Archive for February, 2011

Rumsfeld, Again

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Donald Rumsfeld

By Jeffrey Page
Is there no escaping this man? As Donald Rumsfeld makes the rounds to plug his new book it is useful to remember that he treated 300 million Americans as so many idiot nephews and moron nieces, all with stupid questions about the war that he, the belabored secretary of defense (and kindly uncle), was put upon to answer.

He’ll likely be best remembered for his comment in 2002 on the report of Baghdad’s selling weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. It was obfuscation defined: “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

The translation, for people who, unlike Donald Rumsfeld, did not happen to have graduated from the Al Kelly Academy of Doubletalk: Mind your own god damned business and leave this war to the professionals, like me.

If President George W. Bush had had much in the way of integrity – or at least some genuine connection with the people of this country – he would have fired Rumsfeld on the spot. But Rumsfeld survived and his contempt for those who would question him continues with his titling his book “Known and Unknown.”

For me, Rumsfeld’s worst insult was to the people who actually fight the nation’s wars. It came during his visit to U.S. troops in Kuwait in 2004.

He took questions. All was going swimmingly until a member of the Tennessee National Guard asked why infantry troops had to scrounge through Iraqi landfills in search of discarded metal that they then fastened to their light vehicles to protect themselves from roadside bombs.

Why, Specialist Thomas Wilson asked, didn’t the trucks come with this protection already attached and ready for use? The troops, assembled for what should have been a benign photo-op for Rumsfeld, cheered and applauded Wilson.

Rumsfeld answered as though he were a battle weary, seen-it-all lieutenant colonel (though he bought himself a little time by asking for the question to be repeated) and proceeded to dismiss Wilson as some unsophisticated dimwit.

“You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have,” Rumsfeld lectured. And in an instant, America understood that the idiot in the room was not Specialist Wilson but Secretary Rumsfeld.

In fact, you’d go to war without the army you wish if the war involved enemy troops invading, say, Nyack or Hoboken or Newburgh. But if Rumsfeld was suggesting that he faced such a dangerous emergency in Iraq that he couldn’t wait for the proper protective shields to be shipped to the troops, how then could he ever explain the fact that it took him 18 months after 9/11 to get his military ready to fight in Iraq? He could not, of course.

Rumsfeld would not have sent troops into battle without ammunition, and he should not have sent them into battle with improperly equipped vehicles. Didn’t he read the casualty reports about his soldiers being killed and maimed by roadside bombs? Everyone else did.

But Rumsfeld supposedly was smarter than everyone else, so if the people of the United States, including those whose sons and daughters were fighting this war, didn’t get it, well, that was too bad.

Rumsfeld smart? He was dumb as a post.

Such as during the 18-month stroll-up to the war – it could hardly be called a run-up – when Rumsfeld declared: “I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks, or five months, but it won’t last any longer than that.”

That was about eight years ago.

Asked about troops being held over in the war zone after their tours of duty were up, Rumsfeld responded: “Oh come on, people are fungible. You can have them here or there.” He must have forgotten that “fungible” is associated with the easy replacement of goods, not people.

Once, noting mounting U.S. casualties, Rumsfeld had the gall to declare: “Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.”

I wonder if he ever mentioned that observation in his letters of condolence – the letters he signed not with his hand but with a mechanical device – to the fathers and mothers, the husbands and wives, and the kids of the soldiers killed in the futile search for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

Rumsfeld told us those weapons would be easy to find. Ten days before the first U.S. troops invaded Iraq he said, “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad.”

That was eight years ago, too.

Jeffrey can be reached at

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 2/28/11

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Power Trio

The other day, about this same time, the moon came up early and full and the color of peach ice cream. The sky was a tender blue-pink that it only seems to reach when there is snow on the ground – and the rising of that moon and the turning of the seasons felt like the rising of my heart, my hand just grasping the knob that will turn for me and and open the door to something new, something with promise – and I said a prayer of thanks and hope – and took a picture, too, just to remind myself.

Interested in this painting? It is oil on canvas, 36×48, and it’s for sale. Contact me for price and delivery options –


Sunday, February 27th, 2011
By Shawn Dell Joyce
Some 200 million acres of the world’s farms grew biotech crops last year, with over 90 percent of the genetically-engineered (GE) seeds coming from US-based Monsanto. Scientists have taken genetic materials from one organism (like a soil bacterium), along with an antibiotic resistant marker gene, and spliced both into a food crop (like corn) to create a genetically-modified crop that resists specific diseases and pests. There has been no long term independent testing on the impacts of these “franken-foods” on the ecosystem or human health. Instead, there is a long litany of concealed truths, strong arm tactics and even outright bribery by the world’s biotech giants.

In the early 1990’s when frankenfoods were being evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, several FDA scientists warned that GE crops could cause negative health effects. These scientists were ignored and blanket approvals of GE crops were passed. Perhaps one reason for the quick approval process is the revolving door at the FDA, which allows corporate executives from biotech giants to hold decision-making positions in the FDA. Michael Taylor was an attorney for Monsanto before being appointed deputy commissioner of the FDA in 1991. Taylor hastened approval of GE crops through the FDA then returned to Monsanto to become the vice president for public policy.

It is very difficult to avoid eating genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s) in our country, because they are so pervasive in the food system and unlabeled in the grocery stores. Part of the reason for this is biotech giants fought to keep GMO foods unlabeled. Most recently, the growth hormones from GE organisms known as rBGH, which is given to cows to make them produce more milk, were banned in Europe and Canada after the authorities found out about the health risks resulting from drinking milk from cows treated with rBGH hormones. Some American milk producers started labeling their milk “rBGH and rBST free.” Monsanto, which sells bovine growth hormones under the brand name Posilac, began suing dairy producers to force them to stop labeling their milk.

In addition to most milk products, GMO’s can be found in most commercially-farmed meats, and processed foods on store shelves. In our country, 89 percent of all soy, 61 percent of all corn, and 75 percent of all canola are genetically-altered. Other foods like commercially-grown papaya, zucchini, tomatoes, several fish species, and food additives like enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet®) and rennet used to make hard cheeses, also contain GMO’s.

To complicate matters, GMO’s move around in the ecosystem through pollen, wind, and natural cross-fertilization. The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted two separate independent laboratory tests on non-GM seeds “representing a substantial proportion of the traditional seed supply” for corn, soy and oilseed rape. The test found that half the corn and soy, and 83 percent of the oilseed rape were contaminated with GM genes, eight years after the GM varieties were first grown on a large scale in the US.

The reports states that “Heedlessly allowing the contamination of traditional plant varieties with genetically engineered sequences amounts to a huge wager on our ability to understand a complicated technology that manipulates life at the most elemental level.” There could be “serious risks to health” if drugs and industrial chemicals from the next generation of GM crops were consumed in food.

What can you do to avoid GMO’s?

· Know how your food is grown by buying directly from local farmers.

· Support organic agriculture, and food producers who label their ingredients, particularly dairy farmers.

· Eat pastured meat raised on organic feed-the only way to ensure this is to buy from someone you know.

· Support farmers who are a sued by biotech giants. Monsanto has set aside an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting more than 150 farmers for a total of more than $15 million dollars.

· Demand labeling on all GMO-containing products so that we at least have a choice!
Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery, and an award-winning newspaper columnist

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Photography By Rich Gigli

Maple Syrup Time

I LOVE N.Y. – Maple sugaring season set to begin in New York State.   With its unique climate, soil and forests, New York State is naturally perfect for producing maple syrup, and is the third largest producer of maple syrup in the United States.

The Native Americans of the United States and Canada seem to be the first creators of maple syrup, taking the liquid from maple trees and removing the excess fluids by boiling. It take approximately 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week

Monday, February 21st, 2011


By Carrie Jacobson

It wasn’t until I traveled to the west that I understood how small we humans are.

Here on the East Coast, we have built buildings and cities and skyscrapers. We have surrounded ourselves with structures that, compared to our own bodies, are enormous.

And these are what we see. These are our measurements. These and the trees, and the hills that roll us along, up and down, through our structures and our East Coast lives.

I remember standing in the sagebrush desert of Idaho for the first time, and sensing for the very first time in my life, the enormity of the sky and the earth, the incomprehensible distance between them and the minute speck of it that I took up.

Suddenly, my ratios changed. I was not 1/2 the height of one story, which was, at most, 1/100th the height of the entire building – I was 1/millionth the size of what I was seeing, 1/billionth. I was nothing.

But ah, we easterners, we city dwellers, we foolish souls who measure ourselves against our own constructions! How we are deceived.

I love the feeling of being the size of a mote of dust. I love the universe of sky stretching away overhead to some place I can only imagine, and the run of earth beneath my feet connecting me to the other side of the country, the other side of the world. I love feeling that feeling, and reaching for it in my paintings.

Meet Benji: Cute Little Dog From Hell

Monday, February 21st, 2011

By Michael Kaufman

You can’t blame the pet adoption people for not telling you everything in their ads. I doubt there are many people searching for a dog that will hump their daughter any chance he gets. But that is what he does whenever Gahlia is home from college. They can’t very well write, “Looking for a dog that likes to eat his own feces….and then lick your face?” How about, “Foot Fetishist’s Delight: This little fellow loves to lick your bare feet and toes….and bite them too!” Or, “Want a cute little dog that chews everything in sight?

Before we adopted Benji I had never heard of a “wee wee pad.” Now I just wish someone would invent a “doo doo pad” to go with it. Benji thinks any rug or carpet in the house is the perfect place to deposit his bon bons. As my wife Eva-Lynne pointed out the other day, “We didn’t know how good we had it with Petey.”

Petey, alev ha sholem, was our last dog. When we adopted him from the Warwick Valley Humane Society he was already trained to relieve himself outdoors. When he wanted to go out he would get our attention by shaking his collar to make noise.  You’d take him outside and he would go right away. No muss no fuss. He did have an odd predilection for defecating on a slope, but if none was available, he’d go on flat ground.  His one disgusting habit was eating cat turds out of the litter box, but even that doesn’t seem so disgusting now.

I used to be amused by the way our neighbor Andrea would plead with her dog: “Come on Linus, make poo poo.” We often walked our dogs together and I always felt a little smug when this happened. I never had to plead with Petey.  Now I don’t feel so smug.

I have walked Benji at length in the bitter cold, on our treacherous icy driveway and nearby roads. When I heard myself imploring, “Come on Benji, make poo poo,” I was humbled. And since it seemed somehow unmanly to be saying those words, I changed them to, “Come on Benji, get the feeling” and later still, in frustration, to, “Come on Benji, will you please make a crap already!”

Eva-Lynne decided we should keep a log of the times we take him out for a walk and record the results. This has proved helpful. A typical entry by Eva-Lynne will read, “7:45 a.m.—Peed, no b.m.” Or “peed and b.m.” My first entry was, “8:30 a.m—Nada!” It took several days before I could joyfully write, “Peed and crapped!” I drew a smiley face at the end.

In fairness to Benji, he was trained to do his business indoors by his previous owners. They live in an apartment complex in Suffolk County that does not allow pets. So they kept him inside at all times until his recent rescue by the Save-a-Pet people. They told us Benji is a poodle/shih-tzu mix. Others have suggested he is a Jack Russel/shih-tzu mix, which would explain why he sometimes takes one of his toys between his teeth, and shakes it violently and growls as if he were killing a small animal. (If you go on line and look at the pictures of the two mixes, you see that he could be either.)

My daughter Sadie thinks Benji is bipolar, because when he isn’t acting crazy he will sit peacefully on your lap or at your feet. He likes it when you pet his head or under his chin. At those times he is a sweet, gentle soul.  But in the blink of an eye he can turn manic. One of his favorite activities at these times is to gallop at full speed around the kitchen island, repeatedly, in an oval pattern. We can shout “Benji! Benji! Stop!” all we want but he is oblivious. He is in the zone—like Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes. 

What can I say? He eats his own feces. He humps my daughter. He chews everything in sight. And I can’t help but love the little guy.

Michael can be react at

Join a CSA

Monday, February 21st, 2011

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Many of us are looking wistfully at the snow-covered farm fields and remembering the fresh tomatoes and sweet corn of last season. Now is the time to join up with a local C.S.A. to ensure you get fresh local produce in the coming season. Community Supported Agriculture projects or C.S.A.’s are springing up all over the Wallkill Valley as a new form of farm. The way it works is that you pay the farmer up front for a share of the harvest. This ensures the farmers will have an income, come-what-may with the weather and the woodchucks. The farmer plants many different types of crops (instead of monoculture like corn). This ensures that if one crop fails, there will be others to make up for it. “Share members” are treated to a weekly bag or box of fresh, locally-grown vegetables for the duration of the growing season, usually May through November.


This is a win/win situation because the farmer knows how much money s/he will make, and the consumer gets the freshest, highest quality produce around. It’s also a rare opportunity for the consumer to visit the farm, give your kids a taste of farm life, and see how our food is grown. You get to meet the people growing your food face-to-face, and gain a new respect for farm workers when you stand out in a field picking green beans in mid-August!


I did an experiment where tallied the cost of enriching clay-bound soil with organic matter in raised beds on a small garden plot. I found that the cost of good organic seeds, organic composted manure, and the time and labor would be more than the yearly cost of $300 for a basic share. Unless you enjoy growing $64 tomatoes, farming is a skill best left to professionals!


Sycamore Farms, 1851 Rte. 211 East,  (closer to Montgomery) Middletown, 692-2684, Basic share $325, Family Share $550


Royal Acres Farm, 621 Scotchtown Collabar Rd. Middletown, NY 10941, 692-6719, Half share $200, full share $400


Phillies Bridge Farm Project, 45 Philles Bridge Rd, Gardiner, NY 256-9108, Basic share $350 , 


J and A Farms Indiana Road, Goshen , NY 10924, 360-5380 Call for current rates.


Second Wind CSA ,158 Marabac Rd. Gardiner, NY, 417-5624, full share $500.


Walnut Grove Farms, 235 Youngblood Road, Montgomery, NY, basic share $350, farmers are Ned Roebuck 313-4855,    
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning newspaper columnist and director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Photography by Rich Gigli

View From a Window

Counting the days – SPRING EQUINOX – March 20, 7:21 P.M. EDT

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Photography by Rich Gigli

Field Of Dreams

Carl Jung  “He who looks outside, dreams; he who looks within, awakens.”

Watson & the Future

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

By Jason Poggioli

At times it can be difficult to remember just how blazingly fast technological progress is moving. But then there are times it just leaps up and screams, “You’re living in the future right now and you’d better pay attention!” That’s how I felt this week watching a computer compete on Jeopardy against arguably the two best Jeopardy contestants ever, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

I’m not sure it’s possible to overstate the importance of this milestone. A machine has been created that is capable of parsing Jeopardy clues and giving correct answers. Clues that often have double meanings which cannot be easily understood by a computer. No special accommodations were made other than that clues were fed the machine via a text file rather than verbally. The machine, named Watson by its IBM creators, even had to mechanically press the button, just like Jennings and Rutter.

Successfully deciphering the clues is IBM’s giant accomplishment because it’s not like you can take a Jeopardy clue, type it into the Google search engine, and get an answer. Although the power of Google may seem at times like the ancient Greek Oracle, it’s only an indexed database of raw information. Typing in the actual Jeopardy clue would yield nonsensical results because it would simply look up web pages that contain the words you typed. Taking the entire clue and correctly surmising its meaning has been the stuff of science fiction until now. Besides, Watson wasn’t even connected to the Internet for this competition.

When faced with a question, Watson pulls apart the words to understand how they relate to one another within the clue. Ordinarily a computer must be fed a strict list of instructions – a program – written by people. Watson’s great leap forward is that, although it still requires instructions, the resulting program allows it to be fed naturally worded clues that can be understood well enough for it to find correct answers in its database. Put another way: Instead of people needing to learn the computer’s language, the computer has been taught to understand ours. The entire process is called “natural language understanding,” a specific field of computer science in which programs are written to successfully understand human language. It also happens to be the field of computer science the company I work for specializes in.

The practical application for Watson is its ability to digest large quantities of information and find relationships or patterns buried within the data that – due either to its complexity or immensity – escapes human notice. For example, patterns of disease cross referenced with geographic location could unearth an unknown toxic environment. Similarly, astronomical data could be fed into it and out would pop a newly discovered stellar phenomenon. Maybe the underlying cause of the cicadas’ 13-year swarm patterns could be found.

To be fair, it’s probable that Watson’s program has been specifically written for understanding the short succinct clue styles found on Jeopardy rather than entire sentences. So it’s not as if we have to worry about computers taking over the world – yet. Additionally, Watson doesn’t have a context for the clue – it doesn’t understand the clue like you or I would. It may be able to sweep the category of “Characters found in Beatles songs.” but the clues it reads aren’t going to get it humming “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”

Although… When a computer becomes so good at understanding human language that you can’t tell if it’s a computer or a person, isn’t that a clear definition of artificial intelligence?

Alan Turing, a computer scientist, thought so, and the definition I just described is actually a test that’s named after him. If a computer can pass what is known as the Turing Test it’s said that you could be typing at a terminal having a conversation with either a computer or real person on the other end and not know the difference. It’s a popular competition among computer scientists to create the program that could successfully have an open ended conversation that passes as a human. With Watson that goal has become much more achievable.

The future is now.