Vanilla Leaf

Vanilla Leaf (Achlys triphylla) is now in full bloom. This distinctive forest-floor plant has leaves with three leaflets that arise directly from underground stems. Its tiny, white flowers arise in dense spikes from those same underground stems.

As its name implies, the leaves of this plant have a faint scent vaguely resembling vanilla. The odor becomes stronger if you gather a bunch of leaves and let them hang upside down to dry. In fact, I personally am not able to discern any vanilla odor from this plant unless its leaves are dried. For many years, it was a mystery to me why this plant has the common name it does.

Bundles of such dried leaves can be hung near doors and windows as an insect repellent; they have been used as such since pre-contact days by Native Americans. I have not personally tried it yet, but it is also reported that rubbing the fresh leaves on exposed skin can also act as an insect repellent.

You may be surprised to learn that this plant is a close relative the Oregon-Grape (Mahonia spp.). Both are in the barbarry family, Berberidaceae.

Ring V.2.0

This is the eventual result of my having melted down scrap silver on the carbon block (see most recent post). That, plus a lot of forging and a fair bit of finishing.

Nice to have one that’s no longer overly thin and which is of fairly uniform thickness, because this time I didn’t run out of material (I had more scrap to work with).

Coat Charcoal Blocks with Boric Acid to Prevent Burning

I bought a charcoal block to do some fusing of sterling silver on.

I’ve tried fusing metals on the firebrick that I normally use as a heat-resistant surface when soldering and annealing, and have found that sometimes the molten metal flows into the interstices between the grains in the brick and then, when solid, sticks to it. The result is virtually impossible to remove without some bits of firebrick material embedded in it. Moreover, the firebrick itself has acquired an undesired divot in its surface.

The charcoal block avoids that problem neatly, but it has a problem of its own: being charcoal, it catches fire. Even if I put the glowing/burning bits out with a wet finger, some of the surface has already combusted into carbon dioxide and literally vanished into thin air. A charcoal block’s surface thus quickly becomes unusably irregular.

Yesterday the idea came to me to coat one of the remaining good surfaces of my charcoal block with boric acid barrier flux and to set it alight. My theory was that since borates are used in fire retardants (and I believe in the antiafterglow compound that matches are treated with), the boric acid which would be deposited by doing the above was likely to prevent the carbon from catching fire.

It does! Plus, the porous surface of the charcoal absorbed a significant amount of flux, so the whole thing burned very prettily with a large green flame that lasted about a minute and put on quite the show.

Why Does Taleo Even Fucking Exist?

It’s so-called “talent management software” that many HR departments use. It’s also a piece of total garbage. Typical Taleo experience:

  1. Follow a link from Indeed to the Employer’s site, which uses Taleo.
  2. Be blocked from going further because you must log on.
  3. If you don’t have an account, you must register, and when you do that, Taleo “forgets” the job that brought you there. You must go back to the linking site and follow the link again.
  4. If you do have an account, it still doesn’t matter. Taleo will virtually always claim the job doesn’t exist anymore after you log on. Again, you must go back to the linking site and follow the link again.
  5. You will then be prompted to enter, by hand, basically your entire résumé. You cannot just cut and paste it in one fell swoop, because Taleo is coded to break everything into zillions of fields (employer, address, phone, dates worked, etc.).
  6. You will then be asked to upload your résumé.
  7. Odds are, you will never receive a call back, because you failed to include some obscure keyword that Taleo was insisting be there for the job in question.
  8. None of the work you did will matter for any other employer that uses Taleo, as there is no information sharing happening. You will have to key in your entire résumé by hand again.

Regarding forcing users to register, why the fuck do that? Isn’t the goal of advertising anything (be it a job vacancy or pork chops at the supermarket) to attract people? Forcing applicants to register just says “go away, we’re really not that serious about filling this position.”

Regarding uploading a résumé, this is a completely reasonable thing to ask. Thing is, most every other job application system out there can parse a résumé (there’s stock libraries for doing this; it’s a solved problem). Only Taleo forces you to key in the thing from scratch, anew. Again, this basically amounts to a “go away, we’re really not that interested” sign on a virtual door.

How unreasonable Taleo is may be underscored by comparing it to the experience of applying to a job in the pre-Internet days: You’d compose a cover letter, and stuff that along with your résumé (copied on a copier, not typed anew for each employer) in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and drop it in a mailbox.

Taleo may also be shown to be unreasonable by comparing it to Indeed.com, which lets employers manage applications (if they pay Indeed for that service). You get asked for your contact information, get a box in which to compose a cover letter, and get asked to upload your résumé. A complete analogue of what you did in the snail-mail days (absent paying postage and sometimes waiting most of a week for delivery to complete); simple and totally reasonable.

Or compare Taleo to competitors like Jobvite, which prompt you for your résumé first, then parse it and populate the form fields automatically, allowing you to correct any mistakes the parser made. A little more work, but still pretty reasonable, even if it does go through the unnecessary step of forcing you to register and log in.

The mystery, to repeat, is why this piece of absolute garbage even exists. It’s got to be crap for the HR people to use, as well (software is very seldom crap in just one area; if one part of a package is crap, the crap quality typically extends package-wide). There’s so many better options already out there.

If market forces worked like capitalism fans theorize they did, Taleo would have been compelled by such forces to fix their garbage software or would have gone out of business years ago. Yet Taleo remains, one of those counterexamples to the assertion that markets inevitably foster excellence.

The Embassy Move is Not a Favor for Israel

It is a favor for domestic Christian fundamentalists (a core part of Trump’s base), who believe that:

  • The Old Testament of the Bible is a title deed that allows the Zionists to occupy and claim land by force, and
  • Israel needs to occupy that land (all of it, from the river to the sea) in order to fulfill the prophecies in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation.

That it is a favor for Christian fundamentalists (and not Zionists) perfectly explains why this pastor was invited to speak at the embassy’s opening.

Will the Democrats Pay Attention to This Article in the Post?

The Washington Post had a good article that delved into the politics of places in the rural Midwest that typically vote Democrat but which didn’t in the last election. Two quotes stuck out to me.

Quote No. 1:

Shaynan Holen, who lives in nearby Vernon County, where a similar pattern had occurred, blamed Clinton’s defeat on an intraparty split among Democrats, caused by the bitter primary contest with Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.). “Once Bernie was eliminated, they abandoned Hillary,” she said, referring to Sanders’s supporters. She added: “They came right out and said, ‘I’m voting Republican.’ ”

First, the attitude that Hillary was entitled to the votes of anyone who voted for Sanders. I may sympathize with the attitude that it was stupid to vote for such an obvious fraud as Trump, but nobody is entitled to anyone’s vote. Votes must be earned. (And if you think that quote shows a serious attitude of entitlement to votes, wait until you read some of the comments about it.)

Hillary quite simply failed to do enough to earn enough votes in those places, a failure that is underscored all the more by how those same places typically vote for the Democrat. Heck, Hillary’s campaign wrote many of those states off and decided not to even bother campaigning in them.

Second, it’s just an anecdote, but it shows once again that Sanders was almost certainly the more viable of the two candidates.

Quote No. 2:

Smicker recalled that many of those he encountered were mad, fed up with the state of things. “This is my observation, it is not necessarily my belief,” he said as he described their motivations. “Number one, they said minority political people have been well taken care of. Small business and working people have been identified as the source of income to take care of those people.”

This of course has prompted plenty of howls of outrage about the racism of Trump voters in the comments section. And yes, it is a racist sentiment. Minorities do not have it easy. Whites are privileged.

But, and this is critically important, there is still a grain of truth in the above sentiment. Whites are still privileged, but not as much as before. And many working-class whites have slipped down the economic ladder in recent decades. By contrast, identity politics has made things get gradually better for minorities. Bitter losers helped Trump win.

The problem isn’t so much the presence of identity politics as the absence of class politics in the Democratic Party. This has caused the white working class to be in the unique position of having grown collectively worse off over the past few decades. Of course they’re upset; who wouldn’t be?

And note that while, to reiterate, it is a racist sentiment to say that minorities are privileged, many of these same racist white people also voted for Obama… twice! It is simultaneously possible to be a racist while also not being an incorrigible racist, and still having a better side that it is possible to appeal to.

Absent any Democratic finalist that could appeal to those workers’ better sides, Trump alone was trying to appeal to them, to their worse sides.

Racism is an ugly thing, but it exists and must be dealt with. Candidates have to win in the world that actually exists, not in some hypothetical ideal world that we might wish existed. Throwing tantrums about how unfair it is that Trump can appeal to racism won’t help the Democrats win one little bit. Figuring out how to appeal to voters’ better sides with a class-based message can.

Sorry, Trumpers, It Won’t Help

Any breakthroughs in Korea won’t act as a get-out-of-jail-free card for Trump’s corruption. And remember, there haven’t really been any big breakthroughs yet.

Nixon isn’t best remembered as the president who began détente with the USSR or who opened relations with China, he’s best remembered for Watergate, and for being compelled to resign in disgrace over it.

It bears mentioning that despite the parallels between the two leaders, Nixon was a much more thoughtful and cautious leader than Trump. Nixon didn’t run around ruining international goodwill and the trustworthiness of the USA by tearing up multiple international agreements (Paris, NAFTA, TPP, Iran) like Trump has.

It also bears mentioning that Trump’s corruption possibly rises to the level of treason, and thus is potentially vastly more serious than Nixon’s.

Finally, Nixon had a record of working across the partisan aisles and proposing politically moderate legislation that both parties could back. Nixon won landslide victories due to his ability to appeal to the votes of normally Democratic voters. Trump is an abrasive, rank partisan with historically low approval ratings for a president.

In trying to use foreign policy to distract from domestic scandal, Trump is playing from a weaker hand with a strategy that has proven a failure in the past.