Thursday, February 21, 2019

About That Writing Class

     The writing class is keeping me busy.  The group of writers is congenial -- I think we all showed up on Day One determined to be -- and they have a remarkable degree of talent.

     They're also prolific.  Over the course of every week, each of us -- nine so far  -- has to review and critique the work of all the others, then summarize each critique to share aloud in class, and the critiques we share cannot take longer than a minute and a half to deliver!

     So you sit down in your spare time and go over each manuscript -- 2500 to 5000 words, with a few of my classmates pushing the upper limit -- and catch the obvious things, characters who walk through a door and then open it, William Vest changing names to Grigori West with no explanation, Varangians in toe shoes.  Then you go through and look for plot holes, lack of clarity (after the first 2500 words, we really ought to know what these characters are up to!), larger continuity errors, inconsistencies of style and tone.  And then you've got to decide which of these are sufficiently important to earn mention in your minute and a half!

     Of course, we share the annotated manuscripts as well, and having eight more people look over one's work is a quick (and humbling) education in where you go wrong that begins to illuminate why.

     It is a lot of work; it's what I am doing instead of watching television (I'm several episodes behind on The Orville) and Facebook.  The latter is probably small loss; oh, it's fun and I have a wide range of friends there, but it is ephemeral by design.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Meanwhile, On The Ice Planet

     The TV is playing in my room down the hall, tag-team coverage of the overnight snow and/or ice followed by sleet and/or rain.  Things could have been worse but it's still a non-stop litany of snow, slush, downed power lines and car crashes.

     Sections of the interstates are down to a one-lane crawl and smiling reporters, warned by the TV station's Traffic Center, report the worst live from the front passenger seat while driving around the mess on frontage roads.

     Tamara, as is her usual wont, has taken over the room for the morning.  She complains, "Spring will never come!  We're locked into an eternal hell of gray slush!"

     I'm at the computer with my breakfast, in the room at the other end of the short hallway.  "Shaddup!" I tell her, 'cos I'm classy like that, and I had just been thinking we were getting near the end of the worst of winter, or at least the beginning of the end.

     The next reporter up opens her spiel with the happy thought that Daylight Savings Time starts in just three weeks.

     Tamara sings out, "Hallelujah!  We're saved!" as earnestly as any churchgoer.

     I smile.  I loathe DST -- on the far western edge of the Eastern time zone, Indiana's already ahead of the sun by nearly an hour -- but Tam's dislike of winter overwhelms her at times and this one hasn't been one of the sunniest.  An extra hour of light at the end of the day when she's awake to appreciate it will do her a world of good.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Future Is History

     The Future Is History.  That's the title of Masha Gessen's account of the years immediately before perestroika through the rise of  Vladimir Putin, told by following the lives of a number of real people in Russia.  It's fascinating reading so far -- Gessen is a talented writer and her subject matter is compelling.

     Gessen is a lifelong outsider, a Russian expatriate, returnee and re-expatriate.  She is well-placed to write this book, far enough Left that the New York Times and Guardian pay her serious heed while being sufficiently clear-eyed to see reality when she looks at recent history.  I'm perhaps a quarter of the way through and having difficulty setting the book down to do other things.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Loatheable

     Politicians.  As a group, they're obnoxious, attention-craving, fickle and deceitful. They involve themselves in the most amazing graft, scandal and petty-but-despicable behavior.  

     Yes, they're horrible.  I can think of no group of persons who would more deserve to be saddled with the dull, boring, messy and imperfect process of running government.  I don't much trust them to do it well, or to stay inside the limits they are supposed to observe -- but better them than some finer group of men and women, who would be taken away from doing useful and productive work in other fields of endeavor.

     Think of a Congressbeing of whom you disapprove -- would you want that person driving an 18-wheeler on the same highways you take?  Designing a skyscraper or passenger aircraft?  Doing brain surgery?

     No, we're better off with them where they are.  At least we can try to keep an eye on them, and work to vote out the worst of them.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

But What About Mr. Trump's Wall?

     I haven't written much about the latest developments.  I think it has become one of those "team" things: if you're onboard with Team Trump, you're unreservedly okay with it and if you're not, you want no part of it, nohow, no way.

     That's certainly one way to look at it.  It's not the only way.

     Borders create opportunities -- good and bad.  It would be nice if borders could be managed in such a way that only good people got across them, and only in the officially-approved manner; it would be great if every willing immigrant could immigrate, find work and become productive citizens.

     That's not how borders work.  It's not even how they work when the border is a peaceful one between two very similar countries -- as was painfully discovered by one of my long-ago co-workers whose girlfriend turned out to be an illegal immigrant from Canada.  She got nabbed and sent back.

     When the two countries have radically different standards of living, radically different levels of lawfulness and a significant disparity in the availability of technology and of drugs?   People, money and goods are going to cross that border, no matter how high, wide and mighty a wall bars it.

     Oh, you can raise the stakes, and that will have its greatest effect on the most vulnerable.  As I have written before, if better border security prevents people from trying to cross in the places of greatest hazard, and funnels them towards actual border-crossing locations, that's a desirable outcome in terms of fewer lives lost.  At that point, people and their Congressthings can argue about the criteria for letting people in -- and there are legitimate arguments to be made on all sides -- and have it mean something more than mere shouting at the tide.

     Drugs will still cross.  Money will still cross.  Want to fix that?  About the only way to do it is arrange matters so a volume of marijuana doesn't go way up in value the moment it crosses that line.  Do the same for every other smuggled drug.  Legalize it and let Big Pot crush the foreign competition at the cash register.  Know why they're smoking Kools in the poor neighborhoods instead of hand-rolls of backyard tobacco?  Because even growing your own costs more than buying a pack at the 7-11!  Yes, this indeed radical and scary and Not At All What Our Parents Did.  And I'm not looking forward to the day when any trucker can buy a handful of Black Beauties at the Flying J and take his chances on getting caught -- except that day is already here.  Enacting Prohibition didn't make alcohol unavailable.  Ending Prohibition didn't make driving drunk any less a crime.

     Legalize drugs -- start with pot, several states and foreign countries are already running the experiment without collapsing -- and you can build a wall with a fraction of the steel and concrete.

     Why is the story of my former co-worker's lost love worth retelling?  Because it's unusual; for a young, single woman, there was nothing on this side of the border she didn't already have at home except for a few more days of summer.  There was no economic incentive.

     Remove the economic incentive.  Ideally, Mexico should become as prosperous and gang-free as the U. S. (noting that this country is neither universally wealthy nor lacking in a degree of crime, amateur and organized; we're just better off on both scales).  Don't ask me how, though starving their drug gangs for cash would probably help.  Ideally fewer substances would be prohibited in the two countries and the remaining restricted ones would be substantially the same on both sides of the border.

     Sure, you can build a better wall.  Look how well it worked in Berlin!  Or even China.  But it's not a long-term solution.  Neither is using the idea of a wall as a political football.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Slept In

     It feels good.  Now, if only I hadn't awakened a little before four and laid in bed reading until the alarm went off at six and the cats needed to be fed.  But I went back to bed and caught up, and that's a good thing.

     Allen Steele's V-S Day has been my entertainment at these times in recent days. It's an alternate history of WW II, in which von Braun's team at Peenemünde are taken off the V-2 program and put to building Eugen Sänger and Irene Bredt's Silbervogel manned intercontinental rocket bomber instead.  The U.S. starts a crash program to counter it, headed by Robert Goddard, and the race is on!  Good reading.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Secret Identity?

     Apparently, my Chemex fought Soviet Communism!  Well, not mine, exactly, but the design was one of the foot-soldiers for an unexpected Cold Warrior, the Museum Of Modern Art.

     The more widely I read, the more plausible the "Hidden Frontier" becomes.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Uninvited Tree

     The flyer, bearing the logos of our public-trust gas-and-water utility and "Keep Indianapolis Beautiful" chirps excitedly, "TREES COMING! A tree may be planted in the right-of-way near your home..."

     In fact, I'm fairly reliably informed that one will be; there's no "if" about it.  I am opposed to this.  We had trees near that area when I moved in, a pine at our neighbor's and some kind of frangible maple in ours.  The roots got into our sewer lines -- segmented clay tile, very vulnerable to root intrusion -- and the maple died in slow stages, finally partially collapsing over the sidewalk, posing a danger to pedestrians and costing me a lot to remove.  Our neighbor had already gotten rid of the pine.  Another maple nearby just fell over in a windstorm!

     The flyer tells me a tree will intercept a lot of rainwater that would otherwise go down the storm drain and I'm all in favor of that, since my basement is still sometimes a way station for rainfall headed for the drain -- but don't stick the thing out where my sewer line runs.  Both city water and city sewer come in from the front.  Roseholme Cottage doesn't have a lot of frontage and all of it is neatly occupied by utilities, each in their own third: sewer, water, streetlight.  There's no space for a tree.

     First thing I will do is ask them to please take their tree elsewhere.  After that?  I don't know.  I haven't got much of a green thumb and I'm certainly not going to expend any effort on the city's tree.  If it's an invasive species, I'll be on firm legal ground to have it removed.  (Also, if it's their right-of-way, how come I'm expected to mow it?  How skillfully am I required to do the job?)

     The grounds of Roseholme have a plumbing-free back yard where a new tree would be welcome, especially since I'm going to have to take down at least one of the old ones.  There's exactly no chance they'd take that deal. 

     When the plumbers dig up my front yard to replace the drain line this tree will be going after, it's not going to beautify the city any.  I've seen the aftermath of that.  It looks like a WW I battlefield.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

They Have What We Need

     Okay, look, I have to be at the doctor's office super-early and I'm really not a morning person.  So this thing is pre-recorded and set to go out at about the usual time.

     Still, this is kind of kewl, apt or at least super-ironic: the streets of Indianapolis are falling apart faster then the city can keep up -- and they have been trying; last count had something over ten thousand potholes filled so far this winter.

     And now, this year's World Of Asphalt (not to be confused with alt.pave.the.earth) trade show is in Indianapolis!  Yes, this is a place where you can go see massive machines that crawl down a street, chewing it flat, mixing various magical things with the rubble, and laying it back down better than new; a show where marvelous new formulations vie with one another and future is...well, dark, smooth and faintly steaming, with any luck.

     Perhaps the very magic wand the city needs will be offered; with my luck, they'll need to raise taxes to buy it.  H'mmm, replace tires and wheels twice a year or pony up more real-estate and/or downtown food and fun tax?  It's a lose/lose, but one is more scooter-friendly.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Who Else Doesn't Want To Go?

     A slightly-overdue visit to the doctor for my regular physical is coming up tomorrow.  I'm not looking forward to it.  At my age, about the best you can expect to hear is that you're not declining as quickly as most people your age.

     To make matters worse, I have "white coat blood pressure:" my blood pressure is always higher than usual at the doctor's office.  None of them follow the correct procedure -- you're supposed to have been sitting quietly for five minutes first -- and that doesn't help.  Then there's the way the thresholds for hypertension and pre-hypertension keep getting lower and lower.  So I'll be doing my best to think soothing thoughts.

     Still -- I just don't see much reason in seeing a doctor unless I'm sick or injured.  Aging isn't a disease; it's a natural (if unwelcome) process.  Getting my sinuses cleared out last year?  Great use of doctorin'.  Being hectored about my blood pressure and two or three Reeses Peanut Butter Cups per workday, not so much.  They've never been able to do a darned thing about my migraines, after all, and the list of foods that are bad for you vs. good for you changes almost monthly.  I'll smile, be polite, get through it and keep my own council.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Well, I'm Not Seeing Any Wolverines

     I drink a glass of cranberry juice with my breakfast nearly every morning.  The reason why I started doing so is probably nonsense; to get the effect claimed, it would take a lot more than just one glass.  Still, it's tasty and has plenty of vitamins and besides, it keeps the wolverines away.

     What, you don't believe me?  When was the last time you heard of any wild wolverines around here outside of a zoo? 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Getting Ready For A Class

     It's a writing class.  It may be a challenge, as it meets weekly for five weeks and there are word-count goals.

     Writing fiction is fun when I'm in the mood; if I can get the bones of a story on the page before the feeling fades, it stands a good chance of getting finished.  Longer-form stuff is difficult; I get bogged down in fiddling with small stuff.

     "Prisoner Of War," has been in the works for a few years now.  Set in the early 1960s as the war pitting the United States (and NATO) against the loosely-organized forces of the Federation of Concerned Spacemen ("Far-Edgers") heats up, it covers some of the story of the discovery and claiming of Smitty's World, as well as a little of the life of applied-science whiz (and Steam Amish runaway) Pertaineth Apperson.*  And that's all tangential to the narrative, about a USSF reconnaissance crew who encounter...  Well, no point in giving the whole thing away.  Printed out about 4700 words last night and realized I have at least that many to go. Also that the outline needs more plot-twists.
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* Pert Apperson is over six feet tall, slender, a fair shot, uncommonly gifted at mathematics and a bit impatient with fools; she figures she knows what's best for you better than you do.  She's slightly based on one of my aunts, with a backstory based on another ancestor.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

I'm Busy

     Trying to sort out the kitchen and get some laundry done.  Tam and I are both space-fillers, and horizontal surfaces do not remain clear for long.  This gets to be a problem.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Where's The James Bond Theme Music?

     There's supposed to be James Bond theme music and a splashy gun-barrel photomontage when a shaven-headed billionaire with his own space program tangles with a shady tabloid publisher who has possible ties to bloody petrodollar moguls, dammit.  And where's Bond?  I've been watching those movies for years now and even this early in the film, he's supposed to be right in the thick of the action.

     --Of course, one side was supposed to be quite visibly Simon-pure and true (not to mention hidebound), and as for the phrase, "below-the-waist-selfie," one can hardly imagine something more at odds with the straightforward bedroom athletics of 007.  It's starting to sound more like Harry Palmer than Ian Fleming's man of action and intrigue, only with less panache.

     There's probably not even going to be a secret base or inexplicably explosive computers, either.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Cooking

     I made kielbasa and cabbage the other day.  It was a good example of how I cook.  Along about lunchtime (peanut butter crackers and a cup of coffee), I was pondering what to make for dinner.  Sausage and cabbage sounded good -- it was rainy and chilly outside and its pretty much "comfort food."

     It had been a long time since I made the stuff, or the related noodle dish.  Looking up a few recipes on my Kindle gave me a better feel for the proportions and what else.  Most versions included onions and garlic, along with something to give it a little heat, typically paprika plus red-pepper flakes of the sort often provided for pizza.

     That gave me things to look for at the market.  Stopped there on my way home after work, thinking I might use a hot Fresno or cherry pepper.  Alas, they were out of Fresnos (and Serranos) and the cherry peppers didn't appeal, so I bought mild Poblano peppers instead.  We had red onions at home and the store had nice green cabbage and butcher-counter kielbasa.

     At home, I cut up and browned the sausage with a little black pepper for luck and a strip of bacon (included in several versions of the dish) to add more smokiness (and grease).  Cooked it, fished it out, and started cut up onions and a little garlic powder and paprika in the same big pan; cut up about half the head of cabbage and added it (with a little paprika) once the onions were underway.  Poblano got the same treatment once the cabbage was starting to get soft, along with more paprika, chipotle powder and black pepper.  Drained it (there's rather a lot of grease), added the meat back in, and warmed the whole dish together.

     Various versions cook the veggies anything from crisp-tender to mushy-soft.  This was stir-fried and darned good.  It fed two with enough left over for the next day.  The leftovers were a bit more conventional, with the cabbage good and soft.  It had a little bite, not too much, and could have been made more so with hot sauce to taste.

     It wasn't exactly any of the recipes I looked at.  I try to get a feel for the basic ingredients, cooking process and desired end result.  This was a visually appealing dish; the onion kept a bit of violet-red color and the dark-green Poblano and browned sausage made a nice contrast against the pale-green cabbage.  Prep and cooking overlapped, probably forty-five minutes from start to finish.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

State Of The Union

     Last time I checked, the Second War Between The States had not started, so we're good.

     There was a speech last night.  I watched some of it.  It's mostly ritual -- a nod to current events, a nod to history, and a lot of pushing the President's agenda.  If you like him, you liked it.  If you don't like him, you didn't.

     There's not usually any tea-leaf reading to be done over a State of the Union speech and this one was especially that way.  We had all three branches of the Federal government in one room and they all got home okay afterward -- and that, in the broad sweep of things, really is an accomplishment.  A low bar?  Sure it is.  The Fed.gov is supposed to be a plowhorse, not a hedge-jumper.


Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Comment Unnecessary

     The shutdown-delayed  State of the Union address to Congress will be tonight, and TV network news tells me the theme will be "unity."  It think we can count on Congresspeople to be looking as if they are sucking lemons even more than usual.

     There's no requirement that the State of the Union be given live to a joint session of Congress with TV cameras, handshakes, fake smiles and mugging for the cameras; after Washington, most Presents just wrote it and sent the report up Capitol Hill for Congress to read.  Odious President Woodrow Wilson is the guy who changed that, turning it into an opportunity to promote his agenda.  So that's another bad thing you can blame him for.


     Meanwhile (and speaking of leaders with a high opinion of themselves) in Venezuela, the socialist government ran out of people to loot and shiny lies awhile back; now they have dueling Executives (with the incumbent warning of civil war and the challenging interim President scoffing at the notion, perhaps because he knows anyone with the price of a brickbat has already left the country or forted up as much as possible).  Yes, here it is running in real-time, an example of why top-down economic planning is a wretched idea, even in a country that started out with what certainly looked like legitimate beefs about exploitation by foreign enterprises and had plenty of natural resources.  I hope they can sort things out with a minimum of bloodshed and hunger; they've had an excess of both already.  Attempting any deep analysis in advance of the outcome of developing events is worse than futile; first-world countries are sending food and medicine and historians can pick over the meaning of it later.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Prohibitionists Gonna Prohibit

     So, recreational marijuana is increasingly legal at the state level,* Sunday liquor sales have come to Indiana, and in lovely, tropical Hawaii....

     In Hawaii, they're looking to ban cigarettes in a manner that would make the Volstead Act look like a polite suggestion: the minimum purchase age would rise to 30 next year, 50 in 2022 and by 2024, no one, no matter how old, would be allowed to purchase cigarettes.  Legally, that is, and what possible chance is there that a black market would arise for a prohibited product of that nature, especially one readily available elsewhere?

     Generations of bootleggers and drug dealers are laughing.

     The preamble to the bill states, “The cigarette is considered the deadliest artifact in human history,” though without telling reader by whom.  The simple club, edged weapons and nuclear weapons were unavailable for comment.

     Cigarettes will shorten your life.  They're not really much fun.  But an outright ban is not the best way to be rid of them.  The bill in Hawaii hasn't got much chance of becoming law -- and even lower chances of succeeding if it does.
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* There are only three (3) states where pot is entirely illegal; the remainder range from closely-controlled medical-use programs to complete legality -- at the state level.  The Feds are not impressed, but so far have been unwilling to press the issue.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Politics Feels Broken (or Pretty Noids All In A Row)

     Politics feels broken these days, at least it does to me.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn't  -- but it feels that way.

     Politicians casually assert dire and ill-supported calumnies about one another as fact.  Parties and voters are drifting apart, from Republican never-Trumpers to the recent poll* that says fifty-four percent of Democrats believe their party is leaning too far to the left.

     I'd give you the Yeats line about, "The center cannot hold," except there is no center, only a propaganda-blasted no-man's land in which the hand of Man dare not set foot -- or at least, no politician-man.  Or -woman.

     On the other hand (or perhaps foot), and despite discovering that I've been blocked by yet another Facebooker for not disliking Mr. Trump with sufficient force, or perhaps for suggesting angry Marx-based online rants accomplish exactly as much as angry Rand-based online rants (nothing), civil society keeps on keepin' on.  Keeps on, but people are a little more irked, a little more convinced of the futility of our political and governmental institutions, and a little more likely to listen to politicians claiming to have The Answer.

     That's what worries me.  One of the greatest strengths of this country was that we didn't have a single answer; oh, sure, there are broad principles, most importantly the structure of the Federal and State governments as Constitutionally-limited republics, but it's fairly loose and gets looser the closer it gets to the individual citizen.  The United States has long been a great mass of people, churning in something like Brownian motion, innovating, growing and generally confounding and outproducing our enemies.    This country has been unpredictable.

     Any intelligence service will tell you that unpredictability makes their work more difficult.  One of the reasons the CIA liked strongmen better than popular uprisings was that it was a lot easier to figure out what the strongman would do.

     Americans burned out by politics, divided, looking to a Man (or Woman) On Horseback to solve their troubles -- drain the swamp, end economic inequality, control the violence in our cities, fix the border, etc. -- are predictable.

     This is a boon to our enemies and no favor to ourselves.  For that matter, it's a gift to our nominally-friendly competitors in world trade.

     Please bear it in mind.  Don't give up.  Don't give in to bitter rancor.  Whatever oddball notions you cherish, don't be stampeded away from them.  America is a mob, a rabble; a wonderful, creative mess with plenty of individual answers.  Let's keep it that way.
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* Cited on Meet The Press this morning.  Closest I can find is a CNN exit poll from the midterms, with 54% of Democrat voters describing themselves as "moderate" or "conservative."  As did about half the Democrats they voted into office.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Saturday: Mend And Maintain

     There's a rather long list of things to get done around the house -- after I have a nice nap.

Friday, February 01, 2019

And A Lovely Parting Gift!

     At least it's pretty.  The extreme cold is moving on.  It's all of 17°F (-8.3°C) right now, which is a huge improvement, and the temperature should reach 31 later today.

     But there's about three inches of powder snow on the ground, streets, sidewalks and cars parked outside in my neighborhood.  I'll have my own share of it to deal with and apparently, it's much slicker than you might expect; the morning TV news was a litany of car wrecks and slowed or stopped traffic.

     Let's all be very careful, whattaya say?

     This weekend and the early part of next week is supposed to remarkably warm for this time of year.  I won't like the mud but nicer temperatures will make a big difference!