Rainy day, great day

It’s raining today, hallelujah. (I had to try three times to get “hallelujah” spelled right. Don’t use that word often.)

We’ve had about a half inch so far. Not much by back-east standards, but it’s a great start here in Dry-ville.

One of the things I like about rainy days is that my tendency to stay inside and read/write is 100% justified. With 330+ bright sunny days per year, the self-imposed pressure to go outside and “do something” gets old.

Update – just saw this on NPR and thought it was interesting. For what it’s worth, other populations – in this case the Dutch – are having trouble accepting pandemic restrictions too. It’s not just us. Misery loves company.

Random Saturday musings

Only three days into the new Administration and things are starting to return to normal. Competent, efficient governance without drama or crime. What a concept.

It’s clear that the Biden team realizes that vaccine rollout has to be the #1 priority. Everything else follows from that – normal can’t return until it’s safe to congregate again. I’m thankful that they’re making this the #1 priority, because at current rates of vaccination in Socal it’ll be 2022 before K and I get to the head of the line. I’m becoming increasingly impatient to get back east to see the grandkids again, and without vaccination that is another cross-country drive.

It’s raining a little here in Socal, with more on the way. That’s a great change, but we need a LOT more rain just to catch up to our normal paltry rainfall. Water is surely going to become the new oil in the western US.

I made this dish for dinner last night, and it was amazing. Baked gnocchi, go figure. Rich, savory, tasty, chewy and even healthy. One of the best and simplest recipes I’ve tried in a long time. This will become a staple in our household.

KY basketball continues to implode. Worst season ever thus far, with little reason to believe it will improve. I’ll keep watching and supporting the team, but it’s painful.

I recommend this article for anyone who still wants to argue/debate with conservatives about their fears concerning liberals now running the country. It’s a great, facts-included point-by-point refutation of most of the conservative talking points. Useless for anyone who’s gone full-cult, but possibly helpful for anyone who’s still capable of thinking.

This collection of impromptu wildlife photos is amazing. Beautiful. Though I worry about the dude with two brown bears licking his head. Doesn’t seem advisable…

This is also some food for thought. Biden pardoning Trump may not be a bad idea. I think if we could be sure that NY and GA would come after Trump hard for a variety of state crimes, I’d be OK with Biden just getting this piece of shit off his Federal shoe and moving on with the important business at hand. I want to see Trump held accountable, but not at the expense of distracting Biden’s administration for months and months.

Better days ahead

It’s definitely a new year with a new feel. I can finally stop worrying about what new outrage the TCF (Trump Crime Family) might commit next. We can all feel better knowing that the federal government will actually be working for us again. Biden/Harris certainly aren’t going to solve all our problems, but they will make things better over time and I don’t expect them to add to the list of Big Problems we have today.

On the personal front, I just started an exciting project where I get to work with quantum encryption and 5G network technologies. My role isn’t as a technologist or engineer, but more of a project manager. But working with these advanced technologies feels good. That’s how I started my career and it’s great to get a dose of high-tech again.

This gig comes at the expense of novel writing time, but…a friend needed some immediate and trusted help on this, the money is good, and it’s super interesting. So the novel will have to go on the back burner for a while. I only expect this gig to last a couple of months – one of my tasks is to help them find someone qualified but less expensive to take over from me.

24 hours

Sunset on the Trump era (see above photo). Half of America (OK, maybe 55%) is breathlessly awaiting noon EST tomorrow, when the final rat is removed from the sinking ship that was the Trump presidency. The big rat himself, POTUS 45, Twitler, the Orange Menace, the Liar-in-Chief…one can go on and on.

And even now his henchmen continue to work against the peaceful transfer of power. Publishing an alternate history of America’s founding, trying to converge (white Christian) religion and democracy. Destroying hard drives and records of the Justice Department. Installing a Trump toady in a senior position of the NSA. Putting extreme pressure on the census Director to release a flawed and incomplete report, one that would undercount Blue districts. Issuing hundreds of pardons with no rhyme or reason other than Trumpism ideology and loyalty. Continuing the assault on clean air and water regulation. One can go on and on.

But 24 hours. Soon it’ll be over and the Biden administration can begin the largest toxic cleanup operation in history. America is generally a Superfund site at the moment. Bright, clean spots are few and far between. I know that’s a somewhat nihilistic view of the world, but how else can you interpret the state of things right now? “There’s nowhere to go but up” might be the best attitude. Almost anything Biden does will be an improvement.

It would be great to think that America would pull together to fix/improve things at this moment in history, just like people did after the Great Depression and WWII. But I don’t think that will happen. Biden’s team and progressives will be rowing one direction, and some large part of the country and our Congress will row in the opposite direction. That’s the thing that makes me most pessimistic. We’ve been a great country, capable of doing great things, through most of my lifetime. But we are likely to self-destruct our position as a world leader with the country divided as is.

Insider threat

There won’t be many (any?) regular citizens at the inauguration on Wednesday due to security and COVID risks, but there will be 25,000 armed guards. The fact that they’re giving the National Guardsmen live weapons and ammo seems…problematic. What’s to keep one or more of them from going full-jihadi and shooting attendees? Or the guests of honor?

Dave Winer over at Scripting News thought about this too. Here’s what he had to say.

I got an answer to a question I asked yesterday, about who 20K+ troops in DC will report to, until Biden is sworn in. By law they report to the commander-in-chief, President Trump. Just a fact. If Trump orders them to assassinate everyone at the inauguration, it’s not all that different from what Trump told the mob to do on January 6. So unfortunately it is in the realm of possibility.

It all hinges on who the troops are loyal to. Turns out the military thought of that, and pre-screened the soldiers assigned to this job to weed out white supremacists. I kid you not. They know how to do that? I guess it would be naive for them not to.

It’s a brave new world, and not a good one. At least not yet. Protecting political figures from its own citizens has always been a thing (…how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?), but the threat was previously a lone wolf gunman. Now it’s millions of brainwashed Trump cultists.

Books = virtual travel

I get pinged by Goodreads to write a review every time I finish a book. Being the lazy sort, I don’t often write one, but occasionally I do. But…why add content (and in theory, value) to someone else’s platform when I could include it right here?

Right now I’m reading Cory Doctorow’s Attack Surface and I’m not sure why I waited so long. Not to read this book in particular, but to read any of Doctorow’s books. His tech-heavy, reference-heavy, attitudinal style is one I like quite a bit. Reminds me of Neal Stephenson or Charles Stross. I’m only halfway through Attack Surface but I already love it. At least four stars, maybe five. It alternates timelines, something my writers’ group has excoriated me for, so…yeah. Have some of that.

The main character in Attack Surface is a now-familiar archetype – the female super-hacker, first (?) made famous in Steig Larson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo. This hacker, Masha, is delightfully complicated inside her head. The novel is written in first person so we get a lot of what Masha is thinking.

There’s the usual glossing over of computer hacking, where the hero does things in seconds that just aren’t possible. But hey, it’s fiction. And it’s entertaining. Attack Surface is the third in Doctorow’s Little Brother series of tech/social/political disruption books, so I’ll have to go back and read the other two.

Reading has helped keep me sane (OK that’s arguable, but…how would I know if I weren’t?) during the pandemic, and I’m always grateful to find a new author with a trove of books to consume. We can’t travel much in the real world right now, but we sure can travel in our minds.

Operation Big Lie

Just when you think the Trump administration couldn’t do any worse, they do. This news came out today and it’s terrible news for all Americans, including yours truly. From Rolling Stone:

“[Thursday] night, I received disturbing news, confirmed to me directly by General Perna of Operation Warp Speed: States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said on Twitter.

“I am demanding answers from the Trump Administration. I am shocked and appalled that they have set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences,” Brown added. “This is a deception on a national scale.”

Distribution of the vaccine has been plagued with issues. States have accused the federal government of not supplying the funds and resources to distribute the doses they have, and the federal government has blamed the states for not being ready to administer the vaccine to large amounts of people. So far around 9.7 million people have received the first dose of the vaccine, far short of the 20 million the administration promised by the end of 2020.

“Operation Warp Speed” becomes “Operation Lie to the American People About Something Incredibly Important”. There’s no reserve of vaccine, even though they talked about it frequently. Lying bastards.

Ill winds blowing

We’re having a dangerous weather day today. Hot, dry and windy. There’s a localized Santa Ana blowing in from the east as strong as I’ve seen it here since 2007. And that didn’t end well.

January here is normally cool and a bit wet. We should have received about 7.5 inches of rain so far, and we’ve only had 2, all in one storm back before Christmas.

Here’s our weather from the last week. This isn’t normal.

That was a look backward. Looking forward, it’s even worse.

I know a lot of people back east in cold and snowy weather would be happy for this, but too much of a good thing (heat, dry weather) causes big problems here. And I really miss the rain.

The state of things

Lot of introspection goin’ on lately. Not surprising, given the state of the world (see photo above, taken at the 2008 Miramar Air Show).

First, I’m giving up on any kind of social media (other than blogs) again. Social media is just not good for my mental health. I’ve been pretty active on NextDoor this year. I joined it as a way to get some near-real-time local wildfire information, but the platform has become a battle ground between those who support Trump and those who don’t. And those who believe the pandemic is real and those who don’t. The rhetoric is just so fucking discouraging. I’ve tried logic, sarcasm, kindness, storytelling…you name it. Nothing, and I mean nothing, changes the minds of those in the Trump cult. Not even after the attack on the Capitol and 390,000 dead Americans. Best I can tell, of the 70-ish million Trump voters, at least 20% of them are hard core cult members. They’re lost to any normal society or logic. That’s been a hard realization – after 60 years of believing most people are good and rational, learning that “nope, simply not true”. So rather than wallow in the mud with them on social media and wasting my time, I’m opting out again. I opted out of FaceBook years ago for similar reasons, I never liked or used Twitter, and now I’m closing the NextDoor.

I wonder if this is a direct correlation of what the framers of the Constitution decided when they made the US a democratic republic rather than a pure democracy. They didn’t trust the judgement of the common man. So they created a proxy system where regions (states) would elect representatives (elite, educated citizens) to govern them. As opposed to voting on everything directly. Social media gives today’s “common man” (apologies to other genders and identities) a platform to show what they truly think, and it’s depressing.

Next on the introspection list is writing. Having some trouble there. My writers’ group pretty much tore up my latest chapters – two chapters that I thought were pretty good. I noticed a big difference in the type of comments made on my work versus the other works we reviewed. People were trying to be nice, but…I felt like I got a pretty clear message: “try again, dude”. And so several thoughts have been rattling around in my underachieving brain:

  • Maybe writers’ read/critique groups aren’t for me.
  • Maybe I’m in the wrong group.
  • Maybe I’m just not very good at this creative writing stuff.
  • Maybe I started too late in life and can’t achieve the kind of excellence I expect with the runway I have left.
  • Maybe I should play more golf. Or take up bingo.

I know, these are negative, whiny thoughts that don’t help anyone. But they’re in there and I’m having a hard time ejecting them. I can take some heart in knowing that even best-selling writers are having trouble at this moment in time. John Scalzi just published an entertaining essay on that subject at Whatever. It’s hard to be creative in the midst of two or three simultaneous historic disasters. Here’s an excerpt from Scalzi’s essay, in which it’s clear that he and I have the same fondness for cursing.

Here’s my here’s how my January novel writing has gone so far:

January 1-3: Hey, it’s New Year’s weekend, maybe actually relax and get ready for the first work day of 2021 on January 4.

January 4: Here we go! Aaaaand: 250 words. Okay for the first day back!

January 5: Another 250 words. All right, but, gotta bump up those numbers, those are rookie numbers.

January 6: Well, fuck.

January 7 – 10: Seriously though what the actual fuck

January 11: Okay, focus! Sooooo here’s another 100 words plus moving some stuff around to see if it’s any better in a different configuration, okay, no, not really, fine, but still, you did something, that’s a victory, take it

January 12 (today): Gaaaaaaaaaaah fuck where is my brain

All that said, we’re now exactly one week away from formally showing Twitler and his crime family the door and welcoming in Biden/Harris. Scalzi and I have independently declared that 1/20/21 starts the “New Year” and I’ll stick to that thought. Hope and change are coming, to borrow a much-needed phrase from 2008.

Tough sledding ahead

I’d like to find something normal, something mundane to write about. But my mind keeps going back to the three simultaneous crises we find ourselves in, here in early January 2021.

  • The pandemic. 22 million US cases now and accelerating. Approaching 400K US citizens dead.
  • The economic disaster brought on by the pandemic. Tens of thousands of businesses bankrupt, millions of individuals nearly so.
  • The (wretched) state of US democracy. Half the country hates the other half, and quite a few are ready to turn that hate into civil war (see this week for an example). Congress is dysfunctional.

Any one of these crises would be enough to mark this time as significant in our personal lives and national history. But together, they’re…overwhelming. How do we extricate ourselves from this deep, deep hole?

Poor Joe Biden is inheriting the worst situation since Lincoln in the 1850s or Roosevelt in the 1930s. Post Civil War reconstruction was tough, but you can argue that this is tougher. I hope Biden is up to the task – he’s not exactly in the prime of his life. This makes every choice he has for leadership slots crucial – Cabinet Secretaries, White House staffers, task force leaders, etc. – every person is going to have to be superb at their job if we are to fix things. Or at least improve them.

Other than put the hate on hold, it’s hard to see what ordinary people can do to help. With the pandemic, the plea to mask up and stay distanced just hasn’t worked. And we may be past a point of no return anyway.

And for this ordinary person, I would enjoy being part of Biden’s team, developing strategies to address these three entwined problems. It’s the challenge of a lifetime, making the Manhattan Project or Apollo Project look like child’s play in comparison. Worth some thought.