Thursday, April 25, 2019

News and Updates

1. I check the stats for this blog periodically.  I’d say that maybe 15% of the officially-recorded hits that Google tells me about these days are just referrer spam coming from porn sites, which is a significant total for a blog that features precisely zero NSFW photographs but so be it.  The thing I’ve noticed about these sites is that they are surprisingly … umm … specific.  Yeah, that’s the word I’m looking for.  “Specific.”   That’s … that’s a good word for it, yes.  Yesterday’s winner was a site dedicated to “lesbian feet.”  I had no idea that feet had sexual preferences, but you learn something new every day.  Rule 34 is the driving force of the internet.

2. Apparently yesterday was also “Drive Like a Hypoglycemic Baboon Day” around here.  I wish I had seen the memo before I got in the car.  I would have planned ahead.

3. So far the new turkeys seem to be thriving.  All six of them are still up and walking around, happily eating, drinking, and shitting in their own water supply.  Seriously – domestic turkeys are the stupidest things on the planet, up to and including rocks.  Amiable critters.  But not bright.  What kind of low-watt species actively pollutes their own drinking water? 

4. You know what, forget I asked that.

5. Every year I give my talk on the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria to my friend’s anthropology class – a talk that I thoroughly enjoy giving – and every year it’s the same.  I tell the students that nearly two dozen women and men were executed during the Hysteria and they just write it down.  Then I tell them that the villagers at Salem also executed two dogs (on the grounds that they were witches’ familiars) and suddenly everyone turns into John Wick.

6. You can only eat unshelled peanuts outside, really.

7. I now have a “sleep wedge” in the fond hopes that it will make me less of a nuisance to others.  It takes some getting used to.  For one thing, I end up sliding down to the bottom over the course of the night.  They don’t tell you about that in the instructions.

8. Yes, these things come with instructions.  Everything in America comes with instructions, because some fool figured out how to kill himself with a pillow and every lawyer in a three-county radius tried to cash in and that’s why you see things like “do not use if product is actively engulfed in flames” printed on the label and still someone would try to sue anyway you just know that.

9. I have had my spring shearing.  It was time.  I no longer look like the High Sparrow, which is good because religious fanatics annoy me no end.

10. Soon there will be dentistry and medical examinations and with any luck I will be declared No Less Healthy Than Last Year and I can go back to my life and continue to slowly deteriorate in peace.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A Few Words About the Obvious

You are being gaslighted.

Last week the Mueller Report was released to the public – or at least some of it was.  Nearly a third of that document was censored by partisans working directly for the guy who was the main target of the investigation, up to and including the Attorney General, a man who is supposed to be working for the American people but who might as well have a sign around his neck announcing to the world that he is a wholly-owned property of der Sturmtrumper.  Given that the missing third is likely to be the part that is most significant, there is some question as to whether the American people have been shown anything of value.

Although the parts that were shown were far more damaging to der Sturmtrumper than his Pet Attorney General or his army of sycophants would have you believe.

Der Sturmtrumper has repeatedly claimed that the report “exonerates” him.  This is an outright lie, one so completely divorced from reality that not even Pet Attorney General Barr dares to echo that claim.  Mueller is explicit on this point: the report “does not exonerate” the president.

Der Sturmtrumper has repeatedly claimed that the report does not show any collusion.  This is an outright lie, but one that the minions and the gullible are happy to repeat.  The report documents “sweeping and systematic” Russian interference with the 2016 election and details at least thirty more contacts between der Sturmtrumper’s presidential campaign and Russian agents than had previously been known – nearly 150 in all – few of which were known publicly prior to the election.  There is no explicit smoking gun, no specific legal agreement between der Sturmtrumper and the Russians, but there is a clear and convincing pattern.  As the analysts at Lawfare put it, der Sturmtrumper’s campaign was “aware the Russians sought to help them win. They welcomed that assistance. Instead of warning the American public, they instead devised a public relations and campaign strategy that sought to capitalize on Russia’s illicit assistance. In other words, the Russians and the Trump campaign shared a common goal, and each side worked to achieve that goal with basic knowledge of the other side’s intention.”

To sell out this country to its enemies in the hopes of political gain is a betrayal of the Oath of Office.  “Russia attacked our democracy,” noted Tom Nichols in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  “Trump and his cronies knew it and were glad for it. As president, Trump has steadfastly refused to accept his responsibility to do anything about this assault on our institutions. This is a dereliction of duty, and it continues even now.”

The report details der Sturmtrumper and his campaign welcoming Russian help, using Russian intelligence, and offering benefits to Russian agents during the campaign.  “Every person around the president, and the president himself, acted as though they had something to hide on Russia,” observed Paul Waldman.  Trump Jr.  Papadopoulos.  Flynn.  Cohen.  Manafort.  Stone.  Der Sturmtrumper himself.  All of them lied when asked about Russian interference – repeatedly, and documentedly. 

Most of the things censored out of the public version of the report appear to be about these facts, which raises far more questions than are answered by the simple-minded braying of der Sturmtrumper’s supporters.

Der Sturmtrumper has repeatedly claimed that the report absolves him of attempting to obstruct justice.  This is an outright lie that they’re not even trying to pretend otherwise.  The report is unequivocal. 

“Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations. The incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels. These actions ranged from efforts to remove the Special Counsel and to reverse the effect of the Attorney General’s recusal; to the attempted use of official power to limit the scope of the investigation; to direct and indirect contacts with witnesses with the potential to influence their testimony. Viewing the acts collectively can help to illuminate their significance. For example, the President’s direction to McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed was followed almost immediately by his direction to Lewandowski to tell the Attorney General to limit the scope of the Russia investigation to prospective election-interference only—a temporal connection that suggests that both acts were taken with a related purpose with respect to the investigation.”

Furthermore, “many of the President’s acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, occurred in public view. While it may be more difficult to establish that public-facing acts were motivated by a corrupt intent, the President’s power to influence actions, persons, and events is enhanced by his unique ability to attract attention through use of mass communications. And no principle of law excludes public acts from the scope of obstruction statutes. If the likely effect of the acts is to intimidate witnesses or alter their testimony, the justice system’s integrity is equally threatened.”

The report also notes that “The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons surrounding the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests. Comey did not end the investigation of Flynn, which ultimately resulted in Flynn’s prosecution and conviction for lying to the FBI. McGahn did not tell the Acting Attorney General that the Special Counsel must be removed, but was instead prepared to resign over the President’s order. Lewandowski and Dearborn did not deliver the President’s message to Sessions that he should confine the Russia investigation to future meddling only. And McGahn refused to recede from his recollections the events surrounding the President’s direction to have the Special Counsel removed, despite the President’s multiple demands that he do so.”

Der Sturmtrumper has repeatedly claimed that he is above the law and cannot be prosecuted even if he has committed crimes.  This is an outright lie.  “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” according to the report.

The Mueller Report paints a dire picture of a corrupt and criminal regime, led by a narcissistic idiot, manned by incompetents and fools, and supported by a blindly partisan base.

That blindly partisan base is now charging about like a punch drunk elephant, flailing away at anyone bold enough to call them for who they are and who dares to defend the Constitution and the rule of law in this increasingly autocratic state.  Der Sturmtrumper was right about one thing – he said he could murder someone in broad daylight and not lose a single supporter, and he was right.  His crimes are obvious, documented, and damning, and his base has no problem with this.

They tell us that the investigation is the problem.  That investigating the crimes of a president is treason.  That they rule and the rest of us need to bend over and take it.

They lie.  They lie repeatedly.  They lie even when the truth is obvious.  They lie because that's the only way they can get you to doubt the facts in front of you.

You are being gaslighted by right-wing extremists afraid that the truth will take their shriveled little ideological bubble down and them with it and who will loudly insist that you are not seeing what is so plainly there.

Do not believe them.

The world is full of gullible people who need to learn how to read.

They hold power now.

But not forever.  And perhaps not for long.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Notre Dame

I’ve been inside the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Lots of people have, really.  It’s one of the most popular tourist sites in one of the most popular tourist cities in the world. 

We were there on a roaringly hot day in August last year, the kind of day that makes you seriously consider moving to the Outer Hebrides so you never have to be that hot ever again.  Tabitha, Lauren, Fran, Roeland, and I took the Metro there on our single day in Paris last summer – a day we were lucky to have and which we made the most of, visiting a long list of iconic places just so we could see them because life is uncertain and who knows when you might return.  You can’t go all the way there on the Metro, of course – no lines run into the Ile de la Cite – so we walked the last bit of it, across the bridge and into the big courtyard in front.

It’s an astonishing place.  Eight centuries of art, of effort, of human striving toward something larger than themselves.  You don’t have to be Catholic or even particularly religious to be awed by it.

Much of it was destroyed by fire today.  An accident, according to news reports – there were much needed renovations going on, and with wood that old it doesn’t take much to spark a fire and once it goes, it goes.  Even during my limited time as a firefighter, I understood that.  “These cathedrals and houses of worship are built to burn,” said Vincent Dunn, a fire consultant and former New York City fire chief.  They’re cramped, inaccessible, made of highly flammable material (dressed in stone, granted, but it’s wood underneath and all around), often too tall for fire equipment to handle, hemmed in by other structures, and generally not designed with ease of firefighting in mind.

After the initial outpouring of shock, the reaction has begun to set in because that’s the state of the world these days.  Why are people so upset at the destruction of a building when people die in fires all the time and nobody gets upset like that, people ask.  I have seen variations of this question all over social media, and frankly I find them puzzling.

This isn’t a building.  It isn’t even a set of lives.  It’s history.  It’s aspiration.  It’s centuries of humanity working to be more than what it is.  It’s greater than the individual people who built it, or used it, or visited it.  It’s a monument to who we are as a species, or at least who we can be.

If you can’t see that then you have my sympathy.  If you won’t see that then you have my pity.

But in either case you will not have my acquiescence, because you’re asking the wrong question and nobody gets to the right answer that way.

In some sense it will never be rebuilt, not as it was.  The centuries of work overlain on top of work, the fabric of history that enveloped you when you went in – those things are gone.

Yet it will be rebuilt, as it has been many times since the first stone was laid back in the high medieval period.  There will be parts of the old fabric and parts that will be new and the sum of those parts will continue to tell a simple story of people trying to be greater than their immediate surroundings and lives, of planning for their descendants centuries down the line.  The broken bits will be highlighted and become part of the larger whole, and in that way the building will reflect the people who created it and nurtured it.

And that is what the Cathedral has always been about, after all.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

News and Updates

1. It’s technically spring in Wisconsin, which means that in less than a week we went from 74F and sunny to 28F and snowing to gale force winds strong enough to snap trees to pouring rain to sunshine and back to snow again.  It will be t-shirt weather by Tuesday, if the latest forecast is to be believed.  Wisconsin springs are not for the faint of heart or the limited of wardrobe.

2. Not surprisingly I have been not quite sick but not quite healthy for weeks now and it is getting on my nerves, especially since it gets worse at night and leaves me stuffed up enough that it’s hard to breathe through my nose, which in turn means that I become a much less welcome person at night.  I object to this state of affairs, truly I do.  As does Kim.

3. Every time I hear Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” I also hear John Facenda narrating something.  Not sure what, but something. 

4. We spent much of Saturday in Madison for the last ever UW Marching Band concert led by Mike Leckrone, who started as their band leader in 1969 and turned the band into a cultural force in Wisconsin.  It was a hell of a show led by a guy who has become a local legend.  It’s fascinating to watch a group of people who are really, really good at what they do doing what they’re really, really good at. 

5. I have paid my taxes and can feel properly contemptuous of those who employ loopholes and lawyers to shirk their moral and financial obligations to the larger community and the nation as a whole, including and especially the current squatter in the Oval Office.  And I do, believe me. 

6. I wasn’t sure I’d make it, but I got all the way through the backlog of Game of Thrones episodes in time to watch the new season.  It’s a marvelous series, though Season 7 was a bit sketchy and rushed compared with the other seasons (they do a lot of “traveling by map,” as the Muppets used to say).  It takes a tremendous amount of skill to put out a show where the heroes all have done things that make you want to beat them bloody and the villains all have qualities that make you feel for them, where there are clear moral lines and most of the characters manage to find themselves on both sides of them at once, as so often happens in life.  (“Oh that guy?  The one who pushed a kid out of a window and is screwing his sister?  He’s one of the good guys, yeah.  Why?”)  I am now completely caught up and immune from spoilers, at least until next week.  It’s been a great ride, but if Bron doesn’t end up with a castle by the end of it the whole series has been a waste.

7. Having accomplished this task, I can keep my social media accounts.  Honestly I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or not, sometimes.

8. It’s going to be a frantically busy time around here, pretty much through September I expect.  It’s been that way since last spring and in all honesty probably will continue even longer than I just said.  I can’t die.  I have too much to do.

9. Not Bad President Elementary had its 50th Anniversary party last week so we stopped by.  We got to catch up with some of our favorite teachers (Hi, Amanda!) and walk around a bit, marveling at just how they managed to shrink the hallways down so much since Lauren graduated.  Lauren got to tell everyone about her upcoming adventure next year, and we passed along greetings from Tabitha away at Small Liberal Arts College.  It was a nice event.

10. And for further adventures, Lauren departed this afternoon on the big Local Businessman High School band trip.  She’ll be gone for the week, and will no doubt be having a grand time.  We’ll be here, keeping the home fires burning, as one does.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The View From This Point

I have reached the point in my life where:

1. Much of what I eat is for medicinal reasons.

More fiber.  Less salt.  Vitamins.  Anti-oxidants.  All those things that you’re supposed to be careful about these days as the republic lurches toward authoritarianism and the short-sighted profiteering of global corporatism and right-wing lunacy fries the planet in a self-imposed climate catastrophe, because that’s what one does when there is not much else to do.  Nowhere on that list is anything about such food being tasty or enjoyable, and in my experience medicinal food rarely is.  It’s just fuel.

2. I no longer feel a need to attend social gatherings full of people I don’t know just to maintain appearances.

I’m perfectly happy with the people I know.  I like meeting new people too, but social gatherings full of strangers are pretty much the lowest percentage option for me to do that.  One on one is fine.  Otherwise, I’ve got books, I’ve got tea, and I’ve got comfortable furniture at home.  I’m good.

3. I will put books down if they’re poorly written.

I’m not in graduate school anymore.  There is no quiz at the end.  And I’m no longer willing to slog through painful prose to get to the supposedly glorious ideas underneath.  If you want me to pay attention to your words, state them well.

4. I don’t feel any particular need to stockpile skills for the future.

I am what I am.  If there is a skill I must have in order to do something that I want or need to do then I’ll go out and acquire it to the best of my ability, but “that might be useful someday” is no longer on my list of motivations.

5. My intention to accomplish a project is often both the first and last step I take on that project.

There’s a lot of projects in the world, some of them mine and many of them other people’s, and both time and motivation are short.

6. I am happy to pay others to do things I’d rather not do.

One of the many joys of employment is having the wherewithal to stimulate the economy and avoid unpleasant tasks at the same time.  This is, in some sense, a continuation of point 4 above.  I see no need to learn how to fix a roof, for example, when there are certified professionals who will take care of that for a reasonable sum.

7. I sympathize with the adults in Disney movies.

No, you can’t marry someone you just met and besides you’re only sixteen.  Go to college, get a job, make a life for yourself, figure out who you are and how you want to be treated, and then worry about that.  Also, around here we call it a “fork.”

8. I find that more and more I am using personal anecdotes in my history classes.

Been there.  Seen it.  Now fetch the old man a bourbon and settle down, kiddies, because today he’s going to tell you a story.

9. I know how many of those crises will end.

One of the side effects of working in education is that you end up on the receiving end of any number of people’s bad days.  They’re often very young and their world seems to be collapsing down around them and you sit there and think, “Yeah, I remember days like that and yet the world carried on and so, eventually, did I.”  That doesn’t mean the process is easy or fun – there are often real problems in that mix, problems that will take serious work to resolve – but it does give you a general sense of perspective that you can share.  Sometimes it helps.