Tuesday, December 8, 2009

AOL and a blast from the past

I'm back from my epic blog hiatus because I couldn't stop laughing at this post on AOL revamping its image. See if you can spot what's wrong with this:
Although the AOL logo itself will be constant, the backgrounds will change continuously in an effort to suggest the breadth of AOL’s content. Hundreds of backgrounds are ready to go, among them depictions of a fish, a skateboarder, a View-Master, a leaf, a lovable monster, a Polaroid camera, a high-heel shoe, a head-banging rocker and a kissing couple.

Because nothing says "forward-thinking" like a View-Master or a Polaroid camera.

Although to many, AOL “signals your father’s Internet,” he added, the new brand identity retains the name.

I'm not sure how using one's father's toys in the logo is an improvement. Seriously.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pumpkin Pie

The first pie that I learned to make is one of my favorite: good old pumpkin pie. I don't make it as much as I would enjoy, since a certain unnamed person for whom I do most of my cooking doesn't like pumpkin. But come Thanksgiving, Pumpkin Pie is a Rykoff family tradition, and sorry unnamed person, but if I only make one pie it will be pumpkin.

I've refined the recipe over the years, improving my crust technique (I used to -- gasp -- use store-bought crust), and tweaking the filling. The basis of my filling recipe is my grandmother's famous pumpkin pie. One of the last years that my grandmother made pumpkin pie somebody was helping her, but they were flummoxed because she couldn't find the famous pumpkin pie recipe. It turned out it was on the back of the Libby's can of pumpkin.

The most recent iteration, which I record here for posterity, is a pair of hybrid recipes. The crust has the basis in a Cook's Illustrated recipe (but with all butter -- I'm morally opposed to shortening, and also we don't eat pork, so no lard), but with the clever rolling method from Alton Brown. The filling merges Libby's recipe (with a fresh pumpkin!) with an old New York Times recipe. Although you can substitute a can of pumpkin (not "pumpkin pie filling") if you wish.

Crust for Single-Crust Pie (Updated!)

based on Baking Illustrated "blind-baked" pie-crust.  The best!

Makes 1 9-inch pie crust

1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
7 Tbs unsalted butter (see below)
2-3 Tbs cold water
2-3 Tbs cold vodka

Food processor
Rolling pin
2+ gallon "jumbo" ziploc-style bag
2 pie tins
1 cookie sheet
3 cups dry beans or pennies for pie weights

Chop butter into small pieces, put in a small bowl, cover and put in freezer to chill it for a few minutes (at least). Mix together 3/4 cup, salt, and sugar in a food processor (reserving 1/2 cup). Add butter and process continuously for about 10 seconds, until mixture resembles cottage cheese. Put in remaining 1/2 cup flour and mix with 4-6 quick pulses until incorporated.

Mix vodka and water together. Move flour/butter mixture to a medium bowl. Sprinkle 4 Tbs mixture with flour and use a rubber spatula to incorporate. If the dough is not sticking together (this depends on humidity, altitude, etc) add more vodka/water mixture. The vodka is used because the alcohol will evaporate in the oven, allowing a wetter dough to be mixed that won't end up with a tough and chewy crust. When the dough sticks together, form into a 5" disk and place in the jumbo ziploc bag. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, as much as 2 days.

Put oven rack on lower-middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place two pie tins and cookie sheet in freezer. Remove dough from freezer and put on a large table. Roll out the dough inside the bag. This helps keep everything together. You'll have to unstick the dough from inside the bag every several rolls. When the dough is rolled out (enough for a tin plus 1" + margin), remove pie tins and cookie sheet from freezer. Put the bag with dough on the frozen cookie sheet. This ensures that the crust stays nice and cold. Cut off the top half of the bag. Put one of the pie tins right side up on the dough. Flip dough and pie tin over, so that you have the dough draped over the back of the tin. Peel off the rest of the plastic bag, and put the second pie tin on the first and press dough into place. Flip over and remove outer pie tin. Tamp down bottom circle of crust. Trim overhang to within 1/2 inch, fold under edge and make a nice fluted edge (this part I'm not very good at).

The next part really helps.  Refrigerate dough-lined plate 30-40 minutes, and then freeze for about 20 minutes.  The first refrigeration helps relax the gluten and minimizes shrinkage during baking; the second freezing improves the flakiness due to the different melting points of the flour and butter.

Put two layers of aluminum foil in crust and weight down with dry beans or pennies.  Put in oven and bake until light in color, 25-30 minutes.  Carefully remove the foil and bake for a further 5 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie with Fresh Pumpkin

Makes 1 9-inch pie

1 pie-appropriate pumpkin
3/8 cup (3.5 ounce) white sugar
3/8 cup (3.5 ounce) packed light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh grated ginger or 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
5/8 cup whole milk
5/8 cup half-and-half

Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take 1 medium sugar pie pumpkin or winter luxury pumpkin or french roasting pumpkin or (as I do) whatever they recommend at your favorite pumpkin-monger at the farmers' market. Cut in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. This is a bit of a pain, and may require a paring knife as well as a spoon. However, getting out the stringy bits makes a much better pie! Line baking sheet with foil and place two halves of pumpkin pumpkin-side down. Bake for 1-1.5 hours until domes noticeably soften, but before things start getting very brown. Scoop out pumpkiny goodness from the shell into a bowl, and mash with a spoon. It may be fairly wet, so put the mashed pumpkin in a sieve to drain excess liquid. (I usually do this before I start the crust). (It is, of course, possible to skip this whole thing and use 1 can of pumpkin). Update: To effectively get the excess liquid out of the pumpkin, Christopher Kimball recommends lining a baking sheet with 3 sheets of paper towels, spreading the pumpkin, and then covering again with 3 more sheets. With some light pressing the paper towels will get saturated, and you end up with a nice sheet of perfectly textured pumpkinny goodness.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in a small bowl and whisk to mix. Beat eggs in medium bowl. Add sugar mix and whisk together. Wait a few minutes and whisk again (to ensure that sugar dissolves completely). Whisk in mashed pumpkin. Update: If the mix is too lumpy at this point (when using fresh pumpkin) this mixture can be pulsed a few times in a food processor before continuing.  Slowly add milk/half-and-half mixture and whisk to mix completely. Add filling and put in oven. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 F. Bake for an additional 30-40 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ultimate Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

A couple of weeks ago, Becky said "I'd like some oatmeal raisin cookies". And seeing as I can't feed Sam directly, I do my best to oblige her requests. Of course, I looked for a Cook's Illustrated recipe first. And I found this online, which purported to be the Cook's Illustrated recipe from 1997. (I'm not actually going to pay to get through their paywall, am I?) The cookies were good, but there were a few problems. Not enough salt. Baking two trays at once led to severely uneven cooking. And the flavor just didn't have enough punch.

Then I thought...what if I use the methods from their fantastic chocolate chip cookie recipe (adapted here). The goal there was to make big, chewy, flavorful cookies. Isn't that what we want in an oatmeal raisin cookie? I think it is! So I put the two recipes together, made a few fixes, and here we are. (The coarse kosher salt gives a nice complexity to the cookies.)  Becky agrees I can call these the Ultimate Oatmeal Raisin Cookies*.

Ultimate Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Makes 18 Cookies

16 Tbs (1 cup) butter
3/4 cup (5.5 oz) granulated sugar
1 cup (7.0 oz) light brown sugar [updated]
1 1/2 cup (7.5 oz) all-purpose flour
2 eggs
3/4 tsp coarse kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 cup (8 oz) rolled oats
1 1/2 cup raisins*

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk flour, baking powder, kosher salt, and nutmeg together. Heat 12 Tbs butter in a wide saute pan until melted (a couple of minutes), and continue to cook until brown (a few more minutes). Remove from heat, and add to remaining 4 Tbs butter in a big mixing bowl to melt. Whisk sugars and butter in mixing bowl. Add eggs and whisk until sugar lumps are gone, about 30 seconds. Let stand 3 minutes, and whisk again for 30 seconds. Repeat stand/whisk process 2 more times. (This ensures that the sugar is fully dissolved and the cookies will develop a richer caramelized flavor.) Using spatula, stir in flour mixture until incorporated (but try not to over-mix). Stir in oats until incorporated, and finally stir in raisins.

Split dough into 18 big cookies. Put 9 on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake 22-25 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. For most consistent results, bake only 1 batch at a time. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool, and leave for at least 30 minutes to set.

*I like raisiny cookies, but apparently Becky thinks that 1 1/2 cups of raisins is too many. Becky is CRAZY. (However, Becky strongly recommends using golden raisins in the recipe, which sweetens things up just a tad.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Apple Muffins

While she was pregnant, Becky needed lots of continuous food input. And it doesn't seem to be slowing down now that she's breastfeeding Sam. So I made lots of quick snack foods, including dozens and dozens of muffins. I adapted this apple muffin recipe from Alton Brown's basic muffin technique. They're apple-y and tasty and aren't too sweet. These are muffins, not cupcakes! Note that the cinnamon levels given are not very high...Becky is sensitive to cinnamon, so if you want them more cinnamon-y then you probably should add more cinnamon!

Apple Muffins

Makes 12 muffins.

4 small apples (1 3/4-ish pounds)
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 tsp lemon zest
303 g (11 oz) (2 1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
105 g (3 3/4 oz) (1/2 cup) sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Two of the apples are going to be used to make applesauce. Peel and chop coarsely. Put in small saucepan with 1/4 cup water, the cinnamon stick, and the lemon zest. Bring to boil, cover, and let simmer on low for 15-20 minutes until apples are soft and can be mushed into applesauce. This should yield ~ 1/2 cup.

The other two apples should be peeled and brunoised (small dice) yielding about 1 1/2 cups.

Put the dry ingredients -- flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt -- in a mixing bowl and whisk together to aerate. Alternatively, you can use a sifter, but whisking does the job just as well and is a lot easier to clean than a sifter!

Put the wet ingredients -- sugar, vegetable oil, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup applesauce -- in a second bowl. If you are short on applesauce, add a bit more yogurt so that yogurt + applesauce = 1 cup. Whisk together until fully incorporated.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix with a spatula until the flour is mostly dissolved. Try to be gentle and not overmix! Add in the 1 1/2 cups of apple bits and fold together. All the flour should be incorporated at this point.

Prepare a muffin tin by spraying with your favorite canola-oil based cooking spray. Spoon 12 roughly equal portions of batter into the muffin tin. They should all be approximately full. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean, turning the pan halfway. Immediately transfer muffins to drying rack when done.

Variation: Lemon-Poppyseed Muffins

Substitute 1 cup yoghurt for 1/2 cup yoghurt and 1/2 cup applesauce.
Add 2 Tbs lemon juice and 1 tsp lemon zest (from 1-2 lemons depending on their size) to the wet ingredients.
Add 2 Tbs poppyseeds instead of the apple bits.
And you probably don't want the cinnamon.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

So much for a clean program

After reading this article about how Ohio State is by far the strongest program in the Big 10, Eli commented that it was no surprise, calling Tressel the dirtiest coach in the Big 10.

And of course, later that day, the story of NCAA violations at Michigan broke.

I'm not sure what's more annoying: the shattered illusions, or the fact that the extra practice time clearly hasn't been working.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've always been one for the good ol' Toll House Cookie recipe. It certainly has withstood the test of time since its invention in the 1930's. But there is always room for improvement. I like my cookies mounded and chewy in the middle, but I've never figured out how to do this consistently. One option is to use Crisco instead of butter, but (a) this makes them taste like Crisco instead of butter and (b) the partially hydrogenated oil is not good for you. (I care a lot more about (a) than (b)). Alton Brown suggests refrigerating the dough before baking it, but this doesn't seem to help either. So what to do?

Cook's Illustrated to the rescue! By experimenting with every possible variation on the recipe, they've hit on the secrets for a superb cookie that's chewy, mounded, and has rich buttery, toffee flavors. The key modifications to the basic Toll House recipe are: more brown sugar; melted, browned butter; 1 egg + 1 yolk (remove an egg white); clever pauses; and larger cookies. (To be honest, I usually make my cookies larger than the recommended size, so this isn't much of a change for me).

Try this chocolate chip cookie recipe, adapted from Cook's Illustrated. You won't be disappointed. The only hardware required is a whisk, a spatula, a saute pan, and a few bowls. You don't need any electric equipment! (Unless you have an electric stove, I suppose.)

Makes 16 cookies.

1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
14 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg + 1 yolk
1 1/4 cup semisweet chips.*
3/4 cup nuts (optional, and why would you want to ruin these cookies by putting nuts in them?)

Preheat oven to 375. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together. Heat 10 tbs butter in a wide saute pan until melted (a couple of minutes), and continue to cook until brown (a few more minutes). Remove from heat, add remaining 4 tbs butter to melt. Whisk sugars, vanilla, and butter in a medium bowl. Add egg and yolk and whisk until sugar lumps are gone, about 30 seconds. Let stand 3 minutes, and whisk again for 30 seconds. Repeat stand/whisk process 2 more times. (This ensures that the sugar is fully dissolved and the cookies will develop a richer caramelized flavor.) Using spatula, stir in flour and baking soda for about a minute. Finally, stir in chocolate chips. Split dough into 16 cookies, each about 3 tbs. Put 8 on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake 10 to 14 minutes. For most consistent results, bake only 1 batch at a time. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.

* Cook's Illustrated recommends Ghirardelli 60% chips, and these are fantastic. Notably, they're the only chips that use the same formula as the associated chocolate bar, only they are half the price for the same weight of chocolate. Who knew?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sad Days in California

Everything about the arguments about Prop 8 in front of the California Supreme Court is making me grouchy today. Let me enumerate:

  1. It's a reminder that 52% of voters decided to take away the right to gay marriage, after 5 months of couples getting married and society not collapsing.
  2. It seems so freaking obvious that Proposition 8 is a revision to the state constitution, and not an amendment.
  3. So just maybe this court case should have happened before the damn election, but the No on 8 people were useless, and I don't know where Equality California was before the election.
  4. Some of the signs carried by the Yes on 8 people are depressing. How cold-hearted do you have to be to draw a red circle and slash through a picture of two people kissing, because both people happen to be men?

At this point we just have to wait. At least it looks like the 18,000 marriages from that 5-month window won't be invalidated.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

No astronomy for average Americans!

Someone apparently showed John McCain -- and by "John McCain", I mean, "one of his aides" -- how to twitter. So we've been treated to a list of his Top 10 Porkiest Projects in the 2009 Omnibus Spending Bill. Most of them are science projects, but nothing makes me more irate than his #2 pick:
#2. $2 million “for the promotion of astronomy” in Hawaii - because nothing says new jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy

I love the elitism here, that average Americans shouldn't bother with any interest in astronomy or any other science. For a variety of reasons, astronomy is a field that gets people excited about science. It's a great gateway to get people interested in other, related sciences, such as physics, chemistry, and biology. It's great motivation for the relevance of math classes. From here, we can get more people in STEM careers, and so on. What good comes from mocking science outreach to average Americans?

Is McCain bitter about this -- and, as we heard during the debates, the planetarium projector at Adler Planetarium [PDF] -- because it's astronomy money that's not going to Arizona? Or did he fail an astronomy class at some point in his life? Either way, I am so tired of the persistent anti-science attitude from the Republicans.

(I realize this was all over the blogs yesterday, but I have only just now calmed down enough to post without flailing about in all caps.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ponzi Scheming on the Beach

The other day there was a new report on an investigation into a possible Ponzi scheme, this one run by R. Allen Stanford, a "flamboyant Texas billionaire" who claims to be related to Leland Stanford (Jr.) (but that also seems to be a fraud). The key point which has led to this investigation is:
Several federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the F.B.I. and the Internal Revenue Service, have spent “many months” looking into the business activities of the Stanford Financial Group, which is based in Houston, and Mr. Stanford’s bank based in Antigua, which issues high-yielding certificates of deposit, according to two individuals briefed on the investigations who were not authorized to speak publicly.

The focus of the investigations appears to be how the bank could issue C.D.’s that pay interest rates that are more than twice the national average.

This story reminded me of a conversation I had with a guy sitting next to me on an airplane, back in 1999 or 2000 (pre tech-bubble crash). This guy told me about a fantastic investment opportunity he had gotten involved in in the Caribbean at one of these off-shore tax havens such as Antigua. He went down there on one of these investment/timeshare type cruises where you get a couple of free nights as long as you listen to the hard sell (which he bought). Apparently, there's a shadowy international banking cabal that controls all of international finance. Most importantly, they control the Federal Reserve, whose sole duty is to sabotage the US economy and take all our profits. (We didn't need the Fed for that, although Greenspan certainly didn't hurt!) (For a summary of the conspiracy theorist myths and rebuttals, see this link, although I found this through google, and can even google be trusted...?)

So what these people were selling was a way to invest outside the US and get much better interest rates than were available in the US, because you weren't at the mercy of the manipulations of the Fed. And all this guaranteed with no risk, of course! But there was an interesting catch. In order to access his money, he had a regular ATM card attached to some bank account somewhere. And (a) all ATM cards have per-session and per-day withdrawal limits and (b) they warned him if he brought too much money back into the US, the IRS would find out and take all the money away, because we can't have people thwarting the shady banking cabal, can we?

But what a fantastic way to run a Ponzi scheme! Ponzi schemes are of course even more susceptible than real banks to runs...and if you can ensure that people can't withdraw their paper profits, then you can keep dancing a hell of a lot longer. Also, as Madoff showed, if you keep the promised returns modest then you can keep these running for years. This scheme also ties into the same sort of greed that leads people to fall for the Nigerian schemes, in that you need to do this offshore to avoid taxes, but with an interesting twist that the IRS are now fully corrupted, so avoiding taxes is a patriotic duty of sorts.

I'm not sure if this has anything to do with J. Allen Stanford's investments. Or if his investments are truly fraudulent. But there's certainly been some Ponzi scheming on the beach.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Thank God I was wrong!

Back in June, after the Lakers lost in the NBA finals, I said:
I can tell you right now that the Dodgers will make it to the World Series and lose in six games, Michigan football will finally beat Ohio State only to suffer (another) embarrassing loss to USC in the Rose Bowl, and the Steelers will lose in the Super Bowl after some sort of epic third-quarter collapse.

OH MY GOD I was way too close to getting that right with the Steelers. But! They pulled out the win after a nearly-epic fourth-quarter collapse. GO STEELERS!

James Harrison joins me in needing oxygen.

(Hey, don't you all love how optimistic I was about Michigan's season? That's so adorable.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The hell with Pluto (the dwarf planet AND the minor Disney character)

I was recently reminded that I simply do not understand the emotional attachment that people had to Pluto as a planet. It's another dinky ball of ice in the Kuiper Belt! I don't want to get caught up in semantics, but we should at least lump it in with similar objects in terms of composition and formation.

But I have a serious question here: is the attachment to Pluto a symptom of bad science education in this country? Have we failed at conveying that science is a system of inquiry, and not just a list of facts?

Friday, January 23, 2009

I give the reviews 5 stars!

There are few things online I find more delightful than the Amazon reviews for wacky products. I recently was pointed to the reviews for uranium, which include the classic line, "I would have given this product 5 stars for the teeth and the project on embracing diversity, but I deducted one star because of the giant mutant ants." Some of my other favorites include milk, a wedding chapel ("if you live anywhere but the mountains you will have to provide your own snow and trees"), and of course, the classic Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank:
Well, this has been a real mess for us. We had been shopping for a land cruiser/tank and after reading the reviews on Amazon, we decided on the JL421.

The problems started when we tried to take delivery. UPS left a note on the door and we arranged to be there the next day and they did not show up when they said that they would, so we ended up having to go to the UPS pickup office to get the Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank.

This item will not fit in the trunk of a Corvette.

We ended up unpacking the JL421 there in the UPS parking lot and they were kind enough to dispose of the packing. I was pulled over twice on the way home because of not having tags and driving a vehicle that wasn't licensed for public roadways. We got off with warnings when we explained to the officers about our difficulties in getting the tank delivered to the house.

What are some other classic reviews out there?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Will, Fully Obtuse

On the NY Times site yesterday, William Safire complained about a line in (President!) Obama's speech:
He skirted the controversy about harsh interrogations with a facile “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” — when there are times when that painful choice cannot be “rejected.”

Safire is missing the point entirely here. It's not that Obama was looking for a nice turn of phrase here: he was saying that the choice is always rejected. Torture is always wrong. Etc. But Safire chose to see that line through a prism that is willing to sacrifice liberty in order to gain security, and we should all remember what Ben Franklin has to say about that.

(Full disclosure: I still have a grudge against Safire from the time he partially blamed the decline of marriage on "nubile women postponing weddings to pursue careers.")

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Comedy in a Post-Bush World

Just as 9/11 killed comedy, apparently so will the Obama administration. The NY Times interviewed a bunch of comedy writers on how they planned to cope with the apparent upcoming comedy drought. (Full disclosure: I would totally watch Letterman do household safety demonstrations.) I particularly liked the point made by an Onion editor:
Too many people had one Bush-is-dumb joke and thought that made them the next Mark Twain. The arrival of a president fluent in English should raise the bar.

Although, to be fair, there was an awful lot of mileage from the Bush malapropisms:

(Three more days!)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tortured Logic

The NY Times recently posted a range of opinions on torture after the report of torture at Guantanamo. I disagreed with much of what Andrew McCarthy had to say (including his definition of what is and is not torture), but the logic of this particularly escapes me:
On that last score, even those of us who have argued that there is a place for enhanced interrogation techniques have insisted that those techniques should be limited to intelligence gathering in dire threat circumstances; they are not for gathering trial evidence. You can call a proceeding in which coerced confessions are used many things; one thing you can’t call it is a “trial.”

Why shouldn't coerced confessions be used in a trial? Besides the obvious reasons of them being biased, fruitless, and, of course, torture?

I would love to know McCarthy's precise reasoning for not wanting coerced confessions used in a trial. I cannot conceive of a reason that could disqualify them from trial proceedings and yet still yield useful intelligence. If you're going to destroy America's reputation by torturing prisoners, you should at least be able to back it up.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Senator Stuart Smalley!

It is with great glee that I note that Al Franken has officially won his senate race. Not only will C-SPAN2 be more entertaining, but this is the final bit of proof that we live in our own alternate universe. I think a switch got flipped back in 1998 or so, giving us, among other incongruities, Dubya instead of Jeb. (Also, in the alternate universe we elected a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama. Seriously! Look it up!)

I think I'm obsessed with alternate histories -- mostly from WWII to the present -- because I don't have a good feel for exactly how stable our society is. How could the past eight (or fifty) years been different, for better or for worse? Where is the tipping point where we slide into totalitarianism? What if 9/11 never happened? What if it was worse? What if Kerry won in 2004? What if Bush died, and Cheney had been president since 2002? I've inhaled Jo Walton's alternate histories, as well as some Philip Roth, and I cannot wait for people to start tackling Bush years.

Happy 2009 to you all. Let's make sure this alternate history doesn't get shelved under "dystopia".