Archive for November, 2019

Memories of my youth: Do you deliver?

November 28, 2019

We lived in East Anglia in the early 1970’s, and living there, as opposed to just visiting, we found that the English do things differently. Take deliveries, for example. If you subscribed to a magazine*, it wasn’t delivered to your door by the Royal Mail. Instead, it was sent to your local newsagent, what we would call a news-stand, and you went down once a week (or month, as the case might be) and picked it up. That started a family practice of swinging by the newsagent’s right after church of a Sunday, to pick up my copy of The Economist and MJ’s copy of whatever tabloid had a Royal on the cover, then stopping at our local for leisurely reading and lunch, along with a pint or two (proper Imperial pints, of the 20oz variety), followed by a nice afternoon nap in front of the telly, watching 40-over cricket.

Similarly, while the English were big on take-out meals — fish and chips or Indian curry were favorites — they didn’t do delivery. To compound the problem, there were almost no pizza places in the whole country, other than London, but they, as Kate Schecter famously complained a decade later**, didn’t deliver either.

Well, what did they deliver? Milk. Milk in glass bottles, with little tinfoil caps (which the birds enjoyed poking through with their beaks so that they could get to the cream). Milk that was Pasteurized, but not homogenized (see, cream). Milk that came clanking off the truck at dawn, cold and sweaty.

And you know what? They still deliver. Even to postal code CB7 5QP, out in the wild fens of Cambridgeshire.

It’s $1.25 a pint, or $2.50 per quart, but it’s only the pints that come in glass these days.

Not only that, but Milk & More, the national distributor, will also deliver beer, right to your front door. Sadly, only in London. At least Kate would be pleased.


* Kids, a magazine is like a web page that you print out, and which  only gets updated once a month

** Kate Schecter is a Douglas Adams character:

London was the place she liked living in most, apart, of course, from the pizza problem, which drove her crazy. Why would no one deliver pizza? Why did no one understand that it was fundamental to the whole nature of pizza that it arrived at your front door in a hot cardboard box? — Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Things to be thankful for 2019

November 27, 2019

I didn’t say it would last a full year.

Every Thanksgiving I build an essay about things we should be thankful for, like, at least we haven’t been hit by a dinosaur killer asteroid recently, or looks like we dodged a global nuclear war again this year. This is all part of my Civilization Goes Away project — cautionary tales of why we can’t let that happen.

This year I’m going to discuss why we should be thankful that we have not [yet] been killed by a global pandemic, disease outbreaks that spread fast and kill lots. We know they can happen. We’ve seen diseases like zika and ebola, that may be deadly, but moved very slowly from their rural origins. We have organizations in place to deal with them, but they are mostly private, and funding limitations hinder their effectiveness. In addition, Trump cutbacks have limited our ability to detect and respond to pandemics while they are still just epidemics.

One example is the flu. A 2018 simulation by the Gates Foundation showed that over 30 million people might die in the first six months. At the end of this essay are links to five episodes of Extra History that deal with the Flu Pandemic of 1918.

Or maybe it’s an airborne flu-like lethal respiratory pathogen that could kill 80 million in two days.

In addition, all this could be exacerbated by those people, easily led or nefariously inclined, who deny that anything is happening at all. They can have an impact, even when their numbers are small.

So, are we prepared for this? Not really. Particularly not when actual biowarfare is involved (although that’s likely to be the least of our worries, given the possibility of a natural pandemic). Even on an individual basis, our options are limited.

Bacteria and viruses can be engineered, (see also) but they can also engineer themselves. Some efforts at genetic engineering are benign, but they can get out of control, and we are woefully incapable of predicting this. We might also find ourselves beset by plagues we thought we had killed, only to find that revenants have been set loose by accident.

UPDATE: And now we see COVID-19, a new form of coronavirus spreading out of China, one with significant implications for the global economy.

The good news is that these plagues are not likely to wipe out humanity, nor, by themselves, bring down civilization. But they might push us over a tipping-point, where some other scourge drives us down, like maybe a last-gasp nuclear spasm by a country that feels itself about to collapse. Or maybe they come in the wake of (or just  before) a nuclear war, or asteroid impact, when our global ability to fight them off has been limited by something else.

The problem isn’t the raw number of deaths. Over ten million people are born each month, globally, so the Gates Foundation estimate of 30 million in six months will be made up before it happens (yes, I know, this is a horrific stance to take. Next time vote the Democratic ticket.). The problem is, as I said in the article linked to at the start of this essay, we only get one shot at civilization. Once we lose it, we don’t have the cheap, easily accessible resources that would let us rebuild it.


So, here we are, five 10-minute clips on the flu pandemic of 1918. A perfect alternative to watching another bowl game:

 

 

 

Pre-Thanksgiving Pileup on I-90

November 26, 2019

So, early this afternoon we had a brief but intense snow cell pass over the area. They are comparing it to a thunderstorm cell, only with less lightning. In twenty minutes it dumped half an inch of snow on I-90, near the still-under-construction Amazon warehouse, and caused a couple minutes of zero visibility. The result was a 60+ car pileup.

That was at 2:30 or so. It’s now 6:30, and here’s a still from the trafficam:

Been like this all day

The Amazon warehouse is in the upper right.

I wondered why traffic was so bad in downtown Cheney this afternoon, a two-stoplight, one Starbucks town that rarely sees heavy traffic except on Game Days. Everybody was trying to skirt around the pileup.

You had one job, Part 2

November 24, 2019

I have talked before, just over two years ago, about the effectiveness of the Electoral College in doing its job and what that job might be, and how we are currently failing the Constitution (some of this article repeats the arguments of that one). I am writing about it again because there’s a new opinion article out, on the  Bloomberg website, essentially saying that I am wrong. The author, Noah Feldman, teaches law at Harvard and thus is eminently better qualified than I am to address the issue. And yet, and yet…

Feldman’s case is that the Constitution gave the states the power to regulate elections, and that this power therefore includes the ability to prohibit so-called Faithless Electors, those who vote their conscious rather than as the people of the state have directed them. He points out that one possible result of allowing FE’s might be that the Electoral College elects someone the citizens would never have voted for.

…the presidency wouldn’t be decided by the voters, but by mostly unknown electors, who are unknown precisely because no one seriously thought before that their job was to second-guess the voters and pick the president.

Except that it is their job. It’s all there in the Federalist Papers #68 (words by Alexander Hamilton, emphasis mine):

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

So, the states can organize elections, and the election of Electors, any way they want, but once the Electors gather, their job is to deliberate on a judicious combination of reasons and inducements and let those deliberations guide their choice.

Look at it this way. Why have an Electoral College at all, if all they are going to do is rubber stamp the state process? What were The Founders thinking? Well, the reasons for including such a cumbersome process are not as outdated as Feldman seems to think, and speak directly to today’s political mess. Hamilton again:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.

So Hamilton was worried that some person with talents for low intrigue, etc., might become popular nationwide (sound familiar?), and the Electoral College was the Founders way of preventing that. And how else could they prevent it other than by voting for someone else?

In addition, Hamilton, et al., were afraid of corruption and foreign influence:

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter [sic], but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.

Once again, Presidential collusion with foreign powers is an issue today.

Finally, Feldman’s argument that electors should be restricted to voting for whoever got the most votes in their states is actually a strong argument for awarding the office based on the  national popular vote. And in any event, if all the electors are is a rubber stamp for a state’s Director of Elections, then they could be replaced with a rubber stamp. One you don’t have to use very often.

Oatmeal Bay 2

November 21, 2019

We’ve had a pretty good squash crop this year, and are slowly working our way through it. We picked them all at the end of the growing season, and since we don’t have a root cellar, we’re storing them in the bathtub in the guest room. MJ doesn’t like it that they are so close to the toilet, but I told her it would be all right, as long as you wash your hands after eating them.

Last week, MJ made squash soup with our butternut squash. Lots of very thick soup, very squashy. Meanwhile, I found a recipe on line for a Jamaican variant, with shrimp and Old Bay seasoning. Since there wasn’t much left of the soup by the end of the week, I decided to try this version: can of minced crab and a scant measuring teaspoon of Old Bay to maybe a quart of soup. You don’t want to use too much, ’cause it’s heavy on the black pepper.

It was…not great. Too peppery. Not enough crab taste. Even adding cheese didn’t help much. About the only thing it was good for was…oatmeal!

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, 1 cup chicken broth, 1/4 cup Old Bay Squash Soup with Crab, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the souplike substance about two minutes before the end (so it didn’t interfere with the oatmeal absorbing the broth) potatoes about a minute before the end.

Results: Meh. It’s been six years almost to the day since my last Old Bay & Squash Soup recipe (and, interestingly, I haven’t used Old Bay in any others, ever). This time, I found that a 4:1 mix of chicken broth and OBSS in my oatmeal produced something surprisingly bland. It wasn’t pure oatmeal/eating white socks bland, but there wasn’t the squash/ pepper/ crab flavor I expected. There was flavor (and bits of ground up crab shell), but only in a mild, unidentifiable way. I decided not to go any higher on the OBSS input because that would take it out of the oatmeal-for-breakfast category and make it, I don’t know, a Thanksgiving side, or something. You could try it if you like. I’ve got a couple cups left over.

Rating: **

A show of their own, 2019

November 16, 2019

Anime has many supporting characters, characters that are interesting enough to deserve shows of their own, in much the same way that Mary Tyler Moore spun off Rhoda, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer spun off Angel, or maybe I should come up with an example from this century. I have talked about this before, collecting characters from multiple years. This time around I thought that, rather than waiting another four years, I’d try selecting four characters from the current year (one from each season) and nominating them for their own series.

Of course, there are some constraints. It had to be a show I watched, and watched long enough to establish an opinion. It had to be a character who obviously had a backstory, not told in the original anime, and it had to be a character who could stand on their own. It didn’t have to be a character I particularly liked. Also, and this is what removed a lot of good shows from the running, it had to be a character that wasn’t one of the stars.

And, also of course, once I set myself this task, I find that the source material is thinner than I expected. Winter had a couple of high quality candidates from Magnificent Kotobuki plus Kobayashi Masaki from Domestic Girlfriend. I plan to write more about Kotobuki later, so Masaki gets it.

WINTER Domestic Girlfriend

Kobayashi Masaki

He’s ex-yakuza.* He owns a bar. He’s gay.

We see a little of his backstory as the anime progresses, but there’s still so much more to learn. His father was head of a Yakuza branch, and presumably Masaki was being groomed to take over, when he fell in love with a man from an opposing clan. This clash of houses cries out for someone with the skills of, say, Shakespeare, to write their story.

*Can you ever be ex-yakuza? I thought membership was as permanent as his tattoos. Maybe he’s on sabbatical.

Spring was equally thin, with Demon Slayer not holding my interest and BOKUBEN not having any interesting supporting actors. The best I could do was The Helpful Fox Senko-san:

SPRING The Helpful Fox Senko-san

Koenji Yasuko

She’s the helpful girl next door, a student and a mangaka. She provides a possible love interest that isn’t a loli-fox-goddess.

An anime spin-off could cover her life as a student — What’s her major in school (art, graphics design?), how did she get into mangaka-ing? — as well as her interactions with the apartment next door — will she ever figure out that Senko-San isn’t a cosplayer? Will she be there when Senko-San leaves (or will Senko-San continue housekeeping for this guy for the next eighty years)? Will she and Nakano Kuroto hit it off, or will he continue his foxtail fetish, forcing her and Shiro-San to go off on their own yuri adventures?

Summertime had more shows, but most of them fell at the first fence, or were very good, but didn’t have useful side characters. So, Demon Lord, Retry got dropped early, and Oh, Maidens has too strong a main cast, and I won’t admit to have watched Hensuki. That meant I had to break two of my rules, and pick a major character from a TV short. Fortunately, there was a good one available.

Summer Are you lost?

Onishima Homare

Homare-chan is the lead character, and the emotionally strongest of the Lost Girls. We see bits of her backstory in almost every 15min episode, showing how she was trained up by her survival-otaku father. What we don’t get is a sense of continuity.

A  anime would tell how her father got interested in survival skills, and what it was like, eating strange food somewhere up on the Fenno-Scandian Shield (Mynd yoü, Homare, there’s other pärts of å mööse that taste bætter)? Each one of the vignettes of  Lost would make an entire episode in Let’s go Camping, Homare

Fall has presented problems of its own. Out of eighteen shows that I spent at least some time on, only five have made the I’ll watch it cut. Of those five, two were sequels and two were harems and three were team efforts and one started late. When the dust settled, only Ascendance of a Bookworm remained, and only Otto, the gate guard, stood out (Lutz might have been preferable, but how much backstory does a 7-year-old have?).

FALL Ascendance of a Bookworm

Otto

Otto is a soldier, who was a traveling merchant. He bought citizenship in this city so he could marry the girl he loved. He does all the bookkeeping for the gate guards, and he employs Myne as a sometime assistant accountant and teacher.

An anime would address what his life was like before he settled down. Who were his people? Where are they now? How did he meet his wife, and how did he make the transition from traveling merchant to stolid burgher? It could start in a wagon somewhere in Isekailand, and end with him meeting his boss’s daughter, Myne.

Oatmeal SOS

November 14, 2019

I haven’t been doing too many of these oatmeal recipes lately, because I’ve pretty much run the gamut of things one can usefully blend with oatmeal, and I absolutely refuse to use durian fruit. However, a cooking website I follow mentioned using cream instead of oil for frying eggs. That got me to thinking. Using all cream/milk in your oatmeal makes it sweet, and traditional. But suppose one mixed broth and cream at, say 3:1?

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, 1/4 cup half and half, 3/4 cup home-made chicken broth, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Very good. As MJ said, what I had invented was chicken gravy! I’ll tell you what it tasted like, and it wasn’t chicken. It tasted like a favorite military mess-hall breakfast of ground beef in a cream sauce over toast, AKA SOS. I’m making it again, tomorrow, and next week I’ll try beef broth.

Rating: ****

The problem with NEWT

November 11, 2019

You know NEWT — the Never Ending War on Terrorism. It’s been going on since the AUMF — Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists — was passed on 9/14, and decisions made on that day have killed more Americans than 9/11 ever did.

Once again, Laws and Sausages has an excellent explainer — it’s really why I got started on this essay. Because of the urgent need to Do Something, our politicians were stampeded into giving Presidents open-ended power to wage war wherever and whenever they like, as long as they say the magic T-word first. Our ongoing wars around the world were justified under the AUMF, including combat operations in the Philippines, Kenya, and Djibouti, to list just a few countries the press hasn’t mentioned recently.

And of course, the panic didn’t stop on October 14th. Less than two weeks later Congress passed the Patriot Act, the most sustained attack on citizen rights under the Constitution since our founding. The act was 342 pages long, and changed more than 15 existing laws, in addition to adding new layers of government powers. There was no way that Congress could have read the entire document as submitted by the Administration. For that matter, there was no way the Administration could have read the entire thing. They just copy/pasted the wish lists of every federal agency with any kind of security mission and let it go at that. It’s likely that the biggest problem they had was coaxing Microsoft Word’s autonumber feature to get the paragraphs right.

So, today is Veteran’s Day (not to be confused with Memorial Day or Patriot Day or the 4th of July), yet another day where we celebrate all those times when the politicians marched the American military off to senseless slaughter. It started off as Armistice Day, memorializing four years of senseless slaughter that at least had a worthy goal and an endpoint. Now, Veterans Day is used as another celebration of militarism in pursuit of NEWT. Veterans don’t need our own day. Veterans need — to name but one thing — available and affordable medical care to treat the physical and mental wounds inflicted by eighteen years of fighting an enemy called “terrorism”.

The trouble is, as L&S points out, you can’t fight a war on “terrorism”. Terrorism is a tactic, an asymmetrical use of force by the weaker party in a conflict. Declaring war on “terrorism” is like declaring war on artillery, or flank attacks. Of course, that’s the whole point. Since it’s not a real declaration of war, as understood by international law, it carries no real responsibilities and respects no limits as defined by international treaties. Were AUMF a real declaration of war, we couldn’t waterboard Afghan taxi drivers, nor deny Guantanamo prisoners their rights, although it might not prevent us from declaring everything within 100 miles of our borders to be a Constitution-free zone.

So, think of that, this Armistice Day, and ponder the reaction of those men and women who died in the “war to end war” if they were to see what we’ve made of their sacrifice. And whatever you do, don’t say Thank you for your service to a veteran today. We really didn’t want to be part of a NEWT, and it will only embarrass us.

WA Election Results

November 6, 2019

The race to the bottom continues. Washingtonians are notorious for wanting more government services while refusing to pay for them. Because the citizens have rejected an income tax multiple times, the state depends on regressive sales and property taxes and licensing fees for most of its income. Here’s a quick summary of both state and local issues:

1. Initiative 976, to cut car licensing fees, was approved 56-44
As a result, WA will lose ~$700million/year in revenue. Spokane will lose about $3million, about half its pothole budget. If I were in charge of road repair, I’d look at those precincts that voted for this, and spend zero funds on fixing or snowplowing their roads.

2. The local school levy was defeated, 2,167 YES-2,189 NO
Baseline education funds are provided by the state. The local school levies are voter approved enrichment, bond, capital improvement levies in excess of the regular state levies.

I don’t remember the last time a local levy was passed — not having kids, I don’t pay attention. I do know that I will now have a constant stream of urchins on my doorstep, seeking money for things the school district should be paying for. Should I tax myself to pay for their activities, allowing the rest of the community to be free riders, or should I drive them away, telling them to get their parents to work harder at passing proper levies? I know I got only one flyer this election season, from a guy who wanted me to (a) vote against the levy, and (b) vote for him for the local school board.

3. Advisories: In Washington, advisories are non-binding citizen comments on laws that the legislature has already passed. They have no direct impact, but they show the trends in voter opinions. Ten advisories, mostly about tax and license fee increases, were recommended for repeal, and two, a vaping tax and a tax on international business, were recommended to maintain.

So, the vaping crisis was well timed, and everybody hates them foreigners.

4. SJR 8200 Constitutional amendment allowing the government to implement emergency measures for something other than an enemy attack was approved 65-35. Canadian army seen pulling back from the border.

5. Referendum 88 was a referendum on an affirmative action initiative (I-1000) that was passed earlier this year. The referendum was rejected 52-48, which means the initiative won’t become a law, saving the state $1.5million. I don’t have anything useful to say, because I haven’t been following this issue. I do know that somebody was spending a lot of money on TV ads to defeat this.

Overall, these are pretty typical Washington election results. One knock-on effect of this is that a cash-strapped legislature will continue to cut funding for higher education. I am already hearing from my former colleagues that EWU is hurting financially, and that I retired just in time. This will only make things worse.

Anime worth watching, Fall 2019

November 3, 2019

So far this season my reader has been bombarded with an unrelenting list of what I’ve decided not to watch. That’s so negative, ya know? I mean, there must be something worth watching. Well, there is.*

I seem to be on a snarky, self-aware anime kick right now. I find I’m unexpectedly pleased with shows that go out of their way to give me plot twists, and inversions of standard tropes.

Didn’t I say to make my abilities average in the next life?
Mile, our protagonna, was a high-performing student in this world and just wants to be average in the next. Unfortunately, her definition of average — skills and powers appropriate to the average person, the median, if you will — isn’t God’s definition. God says that you take the power of the highest and lowest creatures on the planet, add them up and divide by two. That’s like taking Bill Gates and a Seattle homeless person and finding the average of their net worth.

This is why we have the concept of the Median

The humor in the first few episodes comes from Mile trying to hide her powers, and failing miserably. When she decides to just copy a spell one of the other students used, only at a lower power setting, she finds that she was copying a unique, personal spell of a wizard girl, and doing it with no training. So far, it’s a one-joke anime, but they find ways of keeping it from going stale.

The other source of humor is her use of information from her past life. So when the friends are telling stories at night, she draws on tales of the TV, in the mythical land of Nihon. The result is that the girls end up forming a Magical Girl/Power Rangers style team, complete with poses and color coding.

Crimson Vow!

She also uses her in-depth knowledge of shonen anime to come up with training regimes that allow her team mates to level up rapidly.

So, a self-aware isekai that knows how to look at the standard tropes from a slightly absurd viewpoint. What’s not to like?

ORESUKI: Are you the only one who loves me?
At first glance, ORESUKI seems to be a standard high school RomCom. Protagonist has two girls who seem to be interested in him — the standard childhood friend and the Student Body President. He also has a best buddy, an athelete on the baseball team. One day, each of the girls asks him out for a date on the weekend, because they have something they want to ask him. Confession Time! Well, not exactly.

On two successive days, each girl sits with him on the same bench, and with identical words and body language confesses that they are in love with …  his baseball-playing friend and would he help them out? Next scene, Pansy, the librarian girl he doesn’t like, sits with him in the library, on an identical bench (which she ordered from Amazon), and using identical words and body language tells him, that she, this girl he doesn’t like, is in love with … well, him, actually. Finally, the next day, his baseball buddy sits with him on an identical bench that just happens to be behind the gym, and tells him, again with identical words and body language, that he is in love with … Pansy, and would he help him out?

ORESUKI doesn’t so much play with the high school RomCom tropes as it rings the changes on them. How many ways can the Protagonist be messed with by fate? How many different geometric figures can a love triangle be twisted into? What totally silly thing will happen next?

Ascendance of a Bookworm**
Finally, an isekai done right. Recent college graduate [Yay! Not a high school student!] Urano Motsu [Yay! Female!] and lover of books [Yay! Not an otaku! Well, she’s a book otaku] dies in an earthquake that buries her in her books. Finds herself reincarnated in the body of a small girl, Myne, who is dying of a mysterious fever. The old Myne dies, but the new Myne (nee Motsu) retains her memories, as well as her own memories of modern Japan.

The challenge the book-loving Myne faces is that she’s been reincarnated into a rigid, stratified, medieval, essentially illiterate, society. Oh, yeah, and she’s a sickly six year old female. Her overriding goal is to find some way to read books again, even if she has to write them herself. Even if she has to print them herself. Even if she has to fabricate the materials to print them on.

Unlike other isekai protags, Myne doesn’t have any super-powers or high powered knowledge. She knows some crafts, like crocheting, and she grasps the concepts of things like paper, and teaching theory, which the contemps don’t. She also has the internal maturity of a 20-year-old, can read and write (just not with the local script, at first), and can do mathematics. These last are immensely helpful when she has to deal with the adults of this world.

The artwork is clean and simple. The characters and clothing are appropriate for the subject — no monster boobs or bikini armour here. Some reviewers complained about the drabness of the palette, particularly in the first episode, but that was just a way of emphasizing the life of the lower classes in a semi-literate society.

Having read ahead, I can say that Bookworm is rolling out the story fairly slowly, and that there are some interesting reveals ahead. It comes across as a slice-of-life, but Myne is a woman with a mission, and there really is an ongoing dramatic arc.

So far, it’s my favorite anime of the season.

*Note that Chihayafuru 3 isn’t on the list, yet. I’m saving  that until I’ve marathoned the previous two seasons.

**Full disclosure — I’m reading well ahead of the anime via the light novels on J-Novel.

Re-set your clocks tonight

November 2, 2019

And remember, we set them back in the Fall, not forward.

Courtesy of http://www.gilescartoons.co.uk