Monday, August 21, 2017


So the eclipse happened.  Was it good for you? 

It was cloudy here in Wisconsin, so mostly it just looked like twilight or one of those storms that you head into the basement to wait out.  It got dark.  It got light.

Once in a while the clouds cleared off enough to let us see the actual eclipse.  Kim ordered a bunch of those eclipse glasses so Tabitha and I were well prepared as the time came.  We sat outside and let the darkness fall, and whenever the clouds broke we’d snap on our glasses and take a look.

I even risked a brief photo, because why not.  It’s only dangerous if you stare at it, and a quick glance isn’t going to do any harm.  People look at the sun all the time.  Only during eclipses do they think they can stare at it, though.  So here’s what it looked like in Wisconsin, about 10 minutes past the peak of it all.

I was smart enough not to buy any plants, because I know what happened the last time someone tried that.

This is not my first eclipse, though I don’t really remember the first one.  In my defense, I was in kindergarten at the time.

I remember my parents talking about it with us, and I think they just kept us inside while it was going on.  You can’t really tell a kindergartner not to look at something and expect them not to look at it.  If we had been outside during the eclipse I can pretty much guarantee you that I’d be blind today.

We did gather around afterwards, though, my friends and I, out by the green mailbox on the corner of our one-block-long suburban street.  That was one of our hangout spaces back then.  We had a lot of them in that tiny little neighborhood: the big rock on the Mean Old Man’s property at the top of the driveway, our various front lawns, the driveways that bisected our blocks behind all of our houses – I never did understand how people could build blocks without common driveways running behind all the houses – and so on.  But the green mailbox – one of the ones that the mailmen used for storage rather than the blue ones that you could actually drop letters into – was a favorite.  It was on the corner so you had good visibility, which meant that most of your friends could see you a long way off.

It was nice little neighborhood.  There weren’t too many kids we didn’t want seeing us – only one that I can recall specifically, and he tended to plague other places.  We were all glad when he moved away to become someone else’s problem.

So there we were, out by the mailbox, discussing the events of the day once they had subsided.

We did that.  That’s where we met to discuss the aftereffects of some giant Chinese nuclear test that rumor had it would spread radiation around the world in a big wave that was timed to hit Philadelphia at some point.  We stayed in for that and discussed it after, though what good that did I have no idea.  It’s not like you can stare at radiation.

I don’t remember what we said, out there by the mailbox.  It was an eclipse.  It was unprecedented as far as our short lives were concerned, and we had nothing to compare it to.  We'd seen it from the windows of our various living rooms.  It looked like twilight or a big storm, though we didn’t go into the basement for storms then.  Tornados generally don’t happen in Philadelphia.

It got dark.  It got light.

And then we moved on.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Climate

With the cascade of stupid, immoral, illegal, subversive, un-American, and possibly treasonous things emitted by der Sturmtrumper, his pet Congress, his supporters, and his administration reaching levels that make it nearly impossible for any sane person to keep up with, I’ve started just keeping a running list of observations on the matter.  Every time the list reaches critical mass, I suppose I’ll post it and start a new one.  Can’t hurt; might help.  Here’s the most recent list:


1.  You know how the GOP likes to think it’s the party of business?  How it is running the country like a business and that this is somehow, despite all the available evidence, a good thing?  I’m not going to get into all the reasons why running a government like a business is jaw-droppingly stupid, since apparently the GOP is immune to having that pointed out.  But even if you assume that running one species of organization by the far different standards of another is remotely justifiable and not evidence of either pig-headed ignorance or actual insanity, the fact remains that they aren't running anything like a business.  Businesses thrive on investments – you have to spend money to make money, which is perhaps the first thing they teach you in business school after “don’t borrow money from guys whose middle name is ‘the’ if you wish to keep your kneecaps.”  Any business worth the space it takes up on the planet would be happy to spend $84 in order to get $370 back – that’s a profit of nearly 350% on expenses, after all.  You could retire on that kind of margin fairly quickly.  But no, the GOP simply looks at the $84 spent and says, “Oh noes!  We can’t afford that!”  I suppose it’s not surprising that their current party leader in the White House has gone bankrupt six times while trying to sell booze, gambling, and red meat to the American public.

2. On a related note, Scientific American just published an article noting that the economic benefits of the Obama-era rules to curb greenhouse gases would run to around $370 billion, a tidy profit on the $84 billion that they are expected to cost.  And guess which rules are high on the GOP chopping block as “too expensive.”  Go ahead, guess!  I’ll wait.

3. This might be the same general reason why der Sturmtrumper is so happy about the recent jobs numbers.  The US added 1.07 million jobs between February and July of 2017.  MAGA, right?  That’s certainly what he and his minions, cronies, and lackeys would have you believe.  Except that if you compare the February to July 2016 numbers, when Obama was in charge, those were actually bigger: 1.24 million jobs.  So were the 2015 figures: 1.37 million.  As were the 2014 figures: 1.51 million.  And, surprisingly, so were the 2013 figures: 1.17 million.  Der Sturmtrumper’s numbers are, in other words, the weakest job growth of the last five years.  Obama NEVER ONCE failed to beat those numbers in his second term in office, not that I would expect this to be acknowledged by anyone in the GOP.  Nor would I expect them to acknowledge that der Sturmtrumper’s 1.07 million jobs is the lowest total of any six-month period going back to 2012.  But what’s factual accuracy when you’ve got a country to pretend to run?

4. There is nothing so dangerous as a cornered rat, and der Sturmtrumper is rapidly approaching that phase of his failed presidency.  With the Russian noose getting tighter and tighter, approval ratings tanking, legislative agendas collapsing, and the GOP fragmenting, it’s all coming apart.  And thus you have his recent Twitter shitstorm accusing pretty much every media outlet except the GOP in-house newsletter that is Fox of being “fake news.”  Say it with me once again, people: “Fake news” is not defined as “things you don’t want to hear.”  That’s called journalism.  Everything else is just publicity.

5. Apparently der Sturmtrumper dictated Fredo’s false and misleading testimony to Congress about the Russian connection, and then justified it as parental duty.  You know, my dad would have kicked my ass if I had asked him to lie for me, because my dad had integrity.  I’m not sure the “parental duty” thing really applies here, unless you’re talking about the in loco parentis duty of the American people to punish an unethical moron.

6. So der Sturmtrumper, having accomplished almost nothing, is off for a 17-day vacation.  On the one hand, having him far from power is probably the best hope this nation has for stability and prosperity.  On the other hand, well, there’s a reason Newsweek put him on the cover sunk into a lounge chair, next to a bag of Cheetos (hah!), and above the caption, “Lazy Boy.”  He’s spent nearly a third of his brief Reign of Error on vacation, once you add in his taxpayer-financed golf trips to his own properties.  As former Mexican President Vicente Fox said, “If you’re not happy with your job, just leave.”  And der Sturmtrumper may just do that, though perhaps not on his own terms.

7. Of course Mike Pence is preparing for a presidential run in 2020.  He’d be stupid not to.  While Pence – a bog-standard Dominionist theocrat and right-wing Koch Brothers meat puppet – has a great many flaws, a lack of political ambition isn’t one of them.  He knows, perhaps better than most, that der Sturmtrumper’s days are numbered, and that even if der Sturmtrumper somehow magically makes it to the end of his full term without being impeached, jailed, or simply exploding in a stress-induced coronary, he won’t be reelected.  The confluence of events that brought us this administration is not repeatable.  Oh, worse things can certainly happen and a Pence Administration could even qualify as one depending on how it turns out, but at least Pence is wrong within normal parameters.  He’s a normal politician of the far-right extremes these days, which means a) we’d survive him and b) he understands that preparing for 2020 is his job.

8. Plus, as the Vice President, der Sturmtrumper can’t fire him.  This alone makes it worth his while to separate himself out from the oncoming train wreck so it doesn’t engulf him as well.  There’s nothing der Sturmtrumper can do to Pence aside from isolate and attack him, which only works to Pence’s benefit.  And then the Koch Brothers get the president they wanted anyway.  Win/win for them.  Not so much for the rest of us.

9. Time Magazine has an interactive quiz to see if you would qualify to emigrate to the United States under the draconian policies proposed by der Sturmtrumper.  Now, I was born here.  My ancestors have been here for generations.  I have family who fought to preserve the Union during the Civil War and others who fought to defeat the Nazis in WWII.  I have a PhD in American history specializing in the Founding Fathers so I do actually know what this country was founded upon, I have voted in every election since I turned 18, and I’ve been a taxpayer since the mid-1980s.  And I would not be allowed into this country under those rules.  The sheer smug assholery of such restrictions is a damning indictment of the patriotism of any American who supports them.

10. In case you thought you had any rights at all or that this was a democracy with an accountable government, you should take a good hard look at the workings of the committees der Sturmtrumper’s minions have put together to slash the regulations that keep the US safe.  Oh, right!  You can’t!  A disturbing number of those appointed by der Sturmtrumper haven’t even had their names released!  Because what business is it of yours, good citizen?  Turn around, bend over, smile, lie back and think of New England – nothing to see here except the workings of an autocratic regime that doesn’t have any truck with the whole “democracy” nonsense.  Of course, when you lose the popular vote by nearly three million ballots, this is perhaps understandable.

11. In case you think the GOP termites gnawing at the foundation of American society are limited to der Sturmtrumper, there is always Wisconsin to remind you that they’ve been here for a while.  Thanks to Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries), there is now a teacher shortage in this state.  And really, who saw that coming?  Wisconsin teachers get paid less now than they did when Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) came to power in 2011, given the drastic cuts in benefits necessary to provide tax breaks to the already wealthy.  Classes are larger, job security is less, the teachers’ unions have been gutted, and the Wisconsin GOP has spent almost a decade libeling the state’s teachers as welfare cheats and loafers while introducing legislation to prevent even local authorities from raising money to fund schools.  Who needs an educated population, anyway? 

12. Meanwhile down in Texas, where the heat warps the GOP mind into just the most fascinating shapes, the Texas GOP has slashed funding for family planning by nearly two-thirds since 2011.  And, not surprisingly, teenage pregnancies spiked by 34%.  Yeah, they’re a little hazy on this whole “cause and effect” thing down in the Lone Star State.

13. Terrorism Watch: on August 5, some Moral Leper threw a bomb into the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minneapolis.  Nobody was hurt, the but building was extensively damaged.  Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton – a Democrat who has reversed the supply-side, anti-education policies of the GOP and led his state to an economic prosperity that dwarfs the failed efforts of Wisconsin’s GOP poster boy – immediately condemned the bombing as “an act of terrorism” and promised serious action to find the Moral Lepers in question and prevent future such attacks.  Minnesota Senator Al Franken – also a Democrat, strangely enough – told a crowd of citizens that this attack “was an attack on all of us” and would be treated as such.  Meanwhile der Sturmtrumper, always quick with the gratuitously stupid tweet whenever it’s possible to blame terrorist attacks on Muslims, even in foreign countries, has said nothing about this act of terrorism on American soil, and Outright Nazi and White House Advisor Sebastian Gorka publicly declared the whole thing a false flag operation based on, well, nobody’s sure what that accusation is based on.  Wishful thinking and hallucinogenic drugs, most likely.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between the two parties at the moment.

14. Bristol Palin apparently said that there is some kind of liberal plot to make conservatives look stupid.  No, dear.  Whatever passes for the left in this country couldn’t organize a two-car parade, let alone a plot of any significant scale.  If you look stupid, chances are it’s your own doing.

15.  Seriously, fuck Nazis. 

16. There are any number of seriously fucked up things about der Sturmtrumper’s reaction to the recent domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, not least being the sheer incompetence of it.  Here he had an opportunity to unite the country behind him by unequivocally condemning Nazis – FUCKING NAZIS, the same racist halfwits we spent four years shooting, back in my grandfather’s day – and he couldn’t even do that.  99% of Americans hate Nazis.  It crosses party lines.  It crosses regional lines.  It crosses class, gender, orientation, occupational, and educational lines.  Nobody likes Nazis, and you know why?  BECAUSE THEY’RE FUCKING NAZIS, the lowest of the low, the cowards who hide behind a bullshit theory of biology thinking it gives them the right to celebrate and perpetuate atrocities.  How hard would it have been to do the moral thing?  How hard would it have been to do the politically astute thing, which for once was the same as the moral thing?  Apparently too hard for der Sturmtrumper.  I’ve gotten grief from some quarters for referring to the current occupant of the White House as “der Sturmtrumper,” but I think I have been proven right here.

17.  Did you see that press conference?  This man is unhinged.

18. Every one of the branches of the US military has taken the highly unusual – possibly even unprecedented – step of slapping der Sturmtrumper down over this.  Every single one.  He’s lost the military.  He’s lost the business community, which recognizes at least that supporting Nazis is bad for business.  You know who he hasn’t lost?  The Dominionist blasphemers, the white supremacists, the Teabagger halfwits, and the rest of his base.

19. If I have to listen to one more Nazi apologist scream “fake news” or “the left is just as bad” or any other hallucinatory verbal excretions, I swear I will hire people to follow them around and laugh at them full time.

20. This:

You either condemn these bastards or you sign on.  There is no middle ground anymore.  Either you are against the Nazis, or you are for them.  And if you are for them, may God have mercy on your soul.

21. Meanwhile the rest of the world continues on its axis (pun fully intended).  Kim Jong Un, the grownup in the room when it comes to meetings with der Sturmtrumper, has signaled his intent to back down from the recent frogmarch toward WWIII.  This might be enough to keep der Sturmtrumper from blowing us all to hell as a way to make us forget the ever-tightening Russian noose (remember that?  What a fine job of wagging the dog this week has been…).  Of course the fact that President Bannon – another Nazi, remember – openly admitted that there is no military option when it comes to North Korea and we should just grow up and forget it might also help. 

22. Robert Mueller continues his investigations and they do seem to be getting closer to paydirt.  The recent raid on Paul Manafort’s house is further evidence that there is a whole lot of fire behind this smoke – you can’t get authorization for that kind of raid without convincing a judge that there was probable cause to suspect criminal activity.  Kenneth Starr never had the basis for such a raid back in the 1990s, and neither did the special counsel investigating George W. Bush’s leak of a CIA operative’s identity.  The case gets closer and closer to der Sturmtrumper, and his flailing and thrashing gets wilder and wilder.

23. That bastion of liberal left-wing thinking known as The Federalist – the same organization that wants to return to the Articles of Confederation because the US Constitution is just too modern – published a fascinating editorial headlined “Donald Trump Needs to Not Be President Yesterday.”  “We’re done with the ‘Well, maybe it won’t be so bad and we should take what we can get’ phase of this administration,” the editorial opens.  “It’s time for the ‘He’s a disaster and needs to go’ phase.  For everybody’s good, Donald Trump needs to not be president, and he needs to not be president yesterday.”  The editorial goes on to spend a good deal of time describing the utter moral debacle of der Sturmtrumper’s reaction to the Nazi march and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, and lament that fact that “Only Trump could take one of the most uncontroversial ideas in American politics, the Indiana Jones rule, and turn it into a wrenching national argument.”  When you’re too right-wing for The Federalist, you have truly gone over the edge and into the abyss.

24. James Mattis, perhaps the sanest of the Cabinet members left in der Sturmtrumper’s government (granted, not saying much, but it is saying something at least) spent much of last week undermining der Sturmtrumper’s foreign policy by pointing out that American global leadership was hard won and has benefitted this country immensely and that only an idiot would throw that away in the name of some blinkered ideology.  Not quite in those words, but anyone with a clue could read them between the lines of what he did say.  At this point I suspect the only reason he still has a job is that der Sturmtrumper is not bright enough to figure out just how badly he is being cut here.

25. Did anyone catch the recent Chinese announcement that the “countdown to a clash” between China and India – two nuclear powers and the two most populous nations on Earth – “has begun”?  I suspect Mattis has, though whether der Sturmtrumper even noticed is an open question.  Interesting times we live in, right?

26.  But her emails! 

27. Of all the Republican politicians who have stepped forward to reject der Sturmtrumper’s open embrace of Nazism, perhaps the most eloquent and pointed has been Mitt Romney.  And it is worth quoting in full:

I will dispense for now from discussion of the moral character of the president's Charlottesville statements. Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn. His apologists strain to explain that he didn't mean what we heard. But what we heard is now the reality, and unless it is addressed by the president as such, with unprecedented candor and strength, there may commence an unraveling of our national fabric.

The leaders of our branches of military service have spoken immediately and forcefully, repudiating the implications of the president's words. Why? In part because the morale and commitment of our forces--made up and sustained by men and women of all races--could be in the balance. Our allies around the world are stunned and our enemies celebrate; America's ability to help secure a peaceful and prosperous world is diminished. And who would want to come to the aid of a country they perceive as racist if ever the need were to arise, as it did after 9/11?

In homes across the nation, children are asking their parents what this means. Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims are as much a part of America as whites and Protestants. But today they wonder. Where might this lead? To bitterness and tears, or perhaps to anger and violence?

The potential consequences are severe in the extreme. Accordingly, the president must take remedial action in the extreme. He should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize. State forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100% to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville. Testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis--who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat--and the counter-protestors who were outraged to see fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband and Nazi salute. And once and for all, he must definitively repudiate the support of David Duke and his ilk and call for every American to banish racists and haters from any and every association.

This is a defining moment for President Trump. But much more than that, it is a moment that will define America in the hearts of our children. They are watching, our soldiers are watching, the world is watching. Mr. President, act now for the good of the country.

28. This, folks, is what should be coming from every leader in this country, of every party.  The unequivocal rejection of evil, the clear assignment of blame, the open challenge thrown down before a grotesque president to demonstrate what a real American leader would do, and the consequences to the nation if that challenge is not met.  First Ted Cruz, now Mitt Romney – maybe there is hope for the GOP in the long run after all.

29. And more Republicans – people I disagree with on almost every major political issue – have stepped forward to do the right thing and condemn der Sturmtrumper and the Nazis he supports.  Marco Rubio said, “Mr. President, you can’t allow white supremacists to share only part of the blame.  They support [an] idea which cost [the] nation & world so much pain.”  John McCain noted that “There’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry.  The President of the United States should say so.”  Even Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, while refusing to take the full moral stand and condemn der Sturmtrumper explicitly, did at least move clearly in that direction.  Ryan said, “We must be clear.  White supremacy is repulsive.  This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for.  There can be no moral ambiguity,” while McConnell said, “There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms.  We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head.”  Even Bob Corker – one of the leading candidates for Mike Pence’s current job last summer – took the time to criticize der Sturmtrumper’s nonsensical response to the Nazi violence, pointing out that der Sturmtrumper “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. … He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation.  He has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great and what it is today.”  Not the strong clear denunciation of evil that is needed, but at least in the right direction.  Hope?  Maybe.

30. Of course, that hope rests on der Sturmtrumper either doing the right thing (which would be largely unprecedented) or being shoved aside as both president and party leader.  Given the army of bigots, trolls, racists, Nazis, theocrats, and subversives who continue to support der Sturmtrumper and who have been welcomed into the GOP as a key part of their base these last couple of decades, that is a slim hope indeed.

31. Remember, folks.  The origins of the modern GOP (i.e. not the Party of Lincoln – the GOP is no more the Party of Lincoln than the Democrats are the Party of Jefferson.  Those founders died a long time ago and their parties have changed beyond recognition, often several times, since then) stretch back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  That law split both parties, and Nixon’s Southern Strategy made sure that the racists and demagogues who opposed that law moved over from the Democrats (who had opposed civil rights for blacks in the 1860s) to Republicans (who apparently were supposed to oppose those same rights in the 1960s, despite the crucial support given to the Civil Rights Act by moderate Republicans in 1964).  Everything else follows from that.  It’s no accident that the policies endorsed by the GOP since then have disproportionately harmed non-whites and it is no accident that the Nazis and white supremacists find a comfortable home in the modern GOP.  Changing that will be painful, difficult work, and whether the GOP has the spine or the stomach for it is an open question.

32. And the world looks on in horror at der Sturmtrumper.  “I see no equivalence between those who propound Fascist views and those who oppose them,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May.  “I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far right views whenever we hear them.” Heiko Maas, the Justice Minister in Germany (where they know a thing or two about Nazis) noted that “Trump’s trivializing reaction to Charlottesville is unbearable.  That was anti-Semitism and racism.”  Martin Schulz, the leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, said, “One must denounce Nazis definitively.  What Trump is doing is inflammatory.  Whoever trivializes violence & hate betrays western values.”  British MP Sajid Javid was fairly clear as well: “Neo-Nazis: bad.  Anti-Nazis: good.  I learned that as a child.  It was pretty obvious.”  Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland, was even more clear: “The President of the United States has just turned his face to the world to defend Nazis, fascists and racists.  For shame.”  Not surprisingly, the chorus of horror coming from Israel – where they also know a few things about Nazis – has been deafening.  Israeli legislator Tamar Zandberg was blunt: “Racism and hatred and opposition to racism and hatred are not two sides of the same coin, and the attempt to draw this symmetry gives legitimacy to dark and evil forces that should not have a place in the public discussion.  The stubborn denial of President Trump to denounce neo-Nazis and racists and his flattery of organizations that promote these frightening and unacceptable worldviews … raise serious questions regarding the motivation and the moral consciousness of he who is supposed to be the leader of the free world and the protector of democracy.”  For fuck sake, even IRAN thought Trump was going too far in his support of the Nazis.  When you can get Israel and Iran on the same side against you, maybe you ought to be rethinking your life choices.

33. Can we stop with the crocodile tears about removing the Confederate statues?  They’re not there to celebrate history.  They’re there to celebrate white supremacy.  As Maryland Governor Larry Hogan noted, “The time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history.”  Folks, the people who were trying to rewrite history were the ones who put the statues up in the first place, and for that reason alone they should be removed.  I see no reason to glorify traitors, and no reason why anyone who does should call themselves a patriotic American.

34. Plus, as Jamil Smith noted, “All these folks worried about erasing history when the Confederate statues come down will be thrilled to learn about the existence of books.”  That is, of course, if such folks actually read books.

35. And now President Bannon is gone.  Who can keep up with all this?  I wonder if he will take up the leisure activity that Mooch ascribed to him.  There are people who’d pay money to see that, I’m sure.

36. This does leave open the question as to just who is the president now, since it is fairly clear that der Sturmtrumper doesn’t have much interest in the job.  It’s just a question of when he leaves and whether he does so of his own volition or whether he is removed through any of the Constitutional methods the nation has at its disposal for its own defense.  As Frank Bruni noted in the New York Times, “Trump resigned the presidency already – if we regard the job as one of moral stewardship, if we assume that an iota of civic concern must joust with self-regard, if we expect a president’s interest in legislation to rise above vacuous theatrics, if we consider a certain baseline of diplomatic etiquette to be part of the equation.  By those measures it’s arguable that Trump’s presidency never really began.  By those measures it’s indisputable that his presidency ended in the lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday afternoon, when he chose – yes, CHOSE – to litigate rather than lead, to attend to his wounded pride instead of his wounded nation and to debate the supposed fine points of white supremacy.  He abdicated his responsibilities so thoroughly and recklessly that it amounted to a letter of resignation.  Then he whored for his Virginia winery on the way out the door.”

37. This is what you voted for, Trump voters.  None of this is any surprise.  People shouted warnings about all of this – from the criminality to the white supremacy to the sheer incompetence – from every available platform last year, and you said, “That’s okay with me.”  Congratulations.  You are the company you keep.  And if you think the rest of us are going to forget that anytime soon, you can think again.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Alma Who?

As you head into Iowa City on Highway 1 you pass an unassuming little intersection just north of town.  It’s a fairly unremarkable place, just another rural road that cuts across a state highway before heading off into a small section of the American heartland.  There’s a farm right there at the intersection.  Why anyone thought it was a good idea to name that cross street “Dingleberry Avenue” is kind of an interesting question, really. 

Maybe it meant something else back then.

We were in Iowa for Tabitha’s college tour, since she is headed off to higher education all too soon.  I’m not really sure she’s interested in the University of Iowa, but it’s a good school and if you think you might like a large public campus in a small college town it’s the sort of place you can go to get a quality education and have a good time doing so.  We’re going up to Madison sometime soon for comparison.  This is what you do when your kids are old enough to be thinking of college.

I went on a whole pile of tours when I was looking at colleges as an undergrad – I have vivid memories of tramping around Lehigh University, for example, an engineering school on a campus that tilts at about 30 degrees off horizontal and that’s perhaps why it specialized in engineering – though for graduate school I didn’t worry about tours.  For my MA I chose a town I wanted to live in and applied to schools there (Pitt gave me more money than any of the Boston schools, so off to Pittsburgh I went), and for my PhD I followed the advice of one of my MA professors, which was to find a scholar you wanted to work with and go wherever they were.

I ended up at Iowa.

I didn’t really work with that scholar all that much – she had moved on to other areas of study, though she did serve on my dissertation committee – but I enjoyed my time there. 

They did a nice job with the tour, it has to be said.  We marched all over the east side of the campus – the undergrad side, as opposed to the med school side (which also has the football stadium) – and saw a great many buildings, some of which were actually there when I was attending classes back in the early 90s though often not in their current form.  I couldn’t believe how much the library had changed. 

The town itself is also a different place now.  The restaurants are mostly new for one thing, though we did complete the Iowa Undergraduate Eating Experience by having lunch at The Airliner.  We’d already done The Hamburg Inn #2 on our way out to Colorado a couple of summers ago.  We'll save Pagliai's for when we're there for dinner someday.  The mall has been turned inside out so the stores face the street.  Nobody does malls anymore.  The Ped Mall is still there, as is the fountain.  And you can still go to Prairie Lights Books, so things can’t be all that upended.

But I did spend the whole time thinking – and often saying – things like “Wow, that didn’t used to be there!” or “What happened to [fill in name of long-vanished business or academic landmark]?”

My mother did the same thing when I was an undergraduate, as I recall.  We attended the same university about a quarter century apart, and in between us they closed off entire streets and took out the trolley lines.  That’s what happens when you go to a university that has a vice-president in charge of nothing but construction projects, I suppose.

I have no idea where Tabitha will end up next year, but it won’t be where I went.

Even if it is.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Further Thoughts on the Current Crisis in Virginia

It’s interesting what happens when Nazis march.

For one thing, judging from some of the reactions I’ve gotten about yesterday’s piece, there are a lot of people who seem to be offended when someone brings up the historical fact that we used to shoot Nazis.

I am not sure why this is, since it is an incontrovertible fact and it did make the world a better place.  If you can stand before me and argue that humanity was not improved significantly by the defeat and near-eradication of the Nazis in 1945, you have serious moral issues.

As I noted in a comment to yesterday’s post, I am not advocating that we run around randomly shooting Nazis today just because they are Nazis.  And “Fuck you sideways with a Buick” is a metaphor of hyperbolic disgust that I have used for decades now in all kinds of situations, not something I specifically created for yesterday’s events.  Those who use cars as weapons deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.  I’ll leave the mindless violence to the Nazis, since it seems to be the one thing they’re good at. 

My point, which I want absolutely clear, is that as Americans we once understood what evil was and treated it accordingly.  The fact that this evil now feels safe marching in our streets, shouting their dumbass slogans and waving their tiki-torches around (FFS, we can’t even have serious Nazis – we have Nazi Bros), is a damning indictment of our current political situation.  The pull quote from yesterday’s post, as far as I am concerned, was this: “This is what people insist was the Greatest Generation in American history spent half a decade trying to eradicate from the surface of the earth, and it is here again in our midst, to the everlasting shame of America.”  The United States bled to get rid of Nazis, and much of the world did as well.  Many countries bled far more than we did.  For Nazis to march unashamed in our streets now marks a failure of American society that needs to be redressed.

Fuck the Nazis.

What has been heartening, really, is the reaction that this Nazi atrocity and bloodletting has caused among actual Americans.

The widespread outpouring of revulsion and condemnation across the country has been precisely what one would hope for in a situation where an American citizen was killed on American soil for opposing Nazis.  It has generated an entirely appropriate wave of anger – real anger – among those who value what this country is and could be.  “I don’t mean the kind of angry that makes people do stupid stuff,” said my friend Andrew.  “I mean the kind of core of your soul anger that makes society fight back.”  Because we do need to fight back, to show those Nazi cockroaches just how pathetic, small, and hopeless they are.

What I have found even more heartening, though, has been the reaction from American conservatives, who are finally, perhaps, beginning to realize that they need to own their radical fringe and purge them instead of pandering to them and accepting them as a key part of their base.

Orrin Hatch, who has demonstrated several times this long hot summer that he may well be someone I can disagree with and still respect, was fairly blunt.  “We should call evil by its name,” he wrote in tweets that he was very careful to say were his and not composed by his staff.  “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.  … Their tiki torches may be fueled by citronella but their ideas are fueled by hate, & have no place in civil society.”

Ted Cruz – Ted Cruz of all people – denounced these Nazis in no uncertain terms.  “The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate,” he wrote. “Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”

National Security Advisor HR McMaster was dismissive of people who want to make false equations between the two sides in Virginia.  “Of course it was terrorism,” he said in an interview on Meet the Press.  Yes indeed, it was.

Even Fox News, usually a stalwart lapdog of right wing nonsense, flatly declared that the Nazi march was a “white supremacist rally” and repeatedly described it as such in several different headlines and throughout a number of different stories.  What is perhaps most telling was the editorial they published written by Bruce Ashford, Provost of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  It declared that “White conservatives – especially white Christian conservatives – should speak out openly against white nationalism and white supremacy.  This is racism pure and simple, and it represents a frontal assault on the Christian gospel, a denial of human dignity and a subversion of our democracy.”

This is what this country needs.  We need a sane conservative movement that will reject the extremists who pervert it, that will form a rational counterbalance to whatever passes for the left these days.  It needs people who can be disagreed with without fearing for the lives and safety of American citizens or the future of the republic.  And if there can be a silver lining to the black cloud of Nazis openly and unashamedly marching in American streets, perhaps that's it. 

One can hope. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Few Words on the Current Crisis in Virginia

Fuck the Nazis.

This country used to hand out medals to people who shot Nazis.  Just pointing that out.  I’m a professional historian.  I know these things.

Shooting Nazis was a salutary and positive policy, one that left the world a better place for as long as it took us to forget what bottom-feeding evil Nazis actually are and sanitize them as just one more side in a debate.  It’s not an accident that this kind of fuckery comes bubbling back to the surface as the WWII generation dies off.

We had actual Nazis – ACTUAL GOD DAMNED NAZIS, in every theological sense of that phrase – marching through Virginia yesterday. 

They marched through the campus of the University of Virginia – the one that Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, founded – shouting their pasty little slogans, doing their pathetic hand-waving rituals, and pretending to the rest of the world that they actually stand for something other than pure undiluted hatred and degeneracy.

They burned their tiki-torches (seriously, doesn’t anyone know how to make a real torch anymore?) and spewed vile garbage all over my country and this is an outrage.

This isn’t free speech.  This is rioting.  This is terrorism.  This is what people insist was the Greatest Generation in American history spent half a decade trying to eradicate from the surface of the earth, and it is here again in our midst, to the everlasting shame of America.

Of course der Sturmtrumper doesn’t see it that way.  Why would he?  He was officially endorsed by every major white supremacist and neo-Nazi organization in America as the man who shared their values and would promote their agenda, and evil knows its own.  His palsied condemnation of the crisis in Virginia as something where blame could be shared equally by Nazis and anti-Nazis alike speaks for itself as a cowardly attempt to whitewash terrorism in America and dog whistle to his supporters that he’s okay with all of this.

Even that was too harsh for his supporters.  David Duke, noted Trump supporter and former KKK Grand Poobah or whatever it is those sheet-wearing cowards call the guys with the pointiest hats, was so offended by the possibility that the rioters and hate-spewing thugs could share any portion of the blame for the things they did that he took to Twitter to lecture der Sturmtrumper: “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”

And there you have it.  This isn’t a presidency for Americans.  This is a presidency only for the small subset of Americans who are okay with overt racism, domestic terrorism, and Nazism.  This is what happens when bottom-feeding evil rises to the top.

We used to shoot Nazis, remember.  We used to give people medals for that.  Now they come out in the open and demand our submission.

Fuck them.

Fuck them sideways with a Buick.

Monday, August 7, 2017


School letter jackets are a lot more complicated than they used to be.

After hemming and hawing about it for the last couple of years, everyone has finally come to agree that Tabitha does in fact want a letter jacket for Local Businessman High School.  She’s earned several letters during her time there, and it would be nice to have a warm jacket to hang them on.  So this afternoon she and I drove up to the shop just north of town where such things are sold and took a look.


The first thing I discovered is that the jackets have become sexually dimorphic – there are now boys’ jackets and girls’ jackets.  They both have the same wool core, but in the male version the sleeves are an off-white leather while in the female version the sleeves are the same color wool as the core.  Also, the female version has a miniature cape in the back, while the male version doesn’t.

Your name gets sewn on both sides – first name on the front, last name on the cape on the back.  No, I don’t know what the guys do.  Maybe they just settle for one name.  Or put both on the front.  In either case, you also get numbers for the right sleeve, up by the shoulder, to indicate your expected year of graduation, so don’t fall behind or you’ll have to revise your jacket.  Or worse, they’ll sell you a little cross-out that you can sew over the old numbers and then you’ll have to buy new numbers to sew underneath so you can advertise your miscalculations.

You know someone has done this.  You know that, right?

They’ll put your letters on for you – a service I appreciate, as my sewing skills can best be described as “drunk spider in a hailstorm” – and since we didn’t actually think to bring her letters with us, we’ll go back tomorrow and finish up the order.

Back in the stone ages, when I was in high school, we didn’t have so many options.

There was one jacket style for everyone, and it didn’t have leather sleeves or capes.  I’d never even heard of such things until I moved to the midwest.  Kim’s high school didn’t have the leather sleeves either, but did have the capes (which, she says, were scalloped in the back because technically they were a zip-up hood except nobody ever actually zipped them up).  She suggested that perhaps we did have two different designs, one of them with the cape, but that I don’t remember this.  I dug out my old yearbook (I’m a historian – of course I know exactly where my old yearbook is, don’t be silly) to check this and discovered that nobody in any of the pictures is wearing a school jacket!  I may have imagined the whole thing!

Except I do have my old one hanging in my closet, which would argue against that thesis.  I unearthed it a couple of years ago when LBHS had a “wear your parent’s jacket to school” day, and Tabitha was the only one there with a jacket from my old high school!  To be honest, she was pretty much the only one there with a jacket that wasn’t from LBHS or the other high school here in Our Little Town.  People tend to stay here, I suppose, and few of us come in.

Our old jackets came with the school name already sewn onto the back in big white block letters making a semicircular arc across your shoulders.  For LBHS, you have to buy the big patch that has the school’s name entire swooping across it in brightly colored chenille, and then they sew it onto the cape.  Again, I don’t know what the guys do.  Maybe they staple it to their foreheads in a display of manly manhood.  I’ve not seen that, but I’ve never seen Dallas either and people tell me it exists so I suppose nothing can be ruled out definitively.

We also had to sew our own letters onto our jackets back in the day, and for some reason I decided not to ask my mom to do that.  I spent several evenings working on those letters.  My high school had a two-word name and therefore had TWO letters – double the sewing fun! – for the varsity letters.  The JV letters were lumped together into one patch, which was not nearly as high status.  In the end I got the letters to look pretty good from the outside, and they never did fall off.  As long as you didn’t look at the inside of the jacket (vide supra, re: spider, intoxicated, foul weather) you’d think it was well done.  And you know, since they’re still on there, I suppose in a way it was.

The other thing that they do here that I don’t remember from my own not-nearly-as-misspent-as-it-should-have-been youth is give out medals.  I think you only get one letter in anything, and if you continue on with it they give you medals.  Big ones, with heavy round metal discs at the bottom to weigh you down and let you know that This Is A Medal And An Accomplishment, which really is kind of nice of them if you think about it.  You pin them to your jacket, preferably on top of the letter they go with but anywhere close will do if you run out of room.  And if you are a multi-sport, multi-activity student who gets good grades (they have academic letters and medals too here), then – logically enough – by the time you graduate you will end up looking like a North Korean general and you will sort of list to port from the weight of all the medals that you pin to the letters on your jacket.

Don’t even think of air travel.  The TSA will just go into conniptions.

So soon Tabitha will have her jacket, and no doubt it will look smart on her.