All posts by ryk

Does Unicorn Poop Land With A Splatter or a Plop?

It has been raining steadily in Oklahoma City since Monday. I know that because I rode the scoot over from Misery for a couple of weeks of salt miner refresher training, so all my off-the-clock time for the past two days has been spent cooped up in my hotel room. Oklahoma City is boring enough on its own.

Nothing much to do except surf the intertoobz. I even spent a little time on Twitter, which I still pretty much hate because I like to read — and think — in larger than bumper sticker sized bites. Anyway, the buzz there this morning is about our reality teevee preznit deleting some of his tweets.

And no, it’s not the ones from his idiotic slap-fight with the NFL over players kneeling for the national anthem to protest police mistreatment of black people. Instead, he has deleted all his tweets in support of Alabama Senate candidate Luther Strange. Last week Trump held one of his hate festivals political rallies in support of Strange, and then yesterday “Big Luther” got his ass kicked in the Republican primary by frothing, evangelical asshole Roy Moore.

I saw some speculation that our reality teevee preznit might actually be dumb enough to believe his deleted tweets are gone from the intertoobz forever, but I doubt he even cares about that. Those tweets are gone from his timeline, and therefore gone from his mind. The pathological liar believes his own lies, right up until reality forces him to move on to the next lie, and the old lie is immediately forgotten.

What gets me is the fact that he doesn’t have to pay a price for lying. Trump’s supporters will continue to believe he is a winner, just because he tells them he is. In the age of “alternative facts,” hard truths no longer exist. Much like an Oklahoma weather forecast, the words that come out of our preznit’s mouth are only good for a couple of days. Beyond that, things start to get a little fuzzy. Reality truly is malleable now.

The Past Is Not Past

I do a lot of my thinking when I’m working with my hands. I can lose myself in manual labor, let my mind drift away from my aching back and/or shoulders, and just cogitate on something for a while. It’s one of the reasons I find so much satisfaction working in my wood shop. It’s intellectually rewarding as well as constructive.  The downside is, having my head in the clouds while framing walls and hanging drywall for my basement rehab project has led to occasional fuckups, like cutting a board or piece of drywall incorrectly. (And subsequent periods of stomping around and cursing.)

Lately, my thoughts have been taking me back to the 1980s. I used to hang out at the VFW Post in the town where I grew up, over in Illinois. I started going there because my dad liked to go there. He liked to go there because a frosted mug of beer cost 50 cents, and that was ridiculously cheap, even in the ’80s. We both eventually made some good friends there.

The members were veterans from World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, but it was mostly the WW II guys that ran, and patronized, the place. They had the time, most were retired or semi-retired, and their children were long since grown. Some of them were there every day. I know because I saw them. Cheap beer and a close proximity to my home made it the perfect place for an out-of-work bricklayer/roofer/surveyor/concrete guy/future amateur philosopher and blogger with only ten bucks in his pocket to spend his days. I got to know some of those old soldiers pretty good — Charlie and Jim and Jack and Clay and Gene and the other Gene and Ray and a bunch more who I can’t remember their names.

Some of them told me stories about their war. Forty years after the fact, they would still get tears in their eyes talking about the atrocities they saw, the concentration camps, the crimes against humanity. I’ve been thinking about those stories ever since that “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last month. The one where a brave, young white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of peaceful protestors and killed a woman.

It took two days for public opinion to shame our shit stain of a preznit into gritting his dentures and saying “Nazis are bad.” And then, a couple of days later, he clarified those remarks by stating that there were some “very fine people” there… you know… marching with the Nazis.

I picture my old drinking buddies sitting in the cool, dark VFW Post, sipping draft Busch with a salt shaker handy, watching the television behind the bar, and seeing all those fresh-faced, young men marching with torches and shouting “Heil Hitler” and throwing Nazi salutes, in FUCKING VIRGINIA! IN THE USA! And I simply cannot imagine what their reaction would have been, the level of pain and anger it would have caused them.

Pretty sure I know which side of the barricades they would have been on, though.

Re-Re-Re-Renewal

Whew. It’s been a while. I had to oil the hinges on the blast doors just to gain entrance to the bunker, and then clear away a lot of cobwebs on my way down to the command center. There was a layer of dust over everything, but after a quick wipe-down of the console and a little pounding on the chair cushions, I sat down and fired up the main control panel. The logs show I last accessed the system on July 31st, six weeks ago.

I’ve been busy. A lot of work and very little play. My job keeps me away from home a lot, and when I am home my basement rehab project has been taking up most of my spare time. Just not a lot of opportunity for blogging lately. It’s just as well, I guess. Most of my ideas for posts have been of the “our reality teevee preznit said something stupid” variety anyway. You can read about the stupid shit he says in any newspaper on a daily basis. (Just without my added snark.)

Even though I haven’t been posting, this place is still one of my prized possessions. So much so that I recently renewed my hosting contract for another four years. (It’s cheaper — only about a hundred bucks a year — if you go long term.) I’m pretty sure my accountant gritted her teeth, rolled her eyes, and gave a sigh when I did it, but I simply couldn’t help myself. I’ve long been addicted to the dream that one day I will commit to writing more frequently. It’s only been 11 years, it might still happen. The long term goal has always been to eventually write something of substance. Whether that is a dream or a fantasy, I just can’t let it go. This is where I practice for maybe someday.

 

Trumpeka Blues

My latest assignment with the Salt Handlers Inspection Team has me evaluating the salt mines in the greater Topeka, Kansas area. Despite the fact that Topeka is the capital of Kansas, it is not a very interesting place to kill a weekend. (I googled a few lists of things to do here and a bowling alley appeared on at least two of them.)

Luckily I rode the scoot over from Misery, so I’ve been contenting myself with exploring the surrounding countryside. I had planned to post a few photographs, but I ended up not taking any. In more than 300 miles of riding, I saw nothing but fields of corn and soybeans, and cow pastures. It’s pleasant riding, the roads are pretty good, with very light traffic, but I saw not one damned thing worthy of pulling over to take a photo.

The salt miners I have been working with are just about as interesting. I hate to sound elitist, but on several occasions in the past week, while making conversation during the long drives between salt mines, the word “dullard” has entered my mind.

But my sample size is small, and consists solely of salt miners. I’ve had very little interaction with the local civilian population. However, this morning, while I was eating breakfast before my ride, I did happen to overhear a lively conversation between two fans of our reality teevee preznit. It was a couple of late middle-aged white men (because, Kansas) discussing the “diabolical” plot by our previous preznit to destroy our country. These two gentlemen expressed concern that this plot might still not be entirely foiled, because Michelle’s husband had so divided our country that it might take strong measures from our cartoon-character-in-chief to set things right.

I don’t know exactly what measures these men were referring to, but I recognized the implied violence behind their words, because I have heard this same argument so many times, in so many places, from so many white men, ever since a black man had the audacity to get himself elected preznit. It was an event that evoked such a rage in a portion of the populace that I honestly don’t know if they will ever get over it. A rage so intense that it blinds them to the incompetence of our reality teevee preznit. They can’t see it here in the heartland, but the rest of the world certainly can. From The Guardian:

The common factor in all these situations is Trump’s self-induced powerlessness and ignorance, his chronic lack of credibility and presidential authority and consequent perceptions of US and western weakness. And in the case of all three actual or potential adversaries – North Korea, Iran and Russia – these perceptions are highly dangerous. Precisely because US responses, actions and reactions can no longer be relied upon or predicted, by friends and enemies alike, the potential for calamitous miscalculation is growing. This uncertainty, like the chaos in the White House and the extraordinary disarray of the American body politic, stems from Trump’s glaring unfitness for the highest office. As is now becoming ever plainer, this threatens us all.

Ouch. That would leave a mark on anyone less clueless.

More Minnesota

I set a new personal one-day distance record on my return trip from Minnesota. I rode my fancy, German motor scooter 640 miles in 10 hours, 20 minutes. And I was hurting afterwards. I don’t know how those Iron Butt Riders can regularly do 1,000 mile days. For the last hundred miles or so, I was periodically standing up like I was riding a dirt bike, just to ease the pain in my not-even-close-to-iron glutes.

It’s nice to be home, but I sure did enjoy the low temperatures and low humidity of the north. The locals there say the summers can almost make you forget the six months of snow on the ground in winter. Almost.

During the second week of my stay, I made a couple of day trips to an area north of Duluth known as the Iron Range, where I got to see what open-pit iron mining looks like. In short, it looks horrible. It is incredibly jarring to the senses to travel through vast areas of scenic natural beauty, seeing nothing but forest for mile upon mile, and then suddenly be confronted with a barren moonscape like this. 

It is difficult to describe the sheer size of this mining operation. The pictures just can’t do it justice. (It has been suggested that amateur bloggers/philosophers should learn how to use the panoramic feature on their phone camera if they want to go posting photos on the intertoobz, but I can’t be arsed.) Here is another shot, similar to the first, but you can see a tiny, yellow dump truck down in the pit, on the far left side.

To get an idea of the scale, the tires on that yellow dump truck are taller than the average man. In case I am not making myself clear, this is one whopping big hole in the ground. I left there wondering if it can be seen from space. It is big, and it is ugly. But it is pretty much the only source of good-paying jobs for the residents of several small towns in the area.

I also got to look at another pit like this, only the mine had been shut down back in the 1960s. Check it out.

I find it comforting that in fifty-some years — basically my own lifetime — Mother Nature can turn a man-made atrocity into something beautiful again.

The Great Green North

My duties with the Salt Handler’s Inspection Team have called me north to the salt mines of Duluth, Minnesota and vicinity. At this time of year, at this latitude, there are about 16 hours of daylight in the day. Perfect for exploring the surrounding countryside on a fancy, German motorcycle. If one were so inclined.

The problem lies in getting here. It’s a good, long ride from Misery to Minnesota, with a lengthy, flat stretch in the middle, known as Iowa. The following is a list of all the interesting things I saw on my ride across Iowa.

The license plates here say Minnesota has 10,000 lakes. I suspected that was an exaggeration, but a quick check of the intertoobz proved me wrong. Minnesota has 11,842 lakes of 10 acres or more. I bet I’ve seen a couple hundred of them on my rides, including one rather large one to the east that I rode along the shore of for almost a hundred miles. Here are a couple of photos I took when I stopped to pee. To the right:

And to the left:

It’s so pretty here during the summer that you can almost forget there is snow on the ground six months out of the year. Almost. When that snow melts, everything turns green and starts growing like crazy. Pretty soon the disc golf courses look like this:

Searching for a disc in thick, knee-high weeds and boulders on a damned cliffside, while fighting off hordes of mosquitos is not much fun. But the motorcycling sure is good.

The Ugly Amurkin

I don’t want to become a one note Johnny, but damn! Our reality teevee preznit is making it hard for me to think or talk about anything else. He just completed his first trip abroad since taking office, so now he is truly an international laughing stock.

The first stop on his trip was Saudi Arabia, where he read (poorly) a speech in which he lectured Iran about human rights and funding terrorism. I know what you’re thinking. Is that the same Saudi Arabia that is owned and operated by a single family, where women are basically property, not allowed to drive a car or even be outdoors without a male escort? Is that the same Saudi Arabia that practices an extreme form of Islam called Wahabbism, holds public beheadings and funds Sunni extremists and terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIL all over the world? Is that the same Saudi Arabia from whence Osama bin Laden and 19 of the 9/11 hijackers came? Why, yes. Yes it is.

But they signed a contract to purchase 100 billion dollars worth of products from our defense industry, and they pledged 100 million dollars to his daughter’s slush fund non-profit organization. So I guess that counts as a win, right? He did say, during his campaign, that we would get sick of all the winning. I think I’m there.

From there, the preznit moved on to Israel. I was traveling home from Wisconsin, so I may have missed it, but other than declaring he had just got back from the Middle East (?!?), it appears he didn’t step on his dick while there. Of course, I did hear that he was exhausted, so maybe he slept the whole time.

Then it was on to Brussels for more embarrassment at the NATO summit. In his speech there, the preznit refused to confirm U.S. support for Article 5 of the NATO agreement. (That is the part of the NATO agreement which assures support for any member which is attacked, basically the heart of what NATO is.) He did, however, find time to chide the several countries which are not yet meeting their commitment to spend two percent of their country’s GDP on defense. (He seems to think those countries somehow owe that money to the U.S. and is clearly oblivious to the fact that they have until 2024 to meet that spending commitment.)

So, to restate, our preznit lectured several countries about their failure to meet future commitments while refusing to meet our own current ones.

And then it was on to Taormina, Sicily, Italy for the G7 summit.  It appears the rest of the assembled world leaders had never seen The Apprentice, and therefore did not envision our preznit as the super smart and successful billionaire he played on his reality teevee program. Instead, they saw the ignorant buffoon he is in real life, describing his diplomacy as that of a “drunk tourist.”

The six other nations of the G7, along with 150 or so other smaller countries, reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. Our preznit did not.

The leaders of the six other G7 countries went for a stroll on the cobbled streets of the ancient city of Taormina. Our preznit followed in a golf cart.

Sigh.

And then it was home, where he declared his trip a great success. His admirers ate it up and labeled any evidence to the contrary as fake news. I know one supporter who says he “woke up a lot of the world’s leaders to the fact that there is a new sheriff in charge and he is making himself heard.” At least that one is partially true. The rest of the world has woken up. They have woken up to the fact that we elected a narcissistic, imbecilic flim-flam man as preznit. He is not respected at all, only feared, because he is so ignorant and unpredictable.

His incompetence is showing more and more every day. On the world stage, he can’t just keep saying he is doing a great job and have people believe him like he did on his reality teevee program. The rest of the world can see he doesn’t have a clue what he is doing and is not interested in learning. But surely he is capable of feeling shame, right?

Right?

Dispatch From Packerland

My work in the Salt Handlers Inspection Team has brought me 500 miles north to Green Bay, Wisconsin. And seemingly a few weeks back in time. Back home in Misery, Spring has sprung. Butch, the groundskeeper on the estate, has already been mustering working parties left and right. When I escaped had to leave, the pool was open and the garden was tilled and fenced and ready for planting. And my back was barking.

Here, it is still early Spring. Some of the trees are still almost bare, and many more have the pale yellow-green color of new leaves. I wanted to ride the scoot up here, but got spooked by weather forecasts calling for temps in the 50s and rain. And it looks like the forecasts were correct. This has been the view from my hotel room for most of my stay here.

Cold. Gray. Drizzle. I wouldn’t have wanted to get out and explore the beautiful country around here anyway. It’s mostly been too wet and/or muddy to play disc golf also. Luckily there is a refuge from the weather and the boredom within walking distance of my hotel.

Ned Kelly’s Pub is warm and dry and has 100 craft beers on tap. And free peanuts. It’s not as much fun as motorcycling along the bay would have been, but it sure beats running a shovel back home.

Life In Pitchers

The guy who originally finished the basement here on the estate was high on energy and execution, but low on money and experience. As a result, mistakes were made. He hopes to do better this time, despite being quite a bit older and slower and prone to back problems.

But before construction can begin, de-construction has to happen. Not the easy and fast destruction of demolition, but tedious and time-consuming disassembly, in order to keep the space livable while the project is under way and salvage raw materials to be re-used. (Because that shit costs money, man.)

So that’s what I’ve been doing in my spare time over the last few months. The worst part was removing the tile floor. Hours and hours of chiseling the tile up with a rotary hammer, loading the pieces into buckets and hauling them away, just to get to this point:

Which is a long, long way from finished. All the thinset you see in that photo that didn’t come up with the tile was stuck solidly to the concrete floor and had to be scraped/ground off. This is an extremely dusty process. If you ever decide to do a job like this, I highly recommend that you empty the space completely before you begin. Otherwise your furniture and all your stuff will look like this when you are done.

What looks like a white sheet covering my pool table started out as a clear piece of plastic. The dust was so fine, and so thoroughly filled the air, that even the furniture that was covered became filthy. Every square inch of every surface, and every single item in my basement had to be vacuumed and then wiped down with a cloth dampened with a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide. We are still wiping dust.

But the dust bowl days have given me an opportunity to rediscover some long-stored possessions. For instance, I found my bowling ball.

I haven’t had the old Black Diamond out since 1992. I didn’t open the bag, but I’m pretty sure there are some mid-’80s era bowling shoes in there, too. Today’s discovery is even older. The hockey skates I begged for, and eventually got, on Christmas in 1975.

Those were pretty good skates in their day, made in Canada by Daoust, with Phil Esposito’s signature on the back. But that was back when hockey skates were just stiff leather boots with blades riveted to the soles. It was also back when it got cold enough around here in winter for the canal by my neighborhood to freeze thick enough to play hockey on. Those days are long gone.

Back then ice skates didn’t have any insulation, so everybody bought their skates a couple of sizes too big in order to wear extra socks. My feet stopped growing before I ever outgrew these skates, which is why I’ve been toting them around for over 40 years. It gave me a little twinge of melancholy when I tossed them in the trash. My feet still fit the skates, but the rest of me knows too damned well not to put them on.

Intelligence Is A Constant, However Population Keeps Increasing…

I’ve noticed over the years that a good snapshot of my mental health at any given time can be found in my reading habits. Since I am always reading something, usually more than one thing, a casual observer would just see some goober staring at a tablet and assume I am watching cat videos or porn. But it is books that have always been my sanctuary. A relative measure of my overall happiness lies not in the quantity of reading material I consume, but the quality.

I’ve usually got some works of fiction or literature going, and when my life is relatively stress-free and relaxed, I like to read about science and history, philosophy and sociology, even politics and economics. But when my mind is troubled, I gravitate towards science fiction, so it is with some concern that lately I find myself diving into John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. It’s good stuff, but I’ve already read it, so these are indeed perilous times.

I’ve come to the conclusion that our democracy is broken. Sure, it was damaged before, and for a long time our government has been mostly millionaires busily making the world a better place for millionaires, while the rest of us race to the bottom in our trickle-down economy. But our new reality teevee preznit has destroyed any sense of normalcy. His know-nothing theory of governance seems to be to just do or say whatever pops into his head at any given time and then brazen it out when someone points out that he once said or did just the opposite. It is like watching a clumsy ten-year old boy fall down and then, when his friends laugh at him, lamely pretend that he did it on purpose.

Yesterday the Pulitzer prizes for 2017 were announced. David A. Farenthold of The Washington Post won the National Reporting prize for a series of articles detailing how our new preznit boasted for years about giving millions of dollars to charity, when in reality he gave away almost none of his own money, and routinely diverted funds from his charitable foundation for personal use.

…the Trump Foundation’s largest-ever gift — $264,631 — was used to renovate a fountain outside the windows of Trump’s Plaza Hotel.

Way to give back, Donnie. That’s just the kind of person he is, though. David Farenthold won a Pulitzer for chronicling what anyone who has been paying attention has known for decades. Long before there was an internet for him to scam people with his phony university or his phony vitamins or his phony charitable foundation, Donald Trump was the jackass who routinely stiffed the contractors who worked on his development projects and the banks that financed those projects.

Before he set out to destroy our government by running it like a business, he was the guy who filed for bankruptcy protection six times. Before he wasted 90 million dollars worth of missiles on an empty airfield in Syria in a show of leadership, he was the cretin who brought his wife and his mistress on the same skiing vacation, and bragged about it.

The only people who believe his constant stream of bullshit are the ones who long ago turned their right to think for themselves over to the Fox News Outrage Channel and the rest of the right-wing noise machine. The problem is, that still amounts to millions of people. Here is a brief, pretty much verbatim conversation I had with a co-worker a couple of weeks ago.

Him: [reading a story in the newspaper about our reality teevee preznit taking credit for a company deciding to expand and create a few hundred new jobs] “You know, a couple of hundred jobs here and a couple of hundred jobs there. Pretty soon that starts to add up. He’s putting some people back to work.”

Me: [pointing out a paragraph in the story that states in plain English that the expansion and new jobs were first announced two years ago] “It looks like this decision was made before he even started his campaign.”

Him: [nodding] “Yeah, he’s really starting to make a difference.”

This militant ignorance is what passes for modern conservatism. Half of our citizenry isn’t even paying attention, and half of the remaining half is willfully blind because their team of incompetent, racist greed heads is winning.

I think about a Voltaire quote from way back before the United States existed as a country: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” And I worry about what will happen when this administration inevitably goes off the rails. Who will they scapegoat?

Like I said, we are broken. We are an empire on the downward slope, perhaps irrevocably, and it feels like the only thing I can do about it is stock up on ammunition and sci-fi novels.