Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Two Decades

Twenty years ago today I was at our local hospital.  It was Y2K – remember that?  Weren’t we supposed to see the end of the world that night?  Who knows – maybe we did and we’re living in a post-apocalyptic ruin, which would explain a lot about American politics but does seem to miss the fact that so many lovely things have happened since then.

I became a parent that night, for one.

It’s been an eventful two decades since then, full of milestones and love, crises and achievements, events and quiet moments.  There were times when I wondered how I would get through them, and times when I turned around and it felt like a year had passed in the blink of an eye. 

Today Oliver turns 20.  He’s a college student now, someone who has traveled abroad on his own and is forging a life that is all his.  He is no longer a teenager, but I am still a parent.

Happy birthday, Ollie.  I’m proud of you.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Christmas in the South, Once Again

Tires are the bane of my existence.

As banes go they’re not so bad, I suppose.  But they are something that I use pretty much every day – there is nothing within walking distance of anything in the US anymore – and it creates a constant low-level fog of paranoia every time I step into a car.  It can also make long trips more exciting than they need to be.

The low-pressure tire light came on somewhere in southern Illinois.  We were heading to Tennessee to see my family for Christmas.  Now, this light comes on a lot, which is part of the reason I think about tires as I do.  Most of the time it just means the tire is a pound or two below normal pressure, and the car was handling just fine, so we kept driving and everything seemed okay.  We stopped at a gas station in Kentucky and the driver’s side rear tire did look a bit low, so we filled it up and continued on our way.

We also ran into our friends Todd and Kerri and their kids at that station, because apparently Kentucky is just another suburb of Our Little Town in Wisconsin.  It was really nice to see them.  Hi there!

We made it to the hotel in Chattanooga, checked in, and headed off to see the family.  The next morning the tire was dead and the AAA guy came out for his now-traditional Christmas Eve visit – I was hoping he’d fix it like the last guy did back in 2017 (AAA won’t cover that, though the tow truck guys will sometimes do it for you on the side if you pay them for it) but he just put the donut on.  It worked for the holiday and there was a tire repair place about a hundred yards from the hotel that was open on the 26th, so it all ended well.  We’d run over a nail.  It’s all fixed now, and the store manager and I had a lovely chat about college football and backup hockey goaltenders.  It made sense at the time.

But we did not let this detract from our holiday!  No, no we did not.  The clan does not gather in such numbers very often anymore, so of course we were going to be there and of course we had a good time when we did.  We like spending time with each other, after all.  Everyone was there except Lauren, who remains overseas for the year, but she did call in on the WhatsApp machine and we passed her around so everyone got a chance to say hello.

It was strange not having her with us, but apparently she had a quiet and lovely time with her host family.  She will have a lot of stories to tell.

The first night we all gathered at my aunt and uncle’s house as people drifted in.  Even with our tire woes we didn’t have the most challenging trip – that definitely belonged to my brother and his crew, who ended up being split into two entirely separate flights, having their luggage reassigned to other members of the party, getting to Chattanooga at two widely separated times, and eventually gathering all of their luggage into one place – but we all made it safely.

Christmas Eve is the big holiday on my side of the family – Christmas Day is really for the younger kids and general relaxation – but we fell into a nice little pattern for both.  Kim, Oliver, and I would have breakfast at the hotel and head over to my aunt and uncle’s at some point around lunchish, and then we’d hang out and talk or play games or whatever.  There was a long Phase 10 game at one point that fulfilled my usual results (either I win or I lose, but I’m never in the middle, and this time I brought up the rear), we had a round of the paper telephone game that Oliver taught us a few years back, and Kim brought out a big puzzle that a crew of us worked on over the time we were there.  Eventually there would be a nice meal – much more casual than when I was a kid, because the whole point of the holiday is to spend time with loved ones and nobody wants to be washing dishes instead – and then we’d go back to the previous activities.  There were also gifts.  We had our usual dice game (a process that has expanded as the younger generation has grown up and become part of it) and this year we decided to add a Secret Santa on top of it.  It was a lovely time.

There was food, there was conversation, and there were even a couple of energetic small children – really, what else can you ask of a holiday?

The day after Christmas I woke up early and got the tire fixed, and then the cousins all gathered at a Local Place of Business to kill each other.  Metaphorically.  Mostly. 

I’ve never played laser tag before.

The gist of it is that you get kitted out with a vest and a light-emitting pistol (TWO HANDS ON THE GUN!!) and then they let you into a big room full of nooks and crannies and you spend the next five minutes shooting at each other. 

My nephew Josh is a stone cold killer.

Oliver and I had the highest accuracy rate overall, at least on the second round which is the one I remembered to check, but Josh just kept shooting and it’s a small enough room that this turned out to be a good strategy.  I think the younger generation pretty much monopolized the top spots on the results.  The great lesson I got out of it was that in the event of societal collapse and libertarian revenge, I’m pretty much toast.  I’ll just hole up and wait for the end and try to take out as many Mad Max wannabes as I can before I go.

Afterward we walked a few yards over to where they had bowling alleys and the geezers got their revenge.  If the post-apocalyptic wars are fought with bowling balls I might have a chance.

It was an uneventful ride back, on four fully-functional tires.  We didn’t listen to any Christmas music.  I was reminded once again that Illinois is a very, very long and dull state to drive through.  If you ever get a chance to listen to the podcast “Limetown,” it’s worthwhile.  And there is nothing quite like a Waffle House to remind you that you’re in the south.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019


Well, it’s official.  Der Sturmtrumper has become the third president in US history to be impeached, and the first one who actually deserved it.

Andrew Johnson was impeached for getting in the way of Congressional Reconstruction, though the formal charge was violating a law that Congress had no right to pass in the first place and which he didn’t technically violate.  Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about a blow job – which is hardly a high crime or misdemeanor – when his real offense was not being a right-wing fanatic like the Congressional leaders who impeached him.

Nixon should have been impeached but he had the street smarts to get out while the getting was good.

The evidence presented for Trump’s criminal conduct was overwhelming, conclusive, and damning.  It barely scratched the surface of what we already know he’s done, but it’s enough. 

The Republican Party has mounted no credible defense of his actions, perhaps because underneath the screeching partisan nonsense and the distraction tactics they know very well that there is no credible defense.  All they can do is make fools of themselves, which they are doing with energetic abandon.

I used to work in law firms – bottom of the barrel temporary paralegal stuff and hardly Perry Mason material, but enough to know what it is like to work with lawyers.  And the old saw about defense lawyers is indeed true.

When the law is against you, argue the facts.  “Yes, murder is illegal but I didn’t kill him.”

When the facts are against you, argue the law.  “Yes I killed him, but it was self-defense.”

When both are against you, pound on the table, call the other guy names, and try to change the subject.  Just as the GOP has been doing since this came up.

It's not rocket science.

We’ll see if the Senate upholds its Constitutional obligations and holds a serious trial.  The odds of that are not good.  Mitch McConnell – the single most corrupt man in Washington, Trump notwithstanding – has already declared himself eager to violate his oath and prejudge the issue, as has Lindsey Graham, both of whom should be thrown out of the Senate for that alone.

But the bottom line is that this will never go away.  Trump will always be known as the corrupt and depraved criminal who was impeached by a righteous majority in the House and in all likelihood allowed to skate by a corrupt Republican Party in the Senate.  The articles of impeachment will be studied in history classes and the cowardly embrace of corruption by the GOP will be remembered for as long as the republic stands.

Which may not be much longer if Trump has his way, but we’ll see.

I know not what the future holds, but today is a good day to be an American.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

News and Updates

1. We had a house full of chemists baking cookies today, and the jokes just write themselves don’t they?  But everyone seemed to have a good time, the house smells really nice, and to the best of my knowledge there were no beakers involved.  My contribution was mostly to stay out from underfoot, though I did make pizzelles before everyone got there even though the last chemistry class I took was in 1982 and my teacher at the time made it clear that that really ought to be my last chemistry class, for the good of all concerned.  But you can’t beat a warm batch of pizzelles on a cold day.

2. I really hate it when engineers think they know better than I do what I want to do with their product.  Every so often I get one of those “save everything you think you might want to refer back to someday because we’re shutting your computer down whether you want us to or not and You Will Be Upgraded” messages that those engineers provide as a courtesy, and I have learned that resistance is futile because they really will just shut everything down whether you want to be upgraded or not.  You have no choice in the matter.  So I said okay to the notice, and about five or ten minutes later it shut everything down – they lull you into a false sense of security that way.  Three and a half hours, two phone calls to IT departments on two different campuses, and an in-person visit from the IT guy on my own campus later, the computer almost works again.  For some reason I keep coming back to the fact that everything was fine until it was optimized.

3. I have yet to discover the holiday spirit this year.  Given that I’ve got about a week and a half to get this corrected before it becomes moot, I suppose I should get on that.  I might start Christmas shopping soon, for example.  I did fix the Christmas lights I put up last week, though, so now they all work.  Progress.

4. The impeachment of der Sturmtrumper rolls along.  The evidence is clear, overwhelming, conclusive, and damning.  There is no way any patriotic American with more than five working brain cells can defend or support this corrupt, tyrannical, and immoral president, and it is clear that he should be impeached, tried, convicted, removed from office, taken directly to a criminal court, tried again, and imprisoned.  Naturally the GOP leadership defends him and his base continues to support him, and that says all you need to know about the modern GOP and his base.

5. I am trying to clean off the paper from my various offices.  The joy of letting it pile up like that is that one is constantly making interesting if somewhat delayed discoveries.

6. We’re still taking care of Lauren’s chickens while she is abroad, and those chickens still manage to amaze me with the rock-bottom level of intelligence that they display.  Today I had to cut a block of dried chicken poop off of the foot of one of them so it could walk normally again, because that’s just my life now.  As I get older I find myself saying a great many things I never thought I would say, and so many of them involve poultry.

7. I finally made it to the barbershop for one of my periodic shearings and now I don’t look like Hungover Ben Franklin anymore, which is nice. 

8. This year several of my students seem to have taken it as a project to introduce me to Modern Culture.  I tell them that I am the parent of teenagers and therefore not unfamiliar with the idea, but this cuts no mustard with them.  So now I know some new bands (most of which I liked, much to their surprise – hey, good music is good music) and I can do a credible imitation of what one student informed me was her age and ethnic group’s signature handshake style.  I am not sure what I will do with that last bit of information, being both old and not a member of that group, but it is nice to know and I’m glad that my students feel comfortable sharing that sort of thing with me.

9. If you ever get a chance to see Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old – especially if you can see it in the theater – you should do so.  It was astonishing.  Afterward there’s a half-hour bit where he comes back and explains how it all got done.  Basically he had access to about a hundred hours of WWI footage of British soldiers, which he narrowed down to about 90 minutes for this film – front line footage, recruiting footage, training footage, rear-echelon footage, all sorts of things.  He and his crew synced it all up to 24 frames per second so the motion looked natural (quite an achievement given the wildly different frame rates those old hand-cranked movie cameras had), colorized it so it looked right (the hardest part, he said, was getting the grass to look like real grass – admittedly less of a problem in the footage from the trenches), and made it unobtrusively 3D.  Then he found lip readers to tell him what the soldiers in the film were actually saying and hired actors from those regions of the UK to speak those words.  The only other words you hear during the film itself are from interviews the BBC did with WWI vets in the 1960s and 1970s.  And when you put all that together it’s just astonishing how those men seem to come alive in ways that they just don’t with the original footage.  I was deeply impressed.

10. Looks like the Christmas cards will go out in January again.  Tradition!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Season's Prepping

We’re gearing up for Christmas and it’s December so I can’t even complain that it’s too early to do that anymore.

Yesterday Kim and I went out and got a Christmas tree.  We’ve been hemming and hawing about whether to buy a new fake one, since our old one has been deteriorating for a while now, but we decided that this was something we could wait another year for.  Maybe next year we’ll get one of those Lucy Van Pelt trees – a bright shiny aluminum mid-century-modern monstrosity with enough lights on it to land an airplane.

Or not.

How about not?

Having made the decision to get something made of actual wood, then came the question of how such a tree might be obtained.  When Oliver and Lauren were little we’d go out to the local tree farm with our saw and, in the spirit of Christian love and fellowship, kill one ourselves and drag its corpse back home on the top of our car before setting it up and watching it decay underneath all the festive decorations.  Christmas can be kind of morbid if you think about it too much.

 But this year it was just us and we’re getting a bit long in the tooth for the whole cutting things down routine, so we found ourselves one of those local lots where someone else has already done that and we picked the one that looked best.

It’s a balsam fir, which means it smells nice.  The cats are fascinated, of course, since they now have another water bowl in the house.  So far they haven’t tried to climb up to the top of the tree to see what’s there (answer: more tree), and I’d be surprised if they did.  They’re pretty low key about these things.  Also, old.

We’ll let the branches drop a bit and then perhaps decorate it later this week.  Or maybe we’ll wait until Oliver gets home from Small Liberal Arts College and we’ll all decorate together.  We’ll see what people want.

I also spent much of this morning putting up the lights on the front of the house.

We don’t put up much, really – just enough to say we’re in for the season.  One strand of blue lights along the bottom of the roof, all the way across the front.  The problem is that our bushes out front keep growing and our ladder does not, so every year it gets just that much harder to reach the roof to hang these lights.  Perhaps next year I will invest in a larger ladder.  Or smaller bushes.

In the near term, however, I will likely go back outside and flip the little dial that turns the lights on when the sun goes down.  The sun has been down and the lights are not on, and I’m hoping that the easy solution is the one that works.

I’m all about the easy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

News and Updates

1. It is now December and I will therefore acknowledge the existence of Christmas.

2. We had a lovely Thanksgiving, thank you very much.  In fact we had two.  On the actual legal holiday we went up to my brother- and sister-in-law’s house and feasted with Kim’s side of the family.  It was the usual swirl of food, family, and conversation, and it was a good reminder of why we have an entire holiday set aside to be thankful for the things we have.  We ate one of Lauren’s turkeys, expertly prepared, and generally had a grand time.  And the next day we continued the tradition of Friendsgiving that Lauren and her friends started last year (hey – we’ve done it twice on purpose: it’s a tradition).  Lauren herself is out of the country, of course, but her friends came over anyway, bearing food.  We made another turkey and we all hung out at the table for a couple of hours talking and laughing.  There were many rounds of Just Dance on the old Wii, and at one point they all ended up in Lauren’s room making music.  It is a lovely thing to enjoy the company of your child’s friends.

3. The day after that we celebrated Kim’s birthday, because it’s always good to celebrate the birthday of someone you love.  There was cake and good food, and if we’re not getting any younger at least we’re doing it well.  Happy birthday, Kim!

4. Lauren actually got her friends to get a birthday present for Kim for her.  That was really cool.

5. Program change: the part of Tabitha will now be played by Oliver.  Please make a note of it. 

6. The problem with all that lovely family time, of course, is that you have to go back to work afterward.  Now, I like my job.  I like the people I work with.  But I also like hanging around the house with nothing more pressing to do than read books, drink tea, and watch whatever hockey, soccer, or other sporting event might be floating by on the television at the moment.  So Monday was a bit of a shock, is what I’m saying here.

7. We’re in the middle of getting trained for Yet Another New Software Platform down at Home Campus, which effectively means that nothing I was using when I started my advising job in 2016 exists there anymore.  And since, as a friend once told me, technology is what doesn’t quite work (“when it works all the time, it’s an appliance”), this means that we have spent the better part of the last month working around all of the improvements in order to get things done.  We are, in fact, getting things done, but the next time some engineer wants to upgrade something that already works they can go pound sand.

8. I’m not much for watching shows these days, but sometimes Kim can get me to do that.  If you get a chance, I highly recommend Killing Eve.  Sandra Oh is wonderful and Jodie Comer deserves All The Awards and you should go see this show right now.  I’ll wait.

9. I have spent the better part of this evening with “Mambo Italiano” running through my head and I can’t tell if this is a win or not.

10. I can remember when the WKRP in Cincinnati Thanksgiving episode was only remembered by a handful of people old enough to have experienced the 1970s firsthand.  Now it’s become a touchstone meme.  And you know?  I like that.  Good things should be popular, because there is enough crap out there to drown a small planet and the good things need all the help they can get.  So let the turkeys fly, fellow babies, and have a happy … Thannnnnnnnnnnks … giving!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

In Memoriam - A Guest Post

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you know Lucy as a regular around here.  It is only fitting that he gets the first ever guest post.


We walked into the classroom on that first day of school, expecting to once again spend a year learning about the Mayflower. And the Revolutionary War. And the War of 1812. And the run up to the Civil War. Again. Every other year, it was the same thing: U.S. History this year, and in the intervening years, World History.

But this time, something was different. On each desk was a Sunday edition of The Salt Lake Tribune. The teacher introduced himself, and welcomed us to U.S. History. “We’re going to start with yesterday, and work our way back to where you left off the last time you took this course,” he explained.

We spent that hour studying the front page of yesterday’s newspaper. The next day, we covered the same stories as reported in The Deseret News, and the rest of the week learning how the same facts could be interpreted differently based on your point of view.

During the following weeks and months, we studied local, national and world news. We studied protests. And song lyrics (‘There’s somethin’ happenin’ here ...) We learned about the Viet Nam Conflict, and its complex causes. We studied the Korean War, and its causes. Then, WWII. The rise of the Nazi Party. The Great War (the War to End All Wars, WWI). Somehow, we also got to cover all the other stuff like Civil Rights, the politics of the Fifties, Prohibition, & Women’s Suffrage. And, how all of that is woven together in an all inclusive Tapestry of Human Events.

By Easter, we were studying the ‘Winning’ (theft) of the West.’ (Hint - How The West Was Won is NOT how the West was won ...) Reconstruction. And finally, for the very first time, we found out in an actual classroom, officially, who actually lost The Civil War. (And why Gone With the Wind is not very good as a Historical Drama.)

James Witucki did not just teach about History, he taught us to love History. He wore his passion about History on his sleeve. He also taught us to view History with a healthy skepticism based on the Historians’ bias (never trust a single source). He taught us how to research, and how to debate.

He was just nine years older than his students when I started in his class that autumn in 1970. He changed the manner in which we viewed History, and made a significant impact on my life personally. I Honor him, his memory, and his legacy, as does (and I am dead-assed certain about this:) anyone who had the Honor of sitting through one of his classes.



From The Class Website:


James C. Witucki

Nov 4, 1944 ~ Nov 13, 2019

"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield" Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Well, my picture is in the obits, so I must be dead. I departed this world on 11/13/19. I, James Charles Witucki I, was born to Ernest A. and Mary T. (Kopczynski) Witucki on November 4, 1944 at 6:06 A.M.( I was fond of double numbers!) in South Bend, Indiana.I attended St. Casimir's Elementary School and Washington High School in South Bend. I attended the University of Utah after I moved here in 1962; I received a B.S. in 1965 and an M.S. in 1967 in History. I married my college sweetheart, Monika F. Hood at the Fort Douglas Chapel on July 27th, 1968; 51 wonderful years. She was the joy of my life and together we raised 3 delightfully bright and charming children: Theresa (Matthew) Brown, Houston, Texas; James II (Sheri) Salt Lake City, Utah; and John Paul (Kirby), Las Vegas, Nevada.


I taught History/Sociology at South High (1966-1982) and East High (1983-2001) for 35 years. I enjoyed teaching and felt that is how I left this world a better place. I also served in the Utah State Legislature from 1983-1985 as a proud Democrat. I loved learning so I attended 13 colleges and universities including Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame and Whitman College.

I loved to travel; I visited Europe at least a dozen times. I also traveled to China, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Peru (Machu-Picchu), Ecuador (the Galapagos Islands), Cuba, Croatia, Slovenia, Canada, Mexico and 45 of the 50 States.

My greatest joys were my darling wife, my family, my friends, my flowers, my walks, the gym, and leisure and pleasures.

My services will be held at the Cathedral of the Madeleine on Monday, November 25th at noon. A visitation will precede the mass.

In lieu of flowers please give to one of the many worthwhile programs at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, St. Jude's Hospital, or the charity of your choice.

Take time and really focus on the ones you love, forgive those who hurt you, and raise a glass in celebration of Jim's life.