Winter Break

Between work-sanctioned holidays and vacation time I managed to cobble together a two-week winter break which ends today.

Yay for break! It took me almost the whole two weeks to de-tox from work and to get my head into a happier, healthier space. Alas, tomorrow it’s back to the grind.

One of my key goals over the break is to de-clutter my desk and the space around my desk at home. I’ve been doing this for the last few years and it makes for a positive way to begin the new year.

The way I de-clutter is that I remove everything from my desk and only return the items I remember using over the last year. If I don’t use it regularly it needs to be put away somewhere else. Then, I do the same for the book shelf beside me and the one behind me.

Despite working in libraries for nearly 20 years I am still somewhat of a compulsive book-buyer. I love buying books, but I’ve been trying to curb the habit. I’ve also been culling my collection. This year I removed hundreds of volumes, as I did last year. I donate them to the library. It’s a challenge, because I have a strong sentimental attachment to the idea of books, but seriously, even if I live to a very ripe old age I have more great books in my house than I can ever read.

So, that was my winter break. Hanging out with friends, eating a lot of junk food (pizza! burgers! chips!), drinking beer, whisky, wine, and champagne, working on the novel, cleaning my desk, de-cluttering my bookshelves, culling my newsfeeds, cleaning house, and generally preparing for the lunacy of the 2017.

So long winter break! It’s been awesome. See you again in about 360 days.

Information Feed

At the end of 2016 I culled and weeded, reduced and cut my garden of information feeds. At the beginning of 2017 I’m looking for new sources of information.

What should I add to my information diet? What blogs, webpages, RSS feeds, twitter feeds, news sources, websites, television programs, podcasts, etc. should I consider?

Of Blogs Present: Balderdash and the Moon

Hillsborough River Chronicle ended up being a little too generic for my tastes, so with the new year, I’m working with a new title: Balderdash and the Moon.

Fortunately, dear reader, there is only one of you, so I’m trusting the title changes won’t be too disconcerting.

One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more in tune with the moon. And, almost everything in this blog can easily be categorized as sheer balderdash, hence the title.

Making Space

It’s the end of 2016 and for me that means it is time to de-clutter. There’s a lot of work to be done in 2017, so I’m spending the end of 2016 removing all the stuff that’s obsolete.

I’m cleaning my desk, clearing bookshelves, deleting bookmarks, weeding twitter feeds and RSS feeds. I’m paying attention to what I actually use every day vs. what I think I might use someday maybe.

If I don’t use is, or haven’t used it for all of 2016, it’s time for it to go away.

If I use it every day, I’ll consider upgrading. Or, maybe I need more than one (or need it in more than one room).

For information consumption I’m dialing back the amount of politics I consume, and increasing the amount of art I surround myself with. I don’t need more news I need more poetry.

Simple Answers to Stupid Questions

I think I might start a regular series. I hope this will save everyone a lot of time.

Q: If Donald Trump Is So Upset About Iraq WMD Lies, Why Would He Want to Hire John Bolton? (asked at The Intercept)

A: Trump lied about being upset about Iraq WMD lies.

That’s today’s installment of Simple Answers to Stupid Questions.

The Flu…

… or is it a cold? (Update: it’s a flu.)

It started in a relatively benign manner. Tuesday morning I awoke with a slightly sore throat and a minor headache. I suspected I was infected by the same bug that struck JB on Sunday. But, as far as bugs went, this one didn’t seem so bad.

I went to work and shortly after lunch was telling a co-worker that I wasn’t feeling so hot. “Go home,” she suggested. “There’s not a lot going on here. You do look a little wan.”

I realized she was right. My work is very cyclical and we’re entering the slow part of the year. I’m rarely ill and so have sufficient sick leave. I shouldn’t be hanging around taking the chance of infecting my colleagues. I should go.

And so I left. That afternoon was pretty sweet. A free afternoon off work, and, while my throat was sore and the mild headache persisted, I wasn’t so sick I couldn’t have stayed at work. And, if I had had classes or meetings, or a pressing deadline I probably would have.

“I guess it’s not affecting me as badly as JB,” I thought. By Tuesday she was deep in the bowels of flu hell.

Wednesday the soreness in my throat was sharper, the headache a little stronger. Still, I could read, and I worked a little on my story. I napped. Low energy, didn’t feel great, but not bad. I felt confident that the next day I would be on the mend.

And then Thursday struck. What had been a minor sore throat turned into blistering pain. No amount of ibuprofen would kill the splitting headache. What had been a minor fever that would sneak up and then flee, came on strong and persisted. I ping-ponged between hot and sweaty and chilled and shivering. That night I couldn’t sleep. Someone was extinguishing their cigar on the back of my throat. Each cough felt like a serrated knife dragged across the blistering sore. I tried to breathe shallowly to reduce the chance of coughing. My body, however, wanted to belch, which triggered coughing. Sometimes the tears were just one of the symptoms of the flu, other times they were a response to the unrelenting pain.

Did I mention the farting. Early on in this process I noted my level of gas skyrocketed. Really amazing, tremendous farts that went on forever. And then another within moments. Where does all that gas come from? I don’t know, but I imagine it is the waste product of the invading army. My defense mechanisms were waging an all-out war to save my life, and the corpses of the enemy were vaporized into great clouds that had to be expelled. The enemy was mighty and multitudinous.

Friday I lost the ability to speak above a whisper, but I didn’t want to speak anyway because it might trigger a cough. The headache was intense and persistent. No amount of ibuprofen dulled it. There was no more reading. Even watching TV was too much to bear. I did my best to nap, but mostly I lay on the couch and suffered.

Now it is Saturday. The dark night of flu misery has passed. The throat is still sore, but nothing like it was. The head still hurts, but now ibuprofen seems to have some effect. The coughing is productive, no longer dry and painful. There is no more farting, but my left nostril will not stop dripping. In fact, dripping is too picayune for what it is doing. It is constantly streaming without stop, like a faucet turned on. I must hydrate myself or at this rate I will be a dried out husk by midnight.

I am optimistic that the worst is behind me. My weekend will be given to rest, relaxation, and re-hydration. And by early next week I will return to my preferred life of not having the flu all the fucking time.

UPDATE: Sunday turned out to be a profound day of snot. It made me feel like King Duncan, except with snot instead of blood.

“Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much snot in him.”

Monday off to work, because Good Lord! how much work can I seriously miss? Quite a bit, it turns out. After a couple of hours I’m off to the clinic to get a z-pak and some prednisone. Monday is also the end of one week with the flu.

Week two of flu life begins on Tuesday and I manage to make myself human enough to do a half day at work.

Wednesday, I should be improving, right? That’s the way the trajectory is supposed to move. Incremental improvement everyday until back to my rip-roaring best. Except this morning I awake at 5am feeling like some renegade MMA fighter has slipped into my bedroom and kicked me in the right side of my head. My ear and sinus feel walloped. Nonetheless, I persist. It takes me about 75 minutes to assemble myself into something vaguely human and I trundle to work. Only to trundle home after about an hour, because my coughing is loud and persistent and disturbing all those trying to study.

Ah, well. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. At least the blinding headaches have stopped and I can now read while I recuperate.

Weasel Words

A key strategy for identifying ‘fake’ or misleading ‘news’ is to look for weasel words. I put fake and news into quotation marks because weasel word writing is common in the most prestigious news sources, especially in the op-ed columns.

Wikipedia has a good list of weasel phrases to watch out for.

Examples
“A growing body of evidence…”[13] (Where is the raw data for your review?)
“People say…” (Which people? How do they know?)
“It has been claimed that…” (By whom, where, when?)
“Critics claim…” (Which critics?)
“Clearly…” (As if the premise is undeniably true)
“It stands to reason that…” (Again, as if the premise is undeniably true—see “Clearly” above)
“Questions have been raised…” (Implies a fatal flaw has been discovered)
“I heard that…” (Who told you? Is the source reliable?)
“There is evidence that…” (What evidence? Is the source reliable?)
“Experience shows that…” (Whose experience? What was the experience? How does it demonstrate this?)
“the person may have…” (And the person may not have.)
“It has been mentioned that…” (Who are these mentioners? Can they be trusted?)
“Popular wisdom has it that…” (Is popular wisdom a test of truth?)
“Commonsense has it/insists that…” (The common sense of whom? Who says so? See “Popular wisdom” above, and “It is known that” below)
“It is known that…” (By whom and by what method is it known?)
“It is recommended that…” (Who is recommending it? Upon what authority?)
“Officially known as…” (By whom, where, when, and who says so?)
“It turns out that…” (How does it turn out?[e 1])
“It was noted that…” (By whom, why, when?)
“Nobody else’s product is better than ours.” (What is the evidence of this?)
“Our product is regarded as…” (Regarded by whom?)
“Award-winning” (What type of award, when was it given and by whom?)
“A recent study at a leading university…” (How recent is your study? At what university?)
“(The phenomenon) came to be seen as…” (by whom?)
“Up to sixty percent…” (so, 59%? 50%? 10%?)
“More than seventy percent…” (How many more? 70.01%? 80%? 90%?)
“The vast majority…” (75%? 85% 99%? How many?)

When writing, be specific. When reading, look for writers who use specific language and avoid generalizations and vague pronouncements.

Headlines are part of our news problem

No one has time to read every article. We read synopses, abstracts, tweets, and headlines to get the gist of what’s happening. To save time and space we take a pernicious short-cut. We say Republicans when we mean many or some Republicans. We say ‘the left’ when we mean many, most, or some on the left. We say women when we mean some-but-not-all women.

This is the fallacy of composition.

Description: Inferring that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. This is the opposite of the fallacy of division.

Logical Form:

A is part of B
A has property X
Therefore, B has property X.

Until we can be more specific and accurate with our civic language we will never cross the communication divide. If I want to get a better understanding of conservative arguments, I reject them immediately when they that something is true of ‘the left’ or liberals, that I do not believe.

Civic communication, on a broad scale, will improve if we, and the headline writers of the world, follow the simple maxim — Be Specific.