Monday, August 31, 2009
We are talking Morons on Parade. Little old ladies in tennis shoes who act like they're mailing a letter for the first time in their lives, bozos wanting to mail packages in boxes that look like they've already been run over, idiots who can't understand why if their packages are sealed with Priority Mail tape (or are Priority Mail boxes) they have to pay the Priority Mail rate . . . and through it all the clerks kept on smiling and patiently trying to explain to these fools just what they had done wrong.
I kept having this feeling that I'd wandered into a scene from "Idiocracy" by mistake. If this group was a cross section of the US populace as a whole, the country's in even more trouble than I thought.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Blackwater Founder Accused in Court of Intent to Kill
The founder of Blackwater USA deliberately caused the deaths of innocent civilians in a series of shootings in Iraq, attorneys for Iraqis suing the security contractor told a federal judge Friday.
The attorneys singled out Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL who is the company's owner, for blame in the deaths of more than 20 Iraqis between 2005 and 2007. Six former Blackwater guards were criminally charged in 14 of the shootings, and family members and victims' estates sued Prince, Blackwater (now called Xe Services LLC) and a group of related companies.
"The person responsible for these deaths is Mr. Prince,'' Susan L. Burke, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. "He had the intent, he provided the weapons, he provided the instructions, and they were done by his agents and they were war crimes.''
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Well, today we got the good news/bad news, depending on one's perspective. Our center is disappearing. Various functions are going to be absorbed by other pieces of Large Nameless Agency, the various communications specialists (writer-editors, graphic artists, whatever) will go back to working directly for different divisions within LNA instead of serving as internal contractors. Whether this is good or bad depends, I guess, on whether or not a person's current position carries a job title like "branch chief." It's hard to be a chief when the branch vanishes.
I don't think it's going to affect me. The journal will continue to be published no matter what, so there may be changes in division names and the hierarchy above me but my actual job should stay pretty much the same.
This book was one of those rare ones, too, in nonfiction where you pick it up and get sucked right in. It's actually fast, fairly easy reading. I zipped through it in a couple evenings. I spent actual money on this book instead of looking for it at the library, and it was money well spent.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Fort Larned was established 150 years ago, in 1869, to protect freight traffic, wagon trains, and the mail service along the Santa Fe Trail. (One of the fort's features is a piece of land that still has original trail ruts visible.) Troops stationed at the fort included the 10th Cavalry, the Buffalo Soldiers. This year's 150th anniversary celebration will include a Buffalo Soldier Cavalry Drill on Labor Day weekend as well as Buffalo Soldier living history programs on October 10. After the fort was decommissioned in the 1880s the site was privately owned for many years. Fort Larned NHS was established by an act of Congress in the 1960s. The Park Service has restored many of the buildings, and has a really nice little museum on-site. In addition to the museum that's part of the Visitor Center, they've restored a number of the buildings, including outfitting the interiors to look like what they would have back in 1870 when the fort was fully manned. As the above photo shows, when you look into the barracks there's bedding on the bunks, uniforms hanging on hooks, and so on, right down to oil cloth on the tables. The blacksmith shop has an interpreter doing living history (i.e., actual blacksmithing), and the setting overall really conveys a sense of what the fort was like 140 years ago.
Of course, part of the integrity of the site lies in the fact it's far enough outside the town of Larned, Kansas, to be safe from development. The viewshed is empty enough to help a visitor forget which century it is. Overall, the Fort is a great example of just how good the National Park Service can be at preserving historic sites.
It's also an interesting contrast with a state-managed site, Fort Hays State Park located in (of course) Fort Hays, Kansas. Fort Hays (pictured below) has, if I recall correctly, two buildings left. The park sits on the edge of town, it's next to a busy street, a golf course abuts it, and in general there isn't a whole lot there anymore that's especially evocative of the nineteenth century. Exhibits are pretty minimal, although the interpretive signage is good, and the overall integrity of the site is rather dismal. It's almost as much of a disappointment to a knowledgeable visitor as the park's buffalo "herd," which when I last saw it consisted of three animals.
I don't mean to suggest that state parks are always less well-done than NPS sites; I've seen some great examples of state historic parks over the years. It's just that in this specific case the difference between the two sites is particularly striking.
[*Seriously. My job involved making sure that what was listed in a database inventory of historic structures matched up with what was on the ground at the parks.]
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
[Photo is from a small town in western Kansas somewhere between Fort Larned and Fort Hays. We could tell that at one time it had been a fairly prosperous little farming community that covered the equivalent of 12 blocks or so and had had a commercial strip several blocks long. When we drove through in 2006 there was no longer a single business open, nothing. The residential area was still looking lived in, but we all knew that wasn't going to last much longer.]
Friday, August 21, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
And now back to my Sudoku game.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I had time to kill while waiting for prescriptions to be filled, so I decided to flip through the book. Learned a few interesting things rather quickly. These two surprised me:
1. One of the early (and most often overlooked) symptoms of congestive heart disease is unexplained weight gain. As the heart becomes less efficient, you become edemic. Peripheral edema (swollen hands and feet) is fairly noticeable, but fluids also build up throughout the body, including your abdomen.
2. You find yourself eating less, because you're feeling full sooner (fluid buildup in the abdomen pressing on the stomach), but you're not losing any weight, and your clothes are feeling tighter.
The other symptoms are more obvious -- you get tired faster, find yourself feeling exhausted after doing something (climbing stairs, walking to the bus stop, going for a bike ride) that you never had any trouble with before, or have shortness of breath after not much exertion. Of course, a lot of those symptoms are also things it's really easy to discount as just being part of getting older so a lot of people ignore them until something more dramatic happens.
I did buy the book -- I figured that when my calendar now includes regular visits to a cardiologist's office, I am part of the demographic the author is targeting. If nothing else, maybe the next time the word "ablation" comes up in conversation in an examining room, I'll be a little better prepared to deal with it.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Peach jam with powdered pectin
3 3/4 cups crushed peaches (takes about 3 pounds peaches)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
5 cups sugar
Sort and wash fully ripe peaches. Remove stems, skins, and pits. Crush the peaches.
Measure crushed peaches into a kettle. Add the lemon juice and pectin and stir well. Place on high heat and, stirring constantly, bring quickly to a full boil with bubbles over the entire surface.
Add the sugar, continue stirring, and heat again to a full bubbling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat; skim and stir alternately for 5 minutes. Ladle jam into hot containers and seal immediately.
Makes about 8 6-ounce glasses.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
The book ends with Martin more or less happy -- he's in the lab where he's always wanted to be -- but basically alone. I'm not sure just what point Sinclair Lewis was trying to make. Good scientists aren't motivated by money? It's not possible to do science and deal with people, too? Most people are idiots with tunnel vision? Rich people are essentially shallow?
Friday, August 7, 2009
Actually, it would be more accurate to call this a rave rather than a review. I watched this movie last night and loved it. I liked it so much, in fact, that I'm thinking about renewing it so I can watch it again in a day or two instead of taking it back to the library tomorrow.
It's a biopic, the story of the young Che Guevara and a road trip he undertook with a friend in 1952. They started from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on a not especially reliable Norton 500 motorcycle, and six months later arrived in Caracas, Venezuela. The settings are spectacular, the acting appears to be first-rate (hard to tell for sure when you're reading subtitles), and Che's evolution from a middle class med student whose biggest goal in life is to get into his girlfriend's pants into a revolutionary is fascinating.
This is an engrossing and entertaining movie. It begins in typical road trip fashion, a buddy comedy, two young guys out for adventure while taking a break from the university. It's pretty light-hearted initially, despite the difficulties the guys have along the way (not much cash for buying meals, for example, and the motorcycle keeps breaking down), but gradually Che and Alberto begin to recognize the extreme poverty and hardship around them, the disparities between rich and poor in South America, and a more serious tone emerges. You can see Che changing, and you can also see that he and Alberto are going to go in separate directions once the trip ends.
One of the cooler parts of the movie is right at the end when as they're rolling the credits they include the original photos Che and Alberto took along the road.
The one downside is it is in Spanish, and subtitles can be distracting. I personally find subtitles annoying because I like to be able to do needlecrafts while watching television, and having to keep up with subtitles makes quilting awkward.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
The cool thing about an actual office, of course, would be that I could arrange my work space so the monitor screen wasn't visible to passers-by. . . .because I am the Sudoku Queen. I could sit facing the door and no one would ever sneak up on me again.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.So here goes:
1. Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein. Back in elementary school this book got me hooked on science fiction, a genre that's turned into a lifelong love. I loved all of Heinein's "juveniles" (Have Spacesuit, Will Travel; The Rolling Stones; Rocketship Galileo . . . ) and most of his adult books -- until he went off the deep end into dirty old man senility with the last two or three.
2. A Boy and His Dog, Harlan Ellison. Okay, technically it was first published as a novella, not an actual book, but that's a minor quibble. I'd probably add a couple of Ellison's short story collections, too, because gems like "Shattered like a Glass Goblin" and "Pennies Off a Dead Man's Eyes" are still sticking with me over 30 years after I first read them.
3. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath. Along with I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Hannah Green it was one of the two "must read" books for adolescent females in the late 1960s.
4. The Royal Road to Romance, Richard Halliburton. Halliburton was an adventure traveler in the 1920s. He bummed around the world on tramp steamers and wrote about his experiences in far-off places.
5. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy. An amazing novel.
6. Jeeves, Jeeves, Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse. Technically three novels (How Right You Are, Jeeves; Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves; and Jeeves & The Tie that Binds) but again a minor quibble.
7. A Fine and Private Place, Peter S. Beagle, and
8. I See By My Outfit, Peter S. Beagle. Two early works by a gifted author, #7 is Beagle's first novel, #8 is autobiographical, a description of a cross-country motor scooter trip taken by him and a friend in the early 1960s.
9. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Hunter S. Thompson. No explanation needed.
10. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, Randy Shilts. Examination of the AIDS epidemic and a devastating take-down of the American public health system and the Reagan administration that was quite willing to ignore disease until it became clear heterosexuals and kids could die from it, too.
11. Danny and the Boys, Robert Traver. A fun book by the author of Anatomy of a Murder.
12. The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age, Walter A. MacDougall. There's a reason this one won a Pulitzer for history.
13. Can You Forgive Her?, Anthony Trollope. The first of the Palliser novels, and the one that turned me into a Trollope fan.
14. Two Years Before the Mast, Richard H. Dana. Fascinating true account of two years Dana spent as a common sailor in the 1830s on a ship that sailed from Boston to California.
15. Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature, Thor Heyerdahl. An account of the year Heyerdahl and his bride spent on Fatu Hiva in the 1930s. Heyerdahl's observations there influenced his scholarship and later work, particularly the Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947.
I think #3 is the only one I have no interest in revisiting. It was memorable at the time, but once was enough.
I have been a science fiction fan since about the 5th grade, and I've always been a fan of the hard core stuff, actual science fiction in the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers. I am also, for various reasons (maybe it was the influence of Heinlein on me in my formative years), a fan of military science fiction.
A few months ago I stumbled across a series of co-authored books (March Upcountry, March to the Sea, March to the Stars and We Few) co-authored by David Weber and John Ringo. I liked the series. So I figured I'd go looking for more -- and I'd also try out the individual authors and see what I thought.
Well, I read one book by David Weber writing solo, and was not impressed. It felt flat, and left me with no desire to go looking for any others. So then I tried John Ringo, A Hymn Before Battle. I was hooked instantly. Gust Front is the second in a series of (thank you, book gods!) twelve titles related to the Posleen wars.
There is, of course, almost no chance genre fiction like this will ever be considered great literature, even though Ringo is a highly talented author. Still, the prose flows nicely on the page and the books respect a reader's intelligence. He is treading familiar ground: an alien threat that isn't taken seriously until it's too late, military officers intent on fighting the last war instead of the one they're confronted with now, various nefarious machinations happening in the background (including a group of what can only be summarized as Benedictine ninjas that make Dan Brown's fantasies about Opus Dei look positively trite in comparison) to tease the reader into wondering into just who is actually allied with whom and when will the ultimate betrayals be revealed -- in short, it's all wonderfully entertaining, mind candy at its finest.
I'm almost done with Gust Front, and am giving serious thought to actually driving tomorrow to the branch library that has When the Devil Dances (book #3) on its shelves instead of doing my usual request for it to be delivered to Brookhaven.