Sunday, February 28, 2010


America's greatest oxymoron: Clean Coal. They think Americans are morons and will buy that lie.

Kilgore's Dirty Bill

Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City) has a dirty bill (HB1300) that will strip the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board critical authority to clean up our air. Under the current law, the Board can decide whether to require large polluters to make actual reductions in NOx and SO2 pollutants or allow trading of pollution credits outside the community where the pollution is being generated. This bill would deny the Air Board the authority to require actual pollution reductions.
HB1300 is currently in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee. Please contact committee members and urge them to vote No on this dirty bill. More information and an easy-to-use contact link is found at the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bob Marshall - Resign Now!

Sign the Bob Marshall - Resign Now petition. Then take one more step and contact him directly and let him know his comments were disgusting and, instead of blaming the media, he should apologize and resign from office. Bob Marshall is a embarrassment to not only his district, but the entire state. More details and contact information is here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Where's George when we need him?

There are times during our contemporary political disputes when it would be great to call on our Founding Fathers for wisdom and guidance. Such is now the case. Republicans have become the party of "No" and seek political gain by obstructing virtually every initiative of President Barack Obama. The "national interest" is no longer part of their vocabulary or agenda. President George Washington, in his Farewell Address, warned about the "mischiefs of party." His words should resonate with Republicans who are taking the "spirit of party" to obscene extremes... some Democrats should listen as well.
...the common & continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise People to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill founded Jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot & insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence & corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

China Trip #8

Dateline Shanghai/Hong Kong: January 13, 2010
Today was a travel day from Shanghai to Hong Kong so we left early on the bus to head to the airport. Although Hong Kong is part of China, it is almost like traveling to another country - especially if you are Chinese. For example, when we flew from Beijing to Shanghai our guide could check us in at the airport as a tour group; when going from Shanghai to Hong Kong it was individual check-in only. U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter Hong Kong, yet Chinese citizens do. Yes, I typed that correctly... Chinese citizens from the mainland must have a visa to visit Hong Kong and generally can only stay a limited time. Unless they purchase two different license plates, which are very expensive, Chinese citizens cannot drive their car from Hong Kong to the mainland. We saw one such vehicle while in Hong Kong. We were to learn more about the special relationship between China and Hong Kong over the next few days.
We flew on Cathay Pacific, the nicest plane of all our travels. Attendants were all Chinese, but judging by his accent, the pilot was Australian or British. Food was pretty good. The onboard entertainment system was individualized for each seat and we had many choices of movies or recent popular TV shows with choices appealing to adults and children. Or, you could watch an outside camera that was focused on the front landing gear - pretty boring during the flight, but pretty neat during the landing.
The airport was modern and efficient, but our first real sign that we were in a different place was the bus - the door was on the left side. The bus was a little smaller, and some of the students had bought luggage in Beijing or Shanghai shops, so we were overpacked. Not enough room in the cargo bins, so suitcases and bags were piled along the aisle. Another sign that we were indeed in a different place - the temperature was in the mid 60s and we quickly shed our warm coats and jackets.
Along the route to the hotel our new guide told us about Hong Kong, orienting us to the collection of islands, the New Territories, the Hong Kong dollar, and the public transportation we'd be using. Yes, Hong Kong uses a different currency than the mainland, they drive on the other side of the road, the internet is free and open, and its political, legal, and economic systems bear more similarity to their British heritage than to anything on the mainland. Hence, we often heard the reference to "one country, two systems" to explain the relationship of this "special administrative district" to the Beijing government.
From the bus we saw many distinguishing characteristics of Hong Kong - a skyline dominated by steep hills and mountains, water seemingly on all sides, high rise apartments and other buildings, and the natural harbor. Hong Kong is about 426 square miles with only about one-forth actually developed because of the steep terrain. Almost 40% is preserved as parks and natural area. Our guide pointed out Hong Kong and Lantau islands, telling us that most development is on the Kowloon peninsula on Hong Kong Island. Much of the more recent development, including the airport, is on reclaimed lands - i.e. mountain land dumped into the ocean and leveled.
Back to the high rise apartments - Hong Kong is sometimes called the world's most vertical city because nearly everyone lives in a tall building. There are more than 7,600 skyscrapers. More people live above the 14th floor than anywhere on the planet. Just like elsewhere, the most exclusive apartments are found high on hills or along the best stretches of waterfront. By U.S. standards (except perhaps places like New York and Chicago), apartments are small and expensive. Of course, there are the extremely upscale places that go for $3 million and more modest ones that maybe even I could afford. David, our guide, said many families live in apartments of 550 to 800 square feet, often with multiple generations, so their notions of personal space are far different from ours.
High rise office buildings and apartments are everywhere. Many, like those in the picture, appeared more modern and upscale than we typically saw in Beijing. There are many others where families of more modest means live.
The other thing that is apparent is that, while little is manufactured in Hong Kong, they've built a strong economy around shipping everyone else's goods. They are also a global hub of finance, entertainment, and all sorts of trade. East and west do indeed meet - culturally, economically, and in many other ways. Apparently they meet at the Hong Kong International Airport, one of the world's busiest.
The harbor is huge with large docks handling containerized cargo. Ships, tugs, and small craft are in constant motion.
We finally got to our hotel and there was some sort of SNAFU at the desk because it took us forever to get our rooms. I walked down the busy street to an ATM... might need those Hong Kong dollars for the next day's adventures. $100HK = just under $13US. So, when I tell you we took the trolley as far as we want for $2HK, that's about 25¢. More on the trollies and getting around the city in a future post. That night we (again) had a big group Chinese dinner, and once again we experienced some new dishes and tastes. Afterwards we walked down the street to a 7-11 - which are found on nearly every block. They are tiny, maybe 15' x 15' or so, but have beer, bottled water, packaged foods, and cigarettes. I bought a couple of Carlsberg beers, a very popular brand in Hong Kong that we also saw in other stores in Beijing and Shanghai. Plus, we got a half dozen $2HK coins that are used in the trollies.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tell Bob Marshall to resign

By the time I got this post up, the news is old, but the disgust only grows deeper and the stomach churns with bile. In case you are one of the few who hasn't heard, Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, stated at a press conference where he opposed funding for Planned Parenthood:
The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children... in the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There's a special punishment Christians would suggest.
An absurd and cruel statement that lays bare his dark heart, Delegate Marshall should immediately resign his office. As a truly classless individual, he won't do that without some encouragement. Perhaps we can provide some:
Bob Marshall has been one of the most out-of-touch and reactionary legislators in the General Assembly - an embarrassment to not only to his district, but the entire Commonwealth. It is past time for him to go.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fat Tire

While in Franklin, NC we picked up 12 bottles of Fat Tire Amber Ale, something I'd enjoyed in Fort Collins, CO while reading AP American government essays a few years ago. I'd hiked out to New Belgium Brewing, partly curious about the beer/hoping for a tour and partly to find some geocaches in the area. Missed the regular tours but an employee let me look around briefly. Yes, I found several geocaches nearby and later enjoyed a couple varieties of New Belgium brews at Fort Collins watering holes.
So, I was a bit surprised to find Fat Tire Amber Ale with a prominent place in the cooler at the grocery store in tiny Franklin... those western North Carolinians just went up in my estimation! It is probably available in the Shenandoah Valley, but I have to admit, I haven't run across it.
Okay, my disclaimer as a beer reviewer... I haven't met a beer I couldn't drink. Well, I take that back... there was some generic swill from a chain grocery in college that tasted bad and hit bottom very heavy. Ugh. Nasty. I'm not a big fan of wheat beers. And, although I'll take one if offered (I'm polite that way) light beers are not really beer... they are basically like sex in a canoe.... f*$#&!% close to water.
Back to the Fat Tire Amber Ale - it is a nice copper colored ale with a medium head that left attractive lace on the large juice glass I was forced to use in my son's tiny apartment. The first few washes over the taste buds brought back its unique taste - a bit fruity, some malt, a little hoppy and spicy at the end. A slightly creamy texture. I liked it better as I filled the glass with my second and even more with my third. I'm a bit more of a hop head and like a little less fruitiness, but Fat Tire Amber Ale is a nice brew - I'd give it a solid B, maybe a B+.
If these things matter to you as they do to me, New Belgium Brewing is a company worth supporting with your dollars while you enjoy their beers. They are employee-owned and express pride in being the first wind powered brewery in America. New Belgium is also one of 1228 companies who are part of 1% for the Planet who commit 1% of annual sales to various environmental organizations making a positive impact for Mother Earth. Bottoms up and tip a glass for our Mom!

Gems, geocaching, and ribs

We're visiting Franklin, N.C. this weekend. Diagonal downtown parking says it all! Our son is living here in a tiny studio apartment for a few months while in a National Park Service class, so we have a good reason for the 400 mile (one-way) trip. Traffic wasn't bad... even on I-81. Guess we'll see what the late Sunday evening traffic is like. Nice to be away from the snow... only left on the higher elevations here. And yesterday's high reached 61°. Nice. Explored the area, found five geocaches, and enjoyed some great ribs and cold beer at Fat Buddies Ribs & BBQ.
Franklin, Macon County, and the Nantahala National Forest offer stunning scenery, waterfalls, hiking trails, and lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation. We'd noticed an abundance of gem shops in the area. We've learned that Franklin is known as the "Gem Capitol of the World" for its ruby, garnets, and sapphire that still attracts thousands of gem hunters.
Met Earl at breakfast this morning. He's from Michigan and visiting relatives in the area, too. Earl shared some pictures of his wildlife and rustic furniture woodwork at Carvings & More. Nice guy, talented craftsman.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"I love Virginia State Parks"

"I love Virginia State Parks." So says Governor Bob McDonnell at the end of a new TV ad promoting the parks as spring (hopefully soon) arrives. But, he apparently doesn't love them all equally - the governor has proposed to close five state parks: Mason Neck in Fairfax County, False Cape in Virginia Beach, Caledon Natural Area in King George County, Twin Lakes in Prince Edward County, and Staunton River Battlefield in Halifax and Charlotte counties.
The closures will save about $500,000 according to the Governor's Office. State jobs will be lost and the closures will be a hit on tourism in each locality.
A full list of the governor's budget recommendations is here. How much love can we take?

This ain't chicken scratch

Governor Bob McDonnell finally went public with his budget recommendations and, as many expected, much of the bloodshed will come at the expense of state employees, schools, and lower income Virginians.
For example, the governor wants state employees to take five unpaid furlough days in each of the next two years - effectively a pay cut. To soften the blow, he suggested a one-time 3% bonus in December 2011 (the check is in the mail... ha, ha... don't go spending what may be an empty promise) and to roll back former Governor Kaine's suggestion that state employees contribute to the Virginia Retirement System. Instead the governor will simply reduce state contributions to VRS by $786 while school divisions and local governments can save $522 by the same "adjustment." Now that is one fancy budget word... adjustment. What it basically means is the state will underfund future VRS commitments to save dollars and "balance" today's budget. It is kind of like you and I failing to put money in our Roth IRA now but still thinking it will grow anyhow and we'll have the same amount in 20 years. Does the governor think state employees, teachers, and local government employees are all dumb clucks?
The governor bloodied K-12 education with an additional $730 million in cuts (Governor Kaine had already cut $1.2 billion) that will mean thousands of teacher layoffs, larger classes, the end of a breakfast program for kids from low-income families, and lopping off a program to mentor new teachers (many of whom need it for their own as well as the kids' sake). Combined with the governor's support of a change of the Local Composite Index, school divisions in most of the state outside of NOVA will get a double whammy of reduced funding.
His axe fell heavily on an array of programs that help those who have the most difficulty helping themselves. Among the cuts are a reduction of $1.8 million of assistance for free clinics, ending the health department's dental health services, and eliminating programs to help deal with homelessness, domestic violence, and family health. One facility that has garnered lots of support in the Staunton area is the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents - the governor agreed with former Governor Kaine and proposes selling the 48 bed for $9 million (wonder who is in the market for something like this... more phantom money if they don't close a deal on it).
The ghost of Jim Gilmore continues to haunt this state budget like every other budget for the past decade. Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) called the governor's cuts a "political tsunami" and suggested cushioning the impact by rolling back $1.9 billion of "car tax" relief subsidies. There is little support for that in the House of Delegates or from the governor - so watch out for the big wave that will hit some Virginians far more than others. But, I thought we were a "commonwealth."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Take a dump... in the creek

According to TV3, the City of Staunton is dumping piles and piles of snow into Lewis Creek. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind is their attitude, I guess. Clear the streets, water quality be damned. Other cities and towns have similar "solutions" to snow removal.
In Beijing, we saw citizens popping off manhole covers and dumping snow into sewers and drains. But, that is China.
Is this a responsible way to dispose of way too much snow. Hell NO! The roads were treated with salts and other chemicals just before the snowstorm. Add in all the oils and other pollutants that regularly coat city streets. Now we have a toxic brew being dumped directly into Lewis Creek.
I know that Valley snowmelt will eventually end up in Lewis Creek and other streams and creeks. Diluted, it will make its way into South, North, and Middle Rivers and from there into the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. But, snowmelt dumped on fields (even on parking lots) will at least have some soil filtration, some dilution, some time-lag... before being introduced into our streams and rivers. While it is easy to understand why the City of Staunton is looking to take a quick dump - understand this - it is irresponsible to put chemical-laced street scrapings directly into waterways of the Commonwealth. Shame on the Queen City. How dare you city slickers criticize farmers for livestock runoff - take a long look in the mirror!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bob's dodge ball

The Staunton News Leader's Jim McCloskey says it better in a cartoon than I could ever do in words. Bob McDonnell is dodging the people, dodging open government, and covering his own political ass. You can post comments on McCloskey's blog here.

Birds in flight... or, fright?

Breaking precedents of governors of both parties, Bob McDonnell has embarked on a new strategy designed to cover his backside from blame for budget cuts. Instead of offering his own budget amendments, McDonnell is recruiting fellow Republicans in the General Assembly to introduce bills and suggest the cuts. His conversations with the flock are behind-the-scenes and keep his chicken scratch off the record of cuts, many of which will prove to be unpopular.
For his part, the governor says it is a "different strategy" and predicts it will be productive. Could be, I suppose... at least for his political purposes. In this environment deep cuts are inevitable and he will eventually get (as required by the Virginia Constitution) a balanced budget. But, McDonnell's fingerprints won't be on the cleaver as it hacks to the bone. Good strategy for him, but it may leave some GOP delegates and senators with uneasy questions to answer. Still I gotta think he's getting Valley legislators to suggests cuts in NOVA or Tidewater and vice versa. And, many of those cuts may hit Democratic districts harder than those with a Republican legislator.
Because all this is behind closed doors, how are we to know what specific spending cuts the governor supports or doesn't? Government operates best in bright sunlight. But, like a fox in the hen house, the governor's strategy is one of stealth carried out in the shadows. When the broken eggs are discovered by Virginians, he'll simply say "why ya lookin' at me?"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Subversive birds...?

So, the same political mindset and many of the same politicians who demanded school accountability and brought us the "wonderful" SOLs more than a decade ago now want charter schools. These charter schools would be public schools, spending taxpayers dollars, but would be freed of many state regulations and standards. All of a sudden they don't give a cluck about accountability?
Matter of fact, the Governor and his Republican cohorts want charter schools so badly they barely have qualms about bypassing the Virginia Constitution that gives local school boards the power to supervise schools within their jurisdictions. No, they don't trust government closest to the people, instead they are pushing an appeals process that could bypass the local (mostly elected) school boards and let the final decision rest with the State Board of Education. Members of that board will be Bob McDonnell's birds-of-a-feather.
Could this all be part of a long term strategy to permanently hamstring K-12 public education, begin shifting public dollars to quasi-public schools, and eventually to funnel tax dollars to private schools - a long time goal of the right wing? The public and common sense politicians of both parties need to wake up and smell the chicken litter.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

China Trip #7

Post #7 about our trip to China. Even with being at bit housebound because of snow (we lost power the better part of one day), this is taking longer than I expected. But, it is almost like taking the trip again as I sift through the nearly 1,000 pictures we took. To see other posts scroll down and click on "older posts."
Dateline Shanghai: January 12, 2010
Another interesting morning at the breakfast buffet. New varieties of Chinese pancakes and dumplings. The sauteed greens are always good. The young waiters seemed surprised that we wanted refills on the coffee, one finally commenting "you drink a lot of coffee." Seemed like only folks in our group went to the coffee pot - the Chinese businessmen at breakfast were all tea drinkers.
We boarded the bus for the Shanghai World Financial Center, one of the taller buildings in the world and tallest in Shanghai. Located in the Lujiazui Trade Zone it is near the Shanghai Stock Exchange and global financial institutions and hotels. The SWFC has 101 floors and reaches 1,614 feet above ground. At 1,555 feet, the observatory gives a spectacular view of the city and the Huang Pu River. We entered through airport type security and took the super fast and smooth elevators complete with an outstanding light show. Other than ears popping, you hardly know you are moving. There was definite pause before I could take the step on the glass floors.
Shanghai World Financial Center from the ground up.
The view from the observation deck is almost 360° and stunning. Glass floors really give a feeling of floating above the city. Walking up to and leaning against the windows for the view is - well let me just say those last steps were tentative.
Yes, everything was high-tech and high in the air. Even standing at a urinal, the view of the city was stunning. The toilets were ultra high-tech with an arm featuring a control panel and heated seats. Yes, if a guy was squeamish about standing in front of the window to pee, there were alternates against walls.
Leaving the SWFC we went to a park along the river. Street vendors were selling kites and candy covered fruit while couples and tourists strolled along the waterfront checking out the spectacular view of the city and commerce on the river.
Next we visited the Jiangnan Silk Shopping Center. We began with a tour and demonstration to learn more about silk production. From there we entered a large showroom with every imaginable silk item for sale. We bought a mid-weight comforter which they super compressed so we'd be able to stuff it in our luggage. Using it at home, we found it very light weight but very warm, even in our cold house.
A few of the beautiful silk comforters for sale.
Our guide and students in our group use all their strength to stretch out silk. It is very tough and durable... and as we have found out, very warm. All of our hotel rooms had similar comforters.
Lunch was in a big open cafeteria in a shopping district. Somewhat different atmosphere than the other restaurants we'd visited. We'd been served seafood at several meals, but this was the first whole fish.
Several of us tried the fish, but for whatever reason (perhaps the attached head) most at the table passed. It was easy to grab chunks with chop sticks, but I still got some bones.
After lunch we went to Chinatown, an area of traditional shops and restaurants. We toured the nearby gardens and spent some time walking among the shops. By this time we were a bit tired of shopping, but we enjoyed the sights and watching people.
It was difficult to select one picture that we took in the beautiful gardens.
The gardens were beautiful with bridges, ponds, and dragons.
Old and new. From the traditional architecture of the gardens to the ultra modern Shanghai World Finance Center seen in the background.
This giant bug was in a courtyard in Chinatown and attracted lots of attention. It was made of soda cans.
That evening my wife enjoyed a massage at one of the small shops across the street from the hotel. She reported that it was quite intense and it was a good thing she'd been taught to say "Too hard, too hard" in Chinese. The hour cost 150 Chinese REM or about $22.00. About 1/3 of the going rate at home. After two full days, we crashed early that evening.
A few random observations.
What’s up with the covers over the toilet paper? Supposed to keep it clean or keep it out of sight? Maybe make it tear easier? I find it a pain - harder to find the loose end.
No clocks in our hotel rooms on the mainland. Not sure why. But, they give combs, Q-tips, toothbrushes/paste, and at the Beijing hotel, a condom. In Shanghai the bath mirror was heated - no steaming up! Soaps and shampoo seem less scented (at least the hotel type) and suds a little less (could be hard water).
Hotels use electoronic keys like in most major hotels in U.S. At the Jin Gong Jin Jiang Hotel in Shanghai, you just wave the card in front of the lock. Enter the room and place the key in a slot just inside the door and it is like a master light switch. When you take the key upon leaving it shuts things down in about 30 seconds. Good for energy conservation.
The Beijing and Shanghai hotels we stayed in had multi-use electrical outlets so a converter is not really needed most of the time. Electricity in China is 220v. Used a converter for the computer since it included a surge protector, needed it in Hong Kong hotel, and I highly recommend one for travel. Computer and camera battery charger worked fine. I think a hair dryer might not. All the hotels had dryers, anyhow.
At the hotel in Shanghai several students reported someone trying their door during the first night. The next night I was startled awake when the door shook. Remaining quiet, I could hear movement and then nothing more. The next morning there was evidence of cigarette ash next to the door handle and on the floor. Lesson learned - always use the dead bolt and security chain.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Cheat notes

I taught school for 30 years and caught plenty of cheaters. Some were creative and innovative (almost wanted to reward their smarts), others crude and juvenile. Sarah Palin's crib notes fall in the latter category. Most 17 year old Virginia rednecks could do better. Tea party wingnuts should swiftly change to coffee.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chesapeake Clean Water Act

The Chesapeake Clean Water Act (HB 3852 and SB 1816) will require all seven jurisdictions whose waters flow into the Chesapeake to implement specific plans for reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution over the next 15 years. The bill is not just a mandate, it provides the necessary resources to help states and localities achieve its goals. Passage of the Chesapeake Clean Water Act will help assure our rivers and the bay begin the road to recovery. Contact Senator Mark Warner, Senator Jim Webb, and Representative Bob Goodlatte (or the congressman in your area) and encourage them to support the Chesapeake Clean Water Act.
As the Washington Post notes, the act is the Best Hope for the Chesapeake Bay.
Want to learn more? Check out the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Salt Risin'

Snow started early this morn and it looks like a we'll get 2+ feet on top of the 6 inches left from the last one. Wood stove is going, in the middle of a good book about the Civil War, and an excellent time to make bread. Since we're likely to be around the house several days, there will be time for salt risin' bread, which takes about three days and fills the house with a unique aroma... some would say stench. You typically can't find this great toasting bread in stores or most bakeries. Below is a traditional recipe. King Arthur Flour has a recipe using their "starter" that is a little easier and more reliable, but may not be 100% authentic since it uses regular yeast as well.
Salt Risin' Bread
  • 1 large potato thinly sliced
  • 2 heaping TBL of stoneground cornmeal
  • 2 heaping TBL of unbleached flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teasspoon baking powder
  • 1 TBL sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Approx. 3 cups of unbleached flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 TBL sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups of unbleached flour
  • 1 TBL salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup sof veg shortening
  • 1 quart hot milk
Place potato in a quart mason jar and sprinkle on next 6 ingredients. Add boiling water and stir. Cover loosely and place in warm place 12 hours or overnight. Should be foamy and have distinctive aroma.
Pour liquid (discard potato) into a large crockery or glass bowl (original recipe said shortening can) Combine 3 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Then stir into liquid. Place bowl in a large bowl filled with warm water and let rise until doubled or reaches the top.
Sift 3 cups flour into a very large mixing bowl and add 1 TBL salt and 1/2 cup sugar. Work in soft shortening with pastry cutter. Mix in the risen batter and a hot milk. Add more flour if necessary to make workable dough and knead for 15-20 minutes.
Shape into 4 loaves and place in greased loaf pans. Score top if desired. Set in warm place and let rise until doubled.
Bake at 375° for about 1 hour or until loaf sounds hollow when thumped.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Proud to be a member

The Nature Conservancy announced today that it purchased 13,350 acres in the Dragon Run and Mattaponi watersheds. It then sold the land to The Forestland Group but retained a permanent conservation easement on the entire property - it is the largest conservation easement in the Commonwealth's history. According to the press release the easement protects one of the most unique environments in the state:
An ecological gem, Dragon Run includes diverse tidal cypress swamp communities and habitat for 90 bird species, such as bald eagles and prothonotary warblers. The waters are home to 55 species of fish and provide vital nurseries for perch, rockfish, and alewives, which are important for Chesapeake Bay commercial fishermen and sportsmen.
I'm proud to be a member of the Nature Conservancy and know that my dollars in dues/donations contribute in a small way to make preservation like this possible.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

China Trip #6

Dateline Shanghai: January 11, 2010
Breakfast at the Jin Gong Jin Jiang Hotel was similar to those we enjoyed in Beijing. A buffet with a range of western and Chinese foods. The Chinese “pancakes” were excellent as were the sauteed greens, roasted new potatoes, and other veggies. Dumplings are varied and interesting but kind of gummy - perhaps a hazard of sitting in a warmer for too long (although we were the first ones there). The ox tripe soup broth was flavorful but I couldn’t quite get past the chewy texture and mental image. Again, the bacon wasn't the best, but the fruit juices were a bit more like those found in the U.S.
We boarded an early bus for the trip to Shanghai Lixin University of Commerce. A dreary day with mist and snow showers, we gradually left the more urban aeas of Shanghai and went through more rural areas. Still there were industrial parks, newer housing/apartment complexes, and signs of new construction along the way. For example, we went past a tractor/heavy equipment manufacturer with dozens of bright yellow machines lined up.
We also passed by what appeared to be farming areas, but it was difficult to tell much in the middle of winter. Many of the homes we could see from the bus were fairly large but plain and in need of fresh paint - it is unclear to me if they were single or multi family. Most had the entire yard planted in gardens with various greens in raised beds.
There were clusters of "farmhouses" most of which had the area around the house dedicated to gardens and sometimes a small pond. Most houses lacked shutters or other ornaments.
Located in a university “park,” Shanghai Lixin University of Commerce was very modern. The building we visited was large and housed a library and class/conference rooms. We were “treated” to a lecture by a renowned professor of commerce who, like some teachers in the U.S. was wedded to his Power Point. While his English was quite good, there was still some language delay and other communication issues. His long lecture on China’s economic growth, GDP, income, etc. was interesting, but way too long and immersed in numbers for the purposes of our group. There were no student questions, but a couple were posed by the teachers. I asked about growing income disparity in China and what social probleme may occur as a result and what policies wer in place to deal with those left out. He didn’t seem to want that question, but acknowledged it is a problem, talked about a few government programs to address it, and said those individuals who were reapng the benefits should step up with more charity.
From the steps of the library we could see the soccer and athletic fields. On this cold/wet day at the end of exams and beginning of break, there were few students outside. Soccer and basketball are popular sports and we often saw the NBA logo on products (including beer) and on TV sets such as in airports.
We were greeted by two students, one male and one female. Both were nice looking young adults with great English skills. They took us on a dorm tour and joined us for lunch at the KFC located in a row of shops and restaurants that serve the students. By U.S. standards the dorms ware crowded, cold, and spartan. Four students in a room about 12 by 18 feet, one small electric space heater allowed, with slatted “loft” style beds that are tiny compared to those I’d prreviously seen. The students bring their own pad and comforter. There is a toilet room on each floor that also has a large wash-style sink that students use to wash larger items. Down the hall is a small washing machine but no dryer. Showers were on the first floor. In the dorm lobby are boxes resembling mailboxes but were actually boxes for daily delivery of milk to individual students.
Dorm rooms were small and didn't have the abundance of posters and decorations on walls and doors that is typical of an American college.
Dorm room neatness and cleanliness is graded and the scores posted on a chalkboard in the lobby. If scores are low, students may be called out in front of the class by the professor. If low scores persist, it was implied that there could be more dire consequences.
There were 15 t0 20 large dorms, all clones of this one, in the area. Rooms have balconies which, even on this rainy/snowy day, have clothes drying. The female student told my Chinese families "prefer sunshine." Courtyards and open areas are probably nice in the spring, but were raw today.
Student parking - for bicycles only. No students have cars. No parking issues at this university! Our guide told us that most Chinese have older bikes to deter theft.
We had lunch at a KFC in long row of shops and fast food places that service students in the dorms located just behind.Very busy and most of the young servers only knew broken English. (Our student guides had excellent English). We had French fries (just like in U.S.), a chicken wrap that came in spicy or sweet (got sweet) and included cucumber sliced lenghtwise, and a spicy beef wrapped in a pentagon shape with a sauce, lettuce and other veggies. In place of one of the fries we got a cup of a corn/pepper “relish” served cold with a creamy sauce. Pretty good!
KFC is the most popular American fast food chain. McDonald's second. You'll find items such as burgers and french fries with which you are familiar, but many things are modified for Chinese tastes. Hence, cucumber in place of pickles or lettuce and Chinese seasonings. Sometimes servings are smaller, too.
After lunch we boarded the bus and headed towards our next stop, an automobile manufacturing plant. Along the way were more rural scenes, rivers and canals used for shipping, plant nurseries, and construction. Along the highway we could seen large buildings, presumably factories, on both sides and in the distance.
When we got off the highway and on smaller roads we went through housing areas with apartments and small shops and stores. Yes, there was traffic, but many people walked or rode bikes and mopeds. No shopping centers or grocery stores like those we are used to, all small shops and street vendors. Most apartments are small, refrigerators are also small, so families shop every day or two. Of course, the store is often just a short walk or bike ride.
Hard for folks in the Shenandoah Valley to believe, but we didn't see one pickup truck the entire time in China. There are many trucks, most somewhat like the one in the picture. Some have cabs, or at least covers, while others have flatbeds with low sides. On the highways we saw lots of tractor-trailers (not as many as I-81), but all were smaller than American 18-wheelers. Most looked like our trucks of 50 years ago.
We arrived at the automobile manufacutring plant, Shanghai Maple, that builds cars mostly for the rural Chinese market. It was located in an industrial park with other factories. Shanghai Maple is part of Geely Automotive that recently acquired Volvo. Nice looking vehicles that could be clones of GM or Honda models. They also make London Taxi and other brands. The plant was modern, clean, and looked very efficient, although there wasn’t a lot of robotics replacing human labor. The company makes its own engines and perhaps some other major parts at nearby facilities.
Shanghai Maple's smallest car is nicknamed the "Panda" and if I recall correctly sells for about $10,000US.
This London Taxi line must be exported. We didn't see any in Beijing, Shanghai, or Hong Kong. Most taxis in Beijing were Hyundai or VW Jettas. It seemed all the taxis in Shanghai were Jettas - VW was the first major car manufacturer to locate in Shanghai and in return they got a corner on the taxi market there.
Is it an Accord or what? This Shanghai Maple model is a close copy of Japanese and American brands, something that has raised criticism for Chinese automakers who dodge R&D to focus on manufacturing as cheaply as possible. In an environment were knockoffs of watches, iPhones, and other consumer goods is common, I guess it says something that they at least aren't putting a western nameplate on the car.
Returning to Shanghai we went to a shopping district and had some free time to roam the mostly upscale stores, many with brands familiar to Americans - Nike, Levis, Rolex, etc.
Bright lights are suspended between elevators taking shoppers higher and higher in this urban mall. Stores like Toys R Us and Dickies are intermingled with jewelry, luggage, clothing, and other shops.
Bright city lights and shoppers filled the shopping areas of Shanghai.
That night we went to an acrobatic show and the very lush, plush, and upscale Ritz-Carlton Hotel. No pics were allowed. One of the students was picked to be the “target” in a knife throwing act. Most of the audience was western. Amazing show. You can see some representative pics and videos of the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe at this website.

Big Brother Obenshain

Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) has introduced SB137 would give Big Brother an assist while intimidating potential voters - it should be defeated. The bill would permit the State Board of Elections to give (for a "reasonable fee") commissioners of the revenue and treasurers lists of registered voters for use in tax assessment, tax collection, and tax enforcement.
While I'd like to believe Senator Obenshain just wants to ease the burden on the tax collector and to assist with filling the government coffers, the obvious truth is that combining voting and tax collection is a horrible idea. It is hard to see how much benefit this would add to traditional tax enforcement; but it is easy to see this could have a chilling effect on voter registration. Anyone who has tax issues, or who simply hates the taxman, might decide that registration is more of an invasion of privacy than it is worth. Already, some people don't register because they might get called for jury duty.
Senator Mark "Big Brother" Obenshain's bad idea is before the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. Contact them and urge them to vote NO on intimidating voters by intermixing registration and tax collection.