Saturday, July 30, 2016

String Things

Despite the fact that the Fair is the central focus of the week and has taken up nearly all of our time, it has not happened in a vacuum.  Believe it or not, other things have happened, even here in Our Little Town, where we’re lucky to have one thing happening let alone several.

Tabitha decided that she would learn how to play the viola this summer.

There are few violas in the Local Businessman High orchestra, and she saw an opportunity.  Plus it’s not all that different from playing the violin.  The only really tricky part is that violin music is written in treble clef while viola music is written in alto clef, which makes sense if you know music.  If you don’t, just know that switching clefs like that is a bit like taking all the letters in a book and substituting the letter two places previous in the alphabet and then being expected to read it in 4/4 time.

She’s been taking some lessons with her old violin teacher and doing pretty well.

But the Public School District also offered a Strings Camp this summer and she figured that it would be a good chance to get a whole lot of practicing in.  Naturally this camp was scheduled precisely for Fair Week.

So every morning before Lauren and I would head to the Fair, Tabitha would be heading over to one of the middle schools by 8am to practice.  We’d pick her up around lunchtime, and usually head on over to the Fair.  It has been a busy week.

Friday was the concert.

Kim had to work, so I hung out with Lauren at the Fair for a while until it was time to go over to the other high school her in Our Little Town.  There was plenty of seating, so I found myself a nice spot and settled in.

It was a lovely concert.  They broke it out into three groups – Beginners (very small), Intermediate, and Advanced.  Tabitha ended up in the Advanced group.  Each group did a song or two – the Advanced group performed a medley of Queen songs and did them quite well.  And then they all got together and performed two combined numbers.

Tabitha got to be up front for a solo in one of them, though a) there were about eight people up there for that and b) the rest of the song was so loud that I couldn’t really hear her apart from the group. 

But seriously – a solo on an instrument that you’re just learning?  How cool is that!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Final Judgments at the Fair

The Fair is a relatively judgmental place.

It’s full of projects that need to be ranked and ordered, ribbons and trophies that need to be awarded, and participants and viewers who want to know how things came out.  All of that starts with judging.  I realize we’re not supposed to judge anything here in the modern United States, where we are inundated with special snowflakes who demand the right to overrule those who oppose them simply by virtue of being special and then get annoyed when the general vapidness of that position is pointed out to them, but it’s hard to have a Fair without it.  Or much of a world.

There was still a pile of judging for us to get through when I left off last time.

One of those piles was Tabitha’s art projects, which were judged on Monday.  Tabitha loves art, and she’s got talent, which is a nice combination.  Unfortunately she also inherited my procrastination gene and my tendency to focus on the projects that are most personally rewarding at the expense of the ones that seem tedious.  What this meant was that Sackars and her acrylic painting were done in fairly good order and in plenty of time.  Her multi-media project and her marker project, well, they came in by the deadline and that’s all we’re going to say about that.

She did well.  I didn’t get a chance to photograph the projects before they went off to judging.  I had to go find them hanging on the wall in what is, in more civilized weather, the curling building.  So the photos are at an odd angle that doesn’t do them much justice.  But they’re good work.

The acrylic painting got a blue ribbon.

As did the marker project.

The multimedia project came in with a red, which isn’t bad for the time invested.

Nice work, Tabitha!

The other pile of the week’s judging was Lauren’s animals – both rabbits and poultry. 

Rabbits are always judged on the second day of the fair, which turned out to be a hot and humid day but a clear one.  It’s a pretty straightforward process.  The morning is devoted to showmanship – the kids bring up their rabbits to the judging table and go through a prescribed routine outlining the parts of the rabbit, breed standards, strengths and weaknesses of the rabbit, and general knowledge, and the judge asks further questions.  As far as the judging goes its one of the few things that the kids can control entirely, since it doesn’t actually rely very much on the quality of your rabbit.  This is a good thing when your rabbit gets stressed out the day before judging and emits a copious quantity of, um, serious yuck that gets all over her fur and needs to be cleaned quickly.  The Fair teaches you all sorts of lessons, really.

Lauren is now in the Junior class, which means she her showmanship starts right about lunchtime.

She gathered up Maybelline and walked across the grass to the judging table outside of the rabbit barn and went into her routine.  The judge – one who has been here before and who is good with both kids and rabbits, so we like her – listened and asked questions that I couldn’t hear because it’s the Fair and the Fair is nothing if not noisy and my hearing isn’t great in the best of times.

Maybelline was not impressed with this process, it must be said.  Particularly the flipping up side down part of it.  This is how Lauren ended up with some fancy and rather impressive scars on her jaw.  But she soldiered on nonetheless, and the judge was duly impressed.

Junior Showmanship Champ!

Once showmanship was over there was a short break for the afternoon, and then it was time for The Judging Of The Rabbits.

Rabbit judging is a process that begins at 5pm and ends sometime in November, particularly if you have one of the breeds that gets put at the end of the list.  It’s better than it had been in previous years, at least – it used to run until the heat death of the universe – but you are best advised to eat something ahead of time.

The Rabbit Barn is next to the Stock Pavilion where the judging takes place.  As a parent, my job is to sit in the Stock Pavilion and be Out Of The Way.  I can do that.  Lauren’s job is to be ready when called, bring the rabbit in, set her down on the table, and let the judge do his thing.

This particular judge is another one who takes his time and tries to teach the kids things as he goes, which is good.  He liked Maybelline but found a few things that needed improvement so he gave her a red ribbon.  The judge physically moves people to the left or right depending on where he ranks them, and Lauren ended up precisely at the cut-off between red and blue.  We’ve been saying that Maybelline got a Top Red, which isn’t a real honor but we like it anyway.

Wednesday was poultry judging.

Where rabbit judging is an orderly if lengthy process, poultry judging is barely managed chaos and moves along snappily.  Showmanship and animal judging happen at the same time, and it is up to the kids to squeeze in an appearance in front of the showmanship judge whenever they can do so in between birds.  Given the schedule and the weather, it took Lauren four tries to make that happen, but she eventually did and got a blue ribbon for it.  The judge asked a lot of questions – he’s one of those people who loves his subject and loves to talk about it – and he apparently liked her answers.

The actual judging of the birds was more complicated than usual this year.

The way it works is that they set up a double row of cages outside of the Poultry Barn with some benches in front for the spectators.  More spectators bring their own chairs for behind the benches, and more still stand in back of those.  The ringmaster, for lack of a better word, calls each class of birds – and sometimes more than one, if the classes are small – and the kids go bring their birds out from inside the barn, wait until the previous class clears off, and then puts their birds in the outside cages.  The judge does the whole class at once – a process that takes anywhere from three to twenty minutes, depending on the size of the class and how much the judge wants to discuss it with us – and then the kids gather up their birds, pick up their ribbons, and go back inside to wait for their next class.

Because each kid can bring in up to eight birds.

Lauren’s first bird to be called was Mocha, a yearling hen that she had exhibited last year.  She is a sweet bird and a good layer, but was a bit ragged from the attentions of one of our roosters and isn’t the egg-laying machine that some of the other breeds in this class are, so she came out with a red.

There was then a long gap for Lauren, during which the turkey judging happened.

Turkeys are judged in place, because nobody wants to drag a 35lb bird around.  There were a lot more turkeys overall this year, and a whole lot more bronzes – last year there were eight; this year there were 36.  The judge and his assistant go by class – bronze hens, bronze toms, white hens, white toms – and pull each bird out in turn and examine it before putting it back.

With Momo sadly missing, Lauren had only Edmonton III to be judged. 

She chose the name Edmonton III because she thought it sounded posh.  We’re not sure who the first two were, and to be honest the first thing I think of when I hear the word Edmonton is ice hockey, so I’m not sure how posh it really is, but there you have it.  I also tend to call him Ed, which is about as far from posh as you can get.  But if you just listen to the sound of it – Edmonton the third – it really does have a nice ring.

Out of 21 bronze toms, Edmonton placed 4th, which meant he earned a Top Blue ribbon.

Then it was back to the chickens.  Lauren’s next category was bantams, and her Blue Rosecomb Bantam hen Whitney picked up Lauren’s second red ribbon of the day.

And then the storms hit.

We could see the black clouds building in the west all morning, and as the bantam classes were finishing up it became clear that this was as far as we’d get outside.  So once the last bantams were taken back to their cages the judges decreed that everything had to move inside to the Poultry Barn.  Because this is a 4H project there were plenty of spectator volunteers, and within fifteen minutes there was a functional double row of cages, some benches, and a whole raft of chairs set up and we could proceed.

Except that the Poultry Barn is not really a barn.  It is 50 yards of corrugated metal and ridiculousness, and in a torrential downpour lasting more than an hour it sounds like you’re standing in a steel drum.  Very difficult to hear, in other words.  But we soldiered on, and everything wrapped up nicely.

Lauren had four more birds to be judged by this point, and they went smoothly.

Ellen, the Dominique hen got a red to show to her sister Oprah, back in our own barn.

Terrance, the Dominique rooster also got red.

Sonic, the Hamburg rooster also got red, but this was another Top Red situation since the judge wanted to give her a blue but was only allowed two blue ribbons for that category and there were three birds.  Poor Sonic.

And finally, Mickie, the Hamburg hen got got a blue, which was a nice way to end the judging.

It was a very red day that way.  As I am in the middle of reading the Game of Thrones series, I confess that the use of the phrase “a red [noun]” does make me a bit apprehensive these days, but so it goes.  It was a very good day for poultry judging, and Lauren did well.

The poultry barn is a lot quieter now, and the chickens are slowly recovering from all the fuss and bother.  Chickens are simple creatures and like their routines.

I like that about chickens.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Price of the Fair

Poor Momo.

We were up early this morning, because that is what poultry farmers do and at least for the duration of the Fair that’s more or less what we are.  I don’t claim to be a real farmer, but I do play one for the 4H.  And the birds are real enough.  The goal was to get the chickens and turkeys over to the Fair before it got too hot or crowded.

Poultry is a fairly labor-intensive project as 4H projects go.  You get the chicks and poults early in the year, sometime between January and March.  You raise them as chicks – we keep them in the living room or the basement until the weather warms up and/or they get big enough to take out to the barn.  And every day you go over and feed them, water them, take them outside and bring them back in.

This weekend, for example, was given over largely to various bird-related projects.

There was an outbreak of critters in the old chicken pen, for example, so we had to shovel out all of their bedding (no small thing for a 12-foot-by-12-foot enclosure on a hot humid day) and dust them all with Critter Powder, which is a short phrase that covers a multitude of fascinating experiences, many of which require showering after.

And yesterday, having brought home the two roosters to go with the hens we took out of the barn on Sunday, we gave them all baths.

There is nothing on this earth quite so ridiculous as a wet chicken.

This morning Kim and I were up a bit after 5 to go get the turkeys.  We’d loaded up the van the night before with a pile of things and our friend’s big dog cage and we headed off down the highway.  Momo (the hen) and Edmonton (the tom) came wandering out of their pen as they always do when we open the door, and it was fairly easy to guide them into the cage.  It was less easy to lift that cage into the van, but we did and then headed back home.  I dropped off Kim so she and Lauren could pack up the chickens, and I headed off down the road with the turkeys toward the Fair.

If you’ve never driven with a turkey in the back, you’re missing out.  They periscope up and look around.  They squeak and chortle.  And they make good use of the tarp you put down underneath the cage to protect your vehicle, so don’t forget the tarp unless you really enjoy shampooing automotive carpeting.

The more you know.

But turkeys are fragile birds, for all their size.

I got them to the Fair and into their pens in the Poultry barn.  Edmonton adjusted well – he fluffed up his feathers and gobbled at his neighbors and generally behaved as a blue-headed beachball ought to behave.  Momo, however, just sort of lay there in her pen looking stressed. 

Kim and Lauren arrived with the chickens and we got them situated in their pens as well, and I ran home to pick up Tabitha and get her to her viola camp that the school district is running this week.  Having deposited Tabitha and her viola, I went back to the Fair and was dismayed to find that Momo had not improved.

Kim, Lauren, and I went outside to talk about what we might do about this, and soon the Poultry Superintendant came over to express his concerns.  “We were just talking about that,” we said.  He went back into the barn and came out again immediately to let us know that Momo had passed on.

She was a good turkey – taller than the toms and named, oddly enough, for Muhammad Ali because Lauren thought she was the greatest.

These things happen, and fairly often from what we can tell.  Momo wasn’t the only one this morning, either.  We figure it was a heart attack or something similar – domestic turkeys are prone to that sort of thing, since as meat birds they are bred for size above all else and it often overwhelms them.

But still.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Fairly Judged

The Fair is upon us.

Every year since I have lived in Our Little Town we have gone to the Fair.  And for much of that time it was simply a fun event that happened in the summer, something we could attend on a day of our choosing.  We’d cruise through the animal barns, eat something regrettable but tasty, try to avoid being run over by Willie Nelson’s tour bus, and call it a year.

And then Tabitha and Lauren joined 4H.

The Fair is now the focal point of the year’s events and, if Lauren is to be believed, the best part of the year up to and including Christmas.  Gone are the days when the Fair actually began on the day it opened to the general public – those rubes.  Now the Fair happens all year long at a low-key level, and ramps up to a blur of activity a good week in advance when the judging starts.

We’re in that week now.

On Thursday, Lauren and I went over to the Fairgrounds for Photography judging.  This year Lauren moved up a class (the perils of getting older) and none of the projects she chose had face-to-face judging. 

I like face-to-face judging, despite the waiting around that it inevitably entails, because 1) you can explain what you were doing to the judge, which matters when you are supposed to have photos of specific things but you decided to get a bit artsy with those things and the judge may not be able to tell that the photos are indeed of those things, and 2) you can get some feedback on how to do things better, which helps for the next year.

Also, the alternative to face-to-face judging is Danish judging, and frankly the Danes are just elitists about their judging.  They have quotas – you can only give out so many blue ribbons no matter how excellent the entries are, so if you have something that’s wonderful but the blues have already been allocated then down you go.  Maybe it’s the Viking thing.  Who knows.

Lauren had two entries this year for Photography, which is down somewhat from previous years.  She’s been more into her animals this year and Photography kind of got short-shrifted, but that’s how it goes sometimes.  I’m glad she’s still doing it, though. 

Her first entry came in the “Four Color Photos: One Each of Landscape, Person, Building, and Animal” category.  And these were her photos:

The person is a friend of Lauren’s.  The two of them spent a happy afternoon out at the poultry barn taking more photos than you’d think possible.  But that’s the joy of digital photography – you can do that, and it’s fun when you do.

The animal is her turkey, Popeye.  Popeye has a rather malformed head and her other eye always looks like she’s squinting at you, but she’s the bravest of the turkeys and oddly enough often the leader – you don’t see that in hens very much.

The landscape is from the Grand Canyon, which is its usual spectacular self.  Lauren liked the tree in the corner, as it gave the whole thing more depth.

The building is from Silver Reef, Utah – the old ghost town that we went to earlier this summer.  This is the one that Lauren wanted to explain to the judges – yes, indeed, that is a building.  We’re not sure if they got that or not.

Her other project was “Three Black and White Flash Photos,” which were these:

The first and third are her same friend.  The middle one is a bit more artsy.  Lauren liked how the cage and water bottle were in focus but Maybelline was blurred in the background.  That would have been another good thing to explain in person, perhaps. 

The judges awarded a red ribbon to the color photos and a white to the black and whites, which wasn’t bad.  We’ll see how it goes next year.

Friday was Tabitha’s first shot at judging, this time in Visual Arts.  She did a stuffed fish, which for a while she called a goldfish but which turned out more like an orange grouper and which we now refer to simply as “Stackars,” because of the expression on its face and its general attitude toward the world.  Stackars is Swedish for “poor, sad thing,” and if you’ve ever read the Pettson & Findus series of children’s books you’d know that.  And if you haven’t, well, you should go do that now! They’re wonderful.

Stackars is actually quite a work of engineering, with armature wires keeping his fins in shape and stuffing in all the right places.  He's an original design, too.

This is Stackars.

I missed the judging because there were simply too many things going on at once and Kim ended up being the one to go with Tabitha, but Tabitha reported a Top Blue for Stackars. 


And more judging yet to come!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Stray Thoughts on the Current Debacle in Cleveland

I just can’t bring myself to watch the Republican National Convention.  I just can’t.

Oh, I read about it.  Somehow it all seems less insulting to me as an American, less aggressively psychotic, less like the death knell of a once-proud political party if you can skim lightly over the articles the next day rather than see it unfold live in all its unmedicated glory.  There’s a little distance there that you need to have just to keep the screaming heebie-jeebies away, the deep fear that comes from knowing that this is representative of a far too large portion of the population of the most powerful nation on earth.

Face it – this is one of the Only Two Major Parties we have in this country, and they just officially nominated as their candidate for the highest office in the land a man whose utter lack of principles is perhaps his best quality.  It is better than his inability to comprehend anything that doesn’t directly concern his own ego.  It ranks higher than his eagerness to pander to the worst elements of a society on the verge of self-inflicted breakdown.  It’s far more endearing than the sad realization that behind the bluster and the ego there is essentially nothing – as one of the people who knows him best recently put it, there is no inner Trump: he’s a hollow blowhard all the way through.  And it certainly bodes fairer for the future than the fact that he seems incapable of telling the truth even when it would benefit him to do so.  According to the people who rank such things, he is being truthful less than 10% of the time – a modern record.  Hilary, Bernie, Jeb, Kasich, and most major political figures from either party tend to be truthful around half the time, which may sound bad (it's not anything you'd put up with from a colleague or roommate, for example) but is still 500% better than the guy the GOP thinks should be president.

I’ve seen the chaos that erupted on the floor on the first day.  I note with grim foreboding the fact that you now have one faction of the GOP calling another faction of the GOP fascists to the national media.  As an academic I am deeply puzzled at why Trump’s wife thought she could give Michelle Obama’s speech (with a dash of Rick Astley) and not think people would catch that.  One of the hardest lessons my students learn is that plagiarism is astonishingly easy to spot these days, and the whole function of modern social media is to create pile-ons of astonishing ferocity and pitiless mocking.  You can survive looking bad in the modern political and cultural arena, but you cannot long survive looking ridiculous and incompetent.

If they can bungle what should have been a well-oiled publicity machine that they had months to plan, can any sentient being on the planet think they’re going to do better if entrusted with the messy and demanding prospect of making real-world decisions in actual time?  This is the guy people want with his finger on the nuclear button?  This should have been a completely artificial manufactured PR event, and it has turned into an embarrassment for both the GOP and the nation as a whole.

Yes indeed, this has been exactly the clusterfuck that Democrats had been hoping for and Republican professional operatives had been dreading.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.

And yet there he is.

There are times when you think to yourself that perhaps the entire world has indeed lost its mind.  That perhaps humanity really is a weed species that has overstayed its welcome on this green and fertile planet, and if we destroyed ourselves it would not be that bad a thing for everything else.  The trees would thank us, if nothing else.  Maybe the songbirds too.

As a historian, someone who has studied the past, has studied the blood and work and sacrifices that have built human civilization out of the grey mists of the past, this is a saddening thought. 

Yet there is nothing inevitable about the continued existence of the United States of America.  There is nothing inevitable about the continued existence of humanity as a whole.  We have it in our power to make short work of the achievements of past generations.

We also have it on our power not to.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Not-Quite-Right Stuff

It’s getting down toward County Fair season again, which means that everything is moving toward its endgame.  And for the turkeys, this really is the endgame – they will outlive the fair by less than two weeks.  So in the meantime, we treat them well.  They deserve it.

Every morning we head over and take care of the chickens and then let the turkeys out to roam around the grass outside the barn for a while.  They like it out there.  They tend to stick together and are easily herded back in when it’s time to leave so it’s not any big trouble for us.  Mostly they just walk around, chuffing like steam locomotives and occasionally panicking at nothing and flapping their wings to try to take off.  That’s a startling sound the first time you hear it – they have big wings – but it never leads to anything.  Eventually they settle down in a slightly different portion of the grass and go back to chuffing, eating, and occasionally gobbling.  We put them back in their pen when we leave, though the door to the outside fenced-in run is open so they can still go outside if they want.  They always do.

And then in the evening we go back to shut them in for the night, and they get to wander around a bit then too.

Today Lauren and I went over to take care of the turkeys and chickens, but this time Lauren wanted to work with Whitney (nee Goober), her Rosecomb Bantam pullet.  Whitney is going to be the showmanship bird this year, so Lauren has to get her used to being handled and exhibited.  Fortunately Whitney is a fairly sedate little thing for something the size of a pigeon, and is generally happy to sit with Lauren out in the grass and go through the showmanship routines.

Until she looks up and sees this:

Scarers on the floor!

The turkeys are amiably curious birds, and they love to be wherever you are.  If you wander off to do something, they will – eventually – turn up by your side, chuffing and milling about.  This isn’t a big deal when you’re human-sized, but when you’re a chicken roughly the size of a turkey’s thigh it can be a bit intimidating.

Feathers were ruffled.

So Lauren moved over to a new portion of the lawn while I distracted the turkeys and got them to wander over by me.  We sat together for a while until Lauren and Whitney had done their bit and then we herded everyone back to their respective spots.

It's a good day for turkeys.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Signs of the Times

So there’s a political sign in my front lawn now.

I knew it was coming.  The candidate is a friend of mine and he had asked me politely if he could put it there to let people know he was running for a local office.  I honestly think he’d do a good job at it if he got elected, so I was happy to let him do so. 

But it’s still kind of an odd feeling.

I’ve always had an interest in politics, as long as I can remember.  Not running for office – not that kind of politics.  My friend with the sign once tried to get me to run for City Council and all I could think of was “why would anybody want to do that?”  So I’ll likely never hold an office.  But I’ve been studying politics for much of my life – how it works, why people think this or that system is a good way to organize the world, that sort of thing.

I have a PhD in American history, a BA in psychology, and three decades’ experience backstage.  It’s not hard to understand why I think it is interesting to see how people think things ought to be run, what they think is happening versus what actually is happening, and the mechanisms they erect to achieve their societal goals.  I’ve been studying those things all my life, officially or otherwise.  When I teach my history classes we always spend a lot of time on ideologies – where they come from, what happens when people try to implement them on the ground, and so on.  You can’t hope to understand the Electoral College, for example, unless you understand what the Founders thought politics ought to look like.

And in this election year it would make sense to pay even more attention than usual.

Except that I am so utterly burned out by the whole tawdry spectacle of modern American politics that I find myself just wanting the whole field of political endeavor to go away.  I want no part of it.

We are in the midst of a full-on frothing assault on American traditions, institutions, and values from the far right wing these days.  The Republican Party has been subverted by the batshit insane and turned into an existential threat to the survival of the American republic – a process that began in the late 1960s, reached a tipping point in the early 1990s, and has gotten progressively and now quite possibly irredeemably worse since 2008 – and every time you think they have reached rock bottom and could not possibly sink any lower they prove you wrong.

Seriously – take a look at the collection of punitively stupid and retrograde hostage demands that they insist is the 2016 platform and tell me that’s not a group well on the way to Fascism but lacking the intellectual heft or consistency to pull it off.  And when your nominee is a guy who went bankrupt four times trying to sell steaks, alcohol, and gambling to the American people – a man who has yet to put forward a single coherent policy but whose fragments constitute a clear and present danger to the Constitution, a document he obviously hasn’t read – an intellectually stunted bully whose first reaction to any tragedy is to make it about himself – well, you’ve pretty much conceded that you’re not a serious political party anymore, haven’t you?

Honestly.  I feel bad for my conservative friends.  Nobody’s representing them anymore, unless you count Barack Obama, who is essentially Eisenhower in civvies.  Welcome to my world, I say.  Nobody’s represented me for decades.

The Democrats have problems, too, of course, but the Republicans are insane.

And yes, the Democrats have problems.  Their nominee is ruthless Machiavellian technocrat whose demonstrated competence in every field she’s attempted has only just barely kept her ahead of the cloud of ethical lapses that follow her around like puppies – lapses that have never amounted to crimes no matter how blown out of proportion her opponents make them but which are tiring nonetheless and which drain the enthusiasm out of her supporters at a time when it is so badly needed.  And the runner up this year was a visionary throwback whose conclusions were sounder than his ideas for implementing them and a substantial portion of whose followers are so mired in their own privilege that they’d rather see the country go to the Republicans than sully themselves by voting for the candidate who beat him fair and square.

So, problems.

But either of the two Democrats is beyond a doubt preferable to the mess that the GOP brings to the table.  There is no planet on which Donald Trump should be taken seriously as a candidate for anything other than experimental medical treatment.  Yet he won the GOP nomination fair and square.  He’s the guy the Republican base preferred to all of the other possibilities they were offered – the sixteen supposedly qualified people who were steamrolled by the juggernaut of ignorance, nativism, white privilege, blind rage, retrograde theoracy, muddle-headed economics, and simple-minded narcissism that their party spent decades working to perfect.  The GOP is the party of Trump now, and for that alone they should be buried in ignominy and forgotten by humanity.

I’m tired of it.  Truly, deeply tired of it.

But this is what is there, so this is what we deal with.  I will do my part, because to do otherwise is to betray everything that is worthwhile about this country.  I pay attention, and I vote.

If you’re in the area, you should take a look at my friend’s sign and see if you think he’s worth your vote.  I think so.  You may too.  And if you don’t, well, go in peace to vote for whom you will.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Birthday in July

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday.

It wasn’t one of the big ones – the ones that end in zero that the human mind tends to focus on when deciding what constitutes a milestone.  It was what the baseball scorekeepers call a crooked number – something with curves or angles in it (i.e. not a 1) that looks good up on the scoreboard.  Most birthdays are like that.

This is, in some respects, why it was special.

It’s been a long year in many ways, and it is good to be reminded of the things that make life on this planet worthwhile – the people you love and the times you share.  I’m too far away to pop over for cake these days – have been for decades now – and as usual the card and gift that we’re sending will get there at some point that can easily be defined as “not on or before her actual birthday.”  I’ve never been very good at that.  We celebrate when we have time.

And we do celebrate, because we should.

I have been extraordinarily fortunate in the people in my life.  I have two lovely and amazing daughters, and a wife who fills my world with love.  I have more good friends than a person of my social skills could reasonably hope for, in-laws who burn the stereotypes to ashes, and colleagues who make work a good place to be.  And my family is the foundation of my world. 

I have learned a lot from my mom.

I got my love of reading from her.  My mom has never been without a book.  Every room in the house is full of them, and she taught me by example that reading is never a waste of time.  We share books back and forth sometimes even now.  This is, perhaps, one of the most influential things anyone has ever taught me.  I am never without a book either.

I got my appreciation for strong and intelligent women from her.  She has navigated many fields in her life and succeeded in them because of that strength and intelligence.  I wrote my dissertation largely with her in mind as an audience, in part because it takes strength and intelligence to parse out someone else's dissertation, after all.  There are far too many men in this world who find such women threatening and seek to undermine them.  Those men are fools. 

I learned how to take responsibility and to care for others from her as well.  How to welcome people into a home.  How to think.  How to see what is in front of me.  How to do so many things.

And I keep learning.  That’s another lesson.  Always keep learning.  My mom is well past retirement now, and still learning and still teaching by example.

Happy birthday, mom.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

See Saw

I bought a tool last week.

For some people this is a wholly unremarkable event, on par with eating breakfast or getting dressed.  There are people – mostly, though not exclusively, guys – who don’t consider a week complete without the acquisition of some implement of construction, destruction, or alteration.  These are the people who keep the hardware stores in business.

I am not one of those people.

To the best of my knowledge, this may be the first time in my entire life that I have actually gone out and intentionally purchased a tool of any kind without being commanded to do so by someone else.  The hardware stores do not get rich off of my patronage.

At least not for tools. 

I have bought more than my fair city-dwelling share of chicken and turkey food in the last few years.  I’ve bought rabbit pellets and car batteries and various grades of ropes, clips, and fasteners, as well as any number of small mechanical items that my ancestors probably lived just fine without.  But never tools. Not on my own initiative, anyway.

For most of my life I had a fairly limited number of tools. 

One was my Swiss army knife – a necessity backstage and something that can be substituted for almost anything in a pinch, especially the older models that came with a corkscrew.  I put together quite a few things with that, and took apart a few others.  It’s handy that way.  I've had about half a dozen of these things since the first one I bought.  One I carry with me at all times.  The others I have mostly donated to the TSA over the years, though at least one was stolen from a gym locker when I was in 11th grade.  I remember marching up to the assistant principal in high dudgeon demanding satisfaction for my missing knife.  He patiently filled out the forms, and nothing more came of it.  I imagine I'd be arrested on the spot for that today.  Times change.

Another was my crescent wrench – also useful backstage.  I actually got that backstage, come to think of it.  There were about eight or nine student drama groups where I went to college and one of them spent some money on 8” adjustable crescent wrenches which the lighting designer handed out to those who had served well.  I still have it, complete with the tie-line that kept it from falling on the heads of troublesome actors from the catwalk. 

There was, in addition, a small box of tools that the firehouse gave out as a door prize one Christmas back when I was in eighth grade or so.  They’re adorable, really – a tiny little hammer, a screwdriver handle that can be fitted with everything from a Philips-head to an awl, a box cutter, and so on.  They came in a little leatherette box about the size of a carton of cigarettes and you could stuff the whole thing in a desk drawer, where they sat for decades.

I have also acquired a complete set of Allen wrenches from IKEA, because that’s how it is to set up a household in 21st-century America.

And that was it.

Then I got married.  Kim is the tool person in our house.  She likes tools, enjoys household projects, and generally sees hardware stores as desirable places to be (in stark contrast with myself – I tend to see them as punishment for some mid-range sin I have committed and only wish I could remember better).  I may be the only husband in America who gave his wife a power tool for her birthday and didn’t spend the night on the couch.

But we had a friend who is a tree guy come over last month to get rid of the brush pile behind our garage, after two decades of accumulation, and when the tree branch fell down a couple of weeks ago it just didn’t seem right to start a new brush pile.  Nor do we have any decent handsaws.  We do have a couple of power saws that are a crashing nuisance to set up as far as I am concerned and which I avoid if at all possible.  But the handsaws we had were mostly good for exercise and, really – this was a single tree branch about as thick as a historian’s forearm.   Hauling out the power tools seemed kind of overkill.

So I went to the local Giant Hardware Store and bought a saw.

It is a nice saw.  It cuts things when you use it, which is what a saw should do. 

And now we no longer have a tree branch.  We have firewood.

I will never be a construction guy.  But now I have a saw.