Friday, December 31, 2021

Fun With Numbers

      There's a lot of, "Hooray, we're saved," and even, "Now COVID-19 is just a common cold," right now, with the Omicron variant much more transmissible and apparently milder than previous forms of the virus.

      It's good news if true, but we don't know for sure -- and there are good reasons to not pop the cork on that particular bottle of champagne* just yet.

      But -- if it's easier to catch and the symptoms are not too bad, where's the problem?  The gotcha is, it's milder for most people.  Not for everyone.  Here in the Midwest, we're in the middle of a Delta surge (at least I hope it is the middle!) that has hospitals straining.  Over a dozen military doctors and nurses are helping out at Indianapolis hospitals† and they're short of beds, especially in the ICU.  So there's no margin.  Next, let's say that Omicron is three times as easy to catch as Delta, but only puts a third as many of the people who catch it in the hospital: that's not better; in terms of who needs hospital resources, it's just a wash.  Anything worse than that -- say it's four times as easy to catch and only puts a third as many of the infected in such a bad way that they need to be hospitalized -- and despite being milder, it nevertheless increases the number of people needing hospital care.

      That would be bad.  About the only thing it has going for it is that it would be over quickly -- but anyone needing any kind of hospital attention during the worst of it, COVID-19, broken bone, heart attack, whatever -- is going to be getting short shrift.  Hospital staff have become very good at triage but I can assure from personal experience that while a simple broken knee/thighbone can indeed be left to wait when the ER is busy with urgent cases, it's screamin' painful.

      People who were at high risk of having a bad case of COVID-19 due to age, obesity or medical condition still are at risk from Omicron.

      And we don't know exactly how much more transmissible Omicron is.  "Lots."  The lowest estimates said ten to twenty percent more, and have since been updated to just say "it's more than Delta;" the wildest extrapolate from lab measurement of how quickly it grows in your nose and say it's seventy times as easy to get.  The sober, informed guesses I'm finding say it is three to five times as transmissible as Delta.  I wouldn't bet any more on any of those than I could afford to lose, but three to five seem likely.

      And the other parameter?  How much less of a hospital risk is Omicron, anyway?  We don't know, especially for people in the United States.  The only actual numbers I can find say that in Scotland, about two-thirds fewer people infected with Omicron needed to be hospitalized, and in South Africa, around eighty percent fewer did, compared to people with Delta.  But those populations are not directly comparable; Americans average fatter than Scots and South Africans, and over a decade older than South Africans.  We're running the experiment now, in real time.

      So save that champagne.  There's a good chance you will get to drink it, but not for a month or two.
_______________________________
* That's in contrast to the bottle you have saved back to celebrate the New Year.   Have it primed and ready!  Good riddance, 2021!  2022 might be better or worse, but at least it will be different.
 
† The usual rejoinder is that any hospital problem must be due to staff lost over refusing COVID-19 vaccination.  I don't know about where you live, but at the massive IU Health multi-hospital complex here, out of 36,000 employees, 125 refused vaccination and no longer work there.  That's 0.3472 percent.  This is data worth finding from the horse's mouth, and what I have found so far is that the rumors of massive staff loss are way overcooked.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Pasta And Meatballs?

      Meatballs were fancy.  It wasn't how pasta was served in the house where I grew up; crumbled ground beef and canned or bottled sauce were the rule, filling and good enough.  If you wanted authentic spaghetti and meatballs, you went to Rosie's Little Italy* and got the real thing, or as close as an Indiana county-seat town had to offer in the late 1970s.

      It's 2021 and 2022 is fixing to roll in like Darth Vader's Star Dreadnought.  Meatballs -- artisanal meatballs! -- are a convenience food these days.

      I've been noticing frozen and refrigerated trays of them in our corner grocer's for awhile now and I finally decided to try them.  The fancy three-meat ones were no more expensive than plain.  I picked up a bottle of fancy sauce and last night, I cooked them for dinner.

      First surprise: the packaging is opaque; the six big meatballs turn out to be supplied with a fair amount of sauce.  The bottle of truffle-infused marinara got saved for later.  I started water for the pasta -- plenty of bowtie noodles left from last time -- and set the meatballs to nuke while I sauteed some diced carrot, celery and (canned, so lazy) mushrooms with Italian spice mix in a little olive oil.

      With the noodles simmering, I sliced three Castelvetrano olives, and they went into the pan just ahead of the noodles and hot meatballs in sauce.  I'd set out a small can of plain tomato sauce if needed, but there was plenty of sauce; the vegetables, meatballs and sauce got to simmer and get acquainted under cover while the pasta finished, though I did lift the lid long enough to snip a Piprarra pepper into it in short segments.  (Yes, I Add Things to the sauce, pretty much every time.  YMMV.)

      The end result was quite good and something I would never go to the trouble of making on a weekday if I had to do it from scratch.  As a low-effort supper treat, instant meatballs do well indeed.
________________________
* Gone now, trailing off with the kind of mixed reviews that suggest a place is struggling to keep going.  The little town where I grew up has lost a lot of industry and it has hit the local economy hard.  But back when, Rosie's served good food from a real Italian chef, with a couple of locations and plenty of atmosphere.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Dreaded End-Of-Year Review

      It's that time again -- because who doesn't want to spend the week between Christmas and New Year's desperately digging for examples of having been useful for something other than keeping the floor from floating away?

      It's Agonizing Self-Appraisal time, which then goes into the corporate hopper and doesn't come back for weeks and weeks, at which time whatever frantic boosterism I come up with now will look pretty threadbare.

      "Due to superior willpower and an overpowering fear of not having medical insurance, overcame the strong impulse to resign before age has turned my mind to mush and my joints to stone," is probably not going to pass muster; it's not really a value-added service for my employer.  Besides, lots of my co-workers are already doing the same thing, and with more dash and √©lan.  H'mm, "Have not caused an utter disaster so far this year?"  True but moot.

      Better get to digging.  I must be of some use around the place.  Somehow.  I hope.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Oxtail Stew

      Oxtail and beef shank, in fact.  The beef shank had a big section of marrow-filled bone.  The meat got salt, pepper and some spice mix with garlic and rosemary.  I browned both in a very little olive oil, then added beef stock, canned diced tomatoes and enough additional water to cover, and let it simmer for an hour before adding parsnips and carrots. 

      About an hour after that, I added celery, onion and some diced purple and pink potatoes, plus a small can of tomato sauce.

      Forty-five minutes later, I added coarsely chopped purple cabbage, and let it cook another twenty minutes, during which time I scooped out the remaining marrow from the beef shank and stirred it into the broth, and cut the meat off the bones and into bite-sized chunks.  The bones went back in as soon as they were clear, to ensure all the goodness made it into the stew.

      The end result was ambrosial, amazingly rich and flavorful.  Tam and I had two bowls each, and a taste more, and there's plenty frozen for later.  When you have the time to cook it, this is a wonderful stew.

     ETA: Here's Tam's first bowl:
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Slow-Roasted

      Tam received a Christmas gift of meat from one of her employers -- bison meat!  There was a good-sized chuck roast that she thought would be nice for the holidays.

     I agreed, but...bison?   It can be tough and dry.  So I pulled out all the stops: I'd slow-cook it over hardwood charcoal with a version of my roast pork vegetables.

     Once the grill was set up for indirect heat (two rows of coals and a space in the middle), I started with the meat -- salt, pepper, rubbed the pan down with olive oil and added a little Italian-style salad dressing.  It roasted for an hour while I peeled and diced an apple and a turnip.  The apple got a generous sprinkling of ginger and just a little ground cloves.  The turnip got garlic powder.  I added it to the pan around and little on the roast, in layers -- apple and then turnip.

     I peeled and diced a couple of parsnips, a red onion and a fennel bulb, and added them (with plenty of parsley) about forty-five minutes (or a bit more) after the apple and turnip.  That all cooked for at least forty-five minutes more, and then I added shitake mushrooms and it got another thirty-plus minutes.

     Here's the end result:
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO

     That's without adding any extra liquid.  It's just from the apple, vegetables and mushrooms.
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO

     The meat turned out nice -- tender, moist and flavorful.
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO

     We'll be having bison again!

     We'll be having parsnips, too -- for Christmas day, our neighbor had given us two enormous Porterhouse steaks.  I grilled them and put a split, peeled parsnip and a little butter wrapped in aluminum foil to roast on the grill while I made baked potatoes (microwave until mostly done, wrap in foil and put on the grill: they cook in the same time as a medium-well steak and are marvelous) and microwave-steamed fresh asparagus (our grocer sells it ready-to-go, with peppers and garlic butter).  The steaks were fabulous, a cut and size I would never buy for myself these days (our neighbor knows how I like to grill, being downwind of weekend cooking), the other vegetables were as good as ever, but the parsnips were an outstanding side dish, like carrots for adults, as wine is to grape juice.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas!

      Merry Christmas, or whatever other good wish for the holidays suits you!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Marinara To Chili

      It's a sneaky kitchen trick -- and it works.

     Last week, I made pasta for dinner one night -- pretty serious pasta, butterfly noodles (farfalle), a 32-ounce jar Michaels of Brooklyn bottled marinara* supercharged with a pound of ground round, a small red onion, a little finely-diced carrot, some fresh red bell pepper and a couple teaspoons of capers.  It was tasty, but that's obviously way more than two spinsters can eat.

     So I froze the remainder.  Two days later, Tam picked up some mild Italian bulk sausage.  I browned it with chili powder and chorizo seasoning, then drained the fat and sauteed an onion, another red bell pepper, a few chopped cherry tomatoes and a little celery in the stewpot.  Once that was done, I added a small can of green chilis and the (thawed) left-over marinara with a couple of bay leaves, figuring I could put in a small can of tomato sauce if needed, or a can of chili beans.  I snipped in three pickled piparra peppers for a bit extra zing.  (My chili runs mild; it's easier to add heat to suit your preference at the table.)

     Within minutes it was pretty obvious that nothing else was needed.  The chili was about thick enough to stand a tablespoon, smelled wonderful and tasted better.  The chili powder moves in on the marinara spice profile and makes itself  at home, to the benefit of both.  We had a fine supper (and there was enough left for the next day's lunch -- but mind that third freeze and thaw cycle, and don't let the chili sit tepid before you freeze it). 

     The maker of the sauce runs an absolutely first-rate Italian restaurant in, yes, Brooklyn.  I won't tell them about making leftover sauce into chili, and please don't you, either. 
______________________________
* One of the best premade sauces I know of.  Costs more than the big brands but you can taste the improvement.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Merry Christmas

      Or happy holidays, or whatever other winter celebration you are preparing to to celebrate (or have recently celebrated). 

      I have nothing to write about this morning, but I do want to express good wishes for you, whoever you are.  It's just as easy to do as to complain, and a lot more helpful.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

"My Name Is Friday..."

      Joe Friday, that is.  I'm back to lulling myself to sleep with episodes of the original Dragnet radio drama, created by Jack Webb, who starred as Sergeant Friday throughout the various incarnations of the series.

      The fictional detective's career spanned twenty-one years.  Webb was working on bringing Dragnet and Joe Friday back to TV when he was killed by a heart attack at the age of 62.

      The character was criticized as being a bit wooden and old-fashioned, especially in the final incarnation of the series in the late 1960s.  But Webb was a stickler for realism and the serious, chain-smoking WW II veteran, whose deadpan observations often skirted humor, is very like some of the engineers I worked with early in my career: focused on facts, emotionally a bit distant, diligently intent on getting things to work out.

      With the sound of competent adults on the job, I can begin an episode and nod off, confident that Joe and his partner will bring the case to a successful conclusion.  It can take me two or three nights to get all the way through a half-hour, even though they're often action-packed or suspenseful.  This probably goes back to childhood, when my parents would send the children to bed and stay up to watch Perry Mason or Chrysler Theatre,* and I'd fall asleep to the sound of distant voices.

      The first few radio dramas use complex storytelling techniques -- flashback, fading from narration to fully acted scene, and so on -- and a much more expanded version of the introduction.  Jack Webb wanted a starker, more realistic drama, and the style he would be known for emerges over the first year, a little at a time.  It's interesting to observe; paring away excess to leave only the essentials may look simple but it is not as easy as layering on more and more.

      Recording quality varies considerably and the subtler nuances of background are often lost, but the stories and acting hold up well and Friday's personality comes through strongly.

      In a world gone a bit mad, it's a breath of sanity; grim, perhaps, but sane nevertheless.
_________________________
* Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, complete with a rolling Pentastar logo in the opening. It was an anthology series with a very wide range of material, from comedy to a dramatization of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich."  I don't think I ever saw an entire show.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Respiratory Infections: Mine, Yours, The World's

      My cold-or-whatever has calmed down, from a thundering sinus waterfall (well, not water, but let's stay with the Niagara imagery in lieu of anything more accurate, because ew) to a slightly stuffy nose, from headachy dizziness to the just the usual.  I think I'll avoid grocery shopping for a day or two, because who wants to sneeze in a mask, to the alarm of those around you and your own, well, once again, ew.

      Your cold?  That's your own lookout, though I will point out that Winter has never been a great time to go kissing strangers, long before the pandemic.  Eat right, wash your hands, mask up indoors away from home, don't go crowding indoors with strangers for extended periods of time, you know the drill.

      The world's?  Hey, let's talk.  Omicron is, as I predicted, here and growing.  If you took the other side of that bet, you should not play cards or dice for money: it was inevitable.

      Omicron may -- may -- be milder.  Optimists have been claiming that all such viruses "evolve to become less deadly" but that ain't necessarily so (as the eminent Dr. Gershwin tells us).  There's some pressure on them to become more transmissible, especially as we do things that reduce transmission -- and a virus that kills a large proportion of the host population quickly is not very effectively transmissible, no matter how infectious it is.  (The horrible truth is that this is what has, so far, kept dire things like ebola in check: they're too deadly to get far.)  But a virus that makes a lot of people fairly sick for a longer period of time while striking down a few can circulate for a long time -- smallpox and polio being good examples, deadly but not universally so and never what any of us would call mild.  The data on Omicron so far comes from populations with relatively high rates of vaccination; it may only be milder for vaccinated people.  We'll know in a couple of weeks.  Even a "mild" version is still a worry if you have risk factors like being elderly, immune system problems, heart or lung issues, are very overweight and so on.  We've all gotten this far, so keep on keeping on.  (I'd tell you to get vaccinated but by now if you want one, you know where to get it.)

      There's still the occasional complaint (mostly from pundits who ought to know better) that the U. S. doesn't do enough checking on which variants are circulating here.  I don't know if we can; this country has the third-largest population in the world.  Just the approximate two-thirds share of Americans who are vaccinated is more people than any other country on Earth except four or five, and the unvaccinated by themselves are more people than all but nine other countries: in this, as in many other things, there are so many of us that gathering really detailed data is a staggering task.

      Getting through this is a less staggering effort.  It's the same slog, and with the observed rate of spread, it'll probably peak more quickly than earlier waves.  Be prepared, and don't lose hope.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Anniversary Cold?

      Do the sinuses remember?  Do they hold a grudge?  Several years ago on this date, I had "balloon sinoplasty," essentially a serious clearing-out of my sinus cavities.  Recovery was remarkably icky, with occasional creepy moments.

      Last night, I had an increasingly-runny nose.  It bothered me a little all night and when I got up and fed the cats, it was pretty bad.  I napped a little, and when I woke again....  It was like an over-the-top comedy bit.  I couldn't stop having to blow my nose.

      I have been working from home, box of tissues next to the computer.  After almost falling out of my chair (no sense of balance) and then laughing myself dangerously dizzy over it, I gave up and took to bed with my laptop and head cold supplies.  Drainage has slowed but hasn't stopped.

      Breathing okay as long as I don't do anything silly, no fever, so I doubt it's COVID-19.  But it's inconvenient as can be.  If the symptoms do turn coronavirus-like, I have a rapid test kit saved back and will use it.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Cowboy Bebop

      At last mention, Tam and I had seen all of the live-action series and were starting on the anime.

      We have now seen all except the last episode and--

      It's pretty darned good.  The people complaining about the live-action series?  Nuts.  Yes, it's a bit of a mixmaster of the characters and themes of the original.  Yes, it's a bit uneven.  So what.  The TV-series version of The Expanse is also a mixmastered version of the books, and the first couple of episodes were very much feeling their way in terms of tone, setting and verisimilitude -- so much so that I watched an episode and a half and set it aside for a few months.  It got better, fast. 

      I think the live-action Cowboy Bebop would have gotten better, too.  But it never got the chance.  One of the more common criticisms was that it "lacked the essential weirdness of the original."  I think that is specious; what I saw in the anime was a cultural difference in expectation, dramatic conventions and interpersonal relations, which is a fancy way of saying that particular angle of "weird" wasn't a result of directorial intent or apparent to the home-market audience.  Yes, shoot the thing with a Hollywood-tradition director and cast, get a subtle shift in tone: that's Art. 

      But we've got 26 episodes of the anime, a modern season's-worth of the live-action and a movie, which is pretty good body of work as such things go in TV science fiction.  The five seasons of The Expanse or however many of Star Trek you personally count as canon are exceptions and the two-season run of Altered Carbon is about typical.

      SEE YOU SPACE COWBOY....

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Where I Stand

      A few commenters appear to be quite disappointed in me.  They have apparently been laboring under the common delusion that "libertarian" somehow means "superconservative.*"

      It does not.  (To be sure, a lot of self-identified libertarians have decided it means that, or something even alt-Rightier, but that's their lookout.)

      On most social issues that don't involve public expenditure, I'm going to look frighteningly liberal to most conservatives.  I really don't care if my neighbors pray five times a day on a mat, seven times a day with a rosary, never, or whatever other arrangement suits them.  I don't care if same-sex couples marry one another and I don't care if the ceremony is in some language other than English.  I believe American culture is a lovely, syncretic, polyglot mess.  I think your showerhead and your monster truck is your own business -- but you'll have to pay the going rate for gas or water.  I'm not going to go all agog when some brightly-tattooed non-binary person stomps past me in Wal-Mart, and I'm not going to get apoplectic when a private business sets its own rules about the wearing (or non-wearing) of facemasks or maintaining social distance.

      Fiscally, well, I think the government ought to be funded by voluntary contributions and bake sales -- but it isn't.  The best we can hope for -- and work for -- is that they won't be too wasteful with the money they take from us.  On the other hand, a little bit of slop and inefficiency leaves room for a modicum of decency and compassion at the lowest level; the machinery of government should never be so smoothly polished that it doesn't allow some leeway for the humanity of the people who run it and those who are most affected by it.

      I believe all of our institutions are inherently voluntary: they exist and persist only because enough of us are willing to go along.  From the kindliest of public libraries to the meanest of police departments (and indeed, vice-versa), it happens because we let it; it functions because we pitch in and because we don't try too hard to shove a stick into the spokes.  While these institutions are resilient, everything from government to churches to Scout troops to annoying people circulating petitions, any of them can be broken or badly damaged by enough people making the effort, for good or ill.

      I don't believe any person or group is entirely without wicked impulses; nor is anyone so evil as to not occasionally do good. Humans are not perfect, and we're not perfectable. We're also not especially consistent; we swerve to miss squirrels in the street and later make rude hand gestures at drivers who startle us, all in the same trip.

      I do believe in expertise: different people have differing abilities, different levels of education and different levels of skill.  When my car needs to be repaired, I take it to someone with training and experience in fixing cars, and I pay attention to their advice.  This principle applies to all subjects; each of us can only learn a few of the specialized skills and while we might have opinions about medical matters or space travel (etc., etc.), knowing the limits of one's knowledge is an excellent measure of wisdom.  One's own personal ignorance of some subject does not over-rate the judgment of people who actually know what they are doing.

      I believe we have a government of mainly amateurs, most of who are moderately honest and relatively diligent; I don't think any of them show up for work rubbing their hands together and chortling over how they're going to screw us all over  (and I don't think that means they might not, even with the finest of intent, screw us over anyway; but there are checks and balances to keep 'em from going too far).  I think our elections are honestly run, mostly because the volunteers and low-paid workers at the bottom watch one another like hawks and gossip like the old maids no few of them are; it is simply not an environment in which any conspiracy could stay hidden.

      I don't believe in Great Leaders.  We elect these people to go off and represent us, or try to keep the everyday business of our city, state or country running, and they are, all of them, Just Some Gal or Guy.  Some of them are better at the rah-rah business of campaigning than others, some of them have better PR programs, some are way out there politically or mentally, some are hard workers and some are drunks, but not a one of them is magical and every last one of them is scrambling just as hard to keep up as you or me, no matter how pretty a front they put on.

      I don't believe in conspiracy theories.  Our world is too complex for any sort of large-scale, behind-the-scenes string-pulling to work.  The horrible truth is, nobody's really in charge, and the greatest and most notable of men or organizations astride current events is pretty much an ant trying to drag a fallen leaf in a high wind.

      Is that collection of notions "liberal" or "conservative" to you?  I think it's neither.  But if you showed up here hoping for someone to beat a drum for Mr. Trump, or beat up on Mr. Biden -- or to cheer for Biden and dunk on Trump -- you're barking up the wrong door.  If you came for an echo-chamber of half-baked conspiracy theories, you're in for disappointment.  The coronavirus is real, the vaccines work, Joe Biden is a run-of-the-mill Democrat who actually won a close election for President, and it's wrong to riot, do harm to individuals and damage property, in Portland, Washington D. C. or anywhere else -- and 6 January was closer to a coup than this country has yet seen.  Our Federal government tottered and the next hard shove could push it over, which I think would be a tragedy. 

     There you go.  If you find it objectionable, go read something else; it's a big Internet and right now, it's a "choose your own reality" adventure.  Just remember, the game is for real and the stakes are about as high as they get.
________________________
* I could go on quite a rant about how today's Republicans have distorted and bent the meaning of "conservative" to get it to align with Mr. Trump's package deal of trade protectionism, leader-idolization, jingoistic nativism and a very exclusionist notion of citizenship.  But I won't.  I'm not a Republican and I can only presume that the local, state and national organizations of that party are embracing the policies and positions they have freely chosen.  I will observe that so doing didn't help the Whigs or the Know-Nothings to hang on; but it's not my party and I don't get a say in how it is run.

Friday, December 17, 2021

The Magical Oil Knob

      There's a funny thing about gasoline and diesel/heating oil: most of us act as if there's a magical knob on the U. S. President's desk, which he can fiddle with at will.  If prices go up, and we didn't vote for the guy, we blame him.  If prices drop, and we voted for the guy. we thank him.

      We are -- all! -- notably silent when prices climb under a President we like, or drop for a President we dislike.

      There's no knob.  There never has been.  At best, a President is like a cheerleader on the sidelines of a football game: they can get you roaring, and perhaps that affects the final score, but the grunt and impact and long, lovely throws are all done by other people.  A President can encourage or stop oil pipeline construction, but that's just a long, dry pipe, with no direct connection to your gas tank until the oil flows.  It does affect the futures market in oil; but the forces that drive oil prices are complex, often at odds with one another (OPEC vs. non-OPEC producers, for instance) and not always strictly rational.  The closer it gets to be a consumer product, the more market forces drive the price -- but the companies selling it to to you have made their own bets on prices, and which way they'll move.  They always hedge their bets.*

      Gas prices have dropped for the holidays.  I'm not much minded to praise or blame the President; he doesn't even have to fill the tank of the cars he rides in.  But I do have a mental image of Adam Smith on the sidelines, covering sheet after sheet of paper with notes, crumpling them up and throwing them away in increasing frustration; even the simplest explanation of fuel pricing gets into the tall grass very quickly, and from there into the weeds.
________________________
* Remember when crude oil prices briefly went negative?  Yeah, gas and diesel price at the pump never even got close to that, because J. Random Oil Company knows they'd better have a cushion when things change.  And it's true that we'd miss them very badly if they were gone.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Book Report

      Wrapped up It Can't Happen Here yesterday and on the whole, I was impressed.  Writing in 1935, Sinclair Lewis foresaw the broad outline of what authoritarian klepocracy would get up to, including a version of concentration camps that errs only in being a bit less terrible then the reality.

      It is a book worth reading.

      The author's own politics appear to show up, briefly, near the very end of the book when the, um, not exactly a hero but far-less-bad side's leader speaks to an industrial magnate, and, hey-la, it's about as half-baked as most new-and-different 1935 political theorizing.  To Lewis's credit, it's not essential to the book, in which a very broad ideological front is opposing the baddies; broad but not universal: home-grown communists show up here and there in the book, just as dogmatic and narrow as any modern-day Internet tankie, and are left out of the resistance by their own choice.

      Knowing the names and notions circulating at the time the book was written is helpful -- FDR sails off into exile, while Garrett Garet and Upton Sinclair are both clapped into the camps, and if you don't know who they are, you'll miss why that is of note.  (Hard Times, Studs Terkel's remarkably even-handed oral history of the Great Depression across a wide range of politics and personalities, is helpful and fascinating background.)

      The book ends with an embattled, divided U.S., dropping into near-warlordism, and while there is some reason to hope, things are not looking great in the short term.

      The book's basic premise for the refashioning of the Federal government is shaky, especially in the details; there's no Constitutional basis for it.  One the other hand, Andrew Jackson's ignoring of a U.S. Supreme Court decision (and his generally flexible regard for Constitutional limits on Executive power) sets a precedent that is difficult to ignore.

      A vulnerability that existed unknown in 1935 and which has only partially been addressed even now is that Presidential succession and Continuity of Government is not as straightforward as Civics class may have made it appear, especially as it devolves past the Vice President.  The Daybreak trilogy explores one set of possible bad outcomes in some detail, and I continue to recommend it as entertaining food for thought.  The  high-concept take is, there are ways in which who's supposed to be in charge can become badly tangled, with no clear path out.

      Clumsy as it is, non-ideal as it is, unhappy as about half of us are with it at any given moment, the Federal government of the United States is an uncommon thing, a democratic republic with hard limits on its powers (and yes, a dire tendency to nibble away at those limits).  Once broken, it would be extraordinarily difficult to replace -- and the alternatives running nation-states of comparable size and population elsewhere are all far uglier.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

An Entire Indianapolis

      The total is just a little less, but it's catching up fast: the coronavirus pandemic has killed almost as many Americans as live in Indianapolis.  Over 800,000 people.

      If you'd like another way to look at it, the average U.S. county has a population of 100,000.  That's eight counties, wiped out.

      If a foreign country had done that, we'd pretty much all be ready to stomp 'em.  If homegrown malefactors had done such thing, no stone would go unturned in hunting them down and bringing them to justice, harsh, swift and complete.

      But we're up against a virus, a blind, remorseless biological robot too small to see, and we have fallen into petty bickering over the ways it might be slowed or stopped, suspicious of our government and of one another, as likely to share rumor as fact.  Because the blamed thing doesn't go clanking down the street on tank treads, flattening houses, or have a garishly-flagged embassy full of spies in Washington D.C., we focus on less sensible threats that are visible to the naked eye, most of them comprising some subset of our fellow citizens.

      Tornado-torn Kentucky has a vaccination rate of about 54%; people there are, like many of us, not especially diligent about wearing masks for indoors public interactions.  Now many are homeless in winter, without electricity any running water. The corner pharmacy and the big-box store on the edge of town are as struggling as the rest of the affected region.  It's a recipe for even more trouble, in a few weeks or a month.  Lots of people are pitching in to help, and you don't need to have an opinion one way or another about the pandemic to donate money, food or supplies to help alleviate the immediate need.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Reading

      Still working through It Can't Happen Here, the 1935 Sinclair Lewis novel in which it does, in fact, happen here.

      It's sobering reading, especially in his choice to model the autocrat on Huey Long.  The Kingfish was a familiar type of politician, merely writ larger and more successful than most, and as a result, the fictional "Buzz Windrip" seems quite like many another Senator, Governor, Congressperson or big-city Mayor.  His personality and style is one of the most plausible parts of the book.

      The remainder is a mish-mash of populist worries and authoritarian actions history has played through over and over, most of it elsewhere.  Not all of it translates as well as it might have looked to in 1935 -- but too much of it does.

      Reading the book has reaffirmed my belief that federalism is one of this country's great strengths, that the decentralized, squabbling nature of our elections and local governments is a very good thing.  It has reminded me that we tinker with Mr. Madison's work at our (and our posterity's) very great peril, and that we should be gravely suspicious of anyone, especially any politician, who goes looking for shortcuts and loopholes -- no matter if we agree with or oppose their aims.  Means matter as much as ends; rules matter, and so does all that tiresome debate and lawyering.  If nothing more, it buys time for a closer look -- and it usually buys us a great deal more than that.

      I don't care who you vote for nearly as much as what you'll let them get away with.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Oh-Dark-Something

      Up early so I can go in early to meet a subcontractor who starts early so they can sneak up on the roosters in wintertime and berate them for lollygagging and featherbedding.  Or something.  Maybe they like to get started before the suppliers open, giving them plenty of time to encounter unexpected needs and fetch required parts.  But that'd be too logical to complain about, so I'm just going with the roosters thing.

     ETA: And, with exact timing, the plumbing stopped up this morning, necessitating plunger work followed by (thankfully, minor) mop work.  A half-hour I couldn't spare but couldn't avoid. 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

And Another Reminder

      If you make claims in comments that I cannot verify, your comment will not be published.  Links, or it didn't happen -- and maybe not even then, depending on the veracity of the links.  Primary sources preferred, or at least a path back to the primary source from your link.

      If your comments make it clear that you cannot tell the difference between the news pages and the opinion pages, in print or online, they will not be published.  The distinction matters.  It matters if you like what they're saying, it matters if you dislike or disagree with what they say and it matters even if you have no opinion about it yourself.

      Don't repeat as fact things you haven't checked.  Time and again, I get comments telling me that "they," or the mainstream media, or even (rarely) the right-wing media is ignoring or glossing over some newsworthy occurrence and yet when I go looking, the supposedly suppressed news is being covered six ways from Sunday by the exact people who were said to be burying it at a crossroads while the Moon was eclipsed.  The flip side of this are the "news stories" that turn out to be purest fantasy, and are not being covered because they never actually happened.

      If you want to live in a custom-curated reality, go for it!  But don't expect me to go along just because you are delighted with it. 

      If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  If it sounds too awful to be believed, better check before you go sharing. Real life is slightly dull but not entirely uneventful, and that's as much of a yardstick as I can offer.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Saturday Brunch

      After watching the Saturday morning cartoons and some serious catching-up on dishes (Thursday take-out, Friday "hopped-up chili" made with leftover Hoppin' John, three-quarters of a pound of ground chuck, a red onion, a can of chilis, a can of diced tomatoes, chili powder and this and that; it's neither one thing nor the other* but it's darned good), I settled down to turning out a bit of brunch in the big wok:

      Two "Irish Banger" sausages, squeezed from their casing, browned, crumbled and set aside.
      Two strips of applewood bacon, likewise; they needed to get used up before it was too late.
      About two cups of diced potatoes.  I found the remainder of a bag of multicolored fingerling potatoes, so we had red, white and purple-blue potatoes.  They got well-browned in the sausage and bacon fat.
      A half-dozen smallish green onions and three cherry tomatoes, chopped and sprinkled with "Italian blend" seasoning,

      Once the potatoes were nearly done, I poured the drained sausage over them, added all of the tomatoes and half of the onions, and tossed it around over medium heat until it was well warmed through before pushing it to the sides of the pan and scrambling a couple of eggs in the open space over high heat.  Once they were mostly done, I mixed it all back together, then added the rest of the onion and the crumbled bacon, and kept stirring it over medium-high heat until it was as dry as I wanted it.  All it needed then was a piparra pepper snipped over it and a little hot sauce.  (Tam and I have become fond of the little, skinny mild-hot peppers.)

* * *

      Recent reading reminded me that I had never read It Can't Happen Here.  I have set about remedying that lack and so far (which is not very), I am finding it readable and a bit dated; but it's a period of time you can still see from here if you climb up high enough and squint (late interwar years, well into the Great Depression and with the thunder of big guns almost audible).  It's almost-but-not-quite resonant with today, enough so that the differences can be jarring.
___________________
* What?  You object to a few blackeyed peas, bell pepper and so on in your chili?  I'll fight over it!  Or maybe just call it "red stew" instead.  While I will readily admit to a weakness for complexity in my soups and stews, grocery prices are high and if I can stretch a meal over two days, better believe I will.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Well, That Was $1.99

      Why is hyperbole so tempting to people writing about political figures they despise?  Even talented writers.  The novel I was reading yesterday (It Happened Here) has a character who is noted as having a sarcastic, comically exaggerated take on a major political figure, but the handful of times examples crop up the text, it's so over the top as to be neither funny nor insightful.  In a book peopled with realistically-drawn characters, it's especially jarring.

      This weakness for wild insult instead of solid criticism has become annoying to me -- given a notably pedestrian Democrat President who has trouble getting bills through Congress, people who didn't vote for him tell adult-diaper jokes instead of criticizing him for ineffectiveness.  Given an outgoing President who spins fantasies of voting irregularities, people who didn't vote for him talk about what a horrible fellow he is instead of picking the falsehoods apart.  Out on the fringes of political debate, it's all Italian spy satellites and politicians returning from the dead, or tall tales of a tightly-coordinated far-Right cabal plotting a takeover (while the alleged perps can't even get on the same script).  The Birchers and student protesters of my youth look like quaintly rational stalwarts of a vanished age of reason in contrast.

      With steak and potatoes on the menu (and the roast zucchini for you, mister?), people seem to have a marked preference for hot-take plates of steaming bullcrap instead.  I don't get it.  I just don't get it.

      With Rome ablaze, everyone gets out fiddles instead of buckets and improvises tunes on the theme of Them Other Guys Is Awful Stinky.  Well, good luck with that.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

"Be Like Water"

      I have been reading political scare-fiction off and on for years since I was in Junior High, starting with Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451 (the library didn't have 1984, which I read in High School).  And I read history and biography, too.

      Right now, It Happened Here is on my Kindle, a "near-future" nightmare starting in late 2020 that rapidly goes askew from actual history.  (The author may not be aware of the UK mockumentary of the same title, in which the UK is successfully invaded by Germany.) The book is focused on regular people rather than politicians, a pair of brothers and their families.  No ordinary citizen at any point on the political spectrum comes off very noble or particularly evil, just people trying to get by, and the author deserves credit for that.

      And yet--  The scheming, held-over-in-office villains have A Plan.  The book kept reminding me of Matthew Bracken's "The Enemies" trilogy in some weird way.  I wasn't able to put my finger on it at first.  It hit me a few minutes ago: most of these books (notably not Orwell or Bradbury's), Left, Right or worried centrist, are built around the assumption that the bad guys, onstage or off, have a checklist or a playbook, and they're just working their way through it, one careful step after another.  In the real world, would-be authoritarians have two characteristics that never show up in most political-warning fiction: luck and brilliant ad-hockery.  From Lenin to Hitler to Mao, they (and their organization) are opportunistic, flexible, willing to grab for the main chance no matter how it presents itself.  Only in hindsight do they appear systematic -- and the autocrats themselves would rather be seen as careful planners than gamblers grabbing whatever's grabbable and frantically improvising.  But that's the real story.  "For the want of a nail...."

      So when you sit down to read these books, there's often something, something that seems a little off, no matter if you agree with the message or find it risible.  Real life is twisty.  History is only unsurprising in hindsight, when we already know how the story came out.

      I miss "the end of history."  Dammit, I was looking forward to boring years of space travel and fixing up the planet.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Hoppin' John, Three-By-Three

      We had Hoppin' John last night, with three different kinds of meat, three kinds of peppers and three additional fresh vegetables.

      It starts with a large "Irish banger" sausage, a hot Italian sausage and a small ham steak.  Squeeze the sausage out of the casings, brown and crumble, adding cubed ham shortly before it is done. A little Cajun seasoning would not be out of line.  Then drain the fat and push the meat to the perimeter of the pan.*

      Next, add a small onion (I used a nice red onion), diced, and while it cooks, dice a carrot or two and a couple of stalks of celery, and add them.  Stir that around and dice a large green pepper. and add it.  Cook until the vegetables get colorful and slightly translucent.

      At that point, stir everything together and add a small can of green chilis, a 14 oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes (liquid and all), and a can of blackeyed peas, partially drained.  The trick here is to drain the beans into the empty tomato can, stir the beans into the pan, and then add enough bean liquid to get a stew-like consistency, or thinner if you prefer.  I had used "no salt added" tomatoes, which gets around worries about the beans being too salty.

      Season with Cajun seasoning, parsley flakes, basil, a little cilantro if you like it,† a little garlic powder (you could use fresh garlic, starting way back with the onion) and a bay leaf or two.  I snipped in short sections of pickled piparra peppers.  Give it another stir, cover and let it simmer over low heat for at least ten minutes.  Up to a half-hour, it just gets better, but keep an eye on it.

      I had mine over white rice; Tam ate hers plain.  I don't know how authentic is it but it's tasty and warm on a cold evening.
________________________
* I use a big stew pot.  A wok would do if you have a lid for it, or a deep skillet with a lid.  I suspect this stuff would be even better cooked in cast-iron over a wood or lump-charcoal fire. 
 
† Do not experiment with cilantro -- it tastes strongly soapy to some people.  This is genetic; it's not an acquired taste.  Either you like it or it's awful, and that's not going to change.  So check first.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Worked Overnight

      Eleven hours of work last night, running well past midnight, so today's post is just this.

Monday, December 06, 2021

I Get Letters!

      "Why Is It News" must have hit a nerve, judging from the comments that came in.  A couple of them are worth refuting.

      Before beginning that, some background: for most of the past 34 years, I have been able to walk down a hall at work and step into a working newsroom.  Some of the people there are my friends; a few over the years have been anything but.  Reporters, news producers and news photographers are the working edge of the newsroom, with the big-cheese News Director and his or her Assistant hovering just offstage and the news anchors, investigative reporters and Sports and Weather people around the periphery.  They are a cross-section of humanity.  While most of them are fairly young, not all of them are; while many of them fit pretty comfortably into the spectrum of Democrat voters, not all of them do; many are professing Christians of various denominations, with a sprinkling of other faiths; some of them are a fair match for the cynical, agnostic, wisecracking reporter trope of old movies but others are far less hardened.

      Earlier in my working life, I was around radio reporters and newsrooms (at times, in small markets, I *was* the newsroom, while also being the DJ and the engineer); even earlier, newspaper reporters.  What all of them have in common is that they work under enormous time pressure, on an effort too big and messy to be micromanaged.  (Newspaper editors and Radio/TV News Directors are not at all like James Bond villains and most closely resemble a small child trying to keep track of a box of puppies or kittens.)  I have seen how the sausage is made and I know the people who make it.

      They're not "up to" anything other than trying to keep timely information up on the web-page and get stories written, pictures added and all of it edited coherently for the next press time or airtime. There isn't time to gin up skullduggery.  In TV, someone on the "digital desk" (usually an assignment editor wearing a second hat) gets stories on the website, usually with words and pictures culled from newscasts and updated on the fly if more information comes to light.  Reporters follow leads, assignment editors listen to scanners, and the old "police blotter" and "wire service" come in electronically.   Stories are assembled into a newscast -- and sometimes rewritten, usually for length (or in the case of wire-service items, to include a local angle) -- by a News Producer,  They may have a couple of hours to pull together a half-hour of news, if they're lucky.  (Radio people back in the days of hourly newscasts had it worse, with 55 minutes to ready the next newscast and work the phones.) 

      Keeping people's attention is not easy.  Getting them to return for more, day after day, is even harder.  One commenter tells me that I am, "Nope, dead wrong. News is there to take your money. Advertisers pay big bucks to be seen. If the program loses audience share, the vendors take away the money. Ergo, the news is meant to entice, scare, and occasionally entertain, but most of all, it intends, plans, and chooses stories and viewpoints to keep you attentive for the next commercial." 

      Yeah, well, kind of.  News doesn't take your money.  Not even the commercials do.  The advertisers might take your money, if their ads are good enough and they are offering stuff you want to buy.  The news, though, the news has a kind of distant (and slightly strained) relationship with the department that's getting money by selling commercials.  The news will be there no matter who is advertising on it -- if the news can give you content you want to watch.  And that usually means local and regional weather (ever notice how often weather forecasts pop up?), local and regional sports, and local and regional news.  It means not lying, because that won't hold up: there's another newscast in a few hours, another one on the other channel right now, and lies always unravel.  But that's as big as the picture gets, period.  The News Director might worry about market share, and order snappy new graphics or hire different news anchors; the person pounding away at a keyboard to come up with actual news content you'll watch doesn't have that kind of Big-Picture view -- or a long waxed mustache and a chortling laugh, either.

      Another commenter thinks my co-workers are The Face Of Evil, chiding me for having written: "'Most of them sincerely want to do good, at least as they see it.' That could be the motto for The Road to Hell Paving Company. Every 'villain' of history has been trying to make the world into what he believes is a better version of the world."

      Whoa, Nellie!  Y'know what The News At Five doesn't have that Joe Stalin did?  Power.  The news has no troops, no police (secret or otherwise), no commisars or spies.  Hell, they haven't even got Senators.  Your local news sincerely tries to do an honest job.  They may bungle it; the bean-counters are everywhere these days, resulting in fewer people trying to do more work; but they didn't set out to BS you, and they're describing the world, not trying to "make [it] into ... a better version...."  Oh, sure, most stations push a few local charities, and there's always room for an uplifting story about helping puppies, kittens (or, occasionally, the homeless), but if you asked that hapless news producer about "remolding society," she'd laugh in your face and remind you that there's only forty-five minutes to airtime and half the reporters are still editing video.

      The same commenter says, "...add propagandists to that list of villains."  Hey, maybe, but that is exactly not what the news is doing.  A) they don't have time, B) most of 'em aren't subtle enough, (look, I'm sorry, but the skill of hammering out copy to get across who, what, when, where, how and why in reasonably coherent language and absolute minimum time is simply inconsistent with creating propaganda.  This is a subject I have read extensively on; Sefton Delmer is one of the better sources of information.) and C) it may be hard to believe, but there is plenty of competition across town and across the country who absolutely will call out anything even resembling propagandizing if they try -- as Sinclair learned the hard way. And even at those Sinclair stations, the basic local news is trustworthy; possibly underfunded, but what they can do, they'll work to get right.  (Large group owners do sometimes try to put a thumb on the scales; it rarely works and never for long.  Newsrooms are impossible to micromanage in a country with a free and competitive press.  Those puppies just won't stay in the box.)

      The commenter also remarks, "Burying the Epstein story because reasons."  So "buried" that the guy's last name is all you need to use to refer to it?  Some burial!  Over the weekend I was told the Ghislane Maxwell trial had been "swept under the rug by the mainstream media," and yet plugging "maxwell trial epstein" into a search engine pulled in page after page of recent results and the top three were stories from the New York Times, CNN and NPR, all about as mainstream as you can get and all at least slightly Left of center.  All of them promised ongoing coverage, noting the trial was not yet over.  My cat does a better job of hiding things than that.

      If you are only getting your "news" from commentators and personalities on Right-leaning networks and websites (or, indeed, from the far-Left ones), you're probably going to think things about the conventional, news-focused, local media that are demonstrably untrue.  You're probably going to have opinions about the near-center "mainstream media" that do not accurately reflect what those outlets are doing.

      Please, seek out multiple sources of news.  Pay attention to your local news providers, who will vary mostly in presentation.  At the national level, seek variety; all-NPR or all-Fox News (etc.) all the time will tilt your perceptions of all media.  And don't confuse commentators on those national networks and channels with local (or national) reporters.  It's not the same job and they're not providing the same product.  Rachael Maddow and Tucker Carlson and all their ilk are peddling opinions, not facts.

      Far-Left media has long been a source of whackdoodlery and BS, but far-Right (and even some plain-Right) media has caught up fast in recent years.  In each case, there's a lot of grift driving it along with crazed True Believers of various types, and one of the things they all have in common is that they want to get you locked into their particular take; and one of the best ways to do that is to cast doubt any source other than themselves.   An excessive amount of quack-medicine commercials and two-for-one "call now!" ads hawking  questionable products are pretty good indicators that you should look for a second opinion.

      Someone may be feeding you stuff and nonsense.  It's probably not your local news.

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Why Is It News?

      Tam was grimly amused at the TV talking heads this morning.  A news anchor had just remarked that medical experts were saying the omicron variant was no reason for panic, and then smoothly turned to a map showing an animation of when it had been found in each state so far.  (The New York Times is saying 16 states as I write.)

      "'No reason for panic,' but they're going to give a running countdown of states anyway," she fumed, and who wouldn't?  When we talked about it later on, she remarked that once you're in the basement during a tornado, the block-by-block account of the thing's path isn't going to make you any safer, either.

      As a news consumer, she's right -- they're not helping her.

     The thing is, the news isn't there to calm or panic you.  It's helpful (to whatever extent that it is) to you almost as a byproduct.  News is formalized, reliable gossip.  That's all it is.  Reporters are the same people who once peered over city walls, spoke to arriving strangers and listened at doorways in the castle, then went down to the pub and told everyone else about it.  At the root, this is fundamental human behavior: we want to know what's going on, and will listen eagerly to anyone with information to share.  Gossip-mongers, town criers, early newspapers; the emergence (re-emergence) of dependable mail service meant editors and reporters could communicate at a distance: newsletters, from correspondents.  The whole thing grew up, helped stoke revolutions, and told itself noble tales about being a calling, a force for good (but bad people have newspapers, too: basic news is morally neutral and editorials slant every which way).  We have a notion these days that the newspaper, the news on radio, TV and websites is there to help us.  

     They can't even see you, those people on the other side of that page, speaker or screen.  Most of them sincerely want to do good, at least as they see it, but news remains morally neutral: it's what happened, reported when they found out about it.  Their job is to tell, and as accurately as they can; it might be helpful to you or it might not be.

      Omicron?  Based on what I know about human nature in general, the broad range of people's reactions to the pandemic (especially as we close in on a third year), the pent-up desire for holiday travel and gatherings, and the infectiousness of the virus, I'm sure it's in all fifty states by now (and I wrote as much the other day).  The news is only tracking when it is actually found for certain.  And yes, it is newsworthy when a case shows up in a new state -- but we're already in the tornado's path, and we have each made whatever provisions for shelter that seemed prudent to us.  We're well into this storm season.  Batten down the hatches, make some popcorn and tune in.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

The Return Of The Car

      The dealer had my car ready Thursday late, but I was stuck at work.  The loaner they had me in, a recent-vintage RX350, was a combination jet fighter/cocktail lounge, with comfy leather seats, wood trim, fancy electronics that included keyless start, an active map, a big backup camera display, and an overhead view in reverse, simulated from four cameras, a stored top view of the car and some clever electronics.  I had to look twice to convince myself the car hadn't deployed a drone or a camera boom the first time I put the car in reverse and it popped up.  Handing it back Friday was a step back in time.

      My car is simpler, but it came back clean, nice, running smooth, shifting correctly and braking better than ever.  A flock of birds promptly crapped all over it, parked at the North campus.  But it still runs nicely.

Friday, December 03, 2021

Used To Be A Pro-Business Party

      By the thinnest of margins, the Indiana GOP has butted out of telling businesses how to approach employee vaccination efforts.  They planned to meet in a rush on September 29th, ostensibly to end the official state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring Indiana would still receive promised Federal help.  Instead, they went haring off after a plan to severely curtail the ability of private businesses to determine how to run their own vaccination requirements, and the whole plan went down to ignominious defeat.

     It takes a very special effort to get legislation though in one day.  It's just about unheard of, though there are provisions for it.  Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray issued a face-saving statement that barely nods to the spirited opposition to the measure from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, among others.  House Speaker Todd Huston has remained silent; the House appears to be a hotbed of interference over vaccines.  2022's session will begin with HB1001, essentially the same bill that ground-looped a few days ago.

     Remember when Republicans were opposed to government meddling in business?  I do.  It was something I liked about them.

     In the meantime, the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 has been found in a handful of U. S. states.  My best guess is that it's already in all of them; the massive population of the U. S. has frustrated efforts to gather detailed data about exactly which version of the virus is where.  Such data as can be found is mostly gathered from people who were sick enough to be hospitalized, and it doesn't give all that accurate or timely a picture of the fine details.

     Over 780,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus pandemic so far, nearly twice as many as died in WW II or about as many as the total of our war dead in the Civil War, WW I, the Spanish-American War and the Philippine War, essentially every war we fought from 1861 through 1918.  It's not a scam or a trick, and neither are the vaccines.  It's a war, and too many of us are burning our draft cards and refusing our rifles.  Do they really want the virus to win?

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Just A Placeholder

      Lots to do before noon, possibly a report later.  The main problem with my car was small, a wonky ignition coil, a few hundred bucks...but I knew going in that the brakes were very worn.  And I was not surprised to learn the all-wheel drive needs attention, and....

      Let's just say it looks like I won't be replacing the dishwasher for some time.  Or the range.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

And Away It Went

      The tow truck this morning had a clever setup for moving all-wheel-drive cars, a little four-wheeled trailer that slides in under the front wheels and lifts them clear, at which point it's like any other tow since the modern tow truck was invented.

      Though my car is not scheduled for service until tomorrow, the dealer expected today's arrival.  The intake/customer liaison guy was on it about as soon as it showed up, too.  He called me with a list of the planned routine service work, confirmed the symptoms and wanted to know if I would like them to investigate the questionable tire-pressure sensors as well.*  (I put that off.  They are a royal pain to get at and are "repaired" by replacing them at a cost that if calculated per ounce comes close to the price of caviar -- and they're not all that light for their size.  So you pay for mechanic time and trouble plus the sensor price, and the total will buy a a whole lot of very nice tire-pressure gauges.)  He asked if I wanted a loaner today, which was tempting, except Tam is already out working and the rental car is a done deal through noon tomorrow.

      Yesterday I wrote that many shops don't much want to mess with a Lexus.  It's not just the cars -- some, maybe more than a few, Lexus owners are a bit, well, "Karen-ish" and it's clear the dealer copes with that by averting complaints before they occur.  Not the cheapest place to get my car worked on, but it does come with some extras.
______________________________
* It's a pretty slick system, which I first noticed when I had to get the keys replaced: along with soothing customers, the liaison essentially triages incoming service work and assigns it to mechanics on the basis of skill and current workload, rather than leaving the skilled-wrench folks to sort that out among themselves.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Car Trouble

      It started last Wednesday.  I was sitting in my car at a stoplight, in one of two left-turn lanes where two major streets intersect, traffic zooming by on my right and someone with a pretty powerful car stereo thumping on my left.

      I had the local NPR station (the hub of a massive multi-station operation that covers much of the state) droning away; it's one of the few stations that still has top-of-the-hour newscasts.  I usually alternate between them and the Jazz/Classical station from the University of Indianapolis.  Suddenly, there was another visceral "thump," off the rhythm of whatever was playing in the car next to me. Odd.

      The light changed and I started my turn.  My car -- a Lexus RX350, a fourteen-year-old mini RV in decent shape -- was running rough, almost hesitating.  As I finished the turn and accelerated, I looked down at the dash instruments and there were new idiot lights lit up, "VSC" and a flashing "CHECK ENGINE" symbol.  Uh-oh.

      Work was about a mile and a half away, so I drove carefully the rest of the way there. parked and texted Tam.

     She replied in a few minutes: THE INTERNET SAYS IT'S PROBABLY A LOOSE GAS CAP.  CHECK IT.

      There's a relief!  I checked it, loosened and retightened it, and started the car.  No lights.  Whew!

      Then they came back on.  Uh-oh, again.

      Long story short, I drove home that evening with trepidation, found no good news online, and spent Monday morning finding a shop that would look at my car before the end of the week.  A lot of places don't like fiddling with Lexuses (Lexi?  Lexopodes?); the vehicles are like Toyotas except where they're not, and they're not in many ways and parts that are apparently irritating.  Tam likes an import specialists up by Castleton and I have been happy with their work -- but so are a lot of other people; they were booked up.  There's a well-regarded boat and high-end car mechanic not too far from us, the kind of place that thinks of a Lexus the way most shops think of a Chevy, but they were booked up, too.  That left the dealer, and yes, they could get the car in in a couple of days and provide a loaner for the duration.  Well, it's overdue for some depot-level looking-after anyway, so I scheduled that--

      In the scheduling, they run through the signs and symptoms. 
      Dealer:  "A what light?"
      Bobbi: "It says VSC, Victor Sierra Charlie.  And a 'Check Engine' light."
      Dealer: "And you made sure the gas cap was on tight.  H'mm, I need to check something."  Click.
      (A minute later) Dealer: "Is it flashing?  The Check Engine light, I mean."
      B: "Yes."
      D: "Do not drive the car."

      Yes, they wanted me to have it towed. 

      After more calls, I have a wrecker scheduled, a rental car for a couple of days, and a service appointment.

      The replacement dishwasher and kitchen range just got a few more months away.

      The good news: The rental is nice!  Some kind of little VW small-SUV, which turned out to have a third row of seats (small size) hiding when I moved over my bug-out bag and suchlike to the space inside the rear hatch.  The steering ratio is higher than I'm used to and the cockpit is seriously high-tech, but it has that VW characteristic of being pleasant to operate without any serious quirks.

      Next up, meeting the tow truck tomorrow.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Mentors

     I needed to bore a 7/8" hole in the top of my nightstand, so I could permanently mount the "microphone boom" that holds my Kindle so I can fall asleep reading without breaking my nose.  I've been using the clamp-mount base for years and I keep promising myself I'll make it permanent.

      Okay, down to basement workshop to find tools for the job. H'mm, it's "engineered bamboo," which is like hardwood plywood, so a Forstner bit will be unhappy. I'm not going to risk my century+ old softwood auger bits from Vonnegut Hardware, but here in the "worn-used" collection is an Irwin-type auger bit with a fine-pitch leadscrew for hardwood, and another.... I needed a 7/8" and sure enough, there was one stamped "14." I dug out a small file; couldn't find the special paddle-shaped file for auger bits. A Japanese-type "feather file" was a good substitute, and in a few minutes, I had a nice, sharp bit, ready to go.

      Upstairs, boring with brace and bit, I had to use a small block of wood on the underside of the nightstand top, so the leadscrew could pull the auger bit all the way through, and as it cleared, it struck me what an incredible debt I owe my to Dad and to two men I never met: Eric Sloane and Alfred P. Morgan.

      Mr. Morgan was a prolific writer of "How-To" books, especially for young people. His books were my introduction to electronics and to building things. Mr. Sloane was a tool collector and wrote many books. Both of them illustrated their own work and both were early aviation enthusiasts. And both of them, like my Dad, were very much interested in sharing the whys and hows of doing things. Without them, I would never have learned that old augers are marked by their size in 16ths of an inch or the difference between hardwood and softwood augers; without them, I would never have known how to sharpen a dull auger, or even how to properly bore a hole with a brace and bit.

      Thanks to them, it was a quick, simple task -- and thanks to them, I cleaned up the tools and put them away properly afterward, too.

      None of the three is still around to thank. Two of them have left us plenty of good information. Alfred P. Morgan and Eric Sloane both have extensive Wikipedia entries and many of their books are still in print or available as scans.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Holiday Transmission

      There's a new coronavirus variant -- or at least new to the people who keep track of them.  There have been a whole lot of news and commentary items discussing it, but the takeaway at this point is that nobody knows much about it.  Oh, the folks in big labs say they are seeing a whole lot of mutations on this one, in locations that may not bode well, but how that might translate into how much trouble the blame thing is for people, no one knows.  We will find out the hard way, because that's the only way there is.

      The coronavirus appears to be getting seasonal, in an odd but predictable way: it has gotten worse during long spells of staying-indoors weather, and ebbed when people are comfortable being outdoors.  The hottest part of Summer in the South saw an increase of cases and as Fall gives way to Winter in the North, cases are ramping up.  Look, I'm not telling you how to live your life, but having your holiday party outdoors around a roaring bonfire is a safer bet right now than cramming a few dozen friends and relations across three or four generations into three small rooms for the better part of a long afternoon.  (It's also easier to toast marshmallows and make s'mores outdoors around a fire, which is my personal preferences showing.)

      Noodling around with numbers, some 59 percent of the U. S. population has been vaccinated and something between 14 and 33 percent of us have had the virus.  That would be a comforting total, if this were a simpler world--  No one is tracking the overlap between those numbers and you can play "choose your own results," trying to find out what kind of immunity last longest and offers the broadest protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in all its variations.  All of it helps and past that, a lot of people know a little but definitive answers are not forthcoming yet.

      Just be careful.  There is still no need to panic or scoff (TV and online pundits, I'm giving all of you well-deserved side-eye).  Be sensible in your celebrations.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

That Was Interesting

     So I went back to the main campus of the Skunk Workings yesterday afternoon and evening, helping to fill in for a vacationing co-worker.  My old desk was buried under nineteen months of trade journals, which I promptly threw away.  My spare fountain pen was still there, along with a few hastily-abandoned projects.  Most of them had been made moot by subsequent changes. (And I just realized I left one that I had intended to pick up.  Well, later.)

     One of the strangest things was walking in the formerly somewhat dingy employee entrance and finding the walls shouting at me!  There's an ongoing construction project on the second floor, with the usual mess, mud and clutter behind the building.  Perhaps in an effort to make up for it, the corridors just inside the employee entrance have been brightened up with colorful wallpaper and giant-sized encouraging slogans.  It's cheerful enough, but if you're expecting well-scuffed neutral tan walls, it's something of a shock.

     The one-way halls of the early pandemic seem to have been forgotten.  Mask-wearing is required in shared areas and people were generally diligent about it.  Water coolers and several doors have foot controls -- a simple (but clever) handle for the doors and nice dentist office type pedals for water.  The pandemic capper was when I visited the washroom, to find this sign on every other door:
DO NOT USE THIS STALL
FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING

     It's good to see the Department of Ambiguity is still on the job!

     Still pretty much the same old place,  though emptier and a little sadder these days.  I started my career in a part of my line of work which had been much larger, and facilities showed it.  I moved to a different segment of the industry, which was bustling at the time.  It appears I'll reach retirement much as I began, in the grand remains of a prior age.  Here's hoping it lasts long enough for a graceful exit.

     The changes in my workplace make writing I Work On A Starship stories a bit more of a challenge.  Increasing automation and improved equipment will tend to shrink the technical and operating crew of the USAS Lupine, too -- not as much or as quickly, of course, thanks to the sheer size of the starship and the essential nature of the geekery, but it's still inevitable.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Gotta Work

      The nature of my employment is such that we're lucky to get any holiday off.  The day after?  Nope. Oh, there are rare exceptions; corporate largesse for the day after Thanksgiving has come along once or twice, and I think we got New Year's Day once -- in the past thirty-plus years.

      Today is not one of those days off.  I do get to start my day a little later than usual.  And, for the first time since April of 2020, I'll be down at the Main Campus.  With...people.  I have not set foot inside the place for the past eighteen and a half months, so that's going to be a bit of a hurdle.  There are a lot of new faces (the Great Resignation hit us, too) and I'm not all that comfortable even around people I know. 

      To add insult to injury, there's something wrong with my car.  Day before yesterday, it suddenly started running rough and lit up a pair of warning lights that Tam tells me frequently mean the gas cap has come loose (she looked it up).  Unfortunately, mine has not.  So it needs to go into the shop, and sooner rather than later.  I may have to beg Tam to ferry me to and from today.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

I'm Thankful for Good Friends -- And For Turducken!

      I'm thankful the past few years haven't been worse, too.

      The food this year-- 

     Modesty forbids waxing too ecstatic, but this year's turducken was a good one.

     Cooked in a lidded roasting dish over hardwood charcoal, with diced turnip, apple, parsnip, a little carrot, a red onion and a fennel bulb added at about the halfway point. Several bay leaves atop the turducken, just for fun.

     On the side, fresh mashed potatoes, bacon gravy made from scratch, and mixed fancy mushrooms cooked over the charcoal in an open pot, with onion, fennel and carrot (since I had more than fit the roaster).

      This turducken was turkey, duck, chicken...and spicy cajun sausage to fill the gaps! The bacon gravy went especially well with it. Cooking it with an apple and fresh root vegetables ensures it comes out moist and flavorful.

     Details:  The turducken got two hours and forty-five minutes; turnip, apple and parsnip went in after about an hour, carrots, onion and fennel followed at the ninety-minute mark.  I use indirect heat: start the charcoal, and once it has caught, rake it into two rows, one on each side of the grill.  Put the grating in and set the oval roaster on it, centered.  I use an inexpensive meat thermometer to check, and this bird reached 190 degrees inside!  Plenty done, even for sausage. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Cold Morning Before Thanksgiving

      Let's all think happy, positive, reality-based thoughts!

      For a damn change.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Threats? Really?

      Tsk, tsk.  So 1938. Or perhaps so "guilty by reason of wearing eyeglasses." Same, same; brute nitwits try to outvote math with fists. Not how that works, here in civilization, and you haven't managed to push that over.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Oh, I Get Letters

      But the letters don't have cites, or, in one case, they have half-arsed cites to derivative data.  So they'll get refuted but not published.  This may lose me some "near-fans."  I don't care.  This blog is a hobby, not a business, and the reward is getting up every morning and doing some writing instead of laying in bed, staring blankly at the Stupid Human Tricks in the morning TV news.  That people may (or may not) read what I write afterward is a fringe benefit for me and a lagniappe for them; it's not the point of the exercise.

     A commenter with a predilection for using ALL CAPS for emphasis* wants to know if I am a "genetic virologist."  Since no such specialty appears to exist, I couldn't be one.  What I am, is a techie and a writer.  I have been on what we used to call The World Wide Web since text-based interfaces, "Lynx" (and others) for the Web,  "Pine" and "Elm" for e-mail, "tin" and "trn" for Newsreaders, back when e-mail and Usenet News were much more interesting parts of the Internet than that dorky web-thing and we searched with Archie, Gopher and a few others.  I remember Inktomi and AltaVista, which came along shortly after I got a computer that had a color display and that looked at the Web with a "browser."  I was pretty good at telling BS from real data, and at times hung around with some of the smart-alec Netizens who liked to confuse the newbs.  (That was real fun, back before the Eternal September washed it all away in a flood of cluelessness.)  My work just happens to call for extreme reliability from the critical widgetry -- as I have mentioned recently, 99.9% uptime would be considered a dire failure.  So I am interested in things like reliability and large numbers.  I was the last of the slide-rule generation in High School and gave up scientific notation and three-significant-digit accuracy in college with great reluctance and (on the part of both me and my professors) ungraciously.  Plus, I like reading what might be called "geek history," histories of science, technology, medicine...epidemics.  And I read obsessively.

     So I have been around.  I know bullshit when I encounter it.  Large numbers don't impress me.  I have some idea of the technological path the human race has taken to get where we are today.  No "genetic virology" required.

     With that out of the way, I'm going to do some link-heavy 'splainin'.  The links are to sources I believe to be relatively unbiased.  None of them are to commentary-heavy sites, either Left or Right.  As much as I am able to do so, they are to factual data and solid sources.  Or at least they link to good sources themselves.

     Let's dig in.  The chickenshit† propagandists of vaccine hesitancy‡ are very fond of using VAERS, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a joint data-gathering venture of CDC and FDA.  They take reports, and present the raw data; as I write, over 195 million Americans are fully vaccinated, just over 59% of us.  It's a huge pool and some of them were going to die, for a huge number of reasons, with or without the vaccine.  (Excess mortality graphs comparing year-to-year or year-to-average are useful for understanding this.)  Or as they tell us, "When evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event."  It's raw data, and has to be sifted by persons with actual medical training.  If a site is just crunching the numbers, it's still raw data.  VAERS-reported deaths (and other negative outcomes) are not necessarily caused by vaccination; to date, there are five deaths definitely known to have resulted from vaccination.

     On Facebook, I pointed out to a vaccine skeptic that the vaccine was "safer than driving on the roads."  I tend to challenge people to cite sources there, too, and he fed me a dose of my own medicine:  "Prove it!"

     I would not have made the claim if I weren't just about certain it was true.  I used Wikipedia for the traffic death rate; for this kind of thing, their numbers trace back to dependable sources. U. S. traffic death rates have been declining in recent years. Taking the U.S. traffic death rate per 100,000 people per year gives us a higher rate than picking the most recent year, and it's 12.4 deaths per 100k.

     To be fair, I started with raw VAERS death reports, even though health care providers are required to report any adverse event after vaccination, no matter the probable cause. The Nebraska Med article gives 14,506 deaths as of 2 Nov 2021, with about 223 million total vaccinations, of which 193.5 million count as fully vaccinated. That works out to 6.5 deaths per 100k in the vaccinated population, and 7.5 deaths per 100k in the fully vaccinated pool.

     Rates worked out as (14506/[223*10^6])*100000 and so on -- my arithmetic could be in error but I don't think so. Those are absolute worst-case numbers. There's no need to go any farther: it's already safer to get vaccinated than to drive (or ride in a car).

     The actual number of genuine vaccine-caused deaths will be somewhere between 5 and 14,506.  Taking the very worst-case numbers for the vaccine, it's still a bit over 1.65 times more dangerous to go driving than to get the full-course COVID-19 vaccine.

     So, my ever-so-cautious vaccine-refusal propagandists, let me ask you a question: do you drive?  Do you ride in cars?   On the public roads?  My heavens!  The risk!
__________________________
* Blogger's comment window supports simple html, using I and /I for Italics on and off, B for bold and U for underline.  You tell the text editor it is a command by enclosing the letter or /letter in angle brackets, the "less than"/"greater than" symbols above the comma and full stop.  All caps is "shouting" in text and when used frequently, it's essentially an attempt at brow-beating.  I react poorly to this.  Very poorly indeed.  Ask my EE profs, who kept on having to have those three-significant-digit-answers for so long, no matter how loudly they shouted.  Most frickin' electronic component values are only within ten or twenty percent, after all.
 
† Keep telling me all about the risks of the coronavirus vaccines using the most ooga-boogiest of boogyman-type tales, and it's pretty obvious the real problem here is that you are scared -- and scared of being snickered at over it unless you can get enough other people to go along.
 
‡ Nevertheless, I don't give a flip if you, personally and individually, get the COVID-19 shot.  Do or do not.  It's the BS-based fear-mongering and trying to talk others out of getting their shots that irks me.  Vaccines only help get a disease under control if sufficient of us get them.  True of measles, true of polio, true of smallpox, true of SARS-CoV-2