Saturday, October 29, 2022

News and Updates

1. The Phillies are now up one game to none over the heavily favored Houston Astros, having gone down 5-0 and then scoring six unanswered runs to win 6-5 in the 10th. To make that kind of comeback against a team known for its ferocious pitching does send a message, yes it does. The next game starts in less than an hour as I write this, but at least for the next few hours there is a small but non-zero chance that the Phillies could win the World Series in a sweep. I’m not blind enough to reality to put money on that, but I have to admit that fact that this is even theoretically possible after one game has been played is deeply satisfying.

2. Kim, Oliver, and I spent much of the afternoon cleaning out the chicken pen from two years’ worth of accumulated chicken exhaust. By this point it’s pretty much just fertilizer with no particular odor so it’s not a terrible job that way, but it was six inches deep and every square inch of me ended up covered in dust, and even after a very long hot shower my eyes still burn like I hadn’t slept in a week. The chickens were unimpressed.

3. The midterm elections are less than two weeks away and for the life of me I cannot figure out how they are at all close. On the one side we have normal candidates, with a range of pluses and minuses. On the other side we have conspiracy theorists, raging psychopaths, insurrectionists, open bigots, and Russian sycophants. I grieve for my country.

4. I fully expect the GOP to launch any number of baseless criminal investigations and impeachment votes if they should retake the House of Representatives, because if there is anything a criminal organization resents it is being held accountable for its actions and if there is anything that criminal organization cannot do is differentiate being held accountable for their actions from petty revenge politics against those doing the holding. This, at least, I will put money on.

5. I went up to Madison for an advising conference last week – it’s one of the few such conferences that I consider useful enough to attend, and I always get some good information from it. But it did give me some pause. The fire alarm went off about two minutes before our scheduled lunch (which was already laid out in the big conference room – taco bar!) so we dutifully trudged outside. It was something real, it turned out, though not anything serious. After about fifteen minutes somebody came out and announced that it would likely be another forty minutes before we would be allowed back in. And then a minute or two later they came back and said that we advisors could go back to our conference. Yes, the building was on fire, but you know, go ahead. Nice to know where you stand, I guess.

6. It was good that I checked with the third of the various campuses I work for as to whether they had gotten my HR stuff correct, because they hadn’t. They’d shorted me about $1800 or so. It turns out that in order for me to get my money I had to tell them exactly how much I’d been paid over the summer, which struck me as precisely the sort of information that they should already have. I’m not sure why I am expected to do HR’s job when they can’t do mine – I’d pay good money to see anyone in that department explain the influence of neo-Harringtonian republicanism on the Federal Constitution of 1787 in a way that both makes sense to undergraduates and incorporates a PowerPoint slide of Aaron Rodgers, if I’m being candid here – but if I wanted my money that was the hoop I had to jump through. I submitted that on Thursday. We’ll see how it goes.

7. So far this academic year I have been a professor, an advisor, an HR professional, an accountant, and an IT guy, except that I only get paid for the first two since we supposedly have people doing those other jobs on staff. I should ask for a raise.

8. I should be grading. I do not feel like grading. Maybe I should ask the HR folks to grade my papers.

9. Someone handed me a wheat cent in change the other day, which doesn’t happen very often anymore. It’s nice to see them still floating around, though.

10. Oliver and I made a scythe on Friday. He had a costume party to go to and decided to use my old Death robe – my friend Julia used to have a medieval feast every year and I’d always go as The Plague, which was funny back in the 1980s. But while I still have the robe I no longer have the staff that went with it. It took us a couple of hours and involved spray paint, stick-on vinyl, cardboard, a ruler, and an absurd length of PVC pipe, but it doesn’t look half bad if I do say so myself. This is how we do parent-child bonding in this family, and the world looks on in awe.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Go Phillies!

The Phillies are back in the World Series.

I’m not really sure what to make of this. Of all the major and minor sports out there, baseball isn’t one that I follow very much – certainly not as much as I once did. If you tell me I have to watch a midseason game between two reasonably good teams who aren’t my team in some random sport, baseball wouldn’t be in my top three choices. On the other hand, I’ve been a Phillies fan since the Nixon administration and if there is a baseball team I’m going to watch and cheer for it would be that one.

This year’s Phillies are a lot of fun, it turns out.

They snuck into the playoffs as the six-seed in a newly expanded playoff format, an 87-win team with an interim manager that finished fourteen games behind the two other teams in the NL East that made it in and qualified for the postseason on the last weekend of the season. Then they wiped out the 93-win Cardinals and the 101-win defending champion Braves before rolling through the Padres, who had pretty much the same record they did, and they looked like they were enjoying themselves immensely the whole time.

You have to love that. I get tired of the grim professionalism that has become the standard these days. It’s a game, folks. You’re supposed to have fun.

They now face the Houston Astros, a team that should have been stripped of their title and banned from the postseason for a decade for cheating their way to a championship a few years ago. The Astros were one of the best teams in the league this year but the stench of corruption follows them like a wet puppy even if this year’s group was (probably) on the up and up. The fact remains they shouldn’t be there at all.

But so it goes.

This year’s World Series will be the classic matchup between a team that is Good versus a team that is Hot. The Astros are by pretty much all statistical measures the better team, but the better team does not always win.

That’s why they play the game.

So I’ve been wearing my battered old Phillies cap around town – I figure I should rep the home team if they’re playing for it all – and just as when the Eagles met the Patriots in the Super Bowl back in 2018 I am getting a lot of support from the “Anybody But Those Damned Cheaters” demographic. The Astros may think they’ve put it all behind them, but nobody else seems to think so. They come up to me at random to let me know.

I’m not really used to getting support for my teams outside of Philadelphia – we’re just that way, I suppose. But I’ll take it.

I still have my sweatshirt from the 2008 World Series that they won – only the second time since 1883 that that happened, both times in my lifetime – and it’s getting cool enough here that I’ll probably wear it on Friday when the Series starts.

My grandfather was a hardcore Philllies fan who finally got to see them win it all in 1980. My dad was more of an Eagles fan but still cheered for the Phillies and took me to see more than a few games down at the Vet when I was a kid. He had a matching sweatshirt from 2008 as well. Maybe there’ll be one more year to cheer about soon.

Why can’t us, man?

Why can’t us.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Bright Lights, Old Memories

My memories of holidays when I was very young are suffused with the light of a thousand suns.

Or one movie light. It was hard to tell sometimes.

My grandfather had a Super 8 movie camera that was a pride and joy to him and it would come out every Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthday, or other significant event that took place at his house or, in the case of weddings, any nearby church. It was a small, handheld little thing and each roll of grainy film lasted about five or six minutes which meant that there were a lot of short snippets of action as he tried to cover everything that was happening. Super 8 film wasn’t very light sensitive so the camera came with a floodlight that etched everything in white glare while you were living through it, though it looked good on film. Without it the film just came out muddled and dark.

He'd haul it out and spend time happily capturing various moments – we learned to ignore him so he didn’t have to have us staring into the camera all the time – and when he’d finished the roll we’d be plunged back into the relative darkness of ambient light, returned to our holidays.

Several weeks later the film would come back from the processor and we’d find out how it turned out.

My grandfather was not a great cameraman. People would routinely get lost out of frame or have various body parts cut off by the edge of the action, and he had a rare talent for focusing on things in between things. But they were good memories and we enjoyed them when we saw them.

Just the other day my brother sent links to some of the movies that he’d had digitized so we can all see them again. It’s a treasure trove of the 1960s and 1970s.

You forget, in this age of iPhones, that those old movies were silent. People come onto the screen, obviously talking to each other or laughing at something, caught in the middle of a moment, and their mouths are moving but nothing comes to you as you watch. It’s kind of eerie, in a way, as if you were a ghost outside of the flow of time, watching events through a filter, which of course in a way you are.

So many of those people are gone now. My parents. All three of my grandparents. The great-aunts who would only come by every few Christmases even though they only lived forty minutes away. All just memories and images on film.

My grandmother is almost exactly my age now, in this screen grab from Christmas 1970. She’s looking at my cousin, who is all of about sixteen months old here and I can’t tell if he’s blurred because of the way my grandfather took the shot or if that’s just how sixteen-month-olds are. But she looks happy, and even now I can hear the whooping laugh that she had when things struck her just right.

This is my brother and my parents, Christmas Eve 1979.

And me, a bit later that evening, when it came time to open gifts. We never did play that game more than a handful of times as the rules were fiendishly complicated – or at least more complicated than we felt like dealing with – but I was excited at the time. I still have it somewhere. Maybe I should give it another shot.

This is the man himself, the photographer photographed. As we got older we’d each take our turns with the Super 8. It was something of a rite of passage. The gift he’s opening is a handheld calculator, which was an impressive thing in 1979.

Eventually the Super 8 got retired, and for many years after that we just had still photographs – they’re easier because they don’t take the photographer out of the moment for so long. You can take your picture and still be part of the celebration.

But there is something about seeing people move – especially people long gone – that can’t be duplicated by a still photograph.

I’m still working my way through all of the files my brother sent. It’s a lovely and rather bittersweet way to spend an October weekend, and I’m glad for it.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

News and Updates

1. Yesterday, in a fit of optimism regarding how today would go, I got my COVID booster and my flu shot at the same time, and I have to say it seems to have worked. I now have the flu and definitely feel like I have COVID. Oh well. I’ve done this enough times to know that it’s an illusion that will pass sometime later today, that I will feel fine by dinner time, and that getting vaccinated is the single best way to preserve your health and the health of those around you. It’s an intelligence test that far too many Americans fail for ideological reasons, unfortunately, because apparently drowning in your own fluids is a surefire way to own the libs. I don’t get it but I don’t have to either and at this point I am perfectly willing to be owned in that way if it tightens up the gene pool a bit. If COVID has taught me anything it is that I am not really a good person. Oh well. Regardless, today will be a low-key day, yes indeed.

2. Not that this bothers the cats. This morning I was sitting in the big grey chair in the living room that Mithra considers hers when she walked into the living room and barfed on the carpet. When I got up to clean it up she casually (or as casually as an 18-year-old blind and arthritic cat can muster) hopped up onto the chair for herself. Well played, cat. Well played.

3. It is a good time to be a Philadelphia sports fan. The Eagles are the only undefeated team in football, and the fact that this drives the haters mad is just extra joy for my home town. It won’t last – it can’t last. There hasn’t been an undefeated team in football since 1972 and the Eagles aren’t going to change that (and yes, Patriots fans, you have to win the last game for it to count) but it’s fun now, even for someone like me who isn’t nearly as big of a football fan as I was even ten years ago. The Phillies somehow managed to squeak into the playoffs for the first time in a decade as the last team in, swept the Cardinals in two games in St. Louis, and now hold a 2-1 lead over the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves. Will they ride this to a second WFC tour this century? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s fun now. The Flyers won their season opener, which means they are above .500 for what experts predict will be the only time this season. None of the Sports Knobs see them as anything other than a cellar-dwelling afterthought this season, but it’s fun now. The Union was at the top of the MLS table last time I checked. Definitely fun now. Good times, I tell you.

4. This is what you focus on when the larger world goes to shit. Sports are a break that way. There are wins and losses, drama and skill, and in the end the sun rises in the east the next morning no matter what the scoreboards say. The whole point of sports is that they are meaningless fun, and I intend to enjoy them thoroughly.

5. Kim and I went up to see Lauren a bit ago to be ringers on her trivia team. She and Maxim play trivia on Mondays and they get some of their friends to join – Isaac and Daniel for most of the game that night, while Chase joined toward the end – and it’s a fun time. But there are teams of graduate students that always dominate so we went up to even the odds. We came within a point of winning, and had a grand and glorious time in the process. And somewhere in there I pulled an answer completely out of the air in a subject I have no expertise in whatsoever (“How about The Maltese Falcon? – that sounds plausible”) and it turned out that not only was my wild random guess right but nobody else got it either, so WIN.

Meme courtesy of Daniel.  
5. We also went up the following weekend when Maxim’s mother and brother came to visit, and we had a lovely time with them. There was fondue, which was somewhat odd in that Lauren was sick and we ended up getting together anyway. But people have to eat, after all, and fondue is fun. Lauren got better after that and joined us the next time we went up to see them. There was pie! There was a corn maze where we all split up into our own groups and somehow managed to arrive back at the exit, maze completed, at exactly the same time! It was good to see them again and share stories together.

6. I got fired again. Or, more accurately, I wasn’t hired at all. It took several weeks and more than my share of time spent with the IT department over at the Mother Ship to get things straightened out last time and I thought I’d cleared all those hurdles for this semester except that I actually work for at least three different campuses (and anywhere up to six, depending on how you count) and last week I got an email from the IT folks at another campus announcing that they were deleting me from their servers because I didn’t work there. This came as a great surprise to me, half an hour after teaching a class on the Revolutionary Crisis for that campus. I called the IT folks up there and they said, “Huh. That’s what our records show. Call HR at this number.” The HR number is a placebo, unfortunately – four times in twenty-four hours I called it and let it ring three dozen times before it disconnected without being answered or allowing me to leave a message. Eventually the academic-dean-type-person who thought he had hired me last spring was able to track down the issue and get it resolved and now I’m actually going to get paid for this semester, which I thought was a good outcome. I really need to check with the other campus to see what they’ve got in store for me.

7. Every time the January 6 Committee conducts business two things become more clear: Donald J. Trump actively conspired to overthrow the legitimate government of the United States – a process that clearly fits the definition of treason – and his supporters think that’s just fine. I grieve for this country and worry for the future of the American republic. We will not be secure until Trump and every single one of the minions, lackeys, enablers, and cronies who participated in that scheme pay the full price of treason.

8. Kyiv still stands, and at this point I’m not sure whether the Russian military will be able to say the same in six months. I admit that came as a surprise – I would not have predicted that in February. Can’t say I’m sorry, though.

9. My revised online class is now up and running and I’ve already had a student turn in an assignment for it. There is a certain amount of trepidation with this, but I keep reminding myself that the students don’t know that this is the first month the class has been offered in this version so they just see a class. We’ll see how this goes.

10. I’ve been posting surveys on a whiteboard easel at work just to get people in and talking, and so far it seems to be working. I have discovered that people are pretty evenly split on whether pineapple belongs on a pizza and whether one should relax by doing Something or by doing Nothing. Most people are not fans of mimes. Also, if you ask whether a sandwich should be cut diagonally or horizontally you should be prepared for an avalanche of people writing in different answers for specific cases. This annoyed me at first, but then it occurred to me that it meant that the survey had actually succeeded in getting people in and talking and I should just back off and let it happen.

Sunday, October 9, 2022


Do they not have Mexican food in the UK?

They must. Somewhere. Surely?

I mean, it’s a grand and glorious cuisine, one that is far more than just tacos. It’s got flavor! It’s got variety! It’s got spices!

Okay, maybe that last one is a bit much for the UK, but I’ve visited a few times and have always eaten well there – it’s not like they’re unfamiliar with the concept of good food. Surely somebody has thought to cash in on that with a Mexican restaurant?

Hello? Is this thing on?

The Great British Bake Off (as it is properly known) is back for another season of mild drama, decent human beings trying to make just the damndest baked goods you’ve never heard of, and the usual slew of double entendres and uncooperative chocolate. It’s one of my favorite shows because there really aren’t any villains. The contestants get along, the judges almost always have at least one positive thing to say, and in the end the winner gets a glass cake tray so it’s not like there’s a whole lot at stake. It was one of the things that got me through lockdown, and I look forward to it whenever it reappears with a new season.

If you’ve not seen the show, one of the things about it is that each week has a theme. There’s Bread Week, for example, or Pastry Week. It gives everything a little focus.

This past week was the first ever Mexican Week, and let us all pray to the deity or deities of our choosing that we will never be confronted with such a thing again.

It didn’t start off badly. The first challenge was to make pan dulce, which most of the bakers figured out – they get the first and third challenge in advance, after all – and which the judges actually seemed competent to address.

And then the wheels fell off.

The second challenge – the one that comes as a surprise to the bakers - was for the bakers to make tacos because of course that would be the task, right?  Tacos?  Sigh. Leaving aside the fact that making tacos is cooking not baking and those two things are Not The Same Thing At All, it very quickly became clear that not only had the bakers never actually eaten a taco (or “tacko” as everyone on the show insisted on calling them) but neither had the judges. I knew we were in trouble when the camera followed Paul and Prue back to the judge’s tent while the bakers did their thing elsewhere and there between them was a carefully laid out platter of what they clearly considered to be proper tacos.

First of all, no. These were not tacos. These were tostadas.

Second, the tortillas were apparently a quarter inch thick, which does not make any sense whatsoever.

And third, they were mounded with fillings – enough fillings for a dozen tacos each!

Then they tried to eat them, which is how these little “let’s visit the judges during the technical challenge” interludes always go, and it went as well as expected even though Paul insisted he’d been to Mexico recently and this was how tacos worked.


Every American watching this show no doubt had their heads in their hands by this point. I have no idea what Mexican viewers were doing. Probably just stunned into silence.

The camera then cut over to the contestants, since that’s what we all tune in to see anyway, and the chaos deepened.

Most of them had clearly never even seen a taco, let alone made one. And they didn’t really get much of a chance to make one properly since they only had a pie plate to flatten the tortillas and – as is always the case with the technical – the instructions were basically “Make the thing.  Good luck!”

Have you ever driven past an accident? A pile-up so egregiously awful that you had no alternative but to slow down and stare, even though you know before ever hitting the brakes that you will regret every second of that experience?

Yeah, like that.

The final challenge was a “tres leches” cake, which the hosts insisted on calling a “trez letch” cake but which most of the contestants could at least wrap their heads around.

Tres leches? En esta economia?

I’m going to make tacos for dinner this week, just because I feel it needs to be done to restore balance in my universe. They will be unremarkable American versions of tacos because that’s who I am, but they will still make me feel as if I have done my tiny bit to restore Mexican cooking to its proper place of honor, if only in my own head.

And I’ll eagerly watch next week’s Bake Off episode because I just really want to know how you follow something like Mexican Week on a British baking show.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Layers, Like an Onion

I’ve been online for a very long time.

I sent my first email in 1986, back when it was still the ARPANET. I was introduced to the web when it was still text-based and you had to use Lynx to get anywhere. I remember Yahoo’s daily list of all the new websites that its search engine had found in the previous 24 hours – a list that rarely exceeded two dozen sites. It’s been a while.

One of the benefits of this kind of longevity is that after a while the long-running inside jokes start to become clear.

Apparently these sorts of multi-level memes are a thing, particularly on Tumblr and Instagram for us older folks, and also on whatever new site people who are actually hip and trendy are using. I wouldn’t know, of course, as my mere presence on such sites will switch them instantly into the first category by default so I try to stay away of them as a favor to the rising generations. No need to thank me, young people! It is a service I provide.

But sometimes you just have to go down the rabbit hole and follow the joke wherever it will lead.

I remember when this one came out a few years ago:

I don’t know when the cool people found it, but it came across my social media feed in 2019. I thought it was funny and posted it on Facebook where it got some chuckles from my friends, and then everyone moved on. As far as I was concerned that was it.

But this was not true back among the people in the trendier parts of the internet, or at least those parts that were trendy in 2019. The first law of social media, after all, is that whenever you post something you think is funny a Humorless Person will be assigned to swing by and overexplain things to you, which is why this appeared under the original meme (i.e. not my Facebook post):

Which got the only possible response:

Which of course led the Humorless Brigade to double down:

Naturally that could not stand, and the exasperated Reality Squad shot back with both a detailed explanation of why the Humorless Brigade had its head wedged firmly into its collective lower intestine, followed by a general commentary on Tumblr.

And there things sat for a while.

But of course, they can’t just sit there. Not online.  Pretty soon the whole thing got incorporated into new memes such as this one:

Which of course led to this one:

And this one:

And finally, this one:

By the time you get to that pristine white corridor the entire joke has come full circle, except that in order to explain it to someone just running into it for the first time you would need to go into a full-scale reconstruction of half the internet since before the pandemic.

And that just starts the whole process over again, really.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

A Year

It’s been a year.

The human mind keeps a damn good calendar. We offload a lot of it onto paper or computers or other such things these days, and for most of the events we need to remember that’s a pretty good strategy – I know I couldn’t keep track of all of the appointments for my job in my head these days the way I used to do for other jobs I’ve had.

But some things stand out, all on their own, and you don’t need to check your device – you just know.

A year ago yesterday I came home from work exhausted, slumped into the rocking chair in the living room (well, one of them – we like rocking chairs) and declared to nobody in particular that I was not going to move from that spot for the rest of the weekend. Food would be brought to me or I would simply go hungry and it mattered not a bit to me which one happened. It had been a long few weeks in a long year after several other long years, and the Eagle had landed hard.

And then the phone rang.

The following morning I was at O’Hare, waiting for a flight to Philadelphia. That’s where I was when I found out that my mom had died, in an airport waiting area, not really watching the flights come in and go out.

It had been a long time coming, but it was still a moment.

The flight was uneventful. The ride to her apartment wasn’t any more memorable, really. By the time I got there everything was settled – it was just my brother and me, surrounded by stuff.

We went out and found a place to get lunch. You have to eat. I think my mom would have approved.

It’s going to be a quiet day today. I do have a bottle of wine that the senior living facility where she lived had given her on her one-year anniversary there back in 2018, though. I’m not entirely sure how it ended up with me – lots of things did since I have more storage space than my brother does and we’re still kind of sorting that out. We made a start on it when he came out here this past summer, and there is more to go. But it’s here and I may open it to raise a glass to her. Or perhaps I’ll save it for when more of us are together.

We’ll see.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Looking for Nothing

I’m trying to spend this weekend doing as little as possible, which is a relative term.

I’ve prepped for my Monday classes. Graded the online class essays. Written the exam for my remote class for Friday. Mown the lawn. Proofread the new version of the online class and sent in a short punch list of things that need to be corrected that I couldn’t do myself. Revised a discussion grade for a student who felt they were grievously shortchanged and did a good job of explaining why. Soon I’ll write out the bills (which I still send through the mail, having done the online identity theft fandango a few too many times to trust automatic online bill paying) and then go grocery shopping.

This counts as a slow weekend these days.

There are, of course, other things that need to get done – some of which will get done and some of which won’t. And there are some things that are fun and therefore don’t really count as work, so I’ll consider them.

I’m nearly finished a book that Lauren recommended, something she had to read for a class last year. It has been great so far, with a lot of references to places and experiences I remember growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs in the 1970s, and more than a few laugh-out-loud lines.

I watched the new episode of Great British Bake Off last night – still cheering for Janusz, Maxy, and Syabera, though as always there really isn’t anyone to cheer against on that show. They’re all fun and it’s sad to see them go. But now I’m caught up which means I can go back to plinking around my social media feeds without worrying about spoilers, which may or may not be a good thing.

This morning I managed to watch an entire Premier League game, something I haven’t done all the way through in one sitting since the spring. It was quite a game. The best part though was the male announcer, who sounded exactly like the Scottish comedian Danny Bhoy – if you’ve never heard Danny Bhoy’s “ceilidh” routine you should run to YouTube and listen to it now. It makes for an interesting soccer game to have that running in the background of your mind.

“The situation has changed! And not to your advantage!”

But if all goes to plan there will be downtime, and that is a sorely needed thing these days.

We’ll see how it goes.