Monday, January 31, 2022

Still Not Feeling Great

      Tired and achy, migraines and dizzy.  Gee, I'm sure glad I am taking a (partial) week of vacation.   Still no COVID-19 symptoms, so that's a a plus.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

A Couple Of Interesting Art Blogs

      Black And White -- About prints and printmaking.

      Art & Artists -- a lot about artists, with very little pretension or posturing.  Just art and info.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Program Abended

      ...As in "ABnormally ENDed."  Firefox kept crashing every time I opened it.  Rebooted, closed all but one tab, and so far, so good.

      I have been a little sick the past two days, probably just a cold, or even my sinuses responding to cold weather (actually, to dry indoor conditions) but it has involved migraines with visual distortion, extreme clumsiness and dizziness, plus some sinus-and-throat ick.  Maybe I gave it to my computer.

Friday, January 28, 2022


      A little simulation from Princeton about how things might go if a conventional NATO/Russia conflict went nuclear.

     It looks like an early video game at first glance -- at least, until the casualty counts pop up.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Wednesday Dinner

      The store had some nice boneless pork chops when I did my weekly shopping, so I bought a couple.  Last night, I decided to try something different. 

      Seasoned them with a little of fancy flake salt and truffle salt, pepper, a touch of garlic powder and parsley, and browned them them in butter with a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce.  As the chops were browning, I diced a stalk of celery and a couple of big radishes and added them after the first turning.  Once both sides were nice and brown, I added a can of Campbell's Condensed Mushroom Soup, a can of Amy's Mushroom Bisque, and half a (Campbell's) can of water, stirred and deglazed it, put the lid on and left it to simmer.

      Ten minutes on, I lifted the lid, stirred it (turning a lovely golden brown) and pondered the thickness: not quite what I wanted.

      Tam had bought a bag of tiny, fresh, seasoned microwaveable potatoes* and I started them (seven minutes, then rest for a minute).

      I stirred up a teaspoon of cornstarch in a custard cup half full of cold water and added it to the gravy, bringing up the heat so it boiled a little, then put the lid back on and let it simmer more.

      By the time the potatoes were done, my digital meat thermometer was reporting the pork chops were ready.  The gravy was thickened just enough.  (Cornstarch is a cheat, since it works without having to make a roux.  Just be sparing with it.)

      The end result was tender and moist, and the gravy worked very well with the pork.  Fresh mushrooms would have fit in well, but it had lots of good flavor without them.
* The microwave is your friend when it comes to baked potatoes; my standard big Idaho gets nuked (three minutes and turn for three more; repeat three and three and it's usually done, or four and four for the largest) and then wrapped in foil and parked at the back of the gas oven above the pilot or on a corner of the grill until the rest of dinner is ready.  You can add seasoning or a dab of butter when you wrap them if you'd like.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022


      As a companion piece to reading The Next Civil War (from yesterday's post), Studs Terkel's Hard Times is somewhat reassuring.

      Subtitled An Oral History Of The great Depression, the book is exactly what it says on the label: Terkel went around and interviewed as broad a cross-section as he could find of Americans who lived through it, from an isolationist anti-communist Republican ex-Congressman to Reds, from Fundamentalist Silver Shirts to social workers, farmers, hobos and social reformers.  We are a polyglot lot and we always have been, and most of us figure the deck is at least a little stacked against whatever group we consider ourselves to be in.  It comes with the territory: vanishingly few of our ancestors were at top of the heap wherever they were from, which is why and how they ended up here. 

      Americans in a tight spot are especially likely to try everything.  And argue over it, too.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Yes, Tuesday

      I'm so tired of the intractable mess.  I've been reading one of Tam's suggestions and even after making due allowance for Canadiazation of the author's viewpoint -- it is a whole different country, after all, and the guy grew up there -- it's a depressing read.  One of our greatest strengths, the way in which the United States is a wonderful shambling mess of zany ideas, wild notions and a political system that tries -- tried -- to steer clear of the worst shoals and not screw up too badly, is also a weakness and it may break us yet.

      I hope not.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Happy Birthday, Tamara

      Happy birthday to my friend (and lodger) Tamara Keel!  Here's to many more happy years!

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Sunday Funnies

      Once upon a time, there was an artist  named Boris Artzybasheff.  Born in 1899 in Russia, he fought against the Bolsheviks and made his way to the United States by 1919.  He did a lot of illustration work and beginning before WW II, frequently did cover art for Time Magazine.

     His work could be strikingly anthropomorphic:

     They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery -- which makes this 1943 MGM cartoon high praise indeed.

     ...But not only does Artzybasheff not get so much as a nod in the credits, I couldn't find any mention of the obvious influence his work had on this animation in any discussion of the subject.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

In Which I Am Snarked At By The Credulous

      In response to my most recent posting, a commenter who very rarely gets past the filters chided me:

"'Always suspect a story that fits too well with the reporter or outlet's inclinations (and/or your own)' You should take your own advice."

      The thing is, I do -- and I make a particular effort to check things out and find (and share) links when it is something I have strong feelings about, pro or con.

      I spent nearly all of the Trump administration "doing homework" rather than joining any reflexive pro or anti bandwagon.  I had disliked the man for years; he has always struck me as a remarkable example of a bad boss in the "disruptive manager" style.  I'm not a big fan of "nativism" as historically expressed in the United States and Mr. Trump's updating of it was no improvement, in my judgement.  Once the "Grab them by the [female private parts]" audio came out and was confirmed, there was no way I was ever going to vote for him.  As a result, I made a great effort to fairly judge his actions as President on their own merits, and found myself coming to his defense from time to time in online discussions.

      ...I started to write a long history of how and why I arrived at my present conclusions, but you know what?  It doesn't matter how clear and careful a trail of breadcrumbs I leave, if you have bought into the alt-reality line of a rigged election, a faked pandemic and vaccines that aren't, I'm not going to change your mind.

      But here's reality:

      - The 2020 Federal elections were as fair and honest as any of 'em have been in my lifetime.  Mr. Trump lost and Mr. Biden won, mostly by virtue of not being Mr. Trump rather than his own merits.  Note that the election shrank the Democrat majority in the House and left the Senate at 50/50: that's not a recipe for gaining power over the Federal government and it's a sure sign the Dems didn't have a thumb on the scales.

      - Mr. Trump's "legal team" pushing the notion of a stolen election is a bunch of grifters and/or lunatics.  That narrative trails away into the "Qanon" craziness and bloody-handed authoritarians, and the only thing at the end of it is ruin and bankruptcy.

      - The coronavirus pandemic is real.  Over 860,000 Americans have died of it so far and that figure may break a million by the end of this year.  (I hope not, but it's almost inevitable.)

      - Coronavirus vaccines work and they are safe.  Over 75 percent of the population of the U.S. has received at least one shot.  That's nearly 250 million of your fellow citizens.  They're not dying of the shots. 

      That's the real world, one in which we can be reasonably confident the omicron surge will buy us at least a month or two (or more!) of low infection, hospitalization and death rates once it passes -- and death rates are already low, especially compared to infection rates, and should keep dropping thanks to a number of factors including widespread vaccination and better medical treatments for COVID-19 cases.

      You can go live in cloud-cuckoo land if you like, grooving on paranoid fantasies, inflammatory politics and a growing disconnect from the real world, but it doesn't lead anywhere good.  It's the political version of heroin addiction.

      The stupid, violent and deluded at the political extremes are working very hard to burn this country down.  We have one party mostly trying to pretend it's not happening anywhere on their side and one party buying matches in bulk.  I'm not impressed by either one and I am not going to cheer them on.  YMMV.

      Don't like it?  Go jump out of an Overton window.  "Communists or Fascists" is a false choice, an option of being bludgeoned to death with an oak club or hickory one.  It was a false choice in Germany in 1933 and it's a false choice now.  We have still got a functioning form of democracy* here in the United States, no matter how much of their own excrement Lefty and Righty rioters and talk-show hosts try to smear on it.
* "Democracy" is a general term, widely used, and we say "direct democracy" if we want to refer to the ancient Greek citizens-vote-on-everything model.  If you want to whine, "But this is a republic," in that politcal-party-name coded way, go breathe it into a paper bag until the urge passes.  "Democracy," a system of government based on the ongoing consent of the governed, in which we choose the nitwits running the gummint by voting instead of them being born to it or getting there atop a heap of severed heads; and we get to replace the nitwits frequently.  It's all fiddlin' details from there and you're either for it or agin' it.  It you're against it, I'm not your friend.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Confirmation Bias: Teachable Moment

      The relative positions of media outlets on the Ad Fontes bias/accuracy chart are the center point of a "scattergram" of ratings for a wide sampling of items for each one; if you go to the interactive version and look up the various rated providers, you can see it and find links to the stories themselves.

      NPR's will probably take a hit in the next update and it's an instructive incident: Nina Totenberg reported that Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor had begun working remotely -- and that the reason was that Justice Gorsuch's had refused to wear a mask, while all the other Justices were doing so.

      This story clicked right into Ms. Totenberg's confirmation bias, and right into her story about tension among the justices.  The juicy item of conflict between a supposedly defiantly unmasked Mr. Justice Gorsuch and an aggrieved Ms. Justice Sotomayor was raw meat for a lot of the media and a predictable feeding frenzy ensued and escalated, nicely unpacked here.

      The United States Supreme Court was not amused, and issued a joint statement:
"Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends."

      While there's no requirement that Supreme Court Justices love one one another, agree, or even like their fellow Justices (and historically, there's been a lot of loathing), the present Court appears to value an atmosphere in which they can argue like hell and still get along.

      There's a recent drawing by a court artist making the rounds, and it showed up on Twitter in response to the joint statement -- it's the header at SCOTUSblog right now, nine chairs all in a row, six masked Justices, an empty chair, Justice Gorsuch unmasked and one more Justice in a mask.  Striking, but it tells us nothing about it got that way.

      As a follow-up, Chief Justice Roberts issued a statement of his own, "I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench."

      I kept checking NPR's website to see what they had to say about the situation.  Eventually, yesterday evening, they did a news story about the news story, with rather a lot of of hedging from Ms. Totenberg.

      NPR is well aware of how bad a gaffe this is, and has got out the sackcloth and ashes, or at least the Unabridged:
      "In the absence of a clarification, NPR risks losing credibility with audience members who see the plainly worded statement from Roberts and are forced to go back to NPR's story and reconcile the nuances of the verb 'asked' when in fact, it's not a nuanced word."

      The takeaway?

      1. Always suspect a story that fits too well with the reporter or outlet's inclinations (and/or your own).  Hey, it could be right, but that stuff is red meat, no matter which direction they're leaning.  Look for independent confirmation -- of which this story never had any.

      2. Reality is nuanced.  Twitter -- where this thing really mushroomed -- and headlines are not.  Story ledes and hooks (that part that grabs your attention away from the hockey scores or WW III reports) are not.  This can get out of hand rapidly. 

      3. Time is your friend.  My initial reaction (to Tam) was, "I thought the Justices got along better than that.  Didn't Scalia take Sotomayor hunting, way back when?"  And later, after learning Sotomayor is diabetic, "It's really going to stink if is Gorsuch is that big a shitheel."  Well, he's probably not.  And they probably do get along well enough.   And while there may have been a minor kerfluffle over masks, the Justices settled it among themselves and presumably nobody's seething, or at least not enough to go gripe about it in the Press.  Tempest, meet teapot; teapot, meet Totenberg.  Oops.

      4. I could not find links to the official Supreme Court statements, not even at SCOTUSblog.  Forbes linked to tweets, and that's as close as anyone came.  WTH, Press?  C'mon, show your work when you can.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Of Masks And Risks And Omicron

      The recent piece on navigating the present-day landscape of everyone else's coronavirus strategy didn't get many responses, and those weren't publishable for reasons of excessive pugnacity or the repeating of misinformation.

      One stood out, a fellow who chided me, "Well young lady I guess that the semi-annual HEPA mask fittings I did as a condition of employment was a profitable scam if paper or cloth masks filter out virus-sized particles."

      One supposes "Young lady..." is meant as flattery, but it reads as dismissive; at any rate, I'm within a couple of years of full retirement age, which is a bit past 65 for my cohort.  I've been working at my trade for forty-eight years now.  There's more silver than gold in my hair these days.

      I have also been trained on and then worked in a "Moon suit" and full-face Air-Purifying Respirator, or APR, basically a gas mask.  The training comes with lectures on what it does and does not stop, how it works and a lengthy segment on how to control and limit exposure that included this short film. I don't know how a short training course -- we got 24 hours, total -- stacks up against getting a filter mask fit check a few times a year, but it's at least comparable.

      And it means neither of us is an expert at everyday biohazard control -- just like most people.

      With that caveat, I'll dig right in to the central canard, that my cheap little paper and synthetic-fiber KN95 mask is supposed to keep the virus from getting to me, all by itself.

      It's not.  In that direction, it's a pointy stick in a gunfight: better than nothing.  But it's also just one part of the process, a process that explains why I can look at one or two unmasked folks at the grocery store and not freak right out. 

      Limiting the spread -- even with the chicken pox or cooties contagiousness of omicron -- is accomplished by a bunch of small steps, none of them perfect.  "The best is the enemy of good enough:" many people see that some measure -- vaccines, handwashing, refraining from French-kissing strangers, whatever -- is not a total barrier to infection, and therefore ignore it.  In that case, why wear a seat belt in your car or an airplane?

      I'm going to use my typical trip to the corner grocer's.  Your mileage may vary.

      Start with that mask: it's not a great barrier against tiny, dry, aerosolized viruses.  It is a better barrier to the larger moist, virus-bearing components of my exhaled breath; even a cloth mask does at least a little of that.  And what it doesn't stop, it tends to slow down.  It's better than nothing.

      Next step: I choose uncrowded times to grocery-shop.  I don't push up close to other people.  So presumably, there's less viral load in the air and I've got a bit of distance from the source, or a barrier between us.  It's not great (I guess I could have groceries parachuted to the middle of the back yard if I really wanted to keep my distance) but it's better than nothing.

      Next step: I limit my time in the store, planning what I will buy ahead of time and following a set, efficient route.  A week's worth of groceries takes about twenty minutes -- a bit long, but better than  wandering around for an hour.

      Next step: I don't socialize or chatter.  A "Hello," to the butchers I know, a pleasantry with the cashier through the barrier (those slabs of Lexan aren't great, but they're better than nothing).  I don't stop and catch up on neighborhood gossip in the middle of the aisle when I see a friend. (Yes, some people still do.  I'm not in charge of them; I wasn't even when they were aisle-blocking before the pandemic.)

      Final steps: I sanitized the touching surfaces of the cart when I picked it up.  Once the groceries are stowed, I return the cart* and then sanitize my hands before taking the mask off, folding it by the straps and stowing it in a zip-lock bag.  None of these are sure-fire virus-stoppers, either -- but they're better than nothing.  I've had two vaccine shots and a booster, too: also not a guarantee I won't fall ill, though they should substantially improve my odds of not ending up in the hospital or worse if it happens. (If, indeed, it hasn't already.)  Once I get home, I'll wash my hands before and after putting the groceries away.  Through it all, I will refrain from touching my face. 

      Am I saying all of this is a totally effective way to not get COVID-19 (or the flu or a cold)?  No.  In fact, hell, no.  But it helps.  It's more helpful in not spreading it if I happen to have it and don't know.  It's not a hundred percent for that, either -- but it's better than nothing.

      Am I saying you should be doing all or even some of these things?  Sorry; I'm not the boss of you.  Make up your own mind.  Roll your own dice.  I'll be over there, at least six feet away, not yelling at you.

      Controlling communicable illness is a matter of statistics and mass populations.  One way is by drastically restricting people's movements and interactions the way Red China has -- but it takes a totalitarian government to pull that off and it becomes less and less effective with more contagious versions.  If not combined with massive vaccination, all it does it put the problem off for later, because this virus is not going away.   That's not how we do things in Western Civilization.  Sure, there's a degree of chivvying going on here in the U.S., at roughly a seat-belt law and smoking-ban level, and with about the same degree of compliance or a bit more, and that's what we've got.  It's better than nothing.

      It's a lot better than spreading rumors that keep people from making the effort. 
* Because I'm not a sociopath or a savage.  YMMV.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

TV Viewing

      Tam and I finished up The Expanse on Sunday, and we're sorry it's over (for now.  The book series continues past the TV series and there may be a follow-on).  It was a trip worth taking and they managed to bring the story to a satisfying stopping-place,  This has set the bar for subsequent TV SF efforts, and set it high.  (There are a half-dozen bonus vignettes, though you'll need to watch on something other than a TV to see them.)  I panned the first episode of the series (and I still think it's a bit rocky) but the sets and acting were first-rate from the start and the physics and storytelling caught up rapidly.  (I still think the writers cheated on the Belter water shortage: the Solar System is lousy with the stuff.  But, hey, I'll give them that to make it work.)

      Closer to Earth, we started watching the TV-series version of The Right Stuff.  I read and enjoyed the Tom Wolfe book not long after it was published; the series is very close to the book, well-produced and the casting was remarkably good.  While the actors are a little better-looking than their real-life counterparts, their appearance and mannerisms are so close that we had no difficulty telling who was who.  --And then it ended abruptly.  I hadn't looked it up and assumed they'd shot the whole thing.  Nope.  National Geographic/Disney+ pulled the plug after one season.  The show is owned by Warner Brothers Television and they're said to be looking for a new home.  A companion documentary, The Real Right Stuff, is also worth watching.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

But It Actually Is Scary, And It Has Been All Along

      As the pandemic has waxed and waned, and a confusing pandemic of information, misinformation, poorly-presented information, slick nonsense, grift, sincere efforts and personal loathing has ebbed and flowed, one thing has remained constant: accusations of fear, from maskless folk proclaiming they're not going to live in fear to pro-vaxers accusing anti-vaxers of being afraid of inoculation.  Whatever path we have personally chosen is brave, and the people who do something different, well, they're frightened, that's all.  Chickens, cowering in fear, nothing at all like ourselves.

      Yeah, about that -- you know who's most likely to boast of being unafraid?  Scared people.  Astronauts may make wisecracks about heading into the sky atop "a pile of parts all made by the lowest bidder," but not a one of them will tell you how brave he or she is; that's not how the Right Stuff works.

      Nobody signed up to test-pilot a global pandemic.  We sure weren't screened of our ability to cope with it.  No matter who you are -- yes, even that guy who always says, "The bug that bites me, dies" -- this is scary stuff and we don't all deal with it in the same way.  I'm a diligent striver; I wear my (KN-95) mask to the grocery, and oh, my, the big, bearded, unmasked utility worker ahead of me in line with a defiant expression, buying a pack of Oreos, what does he think he's doing?

      He's dealing with it, is what.  Not in the same way; not in a way I think is wise or advisable.  But I'm not the boss of him.  I don't know his story.  Maybe he's already had the stuff and three vaccine shots on top of that, and he figures the odd are on his side.  Maybe he's unjabbed and has never been ill, and between that and patching up high voltage cables, live steam or gas lines, he feels invulnerable.   I don't know.

      I do know he's felt the cold finger of fear on his spine.  Maybe he only blinked once and kept moving; maybe he lays awake at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering what comes next.  Or he does something entirely different, and there are dreams, bills, children, spouses, bosses and traffic that loom as large or larger.

      But nobody expected this, nobody thought it would last this long, and you know what?  Sometimes it's scary.  Sometimes life is.  We get through it, mostly, as we always have.

      Just remember: you have felt fear.  Those other people?  They have, too.  Some of them are scared right now.  They're doing as well as they can.  We're not all making the same choices and our reasons are as varied as our faces, hair colors, accents.

      No one is keeping score.  There is no audience, no ratings, no big cash prize if you make it all the way.  Taunting, boasting, shaming -- it hasn't changed anything so far and it is less likely to do so with every passing day.  We're all whistling past the graveyard.  We're just not all whistling the same tune.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Buffalo Steaks And A Side

      Bison steak, actually, little sirloins, and very good they were, grilled over hardwood charcoal with a pat of butter after the first and second turnings, having previously been salted, peppered and allowed to contemplate their fate.

      That was the easy part, and I was in a "lazy Sunday" mood.  We'd had breakfast hash that morning -- cubed potato (one big baker), three scrambled eggs, three strips of bacon and some diced Manchego cheese -- so spuds were out.  I settled on rice pilaf, a small can of mild chilis heated up with microwave brown rice and quinoa plus Peruvian lentils.  While it is not low-sodium, the combination makes a tasty, low-effort side dish.  It went well with the bison steaks, which Tam had received as part of a Christmas gift from one of her employers.

*  *  *

      One of our favorite snacks of late is truffle-salted popcorn.  The flavor is richly indulgent, and it has taken me three bags of the stuff and over a month to realize that of course you can buy truffle salt.  Ordered and on the way, perhaps in time for the next grill session.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Vindaloo Photos

     As promised, and they tell the story.  All photographs by Tamara Keel.

Ready to go on the grill.

Very nearly done.
Time for dinner!
Now that's some nicely-cooked pork.
Just the thing for a cold evening.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Pork Vindaloo, Again

      I wanted to make sure last time wasn't just luck.  Today was sunny and dry, though cold, not terrible grilling weather.

      Started with a Boston Butt Pork Roast ($3.99 a pound!) and marinated it in a half-cup of 50/50 white and balsamic vinegar, with a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a teaspoon of plan paprika, a little hot paprika and a quarter-teaspoon or more of garlic powder, plus some black mustard seed, ginger, a tiny bit of ground cloves, some chaat masala, a half-teaspoon of sugar, a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce and four pickled Serrano peppers. (You can add red pepper flakes or dried chili powder or the like if you prefer.)  The pork sat about five hours in the fridge, marinating.  (And I'm cheating: fresh garlic is better in this than the powder.  But it was what I had, and it's a lot easier.) 

      I set up the grill for indirect heat in the usual way, and started the meat with marinade in my oval graniteware roasting pan (covered) while I peeled and chopped a large Granny Smith apple (with cinnamon and a little more ginger), a medium-sized turnip (with a little garlic) and a parsnip (with respect).  That took about fifteen minutes, so I added them to the pan, where the meat was cooking nicely.  I put a couple of bay leaves the pan, too.

      Back in the kitchen, I cleaned and chopped a fennel bulb, a couple of carrots, a couple of stalks of celery and a large red onion.  I waited until twenty minutes had passed since the first group of vegetables went in, to give them time to cook down.

      After that, I did dishes.  (I can see the grill out one of the kitchen windows, though it's at an oblique angle.)  After a little over a half hour, I added a small can of mild chilies (add hotter if you prefer) and a 24-ounce box of finely chopped tomatoes, put the lid back on, and found other things to do.  I checked on the grill every half-hour and after two hours total, the ingredients were bubbling nicely and smelled delicious.  The meat thermometer put the pork at more than sufficiently done and the apples were dissolving into the sauce. 

      After carrying the pan inside to sit on the stove, I had to go back out and clean up bubbled-over sauce from the bottom of the grill -- I usually close all the vents and let the grill shut itself off, but that would have left the liquid to freeze.  So I blotted up most of it and set the vents to half, and it dried out while we ate.

      The meat was falling-apart tender.  I was prepared to lift it out and carve slices, but all it took was a nylon spatula to separate pieces in the pan.

      Tam pronounced it delicious, and has promised to share her photographs. (Here's the full set.)  I enjoyed my plate.

      This process uses very inexpensive equipment.  I think the square, covered grill was $20, ten years ago.  It has adjustable vents in the center of the hinged top and at the front of the bottom section.  The oval graniteware pan is stamped sheet metal with a hard enamel-type coating: you don't need a thick pan for roasting in a covered grill, and it was in the $20 range, too.  My digital meat thermometer was six or seven dollars.  The charcoal's not cheap; I use hardwood lump charcoal even with a covered pan, and the kindling is a couple of sticks of hardwood, cut in half, a couple of splits from scrap pine, and some thin shakes torn about an inch wide, over strips of old newspaper.  It all gets stacked up in a tac-tac-toe grid, with charcoal piled around it and gaps at the bottom in front and back to light it.  This gets going pretty quickly, and once the coals have caught, I form them into two rows at the sides of the grill, put the grill bars in place, and set the pan on top, over the gap between the fires.  You can roast just about anything with that arrangement, as long as you are willing to let it cook for two hours or more.

      Vindaloo is roughly in the barbecue family: slow-roasted meat in a spicy, sweet-and-savory tomato-and-onion sauce.  It just has a different accent than the kinds we usually get.  I think getting the bulk of the sweet notes from the apple, fennel bulb, parsnip and carrot gives it a little more complexity, but if you look at it as being akin to barbecue, you can get an idea of how you might like to make it and what ingredients might be interesting to try.  Indian (and culinary vicinity) grocery stores are not uncommon in larger cities, and they offer excellent spices and fresh or dried chilies, some very hot.  (Serrano peppers are a fair approximation; canned chilies are not too far off the mark and I like them.)

Friday, January 14, 2022

Abracadabra Mandamus

      That's that, then: in a decision that ultimately rested on questions of jurisdictional authority, the U. S. Supreme Court has determined that the Feds cannot implement a vaccine-or-test requirement on employers with a hundred or more employees through OSHA: it's not within OSHA's bailiwick.  Safety glasses and gloves, yes.  Vaccination, no.  (Will the Biden Administration try another tack?  Maybe.  But they're pretty axle-wrapped with Congress and the cases-per-day graphs are going nearly straight up: this round is over and the virus has a commanding lead.)

      Conversely, the Court ruled that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can require COVID-19 vaccination of workers at healthcare facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid patients.  This is akin to the old 55-mph "national speed limit," which was a string attached to Federal highway funding: if Uncle Sam pays the piper, he gets to call the tune.

      If you were holding off on getting vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 on account of not wanting to be made to do so, now's your chance to get the jab on your own recognizance without backing down.  And you may want to do so now, because:

      Unless you have a contract (and sometimes even then), in most states there's still nothing at all keeping your employer from mandating vaccination as a job requirement.  A lot of companies had been holding off, hoping the Feds would play the big, bad meanie making people get shots and spare them the blame.  They lost that bet and they'll have to decide for themselves. 

      And so will you.

      I'm not in charge of other people's decisions, and that's undoubtedly a good thing.  I can share facts, and I have done so.  The omicron variant of COVID-19 is still spreading, and spreading fast.  Vaccination has been shown to reduce the severity of infection (by 12x or more) and improve the survival rate, though at this point, for best results you'd have to get the shot and play safe for a month or so.  We are all extremely likely to catch omicron, sooner or later; it spreads at least as easily as a cold.  Unfortunately, for the unvaccinated it carries much greater risk than a cold.

      You'll have to roll your own dice.  Good luck.

Thursday, January 13, 2022


      It's an old, old Internet acronym, slightly updated.  Mr. Bowdler tells me the original version was short for "Read The Frikkin' Manual," but you know how he is.

      In my version, the last word is "Article," and therein hangs a tale.

      It's the 2020s and we all tend to leap without looking.  React!  Clickbait rules the Web and listicles are easy.  So when a local blogger stumbled across an item on a local TV station's website* citing a (pre-Omicron) study ranking Indiana as the state "least safe during COVID-19," he was incensed.  What an outrage!  Clearly, this was a slanted study intended to make Red states look bad and puff up Blue states!

      But the study, put together from publicly-available data as of about mid-December for all fifty states plus the District of Columbia, does nothing of the sort.  In fact, it ranks deep-Red Florida in fifth place for safety and the difference between averages for "Red" and "Blue" states is barely enough to be statistically significant.

      The article reporting the study has cute graphics, but the numbers don't establish much of a trend past "don't get sick," and they're not useful for making travel plans unless you've got tickets on a time machine.

      If you are looking for something with a bit more factual guidance, this chart comparing death rates of vaccinated and unvaccinated people in the U.S. is a clear beacon.
* Indianapolis has five -- or four and a half, at least -- TV News departments and a mortally-ill newspaper fighting over your eyeballs, all jumping up and down, shouting "Lookit me!  Lookit me!" with varying degrees of decorum or desperation.

So They Shot My Thumb

      The hand doctor shot my right thumb full of a steroid (after asking if I'd been vaccinated and boosted already, adding, "If they come out with a fourth shot, you'll want to wait a couple months.  This stuff will interfere.").

      It's a little scary -- who wants a needle stuck into their thumb, right near a joint? -- but they wash it with antiseptic and zap it with freeze mist first, and the worryingly-full feeling goes away in a few hours.  The joint of my right thumb was still clicking and sticking last night, but as of this morning, it is at least not locking up and feels easier to move.  Last time the shot took several days to take full effect and I expect the same this time.

      If the "trigger finger" comes back, surgery is the next step.  It was an option now (hand surgeons and their outpatient-surgery facilities are unsurprisingly not getting any extra workload from coronavirus cases), but I'd just as soon avoid extended time in medical facilities until we get through the omicron surge.  The tendon runs in a little tube of cartilage, and when it swells up or gets bumpy and starts getting jammed up, there's no scraping it down.  Instead, they slice the tube lengthwise and it will heal with clearance.  The healing is not especially quick or convenient, being right there in one's hand and all, which is another good reason to put it off.  I wouldn't be good for much in the way of actual work for a week or two, and on light duty for over a month.

      Dealing with the hand specialist is remarkably smooth.  This kind of problem is relatively routine and they treat it with an absolute minimum of fuss and bother.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Gotta Keep Moving

      In addition to this afternoon's thumb-repair (or at least diagnosis) festivities, there's some actual work to do at work, in the sense of trying some (somewhat) new and (slightly) different technical stuff.  So I need to get moving and stay moving, a rare happening in these years of COVID-19.

      Not feeling as if I have been dropped into a bad imitation of a Kurt Vonnegut novel, even for a little while, is a thing not to be missed.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

And Tuesday

      The Omicron variant is proceeding pretty much as I expected in Indiana and the U.S., a huge wave of cases driving a less-huge (but still painfully large) wave of hospitalizations that have got health-care facilities right up against the wall.  Indiana's COVID-reporting website had a day's lag as the wave of infections really ramped up, and has been posting data about 16 hours lagged ever since.  I suspect that sharp rise in cases had them double-checking their sources and calculations, especially after our Attorney General all but accused the Governor of fudging the numbers, a few weeks ago.  (Remember the unofficial rule that Republicans -- and they both are -- never spoke ill of one another?  Yeah, that, ash-heap of history and so on.)

      Personally, I have been enduring a painful and, worse, very inconvenient return of "trigger finger" that has my right thumb varying between awkward and useless for grasping.  I have an appointment with the hand doctor tomorrow afternoon -- assuming he (and his nurses) are available.  Surgery is probably out for the time being but maybe they can shoot it with steroid or whatever again.  This cold weather has made for a lot of pain in joints and the left side of my face, which is at least better than not feeling anything at all.

     My desktop computer is acting up again, and this isn't a good time to be buying another. It's not like I'm not well-supplied with laptops and iPads, after all, so this post is being typed on one.

     Good news?  I made dehydrated chicken noodle soup last night, the "Mrs. Grass's" kind that's pretty good, and fixed it up with canned chicken and thin-sliced fresh vegetables.  Carrots, celery and parsnips, sautéed in just a drop of olive oil before adding cold water and soup mix to the pan -- they really add a lot of flavor and texture.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Welcome To Monday

      Coronavirus cases are up, temperatures are down, and it's another week of more of the same.

      Eventually, Spring gets here.  And maybe the damn bug will fade out for awhile, too.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Beef Stew

      Saturday dinner -- my cooking, Tamara Keel's photography.
      Stew beef, chorizo, apples, turnips, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, fennel bulb, onions, celery. The paired, related vegetables -- carrots and parsnips, celery and fennel bulb -- play off one another very well

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Here's Something

      It's funny, people are quick to accuse the media of bias -- not just unconscious bias, but deliberate slant -- while ignoring their own agenda.

      Take, for instance, any large protest that turns to riot.  Generally, if you were sympathetic to the aims of the protest, you will carefully distinguish between protesters and rioters; and if you did not agree with the intent, you're a lot more likely to lump them all in together.  If you were neutral and fair-minded, you will also make note of any difference between the people who protested and those who rioted; if you were neutral and annoyed by it, you probably won't.

      So telling me "None of the media are unbiased," well, gee, you're right -- but some are less biased than others, some make more of an effort to be fair than others, some go into greater depth than others, and there is some variation even within them, story to story, issue to issue.  (If you dig into the interactive chart at Ad Fontes, you will find that the position of each media outlet they rate is defined as the centerpoint of a scattergram comprising multiple stories, a sampling that quite often covers a very wide range.  It's a complicated truth.)

      When we read, listen to or watch the news, we each have our own narrative going.  If the source we're following is aligned with our own outlook, we're liable to nod along, and consider them good; if they are not, we'll be irked by their obvious bias. 

      There were people -- a lot of them -- who only went to the official rally in Washington, D.C. on 6 January and drove home, all charged up by their great day.  There were people -- a lot of them -- who showed up at Black Lives Matter rallies, waved signs, listened to speeches, marched, sang songs -- and went home, pleased to have stood up, before the first flung brick.  Conversely, there were people who went to (or near) those events and then went on to break down doors, make messes and steal things.  There were people who protested and rioted, and there were people who only did on or the other.  All of those things are true.

      Truth is messy.  Truth is complicated.  Humans like simple stories.  We like it when virtue (as we define it) triumphs.  We like it when evil (as we see it) is defeated.  And we don't want any gray areas.  We grow annoyed when the choice is between a greater or lesser evil, or when the story just trails off. 

      But in reality, that's what we get.  And you can either fight with it or understand it and use it as a tool to better grasp the world around you.

Friday, January 07, 2022


      There has been low-level tagging in Indianapolis for decades now.  Some neighborhoods have quite a bit, and some of that has long been gang-related.  Other tagging is more artistic -- the White River bridge north of Broad Ripple has colorful layers of mostly art and declarations of teenage love. 

      Some tagging is individualistic; some time back, for a year or so, the public and police were mystified by a series of well-executed, colorful "STS" tags around downtown.  Was it a new gang?  Did they have an art department?  The tagger started to add "Stealin' Them Spots" to his tags, which grew steadily larger, fancier and were in less-accessible spots.  He was eventually arrested, just one young man, and I'm not sure what became of him.  Being sentenced to four years in graphic design school probably would have been a good start.

      Broad Ripple has had a series of scrawled, simple tags show up over the last year or so.  Most of them are ugly, hasty work but the names are intriguing, not at all the usual set of initials or glyph.

      First we had "LOAM."  A bit dirty but well-grounded, one supposes.  A fertile field for growth.  LOAM eventually washed away.

      Next followed "BeRZeRKeR," who by the Law of Narrative Inevitability is mostly likely a scrawny, underweight twelve-year-old, possibly female.  The time to go a-viking apparently passed as schools re-opened and the weather turned colder.

      But the latest is perhaps the funniest: "TEEF."  This tagger can only be the human version of the dog famous in memes as "Phteven."  The dog's real name is Tuna.  The tagger?  We can only hope orthodontia will help with the urge to spray, and wait for the next clown with a can of paint and too much unsupervised time.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Unhappy Anniversary

      Here we are at the one-year anniversary of the 6 January protest/riot/clambake/mess/whatever.  What have we learned?


      Oh, there are hours of video, trial transcripts, telephone messages and so on.  Column-feet of news stories have been written about that day, and hours of TV and radio reports and commentary.  But we're in the position of the farmer whose barn has almost burned down, walking around the mess, rebuilding -- and entirely unsure of how to keep it from happening again.

      Protest is as American as a harbor full of tea.  The day we stop waving signs, making speeches, yelling slogans and pulling stupid stunts about issues some of us think are important would be a sad day indeed.

      Trying to burn down the courthouse, any courthouse* -- or storming the Capitol building with the express purpose of stopping a normal function of government and succeeding in doing so for a time, is distinctly not normal.  It goes beyond protest.

     There are plenty of quibbles and caveats around the edges of 6 January, enough to keep squads of attorneys and commentators fat and happy, and no shortage of disturbing undercurrents.  The basic facts stand: a large group of people overpowered the police and got into the U. S. Capitol building, where they made a mess and put Congress and the Vice-President to flight.  Call it what you like but the events stand for themselves.

      Here are some useful definitions:

      You will hear those and their synonyms today, mostly because we don't have a word for short-term violent efforts that make messes but ultimately fail of their ill-conceived goal.  None are exactly right and all of them are a bit too grand for the grubby reality -- but the events of 6 January 2021 were far worse than burning a courthouse.  The mob was not out to lynch a person but a system of government.

      Those events cannot be handwaved away -- and hand-wringing won't keep them from happening again. 
* Americans in mobs have historically burned a lot of courthouses, most of them in the course of lynchings.  Nevertheless, it is not the done thing and sooner or later meets with opprobrium from the general public.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Do The Media Lie?

      In straight reporting, the answer is "not on purpose."  It's a quick streetcar to court or unemployment.  For commentary, the answer is "not on purpose, but...."  Commentators, editorialists, have an agenda.  They have opinions and they're sharing them with you -- and that's very subjective.

      But there are other ways to miss the mark, starting with the fact that reporters are human beings. Start with the Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart.

      I have shrunk it down to show the shape, a kind of lambda centered a bit to the Left, which pretty much matches most people's general impression.  The vertical axis rates the ratio of truth to opinion for sources -- and none of them are at the very top.  Nobody gets everything right all the time.  Nobody can entirely remove the subjective element from what they have seen, heard, or been told about by witnesses.

      A comment has been sitting in my to-be-reviewed file for awhile now; I'll release it after this blog post, but it expresses a common perception:

      "Dunno if I've said it here, but the few times I've had firsthand knowledge of news stories the reporting has had significant material errors. If the stories had been controversial it wouldn't be hard to make the jump to blaming bias...but these were boring local stories, only interesting if you know the people personally."

      And what the heck, he's probably right.  The late Robert A. Heinlein said much the same about Time magazine.

     There are multiple reasons for this.  The first and simplest is that even though you and the reporter were at the same event, you were not looking through the same eyes; you were not looking at the same things at the same time from the same location.  One of you paid close attention to the elephant, the other to the mahout on the elephant's back -- or to the band playing a dramatic fanfare.

      Worse, the reporter is quite often not there at the time, and has to talk to eyewitnesses.  You'd think that would be simple, just ask them and write it down -- but remember that we're not all looking at the same thing all the time and even when we do, we form different opinions about them, which influence our perception.  And memory is not a straightforward playback; every time we recall, every time we tell the story, we select, edit and reinterpret events.  Eyewitness testimony is often the best we have -- but it's imperfect.

      Some things -- many things -- are recorded, sound or pictures preserved.  Surely that's accurate?  Yes, but only for what it shows clearly.  Cameras can strip context: we only see what the camera was pointed at.  We only hear what the microphone picks up, and even then, did you hear "Yanni" or "Laurel?"  A trick of Elizabethan drama was to play out elements of some scenes behind props that concealed that action from the cheap seats at ground level, but not from the costlier balconies.  Some televised sporting events -- professional wrestling, for example -- and political rallies will concentrate the audience on the side of the arena the cameras are pointing towards.  And what we see can have a big impact; people who heard the Kennedy-Nixon debates on the radio thought Richard Nixon had done very well over John Kennedy; people who watched a cool, composed Kennedy on TV versus a sweating, blue-jowled Nixon thought the reverse.  Even if you were "there when it happened," you may have missed it.  Or the reporter did (this used to be a great advantage to having two or more newspapers/Radio/TV newsrooms in a town -- if Action News or The Leader-Union missed something, maybe the Tribune-Chronicle or Eyewitness 11 didn't).

      No news source is perfect.  Some are better than others.  Some traditions help; the "Five Ws (and one H)" concentrate attention on verifiable facts; inverted-pyramid structure, for all that it was invented to simplify editing for column-space (and later time) puts those facts right up front.  Internal, pre-publication fact-checking (a dying art, and sadly so) helps.  External, post-publication fact-checking can be useful to the reader (though give greatest weight to fact-checkers who show their work, with links and references).  Even the traditions of a newsroom matter.

      You will not get perfection.  Even when you read about a Little League game you watched from the stands, you may find the reporter missed a play you thought was crucial.  The final score will be right; the stats will not be deliberately wrong.  But Johnny Doe may get more of the reporter's attention than Ricky Roe, and you may even be right that it is undeserved.

      You will not always find that opinion and reporting are clearly delineated.  If the "news" show is named after the star?  I tend to expect more commentary; in video, if the anchor's name is just embedded in the title ("The Network News with Some Guy") or not there at all, you're probably getting news.  Newspapers and websites, it's not as easy -- but overbearing and salacious ad content is often a good indicator of low factual content.*  Likewise host demeanor; personality-forward types have often got an ax to grind.

      Ideal news, totally unbiased and free of error, well, there isn't any.  But some are better than others, and they can be used to cross-check one another.  News is a highly competitive business; the media bias chart shows that they do not march in lockstep, and will tell you who leans which way as well as who is more likely to slip in a few stretchers and opinions.
* A caveat: everybody, almost, sells "chumbucket" space online, usually at the bottom of the webpage, filled with questionable ads for questionable stuff.  Apparently the outfits that buy this space and resell it pay well, but it means even pretty decent news sources have got a little dog poo on their shoe soles. 

Tuesday, January 04, 2022


      It can be a long, dull slog, especially if you're lousy chess player like me: the endgame.

      The SARS-CoV-2 endgame is looking that way, too: a bumpy road to endemicity, short or long.  As one of the interviewees puts it in this AP article, "We're not going to get to...2019 again."   I had hoped we could kill this bug dead, or at least knock it down as hard as we did with polio.  It's not going to happen.  COVID-19's going to get settled in, right next to the flu -- and shots for it will become as commonplace as yearly flu shots.

      Elsewhere, an illustration of the dangers of reading only the headlines.  That "study proving a single COVID-19 infection makes you immune for life?"  The guy in charge of the study says nope, that's not what we found.  The good news is, it does help some -- about like getting a single vaccine shot.  Of course, the vaccine is enormously less risky.

      How risky is too risky?  That "99% survivable" rate that gets bandied about for a COVID-19 infection?  An amusement-park roller-coaster can average 100 riders an hour.  If one rider died on it every hour, it's 99% survivable.  Who would line up for that?*
* I have done the math for deaths connected to vaccination.  The very worst-case VAERS numbers give a 1 in 55,555 chance; using the confirmed death rate works out, very roughly, to less than one in 30 million.  Either is considerably better odds than one in a hundred.

Monday, January 03, 2022

What, Again? The Eye Doctor

      Follow-up appointments after cataract surgery just keep on and on.  I have to go back this morning, fairly early in the day by my standards.

      It's just as well.  The increased astigmatism (especially in low light) continues to frustrate me.  While I have workarounds for my worsened near vision without eyeglasses, it's not an ideal outcome.  Once the changes in my vision settles down, I will probably get some all-reading glasses made.  Large, lighted lenses on boom arms are a standard item in my work, and I need them more than ever. 

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Two Meals

      For New Year's Day, I made corned beef and cabbage -- but not the way I'd planned.  We'll get there in a moment, though, because the story starts with Friday dinner.

     That was the holiday for me.  The weather was unseasonably warm and, for a wonder, not rainy.  The grocer had Boston butt roasts, a cut of pork, for $3.99 a pound, which is pretty amazing as meat prices go these days.  I couldn't pass it up.

     The way I have been making pork, marinated in vinegar and soy sauce, with ginger and garlic and then cooking with apples and vegetables, had been reminding me of something that couldn't quite pin down.  Some search-engine wandering had finally found it: add tomatoes and little more heat, and you've on the way to vindaloo!

     Pork vindaloo exists.  The dish come from Goa in India.  The name comes from Portugese, and it means "garlic wine."  It can be very fiery; imagine an Indian take on hot Cajun barbecue and you've got the general idea.  I made up a marinade with mostly balsamic vinegar and bit of plain white vinegar, soy sauce, a touch of sugar, garlic, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, red pepper, dried green peppers, Kashmir chili powder (just a bit!), bitter black mustard seed and chaat masala, and let the (un-netted) Boston butt soak in it all day.

     This is a natural for a slow grill, especially with the weather.  I set up the grill for indirect heat with coals burning along two sides and a gap in middle, and put the pork roast and marinade in a covered pan over the gap for a half hour, then turned it and prepped the first group of vegetables: a Granny Smith apple, a parsnip, a small fennel bulb, an onion, and five cloves of garlic.  That all went over the meat and cooked down for a half-hour or so before I added a 28-ounce box of finely-chopped tomatoes and let it simmer for an hour.  I added a container of sliced fresh mushrooms then and give it a half-hour more.

     The meat thermometer said it was done and the pork was fall-apart tender. 

     I had cooked a couple of Serrano peppers in a foil pan for the last half-hour, split and de-seeded.  They're pretty hot raw, but I wanted the option.  As it turned out, roasting made them mild, and I chopped them and added them.

     It was very tasty!
     New Year's Day was a different story.  I had hoped to use the grill again, but it rained off and on all day.  I tried putting my Always pan in a larger frying pan with water in it for indirect-type heat over the stove, and succeeded only in putting out the burner when the pan overflowed.

     Fine.  I rinsed the corned beef well and put it in the Always pan with a very little water, covered, over medium heat until it started to simmer and then turned it down to low.  I set a timer for two and half hours, and another for one hour.  I put the contents of the spice packet, some freshly-ground black pepper and a couple of teaspoons of capers on the corned beef.

     At the hour and a half mark, I added parsnips, carrots and a fennel bulb.  At the one hour mark, coarsely-diced potatoes and onions went in.  With a half-hour left, I added wedges of purple cabbage.

     Hoping all the while that it wouldn't be too awful.

     I cut the meat...

     Dished out vegetables...

     And plated it up:

     Delicious!  The vegetables absorbed a lot of the excess salt.  The broth was very salty but the corned beef was just right.

     All photos by Tamara Keel.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Happy New Year!

      Goodbye, 2021, and out you get.  Here's to 2022 -- may it be a better year, and may we be better people in it.