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.