Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pawlenty: War is great!

    Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty is warning the party against isolationism. He apparently thinks the better path for our nation is to continue to start and to fight as many useless and unwinnable wars as possible.
    I am an isolationist and proud of it. We need to bring our troops home from wherever they are and put them to work guarding our border with Mexico.
    We are constantly moving the goalposts in these wars. We won. It's time to come home. Right now! If we need to leave a few troops to maintain the balance of power, so be it, but it is not our job to build nations or to keep people from killing each other.
    Gov. Pawlenty, you've lost my vote.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

No letters from camp, but at least they post photos!

   One of the changes that has come with the Internet is that summer camps now post photos on a regular basis. I assume the children are required to smile and make merry on pain of death.
    Lucy finishes her first week at Concordia Language Village's French camp in Bemidji, MN this week. One more week to go and then she's headed home.
    It's too hot to go outside these days, but as you can see from one of the photos, they don't seem to be having that problem in Bemidji!
    Concordia camps are like any other camps except they offer the chance to learn a little bit of a foreign language. And they are a good value, costly quite a bit less than many traditional camps. So if you are looking for a camp for your child for next year, check it out. They even have a month-long session that provides a year's high school credit in a foreign language.
    One thing camps apparently don't do any more is make the children write home. I guess we're supposed to be happy seeing our kids on the Internet, and we'll hear about it when she gets home.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Blog traffic up after 'Anthony Weiner Shirtless' essay

    Anthony Weiner's chest has been good for my blogging business. At least I think he gets the credit.
    On June 8 I published an item entitled "Do they think they have an invisibility cloak?" It detailed a lot of really stupid congressional behavior and included the shirtless photo of the ex-Congressman that he sent over his Twitter account.
    Prior to that publication, my blog was not exactly a busy place. On days when I would post a link on Facebook I might get 50 hits. On days when I didn't I would get fewer than 10. But as my archive grows, so do hits on older posts.
    Since I posted my photo of a shirtless Anthony Weiner, I've had at least 100 hits per day whether I've posted or not. According to my stats page, the number one search phrase sending people to my page is "Anthony Weiner Shirtless," with seven hits. Seven hits doesn't explain why traffic is more than 100 readers per day, but something is obviously going on.
    Three people this month have arrived at my page after typing "Frank Hurdle Ole Miss." "Pecan Pie Ice Cream" has only gotten one hit this month, but people do seem to come every month for that recipe.
    Of course, maybe the increased traffic has nothing to do with Rep. Weiner. Maybe word is just spreading and my readership has increased. But the increase in traffic is certainly an interesting coincidence.
    I couldn't bring myself to run the photo of his excited underwear. Please forgive me for running his shirtless photo again. It's good for business.
    Just be grateful I'm not running a photo of ME without a shirt on.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jimmy Robertson pens article about innocent men in prison

Note: I have updated this post to repair the link to Robertson's article. It now links to the Acrobat version of the Capitol Area Bar Association Newsletter for June, 2011. His article is on page 8. The CABA should consider keeping their old content online in Internet form, in my view.

Note, 10-6-2012: I have again updated the link to Robertson's column, this time to a copy of the newsletter that I had saved on my computer. CABA apparently doesn't keep it's old newsletters online, which doesn't make much sense to me, since the article is worth reading.

    Former Ole Miss law professor and Mississippi supreme court justice Jimmy Robertson has a must-read article in the Capital Area Bar Association newsletter. It deals with the problem of innocent people spending their life behind bars, and the indifference of the state to their plight, and is entitled "A Life Sentence Served by an Innocent Man."
    I only had Robertson for one class at Ole Miss, the rather dry Theory of Law or some such. We always joked that he kept his class notes inside his coffee cup, because he had no other lecture notes but would sometimes stare down in his coffee cup before lecturing.
    The article begins:
On Feb. 18, 2011, Circuit Judge Robert Helfrich of Hattiesburg entered an order that reads:

Larry Ruffin is officially exonerated and declared innocent of the crime of capital murder for which he was convicted in 1980 in Forrest County. That conviction is null and void.

Larry Donnell Ruffin was 20 years old when he was wrongfully arrested and charged. He served his life sentence in full. He died at Parchman in 2002.

I am sick at heart at my role in the fate of this innocent man.

And later he presents the fact we all hate to admit:
No thinking person can reasonably doubt that there are about 100 innocent persons today in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. To be sure, the number may be only 80, but then it may be 120. Addressing this certain circumstance of injustice is complicated by the fact that there are likely 2,000 or more who say they are innocent.

    A fair and decent justice system is not a liberal or conservative issue. It's a issue of what we stand for as Mississippians and Americans. The reading of this article is required for good citizenship, so get to it! Hats off to NorthMississippiCommentor for noting this article.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer camp teaches language skills that ought to be taught at school

    I just packed the children off to summer camp – Ash for one week, Lucy for two.
    Ash is going to Camp Yocona, about 30 miles from Oxford. Lucy is going to Concordia Language Village’s Lac du Bois in Bemidji, MN.
Concordia is apparently celebrating their 50th year this year, offering a semi-immersion language camp for kids. Lucy is attending the French camp for her third year. Concordia also offers programs in Arabic, Finnish, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Danish, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, and Portuguese.
    We Americans don’t tend to learn foreign languages and it’s a shame. In virtually every European country, it’s just understood that every college educated person will speak his native tongue, English, plus one and often two additional languages.
    Unlike Europeans, we have less incentive to learn foreign languages. Most Americans will never leave the country. But college-educated Americans will, and they ought to be able to carry on a conversation in more than just English.
    But for this to happen, our schools have to start offering foreign language instruction in kindergarten and the elementary grades for those students who wish to learn. Obviously a child who is already struggling to keep up shouldn’t add one more straw to the camel’s back, but many children would be eager to learn a foreign language. Our schools just need to help them!
    Unfortunately, our schools aren’t helping. Few schools offer foreign language instruction before 9th grade, by which time the brain is so hard-wired that a foreign language is extremely difficult to learn.
    If this year is like past years, Lucy will have a great time at summer camp, and she’ll learn a little bit more French than she knew when she went. But it is a disgrace that her elementary school isn’t teaching the most rudimentary skills of world citizenship – foreign languages.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Texas Gov. Perry may run, but not with my support

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the newest name being thrown around as a potential Republican presidential contender. He won't have my vote.
    Texas put Cameron Todd Willingham to death by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004, for the murder of his three children by arson in 1991. David Grann, a staff writer at The New Yorker, has presented evidence of Willingham's innocence. He says experts later said the original arson investigators based their conclusions on "folklore" and discredited forensic evidence. You owe it to yourself and to your fellow citizens to read the New Yorker article, Trial by Fire, and to read or listen to an NPR story on the case.
    I have read the facts concerning this case and I am convinced this man was innocent. The problem is that many prosecutors, eager to get a conviction at any price, will use junk science that sounds good to a jury but has little basis in actual fact. In Mississippi, former state pathologist Steven Hayne sent hundreds of people to prison by being willing to say just about anything on the witness stand. When viewed in total, his testimony is so outlandish as to be unbelievable, and the state Supreme Court finally realized as much in at least one case. I'm sure it's the same in Texas.
    In Texas, a commission had been appointed to investigate the Willingham case after his execution. This commission was about to find that an innocent man had been executed. So in 2009 Perry replaced enough members of the board with his cronies to prevent the board from making any findings at all. And so it hasn't and apparently never will.
    It doesn't change the fact that an innocent man was executed and that Gov. Rick Perry has actively worked to cover up this fact.
    When faced with the execution of an innocent man we have three options: end capital punishment; or keep capital punishment but take steps to ensure that no more innocent people are killed; or do nothing. Now it may very well be that it is impossible to prevent innocent people from being executed, but to do as Rick Perry has done and deny the problem guarantees that more innocent people will be executed. To do nothing is to essentially kill innocent people intentionally.
    So, Gov. Perry won't have my vote. I agree with a lot of his policies, but I oppose the killing of innocent people. Apparently he doesn't.

Do they think they have an Invisibility Cloak?

    Every blogger in America is commenting these days of New York's Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). He's the guy who got his jollies by sending out photos of his excited underwear to girls on his Twitter feed.
    You can bet if this guy was about to get bumped from his flight or hotel room he would not hesitate to puff up and give some variation of the "Do you know who I am?" routine. So how is it that he thought he could send out all sorts of revealing photos of himself and have no one notice?
    Earlier this year, Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY) resigned after he emailed a shirtless photo of himself to someone he contacted on Craig's List. He was the victim of a "sting" by someone hoping to catch government officials, but how did he think no one in Washington would recognize him!
    Are these Congressmen given a Cloak of Invisibility, sort of like Harry Potter has, when they join Congress? Is the problem that their magical cloak suddenly fails due to some directive from the Ministry of Magic?
    I can understand run-of-the-mill affairs. But how is it that congressmen think they can have affairs with their pages and not get caught?
    And then there is the extreme stuff, like sending out half-naked photos. Or trying to have sex with strangers in bathroom stalls. How could Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) not think that having sex with strangers in a Minneapolis toilet stall isn't just a bad idea? What makes a congressman want to do this, and what makes him think he eventually isn't going to happen upon a policeman?
    Remember Jon Hinson, the Mississippi congressman from the Fourth District. During his 1980 re-election campaign, he admitted that while a Congressional staffer he had been arrested for committing an obscene act at the Iwo Jima Memorial in 1976 and that he had been one of four survivors in a deadly theater fire that claimed nine lives in 1977. He said the whiskey made him do it and that he was a reformed man; he was re-elected with a plurality of the votes, on the theory that at least he was a Republican.
    Hinson celebrated his victory three months later by performing an act of oral sodomy on a black Library of Congress staff member in a House restroom. This led to felony sodomy charges which were later reduced to a misdemeanor. Did this man just think that nobody could see him, or did his Cloak of Invisibility suddenly fail? Thanks to Jon Hinson, I had to endure for about 10 years jibes from a staunch Democrat friend who never missed the opportunity to praise Republican efforts to bridge the racial divide and improve race relations.
    Personally, I'd probably vote for a gay conservative over a straight liberal any day. But bathroom sex and sending out photos to strangers is where I draw the line, Republican or Democrat.
    All of this makes me nostalgic for Rep. Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.), who was involved in the first Washington sex scandal that I can remember. I think I was in seventh grade.
    In October 1974, Mills' car was stopped because he was driving with no lights on. Out jumped the Argentine Firecracker, a stripper known as Fannie Foxe, who then went for a swim in the Tidal Basin. He won re-election with 60 percent of the vote nevertheless. A few weeks after the election he joined his sweetheart Foxe in Boston and went on stage at a burlesque club to make a couple of jokes and exchange a kiss. Afterwards he held a press conference in her dressing room. That was the end of Wilbur Mills, who resigned his Ways and Means chairmanship, joined Alcoholics Anonymous and did not seek re-election.
    I'm not sure we would care about Mills' antics today -- so long as he didn't share all the graphic details on his Twitter feed.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pantry filled with discount groceries all the survival food you need

    Back in March, I posted that it was a good time to stock up on discount groceries. Areas of Japan were facing food shortages due to the Earthquake and nuclear disaster, and I pointed out that it could happen anywhere.
    There are plenty of companies out there selling survival food supplies at inflated prices. The best survival food source is your local grocery or Costco store.
    The fact is, it is highly unlikely that any of us will ever have need of an emergency food supply. So spending a lot of money on stockpiling specialized food is just money poorly spent. On the other hand, buying large quantities of groceries on sale or at low bulk prices is another matter if you actually eat the food. Then you not only have an emergency food supply, but you actually lower your grocery bill. Just make sure you stock up on items that have a long shelf life.
    So how do you create an emergency food supply? Simple: Have as much food in your pantry as you can without allowing any of it to go to waste.
    Costco sells flour, sugar, rice and dried beans in 25-pound bags at a fraction of the price you would have to pay at the local grocery. Yes, it's a pain to transfer the food over into smaller Ziploc bags, but doing so will dramatically lower the amount you spend on these staple items. (We still have about six pounds of rice from a 25-pound bag that we purchased three or four years ago!).
    I've been able to buy pasta on sale for 50-cents per pound for the past few years. Whenever I find this low price I've bought as many as 50 one-pound boxes (I generally make several trips to the store so as not to look like Mr. Piggy). I've managed to buy Ragu sauce for as little as 83-cents per bottle, although the best price I've seen recently has been $1.25. At these prices, stock up!
    This Thanksgiving and Christmas grocery stores will offer Campbell's Cream of Mushroom and perhaps Cream of Chicken soup for 50 or 60 cents per can. It usually costs more than $1.25. Stock up!
    The point is, don't buy any special food you won't eat, but buy lots and lots of food that you will eat when it is on deep discount.
    Now, if disaster should strike, I don't believe we will suddenly find ourselves without food. We are more likely to face temporary food shortages, and perhaps price shocks caused by a currency crisis. But during this time, having a full pantry can make the difference between having plenty to eat and actually going hungry.
    Take a look at the following food and price chart:

    So for less than $160 a family of four can have a two-month supply of food, assuming a 1,500 calorie per day diet. Throw in lots of canned goods, and that two-month supply easily stretches into a three or four-month supply.
    Of course, in a real disaster food is still going to be available. In a starvation-type disaster, you can expect food to be rationed. Now I'm going to be lined up for free food whether I've got food at home or not. People are going to be able to hunt and fish. So a three-month supply of food at home should actually keep one's family eating well for six months to a year.
    America's food distribution network is a lot more fragile than many people realize. Have you ever been in a grocery store just before a major snow storm? Notice how many the shelves are empty? Now imagine that no trucks would be ariving for two weeks. Now imagine that everyone in the community were to KNOW that no trucks would be arriving for two weeks. The shelves would be completely bare.
    Just remember, disaster probably will not strike. The only real use you will ever make of your bulk food purchases is that you will save money on your grocery bill. And depending on grocery prices and what's on special, you pantry of groceries will fluctuate from a one to three month supply.
    Since having a full pantry will actually save you money, it really doesn't make sense not to have one, does it?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Alaska Princess cruise review, tips

    I just returned from a one week Princess cruise to Alaska. It was a gift from my Dad to my brothers and me, as well as our children. So there were 11 of us in total. It was great to get the entire family together.
    My plan was to blog a little as we went along, but I found that my Verizon wireless card didn’t work at all in Alaska ports. My AT&T cell phone had service at every port, so I guess that’s something to remember when my contract comes up for renewal.
    I won’t bore my few readers with all the details of our trip, but will share a few high points. This was my third cruise on Princess, the first two having been taken some years ago. I’ve also cruised Royal Caribbean once. I think Princess has figured out their target market pretty well, and even though the prices are comparable to the other mass market lines, Princess seems to attract a more upscale crowd. My niece, for example, noticed that everyone dressed much more nicely than on her past Carnival cruises.
    We had the late sitting in the traditional dining room. We felt like it was important to all sit together as a group. But 7:45 is awfully late to eat, and if we were doing it again we would try to go for Anytime dining if it’s possible to get a large table. I found that getting finished with dinner at 9:45 made it too late to do other things – for me at least!
    The dining room food was good and sometimes excellent. The service was only fair. For example, if one ordered a pre-dinner cocktail it was likely to come after the first course. I learned quickly to pour myself a glass of wine in my stateroom before going to dinner. It saved money and I got my pre-dinner drink at the proper time. It did seem that some nights the food choices were really poor, and then on two or three nights every item on the menu was something I wanted. I think this was intentional, in that more money was obviously spent providing dinner on some nights.
    I did not care for the buffet too much, although my brother said the quality was head and shoulders above the quality of the buffet he had on a recent Carnival cruise. He said the Carnival buffet was dreadful. One bright note is that Princess now cooks their bacon. Six years ago bacon was served almost completely raw. The quality of the bacon is poor and in need of a great deal of salt before cooking, but far better than raw. The coffee, which is made from syrup, was drinkable to me, although many hate it.
    The children bought the soda/mocktail card for $7 per day. They got their money’s worth out of it. The kids hated the kid’s club. There weren’t many children on board, and because of their age they were in the 8- to 12-year-old club, which consisted mostly of younger children. My son returned in disgust after his second visit and said he wasn’t going to spend his time around a bunch of “toddlers.” He is a few months shy of his 13th birthday, but was ineligible for the older kid’s club. Perhaps it would have been different on a cruise with more children. But families with 11- or 12-year-olds should be forward that the kids club may not serve their needs very well.
    Ports visited: Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, and Scagway.
    Seattle: This is where we began and ended our cruise. Lots to see and do. Don’t miss the Pike Place market!
    Ketchikan: This is a really neat town, and you can have fun here just wandering around. The streets are often built on raised piers as there is so little flat land. We paid $30+ each to attend the “Lumberjack Show,” which I found to be a big waste of money. Better to do something else here or just enjoy walking around. We also found a liquor store next to the IGA grocery which had Kendall Jackson Chardonnay on special for $10.50 per bottle, which is the best price I’ve ever seen it.
    Juneau: We booked a whale-watching boat from Harv & Marv here. We thought the tour operators did a great job, but I’m not sure I would want to go again. We were all glad my 87-year-old father didn’t join us, as it was a choppy ride. We did see a number of whales and sea lions. After the tour they took us by the Mendenhall Glacier for a few minutes. I wish we had had more time here to hike to the waterfall and enjoy the area.
    Skagway: My brother rented a jeep and took a four-hour drive up the summit and into the wilderness area. We didn’t want to go so far, and so just wandered the town area. Unlike Ketchikan, Skagway has little to offer except a bunch of diamond shops in the downtown area. If doing it again I would at least plan to go to the top of the summit, although I simply didn’t want to spend four hours in a jeep. So either plan to do something or stay on the boat, but just wandering around the town is a waste of time.

    My tips for a better Princess cruise:
    1. Take fewer clothes. There is a self-serve laundry on board, as well as reasonably priced laundry service.
    2. Take some of your own alcohol. Princess allows you to bring on your own wine aboard, and you can likely get away with bringing on a small amount of hard liquor. This will not only save money, but allow you to get a pre-dinner drink at the proper time. You can just pour a glass of wine or cocktail and take it to the dining room with you.
    3. If traveling with a large group, one person should consider getting a mini-suite. My dad had one and it served as a great place to visit together.
    4. Don’t forget your power strip if you have phones and other things that need to be plugged up. There is one socket, and the way it is configured only one charger can be plugged in at a time. So you really need a power strip.
    5. We didn’t plan very well, but you should have in mind what you are going to do for each port. Avoid booking through Princess, as they charge three times more for tours than independently booked trips.
    6. Avoid the sales pitches. Princess will offer some things that are good deals, such as the soda card. But when we asked about the wine package we were pressured a bit to buy three bottles of wine for $160. I don’t doubt that they were good bottles of wine, but it was simply more than we wanted to spend. I’m sure these waiters and bartenders get a commission on their sales at the first of the cruise.
    7. The casino has terrible video poker pay tables, and presumably the rest of the payouts are awful as well. They do offer a free, high-quality t-shirt for four-of-a-kind late one night. On a quarter 6-5 jacks or better machine, the house has roughly a 4.5 percent edge against proper play. You should hit four of a kind once every 425 hands. So figuring that you play 500 hands at $1.25 per hand you will have total coin in of $625. Your expected loss is $22.50, and the t-shirt is worth nearly that. So this is the only decent bet in the casino.
    8. The Terrace Bar area at the back of the ship is a nice place to eat or have a drink.

Below is a four-minute video with trip highlights and family photos. Your tolerance for viewing the vacation home movies of others is up to you, so click at your own risk. (The Pike Place fish toss segment is mislabeled. I didn't feel like re-doing it!).