Tuesday, October 17, 2017

For those about to crunch

Have you ever tried making your own granola? It's fun and you get something tasty to nibble when you're through. Most people would call it a breakfast food, but you may feel free to have it any time of day that you feel like grinding rolled oats, brown sugar, nuts, dried fruit, coconut, and I don't know what-all else. 

If you've been around since the 70's, you'll recall that Neil Diamond wrote and recorded a tune called "Crunchy Granola Suite." It's the quintessential Diamond song, one in which the Brooklyn-born singer wakes up one morning in California and is so worked up about the macrobiotic diets out there that he turns it into a song. Listen to the song, if you want to hear why so many of us were so glad when AC/DC came along. I mean, really, Neil. "Drop your shrink, and stop your drinkin', Crunchy granola's neat."????

I responded by eating granola while listening to AC/DC.  No shrinkin', no drinkin'.

After the initial fervor of the 70s, most of us accepted granola as part of a well-balanced diet and didn't pay that much attention to it. So it took action by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to put the snack mix back on the front burner, as it were.

The FDA dashed off a legal letter to The Nashoba Brook Bakery, a granola manufacturer in Concord, Massachusetts. The issue is that Nashoba Brook has, for 20 years, been listing "love" amongst the ingredients on the package label.  

For those of you planning to give it all up and become FDA lawyers, here is how you word something this silly:

Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient ‘Love.’ Ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of food must be listed by their common or usual name. ‘Love’ is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient.

John D. Gates is the Chief of Granola Operations up there, and he says, "I really like that we list ‘love’ in the granola. People ask us what makes it so good. It’s kind of nice that this artisan bakery can say there’s love in it and it puts a smile on people’s face. Situations like that where the government is telling you you can’t list 'love' as an ingredient, because it might be deceptive, just feels so silly."

The FDA, sort of abashedly, told the Bloomberg News that removing "love" from the ingredient list is "not among the agency's top concerns."

To which Mr Gates said his granolamakers will do as the FDA says, but he asks for consideration to be allowed to put that four-letter word back on the label.

I love seeing that he is hoping to hear back from them.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ice' Ice' Baby

Image result for iceland
I'm far from the sharpest tack in the box, so it took me a little while to notice a big change in American travel plans...namely, that just about every other American is headed to Iceland these days for vacation.

Really! If you follow people on Instagram, all of a sudden, people are packing their corduroy pants and those down-filled jackets that make them look like a pineapple, and jetting over to Reykjavik or Hafnarfjörður or Eyrarbakki or Stokkseyri.

And here's further proof that we Americans have come down with IceFever...when I went to research this, I only had to type "Why is everyone trav" and Google popped up with "Why is everyone traveling to Iceland."  So when Google knows, everyone knows.

It all started in 2008.  As you'll recall, there was a global economic crisis that year, a snafu that spun out of the crazy subprime mortgage market in the US - when sketchy mortgage companies were giving million-dollar loans to 9-year olds for their treehouses - and then things totally went crazy when big banks such as Lehman Brothers crumbled like houses of cards. Over in Iceland, the nation that we were taught is not all icy (that's Greenland) there was a banking collapse due to over-borrowing and devaluation of the local currency. Bingo! Those long green American bucks could buy you a pretty nice stay in Iceland, and Americans all over raced down to LL Bean to stock up on down-filled clothes.

Baltimore to Iceland: 2,776 air miles 
And then! In 2010, the  
Eyjafjallajökull volcano over there blew its top, and while airlines scrambled to rescheduled hundreds of flights cancelled due to pilots not being able to see the ground below with all that volcanic ash in the air. But, Americans being as we are, dozens of thousands of us saw the news with the ash flying and the beautiful fjords dressed in smoking airborne firebrands and cinnamon cinders, and got on the phone with the airlines that very night.

I have to think that the Icelandic Tourism people hired a pretty sharp publicity person, because the next thing you know, TV shows and movies like Game of Thrones, Prometheus, Noah and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty were set in Iceland.  Travelers also benefited from a price war between the old established Icelandair and the upstart WOW Air, and that made getting there cheaper than riding Amtrak from Baltimore to New York.

Hotel prices are similarly reasonable, and the final selling point - the low cost of "My grandma went to Kjósarhreppur and all I got was this T-shirt" T-shirts to bring back home - has made Iceland the new Niagara Falls or Grand Canyon for the once-in-a-lifetime vacationer.

Send me a postcard or bring me a T-shirt, please.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Rerun: Who's Yer Daddy?

When my father was just a little kid, he was in downtown Baltimore with his dad, and some sort of parade through the streets carried an open car with the President of the United States, Warren Gamaliel Harding, who reached out and shook my dad's hand before hurrying back to the White House to bend his girlfriend over a barrel and show her the fifty states.

(It was in the movie!  Well, it is now!)

You'll usually find Harding's name in any list of the Ten Worst Presidents, although you'll have trouble seeing him at first, as he is hiding behind a Bush.  But enough of that.  The big news about Harding is that, after all these years, it has finally been proven by DNA testing that he fathered a child by a woman not his wife in 1919, before he was president but after he married a woman to whom he had sworn he was sterile, due to a childhood case of the mumps.

I tell you, this guy really covered all the angles.

Nan and Elizabeth Ann
Nan Britton was a woman from Harding's home town in Ohio. She was never elected to any political office, but she did enjoy many an unsanctified congress with Harding in hotel rooms, lovenests, hideaways, and a White House pantry. She had developed a crush on old Warren and chased him until he caught her.  One of the surefire techniques he employed was writing her 50-page love letters while sitting at his desk on the floor of the US Senate. 
All In The Family

But when the child, Elizabeth Ann, was 4, Harding suddenly cashed in all his chips, and Nan and her daughter, who had been taken care of financially by the president, suddenly were out in the cold, a relocation that forced Nan to write a scandalous book to raise money.

The book, entitled "Fifty Shades Of Grey" "The President's Daughter" caused quite a little scandal when it was published in 1927, the height of the Roaring Twenties.  People in the Harding family suffered pulled muscles and sprains as they broke their necks to deny the truth of the child's provenance, but there was no DNA testing in those days.  Although, one look at the wide face and hooded brow of young Elizabeth Ann, and you just know  you've seen that face before.  On the president.

It was the Harding family who recently put it out there for the testing company Ancestry DNA to answer the question once and for all, and tests were done on two Harding descendants and Nan's grandson.

Boom. Nan is vindicated. Although she died in 1991, the truth lives forever.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Saturday Picture Show, October 14, 2017

You could get Meryl Streep or Judi Dench or Johnny Bench or any actor you could think of, and not one could recreate the look of pure gratitude and thankfulness this lady offers to a firefighter who has rescued her cat. 
I see lots of young moms carrying around little boxes of Cheerios to hand the young 'uns as snack treats.  Like most everything, the original is still the best.
Speaking of originals, say hello to two men who will outlast the world's oil supply. Ladies and Gentlemen, it's Angus Young and Keith Richards.
Free fall wallpaper - red leaves.  I hope we see some soon!
This is a 2,000 year old Roman theater in Libya. Even if I had tickets for a show there, the seat in front of me would be occupied by a 1,935-year-old guy hollering, "What did he say? What did he SAY?" 
Eidetic memory is defined as "relating to or denoting mental images having unusual vividness and detail, as if actually visible."  I think it works the same for smells, too. If you've ever been near a lavender field, then just seeing this picture puts the delightful aroma in your mind.
This is the Texas Motor Speedway in College Station, currently the parking place for all the cars ruined in this summer's hurricane and flooding. Every one of these automobiles is now a pile of junk.
This is a treetop spiral walkway in Copenhagen, Denmark. I wouldn't either.

Friday, October 13, 2017

News from Science

I don't often report from the world of natural science, but it did not escape our attention that there was recently a very festive occasion down on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Image result for assateague mapThe location was Assateague Island National Seashore, not far from the ocean resorts and all that commotion, and Papa Turtle is passing out fake cigars because about 100 baby loggerhead sea turtles recently hatched there and then went on out to sea. 

Unlike humans, who hang around until they're 37, these babies hit the road, or, rather, the surf, right away. 

Marine biologists, and several who aren't in the armed forces at all, have been trying to get sea turtles to make their nests up this way for several years.  

This is big news! The first confirmed hatch of loggerhead turtles north of Virginia! Loggerheads are endangered species, so any time they reproduce, it's all for the good.

Related imageBill Hulslander, chief of resource management for the National Seashore, says these births highlight "the increasing importance of undeveloped beaches along Assateague Island to sea turtles and other federally threatened and endangered species."

And really, who could dispute that? It's always beneficial when nature thrives.  The loggerhead sea turtle (Latin name: caretta caretta) is about 35 inches long when fully grown, although they occasionally have been spotted up to 110 inches. And the average ones weigh about 300 pounds, but those big huggers tilt the scale at over half a ton.  

But they get their name for having big heads.  Uh huh.

Now, you might have heard the term "at loggerheads with" to mean "having an argument with."  Well, that idiomatic expression has nothing to do with sea turtles. 

We borrowed that word from the British. They call a blockhead a "loggerhead," as we see in Shakespeare's "Love's Labours Lost," which dates back to 1588.

"Ah you whoreson logger-head, you were borne to doe me shame."

I knew an old guy once who actually called young hooligans, the kids who were "up to no good," "whoresons, rakehells, and ne'er-do-wells." This dude also carried a horse chestnut in his pocket at all times to draw the rheumatism out of his body.

Over here in America, we devised a large block of wood timber that was roped to a horse's leg - a sort of early Denver Boot - to keep the horse from running away.  And we called that a loggerhead, and visions of the horse trying to drag it around came to mind when we argued with people who were behaving like a horse's Assateague.

See how it all fits together?


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Courting Trouble

There is a game that some lawyers and defendants play in court. I like to call it "Just How Stupid Do I Think the Judge and Jury Are?"

My work used to have me in courtrooms all over Baltimore County, and now and then in the City, for additional fun. I saw cases involving everything from a young woman who stuffed a new purse with all sorts of cosmetics and tried to pay for just the purse, to people who left the scene of an auto accident they just caused, to auto hijackings.

But I rarely saw a guilty person take the stand!

Everyone had an excuse or an alibi.  Someone else put all that makeup and hair goo in the purse while she was shopping for bread and peanut butter to make sandwiches for the homeless! 

The driver who slammed into another car and drove on home had to do so because he "suffered an act of involuntary defecation!" 

And the guy who shoved a woman out from the behind the wheel of her car at a gas station did so because he owned the same make/model/color of car, and he thought SHE was stealing HIS car! Even though he was walking down Liberty Road that day and could provide no evidence of ever owning a white Ford Bronco.

If you're keeping score, none of these explanations held any sway with the judge, or in the third case, the jury, although in that carjacking, the felon's attorney told me his client was just as happy to be convicted, because going to prison would enable him to spend more time with his father and his uncle, both of whom were current guests of the State of Maryland.

So it came as no surprise to me that the results of a case we talked about here last May were equally negative. This was the stupid stunt pulled by two young men in Anne Arundel County, who thought that a nice way to spend an evening would be to hang a noose from the flagpole at the Crofton Middle School.

One of these hooligans is one Conner Prout, who was sentenced to 18 months of probation including 120 hours of community service for his role. Prout pleaded guilty to a hate crime in AA County Circuit Court.

The community service will be overseen and organized by the county's NAACP chapter, so the hope is that young Prout will learn a lesson or two about the history of lynchings in this nation.

And it seems like he needs to learn that lesson, because, well, here was his story: He told Judge J. Michael Wachs that he and his co-galoot hung the noose, NOT to threaten or intimidate students and community members of Crofton, but... 

"At the time of the incident, the rope was seen as nothing except representing suicide," Prout said. In court, he said this, after being sworn in and everything.

Not made clear was whether he was talking his own suicide, or was recommending it to others. Just as bad, either way.

He says he didn't find out that there was such a thing as a racial context to a noose until AFTER the whole incident.  

Image result for basket of kittens
There's not a suitable picture for this story, but
who doesn't like to see a basket of kitties?
"I find it hard to believe the connotation of the noose had to do with suicide. I just don’t believe it," Judge Wachs said. He went on to say that this was a racist act that caused "significant pain to the community."

Then, of course, his attorney, who would want me to mention his name, spoke on his client's behalf. He said Prout is immature, and  that his mother died, and he was seeing a counselor but stopped seeing her "too soon," and he really didn't understand the implications of what he did, but now he does.

On October 19, the other goon involved, John Havermann, 19, of Pasadena, will face a judge. Havermann's lawyer also claims that there was no racial component to the noose, but we'll have to wait until the 19th to see if he pulls the "suicide" angle.

I'm guessing not. It hasn't worked so far.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

So Sorry

Not going to mention any names here, because as of the time I am typing, the alleged killer has not been taken into custody. 

But it starts out like every other story you have ever seen; a man is dead from a gunshot wound, and the neighbors say, "It's a terrible thing to happen right next door to me. That's terrible," said a neighbor, and, "It's very scary because this is a quiet neighborhood. My wife and I, we came back, we saw that, because that never happens around here. This is working people, real quiet. Everybody minds their business. It's very scary," said another neighbor.

And the Baltimore City police are looking for a man from Carroll County for this murder.  Carroll County used to be quite rural; it's not totally country anymore, thanks to the many people who fled the urban bullet-flying splendor of Baltimore City and Baltimore County to move out there and swell the population.

And chances are, when they catch the killer, if in fact the man they seek is actually the killer, you will read quotes from his friends and neighbors, statements along the lines of, "He was a quiet man, just a nice guy," and "He mainly kept to himself. One time the kids were playing football outside and the ball bounced onto his lawn.  He picked it up and heaved it back, 30 yards easy, and didn't say a word.  But the kids liked him."

If the guy the cops are talking about is the murderer, we know he is a polite person.  The city PD says he left notes at the murder scene, notes in which he confessed to the crime.

Image result for handwritten notes"There were letters. At the time, we didn't know 100 percent sure (the letters) were from the suspect, but we were able to determine that they were in fact from the suspect, basically apologizing for what occurred," Baltimore police media relations Chief T.J. Smith said.

There is still a genteel politesse in some sections of our town. Leaving notes apologizing for killing someone is probably unprecedented, but only because Hallmark hasn't gotten around to making a card for that sad occasion.