Pilgrimage

Yesterday I made the pilgrimage to Ashland and back to see my Dad and stepmom for the first time in five months. I’ve seen them twice in the past year, both times only through windows and after a 30 hour cross-country drive. This time I only had to drive three hours from Louisville and, thanks to mRNA technology, we got to be together. It was great.

We shared a meal at a restaurant (responsibly, we’re all fully vaxxed) and took a drive around town. We ran errands, getting stamps for Dad and a new phone charger for Phyllis (well, I ran errands – they stayed in the car). We took a drive and got to see all the beautiful early spring blooms around eastern KY – the groves of white flowering pear trees, the bright yellow forsythia, the deep purplish-red redbud blooms, the giant pink and white magnolias, and the pink weeping cherry blossoms. The dogwood will bloom next, adding more white and pink to the woodland palette. With no leaves on the trees, this early spring bloom is always spectacular, and this year takes on a special significance for me. Rebirth, restart, a second chance – after the apocalyptic shitshow of 2020, everything in 2021 seems better.

Other observations from the trip…the February winter ice storm that hit eastern KY must have been awful. Some areas look like a tornado hit them – hundreds of downed and broken trees. I kept thinking I was seeing white birds in the treetops, maybe egrets or an eagle, but it was just the white splintered ends of broken treetops. Here’s a link to a drone video that shows how bad it was. It was never covered on the national news, but should have been.

My rental car, a weird little Nissan Kicks (?!), came equipped with Sirius XM and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it again. I had it on past BMWs but not the current one. Sirius XM made my first cross country drive a lot more fun, and the same thing happened yesterday. From Classic Rewind to The Spectrum, it was like an old friend revisited. And now I know that today is Eric Clapton’s 76th birthday, and that he’s the only three-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Go Eric!

And, I got to drive back and spend another evening with the grandkids. I helped Hudson get over a terrible threes anger-fit, and got to laugh at Jesse drooling as he demanded to be fed cheerios and fruit by hand. Jabba the Kid, that one is. All in all, a good day as a pilgrimage should be.

Not thrilled about HEIF

I don’t know how I missed this, but Apple has started encoding photos taken with iPhones in a format called HEIF (high efficiency image format), while the entire rest of the world uses JPEG. I learned this while trying to use an iPhone photo on this blog, and WordPress doesn’t recognize HEIF without a plugin.

Turns out there’s a not-too-tough workaround (in MacOs’s Preview app, save the HEIF as a JPEG). But…(a) I had to figure it out and (b) it’s now one extra step between my photos and publishing. What the heck was wrong with JPEG?

I know, I know, progress and all, but this is why people get tired of using modern tech. Just when you think you’ve got it, the rules change.

First flight

Yesterday, I took my first flight in over a year. It wasn’t what I expected. The airport was busy and gate areas crowded and full.

Wearing a mask aboard the flight was a little uncomfortable, but manageable. Everyone was well-behaved, wore their masks, except two or three of the usual white guys who think the rules don’t apply to them. Funny how you can always pick them out of a crowd – they give off this “I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks…” vibe. One guy close to me had to be reminded 3-4 times by the patient flight attendants.

But all in all it was worth it. See reason above.

I hope Joe Biden reads this

My friend Robert over at Blue Heron Blast has written a thoughtful essay about the dysfunction in US politics. Good timing, because I was considering writing something similar focused on guns, “triggered” by the latest mass shooting tragedies. He’s inspired me to get a little more ambitious about my essay, so here goes.

I have a hard time understanding how anyone can embrace the Republican party these days. Notice I said “Republican”, not “conservative”. There are plenty of old-school conservative values that I respect and even agree with, but the modern Republican party has long since abandoned those values. For example, personal freedoms, a healthy skepticism about big government, respect for the law and law enforcement, fiscal conservatism, respect for freedom of religion. Each of those feel positive as a sound bite, but the Republican party has mutated each of them into something unrecognizable and generally hateful.

I began by thinking about guns and why we have more mass shootings than the rest of the world combined. And more guns. Guns and gun control are one of the most divisive issues we face, but only one of them. Here’s my list of the toughest, most divisive issues and why I generally lean liberal.

Guns. People have (mis)interpreted the Second Amendment to mean that everyone has the Constitutional right to carry any gun they want, anywhere, any time. That’s just dumb, IMHO. What we have today doesn’t remotely resemble “a well-regulated militia…”. What we have is emotionally stunted and mentally ill people able to buy weapons designed for mass human casualty. Bullet sprayers, not hunting rifles or skeet guns. Unregulated. And using them with impunity on helpless citizens. There are so many ways we could improve on this situation, but we’re stuck on the childish belief that “…it’s my sacred right to own and carry whatever weapon I want, anytime, anywhere…”. How about my right to go out into the public and not get gunned down by the latest man-child who bought a gun last week? Something has to give here folks. We have to be rational about gun ownership, gun regulation and doing something that will benefit the majority of US citizens, as opposed to pandering to a minority of zealots. There *is* a middle ground possible, and we need to find it fast.

Abortion. This one is a third rail because it can’t be logically debated. Once someone says “I believe that…”, you’ve lost the opportunity for a logical discussion. Belief is the realm of religion and fantasy, and can’t be argued logically. I prefer to deal in what I know. I don’t know when a fetus has a soul (or if there really is a soul); I don’t know when the unborn child has the full agency of a born human. But I do know that a female human has rights and has agency. I know that female should have the right to decide what to do with regard to her body. That’s all I know for sure, so I’m on the side of “right to choose”.

Wealth and income taxes. As a person who has done well financially, yes, I hate taxes. But it makes sense to me to pay something for the common good. For roads, bridges, thoughtful regulation of things like pollution and air travel. Things that make modern civilization possible, and the things that sustain a society that allowed me to be successful in the first place. And it makes sense to me that the more money you make and have, the more you should give back. I mean, who really needs a billion dollar net worth? If you take a luxury vacation to Aruba on your private jet 52 weeks a year, you still can’t spend a billion dollars. So what’s the point? Or, assuming you’ve amassed a few billion by being luckier and smarter than 99.9% of everyone else (and likely more ruthless), what’s wrong with giving a significant part of that back to the nation that allowed you to become so wealthy? Give your heirs a hundred million each and call it a good life. That seems to be Bill Gates’ plan (donate all his wealth back to society and charitable causes he wants to support), and I respect the hell out of him for it.

Immigrants and diversity. This just isn’t that hard, but we’re making it complicated. No, open borders don’t make sense to me. Immigration and citizenship should be controlled, but should be humane. Should be difficult, but rewarding. We’re a huge country with plenty of room and plenty of financial resources – we can afford to have a process for entry and assimilation that makes immigrants a strength for the country, not a threat. We used to understand this – that immigrants come here for a better life and that ultimately, they strengthen our society. Let’s get back to that. Entering the US and becoming a resident/citizen should be a long, structured, education-heavy process. One nation, one language, one currency, and one universally-applicable set of laws. As a nation we can afford to do it that way and we should.

Regulation and corporations. I think corporations should be free to make a shit-ton of money, right up to the point where their activities start to harm people. The premier case is pollution. Why should corporations be allowed to pollute our common ground, our land, air and water, just to save some money on responsible treatment of pollution? The answer is, they shouldn’t – hence the EPA. And the FDA. I don’t mind my tax dollars being spent on keeping the air and water clean via regulating corporations – in fact, I insist on it. The other big cases for regulation are corruption and tax avoidance. It doesn’t make sense for Amazon to operate in our society, to become the world’s largest corporation without having to pay taxes, to give something back. (Substitute Apple, Facebook, Walmart, Microsoft, Google, and Tesla for Amazon – same argument). I appreciate the fact that the shit they make and do makes my life (mostly) better. But that doesn’t give them a pass on paying something back to the system that allowed them to prosper. So…regulation and taxation, at practical levels.

Government. Especially, big government. Government that spends more than it takes in every year, eternally. I think this is another item that has a simple root cause and solution. The root cause is career politicians. The solution is term limits. Let people be part of government for a few years and then force them to get back out in society and live in the world they’ve helped create. Career politicians almost always become corrupt, and soon preservation of government power (and money) becomes their whole motivation. I can’t prove it, but I predict that government would become much more rational and optimally sized if we had term limits on Congress, on the Supreme Court, at both state and federal levels. This is a solution that will probably be hated by politicians in both parties, and that should tell us that it’s the right answer.

So that’s my short list of the big things that divide us, and the issues for which I generally align with Democrats. I know I may have some relatives who read this and have a strong reaction, and all I ask of them is to give these issues some actual thought and don’t demonize those who don’t think just like you.

Susan B. Nichols

Today is the 39th anniversary of my Mom’s death at age 45. I’ll be in hometown Ashland a couple of times next week, so I’ll make the time to visit her gravesite and think about her a while.

I had terrible dreams last night (actually, this morning) after not being able to fall asleep. There might be a connection.

Remembrance of meals past

Emily signed me up for StoryWorth, in which I get a question each week and answer it via a story or essay. At the end of the year the plan is to take all those stories and populate a book designed to pass along some thoughts and information to the next generations. It’s not difficult and I’m looking forward to seeing it all put together.

This week the question was “What have been some of your favorite restaurants through the years? How about now?”. I enjoyed recalling some of my favorite meals and restaurants so much, and it’s definitely relevant to a travel blog, that I decided to republish my answer here with a few pictures.

What have been some of your favorite restaurants through the years? How about now?

I guess we’ll call this Around the World in 80 Meals.

I’ve had the good fortune to eat at a lot of high-end, expensive restaurants in my life. Some were worth the price but many not. The list I’ve come up with correlates more to a memorable meal(s) than to price. Many restaurant meals, some at home.

In Cabo San Lucas, Manta, Los Tres Gallos and Edith’s. And the restaurant at the harbor where they turn our fresh catch into amazing sushi and sashimi.

In Hawaii, Street Burger in Kauai. Some of the best burgers and fries ever, a great setting, and a surprisingly good wine list. Go figure.

Our wedding meal at Castle Stuart in Scotland. The haggis was actually pretty tasty. And the 18-year-old scotch didn’t hurt.

In Madrid, Sobrino de Botin. The alleged oldest restaurant in the world with succulent roast pork. Also in Madrid, La Terraza del Casino, where we had a 14-course meal prepared by a chef specializing in molecular gastronomy. Was beautiful and so tasty. One of the only times I sat at a table for two hours willingly.

In Italy, Antica Bottega del Vino (Verona, great food/ambiance and maybe the biggest wine list in Europe), Osteria di Giovanni (Florence, classic huge Florentine bistecca). And many more I can’t remember.

In France, at Gerard Bertrand’s Chateau la Sauvageonne in the Pyrenees. Absolutely best lunch ever, hosted in their barn! Also in France (Tautavel), Le Petit Gris, where I ate roasted snails in butter and garlic for the first time.

And again in France, a classic duck cassoulet served inside the castle walls at a little place I can’t remember in Carcassone.

And again again in France, a simple but incredibly tasty duck confit with pomme frittes served at a bar in Perpignan. Completely redefined my thinking about french fries.

In Catania, Sicily, L’Horloge. Fantastic crostini and meat/cheese plates, great food and a superb Mt. Etna wine list.

In San Diego, Phil’s BBQ, Flemings, Stone Brewery, Urbn Pizza, Point Loma Fish Market, Nessie Burger, When in Rome (now closed), Cucina Urbana, Jake’s Del Mar…a very long list.

In Louisville, too many to count. The Post, Decca, Louvino, Mussel and Burger, The Holy Grale, Barn 8, Cuvee, Jack Fry’s, Wild Eggs, Con Huevos…the list just goes on.

Many memorable Thanksgiving dinners at our place with friends and family.

So I suppose you could call me a foodie. This is only a short list, the ones I can remember fairly quickly and easily. It’s been a good and filling life with regard to restaurants.

Making money

When your Republican friends start whining about the national debt, send them to this little note by Dave Winer. Dave lays it out clearly – the national debt simply isn’t the kind of problem you think it is. As the apex predator in the world’s economy, the US has a uniquely advantaged position that we’ve squandered over the last 20-30 years. From the article:

One of the biggest misperceptions about how money works, even among educated people, is that we have to pay for projects by raising taxes. The fact they’re missing is that the Federal Reserve creates money. So we don’t have to raise taxes to provide relief to victims of disasters.

When they say the debt is something our children and grandchildren will have to pay off, that’s not true either. We can pay the debt by printing money. If we owe you $100 who’s to say if we got that money by taxing Americans or simply by giving you new money we created for that purpose?

Money has to start somewhere, and unlike a household budget, the US government has an infinite supply of it. Basically the only country with the power to create new money that can be spent everywhere is the United States. 

The United States is unique because our dollar is the reserve currency for the world. So if say Egypt owes money to India, they pay them in dollars. If a small country is reserving some money for a future project, they store it in dollars. Our currency, unlike all others, is in demand all around the world. Which means we can give them dollars we just printed and they will send us goods that cost real money, because of course when we printed the money, it was real, simply because we printed it. 

If people really understood how we’ve squandered this advantage and allowed our social support system to decay, they’d be enraged. It’s completely and sadly ironic – the very same working-class people who identify as Republican are the ones who have been most harmed by this conservative gaslighting.

A pretty fine day

We began spring 2021 with our first dinner party out with friends in a very long time. It was great to be back out in the world. Three couples, all fully-vaxxed, getting together for a dinner and conversation. And what a dinner – wagyu steaks (!!), my roasted gnocchi and vegetables recipe, some traditional pasta aglio y olio, a wedge salad and all the fine Italian wine we could stand. Oh yeah, and dining at a table with a pretty spectacular view (above, taken with iPhone). The host couple’s home is right on the bluff above the Pacific.

The meal and wine didn’t do anything helpful for my need to lose some weight, but it was worth it. It felt like old times, and is hopefully a harbinger of more good times with friends and family to come.

Spring

The last couple of days have been glorious. Great weather and golf outings with good friends. Days like these are why we pay the high cost of living for Socal.

I’m only a week away from heading east to see the grandkids, kids and my Dad. Three generations to check in with…it’s been too long. And KY in early spring can be beautiful. I hope the redbud is in bloom.

It’s the middle of March already?

I’m not loving Daylight Savings Time so far. Three straight nights of “meh” sleep.

One year ago I had this to say in a post called “Hunkered Down”. It’s probably good that I didn’t know how bad it would get…would’ve been too depressing. But there IS light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m pretty sure it’s not an oncoming train. We have a lot of travel queued up starting next month. I imagine we’re not alone in that.

For the first time in memory, I have no interest in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. None. With KY out of it, my usual March Madness happiness is twisted into extreme apathy. Or March Sadness. I’ll wait until November to do a reboot on UK hoops and hope for a better result in the 21-22 season. Though I have to say I am happy for the San Diego State team, finally getting a little love after two exceptional seasons.

I’m either off my game or out of touch. The new nominations for SF’s Nebula Awards are out, and I’ve read exactly zero of the books nominated. Congrats to these novelists:

2020 Nebula Award Finalists

Novel

  • Piranesi, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
  • Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey)
  • The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk (Erewhon)
  • Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)
  • Network Effect, Martha Wells (Tordotcom Publishing)

Things I learned during the pandemic

A lot of bloggers and essayists are taking the opportunity to tell the story of their year in isolation since the beginning of the pandemic. I won’t try to tell the whole story of The Great Isolation, but here are a few things I learned.

  • I’m pretty good at just sitting around reading and writing. For days and days. And days.
  • No matter how I load the dishwasher, it’s wrong.
  • There aren’t enough really good movies.
  • Writing a good novel is hard work. Writing is rewriting.
  • Air travel is a modern miracle, no matter how uncomfortable airlines and the TSA try to make it. I’ll never take it for granted again.
  • Internet access is a top-tier-important utility service, right up there with electricity and water. It made isolation less…isolated.
  • Biology and medical science is just as miraculous to me as digital systems are to non-engineers. I don’t have the education to understand how it actually works (e.g. mRNA), but I’m sure glad it does.
  • I have a helluva lot more things I want to learn and do. There’s not going to be enough time.
  • I miss the grandkids more than I could have imagined.