Sunday Gourmet(?)

A Ritz Roasted Vegetable cracker covered with peanut butter and a dollop of honey. It's a delicious thing.

Some days I like to go gourmet.

This is not one of those days.

No, today is a Ritz Roasted Vegetable cracker with peanut butter and a dollop of honey day. And that means I’m keeping my day simple and delicious.

This elaborate recipe occurred to me a few months ago. I knew that a Ritz cracker tasted good with peanut butter and then covered in chocolate. That’s a favorite Christmas holiday staple. So those sweet memories no doubt led to a sudden craving for a Ritz cracker with peanut butter (hold the chocolate for health’s sake). The cracker/peanut butter combo tastes good, but it can be hard to get down the gullet. It’s a bit sticky, you see.

THAT is where the honey comes in as not only the perfect accompaniment to the snack, but it also makes for smooth traveling into your belly. I personally guarantee it. Chef’s honor.

What’s your lazy Sunday afternoon delight (and I’m talking snacks here!)?

‘I Needed A Password Eight Characters Long So I Picked Snow White And The Seven Dwarves’

It’s Friday, and you probably need some good material to impress your friends this weekend and make them laugh. You, after all, should be the life of the party.

Well, allow me to help by putting you on the cutting edge of Scottish stand-up comedy.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe will soon (and sadly) be coming to a close for the year. Never heard of it? According to its website, the Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world. It takes place every August for three weeks in Scotland’s capital city.

I inevitably only get to read about the cool happenings there every year, but perhaps I’ll one day be able to make the trek and take in this glorious event. No doubt I would find plenty to entertain and inspire me.

One of the elements of the festival is a joke contest, which brings me back to my promise to give you some weekend material to share with your friends. May laughter ensue. (I swear I’ve heard some variation of Joke #7, which mentions one of my all-time favorite bands, The Cure …).

The BBC was there to cover the festivities:

Comedian Nick Helm has won an award for the best joke of the Edinburgh Fringe.

The up-and-coming funnyman was given the prize by digital TV channel Dave, whose panel put a selection of their favourites to a public vote.

He won for the joke: “I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”

Last year’s winner, quick-fire joker Tim Vine, was beaten into second place by Helm.

Helm said: “I knew my joke was the funniest joke of all the other jokes in 2011.

“Thank you to Dave and all the people that voted for proving me right.”

Veteran entertainer Paul Daniels won the wooden spoon for the worst joke of the festival.

He won the dubious honour for his gag: “I said to a fella ‘Is there a B&Q in Henley?’ He said ‘No, there’s an H, an E, an N an L and a Y’.”

The top 10 festival funnies were judged to be:

1) Nick Helm: “I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”

2) Tim Vine: “Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many different levels.”

3) Hannibal Buress: “People say ‘I’m taking it one day at a time’. You know what? So is everybody. That’s how time works.”

4) Tim Key: “Drive-Thru McDonalds was more expensive than I thought… once you’ve hired the car…”

5) Matt Kirshen: “I was playing chess with my friend and he said, ‘Let’s make this interesting’. So we stopped playing chess.”

6) Sarah Millican: “My mother told me, you don’t have to put anything in your mouth you don’t want to. Then she made me eat broccoli, which felt like double standards.”

7) Alan Sharp: “I was in a band which we called The Prevention, because we hoped people would say we were better than The Cure.”

8) Mark Watson: “Someone asked me recently – what would I rather give up, food or sex. Neither! I’m not falling for that one again, wife.”

9) Andrew Lawrence: “I admire these phone hackers. I think they have a lot of patience. I can’t even be bothered to check my OWN voicemails.”

10) DeAnne Smith: “My friend died doing what he loved … Heroin.”

Other Towns And Cities

I revisited Camera Obscura’s album, “My Maudlin Career,” tonight — one of my top 10 albums of 2009. It’s a fantastic album full of some quite catchy pop songs like “French Navy”:

Or “The Sweetest Thing” (which gets bonus points for a video that features a band member Gavin Dunbar dressed as “Doctor Who”‘s fourth Doctor Tom Baker!)

But it’s the quieter moments like “Other Towns And Cities” above that really get me.

Or “James”:

I love lead singer Tracyanne Campbell’s voice, which I find sad, romantic and classic.

If you like what you hear, I would encourage you not to stop with “My Maudlin Career.” My gateway drug to the band was the equally beautiful “Let’s Get Out Of This Country.”

Graffiti Women: Hartington Teens Get Rare Opportunity To Make Machine Shed A Work Of Art

Nathan Johnson/P&D — Brandy (left) and Brittany Hinkel were employed by Kip and Kris Larson of rural Hartington, Neb., to paint graffiti on the interior wall of a machine shed. It will be used as a photo backdrop by Kris, who owns a photography business.

 

In this business, a story will sometimes sneak up on you.

When my friend Kip Lammers called with a story idea about how two teens were painting graffiti in his machine shed so his wife could use it as a backdrop for her photo business, I thought it would make an interesting feature story. After all, how many rural residents do you know who would pay someone to paint artwork on their machine shed? I grew up on a farm, and that subject never came up.

So on the face of it, the story sounded promising. What I wasn’t counting on is how charismatic, fun and talented Brandy and Brittany Hinkel would be.

They were exactly what you hope for from a story subject: open, honest and completely at ease with you, a complete stranger who happens to be a reporter.

As someone who has written about feeling like a bit of a cultural outsider in this sector of the world, it was apparent that I had found people who struggle with the same issue and have found good ways to cope with it.

I left the Lammers farm last week feeling a little more lust for pursuing life on my terms and definitely a bit wiser — all thanks to the Hinkel twins.

Gracias, ladies! And good luck with your future endeavors!

———

Here are a few more photos showcasing their work. I don’t know that Kip and Kris Lammers are planning an open house so people can see the wall for themselves, but maybe if you ask nicely, they will let you see it firsthand. 🙂

This is my favorite image. I find gas masks creepy — and, therefore, cool art subjects.

By Nathan Johnson/P&D — I enjoy how the electrical wires make it look like a pitchfork is hanging on the wall.

Finally, here is the story I wrote for the Press & Dakotan after the visit:

HARTINGTON, Neb. — Walk into an aging farm machine shed about 20 miles south of Yankton, and you enter a vibrant world full of color, bold slogans and symbolism.

This is the world of Brandy and Brittany Hinkel, 18-year-old mirror image twins who graduated from the Hartington Public School system this past spring.

Originally, the concrete walls of the building held silage. Later, a roof was put on the structure to hold farm equipment. Now, it’s home to the graffiti of the Hinkel twins.

Kip and Kris Lammers hired the two women to paint the inside of the rural Hartington, Neb., structure so it can be used as a backdrop for Kris’s photography business, KL Photography. After seeing the work of the Hinkel twins throughout their high school career, Kris knew she wanted them to create a work of art on the farmstead.

The idea was sparked last year when Kip saw news reports questioning the value of graffiti as an art form. By this summer, he had space cleared away in the shed so the women could begin painting.

“The urban look has been, and continues to be, popular for photography with seniors and children,” Kris said. “That’s what I wanted to create with this — an urban space. The ideas are theirs. I wanted it to be something different, and I’m very happy with it. They have so much talent.”

One wall of the building is covered in graffiti, although the twins have chosen a handful of colors and themes that change in increments. A lot of the inspiration for the art came from the music of bands like Eve 6, Insane Clown Posse, Kottonmouth Kings and Everlast, they said.

“If I want people to get anything out of this project, it’s the freedom of it,” Brittany said. “I like the chaos of the whole picture. I want it to scream ‘freedom’ to people.”

The art can do that literally, such as a robot telling its audience, “Don’t be a slave to society,” and a slogan of “Think 4 yourself” — or it can take a more symbolic approach, such as a doorway that Brittany said symbolizes a gateway to a better tomorrow.

“My favorite thing is diversity,” Brittany said. “I want people to be themselves and not have to try to live like everyone else does just because they think it’s the right thing to do.”

Brandy added, “I want people to be able to find themselves through this and figure out who they are. We tried to make this as busy as we could. Kris wants to use this for senior pictures. We wanted to make it loud because that’s the kind of statement (seniors) want to make.”

The subject of freedom is close to the hearts of the twins, who describe themselves as “goth” kids in a small rural town. Members of the goth subculture generally dress in dark attire, wear heavy makeup and have elaborate hair styles, though there are many variations.

The girls say they’ve been called Satan worshippers and asked if they make voodoo dolls, but those kinds of comments now roll off their backs. It took time, but they have realized that they need to be themselves to be happy.

“I had a really tough time in junior high,” Brittany said. “It was really bad. I was very, very unhappy with myself. I wanted to make everybody else as miserable as I was, so I was a horrible person. I didn’t like who I was, so I didn’t want to like who anybody else was. I was jealous of everyone. After fighting myself and everybody else, I just gave up and decided to like what I like. If somebody doesn’t like it, who cares? After I decided to not care anymore, that’s when everyone else thought it was cool that I was doing my own thing.”

Hartington Public School and the community of Hartington, in general, has been very supportive, they added.

And if someone looks uncomfortable because of their style, the twins have developed methods of engaging that person.

“If somebody gives me a bad look and gawks at me, I try to force them into a conversation and to interact with me,” Brandy said. “Maybe I can change their minds. I try to teach people that you don’t judge a book by its cover. People see that we are outgoing and don’t mean anybody any harm.”

Brittany said residents at the nursing home where she is employed have embraced the pink in her hair. And Brandy’s haircut, which includes closely-shaven portions with purple stars painted in, still provokes reactions.

“Everybody asks me, ‘Why did you do that to your hair?’” Brandy said. “Well, I can’t do it when I’m 40, can I?”

An interest in drawing runs in the Hinkel family, and it’s a hobby the girls developed before they can even remember. They would cover their bedroom walls in drawings — and the occasional closet, as their mother reminds them.

“A lot of people ask if it’s a talent or a desire to draw that runs in the family,” Brandy said. “I honestly think it’s a desire, because if you want to draw, you sit there and practice and you keep practicing. That’s how you get good.”

Brandy had been commissioned to paint a room before, but this is the first large-scale project that both women have worked on together. It’s also the first time they’ve done actual graffiti.

They said they often work on the wall at separate times but still manage to complement each other’s work. Approximately 50 hours have been put into the painting between the two of them, and they are nearing completion.

When the twins are laboring together, “We yell a lot, but that’s just us getting along,” Brittany joked.

This fall, both will be attending Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Neb. Brandy will be pursuing a degree in business entrepreneurship before going on for a graphic design degree elsewhere. Brittany will get her general education requirements out of the way before pursuing a forensic pathology degree at another institution.

It will mean they both get to live with each other for at least a few more years.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen when we aren’t living together any more,” Brittany said. “As stupid and cliché as it sounds, we are pretty much each other’s best friend. We understand each other. We’re always there for each other.”

In the future, Brandy, especially, is eager to take on new art projects.

“Art is my passion,” she said. “I like doing freelance work and want to get my name out there.”

Nobody Wants To Be In Last Place

It’s little surprise that nobody wants to be on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

But what I do find surprising about the study below is the lengths the people on the second rung will go to in order to keep those on the bottom rung in place. Why? They fear being left on the bottom rung themselves.

The study be Ilyana Kuziemko, Ryan W. Buell, Taly Reich, Michael I. Norton explains a lot of strange political phenomenon where people appear to work against their own economic interests.

Here is the synopsis from the National Bureau of Economic Research:

Why do low-income individuals often oppose redistribution? We hypothesize that an aversion to being in “last place” undercuts support for redistribution, with low-income individuals punishing those slightly below themselves to keep someone “beneath” them. In laboratory experiments, we find support for “last-place aversion” in the contexts of risk aversion and redistributive preferences. Participants choose gambles with the potential to move them out of last place that they reject when randomly placed in other parts of the distribution. Similarly, in money- transfer games, those randomly placed in second-to-last place are the least likely to costlessly give money to the player one rank below. Last-place aversion predicts that those earning just above the minimum wage will be most likely to oppose minimum-wage increases as they would no longer have a lower-wage group beneath them, a prediction we confirm using survey data.

I also managed to locate the paper in its entirety. Find it here. I’ve included part of the introduction below. Fascinating work.


Page 2
1 Introduction
Individuals in low-income groups often seem to vote against their economic interests, even as their
shared circumstances would suggest that they would unite to demand greater redistribution. Ameri-
cans have expressed widespread support for repealing the estate tax and for tax reforms that largely
benefit those in the highest brackets (Bartels, 2008). Whereas the median-voter theorem (Meltzer
and Richard, 1981) predicts that the demand for redistribution grows with income inequality, the
large increases in inequality over the past thirty years have not led to greater support for redistri-
bution in the US (Kelly and Enns, 2010), the UK (Georgiadis and Manning, 2011), or other OECD
countries that have experienced rising inequality (Kenworthy and McCall, 2008).1
Scholars have offered many explanations for the seeming inability of lower-income groups to
unite in support of redistributive policies.2 The Marxist notion of “false consciousness” holds that
the capitalist class promotes ideological concepts that blind the proletariat to their common inter-
ests (Engels, 1893). Similarly, Therston Veblen argued that members of the working class tend to
admire the “leisure class” and even mimic its habits—such as conspicuous consumption—instead
of identifying with members of their own class (Veblen, 1899). Especially in the American con-
text, scholars often argue that racial, ethnic or cultural divisions (Woodward 1955; Alesina et al.
2001; Frank 2004) as well as a belief in income mobility (Bénabou and Ok, 2001) limit support for
redistribution.
This paper offers another explanation, which to our knowledge has not been formally explored
in past research. We hypothesize that there is a basic aversion to feeling that one is in “last place,”
which increases competition and inhibits political unity among members of lower-income groups.
Instead of uniting in pursuit of general redistribution, working-class groups may wish to punish
those who are slightly below or above themselves, with the hope of having at least one group to
“look down on.” As the probability of falling to the bottom of the income distribution decreases
with income, anxiety about relative position would be less of a concern for middle- and upper-class
individuals.

This Loom Should Bear Fruit: Omaha’s New Home For ‘Alternative Thinkers’

I’m quite certain I’ve just discovered what will be one of my favorite Omaha hang-outs in the future. It sounds exotic, intellectual and glorious, and I’ve already had a few Yankton friends (I’m looking at you, Ben and Chad) mention it to me as a place I would enjoy. I guess they know me well …

The House of Loom had a soft opening three or so weeks ago. Several creative types — a handful of indie rockers, a few actress-models and playwrights — sipped specialty cocktails, ate papaya and listened to electronic beats. It held its official grand opening Saturday with its annual all-white attire party.

The three partners hope to use the space as a bar five nights a week. They also plan to host poetry slams, dance parties, art exhibits and educational lectures. It’ll serve as a space for creative types to debut their work. For instance, Omaha fashion designer Megan Hunt (aka Princess Lasertron) hosted a secret preview show for her Omaha Fashion Week collection at the lounge last week.

The building has lots of character: hardwood floors, brick walls and high ceilings. The place formerly housed the Goofy Foot and Planet Soull nightclubs.

The guys have poured tens of thousands of dollars into renovating the space. They laid concrete to flatten the patio, added an outdoor garden, painted, stripped away metal, stained floors and the bar and added tile, light fixtures, Victorian furniture and a custom DJ booth.

They know how to keep the party intimate, even while the layout is grand with multiple rooms and ample lounge space. The sit-down lounge area has a Bohemian-eclectic flair, with velvet crush privacy curtains and a fireplace. A dance floor sits just inches away from the bar. Dushan is curator of the lounge’s artwork.

Chris Engles, formerly of the Boiler Room, is the craft cocktail bartender who will mix champange cocktails, dirty martinis and pre-Prohibition-inspired drinks. The bar will make its own syrups and juices from scratch. For instance, when Engles makes a seven-and-seven cocktail (a Seagram’s 7 whiskey and 7-Up mixed drink) he won’t use the soft drink. Instead, he’ll make his own interpretation of it with fresh limes.

“This place exists on the premise that there are enough creative alternative thinkers in Omaha that’ll identify with a place that matches their lifestyle,” Crampton said.

You can read the whole Omaha World-Herald story here.

Creatures Great And Small Know The Heat Is On, Why Don’t We?

As a reporter (and an average joe), if I don’t know much about a subject but am curious about it, my first course of action is to consult the experts in the field.

Who is going to know more about a subject than people who deal with it full time?

That’s why I continue to be puzzled by the amount of climate change skepticism I encounter. Granted, the oil industry and other interests have spent a lot of money to confuse people on the subject. But the verdict is in among the experts.

The New York Times reported in June 2010:

The new research supports the idea that the vast majority of the world’s active climate scientists accept the evidence for global warming as well as the case that human activities are the principal cause of it.

For example, of the top 50 climate researchers identified by the study (as ranked by the number of papers they had published), only 2 percent fell into the camp of climate dissenters. Of the top 200 researchers, only 2.5 percent fell into the dissenter camp. That is consistent with past work, including opinion polls, suggesting that 97 to 98 percent of working climate scientists accept the evidence for human-induced climate change.

The study demonstrates that most of the scientists who have been publicly identified as climate skeptics are not actively publishing in the field. And the handful who are tend to have a slim track record, with about half as many papers published as the scientists who accept the mainstream view. The skeptics are also less influential, as judged by how often their scientific papers are cited in the work of other climate scientists.

Despite the fact that the alleged “Climategate” of a couple years ago was proven to be a lot of hot air, many people seem to have lodged it in their brains as another reason for doubting manmade climate change.

I’m not saying that experts can’t be wrong or they should not be questioned (look at the business I’m in, after all), but the denial of climate change doesn’t seem to be based on any understanding of the facts. People usually express to me a doubt that scientists could understand anything as big and complicated as the global climate when they can’t predict the weather two days from now. Or they may dislike Al Gore and discredit climate change from there. A cold front in the summer has also been used to deny climate change in conversations I’ve had.

Meanwhile, scientists keep amassing more evidence that manmade climate change and its effects are very real.

The latest finding of interest is below:

WASHINGTON — Animals across the world are fleeing global warming by heading north much faster than they were less than a decade ago, a new study says.

About 2,000 species examined are moving away from the equator at an average rate of more than 15 feet per day, about a mile per year, according to new research published Thursday in the journal Science which analyzed previous studies. Species are also moving up mountains to escape the heat, but more slowly, averaging about 4 feet a year.

The species – mostly from the Northern Hemisphere and including plants – moved in fits and starts, but over several decades it averages to about 8 inches an hour away from the equator.

“The speed is an important issue,” said study main author Chris Thomas of the University of York. “It is faster than we thought.”

Read the rest here.