Saturday, March 30, 2019

Let There Be a Certain Kind of Light

I am caught between imperatives.

On the one hand, the fluorescent lights in my home office have been buzzing at me for a while now – the audible hum that inevitably heralds their demise, usually at the most inconvenient moment possible, occasionally accompanied by bright flashes and the ozone scent of burnt electrical fittings.  Fortunately, because my long-term project is to replace every bulb in the house with something LED as they burn out over time and they do make LED replacement bulbs that fit the 4-foot fluorescent fixtures and are not completely unreasonable in price, I have two LED replacement bulbs sitting in my office waiting to be installed.

On the other hand, the fluorescent lights are still working.  They have neither flickered nor failed, and despite sounding like a small group of bees trying to have a political argument at a holiday dinner without disturbing the kids table they continue to do what lights ought to do, which is to replace the dark with visibility.


There is part of me that thinks I should just go ahead and replace the fluorescent bulbs now, whether they’ve burned out completely or not.  I’ve already bought the LED bulbs after all and they’re just cluttering up my office at the moment, not that anyone could tell unless they looked very hard (honestly at one point even I had to stop and seek them out – it’s the middle of the semester, after all, and things get a bit unkempt around this time of year).  They should be installed.

But there is another part of me that thinks, well, I don’t really notice the buzzing unless I think about it, and the lights are still working, so it just seems wasteful to throw out things that still work.

It’s a quandary.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Climate

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


1. So apparently the guy der Sturmtrumper chose specifically to suppress the Mueller report, the guy who is on record as saying that he does not believe that a president can obstruct justice because if the president does it then it’s not obstruction, has done his job well.  He took a 300-page prosecutor’s report summarizing 22 months of investigations – investigations which produced more than two dozen indictments and about half a dozen convictions among der Sturmtrumper’s inner circle – and spent less than 48 hours turning that into a 4-page letter that said exactly what der Sturmtrumper wanted it to say, a compression rate and a turnaround time that suggests that much or all of the letter was written ahead of time.

It is, of course, theoretically possible, that the Mueller report says what Barr says it says, but until the full report is released we have only the word of one compromised source, and you’ll excuse me if I don’t find that credible.

2. Bear in mind, though.  I trust Mueller.  If we do get the full report and it does say what Barr says it says, then the matter is closed.  But I’ll believe that when I see it and until I see it I see no reason to believe it.

3. It’s notable, for example, that in a letter as brief as the one Barr wrote, a letter that cherry-picked the data to support his boss’ claims and included a grand total of four quotes from the report itself, he still couldn’t avoid a quote that explicitly said that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”  Why is that, do you suppose?  That’s the best he could do?

4. Pay attention to how Barr spun this.  He notes that the report “did not establish” that der Sturmtrumper committed crimes.  Both Barr and Mueller were prosecutors, and both know very well that “did not establish” is a long, long way from saying that there was no crime or that the target of the investigation didn’t commit the crimes that happened.  It simply means that there was not enough proof to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt – the standard for criminal offenses, but not for civil offenses or (dare one note) impeachment.  Unless and until the full report is released, it will be unclear how to interpret that.

5. Parsing through the letter, a number of other observers have noted several rather disturbing things that I collect here for your edification:

First, based on what Barr said, the full report apparently went into detail about Russian interference in the 2016 election.  It is notable that the GOP has fanatically resisted any attempt to strengthen American defenses against such interference in 2020.  The conclusion is left as an exercise for the reader.

Second, the simple fact is that Mueller is not willing to clear der Sturmtrumper of criminal wrongdoing.  If that’s the bar for presidential behavior these days you can kiss the republic goodbye and thank the GOP for it.

Third, Barr reached his conclusion so quickly that it calls into question whether he bothered to read the report at all.  This is a whitewash, and nothing more.  Any GOP resistance to releasing the full report – any resistance whatsoever – is a sure sign that the actual conclusions and evidence are far more damning than anything the GOP would have you believe about their rogue leader.  And the fact that such resistance has been immediate and thorough says all you need to know.

Fourth, Barr’s stated conclusion that somehow der Sturmtrumper has not obstructed justice conflicts with facts we already know – that he has “suborn[ed] perjury” (Barr’s words) by instructing his underlings to lie for him.  Michael Cohen is going to jail for doing just that, after all.  That der Sturmtrumper has dangled pardons to his accused insiders as a way to get them to be quiet about his crimes – Paul Manafort is sitting in jail now in part because of this, after all.

Fifth, Barr’s conclusions do not preclude quid pro quo arrangements made by der Sturmtrumper with a hostile power.  We know that the Russian intelligence services worked very hard to make sure der Sturmtrumper was elected.  We know that der Sturmtrumper has made a mockery of American sovereignty by his toadying sycophantism toward Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, up to and including working to relieve sanctions against Russia for its crimes. 

Sixth, as Marcy Wheeler notes, Barr’s tortured language misses the point.  “In giving Trump the all-clear on obstruction charges, Barr appears not to have considered whether Trump obstructed the actual crime in question.  He instead considered whether the president obstructed a different crime.  This is the legal sleight of hand that has allowed Barr to proclaim that Trump will not be charged.”


7. Representative Adam Schiff probably had the best summary of the surrender of the GOP to Russia, and it’s worth quoting in full.

“My colleagues may think it’s OK that the Russians offered ‘dirt’ on a Democratic candidate for president as part of what was described as the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign. You might think that’s OK.  My colleagues might think it’s OK that when that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, that the president’s son did not call the FBI, he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help. No, instead that son said that he would ‘love’ the help of the Russians.

“You might think it’s OK that he took that meeting. You might think it’s OK that Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience at running campaigns, took that meeting. You might think it’s OK that the president’s son-in-law also took that meeting. You might think it’s OK that they concealed it from the public.

"You might think it’s OK that their only disappointment from that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn’t better. You might think it’s OK that when it was discovered, a year later, they then lied about that meeting and said that it was about adoptions. You might think that it’s OK that it was reported that the president helped dictate that lie. You might think that’s OK. I don’t.

“You might think it’s OK that the campaign chairman of a presidential campaign would offer information about that campaign to a Russian oligarch in exchange for money or debt forgiveness. You might think that’s OK, I don’t.

"You might think it’s OK that that campaign chairman offered polling data to someone linked to Russian intelligence. I don’t think that’s OK.

"You might think it’s OK that the president himself called on Russia to hack his opponent’s emails, if they were listening. You might think it’s OK that later that day the Russians attempted to hack a server affiliated with that campaign. I don’t think that’s OK.

"You might think it’s OK that the president's son-in-law attempted to establish a secret back channel of communication with the Russians through a Russian diplomatic facility. I don’t think that’s OK.

"You might think it’s OK that an associate of the president made direct contact with the GRU [Russian military intelligence], through Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks, that is considered a hostile intelligence agency.  You might think it’s OK that a senior campaign official was instructed to reach that associate and find out what that hostile intelligence agency had to say in terms of dirt on his opponent.

“You might think it’s OK that the national security adviser designate secretly conferred with the Russian ambassador, undermining U.S. sanctions, and you might think it’s OK that he lied about it to the FBI.  You might say that’s all OK, that’s what you need to do to win. But I don’t think it’s OK.

I don’t either.  No American patriot can possibly think this is okay.  Keep that in mind when dealing with people who think this is okay.

8. Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) rather pointedly noted, in calling for the full report to be released, that “The American people deserve to know whether Donald Trump is either a) a legitimate president, b) a Russian asset, c) the functional equivalent of an organized crime boss, or d) just a useful idiot who happens to have been victimized by the greatest collection of coincidences in the history of the republic.”  Yes, yes we do.


10. The interesting part of this is that if what Barr says is true, then Manafort and the rest of them got
involved in a criminal conspiracy all by themselves and lied to conceal … um … nothing?  Kind of odd, really.  I’ll bet they feel downright foolish now.

11. One other odd thing about this is the simple fact that Barr had any role to play in the decision of whether to charge der Sturmtrumper at all.  As Barbara McQuade, a former US attorney now teaching law at the University of Michigan noted, “The whole reason to have a special counsel is to insulate the decision maker from the executive chain of command.  By making the decision himself, Barr feeds into the cynical narrative that President Trump appointed an AG who would protect him.”  So let the narrative commence, I suppose.

12. I suppose it’s just icing on the cake that Barr has announced that the main subject of Mueller’s investigations will be permitted to edit them to his satisfaction before the rest of us get to see them.  Do you think they could possibly make this coverup more obvious?  Seriously – they’re just trolling us now.

13. Now that the GOP no longer controls the House of Representatives, it looks like Congress may actually start to act like a co-equal branch of constitutional government the way the Founders intended.  The chairs of the House Judiciary, Intelligence, and Oversight Committees issued a joint statement condemning the obvious whitewash job perpetrated by Barr.  “It is unacceptable that, after Special Counsel Mueller spent 22 months meticulously uncovering this evidence, Attorney General Barr made a decision not to charge the president in under 48 hours,” they said.  Well, it’s unacceptable to anyone who respects the law, I suppose.  There are a lot of people out there who don’t, after all.  Now to see if they follow this up with any concrete action.

14. Of course, even if the GOP does manage to bury the Mueller report under a mountain of bullshit the way they’re trying to do now, that doesn’t mean that der Sturmtrumper’s legal troubles are over.  He still has to face legal jeopardy for:

a. Campaign hush money payments.  Those porn stars aren’t cheap, and we have der Sturmtrumper’s signature on the checks!

b. A defamation lawsuit from a woman who has accused der Sturmtrumper of sexual misconduct.  What’s fascinating here is that a court has already ruled that der Sturmtrumper will have to face lawyers in a deposition, which is something that didn’t happen with Mueller.  Lying under oath in a deposition over sexual matters was what the GOP impeached Bill Clinton over, after all.

c. The emoluments lawsuits.  Der Sturmtrumper has been unconstitutionally profiting from his businesses since day one and should have been impeached on that basis alone by the end of January 2017.

d. The documented financial improprieties of his inauguration, which are now metastasizing across any number of jurisdictions.  Seriously – the New York Times published a detailed expose of der Sturmtrumper’s financial crimes last summer that would have had any normal politician in jail by now, but what can you do when you’re dealing with a cult leader?

e. The “persistently illegal conduct” of the Trump Organization being investigated by New York State – something der Sturmtrumper can’t pardon his way out of.

f. The use of illegal immigrant labor at der Sturmtrumper’s properties, which is kind of ironic from a guy who wants to steal money from the military to build his catastrophically stupid wall under a fake state of emergency.

g. The fallout from Roger Stone’s trial, which will be the most popcorn-worthy legal proceeding since the aftermath of the Beer Hall Putsch.

15. Again, just for those who are slow on the uptake, nobody outside of the Mueller team and a small handful of Sturmtrumper loyalists has actually seen the completed Mueller report.  The public – which financed it, after all – has not seen it.  Congress has not seen it.  Only Barr and perhaps a crony or two have seen it.  And given that this is, according to several reports, a document that runs over 300 pages, and further given the paucity of quotes from it in the Barr letter, the sheer math says we’ve seen roughly 0.07% of the Mueller Report.  So until the full report is made completely public, nobody in their right mind will accept any of the spin those loyalists have put on it (and those who have accepted it, well, draw your own conclusions).  Der Sturmtrumper’s regime is built on a mountain of lies and to think that their words are somehow the exception to the larger pattern here is simply foolish.


17. In the run-up to the release of Barr’s version of events, it was noteworthy how full-on authoritarian der Sturmtrumper got.  He actually got to the point of threatening the lives and safety of American citizens who disagreed with him – the true mark of a tyrant and precisely the sort of thug that the Founding Fathers built the Constitution to prevent from taking office.  “You know, the left plays a tougher game.  It’s very funny,” he told the right-wing extremist website Breitbart.  “I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher.  OK?  I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump.  I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”  So listen up all you Americans who think the President is not above criticism – you better toe the line for the new dictatorial future or you’ll get your head knocked in by the 21st-century Brownshirts.  Is American great again yet?

18.  You know things are bad when you're getting trolled by North Korean social media.

19. Isn’t it amazing that counties that hosted a 2016 campaign rally by der Sturmtrumper saw a 226% increase in hate crimes since then, compared to counties that didn’t host such rallies?  The FBI says hate crimes have increased by 17% overall under der Sturmtrumper’s careful nurturing of extremism, mostly driven by the rising extremism of those who support this rogue regime.  Color me shocked, just shocked.

20. Just in case you don’t see the pattern, consider Dunning Krueger Poster Child Steve King (R-IA), who recently decided that a meme celebrating a second civil war in this country would be just the perfect thing for a sitting Representative in Congress to post on his social media outlet.  “Folks keep talking about another civil war,” the meme said, over a picture of two fighting humanish figures composed of blue states and red states, “one side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use.”  Now, perhaps this was meant as a warning of tragedy to come rather than a bellicose celebration of partisan violence, in which case it failed miserably.  On the other hand, though, it is notable that King’s own meme has his home state of Iowa in the blue figure.  So there’s that.

21. In point of fact, most of the terrorism and political violence in this country today comes from the right wing, and the numbers are there to prove it.  Murders by white supremacists doubled in 2017 and went up by another 182% in 2018.  Most of the politically motivated violence over the last several decades – over 90% of it, according to one study funded by conservatives – comes from the right wing.  At least 50 right-wing extremist murders happened in 2018 alone, according to the ADL.  Even der Sturmtrumper’s own report, “National Strategy for Counterterrorism” acknowledged that “domestic terrorism in the United States is on the rise” and cited “racially motivated extremism” – white supremacists, for those of you unwilling to do the translating – as the source of much of it.  You want to reduce violence in this country?  Start focusing on the source.  And if you don’t want to reduce that violence?  You are the source.

22. If Jim Wright isn’t on your daily reading list, he should be.

23. Der Sturmtrumper is truly on the warpath now that his pet Attorney General has succeeded in whitewashing the Mueller Report and Mitch McConnell – The Most Corrupt Man In Washington – has successfully (twice!) blocked it from release to the public where it belongs.  So now Tim Murtaugh – the “Director of Communications” for der Sturmtrumper’s re-election campaign – is pressuring news agencies to keep Democrats off the air because they hurt der Sturmtrumper’s feelings by daring to criticize him.  That this is a clear violation of the First Amendment – Murtaugh, as an employee of a sitting president, is acting as an agent of the federal government and this is just as clearly an attempt to use the power of government to intimidate the free press into acquiescence in censorship – is just par for the course with this petit-Fascist regime.

24.  Meanwhile in Wisconsin, it looks like there are signs of emerging American democracy again.  Back in December the GOP-throttled legislature held an extraordinary session designed to gut the incoming Democratic administration of Governor Tony Evers.  They confirmed 82 Walker appointees – many without a single hearing (they’re Republicans!  That’s good enough!), and they passed a right-wing extremist wish list of laws from blocking the state’s withdrawal from the lawsuit attacking health care to limiting voting rights.  This has been the GOP strategy whenever they’ve been faced with the failure of their gerrymandering and intimidation strategies across the United States (hello, North Carolina!).  But a federal court found that the voting rights assault was illegal back in January, and now another judge has ruled that since the Wisconsin Constitution doesn’t actually allow any extraordinary sessions none of the laws or appointments that came out of it were lawful. 

“There can be no justification for enforcement of the unconstitutional legislative actions emanating from the December 2018 ‘extraordinary session’ that is consistent with the rule of law,” wrote Judge Richard Niess.

The Wisconsin GOP has already declared that they will appeal this to their pet Supreme Court rather than accede to the Wisconsin Constitution.  All those surprised by this, raise your hand and explain why you haven’t been paying attention these last nine years.

25. Actually the Wisconsin GOP – a group that reacts extraordinarily poorly to any challenge to its absolute grip on power (which is how we got here in the first place, after all) – has already succeeded in getting a different judge to lift the stay, though not to overturn the decision entirely.  But the lame-duck power grab remains unenforceable because yet another judge – for completely different reasons – has rejected it.  So there’s that.

26. Der Sturmtrumper continues to spiral downward in an increasingly obvious mental decline.  If you don’t see grandpa sundowning in a hail of Twitter nonsense you’re not paying attention.  After one recent binge MSNBC analyst Matthew Miller asked “There has to be something coming, right?  Trump is incredibly unhinged today even for him, and with no apparent prompting.”  Though Miller later observed that der Sturmtrumper is “crazy and doesn’t need any particular prompting to show it.”  Even conservatives are starting to notice.  “Averting your eyes is refusing to come to grips with Trump’s mental condition and psychological state.  It’s avoiding reality,” said Bill Kristol, and George Conway – the husband of der Sturmtrumper’s own Kelly Conway – quietly observed, “His condition is getting worse.”

27. Amid all the distraction, it should not be forgotten that der Sturmtrumper has dropped another budget turd into the punchbowl of American life.  Bearing in mind the fact that all of this could have been avoided if the GOP hadn’t given more than a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the already wealthy while raising taxes on many of the rest of us, here are a few highlights:

Increased spending for a military that already spends more money than the next nine nations combined.  We could cut our military spending by 2/3 and still be the biggest military spender on earth.

Almost $9,000,000,000 for his catastrophically stupid border wall that the Mexicans were supposed to pay for in the first place, ammiright?  This after losing the battle in Congress and declaring a fake state of emergency to steal money from other things to pay for it, and then going golfing because golfing is just what one does in a national emergency.

Cutting $1,500,000,000,000 long term from Medicaid in an effort to destroy the program completely, because affordable healthcare only encourages the non-wealthy to breed after all.

Cutting another $500,000,000,000 from Medicare because fuck you that’s why.

Cutting $220,000,000,000 from food assistance for the poor, despite the fact that when the poor have nothing left to eat they will eat the rich.

Cutting $25,000,000,000 from Social Security – that’s money that you have already paid for your own retirement being diverted into the pockets of the already wealthy because they’re more important than you, citizen, and watch your damned mouth or you’ll get cuffed next time.

Slashing the EPA budget by 31%, the National Science Foundation by 9%, and similarly deep cuts in education funding at all levels because education only makes the peasants uppity.

Also, just for shits and giggles, demanding an $18,000,000 cut from the Special Olympics, because there isn’t an asshole move that these people won’t try.

This isn’t a budget.  It’s a declaration of war on America.


29. One of the more fascinating articles I’ve read recently was written by Roxanne Roberts and published in the Washington Post.  “Why does everybody suddenly hate billionaires?” asks the headline.  “Because they’ve made it easy,” is the reply.

“When did “billionaire” become a dirty word?

Maybe it was when former Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz dismissed Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for higher taxes on fortunes of $50 million or higher as “ridiculous.”

Or when an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, laughed out loud at the suggestion that the super-rich should contribute more.

Or perhaps it was during the government shutdown, when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was baffled when federal workers went to food banks to feed their families. “I know they are, and I don’t understand why,” he said in a CNBC interview. Ross, a self-proclaimed billionaire and buddy of President Trump, suggested furloughed workers take out short-term loans instead.

Or maybe it was when Dan Riffle, an aide to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, coined a new progressive slogan: “Every billionaire is a policy failure.”

At Davos, Michael Dell – worth an estimated $26,000,000,000 – was asked about Congressional Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s idea of a 70% tax on any income over $10,000,000.  “I’m not supportive of that,” Dell replied.  And I don’t think it will help the growth of the US economy.  Name a country where that’s worked.  EVER.”

To which the obvious answer is: the United States, between 1938 and 1981 – the period of this country’s greatest economic prosperity, the period where we built the strongest economy the world had ever seen, the interstate highway system, and a higher education system unparalleled in history, reduced poverty, sent men to the moon, and still maintained the strongest military in the world. 

When did it become “patriotic” to be a hoarder?  To shirk your obligations to your country?  And why do so many people think such shirkers should be in charge of the country? 


31. Did der Sturmtrumper really offer NATO membership to Brazil or is that just something that we should ignore from the sundowning moron representing us on the world stage? 

32.  Did you know that der Sturmtrumper has lost 63 federal cases over the last two years – “an extraordinary record of legal defeat” according to the Washington Post.  “In case after case, judges have rebuked Trump officials for failing to follow the most basic rules of governance for shifting policy, including providing legitimate explanations supported by facts and, were required, public input.”  More than forty of those losses come from violating the Administrative Procedure Act, one of the key laws this country has designed to protect against arbitrary governance and strongman dictatorship.  Most administrations have a 70% win rate when challenged on APA grounds – der Sturmtrumper is running around 6%.  Judges appointed by both Republicans and Democrats have struck down der Sturmtrumper’s shoddy attempts at short-circuiting the rule of law, and yet the administration refuses to learn.  I guess that’s what happens when arbitrary governance and strongman dictatorship is the point.

33. Apparently Barbara Bush was so disgusted and upset by der Sturmtrumper’s victory in 2016 that she kept a timer that counted down the seconds of his administration.  The clock stayed on her bedside table or next to whatever chair she was sitting in until the day she died.  I can sympathize, truly I can.

34.  Keep an eye on the Deutsche Bank story, as financial impropriety committed by der Sturmtrumper in the billions of dollars is slowly coming to light.  Gonna be an interesting couple of years.

35. Is it any wonder, given the all-out assault on decency, morals, law, and Constitution that is the daily bread and butter of this administration that Americans in general are less happy than they’ve been in more than forty years?  Can’t say I’m surprised.  Additionally, a new Pew Research Center study sees an America broadly pessimistic about its own future.  Three quarters of Americans think that the gap between rich and poor will get worse, and two thirds say that political polarization will as well.  Most Americans say that the environment will continue to degrade and that they expect to face financial hardship in their old age.  Nearly half say that average standards of living will decline.  9 out of 10 – a figure that crosses party lines, you’ll note – say that government involvement in health care is important to quality of life, a policy position that clearly does not cross party lines.  Gonna be a REALLY interesting couple of years.

36. “Never in my life did I think I would like to see a dictator, but if there’s gonna be one, I want it to be Trump” said the woman at the microphone.  And the crowd cheered.  This is what we’re up against, America.  It can happen here.  It is happening here.  And der Sturmtrumper and his petit-Fascist minions, enablers, and supporters are making it happen.


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Places You'll Go

It looks like we’re going to be empty-nesters sooner than we thought.

With Tabitha off at Small Liberal Arts College these days it’s been mostly the three of us here at the homestead.  We’re doing okay with that.  The wonders of communication these days keep the world pretty small, SLAC isn’t all that far away by midwestern standards, and Lauren’s still mostly around – or as much as a busy high schooler can be said to be around, anyway.  I don’t recall spending much time at home when I was her age either.

But Lauren has always had a desire to travel, to be Somewhere Else, to see new things and do things she hadn’t done before.  We’ve encouraged it, really.  Familiar and normal are different things, and it’s good to get out and see how other people live.  We have friends and family all over the country and across the world and visiting them has been both fun and educational for all of us.  Lauren definitely has the travel bug.

She has been interested in studying abroad for a while now, and when the financial aspects of such programs became clear she took the initiative to search for programs that would pay for her to do it.  She found a couple of them, the best of the lot being one run jointly by the US federal government and the government of this particular European host country.  It’s a highly competitive application process – they don’t take many students – but it was something Lauren really wanted to do, so she went out and did it.

She researched the program.  She filled out the forms.  She got us to do the things that the parents needed to do.  She had a live interview earlier this year that she arranged – we drove to Madison for it and I dropped her off at the interview site and wandered around for a bit until she was done.  I never met the interviewer.  Why should I have?  This was Lauren’s project, after all.

This week they told her she won.

Sometime in the late summer Lauren will be headed across the Atlantic for an entire school year.

We’re excited, of course, and immensely proud of her for making it happen.  This will be a fantastic experience for her, being immersed in another culture like that.  As a parent your job is to make yourself progressively less necessary to your children’s lives – at some point they will stop needing you in their lives and, if you’ve done it right, start wanting you in their lives, which is a different thing – and she is stepping out into the world in a big way.

It’s also kind of melancholy, to be honest.  Kim and I will be on our own in the house again, after nearly two decades of the joyful noise and chaos of a family.  Lauren will be back, of course – she’ll still have a year to finish up at Local Businessman High School before heading off to college – but she will not be the same person she is now.

That’s kind of the point, after all.

So congratulations to Lauren, and may the world treat you well.  We’ll be here for you when you return.

I’m proud of you.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Shake It Up

My dad used to make us milkshakes every once in a while when I was younger.

We had this old blender, the kind that used to be everywhere in the 1960s, with a tall square-cross-sectioned glass chamber that had a little propeller blade at the bottom and a base full of buttons that stood up about half an inch from its surface.  There was a semiflexible rubberish sort of lid that kept whatever you were blending more or less inside.  The whole thing weighed more than he did and sounded like a pier full of cargo ships unloading bolts in a hurry when in use, but it was more reliable than a geyser and powerful enough to chop concrete.

He also used it to make eggnog around the holidays, sometimes.

My brother and I would always look forward to milkshake nights.  My dad would haul out the blender and a jug of milk, find the ice cream in the freezer, and unearth the bottle of Hershey’s syrup from wherever it was hiding.  I think there were ice cubes in there too, or – to judge from the noise – possibly rocks.  Whatever.

He’d toss it all together and fire up the blender and maybe a minute or two later there it would be – a homemade chocolate milkshake of epic memory, sweet and still frothy from the blender.

Those were always good nights.

He’s been gone three years now, and that simple fact always comes as a bit of a surprise to me.  It feels like yesterday.  It feels like forever.  I suppose that’s how it always is with this sort of thing, but it’s still news to me.

Tonight I had a milkshake in his honor.

It was not homemade, but it was nevertheless tasty and a nice way to remember.

And that’s all it needed to be.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Not Very Bright Lights, Not Very Big City

“A plague has come to Noah’s Ark.”

Lauren told me that on the way out this morning, as we were headed to the dentist’s office.  It certainly feels that way.

On the plus side, the dentist appointment went well.

We’ve been slowly amassing poultry this week.  At various times we’ve had as many as twelve (not thirteen – hey, they move around a lot and they’re hard to count) chickens and ten turkeys in assorted large bins in the living room, all chirping madly and, in the case of the turkeys (who really are the dumbest things on the planet, even if you include certain state legislators who shall go unnamed for the moment), learning how to eat.  We lost one turkey early on, but that’s to be expected.  They’re fragile things, and the attrition rate for them is high even when things go entirely right.

And when they don’t go entirely right, well.

We lost a chicken early this week, which was a bit of a surprise.  Chickens are basically indestructible.  But it was one of the smallest of the chicks in the bin, and we suspect that it just got trampled.  Chickens are smarter than turkeys, but not, after all, by much.

We figured we had been pre-disastered and were good to go.

But when I came home from work yesterday Lauren greeted me with two bits of news.

First, another turkey had died – one of the bigger ones, which was a bit of a surprise.  She’d already taken care of burial, so that was that.

And second, one of her rabbits – newly moved outside now that the weather has been consistently above freezing – seemed to have something wrong with an eye.

We are experienced with problems with rabbit eyes.  Milkshake did not earn his nickname “the Dread Pirate Milkshake” for nothing, after all.  He earned it thanks to a botfly infestation and a surprisingly expensive bit of veterinary surgery that introduced us all to the word “enucleation” which is a word you really do not want to look up.  Trust me on this.

He's fine now, if lacking in the depth-perception department.

This particular rabbit – which we have not identified yet in order to reduce its stress levels, since identifying the rabbit involves flipping it over and examining it in rather personal ways – seems to have an abrasion of some sort on its eye as well as some blue sort of something creeping across the surface of the eye.  We have been anointing it with unguents and keeping it comfortable, and at some point we will take it to an Expert for evaluation.

By the time we went to bed we figured we had resolved more than our requisite share of animal-related health crises for one week and could therefore sleep without fear.


Turkey poults require rather warm temperatures when they are little.  You can’t just put them in a large bin in your living room and forget about them – you have to keep them warm.  Normally this entails putting a clip-on lamp with a 75-100 watt incandescent bulb in it on top of the wire mesh covering the bin and just not turning the thing off for a while. 

We had this covered, we thought.  We’re not noobs.  This is not our first turkey poult rodeo.  It is our fourth, which is a enough rodeos to figure this sort of thing out, even if it is not a professional quantity of rodeos.

And then sometime last night the bulb burned out.

This morning there were some frosty turkeys.  We put them in with the chickens to keep them warm (though you’re not really supposed to put them in with chickens for all sorts of other reasons) and after I dropped Lauren off at the dentist I went out in search of 75-100 watt incandescent bulbs.

Do you know how hard it is to find incandescent bulbs anymore?
 Everything is LED now.  LED bulbs are fantastic, by the way – they give you immense amounts of light for very little energy cost, and they emit almost no heat in the process.  As a former firefighter I am very much in favor of light sources that emit no heat.  Fewer house fires that way.

But sometimes the heat is the point, and LED lights are not useful for turkeys.

What isn’t LED is now some kind of super-efficient halogen light bulb that says 75 WATTS! on the packaging but really only draws 53 watts, which is not nearly enough to keep a small flock of turkeys warm even if the purchaser thinks it will actually provide 75 watts worth of warmth!  Kim discovered this sad fact this afternoon when she went home and surveyed the devastation among the turkeys.

So here we are.

We have already lost one bronze turkey.  Several more turkeys are rallying but could still slip away, even with the giant garage bulb that Kim found and installed to warm up the bin.  We may yet have to restock our turkeys entirely.

A plague indeed.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Poultry Redux

Well, after taking a year off to focus on other things, Lauren has decided to go back to the 4H Poultry Project, which means that for the first time since 2017 our living room now echoes with the sound of chirping.

It also has that distinct chickeny tang that follows the introduction of poultry into an enclosed space by about 36 hours, but so it goes.  You get used to it.  They’re only going to be here until the weather warms up enough to ship them out to our friend’s barn with the rest of our birds, anyway.

I was not part of the Chicken Obtaining Expedition, since that required those involved to be at the fairgrounds a full county over by 6am on Saturday and the only reason I ever want to be up at that hour is to catch a flight to Europe and most airlines don’t let you take poultry on planes so those two things are rarely if ever going to coincide.  Plus it is still reasonably chilly out there these days – not really winter anymore, but not quite spring either – and my bed is such a warm and comfortable place. 

So Kim and Lauren ventured forth.  They came, they saw, they poultried, and now we have nine [CORRECTION: thirteen - they're hard to keep track of] chickens in our living room.  After Kim and Lauren got back home they went out again to a different friend’s barn and bought turkeys so we had three of those in there too, in a separate bin.

They’re not even our turkeys.  We’re holding them for a different friend who is on vacation and will collect them at some point.

Although we’re down to two now.  Turkey poults are very fragile things, and one of them was sufficiently worrisome that our friend with the barn didn’t even charge us for him.  This turned out to be a good move. 

When I came downstairs this morning I looked at him and figured he had died overnight and the only reason I didn’t bury him in the backyard right then was because I didn’t have my shoes on.  By the time I got my shoes, though, it appeared that the little poult was still struggling on [insert Monty Python joke here] so we kept him warm and comfortable and waited for the inevitable to happen.

He’s buried now.  He fought bravely, and if there is a next life for turkeys I hope it treats him better than this one did.

We’ll get our own turkeys on Tuesday, apparently.  Bronze ones rather than the whites we have now – they don’t show dirt as much, and if you’d like to give a 40lb bird a bath before Fair time go ahead but we’ll stick with the bronzes thanks – and for all I know the process will repeat for at least one of them.  For birds that get to be the size of beach balls they’re not sturdy at all.

Meanwhile we have a smorgasbord of chicken breeds randomly chirping in our living room, climbing on top of each other, and keeping the cats entertained.

There are many things that I find myself surprised to be doing at this point in my life.  I am always astonished at how many of them involve poultry.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Climate

1. Wasn’t Michael Cohen’s testimony all kinds of train-wreck goodness?  Here is the lead fixer for one of the biggest crime families in America going on national television under oath to talk about what the higher ups have been doing.  With documentary evidence.  Truly we live in an age of wonder. 

2. Of course the GOP spent most of its time calling him names rather than making any honest effort to examine the crimes he detailed or make any serious run at actually defending der Sturmtrumper.  They know der Sturmtrumper’s guilty just like you and I do, but they refuse to admit it.  They can’t admit it, one suspects, because they’re caught up in it as well, and will likely go down with their leader when it comes.  All they can do is distract.



5. Just about the only person on that committee actually doing their job was Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who asked specific, probing questions that set the groundwork for future inquiries the way that it is supposed to be done.  This of course caused much paroxysms of horror among Republicans, who just cannot stomach the thought of someone who is female, not white, and smarter than they are, all rolled into one.


7. One of the more fascinating bits of petty chicanery that emerged from that hearing is the fact that der Sturmtrumper has threatened all of the institutions of education which he has attended (confirmed, at least, by Fordham University, which released the threatening letter to the public – it was dated May 5, 2015, during der Sturmtrumper’s presidential campaign) with legal action if they released his grades.  Seriously – the people who support him don’t care about his grades (I’ve had a long conversation with one of them recently and it became clear that no amount of booklarnin’ or edumacashin was going to move her off her preconceived notions and ideological fantasies), so I’m not really sure what he gained by doing this – but there it is.

8. On the more serious side, there was Cohen’s warning about 2020.  “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump,” he said, “I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”  The idea that der Sturmtrumper’s growing authoritarianism and hostility to both the Constitution and the republic as constructed by the Founding Fathers might stage an outright coup is, frankly, more credible than not.  His supporters –eager to support the new strongman – would probably go along.  They’ve gone along this far, after all.  Buckle up if that happens, folks.

9. And that’s the thing in general about all of this.  Will it actually make a difference?  Der Sturmtrumper may well be the most corrupt president this country has ever had, but he does know his supporters well.  On the campaign trail he bragged that he could kill someone in cold blood in broad daylight and not lose a single vote, and events have proven him right.  In a recent Quinnipiac Poll (March 5), 82% of Republicans approve of his regime even in light of every criminal revelation and every catastrophic policy failure.  82%.  It's even more astonishing when you consider that 33% of Republicans believe that he has committed crimes.  Do the math.  That means 15% of Republicans – roughly 1 in 7 – know very well that he’s a crook and support him anyway.  This is your “party of values,” folks.

10. It also tells you that this is der Sturmtrumper’s party now.  The moderate Republicans were thrown out in the early 90s when the Culture War was declared.  The heretics who questioned the right-wing extremism that became the soul of the party were tossed when the Teabaggers took over in the early 21st century.  Now all that’s left are der Sturmtrumper’s minions and those too blind to see that this isn’t Reagan’s GOP anymore.

11. In other news, the Great Voter Suppression Effort continues apace, though there are signs of stiffening resistance among the law abiding and the decent.  A federal judge in Texas put a stop to the attempts of the GOP there to get rid of thousands of non-GOP voters – a “ham-handed and threatening” effort, according to the judge.  Given that only 80 of the 100,000 voters targeted by the GOP for removal were actually ineligible to vote (and further given that no evidence was ever given that any of them actually attempted to vote), that’s a pretty fair description.  But then Voting While Not Republican is a prosecutable offense, according to the GOP.

12. Can we just get over the illusion that the GOP gives a damn about national security?  Their president is the greatest security threat this country faces, and yet they continue to give him their slavering support.  He sold out Israel in May of 2017, blabbing about a major Israeli espionage operation in front of the Russian foreign minister.  He regularly speaks on an insecure iPhone that is, according to American officials, closely monitored by the Chinese.  He overrode the opposition of career intelligence officials to give his incompetent son-in-law permanent security clearance.  He coddles dictators and angers allies, and if he weren’t the darling of the far right wing in this country we’d have had him jailed by now.

13. Although even his dictator-coddling skills seem to be failing him these days.  Did anyone else think that his latest fiasco with North Korea was doomed from the get-go or was that just me?  So North Korea is now actively expanding its nuclear program and the US looks like a country stupid enough to give der Sturmtrumper the keys to the government.  Color me shocked.


15. So, are we tired of winning yet?  It looks like der Sturmtrumper is continuing the recent Republican trend of destroying the economy to wild applause from sycophants.  As the latest example, according to the US Commerce Department the trade deficit hit $891,200,000,000 in 2018, the largest such deficit in the 243 years this country has been in existence.  This beats the previous record set in 2006.  Remind me, which party controlled the White House in 2006?  Oh, right.  The GOP.  Even if you include the services sector – a part of the economy the US remains fairly strong in spite of everything – the deficit last year was $621,000,000,000 which is more than $100,000,000,000 worse than it ever was under Obama (who was, for the record, not a Republican). 

16. Some of this is due to the Reverse Robin Hood Tax Giveaway – a $1,500,000,000,000 transfer of wealth away from middle and working class Americans and into the hands of the already obscenely wealthy, something that every competent economist in the United States said would destroy what fiscal responsibility this country had managed to recover under Obama and cause the trade deficit to rise.  And lo and behold, the deficit last year skyrocketed to $779,000,000,000 – a 17% increase over 2017 – because of the amount of borrowing that this entails, and that ultimately encourages the trade deficit to rise as well.  It’s just math.

17. The budget deficit for this fiscal year is expected to be $985,000,000,000 – roughly 26% higher than last year.  Just in case you’re wondering.  We’re on a pace to have trillion-dollar deficits without a recession to try to stimulate our way out of, and that has never happened before in all of human history.

18. Part of the problem for this also is that der Sturmtrumper doesn’t actually seem to understand that trade wars and protectionist tariffs aren’t really helpful here.  He’s been bragging that his tariffs on Chinese goods have been bringing in money to the US Treasury because the Chinese are paying them, but that’s frankly stupid.  They don’t pay those tariffs.  Consumers do.  As David Weinstein, a professor of economics at Columbia University, said, “When we impose a tariff, it is the domestic consumers and purchasers of imports that bear the full cost of the tariffs.”  Really, folks – this isn’t hard.  You’re losing.  You – yes you, the American consumer – are literally paying for der Sturmtrumper’s ignorance. 

19. If you want some numbers, two different papers published by some of the world’s best economists recently declared those tariffs to be the worst economic idea since the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariffs that were prime contributors to the Great Depression.  The papers note that the tariffs are costing US companies and consumers some $3,000,000,000 per month in fees plus another $1,400,000,000 per month in deadweight losses, not to mention $165,000,000,000 a year in lost trade and supply chain reorganization costs.  So much winning!

20. I suppose it’s just one of those ironies that the US counties that are most hard hit by these tariffs are precisely the ones that supported der Sturmtrumper and continue to support him even now.  Someday marketing majors and propaganda specialists will study how the modern GOP convinced 47% of the American public that slitting their own economic throats was their patriotic duty.

21. Meanwhile the February jobs report shows only 20,000 jobs gained in that month – roughly 150,000 fewer than expected.  This is a signal of weaker economic news ahead – what little stimulus effect the Reverse Robin Hood Tax Giveaway had has now ended.  Trends in the rest of the world point toward softer economic growth in general.  American manufacturing is slowing, and the services sector is as well.  Watch your back.

22. One of the things that often gets forgotten in the focus on partisan political news is just how much American agree on.  75% favor higher taxes for the wealthy.  80% think corporations aren’t paying their fair share of taxes either.  83% favor strong net neutrality rules.  92% want Medicare to be able to negotiate for lower drug prices.  71% support raising the minimum wage.  62% agree that immigrants strengthen the US and make the country better.  85% want paid leave to deal with health issues.  82% say mothers should have paid leave after childbirth.  69% think fathers should too.  86% think we should spend more on public education.  62% favor marriage equality. 64% want to limit the influence of big money in politics, with 78% specifically wanting the Citizens United decision to be overturned.  66% oppose separating families at the border.  79% want DREAMers to be offered a path to citizenship and 83% want undocumented immigrants to have a path toward legalization rather than be deported.  66% want stricter gun laws, and 97% want background checks on all buyers including at gun shows a figure that clearly includes the majority of gun owners.   And yet we have none of these things.

As Tim Wu recently noted in The New York Times, “The defining political fact of our time is not polarization.  It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these.  Call it the oppression of the supermajority.  Ignoring most of what the country wants – as much as demagogy and political divisiveness – is what is making the public so angry.”

The other thing that feeds into this – something Mr. Wu did not note in his article – is that the policies that the majority wants are generally the ones championed by the Democratic Party.  There is not a single major plank in the GOP platform that commands the support of a majority of Americans – not one.  And yet we have a minority government determined to shove their policies down the throats of the majority and flatly refusing to accommodate any kind of dissent.

23. Well it looks like the US is finally grounding those Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 planes that have been crashing all over the world, the last major country using them to do so.  It’s probably not a coincidence that the FAA has been without an Administrator for the last 18 months because der Sturmtrumper couldn’t be bothered to replace the last guy.  After all, what’s a few dead passengers when there are profits to be made?

24. The thing about der Sturmtrumper is that you never have to wait very long for his brutally anti-American character to surface.  He’s not even pretending to be anything other than a wannabe petit-Fascist dictator anymore.  Please note his recent comments to Breitbart about how his “tough people” supporters are going to rampage through the streets if people keep being mean to him.

As Jim Wright so eloquently responded, “Trump – the guy who sat out his war with fake bone spurs and who can’t figure out how an umbrella works – gonna lead some tough guys in murdering Americans.  See in in the street, Motherfucker.”


26. In the wake of Fox News In-House Misogynist Tucker Carlson’s recent comments defending child rape, marriages between adult men and underage girls (hey, he’s on the same side as the Pedophile Roy Moore, after all) and generally being an asshole toward everyone whose penis isn’t white and whose hat isn’t red, the right wingers who support him have pretty much unanimously said, “Okay.”  There’s no sense of irritation, let alone outrage, because the modern conservative movement has no moral center whatsoever.  As Steve Almond of WBUR notes, “There’s almost nothing a conservative politician or pundit can do or say that the GOP’s base won’t somehow ignore or justify. … [T]here is no guiding morality at the heart of modern conservatism.  The party’s only aim is to hold power.  It is wholly unmoored from coherent policy aims, aside from the protection of the donor class that underwrites it.”  So if you’re waiting for the GOP to feel shame about its vicious sins, you may want to settle in for a while.  Pack a lunch.

27. If you doubt that the GOP is the Party of Pedophilia after the sterling examples of Roy Moore and Fox News In-House Misogynist Tucker Carlson, consider the Idaho legislature, which last month voted down a bill that would have blocked marriage for children 15 years old or younger.  The bill, proposed by a Democrat, was rejected by the GOP controlled Idaho legislature 39-28.  So yeah, no shame.

28. In case you have ever wondered where the real terrorist threat to the United States is, perhaps you should look at a study done by the Daily Caller News Foundation – an institution founded by Fox News In-House Misogynist Tucker Carlson, oddly enough – which looked at an earlier study done by the Anti-Defamation League that looked at extremist murders by the ideology of the murderers between 2008 and 2017.  Carlson’s foundation set out to disprove the ADL’s claim that 74% of the ideologically motivated terror attacks in the United States during that decade were committed by right-wing extremists rather than left-wing or Islamic extremists.  Instead, they found that the ADL underestimated how much of the violence came from the right.  “Our findings support the ADL statistic.  Using their definition of right-wing extremists, we found that 92 percent of ideologically motivated homicide incidents were committed with a right-wing extremist or white supremacist motive.”  Just pointing out that even the right-wingers are admitting this.

29. If you don’t think this matters, consider the recent massacre in New Zealand, where white supremacist right-wing extremists murdered 49 people praying at a couple of mosques.  The halfwits who did this proudly wrote in their penny-ante manifestos about how much they supported der Sturmtrumper as a “symbol of renewed white identity” and how much inspiration they took from the American conservative movement these days.  Your party of values exporting its values to peaceful places around the world, folks.

30. Just as a side note, for all the right-wing hysteria about Bad Brown People coming to do you harm, the simple fact is that the majority of mass shootings in this country are committed by white men.  54% of the mass shootings since 1982, in fact, which is not bad for 32% of the population.  If we’re going to worry about dangerous people who should be watched carefully and prevented from owning high-powered firearms, statistically that would be a good group to start with. 


32. The House of Representatives voted 420-0 – that includes almost every Republican as well as every Democrat, in case you can’t do math – to have the Mueller Report released publicly.  On the one hand, this is an encouraging sign that people on both sides of the partisan divide want transparency and accountability.  For crying out loud, you can’t get that kind of unanimity on resolutions praising apple pie and baseball these days.  On the other hand, the bill immediately died in the Senate when GOP Senator Lindsey Graham – who has gone from a Sturmtrumper skeptic to his most loyal lapdog – immediately blocked the Senate from even considering the House bill.  Because covering up crimes seems to be the GOP way these days, and not even the brief ray of disinfecting sunlight offered by the House GOP can overturn that.

33. Der Sturmtrumper, in an obvious attempt to coddle the right-wing snowflakes whose feelings get hurt when their odious views are met with scorn and derision (hello, Milo Yiannopolis! Nice to have you reading along!), has signed an executive order “requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want federal research dollars,” in his own words.  Of course, that cuts both ways.  Liberty University and any number of other fundamentalist Christian, right-wing universities receive piles of federal research dollars too.  As Jim Wright noted on Facebook the other day, “They will now have to allow free speech on ABORTION, birth control, LGBT issues, atheism, gun control, immigration, Islamic rights, etc.  Or lose their research funding.  I look forward to the day that a member of the Church of Satan demands to speak at Liberty University.” 

34. Earlier this month the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed HR1 – a major political reform bill aimed at returning the United States government to the people it supposedly represents.  The bill has a number of fairly common sense proposals in it.  It would establish public financing of political campaigns to try to get big money donors out of the process and return elections to voters rather than donors.  Similarly, it supports a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision legalizing corporate bribery in elections.  It would force SuperPACs and other dark money organizations to disclose their donors rather than lurk in the shadows.  It would require any candidate for president or vice president to disclose the last ten years of their tax returns, and stop members of Congress from using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment suits against them.

Perhaps most importantly, it would make voting easier and more fair by creating an automatic voter registration process, promoting early voting, making federal election days holidays so citizens wouldn’t have to miss work to vote, prohibiting partisan voter purges, improving election security to avoid foreign tampering, and ending partisan gerrymandering.

I’m not sure how any American patriot can oppose these things, which is why I am utterly unsurprised by the GOP’s frantic opposition to these things.  Mitch McConnell – The Most Corrupt Man in Washington – has repeatedly assaulted the bill as “a naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party.  It should be called the Democrat Politician Protection Act.”

Think about that.

As Paul Waldman wrote in the Washington Post recently, “I’m not sure if McConnell understands what a startling admission that is on his part.  Because what McConnell is saying is that if our voting system were more efficient, more open and more fair, then the inevitable result would be fewer Republicans winning elections.  In other words, Republican success depends on the system working in ways that restrict access to the ballot.  I happen to think that’s fairly obvious and has been for some time.  But it’s remarkable to hear the second most powerful Republican in America admit it.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

News and Updates

1. I’ve had the same general winter crud for two weeks now, and it is getting old.  It has settled into a persistent cough the way they always do with me – if the next great pandemic is respiratory just say goodbye to me now – and it’s been keeping me up at night, cough meds or no.  This is not doing Kim any favors either.  Oh well.

2. Down at Home Campus we’re in the middle of switching over from one major academic software package to a different major academic software package that supposedly does more or less the same thing, and my mission this week has been to figure out a) what I need to access from the old package to do my job, b) what I can actually access in the new package, and c) how to square these things.  I’ve been going through all of the menus and submenus, systematically, and just clicking on things and so far I have not shorted out the power grid or launched any cruise missiles, so I figure I’m doing well.  One fascinating discovery during this process has been that I may have access to something in the new package that don’t think I had in the old one, except that I just know that if I tell them that they will go in with a chainsaw and not only take away that particular access but also everything remotely connected to it, much of which I actually do need to do my job.  Maybe if I just promise just to forget I ever noticed this – really, having it provides no benefit to me at all – they’ll leave me alone?  We’ll see.

3. Tabitha has been home from Small Liberal Arts College on spring break this week, and she asked if she could bring home a friend who didn’t want to travel all the way to Texas to go back to his home.  We figured why not – throw another dinner plate on the table and we’re good, really.  We have the space.  The other night we got into a conversation and he mentioned that where he’s from they have this thing called Big Tex, which is a 55-foot high animatronic statue by the state fairgrounds.  It’s, well, impressive.

But what’s even more impressive, it turns out, is that a while back Big Tex burned down and I know that this is a terrible thing but it just looks like there should be two hobbits throwing a ring at it and I can’t really look away now.

I may have found my new Facebook profile picture.

4. Phooey on Daylight Savings Time.  It just means everyone is tired and crabbier than usual, and it doesn’t even save any energy.  Seriously – we should just go back to Standard Time and stay there.

5. I have so much grading to do.  I really do not like grading.  I’ve never met at teacher who enjoys grading, and yet we all give out assignments and grade them because that’s how you get students to learn.  Sometimes I wish teaching was as easy and lucrative as right-wing critics always tell me it is.

6. Also, the next time some privileged whinger starts in on “pampered college students” I will go nuclear.

7. I actually managed to watch some television this week, which is kind of a throwback to old times for me.  I’m nearly through Season 4 of Game of Thrones now.  I saw the first episode of the new season of American Gods, which is quite possibly the most beautifully filmed thing ever put on the air.  Kim talked me into the opening episode of The Umbrella Factory, which was pleasantly strange.  And last night we watched a bizarre little thing called Disney Couples Therapy, which reminded me a lot of the old cartoon Fractured Fairy Tales in its insistence that “happily ever after” was a myth to be mined for comedy.  So yay me.

8. Also, for all my non-Wisconsin readers, I just want to point out that Neil Gaiman made up absolutely nothing about The House on the Rock when he wrote American Gods.  It really is like that.

9. It’s looking like this summer will be a “stay at home and let people come to us” sort of time, and I’m perfectly happy with that.  It’s nice when people visit.

10. It looks like we will be back in the Poultry Project again this year, with new chickens and turkeys to prep for the Fair.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  On the one hand, they’re fun and I enjoy them (especially the turkeys) and the eggs are nice.  On the other hand, well, they require time and energy that is in short supply these days.  So we’ll see I guess.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Marching Through Westeros

I’m slowly working my way through The Game of Thrones on television.

Yes, I know.  I’m behind the times.  Tell me something new.

For a long time I swore I wouldn’t read the books until George RR Martin was either finished with the series or dead, because every novel in the series is a thousand pages long with a multi-year gap between each one, which means that by the time the last one comes out I will have no recollection of the first several and that’s just not a rereading project I want to undertake.  Martin is also 70 years old and clearly not a health fanatic, so it was an open question whether I wanted to go down that rabbit hole at all.  I was not entirely sure he was ever going to finish this project.  I’m still not.

But then a couple of things happened.

First, Kim, who has seen every episode, insisted that I needed to see the television show because it is excellent in every conceivable way – from its cinematography to its writing to its acting and on beyond zebra.  Yeah, yeah, I said.  “It’s got boobs,” she replied.  “Lots of them.”  What can I say?  She knows me well. 

And second, she also insisted – and here I had no quarrel, since I too hold this belief – that I needed to read the books first, before watching any of the show. 

So a couple of summers ago I read the books.  All of them.  Or at least all of them in the main sequence, as well as the giant, lavishly illustrated backstory coffee-table book that is the Westeros version of The Silmarillion in that it covers the extensive history of this world from its earliest moments and drops you off right as the main story opens.  There are a couple of prequel books I haven’t gotten to yet that I’m sure I’ll take care of eventually, since we do own them, but I figured I had read enough to watch the show now.

Plus, the books have a curiously fractal quality in that they portray a world of constant shifts and ebbs and flows but if you step back a bit you’ll find that nothing really changes.  Kingdoms rise and fall, characters emerge and either survive or are killed – often in stunningly brutal ways – but if you step back a bit the overall picture never changes.  So really, once you get a sense of the place, you can just move forward.

They’re remarkably well written books, it has to be said, despite a singular absence of humor throughout.  Other than Tyrion and his many dry asides, I can recall only one actual joke in the entire six thousand pages that I’ve read so far.  I still have hopes that Martin will finish the series – he’s been promising a new book since at least 2012 – but the wait grows long.

I actually lost a Facebook friend over that fact, to be honest.  A mutual friend had posted something about Martin doing something that was Not Writing, and I made a sarcastic comment along the lines of “Why is he doing anything other than Writing?  Get back to work!” which was intended as a satire on the sort of moron who actually makes such comments seriously.  This particular friend – an author by trade, part of a larger group I belong to and not someone I’d ever met in person – either didn’t catch the sarcasm or didn’t want to be friends with someone who would make that particular sarcastic comment and out the door I went.  Oh well.  I never bothered to clarify why.  People have a right to curate their friends list how they want.

So Kim and I have been chipping away at the television series. 

I have a hard time watching scripted anything these days, no matter how good it is.  I usually find that I need to get up and walk away fairly early on, and the most I can really do in one sitting is two episodes so binge-watching really hasn’t been much of an option either.  The chipping goes slowly, in other words.

But we are making progress.  We abandoned all pretense of productivity last night – Kim spent the weekend running labs with her Online students and I spent most of the last several days almost but not quite sick with some kind of winter crud that isn’t bad enough to make me not do things but is bad enough to make doing them more of a chore than they should be, so we were both mentally fried – and we finished Season 4, Episode 4.  So only 2.5 seasons to go to be caught up to the present, which might happen in time for the Final Season sometime next month and it might not. 

If it doesn’t I will have to abandon social media entirely until I do catch up, which might not be such a bad thing.

You do get to like the characters, some of them, even though none of them are particularly good people.  Tyrion, of course, as he is the main humanizing point-of-view character in the series.  Ser Davos.  A few others.  I do like The Hound in a perverse sort of way – he is what he is and makes no pretense otherwise.  When Arya yells at him because he’s okay with murdering people but won’t stoop to thievery, for example, he simply shrugs.  “Man’s got to have a code,” is all he says. 

I still don’t understand why the men of the Night’s Watch, up in the frozen north, refuse to wear hats, though.  Seriously, dudes.  It’s cold up there.  But give Martin and his screenwriters credit – unlike every single movie involving Middle Earth, Westeros apparently does believe in handrails.

So we press on.  When I left them, all was its usual bloody chaos.  I’m sure the chaos will continue, even as the specifics change ever on.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

A Story in a Photograph

We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring will be
to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
    -TS Eliot

Every so often I get back to the genealogy project.  It sits there in the back of my mind, a diversion from all of the various things that I need to accomplish in the course of a day, a distraction from the ongoing rush of events here in the waning days of the American republic.  It’s nice to have a project like that, actually.  You need that kind of thing.

It started a few years back when I scanned all of the family photos – several thousand of them, from tintypes through about 1990 – and sent copies of the scans to everyone in the family.  I was hoping that this would prompt people to write back with stories and memories, or at least correct the tentative identifications that I had given to people and places, but everyone’s busy and aside from my mom nobody ever did.  Oh well.  There’s still time.

That’s where things stood for a while, and then a couple of years ago I started looking into the documentary side of things. 

The internet exists for maybe half a dozen reasons, one of which turns out to be genealogy.  You can find a shocking amount of information online, much of it for free and most of the rest for fairly nominal charges.  And if you happen to have been trained as a researcher – one of the skills that historians acquire in grad school, along with the speed reading and how to survive in a major American city on a stipend that your own department considers below the poverty line for one person – you can entertain yourself for a very long time.

Eventually things start to circle back.

This is my great-grandmother.

She’s sitting on what, having just checked Google Earth, are probably her front steps, sometime in the 1920s or 1930s.  She’s my maternal grandmother’s mom, and other than those facts and that she died about six months before I was born that was most of what I knew about her when I scanned that photo.

Now I know more.

She was born in a small village in Sicily in the mid-1880s, a few miles west of Messina.  She came from a large family, most of whom came to the US at some point or other.  What’s funny is that her brothers and sisters appear in three or four different family trees that I’ve found online but she isn’t in any of them.  I’m not sure why.

She came to America in 1907, either already married or nearly so.  I know the exact day she arrived, as well as the ship she sailed on.  She arrived with my great-grandfather, though whether he had been here before and gone back to get her or whether they came together is one of those questions that doesn’t fit any of the stories the family has always told.  We thought he met her here.  She was also accompanied by her niece.  I found a photo of the ship.  It was originally built as a cargo ship around the time my great-grandmother was born, retrofitted for passengers not long after, and spent most of the first decade of the 20th century running immigrants between Italy and New York City. 

She had a baby the year before my oldest great-aunt was born.  It was a stillborn boy.  She would go on to have five more children, of whom my grandmother was exactly in the middle.  All of them would outlive her.

She received $400 in death benefits from an Italian-American mutual aid society when her husband passed away in the late 1920s.  That was a pretty good sum of money then, though not enough to make up for the loss of income.  She lived with her children after that – the 1930 census lists her eldest daughter as the head of household, not her.  My great aunt would have been 21 at the time, and wasn't married until two years later.

According to my mom, my great-grandmother never did quite wrap her head around the idea of theater and insisted that the soap operas that she watched were real events.   She hated one particular character, and when the actress reappeared in a different role after the first character had died, well, comedy ensued.

She died of heart disease at the age of 80, which – coincidentally – is the same age at which my dad’s mother passed away.  Demographics wins every time.

She’s also the subject of what is, to my knowledge, the only real ghost story in my family, which I will leave for another time.

It’s interesting how much more that photo says now that it has a few stories to go with it.