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."
_____________________________
* 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.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

No, I Can't Even

      Political news has reached the point of being unparody-able and impossible to comment on outside of partisan bubbles.  I'm done.  Wake me up if either side side starts shelling Ft. Sumter, or one another's cesspits or whatever.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

First Of The Year Thoughts

      So, it's the start of a whole new year and I'm looking back.

      It's a long way down from here.  My life has been largely guided by my own bad choices, hemmed in by my regrets and limited by my inability to attain my goals.  On one level, I haven't done all that bad for someone who moved out of her parent's home abruptly at 19, with no degree and no real prospects.

      On another level, I haven't managed much past bare survival and the acquisition of a limited set of skills. I have achieved very few of my ambitions, and those mostly as twisted, stunted versions of the dreams for which they serve as stand-ins or grave markers.

      Oh, I'm not unhappy.  It's a victory to have simply got this far.  But I am haunted by wondering if all this trip was really necessary.

      Well, here I am.  Might as well make of it what I can.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Goodbye 2020

      And good riddance!

      There are no assurances that 2021 will be any better, despite encouraging news, hope springing eternal and all that, but at least the previous year is over.

       What a lousy year.  I am sick and tired of funeral notices and burning bridges.  I kind of don't ever want to make another new friend.  It's too damn painful to lose 'em.