Monday, July 31, 2023


     Roseholme Cottage is an old house.  It's been upgraded through the years, but it was designed to have a roaring coal fire in the basement furnace all winter and have the windows opened at top and bottom in the hottest summer months.

     It wasn't designed for air-conditioning.  The system copes pretty well nevertheless, right up to about 95°F outdoors and then it...doesn't.  That's what happened Friday evening.  It crept up slowly; doing the dinner dishes, I realized the house was either unusually warm or I was.  (I'm old.  It happens.)  A look at the thermostat showed the house was four degrees above the set point and airflow from the registers felt reduced.  So I shut off the cooling and left the fan running while I checked the furnace for water leaks.  Nothing, but the box around the A-coil was colder than usual.  I changed the filter on general principles, but the old one didn't appear to be very dirty.  I had been self-indulgent with the setting, going as low as 73° in the morning, and that was clearly asking too much during extreme heat.

     A couple of hours with the fan on and indoor temperatures slowly rising got airflow back to normal, which meant the A-coil was clear of ice.  I ran the cooling for fifteen minutes and set the thermostat a degree above the resulting temperature: 82°.

     That may sound terrible, but it's not: as hot as it was outside, the system was running enough to bring the humidity way down and with the blower set to run all the time, the house was comfortable enough for me to sleep under the covers.

     Saturday was as least as hot as Friday.  I paid attention to the airflow and temperature, but it never froze up.  Sunday was better and by evening, I stared bringing the temperature down.  By bedtime, it was back at 75°, and I'll leave it there until the next hot spell.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Dashboard Icons Explained

      The picture was posted by a friend on Facebook.  The definitions are mine.
1. Motorcycles ran over snake three times, left.
2. Hang onto the dang steering wheel!
3. Motorcycles, snake, 3X, right.
4. Happy fountain ahead!
5. Giant crab has died (get serviced ASAP).
6. Look right here. Speed limit's still 55.
7. Pick a direction, dammit!
8. Built-in adobe bread oven has been left open.
9. Sea fronds!
10. You're all alone now.
11. You're doing too many donuts.
12. Giant crab (see 5) thinks it sees something ahead.
13. Key is lit up.
14. Do you even know what this key is for?
15. Key is hot! (Newer models: key has wi-fi.)
16. Car parked in A-frame garage, you stinkin' hippie.
17. Cowardly feet.
18. Happy feet, go, go, go!
19. Start up the car and drive!
20. Blue light special! Drive to K-mart asap.
21. You are *so* fat-bottomed!
22. Green Lantern summoned.
23. Green Lantern too busy fighting Sinestro.
24. Giant crab reports Green Lantern destroyed by Sinestro.
25. Keyboard-on-a-rope deployed.
26. Warning! Anal probe unlocked!
27. Car-propeller engaged.
28. Tear along dotted line.
29. Hot dog warmer on.
30. Are people on top of car strapped in?
31. Giant crab very wiggly because it has to pee.
32. Tesla sighted.
33. Giant crab has peed on your hippie A-frame garage. Didn't you see the #31 warning light?
34. Wrench left in car.
35. Spacecraft is tumbling.
36. Spacecraft pitch adjustment enabled.
37. Bug deflector adjustment turned on.
38. Convertible top open or closed? Pick one!
39. Warning, driver has large ball on lap. (Portmeirion only: Warning, Rover deployed.)
40. Giant crab is wiggly because it knows something important.
41. It's raining at the gas station! Better wait to refuel.
42. Giant ball on driver's lap is dead. (Portmeirion only: Rover deactivated.)
43. Don't forget about the wrench!
44. Spacecraft is green.
45. Matchbook found.
46. Forget about the burning gasoline and look at our ads: this car is sooo ecological!
47. It's all downhill from here.
48. Thermometer drowning.
49. Giant crab is wiggly because it skipped upper-body workout this morning.
50. Who put mustard in the hot dog warmer?
51. Bail out! Bail out!
52. Flappy hood deployed.
53. Rain stopped at the gas station but the pump is warming up.
54. I'm here to share the good news about our Lord and Savior, James Millen!
55. Look here! The speed limit is still 55 and if you don't slow down, I'm going to turn the car off.
56. MIRROR UNIVERSE WARNING! Check co-workers, friends and family for goatees.
57. Entering Amish zone, oil headlamps on.
58. Ghosts of run-over snakes (see #1 and 3) visible through windshield.
59. Flappy trunk lid deployed.
60. Roller-coaster track!
61. Car is crying.
62. Fat helicopter warning!
63. Ghosts of run-over snakes (see #1 and 3) visible through rear window.
64. Car has wiped away tears and is reasserting its own identity.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The Alien Bee

      Not only is there an Arctic Bee species living North of the Arctic Circle that frantically rebuilds and restocks their hives every short summer, the old queen finishes her year by raising a new princess and matching her with a suitor, sealing up the hive and dying, followed by the entire rest of the hive over the winter as they doze into hibernation and slowly starve in their sleep.

     In the spring, the new queen awakens alone in the hive surrounded by the bodies of the former brood, lays eggs for a new brood of workers, and hies herself off to gather nectar and pollen so she can raise them.  Only when those workers have matured can she put them to work and retire to her chamber to produce drones, a few fertile males and new princesses, of whom only one will inherit the hive.  The lucky excess may start hives of their own.

     Harsh stuff?  It gets worse.  There's a parasitic species of bee up there, too, who bide their time until the new workers are up to speed and then swoop in, kill the queen and enslave her workers -- and when the parasite queen comes out of hibernation in the spring, she lives off stored honey and goes shopping for a new hive to victimize.

     There's a story or two in all of that but it's staggeringly bleak, and we're perhaps fortunate that the Arctic Bee and its parasite appear to prefer mountaintops.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

On Writing

     Over on what used to be Twitter, I had a guy who kept asking me about the software I use to write.

     It's a stranger question than it might appear to be.  The software anyone uses to write is between their ears.

     Past that, the pencil, pen, typewriter, word-processing appliance, app or computer software you use to get words down is freakin' irrelevant.  There is no magic software that will make you a better writer.  None of it will organize your thoughts for you.  Some of it will check your spelling and grammar, but so will your grandmother.

     The most important thing about being a writer is to write.  If you don't do that, you aren't one.  And you'll have to do a lot of bad writing before you'll be any good at it -- just like any other skill.

     This comes up with firearms: people try with hardware to acquire skills that can only be gained through practice and good instruction.  If you want to be a good shot, you have to pay attention to instructors who know how it is done, and then you need to go to the range and shoot.  Will a fancy target pistol or laser or red dot sights make you a better shot?  Not if you haven't learned and applied the basics of grip, trigger control, lining up the sights and not flinching.  You're going to be lousy at it for a long time before you'll be any good.  Until you have the basic skills, that red dot sight won't help.  Once you have them, yes, better hardware helps -- but it can't carry you.  Start with a .22 pistol with iron sights, get training and shoot often.  Graduate to a .22 double-action revolver.  Master that, and you'll have a good start toward being able to keep shots in the 10-ring with anything.

     A dedicated text-entry appliance, like an old AlphaSmart or "the Writer," or any new Freewrite model or similar is a great tool for getting words into a file -- but it's just a glorified notepad.  A good word processor, like Pages, LibreOffice or Word, is wonderful for cutting and pasting text, but it can't help you with story structure.  It won't tell you what to cut and what to keep.  Scrivener is amazingly powerful for assembling a novel or other long-form work -- but it won't create narrative arcs for you or lead your story to a satisfying resolution.  And the more complex the tool, the longer the learning curve. 

     Start simple.  Learn the basics.  Practice, practice, practice.

     And remember: "Steal a person's wallet and they'll be poor until the next payday.  Encourage them to write for a living and they'll be poor all their life."  For every Stephen King, there are a few thousand would-be H. P. Lovecrafts, living in a garret and eating cold beans.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Island Of Misfit Toys

     I've been watching the milling throng of applicants for the job of 2024 Presidential candidate with mounting horror.

     Mr. Trump, the GOP frontrunner, well, quite aside from my opinion of him,* his past performance and likely future entanglements mean he's never again going to get the number of votes he did in 2016.  Granted, the people who like Donald Trump really, really like him and their enthusiasm has only grown with time, but the vast, muddy middle of voters, the people who were willing to give the business guy a try in 2016, had left him by 2020 and his indictments, messy spats and unhinged social media rants have done nothing to win them back.  Name-calling and fear-mongering are only the stick and the man's got no carrot left to dangle.

     Governor DeSantis, a distant second, has a people problem: he doesn't people well.  He whangs away with verve and aplomb at the same culture-war issues that thrill many Trump voters, but he cannot fire 'em up the way Mr. Trump can, so why should they look his way?  His campaign so far has revealed a taste for the high life that doesn't play well in middle America.  Worst of all, there's a strong case to be made that the man's a dead-eyed sadist.  It may or may not be true, but there's enough smoke there for opposing opinionators to set up the hue and cry.

     The rest of 'em might as well be Disney's seven dwarfs from Snow White and as campaign season lumbers on, Mr. Trump will undoubtedly give the more prominent ones similarly descriptive nicknames.  Lotsa luck, kids.

     Across the aisle, the Democrats appear to have distilled down their own Presidential-aspirant crazy into one man, the wild-eyed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  He has certainly shown that his party won't take a back seat to the Republicans when it comes to lunacy, and his blanket opposition to all vaccines, endorsements of fringe theories and bland denial of his well-documented antisemitism has established him as a personality beloved by conspiracy theorists and weirdos right across the political spectrum.  Electing him President would usher in a new Dark Ages, this one self-inflicted.  It's a good thing he doesn't stand a chance.

     If a rising tide raises all boats, a falling one will leave a few higher and drier than the others.  Amid the falling tide of Presidential aspirant connection to reality, Joe Biden stands out by virtue of not being batshit crazy.  The guy is what you get if you ask an AI art program to draw a moderate Democrat President, only older.  But he's sane, sober and has a clear understanding of how the Federal government works, which puts him head and shoulders above everyone else who's trying for the job.  Do I love him?  I do not.  But he clocks in on time and wears a suit, and nearly always picks up the right fork at State dinners.  His Administration has actually worked with a divided Congress to get things done -- not much, nothing very dramatic, but the stuff that had to get done, they've done.  Compared to the seething sea of nutjobs vying for the top spot, he's a giant, God help us.
* I think he's the Three Stooges version of authoritarian thuggery -- except the Stooges were only playacting that degree of stupidity and incompetence, and he's living it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

When Work And Hobby Collide

     I do electronics for a living.  It's also my hobby.  In recent decades, the hobby side has tended more and more to very old stuff, equipment using vacuum tubes and related technology, and includes vintage ham radio and broadcast equipment.  At my age, the stuff I collect and build now is pretty much the same as the ham gear I could afford when I was young and the audio and RF equipment that was in daily use at the small-time stations where I first worked.

     My present employer has a big, in-company event coming up, a confab for the top brass.  Who, where and about what doesn't matter.  What does matter is that it's large enough that they need a sound system, and my department was tasked with setting it up.  Amplifiers and speakers were easy; we already have them for gatherings.  They needed several microphones, and we already owned a nice modern interface widget that serves as microphone mixer, digital interface and just about anything else they might need or want.

     But we needed a microphone stand, the tall kind that sit on the floor, and it needed to be decent-looking.  I knew where one was, one of the tough and ubiquitous Atlas Sound MS-10 or 12s that can be found for as little as $50 new, so I retrieved it, gave it a quick clean-up, and put it in the room.

     At the last minute, we needed two more.  There wasn't time to order them, and the local suppliers of previous years are mostly gone.  I remembered another likely spot where more Atlas stands might be found.  There was only one there and the black base was dinged and rusty, the chrome-plated pillar dull.  Okay, fine; a quick clean, refinished the base with a super-large Sharpie, and polished the whole thing with Nevr-Dull.  (Including the base.  Sharpie ink transfers easily and is a bit too shiny unless you take steps to control it.)

     That left us needing one more.  I've been hoarding the location of a couple of vintage RCA 90-A floor stands.  My employer's are well beat-up, but it's a 1937 design by RCA's John Vassos, who had a real flair for Art Deco.  These are soft matte nickel and brushed aluminum, and feature a "magic clutch" adjustment: to raise or lower the stand, you give it a push or a pull, using a little more force than the weight of RCA's heaviest microphones: it goes where you move it and stays there!

     Pretty as the the design is, ours were dented and filthy, the threads for the mic clip tarnished.  I've been leaving them alone; they're worth quite a bit of money and I saw no reason to attract attention to them.  Now I needed one.  I picked the best of the two and spent a couple of hours with various cleaners, a paste of baking soda and water, fine emery cloth and water, and metal polish.  I chased the threads clean and made sure the magic clutch was working smoothly.  I got paid to do the kind of thing I do for fun: restoring the stand to respectable utility.  There's more that could be done; the brushed aluminum base is a cover over a cast-iron weight and it would benefit from some body work to get the dents out.  But it'll do.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Oh, Monday

     Spending all of last week at the main campus of my employer, surrounded by all my co-workers, reminded me how little I enjoy the close proximity of my fellow humans.

     My co-workers are, in the main, a skilled and talented group of people.  Most of them mean well and they're bright and well-informed.  But there are so very many of them, and so much going on, that it's like standing next to Niagara Falls and trying not to get soaked.  The thunder and rumble is overwhelming.  After awhile, I can barely hear myself think.  In this heat, in the middle of well-paved downtown Indianapolis, there's no going for a walk at lunch to get away from it, either.

     The flip side is that it pays far better than a person of my age and documentable education could hope for.  I smile and try to keep up, thinking of the wonder and delight of payday.

     Saddle up the old plow horse and hand me that broom handle.  There's a batch of windmills on the horizon and you know what?  They might be giants.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Another Week

     ...Another five days spent at work just trying to keep things from getting any worse.  Not making any real headway, but we spiffed-up the work areas so it will be all shiny for the big brass and managed to keep the place from going off a cliff at the same time, so I am calling it a win..

Friday, July 21, 2023


     There are few situations worse than discovering that taking things for granted has resulted in one of the bosses being, in effect, sent out to play in traffic without having been told how crosswalks work.

     That's not on him, it's on us.  Nobody clued him in.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Playing 3-D Chess Against Yourself And Losing

      Tam has the link.  Y'know, the stuff that works great in a Congressthing's home district may not have the same resonance on a national stage.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Not That Way!

     Note to self: do not rely on the semi-non-stick nature of an enameled cast iron pan, even when cooking something with a bit of grease to it.

     Oh, no disaster; I made a small batch of corned beef hash with panko breadcrumbs on the bottom, a ring-sliced Shishito pepper and an egg on top in a little skillet that's just the right size.  It cooked up fine, and I laid a plate over the top, flipped -- and it neatly separated, dropping the egg-covered top on the plate and leaving the crust and about half the hash in the pan.  A thin spatula pried that away cleanly, and there was breakfast, reassembled and ready.  But that moment of wondering oh-what-have-I-done is something to avoid.

     A learning experience.  The enamel is slightly rough, and it's possible one of the fancier (and 10X as costly!) Le Creuset types with shiny super-smooth enamel would release just fine.  I'm unlikely to find out -- I like to look at the stuff but I can't justify the cost for the kind of cooking I do.

Monday, July 17, 2023


     I didn't plan on it.  I'd been checking the weather, and by Friday, it appeared we'd have rain off and on Saturday but Sunday would be overcast and dry.

     So I planned to make the weekend roast --  beef, this week -- on Sunday.  I had a turnip, a potato, an onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms and shishito peppers.

     Saturday, we did get a little rain.  I improvised dinner: mild chili with a pound of thawed-out hamburger,* a yellow onion, some finely-chopped carrot and thin-sliced celery,† a can of fire-roasted chilis, a can of diced tomatoes, a can of Amy's chili, a small can of tomato sauce, plus a couple of snipped-up pickled Piparra peppers and, near the end, four fresh Shishito peppers, cut in sections.  Browned the meat with some chili powder, smoked paprika and a little Cajun seasoning, drained it, sauteed the onion, added the rest and seasoned with this and that, three bay leaves, a little garlic.  There was plenty left to freeze and have later in the week.

     Sunday was every bit as overcast and smoky as predicted (oh, Canada!).  The roast was good-sized, 3.77 pounds before cooking.  Around ten a.m., I set it to marinating in a mixture of mostly balsamic vinegar, with some cider vinegar, truffle salt, soy sauce, garlic and ginger.

     Around three, I set up the grill.  Still overcast and a little breezy, but that just helped get the coals going.  I set up for indirect heat, put the roast (topped with three bay leaves) in the pan with the lid on, set it on the grill and poured the marinade down the drain.  After a half-hour, I added the turnip (cut in 3/8"-thick slices, quartered), followed by carrots and potato cut to match the turnip.  Onions and celery went in almost an hour later, with one Piparra pepper for luck.  My, weren't the skies looking gray!

     I was out of room in the pan, so I sliced the remaining mushrooms and a few Shishito peppers, put them in my small grill pot with aluminum foil over it for a lid and parked it on a back corner of the grill.  As I did, we had a quick rain shower -- and a little sunshine to go along with it!  Wind was gusting a bit, too.  The cooking needed at least another hour.

     There was plenty to do in the kitchen, so I got to it.  The next time I looked outside, it was full-on raining.  I unrolled a length of aluminum foil, went out into the rain, and improvised a little arch over the top of the grill, held in place by being crimped under the lid.  I've done it before and it works, allowing smoke to exit the top vent but keeping rain out.

     Time passed.  The rain waxed, waned, and thunder began to grumble.  The wind picked up, and a rattle outside caught my attention: it was hailing!  Pebble-sized, along with heavier rain.  The foil rain guard ripped loose from the grill.  I went out and got it back into place, got soaked in the process and decided enough was enough.

     Back indoors, I got my oven mitts and the meat thermometer, put on my rain hat and told Tam to corral the cats.  Outside, hail was falling on me and rain soaked through my top as I tilted back the lid of the grill, lifted the lid of the roasting pan releasing a cloud of fragrant steam, and took its temperature: well above 180°F in the middle, plenty done.  I hustled the pan indoors.  My oven mitts aren't that great, so I have to move fast.  I went back for the small pan, mashed the foil flat on the grill top, and almost burned my hands carrying the pan in: it had been right over the coals and was even hotter than the roasting pan.

    With the grill as battened down as it was going to get -- there's a latch on the lid -- I got the roast out of the pan so it could sit a little before slicing, and took a few pictures

     It was good, possibly all the better for having finished cooking in what the weather service warned was a severe thunderstorm!

     My oven mitts are still damp as of this morning. 
* Of course you have a few one-pound packages of hamburger frozen, right?  I had restocked recently.  It's handy and versatile, and thaws well in the microwave.
† Purists will blanch, but it only adds to the flavor.  Besides, I had more than I was going to use for the roast and that stuff doesn't keep forever.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Five Of Them Are Clicking On The Link

     A sure sign that clickbait is becoming more and more difficult:
     And just think, you're probably watching yourself when you sleep....

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Shakshuka, Pomodoro, Huevos Rancheros....

     Okay, I admit it: the Mexican/Southwestern U.S. version is a little different.  The eggs are fried and get warm salsa on top, usually over a tortilla and often with beans.  The other two poach the eggs in the seasoned tomato sauce.  However you make it, eggs and tomatoes are natural partners.  Many versions add cheese atop the finished dish -- cotija, feta, Parmesan -- and some kind of bread to mop up the sauce.  You can find variations on this all around the world, everywhere people eat eggs and tomatoes, and they're all worth trying.

     However you make it, it works.  I have used leftover chili to poach eggs and it's a nice combination.  This morning, what I had was leftover tomatoes, some fat cherry tomatoes that were on the verge of going too soft.  I diced up ten of them while a couple of strips of bacon fried, set the bacon on paper toweling to drain and poured off the fat from the pan, then added the tomatoes to cook down with a little mixed Italian seasoning and extra basil.  When I was happy with them, I added an 8-ounce can of plain tomato sauce and a little smoked paprika.  It started to simmer as I crumbled the bacon strips into it.  I snipped in a Piparra pepper, too, which adds some heat.  YMMV!

     With the sauce bubbling gently, I broke a couple of eggs into it, slashed the yolks with toothpick (personal preference, many people like the yolks intact and liquid in the finished dish) and sprinkled paprika over it before putting a lid on.

     Cooking takes ten minutes or so; you want the whites of the eggs fairly firm but past that, it's a matter of taste.

     The end result is a treat, especially with the bacon harmonizing with the tomato and egg.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

"Man Will Conquer Space Soon"

     Speaking of Collier's, they did plenty of well-illustrated futurism for the home reader and one of the most famous was the multi-issue Man Will Conquer Space Soon! series and related articles.  The Houston section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics reprinted them, starting with their July/August 2012 newsletter, available in PDF form at this link.

     These were expanded into a series of profusely-illustrated large-format books and inspired three Walt Disney programs, and can be thought of as ancestors to the Apollo program, the Space Shuttle and SpaceX's "Starship" rocket.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Slow-Roasted Pork

     I almost titled this "Baked Boston Butt," but I didn't want to freak out the robots.  Last week, I ordered a replacement for the inexpensive oval enamelware roasting pan I ruined last year when I let the turducken go a little too long.  The meal was fine but there was a thick layer of baked-on stuff in the bottom of the pan and I admit it, I gave up: after twenty-four hours of intermittent soaking and scraping, the prospect of laboriously removing the yeech, layer by layer, when I could be doing other and more interesting things, was too off-putting.  I threw it away.

     Shopping for replacements, considering various options, eventually prompted the software at a big online retailer to offer me an exact replacement at a few dollars off.  The pan arrived in the middle of a streak of hot weather and our neighborhood grocer had Boston Butt at a good price.

     Yes, the name's amusing, isn't it?  It's an inexpensive pork roast, shaped and tied with one of those stretchy meat nets.  I got one that was about three pounds, ten ounces and set it to marinate the night before.  I used equal parts apple cider and balsamic vinegar, plus a good slug of soy sauce, garlic powder and powdered ginger, just bagged up the whole thing in a gallon freezer bag with enough to cover the meat and let it soak.

     The next day, I build a fire in the grill, using hardwood kindling and lump charcoal, with some balled-up strips of newspaper to start it.  You want a good bed of coals and plenty of them.  There's a trick to this; I'll get to that later.  I use a cheap grill and high-quality charcoal.  You can use a fancier grill if you like but don't make up for it by using cheap charcoal briquettes, and start it without accelerant.

     I drained the marinade and improvised a rack in the bottom of the pan with a couple of stainless-steel forks.  You get better results if you can elevate the meat a little -- my turducken disaster was partially caused by not doing that.  I set the roast in place and snipped away the net.  You don't have to do that, but the net contributes nothing to the taste and is more difficult to remove after cooking.  Last thing on is the lid of the pan -- it's a good seal but not airtight; a little smoke will seep in.

     Now the secret: slow roasting requires indirect heat.  I used a spare stick of kindling to push the coals to the sides of the grill's firebox, leaving a gap in the middle a little wider than the roasting pan.  Then I set the actual grill surface in place, put the pan over the gap and closed the lid.  With no coals right under the pan, it heats evenly.  I count on an hour per pound, so I set a timer ("Alexa! Three hours and forty minutes." "TIMER SETTHREE HOURS AND FOURTEEN MINUTES." "...") and set additional ones every hour to keep track.

     I peeled a medium-sized turnip and an apple, cut them in one-inch chunks, sprinkled a little smoked paprika and herb mixture on them, and added them to the pan after it had been going about a half-hour.  This is also a chance to center up the roast and ensure it is surrounded with vegetables.  I also laid a couple of pickled Piparra peppers on top of the roast, with the tops removed.  I took my time cleaning and cutting up a good-sided fennel bulb, a couple of big radishes cut in thirds and a large baking potato in one-inch chunks, adding them a little more than an hour in and following with a large white onion, cut into eight wedges.  By then, there was plenty of liquid in the pan and things were looking nice, the meat golden-brown and smelling wonderful.

     At the three-hour mark, I tried the meat thermometer: over 200°F, anywhere I tried.  Pork's done at 170°F, so it was ready.

     Brought the pan in, closed up the grill and set up the cutting board as the pan cooled a little.  When I lifted out the roast, it began to fall apart.  That's a good sign!

     The onion, fennel bulb and radish were translucent; the potato had picked up a little color, the turnip even more, and the apple sections were cooked to mush -- and it was delicious.  The vegetables were especially good; I hadn't treated radishes like a regular root vegetable before, but now I wish I had done so sooner -- the flavor of spicy and complex, and went well with the rest of the dish.

     One Boston Butt
     One apple, peeled and cut into chunks, whatever kind you like.  I used a Cosmic Crisp.
     One medium turnip, peeled, etc.
     Two pickled peppers (optional) for atop the roast.
     One fennel bulb, washed and cut into pieces.  I only used the bulb and a few fronds; the stems are woody.
     Two or three fat radishes, tops and bottoms removed, cut into chunks.
     One large baking potato, washed and cut into chunks.  I don't peel them unless they're greening; there's a lot of flavor in the skin and supposedly nutrition, too.  This is a matter of personal taste.
     One large onion, cut into eight wedges.
     Cook one hour per pound, checking with meat thermometer.
     Marinate pork overnight in a 50/50 mixture of cider and balsamic vinegar with soy sauce, ginger and garlic, enough to cover the meat.  Discard marinade.

Saturday, July 08, 2023

World War Three

     The Third World War.*  It's a buzzphrase, especially popular just now with the farther fringes of the Right and Left, but -- let's face it -- becoming ever more mainstream.

     We've certainly got the classic ingredients for the early stage: an expansionist power moving to take territory by force of arms, a coalition united in opposition but hesitant to engage directly, while at least one small nation is being hacked to bits.  The West may yet be drawn into active conflict.

     This is far from the first time such a prospect has loomed.  It's not even the first time an emboldened Russia has looked westward; but Stalin had other problems, and we ended up with a Cold War instead of a hot one.

     But in 1951, the ambitious editors of Collier's magazine wondered what it would look like if the world again fell into war [PDF] and imagined a situation in which the Soviet Union might try to launch a short, victorious war against a smaller and uncooperating nation.  They chose Tito's Yugoslavia as the flash point, and posited an unsuccessful assassination attempt followed by land invasion.

     Tito, surviving, calls on the UN for help and the NATO responds; after a string of initial successes, the invasion by the USSR (and satellites) grinds to a halt.

     To that point, it sounds familiar, doesn't it?  In Collier's projection -- told as if looking backwards from 1960, five years after the war had drawn to a close, leaving national capitols in ruins -- the UN gives the USSR an ultimatum, which is ignored; the Soviet invasion into Europe falters under a campaign of conventional and fission bombing that escalates after the USSR hits London, then cities and war-production sites in the continental U.S.  The near-destruction of Washington D. C. is followed by a daring raid on Moscow, as the tide of the war turns--

     The magazine's collection of writers, everyone from reporters and columnists to politicians, fiction writers and labor leaders, were envisioning global war at a time before fusion bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles, before "one missile, one city," before Nuclear Winter.  Their WW III included only a limited nuclear exchange, horrific though it is.  Bombs grew more quickly than they imagined.

     The issue was praised as a solemn warning and condemned as little more than nihilistic disaster-porn.  It's worth taking a look at, to see how much -- and how little -- has changed.

     Ambitious autocrats have always been a threat to peace, to the ordinary lives of ordinary people.  And it is the ordinary people who bear the cost of bringing aggressive powers to heel.  History is too often the story of "great men," larger-than life heroes and villains, but the real story is the ruin the worst of men bring about and the effort it takes to stop them, by everyone from the noblest philosopher and most clever strategist to the simplest foot soldier and Home Front worker.

     Like it or not, and I don't, we're in it again.  Maybe everything will work out, Russia will grind to a halt in the snow and mud, and the war will end at the negotiating table sooner rather than later.  A look at history -- or a back issue of Collier's -- suggests otherwise.
* Some historians dispute the count, pointing out the global scope of the Seven Year's War in the 18th Century and the Napoleonic Wars of the 19th, along with others.  The numbers of fallen in those wars are not changed by the designation, nor any borders changed, and about the only conclusion is that as a species, our wars are as wide-ranging as our means of travel allow.

Friday, July 07, 2023

Oops, Ouch, Whoa: Tools For Discussion

     Between outrage-mining, hypersensitivity, "f--k your feelings," trigger warnings and on and on, back and forth, a lot of conversations between people with different opinions and worldviews have become difficult if not impossible.

     It's easier to sling bumper-sticker slogans at one another, get angry, decide the other person is simply impossible and stomp off, mutually assured that you are surrounded by hostile jerks in thrall to political lunacy.

     But what happens when you have got to work something out?  Is there some way to acknowledge when you realize you might have gone a bit too far, or when your toes have been stepped on, or things have taken a turn for the wait-what-even-happened?

     There can be.  Just a set of signals, terms mutually agreed on not to shut discussion down or score points but to use to keep the talk going: "Oops," if you think you have pushed too hard, "Ouch," when something zinged and needs to be talked about, "Whoa," when you're losing track and need further explanation.

     People sometimes get askew without wanting to, and it's very easy to escalate that into personal or political disagreement instead of looking for a common understanding (which may or may not lead to agreement).  Or, as one article put it, "The point of this tool is to signal a clear set of values: Mistakes are normal, harm can be mended, it’s okay to not know something, and accountability is a shared responsibility."  The purpose isn't browbeating, silencing or enforcing a particular philosophy, it's sorting out the underlying reality from the posturing everyone does.

     I stumbled over this while reading up about writer's workshops, which often use a particular set of rules to keep things moving, rules which can at times encourage a kind of flashy-clever criticism at the expense of useful feedback.  But it is a technique that has wider applicability when you need to get something done.

Thursday, July 06, 2023

Said This Morning

     "No, cat!  Don't eat random things you find on the floor!  Ants and spiders are fair game, as long as you bear in mind that spiders are also working members of the crew and let a few survive to do their jobs."

     I found a fly in the house last night, which worries me.  Not for the flies as pests -- a few do sneak in from time to time and we swat 'em with no problem.  A summertime fly slows right down at 75 degrees.  Nope, it's the ones who pass human notice that worry me: the cats will create havoc hunting down the winged treat!

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Holiday Dinner

     Yesterday, Tam and I let the neighbors set off fireworks -- a near-continuous pop and bang by 9:30 at night, with a multicolored flicker all around -- and had a cookout.  (The cats aren't much bothered by the sound, muffled by a little distance and the fence and walls of the house.)

     The grocer had some nice "prime choice" (hand-selected USDA Choice) New York Strip steaks. A sprinkle of coarse kosher salt, freshly-ground black pepper, garlic powder and truffle zest well before cooking time set them up to do their best on the grill over lump hardwood charcoal.

     It's so hot that a heavy meal was out of the question.  I made corn on the cob (mostly in water, then wrapped in foil and left to roast on the outside edges of the grill while the steaks cooked) and some microwave, fresh-cut zucchini in a buttery sauce, and that was plenty.

     But what's Independence Day without apple pie and ice cream?  Better yet, the grocer was out of vanilla -- but they had honey ice cream, which is vanilla with the bee's work replacing the sugar.  A scoop of that on a nice slice of warmed-up bakery pie is as fine and easy a treat as anyone could want.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Independence Day

     Today is a day to...what?  Wave the flag, set off fireworks, recite Francis Bellamy's Pledge, sing the national anthem and chant "USA... USA... USA..?"

     Yes, that's some of it.

     The men who signed their name to that document on 2 July, 1776* were thinking about more than noise and thunder (for all some of them did consider just that†).  They had in mind an idea, a wild and dangerous notion that ordinary citizens were fit to manage their own affairs and, in combination, to manage their government.  What they had put together by 1776 was ramshackle, improvised, suited well enough to the purpose of breaking away from the mother country but only barely.  The other thing they had was confidence they -- and their successors -- could continue their Great Experiment in self-government.

     The were loyal to an idea.  Not to a man, or a flag or a symbol; not to any one church, nor to any particular faction or party.  Even so apparently homogeneous a group as the signers of the Declaration of Independence were wildly assorted, and the new country they proposed to establish was even more so.

     So how will you celebrate this day?  How will you participate in America's Great Experiment?  By all means, have parades, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations -- but take a little time to read through the Bill of Rights.  Take a little time with the Constitution.  Take a step back from partisan politics and the game of outrage and consider these words:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...."

     There's nothing in there about kicking around the powerless using government as a bludgeon, nor anything about putting a thumb to the scales to uplift or bring down.  The Declaration of Independence is not a part of our foundational law, but the idea that everyone has the same basic, inherent rights is baked right into the bricks of our national foundation, however many times we have fallen short of that ideal and struggled to catch up.

     Set off fireworks.  Celebrate  Don't be an asshole -- and mind you're not voting for them, either.
* It takes time to get anything printed and distributed; in 1776, two days was staggeringly quick.
† "...[I]t will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more." John Adams, writing to his wife Abigail about July Second.

Monday, July 03, 2023

Student Debt

     I wasn't real happy about the Feds using my tax money to pay off someone else's student debt.

     On the other hand, when the government makes student loan money readily available and makes student loan debt undischargable in bankruptcy, not expecting massive inflation in the price of a college education verges on insanity.  The cost went from something you could save up for and cover with part-time work (at least at non-elite schools) in my grandparents time* to a hard-but-attainable price when my siblings got their degrees in the 1970s and 80s -- and has zoomed up since, at an exponentially greater rate than inflation.  That's a lousy deal, and as badly as we need plumbers and air-conditioning techs, when you need a physicist, biologist or, yes, a philosopher instead, there is no alternative means of getting 'em.  They've got to be college-educated and it's probably better if they're not laboring under heavy debt, smuggling fusion theory, designer marmosets or Platonic discourse under the table to make ends meet.

     But I type all that without the slightest idea how to fix it.  Uncle Sam picking up the well-padded tab only rewards bad behavior at public expense, and is one of those things that becomes a handy campaign issue pro and con instead of a lasting solution.
* Two BAs and an MA between them and almost a PhD, but apparently his advisor hated my maternal grandfather's PhD thesis and no one knows why, not even the aunt who retyped portions of it for him in the late 1930s but could never remember it in detail.

Saturday, July 01, 2023

When Did We Forget?

     Without expressing much of an opinion either way on the controversial subject, I will note the recent U. S. Supreme Court decision about if a website designer offering services to the general public ought or ought not be obliged to design a site for a ceremony (in the hypothetical put before the Court, a same-sex wedding) repugnant to their religious beliefs has produced a remarkable phenomenon on many news and opinion sites all across the political spectrum: they refer to "Christians" and "LGBT people" as if these were two separate and opposed groups.

     I've got news for 'em: the two groupings are highly mingled with one another.  Many LGBT people are Christians and many Christian churches are accepting of them, from the rainbow-centric (and yet often fundamentalist-leaning) Metropolitan Community Church to denominations as familiar as the Quakers and the largest branch of the Presbyterian Church.  Others take a nuanced approach, welcoming LGBT worshipers but limiting ordination to heterosexuals or to straight men.

     You can certainly find lots of Christian sects that condemn same-sex marriage (etc.) and I would be surprised if the demographics for atheist, agnostic and non-Christian believers in the U.S. were significantly different between LGBT citizens and the straight population.  But stop pretending that these are two teams with zero common ground or overlap; that misrepresents the reality and drastically understates the complexity.

     I wish the Court had drawn a clearer line between a "work for hire" and an "independent artistic creation." This is a much simpler criteria -- if I'm writing Tom Swift books for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, then they own the result and I've got to write to their outline; if I'm writing my own novel on my own time about a teenaged inventor, I own it and I can write (or omit) any darned thing I like.  But the Court does not appear to have done so and that's how it is.  Lower courts will thread the needle based on their reading of the decision and we'll find out how widely or narrowly they read it.  On such fraught issues, judicial inclinations loom large and I won't be surprised if variations on the theme come before the Supreme Court again.

     When did we forget that freedom of religion was supposed to be a unifying principle and not a dividing one?  Religious beliefs in this country should not be a hammer or a wedge.  The Founders and Framers had mixed opinions about the relations between Church and State -- but the point where the two intersect was supposed to be the individual conscience, not the courtroom or legislature.