Thursday, June 30, 2022

More News and Updates

1. We’re in something of a Swedish lull as our friends have gone off for a few days to visit with their youngest as she finishes up her foreign exchange year. They’ll come back next week for a few more days and at some point I’ll have a whole post about our visit. It has been a lovely time, which has been sorely needed of late.

2. While I’m on the “foreshadowing future posts” theme, at some point I will have managed to tamp down the incandescent rage that every intelligent American with morals feels at the recent right-wing extremism of the Dobbs decision that the Republican Party’s Judicial Agenda Machine dropped on us like a turd in a swimming pool, and perhaps at that point I will be able to write something about it without attracting visits from humorless men in black suits. This may take a while. All I will say for the moment is that everyone who finds any redeeming qualities at all in that soulless and actively evil decision should fuck off immediately, and when they have done so they can fuck off another time, and then they can keep fucking off until they have fucked all the way around back to here. And then they can fuck off again.

3. And that was just the most evil (a word I employ with no hyperbole whatsoever) of the decisions handed down last week. There were several others that would have been headline news otherwise, notably the one that said the federal government should just let the planet burn in order to increase corporate profits. The road to Fascism is paved with people telling me to stop overreacting, but – as above – those people can also fuck off.

4. I’m also not going to discuss the recent January 6 Committee Hearings at the moment, for much the same reasons, though I will say that there is now more than enough evidence already in the public domain to warrant extreme judicial measures against those responsible for that failed coup attempt, and that I will celebrate in a thoroughly unseemly and deplorable manner when those measures happen.

5. On a happier “future posts” note, we had Oliver’s graduation party and it went well. I don’t have the bandwidth for full-sized posts at the moment, but they will happen soon. So many promised posts!

6. We have a new oven, which has to count for something in the grand scheme of things, right? Our old one finally died about two weeks ago, though bits of it still worked. The range worked, as did the broiler, but the oven part was a no go. We had our repair guy look at it in May and he told us that they don’t make that part anymore (which is not surprising in a 26-year-old oven) and that if we wanted it repaired he could send it to Wyoming to the last place in America where such things are repaired and they’d take a month and send it back and by that point we might as well get a new oven, so the next time it died we should just skip the middle steps and get the new oven. I had hoped that it would last the summer, but no dice. So Kim and I went to a nearby Super Mega Hardware & Appliance Emporium and after some exploration pointed at the one we wanted, and two weeks and multiple installation visits later it is here and functional. It’s sleek and shiny and everything gets hot when you ask it to get hot and if it lasts as long as the previous one it will last a long time.

7. The old one was a housewarming gift from my parents when we moved into this place, though, and I will miss it even if it was indeed time for it to go.

8. On the topic of ovens, we did finally figure out how to get the pizza oven to work properly and it turns out that it makes really great pizzas. The keys are to a) start the fire at least 45 minutes prior to any baking so the oven part actually gets to 650-700F and the middle slab gets hot enough, b) make the oven part smaller by making the sides a double-thick layer of bricks on their sides rather than a layer of two bricks stacked on top of each other, and c) put a slab stone at the bottom to help radiate heat rather than just building it on the dirt. Once you’ve got all that it only takes about 3-5 minutes per pizza and they are seriously wonderful.

9. Another thing that might help in the future will be either to move the oven back a bit from the wood planks that hold up the former raised-bed garden where I built it, or to line the oven-facing side of those planks with stone slabs to absorb the heat. As things stand now, those planks have a disconcerting tendency to catch fire. Despite the fact that I am a former firefighter and do a pretty thorough job of hosing the oven down when we’re done with it, we have had rekindles as late as the following morning. On the one hand, there’s nowhere for that to go so the worst-case is that the planks give way and the former raised-bed garden subsides to no-longer-raised status. On the other hand, well, that’s suboptimal at best. It’s always something.

10. Just in case people have forgotten, Kyiv still stands.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

News and Updates

1. The first of the Swedes has arrived! Our Swedish friends are coming to visit this summer, after a pandemic without much in the way of travel, but since all of the kids in both families are now adults this is a lot more complicated than it used to be. Everyone’s schedule is different, people are working, people are traveling separately, and so on. But David arrived on Friday and more will follow! Life is good.

2. Of course this is the week that summer chose to return with a vengeance. As one of my favorite current memes points out, I don’t want to say that it’s hot out there but two hobbits just threw a ring onto my front porch.

3. I suppose we should get used to this, though, given the rapidly shifting climate. It’s not the hottest summer of your life, after all. It’s the coolest summer of the rest of your life.

4. We have a lot of car shows here in Our Little Town. It’s that kind of town. I’ve never been much of a car guy, certainly not enough to go to one of those shows, but it is interesting to see them all driving by on their way to the show. Although, it turns out, that the age limit for defining a “classic car” is a lot more recent than I thought, which is how our 2000 Saturn station wagon (recently returned to us after we’d sold it to a friend eight years ago) ended up sitting in a grassy space with shiny 1956 Chevy’s on either side of it and a Model T across the way. Oliver’s workplace put on the show and asked if he’d bring the car by, mostly I suspect to paper the house a bit. In our defense the Saturn still has the ivy and astroturf that Lauren installed last summer so it looks snazzy. It’s just hard to imagine we now own a classic car that we once bought new.

5. Perhaps we should get the official “classic car” license plates for it too, although those come with restrictions.

6. We had a lovely Father’s Day on Sunday. Oliver, Kim, and David were already here and Lauren and Max came down from their dorms and we made pizzas from scratch and strawberry shortcake from berries we’d picked that morning and shortcake that Lauren and Max managed to find after much searching of Our Little Town’s grocery stores and it was a grand time. The house was full of noise and food and loved ones and that’s as good as it gets, really.

7. Mithra seems to be mostly blind now and somewhat arthritic, but is otherwise in good shape for a cat who will be legally old enough to vote in September. She still gets around pretty well, but we can’t rearrange the furniture for the foreseeable future.

8. We’ve been watching the Stanley Cup playoffs because they’re fun and a nice way to hang out together. Oliver and I watched some of the earlier rounds and now we’ve gathered a slightly larger crowd to watch the Finals. We don’t have a particular rooting interest in either the Avalanche or the Lightning, but I’m hoping Colorado wins because Tampa has won two Stanley Cups in a row already and dynasties are boring.

9. We also need to finish Prehistoric Planet, the BBC nature documentary on dinosaurs. We got through the first four episodes and then Kim had to go to Utah to grade AP exams and we haven’t gotten back to the last episode yet. If you haven’t seen them, well, you should. They’re marvelous, and somehow the producers convinced David Attenborough to do the narration, as should happen with all nature documentaries.

10. Harbingers of a rapidly approaching American Independence Day: a) Lefty, Claw, and One-Eye are already shooting off entire arsenals of fireworks here in Our Little Town and the over/under on garage fires is 4 this year; b) my viral meme from a few years ago is starting to pick up traction again so I will be on the lookout for this year’s trolls; c) the sweet corn is rapidly approaching knee high, which bodes well for later this summer, and d) the local stores are running low on jello, though this might just be a supply chain issue.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Time in a Bottle

Last autumn, for long and complicated reasons that I will skip over here, I found myself in Hoboken NJ for a couple of days.

Let me be the first to say that Hoboken gets a bum rap. It’s a nice place as far as I can tell. It looks like someone took a chunk of residential New York City – Brooklyn, maybe – and restored it to about 1900 or so. It’s full of 4-story apartment buildings and above-ground power lines, and if you like urban spaces it’s an interesting place to wander around.

Also, it’s close enough to New York City to have good food. There’s a little deli that makes its own mozzarella and puts it on roast beef sandwiches large enough for an entire varsity football team. Mine fed me for three full meals before I finally conceded the point. It was wonderful. The hot peppers are really hot, though, so be forewarned.

There was a street fair when I was there, up on what I assume is the main drag of the town. They’d blocked off maybe a mile of it and the place was lined with booths of all sorts with a giant music stage at one end. I like those fairs – Kim and I used to run the craft show circuit here in Wisconsin back when we made homemade soap and it’s fun to see what people have to sell. Since I had the afternoon to wander around I figured I’d explore all of it.

I generally stick to the food booths at these things, if I’m being honest, though I did have a lovely conversation with a soapmaker as we compared notes.

My big find was a guy selling his own hot sauces, though. He had maybe a dozen varieties and you could try them with crackers. They were all good, but my favorite was one he made with datil peppers – it’s got some zip to it without being so hot as to rip your lips off. I have long since passed the point where I regard food as a contest. It has to taste good. So I bought a bottle and took it back to Wisconsin, where it lasted about a month and then I had to get more. 

Apparently he makes the stuff in Sea Isle City, NJ. This set me thinking about old times.

Sea Isle was where we used to go for vacation when I was a kid. Everyone in Philadelphia goes down the shore somewhere for their summer vacations – it’s just what you DO if you grow up anywhere in or around Philadelphia – though the various towns each have their own vibe. Ocean City was for families. Wildwood was, as advertised, a bit more wild – if you’re there anywhere in June, for example, you’ll be inundated with graduating high school seniors. Sea Isle was somewhere toward the Ocean City end of that range. It had a nice beach, a movie theater that played Charlotte’s Web on rainy days, a fair number of shops that actually sold useful things now and then, and a boardwalk that ran for maybe a mile from the Spinnaker Hotel to the little amusement park that my memory insists was there though that might have been Ocean City now that I think of it.

We had relatives who owned a house in Sea Isle – my Uncle Charlie and Aunt Judy, in that vague Italian sense of “uncle” and “aunt” that means “they’re related to you somehow but it’s not worth going into the actual details of how” – so that’s where we went for our vacations. My dad’s company would shut down over the first week of August to retool so we’d pack up the car with enough supplies to invade Russia in the winter (I distinctly remember a cooler with a giant ham in it that would accompany us some years – we ate a lot of ham those weeks), wind our way through the wilds of South Jersey (this being before the Atlantic City Expressway, or at least before my dad decided that the AC Expressway was worth taking), and eventually find ourselves in Sea Isle where it would rain for at least a couple of days during the week so we got to know that house well.

This is what it looked like in 2013, apparently.

They’ve redone it a bit for the most recent GoogleMaps photo, but this is more like what I remember. It’s a three-unit house. Uncle Charlie and Aunt Judy lived upstairs. We’d have the right-hand unit. My grandparents would stay in the left hand unit when they came down with us, which wasn’t every year.

You went in the front door of our unit and found yourself in a small living room area with a couple of short couches. There was a hallway that led straight back to a bathroom, and there were two bedrooms to the right – one that opened onto the hall about halfway back and another in the rear that you had to turn past the bathroom to get to. If you turned right when entering and took the two or three steps to go through the living room you were in the kitchen – that’s the room that has the two windows facing the street.

This is my dad around 1973, in front of the little porch area. I don’t know when they took the benches out – there was one on the other side as well – and there is a part of me that thinks it’s a shame that the louvred windows are gone. We’d ride bikes around town sometimes, he and my brother and I – rentals, since there was no way we could fit such things in our car for the ride down.

This one is my grandmother and mom, maybe a couple of years later, on the left-hand porch. You can kind of see the staircase going up behind them. That little side lawn was full of toads when my brother and I were little and we spent many happy hours catching and releasing them until one year they disappeared entirely and never came back.

The house faced the bay side of Sea Isle and there were no houses in the couple of blocks between us and the bay so you could look right out over everything. The ocean is about three blocks behind the house the other way. We’d gather our stuff and trek down there like MacArthur invading the Philippines and spend a happy day there bouncing around the waves on those inflatable rental rafts that they had back then before making the trek back for dinner. About a block from the beach we’d pass Phil’s Pizza, which had the thinnest crust I’d ever seen on a pizza to that point in my life. It also had a phone booth that my brother would regularly hit up for the spare change that people would leave in the coin return slot. He had a gift.

Eventually we started going to Ocean City, though. It had a bigger boardwalk, which was a draw when my brother and I were teenagers rather than small children. When my own kids were little my parents had moved on to going to Cape May so that’s the Jersey Shore that they remember.

It’s been a lot of years since I’ve been to Sea Isle. Charlie, Judy, my grandparents, and both of my parents are gone now, but my brother and I still remember the place. I hope there are small kids there in the summer time, making what seems like an endless three-block walk to the sand, passing by Phil’s Pizza, and coming back tired but happy like we did.

And if they pass a guy selling hot sauce, they should buy some. It’s good stuff.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Tool Time

I bought a new tool this week.

This doesn’t happen very often. I’m not really a tool guy. I get no particular satisfaction out of household projects or mechanical adventures, which I regard in much the same way as I regard dentistry – useful and probably good for me in the long run, but nowhere in the top 400 things on my list of enjoyable ways to spend time – and the last time I bought a tool Obama was still in office. It was a small handsaw, as I recall. It was a very good handsaw – still is, in fact. I have used it within the last twelve months, I’m sure of it. If you are in the market for a handsaw, I can highly recommend this particular model. But yeah, that was a while ago.

This week I bought a digital infrared thermometer.

It is a snazzy little thing, shaped like the price-checker you’d find at your local supermarket back when they had such things. You point it at whatever object whose temperature you want to measure, pull the trigger, and on the screen on the back it pretty much instantly tells you how hot whatever it is you’re pointing at is. It can do this in Celsius or Fahrenheit, anywhere from “Yikes, that’s cold!” to “What happened to Dave that he’s just a smoking black ruin now?” It runs on a nine-volt battery that we now have a surplus of since we’ve switched to lithium-ion battery powered smoke detectors, which is handy.

I had to go to the local Tool Establishment to get this thing, since the even more local Hardware Store that opened in my neighborhood does not carry such things. I always feel like a liberal arts tourist when I go into places like that, and there was a fair bit of back and forth while finding the sale price of the thing (they don’t carry the sales flyers in store anymore, apparently – you just have to know), but eventually I walked out of the store with both tool and dignity intact.

It is a top notch thing as these things go.

The reason for this is that we have a new pizza oven in the back yard, one that I built myself from plans downloaded from the internet which instantly made me suspicious but if you can’t trust Manly Men Making Things Online who can you trust?

Don’t answer that.

The plans called for 47 (precisely) bricks and three stone slabs, all of which could be obtained at our nearby Big Chain Hardware Store and then re-obtained at our Local Brick Place when those turned out to be substandard.  The Local Brick Place also sold me 7 more bricks since the plans woefully underestimated the number of bricks that were required to make this thing functional.

There’s no mortar involved, which is good because a) this means that it is not a Permanent Structure and therefore requires no building permit, and b) it also means that I could build it just by piling heavy things on top of each other until the desired shape was achieved. This is how they built the Pyramids, after all.

So I watched the instructional video six or eight times, noting with some puzzlement the idea expressed by the Manly Man that this pizza oven with its quick assembly time and lack of mortar could be a great addition to a camping trip as if people often carry 47 (or 54) bricks with them when they walk through the woods, and then took screenshots of the plans so I could print them out for later. They’re pretty simple plans.

It took me a couple of tries to get the oven right since it turned out that the first set of bricks had bumpy things on the outside (for spacing, apparently) that would not work for this project and the stone slabs were the wrong thickness (which only really mattered for the middle one) and then I needed more bricks to finish things and let me tell you that when you return to a place from which you have purchased exactly 47 bricks people remember you, but eventually it was there, waiting to make pizzas.

The deal is that you get some wood (we had a bundle of firewood left over from last summer that had been sitting in the garage all winter so it was nice and dry) and set it on fire in the lower cavity, and then you put the pizzas in the upper cavity and, well, bake them.

This seemed imprecise, and I noticed that the Manly Man had one of these tools to help him out in the video, which is why I ended up buying the snazzy new digital infrared thermometer. It allows me to measure the temperature of the upper cavity with far more accuracy than my pizzas really require without getting second-degree burns on my hand and even while remaining far enough away from the open flames that I can mostly still breathe through the wood smoke. So, win.

We tried it out last night.

There are a couple of things we will need to tweak for the next time, all of which derived from the fact that the upper cavity didn’t get hot enough. It was about 600F (315C) and really needed to be around 650-700F (345-370C) which makes a big difference in pizzas. We either need to build a bigger fire or make the upper cavity smaller to hold more heat or do something else or some combination of all of that and then some. Perhaps a door of some kind, though that adds a layer of complexity that I’m not sure I want to deal with, frankly. We probably need to get new yeast for the dough as well, though that’s hardly the fault of the oven.

We'll see if this requires further tools.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Stray Thoughts on the Recent Televised Hearing of the January 6 Committee

1. If you haven’t been following the January 6 Committee’s work over the last year or so or paid attention to their recent televised hearing (either by watching it or reading up on it afterward), you are part of the problem in this country. On Thursday they laid out a thorough, damning, and absolutely infuriating account of a coup attempt orchestrated at the highest levels of the Trump administration and very nearly successfully completed. The 11-minute video that they showed was enough on its own, though there is a mountain of hard evidence behind it – over 140,000 documents by last public count. We know what happened. We know what the plotters wanted. We know what would have happened to the country if they’d succeeded since we’ve all seen that how that movie ended in Germany in the 1930s. It is the stuff of nightmares, and the fact that so many “Americans” seem to think that this was either acceptable is a thorough indictment of their patriotism, intelligence, and morality.

2. Every single one of the people who invaded the Capitol Building that day should be rotting in jail as an insurrectionist, and everyone who planned, incited, and led that failed coup should have faced the full fury of the punishments available to the federal government months ago. Treason has a price and it is long past time that price was paid.

3. If that price is not paid there will simply be more treason. An insurrection that is not punished is called a dress rehearsal, and the Republican Party has spent the last eighteen months actively working to ensure that the next time they try to overthrow the legitimate government of the United States they will succeed. At this point I’d say it’s even money if we still have a republic in 2025.

4. It’s not an accident that the conservatives who have pushed back against this treason, who have taken their oaths to Constitution and country seriously and are just as horrified by the failed coup as the rest of us, have been systematically marginalized within or removed from the Republican Party. The GOP is no longer a legitimate political body nor is it in any way conservative. It is a radical and subversive conspiracy with a logo, and it needs to be treated that way.

5. I do feel bad for my honest conservative friends, who have nobody to represent them in government anymore.

6. Liz Cheney has been wrong about so many things in her career but here she is, destroying her own political future in order to do what is absolutely and unequivocally right, calling out the cancerous rot at the heart of the Republican Party and methodically destroying their feeble arguments that the Trump Coup was anything other than a treasonous assault on the United States by internal enemies, and for that she deserves to be called a hero. I can disagree with her politics and still respect the clear moral victory she has won here and the good fight she is waging for the United States of America.

7. As someone else pointed out, the Republicans have put out a lot of counterprogramming to distract from the public airing of their treason, but no counterevidence to deny it.

8. I spent some time working for lawyers back in the day, and the old saying is true: When the law is against you, argue the facts. When the facts are against you, argue the law. When both are against you, change the subject. The GOP is doing everything it can to change the subject right now, no matter how petty, immoral, vicious, hateful, or ugly. And that tells you all you need to know.

9. After all, genuine American patriots want to know what happened so we can prevent it from happening in the future and punish those responsible. Those with something to hide want to keep it secret so they can avoid punishment for their actions and try again. Draw your own conclusions accordingly.

10. The next televised hearing will be Monday, June 13 at 10am Eastern. Let’s see if the gutless cowards at Fox will air it like every other network in the United States did with the last hearing or whether they will get the Candyman, their leading in-house sideshow clown, to rant and rave commercial-free for the entire time like they did on Thursday. It’s telling that Fox would rather lose money than see their captive audience exposed to reality.

Good times, man.

Monday, June 6, 2022

A Few Thoughts on the Current Gun Situation

In a memo that got leaked the other day, the Republican Party outlined its strategy for dealing with the outrage caused by the latest wave of mass shootings.

Does this outline propose any actual solutions to the problem? Does it seek in any conceivable way, however ineffective or symbolic, to find a way to reduce the number of murdered schoolchildren in the US? Does it at least acknowledge that this kind of bloodshed is in any way a problem?

Don’t make me laugh.

The Republican Party is a death cult and it is perfectly happy to see you die if it means more power and money for them. If you don’t believe me, you can also check out their policies on health care and the recent pandemic.

“Ignore guns, talk about inflation,” the GOP instructs its minions. Run out the clock. Switch the topic. Do anything, say anything to avoid having to acknowledge the fact that the United States routinely guns down its children and the GOP not only refuses to lift a finger to change that but also fanatically refuses to allow anyone else to do anything about it either. This despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans – anywhere from 65 to 90 percent, depending on how you word the question and what specific item is being discussed, which tells you that a lot of gun owners and conservatives are on board this train as well – wants stricter laws regulating guns. This will pass, they say, and then they can go back to business as usual.

Well fuck them.

I will not forget. I will not forgive.

So, on that topic, a few items and illustrations of relevant interest for your reading and viewing pleasure.

First, a statistic for you. If you define mass shooting the way the FBI does – any time there are four or more people shot – we have had over 250 mass shootings this year, as of June 5 (156 days). That’s coming up on two a day, for those of you who aren’t good with math. There have been precisely 46 days without one. Some days there have been as many as eight.

In fact, more school children have been shot to death in American schools this year than the number of police officers who have died on the job. It is literally more dangerous to be a student than a cop in this country.

Ah, but you say, the Second Amendment to the US Constitution says “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” And it does say that. Except that this really doesn’t apply here, does it?

The fact is that this isn’t a well-regulated militia and we as a society need to recognize that fact and come down hard on the idiots who assume it is. Because otherwise we’ll just keep murdering more kids.

This does not bother the ammosexuals, because they prefer guns to children.

They also prefer to change the subject whenever the issue comes up. This is how you recognize depravity when you see it.

They’ll try to run out the clock. They’ll tell you that nothing can change. They’ll complain that I’m politicizing things in the wake of tragedy (damn fucking straight I am, thank you very goddamn much, and about time too), and they’ll dodge and weave until the next murder festival, whereupon the cycle will repeat.

And in the end, I suppose they’ll probably win. They always have.

But where there is life there is hope, and where there is hope there is the chance, however small, that this country can rise above its blood-soaked ammosexuals and actually do something to safeguard its citizens from the carnage that every civilized country on earth has already reduced to much lower levels.

At some point I suppose I’ll get back to regular blogging. But right now there is too much rage and too much evil to be enraged by.