Tuesday, May 11, 2021

A Spring Day in a Different World

Today is my parents’ 58th anniversary.

My dad passed away a few years back and my brother and I are scattered about the country, and to be honest other than the big round numbers it wasn’t something we paid a whole lot of attention to when we were all living together – it falls right around Mother’s Day and the end of the semester, after all. But as time and tide have marched on it has become more of something to note and remember.

My parents were married on a spring day in 1963, in a different world from the one we have now.

On a larger scale, Kennedy was president. The Baby Boom was slowly winding down. WWII was still fresh in people’s minds, as was Korea, but Vietnam hadn’t really happened yet, at least for most Americans. It was, in many ways, still the 1950s, though that would change soon enough.

On a more personal level, there were entire generations of family and friends who were still around, still in their prime. My grandparents. Their various aunts and uncles and cousins all throughout South and West Philadelphia.  Both of my grandmothers' mothers were alive then too. All of them wells of memory extending back to the beginning of the twentieth century or earlier.

And while the larger world spun on in its grand and imperturbable way, the personal one changed that day. There was a new beginning.

There were children and pets, jobs and houses, schools and vacations, and people who entered and left, and through it all there were my parents, who loved each other and us and created a home where we could grow and thrive.

They were and remain my role models in this world.

It’s a new world these days, with new historical events and new generations whose memories will extend ever further into the 21st century. But in the end, as ever, it comes down to two people who created a life and a home on a spring day in 1963.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.



Sunday, May 9, 2021

News and Updates

1. Tonight is the first evening I’ve had since early March where I wasn’t behind on my grading and frantically trying to take care of everything else that needed to be taken care of before I could even look at my grading. You never say no to anything as an adjunct because they only ever remember the last thing you told them so if you say no to anything they’ll never ask you again, but the flip side of that is that you are forever wondering how much will be too much and I think I found that line this semester. But classes are over, semester work grades are posted, and I won’t have to look at finals until Tuesday morning. It’s a strange feeling, this lack of oppressive weight. I will enjoy it while it lasts, as it won’t last long.

2. Naturally I did what any fun-loving American would do with such a break and I did my taxes. Because not going to jail counts as fun in my book. Every year I have done my taxes – starting with the year I worked part time at a 7/11 – I have had the same exact reaction to the line that says Adjusted Gross Income: “Really? I made HOW much? Where did it go?” I never really get an answer to that.

3. Having my computer crash in the middle of it and having to start over did not help, nor did the fact that TurboTax would not actually let me e-file even though I paid them for the privilege of doing so. Eventually they agreed to refund my money, but I still have to go to the post office tomorrow to mail the damned things. Of course I had to do that anyway – yeah, this whole “refund” thing is just a myth as far as I can tell, so checks will be mailed – so I suppose that’s not the worst thing either.

4. In the meantime, other non-work-related things have happened. Did you know that other non-work-related things are allowed to happen? News to me.

5. Lauren has been to her first prom, which was a bit underwhelming in the sense that it was outdoors, during the day, with no dancing involved but still: after the last fourteen months that was a gift. This was for the other high school in Our Little Town – she has friends there, and they all went as a group – and she had a good time from what she said, even with the constant gale-force winds. The next one is the one for Local Businessman High School, and there are plans afoot for that one as well.


6. There are a lot of plans afoot among the high schoolers in Our Little Town, in fact. We’re smack in the middle of the annual Nerf War these days, an event as near as I can tell involves a Machiavellian amount of scheming, a fever pitch of rules-mongering unequalled outside of a cricket match, and a wholly disproportionate number of naked teenagers running across people’s lawns (since you can’t be sniped in that condition – I don’t make the rules, people) during what has been a rather chilly May here in Wisconsin. I have to say I think I missed out when I was a teenager, as the sheer Godfather-level of planning that goes into some of these hits sounds like an awful lot of fun.

7. Being now fully vaccinated has been a lovely thing in the sense of opening up some opportunities that had been off limits for the last year or so. We spent a lovely evening with Kim’s family last weekend just eating dinner in a CDC-approved sort of way, for example – something we haven’t done since 2019. Plus Kim, Lauren and I went up to Madison the other day and just wandered around State Street, not really doing much of anything in particular except enjoying a night out and watching people pass by. You don’t realize how much you miss these things until they're gone.

8. Of course I ended up pulling my glasses off my face while adjusting my mask at one point in Madison and then stepping on them because of course I did. The lenses are fine and I’ve since managed to torque the frames back into shape more or less so at least they stay on my head now. I suppose it’s getting on time to get my prescription checked and get new glasses anyway – it’s been a while. I don’t know how long because everything prior to March 2020 feels like a hundred years ago and while my back may agree with that estimation I’m fairly sure I’m exaggerating here. Probably.

9. Every day I wake up and think to myself, “I’m so glad we have a grown-up in the White House so I don’t have to think about what new sociopathically stupid catastrophe the previous guy would have introduced overnight.” It’s been genuinely nice. Of course he and his supporters are still working on sociopathically stupid and catastrophic things – a simple glance at the news is all you need to know that – but at least they’re not working from a position of power at the moment. You take your victories where you can find them in this world.

10. I already know this will be the eye of the storm that is 2021 for me. Buckle up and hang on, son. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Friday, May 7, 2021

A Conversation With My Mom

My mom called me a while back, which is always a nice thing. We have good conversations. Mostly they’re about the usual stuff that happens to be going on in our respective worlds, but sometimes they do take a different turn.

The following has been reconstructed from memory and I make no claim that it is a verbatim transcript of what was actually said.

But this is the gist of it.


“Do you remember the people who bought our old house?”

“Well, not personally, but I remember you talking about them. They seemed like nice people from what you said.”

“They are. But guess what – they’re putting the house back up on the market! And you’ll never guess why.

“I suppose with that kind of introduction it’s not anything as mundane as a divorce, is it?”

“No, no, they’re not getting divorced.

“That’s good to hear.”

“They did a lot of work on that house after they moved in. It needed it. They put on a new roof, took out that tree in the back yard, redid your grandmother’s old bedroom into a nursery, all sorts of things. One of the things was that they completely redid the kitchen.”

“Yeah, that kitchen hadn’t been done in a long time. It definitely needed some attention.”

“The contractor says he saw the ghost of a young girl in the kitchen!”


“A ghost!”

“Wait – we lived in that house for nearly four decades and there was a ghost in our kitchen that was IGNORING US? Were we NOT GOOD ENOUGH for this ghost?”


“That’s rude!”

“It is, though maybe it’s just that the poor thing could never get our attention. We could be pretty loud.”

“We could indeed.”

“And now the people who bought the house are selling it.”

“I hope they put ‘Haunted’ on the ads. People go for that sort of thing these days.”

“I just can’t imagine how there would be a ghost in there. The house isn’t that old! We bought it from the original owners and then we sold it to the current people so there aren’t many mysteries there. We know where everyone who lived in that house went! The only person who ever died in that house was your grandmother.”

“She was hardly a young girl at the time, as I recall.”

“I’m just amazed that she didn’t see anything. She really believed in that sort of thing.”

“She would have felt pretty vindicated. I’ve never really put much credence in such things, to be honest. I tend to view ghosts in much the same way I view Miami and Dallas – people tell me they exist and for all I know they’re right, but I’ve never seen them and they make no impact on my life.”

“Maybe someday you’ll go.”

“Maybe. Remember those five years I ran that historic museum? I was there alone at all sorts of hours and never saw anything. I may be the only person who has ever set foot in the place who can say that.”

“I have no idea where a ghost would even come from in that house. If any house on that block would be haunted it would be the 150-year-old house next door.”

“Well, maybe that house is full up with ghosts and this one needed some space and decided to move out?”

“Maybe. Who knows.”

“Or maybe the ghost just followed the new people into our old house. Wouldn’t do much good to move in that case, really.”

“I just can’t believe they’re selling the house. They’re such nice people! Our old next-door neighbors really like them and want them to stay.”

“Have they considered hiring an exorcist?  Solve the problem at its root?”

“You know, I don’t know about that.”

“I mean, it can’t be that expensive, right? It’s non-union labor after all.”

“Maybe I’ll suggest that to the neighbor to pass on to them.”

“Can’t hurt; might help.”

“I’ll let you know what happens.”



They sold the house and now there are new people in it. So far no new reports of ghosts, but we’ll see how it goes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021


It’s official! Lauren will indeed be going to college in the fall, having sent in her acceptance and enrollment deposit last night. It’s all online these days so you can do that whenever you want.

This has been a long time coming, really. Preparing. Scouting. Applying. Deciding. Lauren has worked hard for this and to be honest she’s probably more prepared than I was when I was applying to colleges back in the Jurassic Period. Her grades are better than mine ever were, for one thing, and she’s got a much deeper wealth of experiences and activities to go with them.

This year has been a strange one for rising college students. The pandemic has put a halt to college visits so many of them are going in blind, and a lot of last year’s graduates chose to take the year off rather than start in the middle of a plague so the competition for admissions was intense. But she got into many of the schools she applied to and in the end it came down to a choice between three, all of them well suited for what she wanted – something large enough to give her a wide range of choices in majors, programs, and courses, and located in an urban setting so she could explore off campus easily.

Soon she will be off – we have a definite date for that now – and we will be empty nesters for real this time. We had a trial run with that when she went on her foreign exchange program and that took a long time for me to work out, but I will survive.

Because this is what you want for your child – your child who is not a child anymore, not really.

As a parent, you raise them to be strong independent adults and then they turn into strong independent adults and go off to their own lives. That’s how it should be. You remember all the times before, when they were younger, and you look forward to what they will become. And you hope that the world will welcome them with all the love and respect that they have earned.

Congratulations, Lauren. I’m proud of you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

You Be Doobie Do

So it’s 4/20, at least here in the United States where we write our dates with the month first.

I’ve never had any strong feelings about how to write dates, to be honest. There are good arguments for writing it in ascending size of units (day/month/year), the way the rest of the world does, but in the US most people say it in month/day/year format (“April 20, 2021”) so writing it that way also makes sense. It’s one of those things where either way is fine.

Unlike putting only one space after a period, which is unequivocally incorrect and inelegant. You can’t avoid it online, since computer programmers have decreed it mandatory and that’s why we don’t take style advice from programmers, and there are a great many nonsense arguments out there to defend one-spacing on a number of spurious grounds (all of which will be appended below in the comments, if experience is any guide) but I’m done with trying to convince people that they should not crowd their pages with rushed sentences and I’m not going to have that discussion again.

You do you and good luck with that, one-spacers, but don’t expect me to support your folly.

One advantage of the American style of writing dates is that you get little Easter eggs now and then. We have Pi Day, for example – 3/14. 14/3 doesn’t have the same resonance and the calendar stops at the twelfth month so there’s no 3/14 the way the rest of the world does it.

There’s no twentieth month either.

For long and complicated reasons that I can’t be bothered to look up right now but which I am sure made sense at the time for certain values of sense that include copious use of marijuana, 420 has become a symbol of the copious use of marijuana. This knowledge is one of those bits of American culture that floats around the edges of my consciousness without particularly attaching to anything meaningful, sort of like NASCAR or daytime television – I know these things exist and are important to many people but I’m not one of those people so that’s as much energy as I am willing to devote to those ideas.

I’ve never actually tried marijuana. I’ve had friends who enjoyed it and I’ve been in rooms with them while they did, but I can’t say it ever tempted me. I live in my head and I don’t like things messing with that. Honestly, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve even been drunk and probably have fingers left over. I don’t mess with my head.

Not really a party animal is what I’m saying here.

But you know, try as I might I just can’t really see how it’s a huge problem. It’s not something you want to be doing every day or while operating heavy machinery as the results will no doubt be sad, but neither is alcohol and we’re fine with that as a culture. The last time we tried to prohibit alcohol was rather a fiasco after all.

There are a lot of places where marijuana is now legal for recreational as well as medical use in the US, and the last time I looked at poll numbers 92% of Americans approved of this, including 85% of people who self-identify as conservatives so it’s not just a hippie 60’s leftover thing. I expect that it will be fully legal everywhere in the US in my lifetime and probably fairly soon, though my track record with predictions is pretty poor so take that for what it is worth. There are political reasons why this might not happen – drug convictions are felonies and in many states felons can’t ever vote again, and if you think that’s an accident or that it’s coincidental who tends to get charged with those felonies and who tends to get merely reprimanded for the same offense then you’re not paying attention to American history – but one never knows. Could happen.

It seems to me that the US would be better off legalizing most drugs, actually, and treating them as health issues rather than criminal issues. It’s worked in other countries, and it would cut down on a lot of the nonsense that surrounds them here. We could probably halve our prison population overnight, for example, and legal things can be taxed to support other legal things like schools and roads. You’d have to have some regulation, I think – age limits, for example – but we do that with alcohol and nicotine already. We know how that works.

So happy 4/20 out there, all you stoners! I’ll not be joining you, but I wish you well.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Traveling in a Pandemic

I spent a week visiting my mom earlier this month. We had a lovely time.

It is a strange thing to travel in a pandemic. I’ve gotten my vaccinations and I’m careful about wearing my mask in public so I figured I’d be okay, but even so. I really haven’t gone anywhere far from home – certainly not overnight – since Christmas 2019.

It’s a brave new world out there.

I flew out of O’Hare, which meant getting on a bus for a couple of hours since there was no real point in having Kim drive all the way down there to drop me off. Everyone got their own pair of seats (unless they came with someone) and the driver made periodic announcements about keeping masks on, though he was probably the biggest gap in that wall.

We are a year into a pandemic and people still don’t know how to wear a mask. Honestly, it’s like they’re going out of their way to be stupid or something.

O’Hare is pretty much the same chaotic mess it’s always been. I had my boarding pass and wasn’t checking any bags so I just went straight to security and they marched me through. They make you lift your mask so they can check your ID photo, but otherwise it was pretty smooth. You still have to take off your shoes and get them X-rayed for some reason – one halfwit “Shoe Bomber” decades ago and we have Permanent Security Measures, but 149 mass shootings just in 2021 as of this posting and the idea of going to the root of the problem and addressing the criminally easy access to guns in this country is greeted with anguished rage by the ammosexuals who dominate our culture here in the United States.


Don’t even get me started on the whole “3 ounce” rule that provides so much security theater these days. On the flight back to Wisconsin from Philadelphia the TSA stole my pepper spread. “That’s too big,” the guy said. “It’s not a liquid and other guy wearing your uniform – the one standing not ten feet from you at this very moment if you want to check with him – said it would be fine,” I replied. “That’s too big,” he repeated. And so my flight was spared the ravages of a sealed jar of crushed cherry pepper spread. Their sense of relief was palpable, I’m sure.

But I got through the security at O’Hare, put myself back together, and headed off to find my gate. And was immediately confronted with this:

Marijuana is now legal in Illinois, but not in many of the places where people are going, so I suppose it just makes sense to have such things. Still a bit jarring for someone who lived through the “Just Say No” 1980s, though.

I got to the airport early, which always makes me feel more at ease (I’d much rather wait where I need to be than wait in traffic on the way there), so I had time to find lunch. They don’t feed you on planes anymore, because the last thing they need in a sealed tube with recycled air is 200 maskless people spreading disease. Of course that just moves the maskless people to the airport, but the ventilation is better and you can just walk away from the food court and find a quiet gate where you can eat your lunch. Half the restaurants are closed anyway, and there are no vending machines anymore, which I admit I didn’t understand – I’m not sure what makes them more dangerous than all the people in the food court, but there it is.

Both of my flights were full, which was a bit of a surprise to me. There wasn’t an empty seat on either plane, so there I was, shoulder to shoulder with strangers for two hours each way. I had a middle seat on the way out, in fact. The flight attendants were pretty good about enforcing the mask rule (which on airplanes carries the weight of federal law) and while there were a few people wearing chin straps they dutifully pulled them up when asked.

The bizarre part came at the end of each flight.

Picture it:

We’ve just spent two hours in a packed flight where “social distancing” means six inches between you and your neighbor. We land and taxi to the gate. And then they announce that they will be dismissing us by row, front to back, so as “to maintain social distancing and avoid crowding in the aisle.”

I think that ship has already sailed.

Although I suspect that this is a policy that they’ve been hoping to implement for years and the pandemic just gave them an excuse to do it. It certainly made getting off the plane easier and less hectic. Everyone on my flights complied pretty well except for the one big guy in the back of the plane who saw us as his personal missionary audience and tried to sell us his personal religion all the way up the aisle. I wasn’t too sad to see him skate off the plane early, to be honest.

Since I flew in I had to get a ride out to my mom’s apartment. Kim set up Lyft on my phone and it seemed to work both times. Both drivers had masks, though the return trip guy had one that kept slipping. They were both okay, though. I am old enough to remember being told not to get into cars driven by strangers and to be careful about meeting people on the internet, and here I am using the internet to get into cars driven by strangers and it’s not even the strangest thing I did that day. Things change.

I am safely back in Wisconsin now. I enjoyed the time spent with my mom, and perhaps at some point travel will be more normal than it is – a moving target, given the oddities that we have freighted down travel with over the last decade or two, but still.

Thursday, April 1, 2021


I got my second dose of the Moderna vaccine today.

So far, it has to be said, I feel pretty good. The only side effect I’ve noticed is a general feeling as if I had run into a doorjamb bicep first yesterday – it’s a bit sore but nothing I’d really notice if I weren’t looking for it. I’m told that the second day is when things will either happen or they won’t, so I’m hoping my luck continues to hold.

It was a fairly pedestrian event, getting the shot. I drove down to the local vaccination center, about a 12-minute ride from my house. There was plenty of parking. I showed the guy at the table the form that I’d printed off and filled in the night before, showed them my card from the first shot, and stood in a line of people about four deep.

Five minutes later I was standing at the front of the line, and a minute or so after that the young woman in the blue scrubs pointed me at one of the stations so I went over and sat down. It was the same guy who’d given me my first shot, and we traded some talk about the prospects of the Philadelphia Eagles this season while he jabbed me with the needle. We both agree that Carson Wentz is going to be happier elsewhere, and likely the Eagles will be happier with him elsewhere too. So win all around.

The shot took about a minute, what with all the swabbing and the bandaid, and then I was directed to another room where I handed over the form and sat down for fifteen minutes, just in case something untoward happened. There being no unpleasantness, I left and drove home.

Simple. Easy. One might even go so far as to say boring.

And yet.

For all that the actual events were nothing exciting, the fact is that it did feel historic in a way. We’re a year into this pandemic in this country (why there are still people who haven’t figured out how to wear a mask, I don’t know – I potty trained toddlers faster than that) and only now are we looking at what might be the end game for it. Only now are we looking at responsibly returning to something vaguely resembling normal activities in the near future.

To get to this point required a marshalling of science and industry on a grand scale. Most vaccines take years or even decades to develop. This one, building on a significant pile of basic scientific research, took less than a year. And there’s at least three other vaccines in common use as well now.

I once developed a 20th-century world history class for a university that wanted me to teach mostly nursing students, so I ended up skewing the entire class toward health care issues. We looked at the 1918 flu. We looked at the eugenics movement. We looked at WWII as a medical issue. It was a few years ago, so the last thing we looked at was growing antibiotic resistance.

Walking into that center felt like walking into a new unit of that class.

It’s a good feeling, and those have been few and far between over the last twelve to fourteen months.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Becoming History

I’ve been putting together PowerPoint slides for my classes this year, because it’s fun to see what these people all looked like. Samuel Gompers, who founded the American Federation of Labor in the 1880s, looks like he’d be just as happy to eat you alive as talk to you, for example, while John Scopes (of the 1925 Monkey Trial in Dayton TN) was clearly chosen last for team sports in grade school.

It’s nice to be reminded that these people were human beings just like the rest of us.

As my US2 class gets closer to the present, though, I find that I can start slipping in pictures from my own family – a fact that tickles me no end. Sometimes I let my students know, and sometimes I just enjoy my own private knowledge.

I spent several summers scanning in all of the family photos a while back. For some reason both sides of my family were remarkably good about taking pictures – not a common activity in the early 20th century, let alone the 19th century that some of my dad’s family photos go back to. We have literally thousands of photos, and some of them turn out to be pretty well suited for class themes.

When we got to the 1920s, for example, my dad’s mother appeared.

You can’t discuss the 1920s without talking about the emergence of the automobile as a cultural and economic force in the US. That’s the decade when Americans truly discovered their obsession with cars, and the federal government spent millions building highways to encourage it. Public money is always the foundation of private wealth in this country, no matter what people would have you believe otherwise. If you want to know whether an industry was thriving in the 1920s you simply have to ask if it had any real connection to the automobile. Steel, rubber, gasoline, glass, concrete (for highways), construction (motels, restaurants) – all of them did well. Coal and textiles did not. Plus for many Americans a car meant a freedom from restraints that they’d never know before – from rural isolation, from parental oversight, from all kinds of limits.

That’s my grandmother there, sometime around 1922. She’s about 17 in that photo. She was never one to tolerate having limits placed on her, and you can tell that this habit started early.

Last week we covered the home front of World War II – a very good time for most Americans, unlike pretty much every other major belligerent during the war. Nobody was bombing the US. We were an ocean away from the fighting on either side of the country. The war ended the Depression and brought full employment and high-paying jobs to a nation that had known nothing but hard times for over a decade. The middle class stopped shrinking and began to grow, and for one of the few times in American history economic inequality actually declined.

This is my mother’s second birthday party, which happened early on in the war. I’m pretty sure she’s the one with the bow in her hair on the left. My grandmother is standing at the left center, with the floral apron and checked dress. My great-aunt Josephine is standing just left of her sister, my grandmother. The baby boy on someone’s lap (I believe her name was Annie) on the right side of the photo is probably my uncle. I don’t know who the other people are in the picture – some of them were probably relatives, and some of them were probably neighborhood people. It’s entirely possible that many were both.

This is clearly a celebration, and the table is piled high with food. WWII was, as noted, a good time for most Americans. Not the people actually on the front lines, of course, or those who lost loved ones. But for the rest, it was the time when the hard times ended, when people had jobs again, when there was enough to eat again.

It’s easy to forget that your own life, and the lives of your family, is part of history. That someday people will study you. That the stories you tell will become history.

But it happens to all of us, someday.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

A Donut for These Trying Times

Sometimes you just need a donut.

It’s been a long week for all sorts of reasons, and in times like these often the only solution is a tasty snack, preferably one that is round and sweet and contains far too much sugar for regular consumption but which, in these trying times, is just the right amount.

Also, chocolate. And custard. Sometimes both at once.

After dinner tonight Lauren and I headed out on a road trip – a 45-minute drive to the best donuts in southern Wisconsin, or at least that’s how they were described to us. This turned out to be true enough that we’re just going to call it confirmed. There’s another donut shop not far from there that makes the same claim and to be honest their donuts are very good as well, but their donuts are Artisanal Donuts with bright primary and secondary colors, innovative flavors, and mounds of frosting. The place we went to just makes donuts – the sorts of donuts you see every day, only better. On the whole, I’ll stick with this place.

You know you live in the midwest when driving 45 minutes each way to get donuts seems like a reasonable thing to do.

We parked in front of the donut shop in a spot that might or might not have been legal – I read the two vaguely supplementary signs bolted onto the pole next to where we parked probably five times each and even now I couldn’t tell you whether I was allowed to park there – and walked in. We were the only people in the shop other than the guy behind the counter.

We were surrounded by donuts – the sort of donuts that you know were actually baked there, by people who love donuts as ends in themselves, not brought in frozen from some factory in Ohio and reheated by people who see donuts as the means to making enough money to do something else with their lives – and we made short work of choosing. We got a dozen donuts, which is probably more than the three of us currently living at home can eat but a) we’re going to give it the old college try and b) sometimes you just have to say “the hell with it” and get the dozen. Also c) we can easily find volunteers for the ones we can’t eat. Lauren has friends who are teenaged males, after all. At that age I probably could have inhaled the entire dozen at a sitting without slowing down or gaining weight. It’s a fun age.

And then we drove home, happily discussing our donuts and other important topics of the day. Total elapsed time in the bakery: 6 minutes. Total drive time: 90 minutes. Total satisfaction: yes.

I may or may not sleep at all tonight.

Worth it.

Monday, March 22, 2021

An Academic Milestone

I’ve hit a milestone in my US2 class.

Unless I’m in the middle of a complete tear-down and rebuild for a class, which only happens every five or six run-throughs or so, most of the time this year’s lecture is just last year’s lecture with minor adjustments. I go through last year’s lecture and change things around – what worked, what didn’t, what can be left out, what needs to be shoehorned in, what needs to be moved – and every year it changes about 5-10% until the changes add up to too much for the structure to bear and I tear it all down and rebuild it.

My US2 class is on its third full iteration since I started teaching it in 1996 (plus two minor ones) and it’s overdue for a fourth – I had planned to do that two years ago now and even got a bit of a start on it before the pandemic hit but I’ve never quite had the time. I’ve even got a framework to put it all into, though it will require a fair amount of new material.

Maybe someday.

So this semester I’m going through the lectures from last spring and doing my “tweak and edit” routine – this year adding in PowerPoint images, because it’s useful and fun – and because I’m on a later semester calendar than last year I have just now gotten to the class I gave on March 13, 2020.

It starts with the rather laconic note: “Coronavirus update.”

I remember that day. It was my last full day on campus for over a year, and my last day teaching in a classroom even if my students were in four other classrooms two hundred miles away. I’d already moved to the next phase of my preparations for the pandemic – planning to teach the class from home, as Home Campus was shutting down the following week – though I still thought I’d get to teach that next week. That turned out not to be true. I had to rewrite the entire preparation plan on the fly after that, which wasn’t the worst thing in the world at the time.

“Take this seriously,” I told them, “but don’t panic.” Good advice, really. I wish the nation had taken it.

And that’s the last regular lecture I have to adjust.

There was a three-week gap after that, as the public schools shut down and the campus that is technically responsible for that course declared that no assignments or activities could be given until the early part of April. I took a survey of the students during that time to see how they wanted to handle the rest of the course – I could just fit in whatever we had time for, or I could record All Of The Material so we actually finished the course, which would mean four lectures a week instead of three for the rest of the semester but they could watch them on YouTube at their own pace. They went with Option B.

It took me a bit to realize that under that plan I was no longer limited to a 50-minute class period. I could end early if that’s where the natural break point was, and I could run long if necessary. This worked last spring, but it will make retrofitting these back into 50-minute classes a bit of a trick.

Tweak and edit.

On the one hand, it’s kind of odd to be doing all of that to a class I know I’m planning to tear down and rebuild at the first opportunity.

On the other hand, there may not be an opportunity any time soon. Teaching is one of the few professions that actually got busier here in the pandemic, and time has been short for a while now.

Maybe soon.

It’s an interesting milestone, and a sobering one.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

News and Updates

1. I may never be caught up on my grading. Fortunately the semester will end at some point and then it won’t matter, but until then I expect to be even less fun to be around than usual. Oh well. The upside to all of this is that I can procrastinate and be fully productive, as there is never any shortage of projects to work on.

2. It’s March Madness, or so I hear. Every year Kim and I would try to put together a bracket or two, which was always an exercise in creative writing since neither of us follows basketball at any level. Kim at least understands the game – to me it just looks like an indoor track meet that gets interrupted every eighteen seconds for a game of HORSE. But now they’re playing, and I suppose I should see who is winning. Go Team! Beat that Other Team! Rah!

3. Oliver came back from Small Liberal Arts College for spring break last week, which was fun. He brought Dustin with him and we had a pretty good time hanging out for a week in between grading and other assorted tasks. We had raclette one night and put on a pretty good St. Patrick’s Day spread of corned beef with all the trimmings. He got his cat fix, after half a semester at school. We even managed to catch a hockey game or two. They’re back at SLAC now, but it was good to have him home.

4. Lauren is now technically on spring break from Local Businessman High, though that loses a lot of punch after most of a year on an every-other-day cohort schedule. The school district has decided that there will in fact be a graduation ceremony – outdoors, with a restricted number of attendees, but still. And there will be some kind of prom, also outdoors. It’s good that they’re doing some of the normal things as best they can.

5. She and her friend Aleksia were voted Best Duo by their peers at LBHS, which was a nice honor to have. Besties! Maybe they’ll get into the yearbook for it, though it is late in the game to be adding things to that.

6. After a few books away, I am once again reading Claire North – one of her older books, but hypnotic in a way. You should be reading her stuff. Of course, mostly I get to read in three-page increments these days so it takes a lot longer than usual, but such is my semester. I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

7. Can we all just admit that the real problem in this country is native-born straight white Christian men with guns? Seriously, people – go look at the last two or three dozen mass murders that have taken place in the US (and is there another country in the world not actively at war where such a statement even makes sense?) and who was responsible for them and tell me I’m wrong. I dare you. Go ahead. This country has a white supremacy problem, a Nativist problem, a “women are property” problem, a “too damned many guns” problem, and a “rules don’t apply to right-wingers” problem, all of which intersect in precisely those people, and until those get solved we will continue to see innocent blood shed by losers who can’t handle people who don’t look exactly like themselves and feel entitled to subjugate those they hate. This is what brought us the Trump Insurrection in January, it’s what brought us the mass murder in Atlanta this week, and it is what will destroy this nation if it is not stamped out.

8. On the other hand, it does feel good to see all the Trump Insurrectionists being arrested and charged for at least some of the crimes against the United States that they committed. If there were any real justice in the US der Sturmtrumper would be rotting in a jail cell alongside them by now, but the GOP is far too corrupt to allow anything of the sort. Hell, they’re doing their best right now to make sure that only native-born straight white Christian men with guns can vote in the next election and doesn’t that just bring the discussion around full circle.

9. It may actually be spring here in Baja Canada.  It got up to 65F/18C last weekend, and then we got two inches (5cm) of heavy wet snow that I didn’t bother shoveling because it immediately went back up above freezing and now it’s all gone and we’re back up to where we were last weekend. So, yeah, spring in Wisconsin. The soft-serve ice cream place has been open for over a week. I’m sure there were people lined up in the snow.

10. Some days you just need to eat and drink whatever you want and deal with the consequences later.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Before and After

Before humans were predators, we were prey.

We are big, slow, soft animals utterly devoid of sharp teeth, claws, or any particular natural defenses other than a stubborn willingness to fight back against whatever tries to eat us – a willingness that separates us not at all from ducks. We’ve figured out how to become apex predators these days, of course, but for much of our evolutionary history we were on the other side of that equation.

And prey knows when it is being stalked.

A year ago today I was still at work – my last normal day in the office. I had students coming in for advising sessions. I taught my class, which ironically enough was a remote-delivery class that I had been teaching in that format since 2012. It was unusual then. Lauren was still in Europe on her foreign exchange trip. Oliver was home for spring break but looking forward to going back to Small Liberal Arts College for the rest of his semester. Kim was commuting to Madison three or four days a week for one of her many jobs.

The day just felt off somehow, like you should be looking back over your shoulder at something that might be gaining on you.

Unless you were hiding under a rock you could see the news reports piling up. The horror stories that were coming out of Italy. The exponential growth in COVID cases that the US was starting to experience. The utter despair of knowing that there would be no effective response to any of this from der Sturmtrumper or his minions, enablers, lackeys or cronies – that we as Americans were pretty much going to be left on our own.

You could see it coming. Everyone could.

“Why does today feel like the ‘before’ picture in some future textbook?” I asked on social media that day.

I should have bought a lottery ticket.

Forty-eight hours later it had all changed. We were working remotely. Shops, restaurants, and pretty much everything else were shut down. Classes were canceled, for us and for Oliver, and Madison was no longer an option. Lauren was yanked out of Europe and shipped back the US where Kim picked up her at a chaotic O’Hare Airport, which meant we were officially quarantined for two weeks – for us going into lockdown in April meant having more mobility rather than less.

It’s been a year now, and whatever version of normalcy we return to will in some ways be different from the one we left.

We have actual adults in power now, a direct result of just how badly the previous administration botched the American response to the pandemic. Like the Great Depression, the shock of the pandemic may have at least temporarily discredited the idea that the job of government is to let people starve so that the rich can get richer. Even most Trump voters approve of Biden’s relief bill, which makes its utter lack of support from the GOP rather disheartening but so it goes.

We’ve been teaching remotely for a year, and while most students and faculty are eager to get back into classrooms it has to be said that some are not, and I expect that remote classes and advising will remain a viable, if auxiliary, piece of education.

How many workers are going to go back to their offices is another question. Not all. Maybe not even most. 2020 was the year that we discovered how many of those meetings really could have been emails.

But ultimately the important things will go back to what they were. We will be able to visit people without worrying about killing them with plague. There will be meals. Celebrations. Hugs. We will be able to travel, and gather, and just do.


It’s been a long year, and that feeling that the world was about to change has never quite left. Because it has changed.

It will continue to do so.

What the ‘after’ photo in that textbook will look like is an interesting question.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Food of the Gods

We went up to Madison yesterday for some retail therapy.

I haven’t been in Madison since before the pandemic, which is pretty impressive when you think about it. You can’t really live in in southern Wisconsin without heading into Madison at least every now and then – that’s where all the funky stuff is, and the campus is pretty.

But plagues will, and so we didn’t.

Kim had to go there to run some errands. Lauren just likes to get out and about. I’m completely swamped with grading and had no business going anywhere other than my desk, but you can only do that for so long and to be honest Lauren is going to be away at college next year and the number of these opportunities is only going to dwindle as that gets closer, so to my students, there you go. I’ll get you your exams soon, I promise.

Sleep is for people who don’t have anything to grade.

Our first stop was lunch. Lauren found a likely looking sandwich shop and directions thereto, so we drove over and ordered from the little window that they’ve jury rigged because nobody in their right mind actually sits in a restaurant these days.

Yes, I know that lots of people are sitting in restaurants these days. The qualifier is important. Pay attention.

It is no longer Hard Winter in Wisconsin – the temperature has been a few degrees above freezing for, what, DAYS now and the snow is beginning to melt – but it was still a bit chilly to eat outside, so we sat in the minivan and enjoyed the sandwiches. They were good sandwiches. Life is infinitely happier for people with good sandwiches, and for a pleasant period yesterday that was us.

After stopping at a chocolate factory to pick up some donations that they were gracious enough to make to one of Kim’s many projects, we headed over to the nearby Giant Asian Market.

I love grocery stores. I love the one I go to here in Our Little Town, with its vast assortment of minute variations on every conceivable product. I love the little ethnic ones we have here – Lauren and I just visited the new Mexican grocery in town last week, in fact, and we spent a happy half hour afterward snacking on various treasures and making those wheat-based things that you fry in hot oil and they puff up to forty times their volume that seem to be so popular in Mexican groceries. When we go abroad I always make a point of stopping in the grocery stores wherever we go, because it’s fascinating to see what people eat. My grocery buddy Sara and I can ransack a Swedish grocery store in fifteen minutes flat.

So the Giant Asian Market was just the place for me.

It’s the kind of place that has aisle after aisle of things that may or may not be translated into English on the package, so you have to either read the little tags on the shelves or trust that the photos on the products are more or less accurate. We spent a happy hour or so just idly walking up and down the aisles deciding that this or that looked like it was worth trying. I’m happy to check out the snacks and the spices. Lauren enjoys those plus the healthier things. Kim was looking for a couple of specific things for a recipe.

So there I am, happily sorting through the various flavors of potato chips that you know would probably not be hot sellers at the regular grocery store here in Our Little Town, when I came across this:

Let us overlook, for the moment, that this is Seaweed Flavor. I’m sure there are people out there who like Seaweed Flavor, and good for them. They can have my share. I am hardly in a position to criticize other people’s tastes in Potato Twists.

But I will admit that the “Lonely God” part of it gave me a bit of pause.

For one thing, there is a certain ominous quality to that description that one does not usually associate with snack food. “Gods are solitary beings, like most predators,” as Sean Williams, an Australian SF/F author whose work I greatly enjoy, once observed. “Only prey socializes.” This does not strike me as a particularly cheerful thought to be putting in front of people who just want a tasty bag of seaweed treats to accompany their latest digitally streaming movie. I suppose it depends on the movie, but still.

For another, you would think that a god could conjure up company anytime they wanted. That’s one of the perqs of being a god, isn’t it? Conjuring things?

I have never been a god, though, so I could be wrong about that.

I did not buy the Lonely God Seaweed Flavor Potato Crisps, in the end. Someone else will have to do that. But we came away with a large pile of fascinating foods to try, and we are already working our way through them. The Sesame Slices were quite tasty, in fact.

Then we went to Costco and pillaged the place.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

One Last Conference for the Road

We had our last ever parent-teacher conference today.

They don’t do those sorts of things in college. Once you get to college you’re expected to handle that sort of thing on your own. There are even laws about that. As a professor, I am legally barred from discussing anything about my students with their parents unless those students have signed paperwork expressly allowing me to do so. This is something that not every parent gets, to be honest.

But before that, there are conferences.

We’ve gone to them all. Of course we have.

At Not Bad President Elementary there was only one teacher you had to locate and you selected a time and showed up to the room for a nice conversation. At Mighty Clever Guy Middle School they put all of the teachers in the cafeteria at tables and gave you a time slot to visit the one teacher who probably knew the least about your child – their homeroom teacher – but you could sort of mill about and catch up with all of the others, which was always worthwhile.

At Local Businessman High School they also put all of the teachers in the cafeteria (and thereabouts – there are a lot of teachers), but they don’t give you a time slot. You just show up and hang around until you collect the whole set. We’d walk around with a list, checking them off one by one until we’d covered everyone.

Not everyone goes to these things, which always mystified me a bit. I know that not everyone can get to them, what with work or other commitments, but some of the people who can go choose not to. How can you not want to check in and make sure things are going well? How can you at least not want to check in to see if the stories your child tells you are correct? Oliver used to complain about how one of his teachers kept putting him to sleep and we didn’t believe him until we met the man – a guy who clearly cared about his students and might well have been a good teacher but whose manner was so soporific that we nearly didn’t make it out of the conference awake. Oliver transferred to a different and more lively teacher after that and did well.

These days they’re all online and you have to schedule them through one of those sign-up services, and you log in and chat for a bit before you do the whole “wave at the screen” thing that nobody ever did before the pandemic forced us all to become Zoombies and then you log into the next one.

Lauren is graduating in June, and that will mark the end of our time in Our Little Town’s school district. So of course we signed up for conferences. We saw them all, there on the little screen.

They all had lovely things to say about Lauren, of course. She’s smart, mature, focused and compassionate, and she’s grown up around teachers so she knows how to handle herself in a classroom.

I’m proud of her.

And now we’re done. There will be no more parent-teacher conferences for us.

The milestones creep up on you as you get older. They come thick and fast when you’re young and then there’s a long period where they don’t happen much at all, and then they do again.

If you’re lucky, you notice them while they’re happening.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

News and Updates

1. This year I have been trying to put up PowerPoint slides for my classes, on the theory that they’re more interesting than staring at me on a screen for an hour or so. It seems to be popular. In the fall I mostly focused on the historical side of things, but I have to confess that as the spring wears on and the pandemic stretches out beyond all measure, I find myself inserting more and more memes, just to keep things entertaining. We just covered the Boston Tea Party, for example, and I couldn’t resist tossing this one in:

It seemed to go over well.

2. Something has gotten into Midgie and now she is convinced that Kim is some kind of cat-destroying demon and runs away every time she’s realizes that they’re in the same room together. There is no basis for this, but that does not mean much to a cat who is best described as “sweetly dim” even when compared to the average cat, which is not a high bar. Eventually it will fade. Either she’ll get over it, or she’ll decide that Kim is an entirely new person who can be approached for food. You take your wins where you can get them with cats.

3. I should be grading exams. I do not want to be grading exams. Exams remain ungraded. This is a problem. There will be grading of exams in the very near future, whether I want this or not.

4. If you were ever under the hallucinatory delusion that supporters of der Sturmtrumper are legitimate Christians, this year’s CPAC should correct that.

“And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
(Exodus, 32:7-8)

Golden calf, golden ass – it’s all the same in the end.

5. Best comment I saw on that little debacle: “Have a Baal at CPAC!”

6. I’m still not convinced that upgrading to macOS11 was a good idea. Every so often it … just … slows … to … a … halt. And then I have to restart it, which can take up to a month in subjective time, and then I have to fix all the things that didn’t quite survive the rebooting process, such as the desktop background which has to be replaced because a) my classes are all remote so every time I switch over to the PowerPoint slides they get to see my desktop and b) the default macOS11 desktop is PAINFULLY BRIGHT which is both annoying and unprofessional. This does not strike me as progress.

7. More and more people I know are getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, which is a lovely thing. So far I am not among that number since everything I do has been moved to remote this academic year and they’re prioritizing the folks on campus who need to have direct contact with students. I am looking forward to it, though. And for me to say that I am looking forward to a shot, well, that’s quite a thing.

8. Lauren and her friends have discovered bowling, which as the former captain of my high school bowling team pleases me no end. They gather at one of the local bowling alleys, rent a couple of lanes for the evening, and generally have a good time. It’s something you can do while masked, and it’s fun. They’ve decided to dress up for these occasions, too. One time it was “Businessperson Night” where they all got dressed up in officewear – jackets and ties for the men, dresses or similar for the women. The most recent occasion was “80s Action Hero Night” which made me feel very old indeed. Not because they were dressed as characters from shows that aired during my prime years, most of which I didn’t watch too often anyway, but because Lauren came down to my office a couple of days beforehand and asked me “Who is Magnum Pi?” “You mean Magnum P.I.?” “Probably.” We have reached the point where people are no longer familiar with 80s private investigator shows, and that may be for the best. But there she was, Hawaiian shirt and baseball cap and all. They had a very good time, from what she said.

9. I do still chuckle about trying to find the circumference of Tom Selleck every now and then, though.

10. I have now made it through season two of The Mandalorian. I don’t watch much television these days, so this is something of an accomplishment. It’s a pretty good show, really. I know the critter has an actual name, but I still think of it as Baby Yoda. Part of me wonders if the writers whomped up a name just to stop people from calling it that. It wouldn’t be the strangest thing that has happened on television, not by a long shot.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Spring Has Been Declared

It is springtime in Wisconsin.

Oh, the calendar still says February and the snow on my lawn is up to my knees – higher in the mounds that surround the driveway apron and make backing into the street such an exciting experience – which means I have not yet bothered to turn off, let alone take down, my Christmas lights since the controller for those is buried in a pile of snow somewhere near the corner of the house and I do not particularly care to go slogging through knee-deep snow to take care of a problem that is troubling me not at all, and yes indeed it is entirely likely that this will end with a blizzard and subzero-Fahrenheit temperatures at some point in the next couple of weeks, but for the moment I have declared it to be spring.


For one thing, we have been above freezing for days now, and the snow that is up to my knees was once up to the bottom of my pants pockets, so the idea that at some point there will just be lawn on my lawn is now conceivable.

For another we are in the depths of the semester and I am completely swamped and overwhelmed and trying to figure out how I am going to survive until the middle of May and that’s just how semesters go, I find, especially in the middle of a pandemic where suddenly everything has to be redesigned on the fly to fit different course delivery methods – a process that once upon a time would have involved some release time during the semester or summer and perhaps even a small stipend but which now comes standard at your normal salary if you are lucky enough to have a salary at all in this economy.

Also, we now have chickens. I wasn’t sure if Lauren was going to want to do that again, since this is her last year in 4H and nobody is sure if we will even have a Fair this summer. We didn’t have one last year, after all. But this morning she and Kim headed out to the Great Poultry Swap Meet a few towns north of us and wove their way around the halfwits wearing their masks as chinstraps in order to make purchases from the people who were smart enough to figure out how to wear a mask and thus can probably be trusted to be smart enough to raise quality poultry for us to purchase and came home with ten new chickens of varying sizes and colors. After some frenzied rearranging of stuff they are now comfortably ensconced in the basement in two Rubbermaid bins just across from the rabbits’ winter quarters, where they will stay until it is Actually Spring or the roosters start crowing, whichever comes first, after which they will be taken to our friend’s barn to begin the long, slow process of acclimating them to the chickens that are already there. Eventually they will form one giant Superchicken and will drink Super Sauce with Fred the Lion.

You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.

Plus the usual aches and pains that occur when one is no longer young and the weather starts to turn are coming back. A few years ago I bent the last joint of one of my fingers sideways by catching it between a trashcan and a 50lb bag of chicken feed – a process I do not recommend at all – and it likes to remind me of this fact whenever the weather changes. Pretty soon I will be one of those old codgers who sits by the potbellied stove and forecasts the weather based on the status of their joints though where one finds a potbellied stove these days is a bit of a question.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

News and Updates

1. I have been trying to write a response to the Senate Republicans’ predictable whitewashing of Donald Trump’s Fascist coup attempt of January 6 last weekend, but every time I sit down to write anything I find myself so enraged by the sheer treasonous gall of it that nothing of any use comes out, so perhaps I will just forego that post.

2. I will say that I am not surprised by the fact that the Republican Party has now overwhelmingly declared itself in favor of sedition, insurrection, and treason. It’s been a long time coming with that party, and that verdict is what happens when an open Fascist faces a jury of his accomplices who have made it perfectly clear that they are more than happy to collude with his defense lawyers in order to avoid facing the actual facts of the situation. It is long past time for all Americans to treat the Republican Party as the existential threat to the survival of the American republic that it is.

3. Also a warning: An insurrection that is not punished is called a dress rehearsal. The next time right-wing extremists stage a coordinated assault against the United States of America with the active support of the Republican Party, we may not be so lucky.

4. You may take the rest as read. I will move on, however, at least in this space and at least for the moment.

5. I started off thinking “Oh, those silly Texans confused by a bit of winter” and then I looked at the actual conditions there and thought, “Damn, those poor bastards are really in trouble, aren’t they?” I mean, those were some legit cold temperatures – cold even by northern standards – in a place that isn’t built to handle that sort of thing, and you have to be concerned for them. The houses aren’t built for it, the roads aren’t built for it, their wardrobes aren’t built for it, and, as we’ve discovered, the power grid isn’t built for it. Of course, that last was a deliberate decision to isolate the Texas power grid from the national grid in order to avoid federal regulation and maximize short-term profits, so I hope the proper people are going to face consequences when all this is over. It’s not an accident that the same governor who told Texans to let grandma die during a pandemic in order to keep the stock market from declining is now claiming that this is all due to a Green Energy plan that hasn’t actually been implemented yet and proclaiming how sure he is that his constituents would rather freeze to death than submit to commonsense regulations. Delusion knows no limits with such people.

6. Did you notice that our Actual President has already declared the area a federal disaster and made them eligible for the appropriate benefits even though they didn’t vote for him and without demanding they kiss his ass? Isn’t it nice to have an actual adult in the Oval Office these days?

7. Meanwhile closer to home, it has been ditch-digger weather here for a couple of weeks, though we’re not going below zero Fahrenheit tonight for the first time in a while and by the weekend we may even approach the freezing point, whereupon Wisconsites will have picnics because people here are used to this sort of thing. We have warm coats, insulated homes, and a power grid that can handle the cold, and we’re grateful for it

8. When I was in college I did a lot of theatrical lighting on a campus that had no formal theater department but as many as a dozen student groups putting on productions, depending on the year, and every semester was a quest to find out how many shows I could work on before it was too many and the stress and workload would drive me around the bend. The answer was six, by the way. I may be having that sort of semester this spring as well only without the theater, as I have my advising job plus four classes (3 preps on 3 different campuses) with 140 students. It’s busy. But hey. Kids in college, and all that. We press on.

9. About six months ago I ran across a file of recipes from Kim’s days in Pittsburgh and thought to myself, “Huh, that’s an odd place for that” before putting it back. Naturally Kim needs that file now and I have no recollection whatever where it might be. I’ve looked all through the house for the last four weeks to no avail. It is a deeply aggravating thing.

10. On a cold winter’s night there is nothing better than a Leon Redbone playlist and a warm beverage.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Demands of Justice

On January 6, 2021, for the first time in American history, a sitting president of the United States committed sedition by publicly inciting his most rabid followers to invade the US Capitol Building, where Congress was performing its Constitutionally mandated duty of certifying the electoral votes. His goal was to have them halt that process and overturn the free and fair election that he lost in a landslide, in the vague hope that this would somehow keep him in power. This is an act that meets every legal definition of a coup.

The insurrectionist mob followed his direction precisely, though in the end they did not succeed in their larger goal.

They did, however, break into the Capitol, murder a police officer, and at least temporarily bring the peaceful transition of power to a halt for the first time in American history.

Every single person who invaded the Capitol that day is guilty of felony murder, insurrection, and treason. There are very clearly defined penalties in American law for each of these offenses, and justice demands that every single person who invaded the Capitol that day be subjected to them, without exception, without amelioration, and without delay.

But justice cannot stop there.

This treasonous mob took its direction from the top, and Donald Trump must face the consequences of his open rebellion against the United States of America.

The House of Representatives started the process, voting to impeach him for an unprecedented second time in the most bipartisan impeachment vote ever conducted in American history. The fact that ANY Republicans voted against this impeachment when mere days earlier they were hiding in their offices while frenzied hordes of insurrectionists were baying for their blood is a true testament to cowardice and the blindness of ideological fanaticism. They will be remembered in the same space as Phillipe Pétain, Vidkun Quisling, and the rest of the shameful list of those who collaborated with Fascism. They will be reviled by American patriots, their memories will be a burden to their descendants, and their lives will serve a warning to others about the dangers of cults masquerading as political parties.

Today the United States Senate takes up the impeachment and begins the trial of Donald Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors against the United States.

This trial is necessary and appropriate, and if there is any justice left in this country it will result in a swift conviction, after which Trump can be turned over to the judicial system for criminal prosecution.

There are very clearly defined penalties in American law for sedition, after all.

As every responsible Constitutional scholar across the political spectrum has pointed out, the Founding Fathers did not conceive of impeachment as a process that ended when the impeached left office, voluntarily or otherwise. So long as the impeachment was properly done, as this was – Trump was impeached while in office, by the appointed Constitutional body, under proper procedures – the Senate has the power to try him. There is no get out of jail free card for people who leave office after committing high crimes.

The fact that nearly all of the Republican delegation to the Senate – a delegation that represents more than forty-one million fewer Americans than the Democratic delegation despite being equal in number with them, it must be pointed out – thinks that mere resignation or expiry of term is a legitimate excuse to avoid prosecution for sedition is a damning indictment of their morality, their patriotism, and their intelligence. It also speaks volumes about their collective cowardice in refusing to face squarely the grave charges levied against their party leader, preferring instead to hide behind transparently ridiculous evasions in the fond hopes that Americans will be too stupid or partisan to notice.

Those Senators too will be remembered with Pétain and Quisling, for exactly the same reason.

The evidence is overwhelming and publicly available. Death penalty cases have produced convictions with far less compelling evidence, and every day more damning information comes to light.

The only question now is whether the Republican Party has enough people in it who respect the law, honor the Constitution, and understand the perils of allowing a coup attempt to go unpunished. Given that party’s steady march toward overt Fascism in the last few years and its slavish devotion to the cult of Donald Trump, I am not holding my breath.

“A republic, if you can keep it,” said Benjamin Franklin when the Constitution was written.

This month we’ll get to see whether we can.

Justice demands that Donald Trump be tried in the Senate for his crimes. Justice demands that he be convicted and barred from ever seeking office again. Justice demands that he then be turned over to the criminal courts for trial and sentencing for his attempted coup against the United States of America.

There is nothing inevitable about justice. Nothing good happens on its own. We either deliver justice where it is needed or we suffer the consequences as a nation and a people. A coup attempt that goes unpunished is just a dress rehearsal, after all.

Justice has made its demands.

Let it be done.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

A Winter's Breeze

I guess I picked a good time to finish caulking the Door to Nowhere at the top of the stairs.

We have a door at the end of the upstairs hallway, right where the stairs coming up meet the bathroom. It opens directly onto, well, nothing. The first step’s a doozy.

I’m not entirely sure why it’s there. The house was built somewhere else not long after WWII and moved here in the early 90s, so it is entirely possible that there was a balcony or an outside staircase on the other side of that door at one point, but I have no idea where it would go. Any structure that this door would open onto would give you an unobstructed view into the windows of both bathrooms in the house and likely block the actual back door as well. Neither of these strikes me as appealing.

We treat it as a combination of picture window (the door is mostly glass) and portal for large objects – there is no way, for example, to get a box spring up the inside stairs, so the last time we bought one we moosed it up a ladder and into the hallway through the Door to Nowhere, a process that would have won every award ever offered on America’s Funniest Home Videos had it been filmed. But mostly the door stays shut and sealed

I’m not sure why we took out the caulk this summer – I think there was a project that got abandoned prior to any other step being taken – but there must have been a reason. It never got put back. When the weather is temperate this isn’t a problem, but the back end of the thermometer is about to fall off this week so having a stiff breeze through the hallway seemed counterproductive.

There was caulking. And a fair amount of washing up afterward. But the door is snug now.

And indeed we have reached “ditch-digger weather” now, a phrase that makes sense only to me as an inside joke based on something my dad used to say forty years ago but I like it so I’m keeping it alive, much to the mystification of pretty much everyone else. Let’s just say that it’s cold. We’ve had a snowy but not terribly frigid winter up until now, but eventually in Wisconsin you’re going to get a stretch where the lows go below zero Fahrenheit (-17C) and the highs don’t get much above that, if at all. And now we’re in that stretch. We’re expecting lows this week around -15F (-27C) with wind chills considerably colder than that, and all in all it is a good thing to have a newly sealed Door to Nowhere.

I find myself talking about the weather more than I used to these days. I attribute this to the fact that I am getting old and weather is just one of the things you’re supposed to discuss as you get older.

That and ailments. When my great-aunts got to that part of every conversation my grandfather would refer to it as “the organ recital,” a phrase which appeals to me still. I haven’t reached the ailment stage yet – I think you have to be officially retired for that – but I’m well into the weather portion of my conversational life cycle.

I like winters. I like cold days and grey skies and snow on the ground. I like the feeling you get when the elements are stacked against leaving the house and you don’t have to make excuses for staying home the way you do when it’s 75F and sunny and people expect you to be out frolicking or whatever it is the extroverts do in the warm sunshine. I have my books and my tea and there is no breeze in my upstairs hallway, and that’s good enough.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

News and Updates

1. The semester is well underway here, at least for the most part – I have multiple semesters this semester and they all start at different times, but beginning February 1 they will all be in motion. I’ve got four classes with a total of 140 students on top of my regular job as an academic advisor and it’s just going to be a busy time.

2. I took the opportunity tonight to watch hockey, since I likely won’t get much of a chance to do that for a while. The Flyers won in overtime – apparently for the second night in a row, in this condensed schedule of a year – so that was a nice way to spend some time.

3. I also taught Lauren how to make gravy (spaghetti sauce to you non-Italians) today and we had a lovely dinner. It’s nice to pass down these family traditions, and it makes the house smell good.

4. It snowed again here in Our Little Town this weekend. It’s been a snowy though not particularly cold winter here in Baja Canada – we’ve had snowfall worth shoveling (the over/under on snow in Wisconsin is 2.75” or about 7cm; less than that and we just ignore it) pretty much twice a week all year now and the mounds at the end of my driveway are tall enough to make backing out into the street a treacherous proposition, but we haven’t gone below zero Fahrenheit (-17C) all year, which is unusual. I gather that this will change by the end of the week, though.

5. I’m actually good with all the snow and cold. I like winter. I like the cold. I like the grey skies.  I like the long nights.  I’d much rather have two winters than a hot summer, and if there is any silver lining at all to the lockdowns and quarantines it is that I don’t have to venture out if I don’t want to. I’ve got my tea and my books and my broadband internet and I’m good.

6. It turns out that my new email program can only send emails from one account rather than both of the ones I use, so there will be further adventures in technology soon. I have resolved the Webex issue, and the Mother Ship Campus IT folks figured out how to restore my access to the VPN, which is nice. I keep going back to the fact that, with the exception of Webex, all of this worked just fine before I upgraded. Oh well.

7. It has taken every ounce of restraint I have not to respond with unmitigated rage and vitriol to some of the plaintive cries of disillusioned right-wingers now that Constitutional order and responsible government has been restored in the United States. Sorry, folks. You spent four years shitting on everything worthwhile about this country and calling the rest of us names when we pointed this out, then staged a coup when the majority once again rejected you, because you just aren't mature enough to handle the idea that you lost a free and fair election by a landslide – you don’t get to complain about anything for any reason ever again.  Shut up, step aside, and let the grownups try to fix all the things you’ve fucked up if we can.

8. Sometimes I am grateful to past me for being a little more forward thinking than I suspect I might be at times. It hit me this afternoon that the real estate taxes were due today. This is not something I generally had to worry about for the last quarter century, except that we paid off the house last year and now the escrow company won’t handle that for us anymore. So there was this moment of panic as I tried to figure out how to get them paid without having the county sell the place out from under us, until I looked at my checkbook and realized that I’d paid them at the beginning of the month. Nice going, past me.

9. The soundtrack for the last few days has been Leon Redbone. This has been a public service announcement.

10. Lauren has been accepted into one college already, so we know she’s going somewhere next year. We’re still waiting to hear back from most of them, however, so we’ll see how it goes. It’s a strange time to be applying to colleges and I hope she can have something like a normal year next year. I hope we all can. I’m glad she’s in, though. Congratulations, Lauren! I’m proud of you.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Adventures in Technology

It’s been an interesting week in technology here in Our Little Town, in the liberal arts sense of the term, the way three-headed frogs are … interesting.

Last week I was on the phone with our Internet Company trying to get a different question answered when, for some reason, the person on the other end of the line suggested I do a speed test on our service. “Huh,” he said. “You are paying for a lot more than that. We need to get a tech there to take a look at this.”

Say what you will about their billing department, but the tech support has always been top notch.

They also said they’d send a new modem, which never quite happened and eventually Kim had to go to the Internet Company’s office here in Our Little Town and pick one up directly. It turned out they had no record of this but cheerfully admitted that this did not mean that Kim was wrong and they gave her a new modem anyway, which it turned out did not actually solve the problem.

So last Friday an amiable tech fellow showed up at my door, took a thorough look at everything coming into the house and out of the splitters, replaced the modem again, and said that as far as the Internet Company was concerned everything was fine. He even had me download a speed test app for my phone which showed me getting exactly what I should be getting.

“The problem is somewhere between the router and your computers,” he said. “I think your router’s probably fine, but if you want to check without spending the money for a new one you can rent one from us for a month for $5, and if it solves things you can either keep it and keep paying rent or return it and buy your own. And if it doesn’t solve things you can return it and it’s probably the fact that your computers are So Old.”

Sometimes you can hear the capital letters.

Not that he was wrong, mind you.

So Kim took the old modem back to the Internet Company and the next day she went back and got a new router and we plugged that in and it solved things for Kim but not for me. So the problem was kind of both problems, and if we get a new router for ourselves we can return the Internet Company router and why does this begin to sound like an electronic version of three-card monte? Guess where the connection speed is! This machine? That one? Oooh, sorry, mate – maybe next time?

I do get enough speed to do what I need to do, though, so that’s good, even if my computer is objectively old. So am I, after all.

Which brings us to our second tech crisis, which is that for some time now I have been unable to update my Office software. Microsoft forces you to do that periodically, because if you don’t then you can’t actually use the programs to do anything. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy getting messages saying that I don’t have permission to access files I actually created. But for the last month or so I’ve been getting other messages saying that I can’t update these programs because my OS is too old.

It was, admittedly, three generations back from the current Mac iteration.

I did a little research on macOS11, which is the one that Apple is flogging now. It’s new! It’s wow! It’s shiny! It has no back compatibility with things that are 32-bit! Your bits must be 64 in number! 64 is the number of the bits, and the number of the bits shall be 64! 65 is right out!

I have a lot of older programs, much to nobody’s surprise. I’ve known for years that I need to upgrade my email program, for example, because it hasn’t been supported since 2013 or so, but it took until last week for me to figure out how to transfer all of the thousands of messages over to a different program that would be updated from time to time now. Format changes and all that. But I got it done! It works!

Kind of.

I can read my old emails and receive emails in one program, but I can’t figure out how to send them from there. So I have a different, also updating program, that sends them.

With this I have kicked the can of this problem down the road and can worry about it some other time, probably in 2026.

Also, half the meetings I go to these days are on Webex, which does not function with my old OS anymore. The crashing every 8 minutes or so thing kind of tipped me off about that, and it turns out that this was a known issue.

Why if something is known is it not fixed? I don’t know. Ask the IT guys.

I didn’t really want to upgrade to macOS11, since it is new and therefore not terribly well tested. But it turns out that when you go to Apple’s web page and click on the links to take you to either of the two OS versions between mine and 11 you get taken to either iTunes (if you click on it in Firefox) or the App Store (if you click on it in Safari) and in neither of those places are you actually allowed to download those OS programs that Apple insists are there.

So OS11 it was.

I bit the bullet and downloaded it on Friday. I probably should have done this two weeks ago, prior to the semester starting, but so it goes.

It downloaded and tried to install and kept getting hung up and I went to bed convinced that I had bricked my computer at the start of the semester and trying to figure out how to work around that. This is not a good place to be. Fortunately the next morning the computer had figured things out and was happily booting up just fine.

I’ve been using OS11 since Saturday, and so far it’s been okay. Not many changes that I can tell, which is a recommendation coming from me. The alert sounds are different and I’m sure there are all sorts of features that I am pointedly ignoring, but otherwise it looks and acts mostly like my old computer, which is really what I wanted.

Except that every video chat software program I own (and I have to use three different ones for my various jobs) forgot how to access my mic and camera and screen and required a restart to fix that, including once in the middle of a class I was teaching.

And the program that the Mother Ship Campus uses to allow us to get access to work files from home is incompatible with OS11 – another “known issue” that somehow hasn’t been fixed. So that has been entertaining.

All I want is for it to do what I want. I don’t need it to do everything. Just certain things.

Every time I upgrade, it is a constant struggle to get back to where I was.

We’ll see.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Four Days

It’s been four days since Joe Biden was inaugurated.

Four days without a Constitutional crisis. Four days without the fear of whatever damned fool authoritarian cruelty the previous president would no doubt have spouted in that time period. Four days of knowing that there are adults in charge of the government, that they are giving actual serious attention to the problems this nation faces, and that they intend to pass this nation on to their successors in better shape than they found it.

All of which is a refreshing change.

Honestly, even the air feels cleaner.

Law enforcement is arresting the treasonous insurrectionists who staged the Trump Coup. Various radical right-wing groups, including the Republican Party itself, are either tearing themselves apart or attacking other various radical right-wing groups. The second impeachment trial – this one to be conducted by a Senate that might hold an actual trial rather than simply dismissing the charges without a hearing like the last time – is scheduled to begin shortly, and if our former president is called to defend himself under oath there won’t be enough popcorn in the world.

There are still problems, of course. The pandemic is getting worse and Biden’s administration has to start from scratch in its efforts to fix things because as it turns out there was no plan whatsoever under the previous administration for doing that – none at all. Der Sturmtrumper apparently felt we could all just go ahead and die and quit bothering him for all he cared. The economy is teetering and if things don’t improve soon may well collapse – something that I have no doubt the GOP is actively working toward so they can blame the current administration. Tom Brady is going to another Super Bowl, which in a just society would not be allowed. All sorts of problems.

But there are, as noted, adults in charge again and if they can’t solve everything all at once at least they’re making serious efforts to do so rather than creating more problems to distract us.

I’ll take that. It beats a sharp stick in the eye.

I have no idea where things will go from here.

But for the first time since November 2016 I am going to allow myself to think that maybe, just maybe, things will get better in my country. Maybe not soon. Maybe not everything I want to happen. But a start, at least.

And after four years of overt Fascism being rammed down my throat, yes indeed I will take that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Truck Stop Memories

Sometime in August 1993 I found myself in a rented truck in Peru, Illinois, with my dad, my brother, and all of my worldly possessions.

This made sense at the time.

The day before my dad and I, along with a couple of my best friends, had cleaned out my Pittsburgh apartment and loaded up the truck in preparation for me moving out to Iowa where I would begin my doctoral program. I had an apartment lined up and ready to go in Iowa City, but there remained the difficulty of getting all my stuff from where it was to where it needed to be.

I had a lot of stuff, much of it books – and if you think books are just paper and therefore ought to be light, you really ought to reconsider and start thinking of them as finely sliced lumber and therefore not light at all. But we got it all into the truck and then hung out in the echoing space of my tiny apartment for a while.

The next morning my dad and I got up early, drove out to the airport to pick up my brother, and then headed west.

The plan was to stop somewhere about two or three hours from Iowa City and spend the night there before traveling on. The midwest was flooded that summer and there was only one bridge open over the Mississippi between Minneapolis and St. Louis – the one we needed on I-80. We figured if we stopped before the floodwaters we would have a better chance of finding a hotel. Plus we’d have the whole day once we got to Iowa City rather than trying to unload in the evening.

Peru was – and for all I know still is – a truck stop town, the kind of place that exists for weary travelers to spend a night before moving on. It has hotels, gas stations, and the sorts of restaurants you’d expect in a truck stop town. There may well be a prettier and more residential Peru somewhere beyond the immediate neighborhood of the interstate exits, but we never found it. Can’t say we looked for it either. We were, after all, weary travelers, and all we needed was a hotel, a gas station, and the sort of restaurant you’d expect in a truck stop town.

The hotel was sufficiently full that they had to open up a wing that had been tightly sealed in order to put us somewhere. They never did turn on the ventilation system that night. It was a hot night. But we gassed up the truck, unloaded our overnight bags, and wandered across the parking lot to a steakhouse called The Pine Cone for dinner.

The Pine Cone had $4 steaks, greasy hash browns, and a teenaged waitress who spent a good portion of the evening at her station a couple of booths over loudly discussing with her colleagues the guy she had fallen asleep under the night before. It was entertainment, I suppose.

We sat there, the three of us, enjoying our meal and our time together.

At some point my dad looked around at the place, paused, and then said to us, “You know, sometimes you just have to stop and ask yourself – how the fuck did I end up here?”

It was a fair question.

We end up in all sorts of places, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. We go where we need to be to do what needs to be done, or sometimes we just end up there. Sometimes it’s a combination of all that.

But in the end there is the story because that’s all there ever will be, and those who remember the story are part of it for as long as the story is told.

My dad would have been 82 today.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Monday, January 18, 2021

News and Updates

1. Less than two full days before der Sturmtrumper is tossed out on his seditious ass and onto the trash heap of history. He leaves behind a diminished nation, a fragmented system of alliances, a faltering economy, a raging and deadly plague that he actively made worse, a treasonous and growing right-wing extremist movement that has already staged one failed coup and is eagerly working toward the next, the lowest job approval of any president since recordkeeping began, a desperate desire to destroy everything that is worthwhile about the United States that will have him actively sabotaging this nation’s future right up until the nuclear codes are ripped out of his palsied hands and replaced with subpoenas from half a dozen active criminal investigations, and a culture of slime and corruption that will take decades to remove. Naturally his base continues to worship him. It’s going to be a long few years coming up, yes indeed.

2. Now you know why companies escort fired workers from the premises immediately and don’t give them time to wreak havoc. We may need to amend the Constitution (again) to make the inauguration of the next president happen much, much faster.

3. In the meantime, life goes on, as it must.

4. The semester is about to start for at least one of the campuses where I teach. Another never stopped. The third one doesn’t start for two weeks. It has been very difficult to maintain a focus on class prep when there is treason in the air, I have to admit, but I have my nearest classes ready to go and my other class is just waiting for a bit of information that someone else needs to provide, so all in all it’s not a bad position to be in.

5. I’ve managed to get through about half of the bookshelves in my office for my weeding project. I have now conceded that I will never get a tenure-track position – that the adjunct life is for me, whether that was my goal or not – so a lot of books that “might be useful someday” have now lost their “someday” and can go to someone else. I’ve got eight boxes of books in the mudroom waiting to be donated to somewhere and honestly you can’t really tell. I consider that a sign of a life well lived, to be honest. I still need to go through the other half of the bookshelves, but as noted the semester is about to start and there will be precious little time for such projects.

6. Which is a shame because my computer has now reached the point where I must update the OS if I want any of the other programs to update. I had planned to make that change over break, but of course never did. So now I’m sitting here thinking about whether I want to go from macOS 10.13.6 to macOS 11 at the beginning of a term and what the odds are that this will convert my computer into a shiny paperweight. I threw this problem out to my Facebook friends and got some good advice, so perhaps I will follow it. We’ll see.

7. I did manage to get my email transferred over from Entourage (which hasn’t been supported since 2013 or so) over to something that will actually get updates for a while. I consider this a victory. Someday I will figure out how to archive these things, which will make me happy even if most people have no idea why anyone would want to do that.

8. While there were some very nice gifts exchanged among us this holiday season, perhaps the one that has gotten the most use so far is the pet heating pad that we got for our 16-year-old cat. It’s always on at a nice low temperature so it’s not a fire hazard, and the cat has barely moved from it in weeks – “sitting there like a gas station hot dog,” according to Oliver. I’m thinking of changing her name to Ballpark.

9. For several nights last week we had pretty thick fog and below freezing temperatures, which meant that you’d wake up and everything was rimed with ice. It was really beautiful. You need that these days.

10. I took Oliver back to Small Liberal Arts College yesterday. On the one hand, it was nice to spend the time with him in the car, and he’s happy to be back with his group now. On the other hand, it means that we’re down a person here. Also, I had to stop in some tiny little town on the way back to get gas and use the restroom and there wasn’t a single person in that place wearing a mask and seriously what the hell, people? Oh well. I did get to see a bald eagle fly overhead – the second one in less than a week, in two different states – so that was cheering.

11. Now that Lauren is 18 she has officially reached the point where she can make some decisions without us, and the one that she had most been looking forward to making was getting her nose pierced. I realize that I am Old and Uncool but I think it looks nice, really.

12. It’s amazing how many people still have their Christmas lights up. I think people need them more than usual these days.