Saturday, October 27, 2007

Virginia Tech Memorials and Terrorism

Some thoughts on a difficult problem...

I have been reading about the various ideas for converting Norris Hall into a memorial, or razing the building, and various other ideas. I feel similar sentiments and feel that the victims and the heroes deserve some sort of memorial.

BUT... What concerns me is that the more we make of this, the more attractive it becomes for a mentally disturbed individual like Cho to execute a horrible act like this, knowing that he will make a permanent mark on thousands of people's lives, memorials will be built, and so forth. In memorializing the victims we are also memorializing the perpetrator(s). This is unavoidable.

In a free society under rule of law and with a free press that makes money from sensational stories, it seems nearly impossible to minimize the notoriety that a person like Cho feels they will achieve. A similar situation is found when it comes to terrorists. Combating terrorism directly is nearly impossible, but there is a way to stop terrorism: By definition, a terrorist seeks to terrorize and cause fear in the population. He achieves this through the notoriety of his acts. If terrorist acts were kept as quiet as possible, and terrorists themselves were apprehended and "disappeared", Latin-American style, without the slightest news or the tiniest footnote in the newspaper, terrorism would cease. If you take away the one purpose that a terrorist hopes to achieve, he will stop. If nobody knows of his actions there's no point to terrorism.

To support my point, I'll cite a striking example of one arena where this "silence tactic" was applied, and that is by the Israelis with respect to airline hijacking. Those of you who are old enough will remember that during the late 60's and early 70's, hijacking of Israeli airliners by Arab terrorists was very common. It seemed like there was one every week. These hijackings would involve extensive negotiations, lots of news coverage, hostage exchanges, timed exchanges, exchanges for money, fuel, and safe passage, etc., etc., and they would go on for days, with food being brought to the plane as it sat on the tarmac for several days with 100 hostages onboard. These weekly hijackings came to an abrupt halt in the late 70's when Israel introduced and implemented a new plan. When an Israeli plane is hijacked, there is no news coverage until it's over, and it is over very quickly. Wherever the plane lands, it is immediately stormed by ruthless, heavily armed and armored troops who enter the plane and simply shoot anything that moves. They try not to hit innocents but sometimes they do. They simply move quickly and wordlessly through the plane, Uzis blazing, until every terrorist is triple-dead. The only thing that is reported in the newspaper is that a hijacking occurred and 8 nameless terrorists are dead. That's it. Those hijackings stopped cold because the Israelis removed the purpose, which is notoriety and news coverage, airing of demands, etc. A hijacker now gets none of that. Hijacking an Israeli plane means an anonymous suicide and nothing more so there's no point in it for the would be hijacker. The Germans also had problems with hijackings, although less severe than Israel. The Germans also adopted the Israeli tactic and bingo, no more hijackings.

I brought up the hijacking example to illustrate what happens when you remove the one thing a terrorist wants to achieve. A terrorist-act-minded individual, like Cho, is aware of the "impact" he will make and the lasting memorials that will remain. He knows that he will become instantly famous, and his thoughts and writings will be read by millions, and that's what happened. In a year or so there might be some new laws passed that will be named "Cho laws". In ten years they'll probably make a movie. The name "Cho" will be famous for decades. Unfortunately, and he will be far more famous than any of his victims.

How to change this situation is not clear. It might be impossible in a free society. But it would be good to bear in mind when we make much of events like what happened at Virginia Tech. In a country of 300 million people, there are surely more sick individuals in the population right now that envy Cho and wish they could achieve something similar. The more we make of it, the more attractive it becomes to those who would imitate. A hundred years ago such things happened far less often because news coverage was poor and slow. Notoriety was not guaranteed like it is today.

I wonder how many people consider this aspect that I have just brought up, of events like the Virginia Tech massacre. I wonder if it is even brought up in discussions about what to do with Norris Hall. Norris Hall is just a building, an inanimate object. I think it should be restored to it's previous condition as quickly as possible and put back into service as before. It should not be turned into an icon because in the end, it memorializes the perpetrator more than any of the victims.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Gnooze

This girl is too funny. Check out her videos. Great stuff!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Making Candied Orange Peel

Making candied orange peel is easy once you learn what to watch for. Expect a couple of spoiled batches where you undercook or burn the product, but after that it's straightforward.

Candied Orange Peel

The number of oranges to use is hard to specify. I eat two oranges a day and save the peel. Since I want as many long 1/4 to 3/8 inch wide strips that are 2 inches long, I cut the oranges in half and juice them or quarter them and carve out the inside (and eat it). Then I wash the peels under running water, and scrape as much of the meat off as I can and then toss the peels into a sealed plastic bin I have in the refrigerator. The sealed bin has a small amount of water on the bottom to keep them hydrated, otherwise the refrigerator will dry them out and they'll shrivel.

When I have "enough", I get the cutting board and start slicing as many long pieces as I can and I dice up the odd pieces, and continue until I have enough to fill a small 16 cm stainless saucepan about 3/4 full (but not more).

Next the peels optionally get boiled in the saucepan. Boiling them like I describe here will reduce the flavor and remove bitterness. It will also help to hydrate any peels that have dried and thinned. You can skip the boiling steps here for a stronger orange flavor. If I'm going to use the peels for baking I skip the boiling to get a stronger flavor. To boil the peels, fill the saucepan with water, and boil for 10 minutes or more, dump them into a strainer and hit them with cold water. Then back in the pot to boil again for 10 minutes or so, dump and rinse with cold water.

Next comes the candying step. Put 2 to 2-1/2 cups of sugar in the saucepan and 1 cup of water, bring it to a boil and dissolve all the sugar. Be careful from here on because the sugar syrup will be at 240 degrees F. Treat it with respect because it WILL hurt you--think napalm. Gently add the peels to the boiling syrup, bring back to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and cook them in the syrup (uncovered). I've seen recipes that say to cook for 20 minutes. Forget that. It takes 40 to 45 minutes of cooking. The whole time it will be merrily bubbling and foaming. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking or burning. When you get to around 40 minutes, you'll notice the amount of liquid is getting less and less and now is where you really have to pay attention. You want the peels to get that "glassy" candied look--not all the way through, but you want to see the flesh start to get glassy. Some people say to boil until all the syrup is gone. If you do that, you'll burn the peels. There's a fine line where they are "just right" and it always seems to come at around 45 minutes.

While it's cooking, I've put out sheets of waxed or parchment paper. When the decision point comes, dump the contents of the pot into a metal screen strainer (remember it's at 240F which will melt some plastics) and let it drain for a minute. Then spoon them out onto the waxed paper and as quickly as you can spread them out so they are touching each other as little as possible. When they cool they will stick together and it's pretty easy to unstick them from the paper but not from each other. Then let them cool off and dry for a while, an hour or two, and then you can use them or cover with another sheet of waxed paper. You can stack several batches on top of each other, put a dinner plate on top, and store them like this for several days.

Finally, you can sprinkle them with flour and mix them into a cake. You can dip the long ones in melted chocolate (just like strawberries). You can coat them with powdered sugar, use then to garnish ice cream, whatever.

o try this out I'd recommend starting with four oranges worth of peel. The thickness of orange peels varies a lot so it's hard to say how many oranges you need. Thick skinned oranges are great for this application. Oranges with very thin skins are not good choices for candying. You can also do this with grapefruit skins for a very different flavor.

For me, candied orange peel is one of the greatest flavors on earth, and it's extra fun to make because you are using what would otherwise be garbage plus about 20 cents worth of sugar. However, it is labor and time intensive.

Candied Orange Peel

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Nobody Ever Talks About Inflation

I found an interesting article below and it agrees with my observations down in the trenches with the poor people, which includes myself, my daughter and everyone she knows, various other friends, and discussions with my landlady on this topic about her other tenants. (She owns a number of income properties). Money has been getting tighter and tighter for everyone and it's now at the point where people just can't make ends meet anymore and they have zero disposable income so there are no vacations, no nothing. People are getting worked to death just like in the 1800's.

If I were to have the same buying power that I had in 1995, I would need a salary today of at least three times what I was earning plus bonuses. My net worth would need to be around--well I won't mention the number but around 4 times what it was in order to have kept even with where I was. This George Carlin video:

is right on target because salaries and benefits have not kept up with inflation at all. A salary of $100,000 is still considered "quite high" by today's PERCEPTIONS but in fact a $100,000 salary today is what a school teacher made not too long ago in terms of buying power. What this says to me is that American big business has pulled off a marvelous sleight of hand. Everyone's salaries have been cut by 70 percent without actually reducing the numbers, and I'll bet the benefits of this are flowing into somebody's pocket. Americans today are working far longer hours and far harder for less buying power.

Now who do you suppose engineered this, or is it simply the effect of profligate spending made possible by foreign confidence in the U.S. economy? What happens when that confidence wanes? What happens when Europe unifies its capital markets, as it's now doing, and becomes a far more attractive place for big investors like China than it is now? What happens when the massive influx of capital to the United States slows down?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Our Congress Works Very Hard

This is a hilarious (and appalling) but very well done educational video:

Traumatic Breathalyzer Test

It's okay to humiliate and traumatize innocent citizens? That's what a recent statement from attorneys representing the New York Police Department are, in effect, saying. According to attorneys representing NYPD officers, a breathalyzer test for them is "humiliating and traumatic". If that's so, then why are citizens of the United States subjected to a procedure that is "humiliating and traumatic"?

Friday, October 19, 2007

$146 Million in Unauthorized Travel Expenses

It's nice to know that our mid-level government employees are traveling in style. The GAO so far has uncovered $146 million in unauthorized or inappropriate air fares in the first half of 2007. The cases involve the breaking of rules such as those requiring federal employees to travel in business-class at $800 and not first-class at $6,000 and so forth, which happened 44,000 times. but the rulebreakers feel they are worth it 'cuz their work is so important.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Rudy is the Big Hero of 9/11

No, not Rudy Giuliani, a different Rudy.

'Nuf said.

Do you know where Rudy Giuliani was when the planes hit the World Trade Center?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Unintended Consequences

It's interesting to observe that states like Oklahoma and Georgia, that passed laws cracking down on illegal aliens, are noticing a significant drop in tax revenues. Why? Because those people are moving away to other states and taking their tax revenue with them. Another side effect is more houses showing up for sale, also because of illegal aliens moving away. This comes at a rather bad time though because the sub-prime mortgage crisis is already causing distressed houses to come on the market and depress home prices. This is now being aggravated by all the non-distressed homes belonging to illegal aliens that are also coming onto the market.

But in these cases, the system is actually working as the Founders intended. If a state implements foolish laws, people will vote with the feet and that state will get smacked in the pocketbook. It's working.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tattle on Your Neighbors

Have a neighbor you don't like? Now you can go to this web site, mark their house on the map, and write an anonymous report on their nefarious activities.

I'm sure the cops are very pleased with this web site and will be watching it closely. It reminds me of what neighbors did to each other in the Soviet Union, only in the United States we choose to do it voluntarily. Haha. But what happens when people post phony accusations, which they surely will? Now you can anonymously defame anyone.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Income Gap Widens

Half of all Americans became poorer while the richest 1 percent became richer under Bush's policies. Are these two facts related? Apologists for Bush's pro-rich policies say no, that economics is not a zero sum game. But that argument is false in this case. Economics is not a zero sum game if the economy is growing at a good pace--there's more to go around for everybody. But after taking inflation into account, the U.S. economy is not growing, so it is zero sum game. What's more, it is still possible for wealth to move from the poorer to the rich even with a growing economy. But if the economy is stagnant or shrinking, as the inflation-corrected numbers show, then wealth definitely moved from the less-fortunate HALF of all Americans into the pockets of the richest one percent. There is no doubt that Bush's policies, which are designed to tilt the table in favor of the rich, are doing just what they were designed to do.

The last time that the richest Americans had such a large slice of the pie was in the 1920's, before the Great Depression. The income statistics were released by the Internal Revenue Service.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

U.S. Re-Embracing Authoritarian Sunni Regimes

Gee, isn't that what we were doing before the Bushes got their hands on the political steering wheel? Hmm. We'd be better off putting Saddam back in power in Iraq. Oops, I forgot, we killed him. Well, now what? The Sunnis are a minority in Iraq but Saddam was a Sunni. Oh dear, what HAVE we done? This problem was plainly visible to me back in 2003, which is one of the many reasons I spoke against attacking Iraq, but nobody seemed to care because the desire for Iraq's oil and the phony propaganda linking Saddam with 9/11 was clouding everyone's minds. So now we have an enormous mess. We have badly upset the balance of power in the Middle East by removing the one force that was directly counterbalancing Iran (Iraq, led by Sunni, Saddam Hussein).

We can't restore the balance now because we removed Saddam. It was he, as a Sunni leader of a country with a Shiite majority, who created the balance. We've now forever lost the ability to restore the balance.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rich Whites Cheat Their Way Into College

Not all, of course, but a study of Ivy League colleges and universities shows that around 15 percent of the white kids in attendance did not meet the academic entrance requirements. Instead they were admitted because their parents made large contributions to the school or had a lot of pull with the alumni association. Is this a form of affirmative action for dumb rich white kids?

Check it out:

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

To All Who are Studying U.S. Presidential Candidates:

YouTube is an excellent place for "candidate surfing". Most of the candidates and as well as other politicos (Nancy Pelosi, for example) have their own channels where they post things of their choice, but more interesting are the videos posted by users. You can review all of the debates captured off network TV, listen as many times as you wish, and listen carefully to what the candidates are really saying. Many campaign as well as prior speeches by politicians and candidates are also there on YouTube for you to examine closely.

Just go to YouTube and search on candidate names or keywords such as debate. Note that you will also find plenty of videos expressing opinions on every political topic, which you may or may not find interesting, but there's tons of stuff showing the candidates speaking for themselves.

Here are some clips to get you started:

Clips from the Democratic debates:

28 minutes from the GOP debates:

Ron Paul:

And there's lots more up there.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Bank Overdraft Scam

Back in the good old days before so-called "overdraft protection", if a large check arrived that would overdraw your checking account, it was simply returned NSF (Non-Sufficient Funds) and a fee of $10 or $15 was deducted from your balance. But the rest of your funds in the account remained there, able to cover smaller checks or charges that arrived. Nowadays with "overdraft protection" if a large check arrives, it gets paid, a $35 fee is charged, and your account gets driven negative, and now, every single additional check or charge that arrives is guaranteed to "overdraw" and trigger another $35 fee. Each little three dollar charge get's hit with another $35.

But I still haven't gotten to the nasty scam part. Back in the old-days, checks and charges were handled during nightly processing in the order in which they arrived or in random order. But now, with the "overdraft protection" scheme in place, the order in which checks and charges are processed suddenly matters a lot. A new "game" is possible for the bank. So banks these days keep a temporary ledger in their computers that records transactions as they occur during the day. This temporary ledger is what you see when you do online banking. But then during the night when the computers reconcile all the accounts, the temporary ledger is ignored and all of your transactions for the day are re-executed in the real ledger. The transactions are not handled in the order they occurred during that day, instead they are sorted by dollar amount and the largest transaction is entered first, then the next largest, and so on. This is done in to maximize the number of overdraft fees that might occur.

For example, let's say on the morning of a particular day I have a balance of $150. During the day I use a debit card to buy a snack for $5, gas for $30, lunch for $10. During the day, if I checked my balance with online banking, my balance would have gone from 150 to 145, to 115, to 105. When I get home that afternoon I know that the three debit card transactions for the snack, gas, and lunch are done, safe, paid, right? Wrong!

Let's say that during this same day two checks also arrive at the bank to be paid, one for $12 and one for $140. Uh oh, the $140 check is going to bounce, right? Wrong. The checks will get processed at midnight but so will all your previous transactions that day. All five transactions will be re-processed into the main ledger at midnight and not in the order of occurrence but in order of decreasing dollar amount. First comes the check for $140, which clears fine because your balance was still $150, driving the balance to $10, then the $30 debit card transaction, driving the account to $-20, plus the $35 overdraft fee to $-55. Then the 12, the 10, and the 5, each of which invokes another $35 fee. The next day my $150 positive account balance has become overdrawn by $187. Congratulations, you've just been hit with the bank scam.

Back in 2004 this happened to me with Suntrust Bank in Florida. A $40 check I had overlooked triggered a chain reaction resulting in $175 in bank fees. I called customer service and asked them to remove the so-called "overdraft protection" and simply bounce any future checks that would overdraw. Nope, can't do it. The "overdraft protection" feature, which they tout as a great favor to their customers, is mandatory and cannot be disabled.

And if you think my story is bad, read some of these experiences with Citizen's Bank:

This is a big gravy train the banks have going here. No wonder they show record profits. But in my opinion it meets the definition of fraud: "A deception deliberately practiced in order to secure unfair or unlawful gain."

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Daylight Saving Time Redux

Well the poll is over. I'm sure the sample is too small to have any statistical significance, and the sample population was surely biased, but the outcome is interesting to me anyway. Eight people voted. Two people said they like daylight saving time and six do not. If nothing else, I know that I am not entirely alone in my dislike of DST.

Thank you all so much for participating!

If my blog drew a lot of traffic, I think it would be fun to do a simple poll of all presidential candidates from both parties. But at this point I think I have fewer readers than there are candidates running so that wouldn't work. Haha.

Friday, October 5, 2007

What is the Matter with George W. Bush?

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Bush's politics, it is very disturbing to compare the George W. Bush of 1994 with the same man 10 years later. In 1994, Bush was a capable debater, speaking freely, smoothly, with a good vocabulary, and in long complete sentences. Everything he said made sense. And I'm not talking about whether you agree with what he said or whether what he said was true, I am talking about his ability to smoothly string thoughts together into a logical sentence. Today, the simplest of concepts foul him up and his memory seems to have failed. It's truly astonishing to compare his performance in 1994 with the same man after 2002. They don't even seem like the same person.

The following video clip begins with a segment from the 1994 Texas gubernatorial debates. I would be shocked to turn on the radio today and hear President Bush speaking like he does in this video:

So what happened? You don't have to be a doctor to see that something has gone seriously wrong, but what? Any doctors or psychiatrists want to chime in with ideas?

Here are a couple more videos of the man who holds the most powerful political office in the world:

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Natural Ingredients?

Just what exactly does "natural ingredients" mean? For example, the flavor we call vanilla comes from a chemical called vanillin that is extracted from vanilla beans. One can also make vanillin in a chemistry lab, and this vanillin is identical to the vanillin that comes from real vanilla beans but it must be called "artificial vanillin". Okay so far, but it gets more interesting. Vanillin can also be made in the laboratory by means of a bacterial fermentation process and this product does not have to be labeled artificial. Huh? All three sources produce exactly the same substance.

(There is also imitation vanilla, which contains no vanillin at all but that's another story.)

Then there is the question of product labeling. There seems to be no regulation of use of the word "natural". Assuming that one has determined what is and what is not a "natural ingredient", there is no definition of what constitutes a "natural" cosmetic or food product. Each manufacturer has its own definition. Some feel that 70 percent natural ingredients justifies the product being labeled as natural. Others feel that 50 percent is enough. Some feel that one percent is enough. It's clear that without doing deep research on a each product, the word "natural" appearing on the label is meaningless. It tells you nothing more than showing you how to spell "natural".

Now what I want to know, is water a natural ingredient? How natural is natural? What about water produced in a hydrogen fuel cell? What about the exhaust from the space shuttle's main engines, which is 100 percent water? Is that artificial water? And how do you keep artificial water from mixing with real water? Curious minds want to know.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Food in a McDonald's Wrapper Tastes Better

Talk about brainwashing or Pavlovian training of our kids--a study was recently done with pre-schoolers that showed kids preferred foods that were wrapped in a McDonald's wrapper or that came in a McDonald's container. Not only did they choose it over other foods but identical carrots, identical apples, drinks, foods of any kind, were deemed to taste better when they came in packaging bearing the McDonald's logo.

This is disturbing and also raises a question. This was a test of just one type of brainwashing but how else have we and our kids been brainwashed?

Monday, October 1, 2007


Amazing how the U.S. focuses such intense "security" that it becomes a theater of the absurd:

...meanwhile, some real terrorist is probably floating a nuke up the Chesapeake Bay in a cabin cruiser.

It seems that nobody can face the fact that terrorist attacks simply cannot be completely prevented--certainly not in a "free" society. Even in an intensely guarded police state like the Soviet Union, they could not be prevented. The U.S. has a lot of coastline, a lot of unprotected border, hundreds of ships carrying hundreds of thousands of shipping containers entering the country every day, only a fraction of which can be inspected. We can't stop the flow of illegal drugs--we can't even make a dent in the flow of tons of illegal drugs. The street price of cocaine is now a quarter of what it was at the start of the "Drug War" Hello? It's absurd to even talk about preventing a determined individual, or group of individuals, or dangerous materials from getting into the United States.

Instead of spending vast sums of money and manpower on the impossible task of protecting the U.S. from terrorist attacks, much better results could be obtained by changing our behavior in the global arena such that terrorists are no longer motivated to attack. By this, I am referring to curbing U.S. interference in the governments of other countries, curbing the use of foreign aid money as a form of bribe to get foreign governments to give special consideration to U.S. companies operating in those countries, curbing the criminal behavior of U.S. companies operating in foreign countries, and so on. A recent example of this was just in the news where Chiquita Brands was funding anti-government guerrilla fighters. Back in the 80's, Coca-Cola operating in Guatemala murdered nearly 50 people who were trying to get a union started. These things happened with impunity because the U.S. government had already bribed the foreign government into allowing it, allowing U.S. companies to do as they please, pay no taxes, ignore local laws. The politicians in those foreign governments are happily corrupt and happy to pocket the "foreign aid" money from the U.S., and retire in style, but the populace that suffers ends up disliking the U.S. This sort of behavior has been going on for about 100 years now. Meddling in countries pisses people off and it's starting to come back to haunt us.

For background on the sort of activities I refer to, the following two books are a good start:

The Central America Factbook by Tom Barry and Deb Preusch

Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano

And here's a little kicker for you of Congressman Ron Paul citing the 9/11 Commission Report and CIA assessments that say the same thing I said above: