Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Contribution to the Fair

We went back to the County Fair today for one last turn through the livestock barns, one final attempt to commit suicide-by-foodlike-fried-substances-on-a-stick, and one more wristband-day’s worth of carnival-barking amusement.

Everyone needs a hobby.

Actually it was two last turns, since it was well into the 90s and brilliantly sunny today, and after a while we made the strategic decision to retreat until later in the day. This proved a successful strategy, and I can report that we did indeed get our fill of rabbits, grease and twirling around while buckled into seats, though not at the same time. Lauren even won a stuffed Pokey the Horse and at some point I will explain to her who Gumby was, preferably without referencing Eddie Murphy until she is older.

For my part, I always enjoy wandering around looking at the booths.

There were a lot of booths, as there always are at the fair. Any number of local businesses get booths in order to promote their products. You can find everything from the local newspaper to cell phone knick-knacks to water softeners to cowboy hats. You can purchase an air turbine to generate your own electricity. You can get your face painted. You can buy a tractor. Actually, you can buy several varieties of tractors. You can even buy a new shower stall to place directly over the old one, which will make your washing experience both more modern and about an inch further from the floor.

There were also what I like to call “cultural booths.”

Some of them are fairly non-controversial. The local hospital has a big tent where you can get your blood pressure checked and learn about the warning signs of strokes as you chew on your funnel cake and your cream puff, for example. I always stop there to pick up the traveler’s packs of bandaids they give out – they fit nicely into a jacket pocket and they’re good to have when you’ve got kids. The library is there with press-on tattoos, on the theory that if you’re willing to read things scrawled on people’s bodies you’ll probably be likely to read things written in books too. The county also has a couple of different booths touting the park systems, hiking trails and assorted other things they’d like you to know about when it comes time for them to collect your taxes. Taxes are the price one pays for civilization, and it’s good to see them spent on nice things.

Other cultural booths are a bit more suspect, at least by my standards – not by the standards of the rest of the people here in Our Little Town, apparently, but then I never claimed to fit in well here. Most of these booths fall into the “Evangelical Proselytizing and Propaganda” category, and the fair is just teeming with them. There are at least two different booths pushing Creationism, for example, one of which had fairly elaborate displays about how dinosaurs proved their case. I didn’t have the heart to read those. These booths were right next to the anti-abortion tent with the grisly poster-sized photos facing into the flow of people walking by. A number of local Biblical-literalist Christian schools also have recruiting booths, for those who prefer their children theologically indoctrinated and scientifically illiterate. They do a booming business.

I prefer not to think about how many of those schools we have here in Our Little Town. There is no way for that to end well.

And there are the political booths. The local Democratic Party tent was full of people outraged at the current state of Wisconsin politics, snapping up paraphernalia and signing up for the eventual drives to recall Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries). None of the cronies, minions and lackeys currently being recalled are in this district so we are spared all of that here in Our Little Town, but the local Republican Party tent was full of signs proudly declaring all the things they have done to this state over the last few months. Every time I passed by the place was empty except for staffers. Perhaps I just passed by during lulls in attendance, but I prefer to think of it as a sign of the hard times their policies are bringing about for themselves.

I can dream.

Straddling the line between the political booths and the cultural ones is the booth run by the Constitution Party. Or at least it used to be. They weren’t there this year, and I found that sort of disappointing.

Though there is also a large part of me that prefers to think that I had something to do with them staying home this year.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Constitution Party, it is one of those random extreme right wing quasi-libertarian herds of imbeciles that infest the American body politic like so many flag-waving lice these days. Like most such groups they claim to worship the very paper that the Constitution was written upon, so much so that they apparently refuse to sully the document by actually reading it. Most years they set out a table full of bumper stickers and buttons urging passersby to stock up on guns, refuse to pay their taxes, and generally make nuisances of themselves to civilized folk.

Last year as I was walking by one of the staffers manning their booth, clearly mistaking me for a rube, called out to me and asked me one of their standard talking point questions – “Is the United States a democracy?”

Now, when these folks go through their training the way this scene plays out is that the passerby says, “yes,” and then the questioner triumphantly swoops in and says “No! It’s a republic!” and then proceeds to argue that this distinction somehow justifies every other bit of twaddle that the Party wants you to believe. So when I replied, “No, it’s a representative republic with a neo-Harringtonian republican governmental structure put in place by the Founding Fathers that sits on top of a Lockean liberal democratic culture that has existed since the early nineteenth century,” he was sort of taken aback.

“Anything else you want to ask me?” I continued.

Most people would recognize that question as rhetorical. But there is no stopping a true believer, and he pressed forward with his talking points anyway.

The nice thing about the Constitution Party is that arguing with them has a certain “shooting fish in a barrel” quality that makes me feel pretty good about my powers of debate in much the same way that I would feel pretty good about my softball skills if I were suddenly placed in a t-ball league with 5-year-olds. It’s not exactly stiff competition, let’s put it that way.

So if it seems like I’m bragging about my rapier-like conversational skills here, keep that in mind.

We worked our way through his bullet-point list of things to say – he’d bring up a point, I’d explain why it was nonsense, we’d move on to the next. I’m not sure why he wanted to continue the conversation, really. Perhaps it was that we’d gathered a small crowd (including, much to their dismay, my own children, who just wanted to go on rides) and he didn’t want to back down. For a while he tried to cop out by claiming that I was welcome to my own interpretation but that he would stick to his own, which frankly annoyed me – I’ve heard that from lazy and intellectually stunted students too many times to be impressed by hearing it again, and after a short but intense examination of the flaws of that argument he agreed to move on.

Eventually he got frustrated enough to bring up the mysteriously popular “the US is a Christian Nation” point that is part of the foundations of the Constitution Party platform, such as it is. “Oh,” I said. “That’s right. You’re the morons who think the Constitution was based on the Bible.”

It must be said that things went rapidly downhill from there.

I hit my break point when he claimed that the fact that murder is illegal under American law and is also forbidden by the 10 Commandments proved that the US was a Christian Nation. I think my exact words were something along the lines of, “that’s the most meaningless statement I’ve ever heard,” before pointing out that every major religion and secular system of ethics also prohibits murder in principle, and that with the exception of radical pacifism all of them – including Christianity – allow it in specific instances.

At that point his buddy decided that not only was I clearly not going to be buying any bumper stickers but that I was also interfering with other people who might potentially buy bumper stickers, and got him to sit down and stop talking to me. Whereupon my children convinced me to take them to ride on the Yo-Yo.

I was looking forward to continuing this conversation this year, really – it’s not every day you find a target that easy to hit – but alas, they were nowhere to be found.  I like to think it was because of me. 

Because it's a harmless delusion and it makes me feel like I have contributed something of value to the County Fair experience for my fellow citizens, that's why.

Friday, July 29, 2011

In Defense of the Recall Elections in Wisconsin

I’ve been reading some of the editorials complaining about the recall elections here in Wisconsin, and it is apparent that the people writing them haven’t put much thought into the reasons why these things are happening.

Basically, the complaints people have about the recalls boil down to two:

1. They are too expensive and a waste of taxpayer money.

2. Elections have consequences. The Teabaggers won. The rest of us should shut up and bend over for the next few years until the next election.

The first argument is pure gold-plated horse waste and can be easily refuted, given the fact that the party making these complaints is precisely the one that managed – on the national level – to convert the largest budget surplus in human history into the largest deficit in human history in three short years without counting the two wars they fought off-book. Closer to home, this is the same party that has refused federal money for projects already in the works – costing the taxpayers millions – and ran explicitly false candidates in Democratic primary elections, a deeply un-American and morally bankrupt move that cost the taxpayers of Wisconsin nearly half a million dollars.

So it is clear that arguments based on the expense of these elections are purely hypocritical talking points, designed to appeal to the sort of person who thinks in bumper stickers and misspelled posters, and can therefore be dismissed out of hand.

If you think good government is an expense you can’t afford, you have no business participating in a democracy anyway.

The second point – that elections have consequences – is not so easily dismissed. Nor, however, is it applicable here. This is where people who complain about the recalls just don’t get it, and therefore it is worth spending some time exploring the issue.

Elections do have consequences.

Particularly since the advent of the Second Party System in the 1820s and 1830s, the American political system has been set up that way. Gone were the ideals of the Founders – that political leaders should rise above the partisan mud pit and seek to rule for the greater public good – and in their place came the spoils system and the idea that politics was a Great Game.

In this version of politics, elections were contests between competing parties, not competing characters, and the winners got to run things for a while – to impose their policies in place of those of the losing party, fire the personnel of the losers and replace them with supporters of the winners, and generally have their way until the next time they lost an election.

The losers, for their part, were expected to let them do that, within limits. They weren’t expected to roll over and die – and you will note with the Republican opposition to Obamacare and their refusal to approve of his choices for the federal judiciary that this tradition of obstructionism continues – but in general the losers were expected to accept their subordinate position and wait for the next election so they could have a chance to turn the tables.

As a general principle, this still holds true. American politics is basically set up with the idea that the winners of elections get to implement their policies.

Were the situation in Wisconsin simply a matter of policies, the justification for recall elections would not be as clear as it is. The policies implemented by the Teabagger regime in Madison have been catastrophic in nature, but that’s not sufficient to warrant recalls.

And there is no doubt that the policies rammed into law by Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries), and his cronies, minions and lackeys, are catastrophic at a fundamental level.

Under cover of “fiscal responsibility” they have enacted a union-busting law that has no actual relationship to the finances of the state. It is a clear assault on the rights of middle-class Americans to associate freely. More to the point, it is an attack on that middle class itself. Unions historically were the key institutions in raising the wages of the working class to middle-class levels and creating the broad middle class that supports liberal democracy in the United States. 70% of the American economy today is based on consumer spending. Take away those wages, take away that middle class, and not only does the economy revert to third-world levels, but liberal democracy itself becomes fragile. We may well end up with a banana-republic political system to go with our banana-republic economy.

Under cover of “electoral accountability” they have enacted a voter suppression law designed to prevent opposing voters from participating in the American republic.

Under cover of “budgetary restraint” they have gutted the public schools and libraries in Wisconsin, thus short-shrifting future economic development and undermining the foundations of the well-informed citizenry that republics require.

Under cover of “job creation” they have gifted millions of dollars in tax breaks to people already phenomenally wealthy, while at the same time claiming to be too poor to pay for things the regular citizens of this state actually need.

And on, and on. It is a litany of failure from top to bottom, an astonishing display of “reverse-Midas-touch” politics that has few parallels in American history.

But such things are pretty much par for the course under this party’s leadership.

If the present situation were simply a matter of catastrophically short-sighted policies designed to betray the American past, impoverish its present and sell out its future, well, frankly, I’m used to that. That’s been the Republican Party’s stock in trade for the last forty years or so, and anyone surprised by it hasn’t been paying attention. Eventually grown-ups will be elected again and they will commence cleaning up the mess left by these political toddlers – that does seem to be the effective role of the American left these days. Clinton did it in the 90s. Obama has been trying to do it in this decade. I’m sure someone will do it again once the Teabaggers get thrown out here in Wisconsin.

The tide comes in, the tide goes out.

So it’s not about the policies, not really. Or at least, it’s not just about the policies.

Elections do have consequences. But one of those consequences is not that being elected entitles you to do whatever you want to do. There are limits.

There are legal limits. One of the many things this country was founded upon was a respect for the rule of law – that laws have meaning, that they are the supreme arbiters of what happens in this country. Elected officials are not above the law. They are bound by the laws made before them. They are bound by the legal processes set out for them to follow. This is not a country based on fiat, on whim, or on prerogative. This is a republic of laws, not men, and anyone who wishes to be called an American and remain legitimately in power must remember that.

There are constitutional limits. This country was the first to put down onto a single document the fundamental laws governing its existence – the laws that govern the laws. Elected officials are bound by constitutional restraints even more than by legal restraints. All of the things about laws apply to constitutions, and on top of them there is the fact that officials cannot manufacture laws that contrast with those constitutions – not if they want to be called Americans, and not if they want to remain legitimately in power.

And there are democratic limits. The United States is a representative democracy in its political form, one that has had a decidedly democratic political culture for nearly two centuries now. This means a few things. It means that parties in power still need to follow certain procedures – allowing opposition party legislators to vote on bills, for example. It means not trying to eliminate the right of American citizens to have their say in the workings of THEIR government, whether through voting or petitioning their government or monitoring that government so that its actions remain in the public eye.

And it is because the Teabagger regime in Wisconsin has violated these limits that the recalls are just, proper and necessary.

The Teabaggers of the FitzWalker junta have mounted a sustained assault on the legal, constitutional and democratic limits placed in the way of their path toward absolute power. They have attempted to subvert the very fabric of proper government in Wisconsin with their actions. They have violated the social compact that binds together the citizens of this state with their leaders, and as such they have no legitimate place in power. They still cling to power regardless – power is the only language they understand – but their possession of that power has been rendered unjust and unwarranted by their actions. They therefore must stand before the sovereign people of Wisconsin for judgment.

This is what recalls are for.

The recall election is one of the reforms introduced into American politics by the Progressives of the early 20th century.

Progressives – a movement particularly strong in Wisconsin – were a difficult group to define. They were not a party – there were Progressive wings of both the Republican and Democratic parties. They did not have a readily identifiable constituency the way the Populists before them did. They did not have a single platform or agenda. They were a style more than an organization, and they were united by several qualities.

First, they prized order and efficiency. They were all in favor of the Industrial Revolution, for example, but found it chaotic and inefficient, and therefore hazardous. They wanted it reformed to work better, not revolutionized to be something completely different the way Socialists did.

Second, they believed in human effort. Humans created society; humans could improve it. There was, in other words, such a thing as progress. This was a far cry from the cold Darwinian world of the laissez-faire theorists who had dominated American politics during the Gilded Age.

Third, they believed in an active role for democratic government in society. Democratically elected governments were the proper form for human effort to be channeled into making progress and creating order and efficiency.

Fourth, this belief in active government rested on their wholehearted acceptance of the sovereignty of the American people over their nation. The American people retained their sovereignty – they retained the power to rule over their governors – in a way that the people of other nations did not.

If government was to be given more effective power in the day-to-day lives of its citizens those citizens needed more day-to-day power over how that government was to operate. Thus you get the three great Progressive political reforms: the primary election, the referendum, and the recall election.

Recalls exist, in other words, because the American people retain their right to make sure the limits placed on elected officials are respected. With power comes responsibility, and if elected officials choose the former but ignore the latter then the American people do not have to suffer in silence simply because an election is not near to hand. Should those officials overstep their bounds, the citizens of this republic have the right to remove them from office in a special election, without waiting for the next regular election.

It is clear that the actions of Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) and his cronies, minions and lackeys warrant such removal.

They have deliberately and with malice aforethought violated the legal limits on their power, bypassing open meetings laws, conspiring to commit illegal electoral fraud, openly discussing planting rioters among citizens seeking peaceful redress of grievances, and committing further acts unmentioned here.

They have deliberately and with malice aforethought violated the constitutional limits on their power, ordering laws to be published in violation of constitutional order, barring the citizens of Wisconsin from access to their government and Capitol in violation of state constitutional articles, seeking to manipulate Supreme Court elections, passing bills claimed as budgetary matters without the necessary quorum, and committing further acts unmentioned here.

They have deliberately and with malice aforethought violated the democratic limits on their power, passing laws whose only purpose is to suppress the legitimate suffrage of Wisconsin citizens, running explicitly false candidates in primary elections, refusing to allow opposition lawmakers to see bills with sufficient advance notice even to read them, refusing to allow opposition lawmakers to vote on bills, closing hearings, allowing unelected and unaccountable special interest groups to write legislation for them, and, by committing these and further acts unmentioned here, showing a disrespect and contempt of the American political process incompatible with their legitimate hold on power.

The citizens of Wisconsin know well that the words of the Declaration of Independence do not exist in amber, trapped forever in 1776. No, they echo throughout American history, and Thomas Jefferson spoke not only of his contemporaries but also of the living today:

When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

Thanks to the Progressives, we can do this peacefully, without resort to the sorts of measures Thomas Jefferson was referring to when he wrote that.

The recall elections in Wisconsin are just, proper and necessary.

Let no one tell you otherwise.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Revenge of Wristband Day

It’s the end of July and around this part of Baja Canada that can only mean one thing: County Fair time!

We’ve been a bit more involved in the fair than usual this year. Most years we’ve just been part of the unthinking herd that shows up when the music starts playing, goes on the various rides, visits the livestock barns and eats food that only exists at county fairs – either fried or on a stick or, if you do it right, both. We’re all that still, but this year we’re also 4H members, which means the girls get to be part of the show.

Tabitha entered three different art categories as an exhibitor and spent a good chunk of the month working on a colored pencil drawing, a watercolor and a mixed media artwork, all of which were finished with literally hours to spare before we had to head over to the judging. She marched up to the judge with her artwork and they had what seemed from a distance to be a perfectly pleasant conversation, after which she came over to us with two blue ribbons and a red one.

Blue ribbons at our County Fair are not like they were in Charlotte’s Web, where there’s only one given out per category. They’re more like A’s in college classes. You have to work hard and do a great job to get one, but they’re available to anyone willing to make that bargain. We were suitably proud of her for her ribbons.

That was Monday. On Tuesday it was Lauren’s turn.

As a Cloverbud, which is what they call the junior 4H’ers, she was only eligible to do one project, for which she would receive a participation ribbon (a nice rainbow-colored one, it turned out). Lauren chose to do no-bake cookies, in particular the Swedish Chocolate Balls that I posted the recipe for here a few weeks ago. In recognition of the fact that these things had to sit out in the hot July weather for a while, we took the suggestion of several commenters and omitted the eggs from the recipe. Other than being a bit denser there really wasn’t much difference, and we’ll probably go with the eggless recipe from now on. In any event, Lauren enjoyed making them (she’s got the “meatball motion” down pat – next step is to get her making gravy) and the judges enjoyed tasting them.

Wednesday was Wristband Day, when any member of the rabble can purchase – for a slightly more than nominal fee – a wristband entitling them to unlimited rounds on the midway rides. And even on a grey and rainy day the girls and their friend Grace still got their money’s worth out of it.

Lauren is by far the most adventurous of the bunch, despite being the youngest and smallest. It was Lauren who continually pushed to go on the Firestorm, for example – a vertical rollercoaster that just goes around in one big circle, forwards and backwards, hanging at the top during the changeovers. She just LOVED that ride. Grace tried once and vowed never again. Tabitha was more efficient than Grace at reaching the same conclusion. You have to have a partner on this ride, though. One time we convinced a passing mom to go on (I didn’t have a wristband, otherwise I’d have gone), and eventually Lauren connected with her friend Bailey – whose family was showing Belted Galloways over at the cattle barn – and convinced her to join.

The odd thing for me was that the girls are now old enough that I don’t really have to follow them around anymore – I can just set up shop on a bench somewhere and tell them to meet me there in an hour or two or three. The girls, of course, found this entrancing – Independence! Yes! – but for me it’s just odd.

We beat a hasty retreat when the thunderstorm rolled across southern Wisconsin at the end of the day, but it was a good day anyway.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Voter Suppression in Wisconsin, Chapter Next

And so we enter the next phase of Governor Teabagger’s (a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) plan to make sure that only The Right Sort Of People actually get to vote here in Wisconsin.

Follow along – it’s fun for the whole family.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to politics here in Wisconsin this year (and why haven’t you been? For pure train-wreck horrified fascination you can’t find a better entertainment value for your soon-to-be-valueless dollar, really), the rogue junta currently running the state has been making every effort to ensure that nobody gets to vote except Teabaggers and – should any non-Teabaggers actually make it to the polls – that nobody’s vote gets counted except those of Teabaggers, whose votes will get counted even when they were never cast at all if that is what it takes to ensure a Teabagger victory.

Here’s looking at you, “Justice” Prosser!

First came the Voter Suppression Act of 2011, a nifty piece of legislation rammed through the legislature without even bothering to allow opposition legislators to vote on it or give the public any real say in it – because after all, it is the job of the public to bend over and take what the Teabaggers are doing to them without complaint. Thanks to this act Wisconsin residents now have to provide a state ID when they cast their ballot, one that they are required to pay for – either a drivers license or an equivalent obtainable at the DMV. For various reasons already explored here on this site, this essentially amounts to a poll tax.

Yes, poll taxes are unconstitutional – a clear violation of the 24th Amendment of the US Constitution – but Teabaggers have amply demonstrated that they have no interest in anything that interferes with their quest for dictatorial power, Constitutions be damned, and anyone who says otherwise is clearly an Islamo-Fascist-Communist-Kenyan-Keynesian-terrorist-elitist (did I miss anything there? Probably). Why should this be any different?

The stated reason for this was to crack down on voter fraud. This is an outright lie.

According to figures from a study conducted by Wisconsin State Attorney General JB Van Holland, a Teabagger and perhaps the most nakedly partisan AG in the entire nation, there were more cases of UFO sightings in Wisconsin in 2008 (forty) than fraudulent votes cast (fourteen, out of three million cast). If even ol' JB can’t be bothered to make up anything to back up his political ambitions, you may rest assured it isn’t there. So we can dispense with that argument.

That the real reason was to disenfranchise Wisconsin voters not likely to vote for Teabaggers is all the more clear from subsequent acts by Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) and his minions, cronies and lackeys in the once-proud state legislature.

For one thing, now that Wisconsin voters need to go to the DMV to pay their poll tax in order to vote, Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) has begun closing DMV offices in heavily Democratic areas while at the same time lengthening hours for DMV offices in heavily Republican areas.

This is essentially the same strategy retailers use with rebates – make the process sufficiently difficult and nobody will bother seeing it through to the end. When Teabaggers insist they want to run the government like a business, THIS is what they mean.

They certainly don’t mean growing revenue, which is what most businesses try to do.

And for another, the Wisconsin Republican Party, its puppetmasters over at Americans For Prosperity (a Koch Industries front group) and the various Teabagger organizations currently treating this state as their personal latrine have now been caught on tape planning a “vote caging” effort targeting potential Democratic voters.

According to DailyKos, the principals involved include Tim Dake, the spokesman for Wisconsin’s Teabaggers and generally considered to be the leader of that particular faction, Reince Preibus, chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, and Mark Block, director of Americans For Prosperity – Wisconsin. So you know it’s not just something that the junior staff are kicking around over a few beers – this is something planned at the highest levels of Teabaggery.

“Vote caging” is an illegal tactic used to suppress voter turnout. Basically they send mail to addresses on voter lists and then at the polling place they challenge the right to vote for anyone whose letter gets returned as undeliverable. Those people either have to prove they can vote or cast a provisional ballot, both of which take time. In the end, historically, roughly 35% of those challenged don’t bother to jump through all the hoops (regardless of their legal right to vote, which is almost never at fault), while the delays caused by the tactic at the polling place discourage those in line from staying, thus suppressing voter turnout still further.

This is a direct violation of the National Voter Rights Act of 1993, not that they care about laws.

Those in charge of this scheme should be prosecuted, jailed, and held in the contempt they so richly deserve. I don’t think that will happen, given the manipulation of the legal system that the Teabaggers have proven themselves so adept at and the blind willingness of so many so-called Americans to let them get away with such things, but I can dream.

When you elect clowns, you get a circus.

Monday, July 25, 2011

New York State of Mind

Neither Tabitha nor Lauren really understand what the big deal is about all the weddings going on in New York this week. And for that I am proud of them.

They are utterly unfazed by the idea that two people who love each other will, eventually, perhaps, get married, and if those two people happen to both be the same gender, well, that’s just how it goes sometimes. It’s no weirder than some of the things adults eat, for crying out loud.

They’ve got uncles on both sides of the family in this situation, on both sides of the US. They’ve grown up with those uncles and their partners – visited them, hung out with them, looked forward to seeing them again. Because, you see, they’re family. And that’s what family does.

It’s only those of us who are older, who remember a time when outsiders were allowed to define who your family should be – who, in many places in this country including Wisconsin, still live in such times – who think it’s a big deal that another barrier has fallen, who understand the importance of the fact that in one more of the fifty American states the theocrats who would impose their crabbed little version of society on the rest of us have been put to flight, at least for now.

Because it is a big deal.

And it’s not.

There was a time when interfaith marriages were controversial. There was a time when interracial marriages were controversial. And in some benighted corners of this country they still are, but most Americans have realized that such marriages are not really their concern and that society as a whole seems not to have collapsed because people who love each other are willing to stand up and declare that love and pledge fidelity to it and each other.

As Tabitha and Lauren grow older and find themselves in the majority – as survey after survey of their generation indicates they are – gay marriages will cease to be controversial as well.

That sound you heard this weekend was the sound of barriers breaking, not the sky falling.

And we as a people are better for it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

News and Updates

It’s been a busy week.

1. If you go to a Girl Scout softball game during tournament week, there is a pretty good chance you will be asked to umpire. I spent two games out in the field, calling base runners safe or out. This year none of the parents got snippy with me, which is an improvement over last year.

2. Girl Scouts do not play softball when the heat index is over 105F. They do, however, play softball in soaking rain.

3. When the phone rings at 4:45am you can be fairly confident you are not going to like what the person on the other end is going to say. Lauren had been so looking forward to going on a hot air balloon ride at the end of her Ballooning 101 class, but hot air balloons do not fly in thunderstorms and that is that.

4. On the other hand, the popsicle-stick bridge she made in her Break-It class took 65lbs before it snapped. She could have walked across it with weight to spare.

5. Tabitha’s NXT Lego catapult was somewhat less successful but provided a significant amount of fun anyway, and so was deemed just fine.

6. Students love it when you can work Bugs Bunny into a lecture somehow, at least those students old enough to remember Bugs Bunny. Those students get fewer and fewer each year.

7. We spent most of this week hiding in various air-conditioned spaces, since much of the time it was actually cooler inside my body than it was outside of it.

8. I do not like hot weather. You can always add clothing, but there is a limit to how much you are allowed to take off here in the United States. And even if you cross that limit, it's still too hot.

9. Trying to get promoted in academia requires the creation of documents that are far longer than you initially think they will be. Being able to send them in .pdf format rather than printing them off first only encourages this.

10. Next week will be no less busy. They never are.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

That Whirring Sound? It's Coming From Alexander Hamilton's Grave

I started reading Gordon Wood’s new book on the history of the early years of the United States of America, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. It’s a dense book but a readable one, and I’m a couple hundred pages into it now.

As an aside to Lucy and Janiece, it is every bit as good as I thought it would be. Wood is one of the pre-eminent scholars of this period and he has done a masterful job of synthesizing not only his own scholarship but the best of what others have done as well. The bibliographic essay at the end alone is worth the price of the book.

It’s astonishing how relevant it all is.

One of the men who figured into the story of the founding of the American republic more than he generally gets credited for these days was Alexander Hamilton. By the time this book opens he has risen above his origins in West Indian poverty and become the new nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, a position far more visible and powerful then than it is today. We forget that the British Prime Minister has its origins in exactly that position in His Majesty’s Government and the Founders assumed that an equivalent process would take place on this side of the Atlantic – not that the Secretary of the Treasury would overshadow or replace the President, necessarily, but that he would become the most important day-to-day official in the government.

Follow the money. That’s where the action is.

If you read even the smallest bit about Hamilton and his program for the early republic you will come to one inescapable conclusion: the security and safety of the new Constitution and the government it created was in large part founded on a clear commitment to honor the nation’s debts. Everything else flowed from that – the stability of the federal government, the prosperity of the national economy, the acceptance by foreign nations of the US as a legitimate country, the survival (as a practical matter) of the republic which the Founders fought so long and hard to achieve – it all comes from the recognition that the federal government must honor its debts.

Hamilton spent the bulk of the early 1790s impressing this fact upon his peers, and their willingness to put aside their often visceral hatred for Hamilton himself in order to accept his argument speaks volumes not only to Hamilton’s wisdom in this matter but also the good sense of the rest of the Founders, who could overlook their own petty private interests for sake of the common good.

Which is why the current posturing among the Teabaggers regarding their poisonously casual attitude toward honoring the nation’s debts is so disturbing. For a group that insists that it reveres the Founders and the Constitution as much and as loudly as they do, they do have a rather perverse way of demonstrating it.

This group of blind ideologues has spent the entire summer threatening to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States in order to advance their extremist agenda, and at this point it may well be too late to avoid the consequences of this, deal or no deal.

And make no mistake – there will be consequences.

At the bare minimum it will add billions to the national debt in interest payments, as credit agencies lower the American rating and force the US to pay more in interest for the same debt. It may even undermine the dollar, which is based solely on that full faith and credit. It’s going to be very hard to run an economy with a currency that has no value. And with that, the Teabaggers may actually destroy the fragile economic recovery from the recession caused by these very same right-wingers, possibly taking down much of the world economy at the same time.

All for what? The chance to prove that Hamilton was right all along? Is their thirst for absolute power so all-consuming that they would rather rule a smoking ruin than live in a prosperous world that isn’t made to their precise partisan specifications? Are they so eager, then, to throw the rest of us under their bus in order to cling to power?

Apparently so.

The problem with reading about the early republic is that even with all the problems that this country faced in the 1790s it is still utterly disheartening to realize how low we have fallen since then and how many people who call themselves Americans are actively and proudly trying to dig the hole deeper.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Soaring Through the Afternoon

Lauren and I spent much of the afternoon making paper airplanes.

It was a hot enough day that not even the mad dogs or Englishmen were out and I had left the work I planned to do on my desk on campus, so it was a bit of found time for the two of us. I refuse on principle to use found time for productive purposes – I regard such time as a gift to be used for better things – so airplanes it was.

Lauren wanted to see how many types of airplanes I could make. It turned out that there were five.

From left to right:

1. The one that looks kind of like a bishop’s mitre.
2. The snub-nosed little acrobatic thing that looks batlike to me.
3. The rod-and-tube thing that I always thought was cheating since it requires tape and scissors to make. Real paper airplanes require only paper and time.
4. The flying wing.
5. And the normal everyday dart.

Lauren also made her own copies, which were far more colorful, and when we went back to campus to fetch Tabitha she threw them around the big atrium on campus until one got stuck in the ivy planter that stretches from floor to ceiling. That was enough for that.

I’ve always loved paper airplanes. They were the one of the main reasons I went to church as a kid.

The church I went to was an odd building. There was the church proper – a small but neat space with watery Protestant stained-glass windows – and, linked to it by a hallway, was the Parish Hall. The Parish Hall was probably bigger than the church proper and shaped approximately like it. It was a long space with a sloping roof that rose to a peak about two and a half stories above us, and other than some storage at the far end it was essentially empty. The grown-ups would gather at the near end to drink their coffee, which meant that most of the room was ours.

Every Sunday they would print up dozens of bulletins for the service – blue ink on light-blue paper – and once the service was over they all belonged to us kids. Bobby and I were the resident airplane experts – we’d crank out a dozen or so every week and pass them out to all the kids, keeping the best for ourselves and honing our craft with each passing Sunday, until by the time we all left after high school we were paper airplane savants.

The whole far end of the Parish Hall would come alive with swooping blue airplanes from the moment we got out to the moment our parents would drag us off home. And so long as we kept them away from the grown-ups and out of their coffee, they were content to let us do it.

Sometimes I think I should start going to church again, if only to pass on paper airplane lore.

You have to put your faith in something.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Stitch In Time

Both cars are now rid of the dirt from the gravel road leading into Tabitha’s summer school site, out there in the wilderness on the outskirts of Our Little Town, and this means that Summer School Phase 1 is over. It’s nice to have benchmarks.

Tabitha spent the summer learning survival skills, which seemed to boil down to how to build a fire, how to make a shelter, and how to consume your weight in wild blackberries. And really, that’s pretty much all you need.

It was also a pretty nice shelter.

Lauren spent the last month making no-bake treats, learning about dinosaurs, and sewing. And she came home with quite a nice little pillow – a red panda that she now has to think up another name for, since the first one no longer applies. She was originally going to leave the black muzzle a solid sheet of black and call her creation, “Panda Vader,” but the temptation of having eyes proved to be too much.

I am quite impressed with her sewing skills. Tabitha has already made a stuffed animal of her own, and thus I am impressed with her skills as well. They clearly get this from Kim.

From the time I entered kindergarten to the time I graduated with my PhD was about thirty years, and in those three decades the only class I ever failed was 7th-grade sewing. This really disappointed my grandmother, who had worked as a seamstress before marrying my grandfather back in the 30s. Apparently that sort of thing skipped me.

It was a 9-week class, and we were tasked with creating two things – a pillow in the shape of a letter, and a choice of a more interesting project.

I finished the letter pillow – a red K, for some reason, which I still have – and decided that my second project would be a dufflebag. It sounded more useful than a letter pillow, and I figured, “How hard can it be?”

You know where this is going.

As the quarter progressed my dufflebag did not, until finally it was a week before the end of the quarter and I needed to stay after school to try to get it done. Fortunately the teacher – a long-suffering woman whose name escapes me – had scheduled hours for such activities, almost as if she expected a few of us to be in this boat. Imagine!

So one day I stayed late, got out my stuff and began to get set up.

Now, the thing you have to understand is that I had never really figured out how to make the bobbin work. All my stitching looked pretty good from the top, but underneath it was a rabbit warren of loops and dashed hopes. This upset my teacher more than me, and she made it clear that if I were to have any hope of doing well in the class I would need to get that resolved.

After about ten minutes of diligent sewing I lifted up the presser foot on the sewing machine to check on my bobbin stitches. Sure enough – loops and dashed hopes. And I thought, oh well. I don't need an A. If I just get it finished, maybe she’ll let me slide. So I started sewing again.

See what I left out there? That part about putting the presser foot back down? Do you know what sound a sewing needle makes when it hits a presser foot that has vibrated into its path? It’s a sharp metallic PING, after which you are left with two pieces of sewing needle and a Very Concerned Teacher standing over you, because she has heard that sound before, yes she has.

Well, I figured that was why they made you buy the extra needles in the first place.

So I carefully undid the pieces of the old needle, installed a new one, threaded all the various bits into where they were supposed to go, and started up again.

See what I left out there, again?

This time when the needle hit the vibrating presser foot it didn’t break. It bent itself into a fishhook shape. That sounds like a series of sharp metallic PINGS, by the way.

At that point the teacher came over, laid her hand on my shoulder and said, “David, go home.”

I’m glad I have children who can handle sewing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wisconsin Recall Elections, Round 1

Well, the explicitly and proudly fake candidates that the Teabaggers threw into the Wisconsin recall elections were all defeated by the actual Democrats.

I suppose I should be cheered by that – there’s certainly a great deal of celebratory rhetoric floating about the blogosphere in the wake of the failure of this morally bankrupt, breathtakingly cynical and deeply un-American attempt to deny US citizens the right to free and fair elections. And there is something to be said for that.

But the sad fact is that the tactic didn’t fail. It succeeded. It did everything the Teabaggers wanted it to do.

It delayed the actual recall elections by another month, giving the Teabaggers time to ram their gerrymandering scheme through the rubber-stamp legislature in order to make voting more difficult and rig the elections in their favor. It muddied the waters regarding whether the Voter Suppression Act of 2011 will be employed to further that cause. It forced the Democratic challengers to the Teabaggers to spend money to defend themselves against these charlatans, money they won’t have for the actual recall elections. And it removed the recall elections another month from the outrages of the past spring, which only helps the Teabagger cause since most Americans have a political memory measured in minutes. They’re counting on that, and I have no doubt they are right to do so. If Americans had any historical memory at all, we wouldn’t have Teabaggers to begin with.

More to the point, the imposing of fake candidates in the recall elections demonstrated for all to see the callous indifference that Teabaggers have for the ideas of the rule of law, democracy, and the right of American citizens to have their voices heard. It was just one more way for the Teabaggers to say to the rest of us that they will do whatever it takes to keep their withered claws on the levers of power – morality and American values be damned. It’s just one more sign of a schoolyard bully willing to overlook basic principles so long as it gets them their way and intimidates everyone else.

They didn’t want those fake candidates to win. They didn’t care if they won. That wasn’t the point. The point was to impress upon us that they have the power to do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want, and no quaint and antiquated notions of Constitutions, elections or laws will stand in their way.

I’m surprised that the Teabaggers didn’t just come right out with ads threatening the children and pets of Democrats if they didn’t fall into line. It would have been in character.

On to the next step. Expect more of the same.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Day at the Park

When Lauren is an inch taller, she is going to OWN Six Flags Great America.

Yesterday was our annual trip to Six Flags, courtesy of a) the Not Bad President Elementary reading program, which gives to each student who completes it a free ticket, and b) the Coca Cola company, whose reward point program can also be cashed in toward tickets. With all of the various incentive programs and special deals, they practically had to pay us to go to their park.

Of course they made it all back in parking and food, but there you go.

It was a hot day – nearly 50 degrees warmer than the first time we went, back in 2009, which relieved us of the oddity of shivering into our hot cocoas in the middle of summer. Instead, we got to sweat in the sunshine. It was hot enough that we made very good use of the free refills on our Souvenir Cups – we nearly got our money’s worth out of them, in fact – and the caps we brought with us were unmanageable and soon stowed in the backpack, fashion be damned.

Oddly enough, though, the net effect on the crowd was about the same as when you could see your breath. The lines were manageable and we got to go on many, many rides, which was the purpose after all.

There were several different variations on the Scrambler, for example.

And there was the space needle thingy that takes you up into the stratosphere and drops you back down to earth in less time than it takes for your spouse to take out an insurance policy on your foolish self.

But the key thing – always the key thing – was the roller coasters. And Six Flags abounds in roller coasters.

The first stop was the Superman coaster, which hoists you into a prone position – the better to shower the floor beneath you with loose change, a physical manifestation of the park’s philosophy in general, really – and then scoots you off for several loops and a corkscrew before returning you to vertical at the end. Tabitha and I rode that one – Kim refuses to do anything that clearly contrary to self-preservation, and Lauren is, as mentioned, too short.

This rankled Lauren no end, as she has no fear of anything that is brightly colored and in the open air, and though we tried to substitute for the experience by going on every eligible coaster in the park, including the looping and corkscrewing ones, often multiple times, it wasn't the same. Next year, though, next year.

She made up for it by embracing pretty much every cartoon character we passed.

You really had to feel for those poor guys. It was a hot enough day that you felt sort of obligated to make it worth their while to be there by posing with them.

And there were water rides.

I’m not much of a water ride person, for the simple reason that I do not like wearing wet clothing. I managed to stay landbound for the Raging Raft Of Death, but eventually parental duty called and they got me on the flume ride and something called a Buccaneer Battle, which at least had the merit of providing you with a water cannon so you could fight back.

My children are roller coaster junkies. Life is good.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Back in the Day

I grew up on a one-block-long street in the suburbs of Philadelphia that was named after Edward Braddock, a colonial-era British general whose main claim to fame was losing a) an expeditionary force of British regulars and colonial militia, b) his life, and c) nearly the entire French and Indian War* all in a single campaign.

I’ve often wondered exactly why someone chose that name, but it was a great place to grow up anyway.

A couple of blocks away – just past the volunteer fire company – there was a little strip mall where the neighborhood did most of its shopping because it was within walking distance and full of the kind of useful stores that you would never find in such a setting today.

At one end was Tommy’s Hardware, the kind of old-fashioned wood-planked store that sold everything from tools and paints to balsa wood gliders. The gliders came in four varieties – 17-centers, which were the basic blue model, 29-centers, which were much the same only bigger and red, 59-centers that were also red but bigger still and with little rubber-band-powered propellers, and 79-centers that were the same as the 59-centers but with the addition of wire struts and wheels for landing gear – and we neighborhood kids probably spent a fortune on those planes. It was a rare day when any of them were red, but we had a grand time.

The neat thing about the 79-centers on the few occasions that we could afford them was that, given the trends in automotive design in 1975, we could use the trunk and rear windshield of any nearby car as a runway for launching them into the air. Streamlining had its advantages.

At the other end of the strip was Little Red Hen, our own bucket-o-fried-chicken place. Between that and the mysteriously named Boston Style Pizza in the middle of the strip, we had our Friday dinners pretty much set.

The rest of the strip was a grand playground of stores. There was the Havaline pharmacy, which had a wide candy section securely arranged in front of the cash register, because they knew us well. There was another pharmacy a couple doors down that had an official name that nobody ever used – it was just Randy’s to us. Randy was the thousand-year-old black man (a rarity in that neighborhood, though not in the township as a whole) who ran the soda fountain there and maintained a fairly indulgent attitude toward kids perusing the magazine racks, for which we adored him. There was even a little grocery store – Mertz’ Market, which sold all sorts of things. Mr. Mertz was a big man in his 50s who as near as I could tell never moved from his chair by the register. His father ran the butcher shop in the back and could cut exactly a pound of sharp cheddar cheese off a block with one swift unmeasured stroke of his cleaver.

I got to watch him do that a lot, as a kid, and it never ceased to amaze me.

My grandmother moved in with us when I was about Lauren’s age, and she used to send me down to the stores to pick up odds and end for her. She’d give me $20 and a list of things to buy, and for this I’d get a quarter – which, back in the mid-1970s, was enough to buy a candy bar or a snack-sized bag of Doritos, so I was happy.

The first stop was almost always Mertz’ Market, where I’d get a couple of tins of sardines and a pound of sharp cheddar (and my Doritos), along with whatever else was on the list.

Then I’d go to Havaline, march up to the counter and ask for a carton of Benson & Hedges Gold.

And they’d sell it to me.

Then I’d walk back home, happily chewing my chips and looking forward to a piece of the cheese. The cigarettes never appealed to me and the sardines appealed to me even less, but it was good cheese.

I look back on that with a certain amount of wonder. Here I was, all of 9 or 10 years old and unaccompanied by any adult on these trips, and they’d happily sell me whatever I asked for, even cigarettes.

I don’t think my daughters would get away with that today.


*Yes, I know that in most of the world it is referred to as The Seven Years War, but all this happened in 1755, prior to the start of the European phase of the war. In the colonies it was The French and Indian War, a marvelously confusing name since the French and Indians were on the same side. Of course The Seven Years War lasted nine years in the colonies, so it’s kind of a no-win situation either way.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thoughts on Memoirs

A while ago I found myself scanning through a review of a new memoir, one that I really had no intention of actually going out and reading myself. But it was a Sunday morning and I had a plate full of breakfast in front of me and the Sunday New York Times Book Review section in front of that, and if there is a better way to spend a Sunday morning I haven’t found it.

Although this particular review did make me wonder about that position.

I have no idea who actually wrote the memoir under discussion, and I rather doubt the reviewer did either. Very little of the review was devoted to the memoir itself, in fact. Most of it was given over to an extended editorial on the declining standards for memoir writers these days. Apparently back in The Golden Age of Memoirs, only people who had achieved great milestones, accomplished monumental tasks, or otherwise burned their names into the pages of history through the flaming heat of their actions would write memoirs. The function of the rest of us was to read them, not write them.


One of the many things I have learned over the course of my life is that everybody has a story to tell, and to draw an arbitrary line across society and say that “above this line you can tell your story and below it you can’t” is both shortsighted and arrogant.

I remember watching a news reporter on television once explain how he got his feature stories – the ones that aren’t really news so much as just interesting slices of life. All he needed, he said, was a phone book, a dart, and a way to get to whatever address the dart landed on. After that, the stories took care of themselves. And to demonstrate this, he pulled out his phone book, had the cameraman select a page at random and threw a dart at it. He then went to the address – a trailer parked out in the middle of nowhere – and interviewed the first person to come to the door.

And it was fascinating.

I thought about this a great deal over the last week as I was reading Listening Is An Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project.

For those of you not familiar with this project, basically they have a number of booths here and there across the country, including a couple that travel around. You make a 40-minute appointment and either bring someone to interview or they have someone who will interview you, and at the end you get a CD of your story and another copy goes to the Library of Congress. This book was a selection from over 10,000 of those stories, and it was the most moving thing I have read in years.

There are precious few major historical events in this book – in fact, the weakest section is precisely the one that tries to focus on such things.

What makes the stories is the smallness of them – the focus on daily life, on the bonds that connect people and the efforts people make to form them, maintain them, and in some cases break them. Those stories tell us what it means to be human and show us people in the process of becoming so.

And that’s what memoirs are all about, really.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Further Stories Involving Dave and Tools

The household gods are ironical beasts.

Last week I managed to replace the filter on the water line to the fridge without flooding the basement or injuring myself or others, a feat which amazed pretty much everyone here including Lauren, who is old enough to have figured out certain things about her old man, notably that he has a defective household repair gene and should not be allowed to wield any tool sharper than a ballpoint pen. I don’t think that replacing the filter actually solved the problem that we were having with the water, but even so – we now have a new filter and still have a dry basement. And there was no blood.


But these victories are never very long-lasting, and retribution is always swift.

On Sunday we had much of Kim’s side of the family over for the annual 4th of July cookout. There were vast quantities of good food and conversation and the various children managed to have a good time without burning anything down, and at the end of the day there were fireworks. I’m not sure why Our Little Town insists on shooting them off so that they arc gracefully over the cardiac care wing of the local hospital before detonating, but it’s within easy walking distance of our house so I don’t complain.

Shortly before we left to go see the fireworks, though, Kim filled the sink full of water in an effort to loosen our “map of the continental US” jello mold (which worked, by the way, although Tabitha did report that on the trip out to the picnic table Maine seceded and had to be consumed – poor Maine). And when she unplugged the sink – whooooosh! Suddenly our kitchen floor was full of water.

The culprit was this hole:

Two things about this hole – first, it wasn’t there an hour earlier when I was doing the dishes. And second, that’s the garbage disposal, which at that point in its structure is made of eighth-inch thick steel. We found no shrapnel when we cleaned out the cabinet, either.

I’m guessing metal fatigue, but really – it might well have been the cats' laser eyes for all I know.

Of course the cats have laser eyes. They're pretty much standard on cats these days.

So today I went over to the local Home Project Emporium and bought a new garbage disposal, one that fit the strict criteria I laid out for it in that it looked very much like the old one and therefore the odds were good that all the fiddly bits would be in approximately the same places and require less fiddling therefore.

Cunning move, I thought.

There was also a side trip to the Somewhat Smaller Hardware Store to get all the pieces I forgot (electrical tape and wire nuts, mostly), but I was expecting that. The first trip to the store is never the last trip to the store for projects like this.

So I spent an afternoon undoing the old one and putting the new one in. There were quite a few puzzled looks, a few blatant misuses of tools (you can do anything with a hammer if you’re clever enough), and a few explorations of the more interesting side of the English language which grew more intense when the following occurred:

But in the end the new one is now sitting in the space formerly occupied by the old one and it works. There was blood but only mine, and the house is still standing.

It’s not as clear-cut a victory as the last one, but I’ll take it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Few Thoughts on the Fourth of July

The Founding Fathers were never sure that the republic would last.

History, after all, was not on their side – and the Founding Fathers were very good historians. They understood how fragile republics were and how much they asked of their citizens, and they doubted.

A proper republic depended on the virtue of its citizens. This did not mean what it means today. We tend to think of virtue as a private quality that more or less translates either as honesty or purity (especially sexual purity) depending on the situation. This is a very nineteenth-century Romantic view and not one the Founders would have understood. No, to them virtue was a public quality with a very simple definition: the ability to rise above one’s private interests and act for the common good.

We don’t believe in this today. In modern America there is nothing above one’s private interests, and anyone who dares to suggest even the existence of a common good is labeled a Socialist. So perhaps the Founders were right about us after all.

They were a pessimistic group in some ways.

At the time the American republic was founded the number of successful examples of republics currently in operation was exactly zero. They had come and gone over the course of history, but fleetingly. We would be the only one, a new attempt to see if a republic would work. It was an act of exceedingly great optimism for this pessimistic group to take even to set up a republic here.

This balance between hope and history strained them. If you ever get the chance to read the newspapers published in the United States when the republic was new, you should – if only to gasp at the level of vitriol and anger and admire the sheer artistry with which they practiced it. Republics were fragile things and every misstep was sure to lead to catastrophe, so the stakes were high and the tempers were higher.

The republic is still here, more or less.

We no longer believe in the same virtue that the Founders did. Really, we no longer believe in just about anything the Founders did – things have changed over the last 224 years. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just a different one.

Yet some things remain true even so.

Republics are fragile things. And if we wish to keep ours, we will attempt to practice the virtue republics require. We will rise above our petty private interests and look to the common good.

There is nothing self-evidently necessary about the American republic. It depends on the continued virtue of its citizens to survive from moment to moment. And it is a race between hope and history to see if the optimism of the Founders will be rewarded, or the pessimism.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Translations From the Teabaggerese

I’ve been trying to follow the current political debates here in the Land Of The Free (tm) for a while now, and I have to say that it gets confusing. There are just so many words being thrown around that don’t mean what they used to mean.

So being the good little scholar, I did a little investigating and discovered this handy glossary for translating between the Teabaggerese and the words used by the rest of us. It goes on for quite a bit, so rather than break the internet by dropping it in here whole I figured I’d just pick out some of the ones that caught my eye.

You’re welcome.


Small Government: A government that strictly regulates personal morality while believing that business can trusted to do the right thing without government oversight. Considered a good thing by Teabaggers.

Big Government: A government that strictly regulates business practices while believing that individuals can be trusted to do the right thing in their personal morality without government oversight. Considered a bad thing by Teabaggers.

Morality: A code of conduct to be applied to one’s opponents with sanctimonious rigor and to one’s supporters and self with all tentative care and nuance. The actual sources of this code are somewhat murky and can thus be twisted into whatever shape may best produce the desired political outcome.

Normal: Familiar.

Marriage: A divine institution reserved for heterosexual males, their wives and mistresses.

Atlas Shrugged: 1) A novel in which the wealthy and powerful defeat Socialism by running off into the hills and forming a commune. 2) An apparently serious attempt to make pure unadulterated atomized greed the foundation for a successful community spirit. 3) A work of fantasy considered unrealistic even by people who believe in orcs. 4) The book Teabaggers worship second only to the Bible, apparently without having read either well enough to understand the fundamental incompatibility of the two. 5) A convenient tool for keeping screen doors open during windy days.

Freedom of Thought: The mental practice of bringing one’s ideas exactly into line with party positions in all matters. A prerequisite for Teabagger membership.

Real American: a natural-born white heterosexual US citizen, preferably living in a rural area or small town, who wears only approved clothing, thinks only approved thoughts, takes only approved actions, listens only to approved music, reads only approved literature when he or she reads at all, votes for approved Teabagger candidates for all offices in all elections, and is distinguished from a Soviet-era peasant by the addition of blue and white to their color scheme and the possession of a truck.

Education: 1) A dangerous practice to be outlawed on the grounds that it encourages questioning and an inability to accept vacuous dogma at face value. 2) A sure sign of a liberal elitist.

Indoctrination: The function of schools once education has been well and safely outlawed.

Jesus Christ: machine-gun-toting combination of action hero, extremist right-wing politician and personal manservant who inhabits the fantasy lives of laissez-faire theorists and moral authoritarians and justifies their policies with a wave of his magic flaming sword. This awesome figure loves all of the white, heterosexual, right-wing, affluent people of the earth, particularly the men, but is not too sure about the rest of the population who can thus safely be treated by the righteous as they see fit. Not to be confused with the Savior of the same name.

Christian: Pharisee.

Bible: a sort of Mad-Lib containing the skeletons of sentences into which any desired verbs or nouns may be inserted depending on political need, thus sparing the speaker the onerous task of actually reading or understanding the original document. NOTE: This definition may also be used for “United States Constitution,” which many Teabaggers do not understand is a separate document anyway.

John Calvin: A 16th-century theologian known for his dismal views of humanity. He had his opponent Michael Servetus burned at the stake for questioning his absolute wisdom and is thus considered by Teabaggers to be a political role model and a far more important figure for American history textbooks than Thomas Jefferson, who tended to see such actions as barbaric.

Founding Fathers: A group of 18th-century Enlightenment gentlemen who miraculously believed exactly the same things as 21st-century evangelical ministers.

American history: a fertile field of rhetorical devices used to beat opponents into submission. This should not to be confused with what actually happened in the American past, as the events and ideas experienced by living, breathing Americans over the course of time tend not to support the Teabagger point of view and as such are – by definition – outside the scope of Teabagger reality.

Reality: Whatever Teabaggers say it is this time.

Tax cut: 1) A gift to the wealthy. 2) The hammer which makes every political problem look more or less like a nail.

Service cut: 1) A gift to the poor. 2) A Darwinian solution to overpopulation popular among those who insist they don’t believe in Darwin.

Fiscal Responsibility: 1) A process involving adding vast amounts to the national debt while insisting on cutting government revenue and, when necessary for political purposes, destroying the nation’s credit rating by causing it to default on the debts previously run up, thus passing hardship down to other people’s children. 2) A useful rhetorical ploy when other people are in power.

Undesirable Immigrant: 1) Someone whose family arrived in this country after that of the Teabagger speaking at the moment. 2) A foreign-born person on US soil who wants to be treated as a human being rather than an exploitable resource. 3) Anyone who speaks a language other than the particular sub-variant of English spoken by Teabaggers regardless of how many generations their family has lived in the US.

Viable Candidate: Someone whose extremism is compatible with that of the Teabaggers, who are the only portion of the electorate whose voice should count. Note: this applies only at the level of primary elections, as the sort of broad appeal required for viability in the general election is not considered a virtue by Teabaggers.

President: When a Teabagger-supported figure, a god-like official whose every whim is to be treated as a sacred obligation, not to be contradicted in any way regardless of the intent of the Founding Fathers who set up the office. Otherwise an impediment to power who can be derided as inconsequential and threatened with Second Amendment Solutions.

Second Amendment Solutions: The right of right-wing extremists to declare their superiority to law, Constitutional process and human decency through armed force when confronted by political decisions with which they do not agree. SEE ALSO Treason, Confederacy.

Children: 1) Collateral damage from Second Amendment Solutions. 2) Cannon fodder in the culture wars.

Democracy: A form of government too important to be left up to the people.

Voter fraud: ballots cast by brown-skinned people, college students, the poor, and other people not statistically likely to vote for Teabagger-approved candidates.

Electoral fraud: campaigns in which Teabaggers lose. Note that by definition nothing that happens in a Teabagger victory can be considered electoral fraud.

Free and fair elections: campaigns characterized by explicitly false candidates, in which the actual agenda of the candidates is kept well hidden and the votes are counted on personal computers unconnected with the officially recognized and monitored system by Teabagger officials known for their Freedom of Thought (see above). It is considered a breach of Teabagger etiquette to challenge such elections, and those who do will be accused of wasting taxpayer money.

Open Government: 1) a form of politics characterized by secret meetings, the refusal to allow opposing political figures even to vote on issues, the introduction of complex legislation mere hours before forcing a vote on it, the banning of the public from public buildings and legislative meetings, and the ability to announce with a straight face that this is what the public wants. See for example: Wisconsin, 2011. 2) A liberal plot to expose Teabaggers to public ridicule through the dissemination of accurate information regarding Teabagger antics and agenda.


The Teabagger dictionary is not exhaustive, however. Try as I might to find them, there were certain terms that do not appear and apparently hold no meaning whatsoever for Teabaggers. Among these terms are:

Rule of Law
Public Good
To Gracefully Accept Defeat

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Handwriting on the Wall

I believe I have forgotten how to write.

Not that I have forgotten how to assemble words into a pleasing and/or informative whole – that I can still do at least as well as I’ve ever been able to do it.  Yes, I understand that this is considered a "straight line" in the comedy business, but there it is.

So it's not that.

Instead, I seem to have lost the ability to wrap my hand around a writing implement and produce something that could convey information to someone besides me.

On the one hand, this is not all that big of a step. My handwriting has always been a study in how meaning could be smuggled across the borders of legibility even in the best of times. It manages to be both jagged and loopy at the same time, with long swirling crossed t’s that one of my grade school teachers said looked as if someone had turned the paper sideways and drawn lines up and down. There are at least three letters that I make in obviously non-standard ways, none of which would I change for anyone. Getting from this situation to impossible was never going to be much of a trip.

On the other hand, though, writing was something I did for decades, every day, and if it wasn’t exactly Copperplate neither was it chicken scratch.

Somewhere in the last decade and a half, however, I stopped writing by hand for any audience other than myself. If someone else needed to see it, it got typed. And if I were the only one who needed to see it, it got printed in my own increasingly personalized scrawl of short and tall capitals, superscript abbreviations (an import from studying all those 18th-century documents) and acronyms that only I understood.

This morning it was time to pay the bills, and since I refuse to pay bills online that meant I had to haul out the checkbook and write out things that other people would correctly interpret so as not to cause late penalties by being unable to interpret who the money was for or bankrupt me by moving a decimal over or something.

And it was disturbingly hard.

The schools here in Our Little Town still teach kids how to write in cursive – apparently there are a number of places where this has been given up, along with slide rules and ink wells. Perhaps I should go back for a refresher course.