Better than salt money

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

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Still on the road

Still abroad (but at least on my “home” continent).

It’s been a trip.  This is country number three (I don’t think a train trip, and an ale in Wales, counts as a separate country, nor the short layover in Frankfurt), and bed number 5/6 (depending on how one thinks of sleeping for two (freezing) hours on a banquette on the Ferry across the Irish Sea, from Holyhead to Dublin).  I feel oddly liminal.   I want to be back in Ireland, or England.  I also want to be home.

Toronto is hella familiar, to the point of being homey; but the past month has made some things which are different quite familiar.  I like some of them better (not paying to withdraw money, a better attitude toward alcohol, more readily available street food of good quality, etc).  Others (the quality of the coffee, the power outlets matching my plugs, the money being worth about what I expect, and the price of things being in keeping with what I’m used to paying, etc.) are nice to come back to.

So I am neither away from home, nor at home.


More police problems

I was doing some reading on Ferguson, and came upon a video from the Washington Post with some detail shots of cops in Ferguson, and some labels (inadequate, for what they don’t say about it, and what they don’t ID).  At the 16 second mark I did a double take.


That guy is wearing a K-Bar.  A fucking K-Bar*. Don’t get me wrong, I like K-Bars. I’ve owned one since 1993.  I had two versions of it when I deployed to Iraq.  They are really good at what they are for. What they are for is hand to hand combat; up close and personal.  What they aren’t is any sort of defensive tool.   Knife fighting is ugly work.  It’s brutal, and dangerous.  One of the situations which gets handled badly in the press (and one in which I give cops a bit more leeway when I hear there was a shooting) is one with a knife, because the minimum safe distance from someone who has a knife is a lot longer than you think it is, and the amount of damage someone can do with them is often more likely to be fatal than a similarly placed gunshot.

So what is he doing with that knife?

He’s armored (the bulky sleeves on his vest… those are deltoid armor.  Military Issue body armor doesn’t have them).  Also, if the situation is that volatile, why are his arms exposed?   He’s almost certainly packing a sidearm. He isn’t alone.  You could tell that (even if you didn’t have any other evidence than this photo) from his weaponry.  He’s got a grenade launcher** (probably loaded with CS/Tear Gas).  That’s a support weapon. It’s not the sort of thing a cop on their own is going to be carrying at high ready.  The people using it are going to be (in any well managed deployment) from the second, or third rank.

But this yahoo has a close in weapon only good for killing people.  He’s wearing it in a quick draw rig.  What the fuck?  Does he think he’s going to be going toe-to-toe with someone in a dark alley?  Has he been reading too many pieces about trench warfare because it’s the centenary of WW1?  I’m agog.

I also want to know who let him hang that from his rig?  When they did their inspections before they headed out (in the Army it’s called a PCI, for “pre-combat inspection”.  It’s when your first line supervisor looks you over to see you have everything you need, and that it’s in the right place.  Ammo, water, bandages, helmet, dry socks, lip-balm, etc.) how did this not get called out?

If one of my guys had been getting ready to go on a patrol and was packing a machete, I’d tell him to leave it behind, unless we were expecting to be busting some brush.  The guy is a cop, for fuck’s sake.  He’s not in the jungles of Guadalcanal. He’s staring down a bunch of people angry because one of their kids was gunned down and left to lie in the street, and the authorities are saying, “he had it coming”.  He’s not going to be ambushed and knocked down, his only available weapon a big honking knife; in a kill, or be killed situation.

The only way that happens is if his command is so fucked up they instigate an all out assault on the cops by the citizens.  So he’s got a screwed up view of his role. Either his command doesn’t see it, or doesn’t care.

Which is a big part of how we got where we are.




*It’s actually a K-Bar style knife.  Note the hexagonal shape of the pommel.  K-Bars are round, also forget the “Gerber” in his pocket, that’s a tool knife, handy for cutting rope, slicing seat belts, sectioning an apple.  What that knife most decidedly isn’t is a weapon.  It’s built all wrong.

**All the detail they give, just tells you what some of the types of grenades it can launch.




I’d rather be doing a lot of things than this. I could be wrapping up my thoughts on Sidmouth, and the Folk Tradition. I could be in Greenwich, or at LonCon, or spinning, or practicing pennywhistle, or pretty much anything but writing about Ferguson. I wish my thoughts were conflicted. I wish that because it would mean there was some level of question about what’s going on.

What’s going on is the police are over-reacting to a reasonable response on the part of the community. That’s the takeaway. There is a lot more: there always is, but that’s the nub of it. It’s tied into the way the US looks at Race, the way the US looks at cops, the way the US looks at protest, but the nub is the cops over-reacted to a reasonable response.

And, even if the (less than plausible) story the police tell (that a smart kid decided to reach into a car to try and get a cop’s gun) is true, the response is reasonable.

Because cops kill people, esp. black people with impunity. In 2011 cops shot almost more than 1,100 people in the US. 607 of them died. In 95 percent of those shootings, it was determined the cops were “justified”. Out of 1,146 shootings, 1,088 were deemed to be, “good shoots”.

The remaining 58… just sort of disappeared. It’s almost impossible to prosecute cops for misconduct. From about 8,000 credible reports of police misconduct (against about 11,000 officers, in a 21 month period) there were only 3, 200 prosecutions, and 2/3rds of them were acquitted. For run of the mill criminal cases the conviction rate (at trial) is about 70 percent.

Even when they are convicted, they tend to be charged with lesser crimes, and get lighter sentences (Look at how Oscar Grant was shot and what happened to the cop convicted of killing him). So cops get away with murder. That, sad to say, is the general background of life in the US. It’s worse if one isn’t white. In the past couple of weeks I know of at least four such shootings of black men. Last month a pizza guy was shot by a pair of plainclothes cops. What is the police response? “At this time it just appears to be unfortunate for both the officers and this person,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross”.

Yeah… “unfortunate”. I used to deliver pizza, I worried about getting robbed (we had a couple of stick-ups while I was there: pies were ordered, the driver gets out of the car and there is a gun in his ribs. They know where you are going. It’s an easy ambush. So this guy has a couple of people, not in uniform, block his car, with guns out. He tries to get away, and they shoot him, in the head. That, the cops say, is, “unfortunate for both the officers and this person.” I’d say it was a lot more than unfortunate for him.

To make it worse, the cops are being over-equipped. I was a soldier. I was in an invading army. The cops are often more heavily armed than I was. Yeah, I had access to a lot more in the way of support. We had some belt-fed light machine guns, a .50 Cal, and a Mark 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher, as well as being able to call for Artillery, Cavalry, helicopter gunships, and “fast movers” from the Air Force, but on my person I had 7 magazines, for a total of 270 rds of ammunition.

Some of the cops in the pictures in the #Ferguson photostream they seem to have at least that many mags, as well as a second weapon. Think about that; every one of those cops seems to have at least 270 rounds of ammunition. If you have only the twelve cops in this photo that’s 3,240 rds of ammunition. How many people do they think they will need to shoot?

That’s not a rhetorical question. We had that much firepower because we expected people to be using the same sort of equipment to try to kill us. We didn’t have the level of body armor cops routinely wear. So they are better protected, and as powerfully armed. Why?

Lots of numbnuts are focusing on the violent aspects of the citizens. Yeah, I think burning a gas station, and smashing up stores is a bad thing. I also know that this isn’t anything close to a riot. I’ve lived through riots (I lived in LA in 1992, and I worked in Hollywood. I’ve seen honest to goodness riots, this ain’t that).
Even if it were, that’s not how to reduce the tension. Say what you like about the failings of the LAPD (and they are legion) they have a decent handle on how to deal with crowd control (they don’t always adhere to it, e.g. The MacArthur Park incident). As a member of the National Guard we got riot training, and my unit got it from them (I had a couple of commanders who were in the LAPD, and we got some benefit from that).
First rule: cops on crowd control duty don’t carry firearms. They don’t carry shields. They do have helmets with masks, and they carry batons. There are armed cops in the area, but they aren’t at liberty. They can only shoot at designated targets, and only on command.

As decades of study has shown, adding distance between the police and the public makes things worse, FBI study on crowd management

Modern research supports a philosophy of public order policing from the 1970s referred to as The Madison Method of Handling People in Crowds and Demonstrations.7 This approach begins with defining the mission and safeguarding the fundamental rights of people to gather and speak out legally. The philosophy should reflect the agency’s core values in viewing citizens as customers. This focus is not situational; it cannot be turned on and off depending on the crisis.

Law enforcement agencies facilitate and protect the public’s right to free speech and assembly. When officers realize they are at a protest to ensure these rights, they direct their responses accordingly, from planning to implement the plan. Officers must have a well-defined mission that encourages the peaceful gathering of people and uses planning, open communication, negotiation, and leadership to accomplish this goal.

That ain’t happening in Ferguson.

What is happening is that people are upset. They have a lot of reasons to be upset:

Some stats on Ferguson

St. Louis Cty Police Lieutenant fired for telling cops to target blacks

Massively disproportionate police stops/searches/arrests

The amazing thing isn’t that they are protesting it’s that they aren’t being violent about it. Also to be considered is the level of response. I recall earlier in the year, a long (tense) standoff with a dude who was stealing from the public purse. A lot of his supporters showed up to protest the, “unfair treatment he got.

They were pointing loaded weapons at cops. They weren’t vilified in the press. Nope. A lot of folks on the Right side of the spectrum were (and still are) lauding them as heroes, standing up to tyranny. Why? Because a rancher didn’t want to pay grazing fees.

Where are they now? A group of people want to protest the killing of a kid. For that they are being brutalised. Their right to peaceably assemble is being denied. The right of the press to be free in its exercise is being denied. Their right to fair and equal treatment under the law has been systematically violated. They are being subjected to actual tyranny. Sadly what we hear from the Cliven Bundy supporters isn’t crickets… but cheerleading for the cops who call the people of Ferguson animals.

This is about justice. Its seed crystals are the lack of justice they have been suffering for years. This country was founded on the principle that this sort of abuse of state power is so fundamentally unjust that it merited revolution to remove.

The people of Ferguson haven’t done that (though perhaps they recall what happened in Tulsa when blacks chose to defend themselves against predatory whites). They did what we pretend is the way of things. They protested injustice. The assembled to petition for redress of grievance.

And the police ran riot.

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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 don’t, 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, don’t vote for him.  If you think his work isn’t worthy, 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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