Friday, April 29, 2016

"Tick-tock, Ms. X! Tick-tock!"

     It's off to the shower for me.  I took more time than I should making breakfast, though very little of it was actual work: Eggs Pomodoro, a can of crushed tomatoes, assorted spices ("Italian seasoning" with plenty of basil, a little cilantro, chives, freeze-dried onion, celery seed, pepper, and some paprika on the eggs) and a small can of mushrooms that wanted used up, graced by three eggs and some Spanish cheese.  Get the sauce hot, pat some little hollows into which you crack the eggs, sprinkle them with little bits of cheese, cover and ignore until they're as poached as you prefer.*

     Tamara wandered through the kitchen half-awake, blinked at the stuff simmering away and allowed as how she'd pass: "That's too complicated to eat this early in the morning!"

     A good point; indeed, I used up most of my early-morning cleverness eating mine and now here you are, left with another food post.  The politicians will have to snark one another this morning -- but they do love it so.
* As an evening meal, fresh onions, mushrooms and perhaps a bit of meat in the sauce elevate this to something that goes quite comfortably with salad and garlic bread.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Oh, the Clumsy Snark! The Sneering!

     Senator Cruz has gone and got himself a Veep and the little men inside my TeeVee are nearly wetting themselves in their eagerness to be wicked about it.  One reporter called it an "arranged marriage" between Ms. Fiorina and the Senator.

     I've made no secret that I don't like any of the front-runners, or the next rank, or-- you get the picture.  But for pity's sake, it's a pretty reasonable political move; I'm not a big fan of Ms. Fiorina (I liked Hewlett-Packard; I have my doubts about Agilent) but she made a creditable run for the big prize and is no less-qualified for second place than Senator Cruz is for the Presidency.  (Neither one is especially qualified, if you ask me, a trait they share with Mr. Trump, Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders -- but why ask me?  Ain't you got an Internet and a mind of your own?)

     Can't they just report the facts? 

     ...No.  They can't.  Especially when it's the GOP. 

     I feel sorry for the Republican candidates, who never get a break from the lamestream media.  If pity were votes, they'd be shoo-in; but I don't think that's a viable way to pick a Chief Executive, no more than the, "Vote for me even if you don't like my platform, because I can win," strategy three of the four front-runners are presently employing.  (Or do Senators Sanders and Cruz no longer qualify as "front-runners?"  Depends on who you ask.)  What exactly do you win when you vote for a candidate whose positions you find repugnant?

That's Sorted

     Not settled.  No, I would not say "settled," possibly not ever.  But there is an agreed-upon Care Plan for my mom, she's got an in-room helper 24/7 (and the offspring are dropping in at random times throughout 24/7) until they can get her moved opposite the nurse's station, they're checking daily for skin damage (she's got a neck collar and a long removeable cast on her left hand and forearm and can't move much: you need to keep watch) and they are well aware that we're watching them. Physical Therapy knows exactly what her range of motion/weight bearing limits are and to be gentle and always have at least two people helping her when she's moving. (This has been a problem; the PT people, well-intentioned as they are, really try to get patients moving and stretching; which is great if you don't have a cracked hip, broken fingers, broken vertebra, etc.) And we belive we have all of her medical orders posted on both forms the place uses. 

     Yeah, "both," and 'splain me that?  Or at least why it's a separate entry process?  One's her actual chart, listing all medical orders, medications,observations, etc. including history, to which access is restricted to upper-level nursing types and on up; the other is a summary of active orders and meds, available to all staff via touchscreens in the halls and some pad-type wireless devices.  There are good reasons for limiting access to the first one, but the second one is -- or should be! -- just the currently-applicable parts of the first, possibly plus notes.  They're both nothing but glorified spreadsheets and getting the current parts of the chart onto the widely-available version should be a trivial bit of software.  Discrepancies between the two can be dangerous, especially since the chart is the primary document and where new information is first entered.  Be that as it may, it's not my job -- what my siblings and I can make our job is comparing the two, preferable with nurses looking over our shoulders, and make sure nothing gets overlooked.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

So Of Course

     ...The hospital sent Mom back to the home ahead of schedule.  She's stable and they have done all that can be done.

   So I'm off to an early-morning meeting at this (IMO) ill-managed retirement center.  This is the meeting where we write our contact numbers on the wall of her room with a Sharpie.  Most recent word is Mom will have a helper in her room 24/7 while she's healing up, and gets moved to a room across from the nurse's station ASAP.

     Still not a lot of trust on my side of table.  Gee, what a surprise.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Because Meetings Are So Useful

     Especially without a lawyer present.  Had a sit-down with my family and various brass at Mom's retirement home yesterday, right down to the (not so long on the job) Chief of Nursing.  There were promises that the guilty were being disciplined and heads would roll, etc., etc.  Also "education" would be addressed.  --What, stuff like the most basic of basic First Aid?  Seriously, staff's weak on that?  What are they, custodian's in nurse's scrubs?*

     Don't know about heads but my eyes were.  It was all "the floggings will continue until morale improves," with little to no understanding that these incidents -- and other, lesser, failings -- are only happening on nights and weekends.  They're indicative of a profoundly alienated (and probably insufficient) staff, especially at the lowest levels: they don't see managers unless they screw up and get yelled at, written up or worse and, in the way of nights & weekends everywhere, they figure if they do the very minimum (or fake it), then that's just that much less to screw up and chewed out about.

     This is one thing if you're stamping out cheap plastic widgets down to The Plant or stocking shelves at BiggieMart; it's a very different thing if your work product and client base is elderly, fragile, vulnerable human beings.

     I don't want my Mom to go back there, especially to their "rehab" (almost-a-hospital-looking) wing.  But she chose the place, her only surviving sister is there, too, and during days and evenings, you couldn't ask for better.  Outside those hours, it's another matter.  Even at the hospital she's in at present, doctors and paper-pushers are looking at her injuries and asking, "You're sure you want to go back there when we release you?"

     An important element here is that Mom's as all-there as you or me.  She's not strong, she's physically fragile, but she know what's going on.  She decides for herself.

     I'll tell you what, in the early days of my retirement, I intend to take up high-risk adventures, because when I imagine myself in Mom's position, there will be nobody to act as my advocate -- and I am not convinced my sibs and I are advocating effectively enough with three of us and a couple of well-adult nieces who just happen to be nurses (one's a Nurse-Practitioner!) to advise.  I think -- I hope -- we can get Mom decent care, even in the off hours, but it's going to be a struggle, and I don't think the management of that retirement home is going to be much use.  They don't see nature of the problem and it has somehow failed to register that there are more jobs for nurses and aides than there are qualified workers: push 'em too hard and they just go elsewhere.

     Oh, the administrators and managers running scared right now -- they should be; this would be a great story for the evening news and an even better lawsuit; I'm sure a little digging would turn up plenty more incidents happening to other patients and when you walk into court with a line-up like that....  Well!   There are other considerations, though: run a line-up of vulnerable seniors through days and weeks, possibly months of a trial?  Let defense attorneys pick their testimony to bits?  And having sued one facility, where are you going to put them that won't see them as ticking bombs instead of people in need of decent care?

     I have no answers.
* See, this is why people tell me I'm harsh and unfeeling -- which as near as I can figure, means I won't pretend bullshit is reality.  Hey, that's my Mom, the closest I had to an ally in an unhappy childhood. Tell it to the Marines.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mom's Back In Hospital

     Posting may be light.

     Mom's been in the "hospital-lite" wing of her retirement home for the last few weeks, recovering from pneumonia.  Getting her strength back is a long, hard slog but she's been making steady progress.  Still pretty weak.  Saturday, Mom was feeling a bit better, and called me.  We had a nice chat.

     Not too long after we rang off, she decided to move from her fancy hospital bed to the powered wheelchair.  That's a good thing; she was just about bedfast for awhile.  She rang for help and waited.

     And waited.

     And waited.

     She sat herself up on the edge of the bed and rang again.

     And waited.

     And waited.

     Mom is, as readers will have noticed, as independent and proud as a new mama cat.  She had been talking to me about needing to practice "transfers," the tricky art of moving from bed to wheelchair, from wheelchair to plain chair, and had she not just sat up by herself?  She had.  The chair was close, and were the wheels not locked?

     --I don't know.  Mom's memory cuts out as she grasps the chair.  What we do know is that her sister found her on the floor of her room some time later, with a nasty cut on her forehead and a purple-green set of broken fingers on her left hand, pinky, ring and social, all three of the minor players.  Something had gone very wrong with the transfer.

     The retirement home rendered ineffective first aid (mostly wrapping her head in gauze) and, as near as I can tell, faffed about waiting for the sole and only Nurse-Practicioner on duty to show up and make a decision.  They didn't call family members, despite all three of us being available; I'm on 24-hour call and my two sibs are never far from their telephones.  Fat lot of good that did!

     My aunt called my sister, my sister called the retirement home, and would you not know it, "they were just about to call" her.  Over an hour had elapsed since Mom was found; possibly two since it happened.  Upon arrival, the "highly trained staff" had still not called 911.  They told her even the ambulance would take a half-hour to get there.  Funny, it arrived 10 - 15 minutes after my sister called.

     EMS up that way is run by the fire department and they're serious about it; on finding a elderly person having fallen, she was in a neck stabilizer and on a backboard first thing.

     Ambulance, nearest hospital, ER; stitches (rather a lot of them), temporary cast, a head-to-toe check and then Medical Imaging.  ER Doc wasn't so happy with what he saw; after a chat with his more-than-peers, Mom was whisked off to the Level One Trauma Center hospital a few miles away, where they did more imaging.

     She'd cracked two vertebra, the very first two.  She'd broken some facial bones.  And those well-meaning nitwits nurses and helpers at the retirement center had wrapped her head in gauze, moving her head and neck in the process.

     'Scuse me while I take a moment to seethe.  Okay, it was a deep cut, and if you thought nothing bled like a scalp wound, try it while on blood thinners.  "Stop the bleeding" is high on the list when rendering first aid.  But so is "don't move a suspected neck injury," and an elderly person face-planting off a hospital bed is pretty much textbook neck injury territory.  They can't ram even one of their "highly trained staff" through a 90-day-wonder not-quite paramedic course?  The tuition is tax-deductible!  (Cripes, forget that, could they not hire a few former Boy and/or Girl Scouts?)

     Mom's surprisingly chipper, set up with a long (and removable, oh, this fine future) support cast for her fingers, with a fancy neck collar, the aforementioned stitches, etc. etc. etc.  But she's down to one hand for the short term, and she's not going to be doing any fancy dance steps for the next three months.

     Posting here may be light.  My sibs and I have got a retirement-home management to browbeat, at minimum.  --There are pretty strict limits on what nurses at the various levels of qualification can and cannot do (it's way worse than Girl Scouts or Freemasons, worse than the military, and you can thank our litigious society for much of it); but this crew flunked basic First Aid and followed up by flunking basic Call The Family.  If they can't call 9-1-1 on their own hook, well, the workaround is to call me or my siblings and either we'll call, or we will authorize them calling in our stead; and if the place they shirk for wants a signed okay in the files for CYA, they can have that, too. 

     This is Strike Two, the second time Mom's had a problem and not received timely or proper response.  Weekends appear to a very weak link; weekends and slackers trying to avoid actually dealing with what's right in front of them.  I can't fix them, but I can hold their bosses feet to the fire and I will.

     Meantime, Mom needs visited.  And sometimes help eating.  At least she's right-handed and the broken fingers are on her left hand, but it's cold, cold comfort for a nasty set of preventable injuries.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Will It Hash?

     Yes.  Yes, it will.

     This is quite tasty.  Leftover flank steak, fried potato, a little green onion, red bell pepper.  I fried an egg for on top but I ate it all immediately afterward, so you'll just have to imagine the egg.  A little cheese would gone well, too.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

I Have Grilled The Flank Steak

     Oh. My. Heavens.  It's glorious!  Hardwood charcoal (and some of the rosemary twigs I have been saving), the usual simple salt and pepper beforehand, plus a quick working-over with the tenderizing hammer, not too vigorously.  Popped it on the grill for five-six minutes a side, applied a little Irish butter to each side's first hot turn up, and let it sit a few minutes after I took it off the grill.
     The result is tender, flavorful, a bit like brisket with a lovely smokey flavor. 
     Served with a baked potato and simple salad -- arugula, red bell pepper, tomato, green onions, black olives and a garlic mushroom that needed et.

     And tomorrow, I'll be finding out if flank steak hash might be a thing. 


     Hunh?  Yeah, 'm up.  Gotta mow the lawn.  Gotta go to the market -- the Farmer's Market.

     More later.

Friday, April 22, 2016

While I Am Smashing The Toaster To Smitherernies, Enjoy This Ultralight Ornithopter

     It's relaxing to think of a rubber-band-powered ornithopter, a device so lightweght it seems to swim through air as heavy as soup.


     I can almost forget the rage and horror:  My toaster has betrayed me for the last time.  It has developed an unnatural hunger for Pop-Tarts; it's sad enough I can only find the one flavor without frosting, sadder still that it's not blueberry -- alas, Babylon! Alas, vaccinium corymbosum! -- and saddest of all that the toaster merrily pops up a pair of 'em with enough force that one leaps out of the bottom support (which is, I swear it, barbed), falls past it and jams in the crumbs at the bottom and the heating element at the side.  Being a Pop-Tart, it's got less structural integrity than wet tissue paper, so every attempt to free it results in more and more hot, sugared filling being smeared into unreachable corners, nooks and crannies.  That evil machine has got to go! (It's a brand that gets rave reviews, too.  Yeah, well, maybe.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Aspirational Federal Wallpaper

     I'm sure you've heard by now -- Andy Jackson will be riding on the back of the $20 bill, having been induced to give up his seat to Ms. Harriet Tubman (or as Iowahawk Twittered, "Founder of the Democratic party replaced by gun-toting Republican").  Personally, I wish they'd kicked him clean off; I don't much care for Jackson.  A brave man, a skilled commander of troops but a bit unhinged, it seems to me, by the time he won the Presidency, and with a history of loathing and ill-treatment of Native American Indians* that cannot be justified.  Oh, Woodrow Wilson was worse, far worse, and FDR made a huge dent in the proper functioning of the Fed'ral Gummint, but Andrew Jackson was a hateful guy, and reveled in it.

     Be that as it may (or may, in your opinion, not) that's not what I'm hear to talk about.  Looking up the design of the new twenty (one spoof version has her pointing away from the viewer and onward with a revolver in her left hand while beckoning the onlooker to follow with her right hand, an image I totally support, a great big finger in the eye to racists, sexists and those who would disarm citizens), I discovered some of the earliest modern Federal notes, 1896 gen-u-ine Silver Certificates rather than "trust-me" FRNs, with the best set of themes I have yet seen on money:

     The $1 bill shows History Instructing Youth -- in the functioning of the Federal Government.  "Youth" looks to be of grade-school age.  What's a Mutant Ninja Turtle or a Skywalker against James Madison?  The flip side gives us not merely George Washington but Martha Washington as well, in engravings of equal size and gravitas; remind me again how real women never, ever showed up on Federal paper money 'til last Wednesday?

     The bills get better from there: the $2 (dammit, we need more twos!), as Treasury puts it, "uses classical themes and allegory to portray Science Presenting Steam and Electricity to Industry and Commerce." Steam and Electricity being promising-looking kids, Industry and Commerce are young mothers, and Science is a slightly more mature woman.  (Oh, those sexist 19th-Centry menfolk and their disregard of the value and influence of women!)

     If that's not sufficiently technopositive, the $5 gives us "Electricity Presenting Light To The World," in a Classical tableau with sufficient artsy nekkidness that the T-men blushingly demur sharing it.  One short websearch later, I find you can buy it as a poster, you lecher.  Even the flip side (which Nanny Fed.Gov does share), with a double-bill of Phil Sheridan and Grover Cleveland Ulysses S. Grant,† has a stylized Ms. Electrical Illumination of 1896 at the center!

     Now that right there is Money With A Message, and for once, it's not, "We sure used to be hot stuff."  I'd sure like to see more in that line today.  Where's the Private Rocketry series of 2016?  The Pocket Computing 2010 bills? ...Oh, right, that geek stuff's not all that exciting anymore, I guess.  And the Energy Independence Through Fracking 2007 FRNs would be just too, too controversial....

     At least we got Harriet Tubman!
* This, like my phrase "The Civil War Between The States," is meant to please no one while stifling side-issue debate over terminology: you got your preferred wording plus some extra, so sit down and shaddup.
†  Thanks to Fuzzy for the correction on the $5!.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Election 2016: The Rough Beast Is Smelly, Too

     Indianapolis will get smeared with a little Trumpening today, over to the State Fairgroundss, where the mighty boor will honk and bleat, fresh from his triumph in New York state.

     I've made no secret of not being impressed with the candidates and as the pool has narrowed, I am even less so.  Mr. Trump is a clod in a bespoke suit; I'd call him a gangster if I didn't harbor suspicions la Cosa Nostra finds him appallingly crude, too.

     On the other side, his old friend Ms. Secretary Clinton came out on top, too, with the gleam of madness in her eyes and a blood-thirst worthy of a Disney villainess.

     Of all the possible pairings among the four frontrunners, I think this one is the worst -- a brute and a vindictive madwoman, both extremely polarizing.  Hillary Clinton knows the levers of power far too well and Donald Trump, much as I might wish Congress will loathe him (or his take on the job of POTUS) as cordially as they would Bernie Sanders, I suspect he's much too typical of the banksters and captains of industry who butter the Congressthings bread -- or their feet, if they get out of line.  Both candidates have preposterously high negatives and neither bodes well for the country, if you ask me.

     The also-rans, interestingly enough, strike me as less vicious and perhaps only a cynic would speculate that was why they came in second.  Ted Cruz certainly plays sincere but to my eye and ear continues to have a whiff of Elmer Gantry -- or perhaps Pat Buttram as "Mr. Haney" from Green Acres.  He has the charm of being an Congressional insider who never quite got inside and who would keep that howling mob-in-office howling and likely not doing much. And then there's Senator Sanders, who manages to radiate the precise kind of left-wing avuncularity of that friendly, happy-go-lucky draft-dodging uncle to whom you were warned to never, ever mention the name "Nixon," lest he fly into a three-hour rant.  He, too, would keep Congress busily engaged in internal debate and we could count on hearty mutual dislike between the two branches with even some hope of it being bipartisan.

     But from where I sit, what all four have in common is they've got no business in the Oval Office.  Senator Cruz comes closest to showing some understanding of what the job actually entails -- which is probably why he's got the least chance of attaining it.  The other three appear positive they're actually running for God-Emperor and will rule by decree, the Constitution being just some old bunkum only geeks and fools bother to read and no sane person would attempt to apply.

     Got plenty of popcorn right here next to my Libertarian straight-ticket ballot for the general election.  Y'all can vote for whoever you like and chide me for refusing to pick a possible winner but I'll bedamned if I'll vote for any of these four.   The winner's going to spend four years beating up on civil liberties and the economy and at the end, why, we'll look back on the crash of 2008 with bittersweet nostalgia for the Good Old Days.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Beef Stroganoff: It's What's For Dinner

     I kept noticing "skirt steak" at the grocer's.  Never had it but it's priced like-- well, steak; it must pretty good.

     Found myself hungry for beef stroganoff this morning (this is what comes of listening to Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije Suite!) and it seemed me that skirt steak would do nicely in it.

     Stopped off at the market on the way home.  Alas, no green onions, no spring onions; I made do with leeks and fresh chives.  Skirt steak they had, and good brown mushrooms, golden German egg noodles, beef stock, a little whipping cream (I'm not a huge fan of sour cream, though I made sure to buy some for Tam), and I had the spices and flour.

      Used the shortcut for thickening (flour the meat, cook it, set aside; when you add it back in and then pour broth over, stir and the sauce will thicken wonderfully.  Um, keep stirring as it comes to boil.  This is like making gravy). I added an Anaheim pepper and in hindsight, I do not think adding one Serrano would have been out of order -- I made enough for four or five people and the cream would have smoothed out the heat.

     The quick version is, oh yes!  Skirt steak works very well in stroganoff.

     N.B.: some of Scandinavian countries make a version with sausage instead of beef.  This is worth considering.  Kielbasa?  Chorizo?

Cat Food Of Irony

     About a week ago, I started feeding Tam's cat Random Numbers "Rannie" Wu special food for kitties with sensitive stomachs.  At first, it seemed to help but it has been increasingly obvious that while she likes it, she cannot keep it down.  It gives her more trouble than the "senior cat" formula we had been feeding her.

     So it's back to the old folk's food for Miss Rannie, starting tonight.  Maybe I should try buying her feeder mice if that doesn't work!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Breakfast Omelette

     The ingredients looked good and I think they worked well:

     Mild Italian sausage, shiitake mushrooms, a little Manchego and Iberico cheese.  The eggs were fortified with crushed tortilla chips.  Tasty!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Some Notes On "Some Notes On The Apparent Passage Of Time"

First off, I ain't planning on goin' away; I blog mostly to amuse myself. If it entertains others as well, that's great -- but if I was doing this for the egoboo, I'd've run plain out, screaming, a long time back.

Second, I was feeling the cold breeze of Time on the back of my neck. This happens more and more as the years add up, they tell me.

Third, you're all special, one way or another. Blue ribbon or short-bus? That's between you and yourself!
* * *
I am presently relaxing in the warm -- okay, slightly sweaty -- glow of having done my taxes. Can't find hide nor hair of 2014s, though I know I did 'em. So this year got printed out and put in a nice file folder with all the preceding years, way back to the time I made up for (mumblety-mumble) years of owing the Feds money that I could only pay back by letting them eat every refund. (Memo to self: owning rental property is probably not for me, unless I get a whole lof ot help filing tax returns.) About a decade after that mess, I came into a big lump of overtime and squared up with IRS and their Hoosier kid-sister agency, and have since striven to avoid further problems, mostly by being too small to be worth squashing.

Later today, Decisions: mow the lawn or go for a nice late lunch at Public Greens?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Some Notes On The Apparent Passage Of Time

     It's strange -- any more, Winter seems to last forever, but years flip by like a cinematic cliche.  So much has changed, so much stays the same.

     When I started blogging, The Truth Laid Bear blogging ecosystem was kind of fading; Technorati was a going enterprise and Sitemeter was hot.  Over the years, Technorati turned its attention elsewhere, or maybe just off, and Sitemeter eventually decided that loading obtrusive adware was the way to monetize.  Tam moved to StatCounter and I followed soon after.

     At one time, I looked at the numbers daily.  Any more, every few weeks is often enough.

     There's a definite downward trend.  I don't pay the five bucks a month to save stats forever, so I only have about a year, but it's got a slope.  Eventually, it'll be like it was back in the beginning, just me and some web-crawlers from search engines, maybe a friend stopping by every so often.

     Things have a natural cycle and blogging is on the downside.  While Twitter seems to be fading, other short-form social media (Facebook, mostly) are still growing.  This is the way of things.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Prank That Bites Twice

     First, one person got pranked.  Then a whole lot of broadcast stations. And the second bite may get expensive.  By now, you've seen this video:

     Yes, it's a funny, mean joke.  But a few seconds in, when the hoax really starts, there's a sound that comes over the radio: a buzz like an old-fashioned modem, right before the fake CDC announcement of a "mysterious virus."

     It is a kind of "modem." That's either an EAS tone* or a close copy and in either event, radio and TV stations aren't supposed to put it on the air unless there's a real emergency.  Yes, even for a funny joke that we all know is a joke; the Feds figure when you hear those distinctive sounds, you should be minded to pay attention and the weekly tests are all the "crying wolf" the system needs.

     Put the tones on the air outside of tests or the real thing, and you'll be facing a fine; such fines run to the millions of dollars.  "Good Morning America" ran the tones yesterday while sharing this prank, and so did lots of other radio and TV stations.  ("Today," on a competing network, edited them out.  That network was already fined over this sort of thing a few years ago, in connection with their ads for some "end-of-civilization" TV movie.)

     Picture the FCC with a radar gun hiding behind a billboard along the highway as a long line of speeders come into sight.  $$$$, bye-bye!


     And that's how a prank bites twice.
* Technically, it's AFSK, "audio frequency-shift keying," a way of encoding ASCII text that is used by EAS to carry emergency messages.  The normal format is three long chirps followed by three short ones.  Every radio and TV station in the U.S. has a widget that can read these messages and pass them along; they monitor two or more other stations over the air, plus an Internet-delivered feed.  In various forms, it's been around since the Cold War.  Recently, FEMA (possibly looking for something they can get some respect for) has gotten very serious about making the system work for more than just bad weather.  To their credit, they actually have been knocking off the rust and finding -- and patching! -- the weak spots, something FCC was always loathe to do.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


     ...I'd write a long post, but I promised the cats I would swap out their water fountain for a freshly-cleaned one and I'm at least a day late already!

     The water around here is very hard, so the little running-water dishes have to be cleaned several times a year.

     ETA: Out of four "Drinkwell" cat-waterers (two old style saved for parts, two recent ones) we appear to have exactly one lid for the filter compartment.  How does this happen?  I don't know.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Keep On Keaton On

     I embedded The Railrodder yesterday.  The National Film Board of Canada shot a "making of" film during the production and it's a fascinating look at the man at work, almost the only glimpse we have of what went into his incredible stunts.  Buster Keaton Rides Again is a little under an hour long and well worth your time.

     --Look closely and you'll see the director occasionally taken aback by the audacity of some of the physical gags proposed by the then 69-year-old actor.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Weekend Report

     Spent nearly half the day yesterday with a friend from online, passing through town with a new -- and remarkably arcane -- find.  (A U. S. Army railcar, the kind of little motorized gadget seen in The Railrodder, only Army-austere, without even a motor housing.) (The Railrodder?  Oh, this:

     Ah, that Buster Keaton!)

     Given the number of hobbies we have in common -- science fiction, amateur radio, old technology, shooting, aviation -- we talked and talked, and enjoyed a lovely brunch at Public Greens.  A nice way to spend a chilly day! (Also, he had me sign a couple of copies of my  book.  Perhaps some day I'll be bored by that.  But not yet.)

     Saturday, I visited the range...
Shot at 21 feet, about a hundred rounds of .22
      A couple of antique stores...
The base of this tiny, working toy will cover the palm of your hand.  From the 1920s or '30s.
     And visited my Mom.  She's still recovering from her bout of pneumonia, doing a bit better every day.  I had found a gift for her while shopping, a tiny brass poodle, a "pet" she can have nearby that doesn't need to be walked or fed.

     Spent the rest of that day housecleaning.  Mom is a good influence on me.
We do have nice skies during this unseasonable weather.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Because Art Has Hazards

     In Broad Ripple and SoBro, the city has had to install special fire hydrants in case the Surrealism gets out of control:
     At least that's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

It's A Spring Weekend, Hooray!

     ...It's below freezing.  And it's snowing off and on.  Whatever happened to Global Warming? 

Friday, April 08, 2016

Life On The Mississippi

     I'm reading this Mark Twain book for the first time.  In my younger days, I read Science Fiction almost exclusively, with only the occasional mystery for leavening -- Sherlock Holmes and later, Travis McGee.  I was fortunate to encounter Heinlein and Sturgeon, Clarke and Asimov and Cyril Kornbluth and other non-hacks early on, so it was well-written SF; but I missed some books and Life On The Mississippi is one I should have read earlier.  I suppose after childhood encounters with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, I thought of his work as kid stuff, but I've known better for decades.  (The essay Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses, for example.)

     Life... reads a bit like SF; Twain was chronicling a way of life and a line of work that was unfamiliar to most readers and rapidly waning even as he put pen to paper, so he's obliged to provide a great deal of background.  His eye for character, scene and story is unmatched, his turn of phase deftly snarky* -- but the prose he employs...!  It may be from Twain that many of us picked up a taste for the em-dash and semicolon, and from whom we learned to drop in a comma any time we felt the need to draw a breath.  Modern (and very smooth) styles -- Kim Stanley Robinson, for example, as "clean" a pen as you'll find -- tend to be sparing of the less-common marks of punctuation and rather less conversational; even Twain's fellow (if a generation or two later) Missourian, Robert A. Heinlein, was not so fond of the conversational style as Samuel Langhorne Clemens.  I think we owe him much for that; at a time when "good" writing aped classical languages and aspired to stilted formality, Mark Twain loosened his tie, sat down, put his feet up and had a chat with the reader.

     Not quite halfway through the book at present.  At this point, Twain is taking a sentimental trip downriver on one of the few remaining steamboats, twenty-odd years after his time piloting.  By then, well after the Civil War Between The States, the modern Mississippi was already taking shape; tugboats with their long lines of barges had replaced steamboats for serious cargo hauling; the railroads were in ascendance and growing.  A few steamboats still plied their trade, carrying passengers and minor freight from one river town to another, and pilots still told tall tales, looking out at the vast river from their high, glassed-in pilot-houses, reading reefs and shoals in the motion of the water and steering accordingly.
* Describing the span of years that elapsed between LaSalle's early exploration of the mighty river and the beginning of "anything like a regular and active commerce" upon it, Twain tells us, " sovereigns had occupied the throne of England, America had become an independent nation, Louis XIV. and Louis XV. had rotted and died..." In that order? Ouch!

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Sunday-Go-To-Meetin' Asparagus

     One of the local grocers occasionally offers "Sunday Asparagus," four small bundles of baby asparagus, each neatly wrapped in slices of prosciutto.*  I love the idea but I always seemed to be noticing it only when there were one or two left and those a but long in the tooth.

     I was looking for something quick-ish last night (it's Tam's regular Game Night online) and lo! there the stuff was, and freshly-made, too.  Seven minutes in the microwave (alongside seasoned quartered potatoes) and my-oh-my, it's tasty!  I think something Hollandaise-ish in the way of sauce is traditional; I put a dab of horseradish on mine instead and it worked nicely.

     This would be easy enough to make (and cheaper, too) when tender, early asparagus is available.  Prosciutto will stick to itself fairly well (if yours won't, use a toothpick).  Prep time would take longer but not by much. The flavors go well together.
* Which is how you say "really good ham" in Italian.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

"Your Political Ideas Would Never Work"

     The title is an assertion often made -- and it's true!  Each one of us has some mental map, vague or detailed, of how the world would be run if only it were just our own individual self making the decisions.

     But politics -- government -- doesn't happen in a vacuum.  Even in a universe full of clones of James Madison or Supreme Glorious Leader Kim Il Whoever, the clone who has to muck out the sewers is going to have a markedly different experience -- and hence different opinions and expectations -- from the clone managing the power utility.  It's a group effort and never as neat and organized as the charts and graphs and bureaus of departments with nicely-labelled office doors make it look: even in the most repressive of police states, there's an element of consensus and if everyone but El Supremo and his loyal circle suddenly stood up and said, "To hell with this, I'm gonna go do my own thing," the regime wouldn't last out the day.  I practice, it never happens like that; there are always enough assorted True Believers, timid followers, pragmatic opportunists working the system and so on that instead of thirty million happy, free-thinking "Gands" out of an Eric Frank Russell story, you get the Spanish Civil war.

     Society, culture, the arena or flowerpot where politics happens,* is a group effort -- an indirect group effort, made up of all the opinions and decisions of you and everyone around you.  It's not just what you do in the voting booth, in Congresses and Parliaments and Party Conferences.  And though it is frequently presented as an all-or-nothing proposition, it rarely really is.  In the U.S., in recent memory, both of the parties have been foolish enough to muse about "permanent majorities" during times when they have held both the Legislative and Executive branches.  Yeah, don't get too comfy.  Majorities end; parties fade: just ask the Whigs.

     So when I foolishly let myself get drawn into a debate with a critic of anarchism on Facebook (it's not all a wretched hive of scum and villainy, though one is never very far from sight there), we kept colliding over an issue that doesn't really exist: the guy kept saying, "If you get what you want, it would actually be a hell on Earth, red in tooth and claw, neighbor against neighbor--"†  Okay, say he's right (he isn't) -- so what?  I'm not going to get what I want.  If I am really, really lucky, over the course of my life I may see the scope and power of government in the United States shrink a tiny bit.

     We're all vectors; we have a direction and a magnitude.  We contribute to the resultant overall vector of our culture -- we can't not do so.  Given the small influence any one of us has, there is no reason not to be true to your inner compass to the full extent possible without initiating force or committing fraud.
* If you're using the flowerpot metaphor, it's reader's choice whether politics is the flower -- or the fertilizer.
† He even had well-poisoning.  And the lack of mutually-agreeable medium of exchange.  There may have been lepers.  It was enough to make a hog weep, really.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Summertime, And The Weather Is Freezy...

     Okay, it's not Summer yet, but it is Spring.  It's also 26°F.  Oh, joy.  They tell me it'll kill the pollen and the fleas.  Alas, candidates for public office are undeterred.  We need a keep-away spray for 'em.

Monday, April 04, 2016

It's Offcially Morel Season -- And Just Chilly Enough For Stew

     Tam and I stopped in at Locally Grown Gardens yesterday and they had four big baskets of morel mushrooms in their cooler!  Naturally,we bought a bag of them and last night, I fried 'em in a little light olive oil and served them alongside home-made oxtail stew.  This was a happy combination; the delicate falvor of the morels went nicely with the hearty stew.

     Oxtail stew itself is not difficult to make, though you do need time and a plain stewpot -- don't use non-stick. Around here, it's sold on the bone in 2 to 3-inch sections, the larger of which are nearly cubical. Start with one or two of them (or several smaller ones), salted, peppered and browned on all sides in a very little oil, then add water (or beef broth if you're in a hurry) to about half-cover, deglaze, cover and simmer.  Don't boil it.  After awhile -- maybe a half-hour for the quick version and a couple of hours or more for the slow version -- add a can of crushed tomatoes,  liquid and all.  This should cover the meat.  Now you can chop and saute half an onion and some carrots (etc -- a cubed turnip or a little cabbage wouldn't hurt and neither would a pepper-of-choice) and celery if you'd like (I didn't have any -- I used celery seed to add a similar flavor).  Cut up a potato or two in half-inch chunks and add that.  Then saute the other half of the onion and a large fresh tomato with basil and whatever other spices appeal to you (maybe a little rosemary and sage?) and once the onion has gone translucent, add it to the stewpot.  You can "lean" the recipe depending on the spices you add; lots of cultures make oxtail dishes and they all have their own take on what works.  (Search engines are your friend -- IIRC, my version is very loosely based on a Spanish version.)

     By now, the oxtail has been cooking at least an hour and you can fish it out, let it cool a bit, and begin snipping meat from the bone with kitchen shears-- it's a convoluted shape and there's really a lot of meat on it.  (The longer the oxtail cooks, the easier to get the meat off the bone.)  Just snip away as much as you can over the pot and drop the bone back in.  Let it simmer some more -- twenty minutes, a half-hour -- and trim more meat from the bone.  Continue at least until the potato is cooked and the aroma is driving you mad.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Leave the bone simmering as long as the soup is cooking, it's got lots of flavor.  Serve with good crackers or crusty bread.
* You can "stretch" it with a little stew beef and/or sausage, which takes less cooking time, but you want oxtail to be at least a third or more of the total amount of meat by weight before cooking, so that good, rich taste isn't lost.I'm a big fan of frying a little sausage separately (so the fat can be drained) and adding it to soups.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

I Slept!

     Went back to the doctor yesterday.  He prescribed a different antibiotic and a much stronger cough syrup.  Yeah, cough syrup. I didn't think too much of it at the time.  After all, it's mostly treating a symptom.  Being of a technical mindset, I know in my bones that you want to go after the root causes.

     Ahem.  Perhaps this is not the entirety of treatment.

     The fancy snake-oil has already made a difference.  A big difference.  The last few weeks, I have been remembering dreams much more than usual.  In hindsight, that's a sure sign of not getting deep sleep.  I took some of the hydrocodone-containing cough syrup last night and slept like a log.  I feel much better this morning.

     The doctor said I might not have been sleeping too well and that the stuff would help; I took it for the usual rah-rah talk.  Guess again!

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Friday, April 01, 2016

Locked And Loaded

     I remain convinced that the phrase, "What's all this, then?" and its various regional permutations is the single most powerful weapon in the policeman's arsenal.