Smorgas-bored

Got all these posts to write, from serious – more analysis of the current panic – to fun – review of Galactic Patrol the latest book I’ve read off John C. Wright’s essential scifi list. But that gets to be work, sometimes. So, instead, let’s fire up the flotsam randomizer, and see what floats by:

A. If anyone says ‘the world has too many people’ anywhere other than on their own suicide note, such a one is a murderous bigot.

B. Space Alien Footstep? Look at this:

The dappled lighting made this hard to see, so I put a red border around it.

This (hard to see in the picture, not hard in real life) is a near-perfect rectangle of dead grass in the backyard. It appeared a week or so ago. It’s about the size and shape of a cooler, maybe slightly bigger.

So – what? I can’t remember puttying anything on the lawn, let alone anything that would kill the grass. Nobody else here can, either. The unnaturally exact rectangular-ness makes natural explanations seem far-fetched….

Weird.

C. This deserves at least a dedicated post – Edward Feser’s latest, Ioannidis on the politicization of science, which begins with a link to a 2005 Ioannidis paper, Why Most Published Research Findings Are False Regular readers here know I’m saying ‘duh’ right about now. It seems that Ioannidis’ paper was well-received, back in 2005, in the sense that many scientists acknowledged its obvious truth. I trust you see what’s coming next: Ioannidis recently published another paper, applying his logic from the 2005 paper to COVID studies. As Feser says: ” In a new essay at The Tablet, Ioannidis reflects on the damage that has been done to the norms of scientific research as politics has corrupted it during the pandemic.”

These observations were not as well received.

I started a long response to Dr. Feser, which I may still complete, simply noting the observation that was the genesis of this blog – that, for the most part, one does not need to be a scientist to spot the errors in most papers, that logic, a basic knowledge of the history of science, and, most important, a fairly basic understanding of how science really works – what science can and cannot do – is sufficient to judge most claims made in the name of science. It’s not like it takes genius or a PhD to note, for example, that ‘cases’ are a moving target over time and space, with definitions and data gathering protocols being wildly inconsistent, such that any comparisons of one time with another, or one place or another, needs A LOT of ‘splaining – just assuming a change in the reported numbers reflects increases of infection purely is irresponsible, to say the least.

(Aside: you can separate out the posers at this point – they are the people who will say I’m nit-picking here. To such people, all technical criticism of methodology will appear as nit-picking, yet any knowledge of science history will show that such ‘nit-picking’ is how science works, when it does work.)

Good stuff.

D. Just one thing about E. E. Smith’s Galactic Patrol prior to the full write-up: you can spot a dozen Star Trek episodes and most of Star Wars right there, in a book written in the 1930s. Jedis, way cool mind powers, Hero’s Journey, evil empire, fight to the death. It might be faster to list what’s missing: Dark Father doesn’t get redeemed or even exist; the love interest is not the hero’s sister, and Chewbacca is played by a dragon and Yoda by a disembodied brain. With way-cool Jedi mind powers. Stay tuned.

Movin’ On Out – Update

More Classic SciFi Book Reviews to follow soon, as I am retreating into comfort reading as I deal poorly with the stress of living in insane times. But for now:

Met with a realtor today. Walking around the property, it finally became real that we’ll be moving out. Going through rooms and talking over features and issues, I relived some of the 25 years we’ve lived here, and the childhoods of the 5 children we’ve raised here.

Not as bad as it looks – the roof is the only thing really sad, but that’s enough to condemn it.

I found myself getting quieter and more introspective as the tour went on. I’m going to tear down the three story playhouse above that my two younger sons and I built – it’s not in too good a shape, and it would be simpler to destroy than to repair. The trampoline stays, I guess, since the realtor thinks the dedicated trampoline spot would look funny without it. The pizza oven is a feature, I hope. Need to make the front garden look less unfinished, but I don’t think I can bring myself to finish it as originally planned.

Had this for about 20 years. Kids used to sleep on it with their friends. Is it the same trampoline if I’ve replaced the springs once, the bed twice and the netting three times?

We’ll take cuttings from the little fig tree that has become such a delight to us – delicious figs, and the tree is so peaceful. We must see if we can take grafts from the citrus tree grown from a seed by out late son Andrew, that now sits planted in the front orchard. Have to research how to do this. The dead-looking tree below is actually very alive – another Andrew project, he found a buckeye out walking and asked what it was and what would happen if he planted it. It’s been in pots and now a half wine barrel ever since. We must figure out how to take it with us, and then plant it wherever we end up. It loses its leaves very early every year – it wants to be in the ground!

The native chestnut tree, grown from a buckeye Andrew found. This thing is like 20+ years old!
This Mineola tree is likewise 20+ years old, Started in a plastic cup, IIRC, then moved to a succession of larger pots, until we finally stuck it in the ground 5 years ago. Just trimmed it severely yesterday – it has long aspired to be 30′ tall; I insist on about 8′.
My beloved bought this dwarf fig from a neighbor, it lived in a half wine barrel for many years, likewise planted it 5 years ago. It’s been yielding 20-30 nice figs a day for weeks now.

25 years. A lot of water under this bridge. We never planned to live here this long, it was supposed to be our starter home. But that’s how it worked out.

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.