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Socotra House Publishing: Purveyor of Glib Words to the World

Socotra House Publishing is a small press dedicated to publishing and distributing the historical works of Vic Socotra, a non-mortal fellow who captures American and military history with aplomb.

The World Turned Upside Down

(Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. Painting by John Trumbel, 1789.)

I was talking to my best pal this morning. I said it appeared the world had gone mad, and was marveling at the developments in the deliberate crash of the Germanwings jet. Apparently Interpol detectives found a series of notes- ripped up- that would have resulted in his losing his flight status. They are still looking to see if he went off his medications. It is pretty clear he should never have been let anywhere near a commercial jet- even as a passenger.

In the interest of accuracy, yesterday’s edition of The Daily reported the actual speed at impact as 700mph. Obviously that is wrong and I should have caught it in the intensive pre-publication review process. It was 700kph, or 434.959835 Miles Per Hour. Still sufficient to obliterate everything. The staff of The Daily regrets the error.

And another pal who has been cabin crew for 38 years for a prominent airline noted that there has been an FAA rule requiring two people in the cockpit at all times since 9/11. The Canadians just imposed a similar requirement, and I expect the Europeans will do the same thing shortly.

Anyway, my best pal suggested that this was the act of one man and that the world had not gone mad. It is just being its normal goofy self. I take the point- but the number of things that seem inverted these days- a de facto alliance with Iran, for example, the demonization of the only democratic state in the Middle East. Politics in the United States, airline pilots as mass murderers, all of it seems turned inside out and upside down.

It made me think of the tune that Lord Cornwallis allegedly had his band strike up as he surrendered to George Washington and the French forces of Viscount de Noailles and Count de Rochambeau at Yorktown: “The World Turned Upside Down.”

I think I understand what he was getting at. The expeditionary force of the world’s greatest military power had been forced to surrender to a rag-tag Continental Army, supported by the French Navy and the Grand Battery of artillery on the Virginia coast.

Now, the song they played- or may not have played, historians disagree- was not about what the Colonies asserted to be their God-given rights.

It was about the rights of Englishmen, and specifically in the context of religious fanatics. The tune was originally published in a broadside in the 1640s as a protest against the actions of Parliament related to the celebration of Christmas.

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(Oliver Cromwell , painting attributed to Anthony Van Dyck).

Things were upside down in those days. The Roundheads of Oliver Cromwell were fiercely Puritan in their views, and the Battle of Naseby mentioned in the song is the last and most important battle of the First Civil War (1642-45). It was a decisive victory for the Parliamentarians (Puritans) under Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell over the Royalists (Party on, Garth!) under King Charles I.

Fierce isn’t quite the right word, since Cromwell and his pals wound up executing the Monarch, earning the nick-name “Regicides.” Prior to his death, the King liked to have a good time. His pals had long hair. Cromwell was opposed to it. He thought they might be having a good time.

Imagine a more bloodthirsty Mayor Bloomberg waging war on large sodas with real weapons, or the EPA checking out your backyard grill or the length of your shower with SWAT Teams.

Anyway, Cromwell’s parliamentarians believed Christmas should be a solemn occasion, and outlawed traditional English celebrations of feasting, burning the Yule log and making merry.

What was is it H.L. Menken said? I think the Sage of Baltimore had it right when he defined a “Puritan” as someone having “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

Here is the tune. It sums up just about what is going on these days. There is nothing new under the sun:

Listen to me and you shall hear, news hath not been this thousand year:
Since Herod, Caesar, and many more, you never heard the like before.
Holy-dayes are despis’d, new fashions are devis’d.
Old Christmas is kicked out of Town

Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down.
The wise men did rejoice to see our Savior Christs Nativity:
The Angels did good tidings bring, the Sheepheards did rejoice and sing.
Let all honest men, take example by them.

Why should we from good Laws be bound?
Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down.
Command is given, we must obey, and quite forget old Christmas day:
Kill a thousand men, or a Town regain, we will give thanks and praise amain.

The wine pot shall clinke, we will feast and drinke.
And then strange motions will abound.
Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down.
Our Lords and Knights, and Gentry too, doe mean old fashions to forgoe:

They set a porter at the gate, that none must enter in thereat.
They count it a sin, when poor people come in.
Hospitality it selfe is drown’d.
Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down.

The serving men doe sit and whine, and thinke it long ere dinner time:
The Butler’s still out of the way, or else my Lady keeps the key,
The poor old cook, in the larder doth look,
Where is no goodnesse to be found,

Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down.
To conclude, I’le tell you news that’s right, Christmas was kil’d at Naseby fight:
Charity was slain at that same time, Jack Tell troth too, a friend of mine,
Likewise then did die, roast beef and shred’d pie,

Pig, Goose and Capon no quarter found.
Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down.

(The Battle at Naseby Field).

Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
twitter: @jayare303

Pilot Error

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(Mass murderer Andreas Lubitz in a lighter moment in San Francisco. Image cropped from a larger image in the Daily Mail).

I was going to talk to you this morning about the horrifying events in France, when an apparently fully capable Airbus A320 jet flew into rugged terrain, killing all 150 souls on board. It was a mystery all day yesterday. I have been busy but absent lately, busy with some stuff that is important to me, but hardly interesting to the general public and not suitable for The Daily.

Things changed this morning. After the events of the past year- the two 2014 crashes somewhere in the South China Sea (or the vastness of the Indian Ocean) and the Russian shoot-down of another over Ukraine- we are all semi-qualified to have opinions about the relative merits of the Boeing and Airbus flight control systems. That is, in a nutshell, that Airbus has computers fly the airplane, and Boeing gives the pilots a major role, though their jets are also highly automated.

If I have a choice I won’t fly on an Airbus. Normally we don’t.

Actually, I don’t like flying at all any more. But that is just an aside.

This morning we don’t have to worry about the uncertainty that made CNN a lot of money on MH370. Germanwings Flight 9525 Airbus A320 jet had been flying, accident free, for a couple decades, though there had been speculation of mechanical failure.

On the day of the crash was operating just fine. The mystery- or at least the front end of it- is over. A French prosecutor announced that examination of the cockpit voice recorder indicated the aircraft made its cruising altitude and command pilot Patrick Sonderheimer pushed his seat back and got up to take a leak.

Co-pilot Andres Lubitz locked the Captain out of the cockpit. He then calmly and deliberately uncoupled the autopilot and put the aircraft in a steady descent, periodically re-enabling the cockpit lock to defeat the Captain’s increasingly frantic attempts to get the armored door to open. The voice recorder shows Lubitz to be breathing normally, not panicked. Andreas then proceeds to fly the airplane into a steep mountain valley, where it impacts at 700 miles an hour, pulverizing the A320 and all its contents. He killed everyone unfortunate enough to have encountered whatever demons possessed him.

There is more- much more- but I stumbled across the comprehensive account in the UK’s Daily Mail, and Jake Wallis Simons, Darren Boyle, Allan Hall, Simon Tomlinson, Stephanie Linning, Harriet Sime, and Peter Allen have excellent team coverage of the whole appalling and callous crime at:


My contribution this morning was going to include a discussion of the motives of EpyptAir Flight 990’s first relief pilot Gameel al-Batouti. He deliberately crashed the Boeing 767 into the ocean east of Nantucket. There is some controversy over that, but they seem to be political rather than technical. The flight data recorder has Gameel trusting his fate to Allah several times, shutting down the engines and pushing the stick forward. The Egyptian investigation blamed rudder failure.

I trust the results of the American investigation. The Daily Mail talks about that is more detail as well, so I won’t bother.
So, here is the deal: between the fact that the airplanes are so automated that ordinary flight crews don’t necessarily know how to fly jets that become in extremist and can make really serious mistakes (Air France 447, Asiana 214 and Air Asia 8501), and sometimes their pilots decide to crash them (three on 9/11, Egyptair 990, possibly Maylasian Air MH370 and certainly Germanwings 9525), there is something really scary about the airline industry.

Considering the sheet number of daily flights, the almost foolproof nature of the technology and the skill of the world’s commercial pilots, this is not a statistically significant number. But it still makes you wonder about the role of passenger aircraft in grand personal or political statements.

We will know more about the motives of mass murderer Andreas Lubitz as the days go by, but that may or may not provide an explanation we can understand.

One thing we can do is insist that on the jets with only two persons on the flight deck, a member of the cabin crew has to come to the cockpit when the pilot or co-pilot needs to get up to hit the head. That might (or might not) have prevented this one. Someone with the clearance to be flying the jet could certainly plan to incapacitate a flight attendant on the way to committing some monstrous act.

We always plan to combat the last horror, not the next one and killers can be highly adaptive. But this morning,let’s do something that we can do swiftly, if imperfectly. The faces of the passengers haunt me. Profoundly.

Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303

Quite the Opposite

(Captain Phil McKnight, USN-Ret. A Great American. RIP).

We lost another Great American yesterday. I suppose it is inevitable, but I am getting tired of it.

Our pal Joe summed up our collective memory of Phil McKnight nicely this morning- he was on travel yesterday and didn’t get the word that Phil had left us until he read the sad news in the electronic chatter this morning.

He commented to the usual suspects that he “hadn’t had time to comprehend the impact of his loss to me personally and Naval Intelligence more broadly, and I thought more of you ought to know about his passing and his loss.”

I agree. Joe was the chief of the photo lab (back when we had such things) at the Office of Naval Intelligence during the craziness at Suitland, Maryland, in the early 90’s when Phil was the Chief of Staff. The community was trying to deal with the end of history at the time, or at least as proclaimed by scholarly expert Yoshihiro Fukuyama the pundit, political scientist, economist and author.

I don’t blame him for being wrong- we all did a lot of crazy stuff at the time. It was something in the water, I think.

I mean, the Soviet Union’s collapse and the apparent triumph of American arms in the Gulf War drove all sorts of bizarre decisionmaking.

Once the troops were home from the Gulf War, we immediately embarked on harvesting the “Peace Dividend” to divert the budget from the Cold War footing to all sorts of other great ideas. Fukuyama’s book “The End of History and the Last Man” (1992) was a sort of codicil for what the smart money was thinking. He argued that the worldwide spread of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism signaled the end of humanity’s sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government.

Hahahaha. Didn’t work out that way, as we discovered to our dismay. In fact, quite the opposite.

It was a little embarrassing to be in the intelligence business at the time, since we missed predicting the end of Communism (as it turned out, quite the opposite) but we had to deal with the improbable appearance of the long-programmed Naval Intelligence building being built on the campus of the Census Bureau at Suitland, Maryland.


(The National Maritime Intelligence Center, home of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Image courtesy USN).

We called it the “Last Cold War Building,” since it had been programmed to replace the 1940s-era buildings that comprised the Naval Intelligence Command (NIC) Buildings One and Two on the sprawling federal reservation. There were several hard elbows thrown over that mess, since Navy initially thought it should have gone to Anacostia to be near our Big Brother, DIA.

Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer had other ideas about that, and it was an education for all of us in the raw power of politics in watching where it actually was built.

Heck, we didn’t even have a fence around the property then, and all sorts of things could be found on the grounds in the morning there, including corpses.

Phil was in the middle of the whole thing, with budgets coming down, fights with Congress and the new building being delivered, and uncertainty all around. This morning, Joe wrote that “Phil was constant source common sense, calmness, and good humor. His advice up and down the chain of command was highly valued.”

Phil also understood the importance of Naval Intelligence having a creditable professional association and he was one of the founding forces behind the Naval Intelligence Professionals (NIP). Having labored long in those vineyards myself, I honor his volunteer service, which I know for a fact, is worth exactly what you pay for it.

Joe noted this morning that “without his knowledge, Phil provided numerous course corrections, a sterling professional example to emulate, and was just a great person to know and be around. I will miss Phil immensely, but I am grateful that he has been an important part of my life. Rest in peace shipmate, we have the watch.”

Here is what the family wanted his shipmates and pals to know:


19 March 2015. Captain Phillip F. McKnight, USN, Ret., age 78.

Phil was born in Ventura, California on July 3, 1936 to the late Cecil and Helen McKnight. He graduated from Ventura High School and the University of Redlands with a degree in Political Science. Additionally, Phil completed graduate education work at George Washington University.

He joined the Navy and was commissioned through Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. After completing training, he joined the ranks of Air Intelligence (1355, Air Intelligence, Reserve). He augmented to the regular Navy and became a Special Duty- Intelligence Officer when the AI’s were integrated with the intelligence branch (1630).

The Navy afforded him a chance to see the world. During his naval career, he served his underway time aboard the carriers USS Oriskany (CV-34) and USS America (CV-66). He was posted to London England, Naples Italy, Colorado Springs, CO, and Alexandria VA.

His final and the proudest assignment was Command of the Naval Intelligence Processing System Support Activity (NIPSSA) during the Navy’s early days of computer automation.

Following his retirement, he worked as a security consultant for PFM Corporation, a company he formed. He also worked for Dolphin Technology as a consultant.

Phil remained very active after retirement. While living in Alexandria, VA he chaired the city’s Republican Party. Additionally, he was a member of the Army-Navy Club in downtown DC as well as serving as a Board member for the Naval Intelligence Professionals and the Naval Art Foundation, which has allowed the Office of Naval Intelligence to display some of the historic combat art at the building at Suitland.

Upon moving to Clinton, NY he was a member of St. James Episcopal Church where he served as Warden and also as Treasurer for the Dioceses of Central New York.

Finally feeling the need for a less demanding climate, he moved to Aiken, SC, where Phil remained active and engaged in the his new community. He was a member of his local Episcopal Church, the Steeplechase Association, the Polo Club, and the historic Green Boundary Club.

Phil was always a sailor, and gave back to the veterans of the Global War on Terror by volunteering for the Aiken Warrior Project. He also served as Treasurer for the American Legion Post #26 and the Aiken Military Officer’s Association of America chapter.

Survivors include his wife of 31 years, Barbara; his daughters Lisa and Emily; a son, Tim; five grandchildren; a sister and brother-in-law, Peggy and Joe Schuster; a brother-in-law and his wife, Jim and Becky Lorraine; sister-in-law and her husband, Nancy and Ron Frazee, and many nieces and nephews.

Phil was preceded in death by his parents and son, Ron.

If you are in the area, funeral services will be held at 5:30 PM Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at St Thaddeus Episcopal Church. Interment with full military honors will follow in the historic church cemetery. The family will receive friends immediately following the services in the Stevenson- McClelland Building on the church grounds.

The family wishes to specifically thank the Tri-County Hospice, and particularly nurse Ralph Smith, for the love and care they provided to Captain McKnight in his last days.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be directed to St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church, 125 Pendleton Street, SW, Aiken, SC 29801.

The Historic George Funeral Home, 211 Park Ave., SW, Aiken, SC 29801 (803.649.6234) is in charge of arrangements. – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/aikenstandard/obituary.aspx?n=phillip-f-mcknight&pid=174448335#sthash.LFNIvIBH.dpuf

Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303

Hazel River Inn

hazel River Inn2-031915

I hate it when things like this happen. I took a trip to East Davis Street last weekend to check out Clarke’s Hardware Store, a one-of-a-kind relic of the older and slower days in the Country. I was going to stop and get a drink at the Hazel River Inn, which is just across the street.

Van Dyke and I were there just last fall. started drinking wine at lunch, at the fine-dining establishment “It’s About Thyme” just up the street. It was a nice fall day last year, and having completed our meal, moved on down the street with an eye toward continuing our festivities. We went past the Copper Fish and wandered toward the Hazel River Inn, which was cool and dark and had plenty of fine whiskey behind the bar.

The staff was friendly and as we lowered the level of the brown liquid in the bottles behind the bar, they became expansive, and gave us a tour of the old Jail downstairs, which had been used by both Confederate and Union armies when they exchanged possession of East Davis Street.

They even showed us the store room down in the Rathskeller from which most of the paranormal stuff is said to radiate, according to the Twisted Paranormal Society, which conducted an independent investigation of what many workers reported.

Very cool afternoon, and we vowed to come back and make an evening of it downstairs.

A little digging- once again sober- revealed the sweeping history of the place. The land on which it is built was surveyed by a seventeen-year-old George Washington. The first structure was erected on plot 35 was noted in a bill of sale from 1790. A cousin of one of the owners signed the Declaration of Independence. In addition to serving as a restaurant, the building has served as a tobacco warehouse, stable, tin shop, telegraph station and antique store.

Peter and Karen Stogbuchner are the owners, opening the restaurant in 1999, and three years later the Hazel River Pub below it. Apparently it was THE place to be in Culpeper’s renaissance decade, and they features local bands with live music. They transformed it into the Rathskeller just two years ago and specialized in dishes from Peter’s native Austria.

I mention all this because I opened my copy of the Clarion-Bugle and discovered the Stogbuchners decided to end their run at the corner of East Davis and East streets and closed the restaurant and bar on Tuesday.

“We have loved serving you for the last 16 years,” the couple wrote in a joint statement posted on the doors. “We are proud to be part of this community and hope to continue to be able to contribute when and where we can.”

They will keep their bed and breakfast place on Eggbornsville Road, but it is not the same thing. More of a vanity place to serve four-course meals in a farm-to-table menu.

According to the paper, the Stogbuchners are going to sell the building and fixtures for a hair under $800 grand. I went through the couch cushions and didn’t find enough loose change to come close.

I hate it when I miss a good thing, you know?

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Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303

Lighting Up a Lucky

My beautiful picture

The Douglas A-1 Skyraider (formerly know as the AD- or, ‘Attack Douglas’ in Navy parlance) was a rompin,’ stompin’ airplane. It was an amazing crate, highly adaptable and the culmination of a generation of aviation technology.

Dad- that is him above on the wing preparing to mount up- used to say that his could carry more ordnance than a B-17 Flying Fortress and in straight and level flight, outrun the vaunted P-51 Mustang. The Navy (and others) had it in service from the late 1940s to the early 1980s, a remarkably long and honored career. Based on the exceptional mission duration, the USAF used them as “Sandys,” the airborne search and rescue asset in SE Asia because they could loiter over the scene of a crash for hours and hours, fending off VC and North Vietnamese troops from downed pilots.

The Skyraider was a legend- a piston powered propeller-driven anachronism in the age of jets for most of its service life, and yet produced the first shoot-down of a Vietnamese jet in that long struggle. The pilots loved them and fondly called them “Spads,” after the SPAD S.XIII, a French biplane from World War I that was produced by the Societe Pour L’Aviation et ses Derives- and hence the nick-name.

Dad had been trained as an SBD Dauntless dive-bomber pilot still in the pipeline at the end of WWII. His class would have gone on to participate in Operation DOWNFALL, the invasion of the Home Islands of Japan. His class was the third from the last to get their Wings of Gold at Pensacola. The rest of the cadets were thanked for their interest in National Defense and sent home.

Dad was offered the chance to go to the Fleet, but declined, preferring to use his GI educational benefits at Pratt Institute of Art up in New York. He loved the flying though, and stayed in the reserves after being demobilized and transitioned to the Skyraider community after moving to work at Ford’s in Detroit.

He used to tell stories about his reserve time as an AD4-J driver- a Spad model from the early 1950s. The airplane was so powerful that one hapless Squadron buddy actually managed to get airborne with the wings still folded for storage- one of the reasons that checklists exist. The pilot did not realize his mistake until he attempted to jink out of the departure pattern and went into the ground.

(This image, from LIFE magazine’s gallery of flight ops in 1966 demonstrates the amount of ordnance these beasts could carry. This one is on Bonnie Dick, the famed Bonhomme Richard (CV-31) off Vietnam).

Dad’s squadron flew on the weekends out of Naval Air Station Grosse Isle in the middle of the Detroit River and they conducted training missions around the upper Midwest. One Saturday they were tasked with conducting a simulated strike on the refinery in Toledo, OH, out of NAS Grosse Isle south of Detroit. He did the attack run on the landmark cracking tower that burned off excess natural gas.

He rolled out after his attack run, and training mission complete, cracked the canopy and lit up a Lucky. The AD’s had a cigarette lighter on the instrument panel, he said, and all the guys smoked. When the victory coffin-nail was about done, he flicked it out of the cockpit where it twirled in the slipstream. Then, slipstreams being what they are, re-entered the aircraft, falling down between his legs and coming to rest far below him on the main wing-spar glowing in the darkness.


You have to remember that the Spads did not use JP-5, the Navy’s kerosene-based jet propellant. The low flash point was considered a major safety factor for shipboard operations. The Spads consumed the much more volatile 100-octane Aviation Gasoline, or AVGAS, used in high performance piston engines. Dad’s Spad was powered by the Wright R-3350-26WA Duplex Cyclone engine. His sleek airplane had suddenly become a flying Zippo lighter.


He furioously cranked the pilot seat down as far as it would go and couldn’t get to the smoldering butt with his boot. Considering the fumes down there, he felt a sense of urgency. He decided to unstrap and edge his butt out of the seat so he could get down to it, reaching about his head to keep the stick on the straight and level. Relatively certain he was not going to turn into a fireball, he climbed back up, strapped in again, and returned to base at Grosse Isle.

He said he never smoked in the aircraft again, nor did he mention the incident to Mom.

Much later, in my time, some of the F-4 Phantom jocks in VF-151 confided that they smoked in the jets. With the oxygen off, they hastened to add. That could be hazardous to your health.

(This Spad is off the O-Boat, the USS Oriskany (CV-34) and is utterly serene in the heavens).

Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303

In the ČesneČka

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(I get suggestions for fine dining from all over. I am a bit of a foodie, when I can afford it and seeing Tracy O’Grady’s culinary skills daily always has me read to truy something new. This is ČesneČka, or Czech Garlic Soup. Image courtesy of Viking River Cruises.)

The temperatures brushed 70 yesterday, and you could feel the sap rising at Willow last night as some of the amateurs came out for a couple glasses of wine and a few laughs that threatened to overcome the usual suspects at The Amen Corner. I was wearing green, of course, getting myself in the mood for Saint Patrick’s Day.

I don’t think I am going to do anything crazy today, as has happened a few times in the past. On the other hand, it might be good to get out and not think too hard about things. There are an awful lot of things to not think about too hard these days.

I mentioned yesterday that the EPA is interested in curtailing emissions from our backyard grills. It must be the “good idea” season at the Agency, or perhaps they got an early start on the green beer. This morning we discovered that they are also commissioning a prototype wireless device to monitor how much time hotel guests spend in the shower. They would like to “create a wireless system that will track how much water a guest uses in order to get them to “modify their behavior,” and use less water. Like forcing everyone to take Navy showers.

Been there, done that. I need to get the Director’s private email address and drop a note saying I am not interested.

Another issue I am trying to ignore is before the Supreme Court, a dispute about the words in the Affordable Care Act. It is a seemingly small matter- some of my Progressive friends call the issue a “typo” in the law. It really isn’t a typo- it is about meaning and intent about who is supposed to do what. It is a common thing in sloppy law-writing that no one reads before voting.

I have no idea what the Supremes will do about it. Chief Justice Roberts already had a chance to torpedo the entire act already and he didn’t. But there is a lot at stake for all of us.

In fact, there is even more than I thought. Reading the New York Times in the comfort and safety of my bed this morning, I saw an interesting proposal from an alleged Constitutional scholar named William Baude. His sage advice is that if the Supreme Court strikes down the provision in the ACA, the Administration should just ignore it.

Seriously: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/17/opinion/could-obama-bypass-the-supreme-court.html?emc=edit_th_20150317&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=23380976

I have no idea what to think about an apparently credentialed academic who so casually would abandon the separation of powers in favor of an Executive Branch that acts alone and without review. But that is just me, I suppose.

Anyway, the agitation made me hungry, and I have already cooked by corned beef and cabbage for this season and was looking around for something light to have when I get back from Willow this evening. I will be hungry, since I intend to walk it today, there being too many amateurs.

According to my friends at Viking River Cruises, the Czechs believe their garlic soup- Česnečka- will cure just about anything, including the common cold and a hangover. As we confront St. Patrick’s Day, either could apply.

So if you’re feeling a bit under the weather, make a big pot of this simple soup of broth, potatoes, garlic and cheese to help you feel better. It may not be an actual cure but it defines Mittleurope comfort food. Plus, it is supposed to be effective against vampires.



3 thick slices rye bread, cut into large chunks (America’s very best deli rye? No contest. Jane and Michael Stern (www.saveur.com) found it in my sometimes hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Zingerman’s Deli bakes their own to construct fabulous brisket sandwiches (Russian dressing, coleslaw, and horseradish). The produce it in their Zingerman’s Bakehouse, which makes rye loaves that are “dense and springy, laced with the taste of hearth smoke.” I will pick you up a loaf next time I am in town. Let me know.
1 T olive oil
2 T butter
1 C yellow onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
8 C low sodium chicken or beef broth
2 lg potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper to taste
4 zo Emmentaler cheese (Whole Foods has it) or a more pedestrian Swiss, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 T fresh dill, chopped
2 T fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped


Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C). Place bread pieces on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, tossing to combine. Bake until deep golden brown, about 9 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Place butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent and softened, about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Add potatoes, salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Place croutons and cheese cubes in soup bowls. Ladle soup on top. Sprinkle with dill- you may have some left over from the Pickle Soup yesterday and fresh parsley. Serve piping hot.

Makes 4 servings. Ignore the court, if necessary. We will all be in the soup.

Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303

Grilling and Pickle Soup

(The Cuyahoga River on fire in this file photo. It has not burned since. Photo AP).

I know- it does feel like spring is around the corner this morning. It is about time- and I have to remember to swap out the propane tank on the grill and get ready for the outdoor cooking season. In fact, I was thinking about that yesterday when I heard the latest on what the Government is going to protect us from. Sure, i t is only $15,000 and hardly even approaching the level of decimal dust in the maw of the Environmental protection Agency, the renowned EPA. But it is still making me a little nervous. I will get to that in a minute. There has been some outstanding work done by the Agency since it was proposed by President Richard Nixon in December of 1970, created by executive order, and ratified by the House and Senate.

Recall that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland actually caught fire in 1969? Actually, that poor abused tributary had been on fire more than a dozen times since the first occurrence in 1868. The most recent event has been celebrated by Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company’s trademark beer “Burning Ri ver Pale Ale.”

So the river has not caught fire since, and the nation’s air and water are much cleaner than they were. That is a good thing- I think we are all in favor of clean air and water. But the Agency has been accused of considerable over-reach of late. The declaration that water of all types, even ornamental pools on private property are under its jurisdiction make people nervous. The war on coal-fired power plants is also problematic in terms of maintaining the national power grid, since in some cases the actual pollution is down to the trace levels found naturally.

Perfect is the enemy of “good enough,” and cost-benefit standards have not been followed when there is a political agenda to be met. The latest targets are closer to home than the big utilities. There are mutterings about new standards for lawn mowers, and new standards for things like wood stoves that would impact those of us who heat their homes with fireplaces, and some wonder if the EPA inspectors will be showing up at our doors to conduct no-notice inspections for compliance.
The latest area for regulation is coming to your back deck.

The EPA now has its eyes on pollution from backyard barbecues.

Seriously. The Agency announced that it is funding a University of California project to limit emissions resulting in grease drippings with a special tray to catch them and a “catalytic” filtration system.

The project will study means to reduce air pollution and cut the health hazards to BBQ “pit masters” from propane-fueled cookers.

The grant is part of the EPA’s “National Student Design Competition for Sustainability: Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2014).” If that isn’t a worthy goal, what is?

The expected results are a wonder of bureaucrat-speak: “We expect to limit the overall air pollution PM [particulate matter] emissions from barbecuing and to alleviate some of the acute health hazards that a barbecue pit master can experience from inhalation. The particulate matter present during cooking with and without the grease diverter and PM2.5 filters will be tested and compared to that of current data using a conventional propane barbecue using a fume-hood chamber with detectors at CE-CERT. Personal exposure of PM2.5 will also be monitored throughout the experimentation period to determine the degree of acute exposure of particulates to the cook.”

I doubt seriously whether I am going to retrofit my big Weber grill down on the farm- but you never know. If the grill inspectors show up in the Culpeper Sheriff’s new MRAP, maybe I will look into it.

Anyway, that is not what I was going to talk about this morning. I have an exciting recipe from a pal out in the Shenandoah. It is pickle soup. Honestly- it is not as hard to believe as burning rivers or Federal Grill inspectors. Try it- you might like it. I know I do.

Dill Pickle Soup

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Servings: Serves 6-8
§ 5-1/2 cups chicken broth
§ 1-3/4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
§ 2 cups chopped carrots (smaller dice)
§ 1 cup chopped dill pickles (smaller dice ~ about 3 large whole dills)
§ 1/2 cup unsalted butter
§ 1 cup all-purpose flour
§ 1 cup sour cream
§ 1/4 cup water
§ 2 cups dill pickle juice*
§ 1-1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
§ 1/2 teaspoon table salt
§ 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
§ 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Garnish (optional)
§ sliced dill pickles
§ fresh dill
§ black pepper

Directions :
In a large pot, combine broth, potatoes, carrots and butter. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender.

Add pickles and continue to boil.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sour cream and water, making a paste. Vigorously whisk sour cream mixture (2 Tablespoons at a time) into soup. (This will also break up some of your potatoes which is okay. You might see some initial little balls of flour form, but between the whisking and boiling all will disappear. Don’t panic.)

Add pickle juice, Old Bay, salt (*see below), pepper and cayenne. Cook 5 more minutes and remove from heat. Serve immediately.

*All pickle juice is not created equal. Some is saltier than others. Taste your soup after adding the pickle juice and final seasonings. It’s possible you will not need any salt or would prefer more or less. The EPA is considering regulations regarding that.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 12.02.58 PM-031615
(Socotra House LLC prefers the Clausen Kosher Dill pickles in our soup. In the refrigerator section of your local market).

Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Recipe via UptoCountry from Nobel Pig Winery
Twitter: @jayare303

Clarke’s In the Rain

“Yo! Vic!”

I was startled in the rain. I keep to myself when I am down in the country, for the most part, though there was an animated conversation with The Russians about where Mr. Putin is hiding these days as Mattski replaced the hot water heater at his farm, and Biscuit the Wonderspaniel and Jack the Enormous German Shepherd looked on with mild interest.

That project was why I was by myself on East Davis Street in the rain. I had read in the Clarion-Bugle that Clarke’s hardware was going to shut down after 109 years of continuous operations. I felt bad. I equipped Refuge Farm mostly from the Big Box Lowe’s on the strip on the North Side of town, and had not visited the local institution.

Now it is going to be gone. So, a pilgrimage was necessary. The person who called my name was Junior, who used to work the counter at Croftburn Farms Market before she went down to Blacksburg to start college. She is a neat kid, and it was a pleasure to run into her.

“What are you doing here? How was the first year?” I asked.

She was bubbly as ever. “Fabulous! I am back for Spring Break. A week at home, but the snow made them cancel mid-terms, and it is going to be pure heck when I go back.” A young man emerged from the Raven’s Nest coffee house, she had gone to school with him, and it emerged that both were going back to school on Sunday, only he was going back to UVA down the road in Charlottesville.

Hugs around. I refrained, having got one already.

“What are you doing here?”

“A Clarke’s pilgrimage,” I said. “It is a one-of-a-kind place, and it won’t be here long. They say the Mason’s who own the building are interested in subdividing the ground floor and getting more rent.”

Junior pursed her lips. “We used to go there all the time when I was a kid. Claude Minnich took it over before I was born from George Clarke’s widow. It is supposed to be just about the way it was a hundred years ago.”

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“Come on in. I want to see the place.” She laughed and came along, past the neat stacks of galvanized tubs, kid toys and wagons and old-fashioned items on the sidewalk in front of the place. Inside was a wild amalgamation of stuff.


I was stunned. Bins of nails, screws and bolts by the piece or by the pound. Chain and cable by the foot. Have your screens repaired while you shop. Stove pipe and elbows, pipe insulation, heat tape, saw blades, drill bits, levels. Their famous Meyer grass seed is perfect for Culpeper. Grow your own produce with their Meyer vegetable seed; (bagged by the pound or by the ounce). Quality garden tools: rakes, hoes, shovels, ax and ax handles, hose, watering cans, etc.


Fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and soil conditioners. Bird seed and bird houses while you are here. “The birds will control the insects and start a great hobby for your family!”

Junior got bored and decided to take off, but I got a hug before she disappeared. Claude Minnich was presiding at the register with his wife and one of the five part-timers who know where everything is. “All advice, jokes and sociality, FREE!” said the hand-written sign. White Mountain hand-crank ice cream freezers (as well as Rival electric ones), apple parers, meat grinders, old-fashioned washboards, enamelware and meat slicers. Stainless steel cookware. Aladin oil lamps. Canning and freezing supplies of assorted sizes.


Galvanized tubs. Radio Flyer wagons. I got stuck in the Lodge cast-iron cookware aisle, a vast selection of chicken skillets and griddles on the offering, and I decided on a Lodge 6SK with a matching lid, and a copy of Chef John Folse’s Cast Iron Cooking, a historical collection of recipes from America’s geographic culinary regions.

Minnich was checking out a family who had an eclectic collection of items. I didn’t mind waiting, since it was part of the experience, and I had exchanged pleasantries with them already as they picked out two Lodge 14-inch chicken skillets with tops. They wanted the boxes, since one of them was going to travel back to school with the son, who wore an Amish-style black hat.

“Sorry you are closing,” I said. Minnich raised his eyebrows. “Time to retire, I guess. No way to sell the business, since all I have is the inventory and the good name.” He lifted a wooden rolling pin and called out the price to the woman at the cash register. “One husband trainer!”

Laughter all around.

“It’s pretty much a done deal,” he said, looking down the shaft of an axe handle. “I thought when the growing season was done would be a good time, but the Mason’s moved it up. Auction in June, maybe.”

Clarke’s carries the largest variety of seeds east of Harrisonburg, everything from peas to potatoes to parsnips. Natasha already is germinating her seeds to go in the ground as soon as the last frost is behind us, and I made a note to tell her about a change to get some historic stock.

I got my skillet and the cookbook, and felt good about tossing some revenue at the business, even if it is going away. I imagine I could have got the same pan from Amazon cheaper, but it is just too damn bad. Clarke’s is one of three historic Culpeper business institutions: Knakal’s Bakery up the street and Baby Jim’s Snack Bar on Main heading north out of town being the other two. And, according to the Clarion-Bugle, it is the second oldest business in the town behind the newspaper itself.

I thanked Claude for his service to the community. “Come back for the auction,” he said with a smile. “Never know what you might get at a steal.”

“God willing, I will be there, Sir.” I said, and hefted the heavy bag with my fry pan. The way I look at it, there is always room for more cast iron cookware or an Aladdin lamp for when the power goes out.

alladdin last-031515

Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra


Twitter: @jayare303

Net Neutrality

(FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has released the net neutrality rules on the agency’s Web site. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais).


You can read the statements from Chairman Wheeler and the other FCC Commissioners starting at page 314 of the document, which has been secret until now. I missed a chance to comment- the Commission cut them off last September, and kept the Rule secret until weeks after the deciding vote was taken.

Secret. No kidding. I waded through the executive summary and my head began to hurt. Instead, I saved the whole .pdf-format document to digest in pieces and instead read the 80 pages of supporting and dissenting opinions from the sharply divided Commissioners.

That starts on page 314, and of course the majority got the chance to go first. Fine, that is the way it works.

The funny thing is that the Chairman was ecstatic that the Commission got 3.7 million comments from the great American public, “nearly half of them unique.”

We don’t have to parse that very hard, do we? That means that half the inputs were generated form letters. I have sent such correspondence to our elected fools myself when prompted by advocacy groups I support, not bothering to tailor them to the specific recipient. They are normally produced by some group with a decent mailing list to influence Congressional votes, or proposed rule-making by the Executive Agencies.

That means less than two million citizens actually had something to say that they had thought about before mashing the button.

And of course, what they were commenting on was a request for comment issued early last year which bears nothing like what was voted on last month. I blush to quote one of the minority dissenters, Ajit Pai, on how the process worked:

“Say you and a friend are in Kansas. The two of you have been talking every day for months about how wonderful it would be to visit San Francisco. One day, your friend brings up San Francisco yet again and says “Say, we’ve talked enough about this. I propose we go on a cross-country drive. Do you want to come?” Eager to go west, you say yes. You get in the car, fall asleep for a few hours, and wake up to find that . . . you’re heading east toward Boston! “Wait,” you protest, “I thought we were heading to San Francisco!” Your friend replies: “Well, I proposed merely that we go on a cross-country drive. I know we’d been talking every day for months about San Francisco, but you could have realized that I had Boston in mind.” Deflated, you retort: “But should I have? Shouldn’t you have told me we were heading to Boston and given me a chance to say yes or no before we hit the road?”

But of course, that is how things work, or don’t work in DC these days. Acts that no one reads, titled with names that are the direct opposite of what they do, passed without meaningful debate among those on whom they are imposed.

I was working on the Hill when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was being formulated. It was a big deal and a lot of money was sloshing around. I had an interest in how the electromagnetic spectrum was going to be divvied up , and had the privilege of escorting Senator Bob Kerry on a trip one time . In the course of the journey he was talking about the Act, and commented that there was “a line of concerned citizens in expensive suits” waiting to get into the hearings about it, since it was the first the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in almost 62 years.

The professed goal of the new law was to let “anyone” enter any communications business, or to let any communications business compete in any market against any other.

I am not smart enough to know if it really worked, but there sure was a lot of money involved in auctioning off things that really didn’t belong to anyone until the Government put a stake on it. The Act had the potential to change the way we work, live and learn. It affected telephone service, local and long distance (remember that?), cable programming and other video services, broadcast services and services provided to schools.

It did not control the Internet, and that is what the 313 pages of the previously secret of the FCC Order on the Internet now does.

The entire Order is premised on the reclassification of broadband Internet access service as a Title II, telecommunications service, and governed by the FCC. I invite you to wade through the whole thing. It is sort of breathtaking, since the sound-bite “Net Neutrality” doesn’t really cover the waterfront of control. None of these Rules follow the guidelines established in previous court decisions, or the guidance of the controlling law passed by Congress in 1996.

In a nutshell, instead of a minimum-level-of-access rule (that would follow the court-ordered existing roadmap), the Order adopts the flat no-blocking rule that the court overturned.

The one thing this guarantees is that a lot of lawyers are going to get rich, and we are going to get hit with all sorts of new taxes- wait, they are just “fees,” so we are not supposed to notice the fine print on the billing statement.

Should the FCC Order survive judicial review, these will be the consequences: higher broadband prices, slower speeds, less broadband deployment, less innovation, and fewer options for American consumers. This plan to regulate the Internet isn’t the solution to a problem. The plan is the problem.

If it were a good thing, it wouldn’t have been such a deep, dark secret.

Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303

Local Motion

culpeper seal-031215

I imagine you have been following the follies here in town- it is spectacular, and hard to get away from. I won’t deal with the events in Ferguson- that is too horrific. But as to the digital scandals in progress the Attorney General joins the former Secretary of State and the former Director of the EPA with the revelation that he has a couple bogus addresses on which he presumably did some government business.

He was going by the handle “David Kendricks” on his undisclosed government email accounts. That was a combination of the names of two members of the legendary MoTown group, the Temptations: Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin. Sometimes he was henryyearwood@usdoj.gov for variety, and there is another alias floating around some place, according to the New York Daily News.

I thought I might drop him a line of sympathy, but there is no reason to tempt fate, at least not until his replacement is confirmed.

I am sure there are all kinds of really important reasons for using fake names and addresses in government, though I can’t come up with one at the moment. I am sure everything will be sorted out presently and everyone will be happy. It would be easier to tee off on the Secret Service for the latest exercise in poor judgement, but I want everyone safe.

What I did want to stress this morning is that if things seem out of control in DC, it appears to be infectious. Down in the Country, we have had a rash of events that are just as outré.

For example, I think I told you about the incident that happened back in 2012 in which a former Culpeper police officer was convicted of manslaughter. He shot a Sunday school teacher at the Epiphany Catholic School parking lot of East Street. He was responding to a call about a suspicious person.

The case popped up this week since his last appeal to the US Supreme Court is going to be heard. This isn’t a real good time to argue justification in shooting unarmed people, and it is not going to fly, according to the smart money. He will have to serve a three year sentence.

In his defense, it should be noted that the Sunday School teacher cranked up the window of her Jeep on his hand and attempted to drive off with him attached to her car.
There was also a recent double murder with no suspects- at the moment. A guy from Delaware with a local girlfriend told the manager of the PNC Bank in Stafford that he thought someone was gunning for him, and got a safety deposit box in which to stash two Samsung Galaxy smartphones. The woman with him was reported to have been weeping.

Shortly thereafter, a family visiting Mountain Run Lake Park west of town last month found a car with the driver’s side window smashed in and the Delaware guy and the woman dead of gunshot wounds inside. That was news this week because the Sherriff’s department got a warrant to recover the phones, which may have the crucial information on them. I will keep you updated on what happens.

Then, the County IT Systems Admin guy just filed charges that the County Prosecutor grabbed him inappropriately. It is a complex story, unlike the case of our former Mayor who was convicted of sexual battery for hugging the Social Services director for seven seconds.

That was weird, but this one is, too.

It seems the Virginia statute of limitations for “battery” is two years and was just about to expire. The SysAdmin guy claimed that the prosecutor grabbed him after he locked her out of the digital case files at the Sheriff’s request. I have no idea why he did that- he himself just got a hefty settlement after the city manager said some nasty things about him and she got fired- but the SysAdmin is looking for twenty-five grand plus legal costs for the pain and mental distress.

“If I truly harmed him and caused $25,000 in injuries, why wait two years, if I hurt him that bad?” she was quoted as saying yesterday in the Clarion-Bugle.

The files in question had been central to a capital murder conviction in 2012, which was overturned by a federal judge who cited “outrageous misconduct” by police and prosecutors. The prosecutor at the time resigned abruptly and we elected the current prosecutor who claims the battery charge is an attempt to torpedo her chances at re-election this November.

I don’t know what to think, but I am going to vote for sure. Some times a vote can actually make a difference down in the country. I have pictures of all these people, but I am not going to go there. We all have to live together down in the country .

Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303