Friday, March 31, 2023

And Now We're All Legal Experts

      His client hasn't even stood up before the judge yet, but this morning, former President Trump's attorney -- one of them -- was on TV.

      He offered a line that's been going around, "If they can do this to Donald Trump, they can do it to the rest of us."  He's right, of course -- any of us might be suspected of a crime, investigated by a grand jury and find ourselves facing charges in a court of law, where we would be entitled to competent counsel -- perhaps a tough-talking New York attorney.  Aside from blatantly illegal activity, scrupulous avoidance of complex transactions* will reduce the chance of it happening but it could, in fact, happen to anyone.  This is a feature, not a bug, awkward as it can be.  No one is above the law, from bums sleeping on park benches to former Presidents.

      The attorney went on to suggest that the actual charges ought to be Federal, not state-level, and that as Federal charges, they would be without merit.  He's adding another step to the old trial-lawyer wisdom, pithily stated by Alan Dershowitz: "If the facts are on your side, pound the facts into the table. If the law is on your side, pound the law into the table. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table."  And if the table's not loud enough, pound jurisdictional issues.  The problem with that approach is that there are a lot of things that aren't violations of Federal law but do break state law; the last time I checked, there weren't even any general Federal laws against murder.

      While news coverage is hot to make the case about payments to a porn actress to cover up salacious details that might have harmed then-candidate Donald Trump's reputation,† it's actually about the more abstract notion of the source, nature and accounting for of money spent in support of his campaign (keeping a candidate's name out of the muck is indeed supporting his efforts to be elected).  If she'd been a mousey millionairess from Brooklyn to whom he'd sold swampland misrepresented as a prime residential tract and she'd then been paid to keep mum, it would have been the same kind of thing only without the S-E-X that makes it catnip for the Press.

      I'd like to hope this would all play out without drama, one more dull trial full of people in suits rationally arguing the facts and the law.  Fat chance.  The circus is coming to NYC and I hope nobody's bringing clubs, brickbats or worse; I hope the protesters pro and con keep it down to a dull roar, the police exercise mature restraint and the principals in the case refrain from intemperate or inflammatory remarks.

      People in Hell hope for ice water, too.  Strange how often that comes up these days.
* They don't even have to be that tricky.  Forty-some years ago, my efforts to keep the heat on in a duplex I was buying on contract but no longer lived in included letting a friend live there at rent far below the going rate as long as she kept the gas bill paid.  There was a good reason for this; the bridge connecting the neighborhood the house was in to a nearby university was closed all that that year for repair.  Nevertheless, this friendly, mutually-beneficial deal ended up costing me huge tax deductions on both side of the duplex and having to give up the contract.  The IRS agent was not unkind and walked me through my mistakes step-by-step, but there was no fixing it.  I owed a heap of taxes that took a decade to pay off.
† It appears to me that any possible harm would have subsequently been mooted when his crass remarks to Billy Bush of Access Hollywood were revealed, so the sequence of events may loom large.  On the other hand, I am not a lawyer.  The prosecutor's got some heavy lifting to do and the defense has a lot of opportunities to pick away at the weak spots, and that's our legal system.

Thursday, March 30, 2023


      They've done it.  The mathematicians have finally done it.

      If you enjoy the art of M. C. Escher, you have encountered tiling and tessellation: covering a surface with a repeating shapes.  Mathematician Roger Penrose worked out a pair of simple shapes that form nonrepeating tiling patterns and have a number of interesting properties.  The "kite" and "dart" are fascinating, four-sided shapes that combine in five-pointed stars and ten-sided figures.  And their "quasi-crystal" formation has turned up in the real world: the super-slick non-stick ceramic coating of my new skillet and stewpot, for instance.

      And now the high-level math types have come up with a single shape that does the same thing.  Dubbed "the hat," the figure has thirteen sides and a hexagon lurks in the underlying structure.  (Make up your own tabloid headline from all that.)  No word on it creating inter-dimensional openings or having other magical properties -- or at least, not so far.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Water Is Wet

      And in other news, r-fles are dangerous.  Also, people who commit educational facility sh--tings have got other mental issues.

      I've got to tiptoe around the 'bots here, which are mostly looking for a few words and phrases.

      Some news coverage about the most recent outrage has focused on the supposed extra de-dliness of the platform or cartridge.  I kinda wish that was the case: then all we'd need to do would be to get rid of both and everything would be safe.

      Not how it works.  At the typical distances for this kind of horror, all longarms can cause terrible harm and many of them are more powerful.  While both advertising and editorial condemnation portray the particular platform as the ultimate in a kind of scary and/or tough manly manliness, the reality is that it's a lightweight, utilitarian device and pretty versions with beautiful wooden stocks are just as capable of misuse; they're just not stereotyped as the instrument of choice for both soldiers* and madmen.  These are inanimate objects and 99.9999% of them are never used by their owners (or others) to do bad things.

      Likewise, news coverage always focuses on whatever was going on in the mind of the person who committed the crime.   A few troubled people do troubling, terrible things.  The vast majority of people in similar internal struggles do not, and for each and every one of the perpetrators, you can find tens of thousands to millions of people with the same mental issues who did not do anything horrible, and will not.

      When a truly awful thing happens, the normal, decent human impulse is to want to make it not have happened.  We can't do that, so we narrow in on making is not happen again.  We want a simple handle we can grab and use to make it stop.

      I don't think there is one.  Even if you remove the particular and highly contentious technology (dodging those 'bots again), the United States is different from other First World countries.  We get physical with one another a lot more often and a lot more aggressively.  I suppose you could argue that limiting citizenry to blunt force and edged tools might be preferable, but that allows the young, strong and agile to prey on the weak and the old and, speaking as a woman eligible for the senior discount, I'm not in favor of it.

      We're going to have to figure out how to get along better.  We're going to have to figure out how to find and stymie persons inclined to commit grievous acts against innocent others.  I don't think we can do that by new limits on what all people can own, or by locking up broad categories of people with mental issues.  We're going to have to figure this out without shortcuts or resorting to the same old arguments over the same old easy answers.
* Yeah, yeah, that's not quite what the military uses.  Go tell it to the people writing and photographing advertisements.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Stop Making Them Famous

      Another horrific school shooting yesterday.  This time the shooter was a young woman (it's apparently more complicated than that) -- who otherwise fits the broad general pattern.  By now, you can go look up the individual's middle name. 

      We have to stop making these people famous.  I get it: tragedy occurs and we want to make it not have happened.  We can't, so we want to keep it from happening again.  Maybe we could if we knew more? And so we -- and the news media we tune into, and who make a living giving us what we want -- dig up more and more about the killer.  But the effect is to make terrible crimes a pathway to fame and that does not stop them at all.  It primes the next twisted personality who will commit the next crime.

      We have to stop.  There's plenty of loathing going around and this is a place where it can actually be put to good use: these crimes are loathsome.  Repugnant.  It's time we treated them that way.

     (Edited To Add: As more details come out -- yeah, I gave in to doomscrolling this morning -- this one's a major contribution to everyone's worst trope-of-the-moment, which will overshadow the very real way in which each of these crimes is enabled by the fuss and furor over the preceding ones.  If you want to stop it, stop the feedback that keeps on making more of it.  This crime and criminal is a giant can of worms that pundits on all sides will exploit, but it's also one more data point on the attention-seeking-shooter pyramid of failure.)

Monday, March 27, 2023

A Whole Box Of Paper

      Or almost the entire box.  I started to reload my printers with paper yesterday, found I'd used up the last sheet from the ream of 24-pound bond I keep in the office, and got another ream for the carton on the basement stairs.  (A ream is 500 pages and the "weight" is the weight of a ream of "parent sheets," what they cut the letter-sized pages from.  Those big sheets are 17" x 22" for bond, I'm told, which works out to six pounds per ream of letter-sized paper.)

      It was the last ream in the box.  I bought that box -- on sale! -- over three years ago, thinking I would be forever getting to the bottom of it.  Most drafts never get printed out these days; I keep work in progress on Dropbox or the Apple cloud-storage system for notes and first drafts, and call it up on my desktop, laptop or iPads.*  Critiques get printed out, my own stuff gets printed out to proofread, and I still tend to print out maps, notes and project drawings.

      And I've used up two thousand sheets of paper.

      I thought I had a line on a good price for another box, but it turned out to be a search-engine glitch at a big online retailer.  The stuff I like is almost fifty dollars a carton these days and just over eleven bucks a ream if you buy them one at time.  I'll wait until the ream on hand is halfway down before I buy the next box.

      The throwaway line is that we've all got a million words of lousy stuff to write before we begin to make progress.  If paper consumption is any guide, I may be getting there.
* Before computers, the frugal writer used light and rough newsprint second-sheet paper for first drafts.  This is the stuff you rolled into the typewriter behind the nice "first sheet" to protect the platen.  In most cases, you'd interleave carbon paper, too, and make a "file copy" to keep.  Letter-size newsprint paper was dirt-cheap, available in "white" (light gray) and canary yellow (preferred for drafts and carbons, so you could tell easily them apart from finished manuscripts).  I went looking for some a few years back and had trouble finding it!  Pocket watches and buggy whips are easier to come by, but it is still available.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Second Prize

      Saturday morning, I learned a short story that I had entered in a local literary magazine's fiction contest back in November had won second place.

      Under a thousand words (and hastily edited to get under the limit for the contest), it's a "rural fantasy" set in a world busily falling apart rather than in my fictional Hidden Frontier.  Winning even second place means a lot to me, since I am largely self-educated.  I joke about working on a "bathtub MFA" by buying used books about writing and reading them while soaking in the tub or otherwise occupied in the smallest room but it's not really a joke.  I'm trying to get better at writing.

      There was a point a few years back when I realized I wasn't telling the stories I wanted to tell nearly as well as I wanted to tell them.  One of the things I did was take a break and teach myself to touch-type -- not terribly well, but better and faster than the mostly two-finger method I had been using.  And the other thing was to start finding quality instruction: a few classes at the Indiana Writer's Center and as many books on the subject as I could find. 

      It's how I learned electronics.  In the process, I learned there were a lot of books full of information and the only way to find the ones that "clicked" for me was to dig and and work my way through.  From Alfred P. Morgan's books for young people to ARRL Handbooks to Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill's The Art of Electronics, I accumulated a lot, discarded the dross, and manage to achieve a fair education in a decade or so.*  Writing turns out to be similar; there's a lot of flash and hype, but there are also dedicated instructors sharing what they know and a generous handful of really good texts, both academic and popular.

      Managing to write a prize-winning story is an indication that the effort may not have been in vain.  While stories entered in the competition were anonymized (I removed the metadata myself!), the judge was not.  She's someone who has taught classes I have taken; I've read her writing and I think she's got a keen eye for what works.

      Looking back at my story yesterday, I see things I'd still like to change to improve it, but I think it's pretty good.  And that's the biggest reward.  There's a Half-Price Books gift certificate, too -- about enough to pay for the stack of writing books I've bought there over the past few years.
* Stay in school, kids, or you, too can pick up in a mere fifteen-plus years of spare time what a high school graduate can manage in four to six years of college -- and you won't even have a degree to show for it!

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Successful Failure

      On the third try, Relativity Space's mostly 3-D printed rocket took off yesterday -- and failed to reach orbit.  They're cheering nevertheless: nobody's managed to be first-time-lucky making orbit yet, and the first stage, the part that does the really heavy lifting, worked fine, all the way through the worst part of the launch.

      Stage two, not so much.  Something went wrong and it fizzled.

      It was a success anyway: first 3-D printed rocket engines, one of the first methane-fueled rockets (China launched one in 2022, which also failed in the second stage), and presumably a lot of good data collected.

      Here's hoping they do better next time.  There's not a lot of news on their next step; they're working on a larger rocket and testing may proceed in parallel with the smaller one they launched Wednesday.  The company's plan is to reuse first and second stages along with the payload fairing.  Every bit that can be reused is a significant reduction in cost and one more step towards affordable space travel.

      Having grown up near a part of the country that experienced the U.S.'s first large-scale exploitation of natural gas, I do have to wonder what those 19th-Century tech moguls would have thought about the use we're making of the stuff they treated so cavalierly. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

For Pity's Sake

      Can't we just agree to end the sideshow, perhaps by limiting coverage of politicians to those actively holding office or running for office, with the latter limited to, say, six months before the earliest primary through Inauguration Day for whatever office was up for grabs?

      I don't give a damn about most of Donald Trump's legal troubles one way or another, any more than I do about any other person charged with the same kinds of white-collar crime, where everyone dresses nicely, speaks in hushed tones and it's mostly about lawyers handing pieces of paper to one another and quarreling over what they mean.  Ditto the friends and family of any politician.  Get back to me when you catch 'em dead drunk at the wheel, bloody-handed or with actual illegal narcotics, which might be worth thirty seconds on the evening news or a couple of column-inches in the paper.  I don't want to hear about rumors or guesses, just actual stuff that actually, verifiably happened.

      It'd be different if there were actual charges of some substance on any of 'em -- it's clear that Presidents, Veeps and high-ranking Congressthings generally have been treating classified info in a very casual way for far too long, for instance, and that needs harsh correction, which it may yet get.  Or if some President (I'm not naming names) is formally charged with illegally meddling in elections, inciting a riot and/or trying to screw with the normal operations of government, yeah, that rates some coverage.  But not until it happens; getting spun up about maybes and what-ifs is a stupid game to play.

      All the rest of it?  Sorry; it's just tiresome.  Charge them or don't, plea bargain or bring 'em to trial, and get back to me when there's a verdict.  Fine 'em or lock 'em up, whatever the law requires and the judge and/or jury decides, just like it was me with a parking ticket or a kid caught with a joint or a bank robber.  That's the system we've got and all I want really to get from the news is that a rich man can't weasel out of it and a poor woman won't get hit any harder by it due to her socioeconomic status.  If we can't manage that level of fairness, then things are screwed up and we should have voted better in the past and damned well ought to in the future, but it's no more an indication of deep, conspiratorial wheels within wheels within wheels than is the sun rising every morning or the way the toast always falls butter side down.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Saturday, March 18, 2023


      In recent weeks, I haven't been blogging as much as I once did.  Blame it on current events.

      Politics was always a sideshow.  Snake handlers, fire-breathers, knife throwers, rubber-limbed contortionists, 500-pound marvels and the occasional dog-faced boy: take a gander at Congress and the White House and see the amazing, unusual people!  It was entertaining and, give or take the odd war and domestic spying, almost harmless as central governments go.  The Legislative branch would debate themselves to a standstill on everything but the most essential work while the Executive faffed around and the High Court mostly doddered along.  It had everything except the bearded lady and trained dogs, and they were working on that.   It has become something far uglier -- and so has the electorate.

      As such, it's not as easy to mock.  There is no political party that "just wants to leave people alone" any more.  There's one that will mostly hector you (for a given value of "you") but pushes the occasional bad law with nary a blink, and one that mostly pushes bad laws but is more than happy to hector you, too (again, for given values of "you") and both sides have their more-or-less affiliated cheerleaders and mobs.  (Indeed, one of the more appealing things about centrist Democrats is that there are enough of them that the violent Left puts in effort to disparage them, while on the Right, the gap between the majority of office-holders and their direct-action loonies appears to be shrinking.)

      I could spend a lot of time pointing out the worst excesses of this mess in wide-eyed horror, but that's tiresome and, as it happens, neither side welcomes it.  The Libertarian Party, once pretty much in the middle and, as a whole, pretty wacky, seems to have gone clean off the rails and not in a good way -- again, tiresome to deal with and not useful.

      So mostly I just watch and think about which direction to jump.  If the nastier outcomes begin to loom -- religious or ancestry-based nationalism, reactionary socialism, chaos or "Great Divorce,"* then I'll learn to speak Canadian in a hurry.  Living in a blue(ish) county in a red state, if one or the other goes especially dangerous, I've got a chance to dodge, and there are bluer and redder states adjacent or not too far away.  This is tolerable; it's a big country and harder to break than many people believe.  But the situation doesn't fuel poking good-natured fun at politicians and institutions, not worth a darn.

      And I'm not going to stoke the culture-war fires.  Screw that noise.  There are blogs in my sidebar that have come to glory in it, with a commentariat that daily encourages one another to become more and more extreme, the host blogger and his or her fans alike apparently unaware of the ugly rat hole they're chasing themselves down.  I'd like to say, "How could you...?" but the answer is "Easily!" and they're loving every minute of it.  Those chickens eventually come home to roost and they're well-rotted when they do, but people who are high on the moment rarely notice until it is too late.

      I've got better things to do than yell at the tides, starting with keeping my own personal toes as dry as possible.
* Here's the thing: divorces are never "great."  Some are tolerable, others aren't, but there's no balm whatsoever in that Gilead and a pair of Mexico-sized countries (or a couple of 4x Canadas) are not the same as one superpower.  Don't think for a moment that China or Russia will ignore it.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Waiting For Spring

     March is always a slow slog toward warmer weather.  So far this year, it's been colder than a lot of February was.  I'm not enjoying it.  I'm just trying to get through, hoping to see more than hopeful flowers braving the occasional freeze.

     I'm looking forward to sitting in the warm sunlight.  Every year, by the time it returns, I have about forgotten what it felt like.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Pi Day

      I was hoping for apple, but I had to make do with humble pi instead, when a resource everyone thought existed turned out to be much thinner than expected.  At least it wasn't for my department (despite having been stored in our area), but it was a disappointment nevertheless.

      Also, and relatedly, it's a darned smart idea to label boxes when you pack stuff up -- not for yourself so much as for the people who will be digging through it when you are long retired, expecting a film library that stretches back to 1957 and instead finding nothing older than 1976.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Leftovers: Hoppin' John, Pork Roast

      Last week, I was a bit burned out, so I got lazy about supper:

      Monday was basic Hoppin' John: diced ham, some Andouille sausage, white onion, one red and one green bell pepper diced, a can of mild green chilis, crushed tomatoes and a mostly-drained can of black-eyed peas.  The meat gets browned with a little Cajun seasoning and pushed to the sides of the pan, the onion and peppers are sauteed, and then you add the chilis, tomatoes and black-eyed peas, along with a couple of bay leaves and perhaps some basil, and let the whole thing simmer for half an hour or so.  Serve it plain, over rice or with crackers.

      The leftovers split into a pair of one-gallon freezer bags.

      Tuesday, I was dreading a big meal effort and reviewing what I had available.  I sauteed fresh carrots and celery from the fridge while one of the bags of Hoppin' John was thawing in the microwave, added a small can of corn to the pot, and that made a pretty good meal.

      Wednesday, I made something different.  Thursday is "trash night," emptying all the wastebaskets and cleaning out the fridge for the Friday trash pickup.  We order out for dinner. 

      Friday was a cold and mostly-dark day.  Chili would be nice.  I picked up three-quarters of a pound of ground beef on the way home along with a couple of cups of the supermarket's own "pico de gallo:" diced red onion, tomato, jalapeno pepper, cilantro* and garlic.  It may sound crazy, but the stuff is an excellent addition to chili.  I browned the ground beef with plenty of chili powder (and drained it) while the other bag of Hoppin' John was defrosting, sauteed the pico de gallo, and put the whole thing together in the pan with a little more chili powder (and a couple of bay leaves again -- if you're not using them in your chili, you're missing out).  I added another small can of green chilis for luck, and it was excellent chili, or at least "red stew."

      For the weekend, I'd picked up a nice pork roast.  Saturday, I marinated it for several hours in balsamic vinegar (and a little white vinegar to increase the acidity), soy sauce, ginger, garlic, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a little this and that.  That gets poured off, and I browned it and roasted it with diced apple, turnips, potatoes, carrots, celery and onion.  After everything was pretty well roasted, I added a small can of chicken broth and let it simmer for three hours.  That made a nice evening meal and left a bag of leftovers.  I cut up the meat, mostly so it would freeze well.

      Sunday, I defrosted the pork roast leftovers while I sauteed some diced fresh mushrooms with celery, then added a small can of plain tomato sauce and some Italian-mix seasoning and extra basil.  The pork roast turned into a tasty stew.

      Two main dishes, five days of suppers and nearly all of it was eaten.  If you're really sneaky, you can interleave them on alternate days.  The big roasts with their long cooking time are weekend fare -- but if you slice the meat, they freeze well for later.
* The thing to know about cilantro is that our response to it is genetic: either it tastes unpleasantly soapy to you or it tastes good, and there's no changing that.  So check before adding it to a dish!

Saturday, March 11, 2023


      Slight disagreements are normal, even among friends.  I expect them to happen.

      There are, however, things that will make me hit the "unfriend" button on social media.

      Memes featuring a certain neo-fascist frog, for example, stopped being innocent fun quite some time ago, even as irony.  'Tain't funny, for broken-teeth values of unfunniness.

      Playing dumb about the attack on the U. S, Capitol, which did well-documented damage to people and the building is another ticket to goodbye: sure, the day had some less-violent interludes, but the general thrust of events was unmistakably an attack on the normal function of our Federal government and the people involved in it.  That's not a thing that can be retconned out of existence or swept under the rug.  Go argue with the broken windows.

      If you want to debate the degree to which then-President Trump was directly or indirectly responsible for the events of that day?  Fine, though barring the sudden testimony of time-travelling mind-readers or a set of White House tapes more detailed than anything from Presidents Nixon or Johnson (don't hold your breath waiting), there's no way to be entirely certain at present.  It's not something I'll let rage on for long in my comments section here or elsewhere but the lack of proof and (so far) absent a trial and judgement leaves room for honest disagreement. 

      Likewise, the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election is not in in any doubt, despite the frothing stew of nonsense about it.  You're welcome to your feelings about the desirability of the outcome -- this is, after all, the entire point of holding Presidential elections -- but zany fantasies about a thumb on the scales have been tested and come up short, time and again.  We hold these contests every four years and so far, the process has proven resilient against anyone seeking to interfere before, during or after.  Yeah, there have been some ugly counts (1824, 1876, 2000) but 2020 wasn't one of them and I'm tired of sore-loser whining.

      As for the J6 Committee, you might not like the committee, or feel it wasn't fair some of the GOP's picks were excluded due to their involvement in or denial of the events, but if you're ignoring the sworn testimony of Republican former members of the Trump Administration and recorded video of violent, unlawful events of that day, I'm not interested in being your friend. 

      "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?" was amusing as a line in a Marx Brothers film but it's far less so in real life.  There comes a time to stop smoking your own bathwater -- or, even worse, some self-serving politician or pundit's bathwater.  Dump out that bong and stand up straight!

      The Earth isn't flat, we went to the Moon and returned safely (and then stopped going after a few more trips), and Donald Trump lost in 2020.  Live in the real world.  Don't like it?  Yeah, well, I'm unhappy there isn't a Hilton on the Moon, too.  But there isn't; I look up at night and there's not a single damned artificial light on our nearest celestial neighbor.  Not even one.  There's a new Presidential election every four years and different sets of fools jostling avidly for the office; I've been waiting my whole life for somebody to go back to the Moon.

Friday, March 10, 2023

What's The Collective Noun For Headaches?

      A thunderation, perhaps.  A perturbation?  Maybe.

      A succession of headaches, migraines with visual effects, has made my life increasingly unpleasant.  I spent most of yesterday in bed and this morning, I felt less rested than the day before.

      No telling what's caused it but it's frustrating and embarrassing to be laid so low by something with no visible symptoms.  At least a broken leg shows up in an x-ray image!  It would be nice to lay the blame for them on our increasingly self-lobotomized political discourse, but that's far too easy.  I'd even blame it on my frustration with some aspects of my job, but it's been worse and most of what's wrong there now is wrong everywhere. 

      I get headaches.  I've done so for years and (after a fruitless multi-year hunt for a cause and cure) mostly I gripe about it and take an OTC pain reliever.  Sometimes that's not enough.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

New Lies, Old Lies, Melting Clocks

      I watched the event in real time.  6 January 2021, I was spending about half of each day working from home and that morning, I was running late.  Mr. Trump was still claiming he'd been snookered out of the Presidency and Congress was going to sit down and made an official count of the Electoral College vote.  I figured I'd stay home until the counting was done; surely even Donald Trump would accept the official result and politics could return to normal.  Memory persists.  Amid ongoing pandemic-related weirdness, that day marks the end of "normal" for me.

      TV coverage of the Trump-aligned rally on the Ellipse was ongoing.  Coming up on one p.m., then-President Trump told the attendees, "...And after this, we're going to walk down, and I'll be there with you, we're going to walk down, we're going to walk down.  Anyone you want, but I think right here, we're going to walk down to the Capitol, and we're going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we're probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them.  Because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong...."*

      Things started to go off the rails about that time, as violence began to break out.  Live TV coverage of a large and growing crowd at the U. S. Capital climbing steps and walls, moving aside barricades with varying levels of conflict with police, beginning to force doors and break windows.

      Sergei Eisenstein has much to answer for with his dramatized version of the Soviet storming of the Winter Palace, all blood, thunder, explosions and smoke.  An armed and essentially military operation, the actual event was not nearly as exciting.  Nevertheless, the official Soviet version is what lingers in popular imagination, the foundation for what we think an insurrection or armed coup must look like.

      Once the January 6 mob was inside the Capitol, they did everything from break doors and clash with police to mill around in a more or less peaceful manner; camera shots available to the TV networks at the time showed the confusion.  Eisenstein it was not.  Pick the right set of images, ignore that the rioters had broken into a closed building and put Congress to flight and hey, there are periods in which they do look mostly like tourists, give or take flags, signs, a few helmets and other bits of military-looking or frankly bizarre kit.

      That does not change what happened.  Commentators on Fox can stitch together carefully selected snippets of video and show whatever they want, but the damage to people, institutions and the building remains.  The harm is real.  Intervals of peaceful-looking behavior once their intended victims are out of reach left a lot of scope for violence, and violence was indeed done.  Senators, Representatives, the Vice-President, their staffs, Secret Service and Capitol Police were threatened and some were harmed.  The process of Constitutional government was halted.

      At the time, I was concerned that the insurrection would spread, that this gang of yahoos and nitwits had managed to screw up Federal government so badly that some kind of civil war would follow.  I realized that I was on the side of the Federal government.  Despite all of its flaws and failings -- and they are many -- it's better than the alternative.  If you want to know what "Burn it all down" looks like, go look up how things were in Russia after the October Revolution, especially during the six years of civil war that followed.

      Let's not do that.  Especially let's not do so based on the efforts of a second-rate TV commentator to keep his ratings high, or so a spineless Speaker of the House can try to maintain flimsy control of a fickle, fractious and thin majority.
* He was, in fact, not with them.  He's all over the place in the speech, everything from urging listeners to "peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard," to telling them, "We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."  You can take from that anything you like, from a suggestion to have a lovely sit-in to exhortation for armed and violent riot.  And you can read the whole speech for yourself.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Wrenches Of Every Size

      I love this chart, and I wonder: why doesn't someone make a wrench-of-every-size kit?  Just put 'em all in ascending order of size, none of this complicated sorting into SAE, metric, Whitworth and so on!

      When I'm looking for a wrench, I want the one that fits.  I don't care where it was smelted, forged and milled, or who designed the threaded hardware it fits or if some King of England or self-declared Emperor of France decreed the units in which is it measured: it needs to fit the nut or bolt, period, and if I have to get out rule, dividers and micrometer to figure it out, then I do.

      The stuff I get paid to work on and the stuff I work on for fun has all kinds of hardware on it, in it and holding it together.  One of the older transmitters I still fix was designed (and originally built) by a company in the UK.  They were bought by a U.S. company, who moved production to the U.S. -- but retained many UK-sourced subassemblies and added internationally-made off-the-shelf power supplies as the design evolved over time.  The resulting machine had a wild mix of SAE, UNF, BA and metric fasteners, including two different conduit and plumbing-pipe standards.  It required an "everything" set of wrenches and drivers to work on it.

      I was lucky; over the years my employer bought and expanded the chimera, Sears was running their ultimately ill-fated venture into stand-alone hardware stores.  A Sears Hardware outlet was a short drive from work and we had an account there, so, a tool or two at a time, I built a universal wrench, socket and nutdriver set, from 0.028" through 40mm. 

      But it could be more convenient.  The smaller sizes are especially problematic -- under a half-inch or so, there's no crossover.  Metric and SAE sizes fit in the gaps of their counterpart and there's no, "13 mm or a half-inch, whatever," about it.  Pick the wrong standard and you're rounding nut corners and hex keys.  Might as well line 'em all up side-by-side and pick the tool that fits.

Saturday, March 04, 2023


      Rain all day yesterday, with a few minutes of wet snow last night.  It was a day so gray it made the existence of sunshine unlikely.

      Today's trying hard to make up for it, a bright morning with barely a cloud in sight.  I'm doing the laundry slog right now but this afternoon, I hope to take a walk or at least do a little work outside.

Friday, March 03, 2023

Predicting Fiction

      Space ethicist and astrophysicist Erika Nesvold is concerned that space workers might be particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the same way isolated workers are on Earth: "The workers [Thai fishermen] would be taken out to sea. Their passports would be taken away. They could be out there for years; there were lots of abuses that weren’t being monitored. She could foresee the same thing happening if you’re going off to work in space on a rocket you don’t control. No one’s there monitoring the situation."

      Ms. Nesvold likens the situation of workers in space to the people who built the early transcontinental railroads in the U. S.: "...the work took place in isolated, hazardous environments with hazardous technology -- at the time, it was explosives -- and the supply lines were tenuous. Chinese immigrant laborers were exploited. There was a lot of prejudice against them; they were not paid equally to other, white railroad workers; and when they tried to protest, because they were so isolated, the companies would do things like cut off their supply lines to break a strike."

      If that sounds familiar, it might be because you read or watched The Expanse, in which Belters, who live and work on space stations, asteroids and similar built environments, face that kind of treatment.  This is a major driver of the plot.

      She's written a book about space ethics and there's an interview with her at Wired.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Up A Ladder

      I'm going to go try to replace a vent cover.  The hinged slats have fallen out and we're pretty sure birds are getting in.  This isn't good.

      Update: the replacement is the wrong size.  It's for a larger-diameter duct.  Sticking a new cap on the old duct was going to be an ugly job anyway.  The birds are in a nesting mood and there's rain on the way.  I stacked the new cap over the old one -- with the flaps out of the old one, it fits -- installed four screws and we'll go with that until the weather's more predictable.  It's not pretty but you can't see it from the street.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Maybe Take A Walk Instead

      I've seen a few bloggers posting their "conversations" with AI chatbots, sometimes on heavy subjects indeed.  Fun as that may be, there's no one inside the box.  It's just a fancy way of taking to yourself.  While I understand that many people appear to feel that there's no one inside other humans, too, that's no excuse.

      Alexa and I occasionally have little "talks," but it's just a silly game, pushing buttons to find any Easter eggs the programmers put in.  The supercharged version isn't different, other than having no intentional surprises.

      Get outside.  Get some sunlight.  Touch green growing things.  Who knows, you might possbly exchange a few words with a real human being, even if their views are not a hundred percent in lockstep with your own.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Oh, That

      You spend your whole life walking around in a robot made of meat and no matter how careful you are, at some point you start thinking, "Man, this thing's a little messed up," and either trying to take better care of it or wishing you had.

      The warranty's nothing much and it will inevitably break down and leave you stranded.  So enjoy the ride while you can, even if the world around you is going nuts.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Language As Resistance

      It wasn't very long ago that a lot of Ukrainians spoke Russian.  Even after independence from the former Soviet Union, many families spoke Russian at home.

      Russia's invasion has changed that.

      Y'know, if you go to a part of the world where the people are notable for their stubbornness and start pushing them around, you shouldn't be surprised when they start pushing back.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Helpful Bowl

      The ancient Egyptians made them and nobody's sure just why.  They look like the hieroglyphic symbol for "to offer," but what these little bowls that stand on two human feet and tip slightly forward were offering and to whom is a mystery.  Free mints?  Offerings for revered ancestors?  For the gods?  Were they tip jars?  Nobody knows.

      At one time, you could buy modern copies of them.  I didn't, and now there don't seem to be any for sale.  But I'd own one if I could.  Someone needs to make a version that walks over to the nearest person and curtsies; these days, it wouldn't be that difficult, though making sure it doesn't walk off tabletops might take some extra work.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

They're Freaking Out In Ohio

      There was a nasty chemical spill in a recent tank car derailment and the railroad decided to burn it in order to get the track cleared as quickly as possible.  It made a nasty mess including a thick plume of ill-smelling smoke.  People were evacuated and it's been all over the news.

      Politicians have been pointing fingers at one another, blaming the previous administration's policy changes or the present administration's people (and sometimes the other way around, presumably for variety).  The folks who live there are understandably upset -- and they want their wells tested, right now!

      While that's probably a good idea, well water is old water.  How old depends on how deep the well is and what your subsurface geology looks like.  A good rule of thumb is that ground water percolates along at about ten feet per year.  Contaminant plumes move at that rate or a little slower, depending on the contaminating substance.  So it could be a long, long time before someone only a quarter of a mile away from the burn site gets a nice hit of vinyl chloride in their tap water.

      Sure, test your well now -- but don't assume you're in the clear if it comes up clean.  The way to monitor a mess like this is to sink test wells (or take test cores) around the source, figure out where the plume is heading and how fast it is moving, and then keep on monitoring.  That won't be cheap.

      When I was young, many streams and some rivers in the part of Indiana where I lived were very interesting colors and degrees of opacity.  Some got that way naturally -- Indiana limestone will give you milky water, some (most) of the rivers are yellow-green and the newer reservoirs where we went swimming tended to murky brown or worse.  But there were no few rainbow-surfaced creeks, places where the runoff or streams picked up all manner of things from agriculture and industry that don't naturally show up in most water.  Over time, we cleaned 'em up.  People got their wells checked -- and if they had any reason for concern, they kept on sending in samples to be tested, at regular intervals.  (Layers of clay and limestone gave us different aquifers at different depths; there were a number of old flowing artesian wells within a few miles of the house where I grew up, but our well was shallow and gave rusty, hard water, safe but ugly even after the water softener.)

      Wells aren't especially mysterious but how water gets into them, from where and how quickly is not quite as straightforward as some people seem to think.  That hasn't had a lot of clear-headed coverage in the aftermath of the mess in Ohio. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

I Keep Following The News

      I keep up with the news but more and more, I don't much want to comment on the news.  Too much of it is too awful, and divisions over what it all means and where we're headed are too deep, even before you get to the "Unless we do..." part.

      Writing that practically guarantees I will see or read something between now and tomorrow morning that I will want to share my opinion about -- saber rattling* from Vladimir Putin and the North Korean government, natural disasters in Turkey and New Zealand, yammerheads and nitwits everywhere.  The older I get, the less convinced I am that it does any good to talk about it, whether to praise constructive responses or point with alarm at danger and destruction.
* A "buckler" is a small shield; to "swash" is to swagger or wave a sword about.  And now you know what a "swashbuckler" does, sometimes going so far as to to slap the flat of his sword against his buckler.  Presumably this causes considerable rattling.  It's 2023 and our metaphorical language is still dressed like a hoplite or a hussar, with the occasional dragoon carefully keeping his powder dry and not going off half-cocked.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Fan Club

      I will state here, for the record, that the basement radon exhaust fan is on circuit breaker number one -- just like most of the overhead lights and at least two receptacles.  Oh, and the floodlight for the back yard.

      The fan was last replaced a few years ago, but in January it began to thrum and grumble, varying with the outside temperature and whatever obscure moods it got into.  It's on the other side of the outside wall from the head of my bed and I was starting to have dreams about submarine engine rooms and being run over by gear-grinding 18-wheelers.  So I ordered a new fan and waited for warmer weather.  Today was warmer; Tam and I just finished installing the new one.

      Could have sworn we marked it last time.  There's a big "1" on the vertical pipe now.  There's no room on the legend label in the breaker panel to include the full list of things on that breaker -- but I'm glad I have made low-current choices for the remaining lights on it and avoid using the receptacles.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Writing Activity

      Mostly, other people's activity: I'm swapping critiques with other writers in a couple of local organizations.  This is a little like what a copy editor would do, and a little like what a friendly editor would do: you go reading through, looking for (and marking) wrong words, typos the computer can't catch, continuity errors, characters not behaving like themselves, plausibility problems, storytelling glitches and so on.  Some of it it pretty subjective.  But you don't go rewriting them the way you would have written it; the idea is for people to sound like themselves, only more so.

      It's time-consuming, and one of the things you learn as you go is how to read critically -- which you can then apply to your own work.  Since you're swapping one for one, you also get immediate feedback on what other people see when they read your work.

      One of the groups has a deadline approaching, so stories are piling up and I need to go through them.  I'll get back to the usual blogging as things slow down.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Prior Restraint

      The Indiana legislature never did quite manage to set pi to 3 and make it stick; but they appear to be convinced they can tie the First Amendment in knots with impunity.

      There's a bill working its way though the House that would make it a crime to get within twenty-five feet of a sworn officer making an arrest.  "So what," you might think.  "We shouldn't crowd them."  And not getting yourself too close to a fraught interpersonal situation involving armed individuals is generally held to be a good idea; I can't argue with that.

      But twenty-five feet?  The average city street is fifteen to twenty feet wide!  Under that proposed law, you can't drive past a sidewalk arrest; you can't walk your dog down the sidewalk if the police have a car pulled over on the other side -- and you sure can't stand across the street, holding up a cell phone (or a still camera, or a TV news-type camera), recording what's going on.  (And here's the deal: we're all The Press, even without that keen card stuck in our hatband like Clark Kent.)  If your house is close to the street, you'd have to stay off the front porch and keep the curtains drawn if police should happen to nab a suspect right outside.*

      It's already a crime in Indiana to interfere with an arrest -- even interfering with officers performing their duties can get you a ticket or a trip downtown and a date with a judge.  They're granted broad leeway in what might constitute "interference," too.  So what's the new law do?  Here's one thing it does: it makes any images you grab part of the evidence against you.  They're not going to be on the front page or the evening news.  It also constitutes a license to grab any "guilty bystanders" police deem to have committed the crime of being twenty-four feet away from an arrest.

      This is flag-waving, rah-rah stomping on the Bill of Rights to create a law police don't need and will find only too easy to abuse for their own convenience.  They can already arrest meddlers; the gawkers and lookie-loos might be annoying (pity's sake, stop staring and drive.  I've got dinner waiting!) but they don't rate arrest.  You're allowed to look at things happening in public spaces.  You're allowed to take pictures of them.  There is no special police veil, no magic night and fog for Johnny Law.  Quite the reverse.
* BTDT.  When something kind  of awful -- and still a little unclear -- happened in the neighborhood a while back and police arrived to arrest at least one of the people involved, they sat the person down on the step where the walk leading up to Roseholme Cottage T's off the sidewalk.  Is it 25 feet away?  Maybe, maybe not.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Too Much Awfulness

      Look, there are all kinds of deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic arguments to be had over definitions, over if a street-gang drive-by is the same as a nutjob/racist opening fire in a crowded place or a robbery that goes off the rails with the assailant killing multiple people, if a politically motivated nutter is the same as or different to a plain old nutty nutter.--  Yeah, all of that.

      But the fact is that we have too many, and the fact is that the media -- and our own horrified fascination -- keeps making the perpetrators famous, keeps analyzing their social media presence and poring over whatever written screeds or video rants they had left behind.  Then everybody circles back to their previously-held position, "too many guns" or "not enough police," "insufficient and underfunded mental health resources" or "these people aren't getting physically disciplined enough in childhood" or "nobody voted enough for my guy/my ballot initiative in the last election," or whatever. 

      Yeah, yeah, whatever.  But what we've been doing -- and we've been doing all of it, in various states and cities -- is not working.  There seems to be a rise recently in people willing to step up and take action -- heroic, personally dangerous action -- and maybe that will help.  We need to accept that in a country where civilian firearm ownership is both a protected right and a centuries-old tradition, the supply of guns isn't going to change much no matter what laws are passed; in a country where health care is not a government-run gimme and where we're not in the habit of clapping the merely strange into mental institutions, we're not going to stop many of the dangerously crazed or habitually violent ahead of time.  We can stop making them famous; we can stop dwelling on them and start mocking them.  Detestation and horror are normal reactions, but there are plenty of abnormal people who admire the ability to elicit them and the Internet has made it possible for such people to find one another.

      Mockery seems like a frail tool compared to sending out squads of cops or even teams of kindly mental health professionals.  Mockery doesn't advance anyone's political agenda or work towards the wildly varying outcomes we have, severally and each, decided we'd like to achieve.  But it makes 'em look like fools and losers.

      Other than an immediate -- and by definition, at least slightly late -- reaction to the perpetrator of such violence as it happens, mockery is really all we've got.  All the other tools in the box have shown themselves to be useless for the job.  Thoughts and prayers do nothing.  Strict gun laws in California and New York City don't stop it.  Widespread firearm ownership and carry in Texas and Michigan doesn't keep it from happening.  Where individuals have been willing -- and able -- to step up, the carnage has been limited, but it's got to start before anyone can stop it.  The people who kill en masse want to be big.  They want to be famous, respected, to have a name among their peers whoever they are (or think they are).  Take that away.  Make them small.  Make them not merely contemptible but risibly contemptible.

      Mass k-llers are punks and losers before they take action; if we're going to keep on splattering their crimes across the media, make it clear that when they do harm, they become even worse losers and even more craven punks.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Sunrise Sent A Valentine

      You could hardly ask for better:
      Alas, it's a "red sky at dawn" forecast, with rain and winds coming along this afternoon.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Missed 'Em

      Having little or no taste for televised sporting events, I did not watch the Superb Owl.  This means I missed all the cute commercials (drat!) and whatever culture-war fallout followed.  I'm happy to avoid the fussing.

      Apparently envious of the attention to be gathered by public swooning or histrionic expressions of disdain, the American Right has followed the Left into a morass of shocked outrage, moral panic and apparently uncontrollable triggering* over the antics of public figures, mostly entertainers.

      A lot of entertainers work hard at their craft; the burnout level is high and you need some degree of genuine talent to accompany the relentless self-promotion.  On the other hand, these are exactly the kids who spent their school years charging around with a pencil up each nostril, making animal sounds.  To this very day, most of them would eat a bug on live TV if the price was right, though many would insist on the bug being a designer brand, venomous and/or sustainably sourced.  Getting and holding your attention is what they do, being "edgy" is one of the simplest shortcuts to that, and freaking out about it is simply getting sucked into the game.

      There's a clue there, or there ought to be.  You know what other group thrives on public attention and withers without it?  Politicians.  And behind their over-the-top reaction to over-the-top silly entertainment are two things: a desire to hitch a ride on whatever coattails are flapping by, plus a deep and abiding resentment of the competition from entertainers trying to work the same patch.  For or against, bemoaning the awfulness or rallying staunchly to the defense, it's all just theater -- and they want to chivvy you into buying ticket after ticket for more of the same.

      Are you sure that's what you want to spend your time and money on? 
* Some people have PSTD so severe that external events can push them into truly wretched mental states.  Cheapening the idea of "triggering" to apply to any minor upset we feel trivializes their struggle.

Sunday, February 12, 2023


      Why not make a clay dragon?  Or a cardboard sword and shield, with your very own coat of arms!  Better yet, help a kid make 'em.  English Heritage will show you how (see the tabs at the top of the linked page.).

      The sun might set on 'em these days, here and there, but the Brits aren't beaten yet.  Terry Pratchett's gone but his spirit lives on.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Doctor And The Needle. Also, Tires.

      The pinky finger of my right hand started giving me trouble over a month ago.  I'd wake up with it curled tightly, and it would pop and catch when I tried to straighten it out.  The bottom knuckle was swollen and painful.  Handwriting got tricky -- yes, I rest the side of my hand on the page, and yes, that's wrong.

      It wasn't getting any better, so I called up the hand specialist I went to twice when my right thumb suffered "trigger finger," a swelling of the tendon that curls it (the ones that operate your fingers and thumbs run in a tube of cartilage, like an organic version of the cables the work the brakes and shifters of a bicycle).  They were making appointments a month out.  I got my place in line and started taking aspirin at regular intervals;  It's a good anti-inflammatory.

      Maybe the aspirin helped.  Maybe just scheduling the appointment did it.  But the "trigger" effect faded and I stopped waking up with a curled finger.  The pain and swelling persisted and got worse.  At times, the bottom joints of my other fingers ached.  I had to modify how I held a pen.  My grip on objects was a little uncertain -- week before last, I accidentally threw a fork that flew straight and true, and impaled a cardboard box.

      The doctor's appointment was yesterday afternoon.  It had been at three, but around two they called me and said, "Just come on in." 

      Got to their door a half-hour later and there was an apologetic sign on it.  With the winter uptick in colds, flu and RSV along with COVID, they were requiring masks again.  Okay; a doctor's office has a lot people passing through and the clientele of a hand specialist trends elderly.  I've had a bagged mask stuck unused in my purse for a couple months now.  But, oops, I used it the other day helping look after my neighbor's cats and ditched it afterward (litterbox dust imparts a lingering aroma.  The mask is still good but unpleasant to re-use).  The intake nurse had plenty of pleated procedure masks and I was happy to accept one.*

      The wait wasn't long and they had me under an X-ray camera right away.  (I thought I was going to be able to share a picture of the bones of my hand, but the image files weren't in my online medical records, last time I checked.)  The doctor came in shortly afterward and went over them.

      "Your hand is in better condition than many people your age.  There are little cysts on the joints at the ends of your fingers, but nothing at the base of that pinky.  Looks like it's all soft tissue.  Do you want a shot, like last time?"

      "Yes, like you did for my thumb."

      "We did this pinky, too."

      I had absolutely no memory of it.  None, even when he told me the date, a little under a year ago.  He prepped for the shot, getting all the supplies, marking my finger and explaining that it was going to be painful.

      With my arm out, hand in place on the exam table and my pinky sprayed with freeze mist, my wrist was exposed, revealing evidence Holden's habit of biting at my mouse-hand wrist if he's on the desk and I'm not giving him as much attention as he thinks he deserves.

      The doctor gestured towards my wrist.  "New kitty?"  He had the hypo ready and I looked away.

      "No, just a very enthusiastic one--"  I felt the needle go in, not too bad.  Then pressure began to increase in the first joint of my already swollen pinky.  "--Wow. He's a good cat," the pressure changed to a sensation of having a red-hot needle jammed into the sore joint and got worse.  Much worse. "Holy cow, damn!  Sorry.  Oh, gosh that hurts."

     I'm pretty sure I know why I can't remember the last time they treated my pinky.  For a few seconds, it was the second-worst pain I have felt.  First worst was when I was trying to move after I broke my thighbone and knee.  There are a lot of nerves in our fingers.  A whole lot.

     My finger's still a little sore this morning, but the swelling is way down and the joint isn't anywhere near as tender as it has been.

     Driving there and back, I had my car up to highway speeds.  There's a wobble in the front.  Not very much, but noticeable.  I already knew at least one of the front tires has a bad sidewall.  I need to replace them, sooner rather than later.  I had hoped to go to a hamfest about 45 minutes away today, but I'd just as soon not risk it. 
* In some situations, masks aren't going away any time soon.  They work; cold and flu transmission dropped throughout the pandemic.  Doctors are singularly uninclined to have their offices become a source of illness, so it's likely we're all going be masking up at the doctor's office for the foreseeable future.

Friday, February 10, 2023

About That State Of The Union Address

      The State of the Union came and went pretty predictably, and commentators both professional and amateur said predictable things.  Democrats claimed things had never been better and praised President Biden, while Republicans painted the country as various shades of dystopian hellscape and called the President delusional.

      Since I think President Biden is what you get when you ring up Central Casting and tell them to send over a generic Democrat President, and that the country is experiencing an unexpectedly average period of averageness* which could have been much worse -- and that the person in the Oval Office doesn't have a lot of control over that -- I don't have much to contribute to the discussion.

      For a long time in the early years of this country, Presidents just sent Congress a letter and avoided the spectacle of gathering up everyone and trying to keep a lid on the junior members while the tenant from 1600 Pennsy spoke.  That would offer a lot less scope for intemperate behavior, and might even keep the most foolish members of Congress from looking silly.

      On the other hand, we don't owe them, Presidents and Congress assembled alike, any more dignity that they can muster by their own efforts and circuses have all pretty much stopped touring these days.  Julius Fučík wrote a perfectly good soundtrack for the hooting and hollering parts of the event and it hardly gets played any more.
* Yes, things are more expensive these days.  I grew up with relatively high inflation, in the sure and certain knowledge that even when my pay increased, prices were going to keep climbing and I'd end up where I started.  So it feels normal, even after decades in which I did gain economic ground, to the point of owning (me and the bank) a house and having a paid-for car that's not falling apart.  Is everything great?  No, hell no; but it's not life in a shattered wasteland, either.  So political prophets of sunshine or gloom all sound to me like they're peddling something with only a tenuous connection to reality.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

...Just A Bit Of A Breeze....

      This afternoon, I discovered the back gate was halfway through a high kick: One post had broken at ground level and heeled over, pulling half the gate with it. The gate had twisted at the latch and the half hinged to the post was almost horizontal.  The other half of the gate was leaning back under the force and the entire thing was wobbling in the wind.  We're under a high wind warning today, with gusts that may reach fifty miles an hour, if they haven't already.

      I have the post propped up and braced now, but it's temporary.  Looks like I'll be talking to the fence people sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Unexpected Vacation

      I'm off this week.  I spent the better part of the first two days finishing the research and approach for an experimental short story, well outside my usual genre, and then writing it.  Off to three alpha readers late last night, and then a copy-edit for typos and misspellings this morning, followed by a read-through and a little expansion here and there.

      I submitted the story to a pro-level critique group once that was done and I just heard back from them that it'll be among the stories to get a looking over and comments from the members at the next meeting.  Of course, in a group like that, you've got to pitch in by critiquing the stories from all the other participants.  I hope I'm able to offer useful insight: most of them have published books and short stories already, so I may just read their work and only be able to say, "Wow!" 

      The vacation came as a surprise.  We submit our picks under some time pressure and I neglected to copy them into my personal calendar.  I checked in with my boss Monday morning to see which location he wanted me at and there was a short pause.
      "I thought you were off this week."
      "I am?"
      "Pretty sure."
      "Um, I'll find out and text you.  Thanks, boss!"
      He was right.  I made sure to get the rest of my vacation time on my personal calendar.  Microsoft and Apple calendars sync effortlessly these days -- if you enter the information in one or the other.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Nota Bene

      Most people are perfectly okay with the notion of the legislature pushing someone around -- just as long as isn't themselves.  "Oh, those weirdos?  Okay-fine, 'do it to Julia.'"

      Militia or drag show, we can usually work up some reason why they deserve it, too.  Communist hippie or weekend survivalist, someone somewhere has got a theory why your very existence is problematic, and if they're not holding elective office, they've got the e-mail address or phone number of someone who is.  You're a symptom of a sick, sick and failing society, you are -- and never mind that a close look at the history of the United States right back to the the very beginning finds an unending stream of fringe people with goofy ideas, hucksters, wild-eyed political or religious theorists and their equally-askew followers and so on.  Yes, and plenty of people who thought they were a Problem and even some violence -- but mostly we let 'em be and the rule of law is the norm, not mob action.  We remember the exceptions because they were unusual.

      Looking askance at what is strange to us is normal.  Trying to outlaw it is not.  Decrying the endless proliferation of laws on one hand and coming up with new laws on the other is incoherent and not any kind of a way forward.  Heaving bricks and sticks though windows is not legitimate political discourse, no matter who you are or what your reasons might be.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Wishful Thinking?

      It'd be reassuring to think of it as wishful thinking.  That would mean things were more or less normal in politics and both parties would run normal Presidential primaries, jostling, debating, looking sidelong at one another and settling on a couple of contenders that between them only made about a quarter of the likely voters feel bilious.

       Out in the real world, things are so far off the rails that the locomotives have been fitted with tractor tires.  Former President Donald Trump is the only declared Republican candidate and when asked if he would support his party's nominee even if it wasn't him (and there's some wishful thinking for you!), he said, "It would have to depend on who the nominee was."

      That's earth-shattering for the GOP, or at least it was before Mr. Trump's Presidency.  One thing you could count on from Republican politicians was party loyalty.  Ronald Reagan popularized the party's 11th Commandment in the 1960s: "Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican," and they obeyed it to a remarkable degree.

       Those days are over.  They've been over since the 2016 primary.  As 2024 looms and opinions vary sharply on the political Right, there's a chance Mr. Trump would do more than fail to support his party's candidate if it isn't him -- he might try a solo run for the White House.

      It has never been a winning ploy.  Theodore Roosevelt helped put Woodrow Wilson in the White House by running as a Bull Moose (he wasn't alone; if you didn't like Mr. Taft or Mr. Wilson in 1912, you were spoiled for choice, not just Mr. Roosevelt for the Progressive Party but Prohibition, Socialist and Socialist Labor candidates (yes, the parties of worker unity were splintering even then.  Go figure).  H. Ross Perot diluted the 1992 and 1996 elections.  Third-party candidates not only don't win, they are credited with helping push down the losing candidate.  There's no reason to expect a different outcome if it happens again.

      I'd like to see parties of ideas -- ideas other than middle-school popularity and mudslinging contests  Ideas other than crazed conspiracy theories and denial of plain facts.  People in Hell want ice water, too.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Weird Morning

      This has been a weird morning.  How weird?

      Try this.  Tam has been renting my attic since 2008.  We knew each other for at least a year before that.  We've told one another most of our good stories.

      A few of mine involved a high school classmate, a cheerleader who had not-inconsiderable academic abilities and little interest in pursuing them.

      A few of Tam's involved a woman about ten years older than her with the same common first name as my classmate, who managed a small neighborhood business in Tam's home town.  She had been married and divorced or widowed.  And she passed away relatively young several years ago, in a home accident.

      This morning, looking up this woman's obituary on a whim, we discovered my classmate and Tam's acquaintance with the same first name were, in fact, the same person, married, moved and single again but still using her ex-husband's last name.

      Okay, it's a small world, but that small?

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Oh, The Tinfoilnanity!

      Conspiracy theories are popular these days, right?  Okay, I've got one: the real reason for the high price and reduced availability of eggs is simple: politicians want to make them too costly to waste throwing at...politicians!

      Yes, you read it right here first, folks.  It's a covert bipartisan effort to keep the egg off their faces.

      And only a real subversive would point out that it's still not all that expensive to raise your own egg-laying chickens.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

About Names

      A quick review of naming conventions: In this blog, I refrain from the use of nicknames, especially disparaging ones.  I follow the normal convention of Full Name or Mr./Mrs./Ms./Mx.*/Lastname.  If they hold or have held elected or appointed office or military rank, they get their title: Senator Name, General Othername.  (The convention is you get the highest title you ever held.).  After the first use, I will on occasion use the naked last name of a person.  Simple, easy, no looking up who gets called what by whom in what context.  (This is standard Press style; if you see a talking head using nicknames, they're offering opinion and not news -- caveat emptor.)

      Growing up, I had classmates with nicknames -- "Buzz" (named for his supershort hair, but he grew up to be a stoner), "Stinky," even "Doodoo."  Ha-ha, funny -- in grade school, which is where most of those names were applied and only a few stuck.

      We're all grown up now -- yes, even those serving in the U. S. House of Representatives, despite evidence to the contrary -- and I prefer to let people's accomplishments and failings speak for themselves.  Using someone's full name and title does not mean I like them.  I think most people are idiots and most politicians are worse, but when I mention them I'm damned well going to tell and show why instead of resorting to silly slurs like "Frankenstein's illegitimate son" or "commie cheerleader."  Being ugly or ditzy isn't the problem with with 'em, or at least it's only a problem for the poor sods who have to be around them.  It's their ideas and actions I take issue with.
* Snicker all you like at the latest innovation in honorifics, but consider the arguments and awkwardness it avoids.  Most people, I'd just as soon not know anyway and now I don't gotta.  It's not like we're piping anyone aboard with a pink or blue flag as if they were visiting Admirals.  "Sailor, run up the gray flag!  And let's have two and a half sideboys..." Yeah, no.

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Dignity Index

      At a time when the campaign behavior of politicians, especially across party lines, is reaching for new lows in scurrilous invective and fear-mongering, a woman in Utah has set out to rate office-seekers on how well -- or badly -- they behave.  It's getting noticed.  And noticed.

      The Dignity Index rates politicians on how well they treat opponents.  Not on how splendidly they reach out to find areas of mutual agreement, oh, no; there's no hand-holding and singing songs.  Nope, just if they face off squarely and fight fair over issues and political philosophy, or resort to mud-slinging, personal slights and bizarre claims.  Call it an acting-like-an-adult measurement.

      Will it help?  I don't know.  But it can't hurt.  At the very least, it's one more angle on the people who run for office.  If it's not a very flattering one, well, there's some useful information right there.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Basic Civilization

      A routine traffic stop should not be a death sentence.  Even if the detainee panics.  (Yes, there is the rare low-probability stop of a fugitive bank robber or someone with a trunkload of high-value contraband that goes violently sideways).  And traffic stops probably shouldn't be fishing expeditions for police, because the skewed expectations on both sides that creates increase the odds of a bad outcome.

      There's a certain amount of victim-blaming going around over the Tyre Nichols killing, and it's pernicious.  In a police stop, one party* has essentially pledged to be the adult, and it's the sworn officer.  We should be able to reasonably expect that police will exercise mature judgement; once they have detained an individual, the officer is responsible for their welfare.  Nobody's got a beat-down coming from the police: punishment is the purview of the courts.  Even if the detainee freaks out and runs away, despite the degree of restraint and judgement this calls for on the part of the police.

      Too high a bar?  Tough.  That's the job, along with a belt-load of equipment, a radio to call for backup, the support of their fellow offers and qualified immunity -- in fact, because of all those things, because they walk among us with the backing of government, carrying all levels of force up to lethal with a remarkable degree of assurance it can be wielded with impunity, we expect police to behave with restraint.  When they do not, it is entirely proper that justice is swift and fair.

      Nobody has a beating coming from the police -- not the most innocent of drivers pulled over on vague suspicion or the worst violent offender caught bloody-handed.  Nobody should ever fear getting kicked by an arresting officer while his peers hold them down.  The police are not a street gang and shouldn't get away with acting like one.   In Memphis, they haven't.

      It saddens me to encounter a pro-police-beating contingent online.  Perhaps I should have expected them; too many people are missing the "good old days," when a man could beat his wife and police could dispense "street justice" with hardly an eye batted.  Those days were anything but good for many Americans, and we're not going back to them.

      (Update: I'm still getting comments about how Tyre Nichols deserved what he got, from online "experts" who apparently know more than the police chief or prosecutor, who think they know more about the man's injuries from a bit of video than the doctors who examined him in person.  Here's a tip: you don't.  If you want to get published here, you're going to have to come up with something more insightful than the same old tired excuses.)
* "Party" in this context has nothing to do with political parties.  It simply means the people involved, like "parties" to a contract or conversation.  The parties to an arrest are, at a minimum, the arresting officer(s) and the arrestee(s). I'm amazed to have to explain this, but see comments.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Not Even A Real Fraud

      Federal investigators have revealed that Congressman George Santos is not even a real grifter.  "George Santos" is actually Lena Jensen, a thirty-year-old graduate student from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, working on a doctoral thesis about the ease of acquiring dark money in U.S. elections, even for candidates with a questionable background.

      "It was never supposed to go this far," Jensen said, "But now that I'm in office, I feel obligated to serve George's constituents."


Friday, January 27, 2023

From Tent-Meetings To Smashing Windows

      There's a book I want to read, by a guy who started out as an Evangelical Christian and ended up as a college professor.  One of the news/opinion sites interviewed him recently and going by his own words, he's followed an interesting path.

      There are millions of religious people in the United States who are good, decent folks who believe in our representative democracy, in our conception of liberty as protected under the Bill of Rights, and who don't believe in committing acts of violence unless confronted with violence by others.  I don't have a bit of trouble with them.  In fact, I approve of 'em.

      Then you've got the people and organizations that Bradley B. Onishi covers in Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism--and What Comes Next.  They're worrisome.  Many of them have given up on our form of government, preferring something along the line of Putin's Russia or Orbán's Hungary -- and they embody hardcore Old World authoritarianism, the kind of thing (give or take a crown) the Founders and Framers were directly opposing.  It's distinctly unAmerican, no matter how many flags they wave.

      At one time, basic Civics was an inoculation against this kind of stinkin' thinkin'.  Know-Nothings or White Caps or the sneaking Klan might rise and briefly prosper, but decent Americans, many of them church-going, would slap it down, sooner or later.  The Bill of Rights provides a framework that bars government from the kinds of meddling all authoritarians long to do -- from Communists to Christian Nationalists, they're about telling people how to live their lives, with prescriptions for what to think and how to think it.  That's not what we do here, and it makes no difference if the controlling impulse comes from the Right or the Left.  This is a country where you can ask people do things, and where you have (or should have) a reasonable expectation of being left to live your own life your own way as long as you're not using force or committing fraud, but you don't get to boss around unwilling others.  Striving towards fairness -- and good-faith arguments about what's fair and what isn't -- is part of the fabric of this country.  Religious dictatorship is not.

      I'm not sure how things got as screwed up as they appear to be at this particular moment.  I'm hoping Onishi can shed a little light.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Add To The List: Don't Carry Ladders

      At least don't carry ladders for a block and a half and back again.

      We had a contractor at the North Campus who didn't have his own ladder, and he needed access to the back of a steerable satellite dish about eighteen feet across.  The center of the dish is about twelve feet in the air and it's out in the middle of the large field at that location.  So I fetched a twenty-foot fiberglass extension ladder from the building, and took it back several hours later when he was done.  It's a long walk.  I was a little sore that afternoon, and maybe a little more so when Tam and I went for her birthday dinner.

      Overnight, my joints stiffened up and my back started to hurt.  Today, well, I can move around if I don't go too fast, but my knees and elbows are sore and glitchy.  My neck and back are aching.  I'm out of aspirin but I keep taking acetaminophen at the recommended intervals and it doesn't seem to be doing much.  And we're not even going to talk about my fingers, which have been problematic for several weeks already.

      So that's a job I'm going to have to be more careful about doing, and maybe not try to haul the thing the whole way at one go.

      Next on the list, retrieving the twelve-foot stepladder from the basement where some other contractors left it -- the basement with the ten-foot ceiling.  I'm not even going to ask.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Happy Birthday, Tamara

      Tam is [undisclosed] years old today!

      And remember, dear friend, a restaurant can have a senior discount even if they don't have a senior menu.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Skilled Villian

      Nope, this is not yet another item on the clown circus that is Congress, not even the over-top-characters who have managed to be too much even for the junior body, by design raucous, conflicted and experimental.

      Nope, it's about a far better man who played far worse men: Michael Dunn, best known as the marvelously scenery-chewing Dr. Miguelito Loveless on The Wild, Wild West.  He stood three feet ten inches and commanded the stage from that height.  And he did his own stunts!

      MeTV, an over-the-air network specializing in reruns, has brought back the TV series, leading off their Saturday Westerns.  Dunn shows up early and returns often, an ideal foil for James West's 19th Century 007.  He was a talented singer despite limited lung capacity, and about those stunts?  This was a man with lifelong osteoarthritis and a hip dysplasia that limited his range of motion.  You can notice the latter when he walks -- sometimes.  But every motion cost him a price in pain and he never shows it, reveling in the role of a mad scientist to end all mad scientists.

      Michael Dunn died in 1973 at the age of 38, leaving behind a body of work on stage, film and TV screen that most actors would envy.  He is reported to have put considerable time and effort into encouraging children with challenges similar to his own to pursue their own goals -- and is an example to anyone with big dreams.

      We'd be a lot better off with 435 Michael Dunns in the U. S. House of Representatives than the fakes, bad actors and blowhards we've got now.  We might even be better off with 435 clones of Dr. Miguelito Loveless, though I'm not altogether sure about that.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Well, Drat

      I lost the turnip lottery.

      ...This might require explanation.  Turnips have a long shelf life.  Long, but not infinite.  A good turnip, peeled and sliced, is a nice, uniform pale white, tending a little towards yellow or tan, with a slight but definite grain, and a bit damp.

      A not-so-good one looks just the same outside and can be quite firm, but inside, it's dry, discolored, even crumbly.  And I just got one of those.  Worse ones are soft and you can weed 'em out when shopping, but the occasional fooler gets through and then you lose the turnip lottery.

      Oh, well -- apple and carrot, celery and onion, potatoes and mushrooms and tomato sauce will just have to do with today's pork roast.  And a turnip next time.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Can, Worms, Some Assembly Required

      I keep seeing memes, comments and articles on the general theme of "The Framers and the first Congress never meant for the Second Amendment to apply to anything like an AR-15!"

      Like it or not -- and that's a whole other issue for debate -- the Second Amendment specifically describes "the people" "keeping and bearing arms" -- that'd be citizens owning and carrying guns, and presumably edged weapons as well, etc. -- along with the need for a "militia," i.e., a citizen army.  So at the very least, the people who wrote and approved the Second Amendment were quite comfortable with the idea of anyone who might be up for militia service (essentially the prospective voter pool at that time) owning and carrying military-grade weapons.

      Flintlock muskets and rifles might look quaint to us now, but they fire large, deadly bullets and were relatively fast for an experienced user to aim, fire and reload.  In a world where wind and water power were the biggest prime movers, and horses, mules and donkeys the only portable source of power besides humans and the occasional dog, they were astoundingly powerful and capable of causing great harm.

      I'm not telling you that you have to believe civilian firearm ownership is a good thing.  I'm certainly not claiming an AR-15 or similar rifle isn't a deadly instrument -- but so is any other rifle.  Center-fire rifle cartridges all have the capacity to do immense harm to people and the 5.56×45mm or similar .223 Remington cartridge a standard AR-15 fires is very far from the most powerful or largest caliber.  It's smaller than most hunting rounds.  But hunting-type rifles don't look as scary, are rarely marketed as super-manly guns for super-manly men and they aren't decried as horrors suitable only for mass killing.  The twisted losers who commit mass murders have TV sets and computers too, and they're going to gravitate to whatever they're told is the most awful of the awful.

      All firearms are dangerous.  Modern firearms are indeed more dangerous than older ones -- but the old ones were not safe or friendly.  A modern automobile is dangerous, too, but a horse or wagon can kill or terribly injure a pedestrian.  And while the 18th Century had plenty of house fires, they had zero domestic electrocutions or gas explosions.  We live in a dangerous world.  We always have and our fellow humans constitute one of the greatest dangers.

      "Original intent" or "historical context" might not be ideal yardsticks of legislative or Constitutional meaning, but they're what the present Supreme Court is using and they're logically justifiable, even when they lead to outcomes we may personally dislike.  You're not obliged to approve of the Court's decisions, but when you argue against them you must still use logic and reason.  Describing some or all of the Justices as terrible people who make terrible decisions does not contribute to the debate, no matter how heartfelt your opinion or even how accurate history may hold your evaluation.