Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Where We Are Now

So it turns out that der Sturmtrumper is a deadbeat, which should surprise nobody.

The man has made a living out of destroying the livelihoods of better men and women, out of stiffing his contractors and gutting his investments, leaving others holding the bag while he pockets their money. He’s bragged about this and sees no reason to change. He’s been a two-bit grifter since the day he slithered onto this planet and he will remain so until he improves the general lot of humanity by ceasing to be part of it any longer. The man is a standing argument against the idea of redemption and a magnet for the worst that the species can offer.

And now we know some of the extent of just how bad his financial situation is.

He’s a tax cheat, though most of it is probably not criminally prosecutable. When you’re rich you can hire people to cheat the system legally and you can find millions of stooges who think this is somehow admirable even as the things they depend on government to provide for them get cut for lack of funds. Not all of it is above board of course – the revelations this week include some thoroughly criminal things, and you should remember that it was the IRS, not Eliot Ness, that put Al Capone in jail.

More importantly, however, there is the fact that he is nearly half a billion dollars in debt to persons unnamed, most of them foreign, and that debt is coming due.

There is a reason why American intelligence services consider him to be the single greatest threat to American national security currently in existence. There is a reason why American influence in the world has essentially evaporated under his grotesque mismanagement, why he has alienated allies, coddled dictators, and done everything he could to render the US subservient to hostile powers. He is compromised and controlled by interests that are not those of the United States.

The man is a walking liability.

And an increasingly desperate one.

The only thing keeping him out of jail right now is the blustering array of legal defenses available to a sitting president frantically keeping the law at bay through sheer corruption and authoritarianism, and he will do anything to hold onto them up to and including burning this country to the ground and pissing on the ashes. His depraved actions this year in response to pretty much every crisis that has happened are all you need to see that.

He has a willing army of subversives who see nothing wrong with this, many of whom have more firearms than brain cells and are fully prepared to destroy everything that der Sturmtrumper leaves standing as long as it makes the people they hate feel pain.

If you’ve ever wondered what you’d do in the event of a Fascist takeover of the US, well, now you know.

Hang onto your hats, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

News and Updates

1. The frantic opening two weeks of the semester that all academic advisors experience is slowly winding down now, which is a good thing since this is about the time when faculty begin their first hectic period of assignments due.  The two positions alternate their stressful periods throughout the semester, which makes it fun when you are employed in both roles.  It’s a never-ending festival!

2. I have no idea which of my neighbors have cats.  I do, however, know PRECISELY which ones of them own dogs.  I did not ask for this knowledge, but it has been forced upon me anyway.

3. I may need to take a break from the news cycle.  It isn’t doing my mental health any good, and by this point nothing I hear is going to change my mind.  Trump is a Fascist and so are his enablers.  This is the last free election we will ever have if he is declared the victor.  It will take decades to recover from this regime, if it can be done at all.  I know this already.

4. Yes, Fascist.  I know what Fascism is.  I know that this is what we are experiencing.  Honestly, it feels way too much like 1937 in Germany for my comfort level.  If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done when the Nazis took over, you have only to consult your day planner.  Try to be better than that.

5. There is not enough Great British Bake-Off on Netflix to compensate for all of this.

6. Lauren is recovering nicely from having her wisdom teeth taken out this week.  Fortunately she comes from a family with generally uncomplicated wisdom teeth and reasonably quick recovery times, though she did inherit my tendency to have anesthesia take a long time to kick in and a long time to wear off.  No, I took no videos.  Those would not be right.

7. For employment purposes I have to take two hour-long internet classes on how not to be an asshole.  I thought I had that pretty much figured out (seriously – if you’re older than 25 and haven’t figured that out what hope do you have?) but apparently I have to prove it to them.  I passed the first one a while ago and then forgot about the second one until today, so I’d better get cracking on that.  “Quiz time!  Here is a Situation!  You have three response choices: a) Be an Asshole; b) Be an Asshole in a Slightly Different Way; c) Not Be an Asshole.  Which do you choose?”  We’ll see how it goes. 

8. I wandered into Home Campus this week to pick up some files – the first time I’ve been on campus during normal business hours since March.  It’s kind of eerie.  I have no idea how long we will continue to have face-to-face classes as an option – I suspect not long – and I’m glad that I moved all of my responsibilities online.  Still, I do miss going in and seeing people as more than pixels on a screen.

9. Ancestry.com continues to refine what they think my heritage is.  At this point, if I took them at their word, I’m not even sure I’d be related to my brother anymore.

10. I’m actually getting a number of genealogical documents sent to me these days, which is a lot of fun when they arrive.  Of course, sometimes it gets weird.  My grandmother’s birth certificate lists her as male, which I’m sure would have come as a great surprise to my grandfather.  And for some reason I recently received an envelope addressed to my great-grandfather, which is a bit ironic considering that it contained his death certificate.  It’s the small absurdities that make life in 2020 a bit less grim.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Mazel Tov!

I put on a button-down shirt today for the first time since March 13.  It was for a good cause.

My nephew had his bar-mitzvah this morning.  He’s been trying to do that since not long after I put the button-downs aside for more appropriate quarantine wear.  After the original ceremony was canceled it was rescheduled for November when everyone figured that the can-do public spirit of Americans would surely have this coronavirus problem in check.  Then when that turned out to be, um, wishful thinking on every single level, the November ceremony was canceled as well.

So I have now been to my very first virtual bar-mitzvah.  While the food afterward was singularly less impressive – you haven’t fully lived until you’ve experienced a full-court-press bar-mitzvah reception, and nothing in my own kitchen is going to come up to that standard – the ceremony itself was rather nice.

We all logged in and got ourselves ready, and then the rabbi started her welcome and off we went.

I don’t understand Hebrew, being of the goyische persuasion, but most of it was translated in the booklet that you could get to online and it was generally positive the way these ceremonies tend to be.  Welcome to the tribe.  Now you’re an adult.  Let’s have a few moments to remember the larger community.  Things like that – things we all need to be reminded of now and then.

One of the things I always like about these ceremonies is that there is a certain amount of history.  My nephew wore the same prayer shawl that his cousins, mother, and aunt wore and that their grandfather wore before them.  As a historian I love that sort of thing.  That and the star of the day has to give a reading and a talk explaining it, which emphasizes the whole “now you’re an adult” thing.

Kurt Vonnegut always maintained that Western culture has largely done away with adulthood ceremonies and we’re poorer for it, so it’s nice to see one survive.

It is strange to see it all happening on Zoom, though – all those little screens in rows on a monitor.  But you take community where you find it, and this is where we can have community in this plague year.

Mazel tov, Matthew!

Monday, September 7, 2020

News and Updates

1. It’s starting to feel more like fall here, with crisper nights and earlier sunsets.  I like autumn – it feels like new beginnings and old things coming to an end, it has far more civilized weather than the summer, and it’s not quite as cold as the winter my old bones are starting to feel more than they used to and not as muddy as spring.

2. We dropped Oliver off at Small Liberal Arts College on Friday and he was just so happy to be with his friends again.  I hope that his college lasts longer than most are doing this pandemic season – if any school is going to make a run of things it would be a small residential college in a fairly out of the way town, after all.  But as someone said recently, all of the plans people have made have the science mostly right but not the psychology – students are going to gather and things will get called off.  But for the moment the center holds and we press on.

3. My classes are all remote this semester anyway – one because that’s the way it’s been taught since 2012 and I’m just ahead of the curve that way, and three sections of the other because my parents raised no fools and it doesn’t take a whole lot of psychic power to see where things are going and I wanted to beat the rush.  So far, so good.  Between the first class and my summer course, I think I’ve got this remote teaching thing pretty much down by now.  You’ll have to ask my students if they agree.

4. It’s very hard to be an American these days, what with der Sturmtrumper and his minions in full Fascist authoritarian mode, doing everything they can to destroy my country and turn it into some cheap racist fantasy of blood and soil.  The mere fact that his approval rating isn’t zero is a damning indictment of American morals and culture.  It will take generations to undo the damage he and his supporters have done to this country, if it can be undone at all.  And we start now.

5. Not that I can write much about it.  I’ve tried.  It all degenerates into rants so vitriolic that even I don’t want to read them.  You cannot support this tyrant and be a good American, and once you start getting into the specifics of that things deteriorate quickly. 

6. One thing I’m glad for is online games, which has been my big discovery over the last couple of months.  Old school games.  I found a site that lets me play Yahtzee against the computer, for example, and this has been a pleasantly mindless way to divert my attention from … all this.  It reminds me of my childhood, when we would always go down the shore for our summer vacations on a week where it rained at least a couple of days while we were there and my parents would have us play games, and one year they taught us how to play Yahtzee and it still smells like salt water to me.

7. I’ve also managed to read more this year to date than I did all of last year.  Lockdown FTW, I suppose.

8. The genealogy project proceeds apace, and it is nice that there are people in my family who share the interest with me.  I got a really fascinating document from my cousin this week, for example – one that dealt with his mother’s side of the family, which I know next to nothing about – and my mom and I have had fun poring over Ancestry.com pages together.  When the present is what it is, the past is a nice place to spend time.

9. Living in Wisconsin means you can buy soda that is simply described as “Sour.”  It’s surprisingly tasty.

10. We set up the corner of the basement as a hangout space, much to Lauren’s satisfaction.  It’s got some of those interlocking square foam pads for flooring and we replaced the old futon mattress with one that you can actually sit on.  Lauren and Oliver painted the two basement walls in the corner a nice shade of blue and there are curtain walls for the other two walls to divide the space from the rest of the basement.  We just finished hanging the old television from our bedroom from the ceiling down there – we never watched it, and Lauren has already hooked up the PS4 to it.  My role in this has been pretty minimal, which is what you want if a household project is to go well, but I’ve done a few things here and there.  Mostly it’s been Kim and Lauren.  It looks nice.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Back to School

Lauren started her senior year down at Local Businessman High today.

Classes haven’t started officially, but today is the day that they bring the freshmen in and have them get used to the place.  There’s a select group of upperclassmen who serve as guides and mentors, and Lauren and some of the Squad are part of that.  It’s a nice honor.

Even in a normal year this would have been a strange day.  She was supposed to have spent all last year abroad and would be walking into LBHS for the first time since June 2019 with that experience under her belt.  There would have been some reacclimating. 

But it’s not a normal year.  It’s a plague year.  Lauren’s stay abroad was cut short in March and everything went virtual after that.  She’s been in a couple of times, mostly to collect drums.  It’s still the first time she’s walked into LBHS since June 2019 for actual school, though.

They gave us the choice of how to start the school year, and after much discussion we let her go back in person.  She’s almost of legal age to make these decisions without our input anyway, and she really wanted to see her friends face to face.  There is a mask mandate in Wisconsin (finally) and even if there are plenty of assholes who think their minor inconvenience is enough grounds to try to infect other people with a deadly disease the fact is that she’s been working all summer and this isn’t much different.

Oliver goes back to Small Liberal Arts College on Friday, and that’s pretty much the argument he made as well.  He wants to see his friends.  He doesn’t want to go fully online until he has to.  If he stays home to do online he will likely just take a gap year and work, and really how different is that from just going to school in the first place?  So off to SLAC we go.

We know this won’t last.  The United States has not done the hard work it needed to do in order to open the schools safely, and there is an entire political party and movement that is actively dedicated to making things worse – they’re in charge of the country now, in case you haven’t noticed.  We could have stopped this last spring, if Americans had shown any discipline, any sense of community, any respect for science and reality.  Many of us did.  But in a nation this populous, having even 2% of the population as screaming psychopathic idiots means we have more idiots than there are people in Ireland and with that kind of critical mass the idiots will win. 

Down at Home Campus we’re technically open face-to-face but only about half of the classes are having any face-to-face time at all and maybe 20% are fully so with no online component whatsoever.  On social media the median over/under on going fully virtual is somewhere around the 21st – I haven’t seen anyone propose a date later than October 1.  Some people are suggesting next week.  We'll see.

It’s a strange time.

You want what’s best for your children.  You want them educated so they can succeed in a world where most jobs likely to support a family in more than a paycheck-to-paycheck way require a college degree.  You want them healthy in a world that is dedicated to making them not so.  You want them sane in a world that isn’t geared for that.

There aren’t any good choices here, so we’ll move forward and see how it goes.