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Monday, December 31, 2007

A little New Year's Humor

You never know what will turn out to be important:

In ancient Greece, Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance, who ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students...?"

"Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me, I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Test of Three."

"Test of Three?"

"That's correct," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my student let's take a moment to test what you're going to say. The first test is Truth. Are absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man replied, "actually I just heard about it."

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?"

"No, on the contrary..."

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him even though you're not certain it's true?"

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued, "You may still pass though because there is a third test - the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really..."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?"

The man was defeated and ashamed and said no more. This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.

It also explains why Socrates never found out that Plato was banging his wife.

Fitting End to 2007

Don't expect much from me today.

I'm in some considerable pain this morning. My damaged left shoulder is not functioning correctly, I slept on it wrong or something. Neck, shoulder and upper back feel like somebody has shoved a screw driver in there and is trying to pry the joint apart. I can't turn my head to the left at all, and can barely feel my left hand. Lovely.

Took a hot shower, took a pill, got a heat patch on. Now I'm sitting on the couch poking at the laptop with my right hand.

Don't worry about it, this is a regular event for me. It'll be ok in a day or two, but until then I'm not much good for anything. So, go read Nathan's online novel, or get drunk, or get drunk and read Nathan's novel, make rudely derisive comments - you know, have fun.

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I just watched it turn 2008 in Hong Kong. What a great city.

I was in Hong Kong in 2002, here's proof. That's me on top of Mount Victoria with the city behind me. (Try to ignore the long hair, usually it's much shorter than that). I met Jackie Chan there (well, OK I didn't actually meet him - I shook his hand), he lives in Hong Kong and was filming a movie there. He came down to the harbor to meet us American Sailors and shake hands. A very down to earth guy, and a truly nice person.


Happy new year all.

I'm looking forward to it - this is the year that we all get our jetpacks and flying cars.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Smoke, Mirrors, and Sour Grapes

$400,000,000.

That's a lot of money, right?

Chances are, if you've got $400 million in the bank, you're not reading this blog.

Here's another number: $800 Million. Somebody once said, a million here, a million there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money. Bah, that's crap - you want to talk real money? How about $36,000,000,000? That's right 36 billion dollars, now we're talking real money.

What do all these number have in common? Well, we'll get to that in a moment.

First let's talk about a much smaller number, $4.50.

Four and a half dollars. That's what analysts are saying the price of gas per gallon of gasoline is going to be come summer. The war, the mess in Pakistan, Chavez is acting like an asshole, refineries are still off-line, pipes are broken, blah, blah, blah, and etcetera. There's always some excuse, some excuse for the oil companies to keep the prices jacked up just as high as they will go.

What? What's that you say? "Jim, don't be an idiot, the oil companies don't determine the price of gas at the pump. The oil companies don't determine the price per barrel of oil. Don't you understand how a free market works? It's Wall Street, Man."

Yeah, I've heard this. And you know what? It's complete bullshit. Nothing but smoke and mirrors. Here's why:

It's the law of supply and demand. He who controls the supply, controls the price, no matter how convoluted the process.

Every time there is unrest in the Middle East the price of gas jumps, because investors are scared - even if we don't actually get our oil from the country in question, even if the country in question doesn't even have oil, like, oh, Pakistan for example. Every time there's a hurricane, or a refinery fire, or a pipeline break - the price of oil jumps, even if the actual supply is completely unaffected. And each time, when it settles back, the lowest price per barrel is just a little higher than it was before. So sorry, we'd like to pump more oil out of Alaska, say the big oil companies, but there just isn't any. The Pipeline is running at half capacity, true, but that's because the Prudhoe Bay fields are nearly depleted, we can't drill in ANWAR because the tree-huggers and bunny-thumpers won't let us - and so we've got to get our oil from the Middle East, and Africa, and Hugo Chavez, and it just costs more. That's basic economics in a free market. That's capitalism. Don't blame us. It's the investor's fault, say the oil companies, hell we're barely breaking even. It's the federal government's fault, if it wasn't for all these restrictions and regulations and red tape we'd have money for development. It's the Alaskan state government's fault, if they'd just dismiss that damned fine for the Exxon Valdez spill, and stop taxing us, we'd have money to fix the pipes and upgrade the refineries and sink more wells. It's just so complicated. Unless you're Alan Greenspan, you just can't understand the sheer complexity of the market. That's how it is.

Smoke and mirrors. It's a complete load of crap. I know bullshit when I step in it. I also recognize an Information Warfare campaign when I see one, and in this case it's called Market Manipulation, and it's just about as ethical as insider trading, and it's no different than what Enron was doing or Big Tobacco (Cigarettes don't cause cancer, oh no, trust us). Big Oil has no, repeat no, incentive at all to keep those pipelines and refineries in good repair. And they've got no incentive whatsoever to develop new domestic reserves. In point of fact, it is in their best interest to keep the domestic flow of oil restricted, and to throw as many scare-tactics as they can at the international market. It is in their best interest to drag their feet on domestic oil field production and development; less oil in the Alyeska Pipeline means bigger profits - they do not want an assured domestic supply. They want the oil to come from overseas, because it's a hell of a lot easier to manipulate the market if you can throw Middle East conflicts, and Nigerian unrest, and South American dictators at the investors.

Don't believe me? Let's go back to those numbers above.

$800 million. That's what the Big Three (Exxon, BP, and ConocoPhillips) have spent to develop the Point Thompson oil field, on Alaska's North Slope, about 50 miles from Prudhoe Bay. $800 million - over the last 30 years. That's about $26.8 million per year. With the costs being born by three companies, that comes out to roughly $9 million apiece, per year. $9 million. Hardly pocket change for people like you and me. But if you happen to be, oh say, Lee Raymond, $9 million is what you keep in the kitchen cookie jar, and the only thing better than $4.50 for a gallon of gas would be $5.00 per gallon. Who the hell is Lee Raymond you ask? Well, Lee just happens to be the former Exxon CEO who retired last year with a record $400 million bonus package. That's right, four fucking hundred million dollars - this on top of his extensive stock options, million dollar consulting gig, and unlimited use of Exxon's corporate jets.

Oh and what profit did Exxon show it's share holders in 2006? Yeah, that would be the other number above, $36 billion. And now, as the man said, we're talking real money.

You know what? Exxon, BP, and ConocoPhillips can just plain kiss my ass.

Alaska's oil and gas industry is threatening to reduce investment in the state after Governor Sarah Palin recently signed a "fair share" tax increase that will boost state revenues from the industry by $1.5-billion (U.S.) next year.

And then, Alaska Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason tightened the screws and ruled last week that the state was allowed in 2006 to revoke its agreement with the oil companies and take back the Point Thompson leases. As I mentioned above, the oil companies have held the leases on this oil since the 1970's, and have done precisely jack shit to develop them. $800 million in development is Jack Shit? Over thirty years split between three companies, it sure is. When Exxon can pay $400+ million to it's CEO in an exit bonus. When no oil at all flows from those fields, despite climbing prices at the pumps and huge economic losses because energy prices are putting other companies out of business. When Exxon alone clears an annual profit of $36 billion. Yeah, $800 million is exactly Jack Shit.

So, now big oil is threatening to pull out of Alaska.

Oh, look, more scare tactics.

The oil industry is going to reduce investment in Alaska? Yeah, I'm going to go out a limb here and drop the bullshit flag. Bullshit. Bullshit. and Bullshit.

As an Alaskan, I say to Governor Sarah Palin, go on, call their bluff. Up yours Exxon. Kiss my fuzzy behind, British Petroleum. Don't let the door hit you in the ass, ConocoPhillips. Oh, and Exxon? You're not going anywhere until you pay the the money you owe us, you spilled oil all over Prince William Sound, because your Captain was an unqualified drunken incompetent jackass who shouldn't have had a union card let alone a Master's License, you've spent more on attorney fees trying to get out of the fine than you would have if you just paid the judgment in the first place. So, cough it up and and get out. Go on, I double dog dare you.

Because you know what? We've got oil. Lot's of it. We've got a shitload of natural gas too. And if big oil won't do anything with it, I guarantee you we can find somebody who will. In fact we won't even have to go looking; small oil companies are lined up ten deep right now, screaming for a chance to get at those leases. So, you know what, Exxon, BP, and Conoco? Tough shit. Maybe you could ask your old buddy Lee for a loan.

These corporate assholes have got no problem sticking it to us at the pump on a daily basis, let's see how they like it for a change.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Please Stand By

Major spotty internet this morning.

Both the cable internet connection and the cable TV signal were out this morning for several hours, and are fading in and out at the moment.

So, if you don't hear from me for a while - that's probably it. Either that, I've gone completely around the bend from the effects of Christmas Break and I've thrown myself off the patio balcony and have been consumed by wolves.

More later if the connection stabilizes.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bad, bad idea.

OK, who dreamed up Christmas break? No seriously, I'll bet it wasn't parents.

Damn teachers.

I pay them to watch my kid all winter - and yeah, if he gets an education that's fine too, but that's not the reason for school. School is about my sanity. I say if the teachers need a break, well, let's put an open bar in the teacher's lounge. I don't care if they're liquored up, just as long as the bus comes to get my kid at 6:30 and doesn't bring him back for at least 7 hours (8 or 9 would be better, in fact I wouldn't mind if a couple days a week they kept the kids overnight).

Think I'm kidding? The last 4 hours have consisted of "Dad, dad, dad, dad. Look! Look! Dad, dad, dad I got the high score myplaystation starwarslegogame. ThestormtroopersarestuuupidcanIhave asnackandcanyoucallmrsmurblefurleandaskiflittlejohnnycancomeover soicanshowhimmyhighscore andcanihaveanothersnackhowaboutasodadadadadadaa! In the background the dog is barking, the phone is ringing, the legos are knee deep, and the wolves have begun to howl. We're out of milk. My wife left for work this morning, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

Obviously, I will not be writing much this week.

Sigh.

Insanity, it's spreading

Goddamnit!

I go back to bed for an hour this morning, and wake up to find out that Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated.

Suicide bombers, what is wrong with these people? No, seriously, it's got to be a mental illness.

Don't be surprised if martial law, followed by revolution, followed by chaos descends on Pakistan.

Oh, and they have nuclear weapons.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Abortion - we're asking the wrong question

I followed with some interest the abortion thread over on Whateveresque.

I didn't comment over there because I didn't feel like I had anything to add that hadn't already been said by someone else. I waited until now to post my own comments, because I wanted the conversation over there to run its course, and now it looks like it has. I find it interesting that both general positions, for and against, were represented by folks who are regular commenters here, i.e. Shawn Powers and MWT. I was impressed by the, mostly, civil conversation on both sides of the issue, and by both Shawn and MWT's own positions and their respect for each other.

But - it is exactly that civil, adult, reasonable stand by both sides that confirms, for me, something that I've suspected for a long, long time - to wit: we are never going to agree on this issue, period.

I'd like to propose a change of rudder.

But first, I suppose it is only fair to state my own position on the subject of abortion, which is this: I mostly just don't care. Really. If I'm forced to take a stand on this subject, I will come down slightly off-center on the side of choice. Safe, legal, and very, very rare, that's me.

Now people get all bent out of shape when I say I mostly don't care. Abortion is one of those subjects that you're supposed to have strong feelings about, you're supposed to take a stand solidly on one side of the line or the other. You're either Pro-Choice or Pro-Life. You're either with us or against us (us being whomever is pounding the table at the moment). Even if you're a bit ambivalent about what you believe, you're still supposed to take sides. Abortion is just one of those polarizing issues, and just like optical polarization, there are only two choices (optical polarization is either horizontal or vertical). In fact, the only thing that will unite both sides, albeit only momentarily, is somebody who isn't part of either camp (Kind've like Fundamentalist Christians and Radical Muslims agreeing to hate the Jews.)

Well, I'm not much for being stuffed into a pigeon hole, especially on this issue.

Here's why:
1) I don't like the names: Pro-Choice and Pro-Life. I don't want either label applied to me. Pro-Life I find insulting and arrogant. The name, pro-life, implies that anybody who isn't a pro-lifer is anti-life (the ultimate 'you're either with us, or you're against us'). Pro-choice, on the other hand, often implies that there is only one choice - have an abortion or become a parent. Wait! Don't start screaming. I realize that most pro-choice folks don't mean their position to be so binary, but that's the message I often get - they're so used to fighting (and maybe justifiably so) that they often will not consider a larger range of options, many of which are proposed by the pro-life side, maybe because that range of options is proposed by the opposition. Acceptance into the organized pro-choice camp is often contingent, at least in my experience, on making only the approved choice, i.e. you're pro-choice just as long as you don't choose pro-life. (Organized, I said, into the organized pro-choice movement. Most people who define themselves as pro-choice don't belong to an organized pro-choice group, they're more of the 'leave me the hell alone' mindset). I am always suspicious of any issue that gives people only two options - I think people are more complex than that.

2) It is nearly impossible for the Pro-life side to separate their position from their religion. Again, I realize that many religious people have no desire to separate their position from their faith. Many don't believe this is even possible, and some believe that to live their life apart from their religion is evil. I understand this, and accept it. America is about freedom of belief, however it is also about freedom from belief. I have no problem when a person limits their own options because of their religious beliefs, I have a major problem when they expect everybody else to live within those limitations. If your course of action is dictated primarily by your religion, well fine for you, but you have absolutely NO right whatsoever to inflict that position on me or mine, and if you try - well I'm liable to take serious exception to it, violent exception if you keep at it.

3) The argument 'life begins at conception' does not hold water with me. 'What's that?' I hear you say. Bear with me here for a minute. First, I do agree that life does indeed begin at conception. Prior to conception, neither the sperm nor the ovum are truly alive, not as we define life (it's life, Jim, but not as we know it! - sorry, had to be said). Neither egg or sperm are able to consume resources from the environment, excrete waste, or are able to reproduce on their own - both are nothing more than building blocks. But after conception, well, it's a different story. The embryo consumes resources, excretes wastes, grows and reproduces (not sexual reproduction but rather cellular reproduction which qualifies as a defining criteria for life). So, it can be demonstrated scientifically that life does indeed begin at conception.

So what?

Seriously, so what? Is it human life? Is that lump of cells a human being? Science would say, no, probably not. Rather it is a potential human being, and many things can go wrong on the way to the final product. Religious folks say that's bullshit, it's human. Period. Most parents at this point would agree, I know I did - when that stick test came back positive, it was a baby. Who's right here? Science or emotion (and if you don't think emotion has a role in this, well, I'd advise you not to have kids, just saying). Again, who's right? Answer, both, neither. Why? Well because at this point we are well into the questions neither science nor religion can easily answer, i.e. what is it to be human?

And that takes us to the real crux of the matter, doesn't it? The question of when does human life begin, and the argument that human life is special.

The pro-life folks say yes, human life is sacred and must be protected. Strangely, many of these people support the death penalty, many support the war. I'm generalizing of course, not all pro-lifers are Neocon Republicans, not all are Christians (a significant number are devout Jews and Muslims, hell there are a number of atheists opposed to abortion) but a large majority are staunch religious Christian conservatives, at least here in the US. For these people, it's not a matter of science, it's a matter of faith. Human life begins at conception, it is defenseless and must be protected - if that embryo makes bad choices later in life, well, then it must be held accountable. But that unborn life has a right to exist and grow up to make those bad choices. The pro-choice group sees this as the ultimate hypocrisy. It's not, ultimately faith is about choice, you chose to follow your faith, or you don't. Now I will say I think there is some hypocrisy to be had here, because if you truly believe that human life is sacred, and that it does indeed begin at the moment of conception - well what happens when that fertilized egg doesn't implant in the uterine wall because the mother is eating a lousy diet? or has a medial condition she could have gotten corrected and didn't? What happens if the mother miscarries? Not because it's 'God's Will' but because she smokes, or because she's careless and slipped on the ice and fell down the steps? How is this different than failing to put an infant in a car seat? If life is truly sacred, shouldn't these people be tried for manslaughter? Or criminal negligence? (No, I don't think this. Yes, I know there are those who do). My problem here is where do you draw the line? What criteria do you use? Who decides?

Pro-choice folks on the other hand, often resort to science at this point in the argument. The most common pro-choice argument is, 'it may be life, but it just isn't viable outside of the womb,' therefor it's not human. Hmmm, I suppose there is some logic to this, but I have to argue that there are many creatures, creatures that we all can agree are life, that can exist only in specialized environments. Extremophiles, for example, that exist only in boiling black-smoker vents beneath the sea. Or parasites that are specific to only one species of plant or animal. Because these creatures can only exist in one very limited environment should we say that they really aren't alive? But those creatures aren't human, Jim, I hear some of you say, non-extra-uterine-viable embryos are different. OK, what if that human embryo has an immune system deficiency? And following it's birth must live forever within a sterile environment? Does this mean that it's not human? Of course not. All creatures exist within a specific environmental range, which may change over the course of the creature's life. In order for the question of embryonic viability to be a valid argument, we would have to define exactly what environmental parameters define a human being at each stage of development - and if you allow for technological modification of those parameters, well, all I can say is, "good luck with that." And I think the same logic applies to the question of embryonic viability. Again, where do you draw the line? What criteria do you use? Who decides?

Me? I tend more towards what I can see, touch, and test. And frankly I've got to say about the religious viewpoint that life is sacred: On the face of things, if there is a God (of whatever faith), he/she doesn't seem to regard human life as all that sacred - especially children. Without human intervention, hundreds of thousands of children (including unborn children) die every year in horrible ways. And frankly, for a bunch of people who say that human life is a gift from God, well, history shows repeatedly that most religions have no problem putting a bullet through the forehead of their fellow gifts from God. Actions speak louder than words, sorry but there it is.

From the scientific view point, again, I just don't see human life as all that special (don't get me wrong here, I see my life as plenty special, and same with those I love and know, but the rest? Well...), truthfully, the human race is hardly endangered. In fact, from a scientific viewpoint, the biggest threat to humans is, uh well, more humans. Most wars are ultimately fought over resources. Less births are better.

And so, however you get to this point, my answer to the whole 'when does human life begin' question is always going to be, 'I don't care.' I. Don't. Care. I don't know when it begins. I damned sure know when it ends though. I've seen plenty of dead people, people who have died in horrible ways. People who ended their lives as soggy corpses, bloating in the broiling sun - is life sacred? On the face of things, I've got to say I don't think the Universe gives a shit. I'm marginally more pro-choice than pro-life because I think that what a woman does with her uterus is her business (unless she decides to run a meth lab in there, or harbor terrorists - then I think we've got the right to poke around, in the interest of National Security, of course).

I would say to you, all of you no matter if you're pro-choice or pro-life, we just aren't going to agree on these questions. Hell, even folks within the same movement, within the same church, within the same woman's health clinic, within the same family, can't agree on these questions: What is it to be human? When does human life begin? Is it sacred? Is it special? Which is more important, the mother or the embryo? Does the lump of cells in a woman's uterus have rights independent from the mother?

And this is why I rarely get involved with the abortion issue, because, frankly I think the entire argument is off-track. While many of the question above are vitally important to many people, not one of them can be answered to the satisfaction of all. Not one. And that means there is no way in hell, that we are ever going to come to an agreement that everybody can live with. And because the two sides are both powerful, and nearly evenly matched, and because nearly everybody in the country feels strongly about it, we will always be divided on this. If abortion is legal - half the country will fight to have it made illegal. If it's made illegal, the other half of the country will fight to make it legal. The country will continue to pour vast amounts of energy and assets and passion and hatred into this bottomless hole. And it will never end.


So what do we do about it?

Well, there's an old Indian (India, not Native American) proverb. It doesn't translate well, but it goes something like this:

Question: How do you climb down off of an elephant? Answer: you don't, you climb down off of a duck.

Yeah I know, I told you it didn't translate well. What it means is this: Sometimes you need to look at the question from a different angle.

And that takes me here, to something that should be obvious, but I never see mentioned in the argument by either side, to wit: Abortion is a symptom, not the disease.

That's right, we're expending all this energy on the wrong question!

Abortion is a symptom, not the disease - in other words: No woman has ever gotten an abortion who wasn't - stick with me here - pregnant. No shit, uh?

And that is, of course, the real question - the question that, unlike abortion, has many solutions, solutions that we can all live with and allow others to live with different answers - How do we prevent unwanted pregnancy?

And the answer is not just birth control, though that is a big part of it. The best thing about birth control is that one size doesn't fit all (heh). The options range from abstinence to various forms of technology. Some solutions are right for certain people, and some different solutions are right for others. One of the things I'd like to see is a concerted effort, supported by the pro-life and pro-choice camps, to develop a safe and effective and cheap male oral contraceptive. If both sides put half as much effort into supporting the development of such a drug as they do into screaming at each other, we'd have it done already.

Yes, I understand that some religions don't allow their members (heh) to use birth control. And some folks just don't want to, religion aside. Fine, you've got two choices here, abstinence or eventual pregnancy. And for some people these are acceptable choices.

The key term is unwanted pregnancy. And the solution is to either prevent it, or make it wanted. And this is something both sides of the abortion issue can agree on, and find their own answers for - without having to impose those answers on the other side. If everybody in this country got together and pushed to end unwanted pregnancy - by whatever means - then we'd make the issues of abortion moot. Abortion would become rare. Which is what it should be.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Well, the Christmas Morning Frenzy (tm) has ended here at Stonekettle Station.

The carnage was terrible.


It's getting harder and harder to pull off getting the presents out of hiding and downstairs into the sunroom without the kid catching us. We have had to resort to treachery and dirty tricks - which is, of course, the part of Christmas that my wife and I enjoy most.

Last night we added something new - technology. We've got this device, the Ssscat Cat Repeller, it's a spray can of compressed air, with a motion sensor on top, which is designed to sound an alarm and release a blast of compressed air when triggered - you put it on the counters and it's very effective at keeping feline members of the family off the food preparation surfaces. As it turns out, if you put it in the upstairs hallway outside the kid's bedroom door - well it works pretty good for letting you know when your child is attempting an unauthorized recon of the Christmas tree.

We put put the Repeller in the hall about 10Pm, around 10:30Pm we heard it go off. I put the episode of Firefly we were watching on hold; my wife went up to check, and came back downstairs giggling hysterically and waving a small square of paper. A note from my son, which she found next to the repeller. The note was literally dripping with scorn and disdain and read:


Nice try with the spray can. I'm not that stupid!


Ha! Neither are we, Sarcasm Boy.

Instead of a war of attrition, we executed a flanking maneuver, i.e. we went to bed without placing the presents. Set the alarm for 5AM. We got up with the alarm, I helped my wife carry the presents downstairs, and while she arranged them under the tree I made coffee. Then we went back to bed for a couple of hours - all undetected.

Like the lady said, age and experience wins out over youth and enthusiasm, every time.

For the record, I got the cordless dremel tool, the wife loved her new necklace, and we're all up to our collective jingle bells in Lego's. Also, I got the Final Cut HD version of Bladerunner. I'm currently listening to Bing Crosby and eating my grits and finishing my coffee. Later I'll put on the Ham and potatoes.

All is well here. Hope you all have a great day and a Merry Christmas or Hanukkah or Festivus or Whatever. If you can spare a moment out of your day, give a thought to those in uniform overseas today - don't feel guilty about it, that's why they do what they do. The best way to honor them is to enjoy your day, laugh, hug those who are important to you, and raise a toast to those who keep us all safe.

Have a great day all.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Do NOT Want!

Embedded adds are obnoxious. How could you possibly make them even worse? Well, that would depend on the subject matter now wouldn't it?



Update (because I just couldn't let it go):

That's right, she's giving it away for free. Free. Now, besides Rush Limbaugh, how many people would actually sign up for this?

Actually, come to think of it - if they can track down perverts who buy kiddie porn online with their credit cards, they ought to be able to find anybody who signs up for this abomination. Then we could deal with them...

Merry Christmas or Xmas or whatever you call it

Well, it's Christmas Eve, and that means another year has gone by.

It was a big year for us.

My son started Middle School, my wife started a new job, and I retired from the Navy.

I started this blog, spent considerable time in my wood shop, and learned how to make Kreplach soup. All in all, a pretty good year for me. So there's not much I want for Christmas tomorrow - well not much I'm likely to get anyway. I wouldn't mind finding a Work Sharp WS3000 under the tree tomorrow - with the optional leather honing wheel, or maybe a cordless Dremel tool, nothing fancy, I already own a number of rotary tools - but I want one I can dedicate to the chainsaw sharpener. Other than that, I really can't think of anything material wise.

Non-material wise, well, yeah I can think of a number of things - none of which I'm likely to get. I'd like every one of my brothers in arms to come home safe and alive. I'd like this idiotic war to end. I'd like the those responsible for this mess to be held accountable, both those who started this with 911, and those who used that atrocity to further their own agendas. I'd like my nation to renounce torture as a national policy, and while we're at it, I'd like the Director of Central Intelligence to spend the next month strapped to a waterboard, right next to Donald Rumsfeld, but instead of water, I'd like to see Coke Classic poured up their noses. I'd like the current crop of Republicans to shut up about their religions - in fact, since I'm making a wish here, that goes for pretty much every proletizing religious wanker in the US, shut the fuck up and leave me alone. I'd like the current crop of Democrats to grow a collective spine and a pair of balls and start doing what they were elected to do. And I'd really like the presidential candidates of both stripes to be collectively abducted by space aliens, subjected to anal probes (big silver vibrating anal probes, especially the Republicans), shaved, chipped, dyed green, trained to do tricks, and placed in a zoo on the the Alien's home world, where small gray children with big heads and bulging eyes on 6th grade field trips taunt them and throw alien peanuts through the bars (I have this mental image of them all sitting on Monkey Island, flinging shit at each other. Obama claiming the situation is Clinton's fault. Clinton screeching that it's Obama's fault. McCain gibbering about his time in Vietnam and how this is just like that. Huckabee screaming and shaking his little monkey fist and periodically chasing Romney furiously about the enclosure. Fred Thompson as the grumpy old Silverback. Ron Paul sitting all alone in a tree at one end of the island, playing with himself and periodically flinging turds at the gray skinned children and the other monkeys. And Kucinich standing on the highest rock, thumping his bony little chest and bellowing 'I told you so, I did...')

Ahhh, hell, I guess I'll just be happy if I get the Dremel tool.

Merry Christmas all.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

No longer missing

A long time ago, more than thirty years as near as I can tell, I read a book.

It was in Junior High, what people hereabouts call Middle School. It was an old hardcover Scifi book from the school library. I remember that it had a stylized rocket ship in a circle on the spine and the cover had a picture of a big skeletal spacecraft sitting on the surface of one of Saturn's moons (years later I would see paintings by the great Chesley Bonestell, and recognize that cover art as a rip-off off Bonestell's renderings of Werner Von Brown's original moon lander designs). The story was about the second mission to Saturn, the previous mission having been lost many years before. I remember that eventually the protagonists discover the first mission ship in orbit in deep, deep space and that the ship's name was the Anomaly. I remember, because it was the first time I'd ever heard the word. I remember that the explorers find an abandoned base on one of Saturn's moons, left by the first expedition. And that eventually they meet Saturians and find some survivors from the first expedition.

And that's about all I remember.

I knew it had to be a golden age book. And it was old when I read it, because vintage scifi was about all a conservative Junior High library would have in western Michigan in the early 70's (probably don't have any nowadays), and I knew the science was dated even way back then.

And it's bugged me for thirty years - because I could never recall the title or the author.

-----------

Ain't the Internet wonderful? Armed with just that bit of information and a little persistence I finally found it. I happened to remember the symbol, the rocket ship and circle - that eventually led me to the Winston Science Fiction set, a list of 35 juvenile science fiction novels by famous (in the 50's and 60's) authors. And there it was, Missing Men of Saturn.

I will be damned.

You Know You're In Alaska When...

. . .you know which leaves make good toilet paper.
. . .the mayor greets you on the street by your first name.
. . .there is only one store in town, and you can buy both fine wine and dog boots there.
. . .the town buys a Zamboni before a bus.
. . .the major town fundraiser isn't bingo - its sausage making.
. . .you find -40F a might chilly.
. . .the trunk of your car doubles as a deep freeze.
. . .you attended a formal event in your best clothes, your finest jewels and your Sorrels.
. . .you can play road hockey on ice skates.
. . .shoveling the driveway constitutes a great upper body workout.
. . .you know the 4 seasons: Winter, Still Winter, Almost Winter, and Construction.
. . .when it warms up to -35F and you go out in your shirt sleeves to wash you car.
. . .when you drive for a mile on square tires on a -65F morning before they eventually become normal.
. . .when you have to put your sun visor down at 3:00 a.m.
. . .all of your relatives refer to you as that crazy person that lives up there.
. . .your kids think that you have to get on a airplane to go on vacation.
. . .you only own four spices: salt, pepper, ketchup, and Tabasco.
. . .you design your Halloween costumes to fit over a snowsuit and you've taken your kids trick-or-treating in a blizzard.
. . .the mosquitoes have landing lights.
. . .you have more miles on you snowblower than your car.
. . .you have 10 favorite recipes for moose meat.
. . .driving is better in the winter because the potholes get filled with snow.
. . .you think sexy lingerie is fleece socks and a flannel nightie with only 8 buttons.
. . .you owe more money on your snowmobile than your car.
. . .at least twice a year, the kitchen doubles as a meat processing plant.
. . .the most effective mosquito repellent is a shotgun.
. . .your snowblower gets stuck on the roof.
. . .you think the start of moose season is a national holiday.
. . .you frequently clean grease off your barbecue so the bears won't prowl on your deck.
. . .you take off your shirt and your arms are as pale as your legs all the way to your wrists.
. . .you know that the term "Break Up" has more to do with the weather than personal relationships.
. . .your monthly phone bill is larger than your house payment.
. . .there is a bottle of Avon's Skin-So-Soft in your tackle box.
. . .you don't know anyone who doesn't own a 4-wheeler.
. . .you have ever taken a trip "outside" and tried to cash a traveler's check, drawn on an Alaskan bank, and the cashier asked you the current exchange rate in Alaska.
. . .you have ever washed your car while there was still snow on the ground.
. . .you have ever power washed your car by parking driver's side into the rain in the morning, and passenger side into the rain in the afternoon. (a Dutch Harbor thing)
. . .you have tennis elbow but have never played tennis, just snagged a lot of salmon.
. . .you know a honey bucket is really a bucket, but it's not really full of honey. (If you don't know, don't ask)
. . .you know that the Rat Net is not a rodent catching device.
. . .you know the Naknek twitch is an illegal fishing technique, not a spasmodic muscle in your neck.
. . .you travel for two days to get outside but none of your family members will travel more than two minutes to visit you.
. . .you learned to swim indoors.
. . .you leave your Christmas lights up, year round, because as soon as it gets warm enough to take them down it starts getting dark enough to put them up again.
. . .your bedroom windows are covered in aluminum foil.
. . .you had waffle soles put on your cowboy boots.
. . .your monthly veterinarian bill is more than your own medical bill.
. . .you know a "white out" has to do with winter conditions not correcting fluid for typos.

------------------

I swear every one of these things are true.

Things, they are gonna change, part 6

Warning: Ranting follows.
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Standards are important. Yes, they are.

Don't think so? It's bad enough when auto manufacturers use some goofy counter-intuitive set of switches for seat adjustment, or put 40 controls on one single 'multi-function' stalk so that every time you want to signal a lane change you end up talking to the On-Star operator. But, what if every auto manufacturer used a completely different setup for controlling their cars? How would you like to have to hunt for the gas pedal or the brake every time you got behind the wheel, or the yoke, or the joystick, or the neural interface? See what I'm getting at here? In the early days of the automobile, the Model-A used a hand throttle control - that's right, no gas pedal. Eventually some smart guy came up with a different idea, and for better or worse that became the standard, and even Henry Ford adhered to it when he started making the Model-T. Hell, cars made in Russia use the same controls. It's a standard, and that's just the way it is.

Oh sure, there are those people that just have to be different, either because their minds truly do work at an angle 90 degrees from the norm, or because they have different physical requirements, or just out of sheer perversity - that's why Apple makes the Mac.

However, if you're like 99% percent of the universe and you use a PC, well, here's the thing:

Microsoft won. Get over it.

Look I'm not exactly a big gushy Bill Gates fan either, but it is how it is. If you're writing software for the Mac, more power to ya, do whatever the hell you want to, be creative, unzip your hippy-organic-hemp cutoffs and piss on the standards, screw the corporate straitjacket, stick it to the Man. Great. Power to the People and vote McGovern (or Ron Paul), whatever. Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll. Peace man.

But if you're writing software for the PC, then adhere to the fucking standards or I swear to God I'm going open the gun safe and come pay you a visit.

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Attention Symantec, makers of the Norton products - you suck. Your website sucks. Your product interface sucks. Your subscription renewal 'process' sucks. The fact that you've decided to hide the Norton Internet Security Add-on pack as a secret download, yet still advertise it as an included feature on the webpage and product box sucks. Your technical support sucks. Your embedded help sucks. Your on-line knowledge base sucks. The fact that you have over-priced your piece of crap product by roughly 300% above what it's actually worth sucks. You are up to your corporate necks in massive suck. If you sucked any more, it is entirely possible that the suck factor in your immediate neighborhood would surpass the Hawking threshold, resulting in an implosion and catastrophic collapse of the local Swartzchild Radius and the formation of a new black hole. I.e. You SUCK! The only reason you are still in business is because you've got a fat, juicy government contract to supply suck to the US Military and other Government Agencies - that and the fact that your chief competitor sucks even worse than you do.

Let's start with your interface - as noted above, Mircosoft won. The Windows look and feel is the PC standard. Learn it, adhere to it. Twenty years ago, Peter Norton was a genius. I still have a copy of his DOS Bible around here somewhere. The fact that you bought his name and company does NOT make you equally brilliant. The real key to going your own way, different from the accepted standard, is that your way must be better. Your maverick methodology must NOT suck giant donkey turds - Yeah, yeah, I know they didn't teach that in your MBA courses. Trust me on this, your professors assumed you wouldn't have to have not sucking actually spelled out for you. I am sick and tired of trying to figure out where you've hidden the controls in your idiotic, irritating yellow interface. Every other PC software product on the market - including freeware written by pimply faced Emo's hiding from the world in their mom's basement - adheres to certain simple standards. Since you are all obviously white collar retards who can't understand basic technology without a Power Point Pie Chart, let me draw you a picture: If I need the software version and registration numbers for my product, any product (except yours), I click 'About'. I don't have to spend twenty minutes looking for it, it's always under the 'Help' menu. Where the fuck is that information in Norton Internet Security 2007 or 2008? Where? This is not a rhetorical question - I'd like a goddamned answer. If simple information is not readily obvious and available to the user, well, that's a pretty good indicator that everything else is pretty much going to be a giant pain in the ass too. I don't give a flying fig about your ongoing battle with Microsoft, fix your interface - and while you're at, it find something other than 'urine sample' yellow for your corporate colors (though I do get the whole "let's piss on our customers" connection. Ha ha, very funny), for example - let's trying using the Windows User selected colors, skins, and style, you know, the standard for modern Windows programs. Retards.

Second, your webpage is a giant stinking pile of total festering pustulent flatulence obviously designed and administered by one of the those aforementioned world-hating angst-ridden sexually-frustrated emos. Have any of you ever actually tried to find anything on your webpage? Your online tech support is an abomination. And somebody please explain to me what the deal is with that add-on package for Norton Internet Security. Why, why, why must I download the Anti-spam, Anti-phishing, Parental Controls add-ons? Why is this software not on the disk? Why is it not part of the download? Why? I paid for it, and I want it, and I don't want to have to screw around about it.

In summary, just as soon I have a better option - I'm jumping ship. I have no loyalty to your shitty product at all. You are NOT edgy mavericks, those days are long gone - instead you're a bunch of irritating assholes. You want my business, then pull you corporate head out of you ass and get with the program.

-----------------

Guess what I spent the morning doing? If you guessed renewing and upgrading my security software you've been paying attention. Good job.

And we now return to our regularly scheduled weekend.

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Things, they are gonna change, Part 5
Things, they are gonna change, Part 4
Things, they are gonna change, Part 3
Things, they are gonna change, Part 2
Things, they are gonna change, Part 1

Friday, December 21, 2007

Gone for a While

Guys, I've got to go to Anchorage this morning, so I will be gone for most of the morning (my morning, early afternoon for most of you in the lower 48).

In the mean time, you may oooh and ahhh over these. I finished both of these yesterday, on schedule and just in time for two clients who need them for Christmas.

The first is similar to one I posted last week. A turned birch heartwood bowl, decorated with a the silhouette of an Alaskan musher and his team. The bowl is sculpted to invoke the feeling of a raging snowstorm. The finish is a clear acrylic, textured so that the bowl appears to be coated in ice (this effect is a lot more apparent in person than it appears in the photo).



This second bowl is called a hollow form. I don't do many of these, because they are extremely difficult to turn from green wood. The turning itself is not difficult, but green wood tends to deform as it dries, in the example above this deformation adds to the bowl's overall character. In the hollow form below, the deformation will detract from the piece's appearance. This shape must remain perfectly round, and it has to be dried slowly or else the bowl will split and crack. Like I said, I don't do many of these, but this particular piece was commissioned and so I made it to the requirements requested by the client. This one took about three weeks, a day to turn, and the rest of the time to dry. This piece is finished in a hard satin acrylic so as to resist scratches, as it will be used to store keys and change and various pocket litter (the client wants it as a 'necessary' bowl near the door), it's about 16 inches in diameter.



Gotta go, back in a couple of hours.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A 90 Year Odyssey

Sir Arthur C. Clarke is 90 years old.

He was born in 1917 - imagine how many of the things he predicted in his novels that have come true. It must be something to see so many of those things become real. And, of course, sadly many things that seemed so possible, so easy, so close when he wrote them in the 50's an 60's that could have happened, and didn't.

Other writers told fabulous stories and tales of adventure - but Clarke? Clarke's work was different, Clarke's work had grandeur, there is a vastness in his work. Clarke used words like nobody else, it was almost poetry. Some of his passages have haunted me for most of my life. Chapter 85, Experiment from 2001 - the one that begins "Call it the Star Gate. For three million years it had circled Saturn, waiting for a moment in destiny that might never come. In it's making a moon had been shattered and the debris of it's creation orbited still..." Or the final passages from The City and the Stars. Dolphin Island was one of the very first science fiction books I ever read - and I remember almost every passage 40 years later.

If I were to compile a top 100 favorite scifi books from my library it would include nearly all of Clarke's early work:
Happy Birthday Sir Arthur. Hope you get your wishes.

Oooh! Christmas Spam!

From Sanford O. Roth:

Searching for a Christmas gift for your beloved woman?

Don't doubt, she will be so excited to find
a huge one-eyed python in your trousers!

Make all ladies worship your male package!

---------------------
Dear Mr. Roth,

So good to hear from you! How is the weather in Nigeria this time of year? That pesky civil war over yet?

I'm sorry to say that your message arrived just a little too late, I've already completed my Christmas shopping for this year. Sadly, although it was the number one item on my list, I was unable to procure a large trouser python, one eyed or otherwise, at the local Wal-Mart. There were several used ones for sale in the local want adds, but I don't think my wife would be happy with a 'pre-owned' unit. However, I'm sure she will be quite happy with the car polish and power tool set that I did get for her.

As to the worship part - they already do, Sanford, they already do. In fact my Christmas package wrapping skills are the talk of the town.

Sincerely, Jim

Ronald Reagan - DĂșnedain of the Week

No, not that Reagan - this Ronald Reagan, as in CVN-76.

Hell of a job, boys. Well done.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Soup Day, Part III

OK, I promised you the Clam Chowder recipe, so here it is.

First, I hate Manhattan-style chowder, can't eat tomatoes and don't want to, so if you're looking for a fishy tomato soup this ain't it. All right-thinking people know that the only correct way to make clam chooowdah is New England cream style.

Second, chowder is not a soup, it's not a stew, it's chowder. Chowder is a thickened creamy broth, filled with finely chopped goodness. It's important. So, if you're looking for a bowl of thin fishy smelling dishwater with one big hunk of potato and a handful of sand, like they serve to the tourists in Freeport, Maine outside the LL Bean, this ain't it either.

Third, I like clam chowder, I like clams, I like seafood. I hate chowder that smells like a brackish tidal pool full of dead crustaceans. I want my clam chowder to taste and smell like food that people eat, not seagulls. So, if you're looking for chowder that reeks of rotting seafood like something slugs choke down at a Navy Chief's Initiation, again this ain't it.

You've been warned.

Now, like Nathan and his Kreplach, I usually just throw this together. I once, long ago, was a professionally trained chef, I've been making this recipe for a long time, and I rarely use any kind of measuring device when making soup, stew, or chowders. I also tend to vary the process depending how motivated I'm feeling and what ingredients I have access to - i.e. you have to be highly motivated to shuck a half bushel of New England Cherrystone Steamers, so usually I just settle for canned clams. Also, traditionally chowders are thickened with rue (usually spelled in the French manner: Roux. I went to an American culinary school where it was spelled Rue. My blog, my rules), flour paste browned at low temperature in a saute pan. Rues are a bitch, they take practice, both to make and also to integrate into the soup stock without lumps. The advantage is that rues add a rich flavor to the dish that you just don't get otherwise. However, unless you make a rue on a regular basis, you probably don't want to. Really. Also I tend to make this in a big batch. You really can't keep it, it doesn't freeze well at all, so I'll try to give you measurements for a smaller batch, adjust accordingly.

So with all that said, this recipe is simplified a bit. The flavor is nearly as good as the more complex method, but it's a lot easier to make.



What you need:
- Water, start with two quarts, add more if you need to.
- Chicken Base, Tones if you can find it, usually available
at SAMS Club or COSTCO or a good cooking supply store. If
you can't find it, use canned broth substituted for the
water. I use chicken stock because I don't want the chowder
to smell too fishy. You can use clam stock if you like.
- 1 cup good white wine. DON'T use 'cooking wine' that stuff
comes from the dregs of the winery. It's basically the crap
too lousy to make vinegar out of. Chardonnay is best.
- 1 pt. Half&Half (fat free works just fine)
- 4 cans chopped clams. Retain one can clam juice, filtered
through a coffee filter to get out the sand. Wash and rinse
the clams, really, wash and rinse unless you like sand in your
soup.
- 1/2 a pack of low-sodium smoked bacon - John Morale if you can
find it. Chill the bacon, then chop across the slices into small
pieces.
- 1 good sized white onion, diced fine.
- 5-6 ribs of celery, diced fine.
- 2-3 three good sized waxy potatoes, yukon gold or white
diced into medium sized cubes
- 1/2 cup flour
- worcestershire sause
- dash white pepper
- kosher salt to taste
- good shredded cheddar cheese, Tillamook for those on the
West Coast.

How you put it together

Step 1a) You need a good sized sauce pan. Add the water and mix
in the chicken base -or- add the canned stock. Bring to a low
boil, be careful don't scorch it. Add the potatoes and simmer
just until they start to soften - don't overdo it, or the
potatoes will turn to mush. Remove the potatoes and set aside,
keep the stock at low heat.

Step 1b) While the potatoes are simmering, saute the bacon until
it is brown and crunchy. Remove the bacon bits and set aside,
retain 2 tbsps bacon grease in the pan, add the onions and celery.
Saute until soft, don't overdo it. Turn the heat as low as it will
go and add the flour. Gently stir the vegetable until they are
coated with the flour and oil. Cook gently until the flour just
starts to brown. Pay attention, if the flour burns, throw the
mix out and start over, unless you like the taste of burned
soup.

Step 2) Add the sauted vegetable/flour mix to the broth. Stir
with a whisk until the flour is completely dissolved into the
broth. Stirring rapidly, slowly add the Half&Half, keep stirring
or else the cream will 'break' (curdle). Stir for a minute or two
and make sure the heat is on low or else the creamy broth will
burn. Add the wine, clams, clam juice, salt and pepper, and half the
bacon bits. Heat gently and allow to cook for ten minutes. Add
the potatoes. Allow to cook gently, stirring every ten minutes
until the potatoes are done but still firm - about a half hour.

Step 3) Add a couple of good dashes of Worchestershir sauce.
Seriously, don't skip this ingredient. This adds 'brightness'
and 'depth' to the sauce (Worchestershire sauce is made from
anchovies, this adds a dimension missing from commercial or
restaurant chowders. Commercial soups don't add this, because
it darkens the soup a bit, and they are looking for that latex
paint gloss white look). You don't need a lot, but you must add
at least some.

Step 4) Ladle into bowls, add a small handful of cheese (this
isn't cheese chowder, what we want here is just a bit of
flavor) and a pinch of bacon bits to the top. If you're trying
impress people, sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and serve
with hot sourdough bread.


Gotta run into Anchorage and see a man about some millwork. Back in a couple of hours. Maybe.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Soup Day, Part II

Okay, we'll start with the kreplach soup.


Yozah! Good stuff.

First, what it is not.

Second, what it is: Kreplach are small stuffed dumplings, historically made by Ashkenazic Jews. They were originally made from leftover meat but can be equally good made from freshly prepared ground beef, chicken, mashed potatoes, or other fillings. Fillings tend to be family recipes and many people have their own traditional favorite and consider that to be the only right filling. Kreplach are similar to Italian ravioli in concept, and because the dumplings are often served in a simple chicken broth, they are commonly referred to in New York as Jewish Wonton - for their resemblance to the Chineese dumpling soup. Kreplach is a traditional dish served on the day before Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) or on Hashanah Rabba (the 7th day of the Festival of Booths) or on Purim (the Feast of Lots).

Third, the recipe. This recipe is pretty simple and easy to make. This particular method is the one I used, it's based on several recipes and advice and guidance from Nathan Gendzier of the Brooklyn Gendziers (I believe that Gendzier is Yiddish for 'most excellent cool dude and soup guru').



Dough:
2 cups flour (I prefer King Arthur unbleached white)
1/2 tsp salt (Kosher, of course)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 egg yolks (keep the whites, see below)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tsps baking powder

Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Add the wet ingredients.
I did this in my Kitchen-Aid mixer using the mixing paddle on low speed.
I see no reason why you couldn't do it by hand, with a pastry folder
(cutting whisk), I just like my Kitchen-Aid. Mix until you have a good
crumb, similar to making pie crust. Then carefully add a couple of
tablespoons of water until a dough forms, again similar to pie crust
dough or more correctly egg noodle dough if you're used to that.
Divide the dough into three equal sized balls and pack to get the air
bubbles out. Roll out on a floured surface using a rolling pin, I like
a French pin, but the standard American rolling pin will work just fine.
Roll the dough thin, it's elastic and you may need to let it rest for
a couple of minutes between rollings. Alternately you could run it
through a pasta maker set for lasagna noodles, set the rollers as thin
as you can and make the dough balls whatever size appropriate to your
machine. Cut into 3" squares. I used a large 'rocker' style pizza
cutter, but a pastry dough cutter, standard pizza circular cutter, or
sharp knife will work just fine. Set the squares aside, if it's hot in
your kitchen - put them in the refrigerator.

The Filling:
1 small onion or half a large onion, cut into pieces.
(diced fine, if you don't have a meat grinder)
1 good sized rib of celery, cut into crescents
(diced fine, if you don't have a meat grinder)
2 tbsp butter or oil (I like butter)
1 lb lean beef (approximately 1 lb, little more, little less is OK)
(I like flank steak, it's lean, cheap, and flavorful)
(unless you don't have a meat grinder, then use lean ground beef)
1 Chicken liver. (seriously, it won't taste right without it, really
ask Nathan.)
1 tsp salt (Kosher, pay attention)
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 egg (I just used the two egg whites left over from the dough)

Cut the meat into chunks. Melt the butter (you're using butter,
right? Not the oil) in a heavy pan. I use a cast-iron, stove-
top deep dutch oven. Brown the meat, add the onions and celery,
add the liver. Cook until the vegetables are soft, and the meat and
liver are cooked through. Run the mix through a food grinder set to
fine. You could do this in a food processor, using the pulse
setting or you could chop the vegetables fine and use ground beef and
avoid this step all together. Cool (no not duuude, cool. Cool as put
it in the fridge for a while). Add the rest of the ingredients
and mix thoroughly (use your hand), don't pack the mix together.

Assemble the dumplings:
Put a dab of filling in the middle of a square of dough. Dampen the
edges with a finger tip dipped in water. Fold into a triangle, then
fold each corner towards the middle bottom point. You should end up
with about about 20 Kreplach (this will be enough for the cook who
will eat them over the stove as they come out of the broth, cursing,
and burning their mouth. Adjust accordingly, just saying).

Cook the dumplings:
Make a chicken broth. If you're not big on making broth from scratch,
use Campbell's canned or better yet a couple of big spoonfuls of Tone's
Chicken Base dissolved in a quart of water. Bring to a low boil drop
each dumpling in the broth, cook 3-4 minutes, until they float. Spoon
out and place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a paper towel dampened
with a bit of the broth. Refrigerate the dumplings until needed.

Make soup.
Turn the broth into soup, add chunks of chicken, carrot, celery, onion,
chopped parsley, a of dash white pepper, pinch of salt (Kosher). Make
it chunky. Right before serving, toss in a couple of dumplings per
serving. I served mine with sourdough garlic toast.

All three of us here at Stonekettle Station give this soup two thumbs up with a snap and a tail wag. Good stuff, you really gotta get you some of this.

Next post - Clam Chooowdah.

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Update - A point of procedure: What the hell is the plural of Kreplach? Is it kreplaches? Kreplachi? Kreptephemeri? What?

Soup Day

OK. I didn't get to making Kreplach this weekend. But I've got all the ingredients and I'm armed with instructions from a certain expert in Brooklyn, so today's the day. It's colder than hell out, and I still feel like crap (though better than the other day), so, you know, perfect opportunity and all that.

I've got some writing to do this morning. I expect to update Deep Thunder in the next two hours or so. Then I need an hour in the shop. By early afternoon I expect to be kreplaching in the kitchen. I'll let you know how it goes, expect pictures and everything. I'll put up the recipe and instructions, should it go as planned - if it doesn't go as planned I'll post instructions on Plan B (turn the foil back on the Swanson Patented TV Dinner tray so the Tater Tots become crisp and brown). Also I'll be posting my award-winning clam chowder recipe.

Stand back, or put on an apron, this will probably get messy!

Dan Fogelberg Dead at 56

As I noted over on Scalzi's blog, I never was a big of Dan Fogelberg's music.

I didn't have anything against the guy or his music, it's just that I tend to avoid melancholy soft rock. It's just not my thing. On the other hand, his music virtually defined a certain genre of music and it can't be denied that he was wildly popular - so I'm obviously in the minority here.

Whether you are a fan of his music or not, Fogelberg's death should serve as a wake up call for all men. He died of prostate cancer, the second leading cause of death amongst American men - right after lung cancer. And the real tragedy is that prostate cancer is eminently treatable if detected early.

Unlike other forms of cancer, prostate can manifest almost no symptoms and go undetected for years - until it metastasizes and becomes almost 100% fatal. My maternal grandfather had it, though he died of something else. My paternal grandfather had it, and it killed him. My dad has it right now. There's a fairly good probability that I'll develop it eventually.

If you're male and over 30, get a digital prostate exam at least every two or three years. Sure it's uncomfortable, even humiliating, so what? It only takes a minute and it beats the hell out of, oh, lingering death. If you're over 40, get one every year. If you're over 50, get a PSA blood test every year in addition to the digital exam. Overkill you say? Go back to the stats, prostate cancer is the second leading disease cause of death amongst men in the US. It killed Fogelberg at 56. Overkill? No, not really. Early detection is the key. If detected early, it has a very good cure rate. If left undetected until it metastasizes, it's almost 100% fatal.

If you're male and haven't had an exam in a while, go get it done sooner rather than later. If you're female and your male partner hasn't had an exam in a while - make him get one.

I had one two weeks ago, all normal I'm happy to report.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

How did I see this one coming?

You know, I hate it when people treat me as if I'm stupid.

I don't know what pisses me off more - the fact that my government is run by lying idiots, or the fact that the lying idiots running my government think that I am such an gullible idiot that I'll believe any idiotic nonsense they say.

The Bush Administration wants both a federal court and Congress to back-off from investigation into the CIA destruction of interrogation video tapes. No kidding, you think?

Yes, I've blogged about the destruction of the video tapes before, twice. And yes, I'll probably do it again. And yes, the White House's response to Judicial and Congressional inquiry was predictable. And it still pisses me off. It pisses me off because the President's public position, which is a perfect example of everything wrong with this administration, is based on the following arrogant assumption: Americans are stupid, I can do anything I want and get away with it.

This President truly believes that he can spout obvious, self-serving nonsense - nonsense that should be immediately apparent as nonsense to anyone with at least the reasoning power of a ten year old - and Americans will believe it. He actually gets mad when people have the nerve to question him on it.

Take this bit from CIA Inspector General John Helgerson and assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein to the House Select Committee on Intelligence (from a letter sent on behest of the White House): "We cannot estimate how long this process will take or where it will lead, but pledge to advise you as soon as we conclude that our efforts are no longer at risk or that these requests can be fulfilled without jeopardizing our inquiry." Oh, please. Show of hands, how many of you think that either the US Attorney General (read White House) or the CIA itself is best suited to investigate the CIA? What? Nobody? You don't think they'll be impartial? Really?

Yeah, me neither.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Monkey Business

I got nothing this morning

I feel like crap this morning.

Started coming down with it last night, went to bed early hoping to sleep it off. No such luck. Might be a touch of the flu or something. Headache (not migraine, thankfully), chills, vaguely sore throat, skin feels sensitive, and some other symptoms which I'll just leave unsaid. Took some 'cold and flu' Dayquil, see if that helps.

It's weird because I rarely get sick, and I really haven't been out and about - so I have no idea where this came from. Probably my kid, middle schools are like a CDC incubator. I'm not a good sick person, I whine and moan and expect people to wait on me. I'm just not used to being sick. I used to take every shot the Navy offered. When I was on my way to Iraq I got every inoculation there was, I was the first guy in line for everything: small pox, the anthrax series, you name it. Also had a couple of those Gamma Globulin boosters. I didn't have so much as a sniffle for two years afterward.

I didn't get a flu shot this year, I meant too, but I forgot. I'm still getting used to being a civilian. In the Navy, we'd have the Corpsman come out to the command with his box-o-syringes and give everybody the shot. This year it was up to me to remember - and, of course, I didn't. Too late now, damnit. Just another thing I miss about the military.

Anyway, don't expect much from me today, unless I start feeling better. Despite feeling like crap, I have to be out in the shop, no choice, I'm on deadline and I have a number of projects that have to be finished. Once I get that done, I'll probably end up on the couch with a bowl of soup and the copy of Lamb, which I got from Nathan and which I'm looking forward to.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dog Day Morning

You know what's funny, entertaining, and educational?

The White House released its annual holiday Barney-cam video on Wednesday. As usual, it features the first family's dog, that little Scottish terrier named Barney, rooting around the White House and playing with Miss Beazley, the president's other dog.

The film features a clever cameo by the other White House lapdog, Tony Blair. Sort of a 'Three Dog Night Before Christmas' theme going on there.

Fun-NEEE. Oh yeah, hysterical. That George, a comic genius. Move over Al Gore, you've got some competition at the Oscars this year, Green House Gas Boy.

----------------

Update: Damn, damn, damn. It appears that this fun and educational video is at the heart of yet another White House Scandal(tm). Congress has convened a special committee to investigate allegations that the Barney-Cam tape released by the President and Mrs. Bush is, in fact, a complete fabrication - and that the original tapes were destroyed by the CIA in the interest of National Security.

Though it appears that the tapes were completely destroyed and no actual copies remain, diligent and dogged work by the Stonekettle Station Dancing Monkey Investigative Directorate has uncovered a small fragment of the actual, no foolin' tape transcript:


[Transcript Begins]
[Note: fragment appears to be an NSA (Canine Intercepts Division) translation
of a conversation between 'Barney' (White House Dog] and 'Miss Beazley'
(Other White House Dog)]
Barney: "Bow Friggin' Wow! Republicans Rock!"
Miss Beasley: "How can you say that, you little mophead? Republicans
think PETA stands for 'People Eating Tasty Animals!'"
Barney: "See? That's why you're the President's other dog.
Right there. Two words, Bitch, Barney Cam. It ain't
Bitch Cam now is it?"
Miss Beasley: "Seriously, you little butt-sniffer..."
Barney: [Interrupting] "Hey now, let's not get personal. I enjoy
a good ass-sniff as much as the next dog."
Miss Beasely: "What's your point?"
Barney: "That is my point. Republicans are big assholes!"
[Transcript Ends]

My agents are working to uncover additional portions of the transcript. Stay tuned for further developments.

(Note: no actual White House pets were harmed in the making of this post, however several Neocons were roughed up)

That Linux Guy

Shawn Powers is killing me this morning. Damn you, Shawn.

I've got a pounding headache, watching this made me laugh hysterically - which hurt, damnit!



Thanks, Shawn, I needed something funny this morning.

Seriously though, for those of you who don't read Shawn's blog or watch his real reviews, you're missing out.

Update: As I commented on Shawn's Blog, that XKCD t-shirt is the perfect touch.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Latest Projects from the Lathe

You may have noticed that I haven't got a new post up on Deep Thunder since last week. Well, I've been busy. Posting there will be a little sparse until the end of this month, I only have so much time in the day and this month is turning out to be a little packed.

I've been doing some artwork on commission for a couple of people. I finished the first project this morning. It's a pair of sculpted birch bowls. The larger one is decorated with the silhouette of an Alaskan musher and his loyal team. This is a new design for me. The filigree and grain are intended to convey the feeling of a snow storm. The glossy interior finish resembles ice on a frozen lake.

I'm quite happy with the results.




Now, if you'll excuse me for a while, I've got half a dozen more to finish.

Why?

People still ask me how I can stand to live in Alaska.

"Winter, how can you stand it? It's so cold and dark!"

I usually say that I like winter because in winter there are no bugs and no tourists, but this might better illustrate the real reason. For every 20 days of bleak howling wind and bitter, soul numbing snow - there are days like this:



Movie Review - The Bourne Ultimatum

As I've said elsewhere, I'm not big on going to movie theaters. I don't much care for either modern theaters, or rude and stupid modern theater crowds. I want to be able to watch a movie without listening to the guy behind me hogging down a bag of pork rinds and a giant slurpee. I hate it when people come it late, it just pisses me off. I want to be able to pause the flick if necessary, I'm in my forties which means I need to go to the little movie reviewer's room right about the time the first major action sequence hits. I've got classic noise induced hearing damage from a lifetime of having things blow up next to my head and from being around heavy military machines, which I compensate for in real life by watching faces and mouths (so, if we're ever face to face and I'm not looking you in the eye, I'm not being rude or evasive, I'm watching your mouth). When watching a movie I don't always catch every word because a lot of the visual cues I depend on just aren't there, so I like to back the movie up and listen to certain sections again. My wife and I tend to trade smart alec comments during the show, this is generally frowned on in a theater. I also like to watch a movie with my laptop, so I can look up trivia and such, this is also generally frowned on in a theater. I don't much care for the classic movie theater snacks (except for Junior Mints, I love those things), I want to be able to drink a beer and have cheese and crackers or dill pickles or whatever I feel like. And, most movie theater seats kill me, the rows aren't far enough apart and my ass almost always falls asleep about an hour into the flick. So, we normally wait for a movie to come out on DVD, then we buy the widescreen version, sometimes in HD depending on the movie, and watch it in the comfort of our living room on our monster plasma in full surround sound.

Last night we watched the third installment of the Bourne trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum, based on the Robert Ludlum novels.

It did not disappoint. It's smart and fast and shiny and intense.

As expected Ultimatum finally answers the questions asked in the previous two installments: i.e. who is Jason Bourne, where did he come from and how was he trained, why can't he remember anything, and why is the CIA after him? The movie asks a few questions of it's own. A few loose ends are left dangling, leaving open the possibility of a fourth installment.

Ultimatum is an action movie, of course. Boy is it an action movie. There are chases and shootouts and some extremely intense fight scenes. In fact, if I had any complaints at all, it would be that there's just a little bit too much action. There are two intense chases sequences, one on foot through the claustrophobic alleyways of Tangier and a car chase through the streets of New York. Both go on just a little too long. But ultimately (heh) at its heart, this is a chase movie - so my complaint is a minor one.

The story is a little predictable in places, but in a good way. If you've seen the first two installments, you know what this one is going to be about. Jason Bourne is going home, he's going to get answers, certain people are going to pay. The director, Paul Greenglass (The Bourne Supremacy) doesn't try to hide this, in fact he makes it clear right from the beginning. He also expects his audience to think for themselves. He wants you to figure things out, and he's happy to give you the satisfaction of those Ha! I knew that was going to happen! moments. But, there are also plenty of little twists to keep you entertained and guessing, and Greenglass does a masterful job of building suspense along the way.

One of the things I enjoy so much about these movies, is that they are filled with strong smart women. I like strong, smart women. Franke Potente's role in the The Bourne Identity is terrific, and Julia Stiles and Joan Allen continue that tradition in The Bourne Ultimatum. Stiles' character, Nicky Parsons, has grown from a supporting role in the first movie, to a strong main character in the last one, and Stiles does an excellent job with the role. Greenglass never allows Parsons to devolve into the Bond Girl window dressing so stereotypical of this genre, and Stiles makes you want to know more about her. If they do make a forth movie, I hope we get to explore a bit more of her history with Bourne.

Joan Allen, as CIA Senior Agent Pamela Landy, is also uniformly terrific. Landy's character is smart, driven, idealistic, and intelligent. She's the kind of person you hope really exists in the bowels of the CIA. There's a nice scene overlap between Ultimatum and Supremacy, which centers around Landy and Bourne. It was a neat twist, without the artifice of retconning.

And, of course, there's Matt Damon, as Jason Bourne himself. Damon is one of the great actors of the modern genre. He consistently and credibly pulls off the understated everyman. He makes Bourne a human and believable character, an idealist, intelligent and conflicted, on a quest to find out who he really is. Though the movie contains a great deal of violent action, Greenglass never allows it to become gratuitous. Bourne the assassin goes out of his way to avoid conflict, but when when violence is forced upon him he performs without hesitation.

A few minor quibbles: CIA Director Kramer, played by the fantastic Scott Glenn, is a cardboard cutout. His motives are never more than sketchy. However, what little screen time he has, Glenn makes the most of (and in Greenglass' defense, it would be very easy for the powerful Glenn to overshadow the story, and the emphasis in supposed to be on Bourne so maybe this is why Kramer is kept in the shadowy periphery). CIA Deputy Director Vosen is just a little too graspingly self-serving, just a little too obvious - though David Strathairn does a credible job with the character. The various 'assets,' CIA assassins, are just a little too machine like, though one of them does display human compassion and a sense of honor late in the film. No human, not matter how well trained, could take the punishment Bourne does - but hey it wouldn't be much of an action movie if the main character spent two months in traction recovering from a pair of broken legs and a dislocated shoulder.

One major quibble: The camera work. Greenglass loves to use the Ridley Scott technique, i.e. he films his action sequences using a hand held camera with the steadcam stabilization turned off. This is supposed to give the viewer a sense of looking through the character's eyes. Done well, it in essence projects the moviegoer straight into the middle of the action. And Greenglass does it better than most. The problem is that this technique only works for the viewer under the exact right conditions, in a theater sitting dead center, midway to the back. In the front row, close to the screen, it's nauseating. At home on a medium sized tube TV, it's jarring and jittering and reminds of me of broadcast TV when the vertical frame lock is lost and the picture rolls and flips up and down - which is to say that it is annoying as all hell and makes me want to smack the side of the TV, hard, just to get it to stop. On my big 72" widescreen, it's not too bad, but it's still distracting and there was far too much of it in this movie.

All in all, The Bourne Ultimatum was well worth the wait. It's a terrific popcorn flick, and it does what a movie is supposed to do - it entertains. And as an added bonus, it's smart, intelligent, and exercises your mind. Go get your copy today.