Saturday, December 26, 2009

Photography, and a Stupid Civil War General

The Excelsior Brigade Monument, Gettysburg PA.

I was waiting at the parking area near the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg National Military Park for a Battle Walk to begin when I opportunisticly shot this photo. A Battle Walk is a park historian led trek (sometimes it's a pretty difficult hike over tough terrain, especialy if Troy Harmon is leading) over a part of the field where a scholarly talk is delivered (and it is especially scholarly if Troy Harmon is leading) and it's a great thing to participate in if you are an amateur scholar of the Battle of Gettysburg like me. I learned a lot on Troy's Battle Walks. It really helps one understand what went on on a particular part of the field.

This photograph has always been a favorite of mine, and I like it so much I have hung it on my wall. It's a long shot I made with a 200mm lens and film from several hundred yards away, and that long lens and the long distance is why the summer wheat is nicely compressed against the monument. This is the part of the Union line that Humphrey's brigade was posted to on July 2nd, and it was here that he led his very competent fighting withdrawl in the face of Longstreet's brilliant attack after the third corps were stupidly thrown forward by idiot political general Sickles.

The len's compression of the shot mirrors the awful compression Humphrey, and others, must have felt that day as Longstreet's Corp's right to left en echelon attack crushed them and sent them reeling back to their destruction.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Holiday Thoughts

I just walked outside to enjoy our Christmas lights and it's cold, cold here in Baltimore. Luckily I have a pot of lentil soup on the fire, and I'm going to watch the Vikings play, and wonder who my next team will be. The cold, clear weather reminds me of the winters I spent in Korea. Then, my friends and I were landlocked US Navy intelligence guys, and that meant we walked to work in sub-zero temperatures from Anjong village to an Army base, and I remember so many mornings trudging in for the day watch in brutal temperatures. But I was strong and young and only cared about my friends and shipmates and we'd go drinking at night in the clubs and nothing could stop us and it was a time to remember because we were undefeatable information/intelligence warriors and we flew in planes and rode in submarines and whatever else it took. Life was simple and fun and we did good work and what more could anyone want? We had nothing and lacked for nothing.

I'm using Facebook to reconnect with a lot of those old friends, and it's good. It's not that facebook is so good, but  ultimately it is because it brings people together who might otherwise not be in touch. And that's a good thing.

I was young once and now I'm not so young. I know now that youth is not wasted on the young.

Onward with today's work and life.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Stuffed Quahogs

Here in Maryland where I live they call quahogs "clams". Proper clams, or steamers (soft shelled clams) are served nowhere in Maryland, even though many are harvested here. They are shipped north to New England, where I grew up, and sold there for fried clams or steamers. It's ironic that I can't get fried clams or real steamed clams here. If you order steamed clams in Maryland, you get steamed quahogs, a ridiculous way to prepare them. Tough and inedible. Typical Maryland wrongheadedness.

Up there in the northeast I grew up eating a lot of regional seafood. Fried eel, finnan haddie, codfish tongues and cheeks, scrod, steamed clams, herring roe, and stuffed quahogs. All delicious.

Big quahogs need to be chopped up and made into stuffed quahogs, not steamed. Here's my recipe for stuffed quahogs.


Stuffed Quahogs

12 big quahogs
commercial stuffing mix (pepperidge farm, whatever you like) 1 bag
celery
onion
green pepper
sausage (optional)

Put the quahogs in a pot with 2 cups of water and boil until they open up. Don't overcook them, just get them to open up and release their liquor or they will get tough. Take them out and keep the water you cooked them in.

Dice up the onion, celery, pepper and sausage into a small dice. Saute in butter until softened. You want about 1 to 2 cups of this for one bag of stuffing.

By now the quahogs are cool. Take them out of their shells. Reserve the shells. Rough chop them.

Take the water from cooking the quahogs (you want all the juice and flavor that the quahogs gave up as they steamed) and use it to make the stuffing according to the stuffing directions. Add the celery, pepper, onion and sausage mixture to the stuffing. Add the chopped quahogs to the stuffing.

The stuffing mixture is now food, but we still have two ways to go with it.

Traditional

Put the stuffing mixture into the quahog shells, which you didn't disconnect, and close the shell. Wrap the stuffed shells in tinfoil to keep them closed, and bake in the oven until hot. This is what you will get in a restaurant in New England, and it's fine.

My Way

Fill half shells with the stuffing, leave them open, and bake in a hot oven until the stuffing gets a little crisped up on top.

Either way

Top with butter and serve with a good hot sauce. I like Cholula brand hot sauce, but any will do. I don't know why you have to have hot sauce on stuffed quahogs, but you do.

You'll either really like stuffed quahogs, or you won't. There's no in between.

Makes 12 stuffed quahogs.

Fennel Pork Chops

Since pork started being billed as "the other white meat" pigs have been bred to have less and less fat, making pork a mostly useless food. Food without fat has no flavor. Luckily Mario Batali did this recipe on his show on Food TV a few years back, and I've been making it ever since. It allows dreadful lean pork chops to be moist, tender, and flavorful by braising them.

I like to serve it with broccoli. The French won't eat broccoli, instead feeding it to their pigs, which is why I like to pair it with these pork chops. What's the deal with the French and food. Just steam the broccoli, add some red pepper flakes and drizzle with good olive oil.

This is good Italian food that couldn't be simpler or more true to the ingredient-first philosophy of Italian cooking.

Fennel Pork Chops

1 head fennel
2 thick cut, bone-in pork chops
fennel seed
1 bottle dry italian white wine
flour (optional)

Heat your oven to 350-400 degrees, whatever temperature your oven braises well at. This will be uncovered, so I use 400.

Slice the fennel bulb about 1/4 thick. Keep the stalks and feathery bits, unsliced.

Season chops with salt and pepper

Dredge the chops in flour (optional)

Press liberal amounts of the fennel seed into the pork chops on both sides. They will just stick to the surface. Saute the chops in a large pan until well browned on both sides. Don't under-do this step.

Add enough white wine to the pan so that the chops are shoulder high in wine, nearly but not covered. Add the sliced fennel. Put the feathers and stalks on top of the chops. Put it in the oven to braise.

Give it enough time in the oven for the wine to reduce by about 2/3, but don't let the chops dry out. The chops should be moist and very tender. Discard the fennel stalks and feathers. Serve the fennel bulb strewn on the chops, and use the braising liquid as a sauce just as it is.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It's War, and It's a Project

I work in Information Technology, and that means I work on projects. A project is nothing more than a description of an outcome that we want to happen - an application will be made that let's users do something, some information that we will discover from data will help solve a problem, or maybe there is a plan for improvements to an existing system. 

We make project plans. They describe what the project is going to accomplish, and how, and when. They also establish deadlines. A deadline is made for the entire project based on the deadlines for all the discrete tasks that make up the project. Every task has a deadline. It's pretty rational.

Sometimes, people launch projects with no deadline. Those projects are never completed though, because there are always other projects with deadlines, and they always take precedence over the projects with no deadlines. In Information Technology, we call the projects without deadlines Failed Projects or Dead Projects. Sure, resources get assigned to them, but work is always deferred so that work on live projects gets done.

It's simple project management.

That's the difference between Obama's plan for Afghanistan and Cheney's plan. Cheney had no plan, and no deadlines. Meeting deadlines takes courage, planning, skill, calculation, estimation, work, and will. All these things were lacking in the Bush/Cheney regime. Their plan was endless war and occupation. And endless cost.

Obama has the balls to bet his presidency on his plan for Afghanistan, and he just placed the bet with his speech tonight. Bravo.

Putting a deadline on the effort in Afghanistan demonstrates a will to actually succeed, rather than just to throw lives and money at the problem.

Now, the question is will the American people buy in - because we only lose wars that the people don't support.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Talking Points

And when justice is gone, there's always force...
--Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson was one of my favorite artists when I was a young man. She collaborated with with other interesting artists like William S. Burroughs, and she ended up marrying Lou Reed, of all people. I liked her vaguely absurdist lyrics on  albums that were avant garde but very listenable.

When I listen to people like Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, characterizing not waging another full blown insurgency suppression in Afghanistan as "walking away in defeat", I'm impressed by the absurdist nature of the republican party's talking points.


I'm being won over by Joe Biden's idea that we should get out of Afghanistan. We've become pretty good at killing high-level Al Quaeda leadership by raining down hellfire missiles on them, which is really to say that we are penetrating their organization and are able to get good intelligence on where the leadership are. At that point, hitting them with the missile is the easy part. We don't need a military presence in Afghanistan to kill Al Quaeda people there. And anyway, the problem is Pakistan not Afghanistan - I don't care if Al Quaeda do gain control of Afghanistan's weapons (rocks and sticks?) but Pakistan has nukes.

The republicans really don't seem to have anyone who is able to talk intelligently about this - because Pakistan is a nuanced and difficult problem. So, like a baited bear, republicans roar their talking points, and argue for more of the same mess the Iraq occupation turned into under Dick Cheney's leadership.

I admire their brazenness, though. Liz Cheney, clearly an educated, intelligent woman, but a consummate ideologue, republican talking point spouter, and not a deep thinker, was on This Week, George Stephenopoulis' show, and sat at the table where brilliant people like Paul Krugman are often found. Today the smart people were Robert Reich, Walter Isaacon, and George Will.  It's got to be daunting, knowing that your talking points could be deconstructed by people like that, and on live TV.

Daunting indeed. Not unlike the first time you get to wear long pants and sit at the grownup table for the Thanksgiving meal. You have to participate in the discussion with the grownups, and much of what they are talking about is complicated, hard to understand, and the grownups know a lot more than you about what it all means.

It's Thanksgiving week coming up. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.



 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Baltimore, You Suck


No danger of repo'ing a car on this street, unless it's my Miata. McElderry.

I've had it with this city. I'm working downtown now, and the commute sucks. I work in a better neighbrhood, Canton, than the one in this picture, but the reality of this city is that to get from one pocket of unblighted neighborhood to another, you will have to travel through a dangerous mess like McElderry, or Harlem Park (or pick any of hundreds of other ruined neighborhoods). I spent some time repossessing cars in Baltimore, and it was always in the these same neighborhoods, Pimlico, Park Heights, Sinclair-Edison, all the shitholes. Baltimore is called the city of neighborhoods, and 250 of 300 of them suck.


Canton

The big problem, though, is my commute. I drive fifteen miles and it takes an hour, often longer. If I so far forget myself as to leave a safe distance between the car in front of me and my car, some asshole will honk, pass me in a frenzy on the right, and fill the gap. I get cut off, honked at, passed unsafely, and I'm starting to think that Baltimore and her suburbs are populated by an inordinate number of idiot assholes.

I need to maintain a sunny disposition and a sense of fellowship with my neighbors, fellow commuters included. The only solution is to leave, and go to a smaller city that's not blighted. Boise Idaho, Richmond, Virginia, a place like that. I'm working on it.



The Suburbs

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Range Time, 21 Feet


The Glock, the Umarex and extra rounds. There are bunches more weapons, ammunition and measures here, but that's what's next to me right now.

Defending our house against people who might break into it and hurt or kill us, and against crickets, are things we do. Home invasions are way up in the US. Defense is simple, but I don't want to engage in that defense - I'd rather we could just withdraw, and that's the plan. But if we're trapped and can't leave the house to the invaders, my strategy is to be armed and use all the advantages we have - surprise, subterfuge, weapons, and ruthlessness. 

Cricket invasions are up too.

If someone breaks down the front door and we can get out of the house before they get in, they are welcome to it - we'll be outside calling the police. With our guns. You want the TV? Take it. You want to come out into the back yard and try to harm us? Don't get within 21 feet.

The FBI did a study on attackers with edged weapons going after defenders with pistols, and they concluded that if an attacker gets within 21 feet of you, you can't draw and fire a pistol before they get you with the knife. This will be important if we do have to shoot someone. If they are within the 21 foot range, it's reasonable to defend oneself. Outside of that, not.


I had a discouraging moment the other day, shooting a camelback cricket that was in the house with the pellet gun. Ugh. We get one a day now, and I hope the house sells soon. They are one inch long targets that I shoot at from 5 to 10 feet. At 21 feet, they would be 4 inch targets. That's pretty small, so I don't feel too bad about taking 9 shots at one the other day before I killed it. Got one tonight at 8 feet with 2 shots, and it was a small one, so all is not lost. I can still shoot if I concentrate.

A human at twenty one feet is about 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide, and I can shoot a target that size and at that range very quickly and accurately. It's actually the only thing I am good at with the Glock - double tapping human sized targets at 21 feet. 

But taking 9 tries to get that cricket (sure, he was jumping and evading) means I'm going to start going to the range with the Glock more regularly - the cricket just pissed me off, but I need to be sure about hitting that human invader.

Monday, November 09, 2009

What's Bob Doing?




Off to work today to find an ad-hoc analysis problem waiting involving hopitalizations for mental health problems. Next had meetings with IT colleagues to request that they derive some info from data on provider locations (some health care providers have more than one location, and some don't, as you might imagine) and my guys need to know about that. Also working on raw provider data to see if we are somehow failing to import them correctly. It's all forensics. My IT folks and business analysts know these data well, and I don't yet, but I will.

Our customers are Medicare recipients. They get good care. I'll be blogging about that when I can.

Three weeks in, this is still very much a new job, in the sense that I bring no domain knowledge or industry (medicare) experience to it. Luckily, the data analysis work is uncomplicated enough so far that I can get it done.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Lentil Soup

I had forgotten how much mental energy is required to work with data. I'm working with data that relate to the heath care people have received and whether or not the care was appropriate based on HEDIS measures. The HEDIS measures live in a four inch thick binder on my desk.

So at the end of the day I'm not usually in such great shape for blogging, but I'll get back to it with this easy entry on soup. I like to make a big pot of lentil soup on Sunday most weeks in the winter.

Lentil Soup

4 andouille sausages
1 polska kielbasa
4 carrots
2 large yellow onion
5 celery stalks
1 big parsnip
6 cups chicken stock
6 cups water
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
1 package of lentil beans
optional chopped garic

Rough chop all the vegetables. In a big soup pot, sweat them with a little vegetable oil, salt and pepper on high heat for about three minutes. Add the chicken stock and six or so cups of water. Season again with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then add the lentils, bay leaves, and some thyme if you want and the garlic if you want. Lately I've been leaving the garlic out. Simmer the soup until the lentils are tender and breaking down. Slice the andouille sausage and kielbasa and add to the soup. Put the heat off, and let the fat from the sausage melt and merge with the soup. You are done. As with most soups like this, it will be better tomorrow.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Todays Activities

Today was a dry run for my new life as a person with a normal day job. I'll be a data analyst for Bravo Health in Baltimore. The job leverages my large database/dataset experience, and I'm looking forward to it.

It means I can no longer go to the grocery store at 2.00 in the afternoon on a weekday to shop for supper, which has been a luxurious experience, and has become my habit.

So today was filled with errands and preparation for the upcoming work week. It was a dry run in awful rain, and the grocery store was awful and crowded.

Back to the working world, and I'm grateful to have a job that pays the bills.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Driving Around Baltimore, Fast

Pennsylvania Station at 40 miles per hour from my Miata, handheld as I drove by

These past few weeks I've been driving quickly around the city of Baltimore, delivering chemicals for a small company. I'm grateful for the work and I like my co-workers a whole lot, but I'm also glad that I might have a real job as a Data Analyst in my near-term future that will actually pay my bills. That, after applying for literally hundreds of jobs over the past years that I ought to be seen by employers as qualified to do, because I am. Yet no offers came, save this one. It's bad out there.

I don't mind the driving gig at all, lack of income aside. The weather has been gorgeous - cool, crisp fall mornings turning into shirtsleeve weather, top down days, perfect for the Miata. I get up early, drive to the shop, and wait for orders to come in. They do. I bang the addresses into my GPS, figure out where I'm going and take off.

If you are one of my Facebook friends, you've seen the various photos I've taken, usually from the car, of my travels around the city on this gig. They are not art, just me doing what I always do photographically - documenting the goings on in my life.

This photo epitomizes the job I'm doing. I shot it blind as I went by, and it is how the city looks to me as I blast around town from delivery to delivery. The Decisive Moment it ain't, but it documents a certain reality I'm experiencing, and I like this picture for that. It's how the job looks in my memory.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Latschar, History, Porn - What to Make of it

Recent news that John Latschar, Superintendent of Gettysberg National Military Park had pornographic images discovered on his work computer as part of an investigation by the Interior Department (DOI). The ostensive news in this is that DOI plans to do nothing about this, which is not news to me - I don't care.

I do care about the Gettysburg Battlefield. As a student of the battle, I have spent a lot of time walking pretty much every bit of the field, many areas more than several times, and it's a big battlefield. It's taken years. Why do that?

My military expertise when I started studying the battle was in littoral small boat naval tactics as practiced by the North Korean Navy. When I started reading about Gettysburg, it quickly became clear that terrain was really important to civil war commanders at every level, and they talked endlessly about terrain in their battle reports. I needed to walk the field and know the terrain if I was going to understand the battle and the decisions made during it. I needed to see the actual terrain to understand what a commander meant by words like 'swale', 'heights', 'commanding heights', 'valley'. You'd be amazed at what they considered a commanding height or a valley

I think it bears mentioning somewhere, even if it's just in my little blog, that Latschar oversaw important changes at the park. Under his watch, the park has been transformed under a program to restore it to it's appearance at the time of the battle.

This is a boon to people like me. Now, I can see the field as the commanders did at the time, and really understand things more easily. Like General Hancock's comment about Sickle's unauthorized and stupid redeployment of his third corps forward to the Emmitsburg Road plateau, which almost cost the battle on the second day when the third corps was crushed under Longstreets assault as a result of this misguided deployment - "They'll come tumbling back soon enough". Now with trees cleared, I can easily see the ground and understand how Hancock made that accurate prediction. And how he prepared himself to save the left of the Union army, which he did (barely) despite Sickle's screwup.

All this work, mostly clearing lots and lots of trees that weren't there in 1863, really enhances our ability to understand the battle, and Latschar oversaw and supported that work in the face of some significant resistance. The good he did for real historians, and even for amateurs like me, outweighs a personal shortcoming. I'm grateful to the man.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Small Talk

Before television, I expect that in any metropolitan area or small town most people read one of one or two papers to get their news. I'm pretty sure there was not a Fox newspaper and an MSNBC newspaper, although newspapers definately took editorial positions.

When you go to work on Monday, you'll reconnect with your co-workers after being away from them for the weekend. Maybe you'll talk with them about sports that happened over the weekend. Why sports? Because it's the only thing that you and they both saw, can agree on, and can therefore talk about. Not the nightly news, not the newspaper.

You watched Fox (or MSNBC) and they watched MSNBC (or FOX) for your news (or their news). So there's no common ground for you to discuss what's going on in this country. And there never will be. If you ever did try to have a discussion with your FOX or MSNBC watching co-worker about what's going on in this country, it would likely not work, because there would be no premises upon which you could agree, and no basis for a conversation.You'd likely have an argument, just like what we see on television.

Pretty grim, that.

But I go to the grocery store almost every day, and I'm almost always able to have a small conversation with a stranger in line with me. I don't know that person's politics, and they don't know mine. We converse about small things, politely, and it's almost always a pleasant conversation. Much like I imagine people conversed before there was a 24 hour news cycle and a newspaper was all there was for news.

I'm all for that grocery line conversation. It's uplifting. It's between two human beings who haven't had the chance to judge each other. It's between two strangers sharing a small moment for a short time.

If we can build on things like that, there may be hope for us yet.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Parts of Speech

When I listen to Republican politicians and talking heads refer to their colleagues across the aisle as the "Democrat" party instead of the "Democratic" party, I wince and smile at the same time. Aside from the problem with nouns versus adjectives (republican is an adjective as is democratic, democrat is a noun), we live in a democracy, and I'm sure the Republicans don't want to refer to the Democratic party as, well, democratic. It might lend credence to the idea that a Democratic administration actually has the right to govern the country, an idea that's anathema to the Republicans.

Since the bloody Republicans feel free to rename someone else's party, I'll exercise the same liberty. From now on, I shall refer to the Republican party as the Dogmacrats, or the Dogmacratic party. We can call the Democrats the Pragmacrats just to be fair, if you like.

Because it's true.

I feel as liberated as Rush Limbaugh.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More Bloviating about Torture

The next talking head that says that waterboarding is not torture can kiss my ass. They haven't been waterboarded. I have. They are wrong.

If you want to voice an opinion in the national media on whether or not waterboarding is torture, get waterboarded. Or shut up. I went through SERE Level D. The least you can do is take the waterboarding like we did it in level D so you can know some damn thing about what you are talking about before you speak.

This bothers me. It should bother everyone.

If you are an ordinary decent citizen, then you are entitled to your opinion regardless of whether you've been tortured or not. But if you hold yourself up as an authority on the matter, you should actually be one. If you haven't experienced the hell that is being waterboarded, you are not an authority. And you should, therefore, shut up.

Clear?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tiny Right Wing Twits

The recent effort by President Obama to influence the IOC to award the Olympics to Chicago and his failure to do so (Chicago never had a chance) was cheered by the usual right wing cheerleaders (Limbaugh, et al) in their usual offensive ways. Paul Krugman writes a particularly cogent op-ed piece about the spitefulness of the right wing these days here. And someone makes the astute observation on this aricle about the right cheering the Chicago failure, wondering how loud the right's cheering will be if there is another successful terrorist attack on the United States on Obama's watch.

Let's remember that 9/11 happened on the Cheney/Bush watch. Remember Bush sitting speechless/action-less in front of the camera in that elementary school, while Cheney authorized shooting down civilian airliners? Your government in action/inaction. No cheering from the republicans that day.

But Krugman is right - the right will applaud anything that happens that might make the Obama administration fail, or appear to have a setback. It's tiny-minded, mean spiritedness from political extremists who have no solutions, only dogma.

A pox on them.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

A Nice Day in MIddle River

A nice warm early autumn day, so we went out to Middle River to walk on the beach at Hawk Cove. That's Poole Island and Hart Miller Island in the background. Even with just the very light breeze out of the east, a lot of folks were out sailing. For some reason here in the Chesapeake, almost all of the powerboaters give up using their boats after labor day except that one guy in the trawler. Annabelle found some nice sea glass.




Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wiliam Sparkman, Killed for working for the Federal Government - a Preventable Death?

William Sparkman, a part-time census worker, was, according to the Washington Post,

found dead in the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeast Kentucky. A rope was wrapped around his neck and tied to a tree; his feet were in contact with the ground, according to the Kentucky State Police and FBI.

The word "Fed" was written on his chest.

That makes me think that maybe he was killed, lynched in fact, by people who hate and fear the federal government. The right wing tea party or militia types, that sort.

The militia guys are, first and foremost, armed people. I thinks it's common sense to say that the right are more likely to be armed, and to support our right to be armed.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am politically very left wing. They also know that I am well armed, mostly because of the rise in the number of home invasions in this country. I'm not going to shoot someone for stealing my stuff, but if anyone tries to harm me or my family in my home, we are going to shoot them and do other nasty stuff to them until they are not a threat. Period. I support our individual right to own and use fireams and other deadly weapons for self defense.

I'm sure the militia folks and other right wing people agree that I'm within my rights to defend myself and my family in this way.

I wonder if they would agree with me that had William Sparkman been carrying a gun when his killers took and murdered him, he might be alive today, and the people who killed him might be dead instead?

I really do wonder how the right wing feels about a census workers right to bear arms while doing their work. I'm guessing they'd say that allowing census takers to be armed is akin to forming a national police force to take their guns, or some nonsense like that.

As if the man doesn't share our rights just because he's a Fed.

Let me know, right wing people. Or anyone.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spam

I like poetry. I buy books of it. I do write the occasional poem. Haiku is a bit beyond me, though. I do get it - 5, 7, 5.

I like SPAM. I eat SPAM. I lived for years in a country where you could buy a carton of Kent cigarettes with a can of SPAM taped to the end of it, as if the cigarettes weren't bad enough.

So I've found a site that has Haiku about SPAM.

Perfect! Some of these haiku are pretty good.

Here's the site, and here are my picks from the site.

All the Spamku are at http://mit.edu/jync/www/spam/

On to my favorite Spamku!

1402
Roseate pork slab
How you quiver on my spork!
Radiant light, gelled.

1421.
Critics will scoff: "These
aren't real haiku." We'll retort,
"So? SPAM ain't real meat."

82.
Downed U.S. pilot,
survival kit full of SPAM,
eats ants, sucks wool socks.

432.
Forty year-old man,
Pathetic, hunched at the screen.
Writing SPAM haiku.

449.
SPAM frying in lard
The whir of the kitchen fan
Summer of my youth

514.
Descartes on pig parts
Says: "I'm pink, therefore I'm SPAM"
Deep philosophy

588.
Schrödinger's SPAM: One
minute the pork snouts are dead.
The next, they're alive!

630.
Salvador Dali
Paints soft, drooping cans of pork:
"Persistence of SPAM."

680.
Blanche to Stan: "I have
Always depended upon
The SPAM of strangers."

711.
A pink obelisk
comes to the apes. It imparts
both wisdom and SPAM.

1574.
Turkey-shaped SPAM for
Thanksgiving dinner. None give
thanks but the turkey.

1692.
Circled by Triscuits
Abbatoir aroma thick
The Pillar of Oink

2541.
The Nixon White House:
SPAM at state dinner. Chef says,
"I am not a cook."

3425.
Bhagavad Gita:
"Now I am become SPAM, the
destroyer of meals."

3458.
When I called for SPAM,
It answered, "Call me Legion,
For I am many."

3467.
Like a new piglet
Slick with slime, SPAM emerges
Making sucking sounds.

3471.
In mud you frolicked
Till they cut, cleaned and canned you.
How now, thou ground sow?

3545.
"Use all but the oink!"
"Can it and color it pink!"
Marketing genius.

4791.
With the empty can
Held up to my ear, I hear
The sound of the sty.

5685.
I finished the SPAM
Last night, and today I feel
Pigs' eyes upon me.

5771.
In the thawing snow,
The can's blue corner peeps out
Like spring's first crocus.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Big Flowers


There was a flower show at the Hilton and they gave some arrangements away after it was all over. Kim got one that's bigger than my head.

It took both of us to lug it into the kitchen change the water out of the thing.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Soft Landing for the United States

Tea party moron excoriating us "Morans"

It's really gone too far with the right and the left. We need a new "Civil" war, one fought with a genuine concern for the folks on each side, so our dysfunctional country can have a soft landing.

My states rights friends are right. The central issue is the idea that participation in the United States, or the Union, is voluntary at the individual state level. I agree. Lincoln was wrong.

I don't think the country has been this divided since the onset of the Civil War in 1861.

The right and the left in this country can agree on nothing. We are as gridlocked as a government can be. The right claims that anything proposed by Obama's side is socialist, wrong, big government, and bad, bad, bad.. The right's behavior makes them look like they've been bought by big business, especially the insurance industry, and that makes it pretty hard for anyone to negotiate anything with them. No compromise seems possible. So be it.

The right can get nothing done legislatively, and the left only by fiat because they have the votes. Time for a change, I say.

Let's break the country up.

How to do it? I'm not sure. Referendum? Break by Red/Blue? Red/Blue is how it's going split regardless of how we do it, and how it is split now, so let's assume that for the purpose of this essay.

We're going to have to accept that the two nations that result from the split of the United States are going to be second tier powers like the UK, France, and Germany, leaving China as the only superpower. I expect that the Blue United States (called what I don't know) will join the European Union or at least maintain close ties with Europe. The Red United States, of course, won't. But the EU plus the Blue USA can counter China.

Let's let Texas take the lead. They lead in executing their citizens. They nearly lead in the high school drop out rate. They lead in illiteracy. They already want to secede from the Union. Clearly they have a jump on the process, so let's let them drive it.

We have to get a country where reasonable people can disagree, yet still cooperate. The United States of America as it is constituted today is not that. America is permanently broken. Let's be done with it and make two separate countries where like-minded people can get along and govern. Go live in whichever one you want. Redland or Blueland.

Monday, September 07, 2009

I was talking to my friend Mabry the other day. She's an educated woman, and she tutors a young child who had a recent surgery and can't go to school as a result. She told me about  how this child is making the best of her situation, finding fun things to do at home, taking her studies with good humor, and just being the beautiful
creature that a young child can be.

Bruce Cockburn, my favorite songwriter, put it like this in a different context, albeit a bit harsh:



They Call it Democracy

See the loaded eyes of the children too
Trying to make the best of it the way kids do
One day you're going to rise from your habitual feast
To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast
They call the revolution



The small but brilliant wisdom is the line "Trying to make the best of it the way kids do". And they do, don't they? How come the kids can do that and we adults can't? It's a learned adult behavior to be cranky about one's situation.


Obliviousness to circumstance. Gratefulness for what we have. These are goals to strive for.


Labor Day

We had a fun time this weekend. Annabelle was here for Saturday and Sunday. Sunday night we spent at Kim's friend Kim's house with her extended family for a labor day cookout. Groaning tables filled with great food, much brought by the nice neighbors we met, and we brought Kim's delicious pea salad (recipe below) and we played a game of "cornhole" after. Cornhole is taking  turns tossing bags of of corn at wooden platforms with a hole cut in them. 3 points if you get the bag  in the hole, 1 point for on the platform, and 0 points for where mine landed. It's a Wisconsin game. I'll have to learn more about Wisconsin. It was all a great time.

Pea Salad

2 cans peas. They have to be canned peas. I'm not sure why yet.
2/3 cups finely diced red onion
2/3 cups finely diced English cucumber
salt
pepper
3tablespoons mayonaisse

Mix it all up. Use home made mayonaisse if you can.

Cool everything in the refridgerator before you prep and assemble so that you can serve it as soon as you mix everything. The longer this salad sits, the more liquid leaches out from the onion and cucumber into the mayonaisse making it a bit soupy. Serve it quick!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Self Defense

I open carry my Glock 26 9mm pistol most of the time I am at home. I sometimes conceal carry it with the 10 round magazine, depending on the circumstance, but it's a little slower to get it up and ready to shoot that way. The Serpa retention holster is the best way I've found to keep the weapon ready.

Serpa Retention Holster with the Glock 26. This picture shows the G19 15 round magazine with the A&G extender, a 5 round increase over the stock 10 round G26 magazine. Carrying like this, there's no advantage to giving up the extra 5 rounds.

What I love about this holster is that it works well in a forward position, and also in the FBI kidney position. The big thing about the Serpa is that it enforces trigger finger discipline. To draw the weapon, you have to depress the release and when you unholster the weapon, your trigger finger is ALWAYS where it belongs, off the trigger.

Drawing from the Serpa. See the trigger finger extended and off the trigger.

Trigger finger exactly where it belongs until I decide to shoot.

The whole point with these equipment choices for me is to maximize safety and effectiveness. I need to be able to use the Glock easily and safely when I need it, and this Serpa holster helps a lot with that.



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On Leadership, and Ted

Ted Kennedy's death on Tuesday was not something I wanted to write about (see my blog entry on the man, I didn't write much.), but snarky crap I've read elsewhere, written by people who met the man on occasion, inspired me to write about Ted Kennedy. You'd think a good education would include the advice "if you can't say something nice about someone shut up, especially if they died yesterday". I guess my friend who met Ted missed that day at school.

I admired Ted Kennedy. He was a classic leader.

The only thing one can lead is people. Join the military if that statement confounds you. I did. The military will explain leadership to you clearly. It is people that you lead, in the military or anywhere else.

You can run a corporation, but that's not leadership (although you might lead while running that corporation). You can do many things that are important, but that are not leading - you can manage an enterprise, influence legislation, do complicated surgery, invest in real estate, manage securities for a bank, create new ways to exploit credit card holders, or worse, but none of that is leadership.

Leadership requires that you influence other people's behaviors in a positive way. We could argue about what positive might be, but let's give that a pass.

People follow leaders by choice. That's the trouble, if you can't inspire by your deeds, and less, by your words, you can't lead. People will follow you because they see you doing good, and doing good well.

You don't have to be perfect to lead, and that's good, because none of us are perfect.

If you are not a leader, or are the snarky jerk I mentioned  above, this all might mean nothing to you.

So to Ted  Kennedy. Brilliant leader, flawed human being, like us all. Simply put, he worked to make life better for ordinary people, and he succeeded in a dysfunctional environment, by leading.

Why a brilliant leader? His colleages in the Senate chose to follow him. Why? I suspect because they saw him working hard, knowing the issues, and most importantly, compromising with, and respecting them.

He worked in an era of government that is gone - there's no more compromising in the legislature, because there are no more leaders. It's the end of effective government on the legislative side.

RIP Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy sailing his Concordia Schooner 'MYA'

Goodbye to a great man.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Two Best Days

Boat owners know that the two best days of their boat owning experience are the day they bought their boat, and the day they sold it. If you have owned a boat big enough to sleep comfortably aboard, you know that there are a lot of reasons for this, and that one of them is what I call Boat Units of Currency (BUCs). A BUC is a one hundred dollar bill. Anything you need for your boat, goods or services, will cost you at least one BUC. It's true. Often, it's many BUCs. If you have unlimited money to throw in a hole in the water then I suppose it's not an issue.

Having just quit my job as a car salesman, I can say that a job is just like a boat - the best two days are first and the last.

Onward.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Observations on the Car Sales World

I've bought cars from dealers, and now I'm selling them at a dealer. My friend Doug was curious about what it's like selling cars. Here's what I've learned.

People pay a little more for cars than I think they might have to. Strong negotiators can win, though. We salespeople want to sell you the car NOW, because we know that if you go away to think about the deal there is only a small likelihood you will return later and purchase the vehicle, so if you push back on price we will try to lower it, to a point. Remember, it has to be advantageous for both sides of any deal, so there is level below which a dealer won't go and will let you walk away.

It's like being in combat being a car salesman. Long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. It isn't terror though, it's the occasional customer, or "up" as we call them. You go out and wait on them, try to learn who they are and what they want or need. In the software development world, it's analogous to the Initial Requirements Discovery and Specification phase of that process, only it's about a car instead of business processes and software.

People will lay down on price. We salespeople are good at convincing them that the price is right. At my dealership, the prices actually are about right. I had no idea, and this was the most surprising thing I've seen.

Your credit score matters. How you look matters. Sales guys look at you carefully, and they look at whether you drive up in a shitbox or not. Successful salespeople won't take "ups", or at least not ones that look like they have crappy credit. Look bad, get bad or no service or be relegated to a newbie salesperson like me - I take any and everybody.

The simple sales process they taught me is just a guy trying to get you to like and trust him, believe that the dealership will treat him well, and lastly buy into the vehicle. The really good salespeople go way beyond that and make a plan for you (and they do it quick) that synthesizes who you seem to be with different specific transitional selling techniques they have, like moving you from looking at a new car to a late model used car to pump you up on price. And they are very good at it. More power to them.

At the end of the day, cars get sold at reasonable prices, at least in my experience at my dealership. It's a lot fairer than I thought.

That's what I know about the car business so far.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Wire Tourism

Bodie Broadus's Corner

Like many other people, I'm a huge fan of The Wire. The show, even though it's much more than a show, was filmed in Baltimore. While I was repossessing vehicles, I spent a lot of time in the city. At some point, I started trying to find the filming locations I was seeing in The Wire. Some were easy to find, many were difficult.

I photographed and documented as many locations as I could find. One of the confusing problems was that much of the first season was filmed at locations on the east side, even though the story was about west side drug dealers. Many locations on the east side were in neighborhoods with a lot of drug dealing going on.

I've often wondered if there would be customers for a tour of Baltimore visiting Wire locations. I know there is interest out there, and maybe fans of the show from out of town would pay to take a tour.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I'm Selling Cars

I took a job with Heritage Auto Group. They are the tenth largest group in the US, with sixty-five dealerships. They dominate the mid-Atlantic region, and they are big enough to understand and implement some best practices. Example: I went through a week of sales training, which no other dealership I interviewed at offers. The small ones just throw you out there, sink or swim.

If I sell the cars at the rate that I should, I'll make about the same money I was making as a SQL Server database analyst, and that's amazing to me. Also, I won't be sitting in a cubicle wrangling data with no human interaction all day long, which I hate. So far, I've sold one car in two days at work, statistically invalid. I need to do a little better than that, three cars a week, but I'm just starting.

Here's what I've learned so far:

My colleagues, the other sales people, are universally nice folks. They are helpful, smart, have good senses of humor, and are good listeners, all qualities that I think make good sales people. People buy from people they like, and these are likable people.

The sales people don't lie to the customers, or mislead them.

Only two of the sales people wear glasses, even though some are older than me. Odd.

The sales managers (the guys who set and negotiate price, among other things) are smart too. They are also hard-hearted men.

Most people are not "car people". They just want to get from place to place in a vehicle they really don't care much about. Car buying for them is a chore.

People don't like car salesmen, but our mission is to get them to like us. If the customer doesn't come to like you, no sale. There is no real product differentiation between Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, etc. and preferences for one brand over another are essentially fetishes. The customer buys the sales person, then the car.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Equipment Review Panasonic DMC-FX01

I've used a lot of point and shoot cameras over the years, and I'm always looking for a point and shoot, small camera with a great lens and decent control, i.e. manual mode or at least aperture control. I've also used some higher end camera bodies and some good lenses. What I've carried for the past few years in a Panasonic DMC-FX01, and I really like it.

Back in the film days, I had a lot of point and shoot cameras, the two best being a Yashica T4 and a Ricoh Gr1 (here's a good comparison of the two on photo.net) and I loved them both, but the Gr1 was a better camera, albeit for much more money. The T4 had a brilliant lens for little money, but allowed the photographer no control. The Gr1 a brilliant lens at a better focal lenth, 28mm, and manual control, for a lot of money. I made some good negatives with both.

That's the past, and there are a lot of great digital cameras out there now. The Panasonic DMC-FX01, despite having no manual control, just keeps taking great pictures for me. As with all cameras in this class, indoor photography using flash sucks, so I have another camera for that, but for a carry around, have with you all the time, get the shot camera, this thing is very good. Anyone can make good pictures with a camera like this.

Just use it right. For me that means:

Flash off indoors, mostly. Find a way to stabilize the camera. This was taken with no flash at around 1/4 of a second. I like this picture. I stabilized the camera on the table and used the self timer.














Hand held self portrait. This again with the DMC-FX01. Not bad for a hand held self portrait. We're outside, so flash is on. This photo is overexposed by about 1/2 a stop, but it's OK other than that. No one asked you about the goggles or the helmet.


















Here I'm just banging away, and accepting the camera's exposure. It's fine, a decent compromise that works for the subject matter. Again, this is just amateur documentary photography and a photo like this works just fine for me.

If you are like me and you want a camera you can carry nearly all the time, but you want good results, the DMC-FX01 or something like it is wonderful. There are great posh point and shoots that offer more control if you want to spend a lot more money. But my point is that if you think even a little bit about how to use your cheaper point and shoot camera, you can get good results. You don't need an expensive rig to make some fine, useable photos.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Eggs

Sometimes you want eggs for dinner.

I remember when I was a boy struggling at St. George's school in Newport, RI my dad would come out from the cape and take me to lunch. We often went to the Black Pearl and it was always great.

Once, we had our Sunday lunch at a French place in town called La Petite Auberge. Typical French fare and they had eggs benedict, which I ordered. Dad ordered it too, and it was good.

I make eggs benedict sometimes, and poach the eggs in my brilliant Williams Sonoma egg poacher, but it's a pain in the ass, and sometimes more than I want to do. So how about eggs on corned beef hash? It was a staple on my boat in my cruising days, and it's easy and good.

I cook the hash (Hormel, never Libby's which is awful) the way Julia Child says to, so it forms a nice crisp crust. Flip it however you can, like a pancake, and do the other side. Reserve.

You can fry the eggs, but I poach them at low heat in vegetable oil. I get perfect whites and perfectly raw yolks. It's the yolks mixing with the hash that makes this dish a good thing.

I did mention that this blog can have a bit of a mundane bent.

Eggs, poaching gently in oil

What about the eggs benedict? Simple. I do it this way:

  • Perfectly poached eggs ( I use the Williams-Sonoma poacher for this dish)
  • White toast
  • Perfect Hollandaise Sauce. Recipes are everywhere, and it's simple to make.
  • Smoked Salmon
Assemble as usual substituting the toast (cut off the crust) for the traditional english muffins, and the salmon for the canadian bacon. It's a much more elegant eggs benedict.

First, Do No Harm

Primum non nocere is Latin for "First, do no harm". It's part of the Hippocratic Oath, which all doctors in the USA swear.

Clearly, the Republicans don't swear an oath like that one. There are 48 million or so Americans without health insurance, and the Republicans remain the bought and paid for party, or, as they put it, the party of business. They and their surrogates are doing everything they can to make sure that there will never be any competition for their real constituency, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries (and the rest of corporate America), and that those 48 million people will remain uninsured. All that while the corporate gatekeepers to our medical care work hard to deny treatment to you and me.

The insurance companies claim to add all manner of value to the delivery of health care to justify their profits (up over 400% over the past 5 years). OK, prove it. Let's have a public option and we'll see just how much real and perceived value they do add when people have a choice. The reason the insurance industry is fighting this is because they already know what the outcome will be - mass defection of their "customers" to the government run plan.

We all know these insurance companies don't have our best interests at heart - they can't, because they are legally obligated to their shareholders above all else.


So the Republicans line up, lie to us, and worse.

Their strategy is to spread fear, as usual. Their tactics are more despicable than usual. This time it's just plain shouting down any reasoned debate or refusing to join a real discussion.

We've entered into a new era in America - the era of attempted mob rule by an increasingly marginalized party of the fringe. Our very own Taliban, the Republicans.

(Note: I wrote this back in August 09 but did not post it because of my work situation, which thankfully is over now)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Police Interceptor?

This is the problem with photography at 70 miles per hour, kind of like the "spray and pray" technique of gunfighting, a style I ascribe to.

I do like this photo, as accidental as it is. It juxtaposes the tiny, charming and completely functional Miata cockpit with a giant car from yesteryear. Henri Cartier-Bresson, a great photographer, might have looked at this photo for a second or two. Like Henri was famous for, I didn't crop or edit this image, it's what got shot..

Don't know yet what this car is, but there is a spotlight on the drivers side A pillar. Some kind of police car?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Baltimore Criminals are Dolts

I've blogged on a possible solution to the drug wars in Baltimore. This recent episode where eighteen people were shot is a whole new outrage, and it's completely over the top.
 
When I wrote about how the Mafia running crime in Baltimore might be a better thing than the mess we have now, I hadn't seen anything like this. Civilians, women and children shot in an attempt to kill one guy, ostensive leader of one of the two warring gangs. This war is unique because the West side is beefing with the East side. We all know who the families are.

There is an important point to consider here. Many people don't care what the body count in Baltimore is. That's because the people getting killed are involved in the drug trade, and so who cares if they get shot? One can make this argument, and many would. But what about the friends and relatives of the drug dealers? Are they fair game? To at least one of the warring drug families, the answer is clearly yes.

Have we ever seen the Mafia do a hit like this, shooting civilians? Not to my knowledge. They kill soldiers and bosses when they shoot. Not children, not non-combatant women.

Baltimore, your organized criminals are third-rate chumps. Shooting civilians? Please. Is this is an expansion of the war, taking it to the non-drug trade people. I hope not.

Doesn't ANY responsible, competent criminal organization want this business? Hell, at this point I'd take Hamas. They're decent smugglers and at least they know how to sell stolen cigarettes. I'm sure they could rise to the occasion and do at least as good a job of retailing heroin, with much less shooting, than these hyper-violent idiots we're stuck with.

Ultimately, to stop this stupid violence, heroin and other drugs must be legalized, taxed, and regulated, just like liquor. Are there any gang liquor wars now? Of course not. What woud be the point?

Trabant


Trabant being trailered in Hunt Valley.

I wonder if most Trabants get from place to place on trailers...
Posted by Picasa

Ford Roadster

Got these pictures of what I think is a 1930's (1932?) era Ford Roadster on 695 near Greenspring Ave. Clyde Barrow wrote to Henry Ford about the Ford V8 that was in this car and the larger sedan. Barrow had a pretty good sense of humor and irony (...when I could get away with one...freedom from trouble...).

Tulsa, Okla
10th April
Mr. Henry Ford
Detroit Mich.
Dear Sir: --
 
    While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen't been strickly legal it don't hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8 --
Yours truly
Clyde Champion Barrow






























You can see my Miata reflected in his pristine paint.


Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 25, 2009

More Miatas Like Mine

Each year between 1994 and 1997, Mazda created a special, or "M", edition of the Miata, the best selling sports car in history.
My 1995 M Edition in Merlot Mica paint in a light snow. There were 3,000 of these made.

I traveled to Houston, TX to get this one. It's my easy project car. To be made perfect, it needs a new top, the wheels refinished, and some paint. A new engine is in the future, but this one pulls like new at 200,000 miles so no rush there. It's a perfectly functional and fun daily driver right now.

I'm driving along on the Baltimore Beltway today and spot another 95 M just like mine. Remarkable in itself to see one, but he waves enthusiastically and follows me off the highway, so I stop in a gas station, and he follows me in. He's Lenny, and we have a nice chat about how great these Miatas are, check out each other cars, and I make a new friend.

13 years ago when I had my first Miata, nearly every Miata driver would give a friendly wave as we went by each other. We were all so jazzed about having this great little car. Now they are so mainstream, especially the NC's, that instead of them mostly being owned by enthusiasts, they seem to be owned by regular folks who can't fathom why someone is waving at them from the same car they are driving. I guess it's the price of success.

It was nice to meet Lenny today.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Let's Indite Cheney and His Henchmen

Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States August 8, 1974. He resigned because he tried to use the CIA to stop the FBI from investigating the illegal activities he put into motion known collectively as the Watergate Scandal. It turns out it's illegal to try to use the CIA to obstruct justice, and he was about to be impeached for breaking the law.

It looks like it's also illegal for a sitting vice president to order the CIA not to brief congress about a major intelligence program, whether it's been operationalized or not. Dick Cheney ordered the CIA not to brief congress on at least one of these programs. He broke the law.

War making, the decision to go to war, fabricating and manipulating intelligence, along with the manipulation of public opinion, and ordering torture all look to have been Cheney's responsibility. Forming his own analytic group within DIA to fabricate intelligence, co-opting George Tenet, waterboarding people to try to get them to admit to weapons of mass destruction being produced in Iraq, abandoning diplomacy at every chance in favor of force, tricking or coercing Colin Powell into lying to the UN about Iraq (how Cheney did that remains a mystery), the Pflame/Wilson smear, marginalizing Congress, Good Lord, is there anything the man has done in office that is not illegal, underhanded, ungentlemanly, misguided, weak-minded or wrong?

Let's indite Cheney and the lawyers that wrote the "tortured", torture is OK memos, starting with Addington and Yoo.

Uh-oh, there are un-American views being touted. Shout them down!

We're number one! We're number one!

We chant it, but we're not number one. It's true we pissed away trillions of dollars on a misguided war with Iraq. But fifty million uninsured souls and a corrupt government, hijacked by a paranoid vice president hiding at an undisclosed location don't make for number one, it's "number two".

If I wanted a government with unbridled executive power I could live in North Korea. Too bad Cheney couldn't figure out how to deal with them. Nuclear weapons are real  weapons of mass destruction. North Korea has them, Iraq never did, but Cheney/Bush never did a thing about that except the wrong thing, which was invading Iraq. I guess negotiating or dealing with clever Koreans was too hard for them.

Today, 25% of Americans identify themselves as Republicans, and that number is trending down. Goodbye neocon morons. Can we get some ordinary decent Republican criminals like Nixon in your stead? At least Nixon was smart enough to hire Henry Kissinger, bail from Vietnam, go to China, and make detente with the Soviets.

You neocon dolts were just crude criminals.

Merlot Rolls Royce

We had a showing today, so I tidied up the house and vacated as usual. Went down to the local Barnes and Noble to kill an hour and found this.

It's a merlot colored Rolls Royce. I don't know which Rolls it is, I'm not up on old Rolls Royces. Parked my merlot Miata next to it and shot this.

If I had time, I might have photoshopped in some white chevrons on the Rolls.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 06, 2009

Todays Activities

No time for deep thinking or writing today. Gotta sell this house. So today I:

Ran a bunch of stuff to Goodwill.

Photographed the entire house for the listing (photos here, I'll leave it to the realtor to pick the ones she likes).

General house prep for sale.

Good luck to us.

Buy our house.



Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 04, 2009

House on the Market

The sign guy came by this morning, so we are on the market, for the second time.















I powerwashed the deck, and it looks brand new. Dining room is painted and we just have to run a couple of boxes to Goodwill and put some stuff away and we are ready to show.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Score: Bob 2, Crickets 0

If you shoot crickets today, you'll shoot people tomorrow.
--Kim


Crickets or people, yes, if they invade my home.
--Bob


One shot kill with the Umarex. These crickets are sturdy.
This one is pretty much intact, but he is dead
and his right leg is off.


My wiley scout Kim spied this one in the southeast corner of the living room. I got him with one shot from the usual five feet away. Ex-cricket.

Kim scouts pretty well, but she's not down with the cricket eradication program.
Posted by Picasa

Baltimore, Leaderless; The Mafia Could Run Things

We're leaderless in Baltimore City. I'm not talking about political leadership, Baltimore has plenty of that, and they do a pretty good job. That includes the police - I think the Baltimore City Police do a very good job, and in a city with our murder rate, the police are a component of the political dynamic.

Compare Baltimore to Boston. In 2008 there were 282 homicides in Baltimore, and 63 in Boston. The insufferable Boston sports fans and their awful grating accent aside, Boston is the more livable city. Why is that? It's not Boston's crappy weather, nor is it their people. The difference is that Boston has Luigi Mannochio.

Mannochio runs the Patriarcha crime family, part of the Mafia. He lives in Providence, RI, but Boston organized crime traditionally has been managed from Providence.

Wikipedia says this about him:

Manocchio was promoted to boss of the Patriarca family following the imprisonment of many of the organization's other leaders. He has been described as a "shrewd, opportunistic old-school leader who excels at keeping a low profile" and is considered "tough and capable, and is well respected among the New York Crime Families."


Put simply, the man provides competent, adult leadership to the organized criminals in Boston and the rest of New England. And that's the difference between Boston and Baltimore.

In Baltimore, our organized criminal element is made up of many small crews that operate on one street or one housing complex. Some are larger. But there are far too many crews, and they are constantly struggling against other similar crews, fighting over control of drug corners. They shoot each other, several hundred times a year. Worse, they often murder witnesses to their murders of rival drug dealers. These gangs are virtually all run by children, by which I mean boys in their early 20's.

Bodie Broadus' corner where he dealt drugs and was killed.

The Black Gorilla Family (BGF) is the only organized gang I've seen that has grown men (men in their 40's and 50's) in leadership positions. One could hope that they could take over drug dealing across the entire city and reduce the violence to Boston-like levels. But Rod Rosenstein, our very competent and perfectly educated United States Attorney who does his job very well, recently hammered BGF with a very damaging indictment, and I imagine they may well be finished in the near term. So we go back to business as usual.

Bodie's corner.

Why don't we negotiate with the Mafia about managing things in Baltimore?

Let's invite them to come to Baltimore, and organize the city.  My suggestion would be to make three territories: west side (including Park Heights/Pimlico), east side, and southern, with southern additionally having control of Annapolis.

As in other Mafia run cities, no violence would be tolerated without approval from the bosses, and the bosses would collaborate on that approval. After some initial pushback from the little child gangs we have now, we'd be down to less than 100 murders the first year, and less after that.

We need some pragmatism here. The Mafia understand that violence and murder bring police attention, and that's why they survive today - they keep the violence level down, the people don't complain, and the Mafia do their business mostly unmolested by police. This is a lesson our Baltimore criminals can't seem to learn. If you stop shooting each other, the police will leave you alone.

Whether they know it or not, Americans expect their crime to be properly managed, and Baltimoreans deserve no less. Let's get with the program. If we can give tax credits to businesses that treat their employees like crap to stay in the city of Baltimore, certainly we can bring in a competent organization like the Mafia and incentivize them to manage crime, reduce murders, and improve quality of life in the city. The Mafia are no worse, and arguably better, than the corporations Baltimore courts.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hunting Tiny Pests Update

Just one day after the awful camelback cricket at dawn incident, and one of the terrible creatures appears around midnight in the living room. I heard him, of all things, and went over to the stairs to investigate. There he was, next to the piano just standing there being a loathsome cricket-spider.

The plan and the tool work. I double tapped him with the Umarex pellet pistol. Wounded, he fled under the piano. Should have got him with the first two shots. but at least I hit him. Nailed him under the piano with a third shot a few seconds later. Ex-cricket.

Instead of a twenty minute misadventure trying to swat him while he repeatedly leaps out of the way, and ultimately gets away (the usual outcome), I just picked up his corpse with a paper towel, and off to cricket Heaven he went.

No drama, no damage to the house. A 30 second evolution and it's done. I even recovered the pellets so they're not laying around. They do bounce around a bit, though. No real telling where they will end up.

The Umarex rocks. The cricket is gone, my back doesn't hurt, I don't have cricket on me, and I get some target practice, albeit at close range. But they are tiny so it's like hitting a real target at 21 feet. It takes the same concentration.

God help any human home invaders. It won't be the Umarex for them.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hunting Tiny Pests

Woke to screams from Kim at 5.45AM. One of these awful things was standing on her arm. She jumped on me, it jumped under the bed.
It's a camelback cricket, part cricket, part spider. They come up from under the house once in a while if it gets cool at night. They're coming up too frequently lately.

It took me a good while to kill the vile beast. They are good at evading, jumping erratically when you get within five feet or so of them. They have a big hop. Eventually I got him and we were able to go back to bed. But it took way more effort than it should have, so I got one of these today.




It's an Umarex Co2 powered soft air pistol that fires 6mm BBs at 300 feet per second. These crickets just stand still until you get to within about 5 feet of them, so I've been shooting this at that range and it is amazingly accurate for a smooth bore pistol. I can get pretty consistent double taps within an inch of the point of aim (there is no recoil so it's easy).

It's cricket season, but we need to attack them with chemicals as well to get rid of them for good..

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Today's Activities

While there's a lot going on in the world that I might have a word about later, I don't have that word today. I was busy. Here's what today held for me:

Visit with Annabelle. Always a huge pleasure, and her foot is better. Small mercies. We had lunch.

Friendly dispute with the carpet vendor about the new rug for the dining room. We need it to stage the house so it sells this summer. They couldn't bring up the price I had online on their computer. Taught them about cached web pages and there it was; all was well.

Technical discussion with the butcher about the last top sirloin, which was too tough. Bought another, had it for dinner, saved half of it to go cold over a big salad in a day or so, and it was perfect.

Cooler shopping for the miata. Need a way to keep a cool drink cool for more than five minutes with the top down in this hot weather, but it needs to be small and safely accessible while driving.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Food for Miles

Working at home, I can watch TV sometimes, and for a while I watched Mario Batali mid-morning. He showed us all kinds of simple, regional Italian food, and taught that Italian food is all about the ingredients and nothing about technique. That's good news for me, because I am not interested in a brunoise no matter how much I like Julia Child (I do, a lot). I'm fast with a chef's knife, with rustic results.

Here's one my son Miles likes.

Campanelle with Sausage Ragu

large yellow onion
olive oil
white wine
tomato paste
sweet italian sausage
fresh parsley
campenelle, 1 lb
milk, 2 cups
parmesano-reggiano cheese

Slice the onion. Season with salt and pepper. Saute over low heat in some olive oil until it is dark and has the consistancey of marmelade.

Reserve onion.

Remove sausage from casings and saute until well browned. Add reserved onion. Add 2 cups white wine. Reduce wine until it's nearly gone.

Add 1 teaspoon tomato paste and saute until cooked.

Add a cup or two of milk. Reduce, while grating in as much of the parmesano-reggiano as seems reasonable until it is a nice ragu.

Season with salt and pepper now.

Add the properly cooked campanelle to the ragu, mix it up, and serve. Grate more parmesano-reggiano over each plate and sprinkle some chopped parsley on as well.

It's simple and really good.

Tornados, Waterspouts. What's Next?

We had two tornadoes and a waterspout here in the Baltimore area on Saturday. This is pretty unusual weather for us and everyone was surprised.

The most relentless writer about weather I know is Garrison Keillor, and I admire his work. He often writes about the winters in Minnesota, where winter is apparently a serious thing. His Prairie Home Companion radio show became a favorite of mine when I started listening to it and learning about Minnesota winters while driving my first Miata on back roads on Sunday mornings for the fun of it in the fall of 1997, the beginning of what's turning into a life-long love affair with driving a sporty little car on challenging roads.

It's hard to write, and I think a short story is a particularly difficult thing. If you're Melville writing Moby Dick, and you hit a stretch where you don't have much creativity flowing, you can work instead on all the pages of technical stuff about whaling, and hope you get through the wall in a week or so and then get back to writing the story of Ishmael and the Pequod. But if you were me, a high school freshman in 1972 who had to produce a short story every damned week for freshman English, it's rough sledding on Sunday night. Every Sunday night.

But Garrison Keillor writes at least one short story every week, on deadline, and he reads it on his show as "The News From Lake Woebegone". Most weeks it's a truly good short story, other weeks not so good. But he writes it every week without fail and out it goes, and to my mind that is an heroic writing effort.

As bad as it is for us to have tornadoes in Maryland, I wonder about the people like Kim's sister Carol, who deals with the weather in Topeka. I imagine her battling tornadoes every day while still doing her good works.



Me, on my slow moving sailboat, circa 1992. Photo by Doug Lucy.

But tornadoes are more than we are ready for here. And I get a sick feeling thinking about being out on a slow moving sailboat in the path of a waterspout, which is just a tornado over water. This one came out of the Back River area, crossed the bay, and ran out of steam in the Chester River. That's a busy part of the bay for recreational boaters.

But at the end of it all, we can learn from the tornadoes. Terrible things can happen to people, and those things do happen. A a bad person, a car wreck, a tornado can come, and that's it. You're gone. It could happen anytime, and  it's probably a good idea to try to live enough in the moment that it's not too big a deal if it does.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Photography



The church at Pingveller, Iceland

A lot of of the attraction of writing a blog is being able to easily include my photography. I only put my photos on my blog (with one exception). Despite a stint as a professional photographer I don't consider my self a real pro by a long shot. Taking properly exposed photographs is easy, but thinking behind the lens is harder.  I worked in a niche, photographing residential properties for sale, and it was formulaic and the real work was promoting the business. If the real estate market hadn't collapsed, I'd probably still be at it.

So, I'm an amateur photographer at best, and most of my photos are documentary rather than some sort of art.

A while back Bob Richardson bought my uncle Bob Emmons house on Toby Island in Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod. He and my dad and stepmother became friends after that, so I would see Bob once in a while when I visited the cape. He's a great guy.

Bob was director of photography on a bunch of amazing movies where the cinematography is really spectacular and well done. Kill Bill, The Aviator, Snow Falling on Cedars, Nixon, and Natural Born Killers are some of the movies that I think Bob filmed with unbelievable innovation, vision and skill. There are a lot more. I'm a huge fan of his work.

A few years ago, I took an early spring trip to Iceland and took a lot of photos. When I visited my dad shortly after that and showed him my Iceland photos, he insisted we go over to see Bob and show them to him.

Bob took a look and said they were "pretty good".

Kind words, from a man who knows better.

Here's a picture Bob took of me during a family reunion. I think it's pretty good.