Thursday, December 25, 2008

Turduck

I've been fascinated by the Turducken ever since I saw an ad for one a few years back. There's a sort of culinary machismo to making one of these. First you partially bone a turkey. Then you stuff it with layers - a layer of cornbread or highly seasoned bread stuffing, a boned duck, a layer of sausage stuffing, a boned Cornish game hen and a dollop of oyster stuffing.

The last few years have been The Years of Buying Groceries Wholesale which means getting frozen chickens by the dozen. A person can get tired of roast half bird. I've relieved the monotony with things like curry and tikka. Some time back I decided to learn how to do the kitchen equivalent of the Neutron Bomb. Destroy the bones, but leave the meat in one piece. After one or two inadvertent dinners of chicken hash later the technique was pretty much dialed in. If you haven't tried it you really should. The extra prep time more than pays for itself on the other end. The bird cooks faster and more evenly.

There were no game hens in the freezer, so this year it was just a Turduck. Last night I took the turkey and a duck out of the freezer and thawed them overnight under cold water. By morning the duck was just thawed. The turkey still had a little ice in the body cavity. Perfect for food safety and thawed enough for deboning.

Extracting the skeleton was routine. The turkey is bigger than a broiler chicken, and the keel presents some challenges, but the bones are all in the same place.

The traditional stuffing is a little over-seasoned for Tiel's tastes. I cooked up five or six handsful of couscous, mixed it with 3/4 cup of slivered almonds, a few serving spoonfulls of apricot preserves, cinnamon and three tablespoons of butter. The duck was stuffed with wild rice and shiitake.

Deboning the birds reduced the cooking time from six hours to four and a half, not bad for less than an extra hour of prep time.

Was it worth it? Yes, I think so. The variety of textures and flavors is very nice. The turkey soaks up some of the oil from the duck leaving both birds about as oily as they should be.

Next year I'll make sure we have a game hen. If I'm feeling adventurous maybe we'll have emturduckenrow.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Couple Gun/Science Links

There's a certain sort of martial artist who appreciates the philosophical purity of Ed Parker's Creed:
I come to you with only empty hands, I have no weapons, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles or my honor, should it be a matter of life or death, of right or wrong; then here are my weapons, my empty hands.
There's another sort who reads nothing but Tom Clancy novels and touches him (usually "him") self reading comparison reports between the latest Kimber and Taurus 1911s.

Most of us are somewhere between the two extremes. Self defense is part of why we do this, and self defense is about maximizing your chances of spending the night at home instead not in an ER or the County Jail. From there it's a hop and a skip to looking at other animals with their fangs and claws and stingers and realizing that we're pretty pathetic when it comes to natural armament. The only things we have going for us are an overdeveloped brain and opposable thumbs. So it's time to take The Once and Future King down off the shelf and read the bit about the creation of the animals. Or go to Amazon and search inside the book. Start with the part on pages 194-196 with the words "badger" and "God". And a lot of us start thinking hard about legal weapons.

Some time I'll dust off an old rant about why weapons in general and guns in particular are a bad place to start your self defense strategy. When you need one, nothing else will do the job quite as well. If you decide to keep them around you need good information. It's easy to spend far too many hours and dollars getting equipped. Consumer Reports doesn't do reviews of weapons. They also don't do reviews of religions. There may be a connection. Other than Gun Tests most of the magazines are nothing but thinly disguised advertising copy.

I've always liked The Box O' Truth where the motto is "Shooting stuff is fun". Old_Painless uses a lot of different guns and sees what happens when you put myths in The Box of Truth. How far do shotgun pellets really spread? Will birdshot penetrate walls? Can a Buick stop a bullet? Is hand-loaded ammunition really more accurate than cheap commercial stuff? In its specialized way the information is very useful. And watching him shoot stuff really is fun.

Today's find was Ballistics by the Inch. A physicist, a book conservator and a gun geek don't walk into a bar. But they do test out a variety of ammunition in over a dozen calibers and barrel lengths from two to eighteen inches answering the question "How much does barrel length matter?" They document their experiments. They describe their protocols. They make their datasets available. They use ammunition that a real person might put in a self defense pistol. And they compare their idealized test gun (Thompson Contender with interchangeable barrels) to regular carry pieces. It isn't world-shaking. But it does answer a couple important questions with good science.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Heard Outside a Barbershop Last Week

Rosa sat so that Martin could march and Barrack could run.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"We're not racists" for Obama



Before the first Spring buds opened the campaign signs and bumper stickers started blooming all over Portland. I thought they were related to Snowdrop or Winter Aconite, but they last well into November and sprout like crazy. The Obama-Biden variety propagates best in the mild, wet climate of Oregon West of the Cascades. There's just a few lonely McCain-Palin blossoms.

Our nearest Post Office is on Northeast Killingsworth Street, just above Martin Luther King Boulevard. It isn't as bad as the Chris Rock routine about Martin Luther King Street, but it's in the heart of the historic Red Line district. Ever since the first blooms there's been a table selling the the political version of cut flowers - Obama posters, t-shirts and bumper stickers.

The guy running the stall told me about what sells and what doesn't. In areas where Black people live anything with Senator Obama's picture sells. Downtown, at Saturday Market and out West he moves a lot of merchandise. But the (White) people there won't buy anything with the candidate's face on it. Not one single "Hope" t-shirt. They're happy to have bumper stickers and "Change We Can Believe In" memorabilia or Obama-Biden. But not the image.

He's a businessman talking about his business. He knows what sells and what doesn't. We've made a lot of progress in the last few decades. Forty years ago nobody would have believed a hapa kid who grew up in Honolulu would be the Presidential frontrunner. I suppose we'll have come further when people who will vote for a Black guy won't be afraid to have a picture of him.
Update: Thanks to Keef of the K Chronicles for letting me use the whole picture, not just the offensive parts

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hail Kitty! You Have the Sieg!

Lions count not sheep when the go into the fold.

I don't usually blog about other bloggers' blogs. But some stories just beg to be told. Salon Blogger Gwen Cooper tells about her tiny completely blind cat. Her tiny completely blind cat who defeated a home invasion burglar.

Right there is every single important lesson in martial arts. The rest is just technique.

Friday, October 17, 2008

It's All About the Sign

I like my city. I really do. One of the things nicest things is how bike-friendly it is. The people who study these things say that only Davis, CA does better.


Sure, there are stupid motorists. And when you're driving a couple tons of Detroit or Osaka iron stupidity can be fatal. About half a dozen bicylcists die every year in traffic accidents, especially when they are in the bike lane while a clueless motorist decides to turn right.

Some are due to the price of fuel. Every hike in the price of gas puts scores of newbies on the road.


But a lot are just plain irritiating. There's a special breed of Portland cyclist who feels smug in his (usually his) moral superiority and decides that the rules of the road don't apply to him. Or maybe the combination of testosterone and True Goo affects brain chemistry in mysterious non-linear ways. Every day I see people on two-wheelers going the wrong way down one-way streets, riding fast on sidewalks, running stop signs or red lights, turning left across four lanes of traffic in busy intersections or otherwise getting membership points in Future Hood Ornaments of America. They seem to have a special aversion to reflective tape, bright colored clothing and lights and save their most erratic riding for nights.


I used to get mad. But then I remembered the traffic sign. I come from Eastern Washington where they grow a lot of wheat and a lot of beef. The government puts up road signs. You can't predict where the cow is going to be or what it's about to do. The cow doesn't know any more than you do.


Life gets less stressful once you realize that a lot of bicyclists are pretty much the same.


Cards and Dice


If a stopped clock is right twice a day news magazines can tell you something useful once in a while. And if you catch it at just the right time a human interest story can be interesting.

Earlier this Summer Time Magazine published Candidates' Vices: Craps and Poker. It seems that both Senators are gamblers. John McCain enjoys shooting craps. The thrill of rolling the dice and taking whatever Lady Luck hands out has worked its magic on him since his Navy days. Barrack Obama is a cuthroat poker player and made a lot of his early contacts in games with politicians on both sides of the aisle. Every pot was important even in $1 ante/$3 limit games.

It's things like this that give real insight into a person's character, and I thought it would play out in the campaign.

Well, it certainly has.

Senator McCain's campaign has been marked by unexpected gestures that have come out of nowhere. He's comfortable with risk and uncertainty. If something works or his gut tells him it will he'll keep trying to make the point. If it doesn't he's not afraid to go with something completely random or ride a hunch.

I think that's why he's been willing to change positions to fit his base or run the same sort of campaign in 2008 that was run against him in 2000. It certainly explains the choice of Sarah Palin. Another candidate would have gone with a safe choice. John McCain was risk-tolerant enough to make a quick decision with unpredictable consequences and bet almost everything on the outcome. If the gamble pays off, it's all good. If it doesn't you don't curse the laws of chance. You make another bet and win, crap out or get another point to make.

It also shows up in Senator McCain's personal style in the general election. His strategy is sound, or it will need to be changed. He's passionate about the campaign and has a lot riding on the outcome. The emotional ups and downs are part of the process. He goes with them. When things are going well, he's happy and shows it. When they're not he doesn't bother to hide his frustration or try to lie with his body language. The dice have already been thrown, so the real John Sidney McCain is on display until he passes them to the next shooter.

Senator Obama's style, well, let's say I wouldn't want to be sitting across the card table from him. The campaign has been very carefully run. Caucuses favored the outsider with a strong grass-roots organization, so he folded in some of the primaries. He guessed that the Clinton campaign wouldn't be flexible enough to get past early disappointments, so he raised the stakes in the early contests. A number of his strategic moves like rejecting the 527s or going for points instead of a knockout in the debates aren't emotionally satisfying. But they bespeak a man who wants to win the pot more than he wants to beat the other guys at the table.

Most of all he's kept everything cool. He hardly ever raises his voice. His body language is very self-contained, and he gives nothing away. That's a poker player at work. If you lose your temper or other players can see your "tells" they'll eat you alive. Lady Luck is a bitch, and over a long game you can't trust her. It all comes down to skill and knowing more about the other players than they know about you. Or more than they know about themselves if you're a real pro.

Which approach is better? That really depends on the deep structures of your character. Do you prefer certainty or clarity? Trust to luck or play the odds? Wear your heart on your sleeve or play them close to the vest? Which vices and basic values make a better President?

Risk and the chaos of the universe are always with us. Only a blind fool would deny it. But me? I think lottery tickets are a tax on people who can't do arithmetic. So let's give W. C. Fields the last word.

Is this a game of chance?
Not the way I play it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I Love My Town - Public Service Edition

A few minutes ago something smelled wrong. A moment later I realized that it was smoke stepped outside to hear a man saying to my neighbor "That was a fire." Somehow her recycling bin had caught fire and melted. The cover to the barbecue started burning.

Gannon Bond and Gary Lumpkins were driving by and saw smoke. They put out the little fire before it could turn into a big fire. When we thanked them they said "We work for the County. That's what we do."

Well, yes and no. What they're hired to do is mosquito and rodent control for the Multnomah County Department of Environmental Health. What they do is public service. A lot of other people would have just said "It's someone else's problem" and driven on. Many in the private sector would have been afraid of losing their jobs for fighting private fires on Company time. These guys didn't say "It's not our job. Let someone else do it." They said "Someone has to do it, and we are the ones here and now who can do it."

My hat's off to Messrs. Lumpkins and Bond and all the rest who remind us what Public Service really means.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Better Bread in a Gas Oven

There's a reason they say "Now we're cooking with gas!" I'd never go back to an electric cook top. But they don't say "Now we're baking with gas!" There's just too much air circulation to get real consistency. I should find the repair manual and fiddle with the burner, but I'm a little leery of messing with anything that has the words "natural gas" and "burn" in the same sentence.

There was a young woman from Wales
Said an odor of coal-gas prevails
She then lit a light
And later that night
Was collected in seventeen pails

A search through the cookbook shelf and th' Intrawebs gave some helpful advice.

Home ovens lose a lot of heat when you open the door. By the time the temperature creeps back up it's too late for the bread. The best bread ovens are have huge concrete slabs and thick masonry walls to create thermal mass. Dinky 10x14 Pizza Oven Stones make the home baker feel "artisanal" and cost fifty bucks but don't add that much. My professional baking stone was a broken chunk of granite countertop dumpster-dived from a marble and tile store. Approximate cost zero. Thermal mass? Very very high. To cut down on the heat loss I pre-heated to 500ᴼ, shoved the loaves in as quickly as possible and reset the temperature to 450ᴼ.

Commercial bakeries have special attachments to introduce steam in the first ten minutes of baking. Steam condenses on the relatively cool dough and delays crust formation. The loaves can expand longer, and the crust doesn't tear. Modifying the oven wasn't in the cards that night or any night until there's a spare to play with. I put a roasting pan on the bottom rack and dumped in a cup of water when the bread went in.

The results were very good. The bread rose better and more consistently. The crust wasn't burned, and it didn't tear on cutting.

No explosions. No gun fu. No chainsaw fu. No aardvarking.

Joe Bob Briggs says "Check it out."

Vampyroteuthis Infernalis



That really is its scientific name Vampire Squid From Hell. The blinking tail lights are especially cool.

And before I forget...

Bobbe, if Caren ever finds out about that thing with the dwarves, the ostrich feathers and the chandelier I think I've found your perfect dating site.

Sufis. Frogs. Cartoons. Tha Intrawebs Just Don't Get Any Better

This came to me in a roundabout way. Someone read Tiel's blog and mentioned a loose group called Sufis Without Borders. The website led her to this. And when she saw it she figured Someone meant her to show it to me. If there were some Silat it would be perfect.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Leopard meets Crocodile: Or How I Became Really Humble About My Prowess as a Fighting Mammal




Wildlife photographer Hall Brindley captured a really unusual event at a South African game park in his shoot The Best Day Ever. A leopard dragged a crocodile out of the water, wrestled with it for a while and finally killed the croc with a bite to the back of the head. What amazes me is how good Mr. Brindley is with the airbrush. You don't see a sign of the cat's forty pound solid brass testicles.

I guess the lesson here is that speed, strength and a good favorite technique count for a lot.

The entire sequence can be found here or as a video clip:



Sometimes it's just a matter of who brings more weight to the party
(A herd of buffalo, a pride of lions and a bunch of crocodiles)



Not everything that happens between species is that serious. Sometimes it's just in fun. (And what a very wicked ape it was, to be sure)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Five Minute Chocolate Cake

I just saw a Five Minute Chocolate Cake recipe on the Dizzy-Dee blog. Mix ingredients in a mug. Microwave on high for three minutes, plop out of the mug. It's perfect dorm food or midnight munchies fodder. Don't even think about the calories or fat. The taste is fine. The texture is a little rubbery. But hey, it's a chocolate cake serving in under ten minutes.

The only real downside is the appearance. Think "Two Girls, One Cupcake" :(

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I Feel Safer Already

I. For Your Health and Comfort You Will Be Collared

One is never sure how seriously to take The Washington Times. Any publication which is owned by Sun Myung Moon is at least suspect in my book. But taking this blog entry at face value we may soon be flying the friendly skies secure in the knowledge that we are safe. Or at least that we will be unsafe in new and exciting ways with security failure modes we had never dreamed of before.

Lamperd Less Lethal has kindly provided a video of their latest product the Air Traffic Security Method, System and Device. Briefly stated travelers would no longer have boarding passes. Instead, each would be fitted with a bracelet before departure which would be removed upon arrival. The bracelet would serve as a boarding pass, contain unspecified personal and confidential information and function as remotely-activated stun gun.

The video begins with obligatory 9-11 footage, just in case people had forgotten about it. Security methods like biometric recognition, bomb detection, are pooh-poohed. "Technology," they correctly say, "is only as good as the people using it, and employees working at minimum wage seldom have the necessary police training and certification to be 100% effective." Pilots and crew, opines Lamprey Limberlost's earnest voiceover, are the last line of defense against Islamic militants. "Terrorists are well-trained, religiously motivated and committed to suicide." Armed Air Marshals (they don't even consider the possibility of armed pilots) are "extremely" likely to puncture the aircraft of shoot innocents. Reinforced cockpit doors, so they say, are vulnerable to plastic explosives.

The solution, of course, is to buy Lackwit Lugnuts' patented slave collar, err, pardon me, "ID Bracelet". It will contain "all pertinent information" and include GPS capability to track passengers and ensure that there are no checked luggage "tampering or diversions". The piece de resistance is "Electro-Muscular Disruption Technology". In other words, every bracelet is also a remotely activated stun gun.

About this time the video started waxing enthusiastic about how the tracking device would be a "small inconvenience to ensure their safe arrival". "We feel that given a choice...most passengers would happily opt for the safety and security of the EMD safety bracelets."

Well, that's the rosy picture they paint. According to this and this at least one high official in the Department of Homeland Security was taking the proposal seriously at least as recently as the middle of 2006.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?

II. So What's Wrong With What We've Already Got?

"Religious motivation" doesn't mean the thin end of diddly squat whittled down to a point. That and the pictures are simply designed to make the sheep frightened of the Sinister Swarthy Oriental(tm) and more likely to run to Limprod Losers so that they can Feel Safe.

Adding lots of stupid people to a security system will not stop smart, motivated people. That's absolutely true. The correct thing is to add smaller numbers of smart well trained people. Even the TSA is starting to do this. The same techniques are available to the rest of us in books like the Terrorist Recognition Handbook. But even with "police certification" no method of prevention is 100% effective. We can do an excellent job of sniffing out explosives in carry on luggage. It won't catch all, but it will catch most.

The defensive capabilities of law enforcement and crew can not be overestimated. Airplanes are not 100% airtight and develop small leaks all the time. A decently trained Air Marshal with MagSafe, Glaser or some other brand of low-penetration ammunition doesn't represent much of a threat to innocents. The same goes for those few pilots who have run the gauntlet and can carry pistols in the cockpit. Failing that, the reinforced door and a co-pilot playing Horatio at the Bulkhead with the rescue axe presents a serious obstacle to someone with a box cutter or improvised knife.

That doesn't even begin to embrace the capacity for terrified violence of a plane full of passengers. Since September 2001 there has been a sea change in air travelers' sensibilities. Where the conventional wisdom used to be "Shut up. Sit tight. Do whatever the hijackers say" it is now "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit we're gonna die!" Standard Operating Procedure is now to swarm the bad people and beat them into submission or red goo.

III. And What About the Bright Shiny New Toy They Want to Sell Us?

Let's consider the ATSMSD.

Most people now approach air travel with barely concealed hostility. We may not be disgruntled, but we're certainly not as gruntled as we used to be. The TSA line doesn't help matters. We're starting to take buses and trains. AMTRAK can not keep up with ridership these days. All the airlines need is one more thing to make the passengers feel like cattle. If this scheme is ever adopted it will be the last day I fly. If I want to visit the Holy Land I'll book passage on a freighter. It takes longer, but it's cheap, and I can catch up on some reading and wood carving.

What sort of information will be on these bracelets. "All pertinent information" covers a huge variety of sins considering what's in store for driver's licenses under the RealID Act one can only speculate. The information doesn't do law enforcement any good. They already have the information and would detain anyone among the hundreds of thousands on the no fly lists including Air Marshals , three year olds and US Senators.

I'll tell you who will benefit. Phreakers, crackers, identity thieves and pranksters will go into orgasmic trance at the prospect. If the information is remotely accessible it's only a matter or weeks if not hours before someone makes a device that extracts it remotely. Depending on the hardware it may be possible to alter the information with all sorts of amusing results.

That's assuming that the bracelets stay on. It is easy to buy devices that remove security tokens from clothes at the boutique and CPU boxes at the electronics store. No doubt similar keys will become available for the bracelets.

The shock box capabilities are equally impressive. If they are triggered by a remote signal that signal can be jammed or counteracted. And the transmitter can be copied and used to tickle everyone except the bad guys. Or it could be a hilarious trick to while away those long flight hours. A few random shocks around the cabin could provide all sorts of amusement. I'd be sure to slip a really dense rubber or plastic insulating pad between my arm and the bracelet. No $10/hour stewardess gets to apply electric shocks to me unless she's wearing high heels and a spandex frog suit. I haven't been Tasered, but I have been on the receiving end of extra-special high voltage stun guns amped up beyond manufacturers' specifications. In one exercise getting zapped was the signal to empty my magazine at the range. I got all but one in the ten ring. In others it was the signal to drop and roll into a fighting posture. That one worked, too.

How will the remote control operate? It can't be something keyed to the passenger manifest. Imagine searching a 747's worth of names even with the possible new racial profiling guidelines. Nope. It's going to be point-and-shoot. That means innocents will get zapped. It also means it will be easier to come up with an unauthorized remote control.

Those are just my first impressions. I leave it to the real security geeks in the audience (Toby, are you listening?) to come up with other holes in the scheme. I expect the more imaginative could get ten or twenty in the first three minutes. The only things we can be sure of is that this won't be the last stupid plan that comes down the pike. And it will spill all sorts of taxpayer-subsidized black ink on certain balance sheets. Meanwhile, look forward to the Middle Passage Airline where we will be stripped naked, cavity searched, sedated and stacked like cordwood at the beginning of every flight.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Spelling Reform on the Fly and the Misuse of Text Filters

At least once a week Tiel tells me that English is wonderful for poets. But it's a hellish language for spellers. We may speak the only major language in the world where it makes sense for college-educated people to buy computer programs to correct their spelling. Mark Twain had a thought or two about spelling reform, but nobody least of all Mr. Clemens took him seriously.

Now we're seeing spelling and grammar reform on the fly. Let me tell you it's an ugly sight. We aren't quite the UK where you get points for correctly spelling "Fuck off" on a national examination. But if various online forums and the reports of high school and university teachers are any indication we are seeing the changes from the bottom up. A generation is doing much of its communication by SMS text message. I'm sure PhD theses will be written about the historical influence of l33t speak on text speak and how this decentralized democratic movement revolutionized the written (or typed) language. I'll nod sagely, comment insightfully and hang discreet black crêpe.

When you need to use Standard English it's easier to use spelling and grammar filters. But they have their dangers too. And here's where we get to the punchline of today's joke.

The American Family Association sends me email every once in a while. Who can say why? I'm not going to send them money. They think gay marriage is the downfall of America. I think of it as an effective if somewhat roundabout way of stopping gay sex. Their mailings are a little odd. Words are modified. "Gay" is always "Homosexual" or rather "H*m*se*ual". "Pornography" becomes "P*rnography". It seemed a little strange. So I asked. It turns out they automatically filter these words.

Sometimes the filtering goes a little too far. The AFA secretly owns the very Christian OneNewsNow. It seems they've applied their filtering technology to news stories. When Tyson Gay wins a race:

"Tyson Homosexual easily won his semifinal for the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials," the article read, "and seemed to save something for the final later Sunday." The headline read "Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic events."

"On Saturday," it went on, "Homosexual misjudged the finish in his opening heat and had to scramble to finish fourth, then in his quarterfinal a couple of hours later, ran 9.77 to break the American record that had stood since 1999."

"Asked how he felt, Homosexual said: 'A little fatigued.'"

Be careful about that automatic editing, folks.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dog Food

Dog food isn't the most interesting subject in the world. It comes in bags. It crunches. Dogs eat it. That's about all there is to it. If you don't have a dog skip this post. There isn't anything here for you.

We had always fed our dogs kibble with the occasional table scrap. First it was the Alpo/Purina level. At our vet's advice we switched to the Iams/Eukanuba/Solid Gold tier. We had heard all the advertising copy about how dog food was "nutritionally balanced" and better for canines than human consumable food. But we were always a little skeptical. Dogs have spent the last fifty thousand years hanging around us because we provide garbage. In the wild their cousins mostly eat small rodents, carrion, some wild fruits and vegetables and the occasional larger game. Rice, corn and wheat are not exactly high on the list. And in the entire history of domestication no farmer has rushed out to shoot dogs that were eating his grain field.

Some time back our dogs were having training and discipline issues. So we called up Auntie Tracy and Aunti Sally to come and educate us. Part of the program was nutrition. They asked what we fed the dogs. We showed them the kibble and sheepishly allowed as how the pooches got our leftovers and table scraps. Nope, no chocolate, grapes or macadamia nuts. We already know those were toxic.

The table scraps were the only thing they were happy about. We got a lecture they could probably give in their sleep about the history of commercial dog food, what goes into it and what dogs should eat. The Aunties recommended Flint River. We tried it. The dogs ate it. But they'll also eat rotten mice, things they drag out of the garbage can and Kitty Roca fresh from the litter box. And it was very expensive. The trainer suggested a more natural diet. The vet wasn't thrilled. She said that she "wasn't sure" about feeding dogs anything but "scientifically designed" food.

We tried giving them ground turkey backs and necks from the yuppie grocery store down the way. At "Suffering Jesus, that's more expensive than what we eat!" a pound it wasn't going to last long.

The real revolution happened when Fubon Market opened up. Pork spleen and chicken feet aren't our cuppa. But they are cheap, and the dogs loved them. We started buying most of our own food in bulk from United Grocers/Cash & Carry and found boxes of turkey tails for about thirty cents a pound. Just thaw and toss. The dogs crunched them right up. Supplement once a week or so with vegetables that are past their peak ground up with organ meat.

Our experience has been wonderful. The dogs' coats got shinier. They had more energy. Their teeth haven't needed to be cleaned since. Sev stopped having accidents in the house and wasn't greasy anymore. The only downside is that they'll sometimes revert to subordinate dog behavior and take the meat out of sight to eat. When we took them out we discovered that they were using a lot more of the food. A lot less was left on the lawn, and most of that was bone meal. And all of this for less than a third of the price of the factory food.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Random Pieces of News

I. Support the Troops


In yet another example of how rhetoric clashes with actions, some in the VA have decided to discourage its caregivers from diagnosing PTSD. CREW and VoteVets.org obtained an email from Norma Perez, PTSD Program coordinator at the Olin Teage Veteran's Center suggesting:


The military has always had trouble believing in PTSD. It's expensive. It doesn't quite fit the image of the heroic soldier. It's difficult to deal with. It's not something you can see. But since the Rand Corporation estimates that about 300,000 could be diagnosed with the condition, along with 320,000 with Traumatic Brain Injury, it's a serious problem for the military and the Veterans Administration. What takes this week into the Idiot Zone is the Army's decision on where to house Fort Benning's PTSD patients. They are right next to the firing range. There might be a better way of ensuring flashbacks. I can't think of one.

The Secretary of Defense is doing the right thing in his attempts to destigmatize PTSD and encourage members of the Armed Forces to seek treatment. He has criticized the Army for being slow to recognize the health threat it poses. That excellent message is being undercut within the government. VA Secretary Peake and Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) who describe it and traumatic brain injury as "akin to what anyone who played football in their youth might have suffered, Peake told Guinn."


II Food For Your Inner Frog

Insects are easy to grow. Fed properly they are clean, easy to digest and excellent sources of cheap protein. Humans in 113 countries eat a recorded 1700 six legged species from wikkity grubs in Australia to Mormon crickets in Utah, cane grubs in West Africa and giant butterfly larvae in Taiwan. The Torah forbids insects other than the locust, the grasshopper, the cricket and the "black headed beetle", but considering how many forbidden things people of various religions eat voluntarily and how many unconsciously that's hardly a concern. It's really more a problem of marketing and image than anything else.

This article in the Daily Mail provides some mainstream support for serving them in the West. Works for this Amphibian-American. Compared to the way hogs and chickens are raised and processed grasshopper looks pretty good. I suppose it would be easier if people could invert their stomachs to clean out the chitin. If there's commercial potential some bright engineer somewhere will come up with a solution.

III Next Up: People Eating in Restaurants and Drinking in Bars

A three year investigation has revealed "rampant" prostitution in Seattle-area strip clubs. Next up: Fish swim. Birds fly. Rain is wet.


IV Warrior Posture for Warriors

Researchers working for the Indian Army have concluded that yoga is good for soldiers.

after three months new soldiers of the Bengal Engineering Group, who did 50 minutes of yoga a day combined with 40 minutes of traditional exercise, had steadier hands, stronger grips and leaner muscles than peers who underwent a gruelling 90-minute military work-out instead, according to a study.

...

"The yoga group showed an improvement in skilled activities requiring co-ordination and concentration, as well as muscular strength and endurance."

That shouldn't surprise anyone. Yoga has a long and well-documented connection with fighting arts. There were different yogas for different jobs including priests and scholars, peasants and soldiers. Each was designed to meet the physical and mental needs of that way of life. For a very good modern example consider Scott Sonnon's Prasara Flow Book and Video material.

V Poetic Justice, Or Maybe Tiel Can Get a Homeland Security Grant

A group of about fifty vandals broke into Robert Frost's House for a keg party. They ended up doing about $10,000 in damage - that's almost $100 Canadian these days. The two dozen who were caught have to do the usual community service and restitution. The one who bought the beer is spending a few days in jail. The judge added another piece to the sentence. They have started mandatory classes on the Frost and his work.

I don't know how much they'll get out of it. But it seems like a good idea. A few of them might learn something.

VI Raising the Titanic: The Secret History

The Intelligence community gets involved in a lot of research from social science and art to physics and cartography. Sometimes it's the results that are interesting. Better specialized semiconductor technology will come back to them like bread on the waters. Sometimes just having a hand in cutting edge developments in culture and politics keeps them up to date on the people who will shape opinion in years to come.

Sometimes the cover story is almost as interesting as the real project. According to articles in National Geographic and ABC News the 1985 discovery of the RMS Titanic was a byproduct and a blind. Robert Ballard developed the submersible technology for the exploration that led to the location of the wreckage. But he was under contract to the Navy which had funded development for a completely different purpose. They needed to find out what had happened to two lost nuclear submarines, the USS Thresher and USS Scorpion. Ballard was permitted to look for the Titanic only after he had completed his primary mission.

Update: Now that's the story of how the Titanic was found. If you want the real story you gotta go here to read and hear Jamie Brockett give you the real dope in The Legend or the USS Titanic. Yes sir, 497 and a half feet of Mexican rope

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Paul Stamets - Fungus Evangelist

Paul Stamets is a very focused man. He's made a career out of fungi from books like Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World and Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms to editing scientific journals and advising medical schools. His website Fungi Perfecti is full of resources and information. Spend a little while there and you'll get the idea that there's a lot more to the kingdom than stuff growing in the back of your fridge.



This video will give you a little peek into his world. It ranges from basic biology to the really amazing. Who knew that the world's largest organism is a gigantic fungus in Eastern Oregon or that they use ionizing radiation the way that plants use light? Then he gets into half a dozen ways that fungi can be used to address very real problems. They include his revolutionary patents for carpenter ant and termite abatement to breaking down the hydrocarbons in diesel-soaked ground and DoD research on agarikon mushrooms that produce the most specific and effective agents for each individual strain of bird flu as well as cellulose-based ethanol and carbon sequestration.



Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Infrastructure: Disturbing article Scholars and Rogues


One of my favorite sites is Scholars and Rogues. It's incisive, cynical, well-informed and goes after the truth like a starving dog after a pork chop. Today it discusses the United States' decrepit infrastructure.

Infrastructure is one of those boring things that people don't like to talk about. Photos of Brittney Spears' naughty bits? Oh yeah! Who Wants to Survive America's Top Apprentice Idol? Bring it on! Ferreting out the phantom terrorists in our hair gel and insoles? USA! 9-11! But roads and bridges and sewers and dams and airports and railways? That's boring. There aren't any boobies or big explosions. You can't wave a flag and send in the Marines or gossip about who gets voted off the island.

When a bridge in Minnesota collapses or the century old New York sewers spring leaks in several places at once there's a three day story. Politicians bang their hands on the podium in carefully measured cadences. Blue ribbon commissions are seated. The Secretary of some cabinet department makes a speech. Bechtel, Halliburton and Fluor's accountants wake up with enormous erections at the thought of the contracts. Afterwards people go back to sleep. The problem is shelved, and everyone figures that it couldn't have been that bad. Look! The gays want to get married! Everyone panic! (You're not thinking, guys. If you want to stop gay sex, then allowing gay marriage is a good first step...)

Well it is a problem. And like brushing your teeth ignoring it won't make it go away. The problem that is. The teeth will go away if you don't brush them just like the roads, dams, bridges, sewers, electric power grid, railways, runways, aqueducts and ports. The ACSE believes it's a more than $1.5 trillion (with a "t") problem over the next five years. That's just to get things back to decent repair.

The Parties and their candidates just don't seem to understand how big this is. Obama proposes $60 billion over five years against needs of at least $400 billion for transportation. Clinton boldly proposes $10 billion in funding. McCain doesn't even mention infrastructure as an issue. I suppose The Market will automagically solve the problem with unicorn farts and pixie dust. I suppose we need magic. We've already mortgaged our grandchildrens' future to the tune of half a trillion to three trillion dollars to take the oil in Iraq. Unfortunately, the spoils of war failed to materialize.

Multiply that by clean water's shrinking funding, crumbling sewers, aging water treatment plants, and declining quality. Or consider the degradation of levees all over the country and note that the Administration is right at the forefront, repairing the levees in Louisiana with the finest materials and workmanship. They're actually stuffing them with newspaper instead of using earth or concrete, but we're still doing a heck of a job. Our bridges and roads are in bad shape and not keeping up with maintenance. Many aren't safe at anything like their rated capacity. The US railway system isn't up to Bulgarian standards let alone Western European or Japanese which is a real shame. It's more efficient per passenger mile than cars or planes. But that gets into a whole different set of issues ably handled by my friend and unindicted co-conspirator, publisher Rustin Wright.

If Teddy Roosevelt were President he'd have turned the government upside down and shaken out all the incompetents and crooks. If it were Dwight Eisenhower we'd have started rebuilding the whole thing under an audacious master plan. FDR or LBJ would have the programs in place and an army of recently unemployed workers holding shovels and pay stubs while they dug in. But we have George W. Bush whose governmental philosophy is that government can't do anything, so it's time to take a vacation and pat himself on the back for a non-job that lived up to expectations.

For the most part the press isn't there absent the squawking when something falls down. John McQuaid calls us the Can't Do Nation. Bob Herbert, one of the New York Times' few columnists with his head screwed on straight talks about our loss of will and clearly identifies the problem and some solutions. But they're pretty much alone. The Press, the boardroom and the politicians are are engaging in their usual short-term thinking. Nobody is taking care of business.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Importance of Choosing the Right Words


This was going to be a post about Hans Reiser, the Linux geek who was just convicted of murdering his wife. He insisted on taking the stand for eleven days against the advice of his attorney. The court watchers say that's what sunk him. He come across poorly under cross-examination. His rambling, often-contradictory explanations didn't tell a coherent believable story and didn't poke a single hole in the prosecution's evidence.

An chestnut in Law school goes "A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client."

But that's a really Grim Fairy Tale, so I'll go with a different example. This is an actual true story that really happened. We were there, and there are witnesses.

Some years back my wife and I took Taiji from a famous Chinese coach who had just moved to Oregon. We were hoping for internal body mechanics and all the rest of that good stuff. What we got was what sells: molasses-slow forms, no application or cultivation of internal strength, white uniforms, black belt clubs and promotions every X-weeks. We were interested in Chi, not Chi-whiz so we left.

Part of the problem is that we were looking for martial arts. The students tended to be upscale versions of the crystal-gazing hairy-legged bark eaters. Getting them to do push hands was hard enough, let alone thinking about developing strength or fighting.

After a few months we started doing the Short Yang Straight Sword Form. In retrospect, I really liked the form. There is a lot in there. But it was tough going for the fluffy bunny crowd. So the advanced student who was teaching the class gathered us all together to talk about swords. I can remember what he said darned near word for word.

He said "Don't think of this as a sword. Think of it as your chi wand. We're not going to sword fight. We're going to learn to play with our chi wands. Your chi wand is a very personal thing. If you handle it enough it will start to collect and store your chi, and you can use it to emit chi. You should never handle anyone else's chi wand without permission. And you shouldn't let just anyone handle yours. Be very careful where you put it. You never want to step on your chi wand."

Tiel and I carefully didn't look at each other and silently asked "Did he say that? Did he really say that?" The guy standing to my right looked like he was having some sort of seizure.

"After a while you will get used to handling your wand. When you are feeling down or depressed pick up your chi wand and play with it for a while. You'll start feeling better and more energetic." Somehow the poker faces stayed on.

Then he showed us some basics - grip, stance and how to make horizontal cuts.

"Now hold on tight to your wand, and keep it level. You don't want your chi to drip off the end while you're waving it."

We managed not to say anything or crack a smile. But then he said

"You're doing really well. Now I want you to get a partner and stand like this. Now very carefully, touch your chi wands together," at which point a female voice murmured "What am I supposed to do? All I have is a chi button."

I had to pretend I had a coughing fit and sit down for a while.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hanging's Too Good For Him - British Writer Translates Shakespeare to Chav "Yoofspeak"

Shakespeare has been re-interpreted and re-written from Bowdler's attempts at removing everything unsuitable for women and children to West Side Story. Today's homage to the immortal reputation of the Bard comes from British writer Martin Baums courtesy of the Daily Mail. He has translated fifteen of the plays into the dialect of lower-class London.

Romeo and his Fit Bitch Jools

Verona was de turf of de feuding Montagues and de Capulet families. And coz they was always brawling and stuff, de Prince of Verona told them to cool it or else they was gonna get well mashed if they carried on larging it with each other. Meanwhile, whilst all dis was going on, Romeo, from de Montague posse, had become all jiggy jiggy with de Rosaline bitch who was de niece of de Capulet massive. But never ready to settle with just de one bitch, Romeo and his boyz disguised demselves and crashed de Capulet turf where dere was de masked ball going down, and that was when he saw de well fit Capulet’s daughta, Jools.

Amlet, Prince of Denmark

Dere was somefing minging in de State of Denmark which was making Amlet all uncool. First, his Uncle Claudius had married his muvva, de main bitch Queen Gertrude. Then de Norwegian Fortinbras massive was freatening to invade de Danish turf and finally, and quite unexpectedly, de rank ghost of his nutty farva was spooking de crap out of him. De minging ghost told Amlet he was poisoned by Claudius and wanted him to do somefing about it. Amlet said “Aiii,” and reckoned de best way was to pretend to go all loony toons to make everyone fink he was barking, including Ophelia, de fit bitch he wanted to be all jiggy jiggy with.


That high-pitched whirring sound you hear is coming from the crypts in Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I Love My Town! - Police relations edition

There's a new lawyer in Portland, Eric Bryant. I don't know much about the man, but there's no doubt he's got a serious pair, and they're at least 60% brass by volume. Back in March he was in Northwest 21st Avenue in Portland. It's a street full of upscale stores, trendy people and narrow streets that don't quite accommodate the traffic.

A police officer park his squad car illegally in front of a restaurant and went in. He ordered his meal, sat around and watched the game on TV. He wasn't arresting anyone. He wasn't investigating a crime. He just wanted lunch at that particular diner and parked in a forbidden space.

Most people would have looked, curled a lip and thought "He's a cop. Whatcha gonna do, call a cop to give him a ticket?" Mr. Bryant showed more courage than good sense. He talked to the officer and said he was parked illegally. According to the first news story on the incident the cop replied that he wasn't doing anything wrong and asked "If someone broke into your house, would you rather have the police be able to park in front of your house or have to park three blocks away and walk there?"

Nobody's suggesting that the officer was investigating a crime or making an arrest. Nobody is suggesting that Mr. Bryant didn't talk to him and ask him to move the car. He then ticketed the cop for parking illegally and cited the statute under which he did so and the authority he had as a citizen to issue the citation (ORS 153.058 for those who are interested). All that study to pass the Bar Exam has paid off.

After the Mercury reported on the events KATU covered the story. The AP has picked up the story. Now it's making the rounds of that series of tubes we call the Intrawebs. 

I talked to Eric Bryant today. He says that the city has lawyered up. A local attorney has offered to help him defend his interests in whatever falls out. The State is showing an interest. And there's various litigation that he can't really talk about in the near future. He's confident that the ticket will stand. The official PD denials and excuses are pretty lame. "Officers need to stay near their cars so they can respond to emergencies" doesn't hold water in the face of questions like "Weren't there any other restaurants he could have parked near legally?" 

Fighting City Hall by yourself is tough at the best of times. If you knock a cop out of his comfortable immunity to the rules that govern the herd it's even worse. If you make them look foolish and ride the pipe the same as mere "civilians" you're opening yourself up for a world of hurt. I expect every aspect of Mr. Bryant's life will be a matter of intense interest to the Portland Police Bureau for a few years to come. Best of British luck to him. He'll need it.

Me? I'll buy the man a drink.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

4000

This week US fatalities in Iraq passed 4000. That doesn't include the large (classified) number evacuated to facilities outside Iraq to keep the body count down. It doesn't include Illegal Combatants from Blackwater or Dyncorp. It's just American servicemen and -women who died in the Sandbox.

Vice President "Swinging" Dick Cheney's only comment was:
The president carries the biggest burden, obviously. He's the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans, but we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm's way for the rest of us.
In other words, "Screw 'em. Nobody forced them to go. Just think of how hard the Smirking Chimp has to work ordering them to die."

The Huffington Post has a more fitting memorial - a photomosaic of Bush and McCain made of the faces of the first 4000 who died for that mistake. Every soldier knows he's expendable. None should have to die knowing he was considered disposable.


If any ask us why we died
Say "Because our fathers lied"
--Rudyard Kipling on the death of his son in the Great War

If you're feeling in a musical mood take a listen at Irma Thomas' version of Another Man Done Gone.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Volture

Someone in a forum post misspelled "vulture"

Monday, March 17, 2008

Rest In Peace Severian

Severian - A Good Dog

1998-2008
God Made the earth, the sky and the water, the moon and the sun. He made man and bird and beast. But He didn't make the dog. He already had one.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Clearing Out Bookmarks and Fueling Fear

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people’s private communications and financial information. --Donald Kerr Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence November 11 2007


You're paranoid, but are you paranoid enough? --InfoSec aphorism

It's time to get rid of a bunch of tabs on my browser and turn them into some sort of post. So today, for your consideration, here's the first in a series of stuff that should turn your hair white.

The two pictures above are of real toys, Playmobil's Police Checkpoint and Security Checkpoint. read the consumer reviews, but have plenty of baking soda to neutralize them. They're acid enough to etch steel. We've gotten to the point where ubiquitous surveillance is an important part of life that children need to learn about in their vanishing playtime. It's not just the ravings of the tinfoil hat brigade. Besides, as research from MIT definitively shows, tinfoil hats actually make it easier for the government to use its restricted radio frequencies on you.

Update: Some killjoy putz at Amazon removed all the customer reviews.

Very Cool Visuals - Agatized Dinosaur Bone

Some things are worth holding up and saying "Look! See! Isn't this neat?"

These micrographs of dinosaur bones are that cool. (Link goes to the whole set)


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Just About the Most Disgraceful Martial Arts Footage Ever

"Respected Karate master" Isao Nakamura Fushiki is refereeing a match in which one of his students is losing. What he does speaks for itself.

According to related articles as translated by Babelfish he works or recently worked for a local University. I'm betting that won't last long.

If the S.O.B.'s organization doesn't and strip him of rank and toss him so hard he bounces twice it's lost all claim to legitimacy.

In any case he needs to be on trial for something on the close order of attempted murder with a deadly weapon.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Tiel's First Book is Out

Tiel's first poetry collection - Knocking From Inside - has just been published by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore's The Ecstatic Exchange. It is available for sale on Lulu Press' website. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. It's not the usual unedited self-indulgent confession. Her poems are wonderfully crafted and come straight from the heart. They illuminate the search for the Divine in everything from urban crows and silence to Treblinka and the Dead Letter Office of insincere prayers.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Yes, a Spoonful of Vampires Makes the Liver Flukes Go Down

At least that's what I think Mary Poppins would have said about Peeps. On its own it's a good, fun short YA novel. There's a little sexual tension, some violence, engaging characters, decent pacing and dialog and above all it doesn't talk down to its audience. Scott Westerfeld hammers out the same workmanlike prose that characterizes his other novels.

Where it really shines is the science. Science education in America is notoriously bad for the most part, and its treatment in popular culture usually isn't even that good. If it isn't cybermagic it's Cargo Cult Science or soft-pedaled because the witch burners are afraid that asking tough questions will make their Invisible Friend angry. You have to pan a lot of gravel to find the rare Bill Nye or Jared Diamond let alone Steven J. Gould (ztl) - (Unofficial SJG archive) We haven't yet gotten back to the bad old days of the Snopes trial. But we're pretty darned close when legislatures pass laws stating that students can not get marked down for any statement on an exam that stems from religious beliefs. Much as I want the whole world to be touched by His Noodly Appendage, Pastafarianism belongs in the kitchen and pirate ships, not the classroom.

That's why I'm so fond of Scott Westerfeld's YA novel Peeps and its sequel The Last Days.

Peeps starts off with a stock premise. There are vampires. Not many people know about them. Our hero is part of an old, secret government organization that captures and studies them. Then it takes a sharp turn to the educational. Vampirism is caused by a parasite which has profound effects on its host's behavior and biology. The even numbered chapters are entirely factual accounts of the strange and wonderful if disquieting world of parasite biology. The odd (sometimes exceedingly odd) chapters tell the story and use it to illustrate complex principles like optimum virulence, commensal ecological relationships, the profound effects of simple changes, parasite-host and predator-prey coevolution, and multiple-host lifecycles. It's entertaining. There's a lot of good information. It gets past cataloging facts and into the guiding principles. Great stuff even if you're old enough to have Young Adult Readers of your own.

The Last Days isn't quite as good, but it brings the more conceptual material in the first volume into focus. The mechanics of societal breakdown and of host-parasite coevolution get a more dramatic, personal treatment. It's definitely worth a read if you liked Peeps.

I don't think it will get the kids to switch from Nintendo to, well, this. But it's worth a try.

The book owes a lot to Parasite Rex, a debt which Westerfeld proudly acknowledges. If you can make it through Peeps without getting the creeping horrors you should check out Parasite Rex and some of Carl Zimmer's other excellent books on natural history. Just keep in mind that he's on the parasites' side, not ours. Waxing lyrical about the life of the bilharzia worm as a romantic love story and praising the ichneumonids speaks for itself. He claimed in an interview that he'd traveled all over doing the research and had never gotten the tiniest parasitic infestation even though other members in his party did. It's not an accident. The parasites know their own and extend their protection to fellow-travelers and quislings.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Every Once in a While He Gets Something Right

Maybe Caren's spiking Bobbe's Chimay with smart drugs. Or maybe he's just gotten old and slowed down enough so that the (very) odd thought can catch up to him. His most recent post on FMA Talk nails a number of important issues dead on and presents the Unvarnished Word clearly and concisely.

Paranoia? Or Are We Playing in the Big Leagues Now?

The Republican Noise Machine is revving up to trash Barrack Obama, but it will have to wait in line for a while yet. A former head of the Wellesley Young Republicans, Goldwater Campaign worker, previously Wal-Mart Board Member and Coca Cola corporate lawyer, currently Senator from New York and Democratic Presidential candidate is borrowing heavily from the Nixon playbook.

Politics is a dirty game. Nobody gets into high office completely clean. If they do, well, there's a two headed monster squatting on Pennsylvania Avenue and K Street that will dirty or devour them. The last real outsider to gain the White House was Jimmy Carter who was very effectively shut down. The last reformer to come from the Republicans was Teddy Roosevelt. When he turned his formidable will to the job and the good of the Nation it horrified the Party bosses. They gave the Presidency to the more biddable Taft who furthered their Gilded Age policies.

Barrack Obama is a Senator, a politician and an Illinois politician no less. Jokes about letting him near ballot boxes notwithstanding he's had to make his peace with the Machine. But he's the best candidate out there and has excited the electorate in some very important ways which we haven't seen in decades. Lord knows he's smart and charismatic enough for three or four. It doesn't hurt that he's the first member of the African Diaspora to get within spitting distance of the White House other than by pushing a broom. And anyone who can inspire this sort of vitriol from the economic Establishment deserves at least a second look.

The ability to inspire and desire to shake things up that are beginning to worry me. Forget the "Obama supporters are a cult" crap that the Clinton campaign and various Republicans are spreading. They wouldn't know what to do with an unscripted moment if it bit them on the ass. Come to think of it, that's exactly what it's doing.

No, it's the memory of John and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. America is very very hard on its charismatic popular reformers. If they don't get bought they have a habit of suffering mysterious assassinations that are never really explained. Dr. King says "Black men will not kill Yellow men to keep White men in power" and dies days later after his police protection is mysteriously withdrawn. Ray never goes to trial. The JFK and RFK assassinations have provided forty years of entertainment to thousands of obsessives, paranoids and people with little reason to trust the government. Nobody believes the official accounts of Malcolm X's murder. And so on.

From all reports the racist bulletin boards and websites are full of real hatred for the Senator from Illinois. The more public ones are circumspect. It's difficult not to be when you know that you're being watched by every law enforcement and three letter government agency out there. The more private ones, so I am told, look forward to the prospect of a Black President with open horror and are talking about assassination and race wars. Colin Powell's refusal to run makes a whole lot of personal sense.

That's why this story from the Dallas Star-Telegraph and the follow up are so disturbing. In case they've disappeared by the time you read this post, here are the high points (emphasis mine)

DALLAS -- Security details at Barack Obama's rally Wednesday stopped screening people for weapons at the front gates more than an hour before the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage at Reunion Arena.

The order to put down the metal detectors and stop checking purses and laptop bags came as a surprise to several Dallas police officers who said they believed it was a lapse in security.

Dallas Deputy Police Chief T.W. Lawrence, head of the Police Department's homeland security and special operations divisions, said the order -- apparently made by the U.S. Secret Service -- was meant to speed up the long lines outside and fill the arena's vacant seats before Obama came on.

"Sure," said Lawrence, when asked if he was concerned by the great number of people who had gotten into the building without being checked. But, he added, the turnout of more than 17,000 people seemed to be a "friendly crowd."

The Secret Service did not return a call from the Star-Telegram seeking comment.

Doors opened to the public at 10 a.m., and for the first hour security officers scanned each person who came in and checked their belongings in a process that kept movement of the long lines at a crawl. Then, about 11 a.m., an order came down to allow the people in without being checked.

Several Dallas police officers said it worried them that the arena was packed with people who got in without even a cursory inspection.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because, they said, the order was made by federal officials who were in charge of security at the event.

"How can you not be concerned in this day and age," said one policeman.

JACK DOUGLAS Jr., 817-390-7700
jld@star-telegram.com

and

FORT WORTH -- The U.S. Secret Service on Friday defended its handling of security during a massive rally in downtown Dallas for Barack Obama, saying there was no "lapse" in its "comprehensive and layered security plan," which called for some people to be checked for weapons, while others were not.

A report in the Star-Telegram that said some security measures were lifted during Wednesday's rally sparked a public outrage across the country, with most people saying they were shocked that a routine weapons search was lifted at the front gates of Reunion Arena an hour before the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage.

"This relaxed security was unbelievably stupid, especially in Dallas," Jeff Adams of Berkeley, Calif., said in an e-mail to the Star-Telegram, noting the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas more than four decades ago.

Others said they had recently attended large political events, many for Obama, where security screening was halted. Jeremy Dibbell of Boston said in an e-mail that he attended an Obama event in Boston at which "the same thing happened there. We waited for hours in line as people were screened, and then suddenly everyone was just allowed in without going through any inspection at all."

I'm sure there was a "comprehensive and layered security plan". But a charismatic and controversial Democratic candidate speaks in freaking Dallas, and they suddenly stop checking people for weapons? What are they going to do next? Invite him back to Dallas to ride down Main Street in a motorcade with the Governor and detour along Elm past the textbook repository? If they don't have his best interests at heart you'd think they'd at least get lab tests for the irony deficiency they're exhibiting. The Dallas police seem to have a handle on just how touchy this is. They may be haunted by the ghost of Jack Kennedy in ways that the Boston PD just can't understand.

What should the Obama campaign do? That's in the realm of high-level security, far beyond my training and experience. It wouldn't be a bad idea to get a few of the eggs out of the Secret Service's basket and have some very skilled people loyal to the Senator or at least their contract with the Senator reviewing plans and operations. Blackwater and Dyncorp have experience in that sort of thing. So do the Fruits of Islam. The awful possibilities just multiply, don't they?

There's a lot of people who don't want him to be President. Most of them don't want it enough to hurt him. Most of the ones who do wouldn't or couldn't. All it would take would be one with the determination and a lapse like the ones in Massachusetts or Texas. One or two disgruntled nuts or losers. The right opportunity. A word at an opportune moment. His really powerful enemies wouldn't have to get their hands dirty. Someone else would pull the trigger and take the fall. And we're left wondering what sort of mark he might have made.

I'm not terribly good at the whole prayer thing. But mine now include requests that Senator Obama be spared the assassin's bullet. Otherwise we might just have to revise that melancholy Sixties song to "Abraham, Martin, Barrack and John"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's the Currythief's 39th Birthday



Note: The birds at the bottom are a pair of (female) Chinese Great Tits

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Now THAT'S a campaign ad

Mushtaq has posted one of Barrack Obama's video ads. It's OK. Black, White, Female, Male, Old, Young, Poor and Rich all together expressing their hope for the future. Good stuff. But the best one of the primaries? No, not anymore. Not when we have this:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

There are flashlights, and there are flashlights...

Todd Erven and Steve Perry have been talking flashlights lately, wimpy little things that just give enough light to see by. Wicked Lasers has created the baddest, if not the biggest, of them all - The Torch. At 4100 lumens it can fry your eyes, melt plastic or start a fire. Literally. Sure, it goes through batteries in about fifteen minutes. If you can afford the $300 price tag you can afford a few "C" cells.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mixed Feelings


I've been using my wife's PT Cruiser as a small pickup truck for the ongoing basement remodel. It's just big enough, and you can take the back seats completely out. On Thursday my Silat buddy Toby and I had to put the seats back in. Drawer slides had been selling for five cents apiece at the ReBuilding Center, so my car was full of drawer slides, plywood and electrical parts. Class started in about half an hour. We were going to drive up in the Gray Lady. The only thing left in the back was a wooden tamper handle that I use in a different martial arts group. Japanese white oak bokken $70. Hickory stick $7. What it lacks in tradition it more than makes up in price.

We headed back to the house and just about ran into a pre-teen girl. She stopped. She looked at us. She let out a scream, turned around and ran up the sidewalk, across the street and kept on going still screaming.

I don't know why she was so scared. Was it the two guys walking on the sidewalk? Was there some kind of traumatic incident with an pick handle or baseball bat in her past? I'm sorry she was frightened. If it's something we did it would be nice to know so that we don't do it again. But as someone who cares about self defense I have to say she did exactly what she was supposed to. She reacted quickly and effectively. She put as much distance between herself and the large scary strangers as she could and did everything she could to startle us and attract attention.

Someone who cares about her taught her what to do in situations like this. Whoever you are, you should be proud. She took your lessons to heart and used them without hesitating. She didn't need to this time, but someday it might be for real. It's good to know that there is one little girl who will be ready.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Old School. Hardcore. Mad Skillz

Video of a man who makes his own triode vacuum tubes from scratch.

We are not worthy!
We are not worthy!