Monday, December 11, 2017

Tool Guy

In my basement there are a great many tools.  They have arrived there from any number of places.  Some were Kim’s when we got married.  Some come down from her side of the family.  I inherited a tidy pile of them from my dad.  Some we have bought as needs dictated over the years.

No, there weren’t many that were mine originally.  I have a defective Mr. Goodwrench gene and should not be trusted with any tool more complex than a screwdriver and there was really no need for me to have my own tools for most of my life.  The sum total of my tools when Kim and I got married consisted of a Swiss Army knife, a crescent wrench that was given to me by a theater group back in college so I could hang lights, and one of those little kits that they used to give out as door prizes for you to stow in your car because the red plastic handle included inside could take any of the 64 random metal pieces surrounding it and become a cheap knockoff version of some other more useful tool. 

What can I say?  Tools are not me.

But we have reached the point where I can no longer find tools that I need that I am sure we have, and – perhaps more importantly – where I need the floor space in the basement for other things.  Lauren got a new bed a few weeks ago, and her old one is still sitting in the upstairs hallway, disassembled into its component pieces, waiting for a more permanent home.  Preferably one in the basement. 

So I am trying to organize the tools.

I bought a couple of those shelving units that they sell at the Big Box Hardware Stores across the nation – you know, the ones made of particle board, depleted uranium, and grief, are heavy enough to warp gravity, and that claim to require no tools to build although you and I both know that there is no friend like a hammer when it comes to such things?  Those.  I even managed to put them together and get them standing more or less where I want them without permanent injury.  Now I just have to put the tools onto them in a way that will allow me to find them again without too much hassle.

This requires sorting.

The problem, of course, is that all those tools all look more or less alike to me.  They are all made of grey metal, except for the ones that are made of dingy heavy-duty plastic or well-worn wood.  Most of them have sharp edges, grippy bits, or poky things.  And while I’m good with the basic screwdriver/hammer/wrench/pliers distinctions, once you go beyond that my sorting accuracy declines sharply.

For example, we have an entire milk crate of things that I’ve decided are plumbing-related.  There are things that are obviously plumbing-related, such as toilet-tank repair kits and something called “plumber’s tape” (big giveaway right there, if you ask me).  There are things that are probably plumbing-related, such as long skinny wrenches with flippy bits at the top, and what look to be c-clamps with cutting wheels inside of them.  And there are things that I’m putting in with the plumbing stuff because they were already in with the plumbing stuff and I’m going to assume that there is some kind of plumbing magnetism that causes plumbing-related stuff to clump together into unwieldy piles like that.

It makes as much sense as any of my other theories, anyway.

Right now I’m just putting things in piles.  Eventually there will be bins, because bins are nice.  And if I am feeling really handy when all this is done, there may actually be labels.

Monday, December 4, 2017

News and Updates

1. And now we are five.  Thanks to a series of implausible events, we are now hosting a foreign exchange student.  Fran is from Belgium and has been staying with some friends of ours for the last couple of months.  She’s been with us for about a day now, and so far it’s working out well!  We knew she’d fit in here when she settled in on the couch and started reading.  She’s one of us!

2. Things I currently know about Belgium: a) it’s where Kevin De Bruyne is from, and yes I realize that I’m probably one of two dozen people in America who know or care who Kevin De Bruyne is but there you have it, b) it’s got two main groups of people in it – the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish – and I just love those names, c) Brussels is where the European Parliament is, and d) it has the world’s best chocolate.  Things I will know about Belgium by next summer: a) a whole lot more.

3. It’s 60F here on December 4 and that’s just weird.  That’s about 15C, and that’s equally weird only in metric.  There should be snow, or at least the possibility of it.  As it is we’re expecting thunderstorms.  In December.  In Wisconsin.  Good thing the climate isn’t shifting, because otherwise?  I’d be worried.

4. Tabitha has now been accepted into two colleges, with one more application in and a handful yet to submit.  It’s becoming more and more real now – next year she will be away, and that will be very strange.  I just know I will not handle that well.  And when Lauren does the same thing four years from now?  Yeah, well.

5. We went to see Murder on the Orient Express last week.  Having never read the book or seen the previous movie, I have nothing to compare it to.  But it was an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, and I hope that Kenneth Branagh’s mustache goes on to have a fruitful career of its own.

6. Autoplay video ads are the scourge of the internet and any website that employs them should be immediately hacked and replaced with cat photos.  Static cat photos, all laid out right there in front of you, because any website that requires you to view a slide show or click to see the rest of the article should be immediately hacked and replaced with dancing hamsters.

7. The Cards Against Humanity people are having more fun than should they probably should with their crowd-sourced effort to put obstacles into the path of the ill-thought-out and unworkable border wall that our current government is planning to erect as a distraction from its crimes.  They bought some land on the border with Mexico with the express intent of refusing to allow any wall on it, and asked for donations to cover it.  It seemed worthwhile to me.  So far we’ve gotten an endearingly offbeat sort of a map of the land, a letter from their attorneys promising to use every legal tool to draw out the eminent domain process as long as they can, some stickers, two small sets of game cards, and the possibility that those who support such a wall will be irritated and inconvenienced, which isn’t bad for a $15 investment.  They even built a trebuchet on the land, so it will be well-defended.

8. I desperately need to deshambleize my office, as it is not only stuffed to the gunwales with books, notes, and other varieties of paper, but also now houses Kim’s office for the duration of Fran’s stay.  Unfortunately, the default setting of my office is “shambles,” so I’m not sure how this is going to work.

9. One of my long-term projects has been to try to get some handle on the basement, which is currently full of Stuff.  As a show of good intent, I spent some time last week building shelving units and setting them up along the back wall.  These have been designated as the Tool Area, as we have a large and motley collection of tools from various sources and it’s getting hard to find things that I am pretty sure we have.  Right now I’m in the “it will look worse before it looks better” stage of the project, where I pull everything out and sort it into piles.  Oh well.  Eventually it will work, and then we’ll actually know how many tools we have.

10. It is December, so I will now acknowledge the existence of Christmas.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Plinking Around in the Family Past

Is there a switch that gets flipped when you reach a certain age that makes you interested in genealogy?

I rather suspect there is.  It makes sense.  As a historian, one of the things that I have noticed over my career is that people tend to become more interested in history when they have more of their own history to be interested in.  The young look forward, not back, and that’s entirely appropriate.  Their lives are in the future and they need to focus on that.  But as you get older and more and more of your life recedes into the past, the past becomes a much more interesting thing.

And there is no past so interesting to a person as their own past.

I’ve been plinking around on my family genealogy project for a few years now, as time and resources permit.  I spent a couple of summers scanning all of the family photos, for example.  Everyone has a copy of them now so even if my house gets spirited off to Oz in one of the tornadoes that occasionally grace us with their presence here in the midwest, the photos will survive.  I’ve also scanned the small trove of documents that we’ve collected as a family – at least the ones that have come down to me.  I included those scans with the photos when I sent them out, so they too will not fall into the hands of the Lollipop Guild.  And that’s where things have stood for a while.

A week or two ago I found myself in my office not wanting to do anything of any productive value, a disturbingly common feeling these days.  So I decided to return to my plinking.

And I struck gold.

Genealogists are obsessive people, prone to do things that normal human beings would never even consider.  High on that list is going through cemeteries, cataloguing all of the gravestones, and putting that information into searchable databases for people like me to explore.  I’m grateful that they do such things, though kind of dumbfounded at the same time.  That’s okay.  People feel the same way about some of the things I do, too.

I stumbled into one of these databases and there, on my first try, was my great-great-grandmother.  I was actually looking for her daughter, who had the same name, but there you go.  Most of the information on her record lined up well with the papers I already had, so I’m pretty certain it was her.  She had a lot of children, and all but one of them were listed as descendants in the database (the one, of course, being my own great-grandmother, the one I was originally looking for, but in the defense of the database she was buried in a different cemetery so the connections might not have been clear to the people who built it).  My great-great-grandmother’s record also listed her parents.

And their parents.  And so on.

I tracked this back to a guy named James Taylor (presumably not the singer), who was born in 1797 in Ireland and, if his children are any indication, arrived here sometime in the first third of the nineteenth century.  I’m not sure what part of Ireland he was from – I’m guessing the northern part, since that’s where most of the Protestants live and I come from a long line of those – but there it is. 

I also found the Civil War vet whose discharge papers my parents had framed and hanging on their wall back in the old house.  He was one of those 90-Day Wonders at the beginning of the war, when everyone thought it would be a short, glorious victory for their side and be done by Christmas.  His company served in some of the campaigns of the summer of 1861 before reaching the end of its service and being mustered out in August, whereupon he presumably went back to being a blacksmith since he does not appear to have thought enough of military service to reenlist. 

On the other side of my family, I found my great-uncle John and his wife, who it turns out are buried here in Wisconsin, not all that far from where Kim grew up.  I’ve been to that town, actually.  It has a bar with a jackalope on the wall.  I was there when my great-aunt was still alive, in fact, though I had no idea she was there or even what her name was, to be honest.  John died in the early 1970s and we sort of lost track of her after that. 

All of these people had siblings and inlaws and children, so there are all sorts of new avenues to explore now.

I can see this becoming a big project at some point soon.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Situation

With the cascade of stupid, immoral, illegal, subversive, un-American, and possibly treasonous things emitted by der Sturmtrumper, his pet Congress, his supporters, and his administration reaching levels that make it nearly impossible for any sane person to keep up with, I’ve started just keeping a running list of observations on the matter.  Every time the list reaches critical mass, I suppose I’ll post it and start a new one.  Can’t hurt; might help.  Here’s the most recent list:

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1. The GOP Class War is in full swing, as anyone with more than half a dozen brain cells can see when they look at the tax plan.  Taxes will go up for most people and down for the ultra-rich.  You can deduct your private jet but not office supplies for a classroom.  College students are pretty much screwed, because who needs social mobility or trained intelligence in an ancien regime society of nobles and peasants?  And the GOP knows this.  That’s why they’re shoving this through Congress without hearings, publicity, or even the barest pretense of constitutional democracy.  They want this in place before the American people can react to it – and, if the Wisconsin model is any indication, they will likely succeed.  Remember folks: democracy is for suckers and all hail your GOP feudal overlords.

2. For those who want numbers, just note that once der Sturmtrumper’s tax plan is fully phased in, everyone making less than $75,000/year will have less after-tax income (by as much as 1.5% of total income), while everyone making more than $100,000 will have more after-tax income (by as much as 0.6%).  And folks, 0.6% of a million dollars is a whole lot more than 1.5% of ten thousand dollars, so yes this is a vast giveaway to the already wealthy.  But the GOP doesn’t care.  The ultra-rich will get theirs, and the lessons of how the ancien regime ended will go unlearned.  For now.

3. Meanwhile, another little poison pill inserted into the GOP tax plan is another attempt at the failed Republicare.  They will repeal the individual mandate – the thing that makes the ACA actually fiscally responsible, because hey, fiscal responsibility is just so, so unlike anything the GOP actually wants to do – and then their sabotage will be complete.  But a few Republicans have noticed the flaw in this.  “You can make an argument that Obamacare is failing of its own weight, until we repeal the individual mandate,” noted Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC, a man who very carefully hides an actual brain underneath thick layers of invective and general unpleasantness, sometimes far better than is reasonable [see item #40, below]).  “I hope every Republican knows that when you pass a repeal of the individual mandate, it’s no longer THEIR problem.  It becomes our problem.”  And the vast majority of Americans – including the majority of Republicans – agree that the deliberate sabotage of the ACA is indeed on the GOP.  Well, that’s what you get when a President guts outreach for enrollment by 90%, cuts in-person sign-up by more than half, abruptly cancels billions in cost-sharing payments to insurers, severs partnerships with community groups working to increase enrollment, and generally does everything in its power to violate his Constitutional duty to see that the laws are faithfully executed.  Despite this, the ACA continues to work as designed, at least for now.    Congrats, GOP – you’re the party of “let grandma die.”

4. It appears Exxon’s Own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has now been formally accused of violating federal law by State Department officials working for him.  He apparently sees nothing wrong with children being conscripted as soldiers, despite federal law saying otherwise.  Morals?  Not in this administration.

5. Why does the FCC hate small businesses?  In yet another power grab by the ultra-rich and their monopolistic companies, the FCC has decided that it will scrap net neutrality and destroy the internet as we know it.  This will make it possible for the big cable companies – you know, the ones whose customer service and consideration for the rights of consumers is legendary for its active non-existence – to block sites, censor your internet use, slow down anything you haven’t paid extra for, and generally treat the once-thriving world of e-commerce as their own private urinal.  I hope you have enjoyed finding new entrepreneurs online, because that shit stops now.  I also hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, because while I may well continue writing it there is no guarantee that your internet provider will let you see it.

6. Nobody wants this plan.  Consumers hate it, and tens of millions of them have deluged the FCC with comments opposing this extremist takeover of the internet.  Small businesses hate it, because it blocks them from reaching new customers.  Anyone with anything to say – especially if that anything isn’t precisely in line with the official stance of Big Monopoly or Raw Power – hates this because it amounts to a silencing of American voices.  The only people who want this are the already rich and powerful, and that’s enough for der Sturmtrumper and the GOP.

7. The avalanche of negative comments on the proposal was so vast that it required the FCC to upgrade its filing system and extend the comment period just to handle the volume.  To which der Sturmtrumper’s handpicked Commissioners replied that they don’t care.  Comments that “did not introduce new facts to the record but just stated an opinion … do not have much bearing on decisions,” which is just another way of saying that the views of millions of Americans don’t count at all when it comes to decisions made by people on the public payroll.  Remember, folks – all hail our GOP overlords, and please bend over and smile.

8. Also, the Party of Local Control That Hates Big Guvmint will force states to abandon their net neutrality laws too, because the will of the American people certainly counts for nothing when there is a chance to funnel money into the hands of the already wealthy and powerful.

9. New York Attorney General Schneiderman has estimated that hundreds of thousands of US citizens had their identities stolen and used in spam campaigns supporting der Sturmtrumper’s repeal of net neutrality.  When Jeff Kao, a data scientist and software engineer, actually went through and examined those comments, he found about 1.3 million false pro-repeal comments submitted to the FCC as a bare minimum, with the total number likely being much higher than that.  The 1.3 million came from one spam campaign.  There were probably others.  It is, he said, “highly likely that more than 99% of the truly unique comments were in favor of keeping net neutrality.”  Nobody wants this repeal except the corporate megadonors, which means of course that the GOP is all in favor of it.  You, citizen, don’t count.

10. It is possible, though, that the courts would strike down this reversal by the FCC.  Tim Wu, professor of law at Columbia University, notes that “government agencies are not free to abruptly reverse longstanding rules on which many have relied without good reason, such as a change in factual circumstances.  A mere change in FCC ideology is not enough.”  There simply isn’t enough actual evidence to warrant this change, given the strong economic and social successes of net neutrality.  It is a shame that the courts have to be the last line of defense against corporatist monopoly, but that’s where we are now.

11. The reports on der Sturmtrumper’s tax plan are in, and my, my but don’t they all confirm every negative report that has been made of them.  The Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan analysis group, notes that by 2027, when this bill fully matures, the majority of Americans (50.3%) will actually see their taxes increase because of this bill.  Almost every reputable economist on record has said that this will not grow the economy much if at all, let alone be a spur that would pay for the bill’s drastic cuts in federal revenue.  88% of those economists surveyed said that it would also vastly increase the national debt – particularly the critical “debt to GDP” ratio.  The Wharton Budget Model, used by the University of Pennsylvania to assess the budgetary effects, indicates that the federal deficit will increase by more than $1,300,000,000,000 in the first ten years of this bill’s operation without even including the massive debt-servicing costs it will engender.   But hey – those rich people need, um, more of something I’m sure.

12. And the Russian noose continues to get tighter and tighter, as Michael Flynn’s lawyers have now cut off cooperation with der Sturmtrumper’s legal team and he has agreed to plead guilty to charges related to the Russian collusion in the 2016 election, all of which is legalese for “Flynn is now cooperating with Mueller.”  Grab yo popcorn! 

13. Der Sturmtrumper’s name has surfaced in the Panama Papers, the trove of documents that details how the ultra-rich avoid scrutiny and taxation on their business dealings – how they shirk their responsibilities and dump them onto the rest of us, in other words.  His company was involved in the flipping of a condominium unit in a process that looks rather suspiciously like money laundering, which would be a fairly serious crime if proven.  Interesting times.

14.  The hits keep coming for the GOP “Reverse Robin Hood” Tax Plan.  Analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office – an office that the GOP has repeatedly tried to eliminate since it deals in actual reality and consistently refuses to go along with their ideological fantasies – reveals that the GOP tax plan would mean that Americans earning less than $30,000/year would see tax increases as early as 2019 and those earning less than $40,000 would see tax increases beginning in 2021.  People making less than $75,000 would see tax increases by 2027.  Meanwhile, people making over $75,000 would see small tax cuts, and people making more than six figures would see big tax cuts.  Plus the GOP plan would increase the national debt by over $1,400,000,000,000, which is more than the Wharton estimates.  And yet there are still people foolish enough to think that the GOP cares about fiscal responsibility.  It’s one of the most bizarre things about American politics these days.

15. The real kicker of this theft from working and middle-class Americans by the rich is that it is theft going well into the future.  It will not help the economy.  It will not create jobs.  And pretty much every serious economist out there (37 of 38 prominent economists, according to one poll) agrees that it is essentially useless for those things.  The main feature of this tax plan is cutting corporate taxes, but there is almost no consistent evidence that this will do anything other than boost profits for those corporations.  CEOs themselves are very clear on this – tax cuts won’t make them invest, won’t make them pay higher wages, and won’t make them create new jobs.  “From real world experience I can tell you that tax rates literally never came up in any discussion about hiring or pay levels,” notes David Mendels, formerly of Brightcove and Adobe.  And this is not a surprise to anyone who understands basic economics.  In a consumer economy, demand drives investment, wages, and jobs.  Say it with me once again, people: supply side economics does not work in a demand side economy.

16. At least some Republicans have figured out that none of this is good for the future of the party.  Thanks to their consistent effort at gerrymandering the electorate to new and dangerous heights, the only challenge that GOP officials face when it comes to most re-election campaigns is in the primary, where ever more radical candidates are pushing the party toward its lunatic fringe – the fringe that captured the presidency last year and which has openly declared war on the rest of the party.  So they end up with candidates who can, in fact, lose safe seats in the general election.  The fact that the Democrats have an actual shot at a Senate seat in Alabama is entirely due to the fact that the Alabama GOP stands squarely behind the child molester Roy Moore.  At some point, even Republicans have to question that.  Whether it will be this year is an open question – a lot of them seem to have no difficulties with voting for someone who molests children, which I suppose is indicative of their worth as human beings – but eventually.  Perhaps.

17. Jeffrey Sachs, professor of economics at Columbia University, is blunt about it: the rich are at war with the poor and middle class, and the rich are winning.  “On top of a huge budget deficit, unprecedented inequality in America, largest wealth soaring at the top, they want more, and more, and more.”  As for the GOP “Reverse Robin Hood” tax plan, “Patriots should oppose this, period.  Because our budget deficit is already huge and rising and this is pure populism.  An unusual kind of populism.  Populism by the super rich.  But it’s pure populism.”  Asked about the tax cuts passed by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, Sachs said, “We cannot afford tax cuts.  The idea that somehow has gotten into our heads in recent weeks, that ‘oh, $1.5 trillion, that we can give away,’ is unbelievable in any serious country.  Unfortunately we are not seriously governed right now.”

18. Meanwhile der Sturmtrumper continues to rageTweet about pretty much whatever he thinks will distract people from the ongoing ethical, legal, and moral collapse of his administration and party.  His unwarranted attacks on CNN seem to be the latest excuse for his tantrums.  He claimed that Fox (which he insists is somehow an actual news organization) is “MUCH more important in the United States than CNN” but complained that outside of the US, CNN is more respected.  He feels this represents the US poorly.  All of this might have something to do with the fact that CNN actually delivers news instead of partisan propaganda and the rest of the world is miraculously able to see what right-wingers in the US refuse to notice. But be that as it may, CNN’s response (“It’s not CNN’s job to represent the US to the world.  That’s yours.  Our job is to report the news.”) was on point.

19. Former CIA and NSA Director and four-star General Michael Hayden, dressed down our Toddler In Chief over this assault on CNN.  “If this is who we are or who we are becoming, I have wasted 40 years of my life.  Until now it was not possible for me to conceive of an American President capable of such an outrageous assault on truth, a free press or the first amendment.”  Not that der Sturmtrumper’s care about truth, a free press, or anything whatsoever to do with the Constitution as a whole or any particular amendment specifically, but there you have it, for whatever good it will do.

20. Is there anybody out there who is at all surprised that der Sturmtrumper took time out of a ceremony meant to honor Navajo code-talkers from World War II in order to make a racist joke about Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)?  Is anybody surprised that White House Mouthpiece Sarah “Huckabee” Sanders adamantly insists that there was nothing wrong with this?

21. American intelligence officials have warned our allies not to share information with the US that they don’t want getting back to Russia.  As reported by Vanity Fair – which is doing a surprising amount of hard news reporting these days, along with Teen Vogue, which is good since so many other “news” outlets seem to have abdicated that role – at a meeting in January between US and Israeli intelligence officers to discuss the decades-long cooperation between our two countries on intelligence matters, one American official announced toward the end of the meeting that “American intelligence agencies had come to believe that Russian president Vladimir Putin had ‘leverages of pressure’ over Trump.”  “Israel, the American officials continued, should ‘be careful’ after January 20 – the date of Trump’s inauguration.  It was possible that sensitive information shared with the White House and the National Security Council could be leaked to the Russians.  A moment later the officials added what many of the Israelis had already deduced: it was reasonable to presume that the Kremlin would share some of what they learned with their ally Iran, Israel’s most dangerous adversary.”  And lo and behold, der Sturmtrumper has fulfilled those warnings, giving away valuable intelligence secrets as if they were party favors and openly sharing them with Russian sources.  You want to accuse der Sturmtrumper of treason?  It would be a stretch, as the Constitution is fairly clear on the definition of that crime and on the surface this likely wouldn’t fit, but this would be a good place to start looking for evidence.

22. Meanwhile convicted criminal James O’Keefe continues his pathetic efforts to persuade right-wingers that they’re not nearly as stupid as convicted criminal James O’Keefe thinks they are.  His latest scam was to try to set up the Washington Post with a fake story about Roy Moore, presumably in the hopes that they’d run the story accusing Moore of further crimes and then convicted criminal James O’Keefe would pounce and declare them to be untrustworthy.  Except that the Washington Post practices actual journalism – something convicted criminal James O’Keefe wouldn’t know anything about – and refused to run the story on the uncorroborated say so of convicted criminal James O’Keefe’s paid stooge, Jaime Phillips.  Not that it took much for the Post to find out what was really going on – Phillips opened a GoFundMe account in her own name announcing her intention to do pretty much exactly the kind of false front nonsense that the Post found her doing – but you know, checking sources: it’s what journalism is actually about.

23.  Apparently there are a number of people who support the child molester Roy Moore who are trying to do stunts like that, because when you’re okay with molesting children there really isn’t anywhere further down the morality scale you can fall.  The Party of Values strikes again.

24.  As my dad always used to tell me, “Don’t talk to me about ‘values.’  Hitler had ‘values.’  I want to know whether you have morals.”

25. Not surprisingly, der Sturmtrumper – a man whom at least seventeen different women (including five different girls between the ages of 12 and 15) have accused of gross sexual immorality ranging from harassment to assault to actual rape – has publicly endorsed the child molester Roy Moore for Senate.  Birds of a feather and all that.  Yet the GOP wonders why the rest of us consider them immoral.

26. Speaking of which, President Pussy Grabber is now publicly disputing whether that is actually him on the tape where he declared that grabbing women “by the pussy” was a praiseworthy thing to do.  Seriously, can we just invoke the 25th Amendment now and get rid of this hallucinating buffoon?

27. When you think about moral codes, remember that blue states practice what the red states only preach.  States that vote Republican have higher rates of premarital sex, teenage pregnancy, shotgun marriages, and child weddings than states that vote Democratic.  They also have higher rates of adultery and prostitution, as well as lower rates of education.  Suddenly the child molester Roy Moore as a Senatorial candidate makes more sense, doesn’t it?

28. Barack Obama played 29 rounds of golf in his first year in office.  George W. Bush played seven.  Der Sturmtrumper has been at golf clubs 81 times in ten months, and while he has not publicly released the actual number of rounds of golf he has played, observers put it around 64.  He still has two months to go before his first year is up.  At this rate, he may well spend more time golfing than governing, which is pretty much the only thing saving the American republic at the moment.

29. On the “I’m just going to leave this right here” front, der Sturmtrumper’s ethics lawyer has resigned.  Nothing to see here, move along.

30. The Wisconsin GOP recently decided that small children – who cannot be trusted to sit unbuckled in a car, view actual human breasts even if those breasts are actively feeding them, or choose books that don’t make right-wingers nervous – should be allowed to carry rifles and hunt deer.  And of course the Wisconsin DNR almost immediately sold 10 hunting licenses to infants.  On the one hand this was probably safer than giving them to adults, since infants are notoriously poor at actually picking up and firing guns, though the DNR also gave 52 licenses to kids between one and five years old.  You are, statistically, more likely to be shot to death by a toddler than a terrorist in this country, and the Wisconsin GOP clearly approves of this trend.  We like when people kill people in America.  That’s why we give everyone guns.

31. That same Wisconsin GOP has also been seriously considering eliminating all of Wisconsin’s clean air laws, because apparently they’ve figured out a way to breathe money.

32. In case you thought that the rule of law was safe under GOP overlords, consider Wisconsin.  There are so many examples to choose from, but the latest one comes from a case where right-wing extremist groups are suing State Superintendent of Education Tony Evers because he dared to pass administrative rules that the law, the Wisconsin Constitution, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court all say he has the power to pass.  Evers, sensibly, chose to be represented by his own attorney, but Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) overruled that and said he had to be represented by the State Attorney General, Brad Schimel.  Bear in mind that Schimel is on the plaintiff’s side in this case, and Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) is essentially forcing Evers to be represented by a lawyer who actively opposes Evers’ position.  It is surely a coincidence that a) the case, if decided for the plaintiff, will drastically decrease the power of pretty much the only state official not currently subservient to Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries), and b) Evers is one of the leading candidates running against Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) in next year’s election.  So let’s recap that: Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries), in the face of law, Constitution, and Court opposition, has decided to intervene in a spurious case against a duly elected Constitutional officer, take the side of the extremists pushing this spurious case, and choose the attorneys for both sides in order to get the verdict he wants.  Weaponizing the law as a form of political intimidation is a hallmark of tyranny, folks.  Keep that in mind.

33.  Racine County, here in Wisconsin, saw its credit rating lowered because of all the debt that it will incur making Governor Teabagger’s (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) Fox Con deal – you know, the one where the state of Wisconsin is too poor to fund education or roads but has more than $3,000,000,000 to give to a foreign-owned company with a long track record of reneging on its promises? –  and may yet see it lowered further.  Because that’s what happens when the Party of Fiscal Responsibility is in charge.

34. In the midst of all of the crushing responsibilities of the Presidency, der Sturmtrumper took the time to send out three phenomenally racist videos (at least one of which has been previously exposed as an outright fabrication) that were originally posted by an extremist group known as Britain First, and then had his Deputy Press Secretary go out and tell people that even if the videos were fake he still felt this was okay because it somehow elevated the discussion – which says a lot about the kinds of discussions he was having prior to this, I suppose.  While former KKK leader David Duke thought this was fine and dandy, every responsible politician in Britain (one of our oldest and, at least for the moment, closest allies), from Prime Minister Theresa May to opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to London Mayor Sadiq Khan has flatly condemned der Sturmtrumper’s racist attempt to stir up violence and hatred as the disgrace that it is, and even Paul Joseph Watson – editor of the American right-wing extremist site Infowars – thinks der Sturmtrumper went too far with this.  When the Infowars guy thinks you’re too deep into Fascist propaganda, maybe you should rethink your life choices.

35. Naturally der Sturmtrumper has doubled down on his racist insanity and now risks a full-blown diplomatic incident with one of our most important allies.  Outrage in Britain is now in full bloom across the political spectrum and, since Britain does not have a specific equivalent to the American First Amendment protection to free speech however vile, it is likely that der Sturmtrumper’s sharing these videos has violated British law.  While he can’t be prosecuted for this, since he was spewing his filth here in this country rather than in Britain, it is entirely possible that he could be placed on a Watch List and barred from entry into Britain – a first for an American president.  And, honestly, who could blame them?

36. A few of der Sturmtrumper’s loyal minions are now sending anonymous threatening robocalls to people across the US and even in Canada who post “negative and derogatory” things about der Sturmtrumper, because that’s the kind of lowlife cowards that they are.  So far none for me but there will be plenty more of these posts that will have to be made, so I suppose there will be other opportunities.

37. And now it’s National Security Advisor HR McMaster who is on record as noting the distinct lack of intelligence of his boss.  In July at a private dinner with the CEO of Oracle (someone whose name has been thrown around as a possible candidate for positions in der Sturmtrumper’s administration), five witnesses have reported that McMaster described der Sturmtrumper as an “idiot,” a “dope,” and someone with the intelligence of a “kindergartner.”  McMaster has, of course, denied this.

38. Senate Republicans have revealed that der Sturmtrumper repeatedly asked them to cut the Russian investigations short, an intervention that is unusual enough to be highly suspicious.  Attempts by the executive to suppress legislative investigations into criminal acts by the executive are impeachable offenses, as Nixon found out, so we can just add that to the long list of things that would have had der Sturmtrumper tossed out on his ear months ago if the Republican party actually gave a damn about law, ethics, morals, or Constitutions.

39. Will Exxon’s Own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson be dropped in favor of right-wing fanatic Mike Pompeo?  Will the phenomenally ignorant Senator Tom Cotton be selected to run the CIA in place of Pompeo?  Is this an actual news story or just more distraction and posturing?  Who knows with this crowd.

40. Why there is no hope for the GOP:  Senator Lindsay Graham in 2017 on der Sturmtrumper (“What concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label him as some kind of kook, not fit to be President.”) vs. Senator Lindsay Graham in 2015 on der Sturmtrumper (“I think he’s a kook.  I think he’s crazy.  I think he’s unfit for office.”).  When the allure of power makes you blind to things that were once obvious to you, you need to go.

41. I hope you had your popcorn from item #12, as today’s news brings reports that Michael Flynn has promised “full cooperation” with Robert Mueller’s investigations and is prepared to testify that during the 2016 election der Sturmtrumper explicitly “directed him to make contact with the Russians.”  We already know that there was collusion.  Now we’re just asking how much, what was promised, and how close to treason this came.  Meanwhile, the GOP continues to support their stooge.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

None Shall Pass

Amid an unrelated bureaucratic uproar the size of which beggars the imagination, Home Campus has decided that now is the perfect time to make people change their login passwords.

I know.

Apparently we’re supposed to do this every 180 days, though to the best of my knowledge the last time I actually did so was sometime in the latter stages of the Clinton Administration.  It has never been a problem before now, nor would it ever be a problem – forcing people to change passwords just ensures that they end up writing them down somewhere for others to find and use, and from what I’ve gathered it has very little if any positive impact on network security.

But we live in an age of Security Theater (remember to take off your shoes before entering the gate area, people!) and sometimes all you can do is clap along with the rest of the audience while the dancing continues. 

That and they actually threatened to cut off my access to my account if I didn’t change my password.  FOR REALZ this time.

So I did.

Now I have no idea how to get into anything, because it turns out that this password change only affected about half the systems that I actually use.  It is a game I play with myself these days, guessing which systems I can get into with the new password and which ones still take the old one, and then remembering that for the next time.  There doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern that I can detect, but I keep playing.  If I win, I get to play again. 

And there are still a few things that I haven’t yet tried to log into, so more adventure awaits.

Theoretically, in six months I get to do this all over again, unless they forget about me for a couple of decades like they did last time.  Because of the nature of my employment history with Home Campus I do fall through a lot of cracks in the system and it would not surprise me a bit if they did forget about me.

I’d actually be okay with that, as this whole password changing thing is just one more thing I have to remember at a time in my life when I really should be allowed to slip gracefully into absent-minded peace.

But now I’m Secure.  I’m Hacker Proof.  I’m, well, not kidding myself about any of that, really, and I’m just hoping I can remember my various passwords long enough to be productive. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Door to a New Adventure

I suspect that the people who built my house were amateurs.

One reason that I reached this conclusion is that the place is sturdy beyond any rational need for it.  It has that “better get things nailed down securely so we never have to do it again” feel that you get when something is built by people who don’t know the shortcuts and decide that everything needs to be done as thoroughly as possible so they don’t have to worry about it anymore.  This isn’t a bad thing, however, so I don’t complain about it.

I do complain about some of the other things that lead me to this conclusion, though. 

For one thing, as we discovered during the Great Window Project of 2008-2009, there is a standard depth for windows in American housing construction and has been since the Civil War, but nobody told our builders this.  Honestly I’m not entirely sure where they found nonstandard windows, but they did and they all at one point matched.  Further, the wells were lined with cove molding just in case anyone wanted to try to take an accurate measurement of how wide the opening was.  This is why a project that would ordinarily take a professional like my old neighbor Adam a weekend to complete, at a rate of about one window every half hour, ended up taking the better part of a year.  It always took the two of us an entire afternoon to install two windows because of all the trimming and custom noodling around that had to be done.  But now we have nice windows, so there’s that.

For another thing, we also have a lot of doors.  There are three doors that lead to the outside, for example, only two of which can be used without serious injury or death since the third one leads from the upstairs hallway out to, well, the back yard one story below.  We call it “the door to nowhere.”  There are no stairs outside.  There really isn’t any place you could put stairs so far as I can see.  The house was moved here from another site back in the 90s, before we moved in, so it is possible that there was at one time a place to put stairs, but any set of stairs would have been in the way of something important (such as the bathroom window, either of them) no matter where you put it.  Mostly we regard door to nowhere as a large window, caulked and sealed, since both the internal and external doors have large glass panes in them and it brightens up the hallway, but we have on occasion opened the doors in order to get large things like box springs into the second floor since the stairs that actually do exist for that purpose are singularly ill-suited for it, which is just another issue that speaks to the dedicated amateurs who built this place.

The three outside doors are only the barest hint of our total doorosity, though.

We have, by my count, sixteen internal doors in this house.  We took four of them off and leaned them against the basement wall, because otherwise the house felt like an Advent calendar, but the other dozen are still in place.  None of them are interchangeable with any of the others.  They vary in width by as much as six inches and in height by up to a foot, and for the few whose dimensions are roughly comparable the hinges are either on opposite ends vertically or mounted on the wrong side of the door front to back.  Each door is unique.

It’s entirely possible that all this was due to some post-WWII shortage of housing materials and our builders simply made the frames for the doors they could find.  The house was built in 1947 or so, after all, at a time when materials were short and doors were supposed to be plentiful in houses to conserve heat.  I like to think it was just dedicated amateurs working as best they could, though, because it’s my house and I can have any theory I want for it after all.

We discovered the true extent of the door situation this past weekend when it became imperative that the door to Kim’s office (which also serves as our guest bedroom) be made to function as a door rather than a screen, and to do so with a quickness.

As of last week it was really more of a visual barrier, since it refused to close all the way (being rather too tall on the latch side) and, when it did close, it refused to latch (the strike plate being about a quarter inch too high for the door lock).  This was okay for people staying a couple of nights, since we come fully equipped with doorstops, but starting next week it would be unacceptable since there would be someone living there for the next few months, and people generally like their doors to be doors when they’re sleeping behind them.

Through a long and frankly implausible process that even now I am not really sure I understand, we will be hosting a foreign exchange student starting as early as this coming weekend.  I know that she’s from Belgium, she already attends Local Businessman High with my daughters (who know of her, though don’t actually know her), and she’s a gymnast.  She’s been staying with friends of ours, but they weren’t supposed to host her this long (the hurricanes this past summer flooded out a lot of hosts, apparently, so the foreign exchange people have been scrambling to find places to put kids). 

So here we were.

In need of a more permanent guest bedroom, with a door that could actually be shut.

Through a process of elimination involving removing the door that was already hanging, hauling up from the basement each door that might conceivably fit into the now vacated the doorframe for that room, attempting to place the new door on the hinges, muttering animatedly and not all that politely, and then returning the rejected door back to the basement, I determined that the proper door was already hanging on that frame and would need to be reshaped.

This, it turned out, was easier said than done, especially for someone of my dubious Home Repair talents.

Fortunately it was a freakishly warm day so the various methods that I tried to make the door slightly shorter were accomplished in some comfort out in the driveway, and when all was said and done a whole lot more was said than done but enough was done that the door actually fit and shut all the way now.  It’s a bit ragged at the top, but it does what a door should do.  Or at least it did once Kim and I got the strike plate moved up that quarter inch.

So now we have a functioning door to what will be our new student’s bedroom.  Kim has been diligently moving her stuff out and setting up shop in my office, amid the clutter and the books.  And soon, there will be more people here.

Another adventure awaits.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Thanks

My goal today is not to go out except to visit friends.  And take care of the chickens, because those need to get fed.  I know it’s Black Friday and as a patriotic American I’m supposed to run out and load up on stuff or else the terrorists win, but the simple fact is that I don’t need any more stuff.

And for that I am thankful.

We went up to my in-laws for Thanksgiving yesterday.  My sister-in-law cooked the turkey – one of the ones Lauren raised as part of her 4H Poultry project – and it was very tasty if a bit bittersweet.  It was also huge, coming in at 35lbs and none of it added water, so it fed the lot of us.  And there were a lot of us – there were more kids there than there were people at some of the Thanksgivings I remember growing up, which is what happens when you come from a tight-knit but rather small family.  We brought pizzelles and pies and salad, and other people brought all sorts of other things, and we ate and talked and played Cards Against Humanity with three generations of family and it was a grand time with good people.

And for that I am thankful.

We came home and poured ourselves into bed afterward, the end of a long if happy day.  Our children were snug in their beds and I held onto my wife and we fell asleep and all was right in our corner of the world.

And for that I am thankful.

I am thankful for so many things in this world.  For the family and friends who make it worthwhile.  For the safety and material comfort I enjoy, in a world where those are denied to far too many.  For the experiences I have had, the love I have shared, the laughter and even the tears.

I try to remember these things.  It can be hard.  There are too many people working too hard to undo them, many of them in positions of power these days, and while I can count my blessings there are many who cannot. 

But it is right to take the time to celebrate and remember the things you have to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.