Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I only have eyes for you

Over the weekend, I peeled a potato, and smeared it all over the windshield of our Nissan Altima. Details of exactly WHY I did that can be found at the link below:

this spud’s for you

The short version, though is this:

The chemicals in potatoes are similar to the chemicals found in Rain-X, so the coating of spuds on the windshield will help repel rain and snow more effectively. Since we also have managed to pick up some minor scratches in our new windshield from our new wiper blades, my thought process was that the stuff might prevent further damage to the windshield.

There’s loads of information about potatoes on Wikipedia, but the following items would be of most interest to you:

1) The potato is the world’s 4th largest food crop, after maize, wheat, and rice.

2) The potato originated in Peru between 7000 and 10,000 years ago, and was first exported to Europe about 400 years ago.

3) There are approximately 1000 different types of potatoes

4) The world’s largest producer of potatoes is China, and India is #2. Russians drink a lot of vodka, so Russia and the Ukraine weigh in at #3 and #4, respectively. The United States is #5.

5) The average person consumes 73 pounds of potatoes a year.

Potatoes contain numerous vitamins and minerals, but lag behind every other staple food in 32 out of 33 nutritional categories. As a result, the Irish people in the 19th century, who relied heavily on the potato as a food source, weren’t eating a particularly healthy diet even BEFORE the potato blight first hit the country in 1845, which led to the Great Famine.

Sharon and I eat a lot of potatoes, and she always insists of buying Idaho potatoes. Idaho IS the largest potato producer in the country, but the crop is also grown in at least 8 other states.

Idaho, though, has the best tasting potatoes, for the following reason:

1) Potatoes grow best in climates where the daytime temperature does not exceed 80 degrees. Southern Idaho’s high attitude and northern latitude is an ideal location, and helps produce large, healthy potatoes.

2) When the summer temperature at night drops below 55 degrees (as it does frequently in Southern Idaho) the sugars from the leaves flow down towards the potatoes themselves, which leads to good taste.

3) Potatoes need lots of water, but are very susceptible to diseases that frequently come with heavy rains. Southern Idaho is a dry climate, which necessitates aggressive irrigation, which results in most less exposure to plant disease.

Needless to say, potatoes are a very good business for Idaho, and have provided a VERY NICE living for a man named J.R. Simplot. At the time of his death in 2008 (at 99 years old) he was worth $3.2 billion, and the business that he founded continues to operate today.

Since Idaho allegedly has the best potatoes, you’d think that McDonalds would make all its fries from Idaho potatoes, but that’s not the case. Washington State has a climate similar to southern Idaho. The largest suppliers of potatoes to McDonalds are Frank Martinez, of Warden, Washington, and Jenn Bunger, of Pasco, Washington.

Although potatoes ARE a nutritious food, it’s very important NOT to eat the EYES of the potato, which are the sprouts that form on potatoes after they’ve been around a while. The sprouts contain elevated levels of glycoalkaoid poisons. If ingested in large enough quantities, you may experience headaches, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Unless you eat 4 pounds of potatoes at one sitting, however, you’re not likely to experience these symptoms.

The song, “I only have eyes for you” , was first recorded in 1934 by a man named Ben Selvin, but it’s been covered by NUMEROUS artists since that time. The version that most “baby boomers” are familiar with was recorded by The Flamingos in 1959:

give me that old time music

Art Garfunkel also recorded a very nice version in 1975. It was at the top of the UK singles charts for a couple of weeks, and was his first hit as a solo artist in the Uk: just another old fashioned love song

As you’re enjoying your dinner this evening, I just have one question for you:

Do you want fries with that?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Gun Fight

Few topics seem to get people as riled up as much as gun control. If you have a LOT of time on your hands, you’ll discover that there have been a TON of books about the topic.

If you typed “guns” into the search bar at Amazon.com, you’ll get a total of 688,874 “hits”.

Refining your search to “gun control” will narrow down the total considerably, but will still leave you with 35,325 choices.

“Gun rights” will again broaden the number of selections, and will lead to an unmanageable total of 106,003. Glenn Beck, of course, has a book for sale about the topic on Amazon, which he titled “Control: Exposing the Truth About Guns”. A quick review of its contents page shows that it’s full of the usual nonsense sprouted by Mr. Beck on a regular basis.

Another book on the list of “gun rights” books is a 2011 book authored by a professor of constitutional law at UCLA named Adam Winkler:

Amazon link

“Gun Fight” examines the 2008 fight to overturn the gun ban law in Washington, D.C.. Officially, the law suit was titled District of Columbia vs. Heller, and it was assigned docket number 07-290 by the Supreme Court. Unlike many books on either gun control or gun rights, “Gun Fight” actually takes a balanced look at both sides of the question. I finished reading it this week, and was surprised to discover a number of facts in the book that aren’t well known;

1) The Founding Fathers favored gun control laws that the current leadership of the NRA would find unacceptable.

2) The “Wild West” was anything but, and had very stringent gun control laws. The most famous gunfight in American history occurred on October 26, 1881, in Tombstone, Arizona. 1881 also happened to be the most violent year in Tombstone’s history, but only a total of 5 people who killed in the town that year. That total includes 3 of the Clanton/McLaury gang, who were killed on October 26.

Wild Bill Hickock may have made Deadwood, South Dakota famous, but only 4 people died in the town in its most violent year.

3) The NRA was at one time a vigorous defended of gun control laws, and actually wrote major portions of the 1934 and 1938 gun control laws. However, a “coup” in 1976 transferred the organization into the radical organization that it is today.

4) The KKK was originally started as a gun control organization.

5) Ronald Reagan, who is usually considered to be friendly towards guns, was a strong advocate of gun control in the 1960’s, largely due to the actions of the Black Panthers.

6) The NRA was very much opposed to going to court to overturn the D.C. gun ban law.

7) “Enforcing existing gun laws”, the mantra of the gun rights activists, is doomed to failure, largely due to the actions of the NRA.

Although I’d highly recommend reading the book, the short version is that the Supreme Court ultimately DID rule that the gun ban law in D.C. was unconstitutional, and threw it out. The REAL surprise, though, is that the wording of the court ruling turned out to be a victory for both gun rights activists and gun control advocates.

In its ruling, the court ruled that the residents of the city had a right to defend themselves, but is also stated that “reasonable gun controls” are not a violation of the 2nd Amendment. The court also ruled that it is not permissible, constitutionally, to take away any one’s guns under normal circumstances. If you couple that statement with the fact that it would be logistically impossible to confiscate 300,000,000 guns, the right wing rhetoric about “gun grabbers” simply does not make any sense.

The best description of the lawsuit comes from the author himself, in the concluding paragraph of the last chapter in the book:

“Heller was hailed as a major victory for the gun rights extremists. Like so much else about guns in America, however, this latest chapter in our nation’s remarkable story of firearms is more nuanced. The wider public, which can now escape the pro-gun/anti-gun rut that trapped gun policy, was the real winner. Heller was the Supreme Court decision that the gun rights movement long hoped for. Yet other than the occasional outlier, most gun control laws are not likely to run afoul of the right recognized by the Court. Gun rights won, but so did gun control. Catch-22’s Joseph Heller would have been proud.”

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Niggers, Jews, and queers

The vast majority of Americans would be offended by any of the terms listed above, but they were fairly common epithets when I was in high school. If they somehow manage to surface today (and Paula Deen using the word “nigger” is a recent example), they usually generate a great deal of controversy.

Although the terms themselves have largely faded away, the attitudes behind them have not. They simply have gotten more subtle. In order to see how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go, it’s instructive to look at each of the categories separately.

1. Niggers.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 removed all previous voting restrictions that had been imposed on black people, but the United States Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in June of 2013. Almost immediately, a number of states passed voter ID laws, which were designed specifically to disenfranchise black voters, who are far more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. Mitt Romney only captured 17% of non white voters (blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans) in 2012, and he received no votes at all in 59 districts in Philadelphia.

The most common justification for voter ID laws is that they prevent voter fraud, which is an utterly false contention. Roughly a year ago, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley spent over $1,000,000 of taxpayers’ money trying to prove voter fraud in her state. The final count of fraudulent votes, not surprisingly, turned out to be absolutely ZERO.

In order to counter the voter ID laws (which were written by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council) President Obama recently nominated former NAACP official Debo Adegbile to take over the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Although the 14th amendment was adopted in 1868, it took nearly 100 years after that for the Voting Rights Act to get passed, and it was a difficult struggle to get to that point.

Although there were countless brave men and women who have helped the cause over the years since 1868, it was almost exactly 54 years ago that 4 brave college freshmen staged a non-violent event that brought national attention to racial inequality.

On February 1, 1960, four African-American freshmen at North Caroline Agricultural and Technical State University sat at a white-only lunch counter inside a Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworths store. In less that a week’s time, the original 4 students had grown to 1400, and by the end of the month, blacks and whites were eating together at lunch counters.

Eight years after the Greensboro sit-in, the Federal Government passed the Fair Housing Act. Although progress HAS been made, a recent study in Baltimore shows that there still needs to be a lot of improvement.

Surprisingly, that ancient event in South Carolina still hasn’t resonated with some of our present day Americans. A restaurant owner in Enid, Oklahoma named Gary James has gone on record as stating that he will not serve “niggers, faggots or poor people” at his restaurant.

He’s not alone in his sentiments, but I’ll expand on the discussion of service for gay people later in this article.

2. Jews

Anti Semitism was fairly rampant in the 1940’s, and famed aviator Charles Lindbergh made his anti-Jews views publicly known. In a speech in Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941, Lindbergh told his audience that Jews were one of the principal forces attempting to lead the United States into the European war, but he also laid blame on FDR and the British.

Starting in the spring of 1920, industrialist Henry Ford published a series of 91 articles in his personal newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, where he chronicled stories about what he called the “Jewish Menace”. Some of the more popular articles were later reprinted into four volumes that were titled the “International Jew”. Adolf Hitler had a picture of Henry Ford in his office in Berlin, and several of the defendants at the Nuremberg trials admitted that the “International Jew” made a deep impression on them.

Since 9/11, Muslims have come under increasing attack in our country, which would lead you to assume that they would be the most prominent victims of hate crimes. Surprisingly, that’s not true. According to the FBI, 63% of the religious hate crimes committed in 2011 were against Jews, while only 12% of those crimes were against Muslims.

A recent article in the New York Times by a Jewish columnist details how he rediscovered his Jewish faith as he got older, but his article also highlights the importance of being respectful to ALL religions.

3. Gays

Protection of same sex couples in America has expanded rapidly in the last couple of years. As of January, 2014, 17 states now allow same sex marriages, but not all states are as enlightened as those 17. In order to cloak their bigotry towards gay people, lawmakers in at least some of the remaining 33 states have covered up their hatred with a mantle of religion.

Two bills currently making their way through the Arizona legislature would, among other things, allow business owners not to serve gay people because homosexuality violates their religious beliefs. One of those bills, HB2153, was approved by a House panel in the Arizona legislature on February 4. On February 12, the House of Representatives in Kansas approved a bill that would allow individuals, groups, or businesses to refuse to provide goods, services, accommodations, or employment to gays or lesbians.

The folks who are most opposed to rights for homosexuals also tend to be the same folks who are very protective of their 2nd amendment rights, ignoring the fact that people with different sexual orientations also have rights, as do the folks who believe that all of us have a right to live in a society that is relatively free of gun violence. By no small coincidence, Mitt Romney carried both Arizona and Kansas in the 2012 Presidential campaign.

In 29 states, it’s still legal for restaurants to refuse to serve people because of their sexual orientation, and I live in one of them.

The Federal Government has a long of record of protection a variety of minorities, starting with protection against discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some states later added protection for discrimination based on sexual orientation

As of June of 2012, less than half of all states have legal protection on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, As a result, it’s perfectly legal in a number of states to fire employees strictly because of their sexual orientation, which is exactly as illogical as firing them because they had blue eyes.

At the Federal level, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was passed by the Senate on November 7, 2013, and referred to the House of Representatives on November 12, where it is currently stalled.

It’s unlikely that discrimination based on skin color, religion or sexual orientation is going to go away at any time in the near future.

The vice chair of the Michigan Republican Party, Mary Helen Sears, recently stated that she wants all gays purged from the GOP because she believes that homosexuality is a perversion created by Satan. She also happens to believe that Communist college professors were indoctrinating young people, and that Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory gave rise to Hitler’s Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy, and Stalin’s Russia. She is now a candidate for a seat on the Republican National Committee.

Although boycotting businesses that do not share our views on the topics above may make us feel good, it’s not going to change their attitudes. We stopped buying Papa John’s pizza a while back due to John Schnatter’s disdain for his employees, as well as his support of the Koch brothers. He couldn’t care less.

The only logical course of action against the Stone Age attitudes of our fellow Americans is to get at least a little more active politically. Preventing people with narrow minded ideas from getting elected, regardless of their party, is the only logical approach to the matter, since actual facts will do little to sway them.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dead as a mackerel

At some time in our lives, most of us have fantasized about writing a great novel, getting it published, and using the royalties from the book to live a comfortable retirement.

Most of us are also smart enough to realize that we’re not destined to be the next John Grisham, who retired from a reasonably successful career as an attorney to become a full time author. Today, his net worth is roughly $200,000,000.

Another man who’s done well as a writer is Dan Brown.

After graduating from Amherst College, Dan Brown dabbled with a musical career, but eventually became an English teacher at Phillips Exeter, the New Hampshire high school that he graduated from in 1981. In 1996, he quit his teaching career in order to become a full time writer. His first novel, Digital Fortress, was published in 1998. Although he has only written five novels since the publication of his first novel, he has sold over 200,000, 000 books, making him one of the best selling authors of all time, which is why his net worth is approximately $120,000,000.

J.K Rowling created the Harry Potter series (the best selling book series in history), which allowed her to move from being a single mom living on welfare to become the first author in the world to achieve a net worth of $1 billion.

One of the main reasons that it’s very difficult for any of us to get our magnum opus published is the fact that there are roughly 2000 books published in America EVERY SINGLE DAY, which leaves blogging as about the only way to have our thoughts become more widespread.

As of 2012, there were 31,000,000 bloggers in the United States, and roughly 10 times that number in the rest of the world. Blogging CAN be very lucrative, as exemplified by the fact that The Huffington Post recently sold for $300,000,000. Since starting my blog roughly 5 years ago, I’ve had over 100,000 “page views”, in over 100 countries, and I’ve earned a grand total of $105.45, which came from ad revenue.

If you’re really dying to get your great novel published as an actual book, you now have a new alternative that will cost you next to nothing to produce.

The new venue is called CreateSpace, and it’s one of the many divisions of Amazon.com, the internet marketing giant that was founded by Jeff Bezos in 1994. As the testimony at the link below will indicate, it’s an easy site to use:

My experience self-publishing

I learned about the site from our friend and neighbor, William Snead, who has published 2 books (so far), either one of which you can buy from Amazon:

dead as a mackerel

The Deadly Doctor

A link to Bill’s website (and his credentials) can be found at the link below:


CreateSpace, naturally, is controversial for Barnes and Noble and independent book stores due to the fact that the retailer gets less money from the sale of the books published by CreateSpace. I’m of the opinion that Barnes and Noble is innovative enough to survive and prosper, but it’s still a tough business.

Borders Books and Music and B. Dalton booksellers were very successful “brick and mortar” book stores who didn’t progress fast enough to e-books. To borrow a phrase, Borders and B. Dalton are now both “dead as a mackerel”, but if you’d like to buy a book with that same title, all you need to do is travel to Amazon.com.

Your new book is just a few clicks away.