Friday, May 29, 2020

Oh, 2020!

     Found myself having to explain the First Amendment to some grotty little "conservative" on Facebook yesterday, over the (early stages) of the spat between President Trump and Twitter.

     In a recent tweet, President Trump implied that voting by mail leads to widespread voter fraud.  That's an opinion, and what little data there is does not support it;* so Twitter fact-checked and tagged the tweet with a link to more information; they did not suppress or alter what the President wrote.

     There was much outrage among supporters of the President over this.  Apparently a privately-owned platform ought not even question the assertions put forth by the people who use it (for free, no less).  So much for property rights, I guess.

     What got me was the statement by one of them, summing up an often-repeated talking point:
     "When they start taking sides and regulating the speech of their users, they become editors. As editors, they can be regulated and held responsible for the content that is published on their sites."

     This is directly contradictory to the limitations on government power to be found in the First Amendment, specifically, "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...."  It is quite specifically unconstitutional for an "editor" to be "regulated" by the Federal government.

     There's a little more nuance to his other claim, "they can be...held responsible for for the content...published...."  Maybe, though there is a lot of leeway, and were it true, fact-checking and linking to supported data as Twitter did would be no more than prudent action.  But in fact, other than certain very narrowly-defined exceptions that include specific kinds of incitement, some pornography, "fighting words," counterfactual statements, threatening the President (yes, you can't do that) and others in the line of succession and IP violations, publishers -- even online ones -- can publish or not publish whatever in the hell they want to.


     It's a fundamental principle of the United States.  Like the other rights recognized and protected by the first ten Amendments, it is an inherent right that precedes the document. The Bill of Rights limits the government; it does not grant you any rights, because you already have them.

     If you are not okay with the Bill of Rights, you are not okay with the United States of America.  If you feel strongly about it, my advice would be to get the hell out and find someplace where the Press is regulated -- Mr. Putin's Russia, for example.

     Overnight, it appears the President used Twitter to directly threaten the use of force against rioters in Minneapolis.  Per the Constitution, policing is a state-level power, not a Federal one, and Twitter takes a dim view of the advocacy of force; they stuck the tweet behind a "click to view" with a notation that the tweet promoted violence.  I expect predictable outrage to follow from those "conservatives" who have decided the Constitution of the United States of America doesn't rate being conserved.†

     If not that, then what, exactly, are they after conserving?
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* As a third-party voter, I do not take part in primaries and have no strong opinion on voting by mail, other than to point out there's a lot of confusion between applications to do so and actual ballots going on right now.

† They have company on the Minnesota State Patrol, who arrested a CNN reporter and crew live, in front of their own camera, as they covered the rioting in Minneapolis from a spot the police had told them to use.  You don't have to be a fan of CNN to know this is wrong.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

It's My Birthday Again

     I thought I had gotten that out of the way last year, but here it is again.

     Most people's birthdays are fine with me.  Mine is not.  A time for agonizing reappraisal, for looking back and seeing how little I have done, how terribly short I have fallen of my goals.  I do not enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The 2020 Pot Roast Experiment

     "You'll send me detailed instructions, right?"  That was Tam's question as I departed for work yesterday, leaving her with a large lump of beef in the fridge, a stewpot and a short (verbal) course in how to prepare and simmer a pot roast.

     She was apprehensive.  It takes hours.  Most of them aren't very busy, but with a stewpot on a gas range, it's not set-and-forget, either.

     A little after noon yesterday, I sat down at my laptop and wrote about two and a half pages on what I thought I knew about cooking a pot roast,* from seasoning and rolling it in flour, to browning, to simmering, with as much detail as I could provide on where various kitchen supplies and tools were to be found.†

     And then I stopped worrying.  What would happen would happen.

     Three or four hours later, when I arrived home, it was fine.  (I should have had one more box of bone broth or beef broth on hand than I did, but that's on me).  I added vegetables -- a lot of washing and knife work -- and gave them time to cook up.  We had a nice dinner, tender pot roast and veggies in their own broth.  (Carrots, potatoes, celery, mushrooms and the very last of the Shishito peppers.)

     Tam was only a little frazzled when I got home from work -- this was well outsider her comfort zone.  Other than the occasional rare steak and tasty things sold in cans, she has avoided cooking for years, put off by TV cooking shows set in spacious, gleaming kitchens crowded with fancy gadgets.  (And possibly by my tendency to growl at interlopers when I am in the middle of cooking in our tiny kitchen.)   I hope this dinner has helped make cookery a little less daunting for her.  Like most tool-using activities, learning a few core skills and a small set of basic tools is all it really takes to do everyday cookery; that other stuff is nice once you've got the basics down but it can also get in the way.
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* Here is what I wrote:
It looks like I will clock out at 6:45 p.m., home about 7:00, and we want 3-4 hours total cook time, so if you start the process about 4:30 or 4:45, that should do.
 

This is a process that you can use over and over, to cook beef, pork and poultry. It is one of the basic ways to prepare meat, the basis of most stews and soups. So it’s worth learning. I get very detailed but my aim is to share some of the wonderfulness in this skill.
 

On Cooking A Large Beef

To begin with, take the meat out of the refrigerator and set it in the bottom of the oven, towards the front, and give it about fifteen minutes to ponder its fate. Set Alexa for, say, 12 to 14 minutes.

Take the large glass bowl I have left on the stove, and put about a quarter-cup of flour in it. The flour is in a paper bag in the cabinets over the stove, behind the right-hand door on the middle shelf. The quarter-cup measuring scoop is on the oatmeal box, to the right of the stove. It is the smaller of the two scoops on the oatmeal box – the markings on them are difficult to read. You don’t have to be exact, heaping or a little scant should be okay.

Flour is sneaky stuff. Move slowly, especially when closing the bag back up. You do not want to aerosol it near flame.

With the flour in the bowl, pepper it and salt it. Don’t stir, just grind pepper over it and shake salt over it, like you are seasoning it to eat.

Slide the bowl back out of the way and get the meat out of the oven. Unwrap it and try not to get blood in your hands. Finish unwrapping and then wash them if you do! I don’t know if the roast was bagged or has a plastic sheet on it or if it is just wrapped. With clean hands, salt and pepper the visible portion, then pick it up and set it in the bowl of flour so the unseasoned bottom side is still down.

Throw away the wrapping that was on the meat (this is why I like step-to-open trash cans).

Now bring the bowl forward where it is easy to get at, and turn the meat over and over until it has a good coating of flour on it. You can use a big fork (hang on to the bowl with your other hand!) but it’s often easier with hands. Once the meat is coated, leave it in the bowl and wash your hands.

You will want a fork later on, so get one out and set it on a saucer on the counter to the right of the stove.

Get the copper-bottomed stewpot (the one from last night) out of the dishwasher and put it on the front, right-hand burner of the stove. Do not turn the burner on yet.

Get the small glass bowl of good bacon grease out of the fridge. It is on a shelf in the door, up high between (I think) jars of mustard and horseradish. Set it on the stove top.

Get out a teaspoon, just a regular metal teaspoon like I use to eat soup, and scoop out a couple of teaspoons of bacon grease into the stewpot. Hold the bowl in one hand, or it will get away. The stuff has the consistency of slightly soft ice cream. You may need to use a butter knife to push it out of the spoon. If a little stays stuck to the inside wall of the stewpot, that’s okay.

Set the grease bowl on the counter off to one side – over by the coffeepot, maybe. Prop the spoon on it.

Get a one-cup glass measure from the cabinet over the stove and fill it with water. Set it on the counter to the right, near your fork. You’ll want it later.

Turn on the burner, turn it down to about medium or lower, and watch the grease melt. You want it liquid but not sizzling. It should cover ¾ or more of the bottom of the pot once it has melted. If it doesn’t, add another teaspoon.

With the grease melted, transfer the meat from the glass bowl to the stewpot. It may sizzle a little. If you used your hands to move it (safer), wash them, quickly! You may want to turn the fire down. Give that side about a minute (use Alexa) and then turn the meat to another side, using he fork. (Weirdly-shaped sides might require holding the meat in place with the fork stuck in the up side – save those for last.) Continue browning and turning until all sides are brown. Some of the flour in cracks and crannies might not brown, oh well.

When the meat is browned on all sides, pour the cup of water over it. It may yelp a little.

On the counter on the other side of the kitchen, in front of the microwave, is a box of bone broth. Shake it up, then follow the instructions to open it – fold up the triangular flaps on the sides, pop the top up like an old-fashioned milk carton, and use scissors or bend and tear on the dotted line to open. Pour it into the stewpot.

Does the water and bone broth cover the meat? If so, you win! If not, use the measuring cup to add a little more to barely cover it. If the meat floats, stop. Put the lid on and set a timer for five minutes. This is a good time to stay in the kitchen, to see how things go. Now is the time to put the grease bowl back in the fridge, and then dump any left-over flour from the big bowl into the trash and wipe it out with a damp paper towel. If timer is still ticking, empty the dishwasher or find something else to do that will keep you in the room and not staring at the pot like it’s a TV. (This is why you sometimes catch me doing randomish stuff in the kitchen while cooking.)

Remember to throw away the box from the bone broth.

At the end of five minutes, have a look. Is the water simmering, bubbling, boiling? Then turn down the heat. If not, go for another five and check again. If the stewpot starts making noise while you are waiting, it’s boiling – lift the lid and have a look. You want it just simmering – maybe a few bubbles coming up, maybe only rarely. You do not want it boiling after the initial temperature has been reached. This is the critical phase.

Regulating temperature – gas ranges are a little finicky at the low end. Ours will go into “carburation” if it is too low, the flame going out and relighting repeatedly with a series of popping noises. That is highly undesirable; it can put itself out and build up rather more gas than one might wish before the pilot relights it, or it can put the pilot out. Sometimes the pot gets too hot even at the low setting – taking the lid off, stirring, and leaving the lid off awhile will help. It get hotter and stays hotter with the lid on. We want most of the cooking to take place with the lid on, so it takes some attention.

It would be best to check the pot every five minutes for the first fifteen or twenty minutes, and every ten for the next half-hour and if you feel confident after that, every 15 minutes afterward. Do not leave the pot unattended for longer than that. I would advise not going outside while cooking; it’s the hottest part of the day anyway. Make sure there is nothing left out on the counter or stovetop near the burner.

If the liquid cooks down far enough to uncover the meat, add a little more. Cold water is best, and will help with temperature regulation.

What we are after with all this is to preserve the flavor of the meat while cooking it very tender. The flour and fat will help form gravy. The whole process is nearly magical to me, from bloody, raw meat and white, raw flour to warm rich, thick broth and delightful roast meat.



† My Mother and I organize our kitchens similarly, about 50-50 between getting things as close to where they will be used as possible and the art of making everything fit into the available space.  It works -- if you know where everything is.  Her own mother is said to have remarked, "When I visit Ellen's kitchen, I know it will be neat, clean and organized, but I won't be able to find anything."  Her other daughters got better marks for findability, but not quite as well in the other categories.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

It's One Of My Favorite Meals

     Hoppin' John.  It's a classic, though without a nailed-down list of ingredients -- meat (usually ham), black-eyed peas (or other legumes), tomatoes and...?  And whatever.  Usually some kind of heat -- hot sauce, hot pepper, what have you.  (Black-eyed peas turn out to be eaten by just about everybody, everywhere, in everything from desserts to curries to fritters!)

     The version I have been making suits the two of us at Roseholme Cottage.  You need a big stewpot; it makes a lot.  The most recent version started with a hot Italian sausage, squeezed out of its casing and mashed into bits as it cooked.  While that has started to cook, I cut a big (a pound or more) bone-in, center-cut ham steak into roughly 3/8" cubes -- a generous spoon-size.

     The ham goes in as the sausage nears (but is not quite) done, and cooks a bit while I chop up some baby carrots and a good-sized onion  -- pick your favorite; I had a nice yellow one.  Push the meat to the sides of the pan and saute the vegetables in the center.

     As they cook, dice a medium fresh tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes) and add it, skin, seeds, pulp and and all.  Chop up two or three stalks of celery and put them in, too.

     It is only then that you can start to think about adding peppers.  Canned chilies are good, and I used a small can of them.  I had a large Poblano, which have a fairly delicate flavor, lost if overcooked.  Diced it, then stirred the canned chilies, other vegetables and meat, pushed all that to the sides of the pan, and gave the Poblano a quick saute before stirring it in.

     Finally time for the beans!  First, a 14.5 oz can of diced or crushed tomatoes, then a can of black-eyed peas the same size, liquid and all.  Pour them right in.  A little basil and a touch of garlic goes well -- or you can raid the spice rack for whatever else seems good. 

     Get it all stirred in and bubbling, add a couple of bay leaves for luck then reduce heat to a simmer and see what else you'd like.  Tam and I have taken to keeping hot pickled okra* in the fridge -- it's a nice snack.  Some of that sliced into coins goes well in the Hoppin' John, too.  I had a few Shishito peppers, left, too; I washed them, sliced one into short sections and added it to the pot, leaving the others to add whole a few minutes before serving.  Their flavor is even more elusive than the Poblano -- you want them just barely cooked to bright-green to retain it.

     Ten minutes to simmer (adding the last peppers at five) and it was ready.  Usually served over rice, but we had a little rye bread to use up, so we toasted a couple of slices each and had them on the side.  A nice meal, with plenty left over for the day after tomorrow.  Be sure to provide hot sauce or pepper flakes at the table for those who want more heat!
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* Southerners will be aghast, but our corner market stocks "Brooklyn Whatever" brand and their pickled okra is among the best I have had.  Their website appears defunct and they haven't updated their Facebook page since October, but I'm hoping it's just an oversight.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day

     Today is the day we remember the fallen military personnel -- the vast majority of them young, the vast majority of them without any real grasp of mortality until, suddenly, they were in the midst of it.  They did their duty.  They did their work and they did not return from it; or they returned shattered, and later perished from it.

     They're gone.  There is nothing you can do for them save remember them, respect them and the terrible price they paid.  Few were philosophers, most could not have given you a grand overview of the conflict that killed them; they stepped up, did as well as they could and died.

     We should work to keep that from happening without dire need -- and we should never forget what they and we have lost.   

Sunday, May 24, 2020

I Was Missing Pork Chops

     I grew up in a house where pork chops showed up for dinner with some regularity (not to mention the occasional slow-cooked-all-day pork roast with vegetables).  I like them and don't have them very often these days.  Tamara's not a fan, correctly pointing out that pork chops in general are often dry, grainy and short on flavor.

     My Mom's were not; she had a sure hand in the kitchen and with no more than salt, pepper and a 1949 RevereWare copper-bottomed skillet,* turned out delicious, moist pork chops.  (There's probably a clue in that she rarely bought the boneless ones and made sure to leave all the fat on.)

     Lacking that level of skill, I cheated.  I have a nice, deep non-stick pan that straddles the line between frying pan† and saucepan.  That mandates boneless pork chops -- but the lid is clear high-temperature glass, so I can see what's going on while keeping them covered.

     A covered pan alone is not enough.  So, what's good with pork?  Shishito peppers pair well, and maybe a quick soy sauce marinade, but that's not enough.  I had a Pink Lady apple, too -- I like apples but I don't always eat them before they go soft.  Apples are a natural pairing with pork.  But the dish needed something else to pull it together.

     Last week, during my once-a-week grocery shopping trip,‡ I had picked up an interesting-looking spice mixture at the butcher counter.  It was labelled "togarashi" but it turns out that it's really shichi-mi tōgarashi or nana-iro tōgarashi, two ways to call it "seven-ingredient chili powder" and apparently it's about as common in japan as plain old spice-mix chili powder is here.  The kind the store sells has ground red dried chilies, Japanese pepper, roasted orange peel, poppyseed, a bit of ground dried seaweed (nori) and black and white sesame seeds.  I'd already tried it on eggs (after tasting it by itself) and it's good stuff.

     I sprinkled a teaspoon or two on the chops, gave it a little while to get absorbed, added maybe a whole tablespoon of soy sauce over them,  and let the pork chops sit in it.  I only gave it five minutes -- longer would be better, but I was hungry.

     Spent the marinating time washing and slicing the apple into wedges about 1/8" thick and then cut those into small wedges.  I peeled most of slices but that's a matter of taste; the peel I left on cooked right up and it does add a note to the flavor.  (I had planned to add a few shavings of pickled ginger, but forgot.  On the list for next time!)

     Just a tiny dollop of bacon fat in the pan, and I added the chops when it was melted, then splashed a little more soy sauce on them.

     While the chops were browning, I washed a generous handful of shishito peppers, slicing two of them into small sections but leaving the remainder whole.  They are small, thin-skinned peppers with a lot of flavor and are usually cooked whole; you eat everything but the stem.

     Flipped the chops and added about half the apples; when I was happy that the down side was browned, I turned them over, added the sliced peppers and the rest of the apples, and put the cover on.

     From there on, I cooked them for ten minutes a side and kept adding whole shishito peppers (I should have taken the cooked ones out, as the flavor gets cooked right out of them -- and into whatever you're cooking with them.)  I used a meat thermometer to determine doneness.  It was something over 25 minutes, the apple was cooked down very soft, and the smell was....wonderful!

     The finished chops looked good and were moist and flavorful.  Even Tam liked them (or at least found them acceptable).  The cooked-down apple, soy sauce, spice mix and sliced peppers made a wonderful kind of gravy and the whole peppers were a nice accompaniment.  (We also had steamed broccoli with Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese.)

     Things to try next time?  Definitely the ginger.  Definitely another apple or possible a pear, one of the harder varieties like a Bosc.  The togarashi is mild enough that I could add some more of it, too.
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* Good luck finding a new one -- I think they're all aluminum-bottomed now, when you find them.  All stainless steel except for the heat-conducting bottoms and black handles.  I have several pieces of Mom's 1949 set, supplemented with more of the same that Dad bought for her fifty years later.  While you can tell the old ones from the new, it's not by the cooking surface: the handle material is duller and the markings are just about worn off the bottoms of the older pans.  A quick check shows used sets and individual pieces commanding remarkable prices.  There's a reason for that.

† Is it a Midwesternism?  A Hoosierism?  "Frying pan" and "skillet" are exactly the same thing to me.  They are not necessarily synonyms to everyone, everywhere.

‡ That's a big change, as has been my doing any kind of weekly menu-planning.  Living in the city with a nearby almost-gourmet supermarket, I have long been in the habit of deciding what to make for dinner based on what looked good at the market during an almost daily stop on my way home.   I won't be doing that for awhile; Indianapolis has still got the highest per-capita infection rate in the state and I'm in no hurry to join.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Ah, Sunrise....

     When the rising sun lights the snow-capped mountains in the distance....
     Hey, wait a minute!  This is Indiana.  We don't have mountains!

     If you look close, you can see the rays of a faint solar glory.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Okay, That's Enough

     I'm sorry guys, but within minutes of sitting down, I've had enough already.  People will politicize any damn thing, no matter how wholesome or innocuous.  I'm not glib enough to persuade them, I'm not big enough or mean enough to beat any sense into them, and, frankly, I just don't care.

     Tam's sitting across from me,  muttering angrily because our lousy AT&T Internet service is down again, or at least struggling.  She's been fuming about the miserable service for at least ten minutes.  I turned around and yelled at her, which scared me and annoyed her even more.  Yeah, that move really helped improve things for everyone, didn't it?  I'm a real miracle of reason, sweetness and light, you betcha.

     This is not a good morning for me to be messing around online.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Cat Overboard!

     Came home last night and noticed the window of my room was very far open -- it's one of two facing west, where the prevailing winds come from, so it's a good one to open.  We rarely open it very far -- the screen isn't that strong.

     I started dinner and went back to my room to change.  My cat Huck was in the window and I thought I had better close it down to a narrow gap, just in case--

     No sooner had I leaned across the bed to close the window than Holden came bouncing in at full speed, leapt onto the bed, jumped on Huck and knocked Huck and the screen right out onto the patio!  I grabbed Holden just as he started over the windowsill, too.  Huck bounded around the corner of the house and out of sight.

     Carrying Holden into the dining room, I closed the door to the hallway so he couldn't get to the open window and shouted "Huck's out!" toward Tam.  I dropped Holden, ran into the kitchen, clawed a container of cat treats out of the cabinet and hurried outside, shaking the bag and calling, "Huuuuck...."  I figured he was gone.

     Instead, he headed right towards me from the corner of the yard; I scooped him up, carried him back inside, and gave him a treat while Holden watched worriedly.

     It took another trip outside to get the screen back in place.  We will only open the window to a smaller than cat-sized crack from now on. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Everything Annoys Me Today

     Woke up hurting in multiple places and in a sour mood.  Hurting less now that I am up and moving around, but haven't been able to improve my mood.  Quite the reverse.

     Forgot to take my thyroid medicine when I fed the cats.  The darned pills come with instructions to take them with a full glass of water and then consume nothing else -- nothing at all -- for at least thirty minutes afterward.  So that was time lost, with a full cup of fresh coffee sitting over one of the between-the-burner pilot lights of the stove with a saucer over the top and a box of UHT "shelf milk" cooling down in the freezer for cereal while the timer ticked down.

     Nothing doesn't irk me this morning.  Not the most innocent or amusing comment.

     It's a symptom of prolonged stress.  Even before the viral pandemic, changes at my work had me on edge.  The small company I work for was purchased by a much larger, publicly-traded company, with their own and quite different culture, procedures and expectations.  I have been through this kind of thing once before and it didn't end well; my expectations for the present experience are pretty low.  I'd like to hold on until full retirement age but it's just a hope.

     The weather has been miserable so far this Spring, mostly cold, cloudy and rainy, the kind of wretched rain that varies in intensity but never goes away, chilly and penetrating.

     The new cat is so full of energy that my cat Huck now hides from him unless it's meal time or he's minded to fight.  Huck rarely comes to sleep on me when I go to bed, preferring to wait until the small hours of the morning when the younger cat is quieter to sneak in and settle down on my legs.  It makes me sad.  I miss him.

     I'm not getting near enough done.  Can't focus.  Can't stick with it.  Days off, I sleep and sleep, cook and veg out at the computer or in front of the TV.  Weekday evenings are about the same.  I hate it but can't get out of the pattern.

     Don't have a summary or a nice, snappy thought to end with.  One endeavors to persevere.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Splash!

     This was going to be a kind of generic post about having a lot to do and not much time or motivation to do it.  Holden the new cat fixed that for me.

     That's what it started out to be.  I was running a tub of water -- my various aches and pains are bothersome enough that I do so several times a week -- and had stopped it about a quarter full, to let the water heater catch up.

     I left the washroom door open and went into the office to work on my post.  Right after Blogger's compose window opened, I heard thump-Splash! Thud, pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat....  I looked up to see the tip of the tail of New (and still very young) Cat Holden vanishing though the door from the hallway into the dining room/library, and a trail of wet footprints and splashes leading back to the washroom door.

     Yes, Holden had decided to jump into the tub. And right back out when he learned that water is indeed wet.
Holden - TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
      He was more surprised than annoyed when I caught up with him, picked him up and hugged his very wet belly against my bathrobe.  I carried him back to where I could grab a bath towel, then lugged cat and towel into my room, where I could set him on the bed and start to dry him off.  I was able to blot a lot of water from his front legs and chest, and then wrapped him up in the towel to get more water from his torso.  That was only okay with him for a little while.  Trying to towel off his tummy and back legs resulted in a little drying and a short, happy play-fight between Holden and the Mysterious Hand-In-Towel Creature.  I carried him into the washroom and tried my hair dryer, but he was terrified of just the sound of it; so he got as much more towel-drying as he would tolerate and I had to leave it at that.
Proof that tomcats are like small boys: Weaponized Washing Behind The Ears!
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
     As I type, he's sitting on one of the pull-out shelves of my desk (see above), grooming his hind feet. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Looking At TV We Missed

     Tam and I have been watching Breaking Bad, which neither of us saw first time around.  It is fascinating and well-told, though remarkably harrowing. 

     For me, there are weird resonances in the relationship between Walt and Jesse, and that of my father with my older sister and me.  Oh, not the same; but parts of it rhyme.  Dad had very high standards and expectations; my sister and I, in different ways, were layabouts and not terribly competent at our chores.   We had other interests and we tended to "phone it in" unless closely watched.

     That adds a kind of undercurrent to the drama for me.  The Machiavellian drug boss Gus reminds me of how some of the general managers I have worked for in the past would have liked to be -- or at least how they wanted to be perceived.

     The twisty, close-in plotline, with secrets and subtle moves, is fascinating.  Real life is undoubtedly darker and more grim, but the show is a heck of a ride.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Small Project

     I have had an inexpensive kit-built code-practice oscillator for years, built into the hard-plastic box it was sold in.  The plastic was pretty brittle and the little widget had gotten knocked around over the years.  It needed a new case.

     So I gave it one.  That's just a tea tin, with some added spray paint, a perforated metal backing to the thin metal on the (former bottom) front panel, labelled with home-made decals on laser-printable water-slide decal material.
(I have blanked out the rest of my callsign.)
     The slowest part was waiting for the paint and lacquer to dry.

     It was a fun little project and a chance to see how the printable decal material works.  It's nice stuff!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

I Missed A Day

     I never miss a day's blogging.  Not in years.

     I did last Monday and didn't notice it.  Weird times (plus a vacation week) and having to break ties with some longtime online acquaintances over Shiri's Scissors issues* distracted me and I never caught it.

     That's the way the times are.  And they're just getting started.  There's a big, ugly lump in the early stages of making its way through the world's economy right now and it's going to be a long while before we find out just how big and how ugly -- and if the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is going to keep on making it worse.

     We've got some bad memes hiding under the skirts of this pandemic and the political baggage nitwits have decided to saddle it with.  Those things are worse killers than any bug short of the Black Death; bent memes brought nations to ruin in the 20th Century and they're set to do worse in the 21st if we don't get a handle on them.  For a fictional look at how this kind of thing might play out, read John Barnes' "Daybreak" trilogy: Directive 51, Daybreak Zero and The Last President, and then look at the evening news or social media where echo chambers rub up against one another for examples.
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* Look, vaccination prevents disease with very low risk and the anti-vaxxer stuff has been so thoroughly debunked that the only people pushing it are probably on the payroll of the Voluntary Human Extinction gang; mask-wearing that covers the nose and mouth during public interactions does slow the spread of respiratory illness while not increasing your personal risk (and acting surprised when people give you dirty looks for not wearing a mask is disingenuous at best); the United States of America did send men to the Moon and bring them back safely, beginning with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969.  These things are facts and I am not obliged to respect your opinion if you deny them.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The World Is Run By The People Who Show Up

     A lot of the most local forms of government in the U. S are amateurish.  It's done by people who have the spare time and/or ambition.

     They are not necessarily the best people.  Those folks have got real jobs, or moved up quickly. It's the ones who top out as Assistant Zoning Director and so on who stick around and shovel paperwork. I am okay with this.

     My very first big time fancy media job was videotaping School Board and City Council meetings in a county-seat town of about 45,000.  The tapes were played back on the local cable TV system the next day. Most of the politicians were sincere, and so were the people who showed up to make public comments.  The meetings often hovered on the verge of chaos, and yet somehow never tumbled in.  The office-holders and plain citizens were not always the cleverest -- but here's the thing: there are a lot more people at the middle of the curve than out at the ends.  They have to live here.  Like it or not, C students are the glue that holds the whole thing together.

     Working in Indianapolis, I have had plenty of occasions to see the meetings of the City-County Council and various zoning and regulatory boards.  The furniture is nice, the issues are larger, and the city's own Cable TV channel does a far better job covering them than I ever did with a single black-and-white TV camera and an early videocassette recorder, but the way it all runs and the people in the audience and at the nice desks aren't any different.  Oh, sometimes a rising star shows up and holds a seat for a few years, but they're soon up and out to state or national office.  The C students, the average people, they're the ones who show up every day and do the grindingly dull work that keeps the city running.

     People sometimes complain about how badly things are run -- slow, awkward, inconvenient.  But it could be so very much worse (and so very much more invasive), and yet it rarely is.

     Still, this is why government should be no bigger than the bare minimum; there's plenty to do even then.  It's also why government should not be "made more efficient."  Fast, efficient operations need highly-skilled operators.  That's not what we elect and hire; that's not what we can elect and hire.

    Sure, we can do better.  We should aspire to do better.  And city governments can be the most preposterously nit-picky meddlers imaginable -- but it would be so much worse without the people who show up and do the work.  They don't always do it as well as it could be done, or as quickly, or even as well as they should.  A few are outright crooks.  But most of them honestly dig in and get it done, for low pay and and endless stream of complaints.  If you could do it better, run for office!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

I Have No Idea...

     I have no idea what to write about.

     Almost anything you can write about the pandemic -- worldwide, nations, state or local response to is, or what individuals can or should do -- has become politicized.  People who once responded to "no guns" signs at businesses by taking their custom elsewhere (and possibly leaving a card explaining why) now flout "please wear a mask" signs at businesses and express outrage when they get so much as a dirty look for it.  (You do realize that the supermarket checker's not getting much above minimum wage for being exposed to every grimy or squeaky-clean citizen with a yen to buy a "bottle of anything and a glazed donut," right?  You want there to be people still willing to do that job competently in the future, don't you?)

     There's no resolving the question in advance, so to hell with that.  As a species, we will run the experiment, with the bold taking risks while the timid (count me in that group) take notes.  Time will tell -- and it may tell us that such a mixed response is the best way for humanity to get through this.  No matter what we do, the individual cost has already been high and it will get higher.  There is no magic reset.

     Meanwhile, I've been -- playing.  I have wanted to try working with printable decal paper for awhile now and this morning, my first effort went from printed and clear-sprayed page to getting cut out and applied to the front (and top) panel of a little project.  The decals need several hours or more to dry, and then I can spray clear lacquer over the whole thing.

     And the wall-wart for my big-name flatbed scanner has been recalled.  So I have taken a pictire of the ID sticker on the thing and need to get the S/N and model number from my scanner to see if [Big Name] will send a replacement.  Like everything else in my office, the flatbed scanner is crowded into a corner, so getting at the bottom to find the numbers will be a small project.

     Small projects are about all I'm feeling okay about at present.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Avoid Looking Like A Fool With This One Weird Trick!

     So your friend shares a news-looking link on social media that totally confirms something you have long suspected about a politician you dislike?  What could be better -- now it's time to tell the whole world!

     Wait! While it might be possible that Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell are secretly married and are presently raising a clutch of twelve of the cutest little lizardoid future world overlords you ever did see, before you share that link, check it: go to the linked site and read the page.  At the top or bottom, there is just about always an "About."  Click on it and see what the website has to say about itself -- is it really news?  If so, have you ever heard of it before?  Does it have a physical address?  Or does it label itself as "satire," "humor" or "entertainment?"

     A lot of poisonous, unfunny nonsense wraps itself up in the flag of "satire" these days.  Who knows, maybe it's sincerely intended; after all, few wits are as pointed as Johnathan Swift's.   Or maybe it's weaponized BS.  Either way, a lot of it maps right onto somebody's darker notions and then gets shared as straight-up Truth.

     Like counterfeit money, eventually it ends up in the hands of someone who sees the fake, and there you are, looking like a fool for trying to pass off nonsense as news.

     Take an extra minute.  Check out the source.  Hey, worst-case, you'll get to see cute baby pictures of the future rulers of the planet, right?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

War By Other Means

     Is that a Russian baked into the bread recipe you shared on social media?  Maybe.  They're certainly up to no good -- and when they've successfully sowed fear, uncertainly and doubt, that's a win.  This article in The Atlantic will rub many of you the wrong way, here and there, but have a look anyway; you can quibble over the details but the big picture is the same.

     China plays a similar game, and they've played the whole world into a corner over SARS-CoV-2.  The only consolation is that they're stuck in it, too -- and "playing not to lose" by knocking everyone else down to the same level might not have been their direct goal but you can bet they've welcomed the outcome.  There's a military white paper on that going around, which is worth reading.

     The same paper addresses the need for the U. S. to get back into the black/gray/white propaganda wars.  Oh, they don't call it that, and as Western Civilization generally does, they separate gray/white (essentially defensive) work from black/gray (mostly offense).

     Our gray/white work in the past -- Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, the Voice of America -- has been very effective.  Now we're up against Russia Today, Sputnik radio and their Red Chinese counterparts, and we're not doing so well.  Time we went to work on that.

     We can get back to intramural Red/Blue contests as they come up, like in November -- but we need to keep them intramural, even if it means working with those horrible-awful people across the aisle.  I can promise you there's way worse squatting in Moscow and Beijing, only too happy to jam a stick in our spokes.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day

     Don't look at me, I'm an orphan now.

     Three times an orphan in some senses, having moved out at 19 with no little acrimony (nor much education), then reconciling a few years later.  That was followed by moving back nearly a decade later, after some success and one crashing failure at my chosen trade in the exciting, fast-paced broadcast industry.  Of course I went right back to it as soon as I could find even a lousy job, despite parental advice not to, and that precipitated another, "and don't come back!" that took even longer to heal.

     Heal it did, every time, and not because "your Mom has to."  It was made very clear to me growing up that no such obligation existed; quite the reverse.  She chose to, both times, and I shall be forever grateful. (And talked my Dad into going along, too, which was no mean feat.)

     The last parting, no one ever comes back from.  You're left there, alone, and the person who gave you the tools to cope with it?  That would be your mother.

     If your Mom is still around, today would be a very good day to call her up and tell her that you love her.

     One day, she will be too far away to call.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Sonic Screwdriver?

     I have been working on a connection panel that will have over 400 screw terminals wired up when complete, all of them small enough to be fiddly.  I'm using Euro-style blocks with crimped ferrules on the wire, a fast and space-saving system.  But that's a lot of screwed-down connections to open up and tighten by hand.
     This little gem has been a real time saver.  It's not quite torque-y enough for the last couple of turns that crunch down on the ferrule but it does all rest of the work.  And it has a one-button control: push it and twist the thing in the direction you want it to go, and it spins. The farther you turn, the faster it spins,  This means there's enough feedback as it reaches its torque limit to slow it gradually.  It charges from a standard USB supply and came with a nice assortment of driver bits.

     Mine was bought from an online limited-number deals site at a lower price some time ago, but the ES121 is about $95 on Amazon and the ES120 is a bit less expensive -- I'm not sure what the difference is.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Times Are Too Weird

     I had a nice little essay, a version of one I posted elsewhere, on the importance of wearing a mask out of politeness and consideration for others.  But it says nothing yesterday's little cartoon doesn't and I am convinced that the people who refuse to wear masks -- for whatever reason -- cannot be persuaded to.

     They seem to think that because they are such good people, they could never, ever be a carrier of an illness, and since the main thing a mask does is keep you from sharing your germs and viruses with other people, why bother?

     But that's not how it works.  Viruses don't care who you are and this one is highly communicable.  You are almost certainly not immune to it -- possibly not even if you have already had it.

     Making mask-wearing a "virtue signal," making the wearing or not wearing of them into some way of signalling your political beliefs is a huge mistake, one that helps spread this virus.  There are groups encouraging not wearing masks, despite the fact that at the very worst, a properly-worn mask does no harm.  What is their agenda?  Why do they want you to risk spreading a highly contagious virus?

     I can't make you stop such behavior.  All I can do is ask.  Please don't be a disease vector.  Please don't treat the people around you like they are disposable.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Hot Dog Soup

     I wouldn't call it "Depression cooking" but it's certainly economical.  It was a common lunch or dinner treat at home when I was growing up.

     Just take canned vegetable soup and slice a couple of hot dogs into rounds about a quarter-inch thick, adding them to the soup.  Heat and eat -- you'll know it's done because the hot dog slices will bulge in the middle.  This feeds about two, with sides (PB&J, for instance, or celery and carrot sticks.  Or both); you'll want more soup and dogs to feed more people or if you skip the sides.

     Last night, I used a couple of cans of non-condensed soup and three hot dogs (splurge!).  Amy's brand alphabet soup (low-fat, no less, which the good Hebrew National hot dogs aren't) and their french-style vegetable soup.  Kind of an upscale version of what, in hindsight, was the result of a tight budget and five mouths to feed.  It was just as good as memory tells me the original was, and that's something to treasure.

     There are likely to be some tough times ahead.  Small comforts can be helpful.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Do Your Homework. Do The Math.

     Wait!  Don't just pass that meme or link along, no matter how well it fits with what you believe, expect, or even with what you think you know.

     Check it out.  Read the fine print.  Evaluate the source. (Here's some help.) Follow the links and get back to the primary source, if you can.

     Most reputable news providers cover who, what, where, when and how pretty accurately.  Where they fall down is on "why," and in how much of the story they choose to tell.  You must provide context -- and you don't do that by passing along a few lines that resonated with your own notions; you don't do that by uncritically sharing some commentator's opinion as though it were fact.  You don't do that by blind loyalty to any politician or party.

     People like to bluster that "their opinion is just as good as anybody else's," but in fact, your opinion is valueless when you don't have the facts.  Look that stuff up!  Don't assume you already know, especially those things that "everybody knows."  Make sure!  Double-check!  When there are reasonable doubts, share the doubt!

     You have at your fingertips the most amazing system for finding things out ever seen in the entire span of human history.  When you use it to spread unsubstantiated, alarmist rumor and utter nonsense, you let down all those who came before you and shortchange your future descendants.  You lend aid and comfort to the enemies of Western Civilization.

     There are barbarians at the gate -- and they're carrying memes.

Monday, May 04, 2020

"Everybody Back In The Pool...!" Only Not

     Yes, Indiana -- along with many other states -- has begun to open back up.  This doesn't include Indianapolis/Marion County, the virus "hot spot" where I live, nor does it apply to Cass and Lake Counties, still struggling to get transmission under control.  We've got until 15 May at the earliest.

     Marion County has had 6,176 confirmed cases so far, with 360 deaths.  Roughly two percent of the population here has been tested and we're well ahead of most counties in the state.

     Even at this first step in the multi-step re-opening, the state strongly recommends wearing masks in public and frequent handwashing.  Restrictions on non-essential travel have been lifted.  Remote work should continue for those who can do so and persons aged 65 years and older (or with other risk factors) should stay home.  Social distancing remains mandatory and social gatherings are limited to no more than 25 people. Manufacturing can restart, subject to state and OSHA/CDC guidelines.

     Retail and commercial stores can open to customers at 50% of capacity, including (after waiting an extra week to be sure) restaurants and bars that serve food.  Gyms, fitness centers, alcohol-only bars, nightclubs, playgrounds, casinos and so on will remain closed.  Places of worship can open back up starting this Friday under a long list of recommendations to help ensure social distance and safety; elderly and high-risk people are advised to attend services remotely.

     That's what the state is asking for.  What we will get -- probably even in here in Indianapolis, which is still under a stay-home/limit non-essential travel order -- will likely be "Olly-olly oxen free!" and the yahoos will rush out, unwashed and lacking masks, to congregate in large groups and sneeze on one another.

     The number of new COVID-19 cases has barely begun to flatten in Indiana.  I predict* that within the next two to four weeks, we'll see a second wave start up, bringing most counties to a per-capita infection rate on the same order as seen in Marion and Lake counties.  I can't do anything about that.

     We'll learn the hard way, just like we always do, and if we're lucky -- as we often are -- we'll learn quickly.  Or there will be less of us, with more compelling memories.
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* Based on my vast knowledge of...  Um.  Of authoritative-sounding guesswork, human nature and popular accounts of people's behavior during the beginning of various historical pandemics: nobody wants to take a disease seriously until the dead are rotting in the streets.  This is generally too late.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

"Gee, It Got In Everywhere...."

     Signed on my computer this morning to get a lovely screen from Microsoft offering to show me how to integrate my content and apps across multiple devices!  Oh, the convenience of it!  Yay, hooray!  Hoo....

     ...ray?

     No.  Hard pass.

     Repeat after me:* cross-device linkage is cross-device vulnerability.  Sharing where your web-browser's tabs are pointing, the contents of your Photos and Documents folders and so on means exposing them to the web -- and to any netizen clever and/or crooked enough to get into them.  Don't do it.  We're all too exposed to risks already.
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* The link is the asterisk.  Follow it!

Saturday, May 02, 2020

My New Motto

     "I can't keep you from being stupid, but I will help make it hurt."

     Also, "anecdote" and "data" are not the same thing.   They're not even close.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Getting Sporty?

     There will be walkouts/sickouts at some Amazon and Whole Foods facilities today, as well as at some similar and related businesses.  Not a strike per se, but a "labor action," protesting what some workers are describing as insufficient anti-viral measures.  Don't ask me if it's justified.  I don't know.  It could backfire if it causes significant disruption in deliveries to customers.  A one-day action?  That'll get in the news, probably even get them some support.  But if it runs longer, pretty soon the people who have been relying on delivery services are going to get very unhappy.

    Yesterday, a group of angry protesters in Michigan held a rally at their state capitol and some of them spent time in the building, yelling and chanting at legislators.  Openly armed, which is presently just as legal in Michigan as it once was in California.  (There might be a lesson in there, if anyone's listening.)  Between upset "lockdown" protestors and legislators with that crawling sensation between their shoulder blades,* I am very doubtful there's any listening going on.  Likely to be a lot of reacting, none of it good.

     One of the factors believed to have helped supercharge the influenza pandemic of 1918 - 1920 was that the early stages of it occurred during a World War.  Men were crowded together in camps and trenches with limited sanitation facilities, and if you weren't falling-down sick, you were staying there.  The gravely ill were hauled off to crowded field hospitals, which wasn't an improvement in terms of disease transmission.

     Adding civil unrest to a viral pandemic that is still very poorly understood isn't a winning formula.  It's difficult -- very difficult -- to wait but until the medical types get a better handle on how widespread the virus really is, and just how readily transmissible it is, we're all going to have to be cautious.  Take notes now, and if necessary, you can strike and/or hang the bastards later.  Or possibly just vote seriously, with an eye to the past actions and future plans of the politicians on your ballot.  Voter turnout in the United States has been pretty low.  A determined and active electorate could make a real difference at the state and local levels, and skip the fuss and bother of pitched battles in the rubble while running a fever.  ...Just a thought!
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* Look, I think politicians should go around in fear, but most of them only need to be fearing not getting re-elected.  Scare them too badly and they won't pay attention to ideas.  You don't want that.  They're useless in that condition.  Way more than most of them already are.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Y'know What I Miss?

     I miss salad bars.  They'd already gotten pretty scarce before this pandemic and they're not going to come back any time soon.

     There's a lunch place across from where I work that's got one, but my lunch break is late, they are understaffed and by the time I get there, it's more science experiment than temptation.

     It used to be that no small-town steak joint worthy of the name lacked a salad bar.  It was a necessary component.  They seemed to fade away with the first round of chain-restaurant steak places (Bonanza, Ponderosa, Mr. Steak) and their standalone competitors.  The next bunch (Outback, Texas Roadhouse, etc.) don't seem to have them -- and for my money, the steaks aren't the same, either.

     Some fine, far-off day there will be sit-down chow joints and salad bars again.  Some day.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Oh, For Pity's Sake...

     The "It's no worse then the flu"/"They're cooking the books on the death count" crowd has just about convinced me to leave F*cebook for good.

     Cause of death is a complex thing and like Achilles and the Tortoise, every time you think you've caught up with it, it has moved a little bit ahead: if you've got an pre-existing condition, say COPD, heart disease or extreme old age, and you come down with COVID-19 and develop a severe case, your pre-existing condition is likely to be the thing that directly kills you, months or years earlier than it would have if you didn't have COVID-19.  It's probably going to get recorded as a coronavirus death.

       You can pick nits over defining those stats all day long (and still miss the person dying of a quiet stroke in the ER waiting room, overlooked because the hospital is too overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients), but that's not a useful analysis; the real measure is the raw death rate in an area with a coronavirus outbreak.  All deaths, by any cause; add 'em up and compare to the same period in previous years.  If it's higher, you've got a problem.  We won't have even those numbers for awhile, but we have a proxy: how full are the morgues?  How busy are the funeral homes?  And the answer is, in the hard-hit areas, they're swamped.  That's not something that can be faked, not in a city crawling with newspaper, radio and TV reporters with too much free time and a lot of competitive pressure.

     SARS-CoV-2 is worse than the flu.  A lot worse -- and likely far more communicable.

     Which leads to the other line of addled thinking; I keep seeing, "They say we're all going to get it, so why not open everything back up, catch it and get it done already?

     The problem with that approach is, if we all get it at once in some city or region, you get a replay of New York City or Northern Italy.  Those places don't have an unusually low number of hospital beds per capita; they're about average or even a little better.  Yes, where you live isn't as densely populated as NYC, but on a per-person basis, it's got the same number of or fewer doctors and hospital rooms; on a per-capita basis, it's got the same square footage of grocery stores and big-box stores and other places where you can get right up close and personal with your neighbors -- and whatever viruses they've got.  One percent of Manhattan's population, in one percent of the space, with one percent of the doctors, hospitals and common spaces is not one percent of the problem.  It's the same problem, overworked medical personnel, high death rate and all.

     If you're in a rural area, you do get a break: the spread will be slower.  If you and your closest neighbors (dozens of miles away) are only in town once every two weeks, the virus won't spread as quickly in an outbreak; but given that some infected people are spreading the virus for two weeks before they show symptoms, it will still spread -- and medical services tend to be few and far between in such areas. You'll all end up in the same dinky county hospital and it will be just as busy as Big City General would be, despite the smaller scale.

     That gets us to another problem, one that haunts medical facilities, especially overworked ones.  It's a version of The Sniper Problem: there you are, in an area with only fair cover and concealment, and there's a sniper hidden some distance away.  You have to stay out of sight of the sniper all of the time but the sniper only has to get a clear shot at you once.  It's an unfair contest -- and it is exactly the fight between healthcare workers and a highly infections illness: they have to get PPE exactly right every time, but the virus only has to get through one time.  And it's not just patient-to-provider transmission, but patient-to-patient via provider: hospitals (and other patient-care facilities) can easily become centers of infection.

     So there are good reasons to remain isolated, to restart non-essential commerce slowly and cautiously, and to remain ready to pull back when and where there are outbreaks.

     Many people are saying the risk doesn't matter, that we have to restart the economy to prevent a recession or worse.  Too late.  We're going to have a recession and maybe a depression.  It can't be avoided.  There are going to be economic readjustments and they're going to hurt.  Just getting supply chains untangled from Red China is going to be disruptive, and that may be the smallest effect.

     Our choice is to have a bad economic slump and huge numbers of overloaded hospitals (with all that entails), or to just have a bad economic slump.

     Better buckle up.  It's going to be a bumpy ride -- and lying to yourself about it won't help a bit, no matter how loud you are.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

"...Think They're Better'n Me...."

     Who knows, it may even be true: on the conclusion of the final draft of the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was supposedly asked by a woman in the crowd what the new government would be.  He replied, "A Republic, madam -- if you can keep it."

     The story does not record her scowling reaction at the great man, saying, "Whut?" and then later denouncing the Constitution to her friends and neighbors as a plot by the intellectual elite against the common man, but the older I get and the more I see of The People, the more likely it seems.

     We are terribly social creatures, gossipy and quarrelsome; we want our lives to be as richly complex as the plot line of a soap opera, filled with secret plans, behind-the-scenes machinations and all manner of larger-than-life heroes and villains.  We want it so badly that when we don't get it, we make it up.

     What stories are you and your friends telling yourselves and one another -- and have you checked them carefully against reality?

     Maybe we'd all better.  Too many people are dying of "It can't happen to me" already.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Burned Out

     I'm burned out on idiots and fools.  From politicians publicly spitballing notions that should only have been shared behind closed doors (if then) to "gotcha!" media that waves shrieking fresh-ink headlines for every gaffe to the contrarian (or possibly just that stupid) half-wits who apparently assume that if the New York Times and CNN say not to drink bleach or disinfectant* (because the President mused on the topic), then clearly the thing to do is to drink bleach or disinfectant.†

     I'm sick and tired being run ragged by a damn virus, and even more so by arguments over the effects of a damn virus.  I don't know how big a pile of corpses or how many unplanned-for filled hospital beds it takes to convince some people, but apparently more dead Americans than died in twenty years of fighting in Vietnam isn't enough.


     I'm tired of quack medicine and bullshit pseudoscience.  No, 5G didn't cause COVID-19, and while Bill Gates and I would probably never vote for the same people, he's not a shadowy mastermind plotting to Beast-mark your kids, he's a zillionaire who started to feel guilty about eating imported French PB&J sandwiches off solid-gold tennis shoes in the back of his platinum-plated Bentley submarine, and decided that funding medical initiatives that were likely to result in fewer dead children would make him feel better and reduce his tax payments.  Look askance at his politics all you like; being aghast at the politicians and causes our fellow citizens support is a national pastime older than baseball. Sneer at him all you like -- then tell me how many poor kids your disposable income saved last week.

     I'm annoyed and angry at how few people pay attention to the real stuff the real enemies of this country get up to.  No, China didn't tinker up SARS-CoV-2 and they almost certainly didn't let it slip out of a lab -- but they lied about its communicability, they lied about its impact on their country, and I still have doubts that we're getting reliable numbers.  In their haste to make the West look inept, China has sold (and sometimes given away) dodgy coronavirus test kits and defective medical supplies; they've held up shipments of personal protective gear bound to the U.S.  Russia is even worse; their long-term, invidious effort to undermine public trust in American political institutions has been reaping great benefits from this crisis.  Russia is on no one's side but their own and they are happy to encourage internal divisions in the United States.  They have long seen our political system of opposing parties and factions as a great weakness and they continue to try to use it against us -- every link you post to Russia Today (not free media; it is controlled by the Russian government) or Zero Hedge (very probably an FSB black- or gray-propaganda operation) helps them.  Don't be a stooge!

     Last, I am irked by people who won't do their homework, and just lazily post links that confirm what they already wanted to believe.  My favorite was the headline claiming there are 3.5 million more registered voters than adults in the U. S. -- shocking stuff!  Except, whoops, a little fiddling with search engines turns up 153 million registered voters in the U. S., out of just over 253 million citizens over the age of 18.  The headline is off by over a hundred and three million!  Digging deeper finds the 2017 National Review article that the headlined piece was based on, in which Deroy Murdock found a few hundred dead people had voted and turned up a lot of registered voters on the rolls who were no longer at the address on their registrations -- moved away, abducted by aliens or dead, but also most of them no longer voting.  It's not great, but it's not millions of fraudulent votes either. On a national scale, it's pretty far down in the noise.  Look that stuff up!  You have at your fingertips the greatest engine for finding out that has ever existed, and you won't use it.  I am mystified by the appeal of shiny candy-coated humbug over unvarnished fact.
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* Seriously, listen to me.  Their politics are often biased and like any journalists, on any complex or specialized topic they are often working on a deadline from fresh notes about a subject they had only general knowledge about a day earlier, if they even knew that much.  But a large subset of journalists have previously consumed or will drink now anything even remotely potable, especially if it might be intoxicating.  When they tell you what isn't safe to drink, they're right 99.9999999999999% of the time.

 † To be perfectly fair, at least some of the reported and tragically-foolish ingestion of cleaners occurred before the President's remarks and ensuing press furor, presumably as the result of quack medicine and/or unusual religious practices.  Look, I'm not going to tell you how to practice your religion, but as a general rule there's no good outcome to drinking such substances.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Housework Day

     Laundry, kitchen cleaning, a little bit of electronics (because the washer needs to be watched on the spin cycle and my workshop is just a few steps away).

     The afternoon was sunny and warm -- well, warmish, at least -- once the rain was over and I spent some time outside -- not as much as I would like, but there was much to be done.  The air was wonderful!

     After reseasoning my cast-iron steak-grilling pan (darned thing had gotten ugly since last time) and a bacon press that's been in the way for awhile,  I got out the bread machine and looked it over; actually trying it is a project for another day but hopes are high.

     A grocery delivery arrived late in the afternoon  After getting it put away, I heated up some nice ham and bean soup from two days ago, with added fresh vegetables and some mushrooms. Over dinner, Tam and I watched an episode of our current series, Breaking Bad, which neither of us had seen.  We're well into Season Two.

     We had some nice multigrain bread with the soup.  I had picked it up from the grocer's store-baked breads on the sole basis of the crust looking good.  It's pretty dense, but flavorful and with enough texture to be buttered.  It went well with the soup.

     Another pandemic weekend.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Antenna, Repaired

     Earlier in the week, I noticed my ham radio antenna was broken.  It's a G5RV, a kind of "doublet," a long pence of wire, split at the center and with RF fed into it at that point.

     On on sidem the wire of mine runs over to a tree and takes a turn (about fifteen feet above ground), supported by running it throgh a hole in an insulator.  There had been enough notion that the wire wor through!

     Today, I spliced it, with a pulley at the turn, and rearranged things to that it doesn't turn at the splice.

     I'm hoping it will hold up. 

     Wrestling the ladder around to the roof and then to the tree was a lot of work and between that and digging up dandelions, I'm worn out.  Made chili for an early dinner and have mostly sat around ever since.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Friday

     It's "Don't Take Medical Advice From Politicians" Friday!

     Seriously, don't.  Guam tips over every time you treat an elected official as if he or she knows anything except politics.  Remember, our Federal system was devised so it would survive the kinds of people who get elected, not to exalt them.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Quarantine Food: What Am I Eating?

     This morning, the answer is easy: roast beef hash with a cornmeal crust and an egg baked on top of it.  It's my answer to the increased amount of water and fat in canned hash and it works pretty well.  It's an inexact art: you mix up some cornmeal and flour, possibly with a little seasoning, and sprinkle a layer into the pan before adding the hash. Fifteen or twenty minutes later (most of it covered), you should have well-cooked hash on a nice, crunchy crust and if you had broken an egg on top, it'll be baked all the way through.  Getting the exact perfect, golden-brown crust is a bit chancy and I'm still working on the proportion of flour to cornmeal.

     Last night was a simple dinner: some fancy bone-broth tomato soup with grilled-cheese sandwiches.  Yes, tomatoes don't have bones, but chickens do and the stuff was made with chicken-bone stock.  Very tasty, too.  The sandwiches were grilled Swiss on rye, which I think is the ideal combination.

     Night before last, pasta!  Rotini and some of Sunday's sauce, "stretched."   I sauteed celery, white carrots and half an onion in a little butter with a dash of garlic power, then pushed it to the sides of the pan and added a can of diced tomatoes and some spices..  Diced was all I had -- but I also have a potato masher* and it turned them into crushed tomatoes in short order!  Then I added the leftover sauce, which had plenty of meat, and simmered the whole thing together.  Time spent in the freezer had only improved the previous marinara sauce -- the finished dish was even better than Sunday.  Despite having made a big pot of pasta, we each ended up about two or three giant rotini short, to which Tam remarked that she did not remember ever having regretted a lack of noodles before.  The sauce was fine by itself, but adding the texture of al dente pasta made it even better.

     Monday was beef stew: really nice stew beef Tam saw at the neighborhood grocery, seasoned and browned.  Once it was well underway, I sauteed carrots, celery, leeks and an onion with it and then simmered everything in beef bone broth.   It was wonderful and warm -- and even better for lunch the next day.  You can go from raw materials to finished stew in about a half-hour but it's better to cook it low and slow or let it rest after the quicker cooking; give it a couple of hours over low heat on the stove or a night in the fridge and you've really got a treat.

     We're eating well.  Nothing fancy, and all based on a pretty simple list of ingredients, but it's good stuff.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Okay, Today I Have Nothing

     Or not much.  Be good to one another, even when you disagree.  There's a lot to disagree about right now and many of us have plenty of free time to spend disagreeing.

     That's fine.  What's not fine is being a jerk about it.  Treat others as you would like to be treated -- and don't try to jailhouse-lawyer your way around the principle, either.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Opening Up? Closing Down?

     There aren't any easy answers.  A vocal minority is shouting in in the streets and on the Internet, wanting to lift restrictions on non-essential businesses.  Another vocal minority is staging walk-outs and editorializing online about workers at essential businesses being exposed to the novel* coronavirus.  A news company ran a nationwide poll, and nearly two-thirds of Americans are concerned restrictions in their state will be lifted too soon, hastening the spread of the virus; another third worry it might not be soon enough and small businesses will fail as a result.  There's hardly anyone on the fence, a fraction not much larger than the margin of error.

     None of them are wrong.  We're not getting out of this without pain and damage.  People are arguing over what's worse, and arguing with insufficient information.  But get this: there's no "make it didn't happen" option.  We're not going back to normal, not ever; people have died and the ice-cream shop on the corner may never return.

     Being the species we are, we'll find out what we to do the hard way.  Many people are already taking the restrictions and suggestions lightly.  I gassed up my car yesterday and while I'm careful to be gloved and masked, and to follow proper procedure in doffing, donning and disposing, the adjacent gas-pump island was in use by a young woman with green hair, wearing a T-shirt, jeans and sandals, bare-faced and gloveless.  When she was done, she hopped in her nice, recent-model Cadillac and drove off with nary a pause for hand sanitizer.  Which one of us is the outlier, locally?  Not her.

     We flattened the curve and now, cheerful primates that we are, many of us are now looking around, deciding it wasn't so bad after all, and throwing caution to the winds.  If we get a second spike in new infections, we'll know that wasn't such a great idea.

     It is not a matter of nature "learning us or killing us."  Nature teaches us by killing a some of us.  As a species, we learn when people die.  How did we figure out which mushrooms are safe to eat?  How did we learn how to make poke salad that didn't kill us, or prepare rhubarb for pie?  Pokeweed and rhubarb (leaves) are poisonous; you have to know which parts to eat and how to prepare them.  Historically, the only way to learn is by doing it wrong and suffering the consequences.

     "Doing it wrong and suffering the consequences" might as well be humanity's motto.  But we follow it a few at a time -- and the onlookers and survivors learn from the experience.

     We're learning now.  It sucks, doesn't it?
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* Novel?  There's a whole multi-book series in this thing.  It will be a long while before anyone wants to read it.

Monday, April 20, 2020

I Suppose....

     I suppose I should link to a collection of interesting articles about the pandemic, and make a pithy comment.

     I suppose I should talk about the irony of people out protesting -- locally and nationally -- most of them unmasked and much closer to one another than six feet apart.  Irony?  Well, they're protesting being forced to stay home, weak masks and maintain social distance, you see, and yet I have not been able to find even one report of protesters being issued so much as a ticket for breaking the rules.  Personally, I am quite comfortable with volunteers running an experiment in virus transmission; I just wonder how their elderly or otherwise vulnerable family members feel about being involuntary participants.  Doesn't that count as an initiation of force?

     I suppose I should do a lot of things.  I think I'll go have a bath instead.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday, Pasta

     The pasta itself was rotini, those interesting spirals that we called "scroodles" when I was young.  The sauce, now--

     Start with sweet Italian sausage, say about a pound; toss a little Italian spices on it and and some fresh-ground pepper, get it mostly browned, drain most of the fat and moisture, then add a leek,* a white carrot and a few fresh mushrooms, sliced smallish.  Sauté that and then add whatever store-bought marinara you like and a small can of diced or crushed tomatoes if the meat/sauce ratio needs adjusted. (Ours did)  A couple of bay leaves, maybe some basil, parsley, rosemary and so on is good, too.  Stir, cover and let simmer.

     The pasta water should be good and boiling by now -- and you salted it well beforehand, right?  Add the pasta, which will take somewhere between seven and ten minutes to cook al dente.  Check the package -- big, thick pasta takes longer than small, fine stuff.

     You do not drain or rinse the pasta; just fish it out with a slotted spoon or pasta tongs, let the water run back into the pan, and plop it into the soup plate (those big, wide-brimmed bowls are ideal).  Ladle the sauce over it and there you go!

     It was delicious.  The rotini were good-sized, and held lots of sauce.

     All we had on the side was an olive assortment: a few Castlevetranos, Kalamatas and a caperberry.  That's all we needed.
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* Leeks are muddy things and a bit awkward to clean up.  I rinse them off as much as possible, chop off the root end as close as gets the fused-together part removed, then split them lengthwise and rise out each half.  That does the trick and you can chop them up small with ease.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Saturday: I Grilled!

     It was good weather for it and tomorrow might not be, so I got the grill out and did a couple of steaks over hardwood charcoal with hickory chips.

     It was wonderful! 

     Baked potatoes and quick-steamed Brussels sprouts on the side, a fine evening meal even when keeping socially distant.

Friday, April 17, 2020

You Know What They Call A Pandemic In Sweden?

     They call it the same as anywhere else.  Those stories your friends are sharing about how "Sweden hasn't done social distancing, and they have a lower (or the same) rate of infection as we do" are, you guessed it, wrong!

     Looks like the virus has been late to arrive in lovely Sweden, and good for them, but it's there now, it's been there awhile, and looky here at a few quotes from the official guidelines:

-Limit social contact and keep a distance from others in public:  Binding recommendations issued on April 1st require everyone in Sweden to limit their social contact and keep a distance from others in public.      The new guidelines state that every person in Sweden must "keep a distance" from others in indoor and outdoor locations such as shops, offices, museums, libraries, and waiting rooms.

     Also:

-Work from home if possible:  The Public Health Agency has advised everyone who can do so to work from home, and for employers to offer employees this option if at all possible, even if it is not the norm.

     So, hey, kids, the Swedes are doing what everyone else is doing. It took me a couple of minutes to run this down, and that included a quick chase through Snopes that wasn't productive.  Yes, they're not cracking down quite as harshly at many other countries in Europe; much like the U. S., the government is asking people and companies to be responsible and they're complying.  It's not "business as usual" in Sweden.

     Do your homework. Slacking off, sharing shiny memes, you might as well be be outside smoking for all the good you're doing -- except at least then, the damage you do would be limited to yourself.

     Sourced here.  More information here.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

2020: The Year Without

     1816 was "The Year Without A Summer."   Tamara and I have been calling 2020 "The Year Without...."  Without toilet paper, without a warm spring, without bicycle riding (well, not much of it so far), without dining out, without daily excursions to the grocer's to see what might be good.  It's the year without close contact, where waving at your neighbor across the street is fine but getting close enough to chat feels risky.  It's the year without hamfests, antique radio swapmeets or gun shows, a year without trips to the used bookstore or classes at The Indiana Writer's Center.  (However, IWC has moved classes online!  Most of the benefits plus my own coffee, so that's bearable.)

     Thinking it over, I wondered, What about the Marion Easter Pageant?

     It's a big deal.  Other than a break during World War Two, Marion, Indiana has held a huge Easter Pageant ever year since 1937.  Performed by amateur actors in Marion's Memorial Coliseum, it's an ecumenical Easter story without narration or dialog, told entirely though music and otherwise-silent actors.  The Coliseum has a large pipe organ, the all-volunteer orchestral and singing talent is remarkable and the experience is moving.

     Marion, Indiana is also one of this nation's epicenters of stubbornness.   It's not a city that embraces change.  So I wondered what they had done in response to the coronavirus stay-home order.  Defied the authorities, perhaps with references to kicking money-changers out of the Temple?  Pointed out that the cast, choir and orchestra had been rehearing together since the first of February and livestreamed the performance without an audience?

     Nope.  However reluctantly, they stood down and provided an alternative: The entire performance was recorded in 2003, and it's available on YouTube

     Had I known, I would have shared the link on Easter Sunday.  Even as a crusty old agnostic, I think it's an impressive production and all the more so for being entirely amateur.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Everybody's A Weeble

     Egg-shaped and weighted at the bottom, they were a popular children's toy.  "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down."  Push them and they rock wildly, then end up as upright as they were before.

     They're also a model for normalcy bias, a cognitive leaning that is usually not a problem: we expect things to go on in the same way as before.  Usually it does, but when it doesn't--  Even when things go badly wrong and the floodwaters are rising or the fires are approaching, many of us, possibly as many as seven out of every ten, want so badly for events to be unremarkable that they will come up with plausible-sounding reasons not to worry that are entirely unjustified.  Many a small Indiana town that has never been struck by a tornado has a local legend about "the bend in the river" or "the lay of the land" that causes any tornado to skip over.  Alas, that's not how it works, and every tornado season is another pull at the slot-machine lever, with the possibility of a free flight to Oz -- or to Palm Sunday.

     Normalcy bias can be especially appealing when we don't have a lot of data.  In uncertainty, the entire spectrum of cognitive biases* come into play, and we often end up deeply entrenched, believing what we want to believe and defending it against all comers -- even when they have new information.

     This morning, I went hunting for information on antibody tests for COVID-19.  Unlike the nasal or throat swabs, these are blood tests that show if you have ever had the virus.  They're still getting started in most countries; China has had one longer, but they don't seem to be sharing results and even if they did, they don't have a good history of honesty about this illness.  What I can find is highly preliminary.  Small-scale testing of the general population in various countries is reported as resulting in numbers that vary from a high of 50% of the tested having antibodies for the virus to as low as 18%.  The numbers don't correlate well with known cases, active cases or death rates: there isn't enough data.

     Worse yet, nearly every report I could find was using the numbers to support some proposed course of action or another and hadn't back-linked to the source.  There was no way to tell just how cherry-picked the data might be.

     I could call up my own cognitive biases and spin you a tale of how things will play out -- but I won't.  I don't know.   We're in for a long haul through uncharted territory.  Keep your wits about you -- and watch out for cognitive bias on the part of others and even more so, your own.
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* The linked chart and the article it comes from are worthwhile and sobering reading.  How many things do we believe that aren't necessarily so?  --And how sure are we?