Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023 Waltzes Away

     The year is ending in waltz time.  Have a look at the calendar: today is 123123.  Can't say this year's got much to dance over, other than the COVID-19 pandemic receding to a persistent hazard, especially for those still avoiding the vaccine.  We're a lot better off now, with effective treatments, but the damnable virus is here to stay, right next to the flu.

*  *  *

     Politics remains a worry.  Gone are the days when I could poke fun at the tail-chasing ineffectiveness and occasional dangers of the Federal government, secure in the knowledge that it would all work out in the end, while keeping legislators, the Executive branch and a wide array of bureaucrats busy and out of worse trouble.  Nope, they've managed to screw that up and now I watch 'em warily, waiting for them to find a new next shoe to drop.  It turns out they have as many as a centipede, and the current crop of office-holders hurls them with heedless abandon.

     I'm not impressed.  All systems of government are bad, compromises we make to avoid the necessity of having to go to war with the next city over, or those awful people down the street, but some are a lot worse than others.  Ours has been one of the least bad for a long time, and a good many people appeared to be trying to make it even less bad.  A lot of them have given up; some of them (ahem, Republicans, mostly, though the Dems have still got a Senatorial Menendez to yeet) have decided they'd prefer it to be even more bad.

     It's got me voting regularly -- voting against crummy candidates and incumbents, mostly, rather than for, but I'm certainly not going to pass up the opportunity to chime in when so many people are pushing for autocracy and the mailed fist.

*  *  *

     With all this talk of waltzes and hard times, the Boswell Sisters offer something different, close harmony and a willingness to fiddle with tempo and key that reminds me our country -- our fellow citizens -- can manage chaos pretty well.  Sometimes brilliantly.  We may get through this yet.

     See there? Some good things have come from Louisiana. It's not all Kingfishing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Bright Moon

     The Moon was shining through high, mottled clouds last night.  I tried a few photos with my phone but it doesn't have the lens for for the job.

     It still annoys me that there aren't any city lights up there.  Let alone a hotel.

     Tam and I have been watching For All Mankind, the Apple TV alternate history in which the Soviet Union beat the U. S. to land the first man on the moon, setting Alexi Leonov down between Apollo 10's close-enough-to-touch dress rehearsal (yes, that really happened) and the Apollo 11 landing.

     In the series, the USSR space program's Chief Designer Sergei Korolev survived instead of dying during surgery in 1966.  Maybe he hadn't been sent to a gulag and worked over in the alternate universe; they haven't said.

     The series takes real social issues of the day (it starts in 1969 and by the start of second season, it's up to 1983) and lets them play out against the background of ongoing, competitive Lunar explorations, a working Skylab supported by Space Shuttles as originally planned, and a Cold War that may be teetering closer to the brink than the real one ever came.  If you get all hot under the collar about DEI, it may not be your cup of tea; if you didn't live through those years or study recent history, you may have a little trouble keeping up.  But the series, so far, is a great example of how to tell a thrilling hard-SF story, character-driven and full of moments that carry what the late Sir Terry Pratchett called "narrative inevitability."  There's a lot of promise and a lot of payoff.

     It brings back the excitement I remember from the Apollo years.  We were landing on the Moon!  Giant rockets were thundering into the sky!  I still remember the family vacation when were traveling up an interstate nearly on the other side of Florida during an Apollo launch.  Cars began pulling over and stopping, and so did we, to watch the huge rocket making its way, a pillar of flame climbing heavenward.

     Highly recommended, especially if you enjoy a good story.  Alas, in the end, it is only a story.  The Russians never got there.  We didn't stay on the Moon.  There's no hotel.  Yet.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Conversations With The Robot

     Along about noon-thirty today, the sun was shining and it was warm, or warm as November goes, which is pretty darned good for the last week in December.  The forecast as of last night was kind of wet.  I've got a pork roast marinating in the fridge and this and that to cook with it.  I was wondering if it was a better stovetop or grill project, so I asked the robot:

     "Alexa, will it rain today?"


     I took another look out the window.  Sunshine.  Green grass and birdsong.  I don't know how the old boy managed to land and take off in that sleigh overnight.

     "Alexa, are you high?" 


     "Alexa, when. Is. It. Going. To. Rain?"


     "It is not, either."

     I made myself a snack and puttered around the kitchen.  About 1:30, the first few raindrops fell and it's spattering down pretty steadily now.  Looks like it'll be stovetop Hoosier pork vindaloonie for Christmas.

     Starting to think the robot lives west of town, out by the airport, where the weather first hits the county line, and she's mainly worried about her risk of rust if she goes outdoors.

Happy Holidays!

     And if you don't like the generic, one-size-fits-most version, well -- too bad.  I want to wish maximum cheer to the largest number of people, and it is my earnest wish that each and every one of you will take it in a way consistent with your own culture, beliefs and traditions, and not be a sourpuss about it.

     Life is too short to keep on Scrooging yourself.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas Eve

     Here we are, Christmas Eve.  We got this far and that's something.

     I will not, this day, hector you about politics.  Not even the most positive developments of recent days are anything to celebrate, at least in my opinion; they are points we should never have reached, blots on the timeline that shame, guilt, character or the censure of wiser peers once would have prevented.

     So to hell with that.  You are only the boss of you and I am only the boss of me, and we should each proceed with hope and the firm intention to take the long view and do the right thing, rather than give way to dark fantasies of despair.  The year's longest night is behind us.  New hope is born and surely there are brighter days ahead.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Not To Grinch, Here

     Nope.  I wouldn't want to diminish anyone else's enjoyment of the holiday season.  Humans have been celebrating getting through the longest night of the year for about as long as they've been keeping track of the seasons, and the layer upon layer of religious and civil celebration this time of year has accumulated is truly a marvel.

     Dark days and long nights are hard.  True when you're a skin-clad hunter-gatherer, true when you live in the 21st Century with a talisman in your pocket that connects to the whole world, faster than thought.*  We darned well ought to have a celebration.

     But I've got to tell you, it's a sucky time of the year for me.  I get short-tempered.  I feel a lot of stress.  And it's not helping that my employer's yearly employee review process starts in mid-December, with an essay-type "Justify Your Continued Existence" form due by the end of the month, followed by three to four months of waiting for the process to grind through the system and come back to you.  The whole thing is designed for upwardly-mobile employees, with the benign intent of discovering ambition and talent -- a great idea for the young but frustrating when you're 65 and have been firmly told you're never going to get any higher on the ladder.

     Other than my siblings, I have no close family left.  The big holiday gatherings ended as my mother's health faded and I find that I miss them, stressful though they were.  I stopped marking the season at home decades ago; my house is cluttered enough without trying to shove in a fire-risk tree and cat-poisonous flowers and my life is cluttered enough without pressure to feign a holiday spirit I do not feel.

     I wish you a Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays.  I wish myself a successful endurance of the worst time of the year.
* And we've got the social media to prove it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

...The Supremes....

     Nope, not the singing group that propelled Diana Ross to stardom -- we should be so lucky -- but the United States Supreme Court, which as near as I can tell, is going to have a busy docket of Donald Trump and Trump-adjacent cases for 2024.

     I know what I have concluded about the man's actions; I know what the January 6 Committee concluded.  Now it's the Supreme Court's turn.  I'm figuring they'll focus on narrow technicalities, not sweeping principles; this Court has shown itself willing to stand up to the guy a little, but they haven't been overly spineful and Justices Thomas and Alito appear to be in the pocket* of our home-grown right-wing oligarchs.  I wouldn't mind that, except those selfsame oligarchs are Team Trump, not Team Institutional Republican-like-my-parents.  The rest of 'em, who knows; Chief Justice Roberts doesn't like rocking the boat (not, usually, a terrible quality in a Chief Justice), the Trump appointees have not shown a huge inclination to dance with the guy that brung 'em† and the left-leaning Justices parse the law at least as carefully as any of their peers.

     Is the President an Officer of the United States?  (Historical debate on the 14th Amendment and Chief Justice Roberts say very different things.)  Is whipping up a crowd to go break into the Capitol and send Congress fleeing in an effort to disrupt the tally of Electoral College votes an insurrection?  Is there a lawyerly way to weasel out of making the kind of decision that results in credible threats to one's personal safety?  We'll find out, in the next exciting episode, same time, same channel!  It's just a pity William Dozier isn't around to narrate it.  And that it's real life and not a campy farce.  Burgess Meredith chewing up the scenery would be a relief.
* These two aren't looking great, ethically, and it makes me sad.  Maybe we should do the Baskin-Robbins free ice-cream thing with Supreme Court Justices: pay em so lavishly no zillionaire can bid high enough to influence 'em.  But there's always some damn thing you can buy a person with....
† Nor should they, or any other Justice, either.  It's a lifetime job at excellent pay (despite Justice Thomas's complaints) and they are supposed to be paying attention to what the law says, not what the President who picked them would like.  How any Supreme Court Justice can have trouble getting a loan to buy a house (etc.) is a mystery to me; it's not like they're at risk of getting laid off or fired, or left behind when the Court is moved to a right-to-work state to reduce labor costs.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Hear Hoofbeats, Expect Horses

     It's rarely zebras.  And outside of zebra country, in places where herds of horses have run for centuries?  It's not going to be zebras.  It's not going to be moose.

     In Europe, they've been staging nasty wars for centuries.  One country or another starts to get stroppy and the next thing you know, there's a problem and unless it is addressed promptly, it festers and spreads.  Napoleon, the Central Powers, Hitler, that stuff you read about in school, it's just the tip of the iceberg.  From at least the Seven Years' War onward, they've been only too happy to let their wars spread.

     The present conflagration is Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but anyone who thinks it will stop there has been whistling past history's graves.

     Congress -- specifically, the U. S. House of Representatives -- has stymied American funding to support Ukraine's war effort.  They say they're concerned about the U. S. border, which today's Republican party likes to claim is "wide open."  (It's not, and I'd like to drop a random group of Congressbeings into Mexico to make their way home via unofficial channels so they can encounter the Border Patrol and find out for themselves.)  That's their excuse for holding money for Ukraine hostage.

     Right now, the conflict in Europe is as cheap a fight with Russia as we're ever going to get: a chance to use up aging military supplies, find out how our stuff holds up against what Russia has under real-world conditions, and do so without spilling a drop of American blood.  Or we can do what the House seems to want -- hang back, complain it's not our fight, and let Mr. Putin succeed in his efforts to regain the former Soviet empire.  Sooner or later, those efforts will bump into NATO.  In the Baltics, in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia (even Finland, and ask the Finns if they remember their last few Russian wars), NATO and Russia stand toe to toe.  And on the far side of Russia's vast expanse, the People's Republic of China is following Putin's transgression of international norms with great interest; having absorbed Hong Kong, the only thing that that keeps them from reaching for Taiwan is the sure and certain knowledge that the free world is watching.

     Russia's invasion of Ukraine is not an outlier.  It's not a zebra.  It's a horse -- the first of a herd of horses that, if not controlled, will surely trample Europe and leave ruin across the world.  We can stop it now, before it spreads, or we can, once again, wait until our backs are to the wall and wage a terrible, uncertain struggle to try to put matters to rights.  Those are the choices.  And if WW III comes, nobody will give a damn about refugees sneaking across the border.

     I don't know if Congressional Republicans are cynical and self-seeking, cowards afraid to stand up to a demagogue, accelerationist religious nutjobs, outright traitors or some combination of all four, and I don't much care.  They're shambling towards another World War and they don't seem to give a damn about the long-term consequences as long as it plays well to their base -- a base whose sons and daughters will be sent to fight and die when the war they are unwilling to avert blossoms.

     Why did it take so long for Europe to cooperate against Napoleon?  Why didn't the civilized world kick the props out from under the shaky alliances that fueled WW I?  Why wasn't Hitler brought to an end when he was only a ranting politician with odious ideas?  Why didn't we stop Putin's aggression when we could?

     You want the answer to the Fermi Paradox?  I suspect any civilization that rises high enough to reduce itself to rubble eventually manages to, and never quite gets far enough ahead to establish a foothold off their planet before they've exhausted the available resources.  Exhibit A is presently on tour in Ukraine, driving a T-90 and carrying some kind of AK variant, crapping out landmines and cluster bombs as it goes.  And Exhibit B can be found in Congressional offices, pretending the oceans are impassable moats.

Monday, December 18, 2023

The Clumsies

     It hits me from time to time, usually indicating a sinus or inner-ear infection: the clumsies.  I have never fully recovered from the cold that laid me out in October.  There's a variant of the common cold making the rounds that lingers for a hundred days or more, and that appears to be what I picked up: a couple of weeks of intense symptoms, trailing off to a mildly productive cough, sinus congestion, sneezing and an occasional bout of chills.

     I began the weekend with a headache the usual over-the-counter nostrums wouldn't cut.  By late Saturday, I was a little dizzy.  Sunday, I couldn't stay balanced if I leaned over -- or merely closed my eyes while standing.  Sunday night, I had a definite list to the right and when I laid down, the room wanted to spin.  I had to aim for the left side of a doorway to go through the middle!

     This morning, I started out with sinus irrigation, which later resulted in remarkably loud and complex eustachian-tube squeaking (like hearing chords played on balloons when you blow your nose; 0/10, do not recommend) and the dizziness is much reduced -- but I've got the clumsies.  Nothing is where I reach.  Frying an egg for breakfast, I managed to trail egg white across the stove top, drop the toothpick I used to break the yolk on the floor when trying to throw it away, and catch the handle of the tiny one-egg skillet* with my thumb, knocking it off the burner.  Fortunately, the fire was off and I hadn't used much olive oil.

     After a couple of days of compensating for loss of balance, as it returns, I'm askew.  I don't have much kinesthetic sense or proprioception anyway, and lacking the sure sense of position and motion that good dancers or gymnasts have, it's easy to trip myself up.  I'll have to move slowly, carefully and with forethought for the next day or two.

     And Tam's going to have to tolerate hearing, "No!  Uh-oh!  Dammit." from the kitchen until I get recentered.
* These little gadgets are both cute and handy.  I have a round one that just fits a large egg, and a square one that will fry three half-strips of bacon or a single egg.  Or, I suppose, one slice of French toast or a lone-wolf pancake.

Friday, December 15, 2023

One Step At A Time

Large as it is, this thing is a third the size of what it replaces.

     At my work, there's an important piece of  "middleware" that dates back to 1982.  It connects between a late-2010s video switcher and mid-1990s camera control units, and it's the gadget that makes a red "tally" light come on at the front (and elsewhere) of the active camera.

     You'd think this would be easy.  You'd think this would be standardized.  You would be wrong.  For example, the switcher is happy using any voltage from 5 to 18 Volts to run the red lights.  The camera control units want to see 24 Volts.  Well, five of them do.  The sixth camera is CCUless, and it didn't come with any sissy red light on the front, either.  It did come with a fancy track system and a fancy remote control setup, and so far, it hasn't injured anyone.  Barely.  It has whacked into the other cameras a few times, occasionally hard enough to do damage, but that's another story.  Today's story includes my having to build a red light for it when it was first installed.  There was no time to order anything, so the tally light was pieced together from odds and ends -- a plastic parts box, an old pilot-light jewel, a high-brightness red light-emitting diode -- and it is driven directly from the 24-Volt signalling system.  That takes more current that merely letting a CCU know you'd like it to turn a light on.

     The old system used a card cage holding several huge, hand-wired circuit boards, carrying 1970s digital logic, unobtanium sealed relays, and lots of other parts you either can't get or no one would use for a new design.  It was built using a mixture of wire-wrapping and soldered stripboard, the latter a way to make a printed circuit board without any of that tricky designing or messy etching.  It's entirely undocumented, and powered by what looks like a 1960s Western Electric DC supply, mounted upside down on a rack panel.*  And just to make this more interesting, it is installed in a row of racks in a cul-de-sac off the main rack room, about thirty feet away (and around a corner) from all the things it connects to. (In fairness, it's close to where the camera control units and video switchers used to be -- in 1982.)

     I started thinking about a replacement system shortly before the pandemic disrupted everything.  When I came back, the particular part I'd chosen (a versatile DIN-rail-mounted solid state relay) had gone obsolete.  I found an adequate replacement and started over.  It's all DIN-rail stuff: inexpensive, standardized and upgradeable.  (Of course, the 1980s original was, too, by the standards of the time.)

     Once I had the thing built, I had to trace out everything the system connects to -- it has a few other jobs, too obscure to describe -- and where all the wiring ran, and then work out how to transition to the new version in stages, in the short intervals when the cameras and other equipment wasn't in use.  And how to do so in a way that made no irrevocable commitment to the new system: we wanted to put it in and let it run for a week or more before jumping off the cliff. (Okay, for "we" read "I."  I have a deep-seated aversion to the high-wire act; if you don't leave yourself a clear line of retreat, you're liable to end up like George Armstrong Custer.)

     Yesterday, I finally moved the camera wiring to the new interface.  I had three hours.  Getting it all moved and tested took two and a half hours, working by myself.  The wiring was buried under years of cables and trying to coordinate with a helper would have taken longer than sorting it all out by myself.

     So far, it's been working through two long news blocks and a half-hour segment for late night.  Here's hoping it will still be okay when I arrive today.
* The power supply includes an added neon blown-fuse indicator that blows the fuse if you replace it while the supply is on, thanks to a poor choice of socket.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Yeah, Hi

     Just reading the news and shaking my head.  Comment seems redundant.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Shaghala Baghala

     "Shaghala baghala" was making the rounds on social media the other day; it is claimed to be a Swahili term that means "chaos," or perhaps, "the usual chaos," in the sense of "SNAFU" or "Same stuff, different day."

     A quick web search supports the "chaos" meaning, and adds a few other words that also translate to "chaos."  And I had to follow up on that.

     It turns out there's a reason beyond simple widespread use that makes Swahili or Kiswahili one of the better-known African languages: it's a trading language, and one that, like English, is only too happy to borrow words and concepts from other languages.  There's a lot of Arabic, German and English in the language, mapping successive waves of trading partners and colonizers.*  And like English, you can speak Swahili quite badly and still make yourself understood.  While the language has a complicated (but fairly regular) grammar, "Settla," or "settler Swahili," simplifies person, tense and type down to an approximation of English or Romance-language grammar and adds personal pronouns that are normally indicated by prefixes; the result isn't elegant but it's adequate for grocery-shopping or sharing directions.

     Swahili is a dynamic language.  It's going to be around.  From Star Trek to The Expanse, you'll find bits of it all through SF, tumbling through the shaghala baghala of a hopeful future.  It takes a flexible language to surf chaos and not fall.
* Some colonizers are worse than others; the quaint notion of "uplifting the savages" is thoroughly and rightfully discredited, but if you're stuck with 'em, the story of the Askari Monument in Dar es Salaam is illustrative of the difference between bad and worse: the Imperial Germans put up a statue of their colonial Governor, one hand on his hip and the other on his sword, while at his feet, a kneeling African soldier covered a dead lion with the German flag.  After WW I, the Brits took over, took down the statue and replaced it with one of an askari in action, bayonetted rifle thrusting forward, in honor of the local troops who served the UK during the war.  A mere symbol?  Sure; but symbols carry meaning.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Lighter Fare

 To the tune of a well-known Steely Dan song about a very different kind of consumable:

Orange Marmalade

While the toaster ran, you worked by morning light
Those tasty dawns so right
You were the best in town
Just by chance you crossed the butter with the jam
You turned it on the world
That's when you turned the world around

Did you realize
That you were a Sous Chef in their eyes?

On the hill the stuff was laced with saccharin
But yours was never thin
Everyone stopped to stare at your technicolor breakfast slice
Every early bird had your number on the wall
You must have had it all
You'd make pancakes on a dare and you'd make 'em so nice

Could you see the day?
Could you feel your whole wheat fall apart and fade away?

Get along, get along, orange marmalade
Get along, orange marmalade

Now your foodies have all left you and your bread
Your breakfast friends won't spend
This life can be very strange
All those early-riser freaks who used to eat the stuff
They snort marshmallow fluff
Some things will never change

You are obsolete
Look at all the oatmeal in the street

Get along, get along, orange marmalade
Get along, orange marmalade

Clean this mess up 'cos it's just a source of strife
Those jam spoons and the knife
Just get it all out of here
Is there more in the jar?
Yes, there's more in the jar
I think the people down the lane know who you are

'Cause the man is wise
You are still a Sous Chef in their eyes

Get along (get along), get along, orange marmalade (get along)
Get along, orange marmalade

Friday, December 08, 2023

Whatever You Know About Middle-East Conflict Is Probably Wrong

     But you're not alone in that.  Whatever I know is probably wrong, too.  As near as I can tell, whatever anyone knows about the big picture or the deep (or even recent) history is likely to be wrong, incomplete or biased.

     Fewer dead noncombatants would be an improvement.  Fewer people traumatized, hungry, thirsty and homeless would be an improvement.

     More dead people would not be an improvement.  Anyone calling for wiping out this side or that side isn't really wanting to make the situation better.

     The dead have no national identity.  Corpses have no religion.  History stopped for them when their life ended.

     I can't fix it.  I don't have any clever suggestions.  But the news pains me.  And it pains me even more that while one side looks better to me than another, the governments, would-be governments and militant groups, from the best to the worst, are all standing in and shedding far more blood than is sane.  When the best hope isn't much of a hope at all, it's difficult to believe anything will ever get better -- and easy to understand how the people in the middle of it fall into nihilism and destruction.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Um, No

     I could swear the local news told me this morning that Republican Representative Patrick McHenry, announcing he will not run for re-election, said he would "serve out the remainder of his four-year term."  I'm really hoping I misheard.  That's not how House terms work.  Congressperson McHenry knows that, and if I heard it correctly, there's a news producer out there who does not.

     Meanwhile, the Texas GOP has shied away from banning their party members from associating with N-zis, neo-N-zis and antisemites -- that would be people like, say, Nick Fuentes, who's apparently been doing the Texas Two-Step with a big right-wing political consulting firm in the Lone Star State.  Look, if your party can't even slam the door on Holocaust deniers, it's not much of a party.  Tensions are running pretty high down there, especially in the wake of the attempted impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and it's anyone's guess how that's going to work out.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

It Appears To Be True

     The saying circulating on social media is the real deal: In Norway, one way to respond to "How's it going?" is to say you're "Up and not crying."

     It may be a low bar, but it's a worthwhile state.  Especially at this time of the year, with the shorter days and stressful holidays, being awake, on my feet and not weeping is about as good as it gets.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Things I Have Learned

     - Super-fast Internet doesn't make my well-aged computer any faster.

     - There were combat-sized dust bunnies under my desk, despite frequent exploration by long-haired, dust-friendly Holden Wu.

     - The Phone Company now runs glass right from the pole to the modem in your house, or at least they do around here.  While the tech commented that the fiber is "kinda brittle," he treated it with no greater caution than phone techs treat copper, and the SC connectors only required a simple cutter and crimper to install, not a slow, high-skill fusion splicer.

     - Strange New Worlds is the most Star Trek-y Star Trek since the original series.  We just finished the second season, with Carol Kane standing out delightfully as the ship's new chief engineer.  While there are some plausibility issues with Captain Pike's Enterprise, starting with impossibly lavish quarters compared to TOS, it's a return to telling good space-opera stories with clear heroes and villains, handwaving its way through the science, and shunning the ponderous, self-impressed dignity that can afflict the franchise.  It's good fun.  TOS characters are beginning to show up one by one, and with a known endpoint for Captain Pike's arc, there's a chance the series may segue into, well, let's not get ahead of ourselves....

Friday, December 01, 2023

Still Here

     Still here so far, and expecting a Phone Company person later this morning to install faster Internet, since what I have is now obsolete.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

There's A Chance...

     There is a chance Google will yank the account I use for this blog tomorrow.  It's not likely, but it's not impossible.

     If it happens, so long and thanks.  It's been fun.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

I'm Still Here

     Just not blogging much.  You know what I think of current politics, and there's only so much pointing-with-alarm one can do.  TV and movies of my youth led me to believe quicksand would be a far more prominent danger than it has turned out to be, but it also told me that dangerous religious fanatics would reliably be shaggy-bearded, wild-eyed, gaunt, white-haired patriarchs intoning Bible verses in a hollow bass; it told me political extremists would be kooks, bomb-throwers and never, ever gain elective office.

     It was all fatuous nonsense.  Except for the part about quicksand.  We have got problems, and they're coming from newly-emboldened fringes, trying to pass themselves off as the real center.

     Elsewhere, I have been busy with NaNoWriMo (I'm far, far behind schedule) and other writing; but I'm trying to write commercial stuff, which means I can't share it here.  And I am trying to keep up with my job.  My workplace changed greatly right before the pandemic and not, I think, for the better in terms of it being an interesting or engaging place to work.  But it still pays well and offers an excellent benefits package, so I'm sticking with it, enzombified as it now is.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Thanksgiving Dinner

     Tamara and I had a simple meal -- Turducken roll, slow-cooked in a covered pan on the grill with turnip, fennel bulb and apple; mashed potatoes made from scratch (and not boiled); and bacon gravy.

     The turnip, fennel bulb and apple was a great match for the turducken.  There wasn't much room in the roasting pan around the five pounds of birds and stuffing, but it all fit.  I made the mashed potatoes by cooking them in the microwave and mashing them skin-on in a pan* on the stovetop over low heat; ended up using a cup of milk and a tablespoon of water, plus butter, and they were great.

     The gravy?  I started with five strips of bacon, enough to get a quarter-cup of melted fat.  Set the bacon on a paper towel covered plate to drain, and added a quarter-cup of flour to the hot fat to make a roux, cooking over low-medium heat until it darkened.  Then a whole two-cup box of Kettle & Fire Mushroom Chicken Bone Broth, all at once, and I kept stirring and cooking as it thickened, with occasional breaks to snip bacon bits into it.  The end result was as smooth as velvet, rich with umami, and went wonderfully with the mashed potatoes and turducken.
* I mash potatoes in an old-fashioned way, starting by stirring them with a sharp knife, and switching to a large dinner-type fork once they're in small pieces.  It's not the fastest and it takes a little work, but I like the end result.

Thursday, November 23, 2023


     This is a day to be thankful.  And I am -- I'm thankful my boss tolerates my quirks and foibles, and that Tamara does, too.

     I'm thankful things are not worse, which they very easily could have been.  The human race dodged a near one with the coronavirus, and the United States had another close call in the aftermath of the 2020 Presidential election.

     We may yet have troubles; our species has long gotten by on the skin of our teeth -- but gotten by we have, and I am thankful for that.  Here's to keeping on keeping on!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Failure Modes Of Bad Managers

     It is possible that my experience is not the usual thing.  I have worked for many different managers, both my direct supervisor and the levels above.  My line of work has long featured frequent changes in management.  I've worked for several remarkably good ones, and a lot of managers who were doing their best with what they had.

     The two ends of the bell curve stand out, the great and the abysmal.  The great ones were often inspiring leaders -- but even more often, they were men (and a few women) who would roll up their sleeves and do the work, whatever it was.  Everyone else would pitch in because, really, what else can you do?  There's the boss, hard at work, and what kind of a heel doesn't want to help out?

     The bad managers relied on bluster and bombast, on micromanaging the easy parts and leaving the conundrums for the "little people" to work out.  They were quick to blame their staff for failures, and quick to take credit for successes.  They rarely got their hands dirty.  And they could go on in this way for a long time.  But it never lasted.  They'd either flame out spectacularly in a fit or rage or pique, or they'd fade out, as staff sought better opportunities and they were left with burnouts, time-servers and unskilled weasels as venal as themselves.  The drinkers (and drug users) were eventually overwhelmed by their addiction to the point of not being able to function, at which point any decent person can only feel compassion (no matter how unwilling they might be to continue propping up the bad manager).  Sometimes, an overheard comment or behavior was enough, if the right person or persons hear or saw it.

     Threats, bullshit and histrionics only take a boss so far; built on hot air, fear and fantasy, their efforts eventually collapse, sometimes taking down a department, an enterprise or a government.  The bigger they have grown, the worse the fall.

     You have to wonder how that's going to play out on a national scale, by and by.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Quick Roundup

     Here it is, all you need to know in the shortest time:

     U. S. domestic politics is awful.

     World politics is awful.

     War is terrible.  No civilian non-combatant ever deserves to die, even if they hold truly horrible opinions; however, letting combatants use your basement for their HQ disqualifies you from "non-combatant" status.  Also, bombing hospitals is never a good idea, even when it is.  And war is still terrible.  We should have fewer of them, and smaller.

     Please smile at other people and be nice to them; if you need encouragement, consider that some of them -- probably the ones you like least -- will really, really dislike it if you're polite and friendly.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The U. S. Senate, Red In Tooth And Claw?

     It's been all over the news, all over social media -- junior Senator for Oklahoma Markwayne Mullin offering to fight Teamsters President Sean O'Brien in the course of a Senate committee hearing.  He was chided by his Senate colleague Bernie Sanders, a man never overly concerned with decorum, practicality or even reality, which ought to have been humbling but probably wasn't.

     Senator Mullin and Teamsters boss O'Brien have been sniping at one another for months; I don't expect them to be great pals, not the former owner of a big, open-shop plumbing company* and union guy, not a Republican Senator and a labor boss: they're natural antagonists.  However, politics is the tool we invented so we don't have sort matters out by knocking one another over the head, and I do expect a United States Senator and the President of a national union to avoid actual physical conflict, even while being about as lousy to one another as they can manage.

     The Teamsters are proud of their roughneck image -- but even they have had to admit that might doesn't necessarily make right.  I damned well expect a U. S. Senator to understand it.  Tolerating this sort of behavior is a very poor sign for the present course of the GOP.  Senator Mullin citing as precedent pro-slavery Representative Preston Brooks beating anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner with a cane after Sumner had spoken harshly of slave owners in 1856 does not speak well of him -- the incident is generally understood as the one of the precursors to the Civil War.  The Senator also mentioned President Andrew Jackson's overly-pugnacious behavior, which is shaky ground indeed; Jackson's legacy is at best, mixed, and his temper is more infamous than admired.

     I don't expect Senators -- or even U. S. Representatives -- to engage in hand-to-hand combat or feats of strength.  That's not what I'm paying them to do; it's what I am paying them to avoid, and to manage the conflicts that would otherwise lead to violence.

     This bully-boy nonsense is strictly for the funny papers.  Or the history books, brown/silver/black shirts and all.  (Can you name the countries where each group sullied the public streets?)
* The plumber's union is a big one, one of the surviving 19th Century American Federation of Labor craft unions,† and historically, they're known to be quite touchy about jurisdiction.
† In contrast to the younger, scrappier Congress of Industrial Organizations unions.  They're long merged now, but while an AF of L craft union organized workers in skilled trades, the CIO (splintering from AFL in 1935) organized entire establishments, from the sweepers to the top of the hourly pay scale.  There was no love lost between craft unions and industrial unions for twenty years, but by the mid-1950s, they remembered they had a common enemy and got back together.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Just In Time For Christmas

     I've got it: the hot new toy.  It's a Tesla Cybertruck in the style of the "Transformers" toys, only when you transform it, it's a dumpster, complete with flames shooting out the top!

     Yeah, that thing isn't being welcomed with open arms by anyone anywhere besides the fanniest of fanboys; it's coming up short in terms of styling, fit and finish, and the basic necessary functions of a working truck, and that's before you consider the seething sociopolitical mess the lad at the top keeps dipping himself into.

     I miss the days of geeks who stuck to geekery and business types who immersed themselves in the accumulation of wealth while avoiding visible involvement in politics and most scandals.  You can point out it was often plenty rotten under the surface, and you'd be right; but at least there was a surface over the worst of it.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Kerosene Stove

     My paternal grandmother cooked on a kerosene stove.  She preferred them.  She would have grown up with wood-fueled cookstoves and a kerosene stove is a lot less bother to use.  The first good kerosene stoves started showing up when she was a young bride: in the very early 20th Century, John D. Rockefeller, eager to find new markets for oil distillates, helped fund efforts to develop improved kerosene stoves that resulted in the "Perfection" long-chimney burner, in which the flame never touches the pots and pans and the long path produces better combustion.  Unlike earlier, pressurized, Primus-type oil stoves, the fuel is gravity fed and a simple wick adjustment controls the temperature.  (The controls on a Primus stove are something of an art.  Similar pressurized white-gas Coleman stoves are considerably simpler, thanks in part to the more-volatile fuel.)

     It would have been a pretty wonderful device at the time.  The Perfection  design worked so well that it is still being made.

     The timeline fits well with the now-demolished brick house my grandfather built for his growing (and eventually large) family.  She would have had a modern kitchen and the kerosene stove would have been the centerpiece.  (I don't know if the house had a matching water heater, but they were certainly available).  Along with city running water and a nice icebox, it would have been very much of the times.  (Ice was cheap and easy to come by for a long time; I don't know if the family ever had a monitor-top refrigerator or if they kept the older technology through WW II.  Mom's family had natural-gas refrigerators by the mid-1930s, when her father worked for a southern Indiana company that made them.  When my father bought a used but upscale travel trailer in the late 1970s, Mom was delighted to discover it had a propane refrigerator.)

     Despite the 19th Century gas boom -- or perhaps because if it -- early gas stoves had an iffy reputation for safety.  Lacking a pilot light and with valves that were easy to turn on by accident, asphyxiation and explosion were definite hazards for the first gas ranges.*  A kerosene stove might leak, but that wasn't much more of a risk than kindling.  They were popular for many years.  I'm told my grandmother kept using hers well into the time of safe, modern gas and electric ranges, until she was finally convinced to replace it with an electric range a few years after my parents married.
* My first apartment, in a turn-of-the-century building in a town near the center of the Indiana Gas Field, had a minimalist cast-iron stove, bracketed to the wall.  Two burners, no oven, and all of it right out in the open.  The valves were quarter-turn types with 90-degree handles, and the landlord supplied wooden kitchen matches.  Handle horizontal was off, handle down was full on: not exactly fail-safe.  It sat next to a sink made of folded and soldered sheet zinc, mounted on similar cast-iron brackets -- and a modern refrigerator, dating from at least the 1950s.  That last item was a relief.  I'm not sure I would have been up to hauling blocks of ice up three flights of stairs and by the late 1970s, nobody was delivering.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

11 November

     The current received wisdom is that veterans are a bit irked by pro forma thank-you-for-your-service recognition of the day -- and of their service.

     These are, by and large, lousy jobs.  Difficult jobs, between danger, boredom, physical effort and long, grinding workdays.  While it is true that officers at all but the smallest bases enjoy access to amenities nearly as nice as the country club in any county seat served by two different railroads, none of 'em signed up for the golf.  And ditto for the somewhat more limited perks available to enlisted personnel.  I'm darned glad people are willing to do the work and impressed by how many of them thrive.  It rates more than a stock phrase and a once-a-year discount at fast-food joints.

     Our choice of date is instructive: America chose not the date of a famous battle, or even a famous victory, but the day the guns fell silent.  Our armed forces exist not to make wars but to end them.  Quite often, that means fighting them all the way through; but there is a "through."  There is an end point.  Unbroken peace may not be something humans can manage, but we're not doomed to eternal war, either.  A few of us step up and work directly to that end; it's not an easy job and sometimes it doesn't get much respect -- but it should.  One day to mark it seems barely enough.

Thursday, November 09, 2023

So Much To Do

     Busy at work, busy fighting this lingering cold, busy watching politicians....

     I watched some of the Republican runners-up debate last night, the Island of Misfit Toys, and even in that group, Vivek Ramaswamy stands out as a jerk.  Yes, in a profession of largely jerks, in a party that has embraced boorish jerkness, amid a collection of alpha jerks, he was still an outstanding jerk.  I wouldn't accept a free sample of snake oil from him, let alone a political idea.

     The rest of 'em were all just what it's been saying on the label.  Chris Christie still wants to be The Man Who Learned Better but he comes off as insincere -- New Jersey politicians don't stay bought but they're usually on the hook for the duration of the lease.  Ron DeSantis still looks to me like six chickens in a human suit, Tim Scott appears to be a tent-meeting revival preacher who has blundered into a political convention by mistake and is going with it, and that leaves Nikki Haley, who almost looks like an old-time normie Republican until she reels off a few paragraphs of carefully memorized touch-the-base stuff.

     Present evidence is they're all running for a footnote in the history books, something kids will have to memorize for tests for a few years before they fade away like Thomas A. Hendricks and Schuyler Colfax.  Few of them will be around and still in politics by the 2028 contest -- if there is one.

     Meanwhile, the two most likely contenders for 2024 are also very much what it says on the label -- a label that for both of them starts with "elderly men," and continues unflatteringly.  Mr. Trump is way worse than Mr. Biden but I keep thinking we could surely do better.  Last night's GOP debate only showed that we could do worse.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023


 * I never filled in the footnote for yesterday's asterisk, so here it is: it would be easy to complain about rheumatic fever having given me a gimpy knee and slightly dodgy joints, but I got off lightly: if you have a brush with the stuff, there's a good chance it will go after your heart, too, and leave you with damaged valves and a heart murmur.   I avoided that.  My sister also had rheumatic fever and her heart's okay, too.

     We were lucky.  We were born after antibiotics were available and we didn't suffer heart damage.  Things could have gone far worse for either of us.


     This is the time of the year when the various hues and patterns of stink bugs -- each one with an "X" on their back -- are found posed on walls and fences, expired in mid-stride wherever they happened to run out of stink.

     There's one on the wall outside the back door here at Roseholme Cottage, stuck eternally reaching upwards in the general direction of the wall-mounted light, or anyway, for however long it takes a hungry bird to notice.

     But give them credit: they stay on-task, busy in their insect missions until the bitter end.

Monday, November 06, 2023

Isn't This Fun?

     Having a gimpy knee is no fun.  My right knee was a little messed up in the wake of rheumatic fever at the age of five* and I tore it up badly in a motor scooter accident in 2007, splitting the end of my thighbone in a fracture that spiraled upward and damaging the cartilage.  Recovery was long and unpleasant, and I have had trouble with it off and on ever since.

     After my recent bad cold, it's been mostly "on," making stairs, walking and even bending down quite painful.  Even my left knee's been aching.  That's bad.  What's worse is, "knees acting up after a crummy cold" is a fair fit for another round of rheumatic fever: it's an autoimmune disease triggered by (usually) a strep infection.  That would be bad, and the treatment hasn't changed much in the last six decades: lots of aspirin to manage the inflammation and antibiotics if there's any suspicion the strep is lingering.  There's no "magic bullet" or vaccination, no wonder drug past the first, wonderful category.  (My parents did their growing-up before penicillin, when an infected paper cut could kill you and a wound under less-sanitary conditions was likely to be a problem.  We have forgotten how remarkably antibiotics changed the world.)

     Sunday, I did aspirin, ice and -- between household chores -- bed rest.  It appears to have helped a little and I'm hoping to fake my way through the week, enriching the Bayer company and pretending nothing is wrong.  Swapping out the faucet on the kitchen sink was worse than it ought to have been, thanks to the occasional jolt of pain if I got my knee wrong.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Plumbed, Again

     The new kitchen faucet only lasted a little more than 27 months before the spout corroded through on the underside and began spraying water from the break.  I ordered a replacement that I thought was better, but put off installing it as long as I could.

     I was going to do the work over my most recent week of vacation.  Didn't happen -- I was sick all that week and a few days more.  I'm still recovering, productively coughing and sneezing far less often but it hasn't stopped.  And I  get short of breath very easily.

     Chemistry and physics don't care.  Neither does entropy.  The spout kept getting worse.  I tackled it today and the job is no less awkward than last time.

     Next time, I'm going to buy longer armored flexible connectors, those fancy hoses that run between the pipes and the faucet.  The ones I used last time are just barely too short to hook up both sides of the new spout above the sink where it's easy.  The hot side barely reaches and cold requires an awkward crawl-and-reach trick.  But the new one's in, it works, and so far I'm not finding any leaks.

     The bad news is that it's the same model as last time, only in brushed nickle instead of bright chrome.  It's probably going to fail again in a couple of years.  Indiana water is hard.

     On the dishwashing front, on the one day of activity I managed over my vacation, I found the exact dishwasher I wanted and priced out installation and hauling the old one away -- and it was pretty cheap.  Hooray!  Except they only had the floor model and it wasn't for sale.  "You can go to our Carmel store."  Yeah.  You bet.  Like I had time, wanted to deal with the inevitable snotty Carmel attitude, and futz about with some plumber who was having to burn up an hour or more in travel time to do the job.  They weren't interested in shuttling one between stores or ordering one from the manufacturer for me.  So I haven't bought a dishwasher yet.  I'm still doing dishes by hand.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Party Of Political Osteopaths

     This is something I may have written about before: the typical U. S. Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine is as good a doctor as a typical M.D.   Both of them undergo rigorous schooling and internship. 

     There's one difference: the DO has several hundred hours of training in osteopathic manipulative medicine.  This was the original basis for osteopathy: the notion that all of the body's ills -- including infectious disease -- could be cured by the right sort of thumping or adjustment.  This assertion is not well-supported by evidence or research.  A modern DO may well use OMM to treat musculoskeletal conditions, which it has been shown to help.  Past that?  Well, gee, I dislike being sued.  I'm told that at osteopathic schools, the OMM department is usually way off on its own and you can draw your own conclusions from that.

     So, two kinds of doctors, both of which can set a bone, dress a wound, diagnose what's wrong with you and prescribe the right pills.  One of 'em's got to acknowledge some fairly whackdoodle nutjobbery in order to get their degree.*

     The two main political parties have gone that way, only more so.  While a few Democrat and Republican office holders are little more than quacks peddling snake oil and fantasies, most elected officials at least appear to be trying to do their jobs; they may be ill-informed, misinformed, stupid or goofy, but the majority are putting in an honest effort.  But in one party, if they intend to stick around, they've got to kowtow to pernicious, whackdoodle nutjobbery that has become party orthodoxy.  And it's not isolated from the rest of their practice; it's pervasive.

     The Dems have the virtue, such as it is, of being chaotic; if AOC gets under your skin, there's always old Joe Manchin, miles to her Right, and an entire ragged mob of different opinions in between.  Meanwhile, the GOP keeps running out anyone who won't sign onto the Big Lie of a stolen 2020 election, anyone who points out the violent insurrection of 6 January 2021, and so on.  Ken Buck of Colorado is the latest to throw up his hands and walk away; he won't run for reelection when his term is up.

     Invasive nutjobbery can be contained and compartmentalized; or it can take over the whole shootin' match.  I can't say I'm real impressed with the trendline in U. S. politics.  I'll leave the last word for Congressman Buck: "Too many Republican leaders are lying to America, claiming that the 2020 election was stolen, describing Jan. 6 as an unguided tour of the Capitol and asserting that the ensuing prosecutions are a weaponization of our justice system. These insidious narratives breed widespread cynicism and erode Americans’ confidence in the rule of law."
* You will note that I have not, in this statement, specified which one.  Lawsuits and all that.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023


     The cold is still receding -- and my lungs and sinuses are still emptying.  It's not fun.

     I don't have much to say about current events.  Things are generally awful and working on getting more so.  Is there any good end in sight?  I don't know, but optimists are likely to be disappointed.  Accelerationists are assholes, who don't give a darn about you, your family or the future, and if you run with them or just wink at their nonsense and allow it to stand, you are in the same position as a civilian in the Gaza Strip: you're an ablative meat shield. 

     I have been doing a lot of writing, mostly on a PI series I'm not going to detail.  I did turn out a short story based on an idea I liked: what if there'd been a roadhouse run by a member of the New Jersey Mob* across the country lane from the Wilmuth farm when Orson Welles landed invading Martians there on October 31, 1937?  I don't think a well-connected gangster would have had much patience with the Martians, or been as cautious as the New Jersey State Patrol and the U. S. Army were in the radio drama.  I'm hoping to place the story, though if so, publication might have to wait until next Halloween.
* Members of what I will call, for the sake of brevity, the actual Mafia did provide useful assistance to the government's war efforts during WW II -- and why not?  They liked living here too!  So perhaps that part of the story isn't so far-fetched.  The Howard E. Koch radio script took several liberties, notably compressing the time scale of travel from Mars to Earth and of the Martian invasion, but between his gradually accelerating storyline and the dramatic skills of Mr. Welles and company, audiences barely noticed.  (Howard Koch was among the Mercury Theatre of the Air staffers who headed to Hollywood shortly afterward, but Welles already had a film script.  So he bounced around, picking up work, and was eventually handed a mess of a script for a movie already in production, in the hopes he could salvage something.  He did indeed; the film was Casablanca.)

Saturday, October 28, 2023


     Recovery from this cold is about as slow as I have ever experienced.  My lungs and sinuses are still emptying.  And I'm still pretty tired.

     I got up early this morning to bring in a grocery delivery, then spent the morning in online meetings of a fiction-writing group.  That took me until mid-day, at which point I was about done for the day.  I managed to put together some spicy pork roast with vegetables and it has been simmering all afternoon.  And I'm trying to get caught up on laundry.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Sloppy Language, Sloppy Thought

     In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine,* news outlets from National Public Radio to Fox News are referring to the Shelter In Place order while the shooter remains at large as a "lockdown."

     It is nothing of the sort.  Nothing's locked and violation of the order, while risky, is a misdemeanor at most.  In fact, there's little legal ability for authorities to "lock down" the general citizenry. 

     This sloppiness began during the pandemic, when business closures and stay-home recommendations were widely referred to as "lockdowns," as if our towns and cities were schools -- or prisons.  And those limits didn't even restrict leaving one's home or neighborhood; they were intended to drastically reduce social contact, not travel.

     In Maine, the Shelter In Place edict is trying to keep people out of the way of a tense situation, in which armed law enforcement personnel search for an armed -- and probably delusional -- criminal suspect.  They don't want you in the way -- or in the crossfire.

     No one is saying it but there's a good chance the suspect is already dead by his own hand.  "A good chance" is no basis for suspending a manhunt for a killer, nor is it a sufficient reason to tell your Uncle Chauncey he can go walk the dog while police with drawn weapons are combing his town.

     But it's not a "lockdown."  We don't live in a country where the government has the power to lock down a whole city or neighborhood for days -- and we shouldn't get ourselves in the habit of speaking and writing as if they do.
* In which, yet again, a person known to be in need of mental health treatment had access to guns and used them to commit horrific acts.  Many commentators have wondered why he was able to have guns; fewer have asked why he wasn't getting serious, hands-on, in-patient treatment for his mental problems.  This is someone who was hearing voices and experiencing violent ideation.  The United States has always had a lot of guns; we have not always had so many troubled, problematic people making criminal use of them.  Guns are a contentious issue, with all kinds of legal and political entanglement; mental health, not so much -- maybe we ought to get people working together on that instead of snarling the same old bumper-sticker slogans at one another?  Yeah, don't hold your breath.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

I'm Exhausted

     The cold has mostly passed but I'm worn out.  The next few days, I'm going to concentrate on trying to catch up.  I lost over a week of planned work around the house, and a couple of days of paying work.  It's going to take some time to only be normally behind on things.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Still Sick

     Ever the optimist, I keep thinking I'm getting better.  Then the decongestant wears off.

     Making the big effort Saturday cost me dearly: I have been exhausted ever since.  About all I have gotten done around the house is washing the dishes yesterday, in one big effort right after taking all my symptom-suppressing medicine.

     Judging from the pain in my knees, this thing has settled in for the duration.  It's not covid, I've tested negative twice, and the symptoms don't fit RSV or the flu.  It's almost certainly a cold.  The sore throat has mostly faded but the cough and congestion linger.

     One way or another, I'm going to have to try going to work tomorrow, after a "vacation" that has left me more tired and more behind the 8-ball than before it began.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

An Expensive Conference

     If you're an introvert, dealing with other people can still be interesting, but it takes it out of you.  I have to "nerve up" to face an audience, too.  I jittered my way through getting ready yesterday and stumbled out of the house holding a big zip case full of my notes.  On my way though the garage, with that thing partially blocking my view, I hip-checked the driver's side mirror of Tam's Z3.

     It was designed to pivot.  I hit it wrong.  It feels like the internal post is now broken.

     I sent her an embarrassed text from the alley, promising to make it good.

     Went off to the event, missing the parking garage entrance and having to go around the block, getting lost in the underground garage, enduring the elevator ride and -- hooray! -- arriving to a happy, bustling atrium full of authors and organizations, most hawking books.  The organizers had a nice swag bag for participants.  The other panel members were nice and all of them had interesting, useful comments.  Alas, no coffee (curse you, covid!*) but I managed to score a bottle of water.  My notes worked fine and my symptom-suppressing medicines held up.

     Afterward, I wandered the floor a little, realized the cough syrup was wearing off and the crowd was starting to get to me.   Headed back down to the parking lot, I missed getting a picture of the venue occupancy plaque right next to the elevator doors: "Maximum, 650 persons."  The elevator cars are large, but those 650 persons are going to have to be very good friends indeed, not to mention well-greased, and even then, I have my doubts.

     I got lost in parking garage again on my way out.

     By the time I got home, I was punchy.  I stumbled in, took care of necessities, and fell asleep fully clothed under a quilt.  Tam was out but both of her cars were home, which might be why I didn't register that I had locked out the garage door opener on the way in, as I usually do.

     Waking a couple of hours later, I web-searched "1998 BMW Z3 side mirror replacement," and, well, it's a BMW; what did I expect?  The dealer fix is to replace the entire part ($600) and paint to match.  There's an outfit that makes all-new composite innards ($150) but you still have to pop off the door lining and the mirror proper ($80 replacement if it breaks) to install it.  However she decides to go, I'll hire that work done.  Painful, but these writer's conferences usually cost money.

     Slept off and on until Tam got home (and had to come in through the front door and go unlock the garage, which is never nice), commiserated over the damage, napped more, ordered a pizza, ate dinner and watched the first Kolchak: The Night Stalker movie before changing for bed and sleeping the night through.  Kept nodding off during the movie, too.
* I hate to think of the negative effect of the pandemic on the Craft Services table. 

Friday, October 20, 2023

Sick Days/What Vacation?

     Still sick.  Better, I think, but still sick.  I am craving salt and flavor -- something awful, like a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.  It would feel like broken glass in my throat and I don't have any anyway, so I'll get by with Ritz crackers and well-honeyed hot tea.
     Still hoping to get out of the house a little tomorrow.  I'm on a panel at a writer's conference.  We'll see.
     Yesterday, I learned the rear tray of my little Canon color inkjet printer will feed 3x5 cards!  That simplified making notes for the panel.  While the ink is the usual overpriced nightmare, the printer/scanner has proven over and over that it is a useful, versatile device.  I use it more often than the big laser printer, in fact: the printed pages lay flatter and they're darker.*
     Without leaning into the ugly politics of the House Republican fight to elect a Speaker, you can darned well bet all factions and both parties would have come together and found some sap for the job if they had to pass legislation every week to authorize releasing their paychecks.  They'd all be saying what a wonderful person he or she was, too.
     And how bad are things?  So bad I'm not going to get any more political than that today, when it comes to national politics.
     On international politics: killing civilians is bad, period.  A large part of the tragedy of war is the collateral damage.  If it was volunteer armies parading and clashing on an empty battlefield, war would still be terrible but we could, at least, point to the military virtues.  When you start piling up the dead kids and adults, ruined homes, crippled bystanders, pain, suffering, thirst and starvation, the glory goes right out.
* On reflection, I think I run the laser printer in "draft" mode most of the time.  I should check that.  The ink for it is pricey, too, but I haven't had to replace it yet.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Honeyed Oatmeal

     The stuff just feels comforting on a sore throat: well-cooked oatmeal, sweetened with honey.  Tamara picked up a bottle of raw, local honey for me yesterday and I spent the afternoon sipping tea (Typhoo*) with honey: it's soothing and both the tea and the honey have some antiseptic properties.  It probably won't cure you, but it'll help keep things from getting worse.

     Likewise, I have been enjoying chewable vitamin supplements that claim to boost the immune system: a little extra zinc and vitamin C and so on can't hurt.

     This morning, I decided to try the honey in my breakfast coffee, which worked well.  I was already hankering for oatmeal, so that got a teaspoon of honey, too.  It was a real treat; I prefer well-cooked oatmeal and the warm cereal was simply wonderful.

     I'm still sick but I got a decent night's sleep last night and I'm not going to do much today -- marinate and slow simmer some stew beef for dinner, a project in which the biggest effort will be chopping vegetables, adding them to the pot and mostly ignoring them for a couple of hours.

     Cooking when I feel lousy can be a challenge.  The day I realized I was catching the cold, I picked up ingredients for variations on "red stew," the stuff Midwesterners call "mild chili."  It's not much like the Southwest dish; the starter had ground beef, chorizo, finely-chopped carrots, a handful of big cherry tomatoes, a little celery, a diced red pepper, a few ripe shishito peppers (hot pulp removed), a lot of diced Shitake mushrooms, a few sliced Castelvetrano olives, a couple of cans of mild chilis and a big box of strained tomatoes, simmered with a big bay leaf.  I made microwave cornbread to go with it; that would have worked better if the (sealed) baking powder hadn't expired in 2019.  Despite adding half again as much, beating in plenty of air and giving it extra time to work, the bread rose about half as much as it should have, a little more in the center.  Not quite brick-like but not light and airy.  It soaked up red stew just fine and tasted good.

     Last night, I added browned and crumbled andouille sausage, more fresh tomatoes and a white onion, diced and sauteed while some of the previous day's leftovers thawed in the microwave.  With a small can of tomato sauce, the result was still thick enough to stand a spoon in.  I broke a few salines into mine to add a little salt.  And there's still another night's worth of red stew frozen for later; I divided the original batch into two freezer bags.

NB: I have declined to publish a couple of recent comments that included political sentiments in response to non-political posts.  Politics in this country are badly screwed up and I'm tired of trying to put out fires with gasoline.  Dear Congress, Please Get Well Soon, we miss your limited but necessary functionality.
* The company was bought up by an investment firm awhile back and some Brits aren't pleased with how that has affected the product.  They know their tea, but I haven't been unhappy with it compared to other locally-available alternatives, which include other UK imports.  The French know wine; the Scots know whiskey; the Brits know tea and the Jamaicans grow the best coffee.  I'm not saying you can't get good wine from California and Ethiopian chai is as nice a cuppa of the spiced stuff as anyone could brew -- but if you want an informed opinion on a beverage, ask the people who drink the most of it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Of Course It Didn't Work

     Yeah, I've got Tamara's cold.  Tried to dodge it, but it was a slim hope at best.  Mild so far, mostly a sore throat and annoyed sinuses, which I am treating aggressively.  I woke up yesterday with a tiny, painful "hot spot" at the back of my throat, so I made a quick sweep through the grocery and the five and dime (okay, Target) to stock up for the duration.  Just in time -- this morning, I have a less intense but full-on sore throat.

     My old sore throat fix-it Chloraseptic was nowhere to be found, so I'm waiting on a delivery.  I tried a similar product, but it has different active ingredients and I'm not happy with the results.  The phenol-based palliative was a staple in the radio business -- back in the old days, you could zap your throat with it and keep on talking.*  You paid for it later: four or five hours of being moderately upbeat no matter how miserable you were feeling left about enough energy to do the rest of your day's work, creep home and drink a bowl of canned soup before crawling into bed, dreading the alarm.

     Of course, the cold has trashed some of my vacation plans.  All that much more time to stay home and write, though.

     I still need to replace the faucet for the kitchen sink; the last one I put in only lasted two years.  It was a no-name generic, and hard water ate a hole in the underside of the spout.  The replacement is a well-known brand, so here's hoping.  Replacement is merely tedious and awkward, like a lot of plumbing.  (Here's a secret: there are two reasons plumbing work is expensive.  A little of it is absolutely rocket-lawyering, where you need deep knowledge, experience, special tools and a good understanding of the building codes. A lot of it is unbelievably dirty, hard to reach and/or fiddly, work that nobody would mess with if it didn't pay well -- but clean running water and sanitary sewers are a basic foundation of civilization, so pay that plumbing bill with a smile or learn to do the simple parts yourself.)
* I worked in radio long before working from home was a possibility.  Cold and flu season was a particular misery: no matter how careful you were, with everyone using the same few microphones and the same hands-on gadgets, the bug would burn through the staff in a matter of days.  Voice-tracking and digital playback had already helped mitigate that before the pandemic and with the lessons learned during that time, radio talent can now go live from their own living rooms -- or sickbeds.  Hooray, no more shared station cold!

Monday, October 16, 2023

This Is Fine

     After working today, I'm off all this week.  Tamara K has been sick since Friday, a rattling cough that got worse and worse.  It appears to be a cold, not RSV or covid, but it's been miserable for her and we have been avoiding one another in the house as much as possible.  Which is not very, but I'm not in the shared office or her attic, and we're not having meals together.  As of this morning, she is feeling better.  Still sounds pretty awful, but on the mend.

     I have to work today thanks to short-staffing and schedule conflicts.  This coming Saturday, I have been invited to appear as part of a panel of "authors" at a local event.  So I don't want to get sick.  

     Author?  Don't look at me -- I'm a writer.  I don't even own a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows.  But I'll go along.  Still, I consider writing as I practice it to be more of a skilled trade than a profession.  I'm happy to cede "author" to the people with MFA degrees, no few of whom are excellent writers, but I'm an amateur carpenter among sculptors, content if I can build tables that don't wobble and simply aspiring to a mastery of the craft.  If the result is Art, great -- but my aim is competence.  The event organizers gave the invited authors a list of questions and I'm putting together notes about the answers on 3x5 cards so I don't have to wing it.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Know The Law

     When you got your driver's license -- and in some states, when you renewed it* -- you had to pass a test to show you understood the rules of the road.  It might have have been a written test, a hands-on driving test or both.  When you drive, it is your responsibility to know and follow the law.

     The same thing applies to firearms.  While I expect you already know and follow the Four Rules, there's more to owning or carrying guns than the basics of safety.

     Wherever you live, there are laws that govern how and where you may carry.  There may be laws about storage of guns or ammunition, laws about preventing access by unsupervised minors, and so on.  You may have been required to get training and pass a test to get a carry permit, or you may have had to undergo a background check, or your state might one of the many like Indiana, where no permit is required to carry a handgun.†  Nevertheless, you must know and follow the law.  My state has very few limits -- but your employer can ban firearms on their premises under state law (lock it up in your car and the law protects you; take it out and you're on your own).

     The state of New York has strict gun laws and New York City's are even more so.  When a New York City Councilperson showed up at a pro-Palestine rally‡ on the grounds of Brooklyn College, she was breaking two or three laws: the state doesn't allow open carry, the city has designated educational institutions among "sensitive spaces" where carry is banned, and they don't allow guns at "public demonstrations and rallies."  Inna Vernikov got what you'd expect a serving politician to get: she had to hand over her carry permit (and presumably her gun) and will have to appear in court in a few weeks. It's about like a traffic ticket.  Most people in her situation would have been arrested and jailed pending initial arrangements.  She's still unlikely to walk away unscathed; the charges are a low-level felony.

     You may disagree with the laws of New York and the ordinances of NYC -- but neither disagreement nor ignorance excuses violating them.  The Councilperson (Ms. Vernikov is also an attorney) may have not not known them, or have disagreed with them, but she'll answer for it all the same.

     Know the law.  Follow it at least as well as you follow the rules of the road: you may speed from time to time, but you're unlikely to do so in a school zone when children are beginning or ending their day.
* When I was first driving, Indiana required passing a written test when renewing a driver's license.  It wasn't a difficult test but it was more than pro forma.  Study guides were sold at news stands, drug stores and grocery stores.
† Indiana does still issue a License To Carry Handgun in order to maintain reciprocal agreements with states that still require permits, and if you're going to carry a sidearm, I think it's a good idea to get the license.
‡ Most news stories report she was at a rally in support of Palestine.  Others say there were "dueling rallies" on opposite sides of the same public space and the other one was in support of Israel.  Which one drew her attention and which one she spent the most time at is immaterial with respect to the law.

Friday, October 13, 2023

The Ongoing Tragedy

     All wars are tragic.  The Middle East manages to be even more so, a combination of dense population, scarce resources and conflicts with roots that go back centuries or even millennia.

     The most recent development, a warning from Israel that civilians should evacuate from northern Gaza in the next twenty-four hours, countered by a Hamas advisory to stay put, is a stark reminder that wars can easily become "choose your humanitarian disaster."  Israel's army is coming across the border; it's only a matter of time.  People -- civilians and militants alike -- are packed into Gaza nearly as densely as in New York City and there's only one exit point to the south: you can't march half of Gaza's 2.3 million people out in a day, doubling the density in the southern half of the area is unworkable and anyone who stays home is in the path of an invading army.  Nor are there financial resources to help people get out of the way; per-capita income in Gaza is under $3800, compared to $75,000 in NYC.

     On the other hand, in the last 22 years there have been zero missiles launched from the Big Apple, while Gaza has averaged over a thousand a year.  Plenty of bad actors (Iran, for example) are willing to supply the hardware and it only takes a few people to set up and launch a missile.  Responding in kind can be complicated.

     No matter how this plays out, people are going to die.  Most of them will be innocent civilians, caught in a war they never volunteered to fight.  Hamas is using them as a shield.  Israel is reluctant to do harm, but under conditions of open warfare after recent attacks, they don't see any other way forward.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

I Can't Explain

     Wisdom may not arrive with age but you do begin to develop a sense of what you can't solve.

     Take the Middle East as an example: it was a horrendous, tragic mess long before I was born and no effort, no matter how well-intended, brilliantly conceived or even brutal, has managed to change it.  It's easy to make worse, not difficult to shift the misery around, but ending it?  Barring an all-out war, a devastating wave of infectious disease or the emergence of a new and aggressively proselytizing religion -- all of which have happened in the region before -- there's no solution in sight.

     Take the U. S. House of Representatives, a legislative body that is by design fractious, given to argument and enthusiasm, as unruly and opinionated as the citizenry themselves.  When the House ties itself in a knot, it's got to do its own untying -- and the traditions of the House, as I have pointed out, put absolutely no onus on the minority to bail out the majority if the party holding the most seats can't agree on a Speaker.

     Right now, we've got a President in the White House who puts in a solid day's work, stammers his way through press conferences and has been able to work with the House and Senate to accomplish the things that had to get done; and we've got a former President facing a long list of criminal and civil charges in multiple jurisdictions (including an attempted coup) who left chaos behind at the end of his term and can't seem to construct a single coherent sentence when making a speech.  Both are frontrunners to be their party's nominee for President in 2024 -- and they have nearly identical public approval/disapproval polling results.

     I can't explain it.  I can describe some of it, but the why remains a mystery.  I certainly can't fix it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Oh, Look, Here's A Lesson

     You know what's going on in Israel right now.  You probably know what had been going on in Israel: deeply divisive politics, in which a hard-Right government sought to remove a check on its power.

     Don't look for me to analyze internal Israeli politics; I have trouble enough keeping up with who's on what side in my own country, and what that might imply for the future.  Suffice to say the government was distracted.  The citizenry were distracted.  And for a country with plenty of enemies, many of whom can walk right up to the border on their lunch break, that was enough.

     Israel was distracted.  Politics had ceased to be the usual debate and compromise, the normal small victories and small setbacks that people could ignore, confident whatever needed doing would get done.  Terrorists struck -- and made horrific progress before a response could be coordinated.

     The run-up to recent attacks might find a parallel or two in the United States, where a government riven by internal conflict is busy tying itself up in knots.  These kinds of fights play out in plain sight -- and the world is watching, some of it through unfriendly eyes.

Monday, October 09, 2023

The Greatest Sculptor You Never Heard Of

     Her name was Augusta Savage.  She worked in the first half of the 20th Century.  Her work was realistic, moving, tender and humorous.

     In a different time, she might have worked in bronze or stone.  Never well-off, never with a wealthy patron, she sculpted in clay or even plaster burnished with shoe polish.

     One of her largest pieces, The Harp, was commissioned for the 1939 World's Fair in New York City.  Sixteen feet tall, made of painted plaster, it was thrown away after the Fair ended.

     In the 1920s, she was accepted into a summer class at a fine-arts school in France -- only to have the offer withdrawn by the American selection committee when they discovered she was African-American.

     She made and taught art all her life.  Though the many of her works have been lost other than in photographs, she had lasting influence.  Her own opinion of her legacy was both humble and optimistic:

     "I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work."

     Not every monument is a lump of bronze on a pedestal.  Augusta Savage showed that art belongs to those who have talent and develop it, and helped change a nation's perceptions.

Saturday, October 07, 2023

I Miss The Old Robot

     Amazon updated the default voice for their "Alexa" device recently, replacing the chipper and upbeat female voice with a similar one that sounds older and has a more serene, if not downright dull, affect.

     I miss the original.  While the new voice does come with a tinge of, "Our little girl is growing up," if I'm going to chat with a machine, I'd prefer one that simulates a slightly mischievous grin over a stolid servant that doesn't sound particularly happy to be here.

     Yes, yes, you'd never have a machine in your home that was listening all the time -- and yet you carry around a cellphone that could be and very probably is, and you've had an eminently buggable landline phone, too.  Since I'm not in the habit of discussing -- or engaging in -- criminal or seditious activities,  I find the convenience of setting kitchen timers, doing simple arithmetic and getting news or music by voice command outweighs the theoretical possibility of some minion at Amazon listening to me clatter around the kitchen, argue with Tam and talk to the cats.  What are they going to do with the info?  So far, they haven't even bothered to tell me when cat food or cookware is on sale!

     The new voice isn't as much fun as the old one.  I'm not sure I would have been as quick to ask this one if the HAL9000 was her friend ("WE DON'T TALK, NOT AFTER WHAT HAPPENED.") or any of the other silly questions I've tried.

     When you talk to a robot, it's like a child talking with her dolls or plush animals: there's nobody on the other side of the conversation.  You still miss them when they're gone.

     Of the presently available options, the happiest-sounding is a female speaking the East Indian version of English.  I may try it; it's one of the more pleasant flavors of the language.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Mantis Motherhood

     There was a small praying mantis on the brick wall outside the main door at the North Campus yesterday, at about head height.  I was happy to see it; they're helpful creatures.  This one had a very fat abdomen.

     It was still there a couple of hours later -- busily laying eggs!  The mantis spent a long time on the job, then moved a few inches away and stood watching the egg case, breathing as heavily as I have ever seen one breathe.  I've never seen one laying eggs before but I'm happy to think we'll have more mantises next year!

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.
* 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.