The Feds Are Limboing

I’ve been pretty hard on Trump, and his Trumpista enablers, on this blog.  Anyone who has read more than a handful of posts is pretty aware of where I stand on that particular issue: no party or movement that pins the love, protection and future of the United States on one very flawed man — a man who views that darned democracy-thing as a bug rather than a feature — should ever again be taken seriously.

That, however, does not let the other side off the hook.

Hooboy, does it not let them off the hook.

“Knocking on the door has never been against the law. You don’t have to answer, but we hope you do so we can help dispel some of those rumors that you’ve heard and hopefully get you vaccinated.”


What the ever-living fuck?!

That is one of the most chilling statements to come out of the mouth of a high-ranking US government official (Xavier Bacerra) in our nation’s history.

You don’t have to answer the door…to the federal goddamned government?  Yeah, right.  Just try not answering the door, and let’s see how that goes for you.  The no-knock warrant and avalanche of black-clad pseudo-commandos will be about five minutes behind your “voluntary refusal” to open the door to the Feds.*

*Hi, Libertarian Party!  Can you stop being a joke and start actually accomplishing…well…anything?  That’d be great right about now.  Thanks.

Look, there is no doubt that I took/take this pandemic seriously.  I have spent too much time and effort studying the Black Death, and its impact on medieval Europe, to do otherwise.  And I’m not talking so much about the death toll as about the massive social, cultural and economic upheaval that came as a result.  Pandemics — whether we’re talking about the bubonic plague, or Spanish Flu, or the insidious rise of PBR and other shit beers — always, always, always re-make the societies in which they occur.  The crises that come as a result of the disease have more power, and cause more change, than at any other possible time.  And, yes, it is a case of fate and the universe kicking a society when it is down…

While it is still too early to really define the impacts COVID will have on our own society, some shapes are starting to emerge from the shadows.  The worst of those shapes, so far, is the massive invasion of the government into any and all spheres of our lives.  In just 18 months or so, no area — not a single one! — has been left untouched by government control and dictate.

It is easy to ignore or overlook, by the way.  It is easy to think and say, “They had to do X to fight the spread.”  There is always good reason for the changes that come.  There is always a way to argue that the good of the nation “requires” it.  Sulla had very good reason to march his legions into the Forum, but that march still led directly and inevitably to Caesar’s Dictatorship, and thence to Augustus and the Empire…*

*Egads, do not get me started on the late Roman Republic.  No period in human history has had on stage at one time so many extraordinary individuals: Marius, Sulla, Caesar, Pompey, Cicero, Cato, Servilia, Augustus, Livia — and lesser known players like Livius Drusus, Aemilius Scaurus, the Sempronius Gracchus brothers, Pliny the Elder, Catullus, Sallust…  Good Lord, I said don’t get me started!  I could go on and on (and on and on and on…).

If the Federal knock on the door is acceptable and necessary now, will the same adjective’s apply when that all-encompassing knock is used again in five years, amidst totally different circumstances?

Yeah, the “slippery slope” argument is an inherently weak, arbitrary counter to new(ish) policies and practices, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Trump was a buffoon and a fool before November, 2020.  He became a danger and a villain after the election purely because of his own choices and actions.

Becerra — and the Biden Administration in general — were a bit of welcome, bland, not-Trump after the insanity of January 6th.  Their own words and actions since, however…

I have frequently joked that I’m a cynic so that I can never be disappointed, but sometimes…sometimes those we choose to put in charge manage to limbo under even my incredibly low bar.


Maybe I’ll end up living back in the wilds of the Rockies after all…

{Musical Note — I love this song, but I have held back from using it on the blog. Until now. It just plain fits both sides.}

The 4th of July

That feeling when…

…when you walk into a pub and they don’t even bother to ask, they just put the correct beer in front of you before you’ve even put your butt in the seat.

…when the fireworks have been building for a week already, and you’ve got a place arranged for the “big show” on the 4th itself.

…when you read the news, and realize — again! — that Einstein was right about the definition of insanity.

…when you reflect on the intentional act of treason committed by those who made this day famous, and the executions that would have been their lot had things gone just a little differently.

…when you look and find that the US Capitol still hidden behind fences and razor wire, and wonder if those men 250ish years ago would have risked quite so much if they could see the future.


There’s an old concept in the business world: from shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves in three generations.  The “model” that lies under that saying is that Grandad has the energy, work-ethic and drive to start the new business; Dad has the smarts and ability to grow it into real wealth; Junior has…well, Junior’s privileged ass spends and mismanages it into freaking oblivion more often than not.

It’s been more than three generations, admittedly, but if you don’t think that “model” reflects the US at this point in time, you’re either willfully blind, or crazy enough to actually be one of the political extremes.

Our current crop of “leaders” is spending us into oblivion with no thought for tomorrow.  And trust me, I am not talking about money here.  Don’t get me wrong, the money side of things is well-and-truly fucked, but the real spending — and the real loss — is in unity, strength and trust.  We are, as a nation, becoming far too quickly that family that squabbles and fights and disintegrates over spending the inheritance we did nothing to earn.

It’s not a question of being the Prodigal Son, who returns after a period of youthful excess.  Nor is it a question of the father, who welcomes his son back from the metaphoric wilds.  No, it’s the fact that both of the political extremes in the US are the “other” brother, the one waiting with a gun in hand to welcome the Prodigal home with a bit of good ol’ American payback.

Far too many people have forgotten just what this little experiment in nation-building means.  For damn sure the extremes on both sides have forgotten.  Note, I quite intentionally prefer to say “forgotten” because the alternative is that they just don’t give a damn, and that does nothing but make everything worse…and when my overly-cynical-ass shies away from “worse”, you know it’s pretty fucking bad!

The thing about the US, and about July 4th, is not that we are perfect.  Nor are we a finished product.  Hell, we are anything but perfect and finished.  We have our warts and faults.  Our shit stinks, just like everyone else’s.  We snore and drink too much and get fat; we argue and fight and throw the dishes; we even shit the bed occasionally…

And that is okay.

The United States is a flawed, faulty creation.  It was created by brilliant, dedicated, brave men who — just like the rest of us — lied and cheated and had bad breath.  What makes the US different — what made it different then, and still makes it different now — is that it is an ideal that seeks to transcend itself, rather than a true nation-state that exists only to be itself.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re very much a nation.  We have all the strength and drive and unity of any modern nation (in the Westphalian sense — don’t ask, just Google the damned term).  But the US is, if you’ll pardon the national pride, better than that.  We are, when you get right down to it, a dream. A dream of a better place, and a better way of life.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Yeah, even after more than two hundred years, we still ain’t anywhere close to achieving that.

As a nation we are, at the heart of the matter, the richest and most powerful in human history…and the competition from second place ain’t even close.  We are all of that and more, yet we are also a nation that still fights the all-too-powerful demons of racism and disenfranchisement.  We still suffer the pangs of hunger and poverty.  We still play host to all manner of despair and hopelessness.  We still shit the bed from time to time.

But that’s not what we were founded on.

Look, the Trumpier extreme wants to paper over history with some bullshit morality-play that makes America a perfect, sacred entity that sprang fully formed from some divine brow.  Do you wanna know what “sacred entities” get you in political terms?  Cromwell’s England, and Robespierre’s France, and Trump’s America, that’s what.

Oh, but don’t you on the other side get all high-and-mighty.  The other extreme wants to paint any-and-all as maleficent and oppressive.  The other sides wants America not to be some divine spark, but the nefarious source of all evil in the world.  That is even stupider, to be honest — and when you’re stupider than Trump, you’ve dug yourself into a world-class fucking hole!

Look, I’m fat.  I know I should lose more weight, and I do try.  I really do.  I hike and work-out…but I also happen to love beer and bread and cheese like a young mother loves her first child.  I should be better than I am, but my efforts fall short.  That doesn’t make me bad, it just means I have to keep trying.  It just means that I have to aspire to improve myself, rather than revel in what successes I may have.

Well…America is fat.  Okay, so we’re fat physically, but that ain’t the point.  We’re fat and out of shape socially and culturally, too.  Although we were born that way, our parents taught us that we could — and should! — be more.  We just have to keep trying.  We just have to keep working at it.  We have to keep doing the hard work to cast off the sins of our youth and embrace a style of life, and a way of living, that is healthier for everyone.

No, we ain’t perfect, but none of those who risked the hideousness of being drawn-and-quartered* expected us to be.  No, what they wanted and expected to do was build a foundation for a nation that could — and would — grow and learn.  

*Fine, you really want to know?  Here is the full definition of the British punishment for treason: you are hung by the neck, “gently” so that your neck won’t break and kill you right away.  While you are slowly suffocating, but still very much conscious, your stomach is cut open and your intestines pulled out.  Your testicles are then cut off and burned, along with your spilling guts, while you helplessly watch and choke.  You are then left to hang until you finally suffocate and die.  When you do die, your body is lowered and cut into several pieces.  Those pieces are sent to places important to you as a person, and to the scene of your treason, in order to prove to folks that you truly are dead, and that the State will always exact its vengeance.  Sorry, but you did ask!

In that expectation, the Founders succeeded.  The US isn’t perfect, but the ideal behind it is.  If we can ever truly achieve that sentence that Jefferson wrote, we will have finally fulfilled their dreams and become a nation that can celebrate itself without hesitation or criticism.

Until then, however, those who question and criticize and find fault are just as necessary, and just as patriotic and loyal, as those who will find no fault or failure.  They are arguably even more so, because they want this nation that we all share, and all love, to be more than we currently are.

After all, what human drive is better, or more important, than the drive to improve?  Than the drive to be more?

I want to be smarter and more experienced.  I also want to lose thirty pounds.  I want to be more (and, well, less…but we’ll skip that physical bit).  My father taught me to never be satisfied.  He taught me to be always curious, to always to seek to learn and improve.  When I get lazy and start to slack off, is he wrong to be disappointed in me?  Is he wrong to criticize and tell me that I should be more? No. No, he is not wrong — I deserve that criticism.

Can I expect less from my nation?  Should I expect less from my nation?  I want to live in a place that is more.  I want to live in a place that knows perfection is always out of reach, but strives for it anyway.

{Musical Note — I read a piece this morning that talked about a specific song. Now, that piece tried to reinterpret this particular song as a paean of patriotic praise. The writer of the piece noted that Mellencamp had certain criticisms in mind when he wrote and recorded the tune, but chose to ignore or gloss over those criticisms in order to create a narrative of wholly unquestioning patriotism. Unquestioning patriotism is as un-american as anything I can imagine, by the way. If we don’t criticize, and strive to improve, we stagnate. An America stagnant and unchanging is Rome all over again…}

Politics For Dummies…err, Writers

Look, my contempt for a certain ex-President has been pretty open on these…err…”pages” over the last few weeks.  This post is not about that.  What it is about — tangentially, at least — is naked politics and power.  More importantly, it is an attempt to touch on how those things can be, and have been, used in the creation of fiction.

I am a political nerd in many ways.  If those ways are mostly historical, they still can and will color my perceptions of politics today.  Which is as it should be.  What happened before will always color what happens now.  Anyone out there who believes Irish animosity and resentment toward the English did not have an impact on the bitter, contentious negotiations about Brexit needs to revisit the repressive brutality of the English occupation that officially ended only a century ago.

Hell, even after 160 years, many in the US are still verbally and morally fighting the Civil War.

The trouble with being a historian is that the list of causality never ends.  Everything that happens now was influenced by something that came before, which was influenced by something that came before that, and something that came before that…on and on ad infinitum.

Want to put January 6th in perspective?  I would love to point back to Caesar — facing trial and ruin both politically and financially — and the Rubicon, but if I do that I then have to go back and talk about Sulla first marching a legion into the Forum…and then back to Marius and Saturninus, which leads inevitably back to the Brothers Gracchi…

I think also about the import and impact of events and personalities from other periods and nations.  Events surrounding guys like Edward VIII, Cromwell, James II, Richard II (my favorite Trump comparison) sit right alongside my Roman “causes” for the current zaniness.

Then I could go all Japanese and talk about Nobunaga and Akechi, Toyotomi and Tokugawa.  I would then, of course, have to go all the way back to the Heian period, and the rise of the Shogunate…

See my historical problem?

Okay, so none of what I hinted at above would be interesting to read in terms of modern politics.  The socio-political absurdities currently going on in the US are more than enough for most folks.  No, where all of that background thinking becomes interesting is in the boundless fun only we fiction writers get to truly have: world-building.

If you’re writing an intimate, tightly-focused love story, you can probably skip the political shenanigans. But if you are — like me — writing sci-fi and fantasy, do yourself a favor and build some Machiavellian scheming into your world.  Hell, I spent several weeks sketching out the politics and high-level ruthlessness for a story about poor and desperate kids whose awareness of politics resembles that of overly caffeinated squirrels.  That background work has paid off, by the way, as I transition that story from just a stand-alone to a trilogy.  The first story remains closely personal to the characters, but the following two grow the plot and conflict into the larger “world.”

Does your fantasy knight-errant need to know Thing One about the royal councilors who are the true power behind the throne?  Nope, not a bit.  But what if that same knight-errant picks up a spouse — or an enemy — with ties to that council?  Then you can grow your story from slaying monsters and looting dungeons for fun and profit to the needs and problems of more than just your hero.  That gives you, as the creator, another source of tension and conflict by opening for your (presumably) tough and capable hero a venue where he has nothing but disadvantages…

When I think about ideas for plots and stories, all of those thoughts about history and politics I mentioned above are at play in my mind.  Those thoughts, and how I develop them in terms of world-building, provide depth and shape to the final form of any story I develop.  Honestly, I don’t think it is possible (for me, at least) to actually understand and set-up a story unless you know why and how things are the way they are when you type that first sentence…

Oh, and, if you think all of the shit from the last year ain’t currently influencing the stories, you need to go back to Writers’ School!

Random After-Thoughts:

1)  I’m as sick of the cold as I am of COVID.  Can Spring just come, please?

2)  I just read that Rush Limbaugh died.  Now, whether you loved or hated the guy, let the dead rest in peace for at least a little while.  I was pissed at Trump for his vicious attacks on McCain after the latter’s death, and I am just as pissed at the attacks on Limbaugh so soon after his passing.  When is it “too soon” to criticize the dead?  To paraphrase the old definition of pornography: “I can’t define too-soon, but I sure know it when I see it…”

3)  A year ago — a year! — I posted that I need to travel in the worst way.  That obviously did not happen in 2020, and it doesn’t look like 2021 is gonna happen either.  *extensive cursing snipped*  Get me out of this fucking place!  I don’t care if it is two weeks in a damned Chinese prison camp, I need the inspiration and rejuvenation that comes with traveling!  Ahem.

4)  I got so bored, trapped at home this winter, that I started to learn charcuterie.  Anyone want some cured lamb loin?  Take it from me, it goes very well with a nice winter ale…

{Musical Note — goin’ old school because…well…I feel like it!}

What I Couldn’t Manage Yesterday

Apologies for the terse post yesterday.  I had more to say — a great deal more — but I was far too angry and upset to even begin to untangle my thoughts and words from the emotions.  I am still angry and upset as I type this, but with a night’s sleep and a pot of coffee, I am at least going to try…

All of the articles and TV pieces are using one key word to describe the assault on the United States Capitol: sedition.  It is all-too true that the actions of Trump and his mob yesterday fit every single aspect of that crime, but it is not the right word for what went down.

No, to offer the right word, I want to first provide its technical definition under United States Federal law:

“the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R.)

THAT is the definition of what Trump and his thugs did yesterday: terrorism.

Trump’s supporters, then, accomplished what Osama bin Laden could only dream of — they put a terrorist in the Oval Office.  Congratulations.

To my friends and family who served in uniform who still support Trump, I want to offer this reminder:

“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” 

How can you square that particular oath — given on your honor to support and defend the Constitution of the United States — with acts of terrorism against the United States Congress?  Those who served in the sandbox and rockpile sacrificed incredible amounts of blood, sweat and tears against al’Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS.

In spite of those efforts, in spite of those sacrifices, we still have terrorism here at home.  Sadly, we have that terrorism not from the blood-soaked shores of the Middle East, but from the sociopathic, narcissistic mind of one man: Donald John Trump.  Make your choice, and make it now…you either honor your oath, and the sacrifice and blood of your compatriots — as well as your fathers and grandfathers — to support and defend the Constitution, or you forever make mockery of all that this nation has suffered to be the only democracy* with centuries of peaceful transfer of power.

*Yes, yes, I know…we’re a representative republic, not a “true” democracy — let’s just skip the pointless pedantry, okay?

Why am I writing this, I ask myself, when so many others are doing so in venues much larger than my little blog?  I’m doing so because I have to go on record.  If I do not record my disgust at the events of yesterday, I am complicit through my silence.

Look, I’ve said before that those who want artists (and athletes, and countless others) to just “shut up and sing/act/write/play” are not just foolish, they are in denial of what art truly is.  Art is agency…the agency to take a stand; the agency to praise, and to condemn; the agency to foment change through expression.  Art is, at the core of it, the voice with which you can — you must — express yourself not just on the internal, quiet things, but also on the loudest and most external of things.

Trump — I will not bestow the honor of the title of President on the “man” who not only besmirched the office for four years, but yesterday outright betrayed it — needs to be removed from office, and he needs to removed immediately.  I know that it is, from one perspective, pointless to use either the 25th Amendment or impeachment to remove him with only two weeks left.  But from the greater perspective, there are two reasons:

  1. He is insane.  Plain and simple, his complete mental breakdown makes him by definition unfit for office.  It is foolish in the extreme to risk the kind of damage a madman in the Oval office could do over the next two weeks.
  2. The symbolism matters.  If you advocate for, and outright incite, terrorism against the United States, you don’t get to be President.  Period.  Even if the process takes until five minutes before Joe Biden takes the oath of office, it is vital to our future stability that Trump be recorded as the first — and hopefully only — President to ever be forcibly removed from office.

The words of John Kelly matter, here.  I think his thoughts absolutely nail what the rest of us — those not so lost to thought, morality and maturity that we avoid belonging to a lunatic’s cult, anyway — when he said this morning:

“We need to look infinitely harder at who we elect to any office in our land. At the office seeker’s character, at their morals, at their ethical record, their integrity, their honesty, their flaws, what they have said about women and minorities, why they are asking office in the first place, and only then consider the policies they espouse.”

The emotional, visceral part of me wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  “The Republicans should never hold office again!” I, the ex-Republican, want to rage.  “No vote for an R ever again!”

But then I think about it…

Look, as bad as things have been since the election — and as fundamentally insane as they got yesterday — there still were Republicans who stood up when it mattered.  The least of those is Mike Pence.  He was an avid, outright, aggressive enabler of Trump’s insanity, but when it came down the final step, it was a step too far.  Pence, in the end, did the right thing.  He is no hero — you are not a hero for doing the right thing only under the utmost duress — but still he deserves a nod.

But then you have R’s like Sasse and Kinzinger and Romney.  They spoke their consciences throughout the entire four years of Trump’s insanity.  In spite of the prices that Trump and his enablers tried to exact, both personal and political, they stood up for what they believed.  They have earned more than a nod, they have earned respect.

Oh, and to my former home of Maine, I have to give my thanks.  You knew better than the rest of the country when you re-elected Susan Collins.  And to Senator Collins herself, I offer my applause.  She has stood up as well, and earned both the respect she deserves, and the influence she will exert for the next several years.

But the true hero of this not-so-little Shakespearean tragedy?  Raffensperger.  That man put up not just with Trump’s insane attacks, but also literal threats to his life and the lives of his family.  And he never wavered.  He hated the results — he wanted the R’s to win — but throughout the entire thing he did what was right.  He stood up for his oath, for his office, and for his state.  In the end, Brad Raffensperger stood up for the entire country.  He is the person who takes the inner rage I talked about and shows it for the foolishness that it truly is.  Were he to ever run for national office, I would have to give him very, very serious consideration.  Cheers, then, Mr. Raffesnperger, and I will give you the highest of compliments: in the decades to come, your children and grandchildren will be proud of you.

And the children and grandchildren of the villains of this whole thing?  The children of Hawley and Cruz and the antagonist himself, Donald John Trump?  Shame and embarrassment, and an acknowledgment that the sins of today still matter in the coming years and decades.

Musical Note — this was actually a hard one. There are a lot of songs I could use, and finding the right one was proving to be impossible. Then I went back and re-read Trump’s words from yesterday, and watched again the violence that he so wanted, and the song picked itself: