Monday, November 23, 2020

Factual Facts

      News as hard as hardtack is a rare treat these days.  While the opening paragraphs may be tooth-grinding for fans of Rudy Guiliani and Sidney Powell, Factcheck.org* has an article on the Trump campaign's legal challenges to election results that is otherwise nothing but facts: details of the cases filed and outcomes (if any).  There's no speculation about conspiracies or the possibility of the incumbent forting up at 1600 Penna.  It's just dry, chewy, fact-filled facts.  No opinion.  No theorizing.  Minimal use of adjectives.

      Oh, for more of that, and less hot-breathing BS from either side!
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* It's a pretty sure bet that a commenter will point out that Factcheck.org is largely funded by the Annenberg Foundation, better-known for funding donations to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Walter Annenberg was President Richard Nixon's pick for Ambassador to the British Crown and his legacy is not exactly hard Left.  But let's stipulate they're not fans of Mr. Trump -- nevertheless, the article summarizes only what is known, limiting coverage to what is alleged in cases filed and the present status or outcome of those cases.  There isn't any leeway to shade those facts.  They're stuck with 'em as they stand.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Red Stew

      I made red stew for dinner tonight.

      It's not chili -- and by not calling it that, I'm free to put all manner of things in it, while still keeping the spice level higher than the kidney beans and elbow macaroni version I grew up with.

      So it started out with a pound of ground beef and a large chorizo sausage, with salt, pepper and chili powder; once it was brown most of the fat was drained off, the meat pushed to the sides and a large onion, diced, started sizzling in the middle.  I chopped up three stalks of celery very thin, added them with some more chili powder, and diced a couple of medium-sized carrots into small pieces.  Added them and went looking for what else might be on the shelf.

      I had a couple of small cans of green chilis.  They went in.  A large box of crushed tomatoes followed and then a smallish can of mixed beans.  (Remember, now, this is red stew, not chili.  So it's allowed.)  Tam's got a big bottle of Korean hot sauce with a bit of sweet to it, really fine stuff indeed, and I drizzled about half a teaspoon of it into the stew.

      That simmered with some more chili powder, a bit of garlic powder, some basil just because and three bay leaves.  I gave it fifteen minutes and added five shishito peppers, cut into 1/4" rings.  They're pretty delicate and you don't want to overcook them -- five minutes more did it, and we had a nice warm meal on cold, damp night, stew thick enough to stand a spoon up.

      It wasn't chili.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Cui Bono?

      It's Latin, but it's also horse-sense: if someone urges a course of action and you suspect their motive, ask yourself, "What's in it for them?" -- And don't stop at the surface; keep digging.

      It's a useful tool, especially when looking at rules or edicts that seem arbitrary.  "Lasers In Use.  Eye Protection Required" is pretty self-explanatory.*  You benefit from it, having been given fair warning of the hazard and how to mitigate it.  But so does whoever owns the lasers, by not getting sued into poverty by injured people they failed to warn.

      We're into a big increase in COVID-19 infections, with a corresponding increase in hospitalizations and deaths; while survivability is up, it's still not great.† States and cities are starting to tighten restrictions, some with fines for failure to wear masks, some with limitations on occupancy for public businesses, some with closure of non-essential business and "stay-home" orders.‡  And this occasions no little resentment -- c'mon, nobody likes this; I'd swap your eyeteeth for a couple hours browsing in a decent bookstore, just about now -- and some wild speculation.

      It's that speculation that concerns me.  When case rates or postivity rates rise** and state or city governments ramp up restrictions in an effort to reduce transmission of the virus, plenty of people will claim an ulterior motive.  If pressed, they tend to say it's a "power grab," and bring up the very real harm done to small and independent businesses.

     Power to do what, exactly, and what do they get out of it?  Mayors and Governors aren't notably stupid, and business groups are very active at lobbying.  Your Mayor's probably got a favorite barbecue joint, too, and a bar he or she likes.  They eat pretty much the same food you do, from the same sources, and if things start to fall apart, they might not get as hungry as you do, or as quickly, but they won't be eating high off the hog.  If they break the economy, they go down with it.  A falling tide lowers all boats -- and tends to sink political ambitions with it.  Just ask Herbert Hoover and a whole slew of Republicans during the Great Depression.

     It's fun to mutter darkly about "tyrants," but what we've really got are befuddled schmucks-in-office, doing their best to keep their jobs afloat by striving to keep the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic from boiling completely over.  If they could come up with any way to limit the spread other than mask requirements and crowd-size limits, they'd be on it like a duck on a June bug, and spend the next month bragging about to the press.

     It's a real pandemic.  It's got a high death toll.  We still don't have any better control measures than they did for the 1917 - 20 influenza pandemic, but they work much better than doing nothing.  Vaccines are six to eight months away, and we can either mask up and get through that time or be dragged through it, kicking and screaming.  
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* Especially the alternative form, "Do Not Look Into Laser Beam With Remaining Eye."
† I keep encountering people touting a "99% survival rate" as if that was a wonderfully good statistic.  Look, if commercial air travel had a 99% survival rate, they'd have one death for every three flights.  (39 passengers on the average flight these days.)  What fool would board a plane with odds like that?  When broadcasting first got IT people, they'd boast of their 99% uptime...until we pointed out that if 99% uptime was all we could achieve in Engineering, we'd be out of a job: that's more than three and a half days off the air every year. 
‡ None of which actually require citizens to stay home!  If you need to get groceries or the like, you are free to do so; if you'd like to walk the dog, go for a drive or even visit a public park, that's okay, even in the states with the strictest rules.  What you can't do is go stand cheek-by-jowl with strangers, especially indoors.  Yes, the public baths are right out at present and your gym may be closed for the duration.
** At this writing, Indianapolis/Marion County has a positivity rate of 13.5% and it is trending upwards.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Oh, Ouch

      A bit more than "ouch."  I have had a touch of arthritis in my left thumb for years; it's painful at times, but I can live with it.

      It was acting up yesterday, but I was mostly ignoring it.   Holding on to things with that hand requires more attention -- that thumb will slack off if ignored -- but no big deal, right?

      I was inveigling a long piece of what's essentially inch-and-a-half copper pipe out of a jackstraw tangle of similar and larger pieces, part of a now-obsolete assembly hanging from the eleven-foot-high ceiling up at the North Campus.  It's tricky work that really should have two people to do it.  One person with a couple of stepladders can manage, if they take things very slowly and plan every step.

      On one of those steps, my thumb began to twinge, badly.  Wasn't anything I could do about it, so I held on harder and kept working until the section of pipe was safely on the floor.

      And as I did, my left wrist started to hurt, a long, nasty line of pain from my thumb back into that side of my wrist.  So I worked one-handed until I had loose items secured, and found quieter tasks to finish the day -- it was about time to knock off the higher-risk jobs anyway.

      The drive home wasn't fun; after decades of cars with manual transmissions, I routinely steer left-handed.  I kept reverting to that, getting zapped and putting my right hand back on the wheel.  Making dinner wasn't a lot of fun and left me crabby from the git-go. 

      At bedtime, I dosed up on acetaminophen and aspirin, put on the wrist braces I'm supposed to sleep in, and headed off to dreamland.  My wrist seemed better this morning.

      At first, that is.  The relief didn't last.  Blamed thing hurts worse than ever now. even after more OTC painkillers.   Dammit.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Damage To Conservatism

      Okay, look, I'm not a conservative.  I'm a wild-eyed libertarian -- small l, please -- who believes government should be tiny, of limited powers, and staffed by extraordinarily talented people.  And I know I'm never going to get that -- the best I can hope for is a fairly competent bureaucracy and elected officials who put so much time and effort into tripping one another up that they can't do too much harm.

      But I used to be able to get along with conservatives, at least  the Buckley-through-Goldwater arc of the Republican party.  At times too hawkish to suit me, they could nevertheless be relied on to not go haring off after conspiracy theories, to be fiscally prudent and to remain aware of Constitutional constraints on the Federal government's powers.  They tended to be optimistic about a brighter future, notably in Ronald Reagan's speeches.  They tended, mostly, to listen to experts and follow scientific thought.  They were open to debate.

      Were.  Today's GOP politicians and rank-and-file appear to have decided that reality is whatever you can convince yourself it is, and that the ill-informed opinion of the man-on-the-street is just as good as that of someone who has spent a lifetime studying the topic.  They're not interested in discussion or debate.

      I grew up hearing my parents complain about Democrat politicians who built castles in the air and tried to make people live in them, voters and office-holders for whom feelings mattered ever so much more than facts.  Never in my wildest imaginings did I think the GOP would decide that was the way to go, and that they could do so even better than the opposing party.

      Will they be able to undo the damage they have done to themselves?  It seems unlikely. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Do Not Do This

      Got home last night, fed the cats, put a can of soup in a covered pan over low heat -- chicken corn chowder, good stuff -- and sat down with a book.  (I'm rereading a William Gibson novel, The Peripheral, first in a trilogy; the second book, Agency, came out earlier this year and I'd skimmed the first one to refresh my memory of the characters, then decided after finishing the second book to add another look at the first one to my to-be-read books.)

      Several minutes later, deep in the book, thinking, Oh, that smells good, waitaminnit, that's a covered pan...!

      Yes, it had boiled over, filled up the depression around the burner and dripped on through, making a mess to clean up.*  At least I'd caught it before it dripped on down into the oven, but it still took awhile.  I barely glanced into the pan (full of bubbles) before putting the lid back on and parking it to one side of the stove on a couple of stacked hot pads.  Frantic cleaning followed, mopping up the bulk of it before lifting the top of the stove and cleaning underneath.  (Which it needed anyway.)

      Once the stove was clean, not a fast job, I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and only then checked out the soup.  Surprisingly not ruined.  Not even burned.  It was still hot, so I poured it into a bowl and had it for dinner with my sandwich.
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* I have been wanting to replace the stove in here at Roseholme Cottage since I first moved in.  I had bought a nice, sealed-top pilotless gas range for my former house and left it when I moved, not wanting to wrestle appliances by myself (got a bit extra from the landlord for it, too).  I still miss it, but what with one thing and another, I was only in a position to give serious thought to a new stove just this year -- when the furnace needed to be replaced.  So it will have to wait.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

It's Very Possible To Know

      A comment to my post, "Is Seeing Believing?" repeated a couple of canards that have been bouncing around, notions that are plain wrong but which seem plausible at first  sight.

      One was this idea that any death, for any reason, gets classified as a "COVID-19 death" if the decedent tests positive for the virus.  This is untrue; death certificates list all causes and contributing factors.  It's one reason why CDC cause-of-death data for SARS-CoV-2 is much slower coming than the numbers from individual states and counties: CDC evaluates every one and doesn't count deaths where the virus was not the direct cause.*

     His other claim was that "Except for that first peak, it's impossible to say how much of this was actually COVID-19 and how much was a result of the lockdowns...."

      That's nonsense.  It's very possible to tell.  We have charts and graphs for cases, deaths and restrictions, with the shape of the graphs for cases and deaths tracking one another closely, a week or more apart.  At that point, the question becomes, "Do restrictions come before or after increases in cases?" 

      Drum roll, please!  Relaxing restrictions precede an increase in cases; stricter restrictions follow an increase in cases.  COVID-19 is a much greater contributor to 2020's excess mortality than lockdowns, by a huge margin.

      This is not to say restrictions on activities and contacts have no negative effect on mortality; isolation and putting off medical treatment absolutely contribute.  But that is something we can help mitigate.  We have contact-free ways to keep in touch with elderly or ailing friends and relatives: don't put off that phone call or Zoom conversation with them.  And don't put off medical procedures if you don't have to, either -- I suffered for months from an outdated eyeglasses prescription because I was leery of the eye doctor.  Correcting that has helped me a lot. 

      But the virus remains the greater risk.  I don't know if we're going to see a return to the kind of essential-business-only restriction that was put in place early in the pandemic.  We know more about how the virus spreads now, and mask requirements along with limits on the size of gatherings or the percentage of occupancy of a business do a lot to control transmission of the virus without making as damaging an impact on the economy and people's lives.

      This holiday season will be problematic.  We all want things to get back to normal -- and we're very good at making excuses to ourselves for skating around the rules and recommendations.  Please celebrate responsibly.
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* This is often tied into the claim that "Hospitals get paid more for COVIOD-19 patients."  Congress did authorize additional payment for Medicare patients only, over the usual coverage for pneumonia-type treatment, but receiving it requires a positive test -- and faking that is Medicare fraud, a very costly thing for a hospital to get caught at. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Cut-Rate Caesarism

      The framers of the U. S. Constitution had a problem: the country needed an Executive, someone who would sign checks, oversee putting legislation into action, and so on.  The predecessor governments -- we lump them together, but there were three, growing in scope -- had combined legislative and executive authority.  It was a well-established model.  It wasn't what they were after.

      So we got Separation of Powers.  It wasn't a new idea.  It can be traced back through the English Civil War to John Calvin and on to Aristotle but most of them included a king, or at least a lifetime Executive office-holder with broad powers.  The Framers were concerned about Caesarism and the appeal of Kings.  They wanted something a bit more whittled-down.  They didn't want it to be a lifetime job.

      So the United States got a President, serving for four years at a time and with limited powers.  Congress is supposed to do the heavy lifting of government while the president -- to George Washington's frustration, expressed when he issued the first Executive Orders -- is stuck with trying to make things work from day to day.

      Presidents aren't kings.  They're not supposed to be.  They've got an emergency brake -- the veto power -- and they can issue pardons for Federal crimes, but that's about all that's left of the sweeping powers of kings.

      When partisans of one side or another tell me their guy is "the last chance for freedom" or "the only way to restore our democracy," it gets my hackles up.  Especially now.

      If you think this country's continued existence in recognizable form depends on which septuagenarian infests the White House starting in 2021, give up now: if that's true, the country is done.  Assume Presidents get the very best medical care and advice (and follow it), and you're still looking at a couple of guys whose working life has got a decade or less to go.  They're not saving anything, not for very long.  That kind of dewy-eyed, panty-throwing faith in any political leader isn't American, no matter how many flags you wave.  It's a clearance-sale special version of Caesarism.  It's not a way forward; it's a huge step back.

      America's future depends not on the suit-wearer who gets "Hail To The Chief" played for them or even on which side gets a majority in Congress* but on an engaged and informed electorate, voters willing to throw the bums out when their term ends and select new bums to warm the seats of power.  Whoever wins the Presidency gets the job for four years, maybe eight, and then they're out.  This is as it should be: the President, any President, is Just Some Guy.  Like the bus, there will be another one along in due course.
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* Though I admit I'm happier when it is neither. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Bookshelves Done

      Desk-side bookshelves in my room are mostly done, at least -- assembled, sanded, cleaned and in place.  It was a cold, windy day, so I assembled the shelves on the basement floor and nearly wrecked my back and knees.  Did the sanding outdoors, with the shelves up on fancy sawhorses with built-in clamps.  With an orbital sander and high winds, it's not too bad a task.  Wiped it down with a tack cloth, gave it a few minutes for the volatiles to dissipate, then took it down to the basement to warm up while we had dinner.

      Putting it in place was a little tricky -- it fits between the desk surround and a window frame.  But there's just enough room to slide the desk over and work the bookshelves in place.

      I forgot, again, that residential practice installs AC receptacles with the ground pin down and as a result, I found myself making a relief cut on the back of the bottom shelf in a cramped corner to clear the fancy tight-clearance plug on the cord for the above-desktop outlet strip.  You see, with the ground pin down, the cord exits the plug parallel to the wall and at 45 degrees down and to the right!  The shelf height was carefully chosen to be lower than the receptacle but higher than the tall old-type baseboard, which still left it in the way of the cord.  I'm not entirely happy with the clearance cut I made and I may pull the shelves out tomorrow and use a Forstner bit to widen the opening and leave it with a rounded corner.  Forstner bits are pretty good about drilling partial holes along edges.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

A Day Of Work

      Spent today working around the house.  Mostly laundry and housecleaning.  And one more thing: I bought a new nightstand, something that will use space a little better than my previous one.

      The new nightstand is an inexpensive laminated-bamboo frame with cloth drawers.  I assembled it Friday and checked it out.  It needed stabilization, in the form of a side panel near the top (also mounting space for an outlet strip) and a back panel near the bottom.  So that was today's project.  With an angle bracket holding it to my headboard, it's steady enough.  I'm hoping to get some work done on the bookshelves that go next to it tomorrow.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Is Seeing Believeing?

      A commenter who I haven't published (yet -- still thinking about it) wrote "I'd be interested in seeing the number of total U.S. deaths from the last couple of years Jan - October and see if the total deaths between each year vary that much."

     That's a very interesting question.

      The number he's asking after is called "excess mortality," and it is of interest to epidemiologists.   It has varied quite a bit for 2020 compared to previous years.  You can find numerous sources for it.  Here's a chart for the U. S. from one of them:

      The data's a little lagged, so the present upswing isn't shown, but the earlier peaks are obvious.  CDC has a slightly more up-to-date (and more conservative) data set here.  The medical profession appears to be getting better at managing cases, but you're still better off not catching the virus. More people are dying than usual.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

I Thought This Roller-Coaster Ride Was Ending

     Here we are again, headed uphill with the ratchet going tick, tick, tick....  Indiana is back under stronger coronavirus preventative measures (although no "lockdowns") as of the coming weekend.

     Here's why:
From https://www.coronavirus.in.gov/

     I'd ask my friends and acquaintances who were saying, "This virus stuff will all end after the election," how this can be, but most of them have headed off to their own bubbles, whatever new variations of social media are currently popular among the folks who took being fact-checked or banned as a mark of pride rather than evidence of poor research or clumsy presentation.  Of course, the problem with bubbles is that eventually you'll stifle in there, unless something large and sharp pops the thing.

     It doesn't look like this bug is going away just yet, and that sucks.