Saturday, December 22, 2018

On Walls and Shutdowns

So here we are.

A Republican president has shut down the federal government because a Congress where both the House of Representatives and the Senate is controlled by the Republican Party won’t tax Americans to pay for a catastrophically stupid border wall that this same Republican president promised us he would force – through some magic yet unknown to either American or international law – an entirely different sovereign nation to pay for.

This same Republican president proudly declared last week that he would own this shutdown.  “If we don’t get what we want,” he said, “I will shut down the government.  And I am proud to shut down the government for border security. … I will take the mantle.  I will be the one to shut it down.  I’m not going to blame you for it.”  He actually said this on live television, directly to the incoming leaders of the Democratic Congressional delegations and to the world.

And now he’s blaming the Democrats for his shutdown.

Most people outgrow this kind of magical thinking by the time they hit puberty, but not this guy or his cronies, minions, lackeys, and enablers.  How does this work, in his mind?  I’m not sure how a party that controls none of the levers of power could actually be forcing this issue, but if they’re really that clever I think we should put them in charge.  Surely they would do a better job than the current crew of idiots.

I confess that I am not surprised by der Sturmtrumper’s refusal to own his own lunacy.  The Party of Personal Responsibility has long had a serious aversion to taking responsibility for its actions, and der Sturmtrumper is the poster child for this kind of irresponsibility and slack-jawed nonsense.  The self-declared Party of Values has long displayed a callous disregard for morality, and this is certainly immoral on top of short-sighted and stupid.  The surprising thing would have been for der Sturmtrumper to follow through on what he said.

Meanwhile, you have a known flim-flam artist setting up a fundraiser to collect private donations to pay for this wall, and so far over a hundred thousand idiots have self-fleeced in order to support it.

This despite the fact that this campaign is both illegal and unconstitutional if it actually follows through with its promises, and a scam if it does not. 

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Federal Constitution of 1787 is pretty clear on the fact that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law,” which means that Congress would need to pass an appropriations bill in order to use this money.  You can’t just write the federal government a check and demand that they use it in a certain way.  Congress controls spending – this is one of the checks and balances written into the Constitution as a way to restrain tyrants – so any money spent on a wall would have to come from the Treasury as a part of a regular bill.

Further, while you can donate money to the federal government, federal law is very clear on the fact that you cannot attach conditions to it.  It goes into the general fund for Congress to spend or not spend as it sees fit for whatever purpose it deems appropriate.  And even if they change that law, you’re back to Article 1.

Meanwhile, even if the guy does fleece enough suckers to hit his $1 billion target (which, at current rate, will take him several years), that’s 1/25th of the current estimated cost for this thing, assuming the price tag doesn’t go up in the meantime.  So not only is this illegal and unconstitutional (or a scam, whichever), but it’s also futile.

It’s also futile because – and here’s the thing that the people who enjoy being fleeced and get worked up over nothing don’t get – it just won’t work.

Jim Wright put together a marvelous analysis of how this thing would go down, and if you’re not following him on social media you’re missing out.  But the key part was this:

This wall will have to cover more than 1200 miles of currently unfenced border, most of which is in remote, rugged territory.  Any wall can be climbed over if nobody is watching.

“For Trump's wall, 2000 miles long, to work, you will HAVE to monitor it in real-time along every inch,” Wright points out. “You will have to install cameras and sensors, fly drones and aircraft, and put out daily patrols. The wall will be constantly probed. Constantly tested. Constantly watched by those we're trying to keep out. There isn't any way to hide it. 2000 miles long, 30 feet high, and visible in orbit. We become anchored to our wall, constantly trying to find any weakness before the adversary does. Any moment of inattention, any blind spot, any weakness, will be found -- and exploited. The odds are with the attacker, not the defender, especially over that distance.  Because that is human nature, ask any prison guard.”

And, as Wright points out, if you are going to do the kind of monitoring that this requires, you really don’t need the wall in the first place.  The monitoring will suffice, and it will do it far more effectively and cheaply.  It will accomplish your goal and not freeze your assets in place where they become useless for anything else.

Further, as any number of people have noted, the whole idea of the wall is stupid.  It won’t work.  And even if by some miracle of fanatic ideology over human nature it does work, it will spark a recession because of the number of American businesses that depend on the labor of the people der Sturmtrumper and his minions, lackeys, cronies, and enablers are hyperventilating against. 

Plus, it is a documented fact that immigrants – illegal or otherwise – commit crimes at a much lower rate than Trump Administration officials and campaign staff. 

Most Americans understand this.  Every single poll I’ve looked at in the last week says the same thing – overwhelming majorities of Americans think it’s a stupid idea and want no part of it.  Even those who, for whatever reasons of their own, want tighter border security understand that this wall won’t give it to them.  It’s the kind of project that appeals to people who think slogans are a substitute for policy and lottery tickets constitute financial planning.

So what we have here is a petulant, dim-witted shutdown of the federal government in order to get the President’s own party to give him a catastrophically stupid, ruinously expensive, and unworkable project that most Americans don’t actually want.

There is not enough whiskey in the barrel for this nonsense.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


We got the tree up this weekend.

It was just me and Kim this year, decorating it.  Last year we had three teenagers working on hanging ornaments – Tabitha, Lauren, and Fran.  This year Tabitha’s away at college, Lauren was out playing with the school band at a basketball game, and Fran is back in Belgium (and also at college).  Things change, and surprisingly quickly too.

This is probably the last year for the artificial tree, as it’s kind of looking bedraggled and worn.  Lending it to the Local Businessman High School production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe last year probably didn’t do it much good, though it did make the forest nicer during the show.  The things you do for theater.

The artificial tree is a bit smaller than the ones we usually get from the tree farm when we have a real one, which means that a certain amount of ornament-editing needs to take place.  Kim and I have been married for more than two decades now.  You collect a lot of ornaments over a time span like that.

When you’re first married you get those big, inexpensive, shiny ones – the ones that let you cover Maximum Area for Minimal Money, because young married couples are not known for having excessive amounts of ready cash.  But over time you get others.  Sentimental ones that come from certain places and times.  Nice ones that people give you, or that you decide are worth the price.  And then you have kids and whole new categories of ornaments appear.  The ones that people give you to commemorate their First Christmas or such.  The ones they make when they get older.  Their favorites.

You can’t put them all on the small tree, so you have to be selective.  There are basically three kinds of ornaments up there this year.

First, there are the travel ornaments – the ones we’ve picked up as we’ve gone here and there over the years.  The little bottle of Tabasco we got on our honeymoon.  The various keychains that I buy wherever we go instead of more conventional souvenirs.  The actual ornaments with names of places where we got them.  The things we’ve converted into ornaments that weren’t meant to be but so it goes.  Someday we’ll have an entire tree just with these, perhaps.

Second, the kid ones.  The ones they made when they were young, with crayons and glue and bits of felt.  The ones with their photos.  The ones that they like and insist that it’s not really a Christmas tree without those.

And finally, the generally sentimental ones.  The Ukrainian one shaped like a yoyo that Kim’s had forever.  The brass wire one my parents gave us a while back.  The tags from long ago pets.  The big green ball that says “Sophia,” which is an inside joke of long standing.  The brass bugle that sits underneath the tree and will no doubt be heard once again.  The pickle.

Everything has a story, and for me that’s a lot of what the holiday means to me – sharing stories, even if it’s just in our own living room among ourselves.

May your holidays be filled with stories.

Saturday, December 15, 2018


I have been fobbed.

We’re in the middle of yet another huge transition down on Home Campus, one that started last fall and likely won’t be completed for a couple years yet, at least not fully.  This is not to be confused with the huge transition that started three years prior to that and was likely to be completed sometime next year but got pre-empted by the current huge transition, or the decade or so of institutional nonsense that was visited upon us by our elected overlords prior to that.

One crisis at a time, people.

The current transition is actually going surprisingly well, all things considered, at least for us.  We kind of lucked out with our partners, and I think that it’s moving forward about as well as it could have thanks to a great many people putting in immense amounts of work, so as far as that goes I’m not unhappy with things.

The details can be odd, though.

One of the details is that as this transition moves forward, people with my particular set of job responsibilities will need Multi-Factor Authorization in order to access the various systems that we need to carry out those responsibilities.  I am sure that this makes sense from an IT perspective, but I have to say from my perspective it’s just so much jargon and nonsense.

This is why I’m not in IT.

Last week we got a multi-page instruction email regarding the whys and whatfors of MFA (which I can never remember actually stands for Multi-Factor Authorization so in my head it always comes out as either Mother [Fornicating] Access or Master of Fine Arts).  We were supposed to go through it and then sign the back page to indicate that we had “read and understood” what was in it.

I wrote to my boss: “Is one out of two enough to sign?  I’ve read it twice, but I can’t really say I’ve understood a word of it.”

She said that was enough, so I signed.

Yesterday we had a meeting with the IT folks from the new Mother Ship and they went through the MFA process with us.  The bottom line is that we have to log in with two different things – first, the User ID and 600-character password that we have to memorize (including at least 17 capitals, 43 non-alphabetical symbols, 12 numbers [three written out, four numeric, and the rest up to you as a free choice so long as at least one of them is 3-digits long], two Disney characters, one Marvel or DC character [your choice], and the first name of the romantic interest from the last book you read [if there isn’t such an interest in the book, pick the character who should have been]), and second, a one-time code that we have to generate ourselves.

There are two ways to generate this code, one of which involves me downloading an app to my phone which means that the chance of that happening is exactly nil.  I don’t like apps.  I find them intrusive, exasperating, and generally detrimental to the quality of my life, and the idea of adding a work app to my personal phone just rubs me the wrong way entirely.  Plus, if you ever have to do anything with your phone you have to redo the entire setup process with the app from square one.  So that’ll be a hard pass, thanks.

The other way is to have a separate gizmo called a fob, which will generate a code at the push of a button.  You can then enter the code in the space provided (provided there is a space) and then – finally – be able to do your job.

How the fob knows what code the computer will accept at that moment was skipped over lightly during this training.  I can only assume that there is some form of sorcery involved.  The one thing I know about magic is that power has to come from somewhere, and I am kind of hoping that it involves some form of sacrifice of objectionable people whom I get to choose.  This would be an extra incentive to get my work done and rechecked, and that would be good management.

They don’t want us to store the fob next to the computer we use, as that would sort of defeat the purpose of all this whiz-bang MFA security, kind of like requiring a 600-character password that nobody can remember so they put it on a post-it note and stick it to the monitor (just saying).  So I’ve got this thing on my keyring, where it takes up far too much space.

I don’t even have access to the systems that I would need the fob to generate codes for yet.  That side of the bureaucracy is somewhat lagging, which is probably my fault for not getting the paperwork in quickly enough earlier this semester (see above, re: “read and understand”) but there it is.

It’s been that kind of month, really.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

News and Updates

1. It’s getting toward the end of the semester and if there is anything an academic advisor knows about the end of the semester it is that there aren’t enough tissues in the world.

2. We’re deep into our holiday season now.  All of our birthdays and anniversaries happen during this time of year, on top of the usual holidays that people celebrate.  It’s a busy time.

3. The library down at Home Campus was apparently somewhat annoyed at me the other day.

I mean, “rejected,” sure.  Perhaps even “blocked,” here in this day and age of social media.  But “disavowed”?  It sounds so … theological. 

I finally went to speak to the librarian and she got me, um, reavowed, so now I can go back into the computers and make the interlibrary loan request that sparked all of this, except that it’s the end of the semester (vide supra) and I keep forgetting to do that so in the end I suppose I’m still disavowed for all practical purposes.  Not sure how to feel about that.

4. Tires are the bane of my existence.  As banes go, I suppose, they’re not that bad.  But every time I get into my car I’m convinced that the air pressure is low (which, granted, sometimes it is) and a couple of weeks ago when I discovered that the pressure actually was low and tried to fill them up the air hose at the local gas station destroyed my tire valve.  While they did pay for the new valve (which in this age of digital everything was not cheap), it was still several trips to the tire repair place before they actually had the right part.  You didn’t think tire valves were complicated, but you were wrong.

5. Actually most of the physical world is currently the bane of my existence.  The furnace in our house is the one that was here when we moved in, 22 years ago, and it wasn’t new then.  When it stopped working last month we thought the repair guy had solved the problem, but it turned out that there had to be another and rather more expensive visit before the real problem was solved.  So now we have heat, and we’re going to look at new furnaces sometime soon. 

6. Step 1: Purchase vast package of 1-ply by accident.
Step 2: Decide that not using it would be wasteful.
Step 3: Experience the wonder.
Step 4: Purchase 2-ply because it needed to be done.
Step 5: Revel in luxury.

7. I have a lot to say about the current degenerate state of American politics, but I have to wait until I can say it without turning into a modern version of John Brown.  This may take a while.  Make yourself comfortable.

8. Microfleece sheets are just the greatest invention ever.  You get into bed and BAM!  Instant warm.  It makes it very hard to get out of bed in the morning, but when is that ever not the case is what I want to know.

9. Well bless my northern heart, but Duke’s mayonnaise really is better.

10. I’m almost caught up on Doctor Who.  I’m nearly done Season 2 of Game of Thrones.  I think that’s enough scripted television for now. 

11. It isn’t every day that you run into a student who is a World War I buff.  When you find a student like that you should treasure them, especially if they turn out to be nice to talk with.

12.  Does anyone even sell flashlight bulbs anymore?  I suppose I can just lump them in with VCRs, cassette tapes, camera film, and other relics of a bygone era, but it still is kind of sad to have a nice MagLite with a gaping hole where the bulb used to be.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Minority Rule at its Finest

You know, I’ve been trying to avoid writing about politics much here because sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but it’s bad enough just thinking about the morass of soulless iniquity that the modern GOP has become – from its poster child in the Oval Office to the moral vacuum that is Congress to the state GOPlets that are working hard to destroy any vestige of remaining law, order, or Constitutionality in the United States – without having to double my blood pressure medications and talk myself out of any number of short-term responses that would do nobody any good, least of all me, if I tried to write about it with any frequency.

And then the Wisconsin GOP pulls another one out of its collective ass.  Just when you think they have hit rock bottom, they begin to dig.

For those of you not following along, Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) was tossed out on his lawless ear in November, along with pretty much every Republican on the statewide ballot.  It was a rout.

Not that this actually means anything for Wisconsin, since the Wisconsin GOP spent most the last decade burrowing like termites into the joists of the republic, instituting one of the most extreme partisan gerrymandering efforts in all of the US (and destroying the evidence when a federal court demanded to see how they arrived at these districts – why Governor Teabagger [a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries] and the rest of his cabal are not currently in jail is an interesting exercise in what happens when one party takes over every part of the government and decides not to bother with enforcing laws).  Despite winning only 46% of the statewide vote in legislative offices, the Wisconsin GOP ended up with 63% of the seats in the state legislature.

Because minority rule and ignoring the will of the American people are what the GOP is all about these days, after all.

Sit down, citizen.  Who do you think you are to assume you have a say in your overlords?

This is why, perhaps, I should not be surprised at the fact that this minority legislature has decided that they certainly cannot allow the democratically elected state officials who will replace the previous Republican junta to exercise actual power. 

So this week they are planning a panicked emergency session of the legislature to ram through a bill that pretty much nobody – including the putative sponsors – has read all the way through, one whose highlights include stripping immense amounts of power away from duly elected officials and giving it to (wait for it … wait for it … wait for it …) the Republican-controlled minority legislature!

Isn’t that special?

Citizen, I thought I told you to sit down.

They’re also going to sharply reduce early voting, since people who vote early don’t generally vote for Republicans.

And they're going to rearrange the primary elections in 2020 so that there will now be three – one per month – in order to try to give partisan advantage to the latest right-wing extremist they’d like to force onto the national joke of a state supreme court that they’ve built since 2011.  This despite a near-unanimous protest by the county clerks who would need to run this operation, who have pointed out that it is expensive, unnecessary, and logistically next to impossible.  That does not matter to the Wisconsin GOP, because when push comes to shove they care only about their iron grip on power.

They don’t care about laws.

They don’t care about morals.

They don’t care about voters.

They don’t care about anything but the perpetuation of their own illegitimate rule.

Regardless of consequences.

Because there will be consequences.  You can’t undo an entire election and expect people to regard you as a legitimate government.  You can’t force minority rule down the throats of an electorate and expect people to obey your edicts.

And they will have no one to blame but themselves.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Road Trip

We have another driver in the house.

After making it through her Driver’s Ed class without any particular difficulty and successfully logging the 30 hours of parent-supervised drive time (now carefully tracked with an app on your phone rather than painstakingly entered onto any random scrap of paper that happened to come to hand and then frantically copied down in some kind of legible order onto a different sheet of paper at the last minute), today was the day.

I picked Lauren up from school early, because the DMV has only so many slots available and you take the one that you’re lucky enough to get, even if it is during school hours.  I’m not going to complain, though.  For one thing, there’s nothing particularly bothersome about getting out of school early on the week before Thanksgiving.  And for another, despite all the common lore I have never had a bad experience at the DMV other than perhaps waiting longer than I would have liked.  I get that at the grocery store too.  You live with it.

We actually got there early and filled out the paperwork.  Tabitha is home from college now and she had to get her own license renewed so she came along and filled out other paperwork and now has a new license on order.  And then the examiner came by to whisk Lauren away for her road test.

They actually do road tests in Wisconsin.  In Pennsylvania they take you out back behind the State Trooper barracks and let you plink around on a specially designed course that cannot be failed by anyone who should be allowed remotely near a vehicle, even as a passenger.  In Wisconsin they figure they’ll turn you loose on the roads and let Darwin sort it out.

So Tabitha and I had time to sit there for a while, staring at the wall of specialty license plates that you can, for an additional surcharge, have for your own vehicle.  There are two different designs celebrating the Milwaukee Brewers and only one for the Green Bay Packers, which – having lived in this state for over two decades now – seems backwards to me.  There are designs celebrating children, farms, UW Madison (though not any of the other campuses that I could see), and every branch of the military.  I will admit that the “Pearl Harbor Survivor” license plate did give me a bit of pause.  Pearl Harbor was bombed 77 years ago, so anyone eligible for this design probably shouldn’t be driving at all.  I wonder how many of them they sell these days.

The road test didn’t take long.  They never do.  By my odometer it was maybe eight or nine miles of driving, as well as a few questions about the vehicle that Lauren told us about afterward.  She passed with ease, losing only 3 points total.

Congratulations, Lauren!

She’s out now.  There’s a basketball game across town with the Rival High School that she and her friend wanted to see, and Lauren zoomed off to pick her up and go to the game about an hour ago.

It is a strange thing to watch your child drive off on her own.

I remember doing this with Tabitha.

I remember being on the other side of it when I was that age.

Drive safely, Lauren, but go explore.  The world is out there, and I’ll be here.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Live Aid Live

I have become history.

It’s a strange thing to see a movie about something you remember when it was news.  It reminds you just how quickly time moves, how far into the past things that are still fresh in your memory are, and how long you’ve hung around the planet.

We went to see Bohemian Rhapsody tonight.

For those of you considering it, you should go.  It’s really well done.  Whoever did the casting should get a medal, and of course it is full of music.  Very few groups of the last half century consistently put out music that grabbed you and made you want to sing along the way Queen did.  There’s a reason why they are remembered when so many of the bands of their era are not.  There’s a reason why the title track of the film made the charts in three different decades.

One of my favorite memes of late is a Tumblr thread that starts with the question, “I’m not saying Freddie Mercury WAS a siren, but have you ever heard anyone NOT sing along to Bohemian Rhapsody?”  It ends with, “I have no memory of learning it, do you?”

The film opens and closes at Live Aid, the mammoth rock concert in the summer of 1985 that raised money to help fight the Ethiopian famine that year. 

I remember Live Aid.  I even knew people who went to it.  Some of it was held at Wembley Stadium in London, but the rest of it was at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, the old brick horseshoe where they held the Army-Navy game every year back in the day.  It was maybe ten or fifteen miles from my front door and I had a lot of friends who were more into concerts than I was.  Some of them were there.

I had a couple of jobs that summer. 

One was at a 7/11, which I really enjoyed, strangely enough.  A convenience store is the definition of feeding time at the human zoo, and if you enjoy people-watching you can’t ask for a better set-up.  You see a lot of things, some of which you will never unsee no matter how hard you try.  I would also sift through the register looking for old coins.  The manager didn’t care as long as he got face value for them, and I ended up with some interesting finds before I went back to college for my sophomore year.

The other was at a Lutheran deaconess community, which for lack of a better description is kind of like a Protestant convent only not as strict.  A friend of mine worked there and knew that they needed another person to share her job, so she recommended me.  Sometimes we’d see each other in passing, which was nice.  The job was basically to serve as the receptionist, phone operator, and general dogsbody.  I’d sit in the little white-painted room behind a desk and do paperwork or just read my book (my friend introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut that summer, and I am eternally grateful to her for that).  When the phone rang I would answer, find out who they wanted, and then plug the 3/8” jack into the old-fashioned 1920s-style switchboard to connect the call to the right person.  I also had to set the table for meals, which involved a crash course on the proper placement of forks that I never did quite master.

It was a fun job, really.  There was one Sister there who would sit and talk with me.  She was younger than the average post-retirement age there – maybe about my age now, come to think of it, maybe a couple years younger – and I think she found me amusing.  We got into a discussion about something abstract once and she asked me, “Is that like a Platonic ideal?” and I said, “Well, not quite” and she laughed about that for the rest of the summer.

I was in that little office the day of Live Aid.

We had it on the whole time I was there.  It was good music.  I probably heard the Queen set live.  They did it almost entire for the movie.

 I’m old enough now that things I remember are history.

I’m old enough now that things I remember are being retold as movies.

It is a strange thing to be this old and still, in your mind, be sitting at a small desk with a copy of Slapstick, listening to a concert and waiting for the phone to ring.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day

I’m not really sure who this is.

It's someone on my dad’s side of the family, that much I know.  I never knew most of those people – until I started digging into my own family history the only people on that side of the family I’d ever heard of were my grandmother and my dad, since those were the only ones I’d met.  It turns out that there were a lot of people on that side of the family, back in the day.  I’m still working through all of them.  Someday I suspect I’ll figure out which one of them this is.

On the back of the photo it says only, “August 1918.  American E. F.  France.”

This man fought in World War I.

As a historian, I have tried to explain the significance of World War I to my students in a number of different ways, and so far the one that has worked best has been to compare time to a river (original, yes, I know – sue me).  “Most events are just pebbles tossed in the river,” I tell them.  “They make their splash and they’re gone and the river flows on mostly unbothered.  Some events are boulders.  They sit in the middle of the river and force the river to work around them, and if you look you can see the ripples and eddies where this is happening.  They change the river for a while.  But once in a while you get an event that is a dam.  An event like that changes the entire course of the river.”

World War I was a dam.

Pretty much everything that happened for the rest of the 20th century can, in one way or another, be traced back to World War I.  The culture.  The economics.  The politics.  The wars – there’s a reason why some historians don’t really differentiate between the two world wars of the 20th century and simply refer to them collectively as “The Second Thirty Years’ War,” after all.  Pretty much everything, really.  We live in a post-World-War-I world.

It was a brutal and bloody war, the first major industrial war, one that took in men and machines and spat back wreckage and bodies, or often nothing at all, and did so in quantity.

That war ended a hundred years ago today, with an armistice.  On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – a fine bit of poetry that no doubt cost some poor soldier his life in the closing moments of the war, waiting for the final bell to sound – the fighting stopped.

An armistice is not a peace treaty.  It does not formally end a war.  It just says, “Enough.”  Not everybody was happy about that.  General John Pershing, commander of US forces in Europe during the war, complained about the armistice being too soft on the defeated Germans.  “They never knew they were beaten,” he said.  “It will have to be done all over again.”  And two decades later he was right.  But for most people an end to the butchery was enough.

Take a good look at that man’s face.  An armistice was enough.

This summer we went to Ypres – Ieper, in Dutch – which was the scene of some of the most prolonged and brutal fighting of the war.  We walked around through what once was No Man’s Land, the churned up ground between trenches that were often no more than a two-minute walk apart.  It’s peaceful now, covered in grass and – when we were there – a public art piece that our friend Veerle had contributed to.  You’d never know what it was a century ago unless you did the research.

In Flanders fields, where the poppies grow.

All that fighting.  All that destruction.  It was hard, even then, to understand what had been achieved by it all.

In 1920 an Austrian newspaper ran a contest to determine what the most dramatic conceivable headline would be.  It could be anything at all, really.  “Man Walks on the Moon!”  “Second Coming of Christ!” (you can adjust that number to suit your own religious views, of course).  “Humans Learn How to Talk to Animals, Discover They’re Boring!”  Whatever.  Hundreds of entries poured in from all over the country.  The winning entry simply said:

“Archduke Franz Ferdinand Alive.  War Fought by Mistake.”

Do you have any idea the depths of the despair in that?

It’s Armistice Day today, one hundred years after the guns fell silent in the trenches and the soldiers could come home.  In the US we call it Veterans Day now, but that’s really a different holiday.  Veterans Day celebrates people who go to war – and really, if anyone should have a day set aside to honor them, they certainly do.  But Armistice Day isn’t that.  Armistice Day celebrates the people who come home from war when we finally say “enough.”  I think that’s an important distinction to make.

There are lessons to be learned from all of this, of course, though what those might be varies with the teller. 

Happy Armistice Day.


Friday, November 9, 2018


It snowed today.

It’s early for snow, even in Wisconsin, though not eerily so.  We’ve had snow on Halloween, after all.  It doesn’t usually snow on November 9, but then again it can.  It’s Wisconsin.

When I woke up this morning the grassy places were covered in white and big soft snowflakes were still drifting slowly toward the ground.  They didn’t do that for very long.  It must have been the tail end of whatever storm had gone through in the night, the last bit to be sent earthward.  The roads were clear and most of the wooden areas like our back porch were bare, but there was a lot of snow cover this morning on the way to work.

I like the snow.  I like how it covers things up and makes them silent, makes them simple.  For a brief moment the world is a more beautiful place.

It can be that way, you know, if we let it.

We haven’t had a lot of letting it recently.  These are hard times even in the midst of plenty, which somehow makes them just that much harder.

We are led by an idiot and his followers, burrowing like termites into the joists of the republic.  We face a future of wildly shifting climate that nearly half of the country refuses to recognize.  Economic inequality is now at levels last seen in 1929, and that didn't end well last time.  The American war on anyone not white, male, wealthy, and evangelical continues with a vengeance.  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – by all accounts a perfectly decent human being – nevertheless continues to make movies. 

But for a little while the snow covers it all and reminds us that there is more to this world than those things.

I like the snow.

It’s nice to have that here, now.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Hold Onto Your Hat

So now comes the dangerous part.

With the loss of the House of Representatives, der Sturmtrumper may have finally figured out that there are people in this nation who not only have the power to stand up to his thuggish misrule but may – the jury is out, but given the election results and the anger behind them the possibility does exist – also have the backbone to do so.

This is not going over well with the petit-Fascist in the Oval Office.  No, not one bit.  He is, according to news reports, “very depressed.”

The House of Representatives will soon have the power to investigate all of the criminal acts that the GOP willingly accepted as the price of their absolute rule.  They will have the power to subpoena all of the records that the GOP tried to hide – der Sturmtrumper’s tax returns, for example.  They will have the power to hold public hearings that the GOP cannot squash, hear witnesses that the GOP can’t silence, and enforce laws that the GOP was happy to break.

There is nothing so dangerous as a cornered rat.

Der Sturmtrumper has already started the process of disintegrating.  He fired Our Confederate Attorney General today – the worst AG in modern history, according to the ACLU, but one who at least had the legal acumen to recuse himself from the investigations into Russia’s ownership of der Sturmtrumper and allow Mueller’s investigations to proceed largely unhindered.  In his place, der Sturmtrumper has appointed a “loyalist” – a strange word to be applied to an American official, and one that is usually found in the context of tin-horn dictatorships in the dark corners of the world.  Said “loyalist” is on record as being one of the stupidest, least informed people in America.

The “loyalist” thinks Marbury v. Madison was wrongly decided, for example.  For those not up on their foundations of American legal practice and Constitutional thought, Marbury v. Madison was the case that confirmed the Founding Fathers’ express intent that the federal courts could judge the constitutionality of legislative and executive acts and overturn them if those acts were found wanting.  This power is central to a well-founded republic, and to repudiate this is to admit that tyranny is your goal.

He also thinks that Mueller’s investigation is illegitimate, because reasons.  Apparently presidents are supposed to be allowed to commit any crime they want without repercussion, at least as long as they are Republican presidents.  In this he has the support of new Associate Supreme Court Justice Party Boy, so that ought to be interesting when it comes before the Court.

This is only the first assault by an increasingly desperate president on the forces of law and order that are closing in on him, and it won’t be the last.  He is frantic to stop the Mueller investigation before it can make its findings known.  He has already demonstrated a willingness to use the US military as a political pawn (anyone want to take a guess as to whether those troops will actually head to the border now that the election is over?).  He has already shown an utter disregard for the law, for the Constitution, and for basic human morality.

One of his first acts today, in fact, was threatening the House of Representatives with political retaliation and fabricated investigations should they choose to look into his crimes, a bald-faced attempt to intimidate federal investigators that is itself a criminal act.  But hey – live by racketeering, die by racketeering.

It’s only going to get worse from here.  The rat is cornered and lashing out.  He still commands the support of the nearly 40% of the American public who apparently approve of lawless dictatorships, many of whom have publicly stated that they were willing to use violence on any who disagree with them.  Der Sturmtrumper is on record as encouraging violence against people he regards as political threats, and federal law enforcement agencies are publicly warning that this has already led to an unprecedented increase in right-wing terrorism in this country – a threat they classify as more serious to national security and stability than any foreign radicalism.

Watch your back, folks.

It’s about to get ugly.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


I voted today.  I always do.

I stood in a line, the first time I have ever had to do that for a midterm election, and I did my bit to try to reverse the slide into petit-Fascism that this wounded republic has been on ever since der Sturmtrumper and his minions, lackeys, cronies, enablers, sycophants, and cheerleaders took over and began systematically dismantling everything about the United States that made it valuable to humanity.

I stood behind a guy who was 28 years old and who had never cast a ballot before.  I have no idea who he planned to vote for and I don’t care.  It is an unmitigated good to have people vote.  If there is any silver lining at all to our current state of political degradation it is that more and more Americans are getting angry enough at what is being done to them and their nation that they are exercising the right of suffrage – a right that Americans have fought and died to obtain, protect, and pass on to the next generation of Americans.  It is a moral failure that there are so many people in this country – so many of them in the GOP – who see voters as a swarm of pests who need to be eliminated rather than as a group of Americans who need to be persuaded of the justice of their cause.

I handed over my proof that I had, in fact, paid my unconstitutional poll tax and was thus fully qualified to cast my ballot in Governor Teabagger’s (a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) pet state.  Wisconsin has been a national leader in voter suppression – working hard to keep up with North Carolina, watching Georgia creep slowly up behind it – and it is a just and moral thing to trample such efforts in the dust.

I filled in the little ovals on the big sheet of card stock that Wisconsin uses for its ballots – no electronic voting machines that any random eleven-year-old with a jail-broken phone could hack, but instead a physical sheet of paper that can be recounted accurately as long as there is the political will to do so.

I got my stamp – we don’t get stickers anymore. 

I will await the results.  Turnout has been high, and that can only hurt the GOP, as they well know.  There is a reason why they work so hard to suppress the vote.  They know they cannot win a free and fair election.  They have known this since Paul Weyrich, one of the originators of the New Right back in the 1970s and one of the founders of ALEC (the right-wing extremist legislation factory that produces laws for GOP state legislators to approve without reading) put it bluntly for anyone who would listen.

"So many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome: good government. They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down," he said in 1980.

They’re pretty open about it, for those who care to listen.

At this point I have no particular faith that the GOP won’t try something spectacularly stupid to try to invalidate the election if it doesn’t go their way.  This is a party that fundamentally does not believe in democracy as anything other than something to manipulate on their way to absolute power, and it is led by an openly authoritarian bully who sees laws and Constitutions as mere obstacles to be worked around as needed.  If they manage to get through this week without setting the republic on fire, I will be pleasantly surprised.

I have voted. 

I am an American.  I am not afraid.  These colors do not run.

I will stand, and I will be heard.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

News and Updates

1. The problem with working for a living is that you end up working a great deal because there is always another bill to pay and then you realize that there really isn’t much time left for anything else and there is a Sadness Unto the People.

2. Students need to understand that there are consequences to their actions, though pointing this out to them is not one of the things that makes teaching a rewarding profession when you get right down to it.

3. On the plus side, yesterday was Halloween and it was a nice, crisp fall day.  Lauren and her friends decided that they were going to be Miss Frizzle and the entire crew of the Magic School bus, so they spent much of this past weekend putting together a bus and getting costumes assembled.  It went pretty well, all things considered. 

You could follow them by the cacophony.  They had a very good time, though.

4. It was also Lauren's birthday, and now she is another year older.  The Magic School Bus crew stayed over for dinner and a small bonfire in the portable firepit that we have, and a good time was had by all.  Happy birthday, Lauren.  I’m proud of you.

5. We spent several hours on the road last weekend to see the Small Liberal Arts College musical, with Tabitha on spotlight.  They did a very nice job with it, and we got to have dinner with our college student daughter and a couple of her friends, so win all around.

6. The election is next week, and I am very much looking forward to not having to deal with the avalanche of right-wing trolls that has taken over social media and made me question the wisdom of not only the internet but of any form of communication more advanced than a quill pen and a sheet of parchment.  Seriously – what do these people do all day when they don’t have the good people of the world to vomit nonsense upon?

7. So let me get this straight – we’re spending millions of dollars to send thousands of heavily armed troops to the border to protect us from unarmed women and children who are still a thousand miles and several weeks' travel south of us, and this is acceptable?  Of course, nobody’s talking about der Sturmtrumper’s support of Saudi Arabian executioners anymore, or the fact that Robert Mueller’s investigation is turning the heat up enough that right-wingers are plotting to smear it with half-assed conspiracies, or the rapid slide of the United States into both Fascism and unprecedented fiscal irresponsibility, so perhaps it’s doing what the GOP wants after all.

8. I need a hobby.  I need time to have a hobby.  I don’t even read much these days.  This must change.

9. I got thoroughly Warehoused on my Halloween candy this year.  We usually get about a hundred kids at the door, so I bought two bags of candy and figured that was enough, except that a) we only got about half that many kids this year, and b) they were Big Mega Warehouse Store bags of candy, the kind that look like they contain a reasonable amount of product when you’re in the store but once you get them home you realize that you have entire burlap sacks full of the stuff.  I think I’ve got candy through the next millennium.  I will file this under Not Such Bad Problems To Have.

10. It’s tea weather, and I am gladly partaking thereof.  One needs small comforts these days.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Baseball and Nothingness

I’ve been watching a lot of the baseball playoffs, because if I pay too much attention to the intensifying slide of the United States into full-blown Fascism it will make me crazy.  All I’m going to say right now about that slide is that if Americans look at what is going on around them and reward the party responsible for it with continued control of the government next month then the country probably deserves to burn and I have no doubt that it will.  I’m a historian.  I’ve seen this movie before.  It doesn’t end well.

Baseball is a nice break from that, really, even if the World Series is being contested by two teams I actively dislike.

It’s the most zen-like of our major sports, in that not much actually happens.  You can let your mind wander and focus on deeper things or on nothing at all without fear of missing anything important, and there is a virtue in that I suppose.  This is especially true for this post-season, where pitchers are being put in and pulled out like toddlers in a wading pool and balls that the fielders actually have to deal with are at something of a premium.  The games are slow and long – last night’s 18-inning marathon was actually longer in hours and minutes than the entire 1939 World Series combined – and they could probably just get rid of everything outside of the space between the pitcher’s mound and the catcher’s mitt without anyone ever noticing.

It gives you time to chat with whoever’s watching with you.

Lauren has gotten interested in the games, so all three of us will sometimes sit and watch.  She had never seen the Green Monster at Fenway before and the whole idea that baseball fields aren’t uniform across the league still comes as a bit of a surprise to her.  And it is a strange thing, when you think about it.  There’s a part of the wall in deep center field at Miller Park in Milwaukee where because of the way that wall bends back on itself a ball can be a home run if it’s hit a certain distance, a catchable out it it’s hit five feet further, and a home run again if it’s hit five feet further than that.

I’m not sure that’s what Abner Doubleday had in mind.

My team didn’t make the playoffs, as they are in year eight of a multi-generational rebuilding process.  I checked in on them now and then this summer, just to see where they were in the standings – they actually did pretty well and were in contention for the playoffs as late as September, which as a Phillies fan was a pleasant surprise.  I’m not much of a baseball person in general anymore, but I do cheer for the Phillies whenever they bob up to the surface of my mind.

Here in Wisconsin, the Brewers finally achieved relevance by making it to the NL Championship Series.  The Brewers are the third team in a two-team state – once you get past the Packers and the Badgers the drop-off in interest and attention paid to sports by Wisconsinites gets dizzyingly steep (and don’t even get started on the Bucks, which I am told is an actual professional sports franchise here in the state).  We watched them play their post-season games for as long as they were alive, and it was fun.  They’re an interesting team to watch.

But mostly I watch it because it isn’t the news.  Because in the end it doesn’t actually matter who wins or loses, or even how they play the game – the sun will rise on the morrow regardless, and the republic will soldier on unchanged by the results.

And that in itself is a valuable thing, in these parlous times.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Family Weekend

It was Family Weekend down at Small Liberal Arts College.

They used to call that Parent Weekend, back in the Paleolithic when I was in college.  Eventually I suppose they figured out that this was unnecessarily limiting.  That a lot of students either didn’t particularly get along with their parents or had other people – siblings, grandparents, friends who might as well be family, and/or yes actual parents of the step, biological, or metaphorical varieties – whom they might want to have come visit and see their new lives.  “Family Weekend” means there is less explaining to do.

You family?  You in.

My parents used to come to these things every year.  I never really understood why, since I was all of six miles from their front door, but it was good to see them and I enjoyed having them visit.  We’d walk through whatever classes I had that day (my mom still remembers my History of the Third Reich class, taught by Thomas Childers – a minor deity in that particular historical subfield – and my dad fondly recalled my Italian TA for years afterward), maybe go to one or another of the various events that the university put together to welcome the parents who were, after all, footing the bill for their child’s education, and then head out to dinner at some place that was probably nicer than what a college student would pay for on their own.  It was always a good time.

I understand things better, now that I’m on the other side of that divide.

You want to see that everything is okay.  You want to see that your child is doing well, that they are making a place for themselves there in this new environment that you are an outsider to.  You want to see them again, after not having them home for weeks for the first time in their lives.

So we went.

SLAC is pretty low key about the whole thing, it has to be said.  They’re happy to have you there, but they don’t really plan much for you to do.  They didn’t even have classes scheduled.  SLAC runs on its own calendar.

And that’s okay.  All those things weren’t really the point.

We got to hang out with Tabitha for a bit and see how she was settling in down at SLAC.  We took her to dinner at a place she’s probably not going to get to very often, mostly because it was a bit out of town.  We did a bit of shopping for stuff that she discovered that she needed – you never really know what to pack for dorm living until you’ve lived in the dorm for a while.  We got caught up, which is something that is easier to do in person than by pixels.  It was a nice visit that way.

Be well and do well, Tabitha.  I’m proud of you.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

News and Updates

1. I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  Repeat until lesson is learned.

All I ever get out of that experience is older.

2. The GOP has shoved its predator onto the nation’s highest court, as predicted in this space.  The fact that the guy is manifestly unqualified to be a judge at any level, even without taking into account the multiple credible accusations of sexual assault, is just extra.  He’s a right-wing partisan hack who can be relied upon to protect a criminal president and advance a Gilded Age political and social agenda and that’s all that ever mattered to a GOP which has redefined corruption into an art form.  The fact that there are people who are perfectly okay with this – and, more, the fact that 54% of Republicans thought he should be confirmed even if every single accusation levied against him by Doctor Ford were true – is a damning indictment of American political culture and morals.

3. Lauren and I were supposed to be in Michigan this past weekend at the annual Halloween Bash in the Swamp Wetland.  Unfortunately the wetlands were supposed to be exceedingly wet, with thunderstorms forecast for the entire drive down there, the entire time we would have been there, and the entire drive back.  So perhaps next year.  Bummer.

4. It was Homecoming Weekend here in Our Little Town a while back, and it went quite well.  They had their Spirit Week down at Local Businessman High – the highlight of which, apparently, was Meme Day, where you could dress up as your favorite meme.  The possibilities were endless, really, only a few of which would probably pass muster with the administration (high school administrators are not paid to have a sense of humor and in my experience generally respond by not having one).  There was the annual parade, featuring Lauren on quad drums in the band, which for this one occasion was actually a marching band.  There was the football game that night as well.  Kim and I went to that, and it was a surprisingly close game despite the fact that the other team brought barely enough guys to fill out the roster.  LBHS lost of course, but so it goes.  We were there to see the band play, and they did a nice job.  And the next day was the dance, an event that calls for much preparation and even more photographs.  They looked good and had a grand time of it, according to reports.  Win all around, I say.

5. I always try to buy some cookies when I go grocery shopping, because these are parlous times and you just can’t read the news these days with only celery as your refuge.  Lauren insists on variety, so it’s kind of random what I bring back.  Last weekend I came home with Fig Newtons.  Did you know that Fig Newtons are “old people food”?  There.  Now that’s a thing you know.

6. Hasn’t stopped them from disappearing, however.

7. Needing 30 hours of parent supervised driving time before your driving test is all the excuse you need to drive an hour each way for a donut.  It was a very good donut.

8. It’s finally October for real here, or at least it had been until yesterday.  Grey skies, falling leaves, rainy days and crisp temperatures.  It’s perfect.  It should stay like this all year round.  This temporary return to June can disappear now, thanks.

9. We watched the premiere of the new Doctor Who, at last – it took us a bit because Sunday night we were inundated with teenagers having a grand time in our dining room and really that seemed like a higher priority than a television show anyway.  But we recorded it and watched last night.  And it was a lot of fun.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor.  And to the butthurt fanbois who complained so loudly that the new Doctor is a woman?  Yeah, no.  She's good at it.  Grow up and find something else to do.

10. Home Campus is on its third mascot since I started working there (fourth overall, which is impressive for an institution younger than I am).  We actually had costumes for the last two – big furry things that some poor soul would have to get inside of and be Cheerful and full of School Spirit for a while.  Retired now, alas.  There’s a trophy case just outside the cafeteria, and for some reason they put the heads of the costumes inside – to commemorate their service, I suppose.  Except that every time I walk by all I can picture in my mind is an elderly British man with a walrus mustache and a pith helmet pointing at them with an elephant gun and explaining how he bagged them on safari in the Punjab and then offering me tea.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Our Trip to Europe: We Come Home

All good things must come to an end, and so it was with our trip to Europe.  It was tempting to stay there, for any number of reasons, but the cats would miss us and besides, that kind of thing requires more planning than we’d given it.  So it was time to go home.

There was a bit of uncomfortable math about that, though.

We looked at our departure time.  Through some alchemy of internet wizarding skills Kim had managed to get us all on the same flight back to the US, but it left Heathrow in the morning.  Not excessively early, but early enough that it didn’t qualify as mid-morning, let alone late-morning.  Back home we’re usually heading toward Local Businessman High at that hour.

We looked at the recommended check-in time, which was some hours prior to our departure time.

We looked at the rental car, which would have to be returned, inspected, and approved before we could be shuttled over to the terminal to begin the check-in process.

We looked at the time it would take to get from Point A (defined as “Richard’s house”) to Point B (defined as “Heathrow Airport”) through a host of Point C’s (defined as “places where any random idiot could have an accident or otherwise keep us from arriving on time”).

And when we added all that up, we got a number describing the hours we would have from the time we returned to Richard’s house after the circus to the time that we would have to leave it again, a number that was disturbingly small.

We rechecked our math.

It came out the same.

Well, we figured, we could sleep on the plane.  Or, at the very least, we could sleep at home.

We got back from the circus a bit after 11pm, British time.  We were on the road to the airport at 4am.  We said our goodbyes – Richard and Ginny saw us off in the morning, Magnus said goodbye as we went to sleep – and headed out the door.  It’s still dark at that hour, but on the plus side there’s not much traffic.

We arrived at the rental car return without much issue, though there are a few turns at the actual airport that really could have been better marked.  Kim was very sorry to see the car go, to be honest.  She’d grown fond of it.

We took the shuttle to our terminal and discovered that we hadn’t actually qualified for any checked bags.  Fortunately there are problems that can be solved by throwing money at them – really, that’s what money is for, after all – and after an appropriate donation to the Airline Baggage Support Fund we were on our way.  We still had a few British pounds to spend down and we figured we’d get through security first, then find our gate and engage in some commerce aimed at procuring breakfast because seriously nobody wants to eat at 3:30am when you’re getting ready to drive.

In almost any other airport, this would have been a perfectly plausible plan.  Heathrow, like all of the European airports we visited on this trip, funnels you through a giant mall full of places eager to provide such services, so we figured it would be plausible here too.

Thus we were dismayed to discover that Heathrow has an entire second security process at the gate.  You think you’re done after the first time, but no!  You’re not!  You have to stand in a line that moves at a surprisingly glacial pace for something that only has to handle one flight’s worth of passengers, go through the entire security procedure again, and then go into a walled-off gate area that has exactly two vending machines in it, one of which sells Coke and the other sells potato chips (“crisps,” I suppose, but not really breakfast food either way).  If you leave you either have to go through the entire process again or check in with one of the gate workers as you walk out and let them handle it when you return.  So breakfast got a bit short-circuited, though not entirely.  Some of us did make use of the gate worker trick. I have a fair number of British pounds still, however.  I can’t say I’m sad about that – they’re interesting coins – but you know.  I could have parted with a few of them without grief, anyway.

The flight left on time and we settled in – Tabitha, Lauren and I together on the right side of the plane, Kim a few rows back in the middle.  It was a long and uneventful flight, which is what you want.  Certain things should be boring.  Healthcare, politics, and international travel are high up on that list.  Our plane had the same techno-features that the one from Chicago to London did and we made good use of them.  I watched a movie (Isle of Dogs – an animated movie but not a children’s movie, so be forewarned, though interesting enough to keep my attention all the way through).  I played innumerable games of computerized hangman.  Lauren and I played Battleship.  It passed the time.

We arrived at O’Hare in the late morning, Chicago time.  That’s what happens when you fly west – time seems to move very slowly, but it’s just the time zones.  We found our bag and made our way through Customs – a much more technological process than it was the last time we made this journey, six years ago, since it meant scanning our passports at a kiosk and then getting in line to present the resulting ticket to an agent who looked us over, asked a few perfunctory questions, took the tickets (No Passport Stamp For You!) and shooed us on our way.

Driving home was only vaguely strange, on the right-hand side of the highway.

And then we were back.

It was a great trip.  We saw a lot of really interesting things, did a few more, and – most importantly – were lucky enough to spend some time with far-flung friends. 

Again, to Fran, Roeland, Veerle, Lien, and Niels in Belgium; to Mats, Sara, Maria, David, and Helena in Sweden; and to Richard, Magnus, and Ginny in the UK, we say thank you.

It’s your turn to visit now, and we look forward to having you with us whenever you can make it out this way!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Our Trip to Europe: We Go to the Circus

Our last full day in Europe involved a lot of driving.

We woke up fairly early so we could check out of the cottage, a process that entailed a nice breakfast designed to use up as much of the perishables as we could as well as a fair amount of tidying up after ourselves to leave the place in good condition.  The lady who ran the place seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing, but still.  Someday we might want to come back, after all.

After one last sweep of the place to check for lost items we headed out to the car and were nearly run over by a rampaging herd of sheep.

It has to be said that sheep rampage fairly politely and are easily turned aside by anyone who will stand there and shout at them a bit, so it’s not like this was a scene from The Lion King or anything.  I don’t think the World’s Grumpiest Cat even batted an ear at them.  Maybe this is just something the sheep do all the time just for exercise.  You can’t tell with sheep.

It was a long drive back to Richard’s house.  We were warned that there might be considerable traffic coming out of Cornwall, since Saturdays are when the holiday rentals change over, but we didn’t run into much of that.  Even the automotive slalom through Delabole went pretty smoothly.  It wasn’t until we hit the A30 that we ran into serious traffic, and even there the only place where it became much of an issue was at the roadside services where we stopped to have lunch – a relatively cheerful place with the unlikely name of Hog & Hedge, because when I think about lunch I naturally think about shrubbery.

The place was jammed, to the point where vehicles over a certain size were simply being turned away.  But we managed to squeeze past the guardians and into parking spaces and find something tasty to eat, and at that point all was right with the world and we could get on our way smartly.  All told with the stop for lunch, what would normally be a 3-hour drive took us a bit over four and a half, which isn’t too bad on a Saturday in August, really.

There followed a period of rest and relaxation.

Much of this period, it has to be admitted, we spent watching old episodes of The Goonies.  This is what happens when conversations are allowed to wander and you start with a simple observation that cream teas in Cornwall are lovely things and end up with “The Bunfight at the OK Tea Room,” which isn’t as big a stretch as you’d imagine but you’ll have to watch that skit yourself in order to see why.  Pay attention to the mule, mostly because I found it funny.  It’s kind of ancillary to the actual skit, but so it goes.

Fully rested and comedied, we headed out to the circus.

This took a bit of doing.

The Giffords Circus is an old-fashioned one-ring big-top circus that makes a circuit around the Cotswolds every summer.  It’s an astonishingly marvelous thing, full of acrobats and juggling and music and bits of comedy sprinkled throughout.  We saw it when we were visiting in 2012 and it was something we wanted very much to see again – at one point a few years ago I even wrote to them about the possibility of incorporating them into a Study Abroad course I was developing with the theater professor at Home Campus on the history of English theater (the circus being a form of theater, after all), though the class never quite happened for a number of bureaucratic reasons – and it worked out that they were having a show about an hour north of Richard’s house that evening.  It was mostly straight up the A46 – a two-lane highway wide enough to have an actual dividing line in the middle, which was something we hadn’t really encountered much in Cornwall.  We figured we’d head up to eat dinner at a place nearby and then go over to the circus.  Easy!

And then we got detoured.

There must have been some kind of serious accident, because they shut down the entire highway and shunted us off into the secondary roads, of which there were two.  The American road system has a lot more redundancy built into it than the British road system.  Fortunately this was still in Richard’s neighborhood so we ducked down the nearby side road and then took a tour of Horton and Hawkesbury.  I will say now that they seemed like nice little towns – all brown stone in the way that Cotswold towns are, and with at least one grand old church that might as well have had a sign out front saying “these places used to be much more heavily trafficked than they are now.” 

This was also where I learned that the roads could, in fact, get smaller than the ones in Cornwall.  All of the roads through these places were all designated for two-way traffic, but not one of them was wider than my driveway at home, and on some of them I wasn’t entirely sure we’d fit even one car, let alone two abreast.

You really have to know exactly where your car ends, driving in Britain.

Fortunately we made it back to the A46 above the accident with only a few instances of oncoming traffic to dodge around, and we continued on our way until we found our dinner at a place with the singular name of The Jolly Nice.  I kid you not.

The Jolly Nice is an odd combination of farm stand, dairy outlet, and cafe.  You walk past a whole lot of produce, cheeses, flowers, breads, and meats on display until you get to a walk-up counter, order your food, and then take it out back and sit down inside the yurt.  This made sense at the time.

The thing to get there is the KFP sandwich, which stands for “Kentucky Fried Pheasant” – apparently they take the pheasants who don’t make it through hunting season and, well, make sandwiches out of them.  Fried, with breading.  Three breasts to a sandwich, because pheasants are not that big, after all.  Chew carefully, says the sign above the counter, as there may be buckshot.  They’re not bad, though very little in The Jolly Nice is safe for people with nut allergies.

It wasn’t a long drive from there to the field where the Giffords Circus was set up.  We’d actually driven past it to get to dinner, so we knew more or less where it was.  It was just past the town with the “Beware of the Cows” sign on the roadway.  We headed up the winding streets and into a vast field where people directed us to a parking spot, and then we got in line to get into the bigtop.  There aren’t assigned seats, after all, so you have to be quick about it.

If you have never experienced the Giffords Circus, you really ought to change that.  If you are anywhere in the UK during the summer months you should track down where they are performing that night and make your way there, and if you’re not in the UK then you should fix that and then go track them down.  It is as much fun as you can have in a tent with your clothes on.  They’re refreshingly low tech – as they say on their website, “Our costumes are handmade.  Our animals are trained by us.  Our sets are painted in the barns on our farm.”  They also play their own music and do their own stunts, and in an age of CGI and special effects it’s a lovely thing to be reminded of what human beings are capable of in themselves.

You go in and settle into your bleacher seat, and everything is right there in front of you.

They do a lot of comedy, for one thing.  The main clown is Tweedy, who is there to remind you that clowns are funny.  People forget that these days.  They would not do so if they could watch Tweedy more often, but then not everybody can fit into a big top tent in the Cotswolds, more’s the pity.

With him in that last picture was Miss Bunty Velour (not her real name, but wouldn’t it be marvelous if it were?), who provides both comedy and occasional animal acts, among other things.

Having raised turkeys myself, I have to say that the last one was something I never thought I’d see in a performing arts setting.  She’d sing a line from “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” pause, and then the turkey would gobble on cue, mostly.  Domestic turkeys are the stupidest things on God’s green earth.  More stupid than chickens.  More stupid than that guy in your third grade class who ate pencil shavings as a routine part of his lunch.  More stupid, in fact, than rocks.  There are empty spaces and echoes that are smarter than your average domestic turkey.  Having the patience to train a turkey to do, well, anything of any value whatsoever, is a sure sign that the trainer is both a deity walking the earth and clearly in need of a hobby.  Color me impressed, yes indeed.

There are also acrobats of varying kinds and numbers, all of whom make you sit up and take notice.

And the thing is, folks, these are real acrobats.  They get up there, not ten paces away from you, and really do these things.  And if they mess something up (which I don’t believe they did this time, though it did happen when we went in 2012) they start over and do it again.  I cannot tell you how much that last bit tickled me.  That’s what real performers do, folks.

The first act flew by and suddenly it was intermission.  We all piled out into the field and hit up the various tents and trucks.  There is a candy tent, for those so inclined, and a souvenir truck where there are keychains for people who wish to use them as Christmas ornaments, which I appreciated.  They were also very understanding about my quest for novelty 50p coins and gave me a couple that I hadn’t seen before.  There was also a pizza truck, where we finally got Tabitha something she could actually eat.  They only serve them at intermission, but you have to order them before the show because otherwise they run out, so if you go make sure you do that.  We always feel a certain kinship with the pizza truck at the Giffords Circus since Richard was the attorney who wrote the patent application for the pizza ovens they use.  It’s good pizza too.

Intermission ended quickly and we went back into the tent for more comedy, acrobatics, and general mayhem, some of which has already appeared in the photos above, and a glorious night it was.

After the show we boiled out of the tent with the rest of the crowd and found our cars, and somehow we managed to stay together on the way out as the crowd filtered by.  It was about an hour’s ride back home though the first rain we’d encountered in our entire time in Britain, which is how you know that the climate is indeed changing.  Britain is not meant to be dry.  Whatever had happened on the A46 was cleaned up by then, so the drive went smoothly.

We fell into bed as quickly as we could, because the next day was going to happen much sooner than comfort would dictate.