Thursday, May 28, 2009

Raining Weed Seeds

Right now the sun is out here in the Northern Atlanta burbs but the forecast is for another day of scattered showers and thunderstorms. Last night, as has been the case for what seems like weeks, we had another 'frog strangler'. It came down so hard and fast that it washed a lot of the wood chip mulch from between the garden rows. You can see the path of the torrent through the garden as the flood made it's way down the very gentle slope. I have some redistribution of chips in my immediate future.

All of the rain has generated another gangbuster crop of weeds. Sometime I think it must rain the seeds. Mostly morning glory and milkweed with a dash of Queen Anne's lace thrown in for good measure. In spite of all the mulching and weeding this past weekend I now have a fresh crop that needs attention. It is, needless to say, not my favorite part of gardening.

On the 'spiritual side' however, all the time in quiet activities in the garden with no distractions and the near mindless activity of weeding has moved what I call my 'consciousness dial' a good way higher. Quiet contemplation has a way of moving your consciousness more toward the harmony side of the dial. Pretty much everything else in today's world, news, TV and all the rest strives hard to de-sensitize you to the universe and your vibrations don't resonate like they should. In spite of what you read and hear, gurus, teachers, masters or whatever are really a hindrance in a person's spiritual evolution. They are more than likely, and usually are, a distraction. One's movement toward harmony and resonance with the universe is and should be a strictly personal thing. Occasionally, a teacher may provide a useful hint or remind you of the proper path like a sign post along the road but the actual journey is something you have to do by yourself. Time alone in the garden is an excellent way to negate the dehumanizing effects of the modern world and allow yourself a little spiritual expansion. I recommend it highly. Not only do you get a kick in the ass toward a little spiritual growth you get the benefit of fresh fruit and vegetables. You cannot find a better spiritual master than a little dirt under the fingernails and the hot sun on your shoulders.

The picture is 'Moon of Enlightenment' by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi and is a good illustration of my point about spiritual masters above. Don't mistake the finger pointing at the moon as the moon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Insanity Rules

If you look around the web or use a reader like I do you will note that some 80% of the current traffic is about President Obama's nomination to the Supreme Court of Sonia Sotomayor. The wingnut churn in non-information is hard to believe. People are discussing her food preferences, her heritage and I am sure her shoe size in trying to disqualify her as a legitimate candidate for the Supreme Court.

Let me make this simple for everyone.

If Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich don't like her then she is obviously the perfect choice. You can read all her past opinions from the 2nd Circuit and study how many have been overturned by the Supreme Court(not many) and you can worry that she is Puerto Rican and that Puerto Ricans have only been citizens of the U.S. since 1917. You can even worry about the fact that she is 'emapathetic'. Don't waste your time... Rush and Newt not liking the pick is all you have to know. She's perfect.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Give Peas a Chance

Tonight we have the first of the English peas for dinner. Here is a picture of today's harvest all shelled and ready for a bit of steam and a dash of butter. Mr. Duff will note that they are appropriately posed on the proper English tea towel...this one collected in the quaint town of Swaby in Lincolnshire where we have friends.

Other than picking and shelling the peas(with assist from Madam) and getting the weekly bread rising, I have been rather a slug today. I think I worked too hard over the weekend but the garden shows the effort. Only a few weeds. The weekend saw the main crop cantaloupe and fall pumpkins planted. The second planting of corn is up and so far, knock on wood, the improvised 'tents' of poultry wire seem to be defending against marauders. The main crop of Dixie butterpeas are also up and doing well. The first planting didn't do well and it must have been just too cool for them to germinate properly. Still overcast with intermittent showers and as much as I hesitate to say it we do need sun for a few days.

So I am off to peel a few potatoes for boiling. You must have potatoes with peas along with a garden salad with the last of the French breakfast radishes. It's getting too warm to plant more so that is the last until fall. Probably only a mess of two of peas are forthcoming as the warm weather shuts them down in a hurry but here in Georgia we can get a fall crop as well.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Garden Update

It's been a couple of weeks so things have grown. Here is the garden on Memorial Day. A little overcast with intermittent rain but the garden likes the moisture. They have declared our drought officially over.

Homegrown is Good

I get asked frequently why I spend so much time and effort on my vegetable garden. First, I enjoy the time playing in the dirt and watching things grow. Second, the taste, freshness and quality of homegrown food is amazing and will spoil you forever. Third, it's very economical. I can grow a huge amount of food for a very small outlay of actual cash. There is a lot of "sweat" invested true, but people spend a lot of money paying some gym for the same. Lastly, over and over research is showing that growing your own vegetables and fruit using natural and organic principles, especially if they are heirloom varieties, gives you a lot more nutritional 'bang for the buck' than the gracery store stuff, fresh or processed. The commercially grown vegetables, fruits and grains that we are eating today are significantly less nutritious than these foods were 100 years ago, or even just 30 years ago.
  • In wheat and barley, protein concentrations declined by 30 to 50 percent between the years 1938 and 1990.
  • Likewise, a study of 45 corn varieties developed from 1920 to 2001, grown side by side, found that the concentrations of protein, oil and three amino acids have all declined in the newer varieties.
  • Six minerals have declined by 22 to 39 percent in 14 widely grown wheat varieties developed over the past 100 years.
  • Official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data shows that the calcium content of broccoli averaged 12.9 milligrams per gram of dry weight in 1950, but only 4.4 mg/g dry weight in 2003.

All of this evidence has been assembled and rigorously reviewed by Dr. Donald R. Davis, a now (mostly) retired chemist from the University of Texas.

So what’s causing these declines? The evidence indicates there are at least two forces at work. The first is what agriculture researchers call the environmental “dilution effect.” Davis notes that researchers have known since the 1940s that yield increases produced by fertilization, irrigation and other environmental means used in industrial farming tend to decrease the concentrations of minerals in those plants. These techniques give growers higher yields, and consumers get less expensive food. But now it appears there’s a hidden long-term cost — lowered food quality.

For example, a study of phosphorous fertilizer on raspberries found that applying high levels of phosphorus caused the yield to double and concentrations of phosphorus to increase in the plants, but meanwhile levels of eight other minerals declined by 20 to 55 percent!

The other force at work is what Davis calls the genetic dilution effect — the decline in nutrient concentration that results when plant breeders develop high-yielding varieties without a primary focus on broad nutrient content. That’s what the studies of wheat, corn and broccoli confirm.

h/t Organic Consumers Association

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Punk Squirrel?

It's bad enough that the squirrels and chipmunks are eating me out of house and home, digging up my vegetable beds, and planting large quantities of sunflower seeds in every pot on the deck and every flower bed but now I have to put up with punk wildlife!

Somehow this fellow got mixed up with some red paint and got it all over his tail and apparently nowhere else...can't imagine how that would happen. I caught him this morning stealing suet from the birds. A couple of years ago I noticed a squirrel with a beef bone around his neck and quite tightly. I did manage to catch him and turn him over to animal rescue who removed the bone and set him free somewhere in the wilds of Georgia. Another wildlife mystery.

Anyhow...thought it worthy of a post and pic.

Friday, May 22, 2009

When Did It Change?

While I was working in the garden today and pondering the ways of the world, it suddenly came to me to ask, when did it all change? What was the trigger or event? Can we point to a calendar and say then?

When did your banker become your enemy? He used to be your friend. If you had some money to save, he would keep it safe and actually give you a little interest. He would take your money and that of others and loan it to others on fair terms when he had checked and felt sure that they were good to pay it back. For that he charged a little interest and all in all made a decent living facilitating commerce in the community. No one resented his profit and actually appreciated the service he provided the community. He was one of the "pillars" of the town.

Now your bank is your enemy. They will take your savings but pay niggardly interest. They'll service your financial needs but it will come at a steep price with fees and surcharges for everything. It has become, somehow, an adversarial relationship. You resent your bank and you just know they merely tolerate you and spend a good part of their day figuring out how to screw you out of a little more of your money. They're evil.

We need to figure out when, where and why things changed and get back there. I am getting real tired of feeling like I have no choice but to put my money in the pockets of someone who, if they really don't hate me, just tolerate me as a necessary evil.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What Josh Said

As you may or may not know, Darth Cheney is going to rebut President Obama'a speech today about closing GITMO. Josh Marshall at TPM reminds us about who and what Cheney really is. We should all keep this in mind for reference as the mainstream media talking heads vainly attempt to put Cheney on an equal footing with Obama. You should read the entire post but I especially like the middle two paragraphs.

This is someone who not only organized and seemingly directed a policy of state-sponsored torture. He did it in large part to get people to admit to crankish conspiracy theories he got taken in by by a crew of think-tank jockeys in DC whose theories most even half way sensible people treated as punch lines of jokes. So it's Torquemada or 1984 but only after getting rescripted by Mel Brooks.

This is an extremely gullible man who has just come off being the driving ideological force in an administration that most people can already see produced more fiascos and titanic, self-inflicted goofs than possibly any in our entire history. By any standard the guy is a monumental failure -- and not one whose mistakes stem in some Lyndon Johnson fashion from tragic overreach, but just a fool who damaged his country through his own gullibility, paranoia and bad judgment. Whatever else you can say about the Cheney story it ain't Shakespearean.

Baguette Success, Finally

I promised to report on my success or failure with the new method of making a traditional baguette. I am glad to report that it was a brilliant success and as near to a proper French baguette as you are likely to find anywhere outside of France. You can find the method at Chews Wise the blog of Samuel Fromartz.

You should be forewarned that this is not your basic bread making and can be a little daunting for inexperienced bread makers. I've been baking bread of all types (including attempts at duplicating the classic French baguette) for for over 40 years and I found the recipe challenging. Most of the challenge comes from working with a very wet dough but there are links to videos in the recipe to help you out.

If you are inclined to give it a try I can highly recommend the result. If your first couple of attempts are less than stellar, keep trying as there is a lot of technique involved and it needs a little practice. If you don't already have a sourdough starter then here's a the method from Wild Yeast (a great baking blog). The instructions are what is important in the creation of a starter. I don't use the rye flour just plain all purpose(King Arthur) and bottled spring water or filtered water. My latest starter took 6 days so be patient.

The photo is from Samuel's posted recipe but my results were almost identical, thank you very much. I should tell you, that for a home baker, being able to produce a credible baguette in the U.S. with American flours is a thrilling accomplishment. I can't imagine how good the next batches will be as I gain more confidence in working with the wet dough.

So don't be afraid, all you have to lose is a dollar's worth of flour and a little spare time but the reward is well worth it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Postive Move to Reign in Credit Card Companies

Well, yesterday Chris Dodd's credit card reform bill passed the Senate 90-5 . To tell you the truth I wasn't expecting it pass without some major buckling under to the credit card lobby and I surely didn't expect this wide of margin. It wasn't that long ago that the Republicans could have simply prevented a bill like this from coming to the floor thereby eliminating any need for them to put themselves in harm's way by having to vote against it. Now they have no choice and have to vote whether they like it or not. Credit card reform really is a hot button issue right now as more and more people are discovering that the credit card people are poisonous leeches and I guess the GOP sense of self-preservation reared it's head and they gave the bill a massive majority.

The large margin does beg the question over whether Dodd could have played a little harder and gotten a better bill. Hard to say? We've still got to get the House and Senate bills conferenced and if the Democrats are paying attention, maybe it will be the first legislation in history to actually be improved in conference.

You'll notice a lot of wailing and hair pulling from the credit card industry. Don't believe even a single word of it. If you will remember my post from a couple of weeks or so ago you will see that these warts on body of society are still going to be able to continue to suck the life force out of the economy with their unreasonable skim on every credit transaction. Don't believe the threats about punishing the people who manage their credits cards wisely either. If you think the credit card companies will win the game of making the "deadbeats" pay for the difference we'll get a chance to see how the " free market" really operates. People who have managed their credit wisely aren't stupid and if the credit card companies aren't carefull they will send these customers to alternate services. Yes, I know it is virtually impossible to travel(rent a car, book a hotel, etc.) or shop on the internet without a credit card if the existing credit card companies get to onerous in their quest for profits at any cost then someone will come up with an attractive alternative. It's the way the market works.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Health Care Battle Heats Up

While I am waiting to put my second batch of bread into the oven I thought I would step into the health care debate one more time. With a hat tip to Steve Bennen it is pretty obvious that the anti health care folks are following the Frank Luntz playbook in their campaign to undermine the Obama effort to level the playing field and make affordable health care a reality in America.

Now Blue Cross Blue Shield is trying to undermine health care reform efforts? Not a surpise!

One week after the nation's health insurance lobby pledged to President Obama to do what it can to constrain rising health costs, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is putting the finishing touches on a public message campaign aimed at killing a key plank in Obama's reform platform.

As part of what it calls an "informational website," the company has hired an outside PR company to make a series of videos sounding the alarm about a government-sponsored health insurance option, known as the public plan. Obama has consistently maintained that a government-run plan, absent high-paid executives and the need for profits, could be a more affordable option for Americans who have trouble purchasing private insurance. The industry argues that creating a public insurance program will undermine the marketplace and eventually lead to a single-payer style system.

In three 30-second videos, the insurer paints a picture of a future system in which patients wait months for appointments and can't choose their own doctors, according to storyboards of the videos obtained by the Washington Post.

The Media Matters Action Network put together a very thorough take-down of the BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina's "desperate attempt to deceive," with plenty of details about the company's background, and why the company's anti-reform ads are wrong.

Just to remind everyone of the truth has put together a list of the realities for you to keep in mind when you hear the spin coming from the GOP and insurance companies. Every time you hear some idiot spouting the propaganda and outright lies about President Obama's health insurance options you can use these 5 truths to rebut them.


1. Choice, choice, choice. If the public health insurance option passes, Americans will be able to choose between their current insurance and a high-quality, government-run plan similar to Medicare. If you like your current care, you can keep it. If you don't—or don't have any—you can get the public insurance plan.

2. It will be high-quality coverage with a choice of doctors. Government-run plans have a track record of innovating to improve quality, because they're not just focused on short-term profits. And if you choose the public plan, you'll still get to choose your doctor and hospital.

3. We'll all save a bunch of money. The public health insurance option won't have to spend money on things like CEO bonuses, shareholder dividends, or excessive advertising, so it'll cost a lot less. Plus, the private plans will have to lower their rates and provide better value to compete, so people who keep their current insurance will save, too.

4. It will always be there for you and your family. A for-profit insurer can close, move out of the area, or just kick you off their insurance rolls. The public health insurance option will always be available to provide you with the health security you need.

5. And it's a key part of universal health care. No longer will sick people or folks in rural communities, or low-income Americans be forced to go without coverage. The public health insurance plan will be available and accessible to everyone. And for those struggling to make ends meet, the premiums will be subsidized by the government.

This is going to be an ugly fight and there are buckets of money ready to be thrown at it by the insurance industry. Remember that they have been riding a gravy train for years and years and it just keeps getting better and better for them. They have everything to lose if we Americans have an affordable health care option. Our Congress critters have been living pretty high off the hog as well with all the cash the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries have been stuffing into their pockets over the years. If you've a mind you might even consider giving your Congress critters a call or drop them a note asking them which they care about more: the health and well being of ALL Americans or the money coming from the health insurance folks.

Try to Go Natural

Thanks to Cookie Jill we have one more reason to eschew prepared and packaged foods.

May 15, 2009 -- To the growing list of chemicals showing up in human blood, a new study adds compounds that make food wrappers grease-proof.

Called diPAPs, these chemicals are fairly new and scientists don't yet know if they are harmful to human health. But diPAPs break down into another worrisome chemical, called PFOA, which may be carcinogenic.

The food industry has been rushing stuff into the marketplace for years without proper testing and with little concern for our health and giant concerns for their bottoms lines. This is just one more reason, in a long line, to avoid packaged foods. This includes fresh foods that the store insists on packaging in bundles(so that you have to buy six instead of the two you need). The closer to natural the better is always a good rule.

New Emissions Standards

This is good news and yes it will raise the price of a new car. The best thing is that the new standards include tougher standards for each class size of vehicles, as well as a higher average across each company's fleet. The previous rules covered only the fleet average, which meant that companies could offset a giant SUV with some more fuel efficient models. You are still going to be able to buy a bigger car or truck but it will be more energy efficient. These new rules are estimated to be the equivalent of taking 177 million cars off the road. As the global economy recovers and the price of oil begins to climb again this will be a very good thing indeed.

"The Obama administration today plans to propose tough standards for tailpipe emissions from new automobiles, establishing the first nationwide regulation for greenhouse gases.

It will also raise fuel efficiency targets to 35.5 miles per gallon for new passenger vehicles and light trucks by 2016, four years earlier than required under the 2007 energy bill, sources close to the administration said. (...)

The deal has been under negotiation since the first days of the administration. It represents a compromise among the White House; the state of California; and the auto industry, which has long sought national mileage standards and has waged an expensive legal battle against the California waiver. The industry will get its national standard, but at the price of one that approximates California's targets. Industry officials said they would drop all related lawsuits."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Getting Cool

Rained all weekend pretty much here in the Northern Atlanta burbs so not much outside work done. Garden needed it though and everybody looks pretty happy today in the bright sun with their feet wet. Did turn very cool this morning and was 51 F at dawn which is very odd for this time of year. The little cool spell will slow down the tomatoes and peppers a bit.

Still waiting on my replacement corn seed from Seed Savers so I can replace all that the birds pulled up. Maybe today and all of my poultry wire row covers are in waiting. We'll seee if the birds can get my defenses again.

Got the good news on Friday when the heating and cooling folks came out for the spring check that the evaporator coil had a leak. Not good. The unit is about 10 years old so it still uses R22 as a refrigerant which is no longer allowed as it is a CFC. New refigerant means new compressor and condensing coils in addition to the evaporator. The boys are down installing a new system as we speak that uses the new R410 which is environmentally friendly. It is also a high efficiency system so it should save a little money on the A/C bill over the summer though I doubt it will save me the $5K it is costing. Ouch! the joys of home ownership.

Trying a new/old/traditional method for making a proper French baguette. A very difficult process since you are supposed to work the very wet dough without additional flour. Not something I am used to but I think I am getting the hang of it. The first step took me week since I didn't like the looks of my old sourdough starter and had to build a new one. Fortunately, spring is the best time to capture and nurture a wild yeast culture and I now have one bubbling away. Today was the official start of the baguette process of making the dough with starter and yeast doing the wet and very sticky short kneading and the three traditional foldings. The dough is now resting in the fridge for 18 hours and we will be able to bake tomorrow afternoon. I've made baguettes before in various different ways usually starting with my regular chef starter(reserved piece of dough from the previous bake). This is how I make my weekly bread and it produces a nice full flavored dough(it's a 2 day process as well). The traditional French method for the baguette is to start with sourdough chef plus fresh yeast and build a very wet dough(where you let the very wet dough take the place of so much kneading) and just fold it a couple of times to develop the gluten and then have a very slow rise to develop the flavor. We shall report on the success. I will be very pleased if I can get someting close to a proper French loaf. You can't find them in the bakeries around here for some reason. I also started the chef for my regular bread bake so one way or the other we'll have bread and possibly even too much.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gitmo Pussies

Am I just a clueless rube? Can someone tell me what it is going to take to get the Democratic Congress to understand that their Republican opponents are completely fucked, morally and politically, and there is absolutely no fucking reason in the world that they need be appeased?

Gaze upon their latest creation and weep :

Washington -- A bill by Senate Democrats would fund the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but it would block the transfer of any of the detainees to the United States....

...Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) on Wednesday circulated an approximately $91.5-billion measure that includes $50 million to shutter the Guantanamo facility and move its prisoners -- with the proviso that they can't be sent to the United States. The Senate bill appears to favor paying foreign governments to accept the prisoners.

Did the Dems go out and hire stupid consultants and pay them $4000 an hour to come up with the stupidest idea they could come up with. If there is one thing the United States knows how to do, it is how to incarcerate people. Jeebus we've got two million people locked up in this country...we lead the civilized world in locking up. There isn't anybody we can't lock up. We've even got a town in Montana that is volunteering to take the Guantanamo detainees.

Does anyone really believe that the American people are really afraid of being slaughtered in their beds if Gitmo detainees wind up being imprisoned in the high security prisons here in the U.S.? What an insult to our intelligence! Sen. Inouye and the rest of the Democrats, who think the right thing to so is fawn before the wingnuts on this issue, Wake up! The opposition are among the most hated public figures in the country. You don't have to listen to them any more, and there is absolutely no reason in the world to appease them.

Let's close Gitmo, release the teenagers, and bring the hardcore here and try them. If the government has evidence then we put them in prison for a while. If it doesn't we send them home. We'll just pretend we haven't created life long enemies in the process.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cherry Picking on Health Care

You are seeing more and more comment and misinformation on the changes needed to the American health care system. You care seeing a constant dialogue from the "no changers" who are trying to change the argument from Americans needing good, affordable health care to arguments about cost, rationing and even welfare queens. You are also seeing horror stories about "socialized medicine" and the lack of care and poor quality. The "no changers" insist on comparing the US and the UK when it comes to health care but the reality is that there's really very little in common with the US and UK in terms of health care today or even in an Obama-sponsored system.

What you will not see from the "no changers" is any comparison with the French system where there is a mix of public/private. The "no changers" don't want anyone to look too closely at the French because the French system is consistently rated among the best in the world. Which makes many of the lies the "no changers" use very inconvenient. How much French-bashing can you do when the French health care system is number one and the system in the US, which the "no changers" want to preserve, comes in at number 37 and even the much derided system in the UK comes in at number 18. I mean really, what does it say about the US system if it's so far behind a failing system like the UK's NHS? That should be enough answer for anyone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Me and 4 Others

This isn't very encouraging.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report was released Tuesday, and it lived up to its acronym. In March, the number of job openings decreased by another 256,000. That made for a total of 2.7 million job openings. In December 2007, when the recession began, there were 4.4 million openings. With 13.2 million Americans officially out of work, that means there are now 4.8 unemployed people for every available job.

Big Energy Strikes Back

Updated below:

Every time you pull up to a gas pump...remember. Every time you see some "feel good" big energy commercial on TV or in the newspaper...remember. The special interest energy people are desperate to prevent change. They want us to waste energy. They want business as usual. They want bloated, gas guzzling SUV's. They don't want energy efficient houses. They don't want mass transportation. They don't want the U.S. or any other country to be more efficient. They do not have your or my best interest in mind when they throw millions of dollars at those who want serious change in how we use energy. They care about one thing and one thing only and that is continuing their obscene profits. Remember.

America's oil, gas and coal industry has increased its lobbying budget by 50%, with key players spending $44.5m in the first three months of this year in an intense effort to cut off support for Barack Obama's plan to build a clean energy economy.

The spoiler campaign runs to hundreds of millions of dollars and involves industry front groups, lobbying firms, television, print and radio advertising, and donations to pivotal members of Congress. Its intention is to water down or kill off plans by the Democratic leadership to pass "cap and trade" legislation this year, which would place limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

A defeat for the bill would have global consequences. The international community is depending on America, as the world's biggest per capita polluter, to set out a firm plan for getting off dirty fuels in the months before crucial UN negotiations in Copenhagen in December.

Update: I spoke too soon...this from Grist...
Dirty energy interests have spent $79 million this year lobbying Congress

According to the latest lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, the oil and gas industry spent nearly $44.6 million lobbying Congress in just the first three months of this year, and ranked second only to the health care and pharmaceutical industries in total spending. Electric utilities spent $34.4 million, and businesses in the energy and natural resources sector as a whole spent $102.7 million.

To find out how much clean-energy businesses spent, you have to search down into the "miscellaneous energy" category, which includes wind, solar, biofuels, hydro, and other industries—and even then their combined spending only totaled $14.4 million. The American Wind Energy Association was the biggest renewable spender in that category, at $1.2 million. No other organization or company in the category topped $1 million.
Environmental groups have spent even less—just $4.7 million so far in 2009. The biggest spender among green groups was the Environmental Defense Action Fund, which laid out $300,000.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a staunch opponent of climate action, tops the list of individual spenders on all issues, at $15.5 million. Also on that list: ExxonMobil at $9.3 million, Chevron at $6.8 million, ConocoPhillips at $6 million, and General Electric at $4.8 million.

Of course, it would be wrong to assume that all of these big-energy spenders are lobbying against a climate bill. ConocoPhillips and GE, for example, are both members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, and ConocoPhillips’ senior vice president testified in support of the House climate and energy bill last month. But it does give you a sense of just how much renewable-energy groups and enviros are being outspent on the Hill.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Foiling teh Birds

I hope everyone had a great weekend...I see Cookie Jill has been de-evacuated since the fires in Santa Barbara are under control.
Got a late start on the tubes this morning since mini monk(daughter) volunteered to come by after she got off shift and help move the giant slices of pine tree that have been littering the back forty since she and her mates cut down my leaning tree. About all you could do with them was roll them where they needed to be. We now have a huge stack of pine logs along the western fence. In twenty years or so it will be great compost! Thanks MM!
I think I finally have a solution to the birds and my garden. I have fashioned 'tents' of poultry wire fifteen feet long. The fencing is two feet wide so folding it down the middle makes a little one foot high tent. This gets placed over the seeds until they pass the get pulled by bird stage. Initial tests seem promising. I will use them for the corn (when the new seed arrives) and then shift it to the next replanting of butter peas. The birds left the other beans alone but for some reason they treated the butter pea shoots the same as the corn shoots. Devils!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Damn Smart Birds

Mother Nature won one today and demonstrated once again why gardening, while overall very rewarding, can sometimes be hugely frustrating. I had rushed to get all my corn planted before the recent predicted rain and was successful. Yesterday the first new shoots of corn were peaking through the ground and today a good 70% were up and on their way. About an hour ago I discovered that some bird or birds seem to know that when they see the corn shoots that there is also a kernel of corn just beneath the surface. Sometime this morning the culprits pulled up at least half of the new shoots and consumed the tasty morsel at the bottom leaving the two tender green shoots laying there. Needless to say I am disappointed. Madam and I have covered the remaining corn with deer netting and we'll see if that stops the destruction. I have also ordered more seed corn from Seed Savers so we can start again. Spit!

I was going to post today on the new addition to the garden in the picture we put in place yesterday but now that he has proven an utter failure and completely incompetent I will pass.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Too Big a Piece of the Pie

An article at the New Rules Project by Stacy Mitchell talks about about credit card fees. We're not talking about the myriad nuisance fees like late fees and overdraft fees that you can avoid with diligence but the transaction fees that are skimmed by the credit card companies on every single credit card purchase:

Although the exact rate charged on any given transaction varies widely depending on many factors, including the size of the business and the type of card, the average interchange fee in the U.S. is now about 2% of the value of the sale — two to six times the regulated rates imposed on Visa and MasterCard in Australia and much of Europe.

....Interchange fees now comprise a substantial share of the income these companies make on credit cards. In 2004, card issuers took in $28 billion in interchange. By 2008, that figure had shot up to $48 billion. That's more than one-quarter of all credit card revenue and more than the total collected by banks in credit card late fees, over-the-limit fees, and ATM fees combined.

Business owners are helpless since they can hardly stop taking credit cards and they aren't allowed to directly pass along transaction fees to consumers. You can rest assured though that these fees wind up coming out of our pockets eventually. Merchants have absolutely no bargaining power at all as to turn away credit card and debit card users would be a disaster in today's world. To understand how bad we are getting screwed you should understand that in Europe, transaction fees have been cut to 0.3% by the EU government.

We can chip away at the credit card companies with various limits and caps on interest rates and all sorts of nickle and dime rules but until we force them to restrict their take of American business to a reasonable percentage then we are just pissing into the wind. If I am not mistaken adding a percent or so to the profits of American business might be a pretty stimulus in itself.

Credit and debit cards are supposed to facilitate business by providing a symbiotic way for consumers to interact with merchants. Somehow, in the U.S. at least, this has turned into a parasitic relationship with the credit card companies slowly bleeding the American economy by taking an unwarranted share of each transaction. I am not against Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express and I expect them to make a fair profit. Fair being the operative word. This is just another example where, on many fronts, the EU is ahead of the U.S. in making sure the playing field is somewhat level with respect to the relationships between business and consumers.

H/T Kevin at Mother Jones

Shrinking the Kids

This is pretty cool. I really love it when science finds something completely new, especially when it upsets the traditional applecart. Not only have the 'hobbits' been shown to be a completely new human species but this confirms the idea of 'island dwarfism'. Much to the chagrin of the creationists it also shows that a species, like humans, when faced with a marginal environment can evolve by downsizing to match the available resources, given time. Talk about a classic example of selective adaptation.

A miniature species of extinct humans, nicknamed "hobbits", possessed unusual anatomical features explained by their complete isolation from the rest of humanity for thousands of years on their remote island home in Indonesia, studies have found.

The tiny people, who grew to an adult height of no more than three feet, astounded scientists in 2004 when a skull and partial skeletons were unearthed from a cave on the island of Flores. Radiocarbon dating suggested that the species, Homo floresiensis, had lived in and around the cave for tens of thousand of years before dying out about 17,000 years ago.

The latest research into H. floresiensis has found that they were flat-footed, long-toed creatures who could walk easily on two legs but would have found it difficult to run at speed. A separate study suggests that their very small heads, which were perfectly in proportion to their bodies, were the evolutionary outcome of living on such a remote island for so long.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

In The Beginning

I realized that I have been talking about gardening for quite some time but haven't posted a picture of the garden as it is now before everything is up and growing and there is green everywhere. Here is a picture of the garden as of today (5/6/09). Still not a lot growing that is visible...give it a month.
If you are interested...
In the left foreground is the garlic, to the right artichokes, eggplant, cabbage, potatoes, leeks and a little broccoli. Behind that are the tomatoes in their cages and behind that more tomatoes and all the peppers. The bamboo teepees are pole beans (green beans) and the balance of that row to the left are butterpeas. More beans and okra are immediately behind the teepees and at the back is the white and yellow corn and still more beans of different types. Off to the right, in the back, you can see the hills for the squash, cukes and melons. In the right foreground are the peas and behind them the sweet potatoes. Still left to go in are the winter squash and a few other things. I will get another picture or two as things progress (or not).

I thought I had better prove I was actually gardening after all the talk. Oh, you can click on the picture if you want a bigger rendition.

Nature's Little Rule Book - 1st Rule

I stumbled upon a very interesting website the other day and while it hasn't been updated since 2007, apparently, there are some very good essays to be had. One the most interesting and provocative was an essay by the site's owner Oneida Kincaid called "Nature's Little Rule Book". It is written by Mother Nature to us humans and reminds us of some of her basic truths and rules. I think it would be fun and possibly interesting to post the 10 rules over the coming weeks and see what kind of discussion(if any) it generates. Here is the introduction and the first rule:

Oneida Kincaid: Nature’s Little Rule Book

Hello, dearies, this is Mother Nature. I’m speaking up here because you humans seem to have an awful lot of difficulty understanding and living in accord with the rules of life on Earth, so I thought I’d lay it all out for you in a very simple and direct form. This is very important, so please pay close attention.

Rule No. 1 - Life on Earth is a web, NOT a pyramid.

At first glance, this rule may seem obvious, even trite. “Well, of course,” you may say. “I know that! Tell me something I don’t know!”

But this rule is not directed at your rational mind, which probably knows perfectly well that life on Earth is a complex interweaving of hundreds of millions of different kinds of organisms and processes. Instead, it is aimed at your cultural mind, the one that has been trained from the day you were born to believe in the mythology of your modern culture - a mythology that, when it is lived out in billions of peoples’ lives around the world, is destroying the web of life on Earth.

“Hey, wait a minute!” you are probably thinking. “We modern, scientific people don’t believe in myths anymore! Myths are only for less developed, pre-scientific cultures.”

But given that you humans seem almost completely unable to alter your destructive way of life even though your supposedly rational, scientific minds are generally quite aware that you are destroying the fabric of life on Earth, it seems rather obvious there’s something else going on than just rational, scientific thinking. That something else, I suggest to you, is mythical thinking.

In its most basic sense, a myth is simply a story that attempts to explain to the people of any given culture how something came to be the way it is. A mythology is a collection of myths that, taken together, attempt to explain and express a culture’s deepest understanding of the world and how it works, and the place of humans within it.

Of course, you modern humans don’t see your myths as myths, you think they’re The Truth, just like every other culture from the Greeks to the Maya has viewed their myths as The Truth. That’s what’s tricky about myths - they don’t appear as myths to those living in them. So although you think modern people have progressed beyond all that mythology stuff, the fact is that snuggled up right beside your scientific understanding of the web of life is the pervasive myth that life on Earth is a pyramid - with humans at the very top.

According to your modern mythology, the broad base of the pyramid of life is populated by all of the bacteria and other supposedly “primitive” forms of life that are viewed as being animated by merely the instinctive struggle for biological survival and reproduction. In your mythology, as one climbs up this mythical pyramid, life becomes more and more complex until suddenly there is the great leap to the much-vaunted self-consciousness and presumed “superior intelligence” that allegedly makes you humans so “special” and “unique” among all the rest of life on Earth.

A more extreme form of this “myth of the pyramid” goes even further, lifting humans completely off the top of the pyramid and placing them in the space somewhere above it. In this version, humans have somehow magically transcended the whole messy, instinct-driven mass of life: there is the “natural” world - nature - and then there are humans.

This mythic imagery of a pyramid with humans at top is designed to emphasize several key, interrelated aspects of the “story” being told by the mythology of human civilization:

One, that humans are so special and different from all other forms of life on Earth, that you have somehow been elevated “above” everything else;

Two, that because you are such a special species, you are exempt from the rules of life that govern every other species on Earth;

Three, by virtue of your superior position at the top of the pyramid, you humans are somehow “meant” to rule over and use the rest of life on Earth for your own purposes; and,

Four, even though your supposedly “civilized” way of life is driving you to both a human and ecological catastrophe, you can’t give it up because that would mean giving up everything that makes you humans “special” and admitting that you are not, after all, “meant” to be at the top of the pyramid, dominating and using the rest of life on Earth.

In other words, the guiding mythology of modern society is the “myth of human exceptionalism” - a story that tells you that humans are so utterly special that the rules of life that apply to every other species on Earth somehow don’t apply to you; that the world was, in effect, made just for humans so you could have a stage upon which to show off what a wonderful and “highly evolved” species you are; and that you have no choice but continue acting as you have, even though you now face ecological catastrophe as a result, because that would mean not fulfilling your supposed “destiny” as the most wonderful, special species that has ever walked the face of the Earth.

The myth of human exceptionalism also tells you that humans are so special that, unlike every other species on Earth, you can somehow control your fate (and the fate of everything else that lives on Earth). That is the enormous - and fateful - conceit and drive behind agriculture and the entire edifice of human civilization that agriculture has inevitably spawned - the desperate attempt to wrest your fate from the “hands of the gods,” to become as gods yourselves, supposed masters of your own fate. But you are not gods, you do not have the gods’ wisdom about how the world works, so you are making a real hash of things in your vain efforts to be as powerful as the gods.

I hope that by now it is clear that, regardless of how you modern, “advanced” humans like to think about yourselves, the fact is that you do have your own unacknowledged myths and mythology. In and of itself, that is not a problem. What is a problem is that your particular mythology - the myth of human exceptionalism - has led to the point where Earth now stands on the edge of a sixth mass extinction, one caused not by an massive asteroid from space but by 10,000 years of humans living an unsustainable myth.

What is worse is that you seem helpless to do anything to stop your incredible destructiveness, even though you now stand on the brink of ecological and human catastrophe. In such a dire situation, it really does become imperative that you try to tear the blinders off and take a hard look at the mythology that is driving you to persist in such a destructive way of thinking about and living human life on Earth. In short, you need a radically new way of thinking about and living human life on Earth.

P.S. I know some of you might jump ahead and read all the rules but let's just focus on one rule at a time.
P.P.S. I did a quick Google for Oneida Kincaid and came up pretty blank. If one of you are better at this sort of thing than I it would be interesting to know what has become of her since this was posted in October of 2007.

Santa Barbara Burning

Our friend Cookie Jill has been evacuated out in Santa Barbara. Keep your fingers crossed that she and her friends are OK and suffer nothing worse than a little inconvenience. The latest from CNN is not looking to good. High winds continue.

Slammed Again

We are in for another 2-3" of rain today and tonight. This will all be accompanied by high winds, possible tornadoes, hail and Goddess knows what. I don't want to jinx the end of the drought but enough already. Since I have been a bit under the weather for the last few days (fluish symptoms) I probably wouldn't be working in the garden much but we are seriously waterlogged and I am sure I am having some seeds rot in the ground instead of germinating. The trials of gardening.
Let's just hope the hail stays away. Tender plants don't do well when pelted with 1" ice balls and so far the tomatoes and peppers are doing well, in spite of all the rain.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

RIP - Dom DeLuise

I was a big fan of Dom's and I got a big kick out of antics over the years. He was also a great cook and if you ever run across his first cookbook "Eat This, It'll Make You Feel Better" it is a nice little compendium of traditional Italian immigrant food. The recipe I posted the other day for Pasta Fagiole is derived from Dom's recipe but there are a lot of good ones in the book. No fuss but tasty recipes. Dom's father was a garbage collector in New York and that means his momma knew how to stretch a dollar when it came to putting a meal on the table.

Would You Believe?

Krugman stops by the 'stress test' issue and the leaks around them and I believe he is probably correct. The leaks around the 'stress tests' are merely a way to see how much bad news the public is willing to swallow on this. Sad commentary if true.

Alternatively, there’s Yves Smith’s version: these are all trial balloons to see how outsiders will react to different stress reports.

But that just adds to the bad feeling about all this. Even Brad DeLong, who has been relatively sympathetic to the administration here, is disturbed by the idea that regulators are negotiating with the banks about the test results. Now it seems as if the report’s contents may also be dictated by what, based on the response to leaks, the informed public is willing to swallow. (”Would you believe it if we say Citi is fine? OK, what if we say they need $5 billion? Not enough? How about 10?”)

As an aside, you can visit The Onion and see what satire is like when it is really close to home.

What is Health Care For?

Barbara at Mahablog has a good post on health care and the false assumptions about why we have a health care system in the first place. It's worth a read and there some good links as well.

If you pay close attention to right-wing arguments against national health care, you notice the underlying assumption: The purpose of a health care system is to support a profitable health care industry. For example, regulations that mandate insurance companies insure people with pre-existing conditions are bad, because they are bad for business.

On the other hand, if your underlying assumption is that the purpose of a health care system is to provide health care to people who need it, you must be a liberal.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Is H.A.L. Here?

This is pretty cool...and I have been waiting for someone to take "teh Google" down notch. Let's just hope that one of the monsters like Google or Microsoft let it live. This sounds like one of those large increments that changes the way things are.

The new system, Wolfram Alpha, showcased at Harvard University in the US last week, takes the first step towards what many consider to be the internet's Holy Grail – a global store of information that understands and responds to ordinary language in the same way a person does.

Although the system is still new, it has already produced massive interest and excitement among technology pundits and internet watchers.

Computer experts believe the new search engine will be an evolutionary leap in the development of the internet. Nova Spivack, an internet and computer expert, said that Wolfram Alpha could prove just as important as Google. "It is really impressive and significant," he wrote. "In fact it may be as important for the web (and the world) as Google, but for a different purpose.

Tom Simpson, of the blog, said: "What are the wider implications exactly? A new paradigm for using computers and the web? Probably. Emerging artificial intelligence and a step towards a self-organising internet? Possibly... I think this could be big."

Wolfram Alpha will not only give a straight answer to questions such as "how high is Mount Everest?", but it will also produce a neat page of related information – all properly sourced – such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with graphs and charts.

The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out "on the fly", according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in "10 flips for four heads" and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the exact current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Saturday Stuff

Good rainstorms here in Northern Atlanta over night. The garden is happy. The corn, beans, melons, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers I planted in the last week are ready to go. I already see the first leaves of the cucumbers peaking through this morning and I expect to see all of the melons and squash in the next day or so. The bamboo 'teepees' are all ready for the first planting of green pole beans to spring up(Kentucky Wonder) and I can't wait to see the vines start up. The butter peas will appear in the next day or so as will all the beans for winter storage. So far the October, Hutterite, Boston Favorite and Charlevoix Dark Red Kidneys are planted and with this rain will be growing in the next couple of days. Both the white and yellow corn is in the ground (Sowell's Evergreen and Golden Bantam, respectively) and should appear in the next few days as well. Of course, being a good southern boy, the okra and lima beans are planted as well.

There are still things to be planted but they can wait a couple of weeks as they are for winter storage. Hubbard,Delicata and Acorn squash plus an heirloom French squash. I still have the half runner beans and sweet potatoes to plant as well. The sweet potato plants should arrive next week and their bed is all ready.

Still sparse eating from the garden but we are eating lettuce, spring onions, roquette, and radishes. The bok choi and chinese cabbage is ready to begin coming into the kitchen as well. Spinach is still a few weeks off.

With all the rain and warm weather the weeds have germinated and the wet ground is the perfect time to get them out so today is weeding and mulching day. Backbreaking work, I'll admit, but it is a part of gardening and seeing a nicely weeded garden is good reward. The tender weed shoots will not go to waste though and will find a home in the compost pile making 'black gold' for the garden.

So I am off to the garden to pull weeds and spread mulch. I can't work too long today as we are invited to a Kentucky Derby party this afternoon and I will have to be out of the garden and cleaned up by 430p. Everybody have a great Saturday and if you get the urge I can always use an extra hand with the weeds. I will, of course, share in the bounty for work well done.

Friday, May 01, 2009

More on Jesus and Torture

From the Salt Lake Tribune:
Although the decisions which put us in the grim business of torture, body-snatching, extraordinary renditions, making people disappear, indefinite confinement without charges and warrantless wiretapping were made by the president and vice president, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints served as helpful enablers. Not only did they provide the legal architecture, they provided the "scientific" patina for the plunge into the barbaric business of torture.

Take Latter-day Saint Timothy E. Flanigan, deputy White House counsel, who, along with David Addington, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, and Jim Haynes comprised the secretive "War Council" of lawyers -- a self-appointed group Mayer describes as having virtually no experience in law enforcement, military service, counterterrorism or the Muslim world....

BYU law school graduate Jay S. Bybee was the assistant attorney general directing the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel. At the instigation of Addington and Yoo, Bybee issued official legal opinions that redefined the crime of torture to make it all but impossible to commit. Barbarity was not torture unless it created pain equal to death or organ failure. A newly-declassified Bybee memorandum lists 10 previously top-secret interrogation techniques approved for use by the CIA, including waterboarding.

Incredibly, Bybee seems to have been unaware that the United States had prosecuted waterboarding as a war crime after World War II. In 2003, before his role in authorizing U.S. torture was known, Bybee was given a lifetime judicial appointment on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Had his role in torture been known, it is unlikely he would have been confirmed.

Two devout Mormons also engineered the more grisly wet work. Because the CIA lacked personnel in 2001 with interrogation expertise, the agency turned to two psychologists, James E. Mitchell and John B. Jessen, who had worked with the Air Force's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape programs. Neither had an intelligence or interrogation background or had experience with Muslim terrorists, but, according to the FBI, they had experience in designing, testing, implementing and monitoring torture techniques that were illegal in the United States and elsewhere in the civilized world...

Mitchell advised that suspects must be treated like dogs in a cage. "It's like an experiment, when you apply electric shocks to a caged dog, after a while, he's so diminished, he can't resist."

h/t Americablog