RANDOM THOUGHTS #6 - MARIJUANA/FREE SPEECH/ABORTION, MURDER

MARIJUANA/FREE SPEECH/ABORTION
The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed the Veterans Equal Access Amendment allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans suffering from PTSD, chronic pain, and other conditions for which the substance may be prescribed. This would have been an encouraging development if only co-sponsor Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) had just kept his mouth shut.

Instead of simply saying that giving veterans all of the tools that we are able to give them to afford them the best possible chance to recover from the consequences of their service is the right thing to do, Daines couldn't help being a Republican. "It's a free speech issue," he declared. This from a guy who has a 100% Right To Life approval rating and 0% from folks promoting reproductive choice. I admit that I'm lazy. I haven't looked to see if Daines has been confronted, either in the House or the Senate, with a vote concerning what doctors can say, cannot say, or are required to say to patients in regard to abortion under various circumstances. But my guess is that the First Amendment wouldn't carry nearly the same weight in such circumstances.

Blatant hypocrisy. Prove me wrong.

MURDER
I'm not going to comment on any specific case. I don't know any of the details. I wasn't present when this cop shot an unarmed suspect or that homeowner stood his ground. What I do know, though, is that judges and juries seem to be content to declare open season on unarmed folks in several recent incidents that have made it to the national media.

I've ridden the subway in New York City late at night. I've hitchhiked thousands of miles and I've picked up dozens of hitchhikers. I've walked through some of Paris' sleazier neighborhoods. There are times that I've been confronted with situations that came close to triggering fight-or-flight. But it's never come to that. And as a result, I've never felt the need either to modify my behavior or to carry a gun.

To be fair, not all prosecutions have ended with acquittals. And not all stand-your-ground shootings are unjustified. But the taking of a human life should be a serious business. The tide is turning against capital punishment because states are beginning to realize that even given the best of intentions and what had been thought to be rigorous legal requirements in order to invoke the death penalty, too many mistakes have been made. Judges and juries get it wrong in spite of careful deliberation.

Apparently, though, we're OK with individuals invoking the death penalty on the spur of the moment, without consequences, when the gun that they feared didn't exist or was a flashlight or a toy. Sorry, but I just don't get it.


RANDOM THOUGHTS #5 - IRELAND/GAY MARRIAGE, TEXAS/OKLAHOMA/FRACKING & JEB BUSH/ARROGANCE

IRELAND/GAY MARRIAGE
Now that I live in Europe, my sources of news and information have changed drastically. No more television or radio news. PBS, FOX, and NPR were my mainstays. We only subscribed to the weekend editions of our local newspaper, a rag on the way down. Daily, we subscribed to the The Wall Street Journal. As a result, our primary news sources were easily identifiable as being left or right of the political center. It's different now. I'm not always certain of the point of view of a particular source. Take, for instance, the Irish referendum on gay marriage.

I use an app called Flipboard as one of my information sources these days. Flipboard's news board aggregates articles from a wide variety of sources - from FOX to Huffington Post, from the The New York Times to the The Wall Street Journal and more from the States. And from abroad, Al Jazeera, Reuters, BBC and The Guardian all contribute. And I've just finished The Guardian's early analysis of the results of the Irish referendum on gay marriage. And I thought at first that The Guardian must be right of center.And then I read that it's considered left of center. And now I'm confused.

I'm confused because The Guardian emphasized anti-Catholicism due to the abuse scandals, foreign money, and pandering politicians as reasons for the landslide victory of the Yes vote. In fairness, they also pointed out that young, first-time voters played a huge hand. Here's hoping that young voters around the world will continue to express their more hopeful, empathetic nature at the ballot box even when high-profile issues are not at stake. We need their youthful optimism during school board elections just as much as we need them for referendums such as this one.

TEXAS/OKLAHOMA/FRACKING
Texas has thought seriously about secession. Can Oklahoma be far behind? The problem? States Rights. Federal overreach. The Feds just don't understand the importance of local control.

Yet both states' governments have decided that local municipalities don't have the right to ban fracking within their borders. Seismic shifts? Contaminated drinking water? Suck it up. What Big Oil wants, Big Oil gets. That's Texas...and Oklahoma...and...

JEB BUSH/ARROGANCE
"For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant, to be honest with you." Jeb goes on to say, according to CNN, "It's this intellectual arrogance that now you can't have a conversation about it, even. The climate is changing. We need to adapt to that reality."

If that were true, if we could not have a conversation about climate change because of the closed minds of the scientists and the proponents of the scientific consensus, I might agree with Jeb. The problem isn't with the scientists, though. The problem is with the politicians who not only refuse to accept that consensus but who pass laws promoting ignorance on the subject. NASA, the military, the environmental agencies in several states, all under attack for trying to understand the scope of climate change and deal with the effects.

It's as if, during the debate about the safety of cigarettes, Congress had cut funding for NIH lung cancer research. It's bought and paid for, intentional ignorance that's the problem, not arrogance.

HOTEL JALABERT - RESTAURANT REVIEW

If ever there was a restaurant review that required a warning label, this is the one. When visiting Hotel Jalabert, you can't care about the niceties. There's no menu. There's only jug wine, probably from the local cooperative. The dishes, glasses, and utensils are clunky. The 'napkins' are old tea towels. And there's a slightly musty odor in the background, the result of the woodwork having soaked up generations of grease. But if you want to taste food as it might have been served to you in a French farmhouse kitchen 50 years ago, there's not a better place to have that experience...other than a French farmhouse. This was our third visit to Hotel Jalabert and each has been rewarding.

Madame greets us with a genuine smile and handshakes all around. She's stooped and shrinking and ageless. I have no doubt that she served partisans...perhaps during WWI? Our non-uniformed waitress (grand-daughter?) asked who wanted the poultry and who wanted the pork. The ladies took the former and I the latter. Meanwhile, Madame brought us rose wine in an unmarked bottle with a cork shoved in, well chilled. 

Out came a simple salad, just fresh lettuce with a homemade oil and vinegar dressing. Then rounds of fresh bread (no butter). Then a charcuterie plate - three portions each of Serrano, pate en croute, suacisson, and head cheese. A happy addition was a wedge of the very tasty house pate. When we were finished, having been given plenty of time, the charcuterie was removed but the salad stayed. Then came the main course.

My pork cheeks came in a metal bowl, braised with red bell pepper to fork tenderness, with a simple reduction. The poultry (guinea fowl?) was also braised, with olives, not quite as thoroughly as the pork, and served with a reduction. We shared a large bowl of pasta for which grated fresh cheese was provided as the only dressing. It was all good, plain, hearty food and more than we could finish.

At about this point, Madame walked through, noticed that we had about finished our wine, and brought us another bottle.

Cheese plate next - mimolette, brie, and a white, perhaps comte. Then dessert - house-made chocolate mousse with bits of chocolate and a dab of whipped cream. The French really do know how to do chocolate. And finally, coffee poured from a kettle.

54 Euros total for the three of us.

I can't stress enough that the Hotel Jalabert is not for everyone. It's caught in a time warp and is not haute cuisine to begin with. But it's a favorite of ours. And we hope Madame lasts forever.


EDIT: Madame has retired. She left a note: "After preparing meals for you for the past 53 years, I have decided to devote the time that I have left to preparing meals for my family." God Bless!

Read more of my reviews HERE.
You have to be adventurous. You can't care about the niceties. There's no menu. There's only jug wine, probably from the local cooperative. The dishes, glasses, and utensils are old and clunky. The 'napkins' are old tea towels. But if you want to taste food as it might have been served to you in a French kitchen 50 years ago, there's not a better place to have that experience. This was our third visit and each has been rewarding.

Madame greets us with a smile missing more teeth than it contains. She's stooped and smiling and ageless. I have no doubt that she served partisans...perhaps during WWI? Our non-uniformed waitress (grand-daughter?) asked who wanted the poultry and who wanted the pork. The ladies took the former and I the latter. Meanwhile, Madame brought us rose wine in an unmarked bottle with a cork shoved in, well chilled. Out came a simple salad, just fresh lettuce with a homemade oil and vinegar dressing. Then rounds of fresh bread (no butter). Then a charcuterie plate - three portions each of Serrano, pate en croute, and head cheese. A happy addition was a wedge of the very tasty house pate. When we were finished, having been given plenty of time, the charcuterie was removed but the salad stayed. Then came the main course.

My pork cheeks came in a metal bowl, braised with red bell pepper to fork tenderness, with a simple reduction. The poultry (guinea fowl?) was also braised, with olives, not quite as thoroughly as the pork, and served with a reduction. We shared a large bowl of pasta for which grated fresh cheese was provided as the only dressing. It was all good, plain, hearty food and more than we could finish.

At about this point, Madame walked through, noticed that we had about finished our wine, and brought us another bottle.

Cheese plate next - mimolette, brie, and a white, perhaps comte. Then dessert - house-made chocolate mousse with bits of chocolate and a dab of whipped cream. The French really do know how to do chocolate. And finally, coffee poured from a kettle.

54 Euros.

I can't stress enough that the Hotel Jalabert is not for everyone. It's caught in a time warp and was not haute cuisine to begin with. But it's a favorite of ours. And we hope Madame lasts forever.
You have to be adventurous. You can't care about the niceties. There's no menu. There's only jug wine, probably from the local cooperative. The dishes, glasses, and utensils are old and clunky. The 'napkins' are old tea towels. But if you want to taste food as it might have been served to you in a French kitchen 50 years ago, there's not a better place to have that experience. This was our third visit and each has been rewarding.

Madame greets us with a smile missing more teeth than it contains. She's stooped and smiling and ageless. I have no doubt that she served partisans...perhaps during WWI? Our non-uniformed waitress (grand-daughter?) asked who wanted the poultry and who wanted the pork. The ladies took the former and I the latter. Meanwhile, Madame brought us rose wine in an unmarked bottle with a cork shoved in, well chilled. Out came a simple salad, just fresh lettuce with a homemade oil and vinegar dressing. Then rounds of fresh bread (no butter). Then a charcuterie plate - three portions each of Serrano, pate en croute, and head cheese. A happy addition was a wedge of the very tasty house pate. When we were finished, having been given plenty of time, the charcuterie was removed but the salad stayed. Then came the main course.

My pork cheeks came in a metal bowl, braised with red bell pepper to fork tenderness, with a simple reduction. The poultry (guinea fowl?) was also braised, with olives, not quite as thoroughly as the pork, and served with a reduction. We shared a large bowl of pasta for which grated fresh cheese was provided as the only dressing. It was all good, plain, hearty food and more than we could finish.

At about this point, Madame walked through, noticed that we had about finished our wine, and brought us another bottle.

Cheese plate next - mimolette, brie, and a white, perhaps comte. Then dessert - house-made chocolate mousse with bits of chocolate and a dab of whipped cream. The French really do know how to do chocolate. And finally, coffee poured from a kettle.

54 Euros.

I can't stress enough that the Hotel Jalabert is not for everyone. It's caught in a time warp and was not haute cuisine to begin with. But it's a favorite of ours. And we hope Madame lasts forever.
You have to be adventurous. You can't care about the niceties. There's no menu. There's only jug wine, probably from the local cooperative. The dishes, glasses, and utensils are old and clunky. The 'napkins' are old tea towels. But if you want to taste food as it might have been served to you in a French kitchen 50 years ago, there's not a better place to have that experience. This was our third visit and each has been rewarding.

Madame greets us with a smile missing more teeth than it contains. She's stooped and smiling and ageless. I have no doubt that she served partisans...perhaps during WWI? Our non-uniformed waitress (grand-daughter?) asked who wanted the poultry and who wanted the pork. The ladies took the former and I the latter. Meanwhile, Madame brought us rose wine in an unmarked bottle with a cork shoved in, well chilled. Out came a simple salad, just fresh lettuce with a homemade oil and vinegar dressing. Then rounds of fresh bread (no butter). Then a charcuterie plate - three portions each of Serrano, pate en croute, and head cheese. A happy addition was a wedge of the very tasty house pate. When we were finished, having been given plenty of time, the charcuterie was removed but the salad stayed. Then came the main course.

My pork cheeks came in a metal bowl, braised with red bell pepper to fork tenderness, with a simple reduction. The poultry (guinea fowl?) was also braised, with olives, not quite as thoroughly as the pork, and served with a reduction. We shared a large bowl of pasta for which grated fresh cheese was provided as the only dressing. It was all good, plain, hearty food and more than we could finish.

At about this point, Madame walked through, noticed that we had about finished our wine, and brought us another bottle.

Cheese plate next - mimolette, brie, and a white, perhaps comte. Then dessert - house-made chocolate mousse with bits of chocolate and a dab of whipped cream. The French really do know how to do chocolate. And finally, coffee poured from a kettle.

54 Euros.

I can't stress enough that the Hotel Jalabert is not for everyone. It's caught in a time warp and was not haute cuisine to begin with. But it's a favorite of ours. And we hope Madame lasts forever.

RANDOM THOUGHTS #4 - B.B. KING, WYOMING/FIRST AMENDMENT, FAST TRACK/PROGRESSIVES

B.B. KING
Rest In Peace.

I'm not capable of adding significantly to what will be written about B.B. in the coming weeks and months. But here's a tip. If you're not into guitar-driven blues, and I understand that not everyone is, give a listen to Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan. It's mostly swing and jive. It's upbeat and fun. And the players are top notch. You won't hear overmuch of B.B.'s guitar but you'll get a good feel for the man's joyous feel for music.


WYOMING/FIRST AMENDMENT
Slate reports that the Wyoming legislature has just passed a law making it illegal on open lands to gather data intended for use to report, among other things, environmental crimes to the state or federal government. The report suggests that taking a photograph of a criminal environmental act in Wyoming (illegal dumping in a watercourse on federal land, for instance) would result in a jail term for the photographer.

Folks out West are fond of saying that the federal government has overreached its authority, that it's time for citizens to take back their government. Instead of government telling us what to do, so the rationale goes, we should be telling the government what to do. Well, how do you take back your government if your government criminalizes that act of exposing lawlessness? How do you tell your government that your neighbor has polluted your water if your government doesn't allow you to provide the proof?

Libertarians should be up in arms. My Libertarian friends have justified defunding the EPA to me by insisting that citizens have the right to sue polluters who befoul their air and water. That should be enough, they say. But how do citizens sue polluters if citizens are prevented from gathering evidence against them? How can the First Amendment be twisted sufficiently to ban photography on open lands, notwithstanding the First Amendment right to petition the government?

Shame on Wyoming, whose legislature is over 80% Republican. I wonder. Do they call themselves Conservatives?

FAST TRACK/PROGRESSIVES
There's nothing more disappointing to an old-school Liberal than being presented with proof that Progressives are just as intellectually dishonest as Conservatives.

Senate Democrats continue to oppose Obama's request for 'fast track' trade pact authority. Understand, the Senate is not considering a treaty. The Senate is considering fast tracking the treaty, whether or not to hold an up-or-down, simple majority, no amendments, no filibuster vote on whatever treaty Obama eventually negotiates and sends to the Senate. It seems like just yesterday that Senate Democrats were excoriating their Republican counterparts for interfering with Obama's ability to negotiate with a foreign power (Iran), interfering before the terms of the deal were known. In the recent past, Senate Democrats have also spoken forcefully for up-and-down, no filibuster, simple majority votes on any number of issues.

Shame on Senate Democrats. Shame on Progressives. They have acted with no more philosophical consistency than their Conservative counterparts.

RANDOM THOUGHTS #3 - TEXAS/SENATORS/CLIMATE CHANGE/TINFOIL

TEXAS/TINFOIL
Texas Governor Greg Abbott is reported to have ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor training exercises being conducted by Navy Seals and Green Berets in Texas as well as in other states. There are reasons that he's doing so, I suppose. There are also reasons that people wear tinfoil hats.

SENATORS/TINFOIL
Several Senators (some who are running for President, by the way) say that they are looking into the possibility that the United States is preparing to invade Texas. There are reasons that they're doing so, I suppose. There are also reasons that people wear tinfoil hats.

CLIMATE CHANGE/TINFOIL
I secretly admire the Forbes family. Papa Malcolm Forbes was a motorcycle aficionado, to be forgiven for his taste for Harleys. I knew some of his riding buddies. Good guys. Son Steve is kind of a nerd, though, to the Right of me politically, but I admire him for championing a flat tax. It's the way to go. (Here's my take on a flat tax.) And Forbes as a magazine is not as doctrinaire as some, although it's clearly the product of and beholden to the monied class.

Recently, an opinion piece in Forbes by Robert Bradley was featured on Yahoo's home page. Bradley is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research and was cited as such. But a modicum of digging uncovers that Bradley trained strictly as an economist and worked for sixteen years at Enron, ending his tenure as Director for Public Policy Analysis. And, of course, he's a climate change denier. How could he be anything else?

I get that some folks are tired of hearing that 97% of climate scientists agree. I get that some folks are adamant that climate change is a vast hoax. But these are the same folks who are perfectly willing to entertain the notion that Earth is 6,000 years old or that early humans rode dinosaurs like mechanical bulls. Or they are the politicians that pander to the holders of such notions. I cannot believe that our politicians are actually that stupid. I refuse to believe it. They've simply been bought in the same way that one buys a Gucci handbag. They're just a touch more expensive than Gucci.

It's time to insist that our leaders be made of sterner, less pliable, more intellectually honest stuff.

LE SOMAIL VIDE GRENIER 2015 - COMMUNITY YARD SALE ALONG THE CANAL DU MIDI

Vide Grenier is the French term for a community yard sale. Literally translating as Empty Attic, vide greniers can be anything from a few tables in a local community hall to a kilometer or more of trash and treasures. Le Somail, a small hamlet along the Canal du Midi, hosts on of the earlier, larger ones of the spring. Amateurs and professionals alike line up along both sides of the Canal and through the village, selling everything from clothing used and new to tools, from collectibles to furniture. It took us two hours to see everything there was to see. We spent all of 10 Euros on a pretty, flowered ceramic umbrella stand.


The temperature rose to the 70s by mid morning on a beautiful, blue sky day.


You had to look carefully. You never knew when a VW Bus might be headed your way.


Here's the only floating shop that we saw, selling everything from baskets to spices. How's that for a life, living and retailing on a barge on the Canal du Midi?


 Mostly folks were just selling their own stuff, though.




VE DAY QUARANTE 2015

Victory in Europe. VE Day ending World War II. The French take the day seriously. We gathered in the square in front of City Hall, old and young, police and fire, youth auxiliaries...


We heard patriotic music including La Marseillaise.

 
In the foreground, the Mayor joins with two of the youth fire auxiliary in the laying of a floral tribute. In the background facing the camera, students are preparing to present a dramatic reading, a lengthy poem on the horrors of war and the heroism of warriors.


It's a simple ceremony, and the audience doesn't include enough of the village's young people, but we were there. It's our town now, too.

ABBEY FONTFROIDE ANNUAL PLANT SALE

Every spring, the Abbey Fontfroide outside of Narbonne holds a plant sale dedicated to plants that are native to or will survive well in the Massif Central, that upland region of plateaus and smaller mountains leading up to the Pyrenees to its southwest and the Alps to the north and east. The Abbey is a wonderful setting and the quality of the plants is outstanding. For the gardener, this is not to be missed. Even if you don't buy, you'll learn what can be done to beautify your garden or your terrace.


RANDOM THOUGHTS #2 - JUDGES/CITIZENS UNITED, GW BUSH/MIDDLE EAST & GAY MARRIAGE/SCOTUS

JUDGES/CITIZENS UNITED
SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) has just ruled that it is Constitutional for states to limit campaign contributions in judicial elections. Let's see if I understand.

In the case of judicial elections, SCOTUS reasoned that money in and of itself is a corrupting influence.

In Citizens United regarding federal elections, SCOTUS reasoned that money in and of itself is not a corrupting influence.

Huh?

OK. I understand that there are nuances to both decisions. For instance, in the decision concerning judicial elections, SCOTUS reasoned that money (and money is speech according to SCOTUS) could unduly influence judges who are beholden to the facts of a case and the letter of the law. But politicians are obliged to listen to constituents. It's part of the job. So influencing a politician through speech (and money is speech, according to SCOTUS) is a protected right of constituents.

Forget for a moment the tortured logic that influencing a judge's interpretation of the law through money is corrupt but influencing the writer of those laws through money is not. And forget for a moment that a politician represents all constituents including those without the means to donate enough speech (money) to be heard. And forget for a moment that politicians can solicit money (speech) from donors outside of his/her constituency. And forget for a moment...

I'll tell you what. Just forget it.

GW BUSH/MIDDLE EAST
Former President George W. Bush recently spoke at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, criticizing President Obama heavily for his handling of Middle East foreign policy. Like Dick Cheney saying that Obama is the worst President ever, there is so much that is absurd about Bush's opinions on Middle East policy that any commentary on my part would be a waste of energy.

GAY MARRIAGE #1
The ignorance displayed by the members of the Supreme Court during the oral arguments in the recent gay marriage case is simply astonishing. As quoted in the NY Times, Roberts stated, “Every definition that I looked up, prior to about a dozen years ago, defined marriage as unity between a man and a woman as husband and wife.”

“The word that keeps coming back to me in this case is millennia,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

Those quotes demonstrate the need for those guys to take refresher courses in history, civics, and religion. The statements only hold true if you consider millennia to be a word meaning a few hundred years and if you confine your investigations to Western Europe. Otherwise, from Biblical times to the present day, marriage can more accurately be defined as the union between a man and as many women as law and custom allow, not a (one) man and a (one) woman. And let's not get into questions about procreation or the legal rights of women within a marriage. In fact, until very recently, wives were basically property and, as anyone who has seen Downton Abbey or read Pride and Prejudice knows, a wife couldn't claim an inheritance by right from her husband. Historically, marriage has been about male power. But we are a society today that sees the genders as equals, ergo...

I have no problem with those who want to define religious marriage in purely heterosexual terms. Let them join congregations with like-minded people led by pastors who refuse to officiate at gay weddings. I have no interest in forcing my views upon religionists. But as long as the State bestows public sector benefits to married couples, the definition of marriage must be broad enough to include homosexuals.

When you go to City Hall to get a marriage license, religious considerations should not play a part.

GAY MARRIAGE #2
Anyone who wonders whether or not the Voting Rights Act is still necessary to insure the rights of voters need look no further than Louisiana and Governor Jindl. According to Jindl, Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and Kagan should recuse themselves from the gay marriage case because they had officiated at gay weddings in states that had already given gays the right to marry. All perfectly legal and what any judge or justice of the peace or religious pastor could have done in those states.

But not good enough, said  a Jindl spokesperson. Having participated in (perfectly legal) gay marriages indicates bias. In fact, Jindl would prefer that the liberal judges simply recused themselves from every case before the Court because...well...because they are liberals. In simple terms, according to Jindl, you have no right to vote if Jindl doesn't think that you'll agree with him. That's a pretty clear illustration of despotism - my way or the highway. And the Supreme Court says that minority voters in states like Louisiana are no longer in jeopardy from state-sponsored discrimination requiring federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act. And Jindl is running for President...

HOBBYHORSING AROUND, THE GREATEST GENERATION, DRUNK DRIVING AND MORE: #23

  THE GREATEST GENERATION Friends were taking the ferry from the UK to  France and came across these gents headed for D Day ceremonies. They...