From Pine View Farm

January, 2006 archive

The State of the Union Is Freyed 0

David Atkins fesses up the the freying of the truth:

Tonight marks the fifth installment in my memoir, “My State of the Union.” The response of my audience to this series has, frankly, been overwhelming. The powerful story of a noble country overcoming adversity to defeat terrorism and spread democracy without needlessly raising CAFE standards has clearly resonated with a wide audience. Unfortunately, it has also attracted an unprecedented level of scrutiny, scrutiny that has raised questions about some of the details contained in advance copies of tonight’s speech. While it is tempting to dismiss such questions as just more Washington “gotcha” politics, I value my reputation for “Texas straight talk.”

And he proceeds to footnote the State of the Union.


Marley 0

“Marley was dead.”

Whoops, wrong Marley.

John Grogan of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a book about his Labrador Retriever, Marley and Me. (Recently, it was optioned for a movie).

I haven’t read the book, but I have read a few of his Marley stories. Having had a black Lab, I could empathize.

Apparently, though, some of his stories have been called into question.

From today’s Inquirer:

In light of the scandal enveloping bestselling author James Frey, who now admits his purportedly nonfiction memoir “A Million Little Pieces” is riddled with fabrications and exaggerations, the online accuracy watchdog has launched an investigation into another memoir currently topping best-seller lists. We now bring you this shocking expose:

PHILADELPHIA – Credible evidence has surfaced that Inquirer columnist John Grogan might have greatly exaggerated the badness of his now-infamous Labrador retriever Marley.

In his memoir, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, Grogan portrays his now-deceased pet as incorrigible, neurotic, ill-mannered, flatulent and slobbering. But a SmokingCanine investigation found scant evidence to support the unflattering depiction.

One former neighbor, Betty Barcalot, told SmokingCanine: “Marley was a great dog. I once witnessed him dart into traffic to pull a chihuahua to safety. But did that make the book?”

The entire story is well-worth a read.


One Stop Shopping 0

The American entrepreneurial spirit is not dead:

At City Coffee, just across the street from Camden City Hall, they are offering a cup of joe, help with tax returns, and – if you really want to know – that pesky DNA paternity test.

Owner Ronald Ford Jr. has produced the region’s first known marriage of coffee and DNA. In just five workdays, you can find out who’s really your daddy.

The advertising flyers at his shop picture a cuddly toddler and the question: “Is this your child?… Maybe? Do you want to be sure?”


Steak with Mushroom, Onion, Red Wine Sauce 6

(30 mins. prep time after marinating is done)

1 lb. steak
1 cp. dry red wine (if you won’t drink it, don’t cook with it)
4 large or 6 medium mushrooms, sliced (if large, sliced and quartered)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced, or 1 tsp. garlic chips
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbs A-1 or comparable sauce
1/4 tsp. freshly ground salt
4 tbs. butter

Marinate steak in wine.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove steak from wine and sprinkle heavily on both sides with minced garlic and freshly ground black pepper; reserve wine.

Wrap steak in aluminum foil and place in oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile . . .

Melt butter in cast iron skillet (if you don’t have a cast iron skillet, a frying pan will do, but nothing beats cast iron).

Saute onions, mushrooms, and remaining garlic (or more garlic, if needed) in skillet.

When onions are translucent, add wine and salt; increase heat and reduce liquid. Add A-1 style sauce after liquid is partially reduced.

When 20 minutes has passed, remove steak from oven, unwrap from foil, and place under broiler for five minutes, then turn and broil other side for five minutes.

Place steak on serving dish and cover with sauce.

Place on table. Stand back.


Man without a Country 0

Truly Never Land:

A stowaway aboard a ship that docked last week in the Port of Camden is now a virtual prisoner on the vessel, says its captain, because no country will claim him.

The Trubezh arrived Jan. 20 bearing unexpected cargo, said Joe Balzano, executive director of the South Jersey Port Corp. A young man had stolen in with the cocoa beans the ship picked up in Ivory Coast.

Now he is stuck on the vessel indefinitely as it navigates from port to port.


The owners of vessels bear the responsibility, and the financial burden, to send stowaways home. Ship owners often also pay for armed guards while in U.S. ports with stowaways aboard. If the stowaway escapes, the owner is fined about $3,000.

Rather than bear the expense, some officers have ordered stowaways cast overboard.

“The law created incentives for stowaways never to make it ashore,” said Doug Stevenson, director of the Center for Seafarer Rights in New York.

The center defended the captain and first mate of the cargo ship MC Ruby, who were sentenced to life in prison for the 1992 murder of eight Ghanaian stowaways. The men were beaten with iron rods, shot, and dumped off the coast of Portugal.


Creative Computers 1

I went back to Second Source today and spoke with Ken, the owner, and got permission to take pictures of some of the unusual computers I mentioned yesterday.

They are made by Ron Sanderson, of whom the Wilmington News-Journal wrote in 2004 (a link to the story is not available–it’s archived):

At 62, he’s a veteran of modifying all manner of machinery. In 1982, he completed a 15-year restoration of a 1953 Ford Crown Victoria. (It netted him first place in a national competition.) He’s renovated, cleaned and sold nearly 30 Harley-Davidsons, he says. In 1983, he disassembled all but the seat and frame of his Harley within two hours of its purchase and sent the parts out to be chromed. The bike, to which he attached a radar detector and a cigarette lighter, landed him a page in Easy Rider magazine.

His passion now is computer modifications, or “mods,” which are to PCs what hot rods are to cars. First intended to push the speeds of processor chips, mods often were the province of gamers. And as the companies that produce the powerful and expensive graphics cards essential to fluid play started designing cards with sharp colors, gamers intent on showing them off incorporated windows into their PC towers.

His work is also regularly featured at the Newegg.

All the computers shown below are for sale at Second Source:

This one greets you as you enter the store:

Green Computer

And this one’s over by the repair bench:

Red Computer

I’m not sure what the case of this one started as–it looks like something that might have been in a rack of a mainframe or a communications center:

Rack Mount?

Here’s another view of it:

Rack Mount?

This one came in with the morning milk:

Milk Box Case Computer

Bringing new meaning to the term “micro-computer”:

Microwave Computer

And this one will always keep odors away:

Tidy Cat Computer

And here’s a view inside the litter box:

Tidy Insides

Ken told me that Mr. Sanderson also will make computers to order, but that those cost more than the ones on the shelves (makes sense to me). Those that had price tags ran around approximately $499.99.

Disclaimer: My only relationship to Second Source is as an occasional–and satisfied–customer. It’s the place to which I refer any of my friends who need computer repairs, and it’s where we got my younger daughter her first system. Not to mention the motherboard I used for my first motherboardectomy, several keyboards, cables, and other digital miscellany.


American Business at Its Best 0

Courtesy Blinq, CNN Money’s list of the 101 dumbest moments in business.

Number One (follow the link to see the rest):

1. Bubble Trouble
“If you grew up in Danvers, and you remember it as the spooky place on the hill, it might not be the right place to live.” — William McLaughlin, an executive with AvalonBay Communities, which is converting boarded-up Massachusetts mental institution Danvers State Hospital into a 497-unit complex of high-end apartments and condos. That sound you hear? Not the ghosts of mental patients, but loud hissing from the wildly inflated housing bubble, which tops our list this year with seven priceless moments of real estate insanity. First up: the nuthouse-to-yuppie-house trend currently sweeping North America, with such conversions also planned in Detroit, New York, Vancouver, and Columbia, S.C., where the centerpiece of the development is an original brick building with the word “asylum” chiseled into the facade.


Bush Fails New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Again. Or Is It “Still”? 0

Nearly five months after Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, President Bush’s lofty promises to rebuild the Gulf Coast have been frustrated by bureaucratic failures and competing priorities, a review of events since the hurricane shows.

While the administration can claim some clear progress, Bush’s ringing call from New Orleans’s Jackson Square on Sept. 15 to “do what it takes” to make the city rise from the waters has not been matched by action, critics at multiple levels of government say, resulting in a record that is largely incomplete as Bush heads into next week’s State of the Union address.

And this is a surprise how?

The current Federal Administration has proven itself willing to promise anything, then renege on the promise.

They say whatever they think will sound good at the time, then do not follow through.

They promise fiscal responsibility, and blow the lid off the deficit. They promise to put Bin Laden out of business, but can’t find him. They promise honesty . . . oh, never mind.

By this time, one either sees through him or not.


Handmade Computers 6

I dropped by my local used computer store today, hoping to stumble on a used PCMCIA wireless network card, for when I’m on the road and in a hotel with only a wireless network.

No luck, but I saw some interesting handmade computers. I wish I had had my camera with me; I’d have taken pictures if they gave me permission. They all had CD drives, floppy drives, and everything else needed for a fully functional box.

One was built inside one of those plastic milk carton thingies.

One was in a cardboard carton.

But the ultimate one was in a Tidy-Cat cat litter bucket.

Tidy Cat

Maybe I’ll run by there tomorrow and see whether they’ll let me take some pictures.


Proposed Revision of the Bill of Rights 0

Jesus’ General has the inside scoop; here’s the proposed new Fourth Amendment. Follow the link to see the complete draft:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures is a pre-9/11 concept that is inoperative for as long as the most patriotic citizens continue to wet their pants at the sight of a brown person. shall not be violated, and nNo warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause the whim of the executive or his deputy chief of staff, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the ideological leanings, degree of browness, or resale value of persons or things to be seized.


The Politics of Character Assassination, Reprise 0

They’re back, accusing those who disagree with them of being treasonous:

Eugene Robinson in today’s Washington Post:
Democrats “have a pre-9/11 worldview” of national security that is “deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong,” Rove said. The clear subtext was that Americans would court mortal danger by electing Democrats. Go forth and scare the bejesus out of them, Rove was telling his party, because the more frightened they are, the better our chances.

To cultivate fear for partisan gain is never a political tactic to be proud of, but Rove’s prescription of naked fearmongering is just plain reprehensible when the nation faces a shifting array of genuine, serious threats. This is a moment for ethical politicians — and, yes, these days that seems like an oxymoron — to speak honestly about what dangers have receded, what new dangers have emerged, and how the imperatives of liberty and security can be balanced.

The Post editorial board:

THE BUSH administration’s distortion, for political purposes, of the Democratic position on warrantless surveillance is loathsome. Despite the best efforts of Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff, and Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, to make it seem otherwise, Democrats are not opposed to vigorous, effective surveillance that could uncover terrorist activity. Nor are the concerns that they are expressing unique to their party. Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Sam Brownback (Kan.) have expressed legal doubts about the surveillance program. Do they, too, have a “pre-9/11 worldview,” as Mr. Rove said of the Democrats?

The Inky:

“President Bush believes if al-Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they’re calling and why.”

Thus said chief presidential adviser Karl Rove last week. True to his partisan form, Rove then went on to claim that ‘some important Democrats clearly disagree.

Rove clearly has that wrong. The objections are not to the idea of spying on al-Qaeda. It’s about the unaccountable, constitutionally dubious way the Bush administration put that idea into practice.

I cannot improve on their words.


Incompetence, Reprise 1

There’s more:

The Rapid Reconstruction Response Program or “R3P” was supposed to allow Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran postwar Iraq, to quickly get local construction projects under way, in an effort to juice up an economy mired down by violence, corruption and chaos.

But an audit by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found that in the South Central Region, based in Hillah, officers “cannot properly account for or support $96.6 million in cash and receipts.”

Almost $100 mil down the drain. Thanks to Bush and his minions.

Not to mention the wasted money searching for the missing WMDs.

Which the inspectors were unable to find before Bush’s war.

Why? Because there weren’t any.

Maybe the money is here.

Lies, incompetence, and lies.

Apparently, it’s winning combination.


Frank’s Vindaloo Beef Curry 0

(Loosely based on a recipe from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times International Cookbook).

Serves two. If you want serve more, increase the meat but be careful about the spices.

1 lb. top round or flank steak, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, fat removed and given to the dogs.

2 tbs ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp dry mustard powder

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp tumeric

1 tbs red pepper flakes (or 1 dried habenero pepper) (or a combination thereof)

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped

4 large mushrooms, coarsely chopped

1/2 medium bell (of course) pepper, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced, or 1 tsp dried minced garlic

1 tsp basil

1 tsp or more freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp dried mustard

pinch of salt

Rosemary is good, too, if you have it.

2 tbs vinegar or 1 cup very dry red wine

3 tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 cps water (less if you have the wine)

1 beef boullion cube, if available. Otherwise, more salt.

Heat oil in Dutch oven.

Sautee vegetables until onions are translucent

Add meat and brown on all sides.

Add spices and vinegar (or wine).

Bring to simmer.

Add water.

Bring to simmer.

Cover and simmer until you can’t stand it anymore or one hour, whichever comes second.

Serve over rice with cucumber and sour cream salad (see below).

Have available from your local Indian store: Garlic relish, lime pickle, and chutney. Lime pickle rocks.

Cucumber and sour cream salad (this is a variation on cucumber and yoghurt salad, but sweeter, because sour cream is sweeter than yoghurt):

One medium cucumber, chopped into quarter inch squares.

Two cups sour cream.

2 tbs lemon juice.

1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper or more, to taste.

Garlic powder or paste equivalent to one clove or more, to taste.

Freshly ground pepper to taste.

Mix ingredients. Taste.

Add spices as necessary until it’s perfect.

Chill and serve cold. It helps moderate the heat of the curry.


Heartburn 2

No, not the kind Bush gives me.

I was heading back to work after getting a hoagie at the local Heritage’s when I heard a Prilosec ad on the radio.

And, of course, Nexium ads are a dime a dozen.

I started to try to remember the last time I had heartburn (as opposed to a burning heart–that I can remember!). I couldn’t. It’s been years.

Now, I don’t have a particularly iron stomach and I eat lots of spicy food. I believe that the stomach, like any other muscle, should be exercised regularyly. Indeed, beef curry is my single favorite dish.

So what is it with this epidemic of heartburn that seems to be sweeping the nation?

Help me out here.


My Little Gas Price Survey, 1/25/06 0

Up, slightly.

Observed Tuesday, January 24:

Gibbstown, NJ, Valero, $2.27.

Paulsboro, NJ, Lukoil, $2.25.

Paulsboro, NJ, Exxon, $2.25.

Paulsboro, NJ, BP, $2.29.

Observed Wednesday, January 25:

Claymont, Del., Exxon, $2.48 (a $.13 increase, largest observed).

Claymont, Del., Sunoco, $2.35.

Claymont, Del., Getty, $2.33.

Claymont, Del., BP, $2.35.

Claymont, Del., Gulf (Cumberland Farms), $2.31.

Claymont, Del., Gulf, $2.33.

Claymont, Del, Wawa, $2.31.

Holly Oak, Del, Mobil, $2.31.


Great Minds Think Alike 0

Was Harold Meyerson reading my blog last night? From his column in today’s Washington Post:

Incompetence is not one of the seven deadly sins, and it’s hardly the worst attribute that can be ascribed to George W. Bush. But it is this president’s defining attribute. Historians, looking back at the hash that his administration has made of his war in Iraq, his response to Hurricane Katrina and his Medicare drug plan, will have to grapple with how one president could so cosmically botch so many big things — particularly when most of them were the president’s own initiatives.


The Greatest Mendacity . . . 2

. . . uttered by members of the current Federal Administration (think about what the words mean as you read them):

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Except for selling the assets of the nation to the highest bidder, endangering its citizens and their property through inaction and inattention, ignoring the Constitution, and trespassing on the rights of the citizenry.

Oh, yeah, that was in the signing statement, wasn’t it?


Mendacity beyond Words 0

Janus had nothing on Bush:

Washington — President Bush defended both the legality and the necessity of the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping program Sunday, and he denied that he had misled the public last year when he insisted that any government wiretap required a court order.


Venality beyond Words 0

Behind closed doors:

House and Senate GOP negotiators, meeting behind closed doors last month to complete a major budget-cutting bill, agreed on a change to Senate-passed Medicare legislation that would save the health insurance industry $22 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.


That change was made in mid-December during private negotiations involving House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the staffs of those committees as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee. House and Senate Democrats were excluded from the meeting. The Senate gave final approval to the budget-cutting measure on Dec. 21, but the House must give it final consideration early next month.

Meanwhile (from last February):

The White House released budget figures yesterday indicating that the new Medicare prescription drug benefit will cost more than $1.2 trillion in the coming decade, a much higher price tag than President Bush suggested when he narrowly won passage of the law in late 2003.


California, Arkansas and Illinois have joined about half a dozen other states taking emergency measures to help residents struggling to get prescriptions filled under the new Medicare drug program.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered an emergency plan Thursday allowing the state to pay for the drugs for the next two weeks.


The new Medicare drug benefit went into effect on January 1. During the initial days of this benefit, NAMI is hearing both positive and negative stories from across the country about the initial transition period to the new benefit — especially among low-income individuals with severe mental illness who are “dually eligible” for both Medicare and Medicaid. While some “dual eligibles are getting their prescriptions consistent with the new law — uninterrupted refills at only $1 for a generic medication and $3 for brand name medication, others have experienced severe problems at the pharmacy counter. These problems include:

No electronic record of enrollment in a Medicare drug plan;
Pharmacies charging cost sharing above $1 for a generic drug/$3 for a brand name drug;
Attempts to impose deductibles;
Prescriptions being denied because of exclusion from a plan’s formulary; and
Prescriptions being denied because of “prior authorization” and “step therapy” requirements.

Maybe this should have been tagged under incompetence also.


Incompetence beyond Words 0

From today’s Washington Post:

An Aug. 28 report by the department’s National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center concluded that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane would cause severe damage in the city (New Orleans–ed.), including power outages and a direct economic hit of up to $10 billion for the first week.

“Overall, the impacts described herein are conservative,” stated the report, which was sent to Homeland Security’s office for infrastructure protection.

“Any storm rated Category 4 or greater … will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching, leaving the New Orleans metro area submerged for weeks or months,” said the report.

The documents are the latest indication that the federal government knew beforehand of the catastrophic damage that a storm of Katrina’s magnitude could cause. The Bush administration has been lambasted for its lackluster response to Katrina and its aftermath, including criticism that the government should have known a hurricane of that strength posed a danger to the area’s levees and was unprepared to cope with it.

But the incompetence is not in preventing the effects of Katrina. With such short notice, or even with the notice provided by the Pam exercise, it is unlikely anyone could have done that.

Here is the incompetence:


Defending the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff argued Saturday that government planners did not predict such a disaster ever could occur.

And Bush, in his now almost legendary comment:

“. . . So there is frustration. But I want people to know there’s a lot of help coming. I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.”

Now, let us look at this:

Chertoff is the head of the agency that produced this report two days before the hurricane hit.

And Bush is his boss.

They don’t even read their mail.

Would you trust either of these men to mail a letter for you?