Pizza! Or Die Trying

Around the TOOL meeting mentioned in the last post, I spent my weekend trying to finish the Pizza Oven of Death in the back yard. See, we’re having all the TOOL families, kids included, over next weekend, and I sorta promised them pizza Here’s where it stands:

That bottom left one is about 1/2 dozen fire bricks from where I had to stop – ran out of refractory mortar around 4 o’clock! Ahhh! Could have finished the vault!

So, I got up at 5:30 this morning and drove to the masonry supply place where I’ve gotten the refractory mortar once before. I did this because they open at 6:00 and morning mass is at 6:30 – so, if they had any, I could grab it and still make Mass – since they close at 5:00 p.m., it’s difficult for me to get there during the week.

It’s hit or miss if they have it on hand – they did not! But you can get it via ebay from Portland, Oregon, which only takes 2-3 days UPS ground (in a 50 lbs container, you’re shipping ground – $20 versus $230 air!). So, after Mass, drove home, hit the internet, ordered another bucket – it should be here Wednesday. I sure hope so, as I need to finish the vault, add a chimney, and then let it dry for at least 1 2 days (If I can stand it!), pull out the support frame (it’s held together with screws so it should come out quick). Then smoke test it – literally – with a small fire, make sure there aren’t any leaks, that the smoke goes out the chimney.  THEN wrap it in ceramic insulation, chicken-wire the insulation down, and stucco over the top – 2 coats at least, probably 3.

So, doing the math: mortar gets here Wednesday. With UPS, that tends to be at 7:30 p.m. If so, I have an hour, an hour and a half daylight, tops, to finish the vault and the chimney – doable. Let it dry until Thursday Friday, then smoke test it. If it passes, then put on the insulation, chicken wire and the first coat of stucco. Second coat Saturday morning; third coat, if necessary, Saturday night. There’s tile and trim to work on while things dry.

Then – yikes! – test it Sunday morning?!? This is insane, right? It should be pretty dry, but the tiny, well-beaten-down sane part of my brain is saying: light a fire before you’ve let that sucker dry for a week? 600+ degrees F? You want it to crack?

If only I’d ordered enough mortar! Then I’d have been done Sunday, and the vault would have had a week to dry! The stucco would have had 4-5 days to dry! It. Could. Have. Worked!

OK – we can bake in the kitchen. We’ve got double stoves, can do 3-4 good sized pizzas at a time.

But I don’t have to be happy about it.

The Presence and Absence of God

About a year and a half ago, my wife and I joined Teams of Our Lady, or TOOL. (Our 13 year old promptly pointed out that they should have called it Couples of Our Lady, which would have resulted in COOL, which is, well, much cooler.)  A French priest started TOOL back 1947 to support and encourage Catholic married life. Groups of 7 Catholic couples get together once a month to help reinforce our commitment to God through our marriages, A meal, some readings and prayers, review of certain assigned activities (praying as a couple, reading Scripture, that sort of thing) and just socializing.

We had our July meeting Saturday. While I am radically not a joiner, I’m so glad we joined TOOL. Some of us are retired, kids all grown; some have babes in arms; we are in the middle. Getting to hang out with sane couples committed to their marriages is such a change of pace from the rest of our lives, where many if not most of the adults we know move from tragedy to delusion and back, leaving a wake of misery in their lives, the lives of exes and kids, all the while sure that’s just the way things are, no one is to blame, the kids will get over it.

The opportunity to spend a few hours with folks who would have in the past been viewed as simply normal and healthy is a great blessing.

One of the women mentioned in passing having attended a Catholic gathering a few years back in which the composer David Haas was a featured speaker. He stated that since God is present in us, we can praise God by focusing on each other. She was one of the few people present not to respond to this assertion with a ovation.

What could possible go wrong?

This, for one thing:

Refrain: We come to share our story. We come to break the bread.
We come to know our rising from the dead.

1. We come as your people. We come as your own.
United with each other, love finds a home.

2. We are called to heal the broken, to be hope for the poor.
We are called to feed the hungry at our door.

3. Bread of life and cup of promise, In this meal we all are one.
In our dying and our rising, may your kingdom come.

4. You will lead and we shall follow,
you will be the breath of life; living water, we are thirsting for your light.

5. We will live and sing your praises. “Alleluia” is our song.
May we live in love and peace our whole life long.

(Ahh! 2/3rds of this post just vanished! Ratzen-fratzen technology!)

Frivolous Friday Bullet Points

  • Briefly looked over the *97* draft blog posts in my backlog. But am I finishing or discarding any of them? Noooo! I’m drafting another one! Right here, right now!
  • I’ve previously mentioned the froo-froo snacks thing we have going at my place of employment. The company supplies all kinds of free goodies in each of two nice kitchenettes – one upstairs, one down. This bounty includes sodas, bottled waters, fruit nectars, greek yogurts, single-serving cheeses (3 kinds) along with nuts, party mix, granola bars, fresh fruit and on and on. For an office with around 20 people in it.

Image result for kale
Seriously? Does that look like a snack food to you? Or rather more like what you’d feed wintering livestock?

We’ve recently upped the ante from this already embarrassing bounty by adding ‘healthy’ snacks from a service that supplies them in a cute cardboard box/display every couple weeks. I am weak – I tried some: they range from pretty good (e.g., coconut something-something bars – yum!) to weird (e.g., ‘jerky’ that ended up being limp sticky maple flavored bacon – huh? Bacon = good; this = weird.), as you might expect.

But I do draw the line somewhere. I have nothing against kale, per se, even if I have occasionally and with some

Related image
“A skeet of delicious organic goodness!” 

justification referred to it as ‘a weed with a marketing department’. But

Related image
“This puck delivers 100% of the recommended daily dose of gulibilium.”

I’m not even going to try a snack leading with ‘Blueberry-Vanilla-Kale’ in big print. I have some principles.

Also, the Gucci snack industry’s crack delivery system mutation division can’t seem to settle on terminology: are these oh-so-hip snack units bars? cookies? skeet? pucks? I’d go with ‘wads’ – ‘a delicious wad of vanilla- infused blueberries enveloped in a healthful duvet of the finest kale’ – I might try THAT, once, anyway, out of sheer cussedness.

  • My daughter and I sometimes kid about efforts to be holy, in what I hope is a light and not-asking-to-get-struck-down-by-lightening way. We once came up with ‘redemptive mockery’ in response to the use of the term redemptive suffering for every little inconvenience: one might piously help out a fellow sinner by mocking them relentlessly, for their own good! Look at all the humility and patience to be gained! In a similar vein, living out here in California, we get pretty touchy-feely at Mass. People tend to hold hands at the Our Father, sometimes forming circles of people so joined. I refered to this as ‘redemptive kindergarten’ to said daughter, and had the satisfaction of watching her spend the next few moments fighting off a giggle fit. At Mass. Bad Daddy! Bad!
  • This may have to be my default GIF from here on out:

Related image
(BTW: trying to get my arms around the morality of ‘borrowing’ gifs – this is a snippet of a movie somebody already borrowed, then turned the lines from the movie into text. So the only people who should be concerned are the movie rights owners – who, if they’ve got an ounce of business sense, are thrilled to see people reminded of their movie a million times a day. Ya know?)       

Politics? Education? Religion? Hey, the dumpster fires have to burn themselves out eventually, right? Right? PLEASE?!?

If you want to die at home, my advice would be, don’t go to a hospital. Perhaps this will strike gentle reader as a remark overweighted on the side of the obvious; but there is some method in some of my madness. So I will begin with a careful qualification: my advice holds for Canada, and the United Kingdom, but not for all of those Natted States. (I realize there are other jurisdictions.) And even there, the impossibility of fixing “Obamacare,” without further extending its “entitlement” provisions, shows the end is coming, soon. But in Canada and UK, the future has been here for some time.

The reason, of course, is that at these higher latitudes we have so-called “single-payer” “healthcare” systems in which, as we have been reminded lately, all decision-making is concentrated in the caring-sharing State, or as I prefer to call her, Twisted Nanny. Once the paperwork is complete, and the customer has progressed from the outer to the inner waiting rooms, he is entirely in her power. He may, after reviewing her apparatus (both surgical and managerial), want to go home and die there. But she is unlikely to release him, and it will require the assistance of loyal friends and family to effect the equivalent of a prison break. (Tip: staff tend to be at their least attentive during the conventional sleeping hours.)

You see, Twisted Nanny likes to watch people die. She can become quite annoyed when others appropriate this privilege. She also likes to kill people, and has gone to considerable trouble to establish a monopoly in this regard. And given her latest powers, under legislation for “euthanasia,” she prefers to do it in her own facilities. She doesn’t make house calls, the way they do in Red China.

Have a good weekend!

 

Links. Science! The Usual.

Image result for forbidden kingdom
It is said, master and student, walk their path side by side… to share their destiny, until their paths go separate ways.

Don’t want to start out too critical of what very well might be legitimate efforts to understand the brain and how people make decisions, but The Brains Behind Behavioral Science article from a mag called Behavioral Scientist seems to offer observations about as profound as Lu Yan’s comments to Jason Tripidikas in Forbidden Kingdom referenced above, but without the intention of making a joke. For example:

Crucially, by predicting—instead of passively registering—our environment, predictive coding allows our brain to conserve cognitive resources and guide our perception and action in a fast and efficient way. But this also means that what our brain notices and attends to is heavily determined by what we already know.

Ooooh-kay. In English: we tend to look for and notice familiar things in familiar environments. Since that would be what makes a familiar environment familiar, I’m not sure we got anywhere here.

The major contention, OK as a basis of scientific exploration as long as accompanied by awareness of the limits of such a view, is that the mind (human behavior standing in, in this case) is the way it is because the brain is the way it is. As a working hypothesis, such a notion might allow something to be discovered about the relationship of thought and volition to the physical state and capacities of the brain. Not bloody likely, but maybe. Such a view does not allow one to pass metaphysical go, nor collect 200 Kantian thalers, real or otherwise.

The essay continues:

From this perspective, it is easy to see how predictive coding explains our tendency to spot confirming evidence more readily than disconfirming evidence. And because most of these predictions are performed unconsciously, we are unaware of how our prior beliefs blend with new information from the real world. When it comes to explaining cognitive quirks like the confirmation bias, the brain is basically an engine of prediction.

That word – easy – I don’t think it means what you think it means. Also, the mind and perhaps the brain boggles at the notion of demonstrating the brain’s nature as a predictive engine. Basically, thoughts as an expression of brain activity is a tricky concept, to say the least. That materialists want it to be so doesn’t make it any less tricky.

By using neuroscience to prune behavioral concepts to relevant brain substrates (! – ed.), we can rationalize the zoo of biases. The outcome would be a simpler framework, with a map of behaviors observed in different situations linked to core cognitive functions. Such simplification has already begun and could both help communication among behavioral scientists and lead fundamental and applied research in new directions.

Our suspicions are confirmed. “Rationalize a zoo of biases.” Hmmm. Note that the writer is a behavioral scientist (whatever that might be) expressing her hope that the “zoo” – the diverse, animated collection of biases that seems to be her subject matter – can be rationalized, by which she clearly means organized in a more understandable way, by use of simple principles to be discovered through neuroscience. Note that this hope is expressed as a simple fact: “we can rationalize…” not as the more sane and scientific “we just might maybe be able to rationalize…” Nope, by applying the same sort of neuroscience by which we have gained rich insight into the inner spiritual life of dead salmon, we will – not may, not might – we WILL “prune behavioral concepts to relevant brain substrates.”

She gives this example:

For instance, by studying the way brains change as we age, neuroscientists can help address one of the major challenges for the next generation of behavioral scientists: how to target behavioral interventions for the vastly different brains of people of different ages, cultures, and socioeconomic levels.

Apart from the mere woolly incoherence of the above quotation, I for one would really not want the sort of thinker who could emit such a thought doing any sort of “behavioral interventions” on me under any circumstances.

It gets worse:

To assess differences among individuals, one objective alternative is “neural indexes.” Neural indexes are brain signatures of specific behaviors. Modern neuroscience has demonstrated that we can now use neural indexes to spot behavioral biases in different populations. Many cognitive biases (like risk aversion, the endowment effect, or framing effects) have already been reduced to specific brain structures or networks, enabling neuroscientists to expand the samples to people of different ages.

Aaaaand – the reference is a link to yet another fMRI study. TL;DR much past the pretty pictures. I will give them this: in the opening paragraphs I did read, the researchers use the word ‘suggests’ to describe certain much-to-be-hoped-for conclusions. Very consistent with proper scientific restraint in the face of the massive, hulking, shadow-casting unknowns that haunt the scientific mind (even one as modest as mine) when contemplating what is being claimed.  Contrast this with the casual confidence mentioned above. I merely note that unless some breakthrough has happened in the last 2 years that I’ve completely missed – unlikely – fMRI studies make phrenology look hard-science-y by comparison. Dead salmon, and all.

So perhaps some restraint would be in order, a little shadow of doubt?

Moving on, saw this on Twitter, I think. It seemed appropo:

Yet, here’s another Twitter grab (I must figure out how one embeds these things!)

Psych diretion

See here for my basic take on the often desperate looking attempts to distract people from the ongoing fraud that is sociological and psychological ‘research’ – poorly defined questions researched via dubious protocols and never replicated are published as ‘studies’ – that then, as the writer above notes, become the basis of public policy and popular culture.

(This reminds me – there’s a blog draft in the folder where I trace a particularly egregious example of ‘nothing to see here, citizens, move along’ through its permutations over time, where a study that had very publicly been used to beat conservatives was shown to actually have found the exact opposite conclusion – and so now needed to be poo-pooed into dissipating vapors. Need to finish that one…)

Now on to cheerier news:

Here is updated the story of honeybee hive collapse, a cautionary tale about needing to understand the problem before panicking and formulating drastic solution. This is perhaps a good one to point out for my own sake, since I failed to think it through myself, and thus missed the obvious point: honeybees are livestock, animals domesticated, bred and cared for by people. ‘Wild’ honeybees, such as the hive we used to have in our front yard, are really feral – their ancestors escaped at some point from domesticated hives first brought over by English settlers 3 or 4 centuries ago.

Thus, the solution to hive collapse is not to be found, generally, in improving the natural environment, but in improving the applicable animal husbandry. And so it has happened: if hive collapse is reducing honeybee populations by up to 40%, then apiarists are going to breed more of them to make for it – because bees are raised to pollinate crops and produce honey.  As a bee farmer, I’m going to do what I can to have the right numbers of bees available for my business.

So we can pretty much stop panicking over hive collapse. Keep an eye on it, just don’t panic.

Finally, here’s a cool picture related to a recent blog post here:

While evil never sleeps, and there’s plenty wrong with the world, it serves no positive purpose to ignore real gains in the material basis for general human happiness. Real, concrete problems correctly understood can call forth real, concrete solutions that actually solve something – this chart is, I think, a monument to just such thinking. But focused problem-solving won’t bring the revolution any closer, and just might cause it to be postponed indefinitely – so it must be avoided and ridiculed at every step in the eyes of certain interests.

Saturday Update: Suburban Nirvana?

Coffee is a wonderful thing: had a couple cups at about 6:00, got some work in before 8:30 Mass, was starting to drag a bit, then had a quad-shot latte around 10:00, came home and worked until about 2:00, hit the wall and napped until 5 (good thing, too, as it was about 100F at that point) and then laid bricks until dinner. Yay, caffeine!

So, stressful week, still have a number of less than pleasant things to do, so, guy that I am, spent the day working around the house. Some trivial stuff like raked and watered the back lawn, watered the orchard I’ve put in in the front yard (front yards are useless – so mine’s got 13 fruit trees in it now, arranged in adorable planters of one kind or another) and a bit of tidying up.

(Now in Year 2 of what will most likely be a 4 year front yard project: got the trees and most of bricks along the walk in; need a wall, walk and fence along the street, a brick planter along the south side, and an expanded front porch. And a ton of clean-up. Among other things.)

But mostly worked on the brick oven. When we last left this insane project, I was trying to add about 12″ of shelf along the front, so that one would have a little space to use to get pizzas and bread in and out of the oven. Concocted an insanely complicated plan to bolt on an oak and Douglas fir butcher block shelf. Eventually realized it had too many ways to go wrong to leave much of a chance to go right. Soooo – poured a little slab using the threaded rod I’d already epoxied into the oven slab as rebar, added some cross pieces and – well, it looks OK:

Got some 6″ and 2″ square Mexican tiles to add a colorful surface, which is why it’s down 1/2″ from the oven floor.

IMG_4095
Some 6″ square Mexican tile for the shelf. 

After finally deciding the shelf issue, was ready to start building the oven! Got almost two courses in:

IMG_4098

Tomorrow, with any luck, I can get the walls up and start building the framework for the barrel vault. The ceramic insulation pads I ordered got here – it’s not enough! Need to order some more. The 11″  square Guadalupana tile arrived for the arch on the side. Need to get done Current state:

IMG_4100
Imagine a little Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine under the arch, with plants in front. 

It’s going to be really cute when I get it done.

And we had dinner out back in perfect California weather: low humidity, nice temperature, light breeze, no bugs.

And then got the killer sunset:

IMG_4109
Looking west across the street. Yay, God! Much brighter and more colorful in real life. 

All in all, a very nice day. For a change.  If I can gt a couple hours of writing in before bed, it will be darn near perfect!

July 20, 2017: 5th Anniversary of Our Son Andrew’s Death

In the early morning of July 20th, 2012, our son Andrew was struck by a car and killed while walking along a rural highway in Indiana while taking part in a Crossroads cross country pro-life walk from San Francisco to Washington D.C. May he rest in peace.

I’m writing today because of something remarkable, something I would never have even dreamt of: a friend of Andrew’s, a retired fireman who taught him as a small child in faith formation classes at Queen of All Saints parish and prayed with him on occasion in front of the local Planned Parenthood, will be filing the paperwork with the diocese to petition to get Andrew declared a Servant of God.

 

Andrew, taking a break on his Crossroads walk. 

5 years after death is the minimum required waiting period. As his father, I am far too close to make any sort of judgement at all either way. All I know is that Jim – that’s the gentleman doing the paperwork, who is a very good man – seemed to get pretty enthusiastic responses when he talked to people who knew Andrew, and that his confessor for the last few years of his life sought us out to tell us we had nothing to worry about over the state of his soul. So I ask for your prayers that God’s will be done.

Review: Astounding Frontiers Issue 1

Short & Sweet: Well worth 3 of your entertainment dollars. Fun, well-written stories and three old-school-style serials, a quick read. Grab a beer or an ice tea, your copy of Astounding Frontiers, and hit the hammock or the beach for a few enjoyable hours. Wear sunscreen.

Astounding Frontiers is a new magazine devoted to stories that astound and push frontiers. It hits the mark, although, by their nature, serials may do their astounding and pushing of frontiers over a larger time-frame than one issue. Onward:

First, we have the short stories. The Death Ride of SUNS Joyeuse by Patrick Baker is military SciFi covering a space fleet and space marines dedicated to protecting an outpost from some nasty customers intent on enslaving them. Epic and heroic battles ensue, complete with way-cool space weapons and strategy . Fun read, and it’s obvious Baker knows what he’s talking about – he’s a veteran working at the Dept of Defense, so the command structure and tactics ring true. Good story.

Next, is Lou Antonelli’s Riders of the Red Shift, a very cool sort of Western/Mystery in space story, about a space station and worm hole out in the Oort cloud near Sedna. Seems a group of Texans, after a failed rebellion, headed out with a load of decommissioned nukes – which nukes were later found useful as fuel for propulsion into the wormhole the Texans accidentally discovered.  Exploration of the galaxy takes place through this wormhole. At the time of the story, crews retrieve these nukes from the Texan’s long abandoned ship to use as fuel.  There are some mysteries that need solving…

According to Culture by Declan Finn is a space riff off the wisdom contained in a famous (legendary?) exchange between a British commander in India and a Hindu leader (whether Finn knows it or not, although I suspect he does). The Hindu explains to the Brit that it is their custom to throw live widows on the pyres of their dead husbands; the Brit explains it is his custom to hang people who murder women. If the Hindu insists on following his culture, he can hardly object when the British follow theirs.  A father who turns out to be a sort of tech/mech/ninja, has to make this point to a ruler who has purchased his kidnapped daughter.

This story has a very good opening sentence:

Neti Gwai looked over his latest batch of slaves, going from one holographic image to another, when the wall exploded.

And it hardly lets up from there. Epic battles ensue. Fun read, especially as a father of daughters.

Stopover on Monta Colony by Erin Lale is a story of empathy and mistaken identity that harkens back to a famous Star Trek episode which it would completely spoil things to name, and also a William Gibson story (and another mid-80s story in SF&F that’s sitting on the edge of memory) involving a singer who, with the aide of technology, is able to echo back the emotions of her audience.  A captain giving passage to just such a singer stops by an outpost for some repairs, and finds himself in the middle of a mystery. Can’t say much more without giving too much away – fun story.

Watson’s Demon by Sarah Salviander, is an elaborate gag, of sorts, a bit of an inside joke for physicists – and a good story. What if a superior interdimensional being decided to mess with the experimental results of what it thinks of as a hopelessly simple-minded human? What if you could really make all the energetic molecules move *here* and all the less energetic molecules move *there* just as the experimental measurements were being taken? You could drive a physicist crazy! But never underestimate a crazy physicist. Fun read.

Next up: the first installments of 3 serials – an evil marketing genius trick to hook us on future issues.

I think it’ll work.

First up is Nowither, the follow up to John C. Wright’s Dragon award winning Somewhither, the first book in the Tales of the Unwithering Realm series. Wright gives us a brief recap of Somewhither (reviewed here) to open the episode, so the reader isn’t completely lost, but I think it really helped that I’d already read it.

When we last left Our Heroes, Illya, a teenage ‘boy’ who cannot be killed, has just rescued Penny Dreadful (yep, that’s her name) an insanely beautiful and buxom young woman who is the object of Illya’s desires and happens to be a mermaid and nymph/goddess from another parallel timeline, along with 150 or so beautiful and scantily-clad slavegirls. He’s aided by Abby, an heroic young girl with The Most Tragic Backstory Ever ™, who, by virtue of her ‘two natures’ is able to circumvent the astrology of the Ur people; Ossifrage, an Air Bender/Old Testament Prophet/Gandalf hybrid (he’s really cool); and Nakasu, a Blemmyae, or headless giant who is super strong, brave and knowledgeable about the ways of the Ur. Also along is Illya’s childhood friend Foster Hidden, a gypsy/spy/warlock whose skill with the bow makes Hawkeye look like an amateur. They find themselves in some sort of switching station used by the Ur to zip around between parallel universes via golden Mobius gates. All hell breaks loose.

Got that?

If you’re tired of stories without much action, you’ll get all the action – gruesome, blood-soaked yet somehow hopeful action – you can stand.  For example, Illya gets decapitated – but it’s only a flesh wound! Slap that head back on, summon all the blood back into your veins, and you’re good to go! Excellent fun.

 

Ben Wheeler’s In the Seraglio of the Sheik of Mars is something completely different, based on the first chapter. In this installment, boy sorta meets girl, boy chased off from girl, boy gets his grandfather to arrange a marriage with girl. On Mars, in a transplanted 1,001 Nights style universe.  Not exactly what you’d expect, but it did leave me wondering where it’s going – and that’s the point of a serial, right? This first installment is more scene setting, I suppose, than actual story, but it works.

Galactic Outlaws, from Dragon Award winner Nick Cole and Jason Anaspach, is the first installment of what promises to be an epic yarn, a True Grit (maybe) in space.  The story opens with a hard-bitten captain landing his tramp hauler of a spaceship, which was falling apart when he stole it 6 years ago, on a planet that is suddenly under attack by the Republic that is supposed to be its government. As civilians flee onto the docks, he tries desperately to unload his cargo so as to gouge any passengers who want passage off the planet and away from the Republic.

Things do not go well for him.

He has one passenger: Prisma Maydoon, a girl whose family has been murdered, who only wanted a ride someplace where she might hire an assassin to get revenge. She is accompanied by KRS-88 an obedient robot she has named Crash, that spends its time pointing out how risky and insane everything she’s doing is (as is its duty). She ignores it, flees the ship and heads to a bar where the most notorious (and hunted!) hit man might be found.

Conclusion: great fun. Go buy this. Read it. Way more entertainment for the dollar than your typical hollywood movie or Big 5 novel.

Update: Reading, Writing, Futzing Around

Added a couple more blog post drafts on Important Things – you know, Important Things – bringing the draft total to just under 100. Sheesh. Started writing about how behavioral scientists (whatever that’s supposed to mean) don’t care about brain science, as changing people’s behaviors are all they’re interested in, not how the brain actually works. Um, what? Very Bacon-ish (the British scientist, not the gateway meat): we’re in it for the Domination of Nature, not merely to understand anything. Let’s not get all philosophical here, we got behaviors to change! And how YA fiction provides something to kids sadly missing from their real lives: responsibility for meaningful stuff, especially stuff they *don’t* get to choose. Kids want to grow up, and the dirty little secret is that we choose here and there, but happiness and meaning are mostly found in living out duties we didn’t really choose: to family, friends, country. Kids need that, and YA fiction often provides at least stories of it.

And so on. Got partial drafts on bad philosophy and stupid theories, an attempt to explain supply and demand avoiding the baleful conventions of economics (not as easy as one would hope) and airfleet finance basics that I promised somebody months ago. And about 90 more! Things I thought important at the time!

Anyway, here’s two turntables and a microphone:

A. Reading, among other things, the first issue of Astounding Frontiers, a new publication from some of the people involved in Sci Phi Journal and Superversive stuff in general. About 80% through, need another hour or two. A full review will follow in a few days.

Short & sweet: great stuff, all kinds of fun. The format, at least for the first volume, is a set of short stories followed by the first installments of a set of serials. All the stories are at least good; the first serial is of Nowhither, the next volume following the Dragon-award-winning Somewither from the Tales of the Unwithering Realm books by John C. Wright. As good as you’d hope. You’d better love cliffhangers, though. Old-school serials are the model, after all.

Writing: So, I started to do what I said I’d do – pick a market and submit the recently-finished short story. Aaaand, that proved harder than I thought – while I’m pretty familiar with the old dead-tree markets – Analog, Asimov’s, SF&F – I’m not really up on all the new markets. So I asked myself: does this slight little story work in those old-school markets? Aaaand – IMHO, not really. It’s a gee-whiz story, where a guy faces death and second thoughts. Probably overthinking it (you’re shocked, right?). Other stuff I’m working on might fit better, maybe.

Anyway, I decided to keep looking for a better match. I began at the top of a list I’d gotten off the web somewhere, sorted by how much they pay, and started down, trying to imagine how what I wrote could fit within their guidelines.

Some not-fits were obvious, either from tone or just not fitting the guidelines. I soon became obvious I needed some quick filters to eliminate the obviously not gonna happens: In addition to wild mismatches on the guidelines, ended up crossing off ones who lead with SJW stuff, as it’s hard to imagine them wanting my stuff.

This still left a whole bunch of interesting possibilities. But I’d never heard of these publications, many of which seem to have mushroomed on the web in the last few years. So I find myself reading the sample stories, to get a feel.

By now, I’ve spent several hours reading stories online from the various publications. Unfortunately, while I did get a few decent stories read, I didn’t end up with much additional clarity. A couple of the stories I liked were so utterly different from what I’ve written that my brain sorta locked up.

And then life got busy. It may calm down for a few weeks, maybe not. Thinking I’ll just look among the PulpRev and Superversive markets for this particular story; others might go elsewhere, need to get my brain around what’s what.

B. Meanwhile, working on some other half (or more) finished stories. With the long daylight hours, I’m tending to work out in the yard until dark or dinner, meaning it’s after 9:00 before I’m in for the night – and, if I’ve been doing physical work, I’m probably tired. Yes, I’m a disorganized sissy with too much going on. Anyway, still need a bit of time to finish the 3-4 in the pipeline. The good news is that I should have a better idea what markets to pursue for them after getting myself caught up on what’s out there.

General experience: when I take a second look at something I’ve set aside for a long while, I tend to like it much better than when I set it down. Obviously need to get over these amateur emotional reactions that keep me from just getting it done. Story of my life, I suppose.

C. Speaking of late daylight hours, been working on the brick oven. When we last checked in, I’d decided to add a little shelf or lip on the oven’s front, changing my mind from when I’d poured the oven slab last summer, and left off the lip in the front.

IMG_4050
While beautiful after a fashion, this whole thing here is frankly insane. Spent hours trying to get it level enough so that the planned wooden butcher block would be level-ish and sturdy enough – and I just couldn’t see it working. Don’t know if any of you have this experience, but at least on projects like this, I’ll get a nagging feeling that it won’t work that eventually stops me cold. Got there on this.  Had to change course. Not getting any dubious vibes on plan D? E? where are we? Yet, anyway. 

Well, after way, way over-engineering it and spending hours (and way too much money!) building this metal angle-iron and threaded rod support system, changed my mind again and decided to pour a little more concrete. Had no confidence in the metal supports – too many things could go wrong, and even if I got it all installed successfully, if somebody decided to sit on it, it might even crack the bricks. So, reengineered. Again.

It should have only taken a few hours total to do this, but it’s been over 100F each of the last two weekends, and even I, home improvement project berzerker, can’t do a lot of manual labor when it’s that warm. So now I’m going to finish it after work, with any luck, before the summer ends. On the positive side: once I’ve gotten the lip finished, the actual oven build should go pretty quickly. Yea, famous last words.

Bastille Day – Almost Forgot!

Let us take this day as a vigorous reminder of what insane partisanship and unscrupulous ideological fanaticism can do with historical facts. To sum up: A mob killed a few retirees and cripples who were guarding a prison holding a few upper-crust criminals and crazy people, and set them free in the name of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Vive la révolution! I guess.  And this has become the great event that marks France’s joining the ranks of countries that have slaughtered tens of thousands of their own unarmed citizens because they failed to get with the Enlightenment program. Or something.

As Tonio-K put it: but just because we’re hypnotized, that don’t mean we can’t dance!

On the reality side of things, there are the Vendee Martyrs.  As reported in the Telegraph: 

In early 1794 – at the height of the Reign of Terror – French soldiers marched to the Atlantic Vendée, where peasants had risen up against the Revolutionary government in Paris. (They had risen up because of the slaughter already being visited upon their sons, pressed into war for the Revolution and killed if they resisted, and their priests and sisters – ed.)

Twelve “infernal columns” commanded by General Louis-Marie Turreau were ordered to kill everyone and everything they saw. Thousands of people – including women and children – were massacred in cold blood, and farms and villages torched.

In the city of Nantes, the Revolutionary commander Jean-Baptiste Carrier disposed of Vendéean prisoners-of-war in a horrifically efficient form of mass execution. In the so-called “noyades” –mass drownings – naked men, women, and children were tied together in specially constructed boats, towed out to the middle of the river Loire and then sunk.

Now Vendée, a coastal department in western France, is calling for the incident to be remembered as the first genocide in modern history.

Residents claim the massacre has been downplayed so as not to sully the story of the French Revolution.

Historians believe that around 170,000 Vendéeans were killed in the peasant war and the subsequent massacres – and around 5,000 in the noyades.

But to call it genocide might taint (!) the glorious memory of the French Revolution. Can’t have that. Sort of like acknowledging that Che was a sociopathic murderer of defenseless men, women and children whose talents happen to find perfect opportunity for expression in another branch of the revolution – best not to think about it.

And this is just the most egregious slaughter carried out by the Enlightened. Many hundreds more died by the guillotine, by being left to starve or rot in ships or prisons, are just more prosaically murdered as the situation allowed. The French Revolution is the archetype and model for all future efforts to implement Progressive ideals once power has been seized.

This picture is titled ‘A Mass Under  Terror.’ Here’s all I could find out about it: “..is an engraving that I find magnificent and which adorns the walls of our humble refuge! 
See the expression of the faces of these Catholics of the 18th, attending the Holy Mass and hunted down like beasts for “superstition” …” 

Bastille Day is an ideal way to get your feet wet in actual history, and to see how willingly some people lie and how effortlessly many more people believe them. Ignorance is usually best, or at least the least trouble, but if people know anything about the French Revolution, it’s probably something to do with having killed mean old Marie Antoinette and gotten rid of a crazy monarchy. That the French then proceeded to cycle through military dictatorship, monarchy, and an emperor or two between periods of anarchy, all the will leaving piles of bodies along the way – that seems less well known or, worse, irrelevant.

You have to ask the question: why do the lies seem to almost always go one way and not the other? Or, better, why is something like gruesome and sadistic slaughter of unarmed men women and children given a pass if not ignored completely? Or how do actual acts of murder get presented as equivalent to largely theoretical evils, such as the victims of capitalism? Oh, sure, people have been and are still being oppressed, and some have even been murdered. But 170,000 in a year? When did Pullman or United Fruit or the mining companies round up 170,000 men, women and children and sadistically murder them? And if you’ve got something, And if you’ve got something, I’ll raise you 20 million Ukrainian Kulaks and 60 million Chinese peasants.

All evil is evil, but there are degrees. That spirit that drove the French Revolution is far more evil than the simple greed of men, and lives and wrecks havoc even today.

Friday. Link. Graph.

A. Good story here from Calah Alexander: Why you should let your kids take risks — especially when they might fail.

I’ve said that I’d never let my kids try a 10-day  (unsupervised European trip – ed) in college, because what if what could have been for me comes true for them? What if they get lost, or mugged? What if they make a poor decision, choose the wrong stop, and get stranded outside an airport in a blizzard? What if they need help and can’t find it?

That one major snafu on our 10-day happened at the end, when we missed our flight back to Rome because we got off the train at the wrong stop. The airport in Brussels wouldn’t let us spend the night inside, so we huddled against the building instead, trying to stay out of the snow. The only thing we had to eat was a backpack full of Cadbury chocolates that my roommate had gotten in London.

As a parent, this story is terrifying. But it’s one of my favorite memories. We made it back to Rome cold, tired, sick of Cadbury, but alive and newly aware of our own resilience (and of the importance of navigational skills).

Ironically, protecting our kids from the pain of failure is itself a failure. It’s failing to let them experience the life we know is coming at them, the life we can’t protect them from forever.

Real choices matter to the kid, are supported by the family, and have real consequences. Leave out any of those three things, and the choosing is an illusion.

One final thing to add: kids also need to see adults sticking with the results of their own decisions. If mommy and daddy are running away – from their responsibilities, their spouses, their own kids – it becomes pretty much a given that the kids will grow up into bitter, whiny irresponsible brats. We wouldn’t want that to happen.

B. Another chart showing something or other:

It’s from Pew, whose methodology is both widely respected and, to give them the benefit of the doubt,  hopelessly flawed. In general, unverified self reporting by the  sort of people willing to take polls, with no concern wasted considering if the responder is at all motivated to tell the truth. (1) The questions tacitly assume that the world really does fall into convenient polar positions on virtually every subject. Which would be really, really convenient – for pollsters. So don’t give Pew polls much weight, in general.

By happenstance, about the same time I saw this I read a quip somewhere, to the effect that ‘Sir,’ Ma’am,’ and ‘Thank you’ will get you farther than a bachelor’s degree. Had to wonder: what’s the overlap between those red bars above and people who would nod at the folk wisdom of that quip? I’d quibble that a bachelor’s in something real PLUS the proper use of sir, ma’am and thank you is the real winning strategy. Nevertheless, with Pew, is often not difficult to see which of the two either/or points of view they’re hammering the world into they want us to consider enlightened.

  1. I’ve wondered since the election about the reported 8% of blacks who voted for Trump. I believe the number was based on exit polls. Now, imagine, in the general atmosphere of the last election, if a black person would feel completely comfortable telling a stranger with a clipboard that he’d just voted for Trump. Not saying one way or the other about what the results show – just that the method used is ignoring a pretty big potential issue when it fails to account for social pressures, or just assumes they cancel out.

C. Something stupid for your possible amusement:

Something about rabbits and chickens, creatures with largely unearned reputations as pacifists, going all Wild West there’s-a-new-sheriff-in-town that cracks me up a little.  One struggles a little coming up with the proper Darwinian just-so story that explains such odd behavior away.  Why are the chickens not content to let the rabbits kill each other if they want to? Have they adopted them, somehow?

D. Apologies. This is plain stupid. This is what an adolescent sense of humor,  + <45 seconds of  web searching  + <10 minutes of  MS Paint will get you:

Female lawmakers ‘bare arms’ in sleeveless attire to support new House dress code

Bear Arms