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May 13th, 2005

A Bucket of Coffee

" Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your Honour. That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created. . . by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse."
Mark Twain


Dear folks,

I hope Mr Twain wasn't referring to my newsletter! Well, I never . . . . . Although Mark Twain found Australia full of fine literary material, his remarks when he visited in 1895 were not always flattering. Two of his "insults:" first, he criticised the constellation that is visible in Australia, the Southern Cross. Twain said that the Cross was "ingeniously named because it looks just like a cross would look if it looked like something else." The second caustic remark was made on a visit to a sheep station. Australia being a tea-drinking nation, the author had found the coffee unsatisfactory. He watched when the animals were injured their wounds were smeared with tar. He remarked: "Well, that is interesting. I did wonder where you Australians got your railroad station coffee."

(Note: Marky Mark's obviously never been to Tiamos Cafe, in Melbourne, where I met my partner, Lin, back in 1980. I'm still with her - the coffee was THAT good.)



MARK TWAIN SPEECH AT THE YORICK CLUB, Melbourne, October 5, 1895


Flying Checklist


After every flight, Qantas pilots fill out a form, called a "gripe sheet," which tells mechanics about problems with the aircraft. The mechanics correct the problems, document their repairs on the form, and then pilots review the gripe sheets before the next flight. Never let it be said that ground crews lack a sense of humour. Here are some actual maintenance complaints submitted by Qantas' pilots and the solutions recorded by maintenance engineers.

By the way, Qantas is the only major airline that has never had an accident.
(P= The problem logged by the pilot. S= The solution and action taken by mechanics.)

P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

P: Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
S: Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.

P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on back-order.

P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200 feet per minute descent.
S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.

P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
S: DME volume set to more believable level.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That's what they're for.

P: IFF inoperative.
S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Suspected crack in windshield.
S: Suspect you're right.

P: Number 3 engine missing.
S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

P: Aircraft handles funny.
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.

P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

P: Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer.
S: Took hammer away from midget.
(thanks to Annie Fiume)


A New Counterterrorism Strategy: Feminism
By Barbara Ehrenreich


A sustained and serious effort to gain human rights for women world-wide could be the start of a brand new approach to fighting terrorism.

"I've been reading Bin Ladin - Carmen, that is, not her brother-in-law Osama (she spells the last name with an "i") - and I'd like to present a brand-new approach to terrorism, one that turns out to be more consistent with traditional American values. First, let's stop calling the enemy "terrorism," which is like saying we're fighting "bombings." Terrorism is only a method; the enemy is an extremist Islamic insurgency whose appeal lies in its claim to represent the Muslim masses against a bullying superpower.
But as Carmen Bin Ladin urgently reminds us in her book Inside the Kingdom, one glaring moral flaw of this insurgency, quite apart from its methods, is that it aims to push one-half of those masses down to a status only slightly above that of domestic animals. "



Lullabies from the Axis of Evil


This extraordinary collaborative work by women from around the world brings a new sense to the Bushian phrase by making a statement of hope and peace in an age of chaos. The album contains 14 lullabies from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Cuba, sung by women from these countries. (article)
(thanks to Vivienne.)


Bohemian Grove


When Dirk Mathison, San Francisco bureau chief for People Magazine, infiltrated the exclusive Bohemian Grove retreat this summer, he got a view into the U.S. and UK elite that very few reporters have glimpsed. Unfortunately, that elite includes the management of Time Warner, the owner of People, which prevented Mathison from telling his story. Bohemian Grove, a secluded campground in California's Sonoma County, is the site of an annual two-week gathering of a highly select, all-male club, whose members have included every Republican president since Calvin Coolidge. Current participants include George W Bush, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Tony Blair and David Rockefeller -- a virtual who's who of the most powerful men in business and government.


The gathering includes semi-Masonic themes that center around a 40-foot tall stone owl, whose voice is provided by regular attendee Walter Cronkite ("And that's the way it is, hoot hoot."). Mock-Druidic rituals are performed, and the attendees (referred to as "Bohos" or "Grovers") wear Ku Klux Klan-style garb. Public policy speeches are given, conveniently away from the public that will eventually have to suffer under these policies. Called "Lakeside Talks", the topics of discussion range from "Communists, Democracy and Golf"; "America's Health Revolution: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Pays"; "America's Promise: Leading Armies and Leading Kids"; "Defining the New World Order"; and other such jolly cocktail chatter. It is boasted that the Manhattan Project first took shape at a Grove meeting. Security is tight; journalists are now forbidden from showing up and filming the shindig. Reporters from CBS, People and Spy magazine have all tried to get a glimpse of the event, with limited success.


There are over 2,700 "Bohos" (members and guests). The waiting list is about 10-15 years long. Most of the gatherers are American. Other members include:

* George HW Bush
* Dick Cheney
* Dwight D. Eisenhower
* Gerald Ford
* Newt Gingrich
* Alan Greenspan
* Alexander Haig
* Herbert Hoover
* Henry Kissinger
* Richard M. Nixon,
* Colin Powell
* Ronald Reagan
* George Schultz
* Caspar Weinberger
* William Randolph Hearst, Jr.
* John Major, former Prime Minister of U.K.
* William Casey, former CIA director
* Tom Johnson, president of CNN and former publisher of the Los Angeles Times
* A.W. Clausen of the World Bank
(article 1 ) (article 2 )


Apocalypse Soon
By Robert S. McNamara

(Robert McNamara is worried. He knows how close we've come. His counsel helped the Kennedy administration avert nuclear catastrophe during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today, he believes the United States must no longer rely on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. To do so is immoral, illegal and dreadfully dangerous.)

It is time - well past time, in my view - for the United States to cease its Cold War-style reliance on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. At the risk of appearing simplistic and provocative, I would characterise current US nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous. The risk of an accidental or inadvertent nuclear launch is unacceptably high. Far from reducing these risks, the Bush administration has signalled that it is committed to keeping the US nuclear arsenal as a mainstay of its military power - a commitment that is simultaneously eroding the international norms that have limited the spread of nuclear weapons and fissile materials for 50 years. (article)



Musing on the English Language

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes;
but the plural of ox became oxen not oxes.

One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice;
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?

If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
and I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
and the plural of cat is cats, not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
but though we say mother, we never say methren.

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
but imagine the feminine, she, shis and shim.


There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England.

Boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor a pig.
And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce
and hammers don't ham?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends, but not one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them,
what do you call it?
If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
Ship by truck and send cargo by ship?
Have noses that run and feet that smell?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?
You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house
can burn up as it burns down; in which you fill in a form by filling it out
and in which an alarm goes off by going on.
(Author Unknown - published in  "Liaisons" 2004 - thanks to Maggie Morgan)


Afghans Protest Over U.S. Abuse of Koran

JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN -- About 2,000 students in Afghanistan protested on Tuesday over a report that U.S. interrogators in Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Koran. Newsweek magazine said in a recent edition investigators probing abuses at the U.S. military prison in Cuba had discovered that interrogators "had placed Korans on toilets, and in at least one case flushed a holy book down the toilet".


Four Dead, Scores Hurt in Afghan Riot Over Reported US Koran Abuse

Afghan troops were deployed on the streets of an eastern city after four people died and scores were injured in riots sparked by reports that US soldiers had desecrated the Koran. Police in Jalalabad opened fire Wednesday to break up an enraged mob of several thousand people that torched the governor's house, the Pakistani consulate and several foreign aid agencies, police and witnesses told AFP. As black smoke rose over the city, the crowd went on the rampage, chanting slogans including "Death to America" as well as burning the Stars and Stripes and effigies of US President George W. Bush, witnesses said. (article)


Ireland Faces Big Chill as Ocean Current Slows
By Jonathan Leake
The Sunday Times, Ireland

Climate change researchers have detected the first signs of a slowdown in the Gulf Stream - the mighty ocean current that keeps Ireland and Europe from freezing. They have found that one of the "engines" driving the Gulf Stream - the sinking of supercooled water in the Greenland Sea - has weakened to less than a quarter of its former strength. The weakening, apparently caused by global warming, could herald big changes in the current over the next few years or decades. Paradoxically, it could lead to Ireland, Britain and northwestern Europe undergoing a sharp drop in temperatures. (article)


Before the Flood
by Sujatha Byravan and Sudhir Chella Rajan
One of the paradoxes of global warming is that developing countries, which were not responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing the climate and did not reap the benefits of industrialization, will bear the brunt of the consequences. One of these consequences will be rising seas, which in turn will generate a surge of "climate exiles" who have been flooded out of their homes in poor countries. How should those of us in rich countries deal with this wave of immigrants? The fairest solution will be to allow the phased immigration of people living in vulnerable regions according to a formula that is tied to the host country's cumulative contributions to global warming. Conservative climate and hydrological models suggest that the average sea level will rise by about a foot by 2050, regardless of what new actions we take to reduce greenhouse gases. In some cases, entire nations will disappear; a harbinger of this is Tuvalu in the Pacific, whose government has asked Australia and New Zealand to accept its citizens as the sea swallows their island.


Is It Worth Eating an Australian - or Even a Canadian?
by Steven Laffoley

Is our addiction to super-sized consumption worth eating an Australian - or even a Canadian?
Well, maybe. Listen: Outside of Bangor, Maine - on a long road trip to Boston - I pulled into a coffee shop and ordered a large cup of my favourite addiction. I was expecting a generous cup - a sizeable snort of get-up-and-go. But what arrived was not just a big cup of French Roast, nor even a giant mug of black java. No, what arrived was a bucket of coffee. I was incredulous.
Later, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I stopped at a family restaurant for dinner. And as with the coffee, what the waiter placed in front of me was an exaggerated indulgence: a plate piled impossibly high with food. Again, I was incredulous. But looking around, I was amazed to see that all the plates were similarly piled high. And stranger still, the food was being eaten - all of it, every bite. Later still, as I neared my destination in Boston, I looked around with greater care. Not only were the cups of coffee oversized, and the plates of food oversized, but so were the cars, the trucks, even the houses.


Easter Eggs

An Easter Egg is a hidden feature or novelty that programmers have put in their software. In general, it is any hidden, entertaining thing that a creator hides in their creation only for their own personal reasons. This can be anything from a hidden list of the developers, to hidden commands, to jokes, to funny animations. You'd be surprised just how many things contain Easter Eggs. (article)

Here's a funny one:

Jack Black and The Ring - Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition) -


Originally aired at the 2002 MTV Movie Awards. It can be seen as an Easter egg on the Region 1 (North America) Extended Edition DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) . To find it, go to the Chapter Selection section of Disk 1, scroll down past the final chapter (The Council of Elrond), and a golden ring will appear. Push play to see it, with an introduction by Peter Jackson. (link)
(thanks to Joe Creighton)


EPA on Threshold of Brave New World of Human Testing
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

Last month to avoid a hold on his confirmation, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson reluctantly cancelled a controversial study financed jointly by EPA and industry called CHEERS (Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study) that would have paid Florida parents to apply pesticides and other chemicals in the rooms primarily occupied by their infant children. During his confirmation, Johnson disclosed that EPA is also conducting more than 250 other human experiments, several of which involve chemical testing on children, including: exposing children (ages 3 to 12) to a powerful agricultural insecticide (chlorpyrifos) to test absorption in their systems through "urinary biomarker measurements". (article)


Vigilante Man
By Mike Davis

"The local people whipped themselves into a mold of cruelty. Then they formed units, squads, and armed them - armed them with clubs, with gas, with guns. We own the country. We can't let these Okies get out of hand." - John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

The vigilantes are back. In the 1850s, they lynched Irishmen; in the 1870s, they terrorised the Chinese; in the first decade of the twentieth century, they murdered striking Wobblies; in the 1920s, they organised "Bash a Jap" campaigns; and in the 1930s, they welcomed the Joads and other Dust Bowl refugees with tear gas and buckshot.
Vigilantes have always been to the American West what the Ku Klux Klan was to the South: vicious and cowardly bigotry organised into a self-righteous mob. Almost every decade, some sinister group of self-proclaimed patriots mobilises to repel a new invasion from some subversive threat or other. Their wrath has almost always been directed against the poorest, most powerless, and hardest-working segment of the population: recent migrants from Donegal, Guangdong, Oklahoma, or, now, Oaxaca.


Black and White and Full of Crap
by Ted Rall

"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your common sense." Buddha

One year ago the American media was pushing the Pat Tillman story with the heavy rotation normally reserved for living celebs like Michael Jackson. Tillman, the former NFL player who turned down a multi-million dollar football contract to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, became a centerpiece of the right's Hamas-style death cult when he lost his life in the mountains of southeastern Afghanistan. To supporters of the wars and to many football fans, Tillman embodied ideals of self-sacrifice and post-9/11 butt-kicking in a hard-bodied shell of chisel-chinned masculinity on steroids.
Tillman's quintessential nobility, we were told, was borne out by the story of his death--a tale that earned him a posthumous Silver Star. Whether you were for or against Bush's wars, Americans were told, Tillman's valor showed why you should support the troops. Young men were encouraged to emulate his praiseworthy example.
Several thousand mourners gathered at Tillman's May 3, 2004 memorial service to hear marquee names including Arizona Senator John McCain called upon all Americans to "be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf." "Tillman died trying to save fellow members of the 75th Ranger Regiment caught in a crush of enemy fire," the Arizona Republic quoted a fellow soldier addressing the crowd. Tillman, said his friend and comrade-at-arms, had told his fellow soldiers "to seize the tactical high ground from the enemy" to draw enemy fire away from another U.S. platoon trapped in an ambush. "He directly saved their lives with those moves. Pat sacrificed his life so that others could live." It was, as the Washington Post wrote, a "storybook personal narrative"--one recounted on hundreds of front pages and network newscasts.

It was also a lie.

As sharp-eyed readers learned a few months ago from single-paragraph articles buried deep inside their newspapers, Pat Tillman died pointlessly, a hapless victim of "friendly fire" who never got the chance to choose between bravery and cowardice. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Washington Post now reports that Pentagon and White House officials knew the truth "within days" after his April 22, 2004 shooting by fellow Army Rangers but "decided not to inform Tillman's family or the public until weeks after" the nationally televised martyr-a-thon.
It gets worse. So desperate were the military brass to carry off their propaganda coup that they lied to Tillman's brother, a fellow soldier who arrived on the scene shortly after the incident, about how he died. Writing in an army report, Brigadier General Gary Jones admits that the official cover-up even included "the destruction of evidence": the army burned Tillman's Ranger uniform and body armor to hide the fact that he had died in a hail of American bullets, fired by troops who had "lost situational awareness to the point they had no idea where they were."
"We didn't want the world finding out what actually happened," one soldier told Jones. A perfect summary of the war on terrorism.
The weapons of mass destruction turned out to be a figment of Donald Rumsfeld's imagination. The Thanksgiving turkey Bush presented to the troops turned out to be plastic, as much of a staged photo op as the gloriously iconic and phony toppling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad by jubilant Iraqi civilians--well, actually a few dozen marines and CIA-financed operatives. So many of the Administration's "triumphs" have been exposed as frauds that one has to wonder whether that was really Saddam in the spider hole.
We shouldn't blame the White House for producing lies; that's what politicians do. But we expect better from the media who disseminate them.
Case study: the Washington Post's dutiful transcription of the Jessica Lynch hoax. Played up on page one and running on for thousands of words, the fanciful Pentagon version had the pilot from West Virginia emptying her clip before finally succumbing to a gunshot wound (and possible rape) by evil Iraqi ambushers, then freed from her tormentors at a heavily-guarded POW hospital.
Like the Pat Tillman story, it was pure fiction. Private Lynch, neither shot nor sexually violated, said she was injured when her vehicle crashed. She never got off a shot because her gun jammed. As she told reporters who were willing to listen, her Iraqi doctors and nurses had given her excellent care. She credited them for saving her life. In a weird sort of prequel to the shooting of an Italian journalist, they had even attempted to turn her over at a U.S. checkpoint but were forced to flee when American troops fired at them.
In all of these examples, editors and producers played corrective follow-up stories with far less fanfare than the original, incorrect ones. To paraphrase "X-Files" character Fox Mulder, the truth is in there--in the paper, on TV. It's just really, really hard to find.
Readers of the American press and viewers of American radio and television are likelier to see and believe loudly repeated lies over occasionally whispered truths told once or twice. As a result of the reverse imbalance between fact and fiction, the propaganda versions of the Tillman and Lynch stories, the staged Saddam statue footage, and the claim that Iraq had WMDs are all believed by a misled citizenry that votes accordingly.
For journalists supposedly dedicated to uncovering the truth and informing the public, this is exactly the opposite of how things ought to be. Corrections and exposés should always run bigger, longer and more often than initial, discredited stories.




(I demonstrated this dish in my Newsletter Workshop in Queensland over the weekend. This technique of baking can be applied to other foods as strikes your imagination.)

10 -15 small to medium new potatoes, with skins on.
olive oil
2 kg rock salt, or coarse salt

Pre-heat oven to 200 -250 C. Scrub potatoes and pat dry. Place in a bowl with a little olive oil and toss thoroughly. Place about 1-2 cm of salt in a medium size baking dish. Place the potatoes on the salt evenly in a single layer, leaving about an inch space from the edges of the pan. Pour the rest of the salt over the top of the potatoes until they are completely encased. It should resemble a salt sarcophagus. Bake uncovered in the oven for about an hour to an hour and a half. (Check with a sharp knife after the first hour to test tenderness.) Bring the pan to the table right from the oven. The salt crust will keep the potatoes hot throughout the entire meal. Believe it or not, the potatoes do not taste too salty. Just right! These potatoes are nice served with Eric's Steak.


Eric's Steak w/ Green Peppercorns and Cream


(This simple but potent dish was prepared for me by my partner Lin's brother-in-law, Eric, when he came over to visit from Belgium, a few years ago. It is now a standard in my repertoire. I wanted to surprise my own brother with it the last time I went to Ohio - but I couldn't find any green peppercorns anywhere. And I went to every major supermarket and speciality shop I could find. Greenpeppercorns are in practically every milkbar in Australia! You don't miss your water till your well done gone dry. Next time, I'm bringing my own.)

2 eye fillet steaks, as well-hung as possible . . . .
(what more can one say about that?)
olive oil
1-2 tablespoons greenpeppercorns for each steak
half cup fresh cream

Use an iron skillet if you have one. Put 1/4 cup of olive oil in the pan and prepare the steaks the way you like them. Remove meat from pan and keep warm. Add the greenpeppercorns and reduce heat. Cook for about a minute and add the cream. Heat for a minute or two until the sauce reduces a little. Add a little salt to taste. Pour over the steaks and serve.



I Am Going To Start Living Like A Mystic
Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall.
The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage -- silent, pondering.
Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.
I will examine their leaves as pages in a text
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.
I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel
and stare into a blank pod for the figure of Sophia.
I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it.
I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.
~ Edward Hirsch ~
 (Lay Back the Darkness)