Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Test Results Are Back

      In fact, when I called yesterday, results turned out to have been back, and for several days.  I don't have the virus.  Somehow they neglected to call or e-mail, oh dear, they hadn't the foggiest how that happened.

      I can guess.  There were at least two cars with people in them waiting for tests when I showed up; three more arrived while I was waiting and two more were  pulling into the lot as I was leaving.  It's a small sample, but the whole thing took a little under ten minutes; call it two minutes or less per test, eight hours a day -- at minimum, 240 a day, six days a week, week after week.  And it's a small office.  They've outsourced their test scheduling since my previous visit but the person who spoke with me when I called to ask about my test results sounded busier than most of us would like to be.

       What this means is that I have been dealing with a bad cold, and I can go deal with it at my isolated worksite about as well as I can at home.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Familiar Name

      Thanks to Tamara's Disney+ account, I'm getting caught up with The Mandalorian.  I think it owes as much to the tightly-written half-hour episodes of Have Gun -- Will Travel* as it does to Clint Eastwood's "Spaghetti Westerns," storytelling with no room for self-indulgence by the screenwriter or director.  Oh, it's still a little hardware-happy; from the first film, the Star Wars franchise has tended to an ever-so-subtle nod to Gerry Anderson's SF work.  But there's no wasted screentime, no point where you'd feel okay dashing to the kitchen to bring back a snack.  It's all working, all the time.

      Like the Richard Boone series, most episodes come to a morally satisfying (but not saccharine) conclusion, something that has become uncommon in a day of TV programs featuring cheap laughs, cheap thrills and cheap sensation. 

      But what caught my eye last night at the end of the first episode of the second season was a familiar and unusual name in the credits.  Had I really seen it?  Sure enough, Shawna Trpcic, costume designer for Firefly, was in charge of costuming for the second season of The Mandalorian!  Her work added a lot to the older series and I'm happy to see her on this job.

      "Pretty cunning, don't you think?"
_____________________________________
* If you enjoy episodic genre fiction, I highly recommend this series.  Yes, it's black-and-white, old-timey TV, but the writing is at least up to the standards of the best pulps, the directing and editing is outstanding, the cinematography is never less than competent and usually far better, and the acting is generally first-rate.  Richard Boone inhabits his character comfortably.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Counterpart

      Tamara and I finished Season Two of the SF/spy series Counterpart the other day.  The series held up all the way to the (far too early) end.  Series creator Justin Marks managed to resolve major narrative lines while leaving openings for subsequent seasons.

      We won't get them; Starz pulled the plug, citing a shift in the network's audience targeting.  But don't let that stop you from enjoying brilliant performances from J. K. Simmons and Olivia Williams -- both remarkably likeable performers, playing four complicated and at times not-so-likeable roles -- plus a talented cast.  There's considerable depth to the characterization and the plot is twisty.

      This one is worth watching.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Imaginary Reading

      Picture my surprise at receiving a copy of Tom Swift And His Air Befouler, only to discover it's a chili cookbook!  Mostly with beans.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Hi!

      Busy day, with frequent breaks to nap.  We're definitely not one hundred percent.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas!

ARTWORK FROM CHRISTMAS 2018
     Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings or whatever kind of wish suits you as the days begin to get longer and we can all look forward, hoping for a better New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

So, Yesterday

      Skipped posting.  Felt blah and very tired.  Did a telemeeting for work, went and got my nose swabbed, went to my (isolated) workplace, got a few things done and, per my boss, took alcohol and wiped down all the doorknobs, faucet handles, keypads and so on at the end of my day.

      Today is a work-from-home day, then a three-day weekend and at some point, I should get my test results.

      Whatever is going on, there's a lot of fatigue here at Roseholme Cottage.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Feeling Ill

       Not sure what it is -- probably just my seasonal sinus awfuls.  But I'm very unsteady, temperature up and down, (etc., etc.) and should not be behind the wheel of a car.

     Yes, I'll go get tested.

     Comments are off, it being too great a temptation to too many people to play doctor.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Not Today, Either

      I feel lousy.  Some kind of a cold?  Emotional exhaustion?  I don't know.

     Also, people are still crazy.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Of Shots And Doubts

      Still thinking about the accusation that I was conflating chip-fearing kooks and "people who have serious doubts about rushed vaccines."

     Nope, I'm not; if you don't want to be at the the head of line because you'd like for there to be more testing before you are vaccinated (though the test groups are huge and testing started very early), I have great news for you: unless you're a medical worker or in a nursing home (or one of a very small number of Continuity-of-Government people who don't really get a choice), you're not at the head of the line.  Nobody's likely to push you there, either.  Hundreds of thousands of people will have already been vaccinated by the time they get around to middle-aged adults who aren't working in health care or other high-exposure jobs.

     Consider, too, the benefits of front-line medical personnel getting the vaccine first: not only are they some of the most at risk and keeping them healthy benefits every patient they will help, they're also a group that will quickly recognize any side effects and they'll be well-connected to receive treatment and provide useful feedback.

     So I don't worry about people with legitimate doubts; by the time their turn comes, we're all going to have a much better idea of what to expect and the convincable will be convinced  I'm also confident that the people in the fancy offices at Pfizer and Moderna (et al) understand that the consequences of bad outcomes will be dire even though they are shielded from lawsuits; and yet they released the vaccines.  So those shots are extraordinarily likely to be safe.

     Meanwhile, the chip-fearing loonies are loud and shiny and it is very much lunatic season.  They're getting a lot of press and they're all over social media.  People who are still making their minds up can be swept along with them.  The crazies can do a lot of harm while reality plods along.  A glittering lie can circle the globe while the the truth is just putting its shoes on.

Friday, December 18, 2020

It's Good Enough For The Veep

      Vice-President Mike Pence got his vaccine shot on live TV this morning, which ought to be proof enough for the skeptical (and gives them a high-visibility public figure to watch for side effects as a bonus).

     With that in mind, I can now safely predict that anything the Vice-President subsequently does to further rather than obstruct finalizing the Presidential election and the smooth transition from this Administration to the next will be ascribed by the kooky fringe to the controlling effects of the Bill Gates-George Soros microchips they believe are now swirling around in his bloodstream, no doubt operated by chemtrail-guided microwave commands.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A Falsehood Repeated Does Not Become More True

      I receive more blog comments than I publish.  How do I decide what to publish or not?  It's very simple, really:

     1. Comments containing threats against persons or institutions never get published. 
     2. Comments that make obscure references get fact-checked.  If they turn out to be innocent and not too obscure, they'll get published, once I work out that you're talking about a baseball pitcher and not a figure from the Third Reich.  (Yes, both have shown up.)
     3. Comments making claims that turn out to be factually wrong when fact-checked do not get published.  Sometimes they will prompt blog posts that explain the facts -- not the politics, not the "oh, wouldn't it be grand if--" assumptions but the plain, unvarnished facts.  I try to include links to neutral sources.  If I can't find neutral ones, I give preference to ones that "show their work" with footnotes and/or links, so they can themselves be fact-checked.

     Loudness and conviction are not measures of truth.  Saying something over and over does not make it true.  Truth is the stuff we can independently verify from multiple original sources, based on research and not opinion.

     Federal law and regulation has no magical, abracadabra component: it is as dull as dishwater and every bit as tedious as doing your own income tax, for the unsurprising reason that the tax code is a part of the same body of rules. There is no Santa Claus, folks, the tooth fairy is just your Mom or Dad taking your baby tooth from under the pillow and leaving a shiny coin.  Grow up and smell the disillusion.

*  *  *

     With that out of the way, here's the overnight cull of untruths, half-truths and imaginary magic for the last couple of days:

     "Multiple studies indicate that the total number of deaths this year is exactly in line with the total number of deaths that have trended over the past decade."
     Nope!  One study by a non-medical Ph.D. purported to show something of the sort, sort of, and on discussion, it does not.  (Heavy reading here.) Actual death counts over time are easy to compare -- this article has overlaid graphs for the U. S. over the last five years -- and the spikes or peaks on the 2020 graph lead rather than follow "stay-home" orders.  Now, possibly all those people are dying due to fits of pique, but it's more likely that the spikes in overall mortality show the effect of COVID-19 deaths. 

     "Hospitals are cheerfully raking in $7,000.00 to $42,000.00 a patient for simply checking a box on a form that indicates a person who died from COPD or cancer or heart disease or liver disease or an auto accident or falling off of a roof or whatever had Covid at time of death."
     Nope!  First off, it's not check boxes, and it's not either-or; most people die of multiple things.  There are plenty of comorbidities that will kill you quicker if you come down with a respiratory illness, and guess what?  It's the combination that kills: both are the cause. The only "free money from the government" was for Medicare and uninsured patients anyway; per Factcheck.org,  "The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act,or CARES Act, created a 20% add-on to be paid to hospitals treating Medicare patients with COVID-19; Medicare is the federal health insurance program for those 65 years and older. The law also set aside some money to reimburse hospitals for treating uninsured patients."  Medicare fraud is a serious matter and playing fast and loose will cost a hospital dearly when, not if, they are caught.

     One reader hopes the President, "declares foreign interference in the 2020 Presidential election, orders the existing mess null and void, requires the state legislatures to appoint a new slate of EC electors, and let the process carry itself out as the US Constitution provides."
     Wrong!  The President -- any President of the United States -- does not have the power to declare an election "null and void," nor does he have the power to require State legislatures to appoint a new slate of electors (the manner of their choosing is, in fact, explicitly reserved to the States themselves, and has been all along).  EO 13848 is not a magic wand, and sets well-defined trigger conditions for foreign interference in U. S. elections before any action can be undertaken. You will search it in vain for any "Presidential declaration" to invoke any process that would invalidate an election.

     The same reader asks, "Is there anyone so innocent as to believe that Mike Pence will count the legal (and necessarily alternate) [sic] electoral college slate of votes for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, as opposed to the other equally legal [sic] alternate slate of votes submitted by the legislatures of 7 states in favor of himself and Donald Trump?"
     Yes, there is -- me and many U. S. Senators and Representatives of both major parties.  Nor is there any other "equally legal slate of votes;" each state gets (and their Governor certifies) exactly one (1) group "equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress."  They don't get two, and in the case of a dispute, it's not up to the Vice-President to sort that out; the House and Senate resolve it by separating, debating for up to two hours, voting and then they can only remove some set of electors if both bodies voted to do so.  No mystery, no magic, no double-secret probation and Mike Pence is not the Keymaster in this task, just President of the Senate.
     This is how it works.  This is how it will work.  No citizen is obliged to be happy about the result of a Presidential election -- but we are generally expected to refrain from seditious behavior.  You can count on the Vice-President to do so, no matter how much he may dislike the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election.
*  *  *

     Please, start looking this stuff up before you repeat what some blogger wrote or some partisan commentator said.  I put in links, but they're just a starting point.  Dig deep.  Look for original source documents, not someone's interpretation of them.  And if what you're reading doesn't include links or footnotes, ask yourself what that person's trying to put over.

     The truth is out there.  So is an awful lot of flim-flam.  The truth is usually more boring and often disappointing but it offers the salient advantage of being actual reality.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Not How That Works

      This concerns the recent Presidential election.  So I'm going to do my best to address this on the basis of fact, not opinion -- including my own opinions.  I won't debate opinions in comments, either -- pro, con or zany.  Nope, this is about how the machinery works, period.

      The latest "make it didn't happen" meme going around* lays out a scenario in which the joint session of Congress to count the votes of the Electoral College, overseen by Vice-President Pence, instead throws out enough of them that the House will pick the new President and the Senate will select the V.P.  The meme assures us that the outcome is a sure thing, since the House will vote by State and not by Representative, which supposedly will give the GOP a majority.  And thus, it claims, President Trump and Vice-President Pence will remain in office.

      The problem here is that the meme conflates two things: resolving disputed Electoral College votes and selecting a President and Vice-President if no candidate has won a majority of Electoral votes. They are not the same process.

      If a member of the House and and member of the Senate both object in writing to the same Electoral college vote -- and this has happened already, in 2005 -- then the two bodies separate, debate the matter for up to two hours, and the House and Senate each have a roll-call, per-member vote.  If they both vote to reject the contested vote(s), out they go; if there is any other result, they stay in.  The House does not vote on this by state.  For those who have not been keeping score, at present and in 2021 the Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives.  The GOP are in the majority in the Senate now; the Senate majority in 2021 will depend on the result of the upcoming election in Georgia.  Getting the House and Senate to agree that some Electoral votes should be thrown out is highly unlikely

      Should the House end up picking a President, then they would be voting by state, and someone else can go predict the result by toting up Party memberships of each state's delegation and assuming -- reasonably enough -- that they would vote along Party lines, the majority in each state thus determining the vote of their state.  But remember, to get there would require a situation in which neither candidate had received a majority of Electoral College votes, and that's unlikely to happen. 
__________________________
* Here's the gist of the invidious thing, and a reminder: any time you see anything like this, from any source, go look it up for yourself. Obfuscation and nonsense abounds.
      "Today, the electoral college votes will be sealed and sent by special carrier to Washington where they will remain sealed until January 6th when the House and Senate will come into a joint session to open the votes. The media is going to make you believe that it's all over and Joe Biden is now officially president...
[...]... Vice President Mike Pence will have all the authority as president of the Senate for that day and will accept or reject motions to decide the next steps by the assembly.
      "Remember... Mike Pence is in full authority that day as written in the Constitution. The ballots will be certified today but that means nothing...
The votes will be opened and at that point one House member could, and most likely will, raise their hand to object to the Vice President on the state of elector's votes. That objection could cover fraud or any other reason, and with the seconding of that objection everything changes. Everything!!
      "The House and Senate will divide for two hours (at least) to debate, then vote. The vote will be per Senator with the Vice President being the deciding vote if needed in the Senate, while the vote in the House will be only be ONE vote per delegation, per state, not per House member!!! The Republicans have 30 delegation votes compared to the Democrats 20 delegation votes.
      "If this scenario runs true, President Trump gets re-elected.[...]"
      Someone must have not been paying close attention in Civics or U. S. Government class.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Digging Deeper

      An interesting blog if you'd like to learn about the security of voting machines from people who have actual subject-matter-expert knowledge of the topic: Freedom to Tinker.  Andrew Appel is especially informative.

Monday, December 14, 2020

All Three Monkeys At Once

      Me, last Friday:

     This is actually "See less evil, hear less evil, exhale less evil," and every bit of it is there for a reason.
     The big, round "glacier glasses" are prescription sunglasses, the best I have owned.  Being blue-eyed and nearsighted meaning being very sensitive to bright light and UV, so I wore fairly dark sunglasses with side shields for years, back when I wore contact lenses.  I had a pair of this style, purchased on closeout (the maker, Julbo, were changing distributors or exiting the U. S. market at the time) and after returning to eyeglasses once I needed bifocals, I kept an eye open for anything similar and planned to have prescription lenses made for them with the tint matched to the originals.  The exact model showed up online and I did just that.  (Mine are from one of those "group buy" sites.  Amazon sells them now.)

     Friday was a sunny day, and I was in and out of the building, so sunglasses were required.

     Next layer, the building at what I call "North Campus" is very noisy.  Both big rooms have high-power, air-cooled equipment in them, with closed-loop air-conditioning.  I've lost hearing to that noise and suffer tinnitus, so hearing protection is a must.  I often "double up," with foam earplugs and the over-ear protectors.

     The reason I was in and out of the building was because we had a tower crew doing some work.  State orders and company policy -- as well as my own opinion -- calls for a two-layer mask covering nose and mouth.  Once you've got sunglasses and earmuffs on over the mask, there's no point in taking it off when not working with the crew.

     The first time the manager of the tower crew encountered this look, he asked me, "How do I even know that's you?"

     I didn't have an answer for that.  Maybe I should have my ID photo updated.

     Oh, "How bad is my eyesight?"
     I managed to get my phone to focus through one of these lenses -- notice how fuzzy the view outside it is, and how much the road seen through the lens diverges from the uncorrected view.  That's how bad.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

I Can Now Verify...

      ...To my total horror, the dispute over the honesty or not of the 2020 Presidential election is a perfect Shiri's Scissor.  It absolutely cleaves discussion and cannot be resolved by further talk.

      Mind you, Americans are an untrusting lot, taken as a whole; in both of the last two elections, a third of registered voters thought the process was not free and fair. Previous contests don't get much better, especially if you lump in the "not sure" responses as showing a lack of trust.  Only two-thirds to three-quarters of registered voters are and have been confident the tally is honest, no matter who won.

      Another collection of charts and graphs show the partisan divide -- and several that include "independent" voters, a group in which I count myself, have us off on our own tack as well.

      My advice, from practical experience?  Don't get into arguments over it.  Whatever your side is, support 'em by fund-raising, waving signs or writing letters to the Editor, but accept that face-to-face or online debate will not change hearts and minds, and will create barriers.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

20202020

     Last night, the dishwasher ran its first cycle and...sat there.  Drain pump never started.  I shut it off and set it to drain and it did...nothing.  Well, the lights lit up, but the soapy water just stayed there.

     Dipping out some of the water, working the float valve and restarting caused it to begin to fill.  That part still worked.  The emptying, not so much, and not a peep out of the motor.

      So it's not a blocked drain.  The pump isn't running, period.

      I unloaded the dishes and put them in a sink of hot water, then spent an hour dipping out the dishwasher and sopping up the last with towels.  Today, I did dishes by hand.  A lot of dishes, and me with no dish drainer.

    It'll take professional attention to fix the dishwasher (If we can: it's at least ten years old -- this being 2020, having to replace it is probable, despite being a Maytag) and before that, I have to rearrange the basement  You see, the changes we made to ease installation of the new furnace blocked access to the main water shutoff valve, and I trust the ones under the sink not at all.

      After that, vanity commands redding up the kitchen and mopping the floor, and practicality means it's time to review all the stuff stored under the sink, right next to the dishwasher, and ready it for rapid removal as needed.

      Looks like I'm going to be doing dishes by hand for awhile.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Vaccine

      News this morning is that Emergency Use Approval is all but assured for the first vaccine in the pipeline.  Logistics are being arranged so that the first mass inoculations will follow approval almost immediately.

      There still seems to be a lot of misinformation floating around about the vaccine and my usual response would be to provide accurate information to counter it.  You know what?  I'm not going to do that.  Even with distribution limited to health care workers and the very elderly, supplies are small and will increase slowly at first.  There aren't enough shots for the people who need them and want them, let alone the reluctant.

      So skip it, doubters.  You think Bill Gates and Red Chinese will zotz you with a tracker chip in the vaccine?  Then avoid it.  Oh, there's one exception, kind of: if you are a healthcare worker and you don't trust the vaccine, I beg you to find another line of work, something like lighthouse keeper or work-from-home data entry, where you won't have much human contact.

      Some percentage (a large and increasing one) of the vaccine-avoiders will contract the virus and fall ill, just like the general population of not-yet-vaccinated people.  But the avoiders will have, at least, chosen it.  Some percentage (a small but stable share) of the avoiders who fall ill will die, and that's a set of shots saved for someone who needed and wanted them.  It's a public service.  Please, avoiders, do your part to help out and try to die quietly at home, without wasting medical resources and exposing doctors, nurses and hospital workers to even more risk.

      I am sick and tired of rumor-mongers spreading nonsense and black/gray propaganda, most of it from outlets known to be controlled by nations hostile to our own.  I am sick and tired of people who think their opinion and semi-anonymous social media postings outweigh expert testimony, people who won't bother to fact check anything that agrees with their position.*  It's a real pandemic, with real doctors, nurses and drug companies trying to do something to mitigate it.  For all its failings, Big Pharma wants you to live a long, long life: once you're dead, they can't sell you any more pills.  You don't want to take your medicine?  Then don't, and don't complain when Nature takes its course.
_________________________________
* I'm going between multiple authoritative sources of statistical data for things like infection rate and hospital occupancy in my own state.  They don't always agree, but it is interesting that the trendlines track closely.  There's metadata in that, even without number-crunching, and it clearly reveals when things are improving or getting worse.  But note well: I am checking up on the veracity of data that tends to confirm my beliefs, and looking into sources that disagree.  It's the only way I know to keep from following expectations instead of reality. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Disappointed? What's The Next Level Worse?

      Right now, there's a pandemic raging in the United States with a death toll of one Antietam every day.  One 9-11 of Americans killed by it every twenty-four hours, yet people I know are still calling it a "fake" and scorning basic public health precautions.  It's looking like less than two-thirds of Americans will even consider getting vaccinated when a vaccine becomes widely available, along about the middle of 2021.

      Right now, there's a truculent segment of the Right threatening civil unrest over a fantasy spun by a real-estate huckster turned politician.  The Republican Attorney General and the Republican (former) Director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency agree the 2020 election was fair and honest, but that doesn't make any difference to the folks who haven't seen enough blood.

      And there's a lot of overlap between the two groups.  Apparently, not enough of us are dead yet to suit them.

      Throw in another bunch on the Left who are all in favor of rioting in the streets and wouldn't take a vaccine delivered via a program run out of Washington under any circumstances, all the more so since it started under a GOP Administration, and we've got the potential for one hell of a mess.

      So much for gliding into my retirement years with a Hilton in orbit and vacations on the Moon.  Who needs a flying car when you can cough your lungs out in a frozen trench just like a WW I doughboy?  Who needs rationality and reason when you can get higher than a kite on rage and loathing?

      Our very good, good pals in government office in Moscow and Beijing must be laughing themselves sick.  At least there's a more than even chance they'll choke on it, but that's cold comfort at best.

      We were supposed to have built L-5 by now.  There were going to be colonies on Mars.  We got the stupid future instead.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

What I'm Reading

      Orders Of Battle, the latest installment of the Frontlines series by Marko Kloos, was released earlier this week and I am well into it.  Looks like the hero's about to run into some Lankies and I expect things will go sideways from there.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Of Falls And Food

      I took a fall in the shower yesterday morning -- rinsing out hair conditioner, I got a foot off the tub mat without noticing.  Off the tub mat and on the drain side, so what was underfoot was a nice slick of conditioner and water.  Shifted my weight and the loss of control was immediate and irreversible.  I went into the shower curtain (on a friction-fit rod, pulled the whole thing down on my back and whacked my shins into the edge of the tub.

     It could have been much worse.  As it was, I was a little bit figuring out what happened and had some clean-up to do before I washed away the rest of the super-duper, why'd-they-discontinue-the-kind-I-liked* hair gunk.  Fiddling with the gimcrack curtain rod took even more time and it's still not quite right.
*  *  *
     With a start like that, the day pretty much required a better ending.  I had some boneless pork chops and wanted to do something vaguely stir-fry.

     With two pork chops, a Lucy Rose apple (it's redder on the inside than the outside!), eight scallions (green onions, and more would have been better, but I cheated), four "baby" carrots (they're not), King Trumpet mushrooms, eight small-to-medium multicolored sweet peppers (usually sold in a bag), five or six Shishito peppers and a dollop of savory umami paste you can have some fun.  I can, anyway.

     I cut the pork chops into half-inch cubes (you do not need to measure) and dropped them into a big zip-type plastic bag that had some soy sauce, a little balsamic vinegar and a bit of garlic powder in it.  Once the chops were chopped, I closed the bag and shook it until the pieces were well-coated.  Then the meat and whatever liquid remained went into my Always pan, over medium heat.

     Apple next.  The lovely color of the Lucy Rose was a surprise to me.†  The flavor was fantastic!  (Had to take a sample to Tam, in fact.  At first, she wasn't sure what it was.)  I sliced and peeled it, and cut the slices crosswise into small triangles.  They joined the pan on top of the meat.

     I washed and prepped the scallions, cutting them into short segments.  Gave the pan a stir, added the scallions, and gave it another stir before putting the lid on.

     Diced up the carrots into quarter-inch pieces, and added them.  King Trumpet mushrooms followed -- cut off and quarter the tops, cut the thick stems into rounds and toss them in.  I hadn't had them before but they're mild, with a nice texture.

    The little sweet peppers take more prep time -- I cut off the tops, winkled out the core and seeds, and sliced them into slim rings in two batches.  Time spent here is not wasted; pork needs awhile to cook.  I added a little water to the pan, too.  You don't want it to be too dry; pork will get very dry in a hurry if you let it.

     Killed a little time refreshing what I remembered about thickening up stir-fry sauce; gave the pan a sniff and decided to lump in a dollop of savory umami paste (this stuff just showed up at the grocery, in three or four versions and is well worth having around) and a little granulated onion (cheating, but useful).  Then it was on to the Shisto peppers.  As near as I can tell, if you are looking for a little gentle heat, look for a bag of them with some that are showing color, yellow-to-orange.  The greener they are, the milder.  But even the hot ones aren't super-hot; it's just a little zing.

     Shishitos don't take much prep or cooking -- cut off the top and slice them into rings.  If the core is really thick, you can remove it, but unlike most peppers, it's not at all bitter.  Into the pan they went, lid back on.

     Thickening up the sauce calls for a teaspoon of cornstarch mixed into cold water, then some soy and vinegar, not a lot of either.  It'll turn tan.  Pour it in, stir and keep stirring over medium heat until it's as thick as you like; if it gets too thick, add water.  Once I was happy with it, I shut off the heat, nuked a bag of rice, and rang the dinner bell.  Savory, mildly spicy, just a hint of sweet.  Tam and I liked it a lot.
________________________
* Garnier Fructis "Brazilian Smooth," which is supposedly a hair-straightening shampoo and conditioner.  What it does for me is tame my frizz to smooth waves -- not the advertised effect, but exactly right.  They dropped it and there's no direct replacement.
 
† Readers will be unsurprised that my reaction to an unfamiliar new fruit or vegetable, even just a new variety at the grocers is to buy one and see what they're like.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Writing About Politics?

      I'm about ready to give up writing about politics.  There's no longer enough common ground between the two big parties -- and too many of my once-libertarian friends have decided to choose one or the other.

     In and of itself, that would simply give me more opportunities to poke fun and look askance.  As organized parties and bodies of politicians (well, groups of politicians, let's not scare the poor, sensitive dears with figurative language before the first cocktail of the day*), the GOP and Dems alike aren't much interested in ideological consistency, the rules to be found in the U. S. and State Constitutions, history or long-term planning that extends past the next election, but that's nothing new and has long been fodder for commentary.  Nope, the problem is that the parties, pols and voters have all, to a greater or lesser extent, bought into fantasies that are divorced from reality.

     The first and worst concerns the two more recent Presidential races, in which the winner (or putative winner)† is deemed to have won by virtue of his surpassing virtue.  It's a lovely thought but they were close races and loathing appears to have outweighed love; Mr. Trump won in 2016 because he wasn't Hilary Clinton and Mr. Biden won† in 2020 because he wasn't Donald Trump.  If one or the other of those observations makes you angry, I have great news for you: you've got plenty of company, many of them howling or barking mad.

     Secondary effects include "make it didn't happen," found weakly among Democrats in 2016, protesting their woman won the popular vote (true and irrelevant) and much more strongly among 2020 Republicans, with allegations of voter fraud coming from the top down, and the remarkable claim of a "coup" followed by urging state legislatures or Governors to appoint a slate of electors who will vote differently than the outcome of the election has directed.  What makes this remarkable is that course of action is in contravention of Federal and many State laws and would select a different Chief Executive: pretty much the textbook definition of a coup.  (Don't like my links?  Tough.  I try to stick with the ones near the middle-top of the Ad Fontes Media chart; if you're spending lots of time way out to the left or right side of it, you're mainlining mental junk food -- and if you're not aware that yes, even the ones way up there in the green box lean a bit one way or the other, you're not paying attention.)

     The Democrats have their own fantasy, a gentler one: that Joe Biden is a strong, widely-loved figure instead of a run-of-the-mill high-level Democrat, gone a bit frail with age.

     Criticizing either man risks ire from their adherents.  It is massively unpopular to point out -- as I often do -- that the President of the United States is just some guy we pick to go shake hands with crowned heads, autocrats and his elected peers, to sign checks and make sure the heads of the various Departments and Bureaus get to work on time and don't slack off more than is usual in D. C., to pick up the phone in the middle of the night when things go badly wrong and improvise frantically while hoping Congress will back him or her up.  But that is the job; the part of government that decides how taxed, regulated and hemmed-in and screwed-over you will be, especially long-term, is not the Presidency but Congress. Presidents get only four years at a whack; Congress goes on and on, designed to have institutional inertia.

     Nevertheless, it's Presidents who get people all wound up.  Right now, we have an epistemological divide right out of the Daybreak trilogy and there's no room at the margins for snark or semi-impartial observation.  If you don't pick a side, you'll be hammered over to one or the other.  I try and try to encourage reason over emotion, Mencken-style skepticism over uncritical acceptance, but it's an uphill struggle and a thankless one.
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* Mimosas with brunch, of course.

† I'm going with what the State governments and current vote counts are saying.  Yes, it's not as exciting as the fantasy version.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Sunday Morning Breakfast

      Currently enjoying my part of a three-egg omelet, stuffed with mushrooms, bacon, Swiss cheese and just a little pickled cauliflower.

     The batter was propped up by four crushed crackers,* parsley, a little togarishi and a generous teaspoon of some wonderful Italian spice blend put together by one of Tam's friends; mix all that up and add enough warm water to make a fairly thick slurry, then let it stand for a bit before beating in the eggs.  (I crushed the crackers and added the spices while frying bacon, then added water and let it sit while I fried mushrooms in the bacon fat.)  The eggs need a serious beating -- the idea is to get them in the mood for building new bonds.

     This results in a fairly substantial basic omelette, all the better to hold up to a heavy payload of two and a half strips of bacon,† a slice of Swiss cheese and (the times being what they are) most of a small can of mushrooms. 

     Tam enjoyed her portion -- and the usual tribute -- while watching the Sunday morning political shows.  They are -- as usual these days -- as entertaining as an H. P. Lovecraft (or Lovecraft-adjacent) story, and for similar reasons.
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* Three Townhouse and one Ritz, if you're keeping track.  Use what you have -- saltines are traditional; I like crushed corn chips but not everyone in this household does.  

† When one fries bacon around Tamara, the Tamgeld is one half strip of it.  Always. 

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Arrgh, Grr, Etc.

     My desktop computer having been afflicted with a world-class case of the slows for reasons unknown, I'm coming to you live and direct from the MacBook on my bedroom dressing-table/desk.

     This is supposed to be my quiet place for writing anyway, an escape from frustration that I badly need just now.  So it is serving its intended purpose.

     The I Work On A Starship universe is badly overdue for more stories. The good news is that I am working on them -- the bad news being that it is going very, very slowly. I ran aground on a reef called "seat-of-the-pants," writing with no plot or outline. When it works, it works well -- and "Another Day" is a good example of that -- but when it doesn't, or if you lose the thread, it's a struggle getting back on track.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Too Much 2020: Arecibo Collapse

      If you haven't seen the video of the final guy-wire failure that smashed the antenna platform into the radiotelescope dish, here it is, fixed camera and drone views.

     This is a truly crappy year.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

TV Viewing: Counterpart

      My Amazon Prime Video home screen suggested TV show over the holiday weekend.  I'd never heard of it, but it looked interesting: Counterpart.

      The show even starred an actor I like, J. K. Simmons, perhaps most widely known from his appearances in Farmer's Insurance commercials

      So I gave it a look.  In the opening scene, a man is pushed out of a high apartment window to his death in a Berlin that appears to be just a year or two into the future -- and the small crowd of rubberneckers who show up are all wearing cloth masks.  There were two seasons of the show and yet I was wondering if it has been shot after the pandemic began?

      Nope.  The series was made in 2017 and 2018.  It's set in a divided Berlin, but not the divide we -- well, some of us -- remember.  A Berlin in which a Cold War lab experiment somehow branched off two diverging realities but left a single shortcut between them.  One looks a lot like our familiar world.  One appears to be more advanced and yet something's gone badly wrong.  Just what isn't quite clear, but relations between the two sides are tense.  Tam and I are four episodes in now and it's as tangled an SF spy story as I have seen.  (Imagine a Len Deighton-William Gibson collaboration.)  We 're really enjoying it.

     Starz aired the series originally, but pulled the plug after two seasons.  They were repositioning the cable channel to aim for a greater share of women viewers and felt the show was "too convoluted" for us silly girls.  Gee, thanks, pal.  But there are two seasons to enjoy.

     Edited to add: This series is definitely rated R, and I think the scenes that make it that way at least border on gratuitous; they don't tell us anything about the character (one of the, I'm pretty sure, baddies) that couldn't've been shown without nudity.  But they are used sparingly so far and many of the male viewers will probably enjoy them. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Fantasy Tectonics League

      Tamara keeps sharing increasingly unhinged takes on current events that she finds on the Internet.  They worry me.  They worry me in a way that Nixon vs. McGovern or Ford vs. Carter never did, in ways that Obama vs. McCain or Romney never did.

      Because it's stopped being just politics.  It's stopped being about if this or that brushfire war/nation-building is justified* or if the fed.gov ought to try helping the poor or automakers or banks.  Those were all things about which more-ore-less reasonable people could more-or-less reasonably disagree. Both sides often had valid points to make and quite often, the disagreement was not over the notion that something was wrong, but the best way and instrumentality to go about trying to fix it.

      What's going on now is different.

      There's a split over the nature of reality itself -- and both sides can't be right.  Either the election was as fair and honest as the preceding dozen, or it was rife with fraud and cheating that changed the outcome; either there's a shadow war -- with real guns -- between branches of the Feds going on between the Deep State and its enemies, or there isn't.  The pandemic is real or an illusion with a vast, power-grabbing conspiracy behind it.  The President-elect either broke his foot playing with his dog, or he's hiding a house-arrest ankle bracelet as the result of a complicated criminal immunity deal that will result in a second term for President Trump. Either someone in the Administration has been dropping hints of a strange conspiracy and efforts to counter it, or a hoax has spawned a large-scale delusion.  These are not simple disagreements; they show a fundamental fracture over the nature of our (supposedly) shared reality.

      I'm not expressing an opinion about any of these items here.  Because opinion is so entrenched and so irreconcilable, there's no point in arguing one over the other.  But they can't both be right and sooner or later, as a society we'll have to collapse the wave function, open up the box and see what's inside.  What happens after that, I don't know.

      If you see either vision as a kind of doomsday cult, they tend to rebound from contradiction -- they recalculate, reinterpret and keep moving -- but not always.  If it's just a matter of politics, they represent incompatible conceptions of the nature and function of our federal republic.

      What are we counting down to?
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* Almost certainly not, though there may be weltpolitik considerations that involve warfare as a tool -- just don't claim to me it's moral to blow up some poor slob's house and family because he happened to be born and grow up in the wrong place.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Long Division

      I read an interesting piece by an interesting and well-qualified pundit this morning.  Oh, there's plenty to squint at in it; the writer's fond of sweeping generalizations and he's a bit hand-wavy.  I didn't agree with everything he had to say, but it was worth reading and I thought to link to it.

     Then I thought again.  The writer's a well-known never-Trump Republican/neocon and the article's on the op-ed page of the New York Times, which makes it just about certain that a good many of my readers wouldn't even consider it.

     It's frustrating.  You can't fact-check an article you haven't read.  While a good many people won't even bother to fact-check the ones they do read, the possibility at least exists.

     We have elevated opinion over fact, and unquestioning acceptance over healthy skepticism.  For many people these days, what "fact-checking" they will do consists of a search for confirmation of their presently-held notions instead of looking for evidence both pro and con.

      Fiction displaces reality. A friend at a social media site asked people, "Would you take a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available?"  Many people responded, "Yes!" or "Of course."  A substantial plurality said they'd wait and see how it worked and what side-effects emerged.  And then a few....  Well, a few people said, "Oh hell no," adding, "especially if they inject tracking chips with it, or make me carry a card saying I'd had it."

     I pointed out to one of them there's no "tracking chip" small enough to inject with a vaccination needle.  (The one the vet puts in your cat or dog is larger than a gain of rice, and the reader's got to be in very close proximity).  Plus, churning out millions of new chips -- and keeping track of who got which number -- is a huge job, especially for an medical infrastructure already bracing to add a massive vaccination effort to their ongoing work of dealing with the pandemic.*  It's just not physically possible.

     He was undaunted.  "If they can tell what kind of gunpowder was used in a shooting, just from the residue, anything's possible!"  Point?  Nope.  They can't tell -- other than in TV crime fiction.

     "Two movies, one screen?"  Ha!  We're not even at the same cinemaplex.  And it's way more than two films.

     Buy your own tickets -- but read the fine print; read all the reviews, not just the ones you agree with.
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* Kids, those overworked doctors and nurses begging you to mask up in public, keep your hands washed and maximize physical distance while minimizing contact with people not of your immediate household so you can stay out of the hospital and not add to their workload are not making it up.  267,000 dead Americans so far and over 90,000 in the hospital as I write, which you'd think would be compelling evidence.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Books, Books, Books

      A remarkable amount of this day has been spent digging through the astonishing pile of books (and a few gadgets) that is still, slightly, occupying a three-sided nook of bookshelves in one corner of the library/dining room here at Roseholme Cottage.  I built the newest set of shelves in that corner a couple of years ago and never expanded the science fiction and fantasy collection into it.  Instead, first the shelves, then the floor between them and eventually a great and dangerous volume of space filled up with books and other things in a random jumble. 

      It just...happened.  Slowly.  "I'll park this here and deal with it later."  Later never arrived -- more stuff did.  Eventually, I realized I had a problem, one so big I kept putting off doing something about it.

      Until today.  Between rounds of laundry, putting the scooter battery on the trickle-charger and a little -- a very little -- bit of leaf-raking, I have been slowly sorting through the great pile.  I'm not done yet and I probably won't finish tonight, but I will get it done.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Leftovers!

      Last night, dinner was simple -- slices of turducken, fried until golden-brown, and served with canned vegetables.  Each slice had some bacon, turkey, duck, chicken and dressing. 

      This morning, I looked at what remained, started some frozen hash browns, and added diced turducken once the potatoes were well underway.  A little parsley, black pepper and onion powder pulled it together, for some very fine breakfast hash.  Could have scrambled an egg or two in it but decided not to -- there was plenty of food without them.

      And that's the last of it.  Just under five pounds (pre-cooking) of turducken, three meals, three days.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Turducken And All The Trimmings

      Here's the bird -- really a turducken roll (with sausage stuffing!), about five pounds.  Our local grocer didn't have any the last time I checked, so I ordered it frozen from Amazon and it was just as good.  The come with an elastic net around them.  I cut it off before cooking and use a few bacon strips to hold it together, pinned in place and to each other with toothpicks:
ALL PHOTOS BY TAMARA KEEL

     After an hour and a half:

     It's not quite done.  Maybe forty-five minutes to go on the grill. I'd just added the second layer of vegetables, and added a handful of dried cranberries right after the photograph.

      The first layer is a couple of turnips (underrated as a source of flavor) and a large onion, all cut in wedges.  Celery and carrots on top of that, and the cranberries for a bit of tart and sweet.  I seasoned the turducken with parsley, rosemary, thyme and marjoram (being out of sage*), and a couple of bay leaves.

      The graniteware pan is new this year; I've been using disposable aluminum pans, but they're flimsy and call for great care in ensuring the heat is indirect -- you build a fire and rake the coals to the sides.  Even at that, they tend to overcook the bottom when used over the grill.

      The pan has lands and grooves on the bottom, and is just thick enough to distribute the heat much better.  The lid is reasonably close-fitting, and that addued up to nice pan drippings when it came time to make bacon gravy!

      Yes, bacon gravy, a once-a-year treat:

      You start with three or four slices of bacon; fry them up, set them on paper toweling to drain, and pour off the fat into a measuring cup.  You want about a quarter-cup.  I used four slices and came up a little short -- but by then, I had brought the turducken pan in and drained off most of the liquid before returning it to the (slightly throttled) grill.  I have a nice grease separator; I poured off the broth (nearly two cups), and added enough of the turducken grease to the bacon fat to add up to a quarter-cup.  I returned the grease to my Always pan, slowly stirred in an equal amount of flour, and cooked it for two or three minutes.  I topped up the broth with water to get two cups, and slowly stirred that in.  All you really have to do then is keep stirring over the heat until it's as thick as you'd like.  It was smooth and had a wonderful golden color (see above).  I crumbled the bacon strips in once I was happy with it.

     Mashed potatoes were already done.  There's no real trick to that, though I make them skin-on and dry the cooked chunks over medium heat a little after draining the water.  Stir with a sharp knife to cut up the skins, then mix in butter and milk with a big fork until you like the consistency.†  A little salt helps, but go easy.  You can add various seasonings, too -- garlic, celery flakes, paprika -- but with that gravy, I did these plain.

      I fetched the turducken back in and let it sit while I staged plates, then fished out the vegetables into a bowl and lifted the turducken onto a carving board.  The toothpicks came right out and it cut into lovely sections.  We had flat Italian green beans on the side along with all the other goodies.   The gravy was easily the best I have ever made!  A fine holiday meal.  (Watched a movie, too -- see Tam's report.)
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* Yes, the Simon & Garfunkle song is telling you how to season poultry.   I'm not sure they were eating often enough when they wrote that.

† There are specialized tools for this.  I own some.  A big dinner fork still works better for me.  I use the same one to mix omelet and pancake batter, too.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thankful

      Mostly, today I'm thankful things aren't worse.  Because they certainly could be.

      I'm not going to give you some kind of lecture.  This isn't a day for speeches or essays.  It's a day for remembering what's good, and embracing it.

      The world could be a lot worse off than it is today.  I could be a lot worse off.  We're not.  I'm not.  Some of that is through our own efforts -- and some of it is sheer dumb luck.

      We're squeaking through.  And that's a whole lot better than not squeaking through.  Humanity has done it a lot of times.  My ancestors and yours did so a lot of times.  We have probably done so ourselves, more than once.  Maybe we're not especially elegant or graceful about it; maybe, as a species and as individuals, we don't always do the very best thing.  But we get through.

      And I'm extremely thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

What's Cajun For "Fried Rice?"

      Whatever it is, Cajun fried rice is today's breakfast. 

      We had Zataran's "Dirty Rice" for supper last night, with some chorizo and "Irish Banger" sausage I'd had in the freezer.  This being Roseholme Cottage, I added some thin-sliced carrot and celery, and, about five minutes before cooking time was up, three shishito peppers.  They're generally mild, but one in ten or twenty is a ringer with plenty of heat, and I think I hit the jackpot on one of those three. 

      It worked out very well.  There was plenty left over.  I thought about it, and put it up in the fridge for the next morning.

      As far as I'm concerned, fried rice is simply a variety of hash: a starch and some odds and ends of this and that, fried up in a pan.  I'll make it with left-over Indian-style rice (so good!) and sticky rice from Chinese take-out, so why not Cajun rice?

      This morning, I fired up the Always pan-of-all-work, heated it until a drop of water flicked into sizzled and skittered, and poured in the rice.  Added a very little soy sauce for luck, and fried and stirred until a lot of the moisture was driven off and it smelled wonderful.  Pushed the rice mixture to the sides and scrambled a couple eggs in the middle, keeping the heat high.*  You want to make sure the eggs are cooked all the way through -- wet scrambled eggs don't work in fried rice.  I sprinkled some dried parsley over the finished dish, and that's all it needed.
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* This is about as harsh a test of non-stick coating as can be.  I have had the Always pan since July and have used it frequently since.  The coating is still holding up.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Manicure Day

      Huck and Holden, the 14- and 15-pound tomcats of Roseholme Cottage, continue to romp and wrestle during their dawn and dusk playtimes.  Lacking any prey larger than the occasional spider, the Broad Ripple Miniature Biting Tiger and the Floof Lion of SoBro fight pretty rough -- so far, neither has been cut or scratched, and while Huck is more than willing to bite an ear, he has refrained from biting through.

      Nevertheless, they are wery well armed and I try to keep their front claws trimmed.  (Back claws are more difficult.)  They don't enjoy it; Holden is minded to bite, though he can be jollied out of it, and Huck complains quite piteously.  The trick is to get the subject fairly relaxed, then start in and get the claws trimmed before they quite figure out what's going on.

      Treats follow a successful nail-trimming, and the more often the cats have a manicure, the more likely they are to remember that.  Maybe someday, I'll even get them to not minding a rear-feet claw trim.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Factual Facts

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

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

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Red Stew

      I made red stew for dinner tonight.

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

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

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

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

      It wasn't chili.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Cui Bono?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2020

Oh, Ouch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Damage To Conservatism

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Do Not Do This

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

It's Very Possible To Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2020

Cut-Rate Caesarism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Bookshelves Done

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2020

A Day Of Work

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2020

Is Seeing Believeing?

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

     That's a very interesting question.

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2020

I Thought This Roller-Coaster Ride Was Ending

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Armistice Day/Veterans Day

      It was on this day in 1918, at 11:00 a.m., that the guns stopped.  Parts of France are still off-limits today.

      This day's meaning has shifted; today, we thank veterans for their service, for putting themselves in harms way to protect and defend their fellow citizens.  Don't take it casually.  The price they pay for this can be very high. 

The Peaceful Transition Of Power

      It's an important part of a free and democratic republic: the peaceful transition of power.  In the United States, it is a process with well-defined steps.

     There's a teapot-tempest brewing in the headlines: one of the early steps calls for the General Services Administration to recognize the apparent winner of the Presidential election, which releases funding, services, office space and hardware to the incoming Administration.  Presently, the GSA boss doesn't think the outcome of the election is quite apparent enough.  The votes are still being counted (or recounted) and there have been court challenges.

     For his part, Joeseph Biden has downplayed the delay.  He's been through this before.  The incoming Obama Administration experienced one of the smoothest Presidential transitions in U. S. history; George W. Bush's people worked closely with them to facilitate the process.  Things will happen when they happen.