The Wasteland of the Free

At left, Mike's pumpkin.

Open Letter to the Person Who Tore the Obama Sticker Off My Wife's Car

Dear Person Who Is Almost Assuredly an Exurban White Male Under the Age of 25,

Some time between 7pm on Tuesday, Oct. 28th, and 7am this morning, you ripped from my wife's car a bumper sticker supporting Barack Obama and covered up another with a somewhat absurd "Another Democrat for McCain" sticker.

While this may have seemed like a fun prank and a relatively innocent expression of your anger about the failings of your own candidate, it's important to know that it is also the following things: an invasion of privacy, destruction of private property, poor sportsmanship, disruption of the freedom of speech, a tresspass on liberty, and a direct attack on the core principles of the country your candidate feels we should put first.

It's interesting to me that a party that still concerns itself with protecting us from ideas too close to supposed socialism so often collapses into behavior and tactics which border on the totalitarian. (I recognize that it's unlikely that you are an official party operative or that your actions represent anything more than stupid mischief, but as with recent backwards "Bs" and fliers in Virginia that attempt to hoax Democrats into a Nov. 5th election day, there seems to be a willingness -- if not an eagerness -- among McCain supporters to tolerate -- if not engage in -- this sort of thing.) When we talk about extremist liberals, generally we're talking about people who wear too much pachoulli or teach English in Indonesia or stop eating bleached flour or continue to wear sandals or facial hair a bit later into the season than the rest of us. Meanwhile, when conservatives go wild, they tend to engage in behavior that results in America between the years 2000-2008 AD.

There are probably some "fundamental differences," as the candidates say, between you and me. (I mean, besides our difference the willingness to engage in vandalism.) First, I love America most when it is neighborly, rather than intrusive or suspicious. I love America when it is most inclusive and democratic, rather than when it concerns itself only with the liberties of the few and the privileged. Also, I've read the Bill of Rights, and I'm pretty sure that early on in that thing it says that people can put whatever stickers they like on their foriegn-made automobile so long as it is affixed in a way that doesn't lead to air bubbles or include a pirated picture of a comic strip character urinating.

Finally, what you (and, often, your party) don't seem to understand is that freedom does not mean doing whatever the f*ck you want. It is not, all apologies to Kristofferson, another word for nothing left to lose. Freedom means death -- or at least long imprisonment -- to tyrants. It means protection from the indugences of the kingly and powerful. It means:

Don't tread on me.

Yours in the peaceful transfer of power,



I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself

Every now and then, throughout the workday, I'll think: We've got this election licked. I imagine the Obama acceptance speech, the inaugural address, the relief and elation and hope I will feel when the election is called on the night of Nov. 4th.

And then in the next instance, I'll be racked with fear about a last minute McCain surge, or about the Bradley effect or voter suppression or unaccountable Diebold voting machines. I don't so much get butterflies in my stomach so much as weevils chasing snakes chasing butterflies.

I have full-on Information Sickness. I can't stop checking blogs and polls and the New York Times to see what's happening, and no amount of information satisfies the hunger for more information, and very little of all this actually amounts to anything.

Yesterday I went to the liquor store to buy a bottle of champagne to have on hand for an Obama victory, but I couldn't bring myself to buy one. It felt like a jinx, and I'm not a person prone to superstition, typically. I had to call my father and ask him to buy me a bottle of champagne, which somehow felt like it wasn't a jinx, since it was a gift rather than something I was getting myself in anticipation of a desired outcome.

There may be other nervous Democrats out there, so in the interest of "paying it forward," I will make a pledge to the first commentor who's game for it: I will be happy to give you -- as a gift -- a bottle of champagne. It will be roughly equivalent in value and quality to the bottle I received (Korbell, if I remember correctly) and can be used for whatever celebration you may want to engage in over the next couple of weeks. Two caveats :

1. You must be a supporter of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party (or be willing to switch your vote for champagne).
2. You must live in the Milwaukee area or have a liquor store in your area that would be able to accept a credit card charge over the phone. I'm not shipping nothin'.
3. You must be willing to do this same thing for someone else.

Non-alcoholic champagne makes a perfectly fine substitution, if you like.


October, and Kingdoms Rise

Painting pumpkins.

Caleb's palette.  Like Jackson Pollock, we paint in pajamas.

Sam and early 21st century expressionism.

Sam with the finished products.  Caleb's pointillist blue-period pumpkin is on the left, with Sam's autumn-hued expressionist work on the right.

Sam eats an apple the way most people play harmonica.

On the train at Apple Holler.

"This is not '38, this is old '97.  You must get her into Spencer on time."

"Casey Jones, you better watch your speed."

The boys with the jack pumpkinhead they themselves carved at Grandma and Grandpa's house.

They boys have some wide shoes to fill.


Two weeks to victory.  I'm 262 pages into Thomas Pynchon's Against The Day, and enjoying it very much -- only 818 pages left.  Mad Men has been beyond fantastic this season.  Autumn's doing it's scholarly best, and the cold keeps us sharp and the coffee fresh.  Sam pointed to the sun behind the clouds and called it the moon.  I tried to correct him, but he insisted:  "No, Daddy, it's the moon,"  and who could say that it wasn't? Caleb is putting in concentrated work on the alphabet.  The leaves crunch beneath our feet, and the roadwork is nearly done.  We have Colin Powell on our side, and many of the Tampa Bay baseball club, and ten points in the national polls.  It is usually the horrible things that leave us remembering where we were  and what we were doing, but this is where we are right now, on the verge of something insanely great, impossible and necessary.  This is what we are doing.


You Don't Really Love That Guy You Make It With Now Do You?

I'm ready to endorse a presidential candidate.

As you know, I've been wavering between Senators McCain and Obama this whole election and have had a really hard time making up my mind about for whom I would vote. On the one hand, Obama seemed reasonable and rational, the kind of choice that would turn this country around, reintroduce the important notions of civics and civil responsibility, and manifest hope in discouraged and cyncial populations the world over. On the other hand, John McCain has a wicked sense of humor.

Last night, aside from watching McCain get dope-slapped by a top-of-his-game David Letterman, I watched both candidates' humorous speeches at the 63rd annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner. McCain was genuinely funny, and despite the despicable tone of his campaign (and, in particular, his surrogates), he was warm and respectful towards his opponent.

Then Obama spoke, and while he doesn't exactly have the cutting wit that McCain evidenced, he did say this:

Americans have a big choice to make, and if anybody feels like they don't know me by now, let me try to give you some answers. Who is Barack Obama?

Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor-El to save the Planet Earth.

A Superman joke. Consider me boarded, poly-bagged, and boxed, Senator Obama. You've got my vote.

UPDATE: It turns out that Obama's totally pandering to the Comic Nerd Vote, a demographic that is very important in the swing states of Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia. Consider the following:

--Fort Wayne, Ind., is the model for Superman's supposed home turf of "Metropolis."
--West Virginia's state constitution is comprised soley and entirely of a 1949 issue of Little Lulu.
--Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of Superman, grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and Superman's first adventure is set there.

(The third point is actually true.)


To Save All Our Lives You've Got To Envision The Fiery Crash

Cate emailed to say that, according to a Brown University professor, there is a 1 in 8 chance of Palin being president if McCain were to win the election, and then later Al claimed that in a second term this would rise to a 2 in 3 chance.

Now, many of you know that I sometimes receive messages from "alternate timelines," either due to my interest in dystopic literature or, more likely, too many issues of X-Men. At any rate, the following was delivered unto me from an alternate futre through the transmoidic aether, and I thought I'd share:


The 2011 State of the Union Address:
The Chamber of the United States House of Representatives

United States Capitol
January 26, 2011

Speaker Bayh, Vice President Pahlosi, Members of Congress also, stinguished guests, and, too, fellow citizens:

It's been goin' on seven weeks now since our great Commander in Chief John McCain was laid to, y'know, but we've had to soldier on without him, doggone it. Since that time, our country has faced challenges that, too, weren't expected and also, the economy and jobs fallin' into the pooper. There were hard decisions that we had to decide on whether to face or what, and goin' forward, we've got to -- as the American people -- agree that we are not gonna blink. Sure, we all shed tears for President McCain when he had that anger-based subhematomah and whatnot, and sure, that involved rapidly closin' of eye-lids in order to produce tears, but that's not what I'm talkin' about when I'm talkin' about blinkin'. Too, it's been -- hey, ya know, someone told me this thing I'm standin' in front of, it's called a 'rostrum.' I always thought it was a 'dais.' Am I pronouncin't that right? "Day-Ass?" Maybe we'll call it a podium. (Winks)

And so what does Putin do but he pokes his little head into our airspace, and yeah, so perhaps so, we're suddenly havin' a war with Russia. Now, I don't want to say "I tolja so," but... Charlie, Katie, I tolja so.

But ya put that Russia effort up on top of our efforts in Irag and Afghanstan, and the bombin' campaigns my predahcessor started with Iran and that other country I can't think of the name of right now. I want to say China, but I know it's not China. It's like a Ch- sound. Ch-, or Kuh--. Kuh. (Shrugs) Anywho, there's a whole lot going on, ya know. But here's the kicker: I'm just the gal for the job.

Now, you all have met my family many times -- Todd, Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, Trig, and my adoring grandkids also: Weevil, Cosine, Lil' Maverick, and Wink. (Winks.) And you know like they know, too, that --

North Korea! I knew it would come to me if I just got my mind on somethin' else, ya know?

Because, too, the economy is prolly gonna turn around -- ya know, at long last -- any second now, once we get more of those tax cuts and whatnot pushed through Congress and also it's really been great to get to know Vice President Pahlosi, particularly after she pointed out that there's stuff about the chain of succession right there in the Constitution too. I know some of you are upset that I had appointed Todd to be vice president for those couple of days right after we, you know, lost the previous server of the office holder of this job position, but now that you've done all your censuring and holding up the founding documents and whatnot, I hope we can put all that junk behind me...

:end transmission:

(Also, see also: http://www.palinaspresident.com/)


Got A Couple Of Couches, Sleep On The Loveseat

I think McCain wants to lose.

Perhaps unconsciously, John McCain -- as a man of courage and principle, and as a man who until fairly recently put high stakes on his own reputation -- senses that it is hard to be right, courageous, or principled when you stand in direct opposition to the first viable African-American candidate for the office of the Presidency of the United States. Perhaps, like many of the rest of us, McCain senses that this is the time, this is the man, and this is the moment.

The specifics of Senator McCain's economic recovery plan seem to have little benefit to people not already in the top tax bracket or those who do not carry extensive investment portfolios. Lowering taxes on IRA withdrawals for people at or near retirement age may be useful for some -- but not many -- in the middle class, but doesn't seem to much effect the day-to-day lives of most of us who continue to struggle with the costs of mortgages, health care, day care, credit cards, home repair, and so on.

McCain would also like to quintuple the amount we can write off due to losses, from $3K to $15K, which -- while I'm sure he says is to the benefit of small businesses -- is really to the benefit of the monocled Monopoly character who's mortgaging St. James Place in order to buy Boardwalk. Which is kind of what started this mess, yeah? And whom, among the middling classes, has more than $100K in a savings account that would need extra protection?

To draw upon the grammar of our British cousin and infant impersonator Winston Churchill, I hope that this is the sort of the thing up with which the American people will not put.

And, unless I'm totally wrong about the American people -- and I have been, many times before -- this will not result in a 6-point boost in the polls. Or even a 2-point boost.

(Pictured: John McCain totally hammers a hot dog, keeps one on reserve.)


Fame: What You Like Is In The Limo

Found in the New York Times:

Missouri’s still a toss-up. But if the Hinshaw drift continues in Republican areas and Obama wins the state, he’ll likely be elected president by a landslide. Compared to Missouri, most other battleground states look more comfortable for him.

The Hinshaw Drift plays Tuesday nights at 8pm and 10pm at Wynn's Beer and Bowl. If you like John Cougar, Bob Seger, and CCR, you're gonna love The Hinshaw Drift.

Call 414-975-3033 for bookings. Republican areas only, please!


Shake the Disease

The October 6th, 1783 issue of The Onion News-Paper -- available this week and online -- has on it's final page an advertisement for "John Jameson's Miracle Concoction," which is said to provide aid for:
Torpid Innard; Anchorite's Droop; Moth-Bowell; Leadminer's Complaint; Flaccidity of the Tongue; Magnet-Rash; Horse-Shoe-To-The-Head; New-Hampshireman's Quandry; The Feathers; Superfluous Haire; The Drippling Illness; Whoopsy Lung; The Brackets; Gold Fevor; Bewitchment; Thumb Tumefaction; Beard Crickets; Soot-mouth; Milkman's Teat-Finger; Bucket-Mender's Knee; Air-Borne Toxic Eventualities; The Gargling Horrors; The Falling Hollies; The Vapors; Delicacy Spells; Accumulation of Excessive Humors; Astrologicks; Mulish Bladder; Stubborn Coccyx; Irritable Skull; Mistaken Heruistics; Boatswain's Dis-Order; Dog-Stink; Un-Stoppable Tooth Growth

In addition to jokes of anatomy and philosophy and the sheer looniness of applied English, there are Don Delillo and H.P. Lovecraft references in there if you want them. Oh, and by the way: in the Marvel Comics Universe, John Jameson -- son of J. Jonah -- is an lycantropic astronaut known as the Man-Wolf.

At least one person, noticing a tendency in Sarah Palin to slip in and out of her Fargo accent, has diagnosed Intermittent Gunderson Syndrome.

More fake diseases can be found in the Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases.


Commencing Countdown, Engines On

1. Obviously, two-sided debates lead us to suppose that there must be one winner and one loser, but can we let go of the overworked and tired and brain-damaged metaphor that poses political debate as a prizefight? "There was no knockout," said several talking heads about last night's debate, and a headline following the Biden/Palin debate claimed no blood was drawn, and always this is then qualified with the idea that one or the other "won on points." But -- the Gore/Quayle/Stockdale vice presidential debate of 1996 aside -- what would a knockout even look like, in political terms?

2. As a corollary, if pundits are going to call the debate like a boxing match, they've got to be willing to discuss the blows feinted, landed, or missed. This means discussing policy, as opposed to (or at least, more fairly, in addition to) focusing on response poll results, the behavior and appearance of candidates, and "truth squadding" discernable facts. Since television is a visual medium, there's no escaping the beauty contest element (and, all apologies to Walnuts, the congeniality issue), but the reason the post-debate polls have been so strongly in favor of Obama have to also reflect, I would think, on what is actually being said.

3. In proposing an additional bailout specifically for the housing market, McCain risks losing some of his conservative base. The suggestion that health insurance should not cover hair transplants will certainly cost him a significant portion of the bald-and-loathing-it contingent, a population which has kitchen table immediacy in my extended family. The suggestion that $3 million is too much to spend on a planetarium almost surely cost McCain the Sam and Caleb vote, since they are all about the moon and stars lately.

4. McCain does deserve some moxie points for trying to suggest to the American people that this overhead project er is pretty much the same as that one in your 9th-grade Geometry class. (As I'm sure you and Sam and Caleb will be interested to know, it turns out that the Adler Planetarium in Chicago is putting up a show that introduces kids to astronomy with the help of Big Bird and the Sesame Street Muppets. So McCain hates science and Sesame Street now?)

5. Due to the risk of counting chickens or looking at the mouths of gift horses, and with our modest and Midwestern superstitions -- the sort whereby one does not mention that the children are sleeping well as that sort of thing ultimately leads to a 3am wake-up -- fully in mind, I am not going to start celebrating yet, but I will say -- with fingers crossed, and qualifications in the case of some unforeseen calamity and with what may be the sort of amorphous verbiage that Wallnuts might call pre-conditions -- I think we've f*cking won.


Leaves on Your Ouija Board

As a break from politics and pensiveness, here's some pictures from September:

Uncle Eric and Cousin Aidan encourage Caleb's daredevil streak.

In India, or the version of it on display at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

On his Daddy's birthday, we discovered Caleb's shade of lipstick.

Sam perhaps needs something less gaudy.

The city is tearing up our street to improve our sewers. The boys lend a hand.

Substitute the shovel for an electric guitar, and Caleb has another album cover. For some reason, this photo reminds me of the Berlin Wall.

Sam and Aidan, volunteering for Public Works.

Trevor, Rachel, and Bree visit from Colorado for Rachel's first Milwaukee fish fry at Lakefront Brewery.

The beer barrel polka.

Bree, Rachel, and Sam in our living room.

Friday night included a 19th century style gather 'round the piano, where Karl and Kirsten belted out "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and, um, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Trevor took the lead on the Eagles' "Desperado." We all shared Rachel's response.

At this year's Jerkfest, the boys monopolized Isabell Anderson's cars, displaying none of the patience and grace that Annika Johnson shows here. The jerk was not as spicy as last year's, but was still mighty fine.

Tomorrow's Debate Today!

I'm not sure why Barack Obama is dressed as Batman, although its fairly self-evident why John McCain would wear a top hat, tails, and a cigarette holder.

Special appearance by Joe Biden as Robin.


So That'd Be Your Friend In the Wood-Chipper, Then?

Gosh darn it, you just don't get any folksier than Governor Sarah Palin, do ya? She's so folksy she said "Doggone it" in a nationally televised debate that touched on domestic policy issues, financial crisis, and two wars. She's so folksy I'm pretty sure she spent the middle part of the debate in a rocking chair, smoking a corn cob pipe. She's so folksy that every one of her gerunds had dropped "g"-sounds; she uses erunds. But then, yer talkin' to a New York Times-reading, latte-sipping middle-American who cares about things like diplomacy, science, and civil rights, so what do I know?

While I don't totally understand the distinctions drawn between civil unions and gay marriages, I was really happy that the topic was somewhat frankly discussed last night, but there's an important distinction between proposing gay rights and Palin's declaration that a McCain/Palin administration would not oppose such rights.

What the folksy stuff undermines, and this became very clear in the middle section of the debate (particularly as Biden became more energetic and lively), is the notion of diplomacy. Harry Truman joked that the role of vice president was to attend weddings and funerals, and he's not entirely wrong. Suppose -- and let's hope it's a long time from now-- that we lose Nelson Mandela or, say, Queen Elizabeth. Can you imagine Sarah Palin among the assembled dignitaries at a state funeral? Has she earned a spot at those functions, with her passport hardly two years old? Who, between her and Joe Biden, would best represent the dignity and sobriety of the American people in times that call for gravity and somberness? I've yet to see the non-ex-beauty queen side of Palin.

Despite from her W-like relationship with the English language and her Fargo accent and a manner that makes Paula Deen look like Edith Sitwell, I worry about making fun of or lashing out at Governor Palin. (Despite her opening "Hey, can I call ya Joe?" Biden was careful to call her by her title throughout the evening. He called her Sarah once, but corrected himself.) It's clear that the fun had at her expense by SNL and, well, everyone else with a sense of humor is playing into the conservatives' "Culture War" frame, a contrived but popular manipulation that plays to the rural red states in order to generate the fear that liberals will take away their money and their guns, their Nascar and their always low prices, always.

Sarah Palin is clearly not dumb -- her ability to nuance and manipulate in the debate demonstrates that. But "not dumb" is not the same as "able to lead."


Spotlight on Sam

Fruit Chews or Gummi Bears
Giving instructions (such as "Stand right there" or "No, Daddy, no singing!")
Toy trucks
His Little People School Bus book
A good chase

Having his nails clipped
The Edward U. Demmer Fund sponsorship message that comes on just before Sesame Street


Spotlight on Caleb

Construction equipment and heavy machinery
Trucks and buses
Go Diego Go!
Using faucets
The alphabet, esp. the letters B, O, S, and X
Banana pajamas

Mandy Patinkin