Vacation Adventures

View from where I’m siting at the moment

I am typing sitting at a table in a cabin looking out at a redwood stand overlooking a tributary to the Russian River in Northern California. For the first time in 3 years, my beloved and I were able to get away by ourselves for two whole nights. Left Monday afternoon, will get back Wednesday afternoon, This is all thanks to my wife’s double little sister – biological and Dominican – spending her annual home visit with her mother, who lives with us. God’s blessing on her! Yea us!

The Pacific from Bodega Head yesterday.

On Monday night, we went to dinner in a lovely restaurant right on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Wrap-around floor to ceiling windows, and the sun set during our meal. We had to park up Highway 1 a bit. It was very dark, the stars were breathtaking on our walk back. I’d never seen stars that bright other than from in mountains.

But this isn’t all about ME! Any more than usual, I mean. On the one hand, not a mask in sight at the restaurant. Patrons tended to be older (like us) and very gabby. We arrived at 8:00 and were I think the second to last group to be seated. The place was full, and didn’t really start to empty until well after 9:00. We weren’t the last people leaving when we left after 10:00. It was so PLEASANT to simply hang out like normal people!

On the other hand, we went to mass the next morning in Sebastopol, a small town inland a bit. It was beautiful, lovely priest gave a lovely homily for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

We we the only two people not wearing masks. On the next level of insanity, a woman walked the aisle during communion squirting hand sanitizer into people’s hands. Let’s give thanks for our membership in the Body of Christ by treating all other members first and foremost as potential disease vectors.

All other interactions were mixed: shopping, we ran into some masked, some not. When we hiked around at Bodega Head, a few people – out in the sun, with wind that could almost knock you over – were masked. One interesting thing: the proprietor of our B&B is in nearly the highest risk group – he’s not old, but he’s a cancer survivor, given almost no chance to live 16 years ago when he was diagnosed. (That’s how he ended up owning a beautiful set of cabins in a redwood stand – when you’re pretty sure you’re going to die, you live the dream NOW.) Yet – no mask. In general, the cancer survivors I know truly understand that, with what the cancer and the treatments have done to their bodies, the next freaking COLD could kill them, let alone anything more serious than that. And, with no exceptions, they do not cower in their rooms, locked away from all human contact in fear. (Although if they did lock themselves away for ‘safety’, I’d be less likely to know them in the first place.)

The fear/risk relationship has no basis in reality. Masking children, who neither get nor transmit the disease in any numbers, makes no sense. Our host here would absolutely get a pass from me if he were to get all masks & social distance on us – his risk may be low (it is) but it’s real, like it is from a cold or a flu.

But he would rather live now. I respect him for that, just as I respect Herman Caine, another cancer survivor who refused to cower in fear. He died – he was going to die at some point, probably sooner rather than later – but got in another dozen year after his cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you have been around cancer victims, you know it’s unpredictable how people are going to react. Some people look and act absolutely fine, after having surgery, chemo, radiation, only to fairly suddenly drop dead. Others are sickly, even bedridden, after treatment, and live some number of years. It seems to be a crap shoot, although a positive attitude seems to help.

Anyway, back to fun stuff. Our host will be delivering our fresh-baked goods for breakfast soon; we will pack up and head out for a leisurely drive home, working in a stop for fresh bread, local cheese, ice cream, maybe look at some junk antiques we have no place for and can’t afford – the usual. Then, back to the real world.

Update/Links/Thoughts

A. Life is a bowl of cherries. Really:

Three-in-one cherry tree, from the front yard orchard. Yes, the could be riper, but the birds are eating them as soon as they get really red. Plus, while the Bings should be almost black, the other two varieties don’t get much redder than those above. And they taste good.

A young lady we’ve known for years came by every day to feed the cat and water the gardens. She did a good job. While we were gone, the cherries hit their stride. It’s only one tree, so we’ll only get a few bowls worth per season – but fun. Next up: apricots and peaches, probably end of the month.

B. Back from the Epic Wedding Trip. 7 days, 6 nights, 4 states not counting airports and home. Some pics:

The restored and Catholicized chapel. Our son’s wedding mass is the first to have taken place in this lovely building.
The sanctuary. Much of the renovation had to do with creating a proper sanctuary, where Catholic altar and tabernacle replace Protestant pulpit and organ. The Latin is a from the life of St. Thomas Aquinas, who set his works before the tabernacle and offered them to Christ crucified. The image of Christ on the cross said: “You have written well of Me, Thomas. What would you desire as a reward?” “Only You, Lord,” Thomas responded.
This is the student center at Thomas Aquinas College New England. I don’t know that the picture captures this vibe, but I just wanted to grab a book, find a corner, and read as soon as I walked in. Cozy and scholarly at the same time.

C. In New Hampshire, the spell of the magic mask talisman has been suspended – one can go about bare-faced and walk up to people, and the gods, we have been assured, will not be offended; cross the state line into Massachusetts or Vermont, however, and the wrath of the gods will descend upon any who dare sally forth with undiapered visage.

For now. Our betters are pumping the brakes, mixing it up, because, as any animal trainer will tell you, being predictable with your rewards does not get as eager a compliance as keeping the animal guessing. To add to the hilarity: when the New Hampshire folks decided to remove restrictions, they didn’t just announce: “OK, nobody’s dying of the Coof anymore, so go ahead and take off your masks and feel free to walk up to people and shake hands.” Nope, that would be too easy. Instead, it was *scheduled* for Monday, May 31. As in:

Owner Balancing Treat On Dog's Head Causing Untold ...

D. Speaking of terrified, scientifically illiterate rabbits doing as they’re told, I’ve got a massive post to drop in the next day or two about analyzing risk. Sometimes, I think I’ve been uniquely prepared for the COVID hysteria:

  • worked in the actuarial department of a major life insurance company, picked up some basic knowledge of how risk is measured;
  • worked as an underwriter and and underwriting analyst for a few years, so I know how the pros apply those risk models;
  • used and helped design mathematical models for 25 years, and taught people how to use and understand them (I can literally say: I wrote the book (well, a fat pamphlet) on a couple fancy models used by thousands of people to do fancy financing).
  • analyzed and cleaned up data for these models so that it was useful. Unless you’ve had to do this sort of clean up on real-world data, you simply have no idea how much sheer judgement goes into what gets measured and how. E.g., financial reporting systems are about as well defined, well-tested, and well funded as any data systems anywhere. Every company has one or more, with trained professionals inputting data, and have been doing this for decades. Yet, a data dump of the raw inputs is chaotic, unclear, and confusing. The question I had: what cash flows took place when? Surprisingly hard to answer! Correcting entries are ubiquitous, and often raise their own questions. And so on.
  • read a bunch of medical studies. When our kids were babies, I, like every other new parent in America at the time, was constantly ordered and shamed to not let the baby sleep in our bed with us. But I knew that this practice, called a family bed, was common everywhere else in the world. So I searched around, found the studies, and read them. Insane. Bad methodology, dubious data, poor analysis, no criticisms and answers (meaning: a study should address the obvious criticisms and answer them – it’s called science.) Just out and out junk. Yet – and here’s the real eye opener – a protocol had been developed from these two junk studies, and every freaking pediatrician in America was pushing the no family bed nonsense. It’s Science! It’s the medical consensus! Also read a few studies on salt and blood pressure, and was likewise unimpressed. Then noted how nobody did studies on drug interactions until it was clear such interactions were killing people – who’s going to pay for such endless studies? I reached the conclusion, since backed up by all the failed attempts at replication, that medical studies are mostly – useless? Wildly overconfident? Wildly over cautious? Not to be taken at face value?

With that background, and an amateur’s love of the scientific method, I was not buying the claims of pandemic, the outputs of models, the cleanliness of the data, and the ‘logic’ for panic and lockdowns. Looking into it, it was puke-level idiocy. And yet, here we are.

E. Briggs captures a good bit of what I’m trying to say in my upcoming post on risk analysis in this week’s COVID post:

Many people sent me this Lancet note about the difference between relative and absolute risk reduction. I’ve warned us many times to use absolute numbers (in any situation, not just this), because relative numbers always exaggerate (unless one is keenly aware of the absolutes).

Here’s an example. Suppose the conditional (on certain accepted evidence) risk of getting a dread disease is 0.001, or 0.1%. A drug or vexxine is developed and it is discovered (in update evidence) the risk of getting the disease is now 0.0001, or 0.01%.

The absolute risk reduction (ARR; conditional on the given evidence) is 0.001 – 0.0001 = 0.0009, or 0.09%.

The relative risk is a ratio of the two risks, and the risk reduction ratio is 1 minus this, or 1 – 0.0001/0.001 = 0.9, or 90%.

That relative 90% reduction (RRR) sounds much more marketable than the actual 0.09% reduction; indeed, it sounds 1,000 times better!

Here from the the Lancet piece are some numbers using published results, recalling, as the authors do, that everything is conditional on the evidence, which is always changing.

VaccineRRRARR
Pfizer95%0.84%
Moderna94%1.2%
Gamaleya91%0.93%
Johnson & Johnson67%1.2%
AstraZeneca67%1.3%

For instance, the CDC says only 300 kids 0-17 died with or of coronadoom (a terrific argument kids don’t need to be vexxed). Population of this age group is about 65 million. We don’t know how many infected or exposed or this group, but you can see that differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated kids would be very small.

Read the whole thing. I only dare write anything on something the esteemable Briggs has already written on because even this level of math is off-putting to some people. I focus on the narrative part – why is it that huge reductions in risk might be meaningless, when the underlying risk is originally very small, as in the COVID risk to kids 17 and under. When pestered by a friend about why I’m not getting the vaccine, I replied: I will not take experimental drugs to lower my risk of death from COVID from something like 0.01% to 0.005%. She immediately changed to the ‘protect others’ tack, so I let it drop.

Alas! If information mattered, we wouldn’t be in the state we’re in.

F. And then there’s this. And this. I tend to go data=>analysis=>political speculation, or perhaps claims=>evidence=>reasons/explanations=>politics. Therefore, I have only really lightly touched on the politics/corruption/coup aspects of the Coronadoom – because I foolishly keep expecting people to care about the truth of the claims first. Yet ‘truth of the claims’ is nowhere to be found in the thought processes of the many, who instead substitute ‘whatever belief maintains my good standing in my group.’ Most people seem to go my social group’s position=>politics. Don’t ask why you need to raise your hand and get permission to go to the bathroom – JUST DO IT, DAMMIT! That sort of training, where group position is paramount and approval is always contingent on mindless obedience, is a large part of what got us to this point.

Obvious, Sublime, Ridiculous

Roundup/update:

A. AI is fundamentally a model of how humans think. It has to be, because the only example of ‘intelligence’ with which we are familiar is human intelligence. (The same can be said of the concept of ‘artificial.’) As a model, AI is going to tell us what we tell it to tell us. It simply can’t do otherwise. People who understand how models really work understand this limitation – it is obvious.

Concern over AI getting too intelligent and deciding it doesn’t need us puny humans any more is misdirected. The idea that an independent meta-human intelligence will arise, Athena-like, as an emergent property from anything we can build is fantasy. Our idea of meta-intelligence is as limited as our idea of Superman: just as Superman is, fundamentally, a man, just stronger, faster, and incorporating better versions of human tech (laser eyeballs, flight), an AI is – must be! – imagined to be fundamentally human intelligence, only more so – faster, able to process more data at a pop, able to draw connections and conclusions farther and faster. And even this remains fantasy – we have no idea how all this works, but since it does in humans, it must work in our model! The dogma that the human mind simply is a machine demands it.

Putting these two ideas together and acknowledging the limitation inherent in them: What AI may eventually produce is a very fast, very large process that will – must! – be a model of intelligence and the world as the model builders imagine those things to be. AI will produce what its builders tell it to produce.

What we need to be concerned with, then, is not some imagined mysterious, emergent power of AI that no one can control or predict; what we need to be concerned with is what the builders of AI believe and want. That’s what AI will give us. It will give us nothing else. The surprise will be for the builders, as AI demonstrates what they, the builders, truly believe and want.

Leslie Nielsen? The AI running Robbie the Robot seems very human in this classic retelling of Shakespeare’s the Tempest.
How did Anne Francis never get cast as Catwoman? Where was I? Oh, yea, AI…

B. In traditional, by which I mean, obsolete, warfare, an aircraft carrier is the bee’s knees: one modern carrier projects force like nobody’s business. Trouble is, those suckers are expensive: the USS Gerald R. Ford ran a sweet $13 billion to build. And, to make matters worse, a single cruise missile can sink one – Tomahawk cruise missiles, for example, only cost $1.9 million each. You could determine that you needed to launch 1,000 cruise missiles at the Gerald R. Ford to make sure one got through to sink it – and have spent only a bit over 10% of the cost of the carrier to eliminate it. And there are other ways of taking out carriers, such as submarine attack, which are similarly cheaper than building one in the first place.

Knowing this, no carriers go galivanting about unaccompanied. Carriers travel in carrier groups, which include destroyers, frigates, a guided missile cruiser, sometimes submarines – which, all in, will run you $20-$30 billion per group to build, and billions more per year to operate. The main goal of the carrier group is to keep the carrier from getting sunk. So, now, you’ve invested $20-$30 billion, plus billions more per year in operating costs, just to be able to project force along the world’s coasts.

If you wanted to sink a carrier, and had 1,000 cruise missiles at you disposal, and the carrier group was an astounding 99.9% effective in stopping those cruise missiles – you win. But it’s way worse than that:

“The exercise was called Millennium Challenge 2002,” Blake Stilwell wrote for We Are the Mighty.

It was designed by the Joint Forces Command over the course of two years. It had 13,500 participants, numerous live and simulated training sites, and was supposed to pit an Iran-like Middle Eastern country against the U.S. military, which would be fielding advanced technology it didn’t plan to implement until five years later.

The war game would begin with a forced-entry exercise that included the 82nd Airborne and the 1st Marine Division. When the blue forces issued a surrender ultimatum, Van Riper, commanding the red forces, turned them down. Since the Bush Doctrine of the period included preemptive strikes against perceived enemies, Van Riper knew the blue forces would be coming for him. And they did.

But the three-star general didn’t spend 41 years in the Marine Corps by being timid. As soon as the Navy was beyond the point of no return, he hit them and hit them hard. Missiles from land-based units, civilian boats, and low-flying planes tore through the fleet as explosive-ladened speedboats decimated the Navy using suicide tactics. His code to initiate the attack was a coded message sent from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer.

In less than 10 minutes, the whole thing was over and Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper was victorious.

Micah Zenko provided some context in a piece for War on the Rocks. “The impact of the [opposing force’s] ability to render a U.S. carrier battle group — the centerpiece of the U.S. Navy — militarily worthless stunned most of the MC ’02 participants.”

from National Interest, Oct 15, 2019

So, in a war game, a Marine general was given the resources of an Iran-equivalent power and told to take on the combined might of a large chunk of the US Navy – and, using the few missiles at his disposal, plus suicide speedboats and civilian boats and aircraft, took them out in 10 minutes.

Lt. Gen Paul Van Riper. For real. Damn. My only issue with this: nowhere I can find listed among General Van Riper’s assets ‘armored battle goats’. Because – well, because. As hard as it is to imagine, he somehow won without them.

Um, oops. As Sun Tzu so aptly put it: to know your enemy, you must become your enemy.

No reason I’m thinking about this. What could possibly go wrong? I’m sure our current president, what with his razor sharp intellect and surrounded as he is by Top Men Humanoids, has this sort of thing completely under control, no matter who the enemy might turn out to be in this best of all possible worlds.

BBQ talking points for people working in Indigenous ...

C. Been under the weather due to circumstances well within my control that I, nevertheless, failed to control. Something about making sure prescriptions got filled before health plans flipped. Dolly Parton once quipped: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Does it take a lot of brains to be this stupid? No, I think I just have a talent for it.

But much better now! Will get back to the writing soon. No, really! Haven’t totally neglected it, but not going gangbusters, either.

D. Looking like we might have an epic fruit season out in the front yard micro-orchard. This past winter, I was better about clean-up, trimming, fertilizing, and spraying copper fungicide. Also watering a bit more, as we only had 40% of average rainfall this season:

  • Fig tree has lots of breba figs on it
  • Cherry tree has several times as many cherries as last year
  • Pomegranate just starting to bloom, looking beautiful
  • Our latest additions, two blueberry bushes, seem to be doing well – one is covered in fruit and blossoms, the other has less but is growing vigorously
Blueberries.
  • 4-in-1 pear tree, devastated last season by that loathsome leaf curl fungus, is now looking pretty good, with way, way too much fruit setting – I’m going to need to thin by about 80%!
  • My two little peach trees are doing well. Last year, one caught the leaf curl from the pear tree next to it, and lost all its fruit and leaves, but recovered enough to put out enough leaves to survive – it actually looks good, and has a fair amount of fruit on it. The other peach, a dwarf variety, is insane:
This picture doesn’t even capture how much fruit is packed onto these little branches. I’m thinning as I go, need to take more than half of them off.
  • Apricots are doing very well, too

The nicest thing: the Minneola tree our late son Andrew grew from a seed as a child is, for the first time, covered in blossoms:

You can kind of see it.

This tree is over 15 years old. Last year was the best ever – about a dozen fruit. Now, if even 10% of the blossoms set fruit, we’re looking at many dozens. The fruit is good, nice and sweet.

Andrew wrote a poem about it (it was presumed to be an orange tree at the time):

My Orange Tree by the Wall
by Andrew Moore

My orange tree by the wall
For many a spring and fall
Has grown and grown and grown
And done nothing much else at all

But then in spring one day
I shout ‘hip hip hooray!’
For blossoms it shows me
And oranges it grows me
For many a long summer day

E. Further updates as events warrant.

Growing Things

Keeping it positive for Easter Week.

Last year, my wife came into a good supply of iris rhizomes. She planted them in several locations around the house. Some are right behind the brick ‘bench’ in the front yard.

The flowers have bloomed here and along the brick planter along the street in their dozens just the last day or two. We are having people over for pizza this Saturday, so at least the front yard should be glorious with flowers.

The other planted things – tomatoes, potatoes, basil, beans, okra, blueberries – are also growing/breaking through the soil. Fruit trees look very promising, especially the apricots and figs.

In a similar way, the family is growing. Married off Elder Daughter last May, marrying off Middle Son this May. Younger Daughter, who is a pro-level baker, decided to test out one of *three* different cake flavors her older brother requested for her to make for his wedding cake.

Note: it not only did not seem excessive to ask the little sister, who is maid of honor, to also bake the wedding cake, it seemed OK to specify 3 different exotic flavors, one for each of the 3 layers. Younger Daughter then decides she needs to test out the recipes – which she is making up as she goes – and so for Easter bakes up a lavender/Earl Grey/lemon? (something like that) cake:

Sprigs of lavender from our front yard, candied some lemon slices – no biggie! It was killer delicious.

She wants to do this. She’s flying out early to bake back east.

Kids these days. At least, she’s not making the wedding dresses – she could do that, too. Both daughters could, if they wanted.

Added a son-in-law last year; adding a daughter-in-law in two months. Grandchildren are the next logical step. Praise be to God! We are truly blessed.

‘Sup?

It’s Holy Week, so I’m ignoring the world’s current self-inflicted death spiral (it’s like we need a Savior or something!) to post a trivial updates:

A. The Garden. We have a dwarf fig tree up front. I totally get why sitting in the shade of your own fig tree is one biblical image of what peace and happiness looks like on earth.

Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war.

Each of them will sit under his vine
And under his fig tree,
With no one to make them afraid,
For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

Micah 4:3-4
Our fig tree, just starting to put out leaves. The breba figs, the first crop that comes in with the leaves on last year’s new growth, tend to be larger and fewer than the main crop, which comes in in the summer.
Our 3-in-1 cherry, which produced a few nice cherries last year. Show promise for quite a few more this year.
A new blueberry bush to complement the one we got last year. Covered with blossoms and little blueberries. Very exciting.
The apricot trees are setting a lot of fruit already. The peaches (not pictured) had a tough year last year, and are a bit behind the apricots. Two little tress of each, trimmed to stay about 7′ tall. No ladders to pick fruit for me.
Counted 19 stems across two beds of irises this morning. Flowers: pretty, but you can’t eat them, so I tend to have them way down the list because of our limited planting space. If we had an acre, I’d plant a lot more flowers.

Have 5 tomatoes in the ground; transplanted some vigorous and lovely oregano that took over a planter several years ago; threw some basil, string beans and okra in the ground. Have a couple spots earmarked for potatoes and sweet potatoes – and that’s it for the space this year. The last remaining major segment of the Never-ending Insane Brick Project of Doom will provide about 30′ of 18″ wide beds that I’m planning to sneak some vegetables in. But that’s about all – space has been maximized unless I want to start cutting down walnut trees – and I don’t.

B. Marrying off the the Middle Son. Got tickets and rented a van for a week for an extended end-of-May trip for our son’s wedding. He and his fiancé live in and will be married in a Fauxvid-panicked state – veritable feet from the border of a much more sane state. The wedding will be held in an out of the way location, with the reception just across the border from Karin and her pals (we sincerely hope). This will be our second child married off during the current insanity. At least this time, plans are unlikely to change by the minute.

Americans are not the stupidest people in recorded history, I keep telling myself, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. We have been trained for this moment of mindless terror-stricken conformity for at least the last 50 years. This is the payoff moment for decades of schooling: we are all getting a Gold Star for remembering to raise our hands and ask for permission to go to the bathroom.

Sorry. Forgot we’re not bickering over ‘o killed ‘o at the moment. This is a happy occasion!

YARN | - Very good pig country. - Is it? | Monty Python and the Holy Grail  | Video clips by quotes | 4b6f5ae5 | 紗
“Good pig country.”

C. Rereading Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, for story ideas for additional stories in the White Handled Blade universe (Universe? Neighborhood might be a more accurate term). Read as history, it’s fascinating and depressingly realistic:

  • King – Uther Pendragon – dies without a obvious legitimate heir;
  • After a couple chaotic decades during which various kings, in the traditional Roman sense of a leader who the armed men will follow, and other lords vie for power in the vacuum, a (another?) candidate is proposed – a nobody hardly anyone has heard of.
  • This nobody is backed by the Church, allegedly backed by a heavenly/magical sign.
  • The sign is repeated over the course of months, until enough knights can be assembled to back the claimant.
  • The new ‘king’ and his men then fights battle after battle, defeating other kings and their knights,
  • who either submit to Arthur’s rule – cry ‘mercy’ and are sent to Arthur to pledge their fealty – or are killed.
  • Arthur rules from the saddle, with a number of courts spread around his realm.
  • After a while, enough kings and knights have been brought to heel for Arthur to be able to send knights on quests of one sort or another. Ruling from the saddle by proxy
  • A story begins to circulate that he really is the legitimate heir, but, for his safety, had to be raised in secret once his mother and father were dead until he was of age.

The mandate of Heaven clearly rests upon him – but he’s doomed by his incestuous infidelity in fathering a son, then pulling a Herod to try to get rid of Mordred. (Thus, Sophocles and Scripture testify to his doom!)

The second striking part are the layers of anachronism. Malory is painting Arthur like a 1950s author might paint the Founding Fathers, projecting back on them the romanticized versions learned through myth and morality tales. The chivilary imagined for the centuries preceding the compilation is read into the stories. Yet his source materials hardly admit of such – these are violent men committing violent crimes once or twice a page, and getting away with it. Further, Arthur retains signs of what he was supposed to be: a Roman/Celtic king/chieftain. Further further, the sources have all sorts of magical and frankly irrational elements in them.

Malory mixes up a stew, in which knights, supposedly bound by a largely imaginary chivalry already ancient in Malory’s time, pursue often incoherent adventures involving magical creatures and appalling behaviors, lopping off heads left and right, as it were.

And it kind of works! He’s a better storyteller than he sometimes get credit for.

D. Writing continues at a somewhat slower pace. More on that later, world’s suicidal death spiral permitting.

Minutia and Writing Updates

No excuse for boring you, my loyal readers, with this, but here goes:

A. Trying to keep up the momentum, I’m switching back and forth between 3-4 writing projects. When I get stuck on one, just switch. Don’t even think about, just keep writing, with the goal still being 2 novels and 2 collections of short stories ready to go (to an editor, most likely) by end of June. And that science book. Anyway, what’s in the hopper:

Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: Right around 10,000 words, on temporary hold. The comments, especially from Dr. Kurland and some of the commentators here, made me think – always dangerous. The question is not so much what science IS – which can be approached, I think, from several valid angles – but rather, in what sense should a layman care what science is. It will do little good to be technical accurate if my imagined reader doesn’t see any point to it. Ya know? So, I’m letting that one stew for now.

Working title “It Will Work” the first 6,000 or so words of which appeared on this blog as a series of flash fiction posts. (CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5   CH 6 CH 7) I couldn’t seem to stop writing this, right up until I could, and it got the second most positive comments of anything I’ve written here, (1) so it seemed primed to become a short novel. It was one of the three novels-in-development in the Novels folder I set up back in January. At about 8,000 words at the moment.

Always told myself I needed to settle on an ending, so I knew where I was going with this – even though the 7 fragments were each tossed off totally seat-of-the-pants. Well, just today I started outlining what the kids these days might call the Boss Battle, the final test of Our Hero – and, it rocks so hard. Want to talk stupid? I was getting choked up telling my wife about it. I wrote it long before the current insanity, but, given the current insanity, it all makes so much more sense. As far as a “things done got blowed up good” by bombardment from space and aliens in power armor scene set on a distant moon of a far-away planet can be said to relate to current events. (answer: quite a bit, really.) Anyway: got the finale & denouement outlined, and am in the middle of the middle section. My only fear, if you can call it that – if I keep the pacing such as it has been so far, I’ll wrap it up in +/-30K words. Don’t want to stretch it simply for the sake of stretching it, but do want at least 40K words – Pulp Era novel length. Not a real problem until it is….

The White-Handled Blade – the Arthurian YA novel set in modern day Wales, the first 25% of which is the novella several generous readers here beta read for me a couple years ago. Currently sits at about 13K words. This one is exciting, but I want to do more reading in Arthurian legends and outline a longer path, as in, a potential series, before maybe writing myself into a corner. The story as it stands now is little more than a free retelling of the Lynette & Lyonesse story as told by Malory, ending right before Gareth makes his untoward advances toward Lyonesse. So, obviously, I would continue along those line BUT I want to introduce more stuff that will let me go in any number of Arthurian directions. I already have several of the important knight (reimagined as middle-aged academics, because I find that amusing), so, in future works, it will be easy to take some side-trips to Scotland or the Orkneys or Cornwall or France. I want to keep Lynnette as the heroine, because I like her, and she was designed from the ground up as someone the reader could relate to: she’s fiercely devoted to her older sister, loves but has trouble communicating with her dad, gets snubbed and bullied at school, can hold a grudge, but never gives up and is as brave as needed to rise to the occasion. And is otherwise a blank slate, so there’s nothing in the way to seeing yourself in her shoes.

So I’m rereading Malory and reading the Mabinogion for ideas. The farther back in time one goes, the crazier the legends become, such that getting a glimpse into Malory’s world – 15th century retelling of much older stories -is a lot easier than getting into the world of the Mabinogion, which are thought to be older still. Even Malory requires a bit of gymnastics to get into the moral mindset of people who seem to kill each other rather gleefully at the drop of a biggin, but not like the Welsh tales. And then there’s the French version…

Speaking of writing something I didn’t set out to write and would have never imagined writing, it seems YA fiction is mostly characterized as follows:

  • no sex
  • no swearing
  • not too much gore

Which, frankly is a pretty fair description of anything I’m likely to write. On the other hand, Hunger Games is about children killing each other for the amusement of the powerful – I’d take a lot of sex and swearing before I’d consider that entertainment…

Anyway, it seems to be common industry knowledge that YA readership includes large numbers of adults who are just sick and tired of all the gratuitous sex and swearing and violence in mainstream stuff. So, from that point of view, pretty much anything (well, except this) I write would qualify, but I have never consciously tried to write YA. I’m putting in plenty of what I hope to be interesting non-childish philosophical and political and moral stuff. So – huh? Anyway, I’ll have to be careful of how I market this stuff. Studying up on that in parallel. Hope to get back to it soon, but it’s It Will Work is on the front burner at the moment.

Longship, the working title of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (wait! doh!), some sections of which I’ve thrown up here on the blog, is the one that has both been percolating in my mind for a decade or two AND the one I’m having the least success in hammering into a actual novel or 4. On the back burner.

Finally, Black Friday is another bit of flash fiction fluff (well, 1400 words, so not exactly flash fiction…) that seemed ripe to expand, so I’ve been outlining that one, too. Have put in some work on it, but not in the form of adding to the wordcount.

B. This brings me to another consideration: The science and education stuff (remember that education stuff? I seem to have forgotten) I will publish under my own name. However, if I’m hoping to actually make a little money off the SF&F stuff, it would seem prudent to market under a nom de plum. I’m under no illusions that I’m anybody important, but underestimating the pettiness of our self-appoint betters is a fool’s game.

On a related note, I’ve taken a few baby steps towards hardening my superversive presence online, including a Brave/Duckduckgo browsing combo, a protonmail account and staying off Google as much as I can. I want to go :

  • secure VPN
  • secure website hosting

Just want off, as much as possible, the Bidenriech’s surveillance network. A know I guy…

C. The 16 year old Caboose just mentioned that his favorite books include a book on spiritual teachings from the perspective of a demon, a book on politics from the perspective of rabbits, and a post apocalyptical novel about a monastery.

Kids these days. I asked him what about that book about the short dude with hairy feet trying to return some stolen jewelry? He laughed.

D. Slept 8+ hours straight last night, the first time that’s happened in months. Felt very good. Been getting 4 -6 hours most nights since the Crazy Years became manifest – wake up, can’t go back to sleep, get us and try to do something. I could get used to that.

E. Got a few hundred more bricks. The neighbors who I, being a solid California suburbanite, hardly know, have twice now over the last few years of the Great Front Yard Brick Insanity and Orchard Hoedown, have, unbidden, offered me bricks, because I’m the guy with the brickwork. So, dude around the corner had this pile of bricks he wanted gone – 6 1/2 wheelbarrows full. Maybe a short block away.

One Load 3, I think it was, I came off the curb a little too hard and bent the metal wheel supports (it’s a cheap and old wheelbarrow) such that the wheel now rubbed against the underbelly of the tub section. I was able to brut-force them straight enough so that I could limp that load home.

So, had to repair the wheelbarrow. Two bolts that hold the handle arms to the tub section, which I had replaced a few years back with a couple far too long bolts I had lying around, had worked themselves very loose then rusted into their new loose positions. This made the load likely to shift from side to side as you rolled – no biggie with a load of dirt, dangerous and tiring with a load of bricks. But the bolts were carriage bolts, so there was no easy way to grip the head from the top. After a applying a bit of WD-40, tried to grip the excess bolt with plyers while using a crescent wrench to tighten them up. The first nut moved a little before the plyers had shredded the threads on the bolt and would no longer prevent it from turning; the second budged not a whit. Jury-rigged the ugliest solution: took some heavy wire, bent it unto a U shape, then crimped it onto the bolts between the nut and the tub – one on the side I’d gotten a little tighter, and two one the side I’d been unable to move.

And – it kinda works. Reality often fails to suitably rebuke me for my stupid ideas, thereby encouraging me to keep coming up with more of them. It’s going to get me killed someday…

Next, for the bent arms: Cut a scrap of walnut into two maybe 8″ pieces, placed them behind the bent arms, clamped them until the arms were more or less straight and in contack with the wood, then drilled some wholes and put in some tiny screws to hold it all together.

And – that worked, too. Now have a much more stiff structure and a couple inches of clearance between the tub and wheel. See what I mean? If these slapdash ideas keep working, I’m going to keep doing them.

Next step: replace the 16+ year old cheap and falling apart wheelbarrow. Once some stupid repair idea fails to work, that is.

Picturesque old wheelbarrow, with lots of freshly stacked bricks in the background. Those with sharp eyes can perhaps spot the much too long bolts where the handles first encounter the tub, and even the thick wire crimped on them; the gratifyingly straight struts connecting the wheel to the tub. Yes, I took a picture of my wheelbarrow. At night. Just to throw up on the blog. Yep. Really did that.

F. Got the front yard orchard cleaned up, pruned, fertilized, mulched, copper-sprayed, and watered, not in that order. So, that’s done for now. Next, finish the brickwork, paint the house, get it fumigated for termites, replace the dying major appliances, put in this year’s vegetable garden, marry off a son on the East Coast in May, and goodness knows what else. And teach a couple history classes. Shaping up to be a busy Year 63 for me. And write two novels, put together two books of short stories, and write a book on science – in my spare time.

Yes, I am freaking INSANE.

  1. Most positive comments: One Day. Heck, even Mike Flynn liked it enough to comment – I’m still blushing.

Wedding

(Started with a bitter, snarky, angry attack on our reptilian governor-thing and his petty, society-destroying tyranny, but who need any more of that? So, cutting to the chase:)

Our beloved eldest daughter was married yesterday to a fine young man. We are all thrilled for her. Due to the current unpleasantness, the wedding Mass and reception were up in the air until two days before the event. She and her new husband are both meticulous planners, and so had had detailed plans for this wedding in place for months. God evidently wanted to send the message: you are not in charge, but I love you and will make it better.

Although the “Science!” on what is or is not allowed changes with the governor’s socks, the young couple decided a month ago they would be married on the 30th as originally planned, even if it was just the two of them and a priest. Then the diocese said: 10 people max, all masked, may attend the wedding mass. Then, two days ago, it was upped to 30 people. So we got to have a wedding mass with immediate family, bridesmaids and groomsmen, and a photographer. This meant, of course, that anyone who had to travel was not going to be there. When the wedding was originally announced, family and friends from as far away as London were planning to fly in.

This small, out of the way parish was willing to risk 30 people, for which we are eternally grateful. Aside: no pics where you can see individual faces – don’t have permission from the people involved.

About a hundred people gathered in the church parking lot – properly socially distant from each other, as the Science! – any day now – will clearly demand:

Signs with good wishes, balloons. Very touching.

Two weeks ago, when it became evident we were not to be ‘allowed’ to have a reception, we – the family – decided to become veritable pirates, and do some approximation of what we wanted to do, with implied obscene gestures and unprintable curses flung in the direction of Sacramento. I was ready to be the guy hauled off in handcuffs, if it came to it. Enough is enough.

We began to set up a wedding reception for 30 people in our backyard. The story becomes tear-jerkingly wonderful at this point: the number of people who showed up and worked like dogs to pull this off is truly amazing, and our family will forever be so grateful to them.

Tiny amount of background. We are not the neatest people. To put it mildly. We like projects, so there’s, um, stuff lying everywhere. I’ve got bricks and wood and, stuff, everywhere. My wife has her needlework and sewing and other artsy things. Similarly, basic stuff gets, um, less attention, e.g., we filled half a dozen large green waste containers with weeds and branches just cleaning up the backyard. So prepping the physical plant, as it were, was non-trivial. And that’s not the half of it.

But everybody pitched in. Start with our children: our youngest, 16, spent hours helping me clean up the yard, repairing broken things, hauling things around. He similarly helped my wife clean up inside the house. He took spreading wood chips and mulch on paths and other bare dirt areas as his own personal artistic project – and it looked good! At the last minute, he was arranging potted plants out on the patio to make sure everything looked good. Just a saint. What a good kid!

Next, one of the real heroes is younger daughter, 22. She flew back home from South Sudan two months ago as soon as a lockdown looked inevitable just to make sure she could be here for her sister. On an emotional level, it worked much better to have her be the coordinator with her sister than for either parent – the two of them could treat issues and decisions in a more jocular manner, important as the bride-to-be was understandably under incredible stress. Younger daughter took this role on with grace and style.

AND: baked this wedding cake:

Oops – doesn’t look like I took a picture of the finished product. It was utterly beautiful and charming, complete with Lego bride & groom figures on top.

AND: helped with fitting bridesmaids’ dresses, baking vast numbers of scones and sweet breads (the reception was a formal tea), shopping, coordinating, cleaning, bossing her brothers around, doing the layout and decorating – just amazing! Can’t say enough. All while remaining cheerful.

Next, older son, 24, flew in a week ago, the soonest he could get away from work. (He will be pulling major hours to make up for his time here when he gets back). Likewise, in a unterly cheerful and gung-ho manner, he threw himself into whatever needed doing, shopping, errands, and of course clean-up and set-up. His shining moment was on Friday night, when it became apparent that there was simply no way to keep the finger sandwiches cool – not nearly enough fridge/cooler space, and the pretty trays they were on could not be stacked much. So he brainstorms, finds 40 lbs of dry ice, some cardboard boxes, towels and a little desk fan, and puts together a makeshift refrigerator, large enough to lay out trays of little sandwiches so that they could be kept cool without smashing any of them.

Worked like a charm.

Awesome. Next, 3 bridesmaids decided early on they would come no matter what. Two of them, uncertain of the dependability of air travel, jumped in a car and drove 2 days from Colorado, showing up Thursday. A third drove up from Southern California. From Friday morning through clean up late last night, the three of them without a moment’s hesitation threw themselves into set-up and final cleaning – and acted like it was no big deal. Totally wonderful!

A friend of my wife’s, someone who works 40 Days for Life with her, just shows up – for 2 long days – and cleans windows, organizes project materials, just whatever needed doing, smiling and laughing the whole time.

A old school friend of our daughters agrees to mange final set up while the rest of us are at the wedding Mass, a 45 minute drive away. She lost out of the 30 attendees allowed at mass, but, just like everybody else, cheerfully pitched in.

Did you notice the clouds in that second picture above? Weeks of nice, if a little hot, weather before the 30th; weeks of warm, dry, sunny weather forecast starting today. The 30th itself? Scattered thunderstorms. So on Friday night, after the team set up the tables, my wife and I tarped and weighted them all, just in case. The old school friend was to come over a few hours early, pull the tarps, finnish the formal tea set up – complicated! – and then, once we called from the wedding Mass to let her know people were on their way, fire up water pots, set out the charcuterie and lemonade, cue up all the sandwiches and baked good, and have it all pretty and ready to go for when the guests arrived. 25% chance of rain at the scheduled start time, tapering off to nothing over the next 2 hours.

Halfway through final set up, as we are driving back, cloudburst. 1/2″ of rain over maybe an hour. She and a friend she brought to help her quickly retarp all the tables, bring in any food, and – wait. We get home, pouring rain, I grab a push broom and start sweeping an inch of water off the patio – it drains poorly – and we wait. Forecast says the storm should blow through any minute – and it soon does. HOWEVER, our back yard is completely shaded by two ancient walnut trees – a huge part of its charm – and every little stir of the wind brings further showers of drips off the leaves. So we wait some more.

Finally, the sun comes out and quickly dries things out. The tea that should have started around 2 p.m. starts after 4. But everyone was in a great mood, and had been socializing inside, and so were perfectly charming and happy as we rolled out the tea. Here’s some pictures:

From the patio, prior to final decoration of the bower elder son and I threw together.
With decoration, before we left for Mass, tarps still on the first time!
Closeup. It was pretty.
As you walk through.
Sorry, no final set-up pictures, as the guest were there before I could get any. You’ll have to imagine the charming tea sets, heaping platters of finger sandwiches, scones and sweet breads, and little bowls of clotted cream, lemon curd, apricot and berry jams – all homemade, of course. We’re crazy that way.
A little side table with wedding pictures of the parents of the bride and groom, plus gifts.

It hardly needs saying that the mother of the bride worked her fingers to the bone on this, cleaning, baking, jam making, sewing, mothering. She hardly slept the last few days; she was still abed at 9:00 a.m. today, very unusual for her. Another hero. I’m sure I’m missing a few. But the number of people who cheerfully pitched in at the last minute to pull this off – and everything was lovely – was staggering. We are all so grateful.

Two families partied until around 9:00. Tea followed by cake and champagne and coffee, followed by some pizza and chicken. Social distance was not maintained. Nobody turned us in.

So, that’s where I’ve been the last few days. This morning, warmed up some coffee from last night, and grabbed some leftovers (a small mountain remains – we made 2X+ as much as could possibly have been eaten. Tradition!) and sat out on the patio typing this, a happy and grateful father of the bride.

Scones with clotted dream and lemon curd – heaven.

Update: April – the Month That Was (bricks, flowers, a certain minor disease)

A: A happy, holy and blessed Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. True story: When I went to Italy as part of an art program in the 1980s, we we visited a number of smaller towns around Florence. Can’t remember exactly which one we visited on May Day (Lucca? Somewhere…), but we found ourselves in the middle of a somber little parade in the medieval town plaza. We watched mostly middle-aged men in their Sunday finest go by, each wearing a red carnation.

Duomo di Lucca, Cattedrale di San Martino. Maybe here?

Communists. It was a little, um, odd. Then we went into the duomo, in front of which this parade had taken place. As I looked around and prayed a little, one after another of the men from the parade came in, took off their red carnation, and laid it at the foot of a statue of Our Lady. A nice pile of carnations was formed over the next half hour.

Someone, it seemed to me, was very unclear on the concept: Communism, the Catholic Church – pick one? They don’t really go together. But it seems Italians – and I love Italians – are not as troubled by niceties of consistency as I am. Or perhaps they see some consistency on a level that escapes me. Or – one can never rule this out – they’re basically crazy?

As a 20-something punk, this little moment has stuck with me ever since, and helped form my take on the world . People – hard to figure, sometimes.

B. Due to Sarah Hoyt linking to this post on Instapundit, I saw basically a year’s worth of blog traffic and a couple year’s worth of visitors over the course of a couple days. (Not saying all that much – my beloved regular readers are treasured, but few). Perhaps this kicked me up a little in Google’s algorithms, or maybe – I flatter myself – the blog picked up some more readers – In April, most days got over 100 views, even after the 5-figure spike was well past.

So, if you are a new reader, welcome! If the skewering of bad Science!, the history of schooling, curmudgeonly commentary on current events, reviews of SF&F and other books, and the occasional home improvement project and Catholic shout-out are your cup of tea, you belong to a very, um, select group – and this here’s a blog for you!

C: Bricks. We left it here:

That tub up top I use when I want to soak bricks in water so that I have longer to move them around before they suck enough water out of the mortar to make it stiff. This morning, I noticed what looked like a stick floating in it – a lizard had fallen in! poor thing! I dumped him out – he was alive, seemed OK.

Today, I’m hoping to finish this little piece up. Here’s how it stands now:

Once I cap the little towers in the corners, we will put potted plants on top of them, and long wooden planters in between. Something from this selection:

Nasturtiums, self-seeded from last year, on the back patio.
Those two wooden boxes in the middle are sized to fit atop the sides of the project. Wildflowers have been planted in them.

Should look nice. I wanted pots and wooden planters so that, come Christmas, I can move them and set up the Nativity scene there. Then on to the south wall/planter.

D: Planted a little herb garden in a wine barrel half. It’s sitting off the patio a couple steps from the pizza oven and the back door out from the kitchen. Previously grew herbs on the south side of the house, not handy if you’re in the middle of cooking. (Huge batch of oregano is still there. Will see if I can transplant some closer.)

Basil in the back. The skewers are to remind me of the divisions until the plants come up: Thyme, sage, chives, cilantro, green onions.

E: Big stress here at the casa: our older daughter is to be married on May 30. Our unctuous, reptilian governor has continued the lockdown in the face of all objective evidence. This means the church and the venue for the reception are closed. On the off chance we do get to hold something (the marriage is going to take place on the 30th no matter what, even if it’s just bride, groom, priest and witnesses) have cleaned up the back yard, trying to make it look spiffy-ish:

Have a lot to do in the front yard, where my brick obsession has made quite the mess, but at least the plants are coming in strong:

Rosemary, nasturtiums, honeysuckle along the street. Fruit trees in the background.
Tomatoes, between the fig to the right and the cherry behind.
Apricots.
Figs.

In a month, maybe we’ll have some flowers or at least plants in all those pots and planters, to be distributed around. If we can do anything.

If you are the praying kind, prayers for our poor, stressed daughter would be appreciated. Thanks.

F: Don’t think I’ve ever posted on food per se – too much of that out there already – but this is maybe odd enough to be interesting. Somebody gave us a turkey months ago, don’t remember why, and it sat there tying up freezer space. Saw this guy on Youtube do something interesting, and thought – I should try that, get rid of that turkey:

Deboned and stuffed turkey:

Yes, it is time-consuming and not all that pleasant to debone a turkey, but, then again, carving a regular turkey can be some work as well. I did a poor job: the trick is to not cut the skin, which, when you roll it, is what keeps it all together. I tried to use a very cheap filleting knife that we’ve had forever, but it wasn’t up to the task, you need a very sharp tip to the knife, and this one just wouldn’t keep an edge. Got my eye on a Victorinox boning knife, if I ever do this again.

And I just might. However much trouble I had up front, it was very nice to simply cut slices without having to worry about bones and with a nice dollop of sausage stuffing right there in the middle. And it cooks a lot faster, too. FWIW.

G: Something proposed in a com box discussion here with Darwin Catholic, a man whose analytic abilities I respect: will COVID 19 result in more deaths in 2020 than would have otherwise occurred? I say: no. He says: yes, at least 75K. Now, even 75K is a tiny number on a population of 330M, but it should be noticable: the UN predicted around 2,930,400 deaths in the US from all causes before the current kefluffle. So: an additional 75K puts us a little over 3M. (Darwin wants to do a lot more math, with weighted average mortality over 5 years – OK by me, although I’m not sure what the gain in accuracy would be).

More important, and more obvious: the minimum number of dead with a continued lockdown was estimated at 100-240K just weeks ago. As the lockdown is eased or eliminated in more sane states, they theory goes, those numbers should get higher. So, anything short of about 3.03M lillion dead should be seen as an obvious fail, as far as any predictions go, and, realistically, anything less than 3.2M or so should lay a thick coat of egg on the face of the panic mongers. Not that they don’t already have lies in place to cover this.

The trouble here, as Dr. Briggs discusses here, is that the mitigation steps themselves have begun to kill people. First off, if biopsies and follow-ups for serious diseases, and the usual rounds of check-ups and screenings during which problems are routinely uncovered, are delayed, and thus problems are not discovered and treated promptly, prospects for those people are worsened. Some people will die. Same goes for some elective or non-critical treatments – something that looks non-critical today can get critical if pushed off enough.

But, by far, the major risk of death from COVID 19 is quickly becoming the psychological stress of lockdown and subsequent job losses. Suicide, taking stupid risks, drug abuse, domestic violence – these are real, and really kill people.

Is it enough to offset the ‘savings’ we might get from retarding the spread of *ALL* communicable diseases for a few months (insofar as that works. Not always and everywhere, that’s for sure, but some)? The longer the insanity of the lockdown drags on, affecting 330M people, not just the 1M cases of COVID 19, even a slight uptick in lockdown-related deaths could offset all gains. What a disaster, in terms of lives and morals. We want to believe we are not killing people with the lockdown, and so we do believe it. But we are, and it means nothing to us.

Someone somewhere should be putting together very targeted lawsuits against the people responsible for the government’s suspension of of our constitutionally guaranteed right to free assembly and, effectively, unlawful seizure of our wealth without any due process or review whatsoever. I’m saddened so many people accept this without a hiccup. Does it not occur to them that the patriotic need to be brave and face our enemies and risk death to defend our freedoms is still required, even if the enemy is a *&^% virus?