Friday, April 29, 2011

Barajas Berating

The Madrid Barajas airport is a strange place.  This is my 4th time through the airport, and its morphed significantly since my previous visit years ago.  When I arrived Wednesday morning, I headed to the first ATM machine I saw to get some Euros to pay cab fare.  "Transaction Not Available" the machine told me after accepting my card, pin, and request for 110 Euros.  Ok.... I approached the INFORMATION desk and inquired if there were other ATMs.  In perfect English, I was directed to an area with 2 other ATMs. Great.  First one I tried - same bank as the "Not Available" produced the same result.  2 strikes so far.... hmmm. 3rd one had an American at it, I could see by the English screens, where it said "Please take your cash" and as the little door slid open to present cash, the ATM REBOOTED. A DOS screen appeared, with monochromatic text scrolling as the boot up routine initiated.  The American in front of me was confused and angry.  3 strikes.  Ill get a cab and have the hotel reception cash advance me so I can pay the driver... but thats another story for later. Never stay at the Holiday Inn Express Barajas Airport.  They know nothing about customer service or holding a secured reservation.

So this morning, I arrive at Terminal 2, and theres hordes of students, grouped together, sleeping, resting, flocking, bleary eyed, ready to go on their 3 day holiday I guess.  I was able to find the Air France check in desk, and a nice Spanish lady with a perfect English (British) accent checked me in for my flight, and gave me a "VIP Fast Track" pass, so I could bypass the mobs at security, and have 2 older gentlemen in white gloves usher me to my own personal security screening, where not a single other traveler was waiting - very strange and wonderful.  "You can leave your shoes on" they told me, but I assured them my shoes consistently set off metal detectors. "Would you care for some plastic socks?" the gentlemen politely inquired.  The young man running the baggage xray noticed the pound of dark chocolate in the side scan of my luggage, and he seemed worried that maybe it was plastique explosive or some kind of shaped charge.  I opened the bag to show him the dark chocolate, and his demeanor changed from slightly concerned to casual and friendly. 

The long walk from security to E75 was filled with closed shops, shuttered cafes, and multitudes of sleeping travelers on the grouped 5-in-a-row seats.  Not many conscious customers at 5am.  Various construction and remodeling projects blocked any clear route, and I was grateful the airport was dead & deserted or Id have been perplexed in the milling throngs after the slumbering travelers would have awakened.

Delta / Airfrance do a MUCH better job than Spanair, who I will never fly again after the last unpleasant experience with them.  10 minutes until boarding begins... I need to log out of this public terminal and head to the gate.  Hopefully there wont be any turbulence or mishaps enroute to Bangalore. Ya veramos (we ll see)

Militant Madrid Taxi Drivers

On my early morning trip from hotel to Madrids sprawling airport this morning, I rang up  20.30E tab.  My Spanish speaking and comprehension is terrible, and while the meter read 14.30, the cab driver (who spoke zero English) asked for 20 30 ... pronounced Bay-tay tren-tay.  Somewhat confused, I offered him two 20 Euro notes, since I had no smaller bills on me.  Ballistic! He went nuts, and pulled the American foreign language tactic of SPEAK LOUDER AND MAYBE THE FOREIGNER WILL UNDERSTAND YOU.  He DID NOT want to break a 20 Euro note, and wasnt about to let this stupid American rob him of 30 cents.  I realized it was not 30 Euros only after he printed up the tiny reciept, and pointed to the 20.30.  Okay, now I get it.

I remembered I had a 2 Euro coin in an outside zippered pocket on my laptop bag. Militant grumpy cab driver begrudgingly accepted it, and then painstakingly counted out my change, slowly, as if I was a disobedient 5 year old needing to be taught a lesson in politeness and correct change. 

This was the 2nd very unhappy, very exacting cab driver Ive encountered in Madrid.  My last business trip here, 4 years ago, I walked about 4 miles to the city center, ate dinner, began to walk back, and got slightly lost in a residential neighborhood around 11pm, so I flagged down a cab, got in, and had a 15 Euro ride back to my hotel about 2 miles away.  When I tried to pay with a 50 Euro note (the only thing ATM machines used to give back then) the cab driver refused to accept it, and threw a tirade, lecturing me in rapidly, angry Spanish, until I went into the hotel, got change at the reception desk, and returned to pay him his 15 Euros.

Yes, I understand its nice to get and give the right change, but sometimes travelers just dont have it.  Only in Madrid have I seen such angry reactions, and outright refusals to accept legal tender that is not of the expected small size the cabby desired.  Thanks SO MUCH for the honor of letting me sit in your cab while you listened to deplorable and vulgar American hip hop, whose lyrics you probably didnt understand, while you ground your straining clutch and scowled disgustedly.  It was such a privilege to be in your unpleasant company and ride in your dirty cab. Ill make sure I bring exact change next time, and you can skip the diatribe, Madrid cabby.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Heavens to Murgatroyd, Even!

As I pack for my long trip, I am listening to Diane Rehm's interview with James B Stewart, author of "Tangled Webs" a book that researches why corporate executive douche bags lie.  The subject matter is interesting... but what I CANNOT get past is Stewart's accent (listen here).  He IS Snagglepuss, or was separated at birth from Snagglepuss.  Heavens to Murgatroyd!  Too funny!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Societal Chaos Increases Fear & Discrimination

Two Dutch researchers, Diederik Stapel and Siegwart Lindenberg of the University of Tilburg, ran a series of  very interesting and revealing experiments reported in Science's April 8th edition focused on how a chaotic environment influences a person's social bias. "Coping with Chaos: How Disordered Contexts Promote Stereotyping and Discrimination".    I found this study fascinating.  They approached people in a Dutch railway station where the cleaners were on strike and it was filthy by the 4th day of the strike.  They asked Caucasian respondents to fill out a survey about social bias about Muslims, homosexuals, and the Dutch, and they had the respondents sit in a row of 6 seats.  The survey taker could sit on any of 6 seats in the row, except the first seat, which was occupied by either a Black Dutch/African male, or a Caucasian Dutch male - both of the seated males had been determined previously to be "equally intelligent, friendly, attractive, and approachable".

Stapel and Lindenberg then repeated the experiment, after the train station cleaners were not on strike and the central station was clean & pristine.  What they found out, over 70 test subjects, was remarkable.  In the dirty station, white respondents sat MUCH farther away from the black male - it must be his fault this place is so messy!  When the station was clean, no seat choosing bias was demonstrated.  In the survey results, the messy station solicited stronger discrimination than the clean station amoung respondents.  

Then, to test the hypothesis that it was maybe just the dirt, and not the chaos that biased respondents, the researchers interviewed travelers in a affluent neighborhood, where they manipulated the environment, making ti look neat and orderly, or chaotic and disheveled (a knocked over bike, car parked up on the side walk, tiles removed from the side walk, etc).  When the survey was done, they gave the survey taker 5 Euros, and asked if they would donate to "Money for Minorities".  In the chaotic environment, people donated significantly less (or none at all), than in the neat, orderly environment.  

They ran other experiments as well (link here, and previous work here)... but I found these 2 very revealing.  More and more I am beginning to see the Social Sciences as actual science, and not "faux science" when variables are fastidiously controlled.


Being the victim of discrimination can have serious negative health- and quality-of-life–related consequences. Yet, could being discriminated against depend on such seemingly trivial matters as garbage on the streets? In this study, we show, in two field experiments, that disordered contexts (such as litter or a broken-up sidewalk and an abandoned bicycle) indeed promote stereotyping and discrimination in real-world situations and, in three lab experiments, that it is a heightened need for structure that mediates these effects (number of subjects: between 40 and 70 per experiment). These findings considerably advance our knowledge of the impact of the physical environment on stereotyping and discrimination and have clear policy implications: Diagnose environmental disorder early and intervene immediately.

In Taiwan, the China Post covered this as well (link here).

Desert Sage in April

The desert sage bushes next to my driveway are in full bloom.  Desert sage is a lovely plant in a natural setting, but when they are trimmed neatly in a domestic setting, they provide a vibrant pallet of color, and a feast for bees and hummingbirds. 

WM - Black Flag Classic

This Week's Big Number: 63

I took a fasting blood test last Thursday, and my primary care physician's robocall (efficient for the PCP, very inefficient for the patient) prompted me repeatedly this last weekend to call in for test results.  No word on A1C yet, but my HDL cholesterol was a whopping 63!  I cannot be happier!  =)  This is UP from 42 and 49 last year.  My LDL continues its downward trend from 117 to 111 (last year) to 109 last week. With a HDL of 63, my veins and arteries are self-scrubbing / spikey-balled-rotor-rooting / auto-cleaning-maintaining themselves nicely.  Triglycerides dropped from 135 last year down to 119 (though the strange spike / trough / spike last year from 142 to 102 then 135 is bizarre).  My PCP's concern with the 119 being being over 100, when put in the big picture, is not so concerning.  Unfortunately, my next face to face PCP appointment is not until just before Father's Day.

"So what did you do to get your HDL to 63?" Eat bacon and organically raised duck eggs, nearly every morning.  Seriously - I am not kidding. Also, I eat artisan cheese and Spanish almonds here and there throughout the day.  Put Stevia in every cup of tea.  One or two figs, or dates or dried apricots a day, and 1 pound of deliciously dark 75% Belgian chocolate every week.  Cognac, Irish Whiskey (a new addition), Cruzan rum, or high quality vodka 4 or so ounces each day.  Avoid carbs, sugars, gluten, most beers, artificial sweeteners (Stevia ain't artificial, it's an organically raised plant, hated by Searle & the FDA), and get off my ass at least once a day to keep my heart moving and work up a sweat via swimming, or poolside yoga, or Arizona gardening, or hiking, or stationary biking, or weight training in a hot garage, with 2100 crunches a week and a third as many extended leg lifts (which only require a smooth flat surface, and no equipment, so it can be done anywhere).

I feel healthier these last 2 years than I've felt in the previous 22 combined.  I used to think I had lived 1/2 my average life span already, but now I think it's another 4 or 5 years away before I reach that theoretical mid-point, and the 2nd half - I anticipate - will be even more enjoyable than the first half.  =)

Soul Meets Body

SMB has been in my head all weekend, and all morning.  Maybe it's because Dr Desert Flower's iPod has it on the top of her play list, and the C70 has a AUX and USB port that works well - except when an iPod rests in the sun with the top down, then it says "iPod too hot to operate" and shuts itself off... but a few minutes in the glove compartment and it cools off once again. =)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Perfectly Pretty Lake Pleasant Picturesque Picnic

Dr Desert Flower and I packed a picnic basket (White Bordeaux, Crow's Dairy Butter Pecan feta, sliced organic cucumbers, organic baby carrots, Fresh & Easy hummus, gluten free flat bread, chocolate covered almonds) and drove the convertible up to Lake Pleasant.
 If you're headed to Lake Pleasant on a holiday or weekend, avoid the South entrance, where it resembles the Memorial Day in-field at the Indy 500.   There was a light wind, a cloudless day, lots of desert wild flowers blooming.  At one point, Dr Desert Flower spotted a wild burro grazing in a nearby canyon.  Lake Pleasant County Park has herds of wild burros - so watch where you step =)

Who's got The Ducky?

Ducky, Ducky, Ducky, who's got....   the ducky? (or in this case, duck-egg)

Can you spot which one is the duck egg?  The free range, local Arizona laid, all natural, no hormones or antibiotics, pasture running hen egg (same habitat and diet as the duck eggs, per the Crooked Sky farmer who sold it to me), and the grocery store bought egg?  Sadly, even Fresh & Easy's "organic, cage free, omega 3" eggs are a pale comparison... but at least they're not nasty, industrial, multi-million hen conglomerates.

I still prefer the duck eggs from the Central Phoenix Farmer's Market (sold by Crooked Sky) but sometimes we run out in the middle of the week.

Friday, April 22, 2011

McCain Learns Arabic In One Day!

John "get off my lawn / immigration fence" McCain, my state's senior U.S. senator, has apparently learned how to speak nuanced Arabic in one day, studied Libyan culture and ethnic tribal groups (perhaps on the flight over?), and has come to the informed conclusion, that the rebels fighting against the oppressive Qaddafi regime are "Not Al Qaeda" (link here).  Bravo John McCain!   I thought I was good with languages and understanding other cultures, but your quick study and astute observations, to come to such a strong and resounding conclusion, even calling your nation's government to acknowledge the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya, your broadly publicized statements put my meager abilities to shame.  I'd never be able to conclude that a non-heterogeneous population of tribal peoples who have a hatred of imperial western powers, speaking various dialects I could not understand, who were enthusiastically welcoming me with jubilation, had any hidden agendas whatsoever in the space of meeting them for less than one day.

Yes, Qaddafi is an evil man, a very bad guy, who has overtly killed and tortured thousands of his own people, paid terrorists to attack his enemies (the US included), supplied more suicide bombers and insurgents to Iraq than any other single nation (mostly from the... um...   East of Libya). Links here (2008), here (wiki leak via Telegraph), and here, explain.

Hmmm... maybe McCain will flip flop on this one, as he has on so many other things (link here).

I wonder if he's gonna pick up any Burber rugs while he is there, for his friend Lindsey Graham (link here).  Lindsey is an astute observer of foreign affairs who comes to sound conclusions ("I bought 5 rugs today for 5 bucks!"), or his fellow party member Mike "Iraq is like an Indiana Market in the Summer Time" Pence.

Peter Will Keep At The Peak

Diane Rehm had a nice show this week focused on Spasmodic Dysphonia - the throat & vocal chord disorder that she suffers from.  (link here).  The medical specialist she had on the show spoke eloquently about the disorder, and the phrase "Peter will keep at the peak" stood out in my mind.  A fast google search brings up a host of Spasmodic Dysphonia website information - Fauquier ENT is one (found here).  I wonder if alot of Fauquiers work there, or if there's just one or two Fauquiers? =)

Other key language phrases vocal diagnosticians use are here:

Difficult Phrases for ADductor Spasmodic Dysphonia
Difficult Phrases for ABductor Spasmodic Dysphonia
Counting from 80 to 89
Counting from 60 to 69
"We mow our lawn all year."
"Peter will keep at the peak."
"We eat eels every day."
"The puppy bit the tape."
"A dog dug a new bone."
"When he comes home, we'll feed him."
"Where were you one year ago?"
"Tap the tip of the cap, please."
"We rode along Rhode Island Avenue."
"Keep Tom at the party."
"Eeee eee eee."
"See see see." 

Reminds me of a engineer I used to work with in the past whose  name was Serge Fauqueaux - pronounced (urban dictionary link here - not work friendly).  When we wanted to get rid of a guy with a dumb question, we'd tell them to "go talk to Serge".

She Blinded Me!

...with Science!

It's nice being married to Dr Desert Flower.  I get free access to Science magazine.  Her vocabulary & IQ are as good or better than mine.  She's got good taste in food, fashion, cars, and men =)  When we get together with her friends and co-workers I am usually the ONLY engineer in the room / building, etc.  In addition to putting up with all of my merde & idiosyncrasies, she's wonderful company and quite a looker too!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A C70, Not A Brown Eyed Man

The bass drum and hi hat beats herein - highlighted beautifully in the intro - are incomparable (and usually incomprehensible) to most every less talented drummer whose cut an album in the last 20 years.  Formidable, awesomely syncopated. Beautiful. Good Times.

Dr Desert Flower doesn't have a proclivity for a "brown eyed man", but I can't say the same for her newest long term love affair.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It Was About State's Rights

This month marks the 150th Anniversary of the violent hostilities of the American Civil War - or as the Southerns like to remember it "The War of Northern Aggression".  The Confederates began shelling Fort Sumter on April 12, and on the 13th, the fort surrendered.  Having lived in South Carolina for 16 years, and having known 100s of South Carolinians as colleagues, neighbors, friends, and business associates, I often heard the Southern perspective that the Civil War (which many believe is only in a temporary cease fire, and is not actually over) was "about States' rights".  Well, all you need to do is to read the Declaration of the Causes of Secession, and you can see very clearly, it WAS about States' rights; the right to own slaves.  Read the documents for yourself. 

Took Her Back And Made Her Dessert

Offspring have a very simple formula for most of their songs.  Similar chords, roaring vocals that emphasize crescendo-ed vowels, the same drum beat.  Lyrics focused on young single guy angst for the most part (which I can't relate to).  It's not bad stuff, the first few years you hear it.  Decades later, it's somewhat mediocre, but it sure can get stuck in one's head easily.  This has been recycling through my head all morning (for the last 2 hours) repeatedly.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Paid Our Taxes Last Week

Dr Desert Flower and I proudly, and painfully, filed our taxes last week.  For some reason, our employers cannot figure out the right amount to withdraw from your paychecks (both of us claim no dependents, but it doesn't matter, we owe every year anyways), so it was a painful April financially.  I drove the check to the Tolleson US Post Office, and personally put it in the inside slot to make sure it was picked up - there were all of 4 cars in the parking lot, and the US Postal Service employees were dreading the MASSIVE RUSH that they were going to experience today, the last day to file and get post-marked.  Why did I not file electronically?  They feds want to charge a percentage of what you owe as a "convenience fee" - give me a break.  It was well worth the fossil fuel and drive to the post office to save that ridiculous fee.

What was really disappointing, is that I didn't get a receipt for what my taxes will pay for.  This much to Bush's war and the trillions in veterans' medical benefits it has caused.  This much to the Chinese and Japanese and German creditors who but US Treasury bonds.  This much to fund my parents medicare and social security payments, etc.  Even more disappointing is that I could not ELECT as to where my taxes would be applied.  Give NASA a whole dollar instead of the 42 cents they get from the average return.  Give WIC (Women, Infants, and Children - whom we used my Sr year in college) several dollars.  Give FEMA - who are all over North Carlina today after the rash of tornadoes yesterday - at least $20, since disasters are always expensive.  Don't give oil companies any refunds as part of my taxes, nor should Scalia's, Robert's, Thomas's, or Alito's salaries be paid out of my taxes.  I'd prefer that no military aid to any country be included in where my taxes are used - bombs and bullets are awesome recruiting tools to get more young male terrorists to want to kill Americans, and I already get remarkably hassled at my US airports since Bin Laden's already won the war on terror by having every single American illegally searched and health put at risk from radiation every time we try to get on a plane - congratulations jihadists, I didn't think you could do it, but I under-estimated how over-reactive and lemming-like Americans can be.

We can let all the red staters delegate ALL of their taxes to defense, and border control - that's fine.  Those things need funding too, and there's no shortage of nationalistic red staters to fund them. 

If only we could delegate where the taxes went....  but that would be a representative democracy, which we do not really have.

If You Can't Find Chateau Landure

I really enjoy Chateau Landure Minervois.  As a Langedoc wine, it's under appreciated by the French and often unknown in the US.  I found another Minervois at Total Wine several weeks ago:  Luc Pirlet, 2008.  50% Grenache, 50% Cargnan, imported by Saranity Imports, White Plains NY.  Even though it is a negotiant wine, it went well with soft cheeses, grilled steaks, and even celery (which I inevitably dipped into the soft cheeses).  Good stuff, and it was less than $10 a bottle.  I'm saddened that I only bought one.  I hope there will be more, the next time I go shopping.

Have Yoga Mat, Will Travel

I have to go on a long business trip next month, and I've looked ahead to see if the hotel where I'll be staying has yoga mats available.  They do, but the more I think about it, the more I want to just take my own mat.  My company will pay for my checked luggage, and the larger suitcase I have accommodates my rolled yoga mat nicely, so space is not a concern.  What is more on my mind is "where else has that yoga mat been?"

I KNOW where my mat has been.  I know when the last time it was cleaned, and how it was cleaned.  I know who has been sitting and standing on it, and where it's been laid out.  I also know I like to do yoga in warm climates wearing shorts, which exposes the majority of skin on my legs (since when I wear shorts, they are actually shorts, and not these ridiculous long baggy Capri pants that go to mid shin that so many boys have a proclivity for now a days).  Do I really want my legs and the back of my head to press to a public yoga mat that has been rolled out on dirty public floors, sweated on by various hotel patrons, some of whom do not use deodorant or antiperspirant?  Do I really want to sponsor millions or billions of bacteria in a cultural exchange program wherein they could become cozy with my pores, sweat glands, and blood stream?  No, not really.  So I will take my own yoga mat, and use a folded sheet between mat and floor to decrease resultant cross contamination, and not worry about what or who or where has affected the mat previously.  When I bring the mat home, I'll have a large black plastic garbage bag in my luggage in which to encase the rolled up mat, and wash it fastidiously after getting home, once again.

It might be a little bit paranoid, anal retentive, or futile - some cross contamination will be inevitable - but it'll make me feel better.  =)

Chile Acres Gluten Free Flat Bread

And if you have lots of excess sauce from your Raimondo's lasagna, you can soak it up with some of Chile Acres Gluten Free Flat Bread.  It's a little expensive, at $5 for 2 small flat breads, but it is certainly tasty.  No wheat. Garbanzo beans, potato, tapioca, rice, millet, humanely raised eggs, white sorghum, olive oil, xanthan gum, yeast, sea salt - very dense, but it does soak up the buttery goodness that is left on the plate after the pesto lasagna has been devoured.  =)

Raimondo's Amazing Food

At the Farmer's Market this last Saturday, I convinced Dr Desert Flower to try Raimondo's pesto lasagna.  Raimondo's has a booth every Saturday, and they sell all sorts of red and white sauces Italian dishes that you can taste, eat hot, or take home and re-heat.  They brag how they are "Low Carb" and "Gluten Free", not added salt or sugar.  How can this be delicious you ask?  I don't know what the secret ingredients are... but DAMN!  This stuff is DELICIOUS!   And much of their food is vegetarian friendly as well.

Take for instance the Pesto Lasagna:
Egg Plant, Zucchini, Ricotta & Parmesan Cheese, Lt. Cream, Fresh Basil, Garlic, Pine Nuts.
I'd show you a picture of the actual food, and not just the container, but we SCARFED it up, and it was truly amazing.  We are now hooked.

It is somewhat strange that this delicious restaurant is located in a humble Day's Inn on Camelback in Phoenix, is so incredibly delicious AND healthy for you!   But I am happy that we've found them, and they will be a staple of the Saturday morning Central Phoenix Farmer's Market run.

OH - One thing.. DO NOT Microwave the take home containers!   Low Density Poly Ethylene doesn't do well when subjected to heat, and it will melt and sog.  Take it out, put it on a plate, and enjoy!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Niños Inútil, Patético

The pathetic little teenage boys here in Western Phoenix continue to waste their time trying to mark their territory.  Little trademark signatures with umlauts that have 3 dots instead of two. Curbs, light poles, drainage canals, sign posts, all marked in a an ineffective attempt to exert control over their surroundings as they continue to live in their parent's homes.  Once you become a property owner, and are a stake holder in your community, you stop pissing on everything publicly to try and mark a territory that you know you do not own - and can never own.

The city of Phoenix, AZDOT, and some home-owners associations are doing a pretty good job at keeping such miscreant tagging under-control, but I have taken a liking to spending a few hours each Sunday morning going around and obliterating all the hard work that these baggy pants wearing, spray paint carrying, poorly raised, undisciplined, absentee parented, sad little children have attempted to mark and advertise their personal brands on public spaces. My earlier work (2 weeks ago here and 4 months ago here) has not been retagged. I saw signs of the government graffiti task force having covered a few easier-to-reach spots, but I still have an abundance of extra house paint, so I assisted them a little more this morning. "Coop", "Relax", "MGK", "Danoie Zolof", "Bezodsel" and many others were each reduced to a beige land scape, proving their irrelevancy to the neighborhood, to society, and in life in general. 

Google Blogger's picture editor sucks, so I am unable to move and align photos as I used to, with EVERY image automatically trying to put in a caption, or align itself left or right... if any readers have better suggestions about ways to easily improve image alignments, I am all ears.   

If I had better skills at HTML editing, I could probably wade through the array of < and > and / and; and "quotes" but I am rather HTML illiterate. 

Suffice it to say, if you are on the Western Edge of the Maryvale District in Western Phoenix, you're wasting your time trying to tag my neighborhood, little boys.  I noticed that I actually found it enjoyable to obliterate each "proud signature", and I got a good work out as well, since the morning temperatures were already climbing into the 80s and 90s, and by the time I got home 3 hours later, and a gallon of paint shorter, I was once again under 200 lbs again... so it's a good weight loss and sweat producing work out program as well.  =)  4 humanely raised eggs (scrambled), organic mushrooms and sweet onions pan fried, with 4 large 12 oz glasses of organic sugar free lemonade from my back yard, and that 199 was a temporary low blip, don't worry.  LOL!
 There were several LARGE fie ant mounds that I gave a wide berth to.  I can only hope that the little miscreants didn't see the mounds at night, and got these ferocious little insects crawling up inside their baggy pants and outer-under-wear.  Now That's a video I would have loved to have captured!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Happy Snap Dragons

Dr Desert Flower loves snap dragons.  She planted them around the mailbox and drive way in South Carolina and has potted there here in Arizona.  The hummingbirds love them too, and fight over who gets to drink from them.  Notice how the pillar to the south shades and protects the snap dragons from the brutal noon time sun, and how they're thriving in the morning and evening solar angles. 

As it'll be 95F here today, we'll see how long into late April and May these make it.  I think by Memorial Day, they'll probably be crispy toast, but il faut voir.  We shall see.

Petunias that self-seeded last year have begun to sprout up around the Spanish Lavender poolside that the bees still find irresistible.  Come June, the Petunias fry in the mid day sun, and will need to once again be pulled out before they blow into the pool. 

It's a constant balance here between water, sunlight, scorching, and healthy growth.  This summer it will be 4 years since we began the AZ learning curve on gardening... man, 4 years already...

Abert's Towhees Abandoned Nest

It appears the Abert Towhee family that had moved in poolside has abandoned their nest.  Dr Desert Flower believes that the hatchlings have taken flight and moved out, but it's only been a week, and I can't imagine the tiny, helpless, nearly featherless trio of little gray creatures have all happily bounded up and out of the nest, to live happy and productive lives eating ground bugs.   Maybe they did... it's just not been alot of time to enable that.  There was NO carnage strewn about the nest site, as we had last year in the front yard with the ill fated vireo nest, nor did I find any drowned baby Towhees in the pool strainer (or the bottom of the pool for that matter).

As I do yoga in the back yard pool side, I find I miss the Towhees.  We still have no shortage of sparrow mobs, Anna's and Costa's Hummingbirds, an occasional Gila Woodpecker, the idiot mourning doves, and an occasional fly catcher who visit.

Uncle Joe's Reading List

My godfather, Uncle Joe, is a retired pattern maker who lives in the South West Chicago suburbs.  A US Army veteran and former president of his local machinists union.  He worked nearly 40 years in a "small business" where he was the lead man in the shop, where he watched as the patriarch's idiot sons squandered the wealth and capabilities of the once reputable company their father had founded into a rudderless, nepotistic, inept debacle.  Had it not been for his union and benefits and funded retirement, my uncle would still be working away at a depressed wage as he approaches 70.

So it was with more than a few grains of salt that I accepted his book recommendations back in February at the Superbowl, where he and I watched together at my cousin's home (his son's house) here in Arizona, eating Brats, drinking beer, and discussing politics - he gave me hard cover copies of Jeff Sharlet's C Street, The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy and William Kleinknecht's The Man Who Sold The World, Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America.  I'd read Sharlet before and enjoy his work (link here) as he's factual, detailed, fastidious in his research, and has a conversational writing style that is easy to follow.  But Kleinknecht's title, on the other hand,  seemed a little over-the-top.  This book's cover did not lie.
Sharlet recycles a bit of his first work The Family and if you've not read Family, you might be a little bit lost at the beginning of C Street, but the work does stand on its own.  I particularly was drawn in to the long chapters on how infected the US Military is with radical Christian fundamentalists, pushing the crusading, xenophobic, end-of-days agenda against Muslims.  Frightening indeed.

Kleinknecht's premise was a good one - that Reagan's worshipers have forgotten, or have intentionally re-written the history of all the parts of this former B actor's life that don't sell well to the average-Joe American in an effort to glorify deify their former leader, when in fact Reagan
- accelerated America's slide towards mediocrity
- began the roll back of Johnson's and Nixon's civil rights and welfare initiatives
- drove the national debt ever higher with unfunded military spending increases
- presided over the beginning of the decline in corporate research spending
- began the practice of installing incompetent bureaucrats and kleptocrats into executive branch departments (like HUD, Labor and Education) where corporate and individual officials' greed went unchecked
- epitomized hypocrisy of saying he represented the common man while distancing himself from the common in his policies, actions, and political course
... but he lost me in the diatribes and tangential rants about this minor official or that minor personality who Reagan promoted or pardoned and didn't focus enough (in my perspective) on Reagan himself.  yes, to some extend a person is defined by the friends and company he keeps, but a US President has alot of company, and incompetent, dishonest, and evil people can be found in every presidential staff if you look long enough.  Granted, for Reagan's, you didn't have to look too hard, but as I was reading the book on air planes (ESPECIALLY during take offs and landings, when everyone else had to shut down their ipad and kindles... HaHa! ... and try giving an electronic book to your nephew after you've read it, and let me know how well that works for you) I kept thinking to myself "How is this much different from all the hateful; slanted, derogatory crap that Coulter, Malkin, Hannity and Beck have written about Clinton and Obama?"  Sure, Kleinknecht doesn't have a corporate leviathan like News Corp paying him as the Repugnican mouth pieces do, but that doesn't make his work more palatable.  Had he stuck more to his premise, and been less hyperbolic, I would have enjoyed his work much more.

Not sure what I'll be taking on my next trans-oceanic flight next month... but I am sure I'll have a book in my hands during take offs and landings, if I am not asleep.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cats Can't Wear Diapers

Sadly, cats can't wear diapers, but "puppy pads" which are identical to lab absorbent pads, but much cheaper when bought in bulk from big box pet stores like PETCO, help to keep the mess from an elderly feline who can't seem to make it into the litter box as often anymore.

The puppy pads make clean up much quicker and less nasty.  Cat urine that has run UNDER a litter box is one of my least favorite things in the whole world that can happen in my home. 

I think our elderly cat's health's downward spiral is increasing.  Her confused and painful yelping is obscuring multiple conference calls each morning.  She's missing the litter box more and more.  When this is no longer puppy pad contained...  we're gonna have to have some serious discussions about end of life pet care....  =(

And no.. it is not just a "dirty litter box"  .. that box was fastidiously cleaned just 12 hours earlier... as it is garbage day today, and I never pass up a chance to get nasty litter into the trash.

Still Silencing Barks 15 Months Later

The Petsafe outdoor bark controller remains an awesome product.  15 months after installing it last year, it is still working great!  Last night, as Dr Desert Flower and I attempted to watch DVR'ed NBC and Comedy Central shows, the neighbor's yappin dog provoked a chorus of canine barking responses from around the neighborhood.  It had been about 3 weeks since I last changed the battery, so I pulled out a small screw driver, popped off the cover, and inserted a fully charged NiCad Radio Shack 9V battery.  INSTANTLY, the yappin dog Shut Up!  Seriously, Instantly.

When yappin dog was silenced, the chorus of hound dog to the west, and little kickin dog to the east across the street, as well as Siberian Husky puppy to the North all tapered off their barking, and could no longer be heard inside our home - windows closed to keep the pollen and dust out.

The short life of the 9Vs initially had me alarmed, as I was burning through about 1 a month.  The environmental impact and well as financial impact of consuming so many 9Vs was solved, by buying 2 re-chargeable Radio Shack batteries... and charging one while the other is silencing the neighbor's dog.

Very good stuff!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tea Bagging Xenophobes

PRI's "The World" had a nice story on language this afternoon (link here), where they discussed at length the widely held misconception in the United States that Hispanic immigrants are trying to establish a "Spanish Speaking Beach Head" in America.  I tried to find a transcript to cut and paste the awesome statement, but I can't find anything expect the mp3 download, so I will paraphrase:
"The first generation immigrant speaks English poorly, or not at all.  The second generation here is bilingual, and by the third generation, they are speaking English Only."
PRI mentioned how Texas will become the umpteenth red state to pass an "English Only" state law, even though more than 40% of the Texas electorate is of Hispanic origin.  They referenced Ben Franklin's tendency to think speaking German would be a bulwark against imperial England's dominant influence, and how wrong Franklin was in that belief. 

All these xenophobic Tea Baggers who are driving the Republican agenda and dominating extremist primaries across the nation are really pissing off the fastest growing voter constituency - Spanish Speaking citizens. 

As a 2nd generation (on my dad's side) and 4th generation (on my mom's side) immigrant who cannot speak my family's traditional Eastern European mother tongue, but who can speak French fluently, and enough German, Italian and Spanish to get by, and enough Mandarin, Korean, Tamil, and Hindi, to say please, thank you, excuse me, and 'I'm hungry' when talking to friends and colleagues... more than I can say in my family's mother tongue, I can attest that this holds true. 

Are Tea Baggers just too dumb (or too lazy? or too scared?) to expand their language capabilities and learn a second language?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spanish Terrenal With A Bite

On Monday and Tuesday, I took a bottle of 2009 Terrenal Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009, from Vecla Spain, that I picked up for $6 at Trader Joes. It started off powerfully, with lots of loud tannins on the attack, and a long finish on the tongue.  I had some spicy Fresh & Easy turkey chili with it that complimented it well, but the 2nd day.... wow...  it didn't mellow at all.  I think it actually got More Aggressive, with More Bite. 
This was unexpected and unusual.  Most of the time, the 2nd day after opening a powerful red, tends to soothe it somewhat as it breathes.  The Terrenal had the opposite effect. 

If you like Fitou, you may enjoy this Spanish Cab as well. 

Giddy With Air France Possibilities

I began planning a business trip to India this week that I have to take next month.  My company requires the business traveler to select the least expensive flights for business travel, and India (and all of Asia) are the only places left that one can fly in business class, with all Transatlantic flights being mandatory coach class, unless they are part of a Asian trip.  I was dreading booking the flight, and the random low-cost carrier that would probably result as the lowest cost alternative.

Much to my surprise, I booked a Delta / Air France round trip from Arizona to central India, with a stop in Spain to talk to a customer enroute to boot.  I selected Delta in my cumbersome Saber-based corporate booking tool, and viola, it told me Air France was cheaper. Ok, tres bien.  Sera Air France!  Admittedly, my dread turned to relief and near giddiness.  The pintarde noted in the previous posting probably had something to do with inspiring my giddiness.  Knowing I'll be able to ask for Armagnac, in French, la belle langue, both to and from India, drink excellent coffee, and have a selection of quality wines in flight helped to soften the impact of the required business trip (with 18 hours of flying) was having on me.  I do enjoy practicing my French, and I must say, I am looking forward to being able for 2 solid days in the air to enjoying Air France's excellent cuisine, service, and comfort.

Disappointing Spanish Chorizo Stuffed Quail

Last week, I took dinner in downtown Greenville SC with my manager while I was in town visiting the corporate mother ship.  The restaurant was called "Green", locally in what used to be the Paris Cafe on Main Street, had a "special" that wasn't on the menu:  Spanish Chorizo Stuffed Quail.  This had both the word Chorizo and Quail, and I was instantly sold.  30 minutes later, the waitress brought out a plate of rice with two tiny quail that had been cooked to a dryness that bordered on tasteless.  These quail were so tiny, that they each could have easily fit INSIDE a tennis ball without much effort.  Would there be a golf ball sized chunk of chorizo inside, to dilute my disappointment and spice up these otherwise over-baked birds?  Sadly, I was only able to locate a small chunk of chorizo, about the size of a thumb nail inside of each bird, which rapidly got lost in the plate of wild rice - we took dinner out on a sidewalk table during the setting sun with diminished light. 

After having guinea fowl (pintarde - a member of the pheasant family) on Air France back in March, and seeing many a quail in Arizona running around wild in the DBG and in parks, I was looking forward to a tasty bird the size of my fist, stuffed with some of the worlds tastiest sausage.  Instead, I had to fight with what were the "Buffalo Wing" equivalent sized, tiny little infant quail (or maybe they were sparrows?) with nearly absentee chorizo.  Oh well.  I miss Paris Cafe more and more.

Angeline Sauvignon Blanc - RR Valley

Dr Desert Flower's preference of Savignon Blanc over other white wines has lead her to purchase and explore a variety of other regions that we've normally not paid much attention to previously.  This 2009 Angeline Sauvignon Blanc from California's Russian River Valley was picked up for less than $15 at Total Wine.  She'd opened it while I was in South Carolina last week, and I finished the last glass Sunday night after a relaxing and tasty dinner outside,

There was no way this bottle was going to not oxidize for a whole week in the
fridge waiting for  DDF to return from Switzerland tomorrow.  =)

Sauvignon Blancs that are grown outside of New Zealand tend to be crisp, not grape-fruity, dry, and flavorful, and they go well with dishes that have strong flavors.   I enjoyed it with a grass fed, locally raised, Double Check Ranch New York Strip Steak that I've marinaded in a soy based sauce and served with grilled mushrooms and shallots.  They complimented Very Well, and rounded out a peaceful sunset.

Principled Principal

I know someone very well who was recently promoted to "Principal Engineer" in his day job.  For reasons I cannot clearly understand, the company in which he works repeatedly confounds "Principal" and "Principle".  yes, they are nearly homonyms, and one would hope that a Principal would indeed be principled, both primarily and principally in principle.  But the proclivity of professional malapropism betwixt this pair of pragmatically appropriate paroles perplexes me.  Even the emailed announcement of the promotion was titled "Principle Engineer"... so this person I know has to keep correcting the subject line when colleagues write to congratulate him, and rib him for being publicly outed as being "principled".

San Angelo Not Santa Margherita

Dr Desert Flower enjoys white wine, as the reds I enjoy tend to give her head aches. One favorite we've found is the San Angelo Pinot Grigio.  It's a delicious Toscana Pinot, and it is generally 1/2 or 2/3rds the price of the overly popular Santa Margherita, who has disproportionate name recognition and therefore, price gouging by restaurants and shops who take advantage of people who don't know much about wine but drank a Santa Margherita once and liked it, and remembered the name.  Nothing against S.Margherita, I just don't think it is worth $25 in a shop, or $60 on a menu, when you can get a San Angelo for $12 or $15 in a shop, and $25 or $30 in a nice restaurant.

We bought this San Angelo at Tutti Santi up on the NW side of Glendale last Saturday night, and it went well with the pollo we each ordered.  There were 1.5 glasses remaining in the bottle, which I enjoyed Sunday night, out on the patio in the back yard.  Delicious.

April AZ Sunsets

April sunsets in Arizona, with the stunning visual effects, the hungry baby birds calling to their parents, no mosquitoes, a light breeze that carries the intoxicating scent of a lemon tree and lavender in bloom, 15% relative humidity, and 80F ambient temperatures, hold a place near to my heart.  I try to enjoy them with dinner and a glass of wine whenever possible.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Après vous. Non, Après Vous!

I was in Germany and France in the run UP TO the NATO bombing campaign in Libya, and was in a Belfort France the night the French started bombing targets in the Libya.  As an American, it was very interesting to see the European perspective and international dynamic at work, between the different players:
- Germany, the methodical, process driven, "Vee Have Ein Process Fur Everyzing", very conscious of last century's imperialistic expansion and history, measured response.
- France, where a National Election Loomed Large, with Sarkozy's party polling in the 17% approval range, and a former imperialist in neighboring Algeria and Tunsia, chomping at the bit to begin a Clintonesque distraction to boost poll ratings
- United States, formerly known as "World Police", "smokem outta their holes", "dead or alive",. "with us or against us" Bush era unilateral go it alone response now tempered to the "we don't want another Rwanda like Clinton had", "let's get Arab League Consensus", United Nations citizen.

The Germans I spoke with, in English, were cautious, not wanting to embrace a quagmire, not wanting to kill civilians, emphasizing diplomacy, and a measured response to the Libyan uprisings.

The French persons I spoke with, in French, were CONVINCED that "Obama wants to bomb them". Huh??? Everything I was hearing on the BBC and CNN and online news outlets showed a staid, reserved, calm, logical, consensus building response, NOT repeating Bush's hubris.  When I countered with this argument, the French invariably refused to believe it, and rejected the Clinton / Sarkozy analogy of cruise missile air strikes to distract on domestic political problems in France.  When I brought up Sarkozy's Napoleonic attributes, I was further dismissed, across the board, and excused as an "un-knowing American, ignorant of French history". 

So while I was in France, the bombing ramped up.  The French took a proud lead in the initial air strikes.  Obama went on TV stating the UN and Arab League requested help, and it was a consensus effort.  A week later, Obama announced the US is stepping down and NATO is leading, and US conservatives go nuts.  "Is Sarkozy a US citizen now? He's taking the lead" the Fox idiots whined.  While back in Europe, NO ONE was eager or willing to take up the leadership role.  EVERYONE was happy to have the US stick its neck out front, and be the punching bag for the world, but not France (whose election was past by then), nor Italy (who was besieged by thousands of refuges off of Sicily), nor the British (who have huge oil deals with Kaddahfi), nor the self conscious Germans who had already stated clearly their opposition were willing or able to step up and play a major role.  So the EU hid behind "NATO", a notoriously indecisive organization who does everything by committee, once the US Bully was no longer leading the charge.

After you! no, please...   after you!  Apres vous...  mais non, non!  Apres vous!  So quick the French and British were to rush into the battle - as long as the world perceives it as the US leading the charge in case there's any retaliation from Al Queda or Hammas or Hezbollah or residual Libyan agents.... and So Quick to distance themselves from the rhetoric they were feistily spouting just days before. It was not just the British and French governments.  The national media apparatuses were fully engaged in this malarkey as well.

It was a relief, at least temporarily to be away from the stupidity that is Fox news while I was in Europe - it's not seen there, like Pravda is not seen outside of Russia, or the China Daily is not seen outside of Totalitarian China, since it's a propaganda outlet first and foremost.  Once I got back, and I watched the Obama speech on Libya in my own living room, it was disgusting and disheartening to see Fox and their Republican unbalanced and unfair slant beside themselves in uproar trying to make Obama sound like the worst US President in History, even when he agreed with them.

The Seagate Grindith

My 3 year old computer has a 160 GB Seagate hard drive in it, that began making unpleasant grinding, whining noises, before I left on my last business trip.  I powered it down, and Dr Desert Flower didn't need it powered back on (since she has a nice MAC) while I was gone.  Upon my return, I booted up to hear the awful grrrrrinding sounds again.   I cut the power, disassembled, found a plethora of dust and cat hair had been drawn in (first time in over 2 years I had it apart..  Far Too Long between required maintenance... don't wait as long as I did).  I blew it out with clean compressed air, vacuumed up the residual dust (making sure not to GROUND the vacuum to the PC to avoid statically shocking it here in the low humidity desert) and with the cover off... the PC booted up quietly, peacefully, happily.  "OK" I thought, "Problem solved?".  Then I put the cover back on... and the awful sounds of mechanical death resumed.  It got to the point where the BIOS fatally told me that the Hard Disk "Could Not Be Found" and asked for a boot disk.  Ugh.

Removing the cover, and taking out the 4 mounting screws for the hard drive, the PC once again purred quietly, and I hopefully, cautiously, booted it back up.  Viola, it started!  And has been running for hours, error free, quietly, just the sounds of the fans whirring.  But I know that 100% of all spinning hard drives have eventually failed.  It's just a matter of time.  So Dr Desert Flower and I went to our local Big Box store to look for a replacement drive.  1TB, $90.  2TB, $120. They didn't even offer a tiny 160 GB drive - smallest was a 320 GB for $49.  So I bought another Seagate SATA, the 1TB (since it also runs at 7200 rpm, just like the 160 GB does), and I'm going to try and install it as a 2nd hard drive, in the space right above the 160 GB.  I've got the power cords and ports for it, and I THINK the PC has got a serial connector.... we'll see how well it works.  This may be the last JustJoeP post for a while, if I screw it up.

Trader Joe's Coastal Syrah

I saw this on sale last month at Trader Joe's and for $3 could not pass it up. For $3, it tastes like a $9 or $12 dollar Syrah.  I'd tried the 3 buck Chuck before, and found it to be hit or miss.  Some Cabernets are drinkable, while other shipments are nasty, or rather unpleasant. So I took a small  leap (more like a "hop") of faith in getting the $3 Coastal Syrah Trader Joe's was offering 2.  At just $3, I thought I could marinade or braise with it if it wasn't very savory.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was indeed savory, and it went well with kielbasa on the terrace at sunset, as well as cheese & celery (also at sunset, the next day). 


On my connecting Flight through Detroit last Wednesday night, I heard a fat, golf-attired, balding, visor wearing, 50-something year old red neck man on his cell phone, waiting to get on the flight to South Carolina, say to the person he was speaking to on his phone that he would "Call ya when we git oWWW-h  da  Geh-rrrrw-ughhh-nd."  

I couldn't help but notice, and it made me laugh inside.  It always takes me by surprise, the first time I hear a strrrrong southern drawl spoken, even after living in South Carolina for 16 years of my adult life.  My, how they love their diphthongs.  Whatever would the southerners do without their precious vowels... and tea.. and humidity.. and residual segregation.. and golf... and 'culture of heritage' (yes, a heritage of racial hatred and oppression).. but a DEEP love of vowels, and turning simple words into poly syllabics when they should not be.

I mean no offense to my Southern friends. co-workers, blog visitors, and former neighbors.  There are some really very nice people in the South, here and there, once you get to know them, or make it through their cultural filters, language barriers, and xenophobia.