Absurdities on Christmas Eve

The local county emergency services administrator has issued a ridiculous and overweening Declaration of Emergency, one forbidding travel on public highways and giving himself the power to issue mandatory evacuations. 

The declaration is a classic government response, being too late and too much. It came out at 3:30 this afternoon, but the cold nights were last night and the night before. This afternoon was sunny and pleasant enough for twenty-something weather. Tonight it will be chilly -- teens -- but nothing like the below-zero weather with -20 wind chills we've been having. Tomorrow will be a pretty normal December day, weather-wise. 

My favorite part is the order that all emergency services personnel should assist in carrying out this decree. In Canada? There's no way I am going to attempt to 'assist' in making one of the Old Men of the Mountains leave his nice, fire-warmed home on Christmas Eve. He's lived there for seventy years, and has seen cold weather and no power before. Some of the old ones lived up here before there was power. They're safe and warm in their homes, safer and likely warmer than they'd be in any shelter the county cared to throw up anyway. Their kin watch over them, but my experience is that they ask for nothing because they need nothing. There probably aren't enough deputies in the county to move three of them, let alone all the ones in the district.

Here's an equally ridiculous Christmas song in the spirit of the thing.

A Blast from Christmas Past


As usual, Right Click|Open in Separate Tab to get a larger image.

Merry Christmas, all.

Eric Hines

Flapping-ear hats

This is the first year I've seen caps with ears that flap. I found them irresistible. This is one on my nextdoor neighbor's visiting granddaughter:

Christmas Eve Bee Stings


A Less-Cowboy Version

How about this one? I was sure we’d have chimney fires, and we may yet, but none happened today. Since we didn’t have any fires to fight, and also no power, I drug Dad’s old generator outside into the -20 windchill and got it working. It hadn’t been started in a year so it had multiple problems, but it’s running fine now. Fortunately we don’t need it because the power company got our lights back on before dark. 

This is a less elaborate version of a major element of Christmas dinner that I ended up making today instead. That was because of the need to adapt to no power earlier today. I’ll have to figure out something else for Christmas. 

God sent the storm. I don’t imagine he’ll mind my altering my plans so they better fit with his own. 

Cowboy Cooking

Since the power is out, I made cowboy coffee this morning. I had meant to put the ham in the refrigerator this morning, but that should stay closed, so we decided to reshuffle the menu a bit and eat it now. The propane range will light with no power, but I wanted to bake some sort of bread. The oven is electric. 

My wife proposed that I just use my big campfire Dutch oven and the fire in the furnace. 

Evaporated milk biscuits, rather than the famous powder milk ones. 

Cast iron in the fire. 

Biscuits and fried ham. 

A Gap in the Electrification Theory

Last night the rain came in heavy for the last hours before the Arctic blast dropped temperatures thirty degrees and far below freezing. Naturally that meant ice in the trees, which meant lots of treefalls onto power lines. This morning power is out across five counties for thousands of households. 

By coincidence, an increasing number of households use heat pumps to keep their homes warm. This is an excellent technology under the right circumstances. It is perfectly useless right now, exactly when needed the most. 

My home is mostly heated by firewood. It works just as well without the power, although the lack of fans to move the warm air about limits the efficiency somewhat. Still, a fire in the furnace means warm floors and unfrozen water pipes even in deep cold. 

Christmas Bee Stings

Easy ornament

I sliced some lemons and left them in the dehydrator overnight. They came out great! Here’s one hanging from my neighbor’s tree. They’d probably do fine in an oven on low heat overnight, too.

Stocking Stuffers

In a true Dad move -- I mean my Dad especially -- I just stuffed my wife’s and son’s stockings with tire puncture repair kits, tire pressure gauges, and battery terminal cleaning tools.


John Cleese has published a short book about creativity. In a recent interview he cracked me up, as usual, with a throwaway line:
I've never been addictive, except the very small things like food. And the awful thing about getting older is food tastes better. It's just wonderful. I eat nothing else now.
Defining "humor" has been a durable cottage industry, but the best stabs at it center on the upending of expectations. Cleese, who understandably conflates creativity with his own genius for humor, argues that creativity is about jumping out of ruts, exploring something new that might work better. The novelty can't appear for its own sake; it has to add something unexpectedly valuable.

I tend to be somewhat fearful and controlled. My creative impulses take flight in solitude, with puzzles or crafts, fields where my impulse to limit risk doesn't intrude much. In both puzzles and crafts, the pleasure springs from solutions that bubble up from the unconscious. Naturally the process always depends on organized analysis--I say "naturally" because I clearly most enjoy challenges in which orderly, concentrated thought confer an advantage--but the pleasure depends on a healthy dose of right-brain wandering, the aha! moment of delight springing up from some deep well. The special delight of word puzzles (I'm addicted to the daily crossword, Wordle, and Spelling Bee) is not only the conscious strategies that can be learned and perfected, but the involuntary mental gymnastics that operate out of sight and pop solutions into the conscious mind as if by sorcery. Much of solving a crossword puzzle involves taking the mind out of gear and letting the unconscious process hum along. Successful "Jeopardy!" contestants have reported something similar in the past, though recently they all seem to concentrate on buzzer technique and gambling strategy.

Cleese reports that creative people put off decisions until the last possible moment, a trait that drives me mad in other people. For my own part, if I'm willing to make a decision at all, I prefer to make it rapidly so I can move onto the next one. Much domestic strife stems from my impatience with my fence-sitting husband, who has a fantastic aversion to making choices in areas where I can't see why anything important is riding on the outcome. As long as the choice does get made at some point, however, there seems to be no particular problem in deferring it until it really is required. Does that signal creativity? I don't know, but it's worth a try.

Certainly the mental processes that always have given me the most joy derive their power from the ability to jump out of a rut. Early in childhood I absorbed my father's childlike delight in both jokes and puzzles that operated on this principle. Satisfying dramas, for instance, put a character under stress and watch him squirt in an expected direction. Whether the field is drama, visual art, science, technology, or humor, the reaction we want is "Oh! yes!" The reaction we don't want is "But where's the fun in that?"


Yuletide is upon us with the arrival of the Solstice. Preparations for the nearby Christmastide are well underway. 

Sensitivity / Care Ethics III: Rhetoric and Politics

 It is possible, I said, to make a distinction between moral philosophy and rhetoric, which is to say a distinction between the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of politics. Rhetoric is the methodology of politics, at least the happier side of politics. Von Clausewitz was right that war is politics 'by other means,' but rhetoric can be more persuasive than an army with guns. This has been true since at least Aristotle's time.

Of old, the demagogue was also a general, and then democracies changed into tyrannies. Most of the ancient tyrants were originally demagogues. They are not so now, but they were then; and the reason is that they were generals and not orators, for oratory had not yet come into fashion. Whereas in our day, when the art of rhetoric has made such progress, the orators lead the people, but their ignorance of military matters prevents them from usurping power; at any rate instances to the contrary are few and slight. 

What that means is that superior generals were unable to use their skill at war to overthrow a popular leader, and the popular leader was incapable of managing a competent military action. 

This is probably true today. Should the US military decide to overthrow the government by coup the populace would reject it, and they would do so because of the many fine words that they were raised with about the value of democracy. The military would be faced by titanic protests in the street, and even if they responded with force they would only see the population shift to other means of resistance. That is true, I think, even though our great orators are all dead, and our current leaders mouthing slogans that they do not really believe. 

Nor can these people successfully host a coup, being ignorant; their clear attempt to convey their preferred outcome in 2020 has led only to a hapless "January 6th Panel" dragging on forever, while effective systems of response are being derived to prevent such 'fortification of democracy' from occurring again. There was a moment when Washington D.C. looked like an armed encampment, with soldiers and walls drawn up about the Capitol, but they eventually did not understand how to cement their revolution. They just kept tottering on the road they thought they knew.

So, rhetoric is much more powerful than people sometimes believe; and if it often empowers incompetent but persuasive people, at least they are less able to cause harm than a talented general might be.

Thus it is reasonable to look at rhetoric as a way of responding to advocates of Care/Sensitivity Ethics, even if the ethics themselves do not merit great consideration.

Sensitivity/Care Ethics II: Moral Philosophy

In the comments to last week's post, Tom raises a concern that the discussion did not point to a way forward. I thought it had; my sense was that we already have several ethical systems that insist on the supremacy of morality, all of which include some way of handling the issue of caring or sensitivity. I think the logic of reducing a moral concern like 'speak the truth' to a level playing field with social concerns about expressing feelings of care is sufficiently deadly that no further consideration should be given to the proposition that Care Ethics be taken to be a serous alternative to existing moral philosophies.

Tom says that he thinks that you have to find a way to give them something in order to be persuasive. It is possible to distinguish between the work of moral philosophy (on the one hand) and rhetoric (on the other). Moral philosophy can dispose of views that prove to be incoherent or unworkable, at least a philosopher can do so. Utilitarianism, one of the three major schools of moral philosophy in the West, somehow continues to have a certain number of proponents who keep trying to find ways to make it work even though it is expressly incoherent (i.e., it requires you to judge actions by their results, which in fact you can't know at the time you have to take the actions). I don't feel the need to take it seriously or consider that it might prove to be workable if you kept fiddling with it, but I do like J.S. Mill all the same.

This one is also incoherent: its stated goal is to increase social harmony and general caring/empathy, but by dethroning the practical reason that we all share in common they remove the only standard of judgment that is the same for everyone. By shifting these conflicts to the irrational areas of feeling, conflict is assured because feelings differ (and often strongly): the social harmony they take as their goal dissolves into the kinds of endless disputes we were talking about last time; the appeal to empathy for 'others' leads to people saying the worst sort of offensive things to the person they are actually talking with right now.