Sunday, May 28, 2023

Further News and Updates

Because this is as much as I’ve got in me these days.

1. The Premier League season is over now and I got to watch two good games this weekend – one where Luton Town got promoted up to the Premier League, which is impressive since they were playing non-league soccer a decade ago, and one where Everton managed to stay in the Premier League and not get relegated out of top-flight soccer where they have played since 1954. If you enjoy soccer, this is about as good a pair of games as it gets.

2. Premier League refs all have this one little gesture that I just love. When a player goes down in an attempt to draw a foul and the ref is having none of it, they just turn their back on the player, stick out their arm, and wave their hand like, “Get up, get up, nobody’s buying it.” They need that in American sports.

3. Honestly, they also need relegation in American sports. It would make the end of the season a lot more interesting in all of the major sports leagues that play in the US.

4. So it looks like the GOP has successfully blackmailed the federal government into approving some of its unpopular, cruel, and draconian policies – policies they can’t actually get approved by legitimate democratic means because not even their own howling mob supports them – in return for them not destroying the world economy. Seriously, these people need to be rounded up and dropped onto a large island where they can go Galt by themselves and not damage the civilized world.

5. First person who chimes in with “but this is a republic, not a democracy!” gets the coveted “So What?” Award, given sporadically to the person with the least relevant take on an issue of public importance. I know more about that distinction than you do, son,* and your attempt to lord your undeserved privilege over the rights of the majority of American citizens has been noted and given precisely the amount of respect that it deserves. You will note this did not take long. Go away and let the grown-ups talk.

*Yes, it’s always a guy – almost always a white guy – and also usually someone who thinks libertarianism makes sense as a form of social organization instead of it being the toddler’s view of society that it is, which they fervently believe even though it is absolutely incompatible with the very idea of a republic. Call me a cynic if you will, but having had this conversation more times than an adult should be required to have it I dare anyone to contradict me.

6. We went out to breakfast this morning with a bunch of friends at one of the diners here in Our Little Town. We did this after the wedding we all went to in April, a two and a half hour drive away, and it occurred to us then that we didn’t have to travel so far to do it again. We had a lovely time.

7. While we were waiting for our food I looked out the window and there in the parking lot was an explicitly Christian biker gang in full leathers leaving after their early-bird breakfast specials. Have you ever seen something and thought, “This is radically American”? The only way this could have been more American would be if they had been armed.

8. Despite the fact that it is now technically summer as far as the university is concerned, I am still hearing from students. This is a good thing.

9. The oat biscuits turned out okay but not very structurally sound. I will need further experimentation.

10. We lost one of Lauren’s hens today – the big Buff Orpington that has been with us for a few years. On the flip side, we seem to have adopted a stray hen from elsewhere in our friend’s barn – she has been accepted by our flock and is getting on nicely with them – so our net chicken stats remain constant.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

News and Updates

1. So far the Conference Championships of the NHL Playoffs are not going well for my preferred teams. This does not surprise me, as I have a rather poor record of supporting teams in terms of them actually winning anything, but still. The games are fun to watch anyway. It is a strange thing to consider that of the last four professional ice hockey teams still playing for the Stanley Cup, the northernmost city represented is Las Vegas, Nevada.

2. It may actually be summer here, as the temperatures are now warm with no real chance of being cold again for a few months, alas. We did have a few hazy days as the Canadian wildfire smoke drifted down into Wisconsin, but that seems to have cleared off for the moment.

3. It’s very strange to be on a work schedule that does not involve an overload – the last time that happened was 2018. I don’t have to go rocketing off every morning at o’dark-thirty nor do I have tasks to be completed long after I get home. But I’ve got enough saved up to get through the summer, so I’m good that way. The slowdown will be nice.

4. Once you’ve been on overload long enough you forget how to have down time, which is a sad, sad thing. I’ve been trying to do not much of anything today and failing. Right now I’ve got a batch of Scottish oat biscuits in the oven because I like them and it seemed like something to do. I strongly suspect this batch will be an experiment to be adjusted going forward, but we’ll see. I’ve got enough cheese and jam in the fridge to keep testing for a while.

5. Yesterday I replaced the rotting plank on the picnic table we have in our back yard – a project that involved multiple trips to the hardware store (“I bought ‘star-head’ screws? Dafuk are those?”) and at least one extended discussion with the cashier about whether the board I bought should be $5.99 (the price on the shelf) or $42.99 (the price in the inventory). I won that one, mostly by eventually figuring out that the inventory item was not the one I was actually buying. But do you realize how weird it is for me to perform any kind of repair work voluntarily?

6. I got a notification today from Ancestry about a “potential cousin” that they found through the DNA test that my mother got me to do with them, and sometimes they score – this one I happen to know is my mother’s first cousin, so there was no new information there. But that cousin has a family tree up in Ancestry so I spent the morning happily dredging it for documents and information. Someday I will organize all of my own documents and information and won’t that be a time.

7. I do need to do that, though, since otherwise a lot of information will likely be lost. My generation is the last one who remembers even hearing about most of these people, after all.

8. Can we just take a moment and get righteously enraged by the descent into full-on Fascism that is currently happening in Florida? By the reduction of women to breeding stock that is taking place all over the United States in areas controlled by the Republican Party? By the eliminationist tactics being used against trans people in those same benighted and immoral areas? I try to write posts but every time I do I have to put them away for later editing so that I don’t get unfriendly visits by Serious Men In Dark Suits who would no doubt want a few words with me about why I feel the way I do and it would be all I could do not to point at the headlines and ask them what the hell else do they damn well expect of a thinking human? This probably wouldn’t help.

9. On the plus side, Our Little Town had its annual RenFaire this past weekend and it was fun. It’s not the big RenFaire that happens over in Bristol, but it keeps growing and this is the first time we’ve actually been able to go since before the pandemic, I think. I lose track. There is very little at these events that is accurate to the Renaissance or the medieval period, but there is room in the world for cosplaying and there are no better places in the world for people-watching than a RenFaire of any description.

10. The robin who nests on top of our porch light is back, which means that so is her mate. There is nothing quite like the sensation of pulling into your own driveway under the baleful stare of 180 grams of songbird trying to intimidate you away from your own porch. Yeah, yeah, bird. You do you.

Friday, May 19, 2023

The End and the Beginning

And so the semester winds to a close. All of them. Or at least all of the ones that are going to do so.

Home Campus finished up last week, and we had our commencement ceremony on Tuesday. It’s always a lovely thing to see the students graduate – many of them never thought they’d go to college at all, let alone succeed there, and yet there they are: newly minted alumni. I wish them well. We moved the ceremony into the theater this year which meant both the faculty/staff and the students were up on the stage. I’m not sure why we were seated in front of the graduates when we were just there to dress the set. Nobody’s sitting in the audience to see me, after all. But there we were.

The campus for my remote class finished up this week – my final was Wednesday evening, and I spent last night grading by the light of the NHL playoffs. They did about as well as they always do on that exam, and I posted the final grades today. Another one for the books.

Let me just pause to say here that if I ever needed one more reason to dislike the Boston Bruins, their inability to dispatch the Florida Panthers – a team 43 points below them in the standings, which is almost as many points as Anaheim had for the season as a whole – in the first round will do nicely. I never did see the end of the game last night since it went 13 seconds shy of four overtime periods and ended around lunchtime today, but the Panthers won and I strongly suspect they will win this series because of it. Nothing good should happen to Florida while it is the leading edge of Fascism in the US.

My summer schedule looks pretty light on official duties – my perpetual class rolls on, and I’ve got a 2-day/week appointment for my advising position, mostly so I can be there for the new student orientation and registration days – though I have enough other projects that I can keep myself busy. I’m scheduled to teach a class this fall that I haven’t taught since 2015 so that will need to be revised (or at least brought up to date). I need to tear down my US2 class and rebuild it from the joists out as I have been threatening to do since 2019, but this year for sure. I would like to finish weeding and sorting the books in my office at home, a project that has progressed in fits and starts since 2019 as well – I’ve gotten through two thirds of the shelves and removed about a dozen boxes of books all told (not that you can tell) but the rest of it needs to be done. I have multiple genealogical projects stalled at various points. I’d like to get back to reading. And sleeping.

Also, we’re hoping to do a bit of traveling this summer as well.

For right now though I suspect I will do as little as possible for a few days. I’m not sure I remember how to do that. But it will be worth trying.

Happy summer to all.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

In Which We Watch Eurovision

In the end it was Sweden, of course. They were the favorites to win this year and their song scored a narrow victory over a goofy but honestly more entertaining song from Finland, and so another Eurovision gets put to bed.

We like Eurovision in our house. It’s one of the premier kitsch events in the world, a vast and unwieldy version of the Olympics only with power ballads, onstage pyrotechnics, high camp, low comedy, and enough gender fluidity to give every politician in Florida an aneurysm, which of course only recommends it that much more. It is also one of the most pointlessly enjoyable things you will ever see and there are not nearly enough such things in the world as far as I am concerned.

If you haven’t had the pleasure, you really should watch it. We try to make an event of it in our house these days. Lauren actually is home from school this weekend, so all four of us hung out today and watched the final together. It was a good way to spend time together, commenting on the acts and the play by play – the American broadcasters left the semi-finals to the actual UK hosts, but for the finals they had Johnny Weir in a little inset screen making his own commentary. I suppose if they have to have anyone do that it might as well be Weir, whose entire personality exists as a Eurovision stereotype and who does as good a job as anyone could be expected to do in that role even if he does need to learn not to try to talk over people. It’s just that his entire job is superfluous. The actual hosts are fine.

For those of you unfamiliar with how Eurovision works, it’s basically a song contest. It’s been running since 1956, and every country in Europe (or who is part of some nebulous European television consortium, which is how you also get Israel, Australia, and the various small nations in the Caucasus Mountains) gets to submit one song. The song has to be no longer than three minutes or so, and the rules say that during the contest itself the lead vocals have to be live, the instrumentals have to be pre-recorded, and the backing vocals can be either. Each participating nation gets to decide how to choose their own song – some hold contests, some just have an appointed body choose. And then you have a party.

Last year’s winning country usually hosts this year’s performance, but since – in one of the most predictable results in the history of the contest – Ukraine won last year and nobody really wanted to try to host the most popular musical event in the world while under steady Russian bombardment, the United Kingdom, last year’s runner up, agreed to host for them.

There are two nights of semi-finals, during which your personal favorites will be unceremoniously eliminated, and then there is the grand finale. At least that’s how it seems to work when I watch.

Each semi-final sends ten acts to the final, with last year’s winner plus the representatives of the five countries that pay for most of this (France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the UK) getting a pass to the final so you don’t get to see them until the very end. I kept a running count during each semi-final, ranking the acts as they came across.

There were a few general trends that I noticed while doing so.

After the bright colors of the 80s last year, this year the 60s and 70s (and their 90s revivals) were in, with a whole pile of updated disco songs and performers wearing clothing that went out of style somewhere between Altamont and New Wave. Many singers were barefoot, and in a fascinating change from the usual order of things most of the women’s outfits were fairly restrained while the men dominated the risqué clothing selections. Also, for some reason, a lot of singers chose to perform while lying on their backs. I am not sure why. I do know that this makes it harder to sing.

In the first semi-final four of my five top songs were eliminated while three of my bottom four made it in, which only goes to show you how out of touch I am, I suppose. My personal favorite was Azerbaijan, whose act was basically what you would get if Pippen Took and Merry Brandybuck put together a tribute band to The Animals, and I thought they deserved better. My second semi-final was more on target as all of my top seven made it in, though Georgia was clearly robbed. On the flip side, both Serbia and Switzerland made it to the finals despite neither of them really being able to carry a tune, and while Croatia’s performance was phenomenally entertaining in an “aggravated what-the-fuckery” kind of way I can’t really see how they went through either. There were serious overtones of Monty Python in their act, which admittedly was more fun than Moldova recreating the Stonehenge scene from This Is Spinal Tap.

Other notable performances included Finland, whose “hyperpop” song was performed by a guy with the same haircut as Moe from the Three Stooges wearing a neon green shirt that consisted solely of puffy sleeves and a collar; France, performing a disco torch song that I really enjoyed; Poland, who should be expecting a plagiarism lawsuit from Shakira any day now; and one act whose country of origin now escapes me but whose song would have been Top-40 on American AM radio in 1979 had it aired then. Boogie oogie oogie, and all that jazz. I thought Graham Norton’s comment that Belgium’s song was every song you ever listened to at a bar mitzvah in the 90s was a bit harsh, though I can’t say he was wrong even if I did like the song. Also, if anyone can explain what Germany was doing up there, let me know.

We got to vote this year, which is new. The usual process for choosing a winner in Eurovision, as near as I can tell, is that each of the countries who participated last year gets to have a professional jury award up to twelve points to their top ten countries – they make a big deal of showing you who gets the 12-point haul – and then the public gets to make all that irrelevant with their votes. You’re not allowed to vote for your own country, but otherwise anything goes. Normally they limit the public vote to participating countries, but this year they gave “the rest of the world” the equivalent of one country’s vote. I strongly suspect it didn’t make a bit of difference, but it was fun to have a vote anyway.

You can vote up to twenty times, at a cost of about a euro a vote, and since there were four of us watching that worked out to five votes apiece. My top five were Norway – my choice for the clear winner – France, Italy, Finland, and Lithuania, in that order. Sweden, by comparison, came in 8th on my list – a fun song, but not my top choice.

For the record, Italy and Finland came in third and fourth according to the juries, while Lithuania came in eleventh and France sixteenth. When you add in the popular vote, Finland came in second – the only country even remotely close to Sweden in the overall points standings – while Italy placed fourth, and Lithuania and France stayed in eleventh and sixteenth respectively. So, not too bad.

Next year Eurovision will be in Sweden. Perhaps we’ll try to go.

Thursday, May 11, 2023


Today would have been my parents’ 60th anniversary.

They were high school sweethearts – voted the cutest couple of their graduating class – and they got married about five years after that on a spring day in Philadelphia. They lived in the area their whole lives – raised a family, worked their jobs, went on vacations, pitched in with the communities they found. They made the world a better place by their presence, and in the end that’s really all you can ask of anyone.

They’re both gone now, alive only in memory and photographs and in the ripples they made in the world around them.

That is enough.

This will always be their day, for as long as there are people who remember them and celebrate them.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Here's a Toast

This week will mark thirty-five years since I graduated from college.

I know.

It doesn’t seem that long ago, really. I remember the day pretty clearly. Marching down Locust Walk with a horde of other similarly berobed about-to-be-alumni along with a pile of my friends (including one from the year behind us who borrowed his roommate’s gown and marched with us since his roommate couldn’t attend). My parents came and sat in the audience down at Franklin Field. It was a fairly warm day and they put bottles of water under the seats, though that might have also been a general nod to the hungover in the crowd. The graduation speaker was a Congresswoman from Colorado who had run for president not long before, without success. I couldn’t tell whether she was enthusiastic or drunk while she was giving her speech and to be honest it didn’t really matter. It was a perfectly fine speech and then we were out into the world, graduates looking for a hot meal.

I lived off campus for a year after that, figuring out what to do with my life. I don’t know if I ever did. Mostly I just bobbed from one thing to the next until suddenly I’m in my late 50s with a career and a family and a house in the midwest, and it’s been pretty good I have to say. Maybe having a plan isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I would have forgotten about this anniversary entirely except that Penn places a great deal of emphasis on alumni as we are a significant source of revenue for them. Not me personally, of course. I’ve seen their finances – I need it more than they do. But in general. As part of this emphasis we have Class Officers who seem to make a point of tracking people down now and then to remind us about the halcyon days of our youth down at the old alma mater.

So I’ve been getting emails from them for weeks now about whether I will be attending the festivities on Friday (no, it’s our finals week too) or making donations (also no, see above). This time around, though, they’ve set up a system where we can all fill out some forms online and create our own Personal Page on the Class Web Site.

I find that idea a bit odd.

For one thing, most of the people I want to keep up with I either already keep up with or they were from different classes. Or both. Could be both! In an age of social media, losing track of people is a choice. Do I want to find everyone else? Maybe. Do I want others to find me? Maybe, but less so. Most of the people I don’t keep track of were good folks who just drifted in other directions – it’s not like we left on bad terms – but after a while you just accept that and move on.

For another thing, I can’t really conceive of what I would put on such a page. I went to college with people who had plans. They were going to be CEOs, doctors, lawyers, movers and shakers. The alumni magazine follows me everywhere I go – seriously, their circulation department needs to be recruited en masse into the FBI, though their billing department should probably be let go since I have never once given them any money – and sometimes I will check the back pages for the alumni notes to see if anyone I know is in them. Sometimes there are! And they are up to Big Things! And good for them, really. But I have my own life and it is mine and I like it but most of the things I like about it I wouldn’t put in the alumni notes.

I have not made my page. I suspect it will not happen. Thus ever it goes.

So to the Class of ’88, I wish you well from afar. Drink a highball at nightfall, be good fellows while you may.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

News and Updates

1. Yeah, it’s been that sort of time. The semester is rushing to a close and the we’re gearing up toward summer without even a pause in between. And my semester actually drags on for an extra week because the various campuses I work for can’t quite seem to coordinate that sort of thing so I’ve got finals stretching out across the month. Yay, me.

2. I’ll miss my students, as I always do. This year was a particularly memorable year, which is either a function of them being lovely people or me slowly losing my ability to remember more than eleven months into the past. Or both. Could be both!

3. Oliver and I are working our way through the NHL playoffs, and having a good time while doing so. The Flyers were eliminated sometime in January, so we really don’t have any pressure to cheer for anyone in particular.

4. Why, though, did the NHL put all of their regular season games onto one cable channel – one that, by a fortuitous coincidence, we already subscribed to – and then decide that exactly NONE of the playoffs would be on that channel? Instead, that they would be broadcast on several other channels, none of which we subscribe to? Are they trying to make the game dry up and blow away? Maybe. Fortunately we know about such things as VPNs and streaming sites and we’ve been watching that way. It has to be said that the Canadian sites have better ads – not nearly as screamingly obnoxious as American ads. At one point we found an Israeli feed (yes, apparently, the NHL has fans in Israel) and we were kind of looking forward to seeing what those ads would look like but they just keep the stadium feed the whole time.

5. Also, only Canadians are allowed to be nicknamed “Dougie.” It’s the law.

6. We had a grand time at that wedding, by the way. Despite it being late April it actually snowed a bit, which meant that those of us wearing suits were nicely warm in the more or less outdoor venue while those wearing dresses – notably the bride – were not. But the event was lovely, the company was good, and if the reception was too loud because I am too old, we enjoyed ourselves immensely anyway.

7. I'm working my way through the last forty years in my US2 class, which is always a minefield since speaking the truth about recent American history does tend to upset the sorts of people who call others “snowflakes.” My class would be considered illegal in Florida these days and I take a certain amount of pride in that.

8. It is also something of a melancholy moment to reach the point in my history class where I’m giving a lecture that covers the exact year that I was sitting where my students are now, when I was a first-year college student. And it isn’t even the last lecture of the course! There are four more to go! Who thought that was a plan?

9. We went up to see Lauren on Monday to try to plan out our Big Summer Vacation – perhaps the last one we’ll do with all four of us before she and Oliver head out to their own lives, though perhaps not. Might as well plan big just in case, though. We’ve got some good ideas now, and at some point we’ll actually go and then after that there will be pictures here. We also stayed for the Monday night trivia contest and our team – a vast and cheerfully unwieldy collection of folks – came in second, so rah us.

10. We’re reaching the point where the good folks who run Our Little Town are going to come by soon and write out a Ten Foot Ticket about my lawn, so I’ll probably have to cut it this weekend. “But the pollinators!” I cry. “But the ordinances,” they respond. Oh well. I tried, little bees, I tried.