Exit charlatan, fulminating

Donald Trump, despicable demagogue, has been defeated. This is the victory of a lifetime for Joe Biden. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory for Democrats.

Trump is two steps down from Richard NixonWilliam F. Buckley gave an apt defense of Nixon.  When someone called Nixon a tenth-rate politician, Buckley retorted that Nixon may have been a tenth-rate man, but he was a first-rate politician. Trump is a tenth-rate man and a third-rate politician. His one talent is fulminating.

His talent for fulminating was enough to make him president of the United States, and that is a fearsome revelation of the state of the States. A substantial minority of citizens is ready to burn the country down.  And they are waiting for a man with a torch.

Why? Who are they?  They are poor, uneducated, and asocial. They live in the big empty spaces of our country, where they eke out a living and glare enviously at the wealth of city-dwellers. When I write that they are willing to burn the country down, I mean they are willing to burn the cities down. Trump’s fulminations are a cocktail for them.

Well, it’s not that simple.  They live on a political spectrum of the right from fascists through reactionaries to conservatives.

Biden won by soothing the fears of the conservatives. That wasn’t the only way to win, but that’s the way he won.  As the Democrats always do, Biden made the calculation that the left would support him because where else are they going to go? And as they always do, centrist Democrats are now busy demanding that the left shut up and not upset the right.

If the nihilism of the right is a harsh kind of insanity, the appeasement of the center is a soft kind.  It’s the insanity of doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  It’s Mike Dukakis thanking Reagan for not using the “L” word.

The centrists achieved a tepid victory.  Considering the mortal danger we are in, the Democrats made a pitiful showing.  They won’t have the strength to do much.  How is it that when the Republicans win power, they can do tremendous damage, but when the Democrats win, they can barely manage to do some deferred maintenance?

A more perfect union: step by step.  Republicans worked for two generations to take control of the courts. Democrats can take control of the House and the presidency in just one generation.  And we can rein in the Supreme Court.

First, expand the HouseIt hasn’t been done in four generations.  Even setting aside the improved representation, this solves several problems.  It reduces gerrymandering.  It changes the balance of the electoral college. It changes the number of state delegations controlled by each party.  It shifts representation toward the cities, where the people are.

Second, expand the Supreme Court.  It hasn’t been done in six generations.  Also, limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.  For example, take away the authority to invalidate acts of Congress.  Also, rotate the membership on the Supreme Court among all the appellate judges.

The steps outlined above can be taken with simple acts of Congress.  Of course, that requires that Democrats have full control of both the House and the Senate as well as the Presidency.  What if we don’t win the two Georgia Senate seats?  Below are two steps that might get through a divided Congress.

Third, develop the Dakotas. Three generations ago FDR flew over the South and saw its backwardness. He took the initiative to develop it. Now, three generations later, that investment is paying off.  Developing the Dakotas would be the same investment, and because those states are basically empty, the investment required would be smaller and would pay off sooner.

Several developments can draw educated and diverse citizens to the Dakotas.  First, establish a major city of at least half a million residents in each state.  Make some land grants.  Locate a substantial Federal government center there.  Also, create an industrial center that would attract major employers like Amazon or Google or Apple.  This would bring in educated residents who could have a major impact on the culture of the state.  A large center for environmental stewardship of public lands could be a liberalizing influence.  These moves would immediately pay dividends by providing employment and hope to the region.

Fourth, expand federalism.  Renovate interstate compacts and floor pre-emption.  Provide for a comprehensive system of interstate compacts that can handle issues on a regional level that don’t command a majority on the national level.  With floor preemption, the federal government sets minimum standards, and the states, or the interstate compacts, set higher standards.  This is already done in a hodgepodge fashion.  Rationalize it.

Beware of nullification.  Nullification is the theory that a state doesn’t have to follow an act of Congress that it believes is unconstitutional.  It was favored by Jefferson until he was elected president.  Then it was disgraced by John C. Calhoun, who used it to protect slavery.  The right has used nullification to restrict abortion.  The current very successful movement to legalize marijuana is basically an exercise of nullification.  Regardless of federal law, the states are legalizing it.  This is dynamite.  Handle with care.

Finally, expand the Senate.  This one requires an amendment to the Constitution.  This is the long game.  It can be incubated in the interstate compacts.  Provide that every state will receive one senator for every two (or three) members of the House.  Sure, keep the minimum of two senators per state.   This will complete the democratization of our government.

Trump will leave fulminating against our democracy.  It is up to us to choose whether we will simply stand pat on eroding ground or fix the foundation.

Going viral

These days, everybody who’s nobody wants to go viral. Going viral is one way a nobody can become a somebody. Then you can tell your name the livelong day to your admiring blog.

So, you want your viral moment. But then, you want another. You don’t want to be a one- hit wonder. And then, people will ask, How big is your blog?

How big is your blog? A thousand hits (not viral). A million hits? (yes, viral) A billion hits? (pandemic!)

So, if you want to go viral, I’ll tell you how I do it. Just email this blog to everyone in your address book. Also, post it on Facebook and tag all your friends. Check back next month to see if I’m viral. If yes, try this. If no, thanks for playing.

See, there’s a validation mechanism built into this con. Way better than a chain letter. How can you lose?

Barton Creek Time Stream

Let me tell you about the Barton Creek Time Stream.

On a day when there’s water in Barton Creek, it’s a running oasis refreshing visitors.  It’s a source of joy and a scene of friendship.  And Barton Springs is our city’s main attraction in the world.  But the creek and the springs have many facets.  No savage clans ever fought harder over a source of water than the people of Austin have fought outsiders and each other over Barton Creek and Barton Springs.  And preserving those waters has been a labor of love for many.

So the creek and the springs have touched many lives in many ways.  They have left sweet dreams and memories, but also scars and bitterness.  It’s a big story.  And Karen Kocher has done much to tell that story, or those stories. 

Karen’s latest work, the Barton Creek Time Stream, is a great attraction that you won’t see at Barton Springs this summer, thanks to the pandemic.  But, you can see it in a virtual tour on September 10 at 6:30 pm.

Early this year, Karen invited folks to write something for the exhibit.  I wrote about some of my experiences with the creek and the springs, and she whipped me through several rewrites until she was happy with it.  She gave me permission to post it here.

My essay comes in three parts.  First is a short history of my involvement with the springs.  It’s not so short.  Second is a short paean to the dynamic geology of the aquifer, the creek, and the springs.  Third is a tutorial in how, when the creekflow is good, you can climb the creekbed horizontally.

All this might start you thinking about getting involved with the creek and the springs yourself.  You ought to.  It’s fun, and there’s a lot to do.

Replacing the hard drive in the Macintosh LC III

Today, I’m going to replace the hard drive in my new Macintosh LC III. It’s new because I just bought it, but it was made in about 1993. That was a time when you could get under the hood of the Mac and install upgrades, make repairs, or just tinker.

I don’t keep old Macs as museum pieces. I keep them as working machines. I bought my first Mac in 1985, and I like to have a chain linking me back to that first Mac Plus. I find that if I have on hand a Mac released about every ten years, I can access all the files in my archives and pass documents forward and backward in time.

Somehow, I let a gap open up between the 80s and the 00s. I’ve owned and used at least a hundred Macs over time, but I let go of all the ones from the 90s. That left my Mac Plus stranded back there in the 80s with no link to the 00s.

What are the important links between generations of Macs? Operating systems are probably the most important links. They change drastically over 20 years. So, a file created on a computer from 20 years ago is probably not going to be readable on a new computer today. Ports are also important links. These are the sockets on the back where you plug in keyboards and other input devices, external hard drives, network connections. Nothing on the market today can plug into my old Mac Plus.

I’m pretty excited about this LC III. It’s sort of flat and square, and in it’s time it was nicknamed the pizza box. As I’ve accumulated computers, I’ve come to appreciate a shape easily stored. The Mac mini is the epitome of that value.

Speaking of ports, it requires an adapter, but this LC III can display on an LCD monitor that can also display from a new Mac. So display technology has been pretty stable for about 30 years. In fact, I have the LC III plugged into the same monitor that my 2007 Mac mini is plugged into.

As I said, back in the early days, it was possible to open up the Mac, take a look around, and do things. So let’s get started. Unplug all the cables. Don’t forget to wear your groundwire.

At the back of the topcase are two big tabs. Lift them up and tilt the lid forward. As it pivots forward, just remove it and set it aside. What a dream!

Right up at the front, on the left, is the hard drive. It’s an 80 megabyte drive. Yes, you read that right. I’m replacing it with a 125 MB drive— a real monster!

At the back of the drive is a ribbon cable and a four-wire connector. Carefully pull those out. Little plastic tabs hold the drive in place. Gently pull those away from the drive and lift it up. You’re halfway there! Set aside the old drive.

You’re not quite done with the old drive, because you need the drive bracket. That’s the little cage of sheet metal that clips into the plastic tabs so snugly. Unscrew the bracket from the old drive and screw it onto the new drive.

Now you have the new drive securely in its bracket. Go ahead and push in the long head of the ribbon cable and the plastic plug of the four-wire connector.

You can just slide the drive and its bracket down between the tabs until it clicks into place. It’s installed.

Put the lid back on. Tilt it toward you and carefully slide the front facade up against the front of the computer. Now tilt it down until the two tabs at the back snap into place at the back of the computer. Plug in all the cables.

Now for the moment of truth. Switch on the Mac and wait to see if it boots up. There’s the startup ding. There’s the Welcome to Macintosh splash screen. Success!

We have almost doubled the storage capacity of our Mac in only a few minutes and with no cussin at all.

Calling the Social Corps

In the face of yet another police killing of a black man, protesters raise the call to #defundthepolice.  It’s a message of anger, and anger is warranted.  Could there be a positive message?  Yes, let’s #callthesocialcorps.

The task at hand is to reduce police violence without reducing social order.  Wait, that’s two tasks.  Reduce police violence and keep social order.  And while we’re at it, let’s decide that every person who needs emergency help gets the right help.

The Social Corps could accomplish all those tasks.  The Social Corps would be a national corps of professionals trained in the social sciences:  social workers.  Call them social responders.    Social responders would join the ranks of first responders like police officers, firefighters, and medics.  Local emergency dispatch offices would sort calls between the police force and the social corps.

To sort emergencies requires making distinctions between the threatening or dangerous and the merely antisocial.  Okay, true, antisocial can be pretty bad.  But if it isn’t dangerous, it doesn’t require a firearm on the scene.  In fact, what it requires is someone with the social knowledge to evaluate the behavior and respond as needed.

The title Social Corps fits because the responders protect the marginal in society from losing their places altogether.  Someone who sees or experiences antisocial behavior would not need to fear calling for help, because the help would not be armed.  Someone who simply can’t cope with society would not need to fear being harmed.  In fact, someone in crisis would be attended with respect and assistance.

Social Corps responders would be sort of Andy-of-Mayberry style responders: no gun, but good will and understanding of human nature.  They would be uniformed.  They would have the authority to give orders, issue citations, make arrests, and testify in court.  They would also know when an emergency warrants calling a police officer.

Police violence would decline sharply, because police officers would be responding to fewer emergencies.  They would be freed from the call to apply rules of force to someone who is confused or panicky or “suspicious.”  It’s likely that many officers would gladly take the education necessary to cross over from the force to the corps.

Social responders would be especially helpful to parents, schoolchildren, teachers, and school administrators.  An unruly child who must be transported would be escorted not by an armed officer but a social worker.  Children would not be pulled into the justice system.

Creating a corps of social responders would provide more benefits than just reducing violence, keeping order, and helping people.  Responders would add a leavening of social intelligence to the general public.  Moreover, the Corps would be a fertile ground for first-person social science research, and for internships for social science students.

The Social Corps would reduce government budgets, not in personnel but in other outlays.  The number of responders would be comparable to the number of police officers, and similarly paid.  But their equipment costs, and their liability, would be far less than for a police force.

In this moment, there seems to be a popular will to make an end of police violence.  Now, while this moment lasts, is the time to create a lasting institution to carry the principles forward.  The Social Corps could do the job.

Calling the Social Corps
Calling the Social Corps would bring a trained social worker to the scene.
Democrat at the breakfast table holds forth on the day’s news.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

My New World

The manuscript is called My New World.  It tells of a life-change.  Change is the universal constant, yet we have a hard time figuring it out.  This manuscript represents a few years of trying to figure it out.

You may remember that I was resuming work on the manuscript after some time rolling the rock up the hill.

I sat down and finished the manuscript in three days.  It’s pretty much done.  A couple of pages need to be redone, and a couple of pictures need to be touched up.  I believe in substantial completion.

I think the next step is to look for a gallery that will show them.  They’re meant to hang on the wall.

These are real-world only artifacts.  They will not be published online.  They contain feelings and photos that have meaning to me and to those who are close to me.

If I am able to schedule a showing, then I will print a catalog of the show, for those who attend and want them.

For the cover I chose an old woodcut from the nineteenth century, Flammarion.  It’s anonymous.  I have always loved it, because it portrays a man taking a look past the edge of this world to a larger world, an unfamiliar world.  It seems to me a Renaissance concept, or Enlightenment.  It also partakes of the spirit of Walt Whitman.  We are creatures, sentient, in a cosmos.

I’m working at coloring it.  The picture here shows my first attempt.  I hope I will do better.

So close…

So close. I was so close to finishing the manuscript. Then my world shifted. It seems to do that. But, now I’m ready to return to it.

I had the photos printed on the pages. A few photos were too dark, so I had to work on those.

Then, suddenly, I got notice from my office building management that I would have to move my law office, and move it in a hurry. My lease was expired. They had decided to lease out the entire floor. All the small offices had to go.

I dropped everything and mobilized. In just under 30 days I had found a new office and moved into it. For the past two weeks I’ve been trying to get the place organized. There’s still a lot to do, but at last I can spare some attention for the manuscript.

So, here I go again.

I have lived with this manuscript for more than a year. And before that, I lived with an urge for more than a year. This project represents a turning point, both personally and poetically. (Is there a difference?). Seeing the other side is like looking from an old world into a new one.

Pulling the manuscript together


I’m pulling together the last strands of my manuscript project. I’m assembling the last illustrations. I’ve done the preliminary page layout. Now I’m adjusting the lines of lettering and the photo sizing for each page.

I delivered a couple of old photos from the age of film to Holland Photo for scanning. One is faded, and it will have its color refreshed. The other is black and white, and it will be colorized. Almost all the other photos are from the digital age.

This morning, I took new pictures of my breakfast cooking. The picture I had was a vertical, and I needed a horizontal. More important, the picture I had was too dark. Sometime I will tell you all about my dislike of the black stove in my apartment. I fixed it with some white parchment paper. Looks good, I think.

I need to practice with the watercolors in preparation for coloring an illustration from a woodcut. It’s Flammarion, a really spectacular drawing from the 1800s. My watercolor ability is pretty crude, so we’ll see how long it takes and how it turns out.

I had thought about highlighting some words of the text with watercolor, and I tried it on the last draft. It was a disappointment. So, not doing that.

The page layout went pretty well. I stumbled a lot figuring out how to use Affinity Publisher, but I’m getting the hang of it. I’ll write more about that soon, too.

I had a run of the pages, with only the pictures, printed on plain paper. I’m using those and written pages from a previous draft to adjust picture size and text placement for the final manuscript. First, I lay the draft on the lightpad. Then I lay the photo layout over it. I can see it all. Then I figure out how I want to fit everything together.

You can see (squint at it) by the photo of the sheets on the lightpad that the lettering sheet shows through the photo sheet, so it’s easy to fit them together into a composite image. (You can also see the sad results of my watercolor attempt.) In that composite, the page-head photo covers part of two lines of print, so I’ll have to get creative about that.

Some time this week I intend to put the final photo layout file on a flash drive and take it to Miller Imaging. They will print it on some high quality paper. I haven’t chosen the paper yet.

Once I have the good sheets with the photos on, I’ll sit down to do the final lettering. I’m aiming for this coming weekend or the following. I’m getting excited about it.

Simple sautéed apple

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I had an apple sitting on the bar for about a week. I picked it up and looked at it. It still looked good and felt firm. I didn’t want to eat it raw: too big and probably too tart. I decided to sauté it in butter.

First I put several tablespoons of butter in the skillet and set the burner at medium.
Second, I sliced the apple.
Third, I dropped the slices in the melted butter.  I let them cook for about 15 minutes, turning every few minutes, testing with a fork.
Serve and eat! The tartness was tamed.

I tried a couple of variations for this..

I kept half the slices in the pan and sprinkled on corn meal. It immediately soaked up all the butter. When I ate the apple slices, the corn meal was still pretty hard to chew. Maybe I should have soaked it first. Or maybe flour would have done better.

I tried pouring a little honey on the other slices. That was delicious! Next time I may try brown sugar and cinnamon.

The whole thing took less than a half hour.

Good tools are a joy to use

I’ve been accumulating new tools.  About a week ago I bought some new inks.  This past week I bought a lightpad to use in laying out pages or tracing.  Today I bought and downloaded a page layout app.  I’m ready to go.

My new inks are my old inks.  Higgins makes excellent bottled indelible inks.  I use them with my dip pens.  Their inks were among my favorites for a long time.

My other new old ink is Quink, by Parker.  As a schoolboy, I learned to love fountain pens with a Scheaffer.  But, when I became a man, I discovered Parker and a refined writing tool.

Quink is a good all-purpose ink Parker makes to fill it’s fountain pens.  It flows freely, dries quickly, has good density.  But Parker is stingy with details about its manufacture or properties.  This bothered me.

At some point I discovered Noodler’s.  It seemed perfect for both dip pen and fountain pen.  It was indelible (or nearly), had good density, yet flowed freely enough to be used in a fountain pen.  This was all true, though the free flowing fountain required attention.  But the ink dried slowly.  What I mean is that it took a long time to dry.  In the time that it took to read this essay, the first line of ink would not be dry. 

So now, I have my new old inks back.  It’s good.

I’m excited about the lightpad.  It’s an Artograph, 12 x 17.  I’ll use it for a lot of page layout tasks, as well as giving invisible bases to lines of handwriting.

I think my first experience with a light table was working on some high school rag.  It was a lot of fun.  Later, working on various publications and as a shoestring publisher, I used light tables that, if I recall, may have been 36 x 36.  That’s a lot of light, and a lot of work area.  Most were smaller.  

In my own endeavors, I had a light box about the size of a small suitcase or a large briefcase.  This new lightpad has about the same area, but is less than half an inch thick.

For page layout software, I chose Affinity Publisher.  It’s been reviewed well and rated favorably.  I haven’t tried to use it yet.

I rode into the world of desktop publishing in 1985 with a piece of software by Aldus called Pagemaker.  I think I started with version 1.4.  For someone at home with newspaper layout on real layout boards, Pagemaker made perfect sense.  I loved it.

Eventually, Adobe captured Pagemaker, and then slowly let it die.  I’ve really been at a loss for a layout application since then.  I’ve tried a few.  We’ll see how it goes with Affinity.

With these new tools, I’m fully equipped to finish my project.  It’s a collection of illustrated broadsides of poetry.  I’ve been working on it for over a year, I’m embarrassed to say, and now I’m at the final step.

You may suspect that there will be another step after the final step, and you would be right.  I’ve thought about that.