Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

So much for the benefits of reading. A combination of political ads and depressing news programming has pretty much done for the tiny bit of television I still watched. PBS is no help, what with having the most depressing news and a spate of very noir crime on Mystery.

So I read in bed and make my back stiff.

The sole comedy on the political front comes from the New Hampshire political ads on Boston-area TV. There is a measurement in advertising known as wasted impressions. They come in two flavours. First are the ads that you present to someone who has already seen your ad ten times, or who may already be a customer. After a few times, a little switch goes off in their heads, and you ad goes black. Or else, they may become really, really annoyed with you for repeating the message they've already bought, to the point where they take their business elsewhere. I'll be back to that in a moment.

The other flavour is created by presenting a product to audiences who will never, under any circumstances, wish to buy your product. This gets tricky. Sometimes, advertisers take a calculated risk and present their product in a market where they know perhaps half the audience doesn't buy the product and may even be grossed out by the product. (Think, ads for feminine sanitary supplies during football games.)

This second item, deliberately wasting impressions, explains why the few spaces of Massachusetts TV and radio ad time not consumed by Massachusetts attack ads is filled with New Hampshire attack ads, for and against people you never heard of. The Granite State has a pitiful handful of its own TV stations, and only one has statewide coverage. The most populous parts of the state have relied on Boston media since the invention of the telegraph.

This year's deluge takes the idea to extremes. For one thing, Massachusetts' population is four or five times larger than New Hampshire's. For another, the day is long gone when someone making an ad buy like this could assume their audience in Massachusetts had only a degree or two of separation from someone in New Hampshire. I'd bet that there are tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents who don't even know where the place is. And now the ones who can vote are all stoked to write in John Lynch for Massachusetts governor, Paul Hodes for Congress from whatever district...fill in the name of your choice.

But that first type of wasted impression may carry the day. It seems possible that we're on the verge of a time when all political advertising creates wasted impressions: because the percentage of the electorate who can be swayed by advertising is vanishingly small, and because the percentage who simply shut the stuff off is becoming huge. Past a certain point, saturation does not sell, it bores, and I think we're there.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Juan in a million

There's actually a house painter around here using that as a tag line. My apologies for borrowing it.

The Juan I have is mind has the surname Williams. I have nothing to say about his comments on Fox. I have little to say about NPR firing him, ostensibly for those comments. I have a lot to say about the saturation coverage of the whole kerfluffle.

A number of studies and polls suggest that the American public dislikes and distrusts its news media. Often, those studies have actually asked people why.
One of the chief reasons, now and for some years past, is journalism's current obsession with covering itself. That is exactly what has been going on here.

Being something of an authority on firings, doing that any way but face to face is gutless, but that's something between the company and the terminated employee. As an historian, I'm also well versed on the idiocy of doing something your enemy wants you to do. Those observations are applicable to this situation, and anyone who wants to apply them may do so without my commentary.

I confess to knowing almost nothing about Mr. Williams. The little I have learned lately doesn't encourage me to find out more. It does sound like the Fox in question may have a wolf by the ears, and it will be instructive to see what develops in the months and years to come.

Meanwhile, enough of this.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Aux barricades!

The current amusements in France are a very good indication of how the French get radicalism right, and how American radicals manage to make a joke of the whole thing.

I have to borrow part of this reminiscence from my spouse. The spring of 1968 was a particularly ripe period for radicalism, everywhere in general but France in particular. My yet-to-be wife was completing her junior year at a French university. Then the strikes began. Those in France hadn't the least idea how they were going to get home. Their loved ones in the US hadn't the least idea what was going on because, apart from news reports (as fucked up then as now), there was no way of knowing what was happening to a particular individual in a particular place in France. I shared angst-ridden moments with a guy who was the other of another member of our college's Junior year in France crew, but it never really occurred to us to wish away the protests.

After nearly a month of uncertainty, we (the loved ones) heard from from our several parties, saying that they were en route home. A quorum had contrived to rent a Citroen 2CV. Having made separate arrangements for the bulk of their luggage, they poured into this tiny vehicle like something between a fraternity stunt and a clown car, and made their way to Switzerland. I have forgotten whether they talked their way across the border, or whether the border guards were also on strike. At any rate they made it to Geneva with the deau chevaux, and the passengers, still alive, and made airline arrangements to get home.

Another portion of the year-in-France class, using similar transport, made their way to Genoa to take ship for home. Regrettably, they wound up on something very like a tramp steamer, and spent nearly a month returning to the US once they had left France.

Now that, pilgrims, is radicalism that makes an impact. It appears that the rising generation of French radicals have something nearly as good working. It's horribly funny to listen to American correspondents covering this. They come as close as they can to saying that most of France, whether they support pension reform or not, are enjoying the show. They can't say it outright, of course, because American media=global corporate culture. The BBC and other overseas news outlets have their fingers much closer to the pulse.

If the shit hits the fan in November, consider France as a template for subsequent actions.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

The better mousetrap

This is the better mousetrap if your objective is to bring 'em back alive.

We tried another product first, sold in pairs. It was also by Victor, which seems to have a stupendous share of the mouse and rat market. Our kitchen mouse–so far singular–figured them out about as fast as I did, and amused itself by eating the bait, then escaping before the little sucker shut. The one time the mouse got caught, Kitchen Mouse took advantage of my curious inspection to bolt down the range vent again.

That's when I went for heavier weaponry. These cost $4-$5 apiece, depending on where you get them. Setup is idiot-proof. You bait it, set it against the wall, then check it in a safe place.

The morning after I had set the thing up, I found it out of place–in fact, a couple of feet out in the kitchen floor. I figured this indicated a catch. Following the instructions, I took it to the back of the lot, near the large shed, and slid open the top. Yes, indeed: we had a mouse. I tipped the trap over and Kitchen Mouse bolted under the shed.

People who want live catch traps have an ongoing moral dilemma about what to do with their catch. The instructions suggest you can just throw the whole trap in the trash. Keep in mind the mouse can't get out. As soon as it finishes the bait, it dies a slow death from starvation or gets scrunched into mouseburger when the trash goes into the truck. Ah yes...very humane.

If one releases the creature, what next? Should you simply open the door and release next to the house, odds are the mouse will be back inside within 48 hours. In a rural place, it might be possible to walk into the woods to release the mouse. The further away from the house you are, the less likely it is to come back. However, you may also be providing a live meal to a local predator. I noticed fresh digging under the shed when I released the critter. The digging may be a woodchuck or a skunk: we have both in the neighbourhood. It could also be a fox: there is at least one here. One way or the other, there have been no repeat mice. Our solo entrepreneur is, we hope, finding greener pastures.

For the best option, consider turning to your neighbourhood enemies list. You do have one, of course: no neighbourhood is so good that you can do without such a list. The obvious solution is to discreetly release your captive mice near a hostile residence.

We now have two of these traps, which we'll move into other areas. Like Santa, I'm making my list and checking it twice.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Who'd be an engineer?

At least, who'd be an engineer in the US of A, where 4 out of 5 people have found Jesus, but 3 out of 4 (so Pew tells us) don't know where he was allegedly born.

I am so sick of broadcast media and holy people drivelling on about "the miracle in the mine."
Miracle my arse. With all its apparent managerial shortcomings, the mine company had rescue facilities which put anything in the US to shame. The government had no egomaniacal hesitation about finding the best people with the best ideas, from anywhere on earth, to effect a rescue once it was clear the missing miners had survived. Those people worked round the clock for over two months to put their ideas into action.

The success is a tribute to heads-down engineering and problem solving, and not one of these "miracle" idiots has paused for even a minute to say thank you to the grunts and geeks who made this rescue a success. I'd say "shame on you" but these people are beyond shame. I'd be glad to be proven wrong.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010


The Braves are out of the running...again. The tear-jerking farewells to Bobby Cox left me a little cold, because I think five, maybe ten years ago would have been much better.

When a team fails you, they really ought to fail you royally, as the Sox did for most of the 86-year drought, or as the Cubs continue to do, goat or no goat. This business of almost getting there, year after year, is just playing cruelly with the fans' hearts.

So from here on in 2010, I don't have a dog in the fight, and no excuse to stay up late.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Peep show weekend, Day 3

This is my day to drop the storm windows..most of them, at least. It's an exercise I find more depressing with each new year. But hark! It's possible to have a worse Columbus Day.

One could, for instance, be on the road early in the morning of 10-11-10, having forgotten to stop drinking and go to bed on 10-10-10. One could then rear-end a car.

One could then discover that one has rear-ended the commanding officer of the Massachusetts State Police.


According to local news, the alleged perp got to spend Columbus Day in the nearest State Police holding cell, presumably reflecting on her indiscretions.

I quite forgot to mention yesterday's domestic jollification. I arrived home to find my spouse in the kitchen in something of a state. A mouse had appeared. On the stovetop. When my spouse registered her objections, the mouse retreated to the oven vents and sat there sassing her. My idea of discouraging this sort of conduct was to turn on the oven. The absence of roast mouse smell suggested that the critter beat a retreat. Mr. Spike showed very brief interest in this incursion, and then went back to his nap.

But today, before the storm windows, my task was to get a mouse trap, since Mr. Spike was still channeling Garfield. I took the direct approach and got today's better mousetrap. The definition is that the best mousetrap kills the little creature swiftly and quietly, whereupon the designated household member takes the whole thing to the trash.

No, that wouldn't do. I had to return the mouseicidal traps and get merciful live traps. This was my cue to suggest that my spouse could then become the designated remover of the live traps, if successful.

Stay tuned: this may be interesting.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Peep show weekend

In a time when revisionism rules, we might as well screw it and recognise this weekend as the peak time thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages... the holy blissful leefes for to peepe.

Not I. Yesterday was Concord River, part deux, in which we reached the North Bridge, and in which we discovered that it was in truth possible to go upwind both ways.

Oh sure. We knew it would be lively, with winds forecast at 17-20 mph, but it was forecast to be WNW to NW. Since the Concord River runs north-south in its most open parts, we said, "how bad could it be?"

Well, it wasn't bad, but it was interesting. I found out today that the open water just upstream of Route 225 has a local reputation for contrary winds. The northwest winds were from the north, providing a lively ride for the first part of the trip.

Soon, though, the river bends to the west, and the forecast was fully justified. The fact that the river was more narrow didn't influence the wind in the slightest. Things did get to be a bit of a slog then, leaving one to artfully dodge from one piece of lee water to the next. There wasn't much colour along the banks, but there were many leaves ready to fall, which came spinning down to light on the water and spin slowly in the river's very modest current.

Our launching place lacked, amongst other things, a necessary, My spouse had a map of the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge that showed facilities, involving a good hike. I pointed out that Minuteman NHP had restrooms, and we might try our luck there.

I had one reservation about this. We were fairly fresh from Yosemite, where human elimination is somewhat low on the scale of environmental priorities. Would the rangers be OK with a kayak landing?

They would: this isn't a West Coast national park, which expects you to do nothing more than object strenuously to a bear attack. This is an eastern park and somewhat friendly to kayakers and canoeists...those who could figure out where to land, anyway. It is, all the same, something of a do-it-yourself venture and I did have a funny feeling about that. Another term that has been cheapened in recent years, besides "hero," is "hallowed ground." However, this place has a pretty good lock on the expression: no matter which side of the bridge one's ancestors were on.

The downstream trip began splendidly, between what was now a tailwind and the fact that the river had developed a current, which is to say it was just noticeable. We enjoyed this state of affairs amid lengthening autumn shadows, assuring ourselves that the north wind downriver would surely have moderated.

The wind hadn't moderated at all. Between the greater expanse of open water, and a wind coming pretty much straight up the river, there was nothing much for it but to grind out the final half of the trip. This was made a bit easier for me by the last round of modifications I'd made to the cockpit of my stubbornly uncomfortable 15-year-old kayak. A final layer of seat foam had made a medieval seat into something that was, if not comfortable, not a distraction. That makes a big difference in how much leverage one can apply in a headwind. I've also spent this summer's kayaking breaking the habit of using the rudder too much. I made the upwind trip without using it at all: yea me.

Question of the day. Does anyone else get the same childish amusement I do from football players' names? These come in two classes. There are the wonderfully apposite ones, especially for linemen, which suggest that the owner dresses in skins off the field and wrestles giant cave bears for amusement. Then there are the names which would cause any male a difficult childhood, such as the Kansas City Chiefs' Ryan Succop and the Buffalo Bills' Drayton Florence. In neither case does the NFL practice of stenciling last names across the back of the jersey help matters. I recommend this diversion, and with it creating scenarios in which the player's name played a role in making his career.

I might have something tomorrow. However, it's just a normal day off for me at the moment, not a holiday, so don't expect anything extraordinary.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

More feline news

I stick to this because the last 36 hours have mostly been about work, and I don't talk about jobs here.

The vet called to say Mr Spike's blood work is excellent. Swell: we spent a ridiculous amount of money to find out what we already knew. Spike is overweight, bad-tempered with strangers, but otherwise absurdly healthy.

In my turn I reported that the experimental portion of diet cat food is a success, so starting tomorrow my shopping has to include a periodic stop at the vet's to buy his Rx food. We're still working out how Annie is going to get enough to keep her going whilst we keep our boy's consumption down to something less than a St. Bernard's.

I really don't see why animal shelters don't take trades... (just kidding).


Monday, October 04, 2010

Today's rants

1) There is an absolutely splendid road in the White Mountains that runs East-West through drop-dead gorgeous scenery. It's called the Kancamagus Highway, named after a leader of the Penacook nation. Note that it is not spelled Kancamangus: so wtf do white people of all sorts and conditions pronounce it as if it were? Note also how I fly to the defence of anyone whose name is mispronounced by idiots.

2) Mr Spike and the entire household paid the wages of his sins today. Because he has so many black marks on his permanent vet record that one can hardly read his name, we must now assume ahead of time that he will be knocked out for his annual physical, and fast him. The vets put their most cat-friendly practitioner on the case. All the same, this cat whose brains are in his stomach had been NPO for 15 hours by the time he saw her. St Francis of Assisi couldn't have coaxed good behaviour out of our boy under those conditions. He behaved badly and got knocked out.

All this meant that Ms. Annie had to fast also. She was more philosophical about it and we got her some food as soon as Spike was in the car. But having fasted meant that she failed to deliver a stool sample. Such is life.

His health is OK but could be better. No heart murmur this year, although there was some sign of enlarged heart wall muscle: no surprise in a cat who now tips the scale at 20 lb though eating his own food, Annie's food, and anything hooman that he fancies and can get at. And getting food is his chief exercise.

No pills, thank the goddess of suffering cat people. However, he now has to go on prescription diet cat food. So now we have to balance the fact that he needs to drop 1-2 lb with the fact that Annie can't spare another ounce of body weight, and if it's available, he'll eat it.

Our boy is on notice that when Ms A checks out, the next quadruped in this house is going to be a dog.

3) Oh how could I forget Ms. O'Donnell? I rather wish I could. Here is a politician who makes Dan Quayle look articulate. The China faux pas will probably play well in the bible belt, so what a pity she isn't running there. Just now, I won't start on the difference between China's traditional priorities and the insecure projections of some Americans: just laying it out there that such projections exist. The creepy part is that this year in particular, people who ought to be committed could possibly get elected.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

A fall foodie moment

Since I discovered the term oxymoron I have been pretty sure the original one was "British cuisine." Correspondents in the UK assure me that things have got better in recent years, but I remain unconvinced.

Nevertheless, curiosity compelled me to attempt a traditional Welsh cawl.

That is, I'm still attempting it, because many, many hours later it's still cooking.
When I decided to try this, I also went shopping for a recipe that I could stand and for which I could find ingredients. Most traditional cawls call for mutton or kid, but I found one that uses beef. They also call for "swedes," rutabagas in the US, but it's a week or three early for them here, and I settled for ordinary turnips.

Anyway, this is what I did, with a few of my own modifications:

2 medium diced onions
2-3 sliced parsnips
5 sliced carrots
1 lb turnip (preferably rutabaga), diced
5 small or 2 large leeks, chopped and well washed
1 1/2 pounds beef brisket or stew beef, cut to about 1 in squares
1 pound Canadian bacon, cubed
4 large cloves minced garlic
10 peppercorns whole, or ground pepper to taste
water or stock

Crock pot method. Combine meat, onion and garlic in crock pot on high while preparing remaining vegetables. Add chopped vegetables (remember to thoroughly wash the leeks), peppercorns and water or stock. Do something else for a really really long time. This reaches the proper consistency after about 24 hours of slow cooking. The Canadian bacon makes this a leaner recipe than the traditional ones. Those call for cooling the soup after a few hours so you can skim the thick layer of fat from the surface.

I think this would take a similar amount of time on the stovetop, if you prefer. One might also go the beef stew route and saute the meat, onions and garlic together before adding the other vegetables, sauteing some more, then cooking for three or four hours in a 325 oven. However, like Continental soups, I think time is the critical ingredient.

Late news. It did cook. It does taste very good and it smells just like yr gegin mam-gi (Grandma's kitchen). I offer no opinions on the kid or mutton variants. Traditionally, cawl is served with bread and cheese, which was my cue to make toasted cheese sandwiches on fresh multi-grain bread. Note: it may not be Welsh, but I like making my grilled cheese sandwiches spread with Dijon mustard.