try harder. Realism again. It’s a fact of life that some misfortunes, like bedbug infestation, are extremely difficult and expensive to manage. The “experts” will tend to lie to you about the effort and expense required in an attempt to manage the shock value. Absent being one of the lucky few who resolves the problem with minimum effort, the effect of the lies is to draw out the process, because instead of making the full effort needed, weeks and then months get wasted on half-efforts. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way battling scabies, and one I put to use again last year on bedbugs. I hit them harder than the experts recommended, and planned for the initial treatments to fail (which they did). I took stronger precautions than recommended to prevent infesting my new place. I might still be battling them if I hadn’t followed that strategy.

Induction Cooking Redux

Published at 18:50 on 3 January 2015

Back when I first moved to Bainbridge Island, I made a post about my experiences with cooking on an induction stove. The alternative was the electric stove my new apartment came with. The latter was not only an electric stove, but the very worst sort of electric stove, a flat-top electric stove.

Take all the lack of responsiveness of a coil stove, then add to it a fragile glass top that’s easily fractured by dropped pots, won’t work properly with anything other than an absolutely flat-bottomed pot, shows every last speck of grime in great detail, and which is virtually impossible to keep grime-free, and you have the flat-top electric stove. The appliance industry’s answer to the question: how can we make electric stoves suck even more than they already did, yet charge more for them?

But I digress. There was an escape from the fate of having to cook on that thing, and it had the form of an induction cooktop which plugged into a normal wall outlet. Naturally, I ordered one. And I was glad I did.

But, unlike the majority who give induction a try, it still left me wishing I had a gas stove again.

First, there’s the obvious matter of only flat-bottomed magnetic pots working. I like to cook with a wok, and that’s basically a non-option on induction. Sure, there’s a few expensive induction stoves that have a recessed burner capable of accepting a wok, but they’re both few and expensive and the few reviews I’ve found of them generally indicate that woks work far better with gas.

Finding replacements for my non-magnetic pans was an exercise in frustration. I would go to the store and see something I liked, but it wasn’t magnetic. I’d see something magnetic, but it wasn’t to my liking. I’d see something to my liking that was magnetic, but it was the most expensive pot in its class and something I’d use only infrequently (so the cost would be hard to justify). Finally I’d find something that seemed suitable, only to discover it’s only available as part of a larger set (which needlessly duplicates things I already have) and not individually.

Instead of knobs, the induction cooktop had touch controls. Like all touch controls, they were finicky and often did not register a touch or erroneously registered one twice. It’s far simpler and quicker to use a knob instead of having to do minor battle with a poor human:machine interface each time I adjust a stove setting.

Its surface was shiny, so it showed every last spill and fingerprint, thus demanding frequent cleaning. It wasn’t nearly as bad as a flat-top electric stove which both has this drawback and bakes the grime on, thus making it impossible to remove, but it was still annoying. It begged for cleaning much more than any gas stove I’ve used.

When I performed those frequent cleanings, the touch controls would get triggered by my wiping and the stove would be beeping like crazy and flashing error messages because there were no pots on it. Harmless, I know, and easily remedied by turning it off afterwards, but needlessly annoying. A gas stove doesn’t needlessly beep at me when I clean it.

It had a mind of its own (and a very bossy one at that). That missing-pot detection ability I just mentioned means you can’t do things like lift a pan to distribute oil or melted margarine on it. At least, you can’t without the stove first scolding you for your transgression with beeps and flashing lights and then (a few seconds later) punishing you for it by shutting the burner off. Then I would have to fight with the finicky touch controls to get it back as it was.

I didn’t want a finicky techno-toy that tries to boss me around. I wanted something simple that works with any pot made and which does what I want. That’s gas, and that’s what I had installed in my new kitchen when I bought a home last fall.

Apparently that makes me the minority. From what I’ve been able to gather by looking around the Internet, most who are used to cooking with gas who try induction like it and never go back to gas.

I find that puzzling (given my experiences), but then again, I often find it puzzling about how so many people buy and use high-tech gadgets without going through a process of evaluating how said gadget will actually improve their lives. For many, the snob appeal of being able to show others how they can afford all the latest gadgets apparently has significant value in and of itself.

That’s not the whole story here, of course. For example, most people in the USA never use a wok, so the fact that induction works poorly at best with a wok is a non-issue for them. But I rather suspect it’s a big part of the story.