Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Interesting Times

      I hate living in interesting times.  Bring back the dullness my parents enjoyed!  Occasionally for whole months at a time!

      Dammit.  Some "golden years" I'm hurtling towards.  Thanks a lot.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Unexpected

       I have been working on what I refer to as a "bathtub MFA."  I have some back problems and spend a half-hour or more soaking in a tub of hot water with Epsom salts several mornings a week.  If I've got to be in there anyway, I might as well be doing something.  The TV doesn't fit, podcasts are hard to follow with both ears underwater and I have drowned (and had to replace) a lot of paperback science fiction through the years.  In the past few years, I have been buying used books about writing to read in the tub.

      Most recently The Art Of Fiction, by the late John Gardner.  He was a college professor and he wrote like one, a bit stuffy, a bit speaking from On High, but he seems to have been a pretty good guy for all of that; he's not especially stuck-up on art vs. craft or serious literature vs. popular trash; he cites SF authors by name and is as comfortable using Captain Marvel comic books graphic novels as an example as the works of James Joyce.

      He opens with a series of long essays about narrative fiction and the writing process, high-level but good.  He delves into the need to engage the reader in a kind of dream -- and to not knock them out of it though clumsy work.  By the fourth chapter, he discusses non-traditional forms: metafiction and suchlike.  Being a college professor, he begins by looking back at stories that don't have a traditional narrative arc or characters: Beowolf, the Iliad, The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost and others.  Gardner notes they all come from strongly authoritarian times, in which rulers were held to be inherently better than other people and fiction was seen as a vehicle of instruction: "It is hard to speak fairly of authoritarian ages, both because they're naturally repugnant to the democratic spirit and because they are forever watching from the wings, hoping to seize the stage again."

      That's from 1983, published after his death in a motorcycle accident in 1982.  He was an interesting man and his career was not without controversy.

      "...forever watching from the wings, hoping to seize the stage again."  Indeed.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

No, Look--

      Is it too much to ask for a thread of internal logic?  For just a scrap of sense instead of overwrought emotion?  Having a search warrant carried out on your home can be disruptive, intrusive, off-putting and intimidating.  There's no question about that, and it's why -- barring exigent circumstances -- law enforcement isn't allowed to go searching on a whim; they've got to convince a judge there's good reason for it, they've got to say what they're looking for and where.

      These are all true things.  And in ill-intentioned hands, search warrants have certainly been abused.

      But having the FBI show up with a duly executed warrant and go looking for papers you were supposed to have left in the office, papers that were never your personal property, papers the Feds had been asking to have returned and which you or your people had been equivocating about for months is not "A political attack on America."

      Assuming the worst, there's still no way to spin it as an attack on the country.  Hey, let's caveat some combination of Congress, or the Biden Administration, the Department of Justice and/or the FBI Director Mr. Trump personally appointed to the job is out to get him.  For the purpose of analysis, say that they trumped up the warrant and sent a gaggle of FBI agents down to the winter home Mr. Trump was not at, to gnaw the locks off a storage room and chew their way into a safe, and grab boxes and boxes of files that had originated in the Trump White House.  Say they did it to screw him over, ruin his chances of running for the office again and just generally mess with the man: grant all that, and it's still not "A political attack on America."

      "L'etat c'est moi" has never been the way things work in the United States of America.  In fact, the Founders and Framers were very directly opposed to that notion.  No man embodies The State here -- and while the President is the closest we get to one person standing for the whole, A) it's not especially close and B) the role goes with the office, not the man.  At the end of your term(s), back you go to the plow or whatever, just like Cincinnatus and George Washington, who are supposed to serve as good examples of how the thing is done.

      The available evidence I have seen and read, going way, way back, tells me the Federal government, whatever its failings -- and they are many -- is not in the revenge and retribution business against former Presidents.  But even if it was, that wouldn't be an attack on America, political or otherwise -- it would be domestic politics, ugly, damaging and unwise.

      But that's a thought-experiment.  The reality is, whatever his intent, Mr. Trump (or people acting on his behalf) did take paperwork that belonged to the Federal government when he left office, including some "burn before reading" material,* and the subsequent talks, subpoenas, letters and other legal back-and-forth did not produce results that the Feds believed were adequate or timely.  A judge agreed, the warrant was executed, and now there's a lot of sound and fury from Mr. Trump's side and a little noise and bustle from the government side, and we still don't know the whole story.  Maybe this was all about securing the files.  Maybe they're ginnin' up for an indictment.  We'll find out when we find out -- if we find out at all -- and not a moment sooner.  Nothing on social media is going to speed that process.  This is no more opaque than any other case at the same point and the only reason it makes headlines is it was an (extremely voluble) ex-President who had his house searched and items seized, and not an ex-truckdriver, ex-con or current farmer.
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* I continue to maintain that most such secret stuff is deadly dull -- which doesn't keep  it from being deadly deadly, too.  Knowing our spy satellites can spot things the size of a gym locker but gets fuzzy about stuff as big as a breadbox is valuable to hostile nations.  Learning what we do and do not know about needle-bearing production in Enemyistan can reveal who our sources are in their home-grown bearing industry -- and get that person killed.  And so on.  The devil is in the details and it's not always obvious which ones. (P.S., our spy satellites are way better than that.  How much better?  I don't know.  It's a secret.)

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Laundry, Meeting, Cooking

      Saturday: we enjoy the morning cartoons on Me-TV, I do laundry, there's some kind of a cooking project (pork roast with vegetables again, and why not?) and today, the third Saturday of the month, one of the writer's groups meets on Zoom. 

      Not the worst way to spend the day.  I helped with my ailing friend's cats, too.  A couple of them have decided I'm really a pal.  They follow me around, chirruping and meowing and getting attention. Pretty flattering!  One is a tall, young mostly-black tomcat, full of mischief.  He was one of the first to make up to me back when all this started.  The other one his opposite in many ways, for all their coats are alike.  He's an older tom, small, one-eyed, wary.  When I first start feeding the cats, he would lurk behind the washer and dryer, peering at me from safety.  It was months before he'd come out when I was around and even then, he was careful to have something to duck into, under or behind.  He'd watch my activities with interest -- as long as I didn't make a point of noticing him.  If I said anything to him or even looked at him too directly, he was off to cover.

      He slowly got closer and closer, especially at feeding time.  One day, he smoothed on my ankles.  Pretty soon, he was raring up to get petted and making the most amazing rusty-hinge sounds of pleasure as he got attention.

      Maybe it's a small thing, but I'm happy he decided to trust me.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Yech

      Just sick enough all day that all I accomplished was office work.  At home.  Something I ate wasn't happy.  I blame oatmeal cookies.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Ever Notice...?

      Have you noticed how much political talk involves resentment at someone else's good fortune?  From communism's class warfare to conservatives griping about student loan forgiveness, it's not even so much that the complainer (or worse) has gotten a raw deal as it is that someone else has done better, by chance, skill or government whim.

     It's whiny.  It's immature.  Even when people pushing such notions try to give them some sort of moral or socioeconomic justification, it's still a child vexed because Billy-Sue across the street has ice cream and they don't, or a primate screeching because another member of the troop found ripe berries first and ate them all.

      A boon to others is not the same as a harm done to you.  Is it fair that somebody gets something nice and you do not?  Nope.  Life isn't fair.  Nature isn't fair.  And the better angels of our nature do impel us to work for fair and proportionate outcomes for our fellow humans.  But the part of us that wants to throw a tantrum because we didn't get what that other person has got is in no wise a better angel.  It's an undisciplined child.

     (A lot of comments coming in of the "Why should the rest of us pay someone else's barber-college bill?"  I dunno.  Nobody consulted me on it.  I have never been entirely sure why I had to pay for foreign wars I didn't want or government programs I disapproved of, either, but as long as I want to live under this flag, them's the breaks.  Federal debt is already an enormous burden on every taxpayer -- so huge that adding the loan payoff barely registers.  IMO, Uncle Sam now has every reason to turn and go after getting money back from colleges and trade schools that pulled in unprepared students for that sweet, sweet student loan money. Not that they will.  But in the grand scheme of things, do you want the beauty-school dropouts and community-college failures knocking over liquor stores and running phone scams to pay off their loans or dodging them forever in the shadow economy, or do you want them working jobs nearly as honest as yours and able to pay a little tax?  Remember, if you line them up and march them into the sea, those loans will never be repaid at all!)

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Ha!

      A sure sign of age: I went to the doctor and passed my blood pressure test by a lot -- and it makes me happy.  (Always relax and think happy thoughts.  It's not cheating!)

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

I Tried

      The never-ending din of plain wretched news -- war in Europe, dysfunctional U. S. politics, ongoing bad weather (can't call it climate without starting an argument) and so on left me with nothing to say Monday, especially given that the day started with ongoing worry over our sick neighbor, who I'd been unable to reach at all Sunday.

      At least she resurfaced late Monday morning, possibly after another minor misadventure: it's difficult to be physically frail, and a lot more so if you're unwilling to admit it.  The moral dilemma involved for others is acute: if someone can (barely) get along by themselves and they refuse help, at what point is a well-meaning bystander obliged to step in?  Where are the lines between pushy meddling, kindly helping, letting people have as much independence as they can hang onto and craven indifference?  I don't know; they're not easily drawn except at the extremes.

      Much the same could be said of national and global affairs, though at least there I can take a certain cold comfort in my own relative powerlessness: I'm voting with votes and economic choices for the future I want -- but the future we'll get will the be result of everyone's choices.  That's a lot easier to face than someone in deep trouble right down the block, but it's got the potential to be every bit as grim.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Took The Day Off

      Other than cooking, cleaning, changing the sheets, doing laundry and fretting over my aching lower back, I took the day off.  I ignored the Sunday morning talking head shows (Meet This Week's Press Facing The Nation!) and played with the cats.

      I sure needed it.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Oh, The Thrills

      Yesterday afternoon, after doing what work I could from home and preparing to leave, I found myself ill with the sort of gastrointestinal unpleasantness that arrives with little warning and leaves you wondering if it will strike again.

      So I unpacked and found more work to do.  Early evening, visiting the smallest room, I flipped the light switch and the light came on bright, flickered, and dropped to a dim glow.  Rats, dead bulb.  I turned it off -- and the light stayed on.  Switch didn't feel right, either.  Floppy.  The fan and its switch worked; the GFCI on the same circuit was happy.   I made my way to the basement and killed the breaker.

      The electrical in that room was one of the few things I hired done when I was moving in here at Roseholme Cottage.  It needed an exhaust fan and the only convenience outlet was in the light over the lavatory, controlled by the same small pull-string switch as the light.  Inconvenient, not on a GFCI, and shring the same branch of the same 1920-vintage wiring* as the overhead lights in the "private" part of the house.  So, a new circuit from the breaker box and a nice quad box to one side of the medicine chest, with a protected receptacle and dual switches for the fan and light.  That was fifteen years ago.  The little switches that fit the footprint of a duplex plug are typically marginal and apparently, the bulb failure had taken one out.

      I felt well enough to make a closing-time dash to the home-supply store and came home with a pair of replacement switches, ivory rather than white, with a new wall plate to match.  But I decided to wait for daylight to replace them.

      This morning was a reminder of why my (limited) experience with commercial power wiring isn't ideal prep for residential wiring.  At work, our stuff is in conduit, nearly always stranded wire, and we use crimp-on lugs, generous service loops and finish with a wrap of black tape around the device; you can remove them from the box hot (but you shouldn't) and everything is easy to get to.  The residential electrician has a tougher time: solid wire is standard, the boxes can be no deeper than the wall space, and there's no room to cram much extra wire behind the receptacles and switches.  None of it is arranged for convenient servicing.  There's a reason residential electrical work is rarely low-priced: you're paying for a highly specialized set of skills and an uncommon degree of patience.

      The circuit was still off and a non-contact voltage indicator confirmed it.†  I gathered up my gumption, pulled the plate, unscrewed the switches and pulled them out.  It became clear the the GFCI had to come out, too, in order to get to all the connections.  Much fussing and fighting with solid wire followed, along with peering at clearances as I put it back together.  Finally I had Tam watch the thing while I cycled power on and off quickly -- okay -- and then turned it on.  The bulb was still bad, but at least it shut off with the switch off.  A new bulb fixed the light, the new plate got Dymo labels for function and breaker number and I was reminded once more that the legend on the breaker box is more like mythology than documentation.
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* At this point, the overhead lighting, the outdoor/porch lights, the radon fan and a floor lamp in the living room are the only things left on the old tube-and-knob/flex.  All the lights on it that we use are low-draw CFL or LED.  The wall outlets are all modern plastic-sheathed 14/2 plus ground back to the breaker box, but the previous owner just refed the original four lighting circuits when he updated the electrical.  I get it; replacing tube and knob wiring to switches and receptacles is a lot of work for no visible change, but it's eventually going to have to get done.  Modern bulbs literally take a lot of load off of it and as long as the 1920s electricians used the right flux when they soldered -- well, there's a degree of wishful thinking and thin resources in keeping it in service.   
 
† This is the cheapest $8.50 or less you'll ever spend.  They tend to the occasional false positive (check with a meter!) but these little voltage probes will tell you in a hurry what's safe to touch -- or not.  Worth owning if you do any AC power work, and worth storing with batteries out so it won't be corroded to uselessness the next time you need it.  Ask me how I know....

Friday, August 19, 2022

They Swear An Oath To The U. S. Constitution

      That's how it works for the military; they swear to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies first and then to "obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice," a formulation making it clear that said orders to obey are from the Presidency and not the President as a man: it's not an oath of personal loyalty to him but to the office he holds.

      Based on behavior, the previous President wasn't very clear on that distinction.  It's an important one.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Oh, Grow Up

      You can keep leaving crazysauce comments intimating partisan political violence all you like, Mike, but they're not going to be published.  I will, however, forward the more overt ones to Federal law enforcement.  As you are so fond of hinting around, we're playing for realsies now.

      Grow up.   The standard highly-online person, well past 40, well over optimum body mass and well likely to be on one or another prescription drugs for their blood pressure, cholesterol or something even worse, will be among the first to suffer if things break bad.  And it's not going to make any difference how many rounds you've got boxed up in the crawlspace.

      I'm sick and tired of loudmouths and posers, living in a fantasy world.

Crunch, Sputter

    I'm writing and posting this via an alternative device.  My desktop is very unhappy this morning, at least with the browser, and while I suspect removing a year's worth of cat hair from inside the case will help, it's old and clunky.  And there's a story in the works in it -- two, actually -- so this is not a convenient time.

      Running a virus scan now, of the kind that usually unearths a pile of cookies the normal search and destroy doesn't find.  Once that's done, I'll copy several text files to a thumb drive and at least have a backup.

      Time to go shopping for a new inexpensive desktop machine, I guess.  I will continue with my "one foot in each camp" approach: I like my MacBook Air and iPads, but I'm too used to Windows desktops to give them up.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Crazy Wins

      Crazy often wins primaries.  Sometimes it wins general elections.  Voters get to choose, and we have to accept that the majority of them in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's baliwick like a social-media-savvy socialist with nitwit notions about economics and that most of the people who went to the polls in Georgia's 14th District preferred a white nationalist with theocratic leanings.  Their picks represent who they are, what their district is in the great American tapestry -- and not all of the patterns are pretty.  If you can't accept that (MTG certainly can't), a modern representative republic might not be a good fit for you.

      In Wyoming, GOP primary voters were given a choice between two rock-ribbed conservatives.  In terms of policy, there's hardly any gap between them.  One of them is on the January 6 Committee, a harsh critic of former President's Trump's efforts to retain power after having lost the 2020 election.  The other one is staunch supporter of  Mr. Trump's version of events, a version shown over and over to be fiction.  She has accused the current President of being a "human trafficker," and seems to be rolling right along with whatever the scare-story-of-the-day might be on right-wing media.  You can guess which one was the victor.  That's what Wyoming GOP voters wanted.

      Was it a good idea?  Will the choice lead to victory in the general election?  I don't know about the first question; each voter must decide for themselves.  As for the second question, it's Wyoming.  I'm told they do have Democrats in the state, not all of whom are imported, but I believe there are still towns where you have to pay a nickel to get a look at one, as if they were a peacock or an emu.  So, yeah, probably.

      As long as we manage to stick with voting and our Congressthings content themselves with verbal sparring in the Capitol, that's okay.  Voters are entitled to get the representative they want -- and the rest of us can look askance at the pick all we like, but we've got our own guys and gals, and they're the only ones we get to choose and can send packing in the next go-round if they don't work out.

      This is, in fact, only a real problem if they won't admit defeat and go away if they lose elections.  That didn't used to be a worry.

      I don't much mind when crazy wins elections.  I mind when it starts trying to break heads.  You should, too.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

I Couldn't Resist

      This morning's breakfast is a fried egg, a slice of bacon...and a sliced-up, day-old cornbread muffin, fried in the bacon fat.

      It's one of life's little joys, despite starting from store-bought cornbread with sugar in it.*  That's the best I can do just now, and even that is pretty good.

 *  *  *

      Sunday, I couldn't resist dividing the leftover pork roast into two freezer bags.  I'd marinated a four-pound "Boston butt" ($3.99 a pound!) overnight in some balsamic and white vinegar with soy sauce, garlic and lime juice, then drained most of that off and given it a long, slow roast in a covered pan over indirect heat in the grill.  Once it was browned, I added a diced fresh pear and three bay leaves, followed by sections of multi-color carrots, a generous handful of marble-sized red cherry tomatoes from our garden (and a couple of small, yellow pear-shaped ones)†, one and a half onions -- with celery seed, after I realized my fresh celery was too old -- a can of green chili peppers and, after realizing I was out of potatoes, a partially-drained can of pinto beans.  Fresh mushrooms topped it and it cooked for hours, with the vegetables added along the way.  As things cook down, the pan ends up brim-full of broth.  Tam and I had a nice Sunday dinner from it.  There was plenty left.  I diced the pork (it was falling apart, as it should) and filled two freezer bags.

      Monday, I squeezed a hot Italian sausage from its casing, browned it, drained the grease, and added some preserved red Spanish peppers, a few mild pickled banana pepper rings, a can of mild green chilis, chili powder and small can of tomato sauce, along with a bay leaf.  Meanwhile, a bag of Sunday's pork roast was thawing in the microwave.  I zapped it until I could break the frozen lump into several pieces, added it to the pan, put the cover on and let it simmer until everything was bubbling along nicely.  It made nice, thick chili (oops, "red stew," mustn't alarm the chili purists), rich and meaty.

      The next batch of leftover pork roast will get fennel bulb and potatoes.  Boston butt is usually sold tied up with string or elastic netting.  I cut that off once it's in the pan, ready for the grill.  The meat's not going anywhere and the netting is more difficult to remove after cooking -- it adds nothing to the flavor, either.
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* Sugar has about as much business in cornbread as it does in a gas tank, and is equally as useful there.
 
† The last couple of years, what I have done to select tomatoes for planting is...nothing.  One of my nieces starts a lot of tomatoes early, plants her garden, and gives the leftover starts to the rest of the family.  You get what you get; this year, I have one plant bearing larger, striped heirloom-looking tomatoes, one with small yellow pear-shaped ones, and four that produce large amounts of the smallest cherry tomatoes I have seen, fast-ripening, with thin skins and a lot of flavor.  They cook up well.

Monday, August 15, 2022

I'm Reading

      The Annotated Big Sleep.  Raymond Chandler's first novel -- and, I think, the first appearance of private detective Philip Marlowe, is a welter of cultural references and marvelous metaphor dancing through a convoluted plot.  The passage of time has made huge changes to Chandler's Los Angles -- and Marlowe's version of was half fiction to begin with.  Add in all the changes to American culture, and it's something of a lost world.  So the annotated edition does its best to track what's going on, and why; what, exactly, a pinseal wallet might be or how a PI could convince a cabbie to follow a suspicious truck by waving a dollar at him (worth a bit over $20 in 2022), and so on.  It's great fun, and they also track how Chandler re-used earlier work, edited and improved, to create The Big Sleep.  (They don't explain what "Entracte cigars" might be, or that Between The Acts cigars competed with them, or why the things are "toy-sized;" anything less trivial merits mention by the authors, often in wonderful detail.) 

      Highly recommended if you enjoy that sort of thing -- a page of well-written footnotes for each page of text, and plenty of illustrations.  Pure escapism, as detective fiction always has been.  It's a good time for a little escape.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

We Tried It Already And It Wasn't Good

      The Spoils System or Patronage: it's how the Federal bureaucracy operated until the late 1800s: a new Administration would replace Federal employees from top to bottom with their own picks, on the the notion that "to the victor belong the spoils."  At its worst, it institutionalized payments to ensure appointments and granted sinecures as a reward to unqualified partisan faithful.

      It didn't matter for a long time; after the outgoing Federalist Adams stacked the bureaucracy deck against the incoming Democratic-Republican Jefferson* in 1800, Jefferson got his own picks in as much as he could and his party held onto the Executive branch until Andrew Jackson came galloping up and took it in 1828 -- and replaced some twenty percent of the Federal bureaucracy.  He considered this a feature, not a bug.  His critics disagreed.†  Either way, it was how things ran, right throughout the Civil War and into Reconstruction.  The problem was, things didn't run all that well; picking Federal functionaries based on Party loyalty and personal acquaintance didn't guarantee competence.  Eventually, we got the Pendleton Act, which called for competitive examinations to qualify for Federal employment -- and required just cause and due process for firing or demotion.  This meant low-level Federal employees couldn't be fired simply for having been the previous President's pick (department heads still serve "at the pleasure of the President" and they should), while the exam process assured at least a minimum level of competence.  And there was a neat feature of the Pendleton Act: at the start, it only applied to a few Federal jobs, but a President could recategorize which jobs it applied to.  Which they did after appointing their own picks who therefore got protected employment, but the next time time the job turned over, it went to someone who'd had to pass a test to qualify for it.  Clever!

      In 1939, Congress added the Hatch Act, which prevents Civil Service employees from political activities on the job, or with Federal funds.

      The result of all this was a professional Civil Service, in which the worker-level jobs were held by people who knew how to do them, and the boss-level jobs were held by Presidential appointees who were in sync with what the current President wanted to accomplish.

      I write this because a few recent unpublished comments have reflected some Schedule F dogwhistles.  Schedule F?  That was an effort by the previous President to restore the spoils system.  We already tried Patronage.  It wasn't working in a modern nation-state by the late 19th Century, and it still won't.  I'd be all for stricter enforcement of the provisions of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and the Hatch Act; let's clamp down on laxness and partisanship in the Civil Service and hold them to a higher standard.  But rolling the clock back?  Returning to the wild old Jacksonian days?  That's not how to fix things.  That would restock the swamp with alligators, not dry it out.  Don't be a sap for rhetoric -- read history, don't repeat it.
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* As I am fond of pointing out, the political parties we have now are not the ones we started with, and it's been a long trip.  The United States is on its sixth or seventh party system and not even the names are the same, let alone the issues and alignments.
 
† You can count me among his critics.  If Andrew Jackson was in favor of something, I think you're better off being against it and investigating from there before making a final decision.  Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Andrew Jackson between them are responsible for more Executive Branch high-handedness than any Federalist who ever lived and remain a bad example their successors are only too eager to emulate. 

Friday, August 12, 2022

A Tempest In A Teapot On A Mountainous Molehill

      The supporters of Mr. Trump are outraged over the FBI executing a search warrant, and claim it is pure politics; the people who are not fans of him seem to be thinking, "They've got him now!"

      The reality is likely to be None Of The Above.  The warrant and search appear to be utterly by-the-book, fairly dull routine -- except for the fact that it was one of the homes of a former President getting searched.

      Given the personalities and backgrounds involved, the whole thing is predictable and is likely to be far less exciting than any of the headlines imply.

      On one side, we have the National Archives -- historians with the full force of the Feds behind 'em, and a Congressional mandate to preserve everything to do with running the country.  It's a felony to mishandle such records, and has been since about midway through Mr. Trump's Presidency.  (It was a slightly lesser crime before that.)  And next to them, the security apparatus of the Federal government: detail-oriented, obsessed with chains of custody, and smarting badly after Secretary Clinton evaded them.

      On the other side, a President without prior political experience.  He hasn't got that ingrained notion of historical legacy that results in Presidential Libraries with row upon row upon row of filing cabinets holding everything from signed treaties to bubblegum wrappers.  He's a businessman -- and in the business world, the value of yesterday's memo or notes from settled contracts is zero if not negative.  If you get a testimonial-type letter from another Captain of Industry, you might frame and put it on the wall, and you may even take it with you when you change jobs or retire.

     So these sides do not have anywhere near the same expectations.  Their habits are entirely different.  And when it comes to sheer stubbornness, Donald Trump and the Federal bureaucracy are both masters of the art.

      That's really all it takes.  At a point fairly late in the Trump Presidency, the National Archives people became aware that the White House was not, in fact, handing documents in the way the archivists expected and believed was required by law.  We can safely assume that the Security types spend most of every Administration running around with their hair on fire over who can see what and how many copies of it there are and so on.  So they're already in 24/7 OMG mode.  Then the ungraceful transfer of power occurs, with about six hours for the denizens of the White House to pack up and move out....

       We know there were multiple boxes of documents, etc. that Mr. Trump's people took and later handed back; we know negotiation over other such material was ongoing, and given the pre-existing mutual distrust and suspicion, there is no reason to think those talks were being conducted in a solution-oriented atmosphere of mutual amity over cups of warm cocoa.

      So we shouldn't be surprised that Federal archivists and/or security people decided the only way forward was to get a warrant listing the stuff they believed Mr. Trump still had, and which they wanted back ASAP.  This morning, the news is talking about "nuclear papers," but I'm willing to bet even that will be about as thrilling as a detailed report on the heating, cooling and ventilation system of a large office building rather than the sort of double top-secret bomb plans James Bond keeps enemy agents from sneaking through the Iron Curtain.  It's still nothing we'd like Vlad or Xi to lay eyes on and I'd hate to have the blood pressure of the people responsible for keeping it secret, but its possible presence in a box at Mar-A-Lago is much more likely to be the result of sloppiness than skullduggery.

      So what we're going to have will be a seven-day or fourteen-day furor on the news networks and at political rallies, with a lot of posturing about an "out of control FBI," "politicized DOJ," "traitorous President" and so on and so forth -- and the reality is, it's a bunch of stubborn jerks and dull, dry bureaucrats, all being exactly what they are.  That's not going to keep the most wild-eyed from getting all lathered up (and you can count on the usual demagogues to throw gasoline on the fire), but it looks like the substance of the matter, while serious enough, is not nearly as big a deal as everyone would like it to be.

Skipped A Day

      It would seem that I had more of a reaction to atropine dilating eye drops than I knew.  Thursday, I looked the stuff up and found an exact match for some of the other disturbing symptoms I'd been having.  The worst of them seem to have worn off as of early this morning, and what a relief.

      The retina specialist does use a heavy dose of the stuff, but I'm used to just losing the rest of the day because of excessive sensitivity to light.  A visit to Planet Weird and a few obnoxious symptoms, I had not expected.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Back To The Eye Surgeon, Back To Belladonna

      Atropine, actually, or whatever else is in modern eye-dilating drops.  They hit me hard and I know it.  So I was ready for the follow-up appointment with Dr. Moorthy, the super-competent eye surgeon: I had a wide-brimmed hat, my regular clip-on sunglasses, a big pair of over-the-eyeglasses sunglasses with side shields -- and, most important of all, Tam to do the driving.

      The eye exam went well.  The floaters have declined, the really big one that was probably the result of a small hemorrhage when the vitreous humor came loose* has faded to almost nothing, and things are looking much better.

      It was when they sent me down the hall to check out that I realized I wasn't doing well otherwise.  I was a little confused, the light (dim LEDs) was super-intense, and which set of double doors was it?  I came to a stop, fumbled out my sunglasses, and clipped them on.  Better. I found the door, waited my turn and checked out.  As Tam and I headed to the lobby, she took my car key, I got my hat on, extra sunglasses on, opened the outside doors and--

      Staggered into a frickin' wall of light.  I squinted and navigated to the car.  I needed to text my boss, and when I took my phone out, all the colors on the screen were super-saturated, brighter than I had ever seen.  And off, somehow.  A glance out the window showed trees, grass, houses and passing cars were the same way.  I dictated my text and stopped looking.

      Tam stopped at a drive-through on the way home so I could get a snack.  I dug my battered old red pocketbook (think "giant wallet," guys) to pay and when sunlight hit it, the thing was too bright to look at.  When we got home, Tam took off on her bicycle to have a late lunch and write.  I went inside, closed all the curtains and blinds and had my snack in the screaming bright twilight.  Everything was too flat, too bright, not enough contrast and it all looked wrong.  Like wrong-end of a telescope wrong, like a cardboard-set copy wrong.  I gave up and laid down in my room with all the lights off and a stray crack of sunlight at the side of the curtain going off like a fanfare of trumpets as I rapidly fell asleep.

      Finally woke up a bit shy of 8:00 p.m., did some cat-care stuff and I'm having a very light supper before going back to bed.  I have got a Ph.D.-level headache right now, and me a college dropout.  My pupils are still a little big, but I can at least see my irises.
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* I'm not laughing.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

What A Day!

      Today started with a court thing to which I was tangentially involved -- and the court, running via Zoom, had forgotten that particular case was scheduled!  A lot of sitting around and wondering, followed by a little testifying.  I don't even know if I'll find out what will be decided.

      The day ended when I went into the washroom at the North Campus, turned on the water -- and nothing came out!  The water company was working in the area and with our one very isolated connection to the main, across a very wide field from the building, managed to nip it with their digger quite close to their quitting time.  So they quit, not bothering to tell anyone or even put it on their outage map.  Frantic calls from my boss and me eventually got a response that they would get around to fixing it tomorrow.  I hope so.  I knocked off early and finished work from home.

      And a search warrant got executed on a guy in Florida.  The procedure is right there in the Fourth Amendment, folks.  Some flavor of law enforcement has got to convince a judge that the law has been violated and they have probable cause to believe a specific person or specific evidence is at a specific location; the judge then issues a warrant and the process works the same for anyone: said law enforcement arrives at that location, presents the warrant and goes looking for the stuff or individual(s) described in the warrant.  Warrants are nearly always public records and you can bet there's a scrum of J-school grads trying to get a look at this one.  On the other hand, if it was the National Archive-bound stuff they were after, some of that was super-duper secret and we might not get to find out what it was other than something like "File folders containing documents related to [REDACTED] meeting [REDACTED] about [REDACTED]."  Pretty spicy!

Monday, August 08, 2022

Slow Roasted Corned Beef

      Sunday was a scorcher.  Miserably hot.  Air-conditioning struggled to keep up with the heat and humidity.*  I like making a nice Sunday dinner (that's supper in my house.  YMMV) but there was no way I was simmering something on the stove all day.

      And why should I?  I'd frozen a corned beef brisket back when our neighborhood grocer had them at a good price: bought two, cooked one and set the other aside for later.  I had put it in the fridge to thaw Saturday early and it was mostly thawed by mid-day Sunday.  After wasting a little time shopping for a larger graniteware roasting pan (there's a reason for that), I built a fire and while the charcoal was starting, I rinsed the meat several times and put it in the pan with the seasoning that comes with corned beef, a little pepper and some bay leaves.

      The trick to this is indirect heat.  Once the coals are going (I start them in a hollow fire, with kindling on the inside and charcoal on the outside), I collapse the "chimney" if it hasn't fallen already and push them into two rows, with a gap in the middle.  For a long roast like this, I add a fresh row of charcoal along the outside, too.  Then the grill goes on, and the covered roasting pan sits on the grill above the charcoal-free gap.  (I could have and possibly should have added a little water, but I didn't.)  I set a timer for an hour per pound -- about four hours and fifteen minutes.  I added staggered timers a bit over an hour apart to help keep track.  (A good job for a household robot.)

      Corned beef is salty.  You've got to moderate it.  After an hour, I added a large potato, cut up.  I should have added two.  The potatoes will take up the salt.  By that point, there was a fair amount of liquid in the pan.  Carrots and celery followed an hour later, coarsely-chopped red onion and purple cabbage a half-hour or so after that.

      When I was working on the carrot and celery, I decided to hedge.  The pan is a tight fit for everything I wanted to cook.  I have a small grill-friendly saucepan, about 7" across and as tall.  I put a dab of olive oil in the bottom and layered 1" sections of carrot and celery.  When I chopped the onion, half went in the saucepan and I filled the remainder with cabbage.  A couple of teaspoons of butter and a few shakes of smoked paprika and garam masala, an aluminum-foil lid, and it was ready.  I parked the pan on a corner of the grill for the last couple of hours.

      The end result?  The meat very nearly fell apart when I lifted it out to slice.  Tam pronounced it delicious and, modesty aside, I agree.  The potatoes were dark and flavorful and both the "sweet" vegetable mix from the saucepan and the saltier version from the roasting pan were delicious.  I ended up combining them and it worked out well.  The broth was too salty; it will get diluted when this comes back as corned beef stew, and I'll probably cook another potato in it.

      Purple cabbage cooked this way tends to stay purple -- and it keeps a little color in the red onions, too.
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* I mistyped that as "humidirty."  Okay, not a word, but it's how such weather can make you feel.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

"FIGHT PEACEFUL"

      That's the slogan on one of my favorite T-shirts: "Fight Peaceful," rendered in block capitals.  I like it for the ambiguity and the contradiction -- what's it supposed to mean, anyway?

      One of the things it means is how our political system is supposed to work.  We're supposed to fight one another peacefully, online, on the letters-to-the-Editor page, on the protest line, the debate stage, at the ballot box and in our legislatures.

       We're kind of sucking at it of late. 

      It's real easy to point at the other guys and blame them for starting it.  It's protestors high-sticking with the standards that were supposed to just carry their signs, it's mean cops or outside agitators, it's those guys throwing rocks or starting fires, it's that other guy shooting from cover--  It's those faceless s.o.b.s who run the government so wrongly, it's the surging, anonymous, wrong-headed mob....  Somehow it's never us.  It's never any of our friends.  It's never any elected or appointed official we approve of.

      Except maybe it is.  Maybe it's everybody: the people we like and the people we loathe.  Perhaps sometimes it's one and sometimes the other, occasionally both.

      And we should all knock it the hell off.  We're going to break something important, if we haven't already: the civil peace.  The way in which we have, mostly, fought one another peacefully since the country was founded.  We bled like hell and we made a hell on Earth the last time we forgot how to do it, and perhaps it's been so long that we've burnished and sanitized the carnage into legend.  It wasn't legendary to the dead and maimed at the time.  It wasn't legendary to grieving families back then -- and if we break the peace again, the heartbreak and tears, the pain and the suffering won't be a noble myth this time, either.

      Fight all you like; America is an ideal, an intention, an ongoing experiment in self-rule.  But fight peaceful.  Don't let grievance-mongering demagogues of any flavor lead you to try short-circuiting democratic processes with a brick.  You will bleed -- and they will laugh all the way to the bank.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Batman Or Doc Savage?

      Possibly even Tom Swift: There's a huge electric barrier in the Chicago River, placed there to stop an alien invasion!

      And the superheroes who put it in would actually be the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Close enough to the others I listed!

Friday, August 05, 2022

Sick

      Apparently a visual migraine, with effects I hesitate to describe.  It's difficult to look at things and even harder to see them.  Zero stars.  Do Not Want.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

"Kansas Landslide?"

      Tea-leaf reading is widespread, but don't read too much.  In Kansas, a ballot initiative that would have made a sweeping abortion ban possible was voted down.  Some pundits are pointing to it as evidence of trouble for the conservatives, Kansas having a decidedly Rightward lean.

      I don't know.  Many red states have put very draconian restrictions on abortion now that Roe v. Wave has been swept away.  These laws leave very little room for individual choice.  Kansas voters have kept such restrictions as already existed in place -- and otherwise left prospective mothers to make up their own minds.  They didn't throw the door wide open.

      Abortion is a very personal matter.  It hinges on religion and moral beliefs, on personal and societal ethics, on when, precisely, you think a fetus is a person.  These are matters the law has difficulty addressing with nuance.  Kansas voters didn't necessarily vote in favor of abortion, they voted in favor of being allowed to make their own decisions -- and letting their fellow citizens do so, too.

      Readers may have strong feelings about this, and I expect to get a few serious comments on religion and philosophy.  The actual issue is how much right we have to impose our own beliefs on others.  And that's what people voted on in Kansas, and by a large margin. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Mixed Grill For Your Politics

      If anyone was looking to yesterday's primaries as a bellwether, good luck.  Sometimes crazy wins, sometimes it doesn't.  In some states, the Dems helped the crazier Republican, in the hopes that he or she will be easier to run against, while in some GOP-dominated states, the crazier candidate won the party primary on their own.

      What does this tell us about the general election?  Not much.  I don't expect surprises; I expect the usual parties to do as well as usual in their usual states.  I'm with the numbers people at fivethirtyeight in not expecting a huge change in the House or Senate balance and it still looks barely too close to call which party will have a narrow edge in which chamber.  Don't look for any sweeping mandates. And while there may be a message to the lawmakers in that, I don't think they'll bother to read it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

I'm Going To Have To Ask You To Start Making Sense

      Really, it's not such high bar to meet: the very same people who accuse the Biden Administration of being soft on China (or worse) are now condemning Speaker Pelosi's plans to irk the PRC by visiting Taiwan.   (In fairness, some serving GOP Congresspeople have cheered her efforts, on the general principle that anything that annoys Red China can't be bad.  I have a certain weakness for the idea myself.)

      You can't have it both ways.  Either the Dems are pawns of the Chinese government, or they're playing at brinksmanship, fine, those are both opinions someone might have -- but both at once?  No.  They cancel out.  It's preposterous.

      Yesterday's post was right on target.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Two Quotes

     Hanna Arendt:
    "The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist."

     Rudy Guliani:


     The first quote was found here; the second, I watched in real time, unbelieving. Worries about a fuel shortage are real enough, but the truth shortage is even more appalling.  I guess the good news is that it's seriously undervalued; the bad news is, we'll miss it very badly if it gets driven off the market by cheap synthetics.