Saturday, September 30, 2023

Kessler Who?

     A commenter suggested perhaps the lovely wide street that goes from near Fort Harrison State Park to a little northeast of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be called "Kestrel" Boulevard -- one of the raptors I've never seen around here.

     But it's named after a famous guy, even if you haven't heard of him: landscape architect George Kessler, father of parks, parkways, bridges and city beautification.  Starting around the turn of the last century, many cities "let George do it,"* and in Indianapolis, he was the father of the park and boulevard system that ornaments the city to this day.  It even carries parts of our network of bicycle paths, especially along Fall Creek Parkway.  Kessler was working on the boulevard that bears his name when he died, 20 March 1923.

     So we won't be renaming it any time soon.
* That innocent-sounding phrase carries its own history: the "George" is not Kessler but Pullman -- after whom every single Pullman railroad porter was addressed as "George," working days-long shifts on constant call and catching naps as they could.  They eased many a traveler's trip, anonymous under the founder's first name. 

Friday, September 29, 2023

Late Night Serenade

     I woke up around 2:30 this morning and heard the most remarkable series of sounds, a pattern of seven or eight calls, each with the same rhythm, over and over, with a lengthy pause between each repetition.

     It was almost certainly a Great Horned Owl or a Barred Owl.  Broad Ripple is home to many raptors, including a large family of (most likely) hawks around the intersection of College and Kessler Avenues, who can often be seen spiraling around in afternoons and evenings.  We've got owls nearby; the warbles and vocalizations of little screech owls occasionally adorn evenings. especially from Spring through Fall, and I've seen larger owls in the evening, including a family grouping that appeared to be using our alley to flight-train a youngster.  But I don't recall ever waking up to those owl calls before last night.

     The sound was remarkable, a harbinger of the changing season, slightly alarming at first, a lovely addition to the tapestry of the night.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

"Don't Know Much About History..."

     The United States Senate is supposed to be the "senior body," the place where wise legislators serving long terms weigh new laws and debate their decisions carefully, with due attention to history, science and culture.

     When a Senator votes, it's a well-considered choice -- or so a dozen years of Social Studies, U. S. History and U. S. Government classes led me to believe.  When the Senate voted to confirm General Charles Q. Brown, a former fighter pilot, as the new Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Senator Thomas H. "Tommy" Tuberville of Alabama voted Nay.

     Ah, but he's a U.S. Senator; surely his reasoning is sound even if one might disagree with his conclusion, right?

     Judge for yourself.  The senior Senator was concerned the USAF fighter pilot might be too "woke," telling an interviewer, "Our military is not an equal opportunity employer, it is a military that is here to protect American citizens."  You can look up the video for yourself, but the quote is not out of context.

     And it's a hundred percent wrong.  Ever since 1948, when President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, it has been explicit U. S. policy "...that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin."

     The military is, in plain fact, an equal opportunity employer.  They don't promise equality of outcome; not everyone makes it through Basic Training and of the ones who do, some will never qualify for anything especially challenging.  But if you've got the ability, Uncle Sam doesn't care about your hue, what (if any) deities you worship or where you came from.  These days, he doesn't even care who you sleep with or if you're a boy, a girl or a mystery.  The military cares about what you can do.  That's not "wokeism;" it's kind of harsh -- service in the toughest, most elite units is based on reality-tested individual accomplishment, both alone and as part of a team.  Them as can't, wash out, period.  That's not going to change.

     The Senator, I'm not so sure what he cares about.  Looking stuff up doesn't appear to be on his list.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Kaleidoscope Of Junk

     Contemporary politics continues to boggle me.  Oh, the process has never not been tawdry, acrimonious and tarnished all the way to the highest office, starting with the bitter Adams - Jefferson feud and continuing to the present day.  It's been more crooked in the past but I'm not sure it has ever been quite as trashy and nonsense-ridden as it has become.

     If "Politics is show business for ugly people," it has become even uglier of late, and the verbal flimflam is astonishing.  You need a good set of tools to dig through the muck -- Carl Sagan's Baloney Detector is handy, as is an understanding of "cold reading" (article also covers "warm" and "hot reading") and knowledge of basic cons.

     All politicians are trying to sell you a bill of goods.  Figure out what they're selling, how the pitch works -- and if the goods offered are worth the price, or even deliverable.  We've been sold a war on poverty, a war on drugs, a war on the border and a war on the sources of terrorism, but in every case, the conditions for victory are unclear, the price is higher than advertised and the sincerity of the pitchman is questionable.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Big Game Hunter

     Headed from the house to the garage the other day, I glanced over at the garlic chives.  They grow in a raised bed in front of the garage.  I have let that garden bed go wild the past several years.  The garlic chives are my source of tasty onion flowers and most of them are in bloom.

     The flowers are attractive to local bees,* most of which are the great big, fuzzy native bumblebees, the size of your thumb. A few of them were browsing.  One of the chives had a weird extra stalk, jutting down a short way at an angle from under the flower.  I stepped closer and saw the head and cocked forelegs: a small to medium praying mantis, perfectly color-matched and as still as a stick.  I waved a finger past and it turned its head to track my movement, decided I wasn't worth bothering about and resumed its motionless pose.

     I think it was hunting for a bumblebee.  In terms of relative size, the big bees weren't quite as large compared to the mantis as a rhinoceros would be to a person; more along the lines of a bison or Cape buffalo.  On the other hand, the mantis is only armed with its rapid-fire, spiny arms and powerful jaws.

     I wished it luck and went on my way.  That's one ambitious insect.
* If I was seeing more honeybees, I might feel impelled to apologize to the amateur apiarist a couple blocks over.  But there are never more than one or two at most and there plenty of sweet flowers much closer to the hive.  I wonder if anyone's making an onion-honey barbecue glaze?

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Threat Spectrum

      I'm supposed to be worried about Artificial Intelligence destroying us all, but the fact is our Natural Stupidity is more than adequate for the job.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

6400 Words Into A 5000-Word Story

     Working on a story of a themed anthology and came up with one I really liked.  But by the time the protagonist had been confronted by the baddies, triumphed thanks to a little lateral thinking and was on a bus out of town, it was 6400 words long.

     The anthology has a hard limit: 5000 words, no more.  Run that thing back through the typewriter!

     The first pass tightened up the language, removed a few mistakes and got it down to just under 5900 words  Now I've got to start looking at trimming whole scenes.

     Gonna hold on to the solid-bronze Harpies until the very last second, though.

Monday, September 18, 2023

"Is There A Frustrated Voter In The Audience...?"

     Tamara considers it both a duty and a hobby activity to watch the Sunday morning political pundit and interview shows, so of course she watched Kristen Welker's inaugural turn hosting NBC's Meet The Press.

     She interviewed former President Donald Trump.  Lots of people have mentioned his "firehose" approach to interviews and speeches but what struck me was that his discursive, groping style is a form of "cold-reading."  I have never made any secret about how annoying I find it; this sidling up to definite statements, always throwing out a range of numbers instead of being specific and general fuzziness around the edges is characteristic of every bad General Manager I have worked for, all of them with a Sales background.

     Just like Mr. Trump, they'd look you right in the eye while they sprayed you with their firehose of notions -- watching intently for your reaction, punching buttons until something lit up.  They'd latch onto it if it was something they wanted, or downplay it if they didn't, and turn the firehose back on.

     It's difficult to counter, hard to steer in a one-on-one talk, and obnoxiously manipulative.  Cold-reading works best if the person doing it is heartlessly analytical, while presenting themselves as empathetic.  It's the one of the best tools in the skill set of a con man.

     In my opinion, Mr. Trump's either going to ruin the Republicans or ruin the country.  Since I value having at least two fairly mature, reasonably sane political parties and I value my country even more. I don't see anything especially good ahead.  My only question is, will the trouble be short-term or long-term?

     The Meet The Press interview didn't provide an answer for that 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

A Few Thoughts

     Impeachment is supposed to be difficult.  I have seen a lot of hand-wringing over the results of the impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.  While I'm not a big fan of the guy and I think the evidence made him look pretty bad, the decision was up to the state Senate.  He's still facing Federal charges and how that might go, no one knows.

     When an elected official is impeached, that's supposed to be a big deal.  It's supposed to be the result of dire misbehavior.  And even then, it might not result in removal from office.  It's not a casual, "Oh, hey, it's a slow day and a lot of us Elected Representatives dislike That Guy.  Let's impeach him!"  Or at least that wasn't the original intent.  The judicial systems in the U.S. are supposed to err in the direction of not punishing the innocent even if the occasional malefactor slips through, rather than the other way around.  Don't like it?  In the case of elected officials, there's a way to fix it: vote better ones in.  Don't expect perfection.


     Slow-roasted pork is a treat.  I marinated a pork roast in balsamic and cider vinegar with a squirt of lime, plus plenty of soy  sauce, garlic and ginger along with a bit of Worcestershire sauce, then gave it four hours over indirect heat in a covered pan on the grill, adding apple, potato, celery, carrots, onion and two kinds of mild peppers as it cooked.  It was wonderful.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Gresham's Law Comes To Congress

     "Bad money drives out good," and cynical, thuggish and/or pandering elected representatives drive out the ones with a speck of backbone.

     Mitt Romney was one of the few with a spine, or at least cartilage.  He's decided he won't run again.  An upcoming biography shares the details of his Senate peers, fellow Republicans, who privately expressed their concerns about Donald Trump, Trumpism as a movement and related topics -- and then went on TV or the Senate floor and enthusiastically supported the latest whim.  Senators with degrees from Harvard and Yale who never swung a hammer or washed a single dish, expressing contempt for "elite rulers" and professing their solidarity with the working man in public while privately living the high life on the public's dime, fretful of growing authoritarianism but unwilling to risk their cushy spot by opposing it.

     It sounds like a working environment that would test the steeliest of wills.  And Senator Romney is only the latest in a long list of senior Republicans -- and a few Democrats - who have stepped away since 2016.

     We're losing statespeople.  We're gaining operators, punks, thugs and mooks.

     And a large segment of the public loves being buffaloed, cheering for a chance to hit back at whatever target fits the feelings of the moment.  How large?  Guess we'll find out, by and by.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

When Memory Becomes History

     Yesterday was 11 September.  I didn't do a black-bordered retrospective, and it was deliberate.

     The terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001 were tragic and they were a shocking wake-up call: there really were people and groups out there who loathed the United States, and they were able to do something about it.  Despite the February 1993 bombing attack on those very buildings, Americans were horrified -- in large part because we saw much of the attack on live TV, or recordings that same day.

     It was the first air attack against the United Sates since World War Two.  It was the first one people saw on TV as it happened.  Of course it had an enormous impact.

     It was 22 years ago.  It was two U.S.-led wars ago.  There's every reason for New York City to still solemnly recognize the day, just as Greater Honolulu marks the attack on Perl Harbor.  There's every reason for mass media to bear recurring witness to the terrible events.  But it's been 22 years.  It belongs in history books far more than headlines and there's no reason for every blog to don a hair shirt and bewail the horror.  We went after the man behind the attacks and we got him.  We tried to go after the ideology behind the attacks, too -- but that's a soft and elusive target.  If the world's a little safer from Islamic-based terrorism at present, having a hot war raging in Europe has nearly as much to do with it as the GWOT did.  The wheel keeps turning.

     Don't forget.  But don't live locked inside your memories, either. 

     One compilation lists over 200 terroristic attacks on the U.S., on (and sometimes by) citizens and residents.  There are terrible people in the world, terrible organizations, horrific ideas.  Be horrified by their acts; be angry, be disgusted -- and keep moving.  Triumph comes not just by catching the perpetrators but in maintaining the values and actions of civilization. 

Monday, September 11, 2023

I Didn't See It Coming

      I'm a Boomer.  I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boom, and went to big schools with plenty of space, following along in the footsteps of larger, noisier predecessors.  Parents had fought in World War Two, or been old enough to understand the war news and grasp that their turn might come soon.

     Fascism was defeated, authoritarianism was in ill repute and even our former wartime ally was quickly regarded with horror: fuzzy old Uncle Joe Stalin turned out to be far worse than prewar rumor had hinted and his successors maintained dictatorial control.

     "Strongman" rulers were considered an aberration and if the United States propped up the occasional Third World dictator, why, we were just keeping the Reds out and trying to give democracy a chance to flower, or at least that was the word in Social Studies class.  (It turned out the CIA had different plans, but they weren't sharing them with American schoolkids.)

     At home, when LBJ and Dick Nixon got high-handed, they faced mockery and pushback. I don't know if I can communicate the distaste young Democrats had for President Johnson, or the embarrassment of Republicans even as they complained the Press was too harsh on President Nixon, and it was a lot worse across party lines.

     So where did it come from, this recent enthusiasm for Viktor Orban, for Vladimir Putin, for the supercharged, turned-up-to-11 and Constitutionally illiterate "Unitary Executive" theories of Donald Trump and his imitators?  Where did the size and fervor of political rally attendees become a measure of a candidate's legitimacy?

     It's a mystery to me.  I read articles by various experts and pundits, and for all their notions, it appears to be a mystery to them, too.

     Meanwhile, we've got a Republican mayoral candidate in  Indianapolis who's making the kinds of promises to be a "strong leader" that wouldn't be too far out of place in 1920s-30s Europe.  (And the same formerly NRA A-rated politician is pushing local bans on "assault weapons," magazines holding more than ten rounds and an end to permitless carry:* if you're after someone to run with the hares while hunting with the hounds, look no further than aspirants to the office of big-city mayor,  I guess they think voters of different leanings will hear only what they want, and never talk politics with their neighbors?)

     One of my first paying jobs was videotaping City Council and School Board meetings for a county-seat cable TV channel.  All politicians are like the ones I met back then: Just Some Guy or Gal, doing a messy job however well or poorly, some of them with ambitions for bigger and worse jobs.  They all do better work if they know they're being watched.  If you're expecting any of them to be Jesus on horseback, you're deluding yourself and the politicians are happy to let you.
* This is almost certainly cynical posturing, since Indiana's state-level preemption of firearms laws means all such proposals are off the local menu.

Friday, September 08, 2023

When Hominids Collide

     Currently on social media, there's an image circulating of a Neanderthal woman who bears a striking resemblance to a serving U. S. Congresswoman.  It is supposedly a detail from a display in a European museum as shown in a 1990s book, and it's presented as a ha-ha, lookie here gotcha.

     The real "gotcha" is not how much J. Random Reconstructed Neanderthal looks like a public figure, but how much we all do.  As the human genome is unravelled and compared, it has become increasingly obvious that when the big-headed bipeds in our direct ancestral line met other hominid species and pondered "Kiss, marry, kill?" they concluded, "All of the above."

     You're part Neanderthal, just like members of Congress.  We've all likely got a touch of Denisovan.  Modern humans, it turns out, are not "pure" anything.

     And our shortcomings and achievements are not even slightly determined by how much we resemble primitive troglodytes.  We do that stuff all by ourselves, on our own merits, ambitions and weaknesses.  You can't tell a mass murderer from a chicken farmer by a look at their face.  They might even both be the same person.

Thursday, September 07, 2023


     Exactly how un-dialed-in does an ad agency have to be in order to feature a happy, smiling man buying a nearly all-white bicycle in a commercial for some kind of financial services?

     Out here in the real world, those things serve as a reminder to be aware along with their memorial function.  I guess it all blurs together for some folks.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Party! Party!

     Politics in the United States is strongly polarized and while that's nothing new, it may come as a surprise to some readers that the issues around which we polarized have changed many times.

     The pernicious nonsense of "two movies, one screen" conceals more than it reveals -- and privileges subjective reaction over objective reality.  Elected representative bodies are intended as a hedge against precisely that, chambers where opposing or diverging opinions must seek common ground and compromise.  While they can often become a platform for grandiose posturing, the real work comes in debate and discussion.  

     The United States is on our sixth or seventh party system, depending on how you parse them, and there is nothing in our history to suggest that either one of the two major parties will endure.   Parties have faded away and been replaced several times, and reinvented themselves under the old name at least as often.

     The run-up to the 2024 elections promises to be historic, and events may result in another major realignment.  There's going to be a lot of spin and angst, a lot of effort to hang meaning on actions and events that can speak for themselves -- if we will make the effort to peer past the partisan lenses.  It's easy to get people riled; it's difficult to get them to turn to Page 10 to read the dull details.  And it's almost impossible to convey the details in a sound bite or a minute-long TV piece.  The more salacious or lurid a thing is, the more likely someone's trying to get you to react emotionally.  Look for direct quotes.  Look for solid evidence.  Did that public figure say or do the thing they're accused of doing?

     I've been deeply disappointed by Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter.  He hasn't done much for free speech, despite bold talk early on.  He's shown himself to be vain and shallow, a man whose political opinions are about as worthless as those of Henry Ford.  Ford did the most good when he shut up and focused on building affordable cars and the vehicles that helped win WW II; Musk would do well to emulate him by concentrating on rockets and global Internet access.

     Buckle up.  It's going to get a lot weirder before it gets any better.  If it ever does.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Root & Bone

     Root & Bone.  It's a restaurant.  Tam and I rode our bicycles there for lunch day before yesterday, and let me tell you--

     It's amazing.  We chose from their "small plates" menu and it was plenty.  I had their fried green tomato BLT, which runs the traditional ingredients through a kaleidoscope to produce a nice-sized breaded, fried, pickled green tomato topped with a dollop of pimento cheese (instead of mayo). a wonderful section of smoked pork belly, a little tomato jam (like ketchup only much, much better) and some nice fresh greens.  Three of those to a plate makes most of a meal.
     I had fries as well and they were outstanding.

     Tamara opted for carpaccio and I'll let her picture (and post) stand for itself.
Tamara Keel photo
Tamara Keel photo
     For dessert, we pedaled a half-mile or so to Half Liter and enjoyed their amazing bread pudding!  Even splitting an order, we'll need to do some more bike riding to balance that out.
Tamara Keel photo

Friday, September 01, 2023

This And That

     We're in the midst of tomato season here at Roseholme Cottage, and I can either pick the ripe ones every day or resign myself to having to pitch a few that have gone too long.  The tiny cherry tomatoes do best and they go from ripe to split in a day or less.  Not much bigger than marbles, they're a little more work to prepare than full-size tomatoes, but they're full of flavor and the plants are nearly as hardy as weeds.  (I'm enjoying some in an omelette with bacon, cheese and pickled okra right now.)
     Wouldn't it be interesting if the Georgia criminal trial of Donald Trump and associates resulted in improvements in conditions at the (apparently pretty awful) Fulton County Jail?  It turns out the same folks who sometimes say, "It's a jail, it's not supposed to be nice," feel a little differently about that when prominent politicians start getting processed there.  Hey, jail isn't supposed to be nice -- but it's supposed to be sanitary.   Staff isn't supposed to be so overworked or under-disciplined that they simply forget about an inmate for several days.  Fulton County Jail appears to be typical of the problems with U. S. prisons and jails, only more so: understaffed, overcrowded, ill-maintained and ignored until something genuinely horrific occurs -- or, rarely, something high-profile.  Like the arrest and booking of a former U. S. President.
     Someone's going to write me a splutteringly-angry comment about how former U. S. Presidents should never, ever be arrested.  Yeah, well, we agree on that, buddy, and all but one of 'em have managed to live their lives in such a way as to avoid it, too.  Guess we need to do a better job picking 'em, and of all the luck, there's a chance to narrow the field early next year and then choose the big winner (or IMO, the unfortunate sap!) that autumn.  Sharpen those pencils!
     The thing about Presidents, which I keep pointing out, is that the President of the United States of America is Just Some Guy and I would not be at all surprised to find the occasional speeding ticket or fine for littering in any of their post-Presidency lives.  They're not kings or saints -- no, not even George Washington -- but I do expect them to be at least as moral, trustworthy and/or clever as the average person down the street.  I think that's a basic job requirement for anyone who gets to sit behind the big desk in the Oval Office: be no worse a person than an average neighbor.  If you can't picture a candidate for that office -- or any lesser one -- living across the alley or down the road from you, better ask yourself why.* 
     Last weekend, I made a pot roast on the grill using eye of round.  Laid that hunk of beef in the roasting pan with a bay leaf and four black muscatel grapes, cut in half and lined up across the top of it.  Turnip, potato, carrots, celery and mushrooms followed, and it was very fine.  Those sweet grapes managed to sing harmony with the other ingredients over the course of a long, slow roast.  Eye of round is very lean, which I like but Tam's not so fond of.  She found it to be pretty good nevertheless.
* Or picture 'em as uncles at a holiday dinner.  Both of my parents grew up in large families, and until everyone moved all over the country, they'd gather a few times a year.  I can see it: the big meal is over, Uncle Theodore's trying to organize a family softball game (when most of us just want to nap, or at least get the dishes finished), Uncle Andrew's gotten into a heated argument with the UPS guy, Uncle Woodrow's sulking because people were shocked when he said something racist, Uncle Dick's sulking because he likes to sulk, Uncle Ronny's telling funny stories, Uncle Jimmy just threw an empty beer can over the fence and at least half of the rest of the uncles arrived in big cars, are too well-dressed for the day and are trying to draw attention to how well-off they are without appearing immodest about it.  And if you kids don't stop calling Uncle William H. Taft "Uncle Walrus," you're going to be in a lot of trouble!