Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hood Canal "Deadliest Catch"

"Deadliest Catch" might be the best show on television. Those guys are amazing. So, last May when I was invited to go shrimping on Hood Canal, it conjured up all sorts of thoughts-- mostly that it would be as close as I'll ever get to being like those crabbers in Alaska (which isn't very close . . . . I know).

Hood Canal and the rest of Puget Sound were created about 13,000 years ago, during the Late Pleistocene by a great ice sheet. The Marmes Man was probably walking around the ice sheet about that time. (Watch for a future post on the Marmes Man and Dry Falls).

Hood Canal was named by the Captain George Vancouver in 1792, when he was making a detailed survey of the Coast of British Columbia. His ships were named the Discovery and Chatham. The United States Board on Geographic Names decided on "Hood Canal" as the official name in 1932.

We were going to catch the "spotted" or "spot" shrimp or, officially, pandalus platyceros. The spotted shrimp (or prawn) is found from Alaska to Southern California, as well as in the Sea of Japan and Korea Straight. Spot shrimp are the largest species of shrimp in Puget Sound and can reach more than nine inches in length, excluding the antennae. They are reddish-brown and deep-pink in color and are recognized by the white spots on their body. They are most commonly found 300 feet deep and below on sandy and rocky floors.

Interestingly, spot prawns are "protandric hermaphroditic" meaning that each individual initially matures as a male and then passes through a transition stage to become a female. Spot prawns usually live for about 4 years, starting their lives as males and maturing at one year of age. They function as mature males for 2 years and then transform into females in their final year of life. Females might mate only once.

The season is only open a couple of days each year. Due to extremely high catch rates in 2010, the Hood Canal quota was attained in four days, so no additional days of fishing were allowed in 2010. There are a lot of technical and scientific papers about spot shrimp on the internet, particularly because they are harvested commercially, too. There are also some websites for sport shrimpers, which I suppose is what we were called that afternoon. Still, we had to have a shellfish license from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and our limit was 80 shrimp per person.

The shrimp pots had a yellow buoy marked with a name and contact information and 250-350 feet of rope. Inside the pot is a mesh bait container. The bait can be made of different things, as shrimp are omnivores and will feed on most fishy things-- fish guts and meat sprayed with fish oil for additional scent, scented pellets, or the favored canned cat food.

For many years the cat food “Puss’n Boots” was a popular and effective choice because it was soaked in fish oil. "If it isn't 'Puss n'Boots' cat food you're not fishing. I usually use cat food, with addition ingredients with fish scraps as hanging bait. You need the odor to draw the shrimp in and the hanging bait to keep them in."-- James Schufreider.

The company has gone out of business. It was made by Coast Fishing Co. of South California, which was bought out by Quaker Oats and later sold to Del Monte. It was later discontinued due to lack of sales. I don't know what "Puss'n Boots" smelled like, as we always fed our dog "Friskies."

We put the shrimp pots over the side of the boat and let them soak-- just like they do in "Deadliest Catch." They were down about 300 feet. Gloves are good for hauling the pots, but we had a winch aboard.

That was it-- shrimping on Hood Canal in the spirit of all the great fishermen.
(Captain Phil Harris 1956-2010)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Herbs, Neon and Other Spices

Neon signs make food taste better, and so do candles. Herbs help, too, along with the smells of butter, melted animal fat and carbon. So, the best tasting food is seasoned with herbs and is eaten under the glow of a neon sign with a small flame flickering on the table. Mmm..... The Good Life!

A walk through Seattle's Pike Place Market can get a guy motivated to learn something about food. No harm in learning something new.

I decided a good way to learn about herbs was to grow some. I got some from the local hardware store between the Chevron station and McDonald's. Friends also have good suggestions.

These are some of the planters containing the growing herbs.

Basically, you can just clip a few leaves and stuff them between a couple of pieces of whole wheat bread-- toasted and buttered. There's more to it than that, but it's a start.

The herbs I'm growing this spring and summer-- cilantro, parsley, chives (onion and garlic tasting), sage, oregano, rosemary, thyme, spearmint and basil. Some grow better than others, aphids like some and avoid others, some grow fast but others slow, etc., etc. It's a learning project.

Here are my chives, rosemary, basil, cilantro, spearmint and sage--

Before this little project, the only spices I knew were salt, pepper, butter, ketchup, mustard, garlic, onion, Bar-B-Q sauce, Tabasco, cinnamon, cream and sugar. You can do a lot with those. Still, there's always more to learn about spices and herbs, and an easy way to do it is to plant them and water them. Plus, a guy can really begin to appreciate the knowledge and use of herbs by others.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Seattle to Reno

JJ Campbell was going to ride his motorcycle to Las Vegas and on to Yuma in April, so I decided to take a long weekend and ride part way with him to Reno and then return for work.

We watched the weather and decided to take I-5 South into Oregon. A guy I know, Marty Hayes, had ridden his motorcycle to Phoenix for a trial earlier in the week and had to lay over a full day due to snow. That's his snow-covered bike pictured below. He suggested we stay away from Eastern Washington and Oregon, which was higher and colder. So, even though it was rainy in Seattle, we headed south on I-5 and would later make a decision whether to turn east at Mount Shasta or further south at Donner Pass.

We stayed the first night in Oregon, and then headed into California the next morning. A California Highway Patrolman told us the road was clear around Shasta, so we headed east. It was in the high 20's and low 30's, with some light rain now and then, but the road was clear and basically dry. No ice on the road, but snow on the shoulders of the road. We thought there might be loose gravel from the road crews, but it was fine.

We dropped down into Susanville and warmed up over some Kentucky Fried Chicken and then hit the road again. We got into Reno late the second afternoon. We stayed a couple of nights at the Silver Legacy. I noticed some empty buildings and felt Reno is being hurt by the economic downturn and Indian Casinos. The lack of people was noticeable since I was last there a couple of years ago, but maybe it was the time of year.

When it came time to leave, the television reported that there was snow on the highway to Donner Pass, with traffic backed up. I decided to head north through the desert into Eastern Oregon and Washington, hoping to bypass the storm and stay dry, even if colder.

The skies were big and I could see storm clouds coming. There were some light snow flurries in Susanville as I headed north, then a few light showers as I headed northeast, but I pretty much missed all the rain clouds and storms-- rode right between them. The scenery was beautiful. It was pretty cold. I had four layers over my legs, and nine layers over my chest-- (1) long T-shirt, (2) wool shirt, (3) leather vest, (4) light nylon shell, (5) rain pants bib, (6) sweat shirt, (7) jacket liner, (8) leather jacket and (9) rubber rain coat. That, with chemical hand-warmers in the toes of my boots, made the ride pretty comfortable. All that, and the electric seat.

It was a trip I've made several times before, but always in the summer. This might have been a little early in the year. Then, again . . . . it was worth it. (JJ Campbell rode back from Yuma later in the month).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stimulating Unemployment and Inflation

The policies of the Obama Administration are continuing to stimulate unemployment, not jobs. Moreover, rampant inflation is coming, a future result of those same policies. There are two very knowledgeable and well-respected economists who explain it quite simply—Dr. Walter Williams and Dr. Thomas Sowell.

The following is condensed from Dr. Walter Williams' July 14, 2010, article “A Failed Obama Hero”—

Let’s look at the failed stimulus program of Obama’s hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The unemployment figures for FDR’s first eight years were: 18 percent in 1935; 14 percent in 1936; by 1938, unemployment was back to 20 percent. The stock market fell nearly 50 percent between August 1937 and March 1938. During the Roosevelt Administration, the top marginal income tax rate was raised at first to 79 percent and then later to 90 percent. In 1941, Roosevelt even proposed a whopping 99.5 percent marginal rate on all incomes over $100,000.

Where do the trillion-plus dollars come from that Congress and President Obama are spending in an effort to stimulate the economy? The only way government can spend a dollar is to tax or borrow it.

In the case of a tax, one should ask what would that taxpayer have done with the dollar had it not been taxed away. He would have spent it on something that would have created a job for someone. If the government hadn’t borrowed the dollar, it might have been invested in some project that would have created a job. When government taxes, borrows and spends, it shifts unemployment from one sector to another. Of course, the sector that benefits tends to be a political favorite of the shifter.

Between 1787 and 1930, our nation has seen both mild and sever economic downturns, sometimes called panics, that have ranged from one to seven years. During that interval, no one considered it to be the business of the federal government to try to get the economy out of a depression because there was no constitutional authority to do so. It took the government to turn what might have been a three- or four-year sharp downturn into a 15-year meltdown.

The following is condensed from Dr. Thomas Sowell’s July 13, 2010, article “Signs of the Times”–

Barack Obama has spent hundreds of billions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money just by using the magic words “stimulus” and “jobs.” It doesn’t matter that the stimulus is not actually stimulating and that the unemployment rate remains up near double-digit levels, despite all the spending and all the rhetoric about jobs.

Not only has all the runaway spending and rapid escalation of the deficit to record levels failed to make any real headway in reducing unemployment, all this money pumped into the economy has also failed to produce inflation [so far].

How can the government pour trillions of dollars into the economy and not even see the price level go up significantly? Economists have long known that it is not just the amount of money, but also the speed with which it circulates, that affects the price level.

The velocity of circulation of money in the American economy has plummeted to its lowest level in half a century. Business are holding on to their money. There should not be any great mystery as to why they don’t invest it.

With the Obama Administration being on an anti-business kick, boasting of putting their foot on some business’ neck, and the President talking about putting his foot on another part of the anatomy, with Congress coming up with more and more red tape, more mandates and more heavy-handed interventions in businesses, why would a business risk money it might not even be able to get back, much less make any money on the deal? Banks have cut back on lending, despite all the billions of dollars that were dumped into them in the name of “stimulus.”
Consumers have also cut back on spending.

People don’t know what to expect next from this administration, which seldom lets a month go by without some new anti-business laws, policies or rhetoric. Businesses have no way of knowing what additional costs the politicians in Washington are going to impose, when they are constantly coming up with new bright ideas for imposing more mandates on business.

One of the little noticed signs of what is going on has been the increase in the employment of temporary workers. Businesses have been increasingly meeting their need for labor by hiring temporary workers and working their existing employees overtime instead of hiring new people
because temporary workers don’t get health insurance or other benefits, and working existing employees overtime doesn’t add to the cost of their benefits.

There is no free lunch—and the biggest price of all is paid by people who are unemployed because politicians cannot leave the economy alone to recover.

Walter E. Williams was born in Philadelphia in 1936, holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from California State University (1965) and a master’s degree (1967) and doctorate (1972) in economics from the University of California at Los Angeles. In 1980, he joined the faulty of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and is currently Distinguished Professor of Economics. More than 50 of his publications have appeared in scholarly journals such as Economic Inquiry, American Economic Review and Social Science Quarterly and popular publications such as Reader’s Digest, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. He is also the author of several books.

Thomas Sowell was born in North Carolina and grew up in Harlem. He left home early and did not finish high school. Eventually, he joined the Marine Corps and became a photographer in the Korean War. After leaving the service, Thomas Sowell entered Harvard University and studied economics. After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University (1958), Thomas Sowell went on to receive his master’s in economics from Columbia University (1959) and a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago (1968). He has published a dozen books, as well as numerous articles and essays. He is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute in Stanford, California.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Thelonious Monk

Our jazz quintet plays a lot of songs by Thelonious Monk-- Well You Needn't, Straight No Chaser, Misterioso, In Walked Bud, Let's Cool One, Blue Monk, I Mean You, and 'Round Midnight. Monk's songs sound unique, and I wanted to learn more about him.

Thelonious Monk lived 1917 through 1982, so he died at age 65. He was jazz pianist and composer, considered one of the giants of American music. Some have said he invented "bebop," but I think he's a lot bigger than that. He wrote about 70 songs.

"His compositions and improvisations are full of dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists."

There's an excellent biography about Thelonious Sphere Monk written by Robin D. G. Kelley titled Thelonious Monk, The Life and Times of an American Original (2009). It's hard to imagine how a book about a jazz musician can be a "page-turner," but it is, at least for this reader.

Monk's melody lines and harmonies are very distinctive, and I wondered if his song writing and improvisation came naturally or if he really had to study and think. The answer is probably "both." But, (as am amateur musician) I was relieved to learn that he practiced a lot. A lot.

Kelley writes how Monk, working his way through "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," the theme song for Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra, sounded on a recording of his practice--

The first take is painstaking; in five minutes, he gets through just one chorus of the melody. As he wrestles with each measure, every note in his reinterpretation of the melody is carefully placed. By the second take, played rubato (out of tempo), there are more alternations to the melody and increasingly dissonant harmonies. Toward the end of this take, Thelonious begins to integrate stride piano and improvises for the first time . . . The fourth, fifth, and sixth takes, which together add up to a little over an hour of continuous playing, are an exercise in discovery. Monk works through a wide range of improvised figures in a fairly systematic way. He repeats certain phrases, making small rhythmic and tonal alterations each time to see how they sound. . . [This] represents a fraction of what it took to transform "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" into a Monk original.

Monk played with all the other great jazz musicians through the 1940's to 1970's-- tenor sax players Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane, trumpet players Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davie, alto sax player Charlie Parker, and drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach. There are many, many more.

(That's Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, Roy Eldridge and Teddy Hill outside Minton's).

It's probably safe to say that Monk's genius was under-appreciated, and there were many times when he couldn't get gigs. He was prohibited from performing in New York for a period because of a minor drug conviction. But, some of Monk's troubles were caused by a then undefined mental illness. Monk was hospitalized on several occasions due to an unspecified mental illness that worsened in the late 1960s. No reports or diagnoses were ever publicized, but Monk would often become excited for two or three days, pace for days after that, after which he would withdraw and stop speaking. It may have been manic depression or schizophrenia, or he may have been bipolar.

On February 28, 1964, Monk appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and was featured in an article inside.

Here's some of what author Kelley writes about Monk's music--

Monk's unique sound has a lot to do with how he voiced his chords. As early as 1941, he was already experimenting with "open" voicing-- i.e. sometimes playing just the root and seventh of a dominant or major seventh chord, eliminating the third and fifth. The impact on the ear is quite startling. A standard major seventh voicing with the root on the bottom- C-E-G-B -sounds consonant, but remove the E and G and suddenly you have a highly dissonant chord, because the two remaining notes are only a half-tone away from each other. Invert the chord and you have a minor second. Often he would eliminate the root altogether and just play the seventh or the ninth in the bass.

Also, Monk was given credit for introducing the half-diminished chord, a minor seventh chord with a diminished or "flat" fifth (e.g. C-Eb-Gb-Bb). It became an essential element of Monk's harmonic language, partly because of the dissonance created by the C-Gb. That flatted fifth or "tritone" was critical to what would become his harmonic signature.