Thursday, July 20, 2017

Friends from Abroad

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

It explains a lot, actually.

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

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

Life is good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then we went to the Renaissance Faire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Returning to the Fold

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

Did I miss much?

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

I suppose.

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, we press on.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hamming It Up

Lauren has pigs now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t fault her for pursuing her goals.

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

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

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

And won’t that be a time?

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

Monday, June 26, 2017

News and Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Climate

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

False Impressions

People from other states think Pennsylvanians are drunks.

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

Perhaps it should be, but it isn't.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, they're good sturdy boxes.

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

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A New Milestone

We are officially out of Mighty Clever Guy Middle School, now that Lauren graduated last week.  It's a strange feeling.  Lauren and Tabitha did not overlap there at all, so I have been dropping off and picking up my children from MCGMS for six years now.  You kind of get used to the place.

Plus, it's been a lovely time.  The staff and teachers at MCGMS have been wonderful to us, and my children have grown and learned a great deal. 

Lauren really wrung every last drop from the place, too.  Her list of achievements is long and if I am not careful I will go on a Parent Brag Rant that would take up most of your remaining lifespan.  I can do that with both of my girls, really.  I am immensely proud of them.  You would be too.

Kim had to be out of town on business last week, unfortunately, so it was just me and Grandma at the ceremony.  Well, us and about five hundred other family members, friends, and assorted hangers on.  It's nice that these things are always so well attended here in Our Little Town.

It started with the band playing.  Lauren has been doing percussion for a couple of years now, and she was jumping around from instrument to instrument as they went through their songs.  She rocked the snare!  Among other things!  They did a nice job with the music overall - the band teacher this year was really good and she got a lot out of those kids - and you could hear it clearly, which is no small feat in a middle school gym.

The actual graduation ceremony was short and sweet, as they should be.  There were a couple of student speakers, who did a good job.  There was a Distinguished Alumna speaker whose speech was on point and relevant (never guaranteed at these things).  The staff read through all of the graduates, each of whom got to walk up and get their certificate and be applauded.  And then we were done.  One hour, start to finish, not including the time that Lauren spent to help clean up which is a sign of character, really, and therefore the wait is okay.

Next year they will both be at Local Businessman High - the first time since Not Bad President Elementary that they will share a school.  LBHS is close enough that I don't have to pick anyone up from school at the end of the day, though the practical realities of jacking teenagers and their parents out of bed in the morning will mean drop-offs will continue because nobody gets moving fast enough to have time to walk there.  So I have made my last pick up.

I've enjoyed those pick ups.  They have been time just to ourselves, to share the day or just ride in companionable silence.

Sunrise, sunset.

Congratulations, Lauren!  New and lovely things await you.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Chicken in Time

Ryland has passed on to whatever great reward awaits chickens.

There is no breading there.

We picked her out of a batch of chicks from a local breeder back in January, along with two others who turned out to be roosters.  We likely won’t go back to that breeder, as one of the roosters ended up with a gimpy leg and finally keeled over a couple of weeks ago, while Ryland developed wry neck – an odd condition where the head ends up 180 degrees off plumb so everything looks upside down.  It’s a selenium deficiency, aggravated by genetic factors, so I spent most of late February and early March hand feeding this sick chicken – grinding up selenium tablets and vitamin E (which helps with selenium absorption) and sitting in the living room with this chicken on my lap while she ate.

Poultry makes you do strange things.

Ryland recovered and eventually we shipped her out to the barn with all the other chickens, and she spent a happy couple of months looking slightly askew at the rest of the world and doing the things that chickens do.  She was also very docile and enjoyed being handled, which was kind of nice.  Most chickens are skittish that way, but Ryland seemed to find it comforting.

But sometime in early May we got to the barn and the wry neck was back.  And since the cure for this was simply to feed her three times a day with dosed up scrambled eggs – something you really can’t do at the barn, at least not with any convenience – we took her home, put her in a large cage, and let her live in the garage.  On nice days we’d set the cage up outside so she could get some air.

This chicken owed us a lot of eggs, by the end.

She seemed to get better for a while, and then she didn’t.  Yesterday you could tell that she was on her last legs – to be honest, I was surprised she was still there last night when I put her back in for the night.  And this morning she was gone.

I buried her in the back, behind the garage, with all the other random small animals who have passed on while in our care (or, in the case of a couple of stray cats who got trapped in our garage one hot summer week, simply on our property).  She is at peace now.

Farewell, Ryland.  You were a good chicken.

Tuesday, May 30, 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. “I just fired the head of the FBI.  He was crazy, a real nut job. … I faced great pressure because of Russia.  That’s taken off.”  Words of wisdom from der Sturmtrumper, who clearly doesn’t understand the concept of “obstruction of justice.”  Nor does he understand the idea of keeping his mouth shut and not doing his opponents’ jobs for them, and for that I suppose we should all be grateful.

2. How bad is it for der Sturmtrumper when even his allies are convinced he is on Russia’s payroll?  Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Majority Leader of the House, is actually on tape saying that directly to Paul Ryan.  They’ve resorted to the standby defense of every politician caught saying something he shouldn’t have said (“just a joke, folks!”) but after a while that defense gets a bit thin.

3. Der Sturmtrumper, following in Nixon’s footsteps in this as in so many other ways, spent some time abroad this month to try to deflect attention from the mounting crisis at home.  And his “big foreign trip” (his own words) was received with the same outright derision that he faces here whenever serious people pause to consider him.  “The dominant reaction to Trump right now is mockery,” said the editor of the conservative German journal, National Interest.  “The Trump administration is becoming an international laughingstock,” added Michael Werz, an expert on German politics here in the US.  Werz has been amazed by “how rapidly the American brand is depreciating over the last 20 weeks.”  Remember when all der Sturmtrumper’s supporters were howling about how weak a Hillary Clinton administration would make us look to the world?  Once again, the best way to understand who the GOP is these days is to see what they accuse their opponents of being.

4. This is why, of course, NATO spent so much time child-proofing their meetings with der Sturmtrumper.  “The president of the United States has a 12-second attention span,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg after meeting with him in the Oval Office.  Unprepared, ill-informed, a loose cannon – this is the American president these days.  NATO therefore took serious steps to minimize the demands on der Sturmtrumper at their next meeting this month – keeping their remarks to 2-4 minutes, limiting the opportunities for der Sturmtrumper to speak and go off the rails, finding some symbolic little thing that they can give to der Sturmtrumper so he can proclaim victory on Twitter.  The man is a menace to American security and a threat to US interests around the globe.  ISIS couldn’t have found a better way to attack the US than to get der Sturmtrumper into office.

5. Der Sturmtrumper managed to piss off Israel on this trip even before he set foot in the country.  He wasn’t allowed to land his helicopter on the World Heritage Site of Masada for fear of damaging it, so he took that off his agenda, and his visit to the Holocaust memorial was cut to a drive-by.  I guess he decided not to antagonize his neo-Nazi endorsers from last year, though he may want to think hard about US security and how it relates to the middle east sometime. 

6. The House GOP threw the rules into the gutter on the 19th in order to defeat a measure that would have promoted more equality for American citizens.  An amendment that would have stripped bigoted language from the NDAA had the votes to pass (217-206) when time was called, but rather than close the vote the GOP leadership held the vote open (a direct contradiction of Paul Ryan’s vow to obey House rules in such matters) while they pressured weak and spineless members to change their vote but also they refused to have vote switchers march to the front of the House and do so publicly as is normal procedure.  Even many Republicans thought this was beyond the pale – “This is bullshit,” said Robert Dold (R-IL), and Charlie Dent (R-PA) told Kevin McCarthy, the Majority Whip, to “get lost” when he tried to pressure Dent to change his vote.  At some point things will get so bad that the GOP will collapse and we may then get a grown-up conservative party in this country, but today is not that day.

7. The winner for this year’s “Most Blatantly Symbolic Geological Event” contest has already been declared, with the prize going to the giant sinkhole that suddenly appeared in front of der Sturmtrumper’s Florida compound.  Sorry folks – nothing can top that.  Try again next year.

8. Continuing on the theme of der Sturmtrumper’s unique ability to alienate strong US allies while kowtowing to enemies, both Israel and the UK are now so thoroughly disgusted by his toddler-level inability to keep from blabbing things that grown-ups understand should be kept confidential that they are revamping their intelligence-sharing programs with the US.  This leaves the US at a disadvantage in this hostile world, with gaping holes where we should have knowledge of possible threats on the horizon or actual threats here in our midst.  Think about that, folks – our strongest allies no longer trust the US with intelligence because the president is a child and his enablers and sycophants see nothing wrong with that.

9. As if on cue, der Sturmtrumper called his new BFF, Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte, whose version of the War on Drugs has seen roughly 3000 Filipinos murdered by police, and casually mentioned that the US has nuclear submarines stationed off the coast of North Korea – highly classified information that has made those submarines targets in ways that submarines are not generally supposed to be.  The whole point of a submarine, after all, is stealth.  Honestly, they should just replace his computer with an Etch-a-Sketch and set him up with a beauty pageant somewhere.

10. Der Sturmtrumper has released his “budget” upon the world and it is every bit as cruel, stupid, and destructive as expected.  Just to start with big-picture Stupid bit, there is the simple fact that supply-side economics does not work in a demand side economy and giving away wealth to the already wealthy is not going to do a damned thing for anyone else other than to make them poorer.  This has been proven statistically in any number of actual studies over the last half century, but the GOP does not deal in reality and so they will make the average American pay for welfare for the rich one more time, because doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is the hallmark of right-wing thinking in the US.

11. The more you drill down into this budget proposal, the more Stupid you find.  Der Sturmtrumper (or, more accurately, his minions – there is no way he has read, let alone understood, more than half a dozen words in this proposal, and if you tell me he wrote any part of it whatsoever I will hire someone to follow you around and laugh at you full time) assumes that somehow, magically, the American GDP will accelerate from its post-recession average of 2%/year to an annual rate of 3%/year – a 50% increase in the rate of expansion of the GDP, if you do the math – and it will continue to do so for the next ten years.  This on top of what is already the longest continuous stretch of economic growth in American history (thanks, Obama!).  “It assumes you’re going to go 206 months without a recession, which has never happened,” said former Reagan budget director David Stockman.  It also assumes that the labor force will grow at about 1.5%/year and hourly productivity will expand at more than 2%/year, despite the fact that those figures over the last decade have averaged 0.5% and less than 1% respectively.   “Without violating some of the most basic laws of economics and history, we are not going to get the kind of growth that will yield a balanced budget in ten years,” said Steve Bell, former staff director at the Senate Budget Committee.  Most people grow out of magical thinking by the time they hit fourth grade, but the American right wing can exist only within that bubble and so does not.

12. It’s worth noting that this budget will also collect a higher percentage of the GDP in taxes than Obama’s budget currently does, even with the welfare for the rich. 

13. Assuming the magic works, pigs start flying, and entropy goes into reverse, der Sturmtrumper’s minions estimate that this budget will generate two trillion dollars of extra revenue over the next decade.  They use this made-up number to justify the massive tax cuts for the wealthy and claim that this will be revenue-neutral and pay for itself.  The extra revenue, in other words, will pay for the tax cuts.  Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that rational economics hasn’t been invented yet and this is even remotely plausible.  It still doesn’t balance the books – you’re still not going to get a balanced budget at the end of it.  There is a deficit that needs to be eliminated.  Oh, but the minions say, that two trillion will pay for that!  Except that the two trillion is already paying for the tax cuts, and one of the first things that most people learn when it comes to money is that you can only count income once.  They’re lying to you, folks, and they don’t care if you know it.

14.  As for Cruel and Destructive, well, destroying the social safety net in order to provide lucre to the already wealthy is pretty much all you need to know.  As a historian it is interesting to be living through the re-imposition of an ancien-regime society of nobles and peasants onto what was once a thriving middle-class democracy, but two things here.  First, nobles by definition are a very small class, and most of the people who currently think they’re going to be part of it are going to be very surprised to find themselves turned into peasants when it inevitably works out that way.  And second, the ancien regime didn’t end very well in most places, often spectacularly so.  That ought to be a lesson, for those with the wit to see it.

15. I suppose I could go into the details of this budget – the slashing of health care for all but the wealthy, the destruction of American R&D, the blindly anti-science assault on progress, the weakening of American security and leadership, and so on – but really, nothing is all that surprising here.  This is what happens when the ignorant and the callous rule.

16. The Russian noose continues to tighten around der Sturmtrumper’s neck.  Now we have credible reports that der Sturmtrumper tried to get the DNI and the head of the NSA to publicly deny the existence of evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russian intelligence.  Both Daniel Coats and Admiral Michael Rogers, respectively, refused.  Meanwhile senior administration officials were apparently working to pressure the intelligence community to get the FBI probe of Michael Flynn dropped.  More and more comes to light with each passing day, and eventually even the most slavish of der Sturmtrumper’s supporters will have to face the fact that their guy is at best a subversive and at worst an actual traitor.  And then they will have to decide if they care.  My money is on no, actually, but we’ll see.

17. American spies were monitoring Russian intelligence and political officials last summer as they discussed how to exert influence over der Sturmtrumper and his minions, but at least we didn’t elect the woman, amiright?

18. And in Mississippi, where the 19th century never seems to have ended, a state representative named Karl Oliver publicly declared on his Facebook page that people who remove monuments celebrating the treason of the Confederacy “should be LYNCHED!”  Two of his fellow GOP legislators – John Read and Doug McLeod – liked the post.  This, it turned out, was too obscene even for the Mississippi GOP – several of whom were rather publicly unhappy at Oliver – and of course Oliver beat a hasty retreat from this once it hit the media, but that’s what happens when people like that get caught.  They’re sorry they got caught.  

19. Der Sturmtrumper really, really wanted to get into the front row of that picture, so naturally he shoved aside the Prime Minister of Montenegro.  Because that’s what happens when you elect a child.

20. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Montana GOP House candidate Greg Gianforte decided that assaulting a journalist was a good idea, and to be honest given the rhetoric that comes out of der Sturmtrumper and his minions these days I can see where he got that idea.  He was charged with assault and several major Montana newspapers took the unprecedented step of rescinding their endorsement on the grounds that he was a mindless thug who shouldn’t be walking the streets unsupervised let alone representing them in the seat of power, but his campaign recorded more than $100,000 in donations after the assault was made public and the good citizens of Montana did in fact elect this criminal as their representative.  So the GOP is now openly electing criminals because, well, why bother to hide it, really?  The GOP base certainly approves.  They elected a president who openly bragged about sexual assault, didn’t they?

21. This just made my day when it came across my Facebook feed.

It’s a variation of a joke that goes back at least to Barry Goldwater.  “They told me that if I voted for Goldwater the war in Vietnam would escalate.  I did, and it did!”  It often gets attributed to William F. Buckley, since he was a conservative who could actually put together complete sentences and logical arguments (and don’t we miss those!), but it seems to have been fairly common back in 1965 and I’ve heard variations of it targeted at everyone from Reagan to Obama.  Doesn’t make it any less true in this situation, though.

22. Apparently the GOP now wants to make it legal for them to cold call your cell phone and leave you a voicemail without your phone ever ringing, because they’re the party of less intrusive government or something.  The sheer power-mad hypocrisy of the GOP knows no ceiling and, apparently no floor – there is nothing so petty that it won’t be tried.

23. So der Sturmtrumper wants to stop the sales of German cars in the US.  Does he realize how many of those cars are made here in the US?  Probably not.

24. How bad are things when reporters start to feel sorry for Sean Spicer?  The man is a devout Catholic and was probably the staffer most hoping to meet with the Pope, yet he was bundled aside and never got to do so.  Even the White House press corps – a group that has no love for Spicer and even less cause to have any – thought that was petty.  It “speaks to a small-mindedness I find incredibly depressing” said NY Times reporter Glenn Thrush, whose clashes with Spicer have become staples of Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Spicer on Saturday Night Live.  But that’s der Sturmtrumper for you.

25. Tourism to the US has dropped 11% compared to last year when der Sturmtrumper was just a fringe candidate wallowing in his own corruption and ignorance.  Meanwhile, tourism in the rest of the world has increased by 6%.  Do the math, and that’s a 17-point relative decline over this time last year.  And honestly, who can blame the tourists for not wanting to visit this country right now?  Between the random unlawful searches of phones and other devices, the decline of the rule of law, and the general rise of militant ignorance and head-in-the-sand America-First disease, I certainly wouldn’t advise people to come here right now.  This is a shame.  We’re a great country currently ruled by a criminal junta, and it’s costing us both respect and money.

26. Remember when der Sturmtrumper fired all the US attorneys and all the right-wingers said this was Perfectly Normal because those attorneys are always replaced by incoming presidents?  We’re well past 100 days into this authoritarian regime, and they still haven’t been replaced yet.  What’s the excuse now?

27. Der Sturmtrumper’s recent European Vacation was an unmitigated disaster for American security and leadership.  He was humiliated on an international stage by foreign leaders who understand how utterly hollow and easy to manipulate he is, and those leaders are now talking openly about going it alone without American leadership since none of that leadership is left anymore.  Under this president the US is no longer the leader of what was once called the free world, and as long as he remains in power we will never be again.  We have sacrificed whatever moral authority we once had on the altar of right-wing nonsense, and we are poorer for it.  When you elect a clown, you get a circus.

28. Jared Kushner – the utility infielder of der Sturmtrumper’s administration and family – seems to have been working for the Russians for quite some time now, if all those “secret backchannel” stories have any weight to them at all.  Remember when conspiring with Russian agents in direct contradiction of federal law was treason?  Poor Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – born seventy years too soon.

29. The thinking conservatives who remain in this country are starting to realize that they have nobody representing them at all.  Steve Schmidt managed John McCain’s 2008 campaign – you know, the one that foisted Sarah Palin off onto the world? – and his verdict in the wake of the Montana Debacle is fairly clear.  “The MT incident is one more example of the rotten, fetid and corrupt culture that has metastasized around an intellectually bankrupt GOP and conservative movement,” he wrote on May 25.  “The rotten culture is derivative of an epic leadership deficit on the part of the GOP’s elected leaders and the voices of the conservative media complex.  The disintegration of the conservative movement and GOP on a moral and values basis is not just tragic but terrible for the country.  The work of restoring trust, credibility and decency will take many years.”  If they’re lucky.

30. According to Newsweek, nearly half of the 31 million followers on der Sturmtrumper’s Twitter account – just over 15 million – are fake.  That’s 49% fake followers, for those mathematically inclined.  This is a sharp increase since the inauguration in January, when only (“only”!) 32% of his followers were fake accounts.  In April 2016, when der Sturmtrumper was still a long-shot candidate for the presidency, only 8% of his followers were fake.  It must be nice to live in a bubble.  More to the point, that’s a lot of amplification for whatever lies, idiocy, and misdirection der Sturmtrumper wishes to unleash upon an unsuspecting public.

32. I’m not really sure why I persist in noting all of these things here.  Perhaps it is simply that I want it documented that I refuse to accept this monstrous administration or its actions.  This is my country, and I will not see it torn down in the name of shallow greed and malevolent ignorance without protesting.  Perhaps that is enough.  For now.

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.


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?”


“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.