Saturday, December 31, 2022

Happy Birthday!

Today is Oliver’s birthday, and as has become something of a tradition we will celebrate it with egg rolls. Probably cake too. Lauren is home from college so we’ll all be together, and Dustin is coming up to visit later in the day which will add to the festivities. It will be a good time.

It has been a strange few years for the world at large, and for me in particular. Everyone is moving up a generation now, and I find myself in the position my parents were in after I graduated college, watching my eldest child figure out what to do with the rest of his life. I’m not sure I ever figured it out, though it has turned out well. Oliver will be fine.

He has accomplished much, and more importantly he is a good person. I enjoy hanging out with him and I hope he does with me. He's my hockey buddy, among other things.

Happy birthday, Oliver.

I’m proud of you.

Friday, December 30, 2022

An Axe to Wind Up and Throw

So we spent the afternoon throwing axes.

Not at each other.

We’ve been in a generally slow-motion pattern since Christmas. Lauren went up to her apartment to serve out her Covid isolation, which ended today, since she had more freedom to move about there. Kim, Oliver, and I have been at home working on the Christmas letter, watching various things on television (Glass Onion: thumbs up!) and trying to solve the 1000-piece puzzle of the Sistine Chapel that I got Kim for her birthday, which may or may not have been a kind thing to have done.

But with Lauren coming home today and the afternoon open for Plans, well, hanging around the place just wasn’t an option.

Fortunately, Kim knew of a place that would let you release your Inner Lumberjack for a small fee. It’s a barn-like sports-pub that has three big-screen televisions over a bar that’s roughly twenty paces long. The ceiling is a good thirty feet overhead, and at one end there are two of those digital golf driving range things where you can take real golf clubs and whack at a ping pong ball and the mainsail-sized screen in front of you reacts as if you’re at St. Andrews. You get used to the whacks eventually. There are a couple of dart boards off to one side, and in the back there are several mostly enclosed spaces where the general public is encouraged to try throwing forestry equipment at a wooden target.

They make you watch a ten-minute video before you can actually start the mayhem. It’s long on technique tips and rather short on safety information, which I thought was a bit odd, though given that my performance ended up looking a lot like like this perhaps that was more on the ball than I gave it credit for.

Also, you have to sign a Release From Liability that absolves the bar from any responsibility for any injury you might sustain at any point in this process, up to and including the bartender sneaking up behind you and stabbing you with a harpoon.

So we signed.

We also chose names for ourselves to go on the electronic scoreboard. You can choose any of the axe-related names that they offer (“Polearm”) or make up one of your own (I went with “Axl Rosacia”), or you can go with more prosaic options (“Beast 1” or “Beast 2”). You get your choice of target images, which are projected onto the wooden target, and even if you pick just the Standard Version it alternates between three or four options so it stays interesting.

We spent an hour happily clanking axes off the wall.

Kim has done this before. She has a crew of Science Babes who go out periodically and do Fun Things, and sometime earlier this year they ended up in this place. You could tell which of us had the experience.

I’ve got good aim. I probably hit the bullseye more often than not, in fact – it’s a big bullseye, you’re not all that far from it, and an axe has a lot of surface area to hit it with. But I could never really get the rotation down and it doesn’t count unless the axe sticks in the target. Out of about fifty throws I probably got it to stick maybe half a dozen times. Oliver’s throws were similar. Lauren, it turns out, is rather a natural at this and I will keep this in mind for the future.

But Kim won most of the time, as you would expect.

Go us!

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Christmas Report

If all had gone to plan today we’d probably be somewhere in Kentucky right now. It’s a long story. I’ll get to it by and by.

But we had a lovely Christmas here, just the four of us.

Christmas Eve we had our Odd Number of Kinds of Fish dinner – popcorn shrimp, spaghetti with clam sauce, and a Caesar salad since that has anchovies in the dressing. Apparently this is called La Vigilia, though when I was growing up we just called it Christmas Eve dinner. You’re supposed to have seven kinds of fish, but some people have fewer and some have as many as nineteen, which is rather excessive. As long as it’s an odd number the Italian saints are satisfied, I suppose. My dad – the only person in my immediate family when I was a kid who enjoyed eating fish, ironically enough – used to say that one is also an odd number. But we go with three these days because we can find three we like.

For those of you who doubted me when I said that I cannot actually get my iPhone to take decent photographs, well, now you know.

We also had fresh homemade biscuits, and for dessert we had the French Silk pie that I made earlier that day. There were gifts exchanged – a custom from my side of the family, where Christmas Eve is the big holiday – and then we mostly hung out. Lauren’s friend Nolan came over after that and we had a very nice time together.

Christmas Day I continued my tradition of getting up long before anyone else. I’m not sure why this happens routinely, given my general preference for night over day, but this is the one day of the year that I don’t mind so much. It’s quiet, and I can sit by the tree and think about things. Eventually people filter on down.

We decided to have a Christmas brunch, though since it was early afternoon by then perhaps “linner”? “Dunch”? Who knows. But we had bacon that needed to be cooked and a fresh box of eggs, and what more do you need? It was good food shared with loved ones and that’s all that mattered. Conversation largely focused on biology for some reason – bacteria, parasites, and the symptoms and progression of rabies, for the most part – but we had a grand time and even learned a few things. You have your holiday topics, we have ours.

Eventually there was dinner again – ham, potatoes, green bean casserole – and if it sounds like we are a group that thinks from one meal to the next, well, you’re not wrong. Kim decided to make a bourbon glaze for the ham so I looked through the cabinet where such beverages are stored and came back with two bottles that we inherited from my parents, a nearly empty one with a tax sticker from 1978 and another more full one with a tax sticker from 1976. What can I say? We weren’t tee-totalers, but we weren’t really big drinkers either. They made a nice glaze.

Yesterday we started the day preparing for our Second Christmas, which by rights was supposed to be our First Christmas (there will be another next month which will either be the new Second or the Third depending on how you count – we do this holiday up right) except that the worst winter storm in decades pretty much shut down the entire eastern half of the United States on the two days we could have driven to Tennessee so we stayed put and had our own Christmas here (vide supra).

We’ve had three years in a row of Christmas at home now, in this pandemic decade, and we’re starting to create our own traditions for them, which is a nice thing. We’ve discovered we’re a pretty relaxed group that way, and that’s lovely.

But we had plans to be in Tennessee today, so yesterday Oliver and I went off to do some final errands and ransom his now fully operable laptop from the repair shop. This was when Kim texted to let us know that Lauren’s cold was in fact Covid.

The rest of us have all tested negative since then, but rather than take a chance on exposing the extended family we are staying home. It was a sad decision, but the right one. Lauren feels fine – it’s a mild case, fortunately, as one would expect in someone fully vaccinated – and she has gone back to her apartment, where she has more space to rattle around and can cook her own meals without worrying about us.

So we’re here, with a few days of found time to hang out again. Perhaps we’ll keep working on the Christmas card, in the fond hopes that it will be out in January. There’s also a puzzle we’ve been meaning to start. There are books to read and I’ve got a pot of gravy and meatballs simmering on the stove. We’ll see what happens. It would have been good to see everyone, but we’ll figure out a time to do that later.

Merry merry, joy joy.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Night Before Bopmas

Earlier this year I found some time to scan a couple of boxes of letters that my parents had sent to each other when my dad was in the Navy, back in 1959 or so. They were recent high school graduates at the time, and much of what was in them you could probably predict – the ins and outs of daily life for two people who loved and missed each other, with occasional things tucked into the envelopes that they thought the other would find interesting.

My dad served as a radioman on a small-engine repair ship and spent most of his time in the service in Norfolk, though he did go to Havana twice before Castro took over and once got far enough north to see the northern lights. Otherwise, he said, it was pretty uneventful and he rarely ever considered his time in the service as worth bringing up in conversation. My mom was a college student during that whole time, immersed in books and classes, peering through the blue haze of cigarette smoke that filled classrooms in those pre-Surgeon-General’s-Report days. It was a lovely conversation to read, nearly three quarters of a century later.

One of the more interesting finds in those letters were a couple of Christmas poems – parodies of the classic T’was the Night Before Christmas, adapted to the Beat Generation vibes of the late 1950s and filtered through the sensibilities of the US Navy. I have no idea what role my dad or his shipmates may or may not have played in their creation, but as a radioman he had access to the equipment he needed to find and reproduce them.

The first, entitled “The Night Before Bopmas,” is clearly a teletype and was created by one or more intelligent young men who were clearly not being stretched by their responsibilities.

The other, untitled, but addressed to All Hep Cats, may have been the work of a single creator named E. Smith, but is otherwise similar.

They’re a lot of fun to read.

Christmas Eve has always been the bigger holiday on my side of the family but it’s pretty low key this year as it was last year, though we’re all healthy this time. We’re hanging out here at home, on a bitterly cold day in southern Wisconsin. The winds have moderated somewhat from yesterday and the temperature has climbed into positive numbers (Fahrenheit) for the first time since Thursday, but it’s a good day to stay inside.

The chickens are fed, the cats and rabbits are asleep, and the gifts are wrapped. I’ve got lovely music playing as I write this – a singer I’ve only recently discovered named Laufey, which tells you how far behind the times I am as she has apparently been popular on TikTok for a couple of years now. The Christmas cards will go out in January as per our usual practice so we’re not worrying about those at the moment. We’ll have an abbreviated Feast of the Seven Fishes (three this year, if you include the anchovies in the Caesar salad dressing – as long as it’s an odd number it counts) for dinner, and I made a French Silk pie from scratch this afternoon because why not? Perhaps afterward we’ll play cards together.

It’s been a long year. It’s been a long couple of years. But for right now I am warm and dry, surrounded by my family, and generally doing well.

Boppy Xmas to all.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Happy Birthday to Me

I was born on the solstice, when the daylight has ebbed to its lowest and the longest night of the year awaits at sundown. Perhaps this is why I have always loved the quiet darkness of the night more than the frenetic light of day.

I had a lovely birthday yesterday, and if it was perhaps a bit more frenetic than it might have been it was still a good day.

We had travel plans to visit my relatives in Tennessee over Christmas, but the increasingly grim storm forecasts and the correspondingly dire warnings from various agencies charged with monitoring travel conditions finally convinced us that this would not work. There was an interlude of activity involving more permutations of schedules than I could possibly deal with – fortunately Kim enjoys and is good at this sort of thing – and alternate plans have now been made, though the upshot is that we will be home for Christmas this year.

It will be nice, though. We have all we need here.

Once that plan got made, I went out and fortified the chickens against the coming storm and then we went to collect Lauren from school and run a few errands while we were there.

For example, both Oliver and I needed to visit the Apple Store. It turned out that he needs a new battery for his laptop, which will take some time. I wanted them to look at my iPhone to see if I had any settings wrong, or failing that to explain to me why I can’t take decent pictures with it. The tech looked at some of my photos and said, “I see what you mean,” and then made a couple of small changes to my settings but in the end he told me in the politest way possible that this was basically an ID-10-T problem* and I should log into their YouTube channel for some helpful instructional videos or come by and take a class. I suppose it’s nice to know that the problem is not the phone itself and is therefore within my control to fix, but I was really hoping for him to say, “Oh – you have THIS setting wrong. Here – you’re ready to be the next Ansel Adams now.”

Alas, it was not to be.

We also looted the Costco for supplies. Costco is a dangerous place that way. For one thing, they have a lot of great stuff. For another, you are constantly getting Warehoused when you’re there. You stand there in this vast open warehouse of a store staring at the Thing you’re going to purchase and you think, “That is a reasonable amount of Thing to have,” and then you get it back to your nice cozy home and that’s when you realize you have a burlap sack of Thing that will last you until the next millennium. And this lesson never sinks in! You will do this again the next time you’re there, or at least you will if you’re like me.

We picked up Lauren and her friend Chase, who also needed a ride back to Our Little Town, and went out for my birthday dinner at a place that had tasty food but a heating system that was only partially operational on an evening where the outside temperatures were about 9F or -13C, so we sat there in our coats and talked about old movies and the recent World Cup and had a generally grand time, all of us together. And that is what I will remember – sharing a meal in a slightly absurd place and time with family and friends.

Isn’t that what birthdays are supposed to be?

We came home and unpacked, and mostly just hung out in the living room for a while, all four of us together.

It was indeed a lovely birthday.


* Or PEBKAC, if you prefer that label.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

News and Updates

1. Yeah, it’s that time of year when these short little lists are the best I can do. Sometimes a job worth doing is a job worth doing at the bare minimum level, because otherwise it doesn’t get done at all. And I like doing this job, so having it fall by the wayside would just remove one more small scrap of joy in this darkening world for me.

2. Not that others aren’t eager and ready to provide that service for me, though. Remember, kids! Unless someone is being canonized, they don't need to hear from a “Devil’s advocate.”

3. We’ve got the tree up now, and will likely be decorating it later today. It’s a skinny apartment-sized tree so we have to be selective with our ornaments. We looked at getting a real tree this year but for various reasons decided against it. And we looked at getting a bigger artificial one, but for financial reasons (those things are running around $400 these days!) decided against that as well. So choices will be made. The ones I tend to prioritize are the sentimental ones – mostly from when the kids were younger – and the keychains that we pick up on our travels to remind us of places and people we’ve seen.

4. The semester down at Home Campus is now mostly over, with my grades turned in and most of my advisees moving on to other things until classes start up again in January. The class I teach for Remote Campus ends Tuesday and there will be frantic grading at that point no doubt before the holidays can kick into high gear. Online Campus seems to be in a bit of a lull as well, so that’s nice. I’m looking forward to a break in the action.

5. My effort to get into the Christmas Spirit has been flagging but I still have hope. It’s not over yet.

6. Oliver and I continue to watch as many hockey games as we can fit in. The Flyers have reverted to the form that most of the Sports Knobs were predicting back in September and are currently ranked 27th out of the 32 NHL teams (hey – not the bottom!), but they work hard and are fun to watch even if they don’t usually come out on top. And every once in a while they win.

7. I’ve been following up on the Ancestry hint that I got last time and have stumbled into a good sized trove of documents relating to my grandmother’s family, posted by a guy who’s probably a second or third cousin if I read his family tree right. Of course he doesn’t know this, probably, because my branch of the family is not listed on his tree. My great-grandmother was one of nine sisters and the only one of them who was not buried in the same cemetery as the rest of the family, which means that most of the people whose research takes them through that group of sisters don’t include her. But I know she was there, so I just vacuum up the documents for my own purposes. I’m never sure if I want to reach out to the people making the trees without her – what would I say, really? – but someday I might.

8. So der Sturmtrumper has decided to make trading cards of himself in heroic poses, has he? That was his big announcement? I suppose it’s less harmful than the last one he tried, back in November. Has anyone done a dementia test on him recently? I’m absolutely serious about that, by the way.

9. My iPhone no longer backs up to iCloud because I have run out of free space and I have been so far unwilling to pay for more. I’m not sure if this is a problem or not. I will have to think about that.

10. The snowblower still works, which is a) a good thing to know and b) a dreary thing to have to find out on a Saturday morning when all you really want to do is stay inside and drink tea and watch large men chase a small ball on television for a while. Life is complicated that way.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

News and Updates

1. We’re coming down to the end of the semester at all of the various campuses that I work for these days, and so far so good. My class at Home Campus ended last week. My class at Remote Campus ends this week. My class at Online Campus never really ends, but there has been something of a drop in enrollment lately – I suspect the advisors there are waiting to see how the new course revision pans out in practice before sending too many students into it, but that’s just surmise on my part – which means that it’s not that big of a concern. My advisees are mostly set for spring now. Things are calming down.

2. It is grey and misty and foggy out there here in Our Little Town, which is lovely weather as far as I am concerned though it was a bit of a challenge to go out and get the chickens fed.

3. Last week Oliver finished the painting of Mithra he was working on to give to Lauren for her birthday, and it is indeed a work of art worth the wait:

This is the model he was working from, by the way:

We were suitably impressed and proud. Kim and I delivered it to Lauren last Friday, along with a bunch of other stuff, and then went to dinner with her and, eventually, Maxim as well. My family rules.

4. I do believe that a long-term project has finally left my hands, after several false starts, and all that is left now is for me to wait for results. This is a good feeling.

5. I’m trying to get more into the Christmas spirit than I have these last few years, and it’s kind of working I suppose. This does not actually mean I have gotten a start on my Christmas shopping, nor have I done anything concrete to prepare for the holiday other than put up my usual single strand of blue lights across the front of the house, but I hope to get the tree up this weekend and just to approach the holiday with more positive vibes than I’ve been able to muster recently. It’s a goal.

6. Every once in a while Ancestry sends me “hints” that they’ve discovered about people who might be in my family tree somewhere, and every once in a while they’re right. Somebody posted the death notice that was published in the newspaper for my great-great-grandfather, and that was nice to find – he was a Civil War veteran, one of those 90-day wonders at the beginning of the war when they all thought it would be over by the fall harvest. He did his 90 days and noped right out of that whole situation as soon as the opportunity presented itself and then lived to a ripe old age, which speaks to a certain intelligence I suppose. It might very well be why I am here at all, given casualty rates of the Civil War.

7. I’ve been mostly following along with the World Cup this week and right now there is a decent chance that the final will be between Morocco and Croatia and I have to say I’m kind of hoping for it. France won it all last time and doesn’t need to repeat. Argentina and the Netherlands put on a singularly juvenile display of middle school dick waggling in their quarter final game and neither of them should have been allowed to advance to the next round regardless of who won, honestly. So I’m cheering for the weird matchup to prevail.

8. I’m trying not to pay too much attention to the news, because mostly it doesn’t change. If you’re not worried about the survival of the American republic in an age of increasingly overt and violent right-wing extremism, you’re either complacent or complicit.

9. Speaking as a guy who just spent a fruitless quarter hour trying to reach a customer service person, I strongly suspect that at some point soon every corporation in the US will have replaced all of their workers with algorithms and machines and at that point they have absolutely no idea why nobody can afford to buy their products anymore. Say what you will about the solutions he proposed but nobody has ever proven Marx wrong on his diagnoses of the problems of capitalism.

10. I now have my new drivers license, and it does seem to be a step backward to me. The old one was in color, but we are no longer in Oz, Toto, and now we’re back to black and white. But I don’t have to do this again until 2030 which is roughly a hundred years from now in subjective time so I can live with that.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

The World Cup

I haven’t been watching a lot of the World Cup this year.

Some of that is just that I don’t have much time these days. The World Cup is usually something that happens in the summer rather than the last two weeks of the semester, after all, and while I understand why they moved it to this time of year – the weather in Qatar in August is hellish – that doesn’t change the fact that I’m barely able to keep up with things I have to do at this time of year, let alone things I’d like to do.

But some of it is the simple fact that this year’s World Cup is being held in Qatar.

A couple of weeks ago Oliver asked me how the decision gets made as to where the next World Cup will be located, and I explained that it is a complicated process involving bribery, influence peddling, threats both overt and implied, and corruption on a scale that makes the Olympic Committee’s selection process look transparent. Apparently the decision to give this year’s event to Qatar was so far beyond the acceptable limits of even FIFA’s legendary malfeasance and criminal conduct that most of the people who were involved in that decision are now in jail or “out of the game,” which is a polite way of saying that they got shoveled out the door and sacrificed to the authorities before they killed the entire cash cow.

And yet the decision stood.

Also, let’s be honest, Qatar is a wasteland of human evil. It’s a place where people can be jailed or even executed for their sexual orientation (a role model for the modern American right wing that way), and it openly practices human slavery. Much like the 18th-century sugar colonies in the Caribbean, there is a large population of bound labor (euphemistically called “guest workers” or some such nonsense in this case) ruled absolutely by a thin layer of phenomenally wealthy and privileged elites. Several hundred of those “guest workers” died in the process of building the infrastructure for the World Cup. I realize that no country is perfect – and the US is not an exception to that – but the human rights abuses in Qatar are genuinely revolting by any standard of comparison.

But then I always think of the athletes themselves. They’re not the ones responsible for this situation. They go where they’re told. And it’s the absolute pinnacle of their sport – an event that has no real analogue in American sports. How much can I hold them responsible for the larger situation?

I always watch the Olympics, after all, for much the same reason.

So I’ve watched a few games. Not many – again, even if I had no issues with anything the fact is that time and energy are both in short supply this time of year. And I take a small amount of comfort knowing that I have donated no money to this cause – the games I can see were included in the various streaming services that we already pay for now that we don’t subscribe to cable anymore.

This does have its odd moments.

Most of the games are being broadcast on Fox here in the US, and you can insert your own political joke there if you want. We don’t get Fox in any of the streaming services we have, and other than the occasional sporting event I don’t miss it.

But it is being broadcast on Peacock, which I do subscribe to in order to watch the Premier League on weekend mornings. So I can watch games there.

In Spanish.

Now, I do not speak Spanish, not really. I studied it back in middle school and high school, but that was forty years ago. At least half of my students down at Home Campus speak it as a first or second language, however, and between that and my long-ago studies there are certain words that I can pick up out of the stream of commentary. “Pelota,” for example, which means “ball,” and “otra vez,” which means “again,” and a few other words here and there. I’d like to learn the language – it would help me at my job if nothing else, and it is spoken by millions of Americans so it’s probably the most useful language after English to know in this country in general – but so far I have not actually done anything toward that goal.

So I come at this from what is essentially a position of ignorance.

This makes the commentary kind of fascinating, if not particularly useful for me actually following the game. All I really get out of it is tone and rhythm, interspersed with the few words I recognize and the occasional player name, and if you’ve ever sat down and tried to listen to a language you don’t understand the first thing that you learn is that it is very hard to figure out where the words begin and end. It all sort of sounds like one long word (interspersed with rolled r’s, in this case) until you get to something you recognize. As things get more exciting on the pitch the tone will rise and the phonemes will come faster and faster and then somebody will score and the classic 60-to-120-second-long announcement thereof will immediately follow and I know where I am at that point, sort of like stumbling onto a landmark in an unfamiliar city where you’re a tourist.

It all ends up sounding kind of like this:

SedimodabatiloeschalocodecazufrandojaARRRRRRRRRRdelasopenoseerenlabafrequitoPELOTA siconoceseangelesfritodecasaOTRA-VEZ-LA-PELOTAdenadalamesaquelohacerenelespaneradequinovadecasaZIMMERMANestasinochesdelostecosNOLASEPONEQUEARRRRRRRESLAEGUALESDEQUESOYTAMBIENELCINQUENCENTODELUNA



As should be obvious from that, very little of what I can process is actual Spanish – it’s just the vaguely-Spanish-sounding flow of phonemes that this monolingual English speaker hears – but it is all very entertaining and I’m enjoying that part of the broadcasts immensely.

It’s been a strange World Cup overall, from what I’ve been able to tell. The Germans, Danes, and Belgians didn’t make the knockout round, but the US and Australia did. Italy didn’t even qualify. Iran beat Wales, Saudi Arabia beat Argentina, Cameroon beat Brazil, Tunisia beat France, and Japan beat Spain.

So we’ll see how it goes now that we’re in the knockout round.

I'll be glad to get back to the Premier League, though.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

News and Updates

1. Day eight with the new furnace. Still warm. Further bulletins as events warrant.

2. I still haven’t been paid for work I did this past summer for one of the three campuses I work for. Mostly this is because nobody can figure out who is in my chain of command at Home Campus or the Mother Ship to sign off on it, and on those rare occasions when somebody is identified they either move to another position or get artfully fired (“reassigned to special projects”). The band is officially stumped. I suppose I should be grateful I’m being paid at all, come to think of it, but it does give me pause regarding whether I should accept further projects.

3. Speaking of work-related confusion, is there any conceivable universe where this would be considered a useful notification?

Just checking.

4. My friend Nick says that he wants to see one of those high-stakes political thriller movies where the nuclear access codes can’t be accessed except through DUO and nobody can get it to work because their browsers are the wrong version or their wifi is too slow for the timed-response approval. I’d pay money to watch one of those, yes I would. I’d probably be rooting for Armageddon, but I would watch.

5. We have not cooked an actual meal this week and may not do so until Saturday. It’s definitely leftover season. We’ve been alternating between Thanksgiving leftovers and gravy (spaghetti sauce to the non-Italians in the audience) and meatballs leftovers, and while it has been very tasty I think we’ll all be grateful for a change of pace.

6. I’m trying to block off some evenings without work, which is a rather foreign concept. Teachers in general have very poor life/work balance skills and mine are pretty much nil. There’s always something to grade or something to prep or something else to write. But there is also hockey to be watched and family to be hung out with and books to read, and that has to count for something.

7. I need to renew my driver’s license. Apparently it’s a “Real ID” – as opposed to the fake ones that you see so often with college students, I guess – so there are extra hurdles. Also, I need to give them my physical description, which is somewhat complicated by the fact that a) I no longer care to know how much I actually weigh and b) specifying a hair color is an act of nostalgia rather than observation. But they don’t really check when you fill things out, so I suppose I could just put down whatever I want.

8. I have acquired a nice winter hat in the approved Home Campus colors, and it is now cold enough to justify wearing it on occasion.

9. I should also get a Home Campus sweatshirt or two, mostly because this will allow me to wear sweatshirts to work. Honestly, the pandemic did quite a number on my eagerness to wear the standard Business Casual academic work uniform anymore. I don’t mind button downs and khakis, but sweatshirts are more comfortable.

10. It is December 1 and I am now willing to acknowledge the existence of Christmas.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

New Heat

We replaced the furnace last week. Well, other people replaced the furnace. We just told them to do that, and paid them for doing so. It counts.

We’ve been talking about this for the better part of a decade now. The old furnace came with the house in 1996, and from what the various service people have told us it was moved there when the house got moved to its current site in 1992 or so. The furnace itself was originally installed in 1986. It was a reliable and efficient furnace – a pulse furnace, which is a design with essentially no moving pieces to wear out – but they stopped making parts for it sometime during the Obama Administration and the last time the repair guy came out he told us that even the parts that they could jury-rig into place were getting scarce.

So it was time.

Kind of a shame, really, since it was working just fine. But it would do that until it stopped and when it stopped we’d need the new one in a hurry and it’s just best to do this on your schedule rather than the furnace’s schedule.

This is why we ended up replacing the AC unit at the same time. The guy who last serviced it, back in September, looked at it and said, carefully, “Yeah, that will probably start up in the spring.” It was also here when we moved in back in 1996, so it too owed us nothing.

Of course, getting a new furnace means clearing a path to the old one through the stuff in the basement, which is a problem. There’s a lot of stuff down there. My parents’ stuff. Kim’s dad’s stuff. Our various grandparents’ stuff. Stuff we had before we got married. Stuff we acquired afterward. Kid stuff. Project stuff. A wide assortment of tools that we have been threatening to organize since at least 2017. Stuff.

Fortunately the stuff is arranged in a fairly modular way and the furnace is not far from the stairs, so clearing a path was not all that intensive. But still. There was archeology.

Two guys showed up on Wednesday morning with a truck full of parts and equipment and set to work. I watched for a little while because it was interesting, but after a bit you could tell they just wanted to get on with things without the Homeowner staring at them so I retreated to my office to stare forlornly at my grading without actually doing any of it before switching gears and plinking around the web for a while. It was technically a holiday, after all, since none of the various campuses I work for held classes that day.

It was also a fairly warm day, so keeping the heat off for a morning caused no issues. I can’t imagine trying to do this in -20F weather. Yeah, our schedule, not the furnace’s.

Eventually they finished, cleared off all the old equipment, and headed off with a fairly large check in my handwriting because for some reason my winning smile was not payment enough. I have no idea why other than the fact that it has taken me three tries to type this without falling over sideways laughing.

The new furnace works pretty well – it’s quieter and more efficient than the old one, and it provides better heat to the far reaches of the house as well. I have no idea how the new thermostat works, but they did leave a manual that I swear I will read someday. Given that it is November we haven’t tried the AC yet, but with climate change barreling down it’s entirely possible that someday we will have to do that.

Here’s to warmth in the winter.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Thanksgiving Too

It’s odd how things become embedded in family lore.

Way back in the 1970s there was a commercial for Alka-Seltzer. I don’t even know if they make Alka-Seltzer anymore – they must, surely – but it’s been decades since I’ve seen a commercial for the stuff. If you’re not familiar with this product, it’s a tablet that dissolves into bubbles when placed in water and it is meant to soothe upset stomachs. This particular commercial was mostly a tableau of the remains of a vast holiday feast, the table groaning with food and the people strewn around it groaning from the consumption thereof. This goes on for about 25 seconds, and then from offstage you hear a cheerful woman’s voice shout “Bring out the second turkey!” right before they cut to the product pitch.

That became a tag line in my family. We were a group that loved our meals together. We still do.

We spent Thanksgiving Day up at my brother-in-law’s house, along with a hearty representation of Kim’s side of the family. We spent the morning preparing the things we were asked to bring – pizzelles, rolls, a cranberry-apple-current pie, a pumpkin roll – and then loaded up for the journey. Lauren was home for the break and she brought Maxim with her, so we had a pleasantly full minivan on the way up with the five of us.

There was a vast amount of food and family, and we had a grand time. There are a lot of younger kids on that side of the family so there was a proper swirl of activity. I spent most of my time in the dining room with Oliver, Lauren, Maxim, my niece Marin, and Bob (Amy’s dad), sharing stories and food, but others dropped in to visit and occasionally I did venture out into the rest of the house where everyone else was. I had a long conversation about animation with a guy named Dave whose exact relationship to me was never made clear but who was enjoyable to talk with, and I made my rounds to Grandma and Grandpa, Rory and Amy, and various other folks.

I tried to take some pictures but my utter inability to get an iPhone to take usable photographs is becoming something of a running joke (or mild running tragedy, take your pick) these days. Oh well. They always come out flat and grainy, and I suppose I just need to remember to bring my actual camera to these things.

So a good time was had, photographic failures notwithstanding.

But the problem with having Thanksgiving at someone else’s house is that someone else gets to keep the leftovers. Fortunately there is a solution to that.

Bring out the second turkey!

We decided to have Thanksgiving again on Saturday. Oliver invited some of his friends, and when much of Lauren’s old Squad came over on Wednesday night to hang out here after their Friendsgiving dinner at one of the local Mexican restaurants we invited them as well. Not everyone could make it, but in the end we had eleven for dinner – me and Kim, Oliver, Lauren, Maxim, John, Camrin, Jacob, Nolan, Chase, and Kyler – and that was a nice crowd.

We spent the day making all sorts of good food, and for the meal itself we dragged out the wedding china because when else are you going to use the stuff? Might as well put some mileage on it, we say. There was too much food to put on the table (a lovely problem to have) so we just set it out in the kitchen and people dished up there and went to sit down. It was a couple of hours of conversation and laughter and even though a few had to leave early most ended up migrating to the living room for an impromptu sing-along to Mamma Mia, which is about a fine a way to end a Thanksgiving holiday as you could ask for.

I’ve always liked Thanksgiving. It’s one of the few holidays devoted to being glad for what you have rather than asking for more. I am thankful for my family and friends and loved ones. I am thankful for the good people I shared meals with, who brightened my home and who allowed us into theirs. I am thankful for the food and the songs and the laughter. In a world that seems intent on darkening, there is light.

And that is enough.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Happy Anniversary to Us!

It’s been 27 years now.

Kim and I got married on a day very much like this one – sunny, fairly warm for late November in Wisconsin, and generally pleasant. Two days later we got sixteen inches of blowing snow that stranded much of my side of the family in the Milwaukee airport for 24 hours, but the day itself was nice and we got a pile of good stories (and one priceless video) out of the airport fiasco.

27 years is a long time – almost as long after the wedding as before it, actually. That milestone happens soon. We’ve raised two kids to adulthood. We’ve gone through any number of cats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and hamsters. Despite working objectively for the same place over this period, we’ve managed to switch employers several times in all the reorganizations. We bought a house and paid it off right before the pandemic hit, which was pretty good timing. We’ve traveled. We’ve sat at home and hung out together. It’s been a time.

I have led a pretty good life so far. It was good before Kim came into it. And it has been better ever since.

I’m not sure why she puts up with me but I’m happy she does.

This was last night at Kim's brother's house, where we had Thanksgiving. I'm missing my glasses and she has been decorated by our niece, but it's a nice picture and a memory of a good time. We've had a lot of those, and I'm glad.

Here's to another year, and to many more to come.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Lincoln at Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg lasted for three days in the summer of 1863.

Confederate forces hoping for a military victory to convince European nations to intervene on the side of their slave-based usurper state collided with American forces in south-central Pennsylvania while looking for shoes, oddly enough. There were about 50,000 casualties in those three days – more than the combined British and colonial casualties for the entire American Revolution. Over seven thousand of those casualties were deaths.

On the one hand, the crushing defeat at Gettysburg shattered Confederate forces and turned the tide of the war definitively in favor of the United States. Never again would the armies of the treasonous South threaten to invade the North, and less than two years later the Civil War would be over.

On the other hand, when it was done there were over seven thousand bodies lying on the ground in the hot July sun, and in an age that did not have refrigerated rail cars they would have to be buried there rather than returned to their home towns and families. This was a task.

The military cemetery at Gettysburg was officially dedicated on November 19, 1863 – four months after the battle, and 159 years ago yesterday. Over twenty thousand people turned out to hear the main speaker: Harvard College President Edward Everett, the most renowned public speaker of his day.

Everett did not disappoint.

He spoke for over two hours, giving a blow-by-blow account of the Battle of Gettysburg, complete with classical allusions, florid condemnation of the treasonous South, and artfully phrased praise of the Northerners who had died on that field to preserve the United States for future generations. The crowd loved it.

When Everett sat down the next speaker – Abraham Lincoln – rose to address the crowd.

Lincoln had been invited almost as an afterthought (“He’s the president, guys, we gotta invite him…”) and appropriately he kept his remarks brief. The Gettysburg Address, as it came to be known, clocks in at a bit over two minutes if you read it slowly. It’s probably the only major presidential speech in American history that can be legibly inscribed on one side of a 3”-wide coin. The official photographer was so taken by surprise by the brevity of the speech that the only photograph we have of Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address is him in the process of sitting down after he finished.

The Gettysburg Address was not well received. The Chicago Times, for example, called it “slipshod” and “puerile.” But Edward Everett knew better.

“I wish I had come as close to the heart of the matter in two hours as you did in two minutes,” he told Lincoln that day.

Because in those two minutes, Abraham Lincoln redefined what it meant to be an American.

“Four score and seven years ago,” he began, “our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Do the math.

Four score and seven – 87 if you’re not familiar with “scores” – subtracted from 1863 does not get you to 1787 when the Constitution was written. It gets you to 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was written.

There is a glaring contradiction between the Constitution – which at the time it was written and ratified recognized and protected slavery and left women largely outside of political society – and the Declaration of Independence, with its ringing statement that “all men are created equal.”

But in the early American republic this would not have been seen as a problem. The Declaration, after all, is not a legal document. It has no force of law. It cannot be introduced as evidence into a court of law. It was seen, by both the Founders who wrote and approved it and by most Americans well into the 19th century, simply as the way that the colonies had announced to the world that they had begun their Revolution against British rule and their reasons for doing so.

For most of the first century after independence, if you had asked someone “What does it mean to be an American?” – what is the fundamental nature of the United States – they would have pointed you to the Constitution. This is, of course, legally correct. The “United States” is defined by the Constitution. Without the Constitution there is no United States. It is our fundamental law. And the question of what did it mean to be an American – what was the Union all about – therefore came down to a legal question: “What is Constitutional?”

We are a nation defined by laws. Not by individual persons. By laws. Nobody is above the law, not even presidents, and we as a nation would do well to remember that in these parlous times in which we live.

Certainly this is the answer the Founders had intended.

But there are laws and there are laws, and in the 19th century you see the expansion and growth of the idea of Higher Law – the notion that there exists a set of ideals applicable to a nation, to a country and its government, that exists above mere regular law. And whether those ideals, those principles, come from God in the form of Divine Law, from Nature in the form of Natural Law, from humanity in the form of Ethics or Morality, or from some strange bastard combination of all of them, one thing was clear: those principles and ideals superseded mere regular law, even a law as important as the Constitution. All mere laws were just imperfect reflections of this Higher Law, as close as the people at the time could get to it.

And when you put it this way, you realize that the answer to the question of what the Union was – what it meant to be an American – was not to be found in mere law, not even a law as fundamental as the Constitution itself, but instead was to be found in the principles upon which this nation was founded, ideals which were only imperfectly reflected in the Constitution, which would need to be changed now and then to bring it more into line with those founding ideals.

The Founders put an Amendment process into the Constitution for a reason, after all. They understood that the interpretations and even the very text of the Constitution would need to change as Americans moved slowly forward in shaping their nation toward those Higher Law ideals.

Those ideals could be found in the Declaration of Independence.

This is something that the Moral Reform Movements of the 1820s, 30s, and 40s had been arguing for decades prior to the Civil War, but which Lincoln brings to the mainstream of American thought and makes central to American identity at Gettysburg. It is here, with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, that the Declaration of Independence becomes a secular American catechism describing the principles that define Americans as a people.

What Lincoln is saying here is that if you really want to know what it means to be an American, don’t look to the Constitution. The Constitution, important as it is, is mere law, law that among other things recognized and protected slavery, and the meaning of the Union is not legal. Instead, look to the Declaration of Independence, at the higher principles and ideals upon which the United States was founded.

That’s what it means to be an American.

The Union is not a legal entity. It is a proposition, an ideal – the proposition that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These ideals are not based in blood or heritage, but instead are principles that anyone can take up and embody. Anyone can be an American, after all.

In 1787 the Revolutionary Generation could only get so close to those ideals. They had to worry about the practical realities of setting up a new nation and a new government, and the closest they could get to those ideals was the Constitution.

Now, Lincoln is saying, now in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, now is the time to take that Constitution one step closer to the ideal of the Declaration of Independence, to extend the definition of “all men” to include black people as well as white people and ban slavery to create a new birth of freedom, making Americans equal in the eyes of the law by granting to those held in bondage the life and liberty that was their inalienable right according to the founding ideals of this nation.

THAT, said Lincoln, that is a nation worth fighting for. That’s what a nation conceived in liberty should be.

This is the unfinished business of American history.  "It is," Lincoln noted, "for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced."  This is the goal we as a nation must strive toward.

We as a nation have, over the last two and a half centuries, greatly widened the definition of “all men” – we have extended the recognition of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to women, to the poor, to those who are not straight or white or some very specific definition of Christian – but we have a long way to go before the ideals of the Declaration of Independence can be seen as being fulfilled. There are people in this country who would limit those ideals only to very specific groups – usually groups exactly like themselves, since a failure of empathy is the defining feature of so much of the politics of the 21st century – and who are actively working to strip rights away from anyone who is not a straight, white man who worships in a very specific way. We have seen such efforts succeed even in this late year. This cannot stand if we as a nation wish to become Americans.

The ideals of a nation are by definition aspirational, things the nation should strive to live up to. We have come a long way. We have a long way to go.

But if we wish to live in a nation worth preserving, it is the only route we can take.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

On Twitter

I’ve never had a Twitter account, mostly because the site has always struck me as a cesspool.

Most of my online presence is here or on Facebook, because I am old.

The average age of Facebook users is something like fifty these days and getting older every day because people younger than that are dropping it like their grandmother’s china, though I still find it useful for doing what it was originally sold as doing which is keeping up with faraway friends and sharing funny pictures. I no longer engage in political arguments there, as all that I ever got out of that was older and there are only so many drooling idiots one cares to swat down in a single limited lifetime, but as an easy and effective way to stay in touch with people it’s not bad.

Most blogs dried up around 2011 and no new ones have been started since before Obama left office, so it’s only us old timers keeping the craft alive. Thanks for sticking with me.

I have an Instagram account to which I have never posted anything so there is no reason to follow me there. I use it to find funny memes, vintage photos (some of which end up in the slide shows for my history classes), Great British Bake Off contestants, Voces8, and whatever friends and family have an account and are willing to let me follow them. I got SnapChat to be able to talk to my children. I have a Pinterest account from 2014 that has exactly one post on it (a picture of Grumpy Cat with Peter Capaldi’s eyes photoshopped onto it) and a Tumblr account with none, neither of which I can access anymore because I don’t remember the passwords. Nor can I remember the password to the TikTok account I have.  Someday I may make a Reddit account, but today is not that day. Tomorrow does not look good either. There are any number of other sites and services out there these days, but they are all for people younger and more in tune with the culture than I am so I will let them pass.

But Twitter? No.

Twitter is where the Enlightenment dream of perfect communication leading to utopia went to die. It is where we discovered for a rock solid fact that you will never get Shakespeare no matter how many monkeys there are typing away. It is Exhibit A on why the aliens will not visit and why whatever version of God you happen to believe in will not save us.

And now it’s going away.

Elon Musk, a parasite on the hard work of others whose main function on this planet is to disprove categorically and forever the entire idea that wealthy people are somehow smarter than the rest of us, has managed to crash the entire thing in less than a month, burning $44 billion in the process and providing a shining example of the actual (as opposed to rhetorical) business skills of billionaires in real time. It’s been fascinating, in a grim sort of way. But according to several different analyses that I’ve read – from system administrators, politicians, engineers, and lawyers alike – the damage already done to that platform as it bleeds experienced and capable employees is going to be fatal even if it continues to function for a while. Much like those radiation victims that you read about from the early days of the Atomic Age whose internal organs were fried even if their outsides still looked healthy, Twitter is a dead thing walking and the inevitable will take place in due course.

On the one hand, this will not affect me directly. As noted, I don’t have a Twitter account, nor will I be signing up for a Mastodon account to replace that non-existent Twitter account. It’s a manmade disaster affecting an island I will never set foot upon.

On the other hand, it did serve a function. Much like Facebook, once you strip out the disinformation, the rabid hordes of assholes, and the sheer toxic wasteland of commentary that seems inevitable in such platforms, it did provide a useful forum for a lot of people. Government agencies used it to communicate quickly and widely. Artists got word out of their art. Historians used it to fact-check lying politicians in real time. Comedians (professional and amateur alike) provided laughter to a world in need of it – a lot of the funny memes on my Instagram feed are just screenshotted Twitter exchanges, after all. On and on. These will be hard to replace.

It will leave a hole when it goes, in other words.

It’s easy to sit back and enjoy the schadenfreude, to revel in the misfortune of a billionaire who has added nothing to the world and the demise of a platform that has caused such damage since 2016, but that’s not the whole story and I’m not really sure what will happen once it disappears. Much of value will be lost.

I have no solutions to this. Just these thoughts.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Thoughts on the Recent Election

You may have heard that there was an election here in the United States earlier this week.

I KNOW! You’d think it would have made the papers or something.

Anyway, I went and did my bit to oppose Fascism in America, since the great lesson of the 1940s is that once Fascism slithers its way into power it is not easily dislodged and frankly I’m getting very tired of the inroads that it is making in my country. I was voter number 964 in my little ward at 4:15pm, which is remarkably good turnout for a midterm election.

And now we wait.

In the meantime, a few thoughts on the election.

1. The much vaunted “Red Wave” that was supposed to drown the American republic in penny-ante right-wing Christian nationalism and Fascist authoritarianism seems to have been just so much hot air, which is perhaps the best a weary world could hope for. The results are historically bad for the GOP in a year when the conventional wisdom would have had them retaking Congress in a rout. They certainly shouted loudly and frequently enough about doing so, anyway. Right now, though, neither the House nor the Senate have been decided. The Democrats, in fact, are slightly favored to retain control of the Senate and may even have an outside chance of keeping the House. We’ll know by next week, I suppose, or at least by whenever Georgia holds its runoff. But the fact that this is even possible at this juncture points to a dismally poor showing by the Republican Party from which they will learn nothing and proceed to double down on their insanity for the next election. That’s been the pattern for over a decade, anyway.

2. None of this should have been this close, though. It’s shocking that the GOP has any supporters willing to be named publicly at this point, as that party consistently advocates policies that are calculatedly cruel, dangerously shortsighted, flatly unconstitutional, and contrary to laws, morals, democracy as a concept, and basic human decency. It does seem that this is a feature rather than a bug for a lot of people, though. Watch your back.

3. On that note, how happy should I be that four out of five Tennessee voters think slavery should be abolished? Wasn’t that supposed to have happened by now? Why isn’t this vote unanimous? Will they vote on sugarless gum next? Enquiring minds want to know.

4. Of course, Louisiana chose not to abolish slavery in their state at all, so perhaps I am being too harsh on Tennessee. Sometimes I think that William Tecumseh Sherman had the right idea.

5. In Haywood County NC they still elect their tax collector – the only county in that state that still does that. Apparently the incumbent was the most competent person they’ve had in that office in that county’s history, but he was defeated by a 21-year-old college student who ran as a prank but had the all-important “R” after his name because bah gawd they cain’t hayve a Demmycrat in Nohth Cahlina. So soon they will have no tax revenue and then no schools, animal shelters, prisons, police, or fire protection and then they can all just go Galt and leave the rest of us alone, I suppose.

6. Here in Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers won re-election handily, defeating the right-wing carpetbagger who promised to get rid of the public schools and jail doctors. I’ve met Evers – he’s the most intelligent person in any room he’s in, so this is a good result. A not so good result is that it seems that Ron Johnson – part-time insurrectionist, full-time corporate lobbyist, and Man Who Yells At School Children – somehow managed to be returned to the Senate in a move that will surely embarrass anyone with more than seven working brain cells. But as Nixon once said about one of his Supreme Court nominees, mediocre people need representation too.

7. John Fetterman handily won his race back in my home state of Pennsylvania, which gives me hope for the future. If you’re not familiar with Fetterman, he’s the former mayor of Braddock PA who did wonders trying to revitalize that dying Rust Belt town, the current Lt. Governor, and a man fearsome of both intellect and mien. He’s nine feet tall, looks like a cross between Shel Silverstein and an entire biker gang, and brings a sharp sense of progressive possibility and incisive analytical skills to an office that had been held by a GOP nonentity for years. So, win.

8. In Georgia, though, the current incumbent Senator – a minister, by the way – holds a distressingly slim lead over Herschel Walker, a former football player whose trail of shocking moral turpitude and incoherent ramblings did not prevent 88% of evangelical voters in that state from supporting him over the actual minister. So there will be a run-off soon. In other news, the number of Americans reporting “none” when it comes to religious belief has hit a 50-year high and evangelical Protestant Churches are seeing declining membership, particularly among younger people, for the first time since Ford was in office. You do the math.

9. Also, it seems that Americans strongly support the idea that women should be treated as more than just breeding stock, as the right of a woman to control her own body was enshrined in the constitutions of California, Vermont, and – perhaps most surprisingly – Michigan. This after Kansas – KANSAS – voters resoundingly rejected a forced-birth initiative this past summer. Whenever forced-birth supporters put the question to the American people they lose, which tells you that they won’t be doing that again. Expect minority rule authoritarianism from that quarter from now on.

10. Gas prices dropped 20 cents/gallon around here immediately following the election. It’s almost as if oil companies had hiked prices to damage the prospects of the party that wants to impose windfall profit taxes to counter their greed (lawsy, folks, even Fox News admitted that that majority of the price hikes in gas over the last year have been directly due to corporate rapaciousness) and boost the party that will bend over and take whatever they choose to do to them, and now they don’t have to do that anymore.

Interesting times.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

News and Updates

1. Why can’t us? Because the Astros, that’s why. The Phillies put up a good fight but Good beat Hot this time around. It is hard to lose to a team that should have been barred from the postseason to begin with, but that’s the way things work in professional sports these days. On the other hand the Phillies had a pretty great run and came within two games of stealing a championship from a better team, so I can’t say I’m all that upset by it.

2. Though it was perhaps a bit much that on the same day that the Phillies were eliminated the Philadelphia Union lost the Major League Soccer championship – and on penalty shots, which is a pretty stupid way to decide a championship all things considered. Even the NHL relegates that sort of nonsense to the regular season. So it was a hard weekend for Philadelphia sports fans, but we did have two teams playing for championships and that’s not bad at all.

3. I have already budgeted my $1.9 billion lottery winnings. Thank you for playing, but you can all go home now.

4. Actually I have no idea what I would do that that kind of money and I’m not even all that sure I want to find out. I don’t have enough materialism to spend more than a vanishingly small fraction of it on Stuff. I don’t have that many relatives to give it away to. I don’t have the monstrous ego required to buy a major social media site and fly it directly into the ground in a spectacular fireball of petulant incompetence. Maybe I should just be glad when my ticket inevitably turns out to be Not The Winner.

5. If you haven’t already voted, make sure you do on Tuesday. Fascism is on the march and all American patriots must oppose this as we have done for over 75 years, because if the world learned anything in the 1940s it is that if Fascism slithers into power it is not dislodged easily. And yes, I know what Fascism is and I have used that word both carefully and deliberately. If the Republican Party and its minions, lackeys, cronies, and enablers don’t want me to call them Fascists they should stop doing the things that Fascists do.

6. Is there any better song to spend a chilly November evening listening to than Monica Martin’s Go Easy Kid? Especially the version with James Blake on piano and backing vocals. No, no there is not.

7. Every once in a while I just call a halt to grading and lecture prep and exam writing and all the things ways that my various jobs invade my time away from campus and I just have an evening not doing anything productive at all, and every time I do this I think “Huh. This is how most people’s evenings go.” It is a strange thought. Sometimes I think I need to rethink some things, though at this point I suspect it is far too late for that.

8. Sometimes a single video can make an entire social media platform worthwhile.

9. It’s been more than a year since I started going back to work in person, after the worst of the pandemic had passed, and I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of packing my lunch the way I used to do. It’s always something last minute, never really anything that still sounds good to me by the time noon or so rolls around, and sometimes I don’t remember at all and I end up eating cheese crackers and drinking tea. Oh well.

10. The chicken flock is slowly dwindling, which is only to be expected given the lifespan of chickens. But for now they still give us eggs, so that’s a win.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Light the Lamps

One of the odd things about time passing is that you end up with a lot of … things. Things that once belonged to other places and other people and that’s where your memories still keep them, but those places and people aren’t there anymore and now those things are yours.

In my grandparents’ dining room there was a lamp.

It was a mid-century modern tension pole lamp that they probably bought new when they moved out of the city and into the suburbs in the early 1960s It’s about nine feet high if you don’t have it squashed between the floor and the ceiling – it can keep tension comfortably in a standard eight-foot-high room – and it’s mostly made of hollow brass tubing, though the middle section is painted to look like wood and the little fins that stick out are in fact actual wood. It has two avocado-green glass globes and there are brass diffusers that clip onto the light bulbs inside. You can turn on either or both of the bulbs.

You can see it here in the background of these photos, Christmas Eves from the 1970s.

In this one there are a bunch of us – I’m the kid in the bright red shirt on the left. I’m sandwiched between my cousins, and my brother is across from me. On my side of the table, closer to the camera, are my great-aunts, and on the other side are my parents and my dad’s mother. We’re just sitting down to the “spaghetti and clam sauce” part of the Seven Kinds of Fish dinner that was a permanent fixture of Christmas Eve when I was growing up. My grandfather would have put the leaves in the table for the big family gathering and then turned the table diagonally so it would still fit into the dining room, which left the far end right under the lamp.

In this one you can see it in the background behind my grandparents. It’s a different Christmas Eve, maybe a year or two off from the last picture, but the people haven’t changed. Dinner’s over now, and it’s gift time.

We sold the house when my grandparents passed away in 2000, and I was the only one who wanted the lamp so my dad took it apart – the pole separates into four pieces of vastly differing sizes – and packed it into a box for me. I brought it back to Wisconsin where it sat on a shelf in my basement for more than two decades.

During the COVID lockdowns back in 2020 Oliver and Lauren cleared off a corner of the basement and converted it into a Gamer Lair. They put down those interlocking foam tiles to make the floor look good and feel warmer in the winter and they painted the concrete walls a nice shade of blue. We moved a television down there and hooked it up to the PS4 that my mother had given us as a group present for Christmas, and we set up a futon across from it. It’s gotten a lot of use as a hangout space since then, which is nice.

A couple of months ago I dragged out the old pole lamp and set it up in a random spot in the basement to see if it still worked, and rather to my surprise it did. And then it just sort of stood there, awkwardly, until we figured out where it should go. Last week I set it up in the Gamer Lair but this time the lower lamp wouldn’t work and I am not really qualified to figure out why. A friend of mine on the maintenance staff at work said he’d take a look at it, though, and yesterday he said it was ready to go.

I took it home today and set it up in the Gamer Lair and it looks lovely there.

It is strange in a way to see this old lamp so far from my grandparents’ dining room where I remember it, but I like that it is still here, still part of the family story.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022


Yesterday was Lauren’s birthday.

We spent the evening with her and Maxim and some of their friends, playing trivia in the student union by the light of Monday Night Football on a screen the size of a Spanish galleon’s mainsail. It was a close game and we had a grand time, and in the end we went from third to first on the strength of the last question – a six-part (or seven-part if you count the musical clues that you had to decipher for the bonus point) question that required us to figure out which three movies starred William Shatner and which three starred William Hurt. Victory, victory, the sweet taste of victory.

We also sang happy birthday because it is legally required, though singing it the second time was just for us.
Some of us were in costume, as befit the fact that it was Halloween. Kim went as a witch. Lauren wore her go-go outfit with the kicking white boots that made her almost as tall as I am. Maxim and Isaac were characters from Breaking Bad, with costumes that required both of them to cut their hair – a real commitment to the role if you ask me. Daniel, Chase, Aleksia, and I were just there papering the house, though I did wear my Phillies cap to show support for my team even if the game got rained out.

We’re not a terribly gifty sort of family, but we do enjoy them when they come. For her birthday Lauren asked for a giant, um, stuffed thing when she and I were at Costco last week, and then this weekend she requested a homemade lasagna which I put together on Sunday and brought up with us yesterday. Food is love, after all. So are giant, um, stuffed things, I guess. It made everyone happy, and that’s the only thing that matters.

It is a lovely thing that she wanted us to come up and join her on her birthday, even as a college student. I will take that as a parenting win and enjoy the time I spend with her because she is a good person to spend time with, as are her crew.

This was a milestone birthday, as she leaves her teens and sets off into her 20s. It is strange to think I no longer have teenagers, that my youngest is now well into the world of adulthood. She’ll be fine, though.

Happy birthday, Lauren.

I’m proud of you.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

News and Updates

1. The Phillies are now up one game to none over the heavily favored Houston Astros, having gone down 5-0 and then scoring six unanswered runs to win 6-5 in the 10th. To make that kind of comeback against a team known for its ferocious pitching does send a message, yes it does. The next game starts in less than an hour as I write this, but at least for the next few hours there is a small but non-zero chance that the Phillies could win the World Series in a sweep. I’m not blind enough to reality to put money on that, but I have to admit that fact that this is even theoretically possible after one game has been played is deeply satisfying.

2. Kim, Oliver, and I spent much of the afternoon cleaning out the chicken pen from two years’ worth of accumulated chicken exhaust. By this point it’s pretty much just fertilizer with no particular odor so it’s not a terrible job that way, but it was six inches deep and every square inch of me ended up covered in dust, and even after a very long hot shower my eyes still burn like I hadn’t slept in a week. The chickens were unimpressed.

3. The midterm elections are less than two weeks away and for the life of me I cannot figure out how they are at all close. On the one side we have normal candidates, with a range of pluses and minuses. On the other side we have conspiracy theorists, raging psychopaths, insurrectionists, open bigots, and Russian sycophants. I grieve for my country.

4. I fully expect the GOP to launch any number of baseless criminal investigations and impeachment votes if they should retake the House of Representatives, because if there is anything a criminal organization resents it is being held accountable for its actions and if there is anything that criminal organization cannot do is differentiate being held accountable for their actions from petty revenge politics against those doing the holding. This, at least, I will put money on.

5. I went up to Madison for an advising conference last week – it’s one of the few such conferences that I consider useful enough to attend, and I always get some good information from it. But it did give me some pause. The fire alarm went off about two minutes before our scheduled lunch (which was already laid out in the big conference room – taco bar!) so we dutifully trudged outside. It was something real, it turned out, though not anything serious. After about fifteen minutes somebody came out and announced that it would likely be another forty minutes before we would be allowed back in. And then a minute or two later they came back and said that we advisors could go back to our conference. Yes, the building was on fire, but you know, go ahead. Nice to know where you stand, I guess.

6. It was good that I checked with the third of the various campuses I work for as to whether they had gotten my HR stuff correct, because they hadn’t. They’d shorted me about $1800 or so. It turns out that in order for me to get my money I had to tell them exactly how much I’d been paid over the summer, which struck me as precisely the sort of information that they should already have. I’m not sure why I am expected to do HR’s job when they can’t do mine – I’d pay good money to see anyone in that department explain the influence of neo-Harringtonian republicanism on the Federal Constitution of 1787 in a way that both makes sense to undergraduates and incorporates a PowerPoint slide of Aaron Rodgers, if I’m being candid here – but if I wanted my money that was the hoop I had to jump through. I submitted that on Thursday. We’ll see how it goes.

7. So far this academic year I have been a professor, an advisor, an HR professional, an accountant, and an IT guy, except that I only get paid for the first two since we supposedly have people doing those other jobs on staff. I should ask for a raise.

8. I should be grading. I do not feel like grading. Maybe I should ask the HR folks to grade my papers.

9. Someone handed me a wheat cent in change the other day, which doesn’t happen very often anymore. It’s nice to see them still floating around, though.

10. Oliver and I made a scythe on Friday. He had a costume party to go to and decided to use my old Death robe – my friend Julia used to have a medieval feast every year and I’d always go as The Plague, which was funny back in the 1980s. But while I still have the robe I no longer have the staff that went with it. It took us a couple of hours and involved spray paint, stick-on vinyl, cardboard, a ruler, and an absurd length of PVC pipe, but it doesn’t look half bad if I do say so myself. This is how we do parent-child bonding in this family, and the world looks on in awe.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Go Phillies!

The Phillies are back in the World Series.

I’m not really sure what to make of this. Of all the major and minor sports out there, baseball isn’t one that I follow very much – certainly not as much as I once did. If you tell me I have to watch a midseason game between two reasonably good teams who aren’t my team in some random sport, baseball wouldn’t be in my top three choices. On the other hand, I’ve been a Phillies fan since the Nixon administration and if there is a baseball team I’m going to watch and cheer for it would be that one.

This year’s Phillies are a lot of fun, it turns out.

They snuck into the playoffs as the six-seed in a newly expanded playoff format, an 87-win team with an interim manager that finished fourteen games behind the two other teams in the NL East that made it in and qualified for the postseason on the last weekend of the season. Then they wiped out the 93-win Cardinals and the 101-win defending champion Braves before rolling through the Padres, who had pretty much the same record they did, and they looked like they were enjoying themselves immensely the whole time.

You have to love that. I get tired of the grim professionalism that has become the standard these days. It’s a game, folks. You’re supposed to have fun.

They now face the Houston Astros, a team that should have been stripped of their title and banned from the postseason for a decade for cheating their way to a championship a few years ago. The Astros were one of the best teams in the league this year but the stench of corruption follows them like a wet puppy even if this year’s group was (probably) on the up and up. The fact remains they shouldn’t be there at all.

But so it goes.

This year’s World Series will be the classic matchup between a team that is Good versus a team that is Hot. The Astros are by pretty much all statistical measures the better team, but the better team does not always win.

That’s why they play the game.

So I’ve been wearing my battered old Phillies cap around town – I figure I should rep the home team if they’re playing for it all – and just as when the Eagles met the Patriots in the Super Bowl back in 2018 I am getting a lot of support from the “Anybody But Those Damned Cheaters” demographic. The Astros may think they’ve put it all behind them, but nobody else seems to think so. They come up to me at random to let me know.

I’m not really used to getting support for my teams outside of Philadelphia – we’re just that way, I suppose. But I’ll take it.

I still have my sweatshirt from the 2008 World Series that they won – only the second time since 1883 that that happened, both times in my lifetime – and it’s getting cool enough here that I’ll probably wear it on Friday when the Series starts.

My grandfather was a hardcore Philllies fan who finally got to see them win it all in 1980. My dad was more of an Eagles fan but still cheered for the Phillies and took me to see more than a few games down at the Vet when I was a kid. He had a matching sweatshirt from 2008 as well. Maybe there’ll be one more year to cheer about soon.

Why can’t us, man?

Why can’t us.