September 2014

To This

It has come to this:  FBI Director James Comey is now blasting Apple and Google for developing cell phone encryption that cannot be easily decrypted.  Well yes, what if one of those phones fell into the hands of an American?

He’d be able to say something that could not be easily decrypted, and we can’t have that, now can we?  I mean, the whole point of the surveillance state is to make sure that nothing citizens do, nor word nor deed nor line of text, escapes government scrutiny.  And yes, yes, the NSA can decrypt pretty much anything, given time, but why would a loyal American wish to inconvenience the NSA by making it difficult for them?  Naw, that silly old Fourth Amendment stuff about the government needing a reason to spy on a citizen is outmoded in today’s rapid paced world.

I don’t want to sound like one of those old farts spewing doom and gloom, but i do think we’re running out of time here and that if we don’t start squealing to our congress creatures now, it’ll be too late and we’ll all be under a police state that would make the Gestapo, the Stasi, and the NKVD green with envy.

Me, my senators have gone over to the dark side, particularly Dianne Feinstein, who got all bent out of shape when the CIA spied on her staffers but feels it absolutely necessary that our government maintain 24/7 surveillance on the rest of us as our main line of defense against The Terrorists.  And i’ve been sending her eloquent letters suggesting that she give her constituents, not to mention the rest of America, a break, so any day now i expect to hear loud noises on the street and a highly amplified voice shouting “We know you’re in there, Gray!”

But maybe your members of congress are amenable to reason.  Wouldn’t hurt to write ’em.

But better hold off on getting one of those new, encrypted Apple or Google phones since the very possession of one will make you a Terrorism Suspect.  Besides, knowing Google and Apple as we do, they’ve probably already put back doors into those phones, and Director Comey is just uttering his squeals to make you think you’ll have some privacy and then say Something Naughty…a classic sting operation.

Here’s a light of reason shining into Luscious Garage.

skylight at Luscious Garage

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Ðis post is not, æs it might appear, just anoðer of my plugs for ðe reinstatement  into modern English of “ashes” (Æ,æ), the vowel in modern English “at”) æs well æs “eths” (Ð,ð) and “thorns” (Þ,þ), representing ðe voiced and unvoiced ‘th’ sounds respectively.  No indeed.  Ræðer, it’s because i really do þink some of my readers might get æs much of a þrill æs i do out of ðe coverage of Bárðarbunga on Daily Kos, and you can’t write Bárðarbunga wiþout an ð.  And yes, Daily Kos is so far left it’s practically communist, but you don’t have to look æt oðer links ðere.

Click here for a sæmple Bárðarbunga link.  Ðere’s a new post on ðis exciting volcæno frequently on Daily Kos, but you hæve to look for Bárðarbunga in ðe Recommended section of ðe menu on ðe right side.

Meanwhile, anoðer nætural phenomenon.  Æs ðe sun rises under ðe overcæst over ðe hill to ðe east of me, it paints a bænd across ðe hill to my west.

Sunrise on Twin Peaks

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The ISIS Threat

While i’ve been focused on bridges the past month, all hell has broken loose and civilization as we know it is swirling ever more rapidly into the toilet.  Ignoring for the moment the latest outrages of the NSA as it fights like a cornered rat to continue maintaining a Surveillance Society, take a look at what’s going on with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).  Feinstein, McCain, et al. are howling for a return of American ground forces to Iraq despite the fact that Iraq’s leaders, while happy to accept some air support, are universally opposed to our sending troops there again.  Which means we’ll have to invade them again.  Oh come on, it worked out so splendidly the last time, didn’t it?

Worse yet, in order to drum up public support for another invasion, right-wing leaders and media are doubling down on the mantra that ISIS presents a tremendous threat to the safety of Americans.  Ummm, how, i ask is that?  Their nuclear submarines that are even now cruising off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts?  All their nuclear-tipped ICBMs sitting in hardened silos ready to rain death on the Great Satan?  Their stealth battleships and aircraft carriers ready to take up positions off American shores to shell and bomb American coastal cities?  Their millions of Ebola-infected rats being bred in vast underground laboratories to be carried in giant balloons by the jet stream and released by parachute over the American heartland?

Could a handful of ISIS suicide terrorists infiltrate this country and kill a few people?  Of course.  Could they come even close to taking out the number of Americans killed every week in auto accidents?  Oh please.

We are letting our leaders frighten us into a totalitarian police state for their own good.

So i’ll just keep cranking out the curmudgery until the tanks pull up out front.

The lucky ones will have a view of a garden through their bars.

garden view


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New Photo Essay

And now, a drumroll please, i’m announcing the completion of my new main menu item,  Portland’s Bridges.  Is it everything i’d hoped it would be?  Of course not.  Is it marginally acceptable for my first full scale photo essay?  I guess so.  At  least i’m admitting that it’s out there for folks to see.   And crowing that as best i could determine, nobody else had put onto the Internet a previous photo essay of those bridges.   Hope it provides some pleasure.

It was definitely a learning experience, and the greatest thing i learned is that before i do another of these i absolutely must put some effort into research beforehand and plan my approach better.  Still, i’m encouraged enough that i’m thinking of doing more photo essays on bridges elsewhere and grouping them with the Portland Bridges essay as submenu items under a revised main menu item rather like the Amsterdam Tales.   This oughta keep me busy the rest of my life.

And hey, one last Portland Bridge pic.  Well, not exactly a bridge but just a pedestrian walkway over Broadway that captures the spirit of Portland.

Walkway over Broadway


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Shrimp Thing

Oh my goodness.  This will need to be fluffed up and stuck in my Recipes menu, but for now, an outline.

I read a while back about poaching shrimp in butter, and the idea seemed so decadent that it simmered on my back burner until i gave up and Googled.  Well, yes, lots of hits.  And then when i started reading them i discovered that the great majority were variations on Michael Rullman’s recipe, and yes, pairing shrimp with grits does sound good.  Well, until i looked more closely at his grits and saw that his recipe for grits calls for chopping a bunch of bacon into the pot, frying it up, cooking some onion in the fat, then adding the grits and liquid and cooking until the grits are tender and have absorbed all the fat.

Well, yes, that sounds delicious, and the next time i cook grits i’ll try that.  For this dish, though, plain grits would seem to be a better choice, and definitely a healthier one.  Ummm, or better yet, polenta.  And yeah, yeah, polenta is traditionally made from flint corn rather than dent corn, and i’m not sure that the polenta grind sold at my beloved Rainbow Grocery is not a dent corn imposter, but they say it’s organic and has not been degerminated like the stuff you get in supermarket packages, and for sure it tastes better.  Corn is complicated, but click here for an excellent article on it.

But what about the shrimp?  Every recipe i looked at called for whisking a half pound of salted butter a few chunks at a time into a couple tablespoons of simmering water, bringing the emulsion up to 170-180 F., adding a pound of shrimp, and then fussing with the heat to keep the temperature within the prescribed range for 3 minutes, testing a shrimp for doneness, and then cooking a bit more until the shrimp are completely opaque and done through but still incredibly tender and juicy.

Are we all slavering now?

Then you scoop the shrimp out and array them on top of the grits, pouring some of the poaching butter on top.  Trimalchio would be pleased; hell, he’d be blown away since it would be a millennium and a half before corn would arrive in Italy.

But before i could get all the ingredients together i was struck by one of my increasingly rare flashes of inspiration.  Why mess with all that temperature regulation on the stove top when you can press your old slow cooker into service?  And miracle of miracles, when i turn mine down to Low after i’ve emulsified the butter and let it rest for a while, it maintains a temperature within the correct range.  How perfectly simple!

And then a second bit of inspiration struck.  We’re at the tail end of the fresh sweet corn season now, so after you’ve dumped the shrimp into the hot butter, why not just throw an unhusked ear of corn into the microwave for 2:22, cut off the butt end, shake it out of the of husk and silks, and cut it off the cob with a knife.   Then scoop the shrimp onto the hot corn with a reasonable amount of the butter.

As good as it sounds?  You betcha.  So mess with that slow cooker of yours and see what temperature it will hold.


And OK, since there wasn’t time to take a photo before i started gobbling… either of the times i made this for myself, i’ll have to make do with this shot of an ice cream sandwich Karen made at Company.

Ice Cream Sandwich at Company



Oh well.  I badly needed a photo of the Shrimp Thing, so i got the butter out of the refrigerator and heated it up and made another batch.  Remembered why i’d made it only after i’d wolfed through about two-thirds, but was able to re-plate the remainder for this shot.  And no, those are not five inch shrimp but rather, a seven inch plate.

Shrimp Thing

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Palin Outrage

One of America’s favorite families is in the news again, this time over a party brawl, and much outrage has been expressed.  Alas, the outrage that i’ve read is misplaced.

I mean, lots of good parties involve a brawl at some point near the end and often precipitating it, and i was OK with the whole thing until i got to the part where the Palins were recorded as leaving the party.  No no, not their leaving in a storm of cursing and obscene gestures.  That’s routine, even expected, among party-goers who’ve been asked to leave by the host.  What got me was their leaving in their stretch Hummer limousine.

Now that’s truly outrageous!

Meanwhile, a spectacular front porch treatment that i encountered in Washington owing to getting Garmined during my search for Mt. St. Helens.  I particularly like the roof decoration, and i can well imagine a party brawl at this site.

Front porch treatment

P.S.   Speaking of outrages, you can imagine mine when i googled “getting Garmined” in anticipation of finding myself the onlie begetter but discovered a blogsite called “Warpath West” where an entertaining and witty writer had beat me to this phrase.  A little too witty, if you ask me, and i wish him writer’s cramp.  No no, not writer’s block since that condition lacks the element of physical pain in writer’s cramp.

And speaking of writer’s cramp, i was about to explain for my under thirty readers what writer’s cramp was but then realized that the probability of my having a single under thirty reader is remote.


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The Scotland Solution

How ’bout that Scotland!

We’ve all been reading about how polls are now showing a majority of Scots in favor of independence from Britain, and the referendum is coming up next week.

Yikes.  The Brits are suddenly worried about this growing insurrection and in an attempt to buy the Scots off have recently granted Scotland concessions the Scots would scarcely have dreamed of a year ago.

Simon Jenkins wrote yesterday in The Guardian, ” London is so desperate it has summoned Gordon Brown from his brooding lair and sent him north to save Scotland for the union. He has taken with him more gold than when Ethelred the Unready paid danegeld to the Vikings.”

Meanwhile, all three major political parties in England have, in an unprecedented show of unity, denounced Scottish secession.  Also, BP has announced that it would be against Scottish interests (read BP’s) to leave the union and major banking institutions have declared that if Scotland leaves the union the banks will need to take “certain measures” against Scotland to protect the financial interests of their stockholders, RBS actually saying it would leave Scotland if the referendum passes.  Yeah, nice little business you got here.

We can only guess now how the referendum will go, but if it passes, there will be interesting times in store.  I can only speculate, drawing on my customary prescience.

Terrified by all those Scots dancing in the streets and offended by the Scots’ refusal to be bribed or threatened into remaining in the union, the British government will move several divisions of troops to the Scottish border…as a security measure.

Nor do i think it a coincidence that Prince Harry has recently expressed dissatisfaction with the desk job he’s been moved into and has declared his eagerness to return to piloting an Apache attack helicopter and taking out Bad Guys although he didn’t say where.

Alas, the troops on the border will have the effect of hardening Scot opposition and lead to guerrilla attacks on British institutions in Scotland, which will trigger a British invasion.

It’s clear to both me and the neocons that the United States will need to send troops.  The only question i have is which side we should support.

On the one hand, we have all read some history and remember when the British were coming, back when they were the hated overlords… and a few years later when the bastards burned the White House.  On the other hand, since that eighteenth and early nineteenth-century unpleasantness we’ve had a tradition of throwing in on the British side of conflicts.

So it could go either way.

Whichever side we support, though, we’d have the huge benefits of conducting a war in a country in which we speak the language, which would save a fortune in translators,  and think of how much more entertaining television coverage of the conflict would be if it didn’t have all those voiceovers.

My being a passionate supporter of underdogs, i’d favor sending munitions and troops to the Scottish rebels although i can certainly see that there’d be more economic advantages to our supporting London.  And when have we ever acted in opposition to our economic advantage?  Well, intentionally.


Meanwhile, more whimsical Portland sculpture:

Portland sculpture











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Progressive Oregon

Back at the beginning of the twentieth century there was such a thing as a progressive Republican, people like Theodore Roosevelt, and those folks get much of the credit for a wave of progressive legislation that swept the country.  It was in this era that radical rights like the recall, the referendum, and the initiative were extended to the people in many states.

California and Oregon were two, and although California has lost much of its progressivism under a series of more modern Republican governors, i found more evidence of it in Oregon during my Portland expedition.

The first shock occurred when i pulled into my first Oregon gas station and a friendly attendant beat me to the handle of the pump.  Oh hell, i thought, i’ve inadvertently pulled up to a Full Service pump, where the gas will be more expensive.  But hey, i realized, i’m treating myself to some luxuries on this trip, so why not?

And then i looked around and saw that everybody was getting his gas pumped, whether or not he deserved it…and we were not paying extra for this service.  What i nice touch, i thought, as the guy cleaned my windshield and i tried to remember the Old Days when all gas stations had attendants who provided this service.

Don’t know what these guys are paid, but at least there are more “entry-level” jobs for young men.

I stopped for gas again before i crossed the border back into California, just for the luxury of having my gas pumped, and this station was doing little business at the moment so i had my attendant to myself and got into conversation.  Told him what a wonderful luxury it was to have somebody help me with the gas.  He laughed and said that some visitors were annoyed that state law prohibited them from spewing highly flammable liquids around.  We agreed that people get offended too easily nowadays.

Another more dramatically progressive aspect of Oregon came to my notice gradually as i developed an increasing sense of being undercharged every time i made a purchase.  I’m not sweating the pennies much anymore, but something was wrong.  Then i started paying more attention and realized that when i handed the clerk an item priced at $4.95 and he rang it up, the register showed my total bill as $4.95.  And yes, when i handed him a five, i got a nickel  back.  There’s no sales tax!  Regressive as sales taxes are, i thought all states had them, at least on everything but basic food.  Nope.  Not in Oregon.

In an earlier post i’d feared that i might have to call Portlanders cleaner than San Franciscans owing to the paucity of street trash there.  Now i can speculate that no, they’re not cleaner but rather, since the state treats them better, they simply act nicer.


Which brings me to the last point – the homeless.  Or well, the indigent street people.  I have to tiptoe around the edge of political correctness here, but it sure did appear to me that Portland not only has fewer homeless but also a better class of them than San Francisco.

I mean, they’re better dressed.  They act nicer.  They don’t lie around passed out in the gutters.  Fewer seem to be mendicants, and those tend to be very low key and have neatly lettered signs.  When i was out looking for some duct tape for a temporary repair on my Segway, the helpful clerk in their version of a 7-11 had directed me to the approximate location of an Office Depot some distance away, and as i was rolling slowly along in the suggested neighborhood looking for this store, i spotted a beggar.

Ha!  Beggars are always locals.  He’ll know.  So i rolled up to him, courteously dismounted, and offered to buy some information from him – a dollar for the location of the nearest Home Depot.

He was articulate, he was knowledgeable.  He gave me the precise location, and i gave him two dollars.

At the Home Depot i told the first clerk i encountered that i was having a problem with the handlebar assembly on my Segway and needed some duct tape to effect a repair.  He agreed that you can fix just about anything with enough duct tape.

And led me to the tape selection.

At the bank of cashier stations, there was a bit of a delay as the woman ahead of me at the only open register involved the clerk there in an increasingly convoluted transaction.

Another clerk leaped to open a register for me.

I could get used to this.  Naw, then i’d just be spoiled.

Here’s some public art in a little plaza behind the University Place Hotel in Portland.

sculpture behind the University Place Hotel



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The Portland Aerial Tram

Since i took some photos of bridges from this tramway, i was thinking about including coverage of the Portland Aerial Tram in my photo essay on Portland’s Bridges, but since it’s not a bridge, my passion for accuracy dictated that i just do a blog post on it.  See, the thing’s so fascinating, i had to cover it somehow.

I did no homework in anticipation of my trip to Portland, so i didn’t know of its existence until i was down on the waterfront on my first day and exclaimed, “What is that?” to one of the delightful local mentors i collected.

Portland Aerial Tram

She brought me up to speed, mentioning that i could ride on it and that the locals call it “The Zip Line”, so of course i went over to the waterfront terminus.  Here’s a look into the mouth of the lower terminal.

Portland Aerial Tram

And yes, Portland is very bicycle friendly.

Here’s the main drive wheel.

Portland Aerial Tram

And a car docking.

Portland Aerial Tram

And a car approaching the central support tower.  There’s a thrilling lurch as you go off the support and back onto the wires.  If you listen closely, you can hear the wires fraying.

Portland Aerial Tram

Oh, and riding the thing is great fun, provides wonderful views of the waterfront, and is well worth the modest admission charge.

Actually, it also serves a very practical purpose, connecting two parts of the medical school, whose students and staff get to ride free.


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Road Burgers

Well, yes, they’re often dreadful.  You go in a place that looks like it’s a down home diner for locals and discover that the burgers are worse than Denny’s, not that i’ve eaten in Denny’s for forty-something years.

Or more often, they’re just mediocre, like the very dry elk burger i chewed through while sitting on a patio at the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center looking at Mt. St. Helens.  Umm, maybe it’s moose that’s supposed to taste so good.  And the fries that came with?  Fries are a special treat on my current diet, so i gobble them.  These i ate less than half of.

On the other hand, you can always count on In-N-Out Burger, the best of the chains, if you can find one when you’re hungry, but what’s really wonderful is discovering a local burger place that’s better than In-N-Out.

I blundered onto one on I-5 in the Sacramento Valley last September and got lucky enough to find it again on the way home from Oregon.  It’s Bartel’s Giant Burger, and their empire has only three locations.  The one i know is at the southwest corner of I-5 exit 631, Corning.

It’s just a burger joint, but oh my goodness, they sure do cook fine burgers.   First time i saw it i suspected it was gonna be good when i rolled up and noticed that all the vehicles outside were full size pickups.  I knew it was gonna be delicious when i walked in and saw i was the only tourist and that everybody else, patrons and staff alike, were obese.  I couldn’t stop myself:  giant burger and large chocolate milkshake, also excellent.

This time i confined myself to a giant burger and got it “to go” so i wouldn’t have to smell the obviously delicious fries while i ate it.

Meanwhile, just to throw out a pic, here’s some moss growing on a wall in Portland that looks good enough to eat.  OK, or lichen or liverwort or something.  I’m not a bryologist.  I just know beauty when i see it although i didn’t taste it.

Portland moss/lichen





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