The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Deligitimization

Happy new year! Or, as many of my friends have posted on social media, happy January, only 20 days until the new year!

Of course what they mean has to do with this:

President Donald Trump spent his first days in office pushing false claims about the size of his inauguration crowd.

He has spent the final weeks of his term blitzing the American people with falsehoods and far-fetched conspiracies as part of a failed attempt to overturn the election he lost — cementing his legacy as what fact checkers and presidential historians say is the most mendacious White House occupant ever.

“I have never seen a president in American history who has lied so continuously and so outrageously as Donald Trump, period,” presidential historian Michael Beschloss said in an interview. “Dwight Eisenhower used to say one of the most important tools a president of the United States has is that people believe what he says.”

“After two centuries, it is impressive that Americans still are inclined to believe what a president tells them, especially at a moment of crisis,” Beschloss said. “When a president breaks that bond of trust with the American people, it makes it harder for future presidents to have the kind of moral authority that enables them to protect us.”

NBC News has fact-checked Trump for more than four years. Based on thousands of hours of reporting and hundreds of reported fact checks, four issues stand above the rest as the falsehoods that define the Trump presidency.

Republican speech writer Michael Gerson also has some choice things to say about the latest mendacity, but more in criticism of US Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), who intends to challenge the Electoral College certification on Wednesday. Sauce for the gander, I say.

Meanwhile, here in Chicago, the New Year has begun with what we call "wintry mix" and everyone else calls "why would you want to live someplace where this happens." But like Punxatawney Phil, if a Chicagoan doesn't see his shadow on January 1st, that means we'll have a mild winter.

Statistics: 2020

What a bizarre year. Just looking at last year's numbers, it almost doesn't make sense to compare, but what the hell:

  • Last year I flew the fewest air-miles in 20 years; this year, I flew the fewest since the first time I got on a commercial airplane, which was during the Nixon Administration. In January I flew to Raleigh-Durham and back, and didn't even go to the airport for the rest of the year. That's 1,292 air miles, fewer than the very first flight I took (Chicago to Los Angeles, 1,745 air miles). I did, however, make an overnight trip to Wisconsin in November, easily breaking the record for my longest travel drought but making it shorter than never. 
  • This is my 609th post on the Daily Parker in 2020—an average of more than 50 per month. This new record blows away the one I set just last year by 10.5%. (Imagine how much I'd have written had anything newsworthy actually happened in 2020.)
  • The pandemic let me spend Parker's last eight months with him nearly every day. Despite his age and discomfort, we managed to go for almost 241 hours of walks (274 annualized), a whopping 29% (46% annualized) more than in 2019.
  • Including today, I got 4,848,171 steps, averaging 13,246 per day. This is 5.7% fewer than last year. I missed 10,000 steps on seven occasions—five this month. Without a daily commute or a dog, not to mention the cold weather, I have struggled since Thanksgiving to get motivated enough to get longer walks in. That said, I hit a new record of 312 consecutive days over 10,000 steps, a record I don't anticipate ever breaking. I also got 56,562 steps on September 4th—another record I don't expect to break soon.
  • I once again read more than the year before, with 39 books started and 37 completed. (I'm still working on The Power Broker, which I started 18 months ago...) On the other hand, I watched 59 movies and 79 TV series, compared with 56 and 38 respectively in 2019. Of course, almost all of that was streaming on my home computer while programming on my work computer, but it's a lot.

I can't even predict what will happen in 2021. I expect fewer steps, more books, and actually to start traveling again. Here's hoping for a speedy vaccination.

7,500

Just a housekeeping note: this is my 7,500th post since re-launching braverman.org as a pure blog in November 2005. On average, I've posted 41.2 times per month, though this year that has gone up somewhat:

For whatever reason, the average (so far) in 2020 is 50.5 times per month. I'll know the exact stats and have more to say about this on Friday.

Two weeks left in 2020

We're in the home stretch. We have 14 days until 2021 starts, and 32 days until the Biden Administration takes office. As Andrew Sullivan said in his column today, 2021 is going to be epic. Meanwhile:

And watch this blog for information about the Apollo Chorus of Chicago's final performance of 2020.

The cruelty is the point

Josh Marshall outlines how the STBXPOTUS and his friends in the Senate have structured vaccination funding to give President Joe Biden a black eye within two weeks of taking office:

Here are some basic outlines of what’s happening. As we learned last week the Trump White House skimped on actually buying enough doses of vaccine from Pfizer. But the federal government will cover the actual purchase of vaccines. The White House says the military is in charge of and has a plan to actual get the supplies to the states. And though we don’t know all the details let’s assume they have that covered. But that only appears to be getting the crates of supplies to a central staging point in each state. That’s not a negligible job. But it’s only a relatively small part of actually getting the country vaccinated. You need public health campaigns. You need staging areas and distribution from wherever the military drops it off to actual health centers and vaccination centers around each state. And finally you need a small army of medical professionals to actually administer the doses. It’s a big job and the Trump administration hasn’t funded any of that or devised any national plan.

What the White House has arranged funding for is a critical but relatively small part of the vaccination effort: vaccinations for people in assisted living facilities and health care workers. Those are the two most critical populations. They should go first, and the plan is to get those people vaccinated in December and January. But that leaves the great bulk of the population unvaccinated. The plan is for that phase to end around Feb 1. Meanwhile CARES Act funding, which states can use for various purposes, has to be spent by Dec. 31.

So as you can see, today’s excitement and anticipation over the vaccine is cued up to turn sharply to disappointment in February when people start asking where their shots are and blame the train wreck on President Biden. No plan. And no funding to implement a plan. Of course that is potentially catastrophic in human terms. But a lag in vaccination means not only more suffering and death but more delay in allowing the economy to get back on its feet, since people aren’t going to go to restaurants and participate in public life until case numbers drop dramatically.

Also, I recently accepted a Facebook friend request from a friend of a friend from business school. He (a Republican) and I used to have long, interesting arguments over beers about policy. This new person's feed hasn't got a lot of policy in it. Rather, it's a window through which I can see some of the most eye-roll-worthy right-wing memes going around right now. It's educational.

Floating holiday: achievement unlocked

My company gives us the usual American holidays off, and adds two "floating holidays" you can take whenever you want. I took my first one in January and just remembered last week that I hadn't taken the second one. So I took it today. Which gave me some time to read a bunch of things:

Finally, the list I posted Wednesday needs an update. In October 1918, influenza killed 195,000 Americans, or an average of 6,290 per day. So clearly most of that month set records well above the records we set this week.

Fridge update

The fridge that the previous residents of my house paid $4,000 for has sat quiet and warm since noon. Around 6pm I checked under the freezer drawer to see if anything had thawed out and discovered a centimeter-thick layer of ice on the bottom of the freezer. Actually, by 6pm it was more like a 5 mm layer of ice floating on 5 mm of water. Fifteen minutes and two towels later I managed to get most of the ice into the sink and most of the water out of the freezer. But wow, scraping a half-liter of rime ice from your freezer is not fun.

I can't even guess how long condensation has been pooling there. Obviously there's something else wrong with the freezer. And I have a working hypothesis.

According to the repair guys, if the freezer thermostat gets too frosty, it won't trigger the defrosting heaters that remove condensation from the freezer. The heaters being off would also allow the condensation drain to freeze shut, so even if they did turn on, the water might not have anywhere to go. And the reason this happens with the windows open could be simply that the warmer outside air contains more moisture, which causes more condensation, freezing the thermostat, and starting the downward spiral of events culminating in me fantasizing about dropping the whole unit onto the KitchenAid design offices from a helicopter.

Modern "conveniences" (personal and annoyed)

For the third time in a year, my refrigerator—a KitchenAid KRMF706ESS01, which came with my house and which cost the previous owners north of $3,500—iced up and stopped working. By "stopped working" I mean that the refrigerator section leveled off at 6°C and the freezer part at -4°C and wouldn't get cooler. By "iced up" I mean that the thermostats controlling the fridge and freezer sections ice over, preventing them from accurately sensing temperatures. Apparently this model has a problem with this issue.

The damage isn't so bad. I'll be throwing away some bread, some unopened lox which spent more than 12 hours at an unsafe temperature, and perhaps a frozen dinner or two. I make sure that my home-cooked leftovers go into sealed Ball jars at 70°C or hotter, so they're fine for weeks at refrigerator temperatures. And it's 2°C outside today, though that may go up to 10°C tomorrow. I may lose a bottle of cream and possibly some lunch meat, but the cheese will survive.

The repair guys who stopped by a while ago said they see this all the time with computer-controlled refrigerators. In fact, one of them came by in April and replaced the freezer thermostat, so he didn't seem surprised at all to see me again. His partner, an older guy who has seen everything, told me flat out that newer refrigerators break a lot sooner than older ones, because of their computer controls.

It's also not the last time the thing started behaving badly. In June, and again in September, when I spent days in a row with the windows open, the freezer would go up to maybe -10°C for a day before going back down to its normal -18°C. Or the ice maker would stop working. Or the water line would freeze up. But it almost always self-corrected, until this weekend.

Consumer Reports gives this model 5/5 for temperature control and 3/5 for predicted reliability. (Only LG gets 4/5 for predicted reliability, so maybe the old guy was right.) In fact, the reviews for this model don't inspire confidence. "Best use: to meet a repairman." "The dealer from whom I purchased it said he is getting an ever increasing number of service calls on it." "We have had a repair man in our house at least 5 times to fix it. If it wasn't the ice maker broken, it was the compressor, then the thermostat." I'd have to agree. If I have any more problems with this fridge after today's 24-hour defrost cycle, then I'm going to take it out back and shoot it. A new LG side-by-side fridge that has a lower chance of breaking and costs significantly less might be the answer I'm looking for. I just don't want to spend the money.

I recognize this as a problem that most people throughout history would have welcomed, given that refrigeration only goes back about 150 years. It's still frustrating as fuck. But I'm happy not to eat mammoth jerky for six months straight.

Dark and grey in Chicago

December 7th is usually the day when the sun sets earliest in the Northern Hemisphere. In Chicago this evening, that meant 16:20, a few minutes ago. We get back to 16:30 on New Year's Eve and 17:00 not until January 27th. We didn't see the sun today at all, though.

So in the dark gloaming, I will (a) try to get my 10,000 steps for the day, and (b) try to find some fresh-ish basil for dinner.

Got the beef stew 98% right

...but the 2% doesn't really hurt it.

I'm proud enough about my stew today, and full on three bowls of it, that I wanted to jot down the recipe. If you hate metric measurements, it hardly matters if the proportions are about right. Even then, it's a stew, not an angel food cake; it's resilient.

Ingredients

The rendered fat from the bacon I cooked for breakfast
1 kg stew beef, cubed
500 g small yellow and red potatoes, cubed
400 g pre-chopped mirepoix from Trader Joe's
250 g whole white mushrooms, rinsed
100 g sliced mushrooms I needed to use up, rinsed
250 g sliced carrots I needed to use up
850 mL (one carton) beef bone broth
250 mL full-bodied wine
50 g (or so) pancetta cubes I needed to use up
3 small shallots, halved
1 medium garlic head, peeled (yielded about 15 cloves), larger cloves sliced in half
Herbs & spices: bay leaves, parley, sage, rosemary, thyme, plus smaller amounts of chipotle and ancho powder
50 mL of all-purpose flour
Less salt than you'd think (see below)

The ingredients exclusive of the wine cost about $20. I used a $15 bottle of wine, knowing that only one glass of it would go into the stew, but you could get good results with 3-buck-Chuck. Just make sure the wine has some heft. The Bordeaux I used was 80% merlot, 15% cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, and it may not have had enough body.

Procedure

I poured most of the bacon fat into my Instant Pot and set it to sauté, then re-heated the bacon fat that remained on my skillet. Half of the beef went into the Pot to brown along with the pancetta, the rest went on the skillet. Once the beef was seared and had mopped up the bacon fat, it all went into the Pot and I set the Pot to slow cook, normal temperature.

Everything else except the flour now went into the Pot. It turned out I was a little low on liquid so I added about 500 mL of water—which turned out to be about 400 mL more than I needed.

Then it stewed for 7½ hours, though I did stir and taste it about once an hour.

With 30 minutes to go, I took about 100 mL of the broth out and mixed it with the flour in a measuring cup, then dumped the slurry into the Pot and stirred it up. I also cancelled the slow cook timer, then re-started it on High for 30 minutes.

Note that I put in way, way less salt than I would ever serve to other people. Salt is tricky; you need enough so that you can anticipate the finished product, but you don't want to over-salt, which is far too easy to do accidentally. So if anyone reading this gets a container to take home, keep your salt handy.

Improvements

I think I used too much rosemary, as the needles got in the way of enjoying the final stew. As I mentioned above, I also didn't need to add a full 500 mL of water; 100 mL would have done fine, or perhaps no extra water at all. The mushrooms and potatoes have so much volume to them that all the bone broth and wine didn't cover them completely, prompting me to add liquid. But I should have remembered that the alliums and mushrooms would release liquid during cooking, more than making up the deficit. Less initial liquid would have given me a thicker stew.

I also might consider sautéing the onions, shallots, and garlic before adding the seared beef. It's a tough call with slow cooking. The caramelization can add a lot to the flavor, but they'll be in the pot for 8 hours, so it might be overkill.

And I'll pick a nit about my wine choice. The Bordeaux had a lot of body and paired perfectly with the finished product. But next time, I might use a full-bodied cabernet or even a shiraz. Either that or dial the chipotle and ancho down to almost nothing.

But wow, this was one of my best efforts yet. Soo tasty, so much umami, so much depth of flavor, and so much chunky beefy and potato-y goodness, I ate three bowls of it. And now I have about 5 liters of it in Ball jars and sealed plastic containers on my counter.

I also got to drink the rest of the wine, which paired quite well with the stew.