To Blog, or Not To Blog? That is the Question.

When I began this blog, in May of 2015, I had a desire, as I think we all do, to say something, to have my voice heard. I wrote in my introduction:

Every blog is an act of vanity. The idea that anyone else gives a damn about your “observations” on life is presumptuous at best and probably ridiculous. But I like to think it is also a hopeful thing. It is an effort, like Facebook or a phone call, to make a connection with other people in the hope of finding something in common.

I also wanted to hone my craft and see if I could develop a voice that someone other than my Mom would want to hear. I said, “I enjoy writing. It helps me organize my thoughts and better understand what I am seeing and thinking.” I still think that is a valid and worthwhile motivation. Self-improvement through practice can pay unexpected dividends. Still, I am reminded of the lyrics of the 1987 song Come from the Heart – “You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watching.” For a blogger I guess the motivational tagline would be “You’ve got to write like nobody’s reading.”

I certainly think I wanted some readers, though. I wanted this website to accomplish something, to have an effect. I had some goals, vaguely, about touching someone’s emotions, teaching someone about something, or persuading someone to think differently. I hope I have not been unrealistic in my expectations.

I believe that I have fairly valued the output of my pen. I assigned the exchange rate for my writing at exactly zero dollars and zero cents. After all, I acquired the domain name, registered the website, designed the website, and built the website. Critically, I also paid for the website. I did not even require my readers to suffer the inconvenience of looking at ads. As a novice writer the market dictates this. There are a lot of damned good writers out there and today they are easy to find. I acknowledged as much in my intro:

The internet is a big place with many options, so while my site is called stuffiminterestedin you can be sure that stuffyou’reinterestedin is only a click away.

It is said, although there is little research on the subject, that the average blog has a lifespan of 100 days. Another source says that 60-80% of blogs are abandoned in a month. I have been at this now for almost two years. I suppose this is an appropriate time to take stock of my little project. So, what has been the result?

In the two years since my post called Merle, which was a tribute to my Dad’s cousin, I have written and posted 52 essays, articles, or stories. These averaged 2,125 words per post which adds up to 110,509 words (feel free to count them if you like). Wikipedia says, in its Word Count article (somebody has too much time on his hands) that a novella is between 17,500 and 39,999 words and a novel is anything over that. They say, further, that “Numerous American universities limit Ph.D. dissertations to 100,000 words, barring special permission for exceeding this limit.” I am pretty certain that some of you who wandered into my blog unawares probably reflected that it reminded you of a bad Ph.D. dissertation at times. I guess I should ask for special permission to proceed.

My point here is that, for better or worse, I have gotten some writing practice in the last two years. My blog posts, as promised, were all over the map. Some were short (210 words for my story called Chicory). Some were long (8,117 words for my essay called Michael, about finding a dead body).

Some were good (I think The Boy in the Picture and A Step Forward are some of the best things I’ve ever written). Some could have been better (I loved the idea of St. Louis Breakfast when I had it, but I think the execution was a bit ham-fisted).

Some were self-indulgent (okay, a lot were self-indulgent: And the Loser is, Close the Door, and Being Ward Cleaver). Some were unabashedly sentimental (Missy, The Boy in the Picture, A Force of Nature, and The Sycamore). Some were nakedly political (Washington vs. Trump, Trump – A Retraction, President Trump – There, I Said it, and Mister We Could Use a Republican Like Herbert Hoover Again).

I hope some of my posts were informative (Glacial Erratics, My Giant, and Spiders, Ewww!). I hope some of them made you think (Thank God?, Tiny Glowing Screens, The Island, and Raise my Taxes, Please). And, finally, I kind of hope a few of them made you laugh (Minor League Hero, North Dakota – The Dirty White Pickup Truck Driven by Vaguely Threatening White Guys with Facial Hair State, Sex Appeal vs. Bacon, The Dude, and A Hero – of a Sort). All in all, I’m pretty proud of the output.

Still, I have two questions: 1. Has it been worth it? and 2. should I continue? Neither answer is obvious to me at this point. I like blogging and have gained some skill in writing short-form essays and stories This will come in handy in case I’m ever kidnapped by that Saw guy and find myself chained to a radiator and am required to save myself by writing a clever essay about the Westminster Dog Show or cutting off my own leg with a butter knife. Is that enough reason, though, to divert myself from legitimate concerns (working, spending time with my wife and kids, bathing)? There is also the non-negligible cost of maintaining a website. GoDaddy doesn’t advertise during the SuperBowl for nothing, after all.

To keep stuffiminterestedin.com going I think I need some evidence that it is accomplishing something worthwhile. My site view numbers are not impressive, and possibly never will be. I am content with that. What bothers me, a little, is that I receive almost no feedback from those of you who read my blog. Since August of 2016 I have had exactly 1 legitimate comment from a reader. Part of the idea of this, as you recall, was “to make a connection with other people in the hope of finding something in common.” If I write and you read but tell me nothing about the experience I’m not sure what I’m getting out of this except writer’s cramp.

Even a lack of feedback from my readers might be tolerable to me if I did not, instead, receive 3-4 comments per day from “spammers” whose motives I’m not sure I understand, who don’t seem to have a grasp of the English language, and who appear to be trying to hock Viagra on my website. Here is a verbatim comment left on my blogpost about the Illinois budget crisis from, apparently, the owners of the high-quality website sextoysfun.

Great beat ! I wish to apprentice even as you amend your website, how can i subscribe for a blog web site? The account aided me a acceptable deal. I had been a little bit familiar of this your broadcast offered brilliant transparent concept.

Attached to the comment, as always, was a link to their website. It’s like getting a Valentine in the mail and finding out it is from your insurance agent.

I have two or three good friends who read my posts religiously and can be counted on to offer some praise or constructive criticism. You know who you are and let me say, loud and clear, your attention means the world to me. But, realistically, I could email each of them my useless rants each week and “save the postage.” I could get on Facebook and dump my sage observations between the Trump memes and photos of people’s dinners. But, dang it, blogging is an act of vanity and I like the idea of this website.

There is a passage in Walden which has always captured my imagination. It is a critique of capitalism in parable form and I wonder if it applies to this situation. It goes like this:

Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. “Do you wish to buy any baskets?” he asked. “No, we do not want any,” was the reply. “What!” exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, “do you mean to starve us?” Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off—that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed—he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. 

Like Thoreau, I may continue to weave baskets, even if it is not worth anyone’s while to buy them. I find that my profession is, for the time being, lucrative enough that I can afford to take time for writing. Also, I spend a great deal of time in hotel rooms, so the bulk of my writing does not rob my children of my treasured presence in their lives (yeah, right). Even so, I’m confident that even Thoreau (with an ego such as he had) would not have minded some constructive feedback about the quality of his baskets.

I, quite frankly, am getting too old to want to make a fool of myself if I don’t have to. God knows I do it too often without intending to. If this blog is meaningful to you, please send me a comment. It’s easy to do. It doesn’t have to be a dissertation- a few words will do. And it doesn’t have to be praise. Rip into me. Point out my grammar mistakes. Assail my logic. Call me a doo-doo-head. If you are the type of guy who keeps a bust of Donald Trump on your mantlepiece with a candle burning beside it and you have been suffering in silence while I been “dissin’ your guy,” give me your two cents. I would love to have that conversation. And, what the heck, if you enjoyed my picture of the guy in the chicken suit reading a newspaper or were floored by the eloquence of my prose, you know, mention that, too.

by Dustin Joy

Mister, We Could Use a (Republican) Like Herbert Hoover Again

Ours is a practical people, to whom ideals furnish the theory of political action….On the other side, they are equally disgusted with seeking for power by destructive criticism, demagoguery, specious promises and sham.

Some may ask where all this may lead beyond mere material progress…. It leads to the opportunity for greater and greater service, not alone from man in our own land, but from our country to the whole world. It leads to an America, healthy in body, healthy in spirit, unfettered, youthful, eager — with a vision searching beyond the farthest horizons, with an open mind, sympathetic and generous.

It is a paradox that every dictator has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. Immediately on attaining power each dictator has suppressed all free speech except his own.

This is not a showman’s job. I will not step out of character.

– Herbert Hoover

 

 

 


Mister, We Could Use a (Republican) Like Herbert Hoover Again

There was a time, dear children, when the Republican Party of the United States was the stodgy old party of responsibility and prudence and eating your vegetables. People like Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Taft and George Romney and Nelson Rockefeller and Gerald Ford and, yes, even Richard Nixon for all his faults, cared about a thing called good governance. They took public service seriously. They believed in things like balanced budgets and sensible spending and good citizenship and doing the right thing. These anachronisms are what used to be called “principles” and Republicans used to have them.

Republicans have even been known to stand on principle to their own detriment. American history is replete with such examples. I am thinking of Ford’s pardon of Nixon which he had to know would cost him the 1976 election but which he honorably believed to be the right thing. Taft was a man so dedicated to our constitution and the rule of law that he dared to criticize the Nuremberg trials and Japanese internment. This bravery won him the praise of Senator John F. Kennedy and a chapter in his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage but probably cost him the Republican nomination for President in 1944, 1948, and 1952. Finally, there is Barry Goldwater. Whatever you thought about Goldwater’s ideas, cuckoo-bananas or genius, no one ever accused Barry Goldwater of selling out his principles for political expediency. He proudly rode them all the way to the ground like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove.

Republicans have sometimes been willing to pull dirty tricks and tell lies to win (I know, right?). Telling lies is a time-tested way to achieve political goals and Republicans, of course, wrote their chapter in that book. Richard Nixon came by the moniker Tricky Dick honestly. What most Republicans didn’t do was to betray their own followers and their own own political philosophy in the pursuit of power. That innovation, or at least the mastery of it, belonged to that patron saint of conservatives, Mr. Ronald Reagan. Reagan, the “great communicator” preached the gospel of smaller government and fiscal responsibility to Goldwater’s beleaguered descendants. He promised the religious right, with a wink and a nod, to end abortion. He bludgeoned Jimmy Carter and the Democrats for “spending like drunken sailors.” And then he got elected. And he increased the size of government, did diddly-squat about abortion, and spent money like a drunken sailor.

What Reagan realized, but Carter had not, was that the American people don’t like bad news. They don’t like to be lectured. They don’t like discipline. They don’t like to eat their vegetables. So Reagan dropped all that “principle” stuff and distilled a new philosophy which went down smooth; let’s have our cake and eat it, too.

The Gipper figured it out. People like a strong military. They like to strut around with their chests puffed out humming the Star-Spangled Banner in the back of their throats. Reagan gave it to them. People don’t like paying taxes. Reagan smiled that goofy grin of his and said, “I don’t like paying taxes either. Let’s cut them.” The people thought Carter was too preachy and made everything sound “sooooooo complicated.” Reagan served up simple, sappy, aphorisms by the bushel. Reagan told the American people how good they were, and how noble, and how smart. He told them how good old common sense was better than all that book learnin’ and that, well gosh, the American people were just God’s own special people.

Americans ate it up. When that fuddy-duddy, spoil-sport Mondale told them they would have to pay higher taxes to finance Reagan’s blossoming deficits they put their fingers in their ears, stuck out their tongues and “raspberried” him back to Minnesota.

We Americans don’t like broccoli and, by-God, no pointy-headed intellectual is gonna make us eat it.

The lesson of Carter’s flameout and Mondale’s trouncing was not lost on Reagan’s progeny. There would be no more “malaise” speeches. There would be no more appeal to our intellect nor our self-discipline, nor our better angels. Even the Democrats learned the lesson. When George H.W. Bush’s remnant belief in good governance led him to compromise with the Democrats and raise taxes, a move which allowed, for the first time in decades, an actual surplus in the U.S. budget, the smarmy huckster from Arkansas slew him with his own noble gesture. Clinton gave the American people his best “Reagan” smile, told them he could “feel their pain” and that all their problems had been “laid on them,” and sunk the knife into George’s back. It was the last time anyone, of either party, dared to “reach across the aisle.”

Now, winning is all that matters. Working together, doing the right thing for the country, exercising restraint, practicing good governance, being philosophically consistent, putting country ahead of party; these are all relics from a bygone era.

Winning is everything and compromise is impossible (you can’t compromise with the Devil after all.) Ultimately anything can be sacrificed to the cause: honesty, fairness, faith in your fellow man, your own principles. Even flat-out hypocrisy, the kind that can be proven by video recordings, and, in the past would have sunk a politician, hardly moves the needle now. It’s the Lord’s work, after all. Mitch McConnell will stand in front of a television camera and excoriate Democrats for saying precisely, even word for word, what McConnell himself has been recorded saying a year ago. There are Democrats who would do the same thing to him. Here we are.

If both sides jettison their beliefs and philosophy for the expedient of winning what difference does it make? Why am I picking on Republicans? Why, in fact, do I beseech the Republicans to sober up and recover their proud tradition of principle above party. I do it now because we need them now more than ever. We need the Republicans to live up to the example of Taft and Eisenhower and Ford and Goldwater. They are the only ones who can help us now. They are the only ones who can slow down this unstable raging narcissist who has become our President.

We have now dispatched the Wicked Witch of the West and her wicked, wicked email server to oblivion. Will you, at long last, strengthen your backbones and stop this phony Republican before he dismantles all that is good and noble about our country? Republicans, I tell you again, this man does not believe what you do. He not only disregards your ideals and principles he positively mocks them.

He mocks, also, the serious and thoughtful men who used to represent you. Aren’t you embarrassed to watch your formerly proud leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney grovel before this gameshow host? Aren’t you appalled to hear a five-time draft deferred man with miraculously self-healing bone spurs brutally criticize actual Viet-Nam war heroes John McCain and John Kerry?

I now address you “God-fearing” Christians. I have read a great deal of the New Testament and I don’t think Jesus was advocating what your Republican President is now doing. Don’t take my word for it. Read the Sermon on the Mount, read all of Matthew, and judge for yourselves.

 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

I trust this verse will not be misattributed to President Donald Trump. How about this:

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Do Syrian refugees count?

Even if the darkness of the Old Testament is your cup of tea do you really think that this twice divorced serial adulterer who sexually harasses women is a model for your family? I think there are some passages of Leviticus which would insure this man some smiting, or worse. If he were not the President would you invite him into your house? Would you leave your daughter alone in a room with him? But you voted for him to represent America to the world? If you’ll pardon my French, What the hell is wrong with you?

What about our collective, agreed-upon American principles? Are we no longer to be a “nation of immigrants” as President Kennedy called us? Do we no longer tear-up at the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Is that a Golden Door or a gray, cement wall with concertina wire strung along the top?

Finally, Republicans, which of these do you believe in your heart?

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
-Thomas Jefferson

Or this:

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!
-Donald Trump

Obviously many of you are embarrassed. Most of my Republican friends will not even mention Trump unless someone else brings it up and then they mumble and stumble and dredge up an old line about Benghazi. But there was something about President Obama’s swagger or, ….I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt….something…. that set your teeth on edge. You listened to Hillary’s shrill, preachy voice and were reminded of those Brussels sprouts that Saint Reagan told you you would not have to eat anymore. And, doggone it, you wanted to win. It feels so good to win. We know you wanted Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush instead. But that ain’t what happened.

What you have representing your treasured GOP brand now is a self-absorbed spoiled little rich kid with no one ever to tell him no. You must tell him NO! This man-child is President of the United States and he is more concerned about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s television ratings than his National Security briefing.

He is still, from a podium in the White House, trying to “spin us” on just how many electoral votes he won the election by. He is creepily, bizarrely, self-deluding about this subject which nobody asked him about. He repeats it over and over, from meetings with the Israeli Prime-Minister to ceremonies about Black History Month. In a press conference this week Trump again boasted “We got 306….I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.”

Now, it is one thing to lie about an ambiguous data point buried a thousand pages deep in a government report or a piece of information only you know the answer to. But, my God man, any eight year old can ask Siri who won the electoral college vote in the last 7 Presidential elections and know the answer with 100% accuracy in about 3/5ths of a second. In about two minutes (I’ll admit to being slower than an eight year old) I discovered that Trump won 304 electoral votes, not 306. (The idea that any man who won a Presidential election doesn’t know how many electoral votes he got is truly bizarre in itself.) In five of the seven elections preceding Trump’s the winner won more than 304 votes. For the record (George H.W. Bush – 426, Clinton (1992) – 370, Clinton (1996) – 379, George W. Bush (2000) – 271, George W. Bush (2004) – 286, Obama (2008) – 365, and Obama (2012) – 332.)

And Trump’s answer, when confronted with the demonstrable falseness of his claim; “Actually, I’ve seen that information around.” Apparently he didn’t see it around the internet, or in the encyclopedia, or the Congressional Record, or hear about it from one of the hundreds of Senators and Representatives present at the counting of the electoral votes by Vice-President Joe Biden which was, by the way, broadcast on CSPAN and still available for viewing on You Tube.

This is a pathology, one might say, borderline mental illness. This kind of egomania coupled with insecurity would be undesirable in any profession. Possessed by the man who controls the U.S. nuclear arsenal they are downright dangerous.

So, Republicans I implore you once again. Stiffen your upper lip. Steel yourself to defend your principles. Your country needs you now. Party politics can wait. You must stop this man or, at least, slow him down. This is your moment. Channel your own internal Herbert Hoover. Though it is sometimes hard to believe and I am loathe to admit it: There is precedent for Republicans to do the right thing.

by: Dustin Joy

Another Day, Another @#&%$*#* Moral Dilemma!

Okay, I like to feed the birds. Is that so wrong? Does everything have to be a #^$%@&*moral dilemma? I like to watch the little feathered critters. It lowers my blood pressure to see the juncos hop around in the snow on their absurdly short legs. It tickles me to watch the red-bellied woodpecker and the red-headed woodpecker squabble over suet cake. It brightens the cold winter days to see a tree full of cardinals and hear the chirp of the wren.

Goldfinches brighten any day

Juncos in the Snow

A Tree Full of Color – Cardinals

 

A Eurasian Tree Sparrow Waits for his Turn

A Hairy Woodpecker Dismantles the Suet Cake

A Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Takes a Rare Rest

If It’s Cold and Snowy Enough Even the Pheasants will Deign to Dine with Us

A Mourning Dove Samples the Seed

A Barn Swallow – Not a Seed Eater but an Occasional Visitor

I spend a considerable sum of money every year on sunflower seeds, corn, thistle, and suet. I build feeders, I fill feeders, and I fix the damage inflicted by the raccoons and possums. I have reconciled myself to a certain amount of inconvenience from them. I actually watched a raccoon stand on his hind legs, tilt my hummingbird feeder, and pour its syrupy contents into his mouth like drinking a bottle of pop.

Leave some for the Birds

A Prehensile Tail Comes in Handy

I am not averse to feeding the possums, either. As the only marsupials in North America (In fact, almost the only ones outside of Australia) they are an interesting little novelty and we are lucky to get to see them. I can spare a few sunflower seeds for them.

The moral dilemma comes with another mammalian species which has started “using” my tender-heartedness for it’s own evil purposes. These are not merely mess-makers. They are cold-blooded killers.

Perhaps you are familiar with the old proverb “Love me, love my dog.” It means, according to the Oxford Dictionary “If you love someone, you must accept everything about them, even their faults or weaknesses.” Well, I love my wife and I love my daughters. I would even love their dog, if they had one. The proverb I have trouble with is “Love me, love my cat.”

I noticed a pile of feathers near the sidewalk, the other day and realized, to my distress, that one of my daughters’ outdoor cats had slaughtered (my emphasis) one of my beloved chickadees. Despite being well fed (to the tune of hundreds of dollars per year) these cats are carnivores and frequently kill local mice, voles, shrews, moles, baby rabbits, and even, once, a rat. I don’t, philosophically, have a problem with this. I know how the world works. I’ve seen The Lion King.

What I don’t appreciate is being an accomplice. I looked out the window this morning and saw our local Simba, a black and white cat named Poe (after Edgar Allan Poe. The female’s name is Lenore, of course.) Poe was crouched in the foliage of my clematis and stalking birds as they landed to eat at the feeder. I pounded on the window and shouted like a lunatic. I don’t know if it’s technically possible for a cat to smirk, but I swear to you, Poe looked up at me from his hiding spot and smirked. I ran outside and drove the little bugger away. He skulked off to the cover of the cedar tree but within minutes was back again, this time with a Harris Sparrow in his evil jaws.

The Killer

 

 

According to a 2013 scientific study published in the journal Nature Communications free-ranging domestic cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds per year. That’s billion, with a B. The researchers also estimate that cats kill 6.9-20.7 billion small mammals. Most people are sanguine with that if the 20.7 billion are beady-eyed, grain-eating, plague-ridden rats. What about 20.7 billion baby bunnies? Now it’s a genocide, right?

I can’t stop Poe and I’m not sure I possess the moral high ground here, anyway. I eat meat and I have been known to trap and kill mice and rats around the farm. Is killing a mouse morally defensible but not killing a Cardinal? What about a mole? What about a baby bunny? Why?

All I know is that I like birds. I like birds and I like feeding them and I didn’t want to make a whole god-damned thing out of this. It’s bad enough that I have to think about the fair-trade status of my coffee. I didn’t know feeding the birds would be a moral conundrum. Now I’ve got to decide; stop feeding the birds or kill some cats. It’s the circle of life, you know; cats, rats, bunnies, cardinals, they’re all the same, right?

 

Oh, come on! You know I’m not gonna kill the damn cats. A man can dream, though, can’t he?

by: Dustin Joy

Thank God?

A massive storm swept through Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia recently. Twenty people were killed by a swarm of tornados including one which hit a mobile home park.
As always, brave and generous people rushed in to help the survivors and save those who could be saved. I find people to be universally good and kind to one other in such awful circumstances. I am inspired by this. I think it is the best part of human nature.

What I cannot always understand are the comments people make in these cases. Our need to explain tragedy often leads to a response which to me feels hollow, illogical, insensitive, or even cruel.
Here are some examples from that weekend’s news reports:

“God was with me that day .”
“I’m just blessed to be here.”
“God was in the room with us.”
“God was looking after them,”
“Is God mad at us?”

I wrote the following piece several years ago after a tragic outbreak of tornados killed 24 people in Oklahoma. I have been reluctant to post it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, matters of religion are sensitive. This piece, while it was not intended to be offensive, might appear so to some. I have no desire to hurt anyone’s feelings. There are quite a few “believers” whom I like, and respect, and count as friends.

Secondly, there is often a price to be paid, in this Christian dominated society, for even admitting that one is an atheist or agnostic. A young person who thinks differently, expresses doubt, or questions the answers his pastor gives him can be branded a trouble maker and ostracized. An adult who does so is subject to subtle, but very real penalties.

It is difficult for Christians in the United States to understand just how powerful they are. You sometimes hear them lament the“war on Christmas” or the “rise of secular humanism.” But, if you consider, for just a moment, the quantity of Christian references in our daily life compared to that of any other religion or set of beliefs it is overwhelming. As I write this the television is on. When I flip through the 18 channels I find fully a third devoted, 24 hours a day, to Christian programming. I find none dedicated to Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Atheism. When I drive to our local town to the store I pass 8-10 Christian churches, each with a billboard out front admonishing us to believe as they do. Do I pass even one center for agnosticism or free thought? Not one. In fact, I never have seen one.

The good thing about being an atheist is that we are not obliged to proselytize. I will explain my point of view to you here, and I might be gratified if you came to believe the same thing, but I don’t have to save your soul. All I ask of the dominant Christian culture is that my tax dollars not be spent to support religion and that kids who attend public school not be compelled to believe in it. That’s in the Constitution and that’s not a big demand.

On a personal level I generally like religious people and am fascinated by religion. If you approach me in a friendly way with a Bible tract in your hand or knock on my door, full of enthusiasm for your new devotion, I will smile and listen thoughtfully, as I have done for 30 years. It might be nice also, in an open and free society, for Christians to listen occasionally to those who think differently? After all, as the Turkish writer Elif Shafak has said, “If we learn anything, we learn it from people who are different from us.”

 

 

 

Thank God?

It is always troubling to encounter a concept I cannot grasp. The embarrassment is compounded when I discover, to my chagrin, that the idea is easily understood by others. There are many examples. My father-in-law can rattle off a list of numbers (rates, capacities, volumes, ratios, percentages) and within seconds arrive at a mathematical solution which is invariably correct while I am still hunting for the square root key on the calculator. Many times my father has tried to explain elementary radio theory to me only to leave me smiling and nodding like Dan Quayle at a spelling bee. And don’t get me started on quantum physics. Actually, you can’t get me started on quantum physics.

It is not so bad to be bested by intelligent women and men from time to time. How else can one learn? I will readily admit that there are things I do not understand and possibly will never understand. I am willing to concede that there are better brains out there than mine. What is truly unnerving, though, is to be at odds with a majority of the world’s population on a question of importance. Religion is such a stumbling block to me.

It is estimated that 89% of the U.S. population believes in a God, of one sort or another. That is a pretty resounding number and it suggests that I might be wrong in my thinking. I do not regard being wrong as a moral failing, since most people are from time to time. The remedy is simple; merely collect more information and revise the hypothesis. Yet my mental roadblock here is thick. The more information I collect the more I am convinced of my previous hypothesis. I am no more able to accept religion at face value than I can start a gouda mine on the moon.

I listen to the 27 televangelists on my TV, I read the Bible, I sit quietly waiting for my still small voice and…and…and…nothing. Nothing comes to me. Nothing persuades me to ignore the contrary evidence I see all around me. My own innate sense of what is true will not give credence to stories about a 6000 year old planet, nor all the earth’s creatures escaping a giant flood on a vessel built with hand tools by 5 senior citizens. I cannot comprehend a system of good and evil in which an omnipotent God allows the non-omnipotent Devil to get the upper hand even occasionally. I cannot adhere to a moral code that puts a book filled with contradictions and of unprovable provenance above other human beings.

When I look at the misery in this world which is the direct result of arguments over religion I am loathe to conclude that I want to be on their side, even if they are right. And how does one choose the one true faith if such a thing exists? As Professor Robert Price has said, “I’m going to hell according to somebody’s doctrine (Islam, Hindu, Christianity, etc). I may as well call them as I see them.”

The closest thing I have found to representing how I feel about religion is a quote from Kurt Vonnegut in his later years.
“I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”

Still, being a humanist has to mean also that we show a decent respect to the thoughts and feelings of other humans. That means the other 89%. I have tried to do this throughout my life as I have been bombarded with Christian culture every day on the airwaves, on billboards, at public events, and in person. Christianity enjoys such hegemony in this society that it is an affront apparently to simply express your non-evangelical ideas in public. It is hard to be different, as we all know, especially when the odds are 89% to 11%.

Let me offer an example, from my personal life, where I have been at odds with the majority of people around me. The following story illustrates my difficulty, as a believer in logic and science, in coming to the same conclusion as the majority, who are religious believers.

Take the case of Officer Norman Rickman, a member of the Knoxville, TN police force. In a U.S.A. Today article about police officers embracing the use of bulletproof vests it was explained that Mr. Rickman had been shot twice in the line of duty while not wearing a bulletproof vest. The story says, “Yet he was on the ground within minutes, blood pouring out of bullet wounds to his chest and left arm as one of three suspects stood over him and fired two more shots into his upper back at point-blank range.” It continues, “More extraordinarily, perhaps, is that the May shooting marked the second time in seven years that Rickman had been seriously wounded while not wearing a bullet-resistant vest.”

The story includes two quotes from officer Rickman. One says that he will wear a bulletproof vest when he returns to work. The other, while it mystified me, was readily understood by others to whom I showed the article. It was this, “God was on my side that day.” This, to me, invites two questions and I do not mean them to be flippant or disrespectful. I should like to ask Officer Rickman the following:

1. If God is on your side, why did he let you get shot four times?

2. If God is on your side, why wear a bullet-proof vest?

I explored these questions for some time after reading the article. I concluded that there were four possibilities, logically, with respect to God and Officer Rickman. They are as follows:

1. There is no God and Officer Rickman was shot by a sociopath who himself had been created by a combination of his environment and genetics. Officer Rickman, in this scenario might have been saved by a bullet-proof vest. Logically Officer Rickman should place no faith in God and should wear his vest.

2. There is a God and he (or she) allows free will. In this case God allowed the sociopath to develop from his environment and genetics and shoot Officer Rickman without intervening. In this case, logic dictates that Officer Rickman should place no faith in God and should wear his bullet-proof vest.

3. There is a God who has malevolent aims for humanity. In this case God created the sociopath on purpose and sent him to shoot Officer Rickman. Logic dictates that Officer Rickman should actively oppose this God and wear his bullet-proof vest.

4. There is a God who loves us, but desires to teach us moral lessons through adversity. In this case God created the sociopath and sent him to shoot Officer Rickman, but did so for a noble objective. Whether Officer Rickman assimilated the lesson is unknown, unless that lesson was “Wear your bullet-proof vest!”

In only one scenario would I conclude that Officer Rickman might, and I emphasize might, thank his God for the treatment he has received. That is the benevolent God who continually treats us to his “tough love.” If God’s lesson was to wear a vest, which is a good lesson for policemen according to statistics, it seems a harsh form of instruction. The article states that 37% of the officers murdered in the line of duty in 2007 did not have on a bullet-proof vest. Those officers died. They had no opportunity to learn God’s lesson about vests, or any other moral instruction he might have been offering.

Are we to conclude from Officer Rickman’s statement and the opinions about it from religious believers that these unfortunate officers did not have “God with them.” Again, I do not wish to be flippant about so serious a tragedy. I am anxious that no one die under these circumstances. It is not I who trivializes this tragedy, but the people who chalk such things up to “God being with me.”

This same story can be seen night after night on the news with the names and locations altered slightly; A tornado rips through a subdivision in Oklahoma annihilating houses on one side of a street and leaving them standing on the other. Invariably a survivor from the “lucky” side will credit God and his love for her family’s survival. This explanation is accepted readily by the majority of conventionally religious people in this country who can be seen nodding their heads as the woman speaks. But is it not insulting, both to our intelligence and to the people who were killed, to credit God’s mercy for saving those who survived. In fact, it is a cruelty to say such a thing. Does God hate the other families?

We might be better off as a civilization if we worked out problems logically, with the human costs evaluated, than to offer credibility to supernatural sources. If we did not give the credit for good things to God and bad things to the Devil, we might conclude, rightly I think, that people are complex and must be dealt with (helped or punished) on an individual basis. God did not make us all either good or bad, but a complicated combination of circumstances did make some people more selfish, more corrupt, less empathetic, less kind than other people. Without the easy answer of religion and the stark contrast between good people and bad people, between believers and heathens, we might be forced to try to understand the problems we face. It is entirely possible that we might come up with solutions to some of them.

by: Dustin Joy

And Now For Something Completely Different – A Weird Year In Review

One of the fringe benefits of my job is, of course, the ability to travel around the country. If I’m lucky I get to see some weird and interesting people and things. Since I love oddities, superlatives, and miscellany I always keep my camera at the ready and I am seldom disappointed. Here are some things that brought a smile to my face in the last year. I took all these pictures of actual places and things I saw. Hopefully you might get a chuckle, too. God knows we could all use one right now.

by: Dustin Joy

Tourism

Every City wants to attract tourists, even if it doesn’t have all that much to brag about (I’m talking to you Fargo, North Dakota). Cities have tried this in different ways but the  common approaches are the “braggy” tourism guide from the Chamber of Commerce and the “do-it-yourself” tourist attraction.

The Braggy Guide

Fargo’s try – It is so flat and cold and boring in Fargo that their local tourism museum’s biggest attraction is the iconic wood-chipper which rearranges Steve Buscemi in the movie Fargo (most of which takes place in Minnesota)

 

Santa Fe is a little cooler but still has to qualify their claim a bit. Not Best Cheeseburger in the USA, but best Green Chile Cheeseburger. Still a good try.

 

Richmond not only runs their NASCAR races “at night,” WOW!, they also…

Have the 9th best Shopping Neighborhood in America. Go Richmond!

Noticed this ad for the Richmond Ballet (Yes, Richmond, Virginia has a Ballet.) What caught my eye, though, was the name of the Artistic Director. What kind of person, exactly, names his son Stoner?

 

Alamagordo, NM might have other exciting tourist attractions, but I put my money on PistachioLand U.S.A. After all, they do have the World’s Largest Pistachio. By the way, PistachioLand and “World’s Largest Pistachio” are trademarks so don’t go using them yourself.

Finally, there is Nemaha County, Nebraska which has a pretty nice tourist guide for a little place and a catchy motto, “All Roads Lead To Nemaha County.”

Unfortunately, two of the three roads depicted on their own map fail to lead to Nemaha County.

 

 

The D.I.Y. Attraction

The DIY is usually a representation of something or someone the city is famous for, sometimes life-size, sometimes absurdly big.

 

 

Louisville, KY has a couple. Here’s the blue horse.

And the giant baseball bat (A Louisville Slugger, of course)

 

Silver Bay, MN has Taconite Man who is, I guess, what a lump of iron ore would look like if you brought it to life.

 

Lubbock, TX, home of Buddy Holley, has, of course, giant nerdy glasses, just like Buddy.

Many cities opt for something made of bronze, Lubbock included.

Here’s Buddy himself.

 

Go on down to Corpus Christi, TX and you will find another hometown singer who died tragically young. Here’s Selena, immortalized in bronze. I hope if they immortalize me they at least put a shirt on me.

Here’s President Jimmy Carter. Oddly, though, this is not Plains, Georgia or even Atlanta. It’s Rapid City, SD. Don’t ask me.

Here’s a creepy bronze bust of rocket scientist and ex-nazi Werner vonBraun emerging from …a flowerpot, I guess, in Huntsville, AL. The green cast is not an optical illusion. The statue really is that color. Weird.

 

Finally, here’s a careless Ronald MacDonald in downtown Chicago.

 

 

The Local Paper

In addition to browsing the local tourism magazines I absolutely love small-town newspapers. They are usually good for a hilarious police blotter, a grammar-deficient news story, or a raving editorial about a monumentally unimportant subject. Here are a few tidbits I gleaned from local papers this year.

Rock Island is a tough place, after all.

 

I love the detail that it was a “three-legged” tiger.

Part two. She was intoxicated? You don’t say.

Part three. The final quote from the Omaha Police speaks for itself.

 

Leave it to Oklahoma.

 

I’m sorry to keep picking on North Dakota, but, you know.  So, let’s get this straight, you want to put a tax on windmills to offset the tax credit people get for building windmills. Brilliant! That’s the kind of forward thinking we expect from North Dakota.

 

This is the one and only picture here I didn’t take but you gotta admit it’s a good one. This is the headline the East Oregonian newspaper came up with for the Associated Press story about Oakland pitcher Pat Venditte – who is ambidextrous. Who knows, maybe he can pitch underwater, too.

 

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

Traveling about I also get to see some pretty interesting signs from time to time. Here is a collection from this year.

 

At the Ottawa, Ontario airport.

 

Ottawa again.

 

Louisville, KY

 

Hayden, CO airport.

 

The Muscatine Environmental Center, Muscatine, IA.

 

The Lavatory of an EMB-145 jet. I wonder what part of the country you are in if the second notice doesn’t go without saying? Okay, I won’t say North Dakota. They’ve taken enough abuse.

 

I’m certainly too smart to comment on this.

 

Just outside security checkpoint at the Fargo, ND airport.

 

As you might have guessed – over the urinal. Restaurant/ Bar in Andalusia, IL.

 

Actual restaurant in the food court at the Maine Mall-  Portland, ME. You don’t want to know what’s in the ….well, anything.

Any children or my children?

Montreal, Quebec. So, no golfing and …what… no pooping goats? Or is it a sheep? Or is it a dog?

More damn rules. Okay, so no golf, no pooping sheep , and no hunting campers. I got it. State park in the arrowhead of Minnesota.

 

Deli in Iowa City, IA. Okay, maybe I’ll just go to McDonalds. The spatters of blood are a nice touch.

 

Hospital – Aledo, IL. I love glyphs! Where are his arms, by the way?

 

Carleton College – Northfield, MN. I love it that the Career Center is in Severance Hall.

 

Super 8 – Cloquet, MN. Are hard boiled eggs regional or rotational? Must be rotational, because they’re round. Get it? Get it?

 

Old Threshers Reunion – Mount Pleasant, IA. Sign needs to be…bigger, maybe?

 

Yes, we carry this sign with us everywhere we go.

 

Preston Hotel – Nashville, TN. No crappy little Gideon Bible is gonna cut it at the Preston (an awesome and quirky hotel, by the way.) In addition to the Spiritual Menu they ask you when you check in if you want a fish or a lamp. When you look puzzled they tell you that they will deliver to your room either a live Guppy in a fishbowl or a Lava Lamp for company or ambiance. Love that hotel!

 

A sign next to the history museum in Dickinson, ND. “German’s from Russia – They Came?” Well, good for them.

 

The Game Cleaning Room at Bemidji State University – Bemidji, MN. I bet Harvard doesn’t have that.

Some Questionable Grammar

Buckle Up. It’s more important then you think.

 

With rights comes responsibility, eh?

 

EL PASO, TX. Somebody has to sell tickets for Virgin Galactic.

 

Des Moines, IA. – Who says Iowans lack a sense of humor?

 

Beef Jerky Outlet – Huntsville, AL. Who says Alabamans lack a sense of humor?

 

And my final sign.

No comment.

 

 

Buy, Buy, Buy

Here are some actual products I saw, and you can buy.

Really?

 

For Deer hunting. God I hope it’s for deer hunting!

 

This slogan seems needlessly menacing, or is it me?

 

A real game but I should get some royalties from the manufacturer for infringing on my joke – What does a Yeti put on his spaghetti? Squatchsauce!!!! Get it? Get it?

 

This is not your Grandma’s hot sauce. Check out the attached label in the next picture.

With great hot sauce comes great responsibility!

 

I know this is an engraving art set but I just can’t stop thinking that this is a Jedi Kitten holding a light-saber. Use the Force Jedi Kitten!!!!

 

Yes, everyone will think you are cool if your wear these.

 

Try our recycled Kleenex, too.

 

Sorry, I thought that was a different product.

 

Do you want some of my Nut Goodies? What? What? They’re really good.

 

Halloween costume…er…costumes.

 

Don’t know why this makes me laugh but it does every single time.

 

At The Bookstore

I’m not sure what the Dewey Decimal code is for Hipster Baby but here’s the section.

 

Okaaaay?

 

Best Book Title Ever!

This should be shelved with the Vegan Stoner Cookbook, I guess.

 

Spoiler alert ……..

 

Yes. Yes we are.

 

I’m all for it.

 

A Millennial update of the old classic.

 

Cleanse is one term for it.

 

Etcetera

And, finally, other random stuff I saw this year that gave me pause…

Or Paws…

You can’t unsee it. I’m sorry.

 

Merry Christmas …. I guess. (I wonder what the Chinese kid thought when he was painting this.)

 

Santa Fe, NM – A VW Bug – I get it!

 

I thought there was a limit to what states would allow on a vanity plate. So did he get this one first?

Or this one?

 

Mmmmmm. Jesus Donuts. They are HOLY!  Holey, Get it? Get it?

 

Aquarium bar. The Galt House – Louisville, KY. It really freaks out the drunks.

 

It’s the Christmas Dragon …I guess. What’s the Christmas dragon again?

 

A perfect square knot spontaneously tied by my iPad charger and my iPod charger. Cool, huh? I wasn’t even a Boy Scout.

 

Walking Sticks making the beast with two backs (and twelve legs) on my shed. I’m sorry. This was just so weird and cool I had to include it.

 

Cool! A Lego version of Mark Twain’s House – Hartford, CT Airport.

 

Amish men watching the Saloon show at the Midwest Old Thresher’s Reunion – Mt. Pleasant, IA. I guess they didn’t want the elders seeing them inside.

 

A Tesla charging station in Amarillo, TX in the middle of Texas Oil country. Not even any graffiti.

 

The box the box my new shoes came in came in.

 

My son’s class did dioramas of the U.S. states. My son did Vermont. It was awesome. I do have to give honorable mention to the kid who did Tennessee, though.

 

Parked in Nashville next to the Rolling Stones tour plane and had to get a picture. My twenty-something FO looked puzzled. “The Rolling Stones, MAN!” I shouted by way of explanation. He turned back to me and said, in all seriousness, “That’s a kind of candy, right?”

 

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum – Chantilly, VA. Actual china found in the wreckage of the Hindenburg. And I can’t even get a cup of coffee to the table without spilling it all over myself.

 

Best bumper sticker of the year, bar none.

 

Photo caption – Smithsonian Magazine. Favorite phrase of all time – Raze the Ruins. Sounds like a great name for a band.

 

Have some almonds. But be careful if you are allergic to …almonds.

 

Dye used in our PTC fundraising Color Run! Maize starch I get. But what, exactly, are permissible colors?

 

Who puts this ornament on their tree? And what does it mean if you do? Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men?

 

Bass Pro Shop Store – St. Charles, MO. True Story. I was looking at the fish in the big aquarium in the middle of the store when I became aware of a middle-aged lady standing beside me also looking into the tank. She was a store clerk it turned out. After an uncomfortably long time she turned to me and said, very calmly and seriously “I hate that fish. He watches me all the time I’m stocking shelves over here. He just watches.” I smiled politely and backed away slowly.

 

Final cool thing I got to do this year in my travels. On Veteran’s Day in Ottawa, Ontario I got to meet the Prime-Minister of Canada and get his picture. He’s a smart, young, handsome Liberal who doesn’t seem to hate too many people…I’m not sure where I’m going with this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minor League Hero

With the news everyday seeming so much like fiction I thought I would take a break from that and offer you some of my own fiction again (whether you want it or not). This is a short story I call:

 

Minor League Hero

by: Dustin Joy

Superman has it made. You have to admit, being able to fly is the big one. Who wouldn’t give their left arm for that? Flying opens up so many other opportunities, too. Not riding in coach is just the tip of the iceberg. And cooler even than flying is that standing in midair shit. You want to impress a lady, I tell you, try knocking on her sixth story apartment window. She opens the curtain, and there you are leaning against an imaginary wall fifty feet in the air. Man, you know you’re getting laid.

But it’s not so easy being in the minor leagues. For those of us who can’t summon whales to do our bidding or run four hundred miles an hour, it’s hard to get any respect. We get no press at all. I even tried getting on Hollywood Squares once but Whoopie wouldn’t take my call. Her assistant said they already had Green Lantern for September and they didn’t want to get into a rut on the whole superhero thing. Green Lantern, for Christ’s sake?I’m not bitter, though. I still thank God every day for what I’ve got. It is a gift, you know. And it is good to know that I’m helping people. I mean that’s what it’s all about, anyway. Right?

All I ever wanted was to do good in this world. I should be happy, because I have more chance to make a difference than most people. When they print up my obit in the Journal Star I’ll probably get one of those two column things with a little picture, you know. That’s more than most folks. And I like what I do, you know. It’s not drudgery. I’m not working in a factory. I don’t pull the same drill press handle every day. I save lives. I stop criminals. I do just what Batman does, without all the hype.

Sometimes I think about when I was a kid, before I discovered my gift. It seemed to me then that my life stretched out before me like a great plain. I could see in all directions, and I could go in any direction. But as I got older, it seemed like I was coming up to a big forest. At first the trees came in patches, and I could travel at will among them and even through them. But the farther I progressed, the denser the patches became until finally each patch formed a solid wall. After a while the patches merged into a vast forest with a single trail, all other avenues having been blocked. When we’re kids anything is possible. You can be an actor, a doctor, an astronaut, maybe president. But every decision you make closes certain doors or, more accurately, leads you down a path toward other choices each more inevitable than the last.

Finding out I had super powers opened up a lot of doors for me. But it also narrowed my focus. It closed some doors, too. As Spiderman says, “with great power comes great responsibility.” If God grants you super powers you can’t just go out and become a custodian. It’s like spitting in God’s face. At least that’s what my Mom used to say. “God doesn’t pass out super powers just for the hell of it.” If he’s gonna let you defy the laws of physics there’s got to be a reason. That’s how my Mom saw it, anyway. She always thought of my power as a gift for all mankind. I just kind of thought He meant it for me because He liked me.

I discovered my gift the same way a lot of young superheroes do, while masturbating. That might strike you as strange, especially given my previous statement about the God-given quality of such things. It makes sense, though, if you think about it. Each super power is rooted in or augmented by strong emotion. The Hulk is the obvious example. He gets mad, “TaDa,” here’s the Hulk. You’ve even heard of regular people, what we call norms, who in times of great crisis find superhuman strength- a mother who experiences an adrenaline rush lifts the refrigerator off the little child. It happens.

My theory is that there are more superheroes in this world than we know, people who just haven’t discovered their powers or learned to control them. Aquaman thinks I’m full of shit on this, but I believe it. Look at Granny Power. She never discovered her abilities until the age of seventy. Weren’t they there all along? I think so. All her life she was winning at Bingo and she just thought she was lucky. It was only after deep introspection and careful observation that she realized she was manipulating the balls with her own mind. She started channeling her energies, went to Vegas, won enough to make herself financially independent, and put her gift to use fighting crime, crimes other than gambling fraud.

Anyway, superpowers are nearly always the result of electrochemical reactions in the body and mind. Strong emotion whips these chemicals into a froth. Hence, there you are, jacking off to your Debbie Gibson album cover, and, TaDa, all the light bulbs in the room blow out at once. Coincidence? You start thinking. Next day you’re helping your Dad in the shop and you hit your thumb with the hammer; all four tires on the car go flat. It’s things like that that clue you in. You don’t tell anyone, of course. They would think you’re nuts. And also, your folks would be horrified to learn about your self-abuse. So you quietly conduct some more experiments, with Debbie Gibson’s unwitting assistance. You discover that things blow up, break, crack, or otherwise destroy themselves every time you reach a, shall we say, emotional climax. Then it strikes you that maybe this thing can be controlled. Maybe it can be put to use.

Now, you can’t carry around pictures of Debbie Gibson while you’re fighting crime. It wouldn’t look right, even wearing big puffy pants. But you practice in other ways. You glare at the uncool corduroys your mom bought for you and you bear down with all your might like you were fixing to take a crap. They burst into flames. You learn, through hard work and perseverance how to control your gift. You learn, eventually, how to knock the bully on his ass from across the playground without bursting any blood vessels in your eyes.

See, it’s only half a gift from God; the other half is hard work. That’s why there are superpower bums out there. I know a guy who comes to the meetings sometimes who can locate lost keys and stuff just by talking to the person who lost them. But he doesn’t want to bother with it. I told him he could make a lot of money that way, finding people’s rings and things for a fee. But he just wants to watch Nascar and drink beer.

I’ve come to understand that. I mean, what does God want, anyway? He gives you this gift and everybody thinks you’re a freak. Sometimes you can make a good living out of it, sometimes not. Just look at Dittoman, able to burn the image of one page of information onto a fresh piece of paper placed below it. Here he’s doing alright, making a living, and wham, here comes Xerox and he’s on state aid. And even if God gives you a good one you’re still not making out like Bill Gates. Christ, Superman still has a day job. If God wanted to give you a real gift he’d give you an MBA from Harvard, or make your parents George and Barbra Bush. Sometimes you start to wonder if your gift is actually some kind of punishment, possibly for masturbating.

But you do your what you can and try to make the best of it. Once you learn to control your powers, you’ve got to learn how to apply them. You get a lot of thank you in this line of work but precious few stock options. I understand the sentiment of superheroes who just want to be left alone.

I guess I was about 15 when I first discovered my powers. I was just a normal kid, maybe a bit nerdy. Bookish is the word I like to use. But I played soccer, had some friends, the hots for Debbie Gibson. You know, regular kid. Then one day it all changed. I was in my bedroom alone, you know. As I was about to finish my, um, exercises I noticed some movement off to my left. I look over and here is a rock from my rock collection floating in mid air. As you might imagine, I was a little surprised. But as soon as I got a real good focus on the rock it fell to the floor. I wasn’t sure I had seen what I thought I saw. Eventually I forgot about it. A few weeks later, though, it happened again- same situation, same rock. Only this time the rock stayed in the air. I was dumbfounded. It was like something out of Close Encounters. I sat there with my hand on my wank looking at this floating rock. At first I assumed that I was witnessing the work of a poltergeist, which unnerved me mostly because that meant the poltergeist had been witnessing my work. In my absorption with the riddle of the rock, my hand fell still. The rock began to slowly descend toward the table. As my erection quickly subsided so did the rock, finally settling back into its place among the rest of the collection.

I sat in the semi-darkness of the room for what seemed like hours, staring at the rock and the spot in the air which it had occupied. I was literally petrified, certain that any poltergeist that could lift a rock could just as easily dash my brains out with said rock. For the next week, I spent hour upon hour in my room waiting for the rock to move, but it never did. Though I spent all day in the room I wasn’t about to sleep there. When my parents had gone to bed I snuck down to the laundry room and slept in a pile of linens, curled up against the dryer, badminton racquet in hand. For some reason I felt a badminton racquet was the proper weapon for use against a rock chucking poltergeist.

No matter how vigilant or distracted, however, it is impossible for a teenage boy to keep his hands off himself for long. I finally succumbed to my natural urges in the laundry room one night. All hell broke loose. As soon as I commenced to enjoy myself, cans of soda from the nearby shelf began to burst sending geysers of RC and Tab everywhere. I ran from the room in my birthday suit, dripping with soda and certain the poltergeist had found me again. What my father must have thought when I barreled into him in the hallway, I can’t say, but it is that incident which finally prompted the appointment with Dr. Marshall. It was in the psychotherapist’s office that I ultimately began to understand and control my gift. Dr. Marshall gave me a new perspective on my powers and my Dad helped Dr. Marshall pay off his Bentley. We were all winners.

In my life I haven’t been able to determine if God is kind and benevolent or petty and malicious. Einstein said God doesn’t play dice with the universe. Of course Einstein was mistaken about string theory, wasn’t he. And he didn’t really seem like someone who spent a lot of time around crap tables. My theory is that God has a lot to watch. I think he has about a billion worlds out there to keep him entertained. Once he sets one up and tinkers with it a bit I think he kind of loses interest. It’s like your closet full of junk at home. There’s your stamp collection, the snow skis, the paint by numbers thing, with easel, your wood-burning set, the treadmill. All held your interest for about a week and then you never looked at them again. I think that’s what God did to us. I think he set it all up, let there be light and whatnot, then just kind of got bored.

Sure the whole Garden of Eden thing was interesting: nudity, intrigue, betrayal, talking snakes. Even the rest of the Genesis days had their interesting points: deceit, murder, incest. But I think God had stuffed us in Mr. Whoopee’s closet before he even got through the begats. Since then it’s been kind of tough to get his attention. Hitler finally got noticed, but it sure took God a while to do something about him. I think by then he was watching his own little soap opera in the Andromeda Galaxy.

So despite my mother’s insistence that I was one of God’s chosen, I quickly came to the conclusion that I was the butt of one of God’s less funny jokes. As I learned more about my powers I became even more persuaded that God was the, well, the, shall we say, the Carrot Top of the, well, of the universe. My first frustration came when I tried to use my powers to levitate items other than my one particular rock and soda cans. No dice. Strain as I might and curse as Dr. Marshall would, I could not move wood, plastic, steel, copper, marble, oatmeal, or cotton. As it turns out the only things I have influence over are items composed of at least 18% aluminum by weight or rocks containing at least 37% bauxite ore. My powers were not quite as stunning as I had imagined.

Now some people would have accepted defeat at this point and used their powers to retrieve beer from the fridge while they watched Nascar. But whatever I have been in my life, I have not been a quitter. By this time I had settled on superhero as a vocation and no matter God’s plan I was going to parlay my meager gift into fame and universal renown. I had the ability to levitate, bend, melt, and otherwise rearrange the atoms in objects made of aluminum. That’s pretty darn cool if you think about it. Most people can’t do that. And if you think about it there are quite a few things in this world made of aluminum; some pretty cool stuff, in fact.

So I made a solemn vow that I would use my powers for good, to benefit all mankind. Now I needed a hook, a motif, and a name. Several suggested themselves. My friend Marcus proposed the Tin Man, which I thought summoned up negative comparisons with the “heartless” character of Oz fame, and after all, aluminum is not tin. They are separate elements, you know. Comparisons to Superman didn’t seem appropriate, either. “Man of Aluminum” just doesn’t turn on the chicks like “Man of Steel.” I put the moniker on hold and focused my attention on the modus operandi. To fight crime, you have to be able to use your powers to reduce felons to custody. In my mind that called for a weapon. But my weapon, obviously, had to be made of, you know, aluminum.

Fortunately for me aluminum is a fairly versatile metal and it is, contrary to popular belief, very strong for its weight. I considered a number of items: a gun which fired aluminum bullets. I could steer the bullets as they left the muzzle to hit targets even around corners. Alas, I lacked the intestinal fortitude to actually kill anyone, even bad guys. The gun was out.
Next I considered airplanes. Airplanes are made of aluminum. I could have a cool little jet like Wonder Woman. I could control it from the ground to locate terrorists and put out fires. Who knows? I quickly discovered that even the most paltry “little jet” was in the neighborhood of five million dollars, more than my weapon budget had allotted. I even appealed to the U.S. military for funds, expounding the benefits of my gift which could accrue to them if they would provide me the use of one of the Air Force’s spare “little jets.” The short-sighted bastards passed on the deal.

Ultimately, I had a friend of my father, who happened to be a competent machinist, fashion me a hammer out of aluminum. It was large, about the size of a mini sledge, and not unattractive. Sleek and silver, it glimmered as I piloted it across the sky. With it I could break things, deflect weapons, and knock the wind out of fleeing thugs without, in the process, killing them. The true mark of a superhero is, of course, the ability to render bad guys unconscious, not send them to hell.

Satisfied, if somewhat disappointed, in my weapon, I returned to the problem of a name. Marcus suggested that if I was still against Tin Man, that perhaps Tin Hammer would sound good, or even, perhaps Silver Hammer, since my weapon is, actually silver colored. But I felt that Silver Hammer still implied too much. Honesty is the best policy for a superhero and it struck me as vaguely dishonest to call my hammer silver because of its color when I knew, full well, that everyone would assume the hammer was made of silver.

Finally, I opted to eliminate the color altogether and I settled for a moniker that commanded attention and summoned up a manly image of power and stability. I became — THE HAMMER! In the headlines, at least. In the eyes of the State of Illinois I remain Martin T. Hammer, since the bureaucrat in the Secretary of State’s office required that my name change paperwork include a full first name and a middle initial.

To be a crime fighter, one needs to develop a close working relationship with the police. It does not do to leap onto the scene in your nifty periwinkle leotard and announce to the assembled law enforcement personnel surrounding the bank robber, “stand aside officers, I shall subdue this scoundrel!” A lot of prior legwork is required before that little give and take can be pulled of credibly. The first time I tried it I nearly got shot in the back by a Mattoon county sheriff’s deputy and ended up spending 72 hours in the pokey for aiding and abetting.

But I finally hit my stride after a few more false starts. My first unqualified success was a drug bust at a crack house in East Peoria. I had been hounding some cops I knew to let me ride around with them on patrol. They were skeptical, at first. I think it was the leotard. Anyway, I just kept hanging around the precinct getting people coffee and whatnot. Everyone has to start small, you know. I’d get to use my hammer here and there mostly to, you know, hammer stuff. And then one night, Sergeant Floyd Patterson, requested me as backup. Actually, I think he kind of said, “For Christ sake Martin shut up and get in the damn car. And for God’s sake put on some pants, you freak.” It was like that at first, you know. Cops are always like that, hard boiled and unrefined. And they’re always kidding each other like that, calling each other freaks and stuff.

We met up with other law enforcement officers from the metropolitan enforcement agency in the Wal-Mart parking lot and planned the approach to the crack house. I offered that I could knock on the front door dressed as a pizza delivery guy with my hammer neatly concealed in a pizza box. When they opened the box to get a slice of pepperoni, those thugs would get the comeuppance they so richly deserved a silver, er, aluminum hammer upside the head. Unfortunately my selfless offer was met with a barrage of paper cups and wadded up doughnut bags. In their defense, the cops were right to be cautious, never having witnessed my prowess with the hammer.

Finally, it was determined to knock down the door with the battering ram and toss in a stun grenade and some tear gas. Their solution was effective, I guess, but none too elegant. I told them so. Floyd told me to go sit in the car. I thought I had lost my opportunity. When we reached the crack house, though, my plan was vindicated, well, partly. Somebody forgot to bring the battering ram. My hammer carried the day as the door to that den of iniquity dissolved in a shower of splinters. It would have been even cooler if I had been swinging the hammer, instead of Officer Perkins.

Today I am well known and respected in crime-fighting circles, in and around Peoria. Whenever there is trouble in the tri-county area, The Hammer is there. When meth lab doors need opening, I’m there. When scofflaws tear down stop signs, I’m on the scene to nail new ones up. When the mayor’s cat gets caught in a tree, I’m there to knock that branch off the tree. I also stop the occasional high speed chase by knocking out the headlights of the felon’s getaway car. This works only at night, of course.

I have gained a degree of satisfaction from my work that most people only dream of. Sure, being a minor league hero can be mundane at times. If I have to knock icicles off the water tower again I’m gonna scream. But you don’t hear me complaining… much. I’m doing good work. The people shower me with adulation, well, appreciation, well …. Did I mention that I get a free cell phone? City hall picks up the tab. They were gonna have a big spotlight thing, projecting my trademark hammer symbol on the clouds, to alert me in time of need. But I kept responding to false alarms at Malcomb Chevy/ GEO when they were having a sale. Mr. Malcomb likes his spotlight and he’s got pull on the city council. So I got the cell phone. It’s really a good deal. I get unlimited night and weekend minutes.

I also get a salary from the city, even a per diem when I’m on loan to the Quad City or Rockford Police. The Mayor doesn’t mind if I take a tip or two from grateful crime victims as long as I declare it for my W2.

As for the ladies, I think they are a little intimidated by the whole Super Hero thing. They are obviously attracted to the leotard and cape. Men in uniform always draw women in. But then they make this nervous little laugh and keep their distance, all coy and shy. It’s really sweet. Unfortunately it doesn’t translate into much one on one action for The Hammer.

I try to be philosophical about my gift, if that’s what it is. I try to make my own luck, as they say. But on those cloudy days I will admit that I have my doubts. Maybe God plays tricks on all of us. Maybe his best one is this: He whispers in our ears that we are really something, that we are special, that we are superheroes even. He tells us we are right, and good, and noble of purpose. He leads us to believe that we are the hero of our own narrative. Only later do we see that he was just joking. He whispered something else about us into everyone else’s ears.

Trump – A Retraction

I wish to print a retraction. It turns out I’m just not as good a person as I thought I was. I thought I had kindness and reasonableness and tolerance for all mankind in my heart. I wrote an essay about that, about being a good sport, about being a good loser, about giving Donald Trump a chance.

Cripes, I thought I was done with this infernal election. I wanted to be. I thought I had resolved it in my own mind, or at least reconciled myself to it. But … I’m sorry; I just can’t do it. I can’t, and I won’t give Donald J. Trump another chance. What changed between the election and now? Me, I guess. Certainly Donald Trump did not change.

He is the same erratic, thin-skinned narcissist we saw during the campaign. His absurd “meeting” with news anchors and media executives, summoning them to Trump Tower to dress them down and gloat over his victory, was the act of a petulant child, not a serious adult man. His bizarre first press conference revealed the same sort of self-absorbed immaturity. I fully expected to see him wearing a beanie with a propeller on top and with a slingshot hanging out of his back pocket. His bile-filled Twitter feed is also playground stuff. (Did not!, Did too, Did not!) What the hell is a President of the United States settling scores on Twitter for, anyway? Even Nixon wasn’t that pathological.

Finally, we all held out hope, from his demeanor and statements on election night, that some of his vulgar, racist, cruelty had been blown out of proportion, sort of a cartoon superimposed upon him by the media and his political enemies. To quote myself, “No One could be that bad.” But, while he modulated his rhetoric for about a day and professed to want to be “President for everyone” in real life he plodded along his deplorable path.

He dropped the notion of putting his political opponent in prison (for now) but reserved the right to do it later if he felt like it (because that’s how America’s system of justice works, I guess). As if to double down on his own bigoted tendencies he selected for his Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (and no, I didn’t make that name up to make him sound like an unreconstituted, confederate-flag-waving, southern racist). That is really his name and he really was denied a seat on the U.S. Court of appeals because of racist statements.

For secretary of education Trump has nominated a one-issue political zealot who was head of the Michigan Republican party for many years and who is, with her husband, the biggest Amway salesman in the world (And no, I’m not being metaphorical. Look it up.) She is a billionaire who never attended a public school, never put her own children in a public school, has no education degree nor experience working as a teacher or administrator, believes that teachers are overpaid, and has worked with great tenacity (and millions of dollars) to undermine the very agency she is now tasked to lead. Sadly that will become a theme as we examine Trump’s prospective cabinet; as will the billionaire thing.

This minority President’s pick for EPA chief has fought the EPA in court for most of his political life as Attorney General of Oklahoma and has advocated the agency be eliminated.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a former presidential candidate, said this about Trump during the campaign:

“[He] offers a barking carnival act that can best be described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued. Let no one be mistaken, Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised, and discarded.”

It was not reported what Perry used as a condiment for his meal of roast crow when he accepted Trump’s appointment to be Secretary of Energy, a Department which Perry, naturally, has vowed to dismantle. Oops!

Perhaps his least offensive appointment, to me, you might be surprised to hear, is Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. Tillerson, with a net worth of $150 million and Exxon stock worth about $250 million is filthy rich, of course, but not as filthy as Trump’s bevy of billionaires who are here to “drain the swamp” and represent the “Wisconsin working man.” Tillerson has no education in foreign language or international affairs or diplomatic experience but he actually has negotiated a bit with foreign leaders to benefit his multi-national corporation. Our Wisconsin working man may be troubled to note, however, that Tillerson is not at all in alignment with Trump’s protectionist rhetoric. He has said “I believe we must choose the course of greater international engagement.” and “One of the most promising developments on this front is the ongoing effort for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Tillerson has also admitted that humans have effected the climate through greenhouse gas emissions and has advocated a carbon tax. In a 2013 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Tillerson also defended the Common Core curriculum, a favorite bugaboo of the far right.

What the Republican establishment may find, to their continuing chagrin, is that Trump’s win was not theirs and that while most of his cabinet picks could feature in a Mike Pence wet dream Trump will do what he wants when he wants and they will not have the stomach nor the spine to oppose him. This is dangerous to everybody.

I might see my way past all of these things. I might tolerate childish behavior from our commander in chief and extremist political ideologies from his minions. I might even try to learn to sleep at night with the sabre-rattling rhetoric of a foreign policy novice who “knows more than the generals” about destroying ISIS but seems to focus most of his firepower and time on attacking impoverished Mexican immigrants and the cast of a Broadway musical. There is one thing I cannot forget and forgive with regard to this horrible man. The problem is that I have daughters and I love them.

After I publish my blog posts and essays I go back and read them over again. I review them, sometimes compulsively, to ferret out spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and faulty logic. I try to update the old ones with fresh data and revised perspective when it is called for. I did this for my Trump essay several times. I found a few mistakes with regard to spelling thanks to a faithful friend and loyal reader. I updated the number by which Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the popular vote (about 2.9 million, now). And I found a logical inconsistency which stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider the “ahhh, give him a chance” idea.

Here are the two lines from my essay which I can no longer reconcile. They contradict each other in my mind. One of them is obviously incorrect.

  1. “My daughter cried when she heard about Donald Trump’s victory in the election.”

2. “We want you to succeed. Even many of us Liberals will give you a chance, if you give us a chance.”

I am simply never going to “give a chance” to a man so hateful that he made my daughter cry. I am never going to forget his horrible words and actions toward women. I am never going to forgive him for empowering the loathsome men around the world who think treating women poorly is sport. He has enabled every neanderthal misogynist and date-rapist in the country by his unpardonable example. He has made my daughters’ lives harder.

I would love to turn off the TV and pretend that Donald Trump doesn’t exist. For myself, a middle-aged white guy, I might make out okay under his absurd regime. But I cannot indulge my desire to close my eyes to this travesty. I have a wife and two daughters and a son. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let my kids grow up in a world where Donald Trump’s brand of misogyny is considered normal. I’ll be damned if he’s going to demonize immigrants and refugees in the name of my country without my objection. I’ll be damned if he’s going to turn back all the progress we’ve made on the environment and gay rights and inclusiveness. At least he’s not gonna get it for free.

In my blog post after the election, I counseled patience. I was dead wrong. This man does not deserve our patience. He does not deserve our respect. He has not earned “a chance.” He has won our scorn and our disrespect and our condemnation. That is what he will get.

by: Dustin Joy

Chicory

I recently entered, for the second time, the River City Reader’s short fiction contest. It is an interesting little challenge for someone who tends to go on and on and on in his writing. The challenge is to write a short story of 300 words or less incorporating a writing prompt from Iowa Author Ethan Canin. About 10 prompts were available, consisting of sentences plucked from Canin’s novels and short stories.

If you are a writer you will recognize that 300 words is not a lot to work with. New Yorker Fiction editor Deborah Treisman says stories in the magazine average about 2,000 – 10,000 words. To give you another idea of this limitation, the word magazine, in the last sentence, was the hundredth word in this introduction.

Last year my story A Hero of a Sort, heavily edited to make the 300 word limit, got honorable mention in the contest and was published in the Reader. This year I got honorable mention again and had my story published on the Reader’s website. While I can’t seem to break into the medals I have enjoyed the challenge and am considering some more short-short story ideas for my blog. Please enjoy here, a story I call Chicory, the first sentence of which is a prompt from Canin’s novel We Are Nighttime Travelers. My story was inspired by walks with my daughter (who is not handicapped) and my father’s devotion to this beautiful roadside flower.

 

 

Chicory

by: Dustin Joy

My hand finds her fingers and grips them, bone and tendon, fragile things. She smiles and swings our two hands back and forth extravagantly. We walk together feeling the heat in the soles of our shoes as the blacktop gives up a day’s worth of stored up sunshine. I take baby steps. She can’t walk very far or very fast with her braces.

“What is that flower, Daddy?” She pauses to allow a honeybee’s evacuation and then bends at the waist until her nose touches the cornflower blue blossom at the side of the road. “It is sooooooo pretty.”

“That’s chicory.” I sound it out for her and she forms the word, “chick-ree.”

“It grows in the rocks, Daddy. It grows real pretty. It’s the bluest flower I ever saw. Isn’t it pretty?”

“Yes, it is sweetheart.”

She bends down again as if paying her respects to the chicory. She sniffs. “Why does it grow in the rocks, Daddy, and not in the garden with the other flowers?”

Our shadows lengthen, one long and one short.

“The prettiest flowers grow in the rocks, my dear.”

Now she grips my fingers, tendon and bone. We are all fragile things.

“Why, Daddy?”

“Nobody knows why, my dear. Nobody knows why.”

President Trump – There, I said it!

Denial

My daughter cried when she heard about Donald Trump’s victory in the election. She said, “I can’t believe such a hateful man is going to be our President.” It is an understandable response. Were I not trying so hard to be a “big boy,” myself I would have cried too. This result is stunning. It is stunning not because it was heartbreakingly close, nor because it was so unexpected given the two years worth of polling, nor even because a few votes in a few small states can shift power in this country in such a dramatic and perhaps draconian way. It was painful and traumatic because it revealed to me something I perhaps didn’t want to know about my country and about, specifically, my neighbors and friends.

Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance – Not Necessarily in that order

I have a file on my computer that I have labeled “Letters not sent.” I highly recommend that everyone make one like it. The file does not consist solely of letters. It is also filled with essays and blog posts and emails which I wrote in the heat of the moment when my emotions were raw. I wrote them and I put them in the file. I let them sit in the file for no less than two days; that’s a rule. And then I took them out and read them. Most, the vast majority in fact, were put back into the file and stayed there. A small number were rewritten, edited, and sent or published. Some I open from time to time in moments of self-indulgence to wallow in their righteousness. And then I close the file again and leave them in there.

Such a blogpost, about Donald Trump’s victory, now resides in my “Letters” file. As of right now I feel like it is one of the best things I ever wrote. It is titled “This Election Means What I Say It Means.” It’s too bad you guys will never get to read it. Did I say it’s really great? Man it is good. It is thorough, clever, insightful, and devastating. And it is mean. It is vitriolic and divisive and bitter. It appeals to the worst instincts of my fellow Liberals and my own sense of moral indignation. It sat in the file for two days before failing my test.

Still a Bone to Pick

Wikipedia says that since 1990 there have been 70 civil wars in the world and 69 coups. Sometimes the violence in these unfortunate countries has lasted for years. Angola’s bitter, bloody conflict endured from 1975 to 2002. Children of my generation born there knew nothing but war and heartbreak all of their young lives. In a violent unstable world we are the exception. Informed by the example of George Washington we have routinely transferred power from one President to the next, sometimes from bitter rival to bitter rival. Our democracy has weathered wars and depressions and political turmoil for 233 years not because of luck or even a superior Constitution (although I think ours is pretty good). The reason our democracy has persevered where others haven’t is because of our forbearance and tolerance and devotion to our form of government – when we lose.

Of the many profane, cruel, narcissistic things Donald Trump said and did during the campaign one stands out as particularly harmful to our republic. Bigotry, of course, can be overcome by love (read your history of the freedom riders in Alabama in the 1960’s). Cruelty can be overcome by kindness (Read about the Truth and Reconciliation Committees set up after the fall of the brutal apartheid regime in South Africa). Narcissism can be overcome by parody and humor (and what a rich target Donald Trump is for parody and humor. He is the joke which writes itself.)

The thing Trump did which worries me the most is that he undermined, publicly and unabashedly, that fragile, but so far durable, notion that our system works. Whatever candidates might say or scream at each other, they should never imply, without powerful evidence, that our system of elections is rigged or invalid. They should never suggest that they or their followers shouldn’t or won’t accept the outcome in a peaceable and respectable way. They should not incite their adherents to violence. They should never suggest “2nd Amendment remedies.” We are not stupid. We all know the note of that dog whistle. And there are dogs out there who hear that frequency.

The Upshot

Our devotion to our country and to our constitution and, ultimately to our leaders, is sacred and precious. It is the fabric which holds our system together. That tolerance and forbearance by the losers is what Angola lacked. Do we want to be Angola? For a candidate to tear at that precious fabric with unsubstantiated offhand comments and throwaway lines in the service of short-term political gain is, okay I’ll go ahead and say it, unpatriotic.

This election was quite obviously not rigged. There was never any credible evidence that it was rigged. There was no serious or statistically meaningful voter fraud. There never has been. Trump, the man who whined like a baby that it was rigged against him – WON! He won the “rigged” election. He should apologize and, just as publicly, say, “I was wrong and I am sorry. Our system is sound. Our elections are fair. They are administered by good people across this country from county clerks to neighborhood poll workers who volunteer to do this work out of devotion to our country.”

I still love Walter Mondale – It will be OK

I will admit that all of my vitriol has not dissipated. I am still angry about this election and, at times, fearful for our future. But I am making progress. I remember 1984. I remember the impassioned defense I made, in our eighth grade history class, of Walter Mondale’s candidacy. I delivered my speech with gusto, extolling the virtues of this plain-spoken, honest midwestern man who believed in the little guy and worked for peace and had the guts to say we were all going to have to pay higher taxes to address Ronald Reagan’s deficits. And then we lost. We lost big. The heartless, faux patriotic, war monger (my thoughts at the time) wiped the floor with us and in the next four years cynically used his popularity to make the noble title Liberal a bad word. It still hurts a little to hear jokes about Mondale. (Homer Simpson: “Where’s the beef! Ha! Ha! Ha!. No wonder he won Minnesota.”)

What I learned from 1984 was this; We will be okay. We survived eight years of Reagan. We survived eight years of George W. Bush. We will survive four years (please) of Donald J. Trump. And, for the Conservatives who have predicted the end of the world to me so many times in the last eight years; you are ok, too. You survived eight years of that Muslim, Socialist, anti-christ called Barak Hussein Obama. You survived eight years of the philandering, back-slapping huckster from Arkansas. You survived four years of the ennui-peddling peanut farmer. We will all survive. This country is too resilient to be brought down by one man, no matter who he is or what he tries to do.

What to do next

So, according to me, what are our respective obligations at this point in history?

To my Conservative friends: You have much to atone for. You, who frequently use the word “patriotism” as a cudgel to beat down Democrats and Liberals, have done a very unpatriotic thing. You, who knew better, cynically put your party above your country. All through the primaries I listened to the Republican echo chamber (Fox News et. al.) rail on and on about how bad Donald Trump was and what a catastrophe he would be for this country. And then ….you voted for him. You lied to the pollsters and voted for this man you loathed. It was almost funny and surreal to see Paul Ryan and Reince Preibus and Chris Christie and Ted Cruz kiss the Donald’s ring on or just before election night. The cacophony of Republican throat clearing since the election has been gratifying, too. I will give exoneration to a few of your number who held to their principles: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, Colin Powell, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, and the Bush family (most of them.) To the rest, enjoy the spoils of your victory, folks. They have cost you a great deal in reputation.

To my Liberal friends: Well, old friends, this is tough. But here is what we need to do. We need to lay down our protest signs, give Mr. Trump his due respect as our President, and get back to work. There is still a lot we can do to help the poor, care for the environment, work toward economic fairness, improve education opportunities, and protect the rights of every citizen, whether black or white, gay or straight, male or female, immigrant or citizen by birth. We are weakened and out of power now, but, despite the headlines, the people are with us.

Not only did Hillary Clinton win more votes than Donald Trump (2.9 million more at last count) but in states all over the country ballot measures calling for an increase in the minimum wage passed by landslides. The Republicans shouldn’t be too proud of the victory they sold their souls for – it was Trump’s victory, not theirs.

Finally, my fellow Liberals, failure is cathartic. We do have much to learn from this defeat. Some of our fellow Democrats (including the lady at the top) failed to recognize the suffering of a generation who has not seen a meaningful increase in their wages in thirty years while the rich got richer and richer. Bernie Sanders tried to warn us about this. My pet theory is that he or Elizabeth Warren would have cleaned Trump’s clock. A wise man learns from his mistakes, though, and failure makes that kind of introspection possible. Let’s do a little psyche-spelunking as a party and figure this thing out.

Finally, To Mr. Trump: SURPRISE US! Show us that the caricature of you we saw during the campaign was not the real you. No one is that bad. Show us that you possess empathy and humility and pity. Demonstrate by your actions that you are not a demagogue. We want badly to believe what you said on election night; that you want to be President for everyone. American’s are a very forgiving and tolerant people. We want you to succeed. Even many of us Liberals will give you a chance, if you give us a chance.

All Together Now

There is a quote I like very much from a politician I did not much like during his time in office. His clever turn of phrase did not quite convince me of his actual tenderness but did express what many of us on the left believe and, I suspect what many on the right believe, too. It goes like this:

How can we love our country and not love our countrymen, and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they are sick, and provide opportunities to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?
Ronald Reagan – first Inaugural Address

It will all be okay. There is still a lot more that unites us than divides us.

P.S. Thank you to good old sane, thoughtful Minnesota, a state I dearly love. You were with us again this year, as always. Some things you can count on. Walter would be proud.

by: Dustin Joy

Washington vs. Trump – A Plea

Note: The following quotes by President George Washington and Mr. Donald Trump come from different verifiable sources. They derive from speeches, official correspondence, and personal letters in the case of President Washington and speeches, recorded television appearances, and Twitter feeds in the case of Mr. Trump.

While some of my readers may wish to verify these quotes and are encouraged to do so I assume that most of you, knowing what you know about these men, will find it unnecessary. I think you will find that each quote attributed here to President Washington is plausibly his and each quote attributed to Mr. Trump is, unfortunately, plausibly his. The point of this comparison is to draw a contrast between the kind of public man President Washington was and the kind of public man Donald Trump is. I think the contrast is dramatic and instructive.

A fair criticism here is that it is inherently unfair to represent a man’s life through the use of a small number of hand-picked quotes. Quotes, of course, are easily manipulated and can be cleverly edited to illicit the desired response in the reader. While I have tried not to “manipulate the data” with regard to these quotes it is certainly possible that, having a low opinion of Mr. Trump, I might have unfairly selected quotes which reveal him at his worst and President Washington at his best. I will leave to you, the reader, the task of judging my objectivity.
I will say, in defense, that I presume no reader will believe that President Washington ever uttered the phrase “The boob job is terrible. They look like two lightbulbs coming out of her body.” Nor will they, I think, believe that Mr. Trump ever said “To speak evil of any one, unless there is unequivocal proofs of their deserving it, is an injury for which there is no adequate reparation.”

 



 

Washington and Trump on Science

“There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”
George Washington

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

“You may get AIDS by kissing.”

“Remember, new environment friendly lightbulbs can cause cancer. Be careful– the idiots who came up with this stuff don’t care.”

“Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!”
Donald Trump

__________________________________________________

Washington and Trump on profanity

“The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.”
George Washington

“No, I’m not into anal.”

“And you can tell them to go fuck themselves,”
Portsmouth New Hampshire Rally

“Listen, you motherfuckers, we’re going to tax you 25 percent!”

“With the proper woman you don’t need Viagra”

“You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] writes as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”
Donald Trump

____________________________________________________

Washington and Trump on Bigotry

“For happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”
George Washington

“When these people [Asians] walk in the room, they don’t say, ‘Oh, hello! How’s the weather? It’s so beautiful outside. They say, ‘We want deal!’”

“You haven’t been called, go back to Univision.”
— dismissing Latino reporter Jorge Ramos at an Iowa rally in August 2015

“I have a great relationship with the blacks.”

“Happy Cinco de Mayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!”

“Our great African-American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore.”
Donald Trump

_________________________________________________

Washington and Trump on Women

“All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”
George Washington

“Women: You have to treat them like shit.”

“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her … wherever.”

“Nobody cares about the talent [in beauty pageants]. There’s only one talent you care about, and that’s the look talent. You don’t give a shit if a girl can play a violin like the greatest violinist in the world. You want to know what does she look like.”

“She’s really cute, I have to tell you, she’s really bouncy, really cute, She’s about 5-foot-1. Do you like girls that are 5-foot-1? They come up to you know where.” — Trump on Eva Longoria

“The boob job is terrible. They look like two lightbulbs coming out of her body.” — on actress Carmen Electra

“A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.”

“It is a dangerous world out there — it’s scary, like Vietnam … It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.” — on sleeping with women who could have STDs

“She does have a very nice figure. I’ve said that if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
Donald Trump

______________________________________________

Washington and Trump on Civility

“To speak evil of any one, unless there is unequivocal proofs of their deserving it, is an injury for which there is no adequate reparation.”
George Washington

“Just tried watching Modern Family — written by a moron, really boring. Writer has the mind of a very dumb and backward child.”

“One of the worst and most boring political pundits on television is Charles Krauthammer. A totally overrated clown who speaks without knowing facts”

“If I were running ‘The View’, I’d fire Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, I’d look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I’d say ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’”

“Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”

“Do you mind if I sit back a little? Because your breath is very bad—it really is.” — To Larry King, on air, 1989

“[Angelina Jolie]’s been with so many guys she makes me look like a baby, OK … I just don’t even find her attractive.”
Donald Trump

___________________________________________________

Washington and Trump on Immigrants

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges.”
George Washington

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best …they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

“Well, someone’s doing the raping, Don! I mean, somebody’s doing it. Who’s doing the raping? Who’s doing the raping?” — responding to questions about his comments regarding Latino immigrants and rape

“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud”

“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” 

“There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down.” (This has been thoroughly debunked)
Donald Trump

_________________________________________________

Washington and Trump on Compassion

“Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.”
George Washington

“I think if this country gets any kinder or gentler, it’s literally going to cease to exist.”

“Now, the poor guy — you’ve got to see this guy, ‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! I don’t remember!'” –Donald Trump, mocking handicapped New York Times investigative reporter Serge Kovaleski.

“The point is, you can never be too greedy.”

“My entire life, I’ve watched politicians bragging about how poor they are, how they came from nothing, how poor their parents and grandparents were … if they can stay so poor for so many generations, maybe this isn’t the kind of person we want to be electing to higher office. How smart can they be? They’re morons.”
Donald Trump

___________________________________________

 

Washington and Trump on Humility

“It is with pleasure I receive reproof, when reproof is due, because no person can be readier to accuse me, than I am to acknowledge an error, when I am guilty of one; nor more desirous of atoning for a crime, when I am sensible of having committed it.”

“I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.”
George Washington

“I will be so good at the military your head will spin”

“I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created”

“I think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong.”

“I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.”

“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”

“I don’t think I’ve made mistakes. Every time somebody said I made a mistake, they do the polls and my numbers go up, so I guess I haven’t made any mistakes.”

“Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure.”

“I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words…”

“I’m the worst thing that’s ever happened to ISIS.”

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.”

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me…”

“I have a total net worth [of] well-over $10 billion…. I’m not doing that to brag, because you know what? I don’t have to brag. I don’t have to”

“I’ve had a beautiful, I’ve had a flawless campaign. You’ll be writing books about this campaign.”

“I beat China all the time. All the time.”
Donald Trump

_______________________________________________

 

Washington and Trump on Political Cooperation

“Differences in political opinions are as unavoidable as, to a certain point, they may perhaps be necessary; but it is exceedingly to be regretted that subjects cannot be discussed with temper on the one hand, or decisions submitted to without having the motives, which led to them, improperly implicated on the other; and this regret borders on chagrin when we find that men of abilities, zealous patriots, having the same general objects in view, and the same upright intentions to prosecute them, will not exercise more charity in deciding on the opinions and actions of one another.”
George Washington, letter to Alexander Hamilton, Aug. 26, 1792

“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” (about Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina)

“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America.”

“Bush didn’t have the IQ [to be president]”

“He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured (about Senator and War Hero John McCain).”

“Jeb Bush has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife.”

“Truly weird Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain. He was terrible at DEBATE!”

“Governor Perry failed on the border. He should be forced to take an IQ test before being allowed to enter the GOP debate.”

“[Hillary Clinton] was the worst Secretary of State in the history of the United States. The world blew up around us. We lost everything, including all relationships.” “perhaps the most dishonest person to have ever run for the presidency”

[Governor Martin O’Malley] “a clown”

“What people don’t know about [Governor John] Kasich — he was a managing partner of the horrendous Lehman Brothers when it totally destroyed the economy!”

“George Pataki did a terrible job as governor of New York. If he ran again, he would have lost in a landslide.”

“Can anyone imagine [Lincoln] Chafee as president? No way.”

“I think Lindsey Graham is a disgrace, and I think you have one of the worst representatives of any representative in the United States. I don’t think he could run for dog catcher in this state and win again. I really don’t. He’s one of the dumbest human beings I’ve ever seen.”

“I have a store that’s worth more money than he is. I understand losers. You can make a lot of money with losers” “He choked like a dog. He’s a choker.” “He walks like a penguin onto the stage. Like a penguin!” (comments on Mitt Romney)

“not doing the job.” “It’s your governor’s fault, we have to get your governor and get going. She’s got to do a better job, O.K.?” (comments on New Mexico Republican Governor Suzana Martinez.
Donald Trump

 

 



 

My Dear Conservative friends,

It has been an interesting political year on your side of the aisle. I will admit that there was a certain Schadenfreude on our side as we watched your serious conservative governors and senators being bludgeoned by the confederate-flag-waving toothless hillbilly wing of your party. We watched with amusement and amazement as the racist, sexist, anti-intellectual faction that you so cynically invited into your big tent over the last thirty years hijacked the whole party and steered it toward the cliff. We know that you didn’t want Trump any more than we did. We really thought you would find a way to stop him.

The truth is that while I frequently disagree with my philosophically conservative friends I have always respected their well-reasoned and considered opinions. I think there is room at the table for all serious, thoughtful, good faith arguments about the size of government, the scope of its activities, and the methods for determining best practice. That is what having a democratic republic is all about. I want conservatives at the table. I want them in Congress and, yes, occasionally in the White House.

There are Republicans I have admired and, indeed, Republicans for whom I have voted. I like and respect our Republican U.S. Senator Mark Kirk and may well vote for him this year. I always respected and voted for Governor Jim Edgar when he served Illinois in the 1990’s.

Across the river in Iowa, Republican Congressman Jim Leach thoughtfully represented the people of Iowa’s second district for thirty years and won my respect as well. Further afield, I was a great admirer of Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming. He was a conservative to be sure but also a reasonable and intelligent Senator who worked with Democrats to reach a sensible “way forward.”

Even at the Presidential level, the big job, there are conservatives for whom I have voted, or would have. I have great respect for President George H.W. Bush who I still believe to be a man of conscience, seriousness, and intelligence. As a student of history I also admire President Eisenhower, President Hoover, Theodore Roosevelt, President Grant, and, of course President Lincoln, whom every serious Republican should honor and emulate.

The preceding paragraphs are a metaphorical olive branch extended to you, my conservative friends. They also represent my true feelings about partisan politics. I believe, as President George Washington did, that a blind adherence to party is at odds with and contrary to the principles of republican government. I cannot express it better than President Washington did himself in his farewell address in 1796. He said:

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

George Washington was not a perfect man. In the same address he humbly acknowledged this himself.

“Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.”

Though not infallible, any serious student of history recognizes the sincerity and wisdom of President Washington. He was the man who might have made himself a dictator and derailed the whole noble experiment of America. Everything he did as President set a precedent and he understood that. He believed in America, he believed in the ideals of our Constitution, and he was a sober, thoughtful, serious defender of those ideals. He was a man of moderation and conciliation and sober reflection. He did his utmost to steer this nation through the dangerous shoals of its infancy. He tried to reconcile the regional differences represented by the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, he tried to maintain a sensible neutrality with regards to the perplexing and essentially endless wars between Great Britain, France, and Spain. He tried to understand and work with, in a respectful and measured way, the other branches of government and the various states.

After two terms, when he might have assumed the mantle of ruler for life, he instead stepped away and relinquished his authority so that the principle of peaceful transfer of power would become the precedent we value and admire today. We have much to thank George Washington for and to admire in his humble, principled manner. He must surely represent the model of what we look for in a President.

Reflecting on Washington’s legacy, and that of Lincoln, and Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower, and yes, even Ronald Reagan, I must ask you a question today, my conservative friends. Can you, in good conscience vote for Donald Trump? Can you set aside your principles and the principles of Washington and Lincoln and all these others who so nobly advanced the American ideal just for a politically expedient victory? Will you vote to turn the most powerful office in the world over to a reckless, profane, narcissist who represents none of your own beliefs and indeed mocks many of them. Donald Trump, in my judgement, embodies whatever the opposite of George Washington is. Will you vote for this charlatan just to put a win in the R column? No serious and thoughtful conservative can do it because by voting for Donald Trump you nullify what it means to be a conservative. Truly your vote for Donald Trump nullifies what it means to be an American.

We know that there are many principled conservatives who will stand up for right and good when they see it. This is one of those times, my friends. This is the time when you must stand for your principles even against the nominee of your own troubled party. Donald Trump is not right and he is not good and you know it. It is time to take one for Team America. It is the only way for your party to find it’s way back from the wilderness. It is the only way for you to maintain your own self-respect and the respect of others for your ideas. Please make the correct choice.

Dustin Joy

Close the Door

I was recently given an opportunity. I was given the opportunity to close a door. At first I didn’t see it as an opportunity. In fact, it felt more like a betrayal, or a slap in the face. Viewing the situation as a choice struck me as the kind of cock-eyed optimism that leads, inevitably to such bullshit as “when God gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

I will concede one thing, though. If you are going to get slapped in the face it feels a lot better to get it over with. What really hurts is to keep getting slapped in the face for years only to realize that the big slap is still on its way. It might be advantageous, sometimes, to give yourself a hard slap in the face and to wake yourself the hell up. Okay, enough potty mouth.

The door in question is one which I have held ajar with my foot for about twenty years. Behind it lay a cherished little fantasy that I have carried with me since graduating from college. I have had many opportunities over those years to let the door slam shut. I also probably had it within my power to prise it open and  to walk through it. Why I did neither is a question I have had trouble answering. How can a man who flies jet airplanes through thunderstorms be so indecisive?

These little fantasies that we carry with us throughout our lives are powerful. I suspect everyone has one, or two, or fifty. Maybe it’s the girl we broke up with in high school. Maybe it’s owning a Mercedes. Maybe it’s buying our own business. Maybe it’s punching our boss in the nose on the day of our retirement- see “Oney” by Johnny Cash.

Most of these fantasies never see the light of day. They run on an endless loop inside our brains, mostly in the background, but occasionally on the center screen. Sometimes they motivate us to action but more often they simply cheer us up or bring us down like a dose of melatonin or serotonin. Sometimes they are merely an escape from the drudgeries of our day to day life.

Letting go of cherished fantasies is a sign of maturity, I think. It is logical. It is reasonable. Unfortunately, it is against human nature. Economists have a concept called the sunk costs fallacy which we all, from plumbers to presidents, are taken in by. We have a very human propensity to base our decisions not on cold, empirical facts but on our emotional attachment to the past and our fear of loss.

Wikipedia says, “In economics and business decision-making, a sunk cost is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.” The sunk cost fallacy is described by Economists Hal R. Arkes and Peter Ayton in their paper: The Sunk Cost and Concorde Effects: Are Humans Less Rational Than Lower Animals? They say:

“The sunk cost effect is a maladaptive economic behavior that is manifested in a greater tendency to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made. A prior investment should not influence one’s consideration of current options; only the incremental costs and benefits of the current options should influence one’s decision.”

By the way, if you were wondering if lower animals are more rational than humans, Arkes and Ayton say yes. “A number of experimenters who have tested lower animals have confirmed that they simply do not succumb to the fallacy.”

So, what does all this economics jargon mean? It means just what your old Grandfather said. To wit: “Don’t throw good money after bad!”  Also, “Know when to fold ‘em!”

I find it hard to give up my little fantasy because I have invested years of labor and time and money in its development. I have cultivated it carefully in my own mind. I made decisions, over the course of twenty years, which accommodated this fantasy but which made my life much more difficult and expensive. My wife and I made compromises to this fantasy which appeared to me to be investments but which, ultimately, were written down only in my own ledger book, not the one which mattered. It is probably time now to stop.

The door which I held open so long for myself, to benefit my indecision, was ultimately opened by another, a late-comer, who opened it by simply reaching out and grabbing the handle. The door opened for him and closed on my fingers while I wasn’t paying attention. I have been angry at him for doing that which I had neglected to do. I have been angry at him for taking my little fantasy away from me. I have been angry at him for betraying my good-natured sympathy for his situation. I have been angry at him for redefining my years of work and sacrifice as “sunk costs.”

My fingers are still in the door. I have a choice. I could shout my righteous indignation to the rooftops. I could demand satisfaction from the world. I could, in short, make an utter fool of myself and poison relationships that I have built over the course of a lifetime. Or…I could not do that.

Viewed correctly any choice is an opportunity.  It may be irrational to consider sunk costs when making future decisions. It is also irrational to let anger get the best of you. A quote, attributed to Mark Twain, says this:

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

However hard this aphorism is to accept and live by, I believe it to be true. It’s time for a new fantasy, I think. I pull my hand away now. The door is closed.

Missy

 

IMG_4495

“Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.”

-Mark Twain

 

Later this week my wife and I will celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Twenty-five years is a long time. It is time for a lot to happen. It is time for things to evolve. It is time for things to go wrong. It is time for things to go right. It is time for laughter. It is time for tears. It is time for babies to be born and, indeed, for babies to grow up. It is time for misunderstandings. It is time for perfect agreement. It is time for amazing victories. It is time for spectacular failures. It is time for two people to get to know each other pretty well.

In the last twenty-five years I have made some dumb mistakes. My choices, taken on the whole, have been pretty questionable. Hell, I owned four Fords in that time. I did get one thing right, though, despite myself. The decision I don’t regret, have never once regretted in twenty-five years, was asking Melissa Mueller to marry me. And my hero Samuel Clemons, as always, is on the Mark. Love gets better over time. Perfect love needs incubation. It needs refinement. It needs twenty-five years together. Romeo and Juliet aside, kids don’t know anything about Love.

I was a nerd in High School. Who am I fooling? I am a nerd, now. But it was a nerd sport which led me to Missy. Scholastic Bowl is a trivia contest where teams compete to answer questions in various knowledge fields. I had joined the team as a freshman and by my sophomore year I thought I was pretty good.

I liked going to the tournaments and I liked the practices. But what I really liked, after the first meeting of my sophomore year, was to see a certain cute little black-haired freshman girl come through the door of Mrs. Smith’s classroom. She made me feel all funny inside. She made me stammer. She made me loose track of time. Egad! She made me miss tossup questions. And on those days when she didn’t show up (she also played clarinet in the marching band) I was distraught.

Missy caught my eye because she was pretty. I can’t deny that. She had short, black hair and a cute little button nose. She had rosy cheeks and an omnipresent smile. Her eyes sparkled. When she entered a room she brought a kind of warmth and energy with her. She still does.

I probably would have wanted to ask out Melissa Mueller (once I built up the courage) even if she had never spoken to me. But she did speak. She came up to me and said “Hi.” I have never tired of hearing that voice.

Missy was not just another pretty girl. She had a brain. She had a wonderful, complex, fascinating, engaging brain. She challenged me in every way. Ultimately she challenged me for Captain of the Scholastic Bowl team and she won. She has won many times since.

I finally did ask her out. In my usual fashion I almost waited too long. On the eve of the homecoming dance I discovered to my horror that another boy, a band nerd no less, had asked Missy to the dance. Cravenly, I went to the dance alone, green with envy and with cruel intentions for the other boy. I got lucky. She didn’t hold my knavery against me and surprisingly neither did the other boy. She danced with me most of the evening. In twenty-five years Missy has tolerated a lot of plodding, slow, indecisiveness from me. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I only know that I have always depended on her kindness and tolerance and, up to now, she has always bestowed it on me. As to the other boy. Well, he… became a doctor or something …no need to mention him any further.

Why do Mark Twain and me both agree on the quarter-century. It’s because men are dumb. It’s because we are blockheads and slow learners. The truth is that when you are lucky you don’t always know how lucky you are. I know it now and I shall never forget it.

Missy and I have had our struggles as I imagine all married couples do. We have argued about money, sometimes. We have argued about politics, sometimes. We finish each other’s sentences, occasionally, for better or worse. But our love for each other and our respect for one another (at least mine for her) has constantly augmented.

Here’s one thing I know is true about my wife. Missy is the smartest person I have ever known in every sense of that word. She is sharp and intelligent and possesses a rapier wit. She loves a good pun and a clever turn of phrase. Her vocabulary is impressive (English major, you know) which I love. She is superlative (see, she’ll get that).

Missy’s memory is prodigious. No, that isn’t quite right. To say her memory is prodigious is to say Michael Jordan was a pretty good basketball player. On questions requiring memory I concede the point immediately. She is correct. I am mistaken. Case in point: On a recent vacation to the north shore of Lake Superior we visited a park we had passed through on our Honeymoon twenty-five years ago. Trying to evoke a romantic response and impress her with my less than prodigious memory I asked her (rhetorically, of course) if she recalled standing by the waterfall as we watched children playing in the mist. Yes, she said, “you were wearing a yellow shirt.” I think that’s what she said. I can’t really quite recall. That was two weeks ago.

Cynics say that familiarity breeds contempt. I guess I’m not as cynical as I think. My love for Missy has only grown stronger as we toddle along together toward old age. I travel a great deal for my job and my profession has a tendency, in some cases, to be hard on a marriage. I have flown with a number of younger married First Officers who seem rather ambivalent about the trip ending. At least a couple dread the thought of going home to their spouse or, worse yet, ex-spouse. Not me. I am a lucky bastard.

I am not a composer so I can’t write a fitting symphony to honor our twenty- five years together. I’m not a sculptor so there will be no soaring block of granite with hearts and cherubs to proclaim it. I am a pilot but the company really (I mean really!) discourages skywriting with passengers aboard. Tributes can come in different forms. Here is mine:

Missy, I always want to come home. When we touch down in Chicago and I set that parking brake there is, like the Roadrunner, a puff of smoke in the shape of me and I am gone. I am gone home to your loving arms. Your arms are my favorite place to be on this planet, wherever those arms are.

Happy Twenty-fifth my Love! May I be lucky enough to get fifty more with you.

Dustin

3…2…1…?

Yesterday I visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It is the home of the famous U.S. Space Camp and, at the nearby Redstone Arsenal, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Since space flight is predicated on rocketry, Marshall is arguably the birthplace of the American space program. At Huntsville America took the shameful remnants of Hitler’s missile program and transformed them into an ideal of peaceful, civilian-controlled scientific achievement, culminating in the landing of men on the moon. The centerpiece of NASA’s effort, and indeed the showpiece of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, is the Saturn V rocket.

The Saturn V - The Most Powerful Vehicle Ever Built

The Saturn V – The Most Powerful Vehicle Ever Built

To a certain kind of person, one like me, standing under this massive machine, the most powerful vehicle ever built, fills the heart with pride. Every patriotic American should be proud of what this country achieved, ostensibly to beat the Russians, but truly to advance science and answer the fundamental questions men have posed since our ancestors first looked up at that bright light in the night sky.

Since the Saturn V is a superlative machine, let’s say the superlative machine, I cannot help, at this point, offering some data to back up that claim. The Saturn V, fully assembled with the Apollo capsule in place, stood 363 feet high. Loaded and fully fueled the Saturn V weighed 6,500,000 pounds (3,250 tons). For reference this is the weight of about 7 Boeing 747s. The fully loaded weight of the Saturn V represented a great deal of fuel. After liftoff the five powerful F1 rockets burned for 2 minutes and 41 seconds, each generating 1,500,000 pounds of thrust. In that time those engines consumed 4,700,000 pounds of fuel (Kerosene and liquid oxygen). In terms of energy released as a function of time, this makes the Saturn V a bit like a scarcely controlled bomb. In 161 seconds the Saturn V burned 82% of an Olympic swimming pool of fuel.

So that is pretty big and pretty powerful and pretty god-damned amazing and yet …

Apparently, according to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the most powerful machine ever built is an inadequate showpiece to hold the attention of entertainment-starved Americans and get them to part with $27 in the museum gift shop for a flashing Chinese-made keychain with Katelyn, or Caitlin, or Katylynne printed on it. To buttress the Saturn V and the Jupiter C and the Mercury-Redstone and the full-size mock up of the Space Shuttle and, get this, an actual, no-kidding rock from the frigging moon they needed something “flashy.” So, right in the middle of this monument to American can-do technological know-how we have – a carnival ride. No, here are two carnival rides. No, wait, three. Here my internal curmudgeon shows his wrinkled face. Since cell phone addled kids can’t be expected to focus on something as humdrum as a 363 foot tall rocket there is a ride called the “G-force” or something suitably “spacey.” The G-force, pretending to be an “astronaut-training device,” is nothing more than the ride we used to puke all over at Adventureland called the “Silly Silo.” Next to it is a “temporarily out of service” launch simulator named the “Space Shot” which is no more than the kid’s “bouncy ride” from the Mall of America.

The V2 - Hitler's Evil Toy That Led To Something Really Good

The V2 – Hitler’s Evil Toy That Led To Something Really Good

And I suppose the amusement park philosophy at the U.S. Rocket center is actually market driven; gotta pack in the paying customers. But why must everything in this country, including a museum dedicated to our space program have to turn a profit? I soon saw why. As I was standing in the main hall taking in a captured German V2 rocket, a disgusted father and his tween son hove into view from the IMAX theater (another concession to entertainment culture.) The father, about my age, tried to engage his son in the wonder of the Saturn V. The son continued to groan and send text messages on his phone. A bit later I saw the father literally throw up his hands and say, loudly, “So this is how today’s gonna go, I guess! You are going to refuse to be impressed by anything?”

I am not, at all, prone to picking on the Millennial generation. My children’s cohort, the ones I have known, are intelligent and savvy, and hard-working. They are achieving some amazing things against the strong headwinds of a tough job market, low pay, and crippling college costs. They face challenges that my generation and my parents generation never faced and indeed “laid on them.” What is sad, to me, is that we have failed to inspire these kids with the science and technology that set our hearts afire. More on that later.

A Model of the Future - We Can Hope

A Model of the Future – We Can Hope

1.5 Million Pounds of Thrust Each - Not too Shabby

1.5 Million Pounds of Thrust Each – Not too Shabby

A 363 Foot Roman Candle

A 363 Foot Roman Candle

3 Men, 8 Days, Half a Million Miles, In This Tiny Capsule.

3 Men, 8 Days, Half a Million Miles, In This Tiny Capsule.

Unlike the tween boy I found much to be impressed by at the U.S. Rocket Center. Exhibits in the main hall included the Saturn V, the aforementioned moon rock picked up by Astronaut Alan Bean, an actual piece of Skylab the size of a Mini Cooper which survived its plunge to Earth when it crashed into Australia in 1979. There were models of the U.S.’s past and (hopefully) future rockets, “extra” F1 rocket engines, and a full scale mock-up of the lunar rover demonstrating the manner in which the little space car could be folded into a box about half its size. In the corner stood an actual Apollo spacesuit. It looked just like my grade school friend had described the one he owned and “forgot” (so many times) to bring to school to show us. All of these wowed me. I found myself lapsing into vivid daydreams starring me, lying in that implausibly small capsule atop that pillar of explosives and being catapulted into orbit, watching the wide green horizon of Earth resolve itself before my eyes into a curved blue billiard ball framed by blackness.

I have, several times in my life experienced what Edgar Allan Poe called “The Imp of the Perverse,” a powerful, nay overwhelming, urge to do a dangerous, forbidden, and completely uncharacteristic thing. My imp presents himself mostly at moments of awe or grandeur, or at times when circumstances call for decorum. I felt his presence when I stood on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and heard his whispered voice describing to me the perfect swan dive one might execute for the crowds below. My imp gnawed at me yesterday as I stared at the moon rock, urging me, prodding me, tempting me to lift up the glass enclosure and pick up this otherworldly relic. I had to walk away eventually, out of fear.

An Actual, No-foolin' Moon Rock. I Successfully Walked Away.

An Actual, No-foolin’ Moon Rock. I Successfully Walked Away.

Nearby was a fascinating exhibit which showed Neil Armstrong’s heart rate during his manual landing of the Apollo 11 lunar module. Even Armstrong, whom I always found to be disappointingly boring in interviews, could not hide the pressure and excitement of the mind-blowing activity in which he was engaged.

Neil Armstrong's Heart Rate - A Cool Customer, But Still...

Neil Armstrong’s Heart Rate – A Cool Customer

Outside the rocket center’s main exhibit hall are some other pretty amazing pieces of American-made technology, now left to moulder. The A12, an early model of the SR-71 sits, apparently rusting if such a thing is possible, in front of the gift shop. This is an aircraft capable of traveling from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. in 64 minutes. Today it was going the opposite of fast. It needed a thorough cleaning to remove the pine pollen and a coat of paint.

The A12 (Predecessor to the SR-71). Can Titanium rust?

The A12 (Predecessor to the SR-71). Can Titanium rust?

Behind the visitor center and flanked by the carnival rides were rockets representing the critical baby steps it takes to get to the moon. There was the Mercury-Redstone rocket, America’s desperate attempt to catch-up to the Russians and put a man “up there.” The Redstone part was simply an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with the warhead replaced by a capsule the size of a pup tent. When ready for launch it resembled nothing so much as a high powered rifle cartridge with Alan Shepherd the little lead projectile on the end. The courage it must have taken to climb into that claustrophobic bullet and be launched into space makes Schwarzenegger look like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. Why can’t we sell this story to kids? Why do we need gimmicks and rides to hook kids on science? We have actual heroes and actual amazing machines to inspire the next generation. The other rockets, like the A12 are fading in the hot Alabama sun. Their chalky paint looks like my old ’87 Mercury Sable. Even the signs and placards meant to explain these wonders to the center’s visitors are faded and warped and unreadable. In the meantime the Space Camp kids, whose parents are paying thousands of dollars to send them here, are treated to the Silly Silo and a foil package of Astronaut Ice Cream. We should do better.

Rocket Garden

Rocket Garden

This Is The ...I Guess...Jupiter C?

This is the …I Guess…Jupiter C?

We are so cheap in this country now and have lost our collective swagger to the point that we have to pay the Russians to send our astronauts to the International Space Station. What we can do, apparently, is make movies. Finally, overwhelmed by the heat, I retreated into the visitor center again to take in the IMAX movie. This movie had the highest ratio of flag-waving pride to things to be proud of I’ve seen since the last time I was in Texas (sorry Texas, that was a cheap shot). It crowed about our past glories, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo. But then it lapsed into cheap sci-fi, commercialism, and wishful thinking. Part of the film was little more than an unpaid advertisement for Spacex (Elan Musk’s commercial rocket launch company) and it’s competitors. A breathless narrator explained how these highly-subsidized private companies would be doing the basic “Earth orbit” stuff in future so NASA could focus on dreamy stuff like a trip to Mars in the next 30-100 years.

IMG_3304

How Old Is Too Old To Be An Astronaut?

I’m sorry guys. That model does not inspire one kid to study Physics. It is not a vision we can all take ownership of and be proud of like Apollo was. And don’t fool yourself; unless the American public is inspired and unless they feel real pride and ownership in our space program none of this stuff is going to happen. If kids can’t go down to Cape Canaveral and feel the vibration in their chest as a Space Shuttle roars off the launchpad with a big American flag painted on the side, there will be no money for space flight and there will accrue none of the tangible and intangible benefits of space flight we got from Apollo.

When I walked out of the U.S. Rocket Center with a strange combination of inspiration and disappointment I waited near the curb for my hotel van. To my right, near the entrance, was a specially marked parking spot blocked for use, so the sign said, of the U.S. Rocket Center Director. Parked in the spot was a shiny new Tesla sport’s car, manufactured by Elon Musk’s other flagship company. I do not imply here a quid pro quo. I will allow you to draw your own conclusion. It is possible that the Director, obviously a space enthusiast, is simply a fan of Musk and his technologies (I am, too). All I am saying is that if the U.S. Space Camp is in the business of promoting private space initiatives while NASA dreams unfunded dreams we have lost our way.

Not everything we do as a nation requires a profit motive. Some things should be done because they are intrinsically worth doing. They are worth doing because they inspire us, lift us up, give us a nobility of purpose. Doing these things together as a nation, instead of as companies watching the bottom line, bestows that nobility on all of us, rich and poor. When Armstrong made that step onto the powdery surface of the moon every American’s heart rate rose with his because we were all there with him.

 

by: Dustin Joy

Eat The Pretty Ones

Every day we see them,
In all the magazines,
They don’t look like anybody,
We’ve ever really seen,

They make us feel so ugly,
But now it’s time to stop,
They don’t look like that either,
Without the aid of Photoshop,

So, love your love handles,
Love your double chin,
And your receding hairline,
And all your saggy skin,

See your folds and creases,
In a whole new way,
Starting today.

Love Your Love Handles
by: Mitch Benn

It’s Not Fair

I am not a looker. I never have been. I was not “hot” in college. I was not a “handsome young man.” I’m pretty sure I didn’t win any beauty contests as a baby. I was a bony, skinny, scrawny teenager. I graduated into a pudgy, lumpy, bumpy adult. I have, you will note immediately, a big nose. I have gaps in my teeth, a ruddy complexion, and an aspiring double chin. My butt sticks out too far and, as a sort of hilarious joke by God (that trickster) my belly has expanded as a counterweight. I did not get my brother’s good looks nor my Grandpa’s stature (He was 6’ 3”). I am never gonna make the cover of GQ. And I am OK with that …now.

There is a time in our lives, though, when we certainly lament our genetic deficiencies. Adolescence is the worst, of course. Just at the point in our lives when we are most desperate to impress people (read that as the opposite sex) our bodies start doing weird and unexpected things. No one on the planet is crueler (more cruel?) than other teenagers. If we are not in that tiny club of genetic lottery winners, the cheerleader with the blemish-free skin or the football quarterback with the muscles and the freakish good looks, we begin to view ourselves as outcasts – garbage, to put it bluntly. We start to think that this is a judgement from an angry and arbitrary god, the jock god, if you will. We somehow start to think that we deserve this, that we deserve less happiness than these pretty people. Some people spend their whole lives in a kind of funk because of this phenomenon.

The Ugly Silent Majority

I am no Pollyanna. I understand that happiness is not distributed evenly on this cursed planet. I am willing to concede that some people are going to have an easier time of it by virtue of the height of their cheek bones or the slimness of their waist. Research demonstrates that the tips you get as a waitress have a great deal more to do with the color of your skin and the size of your breasts than the skill with which you do your job. I am prepared to admit that the “pretty” people will probably always have an easier time of it. What I’m not willing to concede, and you shouldn’t either, is the idea that they deserve more happiness than you or I. More to the point, I do not believe I, nor you, deserve less happiness because we have crooked teeth or little boobs (big boobs in the case of men) or acne. And the plain fact is – we have got them on the numbers.

Mitch Benn’s song, which I quote above, has another verse which set me to thinking the other day. It goes like this:

We feel like we’re abnormal,
But that’s ridiculous cause,
There’s maybe a couple of hundred of them,
And there’s six and a half billion of us.

That is the point. Look around the airports, and the parks, and the malls. We have the numbers. We are the ugly “silent majority” searching for a ski-slope-nosed, droopy-cheeked Nixon to lead us. Uh, ok, well he’s dead. But the point is that we, the big-nosed, overweight, uni-browed troglodytes should run this country. We should demand our share of happiness. We should redefine what beautiful is. The pretty people are the genetic anomaly and yet they have been able to perpetuate a state of, for lack of a better word, apartheid, on the rest of us.

Jupiter and Callisto by: Peter Paul Rubens

Jupiter and Callisto
by: Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

The Three Graces by: Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

The Three Graces
by: Peter Paul Rubens
(1577-1640)

 

Rubens and the Evolution of Pretty

Looking back through history there has been some evolution of “pretty.” Many of us, the gravitationally challenged, cling to the notion that in the days of Rubens “fat” was the standard by which women were measured. Plumpness was a sign of health and vivaciousness. His ladies were beautiful and confident and desired and, you know what, they looked like real women. Even in ancient cultures fertility icons were invariably statues of voluptuous women.

Ancient Stone Female Figurine Willendorf, Austria (24000 - 22000 BC)

Ancient Stone Female Figurine
Willendorf, Austria
(24000 – 22000 BC)

The ideal of beauty represented by the anorexic blond is an arbitrary creation. It has no more basis in objective reality than too-wide lapels did in the seventies or leg warmers did in the eighties or Kardashians do today. And while I would never be so callous as to call Jessica Alba ugly (it’s not her fault she looks the way she does) I will say that beauty, like many things, is a pendulum that can swing too far and hurt people. So, maybe beauty was once defined as something other than emaciated blondness. I hope it was. If so, I’m afraid that boat has sailed. So I say it’s time to swing that pendulum back the other way or sail that ship back into port or whatever metaphor applies best here. When the majority of human beings live their lives feeling “ugly” it is time to redefine “pretty.” Sorry pretty people, majority rules.

 

 

The Problem, as Always – Fox News

“Pretty” today can be ascertained by what is on TV. TV “news,” in particular seems to be leading this march away from meritocracy and toward bimbo ascendancy. You will get a whole lot farther today in “news” with big boobs and tantalizingly crossed bare legs than with hard work, good reporting, and brains. Don’t know what I mean? Tune in to Fox and Friends any random morning to get the idea. You don’t even need to turn up the volume. In fact, absolutely don’t turn up the volume. Better yet, tune in to the Fox News show Outnumbered and again, preferably, turn down the volume. You will notice some striking similarities in the 4 color-coordinated female “hosts.” Hint: It’s not their erudition or education or journalistic excellence. Fox has been the driver of this trend, like so many other harmful trends, since their debut in 1996. Sadly the other networks have fallen in line and cut their skirts shorter and shorter. From Lara Spencer’s vapid Betty Boop routine on Good Morning America to the nauseating spectacle of Savannah Guthrie sitting in the same chair formerly occupied by Barbara Walters, Jane Pauley, and Katie Couric on the Today show, this diminishment of Q and A in favor of T and A should be an embarrassment to our culture. Edward R. Murrow would be spinning in his grave. If we could hook a fan blade up to his corpse and prop him up in front of “The Kelly File” we would go a long way toward solving global warming.

But I Digress

My purpose here is not to decry the state of journalism in this country but to decry the unfairness that “looks” trump talent and hard work across the spectrum. Fat people, short people, and “ugly” people on TV are relegated to comedy relief, if they are relegated to anything at all. We must change that in order to open up new opportunities for the repressed majority called “us.”

What To Do

So, what do we do about this sorry state of affairs? How do we use our advantage? First of all, we don’t give away any of the power we have. Don’t give your hard earned money to Christi Brinkley for her Ab Stretcher, or to Cindy Crawford for her Skin Smoother or to Shaun T for his Paunch buster Polka DVD’s. We all know that the only thing that makes you skinnier is giving up bacon and, for God’s sake, it’s just not worth it. And we should know, if we don’t, that the only way to look young is to be friggin’ young – or to make a deal with the devil. (I’m looking at you Dick Clark. Oh, yeah, I guess the devil finally got him.) Also, don’t go see movies with “hot skinny young starlets” in them. If it doesn’t have Melissa McCarthy in it, boycott it. And, you know what, boycott her, too, as a traitor. What is she thinking, losing all that weight. Where is her pride?

Next, we have to organize. If Wayne LaPierre and the NRA can run this country of three hundred eighteen million people as their own private fiefdom and the AARP can spook legislators into a buffalo stampede by saying BOO! what could 317.9 million ugly people accomplish if we just voted our self interest and actually ran for office. And we already have a start in politics. Bernie Sanders is not exactly a GQ model and Mitch McConnell doesn’t have enough chin to put on a pillowcase.

We will call our group SOAP – Society Of Average People or maybe HISS – Homely Individuals Standing Strong or, how about UGLY – United Group of Lummoxes and Yahoos. So, lets get SOAP rolling. I’ll be the President (or Benevolent Dictator if you will) and we will draft a few of our talented brethren who have become famous to do PR for us. I envision a PSA starring Steve Buscemi, Dawn French, and Sandra Bernhard. In fact, why hasn’t somebody put them in a movie together already? That would be awesome!

600full-steve-buscemi

Steve Buscemi – No George Clooney in the looks department but one helluva actor!

Dawn French

Dawn French – Not sure if it’s okay to have a crush on a Vicar, but I always have!

bernhard-sandra-

Sandra Bernhard – A conventional beauty? Perhaps not. But smart, talented, and sexy as hell if you ask me.

Here’s a Modest Proposal for the twenty-first century; let’s round up those feckless, shallow, phony-boob-bearing, Escalade-driving, wheat-grass-chugging, sit-up-doing, little twits and turn them into Soylent Green (Google that one, youngsters. Who said Charlton Heston never made a good movie?) In honor of Jonathan Swift, our campaign will be called Eat the Pretty Ones and we will get a good New York advertising firm to market it for us – and then we will eat them, too. After all, if we are going to lift up and celebrate the persecuted big-boned American public we are gonna need a reliable protein source.

Finally, we need to heed the words of Mitch Benn. Love your love handles. Love yourself. We are who we are. We look like what we look like. We deserve to be happy. After all, our contribution to this world is just as important as, say Paris Hilton’s, isn’t it?

by: Dustin Joy

 

Love Your Love Handles – Full Lyrics

Every day we’d see them, in all the magazines 

They don’t look like anybody, we’ve ever really seen 

They make us feel so ugly, but now it’s time to stop cause 

They don’t look like that either, without the aid of Photoshop so 

Love your love handles, love your double chin 

and your receding hairline, and all your saggy skin and 

see your folds and creases in a whole new way, starting today

Some people try their hardest, to make all our lives hell cause

They’ve all got moisturizers, and diet drinks to sell

Don’t have to ask permission, to be heard or seen

Don’t need to make excuses, for being a human being, so

Love your love handles, love your laughter lines

Cause every one’s a medal, for all the happy times

Love your bumpy eyelids and your wonky nose, so everyone knows

All of our imperfections, all our asymmetry 

They’re an important part of, what makes us you and me 

Who cares what someone looks like, long as they have their health 

Be good to everybody, starting with yourself, cause 

We’re not all supermodels, we’re not all movie stars

Most of us look exactly, like what we really are

We feel like we’re abnormal, but that’s ridiculous cos there’s

maybe a couple of hundred of them and six and a half billion of us

Love your love handles, love your crooked teeth

Cherish that wobbly tummy, and whatever lies beneath now

Love your fuzzy nipples, and your droopy chest, and all of the rest

Love your love handles, love your dimply thighs

Lanky, dumpy, scrawny, whatever shape or size

You’ll find you can be happy and comfortable in, your own skin

Raise my Taxes, Please

I have promised, in the past, not to make this a political blog. In this remarkable year in politics, though, I think I’m going to have some trouble keeping that promise. I will try to keep it to a minimum. Here is my first foray. Don’t even get me started on Trump.

 

Illinois is not a poor state. We rank 15th in per capita income in the United States. We exceed every surrounding state in per capita income, median household income, and median family income. Of neighboring states the only one who comes close to Illinois in any of these metrics is Wisconsin who finishes six places back at 21st. Behind Wisconsin is Iowa in 22nd place, Missouri at 33rd, Indiana way back at 38th place, and finally Kentucky near the back of the pack at 46th.

If we were a poor state I might feel differently about the man-made “financial crisis” which has established us as the laughingstock of the country. If we were Mississippi, where the per capita income is in the neighborhood of $20,000 I could explain and justify underfunded schools, decaying bridges, cuts to critical social services, unmowed state parks, and IOU’s issued to schools in lieu of money. If we were a third world country I could understand the governor and the legislature bickering like children about state university funding.

But the truth is, Illinois is not a poor state, sadly we are a cheap state with a very regressive tax scheme. Our per capita income of about $30,000 is 105% of the U.S. average. We really do have the wherewithal to pay our bills, fund our schools adequately, and maintain world class infrastructure. Like so much of our center-right country, though, we simply don’t want to pay for it. But guess what; quality costs money.

The Republican party has convinced people for 36 years that you can have your cake and eat it, too. They have encouraged the mythology that lower taxes for rich people (or job creators as they call them) leads to prosperity for all and, specifically in the case of Illinois, that taxes are too damn high. The common wisdom is that Illinois is a “high tax” state, especially when contrasted with the responsible “Republican Governor” states that surround us. The facts, as often happens, differ from the mythology.

Remember good old Scott Walker, the “tax-cutting, labor-busting, rock-ribbed conservative” from Wisconsin. His state’s income tax rate, according to a 2015 Forbes Magazine study is 66% higher than “high tax” Illinois. On a taxable income of $50,000 Wisconsin residents pay 5.68%. Illinois flat rate is 3.75%. Forbes is hardly hardly a bleeding-heart liberal publication.

In fact, the Forbes survey says that Illinois income taxes on $50,000 were lower than all of our neighboring states except Indiana with a flat rate of 3.3%. (One side note: All Indiana counties tax income as well to the tune of .245% bringing an Indiana resident’s total income tax to 3.545%, pretty close to ours.) On $50,000 Iowa, with it’s Republican Governor-for-life Terry Branstad, taxes it’s citizens at a rate of 5.70%. Missouri’s rate is 5.55% and Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky (our poorest neighbor) taxes 4.03%. (Another side note: Like Indiana several of these states have local and county income taxes which add to their total. Illinois does not. Local and county income taxes in Iowa average .073%, in Missouri .161%, and in Kentucky a whopping .759%.)

“Hold on,” I hear my Republican friends seething, “Illinois has the highest property taxes in the nation.” That is “kind of” true. According to some surveys comparing property taxes to home value we rank 6th, behind New Jersey, New Hampshire, Texas, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. Other recent surveys put us at number 2 behind only New Jersey. That is, I must admit, relatively high. But property taxes are determined by local taxing bodies and fund important local services; schools, snow plowing, and sewers. Property taxes in Illinois are high, in many cases, in response to lost state funding at all levels. If our schools were funded more equitably from state income taxes property taxes could be lower and voters would probably demand that they would be. The fiscal mess in Springfield has forced local taxing bodies to bump-up rates merely to survive. Also, property tax rates vary wildly across the state with some of the wealthiest areas of the state paying the lowest rates and vice versa. In this way Illinois property taxes are even regressive.

Which brings us to the regressive nature of Illinois income tax. In Illinois the poorest taxpayers pay the same rate on their incomes as the richest billionaires, say our Governor, for example. In terms of total taxes it is worse. According to a 2014 Chicago Sun Times article “In Illinois, the state’s poorest residents—those in the bottom 20 percent of the income scale—pay almost three times as much of their earnings in taxes as the top one percent do.” This is not right. Paying 3.75% of your income in taxes is a great deal more onerous if you make minimum wage than if the bulk of your millions comes from capital gains and interest.

So, “liberal” Illinois is harder on it’s poor taxpayers than any of the so-called “conservative” states which surround us. To further exacerbate the problem, funding our schools with local property taxes has led to a huge disparity in educational outcomes between the rich and the poor in Illinois. (See my essay from May 27, 2015 called And the Loser is…) It is high time we shifted school funding in Illinois to an income tax based system and high time that we brought in a progressive income tax to fund it.

To address the fiscal crisis Illinois income tax rates were boosted in 2011 from 3% to 5% (before sunsetting back to 3.75% in 2015). Republicans reacted as if the sky were falling. But the top marginal rate in Iowa (which kicks in at $100,000) is 8.98%. In Missouri it is 6.0%. Wisconsin’s top rate is 7.65%. So the rich in Illinois are doing pretty well despite their belly-aching. This regressive system we have in place has not served us well, either, from a revenue point of view. It has been estimated that if we simply adopted the taxation scheme of Scott Walker’s Wisconsin in its entirety we would collect almost $10 Billion more per year which would more than cover our deficit and allow us to have good roads, good schools, and fund the social safety net programs Governor Rauner has threatened to cut. And would it “kill our economy?” Ask Scott Walker.

Let’s be honest. Nobody likes to pay taxes. It is harmful to tax too heavily. But there is a balance between maintaining world class infrastructure and services and being a third world country. Illinois is on it’s way to being a place people don’t want to live; not because income taxes are too high but because we are perceived as a state in a downward-spiral with poor schools, bad roads, and an embarrassment of a state government. Is it worth paying a bit more to have solvency, quality schools, and a world-class infrastructure? Absolutely. We are not a poor state. We can afford it.

 

by: Dustin Joy