Saturday, March 17, 2018

Filed Away

I have now officially filed my tax returns.

Every year I do this, as required by law, and it’s always the same routine.  I spend a day beating my skull against the wall of financial regulation (what does that bit of money qualify as, again?  is this a 401b or an XR4TI or an Illudium Q36 Space Modulator? and how does that determine what line to put it down on?) with the help of the latest software assistant, and every year I end up with the same revelations.

First, that we made more money than we thought.  It doesn’t matter how much money the actual income was – I’ve had the same thought since I was filing 1040EZ forms to report my income from the summer job at 7/11 that I had in college – it’s always more than we thought, because where did it go?  We don’t seem to have much of it left over, and it’s not like we’re living in the lap of luxury over here. 

Second, that we owe a pile of money.  As a half-time academic advisor and the adjunct historian on call here at Home Campus, my income is, shall we say, variable, and Kim is always finding new projects to do that someone will pay her for.  Between those two facts there is a valley labeled “Exemptions?  What Exemptions?”  It’s been years since we’ve guessed correctly on that score, and so of late there is always a bill to pay at the end of the year. 

Although this year we pegged Wisconsin right on the nose – no bill, no refund – which felt pretty good, I have to say, especially since last year they lost my check and there was Much Unpleasantness on both sides about that.

And third, that I don’t really mind paying that money.  Oh sure, I could always use it for more books or Buffalo wings or similar items that make my world a brighter place, but I am not lacking for such things as it is.  As a devotee of library sales, for example, I now have several bags’ worth of books in my to-read pile that collectively cost me less than a cheeseburger meal at my local fast food joint, and as I get older I find that I have to space out the Buffalo wings anyway as I love the hot and spicy far more than my body does anymore.  I do have a Wings Buddy and we try to get together every so often for wings and conversation, but neither of us has much free time to speak of so it doesn’t happen often enough and the only positive thing about that fact is that my budget for such things doesn’t have to be all that large.

No, I don’t mind paying my taxes because I Am Not Stupid.

We have forgotten the concept of “enlightened self-interest” here in the New Gilded Age and have confused “self-interest” with “selfishness.”  There is an entire population in this country who seriously thinks that greed and egoism is the only moral standard for any activity, the only basis for an economy, and the only way politics can be organized.  They are many, they are loud, they are ignorant, and they are in power – all of which means that the future of this nation as a republic and as a world leader is currently rather dim.

Short-sighted greed is no way to run anything, folks.

You need to take a long view.  You need to understand that even if you choose not to examine the moral aspects of creating and sustaining a community – and harsh experience has taught me that the only thing I get from discussing morality with anyone from that population is older – your own self-interest comes from making short-term sacrifices for long-term gain.  I am better off when my neighbors are better off, and if I cling tightly to my lucre while monotonously chanting “taxation is theft!” and fondling my Big Bad Firearm, then nobody wins.

Taxation is the price you pay for civilization.

Those who tell you otherwise are telling you a great deal about themselves, really.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


I am now officially certified as Culturally Competent.

I am not sure what this means.

On a practical level, it means that I took a ten-week class that was geared, as near as I could tell, toward the simple (and in 2018 somewhat radical) idea that the workplace and the world in general would be a better place if we were nicer to each other.  This is a lovely starting point, of course, but it does lead to some pretty weird places if you take it far enough, and these classes are nothing if not designed to take those ideas a long way in ten weeks.  You’ll know it when you get there.

My boss thought it would be a good idea for me to take this class, on the theory that as an advisor this sort of thing is always good to know and since I already am pretty good at treating people decently regardless of their backgrounds or identity it shouldn’t be much of a struggle for me to do well.  My boss is a pretty optimistic person.

I’m not really sure what the theoretical goals of the class were, now that I think about it.

We talked a great deal about “privilege,” which is one of those words that often makes white men recoil like vampires at a garlic festival.  Dudes – it’s okay.  You can handle it.  Look at me!  Unscathed!  We talked about a whole lot of terms, actually.  I can’t say I agreed with the definitions that were offered for some of them – which led to some problems down the line, as those who define the terms determine the outcomes, after all – but they were interesting at least, most of the time.

There was a lot of discussion about what would no doubt be called “politically correct” subjects by those not on board with the concept of the class.  People get way too worried about being politically correct, really.  Nobody on the left actually uses that term unironically, you know – haven’t for decades.  Only people on the right use the phrase, mostly as something to complain about.  This is why I find that whenever people use the phrase “being politically correct” it is helpful to substitute the phrase “not being an asshole” instead.  So when you hear people saying, “I hate being politically correct!” you can just translate that as “I hate not being an asshole!”  This saves a lot of time in the long run and may well spare you an uncomfortable meal or a disastrous relationship.

The class suffered from a couple of things.

First, it was a new class and any teacher will tell you that the first time you offer a class you stuff it about half-again too full of things you want to get done and end up either not getting to many of them at all or racing through everything at speed to squeeze everything in.  Eventually you learn to do fewer things in the depth you’d like to do them in, but that cycle repeats every time you create a class so you’re never completely free of it.  We were always running short of time to discuss things, and in such a class that’s a problem.

Second, for all the talk of this being a “brave space” rather than a “safe space” – that we would be challenged to think rather than simply accepted as is – the fact is that there was such a fear of offending people that we never really drew any conclusions from anything we did.  Today for example, we did a second round of a task that had us all walking about the classroom to various Stations of Identity, but we never really talked about why and even now I’m not sure what I was supposed to get out of it.  I suppose it was decent exercise, but still.

The third thing is perhaps more specific to me.  A lot of the class was designed to get you thinking about your own identity – who you are, what privileges you have or don’t have, and so on.  And I suppose there’s value in that, except for one thing: I already know exactly who I am.  Good, bad, or indifferent, I have always known exactly who I am.  There are good bits that I rather like and there are annoying bits that either I’d like to change or have simply accepted as the price of being me, and there are bits in between that are neither here nor there as far as I can tell, but they’re my bits and I know them pretty well.  This is in part what makes it easy for me to be around people who are different in significant ways, because I don’t regard them as a threat to my own identity.  I am thoroughly, boringly heterosexual, for example, which is one reason why having gay roommates in college didn’t particularly bother me.  I knew who I was and it wasn’t that, and so as long as they were good with me why should it bother me who they were?  I am pretty much the poster child for privilege in American society – straight white middle-class cis-male, no particular disabilities, native-born citizen, highly educated, a member of the dominant religion, and generally conversant with most culturally mainstream things to one degree or another.  A class designed to get me to recognize those facts is therefore a bit late to the party.

But here I am.  Certified.

I shall add it to my resume. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

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. Ah, yes, CPAC – the annual exercise in right-wing lunacy that every now and then breaks into some embarrassing honesty about the conservative mind in America today.  Ian Walters, who is (I kid you not) the communications director for CPAC and in theory should know how to present a talking point to the public, went out of his way to describe former RNC Chair Michael Steele as little more than a token nod to equality.  In response to the election of Obama, Walters said, “what did we do?  This is a terrible thing: we elected Mike Steele as RNC chair because he’s a black guy.  That was the wrong thing to do.”  When Steele confronted CPAC Chair Matt Schlapp about this, Schlapp responded by trying to change the subject, telling Steele that “You’ve been rather critical of some of the more conservative aspects of the Trump phenomenon.”  “What the hell does my race have to do with that?” Steele replied.  “You mean to tell me that as a black conservative I can’t be critical of the President?”  Yes, Mike – that’s exactly what he’s telling you.  Now get to the back of the bus and stop bothering the white folks.  The unbridled racism of this crowd never fails to emerge no matter how much they try to cloak it in pretty rhetoric.

2. For context, remember that CPAC is the place where at a “minority outreach session” in 2013 a CPAC member defended slavery as good for blacks because slave owners fed and housed their slaves and then when asked if he disagreed with slavery described it as a “complicated issue.  I can’t make one broad statement that categorically it was evil all the time because that’s not true.”  Uh, dude – yes it is.  Slavery is an unmitigated evil, and if you don’t know that there is no hope for you.  I suppose it’s no surprise that the party that failed the slavery test in 2013 also failed the Nazi test four years later.  But MAGA, right?

3. Der Sturmtrumper and the President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, spoke for nearly an hour trying to arrange a state visit to the US for Nieto, but it all fell apart when der Sturmtrumper “lost his temper” (according to Fox “News”) because Nieto wanted der Sturmtrumper to publicly acknowledge that Mexico wasn’t going to pay for his damned wall.  This is our diplomat in chief, folks – making the world hate us, one country at a time.  The Fox article concluded by noting that while der Sturmtrumper honked off a great deal during his campaign about Mexico paying for his stupid wall, “Trump has since requested $23 billion in his latest budget proposal to Congress – the majority of which would go toward building the wall.”  Not sure what the larger picture of the $23 billion was, but clearly the US taxpayer is going to be stuck with the bill if this boondoggle ever does go forward.

4. Sometimes you just have to wonder what kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland der Sturmtrumper’s mind actually is.  Apparently he bragged to CPAC that he would have run into the school where the Parkland Massacre took place, during the shooting, even without a gun.  Because he is a Heap Big Hero Man.  Yes, this is the same guy who dodged the draft five times because his feet hurt.  But you know what?  On a purely practical note, der Sturmtrumper playing hero would have saved the rest of us a whole lot of problems going forward.  You do that next time, Donny.

5. In a sign that perhaps the stranglehold on public debate that the NRA has enjoyed for the last forty years is cracking under the weight of dead children and the righteous wrath of the survivors, a rapidly increasing number of large corporations have announced that they will no longer do business with what was once a respectable sportsman’s organization and is now a sponsor of domestic terrorism.  Money talks and bullshit walks, folks.  This is how the tobacco companies lost control of the narrative.  May the merchants of death do likewise.

6. Of course, such temerity on the part of American citizens cannot go unpunished by the far right.  According to Jim Wright in a Facebook post from February 26, “Georgia's Lt Governor just announced that he fully intends to use the power of his office to illegally punish a private company: ‘I will kill any tax legislation that benefits Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.’  Essentially a public announcement that he intends to abuse his government position to punish a private company for exercising its rights to do business, or not, with whomever it pleases.”  It’s never about freedom with authoritarians.  It’s always about power.  Remember that, next time one of them gets spittle in your face while screaming at you.

7. I cannot tell you just how mind-alteringly stupid the NRA’s idea of arming teachers would be.  First of all, speaking as a teacher here in a GOP-throttled state, those bastards can’t even be bothered to pay for paper, printer ink, or health benefits and now they want to give us guns?  Also, this: 

8. Of course, expecting the NRA/GOP complex to have any even remote connection with reality is perhaps expecting too much.  Representative Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) insists that the “real” reason for all these shootings is too many violent video games and not enough Jesus.  Except, you know, for places like Japan, which spends more on video games than we do, is 99% non-Christian, and four years ago had a grand total of 6 gun deaths.  Try again, idiot.  His colleague, Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) agrees, which only goes to show you that Stupid is contagious.

9. It probably isn’t a coincidence that Rep. Russell owns a rifle factory.

10. It’s also probably not a coincidence that a poll taken in April 2017 showed that 67% of gun owners believe that the NRA has been “overtaken by lobbyists and the interests of gun manufacturers and lost its original purpose and mission,” and no longer represents them.  60% of gun owners want guns banned inside schools.  And yet here we are.

11. Yes, the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum support universal background checks for all firearms purchases.  Don’t kid yourself.

12. The NRA is whining that the high school students who are criticizing their reckless advocacy of killing machines are just big bullies.  So, in other words, a bunch of men who have been for years carrying semi-automatic weapons and bravely shouting about how they need those firearms to defend freedom against the Big Bad Gubmint are now cowering in front of angry teenagers and begging them to stop?  Wow.  I’ve been calling those guns “penis substitutes” for years now without ever really expecting the NRA to confirm that so boldly.  Good job, mates.

13. I suppose part of the problem is that the GOP refuses to admit that the people who know better than they do have any right to have an opinion different from theirs.  The amount of bald-faced nonsense that has been vomited forth by Republicans and ammosexuals (groups that overlap considerably these days) in a pathetic attempt to discredit the Parkland students has been conclusive proof of moral disease.  I’m not sure why some armchair militia bro thinks anyone should pay attention to him when it comes to this, but there it is.

For perspective, consider this: 

And this:

Although Hamilton may have been 19, not 21.  Historians aren’t sure, and 18th-century orphans tended not to be very reliable about that sort of thing.  The point stands, however.

14. And now the Oath Keepers – a violently paranoid group of heavily armed wannabes dedicated to a thoroughly hallucinatory view of the US Constitution that, among other things, promotes shoving guns down the throat of an unwilling public – has decided that they have the right to force their presence on unwilling public schools as well.  And under American law, they do!  Even though no public school has asked for it and the one district where one of these Special Gentlemen has actually set himself up has clearly said they don’t see this as an actual improvement on student safety!  Isn’t that just the sweetest thing?  Isn’t that grand?  They claim that they are protecting the students therein, except that they seem to regard those students as “the enemy” (their words, not mine).  In particular, those students who have survived a massacre perpetrated by a similar paranoid wannabe with a big gun and have spoken out against future such massacres – those students are “the enemy.”  They presented a webinar on their plans (really, they did) that was full of half-baked conspiracy theories (Parkland was a setup by liberals!  Emma Gonzalez, the massacre survivor currently pressing for meaningful reforms that might prevent such massacres is a “young Communist”!) so far-fetched that you wonder how anyone capable of conceiving such things would be allowed to walk the streets unmedicated.  This, folks, is why we can’t have nice things in this country.

15. There is nothing to add to this except to point out that, having been on the receiving end of this irrelevant nonsense when making an actual point in a debate, it really needs to stop.

16. Seen on Facebook: “I never thought I’d see a time when ‘please stop shooting our children’ became a ‘liberal talking point’ according to the ‘pro-life’ crowd.”

I can’t say I’m surprised.  It has been my experience that “pro-life” just means “pro-birth.”  They don’t really give a damn about what happens to kids after that, especially if they grow up to be women.  It really frosts these people that the most outspoken member of the Parkland survivors is a woman.

17. We’ve now had at least two more school shootings in the time I’ve taken to compile this list.  Multiple fatalities.  Aggrieved young men with too much firepower.  The standard American litany.  Cue the NRA defending the guns.  Cue the conspiracy theorists raving like the lunatics they are about “false flag operations” and “crisis actors” and whatever other bullshit their tiny little brains can muster up to try to divert attention from the fact that once again this country cannot keep people safe at its schools because we love our guns more than we love our children.  If you think this is acceptable, then you can fuck off.  If you think that somehow, some way, limiting access to military grade firepower the way every civilized nation on earth has already done and that has worked in every one of those nations to make mass shootings so vanishingly rare there isn’t the answer, then you can fuck off twice and keep fucking off until you get to a sign that says “No Fucking Off Beyond This Point” and then you can climb over that sign and continue fucking off until you return back to your original starting point.  And then you can fuck off again.

18. Does anyone in the White House have a genuine Top Secret security clearance, or have they all decided that actual information isn’t necessary for their jobs?  This is amateur hour, and it will not end well.

19. So Russia sends out an explicit threat of nuclear war against the US and der Sturmtrumper’s response is to angrily criticize pretty much everyone other than Russia.  MAGA, right?  Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick, whatever the Russians are blackmailing der Sturmtrumper with it had better be good.  Otherwise he’s refusing to defend this country from foreign attack for the sheer joy of it.

20. I see the NRA has talked der Sturmtrumper down from the gun control ledge, as if there were any doubt of that happening in the first place.  Although when he said that the government would “take the guns first, go through due process second,” the collective wailing and gnashing of teeth from the ammosexuals was worth the price of admission, really.

21. Let me get this straight: der Sturmtrumper, for Reasons, has decided to initiate a trade war with pretty much the entire rest of the globe because he thinks such wars are easy to win?  Uh, dude?  Have you any connection to reality at all, or does the view from inside your lower intestine suffice for all your needs?  Yes, stocks briefly crashed, though they seem to have recovered based on other things.  Yes, the rest of the world is once again confirmed in their decision to view the US as unreliable and possibly dangerous to global security and prosperity, and this will not be recovered from due to other things because as long as this idiot is in charge there are no other things.  No, this will not end well either.  It never does.

22. Hope Hicks lasted just under 20 Mooches.  I suspect she will be polishing up her defense strategy with her attorney soon.

23. Speaking of needing an attorney, apparently poor Jared has been outed as the venal crook that everyone outside of der Sturmtrumper’s bubble already knew he was.  Kushner had his security clearance downgraded to “tourist” based on a list of vulnerabilities and crimes that would take more patience than this writer has to enumerate – the revelations regarding his loans from banks immediately following meetings at the White House being just the tip of that iceberg – and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, really. 

24. According to multiple senior level officials within the US intelligence community, the Russians penetrated the electoral system of seven US states during the 2016 election, including Wisconsin where der Sturmtrumper won by a rather slim margin.  Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) refuses to admit anything, of course, because why would he when his own frantic efforts regarding voter suppression can be credited with the same result regardless of what the Russians did?  But folks, this is a harbinger.  Watch for more Russian interference in November’s election.  Yes, dear readers, this is where I remind you once again that we lost a war we didn’t even know we were fighting against Russia in 2016, and the Quislings are now in charge.

25. Just pointing out that four months later there are still half a million American citizens without power in Puerto Rico.  Not that der Sturmtrumper or his minions care, of course, as those American citizens are rather dark-skinned and Spanish-speaking for their tastes, but still.  Americans.  Heckuva job, Donnie.

26. Did you know that the State Department was granted $120,000,000 to fight Russian meddling in American politics and elections?  It’s true!  Do you know how much of that they’ve actually spent to fight Russian meddling in American politics and elections?  $0!  That’s right, folks!  Nothing!  But yeah, tell me how der Sturmtrumper isn’t a wholly owned subsidiary of Putin’s Russia.  Sure.  Right.

27. So der Sturmtrumper thinks it’s a wonderful idea that the Chinese president can serve for life.  So wonderful, in fact, that he is all in favor of that kind of dictatorial power grab here in the US, presumably for himself though perhaps he will be selfless and let one of his kids have the job.  I must admit that if you had told me, even during the depths of the Dick Cheney years, that an American president would openly praise the overthrow of constitutional limits on power and recommend that as a model for American politics, I would have considered you to be a bug-eyed conspiracy theorist in serious need of medication.  Now, I hear it directly from the horse’s, uh, mouth.  Folks, when people show you who they are, believe them.

28. One of the more interesting claims made by the former British spy Christopher Steele – the man who brought you the Russian dossier, which has proven to be surprisingly accurate in a lot of ways – is that Rex Tillerson got the job of Secretary of State because Russia preferred him over Mitt Romney.  We're a colony of the Kremlin now?

29. Does anyone know how many hallucinogenics Sam Nunberg was taking before he went live on the air with multiple interviews threatening to skip out on a subpoena from Robert Mueller (a position he’s already walked back, to nobody's surprise), accusing der Sturmtrumper of ever-increasing crimes, and doing his best to protect Roger Stone from investigative eyes?  Or how much he felt he needed to be today’s distraction from the ongoing rush of criminal revelations regarding der Sturmtrumper’s administration?  Enquiring minds want to know.

30. Well, der Sturmtrumper’s tariff plan has claimed its first victim, and it’s not a foreign economy.  Der Sturmtrumper’s top economic advisor, Gary Cohn, has decided that losing that argument was apparently the last straw, so out he goes.  Rats, sinking ships, it’s all a party these days.

31. The US Office of Special Counsel is on record saying that White House official Kellyanne Conway (remember her?) violated the Hatch Act during last year’s Alabama special election for the Senate by twice “advocating for and against candidates.”  Now, in an administration that had any respect for the rule of law, the Constitution, morality, and common sense, Conway would be immediately placed on leave, investigated, fired, and brought to trial.  Remember when we had that kind of administration?  It wasn’t that long ago, folks.  Conway remains gainfully employed, if you're wondering.

32. With all the chaos at the White House, even der Sturmtrumper is beginning to break down.  According to interviews conducted with 22 White House officials, friends and advisors to der Sturmtrumper, and other administration allies by the Washington Post, “aides over the past week have described an air of anxiety and volatility – with an uncontrollable commander in chief at its center. … As one official put it: ‘We haven’t bottomed out.’”  They cite his radical backtracking and zigzagging on policy (sure!  Let’s take all the guns!), his random trade war, his “roiling feud of playground insults with Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” and his increasing isolation as his staff and appointees flee for higher and more legally secure ground.  “I think the president is starting to wobble in his emotional stability and this is not going to end well,” said General Barry McCaffrey (US Army, ret.)  “Trump’s judgment is fundamentally flawed, and the more pressure put on him and the more isolated he becomes, I think, his ability to do harm is going to increase.”  According to Peter Wehner, who served in three previous Republican administrations and is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, “Trump’s fundamentally distorted personality – which at its core is chaotic, volatile and transgressive – when combined with the powers of the presidency had to end poorly.  What we’re now seeing is the radiating effects of that, and it’s enveloped him, his White House, his family and his friends.”  Yes, folks, this is the guy with his finger on the nuclear button.  Sleep well, if you can.

33. It turns out that states with strong gun laws tend to have lower rates of gun-related murders and suicides, according to a study published in the Journal of American Medicine.  Slightly more than 12,000 people are murdered every year with guns, and roughly twice that many kill themselves with guns.  While states are at the mercy of their neighbors when it comes to such things – which is one of the reasons why Chicago (which has relatively strict laws) has such a high rate of gun murders, being next to places that don’t – the general trend is both clear and, for anyone with more than six working brain cells, obvious.  Cue the ammosexuals attempting to deny this and generally not convincing anyone other than people who also think the cure to too many guns is more guns.  Hey!  The place is on fire!  Better get more matches!

34. Our Confederate Attorney General – the chief law enforcement official in the land, you’ll note – has decided to sue the state of California to force them to implement his master’s policies regarding the persecution of immigrants.  And this would just be another case of the immoral and powerful stomping on the vulnerable – a popular pastime among the right wing – except for the fact that he has no actual standing to bring that suit.  The Supreme Court has ruled on this issue several times now, in fact.  In Printz v US (1997) the Court held that the federal government had no authority to command state law enforcement to conduct background checks on people who wanted to buy guns, and in NY v US (1992) the Court ruled that Congress couldn’t require states to pass specific laws which they would then have to enforce.  If the federal government wants federal law enforced and the states refuse to cooperate, then the feds have to enforce it.  It’s that whole “states’ rights” thing that right-wingers bang on about whenever they want to be more racist than the Constitution allows.  Damned inconvenient when the situation is reversed and it’s the feds who want to be more racist than the states wish to be.  You’d think the chief law enforcement officer of the American republic would have figured that out, but then this crowd isn’t big on laws or Constitutions to begin with, so you’d be wrong.

35.  Well, blow me down.  The Florida House has voted to pass a gun control bill.  The minimum age to purchase a gun would go from 18 to 21, there would be a 3-day waiting period for all gun purchases, and funds would be provided for school police officers and mental health counselors.  In Florida!  The state where the NRA test markets its ever-more-radical gun laws on an unsuspecting population and where guns have long been king.  It even got support from the GOP.  “This may be the most consequential vote we ever take on this floor,” said GOP State Rep. Shawn Harrison of Tampa.  “Grown-ups protect our kids.  It’s what we do.  It’s our turn.  Don’t let them down.”  And don’t ever underestimate the moral force of kids, without whose activism this massacre would have been just one more forgotten tragedy in a nation too armed for its own good.

36. This bill is not enough.  It arms educators, a phenomenally stupid and counterproductive move as noted above, and it has holes in it big enough to drive a truck bomb through.  But it’s a start.

37. It’s enough of a start that the NRA has already sued the State of Florida because mumblemumblemumbleGUNZ!  So there’s that.

38. Remember when Republicans were all hot and bothered by Hillary Clinton’s emails?  Remember when they ran around with their hair on fire and shouting “Lock her up!” because she used a personal email to conduct official government business?  Well the Indianapolis Star reports that “Vice President Mike Pence routinely used a private email account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security matters.”  Wasn’t this supposed to be a security risk, you ask?  Why yes, says the Star: “Pence’s personal account was hacked last summer.”  So naturally Republicans all across the nation are burning Pence in effigy, demanding he resign and be tried as a criminal, and generally Not Being Flaming Hypocrites, right?  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  I kill me.

38. Did you catch Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on 60 Minutes?  No?  Well, my friends, you missed an absolute barn burner of an interview, one that prompted The Onion’s AV Club to note that “over the course of the interview, it becomes clear that DeVos may not really know how schools work or what a school even is.”  Amid an avalanche of inarticulate, incoherent answers to specific questions, The Onion noted that “Perhaps more than anyone in the Trump administration, Betsy DeVos’ success stands as a testament to how much you can achieve without knowledge or qualifications.  And that’s got to be inspiring for all the students watching at home.”  Malignant incompetence – that’s der Sturmtrumper and his minions, lackeys, supporters and enablers for you.

39. The monthly federal budget deficit hit an all-time high in February, at $215,200,000,000, more or less – up 12.5% from last February, and about on level with the increase in fiscal irresponsibility that has taken place since the Republicans in Congress shoved through der Sturmtrumper’s tax cut and budget plan.  But yeah, “party of fiscal responsibility” and all that.  What’s interesting is that even on day one of this news, as it slowly filters across my social media feeds, I see so many people blaming Obama for it.  Or saying how much worse it would be if we still had a social safety net to keep people from starving.  Right.  We spend more on defense than the next twelve nations combined (and about 8.5x what Russia spends), der Sturmtrumper and his lackeys just gave over a trillion dollars to the already wealthy, and corporate subsidies are through the roof, but that $3 million we would have spent on Meals on Wheels is just such a budget buster isn’t it?  Try again.

40. Well Exxon’s Own Secretary of State is out.  From what I gather, der Sturmtrumper fired him through an intermediary, because the man has no balls and can’t even fire people directly.  Not coincidentally, this happened mere hours after Tillerson dared to criticize Russia for assassinating someone on British soil – an act of war that the British are still trying to figure out a response to and which der Sturmtrumper has yet to say anything about, even though the British government has confirmed it.  And now Tillerson – the patsy that the Russians asked for instead of Mitt Romney – is gone because he suddenly grew a backbone and we can’t have that in this administration.  The CIA guy is going to be the next Secretary of State (and good luck with that), which means that the CIA is going to be in the hands of someone whose main claim to fame was running a torture site in Thailand then destroying evidence about it.  All the best people.

41. Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein was also fired for contradicting the Official Version of Tillerson’s firing.  Hello, banana republic.  If you think this is normal, you are the problem.

42. Der Sturmtrumper’s personal assistant, John McEntree, was also fired this week and was escorted out of the White House without even being given time to collect his jacket.  Such a well-run machine this administration.

43. I suppose noting that James Schwab, the spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Francisco, has resigned because he got tired of lying for his bosses would just be overkill, but I can’t help myself.  Both Our Confederate Attorney General and ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan lied about an anti-immigrant raid in February, blaming the Oakland mayor for the fact that they missed a lot of the people they were targeting in this raid.  “I quit because I didn’t want to perpetrate misleading facts,” Schawb said.  “I asked them to change the information.  I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that.  Then I took some time and I quit. … I just couldn’t bear the burden – continuing on as a representative of the agency and charged with upholding integrity, knowing that information was false.”  Fortunately for der Sturmtrumper, there are plenty of people without any integrity at all who would love to work for him and bear false witness in the name of a hate-filled agenda, so I doubt the position will remain unfilled for long.

44. The Onion – which I hasten to point out is a satire site and not usually considered to be a source of hard news, but these are Poe’s Law times we live in after all – notes for the record that the only adult left in der Sturmtrumper’s administration is nicknamed “Mad Dog.”  Think about that, why don’t you.

45. House Republicans have investigated Republican collusion with Russia and concluded that Republicans did not collude with Russia because Republicans.  Will now appoint fox to guard henhouse.  Details at 11.

46. Let’s just look at a few odd little coincidences, shall we?  Der Sturmtrumper has relied on Russian money to fund his businesses for decades now.  He openly courted Putin while staging a beauty pageant in Moscow.  He is linked through many sources and projects to organized crime in Russia.  His campaign advisors – notably Paul Manafort, Carter Page (identified by US intelligence as a possible Russian spy years before working for der Sturmtrumper) and Michael Flynn – had substantial ties to Russian money, propaganda, and intelligence services.  His campaign met repeatedly with Russian agents.  He openly called for Russia to intervene in the 2016 election.  He has defended Russia at every turn, even to the point of attacking American officials and interests around the globe.  He has refused to do anything to protect the US against documented Russian attacks on American electoral systems.  At some point the coincidences begin to tell, don’t they?  Or they would if anyone would listen.

45. Representative Tom Rooney (R-FL) has the backbone to say what most of his party will not: that the complete whitewash perpetrated by the House GOP trying to deny the obvious about Russian collusion is a disaster.  “We’ve gone completely off the rails,” he said, and now we’re just basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day’s news.  We’ve lost all credibility, and we’re going to issue probably two different reports, unfortunately.”  Oh, yes, you are.

46. Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), who also sits on that House committee, pointedly observed on Twitter that “GOP just shut down House Intel investigation, leaving questions unanswered, leads unexplored, countless witnesses uncalled, subpoenas unissued.”  It’s a clear attempt to bury the investigation before it hits home.  There was a time when the GOP cared about the country more than its own power, I’m sure of it.  It just hasn’t been for a long, long time.

47. That’s why Evan McMullen – a hardcore conservative from Utah – has pretty much left the party. I’ll let him have the last word this time, and that last word sounds an awful lot like high crimes and misdemeanors all around, really.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hedging My Bets

I’ve been delving away at my current genealogical interest for the past few months now, and it’s been interesting.

Let’s just say I have a brand new appreciation of my grandmother and leave it at that.  And when you consider that this was the woman who taught me how to swear, that’s saying something.

The thing you learn when embarking on any large project involving historical research is that a surprising percentage of your job is simply organizational.  You end up with a massive pile of information that needs to be categorized, sifted, and generally kept track of in some meaningful way, and trying to ride herd on all those new facts can be tricky.  When I wrote my dissertation, for example, the most useful thing I did was take my final outline (a document that was nearly 50 pages long all by itself) and then go through all of my research and put references into the outline where it all fit in.  The final product was nearly as long as the actual dissertation, but it meant that every step of the way I could just focus on the paragraph in front of me and know what research needed to go where.

So much of life is just logistics.

There are any number of genealogical programs on the market today, all of which have their partisans who think it is the greatest product ever put on the market for any purpose and who hate all of the other programs with the blazing heat of a thousand white hot suns.  This makes it kind of hard to sift through the reviews for any useful information, to be honest.  Mostly it’s just people shouting aimlessly and passionately at each other for no discernible reason and I get enough of that whenever I can calm my stomach enough to pay attention to politics these days.

You need one of those programs, though, because after a while keeping track of all the information without one is a nuisance.  But which one?

I ended up picking one on the grounds that a) it works with my computer, b) it was on sale, c) I could download it directly and not have to wait, and d) even the people who hated it with the blazing heat of a thousand white hot suns seemed to hate it for its inability to do things that, frankly, I had no intention of asking it to do anytime soon. 

It seems to work, as far as I can tell.  It downloaded nicely, installed without a hitch, and displays a friendly blue icon on my desktop.  It’s kind of calming that way.  I did have to search out the instruction manual on my own – another pdf file that is about 350pp long and tragically boring to read even in its original language, I suspect, but useful nonetheless.  I didn’t survive graduate school without the ability to slog my way through some aggressively dull prose, after all.

I’ve managed to enter the names and relationships of pretty much everyone I know about now.  Including everyone – and, for the record, this includes branches of the family separated by multiple “in-law” jumps – I’m closing in on 400 people.  This came as something of a shock to me, since I spent most of my life with a family you could put around a dinner table if everyone got cozy together.  I always knew there were other relatives out there somewhere – some I would see every so often, some I heard stories about, and some I simply surmised from pure biology – but when I was a kid I had to get out to second cousins before I hit two dozen people.  Having 400 relatives is a bit of a revelation.  Getting them all entered into one place is even more of one.  Win for me, I suppose.

There have been a couple of hitches, though.

For one thing, the program has no mechanism for putting in siblings directly.  This isn’t a problem when I’m dealing with the generations I’ve met, but if you go back far enough you run into people who just magically appear as someone’s brother and need to be slotted in somewhere.  Eventually I discovered that the way to do that is to create a placeholder parent (“Father of Antonio”) and assign to this parent all Antonio’s brothers and sisters.  It’s clumsy, but not irredeemably so.  And sometimes I discover that I actually do know who Antonio’s dad was so I can go back and edit in all the information, so there’s that.

The program also defaults to French names, which means that a) if you’re not careful you end up with accent marks in strange places, and b) the assigned genders can be rather fluid (insert Parisian joke here).  This isn’t a big issue, really – it just means I have to pay close attention and be ready to override the decisions that the program makes as those decisions come to my attention.  Correcting engineers who felt they knew better than I did how I wished to use their products has been an ongoing theme in my life, after all.

The biggest problem I’m having with the program is that it doesn’t do the one thing I want it to do, which is to print out One Big Family Tree with everyone on it.

I thought that was the whole point of those programs, really.

What I want to see when I am done is a big honking chart with everyone on it, even if I have to print it out on a hundred separate pages and tape them all together.  I want there to be a single family tree with a hundred branches – a family hedge that is as wide as it is tall.  I want it all laid out, and I want it shareable so that everyone else can see it too.

Yeah well. 

The program has all kinds of charts you can get it to draw, it turns out.  You can make fans, hourglasses, charts that go up and charts that go down, and they give you about a hundred different templates for displaying the same information in artistic ways.  But not the one I want.

I may have figured out a way to trick the program into doing something almost as good, though.  It still requires me to put multiple charts together manually, but at least it gives me some way to do what I want.  So I forge ahead, and if this does work then eventually I will have my entire Family Hedge all ready to go.

And won’t that be a time.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Saving What Now?

Tonight we lose another hour of our lives, sacrificed on the altar of “more daylight” in the form of Daylight Savings Time.

This has never made any sense at all to me.

It seems to me that we have the same amount of daylight regardless of how it is measured, and that there is altogether too much of the stuff anyway.  Daylight is when you go to work.  Daylight is when noisy people insist on making noise at you.  Daylight needs to be drained, not saved.  We need more night, where it is quiet and there is time to reflect.

But the world is run by morning people who got up earlier than the rest of us and monopolized all the good stuff, and they think this gives them the right to tell everyone else what to do.  So we have Daylight Savings Time and work starts shortly after sunrise and everything grinds to a halt once the moon rises, at least officially.

I don’t get it, but there you go.

As far as I am concerned the only useful function that Daylight Savings Time serves is that it reminds us that the clock is an arbitrary way to measure time, one that can be set however one prefers with equal validity and thus being yelled at for coming home after curfew is a bit odd.  That made a lot more sense to me as a teenager than as a parent of teenagers, but there you have it.

Not everyone participates in this mass delusion, of course.  A couple of summers ago when we went to the Grand Canyon we had to take into account the fact that Arizona does not bother with all of this nonsense, though many of the Reservations do.  So it was a bit of a nuisance trying to figure out precisely what time we were expected to arrive where, as Utah – where we were driving down to the Grand Canyon from – does uniformly observe Daylight Savings Time and I had no idea how much if any of the Grand Canyon or the road to it was located in any Reservation.

It used to bother me that not everyone took part, but now I think those places are onto something and that we should take them as a model.

Of course here in Wisconsin it is expected that all my clocks will be an hour ahead of themselves tomorrow and my sleep schedule will be similarly compromised.  It’s been years since I kept a regular enough schedule for that to matter – probably high school, now that I think about it – but still.  It is a bother, and the world is full enough of bothers as it is.

So this may be from an hour into the past or the future or whatever it all works out to be.

Greetings, time travelers! 

Saturday, March 3, 2018


I am already a winner.

I don’t usually enter drawings unless there is more to it than the prize at the end, as my track record in lotteries is pretty dismal.  I won a wooden pen once when I lived in Pittsburgh, and at my high school graduation after-party (the one that the school district threw for us to keep us out of trouble) I won a gallon of some hideous cologne whose name translated more or less as “Jungle Juice,” so whether that counts as a win is kind of an open question really.  Last month I won a travel mug at a trivia contest I was in (my team came in second, since the last round was deeply local trivia and nobody on the team grew up here in Our Little Town).  Otherwise my record is pretty clean.  Many entries.  Few wins.

But Patrick Rothfuss has been running his Worldbuilders event for a few years now and I’ve usually thrown in my contribution, because it’s more than just the prizes.

Rothfuss is a writer, the author of The Kingkiller Chronicles – currently two big novels (and waiting for the third), at least one novella, a couple of short stories, and if I remember correctly a television series in the works in the near future) – as well as a couple of picture books that are, as the stickers on the front clearly state, not meant for children.  I got hooked on the first Kingkiller book – The Name of the Wind.  It was one of the most darkly lyrical things I have ever read.  He’s also a lot of fun in person, and those of us in Wisconsin get to see him fairly often if we can be pried out of our homes since he lives here and is often doing readings or other events.  Kim and I went to see him in Madison once, and we had a lovely time.

Worldbuilders is a charity lottery designed to benefit Heiffer International, an organization that provides farm animals to poor people in rural areas of the developing world on the theory that those animals provide food, wool, and capital that can be used more effectively to lift people out of poverty than simply donations.  There’s a schedule of donations on the website – so much donated yields this many animals of that type – and for every $10 you donate you get a ticket for the lottery.

There are fabulous prizes, most of which are lottery prizes but some are auctioned straight off.

Remember what I said about Rothfuss being a writer?  It turns out that writers tend to know each other.  And their publishers.  So the first year that Rothfuss decided to run this event, he reached out to his friends and their publishers looking for donations for prizes.

He was swamped.  Books – many of them signed – poured in.  Games.  Favors, such as an editing session with a real published author.  And so on.  It was a hit.

Now it’s a huge hit.  They raised over a million dollars this year and gave out all kinds of prizes.

I’ve put in my money for the lottery almost every year it’s been run (I think I forgot one year).  I never got a prize.  But it seemed a worthwhile cause and I figured someone had to sit on the curb and clap as the winners rode by, if only to encourage people to keep doing this sort of thing.  Win all around, really.

This year they pulled my name from the hat.

I got a hint of this a couple of weeks ago when I got an email asking me to verify the contact information I had sent them.  Yes, yes, everything looks right, thanks for asking.  What of it?

Well, today I got a very large padded mailer with four – count ‘em, four! – new books, just for me!

It’s not why I enter that contest, but I’m not going to turn it down, that’s for sure.  So congratulations to me!

Next year, perhaps you can enter too!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Games, Games, Games

Well, the Winter Olympics are over and now what will I do with my time?

First, I mean.  What will I do first.

There’s always too much to do and not enough time to do it in.  That’s how life works.  But sometimes you have to put things aside and just bask in the weirdity of things, and if there is a bigger stage set for weirdity than the Winter Olympics on this planet I have yet to find it.

They’re not like the Summer Olympics, which are all about who can run faster, jump higher, swim longer, or kick a ball better. 

No, the Winter Olympics are all about who can survive hurtling down a chute made of pure ice at speeds of over 80mph while riding a sled with about four inches of clearance and no safety gear.  You can do that feet first or face first, your choice.  If you’re feeling cautious, you can do it in a tube-like sled.  They’re all about who can race in circles wearing knives on your feet without crashing head first into the side boards and taking out everyone nearby and severing everyone’s arteries including your own.  They’re about training for the Finnish infantry with skis and rifles and trying to do so faster than anyone else.  They’re about hurtling off a cliff on skis or snowboards while spinning like a top and flipping like a politician at a debate.  They’re about grabbing your partner by the sensitive bits and tossing them across the ice while they spin dervishly and hoping they land on the knives on their feet without falling.

Seriously – who needs hard liquor when this stuff is happening right in front of you?

I got to see a lot of the games this year.  We all sat for the Opening Ceremony, while the athletes from the various nations paraded in and the lighting techs showcased the state of the art in theatrical technology.  The American network was even nice enough to acknowledge the presence of non-Americans once in a while, so you have to hand that to them.

We’re all big fans of curling here and this time around there was curling on pretty much every day.  The girls used to curl every season here in Our Little Town.  This year their worlds got too busy so no curling for the moment, but perhaps next year.  To make up for that, we watched a lot of curling.


I like the sliding sports.  Luge.  Skeleton.  Bobsled.  I just can’t imagine what kind of reckless disregard for personal safety it requires to take up any of these sports, but I can’t help but admire the spirit of those who do.

Kim and the girls like the figure skating.  I can take it or leave it, myself, but Savchenko and Massot’s pairs routine was a thing of pure beauty and elegance that managed to hush even Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir’s incessant chatter.

The snowboarders looked like they were having more fun than anyone else at these games, mostly I suspect because they never seem like they take themselves all that seriously.  Figure skaters always look like they’re trying to decide which lever to pull in one of those trolley problems that your ethics professors nattered on about in college.  Snowboarders just look like they’re two slices into a pizza but it was their turn to perform so they told their buddies to keep their next slice warm for when they got back.

Kim took the girls to visit her brother and his husband out in San Francisco last week and, for long and complicated reasons that made sense when we booked this trip but rather less sense when I was home by myself, I stayed behind.  So I watched even more Olympics.

The women’s hockey gold medal game kept me up until the very last shot even though that meant I’d been awake for about 20 hours at that point.

And I watched every rock of the men’s gold medal curling game, as Team Reject scored the most unlikely gold medal in the Olympics after Czech snowboarder Ester Ledecka’s victory in the downhill Super G skiing event.  No, I have no idea what a G is in skiing or how you make one Super (radioactive spider bite?), but the fact that NBC had to cut back to that event after pre-emptively declaring a winner and then apologize for their hastiness was all kinds of goodness on a bun.  The American curlers weren’t quite that level of odd, but for a group of guys who had been cut out of the official program and had to work their way back in to win a gold medal in a sport where no American had ever won such a thing is a great story.

I enjoyed the women’s gold medal curling match too.  How could you not?

But now it’s over and so it’s back to reality, or as much reality as I can stand these days.  You have to parcel it out carefully or it will get to you.

I’ll miss the Winter games.  I have no doubt that behind the scenes they were the usual array of corruption and greed that the Olympics always are, but for two weeks I could forget that and just watch the world’s largest display of goofy fun and enjoy it. 

It was nice.