Saturday, November 30, 2013

Even in California...

Even in California ... it's possible for a liberal to get mugged by reality.  Just ask the Mayor of San Jose – though I should note that the political betting is that he's going to lose his fight, and the unions will win.  That would guarantee the end of San Jose as a fiscally viable city, and hasten it along the path to bankruptcy.  But since when did any pesky reality like that ever divert a greedy, tax-swilling union from running headlong at an epic fail?

Some interesting Martian terrain...

Some interesting Martian terrain...  Curiosity is getting into more rugged terrain as it climbs the flanks of Mount Sharp...

Iran deal update...

Iran deal update...   I'm not entirely sure it's another debacle, so for now I'll keep calling it a “deal” – which, come to think of it, it is.  But for whom?  That's the interesting question...

Surrender in Geneva.  The inimitable Mark Steyn:
In Geneva, the participants came to the talks with different goals: The Americans and Europeans wanted an agreement; the Iranians wanted nukes. Each party got what it came for.
Comparisons with Munich are rampant.  I saw the photoshop at right and was just stunned – somehow the photo is much more powerful than all the words about the Iran deal I've read.

I'm afraid, though, that this photo won't mean much to all too many Americans, as they don't know enough history to recognize this as a photoshop of the famous photo of Neville Chamberlain (original at left) giving his infamous “Peace for our time” speech after making a disastrous deal with Hitler.  Shortly afterwards, World War II erupted, and the deal was recognized as being the enabling moment that allowed Hitler's evil to roll over Europe.

Is That One's deal with Iran the equivalent?  Certainly not the direct equivalent; there are too many relevant and significant differences between Hitler and his Germany, and the mad mullahs and their Iran.  But there are enough similarities to be concerning.  The very idea of the mad mullahs having a collection of nuclear weapons at their disposal is one that I find frightening – and I live half a world away.  Just imagine how the countries in their neighborhood feel about that!

Some cartoons from the week:


ObamaCare debacle update...

ObamaCare debacle update...  Yes, even on the weekends...

Breaking up with healthcare.gov is hard to do.  It's like Hotel California – you can check in, but you can't check out!

Welcome to the klugeocracy.  Michael Barone says That One “lacks that knack” ... surely the understatement of the year!

Believing his own bullshit.  Neo-Neocon does some armchair analysis...

Some good cartoons from the week:


Unfortunately, this is all too believable...

Unfortunately, this is all too believable...  For almost 20 years, the “code” needed to launch our nation's nuclear-tipped ICBM arsenal was: 00000000.  Seriously.

I think anyone who, like me, was in the military and had any exposure to nuclear weapons prior to the great nuke lockdown of 1977 would be completely unsurprised by this.  The ship I served on carried nuclear weapons, and though there was no reason for me to ever get near one, I was able to do so on several occasions.  In my case, it was just simple curiosity – I wanted to know what they looked like (not very impressive, actually). 

Security in general was ludicrously lax on the ship.  Anyone at all could enter the radio room, which routinely carried “Top Secret” traffic – I went in there many times to repair equipment without having the appropriate security clearance, and nobody ever questioned my presence.  Similarly, the sonar room, electronic warfare area, and the SWC (Ship's Weapons Controller) station in CIC had classified material – some of it quite sensitive – lying about, and again I was frequently in those areas unsupervised and without appropriate clearance.  I even spent an interesting afternoon with one of the sonarmen going through the acoustic signature analyzer and data!

Pater: A little imagination and play...

Pater: A little imagination and play...  At right, my dad on my last visit with him: August 25, 2013.  He's tucking into a plate of scrapple (a favorite breakfast for both he and I).  He hated cornmeal mush – a staple in his family during the depression – but somehow he never caught onto the fact that scrapple is basically slightly dolled-up cornmeal mush :)  Also in front of him: a slice of my mom's world-class homemade apple pie and a bag of “Liz’s cookies” (recipe originally from Mrs. Philbrook on Matinicus Island).  My mom is clutching his hand...
A little imagination and play...

This morning as I walked our dogs in the pre-dawn dark, I was treated to a beautiful crescent moon.  The dark part was brightly lit with earthshine, a phenomenon I always enjoyed seeing.  These days there are many things that remind me of my dad, and this was yet another – he's the first person who ever explained why the dark part of the moon was sometimes lit up.  But he didn't explain it the way Wikipedia does...

To make sense of this, you'll need a little context.  My family, of course, knows all this very well – but if you never had the opportunity to meet my dad, you might be a bit surprised by it...

My dad would frequently say that he was “still a kid”, and in some important ways he was right.  He never really completely grew up.  In particular, he had a child's sense of imagination – most especially, a child's willingness to suspend disbelief and reality.  His imagination manifested in many ways, but the one I remember most vividly was his story-telling.  When we kids were young, he delighted in spinning the most amazing extemporaneous yarns that could keep us enthralled for hours.  Sometimes these stories began and ended on one evening's tale; sometimes they were “serialized” and went on for weeks.  The characters in the stories could be people, talking frogs, trees that could walk around (Ents!), anything at all.  The stories always had a coherent (though often meandering) plot, and occasionally had a lesson or two, but mostly they were purely for fun.  He loved to delight us with a plot twist (“the momma frog hopped into her pond, and accidentally stepped on a snapping turtle!”).  I loved those stories...

So how does earthshine on the moon come into it?  Well, when I was perhaps 5 or 6, long before I understood what the moon actually was, my dad, my brother Scott, and I were camping in the hills of West Virginia.  It was a fine, clear night, so we just threw our sleeping bags on a tarp and sacked out under the moon and stars.  On that night, there was a crescent moon, and there was bright earthshine.  I asked my dad about it, and he unhesitatingly spun a story that went like this:

“It's the light bulbs.  You probably think that light bulbs are made in a factory, but actually they are grown on farms, on the moon.  What you see now is most of the moon covered with baby light bulbs that can only glow dimly.  When they grow up, they get really bright - and that’s the bright part of the moon.  When the crop is ready for harvest, the whole moon will be bright!”

Now, looking back, I have no idea if my dad actually knew what earthshine was, so I don't know if he could have given me the correct explanation.  But he did give me an explanation I could understand – and believe! –  and I did believe it, for several years.

That explanatory story was nothing unusual – my dad was full of them, and many have become family legends.  He was clearly having fun with them, always pushing the envelope of what our kid selves would believe.  He had an iron-clad rule that we could invoke anytime we wanted to: if we asked him “Is that true?”, he would answer honestly.  But very often it never occurred to us to ask...

One such explanatory story that has become family legend has to do with cows.  The story started out as an explanation for where chocolate milk came from (brown cows, of course!).  Then the story grew to include an explanation for buttermilk (cows that hopped instead of walking!), and milkshakes (cows that ran in tight circles around the tops of frozen Swiss mountains!).  Somewhere along the line, we learned about the special Swiss cows that were bred to have shorter legs on one side, so they could stand straight up on the steep alpine meadows (these came in left-handed and right-handed varieties).  The entire edifice of cow explanations came tumbling down when he tried the milkshake explanation on us – one of the kids asked “Is that true?” and he admitted that it was not.  That led us to question some things we had previously been convinced were true, like chocolate milk coming from brown cows :)

This sort of story-telling was absolutely routine with my dad.  He always did it extemporaneously, seamlessly, and so full of detail that we found it utterly plausible.  It was surprisingly rare for us to catch him at first; generally we only tumbled to his story when he tried to push it too far...

His verbal imagination extended to word play, too.  He was notorious for his awful puns, which he could carry on with ad nauseum.  When he got together with a friend who similarly enjoyed horrible puns, it could be unbearable for us to be around them :)  But it wasn't just puns, thankfully.  He came up with some very creative spoonerisms that are now baked into the family's vocabulary: “mocalate chilk”, “chirds burping”, and “flutterby” are some favorites.  He invented whimsical terms, some of which I still use today: “cackleberries” (for eggs), “moo juice” (for milk), and “sparrow grass” (for asparagus).

It wasn't just word play that my dad enjoyed, either.  He liked to play in many ways.  We played lots of games as a kid.  He taught me how to play chess at quite a young age, and was always a ruthless competitor – there was no mollycoddling from him!  My whole family played lots of card games and board games: Monopoly, Scrabble, Boggle, and Krypto were all favorites.  Many of these, though not all, had an educational component to them – I don't know whether that was a deliberate strategy to interest us in learning, or if my parents just thought those games were fun.  Both are equally plausible.

And my dad liked physical play with little kids, too – which delighted us, as he was the only adult we knew who did so.  He loved to engage in rough-and-tumble play, down on the ground at our level.  He'd let us climb all over him, ride him like a pony, wrestle with him, and so on.  He'd tickle us (he loved to see us laugh), and tease us.  Often in the middle of that play, he'd give us a big hug and hold us tight for a moment.

Many years afterward, when I was on a long, long cruise on a Navy ship, I had a conversation about fathers with three of my crewmates.  We were all playing a game of spades, trying to make the boring hours at sea at least a little more engaging.  Somehow we got into a conversation about our fathers.  This sort of conversation didn't happen often amongst groups of sailors, as the general habit there was to make ruthless use of every nugget of discovered fact to mercilessly tease and ridicule someone.  This tended to inhibit personal revelations :)  But on that day, with those four people, something made them open up a bit; a sort of mutual trust, I think.  The first guy to talk about his father described an alcoholic dad who routinely beat up his wife and smacked the kids around.  His mom ran away, taking the kids with her to live with her mother – whose husband had also been a drunk.  The second guy to talk described his dad in wistful tones, as someone he really didn't know.  His dad was always working or out with his friends, and he'd never really spent much time with him.  The third guy, who came from the projects in Chicago, had no idea who his father was – and his mother didn't, either.  Then it was my turn.  I talked about the traveling, camping, and hiking we kids did with my mom and dad.  The others wanted to hear more.  There was a sort of hungry look on their faces that I'll never forget.  Our card game was forgotten.  I ended up talking about my parents and childhood for hours that day, something I had never done before (though I have many times since then!).  But here's the point of this whole paragraph: the thing those guys wanted to hear about the most was my dad's stories and the way he played with us.  They leaned over our little card table, completely focused on what they were hearing, smiling at the very idea of a dad like mine...

Friday, November 29, 2013

Pater: food is important...

Pater: food is important...  My dad is at center in the photo, at my family's Thanksgiving dinner in 2012.  My sister Holly is at left, my brother Scott at right.  My dad's focus on the food was totally normal for him...
Food is important...

It's the family joke, my dad's obsession with food.  There were many manifestations of it, but probably the one that gave all of us the most amusement was this one: when we left to go on any trip longer than about an hour, you could be certain that within a few minutes of leaving, my dad would be wondering out loud where and when we were going to eat.  On this score he was utterly reliable.  Nobody in my family would ever take a bet on him forgetting.

On one of the trips I took with my dad in the '90s, we left our home in Chula Vista early in the morning.  Debbie (my wife) and I had a private bet going on this food planning habit of his – not on whether he'd ask about when we're eating, but rather how long it would take him to do so.  I bet that he'd ask before we got to the freeway, some 8 blocks from our home.  Debbie thought he wouldn't ask until we were zooming northward on I-805.  I won – he asked just one block from our house :)  That wasn't really fair of me, though, as I knew that was a sucker bet.

But my dad's food obsession went much deeper than that...

My dad had traveled to nearly every corner of the U.S., and much of Canada as well.  Some parts he visited regularly.  In all of those places, he had uncovered good places to buy unusual kinds of (good!) food, or good little eateries of one kind or another.  Even when I was quite young and we didn't have much money for such extravagances, he still knew places to go.  I think that his mental map of anyplace was marked not with borders, towns, and roads, but rather with places to get food.

One example from my youth that pops right to mind: the part of Pennsylvania between Lancaster and Trenton.  We made the trek to Lancaster regularly in the early '60s, because my dad had discovered that he could by tobacco stems very cheaply at the cigarette factory there, and they made good mulch.  We'd go out there with our truck and they'd pile the stems on as high as they could.  Back then, those tobacco stems were waste material so far as the tobacco companies were concerned.  Later, they started grinding up the stems to use in the cigarettes, so that source went away.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania is the heart of “Pennsylvania Dutch” country, where the Amish and Mennonite farmers have some of the most productive farms in the world – along with some of the best cooks.  We visited the Lancaster Farmer's Market – then genuinely a farmer's market – and bought ourselves several kinds of delicacies.  I particularly remember cup cheese on fresh-baked bread, sausages and other meats, and apple pies.  In those days you could buy a gut-busting lunch there for very little money – perfect for us.  Not far from Lancaster, along the road home, some Amish women had a smorgasbord restaurant where they made (amongst other delicacies) the best turkey corn soup I've ever had.  They just loved my dad, I think because of his deep and completely transparent appreciation of their fine food.  We stopped there for a big jar of that turkey corn soup just about every trip out that way – and those fine ladies would slip little treats of one kind or another to any of us kids who happened to be along.

My dad was legendary for the sheer quantity of food he could eat.  My mom attributed it, jokingly, to his “hollow leg”.  While that certainly wasn't the actual physical source of his capacity, it was a decently accurate estimation of it.  If, dear reader, you never met my dad, then you should know that he wasn't a big man.  Far from it, in fact.  For most of his life, his weight hovered near 130 pounds.  He was 5'8" or 5'9" tall – not exactly short, but certainly not tall.  He was intensely physical, with a wiry physique that was stronger than his appearance would suggest, and he had the endurance of a marathon runner.  He routinely did hard physical work all day long for weeks on end.  And oh, my, could the man eat!  When people first saw him eat a meal, it was absolutely routine for their eyes to get big and round, their jaws to hang slackly, and for them to exclaim “Tom, where are you putting that?!?”  His alimentary canal capacity really was remarkable.

On our trip together to Lassen National Park, in 2007, we looked for a nice little restaurant to have a few good meals in (mostly we ate food I cooked in our cabin).  There were many kinds of restaurants that my dad would declare he didn't like, such as Italian or Chinese restaurants.  My family had learned to ignore these proclamations, as we had a long list of counter-examples.  In that spirit, I picked a Chinese restaurant one evening: Happy Garden in Chester, California (and I see it's still there!).  On the way in, my dad was wondering out loud if he'd survive the experience, and made a point of looking for hearses in the parking lot.  On the way out, he asked when we could come back.  What made the difference?  The soup he'd had there: a delightful, vegetable-stuffed version of wor wonton mein that was served in an enormous ceramic bowl intended for a family to share.  We ate the entire bowl (about 3/4 to my dad, 1/4 to me), and my dad asked the waiter if we could get some more.  That brought the cook out, after the waiter relayed the incredible story of the man who ate a family-sized bowl of soup and then wanted more.  The cook and waiter were amazed – a common reaction to first sighting of my dad's eating – but that sort of thing was a routine experience for anyone who traveled with him.  We went back there several times on that trip, especially when my dad's first question each morning was “Are we driving through Chester today?”

If I had to guess what kind of food my dad enjoyed the most, I'd have to say it would have been seafood.  Good, plentiful, plainly cooked seafood.  There was a place in southern New Jersey that made a very simple oyster stew that he'd happily drive a couple of hours to enjoy.  Another place on the Maine coast where he loved the crab, clams, and lobster.  On his visits with us in San Diego, if we planned to go out to eat, seafood restaurants would be at the top of his list.  On a couple of his visits, when I could afford to do so, we took him (and once, my mom, too!) to Anthony's old “Star of the Sea” restaurant.  Those meals he remembered often.

As for the source of his food obsession, I'm not sure.  Some have hypothesized his Depression-era childhood, which included some pretty awful stretches of food.  But I think not, as his brothers lived through that as well, and they didn't share his food obsession.  I suspect several things contributed, possibly including the bad Depression-era food.  One was simply his physicality – it would have taken a lot of fuel to keep up that level of exercise, day in and day out.  Another contributing factor might be his culinary experiences in Italy, during the war – especially with seafood.  Another might be that he married a most excellent cook: my family, though we didn't have much money, ate meals that were routinely excellent, and on special days, spectacular.  And I think there might be yet another contributor: my dad had a fine sense and appreciation of natural beauty.  That was very evident in the joy he got from flowers, beautiful plants, and scenic vistas.  I think perhaps he thought of good food as another kind of natural beauty.  His preferences were definitely for simple, wholesome foods with a beautiful flavor.

I'll close this post with one last memory of my dad and food.  This memory was from our trip to the Big Sur in 2005.  We were close to Monterey, justly famous for its seafood restaurants, and we went there one night to have ourselves a good meal as a special treat on the night before we left to come back home.  I've forgotten the name of the restaurant, but it was along a pier downtown, and was Italian.  We went in, were seated, and started examining the menu (an activity that was itself a source of joy for my dad :).  They had cioppino, a seafood stew that my dad really liked, but only if it was made “right”.  He started asking our waitress some specific questions about what was in their cioppino and how it was cooked, but she didn't know the answers, so she called out the chef. 

The chef was a short, stout Portuguese fellow with a thick accent, and at first he looked a little annoyed that someone might doubt his food.  But somewhere during that conversation, the two of them started to really enjoy it.  I think the chef sensed a kindred spirit, and they had quite a long talk about the misery of overdone clams, the sadness of tough squid, and the criminality of a cioppino made with insufficient shellfish.  That chef promised my dad the best cioppino he'd ever had – and he delivered.  The joy and anticipation on my dad's face when that enormous bowl of cioppino was placed on our table was truly something to behold; the memory still instantly brings a smile to me.  I'd give anything to have a photo of that moment.  Of course he ate the entire thing; at that point he would have hurt himself to make sure there wasn't a single scrap left.  After I'd paid the check and we were getting ready to leave, the chef came out with a huge leftover box filled with more cioppino – he apologized (with a huge grin) for not having a big enough bowl for my dad, and handed the leftover box to him with a flourish.  My dad ate the leftover cioppino for breakfast the next morning, before we left for the long drive home, and swore that it was the best breakfast he'd ever had...

“Some sphincter in a suit.”

“Some sphincter in a suit.”  How software companies die, a brilliant piece from 1995 by that I've never seen before.  It's by, of all people, science fiction author Orson Scott Card.  It's absolutely spot on.  His conclusion:
The shock is greater for the coder, though. He suddenly finds that alien creatures control his life. Meetings, Schedules, Reports. And now someone demands that he PLAN all his programming and then stick to the plan, never improving, never tweaking, and never, never touching some other team's code. The lousy young programmer who once worshiped him is now his tyrannical boss, a position he got because he played golf with some sphincter in a suit. The hive has been ruined. The best coders leave. And the marketers, comfortable now because they're surrounded by power neckties and they have things under control, are baffled that each new iteration of their software loses market share as the code bloats and the bugs proliferate.

Got to get some better packaging. Yeah, that's it.
Awesome.

The FTC goes after piano teachers...

The FTC goes after piano teachers...   Kimberley Strassel details this outrage, which, sadly, is just one of many such outrages.

Our Founding Fathers were so right to fear the emergence of federal bureaucracies...

Which do you think is more persuasive?

Which do you think is more persuasive?  How do you convince an abusive parent to stay hands off the kids?

One choice would be to assign a union worker with the physical presence of a baby bunny to the case, then give them a high caseload and enormous amounts of paperwork so that they might schedule a visit to the child's home every couple of months.

Another choice would be to assign a couple of tough bikers who get right in the abuser's face and promise to cut off his balls, then use him for a kitty toy in the tiger enclosure at the Wild Animal Park – and then show up twice a week to make sure things are ok.

I know where I'd place my bet...

Government – is there anything it can do well?

Issa's IRS investigation continues...

Issa's IRS investigation continues...  The latest to testify is the IRS' Chief Counsel, who conveniently can't seem to remember anything of relevance.  That One has stuffed his administration with ruthless, shameless, and downright un-American Alinskyite progressives – rather frightening to this citizen...

Should I laugh or cry?

Should I laugh or cry?  It's hard to do both at the same time.  George Will has a Thanksgiving roundup of “turkeys” from 2013.  His lede:
We are tomorrow’s past, so this Thanksgiving give thanks for 2013, a year the future might study more for amusement than for edification.
It's a good read, but will leave you with decidedly mixed emotions...

Coincidence?

Coincidence?  Or jackboot grinding a citizen's face into the dirt?  With That One's administration, unfortunately, one must be suspicious...

Infuriating video of the day...

Infuriating video of the day...  An indictment of progressive welfare programs so perfect that one has to wonder whether it's a prank.  The radio station this was recorded with swears it's for real...

Syria ceded to Iran?

Syria ceded to Iran?  If this quote bothers you:
"Rather than merely being feckless, the administration may actually have a long-term plan, and this initial nuclear deal is only a tactic in a broader strategy. The overall aim is a strategic partnership with Iran because the administration sees that country as the only island of stability in a sea of chaos and violence."
...then you should go read this article.

Another “Little Ice Age” on the way?

Another “Little Ice Age” on the way?  Dr. Jasper Kirby of CERN notes that the present solar behavior looks remarkably like the period just preceding the Maunder Minimum (the “Little Ice Age” of 1645 - 1710).  If that observation turns out to be reality, then we could see the beginning of another such “Little Ice Age” as early as 2015.

Remember: the science is “settled”, though, and there's a 97% consensus about AGW...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pater: blueberries and bears...

Pater: blueberries and bears...  At right, my dad walking up from an ocean overlook at Garrapata State Park, south of Monterey, California, April 2006.
Blueberries and bears...

One beautiful sunny day in the late summer, when I was about 13 or 14 years old, my dad and I went hiking to a favorite destination: Doubletop Mountain (part of the Katahdin group) in northern Maine.  For reasons I can't remember now, it was just the two of us – neither my sister Holly or my brother Scott was with us, though both had been up that peak on other hikes.  It was a relatively easy day hike, a 6 or 7 mile round trip and about 2,500' of elevation change.  It was also a beautiful hike, with a very varied terrain that included granite outcroppings, streams, talus slopes, meadows, and lots of forest.  As I recall, only the very top of the mountain was above timberline.

Doubletop gets its name from the two closely-spaced peaks that form its summit, as you can see in the photo at left.  On a clear day you can see a long, long way from the old fire watch tower (now torn down) on one of the peaks.

When we got to the north peak on this day (we hiked in from the south, I believe), my dad looked down at a sort of shelf below us (visible on the map embedded below) – a relatively flat area – and saw a big patch of blueberries.  They were high enough, and it was late enough in the season, that there ought to be ripe blueberries there.  Obviously we needed to go down and pick some for ourselves.

Looking at the map now, I see that this shelf was 600' or 700' lower than the north peak (in altitude) and about a third of a mile north.  There was no clear trail there, though we did see evidence of others having been that way before.  Down we went, through shrubs and under some trees, heading in the general direction of that blueberry patch.  Finally, after 20 or 30 minutes of bushwhacking, we popped out onto the blueberry patch – which was far more magnificent than anything I'd been imagining.  We were hungry after our hike, so we didn't waste any time – we laid directly into that luscious blueberry patch, grabbing handfuls of sweet, juicy berries (the wild ones are smaller and sweeter than any you'll find in a store) and sending them straight down our greedy gullets.  It took a while before we were sated, but I completely lost track of how long that actually was.

Finally, gorged with blueberries, my dad decided it was time for him to take his usual afternoon-on-a-hike nap.  We had stumbled across a small pond in our meandering, and my dad had spied a flat rock nearby – so we went over there, washed our blueberry-stained hands in the little pond, and then my dad laid down and was snoring in no time at all.  I wandered around the edges of the pond, which had a lot of interesting plant life around it.  I was sitting on small rock almost across the pond from my dad, perhaps 15 minutes later, when I heard a noise to my left, the sound of something or someone crashing through the brush, over toward where my dad was lying down.  I looked up, and there was a bear, headed straight for the pond – it probably wanted a drink.

My family were all quite comfortable in the great outdoors.  The presence of a bear wasn't necessarily cause for great alarm, we knew, so long as we didn't do something the bear would find threatening.  So I wasn't immediately alarmed.  But a few seconds after I first sighted the bear, I saw a second one – a little cub, crashing after its mother.  That put an entirely different spin on the matter – mama bears are fiercely protective of their cubs, and not necessarily rational about it.  I was suddenly afraid for my dad.  Not for me, as the pond was more-or-less between me and the bears.  But my dad was just off to the side of the place those bears were heading for.

So I hollered out to my dad, to warn him.  The bears weren't on top of him yet, so I thought he'd have time to get over to where I was, and then we could go back up to the peak.  My dad woke up, looked at me questioningly, and I pointed toward the bears – which were still headed his way.  That got his attention in a hurry, and he jumped up and started moving.

But he didn't move in my direction – instead, he headed straight toward the mama bear, yelling, waving his hands, and throwing anything he could get his hands on.  The mama bear, obviously not used to being attacked (for no other interpretation of my dad's actions was possible), looked very confused.  I suspect she'd never seen anything so frightening in her life.  I was confused, too – that was the last sort of behavior I expected from my dad.  This was not the calm, gentle dad I knew so well – this was fearless, aggressive alpha-dad, a species I'd never seen before (nor did I ever see it again).  He was terrifying.

The mama bear and her cub took off at high speed to the north.  In just a minute or two, they were even out of earshot.  My dad came over to make sure I was ok, we laughed together about the terrified bear, and then he went back to his rock – and back to sleep.

It was a surreal experience for me, especially for the few minutes right after my dad continued his cherished nap in the sunshine.  He hadn't hesitated, not even for a fraction of a second, to run straight at that bear.   One might say “That’s what dads do when their children are threatened”, and I suspect that's true in a general sense.  But run straight at a roughly 300 pound mama bear with a cub, armed with nothing but a loud voice and some stones?  Would every dad do that?  I don't know, but I do know my dad would.  To protect me.  Adding to the surreality, a minute or so after the event he was laughing about it, and then immediately went back to sleep again.  Remembering the incident brings back that unreal feeling again, but also a smile.  That was my dad, utterly unintimidated by anything a Maine forest could throw at him...

Years later, my dad and I sat by a mountain pond surrounded by blueberries again, this time in the Sawtooth Mountains of southern Idaho.  The scene reminded me strongly of that experience on Doubletop Mountain, so many years before.  I asked my dad if he remembered it, and he did, vividly – what he mostly remembered was being angry at that bear for daring to threaten us.  He also remembered that on the drive home, he had made me promise not to tell my mom – he didn't want her to forbid us from making these hikes.  I don't know if she would have, but my dad told me I'd never said anything to her, which he was grateful for :)

My mom reads this blog, so if she makes it this far in the story, now she knows.  Sorry, mom.  Dad made me promise!

I am a realist...

I am a realist...  At times, a very happy realist!  Via reader Simi L.

The wisdom of Little Johnny...

The wisdom of Little Johnny...  Via reader Jim M.
A teacher asked her 6th grade class how many of them were Obama fans. Not really knowing what an Obama fan is, but wanting to be liked by the teacher, all the kids raised their hands except for Little Johnny.

The teacher asked Little Johnny why he has decided to be different ... again.

Little Johnny said, "Because I'm not an Obama fan."

The teacher asked, "Why aren't you a fan of Obama?"

Johnny said, "Because I'm a Republican.

The teacher asked him why he's a Republican.

Little Johnny answered, "Well, my Mom's a Republican and my Dad's a Republican, so I'm a Republican."

Annoyed by this answer, the teacher asked, "If your mom were a moron and your dad were an idiot, what would that make you?"

With a cherubic smile, Little Johnny replied, "That would make me an Obama fan..."
And what could I possibly add to that?

This is my human...

This is my human...  If you love dogs, you'll understand.  Via reader Simi L.

Cute!

Cute!  Kids lip-syncing a Christmas carol.  Via my mom.

How to interact with the introverted...

How to interact with the introverted...  Dr. Carmella's guide, via friend, former colleague, and reader Simon M., who says:
Remember when we worked together at FutureTrade? I asked you if you wanted to go to dinner and you said that you wanted to go to your hotel room to work. Classic!
I don't remember that, actually, but it sounds normal to me :)

Aerial saw trimming...

Aerial saw trimming...  Via reader Simi L.  You'll have to see this one to believe it.  Full screen recommended...

On that Iran deal...

On that Iran deal...   As my mother-in-law would say, the more I read about it, the worser it looks.  And the more like yet another politically motivated disaster emanating from That One...

See no evil.  Jonathan Spyer.  An excerpt from this sober (and sobering) piece:
The newly announced deal appears to be the outcome of a long, unseen, bilateral negotiation between the US and Iran, which in recent weeks as it neared fruition began to involve the other members of the ‘P-5+1’ countries. That is, the deal is a US production. The Iranian incentive for accepting it is obvious. So the element of interest is in understanding the US motivation for agreeing to an arrangement which so signally fails to address the core concerns regarding Iranian nuclear ambitions.

What has become increasingly clear, and is now unmistakable, is that the present US Administration is simply unconvinced of the arguments made by its key regional allies to the effect that Iranian regional ambitions represent a dangerous destabilizing force in the Mid-East region.

This blindspot of the Administration is strange. The evidence is plain to see. Iran is an active participant in the Syrian civil war. It dominates Lebanon through Hizballah. It is closely allied with the government in Iraq. It is engaged in subversion in Bahrain, north Yemen, Kuwait and eastern Saudi Arabia. It actively sponsors Palestinian terror groups engaged in violence against Israel – most importantly Islamic Jihad and Hamas, but also elements within Fatah.
 Trust but verify: missing in 2013.  Austin Bay.  Another experienced and knowledgeable voice weighs in.  His conclusion:
There are no assurances in this deal. Inspectors will have access to several key Iranian nuclear sites, but numerous experts have found major loopholes in the new agreement. In fact, the new agreement is really an agreement to talk again in six months. The Iranian dictatorship, in exchange for a relaxation in economic sanctions (worth an estimated six to seven billion dollars) has merely promised to restrain its nuclear weapons program for six months.

Is six months Obama's new nuclear red line? If it is, the mullahs are betting it is as firm as his last one, the one prohibiting Assad's use of nerve gas on defenseless civilians.

 Iran: the White House is lying.  Lying about the deal being done (it's not), and lying about what it says.  Why am I not surprised?  And I am sad to note that my first inclination is to believe the Iranians, as opposed to That One.

An Iranian insider's view of the Geneva deal.  Sohrab Ahrami, in The Wall Street Journal.  My short summary: we were played...

Matt Welch isn't happy with the hyperbole, and doesn't think the deal is all that bad...

ObamaCare debacle update...

ObamaCare debacle update...  Because it's something I am most definitely giving thanks for today!

Online enrollment for small businesses rolled back a year.  But the mandate is still on – now they have to enroll the old-fashioned way.  This is really just another way of saying that the healthcare.gov web site sucks scissors...

More details on the healthcare.gov security problems.  It's all stupid, all the time here folks...

The big new PR message for December – is that there will be no big new PR message for December.  Don't want to overwhelm that all-singing, all-dancing healthcare.gov site now, do we?

The dog ate ObamaCare.  Taranto at his scathing finest.  Note to self: don't ever get on the wrong side of James Taranto!

An executive without energy.  William Galston on That One.  He isn't kind.

Tick, tick, tick...  Steven Hayward is starting the ObamaCare repeal watch.  More popcorn, quick!

Rate hikes hidden in California's glowing ObamaCare reviews.  As I have personally seen, these aren't small rate hikes, either.  The news gets worse, too – my current insurance company is warning that because the mix of early enrollments is heavily leaning much more toward older, sicker people than they expected, the rates are going to go up even more.  As much as 70% more than previously estimated.  Oh, goody...

Bullet train to nowhere shot down?

Bullet train to nowhere shot down?  Well, the court took a good swing at it, anyway.  But I'm wise to the ways of Alinskyite progressives – there are some gaping holes in the case against funding the bullet train.  The most obvious of these is that That One could make it's judicial woes disappear with the stroke of a pen, just by waiving the federal requirements.   That doesn't seem unlikely at all...

Free speech?

Free speech?  Not in many (most) American universities that have “speech codes”.  One of these just stopped just stopped a Modesto Junior College student from distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution – on Constitution Day, no less.  In this case, it's not just happening in California, it's nationwide – the progressives practically own our higher educational system.  Doubt me?  Try talking with a recent graduate of a U.S. university ... any university!

Stay home, America...

Stay home, America...  Don't shop today.

NGC 1999, South of Orion...

NGC 1999, South of Orion...  Via APOD, of course.  Full res image.

“I want you to die a painful death, and soon.”

“I want you to die a painful death, and soon.”  So says Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) in a powerful blog post, to any politician who has acted, or plans to act, in a way that keeps doctor-assisted suicide illegal.  He's completely serious.  His wrath is derived from watching his father suffering until his death just a few days ago.  As you might imagine, this piece resonated strongly with me.  He's also got a follow-up post in which he defends his stance, reiterates his sincerity, and backs off not a single inch.

I am not one of the 49% (read his follow-up post to understand what I'm saying).

Pater: Not exactly politically correct...

Pater: Not exactly politically correct...  The photo at right is from June, 2007, from Lassen National Park in northern California.
Respect must be earned...

Way back in one summer in the late '50s, my dad piled me and my younger brother Scott into his old 1948 Dodge (similar to the one below, though his wasn't nearly as good looking) and we headed out for a grand trip to the western U.S.  I was, I think, just 7 or 8 years old; my brother a year younger.  I have lots of fine memories from that trip, but today I want to focus on just one.

We were driving on a hot, dusty dirt road in middle of Texas, headed toward Big Bend National Park.  We had left the Ozark Mountains of southwestern Missouri early that morning, and now it was the hottest part of the day.  The high humidity had us dripping with sweat – cars back then didn't have air conditioning, and opening the windows didn't help very much when the humidity was so high.  On top of that, it was dusty – the gusty winds picked up grit and powder off the fields and roads.  It was just plain miserable out, and all of us badly wanted to get this section of the trip over with.

At one point, our road climbed a long uphill path, up from a dry gully to the bluffs above it.  My dad downshifted and pushed that old Dodge up the hill, past an older gentleman walking slowly up alongside the road, hauling a heavy-looking homemade rucksack.  He slowed down to keep from blowing dirt all over the guy, and looked over to the right as we passed him, and waved with a smile, just being friendly.  Then his face changed to one of concern, and he stopped our car.  He got out, and my brother and I clambered out as well, happy for a chance to be out of the car and moving around after a few hours stuck inside it.  My dad walked back to the old fellow and started talking with him.  I wasn't near enough to hear the conversation, but I wasn't at all surprised when the guy climbed into the front passenger seat (my brother and I were in the back), put his rucksack on his lap, and rode with us for a while.  That's just the kind of thing my dad would do.  But the old fellow looked a bit surprised by his good fortune.

Not far from the top of that hill was a gas station, and we stopped to fill up.  I don't remember the price of gasoline back then, but it was probably something like 10 or 15 cents a gallon – and the attendant filled the tank, not us.  That's when my dad did the first thing that day that surprised me: he offered to buy our passenger a cold soda.  Now we didn't have much money, and we traveled very frugally – buying one of those expensive drinks at a gas station was not something my dad would normally do.  Furthermore, we never had soda – milk or fruit juice or iced tea, sure.  But soda?  Not happening.  Our passenger accepted the offer, and eagerly – he must have been very thirsty, and my dad must have seen that.

My dad and that older gentleman walked together into the tiny store built into the gas station, and my brother and I tagged along.  We were hoping that some of my dad's new-found willingness to buy soda might benefit us (it didn't).

What happened next is one of those memories of the permanent kind.  I can still remember tiny details about that little gas station store: the dirty floor, the torn and faded posters and advertisements hanging, the wind making everything move about, the noisy soda cooler that looked like a chest freezer, my brother heading for the rest room, and, most especially, the clerk telling that old gentleman that he wasn't allowed in the store.  The old gentleman, you see, was black (though that term wasn't used back then – the polite term then was “colored”).  This was an example of “segregation” and overt racial prejudice at its most basic level, but it was completely new to me.  I grew up around “colored people”; one family were tenants in a house on our farm.  I played with their kids, and their mom (Gertrude) was often our babysitter.  I'd never before seen anything remotely resembling the naked, blind prejudice this clerk so nonchalantly displayed.

My dad's face got very hard at the clerk's words.  It scared me, and my little kid self was feeling danger close at hand.  I know now that my dad had seen this sort of thing before, both in the Army and in his travels, so he knew exactly what was happening there.  He told the clerk that he was buying the gentleman a soda, and his expression said he wasn't going to take “no” for an answer.  The clerk hesitated for a moment, then took my dad's money and handed him a soda.  The tension eased.  My dad opened the soda, and gave it to our passenger – who took a long, appreciative slug and handed it back to my dad, to share.  To my absolute astonishment, my dad took a swig and handed it back, telling him to finish it off.  That surprised me so much because my dad would never have done that even with a bottle one of us had drunk from, much less a stranger.  He would have carefully wiped it off first.  But here he was with this guy we barely knew, with a small gesture of intimacy that I don't think I'd ever seen him make before.

We waited outside for my brother to finish in the restroom, and then we all clambered back into the car and drove up the road another mile or two, where our passenger told my dad that his home was.  We stopped, and that old black fellow shook my dad's hand, thanked him for the ride and the drink, lifted his rucksack, and took off along the dusty path to his house.  He never looked back, and of course we never saw him again.  My dad didn't said a word to us about the incident, but for hours afterward it was easy to see that he was upset about it.

Now my dad wasn't blind to someone's race or cultural background.  Far from it, actually.  He held many stereotypical preconceptions that at times made me quite uncomfortable.  For instance, he thought Italians were somehow predisposed to run in battle, and that Jews were likely to get the good end of any bargain you made with them.

But no matter what someone's race or cultural background, my dad had great respect for them if they worked hard and were honest.  It really was that simple, I think.  The black couple who lived on our farm with their family worked very hard – Wilmer, the dad, held down two (and at times, three) jobs, and Gertrude, the mom, did all sorts of odd work to bring in a nickel. Their older kids worked as well, and helped support the family.  They worked hard and were straightforward and honest folks, and thereby earned my dad's respect as people – and their race then didn't matter to him at all.  His preconceptions didn't enter into his evaluation of them.  Something similar happened with our black passenger, I think.  He didn't have his thumb stuck out begging a ride, and he was obviously working steady and hard to get up the hill.  My dad had a short, simple set of criteria for sorting people into those whom he'd respect, and those he wouldn't.  As best I can tell, race, ethnicity, education, wealth, or celebrity didn't enter into it in the slightest.  The unfairness of that gas station clerk's refusal to serve a hard-working man was just the kind of thing to get my dad's dander up – it was disrespectful of a man who deserved respect.

My dad, through his landscaping business and later work at a private arboretum, rubbed shoulders with quite a few accomplished, wealthy, and famous people.  My brother and I often came along with him in his landscaping work on the homes of some of these people, and I watched his interactions with them.  It was easy for me to tell those people he genuinely liked and respected; his body language was very different with them.  They could be rich or poor, accomplished or not, white or purple, celebrated or unknown – it didn't matter.  If they were hard workers themselves, and had honest interactions with him, they'd have my dad's respect – like that old fellow laboring up the hill in Texas.  Otherwise, he'd just do the job they paid him to do – polite and respectful, but not respecting – and move along.

I was in my late teens before I got an inkling that my dad's selective broad-mindedness wasn't the norm for everybody, and it wasn't until I joined the Navy in the '70s that I encountered entrenched blind prejudice.  In the late '60s I had a job as a sort of handyman for a slumlord in Trenton, N.J., a Mr. van Czak.  He gave me a real education in prejudice.  If you weren't white and of northern European descent, then there was absolutely nothing you could do to earn Mr. van Czak's respect.  Nothing.  He'd consider you fair game for cheating, humiliating, and even injuring; there was nothing subtle about his prejudice.  The contrast with my dad could scarcely be more striking.  Later, in the Navy, I ran into more institutionalized forms of prejudice.  The example that struck me most profoundly were the “stewards” – enlisted men who were servants to the officers, and virtually all of whom were either Filipino or black.  Some of the officers were more like my dad, but the majority – especially the older ones – were offensively demeaning and belittling of these hard-working and much abused men.

No, my dad wasn't blind to race or ethnicity.  But he also wasn't blindly prejudiced, and wouldn't condemn you because of who your parents happened to be, or where you were born.  Work hard and be honest, and you'd earn his respect.  And maybe a cold soda shared along a hot, dusty Texas road...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Emo Cow...

Emo Cow ... is photo of the day.  Debbie and I had no idea what the “Emo” was referring to, so we googled it.  I'll just say this about that: sometimes it's better not to exercise your right to search the Inter-tubes...

A delicate mix of quantum and classical...

A delicate mix of quantum and classical...  This is the answer to the riddle of photosynthesis' high efficiency – and just maybe a pathway to practical quantum computers.  I never thought I'd see botany and computational hardware in the same study!

Ok, the Internet is finished...

Ok, the Internet is finished...  Developers, you'd better find a new line of work.  The “Fluffington Post” is the last web site anyone will ever need...

Sometimes I want to resign from the human race...

Sometimes I want to resign from the human race ... because I don't want to be associated with its behaviors.  Someone – no suspect yet – shot and killed a horse pulling an Amish buggy near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  What punishment would be sufficient for such a cruel and senseless act?

Arab welfare states...

Arab welfare states...  Strategy Page has a good summary of how Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have become utterly dependent on foreign workers to keep their countries running.  The confluence of oil wealth, dictatorships (sometimes, as in Saudi Arabia, falsely dressed as monarchies), and a population trained to believe themselves superior has put them in a position where the loss of oil revenues would likely lead to the implosion of their political systems – and there's no obvious solution in sight.

As I've frequently told a friend of mine who's interested in the Middle East: it's a far more complex situation over there than most Americans have any inkling of.  There are no easy answers to the awful tensions there – and there may not be any non-military answers, either...

Here's one place I'm never going to shop...

Here's one place I'm never going to shop...  KlearGear pulled off an epic Bozo maneuver: they “fined” a customer $3,500 for the sin of writing a bad review.  Never mind that the review was completely justified.  Never mind that we live in an age of social media wherein an act like this is practically guaranteed to go viral in a bad, bad way.  Never mind that even my dogs would know better.

They did it anyway.

Bye, bye, KlearGear.  I'm glad I never new ye...

Resonant plate meets salt...

Resonant plate meets salt...

Second life for the Kepler telescope...

Second life for the Kepler telescope...  Using the miniscule pressure of the sunlight on its solar panels.  Awesome!

Pater: The loan...

Pater: The loan...  The photo at right is from July, 2005, at Clear Lake in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.  This was the first trip I'd been on with my dad where I could out-hike him, and that was quite a shock for me.  His age and chronic lymphatic leukemia had tremendously sapped his physicality, but not his spirit, not even in the slightest degree.  He was just as eager to see the trees, flowers, and scenery as he ever was – he just couldn't walk as far to do it.  We made very good use of our LandCruiser's offroad capability to help mitigate this – I was able to get my dad into all sorts of places that would ordinarily require a rugged hike, and he was really happy about that.  In the beginning of that trip, he was frequently expressing his amazement about where we could go in the LandCruiser.  By the end of the trip, he just assumed we could go anywhere at all :)
The loan...

This is a story I only know second-hand, and now the only two people who could elaborate on it are gone.  But I do know the essentials, though some details may be missing or wrong, and the story nicely illustrates another aspect of my dad's personality.  I'll relate it as I found out about it.

The first I found out about the loan was on a warm summer day when I was 11 or 12 years old – '63 give or take a year or two.  My dad had given me the job of cleaning up some brush and trash up on top of an old concrete truck loading apron.  I'd driven our tractor with a utility cart up there, and I was loading it up with junk – hot and sweaty work, and I wasn't happy about it.  I muttered some unkind and irritated things about my dad as I worked away.

Nearby, Julius Mate sat on a chair in front of the little cottage that he and his wife lived in, puffing away on his pipe, watching me intently.  Julius was a Hungarian immigrant whom my dad employed as general help on the nursery, mostly in our greenhouse.  He was, I'm guessing, about 60 years old at the time – short, thickset, weathered face, and always smelling of beer and tobacco.  He spoke English poorly, with a very thick accent.  We kids thought of him as a kind of odd, grumpy old man who never hesitated to holler at us if he didn't like what we were doing.  Sometimes we could understand what he was saying, sometimes not – but we had zero trouble understanding that he wasn't happy with us.

So I wasn't surprised that day when Julius wandered over to where I was working.  I expected him to start hollering at me, but instead, he beckoned me (he used a lot of non-verbal communications) to come over to where he'd been sitting.  He wanted me to sit down, because he wanted to talk with me.  Through the nearly impenetrable accent, I eventually figured out that he wanted to tell me a story.  What follows in italics is what I understood the story to be, but without the accent and hand-waving...

My dad hired Julius sometime before I was born, and (I believe) before he was married to my mom.  Julius was a refugee from then-Communist Hungary; he had been a member of the resistance in WWII, and was well-known as being anti-Communist, and was afraid for his life if he stayed in Hungary – so he left, but his wife and two sons stayed behind.  Eventually Julius made it to the U.S., and then found a job with my father, who valued his knowledge of greenhouse horticulture.  He was glad to be safe, glad to have a job, and thought of himself as being nearly in heaven, in America.

But always he dreamed of bringing his family here, to join him in this heaven on earth.  To fulfill this dream, he needed money – not only for the travel, but for bribing the Hungarian officials and border guards, for otherwise there was no hope of his family emigrating.  He also needed an American sponsor to sign a document promising to provide work, a place to live, and so on – to guarantee that the immigrant wouldn't become a burden to the community.  So Julius scrimped and saved, but knew it would be years before he could save enough money.  He thought my dad might be willing to be the sponsor, though, and he resolved to sound my dad out on that idea.  He figured my dad probably wouldn't mind, as he had already allowed Julius to live in (by Julius' standards) a fine house that his family could also live in.

One day, when he and my dad were working together in our greenhouse culling holly cuttings, Julius broached the subject with my dad.  This led to many questions, as my dad knew vaguely that Julius had a family in Hungary, but didn't know any of the details.  My dad asked where exactly they lived, what it would take to get them to the U.S., etc.  Then when Julius told my dad about the need to bribe officials, my dad's attitude changed – he was, apparently, quite angry that Julius' family might be kept in Hungary by such cruel people.  He then asked Julius how much money the bribes and travel would take?  Julius told him: about $800.

I don't know exactly when that conversation happened, but my best guess is 1949 or 1950 – after the war, after my dad was demobilized, but before he and my mom were married.  At that time, $800 would have been a great deal of money to my dad – probably close to a year's income – and even more to Julius...

What happened next just stunned Julius: my dad offered to lend him the $800, right then.  He also agreed to be his family's official sponsor.  Julius told my father than he didn't know when he could repay him, and he certainly had no assets to offer as security.  My dad told him – on this point Julius was adamant, and all choked up, near tears – that Julius' word was good enough for him, and that all my dad expected was to be paid when Julius could do so.  

This was the last thing Julius had expected, and he had no plans in place to get his family here, thinking it would be years and years before he could do so.  The next day, my dad went to the bank and got the money for Julius, and then Julius set things in motion.  He had a way to get letters and money secretly to relatives in Hungary, and they arranged the travel and the bribes to get his family out of the country, to Vienna, in Austria.  From there they traveled commercially to Philadelphia, where Julius met them and brought them home, to his cottage on our farm.  Julius' dream was fulfilled.

Julius related this story to me because he'd heard me saying something angry about my dad, and wanted me to know how wrong I was, and how good a man my father was.  Julius said he didn't know any man who would have done what my dad did for him.  I should respect and honor that, he told me.  My dad deserved no less.

Well, that was quite a story.  I believed him at the time; it didn't occur to me to question any of it then.  My anger and irritation had dissipated long before Julius finished his story, and I thought about his loan many times over the years.  It always gave me a warm feeling about my dad.  As I got older, though, a little doubt started to edge in.  Did I actually understand Julius correctly, or had I imagined parts of that story?  Or did Julius perhaps think I needed to hear a fable, even if it wasn't strictly that actually happened?

On one of our many trips together – this time, along the Big Sur coast to Monterey – I asked my dad about it.  He was quite taken aback to have that subject raised after so many years.  He was also a bit embarrassed to talk about it.  After all that time had passed, my dad couldn't remember all the details, but he verified the general outline of Julius' story: yes, he had lent Julius the money – a lot of money.  The money was used for both travel and bribes, and it worked: it got his family here.  It was done just on Julius' word that he'd repay it.  And yes, Julius had paid it all back.  And my dad was embarrassed that his generosity and trust had been discovered by his son.

Well, I've got some bad news for you, Pater: your son knows quite a few stories like that.  But this is one of the best ones...

ObamaCare debacle update...

ObamaCare debacle update...  Because we should be thankful for such debacles!

Doctors don't want ObamaCare patients.  More hassle, more paperwork, less money.  Who would have suspected doctors would look out for their own interests?

If you like your plan, you can keep it!  Well, not so much...

In shocking news, ObamaCare continues to flounder.

Five Republican predictions that turned out to be true.  Who'd a thunk that Republicans would ever get something right?

Positive stories about ObamaCare are so rare that ... when there are some, that simple fact is newsworthy!

Periods of suboptimal performance”  Ace lays into the bureaucracy's multiple and manifest ineptitudes.  It's a target-rich environment...

Epic failure”  Oregon healthcare exchange signs up zero people.  Oh, my – hard to go down from there.  But I'm confident they'll try!

Democrats fear that ObamaCare will cost them the Senate.  The schadenfreude runs deep in this one.  Just the thought of Harry Reid being relegated to the minority, or even not winning re-election, brings tears of joy to my eyes even now...

Insurers smell trouble with ObamaCare.  No, really?

Tippy's last leap...

Tippy's last leap...  Yesterday evening we decided that it was time to say goodby to our little Tippy, seen in these photos in happier days.  He was part of our life and our household since 1994, over 19 years – and we got him as a young adult, rescuing him from some abusive kids in our (then) Chula Vista neighborhood.

Tippy was a notable cat for several reasons.  Probably what we'll remember most is his remarkable ability to make vertical leaps – he was way better at this than any other cat we've ever owned.  We could frequently find him in the most unlikely places, like the tops of kitchen cabinets seven feet high, or on top of very high bookshelves.  Watching him make these leaps, we figured out that it wasn't so much that he had levitation superpowers – it was more that he was very skilled at finding the tiniest of paw-holds that would let him push higher and faster in mid-leap.  If you watched him make a leap, say, to the top of a kitchen cabinet, at first blush it looked like one fluid and seamless leap straight from the floor.  But if you watched him very carefully, you'd see that part way up he'd get a little boost by pushing down on a cabinet handle or a counter top.  The other cats just never figured out how to do this.

This ability suited Tippy's personality to a tee, because he really was the epitome of a curmudgeonly cat.  Most of the time, he really didn't care for the company of other cats or the dogs.  Being alone was what he wanted, and his ability to get to perches the other cats couldn't reach was his means to that end.  Every once in a while Tippy would come out and socialize, or even play – but those were rare occasions.

Tippy had another unique skill, too: he was really good at getting into drawers, especially those that he knew were filled with something soft and fuzzy – clothes or towels, for example.  He'd dangle himself from the drawer he wanted to get into (with his front paws), then kick with his hind feet to pull it out.  All he needed was a few inches of opening, then he'd hop in, curl up, and go to sleep.  We had to be careful when we saw partially-opened drawers – if we shut them, we might be trapping him inside.  Sometimes he'd be far back inside the drawer, too, so we had to search thoroughly.  Sometimes it would be subtler – he'd pull out one drawer, then go in through it, climb over the back of it and down into the next drawer below!

With us, his fully-owned humans, things were different – especially when he was younger.  He was then a serious “lap kitty”, and would stay with us for hours on end.  I spent many an hour working in my office with Tippy perched on my lap, purring softly... 

For the past couple of months he's been in decline from a combination of just plain old age and pancreatitis.  We fed him “chicken smoothies” (roast chicken blended with chicken broth), made sure he wasn't in pain, and showered him with attention and affection.  In the past five weeks that Debbie's been gone, caring for Tippy has been a big part of my days.  Making his smoothies, keeping him and his pen clean, administering his medications, giving him sub-cutaneous fluids, and just giving him some attention and affection occupied several hours daily.  He and I were a team.  Then in the last few days, other organs started to fail, he caught a cold, and stopped eating.  Dr. Christine Wilson, our wonderful Jamul veterinarian, kept us well-informed about the options, his condition, and prognosis.  Yesterday afternoon it became clear that no miracles were going to occur, and our first priority was no suffering for Tippy – so we decided it was time.  Debbie couldn't be here, as she's back in Indiana taking care of her mom.  I stayed with him, held his head and caressed him as he went peacefully.

It's so hard to make these decisions, even with a great vet like Dr. C. to guide us ... but I am very grateful that we have the option to allow our pets a painless end that is as comfortable as such a thing could possibly be.

I buried Tippy this morning, out under the pine trees with the other cats we've lost over the years.  It was sad and a bit lonely, but in a strange way, a cathartic ritual...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Persian ponders...

Persian ponders...  I'm not liking the looks of this...

Ted Cruz: Historic Mistake.

Reason has a brief analysis.

Will Israel and Saudi Arabia become allies?  Maybe.  It's especially interesting that the Saudis have not responded at all to the rampant rumors of their cooperation with Israel...

Worse than Munich.  Bret Stephens in a good piece in today's Wall Street Journal.  The lede:
Never in the field of global diplomacy has so much been given away by so many for so little.

ObamaCare debacle update...

ObamaCare debacle update...  Because, schadenfreude!

Virginia cancer patient loses her coverage because of ObamaCare.

A cheat sheet for the ObamaCare hearingsPro Publica has a good roundup...

The Great Destroyer.

Covered California bogusness.  James Taranto is singing the same song...

Democrats set to turn on Obama if healthcare.gov isn't ready next week.  Oh, I'd better stock up on popcorn!

Man, the number of ObamaCare losers really seems to be piling up, doesn't it?  So says the Chicago Tribune, aka That One's home town newspaper.

ObamaCare is no Starship Enterprise.  Megan McArdle, with this bonus passage:
Tech people tend to regard their end-users as a sort of intermediate form of life between chimps and information-technology staffers: They’ve stopped throwing around their feces, but they can’t really be said to know how to use tools. 
Megan is a geekly treasure.

The next ObamaCare mirage.  The cost curve going to bend, all right.  But the wrong way...


Geek humor: the etymology of “foo”...

Geek humor: the etymology of “foo”...  RFC 3092 - seriously!

Voting with his feet...

Voting with his feet...  This guy left the U.S. to avoid onerous taxes.  The same thing is happening more frequently on a state level – I know at least a half dozen people who have left California who cited taxes as one of the reasons (not always the main reason, though).  We're joining them soon, and high taxes (along with other political insanities) are what's motivating us...

Bureaucracy running amok alert!

Bureaucracy running amok alert!  GM is recalling almost 20,000 Camaros because a sticker might peel.  Seriously.  Diane Katz says that “regulators should come with a warning label” – she's right!

Pater: Where there's a will, there's a way...

Pater: Where there's a will, there's a way...  The terrible photo at right is of my dad in our cabin in Chester, California on our trip to Lassen National Park in 2007.  Family and friends won't be surprised when I tell them it wasn't particularly cold that day – my dad liked his rooms hot.  This is in June, and he's under a good blanket, has a jacket and thermal underwear on, and a hot oak fire is roaring.  I was in the kitchen of our cabin with the door wide open to avoid terminal overheating :)
The print shop...

In the early '60s, my dad was trying to get his mail-order plant business going.  As anyone who has run a business can tell you, there are a lot of “moving parts” to any business, and this one was no exception.  One particular challenge my dad had was marketing: how to let people know what plants he had, how to order them, etc.  He ran ads in some magazines, and the nursery showed in the Philadelphia Flower Show (that was an exciting event for a kid to behind the scenes of!).  When inquiries came in from these sources, my dad wanted to have a catalog and some booklets about the plants to send in response – the sort of bog-standard direct mail campaign any business might run, but with some class and personal touches.

That sounds straightforward, and it probably would be so today.  But back then, short-run printing was quite expensive.  The costs through a printer for what my dad wanted to do were prohibitive.  Now, if you knew my dad, you wouldn't be surprised at what happened next – is this was just the sort of thing to get his dander up.  He had a darned good idea of what paper cost, and how much could a little ink and some staples cost?  If he couldn't get the printer to do the job for a reasonable price, why, then, he'd just do it himself!

When he started this project, my dad knew next to nothing about printing – but he did know some people connected to the business.  He spent some evenings studying up on the process of printing, and quickly concluded that he needed offset printing capability (the most common commercial printing technology) to do what he needed to do: one and two color materials, with black-and-white photos.  He bought a text book on offset printing, and read it cover-to-cover.  He found sources for getting offset printing aluminum “plates” made, and for ink and paper.  Finally, he figured out that he needed a few machines: an offset printing press, a folding frame, and a long-arm stapler.

Somewhere he found a used Multilith 1250 offset press for sale at a good price.  The photo at right isn't the one he bought, but it could be its twin.  I spent many, many hours operating and cleaning that machine – seeing this photo instantly brought back its sounds and smells.  The big roller on the left holds the printing plate; the other rollers spread the ink and water evenly (both are used in the printing process) over the plate.  Blank paper is loaded on the chute on the right, and put in position with that big crank.  The hoses you see are vacuum hoses for the paper handling system; they made a distinctive sound when the machine was running.

The press was installed in our basement, in the area my dad used as his office.  He also bought a folding frame (a simple machine that let you manually fold many sheets of paper exactly the same way, one at a time, while making very sharp creases) and a manual long-arm stapler (for stapling multiple pages of a catalog together).  He taught himself how to operate the press, often with me watching, as I was fascinated by this new and (to me, anyway) awesomely complicated and sophisticated piece of machinery.  There were so many ways that printing could go wrong!  Not enough ink, too much ink, second color not “registered” correctly with the first color, skewed printing, paper jams, and on and on.  Each time my dad first encountered one of these problems, he'd figure out how to fix it, keeping notes in a little black notebook.  After a while, these accumulated into a sort of home-grown “Printing for Dummies” kind of book, one that came in very handy for the next step: teaching me how to run that press!  My dad had noted my interest, and I'm sure he was quite happy to let someone else do that work :)

On the printing my dad was a perfectionist.  If a run didn't come out just right, it got thrown away and done over.  Often – probably most often – the problem required tearing down and cleaning the press.  All those rollers had to come off and be cleaned thoroughly with solvent.  Paper dust had to be cleaned out of every nook and cranny of the press, which conveniently came apart rather easily.  Then we'd put it all back together, do some trial runs, and then try again.

The mail-order business didn't last all that long.  By the late '60s our nursery was morphing into a different kind of business, and we didn't do any more mail order.  Somewhere along the line the printing press and other equipment were no longer needed and they disappeared; I don't recall what happened to it all.

The entire episode with the printing press nicely illustrates a facet of my dad's personality: his stubborn refusal to let the world stop him from doing something he set his mind to do.  I'm actually not sure whether it was a good business decision for him to buy the printing press – I don't know what it cost, all in, compared to having a printer do it.  Nor do I know if there was actually a return (in orders) on his investment of money and time.  But I do know this: my dad decided that he needed catalogs and booklets, and he wasn't going to let the expense of them stop him from having them.  No matter what it took, he was going to figure out how to get the kind of printed material he wanted to have.  He'd find a way to do it that he could afford – even if he had to learn a new craft, and invest entire winters, to do it.

That's a valuable lesson for any kid.  In my later ventures, perhaps you won't be surprised that I often remembered and reflected upon my dad and his printing.  In fact, I did more than just remember it: I actually did precisely the same thing, in a business I had in the '80s that sold practice management software to optometrists, we bought an offset press and associated equipment for exactly the same reasons my father did.  Recently I was privately quite amused when my youngest brother (Mark), in his business, did exactly the same thing yet again, albeit on a much larger scale: in his business, they built an entire printing “factory” in Phoenix.   Mark was just an infant when my dad had the printing press, so I'm sure he never even knew about it.  Maybe printing is in our genes...