Sunday, April 30, 2023

Inspector Shan

      The seeds of the night sky grew in Tibet.  There the stars were the thickest, the dark blackest, the heavens closest.   People looked up and cried without knowing why.  Prisoners sometimes stole from their lie on the ground silently watching the heavens.  The year before at the [gulag] an old priest had been found in such a position one morning, frozen, his dead eyes fixed on the sky.  He had written two words in the snow at his side.  Catch me.

      That's the opening of a chapter in Eliot Pattison's The Skull Mantra, the first book in the Inspector Shan Tao Yun series, which is more or less a noir detective series set in contemporary Tibet.  The "Inspector" isn't one, not any more, having gotten himself crosswise with higher-ups by solving crimes without due attention to political concerns and been sent off to an indefinite sentence in a "work camp" in Tibet.  He has been there some years by the first book in the series, when the prisoners uncover a headless, recently-murdered body while building a road.  Suddenly, there's a need for an investigator, one who can be counted on to be discreet, and Shan finds himself with no choice but to cooperate.

      I started with a book much farther along in the series.  It was on sale and the sample looked interesting.  It turned out to be outstanding, so I circled back to the first book.  I'm about halfway through and it holds up.  The background is an absolutely unflinching portrait of Tibet under the Chinese government, neither sugar-coated nor played for pathos, and Shan's deft but hopeless manipulation of the various authorities is skillfully drawn. I recommend the two books I've seen so far, and I have every reason to believe the rest of the series is as good.

Friday, April 28, 2023

You Must Be New Here

      There's been a comment waiting the queue that makes assumptions about my positions or opinions that are so askew that I probably won't approve it.*

      Instead, I'm going to clarify some items here:

      - I think politicians in general are fiscally irresponsible.  Republican, Democrat, Green or Libertarian, they all have pet causes and hobbyhorses that they are more than happy to spend your money on.  I have never made any secret of this opinion.  At the Presidential level, the historical record bears me out, with the two World War Presidents leading the pack and two Republicans and one more Democrat filling out the top five.  So you don't need to tell me, "the Dems are just as crazy in their efforts to pile up the national debt to stratospheric heights," because officeholders of both parties stack up that heap.  That some of them stick a clothespin on their nose and complain loudly about the process does not mitigate their actions.

      - I don't think government ought to be in the business of defining or enforcing any "cultural values," period.  The government should encourage secular civic virtues of lawfulness, political participation ranging from voting† to various forms of petitioning to running for and serving in office, and even providing or facilitating access to information (the Government Printing Office, allowing C-SPAN access, various "Sunshine Laws," etc.), but no more than that.  External services (Voice of America broadcasts and so on) might promote positive aspects of our national culture as-found, but our culture was not created by our government and is not directed by it.  (One of the markers of totalitarianism is the government runs the culture -- or tries to.  That's not how we do things in the United States and if you have a problem with that, you have a problem with America.)

      - I do think governments should strive to increase the freedom of citizens, and not restrict it without clearly articulated cause.  There are plenty of issues on which government should either remain silent or deal with as they deal with the formalization of contracts generally, and these include such supposedly "hot button" matters as marriage and medical matters related to reproduction and gender identity.  There are a great number of complex issues for which there is no single universally-right course of action; our governments should recognize this and leave the decision to the individuals directly concerned rather than getting involved.  I think the government didn't go far enough in Obergefell; while the various forms of plural marriage are uncommon, they already exist and failing to give them legal recognition simply makes a messy situation even worse.  Such matters are complicated and emotionally fraught, difficult to navigate even in the absence of State or Federal opprobrium, and they are not bettered by becoming matters of public debate and heavy-handed, restrictive law.  Yes, this does mean other people will sometimes do things of which you -- or I -- will not personally approve.  We're not the boss of them, just as they are not the boss of us.  Accept it.  Freedom applies to everyone, not just to the people are who precisely like you or me.  If you have a problem with that, you have a problem with America.

      The same commenter wrote, "I agree with you that what Peter Thiel is doing, or not doing, is great. Now if only George Soros would do the same."  That's nuts.  They're both citizens.  They both have exactly the same right to try to influence the government that you or I do.  They both have exactly the same right to create, join or participate in organizations that attempt to influence popular and/or government opinion that you or I do.  And they have the same right to choose to not do those things that you or I do.  And that is what I think is great. I didn't express an opinion about Mr. Thiel's present actions; I pointed them out and shared his stated reasons for so doing, and left the reader to make a value judgement.

      I'm sick and tired of asshole noseyparkers trying to run other people's lives and I don't care which political party they vote for.  I'm tried of people trying to hammer in the nails of culture with the crescent wrench of government.  I don't think they're going to stop, but I'm sure as hell going to remark on it and I'm going to try to slow 'em down.  YMMV.
* You can thunder "censorship" all you like, but blogs are free and you can write whatever you like (and the blog provider allows) on your own blog.  This blog is mine.  I make the editorial decisions and I'm not going to indulge in long debates over strawman assertions in the comments section.
† An opinion that puts me at odds with today's Republican party, which favors increasing restrictions on voting  IMO, that's not a good sign.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

"Halfway Across, The Scorpion Stung Him"

      Republican mega-donor Peter Thiel will be sitting out the 2024 campaign, checkbook firmly shut.  The man who told us in 2009, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” has had his fill of the GOP's focus on culture wars while largely ignoring economic issues.

      Thiel happens to be gay as well as rich, and it's not a huge step to wonder if he's thinking the second is becoming increasingly poor armor for the first with a party that's gone all in on not merely encouraging cultural conservatism but hardwiring it into law.  Today it's outlawing abortions and drag shows, tomorrow...maybe Mr. Thiel's marriage?  (I don't know, maybe he's got a pal touring with Charley's Aunt in the title role and doesn't want him languishing in a Bible Belt jail.  Whatever.)

      Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "...the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."  I'd like to think he was right, but human history suggests to me that the arc doesn't move all by itself -- and humans have long been willing to turn a blind eye to violence and injustice if it's not happening to anyone too much like themselves.

      If you want to be treated fairly, you've got to treat others fairly first.  And you ought not ferry too many scorpions across the the river, confident that because the scorpion logically doesn't want to drown, you'll never be stung -- hey, Mr, Thiel?  Let us all drink to character!  (Follow the "stung" link.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Roasting Rack

      No, it's not a metaphor for the Presidential primary.*  It's my Perfect Pot.  Some time back, they had one of their (frequent) sales, and I still had a discount coupon.  So I decided I'd better get one.  Mine's even a screamin' wasabi green color that they don't have available right now.  It's been just as useful as you might think a large, heavy-walled, non-stick stewpot would be, ideal for simmering Hoppin' John, beef stew or pasta sauce supercharged with fresh vegetables and extra meat.  But it's got one feature I have rarely used: a drop-in roasting rack, coated in the same ceramic non-stick as the inside of the pot, that stands about an inch above the bottom on three small, silicone-cushioned feet.

      Our corner grocery had nice-looking beef pot roast at an appealing price.  It's good stuff but a little fatty.  I can work with that, pouring the broth off into my grease separator in batches and adding it back in, but it's a lot of bother and the end result is still a bit greasier than I'd prefer.  So I decided to try the rack.

      I put coarse salt, pepper and a touch of garlic powder† on the roast, and browned all sides in a little olive oil in the pan first; then I lifted it out, set the rack in place, and set the roast on it, pouring a little black coffee into the pot.  That's an old trick; it tenderizes the meat and adds some depth to the flavor.  I put the lid on and let it get to simmering while I got ready to add vegetables; after thirty minutes, I lifted the lid, had a look, and added beef broth, keeping the level lower than the top of the rack.

      I washed a couple of potatoes and cut each one into six big chunks.  Those in, I cleaned up a double handful of the short "baby carrots" (they're not) sold in bags, added them, and took my time preparing three big stalk of celery, cut in sections an inch or so long.  I finished with a white onion, sectioned in fairly large pieces.  The onion went in about an hour after I'd put the roast in the rack.

      The pot kept simmering.  I looked at it every half-hour or so and added broth if the level seemed low (not easy to see.  The pot was pretty full).  At the two-hour mark, I added four ears of corn, still on the cob.  At two and a half hours, the corn was cooked, potatoes were soft and the meat thermometer said the beef was done.

      Sliced, it was reasonably tender and not overcooked.  With the roast out, I poured the broth into the grease separator -- the pot's got a good-sized spout, like an old cast-iron pan -- and the vegetables were flavorful, well-steamed and not greasy.  A little of the separated broth over the meat and vegetables, corn on the side and there's dinner -- and the leftover meat, vegetables and broth made a nice stew the next day.
* Would that it were, though.  Candidates don't get anything like the third degree I'd like to see all of them face.  Instead, it's a battle to see who can thump out the bassiest appeal to the partisan base. This runs a real risk of building so hermetic an echo chamber that the post-primary campaign never broadens out and the November results arrive as either foregone anticlimax or a terrible shock.  They shouldn't take the outcome for granted.  Winner or loser, I want 'em to worry more about ways to appeal to everyone with genuinely good ideas than trying to blow on the spinning dice.  Yeah, "Welcome to Hell.  Would you like ice water?  Tough."
† This is a compromise.  If I try to keep fresh garlic around, it's either dried out or gone funky when I when I need it, and it's hard to work with without getting the kind of garlicky fingers that mean no petting the cats until scrubbed and scrubbed: that whole allium family is not good for cats. Garlic powder keeps a long time and is easy to handle, but it's harsher than fresh garlic.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Sore Winners, Again

      There was a short window -- mostly post WW II, pre, oh, call it the Newt Gingrich-Bill Clinton sparring, when legislative supermajorities behaved with some restraint towards fellow legislators who were members of the minority party.  They might be sticking it to disfavored constituents, but their nominal peers who were in the club and far away from the levers of power were ornaments of tolerance and open debate -- it wasn't like they were going to get anything done, after all.

      It doesn't work that way now.  From expulsion (at least two successes in at least three recent attempts, and the successes backfired spectacularly) to the shadow-ban approach of the Chair simply refusing to ever acknowledge a member (at least two examples in two different state legislatures), supermajorities are behaving in ways that reflect deep-rooted insecurity, and treating debates they know they will win as if they were threats.

      In more balanced legislatures, where compromise and accommodation are the only way to get anything done, members instead embrace deadlock and use the unlikelihood of moving the needle as an excuse for preposterous, base-pandering efforts that play well to their electorate but accomplish nothing -- see the U. S. House and Senate for as many examples as anyone could want, if they were fool enough to truly want them.

      "The politics of personal destruction" has become the norm and, unsurprisingly, created ruins.  You can make a wasteland and call it peace -- but it's still a wasteland.

      Be careful what you wish for.  Be magnanimous in victory.  Work and play well with others.  Share your toys.  It doesn't diminish you.  Nor will fingerpointing reverse present trends.

      I suppose it'll all be moot once (or are we still saying "if?") China slips the leash and trips into WW III, but it's certainly awkward now.  Well, it was awkward last time, too.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

It's Back

      The final season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is available on Amazon Prime Video now and if the first two episodes are any indication, the series is as good as ever.

      It's a fantasy, a musical comedy in saturated Technicolor™ hues, but one that makes a considerable effort to capture the look and feel of its 1950s - 60s setting.  This season has (in opening segments) wandered farther ahead in time and maintained a look appropriate to the times.  The dialog is sparkling and the storytelling remains sharp.

      There's a lot of "period" technology in the background of Midge Maisel's stage, radio and TV work, and the props have been an honest effort, steadily improving.  (This is squarely in an area of interest to me and it's an effort sometimes to not go looking up model numbers for an old TV camera or reel-to-reel.)  It reminds me of AMC's Remember WENN, set in a radio station in 1940 - 42: the scripts were always good and the sets and props caught up as the show progress.  But while WENN is a lost gem, Mrs. Maisel is a jewel in Amazon's crown and they know it.

      It's not incisive social commentary -- but it's not lightweight fluff, either.  That's a difficult balance to maintain and yet the series has consistently managed.  Tam and I are watching the series a little at a time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023


      Last night, I learned that a somewhat foulmouthed comedienne/actress with a whiskey contralto whose work entertains me* has a more than adequate singing voice, with remarkable range.  She's got a nice ear for harmony, too, dances well and has considerable ability at accents when speaking.

      It was, among other things, a reminder that acting and comedy are crafts (or skilled trades, if you prefer) and people who at good at it (which overlaps with being a "star" only a little) often have considerable depth to their skills.  It might look like play, and indeed, a pretty or handsome face and physique can cover many deficits; but for the rest of 'em it's like knitting or mountain-climbing or welding, a thing a person's got to work at to be any good and quite something to see when it's done well.

      We do not live in an age of totally untrammeled boobery and undeserved fame; it's not wall-to-wall "reality stars" who are famous only for being famous, at least not yet.
* If you're one of the many varieties of thin-skinned types who can't tolerate performers whose politics don't align with your own, her work is not for you; she's all over the place along those lines and if you weren't vexed by the opening monologue, one of the next two or three bits will set you off.  Not to worry -- the entertainment Automat's got lots of different kinds of sandwiches and sides; you'll find another place to spend your nickel if you just keep looking.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

And Then I Learned...

      The long-winded labels on prescription medicines are a kind of miracle of the worst of legal and medical prose.  I'm suggestible enough that I rarely read them unless I need clarification on the pharmacy's instructions on taking the medication: why come down with a bad case of imagination?

      So when I was still feeling awful on Sunday, I was starting to wonder if I had some kind of heart trouble.  I hate that feeling, and worse yet, because of the need for quick reaction to a genuine emergency, nobody in the medical business will waste a second figuring out if it's a genuine problem or only looks like one before sending you off to the ER to get it checked out at considerable expense.  The referring parties don't get a commission; they just don't want to have to deal with your rapidly-cooling corpse, spend time and effort giving you CPR, or explain to your grieving survivors that you had not, in fact, looked all that bad before falling over.  Speed affects outcome and minutes count.

      Thing is, I don't have any survivors who will grieve for long, especially not once the insurance and retirement-account checks arrive, and I have had two perfectly terrifying and costly panic attacks in the last fifteen years that felt (almost) like the real thing.  So I faffed around, feeling awful and putting out cautious feelers for advice, thinking, "If it was that bad, I'd be on the floor already," and -- finally -- read the package insert.

      Yeah, about that.  The super-ibuprofen, not so bad.  The muscle relaxer?  "Irregular heartbeat, anxiety, mental confusion, tingling in extremities," and so on and so forth.  It matched up with how I was feeling and none of them were low-probability.  So I was taking those pills, they were letting me me sleep like a log and then I would wake up to an extended bout of side-effects until it was time to take the pills again, sleeping, waking up to feel awful, over and over, with a break on the night when I just took the pain reliever by itself and kept waking up, heart racing, anxious, with pins and needles in my fingers.

      I did it to myself.  I've been off 'em for about thirty hours now and lo, my disturbing symptoms are gone like a campaign promise.  My back still hurts some -- that's what started all this -- but it's much better than it was and will be better still once I take some plain old OTC acetaminophen.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Tinker Tailor Soldier Hey Isn't That Benedict Cumberbatch?

      I'm not quite halfway through the film and I never read the book, so I can't tell you if they did justice to the plot.  (Critics are divided -- it's from the John le CarrĂ© book and he's known for twisty stories.)  I can tell you that the 2011 production of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a pitch-perfect 1970s spy movie.

      The film came up as a no-extra-charge suggestion on Amazon Prime Video.  I had enjoyed the mid-1960s "Harry Palmer" spy films with Michael Caine as Len Deighton's originally nameless British espionage agent, as well as 1975's Three Days of the Condor, with Robert Redford up against a complex conspiracy.  I recognized the title.  The artwork suggested more of the same as those movies.  I'd made myself a little dinner and only half-watched the opening credits as I ate; once the film was underway, much of the cast looked vaguely familiar but I couldn't put names with their very much in character faces.  It fit right in with the older films, right down to having a nice shot-on-film look and late-1960s - 70s color.

      And then a young actor with a thick mop of blond hair and Benedict Cumberbatch's face showed up....  My first inclination was that I didn't think he was that old, followed by the realization that he couldn't possibly be.

      I started checking background details.  One or two anachronisms showed up (air-conditioning hardware*) to confirm when the film was shot, but that was all.  The costumes, props, sets and location settings have been given a great deal of careful attention to keep the film on target.  The cinematography and editing is very much in keeping with the time in which the film is set.  The reviews I have seen don't point it out; all that work is background, invisible, seamless -- but the film so far is an artifact out of time, and stands very nicely next to the older examples of the genre.

      ETA: I woke up in the night and couldn't get back to sleep -- I'm still dealing with back pain, etc. -- and watched the rest of the film.  It's good all the way through, and remained consistently a 1970s spy movie.  Well worth watching.
* Small "split system" units showed up in Europe before they arrived in the U. S., but not as early as the 1970s.  The outside portion has a distinctive look.  It probably takes a geek to see this stuff (ask me about the U. S. electrical outlets on the wall of a Russian dance studio in White Nights) but the wrong detail can break an audience's suspension of disbelief.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Well, That Was Clever

      Given the way the two medications together shut me down, last night I decided to try just the prescription-strength NSAID at bedtime.  Well, bedtime-snack time, since they have to be taken with food.

      Bad idea.  I could not get comfortable.  Every way I laid made my back hurt in a slightly different manner.  I got very little sleep until sheer exhaustion drove me into two longish (90 - 120 minutes) bouts of intense dreaming that tapered off into deeper early sleep this morning.  The six o'clock alarm was like a sword made of electric light, swung by a drunk and angry Edison.

      The wizard smote me and I managed to feed the cats before laying down again, for an hour of fitful dozing among rising pain.

      So guess what I have planned after breakfast?  No, don't guess.  This is the last sunny day of my vacation and I'm taking the pills as prescribed and going back to bed.

Friday, April 14, 2023

On The Good Drugs

      Picked up the super-ibuprofen and muscle relaxer yesterday afternoon.  They all but knock me out shortly after I take them.  Off to bed now.

     (ETA: Never made it.  Woke up 45 minutes later in front of the computer, unsure of where I was, how I got there or what day it was.  That stuff shuts me down like flipping a light switch.)


      Explain to me how a smalltime TikTok transgender celebrity most people never heard of receiving a few free beers with their picture on the label is a huge, horrible problem, but a National Guard Airman giving away piles of high-level military secrets on the Internet to impress his gamer-kid pals is a praiseworthy whistleblower.

      Use as many crayons as you like.  I've got all day.

      A year from now, the social media spotlight will have moved on, leaving nothing but empty beer cans.  A year from now, China, Russia and whoever else will still be poring over every scrap of intel they got for free and setting up ways to use it against us.

Thursday, April 13, 2023


      The drive-through doctor gave me a big shot of super-ibuprofen and prescribed the pill version, plus a muscle relaxant.  That was yesterday afternoon.  I started feeling better soon after but the pharmacy has so far only managed to fill one of the prescriptions: welcome to 2023 and the aftermath of what happens when short staffing meets a pandemic and crashes.

      There's some hope I'll have both by the end of the day, at least.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Old Remedies

      Okay, "Take OTC painkillers and pursue normal activities" didn't work.  "Spend fourteen hours relaxing in bed" didn't work, either.

      I'm going to have to get cleaned up, go to doc-in-a-box and explain very carefully that I am not in any way interested in stronger pain pills,* I just want to know what's gone wrong with my back or whatever, and what I can do about it other than sweeping the pain under the rug.

      This is not a prospect that fills me with delight.
* At one time, back when the medical profession was handing out mild opioids pretty freely, I had a problem with chronic pain and an open prescription for a widely-abused pain pill.  I'd like to tell you that I am so strong-willed that they didn't hook me, or that taking them for actual pain is an absolute bar to addiction, but the truth is, they stopped me up so bad that I had give 'em up and would only consider using that family of drugs again if it was a matter of life or death -- and I'd have to think it over first even then.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Oh, My Aching Back

      On vacation this week, and since Saturday, I have been suffering lower back pain.  It may be another kidney stone.  Or it may be due to a fair amount of ladder and small-diameter spiral stair climbing Friday, when I had occasion to go to the top of the Salesforce tower downtown.  The view is great, but it comes at a price.

      Either way, I think I'll go back to bed.

Monday, April 10, 2023

The Mandalorian And The Implicit Promise

      Science fiction and genre fiction generally tell stories with a clear conflict between good and evil.  Good typically triumphs.  There's usually a hero and a villain, "good guys" and "bad guys," and the good side succeeds.  Some genres modify these basics: evil wins in most horror fiction (if good wins, it's a thriller instead), noir detective stories blur the lines between good and evil to a greater or lesser degree, and satire often inverts the trope.

      Strip it down to the basics and you're left with the kinds of stories that poets sung to appreciative audiences in Ancient Greece: Heracles takes on impossible odds and succeeds; Odysseus returns home by perseverance and wit; the all-too-human gods struggle among themselves.  (Most ensemble-cast SF and other genre fiction closely models the Greco-Roman pantheon, from Star Trek to Mission: Impossible to Firefly* and The ExpanseWagon Train and Rawhide are at least partial fits to this model.)

      The Mandalorian hews to type, with good results.  The initial Star Wars films were meant to recall the old movie serials, filled with action and derring-do and ending on a note of triumph.  But they fell short in one significant way: there was a new episode of the serial every week.  Star Wars came along in large lumps at long intervals; that's how movies work.  The episodic serial moved to TV, with storytelling conventions -- and budgets -- that owed more to radio drama than film.

      Or it did.  Modern digital effects have made much of the sweep and action of movie-making affordable for the small screen and The Mandalorian (and associated series) has pushed it as far as possible.  The result has gone full circle: the movie serial is back!  Grander than most TV; perhaps not always quite as overwhelming as longer, bigger-budget feature films, but bursting with larger-than-life excitement.

     All fiction makes a promise to the audience in the opening scenes.  Successful fiction fulfills that promise in an emotionally satisfying manner.

      Tam and I started on the most recent season of The Mandalorian over the weekend.  We're enjoying it.
* Firefly is notable for giving us both Ares and Athena, though the Hephaestus analog of the series is notable for being "lamed" by youth, inexperience and gender instead of physical disability. Zeus, Hermes, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite and possibly Poseidon fill out the cast.  This way of looking at such stories makes the casting of war-wounded James Doohan as Scotty on Star Trek doubly meaningful, not only the "Scots engineer" trope of nautical fiction but the lamed artificer of the gods.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Be Careful What You Wish For -- And What You Do Once You Get It

      It's a version of the Streisand Effect: after Tennessee's House managed to remove two of the three obstreperous State Representatives who spoke out of turn on the floor of that chamber (and with their own bullhorn) in support of gun control, the former members are working the Sunday morning news-discussion show circuit -- and if they're at all personable and telegenic, they'll become regulars.

      Look, they acted out and had some kind of penalty coming over their behavior.  This is not especially uncommon in the state legislatures of this country, especially the 49 with bicameral legislatures modeled on the Federal government and particularly among the more numerous and often younger members of the "lower house."  It doesn't happen every month or even every year, but it happens and is usually dealt with routinely -- a fine, a motion of censure, a stern-talking to by the presiding member or by ranking members of their own party..  It's a blip in the news, if that.

      When the majority party tries to kick out three members affiliated with the minority party, spares the blond woman and removes the two much-darker men?  That's not a blip.  It's a headline.

      If they'd all received a routine rebuke, this would have been just one more bit of noise in this country's long and very noisy debate about firearms.  The (heated) conversation continues, unsettled and unsettling, with enormous emotion on all sides; with muddled and muddy statistics; with a lot of glib, easy answers and a poor understanding of the practicalities of applying them; without resolution and with a lot of shouting and performative behavior.  One more act of protest sinks quickly in the ongoing uproar.

      Unless the reaction to it calls attention to it.  In 39 states, one party controls the legislature and  the Governor's office.  At least a dozen have effective one-party legislative supermajorities and operate unchecked by anything except the courts and their own consciences and judgement.  Yes, Tennessee is among them.  With one-party dominance in government, citizens rely on must rely the prudence and maturity of those they have voted into the Executive and legislature more than the traditional checks and balances as augmented by tension between political parties.

      Overreach provokes reaction -- sometimes even against a commanding majority of elected office-holders.  It has happened in a few states on the contentious, emotionally-fraught issue of abortion.  It's been known to put Illinois Governors in jail.  When egregious, it can bring down governments.  Outcomes can be unexpected and often are orthogonal.  I wonder what's inside the box this time?

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Use It Up, Wear It Out...

      "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."

      If your parents were Depression babies like mine, you heard that more than once growing up.  Now, there's a possibility the "influencer" trend might be getting a little bit threadbare.

      There is a cycle to such trends and there are generational differences.  Sometimes frugality is ascendant, other times we're urged to aspire to conspicuous consumption.  Mass-market stuff or handmade, artisanal items?  It's a trend -- or, often, a necessity cloaked as a preference, especially when the economy gets tight.

      I am (mostly) the child of my parents.  I'm still using Mom's old Revereware pots and pans, some of them gifts from her wedding in 1949 and others more recent presents from my Dad, merely thirty years old.  On the other hand, I've got three trendy cookpans from an on-line start-up, so I can't claim to not have been influencered;* on the other other hand, they're supposedly lifetime purchases.  And on the fourth hand, Mom would doubtless have pointed out that I already had perfectly good skillets and stewpots.

      The culture: we're swimming in it.  Probably better to shower afterward instead of pretending we're above it all.
* This cannot possibly be a word.  I'm not sure if it should be.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Bad Weather Coming In; A Mess Averted

      Some strong winds in Indianapolis this morning and storms headed our way, so I'll type this and be off: it looks like things went okay outside the courthouse in Manhattan yesterday.  People waved signs and yelled at one another -- and went no further.

     Good for 'em.  Good for us all.

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Looking At The News

      I suppose I should be all over Donald Trump's arraignment today.  I'm not going to be hanging on every moment of it.  We don't even know what the precise charges are yet.  A well-off ex-President and long-time Manhattan businessman with some of the best lawyers money can buy is going to get through the process just fine, under the harsh glare of public scrutiny and the lenses and microphones of Press ranging from People's World* to OANN, with CNN, Fox, NPR and the legacy papers and networks all bunched up near the middle.  If there's anything even a little bit underhanded or askew in the process, one of them will jump on it and the rest will follow, like ducks clustering around an old lady with a pile of day-old bread.†  I don't have to monitor it; they'll all do so for free, in between trying to sell me pillows, luxury cars, toothpaste, the supposedly unsullied reputation of high-toned corporate underwriters and/or a chance to seize control of the means of production (no thanks, way too much work; and they can forget about the big car payments, too).

      Another little news item has caught my eye.  It's a disturbing one.  I'm a big fan of the decorous conduct of legislative proceedings: the people we elect to fool around with our laws ought to be able to wield words against one another like swordsmen -- without ever actually using blades.  And I am no fan of gun control laws, largely because most of them are poorly thought out, based on inaccurate understanding of firearms and/or contrary to the Second Amendment or corresponding State constitutional protections (where they exist).  So when three Tennessee Democrat lawmakers staged an ill-advised stunt in support of gun control, haranguing their peers through a bullhorn in that state's House chamber and leading the gallery crowd in chants, you might expect me to be all in favor of a vote of censure by their Republican-majority peers and a stern talking-to from the podium.

      You're right.  I would be.  But that's not what the Tennessee House is doing.  They're voting to expel the three Representatives.  Toss 'em out.  And I cannot countenance that.

      A majority of the people of their districts who cared enough to vote had voted 'em in.  Presumably they knew what they were getting, and they deserve to keep getting it.  Raucous behavior deserves censure, not removal from office.  The people they're representing can replace them if they see fit, come the next election.  Vigorous debate is a fundamental pillar of this country's system of government and it has been known to get out of hand -- and to get reined in, however venomously.  Bouncing the Representatives stymies any cooling-off or debate -- and the state will probably have to run special elections to replace them.‡  In the meantime, Tennessee's House GOP supermajority looks even more like a rubber stamp and less like a representative, deliberative body.  Debate is better than shouting through a portable PA system, but removal of dissenting voices is much worse.  It's like cutting off a person's head to cure a toothache: while they're not feeling any pain after the procedure, the wider effect is obviously undesirable.
* The successor to the old Daily Worker, apparently now not even a weekly.  My goodness, you don't think the USSR had been propping them up, do you?
† You're not supposed to feed them bread.  It's not good for them, and can leave them stuffed full of food that isn't very nourishing.  Any similarity between this and the previous footnote, well....
‡ Nope.  Not how that works in Tennessee.  County or city-level officials appoint replacements, who will serve until the next regular general election.  There's nothing to prevent the an ousted Representative from being appointed to or running foe election to the job again, either.

Sunday, April 02, 2023

Now You Know It's A Thing

      Human space exploration has reached the point of having its own archaeologists.  No, really; that flavor of archaeology that studies how people lived and worked through the artifacts they left behind, and where those artifacts are found in relation to one another and to structures and material resources is remarkably well-adapted to studying how people live and work in space.  (FWIW, NASA has a history of looking slightly side-eyed at the softer sciences like anthropology and psych.  Archaeology is "harder," studying and measuring things instead of feelings and attitudes.  This is easier to quantify -- and easier to explain to Congress at budget time.)

      We've got lots of first-person accounts, video recordings and after-mission reports, but they suffer from unconscious bias, subjectivity and that impulse that has you running the vacuum cleaner, hiding the scruffier dog toys and generally cleaning and tidying before visitors come over.  And one other problem: how much attention to you pay to where and how you store, say, your toothbrush or clean socks?  You made some decision about it, probably a long time ago, and you stick to it, but it doesn't really come up, even if someone asks how you begin your day.

      To get around this and have a more objective look at life aboard ISS, the researchers identified a number of one meter square areas that were frequently used.  They had the astronauts mark the corners with bits of tape and snap high-resolution digital photos at regular, frequent intervals.  It's an experiment that doesn't need any extra resources; there's tape and cameras (and a color-reference chart to stick in the corner of each shot) already on board and data storage space is effectively unlimited.

      There's a lot to be learned from such research -- things as basic as what foods or condiments are popular and which ones the astronauts are just smiling and pushing around on their plates, or how you set up to read a book while lunching when gravity won't hold things where you put them.  Velcro or bungee cords or double-sided tape?  A well-chewed blob of gum?  And so on, for a wide array of activities.

      And, in a sign of good things to come, there's now a consulting firm for just those kinds of issues, working with companies planning to set up commercial stations.  They're named for the ur-space station, Edward Everett Hale's Brick Moon, which first thrilled readers in 1870.

     (ETA: I have fixed a string of weird typos, caused by Holden the cat trying to chew on my right hand as I was typing.)