Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Can't help liking it

Oh we do like science. And, of course, the complaining from the defenders of The Base. Today, of course, we have to depend upon scientific studies to draw conclusions that in other times might have been considered obvious.

To John Stuart Mill, for example, who presented the same conclusion in 1866 without so much hoo-hah:

What I stated was, that the Conservative Party was, by the law of its constitution, necessarily the stupidest party. Now, I do not retract that assertion; but I did not mean to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Shell game

During the past fortnight, it's been the North Shore's turn for MBTA hearings proposing cost-cutting by service cuts. The friendly natives have been turning out in large numbers to register their comments: carrying torches and pitchforks.

The sheer idiocy of most of the proposals cast some doubt on how serious the T really is about service cuts. In my town, the primary plan would cut out the route that passes through the only shopping area within five miles: brilliant. It would also eliminate at least half the express routes that connect with Logan and South Station, which have become very popular for obvious reasons. Over in Salem, the plan would virtually eliminate weekend service, and with it a major source of tourists to a city that lives or dies by its tourism. I imagine this idea must be just as popular in Rockport, up at the end of the rail line, and even more dependent on public transportation.

I suspect the T was never very serious about the service cuts. The plan seems to be to get the friendly natives to swallow fare increases without a murmur. Probably there will be some cuts too, but not as drastic as those now being trotted out. The outcome will be the worst sort of political theatre.

Once, Massachusetts public transportation was self-funded. That was inadequate in itself, but now public transportation must also bear part of the cost of the Big Dig overruns. Heaven forfend that we should ask motorists to take their fair share of that expense! And heaven forfend that we should ask the T to take responsibility for its numerous inefficiencies and overpriced perks.

So the DOT extortionate shell game continues. Film at 11.

Labels: ,

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Easy project-heh

Today was the day to troubleshoot the landline phone connections in advance of installing a new--and likely our last--landline system. Things to keep in mind about this project.

  1. When the phone line to this house was installed, Alexander Graham Bell was probably still living. There's hardware that allows one to work around antiques of this nature without having a new line brought in. Try explaining a problem of this sort to the typical eager geek in Radio Shack or any similar establishment: Blank stares.

  2. In theory, the Navy taught me how to wire low-voltage communications systems. However that was over 40 years ago, and I wasn't very good at it.

  3. The average do-it-yourself site or book rates this sort of project as "easy." So it is, in principle. What was seriously lacking was any sort of decent documentation. After a dozen or so tries with the hit-or-miss method, I succeeded in getting the router line hooked up, then hunted down worthwhile instructions. Guess what? With proper instructions, it is easy.
At any rate, we have phones and Internet again, and I didn't need a trip to the gym for the stair climber. I did about 60 stories on this project.

We'll discuss today's other project, removing cat barf from rugs, another time.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Straight flush?

Nothing's sacred. Now, in Ohio, we have hoodlums (allegedly) stealing automatic toilet flushers. Crikey, turn your back and they steal your pipes, your wiring, even your penny jars for copper. Geez, who needs gold?

It did bring back a concept I used to observe in the IT world. I called these things geek traps. Geek traps are minor mechanical blips in the ordinary world that manage to attract an inordinate amount of attention from people who are well paid to do far more sophisticated things.

I well recall half a dozen software engineers standing around a toilet flusher--mechanical, I think it was. It had fallen prey to the ailment common to all such devices: once it began flushing, it wouldn't stop. This problem exercised over half a million dollars worth of IT talent for close to half an hour.

More recently, I've wondered if there are geek traps for surgeons, orthopedic surgeons in particular. The line between orthopedic surgery and This Old House can be vanishingly thin. Dentists too appear vulnerable to geek traps. In short, the smarter the male, the more likely he is to forget what he's paid to do and become a little boy in a sandbox.

Possibly this, as much as the scrap value of the toilet flushers, is what explains the appeal of this form of larceny.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A small profile in courage

Let us offer a bow to Gabrielle Giffords, who has had the courage to resign from Congress to concentrate on her rehabilitation in the face of a year of media marshmallow fluff. Let us also give her a pass for holding onto a resolve to return to Congress. It will keep her going.

The odds are that she won't. I don't see the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) as closely as my daughter, who as a clinician deals with it daily. I just push the paperwork. My kid said once that the hardest part of her job was sitting down with families and explaining that their loved one would very likely never be the same person again. You have to deal with TBI to see past the hype, to understand the odds. A high-calibre bullet in the left hemisphere is a grave injury; today it takes exceptional surgical skills to save the victim of such a wound. Giffords' rehab has done wonders as well, to give her the skills she already has. One must keep trying, of course, but if this is all there is for her, it's far ahead of what many TBI patients can achieve. For me, the party of her successor is secondary just now.

This week we're presented with the full spectrum of TBI expectations. Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke has died of her brain injuries. Giffords has achieved an impressive range of skills, including the wisdom to resign from Congress. American competitive snowboarder Kevin Pearce is back on his snowboard.
That's what you can expect. It depends on a host of variables, not the puffery of broadcast journalists.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Here's to James

We should declare January 21 James L. Petigru Day in South Carolina. For those who forget, Petigru was a South Carolina congressman who, in 1860, responded to secession with the words "South Carolina is too small for a republic, and too large for a lunatic asylum."

This comes back to the notion that Newt Gingrich's serial infidelity, with oak leaf clusters, seems to be working for the speaker rather than otherwise. I'm hardly the first person to observe that evangelical family values come to a screeching halt when it comes to marital fidelity, divorce and such-like.

So we have the rednecks cheering on Newt's infidelity, whilst they curse Captain Brylcreem's Cayman Islands bank accounts. Meanwhile the palaeo-Republicans, who have long since regretted the day they courted the evangelical nutters, are all for Mitt's offshore money and not too keen on Newt's industrial infidelity.

Petigru, wherever he is, must be laughing his arse off. His shade will be sorry when the clown circus moves on to Florida.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

All at sea

Some years back, I was active in the US Power Squadron*. Among the excellent courses I took were Piloting, Advanced Piloting and Cruise Planning. The focus of the first two was coastal navigation, and that skill also figured in the third. Each of these courses taught traditional methods of finding one's way at sea, as well as electronic tools. There was a consistent message in all three: don't become so dependent on electronic devices that you forget to see where you really are. (This is the nautical equivalent of always looking out the window as a last check on the weather.)

Evidence is growing that the captain and bridge officers of M/S Costa Concordia forgot this fundamental of modern navigation. Worse, they forgot it at the worst possible moment: when they were hotdogging a 114,000 ton ship through a narrow, shallow channel. It appears they had done this before. Apparently fishermen and others with local knowledge had registered protests of some kind, saying that the channel was too dangerous for a ship of that size.

It's in the worst nautical tradition to disregard local knowledge. Sooner or later your luck will run out. Apart from my own small-boat misadventures of this sort, I was once on a large ship that made its own rules entering Salem Harbour. We were a delegation of local reps who got to ride up from Boston aboard a modern British frigate that was part of an OpSail escort some years back. As someone who sailed these waters frequently, I had (and have) a pretty close knowledge of the approaches to Salem. There are three principal channels: one enters southerly, turns sharply to the north, then turns toward Salem again. This is favoured by big ferries, tour boats and tugboats. The second runs in to the port along the north side of Salem Sound, more or less straight. This is the preferred route for big ships.

The third enters between Childrens' (or Cat) Island and Baker's Island, and joins the southerly channel midway up the sound. Straight, yes, but very shallow, and not much used since the days of sail.

I assume and hope this ship, of 3000 tons or so, had a local pilot aboard. If so, he may have been hotdogging, may have wished to avoid the sharp turns in the southerly channel or the extra time needed to reach the northerly one. At any rate, whoever was on the bridge took us in by that channel, giving a splendid view of the ship to summer residents of Baker's Island and to the young campers on Childrens' Island. Concerned, I took a quick look at the ship's specs on the handout we all had, saw the draught, and went on deck.

It was close at that stage of the tide: close as in one lobster trap in midchannel would have snagged the ship's bottom. We were also going fairly fast; the slightest miscalculation would have torn out that ship's bottom and given the audience a show they didn't expect. The one difference between us and the Costa Concordia is that someone seems to have been looking where they were going.

This sort of idiocy happens all the time in recreational boating. It happens more than one would expect in commercial navigation and navies. It's instructive how fast both the ship owners and the authorities came down on the captain. Possibly the complaints generated by his previous recklessness had landed on fertile soil.

All one more reason I have no plans to take a cruise to anywhere in this universe.

*AKA the United States Sail and Power Squadron. If you recreate on the water, check them out. They have a basic boating course that's open to the public. Advanced courses for members attain very high skill levels for those interested.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Biology, comedy and politics

It's my fervent hope that some life will remain in the GOP primary circus until March 6, when I can put my secret plan into action.

We lost what may have been the best political act since Dan Quayle when Michele Bachmann pulled the plug, or rather when someone powered her down. The item here does its best to be magisterial, but consider this quote from it:

The New York Times
' Trip Gabriel reported, "People close to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mrs. Bachmann is often influenced by the last person she speaks with on an issue rather than maintaining discipline in communicating a message."

Commenters are occasionally spot on, and one thoughtful reader said that no matter what gloss you put on it, this and other revelations in the article could be summed up with the word idiot.

Lovers of political comedy now have two candidates to follow. Thanks to urban street talk, one of the funniest things to do on the Internet just now is to Google the word "santorum." It has been difficult at times to distinguish between the former Senator and the place this product originates. But the Interwebz has a life of its own, and the more hits santorum gets, the more entrenched the two meanings become. The comedy, while unintended, is certainly self-inflicted.

Close behind is newt. This candidate seems to have more tech-savvy supporters, for one begins to detect efforts to draw an online distinction between the candidate and a rather icky salamander of the same name:

I'll leave the zoology lessons for those better informed, for there's a simpler way to tell these creatures apart. The little salamander has principles.

If your day is looking dull, hit this newt link a few dozen times and frustrate the efforts of the Gingrich geeks to stay on message.

Labels: , , ,

Well, sorry, but

There's a reason for my negligence here. It's the usual one this time of year. The last time the subject came up was this afternoon, when I was feeling good enough to venture down to Boston for a beverage.r

Alas, I'm home and Mr Beast is being a nuisance. My brilliant narratives will have to wait for the next time my health and my leisure coincide. Cheer up, readers, for things could be worse.

You could have trigeminal neuralgia


Sunday, January 08, 2012

Well damn it all

Once again, Ms MA has struck a nerve, mentioning The Blogess, whose work I should have known before. Quite a while back on MA's site, I admitted my secret that shouldn't be a secret: that I spent much of my last two months in the Navy on a psychiatric ward. There: I said it. If you're the sort of sneaky shit who works in "human resources" and skulks around looking for dirt like this, you have it. Never mind: you weren't going to hire me anyway.

Everyone in shrinkdom likes labels. After a recent chat with my town veterans' officer, I dug around and found that I do indeed still have my medical review from those times. It's many pages of psychobabble that amounts to "crazee." Today, we'd call the chief diagnosis compassion fatigue, or something like it: anyway, the result of seeing too many burnt and broken bodies in too short a time and not understanding why you also weren't burnt and broken. In the broken logic of our world, reacting negatively to such experiences makes you mentally ill.

In theory, when the armed forces gave one a crazee label and a discharge to match, the VA was also supposed to give one a modest disability pension. As if somehow $130 a month (then) would compensate for sending people back into the world with a scarlet letter slyly inserted into their discharge papers. But most crazy Vietnam veterans didn't even get that. We got the curse, all right, but no benefits. Even so, we had to go through the procedure. A Corpsman on that psychiatric ward bluntly told us, "right now you'll get 30% (disability) if they cut off your head." That might be why a third of the country's homeless are veterans...but I digress.

In addition to the Navy's determination, I discovered I still had the VA's from 40 years ago. It made up in brevity for the prolix pomposity of the Navy, saying pretty much "no." And why? Because one's problem was "nerves."

It is interesting how that 19th century dismissal is still troubling. Today, the VA is trying to wipe out some of those primitive findings and do right by veterans of my time, who have joined the Korean war vets in the ranks of the forgotten. The veterans' officer brought this up as part of this effort. The question is whether I could go through all that again, so many years after. Yes, it might get me some degree of health care, but the first experience left me with a lasting humiliation and a suspicion that the emotional cost of that care might be too high. I don't think I'm enough of a hero for the cause of mental illness to do all that again.

I don't exactly bay at the moon, but I leave the skylight shade open when the moon brightens the night. She keeps depression and madness at bay. Perhaps it is for her that somebody chose silver as a ribbon for those who do what they can to keep mental illness at arm's length: otherwise those ribbons would be black.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Another sign of age

If one is of a certain age, one recalls when there was a lot of chrome-plated steel on the outside of cars. Especially bumpers. (One also remembers when bumpers actually protected cars, but never mind for now.) Chrome-plated steel bumpers, being close to the road, lived a hard life in northern states with salty winter highways.

At that time, urban legend had it that Coca-Cola could be used as an agent to dissolve the rust that bubbled up through the chrome. I never tried this, but I thought of it when i read Pepsi's defence of Mountain Dew.

It's an ingenious piece of lawyering, suggesting that the plaintiff couldn't possibly have found a dead mouse in his Dew because it would have been dissolved into a substance very similar to, say, bear snot. However I'm with the author of the linked story: this doesn't increase my already limited interest in drinking Mountain Dew.

What I want to know is if Dew can clean chrome?

Labels: , ,