Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Dentalstraction

      Yes, no new post this morning.  Along about tooth-brushing time, I discovered I had either lost a filling or a piece of a tooth had fallen out, on the back of one of my upper front teeth, and it's been quite a distraction.  Then I arrived at work to discover the drains are stopped up, so I did a few quick tasks and picked up some things I could work on at home. 

      My tooth will be looked at Friday afternoon, or sooner if it starts to hurt.  There's no ETA on the drains.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Flank Steak

      Last Friday, I was going to make chimichurri flank steak wit vegetable.  I had flank steak -- but no chimichurri.  So I faked it:


     Parsley, garlic, a little olive oil...  I had marinated the flank steak in a small amount of balsamic vinegar and togarishi salt, and I added to some za'atar seasoning, bay leaf, soy and fish sauce to the pan.


     It was tasty!

     (Photos by Tamara Keel.)

Monday, May 10, 2021

Weather?

      Yesterday afternoon, it appeared to have stopped raining, so I nipped out for a look.  It was chilly and overcast.  I was wearing short sleeves and there was the strangest sensation on my arms....

     It was sleeting.  Tiny sleet.  Pinprick sleet, each slushy little drop ice-cold and stinging.  I went back indoors.

     We had freeze warnings overnight and our neighbor's roof was sparkling with frost this morning, but at least the sun's out.

     May in Indiana!  I've seen nicer ones so far.  There have been good points -- the North Campus has plenty of red-winged blackbirds, a few cardinals, the usual red-tailed hawks and at least one pair of kildeers, long-legged, golden-tailed and fretful.  They're best known for faking a broken wing to lead you away from their nest.  If you're going to be isolated and shivering, you might as well do so in what amounts to a bird sanctuary!

Sunday, May 09, 2021

I Have Not Posted Today

      We watched the usual round of Sunday political interview/discussion shows, and it left me without much to say.  Or at least no confidence that anyone would be able to make sense of it.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Towards A Universal Morality

      "You can't trust those other people.  They're not like us.  They don't hold the same values."

     True or not?  An anthropology discussion turned into a research paper, in which the authors assert -- with examples -- that there is, in fact, a "universal human morality." 

      Yay, hooray, the lion will lay down with the lamb?  Not so fast; it's a very human set of behavioral rules; they're not without overlap and can even, at times, contradict or conflict with one another:

     1. Help your family
     2. Help your group
     3. Return favors
     4. Be brave
     5. Defer to superiors
     6. Divide resources fairly
     7. Respect others’ property

      There's plenty of range for heroism, individualism, group action and tragedy in all that. There are a lot of ways it can go wrong. But it's a start. You've got this much in common with the other guy, even if he is a jerk or a fool.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Thursday, May 06, 2021

An Interesting Wikipedia Article

      Wikipedia has a good overview of the "cult of personality" concept in politics, with a lot of links.  While often seen as a major component in authoritarian systems, it's also a danger to popular democracies; conservatives looked with alarm at the often-fawning press coverage of and crowd response to Mr. Obama and liberals (and some others) were horrified by Mr. Trump's rallies and oratorical style.*

      I would argue that any time you find yourself wildly enthusiastic about a politician, it's a good idea to take a step back and analyze just what it is you like -- ideas, policy, personality?  Something less tangible, an expiation of guilt or a vicarious feeling of power?

     For that matter, if a pol rubs you the wrong way, figure out why.  (Decades ago, my father took a particular dislike to one of Indiana's U. S. Senators.  While he disapproved of the man's politics, it was the Senator's smarmy manners and condescending attitude that riled him the most.  Even in an angry near-rant, was always careful to distinguish between the Senator's having a repulsive personality and his espousing of halfwitted or damaging policies.)

      Politicians play on your emotions to get the votes that put them in a position to play with your money.  It's important -- indeed, vital -- to use more than emotion in deciding which of them you will vote for.
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* I am not suggesting equivalence; they are very different men with very different personalities.  But their Presidential campaigns and terms illustrate two approaches to the same pitfall.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Banned?

      Look, a lifetime Facebook ban is not trivial -- but it beats getting exiled to a South Atlantic island with arsenic wallpaper.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Posting On Politics?

      There's increasingly less and less reason to post about politics: the shared frame of reference is dissolving into an ahistorical mush of ignorance and mysticism, Left, Right and whatever this is.

      Invidious commentators espouse no coherent point of view, preferring to stoke and manufacture outrage, while letting their viewers, listeners and readers take what they shovel out as a substitute for actual news.

      Against such a background, I have little to say, and doubt it would do much good.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Unexpectedly Weighted Covers

      Holden Wu, while he is very fond of Tam, often sleeps on the bed with me (and Huck).  I am slightly cat-magnetic, more so when horizontal, in much the same way that some people have perfect pitch.

      Holden, however, sometimes put his own Wu-cat spin on the behavior: every so often, I find my covers firmly anchored on the non-wall side of the bed.  If the bedspread and blanket shift enough, he will make himself a cozy bed in them on the floor, partially rolled up in the covers and tucked under the edge of my platform bed.  He'll usually disentangle without too much complaint if I need to reclaim the covers, often as not relocating to the mattress.

      This is the same fifteen-pound tomcat who still likes to nap in the small, puffy-cuboid enclosed bed I bought even before he was home with us.  He nearly exactly fills it, and snores away happily with his head just inside the little circular opening, a cat-hatch barely wider than his whiskers.

      When we adopted him, we were looking for another tortoiseshell cat like Rannie Wu.  Instead, we found an equally idiosyncratic cat, large enough to more than keep up with Huck.  I'm glad we did.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Heads Up, Pan On Sale

     The Always Pan people are having a sale, $115 instead of the usual $145.  I have one, I like it and I bought it on sale.  A medium-large deep skillet with a good, domed lid and a modern non-stick coating on the inside of both, it's a very useful piece of cookware, especially if you like one-pan meals.  I think the sale price is good value; I have used my Always pan a lot and it is holding up well.

      There's a code phrase for the sale price at the top of the page the link goes to, or there will be as long as the sale is running.  I don't get anything for posting the link.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Saturday

      I grilled a couple of steaks this afternoon.  They were wonderful.  I also slept in and that was pretty wonderful, too.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Wandering

      Started out to write an opinion piece on the shortsighted foolishness of claiming "we have no enemy in the far direction of our own leanings," said by conservatives of the far Right, liberals of the far Left, religious types of their own religious extremists and so on.  So, they're just like you but too idealistic, misguided, not as bad as they look or you have got to have 'em to stop The Other Side?  History argues otherwise, and those funhouse-mirror reflections all too often go on to cause immense damage.

      Looking that up let me to Jefferson, and his oath of having "...sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."*  The letter in which he writes that phrase led me to the XYZ Affair, which led me to, among other things, the conclusion that John Adams was a much better man and President than the majority of his party's office-holders were as men, Representatives and Senators.

      It also (of course, and if you don't know why, search engines are your friend) led me to the Directorate and the French Revolution, which pretty much always leaves me wondering if the species wasn't better off as small, semi-isolated bands of hunter-gatherers, flirting with extinction.  I'm still wondering.
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* For the curious, he's being ironic, since he is writing of his opposition to religious groups hoping to get the Establishment of a government-sanctioned church.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Why Is It....

      Why do so many of the "Hard men* making hard decisions" on the Internet turn out to be soft and bulgy in the middle, like a jelly doughnut?  Doesn't matter which way their politics incline, either. 

      Look around.  The reality is that human beings are soft-skinned, hairless creatures, most of whom would die in days if dropped naked in any kind of wildness.  The reason we are top dogs on this planet and flourish in parts of it where we cannot survive without a lot of serious technology† and know-how is not nearly so much about brute bloody-mindedness as it is the ability to figure things out, work cooperatively, and try new stuff without being forced to by others (even if it kills some of us).  It's not even near some modern definition of being "tough" -- in actual practice, genuine toughness is a whole lot more about endurance and perseverance than being a rude horse's ass.

      But the price of being very clever creatures without much in the way of natural weapons is that fantasy can be more appealing than reality -- and fantasy unchecked will take you down some very stupid corridors of thought.  Tolkiens and Teslas are rare; street-corner political theorists and preachers are a dime a dozen.
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* And women.  It is a mark of the times that not every last little never-tried-it collectivist and rugged individualist who's never ventured past the last bus stop in suburbia insists on relegating women to church, child-bearing and the kitchen.  It's only most of 'em now.  Heck, one in five can even tell you what a "suffragette" was and sometimes they're even right.

† Technology isn't just your iPhone.  Knowing how to set snares or find and prepare wild vegetables is a technology.  Tanning leather is a technology.  Fire and human-made shelter?  Technology!  Democracy is a technology, too -- just ask Henry Martyn Robert.  The only instinct human beings are born with is sucking.  A good many never get much past that. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Locally Grown Gardens Is Closing

      It's a sad day.  By the end of this week, Broad Ripple's Locally Grown Gardens will be gone.  They've been my go-to source for genuine Indiana sugar cream pie since they started baking and there was always something interesting there, from imported French tableware to spices and oils no one else sold.

      The business -- a combined vegetable stand, pie bakery, restaurant, and so on (and on -- morels, free-range eggs, wonderful and obscure soft drinks) -- was a labor of love for chef Ron Harris and a shining gem of the neighborhood.  We even had a Blogmeet there in 2009.

      Ron's been coping with Parkinson's Disease (there's still no cure and it just keep progressing), the lease on his wonderful location next to the Monon Trail is up, and he has decided that it's time to turn to smaller ventures.  Locally Grown Gardens will be greatly missed; I hope Ron will stay in touch.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

It's An Optimistic Morning

      Or at least a cautiously optimistic morning.  We may have storms tomorrow and the next day, but today should be the first day for temperatures that pass 80 degrees.

      It looks like the CDC's recommendation for wearing masks outdoors will be modified, too.  Just how much and if the guidelines are any different for vaccinated and unvaccinated people is unknown.  Indiana's rule became a recommendation earlier this month -- and applied outside only if you couldn't stay six feet away from strangers.  Outdoors interaction has been recognized as lower risk since early in the pandemic, so this move is no surprise.  It may even seems a little late in coming -- but Americans are a cross-grained lot, and many people have balked at mask rules.  About the only way a free society has to address that is to encourage the people inclined to caution to be even more so, and thus the rules and recommendations have tended to linger.  If J. Random Guy is going to go shop for mangoes unmasked, state and city governments are going to hang onto the rules that ensure the rest of us wear a mask at the supermarket and minimize the odds of swapping bugs with him.

      Emotions have run high and partisan politics have gotten deeply entangled, but the various state and city public health officials are, in fact, not budding Mussolinis and Stalins; most of them are swamped enough by the more routine aspects of the office and were just about bowled over by the pandemic.  That's been true all along, even in offices with more power: there was no prize in this for Governors and Mayors other than fewer dead and hospitalized citizens (bad for tourism and the economy, y'know) and a significant risk of voter ill-will.  Indiana's Governor Holcomb came in for his own share of opprobrium, no small proportion of it from GOP voters who I would have expected to know better.  But there it is: Americans tend to rankle at being told what to do.  The human race has a tendency to dance on the rim of volcanoes; Americans have a habit of making it work out when we do.

      It's starting to look like we may have muddled through.  The next step may be even harder to sell: we -- and our allies -- need to vaccinate the world.  Yeah, yeah, we don't owe anything to some bunch of foreigners, but here's the deal: the longer a new virus circulates among a great many people, the more mutations show up.  Some of 'em are bound to be worse.  We need to stomp this bug flatter than polio* or smallpox.  We need to kill it dead -- because if we don't, it will come right back, even uglier.  Viruses don't recognize borders.  I don't know about you, but I would just as soon never have to repeat the past twelve months.

      So I'm cautiously optimistic.
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* Polio is still a major problem in some parts of the world. It'd be pretty cheap to vaccinate for that, too -- except some of the worst hit places are also war zones.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Could'a, Should'a, Would'a

      After mentioning it early on, I didn't belabor the recent mass shooting here in Indianapolis.   These horrible things dominate press coverage for a week or more and everyone with an opinion retreats to long-held positions, most of which don't make a lick of sense to people with different notions.  Meanwhile, the people directly affected are hurting and grieving; whatever else you might believe, it's poor taste to hold a debate at a funeral.

      One thing irks me.  Indiana has a "Red Flag" law and the murderer had tangled with police about a year earlier, when he bought a shotgun and began talking to his family about getting the police to shoot him.  At the time, the police took away his gun and he spent some time under mental health observation -- but the Marion County Prosecutor's office didn't pursue a "Red Flag" case against him.

      Prosecutor Ryan Mears has offered explanations that boil down to "it's too difficult."  They've got to file within 48 hours, then his office would have had two weeks to build a case showing the eventual killer was a danger.  And had they lost, the government would have been obliged to return the shotgun.

      As opposed to what actually happened.

      Mr. Mears complains about "loopholes" in the law.  It would seem that an even bigger loophole was in not making any effort to invoke it, since the worst-case outcome (person with ill intent gets gun) would have been only trivially different from the result of not trying: person with ill intent had to get a different gun.

      Various of The Usual Media Go-To Gun-Control Sources have, surprise, criticized Indiana's "Red Flag" law in familiar ways; but when no one involved even bothered to try using that law, it's a thin claim at best.

      Depriving a citizen of a Constitutionally-protected right is a grave thing.  Sometimes, it may be necessary, and the correct and Constitutional way to do so is by due process of law.  That doesn't happen all by itself; someone has to start the ball rolling.  That's a Prosecutor's job.  Ryan Mears didn't do it.

      Would it have worked?  Would the case have been successful?  We can't know.

      But we know the result of his inaction.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Vaccinated Astronauts

      If you had been wondering, everyone aboard the two most recent personnel flights to IOSS -- a Russian Soyuz and an American Dragon -- has been fully vaccinated for COVID-19.  The four astronauts who will be returning next week went up before vaccines were available, and after they leave, the human complement in space will be one hundred percent vaccinated.  NASA takes it seriously, and so do their ISS partners.  The surviving Apollo astronauts were vaccinated early on.

      Unless Boeing's Starliner spacecraft get unexpectedly ahead of schedule, it looks like the next flight up will be another Soyuz, carrying one one cosmonaut, one actor/director and one actress: the Russians are going to be filming a feature movie aboard ISS.

      A movie filmed in space?  Arthur C. Clarke predicted this in 1952, though a bit later in the progress of manned space exploration.  Islands In The Sky holds up pretty well even now -- we didn't get the manned geosynchronous television relay stations he describes and his microgravity space station in low Earth orbit has a larger (and very much more British!) staff than the real-world version, but Clarke's depictions of the challenges of living and working in orbit are spot-on.  Similar to the Heinlein juveniles -- and originally published as one of the Winston SF books that were aimed squarely at the same market -- I think it's among his best early work.  If you have ever watched the Change of Command Ceremony on ISS, you'll find Clarke's "Inner Station" a familiar place.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Disconcerting

      Yesterday, I learned I'm going to need cataract surgery this year, "sooner rather than later."  I'm not comfortable with the idea.

      It explains a lot; I have been missing things that are there and occasionally thinking I see motion that's not there.  (Was that a cat?  Nope.)  The other day, Tam walked up while I was cooking and startled me badly when I caught sight of someone in my peripheral vision that looked like a stranger.

      Reading is important to me.  I'm not comfortable with the idea of surgery, especially not on my eyes.  Supposedly, they can do great things now.  While my nearsightedness is not entirely correctable, I am given to understand most of my astigmatism should be.

      That doesn't make it any less frightening.

Friday, April 23, 2021

It Didn't Seem So Bad At The Time

      Yesterday's test -- a lot of controlled breathing into a measurement device, before and after inhaling various mystical medicinal mists -- didn't seem like much physical effort.  Neither did the walk between the parking garage and the hospital.  And while the effort of being semi-charming to a stranger for a couple of hours take quite a bit out of a confirmed introvert, it's not as if I haven't had to before.

      But I guess it added up; I got home, had coffee, took an online meeting for work, did a little e-mail and planning -- and fell seamlessly asleep, head on the keyboard.  Came groggily to a half-hour later and decide to lay down, "just for a little while."  It became a three and a half hour nap.

      Woke up, made supper, stared at the tube awhile and realized I was barely awake enough to clear things away and get to bed.  It was a struggle to stay awake for that.  After eight hours of sleep, I still don't feel rested or awake.

      I think I'll blame yesterday's chamomile tea, along with being out of shape.  Maybe another cup of coffee will help.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Decaffeinated Morning

      This morning, I have to go do a thing -- "Take the Asthma Challenge," like it was one of those old Reader's Digest quizzes -- and I can't have anything with caffeine in it beforehand.  Actually, there's a long list of things I can't have, but most of them are drugs, I only have one or two of them, and they don't do much for me anyway.

      The no-caffeine things hurts, though.  I have started my mornings with tea of coffee for most of my adult life and I count on it.

      At least there was chamomile tea* on the shelf.  It's warm and flavorful, even if it does absolutely nothing to help keep my eyes open.

      UPDATE: Coffee at last!  No idea how I did on the test; my lung capacity is good.  But I already knew that.  The stuff made me cough several times.  Maybe I'm just suffering occasional fit of pique.  Or I could even be old and out of shape...?  Naaaw!
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* Actually, it's a tisane.  But you might as well be speaking Ancient Minoan and labeling the box for it in Linear A as call it that,  then next they'll want me to take my shirt off and leap over a bull by the horns, and we're not going to be having any of that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

A Winter Wonder-what?

      We got two inches or more of damp, sticky snow yesterday.  The wire for my ham radio antenna,  #12 insulated stuff less than an eighth-inch in diameter, is now fatter than a garden hose with snow; telephone and power wiring is equally burdened.  Trees, fresh with new green shoots, buds, flowers and tiny leaves, sag under the weight of snow.

      Welcome to Spring.  Now hidden under the heavy snow, the violets and little pink and white Spring Beauties in the yard will have start over.

      The power flickered out late last night.  It was back on in seconds, probably a fallen branch getting zapped clear and the power company's circuit-breaker-like recloser opening and (surprise!) reclosing.  (Those things are why they tell you not to touch downed power lines: the recloser opens to protect the line, but then it keeps checking to see if the problem -- tree branch, wet kite string, errant squirrel or the occasional stray crowbar* -- has been burned clear.  Why?  Because people don't like for the lights to go out and stay out, is why, especially if they're reliant on technology to stay alive.  Most problems on a big power line are solved in a quick flash of fire.)

      So here we are, two-thirds of the way through April and sliding on snow in below-freezing temperatures.  March might have "gone out like a lamb," but it left its fluffy white coat behind.

*  *  *

      I'm not going to comment on the Chauvin verdict.  You have your own opinion.  I stand by what I have written before: nobody should need to fear for their life in the course of a routine arrest.  To the extent that any of the participants -- suspect or officers -- does, we've got a problem.  And we do, and we still haven't solved it, and there aren't any neat, simple answers that are not also wrong.
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* I'll takes "felony stupid" for $800, Alex Trebeck stand-in.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Problem With Overcharging

      Despite -- or perhaps because of -- seventy-plus years of crime drama on television and even longer in other media, most people still don't quite grasp that the severity of charges in a criminal case stemming from someone being killed do not reflect how outraged the crime makes us feel.

     Nope, sorry; the perpetrator of even the most horrific of deaths resulting from negligence or accident is still probably going be charged with manslaughter.  And the person who mercy-kills their pain-wracked, terminally-ill spouse, having laid careful plans to do so long in advance, will likely be in court on first-degree murder.

     An idealist will tell you the charges are chosen that best fit the alleged crime.  A pragmatist will point out that a careful prosecutor picks the charges most likely to result in conviction.

     Politicians and grandstanding attorneys play on our emotions.  When a police officer shoots a suspect by (apparent) mistake, conviction is hard to come by: between qualified immunity and given the deference courts usually show officers, police are sometimes acquitted in circumstances where an average citizen is more likely to be found guilty.

     Overcharging only makes acquittal more likely.  It may be impressive to go on TV and ask, thunderously, why the policewoman who shot a man she intended to tase hasn't been charged with first-degree murder, but in the real world, doing so means she'll go free if only one juror is to be convinced she acted wrongly but without intent.

     The type or degree of murder charges are not an indication of how seriously the justice system takes the crime: someone is dead; the penalties are real.  The charges don't show community feeling or the horror of the crime.  Manslaughter or murder charges, in all their confusing gradations, are picked to be the most accurate, most convictable legal definition of the actual crime alleged to have been committed.  They're chosen as the charges twelve of our fellow citizens are most likely to agree are supported by the evidence and arguments -- nothing more, and nothing less.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Other Victims

      In the aftermath of a mass killing, there's an understandable and appropriate focus on the victims, on the lives cut short and the people injured.

      But the damage ripples outward from there, to the families who have lost loved ones, to those sitting vigil at local hospitals -- and even to the killer's family.

      The FedEx shooter had given warning signs, including a mental health incident a year earlier in which he had purchased a shotgun and talked about "blue suicide" so seriously that his family called the police and had him temporarily taken into psychiatric care.  His shotgun was taken by police and not returned.  The FBI investigated.  But in a state with a "red flag" law that would have prevented his buying another gun, he was never red-flagged.  There's no report of any ongoing care for whatever problems haunted him.

      Now his family has to live with that; they have to ask themselves what else they might have done, what they could or should have done.  They're dealing with police and reporters, coworkers and friends; and online, in the newspaper and on TV, the faces of the victims.

      The harm spreads and spreads.  It's not limited to the dead and wounded.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

A Sunny Saturday

      I pulled dandelions.  Also, I did laundry, washed dishes and made dinner.  That is all.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Still Stop Making Them Famous

      It happened in Indianapolis: there was a mass shooting overnight at a FedEx Ground facility near the airport.  Nine people are dead and five more were injured.  The dead include the alleged shooter, who took his own life, apparently after an encounter with police in or near the building.  At least one occupied car was shot at in the parking lot.  The driver seems to have been uninjured and drove to another nearby lot; local TV news has shown enlarged images of three apparent bullet holes in the sheet metal.

      And that's all anyone other than the police know right now.  That's all there is.  It hasn't kept news organizations from speculating.  When the local station Tam and I watch elected to stay local rather than go to their network feed, we turned to the ABC affiliate, where a Good Morning America reporter assured us the weapon used "...was almost certainly an assault rifle." 

      Well...maybe?  At least one witness has reported seeing a rifle in the hands of the shooter.  The AR-15 is the most commonly-owned rifle in the U.S., and one of the most affordable.  But it's guesswork.  The reporter didn't show the bullet holes; Tam and I agreed that from the images, we were confident the weapon used wasn't any kind of .22LR and was unlikely to be a shotgun, but that's as much as the evidence supports.

      By the end of the day, we will know the murderous fool's middle name* and if he left some kind of screed or manifesto; pundits will be speculating on his motivation and reporters will be scrambling to interview family members, schoolteachers and the person in charge of whatever religious assembly the killer attended, if any.

      He will be made famous.

      You may have noticed this kind of multiple murder -- unexpected, not known to be linked to any kind of gang activity or robbery -- tends to run in clusters, in a way that looks similar to the phenomenon of "suicide clusters" seen in some populations (especially teens).

      You may have read that some mass shooters appear to have kept track of previous killers, almost as a sports fan might amass statistics of player performance.

      Whatever else their motives -- mental imbalance, loathing some person or group, wanting to begin war between sexes, races or religions, and so on -- all of these shooters give a credible impression of seeking attention.  Of desiring posthumous fame.  One strikes and is a three-day sensation in the news online and over the air, and others follow, time and again.

     We've got to stop making these horrible losers famous.  Whatever else we do -- and there's a long list of suggestions, from "ban all the guns" to "arm everyone," with stops at "put a policeman on every corner" and various sorts of profiling -- we have got to stop making them famous.
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* You won't read it here.  It has long been the policy of my blog that I don't share the names of mass killers in the news.  Yes, it's a tiny gesture, any search engine will reveal the name as soon as it is known, but it's what I can do and so I do it.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Rest And Respite

      Temperatures have dropped and so, I think, has the pollen.  A day of moving slowly (and very little)) seems to have helped, although parkour is right out.

      So, time to get stuck back in.  And it's Trash Day, on which we traditionally have carry-out or delivery for dinner, in order to free up the time usually used for cooking and clean-up to collect all the trash and take it to the curb. It's a nice change.

      The cats spent a lot of time with me, though some of that may have been the sunlight through the window, or that it was open just a little: I can't avoid whatever it is that triggers my allergies and I eventually adjust to it, so I might as well get a little fresh air.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Allergies?

      Who knows?  My balance started getting bad yesterday about noon, peaked that evening, and hasn't been great since.  I'm taking the day off, exhausted, and have spent most of it flat on my back.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Fact-Checkers

      Fact-checking has come under a lot of fire in recent years.  Certainly, it can be weaponized -- if only one side of a dispute gets fact-checked, it can warp perceptions, especially if both sides are indulging in the usual mish-mash of fact, factiod, misrepresentation and wishful thinking.

      Conversely, a good fact-checker can add clarity to a situation and even improve the utility of debate by nudging the participants away from handwaving and hyperbole (or at least pointing it out to onlookers).

      FactCheck.org has been impressing me for awhile now; they don't take any side except the facts.  A good example would be their take-down of President Biden's repetition of tired, old, false statements about guns.  Another is their balanced analysis of Georgia's election law and what politicians are claiming about it, which spares no one.

      "Spares no one" is exactly what I want a fact-checker to do.  Yes, they're occasionally going to gore your ox -- especially if that particular ox can't stick to the facts.  Tough; it's far better to live in reality, and it makes for a lot fewer unpleasant surprises.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Sunday

      Latkes -- and laundry -- notwithstanding, I was still feeling pretty lousy Sunday.  After the oxtail stew supper the night before and a nice brunch with plenty of turnip latkes about mid-day, I skipped making any dinner and snacked on home-made gorp* between laying down and the wash.

      I did re-level the washing machine, which helped.  That reminded me that the previous homeowner had used salvaged concrete half-blocks with bits of mortar still stuck to them to elevate the washer and dryer, which works about as well as you think: they tend to wobble and force out the tapered shims no matter how careful I am about wedging and leveling.

      A half-dozen new half-blocks have been on my wish list for a couple of years, and the old ones can go into the back yard on the sidewalk at the low end.  The basement gets just enough water in a heavy rain to be inconvenient.  It used to be worse, before the city repaired the storm sewers† and I had the valve in the floor drain replaced.  Even now, an inch of water on the floor once or twice a year isn't out of the question.  So elevating the washer and dryer is a must, and not with nice storage drawers.

      A little cooking, a little trying to keep the washer lid from falling on me and a little laundry was as much as I was up to doing yesterday.  I'm feeling better this morning.
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* 50/50 salted and unsalted roasted sunflower seeds, with roasted pumpkin seeds, raisins, and a little bit of cashew pieces and pistachios to keep it interesting.
 
†  I'm pretty sure the sewers in my neighborhood are still semi-combined, much as I might hope otherwise.  Certainly many houses around here still have gutters that feed into their sanitary sewer, though the city makes you disconnect them if you make any improvements that require a permit.  This can really overload the sewers in a heavy rain.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Turnip Latkes? They're Delicious!

      Yesterday afternoon, I made oxtail stew for supper.  It takes time; once you've got the oxtail sections well-browned and added a little stew meat, it's best left to simmer for two or three hours in broth or stock before you add vegetables and get the meat off the bones and remove the excess fat.  Then it gets another hour simmering, with the big, ugly bones added back in: there's a lot of good flavor in them.

     Tam had made a soda-pop run and I asked her to pick up a turnip.  I was expecting one of the near-giant ones our corner store stocks -- but they don't carry Tam's preferred soft drinks.  The store that does have it sells medium-sized turnips in bags of five or six.

      After adding a couple of turnips to the stew (along with a potato, onion, carrots, celery and a small can of tomato paste), there were three left.  Frustrating, because they don't keep as well as potatoes.

      This morning, it occurred to me that most of the ways we cook potatoes can be applied to turnips, often with tasty results.  Home-made turnip chips are a real treat, crunchy and with a complex, slightly-sweet flavor.  So what about latkes? 

      My favorite recipe calls for a couple of large potatoes, shredded or coarsely grated and with the liquid pressed out; three peeled turnips is about as much volume.  The binder is a half-cup of flour (I shorted it a bit and added cornmeal to make up the difference), two teaspoons of coarse salt, a teaspoon of baking powder and a half-teaspoon of freshly-ground black pepper.  That gets mixed into the shredded vegetable along with a couple of beaten eggs.  You're supposed to grate an onion, too; I'd used the last one the night before, so a generous amount of onion powder, a little garlic powder and a couple of teaspoons of dried chives filled in for the fresh onion.

      The end result looked pretty good and the oil was sizzling in the skillet; I dropped in the batter by heaping tablespoonfuls, gave them size minutes and flipped them for another six.  They smelled wonderful and came out golden brown, not as textured as potato latkes and a bit soft -- but delicious.  I knew from the first taste they were a winner.

      The second batch got a little more cornmeal in the batter -- the shredded turnip was still adding liquid to it and it needed to be a bit more dry.  (They don't drain quite as well as potatoes.)  It didn't do them any harm.

     Tam had hers with salt and pepper; I started out eating them plain, then tried a little hot sauce, which was a nice touch.  I think these would be good with applesauce or sour cream, just like the potato version.

      So, yes, turnip latkes.

     [TAMARA KEEL PHOTOS]

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Two Shot

      On Friday at 1:17, I did it.
      I had my second COVID-19 vaccine.  It's Pfizer's version, so if I turn into an ear of corn, you'll know why.  It has hit me pretty hard -- muscle aches and exhaustion, starting this morning and getting worse all day, much worse by afternoon.  That's not an unusual reaction, and the medicos say it's a sign one's immune system is sorting things out, getting ready for a fight should the virus arrive.

      Me, I'm not so much for fighting, so I'll continue to socially distance, wear a mask indoors with strangers (still a rule in Indianapolis) and so on.  In a couple of weeks I may take short, masked, socially-distant excursions to antique stores and used book stores, something I have not done during the past year.

      For right now, though, I'm going to go lay down.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Mirror, Mirror

      Back on 29 March, in writing about the new election laws in Georgia, I pointed out that partisan, "mean-spirited 'gotcha!' jabs" by elected officials might thrill their base, but only empower their opposition.

      Ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit Two, this time making the Democrats look bad and giving the Republicans a powerful issue, courtesy of President Biden:  David Chipman, his nominee to be Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.*  Most recently a Senior Policy Advisor at the anti-gun rights group Giffords, which is seriously motivating in and of itself, as an ATF Field Agent he was up to his elbows in the Branch Davidian mess in Waco, Texas.

      Yeah, no.  I don't expect any U.S. President, especially not a Democrat, to pick a rootin', tootin' reincarnation of Teddy Roosevelt to run ATF; I can even see why this President might think it's cute to tap a gun-grabber.  But David Chipman could be the greatest Federal administrator since Herbert Hoover† and it wouldn't improve his chances of getting though the Senate confirmation process when he shows up reeking of the smoke from Waco.

      Once again, a mean-spirited jab might delight a party's base -- but it's pure fuel for their opposition.  Thanks, President Biden; the NRA needed a fund-raising boost to help getting through their bankruptcy and re-organization, and you've been a big help!  Look for this to show up during the mid-term political campaigns, too.
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* Imagine if the President could've found someone from the Women's Christian Temperance Union to take the job, and restart the battle that ended in 1933!  It's odd, there's broad agreement on helping people cope with alcoholism and stop smoking without any bans of high-potency distilled spirits or assault cigars, and yet if you agree that people ought not shoot one another unless there's an imminent deadly threat but don't want to ban some or all guns, you're a horrible evil person who hates children and the poor.
 
† Look it up -- he was so gifted that Harry Truman set him to working out improvements in the fed.gov after WW II.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

So...

      Yeah, I've got nothing.  Slightly rainy morning, wildflowers (fine, call them weeds, violets and little white flowers) blooming in the yard, ants apparently busy elsewhere bailing or moving house.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

No Breakfast, No Water, No Fun

      I've got to go do some medical imaging this morning and it's been "NPO"  -- nothing by mouth, only in Latin -- since 4:30 this morning.

      This does nothing for my mood and less than nothing for my headache, so I will spare you my opinions this morning.

      Since my scooter wreck in 2006, I have taken such orders seriously.  I had been returning to work after picking up a nice sandwich -- corned beef on rye -- and I had, for some reason, taken the bag along in the ambulance when I grabbed my purse as they were loading me onto a fancy gurney.  The ER was more than full.  I'd been parked at the big desk in the middle while they waited for X-rays to come back and figured out what to do next.  The sandwich smelled wonderful and when the physician who'd conducted the initial exam stopped by, I asked him if I could eat my lunch.*

      "Oh, I don't know why not.  You can't have more than a bad sprain, or you'd be hurting a lot more."

     Rye bread, corned beef, Swiss cheese, a touch of mustard -- oh, that sandwich was good!  I was just finishing up when a different doctor showed up, carrying X-ray images.

      "Ma'am, looks like you have a spiral fracture of your right femur.  There's an orthopedic surgeon in this evening and we'll--  Say, is that corned beef?"  I nodded and there was a long pause.  He looked at the wall clock.  "Okay, we'll be admitting you and you'll have surgery first thing tomorrow morning."

      I spent the night on pain meds with my leg strapped into an immobilizer.
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* The sandwich place was right across the street from the hospital.  So I ended up right back where I'd ridden from, having wrecked my motorscooter right outside the main gate to work.  This worked out well; my co-workers snagged the scooter and left it in our warehouse until I could arrange to have it repaired.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

It's Ant Season

      The ants are back, tiny collectivist monarchists scurrying on the kitchen counter.  Not quite randomly and I suppose they do some good: they have already prompted me to check the crumb tray in the toaster, which was long overdue for emptying.  I brushed out the inside of the toaster while I was at it, too.  Shop elsewhere, you six-legged pests!

      I dislike them.  Tamara loathes them, with the white-hot revulsion of someone finding out her cornflakes have been colonized.  By and by, we'll be setting out some tempting, tasty (and, oh dear, deadly) treats for them to take home to the Crown.  They seem to be getting more wary with each passing year, but once I have everything else in plastic containers and freezer bags -- alas, no more twisting the waxed paper around a stack of crackers tight and calling it good -- they'll have no other choice.

Monday, April 05, 2021

The Chauvin Trial

      It's predictably a partisan lighting-rod: the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on charges of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.

      I'm not going to comment on it directly; the trial is ongoing and we'll all know the decision of the jury in due course. 

      Indirectly--  Residents of the U. S. generally expect the police to deliver the people they arrest alive.  Yes, this is not always possible.  Very few people greet the prospect of their own arrest with happiness and a significant proportion of them resist with force.  To that end, police officers are equipped with a wide variety of tools, from pepper spray and handcuffs to radios (and backup), batons and firearms.  The expectation holds: it's the job of the police to get the immediate situation and suspects under control and deliver those they arrest to the justice system, largely intact.  We don't expect or want police to be judge, jury and executioner.  Dead suspects are a failure.

     Too, residents of the U. S. ought to be able to expect encounters with the justice system to be fair.  Not necessarily nice,* but impartial and reasonably safe.  To the extent an individual does not have that expectation, there has been a failure.

      A decent system of policing and justice should not require the police, prosecutors and judges to be saints, geniuses or heroes.  It ought to work sufficiently well and fairly enough even when public employees are tired, bored, hung-over, angry or a little stupid.  If it does not, that's a failure.

      Ideally, real-world policing and the courts should be about like the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, only with guns (etc.) and attorneys: dull, frustrating, annoying, slow...and not unsafe. 

     So when people tell me, heatedly, that Derek Chauvin and/or George Floyd should have done something other than the actions that led to the death or Mr. Floyd and the disgrace of Officer Chauvin, I think yes; yes, you're right -- but they didn't.  The system failed.  Their expectations failed them. 

      And now it's in the hands of a jury.  Will we learn anything from it, or repeat last summer's pattern of protests (from well-meaning to scarily pissed off) and opportunistic riots?  Either way, one man is dead and another is ruined.

      Edited To Add: I'm getting comments mentioning other interactions between police and citizens with bad outcomes, plus suggestions that George Floyd was somehow more deserving of a bad outcome by dint of being on drugs at the time.  This is all beside the point: in our culture, it is generally expected that if the police arrest you, they will deliver you alive for the next part of your involvement with the criminal justice system.  When that doesn't happen, some or all of the participants in the process have screwed up -- and we do (and should) expect the police to be the "adults in the room" in these situations. 
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* Night Court and Barney Miller notwithstanding, there's no way spending the night in a county lockup can be nice.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Roast Pork Tenderloin

      I made slow-cooked pork tenderloin in the roasting pan on the grill Saturday, and oh, my, was it ever good!

     Used my standard pork recipe, marinating the two and a half-pound tenderloin in soy and balsamic vinegar, with some ginger, garlic and, on a whim, a couple of teaspoons of za'atar.  It's a Middle-East spice blend, and despite that, it goes very well with pork.

     I set the tenderloin on a strip of bacon for luck (it was pretty lean) and set timers for two and a half hours and an hour and a half.

     The second timer was to tell me to add the vegetables, to turn this:

     Into this!
     Veggies included a potato, an apple, a turnip, carrots, a red bell pepper, a few shishito peppers, fennel root and golden oyster mushrooms.  Plus some capers.  I was out of onions, and made up for it with a few shakes of onion powder.

     It was delicious! 
     Needed a bit of liquid added before serving, and I should have done so while it was cooking (or just started with more), but I'll do so next time.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Hey, Remember When...?

      Once upon a time, government intrusion into the interaction between a private business and its customers was routinely described by American conservatives as unwarranted interference.

      Not any more!  At least not if you're a business -- say, a private university -- in Florida.

      Let strangers sneeze on you in close quarters all (or more than) you like, Floridians.  Think of it as evolution in action.*

      And don't come crying to me when it breeds up a variant worse than the ones already brewing and spreading.

      There are legitimate reasons to look with suspicion at any government-mandated requirement of fitness before you can do a thing and there ought to be a compelling justification for them. Driver's licenses, licenses to operate radio transmitters, pilot's certifications and others have been deemed to have societal ultility. So have the vaccines required of children attending public schools.   These are legitimate subjects of debate and legislation.  But barring a private business from requiring vaccination of customers or employees?  How is that anything but meddling?
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* Unless you've got a problem with that, too.  In which case it's fate or the ineffable workings of the Divine that killed your friends or family, and what a comfort that will be.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Friday, At Least It's Sunny

     Think I'll skip saying much this morning.  Regular doctor's appointment this afternoon and I am not looking forward to it.  Skipped my mammogram this year and I can either try for a walk-in this morning, or let her chew me out.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

The Question Answered

      At least now, when TV network executives cancel a series I enjoyed and I ask myself, "What were they thinking?  Were they high?" I will have the comfort of knowing the answer to the second question is very probably, "Yes."

      It's not much comfort -- they were already likely to be enjoying the warm glow of brain cells dissolving in alcohol and the confident, malformed judgement that comes with it -- but it's something.

      Somewhere in the hereafter, Harry Anslinger is seething.

      (Although I am very nearly teetotal myself and not even slightly tempted by herbacious inhalations, the tragic damfoolery around pot has done for it precisely what Prohibition did for alcohol use and abuse, not to mention organized crime.  Comes a time to face up to what doesn't work and try something else.  True in 1933, true today.)

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Read This

      An interesting post on "Activism" over at Sebastian's.  Worth reading -- and it's worth seeing all the wheel-spinning and infighting in the comments, too.

      The American Revolution succeeded because of a focus on what the States had in common; the Constitution was adopted because the drafters focused on the shared interests of States, to the point of making terrible compromises with one another so that a mutually acceptable Federal government could be put in place.

      If you want to move forward -- or even just not move backwards -- better stop carping and sniping over side issues and fealty to personalities, and zero in on the issues.

      And for pity's sake, calling politicians cutesy names and entertaining paranoid fantasies may well be all kinds of fun, but they don't move the pointer.  Maybe take up needlepoint instead?

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Not Much Faith In Spring

      The weather this Spring has been typical of Indiana, a day of lovely sunshine and temperatures anywhere from warm to chilly followed by a day or two of clouds and rain, on the cold side moe often than not.

      Usually, I greet Spring with joy, delighting in the return of green growth and warmth.  This year?  I'm not so happy.  I don't trust it.  Events have let me down -- the promise of 2020 became ashes before that Spring and turned ever more bitter as the year wore on, protests and unrest kept growing, and people turned away from science and facts in favor of whatever nonsense they found most comforting.

      That trend is continuing.  A substantial minority of Americans are avoiding coronavirus vaccines for reasons that vary from mistaken through spurious to risible.  They will serve as a pool of infection and mutation that preserves the threat, especially if they stop social distancing and stop wearing masks for face-to-face interaction.  Okay, government is a hammer, even if the problem is swatting flies or threading needles -- but it is the sharpest hammer we have, and the pointy end consists of thousands of your fellow citizens working hard to the stem the tide of infection, not eeeevil Bill Gates chortling like a silent-movie villain.

      In the first part of this month, I wrote that another wave of infections was likely.  It is now underway.  I'm sick and tired of staying six feet or more away from people and limiting individual interactions to fifteen minutes or less.  I'm tired of wearing a mask and more than irked that over the past year, I have only been to work (alone 99 percent of the time), the grocery store (not more than once a week), my doctor and dentist (twice each) and the home-improvement store (three times, early on).  Everything else except one outdoor meal last Fall has been delivery, drive-up or virtual.  I want this to be over -- but wanting does not make it so.  It's not over until it's over, and that's not just yet.

      The world keeps on getting greener out there, and the flowers keep unfurling and looking towards the sun.  I keep hoping I'll find some reason to think things will get better.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Monday Morning Round-Up

      In which I write about multiple things.

      Suez:
      Late word this morning is that they're making progress.  The stuck cargo ship is at least partially freed and facing in the right direction.  Traffic may be moving in the canal by the end of the day or tomorrow.

      Stop for a minute and consider the level of embarrassment: these are the descendants of the people who built the Pyramids, inheritors of the legacy of a culture that set up huge statues and grand temples...and they were struggling to free a stuck ship.   They are not going to stop until that thing is on the move.

      Georgia:
      I'm not going to discuss the pros and cons of various laws politicians, at least ostensibly, enact to make sure elections are fair, free of cheating, and equally accessible.  People's honest opinions and perceptions vary widely.

      I am going to address the foolhardiness of sticking in mean-spirited "gotcha!" jabs like Georgia's prohibition on bringing water (or food or any other drink) to people waiting in line to vote.  Looking at the wording, it appears to have been tacked on to an uncontroversial ban on bribing or otherwise attempting to influence people as they wait to vote.  Adding the water ban was a stupid move, one that will result in stronger and better-organized opposition to the law -- and it wouldn't make a bit of difference if every other provision in the law was logical, necessary and wise.

      Georgia's GOP-dominated legislature has shot themselves in the foot, making the Republicans look bad and giving the Democrats a powerful issue to get voters to polls.  Whatever else it may be, the law as written was inept realpolitik and this part of it will have unintended consequences.

     Politicians, it's 2021.  People will read your legislation, no matter how dull, and they will look for loopholes and weak points.  Don't be jerks.  It will come back on you.

      Me:
      I have been increasingly clumsy recently, possibly due to seasonal allergies ramping up and affecting my balance.  Or maybe it's just age.  Last night, I went to check the back door before bedtime and slipped on the three steep steps that lead from the kitchen to the door landing.  I overbalanced, reached out for the door handle, missed, and stabbed my right thumb and thumbnail into the hard metal with much of my weight behind it.  It raised a big blood blister on the tip of my thumb and under the end of the nail almost immediately.

      I iced my thumb for an hour, but an hour after that, it was throbbing and so tender that I had to scrub up, sterilize a needle, and lance the blister.  My thumb is still very tender this morning and it is interfering with activities.  At least the injury is not on the side of my thumb, so I can still work the spacebar.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Cats And Their Ways

      Cats are quirky creatures.  I have been fortunate to have shared my life with many who wanted to be with me.  Huck will nearly always come to snooze on my shins when I lay down to sleep; Rannie Wu came to prefer sleeping next to me or even cradled in my arms.  Years ago, I had a cat named Janie (sister to Charlotte and Emily.  Tommy was their brother) who would come rushing from wherever she was to lay on me whenever I went to bed, singing happy burbles as she scurried.

      Holden Wu burbles, too, and he likes to spend time with me.  While he sleeps in my bed some nights, he prefers to snooze with Tamara.  But during the day, he has a favorite spot with me whenever I'm on the desktop computer: the right-side typewriter shelf of my desk.

      Holden normally makes happy sounds as he gathers himself to leap.  That's good, because for many years, I have put my breakfast plate on that shelf.  A few seconds of warning is nearly always sufficient for me to get my plate clear.  He lands with amazing lightness for a fifteen-pound cat, and settles himself quite happily.  If he gets bored, he'll try to gnaw on my wrist, though he is learning it is Not A Good Idea.

      Occasionally, he doesn't make a sound beforehand.  This morning, I had settled down with eggs poached in chili* when he tootled and leaped so quickly that I barely had time to get the bowl out of the way!

      I've made a new spot to the left of my keyboard for breakfast.  A lap full of chili and a surprised cat might be a bit much.
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* This is remarkably good, a Tex-Mex take on eggs pomodoro.  This morning I used canned chili instead of leftover home-made and had to go with the organic stuff after discovering the last can of mild Hormel chili had lost its seal.  Still pretty good, despite the tofu -- and  more evidence of the value of keeping a well-stocked pantry.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Latkes

      It was a beautiful day today.  I goofed off -- did a little laundry, started up my motor scooter just to make sure it would run, and made latkes for breakfast.

     They're not as easy as they look; I'd made a try at them in the past and wasn't very happy with the result.  But I had a big potato and a new recipe, so why not try again?

     You begin by grating the potato -- I use an old-fashioned "All-In-One" grater, so I cut the potato into quarters longways, and grated it into a bowl. (If you're using fresh onion, grate in about a quarter of one.  I cheated and added onion powder.)   Then you squeeze as much moisture as you can from it, push it to the sides of the bowl, and beat an egg in the open space.

     You're going to want an eighth to a quarter-inch of hot oil in the bottom of a large skillet, so start that, using your preferred oil.

     Mix a quarter-cup of flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, a half-teaspoon of coarse salt and a quarter-teaspoon of freshly ground pepper.  I went ahead and mixed the egg and potatoes, then added the flour and other ingredients a little at a time while stirring.  I added onion powder to the flour, a bit more than a teaspoon, and I could have used more.  Once everything's been absorbed, drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the batter into the hot oil and flatten with the spoon.  Fry them five minutes or until golden-brown, flip, flatten with the spatula, and give them five more.  (If any of them aren't not cooked enough, give them more time.)
     I was happy with how they turned out.  They're traditionally served with applesauce or sour cream.  I used a little truffle-infused hot sauce instead.
     You can scale up from the quantities I have given for one baking-size potato, which makes enough for two people.

Friday, March 26, 2021

And In Florida, They're....

      They're what, in Florida?  Dying in the streets?  Booming economically?  Florida's approach to the pandemic has been criticized and praised, and right now they're trying to keep Spring Break from becoming too broken without sending all those high-spending students back to their dorms -- but the real story is a lot more nuanced than the simplistic narratives of Left and Right. 

     A writer at The Atlantic dug into it.  He found a lot to chew on.  It's worth reading, though nobody's preferred narrative holds up.  That last statement probably deserves to be inside a fortune cookie.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Semi-Smart Machine

      We -- by which I mean our Facilities guy and his subcontractor -- installed one of those big, portable air-conditioners at the North Campus earlier this week, to help an ailing cooling system limp along for a few more months before we have to take it out behind the barn and do it mercy.

      The hulking gadget ran for two days and then shut itself down, displaying an incomprehensible glyph where it should show the temperature setting, plus a red indicator next to a legend reading "TANK FULL."

      While I did spend a wild moment wondering if it meant our Sherman had a full compliment of personnel aboard, in short order it dawned on me that the thing was trying to tell me that it was waterlogged.

      This was a mystery.  Facilities (et al) had carefully attached a long hose to the proper fitting, and routed it through the labyrinth to the basement sump fifty feet away and over a dozen feet lower.  Being of an investigative mind, I fetched a five-gallon pail and started to pry the drain hose from the barb.

      It started dribbling out grayish water long before the hose came free.  I had sudden doubts about the wisdom of  uncorking an unknown volume of water in a room filled with electrical machinery, shoved the hose back in place, sent a couple of e-mails to my boss and Facilities, fetched a lot of paper toweling and returned to the machine.

      Once the hose was off, it shot a jet of water mostly into the bucket (and the rest on me, yech), maybe a quart total, and began blowing out cold air like it was supposed to.  It even had the right temperature reading.  I put the hose back on, checked my e-mail, and discovered Facilities was en route and had asked me to do what I just did.

      I tried taking a wet-vac to the drain hose at the sump.  Nope!  Blocked.

      Back to the air-conditioner, which had shut down again.  Facilities showed up, and we eventually found a hidden blockage in the drain hose and cleared it.

      Those huge air-conditioners have a very small tank for water that condenses on the cooling coils and runs off.  Once it fills up, a pump empties it (permanently-installed systems usually just have a gravity feed, but portables may have to make water run uphill).  If the level gets too high or the pump sees too much back pressure, the cooling shuts off.  Oops!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Your AI Said What?

      "AI," my rear end; they're chatbots and related utilities.  Very sophisticated, neural-network-driven chatbots, but they don't quite pass the Turing test, not yet.  Thery may be able to sort your socks, but they stumble trying to sort your photographs  And there's been an off-and-on flap, because when you release a chatbot into the wild  -- or into the neticulture of the U.S. and European-dominated Internet -- it tends to come back sounding and behaving more than a little racist.  It comes back able to tell white people from one another with ease, but struggles with women and non-white people, and if you're in both categories, well, good luck.

      Chatbots (etc.) don't have a conscience; they don't know right from wrong and they can't read subtext or social cues.  They don't know the difference between fourteen-year-old punks talking big and a symposium (ancient Greek for "drinking party," BTW) of Methodist pastors.  Most normal people are aware of this, and aware that social media is dominated by the biggest mouths with the greatest amount of free time.  Chatbots do not.  They also don't know demographics; the general collection of software engineers is younger, whiter and more male than the general population, and it's very easy for them to write software and provide data sets that reflect the lab and not the country or the world and not notice.

      Of course this has become politicized -- hasn't everything?  The New York Times ran an article about it on 15 March (you're on your own with their paywall, kids, just know there is a way) and, predictably, the more conspiracy-theory-inclined pro-Trump crowd* has decided if The Times is agin it, they will be fer it -- and therefore, according to them, if the AI says an all-Black population is problematic, it must be true.

      There are a number of defects to this, starting with the assumption that the NYT has less chance of being right than a blind sow does of finding an ear of corn.  (I figure they're at least as lucky as an average female hog.)  Then there's "The computer must be right," a flashback to attitudes of the late 1950s or early '60s when the machines were tantamount to magic for many people.  They weren't then and they aren't now; at best, they're only as clever as the people who write the code that runs on them and no less subject to bias.  But best of all, let's talk about The Bahamas: one of the richest countries in the Western hemisphere, right up there with the U. S. and Canada; they've got 95% literacy...and the population is 90% Black.  Nope, sorry; it only takes a single example to demolish the assumption.  The AI's wrong -- and so are you, if you agreed with it.

      We can build fair-minded AI.  Even a random sample of Silicon Valley software engineers, an overwhelmingly young, Caucasian, nerdy and male group, can do so -- if they're aware of the need for it and make the effort.  If they don't write lazy code.  If they pick their input data to model the general population, and not themselves and their co-workers.

      It's not a culture war.  It's good program-writing.

      Hello, world.
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* Which is to say, "Q-adjacent," analogous to the "...but they sure had kewl tanks!" fanboys of WW II Germany or Stalin's USSR.  I'm not impressed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Well, That Was...

    Fun?  Holden Wu went to the vet for his yearly checkup this morning.  I worked from home before and after and then--

     A headache had been creeping up on me.  I stood up to go to the kitchen and take my usual acetaminophen and aspirin, and nearly fell over.  It was far worse than I had realized.

     I have been more or less vegetating for the past three hours.  Took my drugs but I'm still shaky. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Corned Beef And Cabbage, A Photo Essay

      Last Monday, our neighborhood market had fresh corned beef again.  So I bought one and froze it for the weekend, to try the method I used for a recent Sunday roast and add some turnips and cabbage.

     (All photos by Tamara Keel.)

     A lot of turnips and cabbage.  So much so it needed an overwrap to close up the roasting pan.


     It cooked down well.


     The beef corned beef was nice.

     With the cabbage set into a covered dish, the remainder of the vegetables are revealed: potatoes on the bottom with turnips, carrots and celery on top of them, followed by little sweet peppers and exotic mushrooms.


     It plated up nicely!

     It turned out every bit as good as I had hoped.  About an hour in, I was worried the beef was getting a little too done.  Adding a little water with balsamic vinegar in it solved that -- a neat trick, though it's very much a matter of experience and informed guesswork.

     It cooked for three hours total.  All of the vegetables except the cabbage wedges and mushrooms went in with a little over an hour left; and they were added with 45 minutes to go.  I could have probably added them all right at one hour or just under.  Seasoning was what comes with the corned beef, plus a couple of bay leaves.  You don't add salt to this; there's plenty in the corned beef and it does the job on the vegetables.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Oh, We're All Idiots

      A commenter who will not be published left a single sentence in response to my joking post-vaccine piece, to inform me that I was an idiot.

      Imagine, if you will, my surprise.  There I was, thinking I was quite clever and had All The Answers™, only to learn that a random stranger on the Internet had determined that I was an idiot.

      Just why he had decided that was unclear; he provided no details.  Was it my flippant joke about the vaccine and the foolish fears of some people?  Was it for getting vaccinated at all?  (Look, pal, next time you can be the sixtyish woman in less than ideal health, and we'll see how quickly you go for a vaccine.)  Was it for being extremely unenthusiastic about President Trump (who I was no fan of from the outset -- you can go back and check; you'll also see I was even less pleased with Secretary Clinton and I'm not exactly jumping for joy over President Biden*) and his effects on what used to be a reliable party whose worst impulses were slightly easier to curb or avoid than those of the other big party?

      I don't know.  It doesn't matter.  What I do know is we're all making our way through life by guessing.  Sometimes we make very well-informed guesses; sometimes it's a leap in the dark.  But ultimately, there's very little we know with absolute certainty -- and some of those things, we're wrong about.  Against a vast and impersonal universe, we're all idiots, nearly all the time.

      So get over it, make your own choices, and move on.
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* Five hundred and thirty-five seats in all of congress, fifty state governors, at least a dozen more really well-known politicians, and yet the candidate pool is a disappointment to me, year after year.  Okay, it's a horrible job and no matter who you are about half of the citizenry will loathe you, but still....

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Ferfectly Pine

      So, I pfgot the vaccine yesterday -- the Pfizer one -- and I pfave expfizened nothing pfworse than a pfore arm. 

     Otherwipfize, I pfeel pfine.  Ia!  Ia!  Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!  Cthulhu fhtagn! Ia!

     ...What...?

Friday, March 19, 2021

Going For The Jab

      Barring the unforeseen, I'll get my first vaccine shot today.  Watch this space for any signs of mutation -- I can be the canary in this coal mine.

      For the record, I gave up on Donald Trump's GOP quite some time ago (still decades later than I did the Dems), and made my disdain public in the wake of the storming of the U. S. Capitol on 6 January.  I've been a libertarian (small-l variety) since I encountered the idea in Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress when I read it while in High School.  So you can't blame that on the vaccine.

      Internet connectivity is coming and going this morning, as it did all day yesterday,* so I'll stop here.
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* We're on copper back to the local switch, old-fashioned dialtone-and-DC phone service with Internet riding atop it.   AT&T loathes metallic pairs and would love to drop them -- but they can't; they're stuck with them thanks to regulations.  So they maintain the lines only after failure, and hope customers will give up.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

2034: A Novel Of Technological Illiteracy

      They ought to know better.  The novelist of the two men who wrote 2034: A Novel of the Next World War has Masters degrees in literature and international affairs; he was a Marine officer* in places where they shoot at you for real and did semi-spooky stuff attached to the CIA.  The retired career officer spent 37 years in the Navy, much of it in genuine seagoing commands and/or at various hot spots and has a chest full of ribbons that includes things that matter.

     I'm sure Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis know more about international politics and the military use of force than I ever will.  Based on the excerpt from 2034... published in Wired, they write well, with strong and believable characters.

     One problem is they don't appear to know much about radio; they don't know much about how radio-type jobs are organized in the Navy, nor about the care and feeding of the hardware, especially the older types.  They don't know much about the U. S. power grid, or the havoc that "bumping" the whole thing for a minute would create.  They're unaware of present trends in international short-wave broadcasting (there's less and less of it,  and the trend is continuing).  In the excerpt, the book treats cyberwar measures as if they were magic, with implausible effects and no justification for them.

     It ruins the story for me.  Which is a pity; it's an entertaining cautionary tale on the order of the nuclear war and after-the-Bomb novels of the 1950s through 80s.  But radio operation, maintenance and crypto are three different jobs, for outstandingly good reasons that include compatibility of skill sets and security, and if you're going to condense them to a couple of pulp-character guys (and throw in avionics for good measure), be prepared to prop it up.†  (Also, protip: soldering irons do not "smoke" unless you're melting solder with them.)

     My last paragraph points to another problem: 2034's military officers and White House staffers are fully-rounded; their various opposite numbers are about as good.  In the portions of the book Wired has published, Ackerman and Stavridis don't have much of an eye or ear for the "little people," and while that's about what we expect of an officer in wartime, it's not at all what we want from writers of fiction.

     I'll probably take another look after it comes out in paperback or the hardcovers show up used; I want to see if they ever try to explain the cybermagic (even logical-sounding handwavium would do).  They do use the flashpoints I would expect.  Nevertheless, I'm not expecting Hector Bywater-level prediction from this book.

     Maybe next time.  And whoever writes the next one?  The R-390A is your friend, and if crypto's not behind a locked door, it'd better be a black, black box.
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* Wikipedia and his own website are silent on the matter of rank.  Or as the Brits say, "Too tall for Dick and too short for Richard."
† If you detect some personal interest in that, you're right: I am one of the "supporting characters" in my job, not the big brass or someone publicly visible. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

American Gods, Revisited

      After nearly all of three seasons -- and a few bobbles, nothing major -- I was a little disappointed in episode eight of the third season. 

      Oh, I can see what they're doing; there are four or five character arcs in progress.  One of them features a background character who is due a little closure, and gets it, in a kind of counterpoint to the turmoil, uncertainty and possible betrayal that The Technical Boy, Laura Moon, Shadow Moon and even Mr. Wednesday experience.  This is the kind of contrast that makes for good drama.

      Unfortunately, the script goes about it in an unnecessarily heavy-handed way, with an "orgy" scene set up, cast, staged and shot with a pretentiousness that teeters on the edge of silly (if not over it) and which left me wondering if the script had run short and needed padding to reach a full hour.*

      If you're a big ol' culture warrior,† this episode is probably where you turn the TV off and throw the remote across the room, if you hadn't done so much earlier.  If you're me, you are reminded once again that the Beast With Two (or n) Backs is kind of goofy looking most of the time, no matter who's dancing.  The script needed a very light touch from the director.  It didn't get it.

      The episode chugged along, with several good dramatic scenes that left the next episode nicely set up.  The director and screenwriter for this episode are both one-and-done in the series, so I'm hoping American Gods can avoid another stumble as the story wraps up.
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* Sure, a series following pagan gods buys a lot of leeway in that direction.  But it's no excuse for making mediocre art while the storytelling stalls.
† The culture war is over.  Everyone lost -- and everybody won, too, especially if they have the price of a cheap ticket to some place that suits their inclinations.  Greyhound and Amtrak aren't going to stop running, voters and civic culture in Idaho, California, New Hampshire and Vermont aren't gonna change much or quickly, so relax and try to get along, willya?