Friday, August 12, 2022

A Tempest In A Teapot On A Mountainous Molehill

      The supporters of Mr. Trump are outraged over the FBI executing a search warrant, and claim it is pure politics; the people who are not fans of him seem to be thinking, "They've got him now!"

      The reality is likely to be None Of The Above.  The warrant and search appear to be utterly by-the-book, fairly dull routine -- except for the fact that it was one of the homes of a former President getting searched.

      Given the personalities and backgrounds involved, the whole thing is predictable and is likely to be far less exciting than any of the headlines imply.

      On one side, we have the National Archives -- historians with the full force of the Feds behind 'em, and a Congressional mandate to preserve everything to do with running the country.  It's a felony to mishandle such records, and has been since about midway through Mr. Trump's Presidency.  (It was a slight lesser crime before that.)  And next to them, the security apparatus of the Federal government: detail-oriented, obsessed with chains of custody, and smarting badly after Secretary Clinton evaded them.

      On the other side, a President without prior political experience.  He hasn't got that ingrained notion of historical legacy that results in Presidential Libraries with row upon row upon row of filing cabinets holding everything from signed treaties to bubblegum wrappers.  He's a businessman -- and in the business world, the value of yesterday's memo or notes from settled contracts are zero if not negative.  If you get a testimonial-type letter from another Captain of Industry, you might frame and put it on the wall, and you may even take it with you when you change jobs or retire.

     So these sides do not have anywhere near the same expectations.  Their habits are entirely different.  And when it comes to sheer stubbornness, Donald Trump and the Federal bureaucracy are both masters of the art.

      That's really all it takes.  At a point fairly late in the Trump Presidency, the National Archives people became aware that the White House was not, in fact, handing documents in the way the archivists expected and believed was required by law.  We can safely assume that the Security types spend most of every Administration running around with their hair on fire over who can see what and how many copies of it there are and so on.  So they're already in 24/7 OMG mode.  Then the ungraceful transfer of power occurs, with about six hours for the denizens of the White House to pack up and move out....

       We know there were multiple boxes of documents, etc. that Mr. Trump's people took and later handed back; we know negotiations over other such material was ongoing, and given the pre-existing mutual distrust and suspicion, there is no reason to think those talks were being conducted in a solution-oriented atmosphere of mutual amity over cups of warm cocoa.

      So we shouldn't be surprised that Federal archivists and/or security people decided the only way forward was to get a warrant listing the stuff they believed Mr. Trump still had, and which they wanted back ASAP.  This morning, the news is talking about "nuclear papers," but I'm willing to bet even that will be about as thrilling as a detailed report on the heating, cooling and ventilation system of a large office building rather than the sort of double top-secret bomb plans James Bond keeps enemy agents from sneaking through the Iron Curtain.  It's still nothing we'd like Vlad or Xi to lay eyes on and I'd hate to have the blood pressure of the people responsible for keeping it secret, but its possible presence in a box at Mar-A-Lago is much more likely to be the result of sloppiness than skullduggery.

      So what we're going to have will be a seven-day or fourteen-day furor on the news networks and at political rallies, with a lot of posturing about an "out of control FBI," "politicized DOJ," "traitorous President" and so on and so forth -- and the reality is, it's a bunch of stubborn jerks and dull, dry bureaucrats, all being exactly what they are.  That's not going to keep the most wild-eyed from getting all lathered up (and you can count on the usual demagogues to throw gasoline on the fire), but it looks like the substance of the matter, while serious enough, is not nearly as big a deal as everyone would like it to be.

Skipped A Day

      It would seem that I had more of a reaction to atropine dilating eye drops than I knew.  Thursday, I looked the stuff up and found an exact match for some of the other disturbing symptoms I'd been having.  The worst of them seem to have worn off as of early this morning, and what a relief.

      The retina specialist does use a heavy dose of the stuff, but I'm used to just losing the rest of the day because of excessive sensitivity to light.  A visit to Planet Weird and a few obnoxious symptoms, I had not expected.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Back To The Eye Surgeon, Back To Belladonna

      Atropine, actually, or whatever else is in modern eye-dilating drops.  They hit me hard and I know it.  So I was ready for the follow-up appointment with Dr. Moorthy, the super-competent eye surgeon: I had a wide-brimmed hat, my regular clip-on sunglasses, a big pair of over-the-eyeglasses sunglasses with side shields -- and, most important of all, Tam to do the driving.

      The eye exam went well.  The floaters have declined, the really big one that was probably the result of a small hemorrhage when the vitreous humor came loose* has faded to almost nothing, and things are looking much better.

      It was when they sent me down the hall to check out that I realized I wasn't doing well otherwise.  I was a little confused, the light (dim LEDs) was super-intense, and which set of double doors was it?  I came to a stop, fumbled out my sunglasses, and clipped them on.  Better. I found the door, waited my turn and checked out.  As Tam and I headed to the lobby, she took my car key, I got my hat on, extra sunglasses on, opened the outside doors and--

      Staggered into a frickin' wall of light.  I squinted and navigated to the car.  I needed to text my boss, and when I took my phone out, all the colors on the screen were super-saturated, brighter than I had ever seen.  And off, somehow.  A glance out the window showed trees, grass, houses and passing cars were the same way.  I dictated my text and stopped looking.

      Tam stopped at a drive-through on the way home so I could get a snack.  I dug my battered old red pocketbook (think "giant wallet," guys) to pay and when sunlight hit it, the thing was too bright to look at.  When we got home, Tam took off on her bicycle to have a late lunch and write.  I went inside, closed all the curtains and blinds and had my snack in the screaming bright twilight.  Everything was too flat, too bright, not enough contrast and it all looked wrong.  Like wrong-end of a telescope wrong, like a cardboard-set copy wrong.  I gave up and laid down in my room with all the lights off and a stray crack of sunlight at the side of the curtain going off like a fanfare of trumpets as I rapidly fell asleep.

      Finally woke up a bit shy of 8:00 p.m., did some cat-care stuff and I'm having a very light supper before going back to bed.  I have got a Ph.D.-level headache right now, and me a college dropout.  My pupils are still a little big, but I can at least see my irises.
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* I'm not laughing.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

What A Day!

      Today started with a court thing to which I was tangentially involved -- and the court, running via Zoom, had forgotten that particular case was scheduled!  A lot of sitting around and wondering, followed by a little testifying.  I don't even know if I'll find out what will be decided.

      The day ended when I went into the washroom at the North Campus, turned on the water -- and nothing came out!  The water company was working in the area and with our one very isolated connection to the main, across a very wide field from the building, managed to nip it with their digger quite close to their quitting time.  So they quit, not bothering to tell anyone or even put it on their outage map.  Frantic calls from my boss and me eventually got a response that they would get around to fixing it tomorrow.  I hope so.  I knocked off early and finished work from home.

      And a search warrant got executed on a guy in Florida.  The procedure is right there in the Fourth Amendment, folks.  Some flavor of law enforcement has got to convince a judge that the law has been violated and they have probable cause to believe a specific person or specific evidence is at a specific location; the judge then issues a warrant and the process works the same for anyone: said law enforcement arrives at that location, presents the warrant and goes looking for the stuff or individual(s) described in the warrant.  Warrants are nearly always public records and you can bet there's a scrum of J-school grads trying to get a look at this one.  On the other hand, if it was the National Archive-bound stuff they were after, some of that was super-duper secret and we might not get to find out what it was other than something like "File folders containing documents related to [REDACTED] meeting [REDACTED] about [REDACTED]."  Pretty spicy!

Monday, August 08, 2022

Slow Roasted Corned Beef

      Sunday was a scorcher.  Miserably hot.  Air-conditioning struggled to keep up with the heat and humidity.*  I like making a nice Sunday dinner (that's supper in my house.  YMMV) but there was no way I was simmering something on the stove all day.

      And why should I?  I'd frozen a corned beef brisket back when our neighborhood grocer had them at a good price: bought two, cooked one and set the other aside for later.  I had put it in the fridge to what Saturday early and it was mostly thawed by mid-day Sunday.  After wasting a little time shopping for a larger graniteware roasting pan (there's a reason for that), I built a fire and while the charcoal was starting, I rinsed the meat several times and put it in the pan with the seasoning that comes with corned beef, a little pepper and some bay leaves.

      The trick to this is indirect heat.  Once the coals are going (I start them in a hollow fire, with kindling on the inside and charcoal on the outside), I collapse the "chimney" if it hasn't fallen already and push them into two rows, with a gap in the middle.  For a long roast like this, I add a fresh row of charcoal along the outside, too.  Then the grill goes on, and the covered roasting pan sits on the grill above the charcoal-free gap.  (I could have and possibly should have added a little water, but I didn't.)  I set a timer for an hour per pound -- about four hours and fifteen minutes.  I added staggered timers a bit over an hour apart to help keep track.  (A good job for a household robot.)

      Corned beef is salty.  You've got to moderate it.  After an hour, I added a large potato, cut up.  I should have added two.  The potatoes will take up the salt.  By that point, there was a fair amount of liquid in the pan.  Carrots and celery followed an hour later, coarsely-chopped red onion and purple cabbage a half-hour or so after that.

      When I was working on the carrot and celery, I decided to hedge.  The pan is a tight fit for everything I wanted to cook.  I have a small grill-friendly saucepan, about 7" across and as tall.  I put a dab of olive oil in the bottom and layered 1" sections of carrot and celery.  When I chopped the onion, half went in the saucepan and I filled the remainder with cabbage.  A couple of teaspoons of butter and a few shakes of smoked paprika and garam masala, an aluminum-foil lid, and it was ready.  I parked the pan on a corner of grill for the last couple of hours.

      The end result?  The meat very nearly fell apart when I lifted it out to slice.  Tam pronounced it delicious and, modesty aside, I agree.  The potatoes were dark and flavorful and both the "sweet" vegetable mix from the saucepan and the saltier version from the roasting pan were delicious.  I ended up combining them and it worked out well.  The broth was too salty; it will get diluted when this comes back as corned beef stew, and I'll probably cook another potato in it.

      Purple cabbage cooked this way tends to stay purple -- and it keeps a little color in the red onions, too.
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* I mistyped that as "humidirty."  Okay, not a word, but it's how such weather can make you feel.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

"FIGHT PEACEFUL"

      That's the slogan on one of my favorite T-shirts: "Fight Peaceful," rendered in block capitals.  I like it for the ambiguity and the contradiction -- what's it supposed to mean, anyway?

      One of the things it means is how our political system is supposed to work.  We're supposed to fight one another peacefully, online, on the letters-to-the-Editor page, on the protest line, the debate stage, at the ballot box and in our legislatures.

       We're kind of sucking at it of late. 

      It's real easy to point at the other guys and blame them for starting it.  It's protestors high-sticking with the standards that were supposed to just carry their signs, it's mean cops or outside agitators, it's those guys throwing rocks or starting fires, it's that other guy shooting from cover--  It's those faceless s.o.b.s who run the government so wrongly, it's the surging, anonymous, wrong-headed mob....  Somehow it's never us.  It's never any of our friends.  It's never any elected or appointed official we approve of.

      Except maybe it is.  Maybe it's everybody: the people we like and the people we loathe.  Perhaps sometimes it's one and sometimes the other, occasionally both.

      And we should all knock it the hell off.  We're going to break something important, if we haven't already: the civil peace.  The way in which we have, mostly, fought one another peacefully since the country was founded.  We bled like hell and we made a hell on Earth the last time we forgot how to do it, and perhaps it's been so long that we've burnished and sanitized the carnage into legend.  It wasn't legendary to the dead and maimed at the time.  It wasn't legendary to grieving families back then -- and if we break the peace again, the heartbreak and tears, the pain and the suffering won't be a noble myth this time, either.

      Fight all you like; America is an ideal, an intention, an ongoing experiment in self-rule.  But fight peaceful.  Don't let grievance-mongering demagogues of any flavor lead you to try short-circuiting democratic processes with a brick.  You will bleed -- and they will laugh all the way to the bank.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Batman Or Doc Savage?

      Possibly even Tom Swift: There's a huge electric barrier in the Chicago River, placed there to stop an alien invasion!

      And the superheroes who put it in would actually be the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Close enough to the others I listed!

Friday, August 05, 2022

Sick

      Apparently a visual migraine, with effects I hesitate to describe.  It's difficult to look at things and even harder to see them.  Zero stars.  Do Not Want.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

"Kansas Landslide?"

      Tea-leaf reading is widespread, but don't read too much.  In Kansas, a ballot initiative that would have made a sweeping abortion ban possible was voted down.  Some pundits are pointing to it as evidence of trouble for the conservatives, Kansas having a decidedly Rightward lean.

      I don't know.  Many red states have put very draconian restrictions on abortion now that Roe v. Wave has been swept away.  These laws leave very little room for individual choice.  Kansas voters have kept such restrictions as already existed in place -- and otherwise left prospective mothers to make up their own minds.  They didn't throw the door wide open.

      Abortion is a very personal matter.  It hinges on religion and moral beliefs, on personal and societal ethics, on when, precisely, you think a fetus is a person.  These are matters the law has difficulty addressing with nuance.  Kansas voters didn't necessarily vote in favor of abortion, they voted in favor of being allowed to make their own decisions -- and letting their fellow citizens do so, too.

      Readers may have strong feelings about this, and I expect to get a few serious comments on religion and philosophy.  The actual issue is how much right we have to impose our own beliefs on others.  And that's what people voted on in Kansas, and by a large margin. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Mixed Grill For Your Politics

      If anyone was looking to yesterday's primaries as a bellwether, good luck.  Sometimes crazy wins, sometimes it doesn't.  In some states, the Dems helped the crazier Republican, in the hopes that he or she will be easier to run against, while in some GOP-dominated states, the crazier candidate won the party primary on their own.

      What does this tell us about the general election?  Not much.  I don't expect surprises; I expect the usual parties to do as well as usual in their usual states.  I'm with the numbers people at fivethirtyeight in not expecting a huge change in the House or Senate balance and it still looks barely too close to call which party will have a narrow edge in which chamber.  Don't look for any sweeping mandates. And while there may be a message to the lawmakers in that, I don't think they'll bother to read it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

I'm Going To Have To Ask You To Start Making Sense

      Really, it's not such high bar to meet: the very same people who accuse the Biden Administration of being soft on China (or worse) are now condemning Speaker Pelosi's plans to irk the PRC by visiting Taiwan.   (In fairness, some serving GOP Congresspeople have cheered her efforts, on the general principle that anything that annoys Red China can't be bad.  I have a certain weakness for the idea myself.)

      You can't have it both ways.  Either the Dems are pawns of the Chinese government, or they're playing at brinksmanship, fine, those are both opinions someone might have -- but both at once?  No.  They cancel out.  It's preposterous.

      Yesterday's post was right on target.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Two Quotes

     Hanna Arendt:
    "The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist."

     Rudy Guliani:


     The first quote was found here; the second, I watched in real time, unbelieving. Worries about a fuel shortage are real enough, but the truth shortage is even more appalling.  I guess the good news is that it's seriously undervalued; the bad news is, we'll miss it very badly if it gets driven off the market by cheap synthetics.