There is a reference in Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night to the man from Thermopylae who never did anything properly.  [Please remember this is Oxford, in order to be able to pronounce it proppalee!]

The original is attributed to Edward Lear; it was documented by one of his cartoons in 1872:

"There was an old man of Thermopylae,
Who never did anything properly;
But they said, "If you choose to boil eggs in your shoes,
You shall never remain in Thermopylae."

But I object to the repetition of Thermopylae.  Not a kosher Limerick.  Needs to be corrected:

There was an old man of Thermopylae,
Who never did anything properly;
But he said, "If I choose to boil eggs in my shoes,
For the method I'll have a monopoly.

There.  Much better.


Political Bon Mots

In 1860 Joseph de Maistre wrote, "Toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite."  That usually gets translated as, "Every nation gets the government it deserves." 

I guess that in the case of a republic or democracy, that is true in a general and wholesale sort of way.

Surely the vast majority of the people of Russia and its satellites did not deserve Stalinist socialism, though...

And in that same red light, the people of California really don't deserve the Jerry Brown et al. version of Stalinist socialism. 

So the problem is not that the whole state gets the government that the whole state deserves, but that I, Crowndot, get the government that my neighbors deserve. 


When I was born... and so on

For perspective:
When I was born the President of the United States was Dwight David Eisenhower; the Vice President was Richard M. Nixon. 
When I was born the United States flag had 48 stars.
When I was born Fulgencio Batista was president of Cuba.
I watched the Moon Landing LIVE on TV. 
My first “word processor” was a manual Smith Corona typewriter. 
My first computer was an Osborne.
My first “real” job included producing custom reports by hacking COBOL code. On a Burroughs B20 and a keyboard that had the function buttons on the left.
I have made archival copies of computer files on 5-1/4″ floppies, 3-1/2″ floppies, 1/4″ tape drives, CDs, DVDs, thumb drives from 256Kb on up, SSDs, and “cloud.”
The “don’t be evil” might have ended when Google bought  Deja News.


Wet chemical photo processing -- remember?

Digital pictures put an end to the ubiquitous film processing kiosks and strip mall stores.  Now smartphones are doing away with digital cameras ("experts say"). While contemplating the vagaries of why I never have my camera when my 5 megapixel phone camera won't do, I remembered the heyday of Fotomat.

They weren't all bulldozed.  And the Libyans didn't plow into all of them, either.  Some have new life as caffeine filling stations. 

That means these sites are still doing a form of wet process chemical alchemy, after all.


Machine Shop Drama

Scene: My office.

Employee: The flap wheel on the big pedestal grinder is no good.

Me: Ooh. Did it disintegrate on you?

Employee: No. There's no grit on it.

Me: No grit on it?

Employee: Just cloth. No Grit.

Me:  Let's go look.

Scene: At the pedestal grinder.

Me: Okay, here's what I need you to do.  Take the flap wheel off and bring it to me in my office.

Employee: Okay.  Do we have a good one?

Me: Just bring it to me in my office.

Scene:  Later, my office.

Employee: Um.

Me: You have the bad flap wheel?

Employee: Um, it was installed backwards.

Me: Ya THINK?!

- - - -

If you spin it the wrong way, all that hits the work is the BACK of the sandpaper! Stop Everything! The System Has Encountered An Unexpected Error!

I do this.  Every. Single. Day.


The Veneerings of 2017: "IKEA Humans"

Samuel Biagetti has an undergraduate degree from Brown; a PhD. in History from Columbia; is a "Museum Scholar" at the Museum of the City of New York; is currently a lecturer at Barnard College; has a podcast -- "Historiansplaining: A Historian Tells You Why Everything You Know Is Wrong;" and has read his Dickens carefully.  (That's a lot to know about someone I don't really know. Life in the 21st Century.)  Mr. Biagetti wrote an article I bumped into online.  His article starts out with the Veneerings -- the young affluent couple in Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend -- then creates a hypothetical couple as a 21st Century correlate to the Veneerings.

That class has not disappeared, but has grown and evolved into the white-collar professional and managerial elite that sets the general tone of political and intellectual life in the West.
Suppose for the moment that our young couple of today, roughly parallel to the Veneerings (we will call them, in accordance with the forced informality of modern workplaces, by their first names), Jennifer and Jason, are members of the upper middle class, living off their smarts and social connections rather than manual work.

[If you have time for long-form text, you might try to read the whole enjoyable article.]

In the 152 years since Our Mutual Friend, the class has not only evolved away from a certain method of elaborate dining, but also from the furniture that named the shallow socialites in the novel.

Let us further entertain the idea that in our time as in Dickens’, life imitates furniture, and that we will learn something about our young couple if we consider where they house their underwear. If we picture Jennifer and Jason’s bedroom, it is not hard to guess what we would see there: a good deal of IKEA. 

A consideration of the deeper meaning of Particle Board follows. Then the Solid Gold Quote:

For Jennifer and Jason, cuisines, musical styles, meditative practices, and other long-developed customs are not threads in a comprehensive or enduring way of life, but accessories like cheap sunglasses, to be casually picked up and discarded from day to day. Unmoored, undefined, and unaware of any other way of being, Jennifer and Jason are no one. They are the living equivalents of the particle board that makes up the IKEA dressers and IKEA nightstands next to their IKEA beds. In short, they are IKEA humans.

IKEA Humans.  Wow.  Not just shallow veneer.  A relatively disoriented syncretism of post-post-modern lifestyle, fashion, art, music, everything covered with the thinnest possible suggestion of grain. It gets darker:

The truth is that one cannot escape being an IKEA human, any more than an IKEA dresser can change what it is. The question is only what one makes of the situation. . . .
The most venal and self-centered rise to the top; sociopaths are champions. The IKEA personality — cheeky, smug, and capricious, concealing a narcissistic quest for status —is the best adapted to the times.
Then comes the seminar question: "Can the trend reverse?"  This is at about halfway through the article. What follows is some liberal soul-searching and "historiansplaining" that develops unfortunately nothing more than an IKEA conclusion:

. . . A strong and enduring civilization requires citizens willing to state their core principles and to argue openly for their vision of the good society. That entails a frank and honest contest over how power and resources should be allocated in our world. Some, of course, will opt to pursue naked self-interest – in which case, let them be unmasked for all to see. The rest of us must aspire to be citizens before we can then claim to be fully human.

The end.  Hmm.  I wonder what that means?

I'm afraid that beneath it all, the second half of the article decodes as the lament of a sad liberal who realizes he is spiritually IKEA in spite of the fact that apparently he is co-owner of a high-end antiques retail establishment.  But at least there is a pro-free-speech pitch there in the "to state their core principles and to argue openly" part.  But the idea that self-interest is somehow the evil that will be unmasked gives away the hopelessly up-ended nature of the world view. I'm pretty sure the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution saw the ideal of self-governance as being worked out by fully-human individuals and for the benefit of individuals, not for the benefit of "society" much less a "vision of the good society."  I hope I am not being overly libertarian at the same time that I hope I am not being insufficiently subsidiarist when I say that Biagetti has it upside-down somehow.  The individual who is integrally human is the key to good in society.  (Grace makes it easier.)

But I liked the IKEA People image.


People who don't trust you are not to be trusted

This item is a cross between a super-soaker and a fly-swatter. It shoots a small quantity of table salt to down pesky flies.

The highlighted text says, "This item cannot be shipped to your selected location."

That location would be, of course, California.

Note that Amazon does not sell guns.  Not real guns.  Never did.

So somebody (*cough*kamalaharris*cough*) must have put the kibosh on wing-shooting musca domestica, for their own nefarious reasons.

[Edit, 20 September 2017:  Apparently it is just an Amazon ban.  Californians can order direct from the manufacturer.  I could even get one from the local ACE Hardware. So, 'sup wi'dat, Amazon? ]


Hurricane Irma Fake News?

6 September 2017

I've been trying to figure out where the "OMG 185MPH!!WINDS!!!11!"  all started.

At about 10:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time on 5 September 2017, the Mirror newspaper website in the United Kingdom published a story that seems to include the 185MPH figure reported from one (1) reporting station (anemometer?) on the island of St. Martin.  I include the link strictly for archival interest; the site itself is slow loading chum bait. Since then it's been all Biggest Hurricane EVAH!!! from every mainstream legacy news source.  From -- as far as I can tell -- one report.

I am skeptical.

For one thing, "sustained" wind speed, in the hurricane business, is defined as "measured for one minute or more."  That filters out instrument static.  But somehow "sustained" reported wind speed has turned into reports that basically the wind speed everywhere within Hurricane Irma has been 185 Miles Per Hour for more than sixteen hours as of this writing.  

For another thing, One. Reporting. Station.  Even if a St. Martin anemometer read 185 MPH for one minute or more, and even if it was an accurate instrument, it might have been based on location -- a canyon, a rise in ground, or urban architecture can funnel air to cause an increase in velocity.

Another thing.  I've been looking at the beautiful and mesmerizing wind earth at  https://earth.nullschool.net/  and I have only been able to see wind speeds up to around 160 KILOMETERS per hour -- or a hundred miles an hour.  That's still strong wind.  But not historic, breaking all the records strong.  Irma is probably a normal hurricane.  You would expect a hundred miles an hour out of a cyclonic weather system of that size and pressure gradient.

I am not a meteorologist, and do not play one on television.  No, don't click that link.  Let's just say that I could never compete in today's broadcast media.  Leave it at that.

But still.  One Report.  One Instrument reporting.  Possibly for One Minute.  And MPH vs. KPH.  And it looks like that's how fake news turns into something everybody knows (but that just ain't so).


Comparing Self to Others

"Comparison is the thief of joy."  This quote is variously attributed on the internet to Mark Twain, Dwight Edwards, even Theodore Roosevelt.  Maybe those authors did say it, or something very like it.  But maybe they were all paraphrasing some other more arcane quote.

How often do we read something that gets filed in the memory in the form of a paraphrase?

Many educated people, civil war generals and others  habitually and continually have read their Marcus Aurelius.  In the Meditations, they encounter quotes like this:
Now much time and leisure doth he gain, who is not curious to know what his neighbor hath said, or hath done, or hath attempted, but only what he doth himself, that it may be just and holy? or to express it in Agathos' words, Not to look about upon the evil conditions of others, but to run on straight in the line, without any loose and extravagant agitation. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Number XV)
(No I don't know who Agathos is.) A number of editions of the Meditations are still in print.  The classical stoic may be an accessible handle on life for people in business and politics.  I would rather have them all reading old Marcus than old Marx, to tell you the truth.

To return to our quote about the thief of joy.  What is more precious than time? What is more pernicious than someone or something that robs us of valuable time? While Marcus Aurelius made the comment positive with respect to time and negative about comparing or curiosity, the succinct aphorism attributed without documentary citation of attribution turns it into a positive about curiosity (comparison) and negative (a thief) about joy/time/value.

Viva Marcus (Aurelius) and Mark (Twain)!  Oh, and down with Marx.


Why the heck do we have a Labor Day anyway?

Let's take a little trip in the Wayback machine to the last quarter of the 19th century:

1884 - Grover Cleveland , Democrat, elected president

·    corruption, trusts, suppression of civil rights

1888 - Benjamin Harrison, Republican, elected president

·    civil service reform (largely blocked by Democrats and corrupt Republicans)
·    civil rights enforcement of voting rights for African Americans (largely blocked by Democrats and corrupt Republicans)
·    modernization of U.S. military
·    reciprocal tariffs against tariff-exacting countries in Central America and Europe
·    currency stabilization, silver coinage
·    antitrust legislation (Sherman Antitrust Act)
·    beginning of electrification
·    ecological progress -- national forests, historic site preservation
·    price of German pork products skyrockets due to U.S. tariff reciprocation to German embargo of U.S. pork
·    Wounded Knee -- not good!
·    wage stagnation -- not good!
·    lost shaky majority in congress in mid-term elections, legislative agenda blocked -- not good!

1892 - Grover Cleveland, Democrat, elected president  -- again!

·    gold standard comes back: given international speculation in gold, destabilizes currency
·    corruption, trusts, suppression of civil rights
·    massive recession / inflation / unemployment -- the "Panic of  1893"
·    rise of "big money" (J.P. Morgan, et al.) in Federal government
·    worker riots
·    violent suppression of Pullman riots / anarchists
·    Cleveland signs Labor Day Holiday act June 28, 1894
·    Cleveland uses 12,000 U.S. military personnel to shut down railroad strike

A-a-and, back to the present.

So.  What did we learn?  Let's see.  The press has always been corrupt and always full of liars? Labor bosses back Democrats and expect the workers to go back and lick the hand that beat them?  Supporting a return to the gold standard is either engaging in crazy cargo cult economics or paving the way for manipulation by trusts and cartels?  Republicans have always been the real environmentalists?

Yes, but what does that have to do with Labor Day?

It's a bone Democrat Cleveland threw the American Federation of Labor after beating down the Pullman Strike.  But he was only recognizing a thing that was already happening.

It turns out that starting in Manhattan in the early 1880s there were worker parades in early September.  It's kind of like declaring, "We may be powerless, but we can party!"

So Labor Day is a nationally established secular version of every Jewish holiday:  "They tried to kill us; they didn't; let's party!"


What is this decade, anyway?

The Twenty-Teens decade is spinning to a cultural entropy point in so many ways.  Go home, Twenty-Teens -- you're inebriated with your virtual self.

  • Clothes that Pinterest better than they last through launderings.
  • Recipes that Instagram better than they taste.
  • Vacation destinations that photoshop on Tumblr better than real life.
  • Witticisms to SnapChat because I can't get a word in edgewise IRL.
  • Wii Fit, but  not, you know -- fit.
  • Facebook friends not IRL friends.
  • Etc.


Simcha Fisher made me cry today

Because nostalgia.

It takes very little nostalgia to make me sick.  And it doesn't even have to be my own nostalgia.

Simcha's memories, recent and distant, pop open the lid of the highly pressurized mil-spec case of my own stomped down stay in there because shut up! memories.

And I didn't read every single teentsy weentsy word in her article, either. Because it takes very little nostalgia to make me well up and wish I had spent a few hours of the last twelve years just wallowing in the sad happy wet-eyed hurt of being reminded of "the good times" of bygone days.

That's all -- I'm jumping up and down on the lid now and flipping the heavy duty mil-spec latches closed with a great big stick.


Avoidable tragedy in the Andaman Sea

The United States Navy Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) managed to collide with an oil tanker in the Straits of Malacca on Monday morning Singapore time (Sunday in USA). 

A number of sailors are missing.  Severe damage to the McCain. 

How does this even happen?

I was thinking about the problem of naval collision back on 2 August this year, when the anniversary rolled around of the loss of PT-109 skippered by Lt. jg. John F. Kennedy in 1943.  Setting aside Kennedy's reputed heroics after the fact, how the hell does the lightest, fastest, and most maneuverable craft in the theater get cut in half by a Japanese cruiser?  Hold my beer and watch this?  What the hell, JFK?  At least he pulled one of his passengers out of the water, which is more than you can say for brother Teddy. 

Back to the McCain though:  they can make a car that parallel parks itself.  They have all the computing and technical power of the United States military.  And they can't prevent peacetime collision?  

How does this even happen? Maybe they already do have collision avoidance technology. 

"What's this blinking light, sir?"

"Oh, it always does that when we're in the Straits of Malac-- Holy F--!"


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I was born under a wandering star, the song said.

Actually I was born under 48 very stable stars.

The 48 star flag of the United States was used from 1912 until 21 August 1959, at which time I was a chubby little crumb cruncher working with a dozen or so teeth.


I followed a truck all the way home from work

Some dude in some kind of Chevy or GMC 2005 plus or minus half a decade SUV ended up going my way for several miles.

His truck had wider-than-standard tires that stuck out beyond the fender wells by a couple of inches, which used to be a fix-it ticket offence in California. The front wheels tracked about three inches to the left of the rear wheels, like a one-eyed dog trotting down the sidewalk.  That's how I know it was a Chevy type product.  Never seen a Ford or a Dodge do that.  There was a throaty hole in his exhaust system somewhere, or a cut-out system, and the engine was at a stage that we used to call "Yeah she burns a little oil."

I pretty much merge toward the slow lane after the intersection of the interstates, and then I stay there.  It's not a long commute, so if I take a low key approach and let every merging vehicle in, miss every light, and end up behind every overloaded truck trying to make it to the dump before it closes, it still loses me very little time.  What's a minute and a half, three minutes?  So I don't press and don't stress.

The Chevy SUV took a different tactic.  He would roar up to the slow landfill-bound truck and tailgate for a while, then roar out two or three lanes and try to pass some people.  But every time, he ended up just one space ahead of me.  It was like going for a walk with a hyperactive retriever that doesn't know how to heel, but goes roaming around about and back with his tongue hanging out -- and trotting along with his front paws a bit to the left of his rear ones.

We parted ways just before I turned left on the Crowndot street of residence.  Somebody in front of Mr. Chevy turned up the hill, giving him a clear path ahead, and off he roared in a cloud of partially burned diesel and motor-oil soot.

Bottom line:  I don't want to hear a damned thing about MY carbon footprint.


Summer Solstice, Midsummer, &c.

Where I reside, at approximately 38° North Latitude, the actual length time between sunrise and sunset is identical (within half a minute) from 15 June to 25 June (and maybe beyond that, I didn’t check). Namely we have about 15 hours 32 minutes between sunrise and sunset – it seems longer because of long morning and evening twilight and often a lingering glow from atmospheric conditions in summer. 
In modern astronomical terms, the solstice is defined in terms of the position of the earth in its orbit around the sun, as measured against the background of the fixed stars.  So in 2017, the solstice occurs at 9:24 PM PDT on 20 June.  
In ancient observational astronomical terms, the solstice is literally the apparent “standing still” of the sun at either end of its travel, over the course of the year, north and south on the ecliptic.  Seeing the sun come up in the same spot for ten or more days is remarkable, compared to the day-to-day changes in equinoctial seasons (more rapidly changing position of sunrise/sunset as well as many minutes per day longer or shorter time of daylight).  So the ancients marked the year with Midsummer celebrations at Summer Solstice, and with Midwinter celebrations (Yuletide) at the Winter Solstice.   
Let me beat my “First Day of Summer” drum.  In my attuned-to-ancient-Celtic brain, the first day of summer was the cross-quarter on Cinco de Mayo, more or less.  First Day of Spring is Groundhog Day (Lunar New Year, more or less, depending on whether you’re a sun kind of person or a moon kind of person). First Day of Winter is actually around Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, plus or minus.  And First Day of Autumn is August 6, Hiroshima Day – or if you prefer, the day on which the racist American President Lyndon Baines Johnson was dragged kicking and screaming and forced into signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 


American Patriotism is Exceptional

You can find this quote all over the internet (e.g., brainyquote):
Pervading nationalism imposes its dominion on man today in many different forms and with an aggressiveness that spares no one. The challenge that is already with us is the temptation to accept as true freedom what in reality is only a new form of slavery.
Pope St. John Paul II never said that, as far as I can tell.

This is one of those cases where being an old guy is actually an advantage.  I remember the speech. The quote above is somebody's mangled re-telling of part of the homily in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland, on 29 September 1979.  Here's the original:

Pervading materialism imposes its dominion on man today in many different forms and with an aggressiveness that spares no one. The most sacred principles, which were the sure guides for the behaviour of individuals and society, are being hollowed out by false pretences concerning freedom, the sacredness of life, the indissolubility of marriage, the true sense of human sexuality, the right attitude towards the material goods that progress has to offer. Many people now are tempted to self-indulgence and consumerism, and human identity is often defined by what one owns. Prosperity and affluence, even when they are only beginning to be available to larger strata of society, tend to make people assume that they have a right to all that prosperity can bring, and thus they can become more selfish in their demands. Everybody wants a full freedom in all the areas of human behaviour and new models of morality are being proposed in the name of would-be freedom. When the moral fibre of a nation is weakened, when the sense of personal responsibility is diminished, then the door is open for the justification of injustices, for violence in all its forms, and for the manipulation of the many by the few. The challenge that is already with us is the temptation to accept as true freedom what in reality is only a new form of slavery. [emphasis added, and note I maintained the Vatican's British spellings -- that proves crowndot is not an evil nationalist!]
I seem to recall that at times our beloved late St. JPII spoke out against a mistaken patriotism or nationalism that excludes Christian charity.  But that's outside the scope of what I want to say today.

I have been bumping into right-hearted wrong-minded people since the selection of President Trump as the Republican nominee in 2016, whom I must present today only in straw form because of time (laziness), who denigrate all nationalism and all patriotism, even in America.

There are people all over the world who really do have a my-country-can-do-no-wrong mentality. I say that because it is clear from the bloody trail it has left through history that for radical Mohammedanism, every day is my-religion-can-do-no-wrong, plus for them "my country" equals "my religion" ergo my-country-can-do-no-wrong. If that is patriotism, then patriotism is nothing good. But that's not patriotism.

Patriotism seems to be the belief that other things being equal, the land of my birth or adoption gets a bye on close scrutiny in matters of economic advantage. So patriotism might be a bit intellectually lazy, but is morally ambiguous at worst. Say we're in France.  It's probably okay to talk and act like we have the best cheese, the best meat sauce, the best soccer team, the best climate.  But taking that to absolutes doesn't make sense.  For instance, take the French legal system. Monsieur, you are guilty until proven innocent -- how can you prove you are innocent?! Take communist China. Comrade, you live at the discretion of your political elite -- you can't even have a second child without incurring the wrath of your overlords!

What about the United States of America?  I'm not about to try to justify the Code of Federal Regulations, the IRS, or legal abortion.  But the American system makes possible the actualization of each person's potential as God intended, more than any other system ever devised.
1878 All men are called to the same end: God himself. There is a certain resemblance between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God. 1879 The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Human beings develop their potential in the environment of maximum liberty.

America is still the shining city on the hill, the best place of most freedom. Is it the ideal? Of course not. Each of us is developing our potential. That's our vocation, the end of which is God Himself. As a nation we are supposed to be developing too. Something about promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty. God writes straight with crooked lines.  Hint: we are the crooked lines. What God hath writ in America, nice and straight, is, "The land of the free."

Material prosperity in America is a byproduct of the system of liberty. What is offered to the world is freedom; what the immigrant (legal and otherwise) seeks is unfortunately material prosperity. But that's a start, if they adopt the culture of liberty. If not, all they have taken on is the imposing dominion of materialism. (Side point: materialism is what Islam says it hates about us; what it actually hates is freedom. Discuss.)

As an American, it his hard to go wrong if you are a bit nationalistic and patriotic. That is natural in the land of the free. President Trump noted in his inaugural address, "When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice." He was talking about AMERICAN patriotism.