The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Back to the bible

Another much-appreciated holiday gift was the brand new illustrated Book of Genesis by R. Crumb. I'm not going to go into much detail here, partly because I never discuss religion or politics, and partly because it's time to go make dinner, but it is absolutely a must if you're a fan of Crumb, a fan of the Judeo-Christian tradition, interested in mythology, were enthralled by the other great cartoonist of history and science, Larry Gonick, or if you, like me, wonder what it was they were smoking, back there BCE. Me, I've read it twice already, since Christmas.

Seriously, grab a copy, if you can find one, before Sarah Palin becomes President and bans it. It's great stuff, and the friends who got it for me managed to find a hard-bound edition -- they're apparently in short supply.

As Gilbert Shelton said ...

"That's the first hippy who didn't want to stay and get stoned. I guess you guys can put away the stones."

Gil Shelton, as I'm sure you all know, is the author of many a fine comic strip, including the iconic Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Since the eponymous trio in that series espoused drug abuse as a hobby, avocation, profession, and art form, you will remember or can easily imagine that the word "stoned" appeared frequently, in literal usage and as a pun. So with a bow to Shelton and the brothers, I follow suit, and announce that I got stoned for Christmas. In particular, an old friend stoned me.

If you look at the accompanying picture, you'll see two of the stones in question, a pair out of a set of nine dimensionally identical soapstone cubes, intended to be kept in the freezer and used in lieu of ice cubes in one's glass of whiskey. They work just fine, bringing the creature to a nice cool state, not icy cold but definitely below room temperature (it occurs to me that despite owning at least three kinds of thermometer which would have told me just how cold, I haven't performed that simple test. Oh, well.)

The other items in the picture are all, of course, necessary ingredients in the making of Splunge, the traditional Serbo-Elbonian holiday drink (the required three-quarters of a kilo of ground squirrel (not to be confused with groundsquirrel) were still in the double boiler when we took the picture.)

Anyway, thanks from the stonee to the stoner and Sláinte (pronounciation) to all, in anticipation of New Year's! ... are there any women here today?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Drink responsibly

Or if not responsibly, at least with proper reverence for the elderly molecules in the bottle.

Over the holidays, we opened a 22-year-old bottle of a California varietal, and by God, it was drinkable!

The summary is, when we cleaned out my parents' old house up in Shiawassee, there were a few bottles of this and that in the basement, including a 1988 Marilyn Merlot. No idea where they got it or why they hadn't consumed it, but we brought it back home and hung on to it, tagging it for opening in 2008. Somehow, that didn't happen, and so we brought it out this year, assuming it would be vinegar. To my astonishment, it was drinkable -- a bit oxidized, perhaps, but drinkable. Hadn't even become noticeably brown.

For more on the topic of opening the legacy wine, see my old article elsewhere.

How the mighty have fallen

Ok, not the mighty, so much, as the cost of storage. Not too many years back, the VP of IT where I worked was fond of saying, "disk is cheap," and basically refusing to talk to you unless you were talking in terabytes. Somehow, though, he never really delivered any of that cheap disk he kept talking about. (He was, essentially, a slime ball imbecile rat bastard, but that's completely beside the point.)

Anyway, for a range of reasons, I just ordered a new USB standalone drive for my home machines -- 1TB at a grand total of $95, shipped free. And that's for a single unit -- those of you who do real IT and don't pay for the trappings that go with wrapping up a terabyte for consumer purposes are paying a lot less than that. What hath God wrought?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Crazier and crazier

This weekend, Italian PM Sylvio Berlusconi was smacked in the face with a "spiky" tourist souvenir model of the Milan, I think it was, Duomo. Last night, a different young man was apprehended after he nearly got to Berlusconi's hospital room. Police are being vague about what he had in mind, but he was apparently mentally disturbed and a Berlusconi supporter (not incompatible states, as far as I can tell.) But what I found most remarkable about it all (aside from the complete incompetence of Italian security forces) was the following:

"A search of the man's parked car found "hockey sticks and kitchen knives," the official said, but the man apparently plays hockey. He will be cited for transporting the knives without justification, the official said."

But not for the hockey sticks, since he obviously had justification for that. I think I'm going to swear off making fun of the French.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Here's to ya

Everyone, right and left, who doesn't understand the following phrase:

Si vis pacem, parati para bellum

Astonishing, how a little classical education can help you understand your president.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Naval Nomenclature

Linda and I were reading in the sunlight yesterday, about Picasso and the role of naval power in the Mediterranean, respectively, and in the course of trading snippets of what we encounter (as is our wont,) came up with the following footnote to the course of military taxonomy.

Apparently the British had trouble thinking of good names for all their destroyers. My book mentioned, among many others, HMS Lookout, obviously one of the famous "Warning" class, which also included HMS Holy Shit, HMS Duck and Cover, HMS AIEEEE, and HMS Hey, guys, watch this!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Perhaps unintentional irony

There's a story getting some play in the last 24 hours, based on a "new ideas" post on the New Geography blog at the New York Times, saying the best thing to do with Detroit is turn it into farm land. Leaving aside the brownfield issues that might raise, it has some merit (I have, after all, proposed turning the abandoned Georgetown Shopping Center into an urban chicken farm.) But the irony comes in with the quote published by Sheena Harrison in the Mlive article about it all that "... the people are almost literally hearkening back to the formative days of the Midwest frontier, when pioneer settlers faced horrible conditions, tough odds, and often severe deprivation..."

The preceding article in Mlive's Detroit coverage is headed, "Detroit police investigating Sunday drive-by, seeking four suspects armed with shotgun, AK-47." Sounds more like Kabul than the Midwest.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

So, you're a dictator ...

... and you've decided to write a book. What you really want is a forward from a universally - admired and beloved leader, say, Nelson Mandela, that praises you. "Get me some of that," you tell your ghost writers. But Mandela isn't accepting any such requests anymore. No problem, just write it for him. Save him the trouble, and all that.

It's official

Voting Republican is bad for your health.

Just in time for holiday giving

A real time mockery of Palin's new book.

If I have time, I'll compile a more comprehensive list of this year's must-have gifts. Stand by.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kung Fu Kuisine!

If you have any of the following attributes:

  • A fondness for Chinee-movie-Kung-Fu (which, I admit, I do not possess)
  • Enthusiasm for what looks like really good Pac-rim food
  • Interest in do-it-yourself promotional video

Check out the Kill Soup Dumpling video on the website of Joe's Shanghai Restaurants. Inspired silliness, probably driven by threatened consumer lawsuits.

Remember, "never bite into a hot soup dumpling!"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Some science news

I've been slacking off on posts lately, so here are a few recent developments in the world of science, in lieu of actually writing anything myself:

  • Lower Paleolithic knife skills: "(The implication is) ... that either one person from the clan butchered the group's meat in a few episodes over time, or multiple persons hacked away at it in tandem," says Prof. Avi Gopher.
  • Dogs won't take your word for it when you say "It's OK, Spot, don't worry about the thunder!" But they do seem to like having other dogs around.
  • Like venal psychiatrists, scientists have managed to give flies false memories of bad things happening to them.
  • Chimps will pass the crescent wrench, when asked, but so far, not without being asked, it says here.
  • A kakapo gets cuddly; rare parrot assaults photographer while journalist stands by snickering. (Parental discretion advised.)
  • The solar system has a wall, perhaps to keep out riff-raff. Note that Science News can't seem to decide whether it's talking about the solar system (article) or the galaxy (headline.)

And an older piece that I'd meant to bring to your attention, but didn't.

And finally, ponder this: I saw something recently along the lines of "everything is an invasive species, at one time or another, actual damage done by invasive species isn't all that much proportionately, don't worry about it ..." Can't find the reference now, unfortunately, but in counter balance to it, this alarmingly-named article was running in a number of places just today. I think I'll keep on worrying, personally.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Full disclosure

Recently, news media have reported a new FTC ruling that requires disclosure of payments to bloggers. Since I have a life-long personal commitment to openness in communication, I feel called upon to make the following statement.

Since the early 1980s, I have been paid amounts that, in sum, are in excess of one hundred seventy-four million dollars ($174,000,000) by a number of organizations, including The campaign to re-elect Turkmenbashi, the publishers of Sarah Palin's new book, Tata Motors, and TGI Friday's Worldwide, in return for NOT talking about them.

With this post, these agreements are terminated, and I'll be returning the money.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Those who can remember the past are doomed ...

... to irrationally fear its recurrence, I suppose. Guess who opposed the re-unification of Germany?

The difference between two countries

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disappeared for a bit this week, giving rise to all kinds of rumors. He initially claimed he was visiting a secret Mossad base, then just clammed up.

Now here in America, we'd just assume he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Having gotten that obvious joke off my chest, here's a link to more info on the on-going, wierdly fascinating story of the mystery Russian ship.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

More dinner pics

The photo interface here is sufficiently primitive that I've taken to putting anything with multiple images on Flikr. There's a few shots of (yet another) dinner up there now.

Sadly ...

... this establishment in the outskirts of Brimley, MI, is no longer in business. Looked like fun.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Conchiglie rigate con salsiccia del Roberto Passero

A quick dish - our own tomatoes and basil with some breakfast sausage and shells. Onion, garlic, mace, fennel pollen. Dinner. Use babelfish on the title if you need to.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Oil doesn't have a woman's demeanor

... according to the Ruskies, anyway. If you can stand it, have a look at this PR film, posted by DangerRoom.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A nice exposition

Our Oakland correspondent sends us this link on writing skills.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A strange but satisfying book

So I've finished (mostly - still on the appendices) The Last Century of Sea Power, by H.P. Wilmott. This is a vast (507 pages), new (2009) work by a British (oh, so very British) author, published, strangely enough, by Indiana University Press. It's hugely analytical, packed with tables of things like cargo volumes, sinkings, orders of battle in wars you've never heard of -- and it's only Volume I. It's a little light on the editing -- quite a few mis-usages that can't be explained by sheer Britishness, for example. But nonetheless, exactly the kind of book I like to find.

Why? Because a) it's full of just that you-be-damned, I've got tenure, British academic attitude that, occasionally, engenders good historical analysis, b) it's really analytical (that is, the author makes a logical case for his assertions instead of just stating his opinions), and c) Wilmott is clearly out of his tiny mind, but in a good way. In the narrative, he'll set up a classically-structured paragraph, make his argument, and then -- once a chapter, at least -- leave you open-mouthed at the end. Consider this example, in which he addresses the received idea of German military excellence (with which, in case you can't tell, he is not impressed:)

"... the very fact that for so long the student was fed on a diet of German proficiency, indeed excellence, invites obvious comment. To slightly amend Oscar Wilde's famous witticism: to lose one world war may be regarded as unfortunate but to lose two smacks of carelessness. Indeed, one's own argument is that the Germans, in two world wars, may have displayed tactical quality but the evidence would seem to suggest that in both conflicts Germany was possessed of leadership that never understood the difference between war and a war, between a war and a campaign, and a campaign and a battle. Of course, it is incumbent upon all not to explain the distinction to Germans lest the bastards really do become dangerous."

With apologies to any German readers who may take offence, I laughed at that for a day or so. And anyway, any historian who thinks Jackie Fisher was not a good influence is ok in my book. (Wilmott doesn't think much of Churchill, either: "... the self-advertising charlatan ..." which, again, accords with my views.) Alas, his works don't seem to deal very much with events outside the last century; after reading this volume, I'd welcome a book by him on the US Civil War: "... that probably traitorous, certainly incompetent nineteenth century equivalent of Fabius, George McClellan ..."

Oh, well. Wonder what he'll have to say about Halsey?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Another quick dinner

Capellini with a cream sauce, wax peppers, grape tomatoes, and chopped raw squash blossoms. The side (not shown) was sautee'd summer squash and wilted purslane.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Three and a half pounds of comfort

It's been a while, but I found an unencumbered Saturday afternoon and made a lug of duck and pork sausage. I vacuum pack 'em in threes -- maybe a third of a pound per package -- and freeze 'em, leaving a small amount in the refrigerator for the next day's breakfast. And since I pull the fat off half the duck breasts that go into the force meat, there's rendered duck fat as a byproduct, meaning that aforesaid breakfast can include potatoes fried in duck fat. It don't get much better than that, as the feller says.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I get it. I see what's happening. Palin is going ... to switch parties! She's going to pull a Lieberman! Nooooooooooo!

Finally putting Flikr to some use

A few snapshots from the 2009 Rolling Sculpture car show in beautiful downtown Ann Arbor.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The wonder of it all

I just don't think I'm going to say anything at all about ex-Governor Palin. What could I add? I already have such a great schadenfreude buzz going that I just feel like letting it ride.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A request from Food Gatherers ...

... to harass your elected officials. The following is from an email I got from FGs, the Ann Arbor food bank / food rescue place where we both (and some of you, too, I believe) have volunteered from time to time. If you're inclined to do so, the link in the content below is to an automated send-em'-a-message site.

On Thursday, June 11, the Michigan Senate voted to cut funding for the Food Bank Council of Michigan's Michigan Agricultural Surplus System (MASS). MASS is a partnership between Michigan food banks, the agricultural community and the Michigan Department of Agriculture that provides a means for collection and distribution of surplus Michigan-grown agricultural produce. Annually, nearly six million pounds of food are distributed to local pantries, soup kitchens and shelters that would otherwise go to waste or end up in a landfill.

A House version of the appropriations bill will be voted on in the upcoming weeks. We're asking you to please contact your State Representative and ask them to restore funding for MASS. We're making it easy for you to contact them via email. Just select the link below and follow the instructions to send a message to your Representative and the Governor. After you've sent your message, you'll have the opportunity to tell others to send a message too. We appreciate your help in spreading the word.

We need you to take action by Tuesday, June 30. Here's the link:

Thanks for your help in urging decision makers to keep funding to feed Michigan's hungry.

Let's pretend ...

... that I'm a political pundit.

"So, Jon, I have to say, isn't this just like the Republicans? I mean, here's a so-called conservative, Mark Sanford, supposedly a friend of the working guy, a populist, or so he'd like us to believe, and he does something like this!. Elliot Spitzer, a flaming liberal if there ever was one, he at least did his dirty business with good old fashioned American small business! But Sanford, he outsources it to the third world! He's taking food out of the mouths of the American sex worker! Shades of Ross Perot -- I hear a giant sucking sound! And as if that weren't bad enough, where does he choose to do his horsing around? The very country that once staged a vicious attack on our most staunch ally in the war against, um, things! What would Reagan say? Margaret Thatcher is spinning in her grave! Although, yes, I know she's not dead yet, but I mean come on! What next? Larry Craig vacationing in Venezuela? Gingrich galavanting in Guatemala? How much will the American people stand?"

And so on and so on. It's soft targets like this that make me envy Letterman.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Another dinner

Rack of lamb, orecchiette with golden beets, beet greens, and pecans.

Hot dog!

Ai, yi yi

On a news web site, my eyes were, however unwillingly, drawn to an ad -- one of those bogus survey things. "Is Obama a good president? Yes/No. Win a free dinner at Olive Garden!"

I'm starting to question my life-long support for the first amendment.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Try to restrain your angst

This is going to anger some readers -- it's not possible that among our acquaintances there are no fans of alternate medicine. But as you probably recall, I am not a fan, especially of the wilder ones like homeopathy and Traditional Medicine. It's not that I admire the American Medical Association, I just doubt (see post below) anything that claims it will make me feel better by sticking needles in my body or dosing me with the internal secretions of other, already endangered mammals. I have, perhaps, an unusually low threshold of tolerance for preposterousness. Maybe it's a character flaw, who knows? But I did want to pass along to y'all an interesting AP story, about a US Government agency you probably didn't know existed: The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The AP story is linked below; the summary: NCCAM has spent two and a half billion dollars of your money funding studies into alternate medicine. The score so far:

  • Taking ginger may ease nausea after chemotherapy
  • Yoga and massage may make you feel a bit better than you did

Things that were funded and, amazingly, didn't work out:

  • Ginkgo biloba for memory
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis
  • Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes
  • Saw palmetto for prostate problems
  • Shark cartilage for cancer (I wrote about this last piece of rubbish way back in the 90's)
  • And -- for two million dollars -- whether acupressure on your face can help with weight loss (it doesn't)

I could go on a bit more about it all myself, but instead, I'll quote from a paper presented in 2001 to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP) by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H.. You can see all of it here, but the following paragraphs say a lot about why this sort of nonsense gets national attention and money:

Much has been written about the "medical establishment" and its institutions and systems of delivering medical care. I think it is fair to note the existence of the "'alternative' medical establishment" which includes promoters, practitioners, organizations, foundations, retail businesses, wholesale businesses, politicians, the NCCAM, the WHCCAMP, and other institutions. The "alternative" medical establishment has even extended its reach into medical schools, other professional schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, and insurance plans. In so doing, alternativists have increased their power and, in effect, invalidated the NCCAM definition of complementary and alternative medicine.

"Alternative" medicine is alternative in the sense of espousing or reflecting different values. The science-based medical establishment insists that health products and services be proved safe and effective—with proponents bearing the burden of proof—before promoting them. Alternativists often value hunches, clinical impressions, subjectivity, anecdotes, reports of best cases, legends, and so-called "other ways of knowing," as sufficient "proof" to justify their promotional efforts. They tend not to value efforts to identify sources of clinical illusions and to reduce the problems of systematic and nonsystematic errors leading to faulty conclusions.

Alternativists also value different credentials and standards of practice than most consumers expect. Many "alternative" credentials and standards of practice do not require professional accountability.

Anyway, read the AP article here, if you like. It talks about the idiocy that resulted in this agency's existence in the first place (legislators who thought some imbecilic practice helped them and demanded funding to study it, among other reasons), and the fox-in-the-hen-house policy of using alternative practitioners to lead studies into their own dogma. Makes for good reading, unless of course you believe passionately in Black Cohosh, whatever the hell that is. But for even better reading, have a look at one of my favorite sites, QuackWatch, and see what the good doctor Stephen Barrett has to say about things like TCM and chiropractic. And try to stay healthy.

Don't shoot that carnivore

In our on-going quest to question things ("I doubt the really big doubts." Socrates, according to Larry Gonick), we were interested to see a study that questions the typical game-management strategy of restricting hunting to males of the species in question. Turns out that in critters that are infanticidal, removing males results in greater offspring losses to other males. Lions and cougars are examples.

Of course, it begs the question of whether trophy hunting should be allowed at all, but I'm not going to touch that thorn (or pet that tiger, as an exec of my acquaintance would say) in the current political environment. Anyway, read the study if you're interested.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Spring, finally

The "garden" (one 3x3 raised bed) is yielding fresh basil, the markets have reasonable tomatoes and asparagus -- maybe it's really going to be spring, eventually, before summer gets here.

Caprese with local mozzarella, filleto di manzo, asparagus with smoked paprika mayonnaise, and sauteed summer squash.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Coping with the economy

On Territorial Road, right off M-23, there was a pickup truck pulled off onto the side. He had a homemade sign out: "For sale: Bansai."

The misspelling aside, it seemed more like a Subaru cottage industry than a Dodge Ram one, but everybody's gotta play to their strengths, I guess.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fun with the 18-200 Nikkor

Once in a while you grab a lucky shot. Coney and Rambo, exchanging business cards "... let's do lunch -- have your people call my people."

And a 13" beagle (yes, they refer to the varieties by size) demonstrates the concept of depth of field.

Here's the lens.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More Cartoon Themes

I'm now up to 1981 in my complete history of the New Yorker cartoon, and some additional primal themes have emerged. Gone, almost completely, are the Arab-on-Flying-Carpet gags, the gypsy fortune tellers, and the sandwich board humor. Since the seventies, the rise of soi-disant jokes about guys in suits, living the corporate life and being either smug or disillusioned about it (depending on which recession was going on) are far in the majority. The idea that goings-on in board rooms are somehow funny was rife. The desert island castaways continue, arguably alive to this day in television guise, as is in reduced quantity the "go and never darken my door again" unwed-mother bit. But also hidden among the three-piece-suit paradigms were some of these constants:

Rats deserting a sinking ship
Workers picketing an establishment (40's and 50's, mostly)
The tunnel of love (dying out by the 80's)
The safari leader with a team of natives carrying things on their heads
Nude artist's models
Insomniacs counting sheep (or something)
Indians sending smoke signals
Criminals being questioned
The Ladies' club meeting (gone by the 70's)
Workmen down in a manhole, saying something ironic
Diogenes and his quest for an honest man
The smiley face (first shows up in 1971)
Mirror, mirror, on the wall ...
Snake charmers and snakes
People kicking the tires on cars
IRS audits
Cave men who court cave women by hitting them on the head
People (or something) being announced on entering a party

With the late 60's and 70's, a thread appears about people who are or aren't having a good time at cocktail parties, with some kind of incongruous or ironic reason why or why not. Little or nothing of the drug culture shows up, only a few bits mention Vietnam, nothing at all about the Kennedy assassinations, and there are but a couple of guess-who's-coming-to-dinner race relation ideas. Unsurprisingly, the 70's cartoons are largely a bore, with a lot of William Steig's crap and the execrable Roz Chast. But we do see many wonderful drawings by George Booth, with his dogs that are the heirs of Thurber's.

I'll let you know how things turn out when Reagan's out of office.

The most fun you can have in bare feet

Well, perhaps not. But GelPro kitchen mats are pretty good on bare feet. Tossed the beat-up old rug that was in the prep area in favor of the smallest of GelPro's line, and the early returns are in favor. My fellow cooks are welcome to drop by and try a stand on it. The dog is unimpressed, but the bipeds in the house are in favor of it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What we're drinking lately

Although I remain an enthusiastic fan of bourbon -- particularly Woodford Reserve -- a recent article in Saveur sent me to my source of all things alcohol, Matt Morgan at Morgan and York, inquiring about the availability of the new, improved, more single-malt Scotch-like Irish whiskeys. As usual, Matt was able to offer something of a selection, and I chose The Tyrconnell single-malt for starters. This is a pot still whiskey, distilled by Cooley's.

Soft, subtle, nothing at all like the robust blends that you probably think of when you think of Irish. Well worth a try.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cartoonic Themes

Hello, my name is Joe and I'm a cartoonaholic. I have always had an obsessive need to read cartoons, no matter how badly drawn, written, conceived, etc. And the a-number-one enabler of my sickness this quarter is my newly-acquired copy of The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker, published at $100, and now widely remaindered. The thing with this baby, see, is that it's not just a vast, big honkin' book, but also a pair of CDs, chock full of every damn cartoon they ever published, up through 2004. All of 'em. Every one. All 64,000-plus of 'em. And like the guy who read the whole OED, I'm gonna have to read every one of these, just because I do. And that means you're going to hear about it, occasionally.

As a start, here's a list of themes that I've noticed cropping up again and again, some of them obvious, others more surprising:

Crawling through the desert, with or without mirage
Desert island castaways
Therapy patients on the couch
Predatory older men and / or younger women
Asking for a raise
Ordering the daughter and her illegitimate child to leave the home
Juries, trial attorneys, and defendants
Pan handlers

Those are pretty unsurprising, but I was puzzled to find lots of panels on these topics:

Women buying liquor and being clueless about it
Cubism and modernism in art, in general (Henry Moore really knocked 'em dead)
Arabs on flying carpets
Muslim women in burkas
Arabs with multiple wives and the hilarious consequences thereof (no mention of Mormons at all)
Losing boxers (fighters, not shorts)
Visualizing members of the opposite sex without their clothes
Perfume counter sales people and customers
Gypsy fortune tellers
The love seat (the now-vanished S-shaped settee for two)
Sandwich board ads and the men wearing them
Convicts saying something ironic
The high cost of groceries (especially prevalent in the WWII and post-war years)
Housing Shortages

Who'd of thunk that a moderately well-dressed women wondering "how many slugs" a bottle of booze contains would be such a hoot?

Anyway, don't be surprised if you get more of this sort of thing -- I'm pretty pathetic when it comes to this.

Best idea I've heard lately

Texas seceding from the Union, that is. Think how much fun it would be to serve on the border patrol, come up with the list of contraband substances and undesirable persons, and so on.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

More rubbish about remaindered books

Apologies for yet another compendium of remaindered books, but somehow this stuff strikes me as both funny and significant. This time, the vendor is Edward R. Hamilton bookselling company, offering a large tabloid catalog packed with books that for one reason or another are being dumped. As I think you'll see, many of them have a single, compelling reason.

To begin with, there appears to be a huge sell-off in the self-help and autodidact biz:

  • Business Math Demystified
  • The Internet for Dummies
  • Free Software for Dummies
  • Controlling Cholesterol for Dummies
  • Stretching for Dummies
  • Chihuahuas for Dummies
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Shakespeare
  • Puppy Parenting
  • Hedge Funds Demystified
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to NASCAR
  • Macroeconomics Demystified
  • The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Homemade Dogfood
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Being Vegetarian
  • 30 Minutes a Day to a Better Horse
  • 101 Things to Do With Tofu
  • High Blood Pressure for Dummies
  • Pagan Every Day

A few books whose market may have become limited by recent events:

  • Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild
  • The Case For Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office
  • Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning
  • Ron Paul Speaks
  • How to Talk to a Liberal (if you must): The World According to Ann Coulter
  • The Bush Family Cookbook
  • The Magic of Peanut Butter

And then there are those that are just plain hard to categorize:

  • Seduced by Bacon
  • Pat Boone's America
  • The Best of Windows Vista
  • American Farm Tractor and Implement Dealerships
  • The Hooters Cookbook

By the way, these are all absolutely real, at least to the extent that they appeared in a catalog. I couldn't make this stuff up.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Just in time for father's day

As another blogger noted, writing about a strange sole-source deal to supply Iraq with Russian helicopters, sole-sourcing seems odd when, as he put it, you can just about buy 'em on-line.

Can you see one of these, converted to a camper?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Three down

In what has to be a resume' negative for him, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner was fired by the US government. "Reason for leaving last position? ... well, um ..."

Two down

The Ann Arbor News is folding. The most poignant, to the point comment on the demise of this bastion of journalistic excellence was provided by one of the many people who posted comments on the on-line edition, reproduced here just about verbatim, including punctuation and capitalization:

"What about the COUPONS??!???!!!"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

One down ...

Bello Vino no more.

Surrealism hits restaurant reviews

Francois Simon writes, "...the burata (cow’s milk mozzarella) that will know your socks off ..."

Reminds me of a time, back when I used to have some control over an ad budget, when a hopeful agency rep finished up a sales pitch with the assurance that, "and, of course, we'll just service the heck out of you."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What could possibly go wrong?

Hand up, everyone who knows what the phrase "reactive armor" means. Ok. Ok. Very good. Now, hand up, everyone who would like to wear it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Recon report

Operating as I am five or more (in some cases, many more) years ahead of most of y'all (age wise, anyway), here's a brief note on something you can expect to encounter in a while: cataracts. All the steroids I took in 2007 and 2008 gave me a big honkin' blur in my left eye, and just last week, I had it dealt with. So far, I'm a satisfied customer. No longer wearing glasses for distance vision, for the first time since I was 12. Near range is another story, but the sheer convenience of wearing just any old pair of non-prescription sunglasses is worth the price of admission.

The procedure is mostly trivial -- expect to blow half a day, plus lining up the usual "responsible adult" to transport you. No pain, briefly sedated, lots of drops in the eye. What you get is the damaged lens removed and a nice new synthetic one implanted -- which of course won't develop cataracts of its own, so barring complications, once you do an eye, it's done.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shop Local - redux

A while back, I posted my own personal buy local list, saying that "things are tough ..." Well, they haven't gotten any easier, and I believe I'll just repost the list, perhaps with an update or two. Again, if you want these folks to be around, you need to buy from them -- not the big-box stores. Sorry if that's stating the obvious, but I get the impression that not everyone understands it.

Wine, Deli, Chocolates
Morgan and York
1928 Packard, Ann Arbor 48104
734 769 9770
As we say in Ann Arbor, "you know, the old Big Ten Party Store." Repeatedly voted Best Wine Shop. Especially in the realm of small French labels and Kermit Lynch - imported values, this is the place. Update 2009 03 16: see Matt's Wine Buying Trip journal.
Everyday Wines
407 N. Fifth Ave - 1st Floor Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Just as the name implies, Mary Campbell's shop is dedicated to affordable wines. Update 2009 03 16: not the easiest place to see from the street, but always worth a trip.
Produce, high-end groceries, wine
Produce Station
1629 S. State St. Ann Arbor MI 48104
With the exception of the Farmer's Market in season, there is no better place for produce in Ann Arbor, period. Small, inconvenient to get to and get around in, it's worth the effort. Unofficial Rules: do not use a full size grocery cart (even though they have them), do not bring children. Update 2009 03 16: Produce Station has invested in wine and beer as an additional source of revenue, and they do tend to have a good selection of Spanish reds, if you're looking for Tempranillo.
Deli, luxury foods, coffee beans, bread
422 Detroit Street, Ann Arbor MI 48104
Although Zingerman's is the Superpower of local vendors, with aspirations to a global reach via their mail order side, they're still local, and they still roast a fine coffee bean.
Produce, meats, plants
Ann Arbor Farmers Market
315 Detroit St, Ann Arbor 48103
734 994-3276
In season, the best produce available. In the winter, a desolate tundra of crafts and wreaths. I mark the return of reasonable weather in the area by the reappearance of edible things at the market. Unofficial rules: no strollers! Update 2009 03 16: still not much edible, but Spring is coming!
Produce, groceries, wine
Fresh Seasons Market
2281 W Liberty St, Ann Arbor MI 48103
(734) 662-6000
(nothing useful yet as a website)
Again, "the old Coleman's Market." Not on my beat, but Northwest Side residents swear by it.
Meats, produce, groceries
Sparrow Market
415 N. Fifth Ave - 1st Floor Ann Arbor MI 48104
There is no better, more consistent source of meat in Ann Arbor, with the possible exception of the actual raisers who come to the Farmer's Market. The rest of Sparrow's empire in Kerrytown is pretty darn good, too. Update 2009 03 16: Bob and company seem to be hanging in there, and it's coming up on lamb season!
Hannewald Lamb
Stockbridge MI 49285 (in the Farmer's Market, too)
A local raiser, with a Farmer's Market presence. The absolute best lamb I've ever cooked, and nice dog treats, too.
Smoked fish etc.
Durham's Tracklements
212 East Kingsley Street Ann Arbor MI 48104
Nationally-known source for great smoked fish and other smoked animals. In fact, a tiny hole in the wall on the north side of Kerrytown. Wonderful stuff.
Although Busch's exhibits most of the faults of supermarkets, it is, at least, a local enterprise. If you absolutely, positively have to shop at a supermarket, these are slightly better than the other places. Not recommended for anything that perishes or comes in grades of quality, such as fish, meat, deli, or produce.
Dog-related Stuff
The retail presence of Carolyn's Ann Arbor dog empire, including the most exclusive dog recreational facility in the area, Pawrun.

And of course, here at the places I beg of you not to spend your money.

Whole Foods: all marketing, all the time, with marginally better quality perishables than low-end supermarkets and a predatory approach to local competition. You spend more for what you buy and get far less value. Not a place to buy wine, either; if you can spell "Bordeaux," let alone pronounce it, you will know more than the wine staff.

Trader Joe's: just say no. There is nothing here that you want, and most of it is of very dubious provenance. Again, the staff know nothing that you don't already know.

Kroger's, Meier's, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Costco, etc. There is absolutely no viable cost/quality equation you can come up with that justifies shopping with these people. None. Don't try.

Matt Morgan's Wine Journal

Our good pal, Matt Morgan of Morgan and York is on a buying trip to various vintners in France. His illustrated trip report is here -- good reading if you're a fan of non-Parkerized, real wines.

Tempers flare, shoes fly

To believe or not ... according to this conspiracy theorist, Iranian President Ahmadinejad was himself the victim of a shoeing, after a bit of a PR issue (his motorcade running down a local). The Iranian Govt. denies it. Take your pick. But if it's true, then it seems we may have a dangerous trend of escalation going on here -- it's no longer enough to fling pies at those of whom we disapprove. Shoes (presumably) hurt more.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dinga Dinga Dee

You really need to see this state-of-the-imbecile marketing video from Israeli arms provider, Rafael. Nothing I could say would add to the wonder of it all.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Parliamo dei pesci

Good evening. Tonight, I'd like to speak to you about fish. But first, I'd like to take as my text, a restaurant review in New York magazine, titled, "Get Serious: David Burke's Fishtail ..." oh, never mind. It's not really worth your time, since it's about another silly NY restaurant, opened by another silly NY chef, serving more silly rubbish like Monkfish paella, calamari mac and cheese, and so on. My point is simply that the things the author liked were halibut, und zu wieder -- the simple fish.

For Christ's sake, who eats halibut anymore? Dover sole? Monkfish?

Dear friends, I have come back to you from the land of fish, and I bring you the truth: Moi and Sea Trout. Ono sandwiches, for all love! Ahi curry soup! Tanned young pan-Asians who whisper softly, "Our fresh catch of the day is Ono ..."

A fair land, where one drifts gently into Sensui retail seafood outlet and comes away with 3.5 pounds of Ono filet to feed a multitude (all right, nine) of hungry howlie, cut in half, spread with a pesto of fresh ginger, basil, garlic, and shallots, wrapped in foil, and baked for 45 minutes or so.

A place where enough twitching-fresh shrimp can be had in Chinatown to feed the same crew of round-eyes for six dollars and 50 cents, even as the other guests at the hotel dine on bratwurst and beans.

An island (several of 'em, in fact) where fish farms have out-front restaurants to feed you Mahi Mahi and Moi (yes, I said Moi, the legendary fish of great unavailability) and where the most unprepossessing, main-street, touristy places serve an entire snapper, steamed with a ginger/onion sauce for two, to be oh-so-respectfully torn apart with chopsticks, while lesser breeds without the law look on in wonder (or mild disinterest, depending on your perception.)

I wouldn't want to live there, but I loved the food.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Like Douglas MacArthur ...

... we have returned.

Actually, that's just about the only thing we have in common with Douglas MacArthur. Let's see: MacArthur - commanded a vast army that re-took the Pacific from the Japanese. Me - command a small crew of bureaucrats. MacArthur - advocated the use of nuclear weapons in the Korean war. Me - advocate a boycott of Whole Foods. MacArthur - smoked a corncob pipe. Me - occasionally make corncob broth for use in risotto.

But he was in Hawaii from time to time, and so were we. But we're back. The photo is my initial pick of a vast number - sunrise from the shore, outside the house we stayed in.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What's for dinner?

We celebrated Valentine's day (which is also Coney Dog's service anniversary and the anniversary of moving into our current headquarters) by dining at a quaint little neighborhood spot -- oh, all right, our house -- with oyster stew and thyme croutons (using the White Dog Cafe's recipe); fettuccine with crimini, zucchini, and peperoni; and roast chicken with onions and rosemary. Why do you care? You probably don't.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Another one from the archves

This was written, at least according to the date, on 01/01/2000, apparently to mark the turning over of the century or something. Not sure, actually, what I was talking about, but here it is, claiming to be a piece resurrected from a hundred years back.

Woode-Charles Intelligencer and The Scio Township Farmer's Voice

All the herein under found material is the sole property and the copyright of which is held by, in the year of our Lord, 1900, by the Woode-Charles Family, its heirs and assigns.



Ann Arbor: Although it is not our custom to rant or to take up lightly a potentially controversial position, this paper can no longer remain silent in the matter of this most dangerous and insidious tendency of our elected officials, loosely termed by them and even by those opposed to them as "progressivism." For so-called progressivism, make no mistake, threatens the very foundations of our republic and the cornerstones of our individual liberties. And lest anyone should consider the danger to be slight or the threat to be far removed, they have only to remind themselves that our state government is even now in the hands of a man very closely associated with progressivism, none less than the ex-Mayor of the City of Detroit, Hazen Pingree.

What are Governor Pingree's associations and his intents? Recall, first of all, that he is usually mentioned in the same breath with such wild- eyed radicals as Mayors Johnson and Baker of Cleveland, those very anarchists who championed the municipal ownership of utilities, taking the bread from the mouths of those who invested their hard-earned capital in the development of righteous monopolies. And is he, Pingree, not also stamped from the same mold as that raving madman, Robert La Follette, now striving to sway the good people of Wisconsin from their steady, American values and convince them to elect him, too, to the position of Governor? What can we expect from these savage, bomb- flinging fiends, if we allow them to continue their assault upon our virtues? Allow us to suggest a few likely if not inevitable consequences of the unchecked growth of the progressive view of society.


Is it not bad enough that mere laboring men now band together to stymie the legitimate aims of capital? What if, as they now threaten to do, the educated classes, such as doctors, continue their steps toward consolidation? We understand that in a very few years, a nationwide association of physicians may come into being, stifling by its very orthodoxy the creativity and enterprise of the individual experimenter and the noble institution of midwifery. And let us not even imagine the results of a similar combination of members of the legal profession -- the thought is too horrible to entertain.


It is commonly known that progressives hold as their highest aim the development of a society run by engineers and with efficiency its summum bonum. The tract published last year by Mr. Thorstein Veblen makes this extremely clear. What it does not state is the condition of slavery to which the majority of Americans would be reduced by such a lunatic philosophy. Imagine a society in which engineers were the leaders! Imagine the horror of even polite conversation, sprinkled with the language of the engine room, the drafting table, and the logarithm! Imagine the fate of a people, so besotted with technology that they allow themselves to be swept up in its cold, unfeeling embrace, abandoning the delights of the table, the hearth, and even the boudoir!


The progressives, as is well known, advocate nothing less than increased freedom and participation in society for women. However, if women are allowed these liberties, will not their unquestioned frailness require new devices and conveyances? What woman, burdened with children and livestock, can handle a full-sized carriage or buckboard wagon? Will it not be necessary for a family to have two vehicles, one for him and one for her? Will our streets not become choked to impassability with these new, miniature carriages, driven poorly and often in the improper direction?


Dogs and their bustling, robust American nobleness are another target of the vile progressives. It has been clearly determined from private documents that Pingree and his ring of accomplices have a plan to introduce small, foreign, even German dogs into Michigan, eventually supplanting our virile, healthy hounds with yapping, mindless little informers and socialists, carrying tales back to their masters in Lansing while you and I sleep the uneasy, dream-ridden sleep of the just but persecuted ...

(Note: the Editor, Mr. Woode, did not finish that last sentence in time for the paper to be set up in type, owing to a sudden fit. The management apologizes for the truncated nature of this week's editorial and hopes to resume a full and open discourse on the health of the state in the weeks to come. -- R. Ludwig Charles, Publisher.)


The Woode-Charles Intelligencer and The Scio Township Farmer's Voice is supplied with funds to continue its crusade for the rights of the businessman, the farmer, and the landed gentry by the kind offices of The Odd Town Tavern, where the sons of liberty and justice repair once a week to refresh themselves, seek enlightenment, and draw up lists of names for the coming week's tar-and-featherings.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

To the barricades, Comrades!

I have a long-standing personal rule against getting worked up over local political events and processes. Think globally, act ... well, not so much, has always been my motto. But this is one that will get me up and out of my bark-a-lounger (a comfy chair shared with a dog.) As if things weren't bad enough around here, the absolute last thing we need is a bunch of rickshaws competing with the buses, bicycles, demented pedestrians, squirrels, robot-armed garbage trucks, orange cones, potholes ... um, and what else? Damn, there's something else that's supposed to be able to use the streets ... hell, my memory ... Oh, yeah! Motor vehicles!


And before someone points out that Grand Rapids and Lansing have already tried this, let me just say, "I rest my case."

An old parody

There's been a certain amount of Lincoln talk in the media, it being well-nigh his birthday and all. Reminded me of the following, from the old Wood-Charles News Service, back around 1995 or so.


Well, you heard the story of the '94 race,
GOP got right in the Democrats' face.
While the lib'ral commies was a-sittin' round thinkin',
They got outflanked by the Party o' Lincoln.

They got Lincoln voters, but they really screwed up
Should've bought Newt a Labrador pup.
'Stead of doin' all that civil rights trashin'
And lettin' the Kansans go on Darwin bashin'.

They lost their grip late one night,
Challenged Reno to a hell of a fight,
She said I'll give those boys a tweakin'
If the Council's office don't quit leakin'.

An' all of a sudden in the blink of an eye,
There was all these subpoenas a-flyin' by.
No more voters near or far,
They was all stuck in the mud with Kenneth Starr.

Well, they busted 'em all and threw 'em in jail.
Called the Reverend Moon to go their bail.
Uncle Sam said, "Gonna drive me to drinkin'
If you don't quit votin' for the Party o' Lincoln!"

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Screwups, world wide

As President Obama publically admits that he "screwed up," WRT Tom Daschle, another world leader's staff are saying more or less the same thing, except they're using less secular terminology. "Surely, mistakes have been made in the management of the Curia, too, I want to say this explicitly," Cardinal Walter Kasper of the Vatican has been quoted as saying.

How do you get to be Pope, especially a German Pope, and not understand the international flap a holocaust denying bishop would provoke? It all makes me think of a line from some war film, don't remember which one, where a commander is trying to command something, and his troops or pilots or whatever keep undisciplinedly chattering on the radio. "God dammit, I want me some radio discipline!" he yells.

If you can stand it, here's the interview with Bishop Williamson. Besides all else, he appears to be doing a "Depends on what you mean by" thing on the word "anti-semitism."

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A contrarian view

Or, ok, just plain contrary. John Updike died this week, and we're going to see page after page of encomia. Fine, the man's dead -- if you liked his work, ok, but in the immortal tradition of this medium, I just can't hold off on being the voice of opposition.

For what it's worth, I am not a member of the Updike fan club, and I'm baffled by the repeated assertions that he was some sort of great American novelist. His prose was like fingernails on a blackboard, his sole resort seemed to be alliteration, and his characters were the most unlovable, unremarkable crew of non-entities in recent literature. The idea that there is something tragic (let alone noble) in the lives of suburban malcontents did not resonate with me. Still doesn't. Sorry.

My mother once said that you shouldn't read Dickens until you're forty. She was right about that, and I would add the advice that you should probably hold off on Updike for a few more years past that age -- like another hundred or so.

Go ahead, ask me about Tom Wolfe.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lucca bans non-traditional restaurants

Not quite sure where I stand on this issue; having been to and loved Lucca, I'm torn between agreeing with the Govt and with the outraged foodies.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yeesh, re-badged Mini-vans

I don't typically find much of merit in the New York Times' automotive writing, given that they don't employ the varsity squad in this category, nor do they really seem to care all that much about cars -- not surprising in a newspaper centered in a city where driving a car, much less owning one, is essentially an act of insanity. But they did manage to get off a few good ones at the expense of Volkswagen, a company that richly deserves to have a few good ones gotten off at its expense. Lines like "... handling is looser than WaMu’s lending standards." for example. Have a look if you enjoy snarky car reviews.

Friday, January 23, 2009

An archival post

Here's a piece resurrected from the Wood-Charles archives, undated but probably from 1995, given the reference to Gingrich and Boy's Town. Just seemed like a reasonable thing to re purpose, in light of this week's inauguration.


Ann Arbor: Time was, Presidents and other popular entertainers would attempt to capture the public imagination with clever analogies and pithy epigrams. Franklin Roosevelt told the nation, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself and whether I'll live long enough to keep Churchill from getting us into a war in Indochina in twenty years or so." Richard Nixon said, "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more," and of course, he was eventually right.

But now, it seems as though the thrust and parry of highly-paid speech writers is giving way to a new political pontifical paradigm: the film reference. During his infamous orphanage phase, Squeaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested that Americans might remember the classic film, "Boy's Town," to understand what he was talking about. Later, he told his college class that the baseball strike could be settled quickly if the players and owners would just pray together and see "Field of Dreams." Whether Gingrich really defines reality in terms of a series of bad movies (after all, Nixon ("Patton") and Reagan ("Bedtime for Bonzo") did), at week's end it seemed likely that we'd see other political figures reaching for filmic metaphors. Within days, this was demonstrated.

For example, a spokesman for Senator Robert Dole, explaining the Senator's views on health care reform, told reporters to go see "A Fistful of Dollars." Dick Armey, explaining subtle changes in the contract with America, urged voters to attend a special screening of "Plan 9 from Outer Space." And it was rumored that Phil Gramm, Gingrich, Norman Schwartzkopf, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Charleton Heston, and the popular musical performers, the Harmonicats -- all likely Republican presidential candidates in 1996 -- were seen at various Washington theatres showing "Dumb and Dumber" and "The Jerky Boys."

Morris Dancing with the Stars

I meant to post a brief piece on Morris Dancing, which was recently admitted to the International Folk Snarking Society's pointless activities hall of fame, but in the course of doing some research, I came across this image which just about sums it up. Nothing I could say would do more than cloud the issue.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Foodie / political news from DC

A report from our Washington correspondent:

We spent our Saturday doing a bit of DC foodie tourism:

First, a trip to the Eastern Market (kinda like Reading Terminal in Philly, but much smaller), where we snagged a few goodies to bring home, along with killer crabcake and fried oyster sandwiches.

Then we stopped by the 'American History' chunk of the Smithsonian to see Julia Child's kitchen. It was moved lock, stock, and barrel from her Cambridge house when she retired to California. I'd seen it so many times on TV, but it was cool to see the actual physical distances and layout of the place.

Finally, since we were closing in on dinner time, we zipped up to the U Street corridor to grab a dog at Ben's Chili Bowl. We decided we needed to try it after seeing Bourdain go on his "No Reservations" show. This place is a DC institution that goes back 50 years, owned by the same family. It's so respected that during the 60's riots, it went untouched even as stuff around it burned. In addition to a damn tasty chili dog (a half-smoke, actually), we also had political near miss: a couple of hours before we got there, Obama had been in to grab a dog with Mayor Fenty. The place already had a sign up on at the table next to us ("Obama sat here"), and one behind the counter that read, "People who eat free at Ben's Chili Bowl: Bill Cosby, President Obama." But they had to cross out Obama because he insisted on paying. My favorite exchange in the local coverage of this non-event went something like:

REPORTER: "Is your coming to Ben's with Mayor Fenty a signal of the relationship you'd like to have with the city government?"
OBAMA: "It signals that I'm a getting a chili dog."

Hot News!

The Daily Beast points us to a story about the Prez-elect narrowing his choices for first dog!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

More fun with amateur historians

For reasons of my own (to make it sound mysterious and interesting, when in fact it's just another tangent in my own wandering intellectual path), I've been reading about Hernando de Soto and his reign of terror in the US Southeast, mid-sixteenth century. In the course of it, I encountered one of my favorite things, a bitter and acrimonious dispute among academics over exactly where he went. But the differences between the two most commonly - accepted routes, The Hudson Route and the Swanton Route, are minor, compared to the route proposed by the authors of the site, who have misinterpreted (or interpreted to suit themselves) some of the language in sixteenth century sources to suggest that the De Soto mob looted, raped, and pillaged their way to ... Chicago. Yes, Chicago. (Where they narrowly avoided being named to a vacant Senate seat by Rod Blagojevich.) The text on this otherwise entertaining and pretty-looking site says things like this:

The King's Agent with a scouting party for Hernando de Soto's ill fated Conquest of 1541 reported that, "...we traveled eight days (northward In the Illinois Reeds from Terre Haute, Indiana) through an uninhabited land ...

Note that the quotes don't stop when the writer gets to the parenthetical part, leaving the young and foolish to perhaps assume that the conquistador being quoted actually said something about Terre Haute. In fact, the whole thing is arrant nonsense, as anyone who can use a map and a pair of dividers would know. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on the topic includes a representation of the doctrinaire Hudson route, showing (almost certainly correctly) that De Soto and company never got any further north than Mississippi. But they then cite the link, without comment. Another fan site presents an outraged attack on the Chicago version; significantly, no serious works I've found so much as mention this side-battle.

Why do I care? Well, basically, I don't. But something about this "enthusiast versus the world" thing just sucks me in. At one point, I had to deal professionally with some local amateur archaeologists, and it may have colored my point of view.

Backstory: for those who missed the chapter on "Explorers" in Social Studies, De Soto (not "Soto," as one of his more annoying biographers insists on calling him) was a thug from Extramadura who made a huge fortune helping Pedrarias Dávila and Pizzaro rob, kill, and enslave anyone in Panama and Peru who didn't look much like a Spaniard. Returning to Spain with his money and a resume that would have easily gotten him any number of executive positions in today's world, say, for example President of the Sudan, he convinced the Emperor of Spain to give him a licence to take over what was then called La Florida, but essentially amounted to the entirety of North America. His eagerness to do this was based on simple reasoning: new world = gold. Oh, and slaves.

So in 1539 (not 1546, as I unaccountably typed when I first posted this rubbish), he and 600 - odd fellow barbarians descended on the vicinity of Tampa Bay, and began a 3 year, multi-thousand-mile trek through the Southeast, fighting and kidnapping their way into the interior. Although exactly where they went is still the subject of dispute, what we know is that half of them died, as did thousands of locals. De Soto himself died of some disease, somewhere along the banks of the Mississippi river, and what was left of his army built boats (after a minor side trip to Texas, which they were wise enough to turn around and abandon,) and floated their way down river to the gulf. From there, they managed to make it to a Spanish outpost in Mexico.

After De Soto, not much in the way of contact with the interior took place until the Atlantic Seaboard colonies of England began to work their way inland. The Spanish had missions in large parts of Florida proper, but by "interior" I mean Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. In what we can say for convenience was about 100 years, the populations of those areas crashed disastrously, to the point that later explorers found vast uninhabited tracts, and many of the remaining indigenous people no longer remembered who had built the ruins around which they lived.

Why? Like a number of similar crashes in pre-literate cultures, we ain't sure. European diseases are one good bet, although no specifics are available. The Mississipian was in decline already, by some measures, and the shock of contact with De Soto's horde may have pushed some over the edge. There is also some thought that climate change may have been an issue -- and of course, they were corn freaks, and corn depletes the soil, so to some extent, some of them may have farmed themselves out of a job. But it's a grim story, regardless of the details. Best book about it all by a country mile is Charles Hudson, Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dine locally -- before it's too late

Friday night, we had dinner at the Earle Uptown, in the Bell Tower Hotel. This is an off shoot of the old, original Earle, downtown on Washington street. It's generally more French in its menu and somewhat more upscale in decor. Probably has about 15 tables, seats maybe 60 people.

We got there at 7:00, and we were the ONLY diners. When we left an hour and a half later, we were still the ONLY diners. This on a Friday night. Now I grant you, it was the day after New Years', but come on ...

And by the way, the dinner was just fine. Good shrimp bisque, good braised short ribs. I admit I smiled at the menu a bit, simply because it seemed as though someone had recently read the Balthazar cookbook, but that's not a drawback. I like McNally's version of Brasserie food, and I'm happy if someone here wants to purvey it. But serving two covers on a Friday night, any Friday night, does not bode well. Whip out those credit cards, folks, and support your local bistros while they're still here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Doing a little shopping

So these days, our Saturday morning trip to Kerrytown and elsewhere has taken on a new feature, namely Coney Dog accompanies us, and she and Linda have their walk around the area while I shop. This used to involve walks through the neighborhoods and around the periphery of the Farmer's Market (no dogs allowed in the market, sadly, where I'd far rather have them than the infants in double-wide strollers.)

However, a week or so ago, we took Coney to Dogma Catmantoo, a boutique for pets which offers a particular kind of smoked bone she prefers. This morning, Linda says the doggo made a bee line there, and they spent most of their time in the store. What that implies, of course, is that she (the dog) understands where we've gotten to, after a 10 minute (somewhat complicated) car ride, and remembers what's nearby that destination, in terms of retail storefronts and routes down urban sidewalks.

Some authorities say dogs have essentially the mental capacity of a human four-year-old. I have to say, I've known human forty-year-olds who couldn't find their way from the parking lot behind Kerrytown to the 200 block of North Forth with a map, a compass, and a Boy Scout troop.

Found on line

99% of you won't care, but I just found one more example of why the Internet is a good thing: Periodically, I need something like a couple of feet of webbing or some Velcro or something like that. Of course, there's an on-line source. If you ever fabricate or repair gear, book mark these folks against the day when you just gotta have a side-release buckle or a sailor's awl or something.