Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

30 December, 2005

Friday Skin

|| Palmer, 7:41 AM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

29 December, 2005

American Life in Poetry: Column 017

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Nearly all of us spend too much of our lives thinking about what has happened, or worrying about what's coming next. Very little can be done about the past and worry is a waste of time. Here the Kentucky poet Wendell Berry gives himself over to nature.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Reprinted from "Collected Works" (North Point Press, 1985) by permission of the author. Wendell Berry's most recent book is "Given: Poems" (Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005). Poem copyright © 1985 by Wendell Berry. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
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A Christmas Invasion

On Tuesday night, The Dulcinea and I watched the latest Doctor Who episode, The Christmas Invasion. Although the new Doctor was shown in a brief hoolie that was shown as part of benefit for charity last month, this was his first full-length episode. The TARDIS lands on earth in the present and on Christmas Eve. And of course there's bad stuff happening.

Firstly, there's this matter of the Doctor's regeneration. As with previous Doctors, it doesn't exactly go smoothly.



And then add in some Father Christmases who are a bit shady.



To top things off, there's this nasty race called the Sycorax who want the earth for themselves.



On the bright side, Harriet Jones returns and now she's Prime Minister!



Rose takes the lead for much of the story as the Doctor isn't doing so well and is bed ridden. Of course he springs to life at the end to save the earth, though. There's a bit of a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy tribute going on as the Doctor is dressed in pajamas and bath robe most of the time ala Arthur Dent. He even finds the pockets of the robe to contain various fruit just as Arthur's robe, in one version of Hitchhiker's, contains various odds'n'ends.

Tennant's Doctor, as my friend Mary pointed out, is a bit like Peter Davison's - the 5th, in that "he's got that youngish vulnerability thing going." But he's also got the brash side of the Doctor that Tom and Colin Baker brought to the role. There's a scene at the end where he's picking out his new outfit from the TARDIS wardrobe. The presence of a Hawaiian shirt amused me. I rather like the attire he chose. It's not Edwardian but it's also not hip 21st century garb. I think the new season starts in March. Only 3ish months to go!
|| Palmer, 1:20 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

28 December, 2005

Brews of the Season (Part 3)

This is my final installment of my mini-series of brews of the season. I've covered the Madison & Milwaukee areas and today I'll point out some seasonal suds from the rest of our fair state. (Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.)

Falls Brewery is located in Oconto Falls which is 30 miles or so north of Green Bay.



Their contribution to keeping Tovarich Palmer warm is their Kool Komrade, a traditional Russian Imperial Stout. I love Imperial Stouts! About 10 years ago, the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild had a stout tasting at the Italian Men's Club over on Regent Street. Needless to say, I was in heaven as I got a chance to sample a plethora of thick, dark brews. I shall have to seek some of this stuff out!

While the Sand Creek Brewing Company doesn't have a winter seasonal listed at their site, I'm thinking Oscar's brew can do the trick.



Oscar's Chocolate Oatmeal Stout just sounds incredible and a meal in and of itself. You've got oatmeal for the main course and chocolate for dessert. Mmmm…chocolate…

Moving up in size, there's the City Brewery in La Crosse.



Tis the season for their Winter Porter. As with a couple brews yesterday, I'm ashamed to admit that I've never had it. But it has 22 bitterness units of taste so it has to be good, right?

Following the Mississippi River north from La Crosse, one comes to Maiden Rock, WI, the home of the Rush River Brewing Company.



Although it will likely be difficult to find, they do have their Winter Ale. It's a variation of a Scotch ale with a rather high alcohol content (6.5%) so you'll soon forget all about the cold outside. As of whenever the last time their webpage was updated, we Madisonians can only find their brews at the Maduro Cigar Bar on Main Street, just off of the Capitol Square. However, the page does say that they want to start bottling before the end of the year. Not sure if they managed to attain this goal or not. Unfortunately, Maduro's drink list (PDF) does not list any of Rush River's products.

Lastly, we have a brew from the venerable Leinenkugel's.



Keep an eye out for Leine's Big Butt Doppelbock. Despite having been bought out by Miller, Leine's does make some quality brews and this is one of them. I recall first seeing the stuff when it came out in 1996 at Pinkus McBride's, a small local grocery store and immediately snatching a sixer. It is some tasty stuff indeed.

In addition to the beers I've described, there are many brewpubs scattered throughout the state that sell their beer on premises only. If you're traveling around Wisconsin, check ahead of time for a brewpub at your destination.

While I certainly have nothing against the fine beers that are brewed abroad, I would argue that the freshness of the suds coming across The Pond can often be in question. Contrariwise, it seems more likely that beer brewed here in Wisconsin would be fresher. Beer is meant to be served immediately once it is ready and not aged like wine. In addition, by buying beer brewed here in Wisconsin, you support the state's economy. I personally would recommend the beers of many microbreweries in the state but can't argue too much if you buy some stuff from Miller or one of the regional breweries. Microbrews are brewed in smaller quantities, are usually of higher quality, and are made by folks who brew because it's their craft and they love doing it. However, if you're the kinda person who only drinks the rather flavorless American lagers made by mega-brewers, then by all means drink Miller. Personally, I think it tastes better than Bud and buying it helps support the union workers in Milwaukee instead of sending your money directly to Missouri or Colorado.

Of course, much of the info I've just laid out will be out of date shortly. Mnay new beers are introduced in January. Plus there's the spring seasonals to look forward to!

Prost!
|| Palmer, 6:08 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

It's Only Talk

There's an article up at Nerve entitled "Sex Advice from Game Convention Girls".



A gal named Heather was asked "There are more boy gamers than girl gamers. What can a guy do to make himself more appealing to the women out there?" Here's her answer:

He can talk to more girls. Some of my guy gamer friends, they seem to think that girls are totally different, but they're not. Just make your speech a little more flowery. And talk to her about stuff she likes. For example, I play Dynasty Warriors, so I want to talk about Dynasty Warriors. And I know that a lot of girls are into Final Fantasy, so that's something to keep in mind. (Emphasis mine.)

Who'd have thunk it?
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Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Perhaps some of you remember the Frontline episode from earlier this year called "The Last Abortion Clinic". The program detailed the assault on abortion rights since the Supreme Court ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 and profiled the lone clinic in whole of Mississippi where women can obtain an abortion.

And now the Jackson Women's Health Organization is awaiting word on its license renewal.

Mississippi's only remaining abortion clinic is waiting to hear if health officials will approve its license to meet ambulatory surgical standards.

Unless the clinic gains the certification, it will be illegal for the clinic to perform abortions beyond the first trimester.


I guess I'm just a pessimist because I highly suspect that the clinic will be closing its doors within a few years. Letting the South secede has, to my mind, become a much more viable option since Bush got into office.
|| Palmer, 2:05 PM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

The King of Beers



Since I've been going on about beer this week, I wanted to relay the legend of King Gambrinus, pictured above. (BTW – that's a statue of him in La Crosse.) {For anyone not from our fair state: La Crosse is in Wisconsin.} Gambrinus is the King or the patron "saint" of Beer. This page over at Stein Collectors International relays the story with some neat illustrations. I grabbed the following from it.

First comes the origin of our revered king:

George Ehret, a New York City brewer, published the book, Twenty-Five Years of Brewing, which included the following account: "While some attribute the invention of hopped malt-beer to Jan Primus (John I), a scion of the stock of Burgundy princes, who lived about the year 1251, others ascribe it to Jean Sans Peur (1371-1419), otherwise known as Ganbrivius. A corruption of either name may plausibly be shown to have resulted in the present name of the King of Beer, viz., Gambrinus, who we are accustomed to see represented in the habit of a knight of the middle-ages, with the occasional addition of a crown. Popular imagination, it seems, attached such great importance to beer, that in according the honor of its invention, it could not be satisfied with anything less than a king."

The webpage also includes "The Legend of King Gambrinus":

The Legend of King Gambrinus

It is Gambrinus who created beer, and we will tell you how he did that and how he became King. Gambrinus was a poor novice glassmaker from a little town in Flanders, Fresne sur l'Escaut. With his wonderful pink cheeks, his blond hair and blond beard, he was the most beautiful boy in the town (and he had a lot of success with the girls). In his work Gambrinus prepared glass for his master, who had the skill and the exclusive right to blow the glass into different forms. Everything could have been very simple for him, but he fell in love with Flandrine, his master's daughter.

At last, Gambrinus told Flandrine about his feelings. As proud as she was pretty, Flandrine wanted to marry a master like her father, grandfather or even her great-grandfather. But in these times the glassmakers, noble from birth, taught their art only to their sons, so Gambrinus had no hope of becoming a master.

The girl refused Gambrinus so strongly that he decided to leave the glassworks to learn how to play violin and to become a poet. He was so skilled that he quickly became one of the best in the region. Everybody called him in order to liven up weddings, birthdays and other parties.

People from Fresne were amazed at all the things they heard about Gambrinus and they asked him to play for them. When Gambrinus began to play, all the people started to dance and sing. When Gambrinus saw Flandrine enter the room he began to tremble, and he played so badly that the people were annoyed, and they began kicking him and shouting at him.

Gambrinus was arrested and spent one month in jail for disturbing the peace. When he was freed, he decided to kill himself in order to forget Flandrine. He went to the forest, and was preparing to hang himself when the devil appeared. As usual, the devil proposed a deal to Gambrinus: if Gambrinus couldn't earn Flandrine's love, the devil would allow Gambrinus to forget her, in return for possession of his soul for 30 years.

Gambrinus accepted the deal and his love for Flandrine was replaced by a passion for games. He played again and again at every kind of game. He was very skilled and very lucky, whatever game he played. He rapidly became very rich, but he still had longings for Flandrine. He began to think that since he was now rich like a prince, Flandrine might change her mind.

Flandrine's refusal was as clear as the first time - Gambrinus wasn't a noble, he was born as a boy, he will stay a boy for life.

Gambrinus returned to the forest in order to finish what the devil had stopped and he met him for the second time. Gambrinus told the devil him that he wasn't living up to his side of the deal, because he was still in love with Flandrine. Suddenly a field appeared in front of him, long lines of poles were raised and in a while they were covered by green plants, strongly perfumed. "It is hops," said the devil, "and the two houses you see there are a hophouse and a brewery. Come on, I will teach you how to make beer, the Flanders' wine, which will help you forget Flandrine."

Gambrinus learned how to make beer (not without tasting it and finding it delicious). Then he asked how he could take revenge against the people of this town who kicked him, sent him to jail and broke his violin. The devil proposed to him an instrument which nobody could resist and he taught him how to make and play chimes.

Back home, Gambrinus planted the precious seeds given by Beelzebub, and made beer and chimes. One morning he set up tables, chairs, barrels and chimes on the main square of the town and he invited all the people to join him in order to taste his beer. When the the townspeople tasted this new drink, sometimes brown or lager, the said "it is bitter", "it is strong", and there were a lot of complaints everywhere. People were laughing and joking about Gambrinus when he started to play chimes, and suddenly all the people started to dance. After an hour they wanted Gambrinus to stop, but instead he played on for hours. At last he stopped, thinking that he had his revenge, and the thirsty revelers began to drink his brew.

They quickly changed their minds, and decided that this beer was the best drink they had ever drunk. His success spread far and wide. Everywhere he planted hops, brewed beer and played chimes. The Flanders King, in order to thank him, offered to make Gambrinus duke, count and lord, but Gambrinus preferred the title of King of Beer, as he was known by the residents of Fresne.

When Flandrine understood that Gambrinus would never come to her again she came to talk to him, but Gambrinus didn't recognize her, and offered her some beer to drink. He had forgotten her.

Gambrinus lived happily with his subjects for 30 years, when the devil came again. But instead of following him, Gambrinus started to play chimes and the devil began to dance. Gambrinus played on and on, and the devil couldn't stop dancing, so that finally the devil begged him to stop and agreed to break the deal.

After that Gambrinus lived happily playing chimes and making beer. When he died, we found at his place a beer barrel, and that is why he doesn't have a tombstone.


I think it's pretty neat. You just don't have such wonderful tales about beverages these days. There are no statues of Dietrich Mateschitz to be found around nor is his likeness found on glasses.

King Gambrinus is dead! Long live the King!
|| Palmer, 9:57 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Word of the Week

This week I go off on a tangent as well as giving you a word.

Hogmanay - (hŏg-mƏ-nā) n. Scots The eve of New Year's Day.

Along with this goes the tradition of the "first-footer". From Snopes:

The first person to enter your home after the stroke of midnight will influence the year you're about to have. Ideally, he should be dark-haired, tall, and good-looking, and it would be even better if he came bearing certain small gifts such as a lump of coal, a silver coin, a bit of bread, a sprig of evergreen, and some salt. Blonde and redhead first footers bring bad luck, and female first footers should be shooed away before they bring disaster down on the household. Aim a gun at them if you have to, but don't let them near your door before a man crosses the threshold.

The first footer (sometimes called the "Lucky Bird") should knock and be let in rather than unceremoniously use a key, even if he is one of the householders. After greeting those in the house and dropping off whatever small tokens of luck he has brought with him, he should make his way through the house and leave by a different door than the one through which he entered. No one should leave the premises before the first footer arrives — the first traffic across the threshold must be headed in rather than striking out.

First footers must not be cross-eyed or have flat feet or eyebrows that meet in the middle.
|| Palmer, 9:14 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

27 December, 2005

Brews of the Season (Part 2)

I reported yesterday on some tasty brews from the Madison area to help keep the cold of winter at bay. Today I want to look east towards the Milwaukee area for some suds.

A short drive east of Madison on I-94 lies Lake Mills and the Tyranena Brewing Company.



They are offering their Shantytown Doppelbock this winter. While I've never had it, I can vouch for the high tastiness quotient of a few of their other beers as well as for the ability of a German strong doppelbock to chase the chill of winter away.

In the western burbs of Milwaukee is the Sprecher brweery which has long been a favorite brewery of mine.



It should be no problem finding a 4-pack of their Winter Brew. As with Tyranena's seasonal, I am loathe to admit that I don't think I've ever had Sprecher's Winter Brew. Considering the vast quantities of their Amber that I've consumed, I find this odd. Still, I'd give this stuff a go as I've never had a beer from the folks at Sprecher that I didn't like.

In Milwaukee proper there's the Lakefront Brewery who are pushing their Holiday Spice lager.



It's brewed with honey, oranges, and spices. And by "spices" I presume they mean nutmeg, coriander, etc. Personally, I can only handle one of these kinds of spiced beers. Some just plain have too much spice which maskes the flavor of the beery goodness. But others have more balanced tastes. It's not that I don't like such brews, it's merely that I can only handle such stuff in smaller amounts.

Again, I am ashamed to admit that I've never quaffed this stuff. Then again, I have drank their Bimetallic. Six or seven years ago, my blue-faced drunken Finnish friend, Kias, came over to my place bearing a sixer of the stuff. It turned out to be a very, very potent spiced beer which was tasty. I will also admit that I drank more than one bottle. More like my share of three bottles. The story I was told is thus: The owner of Lakefront is friends with the owner of an auto body shop in Fort Atkinson or Whitewater or some town in that area. The Lakefront guy brewed a batch of special holiday spiced beer and gave the bottles to the owner of the body shop to give to his employees as a holiday gift. Luckily for me, Kias knew the owner of the body shop or one of its employees and got his grubby hands on the stuff. As I said, it was very tasty and so, if the Holiday Spice is anywhere near as good as the Bimetallic, then I can give it a thumbs up.

On a side note...To the southwest of Milwaukee is Burlington which is home to the Aeppletreow Winery. In addition to selling a variety of apple & pear wines, they also offer various hard ciders, long known for their ability to keep folks warm during the winter. I see that they also have cyser.
|| Palmer, 6:34 PM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

On the Gramophone

Back in 1974, a group of dedicated music geeks - er, buffs - at the Library of Congress recreated a typical brass band concert c.1850. Check out a sample of the performance in the form of "Indiana Polka".

(More from the concert can be found here.)
|| Palmer, 11:46 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

26 December, 2005

Brews of the Season

Core Weekly, a local weekly rag devoted to college kids and hipsters in their 20s, recently ran a piece on seasonal beers. The article was notable, to me, for the paucity of brews mentioned that are made here in Wisconsin. Well over half the population of this state claims some German ancentry and the quaffing of suds has transcended any ethnic associations to become part of the state's culture. If a town, no matter how small, is incorporated in this state, it has some kind of festival and these festivals all feature beer tents. The first thing one does when going to such an event is to find the beer tent and down some social lubricant before braving the crowds. And any cluster of buildings, whether it's a town or not, will have at least one tavern among them, even if there is no church. Although winter officially started only a few days ago and, despite global warming, it's been a snowy and chilly December. For centuries, the people of Northern Europe have hunkered down next to the fire during the long winter months with a potent potable to fend off the cold that rages outside. The descendants of those folks here in Wisconsin continue this tradition today. Unlike the author of the Core Weekly piece, I find no need to look beyond the borders of our fair state, much less the United States, for a fine brew to take the edge off the chilly weather. In fact, I would prefer to support the brewers in my community and my state, generally. In addition, beer is meant to be consumed fresh unlike wine which gets better with age. (Except barley wine, of course.)

In an age when our homes are littered with mass-produced crap made in China, I would urge my fellow Wisconsonians to seek quality beers made by people for whom brewing is a craft, not another division in a mega-corporation. Or to at the least, support the people who work at the larger breweries here in our state. And so I want to counter the Core Weekly's article by pointing out some locally brewed suds of the season.

Firstly, I want to start off with a favorite of mine - the barley wine from New Glarus Brewing. I've consumed some of this already but also have a 6-pack aging in my basement. This stuff is gooooood. Sweet and potent, just like me.

Unlike Core Weekly, I really like Capital Brewery's Winter Skål.



It's got a great combo of malty and hoppy goodness.

The Huber Brewery in Monroe (a bit south of Madtown), offers their Hazelnut Winter Ale.



I guess you'd consider Huber to be more of a regional brewery than a microbrewery but, still, their beer is pretty tasty and a far cry from Budweiser.

Also to the south of Madison is Gray's Brewing Company in Janesville. Their webpage is silent on the matter of a winter seasonal, but I assume their Winter Porter is available.



Madison is down to two brewpubs - well, three technically, but the Great Dane has two locations. (A third, the Ale Asylum, is to open in February.) The aforementioned Great Dane is now serving their Merry Isthmus Holiday Ale while on the west side of town J.T. Whitney's is offering Mad Badger Barley Wine.

On a related note: I mentioned earlier this year that Fauerbach beer is available again. The brewery was here in town and closed in 1966 or '67. And while the brewery did not re-open, the beer is being brewed under contract. (By Gray's.) While only their lager is available right now and only on tap, this will change in less than a week when they introduce their amber in bottles.

|| Palmer, 9:49 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

R.I.P. - Inventor of Light Beer

Joseph L. Owades died at the age of 86 a few days ago. Owades was a fermentation scientist and will always be remembered for inventing light beer. Personally, I wish light beer would have died with him but no such luck. While light beer will be his epitaph, he also made positive contributions to the beer world such as Samuel Adams and Pete's Wicked Ale. So, let's try to forget his mistake and instead celebrate the great contributions he made to brewing.
|| Palmer, 8:56 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

23 December, 2005

Cookin' Polish

I made dinner last night for Becca, Stevie, and The Dulcinea. I prepared pheasant for the first time ever. In fact, it would be the first time that I'd eat pheasant. Truth be told, I believe it was the first time for all of us. And so, to lose my pheasant virginity, I chose a Polish recipe - ba?ant duszony w miodzie or Pheasant Stewed in Mead. To go along with the bird, I made placki kartoflane z boczkiem - Potato Pancakes With Bacon. Here's some pictures.

Firstly, this is a pic of me mashing up some coarse sea salt and cubebs for my Cormarye. I had it on my camera when I offloaded everything and figured it kinda sorta fit.



Now, on to the meal at hand...The first thing I did was wash the pheasant and liberally apply salt & pepper. I threw it in my cast iron pot hoolie and proceeded to pour a quarter pound of melted butter on it. (Notice the tasty sweet mead.)



Next I added seasoning (including cubebs) and vegetables, including a whole lotta onion, and then the mead...



As it cooked, The Dulcinea came over. Between bouts of hugging & face-sucking, we took in the wonderful aroma of the feast. It smelled delicious! When it was done, it looked like this:



I pulled the bird out of the kettle and cut it up into pieces. Before doing this, however, I added sour cream to the drippings and let that simmer. Once the pheasant was in pieces, I added them to the gravy and let that simmer.



While the meat was simmering, I prepared the potato pancakes. I had cleaned about a million red potatoes that were about 1" in diameter and shredded them by hand. This means that bits of my knuckles no doubt found their way into the batter. With the spuds shredded, I let them drain and fried up some bacon!



With that done, I threw the tender bits of porky goodness into the batter. To fry them, I gave the pan a liberal dose of bacon fat which was bolstered by shortening.



When all was done, I served it up with some pumpernickel bread and blackberry applesauce. It looked something like this:



Just before we all sat down to feast, I grabbed a bit of the pheasant and popped it into my mouth. The tender flesh just melted in mouth and my tongue was coated in a near-miraculous mix of flavors. There was the taste of the pheasant itself with a strong onion taste which was bolstered by undertones of honey and bay. The butter and sour cream made it very rich. We sat down by the fire and attacked our plates. The potato pancakes were just incredible, if I do say so myself. I mean, how can you not like bacon?! For her part, The Dulcinea was as impressed as I. Her reaction:

"It was, bar none, the best meal I've had in a long, long time. More than a month. More than two, probably. Maybe the most exquisite of the year."

Stevie and Becca too were impressed. They were a bit hesitant, at first, as, while they'd never had pheasant previously, they did have duck and grouse and were none too impressed. Needless to say, after one bite, they took to the pheasant like a junkie to the needle and left the bones picked clean.
|| Palmer, 6:43 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

IMAX in Madtown

The IMAX theatre that was recently built at Star Cinemas is almost ready for business.

Madison, WI - Moviegoers will have the opportunity to take a 3D journey through space to visit the world's first space station with Space Station: 3D and further immerse themselves in the adventure of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when both films open at the Star Cinema IMAX during the last week of December. Construction at the Star Cinema includes the addition of an IMAX theatre and three additional stadium-style seating auditoriums. After completion of the addition, the theatre will feature 18 screens for moviegoers. Grand opening of the addition is slotted for the last week of December 2005.

I'm thinking Hermione on the IMAX would be, in the words of ex-con Martha Stewart, a good thing. And I'm sure The Dulcinea would replace "Hermione" with "Ron" in the above sentence. Ergo, we'll be going to see HP.
|| Palmer, 1:31 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Besides Being a Frothy Mixture...

...of lube & fecal matter, Santorum is also a flip-flopper. To wit:

Early this year, Sen. Rick Santorum commended the Dover Area School District for "attempting to teach the controversy of evolution."

But one day after a federal judge ruled that the district's policy on intelligent design was unconstitutional, Santorum said he was troubled by court testimony that showed some board members were motivated by religion in adopting the policy.

And, he said in an interview, he disagreed with the board for mandating the teaching of intelligent design, rather than just the controversy surrounding evolution.

Santorum - who sits on the advisory board of the Thomas More Law Center, which defended the school board in court - said the case offered "a bad set of facts" to test the concept that theories other than evolution should be taught in science classrooms.

"I thought the Thomas More Law Center made a huge mistake in taking this case and in pushing this case to the extent they did," Santorum said.

He said he intends to withdraw his affiliation with the Michigan-based public-interest law firm that promotes Christian values.


Give me a break. This is just Santorum being a rat bailing from a sinking ship. As basically every biologist in the known universe will tell you, there is no controversy about whether evolution is true or not; the controversy is exactly how evolution works. Santorum is just trying to save face so that he maintain some credibility when tries to inject his hate-spewing version of religion into the public arena again. If ID had been allowed to be taught in Dover, you can bet your sweet ass that he'd have no objection. You wouldn't see him running around saying that people are evil because they are teaching ID instead of some "controversy".
|| Palmer, 9:20 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Friday Skin

|| Palmer, 8:00 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

22 December, 2005

American Life in Poetry: Column 016

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

There are thousands upon thousands of poems about love, many of them using predictable words, predictable rhymes. Ho-hum. But here the Illinois poet Lisel Mueller talks about love in a totally fresh and new way, in terms of table salt.

Love Like Salt

It lies in our hands in crystals
too intricate to decipher

It goes into the skillet
without being given a second thought

It spills on the floor so fine
we step all over it

We carry a pinch behind each eyeball

It breaks out on our foreheads

We store it inside our bodies
in secret wineskins

At supper, we pass it around the table
talking of holidays and the sea.

Reprinted from "Alive Together: New and Selected Poems" (LSU Press, 1996) by permission of the author. Poem copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
|| Palmer, 6:35 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

21 December, 2005

Photoshopping Your Way to Beauty

Here's an interesting tidbit that I found via Feministe. It's a tutorial on how the photos of women for magazine covers are airbrushed to make them look like blow-up dolls.
|| Palmer, 7:02 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The Roots of Wicca

There is a good article up at Slate today entitled "Witches’ Brew at Winter Solstice". The author is critical of the Wiccan religion for its reliance on false history.

But in reaching for a usable past, Wiccans trumpet numerous other historical claims that are entirely without merit. The central claim that Wicca is descended from pre-Christian cultures and that it was driven underground by violent Christians was popularized by the writer Starhawk, whose 1979 book The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess is a foundational text for contemporary Wiccans. Starhawk based her teachings on the work of, among others, Marija Gimbutas, a UCLA anthropologist who in the 1970s and 1980s argued that in pre-Christian times there existed a unified, female-centered, Indo-European society that worshipped a Goddess.

Recent scholars, however, have shown that there was no prehistoric Goddess-centered matriarchy. They've also concluded that the Celts probably did not celebrate eight seasonal sabbats, and, alas, that contemporary Wicca was invented in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner, an English civil servant with a deep interest in the 19th-century occult. One can read the brutal truth about all of these debunked theories in a fine article by Charlotte Allen in the Atlantic Monthly (available to subscribers only) and in The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, a superb book by Cynthia Eller.


The conclusion to the piece is perhaps the most important part:

Chastened by the attacks on their bad historiography, Wiccans are growing more likely to say that their faith is based on a love of Wiccan practices, rather than on particular historical claims. It's a heartening development when religious belief isn't dependent on the latest archaeological findings. Wiccans might no longer have to sacrifice intellectual rigor to get their spiritual sustenance.

I started exploring Wicca/neo-paganism around 1997 and, while I don’t consider myself a Wiccan or a pagan, I do find that I have many viewpoints in common with the folks I’ve met along the way. People who held that pre-historical societies were matriarchal and those that dragged the supernatural (spells, reincarnation, auras, et al) into the equation always bugged me. When it comes right down to it, the core beliefs of paganism don’t require there to have been matriarchal societies nor do they require people to have auras or for crystals and candles to have any “magical” properties. From my reading and experiences with folks who identify themselves as pagans or Wiccans, the kernel of their beliefs is simple: it’s all about being in awe of the life around us and its cyclical nature. It’s about holding these things sacred. People are born, grow up, grow old, and then die. Trees sprout leaves in the summer and then they whither and are shed at autumn. One needn’t really believe there is a fairy or a spirit that is the Green Man to appreciate or to revere the return of life in the spring. All of the supernatural stuff I mentioned above – the auras, spells, and the like – they're all symbolic lagniappe. The heart of the matter for pagans is about being able to stand next to a tree and realize that, like every human being, the tree's life started, will go on for a bit, and then it will whither and die. The same goes for your pet cat, your great aunt's parrot, bacteria, and those weird tubeworms that live at the bottom of the ocean. Everything. And when life ends, that wonderful cyclical process we call Mother Nature will sweep up those mortal coils and reuse them in the creation of new life. Everyday we eat dead plants and animals to sustain our lives and to create new ones. Leaves die and fall off of trees. We compost them to make fertilizer so that we can have life spring anew in our gardens in the forms of tasty strawberries and onions and jalapeno peppers, etc. To quote Neil from The Young Ones, "We sow the seeds, nature grows the seeds, and, like, we eat the seeds." It is this interconnectedness of life and its cyclical nature that, to me, is at the heart of paganism and Wicca.

The one point that I take issue with in the Slate article is this:

Religions tend to succeed to the extent that they are not subject to tests of proof. They are based on beliefs in invisible deities and on mystical experiences that can't be explained by one person to another but must be experienced for oneself.

While I don't dispute the tendency mentioned, I think that Wicca, as a religion, is not based on the irrational belief in an invisible deity as is, say, Christianity. Divinity is not revealed to pagans, it is immanent. The cycle of life is within each person and all around us. The mystical isn't to be experienced by the believers via a special liturgy; they're to happen whenever one looks at the world around him- or herself. Wicca is based on a view of the natural world and not on the existence of an invisible deity. And so predicting the success of Wicca might best be gauged by looking at religions with a similar premise.
|| Palmer, 6:30 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Coming Soon

There's a slue of new movie trailers of interest out on the Net right now.

First and most interesting is the one for Rescue Dawn. It's directed by the Conquistador of the Useless himself, Werner Herzog. It stars Christian Bale as a US fighter pilot during the Vietnam War who is shot down in Laos and must stuggle to survive. Perfect fodder for Herzog's mania over people being pushed to extremes who fall prey to their own manias.

Next we have the trailer for perhaps the only person in Hollywood who refuses to admit the Holocaust happened, Mel Gibson. Even if his views offend you, as they do me, watch the trailer anyway because it looks to be one gorgeous film.

Next we have a film that's destined to be a box-office smash, The Da Vinci Code. It looks to be a fun romp.

There is also a new trailer for V For Vendetta. While there's no doubt that Alan Moore will hate it and emerge from his hermetic existence to lambaste the film, it could prove to be a fun watch for folks who can refrain from comparing it to the graphic novel. As long as we're on the topic of Hollywood ruining Moore's material, it looks like Watchmen may still have a pulse.
|| Palmer, 3:57 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The New Woman in My Life

This is Maddie!





Isn't she just adorable?! Maddie is The Dulcinea's new putty tat. It's just so cute when she tries to meow but nothing comes out of her mouth and it's great fun to grab a bit of felt and watch her chase it around. She likes to lick my nose with her sandpaper tongue and interrupt our more intimate moments by squeezing herself between us and poking her face up to ours. I suppose I'll have to buy her a Christmas gift. But what do you get a kitten?
|| Palmer, 9:58 AM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

Chewie Sings

Ed has been struggling to record the music at Chewbacca Sings! for over 10 minutes now. Chewie's voice is echoing throughout the whole room...
|| Palmer, 9:29 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Goodbye, Firefly

Entertainment Weekly is reporting that the end of Firefly is nigh. Serenity didn't do well at the box office so it's time for the series' creator, Joss Whedon, to move on.

Alas, Whedon's fond memories are also tainted by Serenity's status as a franchise nonstarter; despite Universal's best marketing efforts, the film only mustered $25 million. "In the end, it was what it was: a tough sell," says Whedon, adding that it appears the Firefly saga has reached its conclusion. He has no regrets — and he's moving on.
|| Palmer, 7:08 AM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

Word of the Week

I chose this week's word as it shares the same root as "Cthulhu" thusly making it vaguely Lovecraftian.

autochthonous (oh-'tock-thun-'us) adj.1: indigenous; native. 2: formed or originating in the place where found.
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Happy Solstice!



Happy Solstice! Today is the darkest of the year and so we only get more daylight in the days and weeks to come. To celebrate, here's a little cartoon video for Jethro Tull's "Ring Out Solstice Bells" from their Songs From the Wood album.

Ring Out Solstice Bells (Quicktime) (Courtesy of Laufi)
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20 December, 2005

Kibosh Put On Rothschild Speech

Progressive editor Matthew Rothschild was recently told that his invititation to give a brief speech to some local high school kids had been rescinded. He relayed the incident in an e-mail to subscribers to The Progressive's e-mail newsletter:

Dear Friend:

Get ready for some irony.

I was supposed to give a ten-minute speech to a local high school class at a nearby theater, right before the students were going to see the movie on McCarthyism "Good Night and Good Luck."

But just two days before, I was notified by the teacher who had invited me that the principal had cancelled my talk! The principal had "demanded to know where you fell on the political spectrum," the mortified teacher told me.

So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut says.


Any locals know from which high school the principal hails?
|| Palmer, 9:13 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Evolution, etc.

Let me begin by pointing out that there's a new interview with Richard Dawkins up at Beliefnet. It's rather short but quite a good read. Perhaps the best aspect of the piece is just how upbeat Dawkins is, how positive he is.

The universe doesn’t owe us condolence or consolation; it doesn’t owe us a nice warm feeling inside. If it’s true, it’s true, and you'd better live with it.

However, I don’t think it should make one feel depressed. I don’t feel depressed. I feel elated. My book, "Unweaving the Rainbow," is an attempt to elevate science to the level of poetry and to show how one can be—in a funny sort of way—rather spiritual about science. Not in a supernatural sense, but there are uplifting mysteries to be solved. The contemplation of the size and scale of the universe, of the depth of geological time, of the complexity of life--these all, to me, have an inspirational quality. It makes my life worthwhile to study them.


Beautiful. There are more things that give life meaning than just the fear of spending eternity in a lake of fire.

There was some big news today: the court ruled against the Intelligent Designers in Dover, PA. Subscribers to Skeptic magazine's electronic newsletter, eSkeptic, were given a report by Burt Humburg and Ed Brayton. It features a brief yet very revealing account of the tria, giving details that go beyond the oft-reported testimony of ID proponent, Michael Behe. Here's the ruling as handed down by Judge John Jones III:

The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs’ rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants’ actions.

Defendants’ actions in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ services and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

John E. Jones III
United States District Judge


ID proponents like to make out their ideas to be a-religious. The article reports how the lawyers for the plaintiffs (those trying to rid the school system of ID) went about showing that ID is merely creationism (i.e. - religion) gussied up in "scientific" garb. They did so by investigating the history of the ID textbook, Pandas and People:

In the early part of July, the attorneys received the documents that FTE produced in response to that subpoena. They could not possibly have imagined in advance the bounty they would find in that batch of documents. It turns out that there was not one early draft of Pandas but several, and they had kept copies of all of them. The first was called Creation Biology (1983), followed by Biology and Creation (1986), Biology and Origins (early 1987), and two drafts with the final title Of Pandas and People, both from 1987. The final version was published in 1989, with a revised edition released in 1993. Not only did the early drafts use various cognates of clearly creationist language — creation science, creation, creationist, etc. — rather than “intelligent design,” they also used the very same definitions for both, with only the change in the word being defined.

While all of this is great news, the war isn't over. ID is not dead. No doubt many Christians will throw this in their I-am-a-victim kit bag along with the non-existent "war on Christmas". Christianity is the only religion given a federal holiday. Our government doesn't recognize any Jewish or Muslim holidays. No one is given an equinox or solstice off from work. I really want Jerry Falwell and the folks at Faux News to know that there is no conspiracy to keep anyone from celebrating Christmas and to quit pretending you are victims of some vast conspiracy. But it's happened before and I'm sure it'll happen again. As Robert Parry points out:

Historically, the world has seen this phenomenon many times, for instance, when Christians in Europe convinced themselves that they were at the mercy of cunning Jews. Many of the continent’s anti-Jewish pogroms were conducted by Christians convinced that they were simply defending their way of life, that they were the real victims.

If anyone is interested in hearing a debate between Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine and William Dembski, a pro-ID fellow, point your browser here.
|| Palmer, 8:02 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

On the Gramophone

This week I suggest everyone go to my podcast and grab my holiday show. Go HERE.
|| Palmer, 6:10 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

19 December, 2005

Atheist Manifesto

Sam Harris recently posted "An Atheist Manifesto" up at Truthdig. Here's a snippet:

As Hurricane Katrina was devouring New Orleans, nearly a thousand Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death on a bridge in Iraq. There can be no doubt that these pilgrims believed mightily in the God of the Koran: Their lives were organized around the indisputable fact of his existence; their women walked veiled before him; their men regularly murdered one another over rival interpretations of his word. It would be remarkable if a single survivor of this tragedy lost his faith. More likely, the survivors imagine that they were spared through God’s grace.

Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is--and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.

One wonders just how vast and gratuitous a catastrophe would have to be to shake the world’s faith. The Holocaust did not do it. Neither did the genocide in Rwanda, even with machete-wielding priests among the perpetrators. Five hundred million people died of smallpox in the 20th Century, many of them infants. God’s ways are, indeed, inscrutable. It seems that any fact, no matter how infelicitous, can be rendered compatible with religious faith. In matters of faith, we have kicked ourselves loose of the Earth.


Perhaps his best moment comes when he refutes claims by religious folk that atheism is evil too by virtue of Nazi Germany and their secular ilk:

Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields are not examples of what happens when people become too critical of unjustified beliefs; to the contrary, these horrors testify to the dangers of not thinking critically enough about specific secular ideologies. Needless to say, a rational argument against religious faith is not an argument for the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma. The problem that the atheist exposes is none other than the problem of dogma itself--of which every religion has more than its fair share. There is no society in recorded history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable. (emphasis mine)

Every time I hear a Christian respond to an atheist's claims that the Christian religion has begat many an evil, they inevitably refer to Nazi Germany. While Harris' statement above adresses part of the issue, it doesn't address the fact that such a rebuttal by a Christian does nothing to disprove or negate the fact that Christian, and indeed people of most religions, have committed some of the most heinous acts in the name of their deity. To point out the Nazis is to avoid addressing the accusation.

One of Harris' speeches was recently carried on BookTV so, if you missed it like I did, then look for a repeat broadcast.

And while I'm on the topics of atheism, evolution, and BookTV, entomologist Edward O. Wilson was also on BookTV last weekend and his presentation is available to watch online here.
|| Palmer, 7:25 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Like a Red-Headed Stepchild

Professor Paul Mirecki of Kansas University claims he was beaten earlier this month by anonymous assailants. Mirecki, a professor of theology, was going to teach a course about "Intelligent Design" as mythology. Then some e-mails disparaging of certain Christians surfaced and he resigned his post. And then he was beaten. I haven't heard anything about the incident since it occurred earlier this month and a cursory search of the Net found no updates. So, while it could have been a purely random incident or not related to his views at all, I suspect not as it happened on a rural road and he was in the media quite often. No, I'm thinking it was a couple of Christian good ol' boys who were so offended that they forgot to turn the other cheek.

An assessment can be found at Evolving Thoughts.
|| Palmer, 7:11 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Wisconsin Science Standards Suck

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation recently released the results of a study called "The State of State Science Standards 2005". The press release states:

The State of State Science Standards 2005—the first comprehensive study of science academic standards conducted since 2000—appraised the quality of each state's K-12 science standards as they are rushing to meet the No Child Left Behind Act's mandate for testing in this critical subject. The results are mixed.

Fifteen states flunked, and another seven earned "D" grades. Nine states and the District of Columbia merited only a mediocre "C." One-quarter of low-scoring states dropped by two letter grades since Fordham last reviewed science standards in 2000. The remaining nineteen states earned grades of "A" or "B," and of these, eight (or almost half) showed marked improvement over the past five years.


I'm none too pleased to report that our fair state of Wisconsin received a big fat F.

The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards announce confidently that they "set clear and specific goals for teaching and learning." That was not the judgment of our review. They are, in fact, generally vague and nonspecific, very heavy in process, and so light in science discipline content as to render them nearly useless—at least as a response to problems for which state learning standards are supposed to be a remedy.

"Science,"we are told in the Standards, "follows a generally accepted set of rules."Would that we were told what those rules were! More to the point, would that the teachers making lessons, curricula, and tests were given real guidance on those putative rules of science and the degree to which they differ, if they do, from "accepted sets of rules" in other human occupations. Grade: "F."


Here we are trying to regain the world lead in stem cell research and we're not even concerned with trying to train those among us to take the reins. But we're not at the bottom. Kansas' C grade was demoted to an F-, no doubt due to their rejection of evolution.
|| Palmer, 6:49 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Prandial Delights

Until yesterday afternoon, I hadn't cooked a meal beyond making a sandwich nor been grocery shopping in about a month and a half. And so it was with glee that I went to the store. While there, I ran into Marv and invited him over for dinner. To celebrate the end of life on the road, I cooked up Cormarye. Cormarye is a medieval pork roast. Here's the recipe from the 14th century:

Take colyaundre, caraway smale grounden, powdour of peper and garlec ygrounde, in rede wyne; medle alle þise togyder and salt it. Take loynes of pork rawe and fle of the skyn, and pryk it wel with a knyf and lay it in the sawse. Roost it whan þou wilt, & kepe þat þat fallith þerfro in the rostyng and seeþ it in a possynet with faire broth, & serue it forth wiþ þe roost anoon.

It's basically like a roast anyone today would make but the big difference is that coriander is used. The recipe called for red wine so I used up a couple open bottles that were lying around - a California merlot & some Wisconsin cranberry wine. It turned out quite well and was very tasty. To go along with it, I roasted some potatoes. I improvised and came up with seasoning for them which had me mashing up cubebs and some super-funky Slavic sea salt that was very coarse in my mortar & pestle. And I also cooked up some peas that were in the freezer. To drink, we had Botham Uplands Reserve, a local vintage. It had a pleasant fruity taste which took the edge off the dryness which I appreciated as I'm not a big fan of dry wines. For dessert I had bought some Zanzibar Chocolate ice cream. This stuff is dope! It's made with not one, not two but three (3) African cocoas and is super rich and creamy and addictive like crack. As some folks may recall, I brandied some cherries this past summer so I busted out a pint of those to put on the luscious chocolately goodness. It was the first time I'd ever preserved fruit in booze and, while they turned out alright, I didn't use enough sugar so they've give the tongue a kick. I would lap up a good portion of the ice cream with the spoon and then grab a piece of cherry. Eating it was like biting into one of those cherry cordial candy hoolies. You get a rush of creamy African chocolately goodness which segues into a sharp brandy-cherry burst. Mmm-mmm good! To finish things off, I busted out the bottle of traditional brackett (or braggot) that I'd bought at the White Winter Winery up north. It was extremely delicious! You taste the maltiness of the beer first and then the honey underneath. It wasn't very sweet. Indeed, the I found the flavors to be well balanced. When the bottle was empty, I found myself wanting more. I am not sure if anyone in town carries White Winter's brackett or any brackett for that matter but I shall have to look.

Later this week I'm planning on making lasagne with the pasta being made from scratch as well as stewing a pheasant in mead. The pheasant will probably be for the holiday dinner that Stevie, Becca, and I will be having on Friday. We shall see how that turns out as I've never cooked pheasant previously.
|| Palmer, 2:07 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

18 December, 2005

In the Great Northwoods

I've recently spent a few weeks up north on business, as regular readers know. I took precious few pictures but here's a smattering.

I spent last week in Hayward and Brule. As I bitched about previously, my hotel room in Hayward was like a sauna.



I spent several summers near Hayward as a kid and we would trek into town occasionally. I recall the many times I stood on Main Street in front of Tremblay's Sweet Shop staring into the window as a confectioner made fudge. There was likely a puddle of drool at my feet when I was dragged away by my mom. Unfortunately I never got around to checking out the shop while I was there. I did, however, check out some taverns. The first night we were there, we headed to the Old Hayward Eatery & Brewpub. The restaurant was closed so we only stayed for one brew. I had their porter and found it to be quite tasty. I spent Wednesday night alone as my cohorts had taken off to Brule while I stayed in Hayward an extra night to finish off one computer. I went to The Angry Minnow and had the best food of the whole trip - a grilled hunk of pork loin. I also had a pint of their stout which was also excellent. While there, I had the chance to talk to a local who had stopped in for a brew before heading home. He'd been out all night riding his bicycle and was raving about how nice the trails were. The place itself was beautiful. It had been the headquarters for a lumber company and had huge vaulted ceilings and a gorgeous wooden interior. It being lumber country, every building's interior is lined with wood.

On Thursday I finished off the last PC at the Hayward office after a protracted bit of troubleshooting and then drove to Brule in a snowstorm. The first third of the stretch of Highway 27 was in dire need of plowing and so it was a bit perilous. Had I ditched the car, I'd have been fucked as there was no cell reception in the middle of the forest. But the road got much better after I got out of Sawyer county. I made it to the Brule DNR office and was there for an hour before heading back to the hotel.

The next day provided some time to take some snaps. Pulling into the parking lot, I noticed a logging sled which I presume was meant to show how things were done back in the day.



Here's the DNR office itself.



Now, here we have the Bates Motel-like lobby of the office:



While waiting for data to be copied, I found the time to head out for a walk. I started by just stepping outside and walking 10 yards to the edge of the hill and saw this:



That's the Bois Brule. Wanting to get a closer look, I treked down the hill to the shore.



My next stop was the canoe landing/picnic site just down the road. So I started walking.



The road to the landing had a layer of fresh snow on it - I was the first to travel down it in a couple days outside of the local fauna.





When I turned around to head back, I found that the sun had come out.



Back on the main road, I found a hiking trail that led up a hill.



No snowmobiles had gone up the trail all day. It was .7 miles to a lookout point but I just didn't have time to make the hike. But I wanted to go up a little ways. As I was walking, I heard a loud wooshing sound all around me. Looking up I saw what I think was a hawk. It was just so quiet and still that I could hear everything clearly. Further up the trail, I ran into a couple birds which were chasing each other. They were about teh size of a robin but with light brown feathers and black heads & tails. While they landed very close to me, they never stood still for more than a second so I couldn't get a decent picture.

I got back to the office and got back to work on a laptop. The user was in the forestry bureau and and had a funky GPS hoolie. While I'd installed the software for one many a time, I'd never actually seen the unit itself. So I picked it up out of its charger and turned it on. I chuckled when I saw that the display read that it couldn't track where I was as there were not enough satellites. I was truly in the middle of nowhere.

This was not a whole lot different than our hotel which was in Iron River, 8 miles east of Brule. We got to our hotel well after dark during a fairly light but persisent snowfall. There was a restaurant and bar right next door and Dan and I headed there for dinner. We found the restaurant closed and the bar had only the couple who owned the place, their sons, and one of their mother-in-laws. The menu there was not extensive and they were out of fries so I had nachos. This was the meal most like homemade of the whole trip - if your home is a college dorm. On the other hand, I did have some Cream Ale from the South Shore Brewery in Ashland. I dunno what was in it but it was fantastic! It had a wonderfully aromatic taste - kind of jasminey - and helped me pass the cold, snowy night. After dinner, Dan and I headed across the street to the C-Store to grab some late night snacks. We found that, unlike most gas stations, there weren't many snacks to be had. Of the 5 aisles, 3 were dedicated to booze and, of the 8 coolers, half were lined with beer. The joint also had a magazine rack that had nothing but skin mags. The bottom shelf had the truck driver specials - a pack of 3 magazines for $9.99. And they were all from last year.

Since it was to be my last week with the DNR, I took some time out on Thursday to get some souvenirs. I grabbed a couple complete sets of the Wisconsin Wildlife cards - one for me and one for The Dulcinea's kids. The receptionist saw me and proceeded to pull out a few posters and pamphlets for me as well. I gave all the wildlife posters to The Dulcinea for the kids while I kept a poster featuring Wisconsin forest trees for myself. I'll have to get a cheapie frame for it.

I spent about a month on the road. Often times it really sucked to be away from home eating crappy food and living in a cramped hotel room, without my precious Internet access for most of the time. It was, however, nice to go to places I'd never been to as well as visit Hayward, a place I have bummed around since the mid-80s. I considered stopping in Stone Lake on the way home but didn't have time. The cabins my parents owned was just outside of Stone Lake and I stopped in at the Stone Lake Pub many a time with my old man. I almost always ordered a Grape Crush while he got Old Style, if I recall correctly.

Much to my discredit, I got very little reading done. I did, however, manage to listen to a variety of audio dramas. There was the usual coterie of Doctor Who and related dramas plus a BBC version of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (which echoed eerily recently in Indiana.) I've never read the book but do remember seeing part of the film adaptation. It was a good story in and of itself but what really hit me was the religious fanaticism of the society. The Christian zealotry and the subjugation of women was really scary and seemed less fantasy and more like speculation with the power of the evangelicals today.

I almsot forgot - I made a stop in at the White Winter Winery in Iron River to buy some mead. Driving down Highway 2, I cranked up the Finnish polka on the Goose Island Ramblers CD of mine as it only seemed appropriate. Star Liquor here in town carries the sweet and dry varieties of their mead but only those. And so I bought a couple bottles of melomel or fruit mead - the blueberry and raspberry. Plus I got a bottle of cyser or apple mead. I didn't see any black mead around and asked about it. They were out. I joking whined that I'd driven all the way up from Madison and the woman went in the back and pulled a bottle out of their tasting stash for me. In the cooler I spied some hard cider and some brackett which is basically a beer brewed with honey. Six-packs were over $12 a pop so I bought a single bottle to give it a try. On Friday night, Becca, Stevie, and I busted open the raspberry mead as we sat in front of the fireplace. I felt so Nordic. It was very, very good. It was not extremely sweet, which I liked very much. You got a burst of raspberry on your tongue first and then the taste of honey underneath it revealed itself. Mead is proving to be very addictive. I have pulled the pheasant out of the freezer so I can make stew in it mead later this week.

I recreated a medieval recipe this evening and it turned out quite well. More on that later.
|| Palmer, 10:23 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

16 December, 2005

Ladies, Keep Your Toy Warm Geek-Style

Here in the Upper Midwest, we like to hunker down on cold, snowy winter nights in front of the fire with some glogg. But the lethargy-inducing weather doesn't dampen the fires inside of our fine frauleins. And so, to keep their toys warm during the long winter months, someone has come up with a fashionable Cthluhu Dildo Cthozy. Hurry! It won't last long!



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Friday Skin

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15 December, 2005

From Brule

I am coming to you from lovely Brule. The DNR service center is on a hill next to the Brule River. Here's a map for ya:



That's the Brule in blue that I painted in while the DNR center is the green blotch at the end of Ranger Road. The town of Brule is not even a mile to the northeast, as the crow flies. Snow was forecasted for today but it's been gorgeous. It's probably just above freezing. Since the weather was nice, I went out for a walk earlier and took some photos which I'll have to post after I get home. (The Duluth area west of here got pounded - 14" of snow, I hear.) I went down to the river and then walked up the road. I moseyed around the picnic area and canoe landing before walking a trail which led up a hill. It was amaziningly peaceful and quiet. As I stood on the trail to take a picture, at one point, I heard a wooshing sound all around me that sounded like it was really close. I looked up and saw what was probably a hawk flapping its big wings. Further on up the hill, these small birds started to land on the branches of trees around me. They had black heads and dark cream-colored bodies. A couple of them were chasing each other up and down this big pine tree so neither stood still long enough for me to take a picture.

I highly suspect that we'll be staying overnight here as one of the laptops has a bad hard drive or bad IDE controller. It is interminably slow and you can hear the drive chugging along rhythmically. It had this problem yesterday but I figured it was a virus and that wiping the drive clean would help. It didn't. A process that should take 10 minutes has been going on for nearly an hour...
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American Life in Poetry: Column 015

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Many of us are collectors, attaching special meaning to the inanimate objects we acquire. Here, Texas poet Janet McCann gives us insight into the significance of one woman's collection. The abundance and variety of detail suggest the clutter of such a life.

The Woman Who Collects Noah's Arks

Has them in every room of her house,
wall hangings, statues, paintings, quilts and blankets,
ark lampshades, mobiles, Christmas tree ornaments,
t-shirts, sweaters, necklaces, books,
comics, a creamer, a sugar bowl, candles, napkins,
tea-towels and tea-tray, nightgown, pillow, lamp.
Animals two-by-two in plaster, wood,
fabric, oil paint, copper, glass, plastic, paper,
tinfoil, leather, mother-of-pearl, styrofoam,
clay, steel, rubber, wax, soap.

Why I cannot ask, though I would like
to know, the answer has to be simply
because. Because at night when she lies
with her husband in bed, the house rocks out
into the bay, the one that cuts in here to the flatlands
at the center of Texas. Because the whole wood structure
drifts off, out under the stars, beyond the last
lights, the two of them pitching and rolling
as it all heads seaward. Because they hear
trumpets and bellows from the farther rooms.
Because the sky blackens, but morning finds them always
safe on the raindrenched land,
bird on the windowsill.

Reprinted from PoemMemoirStory by permission of the author. Janet McCann's most recent book is "Emily's Dress" (Pecan Grove Press, 2005). Poem copyright © 2003 by Janet McCann. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
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14 December, 2005

Stupid Computers

I am still in Hayward. Ugh! Nothing against Hayward, mind you, but I'm supposed to be in Brule which is about 40 miles north of here. Yesterday went smoothly excepting one PC which could not be joined to the domain. I wasted lots of time with a guy in Madison who was trying to get it joined before getting one of the network guys involved. A good hour plus was wasted because they wouldn't just grant me the rights to do the job locally. (Normally it is done remotely.) All he had to do was make the call and grant me the rights and it would have taken a minute to figure out that the PCDuo client was not the issue. But no. Instead all kinds of calls were made and blah blah blah and I spent over an hour on the horn with security, my manager, and the network guy all for naught. After we decided to pick up again this morning, I moved the PC to another desk so it would be connected to a different port on the hub. Same thing happened. I wanted to try a different NIC but all the PCs have onboard NICs so I can't swap anything out. I am getting ready to go to fucking Wal-Mart, if need be, to buy a cheap piece of crap NIC and pop it in. It's like the network doesn't like its MAC address. The PC has connectivity - I can get onto the Internet and ping everywhere. The DHCP server welcomes it, the box gets DNS resolution, and everything. But we keep getting "network path cannot be found" errors when trying to join it to the domain or browse a server share. The NetBIOS over IP service is running. It is being assigned the correct WINS servers. The PC has been reimaged. (For some reason, Dan thought that the fact that I had finished the reimage process with my CD instead of his had caused an issue. Thusly 45 minutes was wasted by a 2nd reimage.)

All I'm hoping for today is either a quick resolution or for someone to make the call and get the guy a new PC so I'm not stuck here all day and forced to drive to Brule in a blizzard in the dark. Our hotel is actually in Iron River. I don't plan on driving home from Brule tomorrow if I can't get on the road by noon. If we're stuck here until Friday morning, so be it. Besides, it would afford me the opportunity to go check out the White Winter Winery which looks to be very close to our hotel. I could get me some mead. I've wanted to do some touristy stuff while here but just haven't had a chance. The Norske Nook was near close when I was ready for dinner last night and I have not had a chance during the day to go to Tremblay's Sweet Shop for some fudge. However, last night I went and had dinner at the Angry Minnow, a brewpub. I had their stout and it was quite tasty as was the pork loin. It is housed in an old building which used to be the headquarters for a lumber company.

Well, time to get all pretty...
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Word of the Week

I chose this week's word as I'm in the northwoods of Wisconsin surrounded by a bunch of blue-faced, hard-drinkin' Finns & Norwegians.

glogg (GLUG) n. a hot spiced wine and liquor punch served in Scandinavian countries as a Christmas drink
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13 December, 2005

On the Gramophone

I've been listening to Bob Dylan sporadically lately so this week we have some Bobby Z. The song is "High Water (For Charley Patton)" recorded live at the Beacon Theatre, New York, New York on 25 April of this year.

"High Water (For Charley Patton)" (Real Player)
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12 December, 2005

In Lumberjack Land

There's a little blonde hottie talking head on CNN now named Christi Paul. While pretty, she's no Ralitsa Vasiliva. Outside it's snowing just a bit. The DNR office is just down the road and we're going to be starting later than usual so I'm enjoying some coffee. Being a bit of a coffee snob, I've eschewed the Maxwell House and brought my own stuff from home.

The drive up here to Hayward yesterday was pretty uneventful. It was long, though – somewhere between 4.5 – 5 hours. While the weather held up for us, we didn't leave Madison until 2 so it was dark as we drove north of Eau Claire on 53. It was a stretch of road that I'd not been on in some time. When I was a kid, my parents owned some land up here by Stone Lake. It was an old resort that sat on ninety-some-odd acres, including a bit of shoreline on Lake Big Sissabagama. I had a flashback as we sped by the highway 70 exit which led to Stone Lake. The town of Stone Lake is very small and is a bit of an adjunct to the larger Hayward. Every time I was with my father driving through town, we'd stop at the Stone Lake Pub. And there was an ice cream parlour up on the hill in the center of town. When we needed something that the hardware store couldn't provide, we'd generally head to Hayward, although we made the odd trip to Spooner as well. Hayward was and looks still to be the Wisconsin Dells of the northwoods. (i.e. – a tourist trap) There's a giant muskellunge, they hold lumberjack games here, and the Birkebeiner takes place here as well. Plus there are oodles of lakes for fishing, boating, and the like. During the winter there's cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing. Year-round, of course, folks drink.

After checking in, I discovered that I was given a non-smoking room. No big shakes. Dan and I headed out to find a tavern where we could find stiff drink and watch the Packers. I had found the Old Hayward Eatery & Brewpub on the Net so we headed over there. The place was like a mortuary. They weren't serving food because no one had come in for dinner. The bar was open and there was a trio of locals at one end. Dan got his usual bottle o'crap while I tried the porter. I found it to be quite tasty as I struck up a conversation with the bartender, Heidi, as she set down a tray of jello shots in front of us. Old Man Standiford had sent me an e-mail the other day saying that I should check out a tavern called Anglers. Heidi gave us directions there and I found out that she knew Randy, our DNR contact up here. Dan and I finished our beers and headed out. Unfortunately, the directions were wrong or I didn't hear her correctly because we couldn't find Main Street where Anglers was. We drove around aimlessly for a bit before heading to a tavern near our hotel which advertised a Packer Party. We wandered in and found several people milling around, drinking, and cavorting. We got a couple beers and settled in before the big screen TV. It was a long drive and we were hungry so we asked if they had food. Alas, they only had frozen pizzas. I personally wasn't going to eat one so we headed out again. We failed once more to find Main Street and ended up going to Coop's Pizza Parloure. We cozied up to the bar and I was happy to find that they had some tasty imports so I ordered an Erdinger Dunkel Weiss. For dinner, I had a pizza and corn nuggets. Having never heard of corn nuggets, I had to order them. They turned out to be balls of creamed corn that were breaded and friend. Nothing special but they tasted alright, especially when dipped in Tabasco sauce. The pizza was surprisingly tasty and I must admit that I made a glutton of myself. There was a kid at the bar with us – and I say "kid" because he didn't look to be 21 – who started talking to me. A commercial for a spray-on bed liner came on the television and he started telling me that it was a good product as his stepmother's truck had had it applied. He then began rambling on about how much trouble he had fixing the brakes on the truck. And then he went off on the Packers. And blah blah blah. I certainly didn't mind his friendliness; it's just that he was so young and he had already taken up the role of the old-timer sitting at the end of the bar who just blathers. Too young to talk about the Packers of yore or to have a full arsenal of hunting and fishing stories, he went with what he knew. After eating way too much and getting another set of directions, we took off again for Anglers, which was looking more and more like it was a chimera. And again we didn't find it. So we stopped in at Cruzin's or Cruzer's or something like that. It too was quiet. A trio of women were just getting up to leave when we entered. As we drank our beers, the bartender was cleaning up so we left after having had only 1 brew. Walking outside, we hopped into the car. The seat felt weird and there was a mysterious air freshener in front of me. Dan and I sat there for a moment before realizing that we'd gotten into the wrong car. Laughing, we got out and wandered to my car. Both were maroon and both lacked a front passenger side hubcap. Hmmm…

We started heading back to Highway 27 when I saw Main Street and made a hasty turn. Anglers was right there before us. It turned out to be a nice tavern. Not a dive yet very northwoodsy. There were at least a couple deer heads mounted on the wall as well as one from a moose and a bear. Plus there were countless muskies, ducks, pheasants, etc. stuffed and mounted behind glass in these cubby holes in the wall. In addition, there were pictures everywhere. Pictures of Native Americans (who presumably were forced off their land by Hayward's founding fathers), pictures of hunters, trappers, and fisherman from the first half of the 20th century, and various photos of Hayward. Like the pizza joint, the whole place was wood from ceiling to floor. The joint was warm, welcoming, and had good beer. So Dan and I took up residence there for the Packer game.

I woke up this morning in a sweat. My room was like a friggin' sauna. Looking at the thermostat, I found it set at 60 but the temperature of the room was 80. Ugh. And I have no Internet access. Dan does, however. Luckily he brought a long CAT5 cable because the bridge is nowhere near the desk. While I personally don't really need Internet access in my room, my company expects me to respond to e-mail at night. So you'd think that, since they make the hotel reservations, they'd ensure that I'd have a nice smoking room with Net access. But no. I don't wanna hear anything about late replies to time-sensitive e-mails when I can't get a fucking wired room.

Well, I'm off to shower and get ready. A full day here in Hayward today beckons.
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09 December, 2005

Update, of Sorts

I haven't been writing too much here lately – been busy. I've meant to play catch-up but have never really found the time. What have I done lately?

Well, I made plum kolacky last month:



Needless to say, they were quite tasty. I also made jalapeno jelly – probably in October when it was still warm and our pepper plants didn't realize it was nearly autumn.



I spent Thanksgiving in Chicago with the family. It feels odd that family gatherings are attended by less and less people each year. My grandmother turned 90 this year but, unsurprisingly, has health problems. She's been in and out of the hospital with various problems – the flu, fluid in the longs, et al. It makes me not want to grow old. And so it was heartening to hear and see her laugh on Thanksgiving. We were at my aunt's place (she too has some health problems). I was lying on the floor and my grandma pointed out that my argyle socks were so worn on the soles, that there were holes. She just laughed and I couldn't help but laugh myself – it was contagious. I feel bad for my mother. On top of having a mother and sister who have health problems, she has a large role in taking care of them. She stays with my grandma after she's been released from the hospital and also has a large role in helping with my aunt's situation. My aunt had a tumor removed from her brain. While she recovered, she has poor balance. I've seen her stumble & fall more than once and it breaks my heart just thinking about it.

While I was in ChiTown, my mom and I took in a showing of Mary Poppins. The Music Box Theatre was packed! Oodles and oodles of parents had brought their kids. Considering this, the audience was well-behaved. It was an interactive showing and movie-goers were given a bag of goodies upon entering. You got one of the those pop bottles hoolies for the scenes when Admiral Boom set off the cannon. And there was a chocolate coin for the Two Pence scene. Let's see...there was a Pixie Stick for the "Spoonful of Sugar" routine. Well, you get the picture. For my part, I thought Julie Andrews was just plain hot! Oh yeah, I would soooo have schtupped her in 1964.

Also while in Chicago, I got to see some of Tom Sizemore's homemade porno videos that he made with various hookers. Aside from learning that he really liked to give rimjobs, I got a good laugh. At one point, he spoke to the camera and bad-mouthed the LAPD. Then he said, "Yeah, I shit on her. But only because she asked me to!" Ah, to be a Hollywood star…

The Dulcinea and I went to see the Mad Rollin' Dolls, our local roller derby team, last weekend. She'd won tickets so we spent Saturday night out at the roller derby. I'd never watched the sport before (and neither had she) so it took a while for us to figure out the rules and scoring. But figure it out we did. It was snowing and the roads were crappy so I refrained from the PBR silos that were being sold. Despite the sobriety, it was a blast. How can you go wrong with a bunch of hotties in short skirts skating around in circles elbowing each other?
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A Week Up North

As I wrote previously, I spent the better part of this week up north in the Woodruff-Minocqua-Arbor Vitae area upgrading computers for the DNR. While it wasn't an especially eventful trip, the area was a lot prettier than Eau Claire or Wisconsin Rapids and I brought my camera.



Out the office window.



The ranger station I was working in. It was an older building but had some character. For instance, you could hear the wind howl at every window.



Here's Hatchery Road and the fish hatchery yonder. They raise muskies and walleye there.



I followed the tracks of some critter to…



…this creek which was still flowing.

While it was colder than a witch's tit in a brass brassiere for much of the time we were there, the quiet and stillness that hung in the air was a welcome change from the hussle and bustle of life in the city.



Here's a deer skin that was just lying around by the sleds. (That's snowmobiles, for you city-folk.)

As I said above, the trip was uneventful. Our contact at the site, Amanda, was a little hottie. Unlike her counterpart in Rapids, she was helpful and had her shit together. Everyone there was really friendly, in fact. I felt sorry for a couple of the guys who had suit up and brave the brumal weather to go count ice fishermen, get samples of deer shit, or whatever it is they have to do in the field.

I felt like a doofus driving home because I spied the Minocqua Brewing Company on highway 51. We only went out 1 night and it was to The Stingray. While not a bad place (they had Spotted Cow on tap), I would have liked to check out the local suds. Unfortunately, one of my cohorts, Dan, is a Bud Light kinda guy. To be sure, he's friendly but we don't really have a lot in common other than our jobs. He's a sports fanatic whereas I am not. He listens to run-of-the-mill popular music while I tend not to. Dan is only 21 so his tastes tend to be pedestrian, for lack of a better term. Ivan is 43 and seems to have more catholic tastes.

Next week we're off to Hayward and Brule. If you're not a Wisconsonian then know that Hayward is the tourist trap of the northern part of the state. I went there often as a kid as my family owned cabins in Stone Lake, which is fairly close. I recall the library and a fudge shop on the main drag. My face was glued to the windows of the fudge shop. I drooled while watching the luscious treat being made. The town is also known for having the largest muskellunge or "muskie". (This is a fish, BTW.) It's this big hoolie that you can walk through and have your picture taken while you stand in its mouth. While there's a shitload of stuff to do up north, I just don't have time on these trips since I'm working. It'd be nice to have a day off so I can wander around and perhaps do some hiking. Wisconsin is an extraordinarily beautiful state. While in Hayward, I'm hoping we can spend a night at the Old Hayward Eatery & Brewpub and sample the local suds.

Brule, on the other hand, will offer only taverns full of old codgers telling tall tales of "the one that got away". The 20-point buck, the 64" muskie – whatever. Brule is a town of just over 600 people about 40 miles north of Hayward and near Superior. This means that the excitement there consists of hunting, fishing, drinking, and drinking. We're going to be spending a night there. I'll be cozying up to a good book and/or a cheap beer that night.
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