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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/profile/blog/cathartes02/month/12-1-2020
Rated: 18+ · Book · Personal · #1196512
Not for the faint of art.
Complex Numbers

A complex number is expressed in the standard form a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i is defined by i^2 = -1 (that is, i is the square root of -1). For example, 3 + 2i is a complex number.

The bi term is often referred to as an imaginary number (though this may be misleading, as it is no more "imaginary" than the symbolic abstractions we know as the "real" numbers). Thus, every complex number has a real part, a, and an imaginary part, bi.

Complex numbers are often represented on a graph known as the "complex plane," where the horizontal axis represents the infinity of real numbers, and the vertical axis represents the infinity of imaginary numbers. Thus, each complex number has a unique representation on the complex plane: some closer to real; others, more imaginary. If a = b, the number is equal parts real and imaginary.

Very simple transformations applied to numbers in the complex plane can lead to fractal structures of enormous intricacy and astonishing beauty.




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December 31, 2020 at 12:01am
December 31, 2020 at 12:01am
#1001099
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
31. Unlucky Day
Write about a time when you were particularly unlucky.


You know what?

No.

I don't believe in supernatural forces, but luck is a thing independent of that. It's random chance applied to circumstance. You can't affect random chance, but you can affect circumstance. It's like... if you're terrified of being killed at sea, you can change the odds of you being killed at sea by not going to sea. And yet, if you do go to sea, you still have pretty good odds of, you know... living through it. But it's still subject to chance. And if you move to, say, the Midwest to maximize your chances of not accidentally going to sea, well, there's always tornadoes.

Like everyone, I've had good things happen to me and bad things. I've had bad things that have turned out to be good things, and good things that turned out to be bad things. On balance, though, life isn't fair... and so far, it's been unfair in my favor.

So I don't want to dwell on the unlucky parts. It puts me in the wrong mindset for going into a new year, which, though I've ranted about the arbitrariness of January 1 here before, the reality remains that the world I live in uses the Gregorian calendar and there's no disputing that the odometer of that calendar rolls over tonight. And that's meaningful for a lot of people.

I just think all the folks who are going to breathe a huge sigh of relief just because the clock strikes midnight are going to be in for a rude surprise.

As usual, I could be wrong. But there's no guarantee that 2021 will be any better than 2020. Luck, remember?

This entry marks a personal achievement for me and, true to form, it is not one that I actually set out to achieve. Those, I inevitably fail at (hence why I'm not making any New Year's resolutions). But as of this entry, I have written a blog entry -- and, I trust, one that was meaningful in some way -- every day in 2020. You can verify this for yourself - just click back through the calendar there on the left, and you'll see that every month of 2020 is completely filled.

And so, in celebration of this achievement, here comes 2020's final...

*StarB* *StarB* *StarB*


Merit Badge Mini-Contest!


In keeping with the theme of "luck," I'm going to run this a little bit differently from previous contests. All you gotta do is comment, and tomorrow I'm going to pick commenters from this entry at random. For every five commenters or fraction thereof, I'll award one Merit Badge. So if only one person comments, they'll get one. If eight comment, then two people will get one. If 25 people comment, there will be five MBs. You're welcome to comment more than once, but only one of them will count.

If you're at a loss for what to comment, how about... what are your hopes for the New Year? Or... what are your favorite kinds of entries in my blog? Or, just tell me how awesome I am. It won't affect your odds of getting a Merit Badge, but it'll make me feel good. Hell, tell me I suck and it still won't affect the outcome. (Though, please do stick to the Content Rating, as always.)

As per usual, deadline is midnight tonight WDC time (Eastern Standard Time). Since that is the end of December 31, and I too am on Eastern Time, and it is New Year's Eve, I do not expect to be in any condition to post a blog entry shortly after midnight like I usually do. Just to be clear, I'll be staying home, not going out, but there will be alcohol. I will award the MB(s) and post an entry later that day, assuming the overindulgence doesn't destroy me.

Which, let's face it, would be a fitting end to this year.

And so, Happy New Year to all, and most of all...

Good luck.
December 30, 2020 at 12:01am
December 30, 2020 at 12:01am
#1001035
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
30. Bacon Day
The perfect breakfast meat.
Write anything about bacon!


Ah, yes, bacon... the candy of the meat world.

On the rare occasion that someone works up the chutzpah to ask me why I'm no longer a practicing Jew, I like to reply, "Tried bacon once, never looked back."

Which reminds me of an old joke:

A rabbi and a priest end up next to each other on an airplane. It's a long trip, so they get to talking. Eventually, they get comfortable enough with one another to ask the important theological questions.

"I'm curious," says the priest. "And you don't have to answer if it makes you uncomfortable, but... have you ever tried bacon?"

The rabbi sighs. "Yes, yes, I confess... in my younger, rebellious days, I once tried a bit of the forbidden meat. But it was only the once, never again."

They're silent for a while, then the rabbi goes, "I'm curious too, and you don't have to answer either, but... have you ever had sex?"

The priest goes, "Yes... yes, I have to confess that in my earlier, rebellious days, I did the act with a nice older lady. I did penance for it for weeks, and it was just the once, never again."

The rabbi sits back and nods. They're silent for a while again, and then the rabbi side-eyes the priest and mutters:

"Beats the hell out of bacon, doesn't it?"


Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all year.

But seriously, though, I, too, have a confession to make:

When it comes to breakfast meats, I prefer turkey "bacon."

Yes, yes, I know, I can hear your collective gasp of disbelief and astonishment all the way over here. But it's true. The thing about bacon -- about meat in general (and don't give me shit about not being vegetarian) -- is that I like the meat, but I do not like the taste of animal fat. And bacon is mostly fat. At least, American bacon is; what they call bacon in Britain is more like what we call Canadian bacon, which in Canada is called backbacon. It's leaner, anyway. And turkey "bacon," being made of bird, has far less fat to it.

Which doesn't mean I'll turn down actual bacon if it's around, of course. But it's gotta be completely cooked. If I hold it by one end, it should remain horizontal, with no measurable droop. And the despicable practice of cooking eggs in the bacon drippings? No.

Speaking of cooking bacon, there are only two acceptable methods: oven and microwave. In the oven, the strips need to be arranged on a rack with the drippings caught by a pan and then discarded. This is preferable to me, but can take up to 30 minutes, including preheating time, which is usually unacceptable in the morning. So for speed, I use the microwave method: three layers of paper towels, strips of bacon, then two more layers of paper towels. 2-3 minutes depending on the amount and thickness of the slices. The towels absorb the fat, leaving me with nice crispy bacon (one can cook it for less time for a chewier bacon, if you're one of those weirdos).

I've tried the vegetarian strips that are meant to pass for bacon. They do not, in fact, pass for bacon, even though the makers take great pains to make them look marbled. If you don't pretend they're bacon, though, they're not bad in themselves. I call it "fakon."

And great, now I'm hungry and oh look there is bacon in the fridge...
December 29, 2020 at 12:02am
December 29, 2020 at 12:02am
#1000975
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
29. December Full Moon (aka Cold Moon)
Write something about the full moon.


Dammit.

We really, really need to stop associating full moon names with Gregorian calendar months.

The concept of naming full moons evolved separately from the Gregorian calendar and its predecessor, the Julian. The folklore associated with moon phases was tied to seasons; that is, equinoxes and solstices.

The Cold Moon - or whatever it's called in whatever culture - was the first full moon after the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (hence "Cold"). This has an approximately 1/3 chance of occurring in our December, and about a 2/3 chance of occurring in January.

I know I've ranted about this sort of thing before, in connection with the "Blue Moon." It's as if the internet just doesn't pay attention to a single word I say...

...which is fair, I suppose, since I'm basically nobody.

It's still the hill I choose to die on.

Once more, with feeling: there will usually be three full moons between equinox and solstice, or vice versa. On those rare occasions when there are four, the third of the four is the Blue Moon. "Rare" meaning about once every three years or so; hence the expression "once in a blue moon."

There was a time, some few years ago, when we had two full moons in January, none in February, and two again in March (January and March having 31 days each by fiat). This all by itself should have been sufficient to stop this "second full moon in a calendar month is a Blue Moon" nonsense, but apparently that was not the case, as the wrongness persists to this day.

And again, the method of naming moons relative to equinox/solstice is independent of whatever calendar is being used, so it is more universal.

An astronomer I'm acquainted with, Phil Plait, accepts that either method is "right," because like it or not, the Gregorian calendar is what we're stuck with, at least for now. I have a great deal of respect for Phil; I spent a week in a cabin in Colorado with him and his wife and a few other people. I think I understand his reasoning for that; as with a dictionary, it's a matter of descriptive versus prescriptive, and from his point of view anything that gets people interested in looking up at the sky is a Good Thing.

I agree with that bit: if you can be arsed to get out of your warm house in December or January (again, I'm being Northern-Hemisphere-centric here) to look up at the Moon in all her glory, that's great. Do it. Or if you spend a week in Colorado looking at the sky, preferably during a time when there is not a full moon because without the competition, and also preferably in the company of a professional astronomer who can show you shit through a telescope that's even more amazing, the rest of the sky can be even more glorious.

Where I disagree with Phil is that I believe we can't just abandon the folklore; trying to fit it into modern timekeeping is, to me, a bit like trying to hammer a round peg into a square hole. Or maybe it's the other way around; whatever. Doesn't matter; point is it's not going to fit right no matter what you do.

And honestly, I'm of two minds regarding calendar reforms. Personally, I think we should either go back to a purely astronomical one, where solstices and equinoxes mark the seasons but the moons are tracked as per one's chosen folklore; or abandon the concept entirely in favor of something like the Tranquility Calendar  .

Still. Go look at the full moon, if weather conditions allow. I know it happens every 29 days or so, but it's still worth noting.
December 28, 2020 at 12:53am
December 28, 2020 at 12:53am
#1000921
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
28. Card Playing Day!
Do you like playing cards? Which card games do you prefer?


Long ago, I used to host a Poker Night at my place. Unlike many such events, this wasn't a boys' club, nor was it merely an excuse for my group of friends to get together. I mean, that's what we were doing, of course, but poker was the purpose of the evening; it was a casual, low-stakes game, but we were still serious about it.

Nor was it a tense Hold 'Em tournament, but good old-fashioned dealer's choice: draw or stud or one of the many variations thereof.

Things drifted apart after a while, so this stopped even before the pandemic made hosting poker games a difficult proposition, but I do miss the games.

I've played a few of the purpose-built card games, you know, like Cards Against Humanity and others that use different decks, and those can be fun too.

When I go out gambling, though, my game of choice is blackjack, not poker. Or, at least, it was when I could still go out gambling.

I realize this isn't a particularly clever or funny entry; I'm just not in the mood to do clever and/or funny right now. But I feel like I should do more than a plain prompt answer, so I thought I'd point out some things about a standard deck of cards.

There are more ways to arrange a deck of cards than there are atoms on Earth  

Consider how many card games must have taken place across the world since the beginning of humankind.

That's a stretch. Playing cards aren't much more than 1000 years old  , and the evolution to the modern, standard, French style deck of 52 cards arranged in four suits with aces, royalty, etc. took maybe 5-600 years, so we're not talking about "the beginning of humankind" but roughly "from about the time of Shakespeare."

It seems unbelievable, but there are somewhere in the range of 8x1067 ways to sort a deck of cards. That’s an 8 followed by 67 zeros.

What they are describing there is the number of possible permutations of a pack of 52 cards. The number is written as 52!, which is read "fifty-two factorial," and is the result you get when you multiply all of the integers from 1 through 52: 1x2x3x4x5x...x50x51x52.

It is, as the article notes, a really stupendously huge number. Considering that the universe is, by comparison, only about 4x1017 seconds old, you can maybe start to see how people can say there has probably never been the same particular combination of shuffled cards in all of the history of cards.

Or, as the article puts it with even less clarity, To put that in perspective, even if someone could rearrange a deck of cards every second of the universe’s total existence, the universe would end before they would get even one billionth of the way to finding a repeat.

It is, however, the nature of humans to only notice when such shuffling produces "interesting" combinations of cards -- such as straights, flushes, or four-of-a-kind. When playing poker, we'll notice those (because they tend to be winning hands) far more often that the just as likely 6-10-3-K-8 of mixed suits, for example.

Cards are a good way to teach statistics and probability - but they're also handy tools for explaining the concept of entropy.

But mostly, I just miss playing poker.
December 27, 2020 at 12:01am
December 27, 2020 at 12:01am
#1000882
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
27. National Fruitcake Day
Write about your opinion of Fruitcake.
If you don't like them, you haven't had mine. *Wink*


Counterargument: if I like it, it isn't actually fruitcake.

I don't know who first said it and I can't be arsed to look it up, but there's this idea that each family has only one fruitcake. Whoever gets it at Christmas shoves it in their freezer and regifts it to a different family member next Christmas, and they put it in their freezer, and the cycle continues until the heat death of the universe.

Now, I don't come from a fruitcake family, but I've had occasion to try other peoples' fruitcakes from time to time, and I just have one question:

Why? For the love of all that is right and pure in the world, WHY??!

Each of the various components of fruitcake is, usually anyway, just fine on its own. Put it together and you end up with the culinary equivalent of plaid and stripes, or socks with sandals.

I will grant that the person who wrote this prompt (it was Lilli ☕) probably makes some delicious cake. She might even call it "fruitcake." But this is like owning a Mercedes and calling it a Chevy.

I've heard the "If you think you don't like x, it's only because you haven't had mine" argument before and, all due respect, it is bullshit.

Take eggplant, for example. That's aubergine for my Brit friends. A typical conversation for me might go like this:

"I don't like eggplant."

"Oh, that's only because you haven't had mine."

*I try the eggplant dish*

"...I hate eggplant."

At some point, as I refuse to fake an allergy just to get me out of eating something, I started saying instead: "Eggplant is not actually food." This usually works. When it doesn't, I end up subjected to either a) a dish that is, objectively, made very well, but since it contains eggplant, I can't stand it; or b) a dish that so thoroughly covers up the disgusting taste and/or horrid texture of eggplant that one wonders why the dish isn't simply made without the offending material.

It is, on the other hand, absolutely true that there are some things that, if not cooked properly, just don't taste very good; but if made with skill and knowledge, can be delicious. Zucchini (that's courgette for my Brit friends) is one such foodstuff. I always thought I hated zucchini when I was a kid, but the truth was I hated the way my mother cooked the stuff.

Hell, the way my mom cooked, I was convinced that I didn't like chicken.

Still, there would be one way for me to change my mind about eggplant, or fruitcake for that matter: tell me I can't eat it. "I'm sorry, Mr. Waltz, but you have a rare illness. You'll be fine as long as you never eat fruitcake. But if you do, you'll end up in the emergency room or possibly die."

In such a scenario, all I'd be able to think of is how delicious fruitcake would be right about now.

That may sound farfetched, but that perfectly describes me with grapefruit when I started taking statins. Never cared for the stuff until the doctor told me I could never eat it again, at which point it was all I craved. This ebbed over time, but for a while there, grapefruit (I have no idea what Brits call it) might as well have been chocolate for all the cravings I got for it.

Still, there's little chance of that happening with fruitcake, so I think I'm safe on that front.
December 26, 2020 at 12:02am
December 26, 2020 at 12:02am
#1000835
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
26. National Whiner's Day
Whiner or winer... you pick.
Maybe you'd like to whine about wine...
Or perhaps you forgot to mention a grievance from Festivus...


See? Another pun opportunity today. Though I maintain that Boxing Day shouldn't share the stage. Not gonna whine about it, though. I'm tempted to ask who the one single whiner is, but I should know better than to expect people to use apostrophes correctly. (That is the actual official name of the day; I'm not ragging on the prompt, here.)

Of course, I don't whine. I rant. What's the difference? When I do it, it's ranting and should be encouraged. When other people do it, it's whining and needs to stop. This is similar to the distinction Mel Brooks makes between tragedy and comedy: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

I do like wine, even if I do spend more time writing about beer. As with beer, though, my tastes in wine are somewhat iconoclastic. You won't tempt me with a Chardonnay or a Cabernet Sauvignon; those are too ordinary. Give me a Vouvray or a Mourvedre instead. But still, I'm not going to whine about wine, especially if it is free or cheap. (Usually, it isn't.)

Curious about National Whiner's Day,   I looked it up and Thor's balls is it awful.

Coming the day after Christmas, some may think that National Whiner's Day was created so that people can whine about the presents they didn't receive.

Never even crossed my mind.

But that is not the case at all! National Whiner's Day was created by Kevin Zaborney in 1986...

Who?

Oh, this guy apparently goes by Hugambassador on Twitter. As we said in 1986, "Gag me with a chainsaw."

"to encourage gratefulness for what we have rather than what we do not."

Make that two chainsaws.

It is not a day to whine, but a day to be thankful for all that is good in our lives.

Stress level approaching critical zone...

Zaborney also created National Hugging Day, because he believes there are far too many whiners these days, and not enough huggers.

Because of course he did and of course he does. Hey, how's that hugging working out for ya this year, dude? Hard to hug on a Zoom call, isn't it? WELCOME TO THE CLUB.

The day is best celebrated by expressing gratefulness for everything you have...

If you're the kind of person who is inclined to express gratitude, you don't need a day for it. If you're not, you're not going to start just because someone declares there's a day for it. Besides, don't we already have Thanksgiving?

Zaborney also suggests a few other ways to celebrate the day:

I can think of a few suggestions, but let's see what the founder says.

go to a store and observe whiner's returning their holiday gifts

That would involve me going to a store on the day after Christmas, which is third of my Top Five Days Not To Go To Stores, right after Black Friday and Christmas Eve, and right before Third of July and Every Other Day Of The Year. Also, that apostrophe is making my eyes twitch; it's even more egregious than the one in the name of the day.

invite people over for a "whine and geeze" party where non alcoholic wine and cheese are served; have them bring over a gift they want to whine about, that can be used in a white elephant gift exchange; or hold a whining contest

NON-ALCOHOLIC? *Shock2* *Angry* Truck away with that bullshit right now. We're supposed to express gratitude, and topping THAT list for me is anything with ethanol in it. Well, almost anything. Anything that doesn't suck but has alcohol. Also get the fuck out of here with the white elephant shitpile that I ranted about in here some time ago. How long ago? I don't know. Recently.

Wow, look at that. I started this entry in a pretty good mood *Meh*, and now I'm about to pop a blood vessel. *Rage* Better grab some wine. *Bottles*

But first...

*StarB* *StarB* *StarB*


Mini-Contest Results!


Seriously great, creative No-"L" entries by everyone yesterday! It was hard to pick a winner, and while the temptation is there to give everyone a Merit Badge because it is, after all, Chri- OH WAIT, it's not Christmas anymore, so there's only one Merit Badge. But I did appreciate everyone's really supremely clever L-less descriptions, and you will all get another chance at an MB before too long. Maybe even New Years Eve if I can remember to do one that day (for obvious reasons, though, the New Years Day entry, and thus any award, might be delayed).

But for today, Kåre Enga, P.O. 22, Blogville will get a Food Cooking MB because I, too, am a fan of stuffing. Of course other people mentioned stuffing, too; like I said, it was a close one all around. Thanks for the comments!
December 25, 2020 at 12:01am
December 25, 2020 at 12:01am
#1000802
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
25. Pumpkin Pie Day
Are you a fan? Why or why not.


Life isn't binary.

I'm okay with pumpkin pie. Well, most pumpkin pie. The canned stuff isn't so great. And -- shh, don't tell anyone -- I actually like pumpkin pie spice. Not enough to ever crave it, though there is one pumpkin beer that comes out every fall that I just need to acquire at least once a year.

I did a Comedy newsletter about pumpkin spice way back in September: "Pumpkin Spice. Go ahead, read that editorial if you haven't already. This isn't the only place where I do comedy.

So imagine my surprise when I find out that today, December 25, is officially (by whatever means people decide such things are "official") Pumpkin Pie Day. As far as I'm concerned, that season is over. Now is the season for other spices, and for stouts and port wine.

Still, pumpkin, and pumpkin spice, could disappear tomorrow and I wouldn't miss it too much. I don't love it. I don't hate it. So when I say "I'm not a fan," I don't mean I'm an anti-fan; I simply mean I like it well enough and will eat it if it's around. Saying "I'm not a fan" apparently means something other than its plain denotation, for some people, so I feel like I have to make it clear where I stand: on a scale of 1 to 10, it's a solid 6.

You know what else today is?

Today is No "L" Day.  

Personally, I think every day should be Punday. Find an excuse if there isn't an obvious one, like today. Tomorrow would be easy enough; plenty of pun material in Boxing Day. Next week could be New Beer's Eve, where the goal is to try a beer that's new to you (a thing that is getting harder for me all the time).

But that would also make this Pun-kin Pie Day, so maybe we need to celebrate Pun-kin Pie Day on some other occasion. Sometime in October, maybe, because come ON, all the pumpkins are gone by now but there are always puns to be made.

And hey, because it's No "L" Day, let's have a...

*StarB* *StarB* *StarB*


Merit Badge Mini-Contest!


Comment beow without using the etter between K and M in the aphabet, and say what your favorite hoiday food and/or beverage is. The one I ike best gets the person who posts it a Merit Badge tomorrow. The deadine is midnight today, December 25.

Unfortunatey, my favorite hoiday food is atkes...
December 24, 2020 at 12:01am
December 24, 2020 at 12:01am
#1000762
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
24. Last-Minute Shopper's Day also National Eggnog Day
I should think good strong eggnog would hit the spot after a day of shopping.
See what you can come up with for that one.


Now, look, we all know that I put the "pro" in "procrastination." Hell, the only way I can manage to usually post one of these entries shortly after midnight is to pretend that I'm doing yesterday's entry and submitting it late.

But when it comes to holiday shopping... well, I was done with that weeks ago.

Part of this is because I, by design, have only a few people to shop for. But another part is that even in the Before Time, I didn't go into stores unless I absolutely had to. And by "had to," I mean going into a liquor store because my state has backwards-ass rules about not being able to mail-order liquor.

Everything else, I can and do buy online, issues with Amazon be damned.

Yes, even groceries. I know I've mentioned this before, but I've been having them delivered for at least two years, now.

Of course, there are a few local businesses I feel I should support, and I'll venture into those shops on occasion, but for the most part, everything I need for myself or as gifts for others comes from the internet.

Besides, if I went into stores on December 24th, I'd be subjected to holiday music, and that's a thing I would rather avoid.

Consequently, I don't have eggnog. It's just not something I think about. If I'd gone into the supermarket, I'm sure I'd have seen a display of the mix for it and probably bought it (another reason I don't go shopping: I have poor impulse control and shopping online tends to keep that in check). Then I could have walked across the parking lot and picked up rum at the liquor store -- although at the moment I don't have to because I have plenty of rum.

Now with this prompt I find myself wanting some eggnog... but not enough to make a special trip to the store later today, and finding a delivery slot on Christmas Eve just isn't going to happen. I've got supplies to last me at least through Sunday.

And don't start with the "why don't you make your own eggnog from scratch" shaming. First of all, it's a lot like work; second, and perhaps more importantly, I'd still have to purchase some of the ingredients, at which point I might as well get the pre-made stuff. So no eggnog for me this year. Maybe next year, if I think about it. But probably not.
December 23, 2020 at 12:02am
December 23, 2020 at 12:02am
#1000701
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
23. Happy Festivus!
Let the 'Airing of Grievances' commence...


Um... what do you think I've been doing here?!

Okay, seriously, though. Of all the made-up holidays (and, come on, they're all made-up), why was this the one that had to catch on?

I'm not saying I didn't like Seinfeld. It was a great show for its time, and has certainly added to the cultural discourse in lots of ways. But seriously, Festivus? It's not even all that clever.

I guess I shouldn't complain (though this is the day for it). It's always bugged me that Hanukkah was always conflated with Christmas by well-meaning celebrators of Christmas. It's like "Hey, we're pretty happy around this time of year. But oh, those poor Jews. They don't have a Christmas to celebrate." "But they have Hanukkah." "Oh, yeah, Hanukkah! There are candles and presents and it usually happens in December, so it must be their equivalent!" Well, um... no.

No, I'm not going to get into why. Plenty of information out there if you care.

So a comedy show with a definite Jewish slant comes up with a more Christmas-y holiday, one that anyone of any religion or none can celebrate, which takes the pressure off Hanukkah, so why does it piss me off?

Maybe because I didn't think of it first, I guess. Not that it would have made any difference if I had; it's not like I have an audience of millions. Or any skill at making videos.

Or maybe it's because there's a perfectly good solstice a couple days before Festivus, and that's also something that anyone can celebrate because it actually corresponds to something real in nature.

Probably a little of both.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to train for the feats of strength.
December 22, 2020 at 12:11am
December 22, 2020 at 12:11am
#1000643
History is cool and never really boring, unless you approach it like my teachers did in school, with endless memorization of dates that shit happened, without any context. I think it takes some experience and lifelong learning to be able to have a syncretic approach to historical events.

"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
22. Today in History
Look up some events that happened on December 22nd,
select one, and tell us about it.


That is, with the possible exception of December 22nd, which, while Wikipedia lists a whole slew of events that took place   on this day in history, it turns out that nearly every single one of them is yawn-inducing.

For example:

*Yawn* 1920 – The GOELRO economic development plan is adopted by the 8th Congress of Soviets of the Russian SFSR.

Who did what to which now?

*Yawn* 1965 – In the United Kingdom, a 70 mph speed limit is applied to all rural roads including motorways for the first time.

And so? A dozen years later, the US adopted a 55 mph speed limit, and our roads are straighter, wider, and feature driving on the correct side.

*Yawn* 1891 – Asteroid 323 Brucia becomes the first asteroid discovered using photography.

I mean, two of the few subjects that interest me more than history are photography and astronomy, and this is still meh.

*Yawn* 1807 – The Embargo Act, forbidding trade with all foreign countries, is passed by the U.S. Congress, at the urging of President Thomas Jefferson.

If there is anything more boring than international trade negotiations, I haven't discovered it.

It is true that, per the link above, some cool shit happened too, like the reopening of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, but there really isn't much there for me to want to write about. Even the births and deaths lists are largely boring. Also, can the dates really be trusted before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar?

But if I had to pick one -- and I don't, really, but it's only polite to address the prompt -- I'm going to go with one related to civil engineering.

1937 – The Lincoln Tunnel   opens to traffic in New York City.

...which led to a traffic jam that persists to this day.

The Lincoln Tunnel is an approximately 1.5-mile-long (2.4 km) tunnel under the Hudson River, connecting Weehawken, New Jersey, to the west with Midtown Manhattan in New York City to the east.

Can I just point out how much sheer fun it is to say "Weehawken?" I do that every time I go through the Lincoln Tunnel, which may help to explain why I'm single.

Turns out that the 1937 date is just for one of the current three tubes of the tunnel:

Construction of the central tube, which originally lacked sufficient funding due to the Great Depression, started in 1934 and it opened in 1937. The northern tube started construction in 1936, was delayed due to World War II-related material shortages, and opened in 1945. Although the original plans for the Lincoln Tunnel called for two tubes, a third tube to the south of the existing tunnels was planned in 1950 due to high traffic demand on the other two tubes. The third tube started construction in 1954, with the delay attributed to disputes over tunnel approaches, and opened in 1957.

I would have hated to be the guy supervising the construction of the other tubes while the first one was in operation. "Now, don't screw this up or you'll flood the tunnel."

The tolls on each crossing are only collected in the New York-bound direction.

That's because if you charged people to go into New Jersey, no one would go into New Jersey.

As of 2016, both directions of the tunnel carry a combined average of 112,995 vehicular crossings every day.

Mostly at the exact same time I'm trying to cross.

The article goes on to describe the tunnel's specifications and the negotiations leading up to its construction, which I find fascinating but everyone else would probably feel about it the way I feel about trade negotiations, so I'll skip most of the commentary on it.

Officials from the federal, state, and city levels were in attendance at the ceremony on the New York side, where New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia and New Jersey Governor A. Harry Moore wielded picks to dig up the ceremonial first mound of dirt.

Personally I think it would have been better if the governors had done most of the work themselves. You know, give them something to do besides trade negotiations.

The first tube was formally dedicated on December 21, 1937. The opening ceremony was accompanied by a military parade on the New Jersey side, as well as the detonation of a series of aerial bombs launched from military ships.

'Muricans gonna 'Murica.

The first vehicles began passing through the tube at 4:00 AM the next day.

Look, I know the construction crews most likely drove vehicles through the tunnel before that, but still, imagine being the first family through a new tunnel bore. "Hey, look, Mildred. Is that... a crack? Leaking water?"

Due to the limited capacity of the new tube, heavy trucks were temporarily banned, and a minimum speed limit of 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) was imposed until a second tube could be completed.

The current minimum speed is 0 mph and the max is about 3. Hell, Google usually routes me to the GWB instead. At least that way I get a view of something besides 80-year-old tunnel walls.
December 21, 2020 at 12:00am
December 21, 2020 at 12:00am
#1000587
Today's entry title is shamelessly stolen from the Doctor Who special, "A Christmas Carol."

"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
21. Winter Solstice
Our shortest day and longest night...
We’re about to enter the season of winter: Quiet. Reflection. Incubation. Going Inward.
Write something inspired by that.


"JAFBG [XGC]
I had neighbors decorating for Christmas before Halloween this year. How do you feel about Christmas starting sooner each year?


Like I wasn't going to talk about the solstice today. The actual event takes place at 5:02 am   Eastern time (which is also WDC time) today, so I'm writing this pre-solstice.

But first: that prompt represents the last of the JAFBG December prompts for me. And I think I've made my feelings known full well about Christmas creep, that phenomenon where Santa Claus sticks his bulbous nose into earlier and earlier months every year.

Except... maybe it's just me, but in recent years, at least in the Before Time, it seems as if more people are getting on the anti-Christmas-creep bandwagon with me, as I have not seen many instances of holiday shit in October, September, August... but then, I didn't get out much even before it was inadvisable to do so, so perhaps I did miss something. My neighbors all waited until after Thanksgiving this year to decorate, and the decorations are pretty much tasteful -- except of course for the one lady who insists on dressing her car up like a goddamned reindeer every year.

But hey, like I said before, I don't begrudge anyone their celebration, especially this year when they need it more than ever. As long as I don't have to hear the endless loop of holiday music, I can deal with it.

One of these days, if I can get up the energy to do so, I want to decorate for Halloween on Christmas. See how they like it when the situation is reversed. But I doubt I could ever be arsed. It's all I can do to keep up with standard maintenance, let alone special decorations.

There's good reason for the lights, of course, even if I often find them to be annoying: the winter solstice represents the longest night. This is, as I'm sure you're aware, due to the real reason for the season: axial tilt.

The article in the link I provided above does a fair job explaining the technicalities of it all. But let me dispel a misconception: Yes, the Earth's orbit is elliptical, and our distance to the sun varies. No, this doesn't do anything noticeable to the seasons. In fact, perihelion -- that point in our orbit where we're closest to the sun -- occurs just a couple of weeks after the Northern Hemisphere winter solstice. No, it doesn't get cold because we're further from the sun; it gets cold because there's basically less sunlight above the equator due to axial tilt.

That's a very simplistic explanation, though; there's more involved, what with weather patterns and atmospheric and oceanic circulation. Seasons tend to lag the solstices and equinoxes; here, the shortest day (today) isn't the day with the lowest average temperatures; that generally occurs in late January. This is one reason why we say that winter begins on the solstice.

But it wasn't always measured in that way. Other cultures considered the solstices and equinoxes to be the middle of their respective seasons. By that reckoning, today is midwinter. I prefer to think of the seasons in that manner, because it means that winter ends earlier, and the sooner this crap season ends the happier I am.

However we define seasons, though, the astronomical milestones remain. We humans have been calculating those since at least the dawn of civilization, and perhaps earlier. Stonehenge is only the most famous of the ancient calendar calculators; there were many others, in disparate cultures.

Another common story we tell ourselves is that our ancestors were frightened that the sun, having descended into darkness, would never come back unless we appeased some gods or spirits or whatever. This story has never sat well with me. The rate of change of day/night hours is a thing they would have watched very carefully; it's fastest around the equinoxes and slowest near the solstices. As the sun's descent at meridian slowed, it would have been blindingly obvious (pun intended, as usual) that it wasn't just going to keep going and eventually disappear; hell, they knew the cycle repeated itself every year (it being the very definition of "year"). So, no, ancient cultures weren't trying to convince the sun to come back; they were celebrating its inevitable return.

They weren't any stupider than we are; they just had less knowledge as to why the seasons changed the way they do. Knowledge isn't the same thing as intelligence. Lack of knowledge isn't the same thing as stupidity.

Though, just like today, I'm sure they had their conspiracy theory advocates, and other people eager to take advantage of the ignorant masses. "If you don't do what I say, the sun will never return! Now give me half your grain and a few virgins so I can... um... appease the spirits, yeah, that's it."

Kind of the ancient version of anti-vaxxers or Qanon believers.

But I have to believe that truth -- that facts -- will eventually prevail. Else, what's the point of anything? Well, maybe there is no point, true, but we can make meaning. We're at a dark time now, what with... you know... everything. But there are glimmers of hope, the promise of a new day. Like the winter solstice, writ large upon the entire world. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

But as someone said on Star Trek: Discovery last week:

Even the darkest night will end. And the sun... will rise.

Look at me being all optimistic and shit. Don't worry, I'll soon be back to my usual grumpy self.
December 20, 2020 at 12:01am
December 20, 2020 at 12:01am
#1000530
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
20. Go Caroling Day
Have you ever gone caroling, or had a group of carolers show up at your door?
Write something about caroling.


"JAFBG [XGC]:
This is the most wonderful time of the year! Now, tell us why that's total bullshit.


Now there's an appropriate combination of prompts if there ever was one.

Look: it's not my intention to shit on someone else's festivities. I get depressed around this time of year, same as lots of people, and I'm not going to begrudge anyone the ability to do anything to try to pull themselves out of a funk, or celebrate whatever.

But listen: holiday music makes me all stabby. I know I've talked about this in previous entries. It doesn't fix my depression; the best it does is turn it outward, to anger. While I've never lashed out at anyone physically, and expect I never will, I do get vocally angry, my temper on edge, and I don't want to be around people when that happens because, like I said, I don't want to shit on anyone's day.

The kind of music that does cure my depression is depressing music. That kind of music makes me happy. But you don't see me blasting it in elevators and stores and waiting rooms and entire radio stations, convinced that all anyone has to do is listen to Leonard Cohen to make themselves feel better, because I know that while it works for me, it's not going to work for everyone.

If I'm not in a bad mood, and carolers are about, I can mostly ignore them. If I am in a bad mood, they just contribute to worsening it.

And that's one reason why this is not the most wonderful time of the year: it assumes that all anyone needs to feel joy is some blinky lights, catchy music, and consumer spending. Such things seem to work for most people. But it's like if I assumed that, for instance, thick incense smoke is all that anyone needs to cure what ails them and so I'd go around in a haze of sandalwood and patchouli. I'm sure some people would appreciate that, but I'd wager that others would consider it annoying. Well, all the bright sparkly glittery cheery shit everywhere is like that for me.

Worse, people have been programmed by years of "holiday stories" all the way back to Dickens that anyone who's not on the ho-ho-ho bandwagon is automatically a Bad Person by definition and needs to be dragged by a blinking string of lights attached to a cadre of reindeer into a forest of decorated fir trees. And I don't know; maybe I am a terrible person, but mostly I just want to be left alone until the cheer firehose gets turned off and we're back to the normal cold dreariness of winter (although don't get me stared on valentine's day either). I don't need to see sparkly lights or hear jingly bells, I don't need to be caroled at, and I certainly don't need to be subjected to peoples' inevitable family drama.

But for the sake of the people who do enjoy such things, I'm usually less vocal about it in life than I am in here.
December 19, 2020 at 12:01am
December 19, 2020 at 12:01am
#1000467
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
19. Oatmeal Muffin Day
Oatmeal is on the healthy side and good for lowering cholesterol.
I feel like I'm being tricked by putting it in an 'unfrosted cupcake'.


"JAFBG [XGC]:
List 21 things that would make 2021 better than 2020.


Okay, look, I got nothing against oatmeal, muffins, or oatmeal muffins. I don't love them. I don't hate them. Fact is, though, in order to make oatmeal palatable to me, I have to add a bunch of stuff that effectively negates a lot of the health benefits that oatmeal probably has.

A muffin is a bald cupcake.

You know what else lowers cholesterol? A big plate of bacon and a statin.

Anyway. No clever segué today. For anyone following along, I only have two more days of JAFBG prompts, after which I'll do something else. The end of that list coincides with the solstice, so it's a good time for a change.

Only 21 things? There's a large but finite number of "things" that could happen in a year, and it would be challenging to list the opposite: 21 things that would make 2021 worse than 2020. I'm tempted to do it, just because I'm a pessimist like that. Things like: meteor strike, another pandemic that this time turns people into zombies, nuclear holocaust, I personally catch the trump mumps... ummm... maybe that's about it.

A lot of this is, of course, predicated on the idea that things will gradually reopen. I expect they will, at some point. So, in no particular order, only 21 things that would make 2021 better than 2020... for me, which is after all the only thing that matters:

1. Booze.

2. I finally get to go to Europe.

3. Movies in theaters.

4. Restaurants.

5. Road trip!

6. An early spring

7. A new gaming laptop.

8. People stop being stupid (hey, I can dream).

9. No one I care about dies.

10. Visiting breweries and wineries.

11. Getting my deck replaced.

12. New season of Doctor Who.

13. If I manage to get on my arse and edit some stories.

14. Chocolate chip cookies.

15. My HVAC doesn't break down (it'll be paid off in February so I fully expect it to die the day after I make the last payment).

16. If telemarketers somehow lost my mobile number.

17. If I get to meet people in person again.

18. Being able to go to beer festivals.

19. Staying relatively healthy.

20. Not hearing about certain news items anymore.

21. If I don't spend most of the year dealing with a toothache.

All of this reflects more optimism than I'm usually comfortable with. Better to just assume things are going to be worse next year. What's a "year," anyway, but an arbitrarily-bounded orbit of the Earth around the sun? I prefer to begin my new year at a time that's more meaningful to me, like maybe my birthday, which is in February.

We'll see if I make it that long.
December 18, 2020 at 12:01am
December 18, 2020 at 12:01am
#1000412
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
18. Bake Cookies Day
As if we need a designated day for this, lol.
Write about your favorite cookie(s) or cookie baking experience.
Anything to do with cookies!


"JAFBG [XGC]:
You wrote a Christmas list but accidentally addressed it to Satan instead of Santa. What gifts will you be getting this year?


Nothing either way because both characters are mythological.

But hey, I'm sometimes a fiction writer, so I can play along.

I would like the following things for Christmas:

A pony
Santa: I end up with a plastic Twilight Sparkle.
Satan: There's an ebony-maned steed with flaming red eyes snorting in my backyard.

A bike
Santa: A three-speed mountain bicycle.
Satan: 2020 Harley-Davidson Roadster waiting in front of my house.

A new gaming computer
Santa: Refurbished Dell
Satan: Acer Predator with liquid nitrogen cooled processor

A time machine
Santa: A digital watch
Satan: The TARDIS

A robot servant
Santa: Roomba
Satan: Data the android from Star Trek

On the downside, well, Santa would bring me all of those admittedly very nice things in exchange for some fresh-baked cookies (see, I worked the cookies into the entry too). I don't think Satan's interested in any cookies I could bake. Well... maybe if I made them double chocolate fudge chip with chocolate syrup drizzled on them... but no, I think I'd have to pony (pun intended) up something just a little more valuable.

Could be worth it, though, just for the Acer.
December 17, 2020 at 12:02am
December 17, 2020 at 12:02am
#1000350
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
17. Maple Syrup Day
Did you know that this sweet and unique flavor originated in America?
Native American Indians were the first to harvest and boil the sap of the maple tree into a thick syrup.
Talk about, well, maple syrup, of course.


"JAFBG [XGC]:
You have a new power this holiday season! You get to put one idea in everyone's head simultaneously and all of them will agree with it as fact. What idea are you pushing?


The one idea I'd put in everyone's head simultaneously is that I'm infallible and everyone should always agree with everything I say as fact.

Cheating? Sure. It's like wishing for infinity more wishes. Makes a shitty story, but a good life.

Of course, then I'd have to be really, really careful not to abuse said power, say by banning all holiday music from public places, or telling everyone that Bud Light isn't actually beer (which, to be fair, it isn't), or banning vertical video under penalty of death, or by convincing everyone that fake maple syrup just isn't worth it.

Because while fake maple syrup objectively isn't worth it, it's a hell of a lot cheaper, and some people just can't afford the real thing, and I'd hate for me to be the cause of anyone going broke because they bought liquid gold.

I was at some friends' house one time. They had a pre-teen kid, and we were all sitting around the table eating pancakes that his mom made. The pancakes were delicious, but the "syrup" was the fake stuff. Naturally, I didn't say anything, because I'm the guest, and I really try not to be rude.

So the kid took the "syrup" bottle and squirted half of it onto his pancakes, like pouring milk over cereal. Had it been the real stuff, the parents would have had to take out a second mortgage to afford it. Then I took the bottle and just put a little circle of "syrup" on mine.

The mom turned to the kid and said, "See how Waltz uses just a little bit of syrup?"

The dad turned to me and said, "I'll bet that's the first time you were ever used as a model for self-restraint."

I laughed, because it's true.
December 16, 2020 at 12:15am
December 16, 2020 at 12:15am
#1000304
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
16. National Chocolate Covered Anything Day
Sounds like a great to 'pig-out' and enjoy!
Have you ever eaten anything 'unique' covered in chocolate?


"JAFBG [XGC]:
Congratulations! You get to kill one holiday song and never have to hear it again. Which will you choose?


One? Just ONE? Hardly worth it when there are so many that send me into paroxysms of grumpiness.

You know what my favorite thing to have covered with chocolate is?

Chocolate.

And I don't mean milk chocolate, or the abomination that is deceitfully called "white chocolate." There is absolutely no reason to sully the purity of chocolate with any other ingredients, except for a small bit of sweetener.

Which is not to say I don't sometimes enjoy chocolate-covered something. I'm fine with truffles, and it's okay to coat almonds with chocolate. Drizzle some on a dessert, fine. But to me, nothing beats the sublime goodness of pure, unadulterated dark chocolate.

Every year or so, someone will come up with a list of peoples' favorite commercial candy bars, and every damn time, Reese's makes it to the top of the list. As I noted in a previous entry, I utterly despise peanuts, although I'm okay with peanut butter. But to me, that crumbly, sugary, dried-out crap in the middle of a Reese's cup bears little resemblance to actual peanut butter. Okay, I can accept - have accepted - that my tastes are weird, as I've noted in a recent entry. But I simply cannot comprehend how popular Reese's cups are, with their fake, sugary "peanut butter" and waxy milk "chocolate."

I do have weaknesses, of course. Many of them. One of them is, or rather was, Oreos. I think I've mentioned this before, but it's been a while, so I'm going to relate this again:

Used to be I'd go to the grocery store and, in the course of perusing the aisles, the Oreos display would draw me like a moth to a flame. I'd get the standard Oreos, and go about my business, and then at home occasionally eat some of the Oreos.

Then Nabisco started doing different flavors of Oreos. The chocolate-filled ones were good, I thought. And then they came up with fudge brownie cream filled Oreos and OMG those were delicious.

Then they stopped making them. I suppose Nabisco thinks that if they keep coming up with new flavors, people will buy more Oreos. Not me. Once I tried the fudge brownie kind and then couldn't have them anymore, instead of occasionally buying Oreos, now I *never* buy the little fuckers.

Good for me. Bad for Nabisco. Doesn't seem to bother them much, though, as they continue to produce ever-weirder concoctions, the most egregious of which were -- not joking here -- Swedish Fish Oreos. Look, I have nothing against Swedish Fish, and I'm fine with original Oreos, but that combination just strikes me as being particularly heretical, like mixing Skittles with M&Ms.

Anyway, the point is, when it comes to chocolate, I'm happy to try different things; we have a chocolatier here in town that I can say with some certainty is one of the best in the world, and I've enjoyed nearly everything I've had from them. They are expensive, though, and my go-to gift for people who don't drink booze is a box of those chocolates. But of all of them, my favorite is still the pure chocolate ones, sans nuts, sans cream, sans goddamn cherries.

All of this is to point out that yeah, my tastes are obviously different from most peoples'. Another thing I shun with every fiber of my being is commercials, as I have also noted here before. I despise them with an all-consuming fiery passion. And yet... and yet... on Monday, I went to my optometrist. I had to Uber over there because they were going to dilate my pupils and I wouldn't be able to drive back, so in an abundance of caution, I ended up getting there half an hour early. Sitting in the empty waiting room (they've got anti-contagion protocols in place), I was subjected to a holiday music radio station.

I could feel my blood boiling, my lymph roiling, my brain recoiling. As with chocolate, I get that other people have different likes/dislikes than I do. That's fine, I get that, you do you, whatever. But that day, listening to one sappy, gooey holiday song after another, all I could get through my mind was: "Please go to commercial. Please go to commercial. Please go to-" And then finally they did. So yeah, it's official: as much as I hate commercials, I hate standard holiday music even more. Though I could argue that holiday music *is* a commercial.

And yet, in defiance of my wishes, it's still produced and broadcast. Like Swedish Fish Oreos. The only difference is, if SFOs are sitting out on a table somewhere, I can -- and will -- choose not to eat one. Or if there are M&Ms in a bowl and I can tell that they're the bloated, hated peanut kind rather than the inoffensive milk chocolate or delicious dark chocolate kind, again, I can simply pass them up. More for the people who like them, right? Not so with holiday music. It's out there and if I go out in December, November, and sometimes even cocksucking October, I'm subjected to it.

Obviously, a lot of people like it. Fine. And I'll admit that there are some holiday songs that I like. The Grinch theme comes to mind, as you might imagine. And I do appreciate good music, so if it's good music, I don't care if it's holiday or even religious themed; I will appreciate it. The problem is that most of the crap that gets drilled into our collective brains every season is the musical equivalent, to me, of white "chocolate" covered cherries and peanuts.

And I can't think of a bigger abomination than that, except -- maybe -- for Swedish Fish Oreos.

Clearly, I'm going to have to rearrange my schedule so that I get my medical crap taken care of in January, so that I can hermit every December. That way we all win: I don't have to be subjected to smarmy "White Christmas" bullshit, and you don't have to hear me bitch about it.
December 15, 2020 at 12:02am
December 15, 2020 at 12:02am
#1000256
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
15. Cat Herder's Day
Ya, good luck with that.


"JAFBG [XGC]:
Tell us about something/someone that fucked you off this week.


Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.
         -Robert A. Heinlein

Yes, Heinlein was a bit of a sexist. He grew up in an entirely different time.

Still, that's a quote that I took to heart -- not for the sexist overtones; I figured the truth is "people and cats will do as they please," and I try not to concern myself with making other people do things. Nor do I worry about herding cats. Feed the cats, pet them, play with them, make sure they're healthy, and they'll stick around and do very cute and silly things. If I wanted to exert control over something -- which I don't -- I'd get a dog. Which I won't.

It's really about accepting those things you can't change.

And you know what else I can't change?

SEGUÉ

Insurance company bullshit.

Okay, this wasn't this week but last week and it's only Monday so it counts.

Some background: Last year, I didn't have health insurance. It would have been entirely too expensive. At the end of the year, though, I looked into new options on the ACA website, and found a plan I could live with. It's still very expensive, and has a high deductible, but I have it in case something major happens, at which point I fully expect the insurance company to fight my claim tooth and nail. But then again, they might not, so if I go to the ER for a hangnail and they charge me $150,000 for a band-aid and some Neosporin, hopefully the insurance will cover most of that.

But what sucks about the insurance is the prescription foolery.

Like many people, I've been prescribed a statin for cholesterol control. The doctor gives me a 90-day prescription with refills enough to last almost a full year (90x4 = 360, which is 5 days less than most years). I go to the pharmacy to get it filled, and suddenly it's a 30-day prescription and I'm charged about $30 for it. Okay, that's not terrible; obviously it works out to a dollar a day. Fine. But now I have to walk into a pharmacy during a pandemic every month instead of every three months.

So I look into it further. It turns out that if I pretend I don't have insurance and just buy the 90-day prescription outright, it costs -- get this, now -- $33.

That's right. A 90-day supply of this crap without insurance costs 1/3 as much as three 30-day fills with insurance.

The only downside is that the price of the prescription doesn't apply to my yearly deductible, but look, if I ever have occasion to exceed the deductible, that extra ($30x12=) $360 isn't going to change shit.

Right now every American reading this is nodding knowingly, while every non-American is confused as shit. Don't worry. It confuses us too.

But what can you do? Arguing with insurance companies is like trying to herd cats.
December 14, 2020 at 12:17am
December 14, 2020 at 12:17am
#1000204
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
14. Roast Chestnuts Day
Every Christmas holiday we all sing about "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...."
But, have you ever roasted chestnuts!?


"JAFBG [XGC]:
It's reverse Christmas! You get to steal one thing from someone else and claim it as a gift for yourself. What are you taking?


Who's Chet and why are we roasting his- Oh. CheSTnuts. Clearly, I need glasses. Fortunately, I have an optometrist appointment today. Unfortunately, there is still a fucking pandemic going on.

Speaking of pandemics, 150 years ago, there were billions of chestnut trees in the US. Now there are, like... two? Anyway, here's what happened to them.  . I guess they weren't properly socially distanced.

In colonial America, chestnut was a preferred species for log cabins, especially the bottom rot-prone foundation logs. Later posts, poles, flooring, and railroad ties were all made from chestnut lumber.

I've stayed in cabins featuring the distinctive chestnut wood. It has survived all this time. The actual trees did not. I recall hearing that at one point, American chestnut trees made up as much as 1/3 of the forest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Don't quote me on that, though; I didn't go looking to verify it.

Despite its decimation as a lumber and nut-crop species...

That word does not mean what they think it means.

Anyway, not only have I never roasted chestnuts, I've never, as far as I can recall, even eaten the little bastards. I've simply never had the opportunity. Sounds like a lot of work. If someone else wants to roast them for me, though, I'd be willing to give it a shot. I also don't know why, other than the song (which I very much want to parody but can't be arsed right now), they're associated with the holiday season, but while I'm at it, what do you mean "we all sing...?"

And the only other line I remember from that song is "Jack Frost nipping at your nose," as if that were some sort of happy thing. No. The cold can go blow itself. All due respect to Nat King Cole (who didn't write it but was the first to perform it), that song sucks worse than most holiday songs.

...I don't have a clever segué into the other prompt today. Steal something to keep as a gift for myself? That sounds like that stupid gods-be-damned White Elephant gift exchange bullshit that I ranted about a few days back. But there's nothing I covet enough to steal, except for maybe a private jet, and even if I did steal that I'd never be able to keep up with the maintenance, insurance, operating costs, etc.

I suppose I could say "All the cash Bezos has in tax-evading offshore accounts." Then I could use that to buy the airplane and maintain it.

But no, I'd still feel bad. It's just not in me to steal, except, you know, writing ideas. "Good writers borrow, great writers steal." Hell, I once accidentally stole a pack of chewing gum from a supermarket. It had fallen between two large boxes that the cashier didn't move while scanning. I was putting my stuff in the car when I noticed this, and my first impulse was, "Go back to the store and pay for this." But then I was like, "It's. A. Pack. Of. Gum."

I'd make a horrible thief.
December 13, 2020 at 12:01am
December 13, 2020 at 12:01am
#1000143
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
13. National Ice Cream Day
What are your favorite flavors, weirdest flavor you've ever tried, or a flavor you would NEVER try!


"JAFBG [XGC]:
Do you think the holiday cheer is genuine or do you think most people are just acting fake around this time of year?


Well. I'm still choosing JAFBG prompts at random here. I was kinda hoping to land on this one to go with today's 30DBC prompt.

See, my favorite ice cream flavor is...

Vanilla.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "But Waltz, vanilla is the most boring flavor!" If you think that, then you haven't had real vanilla. Only fake vanilla.

See why it's appropriate now?

Look, I'll be the first to admit that I have a weird palette. I can't stand coffee, for example -- though if it's combined with other stuff, like when they put it in beer, especially a stout or a porter, sometimes it works for me. And my taste buds are surely affected by the cigars I smoke - which, also, are a result of having a weird palette; unlike many people, I truly enjoy the taste of tobacco.

I've spent years working on identifying flavor overtones in beverages such as wine, beer, whiskey and tequila. I don't always succeed. When it comes to beer, though, I'm also an outlier: I don't appreciate the same kinds of beer as the majority of other beer snobs. One really popular style, for example, is IPA -- and after having conducted a number of beer tastings, I can identify the thing that puts me off in IPAs: the presence of Cascade hops.

Cascade hops tend to impart an astringent citrus flavor to the beer they inhabit. To me, they taste like grapefruit. And I dislike grapefruit. Oh, I've eaten it, even drank grapefruit juice on purpose, but it's never been something I sought out. That is, until I started taking a statin, at which point, for the first time in my life, I craved grapefruit juice, simply because it was forbidden to me.

Well, that was a few years ago, and I'm over it now. So if you give me a beer with Cascade hops, well, I'll still drink it -- it is, after all, beer, and since you're giving it to me, it's free beer, which is the best kind of beer. Though, to quote Marvin from Hitchhiker's: "I won't enjoy it."

But it's been a trend in beer for many years, and apparently Cascade is one of the cheapest varieties of hops, so a lot of brewers use it. I'm not one to follow trends blindly, though. There are things I like, things I don't, and things (like tomatoes) that I can take or leave, and none of that is dependent on what other people like. In other words, I don't care to fake it for the sake of conformity. There are, as an aside, a few IPAs that use other kinds of hops, and those I don't mind so much.

And thus it is that I proclaim: I like vanilla ice cream. Not that I eat a lot of ice cream these days, but that's all the more reason not to eat the stuff I like less. I'm also a fan of chocolate ice cream, which is far more widely enjoyed, I think -- but the best chocolate has vanilla overtones as well.

At the same time, I can't say I've ever had a flavor of ice cream that I didn't like, to some extent, which is actually more than I can say for beer. Still, I don't think I'd like coffee ice cream. I would totally try it, though, because how do I know if I don't try?

But again, there's real vanilla, which is delicious, and there's the synthetic crap that is probably what gives vanilla its bad reputation. Either way... it is not "plain". Not by a long shot. Real vanilla has a subtle, ephemeral flavor that fills the mouth and coats the tongue, while the fake stuff tastes, to me anyway, like medicine.

Still, I can't say whether other people are pretending to like these things that I don't like, or if they actually enjoy them. I've had some coffee drinkers swear that it's like ambrosia to them, while others have mentioned that they don't really like the taste; they just drink it because it's convenient, ubiquitous, and caffeinated. I can respect that, too; it's just that I use tea and Crack Zero for my wakey-wakey juice.

Which is another thing. To me Crack Zero tastes just like Crack, only a bit less cloying. Other people have had the stuff and despise it.

Incidentally, if there is a worse commercial soft drink out there than Vanilla Crack Zero, I have never encountered it. That stuff is absolutely horrible. I'd say it tastes like ass, only that would be an insult to ass.

I think they use fake vanilla.

Point is, I'm honest with myself and others about my tastes, and I don't do things just because they're faddish - though I've participated in fads that suit me; I don't usually shun something just because it's popular. Which is why I can't really comment on the "holiday cheer" prompt. I'm sure there's a lot of fakery out there, but even if so, I get the feeling that it's a "fake it til you make it" kind of fakery, like the idea that if you engage all the muscles in your face to force a smile, the effort alone can be enough to make you happy.

And if you need that to keep going through the dreary pre-solstice period? Please, go right ahead. Just don't call me Scrooge or Grinch for not following along.

Or do. Whatever. I always have to stop the original Grinch animation before the point where his heart grows. What even is that, anyway? That happened to me once and I ended up in the hospital for it.

There's a certain kind of honesty in fakery, anyway. I know a lot of people complain about other people being "fake," but to me, they're making an effort, and that takes some level of commitment. Like, if you're naturally grumpy but you act all cheery just to get along with people? I'm okay with that. Outright dishonesty can piss me off, but if you're trying to get along, well, that means that you care enough to try.

I'll end with a short anecdote. On one of my cross-country trips in the Before Time, I ended up in Aurora, Colorado. Colorado in general is well-known for its diverse beer ecology; there are many excellent breweries there, though I have no idea how many of them have survived this fucking year. Anyway, this one brewery I hit right around sunset, and there weren't a lot of people around, so I got to talking to the bartender, as is my habit. He quickly pegged me as a beer guy and gave me a bit of their secret stash, which on that day was a stout made with vanilla, chocolate, and cinnamon.

I took one sip of that, and my eyes went wide in appreciation. I turned to the bartender and said, "This needs ice cream."

Any flavor would have worked. But alas -- I had to drink the stuff on its own.
December 12, 2020 at 12:01am
December 12, 2020 at 12:01am
#1000093
"30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]:
12. Pointsettia Day
According to Mexican folklore, there is a story of a little poor girl who had nothing to bring to church for Christmas. On her way to church, she picked some plants by the side of the road. As she entered the church, the leaves at the tips of the branches turned into bright, brilliant red flowers. You guessed it... Poinsettias.
Write anything you like about Poinsettias
.

"JAFBG [XGC]:
They say blood is thicker than water. How does your family prove this saying wrong?


I think one of the most interesting subgenres of mythology is what Kipling popularized with the "Just So Story," making shit up about how things got to be the way they are. Apparently the technical term is "etiological myth," which I found on Wikipedia. Etiology itself is the study of origins, and one can approach it mythologically or scientifically.

My favorite etiological myth is from the Lenape and involves the turkey vulture (big surprise there) and several other animals. This is the version I could find.  

Now look, I'll be the first to admit that I rarely click on links others provide; I just can't be arsed. So maybe I'm being hypocritical to expect you to click on the above link. But I'm asking you to do it, anyway, because I don't want to just copy all the text into here and make this post even longer and more difficult to get through. It is one reason I consider the turkey vulture to be the closest thing I have to a spirit animal.

It is, of course, fiction, a made-up story. Such folklore says nothing at all about how things got to be the way they are in reality, but it speaks absolute volumes about how we humans look at the world -- first by coming up with such legends, and second by how they are passed down.

Science, of course, approaches etiology in a more systematic way. The scientific explanation for the vulture's featherless head has to do with its adaptation to its niche in the ecosystem, not the vulture's ancient self-sacrifice for the good of all. Both stories are fascinating, each to its own purpose. The important thing is to be able to separate reality from fantasy.

Like with the poinsettia. Admittedly, I didn't look very hard for the evolutionary explanation for the red bits -- probably something to do with warding off predators, or maybe attracting certain pollinators; those are the usual "reasons" for any plant coloration that isn't green. But the reason I quit looking is because I found another, more modern myth about the poinsettia.

Honestly, I never paid those plants much attention. To me it was a Christmas thing and Christmas things ward me off like garlic does vampires. But one thing that I heard repeated, over and over: "Watch out for poinsettias if you have children or pets. They're highly poisonous!"

This turns out not to be the case.  

Yes, I just included yet another link for you to click on. Summary: Poinsettias aren't edible, but they also aren't toxic.

And yet, this is the first I've heard of that, because the myth is so persistent. Unlike the myth about the little girl going to church, though, people don't know it's a myth, and they repeat it as pure truth. Which, again, it is not. Now, is it a harmful falsehood? Probably not; it's usually better to assume that something is dangerous than to assume it's perfectly safe. And yet it is a lie, a falsehood, a thing with little to no basis in fact.

So it is (SEGUÉ) with "Blood is thicker than water."  

A proverb isn't a plant. It has no existence or reality beyond people repeating it; while poinsettias would still be there if humans were to suddenly disappear with all of their records, that phrase would vanish as if it never was. So it's even more a reflection of human ideas than creation myths are.

I've heard it said that the "original" expression was "the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb," but as with poinsettias' toxicity, that appears not to be the case. No, as far as I can tell, the original meaning was indeed that genetic family ties are stronger than others.

But that's the kind of thing that's only true if you think it's true. And that can be a dangerous fiction. For instance, presumably if you get married, it's to someone who isn't too close a relation, right? Like, I know we're all related to some extent, but at least you don't go with a sibling or first cousin or whatever. So you take an oath, a vow, to support each other. But if you believe in the "blood is thicker than water" myth, then your responsibility to your sibling or parents would supersede responsibility to spouse.

Maybe you do feel that way; I can't say that it's wrong, exactly. But to me, an oath that you enter into willingly is far more binding than one that is a mere accident of relation. Like when my parents adopted me. No close genetic relation there, but they fulfilled all the necessary responsibilities and then some (me, not so much, probably, but then, it wasn't an oath *I* took). Blood? Water? That's all metaphor anyway. What matters is commitment.

And on the other side, if your family is toxic, I don't feel like you should continue to put up with them because of some mythology about "blood" bonds.

Like I said, it's important to discern reality from fantasy, and while that's easier in some cases than others, one shouldn't believe every little saying that comes down the road. Poinsettias aren't poisonous. Family sometimes is.

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