Saturday, February 11th, 2017

It seems this would be an especially appropriate time to talk about why I believe rounding up undocumented people and deporting them is so revolting to me.

Right out of the gate I’m going to refuse to use the term “illegal immigrants” or its shortened form, preferred by lunch-room lawyers and pundits, “illegals.” People aren’t illegal. Their actions can be illegal, but people themselves never are. Describing a person as illegal has got to be about the most revolting way you can possibly treat them. I’m going to stick with “undocumented” because my experience tells me it’s the most accurate way to describe them.

Here’s why: We Americans were raised to believe we are citizens because we were born here, but that is no longer true. We are citizens only if we can prove we were born here, which a shocking number of American-born people can’t do, or at least I think it’s shocking. One is shocking. If only it were just one. I go to work every day to help American citizens prove they are who they say they are. It’s literally in my job description.

The standard of proof is usually a state-issued driver’s license or identification card. When I was just a lad, it was pretty easy to get a driver’s license. I filled out an application, I took a test to demonstrate my knowledge of the rules of the road, and voila! I was licensed to drive. But now that a driver’s license is more than just a license to drive, every state of the union requires you to show documented evidence of your birth, usually a certificate issued by the state. If you lost your birth certificate or never had one, you can get a replacement, but the state usually requires you to show photo ID. How’s that for Catch-22?

Just a note here: For a lot of American citizens (way too many, again), birth records simply don’t exist. There are various reasons for this, but the most common are: the state lost the records (fire, flood, incompetence), or the parents didn’t record the birth, sometimes because the parents didn’t believe in or bother with the legal ins and outs of life, but often because they were so poor they didn’t have the resources to travel to the county seat. If you were one of those people, you could record your birth now by going to court, which takes time, money, and the stamina to jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops.

It doesn’t end with your birth certificate, by the way. To get a driver’s license you also have to prove your identity, which is different from proving your birth. Most people show a Social Security card to prove their identity. If you don’t have one, guess what you have to show the Social Security Administration in order to get one? See “Catch-22” above.

What I’m getting at is that there are way more undocumented Americans than you know. By the letter of the law that I hear practiced daily by lunch-room lawyers and television pundits, these Americans reside here illegally, because they have no documents to prove they were born here, and a lot of them would not be able to produce documents if you gave them all the time in the world to get them, because they don’t have the resources to do so.

This is relevant to the conversation about people who come to America from other countries without documents because the only thing about their situation that is different is, they weren’t born here. They came here because they wanted a better life for themselves or for their children. That is literally the American dream. Know-it-alls who say immigrants are welcome but only if they jump through the bureaucratic hoops set up to do it legally are speaking from the position of Americans who were born here.

It’s a great privilege to be born in America. You are instantly a citizen. You don’t have to do anything at all to be one. You can literally coast through every step of your life, skip school, duck out of work, do nothing at all for your community or society at large, and still be a citizen. Or, you can excel. Either way, there’s no test, or there wasn’t until you had to show your papers to get a driver’s license. (You watch; eventually American-born citizens will be swept up in these “enforcement actions” for the sole reason that they didn’t have the required documents.)

To the naturalized Americans who jumped through the hoops, good on you. You applied, you paid the money, you took the test. I admire your determination to be a naturalized citizen. I also admire anyone who has the determination to walk here from Central America, then work the rest of their life cleaning toilets in a hotel or deboning chickens in a processing plant so their children can live a longer, fuller life. Whether or not they got naturalized or got a green card, American dream achieved. Documents don’t make us Americans. Determination to live a better life in a better country makes us Americans. Kicking people out of the country doesn’t make it better.

documented | 12:19 pm CST
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Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

For about an hour this afternoon, maybe two, somebody with access to the Twitter account at the Badlands National Park became a hero on social media when she wrote several “tweets” about climate change and posted them on the park’s Twitter feed. This was kind of a big deal because the Trump administration scrubbed all mention of climate change from government web sites within hours of Trump taking office, and on Monday many government agencies were forbidden from releasing information to the public or make public appearances without authorization.

I let out a little cheer when I saw the first tweet, and I have to admit I got a little choked up when whoever it was kept it up through three or four tweets. In my mind’s eye I pictured a National Park Service ranger hunched over a computer terminal, hurriedly batting away at the keyboard in with one eye on the door, waiting for the sound of his supervisor angrily stomping down the hall to put a stop to her insolence. For some reason, I imagined it was a woman doing the rebelling.

She managed to write four or five tweets before she was stopped and the tweets were deleted. By then, everybody on Twitter was sharing the tweets, and by the time I got home I found that several people I knew of Facebook were sharing them, too.

I didn’t realize the deeper significance of what that ranger wrote until I read this from Angus Johnston, a CUNY history professor:

The quote in the tweet is from the 1916 law that established the National Park Service. Here’s a fuller version of the quote: “To conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The context for this quote is not just the future of the NPS itself, but also a Republican proposal to expedite divestment of federal land. The proposal, which already passed the House, would streamline opening up land now held by the govt to development. Dumping federal land on the cheap would be a windfall for developers and deprive the rest of us access.

The folks at @BadlandsNPS are risking their jobs to tell us that we are risking our heritage and our future. This land is our land. We must cherish it, protect it, and preserve it — unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

The tweet with which I started this thread, a quote from the 1915 law that established the National Parks Service, has been deleted. “And by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Deleted. Purged. A National Park tweeted a quote from the hundred-year-old law that established the National Parks Service, and was forced to erase it.

You want to know who these people are? This is who they are. You want to know what’s coming? They just gave you a taste. Totalitarians enforce compliance in small things because they know that small freedoms give you an appetite for bigger ones.

 

badlands | 8:47 pm CST
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Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary, putting on the good cop routine this time:

… It’s not just about a crowd size … it’s just unbelievably frustrating when you’re continually told it’s not big enough, it’s not good enough, you can’t win … I think there’s an overall frustration when you — when you turn on the television over and over again and get told that there’s this narrative that you didn’t win. … It’s frustrating for not just him, but I think so many of us that are trying to work to get this message out.

So if I understand correctly, and I’m not saying I do; I could be getting this wrong, but check me on this: The guy who announced his candidacy by saying the people who came to the United States from Mexico were rapists and drug dealers, the guy who called his opponents childish names for months on end, the guy who encouraged his followers to beat up protesters, the guy who in his inaugural address described America as a devastated wasteland wracked by carnage — that guy is frustrated and demoralized because of negativity from the press?

I’ll have to get a tinier violin than the one I already have for that guy.

whiner in chief | 9:48 pm CST
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Saturday, January 21st, 2017

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made a brief appearance this evening to give the press an update on the president’s activities, BUT FIRST! Spicer went on a four and a half minute tear, snarling and snapping at the press like a pissed-off drama queen. I’ve never seen anything like it from a White House press secretary. Full disclosure: I don’t watch a lot of briefings from White House press secretaries. Maybe they rant like petulant brats all the time. I kind of doubt it. I think that it’s usually the case that White House pressers generally are about as interesting as watching grass grow. Hence my lack of familiarity with them.

“Before I get to the news of the day,” Spicer began, looking for all the world like a pissed-off dad glaring at you from the front seat of the car after he’s just WARNED YOU FOR THE LAST TIME TO KNOCK IT OFF, “I think I’d like to discuss the coverage of the past twenty-four hours.” Then he made some wah-wah Charlie Brown teacher noise about peaceful transfer of power before launching into it: “Some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting. Two instances yesterday stand out: One was a particularly egregious example in which a reporter falsely Tweeted out that the bust of Martin Luther King Junior had been removed from the Oval Office.”

That’s Spicer’s idea of an egregious example of false reporting? That’s what makes him mad enough to use his dad voice? A tweet about the decorations in the Oval Office?

“After it was pointed out that this was just plain wrong,” Spicer continued to fume, “the reporter casually reported and Tweeted out and tried to claim that a Secret Service agent must have been standing in front of it. This was irresponsible –” and here he paused meaningfully to glare at the press “– and reckless.” Except he said that last part in all caps, “THIS WAS IRRESPONSIBLE AND RECKLESS.” I know it was all caps because he used the same tone of voice dad used when he said IF YOU MAKE ME STOP THIS CAR.

Spicer spent the next two minutes railing at the press because they reported that attendance at the inauguration seemed sparse. Photos and videos showed a national mall that was maybe half-filled and empty bleachers all along the parade route. Or, in Spicer’s view of reality: “Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way in one particular tweet to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the national mall.” He used more wah-wah Charlie Brown noise about how floor covering, fencing and magnetometers made the enormous crowds appear smaller than they were. (Magnetometers?)

But reporters tweeting photos of a half-empty mall didn’t fire up Spicer half as much as reporters tweeting out their estimations of the numbers in attendance. “NO ONE HAD NUMBERS,” he snapped, “because the National Park Service, which controls the National Mall, does not put any out.” What I hear Spicer saying is, without the National Park Service, it’s impossible for reporters to know how many people showed up.

Seconds later, Spicer estimated the numbers in attendance in probably the same way that the reporters did: “We know that from the platform, where the president was sworn in, to 4th Street holds about 250,000 people. From 4th Street to the media tent is about another 220,000, and from the media tent to the Washington Monument another 250,000 people.” (I wonder where Spicer got these numbers? They couldn’t be from the National Park Service, because Spicer just said the NPS doesn’t put any out.)

After rattling off these figures, Spicer declared, “ALL OF THIS SPACE WAS FULL when the president took the oath of office.”

Spicer must be using a definition of the word “full” that I am not able to find in any of my dictionaries. (Yes, I still use dictionaries; why don’t you?) The inauguration is one of the most well-documented events of the year. Photos and videos all showed people strolling easily across the open space at the far end of the mall. There was enough room to play a football game next to the Washington Monument. This is just straight-up gaslighting. Spicer might as well have jumped up on the podium and barked, “WHO ARE YOU GOING TO BELIEVE, ME OR YOUR LYING EYES?” And for what? Ratings? He’s upset because Trump threw a party and the press reported, as accurately as they could, that ONLY a few hundred thousand people came? His blood boils when Trump doesn’t get the ratings Spicer thinks he deserves?

Then Spicer glared deliberately at the press and announced, “This was the largest audience to witness an inauguration,” and once again he broke out his all-caps voice, “PERIOD, both in person and around the globe.” Dayum. Sorry we made you stop the car, dad.

Spicer added that Trump visited the CIA this afternoon and THEY ADORED HIM! And the president HAD THEIR BACKS! And by the way isn’t it sad that Trump couldn’t meet the CIA director because there wasn’t one because the Democrats were holding up his nomination. OH MY GOD REALLY? I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF ANYTHING LIKE THAT BEFORE except every other time a president nominated anybody at all ever.

Watching Spicer’s presser made me die of embarrassment. I literally died every single time he opened his mouth. I died a hundred times over. I am writing to you from the grave. Literally. (If Spicer can tell bold-faced lies, I can, too.)

PERIOD | 8:04 pm CST
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Friday, January 20th, 2017

I wrote this early this morning, before Trump’s inauguration:

“My biggest worry now that Trump is president is not that he’s a compulsive liar, is compromised by conflicts of interest, has appointed colossally unqualified people to head federal government agencies, and if his Twitter history is any indication, he’s kind of a jerk. My biggest worry is that conservative governments at the state level have shown every sign they won’t work aggressively to remediate climate change; in fact, they have actively worked to suppress not only remediation, but any kind of research about climate change. So it follows that the federal government under the Trump administration will follow suit. Considering that we seem to be at or near a point that will tip us into a change that will be impossible to counteract, four years could make all the difference between sustaining an environment in which we can continue to live, and polluting the environment beyond its capacity to sustain us. If conservative administrations manage to maintain their overwhelming control over state and federal governments past 2020, and there is every indication that they will be able to, the future looks very grim indeed. Not for me, personally, or my generation. It might get a little more uncomfortable for us in our declining years than usual, but we’ll be fine, more or less. The next generation, our children, will be much less fine, and it’s anybody’s guess what their children, the generation after that, face. We could have done so much to make a brighter future for them.”

In the five or ten minutes after Trump was sworn in, every mention of climate change was removed from the White House web page. Instead, the official White House policy became:

“An America First Energy Plan: For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule … The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution … The Trump Administration is also committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry.”

So much for remediation. Tipping point, here we come!

tipping point | 9:42 pm CST
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George Washington, in his farewell address:

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence … the jealously of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.

 

Washington’s warning | 12:01 am CST
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Thursday, January 12th, 2017

After dinner, we sat down to watch a recording of Trump’s press conference because there’s nothing we enjoy more than pain and suffering, and if we don’t get enough of that at work, we look for ways to inflict more of it on ourselves later. But after supper. Gotta eat supper first.

My Darling B found it on teh intarwebs, hit “play” and we hunkered down. I managed to stick with it to the end of Trump’s rambling introduction and the first two questions before I reached my breaking point. That was all the Trump I could take in audio/visual form for one day. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes. You might think I’m a bit thin-skinned, like I have a low tolerance for pain and suffering, but I think you have to keep in mind that Trump is a highly-concentrated grade of pain and suffering. A little bit of Trump goes a long way. A sliver’s a tiny thing, but get one under your fingernail and wow! You learn a whole new kind of pain. Trump’s like that.

I stopped watching and locked myself away in a separate room, but I couldn’t pull the sliver out all at once. I found a transcript of the press conference on teh intarwebs and start to read that. Didn’t finish. Probably won’t finish for weeks, because damn, that hurts. Hurts my eyes, hurts my brain, hurts every cell in my body. I think maybe it even hurts Trump to talk that way. He certainly looks like he’s in pain, doesn’t he? So I’ll be taking it in little doses, a page or two at a time, to minimize the pain and, also, because it takes that long to decipher what he’s saying. Or even some of what he’s saying. I’ll be happy with that. I wish I were around in two-hundred years to read the book historians are going to write that will somehow make sense of it. That would be fascinating reading.

Take the first seventeen words: “It’s very familiar territory, news conferences, because we used to give them on an almost daily basis.” Ouch. Much pain. Have to stop, take a break. Ow. Daily basis? Ouch ouch ouch. Kay. Lemme catch my breath. Kay. What’s next? “I think we probably maybe won the nomination because of news conferences.” Ow ow ow ow. Damn, that hurts as much as crossing the road in bare feet on a hot day. I can see it hurts him, too. I feel for him. Lying with every single breath you take can’t be easy. I’m glad there are people who can take the punishment of politics, because I couldn’t do it.

That’s enough for now. Maybe a cool beer will soothe my aching muscles and sore joints. Ow.

a sliver | 9:35 pm CST
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Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

After Meryl Streep used her acceptance speech at the Golden Globe awards to rip into Trump, she got a lot of blowback from his supporters who said that a) he was only criticizing a reporter who disagreed with him, not mocking the reporter, and b) Streep is an entertainer, not a political figure, so she should stick to acting and leave the politics to people more qualified to talk about it than she is.

I think both objections are a double-barreled load of the most rank kind of horseshit. If Ms. Streep has something political to say, she should be allowed to say it. That shit is protected by the constitution. Anybody who doesn’t like it doesn’t have to listen. Hit the mute button. Change the channel. But to suggest that she has to hold her tongue because people are tuning in to see her accept the award and say some weepy words of thanks? That is about as unamerican as it gets. Free speech, particularly political speech, is a right. Suck it up, buttercup.

That said, I frankly think Streep missed the mark. (If you’re reading this, Ms. Streep, I hope you’ll pardon my impertinence.) She said she was heartbroken that Trump mocked a reporter. If he did, that was a shitty thing to do and he has to live with that. If he didn’t, there are plenty of other things Trump does that break my heart, and bought to break every American’s heart.

Just for a start: What’s with the childish, petty, schoolyard name-calling? Hasn’t Trump got any respect for himself? He lives at the top of a skyscraper in rooms that are literally plated in gold. He’s a businessman at the top of his game, but for some reason he still feels the need to go nanny-nanny boo-boo at his opponents. It’s so boring. So ordinary. So sad.

And if I had to name another, the next thing that pops into my head is that Trump will promise us the moon, sun, and the stars, knowing full well he will disappoint us, yet believing that he will be able to sweet-talk his way out it. And maybe he will. Maybe we’ll let him. We have so far. He promised he would release his tax returns if he was elected; that’s not going to happen. He promised he would sell his business because running the country was more important; now he says he won’t do that. He promised he would build a wall and make Mexico pay for it; now he’s going to build the wall on credit, and promises that Mexico will reimburse us for it. Like the check that’s in the mail, Trump makes too many promises he has to break.

It’s going to be four years of heartbreaks, broken promises, and I know you are but what am I?

streep | 8:55 pm CST
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Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

Julian Assange, who is most infamously known as the founder of an internet clearing house for “leaked” data, appears in an interview broadcast on mainstream media to warn us all that the U.S. media is very dishonest — more dishonest than anyone knows.

Trump live-tweets the show, also using U.S. media.

There isn’t enough gin in the world to make me feel good about the idea that Trump thinks Julian Assange, abetted by Sean Hannity, is now setting the bar for honesty in this country.

dishonest assange | 10:12 pm CST
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Saturday, December 31st, 2016

For the longest time I would read Trump’s tweets, shake my head and think to myself, “Well, he can’t write one any weirder than that.” I still shake my head, but after reading a couple hundred of them, I’m a firm believer that he’ll always be able to write something more outrageous than the one before.

Yesterday, for instance, he heaped praise on Vladimir Putin, one of the many world leaders who has expressed a desire to dominate the world by crushing America. You know, as they do. Trump tweeted: “Great move on delay (by V.Putin) – I always knew he was smart!”

161230-putin-smart

Aside from the golly-gosh tone that makes this tweet sound like Trump has a man-crush on Putin, the “great move” he congratulated Putin for was Putin’s decision not to expel American diplomats from Russia after Obama expelled Russian diplomats from America, Obama’s response to Russian cyber warfare attacks focused on swinging the most recent nationwide elections. So Trump, or someone on Trump’s staff, wrote a tweet taking sides with the President of the Russian Federation over the President of the United States.

First of all, I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the idea that political discourse in America is being conducted by tweet now, partly because I feel silly even writing about “tweeting,” and partly because two of the most powerful nations on earth are using Twitter to signal their cooperation with each other.

No, really. Within the very same minute that Trump tweeted “great move” to Putin, the Russian embassy re-tweeted Trump’s tweet. That could not possibly be coincidental in any universe. The ambassador didn’t just happen to be scrolling through his Twitter feed on his iPhone at precisely that minute, see Trump’s tweet, think to himself, “Hey, I’ll bet Putin would like to see that nice tweet; I think I’ll retweet that without prior authorization,” and hit send.

Second, this is a nightmare, right? I mean, I used to have nightmares about Russia taking over the United States, but it usually started with missiles or bombers, not with a president-elect dumping on the sitting president by buddying up to a Russian leader. Instead of going out with a bang, we’re apparently going out with a handshake and a “good on ya!” instead.

As it’s now an established law of nature that Trump’s tweets can always get weirder than the ones before, I held my breath and waited to see what he would come up with to top that. In less than twenty-four hours, I had my answer: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

161231-enemies

I can only guess this is an attempt by Trump or somebody on his staff to make him appear to be magnanimous by showering love on everyone, even on his enemies and opponents, but then it goes on to smear his enemies and opponents as pathetic losers who are so discombobulated by their loss that they’re scrambling around without a clue, which kind of flushes that whole noble, forgiving spirit down the toilet.

The weirdest thing about Trump’s tweets is that I can’t imagine him with a phone in his hands, tapping on the keypad like a common prole. Until I hear otherwise, I’ll always imagine one of his minions closely listening to whatever’s coming out of his cakehole, then figuring out how to convert all that word salad it into 144-character sentences that make sense. And I usually imagine Trump sitting on the toilet, shouting through the closed bathroom door at the minion. I don’t know why. I guess I’m just weird that way.

the weirdest tweets | 9:27 am CST
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Monday, December 19th, 2016

There seems to be a lot of talk in the media (social and otherwise) about the electors and how they can “save” us from Donald Trump.

I want this to be a nightmare I will somehow wake up from, too. I’d like to say I want to wake up from it *way more* than other people do, but from what I’ve seen and heard so far, a whole lot of people are already a lot worse off than I am as a result of partisan legislation and it’s just going to get worse. It may affect me eventually, but I’m not going to pretend I’ve got the shortest, shittiest end of the stick right now. Still, I wanna wake up tomorrow and find out it was all a bad dream and we’re somehow going to get four years of someone who’s not Donald Trump.

(I’d like to dream away a whole lot of the fossils in Washington, if we’re dreaming. I’d like to wake up to a legislature that is made up of a lot fewer narrow-minded, crotchety old men whose biggest concern is making sure their party stays in power, and a president who talks like Michelle Obama. If we’re dreaming.)

That said, I don’t believe for a moment that the electors are going to “save” us from Donald Trump, no matter who or how many emails or likes or retweets they get. I’ve heard it’s not unusual for one or two “faithless” electors to change their votes, but if anybody’s hanging their hopes on the idea that more than a few electors might not vote for Trump and that it would swing the election, well, I hate to be their wet blanket, but that’s what I’m best suited for, in this case. I understand they can vote for whomever they want, and I’ve read their very reason for existence is to prevent someone unfit for office from ascending to the presidency. Even so, I haven’t read or heard or seen any signs that a large enough number of them will be “faithless” to the expressed wishes of the general public to make any difference. If they don’t vote Trump into office today, I’ll be amazed.

faithless | 6:13 am CST
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Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Woke up this morning, rubbed the sleepers from my eyes, tumbled out of the van and went staggering up the road to the office-slash-general store to get a cup of coffee.

Halfway back to our camp site I slowed to a stop as I caught sight of B standing just outside the van, binoculars in hand, getting quickly back into the van and closing the door behind her.

Turning to see what she might possibly be looking at that would make her seek the safety of the car, I noticed an elk standing among the trees. Then I noticed a couple more elk just beyond the edge of the treeline. And then, finally, I noticed there was a whole freaking herd of elk slowly making its way through the field just beyond the edge of the RV park. Okay, so I missed them at first. I bet you’re not exactly Old Eagle Eye before you’ve had your coffee, either.

We found out later that they come though almost every day. And they’re used to having lots of people around. They weren’t in the least spooked by us, and a few of them came startlingly close as they made their way through an open field to the trees on the other side.

elks

Elk, by the way, are huge. You don’t realize just how big they are until one of them is close enough to spit in your eye. Or stomp you like the bug you are.

After the excitement was over and we had all our crap packed up, we hit the road to look for some breakfast. On the way, we stopped at the entrance to Redwood National Park to take a few selfies with the notices that the park was closed due to the federal government shutdown. I was on vacation, so why did I care? Oh, I am so glad you asked. Because: Of all the places in California I’ve wanted all my life to visit, Redwood National Park was in the top five. This was my third visit to California, but only the first time I was close enough to the park to stop by. And what happens? The doot-brains in Washington get into a pissing contest and shut down everything, even the parks. When the feds shut down a park, they don’t just tell the guys in the Smokey hats to take the week off. No. They make the rangers set up sawbucks to block the entrances, then stand outside them and turn away visitors. No trees for you! Natural beauty is off limits this week! Thanks, federal government, for availing yourself of yet another opportunity to reinforce my opinion that you’re a sack of bastards.

You know what? We camped in one of your goddamn campgrounds anyway. Up yours!

government shutdown

Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. We stopped at Antlers the last night we camped in California and found three or four other campers at the site who said all the forest rangers packed up and left when the feds shut everything down. Before they left, though, they told the campers that what they didn’t see, didn’t happen. The bathrooms were open and the lights were on, so we slipped thirty bucks under the door of the office and stayed for the night. The photo I took of My Darling B expressing her outrage at The Man for shutting everything down was too good not to share it with you at this point in the story, though. Now, back to Wednesday.

We had breakfast at the Palm Cafe and Hotel in Orick, and it was amazing! Their hospitality was top-rate from the moment we walked in the door. The host greeted us right away and showed us to a table by the window in the morning sunshine where he poured us a couple mugs of hot coffee and made sure they never got cold the whole time we were there. B zeroed in on the biscuits & gravy, her very favorite thing to order any time it appears on the menu, and she was very happy with the freshly-made biscuits and generous portion of gravy she got. I had a stack of the fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever been privileged to stuff myself silly with. We were both well and truly serensified by the time we climbed back into the van to hit the road.

Welcome to OregonFrom Orick we went straight north, or as straight as the twisting road would let us, planning to make as few stops as possible until we got to Crescent City to fuel. We made a hard right turn onto State Highway 199 out of Crescent City and crossed into Oregon shortly afterwards, making a big loop just over the border through the town of Grants Pass before heading south again.

Grants Pass, by the by, is probably not a place that you’ve ever heard of but was made famous, or maybe infamous, by the initiation of Tony Roberts into a club known as Mountain Man Anonymous in 1993. To become a member of the club, Tony let one of the club members try to shoot a one-gallon fuel can off his head with an arrow. The arrow went a little south of the mark. “Surgeons removed the arrow from Anthony Roberts’ head by drilling a larger hole around the tip at the skull’s back and pulling the arrow through,” the AP story explained, which has to be the single most ewww-inducing sentence ever printed in an Associated Press news item. I used to carry it around in my wallet for years so I could read it to people just to watch them squirm.

We did not plan to go to Grants Pass just so I could be in the place where this happened; it was just a lucky accident.

We made one stop at Medford to visit the Apocalypse Brewery, but they weren’t open, darn it, and didn’t open until four o’clock, too late for us to hang around and still make it to the show in Ashland we were headed for, so I can’t say anything about their beer, too bad. If you go looking for it, it’s really hard to find because it’s at the back end of a business park in what looks like a U-Store-It unit. Don’t give up until you check behind the fast-food store.

Caldera Brewery Ashland OROnward to Ashland where, after driving all freaking day, we stopped for a much-deserved beer and some food at Caldera Brewing, a brewpub in a cavernous metal barn where hundreds if not thousands of beer bottles are lined up on shelves up the wall. I spent way too much time searching them to see if I could find two that were alike, then gave up after the food arrived.

Before heading into town to see the show, we checked in at Glenyan campground, an old KOA that still has the easily recognizable teepee-shaped front office. I still feel a happy little twinge of nostalgia whenever I see one of those. My family used to stop at KOAs whenever we went on our annual winter camping trip to the warmer climes of the southern states. A lot of the campsites at Glenyan were occupied by big RV trailers, most of them with pop-outs and most of them more or less permanently affixed to the property, making the tightly-packed grounds seem even cozier, but we were there just to stay the night. All we wanted, really, was a place to park and go to sleep. They let us use the rec room to charge our phones and tablets even though everything else was shut down or turned off, so bonus points, Glenyan, and thanks!

The show we were going to see in town was Cymbaline, just one of the many shows being staged at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival. We picked Cymbaline because we hadn’t seen it before and because it was presented on their Elizabethan stage, an open-air theater encircled by the audience seats, sort of like the old Globe Theatre in London. Figured that would be a more authentic Shakespearian experience, somehow.

There was a stage just outside the theater where a local and apparently well-loved band was performing a few of their own numbers just prior to the start of Cymbaline, so we hung around outside the doors to see what they were like. I’m not sure how to describe their music without resorting to clichés like “drug-induced” and “hippy-dippy weirdo with a side order of dissonance.” I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I can’t say it bothered me, either. Mostly, I was just bored with it. Not so the gathered crowd; they lapped it up and cheered for more, which made me feel as though I was somehow missing something. I kept listening for it, whatever it was, but I never got it.

Because the theater was open to the weather, naturally it rained on us. Quite a lot. We had seats right up front by the stage, which would have been the greatest if they hadn’t been out in the middle of the open roof. “I’m sure it’s going to stop any minute now,” B kept saying to me, as we were slowly being soaked through to our bones, and once or twice it did seem to be letting up just a bit, but then it would start coming down again, and of course it seemed like it was coming down a little bit harder, but that was probably only because we were already wet, chattering and miserable.

We eventually found an usher and begged him to change our seats for a couple in the shelter of the balcony, which would’ve been great if we weren’t already sodden as disrags, but since we were, we slowly froze all the way through to our cores as the first two acts played out. At intermission, we ducked out to the car, cranked up the heater as high as it would go and headed back to camp where we huddled together in a tightly-knotted ball under the quilts. I didn’t start to feel warm again until just before daybreak.

California Day 6 | 8:06 pm CST
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Thursday, February 28th, 2013

neenerHave you stockpiled supplies for The Day After The Sequester? Because that’s tomorrow, you know. If you didn’t have the foresight to make sure there were a couple extra cases of gin, whiskey and vodka in your basement, you messed up big time. I’m not coming home without a 2-liter bottle of soda water and a glacier-sized bag of ice from the corner store so that, when the power goes out at midnight, I’ll be on my second or third mixer. Then as the house slowly cools because the furnace isn’t running and the sun rises on chaos in the streets, I’ll just snap a nipple over the mouth of a vodka bottle and nurse myself into oblivion. With any luck, an alcohol-induced coma will force me to stop wondering how our country ended up being run by a pack of infants.

“Your plan to balance the budget is stupid!”

“No, your plan is!”

“Nuh-uhhh! Yours is the stupid plan!”

“I’m rubber, you’re glue, stupid!”

*sigh* Pass the whiskey.

infants | 5:59 am CST
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Saturday, January 19th, 2013

I’m not sure I understand one of the arguments against the regulation of guns. Help me out here.

I’ve read on teh intarwebs that The Most Holy Second Amendment says that we, the people, should all be allowed to have guns so we can shoot tyrants. Either my copy of the bill of rights is completely different from everyone else’s, or it’s the same but I’ve had a stroke that swapped around the meanings of all the words in my head, because I don’t see how the second amendment says that at all. There’s something about a militia, security, bearing arms, but no mention of shooting tyrants.

Assuming that it does, though, and that a citizen’s right to own as many guns as he wants of any kind is absolute: What, exactly, is the objection to registering guns? The one I’ve heard used most often is, if we let the government keep a list of everyone who owns guns, then the guns can be speedily taken away when the tyrants take over. But if one of the reasons for owning a closet full of guns is shooting tyrants, then when the tyrants show up to take the guns, wouldn’t they just get shot? Or am I not understanding how the ‘shoot the tyrant’ thing works?

what then | 10:09 am CST
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Saturday, January 12th, 2013

There are lots of reasons I’d rather not argue about guns — excuse me, sorry, I didn’t mean to say “argue,” I meant to say “join the conversation about guns.”

It’s not that I don’t like guns. I do. I’m a gadget geek all the way down to my bones. As far as I’m concerned, guns in almost all their incarnations are some of the coolest gadgets ever contrived by the human mind. They’re shiny; the best ones have lots of moving parts; they make enough noise to thrill just about anybody; and, if you have a really good gun and you practice every day, you can hit the bull’s eye of a target a mile away. Don’t try to tell me that’s not cool, because I won’t listen.

On the flip side, most guns are made to do just one thing: Kill people, immediately, from a safe distance. Not cool at all. A very douchey thing to do, when it comes down to brass tacks. If you want to kill someone, man up and do it with your bare hands. Argue all you want about how you need to kill people with a gun, but I won’t listen to that, either.

Which brings me to the most important reason I’d rather not argue about guns: I don’t want to get shot. Arguing about guns seems to elevate the blood pressure of the people doing the arguing. I’m not saying there’s going to be a shooting in every argument, I’m just saying it’s a lot more likely in a heated argument where you can be pretty sure at least one side has a gun. You can just have that argument between yourselves while I go play with my toys in my basement lair. You’re always welcome to join me, of course. Don’t bring your gun, though.

That said, I’m going to argue anyway. Shoot me.

My argument, in fact, is with Thomas Jefferson, who gets dragged into this “conversation” by way of his famous quote about the tree of liberty:

God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

It’s a strange quote to invoke, not least because I would think that patriots wouldn’t like it implied that they’re full of the same kind of shit you’d find in tyrants. It’s one of those metaphors that sounds all lofty and highfalutin, but only if you don’t think about it too much.

If you’re going to quote one of the founders in support of your argument in favor of taking up arms against the government, it seems to me that Jefferson is probably not your best choice, either. You might consider quoting somebody like Washington instead. A guy who will sneak up on the enemy in the middle of the night and kill them in their sleep, on Christmas, carries a little more weight than a career politician who picks up a pen instead of a gun and writes a few grand words now and then about how great it would be if somebody else did the rebelling. There’s my two cents on that.

The rebellion Jefferson was talking about in this quote above is not the American revolution, but Shay’s Rebellion. Shay led a bunch of armed citizens on a raid of a federal armory. He gets a lot of credit for moxie, but his rebels got stomped like bugs, and Shay’s Rebellion, instead of warning the country’s rulers not to fuck with armed citizens, pushed them instead in the direction of a stronger federal government. Maybe I’m getting the wrong message here, but I feel like that’s a story you’d want to stay away from if you’re arguing for less government, particularly when, four years later, Washington used his newly-ratified constitutional powers to stomp some more rebels in the Whiskey Rebellion and, not incidentally, make him more badass than before.

It seems to me that armed uprisings aren’t all that Jefferson seems to think they’re cracked up to be. I wonder how he’d feel about rebellions if he’d fought in one? I could be wrong, but maybe he’d have put it the way Major General Smedley Butler did:

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

Butler was a badass Marine. And a two-time Medal of Honor winner. And his name was Smedley. Nuff said.

smedley | 8:35 am CST
Category: Big Book of Quotations, daily drivel, yet another rant | Tags:
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Monday, December 31st, 2012

Peter Sagal: I want to hear your observations, diplomatic as I’m sure they will be, about the differences between the British and the American system [of politics].

Sir Peter Westmacott: Well, you did set up a political system all those years ago which I think was probably designed to ensure that something you rather unkindly called ‘tyranny’ could not be imported across the ocean. So, you set up a system designed not to work, as I understand it.

Sagal: That’s pretty much the idea, yeah.

from Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!

 

differences | 4:02 pm CST
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Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney make me want to cry too, Abby.

tired of bronco bama & mitt romney | 6:04 pm CST
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Thursday, October 18th, 2012

I watched the presidential debates Tuesday night, not because I was interested in listening to the same old crap coming out of the mouths of the candidates but, honestly, because I felt guilty about not taking a more active part in the democratic process. What did I learn? Something very important, really. It turns out I can’t stand either one of the candidates for president.

This is no surprise, by the way. I did not tune in to the debates thinking that either one of them would change my mind on anything. I’m not likely to vote for the smug, self-important Republican candidate any more than I’m likely to vote for the disconnected, blah blah Democratic candidate. Neither one of the choices who get top billing fire me up, and the other candidates (Quick! Name one!) leave me just as indifferent, but there’s enough of my fifth-grade teacher’s civic pride stuck in my hindbrain to make me feel bad that I don’t at least pretend to pay attention to what’s going on in the national political realm. Also, I knew My Darling B wanted to watch, so I fired up a laptop, found a good live feet on teh intarwebs and plugged in a set of external speakers so we could watch from the sofa with a couple cold beers.

Thank goodness for alcohol, that’s all I’ve got to say.

Is there currently a more uninspiring speaker in the political area, other than Reince Priebus, than our sitting president? This question has come up in every administration since G.H.W. Bush (without the part about the guy with the made-up name) and the answer, every time, has been “no.” Sometimes Mr. Obama can rev up a crowd, but whatever makes the magic happen seems to be dependent on the barometric pressure, or the pizza he ate. The pundits all seem to think he did rather well on Tuesday, but I was watching and it looked to me as if his performance was at best lackluster. If I’d been standing where he was standing I would’ve punched that Romney guy right in the nose on at least three different occasions. Bam! “Who’s a failure now, punk, huh?” If Mr. Obama had done that, I’d respect him a lot more today.

I’ve got to admit, Mr. Gotta Have The Last Word put on a pretty good show. Too bad I can’t believe a single thing he says, because in order to do that he would have to tell us how he thinks he’s going to balance the budget. “I know how to do it,” he kept saying, “I’ve done it before and I can do it again!” But he never explained how he would herd the cats in Congress together to make that happen. Every president since Jimmy Carter has said he’s going to balance the budget, but from what I can remember off the top of my head the only one who pulled off a budget surplus was President Gropius Maximus. I’m pretty sure that was done with smoke and mirrors, though, because how can you balance a trillion-dollar budget? Anything with the word “trillion” in it isn’t a budget. It’s an accounting nightmare.

That wasn’t what bugged me most, though. What bugged me most was the countdown clocks. Did you see the countdown clocks? If you did, would you please tell me what they were for? They didn’t seem to be there for the benefit of the candidates. No matter how bitterly they complained about the other guy’s time, each of them was loath to stop rambling when they could plainly see on any one of the dozen or so clocks in the room that the countdown had reached zero, and the moderator was just as reluctant to mention it to either of them. What were those clocks for? I never did figure it out.

There’s one more presidential debate on the calendar, but I’m not sure that all the beer in Milwaukee would make me feel numb enough to sit through it.

debates | 5:45 am CST
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Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

I would be such a terrible moderator for presidential debates.

“Let’s stay on topic, please.”

“Would you please answer the question, sir?”

“Stick to the facts without trying to spin them, please.”

“Hold on: Do you have any statistics on that?”

“Time, sir.”

“Time, gentlemen.”

“Time, goddammit, time! TIME!”

moderation | 5:39 am CST
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Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

I got a phone call from a moocher this morning. Stand on a street corner with a cardboard sign, or make the most of technology and call me on the phone; either way, you’re just a moocher if you’re begging me for money.

It was so unusual for the phone to ring any time before nine o’clock that I picked it up, in contravention of my rule never to answer the land-line because only telemarketers call us at that number. We keep a land-line only because I’m stuck in the past and have an old rotary phone. I can dial it, and the handset has the reassuring texture and heft of bakelite that can’t be faked by any plastic phone. Also, it’ll work when the power goes out, and it weighs in at about ten pounds. Clock somebody over the head with that and they’re going down! You may be able to tuck a cell phone in your pocket and use it to make calls from anywhere, but as self-defense weapons they suck.

Anyway, I answered the phone even though I knew in the back of my mind that I really shouldn’t have. The caller asked if My Darling B was home, and I gave the usual response to that question when asked by a voice I wasn’t familiar with: She’s not available right now. May I take a message?

“Are you a member of the household?” There’s another red flag that you’re talking to a telemarketer. But I thought I’d play along with him for the moment, so I said yes.

“Well, then I can direct this call to yourself,” he said cheerily. Sounds like somebody didn’t pay attention in English when they were studying the use of the reflexive, assuming students even study English in school any longer. A lot of the e-mail I get seems to suggest they haven’t for years, or, if they do, the bar is set so low that Tyrion Lannister would have trouble limboing under it. (Geek joke, sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

“I’m calling on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,” he began, “and this call will be recorded for training purposes. Did you know that for only twenty-five dollars —”

I stuck with him that long only to make sure I wasn’t missing out on an opportunity to take part in a national poll, which I wouldn’t miss for anything, given they’re much more significant than my one paltry vote. As soon as he flipped up his little cardboard sign (I WORK FOR POLITICIANS PLEASE HELP GOD BLESS), I dropped the handset in the cradle without a word.

You need twenty-five dollars? Go ask your lobbyists.

moocher | 9:51 am CST
Category: current events, daily drivel, entertainment, messing w/telemarketers, play, yet another rant | Tags:
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Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but apparently there’s this election coming up? If you haven’t heard, then I’m just going to assume you don’t have a television or radio and you live miles from anyone who does and you don’t have a car and you never talk to anybody and, as far as you’re concerned, the rest of the world can go to hell and you’re never coming down out of your tree again. Did I get it right? Would you mind if I climbed up into the tree next to yours? Just for a little while. You can show me how to hunt for squirrels and then I’ll go find a tree far away from yours, promise. Just don’t make me stay here and listen to Romney and Obama and Ryan and Whatshisname bicker until November. I can’t take two more months of their crap.

can’t wait till it’s over | 5:35 am CST
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Monday, June 11th, 2012

Heard this on the radio this morning: “If you’ve ever wanted to give money to a politician, but you couldn’t get to your bank or your checkbook, you may soon be able to make a donation over the phone.” Well, thank goodness we will soon have another way to fork over our money to politicians! Why has it taken so long, anyway? You’d think that, by now, they would’ve figured out every single possible way to make that happen, and yet they somehow missed credit card payments over the phone. Bet that was a facepalm moment.

payout | 5:34 am CST
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Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

MRRRR! MRRRR! MRRRR!

This has been a test of the State of Wisconsin electoral system. In the event of an actual election, everyone would have been able to cast their votes before a winner was declared, and candidates for office would have remained in the election until all the votes were counted. This has only been a test.

MRRRR! MRRRR! MRRRR!

test | 5:39 am CST
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Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Broccoli. I can’t open a newspaper, switch on the radio, or surf the internet without being reminded of the wisdom of supreme court justice Antonin Scalia, who wonders if the federal government will be forcing us all to buy broccoli soon.

Gee, Mr. Scalia, would that really be so bad for anybody? Considering what the federal government can already force me to do – fork over thirty percent of all the money I make every year, submit to a search every time I want to get on a commercial plane, pick up a gun and kill people – it would seem to me that making us all buy broccoli is, excuse the mixed metaphor, small potatoes.

mandate | 11:30 am CST
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Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Leaders of various evangelical groups gave their endorsement to Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, because he’s the tall, dark stranger they would most like to have a fling with before resigning themselves to political marriage with Mitt Romney.

I promise I’m not making that up. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, figures that, “before we marry the guy next door, don’t you think we ought to have a fling with a tall dark stranger and see if he can support us in the manner to which we’d like to be accustomed? And if he can’t, we can always marry the steady beau who lives next door.”

Well, naturally! You might have been going steady for years, and you might be perfectly satisfied that he’s the one for you, but you sure don’t want to go into marriage without knowing what you might have had. If you do, you’ll only spend the rest of your life wondering, right? And, as Mr. Land pointed out, maybe that tall, dark stranger will turn out to be loaded with cash!

But, if he’s not, if it turns out he just wanted to boink you before moving on to his next conquest, well, you’ve always got the steady, dependable guy next door to fall back on. It’s win-win!

So have a good time partying with that Santorum guy, evangelicals! And when you wake up tomorrow morning, see his head on the pillow next to yours and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?” you don’t have a thing to worry about! There’ll always be Romney, the steady beau, waiting to forgive your impetuous actions and take you back.

By the way, Romney’s loaded too! Just in case you hadn’t heard.

fling | 4:38 pm CST
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Thursday, January 5th, 2012

And now, a summary of every news bulletin, editorial and talking pundit I’ve heard on the radio this week:

Monday: Caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus.

Tuesday: Caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus.

Wednesday: Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Santorum. (Even though they were tied for first. Go figure.)

Wow, am I glad that’s over.

Today, when I turn on the radio: New Hampshire? Are You Kidding Me? This is never going to end, is it?

interminable | 6:41 am CST
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Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Oh, hey, look at that, Romney won in the Iowa GOP primary. That was unexpected. Sure didn’t see that coming. What a surprise. I’m astounded.

According to The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Romney barely beat Santorum by “the tiniest of margins – eight votes.” In the whacky world of politics it’s entirely possible I’m wrong about this, but I’ve always thought that, as far as voting goes, “the tiniest of margins” would be one vote. Eight votes is tiny, I’ll grant you that, but you can’t get less than one vote, can you? Help me out here.

margin | 6:01 am CST
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Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Not that you asked, but here’s my idea for a tax plan: Everybody pays the same percentage that I pay, and when I say “everybody,” I mean corporations too because, as everyone knows, corporations are people.

This cannot possibly be class warfare. I’m asking only that everybody pay the same exact percentage of their income that I pay. Nothing could be more fair than that.

The way this will work is, each year, after My Darling B finishes filling out all the tax forms, I will post the amount paid as a percentage of income, and then you will all send in that amount. If I pay thirty-five percent, then you will pay thirty-five percent. No exceptions, no special deductions, no bullshit loopholes like, “My income’s only a dollar a year because I’m the CEO … and my annual hundred million dollar bonus isn’t technically part of my salary.” If you’ve got money coming in, they call that income. It’ll get taxed just like my income does. Cough it up.

Or, we could turn it around: I pay the same percentage as a corporation that offshores its assets, which, I believe, is zero, or so close to it as to make no difference. Either way, I’m good.

tax | 6:31 am CST
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Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

To The Editor:

In your editorial comment, Capitol Common Sense (Oct 11, 2011), you wrote:

Here’s how a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald made the argument this week for allowing concealed weapons inside the state Capitol.

“So long as the Capitol remains open, our members, their staff and the public have a right to defend themselves,” John Jagler said.

Defend themselves? What about the right of members, their staff and the public to a safe environment?

We backed concealed carry in Wisconsin … Under the law … Municipalities can prohibit weapons in government buildings … weapons can’t be banned from parks and public grounds.

At least John Jagler was being consistent. If legislators believe that the citizens of Wisconsin are responsible enough, given some training, to carry concealed weapons, then why should there be a prohibition against carrying weapons into the capitol? Or any other place, for that matter? If a citizen is deemed responsible enough to carry a concealed weapon into a public park, why not a public building? And certainly anyone should be able to carry concealed weapons into the very building where the legislature that availed us of this right carries out their daily labors.

But if the Editor objects that carrying concealed weapons into the capitol will transform it into an unsafe environment for the legislators, their staff and the public, then why does the Editor endorse a policy of carrying concealed weapons anywhere else? How is the capitol less safe than other public buildings and lands when citizens bring concealed weapons into them? How is the public endangered in a capitol where concealed carry is allowed, yet somehow safe in a public park where concealed carry cannot be prohibited? I would very much like to know how you justify one, but not the other.

consistency | 7:11 pm CST
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Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Well, I’m stuck. I have no idea what to write about. Whenever I try to think of a subject worth writing about, Michelle Bachmann pops into my head. Talk about writer’s block. It doesn’t get any more blocked than that.

I had the same thing when Donald Trump was running for president. Whenever I tried to focus my thoughts on something I could only get so far, and then Trump! Totally blocked. It was maddening.

We’ve got this idea that anybody can grow up to become president, but really, come on. This has got to stop.

blocked | 9:05 pm CST
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Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

We finally have a law allowing everyone in Wisconsin to stuff handguns down their pants if they want to. This is so very important that the fine people of our state legislature passed this law before they passed a budget.

And of course the law comes with the usual restrictions: You can’t take a gun into a courthouse, or into a school, or past the security checkpoints in an airport. I don’t get that. People who want to carry a concealed handgun have to undergo a background check and must show they’ve been trained, whatever that means. So they’re licensed, they’re trained and they have no criminal record. What’s the reason for restricting them?

bang | 6:36 pm CST
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Saturday, May 28th, 2011

This literally makes my head hurt: Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, listening to testimony regarding man-made climate change, asked a witness if any thought were being given “to subsidizing the clearing of rain forests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?” Ouch. Really? Ouch. Yes, really. Ouch.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not climate change is being aggravated by human activity, I thought that everybody that’s ever been to school knew that trees take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. I thought everybody knew that trees store carbon dioxide, but emit it as soon as you kill them by cutting them down. I thought everybody knew that there is no way to dispose of a tree that does not emit carbon dioxide.

I thought every person with a basic grade-school education knew these facts. I’m pretty sure I learned about photosynthesis as early as third grade, and I know they threw it at us more than once in grade school, junior high and high school. Just as an aside, it seemed like every time somebody made a film about photosynthesis, and it felt like they did that about once a week, they sent it to our school to try it out on us. Which is why I kind of assumed that anybody with a grade-school education had heard of photosynthesis, but now I’m not so sure.

Maybe Congressman Rohrabacher is not an educated person. Or he went to school but he was sick the day they explained photosynthesis. Or he was there and he read it, but he didn’t believe it. Or, the teachers at the school he went to didn’t explain it because of budget cuts, or because they didn’t believe it, either. The possibilities are endless, really. And they still make my head hurt. Ow.

Mr. Rohrabacher doesn’t believe carbon dioxide causes global warming, as his press statement makes clear (ouch), although the rest of it is confusing. “I simply asked the witness, Dr. Todd Stern, … if he was considering a policy that would address naturally emitted carbon dioxide, which makes up over 90% of emissions.” So even though he doesn’t believe carbon dioxide is a problem, the amount of naturally emitted carbon dioxide is still a concern, for some reason. Ouch.

ouch | 9:12 am CST
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Friday, May 27th, 2011

I just heard a right-winger and a left-winger on a morning talk show debating the latest political circus acts here in the great state of Wisconsin, the most recent being the enactment of a law requiring citizens to present two forms of photo identification in order to vote, but touching on other topics such as the elimination of collective bargaining for public worker unions and the proposal to allow everyone to carry concealed handguns regardless of whether or not they’re trained to use them. The left-winger and the right-winger had nothing new to say, really; I’ve heard the party positions so many times that it doesn’t make me think about the issues so much as it just pisses me off, so I don’t know why I even listen to their crap any more.

The legislature virtually eliminated collective bargaining because, as the governor repeated endlessly, the state is broke. The voter ID law was enacted to eliminate voter fraud. Oddly, there’s very little evidence of voter fraud in Wisconsin. Evidence from the recent recount backs this up and suggests, in fact, that the procedures used by clerks and poll workers to handle ballots are pretty sloppy, but yeah, let’s enact a multimillion-dollar voter ID law.

Hey, I thought we were broke.

I’m sick and tired of that refrain. State government is not a business. Legislators can raise revenue, or they can lower spending, but the state cannot go broke and there’s no semantic issue of laws being the product, or our vote giving us the same kind of choices that consumers get. I’m a voter, not a consumer, and elected officials are not offering us a product that we have any choice in buying because voting one legislator out of office so that another one can shove his product down our throats is not a choice. They’re not asking us for our input any more, they’re telling us what we have to buy. That’s not business.

And the idea that requiring us to show ID to vote is somehow reasonable because businesses ask us for ID when we cash a check doesn’t wash with me, either. First, same reason as above: The government is not a business. I’m not cashing a check, I’m voting. I should be able to walk in and say ‘aye’ and walk out again. That’s voting. Having to prove who I am before I am even allowed to speak is, well, you know what that is. And if your argument is that a vote is so much more important than cashing a check that I should be in favor of more ID, not less, then my argument right back at you is, if it’s that important, then you shouldn’t be asking for an ID card that anybody with a computer printer can make counterfeit of. A nationwide database of every citizen’s DNA would be the only sure-fire way of proving our identities. Would you be willing to have your throat swabbed every time you cast a vote? Don’t even think of saying yes.

Second, have these legislators even been to a store lately? I haven’t presented my ID card to make a purchase by check or charge in I don’t know how long. Nobody asks me to show ID any more. Card goes in, money comes out. The checker at the Menard’s doesn’t even look at me when I pay with a card.

Third, if the state’s going to require that we present two forms of photo identification in order to vote, then they damn well better provide each and every voter with two kinds of photo ID free of charge. make it possible for every last citizen to acquire two forms of photo ID free of charge. As it is now, a driver’s license, the de facto photo ID issued by the state, costs thirty-five bucks. So now we’re required to pay a fee in order to vote. Ever heard of a poll tax?

Lastly – well, no, not lastly. I’m sure I can think of lots more, and though this may be last for now it is certainly not least: Requiring people to show ID whenever a government employee asks for it is the kind of shit we used to make fun of the Soviet Union for, yet for reasons that I cannot grasp, most Americans think this is okay now. It’s so weird. I enlisted to fight the Cold War, and was told that we won. How did I wake up in the Twilight Zone?

[edited to add the part about free voter IDs – and a tip o’ the hat to My Darling B!]

twilight | 12:00 pm CST
Category: current events, daily drivel, yet another rant | Tags:
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Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Nathan Bootz, Superintendent of Ithaca Public Schools, in an open letter to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in the Gratiot County Herald

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

Fucken A well told.

consider | 7:37 pm CST
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Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Bin laden bin laden bin laden. Bin laden bin laden. Osama bin Laden. Bin laden bin laden osama bin laden.

“Osama bin laden bin laden osama bin laden,” osama bin laden bin laden bin laden.

Osama bin laden bin laden osama osama bin laden bin laden. Bin laden bin laden osama bin laden.

Osama. Osama bin laden.

Bin laden osama, osama bin laden, laden bin osama, bin osama laden.

Osama. Bin. Laden.

Being bin Laden | 6:23 pm CST
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Thursday, April 7th, 2011

I’ve got an idea that could help government at the state and federal level break out of the Republican-Democrat gridlock we’re seeing everywhere. It’s going to sound a little weird at first, but go with me for a little bit and see if it doesn’t make some sense after all.

The trouble that I’m seeing here in our great state of Wisconsin, as well as way up at the federal government level, is that votes are split right down partisan lines, am I right? If I’m not, just pretend I am for the sake of argument because otherwise there isn’t much point to reading the rest of this post and I’ll feel like I went to the trouble of writing it for nothing.

So what I’m thinking is, why don’t we elect one Republican and one Democrat to each of the offices that are up for election? If they can’t vote along party lines they’ll have to actually work toward a solution, which I admit is such a radical idea that they may have trouble grasping the concept, but there’s an even chance they’ll eventually get the idea and maybe even fix a few of the things that are wrong with the country before lobbyists find a loophole and fuck things up again.

I know it sounds like making government bigger but that’s not at all what I’m proposing. My idea is like splitting stock. To use the senate as an example, we’ll still have two senate seats for each state, but we’ll elect one Republican and one Democrat to each seat. Each senator will have half a vote. They’d have to split the salary and benefits down the middle and time-share an office. It might be worth doing just for the fun of watching them fight over who gets to sit in the big chair.

We’d do the same thing to every other elected official. Every governor, every judge, everybody who owed their job to a slimy attack ad. They’d go from having all the political power of their parties to having virtually none, because the advantage every one of them had would be canceled out by the other wheel squeaking to be greased. Suddenly the Republicans and Democrats would all be about as powerful as the Greens.

I really don’t see a down side to this. How about you?

Gridlock | 8:13 pm CST
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Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Watching the legislature work is like watching The Three Stooges trying to fix leaky plumbing. Larry does one thing, Shemp does another, Moe wangs them both over the head with a monkey wrench, yelling “Because I said so!” and makes them do it his way. In the next scene the botched job blows up in their faces and they have to start all over again, except this time substitute Shemp with Curly just to make things even more confusing.

We’ve got this new law in Wisconsin, maybe you’ve heard of it. The governor called it his “budget repair bill” and a key piece of it dismantled the state worker’s union, which he said time and again was necessary to balance the budget. Trouble was, he couldn’t get it through the senate because half the Stooges fled the state to keep Moe from bashing them over the head with it.

As long as the bill had all that stuff about the budget in it, he needed all the Stooges to call a vote, but if he tore off the part about the budget, all he needed was Larry and Shemp. Curly could hop around in the corner and holler “Whoowhoowhoo!” all he wanted. And he did, but the rest of the Stooges voted to pass the bill.

Then Moe signed the bill and we had a new law … or maybe not. The various Stooges can’t seem to agree on this. It was published on Friday in spite of a court order barring its publication. I’m not sure why it has to be published; I thought an act of congress became a law when the executive signed it, or at least that’s what I learned watching Schoolhouse Rock.

But apparently to make it the law of the land it has to be published, whatever that means. Anybody can “publish” it by standing on a corner and reading it aloud, or printing it on handbills that they then staple to telephone poles, which would suit the Three Stooges theme just fine here. The legal definition of “published” seems to be up for grabs, though. At least one news story I read said it had to be published in a newspaper. A newspaper? In 2011? Is that really what the state statute says? I don’t know; I couldn’t find it.

And it appears to make no difference. The administration (Moe) is going ahead as if this new legislation is law (“Because I said so!”) and will let the courts sort out whether or not they checked all the boxes that make it legal even though they’ve done an end-run around a legal injunction to show how much stock they put in the court (“Whoowhoowhoo!”).

The pie fight starts on Monday.

Stooges | 10:37 am CST
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Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Our Saturday morning routine has altered slightly. For months it was: farmer’s market for breakfast & shopping, then co-op for groceries, then book store, then home. But for the past few weeks it’s been: farmer’s market for breakfast & shopping, then march to capitol square chanting “Recall Walker!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” with hoards of angry protesters, then stop at the co-op for groceries, then home. It’s a subtle change, but it seemed significant enough to mention.

I’m impressed that they’re still marching and rallying, to tell you the truth. The rally today wasn’t as big as last week’s, so the rally organizers, whoever they are, don’t seem to have been able to keep the amount of enthusiasm at the levels we’ve seen before. The crowd today filled up the corner of the square facing King Street, but when we walked around the square we didn’t see many people anywhere else on the sidewalk or along the terrace. There was a small knot of people at the top of State Street, but that was it.

My Darling B and I marched with the parade of veterans that gathered on Library Mall at the UW campus up State Street to the square, up Carroll Street and Main Street to the King Street intersection where the rally was held. We wore our old fatigue jackets because we got the impression there’d be a lot of veterans there, and there very well might have been, but only a handful of them wore anything that looked like uniform jackets or fatigue shirts. We sort of stuck out, so much that I was approached by a reporter from the Wisconsin State Journal who wanted to ask me about my impressions of the rally. I was going to tell her no comment, but then I reconsidered and answered her questions. Maybe she’ll quote me accurately and maybe she won’t, but if she doesn’t I’ve got her business card.

Saturday Morning Rally | 4:22 pm CST
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Monday, March 14th, 2011

While I was out for my lunch-hour walk around the neighborhood, I stopped in at a local bakery to pick up an after-lunch snack and heard the gal behind the cash register, who was talking with the guy ahead of me, pass a disparaging remark about Republicans. I knew her from previous visits, so when she turned to me I said huffily, “Hey! I heard that! I could be a Republican, you know!”

“I know,” she answered me, “and I don’t care. That’s the beauty of living on the East Side of Madison.”

nyuk nyuk nyuk

Ride the Elephant | 7:22 pm CST
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Sunday, March 13th, 2011

image of rally in Madison WI 3-12-11

My Darling B and I spent all day yesterday in downtown Madison and all we saw was a lousy two hundred thousand union supporters rallying around the capitol! Man, did we feel ripped off!

We started off the day normally enough, washing up and heading into town to stock up our pantry with various and sundry items from the Dane County Farmer’s Market and, while we were there, we filled our bellies with a delicious breakfast: burritos, hash browns and a few leafy greens. Leafy greens might sound a little unusual to those who have not eaten at a farmer’s market. I thought they were at first, too, but after you’ve eaten breakfast at a farmer’s market for a couple years you not only get used to it, you feel a little guilty if you don’t eat your leafy greens, like maybe you’re cheating. “Hiding your leafy greens under the table mat again?” “No, Mom, honest!”

While My Darling B was shopping I had to run down the street to get first aid for an eyeglass emergency. At first I was just going to duck into Dorn’s Hardware to see if they had any of those little screwdrivers you can attach to your keyring. That would’ve been the quickest and easiest way for me to fix my glasses, if Dorn’s had been open, but they were not, so I ran shuffled on down to State Street to an optometrist’s shop on the intersection with Gorham Street. I’m going to give C. G. Schanel & Associates a plug because not only was he the most pleasant optometrist I’ve even dealt with, he didn’t just hand me a screwdriver and leave me to fix it myself. Instead, he took my eyeglasses over to his little workbench, made sure everything was put together and lined up correctly, cleaned off the glasses and handed them back to me at no charge. “Just come back to me when you need glasses,” he said with a big smile. And I will.

State Street was a steady stream of people walking up to capitol hill and by the time got back to the neighborhood where the farmer’s market is held I was starting to worry that I would never find My Darling B in the crowd. I milled around for a bit in the parking lot, then went into the market itself and looked around, but eventually had to admit to myself that I was never going to spot her and, as it turned out, I was right. She was going to spot me. She came out of the ladies’ room just a fraction of a second after I came out of the men’s room and chased me down. So we didn’t have to wade into the mass of people congregating around the square.

The first time we showed up there it must’ve been about ten o’clock. There were already quite a lot of people crowding the sidewalks around the square, so many that they were already filling the street as they walked around in the customary counterclockwise direction. I wonder who started that, and why? Anyway, we milled around for a bit, collecting pro-union buttons and checking out the signs before we were swept up by the crowd and marched hand-in-hand up Carroll Street to the top of the hill where Hamilton intersects at an angle with the square in front of the Inn on the Square. That’s where we backed up to the curb to wait for the tractors.

This was what My Darling B was most interested to see this morning. Farmers brought about two-dozen tractors (and the inevitable manure spreader — that was sort of required, wasn’t it?) to parade around the square. Real farmers. We knew several of them from the farmer’s market. The parade was headed by an old green fire truck and I’m pretty sure I saw Dan Nichols in the bunch that stood on the back shouting, “This Is Grassroots!” The crowd quickly took up the chant and amped it up to a deafening roar.

As the tractors came up Hamilton Street one by one and turned to head down Main Street at a slow crawl the crowd raised a cheer to each one of them, and when a farmer raised a hand in salute or otherwise acknowledged the crowd they were rewarded with a round of “Thank! You! Thank! You! Thank! You!” from the crowd. It was quite a moment.

After the last tractor turned down Main Street the crowd closed in behind it and marched along in the road. I don’t think we got any farther than halfway down the Pinckney side of the square in a half-hour of marching before we decided to mill around some and see what was going on. What we found was mostly a hundred thousand or so people milling around to see what was going on. Various people were making speeches from the platform set up near the base of the stairs on the State Street corner of the square, but we were too cold by that time to stand still and listen to them, and when My Darling B suggested we pop into Merchant’s to warm up a bit I eagerly agreed.

Merchant’s is a relatively new restaurant on the high-visibility corner of Pinckney and Doty, right across the street from Johnny Delmonico’s. We snagged two stools at the bar and, a few moments later, the attention of the bartender to beg him to fortify us against the cold. B was somehow hungry already, and as soon as she said that I was, too, so we split an open-faced sandwich and chased it with our favorite libations, a Hopalicious from Ale Asylum for me and a glass of Malbec for B. With a fresh supply of antifreeze coursing through my veins I was able to take my coat off … thirty or forty minutes later. I was really cold.

While we enjoyed our brunch, demonstrators streamed past the windows, most notably a long line of bright yellow cabs from the Union Cab Company, honking their horns in syncopation with the chant, “This is what democracy looks like!” (an earworm that no one in Madison can get out of their heads these days) and waving hand-made signs from the windows. When the red light at the corner of King Street stopped traffic, cab drivers would pop out of almost ever cab to take photos of the line. You can google “union cab madison wisconsin” and come up with any number of photos of the cabs lined up in the street yourself right now.

As our brunch came to an end we had to decide: go home, or stay to witness The Return of the Wisconsin Fourteen? The wouldn’t make their appearance until three o’clock, so we would have to find something to do for a while. We debated for a little while longer over another round of bellywarmers, just to keep the juices flowing in the cold, don’t you know, then wrapped ourselves up and headed back up to the square. After a quick stop at a book shop where My Darling B searched but was sadly unable to find just the right kind of journal she was looking for, we plowed back into the crowd to see what we could see.

Not much, as it turned out. It was about two-thirty and by this time the square was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. I’ve read estimates of the crowd at about one hundred thousand. Pssht. If it was anything less than a quarter million, I’m a greedy union thug. Oh, wait. I am. Well, I still say it was closer to a quarter million, but maybe that’s my uncontrollable need to collectively ask for too much.

And while My Darling B and I were standing on tippy-toe trying to see who was at the podium, the lady next to me nudged me with her elbow and said in a conspiratorial whisper, hooking her thumb at the gentleman standing in my way, “Do you know who that is?” He looked maybe a few years older than me and wore plain denim work clothes. Could’ve been anybody from anywhere in Wisconsin. I turned back to the lady and shook my head no. “That’s Tom Barrett,” she said. Barrett ran against Scott Walker in the gubernatorial election and lost by a narrow margin. I wouldn’t have recognized him if he’d turned around and introduced himself, but many people in the crowd reached out to shake his hand and give him their regards, and after that happened a couple dozen times the crowd itself turned their cameras from the podium to Barret, snapping away and shouting, “Hello, Mister Mayor!” If you can find any of those photos on someone’s Facebook page, you’ll probably see My Darling B and I standing right behind him.

When the Wisconsin Fourteen finally returned, they were literally welcomed by the crowd as returning heroes. The crowd was signing a hymn to their return. I swear I am not making that up. To the strains of God Bless America they marched up the stairs, took their place at the podium, and one by one thanked everyone for everything.

And of course there was Jesse Jackson. I think he stops by every Saturday now to say a prayer. This Saturday he asked us to pray for the people in Japan and even I ducked my head to thank goodness that the friends I had in Japan were okay.

Tony Shalhoub was the Hollywood star this week, a good pick, I thought. You can’t get any more native to Wisconsin than Green Bay, but I say that with a touch of bias, having grown up in Green Bay myself. He brought his sister Amy along because she’s one of those overpaid teachers you keep hearing about.

We began to make our way off the square at maybe four o’clock, cold and exhausted but happy we stayed. Being part of a crowd like that will be a memory that will stick with us for a while.

Oh, just one more thing: Cows.

Tractors. Cows. 14. A Monk. | 10:42 am CST
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Thursday, March 10th, 2011

It’s hard not to sit down and start typing out some drivel without wanting to babble about what’s happening lately in Mad Town, so I might as well surrender to the urge. You must do what you feel is right, of course.

My Darling B’s at an emergency meeting of her union as I type these words. I’m not sure what they have to talk about, other than the most immediate fact that, in the very near future, their union will be no more, same as mine, or at least that’s what I’m guessing. I suspect that most of the people I work with are in the union because we had to join the union in order to get a job at the state, and I’d back that up by betting an extra-crispy morning bun that, if the union called a general strike effective immediately, most of the people I work with would be at their desks tomorrow morning, if they weren’t scheduled to be off already.

I know I sound like a cynic. I can’t help it. It’s not that I don’t care. If we could legally strike, and if we had a strike fund, and a dozen other ifs, I might start to think that a general strike could be effective, but we don’t have those first two things, and after that the rest really don’t matter, do they? My contract says I can’t strike, and I don’t have to think about it too long to come to the realization that, if I were to join a general strike tomorrow, I’d soon be holding a pink slip for violation of contract.

True, the state made the other half of my contract, but they can change the law, can’t they? Don’t bother to answer that, they already have. It’s almost like magic. Don’t like to be burdened by annoying unfunded pension payments? Can’t stand it that the damned budget refuses to be balanced? Pesky open hearing requirements cramping your legislative style? Oh, hey, you can change the law! Who wouldn’t love being a legislator?

They’re not bothered by all those calls for a general strike, because there won’t be one. If the workers were all truly a union, if each and every last one of us refused to show up for work tomorrow morning, and we stayed away from work indefinitely, that would have one hell of an effect. Even if the state laid us all off and brought in replacements, the bureaucracy would come to a grinding halt and stay that way for weeks, because it would take I don’t know how long to train up replacements. But I won’t have to buy you that morning bun. Everybody will be pushing paper tomorrow. We all have bills to pay.

But at least tomorrow’s Friday. Woo-hoo.

Mad Union | 10:08 pm CST
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Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

There is surely some weird-ass shit going on in Madison tonight.

You might’ve heard that the senate passed the part of the so-called budget repair bill, the part that does away with collective bargaining. I don’t know understand the legislative system well enough to know how they can pass part of a bill, or how it’s even just a little bit legal for them to do it less than an hour after introducing the idea, but they did. The assembly meets in the morning to vote on it. I’m not holding my breath.

We drove down to cap square after supper because I wanted to see what was going on. I thought there’d maybe be a protest on the square, we could sing “Solidarity Forever” while waving our open cell phones over our heads, something like that. I was absolutely gobsmacked to find the doors to the capitol open and people streaming in. I thought there were strict controls to getting in, but we took a walk around the terrace and it looked to us like every single door was open. Even weirder, there were no uniformed cops inside that we could see, maybe a dozen, maybe two dozen around the terrace.

The rotunda and all the balconies were chock full o’ people when we left at about nine-fifteen, beating drums and chanting “Recall Walker” and “General Strike.” I surely hope this isn’t going to get messy.

Don’t call me Shirley | 10:14 pm CST
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Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

I’m going to call bullshit on our current economic crisis. I think I’ve done this before, but the latest round of budget cuts made by “fiscally responsible” elected officers is really starting to chap my nads and they’re already kind of tender.

The flag-pin politicians who keep repeating “we’re broke” like it’s a mantra are overlooking a key point: The government isn’t a money-making business. It doesn’t go broke. It can spend as much as it wants.

Don’t believe that? Then answer this question for me: How does the war get paid for? (“We’re at war?” “Yes, for the past ten years. Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you. Go back to sleep.”) The government literally spends more money than you can imagine on the bullets and beans to keep that war going, and a huge chunk of that money is “off-budget.” They literally pull money out of thin air!

How do they do that? I have no idea. Maybe the adage “wishing can’t make it so” is a flat-out lie, or maybe it doesn’t apply to money. But time after time politicians have waved a wand over their big magic top hat, reached inside and pulled out stack after stack of million-dollar bills. When they can do hocus-pocus like that, the argument that the government doesn’t have the money to pay for medical care or teachers’ salaries doesn’t make sense.

Another catchphrase I’m already tired of hearing: “I can’t allow the taxpayers to be on the hook for paying teachers who are not teaching.” Taxpayers are not “on the hook” for anything. Taxpayers just pay what the government tells them to. The taxpayers certainly aren’t spending the money. That’s what the government does. If anyone’s on the hook, it’s mealy-mouthed politicians. If taxpayers were the ones “on the hook,” I think you’d see some real changes to how they money was spent.

Frugality schroogality | 6:30 am CST
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Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Saith James Madison, writing as Publius to the people of New York, November 23, 1787:

The latent causes of faction are sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

And ever shall it be so.

– The Federalist No. 10

Party Politics | 6:50 am CST
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Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Get ready, I’m climbing up on my soapbox.

Manually searching people in airports is wrong first and foremost because it’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Not because it’s a health hazard, not because it’s demeaning, not because it’s worthless security theater. Those are valid concerns and I agree with them, but searching people who aren’t suspected of a crime is, at its core, a violation of a basic constitutional right. I don’t mean to belittle the fear of irradiation or the humiliation of being groped in public, but those are emotional appeals that sensationalize an argument that is already pretty sensational. Could we please stay focused on our basic Fourth Amendment rights?

At times like this I wish I’d gone into law so I’d have the education to back up my argument, but do I really need it? The Fourth Amendment is so straightforward, relying on none of the flowery language that makes some other articles and amendments of the constitution difficult to understand:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, papers, houses and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

I am an American citizen, and unless the federal government suspects me of criminal activity, they have no cause to search me. If they have cause to search me, they must present a warrant issued by a judge that states the reason they have to search me and the things they expect to find. Citizens are presumed innocent, not guilty. It’s as plain as that.

As I understand it, the only hitch to the Fourth Amendment is you. You are the barometer that courts use when defining a reasonable search, and if you submit to being searched on the excuse that “this is for the security of everyone on the airplane,” or that “if you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide,” you’re changing the definition. Scanning and groping becomes reasonable because that’s what you expect. That’s supremely important because, after the definition has shifted, we’re all stuck with it for quite a while.

Right now, the standard has been lowered to this: Whether or not you “opt out,” you have allowed that it’s reasonable for uniformed officers of the federal government to stick their gloved hands down your pants, up your bras, in your children’s crotches. I’m not trying to cast them in the role of sexually depraved monsters; they’re only doing as they were told. I’m just stating in plain language what you’re allowing them to do. You’ve allowed them to demand that citizens exhibit their feminine hygiene pads and their urostomy bags. You have even allowed them to take citizens aside to “privacy rooms” to be searched, as if that wasn’t scary at all. This is the current definition of “reasonable search” that you have all agreed to by obediently shuffling through their increasingly invasive security checkpoints.

I beg you not to let this go on because, if it does, then uniformed officers will soon be scanning and searching us before we’re allowed to get on trains and buses, using the same standards of reasonable search that will have been long established and accepted. And how long will it be after that that they’re stopping automobile traffic at checkpoints on the interstate, a federal highway system? You think that could never happen. Did you ever believe we’d have to submit to a full-body search just to travel freely inside our own country? We’re giving them our okay to do that just so we can catch our flight.

And I’m not asking you to make a big, loud show at the airport of standing on your rights. Civil disobedience doesn’t have to involve arguing with an officer who’s only doing his job, or going to jail or carrying a sign or wearing a tinfoil hat. I don’t travel by air because it would be pointless. I would never make my flight, because I won’t let them scan me and I won’t let them use their “enhanced pat-down techniques” on me. My brand of civil disobedience is as simple as that.

As long as I’m on my soap box anyway: The last time I flew, in June of 2005, I was appalled to have a uniformed officer swab my bags, searching for explosives. I was not only a citizen bearing the passport of the United States, I was traveling under the orders of the United States Air Force, a non-commissioned officer sworn to uphold the constitution. They had no probable cause to search my person or my bags, yet I was treated as if I were a criminal suspect.

Down off my soapbox now. Thanks for lending me your ear.

The Cheapening of the Fourth Amendment | 11:16 am CST
Category: current events, daily drivel, travel, yet another rant | Tags: ,
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Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

It’s National Opt-Out Day! Organizers have set up a Facebook page and a web page to enlist the public’s help in protesting the the, what shall we call it, enhanced security techniques used by TSA. I can’t wait to see how this unfolds. While we’re waiting, here’s my growing collection of links to stories that illustrate how our federal government violates, in the most demeaning ways possible, our fourth amendment rights, to say nothing of personal dignity. Enjoy!

10/20/10 | Pilot Refuses Full-Body Scan: “I’m just not comfortable being physically manhandled by a federal security agent every time I go to work.” – pilot Michael Roberts, as reported by CBS

10/29/10 | For The First Time, the TSA Meets Resistance: “I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, ‘Get new gloves, man, you’re going to need them where you’re going.'” – journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic

11/1/10 | Opt Out of a Body Scan? Then Brace Yourself: “I was marched from the metal detector lane to one of those nearby whole-body imagers, ordered to take everything out of my pockets, remove my belt and hold my possessions up high. Then I was required to stand still while I received a rough pat-down by a man whose resume, I suspected, included experience at a state prison.” – journalist Joe Sharkey, writing in The New York Times

11/4/10 | The Airport Security Grope: “As a working photographer and lecturer, I fly a lot. The escalating levels of airport security and luggage (read camera gear, not clothing!) restrictions became just another annoying aspect of air travel, a necessary trade-off for rapid access to remote destinations. But this week TSA tightened the screws a little more, and now they’ve gone too far.” – photographer George Lepp, writing in Pixiq

11/4/10 | American Airlines Pilots in Revolt Against the TSA: “There is absolutely no denying that the enhanced pat-down is a demeaning experience. In my view, it is unacceptable to submit to one in public while wearing the uniform of a professional airline pilot.” – pilot David Bates, president of the Allied Pilots Association, in a letter to members

11/12/10 | Protests Mount Over Safety and Privacy of Airport Scanners: “I don’t think anybody would argue the point that the individual risk is small. Whether it’s one in 10 million or one in 100 million, it’s very small,” [Dr. David Brenner] said in an interview. “But multiply that times 700 million people – the number of people getting on planes currently – and that’s the public health risk.” – Shots, the NPR Health Blog

11/13/10 | TSA Encounter at SAN: “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” – John Tyner, writing in his blog Insert title here

11/21/10 | TSA Strip Searched 5-year-old Boy: “Are they harassing that kid? Nice.” – YouTube video

11/22/10 | My TSA Encounter: “We shouldn’t be required to do this simply to get into our own country.” – Matt Kernan, writing in his blog No Blasters!

11/23/10 | Next step for body scanners could be trains, boats, metro: “I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to trains or maritime. So, what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?” – Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, quoted in The Hill

Group Grope! | 6:59 am CST
Category: current events | Tags:
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Friday, November 12th, 2010

Oh, hai. I don’t have the willpower to make myself drivel tonight, so let me just introduce to you John Shimkus, congressional dorkwad. He’s on a committee that listens to the testimony of people talking about global climate change, so the first thing he did was whipped out his Bible and read aloud from Matthew 12:34, “And lo, I do not hear you la la la la la.” Why do we let people like this run our country? Have we no pitchforks? Have we no torches?

john shimkus | 9:51 pm CST
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Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Okay, I voted. Can the campaign be over now? I’m so ready for it to be over.

I have no idea whether or not it was worth it, but at least I can feel as though I’ve earned the right to bitch about anything the pols do that I don’t like, and it’s an even bet there will be plenty of that. Things I don’t like, I mean. Well, bitching, too.

B and I headed out early this morning to hit the polls when they opened at seven o’clock. I voted a straight Democratic ticket. The Dems have their problems, but conservatives in this state are barking lunatics, so it was a safe bet. I have the feeling B voted the same way, but she took the time to tick the box next to each candidate’s name. She didn’t trust the machine to count it right if she didn’t. That was probably the smart thing to do.

I voted yes for the three referendums on the back of the ballot, too: “Yes” for medical marijuana, just because it pisses people off. “Yes” to float a bond for more construction on the MATC campus. Money for a trade school can’t be bad, can it? Too late if it is. And “Yes” for the infamous “Tax for Trains” to build a commuter rail line through the city, just because I love choo-choos. And maybe especially because that one pisses people off no end. I have serious doubts any of those initiatives will carry but, as I said, I wanted to be able to bitch, and will proudly slap a “Don’t Blame Me” bumper sticker on my car tomorrow.

I hope you voted.

I voted | 7:00 pm CST
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Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

image of Todd Kolosso

Riding home from work yesterday afternoon, we listened to a conversation between Ben Merens and Todd Kolosso that had us hanging on every word. Tod Kolosso is the Democratic candidate for the 5th District seat in Wisconsin, and after Merens let him spout a bunch of the usual crap about being an ordinary average guy who just wants to clean up Washington, Merens asked him: “This campaign is basically just you, isn’t it?”

“No, no, I have a staff,” Kolosso answered nonchalantly. “It’s a small staff, to be sure, but we have a fairly dedicated number of people working for us.”

There was a pause so awkwardly long here that I thought maybe the signal had been cut, and then Merens asked Kolosso, “Are you sure?”

Kolosso choked on the water he was drinking at this point before managing to sputter, “Yes, I have a campaign manager, we have a – excuse me [coughs] – we have a series of volunteers. We have a person who’s running the media end of it … I’m sorry, I got some water …”

Merens: That’s okay, drink the water. The reason I ask that is because, in the last two days, I had a chance to talk to your campaign manager, Leah Horn, who’s on her way back to Colorado, saying she’s no longer with the campaign, that there is no staff to the campaign, and to the treasurer of the campaign, who said there’s no money to the campaign, and to the Federal Elections Commission, who say they’ve written you several letters that haven’t been answered, for filing grievances, and it sounds like this is a campaign in serious trouble … there was a discussion about how forthright you’d be with the electorate about this, and there were no answers given … so I guess I’d ask you again: It sounds like this is truly Todd Kolosso for congress, that there is nobody else.

Kolosso, bless his heart, soldiered on: “Well, as I said, we certainly have staff working for us. I mean, one was in the studio earlier today, obviously. As I said, there are dedicated volunteers still working. I think what you’ve touched on specifically is the issue we’ve had a big problem [with] which is fundraising …”

And here they lapsed into a long, boring discussion about the money Kolosso tried to raise for the campaign but couldn’t before Merens went back to the question of Kolosso’s campaign manager:

Merens: But you said you had a campaign manager. She told me as she was driving out of the state heading back to Colorado …

Kolosso: She’s visiting, she’s visiting Colorado.

Now Merens wasn’t having any of it: “No, she quit,” he said flatly. “She’s no longer with the campaign. She hasn’t been paid since this summer. She was very disappointed in how the campaign has been run, and she’s not coming back.” It reminded me of the parrot sketch from Monty Python, where the man returning the parrot to the store has finally had enough of the store owner’s excuses and verbally beats him into submission: “He’s not pining, he’s passed on! He’s a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace. If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up daisies. This is an ex-parrot!”

Kolosso calmly answered him: “That’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

Merens: She didn’t seem to have any doubts when I asked her, because I asked her a couple of times. “You’re definitely leaving?” She said, “I’m gone.”

Kolosso: That’s interesting. That’s the first I heard of it. I knew she was visiting Colorado.

Merens: Okay. [pause] And what about your campaign treasurer? Vicki Mortensen said she also is now former …

Kolosso: Yeah, well, that’s a family issue. She’s a family member, so … we’ve had some internal family strife.

Merens: Her concern was that she has a reputation as a CPA that was being damaged by the way the funds were being handled by the campaign and that you weren’t forthright enough with the electorate and she said well if you don’t want to speak out about this I can’t be part of the campaign.”

And then Kolosso went back to explaining his lack of funds before Merens went to a commercial break.

Kolosso is running against the enormously powerful Jim Sensenbrenner, who will never ever be dislodged from his seat, not even by the Angel of Death, without the use of the biggest bulldozer on the planet, so it’s no small wonder Kolosso was the best the Democratic party had to offer in opposition to him.

Politics usually makes me feel like I’ve got fleas, but every once in a while we’re blessed with a moment like this and then it all seems almost worth it.

Here’s the link to the audio. The good stuff, when Merens asks, “Are you sure?” doesn’t start until 9:21.

Vote For Todd | 6:46 pm CST
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Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

image of Rob Taylor, candidate Yesterday afternoon, talk radio brought us the Constitution Party’s candidate for the federal senate seat coming open next month in Wisconsin, and we kept the radio tuned in and the volume turned up because whenever they have somebody from a political group with a name like Constitution Party or Green Party or American Liberty Party you know it’ll be worth your time listening if only for the phone calls from the Tinfoil Hat Brigade that inevitably call in, although frequently the guest himself is wearing a tinfoil hat himself. If you’re really lucky, he lunched on a nutburger and chased it with a big bowl of Froot Loops before coming on the show.

The guests I love best are the whackos who sound perfectly reasonable for the first five or ten minutes, then answer a softball question from the host with something like, “Funny you should ask that, Ben, because I was conferring only yesterday with my Octopoid friends on the Planet Numbskull via sub-space radio on this very topic …”

The callers can be either maroons or revolutionary thinkers, and I don’t mean revolutionary in the sense of new and improved, I mean it in the good old-fashioned sense of “Off with their heads!” A few of those feral humans come out of the woods every campaign season to wave their guns in the air and warn the rest of us that the end is nigh.

Sadly, the guest yesterday was not chock full o’ nuts and he left his tinfoil hat at home, if he had one. He was actually pretty boring, even when the callers tried to wind him up with questions about gay rights and abortion, two subjects that almost always do the trick. He didn’t want to talk about that; he didn’t want to talk about much of anything but what a sack of bastards all these career politicians in Washington have turned out to be. One of the callers asked him what he thought was so bad about career politicians, a question I’ve wanted to know the answer to for quite a while. Seems to me an experienced politician who knew his way around Washington would be a better candidate than a greenhorn whose priorities included advancing a bill to repeal the seventeenth amendment, one of the Constitution Party’s pet peeves, apparently. Might as well show up wearing a tinfoil hat.

His chief qualification, it turned out, was that he had no qualifications, other than he’d served as an alderman in his town, and he said he was a businessman. A whole lot of candidates have been shoving their business acumen in my face this campaign season, as if that’s something I might think would make them good representatives. Ask them how they would lower taxes and balance the budget, though, and they can’t give a straight answer no matter how simply you try to put the question. I’ve had bosses like this, both in the military and in the private sector. Funny how they’re not that much different from each other.

Our candidate from the Constitution Party kept returning to the refrain that he was just an ordinary guy who wanted to show Washington how things should be done. Maybe I’m too pessimistic for this kind of thing, but I’m pretty sure an ordinary guy from Wisconsin with no political connections who went to Washington with pie-in-the-sky ideas about balancing the federal budget would get stomped flat as a cow pat. Oh, what the hell. Let’s vote him into office anyway. How much worse could he make things?

Let’s Listen In | 6:31 pm CST
Category: current events, daily drivel, entertainment, radio, yet another rant | Tags:
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