I refuse to believe Joe Manchin, the Democratic Senator from West Virginia, is as naive as he presents himself. I mean, a couple of weeks ago he was (or at least he said he was) confident the Senate would approve a bipartisan plan to create an independent commission to examine the 1/6 insurrection. He actually said out loud that he believed there would be “ten good, solid patriots” among the Senate Republicans who’d vote for the commission.
Was he right? Nope.
This week Manchin proposed a ‘compromise’ on voting rights. Democrats, of course, want sweeping legislative protections designed to make elections secure and accessible to every eligible voter. Republicans want legislation designed to make elections limited as much as possible to Republican voters; Democrats can go fuck themselves.
It’s hard to come up with a compromise between those two positions. But Manchin, bless his heart, tried. And he actually cobbled something together that was inadequate, but at least offered a semi-reasonable starting position. He pared the Democratic wishlist down to the bone, and added a few points that Republicans advocated. You can read the actual text of the compromise, but here are the main points of his plan.
The Good Stuff: — Election Day would be a public holiday. Everybody gets the day off to go vote. — At least 15 days (including two weekends) of continuous early voting in federal elections — Automatic voter registration at the DMV for citizens, allow people to opt out if they didn’t want to appear on the voting rolls — A ban on partisan gerrymandering, districts decided by computer models — At least 7 days notification of a change in polling location
The Not-Good Stuff: — Doesn’t require no-excuse mail-in balloting — Doesn’t require convenient ballot drop boxes for early voting — Doesn’t prevent states from requiring extra ID security measures for people requesting mail-in ballots — Doesn’t require a paper ballot backup
It’s…well, it’s pretty much what Manchin claimed he wanted; it’s a compromise. Not a good compromise, but a compromise. It includes provisions which both Democrats and Republicans want, and provisions to which both parties object. You know…a compromise. So of course, Republicans have rejected it out of hand. They rejected it because it’s a compromise–and because Manchin himself is being a horse’s ass about the filibuster, the Republicans don’t have to compromise on anything.
It MUST be clear even to Joe Manchin that the GOP is no longer interested in representative democracy. Again, I don’t think Manchin can be accused of naivete. At this point in time–and frankly, this was obvious during the Obama administration–to believe Congressional Republicans have any interest at all in compromise or bipartisanship is NOT naive. Naivete at that level is tantamount to stupidity.
Aristotle (yeah, I’m calling in the Greeks) believed the function of the brain was to cool the blood–that it wasn’t involved in the thinking process. Joe Manchin may provide an argument in Aristotle’s favor.
It’s the beginning of summer on Amity Island, DC. Beach weather. After our pandemic year, we’re all looking to relax and take it easy, to get our lives back to something like normal. Young people, feeling invulnerable, hold an impromptu beach party. Drinking. Flirting. Playing guitars. Skinny dipping in legislative waters.
The next morning, the remains of a lithe and vibrant young election result was found washed up on the beach. Noted legislative expert Dr. E. Warren examines the cadaver.
“The height and weight of the election result can only be estimated from the partial remains. It has been severed in mid-thorax. There are no major organs remaining. May I have a glass of water please? Right arm has been severed with massive tissue loss in the upper legislative musculature. This was no boating accident! This is what happens with the non-frenzy feeding of a large legislative-eating great white filibuster.”
According to Dr. Warren, “The great white filibuster is attracted to the exact kind of splashing and activity that occurs whenever human beings go legislating civil rights. You cannot avoid it.” She convinces Police Chief Uncle Joe Biden to alert the Amity Island DC authorities. She tells them, “There are only two ways to deal with this problem: you either kill the animal, or cut off its food supply.” Chief Uncle Joe wants to warn the public, close the beach loopholes, keep democracy alive. But…
But Joe Manchin is the Mayor of Amity Island, DC. He says, “I don’t think either one of you are familiar with our problems! Amity is a political town. We need political dollars. I don’t think you appreciate the gut reaction people have to these things, Chief. It’s all psychological. You yell ‘Point of order!’ everybody says ‘Huh? What?’ You yell ‘Filibuster,’ we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.The beaches must stay open.”
The weekend comes. Political families gather at the beach. Adults are wearing sunscreen, sitting in beach chairs reading trashy novels, glancing up now and then at the young legislation playing noisily in the shallow water…the shallow water thirty feet from shore, where most filibuster attacks take place.
Da dum. Daaa dumm. Daaa dumm. DadumDadumDadum.
As Senators and ordinary citizens watch in horror, the filibuster strikes. An innocent Commission on the Insurrection is savagely attacked in full view of the people. Attacked, killed, dragged under the water, and eaten while politicians stand on the beach, helpless to stop the massive filibuster.
Their fears confirmed, Chief Uncle Joe consults a quirky, eccentric, grizzled local legislative renegade–Sinema. The chief asks Sinema to help find and kill the filibuster, to keep democracy safe. She says, “It ain’t gonna be easy. Bad fish! Not like going down to the pond and chasing bluegills or naming a post office. This filibuster, swallow ya whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, down you go. I value my neck a lot more than that. I’ll find this filibuster for democracy, but I’ll catch it–and kill it–for attention.”
The three of them–Chief Uncle Joe, Dr. Warren, and Sinema–go out to sea in Sinema’s ancient fishing boat, the Ego. She’s unimpressed with Dr. Warren’s anti-filibuster cage. “You go inside the cage? Cage goes in the water? You go in the water? Filibuster’s in the water? Our filibuster?” She begins to sing, quirkily, “Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies….”
Chief Uncle Joe is put to work ladling chum–bloody bits of minor legislation and judicial nominations–into the water to attract the filibuster. And sure enough, it appears. It’s enormous, gargantuan, a monstrous bloody-toothed freak of nature–a ravenous, insatiable creature of mythical proportion.
Da dum. Daaa dumm. Daaa dumm. DadumDadumDadum.
“We’re gonna need a bigger Congress,” Chief Uncle Joe says. Sinema sees the filibuster up close and is staggered. She turns to Chief Uncle Joe and says, “When you have a place that’s broken and not working, and many would say that’s the Amity Island DC today, I don’t think the solution is to erode the laws of nature. I think the solution is for islanders to change their behavior and begin to work together with the filibuster.“
Sinema turns her boat around. They head back to the harbor, where Mayor Manchin is waiting at the dock. Sinema and Manchin stand by silently while Republicans prevent future beach closures. The filibuster is still out there, still hungry, still waiting just below the surface.
Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.
This year I was going to avoid writing about Memorial Day. I’ve written about Memorial Day just about every year since I started writing this blog. I’m not even going to bother linking to all those earlier blogs (though if you’re interested, just type ‘Memorial Day’ into the search feature and hey bingo).
But here it is, Memorial Day again, and I’m about to write something that’s not exactly about Memorial Day (well, not about Memorial Day at all), but about cheap-ass pseudo-patriotic feculent cowardly politicians who give speeches during the Memorial Day weekend. And when I say “cheap-ass pseudo-patriotic feculent cowardly politicians” I mean Matt Gaetz.
What happened was I read what Matt (Hey, what’s a little child sex trafficking among friends?) Gaetz said a few days ago at an America First rally.
“For all the fake news media, the Second Amendment is not about — it’s not about hunting, it’s not about recreation, it’s not about sports. The Second Amendment is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary. “
Aside from the fact that an America First rally is an awfully nice way of saying “Rally for Fascism Yay!” there’s this: Matt Gaetz is, obviously, a fuckwit. You have to make some allowances for fuckwits. Because they’re fuckwits. So I’ll agree that Matt was correct when he said the Second Amendment isn’t about hunting or recreation or sports. But he’s absolutely wrong in thinking (and I use ‘thinking’ in the loosest possible way) that it’s about the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government. That’s just fucking stupid.
It’s the same sort of cellular-level stupidity that allows gun nuts to simultaneously insist that an AR-15 assault-style rifle is NOT IN ANY WAY a military weapon BUT is still absolutely vital for citizens to own in order to go Matt Gaetz on the US military. You know, if necessary.
Thing is, the Second Amendment was grounded in the deep distrust and suspicion of the Founders regarding a professional standing army. Remember that most of the Founders had a Western European mindset, and Europe had a long history of standing armies, answerable only to a king, imposing the will of the king on the people. I mean, they explicitly denounced the entire concept, stating “standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican government, dangerous to the liberties of a free people, and generally converted into destructive engines for establishing despotism.” That whole “well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” business was about insuring themselves against a professional army acting on the whims and wishes of a supreme ruler (or the army’s own generals).
That’s why, after the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army was disbanded. Gen. George Washington gave a speech to the troops, in which he said (and I’m paraphrasing here):
“Guys, war’s over. Thanks for helping to kick the Brits out. But go on home now. Take your guns and uniforms, put that shit in the closet, and if you’re ever needed again, we’ll let you know.”
Oh, they kept a few troops to guard the arsenal at West Point, because you can’t just leave artillery laying around like lawn ornaments. But that was basically it. The former members of the Continental Army met periodically with other civilians as informal local militias to train or put down the occasional slave rebellion.
But in 1784 problems on the Western Frontier (which at the time was somewhere around Ohio) triggered Congress to approve the creation of the First American Regiment. The problem was settlers versus Native Americans. The settlers were all “We just want to live in peace, and cut down all these trees to create farms where we can grow crops on land that the savages weren’t really even using like god intended, but the savages want to cancel our culture.” Yes, the settlers kept personal firearms to hunt and to protect themselves from attacks by the natives they were displacing. The job of the First American Regiment was to support the locals, secure the frontier, and discourage Native Americans from slaughtering the white settlers. They did this by slaughtering the natives first.
You may be assuming the reason the new American government was protecting those settlers was because they were racist assholes who didn’t think of the natives as human. Which would be accurate. But the primary reason was because the new US government didn’t have the authority to impose taxes on its citizens, which meant the government was broke, which meant they needed to generate some serious pocket money, which they decided to do by selling the land the natives weren’t really using like god intended to the invading settlers. So obviously, they had to keep the settlers from being slaughtered by the natives because dead folks don’t buy land.
That policy worked really well. The First American Regiment fought the natives, which allowed local militias to keep the slaves in check. Everything was cool…until November of 1791, when 320 troops from the First American Regiment supported by about a thousand local militia/settlers tried to teach a lesson to a coalition of Shawnee, Miami, Delaware, and Potawatomie tribes. That lesson was rejected. It’s generally called the Battle of the Wabash, but it was more of a rout than a battle. The native coalition kicked ass. Over 800 soldiers and militia members were killed; around 270 were wounded. A quarter of what had been the standing army of the US was wiped out.
Congress responded to the defeat in a variety of ways. They decided maybe a standing army of professional soldiers wasn’t an entirely bad idea after all. They created the Legion of the United States–about 5000 troops–to insure a more effective military force for slaughtering natives. A month of so after the defeat, Congress also passed a lot of amendments to the new Constitution, one of which authorized well regulated militias to keep and bear arms. Five years after that they changed the name of the Legion of the United States to the Army of the United States. Probably because ‘legion’ sounded French.
My point, though, if you can call it that. was that the Second Amendment wasn’t about fighting a rebellion against the US government. It was about arming local groups who could be called upon to fight against local enemies (like slaves who resisted being slaves) freeing up the standing army to fight against regional enemies (like godless natives who resisted giving up their land to decent god-fearing white settlers).
My other point, which I seem to have strayed from, was that Matt Gaetz is a treasonous fuckwit who should be giving his speeches from a prison cell.
Because I have chores to do, I decided it was time to snorkel through the murky, fetid waters of FreeRepublic and see how those ‘patriots’ were responding to the Recent Welcome News (the RWN being that New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance has convened a grand jury to conduct a criminal investigation of Comrade Trump and the Trump Organization). I expected to see anger, resentment, victim-whinging, and threats (which, to be fair, is what I expect from FreeRepublic regardless of the issue). My expectations were met.
I found a discussion thread entitled The Left is Anticipating President Trump’s Indictment but They Haven’t Thought About What That Means to Everyone. It began with a long introduction involving (and I’m not making this up) the author’s role in helping “a very senior CIA officer” convert to Catholicism. Somehow, that conversion process included a discussion of politics, in which this alleged CIA officer supposedly said this:
“What separates us from the Third World in our politics…are the twin concepts of peaceful transfer of power via the ballot box rather than by military intervention and the unwritten and unspoken principle that victors do not use the police power of the state to punish the vanquished.”
And hey, aside from the slur against the so-called Third World, I agree. I thought perhaps somebody on Freep actually understood that trying to violently overturn the will of the voters is a bad thing. Silly rabbit. He was, in fact, talking about the ‘political persecution’ of Comrade Trump by a vindictive Socialist Biden administration. If Trump is indicted/arrested/tried/incarcerated, he argued, then the next Republican POTUS will necessarily feel obligated to persecute his Democratic predecessor.
The next Republican president will be under enormous pressure to take a similar Democrat scalp. To be on the safe side and make it hurt, hell [sic] probably have to take down several prominent Democrats.
The reasoning here is fascinating, in a perverse way. I mean, the underlying premise (that Comrade Trump is honest, decent, truthful, patriotic, faithful, loyal, and selfless AND actually won the 2020 election) is so flawed and blatantly false that the entire combustible world has to be turned upside down and inside out in order to support it. It’s like saying, “Since we all agree the moon is made of semi-soft brie, clearly the moon landings must be fake; a brie surface lacks the tensile strength to support the weight of the Apollo Lunar Lander.”
The ‘patriots’ of Freep had a variety of responses. Some are certain Trump will never be indicted because he didn’t commit a crime. Some believe Vance lacks the cojones to indict Trump. Many are convinced (or claim to be convinced, or are eager to claim they’re convinced) that a Trump arrest will spark another Civil War. Some seem to believe Democrats want a Civil War because “[T]hey think they can win it…they hold, however tenuously, the presidency, and both houses of Congress (wait, wut?)…the FBI and CIA are aligned with them…the military is going full woke…they control almost all media outlets. And some argue nothing at all will happen if Trump finds himself in an orange jumpsuit, because too many Americans are cowards and the institutions of US democracy are already too corrupt.
Re: “The next Republican president will be under enormous pressure to take a similar Democrat scalp. To be on the safe side and make it hurt, hell probably have to take down several prominent Democrats.” That is absurd. The GOP will do NOTHING – even if by some miracle we win a national election. The Trump DOJ, the Trump FBI, the Trump Intelligence Community, and the Trump appointed Judges, did NOTHING to stop the rampant criminality of the Democrat Party.
It’s simply impossible for these fuckwits to consider that Trump’s claims of election fraud were so obviously false that even his own appointees in the DOJ, the FBI, the IC, and on the courts couldn’t take them seriously. No, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Intelligence Community, and even those federal judges appointed by Trump–ALL of them must be completely corrupt, all of them must have turned their backs and stared vacantly into the sun while Democrats openly rigged the election in all 50 states in order to steal the election from Donald Trump. It’s obvious. There’s no other explanation.
Since the moon is made of semi-soft brie, the moon landings must be fake.
May 18 — Hemet, CA. 1 dead, 4 wounded. A fight broke out among a group of women. One pulled a handgun and opened fire. Four were wounded. Bystander Tamika Haynes, sitting in a car nearby, was killed. She was three months pregnant, a mother to an 8-year-old son.
— Oakland, CA. 2 dead, 5 wounded. A party bus carrying young women and girls celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday was fired on by a passing car. The dead were Alayasia Thurston (19 years old, mother of a three-year-old) and Zoey Hughes (16 years old). At least 70 rounds were fired at the bus.
May 20 — Evansville, IN. 0 dead, 4 wounded. A fight between two people escalated; one man opened fire with a handgun. Four were wounded.
May 21 — Jersey City, NJ. : 2 dead 12 wounded. A house party broke up after a noise complaint. Some party-goers then attended another nearby party, where violence broke out. Asia Hester, 25, and Kevin Elliott, 30 were killed. Multiple guns and shell casings were recovered at the scene, suggesting more than one shooter (some of whom may have been returning fire). According to police, some of the wounded were released after treatment, “while others continue to fight for their lives,”
May 22 — Albany, NY. 1 dead, 5 wounded. A drive-by shooting left one man dead and five others wounded.
— Minneapolis, MN. 2 dead, 8 wounded. Two man involved in “a verbal altercation” in a local nightclub drew handguns and began shooting at each other. One of the shooters was killed, along with a bystander. Eight were wounded, including the second shooter.
— Ft. Wayne, IN. 1 dead, 4 wounded. A group of people drinking and visiting in the parking lot of an apartment complex yelled at 20-year-old Jamarion Thomas for carrying a rifle through the parking lot because children were present. Thomas went into his apartment, then returned outside still holding the rifle. He yelled at the people who’d yelled at him. At that point, another man drew a handgun and pointed it at Thomas, who opened fire with the rifle. 30 spent rifle casings were found at the scene, as well as more than 15 handgun casings of various calibers–suggesting several people had weapons and were shooting. An unidentified woman was killed; four were wounded, including Thomas.
— North Charleston, SC. 1 dead, 13 wounded. A fight broke out near a stage that was set up for an unauthorized concert. Multiple people drew handguns and fired on each other. Thirteen were wounded; 14-year-old Ronjanae Smith was killed.
— Columbus, OH. 1 dead, 5 wounded. A group of teens on social media decided to gather in downtown Columbus and ride kick-scooters. The event became larger than expected and a fight erupted, resulting in multiple shooters firing at each other. Five teens were wounded and 16-year old Olivia Kurtz was killed.
May 23 — Paterson, NJ. 0 dead, 5 wounded. A large block party ended in somebody pulling a handgun and wounding five people, whose ages ranged from 26 to 36 years.
— Youngstown, OH. 3 dead, 3 wounded. And argument that began inside a bar moved outside. At least two men pulled handguns, including a bar security guard. Police describe the event as involving multiple guns fired by multiple people. Some of the victims were wounded/killed in the crossfire.
— Bay Shore, NY. 0 dead, 4 wounded. A gunman opened fire at a group of people gathered near some basketball courts. Four were struck by one shot each.
— Norfolk, VA. 0 dead, 4 wounded. Little information is available about the four adults who were shot. They were taken to the hospital suffering non-life-threatening injuries.
— Inkster, MI. 2 dead, 2 wounded. Four people were shot (two critically wounded, two fatally) while playing basketball in the street. Multiple shooters were involved. Police are investigating if the murders were related to a pair of May 18th incidents involving the non-fatal shooting of a woman, followed hours later by fatal shooting of the victim’s boyfriend at the same address.
May 24 — West Jefferson, OH: 5 dead, 0 wounded. Police found three people shot dead inside a building with “at least two more found fatally wounded outside.” No other information is known at this time. “Things like this just don’t happen in West Jefferson, or don’t happen in small towns,” said West Jefferson Police Chief Chris Floyd
That’s 21 dead and 78 wounded in 14 separate incidents of firearm violence in the past week. There’s no universally agreed definition of ‘mass shooting’ or ‘mass murder’ but there are some generally accepted guidelines. Here’s the most common ‘mass shooting’ definition: a shooting at a public place in which four or more people (not including the shooter) are shot in a single episode, excluding domestic, gang, and drug violence. Here’s the most common definition of ‘mass murder’: four or more people killed during an event with no “cooling-off period” between the murders, generally in a single location (or close proximity), excluding domestic, gang, and drug violence.
Using those definitions, only one of the multiple casualty events of the preceding week (the killings in West Jefferson, Ohio) MIGHT actually qualify as a mass murder. If the killer in that case turns out to be related to one or more of the victims, it will be disqualified as a mass murder and considered a mere ‘domestic’ crime. Similarly, many of the apparent mass shooting incidents are disqualified as mass shootings because they involve multiple shooters–some of whom were armed bystanders who because reaction shooters.
What we can see from the last week is this: more guns in the hands of more people means more people get shot. Shot because of poor impulse control–and easy access to guns. Shot because of inadequate (or no) training regarding when and how to shoot–and the ease with which people are granted the power to carry concealed guns.
And that brings me to this massively stupid motherfucker in Texas and his massively stupid decision. Gov. Greg Abbott is about to sign a law allowing people to carry handguns without a license, without a background check, and without any training. Why the fuck would Abbott do such an astonishingly stupid thing? Because he says it will allow Texans to better defend themselves in public. He wants Texas to be…and I’m NOT making this up…a Second Amendment Sanctuary State. You know, a place where guns and gun owners can feel safe and secure against…against people who have guns and want to hurt them? Fuck if I know.
It’s been almost 18 days since the last mass shooting in Texas, when Larry Bollin opened fire on his co-workers at Kent Moore Cabinets, killing one and wounding four more (five, if you count the Texas police officer who was wounded trying to arrest him). Gov. Abbott issued a public statement after the shooting.
Cecilia and I are praying for the victims and their families and for the law enforcement officer injured while apprehending the suspect.Cecilia and I are praying for the victims and their families and for the law enforcement officer injured while apprehending the suspect.”
I’m sure that helped. The governor also visited the victims. In an interview on FOXNews, he said:
“Let me tell you something about the shooting in Bryan, Texas, that will answer your question [about firearm safety legislation]. I went to the hospital where the victims’ families were on the night of the shooting. And we hugged and we cried and we talked to them about it. As I was talking to family members of one of the victims, they said: ‘Governor please, do not allow this shooting to strip us of our 2nd Amendment rights.'”
I don’t know…it’s Texas. Won’t require you to wear a mask in a pandemic; won’t require chemical plants to safely store volatile chemicals, won’t prevent lunatics from carrying guns.
Okay, I probably should have mentioned this when it was announced. But that was a month ago, back in the middle of April, at the beginning of morel season, so I was busy. And there was something else going on at the time, though I can’t recall what it was. My guess is it was probably bicycle-related.
Anyway, I forgot about it until last week when Ruth Greenberg emailed me. She wanted to let me know she’d received a royalty check for a book we sorta kinda wrote together. That was back in…I don’t know, the distant past. I was in graduate school at the time, so it must have at least twenty years ago. I could do the math and figure out the date, but it doesn’t much matter.
The check was for 94 cents.
I’ve moved at least half a dozen times since the book was published, and I’ve never bothered to let the publisher know my new address. In fact, I think that publisher has been swallowed whole by another publisher–and I’m not even sure who they are. This accounts for why I didn’t get my US$0.94 royalty check.
But that email last week reminded me of another writing thing…which is the thing I referred to in the first paragraph, the thing I probably should have mentioned back in April but obviously didn’t. So I’m going to mention it now.
A short story I wrote–and which was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine last autumn–won an award. Every year various groups hand out various awards for mystery and detective fiction. Most of those are nominated by…well, okay, I admit I don’t know how the nomination process works. Doesn’t matter. I’ve only been nominated once, about a million years ago, for something called a Shamus award. I didn’t win, so I didn’t pay much attention to it (I’m beginning to sense a pattern here). Anyway, nominations are made, a panel of judges read the work, choose the winner, hand out an award. It’s sort of a big deal.
The award I won wasn’t that sort of award. What I won was a Reader’s Award. You know, where readers write in and name their favorite stories of the years. And actually, I didn’t win that award either; I came in third.
When I got the email telling me I’d come in third in a Reader’s Award, I thought, “Hey, that’s nice.” And that was basically it. I mean, I’d already been paid for the story; that was reward enough. But I was asked to submit a 1-2 minute video acceptance speech for the award (which was being held virtually because of the damned pandemic). My response was basically a casual “Sure, why not?” But thinking about an acceptance speech made me actually stop and think about the award itself, and about the readers who’d read the story and voted for it, and about writing.
Let me be clear about this whole writing gig. It’s just something I do. I enjoy the act of writing. I like the process of writing. It entertains me and gives me pleasure. I like the discipline involved. Most of what I write (this blog, for example) I write for an audience of one–me. Writing this blog forces me to put my thoughts in order, which forces me to support whatever crap I’m writing about. I usually spend a LOT more time thinking about stuff than writing about it. For this blog, I like to write quickly and casually, and edit almost nothing.
But sometimes I write short fiction for money. That means writing for other people. It also means writing more carefully. Because a writer’s job is to give a reader a good experience. Not necessarily a pleasant one, or a happy one, but an experience they find worth the investment of time it takes them to read the story.
But here’s the weird thing. Once I finish writing a piece of fiction, I seem to lose all emotional attachment to it. I’ve done what I wanted to do with it, I’ve written the story, and now it’s done. I submit the story to a magazine; they either accept it (and send me a check) or reject it (and send me a rejection letter), but that’s their job. My job is over. Time to do something else. The finished story is old news; it just doesn’t seem very important anymore.
But I had to give an acceptance speech, right? So I had to think about all that stuff. I mean, yes of course I was writing for an audience, but it was a theoretical audience. Not actual people, sitting at home, drinking coffee and letting the cat shed on their sweaters. Suddenly, they’d become very real to me. I mean, the notion that strangers would read something I wrote–that they’d read it and remember it–that they’d care enough about the story to vote for it in an annual contest? That’s just…weird. It made me oddly emotional.
So I made an acceptance video. Okay, that’s a lie. I made like six of them. First, I did a quick practice video just to see if I actually knew HOW to make a video. Set up my chromebook, turned it on, nattered off the top of my head for maybe 90 seconds, then watched it. It was…well, embarrassing.
So I wrote out a short script saying the things I wanted to say–and shot a second video. That taught me to pay attention to the background (as a photographer, you’d think I’d know that). So I started moving things around, re-arranging furniture, shifting stuff around so it wouldn’t appear I was sitting in the basement, where I write in the evenings. I shot a few more videos.
They were fucking painful to watch. I mean, I was trying to present myself as a writer, and I was semi-reading from a script. It all looked unnatural. So in the end, I sent them my practice video–me nattering on, sitting at my basement desk, unrehearsed and stupid, thanking strangers for voting me the third most popular story for this particular magazine last year. But at least it was honest and authentic. So there’s that.
Anyway, here it is, for your entertainment. The whole thing is about 18 minutes long, which is a LOT to watch. I get introduced at about the 5:30 point. My awkward basement practice acceptance video kicks in somewhere around the 7:30 point.
Oh, yeah…the story. Janet Hutchings, the editor, introduces it in a way that makes it sound significant, portentous. When I submitted it, I was at a loss for how to describe it. It’s a detective story, of course, about the rights of street photographers. But yeah, it’s also about racial profiling. And about a missing teen-aged girl. But it’s also about the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, which I happen to think is important to the story. And I don’t know, it’s maybe about some other stuff too. Who knows?
Anyway, I probably should have mentioned this back in April, when it was announced.
The modern Republican Party (you know what? I need to stop calling them ‘the modern Republican Party’ because at this point they’re just the Republican Party; there’s no point in trying to distinguish the cowardly fuckwits who now inhabit this aggressively ignorant cultural collective from the Republican Party that used to have consistent conservative principles) has a problem with problems. In fact, they have several problems with problems.
They lack any meaningful understanding of actual socio-political problems, they have no interest in learning about them, no ability to address them in any practical way, and no real desire to resolve them. What they DO have is a clear understanding of the political optics of being seen as dealing with problems.
Republicans have an intuitive grasp of the narrative strength of heroic problem solving. It’s one of the classic story tropes. A monster exists. A hero leaves their community and goes out into a hostile world in search of the monster. They encounter difficulties and tests of courage along the way, and overcome them. They find the monster, struggle against it, nearly lose, then triumph over it. They return home again–maybe to applause, maybe just to live quietly among those they’ve made safe.
What Republicans do is turn that trope on its head. There is no monster, which means they’re not heroes, so they don’t leave the safety of their community or deal with a hostile world, and their privilege protects them from any difficulties or tests of courage they may encounter. But if they invent a monster, they can pretend to be heroes by claiming to risk themselves in a life-or-death struggle, allowing them to assert some sort of imaginary victory.
There is no monster of voter fraud. Yet Republicans claim they’re in danger and are courageously struggling overwhelming Socialist enemies to enact voting restrictions which will save…what? Elections? There is no monster of trans girl/women athletes dominating high school or college sports. Yet Republicans claim girls and young women are in danger and they are bravely enacting laws banning trans athletes from sports which will…what? Save high school track and field meets? There is no monster of critical race theory savaging the lives of students. Yet Republicans insist they’re valiantly standing up against…something…in order to rescue innocent young white students from learning that systemic racism exists, thereby saving them from…what? Caring?
Republicans present themselves as beamish boys wielding vorpal blades against burbling Jabberwoks in the tulgey wood. Hast thou slain the trans-racist-voter fraud? O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Now to galumph back to Mar-a-Lago, chortling.
It’s all nonsense. Not silly nonsense, though. Dangerous nonsense. Because as a nation, we’re facing real fucking problems, with real fucking jaws that bite and claws that catch. Modern Republicans have gone through the Looking Glass. And there’s no sign that they’re ever coming back.
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
It’s a good question. It’s a question that will determine whether or not the US will have any hope of being a representative democracy.
A couple of days ago I posted the following photograph on social media. The photo was taken at the halfway point of my bike ride. In the description I casually mentioned there was a bicycle brew pub just out of the frame.
That comment sparked a question:
“A bicycle brew pub? Do tell. Is this a punctuation thing? Or are there really bicycle brew pubs? ‘Cause I’d be down with that!”
I was sort of surprised by the question, because of course bicycle brew pubs exist. I mean, bikes exist, and pubs exist, and a number of those pubs exist along bicycle trails, and many of those pubs either brew their own beers or at least serve locally brewed beers. Bicycle brew pubs are a natural pairing. I guess I assumed there are bicycle brew pubs scattered along bike trails all over the US. I assumed–and still assume–they’re scattered along bike paths all across the entire globe.
In fact, back in 2013 I wrote about the creation of the shandy–a mixture of beer and lemon-flavored soda tossed together in 1922 by a desperate former railway worker who ran a bicycle pub/inn in Deisenhofen, Germany. In some places, this style of beer is called a Kugler after Franz Xaver Kugler, the innkeeper who ran short of beer and decided to stretch his inventory by adding lemonade to it. Another name for this type of beer concoction is Radler, the German term for ‘cyclist’. Beer and bikes go together like spaghetti and meatballs, like Scooby Doo and Shaggy, like Netflix and chill. Sort of.
Herr Kugler may have had a railroad career before serving beer to bicyclists, but he had nothing (to my knowledge) to do with the Rails to Trails movement in the US. Still, I think the logic of converting unused railroad lines into cycling trails is undeniable. Railroad lines tend to be fairly straight and largely flat, which makes for easy cycling and easy conversion. Yes, they’re also prone to long gradual inclines that aren’t particularly noticeable to the eye, but make their presence known to a cyclist’s knees and thighs, but that seems a small sacrifice to make. If there’s a problem with rails to trails bike paths, it’s that they often put railroad lines on raised banks to protect them from flooding. That means IF you happen to have a mishap and go off the trail, you may find yourself (and your bike) tumbling down a steep 15-30 feet incline.
One of the great things about former railroad lines is that they pass through the countryside and through less developed areas–areas where train noise wouldn’t disrupt the lives (and traffic) of city/townsfolk. That means you get to ride through farmland and semi-industrial areas, and that means you get to see a lot of animals. Not just livestock like cattle and sheep, but wildlife that’s adapted their habitats to modern human life. I’ve seen everything from foxes to turkeys to snakes on my rides. One of my favorite parts of the path I took a couple of days ago is a stretch of about a mile that’s heavily populated with groundhogs. Big, fat, lazy bastards who are accustomed to bicycles and in no particular hurry to get out of your way–unless you stop to take a photo. Then the shifty buggers retreat.
Groundhog Central is in the middle of what I call the Valley of Warehouses–an area between the satellite community where I live and Des Moines. There are dozens of massive brutalist structures that act as distribution centers for the mass transit of goods. The newest of these mega-warehouses are being built in what used to be farmland. I think the structure in the photo above is a new distribution center being built for Amazon, the devil-king of interstate commerce. The best thing about these facilities–possibly the only good thing–is that bike paths are incorporated into their infrastructure design.
Another advantage of rails-to-trails paths is that railroads built LOTS of small–and sometimes not-so-small–bridges over the multitude of rivers, creeks, and brooks that would otherwise make cycling through the Midwest awkward. They needed these bridges in out of the way areas because many small railroad lines were created to carry coal from coal mines to the cities and towns. Coal was so often discovered in generally inconvenient locations–troublesome for railroads and coal producers, but in the end it’s worked out well for bicyclists.
That brings me back to bicycle brew pubs. We have a lot of them. Hell, we have three in my small community. The Iowa Beer organization released a map in 2019 showing the location of 85 bike trail beer pubs. It’s a tad out of date, of course. Although the pandemic was hard on most taverns and restaurants, it had the effect of making bicycles increasingly popular. If you have a bicycle, you often want to ride to a destination; small town bicycle brew pubs seem to have weathered the pandemic fairly well. I suspect there may be a few more bike brew pubs now than before the pandemic.
The path I took yesterday follows most of the route for the upcoming Beer 30 ride–a 30-mile round-trip cycling event that starts at the Uptown Garage Brewing Company then follows the trail to the small town of Bondurant, Iowa and the Reclaimed Rails Brewing Company, which is located just out of the frame of the photograph at the top of this post. The Beer 30 ride then returns to the Uptown Garage. Dozens of organized beer trail events like this take place in Iowa. Some are annual events, some are weekly.
I’ve no idea how many riders will be attending the Beer 30. At least a hundred. Maybe two or three times that number. I’ll be one of them.