Thursday, March 30, 2017

He will be barely missed

Classy to the end
Following a brief but courageous bout with his calendar, Dick Charleston is no more. An early combatant in the Great Meme War, he served a tour as Colonel of GamerGate, defending the honor of KFC, which was inexcusably blocked by the infamous Literally Blue GamerGate block bot.

During the late Washington Campaign, Charleston was blocked by scores of termagants, beldams, slatterns, even an occasional harridan. However, he has decided the garden must come before the triggering of feminist writers and members of the religious left. May his memes never grow salty.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A potato home companion

Three blocks short of a full wall
So anyway, when the lovely and gracious Rogue bought me a second deck for my birthday last year, its placement created an unwieldy area that managed to collect weeds, rideable plastic toys, and chunks of dead rabbit over the course of last summer. What better place to grow potatoes? But I've decided that it's not going to be an ordinary potato bed; it's going to be a companion-planting extravaganza.

Just for fun, this bed's going to get just about every companion that promises to help potatoes: thyme (already planted, though you can hardly see them in the picture), onions, garlic, marigolds, even clover.  I already have two beds each of onions and garlic, so if these produce anything, that's just a bonus.  And I'm wondering if (or hoping that, actually) adding clover once the potatoes come up will smother out the other weeds*.  As you can see, this might be a rather difficult bed to keep weeded without having to climb into it. Unwieldy it began, unwieldy it remains.

The only companion I haven't decided on is horseradish. Horseradish is a great companion, as it allegedly helps increase the disease resistance of potatoes**. But horseradish is forever, so if I add it here, here it will remain until the end of the age. It already grows in a number of places outside its original bed, like all the other beds that have previously held potatoes.

On the other hand, even should I never be able to rid myself of it, there are worse problems than having food growing all over the place. Like having chunks of dead rabbit rotting all over the place.

UPDATE: I gave in and did two rows of horseradish, one inside, one outside the upper wall.  Plus, since DiggingDog™ decided that the center of the bed would be a capital place to dig a nice hole to lie in, I've stuck about a dozen tomato cages all over the bed.  It doesn't look as nice now. But nice isn't really what we're shooting for, is it?

* Also, since the bed is not flat, I hope a thick cover of clover will control any erosion issues that arise.
** I cannot testify that this is true, only that my potatoes have not had any disease issues in the past.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The lost sense of tragedy

Won't that be fun?
Seeing our new SecState threatening North Korea reminded me of these words penned by Robert Kaplan a couple decades ago:
Avoiding tragedy requires a sense of it, which in turn requires a sense of history. Peace, however, leads to the preoccupation with “presentness”, the loss of the past and consequent disregard for the future. That is because peace by nature is pleasurable, and pleasure is about momentary satisfaction. 
In an era of expanded domestic peace, those who deliver us pleasure are the power brokers. Because pleasure is inseparable from convenience, convenience becomes the vital element of society.
Folks are always at a loss to explain how the world stupids its way into tragedy every so often.  Try to get a well-read man to explain the logical steps from the assassination of an Archduke in Sarajevo to 1.2 million casualties in the Battle of the Somme 24 months later and he will throw his hands into the air.  Human actions are on occasion too stupid to understand in retrospect.

But that's because humans do not make decisions in retrospect.  At the risk of oversimplifying, the logical progression was that two sides saw opportunities to be gained by fighting and neither side really considered the costs of either losing or of not winning for a very long time.  Had you told the Germans that the ultimate result of declaring war on Russia would be 10% of their population dead or maimed, Turnip Winter and hyperinflation, and France occupying the Ruhr, they would never have gone along.

But neither the German rulers, nor the people who cheered the headlong rush to war, had a sense of tragedy. Instead they had the intoxicating confidence of being a newly-industrialized, newly-unified power that had kicked France's ass 40 years prior and been itching for another fight since.  The same could probably be said for the Allied nations - the end price was not considered at the outset*.

We are in exactly that same position today, and the position that Kaplan warned about in 1995. Convenience and living in the present have been the two vital elements of American culture for the past 20 years.  In all earnest, what can be said of the two-spirit, gender-non-conforming, or androgyne*** except that they have completely discarded the historical human experience?**** What can be said for the government that casually threatens other nuclear powers over social media?

We have absolutely no sense of the tragic, or even of the serious or real or true, because it's been so long since we were forced to be a serious people.  There is no penalty today for the individual acting in a foolish or discivic manner any more than there is for a congressman or president who does the same, only much more expensively. After all, at zero interest rates, new fighter jets are free. If you can be anything you want, why not be a non-binary pangender demiboy? When food, rent, health care, and education for all of them are underwritten by someone else, why not have a dozen kids with a dozen different partners? Why not drill, baby, drill on funds lent by retirement funds desperate to put off a demographic tidal wave?

Because there's no penalty for stupid, and because stupid is more fun than is serious, the stupid will accelerate until we are very painfully reminded what it is that makes certain actions stupid in the first place.

Trump seems to want to blunder us into a war in southeast Asia just as badly as Hillary wanted to scheme us into one in eastern Europe.  No one, most especially those whose job it is to consider these things, counts the costs of such lunacy. It's been so long since we've paid costs that we've forgotten that they exist.

They do.

* Except the US.  We jumped in so that we could centralize political, eceonomic, and cultural power in Washington. There is a reason today that most of what's called "the news" is about government**. Wilson would have killed a lot more than 100,000 doughboys for that.
** the rest, of course, is about people who sing, make-believe, or play games for money.
*** three of the 58 gender options available on Facebook.
**** Well, you could say that they are batshit insane, which is doubtless true of the few that are not simply pretending to be for attention.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Calling the top

Hang on Janet, hang on tight
Peter Thiel says the voters' bull's got a long way to run:
Investor Peter Thiel— who stumped for President Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention and has remained close to the president ... is beginning to agree with a colleague on this thesis: "We're now in a bull market in politics," he said.
"I'm not sure this is a good thing," said Thiel. "But it is a fact that maybe politics is becoming more important, it's becoming more intense, the range of outcomes is becoming greater, and that we're in a world in which there's a bull market in politics that's getting started."
While I agree that politics are becoming more intense and that the range of possible outcomes is growing, count me as one who thinks those facts imply we are a lot closer to the end of a bull market in politics than the beginning.

It's always interesting to watch larval historians come to grips with the ubiquity of religion in the Late Middle Ages. In some ways it's completely out of their experience.  You had mandated feast days and fast days and tithes and special diets and all manner of demands on the people to do this and pay that and go see this and support this vagrant.  And few questioned the system's legitimacy even as they loathed or mocked the corruption of nearly everyone involved in running the system.  But then you have them compare it to democracy and the lights come on.

That religious superstructure of authority grew and grew and grew until we reached what might be called "Peak Church" a couple decades before Luther.  Finally, it broke out in heresy trials, subjugation, complete economic and social control, and then finally all out war that devastated whole nations. Ubiquity marked the end of the bull market in religion, the whole creaking edifice was eventually destroyed.

Today we find ourselves scratching our heads over how our Catholic next door neighbors would have ever burned us at the stake for not putting ashes on our foreheads the fortieth day before Easter. I suspect that in a few centuries, more than a few people will wonder the same thing about our democratic politics.  Replace 'tithes' with 'taxes' and 'priests' with 'lobbyists' and it becomes obvious that our modern society is as saturated with politics as the Middle Ages ever was with religion. Our nation's richest counties all lie around our national capital. Our companies pay billions of dollars to hire people to ask for indulgences, or fund the campaigns of those who can grant them directly. We don't make pilgrimages to Rome to hear the Pope, but our hairdressers must make annual pilgrimages to Topeka to hear some social work graduate drone on about diversity -- which we call continuing education -- lest they be legally forbidden to practice their art.

We spend hours every day thinking and talking and arguing about what we ought to collectively do about this problem or that. We think it ludicrous that theologians might have argued over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, yet computer programmers sit around a table and in all earnest argue about what to do about North Korea's nuclear weapons - even as they forget we "did something" about them 20 years ago - or how to keep the polar ice caps from melting.

We are in politics as Medievals were in religion: like a fish in water.

And the religious system went on and on and grew and intensified, sucking more and more of the wealth and production from society until it could not be collectively afforded anymore.  Its peak is the place where the range of outcomes became greater - i.e. where a break in its steadiness and consistency became evident - and they got a few centuries of religious persecutions and wars, and the Pilgrims got Plymouth Rock and the Indians got casinos.

Politics in the modern sense - defined here as the assertion that "politics is the art of the possible" and we need to collectively do something about everything - really got rolling in the Progressive Era of the late 1800s. It was then that we as a nation consciously decided that we were going to mold ourselves and our environment into something new through legal incentive and coercion*. We were going to professionalize our barber shops and de-worm the Southrons and civilize the Irish**. We were going to apply the principles of science to society***, and ban alcohol and buying a car on Sunday and make all the children go to approved schools for 186 days a year from the ages of 7 to 16. And we have been growing the beast, tax by tax and regulation by regulation, ever since.

Our government - the voracious product of our politics - has bankrupted our nation, our people, even our money. Still it announces grandiose plans to make us even greater than before using money it creates from nothing but upon which our children will make perpetual interest payments to those who did nothing to earn them because the law, passed by representatives of the people, says they must.

That sounds a lot like the bell ringing at the top to me.

* The Pilgrims, of course, did the same on a smaller basis, but they didn't ask the peasant pilgrims for input.
** and use a few dozen poor black men for syphilis experiments.
*** Progressives are understandably loath to claim eugenics as their baby, but in the first third of the 20th century, eugenics was a progressive idea with intellectual cachet.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Prepper Fail, Volts and Amps Edition

Out of date, out of luck
Our power went out even before the storm arrived.

Which is actually no big deal.  The kids were in bed, so we really didn't need it*. And our electric service is much improved over the past 10 years. When we first moved in, if someone farted in Redfield our power would be out for 12 hours.  Now outages are few and far between and seldom last as long.  So I went to sleep thinking it would be back on by morning. It wasn't.

And that's no big deal, either.  To deal with such a case, we have half of our house** wired for generator power.  I have a big long cord that plugs into my electrical box on one end and the generator on the other, and a couple switches to flip, and I can run the house that way so long as I have gasoline.  Which I do.

So I got up with the sun, put my hoodie on, flipped all the switches, plugged the cord into the electrical box, fed the other end outside, filled the generator and started it, then went to plug the cord in.  Nope.  The rounded prong that's supposed to point inward is facing outward and the others are all too close together***. I turn the plug this way and that. Nope. Stare stupidly at it as if that will change something. Nope. It appears that that I am undone. We will not be running the well pump via generator today.

The part of the story I have neglected is that I burned up my 15-year-old generator last summer and we bought a new, bigger one. And as the Lovely and Gracious Rogue was looking it over in the store, I asked if it had one of those round plugs.  Yup. Buy it. Assemble it. Run it.  But I didn't hook it up to the house until 6:30 this morning. Why bother?

Well, apparently in the last 15 years or so, the style among electricians has become a 120/240V 20A plug instead of the 125/250V 30A that my electrical box, my cord, and my old generator use. So I need to get my box rewired (probably) to match the new standard. Fail.

But I hear now that a pole has snapped somewhere near Redfield and the power should be back on by noon. And if that's the case, no harm will come to my steaks, or at least no thawing.  So if nothing untoward comes of it, I guess we'll just call it a dry run, a test.  And stuff is allowed to go wrong in a test.

It just needs to be right on the final exam.

* I enjoyed re-reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with a flashlight no little bit.
** The half with the freezer, fridge, pellet stove, well pump, etc. 
*** Not unlike the guy in Johnny Cash's One Piece at a Time, who tries to assemble a car he has stolen bit by bit over a 30 year career at GM.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Winter Grapes revisited

I awoke Saturday morning to find that five of those seven or eight pathetic sticks I stuck in the dirt five weeks ago had suddenly sprouted. So working from the assumption that what is happening above the soil is being mirrored beneath it, I will have at least 5 new Concord grape vines to transplant in a few weeks.

So the lazy way to start grapes from cuttings is working at at least a 60% rate. I can live with that, especially since I've got another experiment (cuttings in water) running a couple weeks behind, and another batch of 8 cuttings I just planted yesterday.  By April I expect to have at least a dozen new vines that can start making the makings of jelly.

And not a moment too soon, it seems.  The original concords are about 20 years old, and one of them all-but-died last year, which led to me looking for ways to propagate it. Well, the other looks to have the same issue this year -- its main stock is completely rotted in the center.  So those two will probably get ripped out this fall, or even earlier if it looks like they won't produce this year.

And that's ok. Even though the younguns won't produce anything until next summer, we've got enough jelly on hand to get by until they do.