Sunday, March 31, 2024

Holidays

     Today is Easter, and I'd like to share appropriate wishes to all my observing Christian friends.  Many of the more-secular celebrate this day, too, at least as far as big family dinners, candy baskets and Easter Egg hunts.

     Spring 2024 is a real pile-up of holidays; Easter falls roughly two-thirds of the way through Ramadan* this year and we're about a few weeks away from the beginning of Passover.  Each of these religious holidays is a "movable feast," rather than a fixed calendar date.  There are other commemorations, too: today is Cesar Chavez day, if you'd like to get irked about a labor organizer, and it's International Transgender Day of Visibility, for those who would prefer a more recent culture-war item to gripe about.  It's also the day the Dali Lama reached the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery outside Chinese-occupied Tibet in 1959 and the PRC is still annoyed about that.

     What all these events have in common is that here in the U.S., celebrating or complaining about them is not compulsory.  Pick and choose, and let your fellow citizens do the same.  It's Springtime and flowers are sprouting, and if you can't find something to be happy about this time of year, you probably never will.

     I guess rage is fun, but I can assure you happiness is a hell of a lot better for your blood pressure and digestion, and makes you nicer to have around.  Me, I'm not going to worry; it's a great big world and it's full of choices.
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* Determined by a Lunar calendar, Ramadan steps backwards through the solar calendar, resulting in interesting effects: the holiday appears twice in 2030.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Just Asking Questions

     Y'know, if I told you one of my cousins was facing 88 felony charges across four different jurisdictions, and had recently lost some big civil cases as well, would you be inclined to loan him your car?  Or would you be thinking up polite excuses while trying to remember if you'd left the keys in plain sight?

     It's worth pondering.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Whiskey, Alpha, Tango, Foxtrot, Over

     This morning, it appears that the general unhappiness of my desktop computer may, in fact, be something more than Mozilla and Microsoft not wanting to play nice.  It's been a good, long run -- seven years -- but it's looking like my security software, one that is a notorious resource hog, is becoming too much for the system to run while any foreground application is running as well.

     Rats.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Some Kind Of A Milestone. Or A Millstone.

     Firefox and the online version of Outlook have now become so mutually hostile that trying to read my home or work e-mail crashes the browser.

     This usually results in a Firefox update in a week or so that fixes it, but I'm not sure which side drives it.  I have workarounds -- Outlook runing as a standalone, a different browser, or just moving to my Apple-family platforms -- so it's rarely more than a slight inconvenience.  But it's annoying.  The struggle seems to be more bitter and active than even the format-fight between Microsoft Office and upstart LibreOffice, in which the little open-source competitor chases after every change the market-dominating company makes while supporting its own alternatives, the ISO-standard ODF family.

     Presumably, while the word-processing, spreadsheet, etc. market is dominated by Microsoft to the point of effective exclusion of alternatives, browser wars continue, Chrome vs. Edge vs. Firefox vs. whatever, and they continue to actively trip one another up with "improvements."

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Oh, Boy

     An opponent* of Eric Doden, one of many Republican Gubernatorial hopefuls, has found something on him that can be spun scurrilous, some purported conflict of interest.  At this point, the men (or most of them) running for a chance at the office are smearing one another with the happy glee of small boys scrawling dirty words on a freshly-painted wall.

     I wonder if any of them remembers how this plays back in the general election?  But gee, I wouldn't want to interrupt their fun.
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* A "Paid for..." graphic, essentially a video footnote, credits Mike Braun.  So I will, too.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Political Ads, Pivot

     There's a slight pivot in some local political advertising, with a few candidates dropping the trans/immigrant/fentnyl fear-mongering in favor of talking about what a great state Indiana is and how they plan to make it even better.  In the Governor's race, Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch only recently started running television ads that are pretty much the old normal-Republican: positive, socially and fiscally conservative, stressing continuity.

     Other candidates have gone another way.  Eric Doden had moved from "my grandpappy was a preacher" to scare-stories about the border and fentanyl, but now he's found a worse enemy: our current junior U. S. Senator, Mike Braun.  It is easy to forget, but early on, the Senator had toyed with notions that leaned a bit centrist -- including some reforms to qualified immunity.   That won him mentions and a hostile interview in 2020 by Tucker Carlson, which has proven a fertile resource for shocking pull quotes that now headline Mr. Doden's ads.  Viewers are left with the impression the hard-Right Senator is out to defund the police, if not worse.  Meanwhile, Sen. Braun's commercials laud the virtues of the hardworking men (and women) of law enforcement and express his deep and apparently unconditional support of them.  Sometimes one ad will run right after the other.  I'm not sure which is more disorienting, Mr. Doden's wild mood swings or Sen. Braun's unplanned turn in the role of Harvey Dent.

     Elsewhere, Chuck Goodrich is looking to move up from the State Legislature and unseat U. S. Representative Victoria Spartz in the 5th District, and he's sticking to the fear-and-loathing/strong leadership model, complete with below chin-level camera angles.  Perennial candidate Jefferson Shreeve is running much the same play in the 6th District, though he has finally retired his red, white and black campaign livery for red, white and a touch of blue.  It's all "bold leader/stop the alien hordes" stuff, which still plays a bit off to my ear, not quite the kind of things I heard from a GOP dominated by WW II veterans and Cold Warriors while I was growing up.  I'm not looking for a Siegfried or a Caesar; I'd rather have Just Some Guy (or Gal), not notably stupid (even slightly glib), well-informed on current events, skilled in the give and take of legislative work and willing to put in long hours at it.  Will I get that from any of today's Republicans?  Probably not.

     The way politics is being played at present amounts to a suicide pact.  Congress keeps flinching at the last minute but some of them are getting far too comfortable with the idea.
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     In other news, the ants are back in my kitchen.  So much for the last blueberry muffin, which they had swarmed alarmingly.  Now all the snack foods and sugar will live in large zip-seal plastic bags for the duration, or until we stop 'em.  There's usually slight traffic all summer, but if we're careful, they don't find much and mostly just send scouts.  If only candidate craziness was as easy to get under control!

Monday, March 25, 2024

This Is Not Lamb-Like

     We've had a return to cold.  Now it's warming up, but high winds and possibly thunderstorms are coming along with the warmth.

     I was at my employer's main campus today.  The public entrance to the building is angled and was exposed to the wind.  It was whistling around that corner with a sound like a cheap sound effect, the sort of thing that you'd discount as hokey in a film or TV show.  It's less so when you look out and see the trees shivering in the gusting wind.

     April isn't far away.  Will we get gentle rains or spring storms?  Probably a little of both.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

A Happier Topic

     Food!  I had some theories about Spam and potato hash, and gave them a try for brunch:

     I put the diced potato and a little olive oil, one layer thick in a covered skillet and set it cooking over medium heat with some dried onion flakes.  I diced a can of Spam and put the diced meat in a bowl of cold water (I used a couple of small paper bowls for less clean up) and let it soak, then poured off the water and rinsed it a couple of times.  I diced up the equivalent of a large carrot and set it aside.

     When the potatoes looked just about cooked through, I added the carrot and the Spam on top, spread them out in an even layer, put the lid back on and gave it several minutes to cook while I diced a couple of small bell peppers, red and orange.  Then I took the lid off, turned the heat up, and stirred everything together, adding the peppers.  I stirred and turned it uncovered until the potatoes and meat were browned enough to suit me, and gave it a taste.

     The soaking, rinsing and cooking with potatoes had knocked the saltiness down without losing any flavor!

     This would probably work with canned corned beef, too.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

It Is Positively Predictable

      You can count on it: if the plunger was left in the basement, within two months, the toilet will do a "stealth stoppage:" water level just a tick higher than normal, drain blocked.  Flip the lever and you've got an hour of cleanup.

     If the plunger was deloused and left in a small bucket in the washroom?  Rarely have a stop-up.

     The tie-breaker is when there's over an inch of water in the basement -- and the plunger is down there. too, on the far side of the floor drain.

     I own three plungers -- one small and clean for sinks, a big one for the basement floor drain, and a fancy big one for the loo, but the fancy one tends to get migrated to the basement for a spray-down with bleach cleaner, and then why not just leave the ugly thing there?  What harm will come of it?

     And thus the cycle continues.  If I'd just leave the plunger in the smallest room, it wouldn't need to be used.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Climate Isn't Weather

     Nor is weather climate.  One is short-term events and the other is long-term trends.  But weather rides on climate's back -- and it is increasingly obvious that weather can beat us up in the here and now while climate creeps steadily worse.

     We can keep on whistling past that graveyard for a good long while, but the road leads right to the cemetery gates.  Technology got us into this fix and the only real way out is with more -- and better -- technology.

     It doesn't matter if the people who'd put us back in mud huts want to do so because they long for an imagined halcyon past of folk singing and sustainable living, or because they pine to "RETVRN" to a fantasy wonderland of happy peasants and benign, sword-bearing nobles (who will of course be them*): it's idiotic and unrealistic.  We can have fresh vegetables all winter and clean air, global connectivity and clean water, but we're going need to do the hard work of engineering our way to them -- and you can't do that from a feudal culture with most people stuck living like farm animals.  (It took rediscovered science, stolen gold, readily-accessible coal and steam engines last time, and it was centuries in the doing.)
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* Yeah, good luck with that.  Even a cursory reading of history reveals that when the going gets tough, pencil-neck geeks are shoved to the back by the biggest, meanest action-oriented types, sorted for viciousness first, cleverness second and geekery not at all.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Pasta And Sauce, Two Dinners

     Last Sunday, I made pasta: rotini* with marinara sauce from a jar, livened up with mild Italian sausage, a small can of sliced black olives (well-drained) and shishito pepper rings.  It was good -- the spiral rotini hold a lot of sauce.  All of the ingredients except the sauce were things I already had on the shelf on in the fridge.  There was sauce left over, so I froze it.

     On the way home yesterday, I was thinking about what might work for dinner.  I picked up a small onion, three-quarters of a pound of lean ground beef and some Parmesan cheese.

     Once home, I set the frozen leftover sauce to thaw in the microwave, browned the ground beef, drained it, pushed it to the edges of the pan and cooked the diced onion until it was translucent and just starting to brown.  I added a small can of plain tomato sauce and some spices, mostly basil and garlic, stirred it all together and added the mostly-thawed leftover sauce.

     For pasta, I used fregula: tiny, toasted spheres of pasta, that range from dark brown to the usual pale tan.  I put them in a two-cup measure half full of hot water in the microwave and gave it several one-minute runs, watching closely for when it would boil up and stopping the oven before it could boil over.  This trick will half-cook the fregula.  When it was done, the sauce was bubbling well.  I used a little of the starchy pasta water to rinse the tomato sauce can and add to the pan, drained the rest, and stirred in the fregula.

     I went to put the lid on, thought a second, and used the spoon to make a shallow dent in the sauce, then broke an egg in to poach while it finished cooking.  I like eggs pomodoro, and it's a low-effort addition.

     Fifteen minutes latter, dinner was ready -- plain for Tam and with an egg for me, and with Parmesan cheese on top.  The shishito peppers had cooked down nicely, and the onion and black olive got along with them very well.
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* When I was growing up, we called them "scroodles," and they were an exotic foreign side dish, usually served with only butter, salt and pepper on them.  They're really fusilli, but in the U. S. and Canada, they're called rotini -- changed at Ellis Island, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Yellow Rice, Pigeon Peas, Chicken

     It's a quick meal, especially if you've got leftover chicken.

     "Yellow Rice" is commonly available as a boxed mix.  Most brands call it "Spanish style," but it appears to have been introduced to the U. S. through Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.  It's often paired with pulses.  Years ago, I found a recipe for yellow rice and pigeon peas that I like -- it can be as simple as mixing the two before cooking.

     Pigeon peas are pulses, cousins to lentils and black-eyed peas.  They have a distinctive flavor, one that pairs well with rice and meat.  So when I happened on a chicken and rice (plus plain green peas) recipe on a box of yellow rice mix that needed to get used, I had a plan.

     Our corner grocer sells whole roasted chickens -- and also ready-to-eat wings, breasts and drumsticks.  By the time I'm off work, they've been in the hot case awhile, which can be good or bad.  Yesterday, they had a nice stack of drumsticks, which was all to the good; Tam's not fond of chicken breast but she loves drumsticks.  I picked up four.  I already had chicken broth, the rice mix and a can of pigeon peas.*

     I used a deep, lidded skillet for the chicken broth (and some of the bean liquid) in place of plain water.  You get it boiling, add the rice mix, bring it back to a boil before covering and simmering over low heat for 25 minutes.  I added the four drumsticks after the dry rice, along with a little paprika, cilantro (the usual caution -- it tastes very soapy to some people and if you don't know, find out before adding it to a dish!) and dried onion flakes, put the lid on and did other things while it cooked.

     The end result was fragrant and flavorful, with tender falling-off-the-bone chicken in a bed of yellow-gold rice and green-to-tan pigeon peas, and looks like a lot more work than it is.

     Fancier versions might start with chicken breasts, fried in the same skillet and then cooked with the rice.
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* Beans and pulses are inexpensive, keep well and offer a variety of flavors.  While dried ones are the longest-lasting, they require more preparation time.  So I tend to keep a little dried and several different kinds in cans.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Aspirin, Ice And The Tincture Of Time

     Yesterday, I took to my bed, alternating aspirin and acetaminophen to cope with knee pain.  Eventually I resorted to a hot pad (I was having chills) and cold packs on my knee. I also restarted vitamin D: I ran out over a week ago, picked up more last week, and left the bottle on the shelf.

     Some success: my worst knee still hurts but it's not so obtrusive that I can't focus, and neither one is too stiff to walk.  Yesterday, I could manage to get from room to room; today, a trip to the garage feels possible and if I can get that far, why, the city is my oyster!  I have a cane in the car (and another in my room), as a backup, just in case.

     Things are looking so bright, I'm going to have to dig out the clip-ons.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Ain't This Nice?

     Today, my knees barely want to work.  They're been increasingly painful and stiff in the last couple of weeks and today, I'm getting zinged every time I move.  It kept waking me up last night, despite OTC pain meds.  All on top of a near-blinding headache.

     Presently, I'm on both aspirin and acetaminophen, the latter only a few minutes ago.  If it kicks in, great.  If not, I'm back to bed and, and to doc-in-a-box later.  With a history of rheumatic fever, manifesting mostly as pain in my knees, this kind of thing means I need to have an M.D. listen to my heart and make sure that critical item isn't running rough.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

The Ads Keep Getting Worse

     It's raining F├╝hrerprinzip out there.  Indiana's a Republican stronghold, at least at the statewide level, and so the real contest for Governor and Federal office (in the Senate and most House districts) is in the GOP primary.  The Governor's post is up for grabs this year, the generally moderate and careful Eric Holcomb being term-limited, and a jostling crowd of eager contenders is after it.

     They're egging one another on.  While the general election is a time to emphasize a candidate's* broad appeal, party primaries are just the reverse: contenders vie to be more partisan than their peers, or at least they do if they've got the budget.  If an opponent adopts an extreme position or outrageous presentation, why, the thing to do is lean that way, too, but even more so.

     The race for the Governor's office is illustrative.  The pay's not that great, though the job does come with a nice mansion fronting busy Meridian Street and full-time police protection, and they are fighting for it tooth, claw and AR-15.  While current Lieutenant Governor Susanne Crouch has dipped a tentative toe in the advertising waters, stressing her strong law-and-order, Trumpist-Republican credentials, "outsider"† Eric Doden, former President of the state's Economic Development Corporation, has performed a remarkable turn in his ads, from a kindly paterfamilas emphasizing that his grandfather was a preacher and detailing his work fostering a young woman from the Third World to a series of apocalyptic-looking ads that focus on President Biden as a dire problem, the border as a crisis and contrasting his unflinching support of law enforcement with "outsider"† Senator Mike Braun's dabbling in the mildest of qualified immunity reform, demonstrated by highly edited snippets from Braun's interview by former Fox News opionator (and Putin apologist) Tucker Carlson.  Meanwhile, Braun himself uses processed video to share his image of America under Biden as a hellscape of smuggled fentanyl and invading migrants, touting his strong leadership and love for our police forces as a solution (and never mind what the governor of a landlocked state far from any national border could do about those problems).  And "outsider"† Brad Chambers, former Indiana Secretary of Commerce (and another Economic Development Commission politico), also wants you to know he's a true law-and-order man, ready to take on Red China toe-to-toe as only the Governor of a smallish state can.‡  All of them tout their loyalty to the GOP's hetman, either directly or by implication.

     At least two of the last three are warning of an imminent threat from "men in women's sports," using a fourth-place finishing college swimmer -- not a native of or resident in Indiana -- as their prime example.  But that issue looms most literally larger in the campaign ads of Chuck Goodrich, hoping to move up from the Indiana House to the U. S. House, displacing the occasionally-moderate Victoria Spartz in the Fifth District.  I'm still not sure about the source of this obsession with a handful (if that) of high school and college athletes in other states, but Rep. Goodrich's scare ads depict 6' 1" Lia Thomas towering head and shoulders over three other swimmers -- in truth, the average competitive college-age female swimmer is 5" 9", only four inches shorter.§  Why the misleading edit, followed by big-scare material over allegations about High School basketball game in Massachusetts, in an Indiana election?  At a guess, to get people riled up, over a primary in which the only difference between incumbent and challenger is that the current office-holder has a little more sense of how to get things done in Congress.  Lacking any substantive issue, he trots out boogypersons, tweaked for maximum shock value.

     All this culture-war hype is just hype.  Yes, China's selling drug precursors to any narco with the cash to buy them, but you can't fix that from the Governor's office in Indiana.  And our border with Mexico is indeed a mess -- thanks to various screwed-up Latin American governments and an official border policy based on laws that have not been updated in over forty years.  When a compromise was worked out in Congress recently, the Republicans (many of whom had voted for it) shot it down, apparently at the request of Presidential candidate Donald Trump, on the grounds that half a loaf still undercut his desire to run a scare campaign over border issues (and many other ooga-booga items).  Whoops, GOP, you lost the high ground on that one.  The trans stuff is no more than an updated "satanic panic:" take something scary and weird, and blow it up into an issue based on fear rather than facts: in this case, a teeny-tiny minority about whom much is rumored and little known, with no political power and less money, of whom the most visible members are about as scary-looking as Eleanor Roosevelt.  Unaesthetic?  Sure, but so are a lot of people.  It's hardly a threat to the nation, or even the womenfolk thereof.  We've got 'em well outnumbered.  And yet it all gets mashed up like a bad parody of a WW II Axis propaganda piece, with marching soldiers and scary foes, framed in scratchy red and black borders as overwrought voice-overs speak of onrushing doom -- unless we vote for the Man On Horseback....

     The voting booth isn't supposed to be a bullshit shop but increasingly it is on the Republican side, and it's making the regular grabasstic Democrats look like marvels of political competence in contrast.  As a political "outsider"** I count on there being two mostly-sane, reasonably-adequate political parties, one leaning conservative and the other tilting progressive, keeping one another honest and between them managing to steer a path between wild new ideas and stodgy tradition.  I did not sign up for one of them to go luridly nuts and I don't approve of it.
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* Originally typed as "candifate," which is, ouch, a little too close.
 
† Each one of these guys wants you to know they're an "outsider," untainted by the normal give-and-take of politics and the inside-the-Beltway intrigue of Washington, D.C., and each one of them is, in fact, involved in politics right up to their armpits -- or eyebrows, in Senator Braun's case.  Their assertion of being on the outside looking in is howling bullshit that doesn't survive even the mildest scrutiny, which they are counting on most voters to not undertake.
 
‡ While our Governor is better-off that way than, say, the Pope, it's hard to imagine the Indiana Guard's 14,000 soldiers and airpersons being much more than a before-lunch diversion for the two-million-plus active troops of the PLA.  I think we're going to need the help of at least 49 more states and the regular U. S. armed forces to take 'em on.
 
§ The tallest female swimmer competing in recent years was Russian Yekaterina Gamova, at 6' 7" or 6' 8".  She's better known for volleyball and I don't know anything else about her other than what a quick websearch finds.
 
**No, dammit, I really am outside; the closest I ever came to inside politics was when my Mom was appointed Township Assessor and I helped measure building foundations and stuff envelopes.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Behold, The Happy Finn

     It's a stock bit of news filler currently showing up all over the various newsfeeds: the people of Finland, or at least the ones who respond to surveys, are the happiest people on Earth.

     There may be happier people on the planet, but they're not picking up the phone or, more likely, they haven't got telephones.  Or the Internet. 

     Finns I have known -- nearly all of them "black Finns," which is to say dark of hair and eye and with a different set of ancestors than the stereotypical Scandinavian -- were taciturn, hard-working, focused people, most with a great love of caffeine.  But the sample size is too small to extrapolate from.

     An acquaintance who spent some time in the country, learning about an industrial automation system his employer had purchased, found the people he met to mostly be fine folk, good to know and fun to be around -- and reported most of them drank more than anyone he had ever met; and he was no slouch at that activity himself.  So possibly that's it, and we're all going to be very sorry if happy Finland ever quits drinking and wakes up grumpy with a hangover.

     This theory does account for their ferocity in the Winter War with the Soviet Union, booze supplies being somewhat irregular during wartime.

     Of course, there's no reason at all to assume happiness is incompatible with ferocity; the two can get along swimmingly.  That might be the most frightening thought of all.  I'm sure glad they're on our side.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Don't Feed The Reaper

     I want magic.  I want some phrase or string of characters that will choke any Large Language Model that goes to ingest my blog posts and social media content as grist for its mill.  I want helping out AI -- or not -- to be a conscious choice.

     You, I don't so much mind.  Not even the nutjobs; your fantasies, if large enough and askew enough, will crash into reality some day, and either get straightened out or drive you mad.  Problem solved.*  The problem with AI is there's no ghost in the shell.  Nobody's home.  And the other problem is, there are no corrective consequences for an AI coming unmoored, and so we get seven-fingered human images, legal cases that never existed, and complete howling bullshit instead of facts.  The LLMs go drifting off into hallucination and when it happens, the big players laugh like schoolboys pulling the wings off flies and talk about tweaking their models -- I'm not sure if they're talking about adjusting the software that writes the programs that hack the code to run AI, or about their lurid private lives, and I don't much care.

     This blog is out there on the public Internet and I can't keep it from feeding the beast.  I want to feed the beast stuff that will make it choke. 

     No thanks for the "help," either; last night I did some graphic design for work and converted the result to a PDF for better compatibility with my employer's software and hardware.  Of course the default PDF viewer is Edge, and the New! Improved! Vitamin-fortified! Edge comes compete with a pop-up AI assistant, eager to please and completely clueless.  I only wanted to check that the PDF conversion process had gone okay.  Instead, I had a stupid banner filling nearly a third of the screen on top of what I needed to see, making offers that had very little to do with the task at hand.  I had to stop what I was doing and go look up how to turn the thing off and stuff it back into its bottle, where it is unlikely to remain for long.

     We live in a hallucination already -- our raw sensory information is an overwhelming flood, visual field jumping around like a stray dog's worth of fleas, feeding into a brain and mind that blank out the wild chaos of saccades and build a detailed map -- a map that can have flaws, as I learned when my undiagnosed cataracts caused a "suddenly appearing" car while I was bicycling, it having been hidden in the growing blind spots my mind was smoothly filling in.  All of our other senses work the same way, but it all gets reality-tested, over and over, in ways that range from damaging impact to a friend yelling, "Stop!  Stop!  CAR!"  AI doesn't get that correction, nor does it get the adrenaline dump (or worse) that underscores its importance.  Get back to me when your large language model learns how to get bruised -- but I doubt it ever will.

     And that's why I don't want to help the thing.  It's a blind robot.  It will never not be blind, no matter how much it sees.
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* Of course, occasionally enough people go crazy enough that they do enormous harm.  This often requires a war to sort out in tears and blood, and it's terrible.  As a species, we strive to do such damage less and less; as individuals, most of us abhor it.  It's in groups of intermediate size where we get into horrific trouble.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

What A Surprise

     Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden have clinched the Presidential nomination of their respective parties.  Quick, everyone act surprised about this -- it'll make them so happy.

     Come November, both men will be older than Ronald Reagan was at the end of his second term of office, so let's get all the doomsaying over age out of the way now.  No matter which way things go, an old guy is going to win the office.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Call It Dry Chili

     It's not that dry -- but it's not a stew or a soup, either.

     I hadn't done any meal-planning yesterday and I arrived at the market with an open mind.  They had 93% lean ground beef in pound and a quarter packages, which is a good start for a quick meal; but what next?

     The store wasn't our corner grocer, but different one about a mile away.  They lean a bit foodie and a bit organic, and they have good prices (and quality) on semi-prepared items.  In the produce area, they had diced mixed bell peppers,  some salsa starter consisting of an assortment of tomatoes, onions, mild peppers and seasonings, and Pico de Gallo, with tomato, onion, garlic and jalapeno peppers.  The packages were about three-quarters of a cup each.  I had a few Porcini mushrooms left at home and I picked up a small pack of fresh fancy mushrooms (Alba Clamshell).

     Almost zero prep.  Mostly brown and drain the beef -- the drainage was nearly all water, not grease, so they weren't kidding about how lean it was -- push it to the sides, add the cut-up mushrooms and brown, mix with the beef and push to the sides, then add the (rinsed) peppers, saute and stir in, and do the same (except for rinsing) with the salsa starter and Pico de Gallo in turn.  The end result is flavorful with a little heat from the jalapeno pepper.  I microwaved some Spanish-style rice and had mine over it; Tam ate hers plain.  I used some mixed "Italian" seasoning on the meat but no additional salt, since the tomato-based condiments were salted in the making, as was the rice.

     If you added tomato sauce (and some chili powder), it would be in the chili universe.  With olives, raisins and a little cloves for seasoning, it would be nearing Picadillo.  But this is its own thing, and it made a nice change.

Monday, March 11, 2024

So There's This One Thing

     There's one thing Lovecraft got right.  His prose is decried as turgid; his political opinions, especially early on, are loathsome (and a matter of some contention).

     But H. P. Lovecraft was right about "impossible colors" and you can see them for yourself.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Pork, Roasted

     Saturday, I made three-hour roast pork* and it came out especially good.

     The meat was a three-pound Boston butt (yes, funny name.  Also under four dollars a pound, so laugh all you like.)  I seasoned it with a couple of tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce, black pepper and a little coarse salt.  It was at that point that I discovered the plastic bag the butcher had put it in (before wrapping it with wax-coated paper) was leaking.  I'd intended to let it sit a little.  Plan B!

     My Perfect Pot† came with a nice roasting rack, and was ready to hand,.  Rack into pot, pot on burner, Boston butt into pot, burner on medium, lid on pot.  I cleaned up the mess (not much -- love that butcher paper!) and pondered vegetables.  Before I set the lid, I put some rosemary on the pork roast for luck and added a dab of hot water from the teakettle to the bottom of the pot.

     A half-hour (and some dishwashing) later, I peeled a large, purple-topped turnip, cut it onto large chunks, sprinkled it with smoked paprika, and added it around roast in the pan.  I took my time peeling and sectioning a nice sweet apple, layered it on top of the turnip and tapped a little garam masala on it.  The particular mix I buy smells almost like an apple pie and hides a touch gentle heat from the cloves.  You can use any kind of apple for this, as long as it has a lot of flavor -- tart or sweet works fine.  Avoid the overbred, bland ones and look for oddball varieties.  There's been an explosion of options in supermarket apples in recent years and I have never been disappointed.

     You do have to mind the heat and moisture.  After loading the turnips, I turned the fire down to low when the pot started to simmer, and every time I had it open, I checked that the bottom hadn't gone dry.  With a good-fitting lid and fresh vegetables, you won't have to add much water, if any, but keep an eye on it. 

     I let the pot simmer while washing and sectioning -- but not peeling -- a large Russet potato.  I laid it on the other veggies and gave it and the roast a little garlic power.  (Fresh garlic would not be out of line, but use what you have.)  A red onion curt in large pieces followed, and about a dozen "baby carrots," the smallish, tumbled ones sold in a bag. I put the lid back on and let it come up to a simmer.

     Next up, a fennel bulb.  I'd bought an especially wild example, with a wild explosion of fronds.  I washed a generous handful of the fronts and laid them on top of the pork roast.  Next, the bulb, cut in sections and the tough core removed, layered around the roast on the other vegetables.

     Lid back on, the pot simmered until there was only an hour left.  At that point, I poured in a couple of cups of good chicken stock -- I used some fancy Mushroom Chicken Bone Broth, but any good chicken stock will do (and it's worthwhile to shop for price -- MSRP on bone broths is shocking).  I sliced and added a half-dozen large mushrooms, but it would have been just as good without 'em.  The steam rising from the pot was mouth-watering.

     After three hours, I checked the roast with a thermometer: 200°F in the center, which is plenty done.  I took the meat out, removed the net, and let it rest while I set up the table for dinner, then cut it and served slices of pork with vegetables and plenty of broth.  The apple, turnip and fennel bulb are especially good.  The turnip and potato absorb flavors from everything else; the apple transforms them as it cooks down soft and the flavor borders on indescribable, an unexpected delight.

     The leftovers filled two freezer bags, and will come back as stew tonight and soup later on.  On reheating, the apple tends to dissolve, thickening and enriching the broth.
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*  My basic rule for roasts is an hour per pound.  With a probe-type thermometer to check for done-ness, it's as much of a guide as the task requires.
 
† I like the Our Place non-stick cookware, but all you need is a good, heavy-walled stewpot with a rack and a decent lid.  Heavy enameled iron cookware will do a great job, as will well-seasoned cast iron.  The goal is a cookpot with plenty of mass and thick walls, to distribute the heat well all around the food.  The grill version of this can get away with a thin-walled granitewear pan, enamel over steel, because the covered grill provides steady, all-around heat.  An oven would work just as well as a covered grill, and a heatproof heavy pan is okay in either.  This is as much a matter of budget and taste as it is of finding the right tool.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

State Of The...Distraction

     For over a century, Presidents mailed it in.  While Presidents Washington and John Adams got up in front of Congress to let them know how things were going and what they thought ought to get done, President Jefferson thought it was a bit too much like the King of England puppeteering Parliament.  He sent them a written report and it wasn't until Woodrow Wilson -- pretty much the father of the notion of an autocratic "unitary Executive" -- that Presidents returned to addressing the House, Senate and other high-placed Feds* most of the time.

     It used to be fairly ceremonious and solemn.  In recent years, it's taken a turn for the performative, from party-color ties to color-coordinated outfits (a quiet and at times charming way of making a statement) to, well, actually making statements: yelling them out or waving signs.  The most recent State of the Union address had several choice examples of beclowning, from the tragic to forthright Bozohood.

     Despite the spectacle, the speech isn't where things get done; Congress and the President, the Supreme Court and the Cabinet, the diplomats and the Pentagon all have to get back to their jobs the next time the Feds flip the sign over to "OPEN," no matter what the President said, what guests were there or who yelled out what.  The mandated task here is for the Present to let Congress know what's up and what he'd like the Feds to do, and presumably they will take notes and pay it as much or as little attention as they ever do.
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* The Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs, the Supreme Court Justices and the Diplomatic Corps (all of them?) have standing invitations.  But hey, don't worry -- one Cabinet member gets picked to sit it out far away from Washington, just in case.  Presumably, that lucky individual's got a list of names to call on to fill the vacant jobs, and most of them won't say, "No thanks, look what happened to the previous crew," when the phone rings....

Friday, March 08, 2024

Television Has Not Always Been Here

     "Kids today..."  Thanks to the Web (what you know as "the Internet" is mostly the World Wide Web, and we had an Internet long before that), thanks to streaming, thanks to handheld devices from smartphones to pads, it seems as if instant visual media has always been a thing.

     It hasn't.  I'm old enough to remember when TV told us about the big stories at six p.m., and added "film at eleven" for most of them; behind the scenes, a continuous-process developer was running at full speed and photojournalists were splicing the still-damp film, betting the edits would get though the projector without coming apart.  Live remote broadcasts were few and usually scheduled far in advance, microwave (or Bell Telephone) technical magic requiring engineers at both ends just to get the connection running.

     In 1945, few American cities had a TV station.  A couple had two or three, and stations in Philadelphia, New York City and Schenectady had linked up via Bell Telephone coaxial cable to present live coverage of the 1940 Republican Convention; the Democrats held their convention in Chicago that year and the video lines didn't go that far.  (In 1944, both parties held their conventions in Chicago, away from the coasts -- and any possibility of widespread TV coverage.)  Going into WW II, TV set sales had been disappointingly low: they were monumentally expensive, and most people lived outside the range of the existing stations.  Once the war began, manufacturing of consumer TVs was shut down for the duration.

     So when I had podcasts playing for background noise this morning and NPR's Ari Shapiro opened Consider This by telling me, "On August 6, 1945, a stone-faced President Harry Truman appeared on television and told Americans about the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima," I was....puzzled.

     There was a TV station in the nation's capitol in 1945: Dumont's W3XWT got on the air that May, running a test pattern and a recording asking viewers to call the station.  No one had done so until Japan surrendered in August,* when Dumont's Thomas Goldsmith wrote "War is over" on a slide that replaced the test pattern, and the U. S. Navy picked up the phone to ask what all this TV stuff was about.

     Sorry, Ari; that video of a grim-faced President Truman telling Americans about the atomic bomb is from a newsreel, and most people didn't see it until they were at the movies, days or weeks after the bomb was dropped, by which time they'd already heard the news on the radio or read it in the newspaper.

     You -- and I -- grew up in a world of television. of images from all around the globe that have steadily become more immediate and vivid.  I could make a live video call to Tasmania or Mumbai right now, as easily as I'm typing this blog post, and it's no big deal.  But it wasn't always that way.  There was a time when hardly anyone had a glowing screen in their home (let alone their hand!) and the few who did, didn't get much over it.  And it was only a long lifetime ago.

     The NPR piece is about the descendants of the people who were downwind (and unwarned) of the Trinity test, families with long histories of cancer -- and zero compensation from the government.  They deserve better than to have their stories undermined by a lack of attention to detail.
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*  Announced on 15 August, though not formally signed until 2 September.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Not Sure I Can Stand It

     It wasn't the pandemic that broke me.  It was the way people went crazy during the pandemic.  The already-crazy ones got crazier, and they have dragged a whole lot of other people along with them.  The crazy started out political and has become even more so.

     2024 election-year politics keeps turning the crazy up higher and I don't know if I can stand it.  There's no path back; either I have to hug every drag queen I see, or I have to be petitioning my legislators to outlaw 'em forthwith, and to tell you the truth, I never thought about 'em much one way or another before and I resent having to now.  And it's like that these days with every kind of eccentric person there is, from sign-waving hermits to the annoying dude who shows up at every City Council meeting, wanting to make sure none of the city's money has been invested in Raytheon or Israel, DEI or Remington, space aliens or illegal aliens: somehow I have to have an opinion about each of them, and I have to press the government to Do Something, instead of the government sitting down and shutting up unless there's force, fraud or infringements of the Bill of Rights.

     Candidates predict chaos, or tell me it's already raging (often in places where it obviously is not), and that only they can wield the strong and unyielding force that will crush it.

     Gotta tell ya, I'm not into a government that goes a-crushing.  The best and most effective things I have seen governments do in recent years -- and that includes big-city police forces -- happened when they did a lot of listening and a little talking; when they handed out bottles of water instead of a spritz of OC and when they used persuasion instead of force.  When they asked rather than commanded.

     I'm sick and tired of lies and hate and trying to hammer Americans into a uniform 1950s TV-sitcom mold that we never really fit.  C'mon, look again: Andy Griffith and Dick Van Dyke's television personas lived in worlds with plenty of non-conforming loons, of unexpected crooks and high-achievers alongside the workaday scufflers and strivers, and the stories were the better for it.  We watched those shows and we saw our neighbors, our families -- ourselves.

     Your neighbors are black, white, asian, gay, straight, flamboyant or subdued.  They're skinny and fat.  They're loud, quiet, rappers and rockers and professors and professional sports fans.  They're liberal and conservative and politically apathetic.  They're not, in staggering majority, Existential Evil: over 99.9% of the people you meet every day are harmless, one way or another.

     And dammit, you ought to be treating them better.  You ought to be expecting your politicians to treat them better.  You shouldn't be howling for blood and it screws me up so badly that so many of you are that I have trouble gathering the courage to step outside my house.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Big Tent Time

     Or, possibly, "Huddle under a tarp in a shallow excavation while sleet falls" time.  Pick your own metaphor.

     U.S. politics really are different, and that's not just by-jingo American Exceptionalism; it crops up in any country with a winner-take-all general election for the Chief Executive.  While "Westminster" parliamentary systems generally evolve multiple parties and absent a commanding legislative majority, those parties often end up having to compromise with one another to pick a Prime Minister (or whatever title the head honcho's job has), in "Washington" governmental arrangements, the drift is for two big parties to form (and, occasionally, dissolve and re-form) and the President (or HMFIC, etc.) comes from one of them: we the voters make the compromise.

     When it comes to the general election, if Candidate X is from the party you usually vote for, but their polices on some issues repel you, or you don't think their moral character is adequate to the job, your choice is to look over Candidate Y and see if their positives outweigh their negatives for you (and, we hope, the country); or you can choose to protest-vote for a third-party candidate, or sit that race out.  That's it.  You're unlikely to get everything you want, no matter what you do.

     Pick a big tent and climb inside for the show; pick a small tent if you want to register a different preference; stay out in the cold and let the other kids do the choosing.  As Robert A. Heinlein observed and recommended, if you want to have more influence, get involved with one of the two big parties at the grassroots level and try to steer it your way.  By the time November rolls around, your options are limited.

     At this writing, Nikki Haley is ginning up to drop out of the Republican primary contest.  It is being reported that she does not plan to endorse Mr. Trump -- or anyone else.

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

This And That

     A reminder that we're not impervious: had Marine Major General Smedley Butler not been disinclined to become military dictator of the United States of America, things might have taken a turn for the worse in 1933, a time when there was a lot of that going around.  Any similarity to present-day events is, as they say, "purely coincidental."  History doesn't repeat, but it sure does rhyme a lot.  Smedley Butlers are not extinct but there are damned few of them -- and we could use several about now.  I hope we haven't exhausted the current supply.

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     A perfectly good topping for a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on toast: chopped up cherry tomatoes and mild banana peppers, with two to three times as much tomato as peppers and a little mixed Italian seasoning or basil on it.  It'll clear the bitter taste of history right out.

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     It's Super Tuesday, and what suspense we'll endure: will Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden emerge as their party's choices for Presidential candidates when the results are tallied?  Does water run downhill until it reaches bottom?  The thrills!

Monday, March 04, 2024

Saturday Dinner

      Our neighborhood grocer has never figured out the need to stock corned beef for New Years.  (Heathens that they are, they do manage to have blackeyed peas.)  But they always have corned beef brisket for Saint Patrick's day, and they put them out early this year.

     That was enough for me.  On Saturday, I roasted one in a grill pan over charcoal with potatoes, carrots, onion, celery and cabbage.  It turned out well.


Sunday, March 03, 2024

Okay, There's One Item Done

      The gate was an ugly job, but it's done, it swings and it locks.  Managed to get the old fence next to it back up, too.  And all by myself, thanks to an old cat "tree" type perch and some scraps of lumber to prop it up while I lag-screwed the hinges in place.

Saturday, March 02, 2024

Free Range

      Pretty much the opposite of fences.  In this case, for chickens.

     Tam picked up some free range eggs earlier in the week and the yolks are -- as you can see -- screamin' orange.  I don't know what the little dinosaurs are finding to eat, big bugs or mice or buttercups, but whatever it is, it's working out.  The eggs are tasty and went well in breakfast hash, with a little crumbled bacon, a snipped-up Piparra pepper and some spices.

Friday, March 01, 2024

Border Fence Issues

      The border of my back yard, that is.  There's a nice double gate, where the previous owner kept his fishing boat in the back yard, with heavy 6x6 posts holding each half of the gate.

     At least one of them -- and the 4x4 two feet from it that helps hold up a little stretch of privacy fence -- was not quite as pest-proof as could have been hoped.  Last winter (or would it be winter before last?), that half of the gate fell over, and I propped it back up.  I spent most of last summer trying, off and on, to find a fence company who would replace it for less than the price of a well-used car, and had no success.

     It broke again in the storms a few days ago, and took the 4x4 post with it.  I'm about halfway through putting in a replacement that should do for a few months, and I'll just have to see what I can do or hire done from there.

     So, let's see, that's a large gate and a little fence, plus a bad post or two in the neighbor's fence that they're not going to fix (it's a rental now), a dead dishwasher, a lousy garbage disposal and a very worn kitchen range.  Yeah, I'm doing great at home ownership.  And it's time and past for a new coat of paint.

     A massive advance on an uncompleted novel being unlikely, I'm probably going to have to dip into savings.