Wednesday, January 28, 2009

First Kiva Donation!

My coworker and good friend, Shane, recently gave me a $25 gift certificate to Kiva is a person-to-person micro-lending website that allows the average person to loan small amounts of money to entrepreneurs in the developing world. In many developing countries banking, if available, isn’t like it is in the US. The terms and conditions of a loan are rarely fair. Kiva allows you to loan money to an entrepreneur in the developing world through partner organizations at low (relatively) to no interest. The partner organizations are responsible for finding the entrepreneur, promoting them through the Kiva website, and being the distributing the loan to them. The partner organization cannot use the funds themselves in any way..
Kiva is not without risk. A wise lender will research their entrepreneur and partner organization, and Kiva’s website will assist you with this. There is a chance that the borrower could default on your loan. I haven’t seen too many defaults. Most of the defaulted loans I have found were either the result of inefficient partner organizations or due to circumstances outside the borrower’s control (war, death, etc.). In order to help mitigate risk, donations are made for $25. This allows the risk of default to be spread across numerous lenders, rather than a single lender.
My loan went to a 59 year old Peruvian woman named Paquita. Paquita lives in a town called Pucallpa in Eastern Peru. Paquita has been making a living washing clothes for the past 20 years. She has been able to earn enough to help put her six kids through school and buy a house. She has always washed clothes by hand, but now that she is older she cannot wash as quickly as she used to. Paquita plans on using her loan to buy a washer so she can keep working. She is borrowing a grand total of $400 and plans to begin repayment in five months. This is Paquita’s second loan through Kiva. Her loan sponsor is PRISMA. PRISMA is a Peruvian, nongovernmental organization that’s purpose is to strengthen the capabilities and opportunities of Peru’s poor and vulnerable by giving them the tools for sustainable social and economic development. PRISMA has loaned over two million dollars through Kiva and has a 0% default rate. I can’t say that I’m exciting about the average interest rate of 58% that they charge, but I guess it’s better than the local Peruvian interest rate of 120%.
I’ll keep up with Paquita though the Kiva website and post any updates on the blog. I’m really interested to see how this pans out. I’ve committed to at least matching Shane’s gift to me if I like how things go.

Movie Reviews: Slumdog Millionaire, Planet B-Boy, Toxic Avenger

Movie Reviews: Slumdog Millionaire, Planet B-Boy, Toxic Avenger
Slumdog Millionaire: This movie was nominated for 10 Oscars and totally lives up to the hype. This is by far the best movie I have seen in the past 12 months. It’s got a great fresh story, awesome music, and great acting. I would say this is a must see.
Planet B-Boy: I put this on my Netflix que because 1) I like documentarys. 2) I think breakdancing is damn cool. Back in the day I used to wear out my copies of Breakin’, Breakin 2: Electric Bugaloo, Crush Groove and other breakdancing movies. Planet B-Boy is the story of B-boy crews from around the world preparing to compete in the World Breakdancing Championships in Germany. It’s got a great story and some of the movies these crews pull off are absolutely sick. If your interested in this you should also check out Red Bull’s BC One website.
The Toxic Avenger: What can I say. I also have a thing for B movies. The Toxic Avenger is one of those “must see” (or not) cult films. It’s the story of a nerdy janitor who falls into a vat of toxic waste, mutates, and ends up fighting crime while pursuing his love interest: A hot blind chick. Sounds like something you can relate to right?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Restaurant Review: A Taste of Russia

On Friday, my friend Sarah and I headed to Taste of Russia down in Cool Springs. I heard about this restaurant when it was reviewed by the Nashville Scene. It’s actually owned by a Ukrainian, but Taste of Ukraine did not sound as appealing, and UKRAINE IS WEAK! Sorry, I just had to get that out of the way. Taste of Russia is tucked away in a very generic looking suburban strip mall on Caruthers.

We took the Scene’s advice and did it tapas style and shared several dishes. We started out with two appetizers: Drankini, which are thin potato pancakes served with a drizzle of gravy; and the Eggplant Rolls thinly sliced eggplant stuffed with cheese and tomato. Both were excellent. They then brought out the Stroganoff and Borsch. The stroganoff was acceptable, but didn’t blow me away. I’d never had borsch before and found it to be pretty tasty, and you couldn’t even tell that it had beets in it. Our desert, and quite possibly my favorite dish, was blintzes with farmer’s cheese and preserves. I also enjoyed a large bottle of Slavutych, a Ukrainian beer. All of this (22 oz beer, two appetizers, entrĂ©e, soup, and desert) cost us a total of $40. I’m really looking forward to going back. I reread the Scene’s review and I’m interested on trying the Kiev Cutlet, Pelmeni, and the Zharkoe.

Please note the Scene’s review is spot on. Although the food is excellent, and the service is attentive, the kitchen does need to work on its timing. Dishes are going to come out at random times and in no particular order. Although I found it odd, it wasn’t annoying and it didn’t taint my experience in any way.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bacon Explosion: This is not health food

One of the sports message boards I read had a discussion on the Bacon Explosion today. This culianry delight is basically bacon filled with italian sausage, more bacon, barbeque rub, and barbeque sauce and then grilled. Can't you feel your arteries hardening just looking at it. The instructions to making your own Bacon Explosion can be found here. I like how they recomend serving Bacon Explosion on a biscuit, just to make it a little healthier. This dish intrigues me because it involves many of the things that men love: bacon, meat, grilling, and burning shit. The only manly things that are missing are: booze, strippers, midgets, monster trucks and monkeys.

"The Four Food Groups: Bacon, sausage, cooked bacon, barbeque sauce/rub"

On a related note, I had a conversation today about the Monte Cristo sandwich (AKA: The Funnel Cake Sandwich). How the hell did they come up with this thing. Let's take a ham/turkey/cheese sandwich, fry it, and cover it in powdered sugar and jam. Who the hell came up with this thing? How high were they? Why isn't bacon (or ranch dressing involved, obese america's other obsession). Wikipedia seems to indicate that the Monte Cristo comes from a French sandwich called the Croque Monsieur. I don't buy that because there is no sugar or jam involved.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

English Only Defeated!

Well, the unofficial results are in, and it looks like English Only was defeated by over 9,000 votes. I couldn't be happier.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Vote NO to the "English Only Bill"

"This thing is mean spirited. It's going to hurt us in terms of business
recruiting, and it's going to be used against us in terms of business
recruiting. It does not help us with tourism," Gov. Phil Bredesen

I am technically an “immigrant.” Although I was raised as an American since the day of my birth, I was born on foreign soil and became a citizen of this great country by naturalization, not by birthright. I’ve also spent a six years of my life as an outsider living in foreign countries. It was my experience that the natives of the countries I resided in did everything within their power to make sure I felt welcome and that my basic human needs were met. I believe it is our responsibility to do the same. As an immigrant and American that has lived abroad, I am extremely offended by the “English Only” referendum that we will vote on this Thursday. This referendum would prohibit any Nashville government business to be done in a foreign language. I find this referendum to be xenophobic, an unnecessary waste of taxpayer money, and completely distasteful.

Immigrants to any country understand that the first step in advancing financially, politically, or socially is to learn the local language. There were many Vietnamese immigrants living in my hometown of Gulfport, MS. The only ones that I knew that could not speak English fluently were the oldest generations (think “boat people”) that never had the opportunity to learn. These people made sure that the future generations of Vietnamese-Americans learned the English language. My father works in construction. Many of his co-workers are legal immigrants from Mexico and South America. They do their best to learn English so they can advance in their careers and build a better future for their families. Many people think that most immigrants are not willing to learn or speak English. This is a fallacy as the majority of foreign language households speak English. There is no need for us to try to force our language upon people who our new to our country. They have the desire to learn it themselves.

I believe that there are no financial benefits to this bill, and that it’s actually costing us more than we could save. The bill is ambiguous and largely unenforceable. Even the supporters of the bill do not have a clear understanding of it’s impact. Many articles and blogs I have read indicate the bill wouldn’t be saving the taxpayer much.

Even if the bill did save the taxpayer a little money, I don’t think it could offset the harm done to the city’s image. It’s extremely difficult to be a progressive city in the south, but if passed this bill will set us back decades. Do you think that if the English Only bill was passed Nissan would have relocated it’s North American headquarters here? To me this bill says “you’re not welcome here” to immigrants and I have yet to see any scenario that explains how this bill will help our city attract and retain new businesses.

I also wonder if Eric Crafton, the primary proponent of this bill, has some kind of hidden agenda. There has been no disclosure as to who is funding this campaign and Crafton has pulled out of debates regarding this issue. In a January interview he told the New York Times that he wanted this passed because “I happened to see a state legislature meeting in California where several of the state representatives had interpreters at their desk because they couldn’t speak English. That’s not the vision I have for Nashville.” This statement may have been less than truthful as retracted this statement when concerned citizens reported to the Times that calls to California’s Chief Clerk of the Assembly revealed “To our knowledge; every person that has been elected to the legislature since 1850 has known how to speak English. The only time we’ve had a translator present is in the rare instant when a foreign dignitary is delivering an address to the Assembly.”

If you are legally able to vote in Nashville I encourage you to vote NO to both amendments. Many key figures have spoken out against “English Only” including Governor Bredesen, Mayor Karl Dean, Former Mayor Bill Purcell, The Tennessean, The City Paper, The Nashville Scene, TheNashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. (A full list can be found here)

In closing, I’d like to share a quote from local attorney and the Nashville Scene’s 2008 Nashvillian of the Year George Ramos :

“It is unfortunate that Mr. Crafton is resurrecting this divisive battle that ultimately will benefit no one. There are many things in life for which we do not need yet another law, and an English-only law certainly is at the top of that list. It's just not necessary here in Nashville in 2008. Somehow, Nashville has managed to survive for over 200 years without such a law.

Newly arrived immigrants don't need a law to tell them that they will more effectively overcome the many economic and social barriers they face with a knowledge and command of the English language…. Rather than
proposing a largely symbolic but ultimately ineffective law that only serves to make the integration process harder, Mr. Crafton, if he truly wanted to help, should be advocating for more resources to improve and increase the number of English classes for immigrants. Such classes are too scarce and overcrowded at present. They are overcrowded with immigrants who are doing everything possible to learn the English language and to make their lives better in this, the greatest and most accepting country in the world.

We will come together to show that there are many other humane, respectful, dignified and truly Christian ways to assist our immigrant population in the integration process. Mr. Crafton's divisive and ultimately ineffective law, on the other hand, will only serve to polarize our community. It will accomplish nothing tangible.”

REMEMBER: Vote AGAINST Ammendment#1 and Ammendment#2 on THURSDAY, JANUARY 22

Movie Reviews: Let the Right One In, Benjamin Button, Rescue Dawn, and Harold and Kumar

I just got Netflix and I’ve been hitting the theater a little more than usual lately. Here are some thoughts about some movies that I have recently seen.

Let the Right One In: I got to see this at the Belcourt with a few friends this weekend. I think the reviews oversold it a little. They all proclaimed it was phenomenal, but I thought it was average at best. I give it a score of 3 out of 5.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: It’s long, but I really liked it. The movie was directed by David Fincher who also directed Fight Club and Seven so this was a pretty big departure for him. I loved picking out the New Orleans landmarks in the film but did get annoyed by the shitty New Orleans accents. I give it a 4 out of 5.

Rescue Dawn: I really like Christian Bale so I found this to be a pretty enjoyable flick. I’m not sure how true it is to the actual true life events. I did have a problem following at times because of all the whispering though. Let’s score it 3.5 out of 5.

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay: I know it sounds low-brow, but I really liked H&K got to White Castle. I didn’t think Guantanamo Bay was nearly as good. I did like the Neil Patrick Harris Scenes though. It earns a 2.5 out of 5.

Restaurant Review: 417 Union

I’ve been trying to broaden my dining horizons and started out by trying a little hole-in-the wall restaurant located downtown called 417 Union. There is a small bar in the back and the restaurant is covered with World War II memoriabilia. It serves what the menu describes as “Classic American Dining”. Comfort foods like pork chops, sandwiches, and pastas. My meal was OK, but I can’t say much more than that. Would I go back? I could. Would I go out of my way to go back? Probably not. If someone asked my honest opinion of the place, I would have to tell them “It’s ok, but you can definitely do better.

New Years/Cotton Bowl

I was glad to see 2008 come to an end. I welcomed the new year in my traditional way. My going to see the Guilty Pleasures at the Cannery Ballroom. I like going to this show for several reasons. First, it's predictable. I don't have to worry about the experience I will have. I know exactly what I am getting into. Second, it's a hell of a good time. Most of my friends will be in attendance, and the band puts on a great show.

I usually try to get a little wild on New Years, but had to tone it back a little this year. I had bought tickets to the Cotton Bowl so I had to make sure I could make it to my flight the net day. I took an American Airlines flight to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Let me go ahead and say this was a giant mistake. American Airlines charges you for checked bags and DFW is a mess of an airport. If I ever go back I'll take Southwest to Love field. I took a cab to our hotel, and then headed to Pappasito's for dinner. It was extremely crowded there, but I still had a great time. The only annoyance was some Texas Tech shitheel fan decided to shout "Mississippi Sucks, Ole Miss Sucks, and Eli and Archie Manning sucks." If I would have had my way, I would have stuck my steak knife into his neck. Afterwards we went to Dick's Last Resort, which was full of Rebel fans. We drank this bar, and several others, dry. Seriously, they had a pretty limited selection of beer and booze because we put a hurt on their stock.

We woke up the next day and got ready for the game. The Cotton Bowl is currently located at Fair Park which is a pretty neat place. The stadium is located in the middle of a fairgrounds near a large Ferris Wheel and Skycars. Next year it will move to a fancy new stadium in Arlington. If you ever go to a game at Fair Park, I would advise you to leave very early. We left early, but not early enough. We sat in traffic forever and ended up getting there slightly before kickoff. The game itself was one of the better I have seen the Rebels play. We spotted Texas Tech 14 points off turnovers, but then dominated the rest of the game wining 47 to 34. It felt good to dominate a #7 ranked big 12 team, and I loved it when the chants of "SEC!" came roaring down from the stands. After the game I was exhausted, and we didn't do much. We ate burgers at the hotel restaurant and had a few drinks at a mexican restaurant called Manny's.

The majority of our group headed home the next day, but I stuck around. We went down to see where president John F. Kennedy was shot. I saw the Grassy Knoll and the Texas Schoolbook Depository. Thanks to the jackasses who made the giant sign to help me find the Grassy Knoll and the local conspiracy theorists.

Overall, I had a great time, but I have no love for Dallas. I find it to be an un-remarkable city. I felt it was a newer major metropolitan area with no soul whatsoever. I'm sure there are some cool areas, but overall I feel it's pretty lame.
(Note: First time I added pics. I think I need a little more practice.)

New Year, New Blog

Happy New Year. I used to be a pretty active blogger in the past, but slacked of because: A) I really disliked the blogging software that I was using, and B) I wanted to think about the content I was posting and find a way to change it up a little. I havent quite decided excatly how i'm going to do this, but i'll figure it out.

So far i've found the Blogger software easy to use and pretty versitile. The most difficult thing so far was come up with a name for the blog. I decided to use some lyrics from what I believe is the best band of all time, Uncle Tupelo. I knew I wanted to use something off of the album No Depression because I think it was one of their best albums. I ended up chosing lyrics from "Graveyard Shift" over "Whiskey Bottle". I think lyrics from either song would have been appropriate for my blog.