Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Thaw - What Difference a Week Makes


Last weekend above, this weekend below.


But it isn't over until it's over. We've got an 80% chance of snow forecast for Wednesday and in the extended forecast a 60% chance of scattered snow showers on the following Wednesday. With all this freezing and thawing, the chance of potholes is 100%.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mentioned on Althouse, a Telltale Iowa Sunset

Being quoted for a comment I left on Ann Althouse's blog is the blogosphere equivalent of being mentioned in dispatches. It certainly made my week. The Althouse blog is one that, unlike this one, people actually read.

My big coup was detecting she and her husband were in Colorado for spring break. It wasn't too hard to connect the dots. She blogs from Madison, Wisconsin. The first telltale was the picture she posted of an sunset on I-80 in what looked to my native eye to be Western Iowa:

P1030589

The second was a picture identified as from a McDonald's in Ogallala. That's also on I-80 in Western Nebraska and I've been through several times. Let's just say that no one goes there to see the aquifer.

P1030602

The third was a photo of an intersection and some mountains. It possibly could have been Cheyenne or Laramie in Wyoming, but there weren't enough pickup trucks. I got rear-ended once at an intersection that looked very much like that in Boulder, Colorado.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Emergency, Everybody to Get from Street

No, the Russians weren't coming, but it turned out the Ukrainians were. It started with a city snowplow truck blocking off the street across from my office.



More trucks blocked the next cross street a block down.



The end of that block was lined with barricades and two phalanxes of police motorcycles stood ready to whisk the "high profile" visitor away from his short visit to the City of Cambridge.



Flag waving supporters of Ukraine were there to show their colors. Putin Nyet! One couple asked me to take a picture of them and their baby. "Get the flag in the picture," I was instructed. I was happy to oblige.



And who was the high profile visitor for whom the city shut down a few streets Wednesday afternoon? Let's just say that the leader of the free world occasionally needs the protection of a few dump trucks.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished

Ukraine has not yet perished, nor her glory, nor her freedom
That word "yet" expresses a lot, both optimistic and pessimistic, that may be deeply ingrained in the Ukrainian national spirit, as well as it's national anthem. It's a farm country, and that's how farmers think.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to arrive in Ukraine tomorrow where he will, I suspect, have to explain to the country's new leaders that to save their country's life they will as a practical matter have to give up Crimea. That's not what will be said in public, of course.

Ukraine is an economic basket case, as this comparison to its neighbors and our neighbors shows:

Country Population GDP Nominal
Per Capita
GDP PPP
Per Capita
Ukraine 44,573,205 $3,862 $7,422
Belarus 9,457,500 $6,739 $15,633
Poland 38,544,513 $13,334 $21,118
Slovakia 5,410,836 $16,726 $24,284
Hungary 9,908,798 $13,965 $20,678
Romania 20,121,641 $9,036 $17,004
Moldova 3,559,500 $2,037 $4,182
Russia 143,700,000 $15,717 $18,996
European Union 507,890,191 $34,023 $31,948
United States 317,620,000 $52,839 $52,839
Canada 35,158,300 $51,871 $43,146
Mexico 118,395,054 $11,224 $15,608
Venezuela 28,946,101 $11,527 $13,634
Cuba 11,167,325 $6,301 $10,200

You can see that Ukraine shows a higher per capita gross domestic product on a purchasing power parity basis than in nominal terms, but that's because a dollar goes farther in poor countries than rich countries, but still not far enough. Not as poor as Moldova, but easily crushed by Russia, should it choose to do so.

One can also see why, in looking at the numbers, many Ukrainians want to look West to Europe rather than East to Russia. We could have been Poland, which has 2.8 times the purchasing power, is what they are thinking. But are those rich Europeans who want to expand commercial ties with Ukraine going to send troops to help fend off the Russians? Poland, maybe. The rest almost certainly not.

And what about us? Ukraine is poorer than Mexico and poorer even than Venezuela and Cuba, if we want a Democracy project...

The Russians, of course, are nervous about the expansionist plans of a united Europe. They'd be wise to apply for membership too, but there is too much stupid pride for that on both sides.

What about Crimea and its 2 million residents? Another charge of the light brigade across the Crimean peninsula may sound fun, but it should be remembered that while Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire won the Crimean War of 1853-1856, Russia still got to keep Crimea at the end of it.



Crimea was a favorite vacation spot of both Tsars and Commissars. It has a majority Russian population and a large Russian naval base at Sevastopol under lease from Ukraine until 2042 with options to renew. And it is only part of Ukraine due to a blunder of communism. Nikita Khrushchev became head of the Soviet Union in 1953, and in 1954 he transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Khrushchev happened to be Ukrainian, and so when the Soviet Union broke up, Ukraine was able to say that Crimea was theirs.

The Crimeans, supported by their old Russians friends, did not necessarily agree that they were Ukrainian and so, after Ukrainian independence, Crimea was established as an "autonomous republic" within Ukraine. Now they will try to schedule a referendum seeking independence from Ukraine.

Why not let them go? Ukrainian nationalists would be ridding themselves of 5% of the population, a great many of which aren't on board for the Ukrainian national project. Ukraine has dropped over 6 million in population since independence from the Soviet Union, so what's a couple million more:



I know some of those people because they immigrated to the United States and became citizens of our country. Like rural farm country everywhere, there's been an incredible brain drain. And of course the continuation of communism by other means has not helped stem the voting with the feet. Still, concerns for family and friends who stayed behind must be high.

All that is a way of questioning whether Russia really wants Crimean independence. Maybe they don't, and if we give them a lot so that it won't happen, we may be getting played. The smart play would be to see what concessions can bet got from Russia for Ukraine to let this happen. Putin is not giving up his prestigious Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol anytime soon. The best Ukraine can hope to keep is continuation of Crimea as an autonomous republic within Ukraine. The best it can hope to get ... freedom from Mother Russia.

Update: Russian President Putin claims he is not considering "annexing" Crimea to Russia, but "accession" applications in response to a vote in Crimea are another story. The new Ukrainian Prime Minister says he is willing to consider what kind of additional autonomy the Crimean Republic could get. Ukraine still seems focused more on what it can keep than what it can get out of Putin.

Friday, February 7, 2014

I Am Going to Need a Bigger Bucket

I'm standing in front of my kitchen sink and suddenly my socks are getting soaked. At first I thought I had tracked it in with my snow boots, but that proved wishful thinking.



What you see is deceptive because the leak is not actually in the bottom of the unit, but more likely in the seal between the disposal blades and the electric engine. If I were handy I could take it apart and replace the seal, but I'm not handy and the unit has been in service for 8.5 years, ancient for a modern appliance.

I don't have time right now to call a plumber and wait around for one to show up. Plus the independent plumber I like has either retired or just stopped returning my phone calls. So I guess I'm going to need a bigger bucket.

I suppose there might be something I could pour down the sink drain and let sit overnight that would form a good seal. That has bad idea written all over it.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pete Seeger Passes But the Songs Hammer On

Yes, the Super Bowl is this afternoon and the State of the Union speech was Tuesday, which will be fine, if the Broncos see their shadow and the Seahawks win, but the big news this past week was the passing of folk singer Pete Seeger at age 94.

Some call him America's Favorite Communist and he had the Contempt of Congress conviction to prove it, albeit overturned on appeal, back when having contempt for Congress was considered a bad thing.

Pete had contempt for Presidents too, and his song Waist Deep in the Big Muddy calling Lyndon Johnson a big fool may have put the final nail in the coffin of LBJ's reelection chances.

He hammered that nail on the February 25, 1968 airing of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at the height of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The Smothers Brothers were cancelled by CBS a year later.

I remember Pete Seeger as the singer whose albums hung for the 1970s in my parents' stereo cabinet, along with all the Johnny Cash albums, and the soundtrack for Paint Your Wagon. What can I say, my parents are Republicans who weren't fans of LBJ either, and those albums are still there in their stereo cabinet today.

There's more to the Pete Seeger John Cash connection than you might think:



Pete Seeger would have been famous for We Shall Overcome, even if his fellow travelers later claimed the song was theirs and his only contribution was changing the word "Will" to "Shall":



I imagine the old communist made some money too. Peter, Paul, and Mary picked up and made a hit out of a Seeger tune, borrowed from an old cossack folk song, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?



The Byrds certainly gave Seeger a good turn covering his song Turn, Turn, Turn (be careful, that's my favorite book in the Bible you're using that spinning wheel to brainwash people with):



Pete Seeger was a great friend of Woody Guthrie, and here he performs This Land Is Your Land with Bruce Springsteen at the Lincoln Memorial:



If Saint Peter has a sign at the pearly gates saying "No Atheist Communists" he'd better have had it printed it on both sides or Pete Seeger is going to get in on a technicality:
"I feel most spiritual when I'm out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. [I used to say] I was an atheist. Now I say, it's all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I'm not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes."
If Pete Seeger will be remembered for one thing it will be for the hammer song he wrote with Lee Hayes. And it's not just that he sang it but that everybody sang it. If you didn't know it, Pete was ready to teach it to you.



When I say everybody, I mean everybody:



And then there are the everybodys you haven't heard of:



Some renditions go a bit over the top, as did the last one and this next one from the 2008 campaign:



That's a lot of hammering, so just one more, that you'll appreciate if you got this far:



In that regard, I looked in vain for a cover by Joan Baez, but couldn't find one. She reportedly hates the hammer song, and refused to so it even as a special request from Michelle Obama at a 2010 tribute to the civil rights movement. There are other haters to keep Joan Baez company.

Here is a song written as a sort of tribute by neighbor Dar Williams in Beacon, New York:



The last tribute goes to Pete Seeger's old group, the Weavers, singing the Leadbelly classic, Goodnight, Irene.



Goodnight, Pete. I'll be hearing Pete Seeger hammer on in my dreams.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

2014 Is Off to a Very Slow Start

The battery in my 1993 Jeep Cherokee has been dead since Thanksgiving, except for an hour on January 3, when I called AAA out to jump start it. I should have run it for 2 hours I guess. No worries, my second car is a ZipCar.

The hot water went out at the office and it took 3 days for the building owner to get that fixed. I suppose if you needed hot water you could microwave it. Speaking of which, my stove-top microwave at home has been dead for a year. I bought it new in 2005, so that's too soon. I may wait until it reaches the end of it's natural life before replacing it. I can hardly drive to an appliance store to replace it.

Then there's my cable box, which has been out of whack since Christmas week. The internet still works, so I've been working my way through Breaking Bad on Netflix. I'm in the middle of the 4th season and they seem to be just marking time. If I don't get the cable fixed, I guess I'll be boycotting the 2014 Russian Winter Olympics.

We've been having one of those cold snaps that can only be caused by global warming. Not Minnesota or Wisconsin cold, but cold enough for the mile walk to and from work. That reminds me,  I ordered a Clore jump starter battery from Amazon.com that is not legal in California or Oregon. I forgot to stock up on incandescent lightbulbs before they became illegal on January 1. The fluorescents don't really work in my dimmer-switched sockets.

I decided to bypass Windows 8 and bought a Mac Mini, which I can't figure out how to use. My pictures are on there somewhere but I can't find the files to upload them. About 1% of my iTunes library disappeared in the transition, another 6% lost the album titles, and some unknown percentage lost their cover art. I could painstakingly fix all that, I'm not going anywhere.

The Windows laptop I use for work says I should consider replacing my battery. OK, I'm considering it. I watered my cactus.

I'm looking at my 2013 To Do list. If you don't sweep your stairs for a year, they begin to resemble the stairs to a hay loft. And if you don't pick up your guest bedroom, it begins to resemble a tool shed. That's the bachelor life. Glamorous. My late grandfather once asked me, how do you feed yourself?

I grilled a nice tenderloin steak tonight, along with grilled onions and zucchini. The steak reached it's expiration date 4 days ago. You should never grill a steak before its time is up. Aged beef, it's what's for dinner.

I will not be taking down my Christmas decorations until Valentine's Day. Happy Holidays. Sorry, no picture. I did have an epiphany earlier this week, but it passed.

Three of my favorite shirts have worn through the elbows. Why, in the internet age, can't you go back to the same shelf in the same store you bought your favorite shirt 10 years ago and get another one just like it? Well, one or two sizes bigger.

My brother-in-law in Beaverton found a great pair of ecco boots he liked and bought a second pair to have on hand when the first pair wear out. They are great boots, I bought a pair too. Six weeks later and I can't find them on the ecco website.

My kitchen sink garbage disposal, which is no older than my microwave, occasionally leaks under circumstances that are hard to pin down, not that I'm trying to pin them down, you understand. The drain in my bathroom sink is also slow, unless I pull out the drain stopper, which solves that problem.

The flavor bar on my Weber tabletop grill has after a decade or so begun to rust through. The model has been discontinued by the manufacturer.

And there you have it, a fine beginning to 2014.