Friday, July 21, 2017

Take Your Medicine

So today I am going to the hospital for a Medical Thing.  It’s one of those special moments that happen to you when you hit a certain plateau and your doctor looks at you and says, “You’re how old?  Oh, do we have a treat in store for you!”

I am being assigned medical treatment for demographic reasons.

On the one hand, it’s something that I ought to do.  And if there are any larger meanings hidden in the current debacle over Republicare, one of them surely is that I should be glad to have health care at all in a country where freedom is just another name for being able to die of something that could have been easily cured if only you had the money.  So I count myself glad for the opportunity, unpleasant as it is.

On the other hand, I just know it’s going to turn out like this:


Steve Dallas, I am with you.

I spent all day yesterday Not Eating, which – given the previous post noting, among other things, the centrality of food to the American lifestyle and how visitors from other countries tend to highlight that centrality in ways that are not obvious when you’re living in the middle of it – was rather annoying.  As one of the great punk rock songs of the early 1980s put it, “I like food.  Food tastes good.”

When I am recovered from this I am going to go Full American on the food supply.  Yes, indeed, I am.  There will be Gluttony.

I was allowed to have all the clear liquids I could handle, as well as jello as long as it wasn’t red, blue, or purple because apparently those freak out the doctors.  I’m not sure why green would be preferable here, but then my doctorate is in the liberal arts so there are mysteries regarding medicine to which I am not privy, no pun intended.

Well, pun fully intended.  You got me.  What can I say.

Does vodka count as a clear liquid?  It’s liquid, after all.  And clear.  Someone should look into this, I think, and get back to the rest of us.  I am fairly sure a large quantity of vodka would have made the day much more pleasant as long as someone remembered to hide the snack food from me once the munchies set in, since I wasn’t allowed such things.

And then I had to drink The Liquid.  There is a reason why this stuff is only available by prescription and that reason is that nobody in their right mind would consume it voluntarily.  Of course I think the same thing about sushi and that is readily available over the counter in this part of the world, so what do I know?

Every time the hospital staff would call me to check me just much that further in (it’s an incremental process, apparently, requiring at least four calls – ask me why health care costs so much in the US sometime), the person on the other end wanted to know my religious preference.  I’m not sure what this has to do with my Medical Thing.  I finally asked and they said that they need to know who to call if something goes wrong.

Um, perhaps a doctor?  Maybe even the one already there?

Seriously, people – eyes on the prize here.

So I will be heading in for Medical Treatment very shortly.  And then I will be sleeping, if what they tell me is true. 

And then I will be eating.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Friends from Abroad

You don’t realize until you have guests from another country quite how much of your life revolves around finding things to eat and just how American that is.  I’m still kind of amazed by that, even as our refrigerator slowly begins to show gaps on the shelves again.  It’s actually kind of troubling to me how often my next thought once we had finished something was, “Let’s get something to eat!”

It explains a lot, actually.

Our Swedish friends came to visit us for a couple of weeks this month, and it was just lovely to have them here.  In between quiet times hanging out at home we ran them all around Wisconsin and ate more than our share of tasty meals (sometimes on Wisconsin time, and sometimes on Madrid time, which runs rather later than Stockholm time when it comes to meals).  The house still feels a bit empty now that they’ve been safely back in a country with non-insane leadership for almost a week. 

They did say that we could stay with them if we needed to do so anytime soon, which was nice of them.  We’re hoping this will not be necessary in a permanent sense – jury’s out on that right now – but we will definitely try to take them up on that at least temporarily next summer.  We had hoped to visit as many of our friends across the Atlantic as we could this year, but it turned out that “as many as we could” came down to “zero” since we never quite got our act together and then the summer filled up with so many, many activities that it’s probably not a bad thing that we stayed here in Our Little Town and let friends come to us.  And they did!  First Californians, then Swedes!

Life is good.

It’s actually a bit difficult to say when we got together this time, since it happened gradually.  Maria had been an exchange student in Indiana this past year and it was for her to go back home so Mats came over a bit early so he could visit his old stomping grounds in northern Wisconsin from when he was an exchange student, then picked up Sara, David, and Helena at O’Hare and took them to Indiana where, by all accounts, they had a good time with Maria’s host family.  Then they spent a few days in Chicago, where Kim and Tabitha met them for a day while Lauren and I took care of a few things here.  Apparently there was pizza – or at least the deep-dish casserole that Chicagoans insist on referring to as pizza – involved.  It is a tasty thing no matter what you call it.  Also museums.

And then they all landed here in our house, and what a time it was.

We showed them the turkeys, of course.  There is just something ridiculous about turkeys that says you need to show them to all of your visitors, even those who might not be all that enamoured of turkeys, because turkeys of course.  Our friend Lois, who lets us keep our poultry in her barn, was there and was happy to hang out with us.



The next day was the Fourth of July, which they have in Sweden too (as well as a Third and a Fifth – it’s a full-service country that way) but it doesn’t mean the same thing that it does here.  They don’t celebrate American independence because why would they, and there’s not much point to fireworks when the sun doesn’t set until 1am.  So while we geared up for our usual family and friends cookout (which happens whether we are here or not, as we discovered one year when the extended family came down and partied at our house while we were out of town.  TRADITION!) the Swedes went out to see an All American Fourth of July Parade in the next town up from ours.  They reported that it was an experience.

And then we ate.  It was the usual Fourth of July barbecue - dogs, burgers, bbq ribs, potato salad, cucumber salad (hey, it's usual for us), chips, and any number of other things that aren't really good for you but you only live once and who wants to live to be a hundred if you have to eat kale every day?







You can’t grow sweet corn in Sweden, and the verb “to shuck” doesn’t translate very well.  But it’s fun.  Afterward we all hiked over to the hospital to watch the fireworks arc gracefully over the cardiac and neonatal wards, because that probably made sense when they were planning it.  Our Little Town puts on a nice display, really, and what's more American than shiny explody things after a giant marginally nonlethal meal?

The next day we went to SummerFest, which is a weeks-long music festival in Milwaukee dedicated to the idea that beer makes music better, which is fine if you enjoy beer, I suppose.  Somehow we managed to pick the day where everyone got in free before 3pm, which was all kinds of sweetness.  It’s also kind of fun that the kids are all big enough to head off on their own and meet us at pre-arranged times, so everyone could go to the concerts they wanted rather than sit through what the majority decided to see.  On the one hand, there were some real duds that day – one rather talentless rapper in particular stands out for making even his YouTube fans among us get up and leave – but on the other hand there were more than enough great acts to make up for him.  There was a bluesy sort of band that we found early on that was good, for example.  And ninety minutes of Pat McCurdy is enough to make any event better, really.  We also ran into some very friendly people while we ate dinner near a comedy improv tent.  I hope their day turned out well also.



I will confess that by the end of it I was pretty maxed out.  It’s too loud and I’m too old, and there is only so much festival food that I can cope with these days, alas.  But it was fun while it lasted.

We spent a couple of days after that hanging out and taking it easy, visiting some of the things here in Our Little Town.  There’s a nice little beach that the city built on a flowage off the river, for example, and you can’t visit here without stopping for ice cream at one of the many places that provide it to Wisconsinites even in the dead of winter.  We dutifully registered for the lottery for the $10 tickets for Hamilton in Chicago every morning, since Maria wanted to go see it and it’s hard to get in right now – at least it’s hard if you want to have any money left to do other things while you’re visiting the US.  We never did win, but not for lack of trying.  Our friend Joe came down from northern Wisconsin for a few days to hang out with us as well, and he, Mats and I took in a minor league baseball game while everyone else did other things.


And then we went to the Renaissance Faire.

I confess that I was a bit unsure about how people from a country that actually was around during the Renaissance would take to the RenFaire – there’s a certain “coals to Newcastle” kind of feel to it – but it turned out I needn’t have worried.  For one thing the RenFaire has only the shadowiest of connections to the actual Renaissance.  As I have noted before, most of the people there are wearing clothing that would have gotten them burned at the stake in 1450, and “ye olde nachos with jalepenos” were about as historically accurate as the herds of Travelling Daenerae that flowed through the place.  And for another thing, well, it’s fun and that’s all you need.

We saw some wonderful acts.  If you are ever near Kenosha on a summer weekend (and who isn’t, at some point in their lives?) be sure to check out the Mud Show for a festival of innuendo and slapstick, and Barely Balanced for some of the greatest acrobatics and snark you’ll ever see.  Also, Moonie the Magnificent, who can pack more dialogue into a whistle than most people can with two dictionaries and a word processor.  I ran into two people cosplaying Rincewind the Wizzard and Two-Flower, which pretty much made my day.  Kim’s day, on the other hand, was made by getting a photo with Martin Frobisher, which is just one more reason we work well together.






Our big excursion was to spend some time in the Wisconsin Dells.

The Wisconsin Dells is a place of great natural beauty completely encased in a thick layer of kitsch, into which pours money and out of which pours tired but happy people.  It seems a fair trade.  We actually stayed in a very 1920s-style sort of resort outside of the Severe Kitsch zone – the sort of place where you could easily imagine groups of people in heavy white clothing doing calisthenics for their health – which was a very nice place to stay, especially as we were not ourselves required to do any calisthenics.  It had red-painted wood buildings, a tidy little pool, and a whole lot of green and quiet to help you recover when the kitsch got excessive.  Because we certainly had our fill of kitsch.


Our first stop, in fact, was one of those indoor amusement parks that feature everything from arcade games to go-karts to a particularly intense habitrail setup about fifteen feet over the go-karts, where the kids could run about while tethered to the ceiling.  The adults, meanwhile, found a nice table and played Maya (which is probably not spelled that way since it’s Swedish – there’s probably a “g” and an umlaut in there somewhere). It’s a card game that meets every requirement for such things that I have, being interesting enough to hold our attention but not so consuming as to preclude conversation and beverages.  I highly recommend it.  We played it a lot while our friends where here, actually, in between bouts of Phase 10 and Shindig Machine, which is more of a storytelling prompt than a card game.

We also spent a full day at one of the many joyously excessive waterparks that they have at the Dells.  They let you in basically for free and get you on things like parking and meals, which seemed like a reasonable arrangement to us, and in return they provide you with endless opportunities for fun, minor injury, and embarrassment.  Really, it's the perfect summer getaway.  As I am not much of a water person my job was to man the base camp, and I happily sat in a shady spot reading my book on medieval European history while others ran around getting wet.  No, I am not cool.  I know that.  Thanks for pointing it out in case I had forgotten.  Lauren did get me on a couple of the roller coasters that this particular park also has just for folks like me.  They are wooden roller coasters, so you get banged around quite a bit, but one of them has a drop of about 110 feet that takes you into the pitch dark underneath the parking lot, up into an actual corkscrew loop (pretty cool for a wooden coaster), and then back under the parking lot and into the park again.  I cannot tell you how much I enjoy the fact that Lauren is a roller coaster junkie too.

Lauren and I also skipped the boat tour that the rest of the group went on the next day, viewing the actual “natural splendor” part of the Dells – the rocky section of the Wisconsin River that gives the place its name.  Instead we headed off for the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum in town.  We were suitably impressed.


For all this we also managed to have some arts time.  One night we drove up to a town near here to catch Lauren’s marching band perform at a competitive field show.  We got there just in time to see her group - they wouldn't let us in, since we came clattering up the ramp just as the first notes sounded, so we watched from the ramp until they were done - and then settled in for the other bands.  There is no tradition of marching bands in Sweden, apparently.  Also, the woman selling food tickets spoke Swedish, so there was that.  Another night we saw the local high school’s production of Sweeney Todd, with Tabitha on spotlight and a phenomenally talented group of students on stage (the woman playing Mrs. Lovett was amazing, and the guy playing Mr. Pirelli was Chaplinesque in his physical comedy).  It’s not really an uplifting show – A Modest Proposal with music, as Tabitha put it – but we had a grand time.



Our final expedition before sending our friends back home was to an escape room nearby.  If you’ve not tried an escape room, you should.  You get locked into a room full of puzzles, and you have an hour to solve them all and unlock the door to get out.  From that simple premise a whole lot of entertainment flows.  We split into two groups, and both groups managed to get out of their respective rooms shortly before time expired, so win.


And now we are back to as normal a reality as we get.  Mats, Sara, Maria, David, and Helena are back in Sweden and we miss them.  But perhaps next summer!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Returning to the Fold

So I’ve been out of the loop for a while, here.

Did I miss much?

Any hard evidence of collusion with foreign powers?  Declining American prestige, leadership, security, or respect in the world?  Transparently hallucinatory diversionary tactics from people in high office here in the Good Old US of A?  Gratuitous cruelty for everyone not white, wealthy, or Dominionist blasphemer in order to provide tax breaks for the 1%?

I suppose.

It’s nice to take a break for a while.  We’ve had friends from out of the country visiting for the last couple of weeks and our attention has been focused on them rather than on the sorry state of the wider world and the even sorrier people who think that’s okay, and it has just been lovely.  We had a grand time with them, and we are looking forward to seeing them again soon because it’s good to spend time with friends.

Meanwhile our own lives have reached something of a blurry phase where we no longer can keep track of just who needs to be where for how long and it’s a good thing that we take pictures because otherwise it would just all fall out of the back of our heads and be forgotten like a Russian meeting.  There’s theater, band, jobs, 4H, and any number of other things that have demanded all of our time and then some. 

At some point you begin to wonder if you’ve reached the limit where all the balls will no longer stay in the air and what will happen when they come crashing down, but for the moment everything remains airborne and we keep juggling.  We’ll be here all summer.  Try the veal.

So in the very near future there will be more bloggage, because that’s just what I do.

In the meantime, we press on.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hamming It Up

Lauren has pigs now.

Two of them.  They’re named Drake and Josh, because of course they are.

Well, they’re not really her pigs.  If you want to be fastidious about it (odd when talking about pigs), she’s borrowing pigs now.  We don’t actually have pigs.  I draw the line at pigs.  We’ve got rabbits, chickens, turkeys, cats, and the occasional rodent that the cats don’t seem interested in eradicating and why we feed them at all is an interesting question, and that’s more than enough really.  Pigs are big, powerful, odiferous animals who don’t really have much in the way of fashion sense or manners, and they’re best left in other people’s care, I think.

Lauren also has friends who are old enough to drive, one of whom is also interested in pigs.  So every few days Lauren and her friend drive out to Andy’s barn and take care of their pigs.


Naturally this is a 4H thing.  Anytime there is something vaguely ridiculous and unintentionally humorous it’s probably 4H.  That’s how we ended up with turkeys, after all.  4H is good that way – it stretches you.

The deal is that Lauren and her friend will do the showmanship part of the Swine event – walk them into the ring and make them do whatever it is you have pigs do before an audience that wants to buy them and eat them – and then whatever money that is made from their sale goes to Andy.  This sounds like a fair trade, really, especially when you throw in the fact that Andy’s taking care of all pig-related transportation.

I’ve never actually met Andy.  I’ve been in his barn, but that’s apparently a different level of intimacy among those who herd swine.  I’m a city boy.  I’m new to this.

I’m not really sure why Lauren wanted to work with pigs this year.  Maybe it’s just the next step up from poultry.  Every couple of years her Fair animals get larger by an order of magnitude – from chickens (3.5lb) to turkeys (35lb) to pigs (who knows – 350lb isn’t out the question), and the math just works that way.  Or maybe she likes pigs.  It could also be that that once you graduate to livestock the size of swine you get to sleep over at the Fair, which is just the most perfect place in the world according to Lauren.

Can’t fault her for pursuing her goals.

Kim and I went out there one night last week.  Kim understands pigs, having grown up in a fairly rural area.  Her brother Geoff had one of his own, once.  So she and Lauren took Drake and Josh out for a walk while I trailed behind.


Have you ever seen people handle pigs?  Here’s a hint: it involves a length of one-inch PVC pipe with which you thwack the pigs to attract their attention and get them to go where you want them to go.  It makes a very particular thumping sound, that pipe.  The pigs don’t really seem to notice it much, although eventually they will head off in the general direction of where you want them to go.  Perhaps they are humoring their humans.

Because the thing is, pigs are intelligent.  They’re not like turkeys, who have negative IQs and who are often flummoxed by complicated ideas like “outside.”  Pigs have been known to trade stocks and run call centers.  On the internet, nobody knows you’re a pig until you tell them.  So while the pigs go along with this herding and thwacking about, I rather suspect that at some point – probably while they are in the ring with the audience that wants to eat them – there will be shenanigans.

And won’t that be a time?

But in the meantime, Lauren and her pigs spend a few evenings here and there out in the fading summer sun, and it is a lovely thing.


Monday, June 26, 2017

News and Updates

1. Remember having free time?  Me neither.  I think one of the biggest differences between Then and Now (however defined) is that back Then there was free time – unstructured hours to do with as one pleased – and Now there is not.  I don’t know anyone with free time anymore, not even unemployed people.  I think this is a loss, really.

2. Lauren has joined a marching band.  It was rather sudden, and we are rapidly discovering that marching bands are immense commitments.  They rehearse ten days per week for approximately thirty-six hours a day, as near as I can tell.  But she is enjoying it very much, enough to keep to that commitment, so there you go.  She started as a percussionist and then they discovered she could play piano so they moved her into what they call “the pit,” which is a stationary unit they use for field shows – think of a small group of musicians just off the 50-yard-line, out of bounds, while the rest of the band marches up and down the field. 

3. The pit also includes a cellist, which, having seen that Woody Allen movie, I find deeply amusing.  I don’t know if anyone even remembers that movie anymore though.  I am old, old, old.

4. Our friends Josh and Sarah came out to visit from California this past weekend, and we had a lovely time catching up and running around Wisconsin.  We spent a day picnicking at Devil’s Lake and another day going from cheese shop to cheese shop, and they got a tour of my old museum from Tabitha as well.  Plus they are game people, which was fun in the evenings once we got home.  It’s a grand thing to get together with old friends. 



5. We discovered yesterday that you can, in fact, break a Corelle dinner plate if you drop it just right.  And let me tell you, when those things go, it is spectacular – the plate essentially disintegrated into high-velocity shrapnel in amounts that may well have violated the law of conservation of matter since I'm guessing we could have reconstructed two plates out of it.  Seriously, does ISIS know about this stuff?  I hope it’s embargoed.  I posted this discovery on Facebook and was utterly amazed at how many people have been through the same experience with roughly the same level of awe at the amount of shards.

6. Rabbit Fun Day was a week or so back, and Lauren’s bunnies did well.  It helps that she has the only Dwarf Hotots in the county, I suppose, but the judge did say that they looked good compared to breed standards so they would have won their ribbons even against competition.  They made quite the haul of ribbons, actually.  Win!  I spent the day selling food at the concession stand, but I did get to see the judging, which was nice.


7. I don’t watch much television – haven’t in a long time.  This was not a moral decision but simply a reflection of how much time I didn’t have when I made that choice and how hard it is to get back into it once you fall out of the habit.  Life is a liquid - you take something out and there's no something-shaped hole to put it back into later.  Other than random hockey and soccer games, really all I’ve been watching consistently for the last couple of years is Doctor Who.  Kim and I have been working through the American Gods series – which is just about the most gorgeously shot production I have ever seen – and now that I’ve read the books we’ve started the Game of Thrones shows.   Well I’ve started – she’s seen them.  But even that has been put by the by of late – we’re three episodes behind in Doctor Who, with one to go before the end of the season.  Kim’s actually four episodes behind since she was out of town for one and we somehow managed either not to record it or to delete the recording, we’re not sure which.  We’re three episodes behind American Gods too, which means they have actually finished their season and left us in the dust.  And I’ve bogged down after two Game of Thrones episodes, both of which were very good and made me want to see more.  This is why I don’t start much television these days – I just know I’m not going to make it through, no matter how good it is.

8. It is a strange experience to go to work and a) be the first car in the parking lot, b) find that all of the office furniture is up off the floor as if the carpets are about to be or were recently cleaned, and c) be the only person in the office for several hours, in an office that is relatively off the beaten track so few people come by without specific intent to come by.  For a while I wondered if the campus was actually closed and I’d missed an email.  It wouldn't be the first time.

9. I’m not sure why students think professors don’t know what Wikipedia is or how to find it.

10. My home office is now two semesters behind on Shoveling Out, and next week we will have friends using it as a guest bedroom, so I’d better get shoveling.  Sigh.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Climate

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:

--

1. Good God, man, take a freaking break.  Nobody can keep up with this!  I spent the better part of a week more or less outside of the news stream, and when I poked my toe into the fetid waters of der Sturmtrumper’s latest antics the undercurrent nearly pulled me in to drown.  Remember when we used to have screaming arguments in this country over actual political issues – even trivial ones – instead of the latest grotesque criminal incompetency perpetrated by a kleptomaniac authoritarian regime?  Good times, man.

2. Seriously, if someone doesn’t take away that man’s Twitter account he’s going to start a war with it.  He’ll probably be just as surprised as the rest of us.

3. Given the avalanche of right-wing hate directed at Obama – the lynching photos, the gorilla memes, the coded and sometimes overt threats of assassination, the “Second Amendment Solutions” nonsense, and so on – I’m really kind of enjoying their crocodile tears over vaguely famous person Kathy Griffin’s tasteless and juvenile photograph.  Seriously, if you weren’t offended by the right-wing avalanche, you don’t get to be offended by the stupid photograph.  I thought her photograph crossed the line.  But then I felt that way about the avalanche of right-wing hatred toward Obama too, so I suppose I have earned the right to do so.

4. Griffin was fired from her New Year’s Eve job over that, and so be it.  Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences, and if you’re going to do stupid things like that you should expect to be shat upon from a great height by all sorts of people.  But if you think that death threats are an acceptable response to this then you really need to take your computer keyboard, grease it down with lard, and insert it into your lower intestine until you can taste it.  It’s surprising how thin-skinned right-wingers are.

5. Remember when Ted Nugent threatened to kill President Obama and the right-wingers all thought ol’ Ted was just a helluva guy having some fun?  Those were the days.

6. And now some freeze-dried whackaloon has decided to exercise his Second Amendment privileges at a GOP Congressman (ironically enough, a Congressman who recently crowed about beating back proposed restrictions on guns and ammunition – karma is a bitch).  Let’s be perfectly clear here – this is an outrage, a monstrous crime, and if the whackaloon hadn’t been killed by security forces he’d be first in line for execution at the end of a rather speedy trial and nobody, least of all me, would mourn.  What I find most aggravating, however, is that the same party that spent eight interminable years loudly and proudly urging its followers to find “Second Amendment Solutions” to political problems as long as those guns were aimed at Democrats is now outraged by the fact that the guns are pointed at them.  What goes around comes around, folks.  The sheer maddening hypocrisy of the GOP is enough to make Ghandi take up the axe.  I suppose it’s too much to ask that these people understand the soul-crushing irony of what just happened.

7. Just so you know I’m not making this up, here’s a representative sample of Second Amendment Solution quotes and actions from various GOP mouthpieces, collected by David Gerrold for our edification and quoted directly from him:

GOP House candidate Robert Lowry held a campaign event at a Florida gun range in October 2009, where he fired gunshots at a silhouette that had his opponent Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s printed on it.

“You know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.” - Sharon Angle

“If I could issue hunting permits, I would officially declare today opening day for liberals. The season would extend through November 2 and have no limits on how many taken as we desperately need to ‘thin’ the herd.”  -Brad Goerhing

“Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office,” read an advertisement for the event called “Shoot a fully automatic M16 With Jesse Kelly.”

“Don’t retreat, instead- RELOAD!” - Sarah Palin after circulating a map with crosshairs over lawmakers who supported the ACA

“You know but other than me going over there with a gun and holding it to their head and maybe killing a couple of them, I don’t think they’re going to listen unless they get beat.” - John Sullivan

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” -Donald Trump

8. Or, to put the whole thing in further perspective, from Andy Nicastro:  "So let's get this straight. A rabidly anti-gay congressman who recently voted to let mentally ill people have access to guns and who wants to repeal the affordable care act had his life saved by a lesbian when he was shot by a mentally ill person and is currently under hospital care that is being paid for by government-funded health insurance. Sorry, there is way too much irony here to interrupt it with punctuation."

9. So der Sturmtrumper has officially announced that he will withdraw the US from the Paris Accords because short-term profit is so much more important than long-term survivability.  Well, he’s 70 years old – he’ll be dead before the whole thing crashes down so what does he care?  Two things are impressive here.  First, that there seems to have been almost no thought whatsoever regarding this decision – nobody, of any party, is suggesting that there was anything like calm, reasoned consideration of the pluses and minuses of this action.  Instead, once again, we are treated to the toddler in chief extending his middle finger to the rest of the world because he got his feelings hurt when the European leaders took him exactly as seriously as he deserved to be taken and no more.  Tantrums are not a substitute for policy, boyo.  Second, it is abundantly clear that der Sturmtrumper took this action in direct opposition to the will of the American people (hell, 57% of REPUBLICANS favor remaining in the Paris Accord, let alone everyone else), a fair number of his own administration members (Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s own Secretary of State, is said to have been particularly thrown under the bus with this one), and a surprising number of American corporations including most of the big fossil fuel companies (because oil rigs need stable sea levels and predictable weather, among other reasons).   If you’re really interested in this disjunction, just ask the good people of Pittsburgh, 80% of whom voted against der Sturmtrumper, what they think of his claim that this was done in their name.

10. Of course nothing der Sturmtrumper has said on the decision has risen to the level of remotely plausible, let alone factually accurate.  The list of lies that he told to justify his action is long, thorough, and depressing.  And in truth the decision has little practical impact immediately – nothing can happen officially until the day after the next presidential election in 2020, in fact.  So it’s mostly symbolic at this point.  But think about the symbolism of the United States – historically the world’s largest carbon emitter – joining exactly two other countries in rejecting this treaty: Syria, which may or may not qualify as a country at all at the moment, and Nicaragua, which hasn’t signed because they think the treaty doesn’t go far enough.  Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but this man is an international embarrassment and a national disgrace.

11. To anyone reading this outside of the US, as an American citizen I hereby apologize for the actions of this administration.  Most of us didn’t vote for him, and we’re just as appalled as you are.

12. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin GOP – you know, the group of chowderheads that has cut over two billion dollars out of education since Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) seized power in 2011 – has decided that public schools should have gun classes.  Because they can’t pay for teachers, books, infrastructure, school lunches, arts programs, or supplies, but by the foot-long beard of Right Wing Jeebus Hissownself (a blond-haired blue-eyed heavily armed bigot not to be confused with any actual deity or Savior) they can find money to put guns into schools.  Wasn’t it just a couple of months ago that half the schools in southern Wisconsin were either closed or on soft lockdown because somebody wanted to bring their guns to schools and exercise his Second Amendment privileges at other people’s children?

13. And yes, I meant “privileges.”  The Second Amendment has a long and sordid history of being reserved as a privilege for white men only, and nothing about that has changed that in my lifetime.

14. It’s hurricane season and this year is predicted to be a big one, with an above-average number of hurricanes likely.  And thanks to the incompetence/malevolence/authoritarianism/etc. of der Sturmtrumper, there is currently nobody in charge of NOAA or FEMA.  Heck of a job, Donnie.

15. Der Sturmtrumper did finally nominate someone to be the new FBI guy, though.  I wonder if this guy is going to be the toady that his new boss thinks he will be, or whether he will have a spine and actually enforce the law.

16. As a general rule, you can seamlessly substitute “I like behaving like an asshole” anytime someone uses the sentence “I’m tired of being politically correct.”  They mean the same thing, which is why they’re so popular on the right wing these days.  Nobody on the left has used the phrase “politically correct” seriously since 1991.  Whenever you hear people complaining of being forced to be politically correct or not being able to do what they want because it’s not politically correct, remember that they’re just whining about how hard it is to be an asshole in a world that is tired of their shit.

17. This is why der Sturmtrumper and a handful of his minions, lackeys, and cronies have been firing up the twitter machine in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Britain, complaining that political correctness is preventing them from being the monstrous assholes they would like to be to anyone who isn’t straight, white, male, evangelical Protestant, and, preferably, wealthy.  Seriously, folks – so tired of this shit.

18. Also, have you noticed that whenever there is a terrorist attack on foreign soil der Sturmtrumper jumps right in with offers of support with petty and juvenile tweets insulting the political leaders on the ground while politicizing the tragedy in order to push the most recent collection of semi-random hormonal urges that masquerades as his agenda?  While at the same time whenever a white male American engages in a terrorist attack here in America there is a strange and deafening silence?  Odd how that keeps happening.

19. Being lectured on tolerance by a Trump supporter is almost as funny as when they think they understand economics.

20.  It looks like the Party of Cruelty is following its Wisconsin playbook with the new Republicare bill.  They’re working on it in secret – thirteen old white men writing a bill that will affect hundreds of millions of Americans, most of them negatively.  They are allowing nobody to see it, holding no public hearings, and admitting no actual reality into their cabal.  And they’re going to ram it through Congress without so much as a reach-around.  Those of us in Wisconsin have seen this movie – it’s been playing in Madison since 2011 – and it never ends well.

21. As a general rule, if you have to write laws in secret you shouldn’t be writing those laws.

22. I’m not even going to comment on James Comey’s testimony.  Anyone who can continue to support der Sturmtrumper after that brutal takedown clearly has no respect for law, morals, or the Constitution, and just as clearly deserves no respect from those of us who do.

23. Although the stark contrast between Comey – who was professional, eloquent, and damning in his specificity and pointed responses – and our Confederate Attorney General, whose stonewalling was so blatant that it’s an open question whether he was lying or simply a victim of dementia, is astounding.

24. The big takeaway from Comey’s testimony, though, is just how little Congressional Republicans care.

25. Apparently Mike Pence – a man so vehemently opposed to treating homosexuals as actual people that one begins to wonder just how deeply closeted he really is – has decided to lawyer up in light of the continuing investigations into Russian meddling in the American election.  This is normal, right?  A sitting Vice President hiring attorneys to defend himself on upcoming criminal charges months into his term in office?  Totally normal!

26. Michael Cohen, der Sturmtrumper’s lawyer, has now hired a lawyer of his own.  It’s just turtles all the way down.

27. If der Sturmtrumper actually fires Robert Mueller it will trigger a very dark time indeed in this country.  Even his staff has figured that out, though they may be powerless to stop him.  And if that doesn’t sum up this rogue regime nicely, nothing does.

28. Newt Gingrich – a man so twisted that he can suck the spaghetti sauce out of a rotini without moving his tongue – has publicly declared that the president by definition cannot obstruct justice.  Leaving aside the obvious Nixonian echoes here (“if the president does it, it’s not illegal”), there is also the fact that said Twisted Man presided over the impeachment of a different president of a different party on charges of – wait for it – obstruction of justice.  This is the problem you get when you start listening to people who think truth is whatever they happen to believe most fervently at present.

29. According to Reuters, der Sturmtrumper is planning to revamp a federal program designed to counter all forms of ideological terrorism so that it focuses slowly on Islamic extremism and no longer pays any attention to violent right-wing white supremacist groups here in the US.  Doesn’t really look good to be investigating your own base, I suppose.

30. Looks like the Kansas Experiment has come to the ignominious conclusion that anyone with any economic or historical knowledge saw coming years ago.  Kansas – home of Koch Industries (the very billionaires who own Wisconsin’s Governor Teabagger) and Governor Sam Brownback (who makes Governor Teabagger look like Bernie Sanders) – embarked on a trial run of everything the modern right wing wanted out of a government: drastically slashing taxes on businesses and the rich, destroying the public education system, and generally turning the state into a supply-side libertarian dystopia.  This, of course, was supposed to generate all kinds of prosperity, jobs, and general ease and comfort for everyone, and perhaps it would have in some kind of bizarro alternate universe where facts don’t matter and math doesn’t work.  In this one, as predicted, Kansas lurched from one budget crisis to another, jobs evaporated, the poor got poorer, the middle class got smaller, and the rich hoarded their lucre and laughed.  Brownback even got into a pissing match with the State Supreme Court when the court demanded he fund public education according to the state constitution – at one point he threatened to defund the entire state judiciary, which would have put Kansas in violation of the federal Constitution’s guarantee of a republican (small-r) form of government for every state.  But that’s what happens when you elect right-wing authoritarian ideological fools.  It got so bad that the Kansas legislature – dominated by Republicans even now – took matters into its own hands, repealed some of the most egregious tax giveaways to the wealthy, and began the process of returning to sane fiscal policy (within the current limits of GOP orthodoxy, but still – progress).  You will want to keep this lesson in mind as der Sturmtrumper and his Swamp attempt to impose the exact same policies on the entire US.  The GOP may well institutionally incapable of learning the lesson of Kansas, since it contradicts half a century of their most precious and mindlessly held ideology.  But that’s reality for you – it doesn’t care what you believe.

31. Apparently der Sturmtrumper’s minions have taken to threatening theater groups performing Shakespeare this summer, because a play that depicts the assassination of a tyrant is hitting a little too close to home?  Apparently a specific production of Julius Caesar hit a few nerves, but these threats are now being directed at pretty much anyone who has the nerve to produce any Shakespeare play here in the Land of the Free.  Which means, of course, that not only are these minions stunted enough to threaten people over a 400-year-old play, but they’re stunted enough to threaten the WRONG people over a 400-year-old play.  The jokes write themselves, folks.

32. Maryland and DC have now formally filed lawsuits accusing der Sturmtrumper of violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which adds a certain legal heft to that particular avenue of impeachment (there are so many avenues these days!).  I expect that the GOP will continue to stonewall on this as so many other things because law, morality, and Constitutions are so much less important than raw power however obtained, but perhaps this will be another good whack at that wall.  Eventually the wall will come down, though how much it will take down with it is anyone’s guess.

33. How bad are things when the President of the United States is being trolled by a vodka company.  “We’d be happy to talk about our ties with Russia under oath,” says Smirnoff.  That’s more than der Sturmtrumper is willing to do.

34. When all this is over, whatever optimism I can summon (not a lot – I’m from Philadelphia and pessimism is my birthright) makes me think that maybe, just maybe, this whole sordid fiasco of a regime might be enough to make Americans care about the quality of their leaders and the benefits of a well-run government in a way that has not been the case for decades now.  I’m not holding my breath – the ignorance and apathy of the average American voter is breathtaking – but a lot of people have figured out that not knowing or caring leads to Very Bad Things for both self and country, and perhaps that will be enough to get people involved again.  Maybe.

Monday, June 12, 2017

False Impressions

People from other states think Pennsylvanians are drunks.

This isn't necessarily so, at least not exceptionally so.  Trust me.  I live in Wisconsin, home of 12 of the top 20 drunkest cities in America (and 7 of the top 10) according to one news story that made the rounds not far back.  I know what a state full of drunks looks like, and it isn't the one I grew up in.

Perhaps it should be, but it isn't.

Prohibition has never really come to an end in Pennsylvania.  I'm not sure why this is so.  It can't be the residual Quaker influence, since the number of Quakers in Pennsylvania is smaller than the number of university professors and we all know how influential those are.  I know the alt-white thinks we professors are Svengali-like figures indoctrinating the youth of America into liberal politics against their will with machine-like efficiency, but I can't even get my students to read the textbook half the time, even when I specifically point out which parts of it will be on the exam, so I'm not sure where this impression comes from.  Probably written on the walls of their lower intestines, as with so much of their worldview.  So I'm guessing the Prohibition thing in Pennsylvania is not due to the Quakers, is what I'm saying here.

Whatever the reason, the simple fact is that Pennsylvania has perhaps the most Byzantine and useless system of regulating alcohol in the entire civilized world.

When I lived in Pittsburgh I knew a guy named Larry who had a side-gig as a stand-up comedian.  He had an entire fifteen-minute long routine that was nothing but a question-and-answer session on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control laws.  ("Can I get a beer?"  "Well...")  It was hysterically funny and 100% factually accurate and that pretty much sums up Pennsylvania's legal attitude toward alcohol.

When I was a kid, most alcohol in Pennsylvania was sold in State Stores.  Beer you could get from a distributorship, in quantities of no less than a hogshead or thereabouts, but if you wanted a bottle of wine with your dinner - or merciful heavens, anything stronger - you had to go the State Store.  And the State Store experience was designed to make you feel like a criminal, or at least some kind of social deviant, in the fond hopes that you would take the hint and not buy the alcohol that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania felt legally obligated to provide some avenue to sell to you now that the Eighteenth Amendment had been repealed.

Why these weren't Commonwealth Stores is an interesting question, I suppose.  I'm guessing the word "alliteration" figures into the answer somewhere.

It was truly a Soviet-style experience, going to a State Store back in the day.  I can remember heading over with my dad to the one closest to us when I was about ten or so.  We were seeking a bottle of wine for Christmas dinner, I believe.  We walked into the store and were met with a room that managed to be both spartan and dingy at the same time - a tiny little waiting area, devoid of furniture or decoration, and a counter on which there were several immense books that listed the products for sale in agate type.  We found what we wanted in the book, told the clerk, and then waited while he slowly disappeared through a doorway into the gloomy room behind the counter - a room we could not see into, let alone enter.  At some point in the indefinite future from that moment he just as slowly re-emerged with our wine, and, triumphant, we headed home.  We may have paid in rubles.

It's all a bit more consumer friendly, now that the Commonwealth has figured out that they can make money off this.  They put everything out there for you to see and buy on your own, like any other store.  And they've spruced things up to make you feel like it's an actual retail experience.  But you still have to buy most of your alcohol from the State Store in Pennsylvania even now.

Unless you're buying beer, in which case you can actually get beer in a select few regular retail establishments that have gone through the arduous and politically charged process of getting a license to sell it to you.

Moving to Wisconsin, where alcohol sales are conducted in supermarkets, convenience stores, parking lots, toy shops, churches, police stations, farmer's markets, real estate offices, antique shops, flower stores, courtrooms, middle schools, and pretty much anywhere you can put a table and a cash box up to and including funeral parlors, was a bit of a shock but I'm used to it now.  It gets cold in the winter.  And hot in the summer.  And temperate in the spring, which was a Thursday this year.  Don't even get me started on the fall, when the Packers are playing.  People in Wisconsin need to drink.

So.  State Stores.  Still got 'em in Pennsylvania.  Right.

If there is one shining bright spot to the State Store system in Pennsylvania it is that they are an endless supply of cardboard boxes.  Any time anyone in Pennsylvania needs a cardboard box, you go to the State Store.  You don't even have to ask these days.  They stack them up in the entryways of the State Stores, free for the taking.  All you have to do is agree to take the little cardboard inserts with you, which are recyclable with the rest of your newspapers and paper goods.

And if there is a moment in the life of the average American when they truly need cardboard boxes in quantity, it is when that American is preparing to move.  Americans have lots of Stuff, and we like to haul it with us from place to place at intervals that strike the rest of the non-refugee world as ludicrously short.  Most Pennsylvanians, not surprisingly therefore, have basements full of cardboard boxes advertising the many varieties of wine and liquor available across the Commonwealth, boxes full of any number of things that are not actually alcoholic beverages.

Hey, they're good sturdy boxes.

Pennsylvanians understand this system and think nothing of it.  But when you move from Pennsylvania to another state and the neighbors stroll by while you're unpacking the truck, all they see is box after box after box after box that at one time contained alcohol (and may still, for all they know) and they think, "Man, these people are drunks."

Sometimes they're disappointed to find out the truth and sometimes not, but that's how it goes.