Saturday, April 21, 2018

Goodbye, Barbara Bush

     I didn't leap on the bandwagon when she passed but I'll miss Barbara Bush.  She was a dependable image of what a First Lady ought to be, supportive of her husband but willing to voice her own opinions, gracious but not distant.  She was a good example to subsequent First Ladies -- not all of them heeded it, but that's how it goes.  I think she did her honest best.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What's In A Name?

     Sometimes a name becomes too closely linked to a group to ever get free of the associations -- modern-day Communists prefer "Socialist," and hope you'll think of voluntary self-help societies, food co-ops and early unions, not food shortages and Tienanmen Square.  Only the most rabid of Nazis fly that banner openly, and so on--

     And yet, as the Greatest Generation dies off, we have no shortage of "America First" groups.  Putting one's own country first seems sensible enough, and it's a handy slogan -- but it's got a history.

     The oldest America First Committee tried to keep this country out of WW II.  Aviator Charles Lindbergh was one of its most visible faces and the group explicitly rejected racism and and anti-semitism; when war came, the organizers packed up and got behind the war effort: "We have been stepping closer to war for many months. Now it has come and we must meet it as united Americans regardless of our attitude in the past toward the policy our government has followed. Whether or not that policy has been wise, our country has been attacked by force of arms and by force of arms we must retaliate." (Lindbergh, 1941). On 11 December, 1941, in the wake of a formal declaration of war against Japan, the leaders voted to dissolve the committee.  --But despite good intentions, they had not been able to control the messengers: Aviatrix Laura Houghtaling Ingalls had been giving speeches for the committee of a distinctly pro-German or even pro-Nazi bent; the FBI had been keeping a close eye on her and in December of 1941, she was arrested, tried and convicted of being an unregistered agent of a foreign power.

     That left a bit of a taint on the name and it was about to get worse.  Gerald L. K. Smith,† a former associate of "Kingfish" Huey P. Long and one-time director of Long's "Share The Wealth" program,* decided to use the name for a political party in 1943 -- and Mr. Smith was a former Silver Shirt who'd been rejected by the old America First Committee for anti-semitism. The America First Party ran its own slate of candidates and barely made a dent in the national consciousness; in 1947s, perhaps a bit wary of their own past, they changed their name to the Christian Nationalist Party; in 1952, both that party and a remnant or reorganized America First Party tagged General Douglas MacArthur to be their Presidential nominee, though neither bothered to ask his permission.  The America First Party name has resurfaced periodically since, generally by candidates on the far-Right to over-the-right-edge side of the spectrum.

     So when I get a message on my phone from Mike Pence, telling me he'll be speaking at an America First rally this weekend, my awareness of history makes me flinch; at best, using the tag is appallingly tone-deaf.  At worst?  I think we can rely on the Press to find plenty of "at worst."  As for me, at one time I always voted for the GOP's candidate whenever there wasn't a Libertarian seeking the same office; now I'm going to need to do a lot more homework on the downticket candidates.

     I miss the boring old state-level Republican Party of my youth.
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* The degree to which the former populist and even Socialist political types came to overlap the very far Right is a bit surprising, at least to me.

† In Studs Terkel's Hard Times, Smith, then consigned to the political wilderness, is given remarkably even-handed treatment.  Terkel was after a snapshot of the Depression and Gerald L. K. Smith was certainly one of the more striking images.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Went To The Doctor Yesterday

     Actually, I went to the doc-in-a-box, my own doctor having a lead time on appointments of over a month, but it comes to the same thing, right?  They're like automobile mechanics: it's not easy to find a really good one but when something breaks, you can usually find some outfit to get your car running.  And most of them are honest workers, or as honest as they have to be.

     I left with a referral to a specialist and a prescription for better painkillers -- non-opioid, which suits me fine; this is not a high-minded stance about addiction, it's the intestinal slowdown opioids cause that I find extremely offputting. 

     Went back to bed after a quick meal when I got home and I feel better now.  Hoping it will last.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I'm Going Back To Bed

     Just an hour or two more of sleep and then to the doctor.  I went to bed at eight last night, never slept longer than three hours at a stretch, and woke at six as tired as when I went to bed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Hey, It's Not Snowing

     It snowed most of the day yesterday, though here in Indianapolis, none of it stuck.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Sleight Of Word

     Yesterday's blog post had been drastically edited from the original.  I am once again having some mild but annoying health issues, and I started to whine.  Oh, dear!  So -- remove a few words here, trim a couple of paragraphs there, add a photo and taa-daa, nice walks and ice cream!

     I loathe whining.  Oh, I do it well, as well as most people if not better, and there's a certain dull, childish comfort in it.  But it solves nothing, cures nothing and invites hapless onlookers to indulge in well-meaning -- if often half-baked -- quack-doctoring.

     The weekend had good points.  It had not-so-good points and I'm starting the week with a little uncertainty -- well, so do we all, every week.  I shall drink my water and take my acetaminophen and ibuprofen and in all probability, my health will be fine.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

How To Spend Saturday Morning

     Yesterday, Tam and I walked to The Gallery Pasty Shop for their delicious weekend brunch, and (because I had only an omelet, no sides) on the way home, I got a small vanilla ice cream cone, in a real waffle cone, at Tiny House Treats.

     A wonderful late-morning it was. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

If House Cats Were Larger

     Acquaintances -- non cat-people acquaintances -- have told me, "Cats aren't really domesticated.  They're vicious predators.  If they were larger, they would hunt us and eat us."

     This is, of course, arrant nonsense, a vile canard.  Out cats love us.  If they were larger, they wouldn't eat us, they'd eat our neighbors; our neighbor's cats would eat us.

Friday, April 13, 2018

And They're Off! And They're Further Off! Oh, They're Way Off...

     In the three-way Republican race to unseat Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly, a very-nearly Blue Dog who paints himself even more blue, the candidates have almost achieved Peak Accusation: none of them (if you listen to the others) loves President Trump enough to be worthy of the job!

     Self-positioned outsider (despite two terms in the Indiana House of Representatives) Mike Braun hit first, accusing his more experienced opponents, U. S. Representatives Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, of being "almost identical" and having "voted to fast-track Obama's trade deal," while he's the guy "President Trump needs."

     Congressman Rokita hit back, calling out the other two as "not conservative;" his ad describes two-term GOP state legislator Braun a "lifelong Democrat" who "voted for Hillary or Obama" and "hiked our taxes forty-five times," while Messer is named a "never-Trump lobbyist" who "supported amnesty for illegals and raised our taxes by a billion dollars."

     And one of the other two -- I can't find the ad now -- has found a quote from Todd Rokita critical of President Trump and is featuring it in their commercials.

     According to each of them, the other two are not nearly Trumpian enough.  Possibly they're all correct.

     All three men are four-square against abortion -- just like incumbent Joe Donnelly -- anti-(illegal)-immigration (the incumbent's a little wishy-washy) and pro-gun (Good Ol' Joe is A-rated by NRA, but he's squishy and took part in the 2016 Democrat filbuster for gun control).  Each of the Republican candidates promises to be President Trump's BFF.

     Meanwhile, a series of lower-key pro- and anti-Joe Donnelly TV commercials both feature frequent mentions of his name and images of the Senator himself, in all his suit-and-tie glory.  After either one, you're left with a strong impression of his face and his name -- which may be the point.

     Senator Donnelly is rated as one of the most vulnerable of the Democrat incumbents up for re-election in 2018.  I'm starting to see why the incumbent so often has an advantage: by the time the general election comes around, the other party's primary fight has given them all the opposition research they could hope for, free and clear.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

What? WW III?

     I am fortunate to have a live-in war/history/foreign policy nerd.  When politicians arch their backs and commence hissing, analysis is no farther away than a yell down the hall:

     "Tamara, will there be war?"

     "What?"

    "You know, toe-to-to with the Russkis, sort of thing...?"

     "What?  Wait a minute, I have to turn down the television.*  Now, what?"

     "World. War. Three?"

     "Oh, that.  No, nobody's that crazy.  Oh, there might be some tit-for-tat over Syria, and if we lose a destroyer....  But Putin's not crazy."

     I hope not.  The Army and Air Force still process their payroll and Accounts Payable right here in Indianapolis (well, Lawrence, IN) and that made us a fine target during the Cold War: capitalist troops would surely refuse to fight if they weren't getting paid!

     Also, who knew H-bomb torpedoes and depth bombs were a thing?  (No, you can't call them depth charges: they're too big.)  And Tom Lehrer's still around to write the soundtrack!
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* It was either Jeopardy or a newscast.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Sick Again

     I shan't dwell on it -- I have a buddy in hospital right now who has a great deal more to deal with -- but I've been slightly ill the past week or weeks, and only Sunday hauled myself to the doctor.

     Yes, this is exactly the behavior over which I chided Tamara recently.  We're both too good at denial and both too fond of one of the worst habits of the Stoics: we want to believe that most physical ills can be solved by gritting one's teeth and outlasting them.  Lovely if true, and it probably was true in a time when 50 was elderly.  We get a lot better mileage from our meat machinery these days but the price of that is an increased need for skilled maintenance.

     Going to the doctor late Sunday meant the pharmacy closed before they filled my prescription; I didn't start drugs until Monday night and spent nearly all of Tuesday in bed.  Much of the day (and evening, not to mention both nights) I was blessedly asleep, and perhaps it has had a restorative effect. 

     I can only hope my friend is feeling better at a similar rate, if not even more quickly.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Water, Water...Everywhere?

     The mighty brains who write books about why your brain is going to melt unless you follow their advice often share an amazing new insight my Mom was well aware of all her life: drink tap water.  It's good for you,* full of essential minerals and trace elements.  There's such a thing as too filtered.

     On the other hand, if you want me to laugh at you, even if you have a Ph.D. and say you've got a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study Alzheimer's disease and women's brains, just say this:

"Purified and distilled waters are just fluids," [she'd love the free mention] said. "There is nothing hydrating there."

     Stop and let that sink in.  Here, let me help:  "...water...there is nothing hydrating there."  I'm not a Ph.D. biologist, but I did all right in etymology, and when water has ceased to be hydrating, both studies are too broken to be of any further use.

     Or, a-hem, it might just be pretentious nonsense to sell fad-nutrition books.

     Drink your damned water.  If you're the kind of idiot who drinks distilled water, take your vitamins and, you know, electrolytes -- or wise up and switch to tap water or the tastier water they get from taps elsewhere and bottle up as spring water. 
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* This presumes you don't live in Flint, Michigan, and that if you're on a well, you haven't dug it too close to your privy or a leaking tank of benzine, etc.  Most city water and well water is clean and wholesome, or at least until TV ratings time, when they'll set it on fire and explain how it will kill you dead.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Tom Lehrer Is Turning 90

     Tom Lehrer, whose lyrical wit hovers between "acerbic" and "acidulous," in sharp and delightful contrast to his upbeat, Broadwayesque tunes, turns 90 this month, and he is, notably, still turning.

     He's not turning out new songs; he's not written much since Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973,* an event he said, "Made political satire obsolete."

     It's a pity.  Agree or disagree with some of his more-partisan stances, you can hardly dislike such gems as "National Brotherhood Week," "Lobachevsky†," or "The Elements."  Tom Lehrer made erudition a doorway to humor -- and with eloquent cleverness, lampooned a lot of things too often taken for granted.   We could use more of that.
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* In fairness, Kissinger tried to give it back after the Vietnam cease-fire failed.  Turns out the Nobel doesn't work that way, no doubt to the acute relief of later winners.

† "...Some of you may have had occasion to run into mathematicians and to wonder, therefore, how they got that way...." always gets a smile or a snicker from me.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

AARP, Unrepresentative Lobbyists And Lifeboat Ethics

     The late Robert A. Heinlein remarked that though elderly retirees made great political volunteers, they were a dangerous constituency, since they had no direct long-term stake.

     I'm on the threshold of joining them; at 59 I have, with luck, twenty mostly-hale years left, followed by a decade or two of decline, maybe even three, which is the stuff of Greek tragedy.  My Mom was more fortunate than most and I wouldn't wish her final decade on anyone, with falls and clumsy care-givers and frequent hospital trips.

     But despite my years, the AARP just loves me and wants to be my friend, sending promotional mailers almost weekly and look at all the lovely perks they offer -- discounts for travel and dining out, and my-oh-my, the insurance.  Yes, the insurance -- AARP's co-founder Leonard Davis went on to found the Colonial Penn Group insurance company, and who did they partner with for years and years, right up until a 60 Minutes expose prompted competitive bids?  You won't have to guess.

     The elderly, supposed beneficiaries of AARP's vast clout (their membership makes them one of the biggest lobbies in Washington, D.C.), are a captive market and one with no say about what the organization might lobby for or against -- and AARP doesn't have to care what they think: wait a decade, and most of the critics or supporters of this or that bit of legislation will be dead or incapacitated.

     There's only so much room in the lifeboat.  There are only so many dollars in the Federal Budget.  How will you spend it?  Who will you save?  My goodness, Granny is in dire straits -- and so are the thugs trying to use her as a flotation device.

     I haven't joined AARP.  You know what the biggest difference is between them and the NRA?  No, not politics; sure, one leans left and the other right, but not so much you won't find their well-suited flacks at the same D.C. parties, grabbing after the same mixed drinks and laughing politely at the same tired jokes.  Here's the difference: I get to vote on NRA board members and they send me surveys to get an idea of what matters to the NRA membership.  I have some input into what they do and how they go about it.  AARP has none of that; they just keep pushing those lovely discounts and that fine, fine insurance.  (Income from lending use of the "AARP" name to products is a bigger source of group's income than membership dues.  Consider that A Clue.)  Maybe someday I'll have to join up to get supplemental insurance -- but not today, thank you very much, and not if I can find some other way.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Silent Cal Speaks

     Today's aphorisms come from President Calvin Coolidge:

     "The words of a President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately."

     "I think the American people want a solemn ass as a President and I think I will go along with them."

     Ah, those were the days.

Friday, April 06, 2018

We Want A Mastermind; I Hope We Never Get One

     The more I watch domestic politics, from tragedy to humor to the dry, crunching gears of bureaucracy, the more I'm convinced that what the public wants in high office more than anything is a mastermind.  They'd like a saintly, subtle genius, but they'll take a comic-book supervillian -- or even an idiot savant -- but nobody's comfortable with what we usually get, men struggling to keep up with an impossible job and not always succeeding.

     The Presidency was a crazy idea to begin with, a working Head of State with a short fixed term instead of a King who'd grown up expecting the job and looking forward to a lifelong term: Americans were planning to run their government with an amateur, his hands largely tied by an elected (the House) and appointed (the Senate) legislature that controlled the budget, had final say on treaties and had the power to declare war at a time when no country did things that way.  The Presidency turned out to be a job that made Washington grumpy, Jefferson peevish, and came close to killing several of their successors from overwork.

     And we want that guy to be something special.*  Some of the funniest and most satisfying Saturday Night Live sketches showed President Reagan transitioning from a doddering, grandfatherly type greeting visitors to a high-pressure schemer talking his henchmen through detailed plans to control the world -- and President Carter calmly answering question after question on topics from nuclear reactor emergency repairs to coping with a bad acid trip in great and accurate detail.  Even when we don't like a particular President, we cook up complex and nefarious activities to impute to them; one of the more amusing aspects of critics of the most recent President Bush was that they never could decide if they thought he was an idiot or a smart sneak out to enrich himself and his cronies by stealing oil from the Middle East.  We elect engineers and college professors to be President...and at best, they acquit themselves no better than career politicians in the same job.

     So now we have President Donald Trump.  His critics tell me he's a clever criminal, busily looting the fed.gov and enriching his pals; his fans tell me he's a deep and brilliant negotiator, playing the game seventeen moves ahead of everyone else, and they both are selling the notion that he's a -- what else? -- mastermind.

     Imagine their mutual horror were he to turn out to be a big-talking real-estate developer, struggling to keep up with an impossible job.
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* Admit it, you were uncomfortable when I referred to a couple of Founders as "grumpy" and "peevish."  Yet they were mortal men, as moody as any other.  Washington's writings occasionally give the impression of a man who'd like to use bad language and put his fist through a wall, but is too aware of the critical gaze of History to do so.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

A Good Argument For Hibernation

     But if we sleep through it, we'll miss all the fun?

     "Fun."  Only not.  Between the weather and the nitwit who decided to shoot people at YouTube -- but who didn't fit the profile and has therefore scrolled right off the news -- I'd've stood in bed if I could.  (ETA: Tam tells me, "Not so fast.  The YouTube shooting was the third story at the start of NBC's Today show."  Okay, I stand corrected on that point -- but I'm standing pat on the next paragraph.)

     Interestingly, the YouTube shooter was a California local -- and here the Brady Center tells me that state is A-rated for gun control.  It's almost like that doesn't work to control determined killers.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Hahahaha, Springtime -- Also, The Saps Are Running

     Monday, two inches of snow.
     Tuesday, thunderstorms and a high of 68°F, with heavy rain and tornadoes.  Thousands of people without power overnight, most of them in an adjacent county.
     Today?  High winds, light snow and a high that might get out of the 30s.
     Thursday, I don't know -- earthquakes, or just a rain of frogs?
* * *
     Meanwhile, Indiana's in the run-up to primary elections.  We've got a Senate seat up for grabs, which the the Democrat incumbent won 50% to 44% last time. The top local GOP contenders -- two U.S. Representatives and a relative outsider -- are basically all contending to be more Trumpian than President Trump.  It may be a winning strategy here in the Rust Belt, but they're getting a bit catty and I don't know that any of them are so ideologically pure (or whatever; pick your adjective) as to bear close inspection on that score.  Meanwhile, Senator Joe Donnelly is about as conservative a Democrat as you'll find these days, and it's not doing him a lot of good with the middle-to-left of his own party.  There's even a series of pro- and anti-Donnelly commercials running, in an uncontested party primary!   With three clear leaders from what began as an eight-way race among the opposition to unseat him, they'd better mind what they throw at one another: the Donnelly campaign is taking notes for November.

     It looks to be an interesting season, one way or another.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

"Climate," Weather," "Indiana Spring"

     Only the first two of them are predictable, at least compared to the third.
     Yesterday morning, we had a couple of inches of snow on the ground -- and on tree limbs, overhead wires and my ham radio antenna.  The day turned sunny and warmish and Tam's got a nice collection of photos of green grass and optimistic flowers poking through the snow, and of whole streets where Winter reigns on the shadowed side, while birds frolic and lawns are green across the block where Spring's sun shines.

     Today?  Today, a thunderstorm is slam-banging through as I write, lightning flashbulbing the sky, thunder booming and rolling, and it has already rained so hard in some spots that the Highway Department is using snowplows in an attempt to squeegee water off the interstate.  Pea-sized hail is falling to our south and melting after it hits.  There'll be a high of 68°F -- and perhaps as much as four inches of rain!

     Wednesday, it's going to snow again.

     Of course.

   

Monday, April 02, 2018

Oh, Monday--

     Another day that started by being awakened too early by a headache.  It's an effective waking method but I can't recommend it.

     On the other hand, last night I decided to see how "popcorn" asparagus worked with a little cut-up ham in place of the usual salt.
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
     Darned well, is how!  The asparagus is cut at an angle into one-inch sections and quick-cooked in a closed pan in a little oil -- sesame oil, if you have it, though any mild oil with toasted sesame seeds added will work.  I had some Bertolli Extra Light olive oil, which is about ideal.*  You need to shake the pan so it will cook evenly, a bit like making popcorn.  I am very fond of asparagus cooked this way; it's much better than the usual steaming or microwaving.  It comes out crisp-tender, not the usual mush -- and goes bright green instead of olive-drab.  I added the ham about half-way through the cooking.
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* It is very light, a good all-around cooking oil.  This is the only brand and kind of oil the cats will drink -- and they seem to like it a lot.  It may be an odd endorsement but I think they have good judgement.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Runnin' On Fumes

     For some reason, I ran out of energy very early yesterday.  Got up, took Tam off to the doc-in-a-box, and then, at her suggestion, went to a franchise wings place.

     It was...not good.  "Mild" boneless wings were over-spicy and dry; adding ketchup did nothing good for them.  Side "cool-off" veggies were of dubious quality: carrots chalky, celery soggy and browning at the cut ends.  The fries were adequate and my drink (lemonade) was fine.  And of course the music was too loud.

     Got back home and went to change from shoes to sandals; that seemed like such a good idea that I swapped my dungarees for soft lounging pants and y'know, the bed was an inviting placed to look at a little TV from.

     I watched the 2004 production of "A Wrinkle In Time," the movie edit (it had aired as a four-hour TV mini-series), and nodded off briefly a few times.  This is not a negative reflection on the movies, which is an honest effort, marred by small effects budget and somewhat plodding directing: it's all there and there are occasional brilliant touches (Kyle Secor's Man With Red Eyes is spot-on) but the pacing is not quite what it should be and it is an unsubtle reading of the original book.*

     After that, I fell asleep.  Woke up around eight to make a little dinner -- leftover picadillo, mine topped with an egg (very good!).  Thought I would nap a but after and instead slept the night through, woke to feed the cats at six, and slept until Meet The Press came on.

     Friday, I went into my yearly Employee Review on about four hours sleep, concerned that the huge recent changes at work (everyone between me and the Chairman of the Board was hired within the last three years; I've been there for thirty) are squeezing out my job.  Instead, I learned they like the quality of my work, want me to be "a little nicer" and are concerned about the same deadline-slippage that bothers me.  I must have needed the rest. 
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* Having recently read the book helped a lot, especially with the scenes between departing Camazotz without Charles Wallace and returning to save him, which were barely explained.