Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Almost 2009

It is not 2009 yet but Happy New Year anyway. Madam and I are not going to make the midnight hour by any stretch. I'm feeling punk and she is just an early to bed type. I need some rest more than I need champagne.
In some ways it has been a good year and in some not so hot. We have a chance at redeeming some of the lost prestige of our once great nation in the coming year and that is a good thing. Many of us have taken a direct hit from Shrub and his cronies this year and some of us are yet to feel the ax and some of us are merely wounded.
So, with a couple of hours yet until the ball drops, Madam and I are tucking in and we will see you all tomorrow in 2009. There are a few bottles of proper champagne in the basement fridge if anyone is interested and some funny hats and noise makers under the "New Years tree". Have fun!

Have a great New Year!

Seeds for Tomorrow

I am not ready yet for the obligatory year end post. I can't say that I can add anything to the dialogue already out there. I also haven't decided on whether 2008 was a hoorah or hellno.

Right now I am finalizing my seed orders. It may be a subconscious need to to affirm the possibilities for next year. The garden is stabilizing and nurturing. Besides the fresh food it gives you a chance to connect to the wonders of nature and renewable energy that is life. It makes me happy. This year I am not planting any hybrid seeds only open pollinating seeds that I can save some seed from and replant the next year. People will ask why ignore the hybrids? They are so vigorous and productive and resistant to disease. The answer is simple. You can't save the seed and I am not sure enough about the future to know that I won't need to have these seeds to continue the garden the next year. The other thing is that these heirloom seeds have passed the test of time. My ancestors and yours have carefully preserved them year to year and Mother Nature has tested them over and over and found them good. They are survivors and I want to cherish them and let them help me survive and in turn I will nurture them and their life giving genes for the next season.

So I am spending the last day of the year preparing for the future, both mine and the seeds. I may be back today to add my thoughts to the ether or I may not. If not, let me add that I appreciate all the time each of you has spent here and I wish you all the very best New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Professional Advice

I just spent a brilliant hour and a half with the VP of Human Resources for a major retail company based here in Atlanta reviewing my resume. He is a social friend and volunteered to give me some advice on my job hunt and resume/CV. Getting the input and advice from "the other side of the desk" really opened my eyes. Not only did he give me some good advice but he completely rewrote my resume and I can't even begin to tell you what a difference having someone like that write your resume and doing it yourself makes. I, like most others, tried to put everything in two pages going back to when I graduated from high school. Not good!

As he reiterated repeatedly, the goal of a resume is to get a chance to get face to face...get an interview and not relate your life story. Most human resource folks get a lot of resumes and if the first paragraph or so doesn't get their interest you are not likely to hear from them even if you have President of the U.S. somewhere down the page. The goal is to catch their interest and keep them reading. They don't care who you worked for or what you did and when. They want to know what skills and experience you can bring to their organization. My two page resume with job titles, dates and job descriptions is now one page and focuses on my skills and what I can contribute to an organization. My work history is now just a few lines at the bottom. Pretty amazing change and the meeting was a pretty good confidence builder.

So anyway, I need to spend the next day or so making a few minor adjustments and making sure I can "talk to the resume" and then reposting it on all the job sites. The other bit of advice is that with the economy the way it is I might be better off looking for contract jobs. A lot of companies might have a hiring freeze on right now and even be laying off people but they still have pain points in my "sweet spot" that need to be urgently addressed and a CEO might still be willing to spend money addressing something that is keeping him awake at nights even if he can't hire a permanent employee to address them. The reality is that this is what I have actually been doing for my last company for a while. I have been going back to existing customers and they have been paying for my expertise to help them reach the next level or solve specific problems. I can do that.

Evangelicals Not Keen on Green Bible

Important Update below:

As you may of heard a Green Bible has been published.
U.S. evangelicals say they are divided over a new "Green Bible" which embraces environmentalism and a need to protect the earth.

The Green Bible, which has been endorsed by secular groups such as the Humane Society and the Sierra Club, shows people that "God is calling us to care for the world around us," said Rusty Pritchard, editor of Creation Care Magazine, a publication for evangelicals.

Other evangelicals are concerned the Green Bible will mislead Christians because it does not interpret Scripture literally, said James Taylor, a founding elder at Living Water Christian Fellowship in Palmetto, Fla.

"These groups don't have a religious focus; they have a desire to spread their environmental message," Taylor said of the essayists who contributed to the Green Bible, which contains a foreword from Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I just love it when I hear evangelicals use phrases like "interpret Scripture literally". They obviously have no clue where "the Scripture" came from. I think most of them believe that "the Scripture" was brought from heaven by an angel in A.D. 1611 when it was first published. Most of them refuse to recognize that it is an elegant but often inaccurate translation of a hodge-podge of Hebrew and Greek documents that were written by any number of people between 900 B.C. and A.D. 120. The Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures first appeared around 900 B.C. but wasn't formally declared holy until a group of rabbis got together in Jamnia in 100 A.D. and decided it was the "good book". Likewise, the Christian Bible or the New Testament wasn't cobbled together until the fourth century when a bunch of Catholic priests got together in Carthage and decided what to keep and what to throw out of "the Scripture". It should be noted that some really great, but not PC, stuff was left out such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the Gospel of Saint Thomas. The bottom line is that "the Scripture" the fundamentalists are all worried about being interpreted literally is something that gets its authority from the Jews who rejected Jesus and the Catholic Church whom they abominate as the Scarlet Woman of Revelation.

If you ever want to have an interesting discussion with a fundamentalist over the history around the King James Bible you might ask them how the feel about the accuracy of the translation from the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) or how they feel about the exclusion from the New Testament of the Acts of John, the Didache, the Apostolic Constitutions
or the various epistles of Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp.

Update: Mike (webpage) a obviously knowledgeable guy on such things, very properly took me to task on my simplistic comments on the history of the King James Bible. I should have put a disclaimer in that I am not nor will I ever be a biblical scholar and that I was trying to remember something from the early seventies and quite poorly to boot. I apologize to Mike and anyone else who takes exception to my errors. If you want the straight scoop on all this please read Mike's comments. It was very generous of him to take the time to share with us and set me straight.

Thanks Mike and come back sometime when I am not ignorantly treading in your space. I share recipes every once in a while and most of those are pretty accurate and tasty.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Better Than Switches

Today was the first day the sun was out since Christmas and I took the opportunity to get a couple of garden chores done. One of my 'gifts' this year was a big trash can full of horse manure. I could have gotten more but my daughter's husband has a new truck and he is not ready for it to be filled with poop just yet so I had to settle for a big can. It is now spread evenly across four compost piles of leaves...let the magic begin.

I also got four bags of shredded leaves which are now nestled in and around the garlic which has popped up in all this warm weather and is now about 4 inches tall.

If you have the lucky combination of a couple of horses and an organic gardening Dad you too will always have the perfect present when the need arises. I did ask for it BTW and it was much appreciated. Now I just need to figure out how to get more. My daughter passes nearby on her way to work every couple of days but she drives a Mini and for hauling manure they are crap!

A Little More on Gaza

There seems to be a much more civilized discussion going on in the blog world over the situation in Gaza and the Israeli assault than what is normally seen. Phoenix Woman at FDL has a good post and a link to Juan Cole which I am reposting here. Jane Hamsher is also noticing the change in the dialogue with her post "The Third Rail of "Israel" Cools in the Blogosphere". The comments on my previous post show the same "change" with the exception of our English commenter Mr. Duff.

It is possible to discuss this subject. Juan Cole enlightens us a little on the inevitable claim "but Hamas has been lobbing rockets at Israelis for years from Gaza!"

Juan Cole tells us about these rockets, and provides some perspective:

Israel blames Hamas for primitive homemade rocket attacks on the nearby Israeli city of Sederot. In 2001-2008, these rockets killed about 15 Israelis and injured 433, and they have damaged property. In the same period, Gazan mortar attacks on Israel have killed 8 Israelis.

Since the Second Intifada broke out in 2000, Israelis have killed nearly 5000 Palestinians, nearly a thousand of them minors. Since fall of 2007, Israel has kept the 1.5 million Gazans under a blockade, interdicting food, fuel and medical supplies to one degree or another. Wreaking collective punishment on civilian populations such as hospital patients denied needed electricity is a crime of war.

The Israelis on Saturday killed 5% of all the Palestinians they have killed since the beginning of 2001! 230 people were slaughtered in a day, over 70 of them innocent civilians. In contrast, from the ceasefire Hamas announced in June, 2008 until Saturday, no Israelis had been killed by Hamas. The infliction of this sort of death toll is known in the law of war as a disproportionate response, and it is a war crime.

There is more to read at FDL and of special note is the situation with respect to food being allowed into Gaza by the Israelis. Basically, the Palestinians are being starved to death in addition to being bombed.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Israel Is Wrong

This latest attack in Gaza by Israel is just another example of what is wrong with the whole concept of a Jewish state. It was a mistake to take the Palestinian land in the first place and Israel's failure to reach a peaceful steady state with them is a tragedy. The U.S. should condemn this latest action and withdraw their support immediately. We cannot afford it anyway and especially the way our assistance is and has been used. The failure of Israel to act like a good citizen of the family of nations is shameful. I lost count somewhere of the number of U.N. resolutions Israel has ignored not to mention the Geneva Conventions which they have ignored as well. Yeah, the holocaust was a tragedy of epic proportions but one has to ask whether it justified taking away the Palestinian's country to create Israel or just made the tragedy that much worse.

Full disclosure: I lost some good friends on the USS Liberty and the whole incident made me reevaluate my feelings toward the existence of a Jewish homeland. The West never had the right to create the country in the first place and the behavior of the Israeli's ever since has more than justified this point of view.

No Ho! Ho! But Uh Oh!

If you are in the retail business this was not a very happy holiday. Usually the holiday season is where a lot of retailers pad their bottom line for the rest of the year. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the commercial landscape is likely to deteriorate further in the new year, with a "wave of retailer bankruptcies."

"We will have a lot fewer stores by the middle of 2009," says Nancy Koehn, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. "It's happening very, very quickly because of the financial crisis and the recession." [...]

Corporate-turnaround experts and bankruptcy lawyers are predicting a wave of retailer bankruptcies early next year, after being contacted by big and small retailers either preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection or scrambling to avoid that fate.

Analysts estimate that from about 10% to 26% of all retailers are in financial distress and in danger of filing for Chapter 11. AlixPartners LLP, a Michigan-based turnaround consulting firm, estimates that 25.8% of 182 large retailers it tracks are at significant risk of filing for bankruptcy or facing financial distress in 2009 or 2010. In the previous two years, the firm had estimated 4% to 7% of retailers then tracked were at a high risk for filing.

25% of all the the retailers going away is a huge chunk of businesses. If your area is anything like the northern burbs of Atlanta they have been building strip malls and shopping centers like gangbusters for the last couple of years. Vast swaths of land have been gobbled up by cookie cutter strip shopping. Imagine what it will look like with 25% of them empty. Madam is still heart broken of the closing of Linens and Things. Looks like it will be much worse during the coming year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Electric Torture

OK, Christmas is over and it is time to get back to some of the real issues. Our friends across the pond, always admired for their civilized approach to law enforcement are in danger of slipping the reins and becoming more like their dangerous Yank cousins. Fortunately the British press is a bit more awake than ours and Johann Hari of the Independent has written a thoughtful argument against tasers. Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith is pressing for all the coppers in the UK to go full taser, it's a horrible idea, so it's right that they should be discussing it. We in the U.S. didn't get the opportunity for a public debate on whether we wanted our police to be judge, jury and executioner all in one. Now we are just routinely tortured and executed without due process and no one seems too concerned. Just last week the chief of police for Dekalb county (one of the metro Altanta counties) went before the county commission to ask for the money to equip each of his 3,000 officers with tasers. There just has to be a better way of equipping our police with the tools they need to keep the peace and do their jobs safely. I am not arguing that is not dangerous out there but the numbers show that most of the people (90%) tasered are unarmed.

Daniel Sylvester can't forget the night the police fired 50,000 volts of electricity into his skull. The 46-year-old grandfather owns his own security business, and he was recently walking down the street when a police van screeched up to him.

He didn't know what they wanted, but obeyed when they told him to approach slowly. "I then had this incredible jolt of pain on the back of my head," he explains. The electricity made him spasm; as he fell to the ground, he felt his teeth scatter on the tarmac and his bowels open. "Then they shot me again in the head. I can't describe the pain." (Another victim says it is "like someone reached into my body to rip my muscles apart with a fork.") The police then saw he was not the person they were looking for, said he was free to go, and drove off.

This did not happen in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or any other country notorious for using electro-shock weapons. It happened in north London and, if the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has her way, it will be coming soon to a street near you. In Britain there are 3,000 police officers trained to use Tasers as part of specialised armed response units, but Smith has fired a jolt forward. She wants there to be 30,000 Taser-carrying officers, authorised to use them against unarmed citizens, including children. These "stun-guns" fire small metal darts into your skin, and through the trailing wires run an agonising electric current through your body.

Smith is right to say that the police face a growing threat of violence, and these heroic frontline officers must have the means to defend themselves. She's also right to argue it better to use a Taser than to use a gun. But the police can already swiftly call out armed response teams, equipped with Tasers and firearms. If we move beyond this to a widespread culture of assault by electricity, it will only endanger the police – and the rest of us.

Smith wants Tasers to be distributed well beyond the ranks of specially trained firearms officers, but Tasers can kill. Amnesty International has just published a report showing that, since 2001, 334 people have died in the US during or just after Tasering. Jarrel Gray was a partially deaf 20-year-old black man involved in an argument in the street in Frederick County, Maryland, when the police approached him and ordered him to lie on the ground. He didn't hear them – so they Tasered him. As he lay paralysed on the ground, they told him to show his hands. He couldn't obey. They Tasered him again. Jarrel died in hospital two hours later.

Ryan Rich was a 33-year-old medical doctor who had an epileptic seizure while driving his car on a Nevada highway. He crashed into the side of the road. The police smashed a window to get into the car and Ryan woke up, startled. The police officer reacted by Tasering him repeatedly. Only when they were handcuffing him did they notice he was turning blue. He was dead before he got to hospital. The coroner noted dryly that the Taser "probably contributed" to his death. Taser International's brochures claim their weapons have "no after-effects."

There may, in fact, be even more deaths than are recorded. Taser International has responded to medical examiners saying their weapons kill not by changing their weapons, but by suing the medical examiners. After the chief medical examiner of Summit Country, Ohio, ruled that Tasering caused the death of three young men, they sued her, and she was forced to remove the conclusions from her reports. The president of the National Association of Medical Examiners says Taser International's behaviour is "dangerously close to intimidation".

Yet Smith appears still to be taking the corporate propaganda of Taser International – who dominate the international stun-gun market – at face value. The company are startlingly glib when their spiel begins to crumble. A recent scientific study conducted by biomedical engineers for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found that nine per cent of the guns give a far larger electric shock than advertised. Some sent a 58 per cent higher voltage through the victim's body. Steve Tuttle, the vice-president of Taser, responded: "Regardless of whether or not the anomaly is accurate, it has no bearing on safety." The UK Defence Scientific Advisory Council has warned there is research suggesting that Tasers could cause "a serious cardiac event" when fired at children. But still Smith won't compromise.

Everyday on-the-beat policing does not happen in the tightly controlled scenarios imagined by the Home Office. It is messy and scrappy and carried out at high speed by people who are frightened and coursing with adrenaline: some 90 per cent of Tasered people in the US are unarmed. Matthew Fogg, who led a SWAT team in the US, warns that Tasers create a culture where "if I don't like you, I can torture you".

Read the whole thing.

Back here in the U.S. we have another statistic:

A naked man who was banging on doors and windows at a northside apartment complex died Wednesday after being shocked by Tasers at least three times during a confrontation with Harris County sheriff's deputies, authorities said.

About 4 a.m., deputies received calls from residents at the apartments in the 200 block of Dominion Park near Kuykendahl.

Investigators said the 46-year-old man was randomly knocking on doors and windows and yelling while walking around the complex. At one point, he kicked open a front door and briefly went inside an occupied apartment, officials said.

The resident "did not know who he was," said Lt. John Legg of the Sheriff's Office.

The first deputy arrived within minutes.

"He was immediately confronted by the suspect, who ran toward his patrol car, opened the front passenger door and climbed in," Legg said.

The deputy ordered the man out, but the man ignored his commands, yelling and flailing his arms, Legg said.

"He was incoherent," the lieutenant said. "The deputy said his eyes appeared glassed over."

The deputy's Taser had little, if any, effect, officials said. After the man got out of the patrol car and pulled out the stun gun's prongs, the deputy fired it again while struggling with the man, officials said.

Autopsy ordered

Another deputy arrived and ordered the naked man to back away, then used his Taser, investigators said.

Deputies were then able to handcuff the man, officials said.

He appeared to be unresponsive when paramedics arrived, officials said.

They performed CPR en route to Memorial Hermann Northwest Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

This is totally unacceptable. Here is another example of the police torturing and killing a mentally ill person with a taser. The horror is that this is becoming commonplace. We need to seriously rethink the use of tasers in this country and the British should take the lessons being demonstrated here to heart before they allow the same in their country.

h/t Digby

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ho! Ho! Ho!

A Very Merry Christmas to all of you. While I hope your Christmas is bright and fulfilling here is hoping that next year we have even more to celebrate. Santa is airborne and doing the other side of the pond just now but all indications are that he will soon be heading our way.

Update: Santa definitely stopped by Monk manor last night. He, most unfortunately, did not keep an eye on Donner and Blitzen since they had a midnight snack from the garden and ate the tops off all the carrots. My fault, as I should have left some oats out for them.

Poison River

This spill of coal ash sludge in Tennessee is a tragedy. What is not really highlighted in the article(not surprisingly) is that this sludge is contaminated with arsenic, lead, and other poisonous compounds and that it will affect the Tennessee River watershed for hundreds of miles including the water supply for Greater Chattanooga. This coal ash sludge is a witches' brew of bad things and it will take forever for its effects to diminish. A real tragedy.

This is a lesson to remember every time some idiot talks about 'clean coal'. It's a myth and the sooner we divorce ourselves from coal the better off we will be. Mining and burning coal are an act of rape against the planet and while it is 'cheap' and readily available energy it comes with a huge cost with respect to the environment. The CO2 issue is only a part of the problem and I am not so sure it is the biggest or worst part.

The second paragraph was added after the initial paragraph was posted.

Christmas Questions?

Why Santa? Why St Nicholas? Why December 25th? Why Christmas cards? If you have ever wondered why we do what we do in the Western world on this winter solstice holiday, most of the answers are here. Why do we have all those traditions that we embrace over Christmas?
Tonight you will put up the stockings, Santa Claus will arrive on his sleigh drawn by reindeer to slide down your chimney in his trademark red suit with a sack over his shoulder, and tomorrow you will open presents under your decorated Christmas tree, eat turkey and mince pies, and promise yourself that next year you won't leave it until the last weekend to write your Christmas cards, because it is Christmas, and it is traditional. But do you know how old these "traditions" actually are? Some are ancient, some are newer than you think.

So should I believe in Father Christmas?


* If he doesn't exist, why did parents riot when a pilot recently refuse to fly them to Lapland?

* What about the letter to S. Claus from Inland Revenue, querying his claim for travelling expenses?

* There are 300,000 living organisms yet to be classified – couldn't one be a reindeer that can fly?


* Santa would need to visit 896 homes a second to fill all the stockings

* Only Kathy Staff, the actress who played Nora Batty, really knew how to fill a stocking, and she has just died

* When Chico Marx was told to sign a clause that would prove he was sane, he rightly said: "You don't fool me: there is no Sanity Clause"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

You Know Who is Watching

You'd better be good because the jolly old elf is peeking. You never know when you are under observation so it pays to be on your best behavior at all times.

I took this shot the other week at Bulloch Hall. Santa was there for a special event with the kids. Taken through one of the triple hung windows on the front porch.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Buy a Human Being for 50 Bucks

This is an article from the spring of this year but it just popped up on Huffpo. I read it. I'm sorry I did. You will be too.

There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history. True abolition will elude us until we admit the massive scope of the problem, attack it in all its forms, and empower slaves to help free themselves.
Standing in New York City, you are five hours away from being able to negotiate the sale, in broad daylight, of a healthy boy or girl. He or she can be used for anything, though sex and domestic labor are most common. Before you go, let’s be clear on what you are buying. A slave is a human being forced to work through fraud or threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence. Agreed? Good.

We Need a little Class Warfare

Let me see if I understand this. We are giving them billions of dollars of our hard earned money to fix the global economic meltdown that they caused and they still think it is OK to take bonuses and fly on their private jets just like they were the heroes of the day? These people have absolutely no shame. They have just sent the entire global economy into a nosedive and vanished billions of dollars into thin air. They are getting bailed out and basically rewarded for their stupidity and greed by the rest of us -- the people who get to take the bus to work if we are lucky enough to even have a job. It's insanity.

From the AP:

"Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals.

The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages.

Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

The total amount given to nearly 600 executives would cover bailout costs for many of the 116 banks that have so far accepted tax dollars to boost their bottom lines."

Read the while article... there are all kinds of interesting bits, for instance. Banks that took bailout funds paid for their executives' private financial advisors, club dues, home security systems, and chauffeurs and leased cars. Here's what passes for an explanation of all this:

"Goldman Sachs' tab for leased cars and drivers ran as high as $233,000 per executive. The firm told its shareholders this year that financial counseling and chauffeurs are important in giving executives more time to focus on their jobs."

Don't grumble too much though and for Goddess' sake don't mention that just maybe they ought to be taxed a little higher or you will be accused of fomenting class warfare. Just shut up and pay.

Better Give Them Coal

You'd be better off giving your children coal in their stockings this Christmas than toys. I know it sounds crazy but there is a 33% chance the toy you are giving to little Johnny or Suzy is toxic. You can thank Congress for delaying the start of new laws dealing with lead, mercury and other toxins in toys until after Christmas. Better a few million poisoned children than taking a chance on dulling the profits of their corporate masters, eh? Remember how good you felt putting that toy in the charity box for the children...well, not so much.
One of every three toys tested in a study of 1,500 popular children's toys contained potentially harmful levels of lead, arsenic, mercury and other dangerous chemicals, according to findings released earlier this month by the Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based consumer safety organization.

On Feb. 10, 2009, a new federal law — the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act — will set new limits on the amount of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead and other potentially unsafe chemicals allowed in children's products. The new legal limit for cadmium in children's products will be 75 parts per million, arsenic will be 25 ppm, mercury will be 60 ppm and lead will be 600 ppm. Based on these limits and related safety standards limiting bromine levels to 1000 ppm, the Ecology Center generated its list of the year's "worst toys," which includes, but doesn't rank, the toys with highest levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury or bromide.
Here's the list of toxic toys . Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pecan Sandies

Here is another family favorite but you will find it in various versions all over the South. Sometimes called wedding cookies. These are a simple but rich and very short cookie and they go great with a hot drink or eggnog. You will wind up with powdered sugar all over your face and shirt.

1 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp water
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup chopped nuts (again pecans are the usual but walnuts work fine)
powdered sugar for dusting

Cream butter and sugar, add water and vanilla and mix well. Blend in the flour and nuts. Chill for an hour. Using your fingers shape into small fingers about the size of your pinkie or into little balls about half the size of a walnut. Bake at 325 for about 20 minutes but be careful not to bake too long as you want them just barely browned. While they are still warm but not hot from the oven roll them liberally in the powdered sugar. This recipe should make about 3 dozen.

Jolly Jam Bars

I thought it might be fun to share a couple of family favorite cookie recipes for the holiday. The first is Jolly Jam Bars. No idea where the recipe came from but they are always included in the holiday baking. These are chewy little fruit filled bars. They keep very nicely in a covered tin.

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1 cup chopped nuts (usually pecans since we are southerners)
1/2 cup strawberry or raspberry jam

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and blend well. Gradually add the flour and mix. Fold in the chopped nuts. Divide the dough in half and pat one part into a 9" x 11" greased pan. Top with the jam and cover with the other half of the dough. Bake at 325 for about 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Cut into about 1" square bars.

Nuts and Bolts

"Nuts and Bolts" is what my family has always called the holiday concoction found on the back of Chex cereal boxes and there called "Party Mix". Nuts and bolts came from the fact that the pretzel sticks and little square cereal looked like...well, nuts and bolts.

The daughter (AKA Minimonk) has, as always, requested a batch for Christmas. Her comment being "As long as there are "Nuts and Bolts" and mashed potatoes and gravy I'm good." This when quizzed about her desires for the Christmas dinner.

Anyhow, today is "Nuts and Bolts" day and since it turned out a bit rainy though warm I won't be missing any much needed yard work while I play with cereal. I don't know about you but if you follow the recipe on the box of cereal it comes out way too bland and unexciting. I usually double the recommended amount of seasoning and always put in extra Worcestershire and garlic and an extra dose of butter. No margarine please and none of those disgusting bagel chips. I'm a purist...the 3 cereals with extra wheat since they do the best job of soaking up flavor, mixed nuts with peanuts(lots) and little pretzel waffle thingies. Yeah, I know I am supposed to use sticks if it is nuts and bolts but the little waffle shapes are more compatible with the shape of the cereal. That's it.

Even though I make a double plus batch I always have left over cereal which won't be eaten on its own. I'll put the left over cereal out for the birds but even they are picky and will leave some. It is also nice that the Chex were on sale and included a coupon for $3 off when you bought all three. I won't feel too guilty about tossing the left overs to the birds.

Never can tell, since outside work is off the table, there might be some Christmas cookies in the offing as well.

Update: Added an after photo. This is what a triple batch looks like cooling on the kitchen table. That's a lot of snacking! Note: if you click on the picture it goes full screen. Hungry?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Do You Know Your Family History?

One of my "hobbies" has been trying to complete the family genealogy my father started when he became disabled and was confined to a wheelchair. It really kept him active, at least mentally, and he made a lot of progress on both his maternal and paternal sides. Since he started before the Internet became so readily available he spent a lot of time in old dusty courthouses and libraries but it is much easier now. I have extended the lines for my mother's family and his though I still have some roadblocks around the end of the 18th century for my Dad's side. I did do the Y DNA thing to 64 markers so I can trace beyond that on my Dad's side but I just don't have the names for a block of about a century. I know my ancestors from the 1600's but then don't have the documentation for any until 1800 and it is a bit frustrating. My Mom's is a little easier since her line includes the infamous Hatfields of West Virginia and the Hatfield/McCoy dust up precipitated quite a bit of documentation on the families.

Anyhow, if you are interested, the Internet has made genealogical research much easier. All the LDS church stuff is online and there are many other free online sites as well. There is also some good and free software available to help organize the data. I use Legacy Family Tree , the deluxe version, but there are several pretty good free ones out there, even one from the Mormon Church.

Finally, the point of this whole post is that you can get some free online tutoring on how to use the Internet to do genealogical research and it really can be fascinating. I find it a good way to get myself diverted for a few hours and warning, it can be addicting. If you have a computer and an internet connection you can use this podcast to start learning about building your familiy tree and who knows we might be related...and if so...too bad.

I'd be interested to hear from any of you who have done any research and I'll be happy to share any of my small knowledge or resources on the subject. If by chance any of your family includes the surnames Clark, Lawson, Hatfield, Toler, Ellis, Cox, Deskins, Moore, Shue, Workman, Hurt, Burnett, or Francisco I might even have some of your research already done.

Some Good News

At last some good news from the White House!

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration came to the rescue of the troubled U.S. auto industry Friday, offering $17.4 billion in loans in exchange for concessions from carmakers and their workers.

"Allowing the auto companies to collapse is not a responsible course of action," President Bush said. He said that a bankruptcy was unlikely to work for the auto industry at this time and would deal "an unacceptably painful blow to hardworking Americans" across the economy.

The whole idea of an "orderly bankruptcy" was nonsense and a bad idea from the beginning. This is not a normal time for the economy and and additional burden on the economy like losing the American auto industry was insane. The automakers need to rethink their business but it is going to take longer than a few weeks to get it done. This news should help the markets today and going forward toward the end of the year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Details, Details

It is just amazing how many things have to be taken care of, changed or otherwise manipulated when you have a change in circumstance. Slowly chipping away at all of them and I think it is about done.
It is also interesting/depressing to realize, in hindsight, that all of your good intentions with respect to saving and investing for retirement were basically completely misguided. I would have been much better off today if I had just put all of that money into a savings account or even under the mattress. It is, however, nice to realize that being almost 60 some of the tax hits you can take for having to dip into an IRA go away. There are no penalties if you reach 59 and a half in the year you need to use them, just the normal taxes. Let's hope that is not necessary but you do have to assess your options in times like these.
I had lunch with my financial adviser yesterday and things could be a lot worse, though I am still not too happy with the condition of my IRA's.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vilsack as USDA head, Questions

I am not too pleased that Tom Vilsack has been named as the candidate for the USDA head honcho slot. There are a lot of other people that would have made a better candidate. The best summation of why he is not the best choice is made by the Organic Consumers Association.

Six Reasons Why Obama Appointing Monsanto's Buddy, Former Iowa Governor Vilsack, for USDA Head Would be a Terrible Idea
Organic Consumers Association, November 12, 2008

1. Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's support of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops, especially pharmaceutical corn:

2. The biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, named Vilsack Governor of the Year. He was also the founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership.

3. When Vilsack created the Iowa Values Fund, his first poster child of economic development potential was Trans Ova and their pursuit of cloning dairy cows.

4. Vilsack was the origin of the seed pre-emption bill in 2005, which many people here in Iowa fought because it took away local government's possibility of ever having a regulation on seeds- where GE would be grown, having GE-free buffers, banning pharma corn locally, etc. Representative Sandy Greiner, the Republican sponsor of the bill, bragged on the House Floor that Vilsack put her up to it right after his state of the state address.

5. Vilsack has a glowing reputation as being a schill for agribusiness biotech giants like Monsanto. Sustainable ag advocated across the country were spreading the word of Vilsack's history as he was attempting to appeal to voters in his presidential bid. An activist from the west coast even made this youtube animation about Vilsack
The airplane in this animation is a referral to the controversy that Vilsack often traveled in Monsanto's jet.

6. Vilsack is an ardent support of corn and soy based biofuels, which use as much or more fossil energy to produce them as they generate, while driving up world food prices and literally starving the poor.

Web Note, Nov. 20, 2008: Although the Organic Consumers Association is happy that former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack apparently supports a modest reduction in our nation's annual $17-25 billion subsidies (for example the often voiced reform for a $250,000 limit to individual farms per year) to chemical, energy-intensive and genetically engineered crops such as corn, soybeans, and cotton, our position is that all "non-green" subsidies should be eliminated. We can no longer afford to use U.S. tax money to subsidize chemical and energy-intensive crops that basically prop up factory farm profits and the junk food industry, make consumers unhealthy, waste valuable non-renewable resources, and destabilize the climate. We need massive subsidies instead to help American farmers and ranchers make the transition to healthy, energy-efficient, carbon-sequestering, organic crops and farm practices--before it's too late.

Similarly, we are glad Vilsack has apparently reversed his previous vocal support for genetically engineered crops, including controversial and dangerous biopharmaceutical crops, but we'd prefer a USDA Secretary who calls for on an outright ban on biopharm crops, cloned animals, and an end to all taxpayer subsidies for genetically engineered crops. If Vilsack actually is appointed USDA Secretary we'll definitely remind him of his stated position below--that he supports mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients and strict liability for companies and farmers causing genetic pollution with their GMO seeds and crops.

Finally, we hope Tom Vilsack (and Barack Obama) will admit that corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel, although popular with Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, and subsidized corn and soybean farmers in Vilsack's home state of Iowa, are a dangerous hoax, and that the only way the US will be able to reduce our greenhouse gas pollution by 80% by 2050 (as Obama has promised), and to survive in an era of Peak Oil and evermore expensive energy, is to convert our nation's industrial, petroleum-based food and farming system (which eats up 19% of our energy and generates 37% of our greenhouse gases) to a solar-based, relocalized/regionalized system of organic agriculture as outlined in Michael Pollan's recent essay in the New York Times http://www.organicconsumers.or...

We're happy Tom Vilsack voices support for long overdue "Livestock Market Reforms," but we believe it's now blatantly obvious that factory farms or CAFO should be banned, before they do any more damage to animals, human health, water quality (including massive dead zones in the oceans), and our already destabilized climate.

We look forward to mobilizing America's 50 million organic consumer to pressure Tom Vilsack or whomever Barack Obama appoints as the new Secretary of Agriculture.

Ronnie Cummins, Director, Organic Consumers Association

If we are going to have a USDA that does what it should do with respect to the food we are eating then someone a little less friendly with big agriculture needs to be in the post. We as a nation are slowly dying from the food choices we have.
In the New York Times op-ed by Nicholas Kristof last week. Kristof reminds readers that 2% of Americans farm but 100% of us eat - we need a Secretary of Ag who can be a Secretary of Food as well.


From a press release from the Organic Consumers Association:

Today's announcement that former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, has been selected as the new Secretary of Agriculture sent a chill through the sustainable food and farming community who have been lobbying for a champion in the new administration.

"Vilsack's nomination sends the message that dangerous, untested, unlabeled genetically engineered crops will be the norm in the Obama Administration," said Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director of Organic Consumers Association. "Our nation's future depends on crafting a forward-thinking strategy to promote organic and sustainable food and farming, and address the related crises of climate change, diminishing energy supplies, deteriorating public health, and economic depression."

h/t Jill at La Vida Locavore

Looking for the Good Life

The right will call it "class warfare" but Kevin Drum at Mother Jones sums up pretty succinctly what the current situation, at least economically, is in the U.S.
This isn't just a matter of social justice. It's a matter of facing reality. If we want a strong economy, we can only get it over the long term if we figure out a way for the benefits of economic growth to flow to everyone, not just the rich. This is, by far, Barack Obama's biggest economic challenge. Until median wages start rising steadily and consistently, we haven't gotten ourselves back on track.
The thing is, and it is hard to understand, that most of America doesn't seem to understand that if we are going to continue to provide a good life for ourselves, our children and their children then there are going to have to be some fundamental changes in how things work.

I surely don't have all the answers but I do know that part of what has to happen in the country is that we have to rethink what the "good life" means. One of the most glaring problems is that we have been taught that the "good life" is a personal measurement. By that I mean we have been educated to believe that as long as I and my immediate family have a roof over our heads, food at every meal, most of the toys we want, and all the other superficial things that have come to define us, then all is cool. We are not taught that the true "good life" is, or should be, a collective measurement. Does everyone in my community, state or country have a secure place to live? Does everyone have enough good food to eat? Does everyone have health care? Does everyone that can have somewhere to work that pays a fair wage and id reasonably secure? Currently, the answer to each of these questions is a resounding NO.

How do we get there? Again, I don't have all the answers but here are some suggestions. National single payer health care that includes everyone, not just the people lucky enough to have a job with benefits. Higher minimum wage. A better educational system. More progressive taxation. A rethinking of national defense. An energy policy that is not insane. A return to sustainable agriculture. And, most of all, a massive cultural awakening to what a truly healthy, progressive and enlightened society should be. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

The disparity between the wealthy in this country and the rest of us is staggering and it is going to have to change. The wealthy in this country, while they control far and away most of the wealth in the country, cannot, by themselves support a truly healthy and vibrant economy. For decades most of the strides made in this country in productivity and the resulting wealth have flowed into the pockets of a tiny minority of the population and while you can call it "class warfare" until you are blue in the face the reality is that until this changes and the wealth of this country is more evenly distributed we are going to continue our spiral into a second rate nation. I am not arguing that everyone should receive the same, just that the gap between the haves and have nots gets narrowed pretty brutally. They rich can still be rich just not so much.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Empty Quiver?

The Fed is running out of room to goose the economy. This rate cut comes on top of a report this morning that the Consumer Price Index fell a record 1.7% last month which means that inflation is no longer the worry it was. It does mean that we are getting some deflationary pressure in the economy and that is a bad thing since it can begin to spiral and ripple across the entire economy in a very bad way. BTW, don't expect the banks to lower the interest on your credit cards because of this.

NEW YORK ( -- In its latest effort to try and stimulate the U.S. economy, the Federal Reserve cut its key interest rate to a range of between zero percent and 0.25%, and said it expects to keep rates near that unprecedented low level for some time to come.

The central bank typically sets a specific target for its federal funds rate instead of a range. The rate had previously been at 1% and this marks the first time the Fed has cut rates below 1%. Most investors were expecting the Fed to cut rates to either 0.25% or 0.5%.

Wall Street seems to like the news since as of this writing the DOW is up 375 and change and 9,000 is almost within range. Makes me happy.

Update: Krugman adds "Seriously, we are in very deep trouble. Getting out of this will require a lot of creativity, and maybe some luck too."

No kidding?

Wild Turkeys

Not a great photo but I did manage to see a small flock of wild turkeys while I was wandering around in Virginia. We had just been to the Amish store at Pembroke and were taking the scenic route back to Narrows when we spotted them across the narrow valley. A long shot, late in the afternoon and the turkeys saw me getting out of the car and so were moving for cover. Evidently they are well recovered from 20 years ago when they were rapidly disappearing from the area.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's the Planet Stupid

Update. A. Siegel feels that I didn't give him enough credit for the content of this post. I did link back to his Firedoglake post at the bottom but should have been clearer as to the source for some of the content. I apologize.

It's coming Christmas again and just like last year, the Minority on the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Commitee has just released another misleading "report" discounting global climate change. Just to be on the safe side, if they fail to prove that global climate change is a myth they want you to believe that humans have nothing to do with the warming and not only that but if the climate is changing for the worse there is nothing we can do about it. James Inhofe (R-Big Oil) and his partner in crime Marc Morano have recycled many of the deceptions and outright lies from from last year's report. The report titled UN Blowback: More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims Study: Half of warming due to Sun! –Sea Levels Fail to Rise? - Warming Fears in 'Dustbin of History' is another cheap attempt to confuse the natives and the media with a massive dose of bad information hoping that the media and others are too lazy to fact check and will just repeat the lies outright. Releasing the report during the Christmas break is very strategic as they know there is not the staff on the hill to counter the report with accurate information before the press runs with it.

The good news is that, just like last year, journalists working on the web are starting to dig out the truth and debunk the malicious lies in the report. For example, Joe Romm at Climate Progress published a piece yesterday quoting one scientist reacting strongly about how the Inhofe/Morano report not only misquoted her but presented her work 180 degrees out from what it actually said. The title of the article sums it up nicely: Scientist: “Our conclusions were misinterpreted” by Inhofe, CO2 — but not the sun — “is significantly correlated” with temperature since 1850.

Just like last year, they are once again trying to overwhelm readers by quoting large numbers of supposed scientists and other authorities on climate. They know good and well that that most journalists will run with the headline "650 scientists say" and not do any serious checking on who these 650 scientists are and whether they actually said what is suggested. The problems with the list of "scientists" are legion. How many are actually legitimate climate scientists or people actually qualified to make informed comments? If they are legitimate, are they questioning some specific item in the research or the whole consensus of global climate change? Again, if they are valid sources, is their work being fairly and accurately represented? While the entire list of this year's 650 "scientists" hasn't yet been vetted it is illuminating to have a look at last years list of "experts" to get a flavor of what this year's list is all about.

  • Inhofe's list last year included 413 people.
  • 84 have either taken money from, or are connected to, fossil fuel industries, or think tanks started by those industries.
  • 49 are retired
  • 44 are television weathermen
  • 20 are economists
  • 70 have no apparent expertise in climate science
  • Several supposed skeptics have publicly stated that they are very concerned about global warming, and support efforts to address it. One claims he was duped into signing the list and regrets it

Here is just one case from last year, documented by Andrew Dressler in January 2008:

Meteorologist George Waldenberger is on the list. In response, George sent an email to Inhofe’s staffers that began:

Take me off your list of 400 (Prominent) Scientists that dispute Man-Made Global warming claims. I’ve never made any claims that debunk the “Consensus”.

You quoted a newspaper article that’s main focus was scoring the accuracy of local weathermen. Hardly Scientific ... yet I’m guessing some of your other sources pale in comparison in terms of credibility.

You also didn’t ask for my permission to use these statements. That’s not a very respectable way of doing “research”.

Yet, as Dessler notes, “he’s still on the list.”

Are you surprised that Waldenberger is on the "new" expanded list of 650?

The Global Warming deniers know that the more misinformation and doubt they can foment in the public mind with official sounding studies that call into question the basic science the more they can continue to confuse and cloud the issue. The more confusion exists the less the realities of the challenges of Global Warming are taken to heart and the desired effect of undermining public support is achieved. This is a complicated issue and you cannot understand it without some clear and sound information. The varied interests that want the public to stay confused and misinformed have the easy task, as it is far easier to perpetuate and mass distribute deception and disinformation than it is to educate and inform people as to the real situation. A great percentage of the population get their "news" from headlines and soundbites on FAUX TV or the equivalent. The climate change deniers know this and use it to their advantage. We each have to do what we can to counter this attempt to keep the populace "dazed and confused".

Next month, Barack Obama will be President, Stephen Chu will soon after be Secretary of Energy, and the Democratic Party will have nearly 60 Senators but there are still plenty of Republicans in the Senate who do not have the best interest of the American public as one of their concerns. You saw it in the vote on the automotive industry support and you will see it again in votes on health care, energy policy and everything else that endangers the bottom line of the GOP corporate masters. There are a lot of battles ahead but this is the "big one". Single payer health care and all the rest are irrelevant if we don't have a planet to live on.

h/t Firedoglake

Excellent Meatballs

I got a special request for this recipe so I thought I would share it here as well. I thought I had posted it here before but I couldn't find it.

Fallenmonk's Meatballs

3 lbs. ground beef or if you are feeling like going upscale (1 beef, 1 pork, and 1 veal)
1 c. bread crumbs (I use Vigo Golden dried breadcrumbs)
1/2 c. Reggiano Parmesan cheese, grated finely
3 large eggs
4 - 6 cloves, finely chopped garlic

2 Tbsp Tomato paste
2 1/2 tsp. basil leaves (rubbed fine)
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive oil (EVOO) to be added last to prevent sticking

Depending on how big you make them this recipe should make a couple of dozen.

In large bowl, combine ground meat, bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, tomato paste salt, pepper, basil, parsley, and eggs. Mix and blend thoroughly. Add oil and mix again.

Roll meatballs about the size of a ping-pong or golf ball ball. To keep them from sticking to your hands, keep hands moist with water. In frying pan, heat 1/2 cup peanut or canola oil. When oil is a very hot, brown meatballs quickly. Don’t crowd the pan so fry in two or three batches. You may have to add additional oil. Make sure they are brown enough, but be careful not to burn them. Set them aside until sauce is ready. If you don't want the mess of frying you can bake these in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until they are brown.

Once cooked and cool some of these can be frozen in zip lock bags into single servings and the rest used immediately with your favorite sauce and pasta.

Better yet warm the meatballs (5 – 6) with some left over spaghetti sauce and then fill a mini baguette from which you have cut off one end and removed most of the soft inner bread leaving an intact crust as a holder for your hot meatballs. Don’t forget some more grated Reggiano and a bit of grated mozzarella and some chopped fresh basil.

Back from the Mountains

Back safe and sound from the wilds of Western Virginia. Just a little snow and nothing that kept anyone from doing anything or going anywhere. All the remaining family got a chance to see each other and get caught up.
It's going to take me a couple of hours to get caught up this morning but I will be back in short order. Looks like a big discussion here on global climate change that needs some input but Steve Bates did an admirable job in my absence. Bush, for some reason, felt it necessary to visit the scene of one his biggest crimes one more time. I guess he is planning on swinging back through NOLA on the way back to the White House.

Linda J. Bilmes, lecturer in public finance at Harvard's Kennedy School, and Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and University Professor of Economics at Columbia, describe the cost of the Bush Presidency in an article titled "The $10 Trillion dollar hangover: Paying the Price for the Bush years."

The result of deficit spending is debt. When President Bush took office, the national debt was $5.7 trillion. Now it is $10.6 trillion -- and Congress voted in October to raise the debt ceiling to $11.3 trillion, the seventh such hike since President Bush to office and the second since last July. If, as is quite likely, we reach the new ceiling by January 20, the outgoing President will have managed to amass more debt than all of his predecessors combined.

Bilmes and Stiglitz further state, "the total bill for Bush-era excess -- the total new debt combined with the total new accrued obligations -- amounts to $10.35 trillion."

The above is from the Great Orange Satan and will require more careful study.

Anyhow, let me catch up around here and I'll be back.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mountain Mama

Madam and I off off today for a quick trip to visit my Mom in far Western Virginia. If you don't get all the way into my Mom's driveway you are in West Virginia that's how close she is.
Anyhow a good 7 hour drive and the weather really sucks. Hopefully, we will be there and settled before the expected 3 inches of snow start coming down. You haven't had an adventure until you travel the 2o miles down Wolf Creek from I77 to Narrows in a good snow.
Taking a batch of Tuscan Bean Stew for the crowd as my brother and his wife are down from Maine as well so that is some of the reason for the timing. I also have some beautiful leeks and potatoes for a leek and potato soup.

Since I no longer have a laptop things will be silent here, so you guys will just have to amuse yourselves. Should be back sometime Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Fat Lady Hasn't Sung Yet!

It is extremely vexing that the Democrats on the Hill still have to negotiate with George Bush on the necessity of bailing out the automakers. The thing is, how can we trust the Bush White House to make the best decision? While not completely their fault this mess has GOP all over it. To make matters worse(or the same), the Senate Republicans still hold the key with their filibuster power:
Congressional Democrats and the White House appear to have a deal on a $15 billion package to support the auto industry, but it must still win the critical support of Senate Republicans to become law.

"Bipartisan hard work has paid off and I understand an agreement has been reached," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), late Tuesday evening. "This gets us to the 20 yard line, but getting over the goal line will take a major effort, particularly in the Senate."....

Several Senate Republicans, including Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.) and John Ensign (Nev.), expressed disappointment earlier on Tuesday over the draft language of the bill. Senate Republicans will hold a policy lunch on Wednesday, where some senators may make a pitch to mount a filibuster.
Not surprisingly the Senate GOP doesn't want to help American workers, especially workers in unions. They had absolutely no trouble protecting Wall Street to the tune of almost 50 times as much taxpayer money. It is a shame we are in the position of having to do something to save the American auto industry but millions of jobs lost at this moment in our financial disaster is not even a question. Losing that many jobs and the economies they support would send the country into a depression that would make 1929 look like a holiday party. Can't be allowed to happen.

Also, Reuters reports the House could vote today:
The U.S. House of Representatives could vote as early as Wednesday on a $15 billion plan to bail out and restructure U.S. automakers but the initiative may face Republican roadblocks in the Senate.

You Want Change?

Do you remember how long it has been since you heard something this positive and meaningful from the President of the United States? I don't.

A president who’s taking climate change seriously:

President-elect Barack Obama met with former vice president Al Gore in Chicago on Tuesday to discuss climate change, declaring after the meeting, “The time for denial is over.”

The meeting, also attended by Vice President-elect Joe Biden, came as Obama prepares to nominate his administration’s top environmental officials — decisions that could come as soon as this week.

“All three of us are in agreement that the time for delay is over,” Obama told reporters as he sat between Gore and Biden at the transition headquarters after the meeting.

“We all believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now,” Obama said, “that this is a matter of urgency and national security, and it has to be dealt with in a serious way. That is what I intend my administration to do.”

Stupid Is as Stupid Does

To borrow from Forrest...

The whole debacle doesn't really deserve a lot of comment other than to question how somebody as obviously stupid and venal as Blagojevich ever got to the governor's office of Illinois. Who in the hell is stupid or clueless enough to keep on using his office phone to committ what he surely knows are crimes when he knows someone as bulldog determined as Patrick Fitzgerald has targeted him in an ongoing and far-reaching public corruption investigation? It is not like Fitz is a newbie in the game and he already has felled a number of the governor's political, business and patronage associates and a former governor. The man is obviously not bright enough to pound sand and deserves to be impeached and serve some serious time in the joint.

Not Just Whole Foods

I thought about this yesterday when I had to make a run to Kroger for a couple of things. One of the things on the list was drain opener. Standing there in the aisle looking at the selection I was amazed at the price difference between the Kroger house brand and the name brand "Liquid Plumber". The name brand was $3.49 per quart and the Kroger brand $1.88. I compared the ingredients and they were identical. I bought the Kroger brand and it did the job on the bathroom drain just fine. I have chanced on store brands before and been quite satisfied but never really felt the need to buy the store brands. I think I will paying a little closer attention from now on.
The number of people switching to the private-label foods packaged and sold by Kroger Co. at its stores has been increasing. The company runs 2,477 stores in 31 states. Some of its regional chains include Ralph's, Fred Meyer and Food 4 Less.

"We're seeing particularly strong growth in our private selections and value tiers," Kroger Chief Executive David Dillon told investors in a conference call.
In recent years, large supermarket chains have been beefing up the number of items they sell under their own private-label lines. The items typically sell for less than a name brand on the same shelf.

Based on its proprietary shopper-card data, Kroger found that 14% of its customers traded down to its corporate brand items for the quarter Nov. 8. It sells private-label goods in three separate price categories, competing for sales in everyday staples to pricier organic foods.

Grocery stores have been targeting shoppers with more ready-to-eat meals in a bid to capture business from restaurants, which face declining sales in the current economic downturn with more people eat at home.

Upscale Shopping is taking a Hit

If it wasn't for my desire for organic and local produce and the variety I would probably not shop at Whole Foods just because it is expensive and I have trouble not impulse buying when I am there. Looks like the economy is making others think twice about the extra cost of shopping there as well.
Blaming a tough economy, Whole Foods executives sent an ominous letter to all employees in its Pacific Northwest stores last month that warns of potential layoffs, announces a hiring freeze, and says new stores are on hold.

“Many teams are clearly overstaffed for their current sales and are at the point where labor needs to be reduced…” the memo says. It adds that as “sales soften,” the company has accumulated $59,000 in labor deficits. “Team sales and labor will be reviewed in January and tough decisions may be made if we are unable to achieve sales to labor balance by that time.” The memo says no layoffs will occur until January.

According to several sources, the largest local Whole Foods store at 56,000 square feet, located in Bellevue, has been lacking for sufficient business. Meanwhile, as Jonah reported, the company delayed plans for a store in Interbay and announced plans to downsize it.

In fact, the Texas-based chain plans to only build smaller stores from now on.
I really like Whole Foods and there are a lot of things you can only find there. If you are really careful and buy the 365 house brands it is really not too, too expensive. I get in trouble in the imported foods and cheese shop and it is, by far, the best fish source in the area. Now that I am a little(OK a lot) more focused on money I won't be shopping there very often.

h/t Americablog

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


I have to get out early this morning for a doctor's appointment but I will leave you something to think about while I get poked and prodded.

An old Cherokee tale tells of a grandfather talking to his grandson. The grandfather tells his grandson,

“Son, on the inside of every person a battle is raging between two wolves. One wolf is angry, jealous, unforgiving, violent, proud and lazy. The other wolf is filled with love, kindness, nonviolence, humility, and self-control. The two wolves are constantly fighting.”

The little boy thought about it, and said, “Grandfather, which wolf is going to win?”

The grandfather smiled and said, “whichever one you feed.”

Monday, December 08, 2008

Battening Down the Hatches

As I mentioned in an earlier post I am being forced by circumstance to "batten down the hatches". I have spent the last few days taking a hard look at where I am financially, we my money is going and what I plan to do going forward. The job market really sucks and even though my resume is pretty good, the possibility of finding employment, at least making the kind of money I have been, in the near term is pretty bleak. So be it.

The good news is that I have been living pretty 'high on the hog' and there is a lot I have done in just a few days to drastically reduce the cost of day to day living. The other good news is that I am already committed to lowering my 'carbon footprint' and that, in itself, makes things a lot easier. I may be rationalizing this but I have come to the conclusion that this whole adventure is actually a good opportunity to further refine my life, focus on what is important and try and live up to a more ideal covenant with the world.

In spite of the suggestion of one of the commenters I don't intend to fall back into 'Monk' mode or go to the extremes that seem so popular in the press these days. Some people are actually making a career out of 'doing without'. There have been recent books on doing without shopping, not buying anything made in China, having 'zero impact, living on $5000 a year, getting rid of the private car, eating nothing but organic or home grown food, and on an on. We are not going to go to the extreme but it will be interesting to see how I can make changes in my life that lower my cost/impact and yet don't necessarily turn life into some kind 'Walden Pond' challenge.

The first steps are done but some of it will be more philosophical in nature. Way back I used to have a little better handle on the the philosophy side of this but I have not forgotten the lessons. In Arthur Koestler’s “The Act of Creation” there is a comment about Western civilization:

“The child is taught petitionary prayer instead of meditation, religious dogma instead of contemplation of the infinite; the mysteries of nature are drummed into his head as if they were paragraphs in the penal code.”

The reality is that without constant awareness of our place and connection to the universe we begin to behave as if it were something outside us and begin to regard it primarily as a thing to be dealt with, we externalize “it”, and objectify it. That's wrong thinking and it causes us to behave badly. Save it, nurture it and live in it but stop thinking of it as a thing apart.

I need to remember how to 'live intentionally'. The good thing is I know how but just need to remember how.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Off a Cliff!

Most talk on the terrible employment situation focuses on the unemployment rate. The jump from 6.5% to 6.7% doesn't really look that bad but this is really deceiving since it is really isn't a measure of the true picture. There was a reduction in the number of people who said they were looking for work which skews the numbers.

This chart shows the employment-population ratio, the ratio of employed Americans to the adult population. By this measure it’s been a weak economy all along — and now it’s falling off a cliff.

"Great chieftain o the puddin'-race"

Being a good Southern boy offal has always been a part of the culinary world. I have grown up eating and loving fried chicken livers and gizzards as well as calves liver. Scrapple too was always there. It was not until I started traveling the world that I had my horizons expanded even further in the "eat the whole critter" concept. The Greeks, Italians and French are all big into not wasting anything edible and have some wonderful recipes for offal. I really didn't get exposed to haggis until about ten years ago when Madam and I were in Scotland for Hogmanay (New Years) and were served the traditional New Years meal all properly served with the haggis being piped in and cut with the dirk and chased with a good single malt whiskey. It seems the "Great Puddin'" is making a comeback.

It's back.
Take a sheep's heart, its liver, and lungs, mince together with onion, oatmeal, spices, and salt, and boil in the animal's stomach for three hours. It is, of course, haggis, and now, it seems, the English just can't get enough of Scotland's national dish.

UK supermarkets are reporting a surge in the popularity of the dish that poet Robert Burns described as the "Great chieftain o the puddin'-race".

Marks & Spencer has seen a 35 per cent increase in sales of haggis compared with this time last year, while Asda, Waitrose, and Sainsburys have all seen rises of more than 10 per cent.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Even Worse

Economists were expecting the economy to shed 320,000 jobs in November. The bad news is that it actually shed 533,000.

WASHINGTON -- Skittish employers slashed 533,000 jobs in November, the most in 34 years, catapulting the unemployment rate to 6.7 percent, dramatic proof the country is careening deeper into recession.

The new figures, released by the Labor Department Friday, showed the crucial employment market deteriorating at an alarmingly rapid clip, and handed Americans some more grim news right before the holidays.

As companies throttled back hiring, the unemployment rate bolted from 6.5 percent in October to 6.7 percent last month, a 15-year high.

Job losses were widespread, hitting factories, construction compaines, financial firms, retailers, leisure and hospitality, and others industries. The few places where gains were logged included the government, education and health services.
With this many people competing for what few jobs there are to be had there is going to be a lot of downward pressure on wages which will not be good for those of us in the market for a new job. Damn! Thanks Shrub.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

From Bad to Worse

Mr. Krugman is getting pretty pessimistic. I am sympathetic.

I’ve been ruminating over economic prospects for next year, and I’m getting scared.

Two points:

1. The economy is falling fast. We’ll see what tomorrow’s employment report says, but we could well be losing jobs at a rate of 450,000 or 500,000 a month.

2. Infrastructure spending will take time to get going — a new Goldman Sachs report suggests that projects that are “shovel-ready” are probably only a few tens of billions worth, and that a larger effort would take much of a year to get going. Meanwhile, it’s very questionable how much effect tax rebates will have on consumer demand. So it may be hard for stimulus to get much traction until late 2009 — and that’s even if Congress goes along, which may be a problem given all the bad analysis and disinformation out there.

So here’s what I’m wondering: will it, in fact, even be possible to pull the economy out of its nosedive before unemployment goes into double digits? I’m starting to wonder.

Don't tell anybody but as of yesterday yours truly became a statistic. Not a real shock considering how bad the year has been and how bad the prospects are for next but still not a fun thing to experience. Hence not much posting today as I am busy battening down the hatches for a storm, so to speak. I am going to need all the change Obama can get going and pretty damn quick.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Why We are Losing Our Edge

Here's the bottom line:
The United States today devotes 16 percent of its gross domestic product to medical care, more per capita than any other nation in the world. Yet numerous measures indicate the country lags in overall health: It ranks 29th in infant mortality, 48th in life expectancy and 19th out of 19 industrialized nations in preventable deaths.

You can paint it blue with pink polka dots and you can call it socialism or even communism but the reality is that we are being screwed by our lack of a progressive health care system. Our current system costs more and treats less than comparable systems worldwide, and as a result America is less competitive and much less healthy.

"Our health-care system is fraught with waste," says Gary Kaplan, chairman of Seattle's cutting-edge Virginia Mason Medical Center. As much as half of the $2.3 trillion spent today does nothing to improve health, he says.

Not only is American health care inefficient and wasteful, says Kaiser Permanente chief executive George Halvorson, much of it is dangerous.

Those harsh assessments illustrate the enormousness of the challenge that awaits President-elect Barack Obama, who campaigned on the promise to trim the average American family's health-care bill by $2,500 a year. Delivering on that pledge will not be easy, particularly at a time when the economic picture continues to worsen.

Read that last sentence one more time and then ask yourself why, if over half our costs are wasted wouldn't delivering on the pledge to reduce our costs merely be as simple as removing the waste in the system? It is not like we are blazing a path in the wilderness with the idea. You can see working models in every other industrialized nation in the world. They have a working system, why can't we? Here's an example of why we are only getting 50 cents on the dollar when it comes to health care in America, it shows you where that huge amount of money goes that doesn't improve our health care - into drug and insurance company pockets:

The study cost $130,000,000 and included 42,000 patients. It compared the effectiveness of four types of blood pressure drugs: a calcium channel blocker, an alpha blocker, an ACE inhibitor, and a simple diuretic. The diuretic performed best. It was the sort of finding worthy of celebration. Health costs are too high, and rising too quick. Our flabby society gets bad readings when it straps on the blood pressure cuff, and soon enough we'll all be on these drugs. And here were study results saying that the diuretic, a generic drug which sells for pennies, outperformed its pricey, patented competitors. So what happened? Not a whole lot [...]

Diuretics sales jumped, but only by a few percentage points. "[They] should have more than doubled," says Curt Furberg, who chaired the study. And in a world where doctors prescribe medications based on a simple reading of the latest evidence, maybe they would have doubled. But we don't live in that world. We live in a world where pharmaceutical companies have big budgets and sophisticated public relations teams. Pfizer, for instance, put up $40 million to ensure that their Cardura, their alpha blocker, was included in the study. That proved a mistake. Patients on Cardura were more than twice as likely to require hospitalization for heart failure [...]

The basic reality was this: The pharmaceutical companies had a skilled team and a lot of money promoting their drugs. No one was promoting the generic diuretics. Folks looking to things like comparative effectiveness review to save the health care system should take the story seriously. Evidence is only effective if physicians use it. And right now, they have no real reason to use it. Even in a system this expensive, there's no internal incentives to aggressively cut costs. Maybe it's time there were. If doctors were paid by capitation -- if they got a fixed amount of money per patient, and they kept whatever they didn't use, as happens in England -- it's hard to imagine they wouldn't have been more interested in these study results.

So, let's say this one more time - the best answer for the American health care system is to remove the profit incentive that drives all this waste. Drug companies and insurers spend less on care and more on administrative and public relations costs because that's where the profit is. The raw reality is that they have absolutely no incentive to deliver better care, and the sad part is that they make less profit when they do. The ugly truth is that until profit can be completely removed from the system, there will not be meaningful progress on health care. We progressive pinko commie socialist hippies are constantly being told that single payer just isn't politically viable, and meaningful discussion is driven into the ditch and everybody then starts talking about removing waste and improving "efficiency" which is just double talk around the real issue which is "fat cats getting fatter making money off of our need for medical care."

The lack of a single payer health system in this country, like that in the rest of the civilized countries in the world, is possibly the biggest issue facing this country. It is part of the problem surrounding the auto industry. It is part of the problem on why we can't compete with other nations industrially. It is a huge part of why a large part of our population is going to bed hungry at night. It is part of the reason 50 million or more American children are not getting a fair chance at growing up healthy and able to compete on a level field with others. It is huge contributor to most of what ails our nation today. We need it fixed and fixed now.

Georgia Demonstrates Why it is Last is So Many Areas

Last in education, last in teen pregnancy, last in area after area. With the reelection of Saxby Chambliss the majority in Georgia demonstrates their lack of vision and understanding of the real issues facing the country. I knew it before I went to bed last night but the headlines in the paper this morning confirm that Georgia is over populated with low information and clueless voters.
Facing the reality of 6 more years of Senate representation by a bottomfeeder like Saxby really rubs me the wrong way. After all these years as a Democrat and progressive living in Georgia it doesn't get any easier to see my fellow Georgians elect scum like Saxby, Newt, and Bob Barr over and over again. Don't even get me started on the state politicians.

Thanks for a good run Jim Martin. The best man lost once again in Georgia.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Don't You Just Hate Long Goodbyes

Ah yes, another tweak to the nose of the American public, this time focused on federal workers.

WASHINGTON — President Bush issued an executive order on Monday that denies collective bargaining rights to about 8,600 federal employees who work in law enforcement, intelligence and other agencies responsible for national security.

Mr. Bush said it would be inconsistent with "national security requirements" to allow those employees to engage in collective bargaining with respect to the conditions of their employment.

Among those affected are 5,000 employees of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is now part of the Justice Department.

It just seems to be getting longer and longer. Everyday of this 'goodbye, fuck you very much' is being blessed with another in what seems an endless line of these things. How much carnage can a single person reap in fifty or so more days? It just seems to me that it just might be counterproductive to our national security to have people who aren't allowed to organize for decent pay and working conditions running the show. It's kind of like pissing off the waitress or waiter before he or she brings you your food. I would think that these are exactly the people you would want to keep off the "disgruntled worker" list.

Uphill Climb

Just got back from voting for Jim Martin. The reports are that voting turnout is light which doesn't bode well for us Dems. All the pre-runoff polls show Saxby with a good margin so it is looking dim. It is always amazing how many Georgians vote 180 degrees from their best interest. We have such a sterling legacy in Newt and Saxby after all as well as the honor of electing Shrub twice and majority support for McSame. Low information voters coupled with advanced stupidity makes for a GOP stronghold.

I am getting some flack for not commenting on the selections Barack Obama has made thus far in his cabinet. There is a reason. I don't know enough about them yet to make a judgment, that is all except Hillary. I think she is a great choice. Diplomacy at the Secretary of State level is all gravitas and she has it in spades. Strong, smart and well known by everyone. Obama and she see eye to eye on what needs to be done and she is obviously someone you can give the ball to and let them run.
Our cranky Brit David Duff seems to think she is failure waiting to happen but he is wrong on pretty much everything else so I'll take the odds.

The only selection so far that is questionable is Eric Holder at AG. His Marc Rich and Chiquita baggage are pretty heavy so I just don't know.

The reality is I think Obama is a pretty shrewd guy and seems to be a pretty good judge of character. He has made it plain more than once that he is going to be calling the shots and his team will be executing. It is probably a good idea to just wait and see what happens. I am, at least, going to wait until, you know, he is actually the President before I get too critical. Shrub is handing Obama a basket full of shit, snakes and gilla monsters with a good dash of nuclear waste and ticking bombs. It is going to take some time to sort this mess.

Monday, December 01, 2008

It's Official

The announcement was only a matter of time... but welcome to the eleventh recession since World War II. While most of us have felt it in our guts, this recession "officially" started in December 2007 and as such it is already one of the longest at a year and counting. Only two post WWII recessions (November 1973 to March 1975 and July 1981 to November 1982) have lasted this long. This is a bad sign and this could make this recession the longest since the Great Depression. Hitch up your belt a notch and you might even consider suspenders. It may be a long and hairy ride.

The National Bureau of Economic Research said Monday that the U.S. has been in a recession since December 2007, making official what most Americans have already believed about the state of the economy.

The NBER is a private group of leading economists charged with dating the start and end of economic downturns. It typically takes a long time after the start of a recession to declare its start because of the need to look at final readings of various economic measures.

"The committee views the payroll employment measure, which is based on a large survey of employers, as the most reliable comprehensive estimate of employment," said the group's statement. "This series reached a peak in December 2007 and has declined every month since then." [...]

The NBER also looks at real personal income, industrial production as well as wholesale and retail sales. All those measures reached a peak between November 2007 and June 2008, the NBER said. In addition, the NBER also considers the gross domestic product, which is the reading most typically associated with a recession in the general public.