Monday, September 30, 2013

An Open Letter to the Republican Party on the Eve of Political Disaster


Stop playing subversive games with my children's future. 

Stop aiding and abetting the destruction of the American economy through your childish temper tantrums and suicidal demands.

The time to discuss financial reform is before you spend the money, during the budgetary process, not when the bills come due, during the debt limit process.  I note with dismay that this tends not to happen – neither the timing nor the actual discussions.  You don’t discuss.  You demand, and when you don’t get exactly what you want you make threats.

Honestly, I didn’t put up with that nonsense from my children when they were still in diapers.  I see no reason why I should put up with it from people who are supposed to be adults.

Get this through your skulls:

The government will be funded.  And you will do it.

You will do it because this nation cannot afford to be left without services because of the selfish politics of the few.  You think it can, and you’ve certainly done your best to make that happen.  But sooner rather than later it will occur to you that this is mistaken.  It will cost you money.  It will weaken our security.  It will play well to your most partisan base but that base only wins primaries, not elections.  Eventually it will occur to you that when the poor have nothing left to eat they will eat the rich, and you will get uncomfortable around condiments.

You will do it because you have no leverage.  You control one half of one third of the federal government, and you have turned it into a cesspool of insanity.  You’ve managed to screw yourselves into a hole and even your own supporters think you’ve gone too far.  The rest of us are just waiting to see how much it is going to hurt us while we laugh at you.

The debt limit will be raised.  And you will do it.

You will do it because you’ve already spent the money and backing out on it now is not sound financial policy – it’s skipping out on your credit card payments.  And if you think the local bounty hunters are nasty, just wait until the international financiers take over the chase.  If you think the Chinese and the rest of the nations who keep the American economy afloat are going to tolerate losing their investments because of your inability to understand that point, you will be dreadfully, dreadfully disappointed.  You will discover that your world is built on sand.

You will do it because you have no way not to that doesn’t involve your own pain.  I am aware that other people’s pain is not important to you – your entire political platform is predicated on that simple fact.  But when your benefactors start to howl, when your donors dry up, when it finally becomes clear to you that cutting off your own nose to spite others is a bloody and useless business, you will do it.

You will do it because the Affordable Care Act is now law.  It was written by your own party.  It was implemented first by your own party.  It was upheld as constitutional by your own hand-picked Supreme Court.  And the more you rail against it, the more you engage in farcical rhetoric, attention-whore semi-filibusters, and underhanded dirty political tricks, the more you confirm the revulsion that American citizens already have for you and the more you will set yourself up to lose the next thirty years of elections.

Remember Social Security?  It wasn’t just good policy.  It was a political goldmine for the Democrats.  You could have jumped on the ACA bandwagon, claimed it as the child of yours that it was and ridden that all the way to power, but instead you fell under the sway of extremists, radicals, and subversives bent on destroying the nation, and you lost your chance.  Man up, move on, and try to come up with real solutions to real problems for a change.

The time to discuss the ACA is over.  You lost.  Get over yourselves.   

If you insist on taking the American economy hostage to further your political ambitions, remember this: Americans do not negotiate with terrorists.  You will lose.  You will lose grandly, publicly, and permanently.  And you will spend the rest of this century chewing over the rancid taste of unnecessary defeat.  A great many people will go to great lengths to make sure that you do, and I will support them.

The choice is yours.

Don’t screw it up any more than you already have.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Civilization in Heels

So once again, for the fifth time in six years, I have put on some of the most uncomfortable footwear ever designed with serious thoughts of it actually being worn, and walked through Our Little Town carrying a sign.

Because you have to do these things now and then.

Every year the local YWCA has its annual “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” event.  It’s a fundraiser, designed to raise money for their domestic violence prevention and response programs – programs that get far more use than they ought to get in a civilized society.

But we’re not a civilized society.  Not really. 

Americans have amply demonstrated over the last couple of years that as a culture we love our guns more than our children.  We tolerate levels of social inequality, poverty, violence, and unnecessary sickness that civilized societies would find inexcusable.  For crying out loud, there is an entire political party in this nation whose sole reason for existing right now is to deny healthcare to American citizens at all costs, up to and including destroying the nation’s credit rating for an entire generation.  That fact is in itself a damning indictment of American life.  And on top of all that, we live in a society where domestic violence is all too common.

Civilization does not come easy.  Nor does it come instantly.  You have to fight for it.  You have to work for it.  You have to accept that progress comes step by step.

Even when you’re stepping along in high heels.

Some two hundred people marched last night, many of them men in heels.  Policemen.  Firemen.  City councilmen.  Football players.  Men who have had enough and who want to see some civilization around these parts.

We march because sometimes you have to do ridiculous things if you want people to pay attention to what matters.

We march because civilization isn’t easy and it isn’t painless and it isn’t something you can build in a day but it is something that can be lost all too quickly if you just let things slide that should never slide.

I don’t know how much money we raised this year, hobbling around on those dratted shoes.  The kind and generous folks who donated to my cause chipped in $390, which is a personal best for my participation in this event.  I am grateful to everyone who gave, and I thank you.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Bank Shot

So now it is official - we have left the International Banking Conglomerate that swallowed up our Big State Bank that bought out Your Friendly Neighborhood Bank that Kim once opened an account with back when she got to Our Little Town.

I'm not really sure what to think about this, beyond the sense that it was something that needed to happen.  IBC didn't become the soul-consuming megapredator that it is by accident - it is astonishingly good at figuring out how to extract fees for the privilege of being given your money, and eventually that reaches levels of absurdity that can only be met with derision and flight.  And, from what I can tell by talking with the friends I have who work there, we are neither the first nor the only people to feel this way.  In point of fact, the friends I have there are dwindling in number too, as they seek less rapacious pastures.

But we've been there for a long time, and I did have some friends there.  One of the tellers would save for me the funky coins that crossed her path - I'd buy them from her when I came in, if she had any.  Another of the bankers had a child who took skating lessons with my daughters, and even after that ended we'd see each other at the local minor league hockey games sometimes.  You can't live in a small town for very long without making these kinds of casual friendships, not unless you try hard not to do so.  It's one of the things I like about the place.

I suppose we will just have to start over with our new bank, Local Credit Union.  They seem reasonably aware that their continued hold on our business rests on their restraint when it comes to fees, and they've been pretty good about adjusting some of their rules to accommodate our teachers' pay schedules.  So far, so good.

They even have picnics for their customers, whom they insist on calling "shareholders" for some reason.  Perhaps we'll go.

So it's another closing, another opening, another show.

Sometime this weekend I will have to give my new debit card a whirl, with its unfamiliar PIN.  Such are the milestone events of the 21st century.  Part of me thinks I should buy a book for my first purchase.  The rest of me knows that this would just be using the whole experience as an excuse to go buy another book.  I'm not sure any of me is really bothered by that fact, though.

So we'll see.

Thanks, IBC - you've given me another reason to go buy a book, one I can pay for out of the fees you are no longer charging me.  That's one parting gift I'll be glad to take.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

On Tires and Success

I spent most of yesterday afternoon getting new tires.

It rained pretty hard this week as I was driving up to Not Quite So Far Away Campus, and at one point I noticed that while my objective speed relative to the road had not changed my speedometer had accelerated considerably.  This – along with some quick math involving the odometer and some rather vague memories of when the last time I had purchased tires – led me to suspect that perhaps new tires were in order.

Getting new tires is not my favorite way to spend time.  Really, any time devoted to automobile maintenance is pretty far down on my list of things I’d like to spend time doing.  I’m just funny that way.  When I was a kid my dad spent many weekends tinkering around on the various cars we had at one time or another – a vast and quickly shifting collection of second-hand vehicles that came pre-loaded with things upon which tinkering had to be done – and while it wasn’t perhaps his favorite way to spend a Saturday I still think he rather enjoyed it.  Me?  No. 

And then you add in the fact that I took another shot at the Giant Megastore’s tire service area, since they had treated us rather well in July when we had little choice but to go there, and it just compounds things.  They seem to have done a nice job with the tires, don’t get me wrong.  But sitting there waiting for the incessant yet somehow still inaudible paging system to call my name and then spending twenty minutes trying to find a live body I could ask once I decided they must have paged me by now is an enthusiasm-sucking way to end an otherwise reasonably pleasant retail encounter.

But for all that, I’m still thankful.

When I was in graduate school I remember asking myself, in an abstract sort of way, at what point could I reasonably say that I had “made it.”  That I was doing okay for myself.  Bear in mind that one of the first things I learned once I got to graduate school was that the stipend paid to TAs was below what the department itself considered to be the poverty line for one person in that city.  While I had the kind of family support network that meant I would never really be in danger of starving, it was still a rather frugal existence I led. 

So I thought about that for a while, and eventually I decided that I would consider myself doing well financially when I could walk into a grocery store and buy whatever I wanted for the week’s meals without counting the costs.

That was all.  Just the ability to provide basic necessities and perhaps even nicer versions of those necessities for myself without worrying. 

I never said I was ambitious.

Yet there are a great many people on this planet and in this country who cannot do that very thing, and despite the clear economic lessons of the impact of poverty on society at large, the religious exhortations to provide for those who have not, and the political cautions of what happens when society lets the rich steal from the poor without remorse, it does not look like this problem is likely to be addressed, let alone solved, anytime soon in the US. 

I have reached the point in my life where I can decide that I need new tires in order to get to work safely, and I can just go out and get them without really worrying about whether this means I will eat next week. 

This is doing okay, really.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Honey? The Terminator's On the Fritz Again!

When the machines finally do take over, I’m not sure anyone will notice the difference.

The problem with the Robot Apocalypse as it is usually presented in novels and films is that it rests on the notion that these machines are somehow better than us.  In some ways, perhaps they are.  It’s easy to make a machine that can go faster or hit harder or carry around more information than a human being, and if you extrapolate from there you can imagine a world of perfectly coordinated machines running things in icy lockstep.

But then you smack into the brick wall that says, “Wait a minute – who programmed these things, anyway?”  And suddenly the Robot Apocalypse moves from tragedy to farce, because the answer is, of course, “The same people who brought you Windows 8.”

Really, all we’ll have to do is sit quietly, reading our hardbound books and playing with wooden toys, until the machines end up charging madly into the river with their laser guns set to “massage.”

This thought occurred to me yesterday as I was listening to the fifth robo-called message in less than an hour from a major airline announcing that a flight boarding a thousand miles away was going to be delayed a further twelve minutes, a bit of information which – while perhaps not welcome, as it meant that Kim was going to be late getting back from her conference – was completely useless to me.

I don’t really get computers, or any technology more complicated than a ballpoint pen.  Oh, I can use it, given enough time to figure it out, but it’s all just magic boxes to me.  I hit a few keys, mumble the proper incantations, and something gets produced at the other end.  I could no more explain the intervening steps than I could tell you what the color blue smells like.

And sometimes I’m not all that convinced that anyone else gets it either. 

We live in a world of increasing complexity, speed, and interdependence.  We offload more and more of our tasks onto the things we create, and we trust that those things will do what we tell them to do.  Mostly they do, which is sort of the problem, since few people have any real idea of how to give directions carefully.  And then they don’t, which is the other part of the problem.

I’m sure the airline felt that they were doing a service by leaving these messages for me, and really they were so, so close to providing useful information that it’s almost heartbreaking.  I have decided to see this as a positive thing, because I need more positive vibes in my world these days. 

I am safe from the Robot Apocalypse, because the robots don’t know what they’re doing either.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Observations from a Tired Mind

1. Tonight I introduced my daughters to the cheesiest song ever written, the absolute greatest piece of music for belting out at the top of one’s lungs while stumbling drunkenly down the middle of a street at a thoroughly unreasonable hour:  MacArthur Park.  I feel I deserve some kind of parenting award for this.

2. On Wednesday it was cooler inside my body than it was outside my body, here in our little town.  Today was sweatshirt weather.  All told, I’d rather have the sweatshirts.

3. There is a special kind of hell reserved for people with big dumb loud aggressive dogs who do nothing whatever to discipline or train said big dumb loud aggressive dogs.  I am absolutely sure that this hell involves fire ants, honey, and strategic nudity.

4. You always go to the funeral if you can.  Even if, like me, you hate funerals.  It’s a matter of respect and support.

5. At some point scientists are just going to come out and declare that everything you can possibly eat will kill you, and then we will just eat the things we like and not worry about it.  That point may come as early as Tuesday.

6. Our machines get smarter, and our ability to use those machines gets less and less.  Eventually the machines won’t even bother to conquer us – they’ll just set us gently in a corner and go about their business while we stare blankly at the walls.

7. Someone should take the greeting card industry aside and let them know that there are more card-giving occasions than just birthdays.  Sometimes there isn’t even an occasion at all.

8. When I am in charge of the universe, there will be a strict enforcement of the negative correlation between how loud your vehicle is and how big your genitals are so that nobody will even have to guess anymore.  You want a glass-packed 4x4?  Prepare to advertise your shortcomings openly.

9. Students never quite get how much their teachers simply choose not to see.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Hitting the Links with Clubs and Other Blunt Objects

I'm still working my way through the various things we got up to this summer.  It was a busy summer, but a good one.


Sometime in July we went golfing.

You have to understand the sheer weirdness of this fact.  My grandfather enjoyed golfing – it was one of the things that kept him busy and happy after he retired – but I’ve never actually gone a whole round of golf in my life. 

A few years ago a friend invited me to play half a round with his friends one weekend morning – I’m not sure if it was the front nine, the back nine, or perhaps the middle nine with some left over on either end.  In any case there was grass and there were holes and we spent most of the morning trudging across the one to get to the other.  He even lent me some clubs, and over the course of the morning I eventually noticed that they were different, though what precisely those differences meant in practice I never did work out.  I knew this was going to be my last time with doing this with him when, about halfway through, he paused and slowly asked, “You played a lot of softball in your life, didn’t you?”

Apparently it’s not supposed to be the same swing.  Who knew?

So, we’re not golfers.  None of us.  Unless you count courses that have windmills and mermaids in them – those we’re pretty good at.

But our Swedish friends were visiting this year, and we had gone up to see them in northern Wisconsin while they were staying with other friends – Joe, Rachel and their family – and Joe golfs.  His daughter Monica golfs.  So we tried it.

It went about as well as you’d expect, really.  We had a good time, but the PGA Tour will likely not be calling us with invitations.  I’m still not sure what the various clubs are supposed to do that you would need such a variety.  It all seems profligate that way.

It was a hot and sunny day when we showed up to the golf course, and if there is one thing that is true about pretty much any golf course you’d care to name it is that there are very few trees in the middle of it.  They get pretty fussy about that, actually.  There were some on the edges for those who wished to stand by and observe, but if you wanted to hit the ball you were pretty much out there with no tree cover.  So there we ended up, in the sun, swatting away.

Whack.  Whack.  Whack.

We didn’t actually try to hit anything into any holes – Joe understood that this would just be an invitation to disaster and likely one slow-moving enough to require our grandchildren to finish it – so instead we bought several buckets of practice balls and headed over to a hill overlooking a large field.  We spread out across the crest of the hill and began hitting the balls as far as we could.

There was a certain amount of earth removal in this process, but most of the balls managed to end up in the field most of the time and I count that as a success

It turned out that among the four of us under my roof, by far the best at it was Lauren.  Granted this was not hard, but she actually did manage to get a few good drives off.  Tabitha and Kim were fairly game about it. 

I struck out.

I think I’ll stick to windmills and mermaids.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Five Years On

So apparently I’ve been doing this for five years now.

I started this blog five years ago today, in 2008, mostly as a way to record things I wanted to remember.  I’d had a sort of a blog before, which ran from 1999 to 2004, but life had intervened and there were just too many things that were falling by the wayside.  So when I found myself with time on my hands, I started writing this.  Five years seems to be how long I write these things, though I'm hoping to better the last run.

And here I am, still going.

It’s been a good run.  If I have less time than I did, I still manage to get things posted on a semi-regular basis.  I miss it when I don’t.  Far more people have found their way here than I ever thought would, which is a nice thing.  I’ve met some good people through this blog.

I don’t have any particular plans other than to keep doing what I’ve been doing, as time and circumstance permit.  We are creatures of stories, we humans, and telling stories is an important part of maintaining that humanity in the face of a world that often does not seem to value it.

So I tell stories.  I post photos.  I record things I want to remember.

Happy birthday to 4Q10D.

Off to High Heights, Yet Again

Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick, that summer went by quickly.  I still have things I want to write about that haven’t made it up here, and yet Labor Day has flown by and the semester has started over at Home Campus, Not Quite So Far Away Campus, and The Campus Way Way Over There.  Already I’m behind.  Who knew?

And on top of that, today is the first real day of school for Tabitha and Lauren. 

They had meetings yesterday, just like the rest of us.  It’s kind of nice, actually – rather than spending an entire day just standing around introducing themselves, they go in for a short conference with their teachers and then get the rest of the day to themselves.  It eases them into it, which is a good thing.  You should be able to do that for your job after any vacation longer than three days, I think.  Be sure to mention that next time you see your boss.  Let me know how it goes.

But today Tabitha and Lauren go in for real.  No more meetings.  No coming home.  The Minecraft is put away, the alarm clocks have gone off, and the educational train is leaving the station.

Both girls are now at the top of their respective school ladders.

Over at Mighty Clever Guy Middle School, Tabitha is entering 8th grade.

And down at Not Bad President Elementary, Lauren is going into 5th grade.

It’s going to be a long year, and with any luck a good one.  They know their schools, they have their friends, and they will be learning all sorts of new things.  They’ll be fine.

Me?  I’m just getting older, watching them grow up.  It’s nice, actually.

Next year they will learn one of the great lessons of life – that the top of one ladder is just the bottom of the next one.  They will go off to new schools and do new things with new people, and it will be an adjustment but it will work out fine.  But for this year, they rule.

Good luck to you, ladies.  I’m proud of you.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Of Decals and Misplaced Pride

So yesterday we went over to the Thresheree, that annual celebration of anything farm-related that has an internal combustion engine attached to it somewhere.  There are century-old tractors, some of which are the size (and shape) of railroad locomotives.  There are any number of categories of antique machines whose function remains opaque to this city boy, many of which ingest things at one end and spit out other things from another.  Most shake and rattle.  They may or may not roll.  There is a steam-driven pile driver that spends the weekend randomly pounding telephone poles into the ground, which is about as productive as anything you’ll get out of Congress between now and the midterm elections, really.  And this year they had a classic car area with everything from a 1924 pickup truck (with a wooden chassis) to a 1980 El Camino – in my opinion perhaps the silliest car ever invented, even if you include the Yugo, though Kim would disagree.

There is also a flea market.

Now, normally I like flea markets.  They are vast collections of useless junk advertised by signs sporting purely random apostrophes and spellings from an earlier, more democratic age, and that’s normally enough to keep me amused for hours.

And then I walked over to a booth and saw a decal for sale, the sort of thing designed to fit in the rear window of a pickup truck.  It had the Confederate battle flag prominently displayed – not an unusual sight in this day and age, sadly enough, as it appeals to people who claim to value their freedom without having to go through the ache of trying to figure out what that freedom actually means or where the real threats to it lie.  You’d be shocked at how many people there are like that running about unmedicated on the streets.  Or not, I suppose.  So it wasn’t the Confederate battle flag per se that struck me as the single most stupid thing I have seen in months.  It was the caption under it:

“Proud to be an American.”

Okay, then.

The sheer historical ignorance that would be required to display this particular combination of logo and sentiment is mind-boggling.  Did they not get the memo about the Civil War?  Are they unaware that this flag was carried into battle by the wrong side in an organized rebellion against the United States?  Or do they simply not care?

I am not sure how the flag of traitors is supposed to make someone feel patriotic, really.  Or proud.  Perhaps it is supposed to remind us that the United States triumphed over the treason of the South, eradicating the misbegotten wretchedness of the Confederacy from the earth – and in that context, I suppose it would make me proud to be an American, yes it would.

I’m thinking this is not what they were aiming at, though.

So, once more unto the breach dear friends, once more.  Say it with me:

The South committed treason in 1861 when it illegally tried to secede from the Union and then waged war upon the United States in furtherance of this goal. 

They did this to perpetuate their ability to hold human slaves – a fact that they were eager to declare in their own manifestos and which did not become embarrassing to them until well after the Civil War, which is when the whole “states’ rights” nonsense starts to become popular among apologists for treason.  It still is.

The Confederacy was then destroyed – thoroughly, completely, and without contradiction – and humanity is better off because of this fact. 

While that destruction served to advance the cause of liberty and freedom as well as to preserve the nation that had been created by the Founding Fathers, the fact that this had to be done at all – that such treason had even been attempted – remains a black mark on this nation’s history.

None of this should make anyone proud as an American to fly that flag.

I do not understand the need to glorify the traitors of 1861, to buy decals with their flags and pretend they were engaged in something that wasn’t vile.  I do not see any need to celebrate their deeds, their history, or their views – particularly not in Wisconsin, a state that sent more than its share of men to put down that evil.

To the extent that anyone can take pride in an ancestor’s actions – they’re not my actions, after all – I take pride in the fact that when the call came at least one of my ancestors fought to preserve the Union against those who would destroy liberty in the name of slavery.

If you’re really proud to be an American, be proud that the Confederacy failed.  Be proud that this nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, triumphed over those who would destroy it in order to perpetuate a caste system of slavery.

Put a Stars and Stripes on that decal, and maybe we’ll talk.