Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Chapel Perilous

In days gone by when I was more focused on my psychic soul and "oneness" with the universe and I went out of my way to do it right and think it right I would have described my current state as just another walk through "Chapel Perilous". The "Chapel" I think, is a concept coined by Alan Watts and while through the evolution of his writings and spiritual growth it changed somewhat it still maintained its essential elements. I am not going to go into detail here about the concept but if you are interested enough and ready to understand the concept you will find the sources that will allow you what you want to know. Leave it for now that "Chapel Perilous" is that place you find yourself when every self doubt, every fear, every prejudice, every fault and all your weaknesses are manifest and present in all their force in some manner or degree.

It is a place you have to visit at least once if you expect to be able to greet the world and accept it for what it is. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, sometimes warm and fuzzy and others cruel and cold. It is what it is. For some of us it is a place that, over time, becomes familiar and even welcoming. I know that sounds a little weird but trust me, it is a fact. So to get back to the point. If I stop the rush of life and job for a few moments as I did on the drive up here to Asheville from Atlanta I can review the state of things and how I am connecting to them. I can assess how they are affecting who I am and how I think and I can anticipate how I may react to the next 'mindfuck' that comes our way.

Let's look at where we are shall we? We are in a WAR that none of us want and that is without a visible end that is costing us 2 billion dollars a week that we don't have and this month has cost us 49 more precious American lives and an untold number of others. What's worse, we are poised for more. Our fellow Americans without the security of health care now number 50 million. In the richest country in the world 27 million of our neighbors are living in poverty. On a lighter note, so far there are only 18 million empty foreclosed homes and the number will surely double. There are millions of our brothers and sisters without jobs or any prospects of one. Couple all of this with the unnecessary 300 ,000 VETS with mental health issues as a result of this ill begotten war and knowing that some 6000 Iraqi and Afghanistan vets have been traumatized to the point that they have committed suicide. Couple all of this with the minor irritations of soaring food costs and highway robbery at the gas pump and you have a recipe for 'Chapel Perilous'.

Most people have learned, whether consciously or unconsciously, to insulate themselves from all this negative influence but if you, like I, have spent your life trying to open up to the universe you can be sorely pressed to fit all of this negative energy into your personal Tao. How often does the average person think about all of this during the course of their day? Gas prices hit you if you have to fill up. War hits you for a few minutes if you glance at the paper. The irrelevance of the current political process registers if you catch a bit of TV during the day. Most people aren't confronted daily with thoughts of all the hungry, desperate people that are trying to survive around us and pass us daily on the street unless you are one of them.

So here I am for the first time in years finding myself at the door, if not in the vestibule of Chapel Perilous. I have touched on all of the issues facing us today here at Fallenmonk and will do so again but I guess the point of this post is to say that even for someone like me who has spent almost a lifetime trying to absorb everything the universe has to offer both good and bad the times today are hugely challenging. I guess my fear is that the majority of my fellow Americans are not prepared to deal with the reality of what has happened and that will continue to happen in our country. I am not looking forward to the time when most of the natural insulation burns off the synapse of the average American and the tragedy that is the American reality burns itself into their consciousness. It is not going to be pleasant and I fear the time is near.

I think the core of this post sprang from my previous one that mentions the difference between conservative love of country and that of liberal love for country. It worries me greatly how a great majority of Americans are going to handle the realization that "Dear Mommy" is actually "Mommy Dearest".

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Grown Up Love

David Niewert has a short but very good post over at Firedoglake concerning the Rev. Wright faux issue.

But it's also apparent that the larger context in which Wright condemns American behavior -- the reason he shouts "God damn America" -- in fact reflects hard historical realities that Americans, and the American media especially, really don't want to talk about, let alone confront the present-day consequences thereof.

And doing so, evidently, is now proof of being "anti-American."

Among the things, evidently, that we're not supposed to bring up because it interrupts Peggy Noonan's fantasy vision of an American history populated mostly by noble 49ers and industrious Henry Fords, are the following:

He sums up the premise of the post with a quote from Al Franken.

If you listen to a lot of conservatives, they'll tell you that the difference between them and us is that conservatives love America and liberals hate America.... They don't get it. We love America just as much as they do. But in a different Way. You see, they love America the way a 4-year-old loves her Mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups.

To a 4-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad, and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world.

New Week, Bad Start

Not an auspicious start for the week. Got bogged down with questions from another client last night and didn't get finished my work for my project kick off this morning. Got up early and polished it off. Damn near a frost here in Asheville this morning and they are predicting a real frost tomorrow morning. Not supposed to venture too much more south so my garden is safe I hope.

Off to the client this morning and no time to play. Maybe once we get this project launched we will have a little more time this evening.

Just got a call from a colleague that somehow got roped into giving my Continuous Improvement presentation at the client conference in Dallas today. Doesn't understand all the slides. Hated to tell him that I had no time to help him this morning...they should have given him a little more notice.
I did teach him a few bars of "Camp Town Races" if things get dicey.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Meander

Rainy and otherwise stormy here in Atlanta today. It is a good thing I believed the forecast and got all my outdoor work done yesterday before the rains came. It was also my first full day in the sun this year and I am officially a 'redneck' today.

Tomatoes all planted...two Better Boy, two Rutgers(heirloom), one yellow pear(heirloom), two Roma, and two Sweet 100 and in pots on the deck two Patio. Red and Green bell peppers (two each), and one Jalapeno. Sweet Basil (4) and Italian parsley(3), and four Capitaine lettuce. That pretty much fills up the little bed and I have room left for two Japanese eggplant which will go in next weekend.

Shrub's idiot check showed up in the bank yesterday. I am going to stimulate my savings account with it instead of the economy. I wonder how many others will just sock it away or pay down a credit card instead of spending it on groceries or gas?

I have a deep rooted feeling that I should be tilling up the big garden and getting more food in the ground. I think the genes I got from my grandparents that were tempered in the depression are somehow hearing the call for growing and putting by some serious victuals. If I wasn't going to be gone every week for the next 6 - 8 weeks or even longer I think I would be out there tilling up at least part of that 10,000 square feet. Put in some white potatoes and sweet potatoes, pole beans, yellow squash and cucumbers at the minimum and maybe some butter peas and more tomatoes. Never have too many tomatoes. Probably going to be sorry.

Off to get myself sorted for hitting the road tomorrow. Thought I would share another picture from the trip. Here is a guy(or gal) I met at Lizard, the southern most point in England.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Spring is Flying By

I missed a lot of spring whilst gallivanting around the UK over the past weeks and now I am in the famous 'crunch'. I have to start a new engagement in North Carolina on Monday. Since it is in Asheville I will have to drive since flying takes as much time and is horribly expensive for such a short trip. I have to prep which means a lot of reading and conference calls so this week is being sucked up by that.
The really important stuff is that I have to get my little vegetable garden prepped and and planted before I miss anymore of this weather and get too far behind the curve. I figure I am about 20 days behind.
I am telling you all this so I can justify not posting more but to tell the truth there is not much going on that I want to post about. I am just going to wait until the HRC and Obama pie fight is over before I get excited about politics and the Iraq mess is going to hell fine without my help. I may be suffering from post vacation something but I can tell you I am sorely missing the quiet solitude of the English country side and all that surrounds it. I can't tell you how many times I felt a little pang as I went by another little cottage with a for sale sign on it. I even stopped in front of the window of an estate agent in Bakewell and perused the offerings for a while. If the dollar wasn't so down right now it would be very tempting but with prices still unusually high for housing in the UK (even tiny little country cottages are on the block for 150,000 pounds) it would set me back a million bucks(if I had it) for a comfortable little house even in the middle of country.
Oh well, heavy gardening this weekend and off to the hills of NC next week and for an unknown number of weeks. I'll be around but not in abundance until some evening downtime in the hotel next week.

Promised Lamb

I promised PoP some lambs but it has taken me awhile to get the 500 or so pictures transferred and organized. Here are a few to tide her over. Who knows how many lambs are born each spring in the UK but it must be millions as they seem to be in every field. These photos were taken just about 100 feet from our friends house in Eyam along the lane into the village.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Here It Is

I mentioned yesterday that the global food crisis was a lot closer to home than many Americans think. Maybe the following will get their attention which will probably precipitate them going to local Sam's, Costco or Wal-Mart and buying their two year supply thereby worsening the problem.

(CNN) -- Retail chain Sam's Club will limit the sale of large quantities of rice amid a dramatic increase in the global price of rice.

or maybe

Already feeling the pinch from soaring wheat and flour prices, U.S. bakers are now beginning to experience some supply shortages.

Rye flour stocks have been depleted in the United States, and by June or July there will be no more U.S. rye flour to purchase, said Lee Sanders, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs at the American Bakers Association.

or this
For bakers, rye grain is not the only supply stock that is declining. In the past the market has typically had a three-month surplus of wheat stocks to serve as a cushion against supply interruptions, but now the surplus is down to less than 27 days worth of wheat, Sanders said.
I have to go to Whole Foods today and replenish my supply of brown rice and am interested to see what I find. It is always been hard to find good brown rice in this country since most of the production in the U.S. goes to white polished rice. I have several online sources for organic brown rice but I imagine that since they are small family producers their supplies will be depleted rather quickly.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mail Madness

Don't go away for two weeks and expect to get through the accumulated mail in less than a day. The mountain of mail that was deposited yesterday on the doorstep took the better part of a morning to sort through. The thing is you can't just sort by seeing who it is from you have to open each letter especially if it is from a credit card company or worse from your credit card company. You can't take a few days to go through the pile either or you will surely miss a bill that was due tomorrow.

Letters from other credit card companies contain all the necessary information for a stranger to open an account in your name for them to use and letters from your own credit card company almost always contain a few handy checks so the bad guys can just make straight draws on your accounts(but at an attractive interest rate). It wouldn't be so bad if their were just one or two a week but some days I have 5 or 6 offers in the card, better card, equity line of credit, bill consolidation, vacation money, new car money, home improvement money, HDTV money or just plain money.

Everything is now opened and shredded but I think I just heard the mail truck go by.

To Bad About All Those Starving Brown People

A lot of the people I talk to seem to think the global food crisis is only affecting the "brown people" or otherwise "third worlders". If you are one of those who think the "world's food basket" is immune from such things you might want to think again:

Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. There are also anecdotal reports that some consumers are hoarding grain stocks.

At a Costco Warehouse in Mountain View, Calif., yesterday, shoppers grew frustrated and occasionally uttered expletives as they searched in vain for the large sacks of rice they usually buy.

“Where’s the rice?” an engineer from Palo Alto, Calif., Yajun Liu, said. “You should be able to buy something like rice. This is ridiculous.”

The bustling store in the heart of Silicon Valley usually sells four or five varieties of rice to a clientele largely of Asian immigrants, but only about half a pallet of Indian-grown Basmati rice was left in stock. A 20-pound bag was selling for $15.99.

“You can’t eat this every day. It’s too heavy,” a health care executive from Palo Alto, Sharad Patel, grumbled as his son loaded two sacks of the Basmati into a shopping cart. “We only need one bag but I’m getting two in case a neighbor or a friend needs it,” the elder man said.

You might also note that we, who are supposed to be at the top of the "chain", are also not immune from such things as refugees. Take a look at this article from the BBC about a tent city springing up in Los Angeles. Ask not for whom the bell tolls.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back in the USA

We're home. Long day of travel so it is early to bed and start over tomorrow. You guys didn't do a very good job on keeping the gas price in check while I was gone. Going to be interesting to see what comes out of PA today in the morning but I am just too tired to try and stay awake for anything tonight.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Last Day in the UK

Today is the last day of our short holiday and we return to Atlanta tomorrow morning. The weather hasn't been too hot here in the North since our return from Cornwall and has been unseasonably cool and wet even for England. Brightened today and we were off to Bakewell (famous for the Bakewell Tart) since it is market day. Nice walk through the stalls of the market though we refrained from buying anything.
We decided lunch would be from the nearby Chatsworth House Farm Shop and we wound up with some smoked ham, fresh ciabatta, smoked trout pate and some mixed greens (all locally produced). A nice light lunch coupled with a pint of Old Speckled Hen has made me quite mellow. The sun is still out and it looks like time for a walk via the public footpath to Foolow and back. About an hour and then maybe a nap. My only difficulty with the footpath is the cattle guards in the stone walls that were not installed with my size 13 boot in mind. The lambs in the fields along the way should be a little more active and bounding about with this warm sun instead of huddling with mum as has been the case.

Back in the USA tomorrow afternoon and back to work Wednesday.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

More Pictures

MandT asked for more pictures so I will post a few more. This time they are all from Eyam where our friends live and where we are currently. Eyam is known as the Plague Village because the village shut itself off from the outside world in 1665 and 1666 to try and prevent the plague from spreading.
Our other friends from outside London are coming up today for dinner and to stay the night and that will be nice as we haven't seen them in a while. Their oldest daughter is the one getting married in August that we will be returning to the UK in a couple of months for.
Now on to the pictures.
First is Dunlow Lane from the top just down from the house where we are on Windmill Lane looking down on the village of Eyam.
Next is Rose Cottage, one of the still existing Plague Cottages in the village. This cottage is where the nine members of the Thorpe family died in late September and October in 1665. The cottage is still used as a residence today.
Next is a rather foreboding tombstone in the Eyam churchyard. And finally this picture might give you idea of the number of rock walls in this part of the country.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Back North

Back from Cornwall and in Derbyshire and back to typical English spring weather...cold and drizzle with a nice wind to make it impossible to stay dry. We had stellar weather while in the South and while it never got into the 70's it was sunny and you really only needed a jacket on the coast with the cool wind coming off the sea. No rain at all which is quite a feat this time of year. I took over 400 pictures including a hundred or so at the wedding. I am posting a couple for your enjoyment. I don't have any editing software on the laptop so you get them as is with no cropping.
Still trying to catch up on what I missed while away...besides the Masters. I'll be back a bit later.

On top is the Smuggler's Cott Restaurant in Looe. If you click on the image you will note that the date on the sign is 1430 and note the height of the door.
Next is the western half of Looe as seen from the sea.
I mentioned the hedgerows and the odd driving. All you can see a lot of the time is the hedgerow and these aren't the tallest we encountered. This is the road into Padstow on the Western coast. Not that I am being critical but there are thousands and thousands of roads just like this in the UK and it makes the drivers quite skilled and dodging each other and making two pass where there is only room for one and a half.
Lastly, we have a view of the southern most point in England called Lizard. Here we are looking westward. Below is a launching point for a lifeboat.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Touching Base

Still wandering the wilds of Southern England. Very different country than the north. They don't seem to have as many rocks here and therefore hedges are used for fencing instead of stone and the result are these very tall hedges along the roads and lanes that make it almost like driving in a big ditch which is a strange sensation. We've seen some great little coastal villages like Looe and Polperro that are picture book quaint. Today we are off on our culinary adventure to Rick Stein's for lunch. We will head back North tomorrow so I will have use of the internet again and not have to struggle with this blackberry. Later friends.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Off to the Wilds of Cornwall

Off to the wedding and then to the wilds of Cornwall. I understand there is no internet and possibly no phone so I am not even taking the laptop. See you guys next Thursday or so. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

First Morning in the Peaks

Here we are in much better shape. Managed, with difficulty, to stay awake until half past eight last night and then slept like a rock all night(with only the occasional jab from Madam to reset the snoring) so we are much closer to being on Greenwich time than yesterday. Left on my own today as my host had a meeting in Birmingham and the ladies have all decided to go to Sheffield to the swim club for a swim and lunch. Rumor of a massage in the air as well.

Predictably I have been charged with dinner tonight so I have to go foraging in the village(Eyam). It is always a challenge to figure out when George the Butcher will deign to open his little shop and then to discover what he will have available. The green grocer is normally open during the day but if you didn't order anything special you have to do with what he has on hand. We thought ahead and went to the Sainsbury in Sheffield last evening so we have some veges.
We also stopped by the fishmonger in Sheffield on the way home and scored some sea bass for dinner last night which I roasted in the Greek style with herbs and lemon. Lovely as the Brits say. Just a jacket potato and a roquette salad on the side.

Tomorrow we are off to Broadway in the Cotswolds (near Oxford) for the wedding on Saturday and then Sunday on down to Cotehele in Cornwall to see what we see. We do have one culinary adventure scheduled and that is lunch reservations at one of Peter Stein's restaurants. He has one of the cooking shows on British TV and so I am looking forward to that. We will also be checking out "The Boot" a culinary pub near where we will be on the recommendation of David Duff one of our regular visitors.

Well it is only 0430 or earlier for you Yanks but I am off to the village to shop for dinner. It has turned off a brilliant and sunny day (though a little chilly) as it was a bit frosty this morning but it should be warming nicely. I'l be back a little later.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Here In One Piece

Safe and sound in merry olde. Uneventful trip which is the best kind. No snow but a little rain and coolish but otherwise fine. The daffodils are blooming and there is a hint of spring.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Across the Pond

Madam and I are heading across the pond this afternoon so I don't know how much activity you will see here but check in once in a while as I might find a connection somewhere. If nothing else I will have my T-Mobile Blackberry which is GSM and I can email posts in. I'm taking the laptop as well so we shall see.

We are flying to Manchester and the weather forecast for tomorrow morning is snow showers. Lovely! The UK should be breaking into spring later in the week and we will be headed south from Manchester after a day or two in the Peaks. The wedding is in the Cotswolds on the weekend and then we head to Cornwall for a little self catering holiday with friends and you can't get any further South in the UK than that. Got the camera so maybe I will have some pictures from King Arthur territory for you.

Everybody play nice.

Generational Mission

Highly recommended way to spend about 28 minutes today.

Al Gore has a new presentation that has just been released on TED. In it he talks about how new evidence shows that the effects of Global Warming may be happening faster than we thought. It is worth seeing and acting on. There are some pretty powerful slides and some discussion on the current politics and the lack of focus on the issue in the mass media.

No Moral Authority

Just an observation, but all of the calls for Bush to boycott the opening of the Olympic games kind of ring hollow. Where does the U.S. get off on criticizing China for its human rights violations and oppression of Tibet when we are so dirty? What China is doing and has done to Tibet is wrong without question but there are some serious questions with respect to human rights and proper behavior that the George Bush and company need to answer before they get on their high horse over Tibet.

How do we get off firing Tomahawk cruise missiles into Somali villages whenever we feel like it? Did Somalia attack us? Are we at war with them.

How do we justify holding people at Guantanamo without the right of Habeas Corpus?

How do we explain the 108 people who have died in detention? In a large number of these cases, the deaths have been ruled a homicide and connected to torture.

That's just the tip of the iceberg.

Everything is Yellow

It is that time again in Atlanta when the pines try and reproduce. Everything is yellow. Every flat surface outside is covered in a heavy layer of yellow pine pollen. When you drive out of the driveway you can see the trail of your tires in the pollen and you leave a swirl billowing up behind you like racing down an unpaved country road. This goes on for a couple of weeks in the first part of April and it means shutting all the windows and just hunkering down until the trees stop shedding and a good spring rain washes it all away in rivers of yellow. The good thing is that pine pollen is large and therefore not the type that whacks people with allergies though there is plenty of oak and gum pollen for that as well. The pollen count yesterday was 1700.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The New Dark Age

Joe Bageant has a new essay up. Worth the read.

We now live as the technoculture's subjects, not its masters and will from here on out as viral technology mediates, homogenizes and monetizes human experience worldwide, in ever more remote corners.

The Price of Rice, Not Nice

Rice on the global markets has increased in price by 50% in the past two weeks. This is on top of the increases for other grains such as corn and wheat. Most people don't realize that a huge part of the world's population depends on rice as its primary food. Already millions of people are not able to feed themselves and this is going to hurt them even more. According to the article the price is easily going to increase again this much before the year is out. We are facing starvation for millions of people around the globe.
With rice stocks at their lowest for 30 years, prices of the grain rose more than 10 per cent on Friday to record highs and are expected to soar further in the coming months. Already China, India, Egypt, Vietnam and Cambodia have imposed tariffs or export bans, as it has become clear that world production of rice this year will decline in real terms by 3.5 per cent. The impact will be felt most keenly by the world's poorest populations, who have become increasingly dependent on the crop as the prices of other grains have become too costly.

Rice is the staple food for more than half the world's population. This is the second year running in which production - which increased in real terms last year - has failed to keep pace with population growth. The harvest has also been hit by drought, particularly in China and Australia, forcing producers to hoard their crops to satisfy local markets.

Update: Krugman talks about this today as well. Great minds and all that.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Around Sunday

Quiet a drizzly Sunday here in Atlanta. It has been raining for the last two days pretty much...not that we are complaining but the yard cleanup I was going to do prior to heading across the pond isn't getting done.

We looked at the 10 day forecast for Chesterfield, UK this morning as that is the closest town of any size to where we are heading on Tuesday. Looks like it will be rain and snow mixed on Tuesday and full snow on Wednesday for our arrival. This, of course, has precipitated Madam Monk unpacking, sorting, substituting, rethinking and repacking once more this morning. I even decided that I would pack a slightly heavier coat. There is a difference in 50F and misty/rainy and 35 rainy/snowy.

It looks to be a bit warmer and a little less rainy in the South where we will be heading after the wedding festivities. Us Yanks have some trouble dealing with the close distances in the UK. You can pretty much get from anywhere to anywhere in a couple of hours(depending on traffic) but amazingly there can be quite different weather from one end of the island to another.

With the rain keeping everyone close to home Madam and I rented Sweeney Todd yesterday. Neither of us thought it was worth the trouble and there was definitely too much blood and throat slitting for both our tastes. Very disappointed because we have liked Johnny Depp in most everything. We also rented Beowulf which was another huge disappointment and it didn't even get finished...only watched the first 20 minutes or so and could see it was going to be nothing we wanted to finish.

Hope everyone is having a nice weekend, even if it is raining there.

Friday, April 04, 2008

You Want Fries with Him?

The "Mouth of the South" Ted Turner is weighing in on several subjects today in the AJC. On the environment he says;

If steps aren't taken to stem global warming, "We'll be eight degrees hotter in 30 or 40 years and basically none of the crops will grow," Turner said during a wide-ranging, hour-long interview with PBS's Charlie Rose that aired Tuesday.

"Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals," said Turner, 69. "Civilization will have broken down. The few people left will be living in a failed state — like Somalia or Sudan — and living conditions will be intolerable."

On the U.S. military budget;

"Right now, the U.S. is spending $500 billion a year on the military, which is more than all 190 countries in the world put together," he said.

"The two countries that the military industrial complex and some of our politicians would like to demonize and make enemies are Russia and China," Turner said. "China just wants to sell us shoes. They're not building landing craft to attack the United States, and Russia wants to be our friends, too."

Even with the huge military we have he says "We can't win in Iraq";

"We're being beaten by insurgents who don't even have any tanks, they don't have a headquarters, they don't have a Pentagon, we don't even know if they have any generals," Turner told Rose.

Turner called the Iraqi insurgents "patriots" who "don't like us because we invaded their country and occupied it. Nobody likes to be invaded."

Ted Turner never minces his words. The CNN founder also said he thinks his old network has veered too far away from serious news, instead favoring lighter stories delivered by attractive female "chickies" and opinion-based news such as Lou Dobbs' show.

GOP Insanity In Georgia

The Atlanta murder rate is 520% higher than the national average. The Georgia GOP has an idea. In the current state legislature session that ends to day, is a bill that would make it legal to carry a gun with a permit in myriads of public places such as state parks, historic sites, restaurants, public transportation...that's right you could carry your gun on MARTA. Supporters say the bill has a good chance of passage.

Granted these are people that have had a background check and are licensed to carry a weapon but this is absolutely insane. Why would someone feel it necessary to pack heat when visiting the Martin Luther King Historic Site or even when riding a train downtown from the burbs?

A lot of people such as the restaurant owners association and others were assured that this idiocy was off the table for this session but the supporters brought it back in the last minute hoping that in the rush to do something with the 300 pending bills it would just get passed which is probably what will happen. Maybe Governor Perdue will have a moment of sanity and veto it though that is unlikely.

Remembering Dr. King

Today marks the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. You would have to be as old or older than me to really remember the event. As a white Southern boy I lived through the civil rights movement and I still remember the treatment given blacks as I was growing up. I went to school in a segregated school. Even the little lunch counter by the Greyhound bus station that my parents ran for a while had a separate window on the sidewalk for blacks. It was a revolutionary time for America and Dr. King was it's catalyst. I witnessed first hand the demonstrations on the court house steps and watched the television coverage of the riots and demonstrations in the cities around the south such as Birmingham, Montgomery, Atlanta and Selma. I heard the cries for brotherhood, equality and justice first hand. I was fortunate that for most of my young life I and my brothers were raised by a black nanny. Her name was Hattie May and she was the spitting image of the black woman depicted on the Aunt Jemima pancake box. She was wise, jovial, loyal and took absolutely no guff from us young boys. My mom picked her up each morning from her little run down house on the black side of town and took her home every night. I remember she was paid everyday and was always grateful for the small amount of cash my mom would hand her. She was married and was raising a young school aged daughter but I remember her telling my mom that her husband had been gone for a few years working as a roustabout for the circus. In spite of what I heard from peers about blacks, Hattie May sealed my beliefs and I will always be grateful for the care she gave us and mostly for the experience of knowing her and giving me a rational and civilized understanding of her race.

I remember very well the night of April 4, 1968, when we learned that Dr. King was murdered. I was just starting Navy electronics school at Great Lakes, Illinois after finishing boot camp there. My roommate was a black kid named George Washington 'something' (I've lost it). He was the son of a State Department official of some type and had traveled extensively as a kid and as a result was pretty sophisticated and self confident. From what I gathered in our short few months together I don't think he really ever experienced what being black in America was all about and especially what being black in the American South was all about. When the news came on the TV he was stunned, then angry and and then devastated and it took him days to return to normal. We had some long talks about what this meant to the civil rights movement and I can still remember him just stopping in the middle of a conversation and saying quietly to himself "They've killed Martin Luther King." Unfortunately, there were others in the barracks that felt as did a lot of other Americans, especially those from the South, that it was about time '"somebody put them niggers in their place". There were some very serious confrontations for a few weeks around the halls.

The great news, of course, is that Dr. King's dream did not die. His dream and martyred death changed America forever and it didn't just change the lives of black citizens. A lot of what we take for granted today as the rights of all citizens were changed by the civil rights movement. Unfortunately, we have had some set backs along the way and especially in the last 7 years but the dream still lives and as Dr. King said more than once, it will live for generations. He knew he would not see the promised land and maybe even his children would not see it but he knew that someday all of us would.

Even if you don't remember Dr. King when he was alive, you should appreciate and honor his sacrifice because he changed your world and he changed it for the better.

Harding and Pierce Can Rest Easy

Well "Shut my mouth wide open!" as my not so saintly grandpa used to say. No sooner than I posted the previous post and skittered over to Firedoglake do I see this...

From Academia

In an informal survey of 109 professional historians conducted over a three-week period through the History News Network, 98.2 percent assessed the presidency of Mr. Bush to be a failure while 1.8 percent classified it as a success.

Okay, so really in academia it's the Kagan family against the world. Somebody alert David Horowitz. Bush is almost as unpopular at all colleges as John Yoo is at Berkeley.

Asked to rank the presidency of George W. Bush in comparison to those of the other 41 American presidents, more than 61 percent of the historians concluded that the current presidency is the worst in the nation’s history...At least two of those who ranked the current president in the 31-41 ranking made it clear that they placed him next-to-last, with only James Buchanan, in their view, being worse.

This is good news for Warren G. Harding and Franklin Pierce (a George Bush relation on his mother's side) fans.
“Bush does only two things well,” said one of the most distinguished historians. “He knows how to make the very rich very much richer, and he has an amazing talent for f**king up everything else he even approaches. His administration has been the most reckless, dangerous, irresponsible, mendacious, arrogant, self-righteous, incompetent, and deeply corrupt one in all of American history.”

"His administration has been the most reckless, dangerous, irresponsible, mendacious, arrogant, self-righteous, incompetent, and deeply corrupt one in all of American history.”

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Better Off Flipping A Coin

Not that this is any surprise to people that are paying attention but the Bush administration has abysmally failed to govern effectively and basically wrecked the country. The American people say so.

Americans are more dissatisfied with the country’s direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s, according to the latest poll.

In the poll, 81 percent of respondents said they believed that “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track,” up from 69 percent a year ago and 35 percent in early 2003. . . .

A majority of nearly every demographic and political group — Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school — say that the United States is headed in the wrong direction. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was better off. . . .

Only 21 percent of respondents said that the overall economy was in good condition, the lowest such number since late 1992, when the recession that began in the summer of 1990 had already been over for more than a year. In the latest poll, nearly two in three people said they believed the economy was in recession today.

If this doesn't seal George W. Bush's place as the worst American president of all time then nothing will. I was thinking the other day that we might just as well been better off if we had left the Oval Office vacant the last 7 years and just installed a half dollar that we could flip when a decision was required. We would have had at least a 50/50 chance of something right being done. Instead we have enjoyed an administration that can surely claim that they have gotten absolutely everything 100% wrong. It is a record that will be hard to top.

The frightening possibility that McSame will be elected president will be the only chance of doing so.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Hearty Bean Soup

Since we are all seeing a major increase in the cost of food I thought it might be nice to offer another recipe that is cheap to prepare and offers good nutrition. I am a huge fan of soup and of beans so what is better than a good bean soup. This recipe is originally for black beans but it works equally well with other beans like pinto(recommended) or even kidney or red beans. You don't have to have all of the garnishes listed below, but this soup really needs something to bring some more flavor elements to the table. This recipe also calls for the addition of chipotle chilies in adobo--smoked jalapeƱos packed in a seasoned tomato-vinegar sauce. This is optional but it makes this a nice spicy and smoky soup...just not your plain old bean soup. You can find these chilies in the Mexican food section of your grocery in most areas of the country. You just need the smallest can.


Needed for the beans
1 pound dried black beans (2 cups), rinsed and picked over( or other dried bean)
4 ounces seasoning ham or pancetta finely chopped. (You vegans can leave this part out)
2 bay leaves
5 cups water
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp kosher salt

Needed for the soup
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions , chopped fine (about 3 cups)
1 large carrot , chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
3 ribs celery , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 tsp kosher salt
5–6 medium cloves garlic , minced (about 1 1/2 tablespoon)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 Tbsp minced chipotle chiles in adobo (optional)
2 tsp adobo sauce(juice from the can) (optional)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 Tbsp cornstarch (optional)
2 Tbsp water (optional)
2 Tbsp lime juice , from 1 to 2 limes

Garnishes (pick a few)
lime wedges
minced fresh cilantro leaves
minced fresh Italian parsley(flat leaf)
red onion , finely diced
avocado , diced medium
sour cream or plain yogurt
grated cheese
chopped cucumber
chopped red bell pepper

1. FOR THE BEANS: Place beans, ham/pancetta, bay leaves, water, and baking soda in large saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Bring to boil over medium-high heat; using large spoon, skim scum as it rises to surface. Stir in salt, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer briskly until beans are tender. This should take about an hour and a half. If necessary, add another 1 cup water and continue to simmer until beans are tender. Don't drain the beans. Pick out and discard the bay leaves.
Note: you can speed this part up by soaking the beans overnight in 4 quarts of water to which you have added 3 TBsp of salt. Drain this soaking water off and follow the recipe but reduce the water to 3 cups or enough to just cover the beans. They should cook tender in about an hour. Check the beans after a half hour to make sure you have enough water and add another cup if needed.

2. FOR THE SOUP: Heat oil in 8-quart Dutch oven or other large soup pot over medium-high heat until not quite smoking; add onions, carrot, celery, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and lightly browned, about 12 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic and cumin and cook, stirring constantly, until you smell the garlic about 3 minutes. Stir in beans, bean cooking liquid, chipotle chilies(if using), adobo sauce(if using), and broth. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes. You can do this step while the beans simmer and set aside until the beans are done.

3. FINISHING THE SOUP: Ladle 1 1/2 cups beans and 2 cups liquid into your food processor or blender, process until smooth and return to pot. Alternatively you can use a hand blender to give the soup a few pulses. This will thicken and improve the texture. Depending on how you like your soup you can add additional body by stirring together cornstarch and water in small bowl until combined, then gradually stir in about half the cornstarch mixture. You won't see the full effect of the cornstarch until the soup comes back to the boil. If the soup is still thinner than you like once it boils then stir in the remaining cornstarch mixture and return to boil to fully thicken. Turn off the heat, stir in the lime juice. Serve immediately and allow everyone to garnish their own.

As always with the recipes offered here...nothing is cast in stone so feel free to modify as you like. I, of course, don't have to tell you this goes great with homemade cornbread (you can find a recipe by searching this blog for "cornbread") but a nice crusty Italian loaf or even tortillas work as well.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Updated below:

So the famous John Yoo torture memo has finally been released. While we all pretty much knew what was in the memo (Part 1; Part 2.) it is still a very interesting read. It will be extremely interesting to see how the traditional media deal with it, if they deal with it at all. In a nutshell, it says that civilian law doesn't prohibit torture since it doesn't apply to the military and likewise our treaties with other countries don't apply because they only apply to uniformed enemy soldiers. The same goes for the War Crimes Act. Finally it also says that federal laws that prohibit torture don't apply to things and go on on military bases. Overall, it paints a pretty broad stroke of permission to the commander-in-chief in a time of war.

Even though this memo was rescinded it is still pretty frightening because it basically says that not only don't federal statutes and treaties apply there is nothing that Congress or the courts can do to change it.

Any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of enemy combatants would violate the Constitution's sole vesting of the Commander-in-Chief authority in the President....Congress can no more interfere with the President's conduct of the interrogation of enemy combatants than it can dictate strategic or tactical decisions on the battlefield.

What about the Convention Against Torture? If the president orders someone to be tortured, that automatically suspends CAT:

Any presidential decision to order interrogations methods that are inconsistent with CAT would amount to a suspension or termination of those treaty provisions.


If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network. In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch's constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.

What this says is that the president can authorize any action at all as commander-in-chief during wartime and Congress can't stop him. The president is not bound by treaties nor can the courts stop him. The memo basically says that the president's power is virtually absolute during wartime.

One big question that is still hanging out there is what justification was used for classifying it? There was nothing in it that compromised national security. I can only assume that the DOJ and the White House thought it best not to have to justify a grant of absolute power to the president to the rest of the world.

One of the comments by KM over at TPM wraps this whole thing up pretty well...

This is genuinely chilling. What shocks the conscience is that a legal scholar from one of our most prestigious institutions of law and higher learning could in his own mind on behalf of a government seeking to find a way around legal obstacles offer the same banal rationale for perpetrating unspeakable acts of torture and cruel treatment as all other totalitarian regimes: The ends justify the means. Why? Because someone cloaked with authority says it does.

All humans self-justify. This is our nature. Our nation was founded as one of laws rather than men for the very reason of establishing limits on the worst excesses of human imagination, lust for power, and the capacity to self-justify. Perhaps such a sociopathic mindset fails to rise to the standard Yoo offers for criminal prosecution of torture only when “inspired by malice or sadism,” but this distinction is a matter of degree rather than kind and an incredibly fragile thread on which to hang our national humanity and reputation, to say nothing of the destroyed lives and sufferings of the victims.

What also shocks the conscience is that we have reached such a profound state of exhaustion or indifference to such shocking revelations that disclosure of the Yoo document is unlikely to cause much of a ripple in the news cycle.

Update: Here is the analysis from Glenn Greenwald and from Christy Hardin Smith. Both are legal beagles and much more effective at this analysis than I.

Wal-Mart Backs Off

I haven't posted on the Debbie Shank battle with Wal-Mart as it was covered in detail by a lot of the world and frankly it was really not surprising when you consider who the player was. I have refused to patronize Wal-Mart for years and even Madam is under strict instructions to stay away.
It is nice to see that Wal-Mart knows when it is whipped however and nice that Debbie and her family will get to keep the pittance that is left from her settlement. Here is the statement from WallyWorld....

"Occasionally, others help us step back and look at a situation in a different way. This is one of those times," Wal-Mart Executive Vice President Pat Curran said in a letter. "We have all been moved by Ms. Shank's extraordinary situation."


"We wanted you to know that Wal-Mart will not seek any reimbursement for the money already spent on Ms. Shank's care, and we will work with you to ensure the remaining amounts in the trust can be used for her ongoing care," Curran said.

"We are sorry for any additional stress this uncertainty has placed on you and your family."

Good to see they know when to cut their losses especially when you consider that the amount of money here is just a couple of days salary for the CEO.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Making Money the Old Fashioned Way

Rather depressing report in the Washington Post on how the Pentagon is managing yours and my money. If this were in the private sector there would be a major purge of project management and executive sponsors. Project management and project cost control is not easy but it is not impossible either. This is absolutely absurd.

The Government Accountability Office found that 95 major systems have exceeded their original budgets by a total of $295 billion, bringing their total cost to $1.6 trillion, and are delivered almost two years late on average. In addition, none of the systems that the GAO looked at had met all of the standards for best management practices during their development stages.
If you dig a bit you can see some of the details behind this horrid excuse for management.
GAO found that 63 percent of the programs had changed requirements once system development began, and also experienced significant program cost increases....[R]oughly half the programs that provided GAO data experienced more than a 25 percent increase in the expected lines of software code since starting their respective system development programs.

In spite of the insanity it is not getting any better...
The Pentagon has doubled the amount it has committed to new systems, from $790 billion in 2000 to $1.6 trillion last year, according to the 205-page GAO report. Total acquisition costs in 2007 for major defense programs increased 26 percent from first estimates. In 2000, 75 programs had cost increases totaling 6 percent. Development costs in 2007 for the systems rose 40 percent from initial projections, compared with 27 percent in 2000. Current programs are delivered 21 months late on average, five months later than in 2000.
Here is an example of the mess they are making...
The report details such projects as the Navy's $5.2 billion Littoral Combat Ship, which has had such extensive troubles that the service expects the cost of its first two ships to exceed their combined budget of $472 million by more than 100 percent. The Navy canceled construction of the planned third and fourth ships by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, the prime contractors on the project.

A 25% increase in the amount of code required seems a bit over the top to me but I don't develop weapons systems. The thing about delivering so far behind schedule is that by the time you are rolling to production the technology is 2 years or more ahead of you.

Then again the Boeings, Lockheed Martins, and General Dynamics people must be pretty happy with the way things are going.

I strongly advise you forget you read this post if you haven't done your taxes yet.

Food Stamp Stampede

David Usborne of The Independent reports that a record number of Americans are now on food stamps. Ignoring the fact that the headline incorrectly states that we are in a depression the content of the article should distress anyone concerned about the state of the American economy.

Dismal projections by the Congressional Budget Office in Washington suggest that in the fiscal year starting in October, 28 million people in the US will be using government food stamps to buy essential groceries, the highest level since the food assistance programme was introduced in the 1960s.

The increase – from 26.5 million in 2007 – is due partly to recent efforts to increase public awareness of the programme and also a switch from paper coupons to electronic debit cards. But above all it is the pressures being exerted on ordinary Americans by an economy that is suddenly beset by troubles. Housing foreclosures, accelerating jobs losses and fast-rising prices all add to the squeeze.

I know from experience what having to rely on government assistance does to one's morale and self respect. While we were in the lower middle class growing up we still, at times, had to turn to USDA food to make it. I talked with my late father about it once and it really hurt his self image and was something he never forgave himself for. He worked hard and had a pretty good job and those times where we were hurting to make ends meet still weighed on him 25 years later. It saddens me to think that there are now 28 million people out there that are going to have some of the same experience. People that should be able to feed their families and can't. What is even more depressing is that these same people are also probably not able to afford health insurance either and face each day knowing that even a minor illness may destroy their family completely.