Saturday, December 30, 2006

Amusing T-shirt

For once, an airplane magazine had something cool, a bit about a cool T-shirt site...

I like this one below, and if you click on the image, you will be rushed off to the site to enjoy the full-size image, a penguin holding a ruler...

The Arctic Ruler - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

Happy Eid, and Happy New Year!

A Tunisian friend sent holiday greetings, so I am, too!
I am not sure why the goat is wearing a sandwich board, but hey, Germans give each other peppermint pigs for good luck, so there you have it.

Christmas in SoCal

Being as Mama has a new small person in her household (my niece!!!), the butterfly lady, my mother and I all headed down to southern California for the Winter Seasonal Holiday Celebration.

Several things occurred:
  • Winter Seasonal Holiday Celebratory Commemoration gifts were exchanged.
  • Soon-to-be in-laws were met (see below).
  • Mama's super-cool boyfriend proposed to her!
  • Disneyland was visited.
  • A Le Conte's thrasher and Nuttall's woodpecker were observed (it is getting hard to see life birds, so two in one day is a big deal to me).
  • Sentences with too many passive constructions were formed.
Anyway, we are returned from traveling abroad and have only to bail B I Double G and Pig out of the clink to complete the holiday thing.

I hope all your Christmases were the best they could be...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Winter in the mountains

Besides being the Unattended Space Heater Sparks Deadly Fire season, now is also the time of year for adventurers to perish in some godforesaken gully on a snowbound mountainside.

The usual responses to the missing-climber stories are two: What a tragedy for the family! and What a bunch of idiots!

The current high-profile iteration involves three men, one of whom has been found dead, on Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain.

My line of work makes me leery of labeling deaths "tragedies" willy-nilly. Many untimely deaths are indeed tragic, but I don't think this counts. Three men, doing something they wanted to, something inherently dangerous, die (assumably, in the parlance of one of my little sisters) on their way down the mountain. Sad maybe, but tragic?

The bunch-of-idiots depends. Reports during this whole fiasco suggest the trio tried for a fast-and-light ascent of the mountain, which is mountaineer code for "We're sure we'll make it, so we're not taking enough gear to be safe." The pretend explanation tendered to worried spouses, etc., is that traveling light is really safer because you're less encumbered and can make good your escape with greater speed.

I'm no expert, but I have done a few fast-and-light hikes in places dangerous enough to kill a fool, or a person less lucky than myself. But never when the weather was anything but sunny and warm, and never in such a godforesaken place.

At least they made it to the top before disaster struck. It must have been quite the view.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Games & fun

The butterfly lady and I are pretty much kids: We stay up late, we eat ice cream a lot (and we have to remind ourselves to eat salad), we have an ever-growing family of stuffed critters (they would be displeased to be referred to as teddy bears), we play games pretty much daily, the list goes on.

So, which games, you ask?

Scrabble. An old friend calls the two of us the Loyola-Marymount of Scrabble.
Super Scrabble. What better way to keep up the run-and-gun than a game that lets you double (or better) your best scores? The manufacturer says the game lets you "play words you once could only dream about." I have to admit, I have had Scrabble dreams.
Boggle. Noisy word fun!
Tangrams. We just got a set for two players - fun! You can play here and here, too.
Cards. We pretty much play only rummy and double solitaire (an OK explanation of the game is here, but it doesn't do much to capture the intensity of the game), and we used to play cribbage a lot.
Mah Jongg. We have a little problem here, which is a lack of a third (or a third and a fourth), so we just play rummy against the day we find a Mah Jongg-playing pal or two...
Abalone. The butterfly lady groans whenever we see this game - she seems to think I have some sort of unfair advantage at it.
Go. Ditto, but she did give me our Go board as a present, and it is the star of the animation at the bottom of this page.

I guess this makes us pretty much word and logic nerds. :)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Chowder time

All the ingredients were staring at me (so was the Newfy, once she realized I was making some Maritime chow), so I made a batch of clam chowder, my adaptation of a "Joy of Cooking" recipe (their default is for Manhattan-style chowder, which I think sounds awful).

Whenever I make chowder, I'm reminded of a late night in New Hampshire, when I had to head down to the gas station (a Getty with a c-store) to pick up bacon. As the lady was ringing me up, I said, "Glad you had bacon, I couldn't have made dinner without it." She nodded and said, "Making chowdah, huh?" Well, of course.

I know, I know, you've seen this before. But I improved this post with pictures...

3 10-ounce cans clams, drained (reserve the liquid!)
2 cans corn, drained (reserve liquid, too)
5 or 6 strips of good-quality bacon
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
5 or 6 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced
1 quart milk

In a large uncovered pot over medium heat, cook the bacon until fairly crisp.

Remove the bacon and chop when cool.

Cook the onions in the bacon fat until translucent.

Add the flour and whisk for about a minute, then add the liquid from the clams and corn.

Dump in the potatoes, add salt to taste (total crap shoot here, gang. I think 1/2 teaspoon is about right, but you might like more), cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked but still firm.

Add the clams, corn and bacon, then the milk. Check to see if the salt is right, then heat through and serve. If you want to be all fancy, serve each bowl with a small pat of butter and freshly ground pepper (in the bowl, not on the side).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The craigslist model

So, from what I understand, craigslist makes its dough (estimated revenue in the $7 million to $10 million neighborhood) by charging for job postings in New York, L.A. and San Francisco. Of course, the rest is free.

I can vouch for the site in a couple of ways.
  • I posted a couple of ads for our cars when we got a newer one and sold both within a couple of weeks for the asking price.
  • The butterfly lady's research has used craigslist almost exclusively to recruit participants, and her two studies have about 2,000 participants apiece. (Latest posting is in Austin.)
No muss, no fuss.

So, what can I/my employer take from businesses like craigslist, and for that matter, Google?

I'm not certain. The butterfly lady and I tend to agree with the tech-oriented media punditry, that a great local media outlet site would be pared down in design, like Google, and produce Google-like search results, with the difference being that the results would all be local.

Indeed, Google's home page already has lots of the stuff you'd want for a local site - information (they call it "Web"), images, video, news, maps, "more," links to advanced tools and links to the business end of the company.

Although it would probably constitute an unacceptable (and maybe illegal) ripoff, it would not take a rocket scientist to recast the Google home page for any media outlet. I would probably add a link called "shop" where the images/videos/news/etc. goes, but that would be about it.

It's not like many news site really stand out as different. The Bakersfield Californian, famous amoung news people (aka not actually famous) for its radical redesign, also has a Web site that is not garden variety.

As I have said before, probably ad nauseum, one of the top five reasons (maybe the top?) for working at a small paper is the freedom to innovate. I'm sharking for ways to do just that, but I haven't hit on anything spectacular yet...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Geez, louise

You are The Devil

Materiality. Material Force. Material temptation; sometimes obsession

The Devil is often a great card for business success; hard work and ambition.

Perhaps the most misunderstood of all the major arcana, the Devil is not really "Satan" at all, but Pan the half-goat nature god and/or Dionysius. These are gods of pleasure and abandon, of wild behavior and unbridled desires. This is a card about ambitions; it is also synonymous with temptation and addiction. On the flip side, however, the card can be a warning to someone who is too restrained, someone who never allows themselves to get passionate or messy or wild - or ambitious. This, too, is a form of enslavement. As a person, the Devil can stand for a man of money or erotic power, aggressive, controlling, or just persuasive. This is not to say a bad man, but certainly a powerful man who is hard to resist. The important thing is to remember that any chain is freely worn. In most cases, you are enslaved only because you allow it.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

I was hoping for the King of Cups, but alas...

Monday, December 11, 2006

News blogs

I like to read blogs (duh), but I'm pretty picky. With one exception (USA Today's On Deadline), I don't regularly read blogs at news sites.

  • I work at a newspaper.
  • I'm the city editor.
  • I like to blog.
  • I think blogs have news value.
  • I would like to see our site add blogs.
  • I have to come up with some goals for 2007.
So, 2+2=4.

But I'm not sure what I would blog about. The obvious choice is to copy the one I like, to write a local On Deadline blog. In a way, this would be very easy to pull off because we, unlike USA Today, still have standard print deadlines that are imprinted in the minds of everybody in the news operation (aka our deadline is not "every minute of every day"), which means I wouldn't necessarily be posting every three minutes.

The other obvious choice would be to do the above and recruit local bloggers to join the club at our site (maybe by paying them?).

I don't have any great insight into this yet, but it is on the short-range radar anyway.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Must be getting older...

End-of-the-year fun at the workplace puts me in the driver's seat (aka Page A1 duty) for the sixth day this week. I don't mind, but I think if I had to do this for weeks on end, I would not be amused.

When I was younger and much more of a striver, there were a couple of years in which circumstances conspired to put me in the office six and sometimes seven days a week. Luckily, those two years were not consecutive and were at different workplaces.

Oh, and I was hourly back then, so I piled up the OT. I recall that one of those years, 20 percent of my pay was time-and-a-half... but I was still a grouch a lot of the time. I'm not sure why the butterfly lady stuck around, but I'm damn glad she did.

Anyway, those two years should have brought riches beyond the wildest dreams of avarice, but newspapers aren't exactly the highest-paying places to work, so I just did pretty well. Newspapers are also ridiculously fun places to work, so I'm far from complaining.

But industry-wide, the low pay is bullshit, especially when you take into account that we are in a very profitable branch of manufacturing.

I am fortunate to work at a newspaper that pays better than its peers, but many people are not. At my last employer, entry-level reporters get about $12 an hour (in southern New Hampshire, where a decent apartment is about $900 a month). Managers fare much better, but that isn't really the point.

I've heard people say that lower pay is actually a good thing, because it means the only people who take the jobs are people who truly want them, not just slackers seeking high pay.

Gee, I wonder who came up with that reasoning.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Taser reporting falls short

I'm a city editor at a small daily newspaper, and I spent three years as a night city editor in the Northeast. Cop & fire stories were my bread and butter then, and I retain a very high interest.

This means I read a lot of Taser stories, and as a result I read a lot of Taser stories that contain an annoying flaw. Here's a for-instance (originally from the Spokesman-Review, one of the country's largest newspapers - aka people with no excuse):
The two 50,000-volt Taser jolts left Strange, 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, "momentarily unconscious" on the ground, according to the lawsuit.
Wait a sec. If the current in a household electrical outlet can kill you, and it is only 110 volts or so, why doesn't a Taser turn you into a Crispy Critter?

The answer is simple: Amps. A Taser's amperage is really, really low, so the high voltage shouldn't kill you.

Why? This is the point where someone breaks out a water-through-a-hose analogy and we all fall asleep. But here's an alternative analogy.

Think of a high volt/low amp current (like you get in a Taser) as dropping a penny off the Empire State Building. If you hit someone, man will that sting. But it probably won't kill them. The amperage is the small coin and the voltage is the big drop.

Think of a low volt/high amp current (like you plug your blender into) as dropping a car off the roof of your house. If you hit someone, they're fucking dead.

OK, maybe that's not history's best analogy, but if you're writing a Taser story, ditch the voltage unless you are going to talk about amps, too.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An alternative to snow

New England's got Noreasters and Buffalo's got Lake Effect Snow (I think that kind of snow deserves capital letters).

Here in Walla Walla, we get snow, too, but not very much and not very often. That's not for lack of cold - around here, the winters can get much colder than in New Hampshire (to pick an example at random), but we also get very little precipitation, maybe 19 or 20 inches a year.

What we have instead of snow is freezing fog (which the forecast calls for tonight, just like it does off and on all winter). Freezing fog tends to be on the wispy side for fog, though some nights it is damn near pea soup.

The result looks like hoarfrost, so winter mornings around here are often gorgeous, especially on the lucky days that dawn clear after a night of freezing fog.

A picture would probably be helpful here... I'll have to do something about that.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What's on shuffle?

Hooray for tagging! (and thank you, Lulu)

And what, pray tell, is in the shuffle for me?

How many songs: 2507 (but some of those are Pimsleur language lessons/comedy tracks)

First song: 'Em - The Geto Boys (I guess iTunes thinks ' is the first letter of the alphabet)

Last song: Zoot Suit Riot~~Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (popular choice!)

Shortest: Commercial - House of Pain (0:07)

Longest: Alice's Restaurant Massacree (18:36. Official Song of Stockbridge, Mass.)

Five most played songs:

Do Ya - Electric Light Orchestra (74, going on 75 right now)
Catarina - Joe Purdy (73)
Wash Away (reprise) - Joe Purdy (65)
Pancho and Lefty (live) - Townes Van Zandt (55 - the other live performance of this song by Van Zandt is No. 7 at 49)
Poor Taylor (acoustic) - Jack Johnson (52)

First song that comes up on "shuffle” Father and Son, covered by Johnny Cash & Fiona Apple (off of the Unearthed box set)

Number of items that come up when searching (by song only, not albums, titles & artists) for:

"sex": 2 (NoFX and Hot Chocolate)

"death": 4

"love": 80. (Don't get too excited, The Geto Boys are in there, too. Twice)

"you": 172 (does that include "Food, Sex and Ewe"?)

"me": 294

"cry": 7

Who shall I tag??? The world wonders.

Holly, Mama & Daphne

Friday, December 01, 2006

Let it snow!

Living in my un-tagged world, I have to shop for memes. Here's one:

Do you get snow where you live? How much? Yes, but not much. We do get freezing fog (like hoarfrost) and freezing rain. Last winter, we had about a week of freezing fog and one day in which snow fell in the valley. There's tons of snow in the surrounding hills and mountains, though. Once in a while, we get a good dumping, maybe once every five or 10 years.

When was the last time it snowed in your neck of the woods? Two days ago. About an eighth -to a quarter-inch. Wow.

Tell us about the worst snowfall/blizzard you've been in. Well, there was the whiteout I drove the moving truck in around Thanksgiving 2004, which was pretty bad. Probably the most significant snow I've seen was in a Noreaster in New Hampshire in early 2004. The storm dumped a couple of feet of snow over a couple of days. I couldn't even see my car one morning because it was under so much snow.

What is your favorite thing about snow? Snow wipes away trash and grime and makes everything beautiful, at least for a little while.

Imagine two ideal homes, all things being the same except climate. Do you choose to live the rest of your life somewhere that never sees a snowflake or somewhere that sees a plethora of them every winter? Why? I would choose the snowy place. I like shoveling, I like snowshoeing, I like to play with the dog in the snow, I like snowball fights and sledding and running along the frozen river through the snow. Snow is gorgeous and home is all the warmer when you get home.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

An easy and classic Indian meal

Although the prep work involved is, well, involved, Indian food - at least the North Indian type I make - is pretty damn easy.

If you want an un-tricky but tasty and versatile dish, give kheema with fried onions a try. The dish is ground meat (in this recipe, lamb) with many spices and fried (really just sauteed ad nauseum) onions, and while it could be eaten alone, it is a more likely candidate to be served over rice; with naan, pooris or chapatis (these three with kheema would be an alternative to pita-and-hummus or chips-and-dip); or as a filling for samosas (deep-fried stuffed breads) or fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, squash, eggplant and okra all work well).

Unless you're wicked fast at prep, you will profit from doing all the prep work before you turn on the stove. For handiness, I put the three sets of spices into separate little dishes.

Kheema with fried onions

Spice set I
2 bay leaves
1 three-inch stick of cinnamon
6 whole cloves

Spice set II
1 tablespoon cumin, freshly ground
1 tablespoon coriander, freshly ground
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon salt (this is a maximum, in my opinion)

Spice set III
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon mace, freshly ground
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

one large yellow onion, halved and both halves sliced into very thin half-rings (this is much easier than trying to slice a whole onion into very thin rings)

one-half of a large yellow onion, finely chopped
five cloves garlic, finely chopped
a 1-inch cube of fresh ginger, finely chopped
3 tablespoons tomato sauce (if you're planning to stuff tomatoes with the kheema, hollow them out during the prep and use the hollowed out stuff - at least six tomatoes worth - in place of tomato sauce)
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1.5 pounds ground lamb

In a large dish, heat three tablespoons or so of oil over medium to medium-high heat. When hot, saute/fry the onion ring halves until browned (but not crispy), about 10 minutes. Remove from oil (if there's any left) and set aside.

Now the part you need to be attentive for:
  • Add a tablespoon of oil to the dish and add Spice set I.
  • When the bay leaves turn brown, add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for 5 to 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown at the edges.
  • Add Spice set II and fry for three minutes.
  • Add the tomato sauce and fry for three minutes.
  • Add the yogurt and fry for three minutes.
  • Add the ground lamb and brown thoroughly, breaking up any chunks as you go.
  • Add 1/4 cup water (unless you are stuffing tomatoes and added a lot of watery tomato innards already).
  • Add Spice set III, stir, bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.
After the 45 minutes or so, remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves (don't bother trying to find the cloves; they're fun to eat anyway!) and stir in the reserved onions.

If you're planning to stuff fruit or vegetables, here's the ones I've done:
  • Squash - Cut an acorn squash in half, scoop out the seeds and bake uncovered (in a casserole with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water in it) at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the squash reaches your desired firmness/cookedness level. Then scoop kheema into the hollow, bake for 5 minutes and serve.
  • Tomatoes - Cut lids on the tomatoes (like you would for a Jack-o'-lantern) and scoop out the inner membranes and seeds. I use a grapefruit spoon for this task.
  • Eggplant - Just slice off the cap (the stem end), then prepare the eggplant by cooking it in boiling, salted water until it is just tender. Drain the water (duh), scoop out the insides and stuff the eggplant. It won't need much time baking, maybe 20 minutes at 350 degrees. You can affix the cut-off cap with toothpicks if you're tricky.
  • Okra - Use large, fresh okra. Simply (ha-ha) slit the okra with a sharp knife and stuff as full as you can with kheema. Bake on a cookie sheet for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
I like the squash and okra best. The squash is sweet but that's simultaneously offset and complemented by the kheema. The okra is just plain tasty, even better than deep-fried, in my opinion.

The tomatoes are good, but when baked can be almost cloying. Tasty, but easy to get too much of.

The eggplant is also tasty, but a lot of trouble for not much return. Mostly, it is amusing to feel the inside of the eggplant after you have scooped it out and compare it to something else you may have touched in a similar manner.


Peeling back a corner of November's drear,
the ill-tempered sun
offers no warmth,
just harsh white light,
a fluorescent glare to light the way through the freezer-burned city.

The grimy dust of dust, ice, salt and sand,
bleached trash
of yesterday's snow,
litters alleys and gutters,
a vague reminder of delicate beauty.

The arid breeze blows stiffly through the valley,
rushing down from whitened hills and mountains
to push
a few leaves along gray and gritty streets,
a few flakes coaxed from sullen clouds,
a few bundled strangers from here to there.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What's on your Christmas list?

Or Hannukah, or Kwanzaa, or just because it is winter and you should have some presents...

I'm crossing my fingers for:
  • Fuzzy socks - snow is falling even as I type. Maybe some alpaca mittens or gloves, too. :)
  • Le Couvent des Minimes honey/shea repairing hand cream - Everybody has their favorite; this one is mine. This outfit has other flavors, too, so their three-piece sampler might be more fun.
  • A fancy recipe box - I'm not choosy, but I would like one that is snazzier than the little plastic job I've got now.
  • A new shuttle for weaving - Webs, for example, carries some pretty snazzy 11-inchers by Leclerc.
  • A new oven & dishwasher - Oh my god, did I just write that? Yeah, I guess so.
I think that my inability to conjure stuff I'd like to add to my life dates to about a year or two after I graduated from college. I like nice/pretty/new/frivolous/useful things, but I have a hard time saying I really need things, so it is hard to come up with a list. My sister thinks I need gear from Chiquita and other somewhat related items.

So there you have it. I can do other lists with greater aplomb. Maybe I should inventory the spice rack for a subsequent post...

Friday, November 24, 2006

An example of cool design

I don't know if The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley is as good as this poster advertising it, but if it is, it is probably worth the $475, plus $250 a night for a nonsmoking, king-size bed. (You're a king you say? Well, you will not believe what I have in store for you. I did not know you guys were all the same size... Speaking of which, the Mitch Hedberg quote page at wikiquote is now severely cut down.)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I am thankful for peace and love, especially when they prevail.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

CSI: Miami

Maybe the CSI stands for Curiously Short of Interesting.

Assorted thoughts collected while watching an episode of the show last night:
  • If you're going to have a show about a murder, have a show about a murder. If you want one about a terrorist plot to blow up a nuclear power plant, have a different show. If you insist on having both in one show, maybe an hour's not long enough to, say, develop anything.
  • Nobody who really does a job has to define all the tools they use.
    "Quick, Officer Smith, get your shotgun!"
    "I have retrieved my shotgun, which I use to fire shells!"
  • If a truck carrying 10,000 pounds of plastic explosives leaves the docks at noon, what will its location be at 3 p.m.? If you said just outside the nuclear power plant, but close enough to intercept before it does any harm, you are correct.
Watching the show would have been a huge waste of time if it hadn't led to a half-hour of hysterical laughing and fake dialogue at bedtime.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wicked busy = wicked quiet blog

Not that I have anything super insightful to post...

so I'll leave you with the quote I have posted on my bulletin board at work. It isn't really a quote at all, but a note from a freelancer. I think it might be the beginning of a novel:
There was nothing
else going on at the
- Liz -

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Assorted sights from the path to work

Today, I have seen three accipiters. I assume they were Cooper's hawks, but sharp-shinned hawks are damn near identical, so who knows. I don't think I've ever seen so many of these hawks in such short order: two on the way to work (a 10-minute walk) and one from the window while I got coffee.

Also, two church reader boards (the first is a direct quote; the second might be paraphrased):

"Seven days without prayer makes one weak"

"Blessed it is when brothers and sisters live in unity"

Now, for today's mix-and-match, try to figure out which of the above replaced which of the below:

"God loves variety in autumn leaves and people"

"Life has many choices. Death has only two"

Gee, hmm. Which church would you rather attend?

Monday, November 13, 2006

A tantalizing tidbit

While reading a story this morning about a projected energy surplus in the region this winter, I stumbled on this little detail:
"Since 1999, the region has lost about 10 percent of its demand - largely from the
decline of the aluminum industry."
No kidding? I didn't even know the region had an aluminum industry, let alone one in decline.

Hey, I know the story isn't about aluminum, but now I want to know!

Speaking of unholy baseball-related items (aluminum bats annoy me), I see the Mets plan to sell their stadium-naming rights to Citigroup for about $20 million a year (according to the Associated Press). The AP story suggests the new stadium will be named CitiField. The deal is said to be for 20 years, long enough that maybe people will realize how silly looking two words smushed together with a capital letter in the middle can be.

Especially when one of those words isn't even spelled correctly.

Of course, I think the Mets stink, so maybe the name is a perfect fit!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Oral history project

Saturday is Veterans Day, but our paper doesn't publish Saturdays, so we rolled out our project for this year's observation today.

Over the past few months, we've collected audio recollections from local veterans of their most memorable time from the service. Thirty veterans' memories are presented today, with more to come in what I hope will be a project that is never finished.

On a side note, this project is one of the reasons I work at a community (aka small) newspaper: The reporters and Web content editor have just two managers, myself and the editor, so their good ideas and work aren't spoiled by too many cooks. We have flexibility people at larger papers don't enjoy and a collegial workplace unpoisoned by excessive workplace politics. I wouldn't trade working here!

Anyway, take a listen, if you like...

Monday, November 06, 2006

A thought on elections

While reading the wire today, I came across this line in a Howard Kurtz/Washington Post story about the impending election (and its predicted result, Democratic control of the House and possibly Senate):
"Divided government may or may not be good for the country, but it's great for the Fourth Estate."
He's right, of course, but I think the first clause is a cop-out.

Of course divided government is good for the country! Are you kidding? I'd even go so far as to say we'd be better off with a Congress that meets every two years (like, say, the Oregon Legislature does) than what we've got now. Congress has already found a way to stuff one year's work into several, so why not cut down the time for meddling and mischief even more?

I'm pretty sure the only people who would really be screwed if that happened would be people who get paid to hang around inside the Beltway (and only some of them), not the people whose lives are supposed to be made better by the work they do.

Grumble, grumble, grumble.

But on the bright side, the Cardinals did win the World Series!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Emmylou Harris sings my favorite song

She said in a documentary that because she was the first non-Townes Van Zandt person to do "Pancho and Lefty" she thinks of it as her song.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fare thee well, Clifford Geertz

When you're famous in your field, you're not necessarily famous anywhere else.

That's the deal for Clifford Geertz, anyway, who died Monday. I don't fall in with his school of thought (symbolic anthropology, a scientifically suspect point of view), but his book, "Islam Observed," influenced me anyway.

I mostly like his interest in observation and storytelling, which most people who know me would agree are things I enjoy, too. Especially storytelling!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

An unusual attack ad

Visa's current ad campaign, Life Takes Visa, is visually interesting, sometimes silly and usually clever.

Its newest TV component, "Transactional Fluidity," takes a swipe at cash, which strikes me as an atypical target for an attack ad. The 60-second spot is a highly choreographed play in a deli, where everything works like clockwork, including the Visa-swiping customers. That is, until one person pays with cash, throwing the finely tuned dance into disarray.

Besides villifying cash, the ad suggests to me that if you really want to be just like everybody else, you should use a Visa card.

Only weirdos and iconoclasts use cash, eh? Well, I'm ever in the deli in the Visa ad, I'm paying with pennies.

Visa says that what its new campaign "is really about are the people who stand up to life’s challenges, laugh at its jokes, savor its sweetness and continue down its unpredictable path."

I'm not sure how that statement fits with making an enemy out of cash, which the ad protrays as severely uncool. But the ad does fit with somebody else's agenda.

Earlier this year, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson claimed that the "cash economy" is the No. 3 problem facing the American taxpayer. As I wrote in January, Olson alleges that the failure of taxpayers to report income from the cash economy costs the nation $100 billion or more each year, which she says translates to about $2,000 per taxpayer.

I'm not saying Visa and the IRS are in cahoots, but I'm pretty sure that if using cash makes both of them mad, I'm happy to slap down the dollar bills.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A piece of animation

I put this together while living in the Granite State...

Our hyped-up dogs

Just a typical day around the house...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Performance art?

The massage lady's latest project:

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Your shoes are tied!

My father sent me this excellent link to Ian's Shoelace site, which caused me to relace my shoes. My Dr. Martens only have three eyelets, so I chose riding-boot lacing because... Oh, I don't have any reason, I just thought it would be fun.

Now, I need some shoes with more eyelets!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How out of touch can you be?

While reading a recent issue of APME news (an industry insider magazine), I came across an article about what editors hope to see in journalism graduates in skills and accomplishments.

In 1990, the list was topped by writing skills, spelling and grammar, internships, ethics, blah blah blah. At that time, only 6 percent of the editors who were surveyed thought experience with computers was "very important" and only 31 percent rated that experience as "important."

So now you can see how behind the times those editors were during the grunge era.

Times have changed, but some of the backward attitudes haven't. To wit, the article's section on blogging contains these three comments, no others:
"Blogging requires no journalism skills per se. But everyone has a right to speak."
"Blogs are not necessarily any closer to journalism than typing."
"(Regarding) blogs - No one reads them."
And there you have it. But keep in mind, these comments come from the same group that is surprised to find out that even though newspapers often have profit margins of 10 to 20 percent:
"I continually get new grads expecting to be paid $30,000 or more."
Well, gosh and golly, that's just crazy talk! I mean, for that kind of pay, you could afford a car payment and an apartment in the city. Maybe some food, too! Unless you have student loans, of course...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Swedish meatballs

The butterfly lady's heritage means we have Swedish meatballs every now and then, and not just for holiday meals. I usually whip up some mashed potatoes and such, too.

I suspect that there are as many recipes for Swedish meatballs as there are cooks who make them. Here's mine:

For the meatballs
Ground beef (the market here sells ground beef, curiously, in an 18-ounce package)
Bread, torn into small bits (I save heels for just this purpose, and used the equivalent of six slices)
A half of a large yellow onion, finely minced
1/2 to 3/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 to 3/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 3/8 teaspoon garlic salt
2 large eggs
For the gravy
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 to 3 cups milk (I use 1 percent)
About 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
About 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Mix together the meatball ingredients. Your hands are probably the best tool for this job. Form into roughly 1.5-to 2-inch-diameter balls. When I made these over the weekend, I got 29 meatballs out of this recipe.

In a large saucepan on medium heat, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter or heat up some oil. Brown the meatballs in batches. You'll find that they need to be seared completely on a side before they'll move nicely in the pan. If they stick, you're probably trying to rotate them too soon. When each batch is done, set the meatballs aside.

In the same pan on medium heat, melt the 2 tablespoons butter and whisk in the flour. Whisk for about a minute, then whisk in the milk. Whisk until roughly homogenous, then whisk in the nutmeg and pepper. A pinch of salt won't kill anyone, either, especially if use unsalted butter.

Arrange the meatballs in the gravy and simmer for about 30 minutes. I like to let the dish sit off heat for about 5 minutes after the cooking has stopped, then serve!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Throwing good ideas after bad

On the heels of the demise of Washington state's unusually bad tourism-inducing slogan - SayWA - the people charged with drawing visitors to Seattle "unveiled a new Seattle destination brand position" today.


I can't do better than the flaks, so here's their spiel:
"the new trademarked tagline is the centerpiece of a powerful new brand platform that will define and promote the unique Seattle visitor experience and drive the city’s tourism marketing programs. The metronatural brand concept was designed to highlight Seattle’s rare and uniquely-marketable combination of urban and outdoor experiences."
Alas, the Seattle PR people plan to make metronatural "visible in Seattle and around the world."

The word is the result of a year's work and apparently involved input from a vast number of stakeholders. The gambling houses may now commence on setting odds that "metronatural" enjoys a longer life in the realm of spoken words than "metrosexual."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Speaking of medicine

I saw the latest Claritin-D ad the other night, in which actors say rubbish like, "Thank you, Claritin-D, for not changing your formula! I can still count on you to clear up my congestion!"

The commercial would only need minor tweaking to make a great Saturday Night Live sketch:

"Thank you, Claritin-D, for making sure I still have ingredients for my latest batch of meth!"

Anyway, here's Schering-Plough HealthCare Product's bullshit "explanation" for why Claritin-D is now a behind-the-counter product:
"Federal legislation takes effect on September 30, 2006 that imposes a deadline on moving allergy and cold products containing the active ingredient pseudoephedrine (PSE) off store shelves and placing them behind the pharmacy or customer service counter. This legislation will make it harder to find longer lasting allergy and cold decongestants. Interestingly, many allergy and cold sufferers surveyed were unaware of the changes both in the law and on the shelf product reformulations."
I know Claritin-D contains methamphetamine ingredients, and maybe everybody else knows, too. Would it really kill the drug maker to acknoweledge they're part of a problem?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

More on strep & staph nose

If you are reading this post, it is probably because you have a staph or strep infection in your nose. Many people who come to this blog come here for this post, so you have a lot of company.

The first time I was infected, I had never even heard of such a thing as strep or staph nose. Here's what I know about this pesky problem:

My noses background includes one strep infection, in 2003 or 2004, and one staph infection (two species, I was told) that started in 2006. The infection has been back two more times since the initial infection. My risk factor apparently is that I am routinely congested because of an allergy to swimming pool chemicals (I swim a lot).

For me, the symptoms have been annoying, itchy and painful little cuts inside my nose that won't heal. Weirdly, I have only had the infections in one nostril.

Treatment is simple. You just spread antibiotic "cream" - really a petroleum jelly goop - around inside your nose twice a day for 10 days. The drugs can be expensive (I had insurance, and the prescription for the strep was still $40), or cheap (the staph infections were attacked with an 0ver-the-counter remedy, like Neosporin).

Simple, yes, but effective? The staph infection has been back a couple times (it started in September 2006 and I just finished a third antibiotic course today, Jan. 19, 2007). Some of the literature I found online suggests eradicating staph nose (typically staphylococcus aureus, for which an excellent article can be found here) can be a yearlong process: five days each month for a year!

Speaking generally, streptococcus and staphylococcus bacteria seem to be omnipresent, like coliform bacteria, and can cause much more havoc than stupid nose infections. Flesh-eating bacteria, for example, is a variety of strep.

That's about all I know so far. If you arrive here with a bummed out nose, take heart and if you haven't already, pay a visit to your health-care provider.

Here are three more reasonably good links:

Dr. Gabe Mirkin on treatment of staph nose article about antibiotic resistant staph nose
A longer but better netdoctor article on resistant staph

If this post did not answer a question you have, please leave a comment and I will hunt down the answer.

The bead game

While watching television late one night in the Granite State, the butterfly lady and I stumbled on "The Bead Game/Histoire de perles," showing on public television. The film, which can be viewed here, has this synopsis, provided by Canada's National Film Board:
"In this fascinating, innovative exercise in animation, thousands of beads are arranged and manipulated, assuming shapes of creatures both mythical and real. They continually devour, merge, and absorb one another in explosions of color. The theme is one of aggression and inevitability, but any conclusion is left to the viewer."
This is well worth watching.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

And the jobs I shouldn't have bothered taking

  • The second time working as a box clerk at a grocery store (the first time worked out so well!)
  • The second time working at a cannery (The first time, I was a Cherry Pitting Machine Quality Control Technician, among many other delightful tasks. The second go-around, I left after one day. Ugh.)
  • Guy Who Hands Out Free Five-Minute Phone Cards, at a local college
  • Saw operator and wood sorter at a dysfunctional mill

That last gig could have been at the inspiration for Lemony Snicket's Miserable Mill, except I think that would be unfair to the Baudelaire's former workplace. The mill where I worked once produced Lincoln Logs, but had moved on to slats for cribs, Jenga blocks and other wastes of perfectly good trees. What a dump.

The best/worst part was working on the green chain (sorting wood as it came out of a saw and landed on a weird sort of conveyor system). Every day, the equipment broke down at some point and prevented us from reaching our production goal. And every day, our supervisor said something like:
"OK, we need to do 20,000 board feet today. Yesterday, we didn't even get to 15,000. So today, we need to haul ass!"
Wow, great pep talk! Especially on the seventh consecutive day of the same spiel!

Did I mention the place was a wretched dump? But it is also an out-of-business wretched dump. :)

Monday, October 16, 2006

What's the worst job you didn't get?

I've applied for many jobs that I didn't get but wanted, and I've turned down a few offers of good jobs, too. Rejection has had its kind side, too. Here're the worst (or most ridiculous) jobs I was rejected for:
  • Assistant manager at Arby's. I think the owner's wife liked me a little too much for the owner's taste.
  • Part-time party planner at McDonald's. To think, I could have been hanging out with Ronald McDonald and making $5 an hour, too!
  • Gas station attendant. At a self-serve station, for Christ's sake.
  • Warehouse worker for Schwann's. I guess I didn't look like I could handle frozen fish and ice cream. This was the same place that the manager asked, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I should have said, "Celebrating the fifth year anniversary of you asking me this question."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Faintly Belizean dinner dish

So, I didn't have any beans ready to roll the other night, but I wanted something simple. Here's something simple:

Eight chicken thighs, skin removed
Three or four tablespoons oil
Two and half cups water
Three stalks celery
Three dried red chilies
Salt and pepper
Three cups cooked rice (I had leftovers)
Two tablespoons chickpea flour

I seared the chicken thighs in the oil over medium heat, then added the water, celery and chilies to make a sort of stew. After about 45 minutes, when the chicken was most assuredly done, I dumped in the rice and stirred in the chickpea flour.

Presto: The national dish of Belize, sans beans.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Playing tag by myself

1. Music That Has Changed Your Life
The White Stripes. My friend Stephanie gave me a bootleg copy of some of their stuff, including covers of Jolene and One More Cup of Coffee. I had no clue anyone was making that kind of music. Jack White is Cisco Houston and Jimmy Page put together.

2A. An Album That Has Stayed With You For More Than 10 Years (In a Good Way)
Joan Baez - Blessed Are
Bad Religion - Suffer
Joan Osborne - Relish

2B. Music You're Supposed To Like, But Are Embarassed To Say You Never Really Did
Pearl Jam. Hey, I liked Nirvana, but Pearl Jam? I just don't care.

3. Music That Makes You Laugh

4. Music That Makes You Cry
Tough one. Music that has made me cry: City of Ruins, as re-recorded post-9/11; Philadelphia, by Neil Young.

5. Music You Wish You Had Written
I like to write and I like to sing, but I'm no songwriter.

6. Music You Wish Had Never Been Written
OK, I'm still a First Amendment fanatic. I can't say I wish X or Y had never been written, but I'm sure as hell not going to listen to most contemporary R&B or fake-o rock-'n'-roll "country" garbage.

7. Current Music You Like
Joe Purdy, White Stripes, Raconteurs, Strokes, Black Keys, Tori Amos.

8. Music You've Been Meaning To Hear
The next undiscovered outfit I am unaware of. I'm always on the prowl for below-the-radar gems.

Monday, October 09, 2006

An endangered page

No, I'm not talking about the ongoing flap inside the Beltway.

On a recent, routine jaunt over to the Mitch Hedberg quote page at Wikiquote, I found this unsettling tag:
"This page has been flagged for a review of its copyright status, as it may contain too many quotes from a copyrighted source. See Wikiquote:Copyrights for more information on Wikiquote copyright policy. Please do not remove this tag from the talk page of the article until it has been checked by a user familiar with the fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law and edited down if necessary."
As far as I know, this is the best place to go for Hedberg jokes, but maybe not for long. I wouldn't want to encourage people to violate copyrights or anything, but I'm pretty sure now is the time to copy the jokes for yourself ... And you could put them in the file under J, for jokes.

Oh! While in Portland over the weekend, my father, the butterfly lady and I passed a store that carried a "Fresher," a storage system designed to keep food fresh. I thought "man, I guess there really is a Kitchen Appliance Naming Institute." Fantastic!

And by the way, the above anecdote has been pre-approved as funny by me.

If you don't get anything I just wrote, you should have gone to the seminar I attended in Virginia, where you could find a whole bunch of people who also didn't get a lot of those jokes.

Happy Invader's Day!

I'm not sure of the best way to mark Columbus Day, which after several years in the Northeast I still expect to be a big deal when it rolls around each year. Here, in sunny Walla Walla, Columbus Day is met with a shrug.

Maybe I should make a lasagna.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ethical dilemmas

Amid all the hullaballoo of ex-U.S. Rep Mark Foley's naughty e-mails, Oregon legislators accepting freebies from lobbyists and god knows what other usual business, here's a simple piece of advice, which is of course easier to offer than to follow:

If you wouldn't want to see it on the front page of your local paper, don't do it.

Luckily for newspapers, nobody listens.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Wishing for better spam

Gmail kindly dumps all the junk mail I get into a folder that I occasionally surf for story/blog entry ideas. Mostly it is all crap, but because I have an unusual handle, it is bilingual crap.

So I can get plastic cards and credentials - or - tarjetas y credenciales plastica? Hooray.

My current favorite junk mail is the crowd flogging Rolex replicas. Here's one of the sites the spam hopes you'll visit. The replicas don't look like anything special to me, and they're not exactly free ($250 for a knockoff?)

As you might expect, the best part of the site is the "customer testimonials." Here's a for-instance:
Awww yeah. That person even has a jeweler on retainer! Wow, I've got to get a couple of watches. (I would have to get two, because I want my arms to weigh the same.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Gardens of good and evil

You're running a country, and you don't want the people living in it to shoot heroin or smoke opium. Reasonable, right?

But you also want to make medicines out of the same materials that produce those illicit drugs.

Do you grow your own? If you are running India, Turkey, France, Hungary, Poland or Australia, the answer appears to be yes. If you are running the United States (which in July alone had an international deficit in goods and services of $68 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), the answer is no.

Federal law allows the United States to import the raw materials for narcotics (opium and poppy plant material) from the above six countries (and maybe Spain, if a federal rule change is approved).

The rule-making documents suggest that the overall cost of buying these drug materials from overseas tops out at $117 million per year, not a lot in the grand scheme, I suppose.

Still, I wonder how many family farms could that money keep afloat?


Last night's Anderson Cooper segment on mountain gorillas (broadcast on CNN) and today's local story about a horse shot to death in a nearby town remind me, yet again, that I abhor poachers.

Legal hunting of non-threatened species? Not a big deal to me, although I am not sure I'll ever understand the impulse to shoot certain species (bears, coyotes and moose come to mind).

But poaching? I would reserve a special neighborhood in hell for poachers, complete with novel tortures to keep the demons amused. I'm pretty sure summary execution is too kind a punishment, too.

I'll return to sunnier topics soon.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Desk nonsense, part II

That last post was popular!

So, here's what's in my top drawer:
  • Four Sharpie ultra fine point markers - Columbia blue, fuschia, tangerine and lime (these are for my color-coded calendar)
  • One Sharpie fine point marker - black (for graffiti!)
  • One Pilot ultra fine point permanent type pen - red (and NO XYLENE, thank god)
  • Seven paperclips (three red and one each of blue, yellow, green and white)
  • Two little binder clips (the cute teeny ones good for "binding" about two pieces of paper
  • Two blaze orange earplugs (let's go hunting!)
  • One uncanceled stamp
  • One latex-free generic Band-Aid
  • An unused letter opener from the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council
  • One notepad with nine remaining sheets of paper
  • An A section from the Aug. 1 paper (to give to a freelancer who wrote the main story)
  • An accuracy survey letter (which I need to pass on to another employee)
When I was in college, my friend Tom and I had a radio show, which we were kicked off of by the station manager in our second semester of senior year for "playing repetitious music and rambling." As you can see, old habits die hard.

Friday, September 29, 2006

What's on your desk?

Because our company's board of directors plans to visit soon, we've been encouraged to neaten our work areas. This does not usually take me very long because I don't keep much on my desk.

Besides my phone, CPU, monitor, monitor stand, keyboard, mouse and mousepad, I have:
  • two empty soda cans (diet A&W root beer and diet Pepsi - OK, I'm still working on the Pepsi, but it is almost empty).
  • my cell phone
  • a piece of paper with notes for a brief for Monday's paper
  • a red Bic "round stic fine USA" ballpoint pen
  • a promotional toy from Quizno's, one of those little cars you pull back and let go of and it zooms away. This one looks like a rocket.
  • a promotional card from the Popcorn Board. When opened, a little speaker plays the sound of popcorn popping. "Give your ears a little treat," the card urges.
  • a promotional toy from Dairy Queen to flog their Moolatte frozen blended coffee. It is one of those old-fashioned canisters that you turn upside-down, then right-side up and it moos. Cute.
  • an impressively feisty purple and green vinelike plant, which is in a yellow pot on top of my CPU (which is protected by folded-up newspaper under the pot). Besides the vine, which I love, the pot contains a small, white ceramic insulator and a pica pole (a type of ruler for unusual people).
And that is it, although near my desk is a filing cabinet that I use only as a place to put my planning calendar, which has color-coded information about stories that will appear in coming editions of the paper.

I don't know what my desk says about me, but there you have it.

A quick Indian meal

Oh, that's right, there's no such thing.

But because we have guests in town for a few days and home-cooked meals run counter to current events (10th college reunion for the butterfly lady and her homies), I whipped up:
  • A North Indian Muslim dish of beef with dark almond sauce
  • A vegetarian takeoff on that dish using acorn squash instead of Bessie
  • Sookhe aloo (I think that's Hindi for "yummy potatoes")
  • Rice with saffron, cardamom and cinnamon
I hurried, so the whole production took less than three hours. I should have enlisted help, I guess, but it was fun and the crowd liked the food.

I think the squash dish worked better than the beef version, though I think that next time, I'd use some tofu as well. And I would not make both dishes simultaneously, which although interesting was also hectic.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Making weight loss last

Until last year, my weight made steady progress in an upward direction since I graduated from high school, which is to say for many years.

I went through the customary denial (The dryer made my pants smaller! It's all muscle!) process until the point that the doctor showed me her chart, with my weight, in black and white, over the years I had seen her before leaving the area temporarily. So, I could see where I'd been, and I could certainly tell where I was. Plus, she showed me some other depressing numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, blah blah blah).

I promptly lost 28 pounds (how? swim, don't drink much, swim, swim, don't drink much and swim), and although a few pounds have come back, I'm where she wants me to be (and wearing the pant size I had when I was in my best cross country running shape around 1989-91). The best part, I have to say, has been getting new clothes.

My motivation is a combination of wanting to live a long time, liking how I look (and how others look at me) now, that sort of thing. I don't ordinarily write about this sort of thing, but I thought I ought to put pen to paper (OK, fingertips to keys) to remind myself, if I ever look back through my blog, that life is better now than it was then.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hey, how'd you find me?

Inspired by Lulu, I checked to see what my recent keyword activity looked like:

  • the mysterious davy jones (oh, shocking)
  • raven standard progression matrices (another thrill-seeker like me)
  • easy notes on ghana (Here is a much better place to go)
  • strep nose (it was staph - two varieties - not strep)
  • mbna rejection instructions for apr increase
  • evil mythical birds (I'd love to know a few!)
The staph, by the way, is in rout. But what a dumb thing to have: Staph Nose.

Changing times, changing fortunes

When I moved to Walla Walla the first time, in August 1990, some local folks worried the newly finished Blue Mountain Mall - the place to be for shopping and socializing - would drive the final nails into the coffin of the city's downtown.

In the old days, downtown had a Bon Marche department store (sort of old-fashioned in that you could buy frying pans, sheets and microwaves, not just clothes), a run-down drugstore, a couple of nicer drugstores, several sketchy restaurants (I've heard that two failed because of health complaints) and a few nicer eateries and stores.

Over the subsequent 16 years (yegods, time flies), downtown businesses rallied to revitalize the city center, and the mall was the salient. Many an imprecation uttered in those days included "the mall."

As it stands now, downtown shoppers may visit restaurants, boutiques, salons, a Macy's department store (sort of old-fashioned in that you can buy frying pans, sheets and microwaves, not just clothes), a wide variety of winery tasting rooms, art galleries, a toy store and the older businesses that stood the test of time, including a popular deli, an auto dealership, a candy store where they actually make many of the goodies, a music store and many other nice places.

Many storefronts remain boarded up or vacant and the second stories of many buildings are in disrepair or tenant-less. So there's still a long way to go, but times are most certainly changing for the better.

And how about that mall?

A recent visit by the butterfly lady and I (we have weird ways to pass the time here) found a sad scene.

Sears, Gottschalk's and Shopko are the mall's anchors - an Emporium closed and wasn't replaced. Besides those stores, the mall has the following businesses:

  1. Claire's (hair clips, etc.)
  2. GNC (I always think of Hans and Franz from SNL when I see a GNC - mmm, gainer fuel!)
  3. Big Twist Pretzels
  4. A nail shop
  5. A Unicel dealership
  6. Antonio's (a genuine local barbershop)
  7. Fashion Bug (clothing)
  8. Maurice's (clothing)
  9. Foot Locker
  10. Bath & Body Works
  11. Teddy Bear Factory (open Friday-Sunday only)
  12. Dim Sum Inn (a pretty good Asian restaurant)
And these quasi-businesses:
  1. Cruisers Driving School (not open regularly)
  2. Army recruiter
  3. Air Force recruiter
  4. Marine Corps recruiter
  5. Navy recruiter
  6. Walla Walla Police Department's crime prevention office
  7. Two "community" rooms - vacant stores with some chairs inside.
Counting the community rooms, there are 32 vacancies, some ill-disguised by facades, some just left blank. Even the food court has only one occupant, having lost Sbarro, Orange Julius and Bob's Pizza.

I think it would be generous to say that the driving school, recruiters' offices, police office and even the Teddy Bear Factory are, strictly speaking, stores, so that would put the occupancy at less than 25 percent... not exactly the best of times.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Who says the TSA is unreasonable??

Having just bought and left behind some non-explosive toothpaste and similar items in Virginia (I don't check bags, regardless of how long I'll be on the road), I am happy to see that the Transportation Security Administration has eased its restrictions on what you are allowed to pack in your carry-on bag. The press release is here.

What it all boils down to is that you may now carry travel-size toiletries (three ounces or less each) in a quart-size Ziploc bag. You may also now take the soda you bought in the secure area onto the airplane, so you won't be at the mercy of the airline to keep you hydrated (or caffeinated, or liquored up)...

The fabulous photograph above is courtesy of TSA and shows the agency's idea of what you might carry. This rule change would be much funnier if the TSA would only allow you to carry those specific items. New slogan: "Unless you carry Scope, the terrorists truly win."

Choosy moms choose Jif?

Of all the slogans I could think of in the past couple of minutes, Jif's bothers me most. Choosy moms choose Jif. How exactly is that choosy?

When I whip up PB&J, I want to make sure the kids eat a few wholesome extras. Partially and fully hydrogenated oil, sugar, mono- and diglycerides are some of my favorite little downhome goodies, and I'm especially proud if I can get those into the each of the ingredients, too!

Now, I can see how the old-school Jif might still have all that crap, but the comparatively new brand, Simply Jif Creamy has this ingredient list:

Roasted peanuts, contains 2 percent or less of: partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean), fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean), mono- and diglycerides, molasses, sugar and salt.

How's that simply? Of course, you can always get Adams peanut butter (made by the same people who make Jif) without the unwanted extras.

This reminds me of another conundrum: When a company makes good and bad products, should you buy nothing from them at all or just the good ones? I'm pretty sure it doesn't really matter, but I still feel reluctant to buy canola oil from Crisco...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Returned from traveling abroad

OK, so northern Virginia ins't exactly "abroad," but it is a far cry from Walla Walla. I spent the last week in Reston - mostly - at a seminar for city editors at the American Press Institute (self-subtitled The Leadership Place).

Besides bringing home ideas, I also found:

  • The Reston Community Center has a decent pool. 85 degrees, but it was a good deal.
  • Gas was 30 cents a gallon cheaper there than here.
  • Jammin' Java, in Vienna, Va., is the best venue I've ever been to a show at.
  • Charlotte Martin was better than I expected, but still just pretty good (In my notebook, I wrote "This is what Tori Amos would have sounded like if she'd started with a drummer and a fancy piano thing" but I also wrote "All these piano licks are familiar" and "Joe Purdy rocked. Charlotte Martin should have opened for him").
  • Joe Purdy rocked. Plus, he's very funny.
  • If you need a cab in the Reston/Dulles area, call Mohisin Choudhry - (571) 232-6801 anytime. He's on call and a good guy to ride around with.
I found out a lot of other stuff, too, including that easy access to a computer where I could post was not to be had (as the six of you now know...).

Oh, and it is good to be back :)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Too skinny for the runway??

The second headline on this morning's Guardian feed reads "Jowell condemns thin models."

The British culture secretary (fuckin' A, you want to talk about big government? A culture secretary?) is chiming in on a recent controversy in Spain, where models with a BMI below 18 have been prevented from strolling the catwalk.

In a stand that runs counter to my parenthetical above, the Guardian quotes Jowell as saying, "It's categorically not an issue for government regulation. It is, however, an issue of major concern for young girls who feel themselves inferior when compared to the stick-thin young women on the catwalk. They all want to look as beautiful as that and see beauty in those terms. And I think it's fair to say that when they wake up in the morning, the first thing most 15- and 16-year-old girls do is feel their tummies."

Of course, being a nuisance, I had to check to find out what Tessa Jowell looks like. I found her picture here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The war, the future, etc.

James Fallows was (and may still be, for all I know) in town last night to talk about Iraq, Iran, the U.S. attempt to deal with global terrorism and the way forward for the United States and the Islamic world. The talk lasted less than 90 minutes and was therefore overly broad for my taste.

I would have preferred he spend the hour-plus just talking about Iran, but I guess that wouldn't have been far-reaching enough for the fairly partisan crowd (I'll let you surmise which side of the fence the crowd that came to Whitman College on a school night fell on).

If you read The Atlantic regularly, you already know the bulk of the talk, which did include some pretty funny lines from Fallows.

The only real revelation of the evening came in the Q&A period, when a guy tried to draw an analogy between the war in Iraq and the grieving process. The analogy failed, but the guy said something interesting: that at the outset of the war, everyone supported the idea because of the prewar intelligence.

Until Thursday night, I don't think I'd heard any non-politician actually say that aloud. Politicians, sure: How else can they flipflop on the war without looking like they're only following public opinion? But regular people?

Hey, I've been fooled before, but never in hell did I believe for one moment that Iraq: a) had weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed in a meaningful manner; b) that Saddam Hussein was actively involved in nuclear weapons research and production (I'd easily believe, however, that his masturbatory dreamland included an A-bomb or two); or c) that any of the above posed a threat to anybody outside of Iraq.

On the flip side, Saddam Hussein is an asshole, but I'm not sure that's in the Reasons To Go To War playbook.

Look: The Intelligence Community couldn't predict the fall of communism (most of it, anyway) or whack Castro. Why should anyone take their word - handed down by the president - about anything else?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Villainous scented things

While reading Lulu's post on her department's new "meeting room" and its Renuzit Caribbean Cooler room freshener," I was reminded of the headaches I used to get from the smell of artificially augmented potpourri, as well as the horrifying stench that emanated from our neighbor's apartment in the Granite State.

Mighty Mouse, you see, had a small dog that whizzed indoors - nonstop as near as I could tell, and for every whiz, Mighty Mouse and her husband had a plug-in air "freshener." The smell was only noticeable if you were within a couple blocks of the apartment building, but even so...

So I was amused to read this quote from a local third-grader, on hand sanitizer her school has the kids use when they come in from recess, just before chow:

"It smells weird."

Damn right.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Luck of the draw

I'm soon to flee for Virginia, for a work thing, so I thought I'd troll for possible shows in the area while I'm there, to fill in a free evening or two. Lo and behold, Joe Purdy is opening for someone I've never heard of, on a night I have free, 10 miles from where I'm staying. What luck!

The aforementioned someone, Charlotte Martin, is also (so is Purdy) an L.A.-based artist. I've intentionally not listened to her since buying the ticket, so as to be surprised. I'm not optimistic. According to her Web site:

"Two years of virtually nonstop touring had effects. While on the road, Charlotte experienced the spectrum of human emotion: heartbreak, loss, guilt, and triumph. These years of intense transition and infinite potential found themselves in the words, notes, and production of Stromata."

My spider sense - which hasn't let me down on any musical outfit I've covered in the past - tingles when I read this kind of rubbishy solipsism. Here's to hoping I'm wrong!

Monday, September 11, 2006

So close and yet so far away

At this moment, five years ago, I was swimming at the University of New Hampshire pool, the last day I went swimming until I took it up again in September 2005. I recall thinking I'd better get in a swim before descending into news world for a few months. I was right.

Sept. 11, broadly defined, continues to depress me in the where's-our-country-going sense, though there are bright spots. My melancholy is summed up in part by the war-cost meter at Land-o-Lulu. Of course, there are the non-monetary costs, too...

But from a professional standpoint, Sept. 11 and the days and weeks after remain the zenith of my journalism life. Many good things came before, and many after, but nothing compares to Sept. 11, a time of focus, teamwork and relentless effort.

We who inhabit the Fourth Estate aren't government, but there are similarities, especially in this realm. We, too, can point to mistakes made before and after the attacks, triumphs and abyssmal failures that run parallel to those of the government.

I suppose the saving grace - for me, anyway - is that I have cultivated loneliness. My version doesn't take me to far-off lands to gather my own firsthand reports, but it does help to keep a distance between my professional and personal lives, and for that I am thankful.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Slice of life

Running delightfully counter to the hoity-toity stereotype you might have of "wine country," Walla Walla has a basketful of special events throughout the year that are decidedly non-pretentious.

In the spring, the Walla Walla Balloon Stampede brings about three dozen balloons to the area - not a big festival, but very popular. Morning launches, lots of tourists - pretty laid-back.

Of course, there's also spring barrel tasting weekend, a much newer way to ring in the season around here.

In late August, there's also the county fair - demolition derby, rodeo, carnies, cows, the usual.

Today was the splasho day for Wheelin' Walla Walla Weekend, which was expected to draw about 300-350 cars (Corvettes, Mustangs, street rods, El Caminos, lots of vintage models) and a few thousand people to the area.

Right around the corner from the fancy-schmancy wine tasting room, the butterfly lady and I passed a clot of vintage auto owners (hyphen oh so appropriately omitted) talking cars, at just enough above the volume of everybody else to raise suspicion. Sure enough, clutched in their mitts, obscured by insulating can holders, were a few cans on Natural Light (maybe it was Milwaukee's Best?).

I know a lot of people in my city worry about what the place will look like in a few years (good ol' Wally World with more money, or Upscaley Resortville filled with wealthy, New York Times-believing outsiders?), but I guess I mark the changing of the times by subtler cues.

Maybe someday our city, and our downtown, will change to the point that people who don't mind fracturing the open-container laws won't feel comfortable. That would be incremental change for the worse, a mark of just a little too much civilization for me.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Strep nose

I'm not yet diagnosed, but I am highly suspicious that the dreaded strep nose has returned.

I came down with it in 2003 or 2004 and had fun teasing the medical establishment by calling the snout trouble "strep nose." They seemed more partial to a mumble-y nonsense name, like intranasal streptococcal inflammation incident.

But strep nose is what it was, and the physician's assistant threw the kitchen sink at it with some high-powered, high-cost antibiotics. I'm pretty sure it's back, and I'm pretty sure it still sucks.

So off I go to have another round of nonsense with the doctor. What a treat!

Postscript: I have a more useful post on this subject, here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

MTV sucks

So, the geniuses at (Sometimes We Play) Music Television got the Raconteurs to play at their award show, but the producers went to commercial in the middle of a ZZ Top cover and came back with about 10 seconds remaining in "Broken Boy Soldier," which if I'm not mistaken is the title cut of a kickass album...

Maybe they didn't have time to spare because of needing to put Jack Black on stage for his little fuckfuck comedy routine.

Or maybe MTV figured that with Al Gore due up, they couldn't get too far off the beaten path of mind candy for the viewing audience and headed off Jack White's crew at the pass.

blogger comment nonsense

Having switched to blogger's beta a while back, I had merrily continued to post comments elsewhere (on the now-dreaded non-beta blogs) using my old password. Alas, this morning blogger breaks the news to me that "that feature is coming soon" or some similar rubbish.

Drat. I don't like being isolated, even in silly ways.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Wild-cow milking

The fair is on here, so the butterfly lady, her father and I went to the rodeo last night, to watch the usual roping, wrestling and riding. Besides standard fare was some silliness - too much rodeo clown, lots of victory laps in the back of a pickup, choreographed horseback riding - and the hinted-at wild-cow milking.

I strongly suspect the cows were not in fact wild, but they also weren't wild about the event:

Teams of two, initially on horseback, attempt to rope, subdue, cajole and milk one of a small group of cows. I thought for sure that the announcement of "wild-cow milking time" was a joke or maybe a code for something else, but it wasn't. As it turned out, only one of the teams was able to pull off the feat.

The other cowbows spent a lot of time being dragged around the ring by the miffed cows. Pretty silly.

Incredibly, this event is widespread (google can back me up here - I guess I've been going to the wrong rodeos or skipping out at the wrong time) and wild-cow milking is taken seriously, but mostly I thought it was just weird.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Be your own personal chef

So, you're busy all week, with no time to cook a brand spankin' new dinner each night. Unlike some people, you don't have the cash to pay somebody to fill your fridge and freezer with a week's worth of meals.

What you do have is a few hours free one day a week, some empty casserole dishes and ingredients. What do I have? A plan that will give you five tasty, healthy and interesting dinners, all fixable in a few hours on one day.

Here are my caveats:
  • I assume that you, a busy person, have already figured out how to keep breakfast easy but interesting (granola, plain yogurt and English muffins are my staples, and all three can take a surprising variety of condiments).
  • I assume you have either thrown in the towel and eat lunch at a local shop or simply pack a sandwich and some carrot sticks.
  • I also assume that you can fend for yourself on Saturday night and will probably nibble and snack your way through a dinner's equivalent while you whip up your five forthcoming meals...
And here are my tricks:
  • If you like to play grownup and have meals that consist of more than one food item, buy a bag of salad and a baguette every two or three days, one on cooking day, the other during the week - say on Wednesday - on your way home from work. Then you'll have fresh-enough bread and greens to go with your main courses.
  • If you hate that kind of salad, buy bell peppers, carrots, celery, cauliflower, cut them into bite-size pieces (crudite, I suppose) and keep them in a bowl of water in the fridge. Then you can pull a handful out and dress them to go with dinner.
  • If you can swing it, indulge in some nice cheese and olives. You can cut up some of the cheese and have it with the O's as an appetizer.
  • Some condiments, such as hummus and black-bean dip, can be made with ease while you are making other food. As long as you have a free burner to simmer the beans, you won't have to worry about dips needing your undivided attention on cooking day.
  • As you probably guessed from the above, I like to make my multi-course meals the easy way, by having other little goodies to go with them, not by going through the rigamarole of cooking three different dishes on any given night.
Coming soon, the first installment of recipes...

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Allahu akbar

Although my job (newspapers) and avocation (handwoven scarves) are both visual arts of sorts, and I love! to cook, three of the deepest impressions I carry with me from travels are aural:
  • Calls to prayer in Tunisia.
  • Howler monkeys roaring in the forests around Tikal, Guatemala.
  • The sounds of singers rehearsing for a performance of "Tristan and Isolde," heard from the window of a hotel in Chur, Switzerland.
I suppose this means I'll have to find my way back to all these places!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

More on XFTA receivers

A post I made earlier on "XFTA enabled receivers" to allegedly help you get satellite programming - apparently for free - has turned out to be a very popular route to this blog. I'm guessing a lot of other people receive the same piece of spam I did, but I wouldn't think anybody would take that crap seriously.

Or maybe I'm missing out on fabulous free TV!!!!!!!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I guess that's why they call it beta

So, I thought I'd be all clever, switching to the beta version of blogger. But all I've done is ensure that I can embarass myself by leaving comments more than once hither and yon.



I like squash: the word, the food item and probably the beverage. I'm not so sure about the game, which seems hoity-toity but is probably fun. It never looks fun in the movies when the rich guys are playing it, but lots of stuff rich people do looks un-fun.

Having had surplus zucchini and summer squash on hand over the past week or two, I fixed a couple of gratins, zucchini pancakes and pan-fried zucchini spears. The latter two worked fine but really aren't dishes I'd make again. I'd rather have latkes than z-cakes, and the spears were pretty boring. The gratins, of course, were very tasty!

Gratin A
  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved and sliced into thin rings (you don't have to halve it, but it is a lot easier to slice thinly that way. I'll have to get around to shooting a time-saving onion-slicing technique)
  • zucchini or summer squash, sliced into 3/8-inch-thick slices (enough to do one layer of whatever casserole you're using)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup cream (depends on the size of the casserole. I used about a half-cup in a 12-by-12 dish)
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
In a bit of oil, saute the onion until noodle-y but not carmelized. Dump the onions into the casserole and spread them out to cover the bottom of the dish.
Sear the squash slices on both sides, seasoning with salt and pepper. Here again, just to cook them, not to seriously brown or blacken.
Arrange the slices on top of the onions, then pour the cream over the lot.
Sprinkle with the cheese (you can get a good P-R at Safeway - they sell the real, imported McCoy under their Primo Taglio label in the cheese island at the deli, even at Ghetto Safeway, as one of our stores is so fondly called).
Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, maybe a half-hour, until everything is bubbly and the cheese starts to brown.

Gratin B
  • Four slices good-quality bacon
  • 4 ounces grated Gruyere (hey, any hard cheese will probably do - it's just what I had on hand)
  • zucchini or summer squash, sliced into 3/8-inch-thick slices (enough to do one layer of whatever casserole you're using)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup milk (depends on the size of the casserole. I used about a half-cup in a 12-by-12 dish)
Cook the bacon over medium heat until near-crisp, then remove. Cut into pieces and set aside.
In some of the bacon grease, saute the onion until noodle-y but not carmelized. Dump the onions into the casserole and spread them out to cover the bottom of the dish.
In a bit more of the bacon grease, sear the squash slices on both sides, seasoning with salt and pepper (you won't need as much salt in this dish on account of the bacon). Here again, sear just to cook the squash, not to seriously brown or blacken it.
Sprinkle half the cheese on top of the onions, then arrange the squash slices on top.
Pour the milk over the lot, then sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.
Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, maybe a half-hour, until everything is bubbly and the cheese starts to brown.

Monday, August 28, 2006

bee stings and blackberries

The butterfly lady and I took Bigg Dogg (her elder, the curmudgeonly spaniel, kicked back at the dog spa for the weekend) down to the Willamette Valley for a visit with my mother, sister (pregnant and due in October), her boyfriend (who passed inspection with flying colors, a definite keeper) and assorted others.

Katy behaved nicely, and has all the earmarks of a country dog - plays in the dust, eats plums off the ground, stays nearby on expeditions (OK, she still can't go too far, so expedition just means 20-minute walk).

Plums, grapes, blackberries and pears were all pretty much ripe, some on the vine, some on the ground and all delicious. Barefoot and munching blackberries, I stepped on a honeybee. Damn! My irrational fear of bees seems to have some rational roots. But that's what ice and antihistamines are for, I suppose.

The biggest cash-in of the weekend was a trip to Crabtree & Evelyn, where we used a substantial Discover Card rebate to stock up on all sorts of frivolity. Discover lets you double your rebate if you choose gift cards from certain companies, but most of the choices are rubbish - too many conditions, crappy companies, whatever. Crabtree & Eveyln offers a double with the only condition being that you have to shop in one of their stores, not online or at a licensed retailer. But no big deal.

We rolled back into the valley where we live Sunday evening, greeted by the smoke from a 100-square-mile wildfire. Ahh, summer.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

food & drink

Lulu's recent musings on gin and bacon got me to thinking, happily, on those and a few other necessities:

  • Bacon - I like to buy local, so I prefer Hill Meat Co. bacon, from Pendleton, Ore. Added bonus: delicious! I'm pretty fond of sausage, too.
  • Chocolate - the darker, the better. I like many (mostly premium) brands, and prefer bars that are 72 percent chocolate or higher.
  • Olives - fancy green ones suit me just fine. I like the ones that are unpitted, just to have something to do. They're tasty in Tunisian sandwiches, too.
  • Cheese - I'm picky here, too. I am a big fan of Parmigiano Reggiano and Grafton Village cheddar, among many others.
  • Peanut butter - Make mine Adams Natural Peanut Butter. I like the crunchy variety, and I see Smuckers (the parent company) has a devlishly clever mixer to reincorporate the oil with.
  • Cashews - It is hard to believe that something that takes so much damn work to get from farm to market can wind up costing $5.22 a pound at the local grocery. Oh, and they're yummy, too.
  • Tomatoes - In a perfect world, heirloom tomatoes, right off the vine on a hot day. Indeed, I ate one of mine just the other day: perfect.
  • Gin - Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire are hard to beat, but I prefer Hendrick's. I prefer martinis, as opposed to having my gin neat or with tonic, mostly because of my fondness for olives. Give me five in a big glass of icy gin and color me happy.
  • Scotch - I'll drink other whisky if I must, but if you're with me, you're drinking Laphroaig.
  • Bourbon - I think "bourbon" is just American for "Scotch" and if you think about who populates Appalachia, I think you might agree. Lately, Maker's Mark, Booker's, Elijah Craig, Evan Williams and the like have taken center stage, but my favorite bourbon memory was glasses of Jim Beam at dinner just down the trail from South Twin Mountain in New Hampshire.
  • Coffee - Black, brewed in a stovetop espresso pot. Or a hot can of Georgia-Old from Family Mart.
That's a start, anyway.

Mythical birds

Setting aside Fawkes, the bird with the roll-your-eyes name in the Harry Potter books, I think phoenixes are pretty neat. An apparent analog in Japan is the ho-oo or hojo (the name differs from source to source). Here's one:

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Albert Pujols-Babe Ruth connection

Hey, besides the paycheck and interesting job, Albert Pujols also gets access to fun diversions, including a battery of tests once used on George Herman Ruth.

Among the tests Prince Albert is reported as taking are hand-eye coordination and cognitive assessments. No big surprise: Pujols scored out of sight on hand-eye coordination and showed an unusual (anecdotally, anyway) and apparently baseball-useful way of processing visual information.

Details offered in the wire stories are sparse, but it sounds like he got to have some fun. Naturally, one version of the story had to quote a researcher as saying that the individual skills weren't as impressive as the total package, which is no doubt true but also echoes what another test taker - with whom I am intimately familiar - was told after scoring well on some assessments.

"The scores aren't what's important. It's what you do with those abilities."

No kidding. But if the scores aren't important, why did you ask me to take the tests?

A dream job other than my own

I love my job. When people ask what a city editor does, I just say "read, write and talk." That pretty much sums it up, but like the recipe for Sprite, there's more to it than that. *

Supposing I had to do something else, something that isn't journalism or journalism-related, I'd like to try being a noxious-weed killer (that's a much funnier title if you leave out the hyphen).

I'm sure there's bullshit involved, inevitably. But what job doesn't have some measure of silliness and nonsense? Around here, as is true pretty much anywhere these days, noxious weeds and invasive species are Problem No. 1, or a damn close second. I like to work in the yard and garden, but I have to admit my preference is for demo work ("kid, tear the ivy out of the oak grove" is much more music to my ears than "kid, grow some potatoes").

I suppose the most fruitful work would be done out on the prairies, but this town has more than its share of villainous plants. The problem is so severe that local beekeepers even flog their yellow star thistle honey at the farmers' market.

In a truly absurd twist, one honey tout claimed that pollination of yellow star thistles "really doesn't help them spread." That seemed like rubbish. To wit:
It reproduces exclusively by seed, estimated to be as high as 29,000 seeds per square meter with about 95 percent viability. - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Laboratory.
Anyway, there's plenty of star thistle to be stamped out, along with a host of other invasive species. I'm sure the work wouldn't always be pleasant, but it would be fun!

* They say the recipe for Sprite is lemon and lime. I tried to make it at home. ... There's more to it than that.
"Want some more homemade Sprite?"
"Not 'til you figure out what the fuck else is in it!"
- Mitch Hedberg