Monday, February 16, 2015

Down Time

I find I have nothing to say these days.

It’s winter in Wisconsin, which means that it is cold, grey, icy, and inhospitable outside.  I’m actually okay with this, as it means that I can stay in with my books and my tea and nobody feels any need to give me moral criticism for not being Out And About the way that apparently all the good people of the world are by reflex action.  On the other hand, though, it’s not much to write home about.  It’s a quiet sort of life.

There’s a lot going in politically, as the right-wing extremists currently masquerading as the once-proud Republican Party careen ever closer to their goal of subverting the Constitution and American civil society entirely and replacing them with a one-party Gilded-Age theocracy of the damned.  The problem, as is probably evident by now, is that even considering the matter is infuriating to someone who actually has a clue what this nation was founded upon, as I do, and that makes bad copy.  That plus the fact that I was born in Philadelphia and therefore pessimism is my birthright makes me rather corrosive on the subject these days.  I can ruin people’s days merely by expressing my views, and who needs that?  Better to stay quiet, perhaps.

I’m reading some good books, but those go onto the end of the year posts.  As far as sports go, I’m enjoying soccer and hockey when I get a chance.  American football is over and baseball hasn’t started.  There’s a lot of curling going on around these parts as well.  Other than that there are no sports of any note.  I lost interest in movies years ago.  Not much to report upon, really.

My semester is phenomenally busy – for all that Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) insists that university faculty are lazy, I’d put good money on the fact that I’m working harder than he is, and I’m not even tenure track.  Most university professors I know would be thrilled to be forced to work a 40-hour week.  They wouldn’t know what to do with all their new-found free time. 

So it’s been kind of quiet around these parts.  Perhaps it will pick up soon, though.  You never know.

Monday, February 9, 2015

News and Updates

1. Tabitha has joined the Dungeons and Dragons club at Local Businessman High.  She seems to be enjoying it so far.  She was worried at first that they would not let her join, since she didn’t discover the club until well into the school year.  “Nonsense,” I told her.  “I know exactly what the membership of that club looks like, because – while I never got into that game in high school (God alone knows why, as I was precisely the target demographic for it) – I was friends with most of the guys who played it.  You are an attractive young lady.  Trust me – they would KILL to have you in that club.”  And it turns out that Father knows best, at least in this instance.

2.  The benighted kids who make up that club insist that dwarves are not fireproof, however.  Honestly.  What good are flammable dwarves?  How can you expect to use them as projectiles when facing dragons if they are not fireproof?  Kids these days.

3. The Home Campus Trivia Team emerged victorious from this year’s annual fundraiser for the local orchestra, recapturing the crown that had been ripped from our grasp by Local Parochial School by a rather healthy margin last year.  This year’s victory was a near thing, and we look forward to trying to defend our title next year.

4. The girls went skiing for the first time this year this past weekend.  From all accounts they had a grand time.  Rather than sit in the lodge all day and grade papers, I ended up on another trivia team at a fundraising event for a local baseball team.  It was a good time and we came in second, in large part because you needed to have grown up in that town to know a good portion of the answers.  “Name the last six mayors”?  Seriously?  I don’t think I could do that in the city I grew up in, let alone anywhere in Wisconsin.  And yet it was a good time anyway.

5. We would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids.

6. Every time I hear about the budget proposed by Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) it just gets worse.  Today’s fascinating reveal was the part where he used the bill to cut the salary of the Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  There are a number of problems with this beyond the fact that it is toddler-level petty, but perhaps the biggest one is that it is flatly unconstitutional to reduce the salary of a sitting judge during their term in office.  But since the right-wing extremists currently staging their psychotic episodes in the name of the GOP firmly believe that laws, constitutions, morals, and ethics are for other people to follow but do not apply to the special little snowflakes that they are themselves, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by that little stunt.  Stay tuned for the further adventures of Sock Puppet Governor (tm) in his quest to subvert a once-proud state and become the GOP presidential nominee.

7. He just might become that nominee, despite the fact that his grasp of issues and ability to speak coherently on any topic other than his own purported magnificence has been compared unfavorably to the former half-term governor of Alaska.  Given the announcement by his owners that they would be spending nearly a billion dollars in the 2016 election cycle it is entirely possible they may just buy the nomination outright, which would put Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) front and center.  Free market capitalism in action, folks!  That whirring sound you hear is the Founding Fathers spinning so frantically in their graves as to create electricity.

8 I kind of feel bad for the non-insane conservatives out there who have nobody to represent them in the American political arena anymore.

9.  I got my first invitation to join the AARP this week.  I think it might be worthwhile, if only to legitimize my demands that those meddling kids get off my damned lawn.

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Few Ideas in Wisconsin

I’m not really upset anymore when Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) lies to me.  Honestly, I’d be more surprised if he didn’t.  The man has a strained relationship with reality to begin with, and I wouldn’t trust him to tell me the weather let alone anything of actual substance.  I’m not sure he’d be capable of telling me the truth even if he wanted to do so.  Old habits die hard.

No, what upsets me is that he puts so little thought into his lies.

He clearly believes that the rest of us are stupid.  That we will swallow whatever half-assed excuse he offers for the most recent assault on the dignity, worth, and future of the state of Wisconsin without questioning him or doubting his story.  Part of me thinks that this is because he believes he’s the smartest person in the room and the rest of us are all just automatons there to do his bidding, not worth the time or effort needed to come up with lies that are at least plausible, and part of me thinks that he honestly believes the lies himself – that whatever nonsense he is spewing at the moment is the Truth and we’re all just being unreasonable for not accepting it at face value and swooning over his bravery in facing this harsh, harsh world.

This, of course, is one of the definitions of psychotic.

The latest iteration of this sad tale comes as Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) is pushing his budget for the next two years for Wisconsin.  The budget is of a piece with the rest of his policies, an act of vandalism rather than sound financial planning. 

Having spent most of his re-election campaign lying about the vast surpluses his slash-and-burn policies must have created during his initial assault on Wisconsin, because they must have, he now turns around and declares that rather than invest those surpluses in our children’s future he needs to continue his slashing and burning because – surprise! – none of those surpluses were actually real.  They were just another of his sincerely believed lies, trumpeted loudly enough to sucker his base into voting for him again so he could have a platform for implementing Charles and David Koch’s agenda in a presidential campaign.  The man is a sock puppet, but anyone who hadn’t figured that out by last November is likely beyond hope now.

His budget merges agencies, diverts funds from public education in order to expand the right-wing fantasy of private school vouchers, defunds public radio (the most reliable source of information in America, according to several studies I've seen), cuts medical benefits for senior citizens, and guts the Department of Natural Resources (and eliminates much of its ability to protect Wisconsin’s natural resources until long after his reign of terror ends).  The biggest cut, of course, is targeted at the University of Wisconsin System, which will absorb $300 million in damages even as it is legally forbidden from finding new income sources to make up that loss, because that’s what passes for responsible fiscal planning among the modern right wing.  It will cripple the UW, and that’s precisely the point.

Education just makes the peasants uppity.

On the other hand, he does want the state to spend $222 million on a new stadium for the privately-owned Milwaukee Bucks basketball team.  Bread and circuses for everyone!

So far none of this was unexpected.  Like many of the leaders on his side of the aisle these days, Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) has made no secret of his hatred of the kind of informed citizenry that the Founding Fathers knew was necessary for a republic to survive and he has done his best to prevent such a citizenry from surviving.  It will take a few years for the state to collapse completely, so I'm sure he figures he’ll be safely on his way when that happens and it won’t be his concern anymore. Won't he be surprised.

What did strike me – and many others – as rather more vicious than usual was his attempt to destroy the University of Wisconsin System at its core.

The University of Wisconsin rests on what is called the Wisconsin Idea, something that no other public university system has copied.  It has been part of state law for over a century now, and it identifies the UW as integral to the health and future of Wisconsin as a whole.  It reads as follows:

The mission of the system is to develop human resources, to discover and disseminate knowledge, to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses, and to serve and stimulate society by developing in students heightened intellectual, cultural, and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional and technological expertise, and a sense of purpose.  Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition.  Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.

The Wisconsin Idea sets out a vision of a society where educated expertise is valued not merely for its practical benefits but for its ability to make this a better world for those living in it and for those still to come.  It ties together the university and the state, and upholds the social compact made between free citizens of a republic, a much more enlightened burden than that made between lords and peasants.

Naturally Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) has a problem with this.

So, buried deep in his budget, was the Wisconsin Idea According To Governor Teabagger (A Wholly-Owned Subsidiary of Koch Industries), to wit:

Notice first and foremost, the addition of the phrase “to meet the state’s workforce needs.”  Translated out of the Teabaggerese, this is a demand for the University of Wisconsin to degenerate into a taxpayer-funded corporate training center.  While this is certainly in keeping with the right-wing corporatist mantra of privatizing profits while offloading costs onto the public, it does raise the question of why, if corporations are the highest form of institutional life on the planet, they can't handle that themselves.  But that's the direction he wants us to go in.  If it ever gets enacted, maybe they’ll rename the football team to match.  Go Trainees!  Fight!  Fight!  Fight!

While there is only one message in the added text, there are two big messages in the deletions.

First, there is the wholesale elimination of any suggestion that the UW – and by extension any government agency – has any responsibility for promoting the general welfare.  How silly of the Founding Fathers to put that phrase in the Constitution, after all!  Clearly Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) knows more about the purpose of government than James Madison!  The parts about extending knowledge beyond the boundaries of campus, stimulating society, and improving the human condition are obviously Communist propaganda and do not fit into the modern right-wing refusal to accept any responsibility for anything, even as they drain off the accumulated achievements of past generations.

This, by the way, is the main reason why you cannot call them “conservative.”  Genuine conservatives, fired by the spirit of Edmund Burke, would be horrified at such obvious moral and intellectual bankruptcy.

Second, there is the rather telling deletion of the search for truth.  Truth is not kind to the modern right wing.  It has a disturbing tendency to contradict their carefully constructed and hermetically sealed ideological worldview, and therefore must be avoided at all costs.

Which brings us back to the lies.

I’m guessing that Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) didn’t think anyone would burrow down deep enough into the budget to catch that before he and his cronies, minions, and lackeys in the legislature had rammed it into law.  Given the irresponsible speed and reckless criminality with which they had worked to shove previous bills through the legislature before they could even be read, this is not an unreasonable assumption.  But someone did, and then all hell broke loose.

Turns out people rather like the idea that the University of Wisconsin is dedicated toward making the entire state a better place.

At first Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) attempted to defend this change, but eventually that became untenable.  So he declared that it was all a “drafting error,” and not meant for consideration.  This despite extensive documentation that the specific deletions and additions were explicitly ordered by his staff, right down to the last comma.

I’m sure he believes his own story. 

Me, personally, I’m offended by the sheer half-assery of it.  Look, guy – I know you’re going to lie to me.  It’s how you came to power. It’s how you maintain power.  It’s what you’re building a presidential campaign upon.  But you know, the kind of rank incompetence you bring to this task is pretty much on par with the kind you display in most other areas of your administration.  Try harder next time and see if you can at least achieve plausibility.

Atta boy.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Diving Into the Great Salt Lake

Well that was a day.

Today was America’s greatest secular holiday, a celebration of wretched excess that dwarfs any other on the calendar, which is saying something.  I know that there are a great many people who do not like the Super Bowl or sports in general – many of whom get rather snotty about it, frankly, as if this somehow makes them Better Human Beings than the rest of us – but I always look forward to it.

This year had an extra edge to it, though.

It didn’t have anything to do with the game itself.  I don’t particularly like the Patriots, a team whose basic attitude toward the rest of the world seems to be smug disdain, and while I have a sneaking fondness for the Seahawks it doesn’t actually amount to caring whether they win or not.  For all that it was a great game – some phenomenal plays, a fair bit of back and forth, a close score, and within forty seconds at the very end one of the most spectacular catches I have ever seen and one of the most boneheaded play calls ever made.  So from a football perspective, it was a perfectly fine evening.

No, my interest this year was dietary.

It’s been a year now since my doctor did that finger-waggle thing that doctors do when confronted by middle-aged men who insist on eating like graduate students.  And for a year now I have been dutifully cutting back on the salt in my diet, much to my dismay.  I eat more healthy foods and less junk.  I have cut out salty snacks pretty much completely.  It’s about as boring as I thought it would be, but there you have it.  I have been good.  I have the medical results to prove it.

But not today.

Super Bowl Sunday is the one day out of the year where Americans are legally obligated to eat junk food, to consume in vast and irresponsible quantities food that has no natural ingredients whatsoever, food that can only be considered food by virtue of the fact that it does not kill you there and then, food that should be regulated by treaty and would subject people to criminal penalties if forced on the unwilling rather than snorked down by the barrel by people paying for the privilege.  It is a day set aside for chips, wings, dips, and other consumables of which nobody over the age of 40 should eat more than a handful.

On this day, my diet could go suck eggs.  Which are low-salt and should make it happy.

For myself, I had plans to fall off the low-salt bandwagon with a thump that could be heard on the other side of the continent.

It snowed today here in Baja Canada – great billowing gusts of dry, powdery flakes that blew up in the air, obscuring visibility and keeping people home who would otherwise have gone to the homes of friends for shared food and beverages.  So all of the snacks that we had planned to bring we just had to eat ourselves, beginning at 11am and continuing right through the final whistle of the game.  I gave it my best effort, and it was glorious.

Oh, tomorrow I shall return to my diet.  For the next 364 days I will eat things that middle-aged men should eat and look back on today with that mixture of satisfaction and mild embarrassment that comes from doing stupid things intentionally and without regret.  And I will look forward to next year’s Super Bowl, whomever is playing.

You have your holidays.  I have mine.