Jul 17

‘Now batting … Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II’

Any guesses on why this path is important?

Trick question, the sidewalk itself isn’t important, but the property is quite meaningful. You can find out why on the most recent addition to the historic markers site. And if you want to read all of the markers I’ve collected from my bicycle, well you’re just a special history fan yourself, aren’t you? You can see them all, in reverse chronological order, right here.

A quiet day at work, a quiet evening with food from the grill. I spent some time writing.

And I read the scariest story of the day, something Michael Lewis got in Vanity Fair, that reads like it is the first chapter of his next book. Lewis has his detractors, but he can put words down. And if even a third of this story is feet-down accurate, this is disturbing. And so an almost-random six paragraph selection:

(T)he Trump White House asked the D.O.E.’s inspector general to resign, along with the inspectors general of the other federal agencies, out of the mistaken belief that he was an Obama appointee. After members of Congress called to inform the Trump people that the inspectors general were permanent staff, so that they might remain immune to political influence, the Trump people re-installed him.

But there was actually a long history of even the appointees of one administration hanging around to help the new appointees of the next. The man who had served as chief financial officer of the department during the Bush administration, for instance, stayed a year and a half into the Obama administration—simply because he had a detailed understanding of the money end of things that was hard to replicate quickly. The C.F.O. of the department at the end of the Obama administration was a mild-mannered civil-servant type named Joe Hezir. He had no particular political identity and was widely thought to have done a good job—and so he half-expected a call from the Trump people asking him to stay on, just to keep the money side of things running smoothly. The call never came. No one even let him know his services were no longer required. Not knowing what else to do, but without anyone to replace him, the C.F.O. of a $30 billion operation just up and left.

This was a loss. A lunch or two with the chief financial officer might have alerted the new administration to some of the terrifying risks they were leaving essentially unmanaged. Roughly half of the D.O.E.’s annual budget is spent on maintaining and guarding our nuclear arsenal, for instance. Two billion of that goes to hunting down weapons-grade plutonium and uranium at loose in the world so that it doesn’t fall into the hands of terrorists. In just the past eight years the D.O.E.’s National Nuclear Security Administration has collected enough material to make 160 nuclear bombs. The department trains every international atomic-energy inspector; if nuclear power plants around the world are not producing weapons-grade material on the sly by reprocessing spent fuel rods and recovering plutonium, it’s because of these people. The D.O.E. also supplies radiation-detection equipment to enable other countries to detect bomb material making its way across national borders. To maintain the nuclear arsenal, it conducts endless, wildly expensive experiments on tiny amounts of nuclear material to try to understand what is actually happening to plutonium when it fissions, which, amazingly, no one really does. To study the process, it is funding what promises to be the next generation of supercomputers, which will in turn lead God knows where.

The Trump people didn’t seem to grasp, according to a former D.O.E. employee, how much more than just energy the Department of Energy was about. They weren’t totally oblivious to the nuclear arsenal, but even the nuclear arsenal didn’t provoke in them much curiosity. “They were just looking for dirt, basically,” said one of the people who briefed the Beachhead Team on national-security issues. “‘What is the Obama administration not letting you do to keep the country safe?'” The briefers were at pains to explain an especially sensitive aspect of national security: the United States no longer tests its nuclear weapons. Instead, it relies on physicists at three of the national labs—Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia—to simulate explosions, using old and decaying nuclear materials.

This is not a trivial exercise, and to do it we rely entirely on scientists who go to work at the national labs because the national labs are exciting places to work. They then wind up getting interested in the weapons program. That is, because maintaining the nuclear arsenal was just a by-product of the world’s biggest science project, which also did things like investigating the origins of the universe. “Our weapons scientists didn’t start out as weapons scientists,” says Madelyn Creedon, who was second-in-command of the nuclear-weapons wing of the D.O.E., and who briefed the incoming administration, briefly. “They didn’t understand that. The one question they asked was ‘Wouldn’t you want the guy who grew up wanting to be a weapons scientist?’ Well, actually, no.”

In the run-up to the Trump inauguration the man inside the D.O.E. in charge of the nuclear-weapons program was required to submit his resignation, as were the department’s 137 other political appointees. Frank Klotz was his name, and he was a retired three-star air-force lieutenant general with a Ph.D. in politics from Oxford. The keeper of the nation’s nuclear secrets had boxed up most of his books and memorabilia just like everyone else and was on his way out before anyone had apparently given the first thought to who might replace him. It was only after Secretary Moniz called a few senators to alert them to the disturbing vacancy, and the senators phoned Trump Tower sounding alarmed, that the Trump people called General Klotz, on the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, and asked him to bring back the stuff he had taken home and move back into his office. Aside from him, the people with the most intimate knowledge of the problems and the possibilities of the D.O.E. walked out the door.

And, finally, John Jay is trending. Apparently this is a left fielder for the Cubs, though of course I thought of the first chief justice of the Supreme Court. So I decided to make an all Supreme Court baseball team:

OF: John Jay
OF: Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II
OF: Bushrod Washington
3B: James Iredell
SS: Benjamin Cardozo|
2B: Salmon Chase
1B: Thurgood Marshall
C: Melville Fuller
P: Hugo Black
DH: Harold Hitz Burton

Relief: William Howard Taft
Relief: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Closer: Oliver Wendell Holmes

Holmes has to make the team, of course, but he has to also wear his bushy mustache. And Harold Hitz Burton was an obvious and inspired choice for DH. And my team probably can’t hit for power, and they have no real speed, but they make up for all of that with their clubhouse presence.

UPDATE: Of course it has been pointed out that I left off perhaps the most athletic jurist on the court. Byron White was an All Pro in the NFL before turning to the law. And he was an All-American on the football field at the University of Colorado, as well. The Whizzer also hit .400 for the Buffaloes. I wonder what he thought about free agency…

Jul 17

Look at all of this stuff that’s about to happen

Why is this car in a snow globe? What does this have to do with education? And why are those almost-stick figures to the right so interested in it?

You’d think that if you were going to examine the oddity of a car trapped in a glass globe you would do so from a position not within its potential path of travel. Just in case the car slips its parking gear or otherwise becomes sentient and carries a grudge.

But they weren’t thinking about things like that in the 1940s. (Honestly, that there’s a rug beneath it all seems the most unsettling to me. Why a rug? I mean, aside from the artist’s need to establish dimensions here, why does this encased car need a rug? Creepy.) Anyway, the answer to some of those questions are important, no matter the decade. You can find the answers, and a few more textbook photos to glance at here. If this looks new to you, check out all of the best art from this book right here. This, of course, is part of my collection of my grandfather’s books. You can see them all as they go online right here. And I think, now with that book completed I’ll have to change gears. After the texts already assembled on the site we’ll get into serious reads on algebra and biology. And I would worry that I’m just not talented or clever enough to make fun of formulas and geometric shapes and insect macros.

But! I also have a large stack of my grandfather’s old science magazines. We’ll start diving into those next week.

I’ve been dealing with a throat thing. It’s getting better, thanks. Something irritated it on Saturday morning and now it only hurts some of the time. I expect I’ll be healed just in time for something else to happen. Just like this. I’d been fighting some sort of sinus or respiratory thing for about two weeks– probably from the accumulated dust of these books, which I’m going to deal with this weekend, I think — and that finally cleared up in time for this throat issue.

It’ll take more than that to keep a chipper person with plans down, and so here we are. There are lots of things underway. I’m working on a new mobile version of my site. I have the book section going on Tuesdays. Markers on Wenesdays. I have some cool new videos to shoot, beginning next week I hope. I’m thinking about re-working a part of my office soon, too. And I have to start riding my bike more and running again. See? So many things to do … just as soon as I can swallow without wincing.

And now back to making a delicious spaghetti dinner.

You can see more on Twitter and Instagram too.

Jul 17

I’ll soon tackle the office closet, requiring signal flares

I installed two more shelves on an office wall today. If you enjoyed yesterday’s explanation of the process you can just imagine this twice this evening. Though, this time there were four nails and only four nail holes. Also, I developed something better than the traditional tape system to mark my spots. Then I did math four times, measured twice and drove a nail.

But the first nail is never the problem, is it? When you’re hanging something that has more than one holder it is always the math related to that second nail which is a bit more tricky. The first nail will live wherever you put it and, at worst, you just have a quirky sense of style. That second one though bears a direct relationship to the first. And at that point all of your hardware better come from Mars. Or Venus. Either one, so long as they are from the same one.

The nails have to be relative, is what I’m saying. Maybe they have to be related. No, that’d be weird. Why would the second nail stick around for that? Morbid curiosity? “What just happened to my brother? Oh well, I guess I’ll just sit around and seeeeeee — ” and then suddenly that nail is driven into the wall, too.

At any rate, a slow rate really, my home office is coming along. There are only two walls that aren’t spoken for. One is dominated by a rather large bookshelf. The other features a closet door and some curiously placed electrical plate covers. It is a small room, but it has two cable outlets, and they are about four feet apart and that is in vertical distance. This was done, I can only assume, at the beginning of the wall-mounted television craze. My solution has been to cover this space with wall art.

Now, would you like to hear about the procedure I used to chop vegetables for dinner tonight?

Back to the historical markers. We just returned to this section of the site last week and I’m now showing off some of the historic sites in this new county. The original premise is still the rule. I’m riding my bike to all of the historical markers in the county. To find out all about this building right here:

You can see the complete list, here. There will be more as the weeks progressed.

Elsewhere, check me out on Twitter and over on Instagram, too.

Jul 17

This is about speed, and also the lack of that

Who is this man, and why does he look carefully calibrated to be satisfied, but not so much that you’d think him smug?

The answer will be found in a 75 year old book. And also in the book section of the site, where we formally meet the man, the myth, the legend. You can see more of that particular book here. Then, please do look at some of the other books I’ve highlighted.

Speed typing champion. Who knew there was such a thing? He’s doing that on a manual typewriter, of course, and that’s very fast. On my computer, just now, I took a typing test and hit 96 words per minute. That’s faster than the average typist, the site assured me, but still rather pedestrian compared to Mr. Hossfield. And I imagine any given modern computer can have its keyboard operated faster than a classic typewriter.

Sometimes his name is spelled Hossfeld. Whichever way he spelled his family name, I like to think the typo really annoyed him.

This evening I hung a shelf. This involved a hammer, a few nails and a few more holes. Also, there was one exasperated sigh. But I put a shelf up. Now, this part isn’t the amazing part. I am no expert, but I can claim a fair mastery of the common hammer and both of its two main uses. What’s most interesting about this is that I just eyeballed it. There are empty walls and stacks of things to hang because this is a process that takes time.

Too much time, truth be told. There must be ideas, considered, forgotten, reapplied and philosophized about. Sometimes, if the first 14 stages of the process are successful, the frame sits at the base of the wall for a time, for further in-depth consideration.

Then, and only then, if you find the right item for the right patch of wall, you have to measure everything. There’s the distance from the left corner — this one most come first for some reason I don’t understand — and then from the right side. Equidistance must be preserved, or if further displays are warranted, steps must be taken to allow for an appropriate spatial relationship of multiple framed works. Then you have to figure out the height. Of course we’re not going to solve the timeless dilemma of what is truly eye level, but that’s running through your mind when you hang things. Also, does this thing need to be mounted in a stud? And is this nail the right weight?

Hanging thigs is a process, is what I’m saying.

Tonight, I just said Looks about right, and started driving nails. It was a powerful and carefree feeling. Not so much a smugness, but a satisfaction.

And then I looked beyond the window, to the other side of the room. The same wall. The asymmetrical, blank wall.

This is going to take a while.

Jul 17

Today we went global

I sat in a chair for about an hour and moved three faders up and down at the appropriate time and listened to three ladies talk about their time in town, in the state, in the country. It was a multinational show, you see. The ladies are from Zimbabwe, Mali and Mozambique. They are here, 25 in all, from 20 African nations, young leaders in a six-week academic and leadership institute called the Mandela Washington Fellowship. It is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative.

They did two shows today and we recorded one last week. They are really passionate, thoughtful people. I’m just moving faders and listening closely. They have a lot to say. I have a lot to learn.

Here they are now, in the production booth:

The composition was a deliberate choice. I didn’t say anything, it seemed right.

I think we’re in week three of their visit. I hope I get to see them a few more times while they are in town.

Meanwhile, on the site we are returning to a dormant section of the site. We’re back to checking out historical markers. I haven’t uploaded anything there in a little over year. The original premise of that subsection of the site was, and remains, that I would ride my bike to all of the historical markers in the county. Now, of course, I have an entire new county to explore. So here we are. You can find out all about why this building is important right here:

To see the complete list, go here. There will be more as the weeks progressed. Watch, as they say, this space.

Elsewhere, check me out on Twitter and over on Instagram, too.