Sunday, May 29, 2011

24th Amendment, Anyone?

So the Wisconsin Voter Suppression Act of 2011 is now the law of the land, apparently.

This is appalling – a bald-faced attempt by the Teabaggers to render themselves above the will of the citizenry of the republic and of a piece with their general contempt for democracy in any form – but not really surprising. Really, the only odd part is that it took them this long to get it enacted. Most Americans have no real interest in protecting their own rights or preserving the foundations of the United States from the assaults of authoritarian power, so you’d think the Teabaggers –business-worshipping streamlining experts, the lot of them, or so they claim – would have been more efficient about it.

So much for that myth.

The Teabaggers have tried to sell this as an attempt to stem an alleged tide of voter fraud. This is nonsense. There is no voter fraud, not among the electorate (though among the people who count the votes, now that’s another story). A two-year investigation by the Teabagger Attorney General of Wisconsin – a man so nakedly partisan that it’s almost refreshing in its lack of pretense – found exactly 11 potentially fraudulent votes out of nearly 3,000,000 votes cast. For those of you not good at math, that works out to just shy of 0.0004% of the votes, a rate that would be considered unproblematic by anyone with any actual contact with reality.

Face it, if the current Attorney General of Wisconsin can’t come up with anything that would support his own political ambitions, it’s probably not an issue.

So it’s not about voter fraud.

No, this is an attempt to disenfranchise voters who don’t have a photo ID.

The last time I checked, having a photo ID was not a requirement for American citizenship. There’s nothing in the Constitution about having a photo ID, which makes me wonder once again about the sincerity of the Teabaggers’ loudly professed love for that document. Isn't the whole ID thing one of the big paranoid charges of the extreme right wing, anyway? I wish these people would be consistent.

You have to remember who's being targeted here. The people who don’t have photo IDs tend to be poor. They tend to be non-white. They tend to be young. They tend to be students (and no, college IDs don’t count). And they tend to regard the Teabaggers as the hateful blots on the American republic that they are, which makes them ideal people to disenfranchise, from the Teabagger point of view.

There are any number of things that are wrong with the Wisconsin Voter Suppression Act of 2011, and to list them all here would require a stronger stomach than I possess.

But there is one that hasn’t gotten much attention, as far as I can tell.

The Wisconsin Voter Suppression Act of 2011 requires potential voters to have one of only a handful of types of photo IDs. You can have a drivers’ license. You can have a military ID card, which would probably be for absentee voters since the military tends to move people about the country and the world rather than leave them home. Or you can have a state ID, which you can get through the Department of Transportation, the same people who provide drivers’ licenses.

Now, the military IDs are one thing. I’m not in the military – never have been – so I won’t comment on how those work.

But the one thing that the civilian IDs that the vast majority of Wisconsin voters would be required by law to possess have in common is that the DOT will charge you money for them.

You have to pay the state a fee.

Let me say that a little plainer. Under the terms of the Wisconsin Voter Suppression Law of 2011, you are required to pay the state a fee in order to possess the required qualifications to vote.

In other words, this is a poll tax.

And it is unconstitutional.

The United States Constitution, as amended by the 24th Amendment in 1964, bans the imposition of a poll tax, however nominal, for any reason, in any federal election. It’s quite plain.

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice-President, for electors for President or Vice-President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”

The Wisconsin Voter Suppression Act of 2011 does not differentiate between elections in which there are candidates running for federal office and elections in which there are not. It simply describes what it wants all voters to do in order to vote in any election in Wisconsin.

The State of Wisconsin is not empowered to check the ballots of voters to make sure that they vote only in some races and not others. Therefore, unless the State of Wisconsin wishes to hold separate elections for purely state and local races, it cannot demand a poll tax of its citizens. That is not in the bill.

The Wisconsin Voter Suppression Act of 2011 does allow individual voters to petition to have a free ID rather than paying for it, but one assumes that such petitions are judged on some criteria and either accepted or rejected. If the State rejects so much as a single petition, it would be effectively enforcing a poll tax. Further, even if all petitions are accepted the fact is that not all voters will ask, and the further fact that some voters have to pay and others don’t doesn’t seem to be sufficient to wiggle out of the determination that this is, in fact an unconstitutional poll tax.

Funny thing about the Constitution – it has some interesting bits in it, for those who bother to read it.

I wish more people would.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Automotive Education

I have got to stop getting my car fixed at the local dealership.

This has nothing to do with the quality of service I receive there. They do a fine job with my car, as far as I can tell.

Nor is it the fact that it isn’t even my dealership, since my car is a Pontiac and they don’t make them anymore. The place I bought it dried up and blew away even before the official announcement of that fact (it now serves a dual function as a monument to the automotive industry’s death spiral and – around Halloween time – a costume shop), so this place ended up saddled with us Pontiac drivers. You can tell they’re not all that pleased about it but then neither am I, so I figure that makes us even.

It’s not even their stubborn refusal to put signs up anywhere so you know where to pull in. The dealership is a large off-white building surrounded by squadrons of vehicles and pierced by any number of doors, openings, passageways and avenues, none of which have any indication as to whether or not you should be pulling into them for service. I spent a good quarter hour circling the place like a vulture this morning before I finally picked one at random and – eventually – got some directions to the proper opening. This happened twice before I managed to get to the actual proper opening, but so it goes.

No, the reason I have to stop doing that is that every time I go there I am forcibly reminded that a surprisingly large percentage of my fellow Americans are idiots.

I know.

It’s not like this is news to anyone who pays attention, but for some reason it becomes a lot clearer when I’m waiting for my car to be fixed. I don’t know why.

Last time I was there I spent half an hour of my life that I will never get back listening to a guy tell me that the Constitution had an explicit clause in it referring Americans directly back to the Bible for any political question not covered by the Constitution itself. What can you possibly say to convince someone who believes something that stupid that they are mistaken? Whatever it was I never found it and I’m sure he continues to think that I am the weird one.

This time it wasn’t any of my fellow denizens of the waiting room, all of whom were admirably wrapped up in their own affairs and thus too preoccupied to impinge on mine. No, this time it was CNN.

Now, I don’t really like watching CNN. I don’t even go to their website. I find that their definition of “news” to be a bullet-point list of everything that is wrong with journalism in America today, from their obsession with the activities of people whom a proper society would either ignore or institutionalize to their casual substitution of snark for analysis to their persistent refusal to recognize their own political spin to their utter fascination with nifty images that don’t really add up to information in any meaningful way.

They don’t usually make stuff up out of whole cloth though, which puts them one step ahead of Fox News, so I suppose there is that to be grateful for.

But there I was, trying to read my book while being blared at by one anchor (definition: a large heavy object whose main function is to impede progress) after another blathered on about one nonstory after another, and eventually the whole train-wreck awfulness of it began to exert its bitter fascination and I had to stop and watch.

I think the blathering that finally did it for me was their Big Investigative Report (which, as far as I could tell, amounted to putting the question up on their Facebook page and then reading the answers out loud a half hour later) on the burning issue, “Is College Worth It?”

They tried very hard to tell us that it was not – they had some b-roll footage that sort of made that point and they were determined to use it no matter what – and when the Facebook responses mostly took the opposite side they did their best to dismiss them as cute but not really on point, one after another as they read them. And then the b-roll footage appeared. Rinse, lather, repeat.

This is what news is these days? The forced molding of random input into the pre-determined shape of a desired outcome? On a question that more than anything else reveals to the world how much these people fetishize their own ignorance?

Apparently so.

There are two problems with the whole setup for this little affair.

First of all, it was clear that the anchors (see definition, above) were conflating two very different questions into one.

To begin with, there is the question – “is a college education worthwhile?”

This is an outcome-based question. In order to answer it you need to know where people are before their education, where they go after, where similar people without such educations end up, and whether the difference is important and by what criteria. And no matter how you slice it, the answer is almost always “yes, it is worthwhile.”

It’s worthwhile from an economic standpoint. A college degree still counts as an entry form for most high-paying jobs. You can argue whether it should or not, but that’s not as important as the fact that it is. And yes there are high-paying jobs that don’t require a degree, but in point of fact on average a college degree is worth about $900,000 more than a high school degree over a lifetime and a Master’s degree about $1.2 million more. That’s not chump change, and not even the most outlandishly priced private university charges enough to make that not cost-effective.

It’s worthwhile from an intellectual standpoint. Whatever economic fruits a degree will bear, there is also the fact that – at least in theory – a student will learn a few things while in college. And it’s not just information. Information is why there are reference books. College is about learning what to do with information. They will learn to think critically, analyze responsibly and challenge their preconceived notions with new ideas. They will be exposed to new ways of looking at things, new things to look at, and new ideas about themselves and their place in the world. And the point is not necessarily to change their mind about anything so much as it is to have them think whatever they end up thinking for better and more soundly-based reasons.

It’s also worthwhile from a cultural standpoint. Students at universities are often exposed to different sorts of people, ideas, cultures and activities than they would have been otherwise. With any luck this will teach them not to confuse “normal” with “familiar” the way most people do. It’s not guaranteed – certainly a lot of students never make that leap and there are quite a few places in this country that call themselves universities that actively discourage this sort of thing– but it ought to happen if you do it right.

Yes, you can do all these things without a college degree. You can make lots of money, firm up your intellect and widen your cultural exposure in other ways. Lots of people do – I can name quite a few and I’m sure you can too. But statistically you are more likely to do so with one. And that makes it worthwhile.

But there is also another question that got folded into this one by the CNN anchors without them acknowledging it – “is college for everybody?”

And the answer to that is a resounding no.

Some people – like the ones described a couple paragraphs above – don’t need college to do any of those things. They can exercise their economic options, intellectual development or cultural exposures by working in the corporate world, forming their own entrepreneurial enterprises, traveling on their own, joining the Navy, volunteering for their communities, or any number of other such avenues.

And you know what? More power to them.

If they have the discipline and the fortitude and the resources to do stuff like that – to focus on those things, to appreciate them when they arrive and take advantage of them when they do – then really they don’t need college. They can do it on their own. These people are not nearly as common as they like to think they are, but they’re out there and I tip my hat to them.

Other people really are not cut out for higher education. Academic work is a very specialized skill, and not everybody has it or can develop it. There’s no particular shame in this – I can’t fix my car, and I don’t see why I should expect that everyone in the world can write a research paper. I see a lot of these students, though – they’re told they have to go to college and they go and they fail. In an economy with a shrinking manufacturing sector, I wonder where they will go. They’re not stupid, but college is not really for them.

Still other people can handle college but they have obstacles that get in the way. Some of those obstacles are self-inflicted problems – they’re not mature enough, they don’t work hard enough, they don’t take it seriously. And some of those obstacles are simply things these people have no control over at all – family crises, medical emergencies, things like that. College is not for them, not now, and they tend not to last very long on a campus. These folks very often get past those obstacles at some point, however, and they mature, they work, they resolve their emergencies and crises, and they turn into people who do quite well in college.  And then it does become worthwhile for them.

So you have to keep those two questions in mind. They’re different. College is definitely worthwhile, but it isn’t for everyone.

The second problem I had with the CNN report was the basic attitude behind it – crisply articulated by one of the interviewees on the b-roll – that the real point of the story wasn’t whether college was worthwhile so much as whether education in general was worthwhile.

We live in an era that prizes stupid.

We live in a culture where to be a trained intellect is to be an outcast, a figure of suspicion or derision, and where ignorance is a badge of honor.

It doesn’t seem to be working very well, but not many people really care. And that worries me.

By going to college, students learn to question assumptions. They learn that other cultures and other people do things differently, that theirs isn’t the Only True Path, that things have in fact been different in the past and will be different in the future, and that people who claim absolute authority or moral purity are a dime a dozen and worth even less than that.

Educated people are by definition dangerous people to those who would rule a complacent herd, and when we denigrate the entire idea of education we lose one of the foundational principles of the republic.

Who are the new bad guys in America? Teachers. And now students. And that’s not a good sign for the future of my country.

Next time I’m going to go to my regular mechanic.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Running and Jumping

My favorite part of my brief and rather unsuccessful track and field career, way back in high school, were the meets.

Practice was always a drag, especially since the coach never really made any allowances for the sprinters when it came time to warm up. Everybody run a mile, he’d tell us, not realizing that the reason we became sprinters was that none of us really had any desire to run anything more than 200 meters unless there were wolves chasing us. And since wolves were fairly scarce in the suburbs of Philadelphia at the time, we always felt a little hard done by.

But the meets were exciting. They were a constant barrage of races and events interspersed with droning announcements and runners milling about aimlessly while waiting to be told by one of those announcements where to report to next. And sometimes there would be something exciting going on.

Today was the annual city-wide track meet here in Our Little Town, the 84th time this has been done for the 5th graders, apparently. And it was exciting, as these things tend to be.

It was also cold. Last year’s version was at least 30 degrees warmer. On the plus side, you didn’t have to worry about sunburns this year. On the down side, well, sitting on a metal bleacher in 55-degree weather for three hours is something that would have been less troublesome when I was myself in 5th grade.

Kim was off at one of those administrative meetings that plague her world these days, so it was up to me to get everyone coordinated and off to the proper locations in time this morning. And having done that I headed off to the stadium and settled in for the event.

Promptly at 8:15am a fleet of school buses pulled up to the gates and disgorged squadrons of students resplendent in their eye-wateringly-bright t-shirts. They marched over to their respective portions of the bleachers, sat down, and as if on cue the announcer started droning on about who needed to be where.

Tabitha’s events were mostly at the beginning.

Her first event was the long jump, where she took third.

She promptly walked over to the 50-yard-dash line and survived the first heat to place 5th in the finals.

There followed a short break while we watched all of the other kids running, jumping and throwing. Some of them were most impressive. Others were mostly there to try hard and have fun. And the crowd – a rather large group for a Tuesday morning, when you think about it – cheered them on regardless.

After a while Tabitha was called out for the high jump, and when the dust settled it was clear that she had won it! Go Tabitha!

The final event of the day was the 4x50 relay, which involves nearly everyone and looks like nothing so much as the jailbreak scene from The Golden Compass, but with fewer wolves – wolves being fairly scarce in Our Little Town at present. And thus the narrative comes full circle.

The Not Bad President Elementary team fell victim to a bad baton pass in the first round, but made it into the finals and took third place.

It was a sporting good time.

Nice work, Tabitha. I’m proud of you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Theater of the Apocalypse Returns: Now With Photos!

I got my camera back, much to my surprise.

Not that I thought somebody had stolen it, mind you. This is Wisconsin after all, and a 4H event to boot. You could probably leave loose diamonds out on the table and somebody would turn them in to the lost and found. It’s a nice place to live that way.

No, the problem with getting the camera back was that both Home Campus, where this event took place, and the 4H program in general are state institutions, and all of us had a mandatory furlough day today. So nobody was in yesterday, and nobody was in today, and there’s events tomorrow that I really wanted my camera for and the air just had bones and life was sad and deflated. Fortunately a friend found my camera and rather than put it into a lost and found she put it on Kim’s desk down at Home Campus.

So there are now pictures.

I didn’t take any pictures during the actual performance, as it was dark – most of the play took place while Mother Owl refused to wake the sun, which meant that not only were the house lights out but the stage lights were only up at around 30% - and I was busy videotaping it anyway.

But I did get a nice picture of our board operator beforehand.

And as you can see, the award our troop got for stage makeup was fully deserved.

It was a happy crew all around.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Theater of the Apocalypse

So how did you spend the Apocalypse? We were in the theater most of the day.

The theater is probably the safest place to be in the event of any planned end of the world, since nothing in the theater is susceptible to any sort of rational planning. Things just sort of work themselves out, and eventually the curtain falls. I have always thought that if there were ever to be an actual Apocalypse, it would be kind of like that. Or at least it should be.

Although in the theater, sometimes there are snacks. Will there be snacks when the world ends? I certainly hope so. Also, beverages.

Today was the big 4H play competition down at Home Campus.

Of course people can turn theater into a competitive sport. People turn cooking into a competitive sport. Why not theater?

Our 4H troop has been diligently rehearsing for some weeks now, every Wednesday night, under the watchful eye of Director Jamie and Student Director Addie, polishing up a nifty little African-derived parable about how the mosquito got to be such a buzzing nuisance. We joined in a bit late, due to other commitments, but Lauren signed on as an owlet (trust me, in context it made sense) and Tabitha ended up running the lighting board.

We were the only one of the 4H clubs who thought to have lighting cues. Competitive edge!

We also had kick-butt make-up, mostly done by the kids themselves. Another competitive edge!

The day started early, with all of the various set-up that such an event requires, and – with nearly a dozen groups trying to put on 10-15-minute plays in the same space over the span of a morning and an early afternoon, none of whom were given any real directions as to how this was to go – it was appropriately chaotic.

Somewhere in there I lost my camera, so photos will be somewhat delayed. You'll have to take my word for it.

But despite an audience that simply would not stop talking or at least tone down the volume so that those of us who wanted to listen to the acting actually could, it all worked out in the end. Our 4H troop was the 7th one on the schedule and only went up half an hour late. Everybody remembered their lines. Nobody fell off the stage. The owlets were appropriately adorable. The lighting cues happened more or less exactly where they were supposed to happen. And the judges gave them each a blue ribbon.

I’m not sure what that entails for the next round of Theater Kombat: The Reckoning, but we were happy.

And the world did not end, though there were snacks.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Forgotten Man: In Which I Start With Someone Else's Words and Take Them Where They May or May Not Have Been Meant to Go

Alexander Kerensky is the forgotten man of the 20th century.

When Americans think about the Russian Revolution of 1917 …

Oh, who am I kidding. Americans don’t think about the Russian Revolution of 1917. To do so would be to acknowledge that the world continues to exist in physical form beyond the county line and has done so for longer than they’ve been alive, neither of which most Americans are willing to admit these days. It would challenge their unshakable conviction that the world has always been just like it is here and now, a conviction that somehow manages to withstand an equally passionately held conviction that things were better back in some indefinable past before the [insert derogatory collective noun here] showed up and mucked things up for decent folks.

Yeah, I’m feeling a little cynical about my fellow citizens these days. Sue me. I think I’ve earned the right.

So Americans really don’t think about the Russian Revolution of 1917 all that much. But on those rare occasions when they are forced to do so, such as (hypothetically speaking) when a professor teaching Western Civ II tells them about it, they are almost always shocked to learn that Vladimir Lenin and the Communists did not take over the government of Russia directly from the Czar. The Czar had been overthrown eight months earlier, in fact, and there were therefore two Russian Revolutions of 1917 to consider – the February Revolution, which happened in March, and the October Revolution, which happened in November.

Calendars. How do they freaking work?

For those eight months in 1917 – a brief interregnum between autocracy and totalitarianism – Alexander Kerensky gave to Russia a liberal democratic government, one that was astonishingly forward thinking for its day. He enacted a sweeping program of reforms, abolishing the old aristocracy at a stroke and instituting civil rights legislation such as freedom of religion, speech and assembly. His government greatly expanded the rights of women, including giving them the right to vote at a time when American women were still on the outside of politics looking in. For a short while, it looked as if Russia was going to join the European family of liberal democratic nations.

It couldn’t last, and it didn’t.

Kerensky’s Provisional Government – no, it never got a real name, just a temporary one – faced a number of crises that it could not solve during the time it was in power. The Russian military hated it, in part because Kerensky refused to withdraw Russia from World War I. The Provisional Government also never really managed to consolidate power into its own hands, instead sharing it with various workers’ councils known as “soviets” (which is where the next government would get its name – a real name of its own). And it had to deal with Vladimir Lenin, whose Bolshevik movement eventually overthrew the Provisional Government and instituted a new autocracy, one that would rule Russia for nearly three quarters of a century.

Among their many disturbing qualities, the Bolsheviks were enemies of democracy. For all that they talked about ruling in the name of the People (with a capital P that was usually audible in their diction), they did not really care to be ruled by the people. The common citizens were there to be ruled, to be led by their betters, to be forcibly herded into the proper moral, social, political, economic and cultural channels by those who knew better than they.

Bolshevik rule was a tragedy of monumental proportions.

The interplay between the doomed Kerensky (who lived to a ripe old age in exile in the United States, by the way) and the Bolshevik Lenin has been on my mind a lot lately, here in The Land Of The Free (tm), in large part because I can see some of that happening now.

In the comments section of my post on the return of the Articles of Confederation the other day, Eric noted in regard to the Teabagger efforts to remake the Constitution to their liking that:

The gist of their [the Teabaggers’] complaint is that the process is broken because it didn't produce what they wanted, but the truth is that the most likely scenarios in which they get what they want are, in fact, anti-democratic, anti-majoritarian ones.

They are, aren’t they?

And I have no doubt that they will embark on just such strategies to get their way, too. I’ve lived that dream here in Wisconsin for the past few months, and it’s wearing on a body.

That’s the part about the Teabaggers that worries me the most, actually. It’s not their harebrained view of history – trust a professional historian, harebrained ideas of history are not unusual in this country. It’s not their unworkable economic ideas, which will never get implemented because there is too much greed arrayed against such impediments to wealth-gathering, and the power of greed is not to be challenged in the United States as it is currently constituted. It’s not even their clear inability to recognize reality as it exists outside of their ideological cocoon, a trait which they share with a whole lot of people these days. No, it is simply this: for all that they claim to be a libertarian movement aimed at smaller government and more “freedom,” howsoever they define that term, in point of actual fact if you look at what they are doing it is abundantly clear that they are an authoritarian movement bent on forcibly herding the rest of us into what they consider the proper moral, social, political, economic and cultural channels.

They are not interested in democracy. They are not interested in the will of the majority. They know what is best and the consider themselves to have a mandate from all that is True, Good and Holy to inflict it on everyone else whether they want it or not.

They are the American Bolsheviks.  The program changes, but the attitude remains the same.

Here in Wisconsin, for example, the extreme right wing of the Republican Party – the Teabagger tail that has wagged that dog all year – has made it patently clear that they have no actual interest in things like the democratic process, the rule of law, or constitutional safeguards (regardless of whether you talk about state or national constitutions). Their attitude is that they are in charge, they know better than the rest of us do, and we are there to be ruled.

This is why you see such pushback from the Teabaggers against elections, for example.

As with all of the other ALEC-inspired right-wing state governments these days, Wisconsin Teabaggers are doing their best to disenfranchise the voters who might conceivably want a say in their own state, on the grounds that such a say would likely contradict the will of their Teabagger betters.

Thus you see one of the most restrictive Voter ID bills in the US being rammed through the legislature in the hopes that it will be signed before the summer’s recall elections. They will tell you this is an effort to combat voter fraud, but if you do the research you will find that there actually is very little voter fraud in America. Oddly enough, most of the fraud in recent elections seems to have come from the right wing officials running the elections rather than any left-wing voters trying to participate in them. It’s not about fraud. It’s about limiting the voice of the American people in the running of their own government, so that their betters can herd them along where they want them to go.

Thus you also see a hurried attempt at redistricting also being rammed through the Wisconsin legislature these days in the hopes that it will nullify the recalls as well by confusing what voters the Teabaggers do finally allow to vote.

It’s also why you see such complaints from the Teabaggers regarding the ongoing recount in the State Supreme Court election which was held on April 5. It’s too expensive, they say. It’s political harassment, they say. It’s frivolous, they say. Non-Teabaggers should just accept that the final margin of victory – less than 7500 votes out of 1.5 million votes cast – was provided entirely by votes which were magically discovered 24 hours after the polls closed, on the personal computer of the County Clerk of the most heavily Republican county in Wisconsin, a clerk with a long history of suspicious vote counting and a reprimand in her file from her own County Board for excessive partisanship, and a computer with no connections to the state-run system, running privately-written software instead of the state-approved system. Because they know better than we do.

It’s why the Teabaggers who control the Wisconsin legislature refused to allow the minority party even to vote on key issues. It’s why they are so willing to violate the law in the pursuit of their goals. It’s why they get so touchy and defensive whenever the subject of the will of the majority comes up.

It’s Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) and his bludgeoning campaign to consolidate all political power in Wisconsin into his hands by converting elected positions into appointed ones, by moving the tasks assigned to appointed officials he can’t control into the hands of those he can, and by systematically undermining the authority of those elected officials – such as the Secretary of State – whom he cannot eliminate. Because he knows what the People of Wisconsin should be doing better than those people themselves, apparently. Or at least his Koch-Brothers-funded, ALEC-ghost-written handlers do, anyway.

They are the Bolsheviks of Wisconsin.

And it’s not just Wisconsin, as Eric may or may not have pointed out depending on how much of my own point I can stuff into his words (hey – it’s a neat parlor game! Fun for the whole family!). It’s the United States in general.

You see it in the the fact that the Teabagger attitude toward elections that is evident in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court fight is a straightforward rehash of Republican attacks during the 2000 presidential election, when the possibility that the will of the people of the United States had been thwarted by corrupt and/or incompetent electoral officials never seemed to matter as much as the drive to win at all costs, the denigration of the entire idea of electoral transparency and Constitutional standards, the ironic slashing of state rights in favor of a Supreme Court decision, and the willingness to rig the entire system in order to get the desired results. I have no idea who really won in Florida that year and neither does anyone else. We will never know. And that – more than an actual Republican victory – scares me.

You see it in the willingness of this group to push forward an agenda that even many conservatives find extreme, because of the certainty among the Teabaggers that they know and you don’t and you should just take it. Seriously, when Newt Gingrich tells you that your plan is too radically right-wing, even if he backtracks on it when you beat him over the head with his words, maybe you ought to take a long hard look at what you’re trying to do and why.

You see it in their oft-stated position that they speak directly to God and don’t need to listen to the people of the United States for guidance. Listen to them when they say that. They mean it. We used to put people like that in padded cells instead of political office, and the nation would probably be better off if we went back to that practice.

You see it all over, in ways that get tedious and frightening to catalogue.

Bolsheviks, every one of them.

And the great lesson that Alexander Kerensky provides is that in the face of a concerted Bolshevik attack, liberal democracy can be astonishingly fleeting.

We forget Kerensky, the forgotten man, at our peril.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Holes In Their Heads

I am now a minority in my own house.

Of course, this is nothing new. I’m the only non-native midwesterner, the only one who thinks the Three Stooges are funny, and the only one even including the cats who has a Y chromosome. My guess is those last two are related, though the first one stands on its own.

My latest foray into minorityhood came on Saturday, when Tabitha came bouncing up to me to announce that she and Kim were going off to the mall to get her ears pierced.

Now, I had no particular objection to this. I’m not one of those parents who finds such things to be the latest sign of the apocalypse. I look for such portents in our politics these days and am frankly overwhelmed by them to the point where looking for them elsewhere seems gratuitous. I will admit that I thought 11 was a bit young for such things, but Tabitha is a responsible young woman and more girls in her class have pierced ears than not.

I will admit that I was a bit skeptical about how my eldest child, who has more than inherited my phobia of needles, would fare. But since Kim was the one going to the mall with her, I filed that on the large and ever-growing pile of things labeled “Not My Problem” and moved on.

Ninety minutes later, they were back.

Tabitha had apparently done a magnificent job of not panicking (which we plan to use against her for every scheduled shot in every doctor’s appointment for the rest of her life), there were two shining new cubic zirconia stuck in her head, and Lauren was eager for her turn.

Now, I found that I was in fact one of those parents when it came to Lauren, who is 8 these days, but not by much. As long as she’s willing to put in the effort of taking care of them – dabbing them with cleaner three times a day, I suppose I can live with it.

It’s not a moral decision, in other words. So many things in life are not moral decisions, and the world is a much simpler place for recognizing that.

So back they went – Kim, Tabitha and now Lauren – and back they came, two daughters with matching cubic zirconium earrings.

They were very excited and very happy.

I’m not really sure why having holes punched in your head would make you happy, but then I am not a pre-teen girl either.

And three cheers for that.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On the Return of the Articles of Confederation

Every so often I read something in the newsy part of the blogosphere and I think, “That can’t be right. Nobody could possibly be that stupid.” And invariably I find myself confronted with the one, basic, overriding fact of the universe, the fact upon which all facts are based and from which no facts can hide:

Oh yes they can.

Whenever you hear an idea so blindingly stupid that it actually sucks intelligence out of a room, so pointlessly vapid that the only way a responsible human being could even enunciate it, let alone attempt to believe it, would be for that human being to have their brains scooped out with a plastic spork and replaced with cottage cheese – low fat cottage cheese, mind you – and so blisteringly appalling that its believers should be roundly horsewhipped just for conceiving of such a thing and bringing it into existence on this plane of reality, whenever you hear such an idea you can be sure that yes, indeed, it has adherents. Powerful adherents. Adherents that want to force you to behave in accordance with their mental handicaps. Adherents who cannot understand why this idea will cause normal people to perform actual spit-takes as if they were in an old vaudeville routine.

You can also be pretty sure that this idea has traction among the Teabaggers.

Because that is the function Teabaggers serve in the political landscape of the modern United States – they are miner’s canaries for stupid. Whenever they get excited and hop up and down on one foot and start chirping in that inane way that they do, the clear meaning is that the toxins in the air have reached crippling levels, the level of idiocy is about to go through the roof, and the job of responsible citizens is going to be to figure out a way out of the situation before irreparable harm befalls the republic.

They’re handy that way, Teabaggers.

The latest iteration of this routine comes to me courtesy of a group of right-wing extremists currently in Congress.

I know. Who’d have thought, huh? The same group of people who think that the House of Representatives gets to decide what is and isn’t law when a bill gets bottled up in the Senate, regardless of what the President does? They have more stupid ideas where that one came from?

Who. Would. Have. Guessed.

Apparently a bunch of these guys have decided that the problem with the United States today is, in fact, the Constitution itself.

And I can understand that. Really, I can. If they can undo the Constitution, then they no longer have to try to find a time to read it – something they clearly have not done yet – nor do they have to find someone to explain it to them once it has been read, in the short, easy words to which they revert whenever challenged by reality.

Specifically, these Teabaggers are proposing to amend the Constitution to allow states to nullify federal laws.

That spinning sound you hear out there? James Madison in his grave. Harness him – maybe we can generate electricity and get something positive out of this deal.

Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick, people – don’t these pantsless buffoons know why the Constitution was written in the first place?

The Federal Constitution of 1787 was not the first framework of government this country tried. This always comes as a shock to people, but really it shouldn’t. We declared independence in 1776. The Constitution was written in 1787. Do the math – that’s eleven years where something else had to be doing the heavy lifting of national government. That something else was the Articles of Confederation.

The Confederation government had a lot on its plate – fight the Revolution, find allies, make treaties, negotiate the peace, deal with the inevitable economic crisis that follows wars like that, resolve the crushing debt issues that came out of the war, try to unite a fractious and suspicious people into a fractious and suspicious country, figure out what to do with all the western territory that now belonged to the new republic – and it is not all that surprising that despite a few notable successes overall it didn’t work out all that well. That’s a tall order for any government in a world where nothing moves faster than 3mph.

But the Articles of Confederation was handicapped by its very nature. Even had the times been prosperous and tranquil, it would have failed anyway. And the reason for that was that it was built exactly the way the Teabaggers want to change the Constitution to resemble.

The Articles of Confederation was a document imbued with the spirit of Lockean Liberalism. Liberalism, the political expression of the Enlightenment, shares with that cultural movement a deep and rather optimistic faith in human nature, one that is based on first principles and reasoned argument rather than on any evidence in the historical record. In a position reminiscent of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment argued that human beings were by nature good, decent creatures who would do the right things if only they were allowed to do so. That people would and could take care of both their own interests and the larger interests of society on their own, with nobody forcing them to do so. The key to politics, therefore, was to design a system in which those benevolent impulses could be encouraged and channeled into a functional government.

Americans as a group still believe this today – it’s the mainspring behind all the talk of smaller government and less regulation that so dominates our politics here in the early 21st century.

Unfortunately, as the classical republicans among the Founding Fathers well understood, the fact is that people can be viciously flawed creatures, especially where power and wealth are at stake, and any governmental system that is based on the idea that people will voluntarily act against their own interests because they’re just decent that way is doomed to failure.

The Articles of Confederation were Exhibit A in that case.

The national government created by the Articles had no coercive power whatsoever.

It had no ability to tax, for example. Faced with the expenses of maintaining a diplomatic corps, paying off the Revolutionary war debts, and even paying for the delivery of the mail, it could only requisition money from the states and hope that the states would cough it up out of their sense of civic responsibility.

That worked about as well as you would think it would.

For example, between October 1781 and February 1786, the Confederation government requested nearly $16 million from the states, and of that it received a grand total of only $2.4 million. By 1786 its income had fallen to $400,000 a year at a time when the interest alone on the national debt amounted to more than eight times that, and the principal of that debt was about to fall due.

The Confederation government also had no ability to regulate trade. Each individual state was left to do that on its own, and the resultant hodgepodge of state regulations effectively crippled both interstate and international trade.

Most importantly, the Confederation had no way to enforce its own laws.

On the practical level, there was no national judiciary. The highest courts in the land were the state supreme courts, and they had no interest in ruling against the interests of their own states. Nor did they have the legal authority to do so, given their charge to enforce state laws rather than national laws.

Which, on a theoretical level, was exactly the problem. The Articles of Confederation explicitly granted to the states their full sovereignty, which effectively made the new United States more of a United Nations sort of organization than a real nation because it meant that state law trumped federal law.

The states, in other words, could nullify national laws anytime they wanted to do so, simply by passing a different law.

And this too worked about as well as you would expect it would.

By 1786 it was clear to everyone concerned that the United States of America was in serious trouble. Its ability to govern the various states was effectively nil, it was about to default on its debts, and collapse was simply a matter of time.

Enter the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

The Federal Constitution that emerged from that was specifically designed to remedy the problems of the Articles of Confederation. It was based on classical republicanism and did not waste time with the idea that people were basically good and would do the right thing without being forced – instead, it was based on the idea that people were basically selfish and power-hungry, and that these traits could be usefully balanced and checked against each other to produce a viable government. And it gave to the new federal government all of the powers that it had lacked under the Confederation.

The new government had the power to tax. It had the power to regulate trade. And it had the power to enforce its laws – there was a federal judiciary, and the Constitution explicitly stated that federal law was supreme over the laws of the states.

This system has worked pretty well since then. Only once – when Confederation zealots attempted to make their states supreme because of the issue of slavery – did the Federal Constitution face any serious challenges after its adoption, and it is significant that when the time came for those same zealots to try to set up their own treasonous government, they did so by copying the Constitution (not the Articles of Confederation) nearly word for word. Even traitors aren’t that stupid.

But now there is an amendment in the works, brought to you by the Teabaggers, that will bring us back to the days of the Articles of Confederation by allowing the states to trump federal law. It will undo the work of the Founding Fathers, and will no doubt create exactly the kind of instability, chaos and dysfunctionality that the Constitutional Convention was called to put an end to.

Because that’s just the kind of Constitutional scholars the Teabaggers are.

My guess is that they don’t really understand what they’re doing. Precedent, after all, is on my side on that point. They just think they’ve found another way for states they control to opt out of their responsibilities to the larger community around them, another way to prove the Founders right by exercising their vicious selfishness in the matter of greed and power.

And perhaps they will succeed.

If that happens, though, watch your back. There aren’t many James Madisons left in the world today, and whether we could undo the damage of a return to the Articles is an open question.

Friday, May 13, 2011

It's Show Time!

Today was another in what has turned out to be a long line of theatrical presentations down at Not Bad President Elementary. And far be it for me to complain about this – I think it’s just wonderful. It’s been decades since I graduated from K-12, and to be honest most of the friends and times I remember from that period I found backstage. I’m glad my daughters are continuing that tradition.

Admittedly, I didn’t discover the theater until high school – they’re years ahead of their old man.

Which is as it should be.

Today it was Tabitha’s turn. She auditioned for a role in the 4th/5th-grade musical, Readin’, Ritin, and Rockin’ (Spellin’ being optional, apparently), and won the job of representing the school principal.

No pressure.

Fortunately the principal is a good sport about this sort of thing, even to the point of lending Tabitha one of her outfits as a costume. And wasn’t that a shock to this parent, seeing his daughter looking so grown-up like that.

As with all NBPE productions, this one took place in the All-Purpose Room and was packed, just packed, with parents – I got there half an hour early and still didn’t get my choice of seats. Kim and Lauren joined me as curtain drew nigh, and eventually the cast of the show (normally referred to as “the entire fourth and fifth grades”) filed in.

And then it was a solid hour of entertainment fit for a king.

No, I have no idea what the plot was. I’m not sure it had a plot. Seriously, plot is overrated. Turn on any network's prime time line-up and tell me different. 

Mostly it was a series of sketches, many of which contained songs. And Tabitha had not one but two – count ‘em, two – solos! One of which she had been given more than a week’s notice for!

She did a very good job.

One of the impressive parts of the play was the cast’s dedication to their craft, especially when the unexpected severe storm blew in about halfway through. The All-Purpose Room is a big empty space with a flat metal roof – the architectural equivalent of a bongo, in other words – and it was full of audience members who were all, unanimously, suddenly asking the same questions of each other in a very worried tone of voice: “Did I leave my car windows open? Is it too far to go check?”

Nobody left. A wet car is a small price to pay to see your child shine on stage, really.

Congratulations, Tabitha. I’m proud of you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Financial Wizardry

We met with our financial advisors this morning.

Silly me. I always thought you needed finances to have a financial advisor. Apparently this is optional in these hard economic times – now you can have an advisor to tell you what you would do in the event of finances. And that’s handy, I suppose.

I’m not really sure why I go to these meetings. I have no real grasp of finances more complicated than “try to spend less than you earn” but less complicated than the Dawes Plan. There’s a great big black box in between those two end points that just mystifies me, one that is decorated with arcane symbols such as “401k” (which, frankly, sounds like a NASCAR event to me) and that responds to chanted psalms containing the word “tax” with various prefixes and suffixes attached. Money goes in, money comes out, and it’s all magic as far as I’m concerned.

Naturally I’m the one who ends up paying the bills at the end of the month, because the universe has a sense of humor that way.

Fortunately for all concerned, Kim generally handles investments in our house. This means we actually have investments. And insurance. And even a couple of those numbered things that allow you to save money for your children’s education down the line, since the fact that we are both college professors is actually rather counterproductive in terms of having enough money to send our kids to college.

Again, the universe has an odd sense of humor.

This particular meeting went about the same way that most of them go. We went down to the Local Coffee House and quickly identified the representative of the financial firm who was there to meet us. Not that this was hard, mind you. Find the guy with the tie and briefcase in the middle of the coffee house full of people who look like they’re on their way to a baseball game and you’ve got a good chance of success that way.

We sat down, exchanged pleasantries, and then it was 45 minutes of me nodding and answering the occasional direct question while Kim handled the actual business of managing our money.

I’m just there to dress the set.

Friday, May 6, 2011

He Da Bomb!

Well, it looks like the Bomb Class is a go now that we’ve hit our enrollment target for the summer. Good news! Teacher gets to eat this summer!

I like this class – it’s an awful lot of fun to teach. It’s a team-taught class, with three of us up there discussing the history, science and ethics of the atomic bomb, and we all bring a very different perspective to this one object.

To a scientist, the atomic bomb is just a device that converts one form of energy (the binding energy in the nucleus of atoms) into other forms of energy (heat, light, pressure, sound). So he approaches it from that perspective and asks questions like “What is energy?” “How do you measure it?” “How do you release binding energy?” “How much energy do you get when you do?”

To a philosopher, the atomic bomb is an ethical question. Are there any circumstances where a weapon of this magnitude and indiscriminate force can justifiably be used? If so, what are they? If not, why not? So he tends to approach it from that perspective and spend a lot of time discussing just war theory, the nature of ethics, and how well the situation in 1945 squared with either of these.

To me as a historian, the atomic bomb is something that happened at a given moment in time. Things led up to it. Things happened around it. And things resulted in consequence of it. So I tend to spend my time looking at the developments that made it possible and the events that surrounded its creation and use. How did the United States develop the organizational capacity to manage a project like this? (Hint: look at Andrew Carnegie’s steel empire – they’re both just large vertically-integrated industrial enterprises.) How does the federal government grow to where it can manage a project like this – how does it get from laissez-faire to the New Deal? And why does it care enough about the rest of the world to do all this, both in the long term sense of going from isolationism to involvement and the short-term sense of why did the world look so ugly in 1939, when the project started?

Plus, you can make a decent argument that the single most important event in all of American history is Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, but nobody has an opinion about Bacon’s Rebellion. Everybody has an opinion about the bomb.

And we get to those at the Debate – because you have to have the Debate: the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified, yes or no?

We’ve never changed anyone’s opinion about this issue, as far as I know, and that has never been our goal. Mostly we want students to walk away with a more complex and well-supported reasoning for their opinions, and a strong sense that, whatever their position is, the other side has points that they cannot answer, only concede.

The three of us disagree on this Debate, which makes it even more fun.

So it’s a great class to teach.

It also led me into one of the more surreal moments of my life.

We first taught this class in 1998, well before I had kids of my own. The philosopher, however, did have two young boys at home – boys he was trying to raise on an ad-hoc instructor’s salary. He was thus a wizard at making things out of cardboard.

So with a little help from the teenager who lived next door, he gathered together a couple of refrigerator boxes, several rolls of duct tape and a large pot of grey paint and built a life-sized replica of Little Boy, the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

The thing about this is that the bomb was not actually all that big. It was maybe two and a half feet in diameter, and about nine or ten feet long. That’s one of the points we tried to make with it when we dragged it into class on day one – something just that big destroyed an entire city. The mismatch between size and power was something students remembered quite well.

And then we needed to store it.

That year we kept it backstage in the scenery shop, behind the theater, which was remarkably convenient when we hauled it out again for the following year’s rendition of the Bomb Class. Unfortunately the theater department didn’t want us to store it there again – why, I don’t know, since they had a lot of space. Perhaps they just were worried it would get damaged and didn’t want to be responsible for it.

So the philosopher convinced the local VFW hall across town to stash it in their basement.

I have no idea how he got it over there. But I do know how we got it back.

The philosopher asked me to help with this plan, and – not having any kittens to rescue from tall trees or other similar feats of derring do on my plate that afternoon – I said, “sure!” But neither of us had a vehicle of appropriate size for such a task. So we went down to the Maintenance Department, who loaned us the campus pickup truck.

When we got to the VFW, we realized that the replica atomic bomb was rather longer than the bed of the pickup.

No problem, we thought. We’d just load the thing into the bed, heavy side down, and let the light end – the end with the tail fins – stick up.

Since it was a rather windy day that day, we decided that I would ride in the bed with the replica atomic bomb with the tail fins sticking up, to keep it from blowing away.

And off we went through town.

The looks on the faces of other drivers were just ... priceless.

The ones going the other way flashed by too quickly for me to see them or them to get a good look at me. All they saw was a beat-up pickup truck with what was clearly a large bomb in the back, trundling through the streets of Our Little Town, with someone in the back holding on to it. What they thought of it I don’t know, but I will say that I am glad that we were doing this in the pre-9/11 era.

Seriously. Can you imagine Homeland Security’s response? I can’t even bring a full-sized bottle of shampoo aboard an airplane anymore – a pickup with a life-sized model of an atomic bomb probably would have warranted an airstrike.

It was the people driving behind us that I enjoyed so much, though. They’d be toodling along, not really paying attention to what was in front of them, as most people do when driving, when all of the sudden – and I could see the exact moment it happened – realization would dawn.

And I’d wave merrily at them.

And they’d sort of hesitate, and then wave back. Some of them smiled. Others looked sort of flustered. One guy shouted at me – “Hey! Where are you going with that?”

“Gonna go rob a bank!” I shouted back.

It was the best ride through town ever.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Employee Appreciation Day!

Have you ever gotten the feeling that you are being toyed with but that you can’t quite wrap your head around the sheer scope of the con without your head exploding?

I have.

Yesterday Governor Teabagger (a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) declared the day to be State Employee Appreciation Day here in Wisconsin. He even posted a YouTube video on the subject.

No, I'm not going to link to the video. He can promote his program on his own time, thank you very much.

I have actually seen this video, though. In fact, I made it all the way through its minute-plus length without once laughing, crying, or attempting to reach through the computer screen to express my opinion on the subject directly to its author in physically intimate ways. For which I think I deserve a medal, by the way. The video is an astonishing display of cluelessness and condescension, though I will admit that the comments below it are worth the price of admission.

Not everyone is buying it – let’s just put it that way.

Guess what gang? It’s State Employee Appreciation Day! Nominate your favorite state employee for a prize!

A prize? We get a prize? I've always liked prizes. Now, what sort of prize do you think we might be getting?

Do we get to stop tithing Governor Teabagger (a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) in order to pay for his tax cuts to the wealthy and the salaries of the unqualified cronies he has hired into important positions?

Do we get the return of our rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association? Will we no longer get arrested or ticketed for daring to exercise the provisions of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution while in the Wisconsin State Capitol?

Do we get the rule of law back in Wisconsin? Democracy? A government that cares more about running the state than feathering the nest of its campaign contributors? Free and fair elections where votes aren’t “discovered” on the personal computer of partisan hacks and then added to the Teabagger total in order to produce fraudulent victories? A regime that regards court decisions as lawfully binding instead of nuisances to be ignored in their blind quest for power?

How about a legislature that actually lets the minority party vote? One that recognizes and follows the state constitution when it passes or publishes bills?

Hell, if we could choose from that list of prizes, I might be tempted to take this program seriously.

My guess is that we are more likely to get a nice certificate in a tastefully non-descript frame, though, and maybe a $20 gift certificate for Dixie paper products (furnished of course by the Koch brothers, who own that company too).

It is frankly astonishing that this governor, a pantsless buffoon who has made his disdain and contempt for the honest workers of the State of Wisconsin so abundantly plain over the last four months, would have the sheer clueless idiocy to even suggest, let alone promote, such a blisteringly stupid idea.

You know why satire is dead in America?

Because it has to compete with stuff like this.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

By the Numbers

The number of the day was 5. As in, “I spent five hours today down at the Kids Museum in the Rather Larger Town south of us.”

Or perhaps the number of the day was 60, which was the number of second-graders that were on this trip, three of whom – Lauren and her friends Claire and Mackenzie – were my own special responsibility. This was on top of the two other elementary schools that I noticed that were having similar field trips while we were there. The lunch area was just hopping.

It is also possible that the number of the day could well have been 80, which would have been the proof of the beverage I felt I deserved afterward and might yet enjoy responsibly now that everyone is safe in their beds.

For you see, keeping track of three second-graders in a museum full of exhibits designed to draw children in from across the room is not easy, as they are being drawn to any number of exhibits at any given time and are thus prone to vibrate uncontrollably before shooting off in random directions. Separate random directions, which is not what it says we’re supposed to encourage in the Big Book O’ Chaperoning that every parent gets when they sign their kids up for these field trips.

Have you ever tried to keep track of three small children in a place like that? Now you know what particle physicists go through at those atom smashing places they like to build, monitoring the velocity and direction of tiny things shooting off at odd angles and hoping that whatever results isn’t the end of anybody’s world.

But this is why you sign up for this gig – the chance to be a part of their lives, to give back to the schools and communities they’re part of, to let your kids know that they are important enough that you would set aside the rest of your tasks for a day and hang around a museum with them, even if it means you get whiplash from tracking them all.

Because whiplash heals. And kids grow older. And days at the museum are there to be treasured, one by one as they come up.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Little Afternoon Music

It was recital time yesterday in Our Little Town, and there was beautiful music to be made.

Every spring the girls’ music teacher holds a recital for all of her charges – they practice a piece or two, she rents a small hall, and the parents bring goodies for afterward. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, and it’s a nice little tradition.

This year there were a couple of new wrinkles adding to the uncertainty.

On Tabitha’s side, she outgrew her violin this spring so we traded in the half-sized model for a full-sized model. Did you know that a half-sized violin is not actually half the size of a full-sized violin? I know. It’s true. We went back to the same guy who sold us the first one and he fitted her out for a new one and even took the old one back for trade-in. He also let us keep the old one for a while, since we figured that switching violins a week before a concert was probably not wise.

Tabitha, however, decided that she loved this new violin (“Benjamin,” by name) and worked to get her piece up and ready on it, to the satisfaction of her teacher. And in truth, it does have a nicer tone – fuller, rounder, and generally more pleasant. It’s just a matter of space – there’s only so much tone you can get out of a smaller instrument.

Lauren’s wrinkle was that this spring she decided that she was old enough not to need my help with her practicing. On the one hand this meant that practicing got a lot easier for me, as all I had to do was say, “Lauren, go practice!” five or six times and it would get done. On the other hand, it did mean that she was on her own for correcting misconceptions.

But fear not, for I bring tidings of great music.

We arrived early, cookies, girls and violin in hand (the place comes with a piano) and milled about until it was time for the show. Eventually music started and the program worked its way down to us, and off they went.

Both Lauren and Tabitha did a nice job, it must be said.

But you know what impressed me more than how well they did? They both made fairly big mistakes in their pieces, as sometimes happens, but they both covered them and kept right on playing – I doubt anyone other than me and their teacher really knew what had happened. And that, more than anything else, is the definition of performance success.