Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Double dipping

Microsoft is wicked brilliant. Invent a product everybody buys, but that has dipshit flaws galore, then invent another product to sell people (for $50 a year) to fix your mistakes!

I only have one little quibble, which is that the FAQs do not contain the obvious Q:

Why should I pay you to fix your problem?

Monday, May 29, 2006

eats, y'all

Besides the usual weekend treats of samosas stuffed with sookhe aloo and plantain waffles (with the butterfly lady's original, brilliant, reverse-engineered coconut dip), I also concocted (ergo the approximate ingredients) manicotti pomodori e gambero.

Why this dish works, besides the tasty ingredients, is that the grape tomatoes and spaghetti squash balance the cream sauce and shrimp.

Manicotti pomodori e gambero

8 manicotti, prepared as the box suggests

Filling (uh, mix these together):

1 spaghetti squash, halved, baked at 350 for about an hour (cut side down, then a flip at :40) and disemboweled with a fork
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
15 medium shrimp, peeled and chopped (in thirds)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced and more or less carmelized in 2 tablespoons butter

I made a cream sauce by using the butter for the onions, plus 2 tablespoons. About 1/5 or 1/6 cup flour then went in, along with 2 cloves of a shallot and about 2 cups milk (this is a thin-ish sauce), which I reduced for a while. I then added about 1/4 cup heavy cream to finish the sauce.

OK, so duh, stuff the manicotti and place them in a small rectangular casserole (9x13) and line the ends of the noodles with the remaining filling (there'll be plenty). Cover with halved grape tomatoes (about a pint comes in the little plastic baskets you find at the store) and the sauce. Bake for 15 minutes at 350, then pull the dish, finely grate Parmesan over the top and bake for 5 or 10 more minutes.

Friday, May 26, 2006

OSP, kickin' ass on truckers

As reported Wednesday, the Oregon State Patrol carried out Operation Trucker Check X (apparently they want to be like the Superb Owl...) this week around Ashland.

The operation, according to a Friday press release from OSP, seems to have been pretty tame considering this highlight:

"An OSP sergeant contacted a commercial driver during the inspection and commented that this individual was the most fatigued driver he has come across during an inspection. The driver was subsequently placed out of service."

Wowzers, that's pretty thrilling.

That driver wasn't the only problem, though: Of the 394 trucks stopped, 98 drivers were "placed out of service for varying time periods." Not sure what that means, but that's about a quarter of drivers, and you have to know that the checkpoint stopped being a surprise after, oh, about the third truck rolled through.

Wowzers, that's pretty stupid.

Besides the usual logbook violations and whatnot, three drivers were charged with drug possession and a set of brass knuckles was seized.

Guess those weren't just for entertainment...


And here it is!

Halfway home

So much for fumbling: The former poem, by James Tate, is, I believe, "The Promotion." Still haven't found its text online in full, but at least I'm not wandering in the wilderness.

The latter, sadly, will never be found.

lost poetry

So, I've been fumbling in the darkness of memory to retrieve an excellent poem I saw years ago in the New Yorker about a dog (who lived in the country and was such a good dog it came back in the next life as a human who was stuck in an apartment in the city). No dice yet.

But it did remind me of a very good poem, another one I can't find, about melting snow and headlights.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Covering Townes Van Zandt

Somebody smart came up with the excellent idea of a collection of Townes Van Zandt covers based on "Live at The Old Quarter." Everybody under the sun has already covered "Pancho & Lefty" and "If I Needed You," but not so much the other songs. Here's what we came up with, for a start:

Pancho & Lefty - Wyclef Jean and the Fugees
Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold - U2
Don't You Take It Too Bad - Shawn Mullin
Two Girls - Bruce Springsteen
Fraternity Blues - Jimmy Fallon
If I Needed You - Joan Osborne
Brand New Companion - Tracy Chapman
White Freight Liner Blues - The White Stripes
To Live Is To Fly - Norah Jones
Who Do You Love - The Black Keys
She Came And She Touched Me - Dave Matthews Band
Rex's Blues - Sarah McLachlan
Loretta - Green Day
Kathleen - Joe Purdy
Cocaine Blues - Fiona Apple

This preliminary list leaves a bunch of holes, notably:

Tecumseh Valley
Waiting 'Round To Die

But it is a good start!

oddly charismatic megafauna

The giant Palouse earthworm, unseen for many years, was relocated earlier this year, and you can read about it here.

As I once wrote, many moons ago in a forgotten life, I'm of two minds when a creature is discovered, or rediscovered. Happy to hear it's been found, but a little wistful that another of the vasty deep's secrets is told.

This isn't a typical case, because the worms - which are said to grow up to three feet long! - have been seen before, but its close enough to remind me of lesser-known creatures.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why not use trains?

The Oregon State Patrol is in the midst of its 10th Operation Trucker Check (they really need to contact the military for better operation names), which runs May 23-25 at the Ashland, Ore., port of entry, according to a patrol press release.

The operation boils down to a team of officers and inspectors cracking down on driver impairment (aka drug use (including alcohol - I don't know why people insist on saying drugs AND alcohol) and fatigue) and vehicle safety.

Why do it? The patrol says it is concerned with an increase in commercial vehicle wrecks in southern Oregon. The patrol goes on to cite a bunch of irrelevant statisticsfrom the state Motor Carrier Transportation Division, one of which is genuinely interesting:

"During inspections, critical safety violations were found in 24.3% of the vehicles and 8.6% of drivers."

According to the patrol, a similar operation a year ago at the port of entry in Woodburn (Christ, entry from where? That's like having a U.S.-Mexico border crossing in Oklahoma) took out of service 32 trucks and 52 drivers out of "more than 400" inspections. That's not too good, but only three of the 52 drivers were zapped for drugs (including alcohol).

So, whatever. But the best/worst/best again part of the operation is this yipyap from the Beaver State's governor:

"With the increasing truck traffic on our roads, it is in the interests of all Oregonians that we do all we can to ensure that truck drivers are able to operate safely," blabbed Gov. Ted Kulongoski in an obviously prepared statement. "This is another reason I am so committed to increasing the number of Oregon State troopers on our roads. More trucks require more troopers. More troopers will deliver more safety."

Hmmm. Besides the doubletalk and the failure to show truck traffic is really increasing, how about this novel approach: trains!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Scuttled, with the captain aboard

Back in the days of milk and honey, there was such an animal as 168 magazine, a weekly entertainment publication put out by the parent company of The Area Telegraph.

I was reminded of the magazine because my last post was No. 168 (also the number of hours in a week). I thought 168 was a pretty cool idea, and they had nice-looking desks, which as you might guess I assembled. 168 was supposed to slorp up advertising bucks in The Shitsburg Corridor like an amped-up anteater in an ant farm factory.

During a wandering check of conditions, I tried the site's online and scented blood. More evidence was found during a check of staff listings at the parent company, which led me here, where I found that the overlords burned the ship to the water.

Alas, the captain went down with the ship.

But as you can see from the above link, the captain's new gig is much cooler than the old one...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Donner und Blitzen

the above were responsible for an abbreviated swim Friday, but were accompanied by nearly three-quarters of an inch of rain in our fair city, which predictably overwhelmed a lot of the drains around here... pretty spectacular, I would guess, but I didn't see any of it because of being in the pool, where the lights went out with 15 minutes to go.

On the bright side, I was way ahead of the usual pace, just as I was today. Garybob is either slowing down or I'm speeding up - or both, I suppose - because he now laps me maybe three times during the whole workout. I'm a bit suspicious that he doesn't actually make a whole mile because I know how far I go and how many times he passes me and I can do plus and minus in my head :)

Now it is gray, and the youngins even got some sprinkles during today's escape ceremony - a truly remarkable happening. Water typically stays skyward bound for the annual exercise.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Headlines: Journalists haven't cornered the market on clever

"Plane Clothes: Lack of Anonymity at the Federal Air Marshal Service Compromises Aviation and National Security"

Brilliant! The above document, generated by the House Judiciary Committee, is the subject of a revealing, depressing and typically humorous story that can be read here.

As you might guess, the reports boil down to: Air marshals have to adhere to a specific dress code, one that is designed to make them blend in, that - whoa, no way! - does the opposite.

Maybe the marshals should contact the Secret Service: There's cats who know how to blend in.

The report also states marshals have to stay in certain hotels, including the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale, where a quick check on room availability showed a room for one starts at $149 for a Saturday night in June.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Attorneys general from 40 states have asked the U.S. Treasury Department to extend cigarette-marketing rules to "little cigars," according to the Washington Post (among others).

The cigars in question look very similar to cigarettes, and the AGs say that's not a coincidence, that the smoke makers are trying to get around marketing - and taxation - rules to produce something appealing and cheap for the younger set.

Lost in the clatter of clang of anti-smoking crusaders and state officials are a couple of simple points:

a) Cigars (and for that matter, roll-your-own smokes) are still treated differently from cigarettes, which is why this loophole even exists. Want to close the loophole? Enact a unified tobacco tax. Wow, that was complicated.

b) The states need the dough more than they give a shit about smokers. There's no need to lie, either. In New Hampshire, state liquor stores are everywhere and use very low prices (i.e. very low taxes) to do a booming trade in booze, especially along Interstate 95. I'm not suggesting that the states hand out free smokes to hook youngsters, but the least they could do is quit faking like they don't need the cash.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

MBNA addendum

Reached for comment after a Shy-Razz from Hardy's was just glass and a collector's cork, the party who received the letter sez:

Fuck 'em

Greed and deception, brought to you by MBNA

Amid the flurry of bills and access checks, credit card holders also occasionally receive meatier news from their banks: notices of changes in policy.

Sent under cover similar to the junk mail, the notices typically consist of a nondescript and non-descriptive cover letter along with several pages of "Important Amendments to Your Credit Card Agreement."

One such letter from MBNA America Bank arrived at a Walla Walla cardholder's home this week. Besides run-of-the-mill changes such as fee increases, the document contained three surprises.

Here is Surprise No. 1 with added parentheticals. Emphasis approximates that of the letter from MBNA.

"Default pricing
Summary: We are adding a Default Pricing provision to your account. In the future, if your account is late or your balance exceeds your credit limit, we may increase any of the non-promotional APRs on your account, without further notice, up to the Default Rate. Please see the Agreement section titled Default Pricing for more details." (the rate section is on the next page of the document, and shows a default rate of 24.99%, as compared to the ordinary rate of 10.99%)

"You may reject this change. If you do not, the Default Pricing provision will be added to your account effective the first day following your statement closing date in July 2006." (the letter goes on to give "Rejection Instructions for Default Pricing," which tell the cardholder to write a letter to MBNA with the holder's name and full account number and a statement that rejects the change. The letter also explicitly states that telephone contact is not sufficient to reject the policy change.)

"We added Default Pricing to your account due to a change in our business practices."

It is difficult to guess why the last sentence was added. Which changes did they make that weren't due to changes in their business practices?

Or does "change in our business practices" refer to the company's move to force paying customers to opt out of policies that could be harmful to their personal finances?

Surprise No. 2 is a change in the policy on grace periods. Essentially, any cardholder who carries a balance forfeits a grace period on subsequent purchases. That's not new, but the time frame in which to pay in full is diminished from the last day of the billing cycle to the "payment due" date. For Joe Consumer, this isn't likely to be a big deal, but for MBNA it is likely to be another way to vacuum up some cash. Bully for the brontosaurus, eh?

Surprise No. 3 only affects cardholders who use their cards abroad:

"If you make a Foreign Transaction, we will asess a transaction fee (FINANCE CHARGE) equal to 3% of the U.S. dollar amount of each such Foreign Transaction. This is in addition to any other applicable transaction fees."

Contacted for comment, the cardholder who received the letter said her plan was to ignore the opt-out deadline and simply close the account. She's not the only one.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

the price of pride?

Well, the school district's ambitious bond proposal went down in flames at the polls (so to speak, the county votes by mail) last night (also so to speak, many of the ballots were mailed in early).

I'm reminded of the Nashua School District's successful bid to build a new high school and renovate the older one a few years ago. The project, enormous by local standards (in the $100 million to $200 million range, as I recall), was approved with little apparent difficulty. In the Nashua area - long a hotbed of stinginess - the win was something of a surprise for casual observers.

But not-so-casual observers knew school bond boosters (officials and residents alike) had spent many months in a work-intensive and drawn-out process of research and consensus building with the general public for the win. The key element appeared to be that officialdom asked voters for their input and showed they had listened when the proposal finally made it to the polls.

The hard work paid off, big time.

Tuesday's rebuke here was to the tune of 60-40, far sharper than down the road in Frogland, where another school bond proposal failed (53-47 or somesuch, but apparently with too few votes to count anyway). As a colleague said, the voters' answer up here was "hell no."

Food for thought, I hope.

Monday, May 15, 2006

my (ex) city's in ruins

I guess the old guy on Simon's Lane was onto something when he said he was building a boat and asked to borrow my pet pair of red-capped manakins, "for six weeks, give or take."

Our old stomping grounds have fallen on hard times, as you can see here.

Another reason to visit Joe Albertson's supermarket

OK, there aren't that many reasons to pick his place over the other markets in town, but he does carry Spade L Ranch seasoning, which is an easy way to make a great steak.

Unfortunately, if you live in the East, you're SOL unless you have friends or family to send it to you, as I did during the stint in the Granite State...

Seat belt research: Are we being misled?

Here's the lead of an Associated Press story by Ken Thomas about a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report on seat belt use:

Seat belt use is reaching record levels, so just who are the holdouts who fail to buckle up? Often they are young men who live in rural areas and drive pickups, the government says.

A press release about the report (both the release and report can be downloaded from the NHTSA home page), puts what Thomas says this way:

The report found the last of the unbuckled to be largely young and male, likely to live in rural areas and/or drive pickup trucks.

But Report authors Cherian Varghese and Umesh Shankar say:

When examined more closely, the data shows that the proportion of unrestrained fatalities was higher among males, on rural roadways, in pickup trucks and SUV’s, in single-vehicle crashes, and in the age group of 8 to 44 years old.

The authors' lumping of pickups and SUVs gave me pause. As it happens, they found that 18 percent of the dead (in 2004) traveled in pickups, and 15 percent were in SUVs. Sixty percent were in cars, and the rest were in vans or "other light trucks."

The report doesn't say anything about the relative prevalence of these classes of vehicles in rural and urban areas, so there's no way to know if driving a pickup in a rural area is more or less dangerous than driving a car in the same place.

Another false note struck in the press release and AP story is the age bit. Young men are indeed at higher risk, but I don't think that "young men" typically means ages 8-44, and all of those ages show a non-use rate of above 62 percent. The 21-24 set scores highest in non-use of seat belts when killed (at 66 percent), but the 8- to 15-year-olds and 35- to 44-year-olds (62 percent) aren't far behind.

My nitpicking aside, the press release and story appear to be largely on the mark, but I want to know more about who drives what in all the other cases (i.e. the times people drive that don't result in a fatal accident).

This kind of research strikes me as valuable but incomplete, kind of like the NHTSA's plan to spend $31 million on advertising to target these young, male, rural, pickup-driving scofflaws.

Who, just maybe, might not be moved by an ad showing "vehicles including pickup trucks driven in several regions of the country, with unbelted vehicle occupants receiving tickets, and then buckling up."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

It's not called WILDlife for nothing

Nature'll still kill you if it can, thank god.

Speedo, Day 1

The pool bleached my trunks so much in the past few months that I might soon have overtaken Monkey Playing Soldier as the best candidate for naked guy (He has, however, bought new trunks - bright red - so he's not really a candidate anymore. Plus, he doesn't use the same sweeping action during his backstroke, so he's fast escaping Nicknamesville.)

My response was to travel south with wifey to pay a visit to Cinco Grande, where we bought a Speedo for me and one for her, as well as two swim caps and a pair of TYR Socket Rocket 2.0s for her.

Now, I'm more of a Montebarra Swedish goggles guy, but you can't buy those here, so hey. At any rate, Grosse Funf has such kickass prices that we were able to score all the goods for less than her suit would have cost at numerous online outlets.

The upshot, of course, was that I had the first day of speedo-ism, which was fine. They are, after all, more comfy and speedy :)

I noticed that Garybob was on hand, but only for an abbreviated swim, and I lent my spare pair of Swedish goggles to Ed (who I thought was named Dave, for some unknowable reason), which he seemed to like. Hurray for Swedish goggles!

Besides all this nonsense, I put in the usual mile and a half, in the usual time, and the physical ailments didn't throw up any roadblocks...

reach for the sky

Trees of heaven are on the grow, as the idiot marketers would say, and you can read all about it in today's Union-Bulletin, but apparently only in the print edition... so pick up a few copies!

Here's a sample...

Friday, May 12, 2006

much to my amusement

I learned Gary's true name, which is Bob (hmmmm. That B looks like a scrunched-together 13).

Well, so it goes. Maybe I'll keep calling him Gary anyway.

fishy business

Aside from a few physical glitches here and there, it appears my plan to get five mile-and-a-half (or four, plus a longer workout) swims in each week is on track.

The physical glitches have been an obstacle off and on for a couple of months, which is annoying. Looking back on the yardage from the fall, I see I'm not ahead of where I've been (and I'm swimming four or five days a week now, not six). But the amount of time I use is quite a bit smaller, so I guess that's progress. And yesterday's swim was much improved over those in the past three or four weeks...

However, the decongestant/allergy/chlorine scene is a little less rosy. Although the Claritin-D box says nothing about side effects or whatnot, I was visited for an hour or so by oddly colored polygons that flashed in my peripheral vision about a half-hour after I took a dose. Coincidence? Perhaps, and the effect did not return after subsequent doses, which I am sorry to say seem less effective than usual.

But this is utterly minor, and rinsing out my nasal passages seems to help quite a bit, too. So I'll just keep on keeping on until the alma mater opens its snazzy new facility and I can weasel my way in.

varmints, yes; new-to-science hybrids, no

Yet another brave hunter has bagged something interesting , an apparent grizzly-polar bear hybrid. So, that's another mystery of nature solved, albeit in a depressinlgy typical, or maybe that's typically depressing, fashion.

Why anybody wants to shoot bears is beyond me. Why not elk? They're big, dangerous and edible, and seeing as how there's not enough wolves yet to do the job, you'd be doing the world a favor.

But bears? Give me a break.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

reluctant sources


You are a regular source, and we contact you frequently to ask questions about all sorts of mostly good news, which we run, frequently, in our paper.

One day, we find out that something in your organization went awry, and we are handed a document that lays out the trouble and also seems to show that your org. handled said situation in a reasonable way. (Nobody is being sued.)

We call you on the phone and ask for comment. You clam up utterly, seemingly in the hope that this will cause us to refrain from running the story.

Hmmm. What do you suppose might happen?

Monday, May 08, 2006

compound ignorance

It seems that nearly every story I read about people being Tasered, or police departments adding Tasers to their arsenals, includes some form of this sentence:

He was hit with 50,000 volts of electricity.

OK, yeah, sure. But what about watts? amps? ohms? other units named after dudes? I fear the latter measures are ignored because the voltage sounds so impressive, but the effect is embarrassing.

Here's an easy briefing on the subject.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Exhibit C

Exhibits A and B of annoying things really weren't alone.

Spring barrel tasting weekend arrives today in sunny Walla Walla, and 54 wineries are listed in this week's Marquee (the Union-Bulletin's entertainment tab). Two of those listings are for the same winery, but for different locations.

Of the 54 wineries, 34 have listings that go beyond the bare bones of hours and addresses. Of those 34, here's the crucial - and why I'm annoyed - numbers:

3 charge no fee


1 "may" charge a fee (I won't tell you which winery, but its name is synonymous with those of a mountain nymph and a famous snowmobile manufacturer)
2 apparently charge non-refundable fees (including one that offers an "etched logo glass")
2 charge a fee for some of their wine, but not for others
7 charge a fee refundable with purchase (including one that appears to require you to be a club member AND buy wine)
19 give no indication of fee (though 1 has a sinister "new memberships welcome at time of event to participate" note)

OK, so you don't want people to just show up and drink you dry on your dime. I get that. But vintners also send this message when they charge a fee: Our wine isn't good enough to sell itself, so try it at your own risk.

That, I find annoying.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

just another day in paradise

That's what my coworker Posse used to say when we were on our way into Strauser's Manufacturing for another day of "work" in that shithole mill.

What a dump.

But of course, any day that involves a swim is, indeed, a day in paradise. So I guess today was one of them: a happy little 2,400.

three annoying things

Exhibit A: Super-duty, turbo-diesel pickups driven by people who don't need them.

Exhibit B: Wasting time at the city post office. Need a flat-rate priority mail envelope and label? Well, you're going to have to stand in line to get one, then fill it out and stand in line again to mail it. Why? Because although the office has plenty of space, that space does not include a kiosk with envelopes, boxes and labels for priority mail. Nor does it contain an automated postal machine (there are three in the Tri-Cities, but zero here). Nor does the one self-serve option - the stamp machine - contain all the stamps you might need (like, for Christ's sake, three cent stamps to handle the not-so-recent rate increase). At least the Postal Service's Web site has this lovely section.

Exhibit C: Man, the trucks and postal hassles are bad enough.

So here's an antidote.

Last call for soup?

Well, maybe. The weather's been beautiful here, but still a bit chilly, so I made Himalayan lamb barley soup the other day (not sure if I've already posted on this...):

2 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
Meat from 1 or 2 lamb shanks, plus the bone(s)
1 1-inch cube ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (I have one of those snazzy Zyliss gizmos courtesy of my father, and it kicks butt for this)
2 teaspoons turmeric
3 tablespoons soy sauce (I used liquid aminos because I ran out of soy sauce)
1 cup crushed tomatoes
4 cups stock (I use homemade chicken stock, of course)
1 cup barley
1 box frozen spinach, thawed and lightly pressed

Saute the onions in the butter over medium heat until translucent, then add meat and brown.

Add ginger, garlic and cook for a minute, then add turmeric, soy sauce, tomatoes, stock and barley.

Bring to a boil then simmer until lamb and barley are tender. Add the spinach, heat through and serve.

As you might suspect, this hearty stew is best as leftovers.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

free lottery tickets!

arrived, in the form of coupons, the other day. So I redeemed them, and instantly won nothing. (I didn't spill any calamine on the tickets, though, so at least I could check to see if I won.)

I've got a second chance of sorts: The coupons included a couple for the big-bucks drawings. I'm sure they'll be huge winners.

The promo is kind of a head-scratcher. Here, have a free ticket! And buy some more! After you lose on the free ones!

uh, ok.

Monday, May 01, 2006

mo wedding, mo wedding, mo wedding

awww yeah. My li'l sis & new li'l bro, embarking on a beautiful and happy marriage...


cars, guns, booze and weddings

a good grouping if ever there was one:

1,100 miles (OK, more like 1,150), five stops at gas stations and about $100 in fuel (and better fuel economy than the government claims).

One kindly shared .22 magnum rifle, a box of shells, three dead gophers - including one in spectacular fashion - and about 15 startled ones.

Bud Light, Beltian White and several varieties of wine.

One married sister-in-law and a new brother-in-law!