Friday, December 01, 2023

Still Here

     Still here so far, and expecting a Phone Company person later this morning to install faster Internet, since what I have is now obsolete.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

There's A Chance...

     There is a chance Google will yank the account I use for this blog tomorrow.  It's not likely, but it's not impossible.

     If it happens, so long and thanks.  It's been fun.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

I'm Still Here

     Just not blogging much.  You know what I think of current politics, and there's only so much pointing-with-alarm one can do.  TV and movies of my youth led me to believe quicksand would be a far more prominent danger than it has turned out to be, but it also told me that dangerous religious fanatics would reliably be shaggy-bearded, wild-eyed, gaunt, white-haired patriarchs intoning Bible verses in a hollow bass; it told me political extremists would be kooks, bomb-throwers and never, ever gain elective office.

     It was all fatuous nonsense.  Except for the part about quicksand.  We have got problems, and they're coming from newly-emboldened fringes, trying to pass themselves off as the real center.

     Elsewhere, I have been busy with NaNoWriMo (I'm far, far behind schedule) and other writing; but I'm trying to write commercial stuff, which means I can't share it here.  And I am trying to keep up with my job.  My workplace changed greatly right before the pandemic and not, I think, for the better in terms of it being an interesting or engaging place to work.  But it still pays well and offers an excellent benefits package, so I'm sticking with it, enzombified as it now is.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Thanksgiving Dinner

     Tamara and I had a simple meal -- Turducken roll, slow-cooked in a covered pan on the grill with turnip, fennel bulb and apple; mashed potatoes made from scratch (and not boiled); and bacon gravy.

     The turnip, fennel bulb and apple was a great match for the turducken.  There wasn't much room in the roasting pan around the five pounds of birds and stuffing, but it all fit.  I made the mashed potatoes by cooking them in the microwave and mashing them skin-on in a pan* on the stovetop over low heat; ended up using a cup of milk and a tablespoon of water, plus butter, and they were great.

     The gravy?  I started with five strips of bacon, enough to get a quarter-cup of melted fat.  Set the bacon on a paper towel covered plate to drain, and added a quarter-cup of flour to the hot fat to make a roux, cooking over low-medium heat until it darkened.  Then a whole two-cup box of Kettle & Fire Mushroom Chicken Bone Broth, all at once, and I kept stirring and cooking as it thickened, with occasional breaks to snip bacon bits into it.  The end result was as smooth as velvet, rich with umami, and went wonderfully with the mashed potatoes and turducken.
* I mash potatoes in an old-fashioned way, starting by stirring them with a sharp knife, and switching to a large dinner-type fork once they're in small pieces.  It's not the fastest and it takes a little work, but I like the end result.

Thursday, November 23, 2023


     This is a day to be thankful.  And I am -- I'm thankful my boss tolerates my quirks and foibles, and that Tamara does, too.

     I'm thankful things are not worse, which they very easily could have been.  The human race dodged a near one with the coronavirus, and the United States had another close call in the aftermath of the 2020 Presidential election.

     We may yet have troubles; our species has long gotten by on the skin of our teeth -- but gotten by we have, and I am thankful for that.  Here's to keeping on keeping on!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Failure Modes Of Bad Managers

     It is possible that my experience is not the usual thing.  I have worked for many different managers, both my direct supervisor and the levels above.  My line of work has long featured frequent changes in management.  I've worked for several remarkably good ones, and a lot of managers who were doing their best with what they had.

     The two ends of the bell curve stand out, the great and the abysmal.  The great ones were often inspiring leaders -- but even more often, they were men (and a few women) who would roll up their sleeves and do the work, whatever it was.  Everyone else would pitch in because, really, what else can you do?  There's the boss, hard at work, and what kind of a heel doesn't want to help out?

     The bad managers relied on bluster and bombast, on micromanaging the easy parts and leaving the conundrums for the "little people" to work out.  They were quick to blame their staff for failures, and quick to take credit for successes.  They rarely got their hands dirty.  And they could go on in this way for a long time.  But it never lasted.  They'd either flame out spectacularly in a fit or rage or pique, or they'd fade out, as staff sought better opportunities and they were left with burnouts, time-servers and unskilled weasels as venal as themselves.  The drinkers (and drug users) were eventually overwhelmed by their addiction to the point of not being able to function, at which point any decent person can only feel compassion (no matter how unwilling they might be to continue propping up the bad manager).  Sometimes, an overheard comment or behavior was enough, if the right person or persons hear or saw it.

     Threats, bullshit and histrionics only take a boss so far; built on hot air, fear and fantasy, their efforts eventually collapse, sometimes taking down a department, an enterprise or a government.  The bigger they have grown, the worse the fall.

     You have to wonder how that's going to play out on a national scale, by and by.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Quick Roundup

     Here it is, all you need to know in the shortest time:

     U. S. domestic politics is awful.

     World politics is awful.

     War is terrible.  No civilian non-combatant ever deserves to die, even if they hold truly horrible opinions; however, letting combatants use your basement for their HQ disqualifies you from "non-combatant" status.  Also, bombing hospitals is never a good idea, even when it is.  And war is still terrible.  We should have fewer of them, and smaller.

     Please smile at other people and be nice to them; if you need encouragement, consider that some of them -- probably the ones you like least -- will really, really dislike it if you're polite and friendly.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The U. S. Senate, Red In Tooth And Claw?

     It's been all over the news, all over social media -- junior Senator for Oklahoma Markwayne Mullin offering to fight Teamsters President Sean O'Brien in the course of a Senate committee hearing.  He was chided by his Senate colleague Bernie Sanders, a man never overly concerned with decorum, practicality or even reality, which ought to have been humbling but probably wasn't.

     Senator Mullin and Teamsters boss O'Brien have been sniping at one another for months; I don't expect them to be great pals, not the former owner of a big, open-shop plumbing company* and union guy, not a Republican Senator and a labor boss: they're natural antagonists.  However, politics is the tool we invented so we don't have sort matters out by knocking one another over the head, and I do expect a United States Senator and the President of a national union to avoid actual physical conflict, even while being about as lousy to one another as they can manage.

     The Teamsters are proud of their roughneck image -- but even they have had to admit that might doesn't necessarily make right.  I damned well expect a U. S. Senator to understand it.  Tolerating this sort of behavior is a very poor sign for the present course of the GOP.  Senator Mullin citing as precedent pro-slavery Representative Preston Brooks beating anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner with a cane after Sumner had spoken harshly of slave owners in 1856 does not speak well of him -- the incident is generally understood as the one of the precursors to the Civil War.  The Senator also mentioned President Andrew Jackson's overly-pugnacious behavior, which is shaky ground indeed; Jackson's legacy is at best, mixed, and his temper is more infamous than admired.

     I don't expect Senators -- or even U. S. Representatives -- to engage in hand-to-hand combat or feats of strength.  That's not what I'm paying them to do; it's what I am paying them to avoid, and to manage the conflicts that would otherwise lead to violence.

     This bully-boy nonsense is strictly for the funny papers.  Or the history books, brown/silver/black shirts and all.  (Can you name the countries where each group sullied the public streets?)
* The plumber's union is a big one, one of the surviving 19th Century American Federation of Labor craft unions,† and historically, they're known to be quite touchy about jurisdiction.
† In contrast to the younger, scrappier Congress of Industrial Organizations unions.  They're long merged now, but while an AF of L craft union organized workers in skilled trades, the CIO (splintering from AFL in 1935) organized entire establishments, from the sweepers to the top of the hourly pay scale.  There was no love lost between craft unions and industrial unions for twenty years, but by the mid-1950s, they remembered they had a common enemy and got back together.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Just In Time For Christmas

     I've got it: the hot new toy.  It's a Tesla Cybertruck in the style of the "Transformers" toys, only when you transform it, it's a dumpster, complete with flames shooting out the top!

     Yeah, that thing isn't being welcomed with open arms by anyone anywhere besides the fanniest of fanboys; it's coming up short in terms of styling, fit and finish, and the basic necessary functions of a working truck, and that's before you consider the seething sociopolitical mess the lad at the top keeps dipping himself into.

     I miss the days of geeks who stuck to geekery and business types who immersed themselves in the accumulation of wealth while avoiding visible involvement in politics and most scandals.  You can point out it was often plenty rotten under the surface, and you'd be right; but at least there was a surface over the worst of it.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Kerosene Stove

     My paternal grandmother cooked on a kerosene stove.  She preferred them.  She would have grown up with wood-fueled cookstoves and a kerosene stove is a lot less bother to use.  The first good kerosene stoves started showing up when she was a young bride: in the very early 20th Century, John D. Rockefeller, eager to find new markets for oil distillates, helped fund efforts to develop improved kerosene stoves that resulted in the "Perfection" long-chimney burner, in which the flame never touches the pots and pans and the long path produces better combustion.  Unlike earlier, pressurized, Primus-type oil stoves, the fuel is gravity fed and a simple wick adjustment controls the temperature.  (The controls on a Primus stove are something of an art.  Similar pressurized white-gas Coleman stoves are considerably simpler, thanks in part to the more-volatile fuel.)

     It would have been a pretty wonderful device at the time.  The Perfection  design worked so well that it is still being made.

     The timeline fits well with the now-demolished brick house my grandfather built for his growing (and eventually large) family.  She would have had a modern kitchen and the kerosene stove would have been the centerpiece.  (I don't know if the house had a matching water heater, but they were certainly available).  Along with city running water and a nice icebox, it would have been very much of the times.  (Ice was cheap and easy to come by for a long time; I don't know if the family ever had a monitor-top refrigerator or if they kept the older technology through WW II.  Mom's family had natural-gas refrigerators by the mid-1930s, when her father worked for a southern Indiana company that made them.  When my father bought a used but upscale travel trailer in the late 1970s, Mom was delighted to discover it had a propane refrigerator.)

     Despite the 19th Century gas boom -- or perhaps because if it -- early gas stoves had an iffy reputation for safety.  Lacking a pilot light and with valves that were easy to turn on by accident, asphyxiation and explosion were definite hazards for the first gas ranges.*  A kerosene stove might leak, but that wasn't much more of a risk than kindling.  They were popular for many years.  I'm told my grandmother kept using hers well into the time of safe, modern gas and electric ranges, until she was finally convinced to replace it with an electric range a few years after my parents married.
* My first apartment, in a turn-of-the-century building in a town near the center of the Indiana Gas Field, had a minimalist cast-iron stove, bracketed to the wall.  Two burners, no oven, and all of it right out in the open.  The valves were quarter-turn types with 90-degree handles, and the landlord supplied wooden kitchen matches.  Handle horizontal was off, handle down was full on: not exactly fail-safe.  It sat next to a sink made of folded and soldered sheet zinc, mounted on similar cast-iron brackets -- and a modern refrigerator, dating from at least the 1950s.  That last item was a relief.  I'm not sure I would have been up to hauling blocks up ice up three flights of stairs and by the late 1970s, nobody was delivering.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

11 November

     The current received wisdom is that veterans are a bit irked by pro forma thank-you-for-your-service recognition of the day -- and of their service.

     These are, by and large, lousy jobs.  Difficult jobs, between danger, boredom, physical effort and long, grinding workdays.  While it is true that officers at all but the smallest bases enjoy access to amenities nearly as nice as the country club in any county seat served by two different railroads, none of 'em signed up for the golf.  And ditto for the somewhat more limited perks available to enlisted personnel.  I'm darned glad people are willing to do the work and impressed by how many of them thrive.  It rates more than a stock phrase and a once-a-year discount at fast-food joints.

     Our choice of date is instructive: America chose not the date of a famous battle, or even a famous victory, but the day the guns fell silent.  Our armed forces exist not to make wars but to end them.  Quite often, that means fighting them all the way through; but there is a "through."  There is an end point.  Unbroken peace may not be something humans can manage, but we're not doomed to eternal war, either.  A few of us step up and work directly to that end; it's not an easy job and sometimes it doesn't get much respect -- but it should.  One day to mark it seems barely enough.

Thursday, November 09, 2023

So Much To Do

     Busy at work, busy fighting this lingering cold, busy watching politicians....

     I watched some of the Republican runners-up debate last night, the Island of Misfit Toys, and even in that group, Vivek Ramaswamy stands out as a jerk.  Yes, in a profession of largely jerks, in a party that has embraced boorish jerkness, amid a collection of alpha jerks, he was still an outstanding jerk.  I wouldn't accept a free sample of snake oil from him, let alone a political idea.

     The rest of 'em were all just what it's been saying on the label.  Chris Christie still wants to be The Man Who Learned Better but he comes off as insincere -- New Jersey politicians don't stay bought but they're usually on the hook for the duration of the lease.  Ron DeSantis still looks to me like six chickens in a human suit, Tim Scott appears to be a tent-meeting revival preacher who has blundered into a political convention by mistake and is going with it, and that leaves Nikki Haley, who almost looks like an old-time normie Republican until she reels off a few paragraphs of carefully memorized touch-the-base stuff.

     Present evidence is they're all running for a footnote in the history books, something kids will have to memorize for tests for a few years before they fade away like Thomas A. Hendricks and Schuyler Colfax.  Few of them will be around and still in politics by the 2028 contest -- if there is one.

     Meanwhile, the two most likely contenders for 2024 are also very much what it says on the label -- a label that for both of them starts with "elderly men," and continues unflatteringly.  Mr. Trump is way worse than Mr. Biden but I keep thinking we could surely do better.  Last night's GOP debate only showed that we could do worse.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023


 * I never filled in the footnote for yesterday's asterisk, so here it is: it would easy to complain about rheumatic fever having given me a gimpy knee and slightly dodgy joints, but I got off lightly: if you have a brush with the stuff, there's a good chance it will go after your heart, too, and leave you with damaged valves and a heart murmur.   I avoided that.  My sister also had rheumatic fever and her heart's okay, too.

     We were lucky.  We were born after antibiotics were available and we didn't suffer heart damage.  Things could have gone far worse for either of us.


     This is the time of the year when the various hues and patterns of stink bugs -- each one with an "X" on their back -- are found posed on walls and fences, expired in mid-stride wherever they happened to run out of stink.

     There's one on the wall outside the back door here at Roseholme Cottage, stuck eternally reaching upwards in the general direction of the wall-mounted light, or anyway, for however long it takes a hungry bird to notice.

     But give them credit: they stay on-task, busy in their insect missions until the bitter end.

Monday, November 06, 2023

Isn't This Fun?

     Having a gimpy knee is no fun.  My right knee was a little messed up in the wake of rheumatic fever at the age of five* and I tore it up badly in a motor scooter accident in 2007, splitting the end of my thighbone in a fracture that spiraled upward and damaging the cartilage.  Recovery was long and unpleasant, and I have had trouble with it off and on ever since.

     After my recent bad cold, it's been mostly "on," making stairs, walking and even bending down quite painful.  Even my left knee's been aching.  That's bad.  What's worse is, "knees acting up after a crummy cold" is a fair fit for another round of rheumatic fever: it's an autoimmune disease triggered by (usually) a strep infection.  That would be bad, and the treatment hasn't changed much in the last six decades: lots of aspirin to manage the inflammation and antibiotics if there's any suspicion the strep is lingering.  There's no "magic bullet" or vaccination, no wonder drug past the first, wonderful category.  (My parents did their growing-up before penicillin, when an infected paper cut could kill you and a wound under less-sanitary conditions was likely to be a problem.  We have forgotten how remarkably antibiotics changed the world.)

     Sunday, I did aspirin, ice and -- between household chores -- bed rest.  It appears to have helped a little and I'm hoping to fake my way through the week, enriching the Bayer company and pretending nothing is wrong.  Swapping out the faucet on the kitchen sink was worse than it ought to have been, thanks to the occasional jolt of pain if I got my knee wrong.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Plumbed, Again

     The new kitchen faucet only lasted a little more than 27 months before the spout corroded through on the underside and began spraying water from the break.  I ordered a replacement that I thought was better, but put off installing it as long as I could.

     I was going to do the work over my most recent week of vacation.  Didn't happen -- I was sick all that week and a few days more.  I'm still recovering, productively coughing and sneezing far less often but it hasn't stopped.  And I  get short of breath very easily.

     Chemistry and physics don't care.  Neither does entropy.  The spout kept getting worse.  I tackled it today and the job is no less awkward than last time.

     Next time, I'm going to buy longer armored flexible connectors, those fancy hoses that run between the pipes and the faucet.  The ones I used last time are just barely too short to hook up both sides of the new spout above the sink where it's easy.  The hot side barely reaches and cold requires an awkward crawl-and-reach trick.  But the new one's in, it works, and so far I'm not finding any leaks.

     The bad news is that it's the same model as last time, only in brushed nickle instead of bright chrome.  It's probably going to fail again in a couple of years.  Indiana water is hard.

     On the dishwashing front, on the one day of activity I managed over my vacation, I found the exact dishwasher I wanted and priced out installation and hauling the old one away -- and it was pretty cheap.  Hooray!  Except they only had the floor model and it wasn't for sale.  "You can go to our Carmel store."  Yeah.  You bet.  Like I had time, wanted to deal with the inevitable snotty Carmel attitude, and futz about with some plumber who was having to burn up an hour or more in travel time to do the job.  They weren't interested in shuttling one between stores or ordering one from the manufacturer for me.  So I haven't bought a dishwasher yet.  I'm still doing dishes by hand.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Party Of Political Osteopaths

     This is something I may have written about before: the typical U. S. Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine is as good a doctor as a typical M.D.   Both of them undergo rigorous schooling and internship. 

     There's one difference: the DO has several hundred hours of training in osteopathic manipulative medicine.  This was the original basis for osteopathy: the notion that all of the body's ills -- including infectious disease -- could be cured by the right sort of thumping or adjustment.  This assertion is not well-supported by evidence or research.  A modern DO may well use OMM to treat musculoskeletal conditions, which it has been shown to help.  Past that?  Well, gee, I dislike being sued.  I'm told that at osteopathic schools, the OMM department is usually way off on its own and you can draw your own conclusions from that.

     So, two kinds of doctors, both of which can set a bone, dress a wound, diagnose what's wrong with you and prescribe the right pills.  One of 'em's got to acknowledge some fairly whackdoodle nutjobbery in order to get their degree.*

     The two main political parties have gone that way, only more so.  While a few Democrat and Republican office holders are little more than quacks peddling snake oil and fantasies, most elected officials at least appear to be trying to do their jobs; they may be ill-informed, misinformed, stupid or goofy, but the majority are putting in an honest effort.  But in one party, if they intend to stick around, they've got to kowtow to pernicious, whackdoodle nutjobbery that has become party orthodoxy.  And it's not isolated from the rest of their practice; it's pervasive.

     The Dems have the virtue, such as it is, of being chaotic; if AOC gets under your skin, there's always old Joe Manchin, miles to her Right, and an entire ragged mob of different opinions in between.  Meanwhile, the GOP keeps running out anyone who won't sign onto the Big Lie of a stolen 2020 election, anyone who points out the violent insurrection of 6 January 2021, and so on.  Ken Buck of Colorado is the latest to throw up his hands and walk away; he won't run for reelection when his term is up.

     Invasive nutjobbery can be contained and compartmentalized; or it can take over the whole shootin' match.  I can't say I'm real impressed with the trendline in U. S. politics.  I'll leave the last word for Congressman Buck: "Too many Republican leaders are lying to America, claiming that the 2020 election was stolen, describing Jan. 6 as an unguided tour of the Capitol and asserting that the ensuing prosecutions are a weaponization of our justice system. These insidious narratives breed widespread cynicism and erode Americans’ confidence in the rule of law."
* You will note that I have not, in this statement, specified which one.  Lawsuits and all that.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023


     The cold is still receding -- and my lungs and sinuses are still emptying.  It's not fun.

     I don't have much to say about current events.  Things are generally awful and working on getting more so.  Is there any good end in sight?  I don't know, but optimists are likely to be disappointed.  Accelerationists are assholes, who don't give a darn about you, your family or the future, and if you run with them or just wink at their nonsense and allow it to stand, you are in the same position as a civilian in the Gaza Strip: you're an ablative meat shield. 

     I have been doing a lot of writing, mostly on a PI series I'm not going to detail.  I did turn out a short story based on an idea I liked: what if there'd been a roadhouse run by a member of the New Jersey Mob* across the country lane from the Wilmuth farm when Orson Welles landed invading Martians there on October 31, 1937?  I don't think a well-connected gangster would have had much patience with the Martians, or been as cautious as the New Jersey State Patrol and the U. S. Army were in the radio drama.  I'm hoping to place the story, though if so, publication might have to wait until next Halloween.
* Members of what I will call, for the sake of brevity, the actual Mafia did provide useful assistance to the government's war efforts during WW II -- and why not?  They liked living here too!  So perhaps that part of the story isn't so far-fetched.  The Howard E. Koch radio script took several liberties, notably compressing the time scale of travel from Mars to Earth and of the Martian invasion, but between his gradually accelerating storyline and the dramatic skills of Mr. Welles and company, audiences barely noticed.  (Howard Koch was among the Mercury Theatre of the Air staffers who headed to Hollywood shortly afterward, but Welles already had a film script.  So he bounced around, picking up work, and was eventually handed a mess of a script for a movie already in production, in the hopes he could salvage something.  He did indeed; the film was Casablanca.)

Saturday, October 28, 2023


     Recovery from this cold is about as slow as I have ever experienced.  My lungs and sinuses are still emptying.  And I'm still pretty tired.

     I got up early this morning to bring in a grocery delivery, then spent the morning in online meetings of a fiction-writing group.  That took me until mid-day, at which point I was about done for the day.  I managed to put together some spicy pork roast with vegetables and it has been simmering all afternoon.  And I'm trying to get caught up on laundry.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Sloppy Language, Sloppy Thought

     In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine,* news outlets from National Public Radio to Fox News are referring to the Shelter In Place order while the shooter remains at large as a "lockdown."

     It is nothing of the sort.  Nothing's locked and violation of the order, while risky, is a misdemeanor at most.  In fact, there's little legal ability for authorities to "lock down" the general citizenry. 

     This sloppiness began during the pandemic, when business closures and stay-home recommendations were widely referred to as "lockdowns," as if our towns and cities were schools -- or prisons.  And those limits didn't even restrict leaving one's home or neighborhood; they were intended to drastically reduce social contact, not travel.

     In Maine, the Shelter In Place edict is trying to keep people out of the way of a tense situation, in which armed law enforcement personnel search for an armed -- and probably delusional -- criminal suspect.  They don't want you in the way -- or in the crossfire.

     No one is saying it but there's a good chance the suspect is already dead by his own hand.  "A good chance" is no basis for suspending a manhunt for a killer, nor is it a sufficient reason to tell your Uncle Chauncey he can go walk the dog while police with drawn weapons are combing his town.

     But it's not a "lockdown."  We don't live in a country where the government has the power to lock down a whole city or neighborhood for days -- and we shouldn't get ourselves in the habit of speaking and writing as if they do.
* In which, yet again, a person known to be in need of mental health treatment had access to guns and used them to commit horrific acts.  Many commentators have wondered why he was able to have guns; fewer have asked why he wasn't getting serious, hands-on, in-patient treatment for his mental problems.  This is someone who was hearing voices and experiencing violent ideation.  The United States has always had a lot of guns; we have not always had so many troubled, problematic people making criminal use of them.  Guns are a contentious issue, with all kinds of legal and political entanglement; mental health, not so much -- maybe we ought to get people working together on that instead of snarling the same old bumper-sticker slogans at one another?  Yeah, don't hold your breath.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

I'm Exhausted

     The cold has mostly passed but I'm worn out.  The next few days, I'm going to concentrate on trying to catch up.  I lost over a week of planned work around the house, and a couple of days of paying work.  It's going to take some time to only be normally behind on things.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Still Sick

     Ever the optimist, I keep thinking I'm getting better.  Then the decongestant wears off.

     Making the big effort Saturday cost me dearly: I have been exhausted ever since.  About all I have gotten done around the house is washing the dishes yesterday, in one big effort right after taking all my symptom-suppressing medicine.

     Judging from the pain in my knees, this thing has settled in for the duration.  It's not covid, I've tested negative twice, and the symptoms don't fit RSV or the flu.  It's almost certainly a cold.  The sore throat has mostly faded but the cough and congestion linger.

     One way or another, I'm going to have to try going to work tomorrow, after a "vacation" that has left me more tired and more behind the 8-ball than before it began.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

An Expensive Conference

     If you're an introvert, dealing with other people can still be interesting, but it takes it out of you.  I have to "nerve up" to face an audience, too.  I jittered my way through getting ready yesterday and stumbled out of the house holding a big zip case full of my notes.  On my way though the garage, with that thing partially blocking my view, I hip-checked the driver's side mirror of Tam's Z3.

     It was designed to pivot.  I hit it wrong.  It feels like the internal post is now broken.

     I sent her an embarrassed text from the alley, promising to make it good.

     Went off to the event, missing the parking garage entrance and having to go around the block, getting lost in the underground garage, enduring the elevator ride and -- hooray! -- arriving to a happy, bustling atrium full of authors and organizations, most hawking books.  The organizers had a nice swag bag for participants.  The other panel members were nice and all of them had interesting, useful comments.  Alas, no coffee (curse you, covid!*) but I managed to score a bottle of water.  My notes worked fine and my symptom-suppressing medicines held up.

     Afterward, I wandered the floor a little, realized the cough syrup was wearing off and the crowd was starting to get to me.   Headed back down to the parking lot, I missed getting a picture of the venue occupancy plaque right next to the elevator doors: "Maximum, 650 persons."  The elevator cars are large, but those 650 persons are going to have to be very good friends indeed, not to mention well-greased, and even then, I have my doubts.

     I got lost in parking garage again on my way out.

     By the time I got home, I was punchy.  I stumbled in, took care of necessities, and fell asleep fully clothed under a quilt.  Tam was out but both of her cars were home, which might be why I didn't register that I had locked out the garage door opener on the way in, as I usually do.

     Waking a couple of hours later, I web-searched "1998 BMW Z3 side mirror replacement," and, well, it's a BMW; what did I expect?  The dealer fix is to replace the entire part ($600) and paint to match.  There's an outfit that makes all-new composite innards ($150) but you still have to pop off the door lining and the mirror proper ($80 replacement if it breaks) to install it.  However she decides to go, I'll hire that work done.  Painful, but these writer's conferences usually cost money.

     Slept off and on until Tam got home (and had to come in through the front door and go unlock the garage, which is never nice), commiserated over the damage, napped more, ordered a pizza, ate dinner and watched the first Kolchak: The Night Stalker movie before changing for bed and sleeping the night through.  Kept nodding off during the movie, too.
* I hate to think of the negative effect of the pandemic on the Craft Services table. 

Friday, October 20, 2023

Sick Days/What Vacation?

     Still sick.  Better, I think, but still sick.  I am craving salt and flavor -- something awful, like a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.  It would feel like broken glass in my throat and I don't have any anyway, so I'll get by with Ritz crackers and well-honeyed hot tea.
     Still hoping to get out of the house a little tomorrow.  I'm on a panel at a writer's conference.  We'll see.
     Yesterday, I learned the rear tray of my little Canon color inkjet printer will feed 3x5 cards!  That simplified making notes for the panel.  While the ink is the usual overpriced nightmare, the printer/scanner has proven over and over that it is a useful, versatile device.  I use it more often than the big laser printer, in fact: the printed pages lay flatter and they're darker.*
     Without leaning into the ugly politics of the House Republican fight to elect a Speaker, you can darned well bet all factions and both parties would have come together and found some sap for the job if they had to pass legislation every week to authorize releasing their paychecks.  They'd all be saying what a wonderful person he or she was, too.
     And how bad are things?  So bad I'm not going to get any more political than that today, when it comes to national politics.
     On international politics: killing civilians is bad, period.  A large part of the tragedy of war is the collateral damage.  If it was volunteer armies parading and clashing on an empty battlefield, war would still be terrible but we could, at least, point to the military virtues.  When you start piling up the dead kids and adults, ruined homes, crippled bystanders, pain, suffering, thirst and starvation, the glory goes right out.
* On reflection, I think I run the laser printer in "draft" mode most of the time.  I should check that.  The ink for it is pricey, too, but I haven't had to replace it yet.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Honeyed Oatmeal

     The stuff just feels comforting on a sore throat: well-cooked oatmeal, sweetened with honey.  Tamara picked up a bottle of raw, local honey for me yesterday and I spent the afternoon sipping tea (Typhoo*) with honey: it's soothing and both the tea and the honey have some antiseptic properties.  It probably won't cure you, but it'll help keep things from getting worse.

     Likewise, I have been enjoying chewable vitamin supplements that claim to boost the immune system: a little extra zinc and vitamin C and so on can't hurt.

     This morning, I decided to try the honey in my breakfast coffee, which worked well.  I was already hankering for oatmeal, so that got a teaspoon of honey, too.  It was a real treat; I prefer well-cooked oatmeal and the warm cereal was simply wonderful.

     I'm still sick but I got a decent night's sleep last night and I'm not going to do much today -- marinate and slow simmer some stew beef for dinner, a project in which the biggest effort will be chopping vegetables, adding them to the pot and mostly ignoring them for a couple of hours.

     Cooking when I feel lousy can be a challenge.  The day I realized I was catching the cold, I picked up ingredients for variations on "red stew," the stuff Midwesterners call "mild chili."  It's not much like the Southwest dish; the starter had ground beef, chorizo, finely-chopped carrots, a handful of big cherry tomatoes, a little celery, a diced red pepper, a few ripe shishito peppers (hot pulp removed), a lot of diced Shitake mushrooms, a few sliced Castelvetrano olives, a couple of cans of mild chilis and a big box of strained tomatoes, simmered with a big bay leaf.  I made microwave cornbread to go with it; that would have worked better if the (sealed) baking powder hadn't expired in 2019.  Despite adding half again as much, beating in plenty of air and giving it extra time to work, the bread rose about half as much as it should have, a little more in the center.  Not quite brick-like but not light and airy.  It soaked up red stew just fine and tasted good.

     Last night, I added browned and crumbled andouille sausage, more fresh tomatoes and a white onion, diced and sauteed while some of the previous day's leftovers thawed in the microwave.  With a small can of tomato sauce, the result was still thick enough to stand a spoon in.  I broke a few salines into mine to add a little salt.  And there's still another night's worth of red stew frozen for later; I divided the original batch into two freezer bags.

NB: I have declined to publish a couple of recent comments that included political sentiments in response to non-political posts.  Politics in this country are badly screwed up and I'm tired of trying to put out fires with gasoline.  Dear Congress, Please Get Well Soon, we miss your limited but necessary functionality.
* The company was bought up by an investment firm awhile back and some Brits aren't pleased with how that has affected the product.  They know their tea, but I haven't been unhappy with it compared to other locally-available alternatives, which include other UK imports.  The French know wine; the Scots know whiskey; the Brits know tea and the Jamaicans grow the best coffee.  I'm not saying you can't get good wine from California and Ethiopian chai is as nice a cuppa of the spiced stuff as anyone could brew -- but if you want an informed opinion on a beverage, ask the people who drink the most of it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Of Course It Didn't Work

     Yeah, I've got Tamara's cold.  Tried to dodge it, but it was a slim hope at best.  Mild so far, mostly a sore throat and annoyed sinuses, which I am treating aggressively.  I woke up yesterday with a tiny, painful "hot spot" at the back of my throat, so I made a quick sweep through the grocery and the five and dime (okay, Target) to stock up for the duration.  Just in time -- this morning, I have a less intense but full-on sore throat.

     My old sore throat fix-it Chloraseptic was nowhere to be found, so I'm waiting on a delivery.  I tried a similar product, but it has different active ingredients and I'm not happy with the results.  The phenol-based palliative was a staple in the radio business -- back in the old days, you could zap your throat with it and keep on talking.*  You paid for it later: four or five hours of being moderately upbeat no matter how miserable you were feeling left about enough energy to do the rest of your day's work, creep home and drink a bowl of canned soup before crawling into bed, dreading the alarm.

     Of course, the cold has trashed some of my vacation plans.  All that much more time to stay home and write, though.

     I still need to replace the faucet for the kitchen sink; the last one I put in only lasted two years.  It was a no-name generic, and hard water ate a hole in the underside of the spout.  The replacement is a well-known brand, so here's hoping.  Replacement is merely tedious and awkward, like a lot of plumbing.  (Here's a secret: there are two reasons plumbing work is expensive.  A little of it is absolutely rocket-lawyering, where you need deep knowledge, experience, special tools and a good understanding of the building codes. A lot of it is unbelievably dirty, hard to reach and/or fiddly, work that nobody would mess with if it didn't pay well -- but clean running water and sanitary sewers are a basic foundation of civilization, so pay that plumbing bill with a smile or learn to do the simple parts yourself.)
* I worked in radio long before working from home was a possibility.  Cold and flu season was a particular misery: no matter how careful you were, with everyone using the same few microphones and the same hands-on gadgets, the bug would burn through the staff in a matter of days.  Voice-tracking and digital playback had already helped mitigate that before the pandemic and with the lessons learned during that time, radio talent can now go live from their own living rooms -- or sickbeds.  Hooray, no more shared station cold!

Monday, October 16, 2023

This Is Fine

     After working today, I'm off all this week.  Tamara K has been sick since Friday, a rattling cough that got worse and worse.  It appears to be a cold, not RSV or covid, but it's been miserable for her and we have been avoiding one another in the house as much as possible.  Which is not very, but I'm not in the shared office or her attic, and we're not having meals together.  As of this morning, she is feeling better.  Still sounds pretty awful, but on the mend.

     I have to work today thanks to short-staffing and schedule conflicts.  This coming Saturday, I have been invited to appear as part of a panel of "authors" at a local event.  So I don't want to get sick.  

     Author?  Don't look at me -- I'm a writer.  I don't even own a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows.  But I'll go along.  Still, I consider writing as I practice it to be more of a skilled trade than a profession.  I'm happy to cede "author" to the people with MFA degrees, no few of whom are excellent writers, but I'm an amateur carpenter among sculptors, content if I can build tables that don't wobble and simply aspiring to a mastery of the craft.  If the result is Art, great -- but my aim is competence.  The event organizers gave the invited authors a list of questions and I'm putting together notes about the answers on 3x5 cards so I don't have to wing it.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Know The Law

     When you got your driver's license -- and in some states, when you renewed it* -- you had to pass a test to show you understood the rules of the road.  It might have have been a written test, a hands-on driving test or both.  When you drive, it is your responsibility to know and follow the law.

     The same thing applies to firearms.  While I expect you already know and follow the Four Rules, there's more to owning or carrying guns than the basics of safety.

     Wherever you live, there are laws that govern how and where you may carry.  There may be laws about storage of guns or ammunition, laws about preventing access by unsupervised minors, and so on.  You may have been required to get training and pass a test to get a carry permit, or you may have had to undergo a background check, or your state might one of the many like Indiana, where no permit is required to carry a handgun.†  Nevertheless, you must know and follow the law.  My state has very few limits -- but your employer can ban firearms on their premises under state law (lock it up in your car and the law protects you; take it out and you're on your own).

     The state of New York has strict gun laws and New York City's are even more so.  When a New York City Councilperson showed up at a pro-Palestine rally‡ on the grounds of Brooklyn College, she was breaking two or three laws: the state doesn't allow open carry, the city has designated educational institutions among "sensitive spaces" where carry is banned, and they don't allow guns at "public demonstrations and rallies."  Inna Vernikov got what you'd expect a serving politician to get: she had to hand over her carry permit (and presumably her gun) and will have to appear in court in a few weeks. It's about like a traffic ticket.  Most people in her situation would have been arrested and jailed pending initial arrangements.  She's still unlikely to walk away unscathed; the charges are a low-level felony.

     You may disagree with the laws of New York and the ordinances of NYC -- but neither disagreement nor ignorance excuses violating them.  The Councilperson (Ms. Vernikov is also an attorney) may have not not known them, or have disagreed with them, but she'll answer for it all the same.

     Know the law.  Follow it at least as well as you follow the rules of the road: you may speed from time to time, but you're unlikely to do so in a school zone when children are beginning or ending their day.
* When I was first driving, Indiana required passing a written test when renewing a driver's license.  It wasn't a difficult test but it was more than pro forma.  Study guides were sold at news stands, drug stores and grocery stores.
† Indiana does still issue a License To Carry Handgun in order to maintain reciprocal agreements with states that still require permits, and if you're going to carry a sidearm, I think it's a good idea to get the license.
‡ Most news stories report she was at a rally in support of Palestine.  Others say there were "dueling rallies" on opposite sides of the same public space and the other one was in support of Israel.  Which one drew her attention and which one she spent the most time at is immaterial with respect to the law.

Friday, October 13, 2023

The Ongoing Tragedy

     All wars are tragic.  The Middle East manages to be even more so, a combination of dense population, scarce resources and conflicts with roots that go back centuries or even millennia.

     The most recent development, a warning from Israel that civilians should evacuate from northern Gaza in the next twenty-four hours, countered by a Hamas advisory to stay put, is a stark reminder that wars can easily become "choose your humanitarian disaster."  Israel's army is coming across the border; it's only a matter of time.  People -- civilians and militants alike -- are packed into Gaza nearly as densely as in New York City and there's only one exit point to the south: you can't march half of Gaza's 2.3 million people out in a day, doubling the density in the southern half of the area is unworkable and anyone who stays home is in the path of an invading army.  Nor are there financial resources to help people get out of the way; per-capita income in Gaza is under $3800, compared to $75,000 in NYC.

     On the other hand, in the last 22 years there have been zero missiles launched from the Big Apple, while Gaza has averaged over a thousand a year.  Plenty of bad actors (Iran, for example) are willing to supply the hardware and it only takes a few people to set up and launch a missile.  Responding in kind can be complicated.

     No matter how this plays out, people are going to die.  Most of them will be innocent civilians, caught in a war they never volunteered to fight.  Hamas is using them as a shield.  Israel is reluctant to do harm, but under conditions of open warfare after recent attacks, they don't see any other way forward.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

I Can't Explain

     Wisdom may not arrive with age but you do begin to develop a sense of what you can't solve.

     Take the Middle East as an example: it was a horrendous, tragic mess long before I was born and no effort, no matter how well-intended, brilliantly conceived or even brutal, has managed to change it.  It's easy to make worse, not difficult to shift the misery around, but ending it?  Barring an all-out war, a devastating wave of infectious disease or the emergence of a new and aggressively proselytizing religion -- all of which have happened in the region before -- there's no solution in sight.

     Take the U. S. House of Representatives, a legislative body that is by design fractious, given to argument and enthusiasm, as unruly and opinionated as the citizenry themselves.  When the House ties itself in a knot, it's got to do its own untying -- and the traditions of the House, as I have pointed out, put absolutely no onus on the minority to bail out the majority if the party holding the most seats can't agree on a Speaker.

     Right now, we've got a President in the White House who puts in a solid day's work, stammers his way through press conferences and has been able to work with the House and Senate to accomplish the things that had to get done; and we've got a former President facing a long list of criminal and civil charges in multiple jurisdictions (including an attempted coup) who left chaos behind at the end of his term and can't seem to construct a single coherent sentence when making a speech.  Both are frontrunners to be their party's nominee for President in 2024 -- and they have nearly identical public approval/disapproval polling results.

     I can't explain it.  I can describe some of it, but the why remains a mystery.  I certainly can't fix it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Oh, Look, Here's A Lesson

     You know what's going on in Israel right now.  You probably know what had been going on in Israel: deeply divisive politics, in which a hard-Right government sought to remove a check on its power.

     Don't look for me to analyze internal Israeli politics; I have trouble enough keeping up with who's on what side in my own country, and what that might imply for the future.  Suffice to say the government was distracted.  The citizenry were distracted.  And for a country with plenty of enemies, many of whom can walk right up to the border on their lunch break, that was enough.

     Israel was distracted.  Politics had ceased to be the usual debate and compromise, the normal small victories and small setbacks that people could ignore, confident whatever needed doing would get done.  Terrorists struck -- and made horrific progress before a response could be coordinated.

     The run-up to recent attacks might find a parallel or two in the United States, where a government riven by internal conflict is busy tying itself up in knots.  These kinds of fights play out in plain sight -- and the world is watching, some of it through unfriendly eyes.

Monday, October 09, 2023

The Greatest Sculptor You Never Heard Of

     Her name was Augusta Savage.  She worked in the first half of the 20th Century.  Her work was realistic, moving, tender and humorous.

     In a different time, she might have worked in bronze or stone.  Never well-off, never with a wealthy patron, she sculpted in clay or even plaster burnished with shoe polish.

     One of her largest pieces, The Harp, was commissioned for the 1939 World's Fair in New York City.  Sixteen feet tall, made of painted plaster, it was thrown away after the Fair ended.

     In the 1920s, she was accepted into a summer class at a fine-arts school in France -- only to have the offer withdrawn by the American selection committee when they discovered she was African-American.

     She made and taught art all her life.  Though the many of her works have been lost other than in photographs, she had lasting influence.  Her own opinion of her legacy was both humble and optimistic:

     "I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work."

     Not every monument is a lump of bronze on a pedestal.  Augusta Savage showed that art belongs to those who have talent and develop it, and helped change a nation's perceptions.

Saturday, October 07, 2023

I Miss The Old Robot

     Amazon updated the default voice for their "Alexa" device recently, replacing the chipper and upbeat female voice with a similar one that sounds older and has a more serene, if not downright dull, affect.

     I miss the original.  While the new voice does come with a tinge of, "Our little girl is growing up," if I'm going to chat with a machine, I'd prefer one that simulates a slightly mischievous grin over a stolid servant that doesn't sound particularly happy to be here.

     Yes, yes, you'd never have a machine in your home that was listening all the time -- and yet you carry around a cellphone that could be and very probably is, and you've had an eminently buggable landline phone, too.  Since I'm not in the habit of discussing -- or engaging in -- criminal or seditious activities,  I find the convenience of setting kitchen timers, doing simple arithmetic and getting news or music by voice command outweighs the theoretical possibility of some minion at Amazon listening to me clatter around the kitchen, argue with Tam and talk to the cats.  What are they going to do with the info?  So far, they haven't even bothered to tell me when cat food or cookware is on sale!

     The new voice isn't as much fun as the old one.  I'm not sure I would have been as quick to ask this one if the HAL9000 was her friend ("WE DON'T TALK, NOT AFTER WHAT HAPPENED.") or any of the other silly questions I've tried.

     When you talk to a robot, it's like a child talking with her dolls or plush animals: there's nobody on the other side of the conversation.  You still miss them when they're gone.

     Of the presently available options, the happiest-sounding is a female speaking the East Indian version of English.  I may try it; it's one of the more pleasant flavors of the language.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Mantis Motherhood

     There was a small praying mantis on the brick wall outside the main door at the North Campus yesterday, at about head height.  I was happy to see it; they're helpful creatures.  This one had a very fat abdomen.

     It was still there a couple of hours later -- busily laying eggs!  The mantis spent a long time on the job, then moved a few inches away and stood watching the egg case, breathing as heavily as I have ever seen one breathe.  I've never seen one laying eggs before but I'm happy to think we'll have more mantises next year!

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

"Anyone Can Become Speaker"

     It's true.  The requirements to be elected Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives don't include being a Congressthing.  In fact, they're pretty wide open: if you're not disqualified from holding an office or trust of the Federal government, you can become Speaker.  Arguably, you'd need to be at least 25 years old and to have been a U. S. citizen for seven years or more, but even that's a little shaky.

     The flip side is to look at the actual skill set the job requires.  It take more than mere ambition.  Kevin McCarthy wanted the job badly indeed -- and made many promises to get it.  He tried to give all of his party's Congresscritters what they wanted while keeping the country running and that proved his undoing: the GOP's House members had conflicting desires, and many of them wanted to shut the government down unless they got what they wanted.

     Successful Speakers have been master manipulators, skilled salespeople with a firm grasp of parliamentary procedure.  They were able to convince their fellow party members to swap votes for votes, to go along to get some of what they wanted, and kept the system working by working the system.  Many of them came off a bit smarmy, especially if they were from the party you didn't vote for, but they got the job done.  Within their own parties, they brought people together rather than driving them apart.*

     Yes, just about anyone can become Speaker of the House.  The list of people who ought to get the job, of people who can accomplish something with the job?  That's a whole lot shorter.
* Across party lines, now that's a whole other thing in the House, and has been at least since the late 19th Century, when Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed Jr. harrumphed, "The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch."  Best or not, that's how it has worked for all of our lives.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

My Opinions, Your Facts

     I'm sitting on a comment at present.  I'd kind of like to publish it, except for one little problem: it makes assertions without support and then infers conclusions from them.

     This is my blog, featuring my opinions and as much factual matter as I can muster in support of them, and if there's any crawling out on a limb to be done here, that's my job.  If you want to push back against what I write, your tools are facts, supported by links, cites or -- because I am a generous person and like to look things up -- easily verifiable.  Establish a firm foundation of facts and I'll probably let you make a claim about what they imply.

     But this a blog is not a public forum.  I'm not handing out soapboxes.  The occasional brief cheer, hiss, boo or correction is fine, but sweeping claims, even if they are received orthodoxy among you and your friends, require verifiable factual support.  No matter how close your reasoning or how impeccable your chain of logic may appear, if it didn't start with stuff any competent, literate person can dig up and point to, it doesn't count.  Your experiment has to be reproducible.  Your facts have to be testable.  Otherwise it's just a con job, fast talk masquerading as a map of reality.

     This kind of dull slog through the stacks and links, sifting wheat from chaff, refining the raw ore,  flipping through many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, has always been unpopular.  It's a lot of work!  But it has never been easier than it is right now, and it's how anything worthwhile gets done.  The Founders and Framers knew history; Newton knew math (and a lot of alchemical bullshit); Heinz knows pickles.  What do you know -- and can you prove it?

Monday, October 02, 2023

"Drama Caesar?"

      I was all set to do a sober think-piece on the dangers of Caesarism and why it's a bad thing, filled with links to current books and articles and historical references.

     But it's a waste of time.  The people who care about the ideals underpinning our system of government don't need the reminder and the folks besotted with splendid things they imagine a strong man holding the reigns might accomplish if only he weren't hampered by the legislature, the courts and the U. S. Constitution aren't listening.  Institutions that once espoused a deep respect for the American federal republic, like the Claremont Institute and Hillsdale College have become havens for authoritarian nutters as bad -- and as willing to inspire bloodshed -- as any Mercedes-driving Ivy-League Marxist.

     Not a one of them knows how to get bloodstains out of tweed or would be willing to do the work if you showed them how, either.

     At one time, the Right's thinkers and opionators* inveighed against Caesarism as soberly as any orator of the Roman republic warned the Senate and people about the dangers of monarchy.  While Cato never wavered (and he didn't succeed, either), the supposed inheritors of Buckley's mantle reached a certain point in warning about the "Man on Horseback," looked at the notion and thought, "Cato had to stab himself after a series of frustrating struggles; Caesar and subsequent Emperors ruled Rome for centuries," and changed sides, hailing Caesar as full-throatedly as they'd been cautioning against him.

     It's not a good look.  I don't know how to fix it.

     History has been rife with would-be Caesars ever since he hoodwinked Rome into returning to kings in all but name; I wish their Senate had done a more thorough job of stabbing him and much earlier, but here we are.

     The only good news I have is the boosters of Caesarism are a dime a dozen.  They show up all the time and their efforts fall well short.

     The bad news is that they only have to succeed once.  Constitutional government has to succeed every time.
* Two groups with surprisingly little overlap all across the political spectrum except for how heedlessly they egg one another on, like small children working themselves up to toilet-paper the Mayor's house.  And somehow, there's always one of them playing with matches.

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