what we can do

During a conversation I had with my Mom in which we lamented the epidemic of shootings in schools, theaters, and other public places, she eventually sighed and said what everyone usually says, something to the effect of “there’s nothing we can do.”

“But there is something we can do,” I said.

“What?” she asked.

“Ban guns,” I said.

She blinked. Apparently she hadn’t realized I was a radical leftie.

“What? All guns?”

“Not at first, no,” I said. “At a minimum, I would start with banning all semiautomatic guns with removable magazines. But eventually, yes, all guns.”

“Well, that’ll never happen,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because there would be riots in the streets.”

“I don’t believe that,” I replied. “Every day there’s a new law being passed in one state or another banning abortion, banning books, banning sexual identity. The overwhelming majority of people hate these laws, and yet there aren’t any riots. Meanwhile, kids are being murdered every day and law makers aren’t doing anything about it, something which absolutely should result in massive protests, and yet still nothing.”

“Well the people who have guns will riot.”

“No, I don’t believe they will. People didn’t riot in other countries where guns were banned. Assault rifles were banned in the United States for years but nobody rioted. I think the argument that banning guns will start riots, or an uprising, or a revolution, is propaganda spread by politicians to make you believe banning guns is impossible.”

“What would you do about the second amendment?” she asked.

“Repeal it!” I answered. “Laws can be changed. They’re changed all the time. We’ve repealed amendments before. It’s just an amendment, it’s not holy writ.”

“What about hunters?”

“What about them? If the trade-off for allowing people have guns is letting kids get killed, I say that’s too high a cost. If your hobby is hunting, then find another hobby. If you hunt to feed your family, then learn to set snares or get a bow and arrows. Native Americans survived without guns for generations. Nobody needs guns to hunt.”

“You’d have to be a king to do any of this. You’d never get elected.”

“I don’t believe that’s true, either. Politics is propaganda. Ever time there’s a shooting, politicians flood the airwaves with propaganda: ‘There’s nothing we can do. No law will keep guns out of the hands of criminals.’ If that’s true then why do they pass laws banning anything? The only thing preventing the election of anyone with a platform that includes banning guns is having the ability to spread anti-gun propaganda. If the people who want to ban guns had the ability to flood the media with their propaganda that politicians have, guns would be banned.”

This is a condensed version of our conversation so I could edit out all the cuss words and sputtering I did as I made my case. In the process I made it sound like a lecture, which I hope it wasn’t because I hope I didn’t lecture my Mom, but it mystifies me that honest, sincere, smart people — my Mom, for instance — believe that gun control laws are impossible to enact in this country because Americans will riot in the streets. First of all, no they won’t. Second of all, if they did then how would that look? Hundreds of thousands of armed civilians roaming the streets, shooting their AR-15s at unarmed people? (I’m assuming they wouldn’t shoot at armed people because they’re, y’know, on the same side.) Do they suppose that every governor wouldn’t call out the National Guard to put down that kind of riot? And finally, how’s it better to let them hold the rest of us hostage under threat of getting shot at the mall, movie theater, bank, or school? Spoiler alert: It’s not. It sucks.

Gun control now.

tired, poor

I was today years old when I learned (or, probably, re-learned) that the statue of liberty was conceived and built as a monument to the end of slavery. I may have learned that before, but if I did it was an idea that was drummed out of my head by hearing for years and years that it was a symbol of immigration and refuge and the Great Melting Pot. It’s an icon of abolition, and yet somehow I unlearned that. Wow. Mind Blown.


All on January 22nd, 2023:
Monterey, CA: 1 man killed 10 people & wounded 10 more
Baton Rouge, LA: 1 man wounded 12 people
Shreveport, LA: 1 man wounded 5 adults and 8 children; 2 are in critical condition.

egg noodles

My Darling B sent me out to get egg noodles. I don’t know what egg noodles are.

“They’re wide and flat and curly,” she explained.

“They’re flat and curly?”

“Yes. They’re flat. But they’re curly.”

I couldn’t even imagine what that looked like.

“How wide are they? An inch wide? Three-quarters of an inch?”

“They’re about that wide,” she answered, holding her fingers about a half-inch apart.

“Okay. And how long are they? An inch long? Six inches?”

“They’re about as long as spaghetti noodles, but you can’t see them.”

“I can’t see them?”

“They’re in a bag.”

“They’re in a bag I can’t see through?”

“Well, you can, but you can’t.”

A bag that’s transparent but it’s not, something else I couldn’t imagine.

Eventually I had to fall back on this: “When I leave, I’m going straight to the store and I’m going to send some photos of noodles to your phone, so watch your phone for incoming texts with photos from me.”

And that’s how I bought egg noodles. I found three or four bags of flat noodles that were curly in different ways, snapped photos of them, and sent the photos to B, who responded with a message telling me which one to buy. Thank goodness for modern technology.


I had to stop at Kwik-Trip this morning to gas up the car. The sign out front said they were selling a loaf of bread for seventy-nine cents, which I’m pretty sure is about what my mom paid for bread back in the late 70s. The cost of baking bread hasn’t gone down in fifty years so I’ve got to wonder: what’s a seventy-nine cent loaf of bread made of these days?


One of the things I do for my day job (I don’t know why I call it that; I don’t do anything else for pay) is a routine audit of the daily reports of customers who have logged in to the Wisconsin DOT web site to order ID cards or driver’s licenses. I’m looking for “red flags” which might indicate that an impostor might have logged in using a victim’s personal information. Thousands of IDs and DLs are ordered every day, so reviewing them is a very laborious process.

To make it a bit easier on myself, I use a spread sheet to automate the process as much as possible. I know a few tricks, just filters and searches, really elementary stuff, which helps, but lately I’ve been reviewing a year’s worth of reports at a time to see if I can spot trends. My simple tricks don’t work well on a spread sheet with 250,000 lines because my laptop bogs down whenever I ask it to crunch that much data.

Last weekend I told my son Tim about the problems I was having because I knew he was very good at writing macros in MS Excel and I hoped he would be able to give me a few tips that were simple enough for even me to understand so I could attack this problem. “Let me think about it,” he said, went home, did a little research, called me to talk it over again so he was sure he understood what I wanted to do, and then a day or two later I got an email message from him with an Excel spread sheet attached. I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. When it comes to Excel, I know just enough to be a danger to myself.

I didn’t want to break it, so I just held on to it until he came over for supper yesterday. He showed me all the bells and whistles and even fine-tuned it a bit so it did just what I wanted it to do. And it did it very, very quickly. I knew our kid was smart but wow. It was like he revealed his superpower to me.

rite of passage

Adam Savage has been posting videos of his visits to the Smithsonian where he meets with conservator Lisa Young, who specializes in preserving historic objects connected to the U.S. space program. In this video she’s telling Adam how teams of women spent weeks and weeks building up the heat shield on the Apollo crew capsule by hand, squeezing an insulating paste into 370,000 individual honeycomb cells that made up the protective covering. Judging from the shocked expression on Adam’s face, this is the first time he’s heard this story, which wouldn’t be unusual. Photos and films of the space program have for years exclusively shown white-shirted men looking very important as they design and build space ships and launch facilities apparently without any help at all from women, when in fact thousands and thousands of women labored terrifically to send (exclusively) men to the moon. It’s only recently that stories of the space program have highlighted how women sewed the space suits, women strung the miles of copper wire that made the flight computers, women wrote the millions of lines of computer code that enabled Armstrong and Aldrin and all the rest to land on the moon. It’s virtually a rite of passage for space nerds to learn this now. Brava to Lisa Young for bringing this to Adam’s attention.


This is a terrific video, not because Adam Savage nerds out over the Mercury capsule behind him but because astronaut Cady Coleman talks about how it felt to go to space in a very small space ship and what it meant to her. She’s really great at communicating that feeling.


My Darling B’s Twitter account was hacked! She sat down on Tuesday afternoon to see what manner of madness befell the world and discovered that someone had logged into her account and posted a few hundred tweets extolling the greatness of a particular brand of cryptocurrency. After several failed attempts to log in, she finally correctly recalled her password and deactivated her account. Then she changed her password (it still mystifies me why the identity thief failed to do so), logged in again, and began deleting the offending tweets. There were so many that she finished deleting them only this very night. It’s the first time I’ve known anyone personally who had fallen victim to a hacker.

galactic stupidity

Yesterday was the 98th anniversary of the discovery of galaxies, which has always seemed to me to be an odd way of putting it. For years, astronomer Edwin Hubble had been looking at nebulas which he believed were inside our galaxy, because he thought everything was in our galaxy. All astronomers believed that everything they were looking at was in our galaxy. That was the accepted wisdom of their time.

But 98 years ago Hubble figured out that some of the nebulas he was looking at were too far away to be inside our galaxy. That’s when he had his smack-my-head moment and “discovered” other galaxies. What Hubble actually discovered was that, up until that point, astronomers had been stupid.