Monday, July 31, 2017

Report from the County Fair, Part 2: Places and Projects

There are four basic areas to the Fair. 

On one end there are the animals, and I’ll get to them in the next post. 

Next to them are the vending areas, where the food stands and the cultural booths and the tents selling gutter repair services, farm equipment, and other things you didn’t know you needed until someone told you about them are located.  The two main political parties always have tents, conveniently located Not Next To Each Other so as to cut down on the trash talking.  For the last two years the GOP tent has had a grand total of one Trump sign, displayed with all the enthusiasm of a contractual obligation, which tells me that they haven’t completely lost their marbles, just mostly.  The Democrats tend to look much happier, which is odd considering how utterly marginalized that party has been since 2011 here in our petit dictatorship (seriously – North Korea thinks Wisconsin has taken the whole “one party state” thing too far).  The local radio station also always has a tent, as does the newspaper.  Home Campus used to have a tent, back before our budgets were slashed to make room for giveaways to the already wealthy.  The library always gives out free temporary tattoos from their space under the grandstand.  If you go to the grandstand area, there’s music.

The food stands are always fun.  There are places to get fried things, places to get fried and sugar-coated things, places to get things that aren’t fried but might as well have been for all the nutritional value they contain, places that will sell you things on a stick, and if you look hard enough there is a place where you can get a salad.  For an extra two bucks they will slather it in gyro meat, so whether this counts as healthy or even non-lethal is kind of an open question.  The Farm Bureau tent will also sell you a liter-sized bottle of soda for $2, which is a pretty good deal at the Fair.  We ate a lot of meals at the Fair this year, as we always do.  A couple of mornings when I dropped Lauren off early to take care of her animals we had breakfast at the church tent that opened at 6:30am just for those who have to take care of animals.  It’s a nice quiet time to be at the Fair with your child, really.  And on Friday our friends Heidi and Travis came down for the evening, so we had dinner (at a picnic table carved with the names of two other friends – living in a small town has its advantages!) and went around to see the various animals.

There is also a cream puff stand, because there has to be a cream puff stand at every county fair in Wisconsin.  There’s a law or something.  And you want it to be a law, because otherwise you might miss out on all that cream puff goodness!  These aren’t the World’s Best Cream Puffs – those you have to get from the guy who sets up at the dry cleaner these days – but they were Darn Tasty Cream Puffs nonetheless.  They also sell eclairs (or, as the “get one free” coupons handed out at the Fair this year had it, “Eau Claires” – the world can always use a few more copy editors).  We served our time volunteering behind the counter, since the stand benefits the 4H.

You will never go hungry at the Fair, though you may die of scurvy.  But then that’s what the lemonade stands are for, so if you do it’s your fault.

Next to the vending area is the midway, which this year seemed to specialize in handing out vast stuffed animals the size of garden sheds – I must have seen three or four of them being hoisted about.  Mostly this area is the province of the young, either small kids with parents at the smaller rides or teenagers conspicuously without parents at the bigger rides. The music volume is set to “Stun” so as to drown out the buzzing of the hormones.  It’s too loud and I’m too old, but not so old that I don’t remember those days fondly.

And finally, on the other side of the midway, there are the projects.

There are three buildings at the Fair that get filled up with projects every year – the Curling Building, now with the ice melted off (it bothers Tabitha no end, seeing all the dirt people track into what would in colder times be a clean sheet of ice), the Cat And Rabbit Building, where the Fun Days are held, and the Other Building, which sits at the very edge of the fairgrounds and nobody quite knows what goes on there other than the week of the Fair.  Not many people go in there during the Fair either, come to think of it.  It’s usually pretty quiet.  If you're looking for a break from the energy at the Fair, the Other Building is a good place to hang out for a bit.

Tabitha and Lauren had projects in all three buildings.

The Curling Building hosts the Drawing and Painting projects, as well as the Visual Arts projects.  It has a whole lot of other projects as well – Woodworking and Rocketry being the most obvious to me (no, they don’t fire off the rockets inside the building, though I’d pay money to see that), as well as a few others that sneak in there that I always miss – but Drawing and Painting and Visual Arts are the two that Tabitha chooses, so those are the ones we focus on.

Visual Arts was the easy one this year as far as the judging process went, though it was one of the more difficult in terms of “time elapsed between completion and judging,” which could be measured in minutes.  For this project, Tabitha chose to do an abstract set of antlers, and the judge was sufficiently taken by them to award her a Top Blue for it.  Top Blue means that it’s eligible for Merit, though others eventually claimed that distinction.  Still – impressive!

Drawing and Painting turned out to be much more complex, mostly because Tabitha had to work that day.  She had three works to be judged and had to be at work 20 minutes away, all by 9:45am, and you never know how much of a line there is going to be at these things.  So she got there well before the judging started and was number 5 in line, and it all went well.  Her employers had no cause to complain.

First up was her digital art project.  Tabitha loves digital art, and she spent most of a week on this one.  She had a model for it but built the whole thing from scratch in Photoshop, one painstakingly created element at a time, and it turned out pretty well, I thought.

Unfortunately for her, the judge she got was a digital artist by trade and therefore exquisitely sensitive to the sorts of things that perhaps could have been done differently when it comes to digital art.  Hey – sometimes you get judges that are impressed easily, and sometimes you don’t, and that’s how life works.  She ended up with a red ribbon for it, which is a nice achievement still.

She also got a red on her mixed media painting, in part because it bowed on her because of the watercolor and in part because the frame I got was just a shade too small and we couldn’t get rid of the bowing.  Lesson learned.  Still, a lovely work.

Her acrylic painting got a Top Blue, though.  It was based on a goofy pencil sketch she did in art class this spring that seems to have taken on a life of its own.  She now has it in several different versions, but this one is the most filled in.

Congratulations to Tabitha!

Lauren’s Fair is mostly about the animals, but she did have a project in each of the other buildings, both of which she had to ferry over herself in between working with her pig. 

She got a blue ribbon for her Houseplant in the Other Building.  There isn’t much to say about this one – she normally keeps it in her room at home, and tossing it in as a project seemed like it might be fun and it was.  So there!  Branch out, kiddies – you may be rewarded!

Lauren’s main non-animal project was photography, which was in the Cat And Rabbit building.  This project is where the shortcomings of in-fair judging were most obvious, since the photographs were submitted Tuesday and hung for people to see, then taken down and judged on Thursday, then rehung (with ribbons) for people to see on Friday, which is a lot of up and down, really.  But that’s the system they had, so that’s the system we worked with.

 She had two different works in Photography.  One was a collection of four color photos of different things – a landscape, a person, an animal, and a building.  She ended up with a red for this one, though with Danish judging you never know if that was because the images needed improvement or if the judges had simply filled their quota of blues (or whites) that could be given.  Danish judging is a numbers game that way, and you don’t get to talk to the judges to ask.  The Danes are supposed to be a happy people and you’d think they could come up with a better judging system than that, and perhaps that explains all the aquavit.  Red is an achievement, though.

The cat picture is my favorite of these, which should surprise exactly nobody who knows me.

Her other work was a collection of four color photographs of the same object, which in this case was the remains of what may have been an old weather vane tower out at the farm where we keep our poultry.  She does have a good eye for an image!  And it helped that this was a face-to-face judged event where she could explain things to the judge.  She got a Top Blue for this collection.  Impressive!

I am proud of my daughters.  They do good work.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Report from the County Fair, Part 1: Set Up

Another County Fair has almost come to an end, which means that any day now I may emerge out of the haze of pine shavings and gravel that has become my world this week back into the bright sunshine of, well, whatever I was doing before this week started.  It’s been busy.  I forget what it was.  I’m sure it was less focused on farm animals and art projects, and had fewer cream puffs.

We love the Fair.

It’s the high point of the 4H year.  The Fair has animals.  It has photography.  It has both kinds of music (County and Western).  It has art.  It has a wide variety of fried foods as well as a few things that might be considered not entirely unhealthy under the right circumstances and with appropriate professional training.  It has exhibits and vendors and fewer right-wing cultural tents than in years past.  There are friends already there, and other friends who come by specifically to visit.  What’s not to love?

Tabitha and Lauren did pretty well for themselves this year, once again.  Tabitha had various art pieces that were nicely done and richly rewarded.  Lauren’s animals and projects survived and thrived, and once again she came home with Actual Hardware.  It’s good to see them do well.  I am immensely proud of my daughters for the work they put into this.

Fair Week started later than usual this year because they decided to get rid of all the pre-Fair judging and have the judging done during the actual Fair.  I’m not sure why they made this decision, and for reasons I won’t go into here I’m not all that thrilled by the possibilities I can imagine, but so it goes.  Them’s the rules, so them’s the breaks.  The Fair is still the Fair and still a lovely thing.  In practical terms it meant that the girls had just that much more time to get their projects done, so they could finish in plenty of time and then relax heading into the Fair itself.

See what I did there?  I kill me!  Of course most of these projects went in with wet paint – figuratively and in at least one case literally.  That’s how projects are.

Changes in project judging didn’t affect our poultry schedule, though, and last weekend we gave the four remaining show chickens their bath.  We were planning on six, but all of our salmon favorelles died before the Fair, alas.  Ryland: gone but not forgotten.

Judges like clean chickens.  Barns are not good places for chickens to become or remain clean.  So every year we bring the show chickens home for a couple of illegal nights right before the Fair lets you load in – you’re allowed to have chickens in Our Little Town now, but there’s a permit process that we skip because really they’re only going to be here for 48 hours.  And it wasn’t hot, so we could shut them up in the garage without frying them.  So there they sat, drying off, the two hens clucking and the two roosters crowing, reminding everyone why hens are good to have in town but roosters are not.

Also, just a reminder, there is nothing so ridiculous as a wet chicken.  This has been a public service announcement.  Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

We spent Saturday morning setting up the rabbit barn as well.  There’s always a good crowd there and it goes quickly.  I find that the trick is to settle into a job that you can do for a while – I ended up as one of the people setting up the wire cages so others could take them away and place them – and stick with it.  The wire cage set-up job is a scratch-intensive activity, but it’s relatively straightforward and band-aids are easy to find.  Once everything was set up, our specific club decorated our part of the barn with streamers, trolls, and colorful things.  Because the rabbits aren’t adorable enough on their own, I suppose.  It’s also kind of expected.  You get awards for decorations. 

It’s 4H – there are awards for everything.

We brought the rabbits in Monday night and got them settled.  They’re not really used to the bustle of the Fair, so it’s good to get them in place.  Plus, poultry load-in is Tuesday morning and it is generally best for one’s mental health not to try to bring in rabbits, chickens, and turkeys at the same time.  At least it is for mine.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and early, and we found ourselves packing up the chickens at 6am and stuffing them into the van before heading off to the barn to collect the two show turkeys.  We have a rather large flock this year – eleven of the twelve survived to adulthood, which is a phenomenally good survival rate among domestic turkeys – so we haven’t gotten to know them individually like we have in years past.  All of which meant that we went out with the big wire dog cage that our friend Jon loans us every year and Lauren pointed to the two she thought were most Fair-worthy, and then comedy ensued.

Turns out that turkeys don’t really like getting into cages.

You’re talking about a bird that weighs somewhere between 20lbs/9kg (for the hen) and 40lbs/18kg (for the tom), stands about a yard/meter tall from toes to nose, and has negative intelligence, a sharp beak, and half a dozen talons.  Fortunately they’re pretty good-natured creatures and their overriding instinct when faced with Unpleasantness is to run away, so mostly what happens is that there is a fair amount of herding and gesticulating and verbal abuse and then they’re in the cage and we can go. 

Turkeys secure, we headed off into town, calling from the road to wake Tabitha up so she could get to work on time.  Having three drivers, each with jobs, and only two cars is just one of those dances one does in modern America.  The turkeys did their periscope thing, sticking their heads up from the cage to look around now and then as we drove through the quiet early-morning streets of Our Little Town, and the chickens clucked and crowed, and don’t we sound like the pilot episode of some mid-season replacement comedy?  Why yes, yes we do.

Getting everything in was an experience – there was only one gate open at the Fairgrounds and it was diagonally across from the poultry barn, which meant getting in was a trick and getting out was a full magic show performed around all of the incoming pickups hauling trailers full of cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs – but the poultry barn itself always runs pretty smoothly and this year they had new cages for the turkeys and brand new table-benches in the common area for all the exhibitors' bins of stuff, so that was nice. 

All of the animal projects run pretty smoothly, actually.  People put a lot of time into making that happen, and you have to appreciate that.

Chickens, turkeys, and rabbits now secure, we went over to see the pigs.  Because this year Lauren was involved in the Swine project.

Fortunately we didn’t have to do any of the logistical tasks regarding Swine.  As noted earlier in this space, Lauren and her friend Autum had been borrowing pigs from a farmer named Andy, and he took care of getting the pigs to the Fair.  Three cheers for Andy, I say.  It takes a certain kind of generosity to do that sort of thing for people, and we’re grateful.

And then we were set up for the Fair.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Climate

With the cascade of stupid, immoral, illegal, subversive, un-American, and possibly treasonous things emitted by der Sturmtrumper, his pet Congress, his supporters, and his administration reaching levels that make it nearly impossible for any sane person to keep up with, I’ve started just keeping a running list of observations on the matter.  Every time the list reaches critical mass, I suppose I’ll post it and start a new one.  Can’t hurt; might help.  Here’s the most recent list:


1. Again, I’ve been away from politics, focusing on other and less maddening things.  But sweet dancing monkeys on a stick you just can’t get away from it completely these days, can you?  If you’ve ever wondered what the end of the American republic would look like, well, now you know.

2. Secessionist and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, now the head of the Department of Energy because it makes as much sense as anything else these days, is publicly insisting that carbon dioxide is not a cause of climate change.  You know, folks, when they resort to lies this blatant and this utterly farcical, it’s a sign of one of two things.  Either they no longer care that you know they’re lying to you, or they no longer have any grasp of reality beyond their hermetically sealed ideological bubble.  Possibly both.  You can’t make this stuff up.  Not without hard drugs, anyway.

3. Apparently it’s hard to govern when you have no actual interest in governing.  Who knew?  The modern GOP is a subversive entity trained only in obstructionism, which works wonders when they’re out of power and can just screech from the sidelines, poke sticks in the spokes of American society, and suck cash out of their base since they don’t actually have to deliver anything for it other than the perverse joy of pandering to civic and economic illiterates.  But they control all three branches of the federal government, most of the state houses, and nearly all of the public conversation these days and have managed to demonstrate in spectacular and awe-inspiring fashion just how incompetent and empty they are by getting almost nothing done in the last six months, and what little they have accomplished has been detrimental to American security, prosperity, and long-term stability.

4. The most recent fiery implosion of Republicare is just the most obvious example of this.  Honestly – they’ve been having tantrums about the ACA since it passed in 2010 (after the second-longest debate in Senate history and with more than a hundred GOP amendments, so don’t let any right-wing revisionist tell you it was crammed down their throats in secret – that would be as if they had a bill that wasn’t released to the public, had no public hearings, and was voted on before the CBO could release its non-partisan analysis of the bill’s impact, kind of like, oh, Republicare) and promising to get rid of it literally from the day after it passed.  It’s been seven years and it’s clear that they have no plan, no constructive ideas, and no particular concern for the best interests of Americans who aren’t wealthy, white, and male.  I have been watching politics for decades and this is the most staggering display of sheer arrogant failure I have ever seen, up to and including the collapse of the Soviet Union.

5. The Russian noose continues to tighten as der Sturmtrumper’s own people continue to release damning information.  When Don (“Fredo”) Jr. publicly released emails confirming pretty much everything that has been reported and then missed the idea that this was perhaps unwise, you knew we were headed into interesting times.  The administration has gone from “didn’t happen” to “might have happened but didn’t mean anything” to “everyone does it” to “this is a positive thing” when it comes to foreign influence on American elections and the active collusion with enemy powers.  You know, we used to execute people who colluded with Russia to influence American politics.  Just pointing that out.

6. Of course this means nothing to der Sturmtrumpers base.  There was a meme that floated by me the other day, a cartoon of a newspaper front page that had two headlines.  The first, at the top, was “Trump Convicted.”  The second, down below, was “Trump Approval Rating Still 35%.”  And that, boys and girls, is why the republic is doomed.

7. Did he really mock up fake Time magazine covers with himself in heroic poses?  Good lord that’s petty.

8. While the GOP frantically works to make carrying guns mandatory in churches, schools, hospitals, and daycares (even while imposing strict security barriers in legislative halls, because when it comes to saving their own skins reality talks and ideology walks), an exhaustive new study from Stanford Law School has pretty much demolished the NRA talking point that more guns make people safer.  Surprise!  They don’t!  States with so-called “right-to-carry” laws see violent crime increase by 10-13% in the decade after such laws are passed.  Imagine!  Flooding the streets with easily accessible weaponry encourages people to commit violent crimes!  I am just agog with surprise.  Or I would be if I were an idiot, which apparently describes the ammosexuals who think guns make them safer.

9. There is no nobody staffing the White House Science Division, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about the willful ignorance of the GOP these days.  Why have people study reality when you can simply fall back into a comforting ideological bubble?

10. For those of you wondering when the outright voter suppression efforts would start at the federal level, well, here you go.  Kris Kobach is the Secretary of State of Kansas – a man who has been repeatedly found guilty of lying in the service of restricting democracy – and he is the new head of der Sturmtrumper’s Voter Suppression Agency.  The VSA has now requested information about all voters from all states – the better to analyze which voters to target with new suppression laws like the one in North Carolina and the one here in Wisconsin.  Fortunately this is, for the moment, too much even for Republican states.  Mississippi, for example, pretty much told him to go to hell.  Mississippi!  But voter suppression has been a GOP plan since the 1980s and since it works for them don’t expect them to give up on it.  They know very well they can’t win free elections, and rather than change their policies so that they can they are quite open about changing elections so they don’t have to.

11.  This is why, by the way, ALEC – the right-wing legislation factory that writes the laws the GOP passes at the state level without bothering to read – is now lobbying for a repeal of the 17th Amendment.  Because you certainly don’t deserve to vote for your own Senators.  Only GOP-controlled state legislatures get to do that.  And if you want to know why, beyond the general GOP disdain for democracy, all you need to know is that state legislatures are easy to gerrymander in their favor while statewide Senate elections are not.  The party that blindly supports a president who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million Americans’ ballots is not going to look favorably on actual elections, after all.

12.  Three cheers for the First Lady of Japan, who apparently pretended not to be able to speak English for nearly two hours in order to avoid talking to der Sturmtrumper.

13. While I generally disagree with Senator John McCain on most issues, I will say that he is one of the few national figures in the GOP whom I respect and who seems to preserve at least some of the pre-insanity posture of his party.  The news of his brain tumor is saddening, and I wish him as much recovery and peace as he can have.

14. So der Sturmtrumper had a private meeting with his puppetmaster at the G20, with no American presence other than his own.  Think about that.  Trump, Putin, a Russian translator, and nobody else to monitor.  Can you imagine the panic attacks US intelligence community is having right now?  The sheer horrified damage control that they are frantically undertaking?

15. What are the odds that der Sturmtrumper actually receives any meaningful intelligence in his daily briefings anymore?  He’s already proven himself to be this country’s greatest security risk, and the professionals have paid too much in blood and sacrifice to get that information only to see it handed over to enemies by a simpleton.

16. Robert Mueller is widening his probe to include der Sturmtrumper’s finances, which makes sense given the scale of the graft and corruption that he’s dealing with.  Waiting for der Sturmtrumper to create a Constitutional crisis by firing Mueller in 3 … 2 … 1 …

17. So der Sturmtrumper has declared that he’s going to stand by and let the ACA fail and that he’s “not going to own it.”  First of all, he’s in charge, his party’s in charge, it’s his and he owns whatever happens whether he wants to or not.  Petulant whining does not change that.  You break it, you bought it.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is the duty of the President to protect the welfare of the American people and this toddler-level “If I can’t get my way I’ll take my marbles and go home and WON’T YOU BE SORRY” routine is both irresponsible and borderline subversive.  There is no attempt here to pretend that it’s anything other than a sore loser with nothing positive to offer having a snit at the expense of millions of Americans – many of whom voted for him, but that’s another study in self-delusion that I’m not going to get into right now.  Harry Truman’s old adage “the buck stops here” clearly comes as news to der Sturmtrumper, whose only interest in bucks is how many of them he can line his pockets with before parachuting out.

18.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if, when the multitudinous investigations finally all come to a head, der Sturmtrumper goes on a diplomatic mission to somewhere without an extradition treaty and just resigns and settles down?  I wonder what would happen next.

19. Reading the transcript of der Sturmtrumper’s self-immolating pity party interview with the New York Times was a punishment for the rational mind, it truly was.  It was a festival of misdirection, random unsubstantiated accusations, slander, easily disproven lies, grandiose egotistical self-wanking, and delusion.  Remember folks, this is the guy with his finger on the nuclear button.

20.  One of the big takeaways from that interview was how thoroughly der Sturmtrumper threw the Confederate Attorney General – one of his biggest supporters – under the bus and declared that the CAG’s recusing himself from a case where he had obvious conflicts of interest was enough to make der Sturmtrumper wish he had hired someone else.  Because loyalty goes to the individual, not the Constitution or the laws in der Sturmtrumper’s world.  It says a lot about the moral flexibility of the CAG that he remains on the job and didn’t take the hint and resign.  If Jeff Sessions had any dignity before this he would be one of the many dignity wraiths orbiting der Sturmtrumper now.

21. No, a President cannot pardon himself.  Don’t be an ass.  That violates a bedrock principle in Anglo-American law and jurisprudence, that you cannot be the judge in your own case.  This principle predates the Constitution, and the Constitution is built around it.  People should stop trying to argue otherwise, because it just makes them look stupid (which hasn’t stopped der Sturmtrumper, and the rest is left as an exercise for the reader).  FFS, even Nixon wasn’t corrupt enough to try that one.

22.  Nixon, by the way, would have had der Sturmtrumper’s lunch.  Pretty much every competent leader in the world already has.

23. Der Sturmtrumper is nevertheless loudly investigating the possibilities of pardoning himself and everyone around him.  Think about that.  We’ve gone from “Fake news” to “Justifiable” to “I can pardon my way out of this” in less than a baseball season.  While der Sturmtrumper cannot pardon himself, as noted above, it is true that he can pardon everyone else.  And then those people can be forced to testify against him with no grant of immunity (why would they need one?) and no right to remain silent (since self-incrimination is now off the table).  Won’t that be fun?

24.  Also, the US Supreme Court (Burdick v US, 1915) long ago established the principle that to accept a pardon is to admit guilt.  Not that the GOP cares – they’re happy with their criminal regime, since it allows them to shove their agenda down the throats of everyone else (or it would if they weren’t so screamingly incompetent) – but there would be no more hiding the fact that this is, indeed, a criminal regime fronting a criminal party.

25. Here’s the other thing: impeachment is a political process, not a criminal one.  Yes, it has to be rooted in high crimes and misdemeanors, but the process itself requires no particular crime nor the standard of proof that a court of law demands.  There’s nothing in the process that a pardon automatically stops.

26. Looks like Sean Spicer has finally gotten the hint that nothing he does is going to be of any use to anyone, let alone his long term interests, and abandoned the sinking administration of der Sturmtrumper.  His replacement is a cartoon character from the Simpsons whose nickname is Mooch.  Folks, you can’t make this stuff up.

27.  Mooch – a man whose resume consists entirely of things that are Not Public Service – took it upon himself to declare that his opinion is more valuable and deserving of consideration on intelligence matters than the opinion of the vast number of highly trained professional intel ops fielded by any of the agencies the United States has set up specifically for that purpose.  Because this administration never misses an opportunity to shit all over the people who sacrifice to keep this nation safe if it means they can score some partisan media points with their base.

28. If you’ve ever wondered what living in a banana republic is like, all you have to do is look at the current GOP Senate plan to force Republicare on a nation that overwhelmingly doesn’t want it.  They plan to have yet another vote on their bill, but nobody – not even the GOP Senators being asked to vote – has any idea what’s in the bill.  GOP Senator John Cornyn, when asked whether “some people want to know the plan before they vote,” responded by saying “That’s a luxury we don’t have.”  Think about that, folks.  Think about the sheer arrogant stupidity that it would take even to conceptualize such a corrupt, authoritarian, criminally subversive idea, and then think about how much more arrogantly stupid you’d have to be to say it out loud.  And then, just because we’re doing this little exercise, think about how droolingly insane, rigidly fanatical, and mindlessly partisan your base must be that you know you can say such things and not be immediately run out of town on a rail.  And when you’ve done those things, you might have some sense of the depths of moral depravity to which the modern GOP aspires.

29. You know, when the Vatican calls you out by name as anti-Christian, maybe you should listen.  Do you think the Dominionist blasphemers currently running the GOP care, though?  At least Steve Bannon knows that the papacy is familiar with his work, though.

30. Looks like Exxon’s Own Secretary of State may be resigning soon too.  Seriously, it is so hard to get good sycophants these days.

31. Paul Ryan has publicly pushed back against der Sturmtrumper’s desperation strategy of defaming Robert Mueller, which is pretty much the only way der Sturmtrumper has to shake off the noose that is slowly strangling him.  It will be interesting to see where that ends up.  It’s probably just a coincidence that Ryan is next in line after the Vice President to succeed der Sturmtrumper when the fecal matter hits the rotary air mover.  The long knives are coming out, and if it weren’t such a threat to the stability of the US it would be popcorn time.

32. The Boy Scouts?  The Boy Scouts?  Yes, indeed.  The other day Der Sturmtrumper went to a Boy Scout Jamboree and whipped them into a partisan frenzy because, really, he’s certainly not going to be able to tell them how to be better human beings or American citizens, is he?  On the one hand, this is a consummate disgrace, one that his supporters will no doubt applaud.  On the other hand, the Boy Scouts only recently decided that bigotry was a problem, so perhaps der Sturmtrumper knew his audience better than I give him credit for.

33. Der Sturmtrumper also went out of his way to confirm a covert CIA operation in Syria, because really what else would you expect him to do when faced with the choice between American lives and security on the one hand and a few fleeting seconds of ego gratification on the other?

34.  Once again, for those who haven’t caught on yet, “fake news” isn’t “news that tells you things you don’t want to hear.”  That’s called “journalism.”

Friday, July 21, 2017

Take Your Medicine

So today I am going to the hospital for a Medical Thing.  It’s one of those special moments that happen to you when you hit a certain plateau and your doctor looks at you and says, “You’re how old?  Oh, do we have a treat in store for you!”

I am being assigned medical treatment for demographic reasons.

On the one hand, it’s something that I ought to do.  And if there are any larger meanings hidden in the current debacle over Republicare, one of them surely is that I should be glad to have health care at all in a country where freedom is just another name for being able to die of something that could have been easily cured if only you had the money.  So I count myself glad for the opportunity, unpleasant as it is.

On the other hand, I just know it’s going to turn out like this:

Steve Dallas, I am with you.

I spent all day yesterday Not Eating, which – given the previous post noting, among other things, the centrality of food to the American lifestyle and how visitors from other countries tend to highlight that centrality in ways that are not obvious when you’re living in the middle of it – was rather annoying.  As one of the great punk rock songs of the early 1980s put it, “I like food.  Food tastes good.”

When I am recovered from this I am going to go Full American on the food supply.  Yes, indeed, I am.  There will be Gluttony.

I was allowed to have all the clear liquids I could handle, as well as jello as long as it wasn’t red, blue, or purple because apparently those freak out the doctors.  I’m not sure why green would be preferable here, but then my doctorate is in the liberal arts so there are mysteries regarding medicine to which I am not privy, no pun intended.

Well, pun fully intended.  You got me.  What can I say.

Does vodka count as a clear liquid?  It’s liquid, after all.  And clear.  Someone should look into this, I think, and get back to the rest of us.  I am fairly sure a large quantity of vodka would have made the day much more pleasant as long as someone remembered to hide the snack food from me once the munchies set in, since I wasn’t allowed such things.

And then I had to drink The Liquid.  There is a reason why this stuff is only available by prescription and that reason is that nobody in their right mind would consume it voluntarily.  Of course I think the same thing about sushi and that is readily available over the counter in this part of the world, so what do I know?

Every time the hospital staff would call me to check me just much that further in (it’s an incremental process, apparently, requiring at least four calls – ask me why health care costs so much in the US sometime), the person on the other end wanted to know my religious preference.  I’m not sure what this has to do with my Medical Thing.  I finally asked and they said that they need to know who to call if something goes wrong.

Um, perhaps a doctor?  Maybe even the one already there?

Seriously, people – eyes on the prize here.

So I will be heading in for Medical Treatment very shortly.  And then I will be sleeping, if what they tell me is true. 

And then I will be eating.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Friends from Abroad

You don’t realize until you have guests from another country quite how much of your life revolves around finding things to eat and just how American that is.  I’m still kind of amazed by that, even as our refrigerator slowly begins to show gaps on the shelves again.  It’s actually kind of troubling to me how often my next thought once we had finished something was, “Let’s get something to eat!”

It explains a lot, actually.

Our Swedish friends came to visit us for a couple of weeks this month, and it was just lovely to have them here.  In between quiet times hanging out at home we ran them all around Wisconsin and ate more than our share of tasty meals (sometimes on Wisconsin time, and sometimes on Madrid time, which runs rather later than Stockholm time when it comes to meals).  The house still feels a bit empty now that they’ve been safely back in a country with non-insane leadership for almost a week. 

They did say that we could stay with them if we needed to do so anytime soon, which was nice of them.  We’re hoping this will not be necessary in a permanent sense – jury’s out on that right now – but we will definitely try to take them up on that at least temporarily next summer.  We had hoped to visit as many of our friends across the Atlantic as we could this year, but it turned out that “as many as we could” came down to “zero” since we never quite got our act together and then the summer filled up with so many, many activities that it’s probably not a bad thing that we stayed here in Our Little Town and let friends come to us.  And they did!  First Californians, then Swedes!

Life is good.

It’s actually a bit difficult to say when we got together this time, since it happened gradually.  Maria had been an exchange student in Indiana this past year and it was for her to go back home so Mats came over a bit early so he could visit his old stomping grounds in northern Wisconsin from when he was an exchange student, then picked up Sara, David, and Helena at O’Hare and took them to Indiana where, by all accounts, they had a good time with Maria’s host family.  Then they spent a few days in Chicago, where Kim and Tabitha met them for a day while Lauren and I took care of a few things here.  Apparently there was pizza – or at least the deep-dish casserole that Chicagoans insist on referring to as pizza – involved.  It is a tasty thing no matter what you call it.  Also museums.

And then they all landed here in our house, and what a time it was.

We showed them the turkeys, of course.  There is just something ridiculous about turkeys that says you need to show them to all of your visitors, even those who might not be all that enamoured of turkeys, because turkeys of course.  Our friend Lois, who lets us keep our poultry in her barn, was there and was happy to hang out with us.

The next day was the Fourth of July, which they have in Sweden too (as well as a Third and a Fifth – it’s a full-service country that way) but it doesn’t mean the same thing that it does here.  They don’t celebrate American independence because why would they, and there’s not much point to fireworks when the sun doesn’t set until 1am.  So while we geared up for our usual family and friends cookout (which happens whether we are here or not, as we discovered one year when the extended family came down and partied at our house while we were out of town.  TRADITION!) the Swedes went out to see an All American Fourth of July Parade in the next town up from ours.  They reported that it was an experience.

And then we ate.  It was the usual Fourth of July barbecue - dogs, burgers, bbq ribs, potato salad, cucumber salad (hey, it's usual for us), chips, and any number of other things that aren't really good for you but you only live once and who wants to live to be a hundred if you have to eat kale every day?

You can’t grow sweet corn in Sweden, and the verb “to shuck” doesn’t translate very well.  But it’s fun.  Afterward we all hiked over to the hospital to watch the fireworks arc gracefully over the cardiac and neonatal wards, because that probably made sense when they were planning it.  Our Little Town puts on a nice display, really, and what's more American than shiny explody things after a giant marginally nonlethal meal?

The next day we went to SummerFest, which is a weeks-long music festival in Milwaukee dedicated to the idea that beer makes music better, which is fine if you enjoy beer, I suppose.  Somehow we managed to pick the day where everyone got in free before 3pm, which was all kinds of sweetness.  It’s also kind of fun that the kids are all big enough to head off on their own and meet us at pre-arranged times, so everyone could go to the concerts they wanted rather than sit through what the majority decided to see.  On the one hand, there were some real duds that day – one rather talentless rapper in particular stands out for making even his YouTube fans among us get up and leave – but on the other hand there were more than enough great acts to make up for him.  There was a bluesy sort of band that we found early on that was good, for example.  And ninety minutes of Pat McCurdy is enough to make any event better, really.  We also ran into some very friendly people while we ate dinner near a comedy improv tent.  I hope their day turned out well also.

I will confess that by the end of it I was pretty maxed out.  It’s too loud and I’m too old, and there is only so much festival food that I can cope with these days, alas.  But it was fun while it lasted.

We spent a couple of days after that hanging out and taking it easy, visiting some of the things here in Our Little Town.  There’s a nice little beach that the city built on a flowage off the river, for example, and you can’t visit here without stopping for ice cream at one of the many places that provide it to Wisconsinites even in the dead of winter.  We dutifully registered for the lottery for the $10 tickets for Hamilton in Chicago every morning, since Maria wanted to go see it and it’s hard to get in right now – at least it’s hard if you want to have any money left to do other things while you’re visiting the US.  We never did win, but not for lack of trying.  Our friend Joe came down from northern Wisconsin for a few days to hang out with us as well, and he, Mats and I took in a minor league baseball game while everyone else did other things.

And then we went to the Renaissance Faire.

I confess that I was a bit unsure about how people from a country that actually was around during the Renaissance would take to the RenFaire – there’s a certain “coals to Newcastle” kind of feel to it – but it turned out I needn’t have worried.  For one thing the RenFaire has only the shadowiest of connections to the actual Renaissance.  As I have noted before, most of the people there are wearing clothing that would have gotten them burned at the stake in 1450, and “ye olde nachos with jalepenos” were about as historically accurate as the herds of Travelling Daenerae that flowed through the place.  And for another thing, well, it’s fun and that’s all you need.

We saw some wonderful acts.  If you are ever near Kenosha on a summer weekend (and who isn’t, at some point in their lives?) be sure to check out the Mud Show for a festival of innuendo and slapstick, and Barely Balanced for some of the greatest acrobatics and snark you’ll ever see.  Also, Moonie the Magnificent, who can pack more dialogue into a whistle than most people can with two dictionaries and a word processor.  I ran into two people cosplaying Rincewind the Wizzard and Two-Flower, which pretty much made my day.  Kim’s day, on the other hand, was made by getting a photo with Martin Frobisher, which is just one more reason we work well together.

Our big excursion was to spend some time in the Wisconsin Dells.

The Wisconsin Dells is a place of great natural beauty completely encased in a thick layer of kitsch, into which pours money and out of which pours tired but happy people.  It seems a fair trade.  We actually stayed in a very 1920s-style sort of resort outside of the Severe Kitsch zone – the sort of place where you could easily imagine groups of people in heavy white clothing doing calisthenics for their health – which was a very nice place to stay, especially as we were not ourselves required to do any calisthenics.  It had red-painted wood buildings, a tidy little pool, and a whole lot of green and quiet to help you recover when the kitsch got excessive.  Because we certainly had our fill of kitsch.

Our first stop, in fact, was one of those indoor amusement parks that feature everything from arcade games to go-karts to a particularly intense habitrail setup about fifteen feet over the go-karts, where the kids could run about while tethered to the ceiling.  The adults, meanwhile, found a nice table and played Maya (which is probably not spelled that way since it’s Swedish – there’s probably a “g” and an umlaut in there somewhere). It’s a card game that meets every requirement for such things that I have, being interesting enough to hold our attention but not so consuming as to preclude conversation and beverages.  I highly recommend it.  We played it a lot while our friends where here, actually, in between bouts of Phase 10 and Shindig Machine, which is more of a storytelling prompt than a card game.

We also spent a full day at one of the many joyously excessive waterparks that they have at the Dells.  They let you in basically for free and get you on things like parking and meals, which seemed like a reasonable arrangement to us, and in return they provide you with endless opportunities for fun, minor injury, and embarrassment.  Really, it's the perfect summer getaway.  As I am not much of a water person my job was to man the base camp, and I happily sat in a shady spot reading my book on medieval European history while others ran around getting wet.  No, I am not cool.  I know that.  Thanks for pointing it out in case I had forgotten.  Lauren did get me on a couple of the roller coasters that this particular park also has just for folks like me.  They are wooden roller coasters, so you get banged around quite a bit, but one of them has a drop of about 110 feet that takes you into the pitch dark underneath the parking lot, up into an actual corkscrew loop (pretty cool for a wooden coaster), and then back under the parking lot and into the park again.  I cannot tell you how much I enjoy the fact that Lauren is a roller coaster junkie too.

Lauren and I also skipped the boat tour that the rest of the group went on the next day, viewing the actual “natural splendor” part of the Dells – the rocky section of the Wisconsin River that gives the place its name.  Instead we headed off for the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum in town.  We were suitably impressed.

For all this we also managed to have some arts time.  One night we drove up to a town near here to catch Lauren’s marching band perform at a competitive field show.  We got there just in time to see her group - they wouldn't let us in, since we came clattering up the ramp just as the first notes sounded, so we watched from the ramp until they were done - and then settled in for the other bands.  There is no tradition of marching bands in Sweden, apparently.  Also, the woman selling food tickets spoke Swedish, so there was that.  Another night we saw the local high school’s production of Sweeney Todd, with Tabitha on spotlight and a phenomenally talented group of students on stage (the woman playing Mrs. Lovett was amazing, and the guy playing Mr. Pirelli was Chaplinesque in his physical comedy).  It’s not really an uplifting show – A Modest Proposal with music, as Tabitha put it – but we had a grand time.

Our final expedition before sending our friends back home was to an escape room nearby.  If you’ve not tried an escape room, you should.  You get locked into a room full of puzzles, and you have an hour to solve them all and unlock the door to get out.  From that simple premise a whole lot of entertainment flows.  We split into two groups, and both groups managed to get out of their respective rooms shortly before time expired, so win.

And now we are back to as normal a reality as we get.  Mats, Sara, Maria, David, and Helena are back in Sweden and we miss them.  But perhaps next summer!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Returning to the Fold

So I’ve been out of the loop for a while, here.

Did I miss much?

Any hard evidence of collusion with foreign powers?  Declining American prestige, leadership, security, or respect in the world?  Transparently hallucinatory diversionary tactics from people in high office here in the Good Old US of A?  Gratuitous cruelty for everyone not white, wealthy, or Dominionist blasphemer in order to provide tax breaks for the 1%?

I suppose.

It’s nice to take a break for a while.  We’ve had friends from out of the country visiting for the last couple of weeks and our attention has been focused on them rather than on the sorry state of the wider world and the even sorrier people who think that’s okay, and it has just been lovely.  We had a grand time with them, and we are looking forward to seeing them again soon because it’s good to spend time with friends.

Meanwhile our own lives have reached something of a blurry phase where we no longer can keep track of just who needs to be where for how long and it’s a good thing that we take pictures because otherwise it would just all fall out of the back of our heads and be forgotten like a Russian meeting.  There’s theater, band, jobs, 4H, and any number of other things that have demanded all of our time and then some. 

At some point you begin to wonder if you’ve reached the limit where all the balls will no longer stay in the air and what will happen when they come crashing down, but for the moment everything remains airborne and we keep juggling.  We’ll be here all summer.  Try the veal.

So in the very near future there will be more bloggage, because that’s just what I do.

In the meantime, we press on.