Monday, November 30, 2020

Long Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Books, Books, Books

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

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

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

Saturday, November 28, 2020


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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2020

Turducken And All The Trimmings

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

     After an hour and a half:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2020


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

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

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

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

      And I'm extremely thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

What's Cajun For "Fried Rice?"

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Manicure Day

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2020

Factual Facts

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

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

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Red Stew

      I made red stew for dinner tonight.

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

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

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

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

      It wasn't chili.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Cui Bono?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2020

Oh, Ouch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Damage To Conservatism

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Do Not Do This

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

It's Very Possible To Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2020

Cut-Rate Caesarism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Bookshelves Done

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2020

A Day Of Work

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2020

Is Seeing Believeing?

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

     That's a very interesting question.

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2020

I Thought This Roller-Coaster Ride Was Ending

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

     Here's why:

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Armistice Day/Veterans Day

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

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

The Peaceful Transition Of Power

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Monday, November 09, 2020

Furnace Workers

      There's a team in the basement putting in a new furnace as I write.  They got the old one out in short order, realized they didn't have an external filter rack, and had to go pick one up before proceeding.  I'm all for the filter rack -- it had gotten to quite a challenge getting a new filter in place and stuck onto the sheet-metal screws that held the return duct to the side of the furnace.   It's much simpler to drive the screws from the outside, but the ends impinged on the filter area.  I kept meaning to turn them around but it was going to be such an awkward job that I put it off. 

      (This is the filter area that I had to bend up a new retainer rod for -- we found a "permanent" filter flapping in the breeze during the home inspection and specified that needed to be fixed.  The seller called in a HVAC contractor to get it done, then included their receipt for the work in the final paperwork.  And yet, when I checked after the sale?  Same permanent filter, poorly secured and flapping away.  I guess that company didn't want to do any work in this house again, ever, and figured the guy selling the house wasn't going to check on them.  I threw away the useless filter, measured the space, fabricated a retainer to fit the brackets, and started using good pleated-paper filters.)

      The HVAC company I use is the same one my previous landlord used at my old place.  They have a 24-hour number, and my landlord encouraged using it (why should he take the call in the middle of the night when the tenant could call the furnace man themselves?)  They have outstanding service guys and are happy to show and explain their work.

      The new furnace is a bit shorter than the old one, so there's an adapter between it and the A-coil for the air-conditioning.  I have refrained from hovering but I was just down to see if they had asked for me (they needed to see our thermostat, and had a replacement if needed -- the same model we already have).  It looks like they're making good progress.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Presumptive President-Elect

      It's looking extremely likely that Joseph Biden will be the next President. 

      As of yesterday, votes were still being counted in every state except Georgia, where I think a recount is just about certain, and Hawaii.  States aren't obliged to get everything sorted out until 8 December and with close elections in several states and court challenges, we should not expect final results until that day -- and there may still be questions through the rest of the process.  The electors will vote on 14 December and the states have nine days to get the results to Congress; Congress doesn't get around to counting until 6 January 2021.

      So don't get your knickers in a twist if the wrangling goes on and on.  Don't be irked that the guy down the block still has a solid wall of Biden signs fronting the sidewalk or that the woman next door keeps on flying a Trump flag high, wide and well-lit.  Celebrations and defiant fuming are going to linger.  It was a close race -- and it's still a close race.  People need to come to terms with it and at present, "it" is simply a set of really high probabilities.

     Our voting is done.  The results will be what they will be and it is both possible and desirable to disagree graciously while waiting for the process to run as it has run every four years since 1788-89 (and that one was kind of a mess despite a nearly certain outcome.)

     Stop.  Breathe.  You did your part, no matter which way you voted.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Well, It's Pretty Clear....

      The inmates have taken over the asylum, and it wasn't the clever ones.  The combination of ignorant and crazy is too much to take.

      There's all kinds of free and accurate information available on the Internet -- about how elections work in the United States, for instance -- and yet many people still prefer spicy rumor and outrage-mongering.

      I can't fix it.  It's raining soup and bowls are free, yet few people will take them and about half of those who do, use the thing as a chamber pot.

Friday, November 06, 2020

...What Can I Say?

      A lot of people slept through Civics or U.S. Government class in high school; a lot of people slept through every U. S. History class they ever took.

     Elections take time to count.  Elections in the United States have been though a number of major reforms, all of them intended improve voter access and provide for better integrity and accountability in the tabulation of votes.  It is a highly distributed process -- a lot of hands touch a lot of little pieces of the process, watched at every step, and there are no bottlenecks where one or even a few malefactors could tweak the results.

     There's simply no easy way to cheat on a large scale.

    But just for the sake of argument, let's say there was.  Let's say there's some method to put a thumb on the scales, and some way to ensure the eternal silence of the hundreds or thousands of people it would take to accomplish the job.  Given that level of control, if you went to cheat at an election, this election, how would you go about it?  A landslide would be fishy; the country is too divided to make a landslide likely.  But if you set out to cheat, you'd want a clear and quick result, something plausible but definitely ensuring your guy won.

     We certainly don't have that.  The results are still on a knife-edge in multiple states.  The TV drones on and on about fractional percentages and trends and predictability, about lawsuits and recounts.  It's not doing either candidate any favors.  No, what we have is frustrating and messy -- but it's not fraud.

      There isn't anything I can say about it will make a difference in your opinion.  Just remember, Russia and Red China would like nothing more than chaos and unrest in the United States.  Please don't help give them what they want.  Like it or not -- and you probably don't -- we're all in this together.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

The People Have Spoken

      ...And what The People are saying to politicians, Democrat and Republican alike, is that they're just not that into you.

     Sorry, pols.  There was no "Trumpslide."  There was no "Blue Wave."  That stuff you're selling?  No majority wants it.  Bidding might've been brisk in Mencken's "advance auction of stolen goods,"* but in the end, it was inconclusive.

      As I write, we still don't know who won the Presidency.  Whichever elderly man gets it will have won in a squeaker, and will have to deal with what will most likely be narrow and opposing party majorities in the Legislative branch, Dems in the House and the GOP in the Senate.  An incoming President Biden is unlikely to have much chance to expand the Supreme Court; a returning President Trump will face the same kind of defiance from the House he's already had for four years.  Whatever was on either Presidential wish list isn't going to get much traction.

      I don't think the electorate is interested in any bold new initiatives.  It looks to me like the aggregate will of the American people wants a that will shut up, sit down, and run the country without much anguish, excitement or big schemes.

      Let's count all the votes, recount all the close ones, put the lawsuits into the hopper of the various courts and turn the crank while sitting on the louder, stupider rabble of each side.  Let's at least run the system before giving much heed to the people on the fringes panicking and freaking out.  They'd've flipped out no matter what happened -- and most of the rest of us are well over it.
*     "The state—or, to make the matter more concrete, the government—consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time it is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.
     "Government, of course, has other functions, and some of them are useful and even valuable. It is supposed, in theory, to keep the peace, and also to protect the citizen against acts of God and the public enemy."
      H. L. Mencken as reprinted in A Carnival of Buncombe, 1956

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

We Don't Know

      Pretty much as predicted: we don't know who won the Presidential election.  I won't kid you: I was hoping for a blowout and I didn't care by who.  I'm not a big fan of either of the two main candidates* but I am a big fan of the orderly process of our elections and I was hoping for an outcome everyone could point to and say, "Yes, that guy won and the other guy lost."

      We didn't get that.  We've got two candidates who are (at the very least) busily projecting absolute confidence that they will prevail.  They both have lots of supporters who are emotionally invested in victory for their candidate.  And nobody knows who will win.  The clock is ticking and it doesn't wind all the way down for nine more days.

     It's a good time to be pleasant to everyone you meet.  It's a good time to restock the pantry.  It's a very good time to be patient.

      States count votes in idiosyncratic ways but the methods never involve leaving one person unwatched with a bucket of ballots.  Reform-era changes from over a century ago, Civil Rights-era procedures from over fifty years ago and memory of the "hanging chad" mess from the Gore-Bush election have driven the states to take very great care in coming up with a definitive, accurate and trustworthy result, with no possibility of cheating.  Let's give them time to find out what it is, to a level of confidence that the overwhelming majority of Americans will accept.
* This will be difficult for many readers -- perhaps most -- to accept, but facing a choice between two septuagenarians who tend to wander off-message, seem to be stuck in the previous century, represent themselves in better health than they probably are and have Vice-Presidential picks who are not, in my opinion, ready to take on their boss's job, from fifty thousand feet I'm not especially happy with either one long before we get down to matters of policy and personal behavior.  The Dems and the GOP have been failing for decades to impress me with the suits they throw up for the big job and they're getting worse. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

It's Election Day

      You might as well get out there and vote, if you haven't already.  Lots of other people have been voting at you, or will have by the end of the day.

      We're probably not going to see official results for weeks -- and this is normal.  Yes, it's normal.  I grew up with -- we all grew up with -- very good independent reporting and predictive procedures.  While the pre-election polls can vary widely (2016, anyone?), we're all used to rapid, accurate preliminary results on election day, and most* Presidential elections of my adult life have had a clear winner by midnight.  But those were never the official results; in most states, official, fully-certified results come days later.  In many states, absentee ballots get counted last.  This year, we've got a close election and unprecedented numbers of absentee ballots.

      We may not have a definitive result for quite some time.  Expect it.  Try to grasp that elections in the United States are so chaotic and amateurish at the voting-booth level that large-scale cheating is just about impossible -- and all the way up from there to the determination of who gets the electors, you have enthusiastic members of at least two parties watching one another with a wary eye for any sign of skullduggerous behavior.  (There's a handbook -- here's Indiana's.)  Voting machines and vote-tabulating machines are tested before and after, with observers from the two main parties overseeing.  Our state election systems are all going to be counting for all they are worth, and counting honestly, if for no other reason than how closely they are being watched.  It's as honest and fair as can be managed.

      We'll get results eventually.  I am hoping for a clear outcome by Wednesday morning but I expect we'll go to bed not knowing, while politicians and their partisans bleat of victory or deceit.  Talk in advance of hard numbers is bullshit.  Counting takes time; inflaming popular passions is easy and quick.  Don't get sucked into it: the results will be whatever they will be, and we'll live with them for four years, plus or minus two for Senators and Congressthings.  Downtown businesses in Indianapolis have boarded up their windows and I am hopeful it will have been unnecessary.
* Bush v. Gore, anyone?

Monday, November 02, 2020

New Coldest Morning So Far

      It could have been worse.  A low of 26°F was forecast, to be reached right at waking-up time.  Instead, it was 29° at six this morning.  Or at least it was according to the closest weather station.

      The new alarm arrived Saturday and I installed it Sunday.  I also did several hours of woodworking in the cold, cutting, trimming and sanding another high-level shelf for my bedroom.  The temperature sank from the mid-40s to 40 while I worked outside, somewhat sheltered from the worst of the wind in the yard between the house and the garage.  In work gloves, hat and coat, I didn't quite notice the cold.  Oh, it was chilly, all right, but not that bad as long as I kept moving.  When I went back into the house, it was toasty warm, which turned out to be a cozy 63°.

      It was Robert A. Heinlein (in Have Space Suit, Will Travel) where I first learned that humans produce plenty of heat -- the problem in cold conditions is keeping the heat in.  (And, once you've got enough insulation, not marinating in your own damp.)  Years ago, one of my co-workers (his fictional partial counterpart on the Hidden Frontier is "Handsome Dave') got me in the habit of always doing everything except fine work in gloves and it pays off not just in fewer cuts and splinters, but in being able to work comfortably (and unfrustrated) in chilly weather.  He passed away far too young, so I can't thank him today.  But I can remember him when I share his advice: Don't play the tough guy, wear gloves for heavy work, all time -- and you'll be able to work well in them when it gets so cold you have to have them.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

NaNoWriMo Light?

      It's National Novel Writing Month, and there's a website and everything.  Every year, I tell myself I'm going to try it, and every year, I chicken out.

     Maybe this year.  Maybe at least I'll try to write some fiction every day.