Archive for March, 2014

If you haven’t yet caught up with a blog called “Whiskey Fire” I urge you to do so.  Here’s the addy:  http://whiskeyfire.typepad.com/whiskey_fire/.

Today’s target is some hapless wonk reading American history in conservatives’ usual ignorant way.  Whiskey Fire neatly captures this genre in half a sentence:  “the whole thing is a giant middle finger intended to communicate that anyone who knows anything at all about history besides AMERICA ROCKS is at least half a fag.”


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New Furniture

rca-objects-from-a-gun-james-shaw07A table by James Shaw.

I may have complained aloud about my increasingly bum hip.  Over the weekend it unexpectedly became quite painful.  I did the exercises suggested by my excellent chiropractor, and those helped, as did the Tylenol left over from my knee replacement.   I couldn’t figure out how it got so bad so fast.  But the next time I sat down in my recliner to read, I knew.

I then tried the sofa–no help there.  Then the easy chair.  No help there, either.  All the “sit” has gone out of my living room furniture.  I guess that’s to be expected after fifteen plus years.

So Sunday I fired up Big Red Prius and ventured across town to the nearest LaZBoy store.   I love those places.  They have excellent lighting and capable designers, and even if you are not a serious customer, you get to look at and sit in everything.  What fun!   A very helpful young man guided me through the process of picking out a recliner;  after I sat in five or six models it was very clear to me, and to him, which one fit me best.  I discovered that he could tell just by looking whether the seat was deep enough and far enough from the floor so I could sit comfortably.  We compared the heights of the armrests (important when using a laptop) and debated the merits of rockers vs. stationary chairs.  I bought the one that fit best, and it arrives tomorrow.

While I was there I scoped out sofas and loveseats, and the helpful young man showed me a bewildering variety of lovely fabrics in which they could be upholstered.  (Most of the stuff on the showroom floor is leather, and those of you who have cats know that is not a viable option).   I thought about it overnight, and this morning I ordered a sofa and a loveseat.  They won’t be here for a couple of months, but once they arrive, I’ll invite everyone for dinner or a party.  Both pieces have built-in recliners, so as many as five people can kick back at once.  Literally.

My hip feels much better since I have avoided the recliner.  And I’m getting more exercise, because there’s nowhere comfortable to veg out.  Win-win.

Oh yeah–the table in the picture is made from a gun that spews semi-liquid pewter.  The artist, James Shaw, has a lot of wonderful pieces made from new materials.  If you want to see more, just google him.

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113th_United_States_Senate_Structure.svgThis image represents the current political composition of the Senate in the 113th US Congress.  There are 53 Democrats and two independents (Sanders, a socialist, and King, a centrist) who typically vote with the Dems.  This awards a slim numerical majority to the Democrats, if not a filibuster-proof one.  It also gives them the position of Majority Leader.

As happens every two years, about one-third of the Senate is up for re-election this coming November.  Seven of these Senators are Democrats who hold seats in Republican states–Begich of Alaska, Pryor of Arkansas, Landrieu of Louisiana, Walsh of Montana, Hagan of North Carolina, Johnson of South Dakota, and Rockefeller of West Virginia (this information derived from Wikipedia‘s great page on the 2014 Senate election, which has useful charts:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Senate_elections,_2014#Competitive_seats).

These folks stayed on or were carried into office thanks to the Obama landslide of 2008, even though all of them reside in states that Obama lost.  Now that the president’s poll numbers are in a typical fifth-year slump, Rethugs are celebrating, I hope prematurely, their potential takeover of the Senate this fall.  Ranch Preebus, the nominal leader of the party, is telling everyone that his polls show a “tsunami” of support for their candidates.  Preebus’ squeaking was enough to put Chris Matthews and his ilk into a funk all day yesterday.

Me too.

Mathematically, the Thugs need six more seats to win Senate votes.  Five won’t do it because Joe Biden is still the veep, and he can be counted on to cast the deciding Dem vote on any urgent legislation.  If the Thugs net more than five, though, it’s Nelly bar the door.  Given that the House will remain full of crazies, thanks to Thug gerrymandering, in that scenario all that stands between the country and full-on devastation is Obama’s veto.

Think of the damage a Rethug-led House and Senate can do:  cut or eliminate medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance and other forms of welfare;  lift regulations on Wall Street and remove environmental protections;  allow drilling and fracking wherever oil barons want to do it;  cut corporate taxes and lower the tax rate paid by the wealthy.  They can continue to block judicial appointments–I shudder to think what will happen if a Supreme Court justice dies or retires while they are in charge.  They will accelerate the takeover of schools and prisons by corporate entities.  They will investigate everything the White House has said or done (BEN-GA-ZEE!), and the crazies in the house will probably agitate for impeachment proceedings against Obama and Eric Holder.

I don’t think they will have the nerve to cut medicare and/or social security because their supporters are mostly olds, but then you never know.  Their supporters are also so blinded by hatred and rage–or so dense–that they might not even notice until their benefits are cut in half, or worse.  Remember the tea partier whose sign said “Keep government out of my medicare”?

SO, Democrats and independents:  we must ALL vote this fall.  We must also make sure that all of us are still registered, especially if we live in a Thug-controlled state where the legislature might have sneaked through some provisions that will disenfranchise us.  But we all must do even more, if we want to avoid a two-year period that will be even worse than the early years of the Bush administration.

People of color are already organizing all over the country–especially in the south–but they can’t stave off this threat by themselves.  All of us who are not in the grip of Thug craziness need to join up with the local Democratic party in order to get out the vote.  We need to talk to neighbors and friends if we know anyone who is persuadable–the potential threat to social security will work to persuade some folks, I’m sure, even in Joe Arpaio country.  We have to make sure that women understand what is at stake for them and their children if the Thugs win the Senate.

I realize I’m preaching to the choir here.  But sometimes one, or two, or three voices speaking up in the right place at the right time can work miracles.

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Invective–a speech conveying scorn and rebuke– is a rhetorical genre you don’t see well done every day because it is usually impolite and sometimes scurrilous.  Because of this, its object must be worthy of the scorn heaped upon him if it is to succeed.

This morning, Charlie Pierce meets this requirement as he takes on the verbally flatulent Bill Kristol.  Here’s just a taste Pierce’s ire:

“Blow me, you monstrous, bloodthirsty fraud, you silly, stupid chickenhawk motherfker who plays army man with the children of people who are so much better than you are, and who would feed innocent civilians in lands you will never visit into your own personal meatgrinder to service your semi-annual martial erection.”

Go here to enjoy the full, glorious, explosion of bile:  http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/

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Jonathan_swiftThis well-dressed gent is Jonathan Swift, who has long been one of my favorite writers.  Every once in awhile I pull out my dog-eared, taped-up paperback copy of his works that, like Gulliver, has traveled far–from the American mid-west to both sides of the country.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI found some class notes inside, apparently made when my handwriting was still legible.

I bought this copy back in the 1960s, when I was an undergraduate at Nebraska, and it followed me through my MA, where I majored in the work of eighteenth-century writers.  Swift (and Pope and Dryden and the others) were distinctly out of style in English departments during that heyday of the so-called new criticism, because adherents of that practice liked to consider literary texts as perfect objects, like vases or statues.  Hence they were interested in how the parts fitted into a pleasing aesthetic whole.  Profs who were forced to encounter eighteenth-century writers–in a BritLit survey, for instance–engaged their students in writing papers that established the “formal unity” of, say, Pope’s “Rape of the Lock.”  Never mind that Pope was interested in parodying the foibles of high society when he wrote that poem.

IOW my teachers in those days were most definitely NOT interested in what a work of art might have to say to, or about, the culture in which it was produced.  Many years later, after I found rhetoric, I realized that I loved these writers because they were rhetors rather than aesthetes.  Swift did not give a hot damn about artistic unity.  But he sure did care about the horrible effects of English ideology on Irish children.  As you probably know, the English had been trying to exterminate the Irish ever since the reign of Henry II, and by Swift’s time they had very nearly succeeded.  Swift’s English readers would no doubt have agreed that the Irish were little better than savages.

Last night I started a reread of “A Modest Proposal.” But I did not get very far, because with every turn of a page, Swift seemed to me to be speaking directly to the contemporary Republican party.  Do I exaggerate?  See for yourself:

“I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children . . . is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance;  and therefore whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the commonwealth would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up as a preserver of the nation.”

Remember the Rethug who allowed that kids should work for their school lunches?  Sweep the floors, empty the wastebaskets, something, to teach them the value of work.

More Swift:  “There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrible practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas, too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt, more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.”

Here Swift’s narrator misses the point only a bit more ineptly than do Huckabee and Santorum.

Finally, the narrator presents his modest proposal:  twenty thousand Irish children shall be “reserved for breed, whereof only one fourth part will be males, which is more than we allow to sheep, black-cattle or swine,” while “the remaining hundred thousand may at a year old be offered in sale to the persons of quality, and fortune, through the kingdom, always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump, and fat for a good table.  A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.”

Is this not, metaphorically at least, an apt picture of Rethug’s view of the appropriate class relations?

A bit later on, Swift’s narrator notes that his scheme “will have one other collateral advantage by lessening the number of Papists among us.”

And finally:  “Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about the vast number of poor people . . . . But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well know that they are every day dying, and rotting, by cold, and famine, and filth, and vermin, as fast as can reasonably be expected.  And as to the young labourers they are now in almost as hopeful a condition.  They cannot get work, and consequently pine away from want of nourishment . . . and thus the country and themselves are in a fair way of being soon delivered from the evils to come.”

Famously, the modest proposal was taken straight by some of its contemporary readers.

I wonder how it would go over at CPAC?

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Cat TeeVee

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast night some creature left an offering for Bastet on my back porch.  An honest mistake–it is the desert, after all.

The poor dead mouse attracted Inky’s attention briefly this morning.  But when I returned from grocery shopping this afternoon, Inky and Sassy were riveted to the window overlooking the porch.  A chipmunk was wrestling with the remains, apparently trying to decide whether to dine in or take out.

I had no idea that chipmunks were omnivorous, but I suppose they eat insects and the like–so why not their fellow rodents?

And no, Sassy is not THAT much bigger than Inky–the distortion is a matter of camera angle.

UPDATE:  Hey Trep–this is our seven-hundredth post!

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dilbert_juryYesterday I drove the forty miles to the Superior Court of the county in which I live, as ordered, to report for jury duty.  The imposing courthouse came into view some miles before I arrived–it is part of a huge complex of parking lots and stark modernist buildings that loom incongruously over the surrounding desert.  Well, they loom ominously, too, or seemed to do so once I realized that one of them was a prison.  A large sign parked at the entrance proclaims that the whole shebang is named “The Justice Complex,” an irony that I suspect is not lost on the souls who drive, or are driven, past it.

When I found the right building, I was directed through security rivaling that at a major airport (I often forget about my fake knee until it sets bells ringing and wands flying at one of these).  I was then directed into a large room where about a hundred people were seated.  We waited, and waited, and waited.  We were shown a well-produced video extolling the rewards of our exercise of civic virtue, and then we waited some more.  Finally we were introduced to the bailiff, a friendly chap who counted us off into groups of sufficient size to fill one of the elevators.  He then led each group upstairs to the actual courtroom.  As my elevator rose, I wondered how many thousands of times he has told the same old stale jokes to people who really don’t want to be where they are.

The courtroom was impressive–large and well appointed.  Prospective jury members were seated in long benches that reminded me of church pews.   We waited some more, and then the judge appeared–an affable guy who told us that jury selection would require about two to three hours.  Bummer.  We were introduced to the attorneys and the defendant, and then twenty-seven names were called.  Mine was among them, and I joined the group who were being escorted, one by one, to the jury box–chairs arrayed in two long rows, the back row elevated so all seated there could see everything easily.  By this time my sitter was very sore, and I noted unhappily that the jury chairs were not comfortable.

Before they had a chance to breathe easy, the rest of the crowd was asked to remain seated in the pews.  The judge told us he expected the trial to last about four days.  Ouch!  Then he began asking questions of each of us–had we ever served on a jury, if so, how did we feel about the verdict, did we have a relative or friend who is a law enforcement officer, and if so, would that relationship interfere with our ability to make a fair judgement here, and so on.  If any juror could not answer these questions in the negative, he or she was dismissed, and one of the pewsitters was called to replace him/her.

Then those of us who remained were each asked to stand and give our names, our marital and parental status (!), and our occupations.  Now long ago I learned that it is not wise, when living in Arizona, to say that one is/was a college professor.  So I usually respond to questions about my occupation by saying that I am/was a teacher.  But I was also told, years ago, by a friend who is an attorney, that if I wanted to get out of jury service I should announce my professordom to anyone who asked.  So I did that yesterday.  When I finished my brief recital, the judge asked:  “and what is your field of study?”  I couldn’t help grinning as I said: “rhetoric.”  He responded with the usual demurral–“guess I’ll have to watch my language.”  And as the goddess is my witness, I couldn’t help myself;  I said “you’re doing fine, Judge.”

Then the attorneys got their chance to whack at us.  The trial apparently concerns drug trafficking, because the state’s attorney was very interested in our views about same.  When she asked how we felt about possession of marijuana, I saw an opportunity, saying that I thought Arizona should emulate Colorado, which is making millions of dollars in tax revenue and foiling the cartels into the bargain by legalizing small amounts of marijuana for possession.  Other prospective jurors piped up, saying they agreed with me.

The judge intervened at that point, assuring us that in this trial we were to decide according to the laws of Arizona and not those of Elsewhere.  I was pretty sure, though, that I had just got my self rejected from jury duty.  Just to make sure, I spoke up once more.  The defense attorney asked us if we objected to Arizona’s laws regarding possession.  I asked if his question included the punishments dictated by the law.  He said yes, and I launched into what promised to be a fine extemporaneous lecture on the evils of the carceral state.  The judge saw what was coming though, and jumped in to admonish me that we were to concern ourselves with the laws, not with punishments.

When the attorneys were satisfied–or not–we broke for lunch.  I went off to the local Subway with two of my comrades, and we had a good time trying not to talk about the only thing we had in common–the trial.  When we returned to the courtroom, the clerk read off the names of those who had been selected to sit as a jury, and mine was not among them.

Thank you, Peitho.  Once again you have saved my ass–literally, this time.

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