Saturday, July 29, 2006

Making Yoghurt

You might have guessed a couple of things about me. One of which should have been that I am a total homebody. Working mostly out of the house has really spoiled me. That and being essentially a misanthrope. I don't go out much because I prefer my own company and the company of my critters. I'm into a lot of home made stuff, my bread, soft cheeses, yoghurt and such. It's much better food than what you buy.

I got into Yoghurt making a long time ago. I was on this whole "gotta cut down on sugar" kick. It would have been a lot healthier if I had quit shooting dope, but hey, first things first you know? Anyway, I am acting like a sugar cop in the store and I get a carton of plain yoghurt. When I read the label I notice that it had high fructose corn syrup in it. I'm trying to cut down on sugar and these bastards are plotting to pour karo syrup down my throat. I figure enough's enough so I start doing a little research about it.

The first thing you need is a half gallon of milk. Some people prefer skim milk, and that's fine with me. I use skim milk from time to time, but most of the time I just use what ever is in the fridge. Put this on the stove over a high medium heat. To the milk add a can of evaporated milk and 2 cups of nonfat dry milk. This increases the milk solids that are present and will improve the consistency of your end product. Heat until a covering of small bubbles is present and it is almost boiling. If it does boil it's no big deal, it just makes a horrid mess is all. The main thing you want is for the temperature to reach at least 180° for a minimum of two minutes. This kills any other bacteria that might be present and readies the milk for the introduction of the bacteria we want. Let the milk cool down to a little above body temperature (warm, not hot) and add the yoghurt starter. There might be a skin formed on top of the milk. In Poland this is called a ploika and is eaten on hunks of bread. Mine go to the dogs, if they don't get their issue they might not let me move away from the stove. For a half gallon batch, half of a small carton of plain yoghurt (and don't forget to read the label in case the syrup spies have been active in your neighborhood). The best way is to scoop some of the boiled milk over the yoghurt culture in a 2 cup measure and mix it until smooth. Stir it into the rest of the boiled milk and then transfer to a clean, airtight jar. (I like the Kerr small canning jars, single serving size) If you don't have a yoghurt maker (I love my Danvier) you can use a rack style dehydrator, or barring all of that put the stove on warm (you're going for an average temp of not less than 110° yet not more than 120° I found that the "warm" setting on the oven dial with the door slightly cracked worked just fine. If you are using the oven method you will want your jars in a bain marie which is a fancy ass french way of saying put the jars in a 12" by 8" baking pan and the add water around them. This will ensure that the yoghurt sets up evenly in your containers.

Leaving it alone for about eight hours should do the trick, but the longer you leave it in the heat the tighter your yoghurt will be. If you pick up one of your jars and it looks and feels solid in the jar, you're done.

There are some variations. In India they will take the finished yoghurt and strain out much of the liquid through a cheesecloth. It makes a cheesier, denser yoghurt. There are a lot of things to do with it from here. I substitute it for around half of the mayonaisse when making tuna or potato salads. There are lots of Turkish, Lebanese and Indian dishes that use yoghurt.

Since this isn't pasturized again there will be live culture stuff present and you'll want to make new yoghurt after two weeks in the refridgerator. Give this one a try and you'll end up hating the stuff they pawn off on you at the store as much as I do.

If You're Doing the Right Thing, I Don't Care About Your Reason

I look at politics and philosophy from a mainly Libertarian and Existential point of view. Having grown up decidedly poor and achieved a modest measure of success in my life I know that with a combination of luck and work there is still some small measure of mobility in American life. A lot of the times it is luck or circumstance that will open the door, however, to stay in the room takes work.

Most of the time I find myself agreeing with the more progressive and leftist wings of political thought. We get to our conclusions by different paths, but I figure, once there, let's get to work.

I believe firmly in equality of rights in our country. I experienced racism from all sides of the spectrum growing up. As a matter of fact, the first place that I found even a glimpse of equality was in the military. Thank you President Truman. As Commander in Chief, he ordered the military to end segregation and, bless their hearts, they saluted and did so. It took them time. Many still try to return to that bullshit, but they are forced into dissonances, like saluting the uniform on a Colin Powell while trying to ignore the worth of the man wearing it. The military, at first, to address the inequalities that existed did engage in some Affirmative Action programs, but, once the doors were opened, the minorities proved their worth and substance by earning their wings, berets, medals and proved over and over again that we had done ourselves a great disservice by disallowing their contributions. I was proud to serve in the first integrated military since the Revolution. I think our society, albeit in fits and starts, continues to make progress in this area. I oppose turning off the small measures that encourage minority progress and hope that someday our playing field becomes truly level. It's not there yet, and we have to guard against the folks who want to turn back the clocks, but it is an attainable goal. When I'm in one of my better moods I like telling racists that "I'm mixed race, my children are mixed race, their children and so forth will all be mixed race. We are joyfully fucking you and everybody like you into irrelevance." I don't generally like government intrusions into things, however, I can see the need and support the means to achieve these ends the exact same way as someone far more liberal.

Where I get frustrated is when people not only demand right action but right arrival to that action. I am far too pragmatic to concern myself with trivial things like that. Here are some examples I use from my personal life to illustrate this:

I did not quit smoking in the house because I became concerned for the health of anyone around me. I quit smoking in the house before I got custody of my three younger children. My reason was simple, I had some expensive artwork and I didn't want to risk damaging it with gummy smoke. I figure, if the result is no smoke in my house, who cares about the reason it's gone?

I did not start making sure to leave the toilet seat down because I was concerned about the wishes of any woman in my life. Although, since women care far more about whether or not the seat is down, I usually would find it easier to change my behavior than listen to them shouting from the bathroom in the middle of the night; that alone was never sufficient to penetrate my own self-absorbtion. I became vigilant on the toilet seat issue because I had a dog who would check the bathroom right after anybody used it and would drink from the toilet and that grossed me out. The thing is, any woman in my house would be silly and wasting her time to try and align my reasons for doing this with something that she approves of.

I am not against war as an entity or option. I am against the current wars in the mid-East because they are stupid. I will gladly work alongside people who are fully pacifist to achieve the ending of slaughter in these places, and hope that they will be gracious in opposing me should there come a time when our paths diverge.

I have no religion or supernatural belief. I am close with many who do. I don't expect much beyond the freedom to choose my spiritual path. There is a big difference between tolerance and freedom. George Washington once wrote to a Jewish congregation in Rhode Island (you can see his letter in the nation's oldest synagogue in Newport) that had written him asking if they would receive the tolerance of Christians in this brand new society. Washington wrote them back saying that religious tolerance implies that a minority exists with the permission and whim of a majority. Religious Freedom says that they are truly free to follow their hearts and conscience without that permission. This is where the Christian Right misses the essential point. I do not ask for their tolerance. I could give a fuck whether or not my lack of belief offends them. I don't care. The only place where their belief in Jesus intrudes on my life is when they choose to try to impose it upon me. They are not only fucking with me, they are fucking with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin and John Goddamn Adams.

I am not against Bush's MidEast policy because he's a Christian. Although I think we're stupid to allow people who believe in the Rapture and all that shit any hand in deciding the future simply because these dummies don't want a future, they want the end of the world to happen right away. Somehow I feel that this alone should take somebody out of the running for these jobs. Like I think it's stupid for a pharmacist to refuse on religious grounds (there ain't no morality in this argument) to fill the legal prescriptions of somebody. I don't think that politicians who look forward to Armageddon should be allowed to make policy.

I have a dear friend named Peter who in the late eighties decided to really follow Christ. Peter has since sold everything he personally owned and is now in Zambia feeding and sheltering children orphaned by the AIDs epidemic. Having exhausted his personal fortune doing this, he spends about four months of every year back in this country raising funds. He knows I am a soft touch for things like this. I don't believe in Jesus (Peter hopes in his heart that this will change someday but he never has pushed, prodded or threatened me with hell) but I give generously to his mission because it's a good thing to do.

If the right thing is being done. The reasons don't matter. Reasons matter only when the resulting behavior is wrong and only then as a means of understanding and figuring out what needs to be done to change it.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday's Random Ten

Before I toddle off to the couch for a nap I will post the Random Ten which my wonderful and brilliant daughter in Ireland has told me is her favorite. I don't know if she listens to any of these but if she likes it I love it. For you m'darlin'.

The Foggy Dew - - Sinead O'Connor
Po' Lazarus - - Soundtrack "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Time on My Hands - - Sweet Honey in the Rock
Musta Got Lost - - J. Geils (live bootleg from K-K-K-Katy's in Harvard Square)
Low Spark of High Heeled Boys - - Traffic
Cream - - Prince
Tell Me Somthing Good - - Rufus
You Been A Good Ol' Wagon - - Bessie Smith
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring - - Me (live soundboard take from Vegas show)
Let The Four Winds Blow - - Taj Mahal

Bonus track 11 (hit random twice, take the top)

Someday Soon - - Ian & Sylvia Tyson

I Call Bullshit, Again

I know what it feels like to be shelled. I know the terror and helplessnes that overwhelms every other emotion when the only course of action you can find is to dig a little deeper, lie down a little flatter, and wait for it to stop. Because I know how this feels (and I also know that since the people of this administration pulled strings, bribed doctors, had daddy make a few phone calls so that they didn't have to go fight and would never know how this feels) I believe that for the folks on the ground in Lebanon cease fire, "phony" peace, all the things the President and Condi and Rummy and Darth Cheney are rejecting sound pretty good.

Let me explain further. If you have been in a bomb shelter for the last sixteen days, feeling the earth shake and brushing the mortar dust from your shoulders, phony peace sounds pretty damned good right about now. If you have seen the ambulance carrying your neighbor's children rocketed on the way to the hospital, you'll settle gladly for a cease fire. If you heard the news about a family from your village whose van was strafed and rocketed as they were fleeing to the mountains to get away from this onslaught of destruction, the only thing you want right now is for it to quit. The families and nations who have U.N. observers manning the posts that haven't been attacked only want to know that their sons and daughters are safer because the bombs and artillery have ceased.

That's how wars end. People quit shooting. That's the first thing that has to happen. That's why I haven't gotten all indignant about the proposed amnesty in Iraq for insurgents. It has to start somewhere, with somebody. If an insurgent who has killed Americans and other Iraqis is willing to stop doing that I'm willing to say "Good enough, now we can figure out how to make it last."

Looking for a "lasting peace" while still killing people is not the way. Every bomb that drops, every child that dies, every atrocity visited upon the captured will last and endure far beyond all imagination. The only thing that is being accomplished right now is more death, and more destruction, which will fuel more hatred and even more violence.

Only a few of our commanders in Viet Nam came to the realization that "search and destroy" missions were the best recruiting tool the communists had. Every time the Marines or Air Cavalry were sent out on "Zippo raids" to burn the meager possessions of the population another generation of hardened, implacable enemies was created. Instead of playing pieces or obstacles we should have been looking at the Vietnamese people as the prize, the goal of the operation. In the few areas of operation where that was understood Americans who spoke the language and understood the culture were going out into the fields and schools and hospitals to show the people that there was a better life available. Often times we ended up having to protect them against the depredations of the ARVN and local government. In most of those cases our mere presence was enough to deter those thugs.

Now, our leaders, to our everlasting shame, are posturing and once again, playing with forces they do not understand in the slightest. The only way for this to end is to simply stop shooting, bombing, rocketing. This is a hard course of action because Hizbullah will certainly continue with their assaults. I am not defending or justifying anything they have done. They are murdering bastards too. But, so far, Hizbullah has not been slowed in their attacks by the IDF. Maybe a better course of action might be found through the U.N. or the Arab League or somebody bringing aid and equipment to start clearing the rubble, not make more of it. We will never be able to find out what the solution is while the biggest problem is that people are being slaughtered for no discernable effect and no good reason.

If you are the one in the bomb shelter, phony peace is worth it. If you have been enduring rocket attacks, cease fire sounds good enough.

Of course, if you are a heartless, bloodthirsty, deluded Christopath who might just believe that you have been chosen to be the instrument of the Second Coming, or if you are just indifferent to the tears of the living as they pick up and carry the dead to yet another mass grave, or the screams of the wounded because your daddy made sure that you never had to listen to them, word games and platitudes will suffice.

The final thing I want to say is this. . .war's tend to take on a character and life of their own. If this is allowed to continue, it has a distinct probability of expanding beyond any measure of control or comprehension. The idea of having the President and his staff stand before us again to say "Nobody anticipated that this would happen" again is more than I can bear.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Molly Ivins. Nail. Head.

Let me begin by saying I loves me some Molly Ivins. I wish I had half the wit and style she has in her left pinkie. But when she gets really going, when she says stuff like this:

If I may raise a nasty political possibility. One good reason for the Bush administration to leave Chapter 9,271 to burn out of control is that this administration thrives on fear. Fear has been the text and the subtext of every Republican campaign since 9/11. Endless replay of the footage from 9/11 has graced every Republican campaign since. Could it be that 9/11 is beginning to pall, to feel as overplayed as Natalee Holloway? Fear is actually more dangerous than war in the Middle East. For those who spin dizzily toward World War III, the Apocalypse, the Rapture -- always with that delicious frisson of terror -- the slow, patient negotiations needed to get it back under control are Not News.

My adoration and respect is truly boundless.

Now go, read the whole thing and then bookmark her page.

That is all. Carry on.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Iraqi Prime Minister Speaks and Says Nothing

Of course, what did I expect him to say? This guy is thrust into hosting the maddest tea party since Boston, he can't get a cup of coffee safely in his own capital. Calling what he heads a government insults anyone who understands the meaning of the word. They exist within a fortress, guarded by foreign occupation troops that might not even have the strength to fight their way out of there if shit really hits the fan. Instead of being like the Lebanese government, which is labeled a "failed state" because they couldn't control a single militia (Hizbulla), we don't even have an accurate count of the various militias that the Iraqi colonial regime is not able to control (although Juan Cole reported yesterday that the Mahdi army of al-Sadr is likely to come to the aid of Hizbulla).

Our Secretary of State is taking a page from the Forestry Service (Let it burn) and allowing the Iraeli forces to continue to forge ahead deeper and deeper into resistance that is increasingly stiffer and more ferocious than they anticipated. The guerrilllas of Hizbulla are coming up from out of tunnels and bunkers that they have spent years designing and building for this very day. They are fighting a textbook version of resistance, luring the attackers into the briar patch where they were born and raised.

In Beruit the bombing is having the predicted inverse effect on the population. For many of the target neighborhoods Hizbulla provides the only shelter, food and comfort available, and just like the bombing of London didn't bring down Churchill, and Dresden didn't shorten the war, the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong didn't do much for making life any better for us boonie rats in the South, every bomb dropped by Israel hardens the resistance and solidifies the hatred that will last for generations.

This is only going to get worse folks.

UPDATE (from Juan Cole)

Update: Hizbullah fighters defending Bint Jbeil have killed 14 Israeli soldiers, according to early reports on Wednesday. Hizbullah is ratcheting up its kill ratio with the Israeli military toward 1:1, something no other Arab fighting force has even approached

That is significant because the IDF has relied on its reputation for extreme superiority for a long time. If this success by Hizbullah continues look for all the others in the schoolyard to step up and take a swing at the bully.

Off topic note to my wildly talented and lovely daughter in Ireland:

I know you've been lurking. Unless there is another regular reader in the town of Kilgallin. Leave a comment, or email, or just for a giggle, call your old man. I love you and miss you. I hope to see you soon my darling. Your aunt says that you are a rare talent and are making astonishing progress. This does not surprise me in the slightest. I am very proud to know you. You're a much better daughter than I deserve.

(I can hear you saying "oh for fuck's sake Da!" right now just like I used to say to your Granda, for my sake, try to pick up some of the musical lilt and poetry of the Yeat's country where you're staying. . .)


Monday, July 24, 2006

Write What You Know

That's always been good advice and something I try to take to heart. I don't know the middle east very well. I can see that it's a shitstorm and getting worse every day. I can see many correlations to my own experience in Viet Nam.

When I was nineteen, the shit of Tet hit the fan of my life. Because of my unit's proximity to the citadel of Hue, that's where we went first. We left behind a smoking, gutted, ruin. House to house fighting is about as brutal and merciless as you can find. In Hue we found that the main issued weapon, the M-16 was not a good choice for house to house. I was never someone who ran that equipment down. I found it to be very good in most cases, vastly superior to the weapons the enemy used. Except in the city of brick and cobblestone that quick round tended to ricochet, and splinter, it just was not what we needed for the terrain.

A quick aside: Smaller, more poorly equipped and armored units will always try to provoke the more numerous and heavily armed foes into a street fight. The nature of the beast that is house to house battle negates most of the advantages of numbers and armor. Air power is curtailed because you can't see through walls and ceilings, tanks can't maneuver well and become large, slow targets with vulnerable spots. The larger sized attacking force most of the time does not have intimate knowledge of the place. In short, it's tailor made for defending guerrillas.

We requested a re-arming ASAP. What we asked for and received were shotguns and thompsons. They worked fine.

Door by door. Floor by floor. Window by fucking window. We knocked shit down and took it back. We had a kill ratio of about 10 to 1. It's just that there wasn't much of a city left when we were done. The people of Hue were glad to see us go.

That's pretty much the whole story of Tet. Whether or not you were at Khe Sanh, where the Marines endured months of constant artillery barrages and finally prevailed by simply remaining, only to be ordered to abandon the very ground they fought so fiercly to hold.

The same with the A Shau valley. A month and a half of unholy carnage. Another kill ratio of between 10 to 20 to 1. Taken, then abandoned. The most famous being Hamburger Hill. They took it and were ordered off in a few short days.

After the dust settled and smoke cleared, there were nearly 200,000 Viet Cong and NVA casualties, against nearly 20,000 American. The zone of influence (how much of the country we controlled) remained at about 25% (being generous here) which was almost exactly what was controlled in 1965. The unrestricted bombing that followed had this main effect on the Vietnamese to the north. It made them vicious.

A Defense Department survey that was included in the Pentagon Papers figured that it cost us about $1000 to do $1 of damage to the North. We never broke their will with air power. We did ensure that when they finally took over the South and reunited their country (oh, and by the way, the end result of the whole thing was the exact same result that would have occurred if we had never gone in at all) they were so brutalized and enraged by the last fifteen years of brutal conflict they were implacable, wrathful victors.

What the U.S. never seemed to understand was that all we did by staying there all those years was to kill people needlessly, to destroy cities without good cause.

There are some who say that had we done this or if the military had been allowed to invade the North things would have been different. Yeah, probably a lot more on boths sides would have died and the Vietnamese would still kept on fighting for their right to rule themselves.

When I hear our President and his henchmen talking about "stay the course" I think of all the young men that I know that were killed after Tet, to achieve a result that could have been accomplished in 1958 by simply doing nothing at all. I see a society in Iraq that has bypassed civil war entirely and descended into full on batshit looney anarchy. I even wonder if there is a way to evacuate the Green Zone safely without it turning into something like the retreat of Cortez from Tenochtitlan during La Noche Triste.

I do know this. This is the wrong fight, in the wrong place. If it keeps going on we are going to lose much, much more than a war. We will be in danger of losing our souls.

I know that there is a generation of young soldiers and marines that will end up like me, late at night, uneasily typing away at a keyboard, or doing many other things rather than sleep. I know this. I haven't liked my dreams all that much since I left Hue. I am not gratefull for my company in insomnia.

New From The Doctor

I had X-Rays taken of my left wrist today. A full CT has been ordered but it looks like there isn't any return of the carpal tunnell syndrome I've already had two surgeries to correct. The consensus of the Radiologist and the Orthopod is that this is just good old fashioned arthritis. Many excellent treatments available. *sighs*

Now I intend to bow to the temperature (117° by the thermometer on the porch) and spend the rest of the afternoon in the pool.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Another Poet I love

Vachel Lindsay - -

Like a composer that writes for his own performance, Lindsay wrote for his own readings. Many of his manuscripts are like scripts for the stage. He was exuberant, thoughtful, outrageous, and very American.

This is one of my favorites. I would have put it on the sidebar but the lines are too long and would have to be broken, ruining the scan of the words. . .

The Leaden-Eyed

Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world's one crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed.

Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly;
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap;
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve;
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.

-- Vachel Lindsay

One Little Question

Does anybody else remember that about a month before the invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein floated a trial balloon about abdication and exile? This was refused by "war is the last resort" "No President wants to go to war" the Bush administration. Seems to me, that allowing Saddam to pull an Idi Amin, Baby Doc Duvalier, Bokasa, Marcos style run off to another place would have been much more humane to the Iraqi people (now dying at a much greater rate than even the Baathist regime's best days of genocide), much cheaper for the American taxpayers (except, of course, Halliburton and it's attendant KBR profit margins) because if you don't break it in the first place you don't have to rebuild it.

This little nagging fact alone proves that the President is not only a liar of the first magnitude (those being liars that believe their own shit), but if we keep buying this load of crap from him, we're stupid.

I, for one, intend to loudly call "Bullshit" every time I hear him say that he explored a single option besides war.

Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

Lying, hypocrital bastard.
Every death in Iraq, Lebanon, West Bank, Gaza, Isreal, Afghanistan, and any other place you have pulled in to your war for what ever reasons you might have had is truly on your hands. (I know personally, in a Lady Macbeth sort of way, that this kind of blood is very hard to remove. It tends to become visible again when you do things like hold a newborn baby and stuff, welcome to my world asshole)

Oh yeah, and my mother still has Parkinson's, thanks a fucking lot shitstain. (see? I can do "cute" nicknames too.)