Wins and Losses

This post is going to be a short one; the last week has taken it out of me, somewhat. The bright sides: Youngest Child graduated High School, and turned 18. The not-so-bright side: we had to make the painful decision to have one of our dogs put down.

Not much to add, to the bright sides. Youngest Child is finishing up getting her driver’s license, and is looking at joining the military in the near future. (She has a plan worked out, and the blessing of her parents–it seems a good plan, and in line with her longer-term goals.)

The pup is another story. We knew it was coming, but you’re never quite prepared for when it’s that day. He was nearly 9 years old, which is a decent enough age for a giant breed (full Great Pyrenees). His hips and rear legs had been bothering him for some time, and he’d been having some mobility issues. Late in the week, his rear legs simply stopped working. They seemed to give him some pain, as well. His quality of life was going downhill quickly, so the call was made, and his suffering was eased.

So, the task for until my next post: hug your loved ones, and give extra attention to your furry friends. Life can sneak up really fast

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Everything In Its Place?

I found a nice description of “the conservative/right-wing mentality and how they think,” illustrating a major difference in mindset between the far right, and the left. I mostly don’t care for “us-and-them” type things, but I’m not certain it’s possible to do much else, given the current climate.

I had wanted to do a full, bit-by-bit breakdown of where I agree and disagree, but in the interest of time, I think I’ll just put the post (found on Reddit–I don’t know the poster, but would gladly credit him/her/them if I did), and we can discuss in the comments section. Herewith:

This is a meta problem that liberals, leftists, and the Democratic party especially have a huge problem with. We don’t understand Republicans because they do not think or behave like we do on a very fundamental level. It’s why we’ve been blindsided by them for decades, and it puts us at a strategic disadvantage. Uncovering this mystery is necessary for future electoral success and the survival of our Republic as we know it.

One of the earliest problems electorally is that Republican policy is so goddamned evil voters literally do not believe anyone could actually endorse it, and therefore pass it off as partisan spin. That alone is a challenging issue, but the real problem goes deeper.

It’s a pastime of liberal pundits to point out that the pro-life governor of some flyover state also supports the death penalty and so on and so forth. We get incredulous and infuriated at their blatant hypocrisy. We call them stupid, which really sets them off and fuels a lifetime of hatred for liberals, leftists, and Democrats in the hearts of each and every conservative. However, they don’t see themselves that way. They don’t think of themselves as self-serving hypocrites or idiots who can’t keep their facts straight long enough to form a cogent argument in continuity with the rest of their ideology. We try to describe this as “cognitive dissonance” or other give other armchair diagnosis that doesn’t fully capture what’s going on. I’d like to give them more credit than that. They clearly believe in something, and in that context their words and actions would make sense, but it’s not what they’re self-advertising when you ask what they believe in.

I hypothesize that Republicans (and conservatives in general) are not fully honest with themselves or others about what they believe, yet they possess a fully-fleshed out belief system that is self-supporting based on unspoken assumptions that they cannot articulate except through euphemism.

And I think it works like this… Start with two core assumptions:

  1. Hierarchy is natural, inevitable, and desirable.
  2. We live in a zero-sum world.

Everyone has a spot on the big food pyramid of the socio-political hierarchy. Good, smart, and hardworking people of merit make their way to the top. Bad, dumb, and lazy people go to the bottom. For convenience sake, this hierarchy is color-coded. In a zero-sum world, everyone who gets to the top has to knock someone down a rung to make room.

The great thing about this system is that it just… works. You don’t have to think about it. All else being equal, this is humanity’s natural state. It plays nicely with the Just World fallacy. In this world there are no problems to be solved, merely endured. Is poverty a problem? Don’t be poor. Is there a pandemic sweeping the world? Don’t be unhealthy, and you won’t end up on a ventilator. It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to fix your problems for you.

That’s where liberals come in. Those damn bastard liberals started mucking things up trying fix problems, taking people on the bottom of the pyramid and putting them on the top. That’s not fair to conservatives! It’s messing with the natural order of things! (One time they did it with a black president and everyone lost their goddamn minds.) This is the root and shoot of all evil, according to conservatives.

Forget climate change, inequality, racism, healthcare, etc. Liberals are a problem to be solved. (Leftists get lumped in there too.) They’re broken people. Moral failures. They’ve been duped into believing Marxist propaganda and are controlled by “Globalists” (ie: the Jews). Their voters are illegitimate because they’ve either fools, dead people not yet purged from the rolls, bussed in illegal immigrants, or some other fabrication. Their leaders are likewise illegitimate, which means it’s okay to break the rules in order to oppose them. It’s a moral imperative to do so, in fact.

When conservatives are in charge (like they’re supposed to be), their role isn’t to fix problems. Government is supposed to enforce the hierarchy by punishing those who defy it. I’ve spoke elsewhere on how that intersects with the abortion debate. When conservatives aren’t in power their job isn’t to compromise and keep the wheels of government turning as the loyal opposition, it’s to get back in control at any cost. That’s because conservatives alone are legitimate and moral leaders, and anything they do or say is likewise legitimate and moral.

The final takeaway is this: Conservatives are not failed liberals. It’s not like they left their empathy in their other jeans this morning, or haven’t had the issues explained properly to them yet. They aren’t interested in creating a better society that is more fair, just, and equitable because they don’t believe in one. They want things to go back to “normal,” a vegetative state where nothing ever happens and everyone has their place, briefly punctuated by righteous state-sponsored anger against some heretical deviant.

A lot of these things are borrowed observations that I’m trying to patch together, but I’d be remiss not to plug The Alt-Right Playbook series for its fantastic work. It’s also difficult to verify because it’s not like any conservative would ever actually validate what I’m saying out of simple self interest, and also because they typically have above average self awareness relative to common root vegetables. However I think if you plug this thinking in to the next incredulous thing your favorite high profile conservative villain says or does, it might make a little more sense.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Hits Keep Coming

As I write this, we’re just beginning to come out of (another) “mini-collapse”: that of the Colonial Pipeline shutdown/hack. Roughly half of the gas supplied to the Southeast (from at least New Jersey, down to Florida, and into the Gulf states) was halted due to an intrusion into the company’s network. This, of course, was only possible because their security was a bit lax.

Now, I could go on for a bit about how that’s emblematic of “pure Capitalism”–how they had no real financial incentive to keep their security up-to-par, so they didn’t. But I won’t–similar (and similarly bad) choices are made by lots of companies all the time. Is it pure Capitalism? Unregulated? Late-stage? Probably so, yeah.

The bigger issue, though, really is people’s reactions to the “gas shortage.” As with toilet paper and hand sanitizer last year, they’re hoarding. And this time, frankly, being stupid about it. (Seriously, who stores tens of gallons of gasoline in storage bins in their trunk? Or, worse yet, in plastic bags? Beyond just that they’re “not approved containers;” they’re almost guaranteed to absolutely saturate the area with fumes just looking for a spark…)

Multiple multiple pundits and wags in various places have pointed out that these are the same folks who hoarded TP and sanitizer. The overlap with the group of people who “won’t live in fear!!1!” is immense. And cognitive dissonance is a bitch, when you won’t acknowledge it.

So, I’m keeping this short, so I can do a little day drinking, and shake my head at the number of absolute dolts out there, making things worse for everybody else. As was the case last year, if folks weren’t hoarding the supplies, there’d be enough to go around. And, unlike the case last year, it’s not really a supply issue, so much as a distribution or delivery one. And that’s one that will work itself out somewhat in a few days. Oh, it won’t be “fixed” for a month or so, to the extent that we can fix it. But the situation isn’t dire–or, at the least, it shouldn’t be.

I’ll be back with more happiness and light next time. Cheers, everybody!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Pair of Thoughts

I’ve got two ideas for what to write about this time around, but since they’re maybe not as fully fleshed out as they might be, I figured we could talk about both.

The first bit was inspired by a Reddit post I read this morning: What are some out-of-the-ordinary “emergency” things that you keep in your vehicle? Responses to the post in question started with a spare serpentine belt, and rapidly went–of all the things–more mundane, in my opinion, from there.

To be fair, a little discussion was had about ways to “fake” replacing a belt, even if only for long enough to get you to an auto parts store or a mechanic. Things like boat line, or duct tape, or pantyhose. Worked right, I can see any of those letting you limp along for a mile or three.

Then they started in on the “and the tools to replace the belt,” and fire extinguishers, and various camping gear. Spare masks, in this age of COVID. Various containers and volumes of: water, gasoline (or diesel), oil. Emergency foodstuffs. (A cogent argument was made for putting a bag of Turkish coffee grounds in there; I’ll have to see about experimenting with this, and get back to you.)

A couple of responses hit upon something I rarely actually see mentioned. One person stashed various bits of cash–usually $20 bills–in hiding spots around the cab of the car. He said only sixty or eighty dollars or so; another responder specified about $1k in cash, stashed in the emergency bag. Either way, I like the idea of having a little “emergency fund” hiding in the car–because if you run out of gas, or have another emergency of that nature, you’ll almost never be somewhere you can access your “regular” emergency fund. (And you do have an emergency fund, right?)

The second bit is a bit more frivolous: What sort of entertainment do you keep packed in your BoB? What kinds of games?

I generally recommend having a deck or two of cards. They’re inexpensive, and can be used for a million and one games–or as notecards, or various other types of markers. But for the purely entertainment side of things, they’re hard to beat.

Boardgames are a different matter. Most of them take too much space, or are just awkward and/or bulky to carry. But some of them aren’t, or can be otherwise improvised. From my submarine days, I’m fond of cribbage; the board takes very little space (and often holds the cards). There are various types of “travel” board available, too. When it comes right down to it, you don’t really need the board; it just makes keeping score easier.

There are a few older games, as well–for the curious, look up “Nine Man’s Morris” (or “Miller,” or any of a dozen other names it goes by). Various forms of Tafl (often associated with the Norse) can be quite simple to put together from practically nothing, as well.

What about you folks? What do you keep in your car, beyond the “usual”? What do you put in your kits for fun? I look forward to hearing about it in the comments.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Post-Democratic Society?

The thought has been rolling about in my head for a while, and I’ve spent quite some time thinking about it. Now, I’ll try to put some words to it.

I absolutely don’t want to imply that I don’t love the country–I did, after all, spend 20 years in its service in the military, and I’m still working in a similar line of work. But I’m not certain we’ve got much more left in us.

Oh, whatever path we take, the nation will continue to appear to be trundling along. But I think that the next few years–a decade, at the absolute outside–will determine just what path that is. And I worry that it won’t be a truly “small-D democratic” path, continuing to strive towards our founding ideals (“all men are created equal,” and such).

There’s a sizable portion of our population that seems to dearly want a theo-/autocratic state. Possibly with a dash of oligarchy thrown into the mix. They’ve wanted it for quite some time; the Civil War was a large, early clash in this struggle.

I think we might be hitting a pivotal point, and one of the factors to push us in one direction or another will be the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin.

Were it me on the jury, I’d already say that the preponderance of evidence shows that Chauvin is guilty, beyond reasonable doubt. Sure, we might quibble over the sentencing–but I’m for a guilty verdict. The past 30 years or so have me unsure that we’ll see it, though. (I remain hopeful, but somewhat skeptical.)

If he’s acquitted, then we’ve shown that, in essence, we’re living in Judge Dredd’s comic-book MegaCity, with the “Law Enforcement” acting as judges, juries, and executioners. We’ve seen too many instances of “death by cop,” with no significant push-back by the authorities.

I’m heartened that some states are revoking, or at least starting to peel back, qualified immunity. That’ll certainly help. But is it too little, too late?

I’m not certain what to do about it (except, you know, vote–which might be getting more difficult–plus calling your local, state, and federal legislative people).

But if we do head down that darker path, I suppose at least we’ll be ready?

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

A Bit Late

I’m a few hours late getting this post up, but it’s been a gray, dreary week or so here in the mid-Atlantic, and its been hard to get the motivation to do much of anything at all.

That being said, we’ve been prepping the garden for the coming spring; we’re in the process of replacing our wooden raised beds with cement blocks. The wood was fine for a few seasons, but inevitably started to rot out. We’re pouring our own modular blocks (similar in some ways to making life-sized building blocks), and the results are both aesthetically pleasing and sure to last much longer than the wood. They have the added benefit of being a bit taller than the wooden ones, which will help to keep the dogs from tramping through them…

Our “temporary” greenhouse is also up, and we intend to rig it with heaters for the cool nights, and fans to keep the air moving; I believe we’re going to be starting some of our seeds in the next week or two. This is a temporary solution, because the longer-term solution involves building a greenhouse structure where we’ve placed the temporary one. It’s in the chicken run, beside the coop, and flush against the west side of the barn. If anything, it might get too hot in the summer for anything, but that’s the nature of greenhouses.

Most of my beehives appear to have survived the winter; I had actually anticipated one more dying than actually did. I had six last summer; I figured two or three wouldn’t make it, for one reason or another. As I write this, I’ve got five–but one of them is just hanging on by a thread, so my prediction might end up having been spot-on. I’ve seen one dandelion in the fields; they’re normally the “starting gun” for the bees to begin. I’m also watching the various bushes and shrubs bud out and prepare to leaf and bloom.

One thing I’ve done this year that I hadn’t in previous years is make cuttings of my elderberry bushes, with the intention of planting more. The cuttings (maybe 15 or 20 of them) appear to be doing quite well, and I plan to transplant them in mid- to late-April. I also took some of the “less attractive” cuttings and put them along a berm we’ve built on the property (helping deflect run-off from the neighboring subdivision), just to see if any of them “take.” If so, that’s more plants, but if not, nothing really lost.

We have plans to start some pawpaw trees this year, as well. A neighbor has a few trees started, but they’re a couple of years from bearing; there are several trees down along the local riverbanks as well. We acquired seeds from three varietals last fall, and have been nursing them along, winterizing them. Hopefully, in five or so years, we can have a tasty late-summer treat.

We’ve also been discussing taking the household a little more “off-grid” this year. By this, I mean investing in a (professionally-installed) solar array. Unless we can find someone with an innovative solution, we’ll be fully grid-tied, meaning that in the event of a power outage, we’ll still be in the dark. (My wife doesn’t feel confident that we can arrange a full-house-power battery system right now; I’m hoping that the state of the art advances a little more in the next few years to make it really feasible.) Fortunately, we haven’t had an outage lasting more than a minute in the decade we’ve been here. Either way, it will ease (or, more likely, eliminate) our power bills, and give one more bit of resiliency.

That’s a fairly quick rundown of the current state of affairs here; how are things in your neck of the woods?

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Preserved Meat

Because there’s just too much to keep up with, news-wise, in the real world…

I’ll caveat that I’m absolutely not an expert on preserving meats; there are oodles of books and websites and YouTube channels out there by people with significantly more experience and knowledge than I. Please, take advantage of them.

That said, where I recommend starting is with the simple things: whole-muscle cures. What this means is, in essence, taking a single large muscle group–the belly, or a brisket, or a loin–and curing them with salt. (Doing things like uncased sausages will bump up the complexity level; beyond that is getting into salami and pepperoni and the like. Somewhere in between there is the meat canning process.)

At its heart, this is exactly what it sounds like. The simplest version, recipe-wise, would be duck breast prosciutto: take a duck breast, rinse it, pat it dry, then cover it on all sides with salt. Let sit for a few days to a week. Remove from the salt, rinse it, pat it dry again. Liberally coat with pepper (white pepper is traditional, but black will certainly work). Wrap it in cheesecloth or linen, and put it somewhere cool (the top shelf of the fridge works). After about another week, remove it; you can now either slice it thinly and enjoy, or vacuum-seal it and freeze it for later. It’ll keep for about two weeks in the fridge, or months in the freezer.

Simple variations include adding a few other flavors to the salt: pepper, rosemary, juniper, and the like. You can also add some of these during the “cold curing” part (directly on the meat, under the cheesecloth).

Moving beyond this, you start getting into bacon, or actual prosciutto. (The two are nearly identical in preparation, except that prosciutto is rolled tightly, while bacon is left flat.) Added “special” ingredients will be “pink salt” (aka “Prague Powder,” aka “curing salt,” aka Sodium Nitrite), and whatever flavorings you want to add. I also like to use two-gallon sealable plastic bags, because the bacon-curing process generates quite a bit of liquid. It’s also a little bit more hands-on, requiring flipping the slabs of pork belly every day for about a week; after they’ve brined sufficiently, you smoke them (hot-smoke, or cold-smoke), then divide them up as you wish (into rashers), vacuum-seal them, and freeze them.

Corned beef is, essentially, taking a beef brisket, trimming most of the fat, then submerging the meat in a gallon or more of water, with lots of salt (the amount will depend on the weight of the meat) and other spices added. Again, after a period of curing, the meat is ready to be used in whatever “Irish dish” (it’s not really Irish) you care to use it in. Or, smoked, it becomes a type of pastrami, and goes great on sandwiches…

I’ve also done basturma, which is a piece of beef that has been cured in spices and pressed. And there’s lonza, which is cured pork loin. Traditional recipes for these abound, on the internet.

The goal of all of the various whole-muscle cures is to remove a sizable chunk of the moisture from the meat, and either leave it dry, or replace it with a high-salt brine. Most spoilage bacteria need moisture to do their dirty work, and there are very few salt-loving spoilage organisms to worry about, as long as you keep things cool-to-cold, and don’t take more than a few days to a couple of weeks. (Even traditional cured hams are just pork legs, covered in salt and a few spices, and left to dry out…)

Ground meat preserving (sausages and salami) are definitely beyond the scope of this article, but worth looking into. And yes, meat can be preserved by canning it (as you would can fruit preserves and the like). The USDA and FDA don’t have any approved methods; there are far too many variables, and it’s too easy to cut corners, to dangerous effect. There are instructions for the process out there; if you’re comfortable with using a pressure canner, and familiar with the chemistry of canning things, you can research them, and proceed on your own recognizance.

One of the best sources I’ve seen for this sort of thing is Ruhlman and Polcyn’s book Charcuterie. (I don’t have a link readily available, but it’s on Amazon–and I’ll come back and fix this at a later date.) There’s also Hank Shaw’s blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which has lots of recipes and ideas.

Yes, I know this has been quick, and maddeningly short of detail… But things have been ridiculous at home and at work, and it’s what you’re getting, this time. I hope to address things in more detail, in the future. Enjoy!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Almost there

Okay, so, I’m working on a post about preserving meat. I really, really am… but I want to do more than just a cursory run past the topic, and give you a couple of pointers. As such, it’s going to have to wait for another couple of weeks.

Fortunately (if that’s the word), there are topical issues to discuss: a sizable part of the country is basically an ice block, and Texas in particular is hurting, with outages and rolling blackouts, ice, snow, single-digit temps, and the like.

Now, there’s a discussion to be had about the causes–of the weather, of the power grid problems, and the like. We won’t be having those discussions here; they’re being dealt with elsewhere. (Yes, global warming can cause cold disasters. No, the blackouts aren’t because of solar and wind generation…)

As to the immediate personal problems being posed… Let’s start with ways to keep warm. There are really quite a few. If you have a nylon pop-up tent, set it up. Do it in the center of the house, as best you can–but even just in the living room is fine. Cover it with sheets and/or blankets. Now, spend as much time as feasible inside it.

Make sure you’ve got plenty of blankets for yourself, and there’s padding between you and the floor.

Wear a hat. Even indoors. You lose a sizable portion of your body heat via your head. Cover it up.

If you don’t have a tent, try to isolate yourself to one, ideally somewhat smaller room, especially if you can close the door.

I’m hesitant to advise candles for heat and light–it’s far too easy to knock one over and set the house ablaze, at which point the cold is only one of your worries, and not the most immediate one, at that. But in extremis it’s an option. (If you have ever made, or can make, one of the inverted terra-cotta pot candle heaters, they work well enough for emergencies, and aren’t quite as dangerous as just open candles.)

If you have the ability to cook things, do so. Hot liquids are your friend, particularly. If you have a thermos, you can keep a fair amount of liquid piping hot for a good while. And if your ability to cook/heat food is intermittent, remember that a cooler will also keep things warm.

Hot water bottles are also nice, if you have them. If not, try heating a foil-wrapped brick. It’s less comfortable, but heat ergs are heat ergs.

Remember that your car can be used as an extremely inefficient charger for electrical devices (cell phones, etc). If they’re running, you can also run ghe heater and warm up a little. But you need to have gas in the tank… And please, for the love of all that’s sacred, don’t run the engine in a closed garage, or if the exhaust is in any way contained or blocked.

Likewise, if you’re fortunate enough to have a generator, don’t run it inside the house. Carbon monoxide is no bueno.

If you have pipes on danger of freezing, remember: running water takes longer to freeze than standing water. Turn on the faucets to a trickle. Yes, it’ll run up your water bill, but not as much as a burst pipe will.

Layer your clothing. Natural fibers are generally more insulating, and breathe better, for a given thickness of material. Put the hat back on. Try to get your various pets in the same space with you. They give off a good bit of heat, and need some help staying warm, too.

All of this is a good start… I’m sure that others of my readers can chime in with additional suggestions…

And next time, for reals, cured meat. 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Great Shift

It’s hard to imagine that just a year ago, COVID was only just coming onto our radar. I’ll admit that I started off less than completely concerned about it. As things started to unfold, though, the true scope of the pandemic became more obvious, and with it, the potential human cost.

And now, with well over 400,000 dead, and looking at 500,000 by the end of February, we’re still coming to grips with the facts of just how immensely bad the previous administration’s response (or utter lack thereof) really was.

In addition, we’re watching as the incomplete response to the virus provides both avenues and selective pressures to become more virulent, deadly, or both.

Now, realistically, there’s not anything that can be done to stop it in its tracks. That ship has sailed, reached its destination, and unloaded all its cargo. But relatively simple things could be done that would help, if we could get a large enough majority of people to do them. 100% mask mandates, draconian shutdowns, and the like.

Unfortunately, in too many places, we’ve let the know-nothings flourish, and even gain control. (N.b., the way to fix the latter is at the ballot box.) And so, not enough of the right things are going to be done, in enough places.

So far, the various vaccines appear to be effective against even the newer variants of COVID, which is a good thing. Once we dig out from a production/distribution supply backlog, and can actually start vaccinating large numbers of people, it’ll be even better. (And here again, the known no things are trying to prevent that, vis. the protests in California.)

What can be done in the meantime? Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), the advice hasn’t changed. Wear your mask, wash your hands, social distance. Don’t gather in large crowds. Keep an eye on vaccine availability in your area, know your precedence level, and get you & yours vaccinated as soon as possible. That’ll be the refrain probably until the fall.

In the meantime, as for me and mine, we will continue to dig out from the snowstorm that blanketed us over the weekend. We will prepare for the one forecast for the coming weekend. And we’ll try to keep warm and safe here on the homestead.

How about we talk preserved foods, next time around? We’ve been eating our stash of canned goods, and adding in the occasional bit of cured meat. I think it’ll be a pleasant change, don’t you?

Posted in Make it Stop, News | Leave a comment


Let’s all take a moment to relax, and contemplate that we once again have a President and Vice President with honor, ethics, and vocabularies. They’ve already started on their share of the important work; having got them there, we can breathe for a moment. But only a moment, because our part of the heavy lifting is still there.

But things are looking better than they have in a hot minute. I’m going to roll with that, and hold off on substantive posts until next time…

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments