Monday, June 19, 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. Good God, man, take a freaking break.  Nobody can keep up with this!  I spent the better part of a week more or less outside of the news stream, and when I poked my toe into the fetid waters of der Sturmtrumper’s latest antics the undercurrent nearly pulled me in to drown.  Remember when we used to have screaming arguments in this country over actual political issues – even trivial ones – instead of the latest grotesque criminal incompetency perpetrated by a kleptomaniac authoritarian regime?  Good times, man.

2. Seriously, if someone doesn’t take away that man’s Twitter account he’s going to start a war with it.  He’ll probably be just as surprised as the rest of us.

3. Given the avalanche of right-wing hate directed at Obama – the lynching photos, the gorilla memes, the coded and sometimes overt threats of assassination, the “Second Amendment Solutions” nonsense, and so on – I’m really kind of enjoying their crocodile tears over vaguely famous person Kathy Griffin’s tasteless and juvenile photograph.  Seriously, if you weren’t offended by the right-wing avalanche, you don’t get to be offended by the stupid photograph.  I thought her photograph crossed the line.  But then I felt that way about the avalanche of right-wing hatred toward Obama too, so I suppose I have earned the right to do so.

4. Griffin was fired from her New Year’s Eve job over that, and so be it.  Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences, and if you’re going to do stupid things like that you should expect to be shat upon from a great height by all sorts of people.  But if you think that death threats are an acceptable response to this then you really need to take your computer keyboard, grease it down with lard, and insert it into your lower intestine until you can taste it.  It’s surprising how thin-skinned right-wingers are.

5. Remember when Ted Nugent threatened to kill President Obama and the right-wingers all thought ol’ Ted was just a helluva guy having some fun?  Those were the days.

6. And now some freeze-dried whackaloon has decided to exercise his Second Amendment privileges at a GOP Congressman (ironically enough, a Congressman who recently crowed about beating back proposed restrictions on guns and ammunition – karma is a bitch).  Let’s be perfectly clear here – this is an outrage, a monstrous crime, and if the whackaloon hadn’t been killed by security forces he’d be first in line for execution at the end of a rather speedy trial and nobody, least of all me, would mourn.  What I find most aggravating, however, is that the same party that spent eight interminable years loudly and proudly urging its followers to find “Second Amendment Solutions” to political problems as long as those guns were aimed at Democrats is now outraged by the fact that the guns are pointed at them.  What goes around comes around, folks.  The sheer maddening hypocrisy of the GOP is enough to make Ghandi take up the axe.  I suppose it’s too much to ask that these people understand the soul-crushing irony of what just happened.

7. Just so you know I’m not making this up, here’s a representative sample of Second Amendment Solution quotes and actions from various GOP mouthpieces, collected by David Gerrold for our edification and quoted directly from him:

GOP House candidate Robert Lowry held a campaign event at a Florida gun range in October 2009, where he fired gunshots at a silhouette that had his opponent Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s printed on it.

“You know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.” - Sharon Angle

“If I could issue hunting permits, I would officially declare today opening day for liberals. The season would extend through November 2 and have no limits on how many taken as we desperately need to ‘thin’ the herd.”  -Brad Goerhing

“Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office,” read an advertisement for the event called “Shoot a fully automatic M16 With Jesse Kelly.”

“Don’t retreat, instead- RELOAD!” - Sarah Palin after circulating a map with crosshairs over lawmakers who supported the ACA

“You know but other than me going over there with a gun and holding it to their head and maybe killing a couple of them, I don’t think they’re going to listen unless they get beat.” - John Sullivan

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” -Donald Trump

8. Or, to put the whole thing in further perspective, from Andy Nicastro:  "So let's get this straight. A rabidly anti-gay congressman who recently voted to let mentally ill people have access to guns and who wants to repeal the affordable care act had his life saved by a lesbian when he was shot by a mentally ill person and is currently under hospital care that is being paid for by government-funded health insurance. Sorry, there is way too much irony here to interrupt it with punctuation."

9. So der Sturmtrumper has officially announced that he will withdraw the US from the Paris Accords because short-term profit is so much more important than long-term survivability.  Well, he’s 70 years old – he’ll be dead before the whole thing crashes down so what does he care?  Two things are impressive here.  First, that there seems to have been almost no thought whatsoever regarding this decision – nobody, of any party, is suggesting that there was anything like calm, reasoned consideration of the pluses and minuses of this action.  Instead, once again, we are treated to the toddler in chief extending his middle finger to the rest of the world because he got his feelings hurt when the European leaders took him exactly as seriously as he deserved to be taken and no more.  Tantrums are not a substitute for policy, boyo.  Second, it is abundantly clear that der Sturmtrumper took this action in direct opposition to the will of the American people (hell, 57% of REPUBLICANS favor remaining in the Paris Accord, let alone everyone else), a fair number of his own administration members (Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s own Secretary of State, is said to have been particularly thrown under the bus with this one), and a surprising number of American corporations including most of the big fossil fuel companies (because oil rigs need stable sea levels and predictable weather, among other reasons).   If you’re really interested in this disjunction, just ask the good people of Pittsburgh, 80% of whom voted against der Sturmtrumper, what they think of his claim that this was done in their name.

10. Of course nothing der Sturmtrumper has said on the decision has risen to the level of remotely plausible, let alone factually accurate.  The list of lies that he told to justify his action is long, thorough, and depressing.  And in truth the decision has little practical impact immediately – nothing can happen officially until the day after the next presidential election in 2020, in fact.  So it’s mostly symbolic at this point.  But think about the symbolism of the United States – historically the world’s largest carbon emitter – joining exactly two other countries in rejecting this treaty: Syria, which may or may not qualify as a country at all at the moment, and Nicaragua, which hasn’t signed because they think the treaty doesn’t go far enough.  Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but this man is an international embarrassment and a national disgrace.

11. To anyone reading this outside of the US, as an American citizen I hereby apologize for the actions of this administration.  Most of us didn’t vote for him, and we’re just as appalled as you are.

12. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin GOP – you know, the group of chowderheads that has cut over two billion dollars out of education since Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) seized power in 2011 – has decided that public schools should have gun classes.  Because they can’t pay for teachers, books, infrastructure, school lunches, arts programs, or supplies, but by the foot-long beard of Right Wing Jeebus Hissownself (a blond-haired blue-eyed heavily armed bigot not to be confused with any actual deity or Savior) they can find money to put guns into schools.  Wasn’t it just a couple of months ago that half the schools in southern Wisconsin were either closed or on soft lockdown because somebody wanted to bring their guns to schools and exercise his Second Amendment privileges at other people’s children?

13. And yes, I meant “privileges.”  The Second Amendment has a long and sordid history of being reserved as a privilege for white men only, and nothing about that has changed that in my lifetime.

14. It’s hurricane season and this year is predicted to be a big one, with an above-average number of hurricanes likely.  And thanks to the incompetence/malevolence/authoritarianism/etc. of der Sturmtrumper, there is currently nobody in charge of NOAA or FEMA.  Heck of a job, Donnie.

15. Der Sturmtrumper did finally nominate someone to be the new FBI guy, though.  I wonder if this guy is going to be the toady that his new boss thinks he will be, or whether he will have a spine and actually enforce the law.

16. As a general rule, you can seamlessly substitute “I like behaving like an asshole” anytime someone uses the sentence “I’m tired of being politically correct.”  They mean the same thing, which is why they’re so popular on the right wing these days.  Nobody on the left has used the phrase “politically correct” seriously since 1991.  Whenever you hear people complaining of being forced to be politically correct or not being able to do what they want because it’s not politically correct, remember that they’re just whining about how hard it is to be an asshole in a world that is tired of their shit.

17. This is why der Sturmtrumper and a handful of his minions, lackeys, and cronies have been firing up the twitter machine in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Britain, complaining that political correctness is preventing them from being the monstrous assholes they would like to be to anyone who isn’t straight, white, male, evangelical Protestant, and, preferably, wealthy.  Seriously, folks – so tired of this shit.

18. Also, have you noticed that whenever there is a terrorist attack on foreign soil der Sturmtrumper jumps right in with offers of support with petty and juvenile tweets insulting the political leaders on the ground while politicizing the tragedy in order to push the most recent collection of semi-random hormonal urges that masquerades as his agenda?  While at the same time whenever a white male American engages in a terrorist attack here in America there is a strange and deafening silence?  Odd how that keeps happening.

19. Being lectured on tolerance by a Trump supporter is almost as funny as when they think they understand economics.

20.  It looks like the Party of Cruelty is following its Wisconsin playbook with the new Republicare bill.  They’re working on it in secret – thirteen old white men writing a bill that will affect hundreds of millions of Americans, most of them negatively.  They are allowing nobody to see it, holding no public hearings, and admitting no actual reality into their cabal.  And they’re going to ram it through Congress without so much as a reach-around.  Those of us in Wisconsin have seen this movie – it’s been playing in Madison since 2011 – and it never ends well.

21. As a general rule, if you have to write laws in secret you shouldn’t be writing those laws.

22. I’m not even going to comment on James Comey’s testimony.  Anyone who can continue to support der Sturmtrumper after that brutal takedown clearly has no respect for law, morals, or the Constitution, and just as clearly deserves no respect from those of us who do.

23. Although the stark contrast between Comey – who was professional, eloquent, and damning in his specificity and pointed responses – and our Confederate Attorney General, whose stonewalling was so blatant that it’s an open question whether he was lying or simply a victim of dementia, is astounding.

24. The big takeaway from Comey’s testimony, though, is just how little Congressional Republicans care.

25. Apparently Mike Pence – a man so vehemently opposed to treating homosexuals as actual people that one begins to wonder just how deeply closeted he really is – has decided to lawyer up in light of the continuing investigations into Russian meddling in the American election.  This is normal, right?  A sitting Vice President hiring attorneys to defend himself on upcoming criminal charges months into his term in office?  Totally normal!

26. Michael Cohen, der Sturmtrumper’s lawyer, has now hired a lawyer of his own.  It’s just turtles all the way down.

27. If der Sturmtrumper actually fires Robert Mueller it will trigger a very dark time indeed in this country.  Even his staff has figured that out, though they may be powerless to stop him.  And if that doesn’t sum up this rogue regime nicely, nothing does.

28. Newt Gingrich – a man so twisted that he can suck the spaghetti sauce out of a rotini without moving his tongue – has publicly declared that the president by definition cannot obstruct justice.  Leaving aside the obvious Nixonian echoes here (“if the president does it, it’s not illegal”), there is also the fact that said Twisted Man presided over the impeachment of a different president of a different party on charges of – wait for it – obstruction of justice.  This is the problem you get when you start listening to people who think truth is whatever they happen to believe most fervently at present.

29. According to Reuters, der Sturmtrumper is planning to revamp a federal program designed to counter all forms of ideological terrorism so that it focuses slowly on Islamic extremism and no longer pays any attention to violent right-wing white supremacist groups here in the US.  Doesn’t really look good to be investigating your own base, I suppose.

30. Looks like the Kansas Experiment has come to the ignominious conclusion that anyone with any economic or historical knowledge saw coming years ago.  Kansas – home of Koch Industries (the very billionaires who own Wisconsin’s Governor Teabagger) and Governor Sam Brownback (who makes Governor Teabagger look like Bernie Sanders) – embarked on a trial run of everything the modern right wing wanted out of a government: drastically slashing taxes on businesses and the rich, destroying the public education system, and generally turning the state into a supply-side libertarian dystopia.  This, of course, was supposed to generate all kinds of prosperity, jobs, and general ease and comfort for everyone, and perhaps it would have in some kind of bizarro alternate universe where facts don’t matter and math doesn’t work.  In this one, as predicted, Kansas lurched from one budget crisis to another, jobs evaporated, the poor got poorer, the middle class got smaller, and the rich hoarded their lucre and laughed.  Brownback even got into a pissing match with the State Supreme Court when the court demanded he fund public education according to the state constitution – at one point he threatened to defund the entire state judiciary, which would have put Kansas in violation of the federal Constitution’s guarantee of a republican (small-r) form of government for every state.  But that’s what happens when you elect right-wing authoritarian ideological fools.  It got so bad that the Kansas legislature – dominated by Republicans even now – took matters into its own hands, repealed some of the most egregious tax giveaways to the wealthy, and began the process of returning to sane fiscal policy (within the current limits of GOP orthodoxy, but still – progress).  You will want to keep this lesson in mind as der Sturmtrumper and his Swamp attempt to impose the exact same policies on the entire US.  The GOP may well institutionally incapable of learning the lesson of Kansas, since it contradicts half a century of their most precious and mindlessly held ideology.  But that’s reality for you – it doesn’t care what you believe.

31. Apparently der Sturmtrumper’s minions have taken to threatening theater groups performing Shakespeare this summer, because a play that depicts the assassination of a tyrant is hitting a little too close to home?  Apparently a specific production of Julius Caesar hit a few nerves, but these threats are now being directed at pretty much anyone who has the nerve to produce any Shakespeare play here in the Land of the Free.  Which means, of course, that not only are these minions stunted enough to threaten people over a 400-year-old play, but they’re stunted enough to threaten the WRONG people over a 400-year-old play.  The jokes write themselves, folks.

32. Maryland and DC have now formally filed lawsuits accusing der Sturmtrumper of violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which adds a certain legal heft to that particular avenue of impeachment (there are so many avenues these days!).  I expect that the GOP will continue to stonewall on this as so many other things because law, morality, and Constitutions are so much less important than raw power however obtained, but perhaps this will be another good whack at that wall.  Eventually the wall will come down, though how much it will take down with it is anyone’s guess.

33. How bad are things when the President of the United States is being trolled by a vodka company.  “We’d be happy to talk about our ties with Russia under oath,” says Smirnoff.  That’s more than der Sturmtrumper is willing to do.

34. When all this is over, whatever optimism I can summon (not a lot – I’m from Philadelphia and pessimism is my birthright) makes me think that maybe, just maybe, this whole sordid fiasco of a regime might be enough to make Americans care about the quality of their leaders and the benefits of a well-run government in a way that has not been the case for decades now.  I’m not holding my breath – the ignorance and apathy of the average American voter is breathtaking – but a lot of people have figured out that not knowing or caring leads to Very Bad Things for both self and country, and perhaps that will be enough to get people involved again.  Maybe.

Monday, June 12, 2017

False Impressions

People from other states think Pennsylvanians are drunks.

This isn't necessarily so, at least not exceptionally so.  Trust me.  I live in Wisconsin, home of 12 of the top 20 drunkest cities in America (and 7 of the top 10) according to one news story that made the rounds not far back.  I know what a state full of drunks looks like, and it isn't the one I grew up in.

Perhaps it should be, but it isn't.

Prohibition has never really come to an end in Pennsylvania.  I'm not sure why this is so.  It can't be the residual Quaker influence, since the number of Quakers in Pennsylvania is smaller than the number of university professors and we all know how influential those are.  I know the alt-white thinks we professors are Svengali-like figures indoctrinating the youth of America into liberal politics against their will with machine-like efficiency, but I can't even get my students to read the textbook half the time, even when I specifically point out which parts of it will be on the exam, so I'm not sure where this impression comes from.  Probably written on the walls of their lower intestines, as with so much of their worldview.  So I'm guessing the Prohibition thing in Pennsylvania is not due to the Quakers, is what I'm saying here.

Whatever the reason, the simple fact is that Pennsylvania has perhaps the most Byzantine and useless system of regulating alcohol in the entire civilized world.

When I lived in Pittsburgh I knew a guy named Larry who had a side-gig as a stand-up comedian.  He had an entire fifteen-minute long routine that was nothing but a question-and-answer session on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control laws.  ("Can I get a beer?"  "Well...")  It was hysterically funny and 100% factually accurate and that pretty much sums up Pennsylvania's legal attitude toward alcohol.

When I was a kid, most alcohol in Pennsylvania was sold in State Stores.  Beer you could get from a distributorship, in quantities of no less than a hogshead or thereabouts, but if you wanted a bottle of wine with your dinner - or merciful heavens, anything stronger - you had to go the State Store.  And the State Store experience was designed to make you feel like a criminal, or at least some kind of social deviant, in the fond hopes that you would take the hint and not buy the alcohol that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania felt legally obligated to provide some avenue to sell to you now that the Eighteenth Amendment had been repealed.

Why these weren't Commonwealth Stores is an interesting question, I suppose.  I'm guessing the word "alliteration" figures into the answer somewhere.

It was truly a Soviet-style experience, going to a State Store back in the day.  I can remember heading over with my dad to the one closest to us when I was about ten or so.  We were seeking a bottle of wine for Christmas dinner, I believe.  We walked into the store and were met with a room that managed to be both spartan and dingy at the same time - a tiny little waiting area, devoid of furniture or decoration, and a counter on which there were several immense books that listed the products for sale in agate type.  We found what we wanted in the book, told the clerk, and then waited while he slowly disappeared through a doorway into the gloomy room behind the counter - a room we could not see into, let alone enter.  At some point in the indefinite future from that moment he just as slowly re-emerged with our wine, and, triumphant, we headed home.  We may have paid in rubles.

It's all a bit more consumer friendly, now that the Commonwealth has figured out that they can make money off this.  They put everything out there for you to see and buy on your own, like any other store.  And they've spruced things up to make you feel like it's an actual retail experience.  But you still have to buy most of your alcohol from the State Store in Pennsylvania even now.

Unless you're buying beer, in which case you can actually get beer in a select few regular retail establishments that have gone through the arduous and politically charged process of getting a license to sell it to you.

Moving to Wisconsin, where alcohol sales are conducted in supermarkets, convenience stores, parking lots, toy shops, churches, police stations, farmer's markets, real estate offices, antique shops, flower stores, courtrooms, middle schools, and pretty much anywhere you can put a table and a cash box up to and including funeral parlors, was a bit of a shock but I'm used to it now.  It gets cold in the winter.  And hot in the summer.  And temperate in the spring, which was a Thursday this year.  Don't even get me started on the fall, when the Packers are playing.  People in Wisconsin need to drink.

So.  State Stores.  Still got 'em in Pennsylvania.  Right.

If there is one shining bright spot to the State Store system in Pennsylvania it is that they are an endless supply of cardboard boxes.  Any time anyone in Pennsylvania needs a cardboard box, you go to the State Store.  You don't even have to ask these days.  They stack them up in the entryways of the State Stores, free for the taking.  All you have to do is agree to take the little cardboard inserts with you, which are recyclable with the rest of your newspapers and paper goods.

And if there is a moment in the life of the average American when they truly need cardboard boxes in quantity, it is when that American is preparing to move.  Americans have lots of Stuff, and we like to haul it with us from place to place at intervals that strike the rest of the non-refugee world as ludicrously short.  Most Pennsylvanians, not surprisingly therefore, have basements full of cardboard boxes advertising the many varieties of wine and liquor available across the Commonwealth, boxes full of any number of things that are not actually alcoholic beverages.

Hey, they're good sturdy boxes.

Pennsylvanians understand this system and think nothing of it.  But when you move from Pennsylvania to another state and the neighbors stroll by while you're unpacking the truck, all they see is box after box after box after box that at one time contained alcohol (and may still, for all they know) and they think, "Man, these people are drunks."

Sometimes they're disappointed to find out the truth and sometimes not, but that's how it goes.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A New Milestone

We are officially out of Mighty Clever Guy Middle School, now that Lauren graduated last week.  It's a strange feeling.  Lauren and Tabitha did not overlap there at all, so I have been dropping off and picking up my children from MCGMS for six years now.  You kind of get used to the place.

Plus, it's been a lovely time.  The staff and teachers at MCGMS have been wonderful to us, and my children have grown and learned a great deal. 

Lauren really wrung every last drop from the place, too.  Her list of achievements is long and if I am not careful I will go on a Parent Brag Rant that would take up most of your remaining lifespan.  I can do that with both of my girls, really.  I am immensely proud of them.  You would be too.

Kim had to be out of town on business last week, unfortunately, so it was just me and Grandma at the ceremony.  Well, us and about five hundred other family members, friends, and assorted hangers on.  It's nice that these things are always so well attended here in Our Little Town.

It started with the band playing.  Lauren has been doing percussion for a couple of years now, and she was jumping around from instrument to instrument as they went through their songs.  She rocked the snare!  Among other things!  They did a nice job with the music overall - the band teacher this year was really good and she got a lot out of those kids - and you could hear it clearly, which is no small feat in a middle school gym.

The actual graduation ceremony was short and sweet, as they should be.  There were a couple of student speakers, who did a good job.  There was a Distinguished Alumna speaker whose speech was on point and relevant (never guaranteed at these things).  The staff read through all of the graduates, each of whom got to walk up and get their certificate and be applauded.  And then we were done.  One hour, start to finish, not including the time that Lauren spent to help clean up which is a sign of character, really, and therefore the wait is okay.

Next year they will both be at Local Businessman High - the first time since Not Bad President Elementary that they will share a school.  LBHS is close enough that I don't have to pick anyone up from school at the end of the day, though the practical realities of jacking teenagers and their parents out of bed in the morning will mean drop-offs will continue because nobody gets moving fast enough to have time to walk there.  So I have made my last pick up.

I've enjoyed those pick ups.  They have been time just to ourselves, to share the day or just ride in companionable silence.

Sunrise, sunset.

Congratulations, Lauren!  New and lovely things await you.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Chicken in Time

Ryland has passed on to whatever great reward awaits chickens.

There is no breading there.

We picked her out of a batch of chicks from a local breeder back in January, along with two others who turned out to be roosters.  We likely won’t go back to that breeder, as one of the roosters ended up with a gimpy leg and finally keeled over a couple of weeks ago, while Ryland developed wry neck – an odd condition where the head ends up 180 degrees off plumb so everything looks upside down.  It’s a selenium deficiency, aggravated by genetic factors, so I spent most of late February and early March hand feeding this sick chicken – grinding up selenium tablets and vitamin E (which helps with selenium absorption) and sitting in the living room with this chicken on my lap while she ate.

Poultry makes you do strange things.

Ryland recovered and eventually we shipped her out to the barn with all the other chickens, and she spent a happy couple of months looking slightly askew at the rest of the world and doing the things that chickens do.  She was also very docile and enjoyed being handled, which was kind of nice.  Most chickens are skittish that way, but Ryland seemed to find it comforting.

But sometime in early May we got to the barn and the wry neck was back.  And since the cure for this was simply to feed her three times a day with dosed up scrambled eggs – something you really can’t do at the barn, at least not with any convenience – we took her home, put her in a large cage, and let her live in the garage.  On nice days we’d set the cage up outside so she could get some air.

This chicken owed us a lot of eggs, by the end.

She seemed to get better for a while, and then she didn’t.  Yesterday you could tell that she was on her last legs – to be honest, I was surprised she was still there last night when I put her back in for the night.  And this morning she was gone.

I buried her in the back, behind the garage, with all the other random small animals who have passed on while in our care (or, in the case of a couple of stray cats who got trapped in our garage one hot summer week, simply on our property).  She is at peace now.

Farewell, Ryland.  You were a good chicken.