A memo from the boss – Vote the way I say or lose your job!

Imagine getting a letter from the boss, telling you how to vote.

Until 2010, federal law barred companies from using corporate money to endorse and campaign for political candidates — and that included urging employees to support specific politicians.

But the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has freed companies from those restrictions, and now several major companies, including Georgia-Pacific and Cintas, have sent letters or information packets to their employees suggesting — and sometimes explicitly recommending — how they should vote this fall…

Dave Robertson, the president of Koch Industries, sent an information packet and letter this month to more than 30,000 employees of a subsidiary, Georgia-Pacific, a paper and pulp company. The letter attacked government subsidies for “a few favored cronies” as well as “unprecedented regulatory burdens on businesses.”

The letter added, “Many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation and other ills.”

The Georgia-Pacific letter, first reported by In These Times, included a flier listing several candidates endorsed by the Koch brothers, the conservative billionaires, beginning with Mitt Romney, as well as opinion articles that the brothers had written.

Travis McKinney, a forklift driver for Georgia-Pacific in Portland, Ore., said the company’s political packet had spurred widespread discussion. “It leaves a bad taste,” Mr. McKinney said. “I won’t even wear my Obama pin to work because of the mailer…”

Mr. Romney has himself urged business owners to appeal to their employees. In a conference call in June organized by the National Federation of Independent Business, he said, “I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.”

The scumbags who voted the Supreme Court majority decision for this case are as out of touch with the needs, feelings problems and life of working people as Romney, himself. To equate the political voice, the political power of an employee with their employer is not only absurd – it is criminal.

This past week, Chevron set a new record – donating $2½ million to the SuperPAC run by John Boehner. The dollars and dime donated by oilfield workers ain’t about to equal that sort of clout in decades. The thugs at the top just write a check from petty cash.

Candy maker’s “Jolly Lollys” are marijuana-based — Busted!

With Halloween right around the corner, police said several University at Buffalo students were having a special treat of candy-flavored marijuana when they got spooked by a raid Thursday.

Alexander J. Zito was throwing a party for the students at his Delaware Avenue apartment when Buffalo narcotics detectives arrived to discover chocolate-flavored marijuana, hard candy containing marijuana, 640 “Jolly Lolly” marijuana lollipops and 5 pounds of regular marijuana…

Zito, 26, allegedly arranges to obtain the marijuana on trips to California under the guise that it is for medicinal purposes and then has it shipped here through the U.S. Postal Service. Medical marijuana in California is legal under state law, but that is not the case in New York…

Though Zito claimed to be unemployed for two or three years, he apparently was prospering. Police found records indicating his rent was paid six months in advance and the furniture in his residence was brand new. Business cards, Mulhern said, also were found stating Zito was the proprietor of a medical marijuana shop in San Diego…

But different forms of marijuana were not the only thing Zito had, police said. Hashish and crack cocaine also were found at his residence. He was charged with felony possession of marijuana and cocaine.

Now, if we were rid of the anachronistic and absurd laws making this behavior illegal, he could have turned himself into Buffalo’s Entrepreneur of the Year.

Albeit, in a decriminalized environment, Zito would have had to conform to useful business protocols – like paying taxes.

Top winners in the Royal Horticultural Society’s photo competition

This image of an olive tree and tulips has won the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual photographic competition. It was snapped by Josie Elias, from Sherborne, Dorset, who said she stumbled on the garden in Marnes, Spain, by chance.

John Cocks’s leaping mouse was commended in the Wildlife in the Garden category.

Delightful. Reflective, almost pensive beauty – and an athletic rodent. Bravo!

Turkish government, Turkish police attack demonstrators supporting nation’s secular constitution

Police on Monday used tear gas and water cannons to try to break up a demonstration by tens of thousands of pro-secular protesters, but the march to mark the founding of the Turkish republic went on in defiance of a government ban.

The Republic Day celebrations have in the past few years become a symbol of the divide between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s elected, Islamic-leaning government and its opponents who fear the country’s secular traditions are in danger.

The Ankara governor’s office last week denied authorization for the march, citing security reasons, and declared the gathering illegal.

Challenging the ban, tens of thousands of people assembled in the old part of Ankara, near the building housing Turkey’s first parliament, to march to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic 89 years ago after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Police tried to disperse the crowds before a barricade was lifted and the protesters proceeded to march, waving Turkish flags and carrying posters of Ataturk.

They chanted: “We are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal!” and “Turkey is secular and will remain secular!”

The march was supported by the main opposition party, whose leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was among those affected by the gas.

Trying to turn a nation with a secular constitution into something that is only “a little bit” of a theocracy – is rather like being a hypocrite who thinks someone can be “only a little bit pregnant” or “slightly” hindered by laws restricting democracy and civil rights.

Pontifical Catholic University of Peru battles with the Vatican over the right to call itself Catholic

The Vatican is locked in a bitter dispute with one of South America’s top universities in a row that has resurrected ideological differences within the Catholic church long thought to have been consigned to cold war history.

At stake is the seemingly obscure issue of whether the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima can any longer describe itself as either Catholic or pontifical – ie, papal. The dispute has highlighted lingering antipathy between Roman Catholic conservatives and proponents of liberation theology, which in the 1970s and 1980s created a bridge in Latin America between radical priests and leftwing militants.

This summer, Pope Benedict XVI’s most senior official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, issued a decree stripping the university of the right to use either word in its title. The decree said the stance of the university, known as La Católica or La Pook (after its Spanish initials, PUCP), was no longer “compatible with the discipline and morals of the church”.

Students and faculty have refused to accept the decision – and some claim there is more to the affair than misgivings over their university’s liberalism…

Luis Bacigalupo, a philosophy professor at the PUCP, believes the Vatican’s backing for Cipriani could be inspired by other concerns. The university’s campus and other real estate in Lima is worth about $300 million, he said, noting the Vatican faces an economic crisis exacerbated by “multimillion-dollar payouts” in sex abuse lawsuits. He added: “There are certain conservative sectors in the Vatican who are very worried about the financial future of the church…”

The rector of the PUCP, Marcial Rubio said: “We think of the university as a group of people, not the property of anyone.

“We’re defending freedom of conscience, a plural education and freedom of speech. I think our archbishop thinks we shouldn’t be that free.”

The revolving door of gold and power that flows through the Catholic Church and the Vatican has always depended upon obedience – not freedom or justice – to maintain and continue as a political ecosystem. With power crumbling in every direction, the Vatican fights a brutal retreat, retrenchment, into the dim past – including methods which haven’t worked for over a half-century.

Gay marriage pits church hierarchy against ordinary religious folk

At a Seattle synagogue, volunteers are running a phone bank urging voters to uphold Washington’s same-sex marriage law. In Maryland, Catholics are poised to preach from the pulpit opposing a similar initiative.

Voters in those states as well as Maine are less than two weeks from deciding whether to hand ballot-box victory to same- sex marriage proponents for the first time after more than a decade of defeat. Campaigns on both sides are targeting religious communities, where leaders holding on to centuries of opposition to homosexuality are often pitted against their congregants’ evolving attitudes toward gay nuptials…

Opposition to same-sex marriage from religious groups has helped block it at the polls. In 2008, Mormon and Catholic forces mobilized voters in California to halt court-sanctioned gay unions. Since then, six states have granted same-sex couples the right to wed, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to endorse the practice and some denominations have warmed to the idea.

In May, a committee of the Rabbinical Assembly, which sets rules for the Conservative Judaism, approved rituals for same- sex marriages. The Episcopal Church in July approved a liturgy for homosexual unions. In Presbyterian Christian churches, factions have pressed to recognize the vows, though the push was defeated by official assemblies this year.

And in a sign of a fading stigma, a group of Mormons marched at a gay-pride parade this year in Salt Lake City.

“The biggest breakthrough that I now hear from people who support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples is that it’s because of their faith, not in spite of it,” said Marvin Ellison, a professor of Christian ethics at the Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine and president of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination…

Still, homosexual marriage remains anathema among evangelical Christians and within the Catholic Church, the second-biggest denomination in the U.S. and a leader in efforts this year to defeat gay vows at the polls…

Poisonally, I believe the process of bringing full civil rights to the gay community will signal the beginning of the end of the unique position enjoyed by religion in the United States. Not that any portion of the battle is designed to advocate such, not that any of the leadership is by definition opposed to fundamentalist religions. Simply enough, these institutions will work themselves to death trying to prove how irrelevant they are to modern life, understanding or society.

Australia in the Asian Century

An ambitious plan aimed at maximising links with booming China and other Asian economies will power Australia into the world’s top 10 wealthiest nations by 2025, the government has said.

By engaging in more business with China and India in particular, Australia aims to lift Asia’s impact into its economy to one third by 2025, from 25 per cent now.

“Whatever else this century brings, it will bring Asia’s return to global leadership, Asia’s rise. This is not only unstoppable, it is gathering pace,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Sunday.

The sweeping policy blueprint, titled “Australia in the Asian Century”, sets a series of goals for the next 13 years to seize upon Asia’s rapid ascent as a global economic powerhouse…

It also targets more Asian investment into Australia and lower trade barriers, although does not recommend changing Australia’s foreign investment rules, which include intense scrutiny of planned investments from overseas state-owned firms…

“It is not enough to rely on luck – our future will be determined by the choices we make and how we engage with the region we live in,” the prime minister said…

Gillard said her vision was for Australia to “stand strongly as a mature and confident power” in the region, supporting greater participation by China and other Asian powers in decision-making while remaining a key US ally.

“We accept China’s military growth is a natural, legitimate outcome of its growing economy and broadening interests,” the policy document said.

Australia will have to balance its defence and security ties to the US with supporting China’s military growth and stronger role in the region, the document said, adding that any policy aimed at containing China would not work.

RTFA for an expanded view of what they project for Oz in a changing world. RTFA for a snapshot of a nation that intends to grow into the future on the basis of education and commerce. Admittedly topics that receive lots of lip service here in the US. And little else.

National Archive and NOAA look to old Arctic ship logs for climate change history

A project to help track Arctic climate change using volunteers to transcribe U.S. ship logs online was launched on Wednesday by the National Archives and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Using citizen scientists to transcribe thousands of pages of logbooks from Navy, Coast Guard and other ships from 1850 to World War Two will fill a big data gap, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said.

Scientists in recent decades have gotten weather data from satellites and ground observations, and such tools as ice samples show ancient patterns, she said. But the archived logs could establish a baseline of historical weather data

Project organizers, which include science web portal Zooniverse, hope to enlist thousands of volunteers to transcribe scanned pages from logbooks. The pages will be loaded onto Old Weather, an online weather data project (www.oldweather.org)…Navy logs carried weather observations 24 times a day.

Mark Mollan, a reference archivist and a project organizer, said the National Archives had 1,000 boxes of Arctic ship logs. Each page put online will be transcribed three times to eliminate errors, he said…

Four bulky logbooks, all with Arctic observations in neat 19th century handwriting, were displayed at the news conference.

The logs included one from the doomed 1879 Arctic voyage of the Jeannette, a U.S. Navy ship that sank after being trapped in ice off Russia. The commander starved to death and 18 other expedition members died.

New like this drives me up a tree. I would love to become un-retired and start all over again with a geek career in computational analysis. Just imagine what can be done with these transcriptions? Converted to digitized text they can become a searchable database for the world of research that was never envisioned by the original record-keepers.

Not only will we be able examine and determine a baseline for Arctic weather; but, ship’s logs typically record both the ordinary and the unusual. What a delight to data-mine.

Snail ranching for fun and profit

Escargot with pesto

Even if you love eating snails, it is possible that you have never given much thought to the way they live…

But it’s hard to imagine what it actually means to care for snails unless you visit Mary Stewart, who lives in a mobile home in the agricultural area north of Bakersfield, Calif. To raise delicious snails, you apparently have to know what makes them tick, and Ms. Stewart, who turned 64 a few weeks ago, has spent a couple of decades educating herself.

She has learned that snails can move a lot faster than their reputation would suggest, especially when they pick up the lure of food. Spray them with mist, give them some crisp lettuce and “here they come, just like cows at feeding time,” she said. “You can hear them munching and crunching just like cattle. I’m serious. They’re fascinating. And they’re so strong.”

Strong? “These puppies can really push,” she said. Don’t expect to contain them in, say, a box with a screen set on top. “If enough of them get up in the corner, they can actually push that screen loose.”

They also lead erotic lives of variety and vigor. “They’re hermaphrodites,” she said. “They have orgies. I’m serious. When they mate, they’re connecting male and female, female and male.”

It may often look as if snails aren’t doing anything. Ms. Stewart has learned that they are doing quite a bit. “That’s all they’re doing, is making love,” she said.

As part of their ritual of copulation, snails shoot each other with something known as a “love dart.” “Love” is certainly a word you could use to describe how Ms. Stewart feels about her gastropod herd, but after years of caring for and harvesting thousands of snails, she has figured out that there’s nothing romantic about letting one of those love darts pierce your skin…

Nathan Myhrvold, the man behind the “Modernist Cuisine” cookbooks, has cooked with her snails. Harold Dieterle has sporadically served them at Perilla, in the West Village, with hand-cut pasta and guanciale.

At Moto, in Chicago, the chef de cuisine, Richie Farina — using branches that he collects in the nearby woods — places the snails in a row so that they appear to be crawling up the stick in a tangle of (depending on what arrives from the distributor that week) wild mushrooms, edible flowers, a variety of greens and a garlic-herb “moss.” In a less theatrical mode, Brian Leth, the chef at Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn, pairs the snails with olive-oil-poached baby artichokes on flatbread.

RTFA for lots more about everything from snail sex to preparation for cooking – and anecdotes covering it all.

I love eating snails – though like the Italian side of my family, I prefer scungilli, the seagoing variety.