Tuesday, June 27, 2023

A Hazy Holiday

One of the websites that we’ve become familiar with this summer here in Baja Canada is the one that the National Weather Service runs to let you know just how bad for you the local air is.

I suppose having no air would be worse, these things being relative, but still.

It is a brightly colored map, cheerfully so in light of what it’s actually saying. Yellow means kind of bad. Orange means mostly bad. Red is just bad. Purple is really bad. And darker purple means that you should think very carefully about whether you really want to do anything more stressful than sit in an enclosed space and read a book. Next level: “Nothing but Flowers.”

This is, of course, the result of the wildfires in Canada. Apparently Canada is literally on fire and has been for a while now, as opposed to the US which is only metaphorically burning down, and the smoke has been drifting south into the US where Americans have no idea what to do with it since you can’t shoot it and it doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it. We’re a limited people that way.

Here in Our Little Town we’ve been alternating between red and purple all day, according to the map. You can tell. Even just looking across the street there is a haze between you and the neighbors that has nothing to do with the impending orgy of fireworks that hits every year this time.

It isn't the bright orange skies that people out east got a few weeks ago, but it’s still an experience.

We went up to see Lauren and Max yesterday for our delayed Father’s Day celebration. Hey – holidays happen when you have time for them, and this way we could all get together. And we had a lovely time, it has to be said. There was some retail therapy, notably at one of the bigger used book stores in the area. There was a decent meal made by people other than ourselves – not a particularly elegant meal, it must be said, as I am a fairly cheap date and I got to choose the place, but a tasty one and that’s all that mattered. And we shared some good conversation. All I really want out of these holidays is time spent with my family, and that’s what I got. I was a happy dad indeed.

But driving up there was kind of eerie.

The map was purple and red the whole way up. There was a grey haze over the entire landscape, and the sun was a faded dot in the sky. If you didn’t know what it was you could convince yourself that it was actually foggy.

I don’t remember this happening when I was younger, and over the last few years it seems to have become more common. The earth is not happy with us and I can’t say I blame it.

We do what we can, though, and sometimes all you can do is share a meal with those you love and talk about baseball.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

News and Updates

1. The bookcase project is now complete. It only took three weeks of my office looking like an explosion at the Library of Congress, two separate trips to IKEA, and one unplanned late night of weeding a final time to try to fit everything into available space, but it’s done and for the first time since we moved into this house a quarter century ago I finally have all of my books out on shelves instead of scattered in boxes.

2. This means all the books I plan to keep, to be clear. There are 18 boxes of books sitting in my basement that need to be donated to a good cause. I started this project during lockdown, when nobody was accepting donations, and then took a very long break from it in order to deal with … well … [waves hands vaguely at everything] … so things kind of piled up. The end of one project is just the beginning of the next.

3. I have a wide range of options for my next project. I can a) deshamble-ize my office, since a great many things got shuffled around for the bookcase project that have not yet been unshuffled, b) work on my upcoming history class this fall, a course I have not taught since 2015, which is before I did anything online with my face-to-face classes so I will need to address a great many things, not least of which is the fact that there is more material to squeeze in but the semester is a week shorter now that we’re part of the Mother Ship, c) work on my other upcoming history class this fall, which I have taught since 2012 and I’ve always hated the first discussion assignment but have never worked out a better one, so perhaps this is the time, d) work on my upcoming history class for spring 2024, which needs a complete reboot that I have been threatening to do since 2019 and I know what I want to do for it (the class will likely be illegal in the state of Florida when I’m done, but such is the price of teaching actual history) but haven’t had both time and energy simultaneously to do it, e) work on any of the three separate major genealogical projects I’d like to be working on, f) work on any of the infinite number of projects other people would like me to be working on, and/or g) not do much of anything. It’s a quandary.

4. Does anyone have any idea what’s going on in Russia at the moment? First there was a rebellion, then there wasn’t, and in the end I’m not sure what if anything will come of it and I suspect nobody else is either at the moment. I could go for some less interesting times to live in, if I’m being honest here.

5. The best comment I saw on the situation in Russia was “Huh, maybe giving a psychopath his own army of criminals wasn’t a well thought out plan after all.” There are no good guys in that conflict.

6. It needs to rain here in Baja Canada. We have not had real rain in a very long time. The grass is crunchy, the river is low, and it’s 15 degrees Fahrenheit (9 Celsius) above normal for this time of the year here. The air is still hazy from the Canadian wildfires (nothing like the orange glow that they got out east last month, fortunately) and every statistical measure out there says this is the new normal. Why there are morons loudly complaining that climate change isn’t real in the face of all this escapes me, but then I live in a country where a loudly vocal minority of people think the solution to daily mass shootings is to give people more guns so they can shoot more people, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of critical thinking here.

7. San Pellegrino makes a Limonata soda that is truly a healing balm in this vale of sorrows, yes it is.

8. There is nothing quite as satisfying as recommending a book to someone and having that person actually enjoy it.

9. I am now officially old, having been diagnosed with arthritis in one finger – the one that doesn’t really bend anymore, strangely enough. I keep thinking that I’m too young for this sort of thing – when I was a kid “arthritis” was something reserved for bent-over shuffling greybeards who would tell you all about that damned scoundrel Herbert Hoover if you weren’t careful – but then I do the math and I realize that they weren’t that old and I’m not that young and this is why people don’t like math.

10. It is getting on time for me to get a new computer, as I’ve had my current one for six years and it wasn’t new when I got it. It is as updated as it can get, and it is falling behind. Eventually there will be things I need to do that I can't, and I should solve this before that happens.  The problem is that I am not edgy enough for Apple’s current product line and I genuinely can’t stand working with Windows machines (and do not suggest anything along the lines of Linux or other niche operating systems – I’m lucky to get Apple to work and I’ve been in that ecosystem for 34 years). Yet another quandary.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

A Visit to Chattanooga

Sometimes you just have to go.

It’s been a long time since we visited my aunt and uncle down in Chattanooga – not since the Christmas before the pandemic, back in 2019, which was a world and a half ago. Worse, Lauren hadn’t seen them in person since 2018, before she was an exchange student, before the pandemic shut everything down, before she ended up with Covid for two consecutive Christmases (and me on the first one as well). After our plans fell through last Christmas we decided that we would indeed go visit, even if it meant going to the south in the summer.

Because that’s the kind of dedicated family members we are. Also, everything is air conditioned in the south.

My cousins Elizabeth and Paula and their families live not too far from Chattanooga as well, depending on how you define “not too far.” Certainly by midwestern standards, anyway, so we could see them as well. Win!

It ended up just being the three of us going – me, Kim, and Lauren – since on Thursday Oliver came down with a bad summer cold. You forget about colds in a pandemic age. But rather than export this cold down to my aunt and uncle he stayed home. The cats and rabbits, at least, were happy. We’ll all go down again soon, perhaps this Christmas coming.

We left on Friday.

Illinois is a long, long state. Seriously long, and frankly uninteresting from the highway even by highway standards. But we made it through and into Kentucky in time for lunch. Let me tell you, Freddy’s has got you covered when it comes to lunch. It was marvelous. None of us really ate again until the following morning, even though Lauren and I had stocked the van with enough snack food to render a middle school comatose.

Also, what is with Tennessee and traffic? We had to pass directly through Nashville under the baleful stare of the Eye of Sauron Building, a process that took roughly sixteen months.

Then we had to slide carefully by Bonnaroo. And the car fire. And the mysterious blockage on I-24 as it briefly dips into Georgia just before getting to Chattanooga that was bad enough that we actually found an alternative route to avoid it. But even taking all this into account, it was still a trial driving through Tennessee.

I can see why they put the Jack Daniels distillery there.

But we made it and spent a lovely weekend with Uncle Bob and Aunt Linda and my cousins and their families. This is why you make that drive, after all.

We’re pretty low key when you get down to it. We did a lot of hanging around and talking, catching up and telling stories, sharing meals and time together, and that’s a grand thing. My aunt also taught us how to play Quirkle, which was an entertaining way to spend a Sunday evening.

We did get out a bit, though.

On Saturday we walked around the Frazier Avenue area, which includes a nice pedestrian bridge over the river. It’s astonishing how much public art there is in Chattanooga, some of which you are invited to add to. We also found an actual independent bookstore and a nice boba tea place. It was a good day.

On Sunday we met Elizabeth, Brian, Evan and Austin down at the market by the Chattanooga minor league baseball stadium. It’s kind of a cross between a farmer’s market and a craft show and they hold it every Sunday, and we did our best to loot the place. We made good use of the long row of food trucks when we got there, and then we headed into the pavilion for some good old-fashioned American retail therapy. I am now FULLY hot sauced – there were three or four different booths that sold nothing but that and I made sure to patronize each one of them – and we found an artist with a drawing of an opossum cowboy, guns drawn and hat high, that said “We Ride At Dusk!” which was pretty much irresistible. Lauren got some fresh peaches. We did the place proud.

We left on Monday, and after once again bludgeoning our way through the traffic at Bonnaroo we met up with Paula, Randall, Analise, and Ian in Nashville for some Nashville Hot Chicken sandwiches. It’s good to do the thing in the place, and it’s even better to do it with good people.

We made it home late Monday night, another journey safely in the books. And for a change – perhaps for the first time in the several trips we have taken to Chattanooga – we did not need to repair any tires nor did any complete stranger take me aside and try to convince me that the south could have, would have, should have, or actually did win the Civil War, and I will take both of these as good signs for future visits.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

A Hint of What May Come Next

And so it begins.

In the wake of the stunningly thorough and absolutely damning indictment of der Sturmtrumper for violating the Espionage Act – and if you haven’t read it already you should, since it’s readily available online and absolutely eye-opening; if half the things in it hold up in court this could be one of the most damaging violations of American national security in decades – MAGAworld has collectively lost most of whatever could generously be called its mind. They are incensed that the Dear Leader could ever be called to accountability for his crimes. They are outraged at the possibility that they might be as well. And they’re ready and eager to kill you over it.

In case you think I’m exaggerating, here are a few selections from various online portals to MAGAworld, for your edification:

“The only way this country ever becomes anything like the Constitution says this country should be is if thousands of traitorous rats are publicly executed.”

“Doesn’t have to be thousands, just a few dozen would do. Shit would STOP immediately.”

“Millions. The real problem is the people that vote for them, as long as they exist the problem can’t be solved.”

“If they steal the election again why are we talking about anything but dragging the political elite out of their homes and setting them on fire?”

“I prefer tying them to vehicles and dragging them across concrete until they are ground down to nothing.”

“We need to start killing these traitorous fuckstains”.

“It's not gonna stop until bodies start stacking up. We are not civilly represented anymore and they'll come for us next. Some of us, they already have.”

And this is just from the echo chambers that they have online, the ones that were too knuckledragging even for 4Chan to put up with. You can find it among so-called “respectable” GOP leaders as well.

Here’s Kari Lake, failed Arizona GOP candidate for governor and current abuser of the legal system:

“I have a message tonight for Merrick Garland and Jack Smith and Joe Biden — and the guys back there in the fake news media, you should listen up as well, this one is for you. If you want to get to President Trump, you are going to have go through me, and you are going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me. And I’m going to tell you, most of us are card-carrying members of the N.R.A.”

Or Arizona GOP Representative Andy Biggs (what do they put in the water in Arizona, anyway?):

"We have now reached a war phase. Eye for an eye,"

And on and on. It took me maybe 45 seconds of internet searching to find all of these. You can probably find more if you wanted to do so.

This is not the response of a rational, adult movement. This is the response of violent extremists eager to impose absolute rule over the majority and baying for blood.

Has there been any pushback against any of this from the GOP? That’s the key, after all. Extremists you have everywhere, but how do the people those extremists claim to support react to this support? Have there been any declarations from Republicans about how unacceptable this is? How this is domestic terrorism? How this is morally bankrupt, criminal, and arguably treasonous?

Hello? Is this thing on? Hello?

Of course not.

And that’s the problem right there. It’s one thing for the assholes to make threats. Assholes gonna asshole, after all. It’s quite another for one of the only two major political parties we have (and only one of them) to step back and declare through their tacit approval that this is acceptable or even desirable conduct.

There is no excuse for this.

Watch your back.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Brace Yourselves for What's Coming Next

And so we enter the end stage of the Trump regime, more than two years after the American people unceremoniously threw it out of power – a junta defined by brazen corruption, treasonous insurrection, and now theft of classified secrets, which is a violation of the Espionage Act.

This has been a long time coming.

Der Sturmtrumper was impeachable from the moment he slithered into office on the say-so of a minority of American voters and it never got any better. His term in office was marked by corruption on a scale not seen in this country since the Gilded Age, by a foreign policy centered around alienating staunch allies and coddling up to tin-horn dictators, by the American intelligence community regarding him as such a grave threat to national security that they routinely withheld information from him lest he give it away to our enemies – I’m not saying he was a paid Russian agent; I’m just asking what he would have done differently if he were – and by the willful abuse of power in the service of petty grievances and performative cruelty. His deliberate mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic as a political issue designed to inflict damage on the people he hated rather than as a medical issue threatening all Americans is now conservatively estimated to have cost over a quarter million American lives. His coordination and incitement of the January 6 insurrection has been conclusively and publicly demonstrated.

The Founding Fathers would have had him hauled off in chains by midnight on January 7th. Here in the 21st century we have had to wait for indictments.

And now they’re coming.

He’s already been impeached twice – something no other president can say. Once was for inciting the insurrection, which in a just and moral society would have removed him permanently from the national conversation and served as a deterrent to those who would follow in his footsteps. Draw your own conclusions about how just and moral we are, I suppose. The first time was for trying to blackmail Ukraine into fabricating a scandal about his political opponent by threatening to withhold American military assistance to that country – assistance approved by Congress and paid for by the American taxpayers. This looks worse with every day that Putin's vandals wreak havoc on that country.

Impeachments are just fancy indictments, after all.

The fact that the GOP stood by him both times is utterly damning.

Since leaving office he’s now been convicted in civil court of sexual assault and indicted twice, once for paying hush money to a porn star out of campaign funds (a felony offense that could land him in jail for a decade, and not one that his GOP whitewashers can pardon him for at the federal level) and now for stealing top secret documents, obstructing the federal government when it sought their return, and – as the recently released recording of Trump discussing at least one of those documents may show – quite possibly sharing them with other nations.

MAGAworld is losing their collective shit over the mere idea that the laws of the United States might actually apply to their Dear Leader and – oh, horror of horrors – possibly to them as well. They are claiming that this is “third world” stuff, and the irony of it all is that to some extent it is, just not how they think. The rank favoritism shown to Trump and his allies is absolutely something you’d see in an old-fashioned banana republic run by generals with more medals than combat experience. You or I would already be rotting in jail had we done the same things but Der Sturmtrumper has been allowed to walk free, whine endlessly to his base about the hardship of being held accountable for his actions for the first time in his life, and even run for office again.

Nevertheless, MAGAworld is threatening retaliation. You should take this seriously. These are people armed with a towering sense of entitlement and arsenals of heavy weaponry, and they have no particular hesitation about using either of them in the service of their cult.

It’s going to get ugly.

There is nothing more dangerous than a cornered rat, and those who would subvert this nation from within understand that they are slowly being boxed into a legal corner from which their only escape will either be punishment according to the full extent of the law or open rebellion against the United States of America.

Now is the time for all Americans who value the Constitution and the republic and who support the rule of law over tyranny to stand firm in their defense of this country against its internal enemies.

Things will get worse before they get better. They will get worse even if it doesn’t get better. Der Sturmtrumper and his minions, cronies, lackeys, enablers, cultists, and fanatics will see to that. But it’s my country too, and they can’t take it from me.

Here I stand. I can do no other.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Case of the Missing Case

It’s almost impossible to buy a bookcase here in Our Little Town.

We’re well into summer now and I should be working on any number of projects, some of which I actually am working on but that is another story. The larger issue is that I have reached the point in my life where I can avoid any task I wish to avoid while still remaining productive simply by shifting focus to another project that also needs to be done. There is a wonderful term for this that I found online a while back – “procrastiworking” – that I feel needs to be more widely known.

So I’ve been procrastiworking, mostly by trying to organize and weed the final few bookshelves in my office, the ones that line the northern wall and keep me toasty warm and insulated during the long Wisconsin winters.

This has been on my list of projects since before the pandemic. My office is lined with books on all four walls, and I got the history and miscellaneous topics sorted out several years ago. There are about a dozen boxes of books in my basement that need to go to a good home and will at some point, not that you can really tell in my office. All I had left to do was the fiction section, which is divided more or less into “science fiction and fantasy” and “other fiction,” and which has been gradually disappearing behind stacks of other similarly categorized books.

I figured I’d weed out the ones I didn’t want to keep anymore, incorporate the ones I had acquired over the last few years, and set things up in approximately the same space. Simple! Perhaps a bit heavier than you’d think, but not terribly complicated even so.

More fool I.

For one thing, there weren’t that many I wanted to weed out. Most of the books that I didn’t want to keep I didn’t keep to begin with, so while there’s maybe a box or so that needs to go that isn’t nearly enough to compensate for the books that have come in since the last time I did this. I like books, and when I have spare money to throw at retail therapy that’s mostly what I spend it on. My mother was the same way, and after she died I ended up with a whole pile more books despite being fairly selective about what I took.

This is why the space that had previously been holding all of my fiction now holds “science fiction and fantasy” from A to T.

There are a lot of books on the outside of that range looking in.

No problem, I figured. I live in a late-capitalist hellscape where my every desire – no matter how ill-advised, environmentally damaging, or ethically dubious – can be satisfied simply by throwing money at it! Surely someone in this town will sell me a bookcase!

Maybe there aren’t enough people here who read? I don’t know. Maybe they do read but don’t keep anything they read? Perhaps. Exclusively a Kindle town? Quite possibly. But no matter how you slice it, unless I want an heirloom quality hardwood piece of furniture handmade by burly men with beards and hats and sturdy enough that it would take three circus roustabouts and a large dog to move it into my house, my options here turn out to be somewhat limited.

So I remain surrounded by piles of books with no home, with no alternative but to get back to one of the many other projects that this was supposed to distract me from.

This is not how this was supposed to go.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Take Pride

Pride Month hits a little different this year.

In one sense I’m an outsider to the whole thing. I am thoroughly, comically straight. I’ve known this since I was five, long before it was relevant to my life in any way. I can still remember their names.

But in a larger sense, it is an absolutely central concern. I am an American, and I do not stand by when my fellow citizens are mistreated. I am human, and when human rights are denied to anyone – citizen or not – it becomes my concern. If you don’t get concerned when one group gets mistreated and denied, don’t be surprised when nobody gets concerned when it happens to you.

We live in an age where right-wing extremists are in a full-blown panic over the very thought that people not precisely like them might actually be allowed to live their lives without fear. Their fragile self-images implode at the idea that they are not the only people on the planet with rights. They insist their crabbed, anti-American and deeply blasphemous views of morality be enforced on a larger American population that neither wants nor needs to have anything to do with such things.

Unfortunately, these extremists have taken over much of the political process in this country and are working to cement their dictatorial hold on minority power though fear. They are passing laws and edicts overtly designed to reduce some Americans to second-class status, to strip their humanity away and then reap political benefit from the bloodshed that results.

Because make no mistake, people are already dying over this. Americans. Humans. People that the right-wing regards as expendable pawns in their quest for absolute dominion.

Speaking as your basic straight guy, fuck that. Fuck that sideways with a Buick.

I am in the process of revising my Western Civ II class down at Home Campus this summer, a class I have not taught since 2015 so it needs attention. This class deals extensively with the rise of Fascism in the 20th century – an ideology built on the violent scapegoating of anyone not precisely like the group that seized absolute power and an ideology that inevitably leads to mass murder. During WWII the United States of America gave medals to my ancestors for shooting Fascists and I will be damned if I will disgrace their memory by allowing it to flourish here and now.

This month I will be proud of those who celebrate, and I will give no quarter to those who would deny them their place as Americans and as people.