Saturday, December 31, 2022

Goodbye, 2022

     It's time to kiss this year goodbye -- on the cheek, not the lips -- and kick it out the door.  Possibly without a parachute.  Farewell, 2022!  Let's hope 2023 is better!

     Dear fates, let it be better.  Please.

Friday, December 30, 2022

This Just In?

      Did you hear?  Netflix is working on a George Santos biopic, to be called Forging A Career!

      That's a joke.  Unfortunately, the Long Island politician's seemingly unending series of lies describing his education, family, career, employees and personal life is not.  Also not a joke: that his political opponent apparently assumed there was no need to do any oppo research, that only one small, local paper reported on the questionable nature of the then-candidate's self-reported history and that exactly zero of the big news organizations, from the New York Time to Fox News, caught the story at the time.  Now it's too late and the state of New York is about to ship a particularly bare-faced liar off to the U. S. House of Representatives.  He may be hounded out of office by public pressure, but if he digs in, there's little the nearly evenly-divided House can do officially.

      Elsewhere, Fox News opinionator Sean Hannity has incurred wrath by admitting when questioned under oath about voting-machine fraud costing then-President Trump's re-election, "I did not believe it for one second."  Oops!  That's not what he was saying at the time.

      One lesson here is that when politicians and news commentators tell you their peers are cynical, serial liars, they're probably describing the ones they know best: themselves.  There's a little deception in all of it; pols and talking heads go out there day after day, night after night, happy, sad or so tired they can barely focus, and they hit their marks and say their piece no matter what -- and that's kind of a lie.  Public figures burnish their resumes a little bit and we wink at it; J. Random Senator says he spent a college summer doing charity work when instead he was sweeping floors at the Y for beer money or hanging out in the Hamptons, tipping lavishly.  But the way over the top stuff, well, they're not supposed to do it.  If they're going to cast stones, they'd better be up there with Caesar's wife in the penthouse above reproach, not living in a glass house, or it will all come crashing down.

      Me, I'd be happy to see more lies falter and fail, and in coming weeks, they just might.  We'll never have perfectly honest politicians (we'd probably loathe them if we did, even more than we do now), and news commentators will forever fall to the temptation of saying what's popular or attention-getting instead of hewing strictly to the true and the real; but the most egregious lies need to be found out and their tellers hauled into the light and laughed at, no matter whose interests they serve.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Yeah? You First

      You've got to love the commenter who told me to "Just go bake cookies" if I'd lost the fire of enthusiasm for some parts of my job.  (Or go elsewhere, which isn't easy once you're over 60.)

      Look, pal, I realize you haven't been paying attention (and why should you?), but the fact that I can't bake cookies right now is one reason why I'm still working.  The oven in my ancient gas stove is unreliable and I have been making holiday dinners on the charcoal grill for years now.  I need to replace it (the range, not the grill).  A nice pilotless range would suit me, so I'll almost certainly have to get a 120V receptacle installed behind it.  Since the range sits between two cabinets, I can't cheat with surface-mount the way I did in my last place.  It's a tiled wall, too, which makes it a job for a pro.  Not because I can't do wiring, but because I can't do a nice, finished job of it.  And I don't want to spend weeks cooking with an electric skillet -- I want to get the old stove out and the new one in, all in the same day.  That takes money.  My fridge is increasingly unhappy these days unless I keep it full, and a size-matched replacement set up the way I prefer (narrow, cabinet-depth, freezer on the bottom; pretty much a UK-standard fridge) leaves very few choices, none cheaper than $1000, American.

      The dishwasher's been dead since 2020.  I'm really hating that.  The water heater is now at least fifteen years old.  The washer and dryer were old when I moved in, too.  Once I retire and "go bake cookies," there won't be money to replace any of them.

      It's a lovely fantasy to think about quitting and spending as much time as I can manage writing, cooking, messing with old radio gear and building furniture.  The reality is, it all needs to be paid for -- and before I can spare money for that, I have to get the basic, high-ticket items squared away.  I could walk away right now and keep the house and utility payments going until full retirement, while eating regular meals, and maybe save enough back to pay the higher real estate taxes that will kick in once the mortgage is paid off.  But there wouldn't be any margin at all.

      I worry that there won't be much of me left when I reach retirement.  Increasing arthritis is going to slow and limit how much I will be able to do of the things I enjoy.  But if I don't get this place squared away first, that will be the least of my worries.  At one point in my current job, I spent about a dozen years working for a guy who disliked me, a sentiment I returned.  He assigned me crummy tasks whenever he could and never spared a chance to make a wisecrack or criticism at my expense.  I got through it.  For that matter, so did he, until leaving for other reasons.  It's not like I haven't had to bear down and deal with this kind of thing before.

      Welcome to the part of middle class where you don't get to just walk away with a golden ticket, where you don't always get to love every part of your job, where you do what you need to do to keep the bills paid, your car running and the basic household appliances working.  Isn't it just like that for most people in the middle -- except for the ones working at jobs they simply despise?

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Among The Humans

      I worked at the Main Campus yesterday.  Since the 26th was Christmas (observed), it wasn't too bad: no adult supervision and most of the suit & tie offices were empty.

      Today, not so much, and I am looking forward to it as only an achy, short-tempered sixtiesh person who remembers the old days can.  It's not so much that the place is awful; the remaining staff are hardworking, decent folks and the current owners are not deliberately evil.  But almost all my peers are gone, as are nearly all my friends and long-term acquaintances.  So the whole thing has an air of returning to the little town where you grew up, only to find most of the things you remember are gone and what remains is altered in strange and discomfiting ways.  Being away for most of the pandemic hasn't helped; the place I remember is the place I worked at for over thirty years -- and that place was already gone before we dispersed in March of 2020.

      It still pays the same, at least -- well, a little more.  And the health insurance is good, reason enough to hang on in and of itself.  But I sure do miss some of the people, let go when their position was eliminated, retired, moved away or dead.  The hallways and rooms are haunted by memories these days.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Score: Turducken 1, Roasting Pan 0

      It was my fault.  Yesterday, the high temperature in Indianapolis was 18°F.  I had a leftover turducken.  I'd ordered one for Thanksgiving, which arrived frozen as hard as a rock.  I put it in the fridge to thaw a day later than I should have.  It was still solid when turduckens showed up at our corner grocer the day before Thanksgiving.  I put the frozen one back in the freezer and bought a thawed one, which we enjoyed on the holiday.

      That left a rock-hard Cajun-style six-pond pound turducken with sausage in the freezer.  I decided to make it for Christmas, and gave it a proper three-day thaw.  On Day One, our weather went nuts and I resolutely set aside my doubts.  It would all work out!

      Come the 25th, I did all my prep work indoors, built a nice big charcoal fire in the grill (quickly!), and laid down a layer of chopped apple and turnip in the roasting pan, with the turducken barely fitting on top.  The lid wouldn't quite sit all the way down.  I made sure there was plenty of charcoal along the edges of the grill, pushed the center clear for indirect heat, and set the roasting pan in place on the grill bars for a three-hour bake.  It was 15°F in the back yard when I started.

      The grill was nice and hot.  I checked at the half-hour mark and the lid had settled.  I left my old oven thermometer in the grill then.  Thirty minutes later, I had a peek: it was 350°F in the covered grill and the aroma was wonderful.

      At ninety minutes, I thought about opening the lid of the roasting pan, but decided not to.  At two hours, thinking to add some carrots and a chopped onion, I discovered the lid was stuck.  It just lays in place, but it wouldn't budge.  I nearly burned my left thumb trying, having only brought along one oven mitt.  I got another mitt and tried.  Nope.  Okay.  I let it cook.

      When I brought the pan in after three hours, I was able to pry the lid up.  The turnips and apples had caramelized and gone a little beyond that.  Perhaps more than a little beyond.  The turducken was fine, moist and tender, the skin golden-brown -- but the outermost layer of vegetables was charred.  Worried about the outside air temperature, I had built my fire too hot and left the turducken in too long.

      We had our holiday dinner, with baked potatoes and a little of this and that, and I got the remaining turducken out and had a look at the pan, scraping out all the loose stuff.  Kind of a thick layer left, so I filled the pan and lid with hot water to soak while I did the rest of the dishes.

      A half hour later, water drained, the sludge in the pan was not coming out.  Just not.  Even digging with a bamboo skewer wasn't helping.

      Those pans aren't very expensive and that one had served for two years.  I pitched it and will buy another before Spring.

      I will try the apples and turnips thing again, perhaps with a pork roast.  It smelled wonderful and I think it added to the flavor.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas!

      Here's the happiest and best of Christmas -- and other holiday -- wishes to you and yours, 

      As ever, I will gratefully accept (and return) whatever sort of seasonal good wishes you are comfortable sharing.  Practically every religion and culture has some kind of holiday on or about the longest night of the year (or shortest, for those of you on the other side of the Equator).  Parts of the planet that get serious winter weather have well-established traditions and rituals.  Nearly all of them include sharing hopes for a pleasant winter and year to follow, and only the meanest of souls would reject such an offering.

      Happy holidays is among the most inclusive sentiments, for all that some people get grumpy about it.  I don't care where, how or if you worship; I just want to wish you well.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Well, That's Better

      It's -9°F in Indianapolis right now and TV says the wind chill makes it feel like -37°.  -37°???  That's too low.  I asked the robot, and she said, "RIGHT NOW, THE WIND CHILL IS MINUS 28 DEGREES."

      Such an improvement!  Whatever it is, even short exposure gives me blinding sinus headaches and my fingers stop working very well.  This is the kind of weather that destroys garage door springs, so if I need to drive anywhere, I'll have to struggle with the gate or walk around the block to get to my car.  So I'm hoping to avoid it.  Tomorrow will be twenty degrees warmer and 11 above sounds much less offputting.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Weather Alert

      You don't need me to tell you that there's horrible weather coming to most of the contiguous U.S., if it hasn't already arrived where you are.

       I hope the forecasters have erred on the side of caution and it will fizzle out, leaving us feeling a little silly.  But you can't count on that, so stock up, batten down and we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Audits, The Deep State And Least-Bad Options

      Congress will be releasing Mr. Trump's tax returns from during his original campaign and Presidency.  Most modern Presidents have just made them public as a matter of routine; he refused, saying he was under audit.

      But it is apparently mandatory for IRS to audit the tax returns of a sitting President.  That was news to me this morning and I'm in favor of it.  If any President used the complimentary shampoo at the hotel in Far-off Foreignistan, or the High Panjadrum there slipped him a diamond necklace, I want to know about it.  Whatever spare change he earned selling copies of Grit or hawking his autobiography, I want to know about it.  If he's given a huge wheel of cheese, lets it sit in the entrance hall of the White House for a year and then invites the public to drop by and eat it up?  I want an accounting of it -- and if he charges them a dime a nibble, he'd damned well better report that income.

      Here's the punchline: until 2019, none of Mr. Trump's Presidential-time tax returns were under audit.  That year, IRS apparently began to take a look at his 2015 (or 2016; reports vary) return, in a manner far more desultory than they did the year they decided losses on some rental property I owned weren't deductible but the income from it was, threw out my return and stuck me with a huge tax bill that took a decade to pay off.  --But of course, I wasn't their boss.  The good news is that if you've been fretting over a Federal "Deep State" gunning for poor old innocent Donald Trump, you can unclench: IRS is one of the biggest hammers in the Federal toolbox, and they deferred to the Chief Executive so abjectly that they didn't even do the auditing they are required by law to do.

      Meanwhile, their boss lied about being audited as an excuse not to make his tax returns public, even though there's nothing in the IRS audit process that demands secrecy.  The IRS knew his claim was untrue -- but said nothing, presumably unwilling to contradict the big man.  That's not a Deep State, it's a state of spinelessness.

      Elsewhere, the pundits are chewing away at the January 6 Committee's referrals to the Department of Justice, which include criminal charges for Mr. Trump's role in various phases of the insurrection and attempted autogolpe.  DOJ already had a Special Prosecutor on the job and their own list of possible charges (which as far as I know, they haven't shared), so it's impossible to know how all that's going to play out until it happens.  It's an ugly example of a very old principle: "If you strike at a king, don't miss."  Over at The Bulwark+,* Jonathan V. Last lays out the three possibilities and they're all bad:

      1. Do nothing: "Boys will be boys," which will show there's no downside to trying to grab the government by stealth or force other than some bad press.  In that case, it will happen again and again.  Eventually, someone's going to succeed and it's not going to matter much what flavor of authoritarian we get, it'll suck.  It'll be way worse, way sooner for some people than for others but in the not-so-long run, we'll all lose.  Even a cursory glance at 20th Century history makes that obvious.

      2. Go to court and lose: the same outcome as the first option, only now hard-core Trumpists (a subset of Republicans but a good-sized one) are even angrier than they were.  Expect more couping, now with extra revenge!  At least he will have had his day in court and with diligent attorneys on both sides, we can reasonably expect that a lot more of the facts will come to light.  And it does raise the stakes for any future coup attempts.

      3. Go to court and win: This is still not a happy reconciliation and a return to the halcyon days of yore; Mr. Trump's supporters will be madder yet, he'll be able to point to the trial as even more evidence for his claims of being persecuted and we'll still be short one functioning, normal political party.  On the other hand, we have the same benefit as option 2: the lawyers are going to be able to do some serious digging, witnesses will have to testify under oath and they will have far fewer excuses for keeping secrets.

      These are all lousy outcomes -- and they're all the result of a President who treated losing an election like he was having trouble getting a zoning exemption or attempting a hostile corporate takeover, resorting to guile and threats when a straightforward effort failed.  But our Federal government isn't a zoning board or a business enterprise, and you can't do things that way.  Career politicians know this; you can say a lot bad about them, lazy, feckless, slippery or even stupid, but nearly all of them know where the bottom is and why you don't try to dig through it.  Donald Trump did not share that awareness and he still doesn't.
* The bulk of the article is paywalled, so don't ask me about his insightful conclusion; but as a nation, we'd already jumped out of the airplane by the end of the day on 6 January 2021 and from there down, the question is what we're going to use for a parachute and how hard we're going to hit when we inevitably reach the ground.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

I'd Love To Post Something

     But mostly I just look at the news and wonder, "What next?" 

     Yeah, I have opinions about a lot of it, but so does everyone else.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Acute Tactics

     Yesterday, I noticed the little box-of-stuff-a-month subscription I have to a service that keeps nudging anyone who signs up to write more had sent a deck of cards with various starting points for writing.

      This type of thing owes a debt to Brian Eno's "Oblique Strategies," a collection of cards with highly lateral notions, for use by anyone who gets stuck while doing a creative endeavor.  You grab one at random and give it a try.  It's not a bad method; even when the card suggestion is no help, it provides a short break that can help you get out of a rut.

     Imitations are not always up to the level of the original and the whole thing is just asking to be parodied.  And so, I give you my contribution to the field:

Acute Tactics

Write down a bunch of random stuff on cards. Have copies printed up and sell them for inflated prices.
Vagueness will make you sound deep. Connecting unrelated things will appear insightful.
Never admit this is something you dreamed up to pass time while waiting for the bus.
Browbeat all of your creative friends to endorse this as a remarkable idea. Get them so involved that they'll lean on their friends to say similar things, too.
Never forget that nearly all who strive, fail. The quicker you fleece them, the sooner they'll get back to their useful and dull little jobs.  If you don't, someone else will!
Philosophy is for suckers.  Money talks.
Art is whatever the people who buy art will pay you for.
Failure is always an option, but it's best if the other guy fails.
"Intellectual property" is the stuff others only thought they owned.
There are only two plots, but every check is unique, different and wonderful
Think of a number, any number. Got it? Hold it firmly in your mind. You're wrong.
The expression on people's faces when they have just had a great insight is exactly the same as the expression they make when they suddenly have to crap.  This is not a coincidence.
The bigger they are, the more easily they can crush you.   Practice flattery and plan your escape routes in advance.
Always be humble. You have to give the rubes something for their money and if you're modest about it, they can't claim they were cheated.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

In A Better World

      In a better world, Elon Musk would have never bought Twitter.  Not because he's "ruining" it; Twitter always was and remains a private company and whoever owns and controls it can do just about anything they like with it, banning or admitting whoever they prefer.  Nope, the problem is that owning Twitter magnifies him and up close, he's got the same feet of clay as anyone else.

      From a distance, you've got the super-genius financier revolutionizing cars, digging tunnels, making space travel cheap and frequent and planning to settle Mars.  That's impressive stuff, even if he makes the occasional misstep in his personal life, in an interview or in a tweet.  Up close, you've got a man whose main difference from everyone else is that he's got a lot more money.  He's pretty typical of the financial-type techbro.  We wanted Moses dressed as Tony Stark; owning Twitter dropped the veil and we saw Just Some Guy with SF dreams and a wallet fat enough to make progress towards them.

      Power may not reliably corrupt but it inevitably brings out the jerk in everyone -- and we're all jerks.  Count on it.  We can be certain that George Washington's White House staff and the secretaries and domestics serving Cincinnatus when he served Rome occasionally remarked about their boss, "What an asshole."

      Twitter was arbitrary and capricious by committee under previous ownership.  Now it's arbitrary and capricious by one man's whim.  Either way, the medium amplifies every decision.  This can be bad for business.  One of the few virtues of committees is that they generally move quite slowly and often predictably.  Advertisers, investors and users like that   An individual owner can move quickly, in surprising directions.  And even his smallest jerk moves cast an enormous shadow.

      Social media these days offers a staggeringly wide array of choices, from Right to Left to mixed to apolitical, with varying degrees of anonymity.  While you might (or might not) decry the tendency to form "silos" of similar outlook and attitude, it's certainly disconcerting to have one's silo repainted after you've become comfortable inside it, and that's what a lot of the angst over Twitter's changes is about.

      Maybe the Great Wizard is always smoke and mirrors and it's the little man behind the curtain who gets things done, frantically working the controls, looking frazzled and improvising as he goes.  I'm okay with that. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

I Have Only One Question

      Republicans, are you proud of this guy whose "major announcement" was that he's hawking overpriced digital cosplay trading card featuring himself?

      This country needs at least two serious political parties to keep the government functioning.  When there are only two major parties, they're pretty big and there's a little room around the edges for grandstanding to the base, horseplay and junior high school type cliques and verbal sniping.  An unfortunately high degree of that is normal, but it doesn't keep the adults in the room from getting things done.  As it stands, we're short at least one serious party.  (A strong case could be made for being one and a half parties low, but even half-serious is an improvement.)

      Electronic bubble-gum cards featuring a politician as a superhero, Old West Sheriff and so on?  Issued by the guy himself?  That's not even close to normal or serious.  That out-Stalins Stalin for ego and has all the class and dignity of a drunk asking for spare change at a bus station.  Especially at the prices he's asking. 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

It's Bill Of Rights Day

     Today's the day we celebrate the first kept promise of the Constitutional Convention: the document might never have been approved at all without the assurance that the new government would add a Bill of Rights as soon as possible.

     These days, most politicians are at least good on the idea that the government shouldn't require you to put up soldiers in your house.  (That's Number Three on the big ten countdown!)

     Aside from that, well, the Dems aren't so happy about the Second Amendment and various parts of the First draw the ire of politicians from both parties, with calls from some of the Right for a de facto (or even de jure) state religion and the Left and Right singing alternate choruses of How Awful The Press Is When They Criticize My Side.  And a whole lot of us, politicians and protesters alike of every stripe and leaning, seem to be skipping over the fine print in "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," forgetting that breaking out windows, kicking in doors, setting fires and putting politicians and the general public to flight does not, in fact, constitute peaceable behavior or even petitioning.  (Burning down a bookstore or stealing a laptop computer isn't speech, it's the exact opposite.)

     Don't even get me started on the Fourth Amendment, pretty much the Rodney Dangerfield of protected rights; "What has it got in its pocketses" appears to be the eternal question of police and grasping politicians, and if you have the temerity to suggest that the right of people "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" ought to be very broadly interpreted, they'll look for ways around it while asking darkly what it is you've got to hide, when the whole point is that it's none of their darned business.

     The entire Bill of Rights is a list of things the government shouldn't be doing or getting in the way of -- and a lot of our law consist of attempts to get around those limits.  The sweeping Ninth and Tenth Amendments are often treated as mere sentiment, and that's a pity.

     Nevertheless, battered and chewed at, the Bill of Rights still stands, a bulwark against the ever-present temptation to use the blunt instrument of government to make other people behave in the manner we personally think they should.  That's not how it works in this country; we got rid of Kings to begin with and did away with masters less than a century later.  Nobody is the overall boss of you -- and that's how it should stay.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Universe Is Not Locally Real

      At least at a certain level it's not "real" in terms of having inherent characteristics until you measure it; and it's not "local" thanks to quantum entanglement: stick a pin in a photon here and one waaaaaay over there says, "Ouch!"

      What this means is the physics insights of the philosopher Charles M. Jones were correct: when Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff, he is perfectly safe until he measures his state by looking down -- and then it's too late.  It also explains why the Road Runner can anticipate the coyote so well, and make things go wrong for him with nothing more than a quizzical look: the "spooky action at a distance" the theory implies (and which everyone suspected all along was breathing on the dice and making toast fall butter side down) is hard at work.

      This now joins the Frederic Bean "Tex" Avery theory of subjective reality, in which our perceptions show us not the real world as it is, but an image of it deeply affected by our own notions.  Maybe you did jump out of your shoes with fright (and right back in).  Maybe it only felt that way.  Maybe you'd better check.

      Just don't look down.  You may be higher up (and less well supported) than you think.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

'Tis The Season To Ensure The Rains Return?

     I'm told the Aztec Re-Enactor's Club puts on a holiday pageant this time of year that is utterly heart-wrenching.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Recursive Humor

      I bragged to the chimp that I had opposable thumbs.

      She said, "Good, because I'm against them."

      I told her, "Not in that way."

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Perilous Or Merely Loud?

      A commenter to my previous posting remarked, "IMHO the 2024 election will decide if our country has completely lost its way or not."

      A lot of people feel that way, though they come at it from different directions, and it's easy to see why.  Me, not so much.  Oh, these are fraught times in our politics, make no mistake -- but the United States has been fraughtled rather a lot over the years, everything from the acrimonious emergence of the first party system to the Civil War (and the messes leading up to it and trailing after), from Jackson and Wilson's sweeping changes to the Federal government, from the political fallout of the the Great Depression and the rise (in other countries) of modern authoritarianism* to the political turmoil of the 1960s.  This is not a placid, serene place.

      We do, however, manage to muddle through.  That's why I don't believe in "Flight 93 elections."  That's not how it works here.  That's not how it has ever worked.

      We have always been a country with deep suspicions about our government.  Lacking any of the weight and gravitas of that "divine right of kings" stuff, we're even a bit skeptical about vox populi, vox Dei, and have laced it around with Bills of Rights, vetos, and checks and balances like the separation of powers.  The film Network, with its cry of "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" tapped into a quintessentially American sentiment, one that resonated through the "Tea Party" movement, Occupy Wall Street and beyond.   In 2016, Donald Trump grabbed a rich vein of it and rode it all the way to the White House.

      But all of that emotion is just emotion.  It rarely translates into substantive action and when it does, we don't always get what we thought we wanted -- and what we want, really, is to be heard and for the necessities of life to continue to be easily available.  When a particular movement makes like a car-chasing dog that finally manages to catch one -- and has no use for it† -- we vote for a return to the norm.

      The 2022 midterms were a prime example of that.  Mr. Trump was (and remains) firmly focused on unmoored myths about his 2020 Presidential loss.  Party primaries produced a broad range of candidates, especially for the Republicans, everything from old-time business-as-usual GOP wheelhorses to flamboyant Trumpists like Kari Lake.  In the general election, the plain old Republicans did as well as usual, winning in solidly GOP areas, winning their share in "purple" places -- but the overwhelming majority of the GOP's "mad as hell" offerings lost, even in states where their party otherwise did well.  When they won, it was by narrower margins than their more mainstream peers.

      Anger with nothing more to offer wins headlines and can win an election, but it cannot keep on winning.  If the only solution put forth is "throw the bums out," we already have a system that does just that.  It's built right in.  And it's still working fine.  Oh, it's lumpy and bumpy and uneven; but it works.  And as Winston Churchill observed, all of the alternatives work a whole lot worse if they work at all.

      America is built on compromises and do-overs.  We run 'em every couple of years, alternating between big, noisy Presidential contests and smaller midterms.  If you don't like who or what you got this time, there's always next time.  Anyone who tells you differently -- anyone who says, "Vote (for my guy) once and then stop voting," is an enemy to all Americans.

      Yes, our way is sloppy and inefficient.  We keep having to slap patches on the underlying structure -- but it works, it keeps on working, and it is built to let us keep on striving to do better.
* I have recommended Hard Times by Studs Terkel in the past as a fair-minded, clear-eyed look at this time in our history and I will continue to do so: he got out there and listened to a wide variety of people who were in the thick of it, and shared their stories while not spinning ivory-tower theories of his own.  It's modern history without any fancying-up.
† One of the more-isolated sites my employer maintains had a next-door neighbor with a pack of poorly-disciplined hunting dogs.  The lane leading back to our stuff was very rough, limiting speeds to 20 mph or less.  The dogs would chase our company vehicles, biting the tires and being spun away, over and over.  While the dogs were in some danger of broken necks, they appeared to think it was a wonderful game.  There's a lesson in that.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

When They Tell You What They Are, Believe Them

      In the United States, we vote our public officials into office.  In the Legislative and Executive branches, they serve fixed terms and then we take another whack at electing someone to the job -- maybe the same person, maybe someone new.

      Elections are fundamental to our system of government.  We have struggled over who gets to vote (originally just property-owing white men who had reached a certain age) and steadily expanded it to include all citizens (minus some categories of felons).  No elected office is a lifetime position.  While incumbents quite often get re-elected unless they've been very bad indeed, we can count on a chance to replace them with a new politician -- mind you, there's no promise the next one will be any better, but at least they'll be different.

      When the loser of a Presidential election posts on social media, “Do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,”* when there is no legal framework for it -- and no reason to believe "massive fraud" occurred in the 2020 Presidential election -- he is calling for the abrogation of the basic principles of our system of government.

      When the narrow loser of a gubernatorial election didn't simply call for a recount but filed a lawsuit full of extraordinary allegations (which we can safely presume will get their day in court) in which she calls for "An order setting aside the certified result of the 2022...election and declaring [she] is the winner...," that's well outside of the way elections really work in this country.

      So we should not be too surprised when a Claremont Institute Fellow puts forth,† as a serious position, that "even if conducted legitimately, elections no longer reflect the will of the people" and therefore the right should stop participating in "the technocratic accumulation of votes."

      Let's see -- people named winner by "declaration," demands that certified election results be set aside, claims that legitimate elections somehow fail to represent the will of the people, sneering at voting as mere "technocratic accumulation:" this isn't at all congruent with American democracy as it has been practiced for at least 233 years.  It's a goose-step match for autocracy, especially the more virulent forms of it that afflicted the 20th Century, most often under the banners of fascism and communism.

      Don't be hoodwinked.  These are people who exploit the anger and frustration voters often feel when their side loses.  The real solution is to get out there and do a better job in the next election.  This is the United States of America, where no elected office is a forever job and where we're on our sixth or seventh set of political parties, depending on how you score them.  Whining how it's all over and we ought to set ourselves up with a strongman or two -- or fifty-one of them -- is pernicious nonsense.
* This was widely reported as Mr. Trump "calling for the termination of the Constitution."  While that would certainly be the effect, it looks to me more like a puffed-up version of a spoiled child of wealth demanding that any rules standing between him and what he wants should be put aside -- for him, and not for anyone else.  That's not how it works in this country, or at least not how it is supposed to work.  At the Constitutional level, it is most certainly not how things work.  This isn't browbeating a zoning board into letting you run up a casino in a residential neighborhood.
† I debated a direct link, but I'm of the opinion the article is poisonous sophistry and the author is just one more authoritarian propagandist, with a slicker line than most of his fellow-travelers.  "Hard Truths And Radical Possibilities;" you can do a web search for it but it says nothing about American democracy that the losing side in WW II didn't already say, right down to calling our votes mere "nose-counting."

Friday, December 09, 2022

So I needed To Use Up Some Canned Meat

     Fun with Spam (the meat product). Also multicolor potatoes, mushrooms, rainbow carrots and various herbs and spices.

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Well, This Is Nice

      Day Three of a four-day vacation, and I went home early from a late lunch yesterday and pretty shortly after, fell asleep in a chair while reading online.  So I went to bed and spent at least fourteen hours there, mostly asleep.

      I'm up now, but not a hundred percent.  Made a little breakfast but I'm way out of it.  Took a couple of aspirin a few minutes ago, and we'll see what they do, especially with plenty of coffee.  No serious sinus or throat symptoms, at least.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022


      Yesterday, the first day of what should have been an "Oops, there's time left this year" week off, I worked.  We had three long-stalled projects aloft and that was the day a crew was available. 

      At the end of the day, only one was completed.  Another might be, but changes elsewhere in the Big Corporate Behemoth for which I work make it impossible to check right now -- and that was a "drop-in" replacement that required drill-press work and rewiring.  And the third job, once we'd had the device hauled down from a truly dizzying height, turned into a "box it up and send it back to the manufacturer" repair.

      Meanwhile, correcting another ongoing problem has turned into a year-plus slog for parts, thanks to pandemic-related materials problems.  And the long-term "temporary" fix for it has developed problems of its own, which result in my phone being sent alarms every few hours around the clock.  The base problem has been known and discussed since 2009 -- known, discussed and left to fester, while I improvised ways to keep it from getting worse; but those ways rely on other systems working, systems which have begun to fail.

      I'm singularly unimpressed.  There's only so many patches on patches on patches I can keep going; I've documented it and if all fails, well, then it does, and I'll help 'em recover from it.  But they can yell at themselves over it, not me; I have done my part.

      (In related news, it has taken the "full speed, push hard" people at work twenty-seven years to break or ruin every drill in a 1/16" to 3/8" by 32nds index.  I suppose I should consider that a victory; at the main location downtown, the same job takes them about six months.  Unless you're drilling a lot of steel and iron or abrasive materials, twist drills should have a very long life.  Copper, brass and aluminum don't take much to help the drill work, a little chalk or high-tech Boelube and care with feeds and speeds, but if you won't do that, you'll kill 'em quick.  Of course, these are the guys, a subset of my co-workers, who never heard of a "file card" brush to clean clogged files, or rubbing a file with chalk to help cutting and keep it from filling up.  The rest of us try to keep them away from the tap and die sets and the better screwdrivers -- which they use for pry bars, of which we have a nice assortment -- and wrenches. Pliers, vise-grips and the wrong hammer for the task at hand are their natural tools.)

Sunday, December 04, 2022


      It's the old word for "counterclockwise."  And here, it is a tale of routine, romance and revolt:

Saturday, December 03, 2022


      NaNoWriMo is over.  I didn't win -- that is, I didn't write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  I got about 22,000 words down, which is better than I've ever done in that much time, and I'm okay with that.

      The NaNoWriMo website supports setting goals outside of their events, using the same progress-tracking tools.  So I have set a new goal -- to keep going through December on the same project, aiming for a 50,000 word total.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Linguistic Patrol Returns!

      Yes, with a groan of the starter and fingers crossed that there won't be too much old-gasoline varnish in the carburetor, the Linguistic Patrol coughs, backfires and roars into action for an emergency mission!

      But why, you ask?  It's The Case Of The Hidden Reputation!

     One of the major news sites, in an opinion piece about the rise of an extremist loudmouth (pick your own example; it doesn't matter), referred to the individual's having "...established a certain cache" in their particular segment of the political spectrum.

      Cache?  Wrong!  Cache can be a noun or a verb, and both versions address the notion of stashing things away for possible future use.  It's pronounced "cash."

      The word the writer was after would have been cachet, which refers to the prestige of a person or organization.  It's the state of being respected or admired, or it is a distinguishing mark or seal.  It's of French origin and the t, in fine French style, is silent: "kah-shay."

      They're both real words.  Your computer's spellchecker cannot tell that you've grabbed the wrong one.  The reader, however, may find encountering cache for cachet or vice versa to be as grating as getting a piece of eggshell in a fried egg -- and not a small piece, either.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

You Call That Cold?

      It was 19°F when I woke up this morning, and I do call that cold.  Today's high is predicted to be 38° -- which is not really a high.  It's a low wearing a fedora and a stick-on mustache, pretending to be a high.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Not Actually Cooking

      Last night, I wanted something warming and easy for dinner, and resolved to see what was in the hot deli case at our neighborhood grocery.

      Got there a little after seven last night.  The parking lot was full and the deli case--  Was not.  Four little chickens with various seasoning profiles and no hot side dishes.  Plenty of nice cold sides, including my favorite vinegar-pepper coleslaw.

      So: One butter-garlic roasted chicken, two cans of Amy's low fat* Barley Vegetable soup and one can of their Southwestern Vegetable soup.  When I got home, after getting the groceries put away, I poured one can of Barley Vegetable and one of Southwestern Vegetable  into a large pot, and proceeded to disassemble the roasted chicken, skin and all, adding everything but the bone and gristle to the pot.  Almost everything -- Tam is fond of drumsticks, so I saved one back for her.  The meat fell right off the bone of the other drumstick!  In it all went, making a very thick stew.  I had saved the third can of soup back in case it needed more liquid, but it didn't.  A little dehydrated onion for luck along with parsley, sage, rosemary and za'atar (I know the thyme is somewhere on the shelf but the other spice showed up first), put the lid on and set a timer for ten minutes.

      Ten minutes later, chicken stew!  Is it as good as a slow-roasted chicken with fresh vegetables, simmered for hours in chicken stock?  Nope.  But it's pretty darned good, pretty darned fast and very little work.  I'll take it.  Especially with slaw on the side.
* Look, there's all kinds of chicken skin and bits of fat going into this.  You'll never miss the soup fat.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Caveman Food!

      It appears that Neanderthals and early modern humans cooked up similar meals, back when chipped flint was high technology --- and it wasn't always great hunks of roasted meat.  Nope, it looks like lentils and beans with some herbs were on the menu and, for the Neanderthals at least, mustard greens as well.

      Picture me less than surprised.  The natural world, even "wild" lands, has plenty of things to eat besides critters and hominids are great opportunists.  In particular, humans appear to have an eye (or a palate) for flavorful combinations and a knack for figuring out interesting things we can do with food and fire.  We were harvesting green (and red, purple, etc.) growing things long before we were planting them and may even have been casually tending natural patches of edible growth well ahead of the emergence of large-scale agriculture.  Our teeth tell the story: we're omnivores.  Having evolved to eat whatever we could find, we still eat whatever's good.  In fact, I'll just park this recipe here for future reference.

Monday, November 28, 2022

"What Is This Job For?"

      So, Red China's being rocked by protests over their draconian "Zero Covid" policy.  Vaccination rates haven't been great in the country and their own COVID vaccines aren't among the most effective, so they're still doing actual lockdowns -- lock-ins -- over outbreaks that would barely rate mention in most of the rest of the world.  These aren't polite requests to avoid social gatherings and shut down non-essential businesses, either; it's fences and cops and people getting hauled off to quarantine for trying to get around them.

      The Chinese people seem to have become fed up with it after two and a half years.  The story made the front page of the big newspapers here (and people I know who make a point of never reading the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, etc. have been asking "Why isn't the MSM covering this?" which looks pretty silly).

      One place you might go look for coverage of these protests is Twitter.  What you'll find instead is nonsense spam and porn links.  Red China has long had a policy of trying to bend social media their way.  They've used bot farms and half-renminbi-a-post workers (the "Fifty-Cent Army") for years, and they've been, well, flooding the zone with crap over their COVID-policy unrest.  So fat chance trying to find any coverage of the protests on Twitter -- MSM or otherwise.

      You see, Twitter's staff has been cut to the bone and somewhere in all that "nonessential" and even "woke" staff were the people whose jobs it was to yank the rug out from under Communist China's clumsy efforts to control information when they acted up.  Oops.

      In the early days of broadcast television, "Madman" Muntz built the most affordable TVs around, in part by a design process that was said to consist of removing components until the the prototype stopped working, then putting that final part back, and removing parts elsewhere in the circuit until it conked out again.  A critical step was backing up and reinstalling the removed part when the TV set stopped working.  Eventually, they'd get to the bare minimum needed to still have a functional device.

      I sure hope Elon Musk doesn't skip that step.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Lazy Day

      Pretty much all I did was laundry and a little writing.  Working a long Friday around people tired me out.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Off To Work

      The day after Thanksgiving isn't an official day off for me, and it never has been.  A few times, it's been an unofficial day off, but that ended as my peers quit or retired.  Now it's a workday with a few extra hours.  So off I go.  It's not the most fun I have, but the extra pay helps.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

What I'm Thankful For

      I'm thankful for a lot, but most of all, I'm thankful things haven't been any worse.

      I'm thankful Russia hasn't managed to start World War Three, at least not yet.

      We had a horrible global pandemic and a lot of people reacted to the whole thing in suboptimal ways, but it could have been a lot worse.  I'm thankful we were as lucky, clever and occasionally wise as we all averaged out to be -- and luck was certainly not the smallest element in that.

      Despite a period of national-level political conflict not seen since the Civil War, we managed to not start another one, in the face of very strong emotions and considerable physical conflict.  It wasn't good, but it could have been a lot worse.

      So here's to not screwing things up past the point of recovery.  Let's aim higher in the future, while being grateful we've got a future at all. 

      I'm grateful for good friends and good food, too.
      Here's the traditional Roseholme Cottage Thanksgiving feast, turducken roll, mashed potatoes (from scratch), bacon gravy and roasted vegetables.  Not shown, apple compote: half a large tart apple, diced, with a little sugar, butter, cinnamon and cloves, plus a handful of unsalted fancy mixed nuts, put in a covered grill pan and allowed to simmer for over an hour while the turducken and vegetables were cooking.

Quick Post

      I'll work on something longer and more suited to the day later.  For now, I'm thankful to have gotten past 20,100 words on my NaNoWriMo project.

      Speaking of women and writing, here's a lady author whose work was used in schoolbooks (well, clay tablets) for centuries and now hardly gets any credit.  (If that sparks your interest, you might enjoy this British Museum piece, which includes a video with a scholar who appears to be on loan from Discworld's Unseen University.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Nature Of The Problem

      There have been a couple of headline-grabbing mass shootings over the last few days.  These are always tragic, dominate the news cycle to an unhealthy extent and they result in the old familiar tropes being trotted out by the usual players, opinion pieces on "America's Gun Problem," "America's Mental Health Problem" and others, plus a degree of victim-blaming from whichever side sees advantage in that.  The far Right's been all over the Colorado Springs mass shooting, as if that kind of horror is something any group of law-abiding citizens deserves.

      Well, they don't.  Even if you find the LGBT (etc.) community personally loathsome or an offense against your religious beliefs, they're no less citizens than yourself, no less human, and have the same reasonable expectations of being left alone as, say, a church group or people inside a big-box store.

      Guns and access to mental health treatment, "Red Flag" laws and their enforcement, involuntary commitment orders: every bit of it is political hot-button stuff, over which we shout past one another in debate mostly composed of bumper-sticker slogans and carefully-sifted statistics.  At heart, our opinions about these things are emotional beliefs and rarely susceptible to any amount of rational argument.

      But when it comes down to it, one of the big contributors to this kind of stochastic violence, which is nearly always caused  by someone with a history of troubling incidents and/or mental health challenges, the actual big problem that we have is a "It's not my job to watch my disturbing relative or neighbor" problem; we have a "It's someone else's job" problem.

      The dithering police officers in Uvalde had a "It's someone else's job" problem.  The retired Army officer who and patrons who took down the killer in Colorado Springs did not.  But other people in that person's life had, and probably over and over.

      The majority of people with mental health problems are harmless.  So are most gun owners.  Most of the people around you, from a pew full of deacons to the people at a nightclub, from duck hunters to people who compose angry Letters To The Editor or post on social media, are harmless and well-intentioned.  But they're uninterested in being their brother's keeper if it is in any way messy or inconvenient -- and that occasionally results in messes that are much larger and deadly. 

       Afterward, watch for interviews with people who knew the perpetrator.  See how many of them found him (very rarely her or, most recently, singular them) worrisome -- and kept it to themselves until afterward. 

       In a country of over 330 million people, one-in-a-million bad outcomes aren't that uncommon.  And opportunities to head off bad outcomes before they occur are even more common.

      Maybe we'd be better off with a little less overheated debate, online and elsewhere, and a little more personal involvement with those immediately around us.  Yes, yes, they're messy and awkward and oh, heavens, their opinions on issues of the day might not be in lockstep agreement with your own!  But there they are, real human beings, as vulnerable and as dangerous as anyone.  They're not caricatures inside your phone or computer or on your TV.  Get to know them.  You might be able to do some small-scale good -- and prevent large-scale harm.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022


      A little over 18,500 words as of last night.  I won't reach 50 k by the end of the month, but I'm making progress. 

Hooray! The New Calendar Is Here!

     Calendars frustrate me these days.  Not the ones on my phone or computer, the paper ones.  The modern trend is for teeny-weeny numbers, in wispy fonts that vanish at any distance -- especially for my 64 year old eyes.

     I have shopped and shopped, without much success.  I've made my own, which is fun and not as much work as you might think.  But I'd just as soon buy one.

     Several months into last year, I found a calendar that suited me fine.  It's an import from Japan but labelled in English, and it's just what I've been after: 
     They did a 2023 edition and I ordered mine last week,  It arrived last night, in just the same style.  (Yes, the holiday's on the wrong date and has an odd name; I'll take that to be able to read the numbers from across the room.). The nice folks at Hightide Store DTLA stock them -- it's not inexpensive, but you get what you pay for.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Plutonium Bacon?

      The headline went splashing though social media last week: World Health Organization Says Bacon As Deadly As Plutonium.

      It sounds awful.  Did they really say that?  Not exactly.  The report does classify processed meat  as carcinogenic in their highest-danger classification, Group 1, along with asbestos and plutonium.  But it's not a scale of deadliness-per-unit volume, only of how well-linked a substance is to causing cancer.  It's confusing and has prompted articles trying to explain what it means and generally succeeding.

      Here's the thing to know: "The dose makes the poison."  Paracelsus wrote that in 1538 -- and he was right.  A cross-grained iconoclast after my own heart, he valued practical experience and rigorous experiment as pathways to accurate knowledge.  Plutonium has an LD50 -- the amount that will kill half those who ingest it it -- of 0.00032 grams per kilogram of body weight; if bacon were composed of pure sodium nitrate (it's not), its LD50 would be 0.18 g/kg (source).

      I'm using toxicity as a crude proxy for carcinogenic qualities; this is fast, sloppy and inaccurate, but it lets us compare orders of magnitude easily.  A speck of plutonium with your breakfast is a very big problem, while a speck of bacon is not.  It appears there's a threshold level for processed meat: eating too much bacon is indeed bad; eating a little bacon, you can treat as a manageable risk, the same as driving a car or hanging out with your friends and family. (Not everyone agrees how much bacon is too much or how little is just right.)

      If you're having bacon bits for breakfast in place of oatmeal and washing them down with hot bacon fat, you're in trouble.  If you're averaging one strip of bacon or less in the morning, you take far higher risks every day in the shower.

      (Details for geeks: most risky activities have a linear relationship between increasing frequency or volume and increasing risk -- except at the very low end, where things get nonlinear: maybe even a tiny dab will do you in; maybe mitigating strategies work up to a point [sunscreen/hat]; maybe the risk goes to zero ahead of the volume, or the slope even reverses [water intake, for example, where too much can eventually be as deadly as too little].  Understanding these low-end-of-the-curve behaviors is essential to managing risk intelligently.) 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Answering Machine Greetings

      "Thank you for calling.  Your message is important to us. Please wait patently to be ignored."

      "Hello.  Please leave a sausage after the drone."

      "Hello.  This is not the number you were calling.  Please do not try again."

     (Sound of distant explosions, fully-automatic weapon fire, shrieks.) "Firebase One.  We are falling back.  I repeat, we are falling back."  (Loud explosion.  Call terminates.)

      "Mommy?  Mommy?"

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Post-Modern Jukeboxing The News

      Scott Bradlee, who you may remember from Post-Modern Jukebox's jazzy (and related genre) takes on pop music and the like, is still doing that musical alchemy -- but he's left the noise and confusion of big-city life for a farm of his own, and a remarkably sane substack.

     His thoughts on the modern media environment are insightful, useful -- and non-partisan.  It's worth reading.  Here's a taste: " is completely reasonable to not have an opinion on something that you aren’t fully caught up on, or to prefer to wait until the facts are in before weighing in on the latest current event or controversy."

     Reasonableness tends to get drowned out these days.  His shouldn't be.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022


      There's about enough time to say Howdy.  I have a dentist appointment to get to.  Still doing the NaNoWriMo thing, as time permits.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Over 12,000 Words

      Twelve thousand words, a little more, is nowhere near on pace to complete NaNoWriMo's fifty thousand word target by the end of the month.  I'm nevertheless not unhappy about it; this is as much as I have written in so short a time for years.

      Chugging right along.  There's no prize for "winning" NaNoWriMo other than a lovely certificate and your own stack of pages; it's not a high-stakes contest.  It's a way to get yourself writing, if that's something you want to do, and to find out how it goes.  And it's a way to find out how you work at longer lengths.  Short stories are often drafted in a single sitting: you get an idea and put it down on paper, then go back later and polish.  Novels don't work that way, not for most writers, and there's no way to learn it except by doing it.

      About polishing: The Indiana Writers Center is running a short fiction contest and I wanted to enter a story I wrote awhile back.  The contest had a 1000 word limit, and my story was 1068.  Yikes!  How could I possibly?  Surely every word was necessary?  But I sat down and gave it a couple of passes, tightening up language and eliminating excesses, gritting my teeth when I had to, using the running count in my word processor, which includes things like the title.  It ended up at 990 words of story and I think it's better for it.  It'll be some time before the judging, but the exercise was worth it.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Two Things That Go Together

      Snow and "red stew," a/k/a Midwestern-style chili.

      Must admit, I started the chili on the basis of the forecast and made a pot big enough for leftovers.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Veteran's Day

      I didn't post anything about Veteran's Day yesterday.  I usually write a little about the history of the holiday, which has gone through quite a few changes since the guns fell silent at the end of World War One.

      Instead, I thought about the people we're thanking.  It gets to be a little too pro forma, a bit too much influenced by movies and TV, bullets flying and noble sacrifice on one hand, and a brusque "Thank you for your service" on the other.  Service members are real men and women, working long hours for pay that varies from a bit low to, well, is there really ever adequate pay to jump out of an airplane at night into unknown and possibly hostile territory?  Because some of those movie scenarios do happen for a few Service personnel.  Others -- a lot of others -- do the dull, difficult stuff that it takes to keep a modern military on the job, in facilities that vary from cutting-edge to field-expedient to "should have been bulldozed long ago."  And they do it.  Not uncomplainingly; griping is an essential lubricant for the work.  But they show up and they get it done, day after day.

      Militaries don't run on BS and PR.  It takes hands-on work and I am grateful to the men and women that do it.  Taking one day a year to say "Thanks" feels preposterously inadequate.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Decisions, Decisions

      There's a comment in the waiting-for-approval queue that I wouldn't mind publishing.  Not because I agree with the opinions expressed; I mostly don't.

      The commenter mostly retells recent GOP worry beads about the economy, riots, military operations and medical misinformation, and if I publish it, I'll have to fisk it.

      If I fisk it point by point, it's going to anger the guy who made the comments.  He's pretty invested in his beliefs and I doubt I'll change them.  But if you put "vaccination" in scare quotes when talking about COVID-19 (they're actual vaccines, and they work), or bemoan the botched (and I don't think anyone believes it wasn't screwed up) withdrawal from Afghanistan under President Biden's Administration without noting that President Trump wanted to do the very same thing only quicker and with even less preparation (and according to people who were in the room, it was hard going talking him out of it), then you have not done much homework other than ingesting one-sided partisan media.

      The United States was supposed to be a country where you didn't have to do much homework.  You were supposed to be able to mostly ignore the Federal government, and count on them to return the favor.  It hasn't been that way since at least 1913.  You do have to do your homework.  You ought to know by now the the Feds have only the crudest and most indirect control over the economy -- and that, in a mostly free-market economy, is a good thing.  You ought to know by now that you can't just throw around sloppy labels without taking a genuine look at the thing you're labeling, whatever it is.

      And you ought to know by now that political polarization is not a simple red/blue binary.  The Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, Roger Stone, Donald J. Trump, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence and Elizabeth Cheney may all be on the political Right, but they're not the same.  Joe Manchin, "Blue Dog" Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, the BLM protesters and Antifa are all on the political Left, but they're not the same. It doesn't take much nosing around on social media and the Web to figure out that the very far Left is particularly hostile to the moderate Left, even more so than the far Right is to "RINOs" on their side.  It's possible to vote for the "wrong" party without voting for the worst excesses of that side's extremists.  Conversely, a candidate too inclined to wink at dangerous actions by putative allies is someone to watch out for -- and vote against.

      Don't live in a bubble, where you look at the side you disfavor and cannot see any reason for any citizen to ever vote for any of their candidates.  Our modern media environment magnifies extremes, from the legacy oldstream channels to the edgiest of social sites and apps.  Most candidates are not out to eat the rich or push crazy conspiracy theories about stealing elections.  Nearly all of them aren't inciting riots.  The overwhelming majority of candidates and officeholders aren't out to undermine or destroy the United States.  The vast bulk of 'em (apologies to certain Governors and Senators for the phrase) treasure our history, our Constitution and our institutions, and have not set out to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.  Some of them have foolish, impractical notions, full of unintended consequences, but by and large, they're honestly trying to not screw up.  All of them want to be elected or re-elected, often more so than prudence would prefer.  They're human.

      You are not living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and staggeringly few of your fellow citizens want you to.  Give 'em a little credit, willya?

     Edited To Add: a previously-banned commenter is getting after me for not publishing comments.  Go cry in your own beer, bub.  This is my blog, not a public square or a debating society.  I explained in the second paragraph why I probably wouldn't publish the person's comment and it's not because I dislike them or their expressing their own opinion; it's because I'd have to fisk it, in detail, with examples, and I don't feel like getting out the big guns this morning, especially against a guy who was probably just riffing.  Don't like that?  Then start your own damn blog.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Normie Wave

      Another day on, it appears that the crazier a politician was, the worse they did in the general election.  In "safe" states or districts, it meant a smaller margin of victory; anywhere there was much of a contest, victory has mostly gone to the most normal.  Election conspiratists -- including Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams alongside a herd of Trumpist Republicans -- generally did not do as well as candidates who appeared to trust the election system.  Not being a loon was the margin of victory for many winners, who I hope will be a good influence on the rest of 'em once they take office.

      (All this outside of Florida, where the main current-issue zaniness isn't about the 2020 election but the rights of sexual minorities, a group that is still pretty safe for politicians to demonize.  So far, this is paying off for the state's GOP, and I guess we'll find out if that approach has legs.  Historically, finding an unpopular minority to blame and/or pin on one's opposition works until something goes wrong that they can't plausibly be blamed for, and then it's a mad scramble to find the next scapegoat before the bottom falls out.  This is entirely aside from the merits and/or social ills of the scapegoated group, which in other times and places has been everything from organized crime to organized religion.)

      And about that election system: didja notice how all those new poll watchers, poll workers and observers....just went and did their jobs?  How no giant secret system of sneaks and cheats was revealed?  That's because it was never there.  The new workers got inside and found out how things worked in their precincts, townships, counties and states, and the extent to which everyone watches one another, usually in one-from-each-big-party teams; they got to observe and maintain the chain of custody of computer drives and paper ballots.  We don't run elections like a giant, opaque corporation in this country; we run 'em like a collection of church suppers and barn-raisings, with volunteers and low-paid help until you get to the smallish staffs of the elected officials in solemn (and largely supervisory) charge of the process, and there is no large-scale cheating.  Who're you gonna believe, the PTA ladies from right down your street who are hands-on with the process or ranting, mostly out-of-office politicians that spend election night partying?

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Purple Wave

      Predictions for the 2022 midterm elections varied from early Democrat optimism for a "blue wave" to later Republican predictions of a "red wave."

      What we got was purple.  As I write this, there is still no clear majority for either party in the U. S. House or Senate.  There are enough results in to show that whichever one come comes out on top in either or both bodies will have a slim majority at most.

      I think there's a message to our Congressthings in that, and I doubt any of them can discern it: don't get too far out of the mainstream.  It's endlessly appealing to the ego to stand up at campaign events and say things that energize the partisan base, to pursue the pet issues that result in cheers -- and to forget that the people who show up at rallies for both parties constitute only a fraction of the voting public.*  Most of 'em don't have time for that; most of them don't want sweeping change. They want their costs for heat, light, food and fuel to stop rising; they want low crime and smooth roads.  Lose sight of that and you'll lose elections.  Scare 'em too much and they'll dig in, returning incumbents, going for familiar names and patterns.

      Things are still getting sorted out.  It'll be awhile before we'll know which party's going to get saddled with the responsibility for getting things done in Washington.  It may turn out to be split.  The one clear reality is that however it is, the majority's going to have an uphill time of it and they're going to need to make nice with the party across the aisle.

      It'll be a new experience for a lot of 'em.
* Interesting factoid: Pundits like to decry the way U. S. voter turnout is pretty low as modern democracies go, despite a steady upward trend.  We managed around 66% in 2020.  But turnout among registered voters is unusually high, over 94%.  Registering to vote in most states -- other than North Dakota, where you only need to show ID that confirms you live there -- is a little more effort here than in other democracies, and it may be that citizens who were sufficiently motivated to register are also motivated to vote.  Whatever the reason, that third of the electorate who don't bother to show up also never bothered to get a ticket for the ride.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Lawrence Block On Writing Fiction

      Some novelists write historical fiction or contemporary thrillers filled with a wealth of meticulous detail, all carefully put together from genuine sources.

      Others handwave their way through with such entertaining verve that you never notice. 

      Lawrence Block, a prolific and entertaining guy, has written complex crime fiction about a burglar who keeps having to solve murders in order to keep himself out of jail; stories about a clever, unsleeping operator who specializes in crossing tricky international borders, usually not by legal means.  It's all very convincing stuff.  And here's what he says about research:

      "I don't enjoy it and don't do a very good job of it.  I force myself when I have to, and I've become better about this in recent years, less given to slipshod fakery, but the idea of deliberately setting out to write a book that requires a vast amount of academic research is anathema to me."*

      This is well and good if you're reading or writing fiction.  It's entertainment!  But be on lookout for it in commentary.  A lot of what passes for news today is some pundit or another, holding forth on events of the day and speculating on what the future may hold.  Most actual newscasts are news -- but the cable networks tend to fill prime time with commentators, not reporters.  Know the difference.

      It's even worse when it comes to politicians, and that goes double at rallies and campaign events.  "Slipshod fakery" is the order of the day.  Keep a notepad handy, or use a handheld device to make notes when they share facts and figures and supposed history or poll results.  Look it up.  Get back to primary sources if possible.

      Life is not a novel and speaking for myself, I'd like to avoid the drama and sweep from a novel in my own life.  Grand events are too often meatgrinders for the people who have to endure them.
* Page 40, Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel, 2016.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Why Do We Have Two Words For Bear?

      In fact, we have three words for bear, which holds part of the story: bear, bruin, and (when speaking of things pertaining or similar to bears) ursine.

     The last word goes back to the Indo-European root word, and versions of it show up in the languages of European countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea: places that are not, generally, bear country.  Go wandering through Northern Europe and towards Russia and the words they use are euphemisms, most of which mean either "brown" or (if you're speaking a Slavic language), "honey-eater."  Both of the common English words trace back to "brown," though by different paths.

     How come?  Up in bear country, places where the animals fatten up before winter and emerge ravenous in the spring, bears are a particular and well-known terror, far more so back when humanity had only spears, knives and axes to use against them.  An animal like that, you don't want to use its right name: it might show up when called.

     A powerful superstition back when fire and chipped flint were high technology.  These days, we've made it real.

     A friend I won't name on a social media platform I won't name came up with a cutting insight into a well-known and polarizing figure (not a politician).  A very well-known commentator with a lot of followers shared my friend's analysis -- at which point my friend suggested to me that a pile-on was inevitable.  The nature of social media is such that to mention a well-known figure by name is to summon them, along with their fans.

     We've made our own bears, dangerous creatures -- and we've given them the magical power they were only feared to have back when social media consisted of telling stories around the fire in the dark of night.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Recent Reading

      Having finished William Gibson's Agency yesterday, I turned to the next book on my pile, Joe Steele, by Harry Turtledove.

      In this alternative history, Stalin's parents emigrate to California before he is born.  The child grows up, becomes a labor agitator under a pseudonym and moves into politics, challenging FDR for the Democrat nomination in 1932.  It promises to be interesting, though the normally-meticulous Turtledove jarred me in the first chapter by having a reporter disliking his Remington portable typewriter for its weight and musing that it would make a hole in the sidewalk if he threw it out his seventh-floor window.   --Nope, sorry.  This would be the era of Remington's "crank-up" portable, low-profile four-row machines that weighed very little more than the competing three-row Corona and Underwood portables and were easier to type on.*  To minimize the bulk when stored, the striker arms laid flat and a quarter-turn crank on the side brought them up to the ready position for use when the cover was off.

      Right before rereading The Peripheral and Agency, I read Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, another alternate history novel, this one set in a world where Charles Lindbergh runs against FDR in 1940 and wins.  (It was later made into an HBO series, which I haven't seen.)  The viewpoint character is an eight-year-old boy living in Newark, New Jersey and he is essentially autobiographical.  Events take a turn for the worse in the book's timeline, though it is not as heavy-handed as you might expect -- and all the more chilling for it.  I thought it was well worth reading.
* In fairness, the contemporary and nominally portable Remington Noiseless is quite chunky, a result of the mechanism that makes it much quieter than most typewriters.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

So I'm Doing NaNoWriMo This Year

      What I am writing for NaNoWriMo is probably not publishable.  It's certainly nothing in my usual line: different genre, a protagonist who isn't like anyone I know and who is not a hands-on technical geek, with a story set in a place I generally avoid, roughly the here and now (maybe early 2010s) in an analog of the small city where I spent a little over a decade from third grade through a year of college.

      But it's been an interesting ride so far.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

This Is Annoying

      I've been sick the last couple of days, with something that has symptoms that aren't typical of flu, COVID-19, a head cold or allergies.  I'm waiting to hear test results from the doc-in-a-box I visited yesterday evening.

      For now, back to bed.

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.