(reblog), history, politics


The failure of Congress to renew the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program endangers people who served as translators for US troops in Afghanistan.   Enduring the same dangers and hardships as the troops, the translators sometimes fought alongside them.   Links to details will follow shortly.

This is not about whether the war in Afghanistan (or any war) was justified.   This is about doing right by good people who put their lives on the line but are being abandoned by lazy pols.

As a thoughtful video (under 3 minutes) produced by No One Left Behind points out, this is one of those extremely rare situations where it would be fairly easy to act both honorably and in our own self-interest, if only Congress would listen to a few combat veterans in its own ranks.

The rest of this post is excerpted from e-mail about the visa crisis that I received 2016-09-19 from No One Left Behind.   There are plenty of links to details in the excerpt.

˙ ˙ ˙

Congress left Washington, DC at the end of last week having failed to hold a vote on the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program.   As a result of their unconscionable inaction, the State Department will run out of visas on 1 October 2016 (the start of the new fiscal year).   The current backlog of visas is roughly 10,000 applicants (when one includes family, we estimate the true number of applicants is 35,000+).  Thanks to Congress, our country will now break its promise to our Afghan translators and other wartime allies – who will continue to wait in limbo, in hiding, afraid that any moment might be the one where the Taliban or ISIS’s death squads finally find them.  How many will die before Congress does their job (votes to renew the program and authorize and issue more visas to the State Department) and honors our nation’s promise?

To help highlight the national security implications of this issue and the importance of protecting the honor of the American military, veterans, and credibility, we organized a Letter to Congress, which we delivered on 6 September 2016.   Hundreds of thousands of veterans, representing every branch of service in every American conflict dating back to World War II joined Medal of Honor recipients from Vietnam to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, former Chairmen and members of the Joint Chiefs, numerous wartime commanders, and other general and flag officers in adding their signatures to the letter.

˙ ˙ ˙ This past weekend, the [Wall Street] Journal joined the New York Times and the Washington Post in urging the Congress to renew and properly fund the program – the nation’s three leading newspapers are rarely this unified on matters of policy.

This is the 11th hour.  The State Department will run out of visas in 11 days.  Unless we build a movement and demand Congress renew the program immediately, it will likely die an unceremonious death, lost as an obscure program that got drowned out by the intense rhetoric of the 2016 election.

Help us prevent this tragedy by doing two things:

˙ ˙ ˙
© No One Left Behind
P.O. Box 3641, Merrifield, VA 22116
Tax ID: 47-125-1659http://nooneleft.org/  |  info@nooneleft.org

Update [2016-09-20]

If U have not already done so, please contact your Senators and Representatives.

I dislike phones and try to be much less scathing when communicating to pols rather than about them, so I used the e-mail links on my legislators’ web pages to send the following message.

General topic:  Immigration | National Security

Specific topic:  Afghan Special Immigrant Visas

Message text:

The failure of Congress to renew the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program endangers people who served as translators for US troops in Afghanistan.   Enduring the same dangers and hardships as the troops, the translators sometimes fought alongside them.  This is one of those extremely rare situations where it would be fairly easy to act both honorably and in our own self-interest, if only Congress would listen to a few combat veterans in its own ranks and do right by good people who put their lives on the line but are being abandoned.

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haiku, history, humor, math, politics

Bhaskara for President!

Fooey.  He has hardly any name recognition, was not born a US citizen, and has been dead for centuries.  Being more reality-oriented than those who handed Donald Trump the job, I cannot seriously promote Bhaskara.  What a pity.  His elegant old proof helps me stay sane in the Age of Trumpery.
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Who’s Bhaskara?  We will get to that question shortly.  First, consider whatever gadget U are using to read this post.  It depends on many things, discovered over many years by many people who (unlike many pols) preferred building up to tearing down.  With many steps omitted (and “depends on” abbreviated to ), a few of those dependencies go like this:

Your Gadget quantum physics coordinate systems Pythagoras’ Theorem

Back in high school, Pythagoras’ Theorem may have seemed like a little fact about right triangles that may have been mildly interesting but did not deserve the effort of slogging thru the book’s tedious proof.  I could read the proof line by line, observe that it was valid, and be glad that I never needed to retrieve it for a test.  Hardly anybody could remember it for more than a few minutes.

Pythagoras’ Theorem turned out to be essential to blogging (and much else), so it would be nice to have a proof that mere mortals could remember, appreciate, and be inspired by.  Enter Bhaskara, 1114-1185.

Bhaskara replaced the usual picture (of 3 squares glued to the sides of 1 triangle) with a picture of 4 copies of the same triangle, arranged to form a big square with a little square inside it:

4 · ( ½ · a · b) + c²

The proof is sometimes displayed more tersely, with just the figure.  I prefer to write out a little algebra (while not belaboring why the angles do add up the way the figure suggests).  Tho he did not have modern notation, Bhaskara did have an elegant way to provide more detail for the mathematically fastidious.  He displayed another figure that also puts the 4 copies of the triangle inside a big square with sides a+b.  In the other figure, the area not covered by copies of the triangle amounts to a²+ b² because it consists of 2 small squares.  But the not-covered area amounts to c² in the figure displayed above, so we can conclude that

  a²+ b² = c²

w/o bothering with algebra and how to compute areas of right triangles.  We just need to bother with drawing both figures.  Wanna try your hand at drawing the other figure?  U can find the answer by following the link provided by Sieglinglungenlied in the comment section.

Googling reveals some variation in what is attributed to Bhaskara. The 1-figure proof I displayed appears in several places (sometimes attributed to Bhaskara and sometimes w/o attribution).  A similar 1-figure proof is commonly attributed to Bhaskara, with a big square of length c.  The 2-figure version that avoids algebra is attributed to Bhaskara in Math in 100 Key Breakthroughs, a nicely illustrated book by Richard Elwes.  Historical accuracy is not crucial at the moment, so I went with the best story w/o worrying about who got it right.

OK, I admit that having written a proof of mind-blowing elegance does not really qualify Bhaskara to be POTUS.  Too bad that many people think mind-blowing arrogance can hack it.

Clicking on the “politics” category or tag in this post will display all my uses of acidic humor to cope with the current state of US politics.  But acids are corrosive.  Sometimes, I forgo acid and contemplate some of the enduring (so far) glories of modern Western civilization, one of which is that it is not exclusively Western.  In particular, we got some elegant math from India and some elegant poetry forms from Japan.

One Way to Stay Sane in the Age of Trumpery
|Cherish all that is
|true and good and beautiful
|(like Bhaskara’s proof).


haiku, humor, politics

Calliope and Geology

The juxtaposition in my title is weird, but Calliope is unfazed.  After all, she is the ancient Greek muse of eloquence, epic poetry, and circus music.


© Wisconsinart | Dreamstime.com

As American politics in 2016 illustrates, Calliope’s portfolio is not as weird as I would wish.  Neither is my title.

Stale Bread Can Wait
|My muse is stingy (when implored)
|or really bitchy (when ignored).
|If I want to sing of croutons
|(but her fancy turns to plutons),
|I have just one way to go:
|with the mighty magma flow.

As I discovered long ago when I tried to read an English translation of Goethe’s Faust, poetry in couplets tends to sound silly even when it is dead serious.  Now that I have had my little respite from blank verse in haiku form, maybe I should go back to solemn austerity.  Maybe.

What the World Needs
|More silliness from
|those who know they are silly;
|less from the others.

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birds, haiku, humor, photography, politics

Amazing Photos Out There

The [Menu] button (atop the vertical black bar) reveals widgets like the Search box.  Typing just the [Enter] key into the Search box is a way to browse WordPress blogs.

While I did not take the photos shown here, I did write the haiku.

Many amazing photos have been submitted to the Weather Channel’s It’s Amazing Out There / 2016 Photo Contest.  The contest has both expert judging and voting for the “fan favorite” by anybody with a Facebook account.  U can vote daily until 2016-08-26 and distribute those votes however U like.  Having viewed only a few of the submissions, am I competent to recommend votes to other people?  Not really, but Donald Trump has set the competence bar low enough to be cleared by a garden slug.  Being a little more competent (and a lot more honest) than Trump, I will share my enthusiasms anyway, with cropped/resized versions of 2 submissions.

While I have been voting enthusiastically for Coming Storm by CJDraper (aka Dancing Echoes on WordPress), I also want to salute the fan favorite as of the last time I looked:  Ozzie (a bald eagle) by Davedc.  The latter already has plenty of well-deserved votes, so I wrote a haiku inspired by it.

|When we saw himself,
|Narcissus forgot to drink.
|Eagle had more sense.


history, humor, oversimplify, politics

Who Wrote That?

The following 3 quotes all come from the same person.  Can U guess who? 

  1. The citizens … must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they themselves have called into being.
  2. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced.   Corporate expenditures for political purposes … have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.
  3. Those who oppose all reform will do well to remember that ruin in its worst form is inevitable if our national life brings us nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few and the triumph in both politics and business of a sordid and selfish materialism.

The choices listed in the following poll have varying plausibility; they do include the actual author.   Please have a go before scrolling down to see the answer and why it matters.

Scroll down for the answer …


The image of the US Constitution’s famous oversimplification “We the People” was downloaded and resized from http://mtviewmirror.com/wp-content/uploads/we-the-people-9.jpg.

All of the quotes are from a speech on The New Nationalism delivered 1910-08-31 by Theodore Roosevelt.  More than a century later, the work has still not been done.  More than a century later, pseudoconservatives still dump truckloads of ratcrap on anybody who opposes running the USA for the benefit of the biggest corporations and richest billionaires.

What to do in 2016?  Yes, I feel the pull toward a protest vote like writing in Bernie Sanders (or Theodore Roosevelt).  In what is not so obviously a mere gesture of protest, I could vote Green or Libertarian.  But I will not.  Unless U live in a cobalt blue or screaming red state, voting Green or Libertarian in 2016 is voting for Trump.  In the real world, all options suck.  Some suck worse than others.  Much worse.

Yes, one can hope that the combination of Trump in the White House with McConnell and Ryan dominating Congress will be so blatantly toxic that “the people” finally wake up, rise up, and wrest control from the plutocrats.  Alas, the 99% of us who are getting shafted includes bigots and nitwits.  It includes those who bought the Fox News claim to be fair and balanced.  It includes heavily armed crazies like Omar Mateen and Dylan Roof.

Popular uprisings do succeed now and then, as when the government of East Germany collapsed in 1989.  Hey, the good people on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall suffered only 44 years (*) of communist oppression before that.  More often, uprisings are either crushed (as in Hungary 1956) or seem successful for a while but descend into chaotic violence that spawns yet another tyranny (French Revolution; Russian Revolution; Arab Spring; …).

So I will trudge to the polls, hold my nose, and vote for Hillary.  I will also remember a more familiar quotation from TR, excerpted below with a few letters added in italics:

It is not the critic who counts; … The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; … ; who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; …

While Hillary is deeply flawed, she is not one of those “timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat” detested by TR.  For that matter, neither is Trump.  He has other issues.  While TR was far from being a pacifist, he could see the downside of putting an impulsive jerk in a position to start a war.  That jerk also thinks appeasing the NRA is more important than making it harder for crazies like Adam Lanza to murder school children and their teachers.

(*) The physical wall stood for less than 44 years, but the whole point of erecting it was to stop desperate dashes thru the political wall erected in 1945.
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economics, history, humor, oversimplify, politics

Twelah of Stonina

No, the title is not the name of a character in a dreary fantasy epic.  It links 2 examples of something that can happen to oversimplifications as circumstances change: what is initially harmless (and perhaps mildly beneficial) can become pernicious.
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As in my earlier post arguing that oversimplification is unavoidable but can be done honestly, a whimsical example that is easily understood breaks trail for a serious example that is not.

1. Puzzles

Instructions for puzzles usually explain what the solution should look like, w/o constraining how to get there.  The Jumble series of puzzles has been around for decades, originally just on printed pages but now online also.  I sometimes solve the puzzle as printed in my daily newspaper.  (Yes, I am that old.)  Taken literally, the instructions for a Jumble do constrain the how, but in a way that strikes me as a harmless oversimplification in explaining the what.  More precisely, it was harmless until the series went online.

The weird words in the title of this post are scrambled versions of the ordinary words wealth and nations.  A typical Jumble puzzle invites the reader to unscramble several such scrambled words and then use the letters at some specified positions in the ordinary words to complete the caption of a cartoon.  Printed and online versions of the puzzle for 2016-06-10 are displayed below.  Both the layout and the use of “Now” in the printed instructions indicate that unscrambling comes before completing.  Similarly for the online instructions revealed by the [HELP] button.


While I sometimes proceed in the instructions’ order, I more often guess the completion before unscrambling all (or even any) of the words.  So what?  I can put my pen anywhere on the page at any time.  The sequencing in the instructions is just a convenient way to explain what would be a solution to a Jumble puzzle.  One could rewrite and reformat the instructions so as to explain that w/o extraneous sequencing (as in the instructions for Sudoku), but it is not obvious how to write sequence-free instructions for Jumble that are as clear as the oversimplified instructions with extraneous sequencing.  Why bother?

Here’s why.  Look at the online version.  That bright green square is a place for typing, if U so choose.  The interface does a good job of allowing U to drag letters rather than type.  After unscrambling all the scrambled words, U will see the available letters appear above the caption and can type or drag to complete the caption, just as U typed or dragged when unscrambling.   While the interface displays several signs of  good software engineering, it takes the informal specs too literally and mandates the heuristic of unscrambling all the words before doing anything to complete the caption.   (Being a nerd myself, I can sympathize.)   What began as a harmless oversimplification became a killjoy.

As it happens, I started by guessing the caption for the 2016-06-10 Jumble, then verified that my unscramblings of 3 words were consistent with my guess, and then used the resulting tentative knowledge about letters to be contributed by the word still scrambled as a hint about how to unscramble it.  (A tiny example of how science works.)  No can do in the online version.  There is a [HINT] button that doles out a single letter in a single word.  My preference for making my own hint is not just a consequence of my being compulsively self-reliant.  My own hint is discovered and might be misleading because I might have guessed wrong at the start.  The online hint is an infallible gift from on high.  No fun in that.

If U want to work on the online version of this particular Jumble, U can click on its image to visit a page with today’s puzzle and then use the page’s calendar widget to go back to 2016-06-10.

Now it is time for the serious example, which starts in the same century as the scene depicted in this example, but on the other side of The Pond.

2. Free Markets

The other momentous document published in 1776 was Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, with a then-harmless oversimplification that has become a now-pernicious dogma.

Smith’s readers were familiar with intrusive governments and quasigovernmental organizations like craft guilds.  Mercantilist governments restricted who could sell what to whom.  Guilds set the prices of what their members made.  That was normal, as was censorship, state-sponsored religion, and commercial privileges granted by royal whim.  Smith was aware that his readers might find his free-market ideas disturbingly anarchic, and he tried to reassure them with his famous fantasy about an invisible hand.  He succeeded too well.

Smith remarked that, while he advocated much less intrusive government than his readers considered normal, there were still important government functions needed to make his free markets work.  He mentioned some explicitly.  Unsurprisingly, he did not mention those that would not be on anybody’s radar for over a century.  Markets cannot work properly w/o transparency: potential buyers need to know what they would be getting and how much they would be paying.  Apart from providing a trustworthy money supply, there was no obvious need for laws and regulations to make markets transparent.  They seemed obviously transparent; nobody wearing a 3-cornered hat noticed that transparency was being assumed and might someday need to be enforced.

With the passage of time, Smith’s ideas took hold, the economies of his nation and ours grew richer and more complex, and economists eventually realized that markets cannot be perfectly transparent.  What happens when they are seriously opaque?  When getting pertinent info is costly?  When some of the info floating around is false?  When insiders have pertinent info that they act upon but keep to themselves?  Long technical answers won Nobel Prizes for Kenneth Arrow and Joseph Stiglitz.  The financial crisis of 2008-2009 and its precursors illustrate a somewhat oversimplified short answer that suffices for present purposes:

The shit hits the fan.

By the time the importance of transparency and the need for laws and regulations that enforce it had become common knowledge among thoughtful advocates of free markets, the invisible-hand fantasy had morphed into market fundamentalism.  That dogma is a godsend for anybody who wants to act like a psychopath but suffers from the inconvenience of having a conscience.  It is OK if I scramble to enrich myself and U scramble to enrich yourself, no matter how much we harm each other or anybody else.  If the stupid gummint stays away and just lets “The Market” work its magic, everything will come out as well as possible in the real world, where resources are scarce and buying anything precludes buying something else with the same money.

Like religious fundamentalism, market fundamentalism is rigid, simplistic, and oblivious to the suffering it causes.  The real world is indeed harsh.  It is also vastly more complex than fundamentalists concede, perhaps more complex than they can imagine.  Enforcing fairness and transparency w/o stifling useful innovation is not easy.  More generally, finding a good balance between public and private economic activity is not so easy as it seems to market fundamentalists (or to socialists, at the other extreme).

Much longer (but still readable) discussions of opacity and other market failures can be found in books like The Roaring Nineties by Joseph Stiglitz.  Perverse incentives lead to perverse behavior.  Is that really surprising?

ethics, humor, oversimplify, philosophy, politics

Green Grass and Golden Rules

Like overeating, oversimplifying is something we should always try to avoid.  Oops, that’s an oversimplification.  Sometimes it is harmless (or even helpful, for certain purposes or as a temporary expedient) to oversimplify; sometimes it is hardly better than lying.
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Is grass green?  Not if it’s Japanese blood grass in autumn.  Does a bear shit in the woods? Not if it’s a polar bear.  Is the sky blue?  Not at 1:00 AM.  Something important is hiding in plain sight here.  Everybody and their uncle have always known counterexamples to the claim that the sky is blue, and some of them have been celebrated with striking photos.  On the other hand, when cartoonist Garry Trudeau wanted to poke fun at reflexive Republican opposition to anything proposed by President Obama, he used this same claim in the Doonesbury strip that appeared 2015-05-24 in my local paper.  Clinging to his tattered hope for bipartisanship, Obama responds to an aide’s disillusionment by announcing something he thinks will be utterly uncontroversial: that the sky is blue.  The last panel shows a subsequent press conference held by the Senate’s Republican majority leader.

Leader McConnell, is the sky blue?
I am not a meteorologist.

Whether or not U agree with Trudeau’s take on the attitudes of those who pass for Republicans nowadays (and whether or not U found the strip funny), I trust that U did recognize the question about the sky’s color as a more polite version of the question about ursine defecation.  Even tho U know about sunsets.  Even tho U know that everybody else knows about them too. What is going on here?

1. Everything Is Oversimplified

Well, not everything.  The black and white cattle living on the farm near my house are not oversimplified.  They just are what they are.  Much of what I might say about them is oversimplified.  Indeed, it is hard to find anything nontrivial to say about them that is just plain true (like 2+3 = 5), w/o any qualifications or exceptions.  From a distance, they are black and white cattle, lounging on green grass under a partly blue sky.  Look more closely, and a few of them have brown instead of black.  Does it matter? Not to me.  Maybe it would matter to somebody who breeds Belted Galway cattle.  I just admire the bu-cow-lic scene and stay upwind.  Does a cow shit in the pasture?

Overeating is something people often do.  They should always try not to, and many of us can succeed most of the time.  Oversimplifying is more complicated.  Sometimes it is harmless (or even helpful, for certain purposes or as a temporary expedient); sometimes it is hardly better than lying.  Trying not to oversimplify is generally good, but the cure can be worse than the disease.  It may be better to oversimplify, be honest about it, and remain open to working on a more accurate formulation as the the need arises.  A more accurate formulation may well be good enough for a long time, but not forever.  Scientific theories and engineering calculations are like that.  Guess what?  So are ethical principles.

2. Why Is “Golden Rules” Plural in the Title?

What we call “the” Golden Rule has been formulated in various ways by various cultures.  A nice discussion appears on pages 83-86 in the book Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar by Cathcart and Klein.  (The book is a great read, even if U aced Philosophy 101 and have already heard many of the jokes.)  They use an old joke to illustrate how seriously oversimplified the rule is:

A sadist is a masochist who follows the Golden Rule.

It gets worse.  Even when how people like to be treated is pretty much the same thruout a group, the Golden Rule stumbles.  I was both amused and disturbed when cartoonist Scott Adams showed how badly it stumbles in a Dilbert strip I should have saved.  The boss proclaims that company policy will henceforth be to follow the Golden Rule.  Dilbert objects; the boss asks why.  The resulting exchange goes something like this:

Would U like me to give U $100?
Um, yes.
OK, follow the Golden Rule and give me $100.

The boss is reduced to sputtering indignation.  Dilbert is clearly taking the rule too literally and ignoring an implicit consensus about exceptions.  But what are they?  I could not say where Dilbert errs.

Most of the formulations discussed by Cathcart and Klein are somewhat clunkier than our culture’s usual

Do unto others as U would have others do unto U.

They amount to saying

Do not do unto others as U would not have others do unto U.

Maybe people thought of the Dilbert objection and tried to get avoid it by prohibiting X rather than mandating Y.  This does help, but there is still a problem.

Would U be disappointed if I refused your request to give U $100?
Um, yes.
Please give me $100.
 I see.  U are just as hypocritical about the Confucian version of the Golden Rule as U are about our usual version.

If U fall off a boat and I hear U shout a request to be thrown a life preserver, I will try to do just that.  Just don’t walk up to me and request to be given $100.  What is the difference?  People can start with our usual formulation of the Golden Rule, admit that it is grossly oversimplified, consider what seems reasonable in thought experiments like this, try for a more explicit consensus about exceptions, and remain open to considering more adjustments as more situations arise, either in practice or in thought experiments.  Can we do better?

Immanuel Kant tried valiantly to do better with his Supreme Categorical Imperative, which is a fun read if U like reading tax laws or patents.  Cathcart and Klein have the details.

As a former wannabe mathematician, I would very much like to see a nice crisp formulation of the Golden Rule (or of any other important general principle) that just nails it, w/o exceptions or vagueness.  Nice work if U can get it.  If I ever get stuck with trying to help socialize a child, I will give the kid our usual version of the Golden Rule, say that it is a great starting point for thinking about how to behave, admit that real life is messier, and offer to talk about it more as the need arises.  I will not mention Kant.

haiku, history, humor, politics

Rhyming Haiku: Couplet and Triplet

I enjoy smuggling rhymes into blank verse but have not yet gotten all 3 lines of a haiku I really like to rhyme.  My response to Carpe Diem #932 silk tree is a pair of all-new haiku.  I do like the one with a couplet.  The one with a triplet (plus an internal rhyme in the title at no extra charge) is submitted in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s corny jokes during the American Civil War: I laugh so that I will not cry.

Sound of Sunlight
|Rushing waters bring
|joy to those who hear them sing
|and see them sparkle.

Silly Rhymes for Scary Times
|A rhyme in blank verse?
|President Trump would be worse.
|Vote Dem or you’ll curse.


Image Source

A public domain image of the American flag has been turned upside down to reflect the current state of US politics.

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haiku, history, humor, politics

Long After the Sixties

When will things slide …

from liberty to anarchy?

from growing to shrinking?

from bravery to bravado?

from firmness to fascism?

from hope to rage?

The answer, my friend, has blown in on the wind.

The answer has blown in on the wind.

Fiscal Responsibility
|Debts rise; incomes fall.
|Hard times demand bold action:
|tax cuts for the rich!

haiku, humor, politics

Fridge Follies


Why does the small kitchen in my very small household have 2 refrigerators?  The story begins in 2002, when the fridge now blocking the view of a framed print was delivered.  The 1985 fridge it replaced had the condenser tubing on the back, readily accessible for an annual cleaning.  I was surprised to find that the tubing was hidden on the bottom of the then-new fridge.  I was also surprised to find that the then-new user’s guide said

There is no need for routine condenser cleaning in normal home operating environments.

A few months later, I was not at all surprised to find that the guide’s assurance was bullshit.

Section 1: Noble Intentions

I have a good collection of brushes and crevice tools for my vacuum cleaner, but most of the condenser tubing was still uncleanable.  Some people dare to empty a fridge, tip it over, unscrew any bottom cover, and vacuum the hidden tubing.  I estimated the likelihood that such a saga would accomplish much for my extremely convoluted tubing to be less than the likelihood that I would crush a toe while fumbling with the heavy fridge.  So I left the fridge upright and improvised filtration of much of the air being sucked past the tubing by a fan.  I changed the filter monthly and was pleased that it intercepted much of the incoming dust.  But not all of it.

When new, the 2002 fridge was fairly efficient.  The rated energy consumption (514 kWh/yr) was decent (and much better than the 874 kWh/yr of the significantly smaller 1985 fridge it replaced).  While the gradual buildup of dust on the condenser tubing implied a gradual decrease in efficiency, the fridge was still working.  Old Yankees do not replace old stuff that does work well enough with new stuff that might (or might not!) work better.

Several things changed in 2015.  I happened to put my hand on the top of the fridge, near the freezer door.  It was uncomfortably warm, almost hot.  The heater that prevents the door from freezing shut had become overenthusiastic.  More energy wasted.  Some newer fridges have LED lights to avoid unwanted heat.  The electric company has a nice rebate offer: they will pick up a working old fridge for recycling and give me a little $ for it.  I could get an up-to-date fridge with pristine condenser tubing, verify that it works, move into it at leisure, and only then have the 2002 fridge hauled away.  I plan to stay in my house long enough that the 2002 fridge could not go the distance, but not long enough to need yet another fridge purchase after buying one in 2015.  May as well do it with dignity now, when nothing much has hit the fan recently.

So I saddled myself with 2 problems: choosing a new 2015 fridge and temporarily squeezing it into my small kitchen along with the old 2002 fridge.

Section 2: The Agony of Choice

Comparing 2015 with 2002, I found that choosing a fridge is both easier and harder.  Lots of pertinent info (and some misinfo) is online, and my current internet connection is fast enough to access it.  On the other hand, there has been a luxuriant profusion of brands, configurations, and features.  Had to wade thru all of that to find a top-freezer fridge of moderate size with half-width cantilever shelves, LED lighting, and no ice maker.  Why no ice maker?  My kitchen’s plumbing only supplies water to the sink and the dishwasher, and remodeling is not on the horizon.  I need the space an ice maker would occupy for ice trays.  That is no hardship for me, as I am old enough to remember rigid metal trays that stuck to my fingers when the water had frozen and had Rube Goldberg arrangements of louvers and levers for forming and releasing the ice cubes.  The arrangements pinched my fingers and sent much of the ice flying across the room as little shards.  So I am quite content to use modern 1-piece plastic trays that almost always release the cubes intact when gently twisted.

Yes, the big stores have websites with options for filtering searches.  The behavior of those options reminded me of the disclaimer that sometimes appears when movie credits roll:

«Any resemblance between the filtering specified by the user
and the filtering actually performed is purely coincidental.»

One day when my errands took me nearby anyway, I decided to look at fridges in an actual brick-and-mortar store.  I found a phalanx of stainless steel behemoths with bottom freezers, French doors, thru-the-door controlled substance dispensers, and so on.  What sustains the French door craze?  Yes, some people need them because they have really weird kitchens with door-swing limitations.  (Maybe there are also some people who can remember which side of the fridge has the mayonnaise jar and want to hi-5 themselves after opening only the appropriate door?)  Anyway, there were a few token fridges with my basic configuration.  They also had full-width shelves, each with too few height choices. Feh.

Back to the web.  I eventually got past the behemoths and the cheapies.  I eventually got past the ambiguities and contradictions in the specs posted on store websites.  I settled on a fridge configured much like my old one but more efficient (rated at 471 kWh/yr).  Neglecting to visit the manufacturer’s own website and confirm all the specs there (cue the horror movie music), I placed an order and scheduled delivery.

Section 3: We All Live in a Yellow Submarine


My camera’s white balance is flaky; the kitchen is not really that yellow.  Being in it, however, is much like being in a submarine.  Everything is shoved up against something, with barely enough room to move around.  This is only temporary.

Does the title of this section sound familiar?  In the 1960-s, I thought the popularity of The Beatles was only temporary.

Eager to have my own place after some dismal rental experiences, I knowingly bought a badly designed and badly built house in 1972.  It was only temporary, a way to get off the rental treadmill for a few years while looking around for something better.  I am still in that house.

My track record in predicting how long situations will last is not good, but hope springs eternal.  (I did have enough foresight to ensure that I could still cook in my submarine kitchen.)  This is only temporary.  Can repeating a dubious mantra often enough make it true?  Should we ask the pols who postulate that tax cuts stimulate enough economic growth to pay for themselves?

Delivery day!  I showed the crew the odyssey required to get from the front door to a kitchen doorway that is wide enough, in my badly designed house.  The new fridge agreed with my tape measure and settled into place w/o incident.  I tipped the crew, admired the new fridge briefly, and settled down to a snack in the adjoining room.


The sound character was like that of ice cracking when a fridge does its defrost routine after a heavy buildup.  The sound volume implied that a hostile navy had located the yellow submarine and had good aim with depth charges.  I ran into the kitchen in time to verify that the noise was coming from the new fridge.  Then it stopped.  The fridge was running quietly.  Apart from a little muffled rattling now and then, it has been quiet ever since.

I know what happens when an appliance (or a car or a body part) misbehaves erratically and the worried owner consults a pro.  I sympathize with the reluctance of pros to diagnose an unrepeatable symptom on the basis of a layman’s verbal description.

It’s working fine now.  Call us if it acts up again.  Goodbye.

So I resolved to extend the temporary squeezing of 2 fridges into 1 kitchen for a few more days, keep using the old fridge, and listen for nasty noises from the new one.

Section 4: The Ice Maker Cometh

Reasonably confident that the new fridge was OK, I turned it off and gave it time to warm up before playing with the shelves to approximate the arrangement in the old fridge.

I opened the freezer door and found — (cue the horror movie music, louder this time) — an ice maker!  This hulking monster could supply enough ice to host a cocktail party for an army, but only if it had a water supply.  Dry as the Namib Desert on a fogless day, the monster sullenly hogged much of the precious freezer space.  The new fridge devotes a smaller fraction of its space to the freezer than the old fridge does, and I had recently bought ridiculously many pints of frozen yogurt because the market was discontinuing a flavor I liked and discounting the remaining inventory.  I had to evict the monster despite the risk of quibbles about “tampering” if I ever needed warranty service.

The screws attaching the ice maker to the freezer wall were readily accessible.  Then there was the electical connection.  Like the connections in cars, it was a plug-socket arrangement, latched shut and secured in place by springy prongs that could be released by pressing gently with a small flat-bladed screwdriver in exactly the right place.  After some looking and cautious probing that did no damage, I found the place and disconnected the monster.  That left 4 metal contacts open in the socket, hoping to get connected again but willing to accept condensation and a chance to short out in revenge for being abandoned.  So I covered the socket with duct tape and protected the tape with some bubble wrap and more duct tape.


The freezer of the old fridge still holds a few things that I have not been able to fit into the new one’s freezer.  Otherwise, I did eventually move everything from old to new and no longer guess wrong about which fridge holds what.  I should be able to adjust my freezer usage to the current reality and am otherwise pleased with the new fridge.  Maybe the electric company’s rebate offer for the old fridge will still be in effect when I am finally ready to use it.

Section 5:  Directions for Further Research 😉


During installation of improvised external air filtration for the 2015 refrigerator, examination of the hidden condenser tubing revealed a configuration differing from that of the 2002 refrigerator.   It is hypothesized that the 2015 configuration will be more amenable to cleaning than the 2002 configuration, albeit still less amenable than was the 1985 configuration.   This hypothesis will be tested when sufficient dust has accumulated.

A concluding haiku about refrigerators is not available at present.   In the interest of timely publication, this  post concludes with haiku pertinent to auxiliary considerations discussed in Sections 3 and 4, respectively.

Fiscal Responsibility

Debts rise; incomes fall.
Hard times demand bold action:
tax cuts for the rich!

Silver Savior

The crowning glory
of our civilization
is, of course, duct tape.

haiku, humor, politics

Oxymoronic Selfie

The [Menu] button (atop the vertical black bar) reveals widgets like the Search box.  Typing just the [Enter] key into the Search box is a way to browse WordPress blogs.

Yes, the title of this blog is an oxymoron.  (More on oxymorons shortly.)  This blog will touch on many things in life and language, but only when I think I have something to add to whatever has already been said.  I will try to be humorous w/o being too flippant and serious w/o being too solemn.  Some posts will end with haiku poems, as this one does.

Oxymorons can be a quick and colorful way to designate something with an unusual (but not really contradictory) mix of characteristics.  In American politics in the 1850-s, Stephen A Douglas was called the “Little Giant” because he was both short and influential.  Some other examples:  equal and opposite; fried ice cream; libertarian paternalism; love-hate relationship; passive-aggressive; tough love; virtual reality.

Tho I cannot be mellow and curmudgeonly simultaneously, I can shift quickly from one to the other when considering different aspects of something.  Before giving an example, let me issue two disclaimers:  I am not in the shall/will crowd and do not fit neatly into any common political category.  I do not hassle people who violate silly rules invented long ago by prigs with too much free time.  When I gripe about a misuse of language, it is because I see a substantial hindrance to communication.  When I take an example from politics, it is not part of a rant that has already been repeated thousands of times.

Living languages do change, often getting better and sometimes getting worse.  One change for the worse that may be happening now is the use of “legitimate” as a synonym for “genuine” or “actual” (in addition to its legitimate uses).  This usage is not in my printed dictionary from 2005 or in the online Wictionary entry last updated in 2014, but I have heard it ominously often.  In 2012, Senate candidate Todd Akin was vilified as a cruel misogynist for using the oxymoronic phrase “legitimate rape” (which illustrates why misusing “legitimate” is such a bad idea).  My initial reaction to the oxymoron by itself was mellow:  Akin is just a linguistic slob who said “legitimate” when he meant “genuine” during his pseudoscientific riff on whether a rape that causes a pregnancy could really be a rape.

On the other hand, I am old enough to remember when willful ignorance or distortion of relevant facts was frowned upon.  It did happen (perhaps more often than a curmudgeon’s memory of the good old days will admit).  Among legislators, it tended to come only from certain people on certain subjects.  Akin’s reliance on a physiological fantasy to avoid dealing with the implications of a policy position struck me as emblematic of a serious general decline in intellectual honesty.  Nowadays, pols and pundits launch outrageous factoids faster than fact checkers can sink them.  Harrumph!  So I contributed what little I could to the campaign of Akin’s opponent.  Tho I still do not believe Akin really meant what his oxymoron said, I am glad he is not in the US Senate.  Truth matters.

Still Standing
|Mellow curmudgeon
|shrugs off fate and stands proudly