Monday, February 27, 2012

Do Not Call

My friend Janiece has a post up on her blog about telemarketers. You can go to Hot Chicks Dig Smart Men and look it up, as I have never quite managed to figure out how to make links here on Blogger. It’s the one entitled, “If you call here again, I’m going to track you down and cut you.”

Haven’t we all felt that way, once in a while?

I certainly have.

We’re on every Do Not Call list that has been put out by any governmental unit known to modern man, and we still get annoying sales calls from people with no apparent ability to control their own actions and no clear sense that laws apply to them. It’s like they’re all running for office in the Republican primary or something.

I used to get angry at those people, but eventually it occurred to me that this was having no effect on them – they’re used to it, and from better practitioners of the art than me. They probably have manuals just for how to deal with such things. It wasn’t making them miserable, and therefore the whole thing was pointless.

Eventually I figured out a couple of things, each of which leads to a strategy.

First, they are on a time limit. They have to get so many calls per hour, and the more of their time I took the worse it looked for them. And when you look at it this way, the solution is obvious.

So now whenever they call and I bother to pick up the phone (because mostly I don’t have the time to play either), I always tell them that I’m not the person in the household who makes those decisions. Could I get that person? Certainly.

Please hold.

It usually takes about fifteen minutes, but eventually the phone starts beeping to let me know that they’ve hung up, and I can end the call and get back to my life.

Sometimes, though, I’m feeling more ornery. So I borrow a tactic I learned from my dad, whose basic position has always been that parasites do not merit honesty.

Telemarketers need an answer – any answer – to put in their forms. It doesn’t matter what that answer is, really. They just need something to prove to their superiors that they did in fact call me and I did in fact give them answers to their questions. So I would give them some.

All of my answers were lies, but there you go.

So when they would call me up to sell me cable, I told them I don’t own a television. This was actually true for about a decade of my life, but I see no reason why they should know the situation has changed. Don’t own one. Thank you for your time.

They want to sell me windows? My house doesn’t have any. No, it doesn’t – sad, really, my electricity bill is outrageous but on the other hand the place was a bargain.

Political poll? I don’t vote. Ever. Don’t even follow politics. Don’t even hold with politics – there shouldn’t be any government at all. We should all just go back to the land, shoot any trespassers and let anyone who gets into trouble die. “I’ll just put you down as a Ron Paul supporter, then,” the voice on the other end says. So you can take those polls for what they’re worth.

My personal favorite example of this tactic came a few years ago, when some enterprising young man called to sell me long distance telephone service.

“I don’t own a phone,” I told him.

“You don’t own a phone?”

“Nope. Sorry.”

“But I’m talking to you now!”

“No you’re not. This is all in your head.”

“Yes, I am talking to you on the phone!”

“No, you are not.”

“Then what am I doing?”

“I don’t know. That’s your problem. You’re not talking to me on the phone, because I don’t own one.”

“Yes you do!”

“Are you calling me a liar, son?”


“Thank you for your time.”

And don’t you know that fifteen minutes later the guy’s supervisor called me back?

“Did you just speak to one of my workers?”

“No. I don’t own a phone.”

“Okay, then.”

They never bothered me after that.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Showdown at the Mostly OK Corral

It’s like the wild, wild west around here.

After nearly a week kept confined to Kim’s office, Midgie – who will likely remain “Midgie” at this point, since no progress whatsoever has been made on the renaming project and every day that passes without alternative names makes such progress that much less probable – has been let out to face Mithra.

This wasn’t entirely intentional.

No, I meant to let her out. That part was intentional. But I also meant to keep Mithra in Kim’s office while Midgie was exploring, in order to cut down on the potential for feline violence. This is when I discovered that the door on Kim’s office – which has never shut properly – cannot be wedged closed hard enough to keep Mithra in there if Mithra does not choose to be in there.

And Mithra most definitely does not choose to be in there, thank you very freaking much.

So both cats have been lurking around the house since Wednesday, off and on. Midgie mostly slinks – she has short, stubby legs the way Tria used to, and she’s low to the ground under the best of circumstances. Mithra, for her part, stalks, with all of the affronted dignity of a silent film grand dame at a television studio.

Slink. Stalk. Slink. Stalk. Slink. Stalk.

And then – WHAM! There they are, suddenly facing each other.

The light changes quality. The clocks magically reset to high noon. Somewhere, somebody starts whistling. We have no tumbleweeds to blow by, so we have to make do with dust bunnies. There is a tense calm.

Eventually the calm is shattered by growling and hissing – mostly from Mithra, who does not really get along with other cats, but also from Midgie, who didn’t survive behind bars in the pound just to be pushed around by some kittypet on the outside, no she did not. So far nothing has come of this, and we’ve done our best to make sure that nothing comes of it. We’re hoping it quiets down eventually.

Add into this the fact that Midgie cannot possibly be the full two years old that the pound insisted she was – she looks, sounds and acts like a cat barely beyond kitten stage. This means that even during the growling and hissing, she wants to PLAY! Playing, in this context, generally entails flying at Mithra with all of the ferocious abandon of a Nerf dart, and with about as much effectiveness against that hardened target too.

And then there are the rabbits.

Hazel is easily Mithra’s size and nearly half again Midgie’s, so when she’s out the three of them just stand there in an equilateral triangle, glowering at each other. Milo is smaller. Mithra just watches him, but Midgie is convinced he will play with her if she chases him enough. Milo, it must be said, is not on board with this, and he does what rabbits naturally do when stressed, which is poop all over everything.

I’m not sure why this is a defense mechanism, really. Are they hoping their pursuers will slip on it? It has been effective at keeping Midgie at bay so far, though, so perhaps Milo is on to something.

Round and round, in and out, stalk, slink, Nerf, hiss, growl, poop, repeat.

It’s how the Midwest was won.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I’m trying to catch up on projects this semester.

Like most people, I’ve got a list of “Someday” projects that I keep in the back of my head. Sometimes I write them down, just to see if any of them are feasible under the current conditions – there’s no feeling quite as satisfactory as crossing something off of a to-do list. No, not even that one, but it was close, I’ll give you that. Mostly, though, I just keep writing down the same things over and over in a slightly different order than the last time, depending on mood and memory.

This has been especially true recently – the last twelve to eighteen months have been unusually hectic around here, and it’s been all I could do to beat the alligators back. The swamp remains undrained; the projects remain unfinished.

But this semester I’m not driving to Not Quite So Far Away Campus anymore – a 170-mile roundtrip I don’t have to make twice a week, the way I did for all of 2011. I like NQSFAC, really I do – it’s got some very friendly people in it, the students are nice, and it’s pretty, perched up there on the hill like that – but that’s a lot of time I don’t have to spend in my car anymore.

Nor do I have to create new classes this semester. In the last two years I’ve built one class from scratch (including learning the material), learned how to use the University's online class system so I could teach a class someone else designed, and revamped a third class into a wholly alien format. Right now, though, I’m teaching two classes that are actually in my field, both of which I have taught before in that format, and by all indications I will not be required to come up with anything new next fall either. That could change of course – the essence of being an ad-hoc is that you’re never really sure what you’re going to be asked to do or even whether you’re going to be asked to do anything until a week into the semester – but as of right now it looks like I will be in the truly odd position of not having anything to plan or fabricate for several months once my classes end in May.

So projects it is.

My office is clean now.

I’ve organized several different document types into binders, neatly labeled.

I’ve filed away three semesters’ worth of papers and discovered that I did, in fact, have a table under them.

I’ve even begun to pay attention to my healthcare again. I’ve gone to two different doctors and the dentist, and will likely be doing more of that in the near future. And I’ve even managed to stick with my “Eat Less Crap” diet plan, to the tune of 8lbs lost in the last two months. Not bad considering that “Less” is not “Zero” and those two months included ten days’ worth of traveling over Christmas and New Year’s. There are still issues that need to be resolved – notably the “Get Up and Move Around Now And Then” part of the diet plan, which remains somewhat moribund – but progress is being made.

I feel so productive that sometimes I need to lie down.

All this productivity makes me think of larger things I should be doing, though. By modern American standards I’m pretty much the target audience for a midlife crisis right about now, and if I were going to have one I suppose it ought to be soon. I’ve got the time for it, now. Next year any crisis would likely have to compete for attention with other things.

But there are enough crises in the world without me adding to them. Little red sports cars aren’t my thing anyway.

So I nibble away at my project list and cross things off one at a time, as they are completed.

It’s a good feeling.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In Cars

My car is mine, I think.

After several years of diligently writing checks to a bank that neither influenced my decision over what car to buy nor had any part in the actual purchase process other than to be a name on a form, I received a letter in the mail the other day saying that I no longer had to do that. My car loan, in other words, had been paid off.

This is good news. That’s several hundred dollars a month that I can now turn toward other things, such as tequila and gold-plated appliances. Or, more likely, toward other bills, health-care expenses no longer covered now that Governor Teabagger has declared war on us state employees, college funds for the girls (the great irony of being a professor is that it is a singularly inappropriate career if you actually want to be able to afford to send your kids to college someday), and perhaps the occasional dinner out in a place that does not require you to unwrap your food. Hey – every little bit helps.

I suppose I could start putting that money aside for the next car too. Neither of the kinds of cars we own are manufactured anymore – we’re brand-killers, yes we are – so who knows how long they’ll be supported and fixable. But they’re good cars and both paid off now, and we’re going to hang on to them as long as we possibly can.

So I went to the DMV this morning to clear the bank off the title. The bank had sent me a letter telling me to do that. Since they hadn’t sent me the actual title, I figured the state must have it.

The state disagreed. They said I have it.

No, I said, that’s kind of the whole point of me coming here – to get it, which implies not having it in the first place.

There was a brief stand-off.

You never win those stand-offs. The DMV people are far better at them than you will ever be. They do this for a living. They eat noobs like you for lunch and pick their teeth with your bones.

So my next mission will be to figure out where the actual title of the car may be hiding. It’s mine, now, and I would like to take it home and feed it and pet it and love it and call it “George.”

In the meantime I’m riding around in limbo, which is actually kind of a nice feeling since I am convinced that this means nobody can see me and I can do whatever I want in my own car which is mine and not the bank’s and all mine, mine, mine.

Yes, this is what I will tell the nice police officer when he asks.

I’m sure he’s been to the DMV himself a time or two, and will understand.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Seven People Unfit for Grown-Up Conversations

It’s a busy world out there. There’s never enough time to do what needs to be done and always one more time-sucking moron trying to take precious minutes of your life for their own pet projects.

I know!

Even when you get rid of the one in front of you, there’s always one more. It’s a law of nature, much like the one that says that intelligence and decibel output are inversely correlated, a handy thing to keep in mind this election year.

So as a public service, we here at 4 Quarters, 10 Dimes have compiled a handy guide to some of the people you can simply ignore out of hand, thus preserving those precious minutes for more important things, like blog reading or determining the exact point at which relaxation becomes sloth.

You’re welcome.

And yes, it’s my blog and if I want to slide into the “royal we,” as I did above, there is nobody to stop me. That’s one of the prices you pay for reading other people’s blogs.


You know that the person approaching you is unfit for grown-up conversation, should be kept at least fifty yards from a voting booth or internet comment box, and can be ignored without fear of missing anything important if:

1. They use the word “sheeple” without irony.

If there is any neologism in the last three decades laden with more sand-in-your-underwear irritation and less meaning than this one, I haven’t heard it. It is used by the stupid and the batshit insane to let us know that they are More Aware Than You Are, that they are Mavericks Bucking The Establishment And Flipping Off The Man, that they are Not Fooled For A Minute, Nosirree, Even If You Pathetic Losers Are, but for those of us on the receiving end all it means is that unless you fake a heart attack – up to and including being loaded into an ambulance if necessary – you are about to spend the rest of your evening being freighted down with bizarre and evidence-free conspiracy theories. There will be theatrics, recriminations, and exhortations. You may also end up covered in spittle. Grown-up conversations do not involve spittle.

2. They have emblazoned anywhere on their person or vehicle a Confederate battle flag.

I’ve gone over this before in this space. I’m not sure why people think displaying the flag of traitors a century and a half after they were soundly and deservedly whipped for trying to destroy the American republic and build their own moral hellhole explicitly based on slavery is something to be proud of, but people who think that way need to be told to pass you by and move along. No, no, you say to them, keep moving. Keeeeeep moving. Riiiiiiiight between the white stripes and the double yellow line, just stay there, make yourself at home, and watch the pretty bright lights get closer and closer…

Atta boy.

And yes, the Confederacy was in fact based entirely on slavery. They said so themselves, and attempts to say otherwise just make the speaker look stupid. Said speaker should stop lying about his (almost invariably, “his”) own past, and maybe someday, with intensive training and a passing grade in a sophomore-level US history class, he’ll be fit for grown-up conversation. Maybe.

3. They think any recent American president was a) a Socialist, b) a Fascist, or c) both.

All this means is that they have no idea what Socialism or Fascism actually are, and that attempts at responsible adult conversations with them will be a waste of time. Any attempt you make to enlighten them on their historical errors will probably result in you being called whichever one they are ranting about, or, possibly, a sheeple (vide supra). Spare yourself the agony and beat them soundly about the head and shoulders with whatever is near to hand until they go away, even if all you have to hand is a medium pizza, and you will be better off. And if they seriously argue option c, you have my permission to use something more substantive than the pizza.

4. They have no idea how money works.

I’m not talking about knowing double-entry bookkeeping or basic math, though the math at least helps. I’m talking about how money works in society – what it means, how it moves, where it comes from, what you have to do to get it, what you have to do to maintain it, what happens when you don’t have enough of it (and not just “I can’t buy what I want when I want”), what happens when you have too much of it, and why it can’t simply be willed into existence without consequences.

For example, there are a great many ideas out there that are heartfelt, altruistic, and probably going to help someone if they ever get implemented. But the most basic rule of life is that there is no such thing as a free lunch – you have to figure out the costs of things, and not just the upfront costs but the ongoing costs. Where is this going to come from? And who is going to get it? It is astonishing how many idealistic people there are who seem to think that other people will just pony up money to pay for their castles in the air or devote their time and energy to seek out those who will, and by other people they mean you. These people will spend most of your life draining you with their plans and trying to make you feel guilty for poking reality-based holes in them. Don’t let them get started. That’s not a grown-up conversation.

5. They think education is a luxury.

Welcome to the 21st century, moron. The jobs that pay enough to support a family all require an education. The economies of the world are divided into the ones that support those jobs and the impoverished. The glue that binds neighborhoods and towns together is its schools. The thing that separates a citizen from a subject is education.

And yet in America today stupidity is somehow seen as patriotic. There are legions of idiots who insist that learning in general and schooling in particular is a waste of time, or a frill good only for the already wealthy and powerful, or a drain on what really matters (apparently defined as beer, reality television, and indentured servitude). There is an entire political party dedicated to making sure that American citizens no longer have the opportunity to go to school. This party gets a tremendous amount of support from the very people who would most benefit from an education, in large part one suspects because it tells those people that their ignorance and their hostility to both progress and their own interests is somehow worthy of praise rather than something to be overcome through initiative, discipline, and – yes – education.

Such people should be quarantined in a hostile desert environment far from civilization – Texas, perhaps – and not allowed to interact with civilized folk. Or breed, for that matter. If you don’t think education matters, you have no business talking to grown-ups.

6. They have no grasp of science.

This isn’t about knowing chemical formulae or quantum mechanics. This is about knowing how science – the basic underpinning of modern society – works. It’s about knowing the difference between science and theology. It’s about being able to do the math when confronted with quacks, con artists, perpetual-motion-machine salesmen and politicians scheming to avoid responsibility. People who don’t understand the basics of science lead the charge against modern life. In some cases, such as the fools wearing copper bracelets to improve their health or throwing rocks into their laundry to brighten their whites, they are simply tiresome. In other cases, such as the halfwits systematically reducing the herd immunity of modern society to killer diseases because they read something on the internet about how vaccines will KILL YOU AND EAT YOUR DOG, they are dangerous and should be soundly thrashed. Invariably, they insist that you be as ignorant as they, and if you allow yourself to be sucked into conversations with them, eventually you will be. Grown-up conversations leave both sides better off than before. These people don’t fit that definition.

7. They insist that food is a moral choice and you’re on the wrong side of it.

You’ve met these people. Many of them are vegetarians or – worse – vegans, people who are absolutely aghast at the thought of eating “living things” but who have forgotten that plants were once alive too. They think you’re cruel. The gap between your first bite of a cheeseburger and the invocation of Godwin’s Law is measured in nanoseconds. They insist you eat just like them, or both you and the planet will go straight to hell. On the other side, you’ve got the testosterone-poisoned knuckledraggers who think that anything other than a drawer-sized slab o’ beef swimming in beef sauce with beef jimmies on the top is proof that you are either homosexual, Communist or both. And don’t even get me started on the Atkins people.

There is no good that will come from any conversation with such folks. All that will happen is that your hot meal will get cold (or your cold one will warm up) while you lose valuable IQ points by the sentence. Grown-ups know that once you get beyond issues of sustenance, food is there to facilitate conversation, not be the subject of recriminations.

“Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent.” (Epictetus)


Now go out there and have some grown-up conversation. The world needs more of that these days.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Because We Don't Have Enough Fur-Bearing Creatures Around Here...

So now we have another cat.

Ever since Tria wandered off in the middle of the night last September, we have been a one-cat household. Not that this has really meant much in terms of the number of fuzzy creatures floating about the house, with Hazel and Milo lopping about leaving rabbit poop throughout the downstairs all winter. We are up to our eyeballs in fur, which isn't as glamorous as it sounds.

But Mithra has been pretty much on her own for nearly six months now, without feline companionship, and it was causing her to lose what few marbles she started out with. Our previously quiet cat had gotten yappy and rattly, forever searching for – what? Who knows. Maybe just bacon, in which case wasn’t she in for a surprise this weekend?

The girls convinced us to go to the pound on Saturday to see if there were any suitable cats we could take home. The problem with pounds is that there are ALWAYS suitable cats – mounds of them, piles of them, stacked one on top of the other and mewing piteously – and the people who run those places know it.

They were even having a sale.

So we wandered through the place, making faces at the cats and playing with them as much as we dared without incurring the wrath of the staff (“No fingers in the cages!”). One of the cats, a small tabby named Midgie, struck me as particularly friendly, and I called the girls over to see her. They agreed we should give her a try in one of the “greeting rooms” the place has stashed about for people to see if animals will be nice to them before adoption.

Midgie climbed right onto our laps, one after the other, and purred so hard she actually gave herself hiccups. She’s a desperately friendly cat, one who likes nothing so much as to be held and scratched while sitting on you.

We were done.

Kim filed the paperwork while I went home to get the small cat carrier – an antique bamboo shopping basket with “Made In Occupied Japan” stamped on the bottom. After a suitable exchange of cash, Midgie was ours.

She’s been locked in Kim’s office ever since, while Mithra adjusts to the fact that there is another cat in the house again. For all that she liked to play with Tria and really needs companionship during the day when we’re all at work or school, she’s not really a cat for other cats unless she knows them well. So we’re introducing them gradually.

That’s why when Lauren announced this morning that Midgie had gotten out, we were worried. Midgie is about half the size of Mithra. Fortunately she was smart enough to hide in the basement, and Mithra may or may not have even known she was out.

We’re still debating whether to change Midgie’s name – cats don’t come when you call them anyway, so what you name them is a personal preference more than anything utilitarian. Mithra was “Smokey” when we got her from the pound, but that changed when Tabitha – then 5 – began calling her Smokes. We’ll see how it goes this time around.

In the meantime, welcome to the family, Midgie.

Friday, February 17, 2012

All the Colors of the Stage

Yesterday was the big Third Grade Musical down at Not Bad President Elementary. You should have been there.

To be honest, I should have been there too.

Unfortunately I had to teach a class that afternoon. I did make it to the first fifteen minutes or so, and I saw the rest on video. So I can say that yes, indeed, I have seen the play. It was a fine dramatic experience.

The play was called Colors, and as near as I could tell the plot seemed to revolve around the black and white crayons in a box feeling rather left out since none of the other crayons considered them proper colors. There was much singing and dancing involved in the explanation of this sad state of affairs, and eventually all of the crayons realized that it all worked so much better when every crayon was included, after which there was more singing and dancing and not a little of rainbows and harmony.

Lauren was Yellow Crayon #1.

The only thing we were told to get for her costume was a yellow shirt. Do you have any idea how few child-sized yellow shirts there are these days? I spent an entire afternoon searching through the various megamarts that populate the northern edge of Our Little Town (and believe me, we have them all) before I finally found a small selection of them, including the one with the big M&M printed on it that Lauren eventually wore.

Maybe it’s just the times. Yellow is a cheerful color, after all, and things are grim all over these days. But you know, maybe we just need more yellow.

The kids all seemed to have a good time up there, and Lauren did very well with her speaking parts, striding boldly up to the microphone and enunciating to the back row. She even helped direct a little bit by practically tossing one forgetful crayon onto center stage so she could speak her own lines. So that worked.

Good for you, Lauren. I’m proud of you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cupcakes and Licorice

For the last several days, my house has been full of licorice.

Not that I am complaining. Too much. I’m one of those people, the ones who sort out the black jellybeans from the others so I can hoard them and keep them all to myself, my precious, precious black jellybeans full of licoricey goodness and arrhythmia-inducing chemicals, I loves them so.

On the other hand, though, they really don’t fit into my new 2012 Diet Plan, which is entitled “Eat Less Crap.” It’s a fairly flexible plan, really, but sugar pellets really don’t fit into it no matter what color they are.

Oh well.

One of the many, many activities that the girls engage in on a regular basis is the local 4H club. This is why we drag the cat over to the Fairgrounds and pretend it’s not your basic domestic alleyrabbit for the judges. It’s why we have actual rabbits in our home. It’s why there will be even more theater in our world this spring, more art this summer, and less free time overall. And a County Fair. Don't forget the County Fair.

Like any other self-help program, there are also monthly meetings. These meetings have themes, activities, games and other entertainments, organized and led by the kids themselves. It gives them a sense of responsibility and they usually have a grand time.

Last night was Lauren’s turn to be in charge, and she decided that what two or three dozen kids really needed to make their evening more interesting was a cupcake decorating contest.

So we baked a few batches of cupcakes ahead of time, stocked up on various sugary things that could, conceivably, be used for decorations, and met up with everyone else and their similar horde of goodies.

You could get diabetes just standing downwind of the place.

But after a flurry of activity, there were any number of finely crafted cupcakes ready for judging. And they were judged.

And then they were eaten.

All of them. And all of their decorations.

Even the licorice jellybeans on top.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dispatches from the Front Line of the Teabagger War on America: Voting and Redistricting in Wisconsin

It’s been about a year now since Wisconsin embarked on its adventure of subversion from within by its own government – since a secretive cabal of authoritarian tribal lords decided that they knew better than the Founding Fathers how an American state ought to be run and began a frantic assault on democracy, Constitutional principles, and the rule of law that is the foundation of the American republic.

It’s been interesting to see this happen from the inside, in a liberal arts sort of way, the way three-headed frogs are, you know, interesting.

Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) has now been recalled, in a display of revulsion unparalleled in American history – 46% of the electorate was so appalled by his actions that they were willing to sign petitions to get him removed from office, a far higher number than in either of the two other campaigns that successfully recalled a governor in the US. Considering how much it takes just to get people to vote in the first place, this is an astonishing number.

Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) and his minions have tried to dismiss this, noting that it is approximately equal to the number of people who voted for his opponent in the last election, but seriously – if the Democrats could get every person who voted for them in the last election to sign a petition that would be a feat of superhuman political organization, and if there is one thing the Democrats are not known for it is organization, superhuman or otherwise. Far more likely that it is a general sign of widespread disgust with the man who has single-handedly transformed a peaceful and productive state into a Gilded Age political wasteland. A lot of Republicans have also been very unhappy about what this nitwit and his band of merry pranksters have done to their state, much as he does not want to admit that.

Add to it the recalls of all four sitting Teabagger state senators who were targeted – and not a single recall of any of those opposing the Teabaggers, despite grand talk from the far right – and you have a fairly stern rejection of the extremists who have taken over this state.

But not a total rejection, for all that.

There are still a grotesque number of people in this state who have no interest in their liberties, who support the Koch Industries agenda, and who are willing to go to great lengths to see it implemented. Most of them are at the top, since those are the ones who will benefit from it, but they have their minions, dupes and hangers-on to back them up, make terroristic threats against recall workers, and write semi-literate comments on news websites as well.

By the way, if you ever want to disprove the entire notion of evolution, of the survival of the fittest, or the ideas of progress and human decency, go read what the Teabaggers write on any public website. Just saying. It’s like Mos Eisley in there.

The latest installment in the story of the Teabaggers' flailing grip on absolute power falls under the general category of the War On Voting.

Remember, folks – the Teabaggers really do not want you to vote. They do not believe in democracy in any meaningful way. They are in charge by the grace of their version of God, an angry and small-minded deity who – purely by coincidence I’m sure – endorses every single paranoid fantasy and violent antipathy toward deviance from strict orthodoxy that so aptly describes the Teabagger worldview. For anyone to question this, whether through exercising the right of free speech enshrined in the Constitution or by daring to think that their voice deserves to be heard in free and fair elections, is tantamount to blasphemy in their eyes.

I would urge the Teabaggers to read the New Testament, among other religious documents, for a rather different view of God, or the Constitution for a rather different view of how the United States is supposed to function, except that I know full well that such urging would be a waste of time. Teabaggers don’t need no book larnin’ – they know they are right because they know they are right and how dare anyone suggest otherwise?

This is why I drink. That, and a good whiskey sour can make your taste-buds just sing. But I digress.

The War on Voting is ongoing and widespread – Governor Teabagger certainly didn’t come up with it all by his own self, as he’s neither that clever nor that brave. Throughout this republic, wherever the Republican Party is in power, laws written by ALEC are being rammed through the state legislatures (sometimes without even bothering to remove the stage directions written by ALEC staffers, sad to say) in an effort to deny the suffrage to American citizens. If this doesn’t make you angry then you have no real idea what it means to be an American.

Thus we get the Voter Suppression Act of 2011 here in Wisconsin – a blatant attempt to keep the poor, the non-white, and the young – indeed anyone statistically not likely to vote the Teabagger ticket – from voting, and a clear violation of the US Constitution in that Wisconsin residents now have to pay a poll tax in order to possess the requirements to pass muster at the voting booth. This was billed as an attempt to stamp out voter fraud, except that there is no significant voter fraud – even our own Teabagger attorney general couldn’t find any after two years of investigation at tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars. The only fraud you get at election times these days comes from Teabagger officials, not voters.

But that’s old news.

Here in Wisconsin, the most recent problems stem from the decennial exercise in shabbiness known as redistricting.

Most times when this happens the party in power tries to arrange things to their advantage, much to the annoyance of the party out of power, and eventually it ends up in court. It’s not like we’re expecting much from this process, historically speaking, and this year was no exception. Even with the bar set that low, however, the shenanigans this year were ramped up to an unprecedented degree – one that may yet see the entire Republican cohort of the State Senate jailed.

Now that would be new.

The redistricting effort was conducted last year with a thoroughly unseemly haste, one that rode roughshod over state laws regarding who should have input (i.e. local governments and citizens) and how long this should take, and suggested nothing less than a desperate attempt to ram through flawed and unwise legislation before the citizens of Wisconsin had time to react. It was sort of like the budget bill last year, now that I think of it.

Huh – what do you know? A pattern.

Not surprisingly, the result of this exercise in rectally-produced legislation was so rigidly partisan, so blatantly gerrymandered, and so clearly in violation of all tenets of responsible government, that a federal court has now three times ordered the Teabaggers to turn over all documents relating to the process and stop wasting the court’s time with “frivolous” delays. I don’t know if they have complied with this court order – Teabaggers consistently refuse to admit that laws apply to them, so in this case as in so many others they may simply see the court’s order as a suggestion for mere mortals and not for Righteous ‘Merrkins such as themselves – but I do know that some of those documents have come out anyway.

The Teabaggers had good reason not to want those documents to come to light, it turns out.

The documents clearly show a deliberate attempt to prevent Wisconsin residents from ever finding out how a process that is by law supposed to be open and transparent happened to work. It is clear that the Republican Party had no interest in receiving input on redistricting from citizens, concerned groups, or anyone other than the small conspiracy that put this plan together. This is in violation of Wisconsin state law as well as all principles of good government, American democracy, and simple morality. Any input was to be ignored if received and avoided if possible.

The documents clearly show that despite the fact that the Republicans were spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on private, unelected consultants to help them make their plans, the elected Democrats in the legislature were not even allowed to attend the sessions where redistricting was hammered out, let alone do what the state constitution requires them to do and represent the citizens of Wisconsin in their government.

The documents clearly show, in a set of talking points that explicitly declared that information given to the public was to be disregarded if it conflicted with the deals done behind closed doors, that lying to the citizens of Wisconsin about their voting rights was both premeditated and considered acceptable practice by Republicans.

The documents clearly show the Republican Party paid a private law firm thousands of taxpayer dollars to develop this plan and then had each one of the Republican state senators sign legal agreements never to discuss the process with their citizens who paid for it. The sheer gall of this is enough to take the breath away from anyone who values the republic set up by the Founding Fathers. Those agreements have now been published, by the way – you can download the entire set and see for yourself. It sort of makes the insistence by Teabagger senators that such documents did not exist rather ridiculous, but there you go.

Facts are stubborn things.

What I find at least somewhat amusing about this is that the conspirators involved didn’t even trust their fellow Teabaggers, as it has now become clear that many Republican state senators were threatened into signing those agreements. One of the senators has admitted that he was shown two redistricting maps, one favorable to him to be used if he signed the non-disclosure agreement, the other unfavorable to be used if he didn’t sign. That’s called extortion.

The entire lot of them should be stripped of their offices, jailed at once, and horsewhipped as an example to the American people of what happens when zealots think they are above the law and the sovereign people.

Apparently there’s more good stuff still waiting to be released, too, and the Teabaggers are now strenuously arguing that they should not be forced to continue releasing taxpayer-funded documents that were produced as part of the public business of running a government of the people, by the people and for the people, because dammit those documents are THEIRS, THEIRS, THEIRS and the rabble have no business knowing anything at all about how their rulers function. At! All! None, as in “get back to the muck pit, peasants, and be glad we haven’t had you flogged.”

Nice to know where we stand.

The kicker of all this?

Governor Teabagger’s (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) lead minion in the Senate has now challenged his recall because the signatures were gathered in his actual district rather than the newly revised district that he and his buddies shoved through to the governor’s desk. This despite the fact that both the nonpartisan board that runs elections in this state and the Teabagger attorney general have publicly stated that the old district was the proper area to gather signatures.

Because rules don’t apply to Teabaggers.

Because they don’t want you to vote, and will do everything to nullify it if you do.

Dark times indeed.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tubular Food And Its Disadvantages

When I am Grand Vizier of Creation, things will be different. Not necessarily better. But certainly different.

There will be blood.

Among the first to go up against the wall will be the packaging genius who devised the tubes that ready-made dough comes in.

You know these tubes. They’re all blue, for one thing – the original company that came out with them made them blue, so all the knock-offs make them blue. They range from six to ten inches long and 1.5 to three inches in diameter. Inside there can be anything from pizza crusts to cinnamon rolls.

And they are wrapped in paper.

Theoretically, you pull on a tab way up at the top of the tube, peel the paper back to reveal a seam in the cardboard tube, press on the seam and – POP! – out comes your dough, ready to be spread or arranged or whatever it is you were planning to do with unbaked dough and please do NOT leave me any further suggestions for use in the comments as I sincerely wish to sleep soundly tonight.

In practice, however, it always turns out differently. And this makes me channel my inner Andy Rooney, which is yet another reason why it is a good thing I have a blog, since otherwise I would be ranting and raving out on the streets about this stuff and then either large men in white suits would take me away to a place that hands out medication by the funnel-full or smaller men in blue suits would make me run for office, neither of which counts as a good time in my book. People expect this sort of thing on a blog, though. And since I rarely post cat pictures, this is what I’ve got.

You’re welcome.

In practice the first thing that happens is that the paper rips into tiny shreds, leaving you with no tab and an unopened tube of dough. At that point you have three options. The unsatisfying but likely more proper option is to pick slowly at the remaining paper until such time as the seam is revealed. The more satisfying and crudely effective method is to stab the tube with a sharp object as if you were a new nurse at the blood bank until you locate the seam, leaving the tube bruised and leaking and full of holes but your mission accomplished. The way more satisfying but generally counterproductive method is to beat the tube with a mallet until it and everything within a three-foot radius has to be scraped into the trash can and you go out for fast food because by now dinner is very late and you are starving and you would gladly eat a bucket of lard on a bun (“I’ll have a Number 4 with a Diet Coke, please”) and eventually you do this often enough to die of poor nutrition but you die with a smile because dammit you taught that freaking tube a lesson.

But let us assume that you have chosen either options A (paper) or B (sharp object) rather than the more satisfying C (mallet). You then press on the seam. Nothing happens. You press again, harder this time. Still nothing happens. You grip the tube with both hands, imagine that it is the neck of the troll who made fifth grade such a misery for you, and squeeze.

There follows a gelatinous roar.

Eventually the air clears, revealing a scene worthy of a Roadrunner cartoon with you in the Wile E. Coyote role, standing there amid total devastation with a quizzical expression on your face and your hands holding a tube-shaped piece of empty space.

There follows a prolonged internal debate regarding whether it would be more cost effective to hose down your entire kitchen or simply move to a new house. Eventually you decide that you do not care.

Nobody has ever, in the history of the world, actually consumed the contents of one of those tubes. For all I know they’ve stopped even putting actual food in them and simply fill them up with sticky foam for you to scrape off of whatever surface it lands on when you’re done with them.

When I am Grand Vizier, things will be different.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Primary Fallout, Secondary Burns

Let me get this straight.

The winner of the three Republican primary elections yesterday was not King Croesus the Presumed, with his bags of gold and his foot-in-mouth disease. Nor was it Nuclear Newt the Nut Job, the only Speaker of the House ever removed by his own party for ethics violations (and seriously, what do you have to do to make that happen that doesn't involve a goat or a Twitter account or both?). It wasn’t even the Gilded Age Hero on his quest to set the Wayback Machine on the United States to 1875, complete with robber barons, incipient revolution among exploited wage slaves, and a society where blacks and women understand their subordination to the master race and/or gender, at least in theory, and where they can be horsewhipped if they don’t.

No, when standing there at the polls and faced with the weighty issue of who shall be one of the two main people vying for the highest office this republic has to offer, the majority of Republicans in three of the states of this great union declared their preference to be … (wait for it) … Rick Santorum.


Rick Santorum?

The same guy who was voted “Dumbest Person in the Pennsylvania Legislature” by his colleagues? That Rick Santorum?

The guy whose main qualification for office is that the bigots and the halfwits of this great nation need representation too? That Rick Santorum?

I may need to lie down for a while.

The lesson here is fairly obvious, really. The Republican Party has collapsed. It is a dead party. If it weren’t nailed to its perch it would be pushing up daisies. It has joined the choir invisible. It has no serious ideas. It has no leadership. Other than platitudes, half-remembered nostrums, an unending supply of bile, and a frighteningly inaccurate fantasy version of American history, it is a bankrupt and empty organization. This doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous or powerful – anyone who’s tried to deal with a cornered rat can tell you that such creatures can do an awful lot of harm even in their death throes. But clearly it no longer has any serious interest in winning the 2012 presidential election, a surprising tactic when facing a fairly weak president in a damaged economy.

A while ago The Onion published an article about how the Republicans were going to throw this election because they felt that the responsibility of actually governing the country in a grown-up fashion was beyond their core mission of obstruction, harassment and generally thwarting meaningful governance. Far better that they should stay the course with idiotic slogans designed to appeal to that segment of the electorate for which “lowest common denominator” is an aspiration rather than a description. Concentrate on your strengths, they said.

It’s always sort of disappointing when The Onion actually becomes hard news.

I suppose I should be happy about this, in a tactical sense.

King Croesus the Presumed is going to need to devote a sizable fraction of his vast hoard of gold to going after his fellow Republicans rather than his opposition, and he will emerge as a damaged and dispirited nominee fronting a disenchanted base whose main point of satisfaction will be that At Least He's Not The Black Guy In The White House. And if you think the racial angle won't play a large part in all this, you haven't been paying attention.

Nuclear Newt is sure to provide more negative campaign coverage on King Croesus the Presumed than the Democratic strategists could come up with if they were provided an unlimited budget and a coke addict’s paranoia – I’m guessing the Democrats may just buy the rights to Nuclear Newt’s campaign outright and save themselves the trouble of filming their own commercials.

And Santorum? What can you do with an electorate that thinks that man is capable of doing anything more productive than digesting his lunch? He’ll keep up his campaign until it becomes clear that he can’t win, embarrassing the republic across the world, and then he’ll keep it up some more.

Of course he may yet win. Any of them could win the nomination at this point.

And that, my friends, is a truly frightening thought. Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, but a great many people have gotten elected that way.

Gonna be a long, long year.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


My house is overrun with rabbits.

Last fall, as part of Lauren’s 4H project, we agreed to adopt a rabbit. Hazel belonged to a friend of ours, and has several years of County Fair experience under her belt (or pelt, rather). She seemed like a good "starter rabbit" for someone just getting into the whole 4H County Fair thing. And somehow, in the process of getting a hutch, we ended up with Milo as well. They are friendly little things, for the most part.

Hazel and Milo have been moved into the house for the winter, though this winter has been warm enough that I doubt they would have been harmed if we’d left them outside. There are two cages stacked one atop the other about ten feet to my left, over by where we hang our coats, and most of the time they hang out there munching away on whatever Lauren has remembered to feed them as well as the odd sweater or two. Lauren cleans out the pans below the cages every day, so it doesn’t get too rabbity on the nose, and mostly things are fine.

But you sort of feel bad for them, sitting there in their little cages. So we let them run around a bit.

There are several problems with this.

First, rabbits tend to be rather indiscriminate eaters. In addition to the specially-designed and absurdly expensive little pellets that we feed them to keep them away from our sweaters, they will also eat old vegetables, pillows, and random financial papers left lying about, the last of which have been known to contain deadly amounts of disappointment and rage. You do not want to see a 3lb bunny on a rage diet. You will laugh yourself to death.

Monty Python jokes may be left in the comment section for those who truly cannot resist.

Second, rabbits are by nature prey. This means they are rather skittish, especially around the cat, who would be nature's perfect predator if she could be bothered. Mithra has on occasion attempted to taste the rabbits – not harm them, mind you, just a little lick to see what they’re like. Mostly, though, she watches them from the safety of the back of a chair – she figured out early that rabbits can’t climb, so when they start to annoy her that’s where she retreats.

It’s not the lamb lying down with the lion, but it generally keeps the peace.

The final thing about rabbits – at least our rabbits – is that they are not housebroken. I understand that such a thing is possible, but it occupies the same place in my world as ghosts or Dallas: people tell me such things exist, but I have never seen them and therefore remain agnostic on the subject.

We’re actually attempting to train the rabbits. They have a specially-designed and reasonably priced litter box in the corner of the living room, with specially-designed and absurdly expensive litter, which they seem to like. But for the most part our living room is a minefield of tiny little rabbit bombs. It is Lauren’s job to vacuum them up after the rabbits are put away, and she does a decent job of it. Mostly.

I remain convinced that this is part of Kim’s long-range plan to get rid of the living room carpet. It may well succeed.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Inside the Organ

Every semester my students and I go through the 3x5 card routine.

You know this routine, if you’ve ever taken a college class. There’s a lot of students and only one professor, and we need a way to track people down. So we ask the students to provide us with contact information so we don’t have to rely on the registrar if we need to get hold of them – phone number, email, that sort of thing.

Way back when I started – and even further back, when I was a student myself – it was standard to ask for the student’s social security number. I was never sure why, but they asked and I complied, and then later I asked and they complied. In this age of identity theft we don’t do that anymore, and it occasionally staggers me that we ever did.

I also take the opportunity to get to know the students a bit by asking them questions that will make them stand out from their peers in my mind. It’s easy to let the class blur into an incoherent grey mass of bodies, but that’s not fair to them and no fun for me.

So, for example, I ask them for the nickname they would prefer to be called during class – I’ve never seen the point of calling someone “William” if he prefers “Bill” or “Rocketman.” Yes, I’ll call you Rocketman if that’s what you want. Just don’t joke about it unless that’s really what you want to be called.

I also ask them to tell me one thing they’ve done that probably nobody else in the room has done.

This is a question I stole from John Scalzi’s blog a number of years ago. I have no idea where he got it from. But every semester for a while now I have posed this question to my students, and I am always amazed at the things they write down. Some of them are big things – I once had a student who smuggled a nurse past Khmer Rouge guards and into a refugee camp. But most of them are the little things that make us human – a catalogue of bizarre injuries, minor achievements, far-away vacations and painstakingly developed skills.

Throughout the semester I post them anonymously on the board – or, in online classes, in a separate forum. “Someone in this class …” I never refer to it. I never discuss it. I never reveal who it is. If the person wants to claim it they can, otherwise it just sits there.

I once had a student ask me why I did that, and all I could think to say was, “Because your classmates are interesting people, and you should know that.”

In fairness, I tell them something I’ve done that they probably haven’t. I try to make it something funny, so they don’t get intimidated by the Big Important Professor in the front of the room. Usually I say, “I once spent an hour in the air chamber of a 10,000+ pipe organ while it was being played." They like that story.

In all the semesters I’ve told that tale, though, this is the first one where anyone has ever asked for the whole story. And I thought, well, I should write it down. So here it is.

When I was in college, I did a lot of theater. Lighting mostly – I was one of those cat rats hanging from the rafters with a crescent wrench tied to their belt loop. The first big show I did was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. We put it on in the main auditorium on campus – a Gothic pile of a place called Irvine Auditorium. Irvine could seat about 2400 people with both balconies full, and it was also the home of the Curtis Organ.

The Curtis Organ was a throwback – a massive pipe organ that they would bring out every so often for concerts and, every Halloween, for the midnight showing of the 1926 Lon Cheney version of Phantom of the Opera. It was a lot of fun, going to that.

The organ was maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers who mostly did their work in the wee hours of the morning, since that was pretty much the only time they could get into Irvine without having to work around other people. It was a busy place, Irvine.

If you’ve ever done any theater, you know that at the end of it all, after the audience has left for the last time, there is strike. Strike is where you tear it all down and put it away for the next time. For a show the size of Joseph, if they start as the audience is still filing out of their seats a dedicated crew of stagehands can get it all done in about five hours, provided they have no particular concern for their safety. The lure of a cast party afterward doesn’t hurt, either.

We finished strike at about 3am.

By that point the organ people had filtered in and were putting the instrument through its paces. There were maybe two or three of us lighting people left, and they asked if we’d like to see how it worked. Since the powers that were among the Joseph staff had already figured out that the cast party would have to wait until the following night and we were therefore in no danger of missing it, we said “Sure!”

The organ has two gigantic air chambers, as I recall, one on each side of the auditorium, way up where the second balcony would be if it extended around that far. They took us up to the one on house right, and we climbed through the rather hobbit-sized door.

Inside, the chamber was about fifteen feet long and a bit narrower than that, and maybe six feet high – I don’t recall having to duck, anyway, though I do recall feeling a bit cramped vertically. All across the ceiling were trackers – rods that moved whenever the organist pressed down on a key – and you could see them sliding back and forth as he played, way down below on the stage.

The room was full of pipes. The biggest pipes, of course, were on the outside – some of them ran quite a long way up the wall on the sides of the stage – but many of the smaller pipes were just sitting there in racks in the room with us, just held in by gravity. Some were no bigger than my fingers. You could pick them up and blow on them like a tin whistle if you wanted, and of course we wanted. It was cool, if somewhat dusty.

Inside was quite muffled – you really couldn’t hear the pipes unless they were inside with you – but the air pressure was high. It took a while for my ears to pop back to normal afterward.

They put us to work dusting the pipes a bit, and we had a surprisingly good time for an hour or so before it was time to go. I can remember walking back to my dorm room in the still hours of the night, still listening in my head to the organ being played all around me.

I’ve always loved pipe organs.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Magnum Trivium, Omnium Trivium

What was once true remains true: if you want trivia, go to the source.

Last night was the annual Trivia Contest that the local symphony orchestra sponsors as a fundraiser. Teams pay an entry fee and get to compete for Glory, Honor, and Fabulous Prizes. There is also food. Mostly, it must be said, we do it because we’re just nerds that way and think taking a five-round quiz qualifies as a fun evening.

You can’t really get all Conan on your competition at a Trivia Contest. You can try to crush your opponents, but it’s hard to revel in the lamentations of their women when you’re all at a level of nerdity that may or may not include much of a social life. There was a surprising amount of trash-talking done by the editor of the town newspaper, though.

Hah. He thinks that mere journalists know trivia? The university invented trivia. It is our stock in trade.

The Home Campus team has now won this event four years running, and it may be time to retire. We scared off the Exclusive Local Private University this year – apparently losing to us state employees year after year stung a bit. And people have begun to hiss at us. I can’t really blame them. We are professionals, after all. It’s like inviting the Eagles to your Pop Warner football tournament. There’s always a chance you can beat them – they’re not the Packers or Patriots, after all – but the odds are not good.

We had a marvelous time. The questions were a lot harder this year, but we managed to answer more of them than any other team despite the odd fixation of the question writers on volleyball. We had some good competition – this was not a runaway victory by any means. And we got the snazzy little trophies, the fabulous prizes (I chose tickets to see the local minor league hockey team play some Friday night) and whatever glory and honor arise from all this.

It’s all good.