Saturday, February 29, 2020

Poultry (Reprise)

We have chickens again.

I wasn’t sure whether we’d do that this year, since Lauren is away until nigh on the County Fair and won’t have much time to do anything with them, but habit won out and here we are.  Kim left this morning to go up to one of those Poultry Swaps that they have as a matter of course in this part of the world and came back with five new chickens – two Buff Orpingtons, one Lavender Orpington, one Golden Lace Wyandotte, and one Salmon Favorelle, and it is a sign of just how long I have lived in Wisconsin that I know exactly what each of those are without even looking.

I’m not sure we really needed more chickens – we already have more than a dozen of them out at our friend’s barn and we can’t keep up with the eggs we get every week now – but 4H is a harsh master and here we are.

They’re not chicks, exactly – it’s kind of late in the breeding season for that if you want them to be full grown for the Fair, so they’re something like “tween” chickens, not young but not full grown or even adolescent.  I expect them to be demanding trips to whatever the poultry equivalent of Claire’s is sometime soon and then won’t we have fashionable blinged out birds?

They’re sitting in a big plastic bin in our living room.  There’s about two inches of pine shavings and a feeder and a waterer in there to keep them company, and a heat lamp overhead to keep them warm since it is, technically, still winter, even though the temperatures are above zero Fahrenheit so it might as well be barbecue season, which is something we try not to discuss around the chickens as they consider it rude.  We have learned from The Great Turkey Fiasco last year and stockpiled incandescent bulbs for the heat lamp – one of which is, legitimately, designed as a heat lamp – so we should avoid the frozen bird problem that plagued us then, since LED bulbs are marvelous for the planet but not so great at keeping things toasty.  It’s also a lot warmer this year.

The advantage to doing it this way is that they will spend less time in our living room which means our house will spend less time smelling like chickens, and that is a win all around.

So far the cats have treated them with the studied indifference with which they have always treated the various poultry manifestations that have occurred in our house over the last decade.  They sniff around for the first hour or so, decide that they represent neither threat nor enticement, and then ignore them.  I suspect our cats would not actually recognize birds as food without them having been cooked first (the birds, I mean) so score one for domestication and keeping problems to a minimum.  Of course come the apocalypse when the cats are left to fend for themselves I give them maybe 48 hours before they are eaten by something higher up the food chain and more aggressive, such as a medium-sized hawk or particularly angry squirrel.  Every advance comes at a price.

We decided to skip the turkeys this year since nobody has time for that now – turkeys are amiable and friendly things but far more work than chickens.  Turkeys are livestock.  Chickens are weeds.  Lauren will still have one more year of 4H after this year’s Fair – perhaps two if she pushes it – and there may be another time for turkeys after this Fair.  We’ll worry about that then.

Farmer Dave, at your service.

Monday, February 24, 2020

A Concert on a Sunday Evening

Sometimes it all works out.

About two weeks ago a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook from an acapella group called Voces8. 

Now, I was a choir rat back in the day.  I sang in the various school choirs from fourth grade through high school and occasionally in college, though as an undergraduate I did most of my singing in a band because everyone in college should be in a band.  It’s a lot of fun and requires no talent, or at least it didn’t when I signed up.  I spent much of my time in grad school in a touring choir, performing all over western Pennsylvania and occasionally as far away as New York City.  It’s been a while since I’ve done more than sing along to the various CDs and YouTube videos that I play these days – and even that is not as often as it used to be – but there is a certain amount of muscle memory that you retain from all of that. 

I was absolutely floored by this group.  They have a lot of videos on YouTube and by this point I’ve probably listened to them all.  I’ve certainly tried, anyway.  They perform a lot of church music from the Renaissance and forward, as well as more recent stuff – both modern composers and modern popular music.  They do a version of Danny Boy that is just heartbreaking.  These people are really, REALLY talented.

They also do this:

Do you know how hard that is to do?  It’s not just the singing, though it is that too.  It’s the stopping and starting at the same time.  It’s the fact that they’re lined up in a circle facing away from each other, with no outside conductor to lead them.  None of the groups I’ve been in would have even thought to attempt that. 

They’re a British group so I had resigned myself to the fact that they were never going to be performing anywhere near southern Wisconsin but when I checked their website it turned out that they were coming to a venue not all that far from me on Sunday.

The concert was sold out, however.

So I grieved for a bit, and then called the venue last weekend to see if I could get on the waitlist.  There wasn’t anyone there when I called, but I left a message.  Can’t hurt; might help.

Monday I called back and asked the polite young person who answered what, realistically, were the odds were that I’d move up the list and get tickets.  “Well,” he said, “to be honest, not good.”  There were a lot of people in front of me.  Oh well.  It was worth a shot.

And then two days later I got a message on my answering machine saying that there were two tickets in my name if I wanted them and I should call them back to let them know.  I don’t know whether they had a rush of cancellations or just decided to squeeze in more seats, but at that point I was not about to ask.

I damn near set fire to the phone line calling them back at speed.  I spoke to a different polite young person who took my name and information and emailed me a confirmation.  “How much are the tickets?” I asked when she was done.  “Oh, they’re free.  We just need reservations.”

Well things are looking better and better, aren’t they?

The concert was everything I hoped it would be and then some.

Kim and I ended up sitting front row center, maybe ten feet from where they were on the stage, which is probably not the best place to be acoustically but was plenty for me.  They performed for about an hour, plus two encores.  It was beautiful music, from incredibly talented people.

The lovely thing about being fans of musicians who are not MegaStars is that you can actually talk to them afterward.  They hung around in the hall outside the venue after the concert and they were very gracious about speaking to this middle-aged fanboy.  They signed one of the CDs I bought (I always like to buy CDs directly from the artists if I can, since they get more of the money that way, and you can’t sign an mp3 now, can you?) and they were all kind enough to chat briefly and let me take selfies with them.

Sometimes you need a reminder that there is beauty in this old world.

If you ever get a chance to see Voces8 in concert you should go.  I’ll probably see you there.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Of Eggs and Time

I made pizzelles yesterday.

I’ve been meaning to do that for a while now, as the chickens have gone berserk.

No, no.  This makes sense.  Hear me out.

Chickens are misunderstood creatures, really.  I don’t know why people say “chicken” as a synonym for “coward” in English as those things are fearless descendants of dinosaurs who would eat you in a heartbeat if they were bigger.  Which of course makes it rather comical when they try to do that to you in their present rather abbreviated form, especially if – like us – you happen to have a small flock of mostly exotic “4H County Fair Exhibit” type birds, some of which have been known to run beak first into hanging buckets and at least one of which regularly ate his own toes. 

This is why we don’t keep the roosters very long.

When it gets cold the hens generally devote more of their energy toward keeping themselves warm and less of it toward egg production, which is fine since it’s just me and Kim at home now and while we like eggs we also like other food and we don’t really eat that many of them. 

But for the last few weeks we’ve been getting three or four dozen eggs a week from them, which means more baking than usual.

So I made pizzelles yesterday, as they are an egg-intensive cookie.  You can also set up the pizzelle iron on the coffee table and make them by the light of whatever random sporting event is being broadcast at the time, which frankly beats grading any time.

I make them with anise oil, which is the One True Traditional Way to make pizzelles.  I suppose vanilla is also canon, and living in a part of the midwest where there are few if any people of Italian descent I have also seen them at our local grocery store in chocolate, orange, maple (yes, we’re not all that far from Canada really – buon giorno, eh?) and on one memorable occasion pumpkin spice which is an affront to all that is holy.  But I prefer anise, so that’s what I make.

The house smells like steam-distilled anise for a day or two afterward.  It’s an old-fashioned scent, really.

My grandmother used to make pizzelles for the holiday season, along with a raft of other cookies and assorted sweets.  She’d store them in these big steel Charles Chips cans and bring them over to our house for holiday meals or bring them out from wherever they were hidden for those meals at my grandparents’ house.  She’d put the powdered sugar on them, too, a step I always skip.

Yesterday would have been my grandparents’ 81st wedding anniversary, a fact that occurred to me about halfway through making the pizzelles. 

Sometimes it all fits together.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Twenty Memes on the Late Coverup In the Senate

[EDIT: Apparently the source of the quote is not Werner Herzog but William Pannapacker.  The observation stands, however.]

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Long Knives Are Coming Out

And so the purges begin.

Der Sturmtrumper, his open corruption and brazen criminality dismissed by a malevolently complicit and yet somehow still spineless GOP Senate whose members have explicitly said that it didn't matter that the president violated the law, has come unglued and unleashed.  He promises revenge for this attempt to hold him accountable to the law.  He once again talks about being President For Life.  He lashes out with increasingly incoherent ferocity at everyone who spoke up in defense of the Constitution.  It’s a spectacle worthy of any debauched king, and precisely what we had a revolution to get away from.

He’s already fired several of the people who spoke truth to power while under oath, as well as a guy who happened to be related to one of those people because fuck you that’s why.  His worthless son has explicitly called for retribution against a sitting US Senator for daring to vote as the evidence commanded him to vote.

His Fascist minions are openly calling for blood.  Their word, not mine, by the way.  Blood. 

For those of you who are surprised at this, all I can say is, Seriously?  What did you expect?  Reason?  Humility?  Patriotism?  Humanity?  Whatever you were smoking I hope you brought enough for everybody.

It’s only going to get worse.  You know that.

Trump has never been shy about who he is.  He is a grifter with a track record of fraud going back over half a century.  A racist who has been repeatedly sued for it since the 1960s, which is why he was endorsed by every major neo-Nazi and white supremacist organization in America in 2016.  An entitled boor whose public behavior marks him as a singularly useless waste of space.  A thin-skinned bully who dishes out insults and persecution but melts down at the slightest sign of opposition.  A stupid person’s idea of what a smart person would look like.  A guy who made his living shaking down the people who worked for him and conning everyone else into thinking this was acceptable.  A so-called businessman who somehow managed to go bankrupt selling booze, red meat, and gambling to the American people.  An authoritarian with ambitions of dictatorship, and a sociopathic cult leader.  A carny barker of the highest order. 

Say what you will about the man, though, he knows his marks – he told us in 2015 that he could murder someone in broad daylight and not lose a single supporter and he wasn’t wrong. 

Trump supporters make the best marks, by the way.  Not only are they in on being conned, they’re proud of it. 

The Republican Party is getting ever closer to achieving its goal of destroying the American republic and replacing it with a one-party dictatorship of the damned, and if there is an election in November at all (something of which I am no longer confident) I expect it to be rigged like the ones they used to have in the Soviet Union.  There’s a reason Moscow Mitch, the Most Corrupt Man in Washington (impeachment notwithstanding), has blocked every single bill that would protect America’s election security from foreign interference, after all.  He knows very well his party can’t win a fair election and he’s not about to take that chance.

I spent nearly a decade living in the dress rehearsal for this with Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) here in Wisconsin and his minions, lackeys, cronies, and enablers in the Wisconsin legislature – a body so thoroughly gerrymandered and illegitimate that the last time we had an election the GOP got 46% of the vote and ended up with 64% of the seats.  As a historian I’ve studied the collapse of past democracies.  I’ve seen this movie.  I know how it plays out.

Buckle up, my fellow Americans.  It’s about to get ugly.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The State of the Union

My fellow Americans –

Tonight it is time to reflect on the state of the American union, and that state is not good.

We have a criminal regime in government, headed by a corrupt, authoritarian, and mentally deteriorating president, supported by a spineless Senate eager to trade morals, laws, the Constitution, and the republic itself for absolute power.  Confronted with hard evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, of corruption at the highest levels, and of an imminent threat to American security and world standing, that Senate refused to hear any evidence or allow any witnesses to testify to the truth of those charges.  Instead they conducted an openly partisan whitewash and will congratulate themselves tomorrow on their empty success when they formally end this president’s examination – it cannot be called a trial – with a unanimous and depraved vote.

We have a regime that has made child abuse a federal policy and erected concentration camps on the borders of what was at one time referred to as the land of the free.  We have a regime that throws around threats of war with the shallow disregard that cowards have for such things when they know other people will do the fighting and dying and suffering.  We have a regime that turns national parks into industrial wastelands and clean air and water into smoke and sewers.  We have a regime that refuses to admit that the world they know is burning and there is precious little time to save it.  We have a regime that understands full well its own cruelty and revels in it.

We have a population where roughly forty percent of the people think this is just fine as long as it is applied to other people.  To brown-skinned people.  To Spanish-speaking people.  To poor people.  To women.  To people who are not straight.  To people who are not evangelical Protestants.  To people who are not precisely like Them.

We have an economy explicitly set up as a shell game, one designed to take wealth out of the hands of the middle class, out of the hands of the workers, and deposit into the grasping claws of the already wealthy.  We have unsustainable levels of inequality and an entire regime dedicated to making that worse.  We have allowed corporate interests to hollow out our communities and our society in exchange for false promises of prosperity.

We once aspired.  Now we fear.

We once inspired.  Now we are pitied.

We once led the world, for better or worse.  Now the world has discovered they can get along just fine without us and indeed they have no other choice for we have abandoned our responsibilities to things greater than ourselves at every level, from the world at large down to our own communities. 

The times are grim.

But we are Americans.  We are not afraid.  These colors do not run.  We built this nation once before and we will rebuild it now.

We rebelled against a mad king and will not suffer another to take his place two and a half centuries later.

We are a nation of volunteers, of builders, of communities that come together in hard times, of dissenters, troublemakers, immigrants, and families, and we will not be destroyed by grifters, tyrants, and madmen.

The work is mighty and it may well not be completed in my lifetime.

But it begins now.

Thank you, and may this country find its soul once again.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Dance the Halftime Away

I watched the Super Bowl last night, because of course I did.  It’s a sport I’ve been slowly losing interest in for a decade or so, featuring two teams I had no real preference between, but it’s still interesting and it’s my one day a year where I eat whatever I want no matter how salty or otherwise off my approved Middle-Aged Man food list.

The commercials were fun this year.  Lots of mash-ups.  A few clever ones (my favorites being the Reese’s Take 5 one in the office and Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day reprise), a couple of heartwarming ones (I loved the one right at the beginning, with the kid running the football across the country and into the stadium), and none that made me scratch my head and ask what the hell they were thinking.

The game wasn’t bad either.

I watched the halftime show, which I don’t usually do.  Not sure why I did this year.  Perhaps it was simply too much effort to get off the chair after all that food.  Who knows.  I rather enjoyed it, though, to be honest.

This seems to have become a controversial opinion.

I have no idea why.

Well, yes I do.  People apparently don’t have enough to worry about in this crisis of oncoming Fascism we’re living through this week so of course they’re going to jump all over an entertainment event with a smaller entertainment event in the middle.

The racists are all up in arms because a national sport played a game in a largely Latinx city and had the audacity to gear the halftime show accordingly.  I can’t tell you how much fun it has been today to see the theatrical anguish of the damaged white snowflakes lamenting the fact that performers spoke Spanish in a state where people were speaking Spanish literally centuries before anyone thought to speak English.

I can always tell who has failed their history classes by who complains about people speaking other languages in this country.  Warms my heart, it does.

The right-wingers are complaining about the subtle digs at their extremism – the fact that they spoke Spanish and played Latin music at all, for one thing, and the not terribly veiled reference to kids in cages on the borders for another.  But right-wing extremists have run roughshod over everything that has made this country decent and moral for nearly a quarter of a century now and they deserve to be called out as the destructive force they are.

And the pearl-clutchers are entirely up in arms over the fact that the women at the center of this performance were confident in their bodies and not draped in choir robes from head to toe.  Could lead to dancing.  Did, in fact.

I confess it did make me feel bad for Janet Jackson and the grief she went through for her halftime performance those many years ago.  She was ahead of her time.  But anyone who can watch the regular NFL cheerleaders go through their paces without qualm and then complain about the outfits last night is clearly not someone who needs to be taken seriously.

Folks, it was entertaining.  It made its points.  Shakira, at least, looked like she was having fun (J-Lo looked like she was trying to levitate through sheer focus, which is not the same thing at all).  Both of them put in a physical performance that would have been impressive in people half their ages and which I doubt any of the players in uniform could have matched.

It kept me entertained through halftime, and honestly it’s kept me entertained all day today too.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

News and Updates

1.  And right on cue, the Senate voted to end the American republic and inaugurate a new age of absolutism.  You’d think I would be resigned to this by now – it’s not like Republicans haven’t been openly campaigning for this for years now – but really all it did was piss me off.  There will be no surrender.  There will be no accommodation.  Fuck those guys.

2. We spent that evening listening to good music in a small bar, because you take what refuge you can find.  If you enjoy folk music you should find Ellis Paul.  I discovered him in a coffeeshop in Pittsburgh called The Beehive, back in 1991 or so, and have been going to his concerts off and on ever since.  He’s actually a nice guy to talk to – last night’s venue has a space about the size of my living room (quite literally) and he was at a small table selling CDs beforehand, so we had some time to chat.  I don’t pretend to be his buddy but he was gracious and personable, and between the music and the stories Kim and I had a lovely evening.  You need that in these parlous times.

3. My other achievement yesterday was finally replacing the big plastic carpet protector in my home office so that I could roll my chair around without having to get stuck in the holes in the old one.  You’d think this would be easy – need protector, buy protector, take old one out, put new one in, right?  There’s no moving parts to the things, after all.  But for some reason they come rolled up and getting them unrolled up is an exercise in creative profanity let me tell you.

4. Lauren has switched host families and seems happy with her new surroundings.  We got to talk with her and her new hosts today and they were friendly and welcoming, and that was lovely. 

5. I’ve been going through the vast collection of humorous memes and jpgs on my computer, naming the files so I can find them again the next time I think “I have the perfect funny for that!”  It’s actually been very therapeutic, going through them all.  There’s some good stuff in there, and it’s nice to laugh now and then.

6. Classes have started and my reflexive adjunct response to any request (“Sure, I can do that!”) has once again gotten me into a semester with no free time whatsoever.  The first thing you learn as an adjunct is that they only ever remember the last thing you told them so if they offer you anything you need to say yes and figure it out later.  I guess I’ll just figure it out later.

7. The more I read about Sicily the more I understand why my ancestors left.

8. It’s warmed up a bit the last few days – a far cry from this time last year, when they were literally closing down the bars in Wisconsin because it was just that cold – and I think the chickens are enjoying it.  Now if only we could figure out what to do with all these eggs.  We like eggs.  We just like other things too.

9. Tomorrow is the Super Bowl, the biggest secular holiday in the US – a day devoted to commercials, marginally non-lethal food, and, almost as an afterthought, a sporting event.  I’ll likely watch – I enjoy the game, even if it hasn’t been my favorite sport for a while now and its long-term future is pretty much nil, and since neither my team nor the Dynasty are in it there will be considerably less stress about who wins.  If I do tomorrow right there will be Premier League in the morning, NHL in the afternoon, and NFL in the evening and my brain will be absolute mush by the end of it.  I suspect that this will not happen, but I can dream.  You need a mush day once in a while.