Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Another Decade In the Making

It is amazing how quickly a decade can fly by when you’re busy.

I never understood that until I had kids.  When you’re younger time moves so slowly that you think it will never pass at all.  You wake up on Monday morning, spend three weeks in school, and the calendar insists that it’s not even lunch yet.  Decades?  Might as well be millennia.

But then you have children of your own, and they are never the same from one moment to another.  They start out small and squally, and suddenly they’re up and running around with agendas of their own, and then just as suddenly they’re actual people with whom you can have actual conversations that don’t revolve around keeping them from sticking kitchen utensils into outlets, trash cans, or the cat, and you have no recollection at all of the intervening stages other than the logical certainty that there must have been some of them.

How does that happen?

Lauren turned ten today.  She is now officially a double-digit girl, into her second decade on this planet and waiting for it to turn into exactly what she feels it ought to be.  She’s been looking forward to this since, oh, early November of last year.  Lauren is not one to stand on the moment – she looks forward, relentlessly forward.

Lauren’s birthday is a huge thing for her, much more so than our own birthdays are to the rest of us in the family.  I’ve forgotten my own birthday more times than I’ve remembered it over the last thirty years or so - and likely would continue to forget it except that every year now it appears in my Facebook feed and people kindly write things on my page when it does - but for Lauren her birthday is the best and most important day of the year.  We’ve been getting reminders of this day for weeks.  She wrote it on the calendar.  The first thing she did when I woke her up for school this morning was flash ten fingers at me, to let me know how old she was now.  It’s a pretty big deal.  

The fact that it’s Halloween is just extra. 

Kim and the girls carved their pumpkins last night while I was teaching my night class, so I didn’t get to see them until today.  They were impressive, really.

Lauren’s friend Claire came over after school to go trick-or-treating in our neighborhood this year, and after dinner they all got into their costumes.

It was a brisk night, clear and pleasant, and we went from house to house gathering up treats of varying descriptions.  Not many houses had their porch lights on this year for some reason, but enough did that the girls all made a good haul.

And then, after I returned from taking Claire home, the UPS man came by with Lauren’s birthday presents from us, which Kim had actually remembered to order (versus my track record, which often leads to birthday presents given in entirely different seasons).

We’re having her birthday party this weekend, but that’s no reason not to be happy now.

Happy birthday, Lauren. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Memories

It was a beautiful fall day here in Wisconsin – blue skies, crisp air, temperatures in the low 50s, the sort of day that you hope for when the calendar turns toward the latter part of the year and the leaves stop being green.  It was a lovely day.  This felt sort of odd, really.

Like a lot of people, I’ve spent most of today on various websites and television stations watching Hurricane Sandy head directly at the Northeast Corridor.  I have friends and family in the path of this storm – they’re all safe and sound, last I checked in with them – and I recognize the locations of many of the storm photos that are making the rounds on the internet.  I’ve been there, in happier weather.

There may not be much there, there, anymore.  That’s a sobering thought.

I spent an evening in a hurricane once, when I was in college.  It wasn’t nearly as severe as this one, fortunately, but it was an experience.  And really, that’s what blogs are for, writing down experiences.

Hurricane Gloria hit Philadelphia in September of 1985, at the beginning of my sophomore year at Penn.  We were pretty excited by the prospect, actually.  Hurricanes don’t hit Philadelphia very often and we were all young and indestructible.  That the university decided to cancel classes the next day – something that never happened again while I was there – only added to the anticipation.

But first, we had a job to do.

I had met Jack a few weeks before, at one of those interminable mixers they have at the beginning of school years when the RAs are trying to get all the new people in the dorms to say hi to one another.  We were each assigned a nonsense sound (“booka-booka” in our case) and told to find whoever had the matching sound.  Conversation ensued.  We eventually ended up being roommates for the next four years – unofficially that first year, officially the next two, and off campus the year after that.  We were groomsmen in each other’s weddings.  We’re still friends today.  So I suppose the RAs scored with that one.

One of the things we found out about each other fairly early is that we were both musicians and liked a lot of the same stuff.  We also discovered that Rob, another new member of the dorm whom we met later, shared those qualities as well.  We spent some evenings that month playing together.  College dorms are wonderful places for musicians, in large part because they’ll put up with just about any level of talent as long as you’re having a good time.  We had a very good time.

Eventually we formed an actual band, with a name and everything, and we’d play down at a bar in Center City, which was interesting considering none of us could legally walk into the place.

Penn liked to put a lot of entrepreneurial initiative into the hands of its students, and this is how our friend James ended up running a coffeehouse in the student union, six blocks down Spruce Street from our dorm.  James was always looking for acts, and at one point he must have asked Jack to play.  Jack agreed, thinking he’d get up and play three or four songs and let the other acts do the rest.

It turned out there were no other acts.

So Jack rounded up Rob and me and we rehearsed a few songs together – enough to bull our way through a coffeehouse gig, anyway – and we were set to go.

We were booked for the night Gloria hit.  It was our first show.

It wasn’t raining at all when we left to walk down to the student union.  As the keyboard player, I didn’t have to carry anything.  Jack and Rob had guitars.  Jack also had a harmonica on a mount so he could play it without using his hands, and he gave us a few tunes on the way down.  It was a pleasant walk, really.

We got set up, and waited for the coffeehouse to open for business.

By that time, however, it had started to rain.  Sheets of rain.  Buckets of rain.  Driving, howling rain.

So there wasn’t much of a crowd, is what I’m saying.  But we had a grand time playing everything we knew and a few things we sort of knew and one or two songs we really didn’t know very well at all to the half dozen or so students who had gotten stranded there.  It felt sort of conspiratorial, being there while the storm went on around us, and not having so many people for our first concert was actually kind of nice.

James, however, recognized a failing business model when he saw one, and eventually he decided that it was time to close.  He paid us in pastries – the only time we were ever paid as a band, as far as I can recall – and told us to go home.

This, it turned out, was harder than it looked.

We walked over to the big doors that fronted onto Spruce Street and looked out across the way to the hospital, which we were sure had been there just a few hours ago.  You couldn’t really tell now, with the rain driving down so hard.  Penn had a student van service, and when we called to get picked up they told us it would be sometime in the next four hours or so.  This struck us as sub-optimal.

So we went down into the basement where there were restaurants and managed to talk our way into a few plastic trash bags.  Those Jack and Rob used to seal up their guitar cases.  We would dry off, but guitars get damaged.  You have to have priorities, as a musician.

Fully prepared, we ventured into the storm.

Jack had planned to play his harmonica on the way back but one intake of breath had left it waterlogged, so he put it away.

The winds were gusty but not yet hurricane strength, or even tropical storm strength.  But it was raining.  Oh, sweet dancing monkeys on a stick was it raining.  You couldn’t see across the street.  You could barely see the buildings on your own side of the street. 

I have never in my life, before or since, been that wet, not even while swimming.  It was a penetrating rain, a driving rain, the kind of rain that made breathing tricky and felt like it was hammering against your skin without bothering to pass through your clothes.  It was the Platonic ideal of wet.

We walked for six blocks in that, singing at the top of our lungs every song we could think of that had the words “rain” or “sun” in the title, sometimes repeatedly.

I still, to this day, am not entirely sure how we made it back to the dorm, but we did.  We squelched into the lobby to the astonished stares of our fellow residents and continued on up to our respective rooms, laughing all the while.

And sure enough, eventually we dried off.

That turned out to be the worst of the storm, oddly enough.  They might as well have had classes the next day. 

But we had our story by then.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sunrise, Sunset

Is it even possible to listen to ABBA and not sing along?

The correct answer to that question is “no,” by the way.   Nor is it really possible to listen to “Dancing Queen” without doing the piano motions with your hands, even in heavy interstate traffic.  ABBA is the fourth-largest cause of minor traffic accidents in the US that way.

Tonight was the great ABBA Sing-In, down at the performing arts center here in Our Little Town.  It was kind of like a Messiah sing-in, only with sequins and spandex.  Not on me, personally – there isn’t enough whiskey in the barrel for me to stuff myself into anything spandex, not even as a negative example – but for others in attendance, it was the uniform.

It was a fundraiser for someone – I’m not sure who, really, but I suppose that is less important than the fact that about a hundred people turned out for what was in all likelihood a good cause and sang along.  They showed the movie version of Mamma Mia, set the DVD player to show the song lyrics on the big screen on stage (though where was the bouncing meatball to show us what words we were on?) and let us have at it.

It was a lot of fun.

For those of you who haven’t seen it or the musical on which it is based, the movie is a charming little story of a bride and three men she’s invited to her wedding, one of whom is her father though which one nobody – least of all the mother of the bride – knows.  Complications ensue, as you would expect, and the ending is suitably, if somewhat unconventionally, happy, as you know it will be, grim endings not being a hallmark of musical theater.  I suppose the plot isn’t all that important, really – mostly it’s an excuse to string together any number of ABBA songs into what is, by the standards of musical theater, a surprisingly coherent narrative.  But tonight it stuck with me.

The thing about ABBA songs is that when you’re singing along in the car you tend to focus on the bubblegum pop aspects of the songs – the catchy little hooks, the tight harmonies, the danceable rhythms, and so on.  Those are fun, but you can’t really build a story around things like that.  You can’t have a real story with just cheerful stuff.  The only reason the story works as well as it does is that there is a surprisingly dark edge to a lot of those songs.

Have you ever really listened to “The Winner Takes It All”?  It’s a very bitter song, in a sad and resigned sort of way.

The story of the movie is, of course, the wedding.  It’s all about the wedding.  Everything circles around the wedding, leads up to the wedding, follows logically from the wedding.  And at some point Meryl Streep – who really can sing, oddly enough, as anyone who has listened to the Philadelphia Chickens CD can tell you – gets lost in the moment and ends up singing one of ABBA’s less-well-known songs.

Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye, with an absent-minded smile
I watch her go with a surge of that well-known sadness
And I have to sit down for a while.
The feeling that I’m losing her forever
And without really entering her world
I’m glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what’s in her mind
Each time I think I’m close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

I was sitting next to Tabitha during the show, and part of me wanted to lean over and say, “You wonder why I take so many pictures?  That’s why.  You won't understand that for a long time, not really, but now you know.”

The moments come and go so quickly, and so soon I am older and they have vanished into the past.  My children grow up and past me before I even know they’re moving.  It’s the way things work.  It’s the way things always work.  That’s how it goes.

And I get to sing along.

I just know that when Tabitha and Lauren get married, I am going to be such a wreck. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Periodic Cupcakes

Well, I hope you have had a happy National Chemistry Week, out there wherever you are.

Nerd holidays are just the best of the minor holidays.  You can keep President’s Day, which has degenerated into an excuse to sell things to people who didn’t get what they wanted on Valentine’s Day.  Columbus Day just gets people angry these days, either because of the consequences of the European discovery of the western hemisphere or because of the modern reaction to those consequences – my liberal and conservative friends spent the whole day this year making snotty Facebook posts at each other, which takes a bit of the shine off for those of us who just want to be happy for a man who had no idea where he was going, no idea what he found, never did figure out where he’d been, and still managed to get a holiday named after him.  And Arbor Day?  Don’t make me laugh.

But National Chemistry Week is a time for people to join together and celebrate science in all its glory, and the fact that there are just way too many people in this country who think that’s controversial is just not going to make my world all wilty. 

Science!  Ja!

And there are just so many ways to celebrate!

Tuesday, for example – 10/23 – was National Mole Day, which I believe is mostly to do with Avogadro’s Number and nothing to do with rodents, although I’m not really sure about that, come to think of it.  My chemistry education was somewhat abbreviated.  The last time I actually sat in a chemistry class was sometime during Reagan’s first term in office and mostly what I remember from that class is that there is no recognized unit of measurement known as “yeah, about that much.”  This came as rather a shock to me and my lab partner, and is probably the reason my teacher retired not long afterward.  You can only dodge those bullets for so long.

I'm not really sure what one does to celebrate National Mole Day, either.  Count really high?  Apparently a mole of sugar is about 342 grams, which works out to quite a few candy bars.  Gluttony is always an option when it comes to holidays, so perhaps that would do.

Fortunately this idea did not occur to me at the time.

National Chemistry Week is a big sort of deal for Kim, her being a chemist and all, so this year she decided that since she was no longer chained to an administrative post and was actually back in a classroom teaching chemistry she would celebrate it in style.

So last weekend I saw few unusual items on the shopping list as I ran around the grocery store.  Those translated into Kim, Tabitha and Lauren spending most of Sunday baking cupcakes.  Mounds of cupcakes.  Gallons, quarts and pints of cupcakes, all of which ended up in the freezer until last night.

I teach on Thursday nights this semester, so I missed last night's Great Frosting Party.  Apparently if you mix those supermarket tubs of frosting half and half with Cool Whip you can cover an entire house with a fine layer of sugar, thus ensuring that the cupcakes - being part of the house at the time - will be covered as well.  Who knew?  And once that detail has been taken care of, you can then write the symbols and numbers of all of the elements on the cupcakes in a different color of frosting, one cupcake per element.  And then you can arrange them all into a periodic table.

A periodic table of cupcakes! 

Bow down before our nerdosity, peasants!

Of course, this doesn't mean much sitting on the dining room table - you have to get it to the proper audience, and the logistics of that get tricky.  There’s about 120 elements or so, depending on how many you want to count.  They’re arranged in a sort of a grid, 18 wide and 7 high, plus 2 more rows underneath.  Each cupcake is about 2.5 inches in diameter.  Put them all into boxes, cart them to campus without crushing any of them or coating the inside of the car with the same fine layer of sugar currently coating the house, get them out of the car and into the classroom where you previously have remembered to ask Maintenance to find a table (yes, you have!) and … well, that’s some logistics right there.

Not to worry.

Lauren was off school today thanks to teacher conferences, so she came in to help.

 Happy National Chemistry Week!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The First Vote

I cast my first presidential ballot for Richard Nixon.

In my defense, I was six at the time.

My first grade teacher, Mrs. Berger, must have wanted us to feel like we were active citizens of the democracy in which we lived – a democracy that was rather less polarized than it is today, which is saying something considering this was 1972 and the Vietnam War was still going on.  We didn’t know much about any war.  Our parents were too old to be drafted, our siblings were too young, and the leafy suburb of Philadelphia we lived in was not really a hotbed of protest one way or the other.

Nevertheless, we knew there was an election coming.  You couldn’t avoid it, really.  Even first-graders pick up on things when there is no other option.  Everyone around us was talking about it.  The newspapers they used as teaching aides were full of the story.  You couldn’t even watch cartoons without seeing somebody prattling on about the matter.  Election!  Vote! 

I remember my teacher coming into class one day and announcing that we were indeed going to be voting for a presidential candidate.  We then spent the better part of a week discussing voting as a practice and an ideal – something I have endeavored always to live up to ever since – and what, precisely, a president was and why people would vote for one.

There are times when I think that last lesson needs to be taught more often.  The average American today looks at a president as an odd cross between a personal manservant, a blue-haired maiden aunt, a scapegoat for the world’s ills, and an omnipotent magician.

Most Americans look at God the same way, come to think of it.  No wonder our politics are so bizarre. 

We spent a while going over all that, and then it was time to cast our ballots.  We each got a slip of paper and were told to write our candidate’s name on it, fold it up carefully so nobody could see our choice, and slide it into the hole in the big cardboard box at the front of the class when we were done.  If we couldn’t remember who was running, we had only to look up at the board, where the two main candidates’ names were written in that unnaturally clear handwriting that primary-school teachers have: Richard Nixon; George McGovern.  Pick one.

There were twenty of us in that class, and as I recall it was a landslide victory for the incumbent – something along the order of 19-1.  Nixon’s the one!  Nixon’s the one!  Nixon’s the one we’d heard of before!

Thus we learned a valuable lesson about the importance of name-recognition in political campaigns.

It also taught us that just because something is familiar doesn’t mean it is necessarily worth supporting.  My next clear political memories all center on Watergate.


But we had participated, and we were proud of having done so.  As by rights we should have been.  Your rights as a citizen depend on your responsibilities as a citizen, which is why you should be voting next month and why those who seek to suppress the vote of American citizens should be strung up by their tender bits until they apologize and the impediments they’ve enacted have been removed.

Go vote.  Your first-grade teacher would be proud.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Curious Lack

I find I have nothing to say these days.

Perhaps it is just the middle of the semester and I am simply busy.  Too many assignments are coming in that need to be graded, and I’m one of those annoying professors who actually reads what students turn in and tries to make comments to indicate that I have, in fact, read what has been turned in – comments that, if taken seriously, would lead to better work being turned in.  I’m also teaching two of my classes in new formats, which means finding new break points for lectures and juggling exactly where specific elements fall (you can’t just start a discussion portion with 4 minutes left in a class, for example, not responsibly anyway).  It’s taking up a lot of mental energy just keeping up with things.

Don’t even ask what my desk looks like at home.  It’s rather unkempt even by my generous standards.

We’re also deep into the performing arts schedule down at Home Campus – this weekend we had a comedian perform, and not only was he funny but we actually got a decent crowd to hear him be funny.  I’m used to audiences I can count on my fingers and toes, but I would have had to have been quite a mutant indeed to do that for this house.  But we’re a small campus, and I’m the guy who does everything from hanging, focusing and running the lights to negotiating the contracts to putting the coffee and tea in the dressing room (with my teakettle from my office, of course).  It’s a lot to keep track of.

I’m also pretty maxed out on politics, which is all so many people want to talk about these days.  I am malevolently well-informed regarding the current state of American politics and see no use to becoming more so or discussing it further.  I said most of what I wanted to say earlier this month.  I could elaborate on it – as several commenters noted, there were things I had folded into the larger argument that sort of got lost in the folding process – but I find that even the prospect of doing so leaves me staring blankly into space for hours. 

So posting may be slow for a while. 

I’m sure I’ll get back up on top of things eventually.  I have too many opinions to keep my mouth shut for long.  I enjoy telling stories too much to abandon this little corner of the internet.  There are too many things I want to remember, and I store them here.  My family is well.  My friends call now and then and we have wonderful conversations.  I’m reading good books.  There’s a lot of things I’ll get around to saying eventually.

But if you’re wondering where the posts are and why I’m not keeping to my “every-other-day” goals, well, now you know.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fortune Telling

“Money is the root of all evil, and a man needs roots.”

You learn the oddest things from fortune cookies. 

Every so often some of the folks down at Home Campus go in for takeout Chinese.  There’s a place nearby – actually not all that far from home – that has a nice deal for lunch as part of their normal menu, and if you work in education they’ll throw in a soda.  It’s not just a can, either – it’s one of those bottles that make you seriously question the long-term health of the American republic. One person is supposed to drink all that?  Okaaaaay.  It will save the invaders time when we all just keel over in advance.

I always get the General Tso Chicken, and I’ve discovered recently that they actually have a menu setting above “Extra Spicy.”  If you tell them “Burn Your Mouth,” they will actually make it spicy enough to register on my non-midwestern taste buds.  Yes, I know that to aficionados of genuine Chinese cuisine such a meal is enough to make them gag on their stinky tofu (“chou doufu” – this is a real thing), but you have to realize that a) I am in Wisconsin, where genuine Chinese food is rarely to be found and not likely to be ordered much in the event it is found, and b) I like General Tso Chicken and therefore don’t care whether it is genuine Chinese cuisine or not.

Sometimes it’s enough just to be tasty.

We gathered in one of the conference rooms which was not, at that moment, being used for any conferencing, and set to eating.  And talking, occasionally about work-related matters.  And generally hanging out.  So in the end I suppose you could say it was a form of conference after all.

I wonder if I should put in for overtime.

Nah.  I don’t get overtime when I’m actually working overtime.

My fortune cookie was the only one with a smart-alec message.  Everyone else’s was in the more traditional vein – “You will meet with great success,” and so on.  I ended up giving it to George, our economics professor, because it seemed the sort of thing that he would appreciate.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Have I Got a Preposition For You

Oh, sweet dancing monkeys on a stick – they’re teaching grammar to Tabitha down at Mighty Clever Guy Middle School.  This means that I have officially reached the point where I am unable to help her with her homework anymore.

I like grammar.  Really, I do.  I use it all the time.  I insist on it when people speak to me and write things for my perusal, and I judge people who fall short of that standard.  Contrary to what you may have heard out there on the internet, grammar is not about adhering to every little rule that has ever come down the pike and been thrown out there in someone’s English class for you to follow.  It’s about writing clearly, speaking clearly, and thinking clearly.  It has been my experience that exterior communication generally mirrors internal processing, and if the one is muddled and incoherent so too is the other.

If other people have to stop and decode what you’re trying to say, chances are it’s not worth hearing.

That is my standard of grammar.  I don’t always follow the rules to the last jot and tittle – I have a weakness for dashes in the middle of sentences, for example.  And I like to start sentences with conjunctions.  Also, fragments.  I am aware of these things, though, and I do them for the specific effects they create.  I try not to let them interfere with my main purpose, however - whatever else you care to say about my writing, speaking and thinking, it is clear.

Just don’t ask me what anything is called.

There is a gaping big hole in my education where the names of the various parts of speech and grammatical tricks and gimmicks ought to be.  I have never diagrammed a sentence.  Indeed, once you get beyond the material found in School House Rock it all blends together in my head – and even some of that material is just a catchy tune and some great animation, as far as I can tell.  It took me years to figure out what the difference between a transitive and an intransitive verb was, officially, and I’m still not entirely sure what a predicate does, Mr. Morton notwithstanding.

I can use those things in my writing, and use them correctly.  But ask me to explain exactly how I know these things and most likely all you’ll get out of me is a vague sort of hand-waving and a general pushing off of the request onto someone else.

At least that’s what happened when Tabitha tried it.

She had some English (excuse me: Communication Arts – they’re hip to the jargon down at MCGMS) homework this week all about adverbial prepositions or prepositional adverbs or predatory albinos or whatever they were.  Basically she had to write an essay and identify these sorts of things wherever they appeared.  She asked me to check it over for her when she was done.

This turned out to be a mistake on her part.

I could tell where things were grammatically written or not grammatically written.  I could even make improvements on bits of writing here and there.  But naming the pieces of speech?  Go talk to your mother, kid.

Oh well.

Maybe she’ll have some history homework I can help her with sometime soon.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In Which I Go Meta

It’s a strange thing to have gone viral.

My post about why I am not about to vote for any self-identified member of the modern Republican Party anytime soon has received over sixteen hundred hits so far, which is orders of magnitude more than I usually see for anything I write here.  It’s now the most visited post on this entire blog, outdistancing even the one about our visit to New York City over the holidays that somehow found its way onto the front page of Yahoo earlier this year.

Yeah, I didn’t understand that one either.  But there it was.  For the entire month of January, if you went to Yahoo and searched for “New York City” under the “Blogs” tab, there I was, first on the list.  Well, New York can withstand that sort of thing, I suppose.  That’s one of the things that makes it great.

Almost all of the traffic for Friday's post has come from Facebook, as friends and friends of friends have shared the piece on their walls.  That's a nice thing, really - it means that people have taken the time to read it and felt that it was worth telling their friends about it.  I look at the shares sometimes just to see what sort of reaction people have had, and most of the responses have ranged from positive things along the lines of “I’ve been saying stuff like this for a long time now!” (my personal favorite: “This guy has saved me a lot of writing”) to polite disagreement, which is about the range I was hoping for.  I like when people agree with me, and I like when the people who disagree with me are civil about it so there can be a discussion on the issues rather than the shouting matches that so often substitute for public discourse these days. 

It’s midterm season down at Home Campus right now, which means that most of my mental energy has gone into grading two sets of exams and one set of papers.  What little has been left over from that task has gone toward things like remembering where I live rather than coming up with new blog posts.  But I’ll get back to more posting again. 



With enough rest and perhaps a wee bit of Drambuie on the side.

In the meantime, I’m happy to see that one spread around.  I spent a lot of time thinking about it, more time writing it, and even more time editing it down from the monster it threatened to become.  Some blog posts are just sitting down and typing out what’s on your mind and some are more involved than you think they’re going to be when you first get the idea.

In the meantime, I welcome those who have come here.  Feel free to look around the place.  It’s not all politics, but it’s home.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hall Cop

When not lighting up the internet with political commentary, I’m mostly just Dad.  Which is fine by me. 

But it does lead me into some strange places.

Last night, for example, I spent mostly in the boys’ locker room down at Mighty Clever Guy Middle School.  For those of you wondering, no – middle school boys have not changed at all since I was one of them.  They are a galumphing mix of barely-controlled limbs, fart jokes, and hormones, and they all need a shower.  But they’re pleasant enough when you talk to them.

It was Rec Nite down at MCGMS – one of the monthly parties that the school has for its students.  I like the idea of Rec Nites, and like anything else worthwhile it doesn’t happen on its own.  They need volunteers.

They needed volunteers to staff the several tables where moderately lethal teenager-style food was being sold, most of which food (including the pizza, I think) was heavily caffeinated.  They needed volunteers to monitor the lunchroom, which had been emptied of tables and filled with solid waves of sound emanating from the DJ’s speakers.  Embedded in those soundwaves like raisins in an oatmeal cookie were clots of tweens, some of them dancing, others just sort of hanging out, all of them growing cooler and more deaf by the minute.  They were fun to watch.  They needed volunteers to keep an eye on the gym, which was full of basketballs being flung about with the casual abandon of people who have never sprained anything yet, and still others watched the pool. 

And in the hallways was a flying squadron of parents. That’s where I came in.

Tabitha wanted to go, so I volunteered to be a chaperone.  We arrived early, and I checked in.  For this Tabitha got in free, though she had to go back outside and come in with the rest of the kids when the door opened.  Meanwhile I was assigned to a cheerful guy named Gerry who was a veteran of these things and – in the best tradition of cop movies throughout history – took me under his wing and showed the New Guy the ropes.

“Keep them moving along,” he told me.  “Don’t let them congregate.  Look in the dark corners – some of them are old enough to have figured out what those are for.  Food stays over here, not over there.  Make sure they don’t run.  And let them be kids.”

That last bit I interpreted to mean that a certain amount of idiocy was tolerable so long as it didn’t get out of hand, and that pretty much sums up my philosophy toward most things anyway. 

Gerry and I split the locker room duty.  He took the first shift (“Make sure they don’t open the back door and let their friends in free, and watch that they turn off the showers”) while I was on walkabout, strolling the hallways and generally keeping the peace.  I said “Walk!” a lot.  Eventually we switched. 

Tabitha disappeared into the pool right off the bat, and I saw her only a couple of times.  This was as it should be.

On the one hand, it was a whole lot of kids in a very small, very loud place and I basically never got a chance to sit down.  On the other hand, having spent some time in the lunchroom being bombarded by the DJ’s selections, I now know what a “gangnam” is, which means I am marginally less uncool.  Or “gangnam” is marginally more uncool.  Or both.

We made it home in one piece and promptly fell into our respective beds.  It was a good night.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why I Will Not Be Voting Republican For The Foreseeable Future

No, I didn’t watch the debate the other night.  Why should I have?  I’ve been paying attention for years, not minutes.  I could have written that debate ahead of time.

Presidential debates stopped being anything other than carefully scripted dog and pony shows decades ago, and in our sound-bite gotcha-now who-can-spin-things-faster political culture here in the 21st century this has only gotten worse.  If you haven’t figured out who stands for what by this point, the finely-honed ambiguous non-responses to blandly innocuous questions that are the stock in trade of such things – punctuated by carefully rehearsed ad-lib zingers – aren’t going to help.

Plus, to judge from the responses of those who did sit through it, the event fell into a predictable pattern of Democratic passivity in the face of a Republican avalanche of truculence and ideological fantasy.  I’ve seen that movie.  It’s been playing pretty much nonstop for the last four years.  I know how it goes.

The main reason I didn’t watch, however, is that, while I don’t necessarily know who I will be voting for in any given race, I do know who I will not under any circumstances be voting for.  For any office.  At any level of government.

For most of my political life, I was an independent.

I have been registered as both a Republican and a Democrat over the years, depending on what the primary situation was like wherever I happened to be.  In an all-Republican area I was a Republican; in a place where everyone else was a Democrat, so was I.  When the primary is the only election that matters for most races, you do what you have to in order to make your voice heard.  But that was an administrative matter, not a change of heart.

This wasn’t the wishy-washy sort of independent that says, “Both parties are exactly the same, who can tell the difference, why should I pick one?”  That is an astonishingly lazy and ill-informed way to look at things and anyone who tells you that with a straight face is a buffoon who can be safely ignored in all political matters.

Nor was it the cynical or arrogant sort of independent that says, “They’re both awful and a plague upon both their houses and I could not possibly lower myself to be counted as either of them.”  Moral purity is a luxury given to those without responsibilities.  You have to find a side.

No, my being an independent drew from the fact that I looked at both parties and genuinely felt that there was something I valued being represented by each party.  At least there was for most of my political life, anyway.

I’ve always been more hawkish than my more liberal friends, for example.  The military is a tool, and when used properly – with restraint, with courage, with the kind of intense planning for both combat operations and post-combat needs that is morally demanded of anyone who intentionally puts others in harm’s way – it can be both effective and just. 

I’m also a fiscal conservative at heart – you pay for the services you demand and you don’t push debts onto your grandchildren – and I am a great believer in the right of the individual to be left alone with his or her moral choices, which at one point not too long ago was the heart of what Americans called “conservative.”

That’s not what it means to be Conservative in the traditional sense, but that’s another blog post.  In fact, I think I’ve already written that blog post.  We have right wing Liberals and left wing Liberals in this country – have since the 1820s – and we call the first group “conservative” and the second group “liberal” largely for rhetorical convenience and that’s just one more way the US insists on not fitting in with the rest of the world.

On the other hand, I am far more socially liberal than my conservative friends.  I am a firm believer in human rights – whether described as civil rights, equal rights, or some other catch phrase used by the powerful to disguise the fact that women, gays, blacks and other marginalized groups are actually people – and I have always been clear on the self-evident fact that we are all in this together and had damned well better act like it if we want this country to live up to its own founding ideals (which ideals, having earned a PhD in the subject, I am quite sure I can identify better than most people, so if anyone out there is planning on planning to yell at me on that score please keep that fact in mind, particularly as my “suffering fools gladly” gland seems to have withered into a nonfunctioning condition of late and my response will be … unambiguous). 

Further, I believe in the power of government to improve society and I’m informed enough to know that this has been a constant fact throughout American history. 

Most of American prosperity has come from the use of political power to achieve social and economic ends, and anyone who says otherwise has no grasp of history.  Western settlement?  Sponsored by the government.  Railroads?  Paid for with tax dollars.  Highways and infrastructure?  Public money.  The internet?  DOD project.  And on and on. 

Most American justice has also come from the use of political power to achieve social and economic ends as well.  It was the government that ended slavery, not the free market.  Slavery was, in fact, quite profitable and growing more so at the dawn of the Civil War.  It was the government that curbed the rapacious excesses of the Gilded Age and forced corporations to be less thuggish toward the people who made them function.  It has been the government that has worked to level the playing field for basically everyone who isn’t straight, white, male and wealthy.  Private interests had little or nothing to contribute to those struggles, and quite a bit to contribute against them. 

The fact that there are a lot of ignorant people out there loudly shouting nonsense about the evils of government and the pristine virtue of market capitalism, many of whom are running for office today, is an indictment of modern American political life, not a refutation of my position.

So I’ve been in the middle most of my life.  Indeed, the first twenty-plus years of my political life, I never managed to vote a straight ticket in any non-primary election, despite never missing one.  I found the candidates for political office who most agreed with what I wanted them to agree with, whichever party they happened to claim to represent, and I voted for them. 

As we slide down the greased banister of politics toward the big round testicle-level newel at the bottom that is the impending election, however, it occurs to me that I can now save myself the trouble of investigating individual candidates, because an entire group of them have taken themselves out of serious consideration.

As of right now, I simply cannot foresee a time when I would voluntarily cast a ballot for a Republican candidate for any office, no matter how inconsequential.  Even if I know that candidate to be a decent and honorable person individually, the fact that they have seen fit to tie themselves to that howling morass of a party would outweigh any such consideration – nobody running on the Republican ticket today is worth my vote for that reason alone, regardless of any other factors. 

It’s as simple as that. 

This is a shame.  The United States in general and our political system in particular need an organized, responsible, adult voice for conservatives to make themselves heard.  Conservatives serve the useful function of putting a brake on the random undirected enthusiasms of liberals, in the way that liberals serve the useful function of kicking conservatives out of their deep dark caves.  The two sides need each other.  Unfortunately the Republican Party has abdicated its responsibility to be responsible and adult.  It has rushed headlong into the realm of batshit insanity thinly disguised as … well, more batshit insanity, really.  It has mounted a savage attack on all who do not adhere to the new, extremist, ideological purity demanded of its members and has expelled any who dare dissent from the party line.  In doing so it has become a malignant caricature of its former self.  There is no responsible voice for conservatives in the US in 2012.  None. 

Unless you count Barack Obama, who is essentially Dwight Eisenhower without the Army uniform.

There would have to be a wholesale shift in the ideology, platform and base of the Republican Party before any responsible adult could possibly consider voting Republican, and I just don’t see that happening without a seismic and cataclysmic blow to their organizational structure.  They have to lose and lose convincingly – they need to be shattered on the rock of their own malfeasance, ignorance, and treachery – before responsible conservatives can return and turn it into something useful again.

Until then, no.  Just, no.

It occurs to me that a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that I should declare the causes which impel me to this separation.

The problem with doing so, of course, is two-fold. 

First, there is the fact that the sheer volume of evidence makes such a declaration unwieldy.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time going through a nine-point list of reasons why the Republican Party has abdicated its responsibilities as an American institution, why it should not be trusted with any political power at any level of government, and why the United States will be better off when its current incarnation is demolished and rebuilt back to some form of responsible conservative politics, and you know – it got really, really long.  Each of those nine points was an entire multi-thousand word blog post of its own, complete with graphs, charts and a pile of facts that towered high enough to threaten to blot out the sun.  Perhaps I will post them individually at some point, but not now.

And second, beyond my own satisfaction at having it all there in one place, there’s little point to listing all that evidence when you get right down to it.  The modern Republican Party, as a group, has amply demonstrated that it has little regard for reality or facts – this is the party currently campaigning against the very existence of fact-checkers, after all, and the one that dismissively condemned the “reality-based community” a few years back.  More evidence won’t help.  And the reality-based community (what a marvelous phrase!) already agrees with me.  There is only so much preaching to the choir one can do before they fall asleep too.

But perhaps it would be worthwhile to set out the nine points, at least.  So here they are.  Bear in mind that these are the edited versions, with most of the supporting evidence held in reserve.

I will not vote for any Republican for any office at any time in the foreseeable future because:

1. I believe in fiscal responsibility.

The fact that the Republican Party trades on its reputation for fiscal accountability and responsibility is one of the great con jobs of modern politics.  By almost any measure, the current financial catastrophe is almost entirely due to the mismanagement of the Republicans over the last thirty to forty years.  Debt has increased far more under Republican leadership than Democratic leadership.  Deficits have been greater.  Spending has been wilder.  And the numbers bear this out.  The fact that Obama had to spend in order to clean up the mess left by the Republicans – and do so in the face of fanatically partisan resistance to anything that might help the nation as a whole rather than just the Republican Party – does not change that.

Further, Republicans have shown themselves utterly unwilling to pay for any of their spending.  They refuse even to discuss taxes, to the point where they deliberately damaged the credit rating of the United States of America in a juvenile partisan spat over a routine financial measure that they themselves used repeatedly when they were in charge.  And as of 2008, the most recent numbers I could find, Republicans controlled 16 of the top 25 tax-consuming states (and 7 of the top 10), while 10 of the top 11 tax-donating states were controlled by Democrats.  Republicans have no problem taking tax money from others.  But paying their fair share?  Not on your life. 

Because the Republican Party is wildly irresponsible when it comes to money, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.

2. I believe in a strong military.

Over the last several decades the Republican Party has paid a fair amount of lip service to the US military, but has provided precious little in the way of actual support beyond weighting it down with shiny new playthings, occasionally against the wishes of the military itself.  They have thrown the military around the world in a series of poorly planned wars fought with little sense of what would happen once the shooting stopped.  They have skimped on necessary equipment that wasn’t shiny enough, skimmed off the profits for private mercenary forces run by their corporate supporters, and abandoned the veterans who return to the US having paid the price for Republican adventurism.  They treat the military like a toy rather than a tool, without regard for the consequences to the US economy, the larger picture of US security in the world, or the long-term sustainability of US power.  Waving a flag around and blowing things up is no substitute for strategic thinking.

Because the bottom line is that the US is now weaker and less secure thanks to the actions and policies of the Republican Party, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.

3. I believe that strong communities are essential to American society.

The modern Republican Party has fallen under the thrall of the cult of Ayn Rand, a mediocre science fiction author whose works glorify unrestrained selfishness as the only true path to nirvana.  Combine that with the latent libertarianism inherent in the standard definition of American conservatism and you have a recipe for disaster.

You cannot build a community out of atomized individuals.  All you get when you try is a Darwinian struggle for survival, which is ironic coming from a party that so loudly declares its disbelief in Darwin.  But it accurately describes the vicious class warfare that the Republicans have engaged in over the last few decades.  The result of their idol-worship of the wealthy and their refusal to recognize that supply-side economics do not work in a demand-side economy has been a massive transfer of wealth away from the poor and middle class and toward the already wealthy, a social arrangement which is not sustainable over time.  Why they are interested in creating so many new poor people when all evidence concerning social safety nets, punitive criminal justice regimes, and vitriolic moral outrage suggests that they hate the poor people we already have is an interesting, if in the long run probably moot, question.  There are reasons why the societies of the ancien regime collapsed into violence across the western world centuries ago, and the spectre of grinding poverty alongside gaudy wealth with no buffer in between is high on that list.

If you’re looking for more irony, note that this party which so loudly declares its fervent Christianity still manages to overlook Matthew 25:40 – “Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  Lord have they done it to them.

There is a genuine distinction to be made between selfishness and self-interest.  The latter often requires the individual to sacrifice their immediate gain for long-term benefits, benefits that accrue to the larger community first and then, because of the strength of the community, to the individual later.  Stability.  Broader prosperity.  Amenities.  Security.  Education.  Culture.  None of these things can be accomplished by atomized selfish individuals, but self-interested community members who understand the difference between an investment and an expense can and do accomplish these things routinely.  Communities make this nation strong, not atomized individuals.

Because the Republican Party refuses to grasp this distinction even when it slaps them in the face and thus places no value on community, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.

4. I believe in the dignity and worth of women.

The Republican war on women has been well documented – indeed, the list of things I had intended to put in this space as supporting evidence is nearly as long as this entire blog post so far.  The Republican Party has clearly demonstrated its fear and contempt for women in a bewildering variety of ways.

They have blocked funding for women’s health organizations, even to the point of denying women basic medical coverage in order to further their own social agenda.  Condemning a vaccine against cervical cancer?  Seriously?  Yes, indeed.  It’s also the Republican Party that gets its undies in a bundle every time the idea that women might actually enjoy having sex becomes a public issue.

They have campaigned against – and in some places actively removed – protections for women in the marketplace.  It’s the Republican Party that has fought against and in some places – such as Wisconsin – overturned laws guaranteeing equal pay for equal work for women, for example.  Here in Wisconsin, the state GOP is actually on record as saying that women deserve less pay because money matters more to men.

The bottom line is that for the modern Republican Party women are second-class citizens.  They are not to be trusted with their own interests, their own lives or their own bodies, and they should be subject to men at all times, preferably men with religious institutions backing them up.  I find this despicable.

If you want to summarize the approach of the modern Republican Party to women, you have only to go back to the recent Congressional hearings on women’s reproductive health that were held in February 2012.  As experts on women’s reproductive health, the Republican Party called five men, most of whom were clergy and at least one of whom had taken a vow of celibacy.  Not a single woman was allowed to testify.  Nor were any trained medical personnel.  That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

Because the Republican Party systematically devalues the contributions, welfare and worth of women in American society, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.

5. I believe in the separation of church and state.

The United States is not a Christian nation, and the Founding Fathers were very clear on that fact.  It is a nation composed overwhelmingly of Christians – and some of the most zealous and aggressive Christians on the face of the planet at that – but that is not the same thing.  Indeed, it is because of the latter that the Founding Fathers took steps to ensure the former.

This is not only written into the Constitution, but it is also written into the Bible.  Matthew 22:21 clearly says, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”  Earthly government belongs to Caesar; the kingdom of Heaven is not of this world.

This is why it is so disturbing to see the frantic efforts of the modern Republican Party to convert the United States into a theocracy.  They have fallen under the sway of a particularly extreme and blasphemous offshoot of Christianity known as Dominionist theology, which holds that everything needs to be subjugated to Christianity as defined by Dominionists – laws, ethics, morality, and the Constitution be damned.  There are millions of real American citizens who are not Christians, and millions more who are Christians but regard the Dominionists with the unconcealed contempt they so richly deserve.  Apparently we don’t count.

I’m not even going to go into the specific things I had intended to put here to back this up, as it is just too depressing for a thinking human being even to list.  Instead I will simply note that the United States is a secular republic with a highly religious population and its government needs to remain the neutral ground it was designed to be by the Founders. 

Because the Republican Party is pushing a religious agenda that marks it as deficient in both American history and Christian belief, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.

6. I value education.

Education is an investment.  It creates communities and neighborhoods.  It is the foundation of our economic future.  It is the lifeblood of a functioning republic.  And the fact that the modern Republican Party has spent so much of its time and energy trying to destroy the American educational system is symptomatic of that party’s larger dysfunction.

Whenever you see schools being attacked as a waste of money, you can be assured that it is a Republican doing the dirty work.  They have embarked on a campaign to systematically starve the public schools of this nation, and it is working precisely as intended – those schools are hurting, expensive private schools for the wealthy are booming, and a vast empire of poorly-educated, ideologically-indoctrinated home-schooled children is well under construction. 

I’ve read the most popular US history textbook on the home-school market.  It’s pure unadulterated right-wing drivel, so divorced from reality as to be not worth even using for kindling.  No wonder these kids come out of that experience unprepared for anything beyond living in their own ideologically pure bubble.

This strategy fits in quite well with the Republican class warfare.  Education is one of the surest paths out of poverty, and a truly educated person knows how to question the answers they are given.  Educated people make lousy peasants.  Thus you get the Republican Party of Texas – a bellwether state for that organization – explicitly declaring IN ITS PLATFORM its opposition to the teaching of critical thinking skills.  Peasants don’t need critical thinking skills.  Such things only make us question our betters.

Even when they do graciously allow the public schools to exist, Republicans do their best to empty them of all meaningful education.  Watching Republicans engage in curriculum reform would be enough to drive Carrie Nation to drink.  They demand that science be replaced with theology.  They remove issues from history and science that conflict with the fantasyland of Republican ideology.  They force teachers to omit anything that might lead to questioning – the notion that the US has always been multicultural, for example – and instead substitute their own nonsense.  It was Republicans who resurrected the old Pro-Slavery argument from the 1850s and stuck it into the public schools in Louisiana, and it was a similar group of morons in Texas who had Thomas Jefferson cut from the US history curriculum and replaced with John Calvin, a 16th-century theologian who approved of people being burned at the stake.  Fits right in with the general world view.

And don’t even get me started on the Republican vilification of teachers.  According to the Republicans, teachers are welfare queens, teaching is “the best part-time job you’ll ever have,” and nobody should even ask for a living wage to do such things.  You know what?  It’s the revenge of the baseball hat guys.  In every college class there are always a couple of them, slouching in the back row, not taking notes and getting snotty when their grades reflect their work habits – now they’re in charge, and this is their way of getting back.

The bottom line, I think, is that poll after poll after poll reveals the same thing – the more educated a person is, the less likely they are to support modern Republican policies.  Rather than shift those policies to try to appeal to those who have been trained to think critically and who have acquired expertise about the way the world actually works, the modern Republican Party has simply decided to get rid of educated people.  We’ve got our own, so-far-non-violent Khmer Rouge in this country, but at least they kept the colors consistent.

Because the Republican Party is virulently opposed to education as anything more than partisan indoctrination, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with that party.

7. I believe in democracy.

The basic political culture in the US since the early 1800s has been liberal democracy – the idea that sovereignty comes from the citizenry and therefore that citizenry should have the final word on government.  The US has only gradually come to embody that ideal in some ways – the definition of “citizen” did not originally include women or blacks, for example – and as with any human-designed system there is still room for improvement.  But overall it works, and if you want to be an American you need to respect it.

Thus I find the modern Republican Party’s assaults on democracy to be immoral and vile. 

Under the guise of trying to eliminate “voter fraud” – a non-existent crime, from a statistical perspective – the Republicans have embarked on a concerted effort to disenfranchise those American citizens who are statistically less likely to vote for them.  Voter ID bills requiring very specific forms of ID with very specific wording on them are aimed at keeping students, senior citizens, and minorities away from the polls – something that Republicans have, on occasion, been forthright enough to admit publicly (here’s looking at you, Pennsylvania state legislator Mike Turzai!).  Indeed, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has admitted under oath that their Voter ID bill was passed despite the fact that there has been no evidence whatsoever of voter fraud in that state and that no voter fraud was expected to occur in the future even without the bill.

It is not an accident that in Tennessee a student ID is not sufficient to be allowed to vote but a gun registration is.  It’s simple partisan politics, and it tells you all you need to know about the real purpose of such laws.

Now, electoral fraud, that’s another matter.  Go ask anyone in Florida who really won the 2000 presidential election.  Nobody knows.  And the Republican Party spent many millions of dollars to make sure that nobody would ever know.  The irony there is that W might have actually won – but an actual vote count was secondary to claiming power, so an actual vote count reflecting the will of the citizens of the United States was out of the question.  Go ask the Republican Waukesha (WI) County clerk about the several thousand votes she claimed to have found on her personal and unsecured computer the day after the election, "votes" which swung a tight Supreme Court race toward the Republican candidate.  Or ask her about the bags of paper ballots in the recount that were opened, tampered with, and resealed.  But those favored Republicans, so they don’t count, apparently.

We can also talk about the Republican majority in the Wisconsin legislature violating open meeting laws designed to allow the citizens to keep tabs on their representatives.  Or their refusal to let non-Republican legislators even read legislation being passed or vote on it one way or the other.  Or the US Senate Republicans forcing every vote, no matter how mundane, to have a 60-vote filibuster-proof margin.  And on and on.

It is clear that the modern Republican Party fundamentally does not accept the basic principles of democracy. 

Because the Republican Party continues its assault on democracy in the United States without pause or apology, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.

8. I want to preserve the republic.

The United States didn’t start out as a democracy, though.  It started out as – and in its Constitutional form remains – a republic.  This is a very specific form of government, one dependent on separating powers and placing the public good above private interest.

Neither of those things are important to the modern Republican Party.

This is the party that brought you the theory of the Unitary Executive, where the president (so long as he was a good Republican like George W. Bush and not a bad Democrat) was supreme and could institute whatever policies he wanted without regard to the courts or Congress.   This is the party that brought you “signing statements” whereby the President could give his opinion of an act of Congress and have that be the definitive interpretation of the law, not the actual law or the intent of Congress.  This is the party in Wisconsin that feels it is not bound by state or federal court decisions and can make up rules for other people as they go along.  And on and on.  The list of evidence that I had originally planned to put here stretches for nearly half a page of bullet-point notes and much of it was previously argued by no less a conservative voice than the Heritage Foundation.  There is no “Decider” in the American political system, and any elected official who believes otherwise should be removed from office immediately, preferably with a stick.

This is also the party that holds there is nothing more important than private interest, least of all public service.  The party that actively despises public employees even as they campaign to become them.  You know what?  I’ve checked the Constitution.  It never says that the US is an oligarchy of the wealthy, powerful and authoritarian.

Quite the opposite.

Because the Republican Party fundamentally disrespects the republic created by the Founding Fathers, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.

9. I do not hold with treason.

I’m not going to get into the things that are borderline here – the calls for states to mint their own coinage in violation of the Constitution, the calls for violence toward the duly elected president of the United States that come not from fringe elements but from other elected officials, the widespread and unapologetic calls for “Second Amendment solutions” to elections that didn’t go their way, the deliberate sabotage of the economy over partisan pique in 2011.  You could make a decent case that such things fall into this category, but that would be a distraction.

And besides, there are unambiguously traitorous things that are easier to highlight.

In the last decade or so, there have been any number of calls for secession from the leaders of several different states.  Those leaders have all – every single one of them – been Republicans.  Rick Perry made that case while governor of Texas.  The Republican-dominated Georgia State Senate passed a bill threatening to secede from the US in 2009 and endorsing the long-discredited theory of Nullification.  This bill also passed Republican-controlled legislative chambers in Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Secession is treason.

It was treason in 1861 when the Confederacy tried it.  It is treason in the 21st century when people bring it up again.  People who call for secession need to be brought to trial and punished.

Instead the modern Republican Party embraces them.  Rick Perry was the front-runner for the 2012 presidential nomination for a while.  The Georgia Senate was never called to account for its actions.  We just expect it, I suppose.

Sorry.  No. 

It’s one thing when your party has half-wit extremists in it – all parties have their share.  But most parties are smart enough to marginalize such people, not celebrate them.

Because the modern Republican Party embraces treason rather than seeking to stamp it out, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.

And that’s enough for me.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Bad Case of JBS

I’m not really sure what to think about my bank.

Well, no, that’s not quite true.  I know exactly what to think about the institution that claims to be the responsible steward of my money.  There are good, intelligent people working there, some of whom I enjoy visiting with whenever I end up going inside, but banks as institutions are Jurassically stupid things whose main institutional achievement is their ability to survive in spite of themselves for extended periods of time.

If you’re looking for an institution that can single-handedly provide all the ammunition you need against the virtues of the free market, the supposed wisdom of modern management techniques, the value of an MBA, the entire theory of Social Darwinism, and the notion that the accumulation of capital is a sign of God’s favor, you have to look no further than the nearest bank.

And if you do look, chances are that you will see that bank doing something catastrophically stupid right now.  Even as you read this!  Go ahead and check.  I’ll wait.

See?  Told you so.

We’ve done our banking at the same physical location since before Kim and I were married.  When she moved to Our Little Town nearly two decades ago, Kim opened up her accounts in what was then Your Friendly Neighborhood Bank.  They were local, and thus relatively protected from Jurassic Bank Stupidity, which tends to get worse as institutional size gets larger.

Unfortunately, YFNB was bought out fairly shortly after that by Big State Bank.  They kept most of the same people, so when I moved up here we kept our accounts with them.  You could see the symptoms of JBS getting worse over time, though. 

My most memorable experience with JBS was when I tried to pay off the overdraft protection that I had incurred one month.  They had this very nice set-up where if you exceeded your checking account balance, they would put money into it to cover the check, up to whatever limit you were willing to sign up for.  They started charging interest from the moment of deposit, which is how they made their money, but it was a nice service anyway.  You got a bill at the end of the month and you sent a check to the main office in the big city. 

One time it didn’t work. 

After much investigation, it turned out that Big State Bank had received my check, but had decided that my goal in writing it was not to pay off any outstanding overdraft loan.  Instead, I was informed, my goal had clearly been to write a check, put it into an envelope, affix first-class postage and send it off to another city so that the money could be withdrawn from my checking account and deposited back into that same account.

This I found puzzling.

The years flew by, however, and with only the occasional outbreak of JBS symptoms we remained relatively happy with Big State Bank. 

Then they got bought by International Banking Conglomerate.

It was bad enough when IBC decided to donate vast sums of money to Governor Teabagger during the Great Subversion last year – we began to investigate alternate places for our money at that point, but events and life intervened and we never did get around to doing anything about it.  We may do so now that IBC has begun officially wiping all traces of our old bank away – they’re even going to change the name on the buildings, from what I hear.

I could handle that part.

But a few days ago I got a letter containing a flash drive.  A blank one.

There was an accompanying letter explaining that IBC was going to eliminate all of Big State Bank’s online presence entirely, including all of our records that we only have access to online since they stopped sending us paper statements two years ago, but if we so desired we could download those records onto this handy flash drive for safekeeping.  But not all of those records – you only get the last 45 days.


I’m not sure what happens next, other than the search for a new home for our money beginning in earnest.  Perhaps that’s their goal too.  If so, they have succeeded.