30 June 2020

Egad! I'm Reading!

I will now make a public confession of something I have only mentioned to a couple of people my entire life because of the shame it brings me.  I don't read.  By that I mean I very seldom read for pleasure.  Though rare, this is not an unheard-of affliction amongst academics, after all, we read for a living.  Reading therefore becomes "work" and work is, well, work.  This may result from my favorite type of reading being history; it's too close to what I do for a living.  You'd think that historical fiction would be the answer, but I find that historical fiction leaves me with a "love it or leave it" reaction: either I adore the book* or loathe it and put it down without finishing it.  The latter happens especially when I find an glaring factual error or a preposterous oversimplification.  In the past couple of weeks, however, I've finished two books.  So what happened?  First, I put Kindle on my mid-sized iPad.  Now, I tried kindle before on the Amazon device, it worked at first, but then my interest waned.  For some reason, I find the pad more attractive, and a device is easier for me to use than fumbling with a book, and lighting, and with my presbyopia. Second, I retired.  This, of course, means I need to find something to do with my time (even I can only nap for so long in the course of one day) but more importantly it means I no longer read for a living.  Third, I think I may have found a solution to my history problem, viz., read in an area about which I know little or nothing (difficult for a universal savant of my caliber) so that way I can't be critical all the time.  So the first book I read was a deliciously dry and excruciating precise and detailed history of the Maya.  I devoured it; all the joy of technical academic reading with none of the personal investment.  I moved on to something closer to home: a popularly written history of the personal conflicts and vendettas among the artists and popes responsible for the building of St. Peter's.  A couple of tangential factual errors and one piece of nonsensical Latin, but I got past that.  Egad!  I'm reading for pleasure!  Where to next?  Likely either the history of the semi-colon or Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, I have really enjoyed popularizing astrophysics books in the past.

* The novel I most adored was Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, which is simply brilliant.  Read it and you'll know why she was the first woman elected to the Académie Française.

29 June 2020

False Focaccia

This is a gripe, not a rant.

Day before yesterday, we made a quick stop at a grocery store on the way back from Ikea.  There AH purchased a loaf of fluffy white bread that caught his fancy.  It was indeed fluffy and tasty, but there was one problem with it.  It was labeled "focaccia."   It was as tall and poofy as Wonder  Bread (though it definitely tasted better); it had cheddar cheese baked on top, along with jalapeños. 

Now, your modern cosmopolite knows that focaccia is not tall and poofy like Wonder Bread, nor does any self-respecting focaccia have cheddar or jalapeños on it; indeed the customary seasoning is rosemary, and maybe some olives as in the image below.

So, for the sake of pity and our relations with la Repubblica Italiana, please call this Poofy Cheesy Jalapeño Bread or some such, but do not call it a focaccia.

28 June 2020


I'm getting serious again.  For a good chunk of my life, I suffered with depression.  I think it may have started when I was very young; I don't quite know since I feel it took me quite a while to become self aware.  It certainly was well established in my teens, likely as a result of puberty, that fiendish bringer of pain and delight.  Since that was also the time I realized I was gay, the two were undoubted connected.  My depression took several forms, from moroseness, to periods of unexplained sadness, to feeling I was never going to be happy.  But the most curious and persistent experience is hard to describe; the best I can do is say I felt as if there was a glass wall between me and the rest of the world.  I could see what was going on around me, participate in it, but I most often felt that I wasn't really there, that there was a barrier weirdly separating me from other people and my environment.  Sometimes that made me incredibly thoughtless, at other times downright mean.  Coming out did me a lot of good.  Counseling helped with some things, but it never really got to the core problem.  Finally, I think it was in my mid-40's, when I mentioned this to my physician, a tremendously skilled internist.  I think I never mentioned this to a doctor before because I saw it as a psychological problem, not a medical one.  I'm not sure, but I believe the impetus may have been the time AH came home from work to find me sobbing uncontrollably in the living room because we were out a mayonnaise.  (Running out of mayonnaise has been a running gag with us ever since.)  Anywho, my wonderful doctor suggested that my depression might be "clinical," i.e., physiological (I don't know if they still make the distinction between situational and clinical depression.)  She suggested trying medication and - poof! - for the first time in my life the glass wall went away.  It was little short of miraculous.  So the darkness went away and I've had the normal ups and downs of life ever since - though perhaps I feel both the ups and the downs a bit more intensely than other folk. 

So why am I saying all this?  Can't say as I know exactly, but it just struck me as something I should say.  I've never quite laid this all out publicly before and I guess I felt that I should.  Maybe it will prove helpful to somebody.  The older I get, the easier self-revelation becomes. 

27 June 2020


We here at the Mighty HamsterBlog must confess to an egregious error.  Stonewall was on my calendar 10 days early, making my post to mark the event similarly in error.  The Stonewall Riots began in the early hours of 28 June 1969.


Yesterday we had our first major retail outing, down to Ikea.  There was a nice, socially-distanced line to get in, which moved quite efficiently.  Masks were required, of course, and there were hand sanitizers all over the place.  It was nice to see things that weren't home or a grocery store.  AH got a number of things he was looking for; not so much for me, only a trinket or two.  They did have some lovely Ikea shopping bags, large and small, in pride rainbow.  I bought a small.  It was a bit disappointing not finding things I couldn't live without, though there were some nice new lines in furniture.  And that, my friends, is what ya call a first world problem.

26 June 2020

Today is the 5th anniversary of the Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling.

The Bliss of Retirement

I've made a delightful observation of late.  For about the past year I've been experiencing frequent episodes of overwhelming contentment sweeping over me.  This has not been a terribly frequent occurrence in my life previously, but these days I'm getting these bliss experiences like once a week.  (And no, there haven't been any recent adjustments to my medications, thank you.)  I suspect these started roughly about a year after I made the move to Va, and that the source of this pleasant phenomenon is mainly my retirement.  (Just getting away from certain evil and stupid people at my former place of employment is also, no doubt, a major factor, but I'll leave that for some future HamsterRant.)  I frankly did not expect my life at this point to have such a feeling of contented accomplishment and overall peace.  I've done enough.  I made it... without losing my job, my sanity, my integrity (I think) or scoring a homicide indictment.  Yay, score one for The Hamster!  Methinks that in many different ways I retired at just the right time.  Now if the world will kindly not perish from its own asininity, I'll be just fine.

25 June 2020

HamsterRant: Academic Journals

OK gang, here we go with my first official HamsterRant.  This one is a tirade against my former profession (as many, no doubt, will be) and the topic is the process of getting an article published in an academic journal.

To familiarize the uninitiated: professional academics need to publish research articles in recognized professional journals to display their ongoing engagement with the discipline as well as their professional street cred for a variety of reasons, personal and professional, amongst which are getting raises and promotions.  What usually happens is that one submits a manuscript (so called even though none are handwritten anymore) to the journal editor, who has a gander to make sure it's not the product of a deranged mind - one does have to be careful about that in this business - and then sends it off, with anything that might reveal the identity of the author carefully expunged, to usually two other academics, called referees, who recommend acceptance, acceptance with specific changes made, or rejection.  Wherein lies my rant.  I have gotten some real doozies from referees over the years.  Here are just a few:

- An article in which I made the case for a multi-disciplinary approach to a given historical problem was criticized because the referee could not tell what discipline I professed.

- A referee who advised me to read a certain article the author of which happened to be a friend of mine.  Thinking it odd that I had overlooked it, and not being able to find the article the referee noted, I emailed the friend who replied that she has never written any such piece.

- One referee report I received was once so insulting and demeaning that I brought it to the attention of a member of the editorial board (yet another friend) which resulted in a caveat being inserted into all referee requests for the referee to remain helpful and civil in their comments.

- A referee who said I needed to consult the work of a certain eminent academic on the subject; said eminent academic read over two drafts of the article before I sent it in.

- A referee directed me to a specific work by the same aforementioned eminent academic which, upon examination, said nothing about the topic of my article.

Now... some of this would appear to be the result of not reading carefully or closely, something we criticize our students for doing.  These days, all academics are burdened with useless and annoying bureaucratic rubbish spewed forth by education "reformers" (and the gutless administrators who cave into them) which cut into their time, but if you don't have the time to do a good job as a referee, then decline the offer.  More annoying is a growing trend I've seen for referees not to evaluate what's in front of them, but rather criticize a piece for not being the article they would have written on the subject.  That's not what they're supposed to do.  Weaknesses in argumentation, overlooked sources, etc. are what they're supposed to look for; they're not supposed to ignore the stated aim of the piece (unless that's just simply unsound, in which case they should reject the submission) and then criticize it for not taking the approach they would have taken or not emphasizing the sources they would have emphasized.  Judging on merits does not involve imposing your own mindset on someone else's work.  And there is no excuse for referring an author to work that doesn't exist!

Editors must also share in the blame here.  The best and most professionally distinguished journal editors I've known took their referee reports as advisory; as the editor of the publication they saw it as incumbent upon themselves to exercise their own judgment and ignore referee reports they thought missed the mark (and discreetly and periphrastically to inform the author to do the same).  Now, journal editors are under the same inane pressures as other professors in the current climate, but it doesn't take that much time to exercise judgement.  Further, I firmly believe that when an editor gets conflicting reports from the two referees, they should not send out to a third reader for yet another bewildering opinion.  They should determine for themselves what advice to recommend to the author and what not.  A third report that simply offers a third differing opinion is useless.

24 June 2020

Instruction in Watchsheeping

Class is in session.

23 June 2020

A Report on Yesterday

Yesterday was a nice self-care day.  I went in for a mani/pedi and, after applying hand sanitizer, having my temperature taken, and signing a waiver, I settled down for a relaxing time in the massage chair behind a Plexiglas screen.  I usually don't notice the music playing in the salon much, but this time a recording of "Tell Laura I Love Her" and "Lonely Is the Man without Love" playing on electronically-enhanced Asian instruments was difficult not to notice.  I did leave refreshed.  I hit Target for ankle length white socks to wear around the house so that the tops of my feet and my ankles don't itch (don't ask; I haven't a clue).  The result, I am delighted to say, is that I now have only one type of ankle-length white socks in my drawer; that will make putting laundry away much easier.  On my way to the check-out, I happened upon pot holders of the type we are currently using, which will now replace the sadly stained ones at home.  And I finally got a pair of sunglasses that fit my head properly.  What a rapturous day indeed!  It was also a gorgeous day to look at.  I say "look at" because it was like 93º with DC's famous death-dealing humidity.  The day was best enjoyed inside an air-conditioned vehicle, which is what I did on a nice little jaunt down the George Washington Parkway along the Potomac to the Mt. Vernon circle and back.  Oh, and I picked up some nice-looking Brussels sprouts at the grocery.  So how was y'alls day?

22 June 2020

Meet the Pets - part 1

As many of you will know, AH and I have a large menagerie of inanimate pets.  Now, we have nothing against the animate kind, mind you, but we do not shy away from lauding the multitudinous virtues of the inanimate.  The chief thing, of course, is that they are extremely clean and easy to care for, just an occasional dusting is all they require.  They also have tons of personality, as you will see, are extremely intelligent, excellent conversationalists, adventurous, curious, and inanimate house sheep really keep the carpet flowers under control with their grazing.  We will periodically post updates until all the little darlings are covered.

This is Hammond.

Hammond is our largest penguin.  He's generally quiet but can get quite emotional, even to the point of being brooding.  He likes to spend time by himself, but of late has come into the living room where he usually occupies my reading chair.

These are the triplets: Piff, Poof, & Puff.

They, too, tend to be quiet and spend most of their time up on the back of the couch.  They will pop down from time to time if a particularly succulent blossom appears on the living room rug.

Many of you have met Brian before. He's a watchsheep and spends his days mostly perched on the pillows on my bed, looking out the window at the parking lot in case there are malefactors afoot.  He is now joined by his nephew, little Apollodorus, who wants to train to be a watchsheep.

This is Edmund.

Edmund, as you may have noticed, is a Dodo; we adopted him in Oxford several years ago, when we were there for a conference of mine.  Cheerful and pleasant, he can get a little overbearing about being extinct and all.  He loves to settle down under his favorite palm tree, as most house Dodos do.  Now you and I know that his palm tree is actually a bunch of peacock feathers in a blue vase, but he thinks it's palm tree.  We humor his feelings since he's like all extinct and stuff.

21 June 2020

Gott erhalte, Gott beschütze Unsern Kaiser, unser Land!

Goody, goody!  My flags of the Holy Roman Emperor and Austria-Hungary arrived!  I will be so proud to wave them next time the emperor visits Washington.

20 June 2020

A Change in Policy

Today we announce a change in policy on the mighty HamsterBlog!  Experience thus far indicates that there is no need to restrict comments to blog members.  Henceforth, commenting will be open to the public; no need to receive and accept an invitation from us to comment.  Enjoy!

19 June 2020

Political Confession

In these hyper-partisan times, some may be wondering about my political bent.  I have no problem admitting I'm actually a devout monarchist of the old (indeed very old) school.

17 June 2020

On the Complexity of the Supreme Court Decision

I, and many others, elided the complexity of the Supreme Court's decision on discrimination.  The decision did not make sexual orientation and trans identity protected per se, but rather covered under the Civil Rights Act under discrimination by sex, i.e., physical gender in terms of the Act.  To appreciate the distinction, note the following from Sean Trende from Real Clear Politics: 

Or, consider an example from Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent. He suggests that a woman who is a model employee, but is fired after bringing her wife to a Christmas party, is plainly being fired on the basis of sexual orientation, not sex. According to Alito, the only new information gleaned is the employee’s sexual orientation. But this misses the mark. The employer has also learned that the woman is married to a woman, something that would be of no consequence for a man. By burdening that relationship, the employer is treating female employees differently than male employees.

There are some consequences for the way this argument runs. Because discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status is not prohibited as such, employers can probably announce their displeasure at gay or transgender individuals in the workplace in a way that they cannot with women or racial minorities. Counsel for the plaintiffs also conceded at argument that a company that prohibited gays or lesbians from working at the establishment but made those decisions before learning the applicant’s sex might be immune from suit. 

Perhaps more importantly, the court sidestepped the question of whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which keeps laws from being interpreted in a way that burdens religious belief, creates an exception here. That will be a battle fought in subsequent years, and it will be nuclear.

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2020/06/15/why_roberts_gorsuch_voted_with_liberals_on_lgbt_case_143456.html  (15 June 2020)

In my mind, this does not diminish the momentousness of the decision.  In our judicial system, change happens on a step-by-step basis for the most part, such is the nature of a Common Law system.  Even the thunderbolt of the marriage decision in 2015 was not entirely unexpected, and was preceded by numerous precedents in the states.  The decision does not eliminate discrimination completely at one sweep, but it does remove a significant chunk of it, and paves the way for orientation and identity to eventually become protected in and of themselves.  That is very good.  More cases and more decisions will continue to refine and expand the interpretation of the law.  And there is the social context to consider.  Though theoretically an employer can ban homosexual and transgender employees by stated policy before the hiring for any specific position, most--except for diehard ideologues--would shy away from the controversy this would produce. 

16 June 2020

The Supremes

Well... right on the day I posted about the Court, look what happened!  Wow!

The biggest headlines went to the amazing 6-3 ruling that gays and lesbians are protected from discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act AND, most astoundingly, trans people are likewise protected.  Way, way further than anyone expected.  The opinion was written by a Trump appointee to the bench and the Chief Justice, a conservative Catholic, concurred in the opinion.

Mr. Gorsuch grounded the opinion in a reading of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The act’s Title VII bars employers from firing, discriminating against or failing to hire people based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Mr. Gorsuch reasoned. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”“Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result,” Mr. Gorsuch conceded. “Likely, they weren’t thinking about many of the Act’s consequences that have become apparent over the years, including its prohibition against discrimination on the basis of motherhood or its ban on the sexual harassment of male employees. But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”  (Washington Post)

But that was not the only thing that happened

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up California’s “sanctuary” law that forbids local law enforcement in most cases from cooperating with aggressive federal action to identify and deport undocumented immigrants. The court let stand the law passed after President Trump took office and challenged by his administration. The most significant measure limits police from sharing information unless the immigrants have been convicted of violent or serious crimes.  

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up new cases for next term that gun rights groups claimed denied Second Amendment rights. The court did not accept a batch of nearly a dozen cases that gun groups had hoped the court, fortified with more conservative members, might consider. Among them were cases involving restrictions in Maryland and New Jersey to permits for carrying a handgun outside the home.

I repeat, Wow!

15 June 2020

A Constitutional Court

Disclaimer: The author of this post is not, and does not claim to be, a legal professional of any sort.  All he is is an academic with an interest in the history of constitutions who happens to be married to a lawyer.  Said lawyer disavows any prior knowledge of the contents of this post.

Going to get serious now...

I've long believed that if I had to pick one single thing that would do the most to improve the government of this country it would be to establish a Constitutional Court.  Such a court would have original and exclusive jurisdiction in cases involving violations of constitutional rights, settling disputes between the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, and cases of professional misconduct at the highest level of the executive branch. 

Why is such a court needed?  First, rights issues now have to wind their way through lower courts, appeals courts, and often the Supreme Court before a final decision is reached.  In that time, in the case of final adjudication in favor of the plaintiff, the injured party--and those in a similar situation--can continue to suffer the violation of their rights and quite possibly long-term effects of that violation while the case is making its way up the ladder.  This is no way to deal with such a fundamental element of our being as a nation.  Justice delayed is justice denied.  Similarly, issues involving elections and voting rights--as we have seen in recent years--can be decided only after the election in question had taken place.  Invalidating and repeating an election or only changing the rules after an irregular election is again no way to deal with such a fundamental part of democracy. 

We have also seen in recent months a deadlock between the executive and legislative branches, with each citing the law on their side, on the issue of congressional subpoenas of high administration officials.  Not only does this give license to official wrongdoing, it presents a fundamental constitutional crisis: How do we resolve conflicts between the branches, especially when dealing with potential misconduct or unconstitutional acts?  Right now, it appears the answer is "we don't know."  I believe cases regarding congressional subpoenas of administration officials are again winding their way through the courts, but such important issues need more timely answers than the current system can provide.

In cases of misconduct at the highest level, our constitution leaves us short-handed indeed.  There is one remedy, impeachment, for any wrongdoing.  "Does this amount to an impeachable offense?" still rings in our ears.  Look at what this says: an offense has, in fact, been committed; the issue is only whether it's severe enough to merit the only punishment the constitution provides.  Does that make any sense?  We've got a fly buzzing around our heads but we only have a bazooka to address the problem.  If there were legislation to address executive branch misbehavior with lesser penalties, exempt from executive immunity, a Constitutional Court can try such cases without what becomes and endless round of appeals regarding privilege and jurisdiction.  Such a court would also deal with the troublesome issue of standing.  A number of state attorneys general filed a suit against the president for violating the emoluments clause of the constitution.  It would have been an interesting and precedent-setting case, but the original court of jurisdiction ruled that the attorneys general did not have standing, i.e., the were not qualified to bring such a suit.  Well then, who is?  The constitution provides no guidance on who can bring a case against the president--or any other high federal office holder--for violating the constitution, short of impeachment and removal by congress.

Our constitution is handicapped in this regard because of its early appearance in the history of modern republics.  Nearly all constitutions written later, or rewritten later, provide for a Constitutional Court or its equivalent.  Indeed, in France laws passed by the legislature must be reviewed by the Council of State before they are enacted, to assure they don't violate the French constitution.  The drafters of our constitution either did not foresee, or did not want to deal with, conflicts between the federal branches or unconstitutional conduct.  Nevertheless, this lacuna in the constitution appeared early in the famous Marbury vs. Madison under Jefferson's presidency.  In the Supreme Court's ruling on the case, John  Marshall, the chief justice, famously stated that it was emphatically the prerogative of the Supreme Court to determine what the law is.  That served as the foundation of what we have of a Constitutional Court, the doctrine of judicial review.  Unfortunately, the way this was done meant that constitutional cases would have to follow the usual rules of standing, original jurisdiction and appeal, and procedure that all trials follow, which results in the lengthy, cumbersome, and frequently inconclusive procedure we now have.  Likewise, constitutional cases must share the court's time with all the other cases before it, slowing imperative adjudication.  A Constitutional Court with original jurisdiction and its own rules of procedure would alleviate these problems.

So how would such a court be constituted, especially as it would need to be kept as far from political influence as possible.  One way I can think of would be for the members of the Constitutional Court to be appointed by a 2/3 majority of the Supreme Court, and that there be a statutory requirement for holding a seat such as 10 years service as a professor of constitutional law in an accredited law school.

I am convinced that if we do not take such an essential institutional reform, the federal government will only become further paralyzed and democracy itself will be at risk.

14 June 2020

To Blog or Not To Blog, Is This Even a Question

This post is about whether I should write this post or not.  After a week of the HamsterBlog revivus, I find myself wondering if I need to post something every day, so I (quite cleverly, if I do say) decided to post about whether to post.  Practice, naturally, varies across the land of Blogonia.  My most immediate peer, AH, is most disciplined in this regard and just the other day mentioned that he hasn't missed a day of blogging since the year they invented salt, or some such.  He is much more disciplined than I am about such things (though let me at some feeble azaleas and I can run rings around him--see post for 10 June 2020).  Others post regularly but not necessarily on a daily basis.  Given my obsessive/compulsive and passion for order and regularity, that seems just too insouciant.  So I have the feeling I'm going to shoot for daily posts, and that having been said, the dread of self-reproach if I don't post every day should be sufficient motivation (it helps to be Slovak).

Not wishing to leave y'all with just the above musing, here is a cool optical gif from http://automatagraphics.tumblr.com/.  I love these things.

13 June 2020

Things I Don't Particularly Like

A while back, there was a thing* making the rounds on Facebook asking you to name something(s) that are generally liked that you don't like.  I liked that.  There are far too many things in this world that are assumed to be "everyone's favorite" that are very much not so.  I will elaborate here a couple "favorites" that I do not cotton to in the least.

* Have you noticed that, apart from "meme," there are no names for the types of things one sees on FB?  That alone should make us suspicious.

1) Chocolate Chip Cookies
    I don't despise chocolate chip cookies, I just find them uninspired.  They're not a chocolate cookie, they aren't a nut cookie, they don't possess the elegant simplicity of a Snickerdoodle.  They're a plainish cookie with daubs of melted chocolate.  Often they're set up like concrete.  I mean, what's the point?  This is ironic in that my mother was far-famed for her chocolate chip cookies.  What many don't know is that she actually made the best oatmeal raisin cookies in the world: soft, chewy, rich in molasses but not over much.  Ah!  The raisin oatmeal cookie!  Fruit, whole grains, unrefined sweetness.  I have often said that, as one who has studied Theology, I know that oatmeal raisin is the cookie God eats.

2) Peanut Butter
    Talk about "what's the point"!  Gooey, sticky, globby, messy gunk that--of all things--tastes like peanuts.  I mean, think about that people!  Peanuts aren't even real, respectable nuts; they're legumes for pity's sake.  Turning these mutant peas into light brown caulking compound does not improve them.
    2a) Peanut Butter & Jelly
          OK, if you must eat this wretched stuff, why in the name of all that's holy would you ever want it mixed with the most pedestrian, overly sweetened excuse for fruit jam on God's green earth?  As Voltaire is reputed to have said when offered grapes, "I do not take my wine in pill form."  That children from an early age are offered this pitiful glop as nutrition accounts for a good deal of what's wrong with America today.

3) "Braveheart"
    Aside from the fact that Mel Gibson is certifiably weird (he peaked early in my book, "The Year of Living Dangerously" was his best movie) "Braveheart" is the most predictable, melodramatic, and cliché hack-job on medieval history I've ever seen.  That it won an Oscar is unsurpassed proof that Hollywood's taste is in its mouth.  I've never been able to watch movie all the way though, but when I did see a clip of the ending, I found myself rooting for the English.

4) Beach Volleyball        
    This is NOT a sport.  It is a beach entertainment.  There was already an established international and Olympic sport of volleyball; there was no reason to bring in an amateur and stripped-down (literally) version of that sport and elevate it beyond its station.  To make it professional and competitive is just plain silly and, fer Chrissake, it's played in sand!

Well, that should do for now.  Some assiduous readers of previous posts may wonder why this wasn't labelled a HamsterRant.  That's because it isn't; this is far too mild for a rant.  When I do  rant, I'll let you know beforehand.  Toodles!

12 June 2020


We're going all light-hearted (that should be hyphenated, right?) and frothy today.  Sometimes I am asked if I have any hobbies.  My usual response is that I don't have hobbies, I have serial obsessions, i.e., I take a fancy to something and do it to furious excess and then drop it and move onto something else.  (I would ask those of you who will be tempted to make a wise crack at this point to kindly refrain--you know who you are.)  I'll collect a certain type of toy car and try to get all of them in a series, same with die-cast aircraft and so many other things.  Good news is such things are usually small and easily stored (just like my men).  I learned one way of curbing this habit it to collect things the entire set of which amounts to a small number, e.g., replicas of medieval bishop chess pieces, of which there are only three as near as I can tell:

or versions of the USS Enterprise (yes, I know there's one ship in the photo of a different class and Enterprise E is not pictured):

Then there are the royal ducks, which I first encountered at service stops on the Autobahn:

l to r: Mozart, Washington, Louis XVI, Ghost of Christmas Past (whom I've renamed The Great & Powerful Duck Goddess), Marie Antoinette, Ben Franklin, Elizabeth II, Emperor Franz Josef.  I also encountered a (Mad) King Ludwig II which I sent to the much-beloved Spo.

Of particular note are a series of figures which I've come to call a set of role models from various times in my life:

l to r: a good, kind, & magical fairy; Daffy Duck; Cardinal Richelieu; St. Michael the Archangel; St. Benedict; Louis XIV.

Make of all this what you will.

11 June 2020

Retirement Skills

OK, enough self-revelation for now...

It dawned on me this morning that one thing the quarantine has done is sharpened my retirement skills.  People often ask "So what do you do now that you're retired?" or the equivalent.  And many I know have expressed a certain trepidation at the prospect of having "all that time on their hands".  Living where I do, just outside Washington DC, the answer was easy, what with all the free museums and galleries, the National Symphony, the ambiance of Georgetown and Alexandria, and assorted trains for the rail-fan in me.  And every now and then there was travel, domestic and foreign.  Then all of those were suddenly and unexpectedly cut off.  Hmmm... what to do? 

Being a bit of a domestic diva, there were various household projects.  A previously scheduled bathroom remodel was, as it turns out, not impeded by the quarantine (masks and gloves were employed).  Such things do keep me busy, but not always entertained.  Happily, the out of doors was still open, and the weather was pleasant enough for walks, drives, and driving to someplace new and different and then getting out and walking.  That was surprisingly restorative.  I also started reading for pleasure, something I hardly did when I was working.  So I read some books in my discipline I never got around to reading and then branched out into things I was always curious about but never read-up on; I've now started a hefty history of the Maya.  In that regard, I also finally started using Kindle, which makes reading much easier, especially since it's portable and I don't have to worry about lighting.  Then there's brain games (as opposed to mind games which I was always good at).  I subscribe to Lumosity, but never gave myself much time on it.  I'm getting back into it.  Whether the claims they make to improve your brain have validity or not, the games are enjoyable and since they give you a score, I have the incentive to complete against myself.

Why, you may ask, am I bothering to tell you this.  It's this: if you have not yet retired, and are wondering how you will occupy yourself when the time comes, remember the things you did during quarantine.  Quarantine is a demanding test of retirement skills.  If you found ways to psychically survive quarantine, retirement should be fairly easy, since by then--we most ardently hope--museums, and concerts, and galleries, and travel will all be available, and volunteer and service opportunities now foreclosed to contain the virus will reopen.  Quarantine really hones one's retirement skills.

10 June 2020

Disciplined, Determined, or Just Plain Nuts?

Editor's note: I have noticed for some time now and in various blogs the custom of referring to one's significant other by a pseudonym, "Someone" being rather popular.  I've also seen DW = Dear/Darling Wife and such baroque fancies as San Geraldo.  I'm pondering such a usage for my beloved hubby David, to wit AH = Adoring/Adorable Husband.  The only drawback I see is that once WickedHamster attains global popularity, novice readers might not understand who AH is.  I will ponder further...

David (aka TravelPenguin, aka AH) posted a comment on my sweat post, to wit: "Yet, once you start working, you won't stop even if you are visibly uncomfortable. Go on, tell us more."  I take that as a challenge.  What AH refers to is the habit I inherited from both parents of finishing any task, once it is undertaken, no matter if it goes into the wee hours of the morning, induces heat stroke or other physical collapse, or generates an uncontrollable twitching of the extremities.  We are folk who don't give up.  The undertaking of weeding the garden, mowing the lawn, dusting the house, polishing the floor, cleaning the attic, etc., etc. invokes a solemn, well-neigh religious commitment.  To stop before the work is done results in personal disgrace and self-loathing.  (For you ethnopsychologists in the audience, yes, being pure-bred Slovak does have something to do with this.)

What we have here is a paradox (that is something that also goes with the Slovak heritage).  I hate sweating, but will work out in the yard in the hot sun for like 8 hours in order to get the tasks I assigned myself completed.  What's worse is that I didn't start out that way.

In my younger years, I loathed working out in the yard/garden, which is something I was compelled to do on weekends and during the summer.  I was one of very few children of my age that actually dreaded the coming of Saturday.  I would timidly suggest upon occasion that a given task could be completed perhaps tomorrow, only to be told--in a manner and tone that evoked divine revelation and unalterable cosmic law--that "it had to be done."  Alas, no one bothered to tell me that there was a genetic time-bomb in me just waiting to go off.

Ah!  I remember it well.  It was sometime in the early '90s; I was soon to turn 40.  I developed a sudden need to tidy up the yard of the house David and I were living in in Florida (a place not known for it's cool, refreshing breezes).  So I started.  Over a period of time, weeds were uprooted, soil emended and fertilized, borders made crisp, and I got the azaleas to bloom heartily for the first time in years.  What had come over me?

Now, having cut a colorful path through grad school clear up to the PhD, I was indeed proficient at steady, concentrated effort, just not out-of-doors and especially not involving touching dirt.  (I was an inveterate hand-washer long before the plague made it fashionable; I still can't stand dirt, stickiness, or odors on my hands--I even have to wash my hands after eating chocolate or ice-cream).  Nor did it stop there.  In Kentucky, AH often had to rescue me on a given weekend, dragging me in before I'd finished (the disgrace!) as a wet, convulsing mess.  These are the occasions he refers to.  And it doesn't even have to involve being outside.  The same physical effects could be produced by giving the place a good dusting, deciding to shampoo all the carpeting on the first floor, and making various household "improvements"--a word that strikes fear and terror into AH's heart to the very day.  If it's worth doing, then it's worth doing to the point of insanity.

Happily, we now live in a much smaller place with no yard.  I still go into my "on a mission" mode from time to time, but that only only involves household projects in a place that is small enough so that I don't do damage to myself.

So the revelations of yesterday's post and today's are indeed contradictory.  I have never endeavored to reconcile them, and simply attribute this to natural human perversity.  I am also retired now, and that has apparently served to automatically whittle my ambitions down to reasonable size.  Or maybe it's the wisdom of age?  I doubt it.

09 June 2020

de Perspiratione

For as long as I can remember, I've despised sun, heat, manual labor, and exercise.  (Those with extended experience of me will know this well.)  This has been variously attributed, at various times in the past, to laziness, self-indulgence, fatness, vampirism, or that I was born and raised in Cleveland, which has the most overcast days a year of any major American city (yes, we beat Portland).  The simple truth is I hate to sweat.  I mean, it really really annoys me, and it always has.  What the list of things in the first sentence have in common is that they all cause me to sweat.  Sweat is a dirty, sticky, ugly thing.  If I've perspired sometime in the course of the day, I have to take a shower before I go to bed.  The thought of dried sweat in my bed sends me into apoplexy.  (Sleep is a very clean experience for me; I can't fall asleep if I feel dirty.)  Granted, not too astounding for my first personal revelation on this blog, but hey we gotta start somewhere.  Toodles!

08 June 2020

A Sunday Walk

It was a lovely day yesterday, so we decided to head over to Old Town and walk along the Potomac.  Improvements and nicely done development continues, with a nice mix of woodsy and urban.  With things still in phased reopening, a drive and a walk remain the best way to dissipate cabin fever.  So this will simply be a photo montage of our little diversion.  Enjoy.


Well, now that I've relaunched the blog, I find I now have to write things.  Uh....  Yesterday afternoon David (adoring and adorable husband, in case the gentle reader is unfamiliar) asked me what I was going to write about in my first post.  I answered "I dunno; we'll see."  So maybe I'll write about writing my first post.

I've been out of practice since 2015 and I imagine what I'll write about will be different than what I wrote about years ago.  Previously, I mainly went for laughs--as is typical for me.  There will be more than enough mirth this time, but there certainly will be more seriousness.  The times demand it.  And I do a lot of reflecting on the nature and causes of things, so they'll be a fair amount of why I think things are the way they are.  There will also very likely be--and this would be new--some insights into my psyche.  In this I have been inspired by one of my favorite philosophers, Urspo of Grosse Point (sporeflections.wordpress.com) who manages to be self-revelatory without being maudlin, morose, psychically exhibitionistic, or narcissistic.  (You can thank me for the plug later, Spo.)  

That still leaves me wondering what I'll write about, since writing about what to write about leaves me strangely unsatisfied.  Maybe we'll start with a nice, vanilla-flavored account of a walk we took yesterday.  (Please advance to the next post for same.)  

07 June 2020

Hamster Rides Again

I’ve decided to return to my blog.  Aside from a couple of false starts in the interim, which barely lasted one entry, my last active blog engagement was in 2015.  My blog friends moved to Facebook at that time, and I went with them.  I never really liked FB, but it was an all-too-handy way of keeping up with friends.  It was always annoying: changes made in how things operate without any info from the Facemasters, unresponsiveness of management, intrusive ads and posts, even more intrusive “helpful features,” and finally the ever-annoying Zuckerberg deciding that Trump can lie as much as he wants because of free speech rights.  (Oh, don't get me started on that…)  So, in order to retain the benefits of social media and limit its liabilities, I’m going to go back to blogging.

There are many benefits to be gained.  First of all, it keeps me writing in retirement.  I do like to write and I enjoy the English language.  I have things I want to say, and I am not fully comfortable saying them on FB, since they may involve persons and institutions of whom and of which I have less than a cordial opinion.  I do plan to make the blog available to the general public (that might change as I go along) but only “members” of the blog will be able to comment (that should keep out the riff-raff).  I have already endeavored to add all my active FB friends as members; in case I missed anyone, I will post on FB how an existing friend can be added to the blog.  I will decrease my activity on FB, but will not abandon it altogether.  I may post notification on FB of a new blog entry.

The blog will retain some familiar features from my FB page.  There will be photos.  I’ll try to keep memes to a minimum, since they are more FB rather than blog items.  There will be a good amount of my characteristic wit.  It dawned on me that on FB I was becoming too dependent on sharing memes from other FB pages, etc. instead of writing my own material.  I’ve always been much more of a stand-up comic and so I really don’t like using other people’s stuff.  As for things I’ve been wanting to say, I think I’ll make those separate entries, flagged with the title “Hamster Rants,” so that those of squeamish sensibilities and delicate constitutions might be warned.

For those new to my once and future blog, a word on the hamster persona.  Back in deepest antiquity in 2006, when I first started the blog, the pirated Hamsterdance meme was all the rage.  I’d always had a soft spot in my heart for the furry little critters anyway, and I realized that this would be a fitting metaphor for how I saw myself.  If you go back through the older parts of the blog, you’ll see that The Hamster is no ordinary little rodent.  He has a bad case of megalomania and grandiosity; he is, in short, bent on world domination—hence the “Wicked” part.  The problem, of course, is that he’s just a hamster, physically incapable of fulfilling his Napoleonic ambitions.  But that never stops him from dreaming.  (This is the source of various imperial adjectives you might see and the use of “we” when Hamster refers to his most august self.)  The Hamster is a sort of personal avatar cum totem cum personification of my rather rich and lifelong fantasy life (or at least part of my long and rich fantasy life).

So… with that WickedHamster once again takes to the aether.  I have no idea how this will turn out, but if I score a laugh or two along the way, I’ll be satisfied.