Friday, January 31, 2020

Biden sounding like Garrison Keillor

I was at Mom's today. She was watching Fox News.

I had my eyes in screen-saver mode when I heard Garrison Keillor being interviewed.

Mr. Keillor was the host of A Prairie Home Companion and for many people personified the "voice" of the upper mid-West.

Opening my eyes, I saw Joe Biden while I heard Mr. Keillor's upper mid-West voice and cadences come out of his mouth rather than his native mid-Atlantic voice.

I wonder if Joe Biden remembers that Garrison Keillor was fired from Minnesota Public Radio for sexual misconduct.  I bet the people in Iowa remember.

Shut up and drink (fiction)

Chernovsky hit the Columbia Highway bridge on the eastern edge of Capiche three days after the first “sand-table” meeting.

Leaving Howell, Chernovsky calculated that he had fifteen hours of walk-time to get home. He figured he could do that in three, leisurely legs, even with a raging case of dysentery.

Two days later, he recalculated and determined that he was still three days from home. He was just going to have to take things slower than he had planned.

Two days after that he cached most of his pack. He was STILL three days from home. The periods of walking got shorter. The rests got longer.

Dysentery does more than remove water from the body. It removes electrolytes. Water can be replaced by drinking, although there is the risk of accumulating more causal agents. When electrolytes are lost and not replaced, the body cannot absorb the water without disrupting its osmotic balance. If it were to absorb water without the corresponding electrolytes, it could go into cardiac arrest and our bodies are smart enough to not let that happen.

Chernovsky looked like dead-man-walking as he approached the bridge. His own troops did not recognize him until he spoke.

The lead fighter “asked” Chernovsky if he wanted a ride.

“Nah, I got this.” he said as he staggered off.

One of the functions of a soldier is to amplify orders. A commander gives a soldier an order to accomplish a specific task. The soldier is supposed to figure out the tools, parts and methods that go around fulfilling the order.

There are also special times when a soldier is supposed to ignore an implied order. The fighter reasoned that Chernovsky did not append his refusal of a ride with ‘this is a direct order’ and therefore the fighter had some latitude in whether he called ahead or not.

Nyssa was the community nurse. She brought along Milo, her husband, as the driver and her sister Janelle. It took them half an hour to load up the truck and find Chernovsky. He had not gone far.

Chernovsky was in even worse shape than Nyssa feared. His skin was stretched over his face, his eyes were sunken. She pinched the skin on his forearm and the crease did not level.

Janelle started to speak and Nyssa cut her off “Shut up.”

Nyssa reached into a cooler and pulled out a bottle of liquid and handed it to Chernovsky. She hit him with her most rigid “Nurse Cratchett” voice. “You are my patient. You will do what I say. Drink this.”

Milo helped Chernovsky into the padded seat in back.

“Sip it.” Nyssa commanded. "That needs to be empty in ten minutes.”

“I am just going to throw it up.” Chernovsky said.

“Then I will give you another. I got plenty.” Nyssa countered.

“And I got the shits.” Chernovsky said.

Milo discretely sniffed the air. It was his truck. Somebody was going to have to clean the back seat when this was over.

“If it gets to be too much trouble you can drop your trousers and just wear a towel around your waist.” Nyssa said.

Janelle was relieved that Nyssa had taken command of the situation. Janelle knew that Chernovsky could be a cranky bastard but he seemed willing to let Nyssa tell him what to do.

True to his word, most of the drink came up just as he finished it. Operative word “Most”. Some made it to his small intestine.

“What is this shit.” Chernovsky asked.

“Pink lemonade” Nyssa answered. “Now shut up and drink.”

The second one went down faster. It certainly tasted better than the streams and puddles he had been drinking from.

“We don’t have lemons. Really, what is it?” he asked.

“The Shaw boys picked a bushels of Staghorn Sumac berries. Like ten bushels. They have been making something they call ‘Pink Lemonade’ and selling it by the gallon.” Nyssa said.

She did not tell Chernovsky that the liquid he was drinking also had a half teaspoon (three grams) of salt per liter.

Most of the second bottle stayed down. Nyssa gave Chernovsky five minutes to let that settle in before handing him his third bottle.

Chernovsky had to dash to the bushes to shit after the third bottle. He didn’t quite get his trousers down. In frustration, he kicked the soiled clothes into the bushes.

“Where the hell is that towel?” he roared. He was clearly feeling better.

“You can talk to him now. It looks like he is up to it.” Nyssa informed her sister, dryly. “Just don’t interrupt his drinking.”

One must wonder, how many times in history has a sister-in-law directed her sister to not interrupt her husband’s drinking.

Chernovsky’s body sucked in the slightly sweet, salty fluid like a sponge.

After the fourth bottle, Milo moved the truck into a driveway so they were out-of-sight of passing traffic. Janelle had become, uncharacteristically, extremely emotional. Chernovsky was emotionally fragile and was knocked over by the fact that Janelle had miscarried and it sounded like she wanted to separate.

Janelle, taking counsel of her fears, had come to the conclusion that she had trapped Chernovsky with her insisting on a permanent relationship. She kept trying to tell him he was free to go...if he wanted to.

Chernovsky, for his part, had hours and hours and hours to think about everything as he spied on Howell from the tops of buildings. He also had many long conversations with Dave Williams, the recovering alcoholic who had taken Chernovsky under his wing. They talked about "the good stuff". Chernovsky saw much of himself in Williams. In a way, it was like having the opportunity to consult with his future-self some fifty years in the future.

The formless feelings he had for Janelle had a chance to crystallize and solidify without the daily distraction of herding cats. Chernovsky was not “every man”. Why should he give a rat’s ass about the opinions of pre-Ebola writers? Why should he let them define what was beautiful and what was ugly, what was precious and what was base.

Janelle was the yin to his yang. Everything about Janelle spoke to something deep inside of Chernovsky. She scratched his itch. And he would kick anybody’s ass who disputed the fact that she was beautiful.


Thursday, January 30, 2020

I am becoming less productive

The swamp cabbage is coming up.

I was back at the lease cutting trees today.

I dropped a decent sized black walnut and after that the chainsaw didn't cut worth a hoot. I suspect I kissed one of the steel wedges while making the back-cut. Not a nice way to treat a new chain.

The tree had a diameter of 18"-to-20" at the base and the trunk forked at 6' into two stems of equal diameter. The crotch was narrow.

Being a black walnut, it probably has two FABULOUS gunstocks in it. "Crotch" wood is justly famous for interesting grain. Not every tree produces stocks like this, but enough do to make it worth trying to save this chunk of wood.

Question to those in the know, if I have a local mill buzz it into planks, how thick should they be? 2" rough sawn? Or should I let it dry in-the-round?

I didn't get much done after dropping the walnut.  And no, the files were still in the truck a quarter mile away.

Gratuitous swamp picture. Much standing, dead ash.

Same swamp, slightly different angle. This is where the bald cypress will be planted.
I think that deer got away.

IQ Test, Part III

  1. Why did the families renting the houses behind the Lutheran Church raise chickens in the basement? Hints: It involves Spangled Roundheads and Penny Hatches.
  2. Why does the family renting a house behind the Baptist Church raise chickens in the basement?
  3. If people who always vote for the liberal candidate are always smarter than conservatives, then why do election workers in Detroit have to coach voters on what the letter "D" looks like. "I knows dat. But what do it look like?" 
  4. Which purveyor of upscale men's clothing typically charges more: Jacque Penais or San Vinnet de Pau?
  5. What is the name of the coach for the Crimson Tide football team?
  6. Which group tends to have higher body-fat: Liberals of Conservatives?
  7.  Using an unlabeled map, find Ghana and the Cross River in Africa
  8.  Using an unlabeled map, find Burundi and Rwanda

An IQ test, Part II

  1. How many cylinders does the most common Cummins Diesel have?
  2. In what make of pickup truck is this engine offered as the premium engine?
  3. Is premium gas is specified for that engine? If no, why not?
  4. If you went on a safari, would you be more likely to go to Zaire, Zimbabwe or Zambia?
  5. How many heads can a crack-head crack if a crack-head could crack heads?
  6. What are the actual thickness and width of a 2-by-4?
  7. What is the name of the person who empties your wastebasket?
  8. What is their nationality?
  9. Do they have any kids?
  10. What do "AC" and "DC" power refer to?
  11. Can you put a typical AC motor into reverse by reversing the polarity?
  12. Can you put some AC motors into reverse by switching a pair of wires?
  13. The most commonly encountered AC motors run on XXXX Voltage. What is that Voltage?
  14. The most commonly encountered DC motors run on YYYY Voltage. What is that Voltage?
  15. Name the state where world famous blogger C.W. Swanson lives.

An IQ test for all those smart city-slickers

  1. When does TD Coney Island serve breakfast?
  2. Find Eaton County (to within 100 miles) on a US map
  3. Which is older, the 30-30 chambering or the 30-06?
  4. What is the diameter of a 30 caliber projectile in the US?
  5. What is the diameter of a 30 caliber projectile in the UK?
  6. What is the diameter of the projectile fired from the 8mm Mauser?
  7. Beer nuts cost $1.47 at Quality Dairy; what about deer nuts?
  8. When do gardeners plant tomatoes in your neighborhood?
  9. What is "mixed gas"? What is it used in?
  10. Is a smallmouth bass or a largemouth bass more likely to jump when hooked?
  11. Does your vehicle get better fuel economy in warm weather or cold weather?
  12. When gutting a deer, why is it prudent to hang them with their heads up rather than down?
  13. What do men need to understand about women?
  14. Is Isaiah in the New Testament or the Old Testament?
  15. How many Apostles followed Jesus around?

Hopscotch (fiction)

The mood around the sand-table was dour.

Two, four-by-eight foot sheets of plywood had been put atop sawhorses to create the hasty table. One sheet ran the long way in the East-West direction while the other ran the long way North-South. The two tables formed a T that had rotated ninety degrees in the counterclockwise direction.

The cheap plywood had many knots and Gimp ordered that the tops of the sheets be painted a light color so the knots did not distract from the “real” information. The minion slapping together the table didn’t have enough of any one color so he combined some white, latex ceiling paint and a pale blue from a bedroom.

The scale was two-inches-to-the-mile. It spanned 72 miles East-West from Brighton (not much information) to west of Amish-land. The eastern 2/3 of the map comprised of a 24 mile wide  swath of land in the North-South direction. This was the 40 mile long corridor the invaders were assuredly going to use in their invasion of Capiche and, incidentally, Delta Township.

Relative troop strengths were depicted by stacks of pennies, one penny for every hundred fighters. Livingston County had ten stacks of five pennies in alignment with Benicio’s information of the high-end of what they could field. Delta Township, Benicio’s domain, had two stacks of five pennies. Capiche had a single penny.

Features that might complicate the opposing force’s advance were represented by strings (for streams) and handfuls of roofing nails for native resistance hotspots.

The reason for the group’s ill humor was that Livingston County pretty much had a clear, unopposed shot at Capiche. There were several probable cells of native resistance along the Red Cedar river which ran along the northern edge of the attack corridor. Invading forces would be idiots to press along the northern line.

But everything south of those cells-of-resistance was wide open. And the 500 pound anaconda in the room was I-96. It was almost inconceivable that the aggressors would not convoy forty miles west on I-96, right to the northern edge of Capiche.

“I don’t want to make this sound any worse than it is” Gimp said, gesturing at the table “but we have to assume that Chernovsky and Spackle were compromised and that the opposing forces have exact knowledge of our weapons and tactics.”

If possible, the group’s mood sunk even lower.

Even Miguel and Wilder, normally the most cheerful of men, were heavily weighed by emotion. Janelle had not been nearly as stoic as Sally Straeder and Dysen Spackle. Maybe it was hormonal due to her miscarried baby. Maybe it was because she saw Chernovsky as her one shot at the brass ring of happiness. By normal, pre-Ebola standards, Janelle was not a beautiful woman.

Janelle’s meltdown had been epic. It had been loud and kinetic and lubricated by gallons of tears.

Janelle was in the tool shop today. Everybody agreed that normal routines were best for pulling Janelle through her grief. Milo stayed close to her, just in case Janelle‘s grief returned and she decided to do something stupid and permanent.

The men and women continued to stare at the table.

“You know” Wilder said after clearing his throat “this is a lot like fighting at sea.”

If anybody else had made that off-the-wall comment, there would have been scoffing. Gimp said “Explain yourself.”

“Battles at sea, at least in the old days, were almost by accident.” Wilder said. “The sea is huge, night is dark and fog is everywhere.”

“Opposing forces could pass within twenty miles of each other and not know.” Wilder said. “Most battles were close to ports or narrow straights where traffic had no choice but to go.”

“So we know they will leave Howell” Gimp said, pointing at the east end of the table “and we know they will probably insert here” pointing at I-96 which ran along Lansing’s southern underbelly.

“That really doesn’t help us much.” Gimp said, almost apologetically. “It is not like we can do much on the Howell end of things.

“Ideally,” Tomanica said “if we had the manpower, you would like to make them fight for every mile up I-96. Set up ambushes and improvised explosive devices. Make them stop and contest every ambush.”

“But we just don’t have the bodies. Once they flow around the ambushers...well, it becomes a suicide mission. And after a while they will just sweep for IED or leave I-96. Then we are stuck with our forces out-of-position to defend Capiche.” Tomanica finished.

The more mathematically proficient did the math in their heads. If each ambush diabled 10% of the opposing force, and if there was room for four, solid ambush sites, then 65% of the opposing force would still get through. 65% of 5000 is still more than 3000. Livingston County could still crush Capiche like a bug.

“Do we have any Navy guys in Capiche?” Wilder asked.

“Yeah, a few.” Tomanica admitted. “Old Tom, the guy you always see fishing by the Columbia Road bridge, for instance.”

“Would it take long to get him here?” Wilder asked.

Tomanica shrugged. It was almost lunch time and everybody could use a break anyway. “Sure, we can send for him and anybody else we can think of.”

An hour and a half later the men and women were back around the table. There were three additional men; Navy men.

“Are any of you guys familiar with MacArthur’s strategy in the South Pacific in World War II?” Wilder asked, hopefully.

“Oh, hell yeah!” Old Tom said.

Wilder furrowed his brows as if he couldn’t quite remember. “I seem to remember something about him bypassing Japanese bases, leaving viable, enemy fighting units in his rear. That can’t be possible, can it?”

Old Tom cackled. “Damned straight it was possible. MacArthur called it ‘let them die on the vine.’ They couldn’t do diddly-shit without logistics. MacArthur went around them and clobbered their logistics train.”

“I know this isn’t the Coral Sea” Wilder said pointing at the sand table. “But how would MacArthur have handled this?”

Old Tom looked at the table. Then he moved around so he was standing at the “west” end looking east (that is, east looked like it was north). “It looks almost exactly like the Coral Sea from here...” Old Tom contradicted Wilder.

"You chop their logistical support and they will be on their knees. It ain't like they can order shift from Amazon and have it delivered by UPS, is it?"


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A day in the woods

I lied. More like three hours, but that was enough for this old man. I (mostly) stacked the bigger pieces next to the two-track so there was less to trip over inside the cutting.
I ran into an equipment issue. This is what the chain on the saw is supposed to look like
This is what one of them did look like. The cutter hit something hard and tore one end of the link out of the rivet. Instead of that 3/8" having a link on both sides of the rivet, it only had one. I promised Mrs ERJ I would be extra safe when cutting alone. So I packed up shop.
Emerald Ash Borer damage. The notable thing is that the lesion healed up! The rectangular shape of the healing lesion suggests that maybe a Pileated Woodpecker was the toothbrush that scrubbed out the borers.

Another healing lesion. One of the guys who hunts this lease enjoys birds. He can identify many species by their calls.
The red berries are American Bittersweet.
American Bittersweet is less competitive than Oriental Bittersweet, primarily because it produces fewer berries. The American Bittersweet produces clusters of berries on the end of the shoot while the O.B. produces clusters at most buds.
I like American Bittersweet from a purely aesthetic viewpoint. The Oriental Bittersweet tends to be paler and more yellow. My brother the birder likes Bittersweet because it is a prime food for birds (especially Bluebirds) migrating north in the spring. They are "persistent", that is, they remain on the vine through the winter.
One of the trees in the cutting carries a healthy, female, American Bittersweet vine.

Another view looking up the trunk.

Rather than cutting the tree, I chose to girdle it so the Bittersweet can continue to flourish.

Anoter view of the girdling. The cross-sticks were to hold the Bittersweet vines away from the tree trunk so I could girdle beneath them.

I also saw a small Pagoda Dogwood that I left in the cutting. Most people would have cut it but I think it is a cool species. From a "Landscaping for Wildlife" standpoint it is a mediocre species but it is very stylish and one of the few shrubs that can be identified in the winter from fifty feet away. Sadly, it does not photograph well.

Debrief (fiction)

Wilder and Miguel’s first stop after returning to Capiche was to find Sally Straeder.

She noted their peddler’s packs and her face tightened. “What happened?” Sally asked.

Both men started talking. Wilder stopped and let Miguel continue.

“I was spending the night at one of the customers Steve recommended.” Miguel said.

“A little after midnight, I heard many men coming into the house. I slipped out the bedroom window.” Miguel continued.

“I peeked around the house when I left. They had a bus with guards and there were men on the bus. Prisoners.” Miguel said. “On the way back we talked to some people we had traded with. They thought we knew Livingston County was collecting every able-bodied man for the military.”

Sally looked at Wilder. “Do you have anything to add?”

“We hoped Steve would be here. We left as soon as we figured out the risk but we took almost a week to survey defensive lines on the way back.” Wilder said.

“Did either of you see him killed or see his dead body?” Sally asked.

Both men vigorously shook their heads “No.”

“Did either of you see ‘Dog’?” Sally asked.

“No” both men said in unison.

“Neither have I” Sally said.

“Thank-you for taking the time to inform me.” Sally said, dismissing the men with a nod.

At two in the afternoon, Sally changed out of her house-dress and put on a sun-dress. She went into the garden and started slicing the last of the bumper crop of paste tomatoes into the food drier. They got a good price on the market. Every so often, she would stop and stretch the kinks out of her back.

That night, she put a lamp in the window that faced the drive.


Swinging by Quinn’s home, the two men found Dysen at the sawmill. The mill was cutting 3/4” boards for shelving. Pantries were suddenly on everybody’s mind with winter a mere three months away and gardens groaning beneath heavy crops.

The rude gears were clattery and the mill was not a good place to have a conversation.

“What’s up?” Dysen asked once they were outside.

Wilder fielded the question. “We have nothing solid to share except that we grossly underestimated how militarized Livingston County has become. Miguel was within seconds of being Shanghaied when he escaped. That was the night we lost track of Quinn, Staeder and Chernovsky.”

Dysen drew in her breath. “Maybe he slipped through?”

“Maybe.” Wilder said. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that Quinn had taken the most dangerous path. They had assumed, in their ignorance, that the physical challenges of traveling were the gravest hazard. Quinn was crippled and it had seemed prudent to have him skate around the southern and eastern rim of Howell before sling-shotting north. Miguel had been four miles further south and the paddy wagon still found him before the night was half over.

Dysen looked them over, scanning their faces. They imagined that she was weighing them, perhaps thinking they had been cowards to turn back while there was still a chance to complete the sweep around Howell and return by the northern route.

It is a hard thing to be judged by a woman you believe is the widow of the man who you served under. It is hard when that man saved your life. It is even harder when you are not sure in your own soul that you chose the right path. Maybe what you perceived as prudence in the moment was cowardice in wrapping paper with a pretty bow on top.

Dysen searched their faces. Apparently satisfied with what she found, she said “Let me know if you hear anything.”

She returned to the mill. She and the crew would cut boards until the mill-pond was drained. Dysen had no reason to leave early.


Nobody was at Chernovsky’s house. The door was locked.

“Now what?” Miguel asked.

“Who is next in the chain-of-command?” Wilder asked.

“I dunno. Either Gimp Sullivan or Tomanica.” Miguel said. “Probably easier to find Tomanica ‘cause Gimp could be anywhere.”

Tomanica was in his reloading shed. He was surprised to see them.

When they started to tell him about their travels, he stopped them. They went into his kitchen. He took a pad of paper from the top of the refrigerator and three sharp pencils.

“Take your time, boys” Larry said. “You are gonna get a lot of chances to tell your stories, but I need to make notes because you aren’t ever going to tell it twice the same and there is no telling what details might be important.”

Larry poked his head down the stairs leading to the basement. “Mavis! I need to have you get on the radio. There are some people who need to come over. Tell’em I have a surprise.”


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Problem solver

No fiction today

But how about pictures of cabbage?

Deadon Savoy cabbage. You can see the rabbit tracks. They have been helping me peel the wrapper leaves off some of the cabbage.
We are still picking and eating out of our garden.

We had some nights near zero but we had good snow cover.

If you look closely at the 1 O'clock position you can see where the rabbits have been feeding.
Deadon is a cabbage cultivar noted for resistance to freezing. It is a hybrid. Similar open pollinated varieties include January King, Tundra and Violaceo di Verona.

Kale volunteer seeds in my garden. Kale is another tougher-than-a-cheap-steak garden plant suitable for distracted gardeners.

Estimating the mortality rate of CoV2019

The original news reports misidentified CoV2019 as SARS. That is understandable because they are both coronavirus.

SARS had 8098 documented cases and 774 documented fatalities for a mortality rate of approximately 10%. The mortality rate increased rapidly for people over fifty and was said to exceed 50% mortality for people over 60.

Compare that to a typical year of the seasonal flu. The seasonal flu might kill a half million people globally every year. If that mortality rate was extended to a population of 8089 then there is a flip-of-the-coin chance that one person would die. The other side of the coin is that nobody would die.

Very big difference between half-a-person and 774 people.

Let's extend the rate seasonal flu rate to 11 million, the population of Wuhan, China. In that case almost 800 people would die. That sounds like a lot of people but consider that an average of 400 people die every 24 hours in a population of 11 million and the fatalities due to the seasonal flu are spread over three months.

Other factors that dilute the impact of deaths from the seasonal flu is that many of those people die three weeks after getting the flu due to secondary complications like pneumonia and many of those who die due to the seasonal flu are already in frail health and the flu was the last straw.

The videos coming out of Wuhan suggest that CoV2019 is striking down otherwise healthy people. It is dropping them like a bolt-from-the-blue.

One of the difficulties in getting a handle on the mortality rate of a rapidly growing epidemic is that one cannot simply divide the number of dead by the number of patients.

The reason is that the population of patients includes the person diagnosed yesterday and we won't know if he "survived" for about forty days* due to complications and secondary infections.

So it is impossible to calculate a fatality rate until
-You have solid, not politically tainted counts
-You have enough history to estimate the mortality curve. That is, "50% of the fatalities occur in the first 16 days after diagnosis" kind of information.
-You have enough history so you can take a snap-shot of a cohort of patients and then count how many are still alive sixteen days later.

The bottom line is that it is way too soon to quantify the fatality rate of CoV2019 but anecdotal evidence is that it is at least ten times higher than seasonal flu and may be a thousand times higher than that. Time will tell.

*I want to embellish the "forty day" number. Suppose one of the complications of this virus is renal (kidney) failure. The disease loads the blood with the cellular trash. They lodge in the kidneys. The cellular flotsam is saturated with viral fingerprints. The immune system goes nuts and nukes the kidneys as collateral damage.

If that happened today, the patient would be put on dialysis three times a week and could live for twenty years.

If that were even a slightly common side effect to CoV2019, then there are not enough dialysis machines and people start dying from renal failure weeks after they were "cured" of CoV2019.

That is just ONE possible wave of delayed mortality.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Is the stock market underestimating CoV2019?

Quite likely the stock market is underestimating the potential effect of CoV2019, the new coronavirus.

The human brain has limitations. One way we deal with that limitation is to treat a complicated cloud of probabilities as "binary".

In the case of CoV2019, the new coronavirus, binary means "absolutely nothing will happen" or "It is the end of the world as we know it."

There have been a wide range of studies investigating the heuristics (mental shortcuts) involving the calibration of low and high probability events. The overwhelming majority of the studies show that people round any probability of 20% or less into 0% probability and any probability over 80% to an absolute certainty of happening. This occurs whether you have a third grade education or a Ph.D in math.

Some of the difficulty in fleshing out the probability cloud involves imagining possible scenarios that are in the mid-range.

This blog post is an attempt to sketch out a mid-range scenario.

Where did all the Varget go?
Varget is a smokeless powder that has a cult-like following among sportsmen who reload for medium capacity cartridges like .308 Winchester, .223 Remington, .30-30 Winchester, 35 Whelen. Some reloaders even claim to put Varget on their cornflakes!

Varget's burn speed is well positioned for those cartridges and it is reputed to be relatively insensitive to temperatures swings. That is a big deal if you might be hunting antelope on the plains of Africa or Wyoming with 85 F temps or using the same load on Mule Deer at -15F.

Varget and several other smokeless propellants manufactured in the same factory suddenly disappeared from the shelves. So what is the story?

"We asked Hodgdon why these shortages occurred, and what we should expect in 2020 ??

Going back to 2017 and early 2018 Hodgdon, and the whole industry were experiencing unusually poor demand. They made substantial government sales in 2017-2018 to soak up what they believed was excess supply at that time.

By late 2018 and 2019 demand was picking up again, especially for big case magnum powders. Unfortunately during this same period Hodgdon began experiencing supply problems from Australia. These problems are logistical and not related to production. Australia and steamship lines have new regulations concerning how much powder can be shipped on one vessel, how much powder can be in a container terminal at one time, and the hazard classification of the powder itself. Shipments were delayed and a few were even returned to the producer during 2019 due to these issues.

Hodgdon believes they are now ahead of the problems and will have more success shipping the Australian powders in 2020. Some is on the way now, which should make it into distribution by April. Varget, H1000 and H4350 should be back in distribution by April, Retumbo should be available sometime April to June.
"  -January 12, 2020, Three Forks Ammo & Reloading LINK

So, one of the major players in the shortage of Varget is the fact that the port had new regulations that created a bottleneck and that dried up the supply of Varget in the US.

CONEX Containers
What if the contents of every CONEX container from China and regions known to have CoV2019 endemic must be quarantined and sanitized? Would that cause much of a hiccup in the US economy?

Even if high volume methods of sanitizing are accepted, there would still be bottlenecks.

Flood them with ozone? Where would you get enough ozone generators? How long would you have to flood the container to ensure every last crevice had been saturated?

Heat them to 140F for an hour? It takes time to ensure the interior reaches that temperature.

Wipe the parts down by hand? You are kidding, right? China supplies about 15% of our pharmeceuticals. Wipe down EVERY pill? You are kidding.

I know a little bit more about the auto industry than most other things, so it is easiest for me to illustrate the point using motor vehicles.

Our economy, like it or not, is very dependent on the global supply chain. You might not think 2% of an automobile's content being from China was a very big deal but it is. That anonymous black box on the back of a headlamp is a computer. It has far more capacity than it needs to blink in hazard mode or "Hey, I want to turn left." Economics demands that the little computer on the back of your headlamp be fully utilized so it is fully integrated into vehicle's computational biosphere.

Remove the right headlamp of some vehicles and the vehicle will not run! A vehicle is not salable if it is missing one, critical part.

And while the software coders could quickly write a patch or jumper around the missing module, who is going to step up and verify that the modified vehicle still meets all of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Fuel Economy Standards, and Emissions Standards etc? Because the vehicle was changed from the units that were tested and validated for certification.

And Just-In-Time inventory systems guarantees there is not a warehouse somewhere, filled with parts to keep the line running.

If it the story escalates to the point where we need to quarantine and sanitize all parts entering the US from questionable sources for a period of four months then a -5% to -10% drop in the 2020 Gross Domestic Product is likely.

Calculate the velocity of the vehicle

Hat tip to C.W. Swanson for the image

I might have a chance to do some pro bono physics tutoring.

Bella solved the problem by inspection. "At the end of the clip the velocity is approximately zero."

Then she challenged me to solve for the velocity in meters/second at the start of the clip.

The gap is slightly longer than the vehicle as the vehicle goes airborn. Let's approximate the gap as 20 feet wide or about six meters.

The front of the vehicle impacts the moving face approximately two feet below the roadbed. The point of impact on the vehicle is approximately 24 inches above the bottoms of the tires. Total drop is 48" or 1.2 meters.

X)t=X)0 +V)0*t +0.5*A)0*t^2
Set coordinate system so X)0 and V)0 are zero.


t=sqrt(1.22)= 1.1 seconds

Velocity is the distance divided by the time. 6m/1.1s = 5.4m/s
In US units that is about 12mph

Looking at the superficial damage to the hood and fenders, 12mph is a plausible impact velocity.

Topping off preps

Mrs ERJ and I visited a Walmart last night after visiting with mom.

It was all very normal. Walmart had pallets of hand sanitizer as we came through the main doors and in the aisle-way islands.

Our visit was a spur of the moment thing. We were already in the car and the trip to Wally-world was just a few extra miles.

Looking in other people's carts I saw the usual assortment of diet pop, snack chips, readi-made cupcakes and cans of pet food.

The shelves of dry beans and bulk, dry rice were full. Ditto for the shelves of vegetable oil.

Once we decided to hit the store, Mrs ERJ made a list as I drove.

We succumbed to one impulse buy. We bought two cases of Raman noodles.

The majority of Mrs ERJ's list were durable, long-storage life items like tubes of toothpaste, bars of soap, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

From the edibles standpoint we picked up enough coffee to float me for a year, jars of peanut butter with the longest expiration date we could find (Jiffy 2/2022).

Obviously, if/when things get sporty we will "bug in".

Three is enemy action (fiction)

Chernovsky had ample time to ponder the stupidity of what he was doing as he crammed his backside into the scant cover offered by the second observation point.

The cover on the roof had seemed more than ample when viewed from the first hide but after climbing up the side of the building had proved to be quite scanty.

Not only had the climb been harrowing and the cover almost non-existent, but he had punctured one of his gallon water jugs on the climb up. It was, of course, the full water jug and not the half full one.

Tormented by thirst in the unseasonably warm, late-September sun, Chernovsky had time to think about all the reasons HE should not be the one on this mission.

It had all seemed very simple and straight-forward when he told Straeder to take a hike. But now, relying on immobility more than cover he started thinking about the consequences if he were caught.

It is pretty tough to pass for an indigent drunk when you are three stories above the ground and had to work damned hard to get there.

Chernovsky had a high pain threshold but even he knew he would spill his guts if interrogators started shoving toothpicks under his fingernails or barbecuing his eyeballs with cigarettes. If caught, Chernovsky knew enough to make Capiche’s defense impossible.

That is when he decided that if he was “busted”, he was going to swan-dive to the ground.

Which made him think of Janelle and his unborn baby.


One of Chernovsky’s gifts wasthe ability to pare away the non-essential frills, stomp out the air bubbles and distill the "story" into the core problem. A problem well stated is a problem that is more than half solved.

The problem was to convince Livingston County that they had an imminent threat to their east. A threat large enough that the invasion of Capiche would have to wait until the eastern threat was resolved.

One event might be an accident. Two events might be coincidence. Three events is enemy action.

The night when Chernovsky torched Milford’s trucks and shot up Livingston County’s police post counted as one incident.

Security would tighten after the second event. In practical terms that meant that Chernovsky had to have both events set up before pulling the trigger on the second event.

In Chernovsky’s mind, the second event had to be close to the Livingston County/Milford frontier so everybody associated the second event with the first event.

The third event had to be in the heart of Livingston County. It had to be more than a minor, border skirmish.


Chernovsky did not discover the leaking water jug until after he had eaten his pancakes. By four in the afternoon his torment led him to drink out of a puddle on the flat roof. Yes...he knew it had pigeon crap in it. He would deal with the fall-out later.

It boggled Chernovsky’s mind that SOMETHING happened at the Livingston County annex with stunning regularity. Stunning because regularity favored the attacker while randomness favored the defender. Vehicles pulled up at exactly the same time each day. Distinguished dignitaries stepped out. The same men showed up, three times a day at exactly the same time.

The regularity of the anomaly reminded Chernovsky of a beating heart.


Five nights later the Livingston County truck depot closest to Milford was engulfed in an enormous fire. All of the rolling stock was destroyed.


The next morning Torvalsen threw the breakers that opened the skylights and started the ventilation fans. It was still hot at mid-day enough that pulling in early morning air cooled the vast structure.

On the roof a wire that tapped into a 110V circuit energized a valve salvaged from a washing machine. With 85% of the population dead, there were plenty of appliances to salvage parts from. The valve opened and passed water down a hose into the thirty gallon fuel tank from a Ford F-150.
The fuel tank, shaped somewhat like a cucumber, was 2/3 full of fuel. Near the center of the tank was a teeter-totter fulcrum. The tank was poised so that at some point the center of gravity would cause the tank to teeter-totter to the other side and the fuel would spill out of a 2” hole drilled in the top of the tank.

Beneath the hole was a funnel and hose. The hose directed the fuel into a squirrel-cage fan pumping air into a 5000 square-foot, high-bay area. The fan, driven by a 2 horse-power, 3-phase motor turned the steam of fuel into a fog that filled the enclosed space.

Chernovsky didn’t expect the fog to ignite. It would be enough if it LOOKED like an air-fuel bomb had been intended.

The spark occurred when Torvaldsen turned off the fans. The enclosed space was on the far side of the complex but the blast was enough to collapse a third of the building’s shell and trash the partition walls in half of what remained.

Chernovsky heard the blast from five miles away. He was working his way west toward Capiche. He could have made better time but he was hampered by a raging case of the johnny-trots.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

Pigovian taxes

A pound of tobacco costs $200 in NYC.

Pigovian taxes are taxes levied on transactions or entities to re-associate "externalized" costs back to the transaction.

In plain English, some transactions involve a third-party who has no voice in the transaction.

Suppose you pay a sixteen-year-old to take a load of plastic trash (vinyl floor tiling, old computers, etc.) to the dump. Rather than going to the dump, the kid  burns it in a bonfire in his dad's backyard.

In this case, the third party is the person who is down-wind of the bonfire and breaths the toxic smoke.

You made a profit because you found a cheap way to unload the trash. The kid made a profit because he got rid of it for even less than you offered him.

But what about the person whose COPD gets worse or the neighbor whose chances of getting cancer just went up by an infinitesimally small amount?

The economist who favors Pigovian taxes will propose a tax on bonfires. His logic is that the public currently bears the cost of the health issues associated with burning trash and it is fairer to levy that cost against people addicted to bonfires than to encourage that behavior by allowing the cost of bonfires to be "artificially" low.

A pound of tobacco in NC or KY varies between $0.75 and $2.00

A pound of tobacco in Zimbabwe can be as low as $0.10 but averages about $0.80
Advantages of Pigovian taxes
When Pigovian taxes work, they work very well.

Consider a European Union tax assessed on automobiles to capture their lifetime costs, including the cost to recycle.

Now imagine the engineers and beancounters at VW, for instance, looking at that cost (perhaps as much as €5000 per unit) and swooning.

They are already designing the product to be easy to assemble, to be crashworthy, to be economical to operate, reasonably easy to maintain and be affordable to buy.

What is one more criteria? Suppose they went to the regulator, hat-in-hand, and proposed reducing the number of polymers (plastics) from 78 down to fifteen. Furthermore, suppose they proposed molding all non-appearance plastic parts so each polymer was color-coded to make them easy to sort.

In fact, if the colors were different enough, the car could be ground up and the plastic pieces run down a conveyor and each polymer could be air-blown off the line in zones based on a "vision" system. And if a "vision" system was used, some of those colors could be in the IR or UV band so even "appearance" parts could be coded.

If the regulator was reasonable, he would reduce the recycling cost on all models VW sold that incorporated those changes. If VW received €400 per vehicle relief on the tax, then all of the other major players in Europe would be forced to follow suit.

Pigovian taxes have weaknesses
If taxes on cigarettes are the classic case of Pigovian taxes, then why do they vary so much?

Local taxes on a package of cigarettes sold in NYC adds $5.85 while that same package of 20 cigarettes only carries a burden of $0.36 in the Great State of Missouri.

Are the people in Missouri that much tougher or are the hospitals able to deliver healthcare that more efficiently than New York City?

It is not the math, it is the people
There are four major flaws with Pigovian taxes

In the United States there are several defensible (GAAP recognized) ways of calculating costs. You tell me to calculate the cost and I have to ask you "What cost do you want me to calculate?"

There is no mechanism in the way most government budgets are set up to guarantee that incremental revenue from Pigovian taxes will result in a one-for-one increase in the budget currently bearing the externalized costs or be remitted back to the individual victims.

Money is fungible. Politicians (Poly = many, tick = bloodsucking arachnid) being what they are, are congenitally incapable of NOT taxing sources to maximize revenue.  The defensibility of Pigovian taxes is the one-for-one linking to externalized costs. Politicians see any new tax as fair game for rewarding faithful spear-carriers and favored groups, regardless of the lack of any linkage back to the externalized costs.

Pigovian taxes can result in extreme distortions in markets. A package of cigarettes retailing for $13 in NYC has $0.05 of African tobacco in it. That creates a HUGE incentive to find ways to bypass the tax. Eric Garner died when arrested by police for selling "loosies", that is, individual cigarettes that MAY have been purchased in Virginia ($0.30 a pack) or a Native-American reservation. The police were enforcing a law enacted specifically to curtail people attempting to bypass NYC's Pigovian tax on packages of cigarettes.

NYPD officers approached Garner on July 17 on suspicion of selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. After Garner told the police that he was tired of being harassed and that he was not selling cigarettes, the officers attempted to arrest Garner.    Wikipedia

Bonus link Half of Zimbabwe farmer revenue (not profit, revenue) goes to taxes with no discernible benefit to farmer. Zimbabwe is critically short of food and farmers are not planting fields to avoid taxes.

Spanish Mediterranean

Untrimmed version of yesterday' picture.

Reader Greg correctly identified the region where yesterday's image was taken.

Much Moorish influence. Pink stucco walls.

Geometric designs on tiles,

The flourishes on the iron work.

Muslim art rarely/never depicts humans, human forms, animal or floral forms.

The Quran prohibits capturing human images in artwork out of concern that followers will be misled into worshiping graven images. In order to stay on the good side of the mullahs, artisans played it safe and stuck with geometric designs.

As Islamic art evolved, Lefty learned to stick with repetitions of very simple shapes as anything more complicated could be interpreted as "forbidden" objects if stared at long enough.

The artwork shown above is not Moorish.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The fine art of passing for native

One of my nieces is studying over-seas.

If/when coronavirus becomes entrenched in that country, there is the possibility of civil unrest and it is likely that foreigners will be blamed.

As an American in a foreign country it is sometimes a good idea to NOT be instantly identified as American.

In the event of civil unrest it is a great idea to wear very good walking shoes everywhere you go and to carry a paper map of the city. The bus you are riding might become stuck in congestion and you might find yourself forced to walk back to the hotel or dorm. A map will help you swing wide enough around hotspots to not become embroiled in them.

Remember Remus's Rule Number One: Stay away from crowds.

Reposted for convenience of readers and because pretty girls need no excuse
I see ... lower neck-lines, low-riding knee-length shorts in neutral colors and white athletic-type shoes. I also see many scarves, functional belts and three pairs of sunglasses (two are residing in the "UP" position.)

None of the pretty girls are wearing jeans. Most blouses look clingy/stretchy to accentuate curviness. Check out Miss Turquiose-top, third-from-left.

Tote bags are favored over backpacks.

I DON'T see any yoga pants, torn jeans or high heels. Most of the girls have discrete neck jewelry or bracelets. The one exception is Miss June Cleaver on the extreme left who is wearing two strings of pearls.

What do you see? I especially want to hear from the ladies.

Does anybody want to guess a country and region? I will publish an uncropped version of the image tomorrow.

Under the influence...

Suppose you are getting your oil changed or your taxes done or getting vaccinated. Furthermore, suppose that you pick up multiple clues that one of the people providing the service is "under the influence". Does that present a moral dilemma if they seem to be sort-of, kind-of be doing a barely-good-enough job?

"What kind of clues?" you ask.

MULTIPLE clues. Patterns of clues.

Bobbling dexterity tasks they have done a thousand times before. Not just one task, but multiple tasks.

Losing paperwork in the eight steps between one station and the next.

Running over customer property with the wheels of their mobile equipment.

Hyper-focusing on some of the tasks to the detriment of others.

Getting tangled up in hoses, tubing, wires that is the same today as it was the yesterday and for the last year they were working.

Holding a work-piece in one hand while spearing with the other when a prudent operator would put the work-piece on a table, secure with one hand and stab with the other.

When "goofs" are called to their attention they have a glib, practiced, pre-canned "explanations" instantly ready.

Being overly loud and shatteringly cheerful.

Volunteering that they had "bad luck" with the last customer, too.

What can "under the influence" mean?
It can mean that they are drunk or intoxicated.

The drug can be easy to detect (alcohol) or undetectable (most synthetic cannabinoids).

"Under the influence" can also mean that the user is suffering withdrawal symptoms or is hung-over.

Finally, it can mean that the user is NOT under the influence of a prescription drug they need to function in the work environment. If a person has severe Attention Deficit Disorder and they are not taking their Adderal...they are out-of-standard. Or maybe they stopped taking their anti-psychotic like Risperidone

Why would somebody not take their Adderal? Well, it has street value and maybe they sold it to buy something more to their liking. Or perhaps they are saving it up for a big party so they can stay awake all weekend.

The supervisor's dilemma
Given the number of undetectable drugs and the possibility of the issue being caused by a hang-over, the ideal answer would be if the supervisor could observe the employee's performance and discipline based on observed behaviors.

The advantage of "writing-them-up" for substance abuse is that it is considered a disability in most states and it gets handled by Human Resources. They blow a 0.14% on the breathalizer and it is a done-deal.

The disadvantage of writing-them-up for performance is that the employee (or former employee) will challenge the discipline claiming the observations were subjective. Unfortunately, "jobs" are treated as if they were the employee's property by many courts and a high level of proof is often required to make discipline stick.

Back to the consumer
Yeah, it sucks. But report it anyway. Don't be stupid. Wait until after you oil is changed or your tax data is stored or your shot has been given. Then find a supervisor and discretely share the evidence you observed.

Share your observations, not your conclusions. Don't make conclusions although it is fair to offer "Intoxication" as a possible root-cause.

Tell the supervisor you are not making accusations but that you have a responsibility or obligation to exercise due-diligence to call this matter to the organization's attention. The supervisor should be OVER-JOYED that you called the issue to their attention privately rather than smear it across social media.

There is no guarantee that the supervisor will do anything about it. I worked in one factory where one area, one shift was entirely active alcoholics and they covered for each other. Go on a one-week bender? Nobody on first shift would ever hear a word of it. I suspect that crew on second-shift would kill for the management who enabled them.

However, it is more likely that the possibly-intoxicated employee has been a perennial thorn in the side of management and most of the employees. Your speaking up is an important part of resolving the issue.

Fake News Friday: Common African-American surnames

The typical African-American was confronted with a challenge in 1865/66. What to use for a surname.

The largest group of former slaves took the last name of their former owner. It was a matter of going with the flow. Instead of "Jonas who belongs to farmer William" he became Jonas William's or Jonas Williams. Typically, these names end in "s", that is, the possessive 's. Fifty-one of the two-hundred most common African-American surnames end in "s".

Another large group of former slaves took the name of the trade they were skilled at. Hence we have Glover and Smith and Miller. Typically, these names ended in "r". Twenty-five of the two-hundred most common African-American surnames end in "r".

A third large group of former slaves chose famous, American presidents like Washington and Jefferson. Since most slave holders were of British extraction, many of them had names that ended in "n", either due to "son" or "ton" reflecting family of origin or town of origin. Some former slaves decided to forego the possessive s. Forty-seven of the top two-hundred African-American surnames end in "n".

According to the site Mongabay, 23% of the people with the surname "Warren" identify as African-Americans. Look closely at the picture shown above: Does this person look more like the class of people who were slave owners or slaves?

According to the site Mongabay, 33% of the people with the surname "Sanders" identify as African-Americans. Look closely at the picture shown above: Does this person look more like the class of people who were slave owner or slaves?

The same site informs us that exactly zero African-Americans have the surname "Trump", "Gabbard", "Buttigeig", "Biden" or "Klobuchar" which suggests there is approximately a 0.0% chance that there were ever slave-holders with those last names.

Tenterhooks (fiction)

Chernovsky waited for near-dark. He changed out of his clean clothes and into his stumble-bum, drunk disguise.

He lowered his kit down the dark side of the elevator with brown paracord. There were many choices. There was no street lighting. Chernovsky chose to put it into some shrubbery.

Then after waiting a few minutes to see if anybody raised an alarm, he went down the fire escape.

Chernovsky had already picked out his next observation post. He retrieved his kit and moved it to his new choice.

Then he staggered from bar-to-bar, slowly and randomly moving northeast toward Dave William’s home in the no-man’s-land between Livingston County and Milford. He made it there by one-thirty in the morning. It had been a twelve mile hike.

Dave had been awake. He heard when Chernovsky came in. After waiting fifteen minutes, he went to go check on him. He had been gone for thirty-six hours. Chernovsky smelled of shit, piss and vomit and cheap booze.

Dave was not angry. He was sad. Dave had been sober for forty-five years and had helped many men on the path to sobriety. He had helped even more men who tried and failed. And failed. And failed. Chernovsky gave every indication of being in the second group of men.

But that didn’t mean Dave would stop helping. Who made it and who failed was up to the individual, and God. That was above Dave’s pay-grade.


Janelle moved back in with Kate and Rick. It never occurred to her that being pregnant and having a kid might be hard. Her birth mother seemed to pop them out with the frequency and ease one associated with microwave popcorn.

Kate was so understanding that it hurt. Distance was one of Janelle’s defense mechanisms. The only people who can hurt you are the ones who care for you. Janelle’s armor was that she was independent and that nobody cared for her. She was undone by the kindness shown to her.

Janelle wondered what her miscarriage would do with her relationship with Chernovsky. Without the baby, he had every reason to bolt. Janelle was on tenterhooks waiting for his return.


Wilder was impressed by Miguel’s ability to render information into sketches. At the start, Miguel waded out into the streams and called out the length of the span, the depth of the water and so on.

Wilder faithfully wrote the numbers down in a table.

After slogging his way back up to the road-grade, Wilder was impressed to find Miguel had not only recorded the numbers but he had produced a very credible sketch of the bridge and its approaches.

After that, Wilder, the former millionaire did the scut work and Miguel did the recording.

In nearly every case the bridge was skewed to one side of the valley or the other and a built-up roadbed extended across the floodplain up to the bridge on the far side of the valley. In most cases the roadbed was six-to-eight feet above the stream. Wilder’s intuition told him this was significant but he couldn’t put the pieces together while out in the field.


Quinn kicked sleeping troopers awake. He started by kicking the soles of their feet. If that didn’t work, he dumped five gallons of water on them.

Then he sent them on a five minutes-out, five-across and five-back patrol.

It only took a few examples before his fighters decided it was better to run the 5-5-5s before they fell asleep. Better to do it dry than wet.


General Patrick had Lieutenant Martens split the corp into equal thirds. Equal, on paper that is.

Martens' plan made a show of dealing evenly from the deck. From a distance, each third appeared to have about the same range of skills and “seniority”. Up close, well, it was a fine way to pass off the trash.

General Mark Richards categorically rejected his third. He demanded three-quarters of the soldiers be placed under his command. His reasoning was that he commanded the offense and the rule-of-thumb was that attackers need a three-to-one advantage over the defenders to prevail.

The three men were not able to come to an agreement so they submit their arguments to Torvaldsen. Generals Patrick and Rife emailed Marten’s plan along with summaries showing the equity of the division. General Richards went and made an impassioned plea.

Richards was sure he would prevail. Not only had Richards and Torvaldsen gone to the same University, but Richards and Torvaldsen had both belonged to the Gamma-Delta-Iota fraternity.

General Patrick had read the situation correctly. Torvaldsen was autistic and was completely immune to emotional appeals. Not only that, Torvaldsen saw facial emotions as random twitches and those twitches made him very uncomfortable.

Lieutenant Marten’s plan was implemented as written. Richards received 1200 soldiers, the same number under Rife and under Patrick’s command.


Shad walked into Kelly Carney and Milo Talon’s workshop.

“Is there any reason” he asked “that you can’t run a gassifier on bales of hay?”

Kelly laid down the wrench he had been wielding. “Well, other than the fact that our bins are set up for corn, I cannot see any reason they couldn’t.”

“What do you think, Milo?” Kelly asked.

Milo rubbed his chin as if thinking deep thoughts. “We would have to make a rectangular bin for the bales” Milo said agreeably. “The round barrels we use to hold the corn won’t work.”

“You would have to refuel a lot more often” Kelly opined. “A fifty-five gallon barrel holds pretty close to three-hundred pounds of corn. What does a bale of hay weigh? Maybe thirty?”

“Closer to forty, but I see your point.” Shad said.

“What would it cost to have you make an adapter for one of your gassifiers?” Shad asked.

“I reckon we would do that for free if you have a lot of hay to burn.” Milo offered.

“Well, I do. But I have on additional requirement for this gassifier.” Shad said. “I want to save the ashes.”