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Tue Mar 24, 2015 at 06:43 PM PDT

Ted Cruz Flame-Out Poll

by malapert

It would seem a majority of people who do not admire Ted Cruz as much as Ted Cruz does agree that his Presidential bid is at best an ego-driven publicity grab, at worst an out and out scam.

So most seem to think that at some point he's going to flame out, while many--even in his own party--are hoping for a Hindenburg-sized crash and burn.

So what will be the seagull sucked into his engine, or the barrel roll where he flies into the ground?

The poll lists some possibilities. Any of them sound likely to you?

Poll

So what will save us from the Cruzombie Apocalypse?

3%4 votes
5%6 votes
6%7 votes
0%1 votes
12%13 votes
2%3 votes
0%1 votes
10%11 votes
18%19 votes
9%10 votes
0%1 votes
3%4 votes
6%7 votes
14%15 votes

| 102 votes | Vote | Results

Discuss

MR. PRATCHETT? YOU PROBABLY KNOW WHY I'M HERE.

That's our old friend Death, a beloved character in several of Terry Pratchett's novels. When death came for Terry Pratchett I hope it was his Death, who always kept the whole business tidy and genteel and oddly reassuring.

Terry Pratchett is gone now, and he is going to leave one hell of a hole in the world of storytelling.(1) I'm not sure I've read all his novels, but I've read over 30 of them. In those novels he pulled off two of the hardest tricks in writing. First he wrote a series where each book was at least as good, if not better than the last--and this wasn't some puny trilogy,(2) it was a series of 40 Discworld novels. Second, he made it look easy. Like a master juggler of words and ideas and characters. Oh, the characters.

Death. Carrot. Leonard of Quirm. Lord Vetinari. Detritus. Cut Me Own Throat Dibber. Reg Shoe. Commander Vimes. Moist Lipwig. Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobby Nobbs. Granny Weatherwax.

If you know who any of those few out of hundreds of characters are then you've spent some time in the products of Pratchett's labyrinthine, lunatic mind; you've seen how he would take some decidedly off-center social commentary, whip it up into a mind-bending foam, and then blast it into a book with twisted, lovable characters, logic-twisting plots, settings like no one else has ever conceived, and humor, humor, humor: highbrow, lowbrow, and everywhere in between. With footnotes. (3)

Quite a few years ago I was guest at a Worldcon where he was also a guest. I was a shy nobody with a couple soon-to-be-remaindered paperback novels to my credit. I wanted to meet him. I could have walked right up to him in the Green Room.

I couldn't do it. This was Terry Pratchett. No matter how nice he might have been--and his approachability was legendary--I was just too in awe of him then, and in the years since that awe has never diminished. I just finished what was his last novel, 'Raising Steam', written with the help of voice recognition software and an assistant. He kept his essential Pratchetness (4) to the very last word, delivering the sort of story no on else could write.

If you have never read any Discworld novels, then go get one or several, and enter a world of joy and wonder you will want to visit again and again. If you have read a few Pratchett novels, go get more, and re-read the ones you have. Have a laugh--and think about the sly moral messages that wore funny faces and happened to involve zombies, dwarves, werewolves, vampires, trolls, witches, cops, bureaucrats, dreamers, tyrants, losers, gods, and a great turtle sailing through space with a whole flat world on its back.

Rest in peace, Terry Pratchett.
Knight. Gentleman. Satirist. Hero to a civilized world.

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Sun Mar 08, 2015 at 06:12 PM PDT

Conscience of a nation

by malapert

The anniversary of the events at the Pettus bridge has been mostly moving, with stirring remarks from John Lewis,  President Obama, and others. Even the old and new coverage by Bill Plante for CBS has had an eerie resonance.

Through all of it I have kept hearing one recurring phrase. When the bloody events at the bridge are talked about, it keeps being said that the changes that came afterward went forward because the conscience of our nation was troubled--even galvanized--by what  had been done to peaceful marchers that Bloody Sunday.

Do we have anything like a national conscience any more? We have men and women of conscience at all levels of our society, even a few--very few--of them in politics. I think our President is one of them.

But does our country have any sort of greater conscience any more--if it ever did? If it does, what would it take to trouble that conscience enough to bring on the sort of radical changes that came after Selma?

Cops gunning down unarmed black men and boys again and again?

Stripping voting rights from the old and the poor and easily disenfranchised--the sort of rights the Selma marchers were trying to get?

Strangling the school systems and union movements that helped make America great?

Empowering a new untouchable bandit class in the banking/financial class and systems?

Punishing and bleeding the poor while giving the rich a free ride, and free reign to do whatever they want? Including trying to buy our government so they can tear it down and replace it with something that puts no limits on their behavior?

Seeing religious zealots impose their own Christian Sharia law and theocratic rule in our more backward places, one that subjugates women, punishes gays and believers in other creeds, and tries to replace science with pious claptrap that endangers life on Earth?

None of those has done the trick.
What would it take?
Is it even possible?
Is there anything like a conscience of the nation in America any more?

Poll

Do our nation have a conscience?

14%1 votes
0%0 votes
14%1 votes
42%3 votes
28%2 votes

| 7 votes | Vote | Results

Discuss

Senator Tom Coburn's magnificent and unassailable disproval of so-called 'climate change' or 'global warming' by finding a snowball in winter was actually but one of a breathtaking portfolio of groundbreaking discoveries made by this Isaac Newton of our New Scientificishy Age. Here is a list of world-shaking discoveries made by this penetrating, wide-ranging intellect in only one single evening!

Coming home after a long donor-paid dinner capping a grueling day of obstructing mental health care for veterans and finding out that his home had light inside in the night-time, he proved not only that darkness doesn't exist and night-time is a myth, but that sun-god-things live inside peculiar bulb-shaped glass devices.

Noticing that his own pantry and refrigerator were full--and this after a restaurant meal that cost more than a teacher would get paid for a week--he could only conclude that 'world hunger' was a cruel hoax perpetrated by greedy aid agencies.

Turning on his TV set he found himself looking at Fox News. The conclusion this led him to was inescapable: there is nothing else on TV. Hannity mentioning his name favorably counted as peer review to this world-shaking finding.

The Burwell decision was mentioned. This caused him to think about all those who some said might die if they lost their health insurance. But that notion was an obvious red herring, a liberal lie of the foulest sort. He had health care, and was quite healthy himself,  so  no one else really needed any help. Besides, he was a Doctor. He was used to seeing people die--even expected it. As long as they paid his bills first then it was just fine for Jesus to take them.

When Coburn was able to fill his bathtub with clean water of his preferred temperature it became obvious that any talk about water pollution or water shortages was nothing more than anti-corporate propaganda promulgated by eco-terrorists.

Putting on his clean Koch Industries 'Clean Coal Charlie' cartoon character flannel PJ's before going to bed in his nice warm house provided the final proofs that everyone--and most certainly the poor--had adequate clothing and housing; in the unlikely event anyone did not, they chose to go naked and live in a cardboard box in attempt to blackmail or embarrass their betters.

He could not see the Moon out his window. This reinforced his certainty that the Apollo missions were a Hollywood hoax, and that tides were caused by some more logical mechanism, such as the force of God inhaling and exhaling.

Composing himself to sleep he meditated on the fundamental fairness of his getting paid a lot of money to be part of democratic government he was morally and financially bound to obstruct, denigrate and destroy, and this proved a point only the most obtuse could contest: his conclusions were correct, and all other opinions were nothing but the work of crackpots, paid shills,  and liars.

Discuss

Mon Feb 09, 2015 at 06:18 PM PST

Requiem for Radio Shack

by malapert

The death--or at least lapsing into a zombie state--of Radio Shack has become something of a punchline in the media; treated with snickering mock anguish like the bankruptcy of the last buggy whip factory.

Radio Shack's relevance has certainly diminished. Technology has evolved rapidly, and for quite a few years it was always at least a couple steps behind.

But some older people, especially those with a geekly bent (like me) remember days when it was the go-to place for reasonably good, affordable tech.

Back in the late sixties I could go there and get replacement vacuum tubes for the amp I'd hacked from a Wollensak M3 music cartridge player, along with speakers, crossover parts, wire and other goodies. Oh yeah, and solder. Everybody used solder back then.

Fast forward a few years, early Seventies, and that's where I went for parts for various car audio installations. They had the 8 track players, primitive power amps, various automotive speakers, and everything else needed to make a formidable (for then) car stereo.

The Radio Shack store was 30 miles away, which meant I was in a fringe area (both geographically, and in terms of life choices) and the only game in town. Live in a fringe area? They had monster TV and radio antennas that helped you get that distant TV station or hot alternative FM station out of  Ottawa. Calculators--once expensive rarities--they had some good ones.

Concerned about my parents on the road, they bought--and I installed--CB radios. Bought a pretty decent audio amp that ran years before the controls simply wore out. Same for a stereo cassette player. Lost my (and parents') TV antennas to ice/wind storms more than once, and the Shack made it possible for us to not miss an episode of MASH. They had a great weather alert radio.

But their computer selection after the infamous Trash 80 increasingly became an also-ran. They were early purveyors of cell phones, but not nimble enough to compete as the market expanded. Consumer electronics changed. People wanted cheap stuff that they didn't need to know squat about, and no matter what they carried, Walmart--and later, Amazon--had more choices,  cheaper. And the things they used to carry were no longer there. Just rebuilt an ancient set of subwoofers. RS hasn't had decent drivers for a very long time, so they were ordered from Parts Express--along with crossover components, and of course more solder.

So what will happen to Radio Shack? Pointless speculation under the snarl of orange wire.
Wonder what would happen if I snipped it . . .

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Tue Feb 03, 2015 at 06:11 PM PST

House Republicans' solitary vice

by malapert

Today, February third,  House Republicans stiffened their spines--at least--in an historic 56th act of mutual masturbation over the Affordable Care Act. This peculiar recurring public self-pleasuring has become  a nasty habit;  enough of one that some concerned staffers have begun searching the internet to secure the services of Palm Barbers and eye doctors other than the dubiously credentialed Rand Paul.

Witnesses of this latest feverish ceremonial popping of fresh cherries and ancient and crumbling corks reported the usual sweaty, suety faces of politicians twisted in the inexplicable ecstasy this mass, mutual delivering of strokes to a dead horse--and each other--inspires. Afterward there were the usual sly, knowing winks and heavy-lidded glances freighted with carnal knowing, and post-coital whispers of promises of further descents into public debasement exchanged among the participants.

Already party whips are diligently securing fresh tissues and another round of replacement tubs of Crisco and Kentucky jelly to prepare for the go-round--and down--sure to follow. Most observers, once they stop retching, predict an inevitable spurning of counsel against temptation to do it again, treating the American public to yet another kinky glad-handing  with each other in what was once a brief fling with right-wing comity that has sadly  become a  neurotic, obsessive, degenerate habit they seem unwilling to break.

Poll

House Republicans have a problem. Maybe they could give up these votes if they had a proper displacement activity. They should get their rocks off with:

10%2 votes
0%0 votes
5%1 votes
0%0 votes
36%7 votes
0%0 votes
10%2 votes
0%0 votes
26%5 votes
10%2 votes

| 19 votes | Vote | Results

Discuss

Fri Jan 30, 2015 at 05:24 PM PST

Cruz defends Koch brothers

by malapert

We saw in the news about Ted (Canadian bacon) Cruz and his dementedly vigorous defense of the Koch Brothers. We saw that on camera, but few have seen the photo secretly taken after the other slavish butt-kissing during his, ah, talks with them.
Discuss

Wed Jan 21, 2015 at 06:06 PM PST

Two easy Artisan bread hacks

by malapert

I've been making bread using the 'Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day' method for a few years now, mostly in the winter when I have the time, and don't mind heating up the kitchen.

Over time I've fooled around with the basic recipe, trying different things like adding in the European flour blends from King Arthur--the flour brand I use exclusively. I've varied flour ratios, rising times, eaten my experiments. My current recipe is pretty simple, the flour ratio being: 5 cups bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat, and 1/2 cup buckwheat flour. The buckwheat flour adds a subtle, sourdough-like note to the bread.

But it 's not that recipe, but two recent experiments that proved interesting enough to move me to offer them up for anyone with a home bread lab.

Artisan bread hack #1: I have never been satisfied with the texture or flavor that came from using corn meal under the loaf. Plus I had to make sure that none of that crust got given to our dog Chloe because she's allergic to corn. Recent experiments with making Benne, or sesame cookies, had me substituting sesame seeds for corn meal. The resulting bread benefits from that toasty sesame seed flavor, and when you make toast that flavor only grows more pronounced. That's all I use now. Big bags from Bob's Red Mills.

Artisan bread hack #2: Free-form loaves are nice, but you end up lots of weird-shaped bread, and sometimes you want a more symmetrical loaf. But I didn't want to use a bread pan and give up that toasted sesame on a baking stone flavor. What to do?

Then inspiration struck. I had a 8" spring-form pan with a removable bottom. Would that work?

It does! I just spray the inside of the spring-form with a bit of cooking spray--which could probably be skipped since the pan is non-stick--and put it on my pizza peel, which has also been hit with cooking spray. Sprinkle the sesame seeds in the bottom, plop in your dough and let rise. The seeds and spray let the loaf slide off the peel onto the pre-heated stone at least as well as the corn ever did. More often than not the buckle on the pan doesn't even need to be released, after the bread has had a few minutes to cool it slips right off. I, at least, find the resulting loaf quite fetching.

Last note: the best container I've ever found for keeping the dough is one of those tall 4 liter plastic Sterilite water/juice pitchers, covering the top with plastic wrap rather than the flip lid. The risen dough comes right to the top when doubled, pulls away easily. It cleans fairly well, plays nice in the fridge. By the way, the best tool for scraping dried or gummy dough from that, or from the bowl of your stand mixer, is an old credit card or gift card.

And the pictured loaf was made using roughly half of a dough batch.

Discuss

Tue Jan 06, 2015 at 05:34 PM PST

Neat new tool for birdwatching

by malapert

My wife and I are long-time wildlife- and bird-watchers, both backyard and out in nature. We are also wildlife rehabilitators, caring for orphaned and injured birds and small mammals. Some of those birds and animals are soft-released in our back yard. Keeping track of them is important.

Christmas was coming, and I was thinking about a new pair of binoculars for the Missus--and for me to borrow. I started researching what would fit into our very limited  (way short of Steiner) budget, and came across the Pentax  PTX62216 8.5 X 21 mm Papilio Binoculars. Who or what is Papilio? No idea.

I was intrigued because these touted something called the 'CLOSE' system; technology that gave them the ability to be used on objects as close as one and a half feet away.

Yes, you read that right. You can focus in on something eighteen inches away.
The reviews were positive. The price was within range, currently around $109 at Amazon. I took a chance and sprang for 'em.

We love these binoculars, and they work as advertised. You can focus on something as close as arm's length, using them as a sort of 'distant microscope'.  I can focus on a squirrel (one of our graduates) on a bird feeder six feet outside our window and count her whiskers. Pull in the occasional mystery bird or questionable sparrow on the ground five feet away so close it's like holding it in my hand. Come summer that means we can get a close--CLOSE--look at butterflies and moths on nearby bushes, or bugs at our feet.

At 8.5 X 21 mm these aren't the strongest binoculars around. Their magnification and field of view are limited, but adequate. The view is crystal clear, the collimation perfect, and they perform well in low light. They are compact enough to fit in a pocket.

I'm not a shill or rep or paid pitchman, I'm just someone who for years has tried to get a better look at something ten or fifteen feet away with binoculars and seeing only a blur. If you get a chance to try these binoculars, go for it. You'll be amazed. And hooked.

There is a lower-strength version, but these hit that right versatility point. And if they ever come out with a higher-powered version, we're getting  a pair of them, too.

Info about the picture below the orange cloud.

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Wed Dec 17, 2014 at 06:50 PM PST

Pop go the Weasels

by malapert

I was losing my faith. Okay, I was starting to feel despair.
But I feel ever so much better now that I see the long game. The big picture. The next moves in the 3 dimensional chess game.
The plan to drive the brain-dead right-wingers absolutely howling batshit.

I am beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, our Dear President plans to run out his time in office trolling the Republicans/Conservatives in every way he can. His moves on immigration hinted at that possibility. Now his announcement of plans to normalize relations with Cuba makes that seem even more likely.

The man has ample reason to bear a grudge, and what a wonderful thing it would be if he spent the next two years patiently, (and secretly gleefully) dishing out payback: doing everything in his power to make RepubliCon heads explode. Because he can, and for the pure hell of it.

So what could be next?

Making Chris Rock press secretary? Getting the NRA declared a terrorist organization and waterboarding LaPierre in front of Dick Cheney? Emptying Gitmo and sending all the prisoners to Lindsey Graham to do his yard work? Putting Elizabeth Warren in charge of all financial decisions--and giving her military powers, including tanks to roll on Citi? Putting Ralph Nader in charge of the EPA and changing the rules so that fracking is allowed--only if the politicians from that state drink at least 50% of the waste fracking fluid, and coal state pols like McConnell MUST have to have a coal burning plant right next to their estate--and the chimney dumping directly into their Great Room. Directing the FCC to implement a 'Truth In News' law that would fine flagrant offenders like Fox into oblivion. Like--well, you get the idea. You probably have some of your own.

Wouldn't you like to see the Big O doing everything in his power to cause the right to suffer from ulcers, volcanic reflux, nuclear diarrhea, bleeding eyeball migraines, depth-charge dyspepsia, heroin addiction and dirt-eating, head-pounding, fingernail-chewing despair, and so much outrage they implode into fuming grease stains marked with scorched flag pins.

Oh the fun we could have. So come on, please Sir, can we have some more?

Poll

Should President Obama go for broke and stomp on as many toes as possible

82%29 votes
2%1 votes
2%1 votes
0%0 votes
2%1 votes
8%3 votes

| 35 votes | Vote | Results

Discuss

Remember when you were a dumbass teenager of some misbegotten age or other, and by either luck or devious measures you managed to score a bottle of some sort of liquor. It was almost certainly not good liquor; if you were lucky it was something merely nasty like extra-cheap Victoria's Secretions gin that tasted of dollar store aftershave,  or Stalin's Toilet brand pure wood chip vodka. Less lucky and it was some flavored liqueur like  Lady Pox brand creme de menthe or Satan's Semen Cinnamon Popskull, or maybe one of the criminally awful Z grade fortified wines like Thundertrain Derailment or Night Bird Poop.

Whatever the case, you and a friend or two had yourself a party with this jug 'o fun.

You got hammered. You got blitzed. You got blotto. You had one hell of a good time, at least for a while.

Then you also got sick. Puking on your shoes sick. Blowing groceries with the force of a fired bazooka sick. Stomach lining coming out your nose sick.

America got drunk on the cheap shit this election. Made choices about as smart as knocking back ten Dixie cups full of banana flavored rum on a dinner of hot dogs and gummy worms. America poisoned itself for the hell of it, and because it could, and because it wasn't thinking straight.

So America has tied one on with knots even a panel of sailors, surgeons, and macramé mavens couldn't take apart. The next couple years are going to be rough. But there is hope.

Once this new crop of whack jobs joins with the crazies we already have in office, and they get their clown car* up to full speed with their mindless anti-science and anti-logic excesses, brutal overreaches, unending grinning masturbatory Obamacare repeal votes, corporate-driven cruelties to workers and consumers, and paid for indulgences for eco-crimes, hate- and fear-mongering, smirking misogyny, race-baiting, mania for voter suppression, and general separation from reality, their antics will trigger a gag reflex that gets them thrown up--and out.

We've always had these crazy pendulum swings. This one is as extreme as some Vomit Comet carnival ride, taken while blind drunk with a gut-full of catsup-flavored, spray-cheese filled funnel cakes and lard and pickle-flavored cotton candy.

So keep on being rational, thoughtful, caring, and keep trying to make America a better place for real people, not corporate golems and the gilt toads of the 1%. You know what to do on that end. Keep on fighting the good fight.

And please keep a safe distance when the reflux comes.

America's going to blow lunch bigtime, and the stuff it has swallowed is already pretty disgusting. Afterward, as always, we'll clean up the mess, offer them a breath mint, let them go sleep it off, and try to get some good things done before the next binge.

*Bumpersticker: I DRIVE CONSERVATIVELY - I SWERVE TO RUN OVER THE POOR

Poll

Which Koch-dribble is most upchuck-worthy?

19%5 votes
19%5 votes
19%5 votes
0%0 votes
11%3 votes
15%4 votes
7%2 votes
7%2 votes

| 26 votes | Vote | Results

Discuss

Sun Oct 19, 2014 at 06:21 PM PDT

A working guy's twinge of guilt

by malapert

The guy made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I repeat: Could. Not. Refuse.

Here's my situation: for most of the year, mid-March to mid-December, I caretake over a dozen summer homes here in the beautiful Thousand Islands--and in my spare time keep up my aged mother's house and rental cottage. I open and close the places, handle most of their repairs and renovations, deal with their plumbing and electrical issues and emergencies. In some of the places I have literally redone every room in their house or cottage, and scraped and painted the place two or three times in the last couple-three decades.

So I do a lot of carpentry. A lot of painting. A fair amount of plumbing and electrical work. Some mechanical work. I've designed and built additions and add-ons, transformed funky old sheds into cozy guest cottages, upgraded every door and window in the place, duplicated lost gingerbread, closed in porches, redone kitchens, added bathrooms. I spend most of my time working on old buildings that are not plumb, blithely unacquainted with concept of level, about as square as Russell Brand, badly plumbed, jangledly wired, and built long before there were accepted standards for stud and rafter spacing, or headers over doors and windows; buildings that are old and irredeemably idiosyncratic. To make things more interesting, many of them have been 'improved' over multiple decades by previous owners or generations who did the work themselves on weekends, in between fishing trips, and fueled by large amounts of beer.

So I have to have at hand a large number and variety of tools.

And there's the rub.

More about that below the orange caution squib.

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