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.