Tuesday, May 17, 2022

OMG, What If I'm Not -- Kewl?

      Now, commenters are warning me that they might not sit with me at lunchtime!

      Guys, I eat lunch alone.  Always have.

      I get that a lot of the Right and the Libertarian Right has jumped down a fantasy rabbit hole, but I'm not even slightly inclined to follow.*  And it doesn't matter if a lot of people agree with my analysis, or if no one does.  We count votes to determine large-scale imponderables -- what kind of nitwit we want representing us in local, state and Federal legislative bodies, what kind of nitwit we want in the various Executive offices, and the election or retention of some judges, many of whom are nitwits or at least lawyers who failed to attract clients.  They're not great and at any given time, at least half of us dislike them, but it's what we've got.  Better voting for a selection of mostly-temporary nitwits than Leaders-for-life.

      Matters of personal belief or personal opinion aren't up for a vote, and if you change yours to run with "your crowd," well, a lot of people do, but I don't.  I look at the facts, I look at why I think things are factual and if that can be tested, and I make my own conclusions.  And yes, I look at my own tastes and my own opinions -- just as anyone does.  I don't care if that leaves me nodding along with most of the people around me, or on the front steps in my bathrobe yelling at clouds.

*  *  *
     Another commenter complains, "you chose to censor anyone who disagreed with you."  Nope.  I won't publish comments that are promoting racism or pernicious nonsense.  That's not "censorship," they can go publish that stuff elsewhere or shout it on streetcorners.  Or scribble it on their rifle like a loser.  I publish comments that disagree with me that do have some basis in fact, or that at least don't assume large-scale domestic villainy on the part of groups of Others.  ("Devil theory" thinking is a sure-fire indicator of bullshit.  The Bad Guy tends to be more symptom than cause, and the GOP's current Magic 8-Ball is a fine example of that: take him away and there are a half dozen others eager to step into the role.)  If you're not getting published here, it's because I think what you are writing is crazy or irrelevant.  If that stings, the treatment for it is to go publish elsewhere; I haven't put a gag on you.  I certainly don't owe anyone a forum on my own blog except myself.
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* Most Nolan Chart tests I have run put me at top center, neither Right nor Left.  My parents were lifelong Republicans, socially conservative (but tolerant if you kept the shades firmly drawn), patriotic, fiscally conservative, commonsensical and interested in current events.  They snickered at conspiracy theories -- and Richard Nixon resigned while I was in High School, so there was plenty of conspiracy BS around.  Mom and Dad didn't fall for it and I doubt they'd've fallen for the craziness their party has leaped into, either.  The party of Donald Trump has very little in common with the party of Gerald Ford except for the name.  I can't pull anyone back from the brink but I will continue to point out that they're dancing on the edge of a volcano.

Monday, May 16, 2022

You're Not The Boss Of Me

     Complaints, my, don't I get complaints!  "Your blog is usually interesting as long as you stay away from political rants," for instance.

     Look, sonny, if it's not interesting to you, go read something else.  You're probably late for a Bund meeting anyway.  I'm not writing for punks and fools -- Right, Left or just plain loony.  Don't like that?  My heart fair bleeds for you, except it doesn't.

     This is my blog.  I do it to amuse myself, not you.  I'll write about what I darned well want to, and if people don't like it, they're not obliged to read it.  

     The same griper takes me to task for not commenting on "Row v. Wade," which I think is in re the possible U. S. Supreme Court overturning or altering of their previous decision in Roe v. Wade.  Two things about that: one, it hasn't happened yet, so people on all sides of the issue are running around like headless chickens on spec; two, I believe that the only people with relevant opinions on abortion are A, pregnant mothers and B, doctors.

     My belief will not change no matter what the courts say.  Abortion, like guns, drugs and alcohol, is something legislatures and courts can make rules and decisions about all day long, but all they are really deciding is who they're going to make into criminals if the police can catch them; human behavior will go on, not much altered, no matter what the mostly well-off men in nice suits who went to nice colleges have to say about it in fancy language.  They can legalize and have some hope of controlling and limiting the related behaviors, or they can illegalize it and pretend it won't happen -- but it will, and it will be largely unrestrained, uncontrolled and unlimited.  That's the actual choice.

Stop Feeding Murderous Trolls

      The weekend saw another deadly nitwit of a mass shooter, this time in Buffalo, New York.  All the usual kinds of politicians came out and said the expected things (including blaming magazine capacity!).

     In a country of over 330 million, the supply of even one-in-ten-million people who want to work out a grievance by shooting strangers is plenty large.  You can even claim that with so many  people, violence is inevitable, and perhaps it is.  330 million includes plenty of aggressive criminals and violently insane people.

      I don't know if it necessarily includes this kind of criminal, someone so hopped-up on xenophobic rage-mongering that they set out to kill specific subsets of their fellow humans.

      There's an entire slice of news-and-commentary devoted to exploiting just this kind of anger.  There are serving politicians in both major parties who return to the well of bile over and over.  --But conservatives own the Buffalo shooter, who appears to have explicitly endorsed "Replacement Theory" in his crazysauce purported manifesto, the very same pernicious notion some GOP pols and Fox talking-head Tucker Carlson (among many others) like to slip in and wink at, knowing it's red meat to a base of worried WASPs.* Out of 330 million people, if you keep pushing buttons, you'll eventually come up with a bloody jackpot, a ticking timebomb who might have just screeched away in comments sections and chatrooms, who might have tripped over his own feet -- and instead gets fired up and motivated to go do something.  Something very bad.  Something I'm sure all the frontline, big-audience politicians and pundits would disavow.  They never meant that!  And perhaps they didn't.  Perhaps they don't understand that it is loaded.

      In the more-obscure (but hardly hidden) corners of the Internet are plenty of people who who damned well know they're handing out dynamite, and they cheer the blasts.  At one time, such ideas had no path to the mainstream.  Now they do. 

      Time to grow up.  Time to push such racist poison back into the universal disrepute it so richly deserves.  Time to stop feeding killer trolls.

       (I'm sure I'll get some both-siderism gripes.  Look, a killer is a killer is a killer; a mob is a mob is a mob.  I don't care what particular kind of murderous crap they espouse, it's wrong to go injure and kill others over it.  All citizens have a duty to stifle it -- starting with whatever part of it is within their easy reach.  What, you're afraid you political foes won't do their part?  Solve that at the ballot box.  Solve it in the public square -- without violence.  You can be the grown-up.  C'mon, it's not that hard.  Lots of Americans do so every day.)
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* And to a considerable tranche of Catholics and Jews.  History suggests those groups are still on thin ice with the worst of the worst at the political extremes, but the human capacity for self-delusion is almost limitless.  It's a nasty day when that balloon pops.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Yes, I'm Still Blogging

      About what, I'm not sure.  Even the weather is a fraught topic these days.

      I missed a small family reunion picnic yesterday because it took me too long to get enough gumption to attend -- and then on the way I promptly stumbled into some rebuilt/changed freeway that resulted in missing an exit and having to wander around to get to where I needed to be.  (City freeways are not my friend.  Interstate highways, I can more-or less manage, but this business of navigating tangled interconnections at speeds in excess of 60 mph overwhelms me.  In part it's due to lousy eyesight -- I effectively have no peripheral vision -- and in part due to having to keep track of too much in my visual field at once.  And in part it's because I dislike it intensely.)

Saturday, May 14, 2022

I Aten't Ded

      Kinda missed blogging yesterday.  I've been feeling physically lousy, and then there's the conceptual side of things: what's the point? 

      Old alignments have broken down and significant portions of the old blogosphere have bought into political nutjobbery of a kind that I had thought only grabbed public imagination (and the posturing of politicians) these days in the Third World and the struggling (not to mention occasionally backsliding) governments of the former Warsaw Pact.

      As near as I can figure, all it took was for the last survivors of the Holocaust and the last WW II veterans to die off, for memories of Stalin* to mellow against Russia's 20th/21st Century economic unrest and turmoil, and suddenly the idea of the Great Leader, of Caesar, was back and throbbing with blood, soil, and feel-don't-think bullshit.  People are cheering for it from Moscow to Warsaw, from France to...well, to right here.  The good old U.S. of A.  The French dealt the damnable notion a hard blow in their recent elections but the brass bands are still blaring here, and...I don't know.   When one party's leaning into the Leader Principle and the Big Lie good and hard, and the other party is milling around, rearranging their same old deck chairs and hoping the sinking will stop on its own, there's not much to look ahead to.

      Blogging as I once did about Those Clowns in Washington has become just another form of deck-chair Solitaire -- this does not mean our elected nitwits have suddenly become less clownish, just that there's less use in pointing it out; nobody's listening to anything bad about their favorite clowns.  Though some of the clowns are more evil than usual (and in a way that is structurally dangerous), the audience here under the Big Top is cheering and laughing louder than ever.

      Fates help us all when the lion-tamer shows up, pistol on his hip, cracking the whip.  A whole lot of people are gonna line up to go into the cage -- especially if they'll have a chance at the red meat of the fellow citizens they despise most.
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* In case you're thinking, "He helped win WW II!  He industrialized Russia!  How bad could he be?"  Bear (ahem) in mind he was so bad that Nikita ("We will bury you!") Khrushchev officially denounced him...once he was safely dead and embalmed, and not one second earlier.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Nooooooo

      Last night, I woke up after midnight spluttering and coughing, having inhaled an unknown amount of acid reflux.  I was choking on the remainder of it.

      This despite years of sleeping on a large wedge pillow.

      Some delightfully-tasty horseradish slaw is the most likely culprit.  It was not overwhelmingly seasoned with the stuff, but there was enough that I didn't finish my portion.  It would seem that what I had was too much.  Didn't sleep much after that, and arose in the morning to a world that is tilting slowly back and forth.  It has not ceased, and I keep nodding off.  Perhaps I am lulled by it, like napping in a hammock or in a small boat.  Either way, it was obvious I wasn't going anywhere.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Migraine, Dizzy -- But...!

      Vladimir Putin didn't do anything especially awful yesterday.  Just his typical awfulness of trying to stomp a civilized country back into the don't-call-it-USSR, plus some downscaled parades and a speech that mingled the Usual Historical BS with the Current Warmongering BS.   I'm callin' it a win for the West: there is a point that the civilized nations of the world will consider to be too far, and he hasn't got the nerve to cross it.

      Me, on the other hand, I'm not going to be up to anything fancy today.  My goal is staying vertical and hydrated.  Can I achieve it?  Maybe.

Monday, May 09, 2022

That's One Round

      Yesterday and Saturday, I filled a thirty gallon trash bag with dandelions, mostly from the back yard.  That's not all of them, but it's as many as I could find.  Unfortunately, between that, laundry and Sunday dimmer (grilled flank steak, fresh mushrooms in a pot on the grill with garlic/parsley butter, baked potatoes and Brussels sprouts), I got nothing else done. 

      On the other hand, that was quite a lot, and I did clean out the grill, too.  The last time I used it, I had absent-mindedly left the lid up instead of closing it and shutting the vents.  I found it after dinner but by then, there wasn't much fuel left.  So that cost me a about an hour's worth of hardwood lump charcoal.  Aside from a few unburned pieces of charcoal, it left only nice fluffy ash, easy to pour into a trash bag.  I don't mind building up a nice bed of ash in the grill, but once it gets higher than the fire grate, it doesn't draw as well.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Overheard

      Voice one: "What'cha reading?"

      Voice two:  "An article on how to take things less personally.  But I know you're judging me for it."

Saturday, May 07, 2022

A Gift From Nature

      The first lawn mowing of the season has come and gone, and with it all the tiny, white flowers with hints of pink.  The violets rebound (and so do any overlooked dandelions) but the five-petaled white flowers are gone for the year.

      So I was surprised to walk from the back yard to the front and see clusters of small white flowers, a bit larger than the ones that were mowed down last week.  They have four-lobed (actually six) petals, too.  I took a closer look.

      On a walk through the neighborhood in an earlier stretch of warm weather, I had noticed white violets in a few yards.  Yes, the same kind of wild-growing weed-violets, but white instead of purple.  And now we've got them too.  The yard has patches of white and patches of purple, along with a few yellow wild strawberry blossoms and the tiny, lighter-purple, almost blue flowers on the Creepin' Charlie.

      Sure, they're weeds.  I still like them.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Here's How It Is

      Everybody, everywhere, all of the time, is just muddling through.  Oh, we have our areas of competence -- surrounded by far larger areas about which we think we know more than we do -- but generally, we're all faking our way through.  Not wickedly; not as a cheat: we're looking at the other humans around us, and either doing as they do or deciding to not do so because we don't like that way, or don't like the people who do it.  Rationality scarcely enters into it, because on most subjects, we don't know enough for rational analysis. 

      Rationalizing, on the other hand, is something each and every one us can accomplish with grace and aplomb, as smoothly as a swan gliding over water, and we do it all day long.  If there's a great deal of splashing and thrashing about hidden under the surface, well, no one notices, perhaps not even the swan.

      If we meet aliens some day, that's exactly how they'll get through their lives, too.  Because no one can know everything.  Most things, we take on faith and manage by guess and by gosh.

      We're just careful to hide that truth from everyone.  Even ourselves.

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Off To The Doctor

      You'd think it would be related to vertigo caused by culture wars, but nope.  Just routine.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

The Primaries Have Run, Here And Ohio

      And what do you know?  Trump-leaning GOP candidates generally did well; on the other hand, there weren't very many non-Trumpy Republicans running.  Possibly none at all.  Ohio's batch varied from the centrist (but willing to nod along) Mike DeWine to the MAGA-rific and Trump-endorsed J. D. Vance.  Indiana was much the same except for a distinct lack of DeWines on the ballot.

      Pundits had pointed to these primaries as tests of Mr. Trump's continuing power within his party and were prepared to cast the results as confirming or disproving it.  It makes great press but the real test was in the candidates who stepped forward to run, and you'd look in vain for any friends of Liz Cheney among them.  It was obvious long before election day.

      That's where that party is, at least here in flyover country, an observation as unexpected as finding vanilla on the menu at an ice-cream stand.  The appeal of a big, loud, strong personality should not be underestimated, and it doesn't matter in the least if he's peddling pernicious stuff and nonsense.  Mr. Trump's line has become Party orthodoxy.  Whatever their private opinions, the public utterances of the party's office-holders and especially candidates for office are going to adhere to it.  It's what Republican voters want to hear.

      The real test will be in November.  Like the primary, it will not be test of truth or rightness, only of electability.  There are many months between now and November; war rages in Europe, supply-chain woes persist, COVID-19 is (still!) simmering in the northeast U.S. and parts of China, and only a fool would be entirely confident in any prediction for the upcoming election.  The old rule was to play to one's base in the primary and aim for wider appeal in the general; I don't know if either party's* candidates are willing, let alone able, to do so.

      If I had my way, I'd make prospective candidates take -- and pass -- Civil Service exams or at least the government's Occupational Questionnaires and manage a seventy percent score or better before they could run for office.  But the worst of them would just cheat and sail through with the highest scores, so....
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* If I've left the Democrats out, it's because they ran single candidates if any for the offices they have no hope of winning in the Fall and the few contested spots were not a test of anything except how well the candidates campaigned; that's the hard work of running, but it's rarely blogfodder or even newsworthy unless one of them sets out to shake every hand in their district and succeeds.  It doesn't appear that anyone from either party cared that much this time around.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

It's Primary Election Day In Indiana

      If you are a member of either one of the two big parties, today is your chance to help select candidates for the November election, and I encourage you to do so.

      Must admit, I'm sitting this one out.  I'm not a member of either party, and we're back in Andre Carson's U. S. House district.  He's a Democrat, in a strongly Democratic district, and he's a "legacy," having succeeded his aunt in the post.  He's also an excellent campaigner.  I don't agree with many of his positions, but he's the guy we've got and he will probably hold the office just as long as he still cares to.  So there's no point in voting in the Democrat or Republic primaries in that race.  That's the single most significant contest on my ballot and it's not a real contest, despite lots of other people running for it in both party primaries.

      I'll go with whoever the more strongly partisan voters want, and choose among the primary results this Fall.  At this writing, I am very likely to vote a straight Democratic ticket: there's a real lack of sane Republicans and if I'm forced to pick between candidates with whom I have policy disagreements on one side, and the other offers candidates actively hostile to free elections, freedom of the press, individual rights and our system of government, I'll vote for the side with office-seekers who are merely mistaken.  If the GOP gives up fantasy and conspiracy theories, or at least produces candidates who neither buy into nor go along with such nonsense, I'll consider them for my vote.  But not until then.  

Monday, May 02, 2022

Food Prices And Cooking

      Food prices started up as the pandemic grew, driven by a combination of intangibles -- consumer worry and uncertainty -- and very tangible issues: most kinds of food processing require a lot of "touch labor," busy hands, often in close proximity.  So food processing work, especially for meat, easily became a kind of "superspreader."  That meant lengthy shut-downs, expensive modifications to production lines and even pay increases.   (It's a tribute to the industry and an insight into how the virus spreads that outbreaks were limited to workers and people they came into direct contact with, not consumers.)

      There are over 35,000 food processing facilities in the U.S., ranging from little regional potato-chip makers to vast factories employing tens of thousands.  We never ran out of food, though at times ham or big-brand chicken got scarce, while beef prices just kept going up.

      The latest panicky rumor going around is that food shortages are right around the corner, egged on by comments from politicians concerned about the war in Ukraine and overhyped reporting of over a year's worth of fires at food-processing facilities.  It has been showing up as memes claiming from eighteen to twenty-two "mysterious" fires.  But they're not mysterious; any search engine calls up multiple articles investigating the issue.  The causes of most of the fires were quickly determined (insurance companies and fire inspectors being sooo picky about these things) and the simple truth is, twenty-some fires among 35,000 different joints turning critters and plants into breakfast and dinner isn't even statistically unusual.  It's what the insurance actuaries expect, as is the range of damage.  The fires have affected 0.063% of the facilities, taking the largest figure and including one that was, in fact, a long-empty building.

      So no, we're not going to run out of food, and that includes the kinds of wheat and rye grown in Ukraine.  The U.S. and Canada are net exporters of both grains.  Third-world countries aren't going to fare as well.  (Russian grain exports will also likely fall, largely due to sanctions.)

      On the other hand, we're paying more for food these days.  Having spent a lot of my adult life with an income in the lower end of middle class or lower, I'm used to food being costly in terms of how many hours I have to work to buy a couple of bags of groceries.  There are tricks to dealing with it.

       One of the most powerful and basic is, you can trade time for money when you buy and cook food.  Dry beans are tasty, filling and nourishing -- but even after soaking overnight, they have to simmer for most of a day and they take looking after.  If you get weekends off, you can cook up a big batch, freeze meal-sized amounts, and parcel them out over time.  Frozen cooked beans keep well -- the trick is to freeze them in containers with a lot of surface area so they'll quickly freeze all the way through.  Gallon-sized freezer bags work well, if you freeze them flat and don't stack them until after they're frozen.

      Meat is the same way.  London Broil is among the more affordable cuts of beef and Boston Butt pork is ringing up at $3.99 a pound at our local grocer.  Beef stew meat is generally the same price as ground beef, and makes a nice treat.  Every one of those needs to be cooked for hours, low and slow; you can't slap it in a pan or on the grill and serve it up rare in under ten minutes.  Marinating helps.  And making big batches, then freezing the leftovers for later lets you make use of available cooking time.

      With vegetables, the more work you have to do, the cheaper they are.  Frozen or canned is still pretty cheap and keeps well, but for familiar vegetables, buying fresh is much cheaper.  Potatoes and onions keep well in a cool, dark cabinet; other root vegetables will stay happy in the fridge for roughly a week if not longer.  The above-ground stuff usually doesn't last as long; I wrap celery in aluminum foil to make it last but it's still a race to use it up before it goes brown.  If you have time to prep and cook them, it can be much cheaper to buy fresh vegetables and in my opinion, they taste better. (Canned beans are an exception.  They're one of the cheaper canned foods and keep well.  They're about as good as dried or fresh, but look out: they often have excess salt.  This can can make it more difficult to cook them with ham, especially "seasoning ham," which can be plenty salty itself.  Low-salt versions are becoming more available and rarely cost more.  You can also add a couple of cut-up potatoes; they'll balance the flavor by soaking up the salt and make for lower salt per serving.)

      The freezer and fridge are your friends, and so are those old cookbooks gathering dust.  Time can be an ally -- one of the worst periods of my life was when I was working two full-time jobs to make ends meet, three sixteen-hour days and four eight-hour days every week.  There was barely time to do laundry and there wasn't time to cook.  I ate what was quick and affordable, and pined for my own cooking. 

      Though most of human history, we have struggled to get enough to eat.  One of the great wonders of modern civilization is that more people than ever before get sufficient food (and, tragically, some still do not).  While abundance has made food less expensive, you still pay extra for convenience -- and you can save considerably by leveraging inconvenience.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

A Pot

      Not just any pot, the companion to my Always Pan: the Perfect Pot.  I've been wanting one since they introduced them, but I didn't actually need one.

      On the other hand, the nice ceramic nonstick is a lot easier to hand wash than stainless steel.  And the pot is exactly in between my large RevereWare pot and my big stewpot.  Since the one is sometimes slightly small and the other is so big that it's a chore to deal with, I was tempted.  Then the From Our Place people had a sale (It's still going on as I write) and prices dipped from "Maybe someday" to "Why not today?"  It arrived Friday.

      Mine is a bright acid-green (apple green or wasabi green).  I used it last night to make a kind of pot roast, with a London Broil in the starring role.  It's nice, heavy enough to distribute heat well and the nonstick interior is just as good as the pan.  The lids are compatible in size, though of different design, and the clever spoon-holding handles work nearly as well with my silicone spoons as they do with the purpose-made wooden spoon that arrives with the pot.  The body of the pot is thick cast aluminum, with a colorful exterior and a gray ceramic interior.

      Drawbacks?  The cast-in handles are like the short one on the Always Pan and they heat up just as much as it does, so you need an oven mitt or hot pad to lift it using them.  (A high-end Le Creuset dutch oven in the same size has the same kind of handles -- at well over twice the sale price.)  I have ordered some silicone grabbers made for that kind of handle and we'll see how that works.

A Mastermind

      What could be better than trying to finish the laundry you didn't get done the day before and discovering you had let a large load of socks run the night before in the dryer with the hot air off?  Once the tumbling-only was over, they sat all night, damp and unhappy.  Of course, I only found them after I had started a load of towels and washcloths, so now everything is out of kilter.

      The towels are drying now with the hot air on* and the socks are in the washer, hoping for redemption through rewashing.
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* I do realize modern dryers have more settings than those two, it's just in my experience those settings are RUIN CLOTHES, DAMAGE CLOTHES, DRY CLOTHES and AMUSE CLOTHES.  That's two more than my Mom's 1949 Sears Kenmore dryer had, but the same number of useful ones.  Mom used that dryer until the 1980s -- it never broke, but she wanted a newer one that was higher off the floor.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Hunting Lions

      Dandelions, that is.  I spent a couple of hours today removing them from the wildflower-thick front yard.  The bees can have the wild violets, the tiny purple blooms on Creepin' Charlie, the yellow flowers of the wild strawberries and the tiny, pink-streaked white flowers that carpet the yard every Spring, but I get the dandelions.  And I take them away.  I like them. But the neighbors don't, and the dandelions would crowd out the other flowering volunteers if I let them.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Yeah, Friday

      Migraine, dizziness and lousy eyesight.  Most of it allergy-triggered, though there are ongoing issues with my left eye since cataract surgery that lasering didn't help.

      I have hopes for this weekend but the weather is going to interfere with some of them if it goes as predicted.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Puffing Up

      Vladimir Putin has been working himself up to do...something.  V-E day fell on the ninth of May in Moscow, just a minute after midnight, and it's still a big deal in Russia. 

      I expect that by the end of that day this year, Russia will have taken some kind of dramatic action.  It could be very bad; Moscow's TV pundits are pretty much everything bad anyone in this county has imagined about the yapping heads on MSNBC or Fox News, turned up to eleven while fat and happy on government paychecks.  Discussing WW III, one of them recently pointed out that if worse came to worst, Russians could count on going to heaven while people in the West "would just croak."  --I'm starting to miss the atheistic Soviet Union; there are few things worse than a foe convinced of getting a good seat in the next life and the Soviets were (at least officially) sure that this life was all they were going to get.

      This is the world we've got and the clock's ticking.  Maybe it'll just be a ramp-up in the conventional war in Ukraine, and that will be horrific enough.  It could be far worse.  We're not going to know until May tenth.

      But I wouldn't start any really big jigsaw puzzles right now, just in case.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Oh, The Comments....

      As expected, several commenters have taken me to task -- they tell me those officers in the Capitol being menaced by rioters were heavily armed!  They (may have) had a path to retreat!  So it was perfectly okay for a mob to be bashing in doors with a helmet to get at them!  I guess the Capitol Police were supposed to leave the entire House and Senate, along with the Vice-President and all the staff, to fend for themselves?

      You're idiots, carrying water for thugs.  There are clear aggressors in the actual event, just as there are in the scenarios I sketched.  Somebody's initiating force.  It isn't the defenders.  And as for any "duty to retreat," that has never applied to police; Castle Doctrine laws explicitly extended to all citizens something police have always had de facto if not universally de jure: the right to self-defense. 

      If you are making excuses for howling, violent mobs -- and I don't care if it is BLM-associated rioters, an historical lynch mob, black-masked Antifa, the Capitol rioters of 6 January 2021, or any other bunch of self-appointed nitwits out to break heads, rules and property -- then you're arguing in favor of force over law, in favor of mobs over an elected, representative government.  Is that really the world you want to live in?

      If it is, you're an idiot.  Again.  Stop making excuses for the worst impulses of humanity.  Stop making excuses for the initiation of force.  Stopping violence against yourself or innocent others is a good thing.  Starting violence against others is not. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

So...

      Okay, let's run it.

     Here's the situation: you and your extended family have gathered in one room of your large house for some all-hands-on-deck thing you do regularly but not frequently -- working out income tax returns, watching The Wizard Of Oz, whatever.  Your family isn't especially popular, and even internally, it has split into two groups that rarely see eye-to-eye.  But you're all there, doing the thing.

     Other people gather in a big group outside on the lawn and start yelling.  Some of them break into the house.  Some adult family members gather the kids and old folks, and get them to a place of safety.  The mob reaches the (now barricaded) French doors that lead to the room you'd all been in.  Some have signs.  Some are shouting.  Others just mill around.  You shout, "Stop!"  You draw your sidearm and point it at the threat.  One of the members of the mob batters out the glass in the door.  Another of them starts to climb through the breach.  You shoot.

     Are you a murderer? 

     What if a similar thing happened at your workplace and a security guard shot a member of the mob that had broken in while they were coming through a just-breach internal barrier -- is he or she a murderer?

     If you are one of the people who has watched coverage of a BLM protest or riot, or saw antifa types running amok through a downtown, and asked why the police "don't just shoot them," then don't claim Capitol Police "murdered" Ashli Babbitt.  She was killed in the commission of a crime, while presenting a direct threat to other people as part of a dangerous mob. 

     I'm all for solutions that lead to fewer dead people.  I'm all for people making choices that lead to less deaths.  But ideal solutions are not always possible.  Don't want to get shot by Capitol Police?  Then don't break into the U. S. Capitol as part of a mob, don't bash through doors while police stand on the other side with guns drawn telling you to stop, and don't go through the broken door.

     Means count as much as ends, and must not be judged through a partisan filter.

     The lesson to take from this is the same lesson to be taken from any political riot: mob rule is not democracy.  Mobs do not lead to solutions.  We knew it in 1776.  We knew it in 1787 - 89.  Most of us still know it.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Not Now

      I had a long-ish post planned, but I'm all burned out on explaining reality slowly and carefully, and then getting inflamed comments from people who'd rather live in a bloody fantasy.  Maybe tomorrow, kid.  Maybe tomorrow.

      Maybe not at all.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Had To Work Today

     A routine failure at work, for which we have backup, managed to turn into a full-fledged disaster of the kind that you just have to ride out, at the mercy of outside forces.

     Power went out and the backup generator came online.  And then after awhile, it died without warning.

     It wasn't fun, especially since we were all counting on the normal, routine, automatic solution.  It did work -- for a couple of hours.  It's supposed to hold up for three days.

     I showed up, shortly after Power & Light fixed the problem and left -- the same problem they had showed up to fix hours earlier and given up after leaving voicemail for our Accounting people, despite our installing their special locks on the gate and having the account marked as "critical, cannot be left off, must speak to a living person," and giving them home and emergency numbers for our techs and managers.

     That frustration was compounded by a genset that mysteriously stopped pumping fuel.  Not my department, and I left the specialists to their problem-solving after one effort sprayed everyone around with diesel fuel, including and especially me.  Yeah, thanks, and if I can ever do the same for them?  I won't.

     What a day to have misplaced my clown nose and floppy shoes.  Fucik!  Send in the gladiators!

Friday, April 22, 2022

Nota Bene

      Just for the blood-and-soil racist nitwits, you can make oblique and supposedly disparaging references to my Cherokee-and/or-African-American ancestor all you like, but the fact is, I am proud of her. 

      We don't know a whole lot about her, but she made hard choices and lived with them.  She was upwardly mobile.  She had smart kids, smart grandchildren, and I like to think subsequent generations weren't especially stupid, either.  Heck, I even have IQ tests to support my opinion.

      My ancestors look like America.  They're from all over -- 19th-Century German farmers and schoolteachers (many of them Mennonites or Old Order Dunkards), 18th-Century Britons and Scots, and who knows what else.  They were farmers and millers, teachers, college professors, heavy-equipment operators starting back when that meant enormous horses and an array of arcane equipment, sailors, carpenters, mechanics, fathers, mothers, homemakers and homebuilders.  Just about all of them could cook.*  There were a few drunks and even one lawyer; but that's not atypical, either.

      I'm proud of them.  They survived, even thrived.  I'm not going to be cowed by any sneering weasel submitting a blog comment; I can outrun and outshoot most people, and I have backup.
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* Both of my parents were younger children of large families with a pronounced gender imbalance: Mom had four sisters and one brother, Dad had six brothers and three sisters (of whom he knew only one, twin girls having died in early childhood of probable TB).  That meant they both had to learn a wide array of skills, and took for granted that any competent adult or diligent child could cook a meal, hammer a nail, sew on a button, hang a picture, sweep floors, wash dishes, paint walls, plant/weed/harvest a garden and so on.  My sister and I weren't allowed to drive until we could check and change oil and coolant, change spark plugs after checking and setting the gaps, and demonstrate a basic understanding of how the car worked.  These were simply "background skills."

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Insultingly Ignorant Nonsense

      That describes all of the comments I have received so far to yesterday's post.

      I stayed at home most of 6 January 2021, with the TV on while I worked.  I watched the events live, usually with the sound down but not always.  I know what I saw: chaos, mobs, doors being forced, windows being broken, chanted threats.  The rhetoric at the rally earlier had come just short of inciting violence.

      Since I had watched extensive coverage of the BLM demonstrations and subsequent rioting in Indianapolis earlier in the year, it was pretty familiar, and the gradual sorting-out of the crowd as the most violently-inclined moved themselves out from the people who were only there to wave signs and make noise was familiar, some of the sign-wavers being swept up in the moment.

      I work in television.  I am aware of the context-limiting nature of TV cameras, and channel-hopped, looking for wide views.  I know what I saw that day.  I wrote about it that day.  I wrote about it the next day.  I wrote about it the day after that.  I stand by what I wrote.

      I saw it happen while it happened.  Not an edit.  The cameras available for live coverage that day didn't catch everything but they didn't add anything.  So what should I believe, my own eyes or the retconned fictions of the Right-wing punditry?  (Or for that matter, of the Left; despite a lot of speculation, to date no clear evidentiary line has been drawn from the Trump Administration or the rally speakers to the subsequent riot and insurrection, and given the chaos of that day, the lack of cooperation from witnesses and some missing call logs, there may never be.  On that, I have my opinion -- they were egging the rioters on and hoped to put a scare into Congress -- but no, I can't prove it.)

      I'm going with what I saw.

      I'm going with my observations about who was serving up distorted versions of the events afterward and what those distortions were.  Fox pundits and the news providers to their Right were peddling bullshit and politicians on that side, after a short period of shock and a few condemnations, joined in and pushed the fantasy even farther.  Pundits on the Left exhibited a kind of rueful glee, but the fantasy content was much lower.  Actual mainstream media, in their actual news segments, generally stuck to the facts.

      You are welcome to your own opinion.  You don't get your own set of facts.  What happened, happened.*

      For the record: no Trumpist Republican will ever get my vote.  Insurrectionists and fellow-travelers don't get votes from me, not now and not ever.  If you vote for this vileness, you are voting to put an end to America's great experiment in popular rule.  Don't the Founders and Framers deserve better than a descent into Caesarism?  Don't we owe it to to them and to our posterity to not let it come crashing down in exactly the way 18th-Century critics predicted it would?  The French had the Terror followed by Napoleon; let us learn from history, and not follow that path.

     The economist Adam Smith comforted a friend, "There is a great deal of ruin in a nation."  Things can go on almost as before even while the underpinnings fall to pieces.  Rome outlasted her Republic by some five hundred years.  Nevertheless, there's nothing good to be gained by trying to hurry it along.
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* In a telephone conversation about an entirely different topic with my oldest niece last night -- she's a retired Nurse-Practitioner, who specialized in difficult intensive-care work -- she pointed out that human beings are not wired up to process really terrible news all in one go; people have to hear it over and over, and the worse the news it, the more times it may take.  In some cases, it may take nearly twenty encounters with the same facts before the hearer can accept them.  An attempted coup in the service of people willing to tell outrageous lies in order to hold on to power is very bad news indeed.  Denial is a normal part of the grieving process -- but it does eventually run out. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Opinions Are Not Facts

      Nearly a year and a half on, I still get comments telling me that the 6 January 2021 assault on the U. S. Capitol and interfering with the normal functioning of the Federal government was a "demonstration" or a "visit."

      Sure it was -- in much the same sense that trying to burn a Federal courthouse or a mob destroying a city police station is a "demonstration:" they all demonstrate criminal activity.

      You want a normal "demonstration?"  People did that at the official rally earlier that day: speakers, flag-waving, sign-carrying, shouts and for all I know, happy songs.  The organizers got permits and everything.  You want a spontaneous demonstration?  That same day, people, many of them from the rally, walked down to the grounds of the U. S. Capitol, waving flags, carrying signs, shouting, etc.  They had no permit, which makes the police unhappy, but this is something that does happen from time to time in that spot.  It's as American as apple pie. Some members of the crowd trashed an outdoor news camera position and put the journalists to flight, which is what we call a crime, just as it would have been if they'd done the same to a tourist from New Jersey.  Still, this is the kind of thing that does from time to time happen at a "demonstration."

      Overrunning barricades around a building, breaking in, smashing doors and windows and putting the Vice-President, House, Senate and staff to flight while they are in the process of counting electoral votes for the next President and Vice-President?  That's not a demonstration.  That's an insurrection.  (Nor does it matter if, as is still being claimed by some on the Right, "the police let them in."  It's not true, but even if it was, that's not a decision the police are empowered to make: the building was closed, period.)

      Stop trying to sell me a crock of authoritarian shit and claiming it's Constitutional cheese.  It's not, and no amount of fast talk and handwaving will change that.

      And stop claiming nonsense about the 2020 election, either.  I get that a sufficiently ignorant or stupid person might have doubts, but everything from the actual way voting machines work to the multiple recounts in multiple states to Joe Biden's profound lack of coattails to the narrow GOP Presidential losses in states with Republican administrators firmly in control of running the elections make it very clear to me that no skullduggery was afoot -- which puts a mob trying to change the outcome on the day of the final count of electors very much in the category of insurrection or attempted coup.

      Mr. Trump's Republican party lost a lot of respect from me on 6 January 2021 and the party in general has only lost more by their behavior ever since, with a very few exceptions, men and women excoriated by their party.

      With the Democrats, I have substantial disagreements about policies and politics, about specific laws and administrative actions, but we seem to be in general agreement about things like freedom of the press, freedom of religion and the normal operations of a functioning republic including free elections.  With Republicans, many of their leading lights have put in a lot of work trying to undermine elections, questioning our form of government and trying to force Caesarism on our country.  The party of Judge Roy Moore and Matt Gaetz has become preoccupied with a definition of "grooming" quite at odds with the actual meaning of the term while they wink at the actual sexual exploitation of underage people.

      So, look, if you're still banging that tired old Trumpist drum, do so somewhere other than my Comments section.  Freedom of speech protects you from government interference; it doesn't mean I have to publish any crazy thing you write.

      This is the United States.  You're welcome to your own opinions.  You don't get your own set of facts.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

From The Irony Desk

      As near as I can sort out, Congresscritter Marjorie Taylor Greene is irked that some folks are "gaming the system" by using existing laws and Constitutional provisions to mount a challenge to her reelection effort.  Read about it here or here,* it's the same story.  This approach has already been tried elsewhere and didn't succeed; the burden of proof is high.

      I guess it's only engaging in legitimate political discourse when you do it to other people, not when they do it to you?  Curious, that.
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* I would have linked to it at Fox News, but they seem to have buried the story so deep search engines can't find it.  Here's a link to a site using Fox video, if you'd like.  Apparently both participants never heard of the Reconstruction Amendments, and don't think they were a good idea.

Monday, April 18, 2022

-No-

      This morning, I woke up, looked out the window and saw about a half-inch of snow on the ground, with more falling.

      I disapprove of this.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Cheating At Chicken Soup

      The past week was a vacation for me, mostly spent trying to catch up on sleep.  The weather was just chilly enough to make working outside impractical for more than a few minutes at a time.

      It was chilly enough to make a bowl of soup for dinner look like a good idea; but I'd been lazy and had run out most of my fresh vegetables and I hadn't thawed any meat.  The canned stuff is okay, but....  Surely I could do better.

      I had a packet of condensed chicken noodle soup that claimed to make three cups.  Of course, it's mostly broth and noodles.  I keep canned meat in the pantry; I always have, but the pandemic prompted me to maintain a pretty good assortment* and there was a big (9.5 oz.) can of white meat chicken.  That's a start!  I had half an onion and a few carrots in the fridge, too, and a small can of mushrooms.  Dicing and sauteing the carrots and onion, and adding the well-drained canned chicken before three cups of water (and a dab of this and that, sage and thyme mostly) was a good start.  When the water boiled, I added the soup mix and mushrooms, and let it simmer for a few minutes.

      No, it's not as good as home-made.  It was a lot better than any canned chicken noodle soup, though, and just the thing before a night that was going to reach freezing and stay there until the sun was well up.
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* It's a bet with myself, a few cans each of salmon, corned beef, chicken and Spam.  With them and my supplies of rice, pasta, canned tomatoes and beans, I could do all right for a month or more while supply chains sorted themselves out.  Longer-term?  I live in the city; if things go longer than that, there's probably no outwaiting them.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

"G'wan -- Try'n Knock It Off"

      The thing about bullies is, they keep on pushing until someone stops them.  Russia recently warned the U.S. and other NATO countries who have sent weapons to Ukraine that such shipments could result in "unpredictable consequences."*

      I guess the West is just supposed to stand by and let Russia beat up their smaller neighbor.

      This kind of doubling down on a bad situation (Ukraine is standing up pretty well so far) is not atypical of autocracies when their aggression is called out -- the early stages of WW II were full of examples.  Sometimes it even works for a while.  Long-term, it's not a winning strategy.

*  *  *

      Some Americans are still cheering on the "manly" Russian government, most notably Tucker C------n of Fox News,  His latest long-form effort celebrates manly manliness in a manner not seen since the films of Leni Riefenstahl, or perhaps Steve Reeves.  Not that there's anything specifically illegal with that...outside Florida public schools, at least.  But he doth protest rather a lot.  I guess every authoritarian movement builds its own Röhm, or tries to.  Or is that Rome?  Naw, sticking with the first spelling.
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* From what I have seen of Russian military QC under battle conditions in Ukraine, I'll certainly grant them the "unpredictable" part.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Nice, Nice, Nice

      Got up at a nice hour this morning, had a nice English muffin with butter and sweet orange marmalade, had a nice bath, dressed nicely, brushed my hair out nicely and went off to see the nice doctor.

     We had a nice visit -- with a nice amount of poking and prodding and stethoscope listening -- and I was nicely told that I needed to lose more weight.  They finally completed my shingles vaccination (nice!) and I went home, to walk over to Half Liter and have a nice brunch -- they do a very fine waffle -- with Tam.

     Nice as can be -- because I'm scared of going to the doctor and if I'm not in a nice, relaxed frame of mind, my blood pressure goes through the roof and they refuse to believe that it measures much lower at home.

     After brunch and a short walk, I was all niced out.  I came home and had a nap before driving over to feed my friend's cats, who were happy to see me.  That really was nice, no effort needed.   They're in need of affection and interaction.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

I'm Still Not Convinced

      Current events -- recent events, since, say, 2015 or so -- continue to leave me wondering if it's not all some long, detailed and horrible hallucination I'm having to live through.  Or perhaps I'm dead and the next life is particularly cruel.  It's too awful to be real.

      Of course, this is an inevitable consequence of living in an age of powerful social media and cult-of-personality leaders.  The run-up to WW II gave us plenty of hard times and Mussolini, FDR, Stalin, Hitler and Churchill, each one larger-than-life, each one living in his own legend.  Modern mass and social media are to the media and following those men had as an H-bomb is to a stick of dynamite -- and a giant personality that defines "truth" as "whatever best suits him at the moment" is even more corrosive now than it has ever been.

      Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump in particular are a "Shiri's Scissor" to Western Civilization.  I don't know what's going to be left when the snipping slows and stops.  I suspect nobody's going to like it much, even the people who are eagerly anticipating sweeping change.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Cat-Sitting, Continuing

      Still looking after my friend's cats.  Until a few days ago, there were three I was sure of -- black cats, well-behaved, one of which was a long-legged, youngish tomcat who liked me, an older female cat who was okay with me if I had already been smoothed on by the first one, and a third -- an elderly, one-eyed tomcat -- who would only watch from a distance.   Plus a likely fourth cat, grayish with white paws, that I have only seen as a blur.

      The female had some tangles, which I have been slowly working on brushing out.  She's not a big fan of the brush.  Then one day I found her in one of her favorite spots, fur all smooth, collar missing.  The friendly tom had managed to shed his collar earlier, so I wasn't surprised -- until I went to the basement, and the female cat with tangled fur and a nice pink collar was asleep on the washing machine.

      Yes, there's a fifth cat.  After sending a photograph, my friend confirmed the cat's name, and concluded that her other friends at the cat refuge had overlooked that cat.  She's the smallest of them all, a bit shy but friendly.

      I have no idea how many cats she had in the house before the refuge rounded up some of them.  They were all well looked after.  Her house was always neat and clean and in no wise odoriferous.  I had only ever noticed a few cats.

      Three of the cats like me pretty well now.  The gray cat is a mystery.  The one-eyed cat remains wary, though he watches me from less of a distance every day, especially when the others are getting attention.

Monday, April 11, 2022

TV Of Tomorrow

      In 1953, Tex Avery took a satirical look at where television might go.  Nearly 70 years on, we've got quite a lot of it, right in the palm of our hand. (It's incomplete, sorry.  Haven't found a better one.)


Sunday, April 10, 2022

Hi, Still Here

      Just kind of busy and distracted.  Sorry.   I still can't process where we are in history.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Nothing

      The world has gone crazy and I don't want to deal with it.

      An example: Indiana is at an historic low in COVID-19 cases right now, like all of the U.S. and at least one in-state blogger is complaining that the Indiana State Board of Health website has switched to reporting cases, hospitalizations and so on per 10,000 instead of per 100,000.  It's right there on every chart; they're not hiding it.  Cases, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen so low that the only way to have whole-number divisions on the charts is to count them per ten thousand instead of per hundred thousand and this nitwit's complaining, on the basis that "it inflates the numbers."

      It does nothing of the sort.  It makes them clear, and if it confuses the innumerate, well, they've been confused for years now; this isn't going to leave them any worse off.

      And that's one of the least crazy and sad things I have seen recently.  We got a new Supreme Court Justice and did not alter the balance of the Court in the slightest -- and Republican Senators are peeved about it, peeved enough for a couple of them to pull silly stunts in the confirmation vote which did nothing to change the outcome.  Go hold a press conference and articulate your fears of the scarrrrrry black woman* if you need to, but perform the duties of your office with a little damn gravitas, willya?  It's the same standard to which I hold every Senator and Representative, and which so many of them in both parties fail to achieve.
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* There's a remarkable amount of overlap between the people objecting to the latest Supreme Court Justice and the people who were irked at the well-deserved retirement of the "Aunt Jemima" pancake mix mascot, which tells me a lot more about them than I enjoy knowing.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Speaking Of The 1930s....

      ...Who's up for another Dust Bowl?  The last time farming in Ukraine was disrupted by Russian activity, farmers in the U.S. stepped up grain production to meet the increased demand.  Aided by a remarkable intersection of advances in mechanized farm machinery, expanded land grants for homesteaders and a stretch of unusually wet weather, farmers put much of the Great Plains under the plow for the first time.

      When drought hit in 1930 and stayed, the land dried up and blew away.  Eventually, a lot of the people left, too, short on money, paying work and food.  Meanwhile, Ukraine stayed hungry and got hungrier, thanks to Russian politics. 

      Bad things happening a long way away echo around the world.  You can bet none of the political leaders missed a meal or had to face a dust storm without adequate shelter back then, and they don't now, either.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

1930s All Over Again

      It gets to be too much.  It feels like I'm living in the 1930s, a Doc Savage story or something, only without the Man of Bronze, without the radio dramas or pulp magazines, no soda fountains or amazing technical advances in radio, none of the good stuff.  Just the quack medicine and worrying disease outbreaks, just the economic uncertainty, cynical political demagogues, bloody-handed dictators and a horrifying civic hunger for authoritarianism.

      Some days, it's all I can do to cope with it.  It feels as if the world is going crazy.

      (In the original posting, I left out the thing we've got now they didn't have in the 1930s: the threat of thermonuclear war!  Yes, we don't have dirigibles any more, but we've got the nukes.  Ain't progress wonderful?)

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Still Busy

      There was weirdness at work overnight.  The details are arcane and dull, but I was summoned from bed not long after laying down and spent a couple of hours on the phone and online. 

      This after trying to get to bed early and managing only the scheduled time.  That was an improvement over recent days, though.

      Now I have to go drown ants.  Not on purpose, but there are dishes to get done and it's ant season.*  They're in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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* The kitchen spider, who has moved her net to slightly less visible spot, agrees.  I'm happy to have her help with the pests.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

A Busy Day

      Had to catch up on housework from yesterday, finish critically reading (and commenting on) three pieces of fiction, and attend a virtual meeting of the writer's group.  One member was on vacation in a warmer climate, and the occasional sight of the ocean over her shoulder was more uplifting than envy-inspiring.

      I did skip vacuuming, so that's still to be done.  The cats do not approve of it.

Saturday, April 02, 2022

So Much For Saturday

      Made breakfast, did a little laundry (very little), had an issue at work that my boss was already looking into and solving when I remoted in.   Drove to my friend's house, fed her cats and cleaned their litter, and...  Text message from work.  Different problem.

      It was a problem that required my presence at the North Campus.  So I drove up there and did the thing, and when I got home, it was time to make dinner. 

      This is not what I had planned.

Friday, April 01, 2022

Weather Fools!

      It snowed this morning.  For real.  Just a dusting of snow on rooftops and in the cooler corners.

      Just a mean little trick to remind us that despite the change of seasons, Winter is not quite entirely gone yet.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Picadillo

      Picadillo is a south-of-the-border dish with Mexican and Cuban variations and who knows what others (I'd like to find out.)  I made it for dinner last night; my version is very close to this one, adding canned chilis and a couple of chopped-up pickled piparra peppers to the mixture of ground beef, chorizo, onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, sliced green olives and raisins.  (I left out the vinegar and shifted the spices a little; dukkah carries the cumin and cinnamon/clove notes well, with some parsley and basil chiming in.)

      It had been a couple of years since the last batch.  Some versions are made with diced potatoes; mine is served over rice (or, for Tam, not).  It's a very thick stew, as suited to a plate as a bowl, with a complex flavor, salt, sweet, hot and spicy, and you can make it as hot or as mild as you'd like.

      Last night was a good night for chili, with the weather turning from warm to a rainy chill.  This was even better.  It's worth trying!

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A Simple Solution

      With the growing popularity of "they" as a singular pronoun, many of us older people have a little trouble getting comfortable with it -- even though it is very useful for those times when you can't tell (too far away, too few clues, wearing an old-fashioned diving suit, whatever) or don't care if someone should get the pink pronoun or the blue one.

      I now assume that everyone I meet either has spiders living in their hair or a mouse in their shirt pocket or both, and, voila, "they" now fits the situation with grace and elan.

      And as a bonus, they're now much more interesting.  What kind of spider suits that individual's personality?  That citizen in the corner, talking to themselves -- are they whispering to their pocket mouse?  What's it saying back to them? The ill-dressed person staring into space while industriously pinky-excavating their ear: have the baby spiders just hatched in there?

      It's really quite fascinating.

      (Several comments lead me to clarify that I am talking about the use of "they" as a singular pronoun in the language.  While this shows up as far back as Shakespeare, until recently, it was uncommon.  As for actual persons using the pronoun to refer to themselves, it's not my job to police the appearance or civil behavior of others and it would be, in my opinion, rude to try.  Language, on the other hand, is the water I swim in. YMMV.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Weighing In On The Latest Big Issue

      I'm sure you'd all love to know my deep, meaningful insights on the Chris Rock/Will Smith thing.

      Nope.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Surprise!

      Yesterday, I drove over to look after my hospitalized friend's three black cats.  She has more (and more colorful), but the most sociable ones are being looked after in the house of another friend while these have stayed home.

      Her hospital stay was unexpectedly lengthened, so all of this has been very much after-the-fact.

      I fed the cats and checked up on them.  One cat hides from me and I don't know all of her locations; she wasn't in either of the usual spots, but that's not uncommon.  In the basement rec room, there's one who hides behind the washer/dryer and watches me warily, and he did so.  The other cat kind of likes me; he sleeps under an armchair, and if I lift the flap of upholstery at the front, he comes out and wants to play.  That's just what he did.  Eventually, the behind-the-washer cat came out and watched us.  He's done that a few times.  He still doesn't trust me, but he doesn't want to miss out on the fun. 

      After that, it was time to clean the litterboxes, rec room and upstairs.  She uses clumping litter, so it's not too bad; I wear a mask to block the dust.  Noticing the cats had been tracking litter from one of the upstairs boxes, I swept up the excess and then got out the vacuum cleaner to pick the last traces.

      As soon as I turned the vacuum on, two cats -- two! -- practically levitated from behind the furniture, hit the floor running and vanished down the hall.  One was the shy little black cat.  The other one was a big gray cat with white paws that I have not seen in several weeks of feeding and cleaning up after these cats.

      I texted my friend, DO YOU HAVE A GRAY CAT WITH WHITE PAWS?  Sure enough, she texted back that a very timid fellow had eluded the round-up and she had been worried about him.  He's probably the cat who keeps opening cabinet doors, too.

      So I guess I have been looking after four cats.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

And Now...

      Progress has been made: I have replaced untidy heaps of papers with a much neater stack of boxes.

      It's something.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Antidisorganization

      I haven't posted anything today because I have been busy,  It's the most wheel-spinning task I know, a problem I make for myself: I have been sorting out the vast mass of stuff, mostly bills and mail, that covers my desk and spills over into untidy stacks.

      It doesn't help that I don't have much of a filing system.  I try to file paid bills in twelve-slot folder, one per year, and usually succeed, but past that--  Things accumulate.  There is a place for most of them, but it's a lot of work to put them there, especially once the stacks get in the way of opening file drawers.

      So I am working it through the hard way, with a series of labeled cardboard boxes -- including one marked "shred."  Anything that doesn't already have a box gets set aside in its own pile, and if more than a few things end up in that pile, I start a new box.

      The next step is to pick a box and sort it, throwing away as much as possible.  And then on to the next.  It's not fun, but it has to be done.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Feeling Ill, Plus A Blast From The Past

      Yesterday, I spent much of the day with a digestive upset.  It was the kind of thing that will take one's attention right off world affairs.  Frantically hoping you'll get down the hall in time to avert personal disaster overrides wondering what kinds of large-scale disasters various world leaders are dreaming up.

      Nevertheless, in all the distraction I chanced on passing mention of something that sounded like an echo of the old Cold War, the kind of pernicious nonsense that teeters on the brink of farce, lacking only a sense of humor to push it over.  Surely it was just an editorialist's effort at historical perspective?

      This morning, I looked it up and no, it isn't.  The bulging brains* at Democratic Socialists of America are blaming the Russian invasion of Ukraine on (wait for it, wait for it...) Western imperialism!  Yes, they're lined up with Mr. Trump in wanting the U.S. out of NATO, and convinced everything will all work out for the best if the West just lies back and lets that nice Mr. Stalin, er, Putin do whatever he wants.

      History teaches lessons, but it doesn't care if we learn.

      As for me, a breakfast of a bagel and rose-flavored yogurt (I joke that it's "soap-flavored" but it's actually delicious, and they still don't list the flavor on their website) may help put things right, if past experience is any guide.

      When it comes to DSA, I don't think yogurt's going to help.  While mainstream politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, ever sensitive to the shifting winds of public opinion, have lined up in support of Ukraine and put the blame squarely on the man who set the invasion in motion and broke the peace, their fringes have only become even fringier.  Some writers have called pointing this out "hippie-punching," but it's hardly so violent.  More like laughing at them.  Hold any opinion you like, it's a free country -- unlike Russia, whose leader seems hell-bent of rebuilding an empire even if all he ends up with is rubble. 
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* By which I mean "neo-Tankies."  Blaming eeeevil Western imperialists was old stuff by the mid 1970s and age hasn't made it any more plausible.  Most disco songs have held up better.  

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Confirming Supremes

      The modern confirmation process for Supreme Court Justices ensures that every successful nominee will have two attributes: phenomenal bladder control and a truly outstanding ability to endure overbearing questioners.  This is probably not what the Framers were after with the "advise and consent" clause, but they're good skills for sitting on the highest court nevertheless.

      In the most recent set of hearings, even some of the Senators who were supporters of the proposed new member of the Court were over-the-top dramatic.  The entire spectacle of Senatorial posturing was embarrassing to witness.*

      It's useful to remember that nobody puts their name up for consideration for the job of Supreme Court Justice unless they're a Constitutional Law geek, and that no matter what you think of any of them or what you believe to be their judicial philosophy, they're just one voice among nine.  Once a Justice has been on the court a while and it fully sinks in that they cannot be fired, they tend to buckle down and do the hard work of figuring cases out rather than following the prevailing winds of partisan ideology.  That's no guarantee you will agree with their decision, but at least they're thinking things through.

      You'd be hard-pressed to find more than a corporal's guard of U. S. Senators of whom the same could be said; possibly not even enough for a round of euchre.
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* Which is why comments arguing "But the other party was super-mean to the previous Administration's nominees and it's so unfair," will not be published.  Yes.  Yes, they were (and I wrote unfavorably about it); and when the shoe was on the other foot before that, there was unfairness and discourtesy in the other direction.  You don't get to whine about the other side when your side plays the same game, no matter which side you're on.  As you go back in time, the rancor does get less; Supreme Court confirmation hearings used to involve a lot less "gotcha" questioning and playing to the cameras.  We used to wait until Justices were on the Court before loathing them, but that's not how it has worked for well over a decade.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Threats

      In a recent speech, Dmitry Medvedev, one of the Kremlin's high-up muckety-mucks, warned the West that Russia's existence was  an absolute necessity.  If Russia were to collapse, he warned, there would be a half-dozen smaller struggling states in its place, all armed with nuclear weapons.*

      Yeah, let's have a look a that.  It already happened once: the USSR collapsed, and former constituent states of the USSR (and maybe even a few Warsaw Pact countries) were left holding a portion of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.  Most of those small countries dropped the nuclear hot potato just as soon as they could figure out who to hand it to that wasn't going to light the fuse; a few took some convincing, but the problem with a nuclear-armed nation the size of, say, Texas or smaller is that the larger nuclear powers can wipe them out with a couple of hits.  Gone.  Damage a big country can absorb, however painfully, removes the smaller ones from the map.  There's no percentage in it.

      I fret that a desperate Vladimir Putin might do something horrible.  As the war in Ukraine continues to bog down, there's no telling what he might try to seize back the initiative.  But threatening that the world needs Russia in order to keep the peace?  Please.  Russia's already broken the peace.  The only question is how terribly far the Russian government is willing to go to keep it broken.
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* This is part of the ongoing official paranoid line in Russia that "the West" -- NATO, the EU, whatever -- is out to get them. Why?  I don't know, but it's been an easy notion to sell there as far back as Imperial Russia.  It's nonsense.  One more big, screwed-up country with a lousy economy and a dispirited populace is the last thing the West, or any other part of the planet, needs.  A prosperous Russia, fully engaged in world markets, duking it out over petroleum sales and technology, would be a good thing.  If the current war sputters and dies (and it may), The West is going to have to run two Marshall Plans, one for Ukraine and another to rebuild Russia.  Maybe they'll both do as well with it as Germany did with their second chance.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Hand Guy

      It was the same doctor I'd seen before; he isn't retiring until June.  He has the easy manner of a man who has seen -- and fixed! -- just about everything in his line of work.

      My finger woes are pretty routine, swelling and glitches in the tendons that move fingers and the little sheaths in which the tendons are supposed to glide smoothly.  It's like the cable-operated brakes and shifter on a modern bicycle.  Think how that might run with a handful of coarse sand in the works.  That's what happens to my fingers.

      The appointment was for a follow-up on my right thumb (so far, so good) but the doctor was happy to look at my problematic pinky.  He got X-rays to check for arthritis or other problems, and once that had shown nothing unexpected, the affected finger got washed, numbed and shot up with a corticosteroid.  There's quite a lot of pressure and I was stuck with a "dead" finger for the rest of the day,* but it already feels better this morning, despite lingering soreness at the injection site.  As a late-in-life touch-typist (who still cheats), I miss that finger when it's not working.  Perhaps now I'll have better luck hitting the "' key when I want it, instead of the :; key.
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* This is a little scary with a pinky finger or toe.  It's terribly easy to get into trouble through mild clumsiness.  I found that out more than once when recovering from my broken knee, and it eventually cured me of crutching around the house barefoot or in open-toed sandals.  Yes, the littlest-piggy toe is not supposed to bend in that direction, and about all the doctor (or you, by the third time) can do is bend it back and buddy-tape it to the next toe while it heals.

Monday, March 21, 2022

The Magical Gas-Price Knob

      It doesn't exist.  The President of the United States -- any President -- has no direct control over gasoline and oil prices.  Oh, they can release some from the Strategic Reserve (the oil equivalent of government cheese); they can signal greater or lesser friendliness to the oil industry, and that nearly always divides neatly along party lines.  But prices are driven by global production (OPEC being a huge player, and a friend to no one but itself) and global demand, with Red China being the biggest net importer of oil.  Domestic production and demand affects price, of course; but it's not the only driver and can be swamped by external factors.  And we're driving more these days; with the pandemic in decline, more people are traveling, business has picked up and we're burning more gas and oil.

      Want cheap gas?  Hope that OPEC gets hungrier for dollars and China continues their draconian COVID-19 lockdowns as the more-infectious Omicron variant tears through that country.  Hope the war in Ukraine is brought to a swift end; while boycotts of Russian petroleum have some effect on price, I strongly suspect the tendency of countries to increase military fuel reserves when war is in the air has considerable impact, too.

      But don't look for any magical Presidential gas-price powers.  They don't exist.  Presidents love to take credit when prices are low and evade blame when they are high, but it's like Buster Keaton expertly creating the impression he is starting or stopping a freight train by sheer muscle power: no matter how convincing it looks, that's not how things really work.  Correlation is not causation.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

It's Useless Knowledge

      In the heyday of network radio, NBC's Master Control setup was a technical marvel -- but it looked nothing at all like most Master Control systems of its time, and bears only a superficial resemblance to later systems.  And the engineers mainly just set it up for the next event; the NBC booth announcers actually pushed the button to switch from a show in one studio to a remote or a different studio (or even from Chicago or the West Coast).  They tore it all out when they rebuilt network HQ for television.

      Here it is in 1933:
No pressure, but...remember, the whole country's listening.
      After a lot of digging, I finally found a description of the system, starting on page 22 here.  It's interesting indeed, with 48 (!) different studios and patchable off-site sources feeding eight "busses" that can, in turn, be assigned to any of fourteen outgoing lines.  In the 1930s, NBC was feeding up to five different networks (Red and Blue* were the big ones, Orange and Gold were mostly West coast and at least one smaller regional or special-purpose networks), two owned-and-operated AM stations in New York, plus NBC's own shortwave and experimental FM transmitters.

      There was nothing else like it at the time or later.  Other than possibly a panel or two, there's not a bit of it left, either, and most if not all of the people built who built and ran it are gone.  So figuring out how it worked, even in broad outline, is an interesting challenge. 

      I guess it will come in handy if I ever fall into a time machine.
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* NBC Blue eventually was spun off and became ABC.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Eye Report

      So far, so good.  Vision in my right eye appears substantially improved.  The left is, at least, no worse than it was.

      Though the procedure is very short, I found it stressful.  Both days resulted in my sleeping for a long time afterward, though yesterday I had to force myself to clean litterboxes for my friend's cats (and flood my eyes with eyedrops immediately afterward) before I could give in to the urge to sleep for twelve hours.  Was it the medical procedure itself, having to be around strangers for several hours (and without a speck of makeup or hairspray!  Yes, such is my vanity.  Or insecurity) or both?  I don't know.

      Next up, dealing with the hand specialist -- a new one, since the doctor I liked so much has retired.  Same practice, though, so I am hopeful the new guy will have a similar friendly attitude.

Friday, March 18, 2022

I'm Afraid To Look It Up


      As a longtime space buff and SF fan, I thought I knew what an "asteroid" was.  Then I saw this entry on a list of explainers at the eye surgeon's office, and--  Well, I just couldn't bring myself to ask.

     Especially after I asked for a replacement "Nolan chart"* mug, having dropped and broken the one they gave me after the initial cataract surgery.  That would be the mug with a Snellen Chart on one side of it and their logo on the other.
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* I propose adding a third axis to the actual Nolan chart for "nuttiness," ranging from a high of "total bugnuts" to "sane" with "normal eccentricity" at the center.  I'm sure we'd all like to think that nobody in our own personal corner of the chart would max out on nuttery, but....  Ahem.  Look around yourself, wherever you are.

One Lens Fixed, One To Go

      Yesterday's laser surgery was scary but bearable.  A lot of measuring and checking my vision beforehand, a little more after, and a degree of light-sensitivity that I do not enjoy.

      Mostly, the experience was emotionally draining.  Once I got home and sat a spell, Tam talked me into going over to Half Liter for a nice St. Patrick's Day dinner  (late lunch?  Early supper?), after which I returned home and crawled into bed, where I remained, mostly asleep, for the next fourteen hours.

      And now today, I have to do it all over again.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Off To The Eye Surgeon

      They're going to defog my implanted cataract-replacement lenses over the next two days.  The process uses a laser.

      I am apprehensive.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

PDS, China Meets Omicron, WW III Summer

      An unpublished commenter complained about yesterday's links (despite my warning), "I'm not sure how useful that article was except as an illustration of Trump Derangement Syndrome."

      It's an interesting take, but recognizing the actual shortcomings and missteps (etc.) of a President and his Administration isn't Presidential Derangement Syndrome, not even when you express a very harsh view.  TDS is simply the second most recent example of PDS, in which Presidents are held to be simultaneously stupid/crazy and criminal masterminds, dangerous loose cannons and puppets of whichever boogeyman is the closest fit (choice of George Soros or the Koch Brothers most recently, though China and Russia are up-and-coming on the PDS Top 40), and alleged to be planning the most outrageously polarizing acts imaginable.  With PDS, one sees not the actual man holding the job but a distorted cartoon and (unhinged-sounding, if the President in question is Your Guy) speculation plays a major part while glaring contradictions are ignored.

      I dislike PDS, and strive to judge Presidents by their actual behavior, openly-expressed policies and verifiable public statements.  This is not nearly as much fun and often leaves me unpopularly defending the incumbent unless they get seriously out of line, but it has the advantage of being firmly grounded in reality and inculcating far less panic.  YMMV.
*  *  *
      China seems to be getting hit hard by the latest subvariant of Omicron; their policy of strict isolation once cases have been discovered is faltering against the more-infectious strain and it turns out the home-grown Chinese vaccine is particularly ineffective against Omicron.  This comes at a time when that country's rulers are having to think hard about who they want as best friends, the neighboring (and increasingly isolated) autocracy or the free world where all that lovely money for manufactured goods comes from.  Time for Xi and company* to think hard -- and to remember the free world's vaccines and dollars (or euros) are holding up well.  Russia's, not so much.

      It's just one more bit of pressure that, for once, may do some good for global geopolitics.
*  *  *
      With all that, I still think we have some Summer to look forward to, and Spring as well.  Autumn?  That's way farther ahead than I will speculate.

      What spins up in China may yet come here, and we'll find out the hard way if America's fairly robust acquired and vaccine-created immunity to Omicron will hold up against the subvariant (early numbers look good but I trust nothing about this damn bug).

      What brews up in Ukraine may yet spread.  A lot of the experts think Ukraine has a good chance of running out Russia's clock, as men and materiel run short for the invading army and their home economy falls apart under widespread sanctions.  I hope so -- but a defiant Soviet Union hung on for seventy years despite large scale shunning, horrifying privation and bloody internal unrest.  Their history from 1917 through the end of WW II is a sobering reminder of how much damage that country can absorb.  I hope the experts are right.  Putin is no Lenin -- or Stalin -- and the country he rules over is better educated, more politically engaged and less willing to do without than the early USSR.  My best guess is the war in Ukraine has months of simmering left -- and months of heart-rending damage to innocent people.  Things may take a turn for the worse or they may get better and either way, there's nothing I can do about it.

      Another Spring is pushing through the mud out there, and I intend to enjoy as much of it as I can.
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* Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, and so on.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Some Straight Talk About The War

      This guy has some useful stuff to say.  Some of it may be tough to hear if you're still holding on to the notion that President Trump was generally harmless, but read it anyway.  There's a lot to chew on.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Happy Pi Day!

      Really, you'd think it would be the 22nd of July, but I guess that's Ancient Times Pi Day.  Somewhere, I have a T-shirt for this and if I am lucky, I'll be able to find it for today.

      In an unrelated note, I'd like to thank the anonymous benefactor who left us a nice old film camera and a high-end resistance decade box made by General Radio.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Cat-Sitting

      I have been looking after a friend's three cats while she's busy with an unexpected thing.  For obvious reasons, I'm not going to say who or give too many details.  I go feed them once a day -- it's not a long drive -- change their litter as necessary, keep the water dish fresh and so on.

      They're shy.  At first, I only saw one and her rarely, perched atop a big  entertainment center where she can hide behind a trim section and look down at me, goggle-eyed with fear.  After a few days, I discovered another cat had taken up residence in the basement, behind the washer and dryer.  He feels safe there, and doesn't trust me a bit.  He's apparently coming out for food and water when I'm not around. But the third cat was a a mystery.

      Every so often, I'd hear a collar bell jingle,  Eventually, I followed the sound to an open closet and found a cat who was happy to sniff my hand and came out to smooth against my ankles before returning to his spot.  A day or two later, I heard the jingle from under a wing chair in a rec room mostly given over to the cats and their toys.  The third cat emerged from hiding when I said hello, wanted to be petted, and brought toys over while I did the litter.  He's lonely.  I spent as much time with him as I could and continue to do so whenever he decides to make himself visible.  He's as well-behaved and friendly a cat as I have met in a long time.

      They're good cats.  I don't know if the other two will ever decide to trust me but I hope they will.