Friday, September 30, 2022

On Neighborliness

      We do share the barrel with other monkeys, and nowhere more than in traffic.  The daily drive is often seen through a lens of "Nature, red in tooth and claw."  This is largely nonsensical fantasy, despite that guy who just cut in front of you with inches to spare.  (Hey!  Where'd you learn to drive, jerk?)

      One of the main roads I take to and from work has been repaved over the last several (and more!) months, necessitating frequent and annoying detours.  The paving is finally done (and what a lovely, smooth surface it is!) but the lane markings are no more than widely-spaced blobs of tape and sketchy chalklines showing where new stripes and stencils will be applied.  If you drive it often, you know where you need to be, but drivers who are unfamiliar with the road often struggle at the larger intersections.

      My car is in the shop with a flaky alternator (and that won't be cheap).*  The dealer's got me in a 2021 version of the 2007 Lexus RX350 I usually drive.  It's as plush and pretty as you might expect, and I'd like to hand it back in the same shape as they loaned it to me.  So when I pulled up in the middle lane at a particularly opaque intersection next to a car in the ostensible left-turn lane with no signals, I worried.

      The driver of the other car, a women who looked to be about my age, had her gaze fixed across the intersection, where are small jog lines up the straight-ahead lanes in each direction while allowing for dedicated right- and left-turn lanes in the oncoming side.  She looked over at me and I gestured to ask if she was going to turn left.  She pointed straight ahead and rolled down her window.  "I'm going straight.  Am I in the wrong lane?  It's so hard to tell!"

      I smiled.  "The markings aren't very clear.  You go ahead when the light changes, and I'll fall in behind."  Last week, headed the other way at the same intersection, I'd followed a frantic scramble as two drivers crossed side-by-side and jockeyed to enter the single lane going their direction.  It wasn't anything I cared to copy, especially in a loaner vehicle.

     She smiled back, nodded, and pulled ahead as the light changed.  All very smooth, no surprises or fights to get across first.  Who needs extra stress?
* They've also reported the tires have started dry-rotting, the usual failure mode for tires on my vehicles other than bicycles.  But I'll shop around for a new set, thank you very much.  There's also at least one "keep an eye on it" that might cost as much as I paid for the car, one of those cute little design issues that requires pulling the engine to change out a hundred-dollar part.  Makes me miss Checker automobiles, I'll tell ya.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

And The [Bleep] Goes On

      After a day of steady improvement and greatly reduced pain, I woke up this morning with my back once again aching.  I'm trying to tell myself it's not as bad as yesterday morning.  It's far worse than it was yesterday night, even overnight.

      A long walk yesterday evening seemed to be helpful and more of the same is in my plans for today.

      If this continues, medical help may be needed.  Not at all pleased about that.

     Tamara informs me I am absolutely and completely not to refer to Hurricane Ian as "The judgement of the Fates" on Florida or its Governor, and it's a certainty that the awful storm will affect everyone in its path from the most wealthy to people sleeping in alleys, hitting the Disney complex as hard as the rest of Orlando, paying no heed to how anyone voted and generally behaving with the same grim impartiality as any other natural disaster.

      Much has been made of Governor DeSantis and President Biden not having a chat ahead of the storm -- this seems to be the Done Thing -- but the fact is that Mr. DeSantis applied to FEMA to have a Federal emergency declaration back on 23 September and the agency had it signed by Mr. Biden the next day.  When it comes to this kind and scale of a problem, they're all on the same page, chummy telephone call or not.  (Update: Some sources say the two men did speak late Tuesday, very focused on the storm and responding to it.  Credit to both of them for being able to deal sensibly with one another on an urgent matter.)  So it would behoove me to go along as well; like Samuel Clemens, I have trouble seriously believing even the classical Fates could be so malign as to condemn the innocent, or that any degree of adding to the damage would ever balance the scales.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Pain In The Back, Metaphorical Pain In The Elsewhere

      Over the weekend, possibly moving the small picnic table (and wasn't I proud of knowing how to shift and roll it to get it through a narrow gate), I strained my back.  Pain in my lower back grew steadily while I did the Stoic thing* and when I started to get up from dinner in front of the television† Sunday night, I very nearly didn't.

      Whatever I have done, it has got me good.  It makes transitioning between sitting, standing and laying down difficult and painful.  I have done my best to stay active without doing any lifting or bending over, including a long walk yesterday, and I think it's getting better.  But it's still enough pain to leave me feeling almost tipsy-drunk, despite acetaminophen.

      Elsewhere in the world, sabers continue to rattle as shells fall and men bleed.  I think the Russians and Red China are emboldened by our ongoing domestic chaos and prospects for more.  Certainly four years of a President who openly admired autocrats, denigrated NATO and stoked violence from both Left and Right did no good in that regard.  The two main parties have only embodied more and more the late P. J. O'Rourke's judgment on the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016: "I am endorsing Hillary, and all her lies and all her empty promises. It's the second-worst thing that can happen to this country, but she's way behind in second place. She's wrong about absolutely everything, but she's wrong within normal parameters."

      The Democrats and the Republicans are wrong about absolutely everything -- but the Dems are, at least, wrong within normal parameters.  It's a choice between someone who wants to push your house over with a bulldozer and someone who wants to paint it an ugly color and reupholster the furniture in atrocious patterns.  The most recent Roger Stone quote from 2020 to surface, "F-ck the voting, let's get right to the violence," shows the contrast starkly.  And don't fool yourself: a breakdown in the U. S. means an unrestrained Russia, means the PRC's expansionist programs will accelerate, and freedom everywhere will suffer.

      Democracy, even addled, wrong-headed democracy, is better than autocracy, here and elsewhere.  A republic can be got back on course; a Supreme Leader is a bull in a china shop, and we're the breakables.
* "Ignore pain.  Either it will come to an end, or you will."
† We've been looking at Life Below Zero, a brilliant and long-running documentary following the lives of people in Alaska, up close and in detail.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Four Years On, Still True

      One of the main reasons I am an old-school libertarian and not a Republican (especially the post-2016 version of the GOP), explained at The Atlantic in 2018.

      Look in the mirror and ask yourself, "Are we the baddies?"  Using human misery to score points on your political opponents is a sure sign you're on the wrong path.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

I'm No Cassandra

      From 28 February 2020, my worst prediction ever:

      "[The] pandemic disease sweeping this country [...] will [...] bring Americans closer together in the effort to cope with it, rallying around the banner of our shared response rather than for or against any particular politician."

      In hindsight, my sunny optimism was delusional.  The fractures were already there and plenty of people were beginning to hammer in wedges in pursuit of partisan nonsense or accelerationist agitation.  It taught me valuable lessons, mostly that my childhood insight that half the people one meets are sub-par was right and I should never have let myself be convinced otherwise.

      Pandemic aside (and I hope it stays aside!), we're in a mess up to our necks now and I very much doubt matters will get better quickly.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Adding A Table

      Recently, restaurants in our neighborhood (and across the city) have been scaling back the outdoor-dining areas they added during the pandemic.  While pre-existing outdoor areas got nice improvements (and it appears those will remain), some of the expansion areas involved renting extra space or other compromises.

      The owners were selling off picnic tables with umbrellas from a kind of beer garden two establishments set up in the parking lot of the HVAC-service company next door to them.  Tam looked into it and the prices were more than attractive -- and (possibly with the end of the month looming) they offered to deliver!
      So it's ours now.  A lot slicker than the TV tray I have been setting up next to the grill (itself under the cover at left) for extra work space -- and much nicer for spending time outside this Fall.  The tangled mass of greenery looming behind it is the tomato, peppers and sage patch, which have we let grow pretty wild.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Missing The Point

      A recent (and so far unpublished) comment took me to task for not giving equal weight of disapproval to sanctuary cities versus governors who entice supposedly illegal immigrants onto planes and buses to drop them without notice in said cities.  "After all," the writer fumes, "that's how the undocumented arrive in border towns.  This is just making those other places aware of how bad it is."

      Indeed, though by now you'd think border states would have noticed that they are, in fact, on an international border that lots of people sneak across and would not be surprised when it happens.  (It can be slowed, but not stopped; see Prohibition or the War On Drugs.)  I thought there was plenty of national awareness of the problem already -- and if moving people elsewhere is a palliative, the smoothest way to do so is to make arrangements with places that are open to the notion.  In fact, some border-town Mayors have been quietly doing just that with their sanctuary-city counterparts further north, but it's not getting much media attention.  Even the linked NPR article fails to give it more than a nod, moving instead to the shiny object of Gubernatorial bus-ride surprises.  Setting one's state at odds with another state instead of leveraging the advantages of sharing a Federal government to ensure that when the relocated disembark, there's some place ready for them is what makes this an ugly, attention-getting ploy instead of a good-faith effort to alleviate the problem.  (And we do love noise; we do love a fight and so does our media.  The Mayoral-level effort based on cooperation is almost impossible to find in online news reports.  It hasn't got much in the way of outrage or dramatic images, you see.)

      I have yet to hear any politician from any party say our border policies are great as they stand and that border-agency equipment, personnel levels and funding are as high as they should be; there's broad agreement behind all the partisan sniping that tends to drown it out and if anyone in Congress on either side actually gave a damn about solutions, they'd start there.  They don't; the whole issue is merely another bloody shirt to wave for their base, just as it is for Governors with national ambitions.

      But it's immoral and wrong to pretend a promise to not arrest someone's grandmother (etc.) over illegal entry into this country* is the same thing as fooling a bunch of recently-arrived undocumented people into being transported elsewhere by claiming they will receive help there without making sure it'll actually be available.  Those things are not moral equivalents and no amount of handwaving will make them so.
* While it is often claimed -- or just taken as given -- that "sanctuary city" ordinances are mostly feel-good blather passed by liberal municipalities without significant southern-immigrant populations, even a little noodling around with search engines finds this isn't the case.  Most have significant undocumented, naturalized and first-generation native-born populations, largely from Spanish-speaking parts of the New World.  Two of those three categories of people can vote -- and they tend to show up faithfully on Election Day.  Politicians notice.  While you might dislike this with the same fervor as a liberal Democrat decrying the number of guns American citizens own, it is just as much a fact and if you want to live in reality, you have to come to terms with it.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Cheering Or Fuming

      You can almost predict if a person will be cheering or fuming about Donald Trump's latest round of legal difficulties based on their party affiliation. 

      Me, I'm just watching and waiting.  I've made no secret of not liking the man and in my opinion, no one is above the law -- certainly not Presidents, serving or ex.  Nevertheless, being served a search warrant or hauled in to testify is not an indictment, an indictment is not a conviction, and until the trials (if any) end and a verdict is pronounced, people -- even Presidents, even people we personally dislike, even horrible, everyday, powerless individuals who never held office but who have almost certainly done terrible things -- are presumed innocent.

      If you won't extend the same lack of prejudice to a polarizing public figure that you will to a drunken bum who is on trial for allegedly running over a kid on a rental scooter, you're not much of a citizen.  You're certainly not obliged to like them, but anticipatory delight or proxy anger is pointless.  Things will play out however they will and until they do, strong emotion is wasted effort.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Dumb Stunts And Crazy Laws

      People appear to be incapable of applying logical thought to political choices.  It's all emotion and blind partisan loyalties, and every new piece of theatre just adds to the noise.  When it's not well-staged rallies and speeches, it's photo-ops and dumb stunts.

      This particular dumb stunt has been all over the news: the Governor of Florida took some people from Texas who had apparently sneaked into the U.S., and flew them (via Florida) to Martha's Vineyard, a fairly high-end vacation destination which is still quite busy in September.  That's busy as in "you can't get a room unless you reserved it months ago," which Florida's Governor had not.  He had somehow arranged to have a video crew to cover the arrival, which is a sure sign of a publicity stunt.

      So if you were wondering why the people, all or mostly Venezuelans, ended up sleeping in church basements until the (Republican!) Governor of Massachusetts could scramble National Guard to make room on a mainland military base for them, that's why: no room at the inn!  Which starts to make the stunt look dumb.  But wait, there's more!

      (Also, if the goal is to get every state to do their fair share, why would the GOP Governor of Florida [a bit over 3.5% of their population undocumented] not ring up his GOP counterpart in Massachusetts [just over 3% undocumented] and ask him to make room for some people from Texas [about 6% undocumented]?  It's a mystery to me -- unless it was a stunt.  But wait, there's more!)

      There is considerable evidence that the people who agreed to be flown to Martha's Vineyard had been lied to about what was waiting for them there: jobs, accommodation, aid of all sorts.  None of those things was actually available.  Some of them are available to certain kinds of refugees, which the people who were left on the island were, in fact, not.  Hoodwink people and get caught at it?  Dumb stunt.  But wait, there's more!

      You may be thinking, "So what.  These people were illegal immigrants, undocumented border sneaks who didn't play by the rules."  And there's the rub: they were playing by the rules, or at least they were by the time they were recruited in Texas.  They had officially applied for asylum.  (Venezuela being in the grip of a nasty communist-type government and it having horrendously cratered the economy, screwed up food production and distribution, persecuted political opponents, etc., which people tend to flee if they can.)  There are two ways to apply for asylum: be seeking entry at a Port of Entry (long lines, de facto quotas, etc.) or already be in the country when you apply.  This creates a perverse incentive: an asylum-seeker's best bet is to cross over illegally, proceed immediately to the nearest office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (a division of DHS) and fill out the forms.  Once they have done that, they are legally in the country, albeit provisionally.  You might not like it, but that's the law -- and if you don't like that, your Congresscritters all have phone numbers and e-mail addresses, physical mail addresses and online contact forms.  But for now, the law is the law.  So the "illegals" who were flown to Martha's Vineyard were not, in fact, even illegal.

      But wait--  Well, you know the drill.

      This business of transporting people to score points on perceived political opponents?  It's not original.  It already happened, and it already happened in Massachusetts, with individuals transported from the South: "Reverse Freedom Rides" in 1962 were one of the uglier parts of our country's struggle with racial segregation, and included one busload sent to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts.  It didn't play out well back then and it is unlikely to work any better this time around.  It was a dumb stunt.

      There is considerable room for debate about the immigration and asylum laws of the United States.  Everyone from President Biden to Governor DeSantis agrees that border efforts are underfunded and overworked.  (Yes, even Joe Biden; if you don't mind being asked to donate money and wading through considerable feel-good glurge, you can even read about it for yourself.)  And any efforts we can make to help stabilize faltering governments elsewhere will reduce the number of people fleeing to the U.S. (which is another thing the Biden Administration appears to be on board with).

      But grandstanding stunts do nothing to fix the underlying problems.  All they do is get people riled up, pro and con.  (It's anyone's bet which side will be the most motivated or even how many sides there are -- the naturalized Venezuelan population of Florida is larger than the Governor's margin of victory in the previous election.)  It is immoral to use asylum-seekers as props in a political campaign.

      I doubt that consideration will deter modern politicians for even a single second.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022


      I'm not sure I was ever a child.  More and more, it just seems like a rumor, or something I made up to account for having been a layabout in the 1960s and '70s.  "Um, sure, I didn't do much back then, because I was a, a, child, y'see?  That's why."

      The thing is, I can remember remembering having a childhood, but it's like something I read, or a very vivid dream.  Did it really happen?  Couldn't say.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Image Of A Man

      The funeral of Elizabeth II, late Queen of the United Kingdom, is going on as I write this.  It's the kind of solemn spectacle the British are particularly good at, one quite foreign to American tastes and customs, deeply moving and painstakingly choreographed.  Despite the state religion, it is carefully ecumenical, with religious representation across the vast breadth of the Commonwealth.

      Television coverage is exquisite and unobtrusive, the assembled personages are impressive.  It is very much a performance, by and for a monarchy that has told itself for so long that it has a higher purpose and duty that, in their better moments, the core royals actually live up to it.  King Charles did recently manifest considerable pique over a leaky pen -- but the man just got launched into a job he has never seemed very eager for, on a relentless schedule; give him that lapse.

      The service has gone on and on, preachers of every faith and major policians having their terns at the pulpit or lectern, the choir and organ performing beautifully, a lot of uniforms and shiny metal, dull cloth and bright, medals arrayed in ruler-straight lines, color and costume overwhelming the senses--

       And the video cut to a shot of the new King Charles, his uniform a memory from the 19th Century, head slightly bent, his face.... 

      His face was a study in grief on a tight rein.  It was the face of an adult child at their Mother's funeral.  No more -- and no less.

      We can look in wonder or question at the elaborate ceremony; we can question the utility and even morality of a country dragging around a monarchy so far into the 21st Century.  But there sat a man who was soon to be burying his mother and working to hold back undignified sobs.  I can't tell you what kind of a King he will be; I have no great insight into what kind of man he has been.  In that moment, he was just a man who had lost his mother, bereft.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Interesting Weekend So Far

      Made a little progress on some projects, grilled a nice steak dinner thanks to Tam's generosity (I'm just about out of the $$teak income bracket) and submitted a short story to a contest.  I hadn't sent it anywhere so far and if they bounce it, maybe I'll try elsewhere.

Friday, September 16, 2022

I May Have To Sit This One Out

      These days, I follow the news fairly closely.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the kind of thing that can spin up a World War, I'm not entirely convinced that COVID-19 doesn't have nasty Fall surprise up its sleeve, U.S. national politics are deeply screwed up and state governments seem to be more and more about scoring ideological points for whatever party has hold of the majority rather than actually trying to run their states responsibly.

      The whole thing operates at "chimp with a machine gun" levels of unpredictable danger.

      So when word came yesterday that DOJ had accepted Raymond Dearie, one of the choices for Special Master that Mr. Trump's attorney's had proposed and the various news outlets started running stories on his impressive experience and stature as an intelligent and even-handed judge with a good background in high-security jurisprudence, I didn't miss it.

      But instead of being reassured that the guy would keep an eye on the facts and disregard politics, my first thought was, "Huh.  I wonder what Donald Trump's got on him?"

      That's unfair.  We don't even know who among the former President's attorneys and other confidants suggested the man and there's every reason to believe he will be impartial.

      I dislike Donald Trump.  I disliked him long before he ever ran for President; the few times I watched parts of The Apprentice, he came across to me as an overbearing, ill-informed, arrogant jerk, the distilled essence of every bad boss I have ever had with none of their redeeming qualities.  In 2016, unhappy with the choices, I voted third party.  When Mr. Trump won that election, I figured Constitutional checks, balances and the overwhelming responsibility of the office would keep him between the guardrails, and surely the GOP -- then with a reputation for being the sober, responsible party of conservative adults -- would rein in his worst excesses.  Subsequent events proved me wrong in every part of that assumption.  Nevertheless, I have tried to be fair and to judge him only on the facts.

      Can't do it any more.  Sorry.  Mr. Trump and his associates have operated on flimflam, humbug, puffery and grift, using inside influence, special pleading, intimidation, veiled threats and what Steve Bannon has called a "firehose of bullshit" so much that I no longer trust anything they touch, including their picks for Special Master in the seized documents.  So I think I will mostly just watch this from the sidelines and see what happens.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Look For Coal, Find A Diamond

      Today's blog post was going to be about the rising popularity (or at least the increasing prevalence) of authoritarianism in the world.  There are fads and cycles -- in the wake of the successful American Revolution, popular government through violent overthrow had a day, most (in)famously in France; the Russian revolutions spawned, quite deliberately, a series of Communist revolts and takeovers; then there's the rise of "strongman" (they usually weren't) rulers in the run-up to World War Two.  You can't make a convincing case that it's predictably cyclic (sorry, Toynbee; sorry, Spengler) but there are clearly fashions that rise and fade.

      John M. Ford's SF novel  Princes Of The Air uses this kind of shift as a background trope or hinge for the three characters the story follows.  It's a book I stumbled across in a used-book store, liked and resolved to look for more from the same author if any showed up, which never happened.  I went looking for a link to it to use as an example and stumbled onto his extraordinary life story. (No, not the director.)

      Mr. Ford is sixteen years gone now.  He rarely dipped into the same fictional universe twice, writing some eighteen novels over a twenty-six year career.  He was something of a "writer's writer," highly praised by his peers, including Neil Gaiman -- and it turns out most of his work is either back in print (and Kindle) or it's about to be.

      So there you go, a link to an interesting author instead of ruminations on how history's gone wrong.  I am reconciled to the probability of things going over a cliff and hoping to zig when the pogroms zag, and in the meantime, one might as well read.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

So My Movie Ends, And...

      I have been watching the Peter Jackson films of "The Hobbit" a little at a time and I finished the middle one last night.  It's innocent enough so far, essentially what you'd get if you turned a bunch of bright, High School-aged, D&D-playing Tolkien fans loose on the book with a big budget and instructions to not get too far from the basic plot while expanding it: lots of action sequences, many only tangentially related to the original; a kind of a love-story sub-plot; more orcs (and uglier); increased foreshadowing of the later books and so on.

      Like the current Amazon series, either you're happy getting some extra time in a version of Middle-Earth or you aren't -- and if you aren't, go do something else you like better.

      As the credits rolled, I stopped the stream and realized there was a loud, rattly motor running outside.  I went to the windows to look and it was a single fire truck, all lit up.  This had me worried about our next-door neighbor, but no, the firemen were walking around a house across the street and a few doors down, shining bright lights around and generally checking the place out.  As I watched, they started straggling back to the truck, slamming doors as they climbed aboard.  When the last one boarded, they drove away, leaving the house pitch-dark.  I have no idea what that was about.  The place looks fine in the morning light.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

I'm Just Watching The Wheels Go 'Round

      Donald Trump returns to Washington, D. C., hangs out on rainy golf course with known associates.  Speculation is running rampant, but personally, I have never believed most of those guys had sense enough to come in out of the rain, so....  Well, there you go.

Monday, September 12, 2022

When A Man Says He's Going To Do You Ill...

      ...Believe him.  Yesterday, Tam wrote about the futility of forever lamenting the attacks of 11 September 2001.   Terrible things have happened throughout our history, and we remember them -- the burning of Washington, the entirety of our Civil War, the San Francisco earthquake, the Pearl Harbor attack....  We remember them, yet few now weep over American losses during WW I; the original import of 11 November is not well-remembered or much understood.

      We remember, but the sorrow has faded.  Anger has been replaced by reason and, I hope, a lesson in caution.

      11 September 2001 was preceded by 26 February 1993.  Pearl Harbor followed a long period of aggressive expansion by Imperial Japan.  The Weather Underground kept on bombing for years even after several of their number blew themselves up, petering out over hard-Left infighting.  And the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing served notice that extremists on the Right are just as capable of violence as the Left, in some ways presaging the rise of a far more confrontational Right in the United States.

      Performative tears are touching, but learning lessons from the events that prompt them are more valuable than any black armband or solemn speech of remembrance.  Maintaining civil society takes work.  Maintaining civil society requires an open dialog.  Blowing things up, trying to knock down the underlying structures of our system of government, is not a path to reform.

      There is plenty of hard work for responsible adults and they're not always going to agree on the details.  We have mechanisms for working out least-bad solutions -- and when we shortcut or spurn them, things are likely to go askew.  (How long did it take us to run Osama bin Laden to ground? How many wrong turns did we take?)  "I don't like it; burn it all down" is the destroyer's approach -- radical Islamists, random nutjobs, home-grown communists and backyard fascists all alike.  Time to grow up, leave fantasy for entertainment, roll up our sleeves and live in reality.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Cleaning Gutters In The Rain

      It's not as crazy as it sounds -- you do get pretty damp and you need to avoid thunderstorms, but a good, soaking rain is not a bad time to clean the gutters.  The results of your work are immediately obvious, and you don;t have to worry about the small stuff: nature sweeps it away for you.  It's a dirty job, too, so it's nice to have nature's help sweeping that away as well.

      The indoor cats next door reacted in various ways.  There's a wise old tom over there, who sat in a small window one side of chimney enjoying the show and occasionally napping.  But on the other side, a very nib-nosed female cat stared at me with wide-open eyes, wondering if perhaps I might be a witch, or worse.  My slightest movement was an occasion of grave concern for her.  What might I be about?

      At least the gutters are clear as we go into Fall.  They'll get plenty of leaves in the next few months and I hope another cleaning or two.

Friday, September 09, 2022

Oh, Not The Cat Litterbox!

      The litterboxes at Roseholme Cottage annoy Tamara.  I do them in a fussy way that creates a kind of trash-bag "tent" inside and minimizes contact with the dirty litter.  On trash day (or earlier, if need be), you just free up the bag, carefully force the air out, twist the open end shut and it's ready to be thrown out.  We use ordinary clay litter, and with care, it's good for a week.

      The problem isn't throwing the litter out.  It's loading up the new bag.  There's a trick to it, one that I cannot explain clearly enough.  I change two litter boxes and she has been changing the remaining one.  Several months ago, after the cats had managed to pee over the edge of the covered box for the umpteenth time, I modified that box to be like the other two.  She finds the arrangement incredibly frustrating -- because it is.  The bag goes in the box on its side and you lay down a few sheets of newsprint and cover them with litter.  Then you put the lid on, trapping the bag at the corners with as much slack above as you can manage.  That's the easy part.  The upper corners of the lid have one-inch holes drilled in them.  Starting at the back, you poke a finger from the inside out, until there's enough of the bag sticking out to clamp a spring clothespin (C47) on it.  Once all four corners are done, you fold the open end of the bag under the front of the litter box and over the top, and move the front set of clothespins so it catches both the outside of the bag and the poked-through inside of the bag.  It's topologically complex.  It requires a kind of three-dimensional visualization that I find difficult.  Done right, it creates a little tent inside the litterbox.  Done wrong, it's frustrating to the point of seeming impossible, especially when you try to sort out where things went off course.  And I can't explain it any better than I just have, which isn't good enough.

       Don't scoff.  It took me about half a year to get the process down to routine and I still sometimes have to stop and rethink it.  It's sort of like an external-frame tent, which my family used for camping for at least five years.  Every year, the first night of the first camping expedition was a process of awkward rediscovery, and a good time to learn new expressions that children should not ever repeat, possibly even after they grew to adulthood.  My father could produce amazing, hilarious invective if he was angry enough -- and it was a very bad idea to laugh at it.

      Tonight was no damn fun.  We didn't even invent any new swear words.  At least we managed to get all of our trash and all of our neighbor's trash out to the street.

Thursday, September 08, 2022

The Last Of The Grownups

      Queen Elizabeth is gone.  Her death has hit me unexpectedly hard.  She was very much of my parents generation, a year older than my father and five years older than my Mother.

      Like them -- but far more so -- she grew up in the shadow of a World War.  The Royal family remained in London throughout The Blitz; they didn't flinch from their duty.   Most of the people who fought that war are gone, their life stories fading, but Elizabeth was always right there, all of my life, a visible reminder of the terrible conflict, of the closest call Western Civilization has yet endured.

      And now -- she isn't.  It's just us kids; there aren't any adults left.  I'm not at all confident we're doing an adequate job.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Actually Vacation

      This was supposed to be a vacation week, cleverly tacked onto the holiday to save a day off for later.  The holiday went well enough, a stormy day of housework, but a doctor's appointment got rescheduled to Tuesday morning and either the flu shot* or the lovely gourmet brunch with "breakfast hash" featuring slightly underdone scrambled eggs did me in, and I spent the rest of the day and into the night napping between bouts of digestive trouble.

      So today was my first real day of vacation and I did a glorious nothing much, counting the ant lion lairs in the garden (seven), enjoying carry-out lunch from the labor-of-love Italian deli and riding my bicycle to the grocery for the first time in at least a year.  Tomorrow, perhaps a project or two -- and more bicycle riding, if the weather holds.
* Comments on how you never get the flu shot and never get the flu will not be published.  I haven't had the flu since I started getting the shots, after some nasty bouts back when flu shots were harder to get and I skipped them.  YMMV, and that's great for you, but they seem to be working for me; I'd rather lose half a day than most of a week.  Vaccines work.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022


      Whatever did it, I'm ill this afternoon, upset stomach and woozy.  I had lunch out for the first time in months, and earlier, I got a flu shot.  Was it one or the other, or coincidence?  I don't know, but I took to bed this afternoon and have made only brief forays out of it.

Monday, September 05, 2022

An Inch Of Water

      That's what I found in the basement after supper yesterday: an inch of water.  Only across the low spot leading to the floor drain, which wasn't draining.

      A short, hard storm swept through yesterday evening.  When I was out gathering vegetables from the tomato and pepper patch, the air was gravid with rain, a faint mist of droplets materializing and fading away.  Thunder was grumbling in the distance, an ominous wagon-wheel rumble.  As I cooked and we ate, the rain poured down, overflowing the guttering in waterfalls outside the windows, overwhelming the storm drains in the street and rising to the level of the curbs.  The official total is a quarter of an inch, but weather stations in our neighborhood report as much as an inch of rainfall in an hour and a half.

      That much rain, that quickly, will overload our combined sewers and trip the check valve in the floor drain.  There's usually enough stuff that the valve sticks and any water that gets into the basement will remain.

      Or at least it will remain until I take a plunger to the floor drain.  I proceeded to do so, and brush the grate clear.  My efforts were rewarded with a small whirlpool forming over the drain and most of the water was gone by the time I had put the plunger and brush back in their usual places.  I went down before bedtime to find a few lingering damp spots and the dehumidifier going full blast.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Russian Doll

      I watched the last episode of season two of the Netflix series night before last, and find that I have thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

      Critics and reviewers have come up with all manner of frothy nonsense to describe it; one of my favorites is, "It's helpful to regard the series [...] as musical or poetic." (Robert Lloyd in the LA Times).  This sounds like pretentious nonsense, but it's more the result of a lack of context: TV critics are unlikely to have read much of the kind of contemporary-world fantasy that was published in Unknown magazine.  Wikipedia helpfully describes it as "combin[ing] commonplace reality with the fantastic."  These days, they call that sort of thing "Urban Fantasy" in print, and that's what Russian Doll gives you, one wrong turn short of a Shottle Bop, far less overt than Magic, Incorporated: a Fritz Lieber (at his most realistic) sort of fiction, nested right inside our own everyday world.

      A story like this, you have to trust the ride; you can trust each season of Russian Doll: a dark ride indeed, bumpy, startling and then back into the light, not quite where you started out.  Time well spent, if you will give it time.

Saturday, September 03, 2022


      Friday morning, I was looking over the raised flower bed in the front yard.  I planted assorted wildflowers this year and they came up "backwards," with the tallest in front.  But I'm happy just to have them, and it's a nice view out the front window that way.

      The bed takes a little weeding.  Creepin' Charlie and what may be Lamb's Quarter's pop up, along with crabgrass, clover (I'll tolerate a little) and less-identifiable but unwanted plants.  I was pulling them out and arguing with some taller examples -- they've got until Monday to prove they're actually flowers -- when I spotted a tiny, sandy, volcano-cone depression in a bare patch.  There was another one a few inches away.  Ant Lion dens!

      Using a long piece of grass, I tickled one.  Nothing.  I tried the other.  Success!  The Ant Lion started tossing sand out as it dug frantically at the bottom of the pit, hoping to undermine whatever had stumbled in and send it tumbling within reach of its jaws.

      So we've still got at least one scaled-down sarlacc in front of Roseholme Cottage.  I'd hire some more if I could.  They're better than any commercial ant-trap or poison bait ever made -- and more entertaining, too, unless you happen to be an ant.

Friday, September 02, 2022

Oh, Noes, Politics!

      The President made a speech last night and there was predictable outrage in predictable corners, expressed in predictable ways, with an overtone of, "He's being so mean to us!"  Yes, so sad and unfair when someone else is doing the name-calling?  C'mon, that's politics.

      I disagree with the Democrats about a lot of things, especially their frequent assumption, taken as a given, that the best way to solve any problem is to throw more and more government -- and tax dollars -- at it.  But that's something you can actually have a debate over and possibly even reach some kind of compromise about.  And eventually, they do run out of other people's money.

      Claiming the deck is stacked against you by cheaters sooooo nefarious and sneaky that nobody can find any evidence about 'em that will stand up in court, and changing the story every time some part of it gets debunked?  That's not a debate.  It's a delusion, even before digging down far enough to get to the insane notions about secret conspiracies involving dead South American autocrats, Italian spy satellites, lizard people, the Rothschilds wielding Jewish space lasers, secret bamboo-paper fake ballots and state-level election workers doing fairly dull and routine jobs.  When your party's loudest adherents keep saying the stupid part out loud, keeping a seat at the grown-up table may prove difficult.

      In the 2016 Presidential contest, the late P. J. O'Rourke observed that Secretary Clinton was "...wrong about absolutely everything, but she's wrong within normal parameters."  His judgement was that she was "...the second-worst thing that can happen to this country, but she's way behind in second place."

      President Biden hasn't got a lot of flash; no one is going to mistake him for Theodore Roosevelt or FDR, for Kennedy or even Eisenhower.  Nevertheless, Republicans don't have a leg to stand on when they gripe about how badly he has slandered a blatantly authoritarianism-inclined group within their party by labeling it as such, not after the GOP has spent years -- evidence-free -- accusing the Democrats of cheating at elections, being under the power of Red China, abusing the economy and, for all I know, conspiring to induce anti-magnetism for immoral purposes.

      Biden was the second-worst choice in 2020 -- but he was an extremely distant second to the very worst choice.  Voters knew it.  They still do.  Whining cannot change that fact.

      (P.S.: "43 empty folders with 'CLASSIFIED' markings?" What the hell?)

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Incoherent Ranting

      Some of the comments I receive and decline to publish make no sense whatsoever.

      A recent example referred (in the middle of even stranger fantasies) to the late FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, as a "proud LGBT."  There is no direct evidence Hoover was gay, though there's certainly plenty of rumor and not-unfounded speculation; but if so, Hoover was extremely closeted.  That's the opposite of what "proud" means in such a context.

      (Hoover's rumored collection of files of damming material about politicians and other public figures makes sense if the rumors were true -- it would have been counter-blackmail against anyone threatening to unmask his secret.)

      But the whole thing is just lurid rumor.  We don't know and barring the discovery of a tell-all diary or other unimpeachable evidence, we never will.  It all seems moot at this point; he's long gone and so, apparently, are his secret files. Who cares?

      And that's just one example of the inability of some people to make sense.  A frothing mash-mash of wild stories you -- or me, or anyone -- happen to find emotionally appealing does not constitute evidence or even a useful contribution to debate.  It's not going to get published.