Wednesday, October 04, 2023

"Anyone Can Become Speaker"

     It's true.  The requirements to be elected Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives don't include being a Congressthing.  In fact, they're pretty wide open: if you're not disqualified from holding an office or trust of the Federal government, you can become Speaker.  Arguably, you'd need to be at least 25 years old and to have been a U. S. citizen for seven years or more, but even that's a little shaky.

     The flip side is to look at the actual skill set the job requires.  It take more than mere ambition.  Kevin McCarthy wanted the job badly indeed -- and made many promises to get it.  He tried to give all of his party's Congresscritters what they wanted while keeping the country running and that proved his undoing: the GOP's House members had conflicting desires, and many of them wanted to shut the government down unless they got what they wanted.

     Successful Speakers have been master manipulators, skilled salespeople with a firm grasp of parliamentary procedure.  They were able to convince their fellow party members to swap votes for votes, to go along to get some of what they wanted, and kept the system working by working the system.  Many of them came off a bit smarmy, especially if they were from the party you didn't vote for, but they got the job done.  Within their own parties, they brought people together rather than driving them apart.*

     Yes, just about anyone can become Speaker of the House.  The list of people who ought to get the job, of people who can accomplish something with the job?  That's a whole lot shorter.
* Across party lines, now that's a whole other thing in the House, and has been at least since the late 19th Century, when Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed Jr. harrumphed, "The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch."  Best or not, that's how it has worked for all of our lives.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

My Opinions, Your Facts

     I'm sitting on a comment at present.  I'd kind of like to publish it, except for one little problem: it makes assertions without support and then infers conclusions from them.

     This is my blog, featuring my opinions and as much factual matter as I can muster in support of them, and if there's any crawling out on a limb to be done here, that's my job.  If you want to push back against what I write, your tools are facts, supported by links, cites or -- because I am a generous person and like to look things up -- easily verifiable.  Establish a firm foundation of facts and I'll probably let you make a claim about what they imply.

     But this a blog is not a public forum.  I'm not handing out soapboxes.  The occasional brief cheer, hiss, boo or correction is fine, but sweeping claims, even if they are received orthodoxy among you and your friends, require verifiable factual support.  No matter how close your reasoning or how impeccable your chain of logic may appear, if it didn't start with stuff any competent, literate person can dig up and point to, it doesn't count.  Your experiment has to be reproducible.  Your facts have to be testable.  Otherwise it's just a con job, fast talk masquerading as a map of reality.

     This kind of dull slog through the stacks and links, sifting wheat from chaff, refining the raw ore,  flipping through many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, has always been unpopular.  It's a lot of work!  But it has never been easier than it is right now, and it's how anything worthwhile gets done.  The Founders and Framers knew history; Newton knew math (and a lot of alchemical bullshit); Heinz knows pickles.  What do you know -- and can you prove it?

Monday, October 02, 2023

"Drama Caesar?"

      I was all set to do a sober think-piece on the dangers of Caesarism and why it's a bad thing, filled with links to current books and articles and historical references.

     But it's a waste of time.  The people who care about the ideals underpinning our system of government don't need the reminder and the folks besotted with splendid things they imagine a strong man holding the reigns might accomplish if only he weren't hampered by the legislature, the courts and the U. S. Constitution aren't listening.  Institutions that once espoused a deep respect for the American federal republic, like the Claremont Institute and Hillsdale College have become havens for authoritarian nutters as bad -- and as willing to inspire bloodshed -- as any Mercedes-driving Ivy-League Marxist.

     Not a one of them knows how to get bloodstains out of tweed or would be willing to do the work if you showed them how, either.

     At one time, the Right's thinkers and opionators* inveighed against Caesarism as soberly as any orator of the Roman republic warned the Senate and people about the dangers of monarchy.  While Cato never wavered (and he didn't succeed, either), the supposed inheritors of Buckley's mantle reached a certain point in warning about the "Man on Horseback," looked at the notion and thought, "Cato had to stab himself after a series of frustrating struggles; Caesar and subsequent Emperors ruled Rome for centuries," and changed sides, hailing Caesar as full-throatedly as they'd been cautioning against him.

     It's not a good look.  I don't know how to fix it.

     History has been rife with would-be Caesars ever since he hoodwinked Rome into returning to kings in all but name; I wish their Senate had done a more thorough job of stabbing him and much earlier, but here we are.

     The only good news I have is the boosters of Caesarism are a dime a dozen.  They show up all the time and their efforts fall well short.

     The bad news is that they only have to succeed once.  Constitutional government has to succeed every time.
* Two groups with surprisingly little overlap all across the political spectrum except for how heedlessly they egg one another on, like small children working themselves up to toilet-paper the Mayor's house.  And somehow, there's always one of them playing with matches.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Kessler Who?

     A commenter suggested perhaps the lovely wide street that goes from near Fort Harrison State Park to a little northeast of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be called "Kestrel" Boulevard -- one of the raptors I've never seen around here.

     But it's named after a famous guy, even if you haven't heard of him: landscape architect George Kessler, father of parks, parkways, bridges and city beautification.  Starting around the turn of the last century, many cities "let George do it,"* and in Indianapolis, he was the father of the park and boulevard system that ornaments the city to this day.  It even carries parts of our network of bicycle paths, especially along Fall Creek Parkway.  Kessler was working on the boulevard that bears his name when he died, 20 March 1923.

     So we won't be renaming it any time soon.
* That innocent-sounding phrase carries its own history: the "George" is not Kessler but Pullman -- after whom every single Pullman railroad porter was addressed as "George," working days-long shifts on constant call and catching naps as they could.  They eased many a traveler's trip, anonymous under the founder's first name. 

Friday, September 29, 2023

Late Night Serenade

     I woke up around 2:30 this morning and heard the most remarkable series of sounds, a pattern of seven or eight calls, each with the same rhythm, over and over, with a lengthy pause between each repetition.

     It was almost certainly a Great Horned Owl or a Barred Owl.  Broad Ripple is home to many raptors, including a large family of (most likely) hawks around the intersection of College and Kessler Avenues, who can often be seen spiraling around in afternoons and evenings.  We've got owls nearby; the warbles and vocalizations of little screech owls occasionally adorn evenings. especially from Spring through Fall, and I've seen larger owls in the evening, including a family grouping that appeared to be using our alley to flight-train a youngster.  But I don't recall ever waking up to those owl calls before last night.

     The sound was remarkable, a harbinger of the changing season, slightly alarming at first, a lovely addition to the tapestry of the night.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

"Don't Know Much About History..."

     The United States Senate is supposed to be the "senior body," the place where wise legislators serving long terms weigh new laws and debate their decisions carefully, with due attention to history, science and culture.

     When a Senator votes, it's a well-considered choice -- or so a dozen years of Social Studies, U. S. History and U. S. Government classes led me to believe.  When the Senate voted to confirm General Charles Q. Brown, a former fighter pilot, as the new Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Senator Thomas H. "Tommy" Tuberville of Alabama voted Nay.

     Ah, but he's a U.S. Senator; surely his reasoning is sound even if one might disagree with his conclusion, right?

     Judge for yourself.  The senior Senator was concerned the USAF fighter pilot might be too "woke," telling an interviewer, "Our military is not an equal opportunity employer, it is a military that is here to protect American citizens."  You can look up the video for yourself, but the quote is not out of context.

     And it's a hundred percent wrong.  Ever since 1948, when President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, it has been explicit U. S. policy "...that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin."

     The military is, in plain fact, an equal opportunity employer.  They don't promise equality of outcome; not everyone makes it through Basic Training and of the ones who do, some will never qualify for anything especially challenging.  But if you've got the ability, Uncle Sam doesn't care about your hue, what (if any) deities you worship or where you came from.  These days, he doesn't even care who you sleep with or if you're a boy, a girl or a mystery.  The military cares about what you can do.  That's not "wokeism;" it's kind of harsh -- service in the toughest, most elite units is based on reality-tested individual accomplishment, both alone and as part of a team.  Them as can't, wash out, period.  That's not going to change.

     The Senator, I'm not so sure what he cares about.  Looking stuff up doesn't appear to be on his list.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Kaleidoscope Of Junk

     Contemporary politics continues to boggle me.  Oh, the process has never not been tawdry, acrimonious and tarnished all the way to the highest office, starting with the bitter Adams - Jefferson feud and continuing to the present day.  It's been more crooked in the past but I'm not sure it has ever been quite as trashy and nonsense-ridden as it has become.

     If "Politics is show business for ugly people," it has become even uglier of late, and the verbal flimflam is astonishing.  You need a good set of tools to dig through the muck -- Carl Sagan's Baloney Detector is handy, as is an understanding of "cold reading" (article also covers "warm" and "hot reading") and knowledge of basic cons.

     All politicians are trying to sell you a bill of goods.  Figure out what they're selling, how the pitch works -- and if the goods offered are worth the price, or even deliverable.  We've been sold a war on poverty, a war on drugs, a war on the border and a war on the sources of terrorism, but in every case, the conditions for victory are unclear, the price is higher than advertised and the sincerity of the pitchman is questionable.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Big Game Hunter

     Headed from the house to the garage the other day, I glanced over at the garlic chives.  They grow in a raised bed in front of the garage.  I have let that garden bed go wild the past several years.  The garlic chives are my source of tasty onion flowers and most of them are in bloom.

     The flowers are attractive to local bees,* most of which are the great big, fuzzy native bumblebees, the size of your thumb. A few of them were browsing.  One of the chives had a weird extra stalk, jutting down a short way at an angle from under the flower.  I stepped closer and saw the head and cocked forelegs: a small to medium praying mantis, perfectly color-matched and as still as a stick.  I waved a finger past and it turned its head to track my movement, decided I wasn't worth bothering about and resumed its motionless pose.

     I think it was hunting for a bumblebee.  In terms of relative size, the big bees weren't quite as large compared to the mantis as a rhinoceros would be to a person; more along the lines of a bison or Cape buffalo.  On the other hand, the mantis is only armed with its rapid-fire, spiny arms and powerful jaws.

     I wished it luck and went on my way.  That's one ambitious insect.
* If I was seeing more honeybees, I might feel impelled to apologize to the amateur apiarist a couple blocks over.  But there are never more than one or two at most and there plenty of sweet flowers much closer to the hive.  I wonder if anyone's making an onion-honey barbecue glaze?

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Threat Spectrum

      I'm supposed to be worried about Artificial Intelligence destroying us all, but the fact is our Natural Stupidity is more than adequate for the job.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

6400 Words Into A 5000-Word Story

     Working on a story of a themed anthology and came up with one I really liked.  But by the time the protagonist had been confronted by the baddies, triumphed thanks to a little lateral thinking and was on a bus out of town, it was 6400 words long.

     The anthology has a hard limit: 5000 words, no more.  Run that thing back through the typewriter!

     The first pass tightened up the language, removed a few mistakes and got it down to just under 5900 words  Now I've got to start looking at trimming whole scenes.

     Gonna hold on to the solid-bronze Harpies until the very last second, though.

Monday, September 18, 2023

"Is There A Frustrated Voter In The Audience...?"

     Tamara considers it both a duty and a hobby activity to watch the Sunday morning political pundit and interview shows, so of course she watched Kristen Welker's inaugural turn hosting NBC's Meet The Press.

     She interviewed former President Donald Trump.  Lots of people have mentioned his "firehose" approach to interviews and speeches but what struck me was that his discursive, groping style is a form of "cold-reading."  I have never made any secret about how annoying I find it; this sidling up to definite statements, always throwing out a range of numbers instead of being specific and general fuzziness around the edges is characteristic of every bad General Manager I have worked for, all of them with a Sales background.

     Just like Mr. Trump, they'd look you right in the eye while they sprayed you with their firehose of notions -- watching intently for your reaction, punching buttons until something lit up.  They'd latch onto it if it was something they wanted, or downplay it if they didn't, and turn the firehose back on.

     It's difficult to counter, hard to steer in a one-on-one talk, and obnoxiously manipulative.  Cold-reading works best if the person doing it is heartlessly analytical, while presenting themselves as empathetic.  It's the one of the best tools in the skill set of a con man.

     In my opinion, Mr. Trump's either going to ruin the Republicans or ruin the country.  Since I value having at least two fairly mature, reasonably sane political parties and I value my country even more. I don't see anything especially good ahead.  My only question is, will the trouble be short-term or long-term?

     The Meet The Press interview didn't provide an answer for that 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

A Few Thoughts

     Impeachment is supposed to be difficult.  I have seen a lot of hand-wringing over the results of the impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.  While I'm not a big fan of the guy and I think the evidence made him look pretty bad, the decision was up to the state Senate.  He's still facing Federal charges and how that might go, no one knows.

     When an elected official is impeached, that's supposed to be a big deal.  It's supposed to be the result of dire misbehavior.  And even then, it might not result in removal from office.  It's not a casual, "Oh, hey, it's a slow day and a lot of us Elected Representatives dislike That Guy.  Let's impeach him!"  Or at least that wasn't the original intent.  The judicial systems in the U.S. are supposed to err in the direction of not punishing the innocent even if the occasional malefactor slips through, rather than the other way around.  Don't like it?  In the case of elected officials, there's a way to fix it: vote better ones in.  Don't expect perfection.


     Slow-roasted pork is a treat.  I marinated a pork roast in balsamic and cider vinegar with a squirt of lime, plus plenty of soy  sauce, garlic and ginger along with a bit of Worcestershire sauce, then gave it four hours over indirect heat in a covered pan on the grill, adding apple, potato, celery, carrots, onion and two kinds of mild peppers as it cooked.  It was wonderful.