Monday, October 31, 2022

What Happened Saturday

      So, Saturday, I had plans: laundry (every Saturday), a class, with SF writer Mary Robinette Kowal (the Lady Astronaut series) and a nice grilled steak dinner afterward.

      The day started out well, the class was good, and laundry was ongoing as I readied the grill and cooked the steak, potatoes and mushrooms.  Just about the time I was going to start microwaving fresh Brussels sprouts, I went to the basement to move clothes to the dryer.

      There was water all over the floor around the water heater!  It was dripping down from above.  A push-on elbow fitting in the copper pipe had failed.  It never had looked great; there are three connections that I've been keeping an eye on, but that one hadn't been the most worrying.  It was dribbling water now, though.

      I started groping my way to the main water shutoff, yelling for Tam to bring a flashlight.  The shutoff is in a dark section of the basement, past the furnace and water heater.  It's a ball valve, so it only takes a ninety-degree turn to close.  My first try was the wrong direction, but I had it off by the time Tam showed up.

      We used the flashlight to check the damage, then wiped up the worst of the water.  I wanted to try a quick fix, so I got the boxes of plumbing tools and parts, found my one spare elbow, got out the tong-type release tool for the fitting, and--  The badly chipped plastic collar you push on to release the fitting wouldn't cooperate.  It just spun around.  I gave up, checked to see if the pilot light was lit -- yes -- and let the problem sit until later.

      Meanwhile, the steaks were about done.  I loaded the laundry into the dryer and started it, helped Tam mop up as much of the remaining water as we could get and stashed the steaks on plates on the bottom of the gas oven.  That kept them warm while the Brussels sprouts cooked and I brought in the potatoes and mushrooms. 

      We had dinner and watched an episode of Life Below Zero while we ate.  The relatively inexpensive, grass-fed steaks were not very good; grass-fed beef has a gamier flavor that I usually like, but these were apparently a bit old.  There was plenty else to eat after a few bites of our steaks.

      And so, with some worried thoughts about the possible aftereffects of our steaks, we returned to the basement.  The other release tool for push-on fittings is a kind of C-shaped collar, and it was able to engage enough of one side of ninety to release it.  The other side was kind of stuck and when it came free, the body of the fitting came off, leaving a toothy spring-steel ring and the broken parts of the plastic collar still on the pipe.  Needlenose pliers took care of that and I checked the pipe ends.

      My introduction to push-on fittings came when a plumber in a hurry used them to repair the hot-water pipes over a decade ago.  These would be those pipes.  You have to deburr the ends of the pipes before you assemble the connections -- the rubber O-ring that seals the connection can be cut or the plastic parts damaged if you don't.  It doesn't have to be pretty; it just has to be sufficient.  Someone who does plumbing all day, every day usually has a good sense of just how much deburring is enough and they don't spend extra time at it.  Usually--  There was a short, nasty burr on one of the pipes.  I'm not a plumber; I carefully smoothed both pipe ends, cleaned them, wiped them dry and pushed the new fitting into place.  I was a little worried about it; I had to wiggle the pipe ends around to get the new fitting in place and about a foot past the ninety, there's a tee that I have been watching.  I didn't want to stress it.

      The ninety appeared to pop into place all right.  I gave both sides another push for luck and had Tam watch it while I turned the water back on.  It didn't leak.  We were back in the hot-water business.

      The fittings have been holding ever since.  And the steaks didn't have any dire effects later.  Apparently the meat just wasn't very good -- disappointing, at the prices for even cheap steaks these days, but it could have been worse.

      I need to pick up some more push-on fittings.  It's a lot handier to already have them when you need them. 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Nota Bene

      I don't know how many of us need to hear this, but, look: wanting something to be true doesn't make it true.  No matter how badly you want it to be true, no matter how well it fits into your best hopes and your worst fears, "It feels right to me," is no guarantee of objective truth.

      Reality is what it is, and usually needs to be cross-checked using something other than online rumor and what somebody's cousin's ex in-law thinks they overheard while they were in the Marines.  Occam's razor and multiply-verifiable video are your friend; clever talk and cherry-picked snippets are not.

      Wishing will not make things real.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Agency, Plus A Class

      SF writer Mary Robinette Kowal (The Lady Astronaut Of Mars and related books, among others) had a two-hour class or symposium today on story structure for seat-of-the-pants writers.  It was time well spent, including some ways of looking at plot that were new to me.  NaNoWriMo is coming up!

      Meanwhile, having finished The Peripheral, I'm rereading Agency.  It feels like I read it quite some time ago -- but the book was only published in late January of 2020.  I read it right before the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S. and began to ramp up, and my employer dispersed staff as much as possible.  It was before the 2020 Presidential election and the disruptive aftermath.  That was a whole different world in many ways and I shouldn't be surprised the time before seems to be a long way away.  I don't suppose we'll ever entirely get back to the way things used to be.

Botanical History, Worse History

      When I learned that both vanilla and chocolate are species native to the warmer parts of the Americas, I began to wonder if the Aztecs and their neighbors were actually dessert empires.

      ...Sugarcane and cinnamon came out of India, and not to the New World until Europeans found the place, but the alacrity with which their cultivation followed that discovery suggests volumes about our species interest in dessert -- and our heedlessness of side-effects and consequences.

      Haiti is still in a bad way and possibly getting worse.  I heard on the news that we're trying to get Canada to take the lead in helping their government sort things out.  Why not the U.S.?  Smedley Butler might have some insight about that; start at Wikipedia and you'll learn things you might not much like.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Rereading Gibson

      It's my third reading of William Gibson's The Peripheral.  I'd read it not long after it was first published and again after reading Agency, when that book was released.  When I saw Amazon had produced a TV series version, I figured I would be reading it again, unless the television version was awful.  And maybe even then.

      It isn't awful, and I am reading the book.  It holds up, for all both of his invented worlds are pretty awful, place I wouldn't care to visit but may be hurtling towards, more or less.

      The story's been rearranged and so far tightened up for TV.  They haven't lost the flavor.  Though the show's version of future London isn't quite what my mind's eye saw of Gibson's, if feels similar; and if a certain Airstream is missing an outer covering of spray-on insulating foam (really don't do this, friends: it's messy and destructive, expensive even on Amazon's budget) and a bit thin on polymer inside, it is nevertheless the right thing, in the right place, near the right house.  And with the right people moving around it, which is the important part. And, of course, thylacines.

      Will Amazon keep on getting it right?  I don't know.  Reportedly, William Gibson doesn't know.  But so far, so good, and at least they're helping to keep one of my favorite writers in coffee and cakes.  The book and its sequel are entertaining reading.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Breakfast Experiment

      Yes, another food experiment.  We ended up ordering dinner in last night because I was feeling under the weather, a milder version of the sick-for-a-day I have had with previous COVID vaccines.

      I'd picked up the ingredients for grilled ham and cheese sandwiches earlier, and deli ham doesn't last forever.  Feeling better this morning, I decided  to make myself one -- with a fried egg in the middle!

      Fried the egg in butter, slightly less done than my usual, then set the egg on paper towel to drain, added more butter to the pan and stacked up a slice of rye bread, Swiss cheese, ham, egg, cheese, ham, cheese, bread.  Laid the whole thing in the melted butter for a few seconds to get butter on that side, flipped it, and toasted it most of the way, flipped again, gave it a little while covered to get all the cheese melted, and finished it up uncovered.  Not much to it other than watching to ensure it cooks without getting burned.  The end result was warm and delicious, a good start to a chilly day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

I Did It

      Yesterday, I got the fifth -- bivalent -- COVID-19 vaccine, which is optimized for the most recent dominant strains.  I've had all the vaccine shots, most of them about as soon as I could.  This one took a little more time to set up; I was looking for somewhere close, at a time of day that was easy for me, and, yes, I don't feel the same urgency that I did with the first shots.

      The thing is, we're headed into winter and a lot of indoor time, and nobody's feeling much urgency.  The virus has tended to spike when our behavior enables transmission.  The latest variants appear to be milder for most people and that's good news, but there's no guarantee it will continue to be that way.  The virus has killed more than a million Americans, as if the entire population of Indianapolis had been exterminated.

      I'm not wearing a mask in public indoors spaces these days and neither is nearly everyone else.  If it's as high as one-in-ten right now, I'll be surprised.  About thirty percent of the U. S. population -- and thirty-six percent of Hoosiers -- are entirely unvaccinated.  I don't much care if you are or aren't; I am not the boss of you and with case rates having fallen way off, there are plenty of hospital beds and you can jump in a lake for all I mind.  The medical types estimate about sixty percent of Americans have had COVID-19 at some point.  No matter how you stack up the vaccinated and acquired-though-infection immunity, however much crossover there is, the newer virus variants are pretty good at sneaking around immunity.  All of this means we have a substantial pool of people ready to get infected, either again or for the first time, just as we are once again spending more time together indoors.

      So I got the latest vaccine.  I'll be your guinea pig: see how it goes for me, if you like, before making up your own mind about getting the shot.  Just don't wait too long; the holidays are coming and nobody enjoys the gift of being sick.

Monday, October 24, 2022

One Way To Look At It

      When I mentioned the Nolan chart yesterday, I looked it up.  The Wikipedia article includes links to similar notions, one of which is the Inglehart-Welzel cultural map.

      This is not a guide to the best wine bars, bookstores, theatres and opera houses in an overlooked part of Switzerland.  Nope, it's a way to quantify cultures, and it seems to work pretty well. 

      Survey-based, it sorts the answers into a pair of numbers that represent "Traditional vs. Secular-Rational"  on one axis and "Survival vs. Self-Expression" on the other.  The latter is essentially a measure of prosperity and economic security: do people in that culture need to spend most of their time just getting by, or do they have time and money to go paint pictures or watch movies and so on?

      Critics argue that it's Western-biased, but the criteria are relatively objective and it does provide another way of looking at who we -- and our other neighbors on the planet -- are, and how that has shifted over time.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

But What If I Have To Eat Lunch Alone?

      Well, so what?  Hooray, I get to eat lunch alone, and read my book without interruptions.  But social pressure weighs heavily on many people, and few feel it more than political partisans.  If you are very strongly in favor of Party A or Party B, if you are deeply invested in their candidates, then it's going to matter a lot to you that those around you feel the same way.  It will matter so much that you will adjust your views to align with theirs, whether you realize it or not.

      That doesn't necessarily mean you are evil.  Unfortunately, it doesn't mean you aren't, either; a lynch mob and the March of Dimes are both groups of people gathered together in support of a common cause, and members of either will hector you if you don't go along.  The end results of their efforts are nevertheless strikingly different. 

      If your politics happen to put you in the "libertarian" corner of the Nolan Chart, an interesting side effect is that the closer you are to that corner, the closer you are to the middle of the conventional Left-Right spectrum of the two main political parties in the United States.  While this mostly means you'll find their polices and plans about equally despicable, it does leave you in the center -- and politically homeless.

      In the howling wilderness of post-Trump, semi-post-pandemic America, the Libertarian Party seems to have found itself most comfortable way out on another axis: crazier than the craziest Republicans.  Given that the GOP itself has embraced howling nonsense about election security (nonsense debunked in every audit, investigation and court case in the wake of the 2020 election) and both the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines to protect against it (having chosen bullshit social media memes and rumor-based grift over hard science), and found widespread support among its traditional base by so doing, being wackier than that is a notable achievement.  It's just not a direction I care to go.   So I'm still homeless.

      I can only imagine how awful that must sound to people who take comfort in belonging.  Thing is, I don't.  I am easily overwhelmed by crowds, all the more so if they are shouting, cheering, singing.  I don't want to take part.  I want to get away, as fast and as far as I can.

      Apparently I've been living rent-free in the heads of a few of the old loosely-associated blogmeet bunch.  Largely peripheral types, they are shocked -- shocked! -- that I didn't climb aboard the crazy train when it was clanking by.  I guess they weren't paying attention way, way back in the autumn of 2016, when I had already declined the Republican candidate and he befouled himself in a manner that ensured I would never give him serious consideration.  I cut ties with a lot of people then, and later, when the pandemic burst from China and spread across the world, I cut ties with many more, people who refused to come to terms with reality.  I have no problem with this.  I prefer having my lunch alone, away from the noise.

      Once you get far enough away to see the whole picture, it's bleak.  It used to be the Dems and the GOP were little more than a clown show, tripping one another up and making feeble efforts to enrich themselves and reward their pals at public expense.  Oh, they all made a tragic mess of domestic and international affairs, but occasionally they'd manage to do some good and they never quite broke the important things.  These days, the Democrats remain clowns but the Republicans are running around the Big Top with dynamite and blowtorches.  It's not safe to be in the crowd, it's not moral to join the destroyers, and the clowns don't seem able to do much to fix the problem.

      And you, friends, ex-friends and casual readers, what are you doing?  If it involves much in the way of chanting and cheers, and you're not at tent-meeting revival or a sporting event, maybe you'd better take a step back.  If you're believing six impossible things before breakfast, that's not a good sign.  Maybe you'd better take a closer look at what you're cheering for, and why.  Maybe you'd better take a closer look at how well your beliefs match objective reality.

Friday, October 21, 2022

"Is Your Example Guiding Them Along The Right Road?"

      Some examples are more wrong than others.  Take the School Board candidate in Zionsville, Indiana, who answered a voter's question on Facebook by saying, among other things "All Nazis were not bad people."  That's all the reason I need to recommend you not vote for Dr. Matt Keefer in that election.

      While history is complicated, the same sentiment cost General George S. Patton his last major command:
      "Patton attracted controversy as military governor [of postwar Bavaria] when it was noted that several former Nazi Party members continued to hold political posts in the region. When responding to the press about the subject, Patton repeatedly compared Nazis to Democrats and Republicans in noting that most of the people with experience in infrastructure management had been compelled to join the party in the war, causing negative press stateside and angering Eisenhower. On September 28, 1945, after a heated exchange with Eisenhower over his statements, Patton was relieved of his military governorship."

      I don't know exactly what's gone wrong.  As the horrors of Nazi Germany fade from living memory, this kind of "...But they sure built nice freeways!  Horst never realized what he was joining," excuse-mongering masquerading as nuance is becoming more and more common.  "Tankies" on the farther Left have played similar sleight-of-mind about Stalin and the Soviet Union for decades (and it has been increasingly marginalized as the BS it is) but it used to be that you had to go very far Right indeed to get the crooked-cross variety, all the way over to nutjob territory.  Now, not so much.

      Never realized I was going to so intensely miss William F. Buckley's staunch efforts to get the fascist rats and their apologists out of the American Right and keep them out, but I certainly do.  We all may, by and by, if things go poorly enough.

      The title of today's post comes from this image.  Read it carefully, and ask yourself which path you're on.  It's our crossroads now.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

History Hits The Chorus Again

      Let's see -- an expansionist autocrat is waging war to "take back" territory to which his country has a far less tenable claim than the people who, you know, actually live there, while out-of-power politicians and pundits in the U.S. make excuses for him and dabble in anti-Semitism?

      Haven't we been here already, and wasn't it pretty terrible the last time?  Let's not replay it.  And let's stop the war machine before it hits the English Channel this time, too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Unpopular Neutrality

      As disparaged as it is in this day and age where you're got to be "strongly for" or "strongly against" every single darned thing, one of the great advantages to being agnostic is that when a friend or acquaintance shares something they believe their faith or deity wants people to do or say, or not do and so on, I can smile, respond, "You might be right," and mean it.

      That is not to say I'm going to go along; I have made my own deal with my own ethics and my own conscience, which I'll abide by.  But I have no magic insights into the infinite; for all I know, you might be right. Mark Twain and I have our own opinions about imponderables; they don't invalidate yours and vice versa.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Out Of The Box

      Walk the aisles of an American supermarket or grocer and you can find all kinds of cuisine in boxes, bags and jars, ready to take home and cook.  Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Indian, a smattering of Middle-Eastern, kosher specialties, Japanese, Spanish, British....  Sources vary, everything from imports with a U. S. label slapped over the original to American-as-apple-pie names like La Choy and Michaels of Brooklyn.  And there are plenty of "foreign" foods that were invented or modified right here.

      Some "exotic" food isn't foreign at all, like when a Basque-descended Lousianaian* grocer invented his own root beer formula and sold it in his New Orleans store.  He found the extract had a long shelf-life and sold especially well, and that got him into the extract, spice and condiment business.  By and by, Emilie Zatarain was selling prepackaged mixes.  77 years and a generation or two later, the family sold the company† and it's still around.

      In Broad Ripple -- all over Indianapolis and well beyond, in fact -- I can go around the corner and pick up authentic Cajun/Creole food, ready to go.  But last night was chilly, a good time for cooking, and I had a box of Zatarain's Jambalaya Rice Mix that needed used up.  With that in mind, Tam and I had taken a good long walk in the morning, ending up at our neighborhood grocery store.  I picked up a couple of Anaheim peppers, mild but flavorful, and a couple of large sausages, one Andouille and one Chorizo.

      That was a good start.  I browned the sausage (Chorizo around here doesn't appear to be fully cured, ready-to-eat.  It's a pretty wide term) while I diced the peppers and a carrot, drained most of the fat, and sauteed the peppers and carrot with the meat pushed to the side of the pot.  I chopped up and added a half-dozen large cherry tomatoes while sauteeing.  Once the peppers started smelling delicious -- and they are -- I added two and a half cups of water along with the rice mix and a little dehydrated onion for luck, brought it to a boil, set the heat to low, covered it and spent 25 minutes cleaning up the work area.

      That's all it takes.  What we ended up with was tasty, fragrant and filling.
* That's the wrong demonym but the right one doesn't travel well.
† The most recent time the company changed hands was in 1993, when it sold for $180 million. Not bad for something that began as a grocer's sideline.

Monday, October 17, 2022

First Really Chilly Morning

      It's chilly and I'm feelin' it -- but not liking it.  Not even a little.  The older I get, the less able I am to take the cold.  But the older I get, the less interested I am in moving, so it's sweaters and gloves, long undies and electric blankets for me.  It's not like this isn't a solved problem, and very long solved; humans would have a very narrow habitable range on this planet were it not for our technologies, from shelter to fire, to hunting and tanning hides, to weaving and mining and on and on. 

      So when I'm shivering, I know lots of ways to fix it.  Complaining doesn't make me any warmer but somehow it helps.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

On Writing

      Subtext and implication aside, any sentence has one job.  A few hard-working sentences have two jobs.  But if you find a sentence that has taken on three jobs, that ornate, high-living son-of-a-gun is robbing bread from the mouth of at least one shorter sentence and probably two, and should be made to give them up and adopt a simpler lifestyle immediately.

Turnip Hash?

      Turnip hash. 

      It was inevitable.  Given my assertion that turnips can be used anywhere you'd use a potato and my fondness for "breakfast hash," fried diced potatoes with crumbled bacon, scrambled eggs and often a little onion, sooner or later I was going to get around to finding out how a turnip would do in the central role.

      The brassica gives the spud a serious run for the money.  As Tam pointed out, "This doesn't need extra seasoning, because turnips have flavor!"

      Indeed they do, a mildly peppery bite that goes well with the breakfast staples.  It browns up in bacon fat about as well as a potato, with a little more cooking time.  I added a very small amount of diced carrot and celery shortly before pushing the vegetables to the side and scrambling a couple of eggs in the middle.  It also got a few dashes of a mixed-spice blend while it was cooking, and parsley with just a little salt before crumbling the bacon back in at the very end.

      It's good.  Tam says it's better than scratch-made potato hash, and she may be right.  I'd like to try it with diced ham or even Spam in place of the bacon; the flavors should work nicely.

      My non-recipe:
      I used a large turnip, almost the size of a softball, and diced it between 1/8" and 1/4".  You've got to peel large turnips carefully, as the thick skin can be bitter.  A swiveling patent peeler makes short work of it, though it takes me a couple of passes to get it all.
      Using a large skillet, I fried a half-dozen strips of bacon (with pepper) and set them aside (they stay warm on a paper-towel covered plate n the bottom of the oven).
      Save about half the grease* (adjust as needed), and add the diced turnip, spread out in one layer.  I used medium heat and flipped/stirred them every five or six minutes for fifteen minutes.  They'll go translucent once they're done, and brown a little.
      I added the carrot and celery at the last, gave it a few minutes and a good stir, then pushed it all to the sides, turned the heat to high and scrambled a couple of large eggs in the middle.  Constant stirring with a bamboo skewer or disposable chopstick is the best way to go until the eggs are well-cooked, then you can use a spatula to mix it all back together, add a little parsley or whatever appeals (garlic/onion seasoning would do well), turn the heat to low and crumble the bacon back in.  I use kitchen shears for that step, but work low, the bacon breaks as you cut it.
* You save left-over bacon fat, of course.  It's all-around useful; one of my fonder childhood memories is having to remove road tar (how it bubbled up in the summer!) from my bare feet with bacon fat and then wash them before being allowed back inside the house, smelling faintly of yesterday's breakfasts.

Friday, October 14, 2022

What He Said

      Jonathan V. Last of The Bulwark, on what he wants from politicians, starting with an example recorded as the U. S. Capitol was under siege:

      "We have an Evangelical Republican from Indiana, who is the sitting vice president, working directly with the liberal Democrat from San Francisco in order to save the ship of state and get the job done.

     "That’s what I want out of American politics. I want a baseline level of professional cooperation from elected leaders that approximates Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi on the afternoon of January 6

     It's worth reading, and worth following the links.  Grifters and liars don't deserve your support, no matter which of your pet causes they promise to impose.  You can only get them from those folks with a heaping helping of lies and nascent authoritarianism on the side, and it's far too high a price to pay.  Especially when we have a system built to keep you (and me, and those freaks and weirdos down the block) as free as possible and seek reasonable compromise where necessary.  Stop being chivvied by cynical pols invoking stupid boogeymen.  Communist drag queens of color twerking as they play antique flutes are not a real problem.

Heating Season

      When the house gets chilly, my hands get creaky.  65°F isn't a problem but that's as cold as I can take.  I proved it over the past several days, before a warm streak offered a respite.

      Respite's over.  It was 61 in the house this morning.  So I started up the furnace and got the place warm again, or warm by my standards, at least.  The extension boxes are off the registers (in summer, they help get the cold air moving higher in the room) and we're rigged for winter.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

I'm Not Facing The End Of Whatever Without Coffee

      I don't know about you, but the pandemic-driven shortages prompted me to up my food (etc.)-to-keep game.  Thanks to my Mom's good example, I always did keep some pantry items stocked, enough for a week or more.  These days, it's more like a month, though it would run pretty heavily to rice, beans, pasta and tomato-based entrees supplemented by canned meat, once the fresh and frozen food ran out.

      There are a few things I stock in depth these days and other than paper goods, they tend to be semi-luxuries.  Fancy butter, whole-bean coffee, "raw" sugar (it's not that raw) and coffee creamer: I keep well away from running out.  While I sincerely hope and expect that things won't get too terrible, when it comes to coffee and butter, I'd just as soon hedge my bets.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

It Isn't Belladonna

      Yesterday, I went back to the specialist eye doctor for the last scheduled follow-up to my posterior vitreous detachment.

      Unlike previous visits, the place was crowded, waiting room not full but there weren't any pairs of empty seats left after Tam (my driver for the day) and I sat down.  But the wait wasn't very long, and they took me back for a quick eye exam, numbing drops, eye pressure test (28 front and 30 back?  No, that's tires) and dilating drops. 

      Apparently, it's not atropine (from belladonna or nightshade), which would wear off even more slowly.  It's probably one of the commercial preparations of this stuff.  I am normally light-sensitive and the amount of medication they use for a really serious eye exam leaves me wearing sunglasses indoors (two pairs of them outdoors, plus a hat and even then, it's not good).  It also knocks me off-kilter for a day: colors are wrong and overly intense, sounds are too loud, events too hard to make sense of.

      The tech gave me the drops and sent me off to sit.  You need to wait for the medication to take effect.  A half-hour is ideal.  They've got secondary waiting areas tucked into a maze of exam rooms and they try to keep patients moving.  Most of us had to have our retinas photographed, so they haul you off for that after a quarter-hour and afterward put you in another waiting area, to be seen by the doctor.

      That's what they did with me: a set of eight-by-ten eyeball glossies* and into the next waiting room, this one absolutely full.  By then I needed sunglasses.  I put my Kindle into night mode (amber light and dimmed) to read and waited.  And waited.  People came and went around me.  After forty-five or fifty minutes, I texted Tam that I was starting to wonder if they had forgotten me.  We kidded back and forth, and she went to the front desk to ask.  No, they said, it's just a very busy day.

        We griped back and forth in text for a while, then I returned to my book.  Finally my name was called, by which time I was nearly panicking after over an hour packed into a waiting room jammed with blurry strangers.  The exam room was small, dark and mercifully empty of people.

      The doctor was prompt, brisk and professional.  The room is built with an enormous computer monitor on one wall, covered in retina images and the pertinent parts of the patient's file; the doctor gets up to speed, reading even as he says hello, and starts dictating into a speech-to-text gadget almost immediately while checking the pictures, then reclines the chair and starts looking in my eyes.

      "Bright light, open wide.  Look up and to your left...far left...down and to the left, a little more left, down, yes..."  All the way around on each eye, with occasional short breaks, "Blink, now...good."

      He doesn't waste time or motion.  He's friendly, confident and reassuring.  Whatever the reason for my long wait, it wasn't because the doctor was dawdling.

      The actual eye exam -- and a clean bill of health -- was the high point of my day.  I had trouble navigating my way to the front desk to check out (at least I was expecting it this time) and trouble getting to the car.  I just shut down for the ride home, not looking out the window and concentrating on getting though it.

      Got home, worked online, had a small snack and had to go lay down in my bedroom with all the lights off, TV muttering to itself.  Tam was out, writing; when she came home, trying to order dinner was a jumble of confusion and cross-purpose talk.  We finally found something we both liked and I'm pretty sure we looked at television over dinner, but the details are unclear.  I went to bed early and slept for nearly ten hours.

      And I'd like to avoid that particular type and strength of eye-dilation medicine for a good long while.
* Where I noticed some clever helper had removed flat metal covers from a machine and propped them against a wall, trapping one under the edge of an oversized medical-type power plug to keep it from falling over -- on the "live" side, and almost touching the pin.  I pointed this out as a probable safety issue.  It'll be perfectly fine until it gets nudged that last eighth of an inch, and then they'll find out what else is on that circuit, probably to the accompaniment of a loud pop and perhaps a puff of smoke.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Walk In At Any Location -- No, Not That One

      A couple of doctors had me down for lab work.  These days, most of that is offloaded to a handful of independent laboratories with multiple locations.  They're all networked and you usually don't even need an appointment; you pick one, give them your name and date of birth, and like magic, the lab order pops up, they do the blood draw (or a few other things) and the results go off to the doctor, neat as can be.

      I went to the (mini) lab next to my GP's office yesterday and gave them my info, remarking there should be two different orders.

      "Oh, the contract changed. At this location, we only do tests for the doctors next door now."

      "But it's still the same company?"

      "Yes.  You could have had all the tests done at any of our full-sized locations, but here we're just doing them for the adjacent office."

      I was there then, and had my sleeve rolled up.  So she did the blood draw for the labs she could handle, and I stopped at another location on my way to work.  This is the opposite of convenient.

      Also, I have bandaids on each elbow.  At least the lab tech found a good vein on my left elbow.  It's usually a challenge.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Can You Repeat That Over Again?

      Radio and TV news writing is supposed to be informal.  Not slangy or imprecise, but more or less conversational.

      Everyday speech has a lot of redundancy, which may explain why I keep hearing horrors like this:

      "It's 6:14 a.m. in the morning and there's a traffic problem on the roads of the city's north side of town.  A man was robbed and his watch and money were taken at an ATM machine when an armed gunman showed up and appeared immediately right after he completed finishing putting in his PIN number...."

      They're everywhere all over the dial.  Oh, no!  It's catching!  And communicable!

Sunday, October 09, 2022

"Run In Circles, Scream And Shout?"

      Or, better yet, don't.  Even though the pundits believe we're sliding into a butter shortage.  I noticed the other day that our grocer was out of the fancy imported stuff I prefer.  It was no big deal; butter keeps and at any given time, I have two or three tubs stacked at the back of the fridge.*  I have done so ever since there was bobble in supply during the pre-vaccine pandemic.

      I didn't realize there was more to the story, but it turns out butter prices have been creeping up a little more quickly than the general increasing cost of everything: the entire Northern Hemisphere had a hot summer, which affects milk production, and the return of normal life means more butter-using activities -- baking and cooking in general, mostly (I hope).  Supply is down and demand is up.

      So, panic?  Nope.  It's not nefarious, milk cows aren't extinct, and "What, no butter?" has been a solved problem for somewhere between 153 years and forever, depending on who you're asking and what you want to use the tasty fats for.  Oleomargarine is the most direct substitute and these days it really is (as the old ads imply) credibly close to the real thing.  Margarine is churned out (ahem) via industrial processes and the supply scales up pretty readily.  The observed price increase of butter means some people will already be switching to margarine -- there's "Econ 101" again -- prompting an increase in margarine supply. How well will it track demand?  I can't predict that but chances are it won't be too far off, and to make up the shortfall--

      Humans crave fats.  At one point, we never got quite enough.  That was back when our tools were made of wood, bone and stone and we dressed in leather, fur and leaves -- or nothing.  We never stopped looking for more edible grease and we've picked up a few tricks since then.  Depending on where you grew up and who your grandparents were, you're already familiar with lard, beef or mutton tallow, schmaltz, duck fat, olive oil and vegetable oils generally.  They've all been in the larder for at least thousands and possibly tens of thousands of years.  They all work well for baking and many are excellent on bread or other baked goods.  (Bread dipped in good olive oil, with or without flavorings, is a real treat.  Then there's the Spanish analog to colcannon, mashed potatoes and greens with a bit of smoked meat diced in: the Irish give it a little puddle of melted butter, but the Spaniards serve theirs with olive oil!)  None of  the replacements are butter, true enough, but even seal oil has its fans: humans crave fats.  It's built right into us and we have a plenitude of sources for them.  (I left out Crisco, which is essentially lard for vegans.)

      We may run low on butter this holiday season.  But don't be stampeded; we're not about to run out of the delicious fats we crave or the even more delicious baked treats we make with butter and a long list of useful substitutes.  If some eeeeevil "them" are after our food supply through the butter supply, "they" must have failed Home Ec -- more likely, the fear-mongering talking heads are certain you did.
* Alternating, these days, between the regular version of Irish butter and the softer cut-with-olive-oil kind, nearly a dollar per tub cheaper and tasting the same as nearly as I can tell.  And there's Consumer Econ 101 in a nutshell.  It'll crop up again.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

All In How You Look At It

      Accidentally buying unsliced everything bagels and having to cut them myself: not so great.

      Slicing those bagels over a plate next to the eggs I'm frying for my breakfast sandwich and pouring the poppy seeds, sesame seeds and garlic that falls off during slicing on the eggs: entirely great! (I break and fry out the yolks: I prefer 'em that way and it's less messy.  YMMV.)

      This morning, my sandwich got a two slices of uncured ham that I fried a little, a slice of Manchego cheese on the eggs, and two slices of Genoa salami.  The bagels are pretty large, so the eggs (in my two-egg skillet*) are only a little bigger around; the ham and salami slices are round as well.  The cheese is the only square peg, but it's just the right size to fit.
* I have accumulated one-egg, 1.5-egg, two 2-egg and one 4-egg frying pans.  They're handy.

Friday, October 07, 2022

It's Just Annoying

      As mid-term election season winds up, the level of fantasy, nonsense, bullshit, denial, dirty pool and general style-over-substance among the candidates staggers and amazes me.  The GOP has a commanding lead when it comes to peddling crap as diamonds -- and an amazing number of eager customers, despite the obvious stink.

      Meanwhile, the Dems offer a much less coherent front (all to the good) and mostly their same old muddled ideas (varying from tolerable to awful, with an average of not so good).  But at least the majority of their candidates are approaching political office as an opportunity to do some useful work rather than a great angle for grift, and even their wildest ideas have a basis, however minuscule, in reality.

      I'll take "annoyingly wrong" over "dangerously crazy" any time -- and the only way I see to nudge Republicans back towards reality is if their candidates are trounced at the ballot box.  Will that happen this November?  Probably not.  Mixed results are more likely, and however the U.S. House and Senate tip, the margin of control will probably be narrow.  That's good, in that it should force debate and compromise on essential legislation, and push the glittering garbage out of consideration, but it just kicks the can down the road and lets crazy remain crazy.

      One good thing: as of this morning, I don't have to listen to people whining that the mainstream media are ignoring Hunter Biden's legal woes.  Looks like some low-level felony-grade stuff, and we will see how it plays out -- right there on the olde-tyme print, video and online media.  Strain at a gnat, swallow a whole camel, but there it is, the story you said they didn't want anyone to see, getting seen.

Thursday, October 06, 2022


      So, apparently Atlas Twerked isn't a real book.

      I should be relieved.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022


      Some time back, I started listening to the original Dragnet radio program, Jack Webb's first take on a "based on real cases" police show and far less preachy than the later TV version.  I reached the last one and went looking for something else.

      X Minus One is a good science fiction series that presented some real classics -- Fritz Leiber's "A Pail of Air," Robert A. Heinlein's "Requiem" and the remarkably prescient "A Logic Named Joe" by Murray Leinster, to name a few -- but there aren't a lot of surviving episodes and it can be overwhelming.

      There's another gem that ran for years: the original Gunsmoke, with William Conrad (trust me, he plays much leaner on the radio) as Marshall Matt Dillon.  Darker and grittier than the long-running TV series, the production values are remarkable and the stories are fully-formed and well-told.  I've been drifting off to sleep with tales of Dodge City in my ears for about a week now.

Monday, October 03, 2022

An Unusual Breakfast

      Okay, not that unusual.  And I swear I had no idea it was just after World Vegetarian Day until after breakfast.

      Yesterday, we had a steak dinner.  The grocer had a great price on ribeyes, and with shiitake and maitake mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and baked potatoes, they made a fine dinner.  I even cleared the old ash and charcoal from the grill and used fresh, new lump charcoal.*  (Mushrooms cooked with a little butter in an open pan on the grill are a real treat on a steak, if you ask me.)

      It made for a large meal.  I'd picked up half an apple pie (fresh-baked in the store's own kitchen!) and we had vanilla ice cream, but dessert was out of the question.

      Apple pie doesn't last forever.  Why not enjoy a slice of hot apple pie with a scoop of vanilla for breakfast?  It's not that different from fruit-topped sugary cereal with milk, after all.  And so good with coffee.
* Roasting in a covered pan on the grill, I will let ash build up as I conserve charcoal by shutting off the air and letting the coals go out.  But it reaches a point where I have to fish out the biggest pieces and throw away the rest, especially since I'd run out of the lump stuff and have been using briquettes instead.  Fine for roasting but not my first choice for grilling. And you really don't want too much loose ash when making steaks on the grill.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Slow-Roasted Pork Chops

      Not just pork chops -- pork chops with cabbage, turnip and apple, not to mention a few other vegetables.

      Our local grocer's meat case was a little picked-over Friday.  You can always count on nice steaks these days, because the price ensures they're no longer an impulse buy, but the less-costly cuts go fast and it turns out I'm not the only person who knows how to roast a Boston Butt or a London Broil.  They had some nice, thick boneless pork chops, and I picked them up with thoughts of making a tasty Autumn dinner.

      Root vegetables are back; the hot summer wasn't kind to turnips and rutabagas, but big, delicately-colored turnips have returned.  I've had a few commenters wonder why anyone would ever think of eating, of all things, a turnip.  I can only pity such folks.  Turnips have an earthy, faintly sweet, delicate flavor that works nicely with meat and they can be cooked any way you'd cook a potato.  Turnip chips are a delightful treat; a lot of work in a skillet but I wonder how an air-fryer would do for chips or fries?  Fall apples are already showing up, too, a profusion of varieties.  I bought a "Pink Lady" apple nearly as large as a softball and a small head of cabbage.  I already had a bag of carrots, plus a large bell pepper, some skinny mild peppers and a jalapeno.

      The pork chops got several hours in a mixture of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar, spiked with a little white vinegar and seasoned with plenty of garlic and some Bragg's spice mixture; you just put them in a heavy freezer bag, add enough liquid to cover and set it back in the fridge.  About three hours from dinner time, I started building a fire in the grill (it needs emptying), the normal tic-tac-toe grid of kindling stuffed with a standard newspaper page torn into strips and balled up.  Charcoal, most of it left over from earlier, is then mounded up around and over the kindling in a kind of hollow tower with a gap at the front bottom, opposite the air intake.  One match gets the paper going at front and back; pretty soon flame is roaring up through the thing and by the time the pile collapses, the coals are lit and glowing.  I pushed them into two rows at the sides for indirect heat, set the grill bars in place and closed the lid.

      The oval roasting pan -- inexpensive graniteware -- got a coating of olive oil, both chops, and coarsely-cubed peeled turnip (3/4" cubes and some smaller) with smoked paprika and a generous dollop of marinade.  With a two-hour timer,* I set it (with the lid on) in the center of the grill while I peeled and chopped the apple, then sprinkled some mild curry powder on it before adding it to the pan (you can leave the skin on if you like, but it tends to remain in large pieces, which I find annoying).  I took my time dicing the carrots (1/2" sections) and mild peppers (1/4" or smaller).  After tasting the jalapeno, I sliced it into thin rounds and added perhaps a third of them -- this is very much to taste and depends on how feisty the particular pepper happens to be.  Err on the mild side and save the extra to be added at the table by anyone who wants more heat.  I put the the peppers and carrots in the pan about a half-hour into cooking or a little less.

      Cabbage next.  Don't be shy about discarding outer leaves to get to the tender parts; it's inexpensive.  I cut wedges, and with just over an hour left, layered them atop everything else in the pan until it was full.

      At the two-hour mark, I went out with the digital meat thermometer (these gadgets are cheap and well worth owning), expecting to need more time.  Nope -- the pork was plenty done, the cabbage translucent and tender, and it all smelled tempting.

      The meat was well-browned on the outside and on the verge of falling apart.  There was plenty of broth in the pan to put over it and the vegetables were delicious, savory, not too sweet or too spicy.  The apple cooked down soft, while the turnip, carrots and cabbage were tender without being mushy.  I will readily admit this is "peasant food," but it's darned tasty.

      No stirring or measuring and I mostly ignore the pan unless there's something to be added or it's time to bring it in.
* I use Alexa for this, and set timers at half-hour intervals as a reminder to add remaining ingredients and check on the grill.

Saturday, October 01, 2022

A Universal Trait

      Scolds of the world -- Left, Right or apolitical, religious, irrreligious, atheistic or agnostic -- have all got one thing in common: The heartfelt conviction that no matter how bad they feel about their own selves, they can always elevate themselves by making someone else feel worse.

      They think it's all relative and if they can make someone else feel small or worth less, why, that's the same as making themselves feel better.

      It's not -- but you'll never convince them otherwise, and it's only too easy a trap to fall into.  In fact, I may have just done so myself.

      As do we all, sometimes.