Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The King

Long ago, a small child was born in humble surroundings to a young and impoverished couple. Although his childhood wasn’t much different than most, there were signs of greatness, even at an early age.

Although he died too young, he is known by almost everyone in the world, and he continues to influence people everywhere, even today.

If your mind is starting to think of images of a manger and Wise Men and a star in the heavens, let me set the record straight.

The subject of this article wasn’t born in Bethlehem. He was born about 1000 miles south of there, and he wasn’t born on December 25th. He was actually born on January 8th, which would officially be the 14th Day of Christmas, if we counted that high.

The humble surroundings that he was born in look like this:

The house he was born in (known as a “shotgun house”) was built by his father in preparation for his birth, and the birth of his twin brother (who was born stillborn). His father had difficulty keeping jobs, and the family frequently relied on neighbors and the government for assistance. When the young child was 3, his father was found guilty of altering a check written by a landowner, which caused the family to lose their home after the father was jailed for eight months. To survive, the young man and his mother moved in with relatives.

The young man eventually found his calling, and when he made his first public appearance, he looked like this:

Over time, he did very well financially, which gave him an opportunity to buy a home that was MUCH larger than the home he was born in:

After his death, his home was declared a National Historic Landmark, and it is one of the most visited private homes in America.

Elvis Aaron Presley died on August 16, 1977, in the home that he had purchased in 1957. In spite of the fact that he has now been dead for nearly 40 years, his estate earned $55,000,000 in 2012.

To put that number in perspective, you need to be aware of the fact that the median household income in America is $50,500. In the entire country, there were exactly 81 people who made more than $50,000,000 a year in 2010, which makes his humble beginning all the more remarkable.

At some point in his career, he was dubbed “the King of Rock and Roll”. Even today, he remains the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music.

The King is dead.

Long live the King.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A good old American beer

If you had to name the largest American brewing company, you’d probably name either Anheuser-Busch or Miller, and you’d also probably acknowledge the fact that Coors is a pretty sizable brewery as well.

The truth is, though, the largest American-owned brewery is Yuengling, a brewing company that was founded in 1829, and it’s actually the oldest brewing company in the United States. In addition to that, Yuengling is also the favorite beer of President Obama, who sent a case of Yuengling to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to cover a friendly wager on the outcome of the 2010 Winter Olympics ice hockey finals.

To be perfectly honest, though, I’d have to admit to the fact that Yuengling is actually TIED with the Boston Beer Company (the brewer of Samuel Adams beer) as the largest American-owned brewery. Although the Boston Beer Company didn’t start business until 1984, its Boston Lager was named “Best Beer in America” at the Great American Beer Festival in 1985.

Anheauser-Busch was purchased by InBev in 2008, and the new corporation, Anheuser-Busch InBev, is now the largest brewer in the world. The company is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium. Truth be told, Budweiser is actually a pretty decent beer, but I usually buy “Bud” due to the fact that the company makes some great commercials.

Miller is part of SAB Miller, a multinational brewing and beverage company with headquarters in London.

Coors still brews beer in Colorado, but it’s part of the Canadian Molson Coors Brewing Company, even though its headquarters is still in Golden, Colorado. The brewery in Golden is still the largest single brewery facility in the entire world.

At one time, Schlitz was the largest producer of beer in the entire world, but a disastrous ad campaign in the 1970’s, coupled with an ill advised change in the beer recipe in a quest for greater profits, put the company out of business. You can still be Schlitz today, in the original formula, but it is now a part of the Pabst Brewing Company of Milwaukee.

Yeungling doesn’t produce snappy commercials, nor does the company have any plans to be the world’s biggest brewer. It’s still a family operation, and it relies on producing decent beers for moderate prices for a large and growing loyal audience as the key to success.

If you’d really like to taste a good old American brew, you’d have to travel to the East Coast, because Yeungling is only distributed in 14 Eastern states and the District of Columbia, which makes its status as America’s largest brewer even more remarkable, since Samuel Adams is now available in all 50 states.

Speaking of that, though, it’s almost time for that first beer of the day.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The richest man in the world

I’m a Minnesota native, and have somehow managed to retain a bit of my Minnesota “accent” more than 30 years after I’ve moved out of the “North Star State”.

If you’re not familiar with the Minnesota accent, the clip below will give you an idea what it sounds like:

let’s watch Fargo again

As I’ve done research on my native state over the years, I learned that the early fortunes in Minnesota were made from three industries - lumbering, mining, and farming.

Later, fortunes were created in the new industries of grain milling and railroads. The fortune that James J. Hill amassed from his railroad business (estimated to be $2.5 billion in today’s dollars) eventually was used for numerous charitable causes, and he was a major contributor to the St. Paul Seminary, Macalester College, Hamline University, the University of St. Thomas, Carleton College, and the high school that I graduated from, Mary T. Hill High School, which was named after his wife.

Most people would consider Mr. Hill to be the richest person from Minnesota (he was born in Ontario, but died in St. Paul) but the richest Minnesota native is a man who was born on this date in Minneapolis in 1892, and he looked like this:

If you think that he looks like Ebeneezer Scrooge, you’re right, because the picture that you see above IS a picture of a man who portrayed Ebeneezer Scrooge in a movie long ago.

However, the man in question looks like the picture below, and I think that you’ll agree that he bears a striking resemblance to Ebeneezer Scrooge. In addition, his charitable instincts were on a par with the miser featured in the Dickens tale, “A Christmas Carol”, so he probably wasn’t much fun to be around.

Young Jean Paul followed his father into the fledgling oil business, and he made his first million in the summer of 1916, when he was 24 years old. Due to his reputation as a playboy (he was married and divorced five times) his father left him only a small portion of his sizable estate, but the young oil man eventually buckled down, and became VERY successful. In 1949, he bought land near the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where oil had never been discovered, and spent 4 years and $30,000,000 exploring the site. Ultimately, his gamble paid off. He was the first person in the world to achieve a net worth of $1 billion, and the Guinness Book of Records named him the richest man in the world in 1966. At the time of his death, in 1976, he was worth approximately $2 billion ($8.2 billion in 2012 dollars).

His reputation as a miser was cemented by the fact that he installed a coin box telephone in his London mansion (pictured below),

and was further confirmed when he initially refused to pay any ransom when his grandson was kidnapped in Rome in 1973. Although he eventually DID pay a ransom, it was less than his grandson’s captors wanted, and he only gave them $2.2 million - the maximum amount that would be tax deductible.

In spite of his reputation as a miser, his vast fortune eventually came to benefit the rest of us, which includes me.

He became a collector of art and antiquities, which became the basis for the museum that was named after him. At the time of his death, the museum received $661,000 from his estate ($2.7 billion in 2012 dollars). The museum is governed by a trust that he established in 1953, and it is now the richest art institution in the world. The trust also governs his research institute and his conservation institute.

It’s now been more than a year since my family and I visited his museum in California, but until yesterday, I was totally unaware of the fact that J. Paul Getty and I were born in the same state.

And that’s the rest of the story.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Politically correct Santa

“A Visit from St. Nicholas”, also known as “The Night Before Christmas” and “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” was published anonymously in 1823. It was later attributed to Clement Clark Moore, who finally acknowledged his authorship about 15 years later.

Due to the fact that it is one of the most popular Christmas poems ever published, it has been subject to constant parodies over the years, including a few that I’ve written myself. If you’d like to view a few of them, just click on the click below:

Santa parodies

My favorite of the bunch, though, is one that the author titled “Politically Correct Santa”, which you can read below:

'Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck...

How to live in a world that's politically correct?

His workers no longer would answer to "Elves",

"Vertically Challenged" they were calling themselves.

And labor conditions at the north pole

Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,

Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.

And equal employment had made it quite clear

That Santa had better not use just reindeer.

So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,

Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had been removed from his sleigh;

The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.

And people had started to call for the cops

When they heard sled noises on their roof-tops.

Second-hand smoke from his pipe had his workers quite frightened.

His fur trimmed red suit was called "Unenlightened."

And to show you the strangeness of life's ebbs and flows,

Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose

And had gone on Geraldo, in front of the nation,

Demanding millions in over-due compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,

Who suddenly said she'd enough of this life,

Joined a self-help group, packed, and left in a whiz,

Demanding from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he'd ne'er had a notion

That making a choice could cause so much commotion.

Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,

Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.

Nothing that might be construed to pollute.

Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.

Nothing that clamored or made lots of noise.

Nothing for just girls. Or just for the boys.

Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.

Nothing that's warlike or non-pacific.

No candy or sweets...they were bad for the tooth.

Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.

And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,

Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.

For they raised the hackles of those psychological

Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football...someone could get hurt;

Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.

Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passe;

And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, disheveled, perplexed;

He just could not figure out what to do next.

He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,

But you've got to be careful with that word today.

His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;

Nothing fully acceptable was to be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that he might

Give to all without angering the left or the right.

A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,

Each group of people, every religion;

Every ethnicity, every hue,

Everyone, everywhere...even you.

So here is that gift, it's price beyond worth...

"May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth."

Notice: This poem is copyright 1992 by Harvey Ehrlich. It is free to distribute, without changes, as long as this notice remains intact. All follow-ups, requests, comments, questions, distribution rights, etc should be made to mduhan@husc.harvard.edu . Happy Holidays!

(Editors note: even “Happy Holidays” is a source of controversy today. No matter what you do, you’re bound to insult somebody, which means that you just can’t win)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Suicide is painless

M*A*S*H*, the television show, was one of the most popular shows on television for at least 10 years. It premiered on September 17, 1972, and concluded on February 28, 1983. The final show was the most watched television show in history at the time, with a record-breaking 125 million viewers for the final episode. Like many people, my wife and I attended a M*A*S*H* party with some of our close friends in Wisconsin. Like many people, we also were hoping for a happy ending for the series, but the writers had other ideas.

In view of the fact that the title theme for the show was “suicide is painless”, my thoughts for a happy ending were hopelessly optimistic, but it’s still an enjoyable song to listen to:

M*A*S*H* theme song

Oddly enough, the show came to mind again a few days before Thanksgiving, due to the fact that Flagstaff got another dusting of snow, even though we live in “sunny Arizona”. Fortunately, Flagstaff also gets a fairly high percentage of available sunlight, which generally melts the white stuff off fairly quickly, and keeps everybody’s spirits in an elevated state. As a matter of fact, Flagstaff actually gets more sunshine than either Los Angeles or San Diego.

In contrast, Washington State has 15 cities that receive the LEAST amount of available sunlight, which has led to the popular belief that Washington State has the highest suicide rate.

It’s a logical conclusion, but it’s simply not true.

The state that has the highest suicide rate in America is Alaska, and Washington State isn’t even the top 10. Almost without exception, the states that have the highest suicide rates also have the least restrictive gun laws.

By far, the group that is most as risk for suicide is white males older than 65 years old, and the “method of choice” for suicide is firearms, which is the cause of nearly 60% of all suicides. Logically, you’d think that it would make sense to limit gun licenses to 4 years, and require a mental health check be performed before they could be renewed. Since the NRA and the Citizens Defense League are no longer capable of logical thought, it’s unlikely that a mental health check every 4 years would every get through the legislative process.

It’s also common knowledge that there are more suicides during the wintertime due to the fact that there are a lot more days without sunshine during that time period. Again, though, it’s a conclusion that simply isn’t valid. The majority of suicides actually occur during the springtime, which psychologists have termed “the suicide season”.

Admittedly, the holiday season is a stressful time for most of us. If you’re intelligent enough to avoid the Black Friday (and Gray Thursday) sales, December is a time of the year when we all have higher expenses (utility bills and Christmas shopping) and less income (due to unpaid days off). We’re all familiar with the Hallmark character named Maxine, and her summary of the holiday season happens to be right on the mark.

This is also the time of the year when the phrase “happy holidays” gets some people all tied up in knots, and one example (which is being sold by the Republican Party) is shown below:

The phrase “Merry Christmas” doesn’t offend me, but neither does the phrase “happy holidays”. In addition to the Christian holiday of Christmas (which is patterned after the pagan holiday of Saturnalia), followers of the Jewish religion celebrate Hanukkah, African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, Hindus celebrate Diwali, and pagans celebrate Yule.

For now, let’s set aside thoughts about suicide, since it’s hardly a topic that’s going to bring holiday cheer. Instead, I’d like to close with a phrase that Charles Dickens wrote in 1843:

“God bless us,everyone”.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The story of a cancer survivor, part 2

I first learned that I had cancer on June 23, 2011, and I took some preliminary steps at that time to bring myself back to health again. Those steps were documented in an article that I published on July 1, 2011:

the sky is falling

Not long after my visit to the doctor, I retired from my job as a car salesman, and less than two months after that, I moved to Arizona.

Retirement is a nice stage of life to be in, but if you retire at the age of 63 (which I did) you immediately run into a couple of vexing problems. The first, of course, is that you have less money to live on, which is why I have un-retired a few times since then, and currently work for the local school district.

The other problem is that I no longer had any health insurance, which moved the date for my cancer surgery until a month or so after I turned 65 years old (more than a year later), and had obtained coverage from Medicare. I purchased a Medicare supplemental plan recommended by AARP at the end of the year.

The second problem illustrates why the Affordable Care Act, for all its faults, was long overdue in our country. There’s a bit of blame on both sides as to why the roll out didn’t go as smoothly as it should have, and two of the reasons are listed below:

1) The House Homeland Security Committee has discovered that the government website used to sign people up for insurance coverage had been subjected to at least 16 cyber attacks by “Obamacare” opponents, and at least some of the attacks were designed specifically to deny access to the website.

2) The other problem with the Affordable Care Act was that the administration knew as early as March that there were problems with HealthCare.gov, but failed to correct them in time for the October 1 launch date. The government has initiated some procedures to improve the enrollment process, and have detailed those steps on the website.

The fact that the Medicare Plan D coverage that was started during the Bush administration had significant “teething” problems early on is small comfort to the folks who initially had trouble getting on the website. Medicare itself, of course, had a shaky start in 1965, and Mitt Romney’s universal health plan in Massachusetts took a while to become fully operational.

None of the paragraphs above, though, will help to explain my “K-mart face”, so a little more information is required.

Apart from the fact that the surgery on my back last fall removed the basal cell carcinoma that I had acquired, it also highlighted the fact that I had VERY HIGH BLOOD pressure, which led to a visit to a local cardiologist later on the same day. On a daily basis, I now take medication for both my blood pressure and my cholesterol, and both areas are now under control.

I pretty much forgot about the “pre-cancerous” cells on my face until the end of summer, when a bout of eczema encouraged me to make a trip to a local dermatologist. A week’s worth of a treatment with a tube of medicated cream (which cost $54) cured the eczema, but it led to an appointment to have the “pre-cancerous” cells on my face taken care of.

That appointment occurred on Friday, November 22.

The procedure used to remove my facial cancer is called the BLU-U light treatment, which is what I called it “the K-Mart special”. After an initial treatment with a Levuan Kerastick was allowed to be absorbed into my skin for about an hour, my eyes were covered with protective goggles, and I was exposed to bright fluorescent lights for 16 minutes and 40 seconds. The end result is that the cancer cells have been fried away, but I’ll be sunburned for about a week, and will be unable to shave for a while.

Many folks who are covered by Medicare may not be aware of the fact that Medicare will pay 100% of the cost of a yearly “wellness” visit, which I took advantage of about a week ago. I’ll be getting the lab results in the mail sometime this coming week, but a phone call from my doctor the other day assured me that I had no significant problems to worry about.

I’m as reluctant as anyone to spend money from my tightly managed monthly budget on doctors and dentists, but my recent experiences have convinced me that it’s important to do so. My experiences also reinforce why it’s important that EVERYBODY had health coverage, even if the current program has some flaws. As one pundit said recently, “you wouldn’t throw out your ice cream because you couldn’t find your spoons”.

Enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, but try to stay away from K-Mart on that day. A lot of their stores will be open at 6 a.m., which almost seems sacrilegious, and calling it “gray Thursday” instead of Black Friday doesn’t make it more palatable.

If you’re REALLY health conscious, and want to avoid “genetically modified” turkeys, you’ll be happy to know that there ARE specialty stores across the country that will sell you “heritage turkeys”, which are significantly different than the large-breasted birds that we are accustomed to.

You no longer have to worry about cranberries, since the substance that caused the cranberry scare of 1959 was banned long ago, but go easy on the coffee. An average cup of coffee contains hundreds of natural-occurring chemicals, and at least 80 of them (in large doses) will initiate cancer in laboratory animals.

Bon appetit

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Thanksgiving dinner that can’t be beat

Up until about 10 years ago, I still owned the vinyl record shown below:

Since my Dual turntable hadn’t worked for years, it seemed to be a good time to clean out the balance of my record albums and the non-functioning record player, all of which were happily purchased by a baby boomer that we knew in Wisconsin.

I was still in college when Arlo Guthrie played the song in front of a live audience for the first time at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967, and I’ve listened to it hundreds of times since them.

Since I was stationed on the East Coast for basic training and A.I.T, I took the opportunity to travel through Stockbridge, Massachusetts on my way back home to Minnesota.

I took pictures of the church and its bell tower, the original location of Alice Restaurant, and the police station, but decided to not visit the town dump.

The original location of the restaurant is STILL a restaurant, and it’s now known as the Stockbridge Café. The restaurant has gotten good reviews, and has a fairly extensive menu, but you can no longer get whatever you want when you walk in the door.

Alice Brock, who had been the librarian at Arlo’s boarding school in Stockbridge before opening her restaurant, now owns an art studio in Princetown, Massachusetts.

The church and its bell tower where purchased by Arlo Guthrie in 1991, and converted to the Guthrie Center, an interfaith meeting center. The center provides free weekly lunches for families living with AIDS/HIV, and hosts an annual "Thanksgiving Dinner that Can’t be Beat” to raise money to cure Huntington’s disease (which was the disease that killed Arlos’s father, Woody.)

Arlo still sings the song today, and still has a moderately active tour schedule, which you can view at his website below. Like most of us, he’s a lot grayer, and more wrinkled, than he used to be, but he’s still fun to listen to.

Arlo’s website

Like his dad, he often sings songs against social injustice, and actively campaigned for George McGovern in 1984. Since then, he’s become a registered Republican (gasp!) , based on the theory that “We had enough good Democrats. We need a few more good Republicans”. In view of the fact that a lot of folks today view the Republican Party of today through the prism of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, his current position actually makes some sense.

If you’re in the mood for a little nostalgia, you can listen to the entire album again by clicking on the link below. If it doesn’t come on right away, just wait a minute, and it will come around again.

do you remember Group W?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day of the dead

On October 31, 1994, the city of Chicago experienced a torrential downpour.

Although the home town football team is famous for beating its opponents in inclement weather, the Bears managed to get trounced by the Green Bay Packers 33 to 6 later that evening at Soldier Field.

About an hour after returning from a business lunch with my new boss, John Platt, I was drying my socks in the microwave (seriously) when the phone call came from Minnesota. My mother called to let me know that my dad had had a heart attack while having lunch at their little house on 3rd Street in St. Paul. Although an army of paramedics arrived just a few minutes after she had called them, it was too late to save my dad.

Just as I think of my dad on February 3 (his birthday) , I also am reminded of him every year on the 31st of October, because that is when he left us for a new and better location. Although Halloween is usually a day of joy (especially for the younger generation) it always carries a sense of melancholy for my sister and me.

If you dig deeper into the origins of the holiday, Halloween SHOULD be a time of joy, not only for those who have lost loved ones on October 31, but other folks as well.

Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a three day Mexican festival that has ancient origins, possibly going back to the pre-Columbian times of 3000 years ago. In modern Mexico, the holiday focuses on family and friends getting together to pray for departed loved ones. The purpose of the meetings is to encourage visits by folks who are no longer with us, and the gatherings generally include offerings such as favorite foods, beverages, and memorabilia.

The offerings are called ofrendas, and may sometimes include items that would likely be considered unusual by most people. For reasons that I’ve explained previously, I brought a bag of oranges and 2 quarters to the ofrenda offering at a local church a few years ago.

Mexico isn’t the only country that celebrates the Day of the Dead, since it is celebrated in a number of countries in Latin America, Europe, and Asia. In 2004, I was stranded for 4 days in Hong Kong due to the fact that I had traveled there just before the Qingming holdiday (also called Grave Sweeping Day). Since the government office that I needed to go to for my visa was closed on the following Monday (Qingming) I had to wait until the following Tuesday to obtain the paperwork that I needed to return legally to my residence in Guangzhou, China.

I’ll never know for sure, but I strongly suspect that all the energy generated by the Day of the Dead offerings around the world will generate enough energy to bring the ghost of Larry Brennan a little closer to earth again.

After all, to quote one of my cousins (at his funeral), he was a really good guy.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

yes, we have no bananas

Here’s a quick quiz for you.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is:

1) the name of a religious singing group

2) the lunch special at the local St. Vincent DePaul shelter

3) a country

If you didn’t pick #3, don’t feel bad. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is indeed a country, but that’s a fact that’s not known to a lot of people. It’s not a very big country, it doesn’t have a lot of people, and it has a fairly tiny GDP.

It’s total area is 150 square miles, roughly 2/3 the size of the city of Tucson. It has a total population of 120,000 people, roughly the same size as the city of Surprise, Arizona, and its GDP is $1.259 billion. To put that in perspective, its GDP is less than the Tea Party caused our country to lose per day during the recent shutdown.

Formerly a British colony, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines become fully independent in October of 1979. It is located in the eastern Caribbean, and is a very lovely place. The video below will allow you to take a tour of the islands that make up the country:

let’s take a tour

Since it is located in the Caribbean, it is subject to the tropical storms that are very common in this area - and therein lies the problem.

The main source of income for the country is banana production, although tourism and a secretive financial sector also make their contributions to the economy. Volcanic eruptions, and fairly frequent hurricanes, have caused extensive damage to the country’s banana plantations on occasion, causing the local plantation owners to sing a song that was first made popular in 1922:

yes, we have no bananas

The country came to light this morning, when it became the “topic of the day” on Bing. In the event that you aren’t familiar with Bing, it’s a search engine that was unveiled by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in May of 2009.

The country’s reliance on a single crop for most of its income mirrors the problems faced by the island nation of Nauru, which is the third smallest country in the world. When the phosphate mines that fueled the county’s economy petered out, the country briefly got support from the Russian mafia, but eventually switched to a reliance on tourism to sustain itself.

Few of us will ever get to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, but the recent filming of the Pirates of the Caribbean pictures has led to an increase in both visitors and investors, which should bode well for the country.

Eventually, the country will figure out a way to further diversify its economy, but until that happens, consider this option:

What a GREAT PLACE for a vacation !!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Crisco kid

A couple of weeks ago, Sharon made another batch of her world famous chocolate chip cookies, filling the house with a marvelous aroma, and replenishing the supply of tasty treats in our glass cookie jars.

Naturally, she used Crisco as one of the ingredients, which got me to pondering the following question:

Where did Crisco come from?

In order to keep fats solid at normal storage temperature, it is necessary to hydrogenate the substance. The hydrogenation process was discovered in the late 19th Century, and was patented by a man named Wilhelm Normann in 1903. The patent was acquired by the Proctor and Gamble company a few years later. Although the original purpose of the patent was to produce soap, Proctor and Gamble used it to produce the world’s first shortening made entirely of vegetable oil. The name “Crisco” is actually a modification of the phrase “crystallized cottonseed oil”.

Even though the formula has been changed in recent years to reduce the fat content in Crisco, some nutritionists still feel it may not be good for your health, but it’s better than the alternative.


Lard is pig fat in both its rendered and engendered form, and can be obtained from any part of the pig as long as there is a high concentration of fatty tissue. Despite its higher fat content (as compared to vegetable shortening) lard is still popular with many chefs and bakers because of its distinctive taste and wide range of applications. Rumor has it that lard was even used in Mrs. Wagner’s pies, which were made famous by Simon and Garfunkel in 1968. Sadly, even though Mrs. Wagner’s was the largest pie bakery in the country in 1940, the company went out of business in July of 1969.

Crisco contains less total fat than lard, even though it has a higher amount of polyunsaturated fat. Surprisingly, it also has less total fat than most other vegetable oils, including olive oil.

Trying to determine the health effects of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils can be enormously difficult, but it appears that the real villain is something called “trans fats”, which can result from the hydrogenation process. Even though the can of Crisco in our pantry includes both fully and partially hydrogenated palm oil, it has ZERO trans fat.

Those delicious chocolate chip cookies in our cookie jars may not be the healthiest way to end a meal, but I’d heartily recommend having a couple for dessert on occasion.

After all, life is short.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Play ball !

The 1963 World Series started almost exactly 50 years ago - on October 2, 1963. The Series pitted the New York Yankees against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ultimately, the Dodgers prevailed, ending the hopes of the Yankees for winning three World Series in a row. It was the third title in franchise history for the Dodgers, and it was the first time in the history of baseball that the Yankees were swept in a World Series in only 4 games.

In 2013, the World Series won’t even start until October 23, and could last as long as Halloween, a full eight weeks into the start of the NFL season. Sadly, the World Series no longer generates the excitement that it did in 1963, which prompted a column in today’s New York Times:

is the game over?

Baseball is no longer “America’s pastime”, and it is now less popular than either professional football or professional basketball. The last eight years have produced the seven least watched Series in the history of baseball.

There WAS a time when baseball was a lot more important to most Americans. As James Earl Jones intoned in the 1984 movie, “The Natural”,

“the memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces .. the one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball .. Americans rolled by like steamrollers …, they’ve been erased, rebuilt, and erased again but baseball has marked the time .. the field, the game .. It’s a part of our past .. It reminds us of all that was once good, and could be again”

The irony of “America’s pastime” is that the balls that are used in play aren’t even made in America, and haven’t been for more than 30 years. Today, they are made in Costa Rica by workers who make $1.60 an hour, and produce roughly 200 baseballs a week.

Baseballs have been made in very much the same manner for over 100 years, but very few of us have seen HOW they are made. The link below (courtesy of YouTube) will let you watch baseballs being born:

how are baseballs made?

The Arizona Diamondbacks are arguably the most successful expansion team in the history of baseball, since the team won a World Series title in 2001, their 4th year in operation. In spite of that fact, though, I have yet to watch even ONE Diamondbacks game, and I’ll probably always be a Chicago Cubs fan, in spite of their years of futility.

One of the most famous play in the history of baseball was the Tinker to Evers to Chance triple play, which happened way back in 1907. However, THE most famous play in baseball was actually performed by another Cub, Rick Monday, in 1976, and should be watched again:

who is Rick Monday?

It’s easy to get caught up with the nonsense in Congress, the strife overseas, and the bickering over Obamacare, but there IS a way to make the world a more enjoyable place.

The smell of freshly cut grass, the crack of a bat, the roar of the crowd, and the taste of a ball park hotdog can chase away a lot of tension, and make you believe, at least for a while, the words used by James Earl Jones:

“life used to be good, and can be again … “

Let’s play ball !

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Injun summer

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, one of the two times of the year when the the length of the day is the same as the length of the night. In the spring, the day is called the vernal equinox.

In the northern hemisphere, the autumnal equinox signals the start of a magical season called Indian summer. Leaves on trees start changing color, evening temperatures become a bit crisper, and Mother Nature gives us a handful of glorious warm and sunny days before the first snowflakes flutter to the ground. Due to the tilting of the earth’s axis, the full moon at this time of the year appears larger than normal, resulting in what many folks call the Harvest Moon:

Over 100 years ago, a man named John T. McCutcheon published a story in the Chicago Tribune that he titled “Injun Summer”. Some of the terms used in the story might be considered politically incorrect today, but reading the story always brings a smile to my face because it reminds of simpler times a long , long time ago. The full text of the story can be viewed by clicking on the link below:

Injun summer

To celebrate the autumnal equinox, I plan to have a Samuel Adams Octoberfest beer for lunch, after which I’m planning to do a little spelunking in some ancient caves a short drive north of town.

To keep the day fresh in your memory, I’d recommend that you listen to a song called “Shine on Harvest Moon”, that was originally released in 1909, two years after “Injun Summer” was first published. Scores of artists have done covers since that time, but Rosemary Clooney performed what I would consider to be the best version:

"Shine on Harvest Moon”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The secret to a long life

This morning’s Arizona Republic (citing an Associated Press article) reported that the world’s oldest man, 112 year old Salustino Sanchez-Blazquez, died on Friday of this week (Friday the 13th) in Grand Island, New York. Like most of the folks who have lived well beyond 100, Mr. Sanchez-Blazquez did not live an easy life. In his teens, he worked in the Kentucky coal mines, and he later worked in construction and in the industrial furnaces near the Niagara Falls area.

After his wife died, he lived with his daughter until he was 106 years old, at which point he moved into a nursing home. He attributed his longevity to the fact that he ate one banana every day, in addition to six Anacin tablets. His daughter believes the REAL reason he lived as long as he did was that he was an independent, stubborn man.

It is estimated that 30% of America's population accepts the words of the Bible literally. For those folks, the world’s oldest humans were Adam (930 years old) , Noah (950 years old) and Methuselah (969 years old). The specific references to these dates can be found in Genesis 5:4, Geneses 9:29, and Genesis 5:27. After these early humans, the maximum life span shortened considerably at some point in time, and is recorded in the Bible as being 120 years (Genesis 6:3).

For those of us who require factual proof of longevity, the world’s oldest human was a French woman named Jeanne Galmert, who lived to be more than 122 years old. She smoked from the time she was 21 until she was 117, she was a regular consumer of port wine, and she ate roughly 2 pounds of chocolate every week. In her own opinion, she attributes her longevity to olive oil, which she poured liberally on most of the food that she ate, and she also rubbed it into her skin.

Jeanne Calmert is an exception to the general rule that most people who have lived a long time have endured difficult lives, since the majority of them have had some ties to slavery.

Although Ms. Calmert was not particularly athletic, she DID take up fencing when she was 85 years old, and she rode her bicycle until she was 100. In the final analysis, though, it appears that she DID discover the way to have a long life - smoke, drink, and eat chocolate.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

12 Angry Men

I don’t spend a lot of time watching movies, and I spend less time than that watching OLD movies. For reasons that I really can’t explain, I decided to watch a movie last night that was released in 1957, when I was still in elementary school.

I may have seen the movie once before years ago, but I have no memory of when or where. Nevertheless, it was a movie that is worth viewing, and its 96 minute total length flew by in a flash.

The movie was shot entirely in black and white, which somehow added the proper mood to the serious topic at hand. All but 3 minutes of the film were shot in a tiny 24 foot long jury room, which eliminated the distraction of gorgeous scenery shots competing with the story line.

The cast, headed by Henry Fonda, includes a number of well known actors, whose combined performance was good enough to get the picture nominated for Academy Award honors for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing of Adopted Screenplay.

Even though it’s an old movie, “12 Angry Men” has lessons that still apply today. One lesson is how to deal with prejudice, and the other lesson is how to deal with conflict.

More than 50 years after its release, it is still a very popular movie. In 2011, “12 Angry Men” was the second most screened film in secondary schools in the United Kingdom. If you’d like to take a trip down memory lane, just click on the link below:

a night at the movies

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It’s the end of the world - again

In the spring of 2011, Pastor Harold Camping predicted that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011. Like so many similar predictions, this one turned out to be another false rumor, and most of the people that were on earth at that time are still alive and well. Further details on Pastor Camping’s predictions can be found at the link below:

I feel fine

More recently, the end of the Mayan calendar, on December 21, 2012, led some people to predict that the world was going to end (again) on December 21, 2012. Not surprisingly, I woke up on the morning of December 22, and I was still here, as were roughly 7 billion other people. As of today, the world’s population (according to the United States Census Bureau) is 7. 108 billion, and is projected to reach somewhere between 8.3 and 10.9 billion by the year 2050. If you’ve read Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno, you’ll recognize that there are a lot of people who are concerned about those numbers, but that’s a topic for another time.

This morning, I discovered that Mayans can claim title to another proof of immortality, but in an area that you wouldn’t expect.

I’ve long been a fan of good cigars, but now limit myself to roughly two cigars a year, one on Father’s Day, and one on my birthday at the end of August. For the record, I fired up another one this afternoon on the back deck, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Although it’s unlikely that I’ll ever smoke the most expensive cigar in the world, I occasionally check to see WHICH cigars are the most expensive. Traditionally, a company called Gurkha makes the most expensive cigars. For years, the Gold Standard for cigars has been a product called Her Majesty’s Reserve. Soaked in Luis XIII cognac, a box of this cigar sells for $15,000, which means that each cigar in a box of 20 will set you back a cool $750.

As of today, though, these premium stogies are no longer the most expensive cigar. Gurkha also makes The Black Dragon, which sells for $115,000 per box, or $1150 per “stick”, but they still aren’t THE most expensive cigar.

In April of this year, archeologists from Tampa, Florida found a clay pot in Guatemala labeled “sigars”. In the Yucatan language , the term means “ to smoke rolled tobacco leaves and is the origin of the word cigar”. Although the cigars in the jar are 600 years old, they were deemed to be “smokable”. Although the cigars haven’t been sent to auction yet, the pre-auction appraisal value of this stash is said to be worth roughly $200,000, or roughly twice the price of the Black Dragon.

I’m of the opinion that the world isn’t going to end at any time in the foreseeable future, but not everyone agrees with me. If you think that Doomsday is just around the corner, the least you can do is to enjoy a good cigar,

After all, life is short.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

seems fishy to me ...

At some point in time, you come to the realization that your kids are smarter than you are, at least in certain areas. In my case, one of those areas is food.

Both of our children have been vegetarians for a number of years. It may surprise you to know that there are actually three main types of vegetarians: (1) vegan - no animal products at all (2) vegetarian (which is what our kids are) - no meat consumed, but they DO consume eggs and dairy products and (3) Pescatarian - same as #2, but they also eat fish.

According to about.com, however, there are several other types as well:

1) Flexitarian/semi-vegetarian - a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat 2) Lacto-vegetarian - a vegetarian that doesn’t eat eggs, but eats dairy products 3) Ovo-vegetarian - a vegetarian that doesn’t eat dairy products, but does eat eggs 4) raw vegan - a vegan who doesn’t eat food that has been heated over 115 degrees 5) macrobiotic - eats unprocessed vegan foods, with a heavy emphasis on Asian vegetables and seafood vegetables (translation: seaweed)

According to the Vegetarian Times, there are 7.3 million Americans who are some type of vegetarian, and another 22.8 million who follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. If you do the math, that’s roughly 10% of our population.

I tried a vegetarian diet for about 3 months a while back, and found that it wasn’t all that difficult to follow. After reading “Wheat Belly” earlier this year, I also tried a gluten free diet as well. It was doable, but not as enjoyable. My wife and I both eat vegetarian meals on occasion, but we also eat a wide variety of meats - with the exception of hamburger, which we haven’t purchased for about 5 years. If you’ve read Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation”, you’ll understand why.

Most of the time, we’ll eat either chicken or pork, but we’ll also occasionally eat meals from the pizza food group. Since fish is also supposed to be a healthy choice, we’ve generally been dining on fish about once a week.

Since moving to Arizona, we’ve been buying frozen tilapia at Albertsons whenever they have their “buy one - get three free” specials . On one of our trips there, I noticed that the fish was “a product of China”. As I looked closer, I noticed that it was also “farm raised”, and I started to wonder how good this stuff actually was.

As it turns out, tilapia is now the 4th most popular seafood consumed in America, after shrimp, tuna, and salmon. Due to increased demand, most of the tilapia consumed today is farm-raised rather than fresh caught. As of June, 2013, worldwide production of farmed fish now exceeds beef production, and farmed fish production will soon exceed the production of fresh caught fish.

As the link below explains, farmed fish isn’t necessarily inferior to fresh fish, but you have to be careful about where it’s produced.

what would snopes.com have to say about this?

China is now the largest producer of farm-raised tilapia, and 40% of the country’s output is exported to the United States, in the form of frozen filets. Much of the tilapia production comes from small independent producers, and that’s the crux of the problem. In order to save money, the small producers use animal manure rather than expensive commercial feed for their fish. Although the FDA inspects fish coming from China into this country, and has rejected 820 Chinese food shipments since 2007, it’s virtually impossible to carefully inspect every shipment that comes in. In order to meet the increased demands placed on the agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has requested a $4.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2014, an increase of $821 million (or 21%) more than its 2012 fiscal year budget. Unfortunately, the purse stings are controlled by the less-than-responsible House of Representatives (who just eliminated food stamps from the Farm Bill) so the increased funds that are necessary will need to come from increased user fees.

Tonight for dinner, we’ll be eating the last of the frozen tilapia from our freezer, but we don’t plan to buy any more of the “frozen tilapia from China“ from Albertsons - or anyplace else.

It’s probably time to try out a few of those “easy vegetarian recipes”, and I think that our kids would agree. After all, if it's good enough for Bill Clinton, it's good enough for me !

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Ox-Bow Incident

When Richard M. Daley (King Richard II) was mayor of Chicago, the city started a program called “One Book, One Chicago”. According to the website, “One Book, One Chicago launched in fall 2001 as an opportunity to engage and enlighten our residents and to foster a sense of community through reading.”

Years ago, I read “To Kill a Mockingbird’, but the only other book on the list that I’ve read so far is ”The Ox-Bow Incident”, which was the recommended book in the spring of 2005. The book was originally published in 1940, and was made into a movie (starring Henry Fonda) in 1943.

The short version of the story is that a group of vigilantes hang 3 innocent men, but quickly learn of their mistake shortly afterwards, when they return to town.

The story itself is set in the late 1880’s, but vigilante justice existed long before that. More significantly, it continued well into the 20th century. From 1900 to 1931, there were 1595 lynchings of African Americans in the United States. Georgia had the most (302) but Mississippi wasn’t far behind (285).

In the late 18th and early 19th century, our country was a very dangerous place. As a result, laws were passed that reaffirmed the right of people to defend themselves. In essence, they were the first “stand your ground” laws.

Things quieted down for a while, but in 2005, the state of Florida (with the assistance of the American Legislative Exchange Council) passed the first of the modern “stand your ground” laws. Since then, at least 21 other states have passed similar laws, again with the assistance of wording provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

One of the first, and certainly the best known, victims of the new “stand your ground” laws was a 17 year old Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin. Even though the man who killed him (George Zimmerman) was not convicted of any crime, at least 2 of the jurors in the case have stated that they felt that he got away with murder, but were unable to press charges due to the way the law was written.

George Zimmerman is a prime example of a modern day vigilante. Even though he had been advised by a crisis center operator to NOT pursue Martin, he still got out of his car, and pursued him on foot. When the unarmed teenager tried to defend himself, he pushed Zimmerman backwards, causing him to fall and hit his head, which resulted in the injuries shown below:

Almost immediately, Zimmerman pulled out his gun, and fatally shot Martin.

Less than a month after the shooting, a picture started making its rounds on the internet that claimed that the man pictured below was Trayvon Martin. Admittedly, he’s a pretty scary looking guy, but he’s NOT Trayvon Martin. He’s actually a 33 year old rapper named Jayceon Terrell Taylor, who goes by the stage name of “Game”.

The picture that you’re most familiar with of Trayvon was taken in August of 2011, seven months before his death, and the picture below was taken 9 days before his death. He’s pictured on the far right of the picture, and he doesn't look very scary to me:

After the jury verdict, many people across the country expressed dismay, but there were no violent confrontations anywhere in the country, a stark contrast to the reaction to the Simi Valley verdict in California in 1992.

Senator John McCain of Arizona recently said that it would be appropriate to review Arizona’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which was passed in 2006, and other legislators across the country are saying the same thing about their own laws. At this point in time, though, it’s unlikely that any of the laws will be repealed, due to the fact that they are still popular in many states.

However, the story below will demonstrate why they SHOULD be repealed:

let's pretend he was your white daughter

Regardless of whether any of the laws get changed or not, one simple fact remains:

Vigilante justice was wrong in 1885 - and it’s still wrong today. Where we’ve deviated as a society is that we seem to have lost our sense of conscience. Certain elements of our society are more concerned about “their 2nd amendment rights” than the safety of society as a whole, and they have no concern at all for the victims of gun violence. The most glaring example of this attitude is the heckling that Neil Heslin (the father of Jesse Lewis) encountered when he testified in Hartford earlier this year, which can be viewed at the link below:

Neil Heslin testimony.

In the Ox-Bow movie, one of the men who was hanged (Donald Martin) wrote a letter to his wife, and asked the one member of the posse that he trusted (Arthur Davies) to deliver it to his wife in the event that he couldn’t be saved. Several members of the posse (including Gil Carter, who was played by Henry Fonda) vote to bring the men back to town rather than hang them, but they were outnumbered.

On the way back to town, the posse met the sheriff, who tells them that the man who they thought had been killed by “the outlaws” was still alive, which meant that they had killed 3 innocent men. Back at the saloon, Gil Carter read the letter that Martin had written to his wife to the rest of the posse:

Henry Fonda speaks

The remorse that the men of the posse felt is clearly evident on their faces, and Martin’s words are particularly striking.

At this point in time, it’s difficult to imagine that George Zimmerman feels any remorse at all about killing an innocent teenager, but over time, those feelings will come. When that happens, it will be too late to save Trayvon Martin, but it may still happen in time to provide redemption for George Zimmerman.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

In them old cotton fields back home

A week or so ago, my favorite wife mentioned that she didn’t like to wear cotton tops because they didn’t “breathe” as well as the “wicking” shirts that keep her cooler in the Arizona summers.

The way that my head works caused me to do a little more research on the cotton plant, and here’s what I found:

No one knows for sure when cotton first came into being, but cotton seeds dating back to 4500 B.C. have been found in both South America and India. It was first planted in America shortly after our independence from England, but it wasn’t until the invention of the cotton gin (in 1793) that cotton production accelerated in the United States. By 1830, the United States was the largest cotton producer in the world, and cotton exports exceeded the value of all other exports combined.

Cotton is now grown in 17 states. Surprisingly, Texas is the biggest cotton producer in the country, and the state of Mississippi is a DISTANT second. Cotton's business revenue to the U.S. economy is estimated to be $100 billion a year, nearly as much as the PROFIT that the Big Oil companies made in 2012. (As you’re probably aware, us taxpayers are STILL paying subsidies to the oil companies, to the tune of AT LEAST $2 billion a year.

Most of our cotton output (75%) is used to make apparel, although a LOT of it isn’t made here. Out of curiosity, I inventoried my closet earlier today to see how many of my shirts (or sweaters) were made in America. Out of 62 garments, only 3 were made in America. The balance were made in 24 different countries around the globe. Bangladesh and Mexico tied for top honors, at 7 garments apiece.

Today, the world’s leading producer of cotton is China, and India is not far behind. The United States is still in third place, largely due to the fact that the subsidies the cotton industry receives from the Farm Bill (officially known as the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008) allows them to sell cotton cheaper than they would be able to do so otherwise. Since 1991, the Federal government has paid $50 billion to cotton growers, and the subsidies have averaged $3 billion a year for the last decade.

The country that’s in 5th place in cotton production is Brazil, which has produced an interesting dilemma. If you’ve done any research on the disastrous Smoot-Hawley bill of 1930, you’ll recall that the tariffs that our government imposed to help domestic farmers set off retaliatory tariffs by other countries, and worsened the effects of the Great Depression. Due to the fact that Brazil feels we are “dumping” our cotton in overseas markets, the World Trade Organization has given Brazil the right to charge tariffs of $150,000,000 a year on products exported from America. In order to protect software producers, wheat producers, and other producers who would be hurt by the Brazilian tariffs, our government simply sends a check to the Brazilian government in that amount each year, which we started doing in May of 2010.

The original purpose of the Farm Bill in the 1930’s was to help out small farmers. Unfortunately, the current farm bill largely benefits large, politically-connected farms instead. As a matter of fact, fifteen member of Congress receive subsidies PERSONALLY from the government. One of the chief beneficiaries of the program is Tennessee Representative Stephen Fincher, who received $3.48 million between 1995 and 2012. The family business itself (Fincher Farms) received $8.9 million in subsidies in the last decade, and most of those subsidies are from the cotton program.

In a classic case of Tea Party hypocrisy, Fincher doesn’t believe in the food stamp program (SNAP), which is an opinion shared by Representative Doug LaMalfa of California. LaMalfa’s family owns a rice farm, and it has received $4.7 million in federal subsidies in the last 15 years.

Both Fincher and LaMalfa are on the House agriculture committee, which allows them to “grease their own palm”. Both of them cite Biblical references to justify cuts to the food stamp program. Like most selective readers of the Bible, they ignore passages that are far more applicable. In this case, a careful reading of Matthew 25:31-46 will reinforce the fact that these two individuals are dead wrong in their position on the food stamp program, which currently provides assistance to more than 47,000,000 Americans. In view of the fact that the average net worth of the Senators in Congress is $11,000,000, and the average net worth of the House of Representatives is $6,000,000, our elected officials REALLY need to pay a lot more attention to the words found in Matthew 19:24.

The Republicans in the House of Representatives have loudly proclaimed that the Farm Bill "needs reform". Surprisingly, they're actually correct. Between 2008 and 2012, the Agriculture Department's conservation program sent $10.6 million to more than 1000 people who had been dead for more than a year. In addition, the agency that administers the crop insurance program sent $22,000,000 to 3400 policyholders who had been dead for at least two years.

Their idea of reform, though, isn't the same as the one held by the rest of us. On July 11, 2013, the House of Representatives passed an agricultural bill that ELIMINATED food stamps from the Farm Bill, which marks the first time that food stamps have not been part of the bill since 1973 (when a REPUBLICAN named Richard Nixon got them put in). When asked about the food stamp program, House Speaker John Boehner said, “we’ll get to those other issues later”.

In contrast, this is what Nixon had to say about the issue when he addressed Congress in the late 1960’s:

"That hunger and malnutrition should persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable.... More is at stake here than the health and well-being of 16 million American citizens.... Something very like the honor of American democracy is at issue."

Cotton has had a long and storied history in our country, which inspired a musician named Huddie Ledbetter (whose stage name is Lead Belly) to compose a song called “Cotton Fields” in 1940. Since that time, NUMEROUS artists have recorded the same song. Although the version by Johnny Cash is pretty good, my favorite is the one done by Credence Clearwater Revival (the guys who brought us “Proud Mary” and “Fortunate Son”):

In them old cotton fields back home.

After you’ve had a chance to enjoy the music, take a little advice from the 1976 film, Network. Get mad as hell about the Farm Bill, and write to your Congressman in order to achieve the FULL RESTORATION of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program in the Farm Bill.

In closing, here’s the updated version of “American Gothic”, courtesy of Stephen Fincher:

Monday, July 22, 2013

haggis, the horrible

One of my favorite comics strips is the one started by the late Dik Browne in 1973, titled Hagar the Horrible. After his death in 1988, his son Chris continued with the strip under his own name. The strip has done well over the years, and now appears in 1900 newspapers in 58 countries (including Norway) and has been translated into 13 languages.

The strip below was printed fairly recently. By no small coincidence, it happens to be related to “the topic of the week”.

If you’ve done any research on the ancient Vikings, you’ll discover that they enjoyed a healthy diet.To a very large degree, the food that they ate wasn’t markedly different from what we eat today, except for the fact that they occasionally ate horsemeat, and just about everybody drank ale (or mead) instead of water.

The ancient Scots, though, were a “horse of a different color”, and some of their favorite dishes will definitely give you pause.

One of those dishes is something called haggis, which was first consumed in the early 15th century . It’s now considered the national dish of Scotland, and it’s normally served with potatoes and a wee dram of scotch whiskey.

When you read what’s in it, you’ll probably say, “ yer aff yer heid”, which is translated as, “you’re crazy!”. I reviewed a couple of recipes online, and found them to be very similar. Here’s the basics:

You start with a thoroughly rinsed sheep’s stomach. To that, you’ll add a sheep’s liver, a sheep’s heart, a sheep’s tongue, onions, oats, salt, pepper, and spices. After cooking all the ingredients together for about 3 hours, it’s ready to eat!

Until this past weekend, I had never eaten any, simply because it didn’t sound all that appealing. However, since the Celtic Fest was in town again on July 20 and 21, I decided to try it, if only to say that I had done so. Naturally, I ordered a wee dram of scotch to go with it, and (so far) haven’t suffered any ill effects.

If you can envision eating meatloaf that tastes a bit like liver, you’ll have a pretty good idea what it was like.

Would I eat it again? I’m not saying that I wouldn’t, but I’ll also admit to the fact that it took me a long time to work up to calamari, which is actually a pretty good dish, even if it IS fried squid.

Naturally, there's a song about haggis, which I WOULD recommend listening to:

the haggis song

Monday, July 15, 2013

Let's talk about sex !

When I joined the Toastmasters organization in 1981, I quickly learned that the topics that you should always avoid are religion, sex, and politics. As a general rule, both I and my fellow Toastmasters managed to do exactly that.

In the past week of so, a couple of news items came to my attention that relate, to a degree, to all three of those topics, so I decided to do more research on them. I can assure you, though, that you are unlikely to be offended by any of the conclusions that I’ve reached.

On July 8, a Texas man named Cirilo Castillo was arrested for the 2nd time in 3 months for having sex with a horse.. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to recreate the act here, but a recent mug shot of him will confirm the fact that he’s not exactly the brightest guy that you’ve ever met:

Strangely enough, Texas does not have any laws against bestiality, so the only crime that Castillo could be charged with is animal cruelty, and then only if the animal had been injured. Even stranger is the fact that there were 13 other states (as of July of 2010) that had no direct prohibitions against the sexual assault of an animal. For now, the sheep in Montana are safe, but their cousins in Wyoming need to be extra cautious.

A few of the states mentioned in the link above are in the “Bible belt”, which is even stranger due to the fact the Bible has numerous references condemning bestiality. Some of those references even mention the penalty of death for the offense.

I recently became aware of the fact that Tracy Arnold, a legislator in Mississippi, had introduced a bill earlier this year (The Protection of the Person Act) which would ban the creation of "a human embryo into which a nonhuman cell or a component of a nonhuman cell is introduced, so that it is uncertain whether the human embryo is a member of the species homo sapiens." In view of the fact that Mississippi has the 4th worst school system in the country, my opinion is that he should be focusing on things that are actually IMPORTANT, but he obviously would disagree. Mississippi, incidentally, has the highest obesity rate in the country (34.9%) , but he’s apparently not concerned with that issue either, and neither is Paula Deen.

Even though I sold cars for a lot of years, Tracy Arnold is definitely a guy that I would NOT buy a used car from:

Not surprisingly, he’s a member of the Mississippi Tea Party, and has received an “A” rating from the NRA for the last 8 years. He and his wife Neecy are pastors at The Vineyard church in Booneville, Mississippi.

Mississippi isn’t the only state that is concerned about animal-human hybrids. Both Arizona and Louisiana already have laws on the books, and Ohio introduced a bill last year that would have imposed penalties up to 5 years in jail and a $1,000,000 fine for the offense. Surprisingly, legislation was introduced at the Federal level in 2009 by 21 Senators (including both of the Senators from Arizona), but the bill never made it out of the Judiciary Committee.

Tracy Arnold, as well as a few other people , would be surprised to learn that research involving inserting human DNA into animals has been going on for close to 50 years, but only to find cures for diseases. For some reason, I don’t think that’s a problem.

Rather than focusing on relations between animals and humans, our legislators should be focused on correcting the laws involving relationships with other humans.

For example, if you’re not concerned about the fact that your children might wind up with six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, you’ll be interested to know that 18 states have virtually no restrictions on which of your 1st cousins that you can marry.

Prior to 1962, sodomy (including certain acts between married persons) was a felony in all 50 states. Over time, state laws against sodomy gradually went away, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the remaining 14 states that still had laws on the books were forced to remove them by the United States Supreme Court. Since not everyone is happy about the recent Supreme Court ruling that voided the Defense of Marriage Act, it wouldn’t be surprising if some states tried to resurrect sodomy laws.

The purpose of laws should be to protect innocent victims, which means that the laws that SHOULD be revised are the “age of consent” laws. Throughout Canada, the age of consent is 16. In America, the age of consent ranges from 16 to 18, and in parts of Mexico, the age of consent could be as young as 12. Nineteen states in America (including most of the “Bible belt”) set 16 as the age of consent. The actual effect of the laws is that they protect an adult who is having sex with a young girl from being charged with statutory rape. The penalty for statutory rape varies by state, naturally, but virtually ALL of them (with the exception of California) impose very strict penalties for the crime - up to 100 years in prison.

I’m not sure if Jerry Lee Lewis was ever charged with statutory rape, but he DID marry his 13 year old first cousin once removed in 1957, which led to a “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” for his career.

Fortunately, the rate of births to teen mothers has continued to drop in America (to a rate of 34 per 1000 girls in the age of 15 to 19). The birth rate is lowest in New Hampshire, which has an “age of consent” of 18 and mandatory birth control training (starting in elementary school) and highest in Mississippi (are you paying attention, Representative Arnold?) , which has an age of consent of 16. Mississippi has NO requirements for its schools to teach either sex education or sexually transmitted disease education. For schools that choose to each either or both topics, they are required to stress abstinence-until-marriage.

Far too many of our state legislators seem to have a weak grip in understanding either human nature or human biology, as evidenced by the fact that Republicans in the Tennessee legislature introduced wording in a sex education bill last spring that defined kissing and holding hands as “gateways to sexual activity”.

You’ve just digested a lot of complicated information regarding a very complex topic (sex) so I’ll close out this article on a lighter note.

If you’ve ever wondered, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”, the picture below can explain it to you: