Thursday, July 31, 2008

Responsibilities and territories

Responsibilities in life can sometimes extend long past what you expect. Take the example of my frog.

It all started when we bought Alex an African tadpole in about 1986. In the course of events the tadpole morphed into a frog and we put it into a former terrarium bowl filled halfway with water. At that time we thought it would appreciate a dry spot to sit on so we also put a few rocks into the bowl with one of them extending above the surface of the water. Somewhere in there we also decided that he would like some company in his bowl so Alex caught a tadpole about his size from our pond and put him in the bowl. Big mistake. He tolerated the tadpole for a couple of days and then ate half of him in one night and the other half the next day. Amazingly he didn't seem any bigger after eating that tadpole than before. So we bought a couple of large snails at the pet store figuring that their shells would protect them. Another mistake, the vicious little beast managed to pry the snails off the glass of the bowl and he ate them too.

After that we left him in solitary confinement which seemed to suit him until one day we found the piece of window screen covering the bowl knocked off and the frog gone. I figured we would eventually find his mummified body somewhere behind the furniture but a couple of evenings later I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye and eventually recaptured the thing after it had done several impressive broad jumps around the living room. He must have been quietly doing isometrics in his little tank in preparation for his escape because his jumps were about six feet long and about three feet high, pretty amazing since he's only about three inches long.

Meanwhile Alex also morphed, first into a high schooler and then into a college student living away from home, so I ended up as the frog's only protector and caretaker in a home where the other adult sometimes talked of putting him out on the ice in the winter. . .

So here I am, still caring for a twenty year old frog that was supposed to have a life span of a few years. But there have been compensations for my effort for efforts. For one thing the frog is a nearly perfect pet. He lives a quiet contemplative life in his bowl for days at a time unless I get forgetful of him for too long, in which case he splashes and jumps around when he sees me walking past to remind me to feed him. I choose to believe that he's appreciative when I give him a couple of pellets at such times, especially on those occasions when I can tempt him to take a pellet directly from between my fingers. Part of me suspects that he's actually trying to eat my fingers when he gums them and that he would happily eat me if he could somehow drag me into the tank, but who can say what's going on in the mind of a frog.

Another compensation for caring for the frog is that I've attained a small measure of immortality due to something I noticed in 2006 on Wikipedia when I was trying to identify exactly what kind of frog he is. I learned that in the hood he's an "African Clawed Frog" but in polite company he's more properly addressed as a Xenopus Laevis.

But I also discovered that Wikipedia falsely thought he should have long been dead because it said that his lifespan is only a few years.

So I corrected the Wikipedia article by adding an entry about "Xenopus as a Pet" and found that some wikipedians are as combative as my frog. A couple of them leaped at and dismembered my new entry the way my frog dismembered that tadpole. I put it back with a couple of more or less respectful comments about their ancestry and anti-scientific attitudes, and they promptly took it down again. So I waited a few months, as patiently as my frog, and put it back up on the site again, this time with some fake links to nonexistent sources which apparently confused them for a while because it lasted a few weeks before they took it down again. As I write this wikipedia lacks the full fruit of my wisdom, but I've won to a certain extent. The "Xenopus" entry now recognizes that the frog is sometimes kept as a pet, except when it escapes in a place with a climate like San Francisco where it is busily eating all the laid back California frogs it can get its claws on. And the "African Clawed Frog" entry recognizes that the little devils can live for up to thirty years.

For now both I and my frog will accept those concessions. But I'll be back at Wikipedia to fight again once my frog passes thirty years old in 2016.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Now I'm more of a skeptic again about global warming

This graph at the website below shows what the big kahuna of the global warming movement predicted in 1988 versus what has actually happened since 1988.

The predictions that Dr. James Hansen published in 1988 are the orange and yellow lines in the graph. Dr. Hansen is the favorite climate scientist that all the global warming folks like Al Gore talk about when they want to say they have scientific proof for their beliefs.

The blue jagged line with dots are the actual temperatures measured since 1900. It's apparent that the temperatures since 1988 have not followed the predictions made by Dr. Hansen.

Since he was wrong then it seems pretty foolish to spend big money based on what he says now. And don't kid yourself, the global warming folks are talking about things that are going to cost us and our kids really big money - trillions and trillions of dollars. They're wanting to hide the money in complicated regulations, but it's still our money that will be spent.

It may very well be a good idea to do research on and develop ways to generate more electricity from nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, etc. But from what I've seen the evidence thus far of global warming is not a good argument for not doing anything panicky and foolish.

Baseball bat stew

Anyone who has grown more than a couple of zucchini plants knows that the squashes can grow surprisingly fast after a rain, and that some of them are extraordinarily clever at camouflage. As a result it's a rare year when you don't have to harvest at least a couple of two foot long six inch in diameter monsters. Most folks throw these on the mulch heap, and I usually do that too, but I've always hated doing that, which is why I invented baseball bat stew, not that I've ever called it that before.

Mom used to very occasionally make a somewhat similar stew but she used little meatballs that she would mix and painstakingly roll by hand, and she used regular sized zucchinis which meant she had to carefully gauge the cooking time or they would turn to mush. She also used to core out peeled medium sized zucchinis, stuff them with meatball mixture, brown them a little and then put them into her tomato gravy to cook, but she didn't do that often which makes me think Pop probably didn't like zucchinis.

My recipe is for the lazy cook - cutting up Italian sausage into small pieces is a lot easier than making little meatballs, especially if you put it into the freezer for an hour or two before cutting it. Also, a big old squash is not going to get mushy, or at least not too mushy, no matter how long you cook it. The squash will get mushy if you freeze the resulting stew, but I actually don't mind it that way so I freeze lunch sized portions for me to eat later.

About 90 minutes of preparation time
1 very large zucchini squash or 2 pretty large ones
2 pounds of hot Italian sausage (it also works reasonably well with sweet Italian sausage)
12 or so garden tomatoes or 2 sixteen ounce cans of chopped tomatoes
2 large onions
4 or 5 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil

Cut the Italian sausage into pieces about one inch long and put it in the pot with the olive oil on medium high to saute, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile chop the onions coarsely and slice each garlic clove a few times across. Also cut the ends off the squash, peel it, cut it in half and use a soup spoon to remove the seeds and pulp around them. Then cut up the squash into one inch cubes.

Throw the onions in the pot after the meat is reasonably browned and saute them a bit, then throw the squash cubes in and stir the whole mess around to coat the squash with oil as it also sautes a bit. Then dump in the peeled, seeded and roughly chopped garden tomatoes (or the cans of chopped tomatoes. Add a level teaspoon of salt. Put the top on the pot and boil it on medium low for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add a glass of water if it seems to be two dry after it has cooked for a half hour or so.

Having a sliced Corropolese seeded split loaf on hand is a good idea.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Here's your chance to be a genuine billionaire

Everybody complains about not having enough money. Here's an article that explains where you can pick up enough loot to become the first billionaire on your block. We should import a few trillion dollars and use them to buy back all of the government bonds the Chinese have been buying with the dollars we send them in exchange for happy meal toys and other necessities.

I finished "Streets of Laredo" the other day

I finished Streets of Laredo the other day and I even returned the book to Sam, although it was probably my book that he borrowed originally.

What a great read! Great enough so I've suspended my other scheduled reading and taken down Lonesome Dove for probably my third or fourth read. Comanche Moon will inevitably follow.

Larry McMurtry has a real knack for involving one with the characters in a story.

Uh,oh - a hummingbird just briefly visited our window feeder and contemptuously turned up his beak at the week old nectar in it. I need to get out there and clean it and the other feeders.

I'll have to wait until tomorrow to post the recipe for baseball bat stew.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mulberry season is over so now I can share this

A very long time ago in a place a few miles from here Aunt Nancy Luzi shared some knowledge with me that I've been mostly suppressing for lo these many years. But, now I've decided to come clean.

It was a pleasant early summer day, possibly a Memorial Day for Aunt Nancy, Uncle Pete, Camille, Johnny and Peter (this was before Laurie was born) usually came out to our parents house way out in the country a few times a summer. The Memorial Day picnic would have been a logical time for them to brave the long four mile trek from Norristown although it could have been any of the Sundays during mulberry season.

Ah, mulberry season, how can one pass on an appreciation of what that meant to kids back in the mid 1950's before sugar became the predominant source of calories in our diets. This was the era when something sweet was still a treat, the era when Sundays and especially holidays still had meaning for the good foods to be had on those days.

Anyway it was certainly mulberry season, for us kids had happily spent an hour or so gathering juicy ripe berries from the wild trees in our large quarter-acre yard and over in the trackless wastes of Harry Mandrachs enormous two acre back lot. Naturally we had eaten a lot of berries while we were picking, but each of us returned to the yard with a plastic cup or ricotta container more or less full of them. We were looking forward to eating the berries in the cups by handfuls, a whole different experience than eating them daintily one by one off the tree. But first, since we were within sight of the adults now, we rinsed them off with water generously laced with the refreshing taste of the polyvinyl chloride that leached from the hose.

But then Aunt Nancy, always a bit more fastidious than our parents, struck. And she struck hard. She pointed out that even after the berries were washed there were still little beige colored bugs darting back and forth from between the lobes of the berries.

The horror! Bugs! Exquisitely tiny bugs to be sure, but still, bugs on and in the berries, quite a generous number of bugs, at least several could be seen on each berry at any given time, and who knew how many others were hiding down in between the lobes. And they were there despite the fact that we had more or less avoided picking berries festooned with the white of bird droppings, and even after we had carefully washed the berries. God only knew how many of those little bugs were already swimming around in our stomachs. To eat the berries in the cups would only add more.

Well, suffice it to say, we couldn't eat the berries within sight of the adults after that. The more adventurous among us had to take those cups of berries all the way around the corner of the house to, uh, dispose of them by handfuls.

To this day I can't eat mulberries when I happen to pass under a loaded tree on my tractor without remembering that the bugs are there, even though it has been years since I've been able to see the tiny things without my drugstore glasses, one of the reasons I never wear those glasses when I'm out mowing or working in the woods in early summer.

I feel a lot better now that I've shared that with you. It was a lot easier to get that off my chest than it is to get mulberry juice stains out of a tee shirt when I forget to wear a maroon one.

Ouch! Being filmed signing a petition to ban water must hurt

I think Penn and Teller may be a bit less popular with environmentalists after folks see this video. It's 29 minutes long but there are a lot of hilarious parts. I liked the part where they got the passionate tree huggers at the rally to sign a petition to ban water by calling it dihydrogen monoxide and telling folks that it causes symptoms like sweating and frequent urination and is often released into reservoirs and lakes and streams by corporations. The sheer cluelessness of the spokesperson that the environmental group assigned to answer their questions is also a riot.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Civilization is a bit less secure this week

Both of my brothers are down in Florida so this is one of the unusual Saturday mornings on which the issues of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, the nation and the world are not getting their proper attention. For almost 20 years John and Sam have come over on at least 90% of Saturday mornings to complain that my coffee is too strong, and then join me in applying our collective wisdom to preserving civilization. Before we began gathering at my place we met in pop's kitchen for most of the 20 years before that.

Al Russo joined us regularly in the flesh for a couple of years until he moved to Florida, and he still joins us via cell phone on many if not most Saturdays. Dave Capone has occasionally joined us over the years to bring a more progressive opinion to the discussion, an opinion that was especially welcome for novelty back before John began his move over to the dark side. Matty Raimo, back before he sadly took his last flight into the wild, wild, blue this spring, would sometimes join us when he was in town to give us the airline pilots' union perspective. Other cousins - Charles Prince, Chubby Jackinski, Sonny Raimo, Bobby Russo - have made cameo appearances over the years, especially before Pop passed away, but I'm not sure any has repeated. Wives and female cousins have also occasionally sat in for as long as they could tolerate the atavistic opinions that pass between men who have known one another well since before the entire world became messed up.

Friday, July 25, 2008

He ventured forth to bring light to the world

If you know your bible at all you will enjoy this piece of satire from the London Times. If you don't know your bible well enough to enjoy it you need to begone from this site illiterate one.

It starts like this:

"And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.

The Child was blessed in looks and intellect. Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow."

Nothing else in it quite rises to the comic level of that last phrase in the second paragraph, but the rest has other funny spots. You can read the whole thing at

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Surprise! There is a yellow water lily blooming in the pond

Louise Venezia's husband gave me three water lily bulbs after he, Louise and I ate the excellent cheese steak he went out and got while we were planting flowers at Mom's and Grandmom's graves down at St. Patrick's cemetary earlier in the Spring. Louise had asked me to come over and help her to do the planting when we sat together at the service for Matty Raimo.

One of the bulbs apparently didn't survive the two moves I had to make of them as water levels in the pond have receeded with the drought, but the other two plants seem reasonably healthy. I didn't expect blooms this year, but there it is. It's one pathetic little flower but it's hopefully a sign that the lillies will survive and spread to take over the pond and displace or at least hold down the algae.

Meanwhile, today I'm agitated about the subject of nuclear waste. The whole controversy over nuclear waste makes me wonder whether we deserve to survive as a species. The Egyptians were able to build pyramids 5,000 years ago that have survived quite well. A couple of pyramids could hold all the nuclear waste we can conceivably generate in the next 1,000 years. And you could tuck a couple of pyramids into Death Valley in spots where only a supernaturally dedicated hiker could reach them, spots that would bother no one. Surround them with a ten foot fence patrolled by marines who have to go into the desert regularly to train anyway and they would be safe from anything short of an invasion by Martians.

As to worrying about primitive peoples breaking into them and burning their fingers in 100,000 years I can't understand the concern about stuff like that unless we're going to start fencing off volcanos and hot springs all over the world so primitive people don't fall into them in the event civilization collapses.

Update - maybe we do have to worry about an invasion by Martians. It turns out that a former astronaut believes NASA is covering up visits by aliens - see below from an Australian site

FORMER NASA astronaut and moon-walker Dr Edgar Mitchell - a veteran of the Apollo 14 mission - has stunningly claimed aliens exist.And he says extra-terrestrials have visited Earth on several occasions - but the alien contact has been repeatedly covered up by governments for six decades. Dr Mitchell, 77, said during a radio interview that sources at the space agency who had had contact with aliens described the beings as 'little people who look strange to us

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Having at it with folks at

Sometimes my judgement deserts me and I comment on other sites. Usually the results are not pretty but this discussion with what seem to be pretty knowledgeable people on was very productive. I've been becoming less of a skeptic about global warming for some time. The net of this discussion is that I think I've now moved all the way over subject to a review of the material on the "start here" page on

We need to do something serious about CO2 in the short to mid-term. Now the question becomes what to do and how fast.

The following discussion started with my reaction to a political post on which irritated me.

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 7:53 am
I thought science was supposed to be predictive. Hanson put out predictions of future temperatures. Unless I’m reading it wrong the temperatures have not followed his predictions for several years. I understand that the system is very complex and hence prediction is difficult, but why should I be willing to change my already relatively green lifestyle based on a predictive system that has failed?
And this notion of so called environmentalists living like pigs while buying indulgences in the form of carbon credits does not build confidence.
And T.Boone Pickens is a businessman ready to jump onto the environmental bandwagon for subsidies and special favors, just like those who jumped on environmentalism for ethanol subsidies, although I can’t help but like the man for answering honestly when asked why he doesn’t have windmills on his ranch. ‘They’re ugly,’ is basicly what he said.
And Phil Plait, I like your site for the astronomy but I think you’re acting more than a little like the Allah in the gristle folks on this topic.

MartinM Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 9:31 am
Unless I’m reading it wrong the temperatures have not followed his predictions for several years.
‘Several years’ is too short to establish meaningful trends. The observed long-term trends fit nicely with model predictions, however.

Mark Schaffer Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 9:35 am
Sully,I think you meant to type Dr. James Hansen rather than Hanson. What have you read about his predictions and where? Is the notion of “so called environmentalists living like pigs” true? How do you know this?

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 10:17 am
“Several years’ is too short to establish meaningful trends. The observed long-term trends fit nicely with model predictions, however.”
Was there a model before the “observed long term trends” that predicted them?
It’s been said that predictions, especially about the future, are hard. Back in a younger day I spent some time going back in the history of the stock market and discovering “models” that “predicted” some aspect of it. Since I’m not rich I have to assume that making models about complex systems to predict past events does not necessarily mean one can make a model that predicts future events.
As an aside I’ll mention that I’m not a total doubter just from the simple fact that we must at some point get big enough in our activities to have effect on the overall environment. I thought and said in the 1970’s that we should start a small tax on imported oil and increase that tax gradually and predictably every year until no more oil was imported. I think we should do the same thing now on all fossil fuels, but doing that cleanly and openly and gradually is a lot different from what I think we’re going to get out of the sausage factory down in Washington if we let this train run through that place at high speed.

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 10:55 am
Mark - thanks for the correction. I read the the Hansen stuff on a link from Climate Debate daily on the environmentalist side of the list. What struck me was that the answer to the question about why his predictions had not panned out was defensive and scornful of the doubters rather than honest and illuminating. When I commented (respectfully I thought) to that effect, my comment was censored as judgemental even though I was commenting on the judgementalism of the article and some of the comments.
As to living like pigs anyone who owns a home larger than about 1000 square feet per person in his family, or who uses, even one time, a private jet on a route served by a regular flight is a pig in my personal measuring system, and he or she is a hypocritical pig if he or she purports to be an “environmentalist.” Al Gore is the archetype. What really surprises me is that he’s so dumb as to provide his enemies with the easy ammunition his life style provides. Sort of like a fat doctor smoking and drinking while he tries to convince a patient to live healthy.

Mark Schaffer Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 11:18 am
Why would you consider Climate Debate authoritative on Hansen? Please post the link to the actual discussion you are referencing.What if the house is doubling as office with employees? Does this not alter your perception or are you immune to complexity on this? Since you are obviously referring to Al Gore have you read how he is offsetting his carbon energy use?Your analogy is really poor, or good depending on point of view. Since the health effects of being overweight, smoking, and, I assume you meant excessive, drinking are blindingly obvious, than it is irrelevant that the doctor is not practicing what he tells the patient. This is, as if I should have to point this out, because the health benefits still exist for losing weight, quiting smoking, and moderating or stopping all alcohol consumption. So your argument fails to convince as the evidence is that changing our carbon consumption habits will bring many benefits whether public speakers are perfect or not. QED.

Chip Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 11:30 am
Sully -Ha! Get real. You probably also believe Al Gore said he invented the internet and that the Nobel Prize he earned is worthless. At least those are the Limbaugh-Hannity inspired goofy talking points. Yet no mention of Republican supporter T. Boone Pickens having to give up his wealth and live in a house less than 1000 square feet in order to legitimately promote his energy independence plans? Give me a break. The truth is neither of them should and both of them support energy efficiency. Your arguments are made of straw. Have a nice day. For change try tuning in to Air America sometime.

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 11:52 am
Mark - Climate Debate links to sites arguing both sides - for the record I think the environmentalist side sites are generally more convincing than the doubter side sites, but I don’t keep a list of links, and, frankly, I’m not qualified to judge the more complex arguments.
However, I’ve read sites on both sides of the debate about the issue of Hansen’s predictions and their recent innacuracy. When a theory fails to predict I expect folks to at least be open to the possibility that the theory is flawed. Folks who merely cite dogma don’t impress me, and a lot of the environmentals seem to spout dogma.
As to “Since you are obviously referring to Al Gore have you read how he is offsetting his carbon energy use?”
Here’s another analogy for you. If a murderer feeds the poor and contributes to orphanages it doesn’t absolve him of murder. Generating CO2 is either bad or good. If it’s bad one shouldn’t capriciously generate it no matter how many trees one plants. Private jet travel capriciously and unnecessarily generates CO2, as does living in a 10,000 square foot house.
Good point about him possibly having staff in the house. If Gore has staff in the house and it’s his office he should publicize that but then I will want to know how much office and living space he rents or owns elsewhere for himself and his staff.
Subject to more info I have to assume that Al Gore wants to live like a king while he preaches like a prophet and pushes for laws to circumscribe the lives of others. He’s not the only one who wants to do that, but it still makes him a hypocrite. And, I saw the hockey stick graph he pointed to and later noted that it was statistically falsified. I don’t know he was aware that it was cooked up when he showed it, but. . . now I have to doubt his other “evidence” especially in light of the recent turnaround of the temperatures. Why I should have been surprised that a lifelong politician would play fast and loose with facts is another question.

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 12:05 pm
Chip,You apparently don’t read or analyze very well.
I mentioned T. Boone Pickens earlier and my comment wasn’t flattering although I gave him some credit for honesty.
Also, I never said that anyone has to live in 1000 square feet or give up his wealth as you allege. I said that anyone who poses as an environmentalist is a hypocritical pig if he flies in private jets or lives in more than 1000 square feet. There are excellent sources on logic and usage out there for you to study if you have trouble understanding the difference between the two concepts.

UPDATE (not posted on - 4:26 PM - it was hailing a few minutes ago here in Collegeville, and it's now raining cats and dogs. Well, it's not literally raining cats and dogs, but you get the idea. We need the rain.

Mark Schaffer Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 12:34 pm
Try this regarding Dr. Hansen’s original model:

Brant D Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 2:46 pm
Sully: Saying that the models are failing currently because of a temporary decrease in observed global average temperature is silly in the long term view. If you look at the GISS data that were presented earlier in this discussion, you would see that according to your definition of a model failing or being inaccurate - predicting a warming trend when the obs show cooling - since the year 1980 the models failed in predicting 1982, 1984-1985, 1989, 1991-1992, 1996, 1999-2000, 2003-2004, and 2006. Yes, not every year is warmer than the last. Not every year has a monster El Nino event like 1998 did. Natural variability does not disappear even with GW. The models have problems, yes, but replicating a very fundamental property in our atmosphere, the relationship between greenhouse gas concentration and global average temperature, is not one of them. I find your position silly and unrepresentative of both the observations and the state of the science currently.
You mentioned that good science should have predictive power. So here is a prediction for you: the next time Earth experiences an El Nino event with an order of magnitude comparable to the 1998 event, the temporary rise in global average temperature will swamp any temporary cooling Earth may have experienced in the years beforehand. It will stick out in the temperature record just as strongly as the 1998 anomaly currently does. I also predict that the response from TeeVee talking heads will be hysterical, and well worth the popcorn and cola consumed watching them making ridiculous excuses.
Also, please don’t confuse what environmentalists say with what climate scientists and other professionals say. Environmentalist groups like Greenpeace might mean well, but scientists generally many of their claims to be questionable at best.

Ragutis Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 6:53 pm
Ah… I think I figured it out. His critics are hoping Al Gore will begin living the hermit lifestyle in a cave so he’ll stop being in the public eye, raising awareness, and persuading governments to change energy policy.
He doesn’t have much choice in terms of security and travel decisions. The Secret Service pretty much dictates that. I doubt Nancy Reagan can get her hair done without a dude with sunglasses and an earpiece tagging along. And anyone with any experience in business or politics knows the value of face-to-face meetings. Teleconferencing and video-meetings are useful, but limited. A look in the eye and a firm handshake can be invaluable.
He runs offices out of his house, with a staff. So, yeah, the electric bill is sorta high. Especially since he pays 3 times the regular rate to get green power. And he’s also extensively renovated recently to improve the efficiency significantly beyond what one would expect of the typical 80+ year old home.
And you know what? Even if he was the biggest hypocrite in his lifestyle, that wouldn’t change a damn thing about the fact that AGW is real and happening. And who the hell ever said we need to adopt some ascetic lifestyle in the first place? There may be some radicals saying we should tear down the cities and return to the wild, but just about every rational person is looking at solutions for us to keep our way of life, as well as improve that of others in undeveloped nations only without releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the environment.
“So-called ‘global warming’ is just a secret ploy by wacko tree-huggers to make America energy independent, clean our air and water, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, kick-start 21st-century industries, and make our cities safer and more livable. Don’t let them get away with it!”

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 8:16 pm
Mark S - Thanks for the patience and the link but unfortunately I don’t understand it a lot better today than I did the last time I read it last fall or so. Now that I’ve seen that site again I do recall that it was on that site that I observed a bunch of judgemental and downright nasty comments about doubters or questioners who posted but where my comment questioning some of the premises of the judgemental posters was censored by the monitor. Maybe it was just one monitor and maybe he had seen enough of back and forth on the questions, but since then I’ve been suspicious of RealClimate as at least as much a quasi-religious site as a scientific one.
Brant D. - “Also, please don’t confuse what environmentalists say with what climate scientists and other professionals say. Environmentalist groups like Greenpeace might mean well, but scientists generally many of their claims to be questionable at best.”
The problem is that non-climatologists like me have to depend on popularizers, so naturally we judge the debate based on the pronouncements of the popularizers for each side. The doubters say we can continue with our lifestyles and relax so they start with a natural advantage since no one wants to be taxed or forced to sacrifice if that isn’t necessary. The burden of scientific proof and the burden of effectively selling that proof are with those who want us to act.
And, re your prediction about the effects of an el nino. The prediction that matters is what the average global temperature is going to be in 2010, 2020, 2030, 2040, 2050 etc. if we do nothing. Hansen was (trusting reasonably predictive between 1988 and 2005 but that’s only 17 years. And I understand (from other reading) that he was not so predictive re 2006 and 2007. It’s all well and good to say that data from a couple or a few years can be anomalous but not when you only have only 17 years of successful prediction behind you.
So what is a voter to do?

Brant D Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 9:15 pm
Sully: I agree that climatologists do not do a good job of communicating the science to the public, hence the overreliance on popularizers. Naturally most climatologists have the public relations ability of a bookworm, and training for this kind of work is not emphasized at all in the profession. So there is a lot of work that needs to be done. The “burden of proof” has been met, in fact was met at least a decade ago, but this point is not well communicated.
However, I also infer from your words that you expect the general public to be passive participants in this topic, receiving their information only from the TeeVee from designated media outlets. I am highly critical of this opinion. Democracy depends on active participation from the public in order to succeed. As a nation we are going to crash and burn if we make no effort to doublecheck the official sources. And that includes questions where the answers may not be particularly comforting. I understand that unfortunately many people actually do operate as passive participants currently, but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea. And if you think that this is the way things were, are, and always will be, then I can’t find much hope or a reason to care about the future.
Also, “sacrifice” is what religious people offer to deities. The word you are looking for is “investment”. It takes money to make money.
As for the prediction, I offered a prediction that could be likely be verified within the next decade or two. You keep pushing the interval of prediction back further into the future, so that it would be impossible to meet the obligation you set up. It might warm from 2010 to 2040, but what if it cools from 2040 to 2050? That’s the silliness that the AGW contrarians pull (not that you are a contrarian), and sadly it convinces people. As as for prediction, the first prediction for AGW was made in the late 19th century. It was not taken seriously back then, and rightly so (no known way to verify), but the math that predicts AGW is over a century old. And while global climate models are only three decades old, and the best ones one decade old, they have succesfully “retrodicted” the long-term warming trend over the past century. It is impossible to explain what happened in the 20th century without considering the influence of CO2. So the timespan in which we can check the theory with the observations is longer than 17 years.

Sully Says: July 24th, 2008 at 7:25 am
Brant - Very good points and thanks for the patience. I’ll review the “start here” material on again, more carefully this time.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Note to self - arrange a ravioli making party

Last night at Sam's we had a great dinner with Delores and Samuel. After dinner I got talking with Samuel about the fact that excellent meat filled ravioli are available at Russo's market in Reading. That lead to remembrance of how great it was when Grandmom Luzi, mom and Aunt Mary Raimo made hundreds of ravioli with the meat and cooked them three ways.

Is there a food better than fried ravioli with powdered sugar, especially when topped off with a hearty plateful of ravioli with gravy and at least a few of the curly kind eaten white with grated cheese?

Angela surely has the recipe and the memory of how to make meat ravioli. Marianne has the rolling machine and perhaps she also has the grinder for the meat filling. Marianne probably also has mom's ravioli cutter and sealer, but if necessary we can cut them with a cup and seal them with a fork. It takes a long time to make ravioli for a big crowd but it's one of those meals which rewards almost as much by the camaraderie of the making as in the eating.

What holiday was reserved for meat ravioli? It wasn't Easter and it wasn't Christmas. It was probably New Years Day. Did they make the ravioli with leftover turkey from Christmas? Angela will know. How would one go about getting all the pieces of this project together?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Finished one McMurtry, launched on another

The other day I finished McMurtry's "All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers." An excellent book. What a writer Larry McMurtry was at a relatively early age in 1972. He really makes Danny Deck interesting.

Then on Saturday over at Sam's I found McMurtry's much later novel, "Streets of Laredo." It's the last of his three epic western novels along with "Comanche Moon," and "Lonesome Dove." I listened to "Streets of Laredo" as a book tape and then also read it a few years ago, so it's characters are familiar, but still their stories grip and draw me forward. Any reader who doesn't have a positive phobia for the old west can't fail to find interest in Mr. Brookshire, Woodrow Call, P.I. Parker, Joey Garza, Famous Shoes and Lorena Parker. The only advice I'd give is that, while the three books each stand independently, "Comanche Moon," is the best starting place.

How lucky I am to have the time and the opportunity to read "Streets of Laredo" again. I may just go back and do "Comanche Moon" and "Lonesome Dove" again as well. They're long but they're fast reads. In three days I'm already halfway through "Streets," and I really haven't been neglecting any of my other urgent responsibilities, like watching the hummingbird and picking tomatoes as they ripen.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered that 32 ounces of ricotta

A few weeks ago I discovered that 32 ounces of ricotta, a pound of penne pasta and a ball of mozzarella combine into a lot more than two people can possibly eat. In this case it made two pretty sizable casseroles. One of those casseroles fed me and Linda for a dinner and then me for lunches for the next three days.

That left the other casserole which I put in the freezer. That one is now patiently defrosting. We'll be taking it over to Sam and Debs place in a half hour or so to eat with Delores who is watching Hobbs and the house and pool.

We've been visiting Delores and Hobbs, and the pool, a lot over the past couple of 90+ degree days since Sam and Deb have been out of town. And I've been thinking of Sam a lot. Last night I thought about him while eating the excellent cucumber I liberated from his garden. Home grown cucumbers really are a lot better than store bought. I may consider growing them next year.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Filched peppers make the best lunch

I don't grow peppers in my garden because the supermarket sells peppers just as good as I can grow at home. But the supermarket doesn't sell peppers as good as ones filched from somebody else's garden. And it turns out my brother and his family left for Florida yesterday afternoon. I was in his garden picking and in his pool floating before his plane landed in Orlando. Not that the pool was quiet for my sister and her family also decided it was a good time to visit.

I considered taking some of his luxuriant Swiss Chard while I was there, but Mrs. Sully has been making rebellious noises about the amount of chard we've been eating from my own garden. So it was just as well Marianne decided to thin that out for Sam.

Sam's peppers made a very fine lunch after I fried them up with oil, garlic and a couple of eggs. And his pool will be very fine this afternoon as soon as I finish digesting. It would clearly be a sin to let that pool lie fallow on a day as hot as this. And he has some cucumbers up there that may be getting too big to leave on the vines.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The biggest financial scandal in the history of the world

The biggest financial scandal in the history of the world is now unfolding so there are sure to be some interesting political games played over the next few months and years. Democrats are the chief scalawags involved and they probably have laundered and stashed most of the loot, but since the thievery has been proceeding more or less in plain site for 16 years it's sure that at least some Republicans have managed to glom onto some goodies as well, if only to keep them quiet during the times when they have controlled the congress.

In some ways it's a complicated scandal, and the politicians are sure to make it seem very complicated indeed as they select the five or six designated fall guys to take the rap, but at base it's very simple.

In 1992 Federal Regulators appointed and controlled by the then Democratic Congress gave Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae a special dispensation to continue to operate like banks and keep all of the profits they made on loans, but without the troublesome necessity of being responsible for most of the risk on the loans and with extra special super-duper permission to violate all normal rules of banking by maintaining only a thin facade of cash reserves in their vaults. Armed with those advantages over other banks Fannie and Freddie, as they are affectionately know by political bag men, proceeded to grow like weeds.

Now I'm not a financial analyst but it's possible even for a schlub like me to make a rough estimate of how much those special regulatory perks were worth to Fannie and Freddie as they and their political contacts gorged and swilled over the past 16 years. Right now, you see, is when the chickens are finally coming home to roost and crap all over the heads of the two special banks. And the Wall Street Journal today helpfully printed a chart which shows that between the two of them they have about $80 Billion in Reserves whereas two normal banks heir size would be required to have over $180 Billion in Reserves. The special dispensations mean that Fannie and Freddie are short $100 Billion, and they've been able to be short of reserves for 16 years.

Now it's not fair to estimate the extent of the loot based on the current $100 Billion of missing reserves because the two banks have been growing fast during all of those 16 years, so I'm going to give the thieves the benefit of the doubt and assume the average shortfall of reserves has only been $50 Billion during each of the 16 years. And I'm going to assume that being allowed to be short of all that cash in the vaults only resulted in a 5% bottom line advantage for Fannie and Freddie. That would make the value of those special dispensations 5% of $50 Billion which is $2.5 Billion times 16 years for a total of $48 Billion. But that $48 Billion has a time value, just like all other cash. If we assume a conservative 6% rate of return it's actually worth about $96 Billion in current 2008 dollars.

Now Fannie and Freddie surely didn't give all of that loot to the politicians in envelopes, they only gave them a commission. How much of a commission? In this regard most politicians are actually pretty cheap in my estimation, they're mostly too stupid to be sharp negotiators. I doubt they got more than 6% or $6,000,000,000* or so, and it may well have been less even though this was the ultimate sweet deal - thievery in plain site, a very long time frame before the theft was noticed by the public, plenty of time to launder the loot, and even testimonial dinners and awards praising those politicians and Fannie and Freddie executives as public spirited citizens.

The great train robbers in London only got about $6 Million and they got a movie made about them. Here we have politicians hauling off something like one thousand times that much. It's worth at least a movie. I say it should have a cast of hundreds and be set on Devil's Island with whips, chains, snarling dogs and a special iron time out box in the sun for anyone who talks back to the warden. But, given the way politics works, the movie about this crime of the millenium will end with four or six or eight** peripherally involved folks spending a few years at a special resort whose main inconvenience to them will be lack of a masseuse on call down by the prison pool.

*$6,000,000,000 is $6 Billion. That's about five hundred big suitcases full of $20 bills neatly packaged in bank wrappers like the ninety large they found in Democratic Congressman William Jefferson's freezer down in New Orleans. It's probably a thousand or more suitcases of loose used $20's stuffed in there the way Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy would do it while, uh, disoriented, or the way Congressman Wilbur Mills and Fannie Foxe would have done it before going for a swim. Note - Fannie Foxe is not related to Fannie Mae even though they may appear to have more in common than their first names.

**It has to be an even number because the rules of Washington are that an equal number or Democrats and Republicans have to take the fall for any sizable scam, especially one that involves as unindicted co-conspirators every Congressman, Senator, Federal Judge, Treasury Department official and Securities and Exchange Commission manager who hasn't gotten around with a seeing eye dog since 1992. Come to think of it a thousand big suitcases wouldn't have been nearly enough for all the payoffs, they must have used medium sized ones.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I hope you're enjoying $4.00 Gasoline

I can't understand the talk about why we shouldn't permit drilling for new oil in Alaska and off the coasts because "it will take years to get to market." The very same folks making that argument are also arguing for massive government investments in alternative energy schemes (like wind and solar and tides and such) that will also take years and even decades to get to market.

It's not that I'm against wind and solar and tidal power, it's just that we know oil companies can find and develop oil fields, but we don't yet know how fast those alternative schemes can get off the ground and actually start producing significant energy. Solar power, for instance, still produces less than 1% of US energy needs, and the government has been "investing" in it since Jimmy Carter declared a crash program in 1970 or so.

Jimmy Carter also declared a crash government program to develop fusion power back in 1970 or so, but the believers in big government programs want to forget about that because the net result has been no energy at all.

There are a lot of dim bulbs in the Democratic Party who are addicted to pandering to the Al Gore wing of the so-called environmental movement which really wants us to freeze in the dark for our sins. Having prevented drilling in Alaska and offshore for the past 30 years they now want us to buy an argument that we shouldn't drill because it will take too long to get the oil to market.

Not that the guilt is all on one side here. Much to their shame the Republican Party has allowed this situation to continue to develop while it has held power over for the last 8 years. Republicans are now feeling good about President Bush who the other day lifted the executive order which prevents offshore drilling. But why didn't he do that on his first or his second or his six-hundredth day in office. It's true that the lifting of the executive order is not enough, Congress still has to act to lift the congressional ban on offshore drilling; but why didn't President Bush hold their feet to the fire sooner?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

With Kim gone to a better place I'm into a McMurtry now

With Kim done his mountain adventures and safely back in the lowlands I've moved on to a McMurtry which actually is "Brilliant. . . funny and dangerously tender" just as the Time cover blurb proclaims.

First "Kim". In a scant 411 small hardbound pages Kipling took me from the heat of Sind to the cold of the Hindu Kush and, more importantly, into the minds of representatives of more than a dozen castes, races and tribes. And he developed Kim from a wild and wily bazaar boy into a disciplined servant of the Raj in The Great Game. Why haven't I systematicly read all of Kipling's work? I've never read one of his that failed to please and satisfy, never listened to one as a book tape that failed to sadden with its ending. I shall plunder Wolfgang Books of every cheap used copy of Kipling the next time we go to Phoenixville for dinner.

Next "All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers." What can one say of McMurtry? His characters really do leap off the page. Danny, it's true, is probably a thinly disguised Larry McMurtry in his much younger days - the book was copyrighted in 1972, but still. . . such a gift to be able to move as effortlessly as McMurtry does from introspection to conversation to preposterous action and all the while hold the reader by the throat.

I've mostly avoided McMurtry's more or less contemporary fiction despite how much I liked "Comanche Moon,""Lonesome Dove," and the other two novels that dealt with Gus, Woodrow, Buffalo Hump, Famous Shoes and Blue Duck. But I think I'll also pillage the McMurtry section at Wolfgang as well when I next get there.

Have I mentioned that I'm feeling pretty proud of my garden

Have I mentioned that I'm feeling pretty proud of my garden this year. It may not be the biggest garden in Collegeville, but it's surely going to be the most efficiently productive two hundred or so square foot garden in the county, if not the country.

Firstly, the light bulb finally illuminated in my head about efficient layout after decades of having the answer right under my nose at least a couple of times a year when I've flown over the West and seen the round circles of cultivation, each watered by its patiently rotating sprinkler system. Theaters in the Round, stones arranged in henges, crop circles, fairy rings of mushrooms under the trees, and the large example of those ubiquitous bullseyes of crops out west, how have I failed to twig to the utter stupidity of squareness and the utter rightness of roundness for all these years?

Secondly, I've fenced the thing so well that the cute little fawns and their brutish parents have thus far inspected it thoroughly without detecting a weakness within their feeble capabilities of strength and reach. I've fenced the thing so well that my tomatoes are safe short of an escape from the zoo of something as strong as a buffalo or possessed of the reach of a giraffe. It's true there are a couple of minor flaws for correction next year. A patient rabbit has discovered at least three places where it can just reach through the two layers of fence low down to nip at the ends of Swiss Chard leaves.

Thirdly, roundness means that a single centrifugal sprinkler in the center can efficiently water the whole thing with the merest effort of adjustment of the outside tap. It's true the zucchinis have grown taller and more luxuriant than I've ever seen them and they're blocking part of the arc of the sprinkler, but that's a mere detail easy of solution next year. This year it only means that I need to run the sprinkler a bit longer to let those disfavored areas get their fill.

Oh for the good old days of sharecropping

If you are an average American you are now worse off than a sharecropper in the old south. Sharecroppers worked all year on land owned by someone else and then paid for the privilege by giving up half of their crop.

Well guess what, an average American now works all year and gives up more than half of his income to his overseers in the Federal, State and Local government.

Today, July 16th, is Cost of Government day according to the group Americans for Tax Reform ( ). The group says "Cost of Government Day (COGD) is the date of the calendar year on which the average American worker has earned enough gross income to pay off his or her share of spending and regulatory burdens imposed by government on the federal, state and local levels."

You may say that the guvmint sometimes does nice things for you with some of the money it takes from you, but of course the old landowners in the south also did nice things for their sharecroppers.

The good-hearted landowners, for instance, used to let the sharecroppers and their families eat free all year from the little plots they were allowed to keep for kitchen gardens. And they used to let them live free in the picturesque little cabins that were behind the big house on their property. They also used to let the sharecroppers drink all the water they wanted for free from the streams on the property, and the sharecroppers could even dig a well and drink free from that if they were enterprising enough.

Even the very bad-hearted landowners sometimes did things for their sharecroppers, giving them a taste of the quirt now and then, for instance, if they seemed to be having a problem with motivation.

If you've never received a letter from the IRS you probably see the government as more or less friendly and good-hearted. If you have received such a letter you know a bit about what the quirt felt like, metaphorically speaking of course.

It's a terrible thing to discover feet of clay on a hero

It's a terrible thing to discover feet of clay on a hero.

On July 2nd I sent Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online a polite email pointing out a serious error of fact in his otherwise excellent book "Liberal Fascism." To date there has been no response from Jonah on this matter and he has not recanted his error on his Liberal Fascism blog accessible via the National Review home page. . . so I'm very regretfully forced to go public.

To his everlasting shame, for he has been known to preen on his wide comic book knowledge, in Note 7 on page 438 of "Liberal Fascism" Mr. Goldberg wrote of Superman, "There is a certain nationalistic conceit to the character in that he was born in the American heartland and imbibed all that was good of Americanism."

Superman was raised in the American heartland and he certainly did imbibe all that was good of Americanism, but he was born on the planet Krypton.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

There are now four cute little fawns gyreing and gimballing around the lawn

There are now four cute little fawns gyreing and gimballing around the lawns, and up and down the paths. Their happy sense of freedom and youth, and their air of utter irresponsibilty almost, almost, make me loath to envision their taut little chests adorned with the fletched shafts of the arrows which will soon be their doom. For they have again been at the daylily buds, despite the deer repellent I sprayed.

Gather ye lily buds while ye may little fawns, for thy hour cometh. This fall you will happily retire to the places under the apple trees for a little snack of fallen fruit and then you will be no more. You can no more escape your fate to become venison stew than Kim can escape his fate to spend dreary days and weeks, and months and years, at the St. Xavier school being filled with the book learning he needs to fulfill his destiny.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Free at last, free at last, good God Almighty I'm free at last

Yesterday I finally finished "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," and I have to say that the last 300 pages went a lot faster and easier than the first 700 pages. All in all it pays back for being a tough read - but I was glad to be shut of it.

And I was glad to be able to start "Kim," which I have been meaning to read for a long time. What a contrast! First off Kipling grips you by the throat by the end of the first page, and secondly he manages to communicate more of the complex atmosphere of India during the Raj in his first 100 pages than Susanna Clark is able to evoke about the relatively simple atmosphere of England in the 1800's within her first 500 pages.

I'd like to write more, but Kim has been rescued/captured by the chaplains of his father's old regiment and they've put him in English clothes with the intention of sending/sentencing him to an orphanage school. He was just rescued by his Pathan acquaintance/employer, but that cruel fellow is seeming as though he will turn him back over to the Sahibs.

I need to get back to poor Kim.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Swiss Chard, Green Bean and Potato Stew

This is the ultimate healthy stew. And super easy to make. Preparation time is about 1 hour but it can sit on the stove for longer and it's great reheated the next day.

A couple of bunches of Swiss Chard from the market, or as much as is ready to pick in the garden
A couple of pounds of green beans from the market, or as much as is ready to pick in the garden.
Four or five medium sized potatoes
Several cloves of garlic, more is better than less
Salt, Pepper and Olive Oil

Wash and strip the veins from the chard. Cut the stems of the chard into inch long pieces and throw those in a large pot with a quarter cup or so of olive oil and turn the heat to medium high. Peel the garlic, roughly chop it and throw it into the pot. Roughly cut up the leaves of the chard and throw them into the pot and then put on the lid. While the chard is steaming down break the ends off the green beans, wash them, cut them into pieces a couple of inches long and throw them on top of the chard in the pot. Add a level teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of pepper. Stir the pot up a bit and put the top back on. Peel the potatoes, cut them into chunks and throw them into the pot. Stir the pot up a bit and reduce the heat to low. Cook til the potatoes are done.

Eaten with good italian bread this is as good a stew as you can make despite the fact that it's healthy and low calorie. It's not quite so healthy if you butter the bread but buttered bread tastes awfully good.

Aunt Mary Raimo and mom once observed me cooking the three vegetables together like this in the same pot and told me Grandmon Luzi always cooked them in separate pots and then combined them just before serving. I've always been too lazy to do that and I think it's prefectly good cooked the way I've described, especially if you're the one who has to wash the two extra pots.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

how about me for some of that political loot

The Democratic Party is buying carbon offsets so as to pretend that their big national convention boozefest will be "carbon neutral." But they're buying the offsets in a thoroughly discriminatory manner, favoring only Native Americans indulgences, I mean offsets.

The Democratic Party won't be buying any offsets from Italian Americans like me because we don't qualify as members of a "minority group" even though we are a group and we are in the minority just like Native Americans. Also we don't have a well developed mechanism for funnelling loot to politicians.

The net is that I can't hope to sell any indulgences to the Democratic Party, even though I have plenty of indulgences that I could sell if ordinary schnooks were allowed to take advantage of the game. I have, for instance, been partly heating the house with home grown and home cut wood for three decades. And I have been letting much of our lawn grow into high grassland during the summers for at least a decade. And I have a bit of woodland on which the trees are patiently sequestering carbon each year. That, you see, is what offsets are about. A person like me who arranges his life so as to use less fossil fuel sells his savings in carbon emissions to a porcine like Al Gore who arranges his life so as to emit more CO2 than twenty or thirty ordinary people. A person like me could do that if he was of a mind to kick back a nice fat envelope of Benjamins to the right people.

Al Gore gets some of the money he uses to buy his indulgences by flying around the world on private jets giving speeches and writing books about why everyone should emit less CO2. And Al, like the Democratic Party, also gets his share of Benjamin filled envelopes from people and companies who want to pollute like pigs, as he does, but who don't want to be mentioned in his speeches and books and movies. Not that there's anything in the least illegal about this. I'm utterly sure Al is a careful enough man to ensure that any Benjamins that find their way into his pockets have passed through a special kind of laundry which turns dirty Benjamins into clean Benjamins.

Al Gore and the folks who are arranging the Democratic Convention are well aware of a simple fact known to The Godfather. "A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a thousand men with guns."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Turning perfectly good food into poor fuel has never made sense

Turning perfectly good food into poor fuel has never made sense to me. Now even the New York Times and other folks who consider themselves environmentally conscious are starting to wake up to that.

The mandates that motor fuel contain a certain percentage of ethanol, and the subsidies for ethanol production are causing a significant portion of U.S. and European food output to be diverted to production of ethanol (and other biofuels at much lower volumes) despite the fact that ethanol is both a poor fuel and more expensive to produce than gasoline.

That's not especially hurting most of us here in the U.S. and in Europe because the resulting rise in food cost is fairly trivial. So what if some food prices go up 70% (which is what the World Bank has estimated as the effect of the diversion of food crops to ethanol and other biofuel production). We're still going to buy the bread we need and the corn dogs we like.

Things are a bit different in the poorer countries of the world where a rise in the price of food can mean actually going to bed hungry or worse. So it's not surprising that there have been food riots in a lot of countries.

Similar problems will become apparent about wind power a few years down the road after there are a lot more windmills. Too lengthy to go into now but it comes down to the fact that the wind is variable and people want power continuously, so it's going to cost a lot (a very lot) of money to make wind power supply any substantial percentage of the national grid.

A smart fellow named T. Boone Pickens is now pushing wind power. Ten years of so from now they will be writing stories about how much money he (and others) made off the poorly thought out government programs and subsidies that are going to be rammed through. Other articles are going to be telling about how the wind farms are producing much less energy than was promised.
If wind power made economic sense T. Boone wouldn't have to sell it to us with slick advertisements - he would just build windmills with his own money and make a ton of profits. Instead he wants to build them with our money, but he will still be the one who makes a ton of profits.

Update 7/15: I see where Newsweek Magazine asked T. Boone Pickens why there are no windmills on his ranch. T. Boone said, "There are no turbines on my ranch, because I think they are ugly." You cannot make this stuff up.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

It's Wednesday in Collegeville and the living is easy

It's Wednesday in Collegeville and the living is easy after two grueling days of work - four hours on Monday and almost seven hours on Tuesday. Mrs. Sully has gone off to work with barely a comment on the fact that Mr. Sully's vacation from full time employment has begun to stretch a bit long and the balance in the checkbook has shrunk to a level perilously close to short. And all morning the pair of phoebes have been treating me to the gimlet eye between rounds of industrious labor as they catch bugs to feed their second clutch of young for the year. Work, work, work, all life is work, their frantic activity proclaims. Look at that lazy bum down there they seem to say to one another when they chance to perch for a moment at the same time. The silent pressure of their disapproval is nearly unbearable. Oh the humanity.

Thankfully the hummingbird is sitting complacently on his favorite perch merely watching over his domain for fifteen and twenty minutes at a time between short fights down to his feeders for a sip or two of nectar. And this while his mates are busily brooding eggs and feeding young in the trees around, if he has any mates for I haven't seen any females at the feeders. It's true that his lazy vigil has a deadly serious purpose. He remains, as he has since early May, ever ready to spring into action and defend his little share of the world's nectar from other male hummers, to the death or to his everlasting shame if luck or deficient will or lack of skill with his sharp beak should so ordain. He's a bad influence, that humminbird. I fill the feeders for him, and he provides a bad example for me.

Meanwhile, not to brag or anything, I picked my first tomato yesterday. The earliest tomato I've ever had. And many more are in the offing.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Swiss Chard with garlic and oil

This is the easiest recipe that's worth putting down in print.

1 bunch of Swiss Chard from the market, or as much as there is to pick in the garden.
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper

Wash the Swiss Chard even if it comes from the garden and looks perfectly clean. Even if your garden is well fenced birds and bugs are doing things down there that you almost always do in a special room in the house. As you wash the chard strip the veins out of the stalks.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on medium in the bottom of a deep pot while you peel and chop the garlic cloves. If you want to enjoy this this the way mom and Aunt Mary Raimo made it when they were in a hurry chop the first clove very carefully and fine, then take a few quick whacks at the next clove and at least a whack or two at the last two cloves.

Throw the chopped garlic into the oil and then cut the stalks of the Swiss Chard crosswise into pieces about one inch long. Throw the chopped stalks into the oil with the garlic, hopefully before the garlic starts to get that slightly sweet burned smell that means it's suitable only for the most refined tastes.

Next roll up the Swiss Chard leaves like a big fat cigar, slice it lengthwise once, and slash it crosswise a couple of times before throwing the pieces on top of the simmering stalks and garlic. Sprinkle a half teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of pepper over the top of the big mound of chard leaves and then cover the pot and turn the burner to low.

The beauty of Swiss Chard is that it's almost impossible to overcook it. It should be more or less done steaming and cooking down in a half-hour during which time you can cook the rest of the dinner, and it won't hurt it to steam in that pot for an hour if you occasionally stir it to keep it from burning on the bottom.

If it seems to have too much liquid in it after it's mostly cooked leave the cover off the pot for a while and the liquid will vaporise and join the great hydrologic cycle of the earth perhaps to fall as rain in the Sudan where they need it.

The other day my brother Sam told me Swiss Chard was recently named as one of the ten healthiest foods by the chard growers association or some other such reliable source. But anyone who has eaten the stuff already knows it's healthy. Suffice it to say that a big Swiss Chard eater today will not suffer from biliousness tomorrow.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

I'm 474 pages into the very worst sort of book

I should have known better because one of the most prominent plugs on the cover is, "RAVISHING. . . Combines the dark mythology of fantasy with the delicious social comedy of Jane Austen into A MASTERPIECE OF THE GENRE THAT RIVALS TOLKIEN." - Time.

Now I ask you, Is there are single American male who has ever read all the way through one of Jane Austen's "delicious social comedy(s)"?

I have only myself to blame. I could easily have read the cover and the first and last pages and then done a quick riffle skim of the middle pages to get a reasonably coherent sense of the thing. Then I could have blandly claimed to have read it if my son who recommended the book ever asked about it. That tactic got me all the way through high school and college under evaluation by teachers who were mostly old and wise in the ways of student fraud, so it would have probably served me excellently with a 25 year old who's far less cynical than those teachers. Why I even got an A+ once for filling an entire blue book with analysis of a book I had forgotten to open by the tactic of using the test question and pure assumptions, incorrect assumptions as it turned out, as my take off point. I've always wondered if the professor was being merely straightforward when he penned his little "excellent irony" note next to the A+, or if he was himself being ironic. This was, after all at Illinois Tech where the unfortunate prof was no doubt regretting that his PhD had landed him in a school inhabited by American techies who predominantly communicated in grunts, and foreign techies whose interest in English usage mostly ended at resume writing skills. But I digress. . .

The book is "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," and it's just good enough to save itself from being put into the "I'll finish this some other time" pile, but it's just bad enough to make each page a chore. A bad book makes itself very easy to put it down, a good book makes itself easy and enjoyable to read, a very good book makes itself impossible to put down until finished - no matter how bad the eyes droop. This book is squarely in the middle. It's written excellently, if ponderously, just like Jane Austen's pretentious and over-analytical swill. And it's plot is somewhat interesting, just like Tolkien's preposterously over-long elf and orc sagas. But it lacks the mayhem of Tolkien and even the faeries are all too English. And. . . and I'm not reading it at 15 years old as I read Tolkien in one great spasm, all the way through the three ring novels and well into "The Hobbit" which I thankfully put down before terminal saturation with Tolkien's prose drove me to suicide.

Anyway I'm 474 pages into this thing and I just checked the last page and found it to be numbered 1006. I also discovered that the main characters still seem to be alive and just as Austenishly obsessed with themselves in the few pages leading up to the end.

Why did Susanna Clark end at 1006? She seems to be relating the entire history and sociology of England up to 1816 via allusion and symbolism and she's shameless about writing empty pages. So why didn't she tack on another 60 pages so as to make the book a very symbolic 1066 pages long?

Lots of Activity in Collegeville last evening.

Lot's of activity in Collegeville last evening. At around 6:00 two very energetic rabbits entertained us with a shocking display of copulation on the lawn just outside the patio doors. The male of the pair has a big piece of hide torn off his butt, perhaps by a fox. Yet there he is, out in the open, giving testimony that love conquers all, even fear of the fox. Or perhaps he's been nibbling at the watermellon rind in the mulch heap.

Later in the evening two cute little fawns gamboled happily on the lawn very near the daylillies whose buds they have been nipping off despite the fact that daylillies are one of the few plants which have usually survived the depredations of their verminous ancestors. I smiled at their carefree antics because, unbeknownst to them, at the 4th of July picnic I gave permission for a new bow hunter to come and check out their haunts. May he plunge his arrows deep into their vitals, eat their raw livers and feast on their daylily bud fattened haunches.

Which reminds me, I hope last year's very successful crossbow hunter also returns, but the last time I saw him he was pretty resigned about the prognosis of his cancer. During a meeting in the woods at the end of the winter he told me he had harvested six of the hooved vermin and he was hoping for another. Bravo that he's allowed to use a crossbow under some kind of disability clause in the hunting rules. What an upbeat and brave fellow. And what a public servant to be quietly culling the vast piratical deer herd between bouts of chemotherapy. Whatever - I hope he survives, and I hope he and his family and his whole neighborhood feast on venison again this winter.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Porkette the way Mom and Aunt Carmella made it

I've been meaning to get this recipe down in print. It comes from watching my mom make it and then later asking my Aunt Carmella Russo why her version had an especially good flavor. You don't have to be on top of this every minute while it's cooking, but it is an all day at home and into the evening recipe.

At least 6 hours of cooking time (8 hours is better)
1 three pound pork roast - the best is the kind in the elastic netting
1 bulb of garlic (not 1 clove, 1 bulb - using 2 bulbs won't hurt)
1 bunch of celery
1 bunch of parsley (fresh is best but dried can substitute)
1 bunch of rosemary (fresh is best but dried can substitute)
1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce
Salt, Pepper, and a handful of Flour

Peel the cloves of garlic and wash the rosemary while you preheat the oven to 425. Stuff the whole cloves of garlic and the rosemary into the slits in the roast. The elastic netting roast is made up of pieces of deboned pork so there are gaps into which you can stuff the garlic. If you use another kind of pork roast you have to cut slits into which to stuff the garlic and rosemary.
Salt and pepper the outside of the roast fairly heavily and then roll it in the flour to coat the outside.
Put the roast in a dry oven pan and roast for 1 hour at 425, then roll the meat over and roast for another half-hour or so at 425.
Lower the oven temp to 325, put the bunch of parsley under the roast and pour enough water into the roasting pan to cover the roast about 1/4th to 1/3rd deep (depending on how wide the pan is). Wash and strip the strings out of the celery (don't go crazy about it because you're going to be cutting this celery crosswise later), split the celery stalks in half, and put them in the water around the roast. Roast for 2 hours at 325, turning the roast over every hour or so. Then lower the oven temp to 275 and roast for 2 more hours, again turning the roast over every hour or so.

If you started at about noon it's now near 5:00 PM so it's almost time for dinner. It's hard to steal some of the big roast out of the netting, but if you had the foresight to cook a half-pound or so chunk of pork (or a couple of pork chops) in with the big roast this would be a good time to make some mashed potatoes, and some gravy from part of the water and drippings around the roast. Enjoy a dinner of the little piece of pork and the mashed potatoes while the netted roast continues cooking at 275 for another hour. Then turn the oven off and leave the roast in the oven for another hour or so while you digest the meal.

Remove the roast from the oven and let it cool long enough so you won't burn your fingers when you cut and strip the netting off it. The netting is great but it's tough to remove and the process is sure to be messy. But you shouldn't have started this recipe if you have a problem with greasy fingers and a few grease splashes on your clothes, the top of the stove, the counters, and the floor around the stove.

Pour the drippings and water from the roasting pan in a big enough pot to hold them and the pork and put it on a burner turned to low. Put the netting which is still crusted with browned flower and the outer fat from the roast into a smaller sauce pan with a couple of glasses of water and put that on a burner turned to medium. Throw the sprigs of rosemary into the saucepan with the netting as you find them inside the roast.
After the chunks of the roast have cooled enough to pull them apart by hand pull the pork into strings and put the strings of meat into the pot with the drippings, along with the cloves of garlic which are now so soft that they will disintegrate into mush as you squeeze them. Cut the celery and the leafy tops of the parsley crosswise and throw those into the pot also.
Throw away the grosser pieces of fat and gristle and such - old timers used to throw that stuff in the pot too, but we're conscious of cholesterol now and throwing that stuff away will let you maintain the barest fig leaf of an illusion that you're making the porchetta healthier.
Add the tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce to the pot with the pork with thanks to Aunt Carmella Russo for revealing this secret ingredient. Also pour in the water that has now boiled all the flavor out of the netting and pick any remaining pieces of meat and any crushable mush of browned flour out of the netting.

Bring the pot of pulled pork to a boil and test it by putting a generous helping on a medium kaiser roll and enjoying an evening snack. If you think the resulting sandwich needs salt and pepper add a level teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of pepper to the pot. Add some olive oil to the pot if the mouth feel is not silky enough.

Refrigerate the whole pot overnight if this is for a picnic tomorrow, or separate the meat and liquids into six or eight freezer containers and put them in the refrigerator overnight before freezing them if this is for a series of meals at home. A three pound pork roast will make about 15 to 20 sandwiches on medium kaiser rolls.

A word about kaiser rolls. Get them from a real bakery like Corropolese or Bakemeister or Sarcones and ask the counter guy to put them in a paper bag. A kaiser roll that has seen the inside of a plastic bag is barely suitable for feeding to birds let alone eating yourself.

A word about healthiness. Grandpop and Grandmom Luzi ate this with the fat. They also ate truly serious cholesterol builders like suffrete and sota panzetta. Yet they lived in good health into their mid-eighties. Of course they only ate fatty stuff like that a few times a year. Most of the year they ate nearly meatless meals of pasta and greens and beans.

It's all over but the whining

It's just after midnight of the 4th of July and all is quiet except the bullfrogs in Collegeville, PA. And that's all wrong. There should be the occasional crack of gunfire as exuberant and perhaps slightly inebriated patriots fire their handguns and rifles into the air. And there should be a steady drum of booms as other scofflaw patriots light off their illegal cherry bombs and M80's and Quarter Sticks and aerial shells. But instead there is silence except for the sounds of nature, and the whine of a helicopter which just flew over at a much lower altitude than its pilot would have dared back in the good old days before the entire society became sissified.

Earlier I returned from a 4th of July picnic where most folks seemed convinced that global warming or terrorists or George W. Bush or Barack Obama or high gasoline prices will shortly doom us all, but where no one smoked, except for me and a couple of rebellious teenagers too young to know better. Why do people who think they're doomed deny themselves the deadly pleasure of cigarettes even though, to hear them talk, they won't live long enough to suffer the consequences?

I've also noticed that none of the stop signs in the Collegeville area have holes in them any more, not even the ones on back roads. Twenty years ago most of the road signs except the very newest had holes in them. It's true that Collegeville area road signs were not as gloriously holey as Wyoming or Montana or West Virginia or upstate Pennsylvania signs, but they were indisputably holey. What happened to all of the idiots who used to shoot at signs? Are they all on prozac? Have they all finally been lobotomized?

Is it a sign of societal health that there aren't any well liquored up yahoos roaring around the back roads in pick up trucks and plinking at signs?