so sad so cool

The truck, that was the first thing I noticed — just off the road, on the other side of a deep, grassy ditch. At some point in time it had been a serious truck. Not a gentleman farmer’s pick-up that could also be used to run errands, but a full-sized working truck built to haul serious payloads. Now it was basically a ruin; sitting lop-sided in the dead grass. It had been sitting there so long it had actually settled into the soil.


Beyond the truck was a house. A small farmstead, really — the house, a collapsed barn, a few small outbuildings, some sheds, a scattering of grain bins, rusted farm equipment. There was surprisingly little vandalism, aside from a few shattered windows and maybe the front door, which had been torn from its hinges. Most of the damage appeared to be the result of weather and long neglect. The property was clearly abandoned, and had been for some time.

It’s a curious term, abandon. It connotes a complete giving up, an absolute and total acknowledgment that there will be no return, a total surrender. Perhaps whoever lived there had originally intended to return — but at some point there had to be a moment of recognition that it would never happen. There’s something profoundly sad about that.

abandoned farmhouse2

Here’s an odd thing: I couldn’t bring myself to enter the house. I mounted the stairs and stood in the doorway, but I was reluctant to go inside. Not because it wasn’t safe (the house itself seemed pretty stable), and not because it would be trespassing (legally, I was already trespassing). I was unwilling to go inside because it felt wrong. It felt like a violation, somehow. What makes it odd is that at one point in my life I had a job that involved routinely trespassing and violating the privacy of other folks. But back then I was getting paid; to trespass in the house for no reason other than my own amusement seemed like some sort of transgression.

However, I didn’t feel that way about the other buildings on the property. I noodled around in them without any compunction at all. This one, for example.

music room2

It was just a few yards away from the main house. The roof had caved in a long time ago, and the debris made it almost impossible to walk around. It didn’t help that there were obvious nails and shards of broken glass lying about (combined with the fact that I was wearing sneakers). Still, it was easy to tell the building had most recently been used as a sort of office or studio.

The bones of an old Hackley upright piano occupied the main room.

piano also2

In 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, Milo J. Chase began building pianos in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A few years later, his company was reorganized as Chase-Hackley Pianos. The company had a good reputation as builders of durable, medium quality instruments. The pianos could be bought directly from the manufacturers, which allowed buyers to avoid sales and additional shipping charges. This made Chase and Hackley pianos popular with rural and farm families — at least until they went out of business in 1930, victims of the Great Depression.

It’s easy to imagine farm kids sitting in front of this old Hackley, struggling away at some painful version of Clair de Lune.

tractor again2

Behind the house were a variety of small, slowly collapsing sheds and workshops, as well as well as some farm equipment — all of which suggest that at one time this was a rather successful farming operation. There was a woodworking shed, a machine and tool shed, and a couple of storage buildings — all of which were in some stage of dilapidation. Only a few had working doors; none had functioning windows.

As with the house, most of the damage was a result of time and weather — and in some cases, animals. One bench was littered with raccoon shit, there were what appeared to be small mammal nests under some of the workbenches, and paw prints in the dust.

shed again2

The barn was the most severely damaged structure on the farmstead. The roof and one wall had completely collapsed, two of the other walls were pretty unstable, and the fourth wall seemed to be supported primarily by stacked bales of old hay. I wouldn’t have gone inside at all, except that I could see some bones — and bones make me stupid.

So I crouched down and groucho-walked inside to look at them. It was dark, of course, and what I first thought was an old sack turned out to be the semi-mummified remains of a dog. It appeared to have died of exposure or natural causes rather than violence, and was eviscerated by other creatures after death. The roof was too low at that point to allow me to examine the dog closely. I couldn’t even photograph it properly; I had to hold the camera out at arm’s length and shoot blindly. This is the only shot that was in focus — which is probably just as well.

family dog2

I didn’t stay at the farmstead very long. Places to go, people to meet, and all that. But the entire time I was there, I was very aware of my own internal dissonance. I’m not a terribly self-reflective person under most circumstances. I don’t spend much (or any) time thinking about what I feel, or wondering why I do stuff. Yet I was conscious of being torn between feeling This is so sad and thinking This is so cool.

Because it was so sad and it was so cool, and it still is. I’ll almost certainly go back at some point when I have more time to explore. Maybe I’ll even overcome my conscience and actually go inside the house.

well okay, ted cruz then

Extremism is a robust virus in the body politic. What does a virus do? It infects the host and uses it as a medium for reproducing itself. It uses the host as a platform for spreading itself to other hosts. An effective virus makes the host sick, but not too sick. Think common cold.

A co-worker catches a cold from her child, who caught it from a classmate at school. You catch the cold and spread it to your family. Your family spreads the cold around. That’s an effective virus. An effective virus doesn’t threaten the host’s survival, because a dead host means the virus can no longer reproduce.

An ineffective virus replicates too quickly, spreads too quickly, kills the host. Think rabies. Think Ebola.


The modern Republican party is sick with extremism. It’s been sick since the early 1990s and it’s getting sicker. It used to be a healthy political party. There used to be a plentiful supply of moderate antibodies that kept the extremist infection at bay. Over time, the GOP has become increasingly sick. Fewer antibodies and a heavier viral load allowed more pernicious strains of extremism to infect the Republican party. This made a Ted Cruz presidential campaign possible — maybe even inevitable.

Ted Cruz is rabies. Ted Cruz is Ebola. A Ted Cruz presidential campaign will create an environment in which the GOP host necessarily must either improve and regain its health or enter a death spiral. His candidacy will force Republican moderates (assuming any still exist) who want to be president to either adopt Cruz-like extremist positions or reject them. If they adopt them, those candidates become poison in the general election. Candidates who reject Cruz-like extremist positions, however, will find it much more difficult to survive the primary campaign.

ted cruz 2016

Either way, the Ted Cruz candidacy almost certainly guarantees Republicans will lose the presidential election. Right now, the GOP is simply too sick to win the presidency. Still, the Ted Cruz campaign is good news — for the Republican party and for the nation. The GOP will either begin the long painful road to recovery or it will become terminal. Either result benefits the nation.

Shorter version:

Vote for Rabies in 2016!

it’s the socialism, probably

Whenever I hear or see the phrase ‘active shooter situation’ in my newsfeed, my first response is always “Oh no, not again.” Then I read as much as possible about what’s going on. My second — and much-delayed — response is to turn to to see what those fine patriots have to say.

It happened again yesterday. The first reports, as always, were vague and confusing. A man was somehow involved in a motel shooting, a carjacking, and a home invasion; one person was dead and at least half a dozen others were wounded. So, to FreeRepublic:

“Democrat. My guess.” IllumiNaughtyByNature

“He must not be white, or they’d say he’s white.” CivilWarBrewing

“It’s all over Europe and Africa, and coming here. AZ just had a killing. And we have King Obama for the turmoil in all over. This insane child has messed up most of the world. And growing.” Logical Me.

“Hands up! Don’t shoot! I can’t breathe!” FlingWingFlyer

“They don’t have a code word for an older minority criminal so they just don’t say anything. So everyone be on the lookout for a MAN, with a TATTOO. That is all.” RightOnTheBorder

“Religion of peace?” Clint N. Suhks

“Hispanics are called “white” when it’s politically convenient.” Cicero

“Seemingly random shootings that are unconnected? Hmm. You have to ask yourself – why would a person do this on random targets (a trade school and several restaurants) that apparently have no connection to him? Answer – politically motivated or ordered shooting to inflict fear into people so that they don’t feel safe anywhere. Why?: to incite fear to make people demand that guns be removed from the populace. Who would profit the most from this? Leftists and the current administration. Someone somewhere will finally come clean and admit that there are teams working for the current administrative but they’re going to have to be smart and go rogue and staight to a trusted news media source they know they can trust and honestly there aren’t many of ‘em….” jsanders2001

“It’s the socialism. The O’Ministration stages one of these ‘bout every month to put something in the headlines to make them [uniformed racists] believe murder by gunshot is about race, guns, or overstep by any current law enforcement official. Anything but a lone-wolf Islamic terrorist, or a criminal intent yet to be discovered through due process, or terminated via suicide. The truth binds patriotic armed Americans together. Stay unified against division is my only message.” LurkedLongEnough

The shooting was President Obama’s fault, of course. Either because he created a social environment in which minorities feel free to run amok and are secure in the knowledge that nothing will happen as a result, or because the president has ‘teams’ engaged in acts of conspiratorial violence in order to something something TAKE ALL THE GUNS!!! And the shooter must be a minority or at least a Democrat, and probably a Muslim.

And then the shooter was captured. Shortly afterward, his prison mugshot was circulated.

Ryan Giroux

Ryan Giroux

Probably not a Democrat. Probably not a Muslim or a minority. Probably not part of a secret government team. So the conversation on FreeRepublic shifted. Suddenly they were concerned about the shooter’s clothing. And the failure of the prison system. And the biases of the news media.

““TV cameras captured the man being led in handcuffs wearing a white hazmat suit” I wonder what that’s about? Didn’t they just used to wrap suspects in blankets? Maybe he has ebola.” ilovesarah2012

I wonder what that’s about? To secure all possible evidence on their person. Blood, hair, gun shot residue, etc..”  dragnet2

“Quick! Someone in the media blame Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, the NRA, George Bush, Bible ‘clingers’, or the history of American oppression!” SSS Two

“I see prison has left it’s marks on him and he was obviously fully rehabilitated when released from prison. At some point, will we actually have a discussion in this country on how to make prison into a place where criminals are punished and taught that ‘you never want to come back here again’?” kingu

A few FreeRepublic folks acknowledged Ryan Giroux was a skinhead. One even noted that his tattoos were based on a racist ideology. But nobody even bothered to mention the fact that this guy — who’d served two prison terms and at least one stint in jail for crimes including burglary, theft, attempted aggravated assault and possession of drugs — was able to get a firearm. Nobody mentioned that Arizona has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation.

Sure, if Ryan Giroux wanted to buy a firearm from a licensed gun dealer, he’d have to fill out ATF Form 4473. And sure, if he’d filled out the form honestly, the gun dealer would be prohibited from selling him a firearm. But what if Mr. Giroux wasn’t entirely honest and ethical? What if he was willing to lie on that federal form — even though it states right on the form that giving false answers is a crime? What then? Well, since there’s no waiting period for purchasing a firearm in Arizona, Mr. Giroux would likely be able to walk out of that gun shop with a firearm.

But of course, Giroux wouldn’t have to buy his firearm from a licensed dealer. It would be a lot easier and simpler to buy a gun at a gun show, where he wouldn’t have to fill out any form at all. Or buy it from a private owner selling his guns through a newspaper advertisement. You don’t have to go through a licensed dealer in the United States. The Holy Second Amendment, you know, clearly states

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of racist lunatic skinhead ex-convicts to keep and bear all fucking manner of arms shall not be infringed, so eat it bitches.

Thanks, King Obama.

i kinda don’t hate facebook

Yeah, Facebook. You hate it. Everybody hates it. It’s a timesink, an annoying distraction, a bog of pointless announcements and idiotic quizzes, a morass of maudlin appeals for support from people you barely know (or don’t know at all), a fixed point attractor for every cute cat video ever made (and usually made badly), a wasteland of recipes you’ll never make and articles you’ll never read. Facebook is an utter and complete waste of bandwidth. Everybody agrees. I agree as well.

Except I don’t. Not really. Oh, I complain about Facebook, but the fact is I rather enjoy it. Every day — every single goddamned day — there are at least half a dozen different posts on Facebook that I find worthwhile. Or more than worthwhile. I find posts that make me think, that connect me to ideas and places and people and things I find fascinating, that give me information I want or need, that amuse me or delight me. And yes, yes of course, there are lots of posts that annoy the hell out of me. Sentimental pap, or faux inspirational quotations, or stupid hateful stuff about Obama, or stuff about…I don’t know…cars. Or basketball. But every single day, for me the good stuff on Facebook outweighs the annoying stuff.

For example, this morning on Facebook an Irish photographer, John Baucher, alerted me to the work of an Arizona-born artist (David Emitt Adams) who uses the wet-plate collodion process to create powerful  and photographs of the desert on old discarded tin cans found in the desert. It’s the perfect melding of subject and medium, as well as a profound statement about the effect of humankind on the environment. Adams says,

“I have never known this landscape without the forgotten debris of urban sprawl. Today, the notion of land untouched by the hand of man is so foreign it might as well be make-believe.”

David Emitt Adams


And this morning on Facebook, Barış Kılıçbay, a Turkish scholar, shared a short video edited by Jacob Swinney, in which the first and final frames of several films are shown side-by-side. It sounds simple and obvious, but it’s actually surprisingly sophisticated and compelling. It offers some real insight into how a narrative is — or should be — deliberately structured.


And this morning on Facebook the Des Moines Bike Collective posted a video about the Idaho Stop and showed me a photograph of an 83-year-old woman who’d stopped by the shop for help fixing a chain on her bike. The collective regularly posts information about cycling and how various urban areas are working to make cycling safer and more convenient. They also frequently feature local folks who are doing cool bike-related stuff.

bike collective - janet


And just now on Facebook, British science blogger Elise Andrew (who runs the brilliant I Fucking Love Science page) posted a link to an interactive exercise in speculative zombie epidemiology. By inputting a couple of variables (such as the kill-to-bite ratio and zombie velocity) and picking a location for Zombie Patient Zero to appear, you can follow the pattern and rate of a zombie epidemic in the U.S.

That dark area in the Midwest? That shows how in two weeks, a single zombie in Des Moines capable of walking less than one mile per hour and infecting 85% of the people it bit would have spread the infection far and fast enough to envelope both Minneapolis and Chicago. Who wouldn’t want to know that?

zombie infection rate


I don’t any of these people, really. I’ve never met John Baucher, though we occasionally correspond and we communicate frequently on Facebook. I have no idea how I came to know Barış Kılıçbay — through a friend, or a friend of a friend. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is that our small interactions on Facebook have occasionally made my day more interesting. I’m not a member of the Des Moines Bike Collective, but I know they’re a force of good in the community and two or three times a week they inform me about something bicycle-ish I’d otherwise never learn. And I only know Elise Andrew through IFLS, but she’s expanded my understanding in dozens of science-related fields.

My point, if you can call it that, is that although Facebook really is horrible, it’s also really pretty terrific. If you like zombies. And bikes. And movies. And wet collodion tin can photography.

punching the willow god in the snoot

The figures looked more or less human. And they were engaged in religion. You could tell by the knives. (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)

Sweet Lord Jeebus bounded in a nutmeg, what the fuck is wrong with these people? You got Mat Staver of the Liberty Council (which isn’t a council and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about any liberty other than their own)  being cheered on for saying that even if the US Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, people should refuse to obey it.

“[A]s a believer, you cannot obey something that is contrary to God’s law. And we would easily say, well, what would happen if the government forced you turn over a Jew in Nazi Germany?”

If you’re like me (and by ‘like me’ I mean ‘not a total fucking idjit’) you’re probably wondering how issuing a marriage license is similar to delivering Jews to Nazis. On the one hand you have “Hey Nazi, here’s a Jew for you to imprison and maybe work to death or just murder” and on the other hand you have “Hey gay person, here’s an official document you need to fill out if you want to get married.” I’m just not seeing the similarities. Anyway, gay folks getting all married is apparently against the will of god.

Mat Staver - analogy-challenged

Mat Staver – analogy-challenged

Then you’ve got this mope, Andre Yokers, of Florida (where else?). Yokers has allegedly (and by ‘allegedly’ I mean ‘they’ve got video of it’) been repeatedly vandalizing the sign for a costume shop because 1) it has images of women wearing witch costumes and 2) it has the word ‘witch’ on ir and 3) the Lord Jeebus told him to do it. He was just following the will of god. In Florida, that may actually be considered a legitimate affirmative defense at trial.

It’s been reported (and by ‘reported’ I mean ‘I just made it up’) that Mat Staver thinks preventing Jeebus-induced vandalism is just like forcing Jews to eat a bacon sammich. In Mecca. On a Friday.

Andre Yokers -- thou shalt not suffer a witch advert to live

Andre Yokers — thou shalt not suffer a witch advert to live

We’ve also got this fucking guy. Pastor Jack Hibbs of California (because maybe Florida and Texas had met their crazy quota that day). Pastor Jack believes (and by ‘believes’ I mean ‘is reliably informed by the voices in his head’) that interfaith meetings between Christians and Muslims are a vehicle by which Christians are being targeted by the moon god Baal in order to…I dunno, something bad. But he’s pretty darn sure there are Christian heretics in the mix somewhere, and Pastor Jack don’t like no heretics.

“Now look, you may hold that view today simply because maybe you’re not a heretic, but you might be ignorant that this is a war against an ancient doctrine, an ancient god with a little ‘g,’ and ancient system that used to go around by the name of Baal. It is the moon god of the ancient Babylonian empire. Babylon had 360 gods. The chief god was the moon god. Don’t you think it’s interesting that all around the world, mosques have a moon symbol, a crescent on top of their buildings?”

Pastor Jack Hibbs - moon god fetishist

Pastor Jack Hibbs – moon god fetishist

You might not be a heretic (and by ‘you’ I mean ‘Pastor Jack Hibbs’), you might just be ignorant. Okay, let me amend that. You actually ARE ignorant.

Here’s a true thing: early Christians also used the crescent moon symbol. And they did it long before Mohammed got tagged by the Angel Gabriel and found himself in the prophet business. In fact, there’s a fairly famous painting of Saint John Chrysostom riding a white horse and toting a shield with the crescent moon symbol.

St. John Chrysostom -- notta moon god worshipper

St. John Chrysostom — notta moon god worshipper

This John guy, he is an actual saint (if you believe in that sort of thing). I don’t recall what he did to get himself sainted, but I’m thinking it had to be some really holy stuff. Whatever it was, you can be pretty sure it was more meaningful than a preacher with a three-dollar haircut and open-necked Oxford shirt ranting about moon gods.

According to sources (and by ‘sources’ I mean ‘probably somebody said something like this, maybe’) Mat Staver noted this alleged ‘saint’ looks like he has an Afro, which is suspicious. He probably wasn’t a white guy. Probably wouldn’t last a day in Ferguson, Missouri, even with that fancy moon god shield. But hey, you know. will of god and all.

Or maybe these folks have been talking about the willow god (distantly related to the moon god). Trashing witches, being afraid of Muslims, preventing gay folks from getting married, it’s all in a day’s work for the willow god.

Then Sir Terry Pratchett died. And I have to admit that for a brief moment I wanted to punch the willow god right in the snoot. Which is an appropriate response.

I think that sick people in Ankh-Morpork generally go to a vet. It’s generally a better bet. There’s more pressure on a vet to get it right. People say ‘it was god’s will’ when granny dies, but they get angry when they lose a cow. (Terry Pratchett)

Sir Terry Pratchett

Sir Terry Pratchett

I don’t know anything about gods, willow or otherwise. But I know this. I know this with mathematical certainty. I know that Terry Pratchett made the world a better, kinder, more thoughtful, and happier place. Not many folks will be able to say that about Mat Staver, Anders Yokers, or Jack Hibbs.