From another planet

There were a couple of articles last week in the Washington Post that, in my opinion, perfectly summed up much of what I think is going on in the minds of the far right.  They are, as my title suggests, “not from around here.”  Not by a long shot.

The articles in particular, here and here, discuss the continuing influence of Arthur Laffer, the creator of the Laffer Curve–and (alongside Grover Norquist) architect of much of the Republicans’ fiscal strategy.  (Put simply, he believes–among other things–that cutting tax rates will increase tax revenue, since fewer people would be so unwilling to pay.  Then there’s the whole supply-side economics…)

Now, he’s claiming that minimum wage laws are “a crime against black men,” and that liberal economists have consistently been wrong about the economy, and he’s been right.  He describes the current economy as “almost exactly like 1978.”  Furthermore, in his view, Kansas (under Governor Brownback–who cut taxes steeply, on Laffer’s advice) is “doing fine.”  Now, I’m not certain where, exactly, he’s looking.  Kansas seems to be barely able to continue–and certainly not to make ends meet.

His notion that “taxes discourage work,” one of the underpinnings of his entire theory (the Laffer curve), has a fundamental flaw.  In a word, it’s wrong.  Taxes are unpleasant, but nobody with more than a couple of brain cells is going to quit their job just because they have to pay taxes.  Why?  Well, primarily because they still have to earn a living somehow.  (And the truly deep thinkers out there understand that taxes are how the government earns a living, and pays for lots of things that we really like–things like roads, and firemen, and the police, and the military…)

One thing all of the folks on the right seem to forget when they tout the “Greatest Generation,” the ones who built the American middle class: they did it with a top marginal tax rate of 94%.  (Compared with today’s 39.6%.)  Yes, times were different.  Just like times are different now than they were in 1978.  (The top tax rate then was significantly higher, for one thing.)

But read the articles for yourself.  Make up your own mind.  And think–really hard–about what actually happened in the places where his policies were tried.

I’m hoping that my next post will be much more fun–maybe a list (I’ve got a couple hiding in the wings) or the like.  I’d like to do a review or two, as well, in upcoming posts.  And, of course, the weather is turning, and plants are in the ground–there’s always something to talk about there!

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What fresh hell…

What, exactly, was Governor Pence of Indiana thinking, when he signed this bill?  He certainly wasn’t listening to the scores of businesses, large and small, that told him what a problem it would be. He wasn’t listening to any of the political analysts–from all ends of the spectrum–who told him what a problem it would be. Obviously, to my eye, he was listening to a group of the bill’s backers, who told him just what he wanted to hear: that it would be a good thing for business, and not a problem at all. (See all of my previous rants about only listening to what you want to hear…)

Now, what exactly is the fuss about this law?  Well, I’m not a lawyer.  Yes, I have read it, and compared it to the Federal law that it supposedly mimics.  For in-depth analysis, let me point you to some professionals, here and here. Basically, it reaches much farther than the Federal version. One place that particularly caught my eye was in that the government doesn’t need to be a party to the proceeding–in other words, it’s not about whether the government is burdening someone’s exercise of freedom of religion.  An individual, under this law, can burden another individual’s exercise of that right.  This strikes me as patently absurd–barring some quite particular actions, most of which are covered under other laws (kidnapping? extortion? other similar ones, I’m sure), you can’t burden my freedom of religion, nor I yours.  Can I do things offensive to you/yours? Yes, and vice versa. But this isn’t impeding anyone’s free exercise of religion. There are other points, but they’re largely made in the articles linked above.

No, what I see here is, in fact, a version of what the Governor claims he was signing.  Pence said it was not about giving a “right to discriminate.”  What it really is, is about giving a right to discriminate against people not like him.

Then there are the reactions in other states.  Not Washington, or Connecticut, both of which placed a moratorium on state-funded travel to Indiana.  Not even Arkansas, whose governor saw a little of the light, and sent his state’s version back to the legislature to be reworked.

No, I’m talking Maryland, whose governor only compounded things.  A member of the Maryland state legislature–the only openly gay one, at that–sent a letter, requesting that a moratorium similar to that of Washington and Connecticut. He added a justification, explaining that since Governor Hogan’s wife was previously divorced, a restaurant owner may feel justified in not serving them. [Matthew 19:9, for the curious.]  Hogan’s response? He didn’t finish reading the letter, beyond the point where (in his words) his spouse was insulted…

Um.  What?

She’s previously divorced.  He’s her second husband.  This is fact.  Nothing insulting–and it wasn’t even said in a mean way.  Shouldn’t be a problem.  Have we really gotten this thin-skinned?  (Some have later clarified that the faux pas was bringing the spouse into it. Let’s talk about bringing Hillary Clinton into the arguments, or-gods forbid-Michelle Obama…)

No, again and still, I’m largely baffled that anybody thought they could pull this one off without any problems. The fact that it’s the far right, and the religious right at that, doesn’t particularly surprise…

How are you folks out in the dry, dry West holding up, with California’s water problems?  Pressuring your lawmakers to allow rainwater catchment, where they don’t currently?  Or planning to move somewhere a little wetter?  (Or, contrariwise, trying to take some cues from the Hopi, Zuni, and Anasazi, and learn how to do more with less water?) I don’t think the public at large is ready for the food-price shocks that are likely coming…

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Early Springtime Thoughts

Springtime “officially” comes tomorrow, and given the weather this winter, it couldn’t come soon enough.  I’m eager to get things in the ground–just as soon as I can actually see the ground, after all the snow has melted.  Of course, it’ll be a little while before things dry out enough to work, but at least the temperatures will be starting to climb.

Whoever it was that mentioned chickens being a gateway drug–well, you were right.  Of our original flock of six, we now have five.  One of the Orpingtons was getting broody, and the others started pecking, to “nudge” her out of their “favorite” nesting box.  We got her into the house before things got too bad, gave her some recuperation time, then got some chicks to try and “break” the broodiness.  Long story even longer, she was a horrible mama; so, she’s now in witness relocation, with a friend’s flock in another state.  By all accounts, she’s doing well… And so we have six more chicks.  Well, they’re about a month and change old, now, and are at that awkward “teenage” stage, where they look more like lizards than any sort of bird.  But, we’re averaging four eggs or so a day from the “adults,” and once these girls kick into production in the fall, we’ll be up to our eyeballs in eggs.  Fortunately, the folks at work are happy to buy them off me…

What is it with this sudden increase in the “tribal” us-vs-them thing?  It seems to have invaded into all levels of everything–from the Federal Government, down through state and local levels; pretty much all religions (but that’s normal); even overseas–Israel vs. Palestine (and the rest of the Arab world), Russia vs. Ukraine (and the rest of the Western world)…  I don’t know if I’m just more sensitized to it, for some reason, or if it’s really ratcheted up–but it feels like the latter.  Still mulling this one, trying to figure it out; that’ll be a post for a later day.

I like salt.  Not so much in the “putting it on my food” thing–although judicious amounts of that are fine–but more in the “rubbing it all over meat and letting it cure” thing.  I’ve got a number of duck breasts right now, contentedly turning into a quasi-prosciutto; it’s really the simplest curing process I’ve seen.  Rinse the duck breast, put it on a layer of kosher salt in a pan, cover it with more, stick it in the fridge for a day.  Pull it out, rinse the salt, dust it with white pepper (or other spices to your taste), wrap it in cheesecloth, and let it air-dry, somewhere cool (~50 degrees F) and humid (~50% humidity is ideal) for about a week to ten days.  Slice it thin, and it just melts on the tongue.  I need to save up a few pennies and snag a pork belly or two, and try to find a beef navel…  With those, I can crank up the smoke!

We finally decided to get bees.  Not this year–we made the decision a bit late, and would only have had a week or so to get things ready before they were delivered.  Instead, we’ll gather the equipment over the year, and order the bees for next year.  Yes, I’m interested in the honey, although I understand that a “harvestable” amount wouldn’t happen until the second year; I’m much more interested in the pollination, though.  I’m fairly certain that a lack of pollinators was to blame for the mediocre showing of our garden, last year; if this year’s take is similar, I’ll be convinced.

I’m fairly pleased that I accurately estimated our wood usage for the summer.  Barring another long cold snap, we’ll be able to “shut down” the wood stoves, with just enough wood left to allow for an outdoor fire-pit adventure or two.  Part of the plan, this year, is to get a little more wood each month, now that I know of a landscape place locally that sells it year-round.  I’ll have to get down into our woods and start clearing things in the not-too-distant future, too, but for now, I’ll just enjoy the fact that the trees are beginning to bud out…

How are things going in your area?  What do you have going on that’s new and exciting?  I’d love to hear about it.

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Small can be useful

So, among the lists of things that I run across from time to time are lists of Altoids tin modifications.  They’re small, stackable, readily available, inexpensive, and full of tasty candy–what more could you want?

The most recent one that I’ve seen is “12 Useful DIY Altoid Tin Upcycle Kits“. Ten of these are certainly reasonable, if not necessarily for the listed purpose.  (And, of course, the things are small enough that having one or two “for fun” wouldn’t take up much space.)

Here’s the list:

  1. An “outdoor survival kit”, from Field and Stream. It’s got fire starting, water holding and purification, a fishing kit, signaling and navigation, extremely basic first-aid, and some variations.  I certainly like this one.
  2. A portable s’mores kit (Instructables).  Frivolous, but again–very small; maybe “emergency rations” for a camping trip?  Although a tin full of peanut butter would probably have a better quality of calories…
  3. A portable grill, as part of #2 above. At the least, this would be a good kit to start a larger fire in an emergency.
  4. A mini first-aid kit (more Instructables). The “basic kit” listed is actually fairly comprehensive, for as small as it is. Certainly worth exploring.
  5. An “urban survival kit.”  I can’t find the original photo on Flickr, but scanning the photo provided in the top link there are a few interesting selections. A bit of cash–both the folding and the clinking kind–is a good idea. I might not have thought to put an LED with some coin batteries, but that’s a very basic signal device. Chapstick, lighter, a bit of cotton wadding, and you’ve got fire, not to mention the intended uses for them. Micro multi-tool, check. Wire, rubber bands, string, tin foil.  Certainly some food for thought here.
  6. Pocket watercolor set, again from Instructables. Maybe it’s just not my thing; if it’s yours, go for it.
  7. A portable tackle box. If you’re anywhere near where you can fish for food, this is pretty ingenious…
  8. Another Flickr entry has a portable game chest, with cards, dice, a piece of paper with a chess/checker board, thin game pieces (more paper/card stock?), plus what looks like instructions for something I’ve not seen before. A folded piece of notepaper and a pencil rounds things out. If there are more than one of you, this is pretty convenient, for the rare “down moments” in survival situations, or to occupy you while you’re waiting for rescue…
  9. A mini martini kit. Very James Bond–something Q would probably come up with. (Well, something he should have come up with.) Not exactly a survival thing, unless you count it towards morale.
  10. A DIY mini LED flashlight. This is actually small enough to fit in a “normal” Altoids tin.  Pretty simple to make, and inexpensive–and if you’re unsure about electronics, it’s not a bad entry-level project.
  11. A portable mini barbecue. Well, yes… Or, you can use it (as with #3 above) to start a bigger fire, for something slightly more useful.
  12. An emergency candle. This one I’m actually going to have to make, and stash a few dozen of them in various places–in my BoB, my GHB, a couple in the cars, several in a few spots around the house… This one makes the list worthwhile, even if you don’t look at the others, in my opinion.

There you have it!  There are many, many lists out there similar to this one, and dozens-if not hundreds-of other things those ubiquitous little tins can be used for.  Do you have something really creative?  Let everybody know, down in the comments!

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Well, you were warned…

As mentioned, the illustrious ex-Governor of Alaska gets a bit of attention this week.  Well, at least indirectly…

The Iowa Freedom Summit (now there’s a name) was held in late January, and it featured a number of conservative Big Names giving speeches.  The event was widely seen as one of the stepping-off points for folks looking for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.  The aforementioned governor was one of them…  Supposedly, here teleprompter broke, which would be a lovely bit of irony, considering her disdain for such things during the 2008 campaign. She apparently forgot to jot emergency notes down on her hand, this time, and what came out was some rather amazing word salad.  This latter turn of events probably could have been predicted by just about anybody, but the reaction from the right has me scratching my head:

Charles C.W. Cooke of the National Review called it “…not an aberration or a blip, but the foreordained culmination of a slow and unseemly descent into farce…”.

Columnist Matt Lewis of the Daily Beast wonders “Is it possible that Kathleen Parker saw something I didn’t when she attacked Palin?”

Even her erstwhile Fox News supporters abandoned her.

The part that has me confused is why it took them this long to realize what a train wreck the former candidate was.  I mean, I don’t think that I’m a great judge of character, probably right around average; even so, my second thought after she was nominated was, “this is some sort of sick joke, right?”  (My first thought was, “Sarah who?“)

It’s enough to make you question–oh, I don’t know.  Lots of things; their taste, or their opinion of what would make a good VP (or, gods forbid, POTUS).

In slightly more down-to-earth news, given the unexpected day off for much of the eastern seaboard due to recent snows, my wife suggested we play a bit with some recipes.  She found a crockpot bread recipe that looked interesting, so we gave it a whirl…  No pictures, but it turned out quite nicely.  Some notes:

  • If you’ve got an older crockpot, your temperature settings might be a little off. “High” for ours is a little higher than a newer crockpot; we pulled our bread early to compensate.  Let your nose be your guide; the “thump test” works well, too (you’re looking for a hollow sound).
  • Not having any fresh rosemary on hand (well, it is winter, after all), we used dry.  Cut back on the amount: maybe 3/4 of a tablespoon for the dough, a similar amount for the topping should be okay (your tastes may vary).
  • To get the topping to adhere better, try a light coating of EVOO before you add it.
  • Watch it very carefully if you oven-brown it to finish.  (It really doesn’t need it, except maybe for aesthetics.)

Ours was lovely, and we’ll be doing it again!  (We’ll likely try it straight in the oven, too–or maybe in the dutch oven…)  If you give it a go, let us know how it went!  (Other recipes, or links, are welcome, too!)

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Why Do We Do This Again?

So, I had an idea all teed up for this week’s post, involving my bafflement at the right-wing media’s “sudden” realization that Palin is a crackpot, when Real Life ™ intervened, and reminded me why I do this prepping thing.

I had been out in my workshop, diligently making wood chips, and came inside for dinner.  My wife greeted me with, “I don’t know what happened, but we haven’t had water for about half an hour.”  Great.

Now, we’re on a well, so it wasn’t a problem with the city water supply.  It’s winter, which in other cases would (and has) meant frozen pipes; it wasn’t that cold, though, and a quick check in the basement showed that nothing was frozen.  No; after a bit of troubleshooting, the issue turned out to be the well pump.  It wasn’t pumping, so the water pressure in the system was approximately 0 PSI.

Have I mentioned lately that one of the weakest points in our prepping is water storage?  We’ve got a propane-fired camp shower/water heater, so getting water hot isn’t a problem.  The problem is getting water to begin with.  Most of what we had was suitable only for flushing toilets–like bad preppers, we hadn’t rotated stock–which left nothing for washing dishes, or washing ourselves, or drinking.

(Another lesson to be learned here is not to procrastinate–my wife and I had both looked at the dishes earlier in the day, and thought, “I’ll just get those after dinner.”  Well, not going to happen…)

Fortunately, this wasn’t a complete grid-down situation (which I don’t believe will happen any time soon, anyway); and we aren’t out in the boondocks, so getting parts is not a problem.  Most hardware stores (and assorted grocery and big chain stores) now sell 5-gallon water jugs, meant for water cooler setups; they’re a setup rather like with exchangeable propane tanks.  If you haven’t done a full rain-water catchment system (so long as those are legal where you are), and can’t afford something fun like water bricks, the jugs are a relatively inexpensive way to go.

Given the lateness of the hour, and the propensity for anything involving plumbing to take multiple trips to the hardware store, I couldn’t get the pump fully replaced until the next day.  As such, we “only” had to go about sixteen hours ‘without’ water; had ours been a “deep” well (over 70 feet), or one with a submersible pump, it would undoubtedly have been much longer.  Still, it drove home a weak area of our prepping, and in a relatively harmless way.

Next time, I’ll talk Palin, unless a better topic comes along.  Consider yourselves warned…

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Unity of the State?

So, another State of the Union Address has come and gone in this, our great Empire. I’m certainly not going to go over it point-by-point; I agree with most of the positions the President laid out, and I understand the ones I don’t agree with. I skipped out on the rebuttals – shame on me! – but it was already late into a long day, and I didn’t feel like elevating my blood pressure right before bed.

I was struck by some of the Fox News coverage the next morning (I saw it by accident, I swear…). If one of your main quibbles is that Obama didn’t use the words “radical Islam” (although he did talk terrorism), isn’t your position a little thin? I mean, really… I can think of more terror attacks, performed in the U.S. inspired by what I’ll call radical Christianity, than not. Can we talk McVeigh in 1995? The Sikh Temple Massacre in 2012? The Centennial Olympic Park bombing, 1996?

Much of the Fox coverage was really quite divisive–even when they were pretending to have “reasonable” discussion. They tended to set up an “us-vs-them” divide, demonizing the “them.” Even when the “them” was, well, “us”. The wording on their headlines was inflammatory–I wish I had jotted down notes, for examples, but I suspect that catching any session will provide plenty of examples. From a purely sociological standpoint, it was fascinating.

The Fox reaction to the recent events in France was interesting, too – and how they were brought to issuing on-air retractions and apologies (four times!) was instructive. Satire, humor, and an email/twitter campaign. If only they were called out more often–and with appropriate focus–maybe they’d start being worth something.

I promised I’d talk about the terracotta emergency room heaters.  To describe them (a quick Google search should provide lots of pictures and instructions), you’ve got a set of nested terracotta flowerpots, connected through the drain-holes with a bolt and numerous washers & nuts.  These are inverted, and placed on blocks over at least one candle–the blocks keep it raised over the candle, and allow airflow (can’t have the flame go out, that would defeat the purpose).

The principle is that the pots act as a masonry (of sorts) heat sink, absorbing the heat from the candles, and releasing it slowly over time.  My opinion?  Well… They work, mostly.  I’d recommend using multiple tea-lights, or votives.  (Taller candles–pillars, or tapers–make positioning unwieldy.)  At least three.  The longer they burn, the more heat you’ll get, obviously.  They don’t put out enough warmth to heat up a house–unless you had a few dozen of them–but in a pinch, if you had a small room, you’d be able to (at least) take the edge off.

Don’t get me wrong–they’re surprisingly warm, especially after they’ve been going for a while.  Not dangerously so, with the possible exception of the head of the bolt; we got small terracotta saucers, and glued them over the head of the bolt (with a heat-resistant silicone adhesive).  There are also “feet” available for the pots; they hold the entire contraption up high enough for at least tea-lights.  Otherwise, I recommend some bricks or the like–anything fire-resistant. (A large glazed tile to set the entire thing on is probably not a bad idea, either.)

Overall, I’d give the device six stars out of ten. My biggest complaint is that it’s not as effective as I might like; I could be convinced otherwise (maybe my technique is off?), which might raise my opinion of them.

Has anybody else used these? What did you think?

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