Saturday, February 25, 2017

Randomday, after a Brief Desert Interlude

 Last week, last minute, I was able to fly down to Arizona. If you fly out of PDX you are kind of supposed to take a foot selfie on the backdrop of the carpet, so I did.
And this picture of my Dad came out rather nice,
This little bird - a Grackle? - was missing its left leg and kept hopping around the patio at AJ's gourmet grocery store, hoping for food.
She even jumped up on the chair next to me and posed quite nicely. I'm still learning the ropes of photos on my new iphone. Later when I got home, Quarta noticed the bird moving its head when we scrolled through the photos. Apparently this is a thing iphones do. It's like Harry Potter pictures. The fire flickers, hands and heads move.
Beth took this picture... she flew all the way in from Scotland and I didn't get a face shot of her. But after she and Deb and I got pedicures I took this:
Foot selfies, with Aunt Carol animatedly talking to Dad in the background. She was telling the story of Grandpa crawling through the burning appliance store next to the burning  paint store, to retrieve the customer records, sometime in the early 1940's. That sounds very like Grandpa, and it explains a lot about risk-taking behavior in my family when you think about it.
Back home again, it was really rainy for several days in a row. It was so rainy this giant slug sought refuge from the out-of-doors and found its way to the ceiling above the front door. It was moving slow enough that the moving-picture iphone effect didn't kick in. I used a table knife to pry it off the ceiling and it fell onto the front mat, so I carried it outside and dumped it in a puddle. In Arizona they have to deal with scorpions and rattlesnakes, so I guess this isn't so bad... but still. We at least are having some blooming crocuses.

The project this week for me has been working on Russian. I finished the Swedish tree on Duolingo a month or so ago, and finally I decided to tackle the Russian course, with the help of the Memrise course which forces me to get the spelling right and take it much slower. So far I can understand the first few lessons, and it's getting easier to say things like Я ем хлеб, Моя кошка, спокойной ночи.  (I eat bread, my cat, good night). I like how they have so many letters that aren't even in our alphabet. Maybe I will eventually progress to more.

Today I did some shopping erands with Tertia, helped Steve prune the grapevines, and made pizza dough for Quarta, who took it from there. We just watched a lovely animated movie, Song of the Sea, about an Irish boy and his little sister, who is a Selkie.

I need to have a blog post for book reviews. I feel like I've let that slide. Also I need to start a new knitting project because I finished Steve's socks last night.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Randomday, once again. A 10-minute blog limit. No media analysis to be attempted this time!

Yesterday evening and today we attended a lecture series by Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio, formerly of NPR, on Christianity and Culture. Or something in that vein. It was a little more philosophical and cerebral than I was completely comfortable with on a weekend, but it was very stimulating. I got about 3 inches of knitting on Steve's socks.

We checked out an Indian restaurant called Maruti, on Hawthorne, yesterday evening. All vegetarian, and really delicious.

Steve and I just watched the first episode of Man in the High Castle. I'm hooked, Steve isn't. It goes like that with tense thrillers in our house sometimes.

Quarta made devil's food cake with fluffy chocolate frosting this last Tuesday, I think, just because there was a chocolate deficiency going on.

We had some of the hardest rain I've ever seen Thursday, I think. It was bucketing down and bouncing off the pavement at least six inches. But this weekend has been nicer.

I'll be making a quick trip to Arizona next week to see family, including Beth who is flying in from Scotland. It was fun arranging this and I hope I can soak in some warm weather to last me until July. Our winter weather in December and January has set the spring back by a few weeks, I think.

Okay, time's up. Going to bed to read.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Political/Journalism Thursday: Evaluating the Post

This is an infographic I found on Facebook, shared on my wall because I thought it was pretty close to accurate, and then that sparked a discussion about evaluating news sources between some of my incredibly diverse and thoughtful friends. It appears to originate at a site called, and that site references mediabiasfactcheck. There is a similar but - I believe - less accurate version here. Whatever graphic you prefer - or none! - I think it's worth having a post on the state of journalism today, and how an informed citizen can respond to it.

So this post will be different from my usual ones. This election cycle "Fake News" has become a watchword and everyone wants to be well-informed, but feelings are running high and it is genuinely hard to know whom to trust. I have a little journalistic background: I took journalism in college, worked as an in-house newsletter editor for National Right to Life, and then most recently I taught for 16 years and wrote all of my own study guides and support material. I care deeply about the business of keeping people informed, in whatever context, passing on real and factual information with the minimum of personal bias, but still maintaining a personal voice: after all writing is an art, not a science. That is what I believe a teacher's job is, and what a good journalist's job is. So why is it so frustrating to be a news junkie this year? Well, if you believe the graphic above, our major news sources are pretty badly polarized. My personal chart would put most mainstream news even further left, and the "garbage" news would also be pretty far down on the low-quality graphic: because manipulative and selective journalism on either side is not journalism at all, it is propaganda.

For reference, as most readers know, I am a conservative and I almost always vote Republican, except for this presidential election. Still, I caucus with the Republicans and I hope for the best from the Trump administration despite his daily gaffes. I have an online subscription to the Washington Post and read it as much as I can stand, which is less these days. Why is that? Well, the above chart puts it pretty close to the hyper-partisan left, which is good for confirming your already existing biases but not so great for convincing those who don't share that bias. So tonight I want to do a media watchdog exercise and evaluate the lead stories of today's Post, pointing out which ones I think are "hard news," i.e., factual, content-rich and helpful, which ones are opinion-driven or agenda-driven but still have relevance to the news cycle, and which ones are unworthy of the Post's august reputation.

Many people don't know this, but there are some checks and balances within the news industry that try to maintain high journalistic standards. But as the internet expands and social media regularly scoop the established news sources, "big journalism" is cutting corners and letting some of those safeguards go. Newspapers are supposed to have a reader's representative, called an ombudsman or public editor, who is responsive to reader complaints and will check out alleged bias. When the Post in the early 1990's alleged that members of the Religious Right were "poor, uneducated, and easy to command," it was the ombudsman who had to apologize for the paper in his column. But the Post apparently no longer has an ombudsman. Still, any reader or viewer has the right to correspond with the authors and publisher of a story with which there are problems, and point out those problems. A reputable news source will welcome this and will respond respectfully. There are also media watchdog groups. I knew a girl who worked at one, before the internet. It must have been a tedious job and involved filling out graphs to tally the number of mentions of certain keywords that would tend to illustrate media bias in one direction or another. Now a simple google search can handle a lot of that, but the accusations of media bias are lost in a sea of social media memes. I wonder if we are really any better off? Finally, the ongoing expansion of alternative media has mainstream news running scared. Even the big names are having trouble staying solvent, as we amuse ourselves to death and choose video and interactive media instead of the more cerebral print. Journalists have to "pitch" an "angle" to their editors, or they don't get to write the story at all. That "angle" has to be appealing to a public with diminishing attention spans, or the story won't get read. To a certain extent, it's no wonder the news business has declined since I took Journalism with Dr. Stansberry 30 years ago. It's no wonder you don't see lead sentences with "who-what-when-where-how-why" anymore... they would be too boring for most of us to read. But that's no excuse for

I read or at least skimmed all the stories in the "Top Stories" section of today's Washington Post (Kindle version: the owner of the Post is Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, they are careful to point out. I don't know what kind of Emoluments clause the Post has but it was a good deal on the subscription). I will record the headlines of these 16 stories here, and my conclusions about the story in italics. These are my personal reactions; yours might well be different. I rate A for hard news, informative and relatively unbiased, B for leading or angling toward a desired conclusion but still following the journalistic conventions of multiple sources and clear reasoing, or also if it is a fair piece of journalism but doesn't merit placement in the top section; C for an obvious hit piece that should be labeled "opinion" and put in the opinion section. Guess what- A pieces are fairly boring; B and C pieces have a lot more punch and will play well on Facebook. All biases are assumed to be towards the Left unless otherwise noted (spoiler alert: this is the Washington Post. There is no corporate bias toward the Right, although some individuals in the Opinion section do express such opinions from time to time).
Today's Top Stories:

  1. Trump's Travel Ban Remains on Hold A - although it listed a Trump tweet it also interviewed sources on both sides and showed good factual reportage of the lead hard news of the day.
  2. Trump Lashes out at Senator who Revealed Supreme Court Nominee's Comments B - this kind of he said/he said gossipy political piece obviously advances the "Trump is irritable and irrational" narrative, admittedly this is the kind of piece that writes itself and is part of the news cycle. But it should have been in the politics section since it doesn't really contain any hard news. It is full of reactions to reactions to rumor; admittedly, there's a lot of that in Washington right now.
  3. Trump Attacks McCain for Questioning Success of Deadly Yemen Raid B -another reactionary piece; I don't give it a C because the character of our President is part of the news cycle. Three screen-captures of Donald Trump Tweets, but no actual policy is advanced, and if you don't already know about the deadly Yemen raid, good luck finding out about it here.
  4. In Executive Actions, Trump Vows Crackdown on Violent Crime: Is America as Unsafe as He Thinks? B - I would have given it an A without the leading subtitle, and the author's note in the article that Trump has misstated crime statistics in the past.
  5. Sessions' First Comments as Attorney General Inflated U.S. Crime Problem C - I flat out couldn't stand to read Philip Bump's sanctimonious tone. If we could maybe let the new AG be AG for a full day before writing his political obituary? Bump was the writer who predicted a few days before the election there was no possible path to victory for Trump. How is he still employed?
  6. Sessions Confirmed as AG after Bitter Senate Debate A - Pretty much as the headline states
  7. Conway "Counseled" after Touting Ivanka Trump's Products B - probably a hit piece on Conway, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Trump administration needs to learn quickly to meter their speech because the Post will not give them the benefit of the doubt.
  8. For Years, this Mother got a Pass from Immigration Authorities. This Week, they Took her into Custody B - read on and you'll realize she was originally charged 8 years ago and has been getting deferrals ever since. Again, I'm too nice to give them a C but this is at least a little biased and pushing the narrative that Trump is unfair to immigrants.
  9. Washington Gives Hockey a Diplomacy Shot: Female Player from the UAE Practices with the Capitals B - but a fun visual of a hijab-wearing hockey player on the ice. This one should have been in the Sports section, not Top News. I routinely skip the Sports section.
  10. Kenyan Court Blocks Plans to Dismantle World's Largest Refugee Camp A - some real world news, but relevant to the news cycle. They even mention the concerns of ISIS recruitment at this camp, so it doesn't appear to be biased
  11. Archaeologists Find Evidence of New Dead Sea Scroll Cave A - Cool, more stories like this please!
  12. How to Stop your Smart TV from Collecting your Data B - probably should have been in Business/Tech section; interesting but how come they don't warn me of the dangers of Amazon collecting my data using the Post app?
  13. Call Me, Maybe? Trump Reaches out to China's President in a Letter B - this had a gossipy and insinuating feel to it, although not necessarily anti-Trump, it passes on hearsay rather than hard news and implies Trump is dragging his feet on establishing China relations
  14. Muslim/American Olympian Says she was Detained by U.S. Customs B - Other than showing another female hijab-wearing athlete, and drumming up anti-Trump sentiment this is a non-story. A lot of people were detained by U.S. Customs recently, and her detention did not seem to be very long
  15. Not all Processed Foods are Bad for You B - Should have been in the Life section
  16. Essay - The Unexpected Blessing of Being a Stay at Home Dad B - Heartwarming as I'm sure it was, I did not read this. I was only interested in hard news this read-through.
Post sections in my app: Top Stories (listed above), Wild Card, Around the World, Politics and Power, Business and Tech, Opinions, Sports, Life and Entertainment, Don't Miss, Backstory, Comics, Horoscopes

Because the Post is so lengthy and the average article length is substantial, reading one or two sections is a reasonable goal for a well-informed citizen each day. 

My analysis of the 16 stories in "Top Stories" today: 4 were timely, relevant to the news cycle, fair and as balanced as a good journalist can make them. 11 were leading toward a particular bias, or perhaps just poorly placed in the front section. And 1, well, I couldn't trust the author not to continue his pattern of bias

Bonus analysis: in the Opinions section today there were 20 pieces. Two of them were official editorials "from the editorial board": 
  • Just Because GOP Can, Doesn't Mean it Should
  • Do Your Homework, Ms. DeVos
Both contained obvious anti-Republican bias, if you had any doubt. Honestly, I believe the editorial board of any newspaper is entitled to have its opinion and to state it. I would read the Opinion section more readily if you kept the Top Stories, Around the World, and Politics sections more grounded in the realm of fact.

So that's that, and that's the evening. I enjoy news analysis, but it's another one of those time-consuming hobbies that doesn't win you any friends. I might consider doing this as an occasional feature though, we'll see.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Design Wall Monday and Stash Report

I think it's been about a year since I even attempted one of these. I'm determined to make 2017 a more productive year for quilting and maybe even knitting. (About 4 pairs of socks were knit last year; no quilts were finished).
But this year I've finished the En Provence top, and that clears room on my design wall for the APQquiltalong from (mumble) years ago. It's a low-tone Burgoyne surrounded and I never really gave up on it, I just didn't sew on it last year. I'm working on the 14th of 20 blocks and starting to get excited about it. It's really pretty!

For other people's Design Wall reports, see here.
 Finishing the En Provence top also made me face up to the Beast, that is, the Farmer's Wife Quilt that has been on the Megaquilter frame for 3 years, untouched, growing dusty, some of its fabrics fading from the sun. :(  But I am stepping back to the task and getting into the rhythm of quilting. For this there is so much stopping and starting that I need to keep my tweezers (for pulling up the bobbin thread) and scissors (for snipping the thread ends after about an inch of sewing) handy. It takes about 45 seconds start to finish to do one of those little vines on each sashing unit. The individual blocks are longer, but have to be broken up into two sections because of the fact the Megaquilter is not a long-arm. I was finished with 3 rows  (of 17) when I entered the 3-year hiatus; I just finished row 10 on Saturday. It was totally not worth leaving for that long, and I hope the quilting Erinyes will overlook my fault.
 The kitties rebuke me for leaving them on the rollers so long.
 This is the sad state of my "accessory box" for my 25+ year old Viking. I think they made it with plastic hinges... otherwise very sturdily designed. I am sad I will have to use it as a free-arm from now on. I loved all that cleverly-arranged on-board storage.
 And I mentioned before that I've been following along with the 365-day declutter challenge, so today I tackled my cookbooks. But the shelves they were on were really dusty and dirty, so I had to clean them, and then I was way past my 15 minutes. So I put back the really essential ones and later I will start ruthlessly evaluating 60-year-old homemakers' pamphlets, 15-50 year-old church and civic organization cookbooks, and cookbooks that were all the rage but their time has gone. Seriously, someone must want a guide to Knox Gelatine from the 1950's, or the Once-A-Month cookbook?
Stash Report:

Fabric used week/year to date: 8 yards (estimated for En Provence top)
Fabric added year to date: 0 yards (and I aim to keep it that way)
Net fabric used: 8 yards

Yarn used year to date: 0 yards
Yarn added year to date: 0 yards (and I am on a yarn diet as well)

For other stash reports, Judy L. has them here.
My main knitting project at the moment is a pair of socks from Sanguine Gryphon yarn I bought at Sock Summit 5 years ago. I am turning the heels now so everything is looking up. And if I get some time to do some quilting and knitting both this evening, after cooking and eating a healthy meal, I couldn't possibly ask for more from a Monday.

Friday, February 3, 2017


I would need several days of blogging to catch up on all that I've missed, so I'll just share some of the highlights from our mid-January snowstorm and the sewing I have been working on. I'm sure there will be more left for a randomday post tomorrow.
 About 13 inches of heavy snow in 12 hours tested the bendy-ness of our birch trees.
 We took a walk across the street. In all this year there have been 8 snow days for Tertia and 9 for Quarta. They will have extra days in the summer.
Trying to shake off the birches a bit.
After an hour or so outside it was nice to come inside and sew. I monopolized the family room floor for a day or so. The snow turned to freezing rain and Portland shut down; I just kept sewing.
 Outside the gutters overflowed with freezing rain and the icicles just got longer and longer. The back porch was covered with an inch of very slippery ice... we didn't go out that way.
 I finished the En Provence quilt top and the sun came out just in time for this photo shoot on the old sycamore tree. The front fence would have been too snowy.
This is embarrassing... I have a rather extreme backlog of the 2013-2016 mystery quilts now waiting to be quilted. Plus a few extra...
 Front to back, En Provence, String Star, Allietare. On the frame (for more than three years!), Farmer's Wife. Not pictured, Celtic Solstice and Grand Illusion. This was the picture I took to goad myself on to start machine quilting Farmer's Wife again. It worked! (Pictures of that maybe another time).
I enoyed the mystery quilt this year: it managed to give me the kick start I needed to at least attempt to get back into my neglected quilt corner. My everyday Viking machine is in working order this year, although it just suffered breakage of the "accessory box" and now only functions in free-arm mode. I hopped back into the APQ quilt-along of a low-tone Burgoyne Surrounded, also from about 3 years ago. I've been cutting many strips for my Scrap User's boxes and binge-watching Call the Midwife, and I may very well have yet another finished top if I keep up at this rate. I hope I do, and I hope I manage to get some much-needed house cleaning and organization done as well. And knitting, and spinning. It's really quite amazing what is possible when I'm no longer teaching every day. In a small way, of course... I'm not claiming the house is neat or anything! And there is no denying I need to have some serious purges of excess stuff.

In previous year's I've tried to do various things to keep me accountable to work on UFOs and WIPs. I haven't been blogging enough to make that realistic this year, but I will try to do periodic updates on progress. It's what I originally enjoyed about blogging years ago, and it gives me an incentive to keep on. So here's to keeping on!

Thursday, February 2, 2017


February 2, 2004

Matter can be neither created nor destroyed,
But in an isolated system
Will be conserved in perfect balance,
Interplaying with its attendant energy,
According to the laws of nature and of nature’s God.

And in a universe of mysteries,
The greatest and rarest mystery of all,
That in a small quantity of collected atoms
From time to time
Matter and energy exist in equipoise,
The one supporting the other;
A hybrid
For a time, or a lifetime, or less
But at a great cost,
For there is no isolated system in this or any other universe.

The only matter that matters will
Be separated from its indwelling energy
And the energy departs
We do not know where
All that is left behind is matter,
And matter is the only thing that will mark the passing of energy --
A spark, a puff of wind, a moving shadow perhaps
The things we choose to mark its passing,
Bare matter themselves,
Wood, metal, stone,
A folded sweater, a dusty book,
Or random energy,
A dream, a memory,
Faulty firing of synapses
A sound, the soft click of a lid as it closes on a life
A flicker at the edge of thought
A strain of music—
All these things will last longer than the matter
That has been severed and cannot return to us,
Until we shall go to it.


(I'm reblogging this poem today, 2 years after I wrote it. I had forgotten about it until I found a file titled "physics" in my creative writing folder and wondered what in the world my least favorite subject was doing there. After opening it I remembered. It's probably more metaphysics than physics, but it encapsulates some of the things I was pondering when my mother died, and on the anniversary of her death every year. Or whenever I wear her sweater or hold one of her books, things made of organic matter themselves but much more enduring than the human body. From what I can remember, writing this poem was painful, so I made it fast. Reading it again after two years brings back those hospice days vividly, but it is odd how the composition of the poem itself feels so distant to me, as if another person had written it.)