Thursday, February 25, 2021

How Soon We Adjust

      They're calling for a high of 44°F today.  I looked out into a wan -- indeed, anemic -- sunrise over heaps of still-melting snow, puddles and patches of mud and thought, "Meh.  Maybe I won't go anywhere today."

      I probably will anyway -- but there's a lot of laundry to get done first.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Grilled A Couple Of Steaks

      Our local grocer had nice-looking New York Strips, USDA Prime, on sale for a low, low $15.99 a pound -- about as cheap I have seen them over the last year.  And the weather wasn't bad today; it cooled off a little in the afternoon, but it was dropping from a high of 59°F or more.

      So I grilled.  The usual accompaniments, a nice green salad with tomatoes, carrots, sweet peppers and Castelvetrano olives plus baked potatoes.  I made a side dish or steak topping with mushrooms, sweet peppers and shishito peppers in a little butter, and let it bubble away in a small pot on the grill as the steaks cooked.

      It's better than nearly a foot of snow!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Pessimist?

      The TV weatherman this noon has been billing today as "The Best Weather Day Of The Year." 

      Not, I hope, of the entire year.  But after 2020, I'm not willing to take that for granted.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Vacation

      This is a vacation week for me and I may be a little less active online than usual.  Not going anywhere and no big projects planned.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Texas Power Failures -- The Home Game

      Everyone from politicians to TV pundits to bloggers to your annoying neighbor on social media has taken their favorite bugbear and tried to pin the widespread power failures in Texas on it.

     There's a very succinct 2016 report from the Feds on risks to the power grid in Texas; read it for yourself and think what you would have done differently based on that information.

      "It was the Green New Deal!"  No, that thing is just a pipe dream, mostly from people who never threaded or soldered pipes.

      "It was eeeeevil capitalism!" -- The same wickedness that heats and lights your house,* then.  And the same evil that is presently losing money hand over fist in Texas, having hosed itself at almost every level: not enough products to sell and a damaged distribution system: kinda self-punishing, and that's before we get to the public-relations disaster part.  And it's a regulated industry; Texas may have dodged Federal oversight by having a self-contained electrical grid -- the state is slightly larger than the entire United Kingdom, after all -- but that doesn't mean they're unwatched: Meet the PUCT.

      "It was wind and solar!"  Nope; wind and solar outperformed predictions in the snow/ice and cold -- but that's nine percent of the electrical supply in Texas.  Enough to notice, sure, but not what pushed things over the edge or enough to stop it happening. (Other sources cite "wind" or "renewable" energy at 10% of the total in Texas, but that's as high as I've seen.)

      "It was a lack of weatherization," probably -- and one of the weak points was way back in the chain at the natural gas supply.  That stuff is pretty wet (one reason why bakers prefer electric ovens to gas ones) and apparently there are a number of ways to get tripped up by unexpected cold weather when you're handling large volumes of natural gas.  Another likely gotcha is that most peaking plants rely on copious amounts of water, mostly drawn from wells.  Ever had a well freeze?  I have, and one way it happens is to let the well sit idle in the cold -- for example, like at a peaking plant between peak demand times.  And so on.  Power companies aren't vertically integrated the way they once were; the outfit that generates the power you use is likely not the same as the one that runs it to your house -- and the company they buy gas or oil (or, yes, coal†) from is independent, too.  That means responsibility and long-range planning is diffused, as well -- and it's less easy to plan for low-probability events when you don't have any reason to get an overview of the whole system. 

      The question that's going to keep utilities and regulators -- and insurance underwriters -- up nights has multiple parts:  "How can we keep this from happening again (and not go broke preventing it)," "How likely is this to happen again," and "Who can we blame?"  Don't look for any consensus on the last one.  I'm hoping for an impartial report but my hopes aren't high.
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* Arguably, my house is lit by capitalism but not heated by it: the local gas company is a "public trust," a kind of non-profit that takes in revenue but is barred from turning a profit.  If they have a unexpectedly good year, they issue credits to customers, but generally they put any overage back into infrastructure.  Is it a capitalist enterprise or not?  The rich guys who set it up got what they wanted, gas laid to their homes and factories at a price they were happy to pay, and their investment returned over time -- and the rest of us benefited.  The Founders and Framers considered religion a "Public Utility," i.e. a net benefit to society, without thinking the government ought to run it or caring if it made any money.
† A rarely-sung virtue of coal is that it's not terribly efficient, and the older a coal-burner design is, the more wasted heat it produces.  That's terrible if you are after wringing every last erg from the stuff, but it means a big old coal plant, shoving lumps of coal into the fires by brute force and heating up the whole power plant whether needed or not, is fairly immune to the cold.  I am reminded of this every winter by my chilly basement and outside walls: the constant fire in the original coal furnace would have heated the basement up toasty warm, and excess heat would have flowed up inside the walls and out beneath the eaves like a Roman hypocaust.  The modern gas furnace does nothing of the sort -- and by Code and for safety's sake, cannot supply heated air to the basement.  On the other hand, I'm not constantly wiping off a layer of fine, dark soot or having to feed the fire (or mind the Iron Fireman).  Progress!

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Hot Cereal, Part II

      Yesterday's post about hot cereal vs. toaster pastries received a number of comments, suggestions and memories.

      One commenter suggested Maypo.  I was never a fan.  I don't know why; I like maple flavor.  Maybe it's time to give it another try.

      In my childhood, the big breakfast treat was Coco Wheats, then produced in Warsaw, Indiana by Little Crow Foods,* latter snapped up by MOM Brands, who were themselves et by the Post cereal empire not long afterward -- but you can still get Coco Wheats and they're still good.  Now that I am more-or-less grown up, I'm not sure I'd want that much chocolate every morning for a week.  My siblings and I ate them with milk, enough to produce a pretty soupy mix. 

      MOM Brands was better known by its earlier name, the Malt-O-Meal Company.  I've never had Malt-O-Meal but it sounds interesting.

      I have waxed rhapsodic about good, old-fashioned oatmeal before.  Not the instant, I prefer the real, cook-for-five-minutes stuff.  I like it plain, made with water and with a bit of sugar.  My Mom served it with a dollop of butter, but I never warmed to that, or milk, either.

      I liked Ralston hot cereal, when I could get it.  It seems difficult to find now in less than bunkhouse-sized quantities.

      A commenter suggested a brand I'd never heard of, Cream Of The West!  No, it's not made of old Conestoga canvas, hand-rolls and cow horns, it's a toasted-wheat cereal and looks like it would be tasty.

      What else is out there?  The Cream Of Wheat people went on to make Cream of All Kinds Of Grains, and I'm pretty sure Cream of Rice is still around.  (One of my Dad's occasional breakfasts was cold cooked rice with milk and sugar; he liked unsalted popcorn the same way.  Both were treats from his Great Depression childhood).

      What other hot cereals were there, and which are still around?
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* I'd like to point out that there was very little crow -- indeed, none -- in any of their products.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Toaster Pastry vs. Hot Cereal

      There's a childhood treat in my breakfast bowl this morning: a hot cereal that isn't oatmeal.  Let us call it Cream of A Grain Used In Bread.

     I take mine with sugar, as much as a couple of teaspoons, and whil enjoying it, I wondered: is this any better for me than what we'd better call a Toaster Pastry?

     4.2 grams of sugar in a teaspoon -- let's say I went wild, and there are 9 grams of sugar in my cereal.

     Tabular charts aren't so easy in a hurry in Blogger, so this will be a bit rough:
     Cream of A Grain, one cup:
     133 calories
     4 grams of protein
     1 gram of fiber
     0.5 grams of fat
     No sodium unless you add a pinch of salt to the water, which I don't.
     9 grams of sugar, because I have a sweet tooth

     Toaster Pastry, two:
     420 calories
     2 grams of protein
     about 1 gram of fiber
     16 grams of fat
     380 grams of sodium
     24 grams of sugar

     Last time I looked, the dieticians and doctors were still arguing about dietary fats (and the French were still confounding them), but none of 'em thought a high salt intake or more calories than you needed was a good idea.  Likewise, less sugar is better -- and the hot cereal was plenty sweet enough for me.  Porridge wins!

     Makes me happy that I like the stuff.  Not because it makes me feel all virtuous, or even, really, because it is healthy (unless you're avoiding carbohydrates).  Nope, because it's tasty and warm on a cold morning, and reminds me of good childhood memories.

*  *  *

     On the other hand, perhaps I need to look into those OTC mental-alertness pills: while looking up nutritional information, I picked up the box of Cream of Weeds, tipped it to see the label and wandered from the kitchen to the office, reading it and unknowingly leaving a trail of processed grain as I walked.  Turned back, felt the gritty crunch underfoot and realized I had quite a mess to sweep up.  Words may have been said.

     It could be worse -- the mathematician Hilbert once asked a colleague if his wife was as cheap as Hilbert's.

     His colleague was taken aback.  "What on earth do you mean?"

     "Only this morning," Hilbert told him, "and quite by accident, I discovered my wife does not serve me an egg for breakfast.  I have no idea how long this has been going on."

     I should maybe do less with numbers at breakfast time.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Still Debunking

      Why I still try, I don't know.  The fantasy brigade is still hammering away at their dead horse of a jiggered election, so why not?

      One of the more impressive-looking claims cites "Benford's Law," a bit of numerological pareidolia that crops up in many -- but not all -- collections of related numbers that cover a wide range and approximate log-law distribution.  It's a pattern, nothing more; it's not like gravitation or pi.  But if your data meet the criteria, it's a way of checking to see if the books may have been cooked.  On the other hand, you may have had a bad day at dice.

      Applying this to U. S. elections at the county level, though, breaks the necessary assumptions for Benford's Law to applyIt's not a useful analytical tool.

      So, nope, still looks to me like your guy lost fair and square and the other guy won by not being him, a result that tracks Presidential approval ratings pretty closely.

      Wanna win the Presidency?  Have money.  Have a party organization behind you -- and be sufficiently less of an asshole in public perception than the person you're running against.  It worked in 2016.  It worked in 2020.  It'll work in 2024, too -- and don't doubt for a minute that Joe Biden and the Democrat hopefuls in line behind him know it.

      This is not an approach that gets you buoyed into the White House on the shoulders of a cheering crowd of your fans.  Don't look for any Ronald Reagan or Franklin D. Roosevelt type victories.  Anyone dreaming of Dick Nixon in 1972 or LBJ in 1964 landslides had better think again -- but it'll win.

      Whining and wanting to make it didn't happen didn't get the Dems anywhere in 2017.  It won't help the GOP in 2021, either.  I'd like to radiate Olympian detachment as a member of neither party, but the fact is that I rely on both parties being in the game and not moping on the sidelines or chasing figments of their imaginations.  Things get more screwed up, more quickly, when there's no debate in Congress.  The Senate is balanced to fingertip sensitivity right now -- if Senators of both parties are willing to pay attention to what's in front of them.

      Hey, I get it, you just loved Mr. Trump.  You really, really loved him.*  And at the polls in 2020, a narrow majority of your fellow Americans did not.  Get over it.
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* I thought the 2020 Presidential election was a choice between cold, lumpy mashed potatoes in a bowl and cold, lumpy mashed potatoes in a dirty ashtray.  But I'm notoriously sour on the people we hire to shake hands with kings.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

"No, You Do It Next."

      Huck and Holden, the giant tomcats of Roseholme Cottage, are at the living room window, where I drew the heavy curtains shut last night in anticipation of subzero temperatures.  It's been going on for several minutes now: They huddle up, and then one or the other moves a curtain aside far enough to stick his head past it, touch his nose to the windowpane, realize it is bitterly cold, and back out.  Another conference follows, and one or the other cats makes one more try. 

      Maybe it won't be so cold this time? 

      It will be, cats.  It will be.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Snowed In!

      Anyway, as good as.  If I absolutely had to, I could probably get out, but it would be slow and awkward and once I reached the main road, there would no shortage of drivers who were, shall we say, foolish.

     Ain't gonna do it.  There's nearly a foot of snow on the ground.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Well, Winter....

      If you live in the U.S., you either already have nasty winter weather, or you're about to, and for the overwhelming majority of us, it is in the form of snow and/or ice.

      Snow here, a bit overnight, more later this morning, and a whole lot more this afternoon and tonight.  While I am hoping to hang back and avoid the worst of it, in order to do that, I'm going to have to get some work done in the the time before the bulk of the storm hits, and stand ready to brave it later if necessary.

      The reasons Midwesterners retire to warmer climates are becoming more and more clear to me as I grow older.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Saturday, February 13, 2021

And Yet The Glittering Lie Appeals More Than Dull, Gray Truth

      Yesterday's post drew comments.  Partisan comments, for all that I stuck to general principles.  I was going to just let them sit in the queue, but they rile me and I was never one to shy away from yelling at clouds.  Or what the heck, losing friends; popularity has never meant anything at all to me.

     So here goes, both barrels, no filter:

Yesterday, from "Carteach:"
     "What happens when the elected officeholders manage to rig the system to the point they no longer need worry about keeping their jobs no matter what they do to the citizens?"

     Okay, hell, let's run with that hypothesis: let us posit the system has done been rigged.  Even in states where the election apparatus is wholly under the control of elected and appointed Republicans, the Democrats have secretly seized the reins of power and can dial up the results they want as easily as one, two three....  Now tell me what kind of insane supervillains get themselves in a position to control elections -- and fail to give themselves commanding control of the legislature?   There were more than enough seats up for grabs in the Senate to get a two-thirds majority, and yet instead that body sits at 50/50, balanced on a knife-edge of a single defection from the party line (or, for the Dems, a tie).

     Nope, sorry.  Didn't wash when the Republican government of Georgia ran and checked their own elections and the incumbent Republican President lost.  It didn't wash when the Trump administration's own appointees in a position to know reported there was no manipulation or fraud in the 2020 elections.  Former President Donald John Trump and his campaign helpers spent months before the election sowing doubt about the honesty and fairness of it, then spent months after the election reaping that same doubt -- and it is fiction through and through.  Oh, it's fiction they are doing a very good job of selling, especially if you have no faith in our system of government, but it's simply a lie.  The professionals in his own Administration said as much, and were dinged for it.  The utterly pragmatic Senator Mitch McConnell said as much and got himself unfriended by the then-President. 

     I spent a lot of time looking into this calumny and every single claim that had any foundation at all in reality turned out to be a misunderstanding, a misinterpretation, or a misstatement that was later refuted by provable, solid facts.  Elections in the the United States of America are decentralized, run in large part by amateur, part-time labor and underpaid, honest civil servants who are barely able to keep up with the demands of the job, let alone run some kind of large-scale scam.  Mr. Trump is pleased to undermine public faith in the veracity of our elections to soothe his own ego.  He's 74; he has considerable resources.  He won't have to live with the consequences.  You and I will.  Our families will.  Are you willing to throw them into the fire to please a man with a well-established history of counterfactual running off at the mouth to suit his own ends?


12 hours ago, from "B"
     "You are correct. But we no longer have elections we can count on. SO that part id s off the table. THe rest of your statement above stands on it's own merits, however."

     We can indeed count on our elections, as I have shown above.  Again, what kind of inept baddies get control of election results and fail to give themselves a commanding majority in the legislature?  If their goal was "get Trump" and smash him flat, they fell far short of it.  Are you truly going to claim these master manipulators, with tentacles deep into the election machinery in a sufficient number of states -- even Republican-dominated states -- to control the outcome just forgot to hand themselves a Senate supermajority?   It's just about certain Mr. Trump's going to waltz away from the current Senate trial untouched -- to the great disappointment of most Congressional Democrats.  If they're so all-fired powerful, how come they can't manage to fully master the Senate?

      Downticket Republicans did very well in the 2020 elections.  If the elections were some kind of covert Democrat coup, it was bungled, and badly. 

      The simpler hypothesis is that Mr. Trump lost in 2020 for the same reason Ms. Clinton lost in 2016:  state-by-state, a majority of Americans didn't want them to be President.  Possibly a slim majority, but that's how it works.

      You play along with Mr. Trump's baseless undermining of credence in our elections at considerable peril to yourself, your fellow citizens and to their posterity.  If you were really concerned about our elections, you'd volunteer to be a pollworker.  Most cities and states are chronically short-handed -- if you think the system's rotten, go have a look for yourself.  I can tell you right now, the system's Peter-principled.  There are barely enough sufficiently competent people to get the work done, let alone try to cook the books.


4 hours ago, "Mark Matis" wrote:
     "They have already destroyed the soap box. They have now destroyed the ballot box with the massive fraud. So what does THAT leave??? Ask Ashlii Babbit if she thinks THEY will refuse to use the cartridge box..."

     Let me take that point by point:

     "...[D]estroyed the soap box?"  Really?  What a private business does along those lines is up to the private business; last time I looked,  you could still preach on the streetcorners, Gab was still running, the NRA's magazines as well as National Review and The Nation were still around and had a web presence.  Having freedom of speech does not oblige anyone to provide you with a hall to speak in; you'll have to go about that the same way Aimee Semple McPherson, Robert Green Ingersoll and Ayn Rand did.  Mr. Trump got himself kicked off Twitter and Facebook for rabble-rousing, pure and simple.  Let me suggest that's something we all should refrain from using someone else's megaphone to do.

   "They have now destroyed the ballot box with the massive fraud."  Asked and answered.  To date, no one has provided even one shred of proof that such a thing happened and there are multiple reasons to doubt that it did, starting with Mr. Trump losing in states where the GOP is in majority in the state government, as well as the wins of downticket Republican candidates.  Elections in the United States are honestly and fairly run -- and you can volunteer and find that out for yourself.  I'm told the Election Day refreshments are free, or they were before the coronavirus pandemic screwed things up and they will be again.

     "Ask Ashlii Babbit if she thinks THEY will refuse to use the cartridge box..."  Oh, I have been just waiting for this to come up.  Here, let me set the scene: a mob has burst in.  They are trying to break into legislative chambers.  Policemen/armsmen are on the other side, guns drawn and aimed, their posture clearly indicating readiness to shoot.  The mob smashed a window -- and the first person to try climbing through is shot dead.

     You bring a violent mob to my house -- or have one show up at yours -- and the first one of them to attempt hauling themselves through a broken window will most assuredly get shot, and the act will be deemed justified when it comes before the courts. 

     Ms. Babbit chose her death.  She died a criminal.  What, you believe the people charged with the physical security of our Capitol building are obliged to knuckle under to a mob?  That a military veteran shoving through a window in a locked door leading to the House chambers at the head of a mob does not constitute a credible threat to the Congresspeople and others sheltering in that room?

     Might does not make right.  A mob does not outweigh a duly elected assembly of Senators and Representatives, and a good many Americans have died to ensure that principle.


     I'm an anarchist.  I understand that governments are not inevitable, that they are merely arbitrary structures that most of us play along with* and quite flimsy.  I also understand that a majority of the people around me rely on that flimsy structure.  I must not break it without an overwhelming -- and overwhelmingly obvious -- reason, and neither should you.  Mr. Trump's pique at losing an election falls far short of that standard, and playing along with his self-serving falsehoods does enormous harm to our culture and our country.  The people who have done so should hang their heads in shame.
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* That's that nifty concept, "government with the consent of the governed."  You may have heard of it before.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Draw The Wrong Lines Now, Pay For It Later

      I still believe and maintain that any mob that breaks into, trashes and burns out a police station, any mob that bursts en masse into a government building and puts elected officials and employees to flight, or commits similar acts in a modern free country is an enemy of civilization.  They're my enemies; I don't care about their politics or whose name (if anyone's) is on their banners.  Do it in the name of Marx or Rand, do it for Jefferson, Jesus or Allah or just because you hate everything or don't like Mondays; I don't care what the excuse is, I care about actions and results.

      Unhappy with how things are?  This is a free country.  We have soap boxes and the Internet.  We have elections and we have political party organizations that are crying for workers.  We have people running unopposed for School Boards and City Councils.  You can march, wave signs and chant all you like.  (Yes, in many cities you will have to get a parade permit first.  Don't like that?  Yasgur's farm is just down the road, or one enough like it.)

      But breaking and burning and putting people in fear for their lives?  That's barbarism.  That's warfare.  And when all sides do it, cheered on by their supporters, what you get is what France got, where still-uninhabitable scars from WW I snake through the lovely countryside, where farmers are lucky to plow up century-buried bombs rather than setting them off.  You get what the former Yugoslavia got: wreckage, poverty and tragedy.  If you don't like the way things are now, you'll like them a lot less after that.

      You can help maintain civilization or you can help tear it down.  That's the real dividing line.  On one side of it, there's freedom of expression, free elections, soap, water and plentiful food; there's a diversity of media and all manner of ongoing arguments; there are problems but lots of people are working to make things better.  On the other side, the ultimate end is squalor, destruction, starvation and death, and arguments are quite definitively settled with brute force; things only get worse. 

      Which way do you want to go?  Rah-rah nonsense and blood, or civilization?  Those are the real choices.

      Civilizations prosper when we make elected officeholders worry about keeping their jobs.  Civilizations falter and fall when we make the fools, statesmen, flakes and philosophers we elect fear for their lives.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Today I Learned....

      Today I Learned that Herr Fahrenheit's initials were "G.D."  I also learned it's 20 degrees G. D. Fahrenheit outside right now.

      All of this learning came about when Tam asked Alexa, "What's the temperature fondly Fahrenheit outside?" and was rewarded with a short biographical sketch of the physicist and scientific instrument maker.

      ...It turns out that Alfred Bester's brilliant short story Fondly Fahrenheit was produced as one episode of the NBC Sunday Showcase anthology series in 1960 (as Murder and the Android.).  It was well received by critics and SF fans at the time -- and no, there doesn't appear to be a surviving videotape (the series was shot on early color tape) or kinescope.  At least the short story is widely anthologized, and you can read it any time you'd like.  Robert Silverberg writes highly of it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

I Was Glued To The Television Yesterday

      Not literally!  --But if you haven't seen the attorney who showed up for a Zoom-conducted trial with a cat filter he was unaware of, you have missed some first-rate video entertainment.

      There was something else on TV yesterday, too, and plenty more to follow this week.  It looks like everyone's made up their mind about that proceeding already, so I'm sticking with the cat filter for now.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Bangers And Mash Now; Latkes Later

     Okay, technically, they're not exactly latkes.  They're mashed-potato pancakes.  That isn't where this story starts anyway.

     Yesterday when I left for work, I was nearing the back of the pantry for supper food.  "the back" means mostly canned meat, canned vegetables and a little fresh -- I had a couple potatoes, an onion, some celery and carrots.  Monday or Tuesday mornings have been my once-a-week shopping days through most of the pandemic, a big change from my former near-daily visits.

      Then I remembered -- when I made slow-simmered beef stew on Sunday, I'd thawed some cased sausage, two Irish bangers and one hot Italian, and ended up only adding the hot Italian* when I realized how much stew beef was in it already.  So there were two flavorful banger sausages† ready to go.

     It's a straight line from "bangers" to "bangers and mash," fairly standard UK pub fare, or so I'm told, usually served with onion gravy and "mushy peas."  Instead of peas, I had canned flat green beans, which I like and Tam will endure, and the gravy, oh well.

     So dinner was sorted.  When I got home, I started the sausage, discovered I had three big potatoes (and held one in reserve) and decided to try microwaving the spuds.  Stuck them with a fork, put them in a Pyrex bowl and gave 'em the usual 3:30 and turn for 3:30 more, quartered them and nuked them for another few minutes.  Then a little butter, salt, stirring with a sharp knife and then a big fork, the latter while adding milk‡, and they were indistinguishable from the stovetop version.

      The sausages were cooking while I was conducting the Great Mashed Potato Experiment.  I like to start them in the skillet, get a little color on the sausage, and then add a little water; cook it down, turn them and do the same, then add a bit more water and cover, turning and adding water until done.  The liquid picked up a lot of color and flavor, of course, and with the potatoes down and resting, covered, in the oven, inspiration struck.

     Or maybe it was just the spice cabinet door.  I'd left the green beans (remember them?) in a covered pan over low heat, with a little dried parsley and a dash of onion powder so they wouldn't get too lonely.  Onion powder...

     It's not the most subtle thing on the spice shelf.  It's got a good, honest onion flavor, though. The sausages were done; I added a bit more water, fished the bangers out and set them on a plate in the oven next to the mashed tatties to get acquainted. Added little onion powder to the pan, a little less garlic powder, some dried chives, and left it to bubble.  Flour gravy was out, but a teaspoon of corn starch dissolved in cold water with a couple of dashes each of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce made an excellent thickener; I mixed it, added and simmered the gravy 'til it was thick enough, tasting and adding a little more onion powder.

     Served with a heap of mashed potatoes nestled in the curve of the sausage, gravy puddled in the potatoes and across the banger, with a small bowl of green beans on the side, it was as nice a dinner as anyone could want, and about 40 minutes from cold stove to plate.

*  *  *

      After dinner, there were left-over mashed potatoes.  Two big baking potatoes makes a lot of mashed!  About two cups worth.  I bagged it and put it in the fridge, thinking about breakfast.  This morning I was still thinking about it, so I put the leftovers to work.

     Mashed potato pancakes are deceptively simple.  Get them wrong and they'll fall apart!  Two cups of mashed potatoes plus a couple of well-beaten eggs, a couple of teaspoons of flour and "sufficient" salt will do the trick -- I'd like to be able to tell you how much salt because that helps hold them together, but I'm still guessing.  A quarter of a teaspoon?  What I added from the shaker worked but a little more would not have hurt the flavor.

     You just mix it all to get a thick batter and plop it by the heaping tablespoonful into a lightly-greased skillet over medium heat; fry for three or more minutes until it slides easily onto a spatula, flip, smash flat, and give it at least three minutes more before turning.  It's done when both sides look done. I added some dehydrated chives to the mixture.  Good with hot sauce, sour cream or applesauce, depending on your preference.  If you add grated potato, you'll be close to latkes.  Or reibekuchen.  Or rösti.  Or hash browns -- it all depends on how much grated potatoes are in the mix, and how willing you are to rules-lawyer the definitions.  Maybe it's aloo tikki or boxty!  The underlying rule?  Fried potatoes are good!  And in any country I know of where people eat potatoes, they've invented some kind of fried potato cakes.
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* This is a nice trick to add a little depth and complexity to soups or stews. If it's cased, squeeze it out into a skillet, brown it, drain it, and add it to the stew.  I sauteed some small sweet-pepper rings in the spicy grease, and drained an added them, too, a bit of color and extra zing.
 
† These are named after the originals, inexpensive sausages with a high proportion of filler to meat -- and a lot of spices to make up for the lack.  They tended to split open with a "bang" when fried up.  Modern ones have plenty of meat -- and plenty of seasoning, rich and complex.
 
‡ Speaking of pantry staples, the individual-sized boxes of shelf-storable UHT milk can be bought by the dozen and last six months or more.  My Mom used to keep powdered milk around and recommended it to me, but modern powdered milk doesn't last well once the box is opened up.  UHT milk works at least as well and is a great alternative if you don't routinely use much milk

Monday, February 08, 2021

About Comments

      Not every comment submitted gets published.  I had to start doing that because of spam -- and an excess of partisan whining and supposedly-tough talk.

      Here's the deal: this is my blog.  If you want a platform for playing "gotcha" games with politicians over trivia -- slips of the tongue, simple mistakes, etc. --  or if you want to thunder and bluster about X, Y or Z being "the last straw" (especially if you have a known history of striking a pose and then slinking away), or if you want to make threats of violence, my comments section is not the place to do so.  Such things will not be published.  Sometimes people write comments of this kind in a jocular, light-hearted frame of mind -- but if that does not come across in your words, they're not going to to make it past the screening process.

      References that are too obscure can delay publication.  I have to go look them up and try to figure out what you meant by them.

      Calling public figures, living or recently-deceased politicians especially, by disparaging nicknames is generally a non-starter here.  You want to show disrespect?  Take it as given that I don't respect any of them and doubt that you do, and that it therefore behooves both of us to be clear and specific about who and what bugs you or me about them. 

      If you want to be a howling yahoo, do so on your own blog.  This one's mine and we're all just as nice as pie when we point out the bad polices and poor decisions of idiots-in-office -- this stuff is a matter of public record and if you wouldn't be comfortable explaining it to your grandmother at the Thanksgiving dinner table or a prosecutor in open court, don't write it here.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Super Event Sunday

      I spent the day doing laundry and catching up on household projects -- additional lighting in the dining room/library, an iPad and smartphone "parking spot" for Tam's widgets (drawing available on request) and so on.

      Now I'm watching Tam watch commercials during the football championship.  See, I'm pretty jaded, but she still enjoys them, and so it works out for everyone.

     Also, the wrong team is winning.  As is so often the case.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Insight Sighted

      Few things make me as unreasonably angry as the suggestion that my anger might, in fact, not be entirely reasonable.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Gonna Be Cold

      We're in for a week of low temperatures well below freezing, with occasional bouts of sleet, freezing rain, or snow.  It is as if winter, having suddenly realized it's only got six weeks left, has decided it had better get its licks in while it can.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Common Ground At Last!

      Yes, here it is, only Thursday, and the one thing we can all agree on is that people in this country have gone nuts.

      Who, how many and and in what way -- don't ask.  That territory's full of land mines.  Take what comfort you can in the sure and certain knowledge that you and those around you can reach consensus that it's crazy out there, and don't dig any further.

      Maybe people will get less crazy as time goes on.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

History, Hors(e)tory

      Tamara likes to point out that America's long experiment in representative government was started by "a bunch of gentleman farmers LARPing Republican Rome."
 
      On my more pessimistic days, I sometimes fear we're more like Imperial Rome, with Nero or Caligula in the driver's seat -- and then I remember: Caligula put his entire horse in the legislature, and so far, we have only managed to elect the back half of horses.

      Small comfort, perhaps, but better than nothing.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

"Just You Wait, 'enry 'iggins, Just You Wait"

      When I create the People's Republic of Bobbi, every elected office-holder and every candidate will be required to take a quiz on current affairs every week, possibly Monday morning.  It would cover what happened and perhaps public reactions to events.

     There wouldn't be any passing or failing; there wouldn't be rewards for the best scores or punishment for low scores.  Not from the government.  But the scores would be published in every newspaper and on every news site.  If some state or district or the nation as whole elected a nitwit, we'd all know.  And making fun of them would be protected activity.

     It wouldn't solve every problem, but we'd all have a better idea where to look for solutions.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Snow Day? No Day.

      We're hardly snowed in, but there's an inch of fresh, powdery snow over a half-inch of ice outside.  The main roads are said to be mostly fine.  The lesser-traveled ones, not so much.  Not even close.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

My Thoughts On Wall Street

      Mostly the current top-of-newscast stock-market flap:

      Any time you have a system with rules, people will game the rules.  And they'll do so high, wide and handsome, for year upon year, and it will become tradition.

      Every. Time.

      Want to fix it by changing the rules?  Okay -- as long as you remember that new rules mean new ways to use them that you didn't foresee.

      And so it goes.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

A Lesson In Two Charts

      When I write on factual subjects, or even express opinions based on facts or someone else's notions, I try to include citations and links.  I ding commenters who try handwaving "studies show..." in an attempt to buttress their claims.  --What studies, where?  Who did them?  Who wrote about them?  Did you read those "studies," or are you just passing on what some guy's second cousin thought she read in a Twitter post that someone screenshot and put on Facebook?

      Facts matter.  Verifiable facts matter.  And so does how you present them.

      Here's an example, as called out at Roll Call:


      Two charts.  Same facts.  One got the "unused" part trimmed off -- probably innocently enough; Art Directors and Editors loathe empty space, and those charts have to show up on a smartphone screen!  But in fact, the "empty" space here is chock-full of information that you cannot otherwise take in with the same glance that reveals the up and down path of consumer confidence in the news media.

      Present facts, not rumor -- and present facts clearly.  Always take a second, longer look before you share -- put that ten percent drop in your trust of media to good use, instead of elevating idle rumor to the same status as hard news.

Friday, January 29, 2021

On Politics In General

      A lot of the electorate - and no few of the elected -- appear to have decided that politics, especially at the Federal level, is some sort of apocalyptic blood sport.

      Some of this can be laid at the door of Mr. Trump (and his less-temperate opposition): he and they both grasped, early and deeply, that a great way to motivate voters was to get them alarmed that Their Way Of Life™ was under dire threat if the wrong power-drunk, jaded zillionaires (or would-be zillionaires) won, and never mind that part of the genius of the Federal Constitution is that no side wins once and for all.  More of it can be blamed on the spreading of nutty conspiracy theories, of which "Qanon" is only the more recent and -- so far! -- worst.*  Even more of this Ragnarokian thinking can be ascribed to the headline-grabbing but minuscule memberships of various street-theatre groups, from the masses of regular sign-wavers to street-blocking BLM protesters through to the rough-and-tumble combatants of antifa, the Proud Boys and all of their violent ilks, and on around to the tough-talking (and at times, ineptly gun-toting) Oathkeepers and Threepers. 

      What all of them have in common is that none of them are in the mainstream of American political thought or behavior -- Mr. Trump may come closest, but his intemperate speech and actions were better suited to a hostile corporate takeover than an election for Federal office and are not the generally done thing.

      What, you liked that?  Yes, politicians have been running as "outsiders" for years, as candidates who will look out for the little guy and clean up Washington D.C.  That's how you get former state Governors in the Oval Office -- Carter, Clinton, Reagan.  Nevertheless, they follow the normal forms and conventions of the electoral system, which Mr. Trump did not.  Neither did much of the reaction to him.

      As a result, we are now way out there, from the wittering media to the most stick-in-the-mud party-line Democrat or Republican, from your Great-Aunt Millie's Christmas newsletter to the fickle lunacy of social media.

      Take a step back.  Take a deep breath.  The End is not nigh.  I can't make your Congressthing stop talking brash nonsense, but we all can, by voting better.  The House of Representatives was always supposed to be full of churn and experiment, and the outliers are often outlying indeed, from AOC to MTG.  They get two years, and maybe if a House district if full of nitwits, it gets a nitwit in Congress and, well, that's representation.  But we can hold them to a higher standard; we don't have to reward trash talk and fantasy.

      And remember, the ones that stand out?  They are outliers.  That's why we notice them.  Most Representatives and Senators are sober, serious men and women, who do their homework and try to do a decent job.  They mean well.  About half of them have some damfool notions, but they are not deliberately malicious and they're open to compromise.

      Most of the members of the opposition party (whichever one that is for you) do not, in fact, hold their ideas and opinions because they are bad people who are out to do wrong to you, yours and the United States of America.  Their intentions are good -- and we elect Federal legislators to two assemblies to hash out the differences in their aims and plans, to find the approach that is the least obnoxious to the greatest number of the citizens, to test it against the Constitution as amended, and to stall and trip one another up in the process.

      This is not The Battle At The End Of Time.  It is not Armageddon.  It's the normal give and take of the Federal government, clunky and cumbersome.  It is, by design and intent, inefficient.  It is not improved by shoving a wrench into the already slow-grinding gears.

      We need to get back to fighting the normal legislative and lobbying fights in the normal way, and leave the sideshow behind.
______________________________
* Look, if you have bought into the "Q" line of bullshit, you might as well stop reading my blog now.  That Q stuff is risible but pernicious nonsense, playing on the worst fears of decent Americans and the power of grouped imaginations; if it's not run directly by Russia's FSB, it is at least deeply and powerfully influenced by them.  It's a mind virus, akin to communism or following the Grateful Dead.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

History's Not Cyclic, But Parts Of It Rhyme

 1914 - 1918, World War One
 2001 - tfn, Global War On Terror

 1917 - 1920, Influenza Pandemic
 2019 -2021(?), Coronavirus Pandemic

 1920 - 1925, Radio Broadcasting, a consumer-friendly application of a geeky technology, becomes wildly popular
 1994 - 2005  The World Wide Web, a consumer-friendly application of a geeky technology, becomes wildly popular
 2004 - tfn, social media (Facebook and others), a consumer-friendly application of a geeky technology, becomes wildly popular

 1919 - 1929, increasing -- and increasingly causal -- investment in the stock market expands from the wealthy to the middle class, ending in a crash.
2000 - ????, increasing -- and increasingly causal -- investment in the stock market expands from the wealthy to the middle class, ending in ????

 1929 - 1939, global Great Depression
 202? - ????, ??

 1928 - 1939, rise of fascism in Europe

 1939 - 1945, World War Two

     Buckle up, it could get bumpy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Yesterday

      As the front came through, I got a hellacious headache.  For weather, we got a nice coating of ice followed by rising temperatures, so Indy dodged the worst and the surrounding counties should thaw out by noon.  Other parts of the country have not been so lucky.

      But what it did to me was a vicious migraine, with dizziness, visual distortions and pain that is still barely under control.  I took acetaminophen and aspirin and toppled into bed at 3:30 yesterday afternoon, waking only for a microwave dinner around six.  The visual stuff was especially appalling and the throbbing eyeballs that accompanied them were a close second.

      It would be nice to report that I am now rested, refreshed and ready for duty.  Instead, I'd like to crawl back under the covers and curl up, preferably until springtime.  I can't, and it probably wouldn't help if I did.  So it's time to get stuck back in, and hope nothing's too sticky when I get there.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Still Nothing

      I'd like to write about politics.  It's still all too crazy to write much about.  A good many of the Republican-leaning bloggers are still living in fantasy-land, and a lot of The Usual Dem-Leaning sources seem to have found opium dreams of their own.  Those are not good places to be.

      The pandemic is still raging, and still killing off the elderly in significant numbers -- it's as if we'd fought WWII by filling the enlisted ranks with seniors.  But we've already lost more Americans to the coronavirus than we did soldiers in that war.  That's not a fantasy -- it's a nightmare.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Just Tired Of It

      Tired of crazy, tired of stupid, tired of the pandemic, tired of pseudoscience.  People didn't used to be this badly askew.

Friday, January 22, 2021

It's Another Sunny Day

      Better yet, the pulmonologist says I'm not developing COPD.  She doesn't see any big masses in my lungs or airways, either.

      That does mean we still don't know why I get short of breath sometimes, but it does explain why the inhaler isn't a whole lot of help.  "Old, overweight and out of shape" is the prime contender for the cause at present, so perhaps I'll have a nice walk this afternoon.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Sun Is Shining

      ...But I find I have no idea what to write about.

      Fight quietly amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Day Of Pomp And Ceremony

      It is my greatest hope that today is as routine and even dull as all of the Inauguration Days that have preceded it, or at least as much so as possible during this damn pandemic.

      If you are serious about politics and not a Party-line Democrat, the next four years will be something of a hard slog at the Federal level.  With a majority in the House and a scant majority in the Senate, while Mr. Biden's Administration probably won't get everything on their wish list, they'll get quite a lot.  That's likely to include gun control and well-intentioned (but ill thought-out) social engineering.

      People who have decided they prefer apocalyptic fantasy to workaday reality aren't going to be any help in trying to restrain the worst excesses.  That includes at least a third of the Republican Senators and Congressbeings, and a far higher share of the active voting base.  That latter group is where political parties get their envelope-stuffers, phone-callers and all of the other hundred and one little jobs it takes to move the pointer.

      It's going to be an interesting few years.  I'm just hoping for the more routine kind of "interesting" and not unmitigated disaster.  I'm hoping President Biden will focus on what we used to call "good governance," the shared issues that cut across Party and political philosophy,  and dealing with the far-reaching effects of the coronavirus pandemic before he goes after partisan and divisive issues.

      And I'm hoping people calm the hell down and grow the hell up over the next six months.  The country needs less face-paint and fantasy, less window-breaking and rock-throwing (both Right and Left-handed!) and more normal civic engagement by sober, shirt-wearing adults.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Overheard This Morning

      "As the HAL 900 computer might have said, 'There is some bacon for you.'"

      "There's a range of mountains in Albania called the Accursed Mountains."

      [Medium-sized pause]  "And that explains what's wrong with Albania?  They're named after George Accursed.  It's a common family name out there.  The place hasn't been right since they ran out King Zog."

      "What?  He was the only king Albania ever had, and he only reigned for eleven years!"

      "You know, that's what I like about our household.  How many people can mention King Zog without having to explain?"

Monday, January 18, 2021

Microwave Cornbread?

      Yep.  Microwave cornbread.  As good as the oven-baked kind, too.

     You see, I had bought a package of N. K. Hurst's 15 Bean Soup dried-bean mix, having found myself waxing nostalgic for the home-made ham and bean soup of my childhood.  It's not quite the recipe on the package; Mom left out the tomatoes and lemon juice near the end, added some celery early, and served it with raw diced onion and celery on the side.

      Do they sell those mixes where you live?  N. K. Hurst is local to me, so while I'd like to assume the general sort of thing is available all over, if not, the basic mix contains beans (pinto, white Navy, kidney, etc.)* and pulses (lentils, green and yellow split peas), though Wikipedia assures me all beans are pulses.  There's a packet of seasoning mix, too, which I rarely use.  You rinse off the beans, sort through them for ringers (uncommon these days) and soak them overnight in plenty of water.  Pour off the water the next day, add fresh water plus a pound or so of ham, a little garlic, a couple of bay leaves, a diced onion and a couple of stalks of celery, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and let it simmer for two or three hours or more.

      Pretty simple, as long as the soup doesn't boil over on you.  You stir it every so often, and keep an eye on it.

      The traditional family side with bean soup is fresh-baked cornbread.  The store-bought stuff is like cake and I'm not a fan. There's at least one good mix, but the oven in the old stove here at Roseholme Cottage isn't great.  I try not to run it.  So that was a challenge: how to make cornbread without the oven. There are some stovetop versions but they're tricky.

      Microwave "mug" cake is a neat stunt.  It was all over YouTube several years ago.  Not the greatest cake in the world, but it mixes up quickly and cooks in even faster.  A few weeks ago, I'd tried a commercial microwave blueberry muffin mix, the same "nuke in a mug" gimmick, and it was pretty good.  There's a cornbread mix, too, but the reviews for it are, well, mixed.

      But there are plenty of microwave cornbread recipes on the web, and in more than mug-sized quantity, too.  Most of them use ordinary staple ingredients.  I looked at a couple and combined them, ending up with this one, minus the sugar† and with half again as much salt.  I added a half-teaspoon of Cajun spice mix, too -- YMMV.  I mixed the dry ingredients in a 6-cup Pyrex bowl, beat the eggs and milk, added the oil‡ and stirred that up, then mixed the liquids into the dry.  The resulting batter is very thick.  I gave it several minutes to rest, then popped it into the microwave.

     The recipe called for three minutes and then testing with a toothpick.  My microwave is a little underpowered, so I gave it four minutes and the toothpick pulled out globs.  Another minute helped and thirty seconds more did the trick.  You do have to feel your way here.

      The end result is cornbread as good as any I have baked -- except there's no crust on the bottom!  It just ends.  The top has a decent crust and the texture is excellent.  It doesn't crumble to bits, even at the points when cut into wedges.  And it tasted great!

      You can microwave cornbread just fine.  It'll sop up home-made bean soup just as good as the oven-baked stuff.  Maybe even better.
________________________
* The mix I remember had black beans, too, and the end result was a very gray soup.  It tasted great -- and so does the modern version, which is a more appealing hue.  According to their website, the modern formulation dates back to the 1980s.  So what were we eating in the 1960s and 70s? 
† Cornbread is not cake, and I see no need for sugar in it.
‡ There's a trick here: just about anything in the general fats and oils category works.  I used light olive oil; that's what I usually have handy.  But you can use bacon grease.  Get it liquid and add it in -- and cut way down on the salt in the dry ingredients.  Melted butter works, too.  But those are not heart-healthy variations.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Relative....

      I might not feel so hot -- but the first traffic light in London blew up after not quite two months of operation.

     So there are levels of failure.  It's all relative.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Not My Most Productive Day

      Spent most of the day in bed and much of that asleep, after having done the same yesterday,  No energy at all and sometimes I'm short of breath -- I can cook a simple meal or do dishes, but not cook, eat and do dishes right after; I have to rest up.  

     Maybe it's just stress.  The last couple of weeks have been a nasty capper to an ugly ten or eleven months.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Dizzy

      Got up, made breakfast, didn't feel too great.  It kept getting worse.  I laid down and realized the room wouldn't stop spinning.

     So I think I'll just deal with that.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

I'd Rather Write About Food

      Made the pork stuff last night.  It turned out unusually well.

      Our local grocer's often has "boneless country-style ribs," a cut with a bit more flavor than the usual pork chop. I'd had a couple in the freezer since December (it keeps) and marinated them overnight in a mixture of mostly soy sauce and a little balsamic vinegar, with powdered ginger, garlic powder, onion powder.  I use a gallon-size, press-to-seal freezer bag for marinating; it lays flat in the bottom of the refrigerator meat drawer with the sealed opening turned up (just in case) and the meat just barely awash in marinade.

      To start dinner, I snipped the meat into 1" or smaller pieces over my deep Always skillet, and poured the marinade in after them.  Once it was sizzling away over medium heat, I sliced, peeled and chopped up a large apple* and added the pieces as I chopped them, giving the dish a good stir afterward.  I sprinkled a little ginger on it, too -- but be wary, a little goes a long way.

      Onion next -- a nice, big yellow onion.  I took my time rinsing and peeling it.  There's a trick to all this, getting the pork fully cooked and all of the vegetables just cooked enough: you want to be working steadily the whole time.  I quartered the onion and added pieces as I chopped them into some section, then gave it a stir.  Carrots followed, cut for variety into thin pieces a bit more than an inch long. Same deal. add and stir.

      Celery next.  It was a new bunch, so after dicing a couple of stalks into the pan and stirring, I wrapped it tightly in aluminum foil.  It keeps much longer that way.  By then the pork was pretty done and there was a good quarter-inch of liquid in the pan, so I had a taste.  Nice -- the flavors had blended well and it wasn't overly sweet.

      I diced a red bell pepper and added it, then some really good button mushrooms.  They grow in tight clumps, with small to medium caps on long stems, and don't take much prep.  A quick rinse, slice off the bottom where they come together, and they break into individuals.  I put them on top of the contents of the pan, covered it, and spent five minutes chatting with Tam wile we set up TV trays, got out silverware and beverages, and got the TV on the right streaming service to watch the final episode of The Queen's Gambit† as we ate.

      The mushrooms were done by then; I mixed up a little cornstarch and cold water, added a teaspoon or so of soy and a dab of balsamic vinegar, poured that into the pan and turned up the heat for a minute while stirring to thicken the sauce.

      The end result was delicious, a thick stew or ragout vaguely akin to old fashioned Americanized Chinese food.
_________________________________
* Any apple works.  The different varieties will make the finished dish taste different, slightly more tart or sweeter, but I have never had one that did not not work well.
† The series holds up remarkably well on second viewing.  I read the book after the first time I saw it, and the TV version hews very close to the book.  The changes they have made are, remarkably, all improvements, which tighten up the story line and help the overall arc.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

But What About Whataboutism?

      Children called to account for their actions in a group setting, often complain about the unfairness of it all -- what about all those other children who also did bad things?

      As adults, we're expected to own our actions, no matter what others have done.  We have learned that we are answerable for our own actions, others are answerable for theirs -- and justice is not always perfect.

      Enforcement can be non-linear.  It's got subjective elements.  If a speaker addressing a crowd says, "That guy over there?  Grab him and string him up!" that's clearly a crime.  If he says, "Let's go to John Doe's house and hang him," that's criminal, too.  But what about, "If I was in charge, I'd have John Doe hanged!" or "John Doe ought to be hanged," are those criminal calls to action, or protected, if highly-charged, speech?  And that's why we have courts and trials, judges and juries.  Circumstances can alter cases.

      "Whataboutism" aims to alter perceptions; if little Jimmy got away with throwing pebbles, why should we get in trouble for throwing rocks? But the one does not excuse the other, and thus we arrive at today's Whataboutist Letter To Bobbi, reprinted here exactly as received:
Yet COngresspeople ENCOURAGED folks to riot and occupy at the Hart Senate Office building to change the outcome of a Supreme Court nomination. Where were you then?
Are those folks who publicly encouraged that violence also guilty of Treason? Of "Insurrection"? Of an attempted overthow of Federal Government? 
Or is it only approved groups who get to do that? 
Feel free to censor me, but ask yourself those questions.

      OMG, can this be?  Was there a cop-killing, club-carrying,* riot-cuff-wearing, barricade-breaching, door- and window-breaking assault on the Hart Senate Office Building, people shouting the names of politicians they wanted to seize or put in office, egged on by Federal office-holders and if so, why wasn't it all over the news?

      You'll notice there aren't any links, dates or names in the letter.  My first websearch turned up a group of (mostly) women who showed up in February, 2018 to protest the Trump Administration's policy of separating children and adults who crossed the border with Mexico illegally -- they showed up at the Hart Senate Office building waving signs and banners (neither on poles or sticks), some wrapped in silver "space blankets" and sat down in the atrium, pretty much filling it up.  Others milled around with signs.  Some Senators, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), cheered them on.  575 protesters were arrested and the entire group was removed by police, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).  No one was killed.  No windows were broken.  There were no howls from the mob to sieze any Senator or Representative, or even the President.

     So that, while clearly an illegal protest resulting in arrests, surely wasn't it.

     On 4 October, another group was turned away from the steps of the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court by Capitol Police.  They were protesting Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, then appearing in confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate.  They, too, got into the lobby of the Hart Senate Office Building†, made noise, filled the place up and may have been cheered on by some elected officials.  Police cleared them out.  Over 300 were arrested.  No police were killed or injured, no windows or doors were broken.  Signs were hand-held, not on sticks.  It was a big, noisy event.  I think that must be the one my correspondent finds "violent."

     Okay, let's sort these three events out.  Who was throwing pebbles and who was throwing rocks?

     First off, what is being protested?  Then let's look at the stakes, the odds and the legality:

       Feb. 2018: the protesters are taking issue with Executive policy.  This can be changed almost at Presidential whim.  It could be changed by legislation, too.  It's an illegal protest: you don't get to swarm into Federal buildings and stage a protest and there were, in fact, hundreds of arrests.

      Oct. 2018: the protesters object to a particular Supreme Court nominee, who was in Senate confirmation hearings at that time.  Those hearings are not a greased chute, as we learned in 1987 (Robert Bork), 2005 (Harriet Miers) and 2016 (Merrick Garland), among others.   Senators can refuse to confirm a nominee.  It's an illegal protest, op. cit.  Once again, there were hundreds of arrests.  I cannot find any evidence of broken doors, windows or heads.  No police or protesters were injured or killed.

     January, 2021: the protesters reject the outcome of a Presidential election the previous November.  Over sixty court challenges have been filed and failed; many states have had recounts and audits confirming the results, including the Democrat win in Republican-led Georgia, a state where surely even the least hint of cheating would have been smoked out and run down. State electors have met and voted, and their results have been certified and sent to Congress for their count.  At this point, the Congressional action is a formality: other than rejecting a state's slate of electors, there is no Constitutional mechanism to change or recount the votes at that point in the process.  The protesters overrun police, remove barricades, break windows and force their way in.  Once inside, they break locked doors and some go in search of specific elected officials, shouting their intentions.  Many are armed with improvised weapons.  A "protest" or "riot" has become insurrection. A few arrests (a bit over fifty) are made but police are unable to control the crowd; several police officers are injured and one dies of his injuries.  Four protesters or insurrectionists are killed as well, only one by police.  The protest was illegal when the participants gathered at the Capitol building and became insurrection when they broke in and fought police.

     All three began as illegal protests.  All three had some scuffling, all three included illegal entry to Federal buildings.  All three resulted in multiple arrests for illegal behavior.  Only one group overran and fought with Capitol Police.  Only one group broke windows and doors.  Only one group killed.  Only one group gave indication of seeking elected officials with the stated intent of doing them harm.

     So, Mr. Correspondent, you tell me: which group did the most harm?  Which group had even a tiny chance of getting their desired end result without overthrowing our Federal government?  Which group killed and injured police officers?

     You tell me.
____________________________
* Few protests these days include signs on poles or sticks; the sticks too often become handy clubs.  Many of the insurrectionists who broke into the Capitol building last week had sticks but no signs.  Perhaps there were signs on them at the beginning of the day.  
† The Hart Senate Office Building has clearly got lousy security, or at least it did in 2018.  If they haven't done something about that by now, they should.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Yep, Still Crazy Out There

      Hey, did you know that every day is, "Don't talk seditious smack on social media" day?  And it has been, all along.

      Criticize politicians and institutions all you like; wave signs, send stiffly-worded letters and e-mails; call 'em up or hang 'em in effigy in your own front yard, and you're fine.  It's as American as apple pie to gather in the parks with a few hundred (or thousand) friends and chant slogans (send out a press release and get some media attention!); you can even go a-marching to protest the systems and people you dislike. Doing the planning to hang 'em for real over the public Internet on some social media service running on someone else's computer is a whole other thing entirely, and what we call a crime.

     It's also stupid.  Especially once the social media has been hacked and people who are Not Your Friend are combing through it.

Monday, January 11, 2021

False Equivalence

      The currently-popular term is "whataboutism:" one person brings up the Capitol insurrection and are responded to with comments about BLM/Antifa rioting.

      There are parallels: each fits the general pattern of a violent follow-on to a generally peaceful but angry protest.  In Indianapolis, skillful maneuvering by city leaders and some protest organizers eventually managed to sort out rioters from protestors, but only after daytime protests had been followed by overnight riots a few times.  Other cities weren't so lucky -- and suffered much greater damage as a result.  The long, trailing aftermath in the Pacific Northwest appeared to become a lot less BLM and a lot more assorted anti-government, anti-capitalist protesters.

      There are also significant differences.  I've been searching but I have yet to find a single example from the BLM protests where a prominent political office-holder had arranged for or promoted the initial rally or protest and provided a slate of speakers -- and there appear to have been far fewer calls to direct action at the Summer/Fall protests than there were at last Wednesday's rally.

      The BLM protesters blocked highways and intimidated motorists.  The BLM/Antifa riots appear to have targeted police stations, downtown districts and a Federal courthouse, largely because they were there and big, visible symbols.  They set fires and worse.  In Portland, the conflict may have never really stopped.  Last week's insurrectionists attacked the U. S. Capitol building, specifically seeking Congresspeople, Senators and the Vice-President, with the expressed intention to interrupt and interfere with their Constitutionally-mandated counting of Electoral votes.

      Those elements -- time, place, target, goal -- are the difference between a riot and an attempted coup.  Neither one is right.  Both do more damage than effective messaging,  But when downtown Indianapolis was infested with violent, dumpster-fire-setting window-smashers, their intent was "sticking it to the Man," with a side of looting; when the U. S. Capitol building was infested with violent window-smashers, their intent was to change the outcome of a Presidential election -- an election that had been challenged, tested and audited, officially voted on by the Electoral College, certified by the Governors of all fifty states and submitted to Congress: it was a done deal, and no Constitutional mechanism exists to change that.  It was an attempted overthrow of our Federal government.

      And that's why it's a big deal.  This is more than body count, more than the physical damage done, more one bunch of punks being better organized than another.

      Washington, D.C. is a clown show on a good day.  Our democracy is a deeply imperfect system, run by deeply imperfect people, most of them no different, no better or worse than you and your neighbors.  It's also the best system we've got, the best system the world has yet seen.

      Our government of limited, defined and much-debated powers was devised precisely so that elections would not be apocalyptic power struggles; casting them as such demeans the process and reduces the citizenry to no more than a mob of thugs -- at which point, it doesn't matter if they're swaddled in red, white and blue, some flavor of cammo or head-to-toe black, and it particularly does not matter to their victims.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Reason's Not Impressed

      It's one thing when Politico runs a think-piece about the insurrection in Washington, D.C.; it's something else when Reason does, too.

      Ted Cruz, who was very critical of Mr. Trump's ethics and temperament while running against him but became a true-red supporter once the man was President, has now shifted with the wind to criticize him.  Lindsey Graham has made the same maneuver.  Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani, who called for "trial by combat" at the pro-Trump rally in Washington on Wednesday, was apparently hit by a light on the overnight road to Damascus* and tweeted on Thursday, "The violence at the Capitol was shameful." 

      I'm sure there's a deep message in there somewhere, but what I take from the gestalt is, if you let any politician get at your emotions, you're a chump.  Your deep and heartfelt feelings are just buttons for them to push -- no matter who they are, no matter who you are, no matter what anyone professes to believe.  If they think they'd be better off pushing some other button, most of them will do so without blinking an eye.  It's all smoke and no fire.

      I've always thought Mike Pence was a little stiff-necked.  This week he showed that a stiff neck isn't necessarily a bad thing.  He did his job by the book, despite a raging mob.  A good many other Republicans are giving themselves whiplash, trying to follow the prevailing breeze.

      "Lay down with dogs, get up with fleas."
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* Ask your Sunday-school teacher to explain it.

Friday, January 08, 2021

What Wednesday Was

      This will cost me readers.  Since they'll all be people who can't face the truth, I won't miss them.

      The events of Wednesday, 6 January 2021 were an attempted coup.  It failed.  Poorly planned, poorly executed, helped along by a police force whose chief and senior officers decided to treat the counting of Electoral College votes as just another day, but a coup nevertheless.

      The insurrectionists beat one policeman to death with a fire extinguisher.  They murdered him while their fellows waved "thin blue line" and "law and order" flags.

      And they came directly from a rally where the President of the United States and other speakers riled them up and then pointed them at the Capital.  Oh, he never came out and said, "Storm the place!"  He started by saying, "I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard," but that lead into repeating disproven claims of election fraud and telling the crowd, "We fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore," and "So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, [...], and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country."

      Nope, he never told them to break into the Capitol and rush into the House and Senate chambers.  He didn't have to.  He aimed them at Vice-President Pence: "I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All he has to do. [...] All Vice-President Pence has to do is send it back to the States to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people."  Of course, Mike Pence had already said he would follow the Constitution (which gives him no such power) and not kowtow to the President's whims.

      The President of the United States (and his allies) incited a coup on Wednesday.  It was inept, ham-handed, and his mob lost despite Pearl-Harboring an unprepared Capitol police force. 

      Mr. Trump should be removed -- resignation, Article 25 or impeachment.  He's a traitor hiding behind a screen of only slightly plausible denial.  The only thing that kept events from being worse was that he and his most fervent followers are incapable of effective organization.  

     Thanks to Mr. Trump's efforts to undermine faith in Georgia's elections, the GOP has lost control of the Senate and Mr. Biden's Administration is coming in with a compliant Congress, a discredited opposition and a worried Washington.  Whatever bad laws and policies result, conservatives will have helped provide renewed impetus for them.  I hope you're very happy with the damage you have done in the service of a cult of personality.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Insurrection Fails

      An armed mob failed to keep the United States Congress and Vice-President Pence from doing their jobs yesterday.

      If you are still cheering for that loutish gang, if you are still denying the President whipped them into a frenzy and sent them after his own Vice-President and our elected Representatives and Senators while he cowered and gloated in the White House, do me a favor: get lost.  We have nothing more to say to one another.

      What happened yesterday was sedition, encouraged by an incumbent President.  What happened yesterday was the opposite of democracy.  It was an attempt to block the peaceful transfer of power.  The people who stormed the Capitol are not patriots, they are traitors.

      And screw the miserable sore losers for making me admire the grit and gumption of Senators and Congressthings, who went back to work as soon as they could and stayed at it until their Constitutionally-mandated task was finished.  I'd much rather have been able to keep deriding them as layabouts, slackers and drains on the public treasury -- but when the going got tough, they stepped up, which is pretty impressive for a bunch of limousine-riding lawyers with hardly a callused hand or a day's sweat between them.

      I loathe living in "interesting times."

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Thought I Could Ignore Politics Today

      I figured I'd just bunker up and wait for the process of officially counting electoral college votes  to run.  With protests in the offing, it was going to take awhile.  Once it was over, at least things would have been argued out in the House and Senate and maybe that would be enough for most people.

       It turned out that it was not going to be enough for President Trump and his most fervent supporters.  As the time for ceremony approached, the President was speaking to a rally in Washington, D.C., repeating all the claims he has made about the election, most if not all disproven.  He was waxing eloquent and Tam remarked, "They're going to march to Capitol after he finishes at 1:00."

     I told her, "I hope the Capitol police are ready.  If that crowd goes to the Capitol, they're going inside."

       Tam gave me a doubtful look.  It was D.C., after all.  The police there have seen plenty of protests and riots; they've seen mob violence.  They know how to deal with it.  Don't they?

       The President ended his speech and the crowd moved to the Capital -- and, after milling around, got inside.  It's playing out on TV behind me as I type this, but it's pretty much the same thing you've seen happen over and over in funky little Third World countries: an angry mob has broken into the legislative buildings, smashed in doors, and put the legislators to flight, barely defended by brave, outnumbered police officers.  

       What it looks like, is a coup.  It's a coup that won't stand; the National Guard is headed in as I write, and for those of you who don't remember Kent State, they have real bullets and, well, things happen.  The nation's capitol has been shot up before (see 1812, War of); a few more holes and some flamethrower scars will just add to the history.

       For the record, from here on, no Republican candidate is getting my vote again, not as long as they're supporting the rabble-rousing Mr. Trump.  They were my default choice if the LP wasn't running anyone for the office or the LP pick struck me as a loony.  No more.  Presidents ought not raise up a mob and sic it on Congress.  That's not how we resolve differences in this country.  Or at least it used to not be.  Now he has summoned a beast that can only be contained by blood -- and not a drop of it will be his.  

Watching The Queen's Gambit

      The Queen's Gambit is a miniseries based on a novel about a brilliant chess player.  Wonderfully cast, the 1960s setting is remarkably evoked by the costumes and sets.  The direction, cinematography and editing are outstanding -- even the soundtrack is great!

      But you probably knew all that.  Here's the thing: it's a darned good story and the miniseries allows enough time to tell it properly.

      Tam and I watched the first episode last night.  I'd already seen the entire series while I sick over the holidays, but it's worth a second look.

      I like stories about chess and the people who play it.  I am not, by any serious standard, a chess player.  My family had a nice chess set and we played, but there was no depth to our game.  Playing well calls for precisely the kind of real-time spatial prediction that I struggle with.  But I like it; I like people with the kind of mind that makes them a good player.*

      And that's exactly what you get in The Queen's Gambit -- and plenty more.  The episodes are each titled for parts of a match; each episode can itself be read as a game.  And the characters--

      I can't tell you for certain that the author used chess pieces to guide each character's identity, but they certainly map well.  Based on their making the first move or responding to the protagonist, based on how they move and how they affect the protagonist, it's possible to make a fair guess at each one.  (Warning: I'll try to avoid spoilers but it's almost impossible.)

     Protagonist Beth Harmon starts as a pawn: smaller than the other pieces and able to make only small moves.  She's quickly placed in the ranks of pawns, too.  By the end of the first episode, she reaches the far edge of the board and is promoted -- and, as can be the case, is taken soon after.
      Her mother's the white queen, making large-scale, dramatic moves; her father is the white king, and acts accordingly.
      Helen Deardorff, Directer of the Methuen Home for Girls, is the black queen.
      Janitor William Shaibel, who teaches Beth to play chess, is the black king.
      Mr. Fergusson, the orderly at Methuen, is the white queen's side knight.
      Beth's friend Jolene is the white queen's side bishop.  (Arguably, Miss Lonsdale, the chaplain and choir director, is her king's side counterpart.)
      Mr. Ganz, the local high school teacher and chess club sponsor, is the black king's side knight.

      ...And so on.  Mapping them to chess pieces is an interesting game and the pattern returns with new characters in each episode.  Even how they move through their scenes can be mapped to chess pieces.  Is that how Walter Tevis, who wrote the original novel, shaped his characters?  Is it how miniseries writer/director Scott Frank saw them?  I don't know.  Chess makes for easy metaphors for the same reasons that make it a great game. 

     Good acting, good writing, good imagery, good music -- it's enjoyable entertainment without analyzing it.
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* People with the kind of mind and drive that makes them great players often don't have much small talk.  I'd need to be able to follow their game to be much of a friend.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Oh, Maybe I Can

      Today is the day in which we will see if Mr. Trump's bold plan to undermine GOP trust in Georgia's  elections and hand the U. S. Senate to the Democrats holds up--

      Seriously, if he had set out to erode the very slight edge his party's candidates had in November,* what would he have done differently?

      One of the few things I favor in government is divided government; when one party controls both the Executive and Legislative branches, they tend to get up to partisan mischief that affects the citizenry in bad ways.  It is sufficient to have only one chamber controlled by the other party (and possibly even preferable, since it encourages compromise on essentials and deadlock otherwise).  If the opposite party has a commanding lead in both chambers, they tend to focus on seeing what they can do to trip up the President instead of their actual job, which is mainly tripping up one another.

     After the November elections (if you are the kind of adult who avoids wishful thinking) it looked like Mr. Biden was going to preside over a slightly compliant House and an oppositional Senate.  That's not a bad state of affairs and should have worked to restrain the worst impulses of Executive and Legislative branches alike.  Now....  Well, now we'll just have to wait and see.
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* I have a bone to pick with the Georgia Congressional election do-over (and the concept generally): if you have an election and none of the candidates can muster enough enthusiasm among the electorate to gather a majority, why in the name of all that is sane and sensible would you let them try again?  The voters have clearly looked at both and found them wanting.  Nope, turn them out, bar them from making another try that term, and run the election again with a new slate of dewy-eyed contenders to gobble from the public trough.  Yes, big parties, you ran your picks, and nobody liked 'em, not even with a pork chop tied around their necks.  Find a couple of other fools.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Alexa, What Is "History?"

      This morning, I was trying to remember who the Yorkists were fighting.  I was pretty sure they weren't "Scrantonites," but were they really "Lancastrians," or was I misremembering?*

      Being in the kitchen, fetching that all-important second cup of coffee, I idly asked the robot about the two (ha!) sides in the Wars of the Roses.

      She told me about Henry's territorial gains in France.  She did not specify which Henry, and so after a brief mental dalliance featuring either the radio/TV humorist or the Governor of Jamaica (he had interesting hobbies and prior experience) seizing an estate on the Côte d'Azur by force of arms, I stopped her and rephrased the question.

      She told me, "The Wars of the Roses were an internal matter."

      Well, she certainly showed me, I guess.

      (It was indeed Lancastrians, by the way, but who had roses of which color, and what's Henry Tudor up to with his, anyway?  Oh, wait, now I see it.  I guess we'd need a some kind of donkey-elephant-horse's ass chimera to pull that off in this country.)
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* This makes more sense in light of my father's long-term employment at RCA's Marion, IN picture tube plant.  Other centers of tube manufacturing were in Lancaster and Scranton, PA and there was both internal competition and personnel transfers between all three.  So I heard a lot of dinner-table complaint about  "Scrantonites," and "Lancastrians" when I was young and somehow it got a bit tangled up with world history.