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.
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* 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.)
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* "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."

      [/SATIRE]

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 Orb├ín'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.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Wait, There's A Real Blackadder?

      Fans of the Rowan Atkinson historical comedy Blackadder may be disconcerted -- or pleased -- to learn that there was a real Blackadder family, with a complicated, tragic history.  And a large estate, centered on Blackadder House along the Blackadder Water in Scotland, demolished after having been vandalized by troops quartered there during World War One.  Some of the outbuildings and traces of the garden remain, along with a few bridges.

      I happened across it by accident; I was looking up the history of polio epidemics, which led me to Sir Walter Scott.  He grew up at Sandyknowes, in the shadow of Smailholm Tower, the former family castle.  This linked to a whole list of Scottish castles, and thus to Blackadder House.

      I'm almost afraid to look up "Baldrick" as a family name now.  Art, life....

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Politically Homeless

      For years, I disliked both big parties in American politics:  One was the party with plenty of room in their big tent for forthright loons, people who wanted to levitate the Pentagon for world peace, heal deep societal divisions through song, and had grand plans to fix the worst ills of modern life around the globe using my tax money, absolutely sure they'd be welcomed with open arms wherever they went.  Their top figures were firmly rooted in the New Deal and kept trying to come up with a Newer Deal.  The other party had a little room for people who were convinced rock music was just the most visible part of a huge communist plot and nobody deserved equal rights, but they kept 'em on a tight reign.  They took a hawkish, realistic view of foreign policy and they at least talked about fiscal responsibility and keeping taxes low.  They seemed like a party for adults -- a little dull, a little behind the times, but adults.

      Decades passed.  Government spending never went down.  My taxes never went down.  No matter how much free ice cream (etc.) the country handed out at home and abroad, some citizens still got a raw deal and some foreigners never seemed to love us; and no matter how many of them the government shot at, they never knuckled under, either.

      Still, for most of my life, one of the big parties spent a little less (or at least claimed to), taxed a little less and their dumbest initiatives were easier to get around.  When I bothered to vote, I usually didn't feel too bad about voting for their candidates if my usual third-party outsiders hadn't been able to drum up someone willing to lose nobly.  When I didn't vote, I didn't worry much; I could count on both big parties to argue one another to a virtual standstill, raise my taxes a bit and become part of the normal background noise.

      That changed.  The low-taxes hawks started to get a lot more receptive to their nuttier fellow-travelers; the flower power party grew up and started burning a little less incense and doing a little more math.

      At present, the old "adult party" has seated an outright con artist in Congress; they've got failed candidates claiming to be the rightful victors despite recounts and investigations proving otherwise and one of their losers appears to have been involved in drive-by shootings at the homes of his local election board.  It's not a good look.

      Most of my old third-party outsiders have gone clean over the edge.  It wasn't a big trip for them but it's disappointing.

      And I'm still not a fan of patchouli and wishful thinking.

      What happened to all the grown-ups?

      I go into elections these days with a carefully triangulated list of who to vote against.  I haven't found anyone to vote for in years.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

One Heartbeat Away?

      I keep seeing news stories in which Marjorie Taylor Green or Kari Lake are touted as possible V.P. running mates for Donald Trump in 2024 -- sometimes couched as a "contest" between the two women, which is arrant speculation at best.

      As far as I know, Mr. Trump has not made a V.P. pick and it would certainly be very early in the campaign for him to do so.

      But let's say everything falls out as a repeat of the 2020 contest, with Mr. Trump riding the elephant and Mr. Biden atop the donkey.  Both men will be four years older than last time and they weren't young in 2020, not even as Presidents go.  So whoever is in the warm-up circle had better be ready.

      V.P.s are usually picked for "balance:" they carry a state the top of the ticket would otherwise struggle to win, they're an experienced politician when the Presidential candidate is not (Biden in 2008 and '12, Pence in '16), they're young and female compared to a candidate who is older and male (Palin in '08, Harris in '20).  We hope they'll do okay if a big decision comes to them and they generally have -- Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford were at least adequate.  I think Mike Pence did the right thing when his back was against the wall on 6 January 2021 and in the days leading up to it.

      Kamala Harris, well, I don't much like her policy preferences, but she's an experienced politician; she knows what the stakes are and her (apparent) lack of much of a sense of humor is probably an asset in the Executive Branch.  Like Mr. Pence, I think she'd do her best to make the right decision when it mattered.

      I don't have that same feeling about Ms. Green or Ms. Lake.  I'm not at all confident that either one really understands that in the Executive Branch every marble game is for keepsies and you're playing with an entire nation's marbles.

      Fun as it may be to always look at voting though a partisan lens and ensure the other side is really irked by your pick, you're betting your future on the outcome.  It takes a grownup to do the job, and a grownup attitude to do the choosing.

      Modern politics is starting make me miss Nelson Rockefeller, and I was never a big fan.  It's making me miss Hubert Humphrey and Spiro Agnew; at least they could read a speech entertainingly.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Sure Enough

      A side comment in a news story yesterday appeared to indicate that the U.S. President and Vice-President are, in fact, not required to sign out classified documents as other people with clearance would be, nor is any kind of log kept of which documents they have taken out, not even by coded references.

      I am of the opinion that is preposterously sloppy and demonstrates far too much deference to the office and to the individual who holds it.  Presidents are as replaceable as a piece of string and we have successfully subbed in politicians who were not otherwise headed for the job -- Presidents Truman and Ford being prime examples.  They are not kings or lifetime-tenure strongmen; they're temporary employees and should be treated accordingly.  Yes, it's a big, stressful, responsible job -- and in four or eight years, we'll have gulled some other sap into doing it. 

      The chicken of lousy procedure has come home to roost and I don't think either of the offenders should be given a free pass -- which at present, they are not.  If two speeders are caught, one five miles per hour over the limit and the other fifty over, I don't expect them to face the same fine, but they're both going to have to sweat out the traffic stop and they'll likely both get a ticket.  --And maybe we should add some curves or speed bumps to that stretch of road.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

"Of Course You Know, This Means War."

      World War Two was an all-out war -- even Merrie Melodies cartoons went to war.  You can watch a fine example free for nothing, thanks to Wikipedia: The Fifth-Column Mouse.  Just click on the thumbnail at the link and it will pop up.

      Do we have Fifth Columnists these days?  Coullllld be....  The present European conflict is mostly a proxy war for us, and we just might have a few proxy appeasers, too.  Make your own list. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

Inventory Control

      There's a lot of fuss in the news lately about the discovery of some Top Secret documents in offices President Biden used between his stint as V.P. and getting elected as President, and in his private home, all of them from his years as Vice-President.  This has spawned various comparisons with the other Top Secret documents former President Trump took along when he left office.  If you look around the Internet, you can find everything from "See?  They all do it!" to detailed point-by-point coverage of who did what and which man was more justified or handled the situation with more grace.

      That's all grist for partisan discussion and I suppose it's fine, but to me, it misses the point: clearly, the President and Vice-President are being treated with excessive deference when it comes to the handling of "Burn Before Reading" material.  And that's seriously messed up: those documents belong to the office, not the person who presently has the title -- no matter who he (or she) may be.  Sure, Presidents get to declassify whatever they like, but as long as it's secret, they need to handle that stuff with at least the same care as the clerk who dug the folder out of a triple-locked file and delivered it to them.

      You know every last one of those files has some kind of cryptic file number to keep track of it -- if not, in fact, every binder or even every page.  And anyone with the authority to look at them has to sign the document out and sign it back in again when they are done.  Presidents and Vice-Presidents should not be treated any differently.  They shouldn't be able to stick the thing in their pocket to read on the john later and forget about it, or chuck the file in a box of assorted correspondence and souvenirs that gets stuffed in a basement or garage when their term is over and they move out. That's preposterous; there needs to be some nervous Civil Service type with a clipboard and a checklist when Administrations turn over, accounting for each and every super-secret document the Great Man and his Number Two signed out during their time, making sure the papers all get turned back in so the next poor sod who gets stuck with the job can look up the precise number of nuclear missiles Chairman Xi has and exactly how bad the flea infestations get for his missile crews in their silos.

      If it was you or me, you know the .gov would triple-check that we had returned every file,* with dire penalties for anything that got stuck down behind the couch and forgotten.  The President and Vice-President are Just Some Guy (or Gal); while they get the top job for four or eight years, it's a temp gig and afterward, they have no more right to that kind of file than any other citizen.  It's time they started getting treated that way, no matter what party they belong to or where they stand in public opinion.  Presidents aren't kings, no matter how much we have to set them up with a nice house and fancy suits so they can have kings over for lunch without the country looking too shabby.  All that stuff is on loan and they must give it back for the next person to hold the job.
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* They'd probably count every staple and paper clip in our desk and check the number against our initial stock and requisitions, too, just to make sure we weren't rippin' off the taxpayer.  Personally, I think there should be a damage deposit put up by Presidents and Vice-Presidents for their fancy rent-free digs -- and a walk-through the day they move out to check for damage and see if they get it back.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Welcome To The Future

      Yes, it's the far-off, distant future world of 2023, where we get morning thunderstorms in Indiana in January.  I don't care if you want to call it weather or climate -- it's not what we used to get and while (relative) warmth and thunderstorms are probably better than six feet of snow and temperatures that will turn it to ice, I'm not a big fan.

      In this World of Tomorrow, the biggest (or at lest best-publicized) maker of electric cars has painted himself into a corner where the people who were happy to buy his cars are backing away because they loathe his politics and people who generally approve of his politics are disinterested in electric cars if not outright hostile to the idea.  --And yet the same guy has managed to bring the cost of space travel down to a level where the average well-connected billionaire can afford to go exploring, and one already has.

      --Meanwhile, one of his competitors is selling front-row seats to an in-person look at Earth from space to the merely rich and famous, and another has launched -- and crashed -- the first mission to orbit directly from Britain (a mere 77 years after the British Interplanetary Society proposed sending a man into space from that green and pleasant land and 15 years too late for Sir Arthur C. Clarke to see it).

      This is not the future I expected -- but that's how it usually works.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

No NOTAM?

      As you have heard or seen by now, the FAA's NOTAM system has crashed.  This is an ongoing stream of last-minute flight warnings, everything from tall towers with lights out of unscheduled runway closures -- all the stuff essential to safe flying that wasn't known in advance.

      At this point, there is no evidence of any kind of cyberwarfare.  My own experience with submitting NOTAM information has always involved calling up FAA or a subcontractor and getting a real human being on the other end of the phone.  The computerized part is the collection and dissemination of information, so it's pretty hard to break the system from the outside.  It's not impossible, but the most likely cause is the FAA's perpetual battle with balky, out-of-date equipment.  They have all the speed and flexibility of the Federal government going for them and the usual budget battles, plus the teensy little problem of operating a vast network of equipment critical to life and safety.  They can't just whack together a pile of Raspberry Pis to add to, repair or change their systems.  So it's a constant effort to keep everything running, more-or-less up to date and online all the time.  The horror-averted storied FAA technical types tell would curdle your hair.

      They didn't get this one averted in time to let flights remain on schedule.  They don't have the option of converting the commercial skies into a giant four-way stop* and hoping everyone pays close attention, so it's time to stop the music and let planes sit on the ramps until the problem has been sorted out.  We've had worse and gotten through it -- the previous air-traffic radar system (or was it the one before that?) got very crashy in its final years, especially the functions that automatically tracked which flight was which.  Controllers had to keep various manual backups ready and things could get sporty indeed when it acted up at a busy airport.  FAA will sort out the present problem sometime today and the unusual inconveniences of commercial air travel will return to normal inconveniences.
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* This sounds very funny, but it is exactly how the smallest private airports work -- there's no "tower."  There are rules for who gets the right of way and you have to pay attention to who else is in the the air or about to be when you are taking off or landing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Art That Works

      An Indianapolis business I hadn't known about, Ignition Arts produces load-bearing art, constructing things that carry the weight of people, ideas, history and so on.  Their website is fascinating, from restored historic buildings to bridges to, well, have a look.

Monday, January 09, 2023

An Interesting Documentary

      Frontline on PBS has put together a documentary about January 6th and what led to it.  In light of recent events in Brazil, it seems timely to mention it here.

      Many of my readers won't like it -- but it's not made up; it uses real video of real events and interviews with conservative commentators and politicians.

      Lies, Politics and Democracy first aired in September of 2022, without much attention.  It's worth a closer look.

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Saturday, January 07, 2023

I Wonder What Else He Gave 'Em? And Will They Get It?

      As of late last night, the U. S. House of Representative has a Speaker -- if they can keep him.  And the members were finally sworn in, as opposed to being sworn at, and they can finally go to classified briefings and find out if Defense, CIA, FBI or NSA has the best coffee (my money's on NSA -- listening in on the world is sleepy work and you need the good stuff).

      Speaker McCarthy will be indebted to his party's fringe in a way that not even Speaker Pelosi was to her side's "Squad."  On the other hand, the House has not passed a rules package yet, so at this point all they've got are promises -- from a guy who has shown remarkable flexibility in recent years, changing his lukewarm allegiances with the speed and fluidity a weasel.  We may see even more drama yet to come and I wouldn't put away the popcorn just yet.

      Popcorn is all it's worth.  With a slender Democrat majority in the Senate and a slim Republican majority in the House, it's sideshow time, sword-swallowers, snake charmers and all.  What Congress can actually accomplish is likely to be bupkis.  They may get the Federal Gummint re-funded when the current budget runs out, and we'll just have to see what kind of mischief the House gets up with the debt limit, a poorly-understood, badly-explained bit of nation-state financial wizardry that does not do what it says on the label, and one which makes a dandy bloody shirt to wave for both Team Red and Team Blue.  Bear in mind as they yell and emote that all raising the debt limit does is let the Feds pay the tab they have already run up: the bottle is empty, the plates are bare, and here's the waiter with the bill. Pay it or run out the door?  Those are the options.  Maybe they shouldn't have ordered the foi gras lobster thermidor under gold foil and washed it down with $500 tumblers of whisky from a Japanese distillery that was taken apart two decades ago, but the deed is done.  The House GOP members like to posture about the debt limit, but check the votes, see who was all in favor of spending the money to begin with and the story changes: most spending bills have required some measure of bipartisan support to pass, and that was the time to get serious about fiscal restraint.

      The Republican Party has lost any claim to be "the party that wants to leave people alone."  Ask the Georgia poll workers who are still the subject of long-debunked, reality-free accusations about that; ask any of the minorities GOP pols revile in their speeches.  Oh, sure, today's Republican party will leave some people alone, but so will the Dems.  I'd say that I'm not seeing a dime's worth of difference between their actions -- but the Democrats aren't claiming some vast, shadowy conspiracy has stolen elections from them, and they've done a much better job of keeping a lid on their fools and flakes.  I don't agree that an unlimited government is an unlimited good, but at least they're upfront about it.

      Other than a few key items that must get through Congress, we're probably better off with the House and Senate closely balanced and at loggerheads with one another.  If they can't do much, they can't do much harm -- but some Senators and Representatives seem to be intent on doing every bit of harm they can manage.  If we tend to elect Congressthings who truly represent the majority in our states and our districts, then the majority of us are assholes.  And that's probably true.

      I know the Framers were intent on inventing a Federal government that didn't require noble philosopher-kings to make it work.  I hope they were clever enough to come up with one that couldn't be wrecked by everyday horse's rears -- but every election seems to give rise to new, improved office-holder assholery, no matter which party manages a majority.

Friday, January 06, 2023

No, We're All Like That Now

      I'm home today, having done something wretched to my back, either by spending an hour at floor level going after trimmings from copper-pipe deburring that were at risk of being sucked into the air intakes of one of my big electrical machines at work or by a week of looking after the (scoopable) litter for my neighbor's (five) cats, which involves a lot of bending over and lifting (her usual cat-helper took a week off).  Or possibly both.  Whatever, I presently have two speeds, Molasses Slow and Full Stop, both of which involve more groaning than is seemly.

      I had groaned my way to the kitchen for a lunch-like snack (gherkins and buttered saltines) when I heard a delivery truck pull up and idle.  I eased my way to the front window and peeked out through the gap between the curtains from several steps back: one of the big-name package haulers, with a box two feet on a side waiting up front, the driver nowhere to be seen and a series of it's-around-where-somewhere noises from the cargo section.

      Pretty soon the driver appeared and carried the big box towards our porch, out of my line of site.  Setting-down noises followed and after a short pause he said, "No, I'm an idiot."

      Driver and box reappeared and went back into the back of the truck.  Then he showed up with a much smaller box and dashed up our sidewalk again.  I went to the door and took it, thanking him.

      It's not just you, delivery-truck driver.  We're all trying to keep up and dropping the occasional stitch.  You're not an idiot, only human.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Riddle Me This

      I keep wondering about it -- along about the time Ukraine or Russia drops a missile on a reactor by mistake or Uncle Vlad gets crazier and deploys something he shouldn't with large-scale bad results either way, and assuming nobody else leaps before they look, how long will it be before the conspiracy-theorizing, government-and-media-always-lie crowd starts claiming that fallout is fake, that nobody needs to filter the air they're breathing?  How long before they yell that it's just another plot, and those iodine pills are just a way to get secret 5G mind-control chips into everyone?

      Here's the thing: fallout from that kind of event is insidious.  Obvious, widespread effects are unlikely.  Just an uptick in cancers, birth defects and suchlike; just worse lives and shorter.  So the "it's all faaaaaake!" crowd will have plenty of time to emote and a complete lack of radiation-mutated monsters to point out.

      Oh, well.  All that much iodine for the rest of us, I suppose.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

War On The Budget Plan

      "By one calculation, the US has spent 5.6% of its annual defence budget to destroy nearly half of Russia’s military capability."

      Okay, it's from The Guardian.  And they don't give their source.  Still, to paraphrase an old commercial, "If you find a cheaper war -- buy it."

      I remain convinced that sooner or later, the West is going to have to slap Mr. Putin down -- unless his own people do so first.  European wars between nations have a habit of spreading, especially with a Big Man at the wheel -- Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler.  This isn't some festering internecine Balkan conflict, it's an old-time territorial war of the kind Julius Caesar would recognize.  I don't think he'd be much impressed with the invading force, but he'd grasp the game and the goals.  And the boil has yet to be lanced.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Violet Broth

      In recent years, I have tried a lot of variations on the basic New Year's Day meal.  Up here in the North, corned beef and cabbage are essential.

      This year, I was a little more conventional, simmering the corned beef in a pot of water on the stove.  I did add a chopped turnip and an apple early on, and followed with carrots, celery, red onion and some mostly-purple potatoes.  With twenty minutes to go, I added wedges of purple cabbage.  (I also simmered black-eyed peas in a separate pan, to hedge my bets.  They got smoked paprika, onion, garlic, bay leaves, fresh-ground pepper and truffle salt.)

      The end result was tasty -- and the broth was violet!  I had looked for purple carrots, just for fun; our corner grocer often has them, mixed with white, yellow and orange ones.  But between the cabbage, onions and potatoes, there was plenty of color.

      In the days before the holiday, I realized it was entirely possible to fuse the Northern and Southern traditions, by making Hoppin' John with cubes of tender corned beef instead of ham and serving it over rice fried with shredded cabbage.  I think it would work, and then you'd have everything, all in one dish.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

New Year, New Start

      It's a whole new year.  Let's see if we can get this one right -- push back against the bullies, encourage debate on the issues instead of emotions and keep looking for facts no matter where they lead instead of picking the most comfy opinions to lie on.

      And for pity's sake, let's get together with the other civilized nations and figure out how to stuff a cork in Putin's ambitions.  Waging wars of aggression was supposedly what the UN was set up to stop.  If it's not doing that job -- and it certainly hasn't so far with this one -- the countries that care about peace need figure out something better.*
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* Vlad, no stranger to history, seems to have taken a different lesson from WW II than most people.  The Allies won based on two things: the immense natural, industrial and scientific resources of the U.S., Canada and the UK plus the USSR's willingness to throw soldiers at the German army.  (The Soviets lost between 8.6 and 11.5 million military personnel, while the U.S., Canada and the UK together barely broke 800,000.)  His actions imply that he believes the West will run out of willingness to provide materiel support to Ukraine, from food to infrastructure to weapons, before Russia runs out of fighters.  Is he right?  I hope not; but even more, I'm hoping somebody on the anti-Russia side is taking an orthogonal approach -- and that enough people within Russia decide it's time to reshuffle their government before it gets even worse.