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.