Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Climate

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

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1.  In what has to be the least competent bullshit PR manufacture of fake outrage ever perpetrated by a supposed grown-up, Vice President Mike “Toady” Pence flew to Indiana on the taxpayer’s dime, pretended to go to a football game, and then walked out in high dudgeon because several Americans were peacefully exercising their First Amendment right of political protest.  He and der Sturmtrumper later publicly admitted that this was a set-up from the word Go, that Pence – whose testicles are apparently sitting in a jar on the Oval Office desk – was simply following orders from der Sturmtrumper. 

2. Let’s walk through that, shall we?  A sitting vice president, on orders from his boss, spends nearly a quarter of a million dollars in taxpayer funds that might have been better used for, say, working to give American citizens in hurricane-damaged areas access to electricity, food, and clean water, to go to a sporting event.  This event was long-planned as a tribute to a once-in-a-generation athlete who played for the home team and whom Mike “Toady” Pence insists he is a big fan of.  Pence and der Sturmtrumper know full well that there will be Americans exercising their Constitutional right to peaceful political protest at this game.  So they deliberately upstage the tribute in order to score petty points with their drooling base over a non-issue that is specifically designed to distract Americans from the failure of der Sturmtrumper’s administration to achieve even basic bureaucratic competence.  Have I missed a step here?  Is there more to this?  Or have I pretty much gotten the message here?

3. Hah. 


Do you think der Sturmtrumper will fire THIS “son of a bitch” for protesting on the job?  Not that he can, legally, but still.  Just one more example of how flexible the right wing can be when they’re not hampered by principles or morals.

4. Good thing the Party of Patriotism and Fiscal Responsibility is in charge, so they can waste money grandstanding against the Constitution.

5. Speaking of fiscal responsibility, the analyses of der Sturmtrumper’s budgetary war on America are coming in, and they are not pretty.  Here in Wisconsin, 61% of the value of the proposed tax cuts will go to the top 1%, while the bottom 60% will split 12% of the value (the bottom 20% only get to divide up 1% of the value of the cuts, so shop early!).  Millionaires – 0.5% of the state’s population – will get 54% of the value of the tax cut.  To put some dollar amounts on this, the bottom 20% of the population will see a tax cut of $60 per person.  Don’t spend it all in one place.  The top 1% will see $75,550 in cuts per person, which is more than the bottom 50% even earn.  And 13% of taxpayers would actually have to pay more in taxes.  Meanwhile this will cost the US about $5,600,000,000,000 over the next decade or so, according to nonpartisan analysis.  You know, it takes a twisted kind of genius to raise taxes on more than one American out of every ten and still blow a hole in the national debt big enough to float an aircraft carrier through.

6. No, that metaphor was not accidental. 

7. The fucking Nazis continue to march in Virginia.  A pop-up rally of a couple dozen of them disgraced the park where one of them murdered a peaceful protester back in August.  Remember, folks – this country used to give medals to people who shot Nazis and we called those people The Greatest Generation for doing so.  We used to understand that Nazis were scum.  The fact that there are people in political office today who coddle Nazis is a sign that the American republic is faltering badly.  Seriously – fuck the Nazis.

8. It’s been fun watching the conflict between Republican Senator Bob Corker – a reliably conservative but not mindlessly partisan politician – and der Sturmtrumper over the last few days here.  Corker, who was once briefly considered as a running mate for der Sturmtrumper before that prize fell to the Toady, has announced his retirement from the Senate after two terms in office, and apparently this was enough of an issue to der Sturmtrumper – who, as president, is in theory the leader of the GOP, as much as that collection of driftless con artists can be said to have a leader these days – that he launched several of his patented Twitter ragefests from the White House shitter.  Corker responded by saying, “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center.  Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”  Note carefully that not a single Democrat was involved in this exchange.  Not sure who der Sturmtrumper thinks is going to support anything he wants, at this rate.

9. Corker also noted for the record that der Sturmtrumper is treating the presidency like “a reality show” – “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something” – and this should be a cause for alarm among American citizens who actually have a clue about reality.  Der Sturmtrumper’s reckless disregard for anything beyond his own ego is leading the US down “the path to World War III,” with his juvenile threats toward other countries, and it is only through the heroic efforts of senior officials in the White House that der Sturmtrumper hasn’t already brought himself and the US to grief.  “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” he told the New York Times.  Corker singled out James Mattis, Rex Tillerson, and John Kelly as the thin blue-suited line separating the United States from the unmitigated psychosis of der Sturmtrumper unleashed.

10. Corker also said what pretty much every intelligent observer already knows – that the GOP knows full well what a disaster der Sturmtrumper is as a political leader, and is simply unwilling to face it.  “Look,” he said, “except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we we’re dealing with here. … [O]f course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”  The thing is, of course, that the GOP still thinks they can harness der Sturmtrumper and use him to implement their agenda.  The stakes for that particular gamble are rather high, and even if they win the rest of us still lose.  We lose either way, not that this bothers the GOP.

11. Robert Reich spoke with a friend of his – a former GOP Congressman – who, like many Republicans who are not constrained by political ambition, is willing to be honest about der Sturmtrumper and what he is doing to both their party and my country.  It’s worth quoting in full:

Me: So what’s up? Is Corker alone, or are others also ready to call it quits with Trump?
He: All I know is they’re simmering over there.
Me: Flake and McCain have come pretty close.
He: Yeah. Others are thinking about doing what Bob did. Sounding the alarm. They think Trump’s nuts. Unfit. Dangerous.
Me: Well, they already knew that, didn’t they?
He: But now it’s personal. It started with the Sessions stuff. Jeff was as loyal as they come. Trump’s crapping on him was like kicking your puppy. And then, you know, him beating up on Mitch for the Obamacare fiasco. And going after Flake and the others.
Me: So they're pissed off?
He: Not just that. I mean, they have thick hides. The personal stuff got them to notice all the other things. The wild stuff, like those threats to North Korea. Tillerson would leave tomorrow if he wasn’t so worried Trump would go nuclear, literally.
Me: You think Trump is really thinking nuclear war?
He: Who knows what’s in his head? But I can tell you this. He’s not listening to anyone. Not a soul. He’s got the nuclear codes and, well, it scares the hell out of me. It’s starting to scare all of them. That’s really why Bob spoke up.
Me: So what could they do? I mean, even if the whole Republican leadership was willing to say publicly he’s unfit to serve, what then?
He: Bingo! The emperor has no clothes. It’s a signal to everyone they can bail. Have to bail to save their skins. I mean, Trump could be the end of the whole goddam Republican party.
Me: If he starts a nuclear war, that could be the end of everything.
He: Yeah, right. So when they start bailing on him, the stage is set.
Me: For what?
He: Impeachment. 25th amendment.
Me: You think Republicans would go that far?
He: Not yet. Here’s the thing. They really want to get this tax bill through. That’s all they have going for them. They don’t want to face voters in ’18 or ’20 without something to show for it. They’re just praying Trump doesn’t do something really, really stupid before the tax bill.
Me: Like a nuclear war?
He: Look, all I can tell you is many of the people I talk with are getting freaked out. It’s not as if there’s any careful strategizing going on. Not like, well, do we balance the tax bill against nuclear war? No, no. They’re worried as hell. They’re also worried about Trump crazies, all the ignoramuses he’s stirred up. I mean, Roy Moore? How many more of them do you need to destroy the party?
Me: So what’s gonna happen?
He: You got me. I’m just glad I’m not there anymore. Trump’s not just a moron. He’s a despicable human being. And he’s getting crazier. Paranoid. Unhinged. Everyone knows it. I mean, we’re in shit up to our eyeballs with this guy.


12. Of course the problem with relying on people to constrain der Sturmtrumper, as The Atlantic has pointed out, is that this means there are a lot of people in the federal government circumventing Constitutional processes for the good of the nation.  Such as the military.  Or, to quote directly: “Good news: The people containing the commander-in-chief have to a considerable extent succeeded. The United States has not launched a pre-emptive attack on North Korea, abandoned Estonia to the Russians, cancelled NAFTA, or started a trade war with China—each and every one of those outcomes a seemingly live possibility if you heeded Trump’s own words.  Bad news: the national security services are apparently coping with Donald Trump in ways that circumvent the president's constitutional role as commander in chief. … The military and intelligence agencies are learning new habits of disregard for presidential statements and even orders that those agencies deem ignorant or reckless. By and large, those agencies’ judgments are vastly to be preferred to the president’s—but that does not make these habits any less dangerous.”  One of the critical factors in the historically rather unlikely survival of the American republic has been its strict subordination of the military and related services to civilian control.  When they are forced by the instability of the civilian leadership to use subterfuge or even outright defiance against that leadership for the greater good of the nation, that sets a very bad precedent.  What happens when the next president isn’t psychotic, criminal, or treasonous the way this one is, but simply follows policies that the military does not like?

13. If you’ve ever wondered just how little the abortion issue actually matters to the right-wing extremists who push it as if it were somehow the most important issue on earth, consider Colorado.  That state has managed to cut abortions by 42% over the last five years.  How?  By giving out free birth control.  You’d think this would make the anti-abortion zealots happy, but it does not – they’re the same idiots campaigning to get rid of this program, because it’s not about abortion and it’s not about human life.  It’s about restricting individual liberty and denying women the right to control their own bodies.  We have reached the point where The Handmaid’s Tale is starting to look like a documentary.

14. Of course der Sturmtrumper – a man whose ego has its own staff, including a social secretary and a fluffer – couldn’t let Senator Corker’s words go by without lashing out like the bewigged toddler that he is.  He’s decided that Corker’s height – 5’7” – is enough of an issue to insult him with, though how this is relevant he refused to explain. 

15. Given that Corker is a key senator in his own party, one who has far more friends on Capitol Hill than der Sturmtrumper does, who will remain in office for another fifteen months, and who has the power to toss der Sturmtrumper overboard without fear of consequences, der Sturmtrumper’s decision to go after him like that is, um, blisteringly stupid.  Par for the course, really.

16. The Washington Post, in an article trying to understand der Sturmtrumper’s recent all-out assault on his own government, noted that his own staff and confidants describe him as a “whistling teapot,” someone who has to vent or explode.  Given that so many of his recent tantrums have been directed at the GOP he supposedly leads as president, it’s not surprising that there may well be consequences for all this acting out.  “We’ve been watching the slow-motion breakup of the Republican Party,” said Patrick Caddell, a veteran pollster and ally of Former President Steve Bannon, “and Trump is doing what he can to speed it up.”  Couldn’t happen to a nicer group of old white men.

17. For those of you who don’t understand the intimate connection between the right-wing assault on the social safety net in this country and their complete embrace of aggressive, systematic racism (and who haven’t read the iconic Lee Atwater quote on the issue, which should be carved into granite slabs and placed at the entryways of every news outlet and public building in America), there is always statistical analysis.  A marvelous study published by the Urban Institute this past summer points to a simple correlation.  As Paul Krugman noted when describing the study, “We are uniquely unwilling to take care of our fellow citizens.  And behind that political difference lies one overwhelming fact: the legacy of slavery.  All too often, white Americans think of the social safety net not as something for people like themselves fallen on hard times, but as a giveaway to Those People.  This isn’t idle speculation.  If you want to understand why policies toward the poor are so different at the state level, why some states offer so much less support to troubled families with children, one predictor stands out: the African-American share of the population.  The more blacks, the less compassion white voters feel.”  This is perhaps why only 2 of the 11 states of the treasonous former Confederacy bothered to implement the ACA – a far lower percentage than in the US as a whole.

18.  Am I the only one who thinks that the recent spat between Ivana and Melania Trump over who is the real First Lady is just the most pathetic thing since the last drowned raccoon he saw by the highway?

19. Further thoughts on the dysfunctionality of der Sturmtrumper’s approach to, well, everything come from GOP pollster Whit Ayres: “Donald Trump got elected with minority support from the American electorate, and most of his efforts thus far are focused on energizing and solidifying the 40 percent of Americans who were with him, primarily by attacking the 60 percent who were not.  That is great for his supporters, but it makes it very difficult to accomplish anything in a democracy.”  This is perhaps why der Sturmtrumper is doing his best to remove any trace of democracy in the US.

20. And, like magic, der Sturmtrumper’s Fascist tendencies come burbling right up almost as soon as I typed that last item – and yes, as a historian, I actually do know what Fascism is (hint: it’s a coherent ideology, not a synonym for “shit I personally don’t like” the way most Americans use the term).  According to NBC, the proximate cause of Exxon’s Own Secretary of State Tillerson labeling der Sturmtrumper a “moron” (a “fucking moron” in other news reports) was der Sturmtrumper’s saying he wanted to increase the American nuclear weapons stockpile nearly tenfold – a multi-trillion dollar waste of time that would do nothing to increase American security.  When this was pointed out, der Sturmtrumper took to his Twitter feed and threatened to withhold broadcasting licenses from NBC (or, more accurately, its affiliates, since NBC itself doesn’t have such a license to begin with).  The fact that this is exactly the sort of state-sponsored retaliatory censorship that the Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment to prevent didn’t seem to occur to der Sturmtrumper and has yet to occur to his supporters, who so far seem okay with it.  But this is classic Fascism, for those keeping score at home.

21. According to Vanity Fair, more and more prominent GOP leaders are coming to the conclusion – obvious to the rest of us years ago – that der Sturmtrumper is “unstable,” “losing a step,” and “unraveling.”  The article’s author, Gabriel Sherman, “spoke with a half dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers, and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods. Trump’s ire is being fueled by his stalled legislative agenda and, to a surprising degree, by his decision last month to back the losing candidate Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican primary. “Alabama was a huge blow to his psyche,” a person close to Trump said. “He saw the cult of personality was broken.”  At the current rate, it will be a race to see whether he is impeached, removed because of the 25th Amendment, or annihilates himself and the rest of us in some paranoia-fueled nuclear war.  But he doesn’t finish his term.

22. One of the more interesting features of der Sturmtrumper’s proposed tax plan is that it will expand the use of “pass-throughs” – entities that pass income through to their final recipient in order to lower the tax burden on that recipient.  This was a key feature of the tax plan that Sam Brownback – the only governor in the US more beholden to the Koch Brothers than Wisconsin’s own Governor Teabagger – shoved through the Kansas legislature in 2012, and it was such a dismal failure that even the GOP recognized it.  The tax plan overall reduced state revenue by nearly $700 million a year (about 8%) and forced Kansas to shorten school years, stop repairing their highways, and cut aid to all but the rich.  It also didn’t do anything to stimulate jobs, the way that the magical thinking supply-siders insist that such things ought to do.  The Kansas legislature, still controlled by Republicans, finally repealed Brownback’s plan this year because it didn’t work.  And now it’s coming to the nation as a whole, because learning from catastrophic error just isn’t the sort of thing that the modern GOP does.

23. Der Sturmtrumper has pulled the United States out of UNESCO, because it’s somehow too anti-Israel for him.  So let me get this straight – a cultural organization dedicated to peace, culture, scientific progress, educational opportunities, and human rights is too anti-Israel for der Sturmtrumper, but actual fucking Nazis marching through the streets of America is just fine?  I certainly hope there were high quality illegal drugs involved in this decision, because otherwise it’s just more evidence of insanity.

24. Der Sturmtrumper is also threatening to pull disaster relief aid from Puerto Rico, despite promising Texas that such aid would be infinite and ongoing.  Can you guess what the difference is between PR and TX?  Here’s a hint: it’s not citizenship, since Puerto Ricans are in fact American citizens.  Guess again!

25.  One interesting little observation I read recently was that since Puerto Ricans are, in fact, American citizens and Puerto Rico has effectively been destroyed, it is entirely likely and 100% legal that there will be something of an exodus of Puerto Ricans (predominantly Democratic-leaning) into Florida.  Assuming the GOP hasn’t eliminated the right to vote for anyone not in the GOP by that point, the consequences of that might be interesting.

26. Has anyone bothered to tell der Sturmtrumper that he is the president of the US Virgin Islands?

27. You know, if you have to sabotage something in order to kill it, that’s a pretty good sign that it wasn’t failing to begin with.  And having failed to shove Republicare down the throats of an unwilling America (seriously, not even Republicans wanted that fetid pile of ideological dung), der Sturmtrumper has decided to go it alone by systematically destroying the things that make the ACA work and then complaining that it is now broken.  This is the standard GOP operating procedure, I have found – having lived in Wisconsin for some time now and watched Governor Teabagger (a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) rip apart a world-class educational system for ideological gain.  Find something that benefits someone other than the wealthy.  Break it.  Demand “reforms” that effectively kill it and then turn it into something that only benefits the wealthy.  Profit.  It’s not a difficult pattern to figure out, really.

28. Almost 70% of the people who will be hurt by der Sturmtrumper’s unilateral decision to end the cost-sharing subsidies that help to make the ACA function live in states that voted for him.  Not that he cares.  The casual cruelty of this president and those who continue to support him really does boggle the mind.

29. For a guy who claims to be such a businessman, der Sturmtrumper really didn’t impress those people who tried to teach him how to be a businessman.  William T. Kelley taught Marketing at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania when der Sturmtrumper was a student there.  He literally wrote the textbook on marketing.  Long before der Sturmtrumper even thought of entering politics, he told a friend – repeatedly – that “Donald Trump was the DUMBEST GODDAM student I EVER had,” an arrogant and empty-headed cipher who somehow felt he already knew it all.  We now know this as Dunning-Krueger Syndrome.  Maybe we’ll need to rename it after der Sturmtrumper.

30. Of course, this is the guy who tried to say that advances in the stock market somehow meant that the US was paying down the national debt under his watch – two things that have nothing whatever to do with each other, for those of you keeping track at home – and then less than 48 hours later gloated about how his sabotaging of the ACA made healthcare industry stocks plummet.  By his own logic, if one can dignify the random verbal diarrhea that spurts from his mouth as such, this should be increasing the debt, right?  And even in the realm of reality, where the stock market and the national debt aren't connected, I’m not sure why a guy who is theoretically so pro-business leading a party that is theoretically so pro-business should be celebrating the plunging stock values of an entire industry, particularly when that plunge is his fault. 

31. Not only is der Sturmtrumper killing the healthcare industry – one-sixth of the economy, if I recall correctly – he is also doing his best to destroy the tourism economy.  According to Forbes Magazine, while tourism in the rest of the world has increased by 4.6%, tourism here in the US has dropped by 1.4% since der Sturmtrumper was inaugurated.  That’s a 6% relative drop, and it began January 28, a week after the inauguration.  Der Sturmtrumper has not seen a quarter with a rising tourism number for the US.  This should not surprise anyone, since his belligerently ignorant stance on anyone not white, Protestant, wealthy, and and/or wrapped in a Confederate flag is well known to the world at large.  Tourism is the seventh largest employer in the US and over 80% of the companies involved in it identify themselves as small businesses.  The drop so far this year means $2.7 billion in lost revenue.  Such a businessman, our little Sturmtrumper.

32.  GOP Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada has been surprisingly blunt about der Sturmtrumper’s sabotage of the ACA.  “It’s going to hurt people,” he said.  “it’s going to hurt kids.  It’s going to hurt families.  It’s going to hurt individuals.  It’s going to hurt people with mental health issues.  It’s going to hurt veterans.  It’s going to hurt everybody. … This is going to make it much more difficult for those people out in the rural counties and in the urban areas to be able to obtain affordable insurance.”  So there are a few Republican leaders who understand the reality of the situation.  Whether they have the clout to turn their party away from its war on the American people will be interesting to see.

33. In case you’re wondering why people who pay attention to things consider the GOP to be far more corrupt than the Democrats, well, it’s just math.  Since 1964 there have been 25 years where the Democrats have held the presidency and 28 years of Republican control.  Counting only the executive branch officials that would be relevant by that metric (i.e. not Congress or judicial officials), Democrats have seen a total of three criminal indictments (2 under Clinton, one under Carter – which, if you do the math, means 0 for Johnson and 0 for Obama), one conviction, and one prison sentence (both under Clinton).  Meanwhile, Republicans have seen 120 criminal indictments, 89 convictions, and 34 prison sentences.  Break that down and you have 16 indictments, 16 convictions, and 9 prison sentences for George W. Bush, 1 indictment, 1 conviction, and 1 prison sentence for Bush Sr., 26 indictments, 16 convictions, and 8 prison sentences for Reagan, 1 indictment, 1 conviction, and 1 prison sentence for Ford, and 76 indictments, 55 convictions, and 15 prison sentences for Nixon.  The entire Democratic total is less than a third of Bush Jr’s total.  But go ahead, tell me there’s no difference between the parties.

34.  The more we discover about Russian interference with the American political process on behalf of der Sturmtrumper and his minions, the worse it gets.  It’s not that they particularly like der Sturmtrumper or his pets, but rather that they find such people to be, in the gloriously apt Leninist phrase, “useful idiots.”  According to Jonathon Morgan, a former State Department advisor on digital responses to terrorism, “The broader Russian strategy is pretty clearly about destabilizing the country by focusing on and amplifying existing divisions, rather than supporting any one political party,” and this has only intensified since the installation of der Sturmtrumper’s regime.  Russian intelligence has pretty effectively compromised Facebook and Twitter, and has made serious inroads into other social media platforms as well.  You know, folks, it’s looking increasingly likely that the US recently lost a war we didn’t even know we were fighting, and now we have our own Vichy regime telling us that this is just fine.  It’s not fine, in case you were wondering.

35. Is it normal for a sitting US Secretary of State to appear on CNN to reassure us that he still has his testicles?  Asking for a friend.

36. Der Sturmtrumper’s assassination of the ACA will likely come back to haunt him, as it is now pretty clear that he owns the wreckage of the American health care system.  He thinks it will force Democrats to bargain with him, but they know very well that it just means the GOP will face the full effect of having forced insurance premiums to skyrocket.  Don’t think that the larger GOP hasn’t figured this out, either.  But, split between their extremist right wing working to burn the US down and piss on the ashes and their saner Wall Street wing that just wants a stable system they can profit from, look for them to be as effective as ever when trying to come up with a solution. 

37. All of this means that the House of Representatives is in play for the Democrats in 2018.  Do you have any idea how stupid that is?  The House has been so thoroughly gerrymandered by the GOP that even a remote possibility of it turning Democratic is an achievement of political boneheadedness of Biblical proportions.  I’m not saying it will turn Democratic, or even that such a thing is likely.  But it’s possible, and that’s astonishing.

38. Senator John “No Fucks Left to Give” McCain has apparently been liberated by his impending retirement.  Accepting a Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, he rather pointedly noted that, “To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the last best hope of earth for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”  Now if only we could hear things like this from GOP leaders who were not retiring, we might make progress.

39. As if on cue, Former Representative David Jolly (R-FL) chimes in with a description of der Sturmtrumper as “unstable,” “risky when it comes to matters of national security,” and “an ill-tempered, unqualified and at times dangerous leader.”  In an interview on MSNBC Jolly said, “I personally as a Republican in the past few weeks have wondered, is the republic safer if Democrats take over the House in 2018.  I raised that issue with the leading Republican in D.C. last week, and the remarkable thing is he had been thinking exactly the same thing.  This is a president that needs a greater check on his power than Republicans in Congress have offered.  … We do know that we have a president who very well might put this nation at risk and this Republican Congress has done nothing to check his power.  Democrats could, and we might be better off as a republic if they take the House in 2018.”  Again, if only we could get this kind of honesty from sitting GOP elected officials, there might be progress.

40. Did you know that it is “National Character Counts Week”?  Der Sturmtrumper said so himself.  And this is why it is so, so hard to write satire these days.

41.  Looks like der Sturmtrumper’s latest attempt to ban Muslims from entering the US has met the same fate as all the previous ones, being blocked by a federal judge who has actually read the Constitution.  Not that I expect this will be the end of it.  You can’t fix stupid, only block it.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

News and Updates

1. It’s grey and cool and rainy here, which is about as perfect as October weather can get as far as I am concerned.  This is weather made for mugs of tea and good books, and there should be more of it.

2. This whole week has been Homecoming Week over at Local Businessman High School.  I don’t remember Homecoming being such a big deal when I was that age, but then that was a thousand years ago in a whole other time zone, so perhaps things are different now.  All week long there have been Spirit Days, which have nothing to do with either ghosts or distilleries but rather mean wearing this or that themed clothing choice – but not that choice, or they’ll send you home (sometimes it’s clearer than others that most people don’t have enough to do).  We feel very spirited now, though some of that may have involved distilleries too.

3. The LBHS Homecoming Parade was yesterday, and they managed to get a nice break in the rain for it.  Lauren marched in the band, rattling away on the snare drum, while this year Tabitha chose to go with the Art Honor Society’s float (as opposed to the various other clubs whose floats she could have joined).  I found my usual post by the Mexican bakery and watched it all go by.

4. They did not get a break from the rain for the actual Homecoming football game, however.  We don’t normally go to the games, since Tabitha is resolutely uninterested and nobody we know is on the team, but now that Lauren is in the band we have gone to see her perform.  For the past two weeks the band has been having evening rehearsals to get their Homecoming show down correctly, so this year we went.  Except that the break in the weather that the parade enjoyed was by that point long over.  We got to the bleachers with about 8:30 left on the game clock for the first half (an eternity in American football) and stood up in the high bleachers in the driving rain while they finished out the half.  The band then formed up on the track for their show and played their first couple of songs in a light drizzle, but by their third song the deluge had begun once again and by the time they were finished with their performance we were well and truly soaked.  But it was nice to see Lauren jamming away with her bandmates, and they did a good job with their performance.  She said that the rim shots were particularly interesting in the rain, as they invariably led to a fountain of water shooting up from the drum head.

5. Our friend Nadja stopped in for the night as well last night – she lives in Minnesota and was on her way to Michigan and this was a convenient rest stop.  It was good to see her!

6. We definitely needed good things this week.  It’s been a long and frankly rather grim week down at Home Campus, and there’s a lot I could say about that but this is neither the time nor the forum for it. 

7. I have a new phone – the MotoG5 that several friends recommended in response to an earlier blog post here – and I can now make it do pretty much everything that I used to be able to do with my old phone.  I can make phone calls.  I can text.  I can use Chrome.  And that’s about it.  I have been repeatedly told by many people that there is a whole world of apps and possibilities out there, and perhaps someday I will get around to exploring it.  But since I’ve never before done any of those things, I don’t miss them now, and this gives me very little incentive to explore them further.

8. Why don’t gizmos come with manuals anymore?  My new phone came with an insert that had fewer words than Governor Teabagger’s (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) fabled 66pp Jobs Plan during his first run for office – a plan printed in a font so large that few if any pages had more than half a dozen words on them.  The phone insert also assumed that you already knew how to operate the phone, which makes me question why it was there at all.  I spent an afternoon plinking around the internet, which led to a) me finding an actual manual for my phone online that I could read at some point, and b) completely screwing up the settings on my computer somehow and having to do a factory reset on some of them.  These may or may not be connected.

9. Here I was all set to let my interest in American football continue to fade to black the way it has been doing over the last few years, and then two things happen.  First, many NFL players have moved to the front lines in the war to defend the Constitution, with the silent, non-disruptive protesting of institutional racism that they have been engaging in during the national anthem of late and the hysterical, authoritarian reaction those protests have generated.  I do feel some obligation as an American citizen to support those protests, to be honest.  It’s what any true patriot would do.  And second, my hometown team, the Philadelphia Eagles, has chosen this year to actually be good, and it’s always more fun to watch a good game (even if they lose) than the circus of failure that had been on display for much of the last decade.  I don’t think I would have forgiven them if they were good last year, for long and complicated reasons that I don’t plan to go into here, but this year it’s kind of nice.  So I am momentarily more interested in American football than I expected to be, and so far it’s been fun.

10. Although with the NHL season now begun and the Premier League in full swing, American football is still fighting an uphill battle for my attention.  But it still in there fighting, which is more than I thought would be true by now.  Sometimes you surprise yourself.

11. Whoever thought of aging full-bodied red wine in whiskey barrels should get a medal.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Halloween Has Begun

It’s October, and among other things that means that it’s Halloween season.

It gets harder and harder to keep the seasons straight these days.  For one thing, it was 80F this past week, which in Wisconsin in how we define June.  By this point in the calendar year we should be wearing jackets, drinking hot beverages, and getting the snow-blower ready for the winter.  Instead we’re cutting the lawn in our t-shirts and picking jalepeno peppers and tomatoes out of our gardens.  Good thing the climate isn’t shifting, because otherwise?  I’d be worried. 

For another thing, the local supermarkets have had Halloween candy prominently displayed on the end caps for so long that the initial display candies have gone stale.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to react very well to spooky orange marketing in August.

But it is actually October now, which means that we can legitimately begin to speak of Halloween.  And for us, this means a trip to Michigan over the Columbus Day weekend. 

No, no.  It makes sense.  Hear me out.

Every year around this time, Kim’s brother Dave and his wife Karen put on a Halloween Bash at the little place they own in southern Michigan.  They always schedule it for this weekend because their schools are off on Monday so they can make it a big thing, and even though our schools are open today (hey, Columbus never made it this far north, what can we say?) we like to go and take part.  We don’t get to see Dave, Karen, or Emily very often, and it’s good to take our opportunities when they arise.

We’ve been going since 2008, and it’s been fun watching the event shift around as the kids all get older.  When we started going there were puppet plays and karaoke and face-painting, and the Haunted Trail was the hit of the evening.  These days what happens is that we pull up at the swamp (excuse me: “wetland”) where the house is and Tabitha and Lauren jump out of the car and disappear into the cloud of teenagers that flows through the property like fog on a chilly night, and we collect them sometime the next morning.  In between those points the adults eat, talk, and drink and generally do all the Boring Adult Things that somehow become more interesting once you age out of your teens, and everyone has a good time.  They still have the Haunted Trail, though.  It’s really impressive.  You should go see it.

Dave also set up a Zombie Reagan Memorial, which actually had a Reagan figure spinning in its grave as quotes from der Sturmtrumper were displayed on the surrounding wall and a clip of an Obama speech pointing out just how far from Reagan the current occupant of the White House actually is played over a speaker.  It was, for him, a labor of love.

This year Kim couldn’t make it because she had chemistry labs to supervise – the joy of teaching an Online chemistry class is that you have to gather the people together for the hands-on part at some point – so for the first time it was just me and the girls heading out of Our Little Town.

We arrived slightly earlier than most people, so I told the girls to make themselves useful and drove back to the hotel to check myself in, because I have long been too old to sleep on the ground anymore.  This turned out to be an adventure for two reasons.  First, Kim had actually made the reservation back when she thought she’d be coming, which meant it was in her name.  It took me the better part of half an hour to convince the desk clerk that he should honor that reservation even though it was merely her husband trying to stay the night.  And second, that part of rural Michigan is a maze, as far as I am concerned, so I rely on our GPS to get me there and back.  Helen – as in “Keller,” if you’re keeping track – got me there and back for both of the round trips I took between the house and hotel, but directed me in three different ways for the four separate trips.  She’s good for tourism that way, I suppose.

When I got back, Tabitha and Lauren were helping Neil build the bonfire.  Every year we have a conflagration of a bonfire, which you can do on a wetland since nothing else is likely to burn – especially if it rains earlier in the evening, which it did this year, and Neil is the architect of it all.  He’s good at it.  I joined in, as did a couple of other folks, and the whole thing came together nicely.


And then the teenagers disappeared, the adults ate, talked, and drank, and a good time was had by all, even as it rained for a bit.

When the rain let up, we went out back to the bonfire and set it off.




It was a windy night, which is why you’ll note the immense number of embers flying up out of the bonfire – a new feature this year that led to a few holes in sweatshirts and some minor blisters.  Also, our car is now covered in ash.  But it was a glorious fire.  There’s something about a flame that compels attention, and it was nice to stand and watch.

Eventually I went back to the hotel and collapsed.  The girls slept over, though as usual precious little sleep was actually achieved by anyone.  Today came fast and hard, but it was worth it.

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Vaudeville at the Barbershop

I got my hair cut today.  This happens every so often.  Probably not as often as it should, to be honest.

For one thing, as a middle-aged white guy what happens if I go too long between haircuts is that I slowly begin to look like Benjamin Franklin, which was a difficult act to pull off in the 18th century and an impossible one to pull off now.  Franklin had some very interesting habits that don’t make it into the standard fifth-grade civics textbooks, let’s put it that way.  I’d probably be arrested.  On the other hand, though, he lived to a ripe old age and had what can only be described as a fascinating life, so maybe?

For another thing, it had been so long since the last haircut that when I went in to see if my favorite barber was there it turned out that she had left some time before.  This meant I had to break in a new one, and I never really know what to say when they ask, “How would you like it?”  Umm, shorter?  Try to make it not look like a comb-over?  More of the same only less?  So mostly I end up saying things like, “See if you can make me look good.”  And when your new barber is a fairly hip young man, perhaps he can be forgiven for trying his best to make me look like a fairly hip young man.  That’s what looks good to him, really.

I have never been hip, even when I was young and cared.  It was a valiant effort, though.  You have to give the guy credit for that.

So now my hair is much shorter than it was and I no longer look like Ben Franklin adapted for the 21st-century stage.  I’m much cooler, literally if not really figuratively.

What I love about going into real barber shops – as opposed to salons or chain hair-cuttery places – is that they always have something of an edge to them.  They are not polite places, and you either laugh along with people busting your chops and give back what they throw at you, or you go somewhere else next time.

The first real job I got after I graduated from college was as a residential counselor in a home for delinquent teenagers.  I lasted three weeks before I figured out that this just wasn’t for me.  But one of my favorite experiences while was there was taking one of the kids - a young African-American man - to get his hair cut.  I was the only white guy in a black barbershop, and those guys thought my pasty suburban self sitting in their shop was just the funniest thing they had seen in weeks.  It wasn’t mean-spirited, but it wasn’t gentle either.  And even as the subject of much of it, it was funny.

Today there was a guy a couple of chairs down from me jawboning back and forth with his barber while I was there, and it was all I could do not to fall over laughing, which would have been bad considering there was a guy working on my head with multiple sharp-edged tools at the time.

“How come nobody ever says babies are ugly?!  Some babies just ugly!”

“You ain’t never gonna say that about no babies.  Give it up.”

“Naw, man.  If my own kid was ugly, I’d come out and say, ‘That is an UGLY baby!’”

“The hell you would!  That baby’s mama kill you right there.”

“But I’d be right!”

“Don’t matter!  You bring in your own son and say he's ugly and you’ll never get a haircut in this place again.  They cut your hair, I quit right then.”

“I would!”

“No dad says his kid is ugly.  That’s what uncles are there for.”

“What?”

“That’s what uncles are there for, man!  If I’m your brother and you bring your ugly kid in, I’ll be the one tell you that kid is ugly.”

“Oh no you won’t!  I can say that about my kid, but nobody else can!”

And on and on.  Seriously – these guys should take that routine on the road.

You’ll never get this kind of entertainment at the local Chain Hair-Cuttery, no matter how hip you end up looking.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Climate

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

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1.  Every time I sit down to write these lists I think to myself, “I am so damned tired of politics right now and I would very much like to stop thinking about it.”  And you know, I could.  I have that privilege.  I am a straight white middle-class man who is very much not the target of any particular hate group at the moment (unless you count the fact that I am educated and work at a university, which both seem to raise the ire of the ignorant).  I could sit this out.  But that really isn’t how things work.  From those to whom much has been given, much is expected.  I am awash in unearned privilege.  It has served me well, and so I stand and shout because there are too many people in this country who don’t have the privilege of being able to ignore what is happening to the American republic and who don’t have the opportunity to shout.  I have no illusions as to the world-changing nature of blog posts, but it is important to do what you can, when you can. 

2. I can’t be the only person who was both amused and horrified by the recent story in Business Insider that documented the heroic efforts of der Sturmtrumper’s staff to provide their boss with the kind of basic information about world events, national security, and public policy that any semi-competent Congressional intern already knows.  On the one hand, I’m glad they’re doing it, and I hope it has some impact beyond making everyone involved just that much older.  On the other hand, you’d think a President would come into the office knowing these things.  But then you’d be wrong.

3. Der Sturmtrumper’s performance at the UN was yet another international disgrace and would likely cause him political problems if it weren’t for the fact that his political base has no idea what the UN is or why it matters and probably doesn’t care very much about the fact that the rest of the world now regards the US as something of a cross between a laughingstock and a heavily-armed drug addict.  You know, folks, there are more people outside of the US than in, and eventually they will decide that they don’t need us anymore.  And when that happens, there will be precious little we can do about it.

4. It looks like the most recent iteration of Republicare is also likely to go down in flames [EDIT: and, indeed, it did], and really it couldn’t have happened to a more appropriate bill.  By all accounts it is even more pointlessly cruel, politically untenable, structurally unsound, and poorly reasoned than the previous ones, which is probably why it was put together in secret and scheduled for a grand total of 90 seconds’ worth of consideration before a vote would be taken.  They know very well this cockroach of a bill couldn’t survive the light of day – hell, most REPUBLICANS don’t like it – but then the modern GOP really isn’t about democracy or public service in any meaningful way and hasn’t been for more than two decades.  They weren’t even pretending.  The senators who said they were going to vote for this abomination unto the American people basically said that they knew that it was a horrifyingly bad bill that the overwhelming majority of American citizens wanted nothing to do with but their donors wanted it and the rich deserve the tax break and fuck you that’s why, and they were refreshingly honest about it. 

5. The fact that this bill was opposed by every single professional medical organization, hospital association, and insurance organization in America – seriously, if you haven’t read the joint statement released by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and the BlueCross BlueShield  Association, you need to do so now, as it is a masterpiece of bureaucratic knife-fighting – did surprisingly little to dissuade the Republicare warriors that their chosen method of declaring war on US citizens was perhaps immoral, unwise, poor business, and generally the opposite of what intelligent human beings would even consider let alone actually enact.  Nor did it seem strange to the backers of this bill that the only way they could gain the support of wavering senators was to promise not to have the bill apply to their states.  In this way it reminded me of the suicide squad in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which was trained to infiltrate the enemy base and then, with startling efficiency, commit suicide.  Have at it, boys.

6. Seriously, I question the patriotism of anyone who could support such a rabidly anti-American bill.

7. The Russian noose continues to tighten, as it becomes more and more clear that Robert Mueller is going to follow the strands of corruption and impeachable offense as far as he needs to follow them.  He’s pretty close to breaking Manafort (currently the subject of a FISA warrant, which is not something one obtains lightly) and one suspects that Flynn won’t be too far off.  Look for der Sturmtrumper to make ever wilder and more dangerous moves to distract from this as the rope burns get fiercer.

8. Such as, oh, getting involved in a pointless war with a nuclear power over what is essentially a middle-school name-calling contest.  Remember when it was North Korea that was run by the unstable and immature psychopath?  Good times, man.

9. And in the middle of all this, der Sturmtrumper decides that the most pressing problem facing the United States is the peaceful exercise of 1st Amendment rights to political protest by professional athletes.  The level of stupidity that it would take to see this as a problem in the first place is utterly staggering, and for the President of the United States to make it the subject of yet another of his shitstorm Twitter ragefests is compelling evidence of mental disorder.

10. Just to point out a few things:  The proper treatment of the US flag is covered in federal law under 36 US Code, Chapter 10.  Section 171 of that part of US code does not require any particular behavior during the national anthem.  It says that anyone not in uniform “should” stand at attention, face the flag, and place their hands over their hearts, but this is not required and therefore by definition any protest that takes the form of people not so standing is by definition legal.  To treat it as a crime is therefore overstepping the bounds of the law.  Furthermore, the US Supreme Court [West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, 319 US 624 (1943)] explicitly ruled that nobody can be forced to take part in patriotic displays, on not only Constitutional grounds but also on the rather commonsense grounds that forced patriotism is not patriotism but authoritarianism.  As for the flag, 36 US Code, Chapter 10, Section 176 specifically deals with “Respect for [the] flag,” and lists several ways the flag can be disrespected – none of which include people kneeling during the national anthem.  Subsection (c) notes that the flag should never be displayed horizontally (as it is before football games when giant flags are stretched out across the field).  Subsection (d) says the flag should never be used as apparel, bedding, or drapery – so all those “patriotic” shirts, bathing suits, sheets, and so on?  Disrespectful.  Subsection (i) notes that the flag “should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever,” which pretty much rules out all those Fourth of July ads you see every year.  It also declares to be disrespectful any use of the flag on paper napkins or “anything that is designed for temporary use,” so you might want to rethink those picnic supplies next year.  Subsection (j) says that you can’t use the flag as a costume or athletic uniform. 

11. Also, in case you’re wondering, 36 US Code, Chapter 10, Section 176, Subsection (k) specifically says that a flag that is too worn out for display should be destroyed, “preferably by burning.”  So all of you who think that flag-burning is such an insult?  You’re on the wrong side of federal law and you’re the ones disrespecting the flag.  Irony’s a bitch.

12.  Another thing that might be of interest to discerning Americans is the fact that der Sturmtrumper’s demand that the NFL “fire” any protesting player is a clear violation of 18 US Code Part 1, Chapter 11, Section 227, which also states that any violator “may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”  So add that to the list of impeachable offenses, I guess.  It’s getting long.

13. Hint: nobody who displays a Confederate flag on their person, vehicle, or social media has any right whatsoever to criticize anyone else about their patriotism or their respect for the American flag, anthem, or veterans.

14. When you get into a political argument with someone who is willing to use their spouse’s death as a club to beat you over the head with, there really isn’t much point to responding.

15. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is once again pointing out the severity of the Russian assault on American democracy, noting that Russian interference in 2016 was enough to cast doubt on the legitimacy of der Sturmtrumper’s victory.  Think about that, folks.  It is possible, even likely, that American democracy has been suborned by a hostile foreign power, and an entire political party has no problem with that because they won.

16. The US Department of Homeland Security has notified 21 states that their election systems were the targets of Russian hacking last year.  Wisconsin naturally chose to cut six jobs from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which is charged with overseeing the security of its election system.  But surely that’s just a coincidence, right?

17. In keeping with the general lawlessness of the modern GOP, one of der Sturmtrumper’s closest advisors – Roger Stone – is now publicly warning Americans that if Congress were to follow the law and Constitution and impeach der Sturmtrumper for his many and varied crimes, there would be “an insurrection like you’ve never seen,” and that any politician who voted to hold der Sturmtrumper accountable “would be endangering their own life.”  Yeah, that’s going to help.  Thanks.

18. So der Sturmtrumper’s son-in-law – you know, the one he’s been farming out pretty much every federal initiative short of an actual land invasion of a Third World country to be named later – has been using a private email server to conduct government business, and if you think the same chuckleheads who have been shouting “Lock her up!” at Hillary Clinton for her emails are going to give a damn when it’s one of their own then you haven’t been paying attention.  Remember the Republican Standard: rules are for other people.

19. But wait!  There’s more!  According to the New York Times, not only has Jared Kushner been using a private email server for federal business, but so too were Steve Bannon, Reince (No, Really, That’s His Name) Priebus, Gary Cohen, Stephen Miller, and, perhaps not surprisingly, Ivanka Trump as well.  Seriously – rules are for other people, not Republicans.

20. No, I don’t think any of that was criminal.  Sloppy as hell, and unprofessional – which pretty much describes the Sturmtrumper administration completely, when you think about it.  But then I didn’t think it was criminal when Hillary did it either, and – the real point here – they did.  It’s the rank hypocrisy of it, much the way you can set your watch by the revelations that the most viciously homophobic GOP legislators (almost always male, strangely enough) are so often arrested with underage boys.  Rules, &c.

21. So der Sturmtrumper has decided that a third try at his Muslim Ban is just what we need now.  Naturally he did this on a Sunday night, without any noticeable discussion or press, after a full day of shit-stirring about useless issues designed to rile up his base (**cough**cough**NFL anthems**cough**cough).  Because I suppose he thinks we’re too limited to notice two things at once?  Maybe he is, but I’m not.  This is just as much of a dipshit idea as it was before, only now he doesn’t even have the excuse of ignorance, having had the first two slapped down fairly abruptly.

22. Acting DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg is now planning to resign, because he has concluded that der Sturmtrumper has no respect for the law.  To which the rest of us say, “well, yeah.”

23. In the wake of the total devastation of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, der Sturmtrumper has pointedly refused to waive shipping restrictions that limit trade between coasts of the US to US-flagged ships and allow food, fuel and supplies to reach the island on any available ship, regardless of flag.  While the Jones Act has been temporarily waived to help Houston and Florida after their hurricanes, the poor, brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking people of Puerto Rico just don’t rate, I suppose.  [EDIT: Apparently somebody must have told the GOP that Puerto Ricans are actually American citizens and therefore have the right to sue in American courts, because suddenly all of the criticism of their intransigence actually seemed to matter and they’ve lifted the Jones Act for Puerto Rico.  How much praise one should give people for being publicly shamed into doing what they should have done automatically because it is the right and moral thing to do is an interesting question.  Discuss.]

24. According to a UW Madison study, nearly 17,000 registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee Counties – the counties where Madison and Milwaukee are, and strongly Democratic – were deterred from voting by the draconian Voter ID law rammed through the Wisconsin Legislature by Governor Teabagger.  When you add up the rest of Wisconsin, as many as 23,000 fully qualified voters, American citizens who are legally and Constitutionally qualified to vote in all elections, had their votes suppressed by Wisconsin’s draconian Voter Elimination Act.  Given that der Sturmtrumper won Wisconsin by less than those 23,000 votes, it is fairly clear that the Republican war on voting is working as designed.  Pretty soon there will be no need to vote at all, and your GOP masters will simply inform you of any changes in overlords.  Or not, as they see fit.

25. If there has been one salutary effect of der Sturmtrumper’s war on the NFL, it has been the countless Actual Military Veterans who have stepped up to tell him to go to hell, pointing out that their service was to the Constitution and ideals of the United States and not a piece of fabric or the political views of an authoritarian minority.  That’s what happens when a toy soldier like der Sturmtrumper runs into the real thing, I suppose.

26. And now the IRS is sharing information with Robert Mueller about several key officials in der Sturmtrumper’s campaign.  So at least someone in America may soon see der Sturmtrumper’s tax returns.

27. Michael Hayden, a retired 4-star general who has led both the CIA and the NSA, weighed in on der Sturmtrumper’s War On The NFL as well.  “As a 39-year military veteran, I think I know something about the flag, the anthem, patriotism, and I think I know why we fight,” he said.  “It’s not to allow the president to divide us by wrapping himself in the national banner.  I never imagined saying this before Friday, but if now forced to choose in this dispute, put me down with Kaepernick.”  So yes, the people with Actual Clues are weighing in, thank you.

28. In the latest “Fourth Amendment?  What Fourth Amendment?” news, apparently der Sturmtrumper’s DHS is planning to start collecting all social media information on anyone who has ever immigrated to this country, including permanent residents and – the real kicker – naturalized citizens.  Because what is the Constitution besides a piece of inconvenient paper when it comes to authoritarian dictatorships?  Remember when conservatism meant smaller, less intrusive government?  Good times, man.

29. Roy Moore – the so-called-Christian and criminal theocrat who was twice thrown off the Alabama Supreme Court for gross insubordination and Dominionist subversion – won his primary against the guy der Sturmtrumper actually wanted, which is less of a victory for humanity than you’d think.  Moore is the man who defied federal courts on human rights, on religious freedom, and on pretty much any issue that didn’t conform to his blasphemous ideology, and he’s just one forgone conclusion of an election away from being a Senator now.  As Charles Pierce said, “I’m out of empathy for this stuff. I’m out of pity. I’m out of patience. And, not for nothing, but Moore’s opponent is a guy named Douglas Jones. In 2001, Jones convicted two men for the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, one of the iconic white supremacist terrorist acts of that period. One of those bastards already died in prison and the other keeps getting denied parole. If you’d rather be represented in the Senate by a lawless theocratic lunatic, rather than a guy that finally got justice for four murdered little girls, well, you deserve anything that goddamn happens to you.”

30. It appears that der Sturmtrumper spends his private time mocking the physical appearance of both John “Zero Fucks Left to Give” McCain and Mitch McConnell.  On the one hand, McConnell is the sleaziest man in Washington DC and that’s saying something.  On the other hand, going to war with the leaders of what is, theoretically, his own party is probably not all that wise.  But then nobody ever accused der Sturmtrumper of being smart.

31. The Children’s Health Insurance Program expired on September 30th, and the GOP Congress didn’t bother to do anything to save a program that provides 9 million children with health insurance, because fuck you that’s why.  The program goes back to the 90s, so it’s not like it has Obama cooties on it.  Some folks in Congress – Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) – were working on something, but not successfully.  This is what happens when the GOP spends all its time working to take away healthcare from everyone else too, I suppose.

32. So, having failed to gut American healthcare, der Sturmtrumper and his minions, cronies, and lackeys turn their attention to looting the treasury through what they euphemistically refer to as tax “reform.”  As always, the sum total of their creativity can be expressed in a simple declarative sentence: “Give more money to the rich because something something something Laffer curve mumble mumble magic beans something something prosperity out of nothing mumble mumble SQUIRREL!”  Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but this is stupid.  Say it with me, folks: Supply side economics does not work in a demand side economy.  Never has.  Never will.  All it does is transfer wealth out of the hands of the poor and middle class and into the hands of the already wealthy, and if your goal is an ancien regime society of nobles and peasants you can’t ask for a better plan than that, but if you’re looking for a strong middle-class democracy then you should search elsewhere.

33.  There’s a reason the American middle class got smaller under Reagan and Bush Jr, and why it has gotten precipitously smaller in Wisconsin since the election of Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries).  There’s also a reason why it got bigger under Bill Clinton, who raised taxes on the wealthy and was rewarded with an economic boom that was in fact greater than the one in the 1980s.  Again: supply side economics does not work in a demand side economy.  It really is that simple.

34. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll believe Bruce Bartlett, who was a key economic advisor for Ronald Reagan and developed the now-bog-standard GOP tax mythology of “tax cuts = prosperity” while working for Representative Jack Kemp.  That “mythology” (his word, I will point out) is nonsense.  “That’s wishful thinking,” he wrote in the Washington Post.  “So is most Republican rhetoric around tax cutting.  In reality, there’s no evidence that a tax cut now would spur growth.”  As Bartlett points out, the economic growth of the 1980s was due to any number of factors and was in fact less in terms of percentage of GDP 35.9%) than the growth of the 1970s (37.2%), when taxes were supposedly holding back the economy.  There is, he writes zero – absolutely none – evidence that the tax cut of 1986 did any economic good whatsoever, and for all the tax cuts imposed by Bush Jr the economy grew by only 19.5% of GDP, which you will note is just about half of what it was in the 1970s.  And when Obama let some of the Bush Jr tax cuts expire he was rewarded with the longest consecutive month streak of economic growth in American history.  Reality: not the friend of the GOP.

35. If you’re wondering why the GOP tax plot is the unholy mess it is, you might want to ask der Sturmtrumper’s economic advisor Gary Cohn, who thinks that the average American family brings in almost twice what the actual median income for a family of four is and that you can buy a car or a kitchen for $1000.  It’s this kind of delusional thinking that has been sabotaging the American economy since 1981.

36. Perhaps this is why the GOP tax “plan” is a half-baked incomplete outline full of nonsense, magical thinking, elisions, empty rhetoric, and gaps.  Not that this deterred them on health care.  What details there are point to a vicious and open war on everyone not already wealthy, one that will see vast transfers of wealth up the social ladder.  But then, how hard is it to predict the future when these nitwits keep doing the same thing over and over?

37. According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, der Sturmtrumper’s Magical Tax Plan O’ Wishful Thinking will cost the US $2.4 trillion in its first ten years, with an additional $3.2 trillion in the next ten years.  The bottom 95% of earners will see a 1.2% increase in their after-tax earnings, while the top 1% will see an 8.5% increase.  The top 1% will see a tax cut that is roughly 80x the tax cut of the average person.  And by 2027 about a quarter of taxpayers will see their tax bills increase.  Yeah, this is pretty much More Of Same.  The basic GOP position on wealth is that if we give the rich more, the crumbs they drop for the rest of us will be bigger.  You know, I’m not sure how much antifreeze you have to drink in order to make that idea make any sense at all to you, but it’s more than I am willing to consume.

38. You have to give Wisconsin’s Own Republican Senator Ron Johnson – the dumbest man in the legislature now that Rick Santorum has retired – some credit for being honest, at least.  When the rest of the GOP makes comfortable mooing sounds about actually giving a damn about the American people, Johnson just comes right out and tells us to go to hell.  He actually came right out and told a high school student in a public forum that not only was health care a privilege reserved for the wealthy, but so too were food, clothing, and shelter.  Think about that for a moment, why don’t you.  Suddenly the GOP platform makes a whole lot more sense, doesn’t it?

39. Certainly der Sturmtrumper’s reaction to the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Puerto Rico makes a lot more sense in light of Johnson’s frank declaration of Republican priorities.  Let’s start with the fact that he thinks dedicating a golf trophy to people who are without food, electricity, or shelter is at all appropriate, let alone beneficial, and then move on to the immoral and utterly un-American treatment of American citizens by what is supposed to be their own government – how der Sturmtrumper has attempted to bully and shame American citizens for expecting their own government to help out in time of catastrophe, which is after all THE ENTIRE FUCKING PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT.  There is no further evidence needed to prove the utter moral leprosy of der Sturmtrumper and anyone who continues to support him in light of these events.

40. And, yet again, I wake up to find that there has been another mass shooting in the US, another slaughter of the innocent by some penis-deficient white man (you knew he was white even before seeing a picture because he was described as a “lone wolf” instead of a “terrorist”) compensating for his shortcomings with high-powered weaponry, another mass murder by firearm that somehow, some way, magically seems to keep happening in the only industrialized democracy on earth that refuses to put any meaningful limits on guns but is so rare elsewhere where such restrictions are in place.  I am So Fucking Tired of this shit.  And yet I know nothing will happen.  We as Americans have decided that this is an acceptable price to pay for access to guns, and we will continue pay it until such time as we grow up and decide otherwise.  Take a long hard look, my fellow Americans, at what political party stands in the way of regulations on weapons of mass murder – even regulations that are supported by over 80% of the population, which by definition includes members of that party – and which party does not.  Any surprises?  Thought not.

41. Of course nothing will come of this reckoning.  Don’t be stupid.  The debate over regulating guns in the US ended after Sandy Hook.  We had someone walk into an elementary school and slaughter nearly two dozen first-graders and the only result of that was we went out and bought more guns.  So the next time some yellow-bellied coward tries to take away your Constitutional rights in the name of security because all those brown-skinned foreign terrorists who hate us for our freedoms are Coming After Us, ask them what those terrorists can possibly do to us that we don’t already do to ourselves with gleeful abandon and greater efficiency.  And if you get an answer that makes any grammatical sense, count yourself lucky.

42. When Americans decide that they value their children more than they value their guns, things will change.  Until then, they won’t.  It really is that simple.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Music on a Sunny Day

It was a sparkling late-summer day yesterday for my swan song as Performing Arts Guy down on Home Campus.  Blue skies.  Mid-70sF.  The kind of day that begs for people to sit outside with their lunch and listen to good music played by a singer/songwriter on a guitar, especially a singer that has a sense of humor.

My official position as Performing Arts Guy got phased out this summer as part of the ongoing reorganization that happens after several years of unanesthetized chain-saw budget surgery imposed from above.  I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, and to be honest I can’t say I disagreed with the decision either.

If you’re willing to work with performers – take whatever dates they can give you, especially midweek gigs that slot nicely between other things they’re doing in the region, be accommodating and attentive about their requirements, and so on – they’re usually willing to work with you to make things happen.  They’ll cut their prices, work around obstacles, and generally make your life easier and more fun.  I’ve had a few of them stay in my own home to save hotel fees, in fact.  They put on some great shows.  And some of those performers have become real friends.

But if we got two dozen people in the audience, it was good night.  We’re a commuter campus and most of our students work part-time or even full-time jobs to make ends meet.  They’ve got families.  It’s hard to get them to come to events on campus once their classes let out.

Let’s face it: Home Campus spent a lot of money to get me to meet interesting people, and while I have always appreciated those opportunities the fact is that in a budgetary climate where we sometimes have trouble hiring instructors it wasn’t a great use of funds.  My boss brought me in last year to break the news to me about the job and I think I surprised her when I said I would have made the same decision.

While I have been privileged to work with some genuinely professional people who worked hard to make my job trouble-free, this particular singer is perhaps the easiest act I ever booked.  His manager calls me up and I say, “Same deal as last year?” and he says, “Sure, pick a date.”  The singer asks for two platforms and access to electricity, and his tech guy sets everything up and tears it down.  And that’s about it.  Plus, he gives a great show.  So when his manager called this year, I said sure – I’ll volunteer this one.

We managed to get a decent crowd, in part because we always schedule this concert for lunchtime just outside the dining commons.  And this particular singer has enough of a local following that we can bring people in just for that.  One of my students sat down with me for much of the concert, which was good of him.

It was a nice way to bow out, there in the sunshine, listening to good music.

Monday, September 25, 2017

In Memoriam

At what point does a family friend become just family?

Maybe it’s when they have kids the same age as you and everyone’s part of the swirl of young families on a tiny little suburban street, the kids running in and out of everyone’s homes while the parents spend time together doing whatever it is that parents did in the 60s and 70s while their kids ran around.

Maybe it’s when you move away and then they move two doors down and it’s like nobody missed a beat.

Maybe it’s all the Christmases that they would drop over – Christmas Day being a rather low-key event for us, with family and friends often hanging out in the living room, sharing the day.

Maybe it’s when they are there for you, day in and day out, in good times and bad.  Like when they basically adopt your mom and make sure she’s okay after your dad passes away.  Like that.

Maybe it’s all those things and more.

When my family moved out of the city and into the suburbs in 1967, Mrs. Watts and her family were across the street. 

And they’ve been part of our family ever since.

Mrs. Watts passed away last night, and the world is poorer for it.  I will celebrate her life and mourn her passing.  If you have a moment, spare a thought for a good person who made the world a far more interesting and colorful place than it had any right to be.

Friday, September 22, 2017

News and Updates

1. It was 91F here in Our Little Town yesterday.  In Wisconsin.  On the first day of autumn.  It’s hotter today.  This in a year where most of the western part of the US and Canada as well as large portions of Europe and Africa were on fire.  Where four Category 4 or higher hurricanes made landfall in less than a month.  Where it was 106F in San Francisco – a city that regards 75F as uncomfortably warm.  Where once again we have set records for the hottest year since data has been recorded.  Where we have had over thirty straight years of “hotter than average” months – nobody born after Reagan’s second inauguration has ever seen a “cooler than average” month.  Where Houston, Puerto Rico, Sierra Leone, Niger, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have all seen record flooding.  And still there are people who think global climate change is some kind of hoax.  Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but sometimes I wonder if there is any hope for this species.

2. I made a quick jaunt out to Philadelphia last weekend to help my mom in her new place with a few projects and collect some things from the old house before it passes to the new owners next month.  It was good to see my mom, however briefly.  We also got to see her old neighbors, which was fun.  They took good care of my parents and made it possible for them to live in that house for that much longer, and I appreciate that.

3. It was kind of strange locking the door on the old house one last time. 

4. I also got to see my friends Mike and Krista on the way home, which I don’t do nearly enough.  I live too far away from too many good people.

5. One of the most satisfying feelings when driving down the interstate is when you switch lanes to let the nitwit who came roaring up behind you at warp speed and has been tailgating you for the last half mile pass by and then see him (almost always “him”) get trapped behind a wall of semis.  It’s almost but not quite as much fun as watching the cop pull out from the median to chase him down.  Yeah, I can be petty too.

6. The Taco Bell here in Our Little Town – or the one I pass every day on the way to work, anyway, as we are a multi-Taco-Bell kind of town – has finally completed its renovations.  It’s snazzy now.  I’m almost tempted to go in, except that I know that inside that nice new building is, well, Taco Bell.  I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something.

7. Although sometimes imitation Mexican food is precisely what you want.

8. Yes, I know what real Mexican food is.  I live in a town where the dining out options include a) all of the finest chain restaurants in America, and b) real Mexican food.  We have several places that serve actual Mexican food in all its tasty, tasty glory, and I am all for it.

9. In every class there is always that percentage of students who Just Don’t Get It.  You can identify them pretty quickly – the 13th-graders pretending to be college students.  The joy of teaching at the college level is that they are not legally required to be there, which means that over time either they will get it and become college students or they will move on.  The process, however, can be painful for everyone.

10. While I was away I missed the Local Band’s annual banquet, where Lauren was voted “Rookie of the Year” and was given a nice trophy to that effect.  She was also awarded a hat with velcro on the front and several velcroed labels bearing the names of the various instruments and roles she plays in the band, so she can swap them out as necessary.  She wears many hats, and this way she only needs the one.  Go Lauren!

11. I also missed the annual night tours of my old museum, where they turn off the electric lights and light the place up with lanterns as it would have been done in the 19th century.  Tabitha was a guide for it, as she has been for the last few years.  I always loved those tours, even though when I was there I rarely got home before midnight.  I’d be cruising through the place at the end of the night, shutting everything down in the dark.  We had a lot of people tell us the place was haunted, but I never saw anything.  Oh well.

12. Every decision comes with a cost.

13. The first couple of weeks of the semester are just a madhouse when you’re an advisor, but things calm down once the add/drop deadline for classes goes by. 

14. You know you’ve been busy at work when you go to toss the teabag from your mug and realize that you never tossed the one from the previous time, so your tea has been unusually strong but somewhat less in volume, and you didn’t even notice.  This happens more often than I care to think, these days.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Phoning It In

I was upgraded to a smart phone about two years ago.

It’s a nice little phone, I suppose.  It can surf the web.  It can tell me the weather.  It can send and receive texts, which is why my family insisted on me obtaining this device in the first place, as my children will not actually speak on the telephone unless there is no conceivable alternative up to and including not communicating at all.  It can, after a fashion, take photographs, though honestly a tiny elf with a colored pencil set would probably do a better job.  It makes a decent bookmark in a pinch.

If you try hard enough, it will actually function as a telephone.

This is kind of an afterthought among smart phone designers.  You can tell because smart phones are very poorly designed as phones.  They are really small tablet computers that will grudgingly make phone calls if you insist on it.  I suspect that the designers put that function in out of a sense of contractual obligation and are just waiting for everyone currently over 40 to die so they can phase the function out entirely.

It doesn’t really do apps, because it has less memory than I do.

I’m not sure why this is so, since one of the things I purchased with the phone was a small microchip that had flibbertygib-bits of memory so I could put things there and have plenty left over for other things such as apps.  This, it turns out, was not the case.  I’ve tried putting apps on it, but eventually I take them off because they don’t really work on my phone.

I’m surprisingly okay with this, as I don’t really do apps either.  Kim insists that I would do apps if I had a phone that could, but then this seems like putting the cart before the horse.  Can you even make horse/cart metaphors with smart phone technology?

Apparently so.

Two years is, I am told, an eternity in the smart phone world.  My phone is a veritable antique!  A museum piece!  There are phones being given away to indigent people in third world countries that could out-perform my phone even with their screens removed! 

So my task these days – or one of them, as there is never any shortage of tasks in this world – is to find and purchase a new phone.

I cannot tell you how dispiriting this process is.

Kim does not understand this, as she is a technology sort of person and enjoys nothing more than upgrading to a new gizmo that does More, Better, Faster, More Effectively, and With Greater Force.  If Kim were in this situation she would have had every phone on the market analyzed, rated, categorized, and ranked by now, and the new phone would already be in her pocket.  All technological progress made in our household can be directly attributed to her, as if it were left to me we'd probably still be writing letters longhand.  She'd have this problem solved.

Me?  I’m still working up the energy to look at the web site.

On my desktop.

My cell provider does make this a bit easier by limiting the number of phones that will actually work on their system to about a dozen models.  I like my provider, as they have a plan that costs very little, works pretty well, gives me everything I need, and actually refunds the difference between what I use and what I pay for.  In two years I have never failed to get money back.  And I can make calls from home, which is better than any other cell phone provider I have ever had.  So I will likely stick to one of those dozen models.

But which one?

They’re all Shiny.  They’re all no doubt an improvement over what I have, for certain values of improvement that don’t include comfort or familiarity and do include the ability to perform tasks that I have lived this long without ever asking a device to perform before.  They all promise everything and they may well deliver for all I know.

There are times when I am tempted just to get rid of the phone and be done with it.  But then my children would have no way to communicate with me. 

So I press on.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Frozen

Well, now my credit is all frozen.

It’s not as much fun as the Disney version, which at least had some catchy tunes.

Like everyone else in America who has used a credit card, gotten a mortgage, taken out a loan of any kind, or participated in the modern economy in the last half century in any way that is more sophisticated than bartering goats for services, I have a credit report with Equifax.  I did not ask for one.  They collected this information from me without my consent, and they feel they have the right to charge me to see it.  And if it weren’t for the fact that any screw up on their part will likely cause me headaches for the rest of my life I probably would have been happy to see that they were hacked by evildoers unknown.

But I don’t need the headaches.  I have them now, but I don’t need them.  And I am not happy.

Yes, folks, one of the companies charged with safeguarding the most sensitive information of American consumers was sloppy enough to let hackers have access to it for months, and then corrupt and/or clueless enough to allow top executives to sell off stock before they publicized the news to the rest of us.  But sure, let’s cut regulations on business, because they’re such good citizens and always do the responsible things, right?  The delusions of people who think such things are just stupefying to behold.

Equifax did set up a website to let you see if your information was compromised – a website that asked you for precisely the data that was stolen, in case the hackers needed it again, and then returned random results, and as such there are serious questions right now as to whether this was an actual effort to help consumers or a barely-hidden ploy to sign people up for services which can generate income for Equifax starting precisely 366 days after people sign up for them. 

So after reading up on such things, it seems that the consensus among people with Actual Clues was that everyone affected (which, really, means everyone, since it’s pretty clear that Equifax has no idea who was affected) should put credit freezes on their accounts.  These will prevent new accounts from being opened in your name, which cuts down on the fraud considerably.  Not entirely, since old accounts can still be hacked, but considerably.

Also, invest in goats.

Now, we’re used to this.  Kim’s credit has been frozen for more than a decade thanks to the wonderful folks at a mobile phone company whose name I refuse to utter, who as a result of what I strongly suspect was an inside job once sent us a bill for about the cost of a year’s tuition at the campus where I currently work, for an account that we did not open and whose billing address was a vacant lot.  It was the only account compromised.  We’ve gone through the ID fraud thing several times since then, and most of the time that phone company is involved somehow.  That’s a pretty dismal record for a company whose services we used for a grand total of three weeks before canceling the contract because we got no service.

So I spent today getting signed up for credit freezes.

My first visit was to Equifax, and it was exactly as screwed up as you would think it would be.  You walk through the website and answer all kinds of questions (“What was your allowance between the ages of 7 and 12?  Give a weighted average”) and eventually you get to the end.  At that point the website takes you to a new page and says that you have to download the pdf document by clicking on the link below.

Except there is no link below.

And when you try to call to ask about this – because there is no way to contact them online for customer service that I could find (I was lucky to find the phone number, which was hidden in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard,” along with some fascinating plans for a bypass) – you get shunted between three different voicemail labyrinths before a) running into a busy signal, b) getting a message that this number is not in use, c) being randomly hung up on after more than two dozen rings, or d) all of the above, in sequence.  Eventually I got through to someone who was able to confirm that yes, indeed, somewhere in there I had actually managed to procure a freeze and had a working PIN.

Apparently those are subject to hacking too, but let’s just get through the first crisis, shall we?

Experian, Trans-Union, and Innovis were easier, though two of the three charged me money for the privilege of directing them on how I wish my own personal information collected without my consent should be used. 

How does one get into this racket?

So now I am frozen.  It’s a gold-plated nuisance trying to get anything done this way – we very nearly weren’t able to buy a car a few years ago because the process of temporarily unfreezing things is not as easy or trouble-free as they say it is – but so be it.  If it causes the hackers to have half the trouble getting to my information that I will have, then I will be twice as inconvenienced as they.

Math.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Strike Up the Band

Somewhere this summer we became Band Parents.

Back in June, Lauren joined one of the local marching bands – and let me tell you, the fact that in this part of the world there is a selection of such things for people to join is one of the stranger realizations that I have had in a while.  I remember marching bands being strictly one per high school and that’s true here too, but in Wisconsin you also have independent marching bands that go to festivals and on tour and demand hours and hours of time and, oddly enough, the kids love them.  Lauren has enjoyed her time in the Local Band immensely, and I’ve had a good time in my occasional duty as a chaperone/water-bearer as well.

So, win.  Strange win.  But win nonetheless.

As the summer began to wind down, the school year naturally began to gear up.  Lauren has now joined Tabitha at Local Businessman High School, and of course she is in the marching band.  They had Band Camp toward the end of August, and have already been playing at neighborhood events, varsity football games, and the local Labor Day Parade.

Actually the two bands overlap – the Local Band doesn’t wrap up until Sunday – so Lauren ended up marching the Labor Day Parade twice.  The LBHS band marched fairly early in the process, and when they reached the end Lauren and several of her colleagues jumped into a waiting truck, changed uniforms on the fly as they headed back to the starting point of the parade, and then marched with the Local Band as one of the last groups in the event.  It was fun to watch, and Lauren plays different instruments in each band so that was pretty impressive. 

Plus in addition to the candy that is traditionally hurled at kids alongside parade routes here in Wisconsin, there was also a group that was tossing full-sized bags of potato chips at us.  Can’t beat that.

Being Band Parents, I have discovered, is kind of like joining a particularly benign cult, one that demands a great deal of time and resources but offers rewards in the here and now that you don’t have to change your diet for, and I’m all for that.

And that, folks, is the backstory of how I ended up at my second-ever college football game today.


Trust me, it makes sense in context.

Before today I had only ever been to one college football game in my life (matching my professional football total, actually).  None of the three universities from which I have earned degrees were involved, nor any of the ones I have since earned a paycheck from.  When I was in high school I went up to visit a friend at Cornell University, and she took me to what may have been their homecoming game.  It was against Colgate, and they got curbstomped by a score of something like 60-7.  Welcome home, Big Red.

When I was an undergraduate, they played the games at 1pm on Saturday and really who’s awake on a college campus at that hour?  We had a deli just off campus that used to serve breakfast until 4pm!  So despite the fact that we were League Champions for three of my four years there (plus the year after, when I lived off campus, worked any number of small jobs, and tried to figure out what to do next), I never managed to go to a game.  My favorite part of game day was actually afterward.  Penn’s campus is built around the spine of Locust Walk, and after the game vast crowds would flow out of the stadium on 34th Street and up Locust Walk toward the dorms and restaurants that started around 38th Street and spread west from there.  The business school building was about where 37th Street would be and it had a nice wide set of steps leading up to the front doors, so after every game all of the various acapella groups would gather on the steps and serenade the passing crowd with a couple of songs each – the whole thing lasting about half an hour.  It was a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

In graduate school there was never enough time to go to games, and really those things were for the undergrads anyway.  Undergrads belong to the campus, but grad students belong to their departments.  And since then I’ve never worked for a campus that had a football team.

I didn’t miss it, to be honest.  I’d watch games on television, professional and college, as I’d done since my dad taught me the rules in the early 1970s, and that was plenty.

I’ve been slowly losing interest in American football over the last few years, as medical research more and more indicates that it is essentially in the same moral category as cockfighting and bear baiting, as college football becomes more and more of a threadbare front for raw moneymaking and lawless exploitation, and as the New England Patriots choke all the fun and suspense out of the NFL season as they have done for most of this century.  This year I find myself watching random soccer games – including Big 10 women’s games – rather than football, even when I am given the opportunity to watch a preseason game between my hometown Eagles and my current state’s Packers, and I can’t imagine this is going to get any better for football once the NHL season starts.  I will no doubt watch a few games this season, though, out of habit if nothing else.  Nearly half a century of fandom doesn’t evaporate overnight.  It takes time.

Today was High School Band Day at UW Madison.  Every high school marching band that could get to Camp Randall Stadium was invited to attend, and boy howdy did they ever.  There were about 1500 kids there representing nearly two dozen high schools, and LBHS was one of them.  And I thought, “Well, when am I ever going to do this again?”  So Kim and I sprang for a couple of tickets in the nosebleed section to the left of the press box, seats where the possibility of ducking under low-flying aircraft was distressingly real – I could actually hear the disappointment in the ticket seller’s voice on the phone when I explained why I wanted to buy these tickets and no I didn’t want to be on their mailing list for future games unless my child was playing percussion at those too – and off we went.

It was quite an experience.

The fun started with the fact that, for reasons that would probably make sense to me if I were a band director or if, perchance, I had read the day’s schedule of events more carefully last night, the bus left LBHS at 5:30am for an 11am game.  And since Lauren likes to be places early – a trait she gets from her dad, who learned from his own father that showing up on time is just another way to say you’ve waited until the last minute – and since she had to find and load her drum onto the bus, this meant that I was there in the parking lot at LBHS at a few minutes after 5am, watching her walk into the building.

I did manage to get back to sleep for a couple of hours before Kim and I got rolling on over to Madison.  So I had that going for me.

Have you ever been to Madison on game day?  It’s a sea of, well, several things.  Red, for instance.  Everyone is wearing red and white, the Badger colors.  Kim told me that I would need to find a red shirt to wear for this outing, and since I don’t actually own any UW Madison gear the best I could do was my Phillies shirt from when they won the World Series back in 2008.  Fortunately Phillies red and Badger red are sufficiently close that I passed without comment.

Part of the reason for the lack of challenge to my Phillies shirt is no doubt that the second thing that Madison on game day is a sea of is beer and at some point people stop being able to read and just accept that any red item of clothing must be okay.  Kim and I found a place to park about half a mile from the stadium (not bad, all things considered) and my guess is that there was no 20-yard stretch of the walk between those points, including major thoroughfares, that did not feature some opportunity for me to reach into someone else’s festivities and procure a beer.  Fortunately, I do not like beer, as it tastes of fermented sweatsocks and desperation, and nobody was serving whiskey, so I made it to the stadium unimpaired.  But at 10am on game day Madison is in full tailgate mode and the beer is flowing as if Prohibition were scheduled to start up again on Tuesday.

Another sea you will find is traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian.  And in Madison, pedestrians win.  I was glad we parked at a distance and walked over, as I am sure some of the cars that parked next to the stadium will still be there for next week’s game, waiting for a random group of red-clad drunks to get out of their way.

We found our way into the stadium – passing the stringent new tests for what you can bring in with you (clothing, shoes, and the air in your lungs) and what you couldn’t (pretty much anything you’d want to bring to a sporting event) – and sherpa’d our way to our seats.


We had a grand time.

The weather was perfect – sunny, 70F, breezy – though the game itself was a rather pedestrian affair, to be honest.  That’s kind of what you’d expect when an overmatched team comes into the house of the 9th-ranked team in the country and is probably wondering if they’ll even have a campus to return home to on Monday once Hurricane Irma hits, but Florida Atlantic kept it close for most of the first half anyway.  There were a couple of really good plays on both sides, and if the Badgers don’t get their secondary straightened out fairly quickly and/or teach their receivers how to catch they’re not going to stay 9th-ranked for very long, but the end result was never really in doubt and the Badgers won going away, 31-14.

Mostly, though, the fun part was the other stuff. 

For one thing, the student section at Badger games has more fun than is probably legal.  They sit in the north end of the stadium – or, rather, they stand in the north end of the stadium, because by tradition they never sit down – and lead the cheers and activities.  It was the student section that made sure everyone repeated the announcer’s “First and 10, Wisconsin,” every single time (including the hand gesture).  They got the wave going.  And if they drifted in throughout the first half, well, really, who’s awake on a college campus at that hour anyway?

They also led the “jump around” segment of the game.  At the end of the third quarter the announcers play “Jump Around” over the PA (and, parenthetically, let me just say how amazing the PA system is at Camp Randall – like, really, truly, “you can hear and understand everything they say” amazing.  I’ve been at staff meetings that didn’t have that kind of audio clarity) and then everybody, well, jumps around.  It registers on the UW’s seismograph as a small earthquake (no, really, it does), and they did have to structurally reinforce the stadium at one point, but hey – tradition.


For another thing, there was the reason we were there in the first place: the bands.

They put the high school bands in the south end of the stadium.  That pixel right there is Lauren.  No, not that one – that other one, just a bit over.  Yeah, that one!


They played four songs at halftime, which was fun.  I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.  How many times are you going to get a chance to play for 80,000 people, really?  The bands spent the morning rehearsing, apparently – when there are 22 different bands, each of which has only had about a three days to practice on their own and less than a morning to practice together, you do what you can – and they did a pretty good job of it, I say.  Nicely done, Lauren!

There was also the UW Marching Band, which is one of those organizations that anyone in a marching band should aspire to join someday.  They’re talented, they work hard, and they are really, really good.


Plus it was Alumni Day for the band as well, and they had about 300 alums on the field with them before the game.  They spent most of the game next to the high schoolers (they’re the big red group on the left of that picture of the south end, or one of them anyway) and it was surprising how well they seem to have remembered it all.

After the game there was the Fifth Quarter, a Madison tradition that, surprisingly enough, does not (necessarily) involve beer.  Basically the band comes back out, plays “Varsity,” which seems to be as close to an alma mater as Madison gets, and then plays about fifteen minutes of fun stuff.  The alums joined them this time, too.  The kicker of the whole thing is that they play in scatter formation – basically they run around all over the field, wherever they want to be (paying rather more attention to the remaining students in the student section, naturally).  And they do whatever they want as well – I saw many playing on their backs, some while playing leap frog, and (my favorite) at least one bass drummer who used his drum as a brace to play while doing a headstand.


And they do it all in time and on pitch, with no loss of cohesion. 

It’s as if they were in formation watching the conductor and not meandering across and entire stadium while the conductor socializes on the sidelines.  Do you have any idea how hard that is to do?  I was impressed.

Eventually things wound down and we all headed out – Kim and me to our car, Lauren with her bandmates to the bus.  It’s been a long day, but a good one.