Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

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Way on Down South, London Town o/”

In a few days I will be on my way to England, and then to Ireland. It’s sort of a honeymoon, sort of a visit with friends and, to make a metaphor, sort of like making Aliyah. I am a native English speaker. I’m a native English speaker from a country which traces its lineage and traditions to Britain.

I’m also descended from Irish emigrants (which leads to a conflicted set of emotions. A friend of mine from the army is both Republican in sentiment [as regards Ireland] and an Anglophile; I’m not quite in his camp).

If I were to call my father up I could see if there are any relations living around Dublin. If I were to call on them I’d probably be offered hospitality. I can tell you stories from Irish myth and history (and some which straddle the line, e.g. the voyages of St. Brendan). I know the general geography. The idea of going back is bred in the bone (as is the sense of loss from having left.*

But English is my native language, and the shape of it has formed my thoughts. Learning Shakespeare, Sidney and Marlowe: Herbert, Herrick and Donne; Dickens, Defoe and Austen; Byron, Browning and Kipling, Owen, Irving, and Sassoon; The King James, the OED and Britannica; Etc., &c and sequelae, have shaped my thoughts, colored how I see poetry, and song, and drama.

So we are going to a music festival ( Sidmouth) where we will see some Oysterbandand then to Stonehenge, and HMS Victory. After that we have a couple of days in London (the British Museum, The Victoria and Albert, The Globe, The Imperial War Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Tower, the Thames; a month is not enough to see it all, we have a few days before the convention, and what time we steal from it).

Then a train to the coast, and a ferry to Dublin: Tara, the Book of Kells, somewhere there shall be a seisùn, and then another convention, and home again. All together we shall be gone a month, which seems a vague eternity (for this time removed is summer’s time, the Autumn, big with rich increase and I leave my grapes, my beans, my dill, my late-season asparagus, my peppers, and my nasturtia behind as well as the olives, etrogim, bay, bulbs, berries, orchids and pomegranate; all the rest which either bear year round, or not at all, to the tender care of others), and barely time to make the acquaintance of places which sit, in quiet majesty, behind and beneath my understanding of the world.

It’s not like going home, because for me, the Kingdom of Letters is all about, but it does have all the feel of a pilgrimage.

*The village named in that song is in County Mayo, which is where my maternal grandfather’s side of the family came from. My paternal grandfather’s side of the family is from down in County Cork. For some seriously strange synchronicity this is a translated cover, in Czech, which is where my grandmothers’ sides of the family came from.

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Summer colds


I don’t know if they suck more than winter colds (both are miserable) but they always feel as if they are more destructive of getting things done.  I don’t (quite) get the, “it’s just a cold”.  They knock me on my ass.  They do it in way which is worse than the flu; when one gets the flu, one knows one is sick.  Flat out, wiped out, no sense that one ought to be able to get anything done.

Not so with a cold.  It’s a lower key sapping of energy.  Yesterday was crappy.  I had no appetite, ached in minor ways, and had a headache to beat the band (from my sinuses rebelling).  I also had things which needed doing, because on Tues. I’d managed to bugger up a pair of errands.  So a pot needed to be replaced, and the correct guitar strings gotten.

That was it, done for the day.  Planting peppers… Nope.  repotting  the etrog?  Nope.  Eating?  Nope (I think that’s where, “starve a cold” comes from, making a benefit out of what happens when one has not the energy to make toast).  I got back and went to bed (no, I lie, I did manage to get on one make on the present yarn project; about 10 grams of cranberry corriedale for a 2×2 cranberry/silver grey cable; spun s/z/s, so as to be good for knitting: if I don’t have the sticktoitiveness required, it will be a 2-ply crochet yarn).  Reading, playing clicky games on my phone, soaking a really hot tub and napping away from 1400 yesterday to 1000 this morning was all I could manage.

Today I got coffee, and released some praying mantises (I bought the last pair of egg-cases from my local garden supply on Tues).  Nuked some Campbell’s (comfort food: now made for “peel/pop/eat”) and flopped on the couch. I’m done in.

It’s that sense of done in, when there are things I want to be doing outside (which is less a thing in the winter) which seems to make the summer cold more onerous.




About the Hugos

For those who don’t know, they are something like the Oscars for Science Fiction works.  Like the Academy Awards the voting pool is limited, and also who most people think it is.  Anyone who is a member of the WorldCon (this year in London) or the subsequent year’s Convention (next year in Spokane), and the previous year’s convention (which was in San Antonio, Texas) is eligible to nominate.  Anyone who is a member of the convention at which the awards will be announced (in this case LonCon) is eligible to vote.

This year it seems an author made a pretty specific pitch to be nominated (Somewhere Puppies are Smiling) Among the slate he endorsed was one Theodore Beale, who goes by the hubristic nom-de-net of vox day.  He made news, recently, for getting kicked out of SFWA.  He’s a shit.  Racist, misogynist, white supremacist and all other manner of unlikable things.

He’s also a crap writer.

So, In my opinion, on the merits (i.e. his crap writing) he doesn’t deserve a Hugo.  On his other merits he ought to be shunned.

Thankfully the Hugo’s have a means for the voters to do that (and so I am commending it).  One, they need to vote (in any given year a lot of the eligible member of a convention don’t vote: many because they don’t feel competent to choose; for having not read the eligible works.  I often refrain from voting in categories I can’t really evaluate).

Two, they need to understand how Hugo Voting Works.  It’s an instant run-off; and I am pretty sure most people don’t understand how to best use it.

The idea is simple.  You have X candidates and get to rank them 1-X.  If your first choice loses, those votes are removed and the second choice from those ballots are added to the tallies of the remaining candidates, until there is a winner.

Where one has to be careful is remembering that one need not vote all the way down the ticket (and if you have a strong preference for one, or two, candidates you need to stop there).  If a ballot has no subsequent choices, no new votes will be added to the tally of any other candidate.  This can make, or break, who wins.  If you only have two strong choices, only vote for two candidates.

But, where the Hugos run-off voting differs is that there is another option.  No Award.  It’s an option to declare that, should your preferred choice(s) be eliminated you don’t think anyone else who was nominated deserves the award.  It’s a way to say a nominated work was (in your opinion) undeserving of consideration (it’s happened, at least once. that the community put No Award ahead of a nominated work, in 1987, L. Ron Hubbard came in 6th in a field of five)

So if, as I do, you think the quality of Beale’s work is worthy of a Hugo fine, you should vote for it.  If you think his work isn’t worth a Hugo and his social behaviors, are unacceptable in civilised society then, even if you have no opinion on the other novelletes you should cast a vote for No Award.

Because, as lots of people have said, it’s a great ballot this year.  It’s not the first year a dipshit asshole has been nominated.  It’s not even the first year a dipshit asshole I think is a blight on the face of humanity has been nominated.  We, as a community have the option to show that we discourage that sort of dipshit assholism.

The voting isn’t a closed book. You can take part. I’m going to quote Cat Valente here,

“A final note: you do not have to go to Worldcon to nominate and vote for the Hugos. You can buy a supporting membership for $40* and get that perk. I realize $40 is a lot to express an opinion, but every year we hear complaints about the ballot and every year I hope that my generation will vote a little more, because the Hugos are kind of a bellwether for the field, and I want new crackly risktaking goodness in there, too. Since I have no control over the price of the supporting membership all I can say is—give it a thought, if you have the scratch.”

*in the original it was $50.  LonCon is charging 40 for a supporting membership. In addition to the Hugo balloting (and really, what other prestigious award do you know of, for which you; as a fan, can vote?  I know that, for those years in which I voted, I helped shape what was seen as the best in the field; for the year.  I made my opinion known; in a very visible way, about authors to watch), you also have the chance to decide where the convention will be two years from now; which means you could try to vote for someplace close to home; or someplace you’d like to visit.  It’s a win/win/win proposition (because every con needs money to run).  For that $40, you will get a whole lot of stuff to read, and look at, because the Hugo ballot comes with a lot of files to make it easier to cast an informed decision when you vote.

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Too much of a good thing

I have the trial of pleasant excess, which is to say I have a plethora of fiber. I’ve been trying, but life is busy and it’s not just that I’m failing to gain on the gifts of the holidays (when I gained 8-plus lbs of fiber), but I’ve fallen behind the acquisitions since then. I was weak. I saw that Paradise Fibers had some of a rare breed (California Red), and it sounded interesting, so I bought a lb.

Therein lies some of my problem, I want to make a useful quantity of yarn. I look at Etsy and see skeins of 1-2 oz., and think it’s inane. How is someone going to make anything out of so small a quantity, so I tend to get between ½ and 1 lb. of fiber (that, or I take a pair of 4 oz rovings and combine them to make some sort of interesting yarn.

It doesn’t help that I like to spin fine. I’ve gotten decent at it too. I’m no longer, “chasing cobwebs”, but rather I’ve moved to spinning gossamer. The cashmere I bought at Christmas is ridiculously fine. I decided to ply some of it up with the tail end of the Targhee I had left over from plying. I expected to have a thinner strand around a thicker one. Nope.   They were the same diameter. As I recall it was 1/45 for weight (these are cones used to hold the yarn for the weft on commercial looms), which is about 11,000 yards per lb. My estimation (from the skein length on the 4 oz I’d spun up) was about 13,500 ypp).

Spinning that finely takes longer.

So I’ve spun some, but I doubt I’ve managed more than a pound since New Year’s. It’s been interesting. The Finnish is nice, Polwarth is a dream. The Kraemer Mauch was really nice. The yarn has a very pleasant heather/tweedy look, and the hand is soft. It also spins up easily, needs little in the way of prep to go from roving to wheel and is easier to spin in a heavier yarn, which I am trying to teach myself to do. Right now I have two project on the wheel, and both of them are a bit frustrating.

Part of the frustration is that I want to spin a bit thicker, and I have trained myself to spin fine. That’s not too much of a problem, save that I have managed to choose rovings that don’t want to be spun “thick” (which for me means an end weight which a knitter/crocheter would think of as, “worsted”). The one is an alpaca, which is just not a very well prepped fiber. It’s been over carded and is not only chock full of noils, but clumps in the hand, so I get “slubs’ of fat fluffy stuff. At first I thought it was me having trouble with the nature of the roving, because, it’s, “pencil” (which means it’s a long thin strip, instead of a fatter “tube” of fiber). Pencil is supposed to be easier to work, because it doesn’t have to be thinned out as much to feed into the “drafting zone”, but I’ve mostly spun from the thicker sort of rovings.

That isn’t it. Looking at the slubs, when I try to thin them out, what I see is a tight yarn, surrounded by a halo of fluff. I’m going to finish this skein, and think about not spinning the rest of it at all. I may need to find someone who is interesting in felting and sell them the remainder of the two colors I have.

So decided to spin something else, and take it in stages (so as not to have something which seems a bit of a chore when I think about sitting down to the wheel). Silly me, I chose some alpaca/silk. It’s got, for different reasons, some of the same habits. First, it wants to spin fine. Second it needs a to be held with a firm looseness; a bit further back in the fiber bundle, or it becomes a slippery mess in the hand.

The other quirk is that if the twist gets into the fiber, the silk locks it right up. That makes opening a section which is too thick a lot harder than it would be if this was wool, or even pure alpaca.

I’d forgotten that. I’ve spun alpaca/silk blends before, it was sort of cranky, but I’ve gotten better, and I figured it would be ok. Mostly it is, but it’s not the best of “relaxing interludes” from the other.

The other thing making it so that my fibercrafting friends just laugh at me when I state a desire to reduce my stash, is that I joined a fiber club when I bought the California Red. My first delivery came today. Three rovings, 7 oz. total. A plain merino, a merino/tussah, and a merino/yak/silk blend. They are all lovely. The yak blend, in particular, is amazingly chatoyant. It’s a white yak, and a grey merino, it’s got a charcoal-silver effect. I may set aside the other 2 oz. of the alpaca/silk I’m using now, and spin it up very fine (which will be easier than what I’m doing now) and perhaps one of the other silvery alpaca blends I’ve got and make a 3-ply yarn with a really nice drape.

I can, of course, get the yak blend at a 10 percent discount, if I decide I want more of it; though that means I need to spin a little up in a hurry.

The last thing I’ve been doing is (finally) getting to work on spinning the Arapawa I got as a gift.  I bought some viking combs  and a set of Howard hand cards (I tested them out at WEBS, and was able to limit myself to just a bit more of the Kraemer Mauch. I didn’t buy a small loom, which was really tempting, nor any of the really pretty fibers.  We did get some dyes, so I we can play with making our own colorways from things like the California Red, or Polwarth, etc.).  I’ve got to work on the scouring, because the wool still feels a bit greasy.  It’s really fine, but crimpy, and I need to work on getting the carding done, since it’s full of vegetable matter, and the locks are kind of clumpy, which makes it hard to gauge the amount of distance to keep between my hands.

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Random stuff

Mostly because of music.

It’s almost spring (I say almost because the night time temps are still dipping below freezing).  Today in park below City Hall (thus marking me as having gone a bit native to New York), there was a jazz trio.  They were good, sax and bass viol and a simple drum kit (snare, petit bass, top had and a cymbal), but it reminded me of how I am convinced the Scots-Irish and Irish migrations almost certainly helped to create the style of music considered (by many) to the most specifically american of them.

When I listen to jazz I am reminded of how bagpipes and peurt a bul and ceilidh music is full of repetitive phrases, with the lead performer engaging in flights of variative fancy.  A lot of it also works in either modal structures or a limited range (bagpipes have a range just barely greater than one octave, nine notes; with a limited amount of cross fingering for accidentals).

Which isn’t what I wanted to write about, but the mind goes where it will, and sometimes words force themselves out.

I’ve been taking voice lessons, because I’m hesitant about singing in front of people and my partners are active in a community where being offered the chance to sing happens on a regular basis.  I used to sing in public; I did choir and musical theater in high school.  But, between moving to a school which had no choir (hence the musical theater, which is how I got to acting), and the trials of a changing voice I lost the sense of comfort in my voice.  Because choir has formal work, and musical theater is (as a class) about the solo singer… I was relegated to the chorus.  I also know that I am not the best at being able to tell what pitch I am on.

It’s not that I am completely off (the last time I tried to take chorus I was chastised for being off tone, but when I took musical theory it seems what I did was lock onto the third of the melody… I don’t know if this is because I was an alto before my voice changed, and so was used to singing harmonies).  I’ve been able to sing in a chorus since then (when I was at DLI I was in the post choir), so I know I am able to take a part (and it turns out I am a solid baritone, not a bari-tenor, as I thought).

There are (as with most) a few places I have trouble (middle C and I are not friends.  I can hit a half tone to either side, dead bang, but middle C is not a place my throat likes to be), but all in all; once I managed to get past the basics of finding how my ear and my sense of my voice aren’t in prefect sympathy (which was hard; I am told that my teacher was coming close to despair at my lack of progress… then it clicked, and I was hitting notes at a pretty steady rate).

Tonight, after my lesson I was singing along with Pandora/iTunes, and a steady stream of dead musicians came on, which got me to thinking (which is how that set up happened).  I wonder if mid-life crises aren’t driven by that chunk of one’s life being the one in which people whom one knew in the previous 15-20 years start to die.

Some, of course, die young (Warren Zevon, Stan Rogers, Harry Chapin, for the ones you will be able to google [if you don't know them]) and a host of others whom my friends will place (e.g. Gary Louie).  There are others who died in some fullness of years, even if sooner than one might hope (again, my friends will place Bruce Pelz, and Barry Workman).  It is, however, undeniable. that as I come closer to my fifth decade, there are a lot of people I can turn a glass to recall, those friends whom I can no longer ring up, or share a meal and a bottle with.  Who will no longer listen to my ramblings, as they regale me with the tales of the past.

Derek Bell, Liam Clancy, Tommy Makem, and Jerry Garcia will make no new music for me to hear.  Sooner than I would like Pete Townsend, Ian Anderson, Gordon Lightfoot, Jimmy Buffet, el alia will pass from the stage.

I think I’ve come to terms with that (if I’d not done before I deployed, being in a combat zone will make one decidedly aware of one’s own mortality), but I wonder if that isn’t the shift of perception which brings about the “mid-life crisis” we see in books, films, and trite human interest pieces.



I love Ukraine.

I am not Ukranian. I am an American, from Ohio.  The odd emotional attachments of ancestry (to which almost all native born USians are predisposed) are to “Czechoslovakia” and Ireland (with the odd anglophilic identification to which all native speakers of English seem prone).  I am a russian speaker.  I’ve been to Ukraine four times.

That’s how it started.  I am a soldier.  I’m not in uniform anymore, but as the saying goes, “Once a Marine, always a Marine”, so too is it with soldiering.  I’m retired, but I’m still a soldier (this is relevant).  My first two trips were to Western Ukraine, Yavoriv Polygon (a large training area, used for; among other things, armored warfare training).  First trip it was me, and 36 grunts, living cheek by jowl with our Ukranian counterparts.  We ate the same, slept the same, shat the same.  We had fun.  We also, as closely as could me managed, got “shot at” the same.  We shot the breeze, told war stories and drank.  Good times.

The second time it was a bit more abstract.  I was working with a Colonel, not a Capt.  The air was slightly more rarified.  I had a driver to look after, and a colonel (the exercise was guerilla (this was 1999), and he was a target.  I recall being in the GAZ (sort of like a jeep, for officers) and seeing some people trying to flag us down.  I told the driver to keep going; which meant they had to jump out of the way [they had tried to block the road], and then the sound of shots being fired at us).   We watched the Turkish eclipse. Sat on BTRs eating sandwiches and feeling the sun, while the breeze blew threw the grass on the steppes.

The next two trips were to Kyiv (yes, I’ve walked in Maidan).  I helped with building the exercises.  These were bigger deals.  Ukraine was looking into joining NATO.  I didn’t know it, but I was hanging out with movers and shakers in the Ukranian Army (one of them ended up on the Ukranian equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was pretty quiet, and a huge fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger.).  They sent me home with vodka.  I gave them ironwood statues of California Quail.  I was dragged to a party at the Ambassdor’s residence, where we griped at the “dog and pony show” aspect of it.  When we were in San Diego, I took them here and there.

Viktor (of whom I was the fondest), liked ice cream, so I walked about with him, and we got Coldstone.  We did a lot of “hurry up and wait”.  We swapped war stories (Victor was in Afghanistan, when the USSR invaded.  I was in Iraq).

In Kiev I wandered the streets.  Friends of mine also spoke russian, and we had no qualms (three of us, all fluent, all soldiers.  Yeah, we might get into some trouble, but it wasn’t likely.  It was a chance to see how competent we were.  To “live on the economy” and get to see Ukraine without the trappings of official status.  The people were wonderful (as they had been in L’viv).

So I was watching the events in Maidan with some attention. The news of today isn’t surprising to me (Putin would love to be able to recreate Tzarist Russia, with himself founding the new Romanovs).  Krai = boundary.  “The Ukraine” defines the country as the border of something else (which is how Russia saw them,  and what Ukranians were denying when they dropped “the” from the name).  My last trip we had a “dining in”.  I was the only NCO at the event.  The Polkhovnik (Colonel) who was instrumental in getting the entire series of exercises started was there.  So was my commanding general (who had been my first battalion commander).  We did a round of toasts, starting by my commanding general; who saved me for last.  I’d hoped I’d be excused (as the only NCO).  No dice. He saved me for last.

This was a table of old friends(the Colonel being honored; for whom I’d written  the text for a citation: [The Order of California]  had been in charge of the exercise of my first trip; because it was the first exercise ) , and new (mostly members of the US Army).  I think he was taking all that into account.

I don’t recall exactly what I said (there had been a lot of vodka, and it was late), but I did know the odds of my getting back were slim.  I made a longish toast about the central fact of being a long-service soldier:  All the people I’ve served with are friends.  We have more in common with each other than we have to most civilians, and it matters not that our friends are Greek, Albanian, Korean, Iraqi, German, English, Russian, Ukranian, Swiss, Italian, Scottish, Canadian, Polishn etc (that list is inclusive, but not total, of nationalities I’ve served with).  We can sit down and swap war stories; talk about bad chow, and good times.  We can be companionable in silence as we ponder past times of being shot at.  We do all this knowing the future is uncertain and we might have to spend future times shooting at each other.

It gives us the painful pleasure of a divided heart.

Right now my heart is aching.  I want to know that Ukraine isn’t going to be broken apart, or swallowed whole, by Russia (which has always has a Sudetenland sort of idea about it, esp. Crimea).  I want to know my friends aren’t at risk.  I know that, were I there, I’d be trying to help (and that trying to stand against Russia is futile, in the way the protests at Maidan would have been had Yanukovich mobilised the full force of the Berkut on day one).  And I’d still be willing to do it.

Because I have a divided heart.  I’d do it, not so much because of how I feel about Ukraine, but because of my friends, and how they feel about it; and how their love of it (and my love of them) affects me.

And I know this is a strange thing to say (because really, If I’m never in a combat zone again; much less in combat, I will be quietly happy; beyond measure), but I want to be there.  I want to be on the side of right in this one.  I won’t be. There isn’t the time for an International Brigade to be formed, much less a chance in hell of it making a difference if it were.  But if I were told to go, I’d go.  A lot more easy in my mind than I went to Iraq.

Because, at root, I am a soldier, and this is the sort of thing we care about.

I have a divided heart.



A bunch of doctors are petitioning to have a very effective painkiller revoked: It’s “too scary”

Assholes.  I was talking with a friend yesterday.  Said friend has more pain issues than I do.  She gets grief from her doctors because she want’s drugs, “I’m afraid you might be bordering on drug-seeking behavior”.  I have semi-chronic pain. When I am running low on my drugs, and waiting for my refill to show up I am nervous, antsy.  I start to hoard my drugs.  Why?  Because today’s pain is more bearable than the idea of not being able to deal with what might come tomorrow.

When I broke my ankle I was suffering from that.  My usual drugs aren’t the sort to deal with that kind of pain (though serious anti-inflammatories do help in the early stages of that sort of injury), and I was doing the math.  I needed about a dozen more pills than I had. What I needed was more Percocet (I am a poor metabolizer: Vicodin gives me very little pain relief, and all the side effects.  Percocet works just fine).

So I went to the doctor.  I told him my dilemma, what I expected to use (about ten more doses than I had) and what I’d like (about 15 more pills, so I’d not be in the “can’t stop my pain, it might get worse).  He went away, and came back with a prescription.  In a very stern tone he said, “This is the only time we can do this,” as he handed me a ticket for 40 doses.  Almost three times what I wanted (and almost four times what I’d told him I expected to use).

When I am in pain, damn fucking straight I’m going to exhibit “drug-seeking” behavior.  I’d be a fool not to seek drugs in that situation. Which is why this pisses me off:

‘You’re talking about a drug that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of five times more potent than what we’re dealing with now,’ says Dr. Stephen Anderson, a Washington emergency room physician who is not part of the most recent petition to the FDA about the drug. ‘I’m five times more concerned, solely based on potency.’ The concerns echoed by all groups are broadly about the drug’s potency and abuse potential.”

Five times more effective means less strain on the liver (if it’s related to Codeine/Vicodin, the work of making it able to kill pain is done in the liver).  So a lesser dose means either the same effect for less strain or for those who are at the upper bound of being able to tolerate the drugs they need to get through the day the possibility of being able to move from “barely functional” to more completely abled.

Could it be abused?  Sure.  Anything can be abused, but a huge part of the present growth of heroin is the sheer expense of prescription drugs.

So to say this drug is “too powerful” when the ones we have now already seem to be creating the new surge in heroin addiction is facile.



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