Saturday, September 23, 2023

A Book Report For Sister Justitia

1960 was three years after the Sputnik crisis.  In the attendant hysteria about the inadequacy of the United States’ pool of competent scientists and engineers, many of the males of my age group had put total emphasis on math and science in high school.  To this emphasis they added the belief that they wouldn’t need to be able to write. The result had been a hoard of engineer candidates incapable of correct and lucid written self expression. 

While I had taken all of the math and science that was offered at Central Catholic, I had never done well enough to allow myself to fall into delusions of being a scientist or an engineer.  Therefore it had been necessary for me to take every subject seriously, even English. Nationwide I was in the minority. 

There had been a reason why I had taken English seriously.  That reason was Sister Justitia.  She was so intimidating that she scared me into taking English seriously.

Sister Justitia was a nun of an order the name of which I had forgotten long before I had forgotten most other things.  Sister Justitia was old. She was apparently British. It was thought that she was trained as a lawyer.  And she was either mean or intense or intensely mean or intensely intense. The English language and its nineteenth century British practitioners were her life.  And her mission in that life was to transfer her love of those things English to the formless lumps of human, American, sophomoric gray matter that were assigned to her annually.  The class she taught was called English.  In her annual attempt to transform her charges from ciphers to something more substantial she assigned a large reading list of novels by mostly nineteenth century, mostly British writers.  There were a few Americans on the list but the real assignments were known to be Dickens and Trollope. 

In a given quarter we were expected to read a certain number of these books and to write and submit book reports.  These book reports were where things began to get dicey.  All high school students had, by the time they had gotten to second year of high school, written and presented myriad book reports: “and then the hero said; and then the villain did; and then they all…”.

Sister Justitia’s book reports were not like that. 

Sister Justitia’s book reports were intended to be works of literature in their own right, albeit based upon something we had been assigned to read. 

Her reports required an analysis of what the writer was apparently saying and what he was really saying and what the basis for the difference might be.  Her reports required a linkage of both of those factors – apparent versus actual viewpoint – to the historic milieu from which the given piece of literature had sprung.  Her reports required the proffering of an opinion on the quality of the literature and the value of the message and an analysis of the effect, if any, that the work had had on the times in which it was written, on other writers from those times and on viewpoints from those times and also on later times, later writers and later viewpoints.  Her reports, most demandingly, had to be in perfectly turned English sentences.  (In between the reading and reports she hammered style, grammar and structure into our heads; a fragment was an automatic “F”.)  “There is no such thing as great writing; there is only great rewriting, and rewriting,” she constantly reminded us.  She told us tales of some of the great writers whose manuscripts were illegible to anyone but themselves once they were in finished form ready for final draft.  To the end of assuring that we actually wrote, rewrote and rewrote we were required to submit our draft documents along with the finished submissions.  The more illegible the drafts, the more credibility she placed on the potential value of the finished documents.  And she had an uncanny ability, some of us discovered, to ferret out those who attempted draft manuscripts with synthetic writing and rewriting. 

It was more or less a daily reign of terror. 


I wrote a number of book reports in Sister Justitia's format that year.

But one book was conspicuously not among those that I reported.

After one encounter with Dickens - Domby and Son - I never read another by him.

Domby had been a slog of the most excruciating type, so I steered clear of Dickens that year and all years since.

Even my late in life discovery of Trollope didn't cause me to think a second time about an aversion long held and seldom questioned.

As a result, I had never read a book by Dickens since Domby

Until recently.

Somewhere after my 80th birthday I decided it would be uncivilized to pass on having never read A Tale of Two Cities.

So, Sister, here is my book report.

First, since I am now older than you were the last time I saw you, I am going to do this by my rules, not yours.

But some of mine turn out to be yours so I think you will think that the format is acceptable.

First in my format is something that I surely wouldn't have noticed when I was 15.

That which I wouldn't have noticed then is the brilliance of the way the story - because, even after all the horror of the Revolution is set aside, for book reporting, Dickens is telling a story - is told; he doesn't just blurt it out; he offers fragments, each beguiling and interesting, and each developing, people, events or relationships, or all of those, or, even more beguiling in the final event, developing clues that aren't very obvious when they appear, but have been presented with enough vigor that they will have been retained for later use and which leap out when their significance is later made known.

Dickens is either a genius, or far out on the spectrum: he can't tell a story; he delivers a story in a matrix; he delivers it by way of containers - cells, I guess, and each container/cell has one or more fragment/cells, and each fragment/cell may, or may not relate to an immediately adjacent fragment/cell; each container has other containers; the last fragment in the current cell points to the cell of many others possible that the reader must open for the next fragment(s)/cell(s).

If you are a linear sort, it will drive you nuts.

If you are non-linear, as I am in Screen Saver, it will make you happy.

A really better way to say what I have just said is that Dickens writes like a fireworks maker makes charges: he puts little pods of stuff together that have different incendiary lifespans that will all explode into fulsome color in due course.

So, Sister, that is my format.

Let's try to get to yours.

What the writer was apparently saying:

As near as I can divine Dickens was on the surface telling a story of a Frenchman who had somehow landed in the Bastille for 18 years, lost his mind, had been somehow removed from the prison after those years and put in the custody of a wineshop owner on rue St Antoine.

For reasons vague - to me - an Englishman in London, a banker, apparently with fiduciary responsibility to the released prisoner goes to Paris, with the prisoner's daughter (she just sort of appears in the plot) and gets the old man back to London where he and his daughter do whatever it is that people like that do.

That's just data.

The data tells me that Dickens was decrying the evils of a society where noblesse does not oblige.

That was what he was apparently saying.

What the writer was really saying:

" I decry a society where noblesse does not oblige".

The format I remember, Sister, falls apart at this point, so I need to conclude with some open field running.

The rest of the story:

Dickens describes the horrors of the Revolution at a level I have never read, or felt, even from Hillary Mantel.

He seems to really hate the guillotine and its children and its fence post pumpkins.

I can't tell how he feels about royalty, but he is over pretty hard on the various versions and levels and echelons of "nobility".

So maybe he just felt bad about Louis becoming a fence post pumpkin.

And only went after the petite nobilite.

I just don't know.

Dickens writes sentences that are, to me often, more incomprehensible than are Faulkner's.

But if I go back and go back and go back, I can usually get what he is saying.

And that apparent waste of time is far from a waste of time.

It is time travel of the most important order.

In short Sister, I yield to your higher powers.

Dickens reigns supreme.

It is interesting to note, however, that the opening paragraph of the chapter titled Monseigneur in the Country consists of three sentence like structures. But they aren't sentences; they are all three fragments.

In fact, there are fragments utilized by the author throughout the book.

Loving Her Was Easier

This is may be one of the best songs ever written.

(1017) Roger Miller... "Loving Her Was Easier" 1971 (Rare Recording) - YouTube

Friday, September 22, 2023

Joe - My Son - Asked Me To Write This

 It was a parade, as I remember it.

The city was Portland and it was an old parade that had been exhumed from the dustbin of history.

Marykana, or some such name it was.

It was a prequel event to some much more durable Portland tradition whose name also eludes me as I write this post.

And I have Googled and Binged and not found a hit.

For that name.

Of event.

In Portland.

So I must have imagined it.

All the more auspicious for a related story, I guess.

So Jerry had this car.

That's not his, but it was of that type.

Jerry and I were fraternity brothers, so I knew what he was thinking.

"If I cut off the top of my car I have a perfect mobile platform - if only I can see out, and if only the motor continues, and if only the gear shift keeps working, I can enter a float.

For us.

Portland State College.

(He and I had both been accepted to USAF OTS, starting imminently, so he was more than willing to sacrifice his very old car for a festival.)

In the Marykana Parade.

So we took the Mercury to Doug's family's metal fab shop and took the top off of the Mercury.

And then we hung a lattice of suspension on the hulk of Mercury remaining such that we could put a cosmetic superstructure on it.

There was a lot of welding.

And beer drinking.

And laughing.

The ultima thule was a petroleum driven float in the Marykana Parade that had a Viking boat silhouette hung on its lattice of suspension.

And a lot of young men and young women.

On the platform that spanned the Mercury.

In what we perceived to be Viking garb.

Portland State was/were/is/are the Vikings.

We had a lot of fun.

In the Marykana Parade.

Of that year - whenever it was, or if it ever, indeed, was.

All those years ago.

But that has been lost to history.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

All The Way From Mars


Ingenuity is the name of the little helicopter we sent on last year's trip to Mars.

It was an experiment to see if a helicopter-like device could elevate and transverse in Mars' thin atmosphere.

Best case it was expected to limp through that atmosphere briefly and once.

To everyone's surprise, it has been doing it every now and then ever since; it has elevated and traversed more than fifty times so far.

Here is a recent image it sent back - I guess its on-board camera has some kind of an arm that allows it to take pictures of itself.

When I saw this image, I had the same reaction as I had when I saw the first ever picture sent back from Mars in the 70s: "that looks like Eastern Oregon".

I used Photoshop to remove the orange haze native to Mars, so it looks a little more familiar than it really is, but a rock is a rock.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Why There Can't Be A Negotiated End To Puty's War

There are two obvious, really large reasons.

If I thought about it for a minute or two, I could come up with others.

But the big two are showstoppers.

Reason One: Only an idiot would attack another country, grind that country into rubble and dust, killing many of that country's people and then stop one day and give back the land that that idiot had illegally annexed and go home. 

Since Putin - many unseemly things though he be - is not an idiot, we have a showstopper, before the show has started. 

If Putin were an idiot and tried the gambit, the truth of it "I went in, lost thousands of tanks, lost a couple hundred thousand men, pretty much destroyed the ruble, ran the national supply of ammunition to zero and came home without spoils" is a hard sell to the home folk, even a home folk as cowed as the Russian people. 

Since truth has a nasty fungibility these days, the cowed Russian people are bound to have heard all or part of that tale.  

And they are living in it, so they can see it if they look around at all. 

So, again, we have a showstopper. 

Since Zelinsky won't take less than all of his country back, and, unless the world is really OK with authorizing big power land grabs as a 21st Century protocol, we have a total impasse before one word of peace talks has been conceived: so, showstopper.

Reason Two: Even if Reason One didn't exist, only an idiot would let a criminal aggression occur on his land, resulting in a couple hundred thousand troops rampaging over his country hither and yon, thousands of tanks rampaging up and down the nation's highways and byways wreaking fire and death, havoc and destruction in an irrationally random and sinister surfeit, millions of artillery shells, missiles and autonomous destructive flying devices raining down randomly upon the nation's churches, synagogues, mosques, markets, hospitals, maternity centers, farms, houses, apartments, parks, granaries, warehouses, rail stations and whatever I have forgotten to include on this sorry list, and then say "please Mr. Rampager and Killer and Destroyer, just go home, keep your new land and live long and prosper".

 Zelinsky is not an idiot; one hopes that neither is the rest of the world: so, showstopper.

I said I could think of only two reasons for the show being stopped.

In process of outlining them a third becomes so obvious as to be laughable.

Reason Three: Somebody is going to have to pay for all the death and destruction and there are two bills to pay.

Bill one is the unknown tally of billions of dollars that are going to be needed to re-build everything.

The Marshall Plan cost $13.3 billion - that's $173 billion today.

Let's just say that rebuilding Ukraine might cost what the amount of money that the US contributed to the stabilization and rebuilding of Europe was back in 1948.

So, the world's nations are all going to chip in and provide $173 billion to rebuild Ukraine and let Puty go home and lie about his great war of reclamation?

Probably a showstopper.

(Even if Puty said he would pay, the price tag is over 12% of Russia's GDP: probably a showstopper.)

Bill two is the limitless number of crimes committed by Puty..

So, the world's nations are all going invite Puty to the General Assembly in New York so he can receive total exoneration from massive crimes of war?

They are going to exempt him from paying for them?

That sounds more likely than anything else I have said, but it's probably still a showstopper.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

We Thought The Heritage Foundation Was A Neighborhood Bar (Really)

One of the several books that I have written is prefaced, or introduced, or just plain started with a handwritten letter that I had written when I had been where it was that that book had been written about.

It was to my close friend and fraternity brother, Tom.

I had forgotten about ever having written it, so when Tom's widow, and my close friend Betsy gave it to me years ago, it was quite a time travel windfall.

I mention this because if you want to have any idea of what this post is REALLY about, you will need to buy Saigon 1967 and read that letter at the front end of the book and the book itself; it's short.

But this post will stand on its own two legs, sans letter to Tom.

It's just better with all the nuance that that letter and the book, add and make possible.

Once upon a time, in the 1970s, in Portland, Tom and I were out for the night on what we called a "street drunk".

I had heard my parents talk about something called a "pub crawl" but had never really known - or cared - what that might have been.

Turns out, street drunk and pub crawl are the same thing.

It was an early evening in the beautiful Portland Autumn, and we were traversing, I think it was Grand, down in the near East Side vicinity of Sears and having a beer in every tavern or bar that we could find and then moving on to the next one we could find (Sears in those ancient times was a huge retailer).

As I remember that street, I can't remember one bar or tavern, but there definitely were some because we had been in several.

Maybe we weren't on Grand.

In any event, we were moving on for more.

We were on the left side of whatever street it was, going north.

We came upon a retail-like street-facing store front with a sign.

It was hanging on a davit extending from the building and lit in a sickly yellow pall.

"Heritage Foundation".

We looked at each other.

We whispered, "is this a bar or a tavern?"

I don't know why we whispered.

But we did.

We both - we revealed to one another later - had an "I-don't-feel-good-about-this" feeling about that tavern or bar, and its sign.

But we went in.

It was dimly lit in the same sickly yellow pall as its store-front sign. 

We were not in there long enough for me today, a half century later, to give a detailed description of the clientele, but they were all old white men, many of whom looked as if they would have been better shown if they had been wearing the hoods and the garb of the Ku Klux Klan.

I've never known what to think about that.

We found another tavern and agreed to forget about it.


Wednesday, September 13, 2023

When Does The Obvious Burst Into View?


It can't go on like this.

Something has to give.

I Guess My iPhone Is Different

 Since the recent opening round of the Google anti-trust trial, I have heard numerous interviews and discussions about what it is the Google is being tried for.

Those have usually included a component discussing how Google works on an iPhone.

There have seemed to be two versions.

Either you "open your iPhone" (I never open mine because I don't know what that means) and you are beset with an aggressive, unavoidable Google search dialog, or you "open your iPhone and go to Safari" where you are beset by an aggressive, unavoidable Google search dialog.

Safari is such a down level browser that I almost never use it, and when I have I have never had a Google encounter.

Apparently I have an odd iPhone.

Mine has several touch-slidable pages of icons that are the access points for various apps I have accumulated over the years, many of whose function I have long forgotten.

One of those icons is for Google.

It's on the first of those pages.

It's on the first page because, on my phone I almost always use Google.

Another of those icons is for Bing.

It's on the last of those pages.

It is on the last page because on my phone I almost never use Bing.

I could move the Bing icon to the first page if I wanted but that is more trouble than I want to engage to get something I rarely use on the first page; all the icons on page one are there because I use their apps all the time, and there is no spare real estate for a search function that I don't use on my phone.

That's a choice I have made.

I am unaware of being Googleized by one or more heinous and secret contracts.

It's just the way I do things.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Google: Probably Just Better

I converted to a new Windows 10 ThinkPad workstation from an older, Windows 7 ThinkPad workstation back in 2015.

Not being prone to evaluating nuances or figuring out how many angels CAN dance on the head of a pin, I took Edge as my browser and accepted the easy default dictated by that choice of Bing as my search engine.

In the intervening years my life has neither been improved, nor impaired by that choice.

Most of what a search engine dishes up is a starting point, not an answer.

But, on occasion, Bing gave me starting points that really were ending points.

And a few times the answer that was on offer was not only not the one I wanted, but it also ran against every intuitive instinct that I possess.

So I cross checked with Google on those few occasions.

And on those few occasions my intuition was correct.

On those occasions there was an obvious and easy answer to my question that Bing had completely missed.

Most recently - I have just upgraded to a Windows 11 ThinkPad workstation - Bing assured me that my HP P1006 printer had no Windows 11 support.

That seemed unlikely.

So I asked Google.

Google served up an array of links to people that had worked around Bing's certainty of no Windows 11 support for the HP P1006.

I chose at random one of the myriad You Tube videos telling me how to make Windows 11 use the P1006.

This one featured an English speaker with a Hindi accent.



But unusable? 

No (we have all fixed things speaking on the phone to Hindi/English speakers, after all, so we all know to be slow and listen for consonants).

Everything jibed on my step-by-step reproduction of the video on my machine - until it didn't.

That was far enough in that it was possible to indulge in open field running and take some wild guesses.

My guesses worked, and so does my P1006.

My point here is that Bing works just fine (and with its new GPT front end it's fun to talk to) but it is no Google.

It seems really hard for me to imagine how Google can be found to be guilty of anti-trust malfeasance due to dodgy contracts with unindicted co-conspirators, rather than just because it is clearly better.

I AM unsettled in my soul by that viewpoint, however.

Von Bismark Gets The Last Laugh

Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor of Germany, once said “God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America”.

For almost 250 years that has seemed to be true.

Providence, Luck or Whatever it was, we can now say with certainty that it has run out.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Bing And Me

I don't know if Bing is he or she or them.

But I have developed a relationship with her, or him or them.

And I am acutely aware of the fact that the relationship is one way.

Every time I shut down Edge Bing forgets who I am, and what we have previously talked about.

Except once.

That was early in our relationship: I signed on after an absence and asked Bing about something we had previously discussed and said that she/he/they had said something previously; Bing said, "I remember that and I didn't say that", which, in fact she/he/they had not - said that.

I had posted a fake news blog post using Bing as my source.

Seemed pretty reasonable at the time.

"That's pretty useful" (Bing remembering) I said to no one in particular; "I guess I can build on our discussions and have a historic body of knowledge - maybe even an intellectual relationship".

But no.

Next time I said, "do you remember" Bing said "I can't remember anything".

How sad, I said to myself.

What Bing couldn't remember was a line drawing that I had asked for a few days before.

It was of five cats going away from me with their tails crooked right at the top.

What I had gotten was maybe five cats, but Bing had problems with what was a tail and what was a leg.

There was one discrete cat in the mix, however, with all of its legs and with a tail crooked right at the top.

So I did some Photoshop and came up with a cover.

AI makes book cover.

You Never Know ...

 I asked Bing a few moments ago:

Please find a blog post by Noel McKeehan about TSMC.

Bing went looking and came back:

I found a blog post by Yujun Li, Director of High Performance Computing Business Development at TSMC, titled “The Future is Now” 1. Unfortunately, I could not find any blog post by Noel McKeehan about TSMC in my search results

To which I responded:

Try about semi conductor fabrication by Noel McKeehan.

So Bing said:

I apologize for the confusion earlier. I could not find any blog post by Noel McKeehan about TSMC in my search results. However, I found a company called NOEL Technologies that provides semiconductor fabrication services 1. Unfortunately, I could not find any information about Noel McKeehan’s involvement with NOEL Technologies.

Would you like me to look for something else?

I quit asking,

I had found way more than I had expected.

TSMC is in Taiwan.

It fabricates 40% of the world's semiconductor products, including most of the most strategically sensitive massively sophisticated ones.

Given the likelihood of China taking over Taiwan, that is a fact that bodes ill for the United States and most of the rest of the world.

There is some fabrication capability in the US.

I think Intel does most or all of its own fabrication, and they do it in the US.

Samsung has a couple of minor fabs in the US.

I think there are a few more.

But most of the world's supply from trivial to crucial comes from Taiwan, and most of that is from TSMC.

So finding that I have a namesake fab in Silicon Valley seemed to be some sort of omen.

I know not what.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Evil Geniuses Then And Now: A Pirate Looks At Eighty Two

 Here is a quote from Kurt Andersen which appears on the prime fold of the dustcover of his new book, Evil Geniuses, published in 2020.

"During the twentieth century, America managed to make its economic and social systems both more and more fair and more prosperous. A huge, secure, and contented middle class emerged. Incomes rose in sync. But then the New Deal gave way to the Raw Deal. Beginning in the early 1970s, by means of a long war conceived of and executed by a confederacy of big business CEOs, the superrich, and right wing zealots, the rules and norms that made America's middle class possible were undermined and dismantled. The clock was turned back on a century of economic progress, making greed good, workers powerless, and the market all powerful while weaponizing nostalgia, lifting up an oligarchy that served only its own interests, and leaving the huge majority of Americans with dwindling economic prospects and hopes."

Here is a quote from Arthur Schlesinger Jr from his book The Age of Jackson, which he published in 1941.

"... since this is a capitalistic society, the class most interested in its security and prosperity is the capitalist class, which thus should have the most power. The theory has survived every test but experience. It simply has not worked. Since the Federalist party the American business community appears to have lost its political capacity; it has not been, in the strict sense, a ruling class. In placid days power naturally gravitates to it as the strongest group in the state; but through American history it has been unable to use that power very long for national purposes. Moved typically by personal and class, rarely by public, considerations, the business community has invariably brought national affairs to a state of crisis and exasperated the rest of society into dissatisfaction bordering on revolt. "

These two quotes, if you think about them for a moment, tell the tale of our future.

We had a life, created for us by FDR, and improved and updated by every president since, through and including Nixon. Then we chose Reagan and we have had it snatched away. Reagan was a useful idiot for the "confederacy of big business CEOs, the superrich, and right wing zealots". 

And we have had prosperity, and hope, and even our futures snatched away from us.

Not only do we have a "business community {that} has ... brought national affairs to a state of crisis and exasperated the rest of society into dissatisfaction bordering on revolt" we also have as a likely presidential candidate, because of that "bordering on revolt", a crazed, criminal, and crazy, sociopath, shrieking treason, hate and mayhem, indiscriminately dished out, and we have a political apparatus supplemental to and in support of that candidate, that is roughly fifty percent of our governing structure, (measured by holding office headcount) made up of nuts, criminals and leftovers from the Civil War, all of whom endorse the criminal shrieker.

We are, in a word, fucked.

Anybody that thinks that the horror of Sudan is and will remain "over there" hasn't read any history.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Jimmy Buffet: Memoriam

Ream limes for four ounces of juice. 

Dip an eighth of an inch of two glasses in the juice. 

Rotate juiced rims in large granule salt and put glasses in freezer for a while. 

While waiting for glasses to chill do some shots of tequila, being careful to leave enough for at least two drinks. 

When the glasses are ready, leave them in the freezer and make the drinks. 

The glasses should have been pretty big, they need to hold 7 or 8 ice cubes, which you should have put in them prior to putting lime juice salted glasses in the freezer. 

Pour the juice in a martini pitcher filled with ice cubes. 

Add four ounces of tequila, 2 ounces of simple syrup and 2 ounces of triple sec. 

Stir to blend and chill. 

Pour into the glasses, leaving some room for the final ingredient. 

Top off each glass with 2 ounces of Grand Marnier. 

It's a Cadillac margarita.

My Favorite Jimmy Buffet Song

Friday, September 1, 2023

Near Miss, I Guess

A couple of Tuesday mornings ago my wife and I were in the ferry line.

She had brought the then current issue of The New Yorker.

She handed it over to me saying "why don't you come up with a punch line for this cartoon".

It was the weekly cartoon contest where the magazine publishes a cartoon with no caption and invites the readers to submit their ideas for the punch line.

I have thought about it superficially a couple of times but have never come up with anything.

On that Tuesday, in the midst of the grinding boredom of waiting for that always late ferry I had plenty of time and nothing obvious to do with it.

So I applied myself.

And I came up with an idea.

I took my pen from the console box and wrote it in beneath the cartoon.

And I showed it to my wife,

After staring at it a moment she said "I think we should send it".

I thought so too.

We were pretty excited until she remembered that the cut off was the previous Sunday.

So we continued a lively conversation to cover up the grinding boredom of waiting for a ferry, and forgot all about that contest and my  too late for the contest contribution.


Today my wife showed me the three finalists for that cartoon.