Thursday, October 20, 2016

Elections and Transfers

The election of 1800 was the nastiest, most vitriolic election in this country’s history.

If you think the current junior-high-level mudfest holds that title it’s probably because you haven’t studied much American history.  For what it’s worth, you’re in good company.  Most Americans haven’t.  The simple fact, however, is that we haven’t even begun to plumb the depths of the rhetoric that has been deemed appropriate in presidential elections in the past.  If 1800 is too far back for you, try looking at 1828, or 1860, or even 1968.  There’s a lot of elections to choose from.  We’re a rude and often reprehensibly juvenile culture when it comes to politics.

The language in this year’s contest is certainly enough to make any decent human being weep (seriously – I have no idea how I am going to teach this election without getting fired for repeating verbatim things the GOP candidate has said on camera) but 1800 takes the cut-glass flyswatter.

The election of 1800 was a rerun of the previous one – something that happens surprisingly often in American history – and pitted the Democratic Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson against the Federalist John Adams.  Adams had won in 1796, and under the Constitutional procedures then in place (since changed by the 12th Amendment) this meant that his opponent Jefferson became his vice-president.  With only a couple of months of actual campaigning once George Washington had announced that he would not run again, it had been a short but vicious election.  I imagine that cabinet meetings during the Adams administration were rather strained.

In 1800 the gloves really came off. 

Everyone knew there would be a contested election.  And everyone knew who the candidates would be.  Well, everyone except Alexander Hamilton, who had hopes of getting Adams off the ticket.  But still.  Mostly everyone.  They had a long, long time to get their rhetoric ready for this one, in other words, and it was an age that knew well how to use rhetoric as a weapon.

Grab your popcorn!

And as you read through the couple of paragraphs after this one, bear in mind that the subjects of all that rhetoric are two of the Founding Fathers.  Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and was arguably the most complex intellect this country has ever produced.  He’s on our money – twice, if you count the $2 bill, which nobody ever does even if they should.  Adams was one of the most incisive scholars of his generation, served as George Washington’s vice president, and was a man of such stout principles that he defended in court the British soldiers who took part in the Boston Massacre.  He won, too.  We see these men as marble figures of lofty renown – Jefferson’s face is literally carved onto a mountain in South Dakota, after all – but we often forget that they were human, that they were politicians seeking power and being judged by the electorate just like any other politician. 

Their contemporaries, however, did not forget this.

Thus John Adams – admittedly not the most handsome man in America (he was widely known as “His Rotundity,” pun not quite intended but I’ll take it anyway) – found himself described as blind, bald, toothless, and crippled, yet still somehow active enough to import mistresses from England to satisfy his base needs.  He was accused of wanting to overthrow the Constitution, betray the Revolution, and return the US to English rule or at the very least install a monarchy in the capital.  He was described in the press as a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” 

Meanwhile, Jefferson was described as an “audacious howling Atheist,” a “rattle-brained modern philosopher” whose “wild and licentious” character had “the morality of devils.”  For weeks – weeks – the leading Federalist newspaper in the country had the same unelaborated headline: “GOD AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT, OR JEFFERSON AND NO GOD!”  He was described as both a fanatic whose election would result in the open practice of murder, rape, robbery, incest, and the spitting of children on pikes, and at the same time as weak, effeminate, delicate, and “a mixture of milk and vinegar, of honey, and of gall, every thing by turns, and nothing long.”  Federalists denounced “the celebrated whirligig chair which he invented purely to check the eddying motions of his watery brain, by a counter turn for every occasion” as the invention of a “Bedlamite.”  They anticipated the destruction of both the Constitution and Christianity as a whole should Jefferson win, as Jefferson would no doubt turn the US into a pale copy of Jacobin France and soak the ground with the blood of the innocent.

This wasn’t random. 

The nastiness of the rhetoric of the election of 1800 emerged directly out of the larger political situation.  In particular, it came out of two things: the perceived fragility of both republics and frameworks of government, and the fact that classical republicanism, the dominant political ideology of the late 18th century, did not recognize political parties as legitimate.

In 1800 the Constitution was all of a dozen years old.  Counting the British Crown, it was the third basic framework of government Americans had lived under during the previous two and a half decades, and there was no guarantee that it would be any more long lasting or effective than either the Crown or the ill-fated Articles of Confederation had proved.  Further, republics – as all of the Founders knew well – were historically ephemeral things, prone to collapse and easily converted into anarchy, oligarchy, or, worst of all, tyranny.  They were fragile in part because they required high levels of virtue among the citizens and leadership and this was a rare and easily broken quality.

Virtue in classical republicanism did not mean the avoidance of sins the way we use the term today.  Virtue was a jargon term, and it meant the ability to set aside one’s petty private interests and work for the public good.  There was only one public good – it was unified and easily visible, and all men of virtue would naturally work to achieve it.

This is why political parties were a sign of decay in a republic.  Parties – “factions” or “juntos” in the language of the day – represented groups of men putting their private interests above the good of the whole and thus were surefire ways of destroying republics.  And the election of 1800 most certainly was a partisan one.  There were two easily identified and mutually incompatible parties with coherent visions of the future and agendas for achieving that vision, and each side naturally saw the other as an illegitimate faction working to destroy the republic by subverting the public good to their private interests.

Neither side saw the other as legitimate, in other words, and in an environment where the republic’s survival was assumed to be both fragile and under attack, it really isn’t a surprise that the rhetoric got ugly.

Once you get that down, you will also probably not be surprised by the fact that the nastiness didn’t stop once the voting was done, either.  There was still a whole lot of campaign to go even after the votes had been counted.

Yes, John Adams lost.  But it was not altogether clear who had won. 

Thanks to that same marvelous little quirk in the Constitution that had led to Jefferson serving as the vice president to the guy who beat him, which was a quirk that apparently the Democratic Republicans had still not quite figured out four years later, there was no actual election for vice president in 1800.  The Constitution simply assumed that whoever got the most votes in the Electoral College would be president, and whoever came in second would be vice president.  And in an age that did not see political parties as desirable this made sense.  You got the second-best person for the second-highest office, ready to step in should something happen to the winner.  But in an age of political parties, where it was clear that someone should be president and someone should be vice president and the two guys at the top of each ticket really didn't see eye to eye on much, this presented a practical problem.

Specifically in this case it meant that at least one Democratic Republican elector had to remember not to vote for Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s running mate.  That way Jefferson would win, Burr would come in second, Adams would come in third, and all would be right with the Democratic Republican world.  But since nobody actually thought to remember this, Burr and Jefferson ended up tied.

That sent the election to the House of Representatives, in accordance with the Constitution’s requirements (which are, in fact, still in effect that way).

The outgoing House was dominated by the Federalists, who were exceedingly unhappy about having to choose between the two Democratic Republican winners (and yes, technically they could have chosen Adams, who came in third, but that kind of naked private interest was clearly not virtuous.  It would take until the 21st century for right wing fanatics to make that case in all seriousness as a strategy to deny re-election to Barack Obama in 2012).  Most of the Federalists saw Jefferson pretty much as the rhetoric had described him and were prepared to promote Burr to the presidency, though Alexander Hamilton – a principled man, if not exactly a politic one – frantically tried to convince them not to, since he regarded Burr as a scoundrel.

This is one of the things that Burr would later murder Hamilton for, so I suppose Hamilton had a point.

The vote dragged on for six days and thirty-six separate ballots.  The two biggest Democratic Republican states, Pennsylvania and Virginia, mobilized their militias and were ready to march on the newly established Federal City on the Potomac should Congress try anything they regarded as suspicious.  The new nation – less than two decades removed from the formal end of the Revolution – stood on the brink of civil war.

And then a strange thing happened.

Congress – swayed by Hamilton – settled on Jefferson.  The militias stood down.  The tension eased.  And on March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as the nation’s third president.

It was a mild spring day in the capital, somewhere in the mid-50sF.  Jefferson, seeking to make a political point, chose to walk from his boarding house to the Capitol dressed as a plain citizen.  He entered the Senate chamber and in his thin, high-pitched, barely audible voice, he delivered his inauguration address.

“During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think,” he noted, “but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. … Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind.  Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. … [E]very difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.  We have called by different names brethren of the same principle.  We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

It was a call to come together, after the most vitriolic election in our nation’s history – to remember that we are all Americans, and that once the election was over it was incumbent upon us as Americans to accept the results and work together.

Adams, distraught over the death of his son a few months earlier and unhappy about leaving office, did not attend the inauguration, but he accepted the verdict of the election with at least some grace and no protest.  He understood that the peaceful transfer of power was crucial to the survival of the republic, and that for him – or indeed any candidate for higher office – to declare himself unwilling to accept the results of the election once they had been officially certified would be to launch the nation down a dark and bloody path.

The United States has had over two centuries of largely peaceful elections since then.  Sporadic violence at the polls – mostly driven by racial resentments – has not resulted in the repudiation of electoral results.  And when elections have been challenged – such as they might have been in 1960, when there were many credible accusations of fraud, and as they actually were in 2000, with the extraordinarily close and rather suspect results from Florida – the final verdict once all the dust settled has been accepted by the defeated party with remarkable grace in the name of the public good. 

We owe Richard Nixon and Al Gore a debt of gratitude for being willing to sacrifice their petty private interests in that way.  Each of them could have refused to accept the results, once finalized (by the Electoral College in Nixon’s case, and by the Supreme Court in Gore’s), and the bitter results of such intransigence might well have destroyed the republic.  Instead they chose country over interest, and the peaceful transfer of power over revolution.

Republics are fragile.

It is extremely disturbing, in this context, to hear the current GOP nominee’s refusal to accept the election results if they do not go his way.

This is a flat rejection of everything American politics has achieved in the last two and a half centuries.  It is a crass willingness to place petty private interests above the good of the nation as a whole.  It is a dangerous resort to the tactics of dictators and power-hungry whores, a childish and narcissistic foot-stomping episode from someone increasingly out of touch with the reality of the situation around him, and it has no place in American politics.

I worry about what this will do to the more deluded of his supporters, who are already threatening to disrupt the election and worse.  It is dangerous to play to the fanatics, for they are by definition unstable and prone to violence.  Anytime you hear the phrase "Second Amendment solution" you know you are in the presence of dangerous idiots.

You do see a belated recognition among the more sane GOP leaders that this is both un-American and something they need to respond to forcefully, and good for them.  This is their candidate.  This is the guy representing their party – and make no mistake, he does represent that party, sad though that may be to both the non-insane members of it and the rest of us.  They need to own him and rein him in.  I hope they are not too late.

If Americans could accept the results of 1800, you’d think we can accept the results of 2016.

I hope I am not wrong about that.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Down at the Barn

Bristol the barn cat has gone to his great reward.

He was never much of a barn cat, not really.  He came to us maybe three years ago, someone’s unwanted pet.  Our friend who owns the barn agreed to let him stay there and work for his keep.  It wasn’t a good fit.

It’s hard to be a barn cat when you’re a long-haired feline, for one thing.  I’m not sure why he never figured out how to groom himself in the three years he lived in that barn, but there were several times he got so bad we had to take a clippers to him and get the worst of the snarls taken care of.  He looked bedraggled in all seasons and weathers, particularly in contrast to the other barn cats who would show up for a while and then move on and looked, well, cat-like the whole time.  Bristol looked like an old mop.

And he was never much of a hunter.  I’m not sure I ever saw him catch anything, and I don’t know if he would have known what to do with anything if he had caught it.  So we fed him.  Our friend always had dry food for him.  He got some of the leftovers we’d bring for the chickens, especially if they involved meat.  Sometimes we’d get cans of cat food, which he just loved.  Two weeks ago I set aside a thick slice of turkey for him, which I think he enjoyed.  Last month we came into possession of maybe two dozen quarts of buttermilk, and he always got his cut of that.  The chickens enjoyed it too.

But no matter what we fed him, he was thin.  Really thin.  Sometimes we’d give him worm medicine and that helped, but not the last time.  I’m guessing he had some kind of liver or stomach cancer at the end.  Even his meow – normally the raspy buzz of a two-pack-a-day smoker – changed in the last week before he died.

When he first came to the barn he stayed up in the hay mow for weeks, coming down only to hiss at us.  But over time he got to be more friendly, and eventually he’d come bounding up to you whenever you pulled into the graveled drive leading up to the barn.  He liked to be scratched behind his ears, as most cats do.

He was a dim-witted animal, one who always had to be explicitly directed toward whatever food you put down for him and was always half a step away from running directly under the car tires, but a sweet one once you got to know him.

It's a quieter place now, the barn.  Fair winds and following seas, Bristol.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Welcome to America

Lauren has been taking Chinese as her foreign language for the past couple of years down at Mighty Clever Guy Middle School.  She chose this on her own, actually, which I thought was a brave decision.  And it’s nice that they even offer it down at MCGMS – it certainly wasn’t an option in my middle school.

As part of this, she was given the opportunity to host a Chinese exchange student this weekend. 

Apparently a whole bunch of them are here for a couple of weeks, shadowing students at a couple of schools here in Our Little Town and generally getting a sense of life here in this country.  Honestly, they could have timed this better and done it after the presidential election nonsense has calmed down a bit, but on the other hand there’s not much they could have done to get the concentrated essence of MURCA faster than be here now.  So I guess it’s a wash.

Regardless, we volunteered and ended up with Xia.

We’re pretty sure that’s her family name, since the Chinese put that first and the given name second rather than the other way around like Westerners do, but that’s what she told us to call her.  It’s pronounced more or less “TsyAH” only you have to do with the proper tone the way the Chinese do, and Lauren spent the better part of the weekend telling us we weren’t doing it right, which is a distinct possibility. 

At any rate, she was a very nice young lady, reserved in the way that Chinese culture tends to see as a virtue (as opposed to Americans, who start at Loud and go up from there), and fluent enough in English to make herself understood.  She was willing to answer to whatever approximation of her name we could muster, and that was nice.

Seriously – how do you go from Chinese (one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn) to English (another one) or back?  I have no idea.  I’m impressed by anyone who tries it.

We picked her up at MCGMS on Friday afternoon and got her situated at home before heading straight back out to chickens.  Because that’s what you do, of course.

She liked the chickens.  She got to hang out with Whitney, our Rosecomb bantam hen, and then Lauren introduced her to the barn kittens.

That night the two of them went to the MCGMS sock hop, where by all accounts they enjoyed themselves.  Lauren was quite perplexed by the concept of a sock hop (“Did they really do that back in the day?”  “Yes, my child.”) but a good time was had by all.

Saturday morning we introduced Xia to her first bagel, and then went to the local farmer’s market, where we also introduced Xia to the fact that Americans spend most of their free time eating and the rest of it searching for things to eat.  But when that includes minidonuts, hot chocolate, and cheese curds, well, you have to hand it to us.  We got it going on.

We also went back to the chickens.  You have to do the chickens every day.  Chickens are very demanding that way.

Saturday was also the day for Uncle Dave and Aunt Karen’s annual pre-Halloween bash – an overnight festival of food and fire, with a haunted trail and a bonfire.  We try to go every year, and this year it just happened to coincide with Xia’s visit.  It’s in Michigan, but if there is one thing more American than the search for food it is the road trip.  Often you can combine them, which is just about peak MURCAN. 

So we packed half our house into the van, stuffed Lauren and Xia into the back, and headed off.

Tabitha stayed home this year.  She decided to go to the Homecoming dance with some friends, and while this meant we wouldn’t get any photos of the occasion, well, so be it.   She had a great time, and everyone made it home safely.

We got to Michigan with no troubles, and as soon as the car stopped moving Lauren jumped out, dragged Xia with her, and headed off into the swarm of kids that always runs around the place.  Dave and Karen’s cabin is way, way out in the middle of nowhere as far as this city boy is concerned – it is literally on a swamp (excuse me: “wetland”) – so there is no harm in letting them run.  Americans prize self-reliance as a virtue in children, so we let them go.  And they enveloped the newcomer as if she were an old friend.  We’re a good culture that way, most of the time. 

For their part, the adults mostly sit, talk, eat, and drink, and there’s nothing wrong with that as far as I can see.  There is in fact a haunted trail that winds its way through the wetland, because of course there is.  They put a lot of time into it, and by all accounts it is a grand thing.

It was nice to see everyone again.  We’ve been doing this for a long time now, and you get to know people even if you only see them once a year. 

The highlight for me is always the bonfire.  They build it up to monstrous proportions and then let it rip – nothing is going to burn that wasn’t meant to (vide supra, viz. “wetland”) so all bets are off when they set it up.

Afterward there were firecrackers, though Kim and I left halfway through for our hotel a town or so away, since we are old and no longer much for tent camping.  Road trip, food, fireworks, and burning things – seriously, we think we did a good job of showing her the US.

In theory the girls slept in the cabin.  In practice they spent most of the night talking in the way that teenagers will.  Lauren did assure me that it was still dark when they finally fell asleep.  Mostly.  I’m guessing they’ll sleep well tonight.

It was a fairly uneventful drive back, as Kim and I were the only ones awake for much of it.  We took one last swing through the chickens once we got home, and then took Xia back to the hotel to be reunited with her group.

Welcome to America, Xia.  It’s a big, loud, often insane place, but warm-hearted and mostly friendly.  Come back and visit us soon.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Book Drop

The books have landed.

This summer was a long parade of home projects, most of which required significant moving about of stuff in the upstairs part of the house.  The old carpeting in our bedroom that was there when we moved into the place two decades ago was replaced.  Lauren’s room was repainted, and with that as inspiration so was Tabitha’s.  It was an unsettling summer that way, but now we’re mostly back into our places and the house looks nice.

Whenever you have a project or series of projects like that, it’s a nice opportunity to sort through all the stuff you’ve had to move and see whether you really want to move it back or whether it needs to be moved on somewhere else.  As part of that process we ended up with a giant box of books left over, even after we had sorted through and taken the ones we thought friends or family might like and the ones we felt were worth saving for sentimental reasons.

It was quite a box.

But what can you do with a box of books these days?  The girls are long since too old to be donating stuff to the old Montessori where they were in daycare – the kids there wouldn’t be up to that level.  Trying to sell them at a garage sale is a lost cause, as I can attest from previous experience.  And the used book store down the street ended its brief flicker of life more than a year ago.

I spent the better part of half an hour on the phone with the local hospital this weekend.

I figured that there are always kids in the children’s ward who are bored out of their minds and might appreciate a good book.  Cell phone batteries run out of power, after all.  And books are good for occupying minds that would otherwise head off in random directions, especially when faced with long hospital stays.

Everyone I spoke with at the hospital thought it was a lovely idea for me to bring this box of books over as a donation but none of them felt authorized to actually approve of the idea, so they would forward me on to the next person who would hear me out and then the process would repeat.  It’s surprisingly hard to give stuff away these days.

Eventually someone said sure, just bring them on by.

It’s been a busy week, but today I finally got a chance to do that.  Let me tell you, a box of books is a heavy thing to haul across a parking lot.  You wouldn’t think paper would be heavy, but then I find that it helps to think of books as finely sliced lumber.

The folks at the door were happy to see me but had no idea whether this was something they could approve, so there was another round of the weekend’s activities – this time live – but at some point someone must have said it was fine.  Rather than schlep the box up to the children’s ward by hand the person at the door smartly commandeered a wheelchair and I put the box in the seat.  Away they went, with any luck to brighten up some kid’s otherwise lousy day.

I like the idea that these books are moving on to somewhere where they might make someone's day a little nicer.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Wedding Stories

All my docents are getting married.

I used to run a museum.  It was a great place, and you should go there sometime.  I spent five years there as the executive director, and then continued to give tours for years after that.  I haven’t given a tour in a while now, but Tabitha has upheld the family honor and taken over that role.  She’s been a docent for two years.  The place kind of gets in your blood.

I left the museum just about the time that Facebook was starting to become popular outside of its original college-student audience, and when some of my former docents discovered that their old boss was on Facebook they friended me and I was happy to accept.  They were good kids.

Now they’re good adults.

We’ve kept in touch over the years.  We’ve shared invitations, cartoons, political jokes, historical discussions and reminiscences (for a while I had an impressive if honorary title in a Facebook group devoted solely to alumni of the museum, which was a neat thing to have), and even had lunch once or twice.

One of the things that adults tend to do, given time and opportunity, is get married. 

I like weddings, really I do.  They’re happy events where people can come together and be good to each other for a while.  They remind us that there is love in this world and that sometimes it is enough.

Nic got married this summer, in a lovely service in one of the historic buildings here in Our Little Town.  It was right above the music store, which doesn’t do the place justice – if you like 19th-century spaces you’d have liked this one.  I’m pretty sure it was a lyceum originally, and it was a great place to have a wedding.

Unfortunately that weekend was one of those increasingly common times when my life insisted on collapsing inward on me – not for anything serious, but just enough to make me frantic with all of the things that needed to get done.  And my camera battery died.  Seriously, it was just one of those days. 

I had to skip out on the reception, but I did make it to the wedding itself.

Rituals are important, and it matters that you show up for people.  It was important to me to be there when Nic and Jesse got married, and I was.  I didn’t get to go to the party afterward, which was sad, but I was there for the ceremony.  And I did get one kind of okay picture of them walking out together, which made me happy even if Nic’s eyes are closed.  A lot of marriage is knowing when to keep your eyes closed and hoping your spouse does the same for you, I suppose.

I wish Nic and Jesse a long and happy life together.

Today it was Cathy’s turn.

The service was in a church up in Madison, and it was also lovely – full of music from friends and relatives of the happy couple, and the priest did a nice job of making his points without beating us over the head with them.  I appreciate that.  It was a fine thing all around, and I got to be there when it mattered.

And wonder of wonders, my world remained uncollapsed so we got to go to the reception too.  Kim and I had a grand time – there were many inside jokes about the museum, as is only proper – and we enjoyed talking with the folks who ended up sitting at our table.  The food was good too.  Win all around, I say.

And I wish Cathy and Matt a long and happy life together as well.

Next up is Lauren, whose wedding is tentatively planned for not too long from now, really, even if it seems far away.  It comes up fast.

It’s nice that they invite their old boss to these things.  I’m glad that I’m still part of their lives, and that I get to see them so happy.

Friday, September 30, 2016

News and Updates

1. There was a water-cup incident on my desk while I was out a few days ago, and now I have my old keyboard from the early 2000s back in service.  It’s remarkably noisy and tactile, with big typewriter-style keys and a reassuring clickety-clack sound that faithfully recreates a late-20th-century newsroom.  There’s a group out there that does nothing but archive lost sounds – the noises that disappear when time and technology move on – and I wonder if they have something like this in their archives.  It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve ended up using in my daily life things that other people have put in museums.

2. No, I didn’t watch the presidential debate.  It won’t change my mind, and I’m already on blood-pressure meds these days.  I don’t need that kind of aggravation.  Besides, half my friends live-blogged it on Facebook and I got more than enough quotes and video clips that way to make me glad for my foresight in not watching the whole thing.  The fact that there are people out there who think that Donald Trump should be allowed anywhere near political power is a damning indictment of both the American educational system and American culture in general.  The man is mentally unhinged, utterly without morals or any intellectual activity more complicated than “Me Number One!”,  easily the most dangerously unqualified nominee ever put forward by a supposedly major party for higher office in this nation’s grand and often lunatic history, which is quite an achievement, and an extinction-level threat to the survival of the American republic.  I don’t need to watch him try to ad-lib his way through ninety minutes of his usual incoherent babbling and random accusations to learn this when anyone who has paid attention to him at any point in the last three decades would already know.

3. Apparently there is now a conspiracy theory circulating among the feeble-minded and desperate that Hillary had some kind of secret arrangement with Lester Holt during that debate.  Because obviously a woman with a quarter-century of experience at the highest levels of American government and a well-earned reputation for intelligence, ruthless competence, ice-cold composure, and thorough preparation could not possibly be expected to win against an empty blustering fool without male help.  You know, if you believe that, give me a call when your Nigerian money comes in and I'll cut you in on a deal on a bridge.

4. Although not, as my friend Abbe pointed out, Chris Christie’s bridge.  There’s too much traffic on that one.

5. There have been big changes out at the barn.  Rosie, the last of the roosters, has been sent off to a new home, which actually isn’t a euphemism for anything.  He really has found a more rooster-friendly place to live.  I feel good that he’s still around somewhere, but I do miss him.  In fairness, I am the only one who does.  Oh well.  We’ve cleaned up the turkey pen for the winter, as well as the corner pen in the barn that we might move the chickens into later since it has a door that we can open to let them run a bit.  And we’re merging this year’s hens with the old ones so that we only have one flock to deal with.  That makes sense when you’ve got less than a dozen birds.  And one of the feral cats had kittens, which Lauren is desperately trying to socialize on the grounds that they are cute.  They’re also tough, since one of them dropped from the hayloft onto the floor right in front of us the other day and tottered away unharmed.

6. Meanwhile Bristol the barn cat remains the single dumbest living thing on Earth.  Seriously – he is a standing refutation of Darwinian natural selection and one of the few animals that the turkeys could look down on when it came to mental firepower.  It’s supposed to be a cold winter.  I’m not sure that’s going to go well for him.

7.  The weather has finally turned to fall, at least some of the time.  It still gets up to 70F now and then, but we are having more and more days in the low 60s and nights in the 50s and even 40s.  We’re into apple cider season, and I can drink my tea without sweating.  The guy down the block has even cranked up his fireplace, giving the neighborhood a pleasantly smoky aroma.  Fall is my season, and I am glad to see the back of summer.

8.  Although if I see one more “pumpkin-spice” whatever I will go spare.  Seriously – pumpkin spice Cheerios?  That’s just wrong.

9. I think if I am going to survive in the modern working world I am going to have to learn how to get something out of the incessant meetings that it entails.  I spent an hour today in a videoconference meeting that I was assured by other, more informed participants was actually productive, and all I got out of it was older.  Although there were clowns, so there’s that.  No, no – real clowns, not metaphorical ones.  Make-up and everything.

10. Students are always surprised when they discover that professors actually mean what they say.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Fear Itself

I am an American.

I am not a coward.  These colors do not run.

I am constantly told to be afraid.  Fear the immigrants.  Fear the dissenters.  Fear anyone not exactly like me.  Fear and bow down to those who claim to protect us from the fears they insist I must have.

I will not be afraid.  And I will not bow down.

I am not afraid of immigrants, because I know that this country was built by immigrants, by people who came here for a better life and worked hard to make that happen.  Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  That’s what Americans say.  We do not compare human beings to candies.  Seriously, what idiot thought that up?  We do not build walls.  We are the asylum of liberty in every sense of that phrase.  And those who say otherwise need to think long and hard about who they are as Americans.

And if some of those immigrants are troublemakers, well, join the party.  We’re a nation of troublemakers.  We kill each other with an efficiency unmatched by any nation on earth not actively involved in civil war and more than some of those as well.  We have more guns than sense, and we kill each other with abandon.  We are a violent and reckless society that thinks the slaughter of the innocent is an acceptable price to pay for the freedom to own military-grade firearms and when you have people making that case openly then what’s one more lunatic in that mix? 

But most people aren’t troublemakers no matter where they were born or how long it took for them to get here.  Most people get through the day just fine without having to hide their pathetic little lives behind big bad firearms.  Most people are just here to live their own lives and they don’t really worry about yours.  It’s the American way.

This is what it means to be a City On a Hill, a beacon to the world, to welcome the world into our midst and let them be part of this grand and insane experiment. 

And if this country isn’t always the beacon it ought to be – isn’t often the beacon it ought to be – then I damn well am going to work to make it so.  Because I am an American.  I am not a coward.  Hard work does not scare me.  It may not excite me, but it does not scare me.

I know this country has done some stupid things.  I face it and acknowledge it and fix it and these colors do not run.

Show me someone who has not done anything stupid and I’ll show you someone who has done nothing.  This country achieves, it builds, it flips a giant bird to the notions of possible and reasonable and goes beyond them, and sometimes that is a good thing and sometimes it is not but we go on anyway and when it turns out that we have done stupid things then by god we correct them.  We do not hide. 

Slavery is part of our founding fabric and blacks have never been allowed to forget it and that’s something stupid we need to change.  We got rid of slavery by fighting the bloodiest war in our history.  We passed a legal framework to try to make sure all Americans are treated as Americans.  It took a hundred years after that war, but we did it.  But we still have a long, long way to go on that, and if you can watch the news and think anything else then you’re either not paying attention or you're part of the problem. 

Religious bigotry is part of our founding fabric and dissenters from the theological order have never been allowed to forget it and that’s something stupid we need to change.  We separated church and state in our most basic foundational document.  We passed laws that make citizenship and faith unconnected.  But we still have a long, long way to go, and if you can listen to the theocrats and moralizing hypocrites who dominate our airwaves this election year and think anything else then you’re either not paying attention or you're part of the problem.

There’s a lot of things we need to change.  And we can and we will because we are Americans and we are not cowards, not even about our own sins, and these colors do not run.

I am an American.

I do not panic when people express their dissent.  This country was built on dissent.  This country was founded by the cranks and miserable bastards who didn’t toe the party line and it is their spiritual descendants who are the true Americans, not those who would legislate obedience to a false patriotism.

You want to kneel during the national anthem?  Kneel, you miserable bastard, kneel and be an American.  Make your point and make people see.  Make people uncomfortable and make them talk.  Remind us that patriotism means love of country and love means seeing how screwed up it is and loving it anyway and wanting it to be better than it is.  We are the cranks and miserable bastards of the world and we’re proud of it.  This isn’t a tea party.  If you can’t protest the things that need correcting you might as well be living in North Korea.  Tick people off and then educate them.  Nothing gets done otherwise.

These colors do not run.

I am an American.  I am not afraid of protest.  I am not afraid of immigrants.  I am not afraid of dissenters.

And the false patriots who would bar the gates and crush the dissenters, who demonize the protesters and the people not exactly like me even as they rush to make me fear?

Those people worry me.  They irritate me.  They anger me.  But they do not scare me.

I am an American.  I am not a coward.  These colors do not run.

I will not run from them. 

I will not bend to them. 

And I will be heard.