Saturday, March 31, 2012

On Remaining in the Same Economic Strata That I Was In Last Week

So. Apparently I’m not a millionaire.

Like most of Western Civilization, I threw a few bucks at the Mega-Millions lottery drawing for Friday night. Apparently somebody actually took the time to calculate how much money was wagered on that drawing and discovered that it was … um … a whole pile of money. A pile big enough that if you converted it all to hundred dollar bills and laid them all end to end, you would be very tired when you were done.

Also like most of Western Civilization, I ignored the whole discussion of the odds of actually winning this pile of money. Yes, I am aware that I have a greater chance of being hit by lightning, running a sub-three-minute mile, and being granted permission from my wife to date teenagers – all in the same day – than I do of winning that money.

But I really would rather not be struck by lightning. I have no interest in running an entire mile unless something with fangs is chasing me, and even then it would be tempting just to turn and get eaten as it would be a quicker and less painful death. And I had my fill of dating teenagers when I was one. Don’t get me wrong – I had a wonderful time with those women and I am still close friends with most of them, but one of the many joys of being happily married is never having to date ever again. So none of those things are really on my list of Desirable Outcomes.

Winning lots of money, though, that's right there.

Now, I grew up surrounded by people with a whole lot of money. I understand that at a certain point managing money becomes a full-time job in itself, that having money does not solve all your problems so much as change them into new and different problems, and that winning the lottery is just another way of dividing time into Before and After and you can’t go back again. I get that.

I also get that in practical terms I don’t really have to worry about those things.

Instead, it’s just a way to stretch your imagination. It is just fun to think of the things you could do with over half a billion dollars, and that, really, is why you play those games.

You don’t play to win – somebody has to win, and it’s not likely to be you. You don’t play to solve all your problems, because you’re still the same person when all is said and done and as one internet meme has so wisely said, “The only constant in all your bad experiences is you.”

You play to dream. You play because for a couple of bucks you get to spend an evening or two coming up with new and ever more inventive ways to spend that money. It’s cheaper than a movie.

So next time? Yeah, I’ll throw in my couple of bucks.

And if I hit it big despite all of this? Well, won’t that be a time.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dinner Conversation

That would be so totally worth it.

Not partially worth it?

How can something be partially worth it? Things are either worth it or not worth it, and this would be totally worth it.

But how can it be totally worth it, then? If it’s worth it at all, then it would be totally worth it and you might as well just save yourself the breath and just say it was worth it.

This is more than worth it. It’s totally worth it.

So if it were less than worth it would it be partially worth it then?

No! I already told you that!

But what if it could be partially worth it? Then you’d have to figure out what part, wouldn’t you?

I suppose. There’d be a worth it part that would be totally worth it, and a worthless part that would be totally not worth it, and you’d have to know which part was which but they’d be all blended together like that so you wouldn’t know.

Sort of a yin and yang thing?

No, you can see the two parts of yin and yang. There’s yin, which is totally worth it, and yang, which is totally not worth it. Or the other way around. Is yin the one that’s worth it or yang?

Definitely yin.

But this wouldn’t be like that, because even though yin and yang are mixed together like that they’re still separate, and you can pick out the totally worth it part from the totally not worth it part with tweezers.


Metaphorical tweezers!

Well, those are the best kinds. You never know when your metaphor might need to be tweezed.

True. But you couldn’t do that with a partially worth it thing, because it wouldn’t be yin and yang and subject to metaphorical tweezing. It would be a black-and-white milkshake, where everything gets mixed up and turns to grey. You’d have to suck it up through a straw.

I would love a black-and-white milkshake right now. That would be so totally worth it.

Not partially worth it?

How can something be partially worth it?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rhapsody In Bohemia, Take 20

One of the weirder bits of trivia I picked up in college was the fact that the single most parodied song in existence is The Streets of Laredo.

I can believe this. I personally have heard any number of versions of that song and may well have contributed to the total number of parodies, though I have no distinct memory of having done so. Things like that happen in college.

But that was a long time ago, and my guess is that with the advent of YouTube and the fact that The Streets of Laredo was an old song even when I was young, things have changed. If I had to guess, I’d say that the current reigning champion for parodied songs is probably Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

Or maybe it’s just the “Most Covered Song.” Sometimes it’s an awfully thin line between the two.

So I did a bit of digging around on YouTube, which is a site dedicated to the proposition that there are a great many people on this planet upon whose hands time weighs very heavily, and sure enough, I found more than my share of versions of that song.

These need to be shared with the wider world, or at least that portion of it that reads this blog. And since Nathan wants me to demonstrate that I have in fact internalized his helpful instructions on how to create links on this blog, I figured that this would be a good way to do that.

So here are twenty more versions of Bohemian Rhapsody, many of which appear to have been produced by people who were actively sober during the process.


Four Finns in a Volkswagen

On a ukulele (and a marvelously peaceful rendition it is)

On two ukuleles and a drum set (not peaceful, just weird)


25 of the Most Annoying Voices in Music

An Austrian brass band

Financial humor

Everything sounds better in bluegrass

Or as a polka

Maybe a symphony?


One guy, four violins

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theater

Classical guitar

For your newborn, here it is as a lullaby

A bassoon quartet

Violin rock and roll

Calculus humor

One guy, one guitar, and a whole lot of dreadlocks

Hungary’s Got Talent!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rah Team!

We’ve called this year’s household NCAA March Madness Bracket contest for lack of survival.

Every year Kim and I put together our brackets, mostly as an exercise in random probability. I know nothing about basketball at any level. It’s a game played by vastly elongated people following rules that might as well apply to figure skating or cricket as far as I can tell. There is no defense and there are far too many points scored – it’s Short Attention Span Theater for the athletically inclined. Kim at least understands the rules, having been the scorekeeper for her high school basketball teams. But this only makes her jumpy when trying to watch actual games, for fear of missing something she should have written down. Neither of us follows the sport at all.

Filling out brackets is fun, however. There’s an element of luck, a dash of “I’ve heard their names on the news so they must be either good or hot,” and a bit of “I like that university so I’m going to vote for them.” I always pick the Ivy team to win its first game, mostly out of loyalty to my Bright College Days. Once in a while they actually do win, and then aren’t I surprised?

Also, since we don’t have anything on the line other than a general sense of having guessed correctly this year, there’s no stress. I could use a few things in my world that don’t have any stress. They’re in short supply these days.

This year Kim actually filled out three brackets – her One True Bracket, her Sentimental Favorites bracket, and her Random Coin-Toss Bracket. I just filled out the one.

These went about as well as expected.

Each of us has exactly one team still alive at the moment and we didn’t pick either of them to win anything next week, so the contest is hereby declared over. Points have been tallied. Results are in. Thank you for your time, don’t forget to tip your waitress, we’ll be back next year at this very same time.

For a while it looked like I would go down in flaming defeat, as I generally tend to do, but a few games went my way and it turned out that I won by four points (you get one point for a first-round victory, two for a second, and so on – you’d get six for picking the champion correctly). It’s not the most convincing victory in the world and it rests on a foundation of sand, but a win’s a win and perhaps I will go celebrate by throwing a random monkey wrench into the next bureaucratic process I am asked to participate in.

Kim did manage to beat both Random Chance and Sentimentality, which tied for last place. There’s probably something that could be said about that, but I don’t think I will go there.

We don’t have to pay attention anymore, so I doubt we’ll even know who emerges as the eventual winner of this tournament. Go team! Fight! Fight! Fight! Whoever you are! Beat those other guys! Bring pride back to wherever it is you came from!

Now pass me my book.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Day Surrounded By Cats

I learned a few things today.

Orange is red. Grey is blue. Stripes are mackerels. Circles are bulls-eyes. And you can never have enough dill pickles as large as your head.

The things you learn at cat shows.

Today was the big 4H Pre-Fair Cat Show down at the county fairgrounds. This is the “fun” show – the one they hold a month before the serious show, mostly to get you and your cats used to the idea of cat shows and to see if you really, really want to do this sort of thing again.

It’s a fair question.

Imagine, if you will, a building. It’s about thirty feet wide and maybe a hundred feet long, essentially one big uninterrupted space. Give this building concrete floors and metal walls, and make sure that there isn’t anything in it made from any material that could possibly absorb sound. Now fill it with wire cages on tables and stuff those cages with sixty-five stressed out cats, all of whom are desperately unhappy about being there and deeply ticked off at their neighbors, whom they can smell but not see until they are removed from the cages for whatever reason, whereupon the symphony begins in earnest. Now surround those cats with their owners – perhaps fifty children, ranging in age from six to sixteen with the average being somewhere around eleven or twelve - and a host of parents, grandparents, and assorted hangers-on.

Don’t forget the announcer, holding a microphone and standing behind a speaker that is roughly a yard square, earnestly imploring the owners of Cat 37 to bring it to Ring 3 right now or lose their chance at being judged.

If you can handle this at the “fun” level, then you can consider doing it again.

We didn’t have a bad time of it, actually.

Last night Tabitha and I spent an hour helping to set the place up, and then we arrived at 8am to get registered. Tabitha quickly got Mithra and Midgie set up in their respective cages, and I went off to the food booth to try to get that up and running – an interesting task, considering how little specific instruction I got. On the one hand, how much instruction do you need? On the other hand, some would have been reassuring.

I spent a wholly disproportionate amount of time serving giant pickles to small children.

Midgie and Mithra seemed to settle in fairly well, all things considered. Tabitha did a nice job of making them at home in their cages, and they quickly figured out that the devil they knew (each other) was less problematic than all the other demons surrounding them.

And then it was time to be judged.

First came the Showmanship part. You’re only allowed to do this with one cat, and given that Mithra desperately hated it last year Tabitha decided to try it with Midgie this year. This turned out to be more complicated than we imagined. Midgie was a bit freaked out by the whole process of standing in line and waiting her turn (not unlike a number of people I know, many of whom have business careers) and ended up bolting at one point. Lauren tracked her down (only owners are allowed to approach runaway cats, which anyone who has ever tried to pick up an unfamiliar and highly annoyed cat can understand) and the rest of the interview went well.

Each cat was judged in all three of the rings over the course of the day. In the Fun Ring, Midgie was crowned the “Clever Cat” and Mithra the “Luxurious Cat.” There was more serious judging in the other two rings, though, and Midgie actually got a call-back from the judge in Ring 1.

She was awarded a medal for being the sixth best short-haired cat in the show, according to that judge. We were quite proud.

Of course, neither she nor Mithra made it into the other judge’s top twenty, but so it goes. Tabitha got to show a medal-winning cat, and that’s a good thing.

We finally got home around 3pm, poured the cats out of their carriers, and let them get back to the serious business of whatever it is that cats do during the day.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What A Way To Go

There’s a new book store here in Our Little Town.

It’s a used book store. It’s run by a nice little old lady who actually knows her way around books and has a good sense of what should be in a book store, so it’s not stuffed to the gunwales with coverless Harlequins and 1970s-vintage thrillers. And it’s three blocks from my house.

I’m doomed.

But it will be a pleasant kind of doom, rather like being pressed to death by supermodels, but in a non-marriage-threatening sort of way.

It’s more or less summer here in Baja Canada – we’ve had over a week of 80-degree-plus temperatures (this is not nearly as impressive in metric numbers, which is one reason why the metric system has not really caught on here in Merrka: Hell Yeah! Another reason is that we must be collectively dumb as a box of hammers) and I’m seriously thinking that I may have to mow the lawn sometime soon. We’ve already made multiple pilgrimages to the neighborhood soft-serve ice cream joint, and I’ve tested the a/c in my car more than once.

It’s a good thing the climate isn’t shifting, because otherwise, you know, I’d be worried.

This week is also Spring Break down at Home Campus. Unfortunately our break doesn’t correspond to the public school system’s break (in two weeks), so it’s been pretty low key for us. But today Kim decided to stay home, having no meetings on her schedule, and to celebrate the fine weather and mutual otherwise-uncommitted time we went for a walk down to the new book store to see the not-so-new books.

Oh my.

I found several treasures, including a memoir by a WWI spy (published in 1933) that looked randomly interesting. Kim found a pile of novels. We ended up lugging home a bag of books heavy enough to cause spinal curvature, all for less than the cost of a decent lunch.

I am so doomed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Drill, Baby, Drill

It’s been almost twelve hours now, and I think I can feel my mouth again.

I have always had an ambivalent relationship with anesthetics. On the one hand, I have a certain amount of resistance to them – they take forever to kick in with me, and more than once I have had to point this out to various medical professionals in rather direct terms. It is surprising how much information you can get across with just a verb. So they give me more. This brings up the other hand, which is that once they do start to kick in, they are fairly effective. And this means that I remain numb for quite some time afterward.

I once had a minor three-minute procedure done on my big toe that left my right leg numb pretty much up to mid-thigh for half a day. This makes public transportation a fascinating challenge. It also makes showing up to work interesting when your job is to drive people around the city.

Today, as part of my ongoing campaign to pay attention to healthcare again, I spent most of the morning at the dentist’s office getting a temporary crown put in.

With my new crown I figure I’m almost royalty. Charles I of England. Louis XVI of France. That sort of royalty. At least it felt that way until the drugs started to work.

The whole procedure took about an hour, including waiting for the meds to kick in and convincing the receptionists afterward that they really did want me to pay for this. I suppose I could have skipped that part, but a) I’d spent an earlier hour on the phone with my employer mapping out how to get the Medical Savings Account we’re forced to set up and which we lose entirely if we don't use to pay for this - my insurance wouldn’t even think of covering it, don't be silly - and b) if I left they might send lawyers out after me, and frankly the kind of lawyer who would work in collections for a dentist scares me.

It was a pleasant enough time if you didn’t think too hard about the fact that of the three of us in that little office, one person was sawing away at my person with a power tool and another was pressing down in my mouth with a stick in order to give the first person room to maneuver. I’m not really an ideal patient, let’s put it that way. We talked of trips to St. Louis and children and other pleasant subjects, tried very hard to ignore the political ads that are beginning to infest the airwaves in Wisconsin now that our Republican primary is likely to have meaning for the first time in decades, and otherwise passed the time in a curious sort of willful ignorance of what was being done.

But now I can feel my mouth again.

And I’m not sure this is an improvement.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The End of the Third Party System, Part III: May You Live In Interesting Times

So far in what was originally supposed to be a single post’s worth of musings, I have covered two basic points regarding what I believe to be the possible collapse of the Third Party System sometime in the near future:

First, that parties and party systems have a history – that there was a time before the current arrangement, which implies that there will be a time after it, and that the parties currently making up the Third Party System have changed dramatically over time.

And second, that when previous party systems have collapsed it has been because the internal weaknesses of one of the main parties in the system were severe enough to prevent them from responding well to an external crisis.

Guess what I see now? A Third Party System where at least one and possibly both parties fit that bill.

There are a number of crises that we face at this moment, none of which we are dealing with in any particularly graceful or responsible way and all of which have the potential to destroy a political party unable to come to grips with them.

We are a single power in an increasingly multipolar and technologically leveled world – the binary structure of the Cold War isn’t even a memory for the college students in my classroom these days, the pace of technology means that even non-state actors can now be a genuine threat to powerful states, and trying to figure out a workable system of security in this new world, one that doesn’t subvert the US from within, has so far escaped us. Further, we are living in a world of unstable energy supplies and a deteriorating environment and climate, and we refuse to have the grown-up discussions necessary to recognize these facts let alone deal with them. Also, through a combination of grotesquely irresponsible fiscal policy and poorly thought out warfare we have managed to convert a debt problem into a debt crisis in the last dozen years, one that leaves the country vulnerable to any number of threats from both internal and external enemies.

Most importantly, though, there is the historically high and increasing level of inequality in the United States. If there is a single problem that will destroy the Third Party System, I’m guessing it will probably be this.

Inequality is a problem on several levels, but the main difficulty it will produce if left unchecked is the collapse of the American economy as it is currently constructed. We live in a consumer economy, one driven by demand rather than supply. That kind of economy requires a broad middle class prosperous enough to spend its money on goods, and preferably a lower class that has at least some disposable income as well. This is what creates jobs – all that talk about the wealthy as “job creators” is so much gold-plated horse waste dumped on the general public by spinmeisters eager to impress us with how shiny it is. The wealthy did not become wealthy by wasting money – if there is no demand for their products, they won’t create jobs to make more of those products. Demand, not supply, creates jobs.

But the middle class has been under concerted assault for decades now and has actually begun to shrink. When it collapses it will take our economy with it – and, in turn, our political system and social network. Liberal democracy is based on a strong middle class, for reasons I have discussed in other posts on this blog. And our social system – the network of community groups, volunteer organizations, housing patterns, education systems, and so on, the things that define the whole Tocquevillian pattern of American life – is also based on this widespread middle class. Take out the big prop in the center and the whole tent falls down.

Related to this is the fact that economic inequality has become deeply intertwined with moral issues in this country. Look at the data. The biggest issues in American politics over the last three or four decades have been Culture War issues, most of them having to do with sex, religion (often confused with morality), or some combination of the two, with occasional forays into race. And the single biggest predictor of what side you’re on in this Culture War is income level, followed shortly by educational level (which is deeply tied to income level anyway). The poorer and less educated you are, the more likely you will find yourself on the right-wing side of the Culture War. There are exceptions, of course – individuals are often outliers in statistical models – but the general pattern holds true regardless.

Economic inequality is one of the biggest problems facing this nation, and the plain fact is that neither party really wants to discuss it. Like slavery in the Second Party System, economic inequality has become the issue that has to be ignored for the Third Party System to function. It didn’t used to be that way – much of the Third Party System’s energy between 1900 and 1970 was spent in debates over that very issue, in fact – but it has become that way over the last three or four decades, a period not coincidentally identical to the Culture War.

But also like slavery, ignoring economic inequality is not an option if you wish the larger nation to survive. I have not devoted any space to the Occupy Movement in this blog, in part because I haven’t seen any genuine solutions come out of it for the problems they identify, but the one thing that must be said for them is that they have forced this issue back into the public consciousness in a way reminiscent of the Free Soil Party with slavery in the 1840s. For that alone the Occupy Movement deserves the thanks of a grateful nation. Whether either party in the Third Party System is strong enough to survive this discussion today is an open question as far as I am concerned.

Of the two parties, it is clearly the Republican Party that is in the most trouble right now.

Face it – if the Republican Party had any reserves of political strength, moral fiber or intellectual heft left to itself, none of the frontrunners for this year’s presidential race would have been anywhere near the nomination at this point. The staggering weakness of these candidates is perhaps the most obvious sign that between 2008 and 2012 the Republican Party has finally come undone. This is not necessarily fatal – the Democrats recovered from an equivalent position after their nadir between 1968 and 1972 – but it took them nearly a quarter of a century to do so even with the boost they got from Richard Nixon actually being a crook.

The Republican Party’s big problem is that their two main wings have reached a point where they are no longer either compatible or focused on winning or governance.

Since the 1920s, the Republican Party has been divided into its Wall Street Wing and its Social Conservative Wing. And for most of that period, the Wall Streeters have pretty much run the show. The Social Conservatives have been useful tools for getting out the vote and distracting the electorate from the economic consequences of what the Wall Streeters were promoting, but right up to the mid-1970s that was about all they were.

The interests of the Wall Streeters are fairly straightforward. They seek political power in order to promote private enterprise. Private enterprise is not necessarily free enterprise – there’s a difference. Wall Streeters are perfectly happy, even eager, to use the power of government to benefit private corporations in a way that libertarian free market ideologues find distasteful. They seek a small government whose main function is the active promotion of corporate profits. This can be through removing or blocking regulation of corporations; redistributing tax dollars into private corporate contracts (defense contracts, for example); exercising strict control over unions, environmentalists, or other challengers to corporate interests; and in general the privatizing of any government function that Wall Streeters feel they could turn to their financial gain, such as health insurance or old age pensions. That government often handles such things more efficiently and effectively is not their concern – that they are not receiving the profits from these activities is. They also tend to want an isolationist foreign policy, since wars and entanglements create costs and uncertainties which reduce profits, though they’ll support intervention on occasion.

This group has the money in the Republican Party. They also have the brains. They want candidates who are electable – purity is nice but results in not winning and therefore not getting their way. They are generally willing to work with their political opponents to get the best deal possible for themselves, because they’re used to doing that with their corporate opponents and are smart enough to play a long game most of the time. They can be ruthless, short-sighted, cold-hearted, arrogant and greedy, but they understand that the only way for them to win the game is not to destroy the board.

The Social Conservative Wing of the Republican Party may not have the brains but they do have a few wealthy patrons, a couple of first-class strategists, and most of the energy these days. They have been the driving force behind much of the party’s success over the last few decades. They have been there all along for nearly a century – it’s just that now they’re calling the shots. And the Wall Streeters do not like this.

Their interests are more complicated than the Wall Streeters. They tend not to care about money very much at all and instead focus on moral issues – Culture War issues, in modern terms. They have a vision of a pure and Godly nation and they intend to see that vision fulfilled if they have to overturn every legal and Constitutional restraint in their path. For most the last century this platform has been built around the twin pillars of sexual restrictions and evangelical Protestantism, particularly a Biblical literalist, anti-intellectual, deeply fearful and wholly anti-modern strain of Christian fundamentalism that sits uneasily within the larger spectrum of Christianity no matter how much it claims to represent – or even be – the larger whole. There is also a strong racial component in this group – they regard this as a white man’s country, with other races (even Native Americans) as interlopers, and they bitterly resent the strides made by non-whites toward equality.

The fact that there is currently a black president in the White House really, really twists their knickers.

They want to impose by law a patriarchal culture where women are little more than the property of successive men – fathers, husbands, even brothers – and charged with little more than reproduction and silence. The fact that some of the most outspoken advocates of this are women is just one of those ironies. They want a theocratic state with the intrusive power to regulate all aspects of morality – they do not believe in privacy, they do not believe in individual freedom, they do not believe in small government and they certainly do not believe in democracy. This is Big Government Conservatism, an authoritarian movement designed to impose a moral dictatorship over the heathen land, and it is aimed squarely at your personal beliefs and practices. They would like nothing more than to turn this country into a Fundamentalist Christian version of Iran. This too is ironic, since they also want a messianic foreign policy focused on removing the heathen from the world, at missile-point if necessary, and, at present, Iran is their top target.

When it comes to candidates, this group values purity over electability – which should not be surprising, given its emphasis on rigidly defined morals. They are averse to compromise, utterly convinced of their own righteousness (a delusion which no amount of internal scandal or evidence of perfidy can dent) and unwilling to work with anyone they regard as impure, which is pretty much everyone except their own card-carrying members and not even all of those. They have all the great Romantic virtues – they are gallant, uncompromising, vivid and true to themselves – but they are more than willing to destroy the board rather than see anyone else win the game and this makes them an existential threat to the republic. We need to start treating them that way.

These two groups have co-existed uneasily within the Republican Party for decades now. But with the shift from money-driven politics to values-driven politics in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Social Conservative Wing has become ascendant in terms of setting the agenda, writing the platform, and mobilizing the votes. The Wall Streeters have been willing to use them to gain power, but have made very little attempt to implement that agenda as it conflicts on many points with their own. The Social Conservatives are no longer willing to be patronized. The Wall Streeters are unhappy about being supplanted and even more unhappy about being radicalized out of profit opportunities.

And as a result, this coalition is now at the brink of collapse.

The driving force behind this is that with the ascendency of the Social Conservatives, economic issues are now being cast in moral terms. Taxes, debt payments, health care insurance, budget deficits, unions, environmental regulations, and other fiscal matters up to and including warfare – things that Wall Streeters tend to see as bargaining chips in service to their larger goal of profit – are considered moral absolutes by the Social Conservatives. This leaves the party as a whole with precious little maneuvering room on basic political issues – something Social Conservatives celebrate as a stepping stone toward moral purity, but which Wall Streeters see as closing off avenues unnecessarily and quite possibly harming their long-term goals. Social Conservatives regard this attitude as a uniquely offensive form of betrayal and cast out these naysayers as RINOs.

Simply put, each wing of the Republican Party is coming to see the other as an obstacle to their goals.

At this point we return to the crisis of economic inequality that this post started with, an inequality that has been largely produced by the Republican Party’s fiscal and social policies since 1980, policies that effectively reversed half a century of growing equality. The Wall Streeters see this inequality as something to be managed. They like inequality – it benefits them. But they also like a strong middle class – it contributes to their profits. Managing this requires the ability to negotiate with their opponents. It requires the ability to raise taxes to pay debts, as Reagan did repeatedly. It requires a relatively grown-up approach to governance. I have my qualms about the specifics of their program, but I do not doubt the Wall Streeters want me to thrive, honestly believe I will survive under their regime, at least to a point (however mistaken this belief may be), and are willing to leave me alone to do so. I’m more valuable to them as a consumer than as a convert.

Unfortunately, the Social Conservatives live in an absolute world. You’re either with them or against them; moral or evil; True Blue American (i.e. exactly like them) or Socialist Kenyan Nazi Death Panel Terrorist Heretic. This binary opposition has migrated from Culture War issues like gay marriage and mandatory fundamentalist prayers at high school football games to economic issues like inequality and the consequences it will inevitably bring. The Social Conservatives now hold the balance of power in the Republican Party and they won’t let the Wall Streeters compromise on anything – and eventually the crisis will bring the country crashing down.

Bottom line, what you have with the Republicans is a party that is facing a serious crisis without the internal coherence necessary to address it in a grown-up and productive manner. And as this crisis becomes more and more the driving force of American politics, that party will stretch until its two halves can no longer be contained within a single body. Either the Social Conservatives will learn how to compromise with the Wall Streeters (not likely), disappear in a blinding flash of electoral or cultural failure (entirely possible), or, as with the Northern and Southern Whigs, the party will dissolve into its component factions (also entirely possible).

What happens then is anyone’s guess.

The Wall Streeters have the advantages in the long run, for three reasons. First, they have the money and money is always going to go where it can maintain a path to power. Second, they have the demographics – business executives are constantly being created, but the Social Conservatives are increasingly a demographic of older Southern whites and their sympathizers who are in fact correct in their assessment that “their” country is passing them by but are simply wrong about the idea that the country is somehow exclusively “theirs.” And third, the Wall Streeters may well have company coming from the Democrats.

The Democrats are not in nearly as bad a shape as the Republicans. They survived their wilderness years in the 1970s and 1980s and emerged as a relatively coherent centrist sort of party, further right than their glory years of the New Deal and Great Society but clearly distinguishable from the Republican Party’s lurch toward the lunatic fringe of right-wing politics. Their Main Street wing – epitomized by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – has pretty much run the show since the early 1990s, much to the frustration of the party’s Progressives.

I suppose it is possible that the Progressives might someday hive off into their own party rather than simply be content to support the Main Streeters as the lesser of two evils. Not likely at the moment, but possible. If that happens, you will end up with a historic re-alignment and a far more complex Fourth Party System than if just the Republicans collapse.

I have no idea what that system would look like. Those who live by the crystal ball soon learn to eat ground glass. But I can offer a few guesses.

My first guess is that you’d see the Republican Party split into its component wings. I’ll bet the Wall Streeters get to keep the name – most of the lawyers will be in the Wall Streeters, and they’ll be good at that sort of thing. They’ll probably get to keep the office furniture too. If the Democrats break up, the Main Streeters may join them – they’re both pro-business (to differing degrees), both generally willing to support social safety net programs (to wildly different degrees, but since poor people are lousy customers there’s still some commonality there), and both are usually willing to play the long game and preserve the board – but they may not. The differing degrees may be sufficiently different to keep them apart. But either way you’d end up with a new party very much like the Eisenhower Republicans of the 1950s, without the interventionist foreign policy necessitated by the Cold War.

The Social Conservatives will be off on their own. They might keep the Teabaggers name (though since somebody explained to them what that meant they’ve tried to avoid it – perhaps they’ll come up with something new, like The American True-Blue Hezbollah). But any group that lives and dies on moral purity isn’t going to want to let anyone else into their treehouse. They will occupy the far right of the political spectrum, run strong in the deepest recesses of the old Confederacy, and die cursing the modern world. One hopes.

And the Progressives might strike out on their own as well. Particularly as economic inequality becomes more salient and the issues it raises become more pressing, Progressives will find their ideas becoming more and more relevant in precisely the way they did at the dawn of the twentieth century, for precisely the same reasons.

There would be a general shaking out period – the American system is not built for more than two main parties, so at least one of those groups would have to go away – and something completely different would likely appear. I won’t even hazard a guess at what that might be, two steps removed from now.

But it won’t be the Third Party System.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The End of the Third Party System, Part II: A Closer Look at How the First Two Ended

This was originally supposed to be one post, but seems to have morphed into three.  Oh well.  More reading value for your internet dollar!


There are many lessons one can draw from the history of American political parties and the Party Systems they create, but the key one for my purposes here is that they are historical events. They have a history, which means that there was a time before they existed and there will be a time when they no longer exist.

Once you step into History, death is inevitable.

The question, of course, is how this will happen. And, related to that, when. Because the mere fact that parties and party systems will eventually go away does not speak to those issues at all.

It does not speak to timing. These things could disappear tomorrow. They could last for decades or even centuries. The First Party System lasted maybe 25 years, depending on how you count. The Second lasted about that long. The Third has lasted for a century and a half, give or take, but the parties that it rests on have changed shapes and platforms often enough that its creators would neither recognize nor approve of what the Third Party System is today, even if that System could somehow be made functional. Perhaps it would be better to discuss the Third Party System as a series of subsets, which would only complicate the timing question further.

Nor does the inevitable death of party systems speak to the issue of mechanics. How do these things end? On the macro level that’s an easy question – party systems end when one or more of the parties making them up collapse or die out. This just moves the question down one level, however – how then do those parties die out?

One of the things that you notice if you examine the ends of parties is that they generally come about from a combination of two things: external crisis and internal weakness.

Most of the time, when a party collapses it does so at a point where it has arrived at a crisis in the world – a situation where questions that have been put off can no longer put off, or where issues of great importance shove themselves into prominence in a way that forces parties to have to deal with them.

Of course, this sort of thing happens all the time without killing parties. Paradigms shift, crises happen, and such is the nature of the world. A well-run, cohesive and functional party exists in part to deal with just such things and can handle them with relative ease. The mere fact of crisis is not in itself sufficient to destroy a political party.

The more important issue is internal weakness. A party that is at war with itself, a party that is structurally weak, divided, intellectually drained or at odds with the clear direction of the country as a whole cannot survive the inevitable crises that are the way of the world and eventually it will find itself in the midst of a crisis that it cannot resolve, that highlights precisely its greatest weakness, drives through that hole and makes the party collapse from the inside. Outside events create context, but self-inflicted wounds are what leads to political change.

The Federalists were done in by a combination of their refusal to acknowledge the ideological shift of the new nation away from their foundational views and their phenomenally poor handling of the War of 1812, particularly the Hartford Convention of 1814.

They had been fading since the re-election of Thomas Jefferson in 1804, as the new United States moved away from their Broad Construction, active federal government ideas and toward the more limited ideas of federal government power that would define most of the nineteenth century. Jefferson and Madison’s mishandling of the run-up to the War of 1812 gave them some energy, however. They tried to parlay that into a revival of their fortunes but overplayed their hands at the Hartford Convention.

Strongest in New England, a region that was bitterly opposed to the War of 1812, the Federalists went into that convention loudly protesting the war and threatening to secede from the Union to form a new and more Anglophile nation if the US did not immediately withdraw from the war on whatever terms necessary. They backed off from that position during the actual convention, but between the pre-convention publicity and the stunning news of Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans (which actually happened after the peace treaty had been signed, but nobody on this side of the Atlantic knew that yet), the Federalists came out of Hartford looking like traitors to the glorious American victory over Britain.

The fact that the War of 1812 was a disaster for the US, one that decisively proved both the necessity of central banking and the uselessness of citizen militias for offensive warfare, was secondary. The fact that the British could easily have destroyed the US had they not been preoccupied with Napoleon and that the US made peace as quickly as they could once the Napoleonic Wars were over wasn’t even discussed. The Federalists were simply out of step, tarred with treason, left without much of a platform, and shattered. They were never a national force again, and by 1820 they were essentially dead.

The Whigs are an even more clear-cut example of this phenomenon, wiping themselves off the map over the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and their own internal sectional divisions over slavery.

The Second Party System was based on the Missouri Compromise of 1820 – without that agreement, however flawed it may have been, the Second Party System could not have survived, because the Missouri Compromise allowed political leaders to declare the issue of slavery in the western territories solved and sweep further questions about it under the rug. This was a conscious decision, not an accident. Second Party System leaders understood that the sectional issue of slavery in the territories would tear the Union apart – indeed, if you have to pick one single issue that caused the Civil War it would be that one – and the only way to prevent this was to build a political system based on things that crossed sectional lines. By keeping the Second Party System focused on national issues – tariffs, banks, internal improvements, and so on – leaders could bridge sectional differences and hold the Union together.

When political divisions line up with geographic divisions, nothing good will come of it.

The Mexican War of the late 1840s re-opened this question. A war of naked aggression designed to appropriate as much of Mexico as the South wanted in order to give slavery room to expand, it is the classic example of the old line, “Beware of what you wish for; you just might get it.” Northerners – content to let slavery be in the South – did not want to see it expand into the West. Southerners – adamant that slavery had to expand or die and willing to force it down the throats of unwilling Westerners in order to get their way – insisted that it had to expand.

The Compromise of 1850 did nothing to settle this issue, and as sectional loyalties began to trump political loyalties, the Whigs found themselves stretched to their breaking point. When the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 essentially repealed the Missouri Compromise in favor of “popular sovereignty” – of letting Westerners decide for themselves whether to have slavery or not – they were doomed. Southern Whigs voted almost unanimously for the Act. Not a single Northern Whig did. The party could not survive the sectional split within its own ranks, and it quickly spiraled into acrimony, accusations, and decay. By 1856 they were gone. Northern Whigs would form the core of the new Republican Party. Southern Whigs were left largely on their own for a few years, until the Civil War hit.

The current state of the Third Party System is worrisome if you look at it in this light.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The End of the Third Party System, Part I: A Short History of Political Parties in America

This took longer to set up than I thought it would, so I suppose I will have to continue it later.


I am beginning to suspect that the Third Party System may well be coming to an end.

Most of my students are surprised to learn that the political parties we have now haven’t been around since the dawn of the republic, that there were other political parties that once roamed the earth like dinosaurs before dying out. They’re even more surprised to learn that the ones we have now haven’t always been the way they are today – that they have evolved over time, which is an ironic fact given current platform of one of them.

But indeed, these things happened.

When the Constitution was written in 1787 there were no political parties at the national level. This was not simply because there really hadn’t been anything like a national level to have parties in prior to that, although that was part of it. The Articles of Confederation government that had more or less ruled the United States from independence up until that point was a singularly powerless body, handicapped by an insistence on state sovereignty that the Constitution was specifically written to overturn, and there really was no reason for parties in a government that weak. There were parties in some of the states prior to that – Pennsylvania, for example, had something approaching a party system as early as the 1760s, for various reasons, and New York was also working its way toward that. But these were the exceptions, and were viewed as aberrant.

More importantly, the classical republicanism upon which this nation was founded (and which died out after the War of 1812 – nobody is running on that platform today and nobody would vote for them if they did) viewed political parties as a sign of corruption and decay. Classical republicans believed that there was a single, easily observable Public Good, and that it was the duty of all responsible citizens to subordinate their petty private interests to it. Political parties – “factions” or “juntos” in the language of the time – were groups that placed their private interests above the Public Good, and were thus a symptom of the impending death of the republic.

Nevertheless, within a decade of the Constitution the United States had its own fully functioning national parties, which historians call the First Party System. These were the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans. The Federalists tended to be Anglophile in their foreign policy, urban and cosmopolitan in their outlook, and inclined to value a strong, active federal government capable of vigorous leadership based on a Broad Construction of the powers given to the federal government under the Constitution. The Democratic Republicans started off as a subset within the Federalists but quickly became their own party. They tended to be Francophile in their foreign policy, more rural and localistic than their Federalist counterparts, and inclined to favor a fairly limited federal government bound by a Strict Construction of the Constitution, with most of the political power in the new nation devolved down to the states.

Alexander Hamilton was a Federalist. Thomas Jefferson was a Democratic Republican.

This system collapsed in the late 1810s after the Federalists managed to discredit themselves entirely during the War of 1812. By 1820, James Monroe could run for president as a Democratic Republican completely unopposed. But during the 1820s the Democratic Republicans themselves splintered into factions, factions that eventually morphed into the Second Party System.

By this point classical republicanism was dead and Lockean Liberalism had triumphed. Liberalism – the basic form of politics followed by almost all Americans today on both right and left – does not believe in a unified Public Good. There is only private interest, and only by following their own private interests can citizens push their nation toward progress. Public good, in other words, is little more than the aggregate value of private interests. Parties – engines of private interest – therefore were good things, and Americans flocked to them with abandon.

When the dust settled in the 1830s the US was left with what historians call the Second Party System. On the one hand you had the Whigs, who tended to favor the Broad Construction of the Constitution that the Federalists once championed – indeed, who shared much of the hierarchical social and political vision of the Federalists, though not all. And on the other side you had the Democrats, very much the heirs to the Strict Construction of the Democratic Republicans, with a new and much more radical emphasis on leveling egalitarianism so long as you only included white people.

This is why the Whigs were generally anti-slavery while the Democrats were not, ironically enough. It all came down to where to put the slaves if you freed them, combined with a virulent shared racism that crossed party lines. The hierarchical Whigs had a place for freed blacks – at the very bottom of the social pyramid along with all the other undesirables, like the Irish. The egalitarian Democrats would have had to admit freed blacks as equals to whites, and this they absolutely refused to do – so they classified blacks as sub-humans and championed slavery.

It’s interesting what you end up with when you follow the logic.

The Whigs and Democrats are generally regarded by historians as modern political parties in a way that the Federalists and Democratic Republicans are not. Where the Federalists and Democratic Republicans were little more than clubs for like-minded gentlemen and their supporters, Whigs and Democrats were organizations. They had agendas, platforms, tactics, and an existence outside of and above their individual members, one that demanded party loyalty even at the expense of personal beliefs. No political leader of the 1790s would have put up with that, but it was standard practice by the 1830s.

Abraham Lincoln was a Whig when he started out in politics in the 1830s. Andrew Jackson was a Democrat.

The Second Party System collapsed in the 1850s over the issue of slavery. Southerners began to value their sectional allegiance to slavery over their national allegiance to party (or anything else connected to the United States as a whole), and the Whigs shattered on that rock. The Democrats nearly did as well, and only by becoming a wholly Southern party did they survive the 1850s – a strategy that backfired when the treasonous South seceded in 1861.

Out of this came the Third Party System.

The northern Whigs joined together with a host of minor parties that had sprung up as the issue of slavery got more intense, absorbed the anti-immigrant “Know-Nothing” party, and became the Republicans. They remained Whigs in most essentials, though, advocating a hierarchical social vision and a strong national government based on a Broad Construction of the Constitution. The Democrats somehow managed to survive the Civil War and emerge more or less where they left off – a Southern-based party of Strict Construction, state sovereignty and equality for white men.

Neither of these parties stayed that way, though. The Third Party System has seen its parties shift dramatically in their positions over time.

During the Gilded Age – the Gold-Plated Age, for those of you not familiar with the term or too familiar with it to question it (it was not given as a compliment, let’s put it that way) – that followed the Civil War there was very little difference between the two parties. The Republicans quickly abandoned Lincoln and the Whigs and joined the Democrats in championing laissez-faire capitalism, ineffective national government, Strict Construction and racism. Both parties were challenged by Progressive wings within their own organizations in the early 20th century – Theodore Roosevelt leading the Republican Progressives, Woodrow Wilson the Democratic ones – but by 1920 the Progressive movement seemed to have run its course and the Gilded Age had largely returned.

This changed with the Great Depression.

The Republicans, who had largely expunged their Progressive wing in the 1920s and advocated what we would now call a platform of 1% values and social conservatism, stayed loyal to their Gilded Age vision of laissez-faire capitalism and Strict Construction. The Democrats, whose Progressive wing had been eclipsed but not removed, changed utterly. In response to the greatest economic debacle in Western Civilization’s history, their Progressive wing took over, championing both a Broad Construction activist federal government and an egalitarian social view that for the first time showed signs of including nonwhites.

World War II only confirmed the transformation of the Democrats, but it forced Republicans to shift dramatically. The largest collective human endeavor in history had been efficiently and effectively undertaken by governmental power, often in the face of entrenched opposition from corporate interests, and this led to a weakening of the far right wing of the Republican Party and the emergence of Eisenhower Republicans – fiscally conservative, but at peace with some level of active federal government in the name of social progress. It is not an accident that the right-wing extremists only take over the Republican Party again when the WWII generation that remembered this had largely died off.

The Democrats have pulled back from their New Deal and Great Society Progressivism over the last few decades, for a number of reasons I’m not going to go into now. They are now further right than they’ve been since before WWII. (You know who Barack Obama would be if you put a uniform on him? Dwight Eisenhower.) But they remain recognizably the party of Broad Construction, egalitarianism and inclusion that was forged by the New Deal.

The Republicans, however, have transformed yet again into something utterly different in the last thirty or forty years. Captured by far right extremists in the wake of the shift in American politics from something money-based to something values-based, they have lurched so far to the lunatic fringe that they can no longer be regarded as a serious party on any terms other than raw power. They advocate as a matter of platform policies which would have been regarded as bizarre by Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater and Calvin Coolidge. And it didn’t used to be that way.

All of this is to say that things were once different.

All of this is to say that the current situation has a history.

There was a time before things were this way, and – by implication – there will be a time after it. There is no logical necessity for the continued survival of the Third Party System. And, increasingly, it seems that there is no viable path for that survival either.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Look Over There (Where?)

Well, it’s been three hours and I think my eyes are beginning to focus again.

As part of my ongoing campaign to pay attention to my health again, I spent this morning at the eye doctor’s, being subjected to what would probably be considered assault if it weren’t for the fact that I was paying for it.

I’m sure they weren’t thrilled either.

I’m really not very good at eye drops, or indeed anything approaching my eyes. I have learned through painful experience that if they’re going to give me eye drops it will save everyone about half an hour of increasingly snippy conversation if they would just drop them in the corner of my eyes and let me open my eyelids on my own schedule. And don’t even get me started on the notion of wearing contact lenses. If I can’t handle liquids, what on earth makes people think I would be up for putting solid objects on my eyes?

I had a long talk involving many short words with a doctor on that theme once. He retired not long after that.

It’s been three and a half years since the last time I had my eyes checked, and I was beginning to notice certain signs that it was about time I changed that. Those of you who are in your forties know those signs. Apparently eye doctors even have a word for it: “tromboning.”

When I was younger, I’m sure this would have referred to some sort of euphemism for an act that likely would have gotten me kicked out of any officially sanctioned school function, but these days it simply means that back and forth motion middle aged people use to get reading material into focus. Eventually your focal length exceeds your wingspan, and then you have to go to the doctor.

The doctor – a pleasant young woman (when did doctors get younger than me?) – eventually told me that my eyes are in pretty good shape in all areas except the fact that they can’t really see anything anymore, and she recommended bifocals.

Add in the hair, and I could be Ben Franklin.

This news did not upset me particularly – it was about what I figured it would be, and better than I had thought on the general health issue. What bothered me was that the drops they gave me for my eyes had the effects of dilating my pupils to the point where I could teach bats how to navigate around obstacles and then numbing them to where they no longer responded to, well, anything.

And the bottom line of that? Everything blurs into a kaleidoscope of color and motion, which – while pretty – is a suboptimal way to try to get work done. Or drive.

This makes for more excitement in a day than is really called for.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Church of the Enlightened Mind

I’m going to start my own religion.

It’s going to be called The Church of the Enlightened Mind, and it will have as its First Commandment, “Don’t be so damned stupid.”

Other commandments will include such things as “Try to cut other people some slack now and then,” “No, really, that’s none of your business,” “Your rights depend on your responsibilities,” “We’re in this together so knock it off with the selfishness or we really will let you go Galt and starve,” “Read a book, why don’t you?” and “Do the math.”

Also, “No field, no ups,” which should put the designated hitter rule to bed once and for all.

But the big one is the first one. Whenever anyone does or says anything, I shall weigh it in the balance and determine whether the First Commandment applies.

As the sole prophet and representative deity-like figure for this new religion, I shall be the final judge with regard to this question on all matters. Those who fail the test shall be told in no uncertain terms, “Don’t be so damned stupid,” and then their decisions, actions and intentions will be promptly rendered null and void, their ability to continue with such decisions, actions and intentions removed, and as a last resort repeat offenders shall be stricken from the record and placed in zoos where they will be fed and cared for in a strictly controlled, decision-free environment.

With my new religion, I shall claim religious discrimination against any stupid people who attempt to force me to accept their decisions, their laws or their efforts to restrict the culture in any way. I shall tell them they will burn in Hell – a sterile room carpeted in sturdy berber with only a copy of The Collected Humor of Ayn Rand for entertainment – for all eternity for their temerity. I will sue them in courts of law. I will constitute myself as a supermajority in the legislature and outvote them, if I bother to let them vote at all.

Hear me, Teabaggers? Two can play at this game.

When you pass laws restricting access to necessary medicines - medicines that cover an astonishingly wide range of health care concerns - simply because your tiny little reptilian brains can’t handle the thought of people actually having or enjoying sex, I will say, “Don’t be so damned stupid” and wipe those laws off the books. I will claim the Mandate of Heaven while doing so, and I will tell you that my deity thinks yours is an ass. My guess is that your deity probably agrees that you are presenting Him as such and would be so relieved that finally someone is coming to His defense that He will support me.

When you threaten to destroy the fiscal health of a great republic in order to take from the poor and give more to your billionaire puppetmasters, I will say, “Don’t be so damned stupid” and institute new more progressive policies, including a return to the tax rates of the 1950s, when this country was at its economic and military peak, just for the sheer thrill of hearing you scream in impotent rage.

When you spread lies about the founding of this great republic and try to claim that a group of highly educated eighteenth-century Enlightenment gentlemen would naturally agree with whatever twaddle is coming out of the mouths of modern right-wing extremist evangelical hucksters who would have likely tried to burn Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and John Adams at the stake had they been around then, I will say, “Don’t be so damned stupid” and put all of the money that is currently going into the political action funds of such hucksters into public education instead – public education that will include not only courses in the actual history of this great republic, but extensive coursework in critical thinking, science, literature, human psychology, basic math, and biologically sound sex education as well, all of which will be mandatory because I am, after all, the only vote that matters.

When you attempt to place your private morals above the health and safety of your fellow citizens, I will say, “Don’t be so damned stupid” and remove you from any positions of responsibility, power or influence that require you to deal with those citizens. That goes for everything from legislators to pharmacists.  You will be handed shovels and pointed toward the nearest public latrines, which will be named for you when you retire.

When you attempt to impose draconian restrictions on people based solely on their country of origin, preferred language, skin color, sexual apparatus or presumed status as “not a real American,” I will say, “Don’t be so damned stupid” and rewrite those laws to apply solely to you.

When you spend hours of my life I will never get back insisting that you are pro-life and pro-marriage and then sponsor legislation designed to destroy actual marriages, render future marriages impossible, make it easier to carry firearms into schools and shopping centers, get us into unnecessary and futile wars that are poorly planned from the get go, release corporations from all liability for their faulty or dangerous products, and cut funding from schools, public food programs, clean air and water regulations, and occupational safety laws, I will say, “Don’t be so damned stupid” and time-warp you to 1875, where you will die before you turn forty because you’ve gotten your wish.

When you attempt to deny to the citizens of this republic their sovereign right of suffrage through gerrymandered districts, spurious charges of voter fraud, Voter Suppression Acts, poll taxes, or other such measures, or when you attempt to run the government as your own private fiefdom, not letting the citizens keep track of you or your actions, paying private lawyers from public funds, passing cut-and-paste legislation from lobbyists, refusing public hearings and ignoring the voice of the people to whom you owe service, I will say, “Don’t be so damned stupid,” and turn you out like the insolent carpetbaggers you are. You will be forbidden from any office forever, and told to get a real job.

There is a lot of damned stupidity in this country these days, and I will be very, very busy. I may have to have a recording made, lest my voice fail.

The Church of the Enlightened Mind will be open to all who accept its tenets, regardless of age, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, educational status, professional status, geographic location or other such characteristics. Those who violate its tenets will be removed. As before, I will be the sole judge of such violations. Because it’s my church.

And then I shall have a sacramental whiskey sour, put my feet up with a good book, and rest, for it is good.

Friday, March 9, 2012

I'm Being Spammed by the Governor

I seem to have ended up on Governor Teabagger’s email list.

I’m not sure how that happened, really. I do know people who have signed up for it solely to keep tabs on whatever lies and nastiness he is spreading most recently, but to be honest I just don’t have the stomach for that kind of thing anymore. Even hearing his name on the news is enough to make me want to rip off my own ears and use them as beer coasters, and I don’t even like beer.

Fermented sweatsocks. Gah.

Unfortunately this sort of thing is going to be happening more and more as we head into recall season. All of the tricks employed by Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) and his cronies, minions and lackeys in the legislature to stave off the loudly expressed will of the people of Wisconsin have so far fallen upon deaf ears (see what I did there?). Propaganda has failed, threats have failed, lawsuits have failed to materialize, and court orders – like them or no – have to be obeyed. Oddly enough federal judges don’t have to listen to nonsense from grifters at the state level no matter what it says on their nametags. So it looks like we’re in for some fun times here.

Although at the current rate of investigation it is entirely likely that Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) will be in jail on corruption and campaign finance charges before we even get to hold the recall elections.

And wouldn’t that make things fun here in the Badger State?

When I first found myself on the receiving end of the Governor’s electronic propaganda I must confess that I did read it, partly out of a fading liberal arts curiosity that I might have missed something worthwhile that he had to say – a curiosity that has gone sadly unfulfilled – and partly out of the sheer train-wreck fascination one naturally feels regarding someone so utterly vile and debased. What would someone like that think people would want to hear?

Lies, it turns out.

He talks about bringing jobs to Wisconsin, despite the fact that this state has lost more private sector jobs than any other state in the union since his budget went into effect, at a time when most states – including all of our neighbors – are actually gaining jobs.

He talks about honor and integrity in a state where when one of his legislative minions was caught on video illegally voting for absent colleagues (a crime under Wisconsin law) the response of the Governor’s lead minion was simply to paper over the windows so nobody could video such things again.

And he talks about how much better education is now that he’s cut over a billion dollars out of the state’s educational system and given it to his corporate puppetmasters.

I’m not sure what I want to do about being on this email list, really.

If I write back and ask to be taken off the list then he’ll know my email address is valid. Never give a spammer that bit of incentive, that’s the first rule of email survival. Of course, if I still get emails from him I could sue him as a spammer – that might be worth it.

I could ignore them – delete them out of hand. This is what I’ve been doing, but it annoys me to be forced to labor for free to do something I shouldn’t have to do in the first place. Why do I have to work to make his spam go away? He should be doing that.

I could read them for the tragi-comic farce that they are, preferably with a strong whiskey sour in hand. But such things are enough to put a man right off his drink, and that’s no way to treat a whiskey sour.

It’s a quandary.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Several people have asked me about the Nameless Aggravations that I have complained around (not about!  No, not about!) over the last two posts. 

While I am not really at liberty to discuss them in this space, I will say that they are all work related and have nothing to do with the more important things in my life - Kim, Tabitha, Lauren, family, friends, general health, and the relative size of my to-read book pile.

Work stress comes and work stress goes, and eventually this too shall pass in much the same uncomfortable and overloud way that a spider monkey who has eaten a billiard ball will eventually see its difficulties come to a conclusion.

Thanks for asking, though.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


It has been a long week or two here in the nation’s tender midsection.

As noted in the previous post, the issues that have further greyed my remaining hair are generally things I am not at liberty to discuss with the world at large, but they are there and they are grating, aggravating, nasty things that make me doubt the existence of decency, common sense and barbecue sauce.

But sometimes you find in the strangest of places a reminder that there is hope yet left for this tired old world. I would not have imagined that this would be the United States Postal Service.

When I went to the post office yesterday to drop off my monthly offerings to the various providers of services that fill my life with electricity, internet access and consumer credit, the guy behind the counter asked me if I wanted to buy any stamps. Perhaps it was the fact that all of my bills had Christmas stamps on them that tipped him off. “Yes,” I told him. “Actually, I would like to get some stamps.”

There was a short pause while he registered this amazing fact. I’m not sure they sell too many of those anymore, here in the internet age, and please don’t suggest that I start paying my bills online because I’ve heard all those arguments and I reject them out of hand. I like the mail. Eventually the guy recovered from his shock and showed me the different varieties of stamps that he had on hand.

It must be said that the Post Office has made amazing strides in stamp design in the last couple of decades.

When I was younger my dad got me into stamp collecting for a while. It was something of a natural extension of our joint efforts at coin collecting, I suppose. He signed up for some First Day of Issue covers, and I spent many happy hours ripping the Bicentennial stamps off of the mail that came in every day. We even got a few panes of unused stamps once in a while that I still have around the place.

Those stamps were all uniformly drab.

Oh, they had a few colors here and there, and once in a while you’d get some interesting designs – the state flag series, for example. But mostly they were utilitarian things designed to be little more than receipts. “I have paid my thirteen cents to the federal government and thus I expect this letter to be delivered.” They were nicely engraved things, but about as stylish as a Soviet tractor.

Somewhere along the line the Post Office stopped requiring stamps to be engraved and simply let them be printed. This may have been around the time they stopped asking you to lick them and just made them stickers. I like stickers, even though they were somewhat complicated to explain when the girls were little (“Why can I play with these stickers and not those stickers, daddy?”). It was certainly about the time that they stopped trying to be dignified and started having a bit of fun with them.

I still have a keychain with an old stamp with a quizzical-looking cartoon cat on it. I just loved the expression on its face, which reminded me of how I spent most of my life.

Apparently this stamp was unique and valuable, as images of it are nowhere to be found on the internet. You’ll just have to imagine it, I guess. I’m glad I saved it.

Today when the guy showed me the stamp selection, there in the middle was a pane of stamps with Pixar characters on it.

Remy from Ratatouille.


Buzz Lightyear.

Carl and Dug from Up!

I love Up! In the first fourteen minutes of that movie, largely without dialogue, Pixar put together a profound story of love and loss that has no equal in modern cinema, and they did it as a prologue.

What could I do but buy a pane of them?

I don’t know if I’ll use them or frame them. I’m sure the Post Office would prefer the latter, since they already have my money and wouldn’t have to deliver any actual mail for it. Part of me wants to make them work for my money, but part of me just says they already have. They have provided me with art, art that brightened my world after a dreary couple of weeks.

And that’s got to be worth the price of a pane of stamps.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What This Post Will Not Be About

The problem with having a blog is that it is incredibly tempting to use it to complain about things you really should not complain about to an audience of more than just yourself.

[Insert readership-numbers joke here.]

And so, rather than complain about such things, I will instead write about something else, something that might take my mind off the things I would very much like to be complaining about in full Technicolor using the widest assortment of adverbs and gerunds known to modern humanity.


So. Other things. Right.

Because other things no doubt need to be written about, you see. There is a whole wide world full of things to discuss, observations to be made, pithy comments to be … uh … pithed about. Or on. And I will discuss them now.

Except that it is very hard to discuss them now, because I find that even things as far removed as rainbows and kittens have taken on a sinister aspect, have been tainted by the mere existence of those things I would like to be complaining about, have indeed been rendered loathsome and vile by those things, such is the deep desire I have to complain about them.

Using gerunds and adverbs!

Oh, my!

Were I to focus, I am sure I could overcome this rainbow and kitten problem. I could indeed write about things that made me happy, or that I found simply interesting for their own sake and not because they gave me ideas about how to cause deep and permanent embarrassment or injury to all of the subjects about which I wish to complain. This would be a cheerful post! It would have light and feathers!

In Technicolor!

It would, you know.

But that is the condition of modern life, to be striving ever upward in search of rainbows and kittens (metaphorically, of course, unless you put the kittens in a hot air balloon or some such flying device, which would cause problems of its own) only to be dragged down by mundane concerns about which I would like to complain but ought not.

Not even using gerunds.