Pretty Little Yellow Flowers

Popping up free all over the place
Bright as the joy on a child's face
Golden yellow like a wedding ring
Where they appear you know it's spring

Fields as white as your grandfather's hair
Windborne seeds distribute here and there
Planting more flowers for you and me
Flowers everywhere for all to see

Dandelion's root is tough as nails
Everyone who tries to kill it fails
Grumpy curmudgeons all hate its guts
Well if you ask me they're just plain nuts

Terminology Across the Political Divide

I want to address the way we use words to describe our political differences, in contemporary America. Specifically, I want to discuss the deep asymetry of how we use these words, depending on which side of the political spectrum is being discussed. There have always been some differences, related to the spectrum itself: words such as "liberal", "conservative", "radical", "reactionary", even "left" and "right", are obviously aimed in particular directions, and that's useful, because it's nice to have the ability to indicate political leanings. These words are generalizations, of course: not all conservatives have exactly the same political views. Not all liberals have exactly the same political views. But the terms are useful anyway.

But those are not the terminology differences I'm talking about.

One group (or part of a group) of protesters this year went beyond the original peaceful protest activity, siezed control of several blocks in the downtown area of a major city, and held it for more than a week. Another group (or, again, part of a group) of protesters elsewhere in the country, later in the year, went beyond the original peaceful protest activity, siezed control of a government building, and held it for a couple of hours. These are in many ways remarkably similar events. But we describe them with very different terminology. In the one case, we mostly call the participants "demonstrators", "protesters", and only occasionally say "rioters", perhaps because we're afraid that if we call them rioters, we'll be labeled as racists. In the other case, we rarely call the participants anything so downplayed as "rioters", instead reaching for breathless hyperbole: they are "domestic terrorists", and it's "insurrection" and possibly even "treason".

I want to be clear that I'm not excusing what was done in either case: both groups of rioters should be prosecuted for rioting, for the destruction of property that they caused, and for the disruption to public life. (In both cases here, I'm talking only about the persons who participated in the violent siezing and occupation of areas. The peaceful protest marches, in both cases, would've been fine, if things hadn't gone so much further; and of course we cannot prosecute anyone for peacefully marching down a street carrying a sign: that's a constitutionally protected freedom. Even if what's written on the sign is wrong, it's still a constitutionally protected freedom.)

In cases where people were harmed (which did happen: mostly it was the rioters themselves, and at least in the second case some of the responding police officers), the rioters should be held accountable for that as well. If there were deliberate killings, I'm not aware of it; but if there were, then murder charges would be appropriate. For accidental killings, there's another charge, manslaughter; when it happens during the commmission of another crime, such as rioting, that may be aggravated manslaughter. Criminals should be prosecuted for the crimes they committed.

But it's not right to just pick out random (or perhaps not so random) other crimes, crimes that were not in fact committed or even contemplated, and attempt to apply them arbitrarily. "Treason", to pick out one particularly egregious example, has a fairly particular definition under US law. Treason is when a person who owes allegiance to the United States (for example, by virtue of having sworn an oath to defend it, or by being a member of the US armed forces; merely being a citizen is not the standard here) gives material comfort or aid to an enemy nation, i.e., a foreign country with which we are at war. Note that acting against the government, or against current political officers of the United States, is not treason. Assasinating the President, for example, would not be treason. It'd be a very serious crime, but it wouldn't be treason. Treason is when you act not against individuals or the government, but against the entire nation, betraying your country to an enemy power, when you are supposed to be defending it. At least, that's what it is under US law. So for example if a high-ranking military or government official sells military secrets to the commies, that's treason. If some loon shoots the President, that's not treason. It's a different crime and, legally speaking, a less serious one, though still plenty serious enough to warrant the death penalty. Let me be perfectly clear: if the rioters had somehow managed to get an assault rifle into an active session of Congress and shot a bunch of Senators and Representatives, that would be on the one hand a much, much more serious crime than what they did; but on the other hand, it *still* wouldn't qualify as treason under US law. It would be mass murder among other things, and the people who did it would be in some very serious legal trouble; but it would not be treason.

The definition of terrorism is not quite so narrow, but fundamentally terrorism is about terror: mailing out envelopes of anthrax so that people are afraid to get the mail; crashing planes into buildings so that people are afraid to fly in a plane or work in a tall building; blowing up truck bombs in public places so that people are afraid to go out in public; setting fire to elementary schools so that people are afraid to send their kinds to school; these are all examples of terrorism, and they all have one thing in common: they scare not just the people who are directly involved, but people all over the country who are worried something similar might happen to them. That's what terrorism is. If you aren't at least attempting to frighten the population, then whatever you're doing isn't terrorism. Forcing your way past a police barrier and into a government building, isn't terrorism. It's tresspassing and destruction of property, and if you do it as part of an unruly mob it's rioting, and when the police try to stop you and you keep going that adds several additional charges, and if some people in the mob and/or some of the police officers involved become injured or killed, that adds yet more (increasingly serious) charges. But none of those charges are the same as terrorism.

When you call ordinary rioters "terrorists" or "insurrectionists" or call their actions "treason", you are ignoring the actual meanings of words and making up random claptrap; and you are accusing people of various serious capital offenses (markedly more serious than mere first degree murder), who are in fact guilty only of various non-capital offenses, with maximum sentences involving prison time. Maybe you're doing it to be dramatic, or maybe you're doing it to be persuasive, but whatever the reason is, what you're doing is wrong. You're slandering (or in print committing libel against) the criminals, by accusing them of much more serious crimes than they've actually committed. Whatever political point you're trying to make does not give you the right to just accuse people of things you know perfectly well they did not actually do. It's deceptive, dishonest, disingenuous, wrong, and illegal (or at least legally actionable in civil court, i.e., you can be sued for a lot of money for doing it). It also turns the criminals into victims, which is really unfortunate; I don't like to be in the position of defending criminals. I know there are people whose whole job is defending criminals, but I didn't sign up for that. Please stop making me do it.

Those Were the Good Old Days (2020 Edition)

Oh sometimes I think back to when I was younger, 
Life was so much simpler then.
Dad would be out with the guys,
Getting a burger and fries,
Or maybe going bowling again.

Oh, and mom would be fixing something in the kitchen,
A casserole for a church carry-in,
And I'd spend the weekend hanging out with my friends,
Wandering round town
And going into stores on a whim.

Those were the good old days.
Those were the good old days.
The weeks go by, and the memory fades.
But those were the good old days.

I can still recall, my favorite mall,
The one with the big grocery store
Oh, they hired a man, just to, shake your hand,
And say "Howdy" when you walked in the door.

The produce was nice, always was a fair price,
It's such a shame that they closed down that mall.
Oh I don't know when they'll ever open again.
Maybe next year in the fall?

Let me tell ya now:
Those were the good old days.
Those were the good old days.
The months come and go, and the memory fades.
But those were the good old days.

Do you remember Christy Anne?
She was my high school romance.
She had a pretty smile, and she held my hand,
So I took her to the homecoming dance.

But then halfway through the night I left her high and dry.
I left the dance with her former best friend,
And her open-mouthed stare
Became a withering glare, 
But I'd still do it over again.

I tell ya buddy,
Those were the good old days.
Those were the good old days.
The years pass away, and the memory fades.
But those were the good old days.

Those were the good old days
Those were the good old days
My old life is gone, and the memory fades,
But those were the good old days

— Parody of Good Old Days by Weird Al Yankovic

Flattening the Curve Too Much

There's been a lot of talk, during the 2020 virus pandemic, of the need to flatten the curve. The reasoning, which is valid up to a point, is that hospitals don't have enough equipment (e.g., ventilators; Galion hospital for instance has two of them) to treat as many people at once, as would need to be treated if the virus ran its natural course. This is true up to a point, as you can see in places like Italy, which didn't flatten the curve nearly enough and have consequently seen a disturbingly high mortality rate. The American medical care system would be more difficult to overwhelm than that of most other countries. American culture is obsessed with medical care; on an average day, something like 10% of the population receives medical care of some kind, and that's if you don't count prescription drugs as medical care; if you do, it's more than 50%; so our medical care industry is pretty substantial. It's expensive (and Americans spend a disturbingly large amount of money on medical care), but it's substantial. Nonetheless, we don't want to be in the boat Italy is in. We want to flatten the curve —up to a point.

But there is such a thing as flattening the curve too much.

I live in Crawford County. It's difficult to get an exact population figure, because population changes over time, but the 2018 estimate is around 41 and a half thousand. (This is down from almost 44 thousand in 2010. The population is on a long-term decline since the mid twentieth century, because most of the graduating students who go away to college, never come back. There are very few jobs suitable for college graduates here, and an employer would be mad to locate here if they need that kind of workforce, which creates a vicious cycle. What, if anything, we could be or should be doing about that, is an interesting question, which I will not attempt to address today.) It's now 2020 and we're due for a new census, but meanwhile I will be conservative and estimate that we have at least 40 thousand people in Crawford county.

We've had, according to the latest figures, which are about a day old at the time of this writing, 37 known cases of the virus. Being generous and assuming that only one case in twenty is confirmed and known (bearing in mind that some people never show symptoms), we could guess that perhaps as many as 750 people in the county have been exposed to the virus and are no longer in danger of catching it, either because they already have it, or because they are immune. (The difference between already having it and being immune may be of great personal importance, but for the calculation we are about to do, it actually doesn't change the figures, so it's something we don't need to distinguish in our estimates.) The true figure is probably markedly less than 750, but I'm being conservative here.

We started canceling stuff back on March 6th, and at that time we had 0 cases in Crawford county. (Some people were already being tested; but those early tests ended up coming back negative.) Our number-of-cases figure is from April 20th, a difference of more than six weeks. If the curve were linear, this would mean we'd need to stay home for about six more years. The curve is, as the word "curve" suggests, not linear. Technically, it's still an exponential growth curve. But we've flattened it so much, that the difference from linear is not nearly as dramatic as you'd normally expect. For the last month, the only time the statewide increase in reported cases has been noticeably different from linear, was in the last few days, when comprehensive testing in the prison system confirmed a large number of already-suspected cases. Prisons are a particularly problematic environment, for a variety of reasons (nursing homes aren't much better), so you expect a higher curve there. For most of the state, and especially for smaller communities, the curve is effectively so close to linear as makes no practical difference. Maybe we won't have to stay home for six years, but if something major doesn't change, it's going to be months and months and months. Which is really not ok.

We have flattened the curve too much.

We cannot, realistically, all remain cooped up at home for even one year. Inevitably, at some point, we are going to have to start going out again. And then the curve will be less flat, possibly a lot less flat. The natural shape of this curve, when people aren't all staying home, is very steep. I propose that we would have been better of with a curve somewhere in between these two extremes. Flattened, but not so completely flattened.

Why English Breakfast Tea Hasn't Caught On in America

If you pay attention to the portions of the internet that deal a lot with international travel and cultural differences, and if you watch for patterns, certain questions emerge. This is one of the lesser ones, but it's persistent: British people come to America, and they go to the grocery store and find the tea aisle, and they look for the specific teas that they are used to buying at home. This usually includes something called English Breakfast, and they don't always find it. Why, they want to know, is such an important staple tea so uncommon here?

There's some history that's worth knowing here, and I'll talk about that, but first I want to focus on the present situation. First of all, English Breakfast tea is available here, but it's one of several hundred named teas. It has to compete not only with such old standby teas as Constant Comment, but also with the explosion of flavors we've seen in the tea aisle in recent decades. If you go to any large grocery store (say, Meijer) and find the tea aisle, you're going to see hundreds of shelf-feet of different teas, ranging from the mundane (three or four different orange teas, three or four different lemon teas, three or four mint teas, chamomile, ...) to the peculiar.

Some of the most peculiar teas that you will find on the American grocery store shelf belong to a category that I am going to call gift teas. As far as I know, no one else calls them that, but the only time I have ever seen these sorts of tea, other than on the store shelf, was when they were purchased by one person and given to another. Rather than trying to formally define the category, I'm just going to give a couple of examples, and hopefully the idea will become clear.

I was once given a box of tea for Christmas, the exact name of which I no longer recall, but it had Christmas in it. It might have been something like Christmas Brunch or Country Christmas, or some similarly vague holiday-themed name. It was a flavored black tea, meaning that someone took ordinary black tea and added flavors to it. (This in itself is not odd. The aforementioned Constant Comment is a flavored black tea, and it's perfectly normal and reasonable and good.) Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact list of flavors it had in it: there were at least six, and I'm certain that almond and cherry were among them. If it had just been an almond and cherry flavored black tea, that might have been good, but there were several other flavors as well, and it just came out as a muddle. I only ever made one cup of it, which I didn't finish.

My mom currently has in her cupboard a box of Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride, which was, of course, also a gift. It's an herbal blend containing, again, at least half a dozen different flavors. Among them are, I swear on Dave Barry's soul that I am not making this up, thistle and barley. It's been in the cupboard for at least a year. It was a gift, and you can't throw away a gift. Realistically, nobody's ever going to drink it.

Given the existence of these sorts of teas, with vague, non-flavor-related names, can you begin to get a picture of why Americans see English Breakfast tea and don't immediately think that sounds good, we should try that. Frankly, most Americans are more likely to buy this product for someone they know who is planning a trip to England, than for themselves. Oh, you're interested in England? Well, here you go, here's a gift tea that has England in its name, so even if it's no bloody good, you'll know that I was thinking about you and what your interests are. It's the thought that counts, right? And no, to preempt an obvious question, I don't think most Americans are aware that English Breakfast tea is a thing in England. We get lots of things here that purport to be of various national origins and in fact are not. Why should this English tea we've never heard of before be different? The only way people are going to know otherwise, is if they see British people talking about it on the internet. Which, admittedly, is now possible.

I've glossed over something, though: how is it that Americans have not previously heard of English Breakfast tea?

The really weird thing is, if you look up the history of English Breakfast tea, it is believed to be of American origin. Well, the name, English Breakfast is believed to be of American origin, though it's hard to be quite certain of the particulars. As odd as it may seem, this is a clue. It is worth noting that the blend that went by that name in nineteenth-century America, is not the same blend that goes by that name in England now. In fact, it appears to have been composed of teas imported from China. (The British English Breakfast tea is, according to Wikipedia, made of teas from India, Sri Lanka, and Africa.) Why is this relevant? The thing is, pretty much all American teas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, were made of local American products (sassafras, mint, etc.), black tea (mostly pekoe grade) imported in bulk from China, or some combination thereof. Going across the Pacific, China is just plain closer than India. Also, prior to the advent of containerized shipping, it was cheaper and more practical to get all the tea from one port of origin, because you had to fill an entire bulk hauler with nothing but tea if you wanted the shipping to be at all affordable. Today, an importer can fill a single shipping container with palettes of various goods; but that is a relatively recent development.

We didn't start to see imported named teas in our stores until the nineties, by which time we already had several major competing tea companies (Bigelow, Celestial Seasonings, Arizona, Nestea, Snapple, and of course the old and much maligned standby Lipton, which ironically enough was originally British), each pushing their own line of teas (some more bottled-and-served-cold than others). We already had a pretty well stocked tea aisle. All of the real, tea-containing teas on the aisle had certain things in common, but this was not obvious from their names alone, and of course there were always the herbal teas. Into this mix we now add green tea (which we started to see in stores in the nineties), oolang tea (some time around the turn of the century), white tea (subsequently), and any number of imported blends and specialty teas. But they don't have a long history here, and they have to compete with everything that's already on the shelf. Earl Grey got free publicity from Star Trek, but that doesn't help English Breakfast.

Of course, it's early days yet. If we've only been getting imported named tea blends here for less than a generation, it follows that some that haven't yet caught on, still may do so in the future.

Nice error message, Microsoft

We're sorry, but your password couldn't be changed. Code: 0x8007052d

What does this mean? It took me a bit of experimentation, but I figured it out. Windows Ten has, believe it or not, a maximum password length. (That's not a typo. I don't mean a minimum. That would actually make sense.) It has two maximum password lengths, actually.

The above error message is what you get if you exceed the longer length limit of 63, when changing the password at some point after the account is set up or, at any rate, after the computer is set up. (I haven't tested what the rules are for additional accounts you create later.)

So what's the shorter limit? 20. When you turn on your computer for the first time and create an account and enter a password, you must enter a password that is 20 characters or shorter. There's nothing on the account creation screen to indicate this, and no warning if you exceed it. Everything seems to go fine, in fact, until you later try to log in, at which point you can't. (This can, of course, be solved in the usual ways. So much fun.)

Now if you'll excuse me, I have an urgent need to go install a real operating system. Immediately.

Screenshots: NetHack Fourk

These screenshots are for NetHack Fourk version, which is being released today.

When Sheryl Ran for Granted

It started on a Tuesday,
I remember that much now,
When Sheryl ran for granted.
She never really did say,
But we heard her anyhow,
When Sheryl ran for granted.

When Sheryl ran for granted,
     before two, after three,
When Sheryl ran for granted,
     over you, and under me,
When Sheryl ran for granted,
     feeling trapped, feeling free,
When Sheryl ran for granted,
     we were there, you and me,
When Sheryl ran for granted.

We had a lot of backers,
They poured in by the dozen,
When Sheryl ran for granted.
Some of us were slackers,
But the diligent were chosen,
When Sheryl ran for granted.

When Sheryl ran for granted,
     day by day, thick and thin,
When Sheryl ran for granted,
     'twas the way, that was then,
When Sheryl ran for granted,
     child's play, kith and kin,
When Sheryl ran for granted,
     what she'd say, how we'd win,
When Sheryl ran for granted.

Surprises kept on coming,
So much was unexpected,
No one foresaw the end.
Sheryl just kept on running,
She was so underrated,
It was such a mighty trend.

When Sheryl ran for granted,
     all as one, none alone,
When Sheryl ran for granted,
     what a run, in the zone,
When Sheryl ran for granted,
     she was the one, our backbone,
When Sheryl ran for granted,
     it was fun, the world to own,
When Sheryl ran for granted.

Pear Cake

Note that, for this to be any good, you must use proper canned pears. Do not go to the grocery store and buy flavorless so-unripe-they-are-crunchy canned pears. Ever. Nothing good can come from that.

Cake Ingredients:
1 quart of home-canned pears (in light syrup, ideally).
1.5 cups of (granulated white) table sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
2.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. vanilla flavoring or extract
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
Glaze Ingredients:
all the juice/syrup from the pears
plus any excess blended pears (see instructions)
1/2 cup sugar
2 TBSP cornstarch
1/4 tsp. pear extract (optional)
2 tsp. vanilla (optional)

Open the pears and pour the juice off into a saucepan, allowing the pears to drain well. (Not only do you want the juice for the glaze, you also don't want too much liquid in the cake.) Place the pears themselves in the blender and puree them, then divide the results: use up to 2 and 7/8 cups of the pear puree for the cake and whatever remains (if any) in the glaze. (If there isn't any pear puree left for the glaze, that's ok. The juice is enough.)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Combine the larger portion of the pear puree with the sugar and eggs and beat until foamy, then beat in the oil and milk. Stir the dry ingredients together and then add them to the pear mixture. Beat until smooth. Fold in the raisins (if desired). Pour into a bundt pan. Bake at 350F for about 50 minutes (depending on your oven). When it's almost done, start the glaze (below). Let the finished cake cool in its pan for 5-10 minutes, then invert it onto a plate. Spoon glaze over the top while they are both still hot. If you get the top of the cake coated and a decent amount dripping down the sides and there is still glaze left, it can be spooned over individual slices while it lasts.

Glaze Instructions:

To make the glaze, combine the pear juice, the remaining pear puree (if any), the 1/2 cup of sugar, and the cornstarch in the saucepan. Stir and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it thickens up. When you are just about ready to spoon the glaze over the cake, stir in the extract.