Thursday, May 25, 2017

No Stuff For You

I recently made a Large Purchase.

This is not something I do every day.  The joys of being an academic in modern America do not include wealth or material excess no matter what the uninformed and politically ignorant will tell you, and Large Purchases are not the sort of thing I can afford on a regular basis.  But eventually they become necessary, and so bullets must be bitten and Purchases made.

This is an incredibly stressful thing to me. 

However much that Large Purchase needed to be made, the fact is that it was Large, and spending that kind of money always makes me nervous.  Don’t even ask what I was like when we bought our house, which was several orders of magnitude Larger.  You don’t want to know.  It took me months to get to the point where I was ready to make this particular Purchase, and even once the decision was made and the Purchase sitting there in my little electronic shopping cart, I still hesitated to push the final button.

Stress: not as much fun as it looks on television.

I also made a couple of Auxiliary Purchases while I was at it, items designed to make the Large Purchase more effective and useful and thus postpone the next Large Purchase for even more years than I would have otherwise planned.  I’ve got kids headed toward college.  Long gaps between Large Purchases are a goal these days.

This turned out to be a good move in another way as well, as both of those Auxiliary Purchases were declined by my credit card company.  As was my original Large Purchase, as I discovered when I explored the matter further.

This was odd.

My credit is good.  I don’t make very many Large Purchases.  This makes it relatively easy to pay my bills, and I have not missed a payment in decades, if ever.  I have a credit card that had room for both the Large and Auxiliary Purchases that were made that evening.  Nothing seemed to warrant the situation. 

I called the credit card company to find out what was going on.

It turned out that my track record of not making Large Purchases is so well established that they decided there must be fraud afoot now that one had been made. 

It took about 45 minutes to straighten everything out, particularly since at least one of the denied Auxiliary Purchases I chose to leave denied as I had found a better deal somewhere else moments later when I still thought the problem was with the vendor and not me.  It probably didn’t help much that it took me a while to remember the answers to the security questions (which email is on the account?  Lawsey, I have so many…). 

Eventually the matter was resolved and both the Large Purchase and the appropriate Auxiliary Purchases arrived safely this week.

Except that this week I also got an email from the credit card company announcing that my card had been canceled for fraudulent charges and I should expect a new one sometime soon.

So I called them again, making sure to call the number on my card and not any of the ones in the email because I’m onto that trick.  Most people are.  The following dialogue then ensued:

Didn’t we straighten this out the other day?

Why yes, sir, we did.

So why is my card canceled?

It has not been canceled.  That email must be fraudulent.

[Describes email in detail.]

Well, that doesn’t sound fraudulent, but it is mistaken.  You can ignore it.


Sigh.

On the one hand, I am actually pretty happy that the credit card company is watchful about this sort of thing.  I’ve done the Identity Theft Tango a couple of times and it’s no fun at all.  So I’m not going to complain about them, much as I’d like to do so for having caused me stress.

Because, on the other hand, the real problem is the fact that this sort of thing is necessary these days – that their caution is warranted and the additional stress that this put on me in an already stressful time is just par for the course and indeed commendable.  It’s a sad commentary, really.

So I have my Purchases and to the best of my knowledge my card is intact and unjacked.  For now.

We’ll call that a win.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Taxing Affair

I paid my taxes a couple of months ago.

I know that out in the great American public there are a great many fools, economic illiterates, and people who think unadulterated short-term greed is a political principle, and that these folks regard taxes as evil and little different from theft.  I also know that such people are best left alone to stew in their own stupidity while the grown-ups get on with the hard work of human civilization.  I try not to engage with them anymore.  It’s just a waste of time.

Taxes are the price you pay for a functional society.  If that’s not good enough for you, that tells me more about you than it does about taxes.

So I pay them.  I’m not thrilled to be writing checks to the various levels of government that make their claims on me – I’d rather spend that money on books, barbecue, and/or visits to friends and family – but I recognize the bargain and pay my fair share.

I expect this share to be recognized, however.

And with the IRS, it always has been.  For all the horror stories that people love to tell about the IRS, I can say truthfully that I have never had a bad experience dealing with them.  They have been polite, professional, and constructive, and we have resolved whatever differences between us fairly quickly and amicably.  Usually they win, of course – the tax code is complicated enough that even with software I’m never sure I’m getting it right – but they always explain it so I understand and on occasion they have agreed with me.  Regardless, once I have managed to get hold of them (a process that often involves eons sitting on hold on the phone) it has all gone well.

Today’s visit with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue did not go so well.

Earlier this week I got a notice asking for a fairly decent chunk of money.  The notice said that they had made some adjustments to my tax forms – and, in fairness, this has happened in the past – but the numbers they gave me didn’t show any actual changes.  There were three columns, one for my numbers, one labeled “Our Changes,” and another purportedly showing the new numbers.  The middle column was all zeroes, which of course meant that the first and third columns were identical.

After looking through the paper copy of my tax return, I noticed that the sum they wanted was my tax bill this year, plus interest.

But, I thought to myself, I have paid that.  I wrote a check for that amount – and indeed, here is the duplicate check in my records, sitting here right in front of me now that I have retrieved it from the archives – and physically fastened that check to the return.  They got the return.  What happened to the check?

I checked with my bank and the original check had not been cashed.  It’s still out there somewhere.

So I called the Wisconsin Department of Revenue this morning.

It turns out that when the Wisconsin Department of Revenue loses your check, you’re responsible for all of the costs.  Who knew?

A polite man on the other end of the line confirmed that they did receive my return.  But he insisted there were no records of my check.  And that was all he was willing to say on the subject.  I believe he told me that information, more or less verbatim, six times over a seven minute call until I finally told him to stop doing so.

They want a new check for the bill, plus interest.  The interest was non-negotiable.

“So what happens if I write you a new check and then a month later someone in your office finds the old one and cashes it?”

“We’ll cash it and credit your account for next year.”

“That’s not helpful, you know that.”

And he did, but that was as far as he was willing to acknowledge anything.

“So what you’re saying,” I finally said, “is that I sent you a return with a check physically attached to it and you acknowledge receiving the return but insist that there was no check, and because you lost the check I am now responsible for both interest and any stop-payment fee my bank imposes.”

“That’s right.”

“You understand why people get angry with you, right?”

[Pause]

“Is there anything else I can help you with today?”


“You haven’t helped me yet, actually.”

So the next check goes in stapled to the coupon, with a little note that says “Try not to lose this one.”

My tax dollars at work.

Wednesday, May 17, 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. Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick, doesn’t this guy take a break?  Der Sturmtrumper has managed to commit impeachable offenses at a rate of about one a day over the last week or so and still he has the solid support of Republican voters, who apparently are incapable of moving past their partisan allegiances when it comes to criminals in office.  Only 2% of people who voted for der Sturmtrumper will admit to regretting that vote now, according to one study.  I guess der Sturmtrumper was right during the campaign when he bragged that he could shoot someone in broad daylight and not lose any support.  Remember folks – this is the party that claims morality, Christianity, and values all for their little old selves.  And if you wonder why the percentage of Americans who consider themselves to have no religion has tripled since 1992 when Pat Buchanan declared the Culture War at the GOP nominating convention, well, now you know.

2. Can we just put Sally Yates into the presidency instead?  She’d be such an improvement.

3. The House of Representatives finally managed to pass Republicare the other day, and a moral abomination it certainly was.  Millions of Americans will lose their health care coverage – more so than if the GOP had just killed the Affordable Care Act and replaced it with nothing at all.  Pre-existing conditions will not be priced out of the insurance market.  Being a woman is essentially a pre-existing condition now.  So is being a victim of domestic violence.  Doctor groups, hospital groups, and insurance groups all protested that this was a historically bad law, and when you have all three of those groups on the same side against you, you know you’ve got something special.  And then they went out to celebrate.  The modern GOP is an exercise in gratuitous cruelty, and one that they don’t even bother to hide anymore.

4. They did think to take the promise that people with pre-existing conditions wouldn’t lose their health care off of their website, though.  Do they think we’ll forget?  It’s bad enough that these people lie to me.  It’s insulting that they think I’m stupid enough to buy their lies.  Or maybe they don’t care anymore about that either.

5. Is there anyone surprised by the fact that the GOP healthcare working group in the House consisted entirely of white men?

6. For those of you who think the GOP has any morals at all, my advice is to take a look at North Carolina – a one-party state where the GOP’s open contempt for democracy and American citizens is on full display.  Last week, at 3am, the GOP-led North Carolina legislature stripped state educational funding from Democratic districts and gave it to Republican districts – yes, they are that fucking petty and that fucking callous and that willing to sacrifice other people's children to achieve their own partisan goals.  These people need to be run out of town on a rail and dumped into the sea.

7. Meanwhile in Wisconsin, a new study has demonstrated that the Voter Suppression Bill worked as planned.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 legal Wisconsin voters were unable to cast their ballot because of the nonsensical restrictions placed on their right of suffrage by the Wisconsin GOP (only marginally less contemptuous of democracy than the North Carolina crew).  Note that a) the vast majority of those voters historically have voted against the GOP and the Voter Suppression Bill was expressly designed with that in mind, and b) der Sturmtrumper won Wisconsin by less than 23,000 votes.  But sure, tell me again about voter fraud.

8. Another study has demonstrated that the primary motivation for people voting for der Sturmtrumper last year was “cultural anxiety.”  Not economics.  In fact, recent analysis has shown that those working class white Americans whose finances could be labeled as “troubled” – i.e. those who in theory voted for der Sturmtrumper to express their economic discontent – actually tended to vote for Clinton.  Economics was not the motivator, in other words.  “Cultural anxiety” is a broad term that essentially boils down to “those damned people who are Not Like Us are taking over” and is functionally the same as “racism” – “all them brown people who think that just because they were born here and live here and serve in the military and pay taxes and play football and have children and do all the things that everyone else in this country does that makes them Real MURCANS” and of course the people with “cultural anxiety” voted for Trump.  So yeah, racism.  Imagine!  The guy publicly endorsed by the KKK and every major neo-Nazi group in America as the best hope for their agenda is the guy whose voters were motivated by racism!  Who knew?  Well, besides everyone.  It’s pretty much what we all knew all along but wouldn’t admit, but now backed by research.

9. The Director of the US Census has resigned, which means that a new director will have to be appointed.  And if you think the GOP won’t twist that to their advantage, think again.  Who gets counted has become a very sensitive issue in this day of Culture War and rapacious gerrymandering.  My guess is that whoever they pick will do a very careful job of counting straight white men but a rather more slipshod job of counting everyone else.  They’ve already declared they won’t count LGBTQ Americans, because if you don’t count them they don’t exist, right?  And if they don’t exist, then they certainly don’t have rights that any straight white man is bound to respect.  Roger Taney haunts the modern GOP.

10. I’m not even going to get into the firing of James Comey too much other than to point out that every independent agent investigating der Sturmtrumper has now been fired and the GOP is perfectly fine with this obstruction of justice.  And yes, it is obstruction of justice – der Sturmtrumper went on television and admitted as much, directly contradicting the story he had his administration pumping out not hours beforehand.

11. Meeting with Henry Kissinger in the middle of all that was a positively Nixonian touch that no doubt made the more authoritarian elements of the GOP click their boot heels with glee.

12.  Hosting the Russian press in the Oval Office while barring the American media and doing so while evidence of collusion with Russian intelligence during the 2016 election gets firmer and more compelling might not have been the smartest of ideas.  One wonders how many listening devices and other spyware were planted by those “journalists” during that trip.

13.  Of course, the don’t need spyware when der Sturmtrumper is going to blurt out highly classified information anytime he wants to do so.  He’s right that he has broken no law by doing so, though he may well have violated his oath of office in the process.  They’re separate things, after all.  Remember when the GOP lathered itself into a froth at the mere possibility that Hillary Clinton might have left some low-level classified information open to foreigners in her email, even though she denied it?  Here you have der Sturmtrumper actually giving high-level intelligence to a foreign power and then bragging about it, and the GOP collectively says, "So?"

14.  Didn’t Paul Ryan say that people who couldn’t be trusted with classified information shouldn’t have access to it anymore?  I look forward to him pressing that case against der Sturmtrumper.  Oh, wait.  It’s okay when Republicans commit subversive and/or treasonous acts.  Rules don’t apply to Republicans.  Sorry – I forget sometimes.

15. Apparently the intelligence that has been compromised came from Israel.  Israel is not a nation that screws around when it comes to national security.  That could be very bad news for der Sturmtrumper if they decide he represents a clear and present danger to their national survival.

16. How bad is it when Erick Erickson, one of the biggest cheerleaders of the far right in modern America, flat out says that “what the President did is actually far worse than what is being reported.”  The only hope this country has is that der Sturmtrumper’s supporters will finally turn on him – the fact that everyone else already has makes no difference – and this is a good first step.  Of course, given that the headline on pretty much every major news organization’s website when the intelligence scandal broke was about the scandal except for Fox, which promoted a bogus story about Hillary’s emails, this may take some time.

17. Did der Sturmtrumper really threaten James Comey with releasing White House tapes?  Bring it on, Chuckles – there isn’t a prosecutor in America who wouldn’t give their eye teeth to have access to those tapes.  The mere fact that such tapes might exist is enough to provoke all sorts of subpoena requests.  This just gets uglier and uglier, and der Sturmtrumper gets more malignant and stupid with each passing tantrum.

18. Apparently one of the things that Comey did to annoy der Sturmtrumper was to reject his request to end the FBI investigation into Michael Flynn.  And a good thing too, since that would have been a clear-cut case of obstruction of justice.  Honestly, at what point do Republicans grow a spine, accept the reality that their president is a corrupt and dangerous buffoon, put their country ahead of their narrow partisan interests, and get rid of this guy?  Yeah, I’m not holding my breath either.

19. Our Confederate Attorney General is calling for a return to harsh sentences for drug offenders despite decades of evidence that this does nothing to solve any of the problems associated with illegal drugs.  For crying out loud, the states mostly figured that out years ago and it was only recently that the Obama Administration caught up with them.  And now der Sturmtrumper’s minions will go back to the kind of knee-jerk punitive reactions that make them look like macho manly men doing manly things to other men because that’s all they care about, even if the actual job at hand is left undone and the situation gets worse. 

20. The “I” word is being openly thrown around in Congress today by both Republican and Democratic representatives.  “Impeachment” – it’s what’s for dinner.

21.  Apparently the stock market has finally figured out that der Sturmtrumper is bad for business.  Yes, folks, unpredictable authoritarianism is not conducive to long-term profits!  Who knew?  Besides every economic historian and self-aware corporate executive in the civilized world, I mean.  Really, who knew?  We’ll see if today’s dip was simply a minor wobble or the start of something bigger, but don’t be surprised if a lot of money starts leaving the US for more stable shores sometime soon.

22. What does it tell you that the most cogent defense offered by der Sturmtrumper’s minions regarding his blabbing highly classified intelligence to foreign visitors is the idea that he is so blisteringly incompetent that it couldn’t have done any harm?  It tells you that we are well and truly screwed in this country for as long as der Sturmtrumper and his cronies, minions, and lackeys hold sway, that’s what it tells you.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

All the Buzz

Last week was the 4H Drama Festival.

It is a sign of just how hectic this past week was that it has taken me this long to gather my thoughts and photographs together and write this blog post.  Between track meets, orchestra concerts and rehearsals, meetings, and the 2017 revival of that great 1973 hit, “The Saturday Night Massacre,” it has been hard to keep up.  

And this is a shame, because our Players put on a marvelous if underrated performance.

For this year’s production we decided to adapt a play we did back in 2011, the first year we were involved in 4H Drama.  The play, entitled, “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears,” is based on an African folk tale and was originally written by our first Drama leader, Jamie.  Our cast this year was both older and fewer, which meant we could have more speaking lines and fewer random cast members.  It adapts well.

We rehearsed Monday nights in March and April, gradually getting things put together.  We had a dedicated cast and an eager spotlight operator, and by the last week it was all coming together nicely.


The Festival happens down at Home Campus every year, and as the Performing Arts Guy I generally end up as the campus rep for it all.  This means I end up arriving at 7am to help set up and answer questions.  Fortunately we’ve been doing this a while now and people pretty much know what to do and where to go.  It also meant that I had to delegate my usual photographer duties to one of our other 4H’ers who was working the food booth.  Thank you, Lauren!

Eventually our intrepid Players arrived and set to work getting makeup and costumes.




We then repaired to the outside lawn, where it was a beautiful spring day, and the kids ran their lines one last time before it was finally showtime.


The narrator comes on and lets the audience know that it is Mother Owl who wakes the sun each morning.



Then we meet Mosquito and Iguana.  Mosquito is very small, but tells the tallest tales.  Eventually Iguana decides she’d rather be deaf than listen to such nonsense and puts sticks in her ears.


Somehow between Friday night’s rehearsal and Saturday’s performance the rig I put together for the sticks disappeared.  We still haven’t found it.  Fortunately a substitute was cobbled together in time for the performance.

Iguana, now deaf, does not hear her friend Python’s greeting.  Naturally, this being both a play and a folk tale, Python assumes mischief is afoot.  He hides in Rabbit’s burrow, which panics Rabbit, which alarms Crow, which scares Monkey, who goes running off into the forest and, by swinging on a branch and breaking it, manages to kill one of Mother Owl’s owlets.

This year the owlet was played by a stuffed animal.  In the original production we had a lot of very young kids playing various owlets.  Things change.

Mother Owl is both grieved and angry (and you should have heard our actress work her way through the Stages of Grief, one by one – really, you should) and won’t wake up the sun.  So Lion comes in and gets to the bottom of things.



Eventually it all gets resolved (yes, we played “Here Comes the Sun” at this point, because of course we did) and all ends well except for Mosquito, who is forever doomed to buzzing in people's ears, asking if people are still mad at her, and, well, getting whacked in response.  Because that's what happens to mosquitoes.

It was an excited and happy group that met in the hall afterward.


The judges seemed pretty happy with the show, though in the end they only awarded us red ribbons which I thought was unduly harsh.  Oh well.  Judges do what judges do and life moves on.  They also awarded us best costumes and best original drama, which we appreciated!



All the world’s a stage.

Congratulations, Players!  You did well.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Time Has Come

Donald Trump will be impeached within the next eighteen months.

Possibly by the end of this year.

It is by now indelibly clear that he has engaged in a broad pattern of abuse and illegality, of high crimes and misdemeanors, and has brought upon himself and this nation a Constitutional crisis that can only be resolved by removing him from office and prosecuting him to the fullest extent of the law.

The list of these crimes, this abuse, this flagrant disregard for the rule of law and the Constitution has been well documented elsewhere and there is no particular need to rehash it here.  The recent firing of FBI Head James Comey is a tipping point, however.

Every independent agent investigating Trump has now been fired by Trump.

We have reached our Watergate moment.

Of course, you may argue that this assumes that the Republican-led Congress actually gives a rat’s ass about the law, the Constitution, or anything other than their grip on absolute power. 

And you would be correct to note that there is precious little evidence of this.

Again, there is no particular need to rehash what has been well documented here and elsewhere.  It gets tiresome, to be honest.

Oh, there are a few Republicans who understand that there is a time to put patriotism above partisanship, and three cheers for them, I say.  They may well be instrumental in bringing about what really needs to happen, just as they were for Nixon.  People forget that Nixon only resigned when it became clear that he had lost the support of his own party – that his crimes were so blatant, so beyond the pale, that even partisanship wouldn’t save him.

Do we have enough Republicans who care about this country more than they care about their party? 

Maybe.  I’m not going to argue the point.

My point is that we don’t need to rely on them.  Even pure unadulterated power-hungry partisanship will make the GOP get rid of Trump.

Trump is the gift that keeps on giving to Democrats.  He is a one-man sideshow, a festival of stupidity, criminality, subversion, and moral failure, incapable of reform, education, or productive labor.  His first 100 days in office were among the least effective of any president in American history, up to and including William Henry Harrison, and this is especially notable in light of the fact that his party controls both houses of Congress.  He’s managed to piss off the Navy, the FBI, and the CIA, as well as almost every other federal agency under his control.  His public approval ratings are historically bad, which tells you that even many Republicans don’t like him.  His unpredictability is borderline psychotic and undermines everything that the GOP would like to do.  His ability to energize progressive voters and candidates is unparalleled, as several unfathomably close mid-cycle elections in what had been safe GOP areas have already shown.  He is the focal point of rage for the thinking American, and it is that rage that is translating thinking into doing.

He is, in other words, an obstacle to everything the GOP wants to achieve.  The Faustian bargain that the GOP made with Trump is that they would tolerate – even celebrate – his venality, criminality, and subversion as long as they got to impose their will on the majority of Americans who actively reject it.  And this bargain is now in question.

As of right now, Trump’s presidency and the divisions within the GOP that he encourages and abets are so damning that the GOP is in serious danger of losing the House of Representatives in 2018. 

That fact is shocking.  The House is so effectively gerrymandered that the GOP has controlled it despite losing the overall popular vote for Representatives more often than not of late, and with their control over state legislatures this gerrymandering is not likely to change.  The fact that the House is even in play at all is a testament to the colossal moral and political failure of the modern GOP.

The GOP knows this.

They also know that if Trump goes, it is entirely likely that Pence will go with him.  Pence has already implicated himself in a number of the scandals of this administration – notably the Russian collusion to subvert the 2016 election – and his position is only slightly less precarious than Trump’s.

Third in line is the Speaker of the House.

At the moment, that’s Paul Ryan, the wunderkind of the Ayn Rand right wing and as pliable an extremist water-carrier as you could hope for.  This is the guy who shepherded the moral abomination of Republicare through the House of Representatives, after all.  The GOP could live happily under President Ryan.

But if they lose the House, two things happen.

First, their ability to quash probes, investigations, and ultimately impeachment itself is lost with it.  They know very well that a Democratic House would bring the charges that the GOP House has so far been unwilling even to investigate as a threat to their own power.  They also know that if there is enough of a progressive wave to win the House it will likely turn the Senate as well, which means that when you add in what Republicans are willing to be patriots instead of partisans conviction on those impeachment charges becomes all but certain.

And second, once Trump and Pence go in that scenario, the new Speaker of the House will be a Democrat.

Under the Constitution, that incoming President would still be eligible for two full terms, which means that he or she could be president for a full decade.  Given that the only thing that got Jimmy Carter elected in 1976 was the disgust and rejection that voters felt for the party of Nixon, it is entirely likely that the former Speaker of the House would get at least one full term as president, and if the GOP continues to tear itself apart (as any attempt to get rid of Trump likely will, given the vast gulf between the GOP elite and its Trump-voting base) possibly both terms.

The partisanship of the GOP won’t have that.

They’ll get rid of Trump while they can still replace him with someone of their own party, and they’ll spin it as patriotism, rule of law, and respect for the Constitution.  And for all I know some of them will be sincere.

But Trump’s time is limited either way.

He will be gone.  For the survival of the American republic, he needs to be gone.  Even if it’s just partisanship, he has to be gone.

Interesting times indeed.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

News and Updates

1. The first week of May is always a madhouse around here.  The semester is coming to an end, various projects and tasks are ramping up, and people always think it is a good time to schedule events because it’s far enough from the end of the school year(s) that they think folks can still focus but deep enough into those same school years that people have had time to prepare.  And then they are surprised when these events all pile up.  It’s a pattern, folks!

2. I took my daughter to work a couple Fridays ago.  Actually I took her whole class.  At the last parent/teacher night down at Mighty Clever Guy Middle School a couple months ago I got to talking with Lauren’s history teacher, and the upshot of it was that her whole TAG class came to Home Campus and sat in on my US2 course.  All my regular students are two hundred miles away and connecting in by compressed video, which means I have plenty of seating.  And it was nice to let Lauren's class see how a college class was similar or different from what they are used to.  We gave them a tour of the campus, and my colleagues spoke to them on things like advising and financial aid (i.e. you can do this, and we can help).  I also had a couple of students talk to them about college from their perspective.  It seemed to go well.  And by the time Lauren showed up she had relaxed a bit on the “do not let them know you’re my dad” thing – I’m guessing that cat got let out of the bag pretty early, to be honest.  One of the weirder things about the whole process was having to sign a permission slip so my daughter could go on a field trip to see … me.

3. Tabitha was inducted today into the French Honor Society, which has an actual name in French that I will not even begin to attempt here because medieval French scribes were paid by the letter and to type this out in French would use up all the pixels on the internet.  But it was a nice ceremony down at Local Businessman High School.  They had any number of awards, medals, pins, and flowers, and it was a lovely thing.  Congratulations, Tabitha!

4. Yesterday was the 4H Drama Festival, and when I have all my pictures sorted out I will dedicate an entire post to it.  I’m always proud of the kids and the job they do, but I’m always glad when it’s over.

5. Kim and I went to an event in honor of the political activism of a couple of friends of ours tonight.  It was packed, as you would expect when people have been active for half a century and are also very nice people to begin with.  It was a good time, though union halls are not known for their acoustics and I can never hear anyone talk at those things.  The main speaker was a lot of fun.  Some people can just work a crowd.

6. It’s been warm enough that we have been letting the turkeys out into their run in the morning.  They love, love, love being outside.  You open up the little door on the side of the barn and they come boiling out, making those inquisitive little squawks that they make.  At night when you come back they’re all just sitting there enjoying the breeze.  It’s always kind of a shame to shoo them back in.

7. Lauren’s track meets are a lot of fun to go to.  She does well in her events, and I enjoy all the running and jumping.  Those meets are always an exercise in barely controlled chaos, which is good preparation for life I suppose.

8. When it comes to the lawn, I am That Neighbor.  I don’t care about the lawn.  I categorize dandelions as spring flowers and look forward to Creeping Charlie since it’s low ground cover and has nice purple flowers.  I think the grass looks good long.  But this is all rather a minority view in modern America, so today I dragged out the lawn mower and set it to work for the first time all year.  It will only have to be done again, you know.

9. It is not fun to be far away from people who need you to be not far away.  It is good that there are people who can be there.

10.  It's AP time, folks!  And you know what that means!  Yes, you can actually hear the buzzing of the stressed out high school students in your area!  Isn't that grand?  Tabitha has completed one of her three exams, and the other two happen this week.  The nice thing about exams, though, is that they start and then … they end.  They’re not like papers, which can always be revised.  It’s good to have definitive end points.  Win, lose, or draw, you’re done.

11. We knew this past week would be something of a lost cause, between 4H Drama rehearsals, track meets, Tabitha’s tech week for the LBHS play, and everything else that had to be done (Kim spent all weekend at Home Campus running chemistry labs for students, for example, and that isn’t something you can just wing at the time, which is why my high school chemistry grade was what it was), so last Sunday I whomped up a giant batch of chili and another of gravy (spaghetti sauce to you midwesterners).  These are good, but I’m looking forward to eating something else now.

12.  EDIT: You know it's been a long week when an entire concert gets lost in the shuffle.  But Tabitha had her Local Youth Orchestra concert on Thursday, and they were lovely to hear.  They performed half a dozen interesting pieces - and when you get most of the woodwinds to play percussion, interesting things do happen - and we all left happy.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Weighty Tome

I’m reading a book.

This is not news.  I’m always reading a book.  Sometimes more than one, though lately I’ve tried to keep it to a single book at a time because otherwise the mental whiplash of shifting from world to world gets to be a bit much.  But always at least one.  I carry them around with me and pull them out at what are no doubt socially inopportune moments, and I’m not particularly bothered by these moments.  If enough people get annoyed at me reading when they would rather I be doing the tasks they have assigned to me then eventually I will no longer be invited to gatherings where people attempt to assign me tasks and I can read in peace.

You have your long-term strategies, I have mine.

It’s actually a pretty good book – one of those big, broad, synthetic histories that I like, the sort of book that attempts to tie together any number of disparate and seemingly unrelated themes and make them into a coherent argument.  It has its rough spots, but overall I’m enjoying it and if I ever do get to revise that one class that I’ve been meaning to revise since 2015, perhaps I will incorporate material from this book into it as well.

What makes this book somewhat unique, though, is that it appears to have been printed on paper made from depleted uranium and grief.

It’s not that big a book, really – maybe 420pp, hardback, probably just a bit over an inch thick and roughly the usual dimensions of a hardback book – but it exists in a permanent twilight because light bends around it.  It exerts its own gravitational pull.  It cannot be stored on malleable surfaces without distorting them.

Lately I have taken to walking up to unsuspecting friends and colleagues and saying, “Here, hold this!” before handing them the book, just to see how they react as their wrists bend downward and they instinctively grasp it harder to avoid having it fall and crush their toes.

As Calvin & Hobbes once said, “It’s that moment of dawning comprehension that I live for.”

You have to have some diversion from the collapse of American civilization that is going on around us these days.  This is as good as any, I suppose.

I’m almost done with it now, and I will then move on to another, rather more buoyant book.  No doubt for the first few days every time I pick the new one up I will involuntarily end up raising it above my head as if surrendering to a Book Army, until eventually my Up muscles get used to having to do less work for equivalent Up distance and bring it to a halt at a more convenient reading altitude.

And then it will all seem like a vague notion that I had once upon a time.  But it was real, oh yes it was.

Wednesday, May 3, 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. Our Confederate Attorney General came out and admitted that he has neither the resources nor the plans to round up all the illegal immigrants that are in the US, the way der Sturmtrumper has been thumping on about since before the election, so instead they’re going to focus on deporting the criminals.  In other words, they are going to pursue EXACTLY THE SAME POLICY THAT OBAMA HAD – precisely the policy that caused the right-wing to go into full-blown nativist meltdown last year.  You know, that one?  I suppose it’s different when it’s the white guys in charge.

2. Continuing the theme of GOP snowflakes melting under the glare of student questioning, der Sturmtrumper’s senior counterterrorism and cybersecurity advisor (and Brietbart fanboy) Sebastian Gorka stormed angrily out of a meeting with Georgetown University students after they had the temerity to continue questioning him after his line of bullshit was delivered.  Honestly, where do they find these people and why am I expected to take them seriously?  Dude, take it from a teacher: if you can’t survive students, you’re not going to survive terrorists.

3. Not only has der Sturmtrumper not actually managed to nominate – let alone get confirmed – candidates for the vast majority of the executive branch positions he is responsible for, apparently he can’t even remember the few he has.  Or maybe he just hires idiots because he’s comfortable with them.  A week or two ago the White House emailed out a transcript of that day’s briefings and listed Steven Mnuchin as the Secretary of Commerce.  Mnuchin is the Secretary of the Treasury.  Those at the top set the tone for those underneath, and the tone for this group is incompetent.

4. The circular firing squad that is Republicare continues to fire away.  One would think that the embarrassment of watching something you’ve spent over half a decade promising to do collapse into an ignominious pile of failure despite controlling every relevant branch of government would be enough to convince the GOP to avoid pissing on that particular electric fence again, but then you don’t know the rigid ideological fanaticism of the modern GOP.  Of course they’re back.  And of course this version is even more punitive, cruel, and dysfunctional than the last one.  The current plan is to get rid of every popular feature of the ACA, especially the coverage for pre-existing conditions, and then exempt themselves from the plan so that Congress can continue to have the taxpayer-funded healthcare that they insist is immoral for people like you to have.  I have often wondered what the Romans felt when they saw the Visigoths at the gates of the city, and now I know.

6. And it looks like a party in control of both houses of Congress and the Executive Branch still cannot pass a bill it has been promising to pass since 2010.  On the one hand, I suppose I should be grateful.  The more we find out about Republicare 2.0, the more cruel and immoral it gets.  Only the modern GOP would think allowing insurance companies to price the sick out of the market while denying coverage for maternity care or cancer treatment would be acceptable.  On the other hand, do these people even know how to govern?  The Gang That Can’t Think Straight continues to demonstrate why only the most ideologically blinded support them.

6. So der Sturmtrumper called the entire Senate to the White House to talk about North Korea.  First of all, senators of either party do not like being treated as page boys to be summoned at the master’s pleasure so I doubt this did him any favors even with the GOP.  Second, by all accounts nobody really had any idea what to make of this, since nothing of any real substance was discussed.  If you’re going to call the entire Senate to make a special trip to see you, it sort of behooves you to have something big to tell them.  I’d say der Sturmtrumper is his own worst enemy except that there are so many Americans vying for that job that it’s hard to tell.

7. Mauricio Macri, the president of Argentina and one of the first world leaders to call der Sturmtrumper and congratulate him on his victory in November, was going to give former President Jimmy Carter the Order of the Liberator General San Martin, the highest award Argentina has for foreigners, in recognition of Carter’s work to strengthen human rights during the period of military dictatorship in Argentina in the late 1970s and early 80s.  The presentation ceremony would have happened during Macri’s visit to the US in the first week of May.  According to CNN, however, the ceremony was canceled on the explicit demand of der Sturmtrumper, who apparently cannot stand to have anyone else be recognized for achievements, especially for something as paltry and anti-business as human rights.  If there is an Argentinean prize for sheer spiteful pettiness in the service of a wounded ego, perhaps Macri can award it to the current US president while he’s here.

8.  Add Oklahoma to the list of GOP-mutilated economies, sucked in by the false promises of supply-side economics in a demand side world.  They slashed taxes, expecting to see the economic growth that right-wingers always promise when they cut taxes for the wealthy, and lo and behold their infrastructure is failing, their schools are cutting back to 4-day weeks, their state troopers can’t even fill up their gas tanks, and the GOP refuses to recognize the obvious: supply-side economics does not work in a demand-side economy.  Never has.  Never will.  The Kansas Miracle didn’t work in Kansas and it isn’t going to work anywhere else either, no matter how hard they try to sell it or how thin they slice it.  I’m not sure whether I should be more offended by the sheer destructive bull-headedness of the GOP or by the fact that they think I’m stupid enough to fall for it.

9. If you ever truly want to lose your faith in humanity, just try reading a defense of der Sturmtrumper in your local newspaper’s letters to the editor column.  A more toxic combination of magical thinking, blame shifting, willful ignorance, and sheer mendacity you will never find.

10. Every time I think der Sturmtrumper has outdone himself with weaponized ignorance, that there is no further depth he can sink to when it comes to demonstrating how utterly unqualified he is to be an American citizen let alone occupy a position of political power, that he has reached the bedrock beneath rock bottom, the man starts to dig.  “People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War?”  Seriously?  The Civil War is the single most written-about event in all of American history by an order of magnitude.  There are literally tens of thousands of books that address this very issue, and the volume of ink spilled discussing it probably exceeds the volume of blood spilled in the conquest of the treasonous South by whole number multiples.  Don’t even get me started on der Sturmtrumper’s bizarre fixation on Andrew Jackson who, for the record, died fifteen years before the Civil War started.  Of course this is the guy who thinks Frederick Douglass is still alive, so when it comes to historical ignorance there are no surprises here.

11. Is it my imagination or is a Republican President with a Republican House of Representatives and a Republican Senate openly calling for a government shut down because he can’t get what he wants?  Is this really a thing?  At some point, can we just admit the farce here and turn over the actual governing of the country to somebody capable of doing so?

12. In an interview on April 30, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (no, really, that’s his name) publicly stated that der Sturmtrumper is looking to repeal the First Amendment.  You know, the one that guarantees free speech?  Freedom of religion?  That one?  Because it gets in the way of the things der Sturmtrumper wants to do to the nation, that’s why.  Of course, that’s why the First Amendment was put there, but apparently Reince Priebus (really, I’m not making that up – I couldn’t if I tried) seems to have missed that point.  The Founders had a word for people like that.  That word was “tyrant.”  They also had a solution for that problem.

13. There is nothing that puts the sheer moral bankruptcy of the modern GOP more starkly into relief than getting them to talk about healthcare in this country.  Did you know that pre-existing conditions are the mark of a failed life?  That the poor and the sick should die before any God-fearin’ MURCAN has to part with one thin dime of his precious, precious lucre?  Yeah, this is also the party that claims Christianity as its very own.  Jesus would be so proud of them.  Bless their shriveled, crusty hearts.

14. It’s not all that surprising that the loudest GOP voice leading the “fuck you Jack, I got mine” chorus on healthcare at the moment is Joe Walsh, a deadbeat dad more than $100,000 behind on child support payments for his own kids.  The man doesn’t give a damn about his own flesh and blood.  He’s not going to care about yours.  The modern GOP in a nutshell.

15. The fact that this bill will be voted on without a CBO score – without the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office evaluating it for its financial impact – tells you all you need to know.  This isn’t about saving money.  It isn’t about serving the American people.  It’s not about improving healthcare in the United States.  It’s about scoring points for the wealthy donors who pull the GOP’s strings, providing a massive tax break for the already wealthy at the expense of sick children, and gleeful cruelty toward those incapable of fighting back.  It’s a cowardly and despicable act without any redeeming moral quality, and it should be treated as such.

16. Meanwhile in North Carolina, the GOP drive toward absolutism continues apace.  If you want to see what the modern right wing has in store for the nation, the czarist state of North Carolina is your model.  A thoroughly gerrymandered GOP legislature has systematically changed whatever rules were necessary in order to deny the express will of the North Carolinian electorate and impose their autocratic will on a formerly democratic society. 

17.  Do you think it’s a coincidence that der Sturmtrumper reaches out to dictators and tyrants while insulting democracies and republics?

18. Remember when executive orders were a sign of dictatorship?  That was when the black guy was issuing them, of course.  Now that der Sturmtrumper is in power, they’re just fine.  The current occupant of the White House issued 29 executive orders in his first 100 days.  Obama had 19.  Still no objections from the GOP.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Faster! Higher!

The problem with spring in Wisconsin is that it is both brief and reversible.

We actually had spring back in February.  I believe it was a Thursday.  It got all the way up to about 75F.  The skies were blue, the flowers bloomed, and for a brief shining moment we could all forget the concerns of the larger world as we stared forlornly at those flowers and thought, “You poor bastards have no idea what’s about to hit you, do you?”  And of course they didn’t.  They were flowers, after all.  Flowers are not known for their long-range planning abilities.

So it should not have come as any great surprise last week when Lauren’s first couple of track meets were held in grey, drizzly, windy conditions on two consecutive days, the first of which saw a high of 62F while the second made those of us in the stands recall the first day as a halcyon time of warmth and comfort.

It may have actually snowed.  After a while you just ignore it, because really what are you going to do about it anyway?

This is Lauren’s third year on the Mighty Clever Guy Middle School track team, and she seems to enjoy it.  Every year they go out and practice, and then the meets start.  Sometimes the meets are quick, and sometimes they border on eternity.  I’m not sure how this distinction is made in the planning stages.  I only know what it seems like from the outside.

Last week they got all of the middle schools here in Our Little Town together and had the girls do track on Wednesday and field on Thursday, while the boys did it the other way around.  This did not especially please Lauren, who enjoys the field events much more than actually running around a track, and I can understand that.  

But on Wednesday she ran the 200 and then the second leg of a 4x200, and she did a respectable job.  MCGMS is not generally reckoned as the fleetest of foot here in Our Little Town, but they held their own and that's all you can ask of people, I think.



One thing I have never understood is why they insist on calling the 4x200 the 800-meter-relay here.  Yes, I get it, the total distance traveled is 800 meters.  But when you say “800-meter-relay” all I think of is an unspecified number of runners traveling 800 meters apiece.  Is this a midwestern thing?  Have they changed the nomenclature since I was a lad and ran the 4x200?  Maybe.  

Thursday, while significantly colder, was more Lauren’s speed, as she got to do the high jump and triple jump.  High jump is her event, and to be honest she really does have very good form.  



She won both of her field events, which was a lovely thing.

Congratulations, Lauren!  I’m proud of you.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Musical Meme

Apparently I’ve been to a lot of concerts.

I didn’t actually think that was the case.  There’s a Facebook meme going around now where you list ten musical acts, nine of whom you have actually seen in concert, and see if your friends can guess the red herring. 

Of course it takes exactly zero seconds for the moral guardians of the internet to jump on fun little memes like this and declare anyone who participates to be flaunting their privilege and generally upsetting the proper order of the universe as determined by said moral guardians – I can’t tell you how many tut-tutting articles and self-important declarations of refusal to participate I have read in the last 48 hours – but my response to such people is the same as it always is to such people.  They and the horses they rode in on are cordially invited to find other sources of entertainment, while the rest of us will have a bit of harmless fun with a mindless little meme.

Yeah, my patience for the guardians of moral probity is a bit thin now.  Has been for years.  If I ever see any reason to change that, I’ll let you know.

So I thought I’d give it a try.  Seemed like fun.  Of course, I wasn’t sure that it would work.  To be honest, my first thought was, “I wonder if I can come up with nine that I’ve seen?”

On the one hand, I’ve been in a lot of concerts. 

I sang in choirs from fourth grade through graduate school and – especially in high school – we performed a great deal, all over the region.  The choir I was in when I was doing my MA actually went on multi-state tours.  I once helped to write and perform an entire chemistry-themed K-Tel-album-style performance for a one-time band called “Joseph Priestley and the Ketones.”  And, like most undergraduates, I was in a band in college.  I highly recommend the experience, as it is a lot of fun and requires no talent.  We would perform in coffee houses and dorm lobbies, and we had a regular gig doing the between-set space of a friend of one of the band members.  She performed at a bar in center city Philadelphia, and we’d haul our stuff down there and do three or four songs every few Thursdays for an audience of half-drunk medical students.  Eventually the bar burned down.  I don’t think that was our fault.

On the other hand, my actually going to concerts to hear other people perform has been rather slim.  Most of them have been small acts, either performers nobody’s ever heard of or performers famous in small niches.  But when I added it all up there are more than nine.  A whole pile more.  And this was a rather pleasant discovery.

The first concert I can remember going to was Leon Redbone.

My dad had two positions – vertical and asleep.  So back in high school he’d often be cashed out on the sofa while I or my brother would be watching late night television.  Sometimes he’d wake up and watch with us.  Thus we watched Saturday Night Live one evening where Leon Redbone was the musical guest.  Not long after that we discovered he would be appearing locally. 

This was a no brainer.

If you’ve never had the pleasure, Leon Redbone was a fascinating performer.  Always dressed in a white linen suit and Panama hat, he had a resonant bass voice and mostly performed Dixieland jazz and other early-20th-century-style music.  He also had a sly sense of humor, as perhaps you’d expect from this description.  For that concert he was actually the opening act for George Carlin (and wasn’t that a double bill!) and at one point he took out a small camera and started taking pictures of us.  “Smile!” he’d say.

I saw him a few times, actually, in venues large and small.  Perhaps the most memorable was at a bar in Philadelphia with my college roommate and my dad.  It was memorable not because of who I was there with but because the opening act was a local comedian.  The performing space was ringed with televisions, all of which were set to Bugs Bunny cartoons before the show.  Eventually they turned the cartoons off and up trots this mook who starts telling what he obviously considers to be jokes, except they’re the kind of racial comedy that was probably popular in the darker recesses of the 1950s but which even in the 1980s struck most of us as uncomfortable and, worse, Not Actually Funny.  And he didn’t even tell them well.  Eventually the crowd started chanting “We want Bugs Bunny!  We want Bugs Bunny!” and, after a while, we got what we asked for.  And then Leon Redbone came out and all was forgiven.

There were more.

I got paid good money to see 10,000 Maniacs once.  For those of you who don’t remember them, well, you’re missing out.  They were a lot of fun.  They played a sort of melodic pop and their lead singer, Natalie Merchant, had a rich alto voice that you don’t often find in popular music.  She was also completely unable to keep still, which was a concern for me since I was running a spotlight for that show and for vast stretches of time my job was to keep her lit.  This was quite a workout, and a very different experience from the opening act.  Tracy Chapman walked up to the mic in the middle of the stage, pulled out her guitar, and from that point on the only things that moved on her were her fingers and her lips.  Eventually I locked the spotlight into position and went and sat down.

Years later I paid to see 10,000 Maniacs again, but I’m still about $20 ahead on them.

In college I saw Dave Van Ronk perform in a seminar room – there were maybe 20 of us in the audience, I think.  I also got Pete Seegar’s autograph after a show he gave in a small auditorium at Drexel University with a few other old folkies, the only one I remember being Utah Phillips.  He was just standing there in the aisle after the show, so I introduced myself.  He was a gracious man, though he disappeared almost immediately after my friends and I found him there.  I think he didn’t want to be bothered.

Some friends and I went to see Arlo Guthrie back in college.  I don’t think he wanted to be there, though – he certainly didn’t perform as if he did.  His opening act, John Prine, was much happier to be there and it showed.

I saw Ani DiFranco as part of the Three Rivers Arts Festival back in the early 90s.  I’ve never seen anyone so energetic, not even Natalie Merchant, who had a looseness to her movements.  Ani DiFranco played like she had just noticed someone walking over to unplug her sound system and was determined to finish her song.  They brought a bunch of great acts to that festival over the years I lived there.  The Roches, whose harmonies continue to amaze and who once recorded a three-part all-female a capella version of The Hallelujah Chorus.  Buddy Guy.  And perhaps my all time favorite, a thoroughly obscure little band called Celtic Elvis.  They were the opening act for another band called the Horseflies, who were actually popular at the time in a grungy indie sort of way but whom I found tiresome.  Celtic Elvis was a lot of fun, though.  Someday I will find “High on Stress!” online.

The nice part about the Three Rivers Arts Festival is that everything was free.  This was important, on a graduate student budget.  It’s always amazing how many things there are out there that you can just walk into that way.  I went to the Philadelphia Folk Festival a couple of times in the 1980s and saw a bunch of great acts there - Elizabeth Cotton, Free Hot Lunch, Dave Bromberg, and so on.  Those weren't free, but they were still surprisingly affordable on a budget.  You have to love that.

You also couldn’t live in Pittsburgh in the early 90s and not see Rusted Root a few times.  They were the best dance band in Pittsburgh before they hit nationally later in the decade.  I wonder what happened to them.  Most people know them today as the band that plays “Send Me On My Way” in the first Ice Age movie.  Through an odd combination of circumstances I ended up hanging out with their bass player one night.  He was a nice guy.

I’ve seen George Winston a couple of times.  Once I brought a pair of binoculars to my nosebleed seats at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia and figured out how to play Linus and Lucy by watching him do it.  I also got to see Suzanne Vega at a bleak little club in the Strip District of Pittsburgh.

My job as the Performing Arts Guy at Home Campus has given me a ringside seat at a few concerts.  There was an American roots band called The Barleyjacks who were really good even if nobody came.  We had an Australian band called Max Judo once.  I ended up taking them to a Mexican restaurant afterward, which was a bit of a culture shock.  I spent some time with the Galactic Cowboy Orchestra, whom I highly recommend.  And if you want great harmony and songwriting, you can do no better than The Good Lovelies. 

Last December Kim and I took the girls to see Panic! At the Disco, which was a great deal of fun.

On and on, concerts and venues, performances and memories.  There were others, and they'll come to me by and by.

So many shows.

The red herring for me was Genesis, a band I nearly saw but, well, didn't.  They came to Philadelphia when I was about 15 and my friend Matt and I made big plans to see them.  And then my mom found out and, well, suddenly there were no plans.  I can't say it traumatized me, to be honest.

You know, maybe this is a sign that I’ve led a fairly privileged life, but if the moral order of the universe can’t handle a few concerts, I’m guessing the problem isn’t me.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Marching for Science. In 2017. No, Seriously.

Galileo Galilei was born in 1564, at a time when the Renaissance was giving way to the Scientific Revolution.

Neither of these things were very popular with the Catholic Church, which was an institution that, in the middle of a century of Reformation, Counter-reformation, and religious warfare, had any number of ways to make its displeasure known and every incentive to do so.  And, perhaps inevitably, his scientific views brought him into conflict with the most powerful institution in what is now Italy, where he lived.

In particular, it was Galileo’s defense of the Copernican theory of heliocentrism – that the earth moved around the sun rather than remaining stationary while the heavens spun around it – that bothered the Church.  Oddly enough, Copernicus’ work wasn’t all that controversial in the late 1500s – Pope Gregory XIII used it to help him create the Gregorian calendar in 1582, the calendar that all of Western Civilization uses now – but in the 1600s religious opposition to heliocentrism became more pronounced and vitriolic.  The Church declared heliocentrism “foolish and absurd” in 1616 and declared it to be heretical, and Pope Paul V ordered Galileo to abandon his position that heliocentrism was physically true, though he could discuss it as a theoretical idea.  

When Pope Urban VIII, a friend and admirer of Galileo, came to power in 1623, Galileo resumed writing about heliocentrism.  Unfortunately, his writing angered the pope, and in 1632 he was brought to the Vatican for trial.  He was forced to recant heliocentrism, committed to house arrest for the rest of his life, and saw his book banned.

According to tradition, after being forced to deny the science behind heliocentrism and affirm that the Earth was stationary, Galileo muttered under his breath, “E pur si muove.”

“And yet it moves.”

Deny science all you want, but the facts don’t care.

This is a valuable lesson for modern America, as we find ourselves saddled with an administration whose assaults on science are only just beginning.  Indeed, the GOP war on science has been ongoing since the administration of Bush Jr.  Here in Wisconsin, as in several other GOP strongholds, all mention of climate change and other ideologically inconvenient facts have been scrubbed from official websites and documents and further investigations banned.  It’s gotten so bad at the federal level under der Sturmtrumper that federal scientists are copying data and storing it in hidden places to avoid years of taxpayer-supported research being destroyed in the name of partisan politics.

Deny science all you want, but the facts don’t care.

So today, across the nation, we marched in defense of science.  Americans who understand the importance of acknowledging reality, of investigating facts, of basing policy on data rather than wishful thinking, and who recognize the critical importance of science to our economy, our military strength, and our future took to the streets to protest the debasement of American civil discourse and the ongoing GOP war on science.

Kim and I went up to the march in Madison, since that was the one that was close by.  Naturally we brought signs.


Kim’s was a bit more straightforward than mine, of course.  On the back it said “Science = National Security,” and between the two messages one would hope some light would go on in the heads of the science deniers, though I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Being the historian, I went with the Galileo quote.  I was pleasantly surprised at how many people got it – Madison is a university town, after all – and at how many people who didn’t get it took the time to ask me the story behind it.  The back of mine requires a bit of explanation.

The Catholic Church long ago made its peace with heliocentrism.  And the current Pope – Francis – has repeatedly made public statements confirming the reality of climate change, evolution, and the Big Bang, statements that have angered the American right wing.  If there is anything more grimly amusing than listening to right-wing hucksters lecture the Pope on religious doctrine I’m not sure what it might be.  

This is why the back of my sign simply said, “The Pope is now more enlightened about science than the US government.  Think about that.”

I can’t tell you how many people stopped me for photographs of that.  It warmed my heart, it did.

It took us a while to find the park where the march started, since it’s not one we usually go to, but we ran into someone who was headed in that direction and he was happy to walk with us.  The park was nicely crowded, and there was a band playing.  Of course they ended up playing Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science."  Don't be silly.


I even ran into another Galileo fan.


Eventually we found a couple of friends.  One of the local tv stations interviewed the lot of us briefly, and it will be interesting to see if we end up on the news.


We lost them when the march began, as Kim and I were waylaid on the way out of the park by someone from the student radio station who wanted to interview her.  I got a few comments in as well, so that was nice.

The march wound its way through the streets for a while – there were several thousand people marching, so it took a while.  Most of them had clever signs and there was a festive air to the whole thing.  Madison is perhaps the politest place in the world to have a demonstration.


Eventually we ended up at the Library Mall, where there were speakers who were no doubt interesting but frankly it was mid-afternoon and my blood sugar had crashed an hour earlier so we headed up State Street and found some lunch.


I have no illusions as to the effects of this march.  Der Sturmtrumper will not magically gain an appreciation for the crucial role that science plays in making this country great, in promoting our economy and our society, and maintaining our strength.  He will not back off his attacks or stop promoting the aggressive ignorance that got him elected.  His party won’t make any of those changes either, since their base finds reality inconvenient and won't reward them for acknowledging it.  There has to be more than just marches to make these changes.

But we march anyway.  And the message is simple.

We are here.

We outnumber you.

We are coming.

You are on the wrong side of history, morality, and American values.

We will see you fail.

We will make sure you are forgotten.

Sleep well.

Friday, April 21, 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. Anyone who doesn’t actually know what country he has just ordered bombed should not be allowed to order countries to be bombed.  This goes double if chocolate cake is mentioned anywhere in the reveal.

2. Way down in Alabama (“Boldly striding forward into the 13th century!”) the GOP has apparently voted to allow churches to create their own police forces, complete with all of the statutory enforcement power of the Actual Police.  Leaving aside the obvious problems with this as far as the separation of church and state are concerned – the GOP has made it fairly clear that they support theocracy for white evangelical Protestants, and the Constitution and the Founders be damned – there is also the question of what, precisely, a modern nation state is.  One of the quintessential features of a modern nation state is that it reserves both institutional violence (military and police forces) and justice (police and courts) to the central government rather than parsing them out to private militias or vigilantes.  It is one thing to have a private security firm to patrol and turn over alleged violators to the state for action.  It is quite another to allow privilege – “private law” – in its rawest form to be given to non-state actors.  It is also of a piece with the GOP’s continued refusal to address, let alone solve, the irresponsible proliferation of high-powered weaponry in this country, of course, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at this usurpation.  It’s not a good sign for the future of the republic, though.

3. Apparently der Sturmtrumper is so desperate to distract the nation from the ever-tightening noose of his Russian collusion that he is seriously working to get us into a war in Korea.  Because that went so well the first time, even before the North Koreans acquired nuclear weapons.  There must be a whole lot of meat in that Russian thing for him to go to these lengths.

4. If you tell me you are a Christian and then tell me you voted for the GOP in any election in the last decade, I will know you for the Pharisee you are. 

5. Like most thin-skinned authoritarians, der Sturmtrumper isn’t a great fan of protests.  They do tend to highlight the criminal and/or merely immoral things he is up to, and that is just not good for business.  Unfortunately the Founding Fathers put that right into the Constitution – a document der Sturmtrumper and his minions, lackeys, and cronies really ought to read someday – so what he is or is not a fan of is irrelevant. 

6. Of course, he could just do what every other president and presidential nominee has done for decades now and release his tax returns to the general public – we are, after all, his boss – and bring that particular protest to an end.  That would require transparency, however, and that’s not something that thin-skinned authoritarians are noted for either.

7. And on that note, is anyone surprised at der Sturmtrumper’s decision to withhold the visitor logs to the White House from public view?  Makes you wonder who’s coming to visit, doesn’t it?

8. So according to Business Insider, this will be a year for “staggering” numbers of retail bankruptcies.  And why this is considered news is an interesting question.  Wal-Mart was reporting years ago that their customers were running out of money at the end of the month, and that hasn’t changed.  This is what happens when you have people with a fanatically ideological commitment to supply-side economics imposing their will on a demand-side economy.  The net effect of that is to take wealth out of the hands of the poor and middle class and give it to the already wealthy who, not being stupid, just hoard it since there is no point building factories or hiring people to make things that nobody can afford to buy.  In other words, you get the Kansas Miracle, currently making that state an economic and societal basket case, also now in its fifth year here in Wisconsin and, despite a moderate slackening of pace during the Obama years, barreling down the national pike to your town courtesy of the GOP Congress even as I type.  Say it with me, folks: supply-side economics does not work in a demand-side economy.  Never has.  Never will.  The fact that there is an entire party dedicated to this kind of rapacious plundering of the majority and it hasn’t been lined up against a wall come the revolution is nothing short of astonishing, though probably for the best as far as peace and stability are concerned.  The signal achievement of the modern American right wing has been to convince 47% of the American people that slitting their own economic throats is their patriotic duty.

9. Not surprisingly, thanks to a steady diet of these policies since 1980 – a diet only partially reversed by the Clinton Administration in the 1990s and barely slowed under Obama thanks to the rigidly partisan fanaticism of the 21st-century GOP controlling Congress for much of his administration – we are now at a level of economic inequality that we have not seen since 1929.  That didn’t end well the first time.  It won’t end well this time either.  Remember folks – when the poor have nothing left to eat, they will eat the rich.  I don’t advocate this.  I merely predict it.

10. How exactly do you lose something as big as an aircraft carrier?  Also, isn’t the front end of one of those things fairly easy to distinguish from the back, so you can tell which way it’s headed?  This is what happens when you elect amateurs and ideologues instead of qualified people.

11. Remember when it was the North Korean leadership that was unstable, authoritarian, and a threat to world peace?  Good times, man.

12. Wouldn’t it be nice if I were actually wrong about all this?  That der Sturmtrumper and his minions, lackeys, and cronies were actually doing all this as a ruse to distract from their sneaky competence and how the US will see a new golden age of equality, leadership, and prosperity when all is said and done?  Yeah, I’m not holding my breath either.  But you have to admit it would be nice.

13. Oh, who am I kidding?  When people show you who they are, you should believe them.  The modern GOP has spent the last quarter century conclusively demonstrating that it is a cesspit of greed, cruelty, misogyny, hatred, rigid authoritarianism, ideological blindness, and aggressive stupidity all dressed up in expensive suits and a thick layer of blasphemy.  I do miss having opponents I could disagree with and not fear for the survival of the republic.

14. Well, add South Korea to the list of allies der Sturmtrumper has managed to alienate – and you have to admit it’s pretty impressive to be at odds with both Koreas at once.  That takes talent.  It’s hard to be this staggeringly incompetent by random chance.  At this rate we’ll be back to isolationism and reduced to a backwater in world affairs by the end of the year.  This is of course about where we were in 1875, so at least it’s consistent with the GOP domestic policy agenda that way.

15. We’re now roughly at the 100-day mark in this administration, and there remain hundreds of Senate-confirmed offices left to fill.  You can take this as a sign of the grotesque levels of incompetence displayed in most areas of der Sturmtrumper’s administration, or you can take it as a power grab, since those functions are increasingly being exercised by family members or directly by 45.  Or both, really.  Why choose?

16. Our Confederate Attorney General is apparently flummoxed at the idea that Hawaii is an actual state.  How, he asks, could a judge on “an island in the Pacific” overrule der Sturmtrumper?  Dude, read the Constitution, learn some post-1865 history, count the stars on the American flag that you claim to worship in your idolatrous and vapid way, count the islands that make up Hawaii while you’re at it (hint: more than one), and try not to make such an utter ass of yourself next time.  Remember folks – this is the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.  Read it and weep.

17. Closer to home, the Wisconsin GOP is working feverishly to make judge-purchasing legal by getting rid of a law requiring judges with obvious conflicts of interests such as, oh, being on the receiving end of massive amounts of cold hard cash from defendants, to recuse themselves from those cases.  Because justice is simply another commodity for the GOP, just like health care – something the rich can buy and the poor will never have access to – and why this even surprises me beyond the sheer brazen arrogance of it I cannot tell you.

18. Canada too?  My, my, but der Sturmtrumper is determined to piss off and/or piss on every single one of our allies, isn’t he?  Prepare to be invaded by angry moose wielding hockey sticks, my fellow Americans.  But if you think that’s laughable, just remember – the last time the US tried to invade Canada we got our ass handed to us.

19. Apparently Wisconsin’s own Senator Ron Johnson – the Dumbest Man in the Legislature now that Rick Santorum has retired – thought he could get away with an easy time in front of high school students in Madison after hiding from his constituents for the last few months.  And, predictably, he got fried.  They had real, substantive questions.  They pressed him for answers when he tried to give them party line bullshit.  And how did he respond?  He lied to them, he ducked questions, and he generally acquitted himself with all of the aplomb of an airsick ferret.  Score one for the youth of America.

20. Number of times President Obama went golfing in his first three months in office: 0.  Number of days Obama spent at a golf course overall during his first three months in office: 0.  Number of times the current occupant of the Oval Office has gone golfing in his first three months in office: 13.  Number of days said occupant spent at a golf course during his first three months in office: 19.  Percentage of Trump voters who think Obama spent more time at the golf course than their candidate: 53.  It must be nice to live in a hermetically sealed bubble where truth is whatever is most convenient for your prejudices.

21. For comparison, Bill Clinton spent 3 days on golf courses during his first three months, while George W. Bush spent 0.  Just another reminder that the current administration is Not Normal.

22. I wish we had a sane government I could ignore and then write about other things.  I could use the break.  And so could we all.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easter Eggs

It’s coming up on Easter, and you know what that means?

No, it probably doesn’t mean we’ll actually get to church.  If there is an attendance requirement to get into heaven we are pretty much boned.  I suppose I could make an argument that at least we’re not being Pharisaical about it all, only showing up on the High Holidays and preening to the world about our virtue even though we don’t come on the regular days, but I’m not sure how much weight that carries either.

We just try to be good people and hope that is enough.

Instead, it means we’re about to be inundated with sugar.  Easter Sunday is the one day a year where it is socially acceptable to eat chocolate for breakfast.  We load up the baskets beforehand and then chow down in a frenzy of glucose that would be enough to give entire villages diabetes in the Old Country except that this is MURCA, the land of the 44-oz “medium” soda with free refills, so our pancreases (pancreii?) are tough as burnt leather and can handle it, at least until we explode from obesity.

You have to have life goals.

We’ve pretty much conceded the whole Easter Bunny thing except as a rhetorical device now – it was fun while it lasted, but everyone is old these days and understands the concept of “two-for-one sales down at Walgreens” – so we can be pretty open about the process now.  Kim and I will set up a basket for each girl and then let them have at it.  There will, of course, be a tax.  Those who set up get paid, after all.

This is a far cry from what I remember as a kid.

My parents were never big on the Easter Bunny.  To be honest, my dad wasn’t all that big on Santa either – “you bust your ass all year to be able to afford some nice things for your kids and then some fat guy in a suit gets all the credit,” I believe was his basic position – so the idea of a rodent breaking into our house and leaving stuff for us was just not going to fly.  So on Palm Sunday we’d all gather around and spend the afternoon dyeing eggs and filling the baskets with candy.  

And then the baskets would go on the dining room table, where they would sit.  

All week.  

There in the open.  

It was maddening.

A certain amount of jellybean attrition was acceptable, within limits, but none of the big stuff was allowed to disappear.  It was as close as I got to Lent, I suppose.

And then Easter Sunday would dawn and we’d go to church, and once we got home all bets were off.  My brother and I would fall on those baskets like locusts on a wheat field, and it would be glorious.  The highlight, of course, would be the big egg in the middle.

The big egg in the middle was usually about the size of a baseball, more or less.  It was dark chocolate on the outside and a sticky coconut filling on the inside, and there was a sugar icing flower perched delicately on top.  Back in the day there was also a silver foil leaf stuck in the flower.  You’d peel off the flower and eat it, saving the foil leaf as a souvenir or just tossing it, depending on mood.  And then you’d slice the egg crosswise, each quarter-inch-thick slice to be savored and drawn out as long as possible.  Sometimes you could get the egg to last an entire week, although that generally took more self-restraint than I had.

I’m a sucker for chocolate-covered coconut, what can I say?

I tried to explain this to Kim once and she looked at me as if I were more deranged than usual.  Apparently these big eggs did not exist here in the midwest.  Maybe they were a Philadelphia thing, but they certainly were not a Wisconsin thing.  We’re usually in Wisconsin for Easter these days, and it has been so long since I’ve seen one of those eggs that I started to think I had just hallucinated them.

I spent some time in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago, however, and on one of my grocery runs I found a display rack full of those eggs.


Of course I bought one.  

I haven’t eaten it yet.  I put it on my desk right where I could look at it every day while I worked, because Tradition, that’s why.

On Sunday, I am going to eat the sugar icing flower (pausing momentarily to mourn the missing silver foil leaf, which has apparently not survived into the 21st century), and slice off a few bits to savor.  I will toast the Old Days.


And then, well, no doubt I will spend the rest of the day in a sugar coma.  I’m sure that’s in the Easter liturgy somewhere.