Wednesday, October 04, 2023

"Anyone Can Become Speaker"

     It's true.  The requirements to be elected Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives don't include being a Congressthing.  In fact, they're pretty wide open: if you're not disqualified from holding an office or trust of the Federal government, you can become Speaker.  Arguably, you'd need to be at least 25 years old and to have been a U. S. citizen for seven years or more, but even that's a little shaky.

     The flip side is to look at the actual skill set the job requires.  It take more than mere ambition.  Kevin McCarthy wanted the job badly indeed -- and made many promises to get it.  He tried to give all of his party's Congresscritters what they wanted while keeping the country running and that proved his undoing: the GOP's House members had conflicting desires, and many of them wanted to shut the government down unless they got what they wanted.

     Successful Speakers have been master manipulators, skilled salespeople with a firm grasp of parliamentary procedure.  They were able to convince their fellow party members to swap votes for votes, to go along to get some of what they wanted, and kept the system working by working the system.  Many of them came off a bit smarmy, especially if they were from the party you didn't vote for, but they got the job done.  Within their own parties, they brought people together rather than driving them apart.*

     Yes, just about anyone can become Speaker of the House.  The list of people who ought to get the job, of people who can accomplish something with the job?  That's a whole lot shorter.
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* Across party lines, now that's a whole other thing in the House, and has been at least since the late 19th Century, when Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed Jr. harrumphed, "The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch."  Best or not, that's how it has worked for all of our lives.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

My Opinions, Your Facts

     I'm sitting on a comment at present.  I'd kind of like to publish it, except for one little problem: it makes assertions without support and then infers conclusions from them.

     This is my blog, featuring my opinions and as much factual matter as I can muster in support of them, and if there's any crawling out on a limb to be done here, that's my job.  If you want to push back against what I write, your tools are facts, supported by links, cites or -- because I am a generous person and like to look things up -- easily verifiable.  Establish a firm foundation of facts and I'll probably let you make a claim about what they imply.

     But this a blog is not a public forum.  I'm not handing out soapboxes.  The occasional brief cheer, hiss, boo or correction is fine, but sweeping claims, even if they are received orthodoxy among you and your friends, require verifiable factual support.  No matter how close your reasoning or how impeccable your chain of logic may appear, if it didn't start with stuff any competent, literate person can dig up and point to, it doesn't count.  Your experiment has to be reproducible.  Your facts have to be testable.  Otherwise it's just a con job, fast talk masquerading as a map of reality.

     This kind of dull slog through the stacks and links, sifting wheat from chaff, refining the raw ore,  flipping through many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, has always been unpopular.  It's a lot of work!  But it has never been easier than it is right now, and it's how anything worthwhile gets done.  The Founders and Framers knew history; Newton knew math (and a lot of alchemical bullshit); Heinz knows pickles.  What do you know -- and can you prove it?

Monday, October 02, 2023

"Drama Caesar?"

      I was all set to do a sober think-piece on the dangers of Caesarism and why it's a bad thing, filled with links to current books and articles and historical references.

     But it's a waste of time.  The people who care about the ideals underpinning our system of government don't need the reminder and the folks besotted with splendid things they imagine a strong man holding the reigns might accomplish if only he weren't hampered by the legislature, the courts and the U. S. Constitution aren't listening.  Institutions that once espoused a deep respect for the American federal republic, like the Claremont Institute and Hillsdale College have become havens for authoritarian nutters as bad -- and as willing to inspire bloodshed -- as any Mercedes-driving Ivy-League Marxist.

     Not a one of them knows how to get bloodstains out of tweed or would be willing to do the work if you showed them how, either.

     At one time, the Right's thinkers and opionators* inveighed against Caesarism as soberly as any orator of the Roman republic warned the Senate and people about the dangers of monarchy.  While Cato never wavered (and he didn't succeed, either), the supposed inheritors of Buckley's mantle reached a certain point in warning about the "Man on Horseback," looked at the notion and thought, "Cato had to stab himself after a series of frustrating struggles; Caesar and subsequent Emperors ruled Rome for centuries," and changed sides, hailing Caesar as full-throatedly as they'd been cautioning against him.

     It's not a good look.  I don't know how to fix it.

     History has been rife with would-be Caesars ever since he hoodwinked Rome into returning to kings in all but name; I wish their Senate had done a more thorough job of stabbing him and much earlier, but here we are.

     The only good news I have is the boosters of Caesarism are a dime a dozen.  They show up all the time and their efforts fall well short.

     The bad news is that they only have to succeed once.  Constitutional government has to succeed every time.
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* Two groups with surprisingly little overlap all across the political spectrum except for how heedlessly they egg one another on, like small children working themselves up to toilet-paper the Mayor's house.  And somehow, there's always one of them playing with matches.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Kessler Who?

     A commenter suggested perhaps the lovely wide street that goes from near Fort Harrison State Park to a little northeast of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be called "Kestrel" Boulevard -- one of the raptors I've never seen around here.

     But it's named after a famous guy, even if you haven't heard of him: landscape architect George Kessler, father of parks, parkways, bridges and city beautification.  Starting around the turn of the last century, many cities "let George do it,"* and in Indianapolis, he was the father of the park and boulevard system that ornaments the city to this day.  It even carries parts of our network of bicycle paths, especially along Fall Creek Parkway.  Kessler was working on the boulevard that bears his name when he died, 20 March 1923.

     So we won't be renaming it any time soon.
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* That innocent-sounding phrase carries its own history: the "George" is not Kessler but Pullman -- after whom every single Pullman railroad porter was addressed as "George," working days-long shifts on constant call and catching naps as they could.  They eased many a traveler's trip, anonymous under the founder's first name. 

Friday, September 29, 2023

Late Night Serenade

     I woke up around 2:30 this morning and heard the most remarkable series of sounds, a pattern of seven or eight calls, each with the same rhythm, over and over, with a lengthy pause between each repetition.

     It was almost certainly a Great Horned Owl or a Barred Owl.  Broad Ripple is home to many raptors, including a large family of (most likely) hawks around the intersection of College and Kessler Avenues, who can often be seen spiraling around in afternoons and evenings.  We've got owls nearby; the warbles and vocalizations of little screech owls occasionally adorn evenings. especially from Spring through Fall, and I've seen larger owls in the evening, including a family grouping that appeared to be using our alley to flight-train a youngster.  But I don't recall ever waking up to those owl calls before last night.

     The sound was remarkable, a harbinger of the changing season, slightly alarming at first, a lovely addition to the tapestry of the night.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

"Don't Know Much About History..."

     The United States Senate is supposed to be the "senior body," the place where wise legislators serving long terms weigh new laws and debate their decisions carefully, with due attention to history, science and culture.

     When a Senator votes, it's a well-considered choice -- or so a dozen years of Social Studies, U. S. History and U. S. Government classes led me to believe.  When the Senate voted to confirm General Charles Q. Brown, a former fighter pilot, as the new Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Senator Thomas H. "Tommy" Tuberville of Alabama voted Nay.

     Ah, but he's a U.S. Senator; surely his reasoning is sound even if one might disagree with his conclusion, right?

     Judge for yourself.  The senior Senator was concerned the USAF fighter pilot might be too "woke," telling an interviewer, "Our military is not an equal opportunity employer, it is a military that is here to protect American citizens."  You can look up the video for yourself, but the quote is not out of context.

     And it's a hundred percent wrong.  Ever since 1948, when President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, it has been explicit U. S. policy "...that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin."

     The military is, in plain fact, an equal opportunity employer.  They don't promise equality of outcome; not everyone makes it through Basic Training and of the ones who do, some will never qualify for anything especially challenging.  But if you've got the ability, Uncle Sam doesn't care about your hue, what (if any) deities you worship or where you came from.  These days, he doesn't even care who you sleep with or if you're a boy, a girl or a mystery.  The military cares about what you can do.  That's not "wokeism;" it's kind of harsh -- service in the toughest, most elite units is based on reality-tested individual accomplishment, both alone and as part of a team.  Them as can't, wash out, period.  That's not going to change.

     The Senator, I'm not so sure what he cares about.  Looking stuff up doesn't appear to be on his list.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Kaleidoscope Of Junk

     Contemporary politics continues to boggle me.  Oh, the process has never not been tawdry, acrimonious and tarnished all the way to the highest office, starting with the bitter Adams - Jefferson feud and continuing to the present day.  It's been more crooked in the past but I'm not sure it has ever been quite as trashy and nonsense-ridden as it has become.

     If "Politics is show business for ugly people," it has become even uglier of late, and the verbal flimflam is astonishing.  You need a good set of tools to dig through the muck -- Carl Sagan's Baloney Detector is handy, as is an understanding of "cold reading" (article also covers "warm" and "hot reading") and knowledge of basic cons.

     All politicians are trying to sell you a bill of goods.  Figure out what they're selling, how the pitch works -- and if the goods offered are worth the price, or even deliverable.  We've been sold a war on poverty, a war on drugs, a war on the border and a war on the sources of terrorism, but in every case, the conditions for victory are unclear, the price is higher than advertised and the sincerity of the pitchman is questionable.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Big Game Hunter

     Headed from the house to the garage the other day, I glanced over at the garlic chives.  They grow in a raised bed in front of the garage.  I have let that garden bed go wild the past several years.  The garlic chives are my source of tasty onion flowers and most of them are in bloom.

     The flowers are attractive to local bees,* most of which are the great big, fuzzy native bumblebees, the size of your thumb. A few of them were browsing.  One of the chives had a weird extra stalk, jutting down a short way at an angle from under the flower.  I stepped closer and saw the head and cocked forelegs: a small to medium praying mantis, perfectly color-matched and as still as a stick.  I waved a finger past and it turned its head to track my movement, decided I wasn't worth bothering about and resumed its motionless pose.

     I think it was hunting for a bumblebee.  In terms of relative size, the big bees weren't quite as large compared to the mantis as a rhinoceros would be to a person; more along the lines of a bison or Cape buffalo.  On the other hand, the mantis is only armed with its rapid-fire, spiny arms and powerful jaws.

     I wished it luck and went on my way.  That's one ambitious insect.
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* If I was seeing more honeybees, I might feel impelled to apologize to the amateur apiarist a couple blocks over.  But there are never more than one or two at most and there plenty of sweet flowers much closer to the hive.  I wonder if anyone's making an onion-honey barbecue glaze?

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Threat Spectrum

      I'm supposed to be worried about Artificial Intelligence destroying us all, but the fact is our Natural Stupidity is more than adequate for the job.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

6400 Words Into A 5000-Word Story

     Working on a story of a themed anthology and came up with one I really liked.  But by the time the protagonist had been confronted by the baddies, triumphed thanks to a little lateral thinking and was on a bus out of town, it was 6400 words long.

     The anthology has a hard limit: 5000 words, no more.  Run that thing back through the typewriter!

     The first pass tightened up the language, removed a few mistakes and got it down to just under 5900 words  Now I've got to start looking at trimming whole scenes.

     Gonna hold on to the solid-bronze Harpies until the very last second, though.

Monday, September 18, 2023

"Is There A Frustrated Voter In The Audience...?"

     Tamara considers it both a duty and a hobby activity to watch the Sunday morning political pundit and interview shows, so of course she watched Kristen Welker's inaugural turn hosting NBC's Meet The Press.

     She interviewed former President Donald Trump.  Lots of people have mentioned his "firehose" approach to interviews and speeches but what struck me was that his discursive, groping style is a form of "cold-reading."  I have never made any secret about how annoying I find it; this sidling up to definite statements, always throwing out a range of numbers instead of being specific and general fuzziness around the edges is characteristic of every bad General Manager I have worked for, all of them with a Sales background.

     Just like Mr. Trump, they'd look you right in the eye while they sprayed you with their firehose of notions -- watching intently for your reaction, punching buttons until something lit up.  They'd latch onto it if it was something they wanted, or downplay it if they didn't, and turn the firehose back on.

     It's difficult to counter, hard to steer in a one-on-one talk, and obnoxiously manipulative.  Cold-reading works best if the person doing it is heartlessly analytical, while presenting themselves as empathetic.  It's the one of the best tools in the skill set of a con man.

     In my opinion, Mr. Trump's either going to ruin the Republicans or ruin the country.  Since I value having at least two fairly mature, reasonably sane political parties and I value my country even more. I don't see anything especially good ahead.  My only question is, will the trouble be short-term or long-term?

     The Meet The Press interview didn't provide an answer for that 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

A Few Thoughts

     Impeachment is supposed to be difficult.  I have seen a lot of hand-wringing over the results of the impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.  While I'm not a big fan of the guy and I think the evidence made him look pretty bad, the decision was up to the state Senate.  He's still facing Federal charges and how that might go, no one knows.

     When an elected official is impeached, that's supposed to be a big deal.  It's supposed to be the result of dire misbehavior.  And even then, it might not result in removal from office.  It's not a casual, "Oh, hey, it's a slow day and a lot of us Elected Representatives dislike That Guy.  Let's impeach him!"  Or at least that wasn't the original intent.  The judicial systems in the U.S. are supposed to err in the direction of not punishing the innocent even if the occasional malefactor slips through, rather than the other way around.  Don't like it?  In the case of elected officials, there's a way to fix it: vote better ones in.  Don't expect perfection.

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     Slow-roasted pork is a treat.  I marinated a pork roast in balsamic and cider vinegar with a squirt of lime, plus plenty of soy  sauce, garlic and ginger along with a bit of Worcestershire sauce, then gave it four hours over indirect heat in a covered pan on the grill, adding apple, potato, celery, carrots, onion and two kinds of mild peppers as it cooked.  It was wonderful.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Gresham's Law Comes To Congress

     "Bad money drives out good," and cynical, thuggish and/or pandering elected representatives drive out the ones with a speck of backbone.

     Mitt Romney was one of the few with a spine, or at least cartilage.  He's decided he won't run again.  An upcoming biography shares the details of his Senate peers, fellow Republicans, who privately expressed their concerns about Donald Trump, Trumpism as a movement and related topics -- and then went on TV or the Senate floor and enthusiastically supported the latest whim.  Senators with degrees from Harvard and Yale who never swung a hammer or washed a single dish, expressing contempt for "elite rulers" and professing their solidarity with the working man in public while privately living the high life on the public's dime, fretful of growing authoritarianism but unwilling to risk their cushy spot by opposing it.

     It sounds like a working environment that would test the steeliest of wills.  And Senator Romney is only the latest in a long list of senior Republicans -- and a few Democrats - who have stepped away since 2016.

     We're losing statespeople.  We're gaining operators, punks, thugs and mooks.

     And a large segment of the public loves being buffaloed, cheering for a chance to hit back at whatever target fits the feelings of the moment.  How large?  Guess we'll find out, by and by.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

When Memory Becomes History

     Yesterday was 11 September.  I didn't do a black-bordered retrospective, and it was deliberate.

     The terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001 were tragic and they were a shocking wake-up call: there really were people and groups out there who loathed the United States, and they were able to do something about it.  Despite the February 1993 bombing attack on those very buildings, Americans were horrified -- in large part because we saw much of the attack on live TV, or recordings that same day.

     It was the first air attack against the United Sates since World War Two.  It was the first one people saw on TV as it happened.  Of course it had an enormous impact.

     It was 22 years ago.  It was two U.S.-led wars ago.  There's every reason for New York City to still solemnly recognize the day, just as Greater Honolulu marks the attack on Perl Harbor.  There's every reason for mass media to bear recurring witness to the terrible events.  But it's been 22 years.  It belongs in history books far more than headlines and there's no reason for every blog to don a hair shirt and bewail the horror.  We went after the man behind the attacks and we got him.  We tried to go after the ideology behind the attacks, too -- but that's a soft and elusive target.  If the world's a little safer from Islamic-based terrorism at present, having a hot war raging in Europe has nearly as much to do with it as the GWOT did.  The wheel keeps turning.

     Don't forget.  But don't live locked inside your memories, either. 

     One compilation lists over 200 terroristic attacks on the U.S., on (and sometimes by) citizens and residents.  There are terrible people in the world, terrible organizations, horrific ideas.  Be horrified by their acts; be angry, be disgusted -- and keep moving.  Triumph comes not just by catching the perpetrators but in maintaining the values and actions of civilization. 

Monday, September 11, 2023

I Didn't See It Coming

      I'm a Boomer.  I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boom, and went to big schools with plenty of space, following along in the footsteps of larger, noisier predecessors.  Parents had fought in World War Two, or been old enough to understand the war news and grasp that their turn might come soon.

     Fascism was defeated, authoritarianism was in ill repute and even our former wartime ally was quickly regarded with horror: fuzzy old Uncle Joe Stalin turned out to be far worse than prewar rumor had hinted and his successors maintained dictatorial control.

     "Strongman" rulers were considered an aberration and if the United States propped up the occasional Third World dictator, why, we were just keeping the Reds out and trying to give democracy a chance to flower, or at least that was the word in Social Studies class.  (It turned out the CIA had different plans, but they weren't sharing them with American schoolkids.)

     At home, when LBJ and Dick Nixon got high-handed, they faced mockery and pushback. I don't know if I can communicate the distaste young Democrats had for President Johnson, or the embarrassment of Republicans even as they complained the Press was too harsh on President Nixon, and it was a lot worse across party lines.

     So where did it come from, this recent enthusiasm for Viktor Orban, for Vladimir Putin, for the supercharged, turned-up-to-11 and Constitutionally illiterate "Unitary Executive" theories of Donald Trump and his imitators?  Where did the size and fervor of political rally attendees become a measure of a candidate's legitimacy?

     It's a mystery to me.  I read articles by various experts and pundits, and for all their notions, it appears to be a mystery to them, too.

     Meanwhile, we've got a Republican mayoral candidate in  Indianapolis who's making the kinds of promises to be a "strong leader" that wouldn't be too far out of place in 1920s-30s Europe.  (And the same formerly NRA A-rated politician is pushing local bans on "assault weapons," magazines holding more than ten rounds and an end to permitless carry:* if you're after someone to run with the hares while hunting with the hounds, look no further than aspirants to the office of big-city mayor,  I guess they think voters of different leanings will hear only what they want, and never talk politics with their neighbors?)

     One of my first paying jobs was videotaping City Council and School Board meetings for a county-seat cable TV channel.  All politicians are like the ones I met back then: Just Some Guy or Gal, doing a messy job however well or poorly, some of them with ambitions for bigger and worse jobs.  They all do better work if they know they're being watched.  If you're expecting any of them to be Jesus on horseback, you're deluding yourself and the politicians are happy to let you.
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* This is almost certainly cynical posturing, since Indiana's state-level preemption of firearms laws means all such proposals are off the local menu.

Friday, September 08, 2023

When Hominids Collide

     Currently on social media, there's an image circulating of a Neanderthal woman who bears a striking resemblance to a serving U. S. Congresswoman.  It is supposedly a detail from a display in a European museum as shown in a 1990s book, and it's presented as a ha-ha, lookie here gotcha.

     The real "gotcha" is not how much J. Random Reconstructed Neanderthal looks like a public figure, but how much we all do.  As the human genome is unravelled and compared, it has become increasingly obvious that when the big-headed bipeds in our direct ancestral line met other hominid species and pondered "Kiss, marry, kill?" they concluded, "All of the above."

     You're part Neanderthal, just like members of Congress.  We've all likely got a touch of Denisovan.  Modern humans, it turns out, are not "pure" anything.

     And our shortcomings and achievements are not even slightly determined by how much we resemble primitive troglodytes.  We do that stuff all by ourselves, on our own merits, ambitions and weaknesses.  You can't tell a mass murderer from a chicken farmer by a look at their face.  They might even both be the same person.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Advernoping

     Exactly how un-dialed-in does an ad agency have to be in order to feature a happy, smiling man buying a nearly all-white bicycle in a commercial for some kind of financial services?

     Out here in the real world, those things serve as a reminder to be aware along with their memorial function.  I guess it all blurs together for some folks.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Party! Party!

     Politics in the United States is strongly polarized and while that's nothing new, it may come as a surprise to some readers that the issues around which we polarized have changed many times.

     The pernicious nonsense of "two movies, one screen" conceals more than it reveals -- and privileges subjective reaction over objective reality.  Elected representative bodies are intended as a hedge against precisely that, chambers where opposing or diverging opinions must seek common ground and compromise.  While they can often become a platform for grandiose posturing, the real work comes in debate and discussion.  

     The United States is on our sixth or seventh party system, depending on how you parse them, and there is nothing in our history to suggest that either one of the two major parties will endure.   Parties have faded away and been replaced several times, and reinvented themselves under the old name at least as often.

     The run-up to the 2024 elections promises to be historic, and events may result in another major realignment.  There's going to be a lot of spin and angst, a lot of effort to hang meaning on actions and events that can speak for themselves -- if we will make the effort to peer past the partisan lenses.  It's easy to get people riled; it's difficult to get them to turn to Page 10 to read the dull details.  And it's almost impossible to convey the details in a sound bite or a minute-long TV piece.  The more salacious or lurid a thing is, the more likely someone's trying to get you to react emotionally.  Look for direct quotes.  Look for solid evidence.  Did that public figure say or do the thing they're accused of doing?

     I've been deeply disappointed by Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter.  He hasn't done much for free speech, despite bold talk early on.  He's shown himself to be vain and shallow, a man whose political opinions are about as worthless as those of Henry Ford.  Ford did the most good when he shut up and focused on building affordable cars and the vehicles that helped win WW II; Musk would do well to emulate him by concentrating on rockets and global Internet access.

     Buckle up.  It's going to get a lot weirder before it gets any better.  If it ever does.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Root & Bone

     Root & Bone.  It's a restaurant.  Tam and I rode our bicycles there for lunch day before yesterday, and let me tell you--

     It's amazing.  We chose from their "small plates" menu and it was plenty.  I had their fried green tomato BLT, which runs the traditional ingredients through a kaleidoscope to produce a nice-sized breaded, fried, pickled green tomato topped with a dollop of pimento cheese (instead of mayo). a wonderful section of smoked pork belly, a little tomato jam (like ketchup only much, much better) and some nice fresh greens.  Three of those to a plate makes most of a meal.
     I had fries as well and they were outstanding.

     Tamara opted for carpaccio and I'll let her picture (and post) stand for itself.
Tamara Keel photo
Tamara Keel photo
     For dessert, we pedaled a half-mile or so to Half Liter and enjoyed their amazing bread pudding!  Even splitting an order, we'll need to do some more bike riding to balance that out.
Tamara Keel photo

Friday, September 01, 2023

This And That

     We're in the midst of tomato season here at Roseholme Cottage, and I can either pick the ripe ones every day or resign myself to having to pitch a few that have gone too long.  The tiny cherry tomatoes do best and they go from ripe to split in a day or less.  Not much bigger than marbles, they're a little more work to prepare than full-size tomatoes, but they're full of flavor and the plants are nearly as hardy as weeds.  (I'm enjoying some in an omelette with bacon, cheese and pickled okra right now.)
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     Wouldn't it be interesting if the Georgia criminal trial of Donald Trump and associates resulted in improvements in conditions at the (apparently pretty awful) Fulton County Jail?  It turns out the same folks who sometimes say, "It's a jail, it's not supposed to be nice," feel a little differently about that when prominent politicians start getting processed there.  Hey, jail isn't supposed to be nice -- but it's supposed to be sanitary.   Staff isn't supposed to be so overworked or under-disciplined that they simply forget about an inmate for several days.  Fulton County Jail appears to be typical of the problems with U. S. prisons and jails, only more so: understaffed, overcrowded, ill-maintained and ignored until something genuinely horrific occurs -- or, rarely, something high-profile.  Like the arrest and booking of a former U. S. President.
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     Someone's going to write me a splutteringly-angry comment about how former U. S. Presidents should never, ever be arrested.  Yeah, well, we agree on that, buddy, and all but one of 'em have managed to live their lives in such a way as to avoid it, too.  Guess we need to do a better job picking 'em, and of all the luck, there's a chance to narrow the field early next year and then choose the big winner (or IMO, the unfortunate sap!) that autumn.  Sharpen those pencils!
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     The thing about Presidents, which I keep pointing out, is that the President of the United States of America is Just Some Guy and I would not be at all surprised to find the occasional speeding ticket or fine for littering in any of their post-Presidency lives.  They're not kings or saints -- no, not even George Washington -- but I do expect them to be at least as moral, trustworthy and/or clever as the average person down the street.  I think that's a basic job requirement for anyone who gets to sit behind the big desk in the Oval Office: be no worse a person than an average neighbor.  If you can't picture a candidate for that office -- or any lesser one -- living across the alley or down the road from you, better ask yourself why.* 
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     Last weekend, I made a pot roast on the grill using eye of round.  Laid that hunk of beef in the roasting pan with a bay leaf and four black muscatel grapes, cut in half and lined up across the top of it.  Turnip, potato, carrots, celery and mushrooms followed, and it was very fine.  Those sweet grapes managed to sing harmony with the other ingredients over the course of a long, slow roast.  Eye of round is very lean, which I like but Tam's not so fond of.  She found it to be pretty good nevertheless.
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* Or picture 'em as uncles at a holiday dinner.  Both of my parents grew up in large families, and until everyone moved all over the country, they'd gather a few times a year.  I can see it: the big meal is over, Uncle Theodore's trying to organize a family softball game (when most of us just want to nap, or at least get the dishes finished), Uncle Andrew's gotten into a heated argument with the UPS guy, Uncle Woodrow's sulking because people were shocked when he said something racist, Uncle Dick's sulking because he likes to sulk, Uncle Ronny's telling funny stories, Uncle Jimmy just threw an empty beer can over the fence and at least half of the rest of the uncles arrived in big cars, are too well-dressed for the day and are trying to draw attention to how well-off they are without appearing immodest about it.  And if you kids don't stop calling Uncle William H. Taft "Uncle Walrus," you're going to be in a lot of trouble!

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

I Keep Looking At The News

     I keep looking at the news and deciding to weigh out rather than weighing in.  There's not much humor in it, and anyone who cares to look can find a wide array of reporting, analysis and opinion.

     There are deep, serious issues in play and my usual tropes of a Legislative branch myopically obsessed with dreaming up splashy legislation-for-the-sake-of-legislation that will fade away in committee, the Presidency as the worst job in the world (which it is) and a muddled, self-contradictory Judicial branch (except when it does something I approve) are mere cardboard cutouts, amusing paper dolls.  It's not paper-doll time.  Such laughs as are to be found in politics these days are often too cruel, too cheap or too hyper-partisan for my taste.

     The United States was supposed to have Federal politics you could mostly ignore.  It was snicker-worthy a lot of the time.  That has slipped, badly.  Poking fun at it feels too much like picking on someone with a broken leg.

     Dear National Politics, Please Get Well Soon.  I miss being able to rub Jell-o in your hair, make fun of your fashion choices and mock you for general fecklessness.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Busy, Busy

     I spent the weekend on household chores and fiction writing, including the monthly meeting of the Indianapolis chapter of what was originally a mystery writer's group.

     One of the other members pointed out an anthology looking for stories, and took the time to make sure I was well aware of it.  He thinks my work might suit the editors.  We'll see -- I've got the setting and a few characters and I'm working on the plot.

     It's certainly better than fretting over current events.

     Another better thing (or things) are the "Stephanie Plum" novels by Janet Evanovitch.  Stephanie's a remarkably inept novice bounty hunter in Trenton, New Jersey.  Her misadventures fill multiple volumes, her flouting of the Garden State's draconian firearms laws is staggering, and yet somehow it all works out.  Mostly.  The novels are well-written, well-plotted and hilariously unlikely, the highest grade of "junk food" and I say that with the greatest respect, having spent most of my life reading things my teachers didn't think were worthwhile.  Stephanie Plum is the irresponsible, Jersey-girl sibling of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone.  Kinsey is a former cop; Stephanie was the lingerie buyer for a local department store until it was merged with a larger chain.  Kinsey's an orphan; Stephanie's family are the kind of people who who prompt acquaintances to tell her, "You didn't turn out too bad, considering."

Friday, August 25, 2023

Dominating The News

     It's become more and more common, and it can be contentious: a great deal of hot air dominates the news cycle, leads off every newscast, experts hammering away at the effects and causes, and touting their own theories about what may happen next--

     I've mostly tried to avoid it, but I have to face the reality.  This August heat wave has been bad.

     What, you thought I was on about something else?  Yeah, well, Canada (plus parts of Alaska and the U. S. Pacific Northwest) is on fire and the rest of us are melting.  I'll worry more about other stuff when we get past that.

     As luck (good or bad) would have it, we may get a break from the heat and humidity this weekend.  Canada will still be burning.  And I may give the rest of the news the weekend off, too.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Or Maybe Today

     My hours, the garage's workload and Tam's long-planned afternoon watching the local minor-league baseball team* in person and with a good camera in hand combined to make it impossible to get my car yesterday.

     Logistics today are proving unusually complicated.  We both have cars at the shop, so either someone walks (fifteen or twenty minutes and with long stretches lacking sidewalks along a busy street) or we take the remaining vehicle (stuck driver's-side window, no AC), pick up one car, take it home and repeat the process with the other car.  It'll be awkward either way and outdoors is already like a sauna.

     But they got my air-conditioning running and if all goes as planned, I'll have my car back today.
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* Victory Field, where the Indianapolis Indians play, is one of the finest ballparks in the AAA league, so nice that Baltimore has taken to watching their Orioles very, very closely ever since it opened.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Maybe Today

     I might get air-conditioning in my car today.  I haven't had any yet this year.

     It wasn't that much of a problem.  It's a Lexus: it's got a good filter on the outside air intake, the fan blows a lot of air and interior turbulence isn't too bad with the windows down.  Air conditioning didn't used to be standard on cars and most of the cars I have owned didn't have it.*

     But with the recent extreme heat and high humidity, that hasn't been enough.  I was going to take it in a couple of weeks ago, but got busy at work.  This week, though, it had to happen.  The garage we've been using does walk-ins for AC recharges.  I went over yesterday and they were booked up, but promised to look at it today, probably this afternoon.

     So Tam and I will drop off my car this morning and I'll get a ride to work.  If a recharge is all it needs, I may have it back as soon as tomorrow.
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* At least one of the cars that did probably should not have. In the late 1970s, I owned a 1970 Toyota Corona, a tiny four-door sedan with wheelbase, engine and transmission (etc.) based on the MGB, unbeknownst to me at the time.  Toyota changed the engine block to aluminum and tidied up a few things like the quirky carbs and Heath Robinson emission control plumbing, but they're siblings.  It was a nice little car, but a previous owner had installed a Sear aftermarket air conditioner and that was asking a lot of the 1800 cc four-cylinder engine.  You had to practice power management: get the car up to at least 45 mph in fourth gear before you turned the AC on, and shut it off before downshifting.  Otherwise you weren't going to have much fun.  The car had nearly succumbed to body rust and been sneakily fiberglassed before I bought it, and finished rusting while I owned it, but I still miss it.  Handled with care, it was a treat to drive.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Speculation

     People who have had near-death experiences often report being told, "Go towards the light."

     Okay; this somehow makes intuitive sense to most of us.

     But what if it's a bug-zapper?  There you are, gone from the physical world, and whatever's left is drawn like a moth to the light and -- ZAP! You're no longer a problem for the Universe.

     H. P. Lovecraft and those late-night TV commercials make a weird mix.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The Thing About Mattresses

     Mattresses, pillows -- sleep hardware (plushware?) of that sort is at a high level of development, but here's the thing: with the possible exception of the air pump and controller in those "pick your firmness" mattresses, there's not much to them.  The pieces and parts are basic: fabric or plastic, cotton batting or various kinds of plastic or latex foam, and spring wire.  Valves, fittings and heaters for waterbed mattresses, pumps and filters for air-support.

     Every five dollars you pay for a mattress buys perhaps five cents of materials, 25 cents of labor* and fifty cents of know-how and advertising.  Don't underestimate the cleverness and innovation that goes into designing a modern mattress: good ones are very good and even the cheap ones are well above what you could get a hundred years ago.  And don't ignore the salesmanship, either: a mattress or a pillow is a pedestrian necessity, and yet it rates specialist shops and plenty of advertising, usually with comfort highlighted and most often an engaging spokesperson.

     I was listening to NPR news while doing the dishes the other day -- actual news doesn't vary that much from BBC to Fox and Alexa's got a good bundle of NPR newscast, local weather and some in-depth reporting, usually "Up First" or "Planet Money" -- and they do run ads, of the restrained, talky, public radio type.  Lo and behold, they've got a sponsor hawking mattresses, with a positive-talking company owner extolling the product's virtues.  I snickered.  Yes, NPR has their own version of the My Pillow guy, probably in a tweet sports jacket with patches on the elbows.

     I'm not here to run down either of their product lines.  You get what you pay for, and while we probably pay more than most mattresses and pillows are worth, pricing is linked to quality and tends to be affordable.  (I still miss the factory-direct outfit I bought from when I lived in a college town. Their sales volume was enormous and prices were accordingly low.†)   But it is a business that relies more on sizzle than steak to get you to pick their brand.  There aren't that many ways to get a comfortable night's sleep.

     So when a mattress guy or a pillow guy starts talking politics, trying to sell you on a point of view?  Take it with a big, fat grain of salt.  He's a master of salesmanship, so good he sells himself on whatever he's pushing.  You're not going to come away from that transaction with anything to sleep on, no matter what channel or network he's on.  If there's a nickel's worth of substance in whatever politics he wants you to spend five bucks on, look out the window for flying pigs.
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* If it was made in the U. S.  Elsewhere, the work doesn't pay as well.
 
† I may miss being able to buy an actual futon even more.  That's the thick, simple Japanese-style mattress, not the frame it sits on. A futon works well in the home-made platform bed I sleep on, and at a price that let me replace them every couple of years.  But they've just about vanished around here, other than low-end ones sold with the couch-convertible frames.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

It's Not That I Have Nothing To Say

     It's just that I don't think it'll do any good to say it.  I'm watching current events play out, waiting to see how bad things get.

     Can't we all just get along?  Survey says...maybe.

     Man, the tenterhooks business must be going great.  Maybe we should replace the eye in the pyramid and Novus ordo seclorum on paper money with the Magic 8-Ball displaying "Indications Unclear."  Is our cœptis still anuited? Damifiknow.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Found 'Em

     The drain openings in the sunroof hatch well were obvious.  A little compressed air seemed to help, and some water-bottle testing on both sides resulted in water running out the underside end.

     The passenger side one was a little blocked at  first and cleared up, so I'm hoping that will cure the problem -- that, and making sure the sunroof is closed.  The controls are strange to me, a pair of spring-loaded, three-position, center-neutral "slide" and "tilt" controls that don't seem to have a positive hatch-shut setting: run them to the end and the hatch does tricky tilt-and-lift moves instead of stopping.  Time to read the manual.  Perhaps I'm missing something.  (Note to Lexus: Please don't design airlock controls.)

     Time and again, I've found that questioning my assumptions and checking the verifiable physical evidence and original documentation leads to a solution.  I'm sure there's a wider lesson there, but I'll leave it for readers to work out.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

And Then, Late Yesterday...

     No.  I'm not going to write about it this morning.  If you want to stay out of court, don't break the law.  Don't try to skirt the law, either, no matter how special a genius you think you are.  If you get a speeding ticket, pay it.  This applies to you, me, Presidents (both former and serving) and their offspring, and everyone in between.  It's as simple as that.

     Me, I'm fighting water in my car.  I went to leave for work yesterday and there was water all over the front passenger seat and floor, dripping from the sunroof.  It appears a blocked drain is the most likely culprit.  There's one on each side inside the sunroof surround, with what amount to downspouts hidden in the A-pillars.  Couldn't do much about it yesterday, what with it raining all day and me working.  Maybe today, along with work.

     Went down to the basement late yesterday night and found two inches of water on the floor at the drain.  That's sadly normal for the floor drain when we get heavy rain: high water levels in the semi-combined sewer/storm drain closes the backflow preventer, which sticks, and then a day of the air conditioner and dehumidifier running starts to fill the basement.  I spent some time plunging it until it cleared but I need to remember to run a bucket of warm water down that drain.  Maybe vinegar.

     Soaked one pair of trainers swabbing out the car in the rain and one pair of house slippers plunging the drain.

Monday, August 14, 2023

A Special Kind Of...Something

     My joke about a low-priced, low-paying hair-care chain brought out a particular kind of comment, linking a possible return of the coronavirus to pandemic status to the re-election of Donald Trump.

     Right. First off, that would be the Donald Trump whose Administration fostered "Project Warp Speed," that resulted in the availability of effective vaccines in record time and fast-tracked the development of genuine antivirals.  While fringe elements of his party went haring off after all manner of quack medicine, the Federal government buckled down and did good work.  Since then, the fringes have taken over the GOP and there's been a lot of selective forgetting.

     Second, a quick check finds 7.7 million deaths worldwide from the pandemic, 1.1 million of them in the United States.

     Somebody'd better explain to me how either Presidential negligence -- which didn't create the virus and, unusually, didn't dominate the response -- or a vast, shadowy conspiracy of  "them" managed to kill off over seven million people in order to prevent the reelection of a deeply divisive U. S. President who had about 50/50 odds of winning reelection before the coronavirus pandemic struck.  And if the latter, how come it is the governments of, say, Europe and UK, with over two million dead and a long history of successful espionage operations, didn't hunt down the perps with extreme prejudice?

     Nope, look, I'm sorry; no matter how happy you are in Wackyland, it won't wash.  It doesn't add up.  The coronravirus pandemic was just as real as the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic, and barring a nasty mutation that spikes the rate up to pandemic levels again, it's going to be just as endemic and dangerous as the flu has been ever since, mitigated by the vaccines and antivirals we've developed.  It was not created to "get" Mr. Trump, and while he and his party talked all manner of BS while the pandemic raged, when it came to action, the Feds did pretty well under his watch in terms of actual efforts and results.  Could they have done more, faster?  Probably.  And they could have talked way less smack.  But they muddled through, just like 1918-20.  Stop pretending it was anything more (or less) than another bad pandemic.  Humanity gets hit with 'em every so often; them's the odds.

     Viruses don't vote.  People with brainworms do, and I guess we'll see how that works out in 2024.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Clark Savage, Jr. The Third?

     A few days ago, I learned to my delight that a couple of the original adventures of 1930 pulp hero Doc Savage were turned into a series of radio plays on NPR in the mid-1980s.  I hunted them down online, and a couple of episodes in, they're pretty good.  Producer Roger Rittner has a genuine feel for classic radio drama.  He and modern-day pulp writer Will Murray did a fine job with the scripts and the casting was good.

     Doc (Clark Savage, Jr.) was a remarkable example of physical fitness and agility, but he was also a "general specialist,*" holding degrees in (and practicing) medicine, mathematics and all of the "hard sciences."  There was nothing he didn't do well -- except, perhaps, deal with emotion.  The combination worked better than you might expect.

     I was doing dishes yesterday and wanted something to listen to.  I'd already run through a couple of newscasts, so I asked the robot, "Alexa, play Doc Savage."

     She -- it -- responded with "PLAYING MUSIC BY DOC SAVAGE," and launched into some heavy-beat electronic music.  The first was instrumental; the next one added some futuristic rap lyrics.

     Apparently, Alexa can't find the radio plays. 

     I went looking for the artist who recorded the music this morning and there's not a sign of him or them.  A folkish UK act appears to have used the name, too.

     So I'm left wondering.  WTH, Clark?  Got bored with fighting crime?  Decided to pick up one more career?

     I'll be superamalgamated if I know.
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* Doc's creator, ex-telegrapher Lester Dent, was a bit larger than life himself.  Well over six feet tall, as his career progressed, he became a ham radio operator, private pilot, yachtsman, photographer, amateur chemist, gadgeteer, inventor and all-around Robert A. Heinlein hero.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Looks Like The Pandemic Is Over...

     Great Clips is advertising on television again!  They are to hairstyling what Henry Ford was to automobiles, for better or worse.  It's a sign of confidence on the part of provider, stylists and customers alike.

     Me, I still keep waiting for the benighted bug to drop the other shoe -- but it hasn't fallen yet, and I'm all in favor of making hay while the sun shines.  Maybe it'll play out like the big influenza epidemic; that's a pretty good bet, if you're not a pessimist.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Tell 'Em A Story

     Tuesday night, I did something completely out of character: I got up in front of a group of twenty or thirty people and read a story I had written.  Out loud.

     It wasn't my idea.  Some months back, a "flash fiction" story I had written won second prize in a local contest.  Flash is under a thousand words and generally centers on a single image or emotion.  My story was set on a farm in a near future that's gone badly sideways, and then....  But I won't give it away here.

     The local writer's organization that ran the contest has returned to in-person meetings in recent months -- writers are a reclusive lot, but eventually even the loneliest river figures out it'd better find the sea or just dry up -- and they had decided to have the editors of their magazine do readings at the August meeting.  Once they ran through all the editors willing to speak into a  microphone with a live audience (funny thing, people do not just line up, eager to do so), they were still a little short, even after sneaking in a couple of genuine non-editor poets, so they asked the contest winners.  I'm not sure about the guy who came in first (and deserved to), but the third-place finisher and Yours Truly agreed.

     So there I was Tuesday night, sitting in an aisle seat in the next-to-last row, listening to well-read poetry,* and some that struggled with the PA system, and a first-rate short essay and--  My turn.

     I'd timed the thing.  Six and a half minutes.  I rewrote it to make the mechanics more linear: you want people to know who's got what line in dialog, so neat tricks like, "'I'm not so sure,' she said, 'if this is a good way to indicate a pause when reading aloud,'" don't work as well and you use actor's tricks instead, attributing the speaker at the beginning and actually playing the pause when you read the line.  Because my story has two characters, presumably husband and wife, I went through and highlighted their lines in different colors, and let my tone and cadence change just a little when I read them.

     And what do you know?  It worked!  I even got a laugh of recognition at the right point, when one of the characters realizes things have gone even more strangely wrong than he expected.

     Performing like that, I get a feeling of being "beside myself," watching the performance play out; I looked at the audience, but I'm not sure how much I saw them.  But I didn't faint or pick my nose, so I think it went all right.

     It was a far cry from my experience on the radio years ago, reading a sixty-second supermarket commercial or a fifteen-second weather forecast into a microphone, alone in a room with an unknown number of listeners on the far side of the transmitter.  And it was not nearly so terrible a thing as I had feared.
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* The challenge of poetry is that unless the poet's an absolute genius, you're probably not going to read the poem with the same rhythm and flow as the poet wrote it, and even more so if you read it silently.  It's good to go hear the words as the poet heard them, and I say that as someone who is no huge fan of poetry: a good poem is a gift but good poets are rare.  I'm pleased to report the meeting organizer had managed to find good ones.

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

On Stories

     Sharing stories is how we understand the world around us.  Stories are how we interpret the past and anticipate the future.

     Anyone in power who commands, "This story cannot be told," or "That book must not be read" is not just banning a book or an idea.  They're trying to control what you think and how you think about it.

     People often confuse someone saying, "I don't agree with that story," or even, "That story is a lie.  Here's the truth,"* with censorship.  But there's a difference.

     There's a difference between words and actions, too.  J. Average Citizen griping, "That book should be burned," is not the same as rounding up all the copies of it they can find and heaving the books into the fire.  A bookstore deciding not to sell a book, a commercial website kicking out a user for bad behavior? That's not censorship.
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* Sometimes it really is the truth, too.  Sometimes it really, really isn't.  Caveat emptor!

Monday, August 07, 2023

If Any Publicity Is Good Publicity

     One Presidential candidate is getting heaps and tons and piles and hours of free airtime.  Sure, other than on those outlets already firmly in his camp, it's all negative, but does that matter?  You can't open a newspaper, turn on a news-ish TV channel or look at an online news or opinion site without seeing the guy's name.

     I don't think the American electorate is so pinheaded and shallow that mere media saturation will move the needle -- because we're also stubborn.  But polls keep showing likely voters in near balance and the two most probable candidates have roughly equal -- and awful -- disapproval ratings.  At this point, you'd have to be a fool to bet on the outcome of the 2024 Presidential election, yet we're all obliged to.

     Welcome to the future.  It's stupid.

     P.S.: still no flying cars.  Still no cheap fusion power.  Still no Lunar Hilton.  And the Mars Colony guy appears to have decided it's more fun to dink around on social media instead.

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Weekend Roast

     There was a good chance of dry weather on Saturday, so Friday night, I picked up the ingredients for beef pot roast along with a no-effort supper.

     Friday was awful.  Three -- or was it four? -- weeks ago, I was starting a long stint of vacation relief downtown when I discovered the air-conditioning in my car had conked out.  There was no good way to get it fixed while working a relatively inflexible schedule unless I handed my elderly Lexus mini-SUV -- and my pocketbook! -- over to the dealer, so I've been white-knuckling through it.  On Friday, I had to drive from our downtown location the the North Campus as the later-afternoon rush hour was beginning.  The heat and humidity made crawling along with the early departees especially wretched.

     After work, I wasn't going to cook.  Hauling myself through the grocery was effort enough.  Their deli had supper: a rotisserie chicken, vinegar-based coleslaw (my favorite kind!) and Greek farro-chickpea salad.*  The butcher shop had Choice-grade chuck roast for not too much and I went basic on the vegetables: celery, carrot, red onion, potato and fresh corn on the cob. I picked up some porcini mushrooms, too.

     Friday dinner was fine.  The grocery does justice to their cooked chicken and their best deli sides are creditable.

      Saturday was another hot day, but it doesn't take much time to cut up kindling and build a charcoal fire.  While I suspect any middle-school-aged kid from the parts of the world where charcoal stoves are the norm would snicker at how slow I am, I managed with a couple of sticks of kindling, a broken-up shake, a page of newspaper and one (1) match and had well-started coals in the time it took to sprinkle a little Worcestershire on the roast, add coarse salt and pepper, get out the roasting pan, lay a couple of forks in the bottom, go outside and rake the coals flat, make a gap in the middle, set the grill bars in place, load the roast into the pan and put it on the grill.  I added three bay leaves on the meat for luck.

     The chuck roast was 2.8 pounds.  I set a timer for three hours.

     I let it cook for a half hour while I washed and cut up the potato, put some rosemary on it and got three good-sized onion flowers from our gone-wild garlic chives,  I washed them and laid them on top of the roast among the bay leaves.  (Yes, onion flowers: edible, tasty, strongly oniony.  Raw ones make a pretty garnish.)  While I was outside, I picked a half-cup of tomatoes from the garden, two yellow pear tomatoes and the rest tiny cherry tomatoes.

     Carrots and a couple stalks of celery followed, cut into big-bite sections, and the onion was next.  There was room for one ear of corn cut into four short sections, so I added it with about an hour to go.  I added two more ears of corn to the grill, wrapped in two layers of foil with a pat of butter to keep them happy.

     Meanwhile, I had mushrooms and tomatoes. I'd been thinking about putt the tomatoes with the roast, but changed my mind.  A little butter in the grill saucepan, with alternating layers of sliced mushrooms and quartered tomatoes, with generous amounts of Italian-mix seasoning and a little more butter on top along with a couple of Piparra peppers, chopped.  I covered it and set it in a corner of the grill.

     When the timer went off, my thermometer confirmed the meat was done.  It was tender enough that it almost fell apart!  Veggies and broth were tasty, and the short cobs of corn were outstanding.  The chuck roast had lots of flavor.  The mushroom and tomatoes dish had cooked down to a a wonderful sauce loaded with mushrooms.

     And the last hour of cooking, it rained off and on.  So much for the forecast.  My aluminum foil rain hood protected the closed grill.
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* The basic combination is widespread around the Mediterranean: cooked farro (grains of wheat), cooked garbanzo beans, black olives, feta or similar cheese, raisins, greens and a mild dressing.  Count it as bread, cheese and vegetable, and it's a light meal in and of itself.  You'd think some punster would tilt the ingredients in a slightly Egyptian direction and serve up Pharoah farro salad, but no.

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Telegram From Planet Dull

     Had a commenter the other day refer to my cooking as "experiments" and express the hope that I "won't poison my renter."

     Look, mister, I'm sorry if your Mom raised you on boxed mac'n'cheese, bologna sandwiches on white bread and box-mix pizza, supplemented by Mickey Dee and The Colonel, but there's nothing particularly experimental about my cooking, and normal, ordinary supermarket vegetables aren't random weeds.  Turnips, rutabaga, beets, parsnips, fennel and celery root have been eaten and enjoyed by millions of people for thousands and thousands or years.  Likewise rice, blackeyed peas, crowder peas, green and red kidney beans, pinto and black beans, garbanzos, lima and butter beans and so on. This stuff is food.  Shishito peppers are a little new in most U. S. markets, but bell and banana peppers, chilis and poblanos aren't.  Radishes and leeks have been around since almost forever -- diakons or "watermelon radish" (red on the inside!) is still uncommon.  Kale and other greens are as old as the hills!

     I grew up eating a lot of it.  We grew kohlrabi, snap peas, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, radishes, cabbage, various kinds of tomatoes and melons and more in our own garden.  In the winter, we enjoyed an assortment of canned, frozen and dried vegetables along with the supermarket's fresh stuff.  (Mixed-bean soup made from many different kinds of dried beans plus some strong ham, simmered for hours and served with chopped fresh onion and celery is a winter treat not to be missed!)

     Mom cooked a variety of meat -- various cuts of beef and pork, ham, chicken, turkey (at the holidays) and so on.  At least once, my parents got together with friends and bought an entire side of beef, had it butchered, divvied up the results and stocked the freezer for months.  Several times a year, my Mom made a delicious clear-broth beef stew that neither my sister nor I have ever quite duplicated, and she could turn out chicken and noodles that would float you the the dinner table by sheer force of the aroma.

     There were always cookbooks in the kitchen, and my mother liked to try new foods and encouraged us to do so as well. 

     I'm proud of my cooking, and it is deliberately a little intuitive.  I'm especially proud of being able to cook well over coals.  I've been doing that since I was of junior high school age -- when my family would go on vacation, Mom preferred her Coleman (white gas) or, later, LP stove but I did most of the campfire cookery.

     How and what I prepare and the ingredients I use are about as ordinary as you can find.  They're not very processed.  Both of my parents grew up during the Great Depression and WW II, and in large families without large incomes.  As children, they ate mostly fresh, unprocessed food whenever it was available, and when they started their own family, they fed their own kids the same things.*  It was not health-nut stuff; bacon and eggs was our usual breakfast and there was plenty of red meat on the dinner menus.  But it was often fresh, there were nearly always two different vegetables to go with the meat and they preferred whole-grain bread (Roman Meal, which has about vanished) or home-made white bread to the squishy supermarket version.  Other starches like rice or potatoes were counted the same as bread, not as side veggies.  Highly processed snacks were discouraged and highly-processed sides and main dishes (corned beef hash!) were rare treats.  Mom did like those dinner rolls you buy ready to pop from the can and bake for Sunday dinner: they're a real time saver.  And did we ever have Sunday dinners!  It was a late lunch after church, a large and fancy meal.  Sunday supper was often no more than a late-evening snack.

     To judge by what the supermarkets around here stock, my notion of plain old regular food is pretty mainstream -- or at least it is for people who get most of their meals at the grocery instead of from restaurants.
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* Both of their families had vegetable gardens and their own chickens well before WW II rationing.  Mom's family raised goats for milk and meat; Dad's always had a milk cow.  I don't know if Mom's family kept bees, but she took it up in middle age and did well, using honey in place of sugar in many recipes.

Friday, August 04, 2023

Previous Sunday Dinner

     It was pork roast last Sunday, and I went with "sibling vegetables."  I gave the pork the usual overnight marinade -- balsamic vinegar, soy, a little cider vinegar, plus some garlic and ginger.  The next afternoon, I took it out, gave it a little coarse salt and curry powder and started it in a covered pan on the grill.  I set a timer for three hours.  After twenty minutes or a little more, I added the first set of vegetables.

     They're not closely related but they look alike: an apple and a turnip, peeled and cut in chunks, plus a potato, washed, not peeled and similarly cut up.  The apple and turnip got a little garam masala and the potato got some smoked paprika.

     The next set are siblings: a couple of big parsnips, lightly peeled and sliced, plus a generous handful of baby carrots.  Parsnips are the grown-up version of carrots, with a complex, spicy flavor.

     I followed those with cousins: celery and a fennel bulb (both cut into fork-friendly sections), plus a fennel frond for luck.

     By then, the pan was about full.  I got most of a red onion in and ignored that pan for the rest of the cooking time.  I washed and cut up an assortment of fancy mushrooms, putting them in a grill-top saucepan with more fennel fronds and the rest of the onion, then washed a de-silked a couple of ears of sweet corn.  They got a pat of butter and generous sprinkling of "Mexican street corn" seasoning before I wrapped them up in two layers of aluminum foil and added them to the grill.  By then the grill area was just about full.

     All that takes time.  The grill still had an hour to go, so I did dishes and set up TV trays -- and then realized there was a nice crop of little cherry tomatoes in the garden.

     My little "weed tomatoes" (most of the plants are volunteers returning from last year) are prolific.  They ripen fast and go overripe quickly.  Use 'em or lose 'em!  No larger than marbles, so it's pretty fast to pick the red ones, wash therm, slice them and apply salt and pepper or mixed Italian seasoning.  They get better if you give them a few minutes to sit, so I put them out of the way while I checked the meat, brought in the pans and corn, and set to putting together dinner plates.  It was a feast!

     Leftover mushrooms got put in with the leftover pork roast, and with some sauteed carrot, onion and celery to add some crunch, the remainder made a nice stew later in the week.

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

And About Dammned Time, Too

     The news broke yesterday: Former President Donald Trump has been charged over his -- in my opinion, not to mention the grand jury's -- criminal actions in connection with his attempts to overturn the 2020 Presidential election, including the 6 Jan 2021 insurrection.

     If you're a committed fan of Mr. Trump, this is a bell without a clapper.  You're going to ignore the details of the indictment and keep on sharing memes inappropriately comparing the ex-President to Moses, Jesus and heroic archetypes, depicting the elderly, overweight, small-handed and balding man as well-muscled and stalwart.  Never mind that the one time he was given a chance to stand up for his country, he mysteriously developed bone spurs and dodged mandatory military service, bone spurs which have never troubled him since.

     For everyone else, CNN has published an "annotated" version of the indictment, which reproduces all 45 pages of the charges against Mr. Trump with CNN's opinion of what they mean next to it (handily in a different font), so you can see if they're barking up the right tree.  Read the indictment, no matter what you think of the news network's notions.

     Is this prosecution politically motivated?  You're darned right it is -- like the Civil War was politically motivated.  As the indictment sets out in detail, Mr. Trump and his co-conspirators worked to undermine and destroy the Constitutional and legislative mechanisms by which the United States selects Presidents.  His is the kind of politics that shatters governments and wrecks countries, and he must be held to account for it.

     Will this change the course of the 2024 Presidential race?  I doubt it.  Donald Trump has a lock on the Republican nomination at this point and he would even if he was indisputably found guilty and locked away in the the deepest, dankest cell of the  Federal ADMAX prison in Florence, CO.  But I hope it will show that the price of playing games with the normal process of electing Presidents, of staging an autogolpe, is too high for another try.

     Of course, one possibility is that the various trials proceed, Mr. Trump is found guilty in one or more, finishes his campaign from prison, wins, manages to be sworn in behind bars and attempts to pardon himself.  That would probably end up before the Supreme Court and I'm not seeing any decision possible that doesn't lead to trouble.  More likely is that Mr. Trump will prolong his various court cases and appeal any losses, hoping to stay out of jail, win the Presidency and self-pardon; if he does, this leads back to the Supreme Court as before.  So those are ugly outcomes, long before any worries over his campaign promises of vengeance.

     Interesting times.  How I long for boredom.  But can boredom win elections?

Monday, July 31, 2023

Freeze-Up

     Roseholme Cottage is an old house.  It's been upgraded through the years, but it was designed to have a roaring coal fire in the basement furnace all winter and have the windows opened at top and bottom in the hottest summer months.

     It wasn't designed for air-conditioning.  The system copes pretty well nevertheless, right up to about 95°F outdoors and then it...doesn't.  That's what happened Friday evening.  It crept up slowly; doing the dinner dishes, I realized the house was either unusually warm or I was.  (I'm old.  It happens.)  A look at the thermostat showed the house was four degrees above the set point and airflow from the registers felt reduced.  So I shut off the cooling and left the fan running while I checked the furnace for water leaks.  Nothing, but the box around the A-coil was colder than usual.  I changed the filter on general principles, but the old one didn't appear to be very dirty.  I had been self-indulgent with the setting, going as low as 73° in the morning, and that was clearly asking too much during extreme heat.

     A couple of hours with the fan on and indoor temperatures slowly rising got airflow back to normal, which meant the A-coil was clear of ice.  I ran the cooling for fifteen minutes and set the thermostat a degree above the resulting temperature: 82°.

     That may sound terrible, but it's not: as hot as it was outside, the system was running enough to bring the humidity way down and with the blower set to run all the time, the house was comfortable enough for me to sleep under the covers.

     Saturday was as least as hot as Friday.  I paid attention to the airflow and temperature, but it never froze up.  Sunday was better and by evening, I stared bringing the temperature down.  By bedtime, it was back at 75°, and I'll leave it there until the next hot spell.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Dashboard Icons Explained

      The picture was posted by a friend on Facebook.  The definitions are mine.
1. Motorcycles ran over snake three times, left.
2. Hang onto the dang steering wheel!
3. Motorcycles, snake, 3X, right.
4. Happy fountain ahead!
5. Giant crab has died (get serviced ASAP).
6. Look right here. Speed limit's still 55.
7. Pick a direction, dammit!
8. Built-in adobe bread oven has been left open.
9. Sea fronds!
10. You're all alone now.
11. You're doing too many donuts.
12. Giant crab (see 5) thinks it sees something ahead.
13. Key is lit up.
14. Do you even know what this key is for?
15. Key is hot! (Newer models: key has wi-fi.)
16. Car parked in A-frame garage, you stinkin' hippie.
17. Cowardly feet.
18. Happy feet, go, go, go!
19. Start up the car and drive!
20. Blue light special! Drive to K-mart asap.
21. You are *so* fat-bottomed!
22. Green Lantern summoned.
23. Green Lantern too busy fighting Sinestro.
24. Giant crab reports Green Lantern destroyed by Sinestro.
25. Keyboard-on-a-rope deployed.
26. Warning! Anal probe unlocked!
27. Car-propeller engaged.
28. Tear along dotted line.
29. Hot dog warmer on.
30. Are people on top of car strapped in?
31. Giant crab very wiggly because it has to pee.
32. Tesla sighted.
33. Giant crab has peed on your hippie A-frame garage. Didn't you see the #31 warning light?
34. Wrench left in car.
35. Spacecraft is tumbling.
36. Spacecraft pitch adjustment enabled.
37. Bug deflector adjustment turned on.
38. Convertible top open or closed? Pick one!
39. Warning, driver has large ball on lap. (Portmeirion only: Warning, Rover deployed.)
40. Giant crab is wiggly because it knows something important.
41. It's raining at the gas station! Better wait to refuel.
42. Giant ball on driver's lap is dead. (Portmeirion only: Rover deactivated.)
43. Don't forget about the wrench!
44. Spacecraft is green.
45. Matchbook found.
46. Forget about the burning gasoline and look at our ads: this car is sooo ecological!
47. It's all downhill from here.
48. Thermometer drowning.
49. Giant crab is wiggly because it skipped upper-body workout this morning.
50. Who put mustard in the hot dog warmer?
51. Bail out! Bail out!
52. Flappy hood deployed.
53. Rain stopped at the gas station but the pump is warming up.
54. I'm here to share the good news about our Lord and Savior, James Millen!
55. Look here! The speed limit is still 55 and if you don't slow down, I'm going to turn the car off.
56. MIRROR UNIVERSE WARNING! Check co-workers, friends and family for goatees.
57. Entering Amish zone, oil headlamps on.
58. Ghosts of run-over snakes (see #1 and 3) visible through windshield.
59. Flappy trunk lid deployed.
60. Roller-coaster track!
61. Car is crying.
62. Fat helicopter warning!
63. Ghosts of run-over snakes (see #1 and 3) visible through rear window.
64. Car has wiped away tears and is reasserting its own identity.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The Alien Bee

      Not only is there an Arctic Bee species living North of the Arctic Circle that frantically rebuilds and restocks their hives every short summer, the old queen finishes her year by raising a new princess and matching her with a suitor, sealing up the hive and dying, followed by the entire rest of the hive over the winter as they doze into hibernation and slowly starve in their sleep.

     In the spring, the new queen awakens alone in the hive surrounded by the bodies of the former brood, lays eggs for a new brood of workers, and hies herself off to gather nectar and pollen so she can raise them.  Only when those workers have matured can she put them to work and retire to her chamber to produce drones, a few fertile males and new princesses, of whom only one will inherit the hive.  The lucky excess may start hives of their own.

     Harsh stuff?  It gets worse.  There's a parasitic species of bee up there, too, who bide their time until the new workers are up to speed and then swoop in, kill the queen and enslave her workers -- and when the parasite queen comes out of hibernation in the spring, she lives off stored honey and goes shopping for a new hive to victimize.

     There's a story or two in all of that but it's staggeringly bleak, and we're perhaps fortunate that the Arctic Bee and its parasite appear to prefer mountaintops.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

On Writing

     Over on what used to be Twitter, I had a guy who kept asking me about the software I use to write.

     It's a stranger question than it might appear to be.  The software anyone uses to write is between their ears.

     Past that, the pencil, pen, typewriter, word-processing appliance, app or computer software you use to get words down is freakin' irrelevant.  There is no magic software that will make you a better writer.  None of it will organize your thoughts for you.  Some of it will check your spelling and grammar, but so will your grandmother.

     The most important thing about being a writer is to write.  If you don't do that, you aren't one.  And you'll have to do a lot of bad writing before you'll be any good at it -- just like any other skill.

     This comes up with firearms: people try with hardware to acquire skills that can only be gained through practice and good instruction.  If you want to be a good shot, you have to pay attention to instructors who know how it is done, and then you need to go to the range and shoot.  Will a fancy target pistol or laser or red dot sights make you a better shot?  Not if you haven't learned and applied the basics of grip, trigger control, lining up the sights and not flinching.  You're going to be lousy at it for a long time before you'll be any good.  Until you have the basic skills, that red dot sight won't help.  Once you have them, yes, better hardware helps -- but it can't carry you.  Start with a .22 pistol with iron sights, get training and shoot often.  Graduate to a .22 double-action revolver.  Master that, and you'll have a good start toward being able to keep shots in the 10-ring with anything.

     A dedicated text-entry appliance, like an old AlphaSmart or "the Writer," or any new Freewrite model or similar is a great tool for getting words into a file -- but it's just a glorified notepad.  A good word processor, like Pages, LibreOffice or Word, is wonderful for cutting and pasting text, but it can't help you with story structure.  It won't tell you what to cut and what to keep.  Scrivener is amazingly powerful for assembling a novel or other long-form work -- but it won't create narrative arcs for you or lead your story to a satisfying resolution.  And the more complex the tool, the longer the learning curve. 

     Start simple.  Learn the basics.  Practice, practice, practice.

     And remember: "Steal a person's wallet and they'll be poor until the next payday.  Encourage them to write for a living and they'll be poor all their life."  For every Stephen King, there are a few thousand would-be H. P. Lovecrafts, living in a garret and eating cold beans.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Island Of Misfit Toys

     I've been watching the milling throng of applicants for the job of 2024 Presidential candidate with mounting horror.

     Mr. Trump, the GOP frontrunner, well, quite aside from my opinion of him,* his past performance and likely future entanglements mean he's never again going to get the number of votes he did in 2016.  Granted, the people who like Donald Trump really, really like him and their enthusiasm has only grown with time, but the vast, muddy middle of voters, the people who were willing to give the business guy a try in 2016, had left him by 2020 and his indictments, messy spats and unhinged social media rants have done nothing to win them back.  Name-calling and fear-mongering are only the stick and the man's got no carrot left to dangle.

     Governor DeSantis, a distant second, has a people problem: he doesn't people well.  He whangs away with verve and aplomb at the same culture-war issues that thrill many Trump voters, but he cannot fire 'em up the way Mr. Trump can, so why should they look his way?  His campaign so far has revealed a taste for the high life that doesn't play well in middle America.  Worst of all, there's a strong case to be made that the man's a dead-eyed sadist.  It may or may not be true, but there's enough smoke there for opposing opinionators to set up the hue and cry.

     The rest of 'em might as well be Disney's seven dwarfs from Snow White and as campaign season lumbers on, Mr. Trump will undoubtedly give the more prominent ones similarly descriptive nicknames.  Lotsa luck, kids.

     Across the aisle, the Democrats appear to have distilled down their own Presidential-aspirant crazy into one man, the wild-eyed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  He has certainly shown that his party won't take a back seat to the Republicans when it comes to lunacy, and his blanket opposition to all vaccines, endorsements of fringe theories and bland denial of his well-documented antisemitism has established him as a personality beloved by conspiracy theorists and weirdos right across the political spectrum.  Electing him President would usher in a new Dark Ages, this one self-inflicted.  It's a good thing he doesn't stand a chance.

     If a rising tide raises all boats, a falling one will leave a few higher and drier than the others.  Amid the falling tide of Presidential aspirant connection to reality, Joe Biden stands out by virtue of not being batshit crazy.  The guy is what you get if you ask an AI art program to draw a moderate Democrat President, only older.  But he's sane, sober and has a clear understanding of how the Federal government works, which puts him head and shoulders above everyone else who's trying for the job.  Do I love him?  I do not.  But he clocks in on time and wears a suit, and nearly always picks up the right fork at State dinners.  His Administration has actually worked with a divided Congress to get things done -- not much, nothing very dramatic, but the stuff that had to get done, they've done.  Compared to the seething sea of nutjobs vying for the top spot, he's a giant, God help us.
___________________________
* I think he's the Three Stooges version of authoritarian thuggery -- except the Stooges were only playacting that degree of stupidity and incompetence, and he's living it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

When Work And Hobby Collide

     I do electronics for a living.  It's also my hobby.  In recent decades, the hobby side has tended more and more to very old stuff, equipment using vacuum tubes and related technology, and includes vintage ham radio and broadcast equipment.  At my age, the stuff I collect and build now is pretty much the same as the ham gear I could afford when I was young and the audio and RF equipment that was in daily use at the small-time stations where I first worked.

     My present employer has a big, in-company event coming up, a confab for the top brass.  Who, where and about what doesn't matter.  What does matter is that it's large enough that they need a sound system, and my department was tasked with setting it up.  Amplifiers and speakers were easy; we already have them for gatherings.  They needed several microphones, and we already owned a nice modern interface widget that serves as microphone mixer, digital interface and just about anything else they might need or want.

     But we needed a microphone stand, the tall kind that sit on the floor, and it needed to be decent-looking.  I knew where one was, one of the tough and ubiquitous Atlas Sound MS-10 or 12s that can be found for as little as $50 new, so I retrieved it, gave it a quick clean-up, and put it in the room.

     At the last minute, we needed two more.  There wasn't time to order them, and the local suppliers of previous years are mostly gone.  I remembered another likely spot where more Atlas stands might be found.  There was only one there and the black base was dinged and rusty, the chrome-plated pillar dull.  Okay, fine; a quick clean, refinished the base with a super-large Sharpie, and polished the whole thing with Nevr-Dull.  (Including the base.  Sharpie ink transfers easily and is a bit too shiny unless you take steps to control it.)

     That left us needing one more.  I've been hoarding the location of a couple of vintage RCA 90-A floor stands.  My employer's are well beat-up, but it's a 1937 design by RCA's John Vassos, who had a real flair for Art Deco.  These are soft matte nickel and brushed aluminum, and feature a "magic clutch" adjustment: to raise or lower the stand, you give it a push or a pull, using a little more force than the weight of RCA's heaviest microphones: it goes where you move it and stays there!

     Pretty as the the design is, ours were dented and filthy, the threads for the mic clip tarnished.  I've been leaving them alone; they're worth quite a bit of money and I saw no reason to attract attention to them.  Now I needed one.  I picked the best of the two and spent a couple of hours with various cleaners, a paste of baking soda and water, fine emery cloth and water, and metal polish.  I chased the threads clean and made sure the magic clutch was working smoothly.  I got paid to do the kind of thing I do for fun: restoring the stand to respectable utility.  There's more that could be done; the brushed aluminum base is a cover over a cast-iron weight and it would benefit from some body work to get the dents out.  But it'll do.