Monday, May 29, 2023

Breakfast When I Didn't Shop

      I worked both days this past weekend, and I was coming off ten days with COVID.  I had eggs in the fridge but no breakfast meat, and not much else--

      So, Spam.  Time to rotate the stock anyway.  I diced up a can of the Hickory Smoked flavor and set it to sizzling in the wok while I did some dishes, adding a little pepper and some (salt-free, trust me, this doesn't need any extra) Bragg's herb mix to the pan.

      I had microwave rice, Red and Brown Rice with Kale and Chia, which just means some added greens and a bit more flavor from the chia.  Making fried rice this way, a few extra ingredients can only help.  Once the meat was browned to suit me, I nuked the rice, pushed the diced Spam to the edges of the wok (mopping up excess grease) and added the rice, cooking it over medium-high heat for three minutes, running the heat up a little as I went and keeping it moving.  The meat gradually mixed in as the process went along.  I added a few shakes of mild curry powder and just a pinch of Cajun seasoning.  (Eggs and curry powder are natural companions in my opinion.)

      When I thought the rice was done, I cleared the center of the wok, broke four large eggs into the space, turn the heat up to high and scrambled them with with a bamboo skewer (the tool of choice for this is a disposable chopstick, but skewers work as well and are easier to come by).

      Once the eggs were done enough -- I prefer them fairly dry but tastes vary -- I ran the heat down, mixed everything together, added some parsley flakes and snipped a couple of Piparra peppers into the wok.  And they you have it, a pretty good breakfast.  Tam put Worcestershire Sauce on hers; I added a few drops of Cholula hot sauce.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Memorial Day

      Just over one and a third million Americans -- military personnel -- have died in all this country's wars from the American Revolution onward.  When the call came, they stepped up and served, and did not come back.  Even now, more died outside of combat, falling to bad food, insufficient medical treatment and communicable illness.  Quite apart from the danger of the opponent wanting to do them harm, military service is inherently dangerous.

      And yet they served anyway, and died of it.  Do not forget them.  Do not forget what they lost.

Do The Homework Before Commenting

      Read the links or run a websearch and read what it turns up.  Otherwise, be quiet while the grown-ups talk.  A couple of comments, so far unpublished, take Dr. Bernard to task for "revealing the rape victim's identity."

      Indeed, that's what she was reprimanded and fined for, and may be appealing the decision.  Except that's not quite what she did, not in the sense of sharing the child's name and address.  Nope, what the doctor did was give the age, approximate location (either directly or by implication), that the child had been raped and how long she had been pregnant.  Neither she nor the hospital thought of that as identifying information and, under normal circumstances, it probably would not have been.

      Circumstances were not normal.  The Attorney General vowed to investigate (and his office brought the case before the Indiana State Medical Licensing Board).  Some pro-life commenters called the situation out as "too convenient," and vowed to unmask it as a fake.  Pro-abortion commenters set to work to prove it was real.  Given enough time and people, digging through court records in likely Ohio venues turned up a match, and at that point, the victim's privacy was breached.

       This is fairly subtle.  The medical profession has guidelines, the hospital has written policies, and it is irrefutable that without the initial information, no one would have known where to start looking.  But the information the doctor made public did not, in and of itself, identify the victim.  The Indiana State Medical Licensing Board has made their decision and, barring a successful appeal, there the matter stands.  Just don't oversimplify it.

      And don't ignore the tragedy at the heart of the dispute.  There's a ten year old girl who has already been through far more than any child should, and who still has a lot to get though.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Weaponizing Government: Only Bad When It's Not Your Side?

      The basic facts aren't in dispute: after Ohio's near-total ban on abortions took effect, the family of a ten-year-old rape victim from that state sought and obtained an abortion in Indiana when the child became pregnant as a result of the crime.

      This kind of detail rarely makes the news, a tragic footnote to lurid coverage of the arrest and subsequent trial.  But with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, abortion was in the spotlight and when the Indianapolis Star ran a story about the effects of the Supreme Court decision in early July 2022, Indiana OB-GYN Dr. Caitlin Bernard was among the doctors they interviewed.  She provided no more information about the case than I did in the first paragraph, but was further quoted in remarks critical of impending changes in Indiana law affecting abortions: "It’s hard to imagine that in just a few short weeks we will have no ability to provide that care."  She hard sharper words later on social media.

      Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has shown a keen interest in culture-war issues in recent years (perhaps with an eye to higher office) and was quick to get into the fray.  After initial news reports and Presidential comment, there was talk of the case being "too convenient" and possibly made up.  Once the case was confirmed, Mr. Rokita pledged to investigate, alleging irregularities in reporting the incident to proper authorities.

      The Attorney General's efforts resulted in a hearing yesterday for Dr. Bernard before the Indiana Medial Licensing Board on allegations that the doctor had failed to report child abuse, was unfit to practice and had violated patient privacy laws.  After fourteen hours, the Board found she had reported properly (readily verified from hospital records), was indeed fit to practice medicine, but had publicly shared too much information about the patient.

      Whatever your opinion about abortion, it seems clear the Attorney General was responding in a partisan manner to the doctor's freely expressed and far from illegal opinions -- and that should not be something that gets a person brought up before their professional licensing board, accused of unfitness to practice in that profession.

      So when you speak of "weaponized prosecution," here's an example.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Take A Powder...

      ...And try adding it to the batter to make it rise.  People will fight over anything, but who knew baking powder had prompted many pitched battles?  The stuff's a step up from baking soda plus something acidic plus keep a move on, which was itself a step up from earlier and more skill-dependent methods.  Baking powder is one of the items (along with readily-controllable ovens and a few other moving parts) that took high-quality baking from an arcane craft practiced by professionals to a home activity; my paternal grandmother, who used silverware spoons and an earthenware mug to measure and cooked with wood and later kerosene stoves, had a huge advantage over her predecessors and baking powder was a big part of it.

      The people who gave her that advantage fought among themselves in battles that went from boardrooms to advertising to whispering campaigns, and along the way funded everything from a series of Arctic expeditions to cookbooks* to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- no, I'm not kidding; there's a direct line from the "500" Princesses to Clabber Girl and the connection persisted until recently.

      Of course, this much drama has prompted a book, and I'm adding it to my to-be-read list.
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* Calumet, Rumford, the aforementioned Clabber Girl, single-action Royal and WW II-era newcomer Bakewell Cream are search terms if you're looking for home-baking cookbooks.  My Mom was a lifetime Calumet user and I scarcely noticed the other brands for years.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Still Not Feeling Great

      Coming back from this thing has been a long, slow trip.  I continue to feel better -- but not better enough.  I wake up not too bad, but run out of energy and have to have a nap.  My temperature still goes up and down, and it takes careful attention to remain hydrated.

      This is frustrating.  I haven't had a decent supper in a week.

      P.S. Certain commenters still appear to be of the opinion that my blog is a debating society.  It is not -- and now that I have added them to my spam filter, I won't even see the nonsense they write.

Monday, May 22, 2023

"My Guy?" Really?

      An unpublished commenter referred to the incumbent President as "your guy."  Yeah, no.  He's a reasonably competent politician with whom I disagree on a number of substantial policy issues, who is not frighteningly bugnuts.

      "Not frighteningly bugnuts" sounds like a low bar because it is a very low bar, one that through most of my life, most American office-holding politicians and viable candidates for office (though by no means all) could clear easily.  The majority of today's GOP incumbents cannot, and their unsuccessful candidates skew even more sharply that way.

      Fix your nutjob problem, GOP.  Fix your authoritarian problem or get used to making AOC look like a reasonable, deal-making politician because your gang is so far gone into crazyland that they'll argue up is down, hot is cold and whatever the Great Leader says must be true and real even when it is not.

      Neither the Democrats or the Republicans were ever "my guys," but at least today's Dems are, at their worst, just wrong.  The GOP's present worst is delusional, mad for the raw exercise of power, juggling nitroglycerine and snickering when people flinch away.

Test At Day Five

      I get dizzy if I move around too much or too quickly.  I'm pretty puny; the basement stairs are an effort that leaves me winded.  Despite that, my symptoms are much less worse than they were earlier.  I'm taking my Paxlovid, sleeping more and eating a couple meals a day--

      So I'm on the mend, right?  I ran another test this morning, expecting to see I was clearing the virus.

      Nope.  Two lines.  I've run the blamed things a half-dozen times since they became available, making sure colds were just a cold before returning to work, and they always were.  Until now.

      Still sick.  A positive test is not necessarily a hard NO on going back to work under current company rules,* but add in how I feel and I'm not going anywhere today.  Tomorrow?  I don't know.  I hope to feel better tomorrow.
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* Most of my work time even now is spent miles away from others; if I needed to be around them, guidance calls for masking up, keeping one's distance and minimizing together time during recovery.  YMMV.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Story Problem

      Amazon has generally got the delivery thing all worked out.  The Sears & Roebuck of our age, that funny online bookseller has grown up to sell everything from questionable "sales partner" imports to fine goods.

      All I wanted was paper toweling.  The super-duper giant economy size had a considerably lower per-sheet price than the six- or four-roll pack, so I got the big one.  The total was high enough that they offered free overnight delivery, so I took it; we had two rolls left in the cabinet, but better safe than sorry.

      Yes, Amazon knows delivery.  They rarely screw up.  But when they do....

      I'm home, isolating with COVID.  It's the latest-greatest version that starts with scratchy eyes and pretends to be a Spring allergy until you realize it isn't.  Tam already had it (a milder case, earlier onset, pretty typical of us and respiratory viruses) and is keeping her distance from people.  This morning, Amazon sent my paper toweling next door--

      To our neighbor, presently in a long and difficult respite from major health issues.  She's got about  the strength of a kitten.  Her part-time caregiver apparently hauled the box inside as she left for the day.

      Neighbor cannot carry the big box out the door, down the steps, across both lawns and up the steps to our porch.  I dare not expose her by going inside her house.  She can't even shove it out the door by herself, not and wrangle five cats at the same time.  Even Tam visiting is a significant risk for her.  It's like the puzzle with the farmer trying to cross cross a river in a tiny rowboat with a fox, a chicken and a bag of chicken feed, only with no solution. (What the dickens is the farmer doing with a live fox, anyway?)

      I called Amazon and after a frustrating online chat with a robot, got a human being.  I explained the problem, with only a short -- and genuine -- coughing fit.  She put me on hold, came back, and put me on hold even longer, returning to tell me in delightful subcontinental tones,* "I can place the order again."
      I was skeptical, "And I'll be charged again?"
      "No, nooo, there will be no further charge."
      "That'll work.  When will it arrive?"  I started coughing again.  Sheesh.
      "Are you all right?"
      Hack, cough, "Yes, just sick."
      "Please take care of yourself!  The replacement should be there Sunday."
      Conversation concluded with the usual calls-can-be-recorded ritual, her asking if the situation had been taken care of in a satisfactory manner and me being effusive in praise -- nobody told her she'd have to listen to me coughing off-mic when she clocked in today and being nice about it counts as above and beyond in my book.

      So, yeah, they do have that delivery thing worked out.  Even when they screw up.
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* For clarity, enunciation, being neither too fast or too slow, and for comprehension across multiple dialects, "Bombay Welsh" ranks very highly with me.  With Amazon, once you (finally) get through to a human being, you're usually dealing with someone highly motivated to resolve problems with the least amount of customer annoyance, and that's always a good thing.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Enough Already

      Another night of temperatures well over 100 F, from which I wakened damp around 3:30 this morning and began the hour or two of feeling not-too-awful before plunging back into chills and silliness.  I have been changing from a summer-weight cotton nightgown to winter flannel under a sleep sweater before the chills hit, and back to the lighter gown when my temperature rises.

      I made tea and toast for breakfast today, about the limit of my culinary abilities at present, and sat down at the computer.  I got one bite of toast before the youngest cat pulled down the plate, bringing it and both slices of buttered rye bread to the floor.

      He is in temporary exile and I am enjoying a few Ritz crackers instead; I wasn't up to the exhausting complexity and length of time it takes to make two more slices of toast.  Neither one goes nicely with my sore throat.  I'd try oatmeal but not until I feel well enough to wash some dishes.

      Back to bed.  COVID sucks.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

After Three Years

      I spent three years dodging it.  I've had two or three maybes when I felt sick enough that I ran the test and came up okay.  When this cold started, I discovered my saved-back test kits had expired, so I ordered another one.

      It arrived last night but I felt so bad that I was too clumsy to use it.  This afternoon, I felt good enough to try.  It's a little science experiment -- prepare the card, take the sample, apply the sample to the card and start the clock.

      Tick-tock, tick-tock....

      Bingo.  Two lines.

      Dammit.

Sick, But Better

      After a lousy night with needling pains in every joint, dull aches in every muscle and a high-enough temperature that I probably could have slept in snow, I woke up sneezing, with a sweat-damp nightgown.  Now I have chills and the fountains of my sinuses remain unceasing. but the pain's down to a dull ache.

      Back to bed, I think.  I hardboiled an egg and made some toast for breakfast, and it just about wore me out.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Whoa, Sick

      It probably got me Monday, either at work or the store.  Maybe even the doctor's office, though they're all still masking up (voluntarily).  Or possibly even earlier; I was sneezing off and on all weekend, and blamed allergies.

     Tuesday, I woke up with a scratchy throat and gargled some warm salt water, figuring I must have been snoring.*

     By the end of the day, I was dizzy and aching all over.  After I got home, I started having chills and went to bed early, wrapped up in a flannel nightgown and blankets, shivering in the 74-degree air.

     I woke every few hours last night, and this morning I'm still flamboyantly sore (hey presto, you're ancient!) and sinus-struck, though not as chilled.  Big fun!  I'm eating breakfast now and will run a coronavirus check soon, just to make sure.  It's not like the course of treatment is especially different.
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*I'd like to tell you that I snore as delicately and charmingly as a cat. I'd like to, but I'm told on the blessedly rare occasions when it strikes, my snores can be heard all the way down the hall and sound like someone trying to cut green wood with a dull handsaw.  It's been known to wake me up, after which I lay there trying to parse the awful sound that ended before consciousness had fully flooded back.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Why Make Sense?

      My link to Will Saletan's lengthy examination of U. S. Senator Lindsay Graham and his evolving relationship with former President Donald Trump has resulted in a couple of critical comments.

      One wonders about the piece, "...reading like an autobiography," questioning how Saletan can possibly know so much about the Senator's opinions.  The answer -- as pointed out in the text -- is that Graham is a tireless promoter, who is happy to work the political talk shows and make public appearances.  He's as close to an open book as you'll find in modern politics.  The man rarely shuts up.  It's what made him such an illustrative subject.

      Another condemns any praise of Graham as shameful, calling him a "RINO [expletive]."  I'm not sure what praise the commenter finds objectionable.  When I looked up the Senator's Wikipedia biography, it was obvious he'd been a hard worker in the Navy's legal department and I made a point of mentioning it; Will Saletan speaks highly of Graham's initial criticism of Mr. Trump.  In a remarkable example of the problem with organizing a political party or movement around a person instead of principles, today's GOP defines a "RINO" as any Republican insufficiently supportive of the former President.  This hardly describes Lindsay Graham's current publicly stated opinion; he's MAGA all the way.  It goes to show the brittle nature of such an arrangement: any politician without a sensitive finger to shifts in the Trumpian wind may find themselves out in the cold.

      Maybe that was okay for Stalin or Mao or the court of Louis XVI of France, but it's not the way we've done things in this country.  The GOP once had a large enough tent that there was room within it for Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater, and the Democrats across the aisle frequently demonstrate a degree of internal disagreement that borders on chaos.  All of 'em in both parties nevertheless used to operate with a bedrock faith and credence in the basic institutions of our government, no matter how much they disagreed among or between one another, no matter how heated debate became.

      It's not like that any more, and one side is a lot more screwed-up than the other.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Back On The Rack

      Every time I use the roasting rack in my fancy cookpot, I become more fond of it.  Friday, I encountered a massive pot roast at the grocer's.  Once he was out of the way--

      No.  It was a real pot roast, not a figurative one, tipping the scales at 3.8 pounds and priced to move.  I picked up a turnip,* carrots, celery, fresh mushrooms, a good-sized potato and an onion to replenish the stock.

      Saturday afternoon along about two, I fried a couple of strips of applewood-smoked bacon in the bottom of the pot.  Once the bacon was underway, I sprinkled the pot roast with coarse kosher salt, pepper and some garlic powder.  Once the bacon was crisp and draining on paper towel, I browned the roast very thoroughly on all sides in the left-over bacon fat, adding to Italian mix seasoning.

      Once the roast was browned, I set it out and drained the excess fat, being careful to leave any solid bits.  I added a couple of cups of water, brought it to a boil, and poured in a sachet of dehydrated bone broth powder.  I stirred it thoroughly, set the rack into the pan (the top of it was well clear of the broth), put the roast on it, layered the bacon on top of the roast, put the lid on, set a timer for an hour and went to do other things. (I set another timer for three and a half hours; this is one of the handy things about having a sessile robot in the house: all you have to do is ask.)

      An hour later, I peeled the turnip, cut it into large chunks, sprinkled a little garam masala on it and dropped it in.  I added three bay leaves, one with the turnip chunks and the others on top of the bacon.  I set another hour timer.

      After that, I added the potato, also cut in large chunks, with a little pepper and smoked paprika, followed once the pot was steaming by the carrot, celery and onion.  I took my time preparing and adding each ingredient.  My "existing stock of onions" turned out to be one well-sprouted and one gone a bit moldy, so it was a good thing I'd bought another.

      At about the two and a half hour mark, I added the mushrooms.  They were pretty big, so I cut them into largeish sections.  A half-hour later, I had a look.  Everything looked done and a check with the meat thermometer showed the roast was cooked.  I set it on a big cutting board, drained the broth into a grease separator, and poured the separated broth back over the vegetables.  The meat was tender, with a well-done end for me and a rarer end for Tam; it sliced up with only a little falling apart.

      The end result was flavorful.  The slow-cooked potato had taken up the flavor of the broth and the other vegetables were singing harmony.

      There were leftovers enough for two gallon-size freezer bags, each holding dinner for two or perhaps three.
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* Some of you look askance at turnips.  You're missing out; they're spicy and complex.  I can see a certain skepticism of swedes (rutabagas), which are a lot milder and usually coarser, but turnips are darned good, especially in stews and soups.  Either one will do anything you can do with a potato, usually with a bit more verve.  Oh well, all the more for me!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Weekend Read

     I admit it: I underestimated U. S. Senator Lindsey Graham.  I took him for an earnest striver, a perpetual "B" student struggling to keep up with the cool kids, always a few steps behind and short of breath.  I was wrong.  To his credit, his academic credentials are solid and he's put in years of good work as an Air Force lawyer.  On the other side of the ledger, he's got piles of the kind of ambition that Senators are made of, and he is more than willing to strain at gnats while swallowing camels whole in pursuit of partisan politics.

     A man like that can be made -- or unmade -- by circumstances, and Senator Graham managed to be right there in the fray as Donald J. Trump entered Republican politics and made it -- and, eventually, the Senator -- his own.

     Will Saletan of The Bulwark has done a deep, deep dive into Lindsey Graham's political arc, following him step by step from 2105 to the present and it's sobering reading.

     One vital takeaway: Trumpism is not conservatism. It's authoritarianism.  Mr. Trump's fans at home and abroad like to paint all of his critics as "liberals," usually with a touch of insulting embroidery around the edges.*  The Bulwark is quite emphatically not a liberal website; the staff consists of conservatives, neo-cons, non-Trump Republicans and an occasional libertarian-leaning type, and you'll sniff about in vain for a whiff of New Deal/Great Society/Clintonian/Obamaesque folks there.
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* Hoping, I suppose, for a steam-out-the-ears reaction, which they're not going to get from me.  I'm an old-fashioned libertarian: while I'm perfectly happy if gun-toting drag queens get married and smoke pot, if knuckle-dragging Neanderthals stand up a stone circle and howl away at the solstice or if  Joe Sixpack and family enjoy an ordinary church-on-Sunday life in the suburbs, and so on, I don't think it should be state-subsidized. If that happens to make steam come out of your ears, well, it's a free country -- steam away!

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Once More Unto The Breach

      Here we go again.  It's 2020 all over again, with just a hint of 2016.  Presidential-election politics, and Donald Trump especially, has become an astonishingly-sharp Shiri's scissor.

      If you're much of an online person and you have a wide-enough circle of friends -- or you just can't keep yourself from reading the comments* -- you've seen it already in the reaction to last night's CNN "Town Hall."  People critical of Mr. Trump were horrified, many of them citing his mockery of E. Jean Carroll, which elicited laughter from the largely-GOP audience.  And on the other side? The laughing audience.  (She's a Hoosier, by the way.)

      Depending on your personal filter, which side of the "scissor statement" you're on, it was utterly awful or an absolute lark.  There's not much "meh."

      One side of the equation tells me the CNN event showed the man as he is: crass, sexist, racist and ignorant, and who'd want that?  The other side reports their guy was back in the saddle again, and they're thrilled to see it.  The man incites the worst attack on the U. S. Capitol since the War of 1812, undermines the foundations of our system of government, and gets cheered for it.

      I don't get it -- well, I suppose I do; there's an element in the human heart that loves destruction and loathes whatever stands through storm, fire and centuries, just as there is an element that builds and preserves.  Sometimes the thirst for wrack and ruin wins out; to a bored and well-fed people, it looks like fun.  You can tell them it isn't, but until they've got to dig through garbage for food and use a shellhole in the back yard for a bathroom,  they'll cheer it on nevertheless.  Some will keep on cheering it on after things fall apart.  (And heavens help us if the current debt-ceiling brinkmanship goes sour; take that sated, destruction-hungry audience, stick 'em in a depression or deep-enough recession, and they'll vote to flip over the tables out of sheer spite.)

      In 2024, which will triumph, Constitutional order or autocracy?  Snip, snip.
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* Never read the comments.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Pasty, Pudgy, Ill-Nourished

      The problem with what passes for "news media" these days is the same kind of thing as the problem with snacks.

      You could have an apple or an orange, a handful of nuts, even some plain popcorn -- but the shelves are full of chips and candy bars and pastries with an amazingly-long shelf life, all nicely wrapped up and ready to go.  Why mess around rinsing off a kumquat or peeling a tangelo when there's Sugary Goodness™ just waiting?

      Likewise, the news used to be readily available in columns of dry text with the occasional map, chart or monochrome picture, thrown on your doorstep with the ink still damp every morning (and evening, in the larger towns and cities).  Or you could get it in five-minute chunks at the top or bottom of the hour, read by a professional with one eye on a stopwatch and the other on the entire world, a few concise lines for war, flood, fire and pestilence with a heartwarming "kicker" at the end unless they ran out of time.

      Mostly, what you got was news, because they had neither time nor the column-inches to deliver much else.  Oh, there was editorial content as well, on its own page or in its own time slot and clearly marked.  That's not to say the news content was entirely unbiased; the providers had to fit it into the available room, they had to pick what would lead off the newscast or the front page, and everyone involved was human: every news story is a story and every story has a point of view.  They had to stick to the facts; lies took too much effort and the competition would pick them apart.

      But it was fresh fruit and vegetables, and no ranch dressing.  The rise of 24-hour news stations, first on radio and then on cable TV, meant there were vast amounts of time to fill.  The Internet made for unlimited "pages" of newspapers -- and as newspapers put themselves behind paywalls to make up for lost revenue, plenty of new websites emerged to fill the gap, free for nothing but a mish-mash of weird ads onscreen.  And a lot of it was the junk food of news.

      I loved the "newswheel" format, a never-ending succession of newscasts, stories updated as they happened, but it was labor-intensive and the ratings plateau at "meh" unless there's a war or worse going on; newsreaders don't build a strong following the way "news personalities" can, nor does a quick look at what's going on in the country and around the world bring out strong emotion in the manner that hammering away at a few hot topical issues will.  And if that necessarily erodes the distinction between news content and opinion content?  Too bad -- look how well it sells soap and cars and so on!

      And so now we have channel after channel, website after website of attractively-packaged fluff with a long shelf-life, loaded with addictive notions, filling but not nutritious.

      Eat too much junk food and you get fat.  Consume too much junk news and you'll get fat-headed.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

And There's Another One! And Another!

      Political news these days is like standing on one side of a canyon, watching busloads of children driven by fools plunge over a cliff on the other side, one after another in an endless succession.

      It's horrifying.  It's ghastly.  And after a while, you start to burn out.  It's no less terrible but they just keep coming.

      I have about reached the point where I can't keep on pointing it out, "Look, there's another busload of innocent children going over the edge!  This time, it's on fire!"  Especially when so many of the other onlookers are cheering it on.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Linguistic Patrol: I Don't Know Who Else Needs To See This...

      ...Other than that guy at Atlas Obscura, but tenable and tenuous are not synonyms or even different forms of the same word.  They have, in fact, very nearly opposite meanings.

      I swear, you turn your back on a perfectly good language for five minutes, and the kids are spray-painting stuff all over it; only about ten percent of the additions and modifications come anywhere close to art.

      Look it up -- especially if it feels like a clever turn of phrase.  English steals words from all over, fools around with their meanings without due regard to origins and pays very little attention to fiddlin' details like inadvertent near-twin antonyms. 

Saturday, May 06, 2023

The Blame Game

      Some days, I swear I'm gonna go Sledgehammer Barbie on a recalcitrant piece of electronic equipment.  User-hostile support only makes it worse.

      We've got a gadget that takes a bunch of meter readings and status indications (off or on?  Okay or acting up? and so on) and hands them off via a network connection to a number of distant locations, while outputting on-off commands from the same locations.  A lot of companies make them.  Over 40-odd years, I have installed four different models from four different companies and worked on at least six varieties.  It's not unusual to total a couple of hundred "channels" of telemetry, status and control.

       The details of how they interface with external hardware vary and I have learned to always build a connection panel; barrier-type screw-terminal blocks used to be standard but the last couple have used "Eurostyle" connector blocks and crimp-on ferrules, a combination that works well with solid and stranded wire in a wide range of sizes.  The reason for this is that with one exception, every last one of them has used some quirky, high-density connection system for inputs and outputs.  They are awkward to change connections on, especially without disturbing other connections, and most accommodate only a few sizes of wire.  So you set things up so you only have to make the difficult connections once and all subsequent changes are made using something simpler and easier to get at.

      The most recent such device has jumpers (with SCSI-bus obscure high-density connectors at each end!) from their devices to panels with custom 110 blocks, a punch-down, insulation-displacement connection developed for telephony.  They are compact, secure and extremely reliable -- if you use the one exact right kind of wire (#24-26 solid) with the right kind of insulation and the proper spring-impact tool to shove it into place and trim off the excess.  So I did; I bought 25-pair telephone wire, put the 110 bit in my punchdown tool and wired the 110 blocks out to Eurostyle blocks, where I was able to connect the mad array of different wires that go to all the widgets this thing has to talk to.  I followed the proper color code for 25-pair cable, making the wiring relatively easy to follow -- despite the OEM having installed their color-coded 4-pair 110 blocks backwards, so each group of four is marked in ascending numerical order but color-coded for pairs 4, 3, 2 and 1.  (That's brown, green, orange, blue, for those keeping track at home.)

      This same device turned out to have a software "gotcha:" if you followed the instruction manual in naming, setting parameters, calibrating and assigning each channel of the interface device, that channel would become "invisible" to the other end.  There's a hidden command level to make it visible again (by entering all the information again) and end-users cannot access it; only factory support can make those changes.  The manual doesn't tell you that, so if you're me, you set the system up and check it before handing it off to factory support -- or you try to check it.  I spent a month messing around with it, trying to figure out what was wrong, before I admitted defeat.  The manufacturer was cagey; all they'll say is, "The manual is out of date," but they won't tell you anything more.  In four and half years, no updates to the manual have been forthcoming.  It looks like they just don't want us in there.

      As a result, when we make changes or have trouble, factory support has to be involved.  So when the network connection with one of the devices became unreliable and we'd eliminated other causes, they sent out a new device, (supposedly) ported all the settings from the bad one to its replacement, and once that was done, I moved the connectorized jumpers over.

      Half of the indications were wrong.

      The first question from factory support, working remotely: "Will you check the punches?"  Yes, sure.  I reminded him that I had not changed that part of the system in any way, got out a meter, checked and reported back.  All was as it should be.  I already knew that.  When I installed this system, I did so in parallel with the one it was replacing, and left it running.  The old system has a nice interactive computer display of all the relevant parameters, essentially a web page of geekery.  At least I think it's nice -- probably because I laid it out and did all the fiddly work to set the appearance, calibration and colors.  It was still okay.

      I suggested that perhaps not all of the settings for the individual channels had been ported over from the flaky device to the new one.  I cannot see those settings; after the debacle of the original setup, I don't have a computer at the site able to access the system at that level, since anyone making the slightest change, even by accident, will make it "disappear" from the other end.  Factory support wanted me to re-check the punches.  I sent him a photograph of them, and followed up another set of measurements.  If you use skinny probes with sharp-pointed ends, you can check directly at the contact terminals of the 110 block, affirming that the electrical connection between the wire and the block is okay.

      The factory tech was assuming we had punched whatever kind of wire we had directly into the block.  This is a known source of intermittent trouble -- and it's why I used genuine telephone-type wire to run from the 110 block out to a more tolerant kind of connection.  It's a lot simpler for their tech to blame me -- "The punches/grounding/jumper settings must be messed up." -- than dig back into the individual channel settings of the device, with multiple parameters to be looked at and possibly reset for each one of 96 channels.

      In the end, I moved the plug-in jumpers back to the original device and -- what a wonder! -- all of the readings went back to normal, just as if the punches, grounding and jumper settings were okay.  We'll have another go at it next week.

      I am hoping the next attempt will not involve a round of mutual finger-pointing.  I'm more than happy to show my work.  So far, the factory has not been.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Spoke Too Soon

      Back pain is ramping up again, after a day of only moderate effort.  I do not recommend this.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Better -- Also, The WGA Strike

      After spending nearly 36 hours in bed with occasional recourse to a heating pad, I'm feeling much better.  Not a hundred percent, but I can draw a deep breath, sneeze and even turn my upper body without a spike in pain from my lower back.  The dull ache has faded -- not gone but much, much less.  Considering that at one point Monday evening I went to lean over and reach out from a seated position and ended up crashing over on my knees, this is a considerable improvement.

      I'm going to spend some time lightening my purse and briefcase.  There's a lot of odds and ends in each -- useful, most of it, but not all of it needs to be lugged around every day.

      One source of weight: I carry two small laptops -- an old Surface Pro (much heavier than you'd expect) and a MacBook Air (which is indeed lightweight) -- and the only reason for the Surface these days is that my employer has never managed to come up with an old laptop or desktop on a cart to do the control interface for a number of devices we run at the North Campus that don't have control panels and only occasionally need to be got at.  They have their reasons: proper security requires official company computers must have current, updateable operating systems and protections and if they can't, they are discarded.  But it's inconvenient.  It appears that a Raspberry Pi will do what I need and satisfy the security gurus, so I may be able to retire my personal Surface and ensure anyone filling in for me will be able to get at the virtual meters, knobs and buttons.

*  *  *

      On Twitter and elsewhere, many writers have proclaimed their support of the Writer's Guild of America strike.  WGA are the boys and girls and etc. who write scripts for TV and film; their last agreement with the people who make such entertainment predates the Golden Age of Streaming by over a decade and as a result, they aren't seeing much of the gold.  The issues are complex, the sides are far apart and I hope you're got some older programs in your to-be-watched queue, because it looks like they'll be a while sorting things out.

      As for me, I can proudly proclaim that I have not been writing screenplays for more than 60 years and I expect this trend to continue.

      "Writing is writing," I suppose, but screenplays diverge considerably from other forms of fiction -- and are sold differently, too.  If you write a novel or short story and a publisher "buys" it, you effectively lease it to them, retaining copyright for later sales. A screenwriter doesn't get to do that; turning a screenplay into a film or series takes a whole lot more creative work from other people once the writer is (mostly) done, so the screenwriter receives a paycheck and (maybe) a piece of any "residuals," rerun money (and that's a big part of what they're striking over), but does not hold copyright.  No few talented writers of printed fiction have gone off to Hollywood (and related locations) and burned right out.

      "Scabbing" at screenwriting might not burn a writer out, but it'll burn a bridge: the WGA bars membership to any former scabs.  Harsh?  Yes.  And that's Hollywood.

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Frustrated

      My back was aching through last week and got a little better on Saturday.  I spent about an hour gardening, and Sunday, I felt worse.  Monday, things got worse all day,  I left work early and today it has been pretty bad so far.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Inspector Shan

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

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

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

Friday, April 28, 2023

You Must Be New Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

"Halfway Across, The Scorpion Stung Him"

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Roasting Rack

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Sore Winners, Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2023

It's Back

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Surprise!

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

And Then I Learned...

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Tinker Tailor Soldier Hey Isn't That Benedict Cumberbatch?

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Well, That Was Clever

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 14, 2023

On The Good Drugs

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

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

Mystifing

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

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

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

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Better

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

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Old Remedies

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Oh, My Aching Back

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2023

The Mandalorian And The Implicit Promise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 09, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Use It Up, Wear It Out...

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Bad Weather Coming In; A Mess Averted

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

     Good for 'em.  Good for us all.

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Looking At The News

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 02, 2023

Now You Know It's A Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 31, 2023

And Now We're All Legal Experts

      His client hasn't even stood up before the judge yet, but this morning, former President Trump's attorney -- one of them -- was on TV.

      He offered a line that's been going around, "If they can do this to Donald Trump, they can do it to the rest of us."  He's right, of course -- any of us might be suspected of a crime, investigated by a grand jury and find ourselves facing charges in a court of law, where we would be entitled to competent counsel -- perhaps a tough-talking New York attorney.  Aside from blatantly illegal activity, scrupulous avoidance of complex transactions* will reduce the chance of it happening but it could, in fact, happen to anyone.  This is a feature, not a bug, awkward as it can be.  No one is above the law, from bums sleeping on park benches to former Presidents.

      The attorney went on to suggest that the actual charges ought to be Federal, not state-level, and that as Federal charges, they would be without merit.  He's adding another step to the old trial-lawyer wisdom, pithily stated by Alan Dershowitz: "If the facts are on your side, pound the facts into the table. If the law is on your side, pound the law into the table. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table."  And if the table's not loud enough, pound jurisdictional issues.  The problem with that approach is that there are a lot of things that aren't violations of Federal law but do break state law; the last time I checked, there weren't even any general Federal laws against murder.

      While news coverage is hot to make the case about payments to a porn actress to cover up salacious details that might have harmed then-candidate Donald Trump's reputation,† it's actually about the more abstract notion of the source, nature and accounting for of money spent in support of his campaign (keeping a candidate's name out of the muck is indeed supporting his efforts to be elected).  If she'd been a mousey millionairess from Brooklyn to whom he'd sold swampland misrepresented as a prime residential tract and she'd then been paid to keep mum, it would have been the same kind of thing only without the S-E-X that makes it catnip for the Press.

      I'd like to hope this would all play out without drama, one more dull trial full of people in suits rationally arguing the facts and the law.  Fat chance.  The circus is coming to NYC and I hope nobody's bringing clubs, brickbats or worse; I hope the protesters pro and con keep it down to a dull roar, the police exercise mature restraint and the principals in the case refrain from intemperate or inflammatory remarks.

      People in Hell hope for ice water, too.  Strange how often that comes up these days.
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* They don't even have to be that tricky.  Forty-some years ago, my efforts to keep the heat on in a duplex I was buying on contract but no longer lived in included letting a friend live there at rent far below the going rate as long as she kept the gas bill paid.  There was a good reason for this; the bridge connecting the neighborhood the house was in to a nearby university was closed all that that year for repair.  Nevertheless, this friendly, mutually-beneficial deal ended up costing me huge tax deductions on both side of the duplex and having to give up the contract.  The IRS agent was not unkind and walked me through my mistakes step-by-step, but there was no fixing it.  I owed a heap of taxes that took a decade to pay off.
 
† It appears to me that any possible harm would have subsequently been mooted when his crass remarks to Billy Bush of Access Hollywood were revealed, so the sequence of events may loom large.  On the other hand, I am not a lawyer.  The prosecutor's got some heavy lifting to do and the defense has a lot of opportunities to pick away at the weak spots, and that's our legal system.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Abraca-Penrose?

      They've done it.  The mathematicians have finally done it.

      If you enjoy the art of M. C. Escher, you have encountered tiling and tessellation: covering a surface with a repeating shapes.  Mathematician Roger Penrose worked out a pair of simple shapes that form nonrepeating tiling patterns and have a number of interesting properties.  The "kite" and "dart" are fascinating, four-sided shapes that combine in five-pointed stars and ten-sided figures.  And their "quasi-crystal" formation has turned up in the real world: the super-slick non-stick ceramic coating of my new skillet and stewpot, for instance.

      And now the high-level math types have come up with a single shape that does the same thing.  Dubbed "the hat," the figure has thirteen sides and a hexagon lurks in the underlying structure.  (Make up your own tabloid headline from all that.)  No word on it creating inter-dimensional openings or having other magical properties -- or at least, not so far.