Let’s Not Listen

We’re all sick of it, the parade of articles about how the forgotten Real Americans of Trumplandia feel about their dear leader a year in.  It’s a well-worn joke that newspapers and broadcasters won’t stop until they talk to each of them.  So yes, let’s be done with them soon.  At least they’re real people who are somewhat honest about their wants, needs, and beliefs.  Ignorant, bigoted people, but you know, they pass for real.

However, i want more.  Next time some Republican or one of their flying monkeys has some message to get out, i want them to be treated with the respect their behavior merits.  Let’s not listen.  The thing is, we know what they’re going to say.  They’re going to lie.  Obamacare is a job killer, Democrats want to flood the country with ‘illegal aliens’, Hillary Clinton personally killed our troops in Benghazi!!!!

They are exceptionally disciplined at picking a message and hammering it and i am sick of our media and by extension us just lining up to receive it.  i no longer feel like i need to hear both sides, the other side is no longer beholden to facts and no longer tries to even sell their ideas on whatever merit remains.  It’s like Jon Stewart’s lamentation in his famous, epic televised murder of Tucker Carlson, of why reporters line up to go to ‘spin alley’ after a debate.  Why do you bring Republicans on TV when you know what they’re going to say ahead of time, and you know it’s not true.  All you’re doing is amplifying that untruth, and we know too well that weaponized, amplified lies become their own sort of fact.

So can we not?  Can we just stop listening to Republicans altogether?

A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out

By that i mean we’re living in a country where the middle-class and below can lower their expectations of a hand reached out to help, and get ready to hand their hard-earned money up to the richest among us.*

For the last year or so, i’ve had the feeling of watching a favorite soccer team playing two men down (no comment on the refereeing), and clinging to a 0-0 scoreline.  You’re happy that they’re holding on, but you know it can’t last.  Sooner or later, the Republicans were going to get their wayward members lined up behind something, and that would be that.

As it turned out, those wayward members were almost comically hypocritical and/or cheaply bought, considering that the bill the Senate passed last night basically contained everything they previously objected to, deliberated upon (or not) in an equally objectionable way.

On Election Day last year, there was a palpable feeling of something having been taken from us, a physical thing.  Money.  Forgetting for the moment the ideological aspects, the moral risk, and the geopolitical peril, it was just plain going to cost us.  Stuff that we had and thought of as things our government was paid to care for was simply going to be taken from us.  Things that we’d fought for and achieved as a society were going to be scorned and discarded.

And unless, against the odds we can yet stop this, this is that bill coming due.  And like most bills, this effectively gets paid to people who have more money than we do.  Big companies who hide profits overseas get to pay less in taxes.  Rich people get to pay less in taxes in general, and less on inherited wealth.  And since it’s so, so partially paid for in a fig-leaf of an attempt to say it is deficit-neutral, it means that other stuff’s being cut now.  Health care for poor people.  Tax deductions for teachers.  Graduate student stipend deductions.  And in the most relevant fuck-you to me, tax deductions for local and state taxes.

That’s right, they rigged it so that those of us who paid high state and city taxes and received good service for them now have to pay tax on those taxes to the federal government, which already didn’t do many of those things we were having our local governments do, and doesn’t want to do those things because of selfish assholes in backward states want to do nothing ever and force that choice on the rest of us.  We’re going to be paying them taxes on money we spent on services they wouldn’t provide.   

And that money goes to the rich.  In their tax cuts.  In their private jet deductions.  In their breaks for one particular religious school.  In their reduced taxes on luxury cars.  In their new ability to drill for oil in the last untouched part of Alaska.

And for as long as this law stands, it’s going to do damage.  It’s going to mean that the 2019 version of my erstwhile roommate wouldn’t have been able to afford grad school, no matter how cheap our rent was and how many coupons she clipped.  And dozens of people like her won’t be making the breakthroughs that human civilization doesn’t know it needs yet.  It means that insurance costs will go up, people will lose coverage, people will die. People will just die because of this, people who might have lived a hundred years.

And that’s just the start.  This is where this bill leaves us, but this bill leaves The Deficit in horrendous shape.  The same pious fucks who so grudgingly sold their vote last night are going to come for their real targets.  Education.  Welfare.  Medicaid.  It’s a war on an America for everybody, waged by the somewhat-rich on behalf of the stupid-rich.

Every single day this law stands, every single day these monsters are not voted out, damage will be done.  And for every day of moving backwards, untold days will be needed to even get back to where we were when Obama left office.

So fuck your wallet and fuck my wallet, and fuck paying more so that rich assholes can pay less; i mean, i can afford it for a while, and i hope that in doing so it delays whatever’s coming for someone else.  But this can’t stand, because they won’t stop.  They’re coming for it all.  Anything you think you might have, any sliver of anything that they might find a pretense for not paying for, they’re coming for.

And they will leave us a hollowed-out country, with the children of the Baby Boom dying young and wondering why their parents’ generations saw fit to take everything from them so thoroughly.

* Did i work too hard repurposing that quote?  Maybe.

Call it what it is.

The other day, while proofreading the teenager’s essay on The Crucible, i counseled her to choose another adjective instead of ‘evil’ to describe the ringleader of the witchcraft hysteria. There had to be room for interpretation, i argued, some nuance to the description—she wasn’t wholly evil, surely. She was immature, lovelorn, made bad decisions when confronted with big trouble, and even though she doubled down when real people started paying the price, ‘evil’ remained an oversimplification. Didn’t it?

Then again, this week’s news (and all the ones before it) makes me doubt my certainty about overstrong adjectives.

We’ve got Republican politicians and Alabama voters supporting a pedophile. A guy who was already shown unqualified in multiple objective settings, before being outed as a serial harasser of 14-year-olds and a fugitive from a 1980s shopping mall (and i don’t mean in some cool John Hughes kind of way). But the Red Team is so hopped up on needing to win at everything, on #librultears, on their bloody tax cuts, that they need him. Better a known pedophile than a Democrat.

And about those tax cuts.  The ones that turn grad students, especially ones in the hard sciences into paupers, or, as likely, into an endangered species.  The ones that take away the little bit of their own pocket money school teachers could deduct.  The ones that annihilate people’s healthcare as an oh-by-the-way, a measure that people describe as a ‘sweetener’ or a concession, to the legislators who don’t feel it’s awful enough.  Journalists say that with a straight face now.  Thank goodness they’ve got the votes of Senator Vader, Congressman Skeksis, and the Death Eater Caucus.  Hell, going back to the theming element of my little rant here, the teenager’s also been studying the battle over taxes, the budget, and deficits from Bush I to now; a former religion of the GOP badly in need of a thesis or ninety-six.  There’s no high-minded consideration of the size of government here, this is a 1. a reward for not the rich, but the filthy rich, and 1a. a full-throated ‘fuck you’ to blue states and everything they like, chiefly education and the educated.

Let’s not forget some of the source of my renewed interest in blogging, the imminent demise of net neutrality; corollary: the certainty that neither of my two readers will pay their ISPs an extra $6.99 a month to read this website.  The non-Nazi part of the internet truly despises Republicans and Trump, so it’s ominous that he’s basically going to just end it.  When users have to start paying for Twitter and Facebook, these services are going to wither.  When ‘fake news’ can get shunted to the toll roads by administration-friendly ISPs, it becomes more and more of a prophetic lie/insult.  When poor people are functionally walled off from parts of the story, or from their means of telling their own stories (I would’ve uploaded that video of the cop shooting that innocent man, except it’s not on my plan), the promise of the internet will be dead and buried.

Not to say that old-school news is faring any better.  Monday, the toddler-in-chief called them to a meeting to berate them, not for the first time in person, never mind the hundreds of times in press conferences, rallies, and on Twitter.   The laws are clearing the way for the dreaded Sinclair to own more and more stations and funnel actual propaganda into the homes of people like my mom and dad.   And they’re working to engineer the conditions of the Time Warner/AT&T merger to take revenge on CNN, a network he hates as being mean to him (if only they were, and if only they were, sooner).

These are policies designed to protect the abusive.  To hurt the innocent.  To advantage the powerful and take from the average American.  These are policies to cement power and control information, to wage war on truth.

These are evil policies.  The Republicans are an evil party.  And America has an evil President.

The Evil Within

It’s hard to tell if some of the internet’s favorite darkest jokes are funny anymore.  Some white guy shoots another dozen people, we ask “WHERE WAS HE RADICALIZED?”  The President says something rash, and we nervously laugh about nuclear war.  And in recent weeks, we quip about how everybody would be fine if we just followed Mike Pence’s rules, or if we wouldn’t be better off if we just got all men out of government, or how we’d rather hear that beloved public figures had died than that they’d done the seemingly inevitable act of harassment or worse.

It’s common, is the point.  Astonishingly common.  The rule, rather than the exception, maybe.

Maybe some of these more intentionally-strident statements on Twitter are actually right.  Maybe it’s ironically right to stereotype based on gender, but the stereotype is that men are likely to turn bad.  Maybe we’re all carriers of this disease and its emergence is more likely and tougher to battle than any of us might care to admit.

Logically enough, i then wonder, what if it happens to me?  When do i become compelled to do something this (pick one on a range from: stupid > shitty > immoral > horrible)?  What happens, does a switch flip?  Is it age?  Is it triggered by wealth or advancement in society?  Is it lurking?

There’s something that naturally bristles when you see people say that all this awfulness is partially your fault when you know you’re not awful.  Like watching the umpteenth episode of DuckTales where the boys learned that Webigail could do anything they could, and 11-year-old me thinking ‘i fucking know that already’.  It doesn’t matter, until someday in the distant distant future it’s somehow made right, it’s for those of us carriers of the evil gene to deal with.  Not being evil is not enough, you have to at least support the idea that it exists and still requires work.  Maybe it’s complacency, decades of conviction and assurance that you’re a good person, that allows it to sneak up on you, and one day you find yourself defiling a potted plant and thinking you’re still okay.

Don’t get me wrong, i don’t actually think that i’m going to turn evil someday, but maybe considering the possibility that we all might be capable of this behavior is a good reminder to, you know, not.

Why even bother?

Walking up the empty ramp into my polling place in an off-year election this morning, i was struck by how different it was from last year, and how it yet acutely reminded me of Election Day in 2016.  Normal life existed before then, normal life where you didn’t (even as a straight white male), feel like you had to be fighting all the time, and when you didn’t check news websites every morning and use their font size as a proxy for how bad the first news of the morning was.

Life before Election Day a year ago was nuts, sure, but the direction it was headed in was more or less the same direction it had been.  Everything basically sucked, and was likely to keep sucking unless you were a rich straight white male, but it was a gradual suck for most of us.  Things were going to cost more, you were going to get sick, your employer probably could give two shits about you, and your governments were never going to be able to do enough for any of us.  But it wasn’t getting worse, and it wasn’t getting worse by-design.

It’s this last part that makes us really feel like we’re in a bad movie, or a prestige cable drama that’s maybe just a little too grim for its own good. The fact of it is, while there remain groups of people that have been unfairly targeted yet again, these assholes have basically come for all of us, too many times in the last year.  On Election Day last year, even before you factor in what it must be like for minorities of one kind or another, we were all doomed to be materially hurt by our government.  Even/especially people who voted for the motherfucker.  A switch was flipped, and each and every one of our futures was dimmed.

We’ve had to struggle to keep the harm to our health insurance merely serious and costly rather than fatal and astronomically expensive.  We’re in a battle to prevent our taxes from going up to pay for nothing that benefits us.  We’re all going to breathe dirtier air and more of us will watch our homes flood sooner.  We’re all in greater danger of being shot by some asshole who shouldn’t have a gun.  And every last one of us is in line to get fucked harder and more often and in ways we can’t defend by increasingly unaccountable corporations.  And that’s before we think about the increased possibility of shooting, even nuclear war.  A switch was flipped and everything sucked.

And beyond the use of our country’s machinery to make everything terrible, they’re going and breaking the machine.  Firing career public servants, leaving countless more offices dark and gathering dust.  Perverting institutions that should be protecting citizens. Hiding information from us at every turn.  And taking every step to ensure each subsequent election will be more engineered for unfairness than the last.

Escapes from this bleak reality remain tempting in substantial ways.  Mueller’s investigation feels real, feels like the work of the sorts of ferociously competent people we used to have in our government.  The burgeoning farm team of young progressives running for stuff everywhere might start bearing fruit in time to displace these monsters.  But what if he fires Mueller?  What if Mueller has the goods and no one cares?  What if he’s voted out and won’t go.  What if the part of the country that’s been told that everybody’s conspiring against them and their guns doesn’t take losing well?  Like nuclear war, this is a thing we have to think about now.

This doesn’t mean i’m giving up.  After all, i’m still sticking up signs and rage-donating and ready to go fight to undo this next year.  But a day like today is a reminder that we’re at the bottom of the hill, looking a long way up.  It’s not fine.

Road Trips, Expected and Otherwise

This is long.  I don’t even know why, but it was fun to write.

Normally, the girl and i do not put a lot of mileage on our car.  Neither of us drive to work, and our routine activities don’t really add up to all that much.  So it’s been a fun month for the car in that we took two ~2000-mile trips up and down the eastern seaboard.  For reasons.

One of these was planned a long time ago, the new and improved summer version of my side of the family’s every-two-years Thanksgiving conclave.  A giant house with everything you could want, with the Outer Banks beaches as its backyard beckoned for a week of slacking off and drinking a ton of beer.  With enough beer, even i probably would like the beach more.

To North Carolina

We set off from Boston on a Friday afternoon and made fine time toward our halfway point in coastal Delaware.  Somewhere near the ironically named Walt Whitman service area on the New Jersey Turnpike, texts start flooding in.  About this.  First we figure we’ll just improvise, as it’s just a power outage.  Buy a lot of ice, plan on perspiring more and altering our grocery plans.  My mom, already in a motel for the night, stocked up on flashlights, because dealing with situations like this is her superpower.  A half-hour further down the road, and the text messages changed further.  Now it was an evacuation, destined to be a long one.  Now my mom’s working magic on her iPad, and suddenly several cars worth of us are all making a right turn and heading west.  As shown.

There’s no booking alternate accommodations on the beach in the summer for 14 people on zero notice, probably not for any amount of money.  Thus did we find ourselves still in North Carolina, but in the mountains of Asheville.  Specifically in a golf/aviation (yes, really) resort on top of a mountain.  So anyway, this is a change of plans, and we packed wrong for it, bought the wrong liquor for it, etc., but we are resourceful people.

Some things we learned:

  • Fuck golf resorts.  We rented a nice house in a nice, but not busy golf resort, with a clubhouse on top of the mountain with gobsmackingly nice views.  It even had a bar!  An empty bar with reasonably priced drinks!  Seemingly begging for well-behaved lushes like ourselves to exchange money for said drinks!  But they don’t take money, they start by asking for a $25 resort fee.  Per day.  Per adult.  Then you can pay for your drinks.  Perfectly engineered to keep the merely comfortable away from the actual 1%, ’cause while i can afford that, fuck you for asking.  Also golf, as typically practiced, is dumb and a waste of human effort.
  • There must be something in the water (or the tax breaks) in Asheville, as three different west coast breweries have branches in the area, as well as numerous homegrown ones.  So much cheap beer to drink in so many places.
  • The fact that there’s a US Forest Service-run natural rock waterslide that you can go play on for $2 is kind of amazing.
  • The Biltmore Estate is pretty cool (once we realized it was a thing you might go see in the area).  It is impressively large, but it’s telling that the thing that’s most often mentioned is how many rooms it has, it’s so impressively subdivided.  As the girl noted, it’s almost like it’s half mansion, half hotel.  And more than half park.
  • This part of North Carolina somehow has butterflies like we have mosquitoes.

To the Middle of Nowhere

After that (also, quality family time, including indoctrinating both my octogenarian great-aunt and my six-year-old nephew into playing ruthless games of Asshole), the girl had another quest for the ride home.  There’s a state park in northern Pennsylvania renowned for the darkest night skies east of the Mississippi, so she figured we should go chase the Milky Way.

One corollary to there being dark skies, which we quickly picked up upon, is remoteness.  Cherry Springs State Park is something like ninety minutes north of I-80.  About 20 minutes into that, we began to appreciate that there would be many closed gas stations between us and our destination, but maybe no open ones.  We backtracked and filled up, and were proven right.

This is well and truly Real America we’re driving through now; ‘towns’ that consist of six ramshackle houses, maybe three with any signs of life, but most with at least four cars (or what used to be cars).  Windy, narrow roads with no speed limit posted.  A burbling stream out our window.  Bugs pelting the windshield like driving through a snow squall.  Progressively smaller roads pointed further from civilization.

Finally we find it, and sure enough, it’s plenty full, with lots of people looking up.  Unfortunately they’re looking up at a full moon (which we knew about, and knew it would set later), and a persistent haze.  We pitched the tent in the dark easily enough, and sat and had a dinner of leftover Chips Ahoy and a beer.  After nearly half a dozen times taking the girl camping, i’ve still yet to actually do it well.  Maybe it pours rain, maybe it’s cold, or maybe we’re just half-assing it on the way somewhere else.  But i swear, you can get good at it, sleep well and warm, eat good food, and enjoy a fire all night.

So we get up several times through the night and look up.  Now there are a lot of stars, far more than we city dwellers are used to.  But we also know it’s not enough.  The just-set Moon is lighting the haze enough to hide a lot of the stars. It’s still nice, though.

The next day, it’s a further 90 minutes on back roads in the middle of nowhere until we get to I-86 in New York.  Through all this, i remain suspicious at Apple Maps’ decision making, but not once is she wrong.  More on this later.

To the Beach, For Real This Time

The girl was, to put it mildly, disappointed to have missed out on a week on the Outer Banks, as she does love the beach so.  Since we were already going to quest toward the totality of the eclipse, and this meant a lengthy drive in one or more directions, it made sense to at least rig it to stop somewhere near the water.  Thus:

As we drove south on Saturday morning, the girl was entertained in the car by play-by-play of Boston vs. Internet Nazis; even though it wasn’t a very close game, we regretted missing it.

So here’s where we started to appreciate, if not trust our telephone copilot.  Traffic bit us hard on this trip.  First, she routed us around a stopped bridge through scenic Chester, PA. Later, back roads in Delaware instead of the highways.  Sometimes it was a break-even, sometimes it was a huge savings, but we started to notice that if nothing else, these alternate routes were taking us places we maybe wouldn’t see otherwise.  Boring places, crappy places, beautiful places, but at the very least, parts of part of the country we wouldn’t have seen.  Considering how i lament road-tripping with no time to take side trips, having a computer there to generate advantageous detours really changes the experience.

In any event, we arrived at the Bay Bridge/Tunnel at sunset, which is a good time to arrive there.

So i hadn’t been back to the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area since i was in NROTC as a college sophomore; i spent a month there in the summer of 1995 doing push-ups and learning about the Navy and the Marines.  Anyway, not a lot of time at the beach.  Which is nice, if you’re into beaches, but even nicer if you like seeing F-18s taking off constantly or SH-60s buzzing the coast.  The beach was just teeming with people, lounging immersed in the shallows at low tide on a hot day.  And even i like playing in the waves.

But time for business.  The eclipse being a rather fixed deadline, we needed to get within shouting distance of it that night.  This is where we started running into the fun of lane closures on weeknights on two-lane interstates.  Watching the arrival time tick up on the phone, and debating back-roads-at-night versus actual stopped traffic.

This is also where we tried Bojangles.  Listen, i am a Popeye’s devotee, having spent formative years in New Orleans, but there are people who will try to tell you Bojangles is better.  This is untrue.  Chicken’s different.  Spicier at first, maybe, and with a good flavor, but less crispy and not as much like crack.  The sides are quite good, but really my quarrel here is with the biscuits, my good sir.  i say, suh, these biscuits are not up to any comparison <slaps them with a glove>.

To the End of the World

Anyway, the following morning we get up and bounce early and start heading south.  Traffic is heavy, and frequently stopped, but not the sort of thing that will prevent us from getting to our destination.  But, as my wife the weather person reports, our intended destination of Columbia is due for 47% cloud cover.  90 minutes west, Greenville has 25%.  We ask the phone lady nicely, she refers us promptly to a narrow side road with no yellow line and no cars, and we set off west, confidently.  It wasn’t scenic, but it was easy.  We even stopped for gas and what, judging by the line, was the only convenience store with a bathroom for miles.  Maybe i made some rash decisions there.

Emerging from the woods, it turned out Greenville is a nice little college town.  We immediately take the girl to a cocktail bar with a roof deck (full, sadly) and drink a little.  Perusing the map a little showed two parks, one along the river and promising a waterfall.  And sure enough it’s just covered with people, some sitting in the water, others walking around, plenty of nerds with telescopes and shadowboxes, and high-end cameras.

This is the part where we stress heavily: There is no substitute for the actual totality of an eclipse.  

It’s impossible to describe sufficiently or do justice to with bad photos.  It looks like something you’ve seen before, but only in movies or science fiction.  Like some malevolent force has covered it over.  Or like the sun is the malevolent force just barely being held back, with the wispy, fingery corona spilling out.  It feels like a dark amusement park ride when someone accidentally turns the lights on, ironically, like some mechanism behind every day of your life has suddenly been exposed.  The two minutes passes quickly, and light spills out the other side like molten metal.

Staying in a Motel Would Be Too Easy

Now we had a day and a half to drive back to Boston, and obviously we wanted to make headway that afternoon.  The highways out of Greenville were clogged, so we got routed on surface roads, to suburban roads, to rural roads to get around them.  It wasn’t the massive gridlock that people thought might happen, but it was a big, significant movement of people the whole day.  We could tell because we were following this crazy backroads route with other cars from northern states (and in heavy traffic once we returned to the interstate, again, all people like us returning north).  Amusingly, we got within an hour of where we were in Asheville two weeks earlier.

So the plan was to camp the night in Shenandoah and close the loop by getting to see the Milky Way in the sky.  Conditions were perfect for it, but traffic meant that we reached Skyline Drive at midnight, with 25 miles to drive at 35mph, with presumed furry creatures waiting to jump in front of us at all times.  It was not awesome.

But the skies were perfect.  A nice band of the Milky Way (you know you’re looking at the right thing when you have to spend time deciding if it’s a cloud), and many orders of magnitude more stars than we get at home.  A trickle of shooting stars, even.  Getting up to take a leak at three in the morning becomes the greatest thing.

Other Stuff

  • Between the two trips we maybe ate at McDonald’s eight times, which is like, half a year’s worth for me.  It was glorious.  We also went to a Wendy’s, a Burger King, an Arby’s (not just for Jon Stewart), a Bojangles, a Dairy Queen.  No Chick-Fil-A or Hardees, obviously.
  • The girl continues to profess her love of Circle Ks, and their still-100% record on clean bathrooms.
  • Does anyone know why abandoned cars and road debris proliferate like mad as soon as you cross the Mason-Dixon line?
  • Similarly, why do people pull over into the left-side breakdown lane down there?  This is dangerous madness.
  • The further you get from Boston, the fewer Mini Countrymen you see.
  • The two trips were 4,300 miles in total.
  • There were actually very few Tr*mp stickers and signs out there in Real America.  Plenty of confederate flags, though.
  • In a line at a fast food restaurant, an older gentleman looks at the UHC logo on my Revs jersey and asks if i’m in the healthcare industry.  Polite conversation follows, we northerners squirm and wonder why.
  • After spending $28 in tolls in New Jersey alone, we again decided that Massachusetts needs to toll out-of-state-drivers better.
  • Related: Why does the rest of the country have better roads than the northeast?  Is it the snow, or is this an effect of them getting $1.37 back on their tax dollar and us getting $0.63?
  • Alas, i didn’t get to go to a megachurch this time.  Someday, though.