Saturday, July 11, 2020

Better

     We got the blame thing working.  I still suspect somebody, somehow managed to block the exact octet we had been using, somewhere in the chain of more-or-less managed switches between here and there -- but I also don't care, as long as it's working.  Someone else can unearth and defuse that UXB at some future date; it won't be me.   The likes me and my old-technology peers of aren't allowed into the managed switches because, well, golly, if the specially-trained professionals can foul them up so badly, think of the damage us ignorant, blundering Philistines might do? A-hem.

     Afterward, I went for a walk in the very breezy outdoors and visited the biggest milkweed patch that I can get to -- sweet-scented and filled with bugs, including a gracefully flittering Monarch butterfly.  They're home to many of the good old red-with black spots, capsule-shaped milkweed beetles, who will test your hearing by chittering at you in very high frequencies if you pick one up and hold it to your ear -- if you can; they're wily and quick, and will drop like a rock if your shadow crosses them.  I can't hear them any more, so I don't try to catch them.  The milkweed, some plants standing nearly six feet tall, is also popular with iridescent, metallic-looking Japanese beetles, an invasive species but interesting-looking.  But it's the big bumblebees that like them most of all; I only saw one one honeybee* but every plant had at least two bumblebees fighting the breeze to hang on, and one cluster of blossoms had three of the large bees, getting in one another's way as they loaded up with goodies to take home.

     It doesn't take away the stress, but it makes it easy to bear.  Just about to the end of this project and then I'll see what's next.
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* Apparently milkweed is a risky venture for the smaller bees -- they can be trapped by the flowers!  Man, nobody's got easy work, not even the bugs.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Frustrations

     Over the least couple of weeks, I have been beating my head against a wall over a couple of essentially penny-ante network configuration problems at work.

     There has long been a conflict of expectations at my work between my department of old-school geeks and the IS/IT department of new-style geeks.  Merging our departments didn't help.  IS/IT still has their own command structure and while they want (and generally get) access to everything my department works with, it is not a two-way street: everything they work with is deemed far too mysterious and arcane to be touched by those of us in the pocket-screwdriver crowd.  We think 99.9" uptime is risibly inadequate; they think it's a golden achievement.

     I can't get too specific -- even that last paragraph is pushing too much, but I'm so frustrated that I don't much care.

     We have a big job underway and one corner of it needs to be on the network.  That's a simple task, one we have done over and over, but this time, it's somehow -- and unexplainably -- Just Too Hard.  I've been just going along, doing what I am told, and I'm sick and tired of it; unless there has been some sudden huge flash of insight on the part of my opposite numbers, today I'm going to see how big a sword I can take to this Gordian knot to get the project moving forward.   I'm not spending another afternoon doing piddling tasks and staring anxiously at my e-mail every few minutes and sending an inquiry every hour, only to be told at the end of the day that "they forgot."

Thursday, July 09, 2020

So... Um, Nope. Nothing.

     I am pretty much drawing a blank.  There's not a lot to talk about that isn't highly-politicized, or at least an on-ramp to a highly-politicized argument, and that can of worms is already rancid.

     Tam and I are watching Stranger Things, which is...interesting.  I'm not usually much of a fan of TV and movies with teens and kids in the leading roles, but the series setting of "Hawkins, IN" is very loosely based on Marion, Indiana* (minus the Mississinewa River and plus more hills than actually exist) and I just happen to have spent several years there.  That bought it time enough to draw me into the story.  It's interesting so far.
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* This is from some web-published material that includes a series-official map of the town.  There is a case to be made for a Southern Indiana location based on later events, but Season One includes references to Jonesboro as a nearby small town, which puts Hawkins very near Marion, so...  There are even quarries around Marion.  Nothing so grand as the one in the TV series, but they exist.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Right Up The Ol' Nose

     I had to get tested for an active COVID-19 infection -- again -- yesterday.  My doctor wants to see me in her office (so much for skipping that*), but my symptoms were close enough to their criteria for a lingering version of the stuff that testing was mandatory.

     And of course, there's a significant mismatch between how long it takes to get the results (three to five days) and when her staff wanted to schedule me (Friday).

     The test itself?  A lot of waiting.  No Lilly-style drive-through assembly line this time.  The parking lot was pretty active, people pulling in and out, people getting tested in their cars every half-hour or so by sweating spaceman, but turnover was slow.  You were supposed call in from your car on arrival.  I did so and promptly got put on hold for twenty-plus minutes of repetitive music-on-hold.

     I was reading a book from Kindle in my lap and holding my cellphone in my off hand when I nodded off  and dropped the phone, which vanished under the driver's seat, speaker blaring.  I had to get out, open the back door, and grope blindly until I found it.   That was about as exciting as the process got.  Eventually  then the office picked up, took my information, asked what I was driving, and promised someone would be out "shortly."

     Shortly had become pretty tall when, forty-five minutes later, a young man came clumping out in a moon suit, sample kit in hand, headed for my car.  After the usual "name, spell it, date of birth" exchange, he had me look up at the doorframe and leaned in, distressingly-long swab in hand, warning that it was going to be "irritating like a turned up shirt-collar label."

     That's another thing that's not like the test at Lilly: this was no soft and gentle sterile cotton swab, but a nasty little sponge on the end of a long plastic wand.  It was indeed irritating.  Having the thing up in my sinus cavity made me cough, which I tried to suppress without a lot of success.  There was a good reason for the nurse's moon suit.

     And now it's tic-tock, tic-tock, for results Friday at the earliest.

     Today, I've got to go get some blood work plus a COVID-19 antibody test, one my doctor says is highly reliable.  And won't that be fun?
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* Blood pressure medicine aside, I'm questioning why I even have a family doctor.  What's the point, really?  They run doctors like machines on an assembly line these days, so there's none of the long-established personal relationship one used to have with one's physician.  I'm too old for my robust good health and happiness to matter -- nobody is more invisible than a middle-aged woman, in healthcare or elsewhere -- but not so old that I'm fragile.  There are doc-in-a-box places everywhere and plenty of good ERs nearby if anything actually noticeable happens.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Doctor Today

     Just a regular doctor's appointment -- which I had forgotten until the medical outfit's automated system sent me a text Thursday of last week, after their close of business.  Too late to ring them up and ask if if this trip was really necessary, and could we not just do it over the phone?

     Yeah, thanks for the short notice.  I don't want to go.  It has been my intention to avoid medical facilities until we got to the other side of this pandemic* unless there was dire need for it.  Had I remembered this appointment in time, I would have cancelled it or tried to change it to online.  I went to the website, where you can ask for prescription refills, ask questions of the doctors or nurses, pay bills, fill out forms....  In fact, just about anything except cancel an appointment, which it specifically mentions Cannot Be Done Online.

     Hold on, my cellphone is ringing.... 

     Just got off the call.  It was my doctor's office.  Guess what?  It's a video visit after all!  I'd better take my temperature and blood pressure first, then.
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* Which may not be the word to use, for a very encouraging reason: the death rate has to be above a certain level for CDC to call a spreading virus a "pandemic."  The death rate in the U. S. from COVOID-19 has been dropping and is now quite close to that threshold.   It may head back up again; for obvious reasons, deaths lag new infections by several weeks.  Conversely, the medical profession has learned at lot about managing the worst cases, which is helping survival rates.  For the present, there's a chance this thing is turning less deadly. 

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Pork Roast At Roseholme Cottage

     It was something I'd been wanting to try for awhile: a version of my Mom's Sunday Pork Roast, a dish that cooked slowly in the oven for hours, filling the house with a maddeningly tantalizing aroma.  For the last hour, it would be joined in the pan by potatoes, onions, carrots and celery, which cooked in the juices under a little aluminum-foil "tent" and emerged darkened and flavorful.

     The oven here at Roseholme cottage is not so great; the elderly gas range is overdue for replacement.  With temperatures in the 90s, running it for several hours is a non-starter.  I do, however, possess an entirely adequate charcoal grill.  It's not going to make the outdoors noticeably hotter.

     Our neighborhood grocer has been stocking nice-looking pork roasts recently -- and the price is a fraction of the cost of beef.

     Obviously, I had to try it.  With a pork roast in hand -- or in a very large freezer bag -- I made a marinade of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, a little garlic powder and a teaspoon of onion powder, some thyme and rosemary, black pepper and shichimi togarishsi, and gave it a day to soak.  (Some kind of fruit would have been a nice addition -- cherries, a fresh pear, an apple, possibly even citrus.)

     Yesterday, I stoked the grill.  I've been using excelsior -- plane shavings -- from nice pine to start the hardwood kindling and charcoal, and they work a treat.  I built a big chimney of kindling and charcoal, and set it going with a single match.  It turned out to be barely enough charcoal to do the job -- but enough, nevertheless.
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
     After a mere two and a half hours, hey, presto!  I thought some chili peppers would be nice to add.
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
     Done enough to add vegetables.  We had a few to use up: potato, onion, carrot, celery, turnip, radishes, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts (Yes, I dropped a mushroom.):
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
     I covered the pan with aluminum foil.  After an hour that included some desperate poking together of coals and blowing on them to to get the heat up, it looks good--
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO

     --From any angle.
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     And just as good on the plate!

TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
     It was very tasty, a bit spicy, and the roast was plenty moist.  I'll be trying this again, and starting with a little more charcoal.  Was it as good as my Mom's?  Probably not.  But I wouldn't have been ashamed to serve it to her.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

A Glorious Fourth

     It should probably be the Second, but 18-Century editorial processes being what they were, it was the Fourth when the Declaration was in final form, so here we are.

     And it is glorious, the significant opening move of the most successful revolution in the history of the world.  You may not see as many fireworks this year; you may not be spending time at the show pressed check by jowl with strangers and friends (and, look, that's for the best), but there are still backyard and small-scale or socially-distanced "...Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more," as John Adams wrote, and even a little of his "...Pomp and Parade...," just from a safe physical distance.

      And the best part of it, a degree of freedom unparalleled in human history, a set of basic assumptions about the inherent individual rights of everyone that would later be partially codified in the Bill of Rights as a list of things that the government was to keep its sticky hands off?  We still have that, too.

     I have seen and read a lot of fussing over public health measures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.  And they are annoying at times.  The shutdowns go well beyond mere inconvenience, but we've already had 'em, so big a lump that if there are more, it's not going to perturb the economy at anywhere near the same scale as has already irrevokably happened.  But masks, handwashing, social distance?  Those things are not infringements.  Not only by custom of long standing -- John Adams and his Revolutionary peers lived in a world of epidemics and pesthouses, of risky and sometimes compulsory variolation* followed by quarantine -- but by black letter law and judicial decisions.

     You are free.   Free to make your own decisions, for good or ill.  But you are not free to make decisions for other adults, and that includes the decision to be exposed to a dangerous pandemic.  Go look the fireworks, or set off a few yourself, and reflect on our history, which is far more than a collection of partisan talking points.
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* No less a personage than George Washington ordered soldiers of the Continenal Army to undergo this early method of smallpox immunization.

We Got The Good Tech

     It was the same guy who unsnarled things the time, in December of 2014.  In a world of overworked and undertrained telephone techs, he's only the first item, too busy: the man knows what he is doing and works at it calmly and methodically.  I don't know what he found (it is the Phone Company, and there are things mere mortals are not meant to know) but apparently it was over at the box that turns our connection from the phone switch (the former CLifford CO) into a POTS line, a couple of streets over.

     We're back in business, dial tone, DC, Internet and all.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Technical Note

     The Phone Company is supposed to come out today and fix our dial-up line at Roseholme Cottage.  If they show up at all, odds are better than 50-50 that they'll kill our Internet access, since it's on a different pair in the same drop.

     So I'm posting this now.  If you don't see anything from me for a day or two, it will most likely be an AT&T-created outage.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Cooking By Short-Wave

     The twelve-year-old microwave oven failed last week.  Tam bought it not too long after she moved in; my dinky 700-Watt zapper with a balky mechanical timer wasn't enough oven to keep her fed.  She got a modern one, 1100 Watts and big enough to warm up a whole ham.*  It worked well for years.

     Last week, the microwave finished failing: the "buttons" on the control panel have been gradually dying for a couple of month.  It's a problem Litton and Amana solved in the 1970s, with non-tactile glass-surface touch controls -- but the solution didn't stick.  Membrane switches are cheaper to produce and less finicky.

     But they do fail.  The "1" and "6" buttons when first, then the whole left half of the number panel and, slowly, all but the rarely-used controls at the top and the "start" and "stop" buttons.  It wasn't much of a problem, really.  On that model, pressing "start" calls up a thirty-second run and additional presses add thirty more seconds, up to a total of five minutes.  If you're mainly using the microwave to bake potatoes and defrost leftovers (the "defrost" button worked until the last), it's not a problem.

     Then the "start" button died.  Punching around, the only one that still worked was "popcorn," a three-minute, 100% power cycle.  That was usable but it was clearly time.  I ordered a new microwave and it showed up yesterday.

     Why didn't I fix the old one?  Membrane switches is why.  It'll be a bespoke layout, conductive material screen-printed and fused onto plastic.  If it peels apart -- not all will -- you can clean them up, even paint new conductive goop over the old pads, but it's a short-term fix.  There's not much to work with there and nothing will hold up as well as the original.  It's a hundred-dollar-or-less consumer good.   The part that does the actual microwaving?  That's all working fine.

     The Amana RR9 chassis I remember fondly from having been a tech in the factory of a subcontractor that built the controllers for them, way back before the not-yet-public Internet snuck off college campuses?  That thing cost as much as a crummy used car.  The limitation was magnetron life, and those were field-replaceable.  The controller interface was simple -- power in, switched power out, and a pair of leads for a temperature probe in the higher-end models, all on a Molex connector.  In a pinch (or, say, a test equipment maintenance shop), you could replace the controller with a toggle switch; add a pushbutton in parallel to pulse the tube to make popcorn.  Sell a family one of those ovens, and they'd have a microwave for thirty years -- if they could afford to buy it in the first place.  Which is possibly why cheaper, overseas-made ovens displaced them from the market.
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* This is not to imply that Tam considers a whole ham a proper snack.  My old microwave, though, wouldn't even fit a some dinners.

   

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

"Accidental" Dinner

     There was a nice smoked ham steak in the fridge.  Not a lot in the way of vegetables -- some canned stuff, plus half a red bell pepper, fresh carrots and radishes.  I was due for a trip to the grocery, but my work day ran late.

     I didn't want to make Hoppin' John again -- besides, I didn't have any onion or blackeyed peas.  Maybe fry up the ham steak and make succotash with canned corn and cannellini beans?  I thought about that on the way home but it seemed a bit...thin.

     In the kitchen, I looked at the available ingredients, and cubed up the ham with a little garlic powder and a teaspoon of onion powder, then chopped up a half-dozen baby carrots and a couple of big radishes, following with the bell pepper, diced, once the rest was well-cooked.  Adding a can of the white beans, about half drained, and then the corn, well-drained, resulted in a nice-looking mixture.  I put in three bay leaves, some sage, parsley, celery seed, basil and some black pepper, covered it and let it simmer for ten minutes.

     The result was a thick and flavorful stew, a few steps away from ham and beans.  We ate it with some garlic naan left over from chili the night before,* which worked very nicely.
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* The Indian bread is hardly cornbread but pairs well with chili -- and keeps better than any cornbread you can buy.  Think of it as a puffy flour tortilla.

The Vice-President Says "Mask Up!"

     Yesterday, Vice-President Pence joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in advising Americans to wear a mask to help control the spread of COVID-19.  Could we please go back to planting signs in our yards and putting bumper stickers on our cars to show our political affiliation now?

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Nearly Nine Years

     It was some time not too long before August, 2011 when I finally gave up on the Old Reliable brand of trash can that I kept buying more of, repairing and being frustrated by.  I like step-to-open trash cans.  In a home with cats, some kind of lidded can for kitchen trash is essential.

     Trash cans from an upstart outfit had been showing up at the big-box hardware store for a few years back then -- slick, modern designs, at about half again the price of what I'd been buying -- and, after yet another allthread and plastic washer repair had failed when I stepped on the treadle (with a loud thump and pieces all over the floor), I decided I'd spend the extra to see about the new stuff.

     Simplehuman trash receptacles come with a five-year warranty.  The first one I bought was solidly built, free of nickel-dime "value-engineering."  After nearly nine years, ours failed -- mildly, the treadle is worn enough that the lid doesn't open all the way. 

     The "Old Reliable" trash cans I had been buying lasted a year at most before needing tricky repairs, which might last another year.  So that's 4.5 times the life at less than twice the price. Better is also less costly, and by a considerable amount.  Plus they've got size and shape-matched bags, which (if you buy in bulk), are about the same price as one-size-sorta-fits.  I was happy to buy another Simplehuman can of the same model we'd used for so long.  (Their website doesn't show the older, less-expensive designs; I bought my replacement at Amazon and it's just like the one I bought a decade ago except for the color.  The newer models include one of the same "footprint" and capacity.)

     They're also selling some serious home-of-the-future stuff these days.  I don't need a trash can that can beat me at chess or a lighted mirror that looks like a computer monitor (and folds!) but I like living in a world where that's a thing.

Monday, June 29, 2020

A Whole New Monday!

     We might get some storms, but there's a nice sunrise at present.  Yesterday, I finally weeded the patio, and-- 

     Weeded the patio?

     Well, yes.  The previous owner built a nice patio from 1' x 2' concrete blocks.  He probably put down barrier cloth.  Over the years, the ground has shifted and the patio has a series of small waves and one sharp discontinuity.  Most of it is probably from tree roots and with the big hackberry tree gone, I'm planning to try to level the patio this Fall or next Spring.

     With the shifting, the gaps between the blocks have opened up, and in those gaps,weeds and grass had taken root: crabgrass, dandelions, creeping charlie, wild violets and what we always called "burdock" but I just learned isn't.  (Low grouping of semicircular of elliptical leaves, long stems from the center with a fuzzy-looking seed-blob on the end).  There was even moss growing, near the house.  It all had to go.

     A semi-flexible putty knife works well for digging out weeds between blocks and scraping off moss.  It took a couple of hours, but we've got a clear patio again.  And most of the work was sitting down, so it wasn't a bad way to pass part of the afternoon and pick up some vitamin D.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Pork Chops A La Something

     Saturday night, we had a couple of nice sirloins.  It was too stormy for grilling, so they got the cast-iron grill pan.  A nice meal, with corn on the cob and baked potatoes for sides.*

     The steaks were one-step-down from USDA Prime, which is great on the grill.  On the grill pan, I cheated: I have a bag of fresh cherries in the fridge, a little more tart than the label promised.  Still good for snacking, but tart enough that I halved and pitted several, and cooked them atop the steaks, the juice adding a little extra to the flavor and maybe even helping to tenderize.

     Those steaks were really good, tender and flavorful.

     So, with a couple of boneless pork chops for Sunday, I decided to give them a nice marinade with cherries: about a quarter-cup each of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, with a tablespoon or two (or was it three?) of Worcestershire sauce, a couple of shakes of garlic powder, a teaspoon or so of my Japanese chili powder, and a half-dozen of those cherries, pitted, halved and mashed up a little.

     The pork chops sat in that (in a big zip-lock plastic bag) overnight and all day today, getting turned about halfway through.  As dinnertime approached, I lightly browned them in a little bacon fat, then poured the marinade over.  After it had cooked for several minutes, it seemed kind of strong, but I didn't want to water it down.

     Vegetables to the rescue!  I chopped up a couple of small celery stalk, a couple of fat baby carrots, a large radish and half of a red bell pepper.  I had two fresh mushrooms left, so they got chopped up and joined the pot.  I figured I had done what I could, and if the result was still too strong, it wasn't going to bother the pork chops much.

     I prepped for "popcorn" asparagus, quick-fried in a little olive oil with toasted sesame seeds (better in sesame oil but the shelf life is too short) and found a nice brown rice and quinoa mix to microwave.  Had another look at the chops and -- oh, they smelled wonderful!

     It was a long simmer to get them to 170°F, at which point the vegetables and cherries had cooked down nicely and there was plenty of liquid.  I sneaked a taste and it was even better than I could have hoped!  Served with the veggies over rice, and the broth over that and the meat, it was good enough that Tam went back for seconds of the veggies, rice and broth combo.  The flavor was savory and spicy, with a hint of sweetness.

     Popcorn asparagus is usually the standout of the meal.  This time, it was eclipsed.  Not bad for guessing, if I do say so myself.
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* Even better with a salad, too, but....

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Saturday Morning Omelet

     Rain is bucketing down outside as I write; at the peak of it, thunder was rolling just about continuously.  Instead of my desktop, I'm on the little MacBook Air, running on batteries.  Not for fear of lightning -- for a hit strong enough to do damage, having the machine on or not won't make much of a difference.  Nope, the thing is, I'm not sure how well my desktop machine would survive the kind of brownouts we sometimes get as storms roll through.  The little Mac is a pleasure to use, slightly better than my (gen 1) Surface Pro, and it is floating on its internal batteries.

     Before blogging, I made breakfast.  I bought a new skillet awhile back, a twelve-inch one with a gentle curve from bottom to sides, and it is a real treat for making larger omelets.

     I fried bacon and sliced fresh mushrooms ahead of time, and poured off the skillet grease; with a non-stick pan, whatever small amount remains is plenty.  Put it back on the burner at low heat.

     Start with a half-dozen saltines, well crushed, plus whatever seasonings you like (I used Italian mix and fresh-ground mixed pepper).  Add enough warm water to cover and let it sit until absorbed.  Once it has soaked in, take a look; you want a wet slurry, early liquid.  Add more warm water if needed, then add three large eggs and beat it until uniform and lemony -- usually a little more than seams reasonable.  I use a two-cup glass measuring cup and a large fork for this.  Once it's all mixed, pour it into the warm skillet and give it a minute.  Then slide the skillet back so the burner is centered under the front half of it.

     Now you can scissor up a slice of cheese into small sections, 1/4" square or so -- I used Swiss, covering both halves.  The easy way is to make a series of short parallel cuts along one side, then cut across them right over the pan.  Repeat until done.  Keep an eye on the cheese and the top of the omelet; once the cheese is well-melted, you can add the other ingredients in layers.  I started with diced radish, on both halves, then loaded the back half with mushrooms, crumbled bacon and sliced Castletvetrano olives.

     From here on, it's a game of patience and judgement.  The front half will start to look pretty dry; when it does, sneak in under it with a thin, flexible spatula or omelet turner, and check -- carefully -- if it will lift.  If it lifts cleanly, carefully fold it over the other half, so you end up with a nice D-shaped omelet.  If it starts to come apart liquidly, lower it down and let it cook a little longer.  If it breaks, you waited too long, but you can usually herd the pieces into position.  Slide the pan back to center and use the spatula to pat down the curved edges.  You should be able to chivvy the folded omelet to the center of the pan, too.

     Omelets are not the easiest things to get to turn out pretty.  Don't worry about it -- the ugly ones taste just as good and with every one, you develop more of a feel for getting then to behave.

     It will want a few minutes to get the down side fully cooked; after a couple of minutes, you should be able to roll it over on the fold to check for done-ness.  You don't want the inside to be wet; past that, it's matter of taste: how done do you like your eggs?

     I like them pretty well done, but not crunchy.  This omelet turned out great; Tam had her portion with Cholula sauce, while I put more diced radish and black pepper on mine.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Off

     It was a scheduled holiday, moved a little to fit when things needed to get done.  I woke up, made a nice breakfast (corned beef hash and eggs) -- and went back to bed!

     I was just that tired.  Yesterday was stressful; after the crew left, I treated myself to a fancy-burger lunch from Five Guys.  Drove to pick it up and the place was a nail salon!  I'd only glanced at the map.  Yikes!  A quick phone call later, I learned they had moved about a half-mile down the road, into what once was a Japanese steak joint.  All part of the great circle of meat, or something.  Kind of an adrenaline hit; if they'd been much farther away, I would have just donated the lunch to whoever in the place wanted it.

     Drove back to work, ate, zoned out a little and then got so into what I was doing that the time got away from me.  Despite starting several hours early, I kept at it until my usual quitting time.   At least I got a lot done.

     It doesn't come without a price.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Long Day Thursday

     I'll backdate this.  Thursday was a long day, and my first working more-or-less around people since all this stuff started. 

     We had a tower crew and a tenant's technician at the North Campus for most of yesterday, making some minor but much-needed changes in their setup.

     They were about as good at pandemic prevention measures as you might expect -- averaging a little short of my employer's mandatory requirements, but a good-faith effort from all but one.

     There's always one.  No Mask: "I forgot."  In and out of the building without checking in, using the washroom without notice before or after (we're supposed to wipe everything down with a sanitizer after use, either a commercial product or denatured alcohol) but at least keeping his distance.  Yeah, look, I get it; I grew up in the pre-pandemic world too.  I'd go back in a flash if I could, but wishing will not make it so.  Adjust to how things are now and get through it, so we can eventually get back to normal.

     Aside from such wide considerations, it's my employer's bat, ball and ballpark.  They get to make the rules.  You don't like those rules?  There's the door.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Tuesday, Pasta

     There was a pound of ground sirloin in the fridge that needed eating, and a jar of Michael's of Brooklyn "home style gravy" on the shelf.

     Presumably, that's what his grandmother called it.  Out here in flyover country (unless your grandparents hearken from the regions where they invented the stuff and darned well know their own gravy when they see it), we call it pasta sauce -- and a darned good version, too.  In single-jar lots, it is neither the most nor least expensive on the shelf at our corner market, but it's worlds above the usual  thing.  It is just one of their varieties -- I have been nerving myself up to try the hotter Arrabbiata style.

     Of course, I can't leave well enough alone, so in short order, I diced half an onion and a stalk of celery, sliced up a few big mushrooms and added some shishito peppers* cut into rounds to the drained, mostly-done beef, then poured the sauce over and let it all get better acquainted.

     It turned out to want a little salt, and why use the shaker when there's a jar of Castelvetrano olives in the fridge?  I sliced up several and added them, and we had more on the side at dinner, essentially as a condiment.

     There was half a box of rigatoni to use up, too.  It takes a little longer to cook than most pasta but paired well with the thick sauce.
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* Shishito peppers are sold in a big bag.  When I buy them, they show up in dinner for several days.  They get along well in many dishes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Grilled Cheese And Tomato Soup

     But not merely grilled cheese and tomato soup, oh no.  Grilled Swiss on whole wheat, with a layer of sliced shishito peppers in the middle and cream of tomato soup with chopped, sauteed celery for a garnish.

     Next time, I might give the pepper slices a quick tour of the hot frying pan before layering them into the sandwiches, just to wake them up a little more.  Tam would like hotter peppers.  And I'd like to try it with Manchego cheese.  But it was darned good and quick to make.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Nope. Not Today. Celebrate Today. Be Annoying Another Day.

     It's too much to have to cope with a world where stupidity, deliberate ignorance and violence have somehow become virtues to be celebrated.   I am not having it today.

     It's Juneteenth.  This country did something right; we were a long time getting there, we bled a lot making it happen, the Federal government was slow telling the people most affected and it was only a start.  But we did something good.  STFU and enjoy it.   Maybe ask yourself how we can do better.

     But don't tell me.   I've got too much to deal with already.  Just go do good stuff.  Or don't.  Whatever.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Aunt Jemima's Retiring

     And it's about damn time.  The company that owns the brand is retiring the image and the name this autumn.  Oh, they tried to update her; in recent years, the "Aunt Jemima" shown on the products is certainly no nanny/cook -- to me, she looks like a Home Ec teacher, and smile notwithstanding, one who mostly hands out C grades unless you really apply yourself.  Nevertheless, the original image was indeed a minstrel-show "Mammy."

     The first woman who portrayed Aunt Jemima was Chicagoan Nancy Green, an ex-slave hired by the R. T. Davis Milling Company to demonstrate their pancake mix at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition.  She worked for the company in that role for until her death in 1923.  She used the income to help start a church and worked to advocate for greater opportunities for African-Americans.  So remember her when you see the label, a woman of her times, making the best of her situation.  The real smiling, friendly Nancy Green was a woman with aspirations who made a positive difference, not someone who kept quiet in the kitchen flipping flapjacks.

     The pancake mix itself isn't going anywhere, so don't write me, bewailing that "they're taking my favorite pancakes away."  That's not so. 

     No word (as I write this on Wednesday) on Uncle Ben of the famous (and tasty!) converted rice; recent ads show the character as Chairman of the Board and his label portrayal (and the current origin story) has been as a successful rice farmer.  I'm not sure if he'll get to stick around, but he seems like the kind of guy who'd already be hanging out with Chef Boyardee and Betty Crocker, so...maybe.  On the other hand, "Uncle" has some seriously unfortunate associations, so who knows.

     Alas, the chef on Cream of Wheat wasn't treated so well, especially early on.  The image is based on a real-life chef, Frank L. White, who died in 1938.  But the company named their character "Rastus" and a lot of the early ads were just as cringeworthy and stereotypical as you might expect.  Over time, the chef started to be portrayed as the chef (and presumably manager) of the "Cream of Wheat Inn," but given the background, I won't be surprised if we find ourselves saying farewell to him, too.  (But not the product, I hope!  It's good stuff -- hot cereal was a breakfast staple when I was growing up, from Indiana's own Coco Wheats to Ralston whole wheat cereal and Cream of Wheat.  They're all still wintertime comfort for for me.)

     "Mrs. Butterworth?"  Oh, dear.  See Aunt Jemima?  Okay, now imagine you based her on Butterfly McQueen.  Because the syrup company did.  The actress wasn't thrilled about playing stereotyped roles and eventually gave up acting in Hollywood, but Mrs. Butterworth is another "mammy" character and the clock is probably ticking.

     The problem with removing harmful stereotypes is that you risk erasing representation altogether.  Who's going to step up and sit with Tony the Tiger and the Michelin Man?  Better be somebody, but who, besides the athletes on Wheaties boxes?  The solution to that, I haven't got.

     Update: I have already had comments from people who did not read past the headline and first sentence.  I did my homework -- and I provided  links.  If you just showed up and skimmed, your (mostly meme-based and not entirely factual) comments aren't going to be published.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Sun Is Shining

     It's a pretty day out there, a nice blue sky with a few clouds.  It was a pretty day yesterday, too.  It's going to get plenty warm this afternoon, but right now, the air is like wine.

     It's too nice a day to come up with another essay on things that used to be covered in Civics classes but are now, it seems, slipping from public awareness.  Today I'm just going to let them slide; there's a whole Internet out there, filled with well-researched history, solid information about the nature, function and basic law of government in the United States and many other countries, and a wide range of news and current affairs, from tabloid nonsense to sober, factual reporting, opinions all across the entire range of political and social thinking -- and endless supply of shiny, empty distraction.  It's your choice what you reach for, but hey, maybe try some fresh vegetables and fruit instead of candy and potato chips, just for one day?

     Spend some time outdoors today.  Read a news source (real news, not opinion) you don't usually read.  Dig into some oddball corner of history.  Examine a strange plant in your back yard and look it up online.

     Exercise your body and mind.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A Free Press, And Worth Every Penny Of The Price

     It's no secret that I moderate comments.  There are a lot of divisive issues floating around these days and this is my blog, not a debating society.

     I tend to shelve comments that will only lead to a spiral of unresolvable differences: this is the Internet, soap-boxes are cheap, and shouting past one another isn't nearly as useful as shouting on one's own patch to willing listeners.  It's a big country and a big Internet.  There's room for everyone.

     My observations on the Press did prompt a response that was interesting and a little sad--  But first, let's start with this thing called the Press, which the Bill of Rights tells us is supposed to be free of government meddling.  What is it?

     "The Press" is a common noun hiding a bunch of verbs: observing, collating, writing, editing, reporting, publishing.  It is these acts that the first Amendment protects.  Not reporters or editors or publishers, who are, like the President or the police, Just Some Guys.  Just some guys who happen to be performing vital jobs.

     So when a comment claiming, "Journalists have no special protection.  If the crowd is told to disperse, they are part of the crowd.  Citizens like everyone else. Same protections but no more," showed up, the complete lack of understanding of the underlying principles saddened me.

     Let's take it a piece at a time:

     "Journalists have no special protection."  Dead wrong.  Journalism is a specifically protected activity, called out by name in the first article of the Bill of Rights.

     "If the crowd is told to disperse..."  By whom, and under what circumstances?  Police?  They do not have blanket authority to tell any peaceably-assembled crowd to disperse (that pesky First Amendment again).  The police are not your masters; they are public servants.  But wait, there's another mistake:

     "...they are part of the crowd."  Nope.  Wrong.  Journalists are observing the crowd.*  They're not participants in it and are often not even among the people assembled, but off to one side or behind police lines.  Where, in recent weeks, they have been shoved, gassed, pepperballed, had cameras smashed, been detained, handcuffed and arrested.  But not, interestingly enough, charged -- because the higher-up police officials, not to mention prosecutors and judges, know that journalism is not a crime.

     "Citizens like everyone else."  Yes, they are -- and so are protesters, police, judges, legislators and Presidents.  Some of them, from time to time, engage in Constitutionally-protected activities, like practicing their religion, functioning as members of the free Press, peaceably assembling, keeping and bearing arms, speaking freely, enjoying security "in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," and so on.

     "Same protections but no more."  Yes, precisely -- spelled out right there in the highest law of the land.

     Many journalists -- many people, including protesters, police, etc. -- are jerks, fools or just annoying.  They often have opinions that strike others as ignorant or distasteful.  Nevertheless, even they are protected from government force by the Bill of Rights, especially when engaging in those activities the Feds are supposed to steer clear of limiting.  In my lifetime, I've seen the government get pushed back from many infringements and it has been a good thing.

     The police are not the boss of me -- or of you.  They're damn sure not the boss of the free Press.
_________________________
* A clearer example: a war correspondent embedded with troops is nevertheless a reporter, not a soldier.   He or she is not a combatant.  A reporter among protesters remains a reporter.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Where Was I?

     Right back into the wonderful world of whatever it is I do after a week off -- and what a week to be off! 

     It was interesting to watch news happening from the outside.  From the inside, it appears a record number of reports had bad encounters, mostly with police, a few with rioters.  I'm not talking about shouting matches, that's just part of the job.  No, there were widespread cases of cameras being broken, of journalists being gassed, pepperballed, detained or arrested, a lot of it recorded as it happened.

     It would seem a refresher course in the First Amendment and how to recognize press credentials might be in order for some Public Safety personnel.   Daily Worker or Wall Street Journal, Fox News or CNN, just being there with a notebook, pointing a camera or a microphone at events is not, in fact, reason for getting shoved around, let alone handcuffed and hauled away.  Yes, the Press gets away with a lot and yes, they do push limits -- that's their job.  Only evil fears daylight.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Shelves, Done

     Phase One is done, at least.  There are more things I'd like to do, but this replaces a small storage bench, jammed into a corner and piled with clothes.
     It doesn't look too bad.

     I spent the last three days assembling, sanding (and sanding....) and applying a finish (boiled linseed oil, hand-rubbed) to the shelves.  The wood is inexpensive pine, with a lot of, shall we say, character--
     But I like it.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

So Run The Experiment

     I'm sure you have read about it or seen it on the news: a group of protesters in Seattle took over a few blocks of the city as police evacuated a precinct building.  The protesters blocked the streets and declared it the "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone."

     My right-wing friends and acquaintances have been chortling over the homeless in that area depleting the "community food supplies" in short order, sharing stories about a self-appointed "warlord" and his well-armed minions, and rumors about entry restrictions and shakedowns of businesses.

     Blogger Joe Huffman -- not a sympathetically-inclined observer -- went and had a look for himself.

     It doesn't appear to be hell on earth.  There are borders, but nobody stationed at the gates.  People stroll in and out.  The would-be warlord and his group appear to have voluntarily stopped carrying guns openly, and he's as clueless as anyone about what happens next.

     They've set up open-air movies and designated smoking areas.  They allowed the city to supply portalets.  It's no paradise; picture a sparser "Occupy Wall Street" encampment, with all that entails, and you're close.

     And yet the Right, from the President on down to the blogger next door, wants to move in and shut it down by force.

     Why?  What is there to fear?

     Did we learn nothing from the brutal razing of the Bonus Army's encampment in Washington, D.C.?  Are there no lessons to be found in the Philadelphia police bombing of the MOVE rowhouse and subsequent tragic fire, in the horrors of Waco or Ruby Ridge?  How many dead people do you want to see on the evening news?

     Indianapolis had a tense standoff at the Indianapolis Baptist Temple in 2001; seems the church and associated school hadn't been withholding Federal income tax from employee paychecks and after a few go-rounds, the Feds moved to seize the buildings and grounds.  The Baptists forted up on the site, U.S. Marshal Frank J. Anderson moved in with his people and--  Waited.  Why not?  The Federal government had demonstrated the folly of frontal assault twice in the previous decade and he was in no hurry to be lucky number three.  The standoff dragged on and on, with a few especially tense moments, but in the end it was resolved quietly, in so unremarkable a manner that the whole thing doesn't even have its own Wikpedia page.

     Cities that pushed back hard on the Occupy Wall Street protesters generally had uglier outcomes than cities that simply managed the situation, mitigated the harm and waited.

     The CHAZ is a not very well-prepared experiment in anarchosyndicalism right out of Ursula K. LeGuin's work, lacking the coherent philosophy of her fictional "Odo,"or, sadly, even advice from the late SF author herself.  As such, it is providing valuable lessons in civic engagement and the actual work involved in running even a small slice of city to the people involved.  Lacking the structure, community spirit and free-standing commercial enterprises of, say, Freetown Christiania, it is unlikely to stand for long; with essentially open borders and city emergency services still having access, it's not even all that separate an entity.

     Let 'em run the experiment.  Who knows, they -- or we -- might even learn something.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Time's Arrow Gets Edited

     So, I'm laying in a tub of hot, Epsom-salted water, reading -- which you would do, too if you were as old and achy as me -- when I stubbed my toe on a common mistake.

     Naturally, just as anyone would do, I called out for a pencil.  (Read Tam's recounting at the link, then come back.)

     I've been digging through Larry Brooks' Story Engineering, which has been informative so far.  He uses a teaching technique I recognize, going after the same point from different angles, sneaking up on it, dropping back, paraphrasing, using multiple examples and expanding to an extent that makes me a little impatient.  But he's trying to make the lesson sink in and if you play along, it does.

     One of his examples was from The Da Vinci Code, a listing of the possible "What Ifs?" that might have informed the initial plotting.  Third on the list was, in part, "What if [the child of Jesus] survived and the lineage continues to this day, meaning the ancestors of Christ are walking among us?"

     Theology aside, and granting that the Old Testament lists remarkable lifespans for some of those ancestors, they do have one other thing in common: they're all dead.  On the other hand and at least for the purposes of fiction, any hypothetical descendant might indeed be walking among us.

     The arrow of time runs in only one direction.  Ancestors are not descendants. Descendants are not ancestors. 

     So I crossed out the wrong word and penciled in the correct one.

     While in the bathtub.  It was good enough for Archimedes, after all.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

He's A Fighter

     Huck the cat went to the dentist -- well, to the vet, for a dental procedure -- this morning. 

     He's back home now, with clean teeth and a clean bill of health (mostly -- he's missing three tiny incisors, possibly as a result of his habit of chewing on things.  This is not a big problem for a housecat, since they don't use those teeth to chew their food).  But he's, well, stoned.

     He's still wobbly from the anesthetic but he will not lay down and sleep it off.  He's pacing through the house, smoothing on everything he can reach and looking for something, anything, to eat.  His back end is not quite keeping up with his front, but you see, Huck didn't have any breakfast this morning, and in Huck's world, that is an emergency that trumps everything else, even recovery from general anesthesia.

     Holden is trailing after him, murmuring comforting or worried-sounding purrpps and blerts, which Huck ignores.

     I've shut myself in the back of the house with a small snack, in the hopes that he'll find a quiet corner to relax in.  Speaking as someone who has come out from anesthesia struggling to get off the gurney and away from the nurses on multiple occasions, I think I know how he feels. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Sausage Stroganoff?

     To make dinner last night, I had a pound of "sweet" Italian sausage, half an onion, a can of mushrooms and a couple of different-brand cans of mushroom soup, Amy's Mushroom Bisque (good stuff!) and Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup.  Plus three-quarters of a bag of rotini, spiral pasta.

     So why not see how all that would work together?  I fried the sausage loose with black pepper, a generous amount of shichimi togarashi (a mildly-hot Japanese spice mix) and a dash -- well, a few dashes -- of paprika, adding half the onion, diced, before draining the fat.

     Added the rest of the onion, stirred it in well, and added the mushroom bisque, canned mushrooms (poured the liquid into the bisque can) and Condensed Cream of Mushroom soup.  I used the mushroom liquid to get the rest of the soups from their cans and stirred everything together. 

     You could add some milk or water if needed.  I had put the pan dripping in a grease separator and got about four tablespoons of broth.

     Sprinkled some parsley, basil, and a little more shichimi togarashi and paprika on top and covered the pan to simmer while I cooked the rotini.

     The rotini water was already boiling, so I added it, returned it to boiling, and tuned the heat to let it simmer for seven minutes -- this varies to taste and with the kind of pasta, so check the label.

     The end result was darned good. Unconventional, somewhere between sausage gravy and stroganoff, but plenty tasty.  Tam added some of her Flatiron Pepper mix to give her bowl a little more zing.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Shelves, Interrupted

     Woke with a terrible headache Tuesday.  Weather was coming in and this time of year is not the kindest to my sinuses.

     But there was sunshine and a project already begun, so I got up, took OTC pain meds, had coffee and a little breakfast, and got to work.

     Set up the compound sliding miter saw (I have come to really like it -- I used table saws for years, starting back when we ran them without any guards, and the sliding compound miter is easier to use and much easier to set up for large pieces) and a support, knocked out a couple of brace sections, then rigged to cut the sides, 95" tall.

     "Eight-foot" boards vary a little in length and over the years, I have settled on trimming them an inch short of nominal.  It has been a good compromise.  The ceilings at Roseholme Cottage are an inch or two over eight feet, which allows good clearance.  The shelves I'm working on now are 11"  deep and I may end up having to trim corners to stand them up. 

     It takes a little while to set up to trim longer lengths of wood.  I work outdoors, and the back sidewalk is my longest level area with a hard surface.  When I do woodwork, getting everything measured, lined up and clamped down takes ten or twenty times as long as the cutting.  I spent years growing up with parents who could do this sort of thing by eye and a few casual measurements (and who were honestly puzzled that other people could not*), but I don't have that knack; if I'm concentrating on cutting a straight line, it inevitably turns out to be at the wrong angle, in the wrong place, or I will have cut clean through something else as well (most infamously, a tabletop).  Doing it the way that works for me, there are long intervals of silence and then a quick "Bzzzzzzp-zing!" as I run the saw, not needing to focus on anything but making a clean cut.

     It's slow.  By the time I had both sides cut to length, the skies were darkening, and by the time I had unclamped and stowed away the saw, the wood blocks to prop the long ends of the boards at saw-table height and all the small tools, the wind was rising and it was obvious we were in for a storm.  To make matters worse, my head was aching with ever-greater intensity.

     Once I had gathered up the remaining tools and supplies -- with no little haste -- and had put them away, the pain in my ears was so bad, I could barely keep my eyes focused.  I took more acetaminophen and aspirin, and went back to my bedroom where I crawled under the covers and kind of collapsed.  The tomcats joined me and we dozed away most of the afternoon, me hurting and the cats purring.

     I'll finish the shelves another day.
___________________________
* My parents were extraordinary people, each of them among the youngest of large families of extraordinary people, and for them, that was "ordinary."  Both were highly successful in their careers despite never attending college.  I don't know if they ever really grasped just how far out on the edge of the curve they were, even when we all -- for fun! -- took the IQ test that accompanied a Reader's Digest article about Mensa and every single family member qualified to apply, most by a quite comfortable margin.  Both of my parents had picked up basic skills like cooking, carpentry, gardening and raising small animals so early in life that they were honestly mystified that other people, including their own children, didn't "just know" them or could not quickly work them out from first principles.
     I have gathered that their own parents did not want their children feeling superior or "putting on airs;" neither family was well-to-do or especially well-connected.  But just a little more self-awareness of their giftedness probably would have helped them cope better with people who struggled to keep up with them.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Got Some Junk Hauled Away Today

     It wasn't much, but it was in the way.  The first place I called quoted a price that I could live with, and said they could schedule the pickup Thursday.

     The second place just had a recording, asked for my number and brief description, and promised to call back automatically.  Never did.

     The third place was 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, an outfit with a slick, amusing TV commercial (not always a positive, in my opinion).  Their number answered with a slightly distorted jingle followed by a brief spiel from the founder, and I thought, "Oh, boy, here we go."  But it handed me over to a call-center operator who took the particulars in a businesslike manner, promptly gave me a quote about seventy-five percent of the first junk-remover's price, and then said, "But let me put you on hold and check with our local guys.  Since this is small and already at the curb, we can probably give you a better deal."

     I was happy to hold.  Before very long, the operator came back and said, "If you will be home between four and six this afternoon, we can do the job for fifty dollars."  Less than half of the first quote!

     It was 3:30 p.m.  I assured her I would most certainly be home, she confirmed my address and we said goodbye.

     The big, brightly-painted truck stopped by around 5:00 p.m. and with no fuss and bother, picked up the junk and we did an arms-length credit-card transaction for payment.

     Easiest professional trash removal I ever had, and the least expensive one this century.  They will be my first call next time.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

An Expedition

     I went to the big-box building-suppply store today.  First big store I have been in since the coronavirus stuff started.

     It was....different.  The parking lot looked pretty full and I almost turned around and went back home.  On closer sight, the parking lot was much smaller; the garden department has been moved outdoors, and it was surrounded by closely-parked cars.  That's where most of the people were.

     It was lumber I was after, at the other end of the building.  The lot was not even half full over there. 

     Inside, people were keeping their distance, but pleasantly enough.  Nearly everyone was masked.  A couple of African-American men -- father and adult son, for a guess, and busy working modifying their project to suit the available materials -- and I were the only people in the aisle where all the plain boards are kept, and we kind of danced around each other, keeping our distance.  I was gloved up, work gloves, lumber not being very hand friendly, and so were they.  When the older man asked to borrow my tape measure (don't visit the lumber department without one!), I was happy to help.  Arms-length to arm's-lengths and returned the same way, with what I think we both hoped were readable as smiles despite our masks.

     Life goes on.  Most people want to get along the those around them.  Nobody was swapping stink-eye or making comments, not even between the masked and the maskless.

     Tomorrow, I've got a project to start.  I hope it goes well.  

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Stopping To Think

     I didn't post this yesterday (though I will backdate it), because I wanted to stop and think things over.  I wanted to develop a timeline.

     The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department did some very good work in the past week.  And they did some things that didn't work out -- the initial response to protesters downtown last weekend was extremely adversarial and appeared to increase tensions.

     They also did things that were wrong.  Pepper-spraying a protester who doused an officer with the contents of a water bottle looked excessive; and then a video emerged of IMPD arresting a couple of young women, ostensibly protesters, for being out after curfew.  It wasn't a calm encounter on either side; but one side was lightly dressed and unarmed, while the other was armored and had -- and used -- greater numbers, pepperballs, nightsticks, hands, knees and handcuffs.

     The video made the social-media rounds without much context.  It finally emerged that it happened last Sunday, before the march to the Governor's residence, before the IMPD changed their approach from confrontation to co-mingling and low-key situation management, and hard on the heels of nights of rioting, dumpster fires and looting. 

     Our local paper has a timeline of events.  The incident is being investigated and I guess we'll see how it is handled.  This shouldn't be swept under a rug.  Emotions were high, there's no question about that, but when one group of emoters has qualified immunity, deadly weapons and less-leathal weapons, I think they also have a lot more responsibility to be the "adults in the room."

     It probably should have been a teachable moment -- but if so, it still took a Deputy Mayor to explain the lesson and help apply it, last Monday.  It has been sticking so far and I hope IMPD will build on it.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Protip

     If you are going to station yourself in a prominent and somewhat difficult to access public location, vowing to stay there until social conditions improve, you might want to at least bring along a bottle of water and a box lunch.  This world is full of rotten types who would be happy to watch you starve.

     Luckily, our local police force isn't among them.

     Early TV news reported that a small number of protesters climbed up above the doors of the Soldier and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis and swore they'd stay there until things got better.  IMPD spent considerable time talking them down.  Okay, points for putting your money -- or at least your person -- where your mouth is, but points off for lack of planning.

     I can't find the story at any local TV station's website.  So more points off if the stunt is being downplayed to discourage copycats.  If that's the case, the message didn't get amplified.  They'd've been better off putting the effort into a bigger sign.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

So....

     Can you pop popcorn over the fire as the the world burns?  Asking for a friend.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Not The Police

     One of my online friends who lives in a major metropolitan area was stopped on his commute home by the forces of law and order, and shaken by the experience.  And by them.

     They weren't the police.

     As he tells it, he was driving along a multi-lane street next to a National Guard truck or personnel carrier, when someone up ahead of them ran a red light and made a left turn onto the street, close enough that he and the Guard vehicle had to brake abruptly.  (The coronavirus shut-downs have made for some terrible driving and several days of civil unrest has made drivers even more heedless, at least here and where he lives.  Probably where you live, too.)

     The police might've blipped their siren and flashed their lights to pull the careless driver over for a warning or a ticket.  The National Guard didn't have those, but whoever was in charge decided a response was needed.  They sped up, whipped around the offending vehicle, got a little ahead, slewed to block traffic and stopped everyone.  Including my friend.  Guardsmen (Guardspeople?) came piling out, ordered everybody out of their vehicles, and with a pair of them to every driver and passenger, were not nearly as gentle or nice about it as police would have been.

     His state government has officially called out the Guard to assist police.  I have no idea if the stop was authorized or justified.  My friend is a pretty enthusiastic goth or cybergoth, who (other than possibly being a little overdressed) wouldn't look out of place in a Mad Max film, and while that shouldn't complicate interaction with the forces of public safety, it often does.  But he got shoved around like a ragdoll while things got sorted out and then sent on his way without any social niceties.

     He's not (quite) furious.  But he's upset.  Who wouldn't be?

     The National Guard are not, generally, police officers.  They're Kevin the bartender and Joe the auto mechanic and Jill who hasn't decided what she wants to do with her life yet.  Even if a particular unit has received training in crowd control, they do not get the same kind of training police do, nor do they have the experience of dealing with the entire spectrum of the public that police officers accumulate.  They're not going to interact with you in the same way.  Even a "bad cop" understands the dance in a way that a truckload of part-time soldiers do not.  It's easy to say, "comply and everything will be all right."  Heck, it's even true, 99 times out of a hundred.  But understand ahead of time: if you encounter troops in a law enforcement situation, you're not dealing with Officer Friendly (or Not-So-Friendly), who has done hundreds of traffic stops or Terry stops.  It's not going to be the usual thing.

     Be smart.  Be like my friend.  He didn't debate Constitutionality with them.  He didn't ask if traffic enforcement was covered in their orders.  He didn't enjoy the experience -- way not! -- but he got through it and got home.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Managing The Mindspace

     Yesterday, after tough talk from the President to state Governors encouraging harsh response to civil unrest, and after violent incidents all across the country, a large group of protestors on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis decided to march to our Governor's residence.

     They started about a half-hour prior to the city's 8:00 p.m. curfew.  Monument Circle, the zero point for addresses and street numbers, is right on Meridian.  The official residence of the Governor of Indiana is on Merdian, too, a deceptively-small-looking and notably unfenced home at 46th Street.  It's just about a five-mile walk.

     With only a half-hour, there was no way a large and assorted group of people was going to complete that walk before the curfew began, especially walking up the single major north-south thoroughfare through Indianapolis.

     The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Force mobilized.  They showed up in full battle-rattle, helmets with face shields, armor, gloves, and armed with every modern crowd-control tool, from batons to tear gas along with their normal sidearms.  They formed a deep line across Meridian and when the marchers neared the Governor's residence at 8:30, the police stopped the marchers cold.

     IMPD ordered them to disperse within the next ten minutes.  The marchers stood fast and chanted slogans.  There was some yelling back and forth.  The police were much better armed -- and enormously outnumbered.

     It looked bad.  Someone -- a lot of someones -- was going to get hurt.

     Deputy Mayor Dr. David Hampton, a man I had never heard of before today, stepped in as a negotiator.  What did the marchers actually want?  There was a brief huddle between the Deputy Mayor, high-ranking police officers, and the people at the forefront of the marchers.

     And then something happened.  I'm not sure who started it, but the chanting changed, coalescing on one slogan, over and over, spreading through the crowd:

     "Walk with us!  Walk with us!"

     The huddle of police and marchers dissolved into fist-bumps and shoulder slaps; the line of contact between police and marchers broke out in handshakes and even hugs, social distancing notwithstanding.*  You could see the strain easing in expressions and postures.  The police were still wary and the marchers were still upset, but they appeared to be seeing one another as people instead of symbols or threats.

     The police and protestors marched the rest of the way to the Governors house intermingled.  The protestors agreed to disperse afterward, and police walked with them back downtown to their cars.

     No one got hurt.  There were no riots in Indianapolis last night.  There was no looting.

     I'm proud of the people of my city.

     Sure, nothing big got solved last night; but everyone made room to move forward.  It's a start.
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* We may see a second wave of infections as a result of the protests and especially the riots.  If so, I'd rather have people spread it by hugging than by getting tear gassed, fighting with police and being thrown into a crowded lockup.  YMMV, but the only choices are between "bad" and "much worse."

Monday, June 01, 2020

Still Horrified

     About the only people who haven't managed to horrify me over the last three days are the people who stayed home, the people who showed up in daylight with signs and songs and chant to peacefully protest and then went home, and the news media who are getting roughed up by both rioters and police.  (Everybody from Vice reporters to CNN fieldpeople to local TV talent, all of them either where police had told them to be or well away from the battle-lines.)

     The rest of you disgust and frighten me, from multiple big-city mayors claiming the people arrested for rioting or looting are mostly from elsewhere (a TV station at the epicenter dug through public records to check: nope, wrong, it's local talent) to the rioters and looters themselves and on to  the smallest online pipsqueak who conflates protesters, rioters and looters while opining that a touch of the lash -- whoops, make that harsh response by law enforcement and National Guardsmen -- would settle matters in a trice.

     Never mind that "harsh response" is how we ended up here.  Passing a fake twenty-dollar bill and getting arrested for it should not result in the bill-passer's death in the interval between getting caught and being thrown into a squad car for a night in the lockup.  If that's how police work is done where you live, there's a problem with your police force.  (Undoubtedly there will be quibbling argument on this score; but once a suspect is handcuffed and there are three or four officers on the scene, there is no reason that individual shouldn't arrive for processing in as good a condition as they were when handcuffed.)

     This kind of widespread protest -- and the vandalism, rioting and looting that has followed -- doesn't happen unless the spark falls on ready fuel.  At the very lowest level, most looters are just in it for what they can grab.  Many of the rioters and vandals fall into the "I don't believe in anything, I'm just here for the violence" category and I don't mean they're wearing a cute little Banksy-inspired patch.  The sense of hopelessness and immediate gratification that feeds their actions doesn't just happen and it's not the result of "outside agitation."  It's the water they swim in.  A big mass protest, with plenty of anger directed at police -- no matter how well justified -- creates congenial cover for people who set dumpster fires, smash shop windows, scrawl spray-paint slogans and generate chaos, but don't confuse them with the painfully sincere groups of ministers and priests and the sign-waving folks who line up in public places; it's not that simple.  There's not much in the way of direct crossover between them: the protesters at least think things can be made better.  The violent types are happy to make things worse.

     You cannot "contain it," you'd only be making a time bomb.  And we've all just seen what even a little explosion can do.  It's got to be fixed at the source.

     Given what I am hearing from civic leaders and police departments, I'm not feeling very hopeful.  "De-policing" is more likely than better training, better use-of-force polices, better pay, an end to "thin blue line" coverup for bad officers and a creating a less-adversarial police culture.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Nothing Today, Either

     Civilization is too badly broken.  Let's see if there's a Monday.

     Putin and Xi are laughing at us.  Are you okay with that?

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Nothing Today

     Woke up at 3:30 a.m. to news of riots.  There's no way this can be fixed with owl juice.  Bad police work has dreadful consequences.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Oh, 2020!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 28, 2020

It's My Birthday Again

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

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The 2020 Pot Roast Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Cooking A Large Beef

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember to throw away the box from the bone broth.

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

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

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

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

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



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