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.