sunday — this beautiful world

Sunday morning, early October, chilly but sunny, not a cloud in the sky, very little wind. Who wouldn’t want to go for a bike ride? Now, I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking, “Greg, old sock, you always want to go for a bike ride.” First, stop calling me ‘old sock’. Second, well, yeah.

My brother-in-law, who’ll I’ll call “Jeff” (on account of that’s his name) and I started our ride in a little Iowa town called Mingo. I am NOT making that up. It’s an old coal-mining town, named after the Mingo tribe of the Iroquois nation. The Mingos, by the way, didn’t call themselves Mingos; that’s what the neighboring Algonquin tribes called them. It’s a corruption of the Algonquin term mingwe, which apparently means ‘sneaky’. But they weren’t sneaky enough to escape the notice of ‘progress’. As part of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, any remaining Mingos in Iowa were required to shift themselves to Kansas. Why? As President Andrew Jackson said at the time,

“What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms?”

Andrew Jackson was more fucking savage than the Mingos, and a LOT of us would prefer a country covered with forests. Anyway, Mingo now is a sneaky little town of about 300 white people and a small biker tavern (as opposed to a cyclist pub). We did NOT have a beer at the Greencastle Tavern because 10:30 in the morning is too early to drink. And besides, the tavern wasn’t open yet.

Just outside of Mingo.

This bike trail is called the Chichaqua Valley Trail. You might assume that’s because it runs through the Chichaqua Valley. Silly rabbit. There is no Chichaqua Valley. There is, however, a 25-mile-long series of oxbows and bottomlands called the Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt. The oxbows are the isolated remains of the South Skunk River, which coal companies ‘straightened’ in order to facilitate barges transporting coal from mining towns like Mingo. More ‘progress’.

That straight line is the current channel of the South Skunk River

The Skunk River got its name a couple hundred years before the Mingo arrived in this part of the country. The French voyageurs, exploring and trapping beaver, asked the local Meskwaki tribe what the river was called. They were told the river was Chichaqua. The natives were referring the smell of the wild onions and cabbage that grew along the riverbanks. They’d also used that term to describe skunks. So we can thank the confused French for the Skunk River.

Like so many Iowa bicycle trails, the Chichaqua Trail follows an old railroad line. This was the Wisconsin, Iowa & Nebraska Railroad, originally built in 1885 to haul coal and livestock throughout the Midwest. You can actually gauge your progress along the trail by watching for old railroad mile markers that show the distance to Kansas City. Unlike most rails-to-trails bike paths, which tend to be incredibly straight and incredibly dull, this trail is full of curves and turns. One bicycle trail guide describes it as ‘serpentine,’ which may be a tad too elegant, but isn’t entirely wrong.

One of the many bridges.

It runs mostly through farmland and woods. It’s a quiet trail. Even on a perfect autumn Sunday afternoon, we saw very few other cyclists. For the most part, all you hear is the wind and the sound of your tires on pavement or rattling over the many wooden bridges. There are a LOT of bridges–some small, some extensive. The trail crosses over creeks, drainage ditches, oxbows, and the South Skunk River. I don’t know how many bridges there are; I forgot to keep count after the first nine.

Another bridge.

We tend to think of bike trails on old railroad lines as being flat–and they generally are. When there are hills, early railroad builders tended to rely on long slow inclines. Really long inclines. There’s a section of the trail that winds uphill for just about four miles. And I mean it winds. You can only see a few hundred feet in front of you, so you have no grasp of just how close–or how far away–you are from the top. It’s not steep, but it’s fucking endless. You start to believe…to hope…that you’ll be able to see the top around the next bend in the trail, And each bend in the trail crushes that hope. You won’t see any photos of that hill, because there was no way I was going to stop.

Bridge over the South Skunk River

After about 15 miles, we reached the town of Bondurant, named for the first white person who settled there (Alexander C. Bondurant–I don’t know if he did anything worthy or important other than being white and deciding he’d gone far enough west and decided to just stop traveling). Eventually the Chicago Great Western Railway Company built a depot there–which has been reproduced as a rest area for cyclists. It’s very nice. Bathrooms, picnic tables, repair station, drinking water. All very pleasant, but Jeff and I made straight for Reclaimed Rails–a bike brew pub just off the trail.

One of the best things about cycling in Iowa is the advent of the bike brew pub. Beer and bikes are a natural pairing. The sugars and salts in beer help you absorb fluids more efficiently than water alone; you’d have to drink a lot more water to get the same hydration effects of beer. No, I’m serious. THIS IS SCIENCE, people. Beer also has almost as many antioxidants as red wine, and that helps your leg muscles recover. And hey, it’s cold and it tastes good.

Along the Gay Lea Wilson Trail, a man fishing.

After hydrating and dosing ourselves with antioxidants (mine was a nice malty Märzen), we set off again. After a few miles, we turned off onto the Gay Lea Wilson Trail, named for the advocate who came up with the idea of a series of bike paths and trails through central Iowa. Unlike the rails-to-trails bike paths, which were based on direct routes for transporting goods, the Gay Lea Wilson trail weaves in and out of semi-rural areas and suburbs. It’s designed to transport people, making it easy for folks (and families) to access the trail and travel by bike to places they want to visit. Places like libraries and parks and picnic areas and playgrounds and…well, brew pubs.

Another 15 miles or so took us to our final stop: Brightside Aleworks, a fairly new craft brew pub that has a relaxed vibe closer to a coffee shop than a beer joint. We’d ridden about 33 miles altogether. Aside from the brutal four mile uphill stretch, it was a nice way to spend a day. It was fun. And the beer was cold and welcome (I had a biscuity, slightly sweet Irish red).

That’s the thing about cycling. It’s fun. Sure, it’s good for you. Fresh air, healthy exercise, all that. But mostly it’s fun. That’s why I ride. Bugger exercise; I ride because it makes me happy. Because it’s one of the best ways to see the world you live in. You get to meander along at whatever pace you want (well, fucking hills excepted) and be a part of the landscape, rather than just passing through it in a car.

Dr. K.K. Doty (who doesn’t seem to exist on the internet other than as the author of this quote) wrote: Cyclists see considerably more of this beautiful world than any other class of citizens. A good bicycle, well applied, will cure most ills this flesh is heir to. Most ills. Not all ills. But most. It’s a bicycle, not a miracle machine.

Well, maybe a miracle machine. Small miracles in a big world. It’s enough.

it’s all fish. wait…archery, maybe.

I’m something of a low intensity news junkie. I spend a couple of hours every morning reading the news from a variety of sources–one of which is the Washington Post. That’s the ‘junkie’ part. The ‘low intensity’ part is that I don’t read ALL the news. I almost always skip the business/financial news (which I realize is important, but lawdy that shit is dull). I usually skip most of the sports news (which in recent years seems to be a mash-up of business news and scandal-mongering). And I generally just scan the entertainment news.

All of which is to say that while I read a lot of news, I rarely wade all the way through any single news source. But for some reason, this morning I found myself scrolling through the entire digital edition of the Washington Post. And I discovered they still publish horoscopes.

I don’t know why that surprised me. Wait…yes, I do know why it surprised me. Because WaPo is a newspaper. The operative term being ‘news’ and ‘news’ being ‘information about recent, current, or ongoing events’. Now, I understand that newspapers also include stuff that’s not news, stuff that’s just there to entertain the reader. Like comics. And yes, folks can be entertained by horoscopes.

But the thing about horoscopes is that they claim to be a method of divination–a tool for predicting or foretelling the future. There’s nothing inherently wrong with predicting what might take place in the future; speculative fiction does that all the time. And trend analysts are always suggesting what might be coming in stocks or fashion or sports or politics or just about any human endeavor. The difference, though, is trend analysts base their future scenarios on observations of a wide variety of current and recent events. Horoscopes, on the other hand, base their predictions on a single moment in time–the hour a person was born.

Eternally optimistic, that’s me. I’m a goddamn gift to the world.

It’s right there in the name: horoscope. It’s from the Greek ‘hōra‘ meaning ‘hour’ and ‘skopos‘ meaning ‘watcher’ or ‘observer’. The concept is grounded in the belief that a person’s characteristics and personality are shaped or influenced by 1) the placement relative to Earth of 2) the major celestial bodies that are gravitationally bound to our Sun 3) at the moment of that person’s birth. It’s not clear exactly HOW those celestial bodies shape or influences a person. Is it through magnetism? Gravitation? Some combination of weak and strong nuclear forces? Who the hell knows?

Of course, the daily horoscopes presented in WaPo are generic. They couldn’t possibly include an individualized horoscope for every reader. Instead they opt for the most generic type of horoscope, based solely on a wide range of days on which a person was born. The actual day, or even the year, in which you were born is somehow irrelevant. It’s like offering ‘fish’ for lunch, without telling you whether it’s trout or salmon or fugu. It’s all just fish.

Daily horoscopes are all just fish. They’re all different, while still having some basic stuff in common. At least that’s my impression. So I decided to check out my horoscope for today on a few different sites. You know, so I’d know how to prepare for my day.

I get two (2) eclipses this year! How many do YOU get?

According to my WaPo horoscope for today, ‘authority figures will be especially helpful to you now — but it won’t seem that way at first.‘ Fucking authority figures. However, if I ‘force them to go over the situation with you, they’ll be able to see the problems.’ So that’s not so bad. It doesn’t offer suggestions regarding HOW I force authority figures to go over the situation with me. I figure high explosives would demonstrate my sincerity and commitment to resolve the problem…whatever it is.

According to Astrology.com, ‘Pleasure before productivity is key today.’ Also, the ‘enthusiastic Aries moon encourages you to find a stage of your own and shine up on it unabashedly.’ Who doesn’t love an enthusiastic moon? The reference to Aries (the god of war and combat) seems to support the use of high explosives in my interactions with authority figures. Although it does seem somewhat at odds with ‘the moon’s sweet link with happy-go-lucky Jupiter‘ which is supposed to ‘uplift‘ my mood and bring ‘mental equilibrium before moving into grounded Taurus.’ I’m not sure how to interpret that. Maybe that Taurus business means my interaction with authorities will involve bullshit…and nothing cuts through bullshit faster than high explosives.

CafeAstrology seems to agree, because ‘Fiery, energetic Mars is now enlivening your sector of career and reputation.’ Nothing enlivens your reputation like high explosives. However, ‘Complicated energies are with you today. Fears or insecurities can surface, and you may need to tame the tendency to expect negative responses from others.’ Well, negative responses are sort of expected when you employ high explosives. But what’s really concerning is this: ‘Timing could be off temporarily. You might end up deliberating over a response for far longer than is good for you.’ Obviously, you don’t introduce high explosives into a negotiation unless you’re serious…but timing can be tricky. Clearly I should rig some sort of hair-trigger or a dead man’s switch when I deal with…wait.

Careless? WTF? Childish? Fuck you. C’mon.

I don’t have anything scheduled for today that will involve authority figures. I mean, there’s a good chance I’ll get a phone call about my extended warranty at some point, but…shit. Now what am I supposed to do with all those high explosives?

You know, I probably wouldn’t have this problem if I wasn’t a Sagitarrius Saggitarious born in early December. I suspect folks born under…uh, my sign…are known for being impulsive and sometimes acting without thinking things through. I’ll google my zodiac sign to see what sort of person I am while I have lunch (ooh, I bet Sagittarrians people like me are multi-taskers!). I’m having fish.

potzer

Years ago, when I lived in Manhattan, I was noodling around Washington Square Park and saw a couple of chess hustlers nearly come to blows. Not over a game of chess exactly, but because–wait. Yes, there are actual chess hustlers in NYC. Anything that can be hustled is being hustled in NYC. A good chess hustler can make a couple hundred dollars a day, playing tourists and chess enthusiasts for, say, three to five bucks a match. Mostly you’ll find them hustling in the parks–Washington Square Park, Central Park, Union Park.

Okay, back to the almost-fight. It wasn’t over a chess match. It was almost a fight because one chess hustler had called another a potzer. A small crowd had gathered; I turned to the guy next to me–another chess hustler–and asked him, “What’s a potzer?” He gave me a look that basically said, “If you have to ask….” Another told me a potzer was “a wood-pusher,” which I interpreted as an incompetent chess player. A third guy said, in a growly Eastern European accent, “Is Yiddish. Or German. An insult.”

I love a good insult. Potzer, it turns out, is a great insult. It doesn’t mean somebody who’s merely incompetent. It doesn’t mean somebody who is simply an amateur. It means a bungler, somebody who’s not as good as they think they are, a wanna-be who’s really a never-can-be but doesn’t recognize it. A potzer may have a rudimentary understanding of a particular skill set, but is ill-informed, clumsy at the actual skills necessary, and confused about the point.

It’s an insult usually restricted to chess players, but I think it can be applied to almost anything. Like politics. Matt Gaetz is a potzer. Comrade Trump, a potzer. Gym Jordan, Josh Hawley, Lauren Boebert, Louie Gohmert, Marjorie Taylor Greene–hell, the entire Republican Party in Congress, all potzers.

These people are NOT in Congress to legislate. They’re there to perform. They’re not there to work for the common good; they’re there to draw an audience and keep their attention. While they may have the rudimentary understanding of governance, they lack both the skills necessary to accomplish it and the desire to follow through. Mainly, they’re in Congress to seize the public’s attention by creating wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades. Gaetz actually described his political ‘agenda’ as elevating his profile. He said:

“The way that you’re able to elevate your profile in Washington is to drive conflict, because conflict is interesting. And I think that the really powerful people in this town are the ones that can go on television and make an argument, and that’s power that leadership can never take away from you.”

Matt Gaetz, potzer.

Go on television, get power. That’s why he’s in Congress. Gaetz and his ilk (ooh, a tangent…ilk is derived from the Proto-Germanic ilīkaz, meaning ‘a body’. And ilīkaz is also the root term for lich, which refers to a re-animated corpse, which somehow seems appropriate when speaking about the modern GOP) operate on the belief that somehow power and authority are a product of the number of people who are paying attention to you. That’s why they rarely address actual legislative issues (which tend to be rather dull and unexciting) and focus instead on flashy distractions. Like ‘radical libs attacking Dr. Suess’ or ‘male perverts dressing and identifying as women in order to watch young girls pee in the women’s toilet at Walmart’.

These people are poseurs. They think they’re playing chess because they can identify the pieces and recognize the board. They know the basic moves, but they’re not serious players. They don’t ‘get it’ at a fundamental level.

In one sense, it matters what happens to Matt Gaetz. It matters because he’s corrupt and a colossal asshole–and corrupt assholes should never be allowed to get away with it. But in another sense, it doesn’t matter at all, because Gaetz is, and always will be, a wood-pusher. A potzer. And like all potzers, he doesn’t even know it.

musings

Somebody (I don’t remember who) at some point in time (I also don’t remember when) asked me how I decided what to write about on this blog. I don’t remember what my answer was, but…okay, wait. I should point out there’s absolutely nothing wrong with my memory. It’s just that who asked the question and when it was asked and what my answer was–none of that’s important, except as a ridiculous way to introduce what I’m about to say. Well, write. You know what I mean.

Probably the reason I don’t remember what my answer was is that I’ve no idea how I decide what to write about. Something somewhere sparks a thought and I write about it. That’s it. Anyway, after yesterday’s post, my friend Anne said this:

“Beautiful photos, and really lovely musings.”

Musings. It sounds so intellectual, doesn’t it. But dude, IT IS NOT. I know this on account of the fact that ‘muse’ came up in a conversation I had years ago (and no, I don’t remember when, but I’m pretty sure I remember who…again, it doesn’t matter). I’d just assumed that ‘musing’ had something to do with the Muses. You know, the nine daughters of Zeus who were goddesses of the arts and sciences? Those Muses. I mean, that would seem to make sense, right?

Nope. Well, mostly nope. Etymologists suggest the modern word probably has been influenced in sense by capital ‘M’ Muse. There’s a lot of elasticity in ‘probably’. Doesn’t matter, because in fact, small ‘m’ muse comes…wait. Do I need to define ‘muse’? Probably not, but what the hell.

Muse: verb (mused, musing) 1 intrans (often muse on something) to reflect or ponder silently. 2 to say something in a reflective way. 3 intrans to gaze contemplatively. musing adj thoughtful; reflective. noun 1 (musings) literary thoughts. 2 the act of musing.

There you have it. As I was saying, small ‘m’ muse comes from the Old French muser, which meant “to ponder, dream, wonder’ and/or “to loiter, waste time.” This, in turn, came from the Gallo-Roman musa, meaning “snout”. It was apparently a term used in hunting. So basically, ‘musing’ referred to the act of standing around, sniffing the air like a dog who’s lost the scent. The term muzzle, by the way, is derived from the same root.

Dog, musing in a field; not that different from me musing in a junk shop.

So in essence, Anne was saying I stood around in that shop with my nose in the air, sniffing like a dog. Which would be rather rude and insulting except that it really isn’t that far from the truth. The place had a fairly distinct pong; sort of a melange of dust, must, wood chips, organic decay (remember, it was also a plant shop), and old pillows. And I did sort of root around like a curious puppy.

the looming repeachment

Comrade Trump has a new legal team. Another new legal team. A new new legal team. His original impeachment team declined to represent him in his repeachment, so he had to find a new legal team. Over the weekend, his new legal team walked away from him, which makes them his old new legal team. His new new legal team will probably defend him in his repeachment trial. I say ‘probably’ because this is Trump and who the hell knows?

The new new team revolves around two lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor. These guys are taking a metric ton of shit about their previous clients and legal decisions. Castor, for example, was the prosecutor who initially chose NOT to prosecute Bill Cosby for drugging women and raping them. And Schoen? He represented Jeffrey Epstein, among others. He’s been quoted as saying the following:

“I represented all sorts of reputed mobster figures: alleged head of Russian mafia in this country, Israeli mafia and two Italian bosses, as well a guy the government claimed was the biggest mafioso in the world.”

Me, I don’t have a problem with that. In the US every accused criminal has the right to defend themselves, and every defense lawyer has an obligation to defend their client to best of their ability. The fact that Trump’s new lawyers worked with some other nasty folks doesn’t bother me at all. It’s the least interesting aspect of the looming repeachment.

I like the sound of that. The looming impeachment. [Okay, tangent: loom as a verb is entirely unrelated to loom as a noun. A loom, of course, is a weaving machine, and the term originates from the Old English geloma, meaning a utensil or tool. An heirloom is a crafted thing bequeathed to one’s heirs. Nobody is quite certain how loom as a verb meaning ‘to be imminent, especially in some menacing or threatening way’ came into being. Some folks think it’s from the East Frisian lomen, which meant “to move slowly” and was probably related to the way ships move in a harbor. Which is appropriate, since Trump’s repeachment is slowly coming to the dock — and lawdy, there’s another etymological rabbit hole.]

Comrade Trump, did you order the Code Red?

Anyway, what I find interesting about the repeachment is how Trump’s defense is being framed. Trump, it seems, wants his lawyers to focus on the same thing the rioters and insurrectionists focused on — the ridiculous claim that the election was stolen from him by fraud. That would require Trump’s lawyers to present a case based on lies, which would get them soundly spanked by the American Bar Association. Instead, Trump’s lawyers apparently want to challenge the constitutionality of the repeachment, claiming that it’s unconstitutional to impeach a president who’s no longer president. Most constitutional scholars describe that strategy as “a load of stinking bullshit.”

Steve Bannon, Trump’s recently-pardoned former adviser, has been suggesting Trump should lead the defense team himself. It’ll never happen, but lawdy, there’s part of me that would love to see that, because there’d be a really good chance of a Colonel Jessup / A Few Good Men moment. “You can’t handle the truth! We live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns!”

But no, that’s not going to happen. Still, what’s interesting is that neither defense approach really addresses the crime with which Trump is charged: incitement of insurrection. The sole article of impeachment accuses Trump of engaging “in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States.” Claiming “the election was stolen from me” may speak to Trump’s motives, but it isn’t a defense against inciting violence against the government. Claiming it’s unconstitutional to impeach a former president isn’t a defense against inciting violence against the government either; it’s just an argument saying the Senate isn’t legally authorized to rule on Trump’s behavior since he’s no longer in government.

On February 9th Democrats are going to say, “Trump incited a riot.” Trump wants his defense team to argue, “The election was stolen from him; he was just trying to get it back.” His lawyers want to argue, “Y’all aren’t authorized to decide whether or not he incited a riot.” It appears nobody will be arguing, “No, Trump didn’t incite no riot.”

“Yeah, I incited a riot. And I grabbed women by the pussy, cheated on my taxes, and gave intel to Russia. What’re you gonna do about it?”

That’s because Trump did, in fact, incite a riot. To be clear, he hasn’t actually been charged with the federal crime of inciting a riot. I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect you could make a case that Trump violated 18 U.S. Code § 2101 in that he 1) traveled interstate, 2) told his supporters the election had been ‘stolen’ from him…and from them, 3) encouraged them to travel to DC, 4) on a specific date, where 5) he told them they had to “fight like hell” to stop Congress from ratifying the Electoral College results, and then 6) told them to walk to the Capitol building.

He may not have specifically told them to riot, or to break into the Capitol building, or to harm anybody, but he created the conditions that inflamed the crowd, then he pointed them in the direction of the Capitol, and told them to fight like hell. Which they did.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Republicans in the Senate will vote to find Trump guilty. They’ll probably never find him guilty of anything. Republicans have proven themselves to be invulnerable to evidence.

yesterday was a peach bellini

Comrade Trump is gone. Uncle Joe Biden is the prez, with Kamala Harris as veep. Democracy has been resurrected. Winter will end. Bluebirds will sing again. Flowers will grow unbidden where Amanda Gorman walks. The breeze will be warm (or cool) and scented like apricots. All small towns will be called Bedford Falls. A cup of coffee will only cost a nickel.

Okay, maybe there’s some wishful thinking in there. But that’s sort of how it felt yesterday. That feeling won’t last, of course. Reality is a merciless sumbitch (as QAnon believers discovered yesterday); the Covid pandemic is still killing thousands of Americans every damned day, the climate is still massively fucked, and it’ll take a generation or so before anything like real racial/gender justice takes firm root.

But we deserve — hell, we need — a few days to just let the feeling that good things can still happen roll over us. Yes, there’s a LOT of work to do, but let’s not allow necessity to cast a shadow over the multitude of ways yesterday was special. Just one example: the undiluted joy of seeing the first woman — a woman who is black AND Asian — sworn in as Vice President of the United States by the first woman of color appointed to the US Supreme Court with her hand on a Bible that belonged to the first black man appointed to the US Supreme Court. That’s some serious history, right there.

So let’s not make a fuss about which particular bit of history yesterday was the most significant. It’s not a contest. And let’s not scold or castigate (now there’s an interesting word; it’s derived from the same root as ‘chaste’ and it originally meant ‘to make someone pure by correction or reproof’) other folks for enjoying a fashion decision, or an internet meme, or the selection of an entertainer that seems trivial compared to the magnitude of yesterday’s events. And for fuck’s sake, let’s not be assholes about ‘winning’. A bit of gloating is understandable and forgivable (did I spell that right? It doesn’t look right), but even though Trump and his followers treated us as the enemy, we shouldn’t prove them right.

I’m NOT saying we need to forgive and forget. Fuck that. But I am saying unity is important. There are people who ought to be investigated; if found responsible for awful behavior, they need to be held accountable. NOT for our pleasure or amusement, but because that’s how society is supposed to work. (On the other hand, if we get some measure of pleasure and amusement out of it, that’s gravy and we needn’t deny ourselves of it.)

I guess what I’m saying is this: yesterday was a good day. A really good day. Let’s not make any more of it than what it was, but let’s also not diminish or minimize any part of it. Yesterday was…let’s say yesterday was a peach Bellini. A cool, stimulating, mildly alcoholic cocktail with a delightful but subdued color palette. Was it a great peach Bellini? No, not really. Ideally a Bellini would be made with Prosecco and white peaches. Maybe this one was made with champagne instead of Prosecco, maybe with yellow peaches instead of white. But it was a very good Bellini, served properly, and at exactly the right moment.

Drink it, don’t diss it for not being perfect, don’t overstate its fine qualities, just enjoy it for what it is. Fizzy, refreshing, sweet, mellow, but stimulating.

it’s unclear

I used to wade in the icky waters of FreeRepublic on a fairly regular basis. I did that because I thought it was important to have some notion of what radical right-wing gun owners were thinking. That last bit — the gun owning bit — was the motivating force for me. I may disagree with right-wing extremists, but so long as all they do is shout hateful stuff, I’m okay with it. People shouting hateful stuff who are also armed, well that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. [Tangent Alert — if you’re wondering about the expression ‘kettle of fish’ see below.]

A couple of years into the Trump administration, I lost my willingness to visit FreeRepublic. I did it on occasion, but it was just too fucking ugly and stupid and discouraging to visit regularly. However, after Uncle Joe became POTUS-elect, I’ve started peeking in through the FreeRepublic window again, to see how they’re reacting.

Not well, is how they’re reacting. Poorly. Angrily. Fearfully, is how they’re reacting. Delusional, is how they’re reacting. A large chunk of them continue to believe Covid is a hoax. One of dozens of overlapping, continuous hoaxes — including the hoax that Uncle Joe beat Comrade Trump in the election. They act like they’re completely convinced Trump won, that there was a massive conspiracy to deny him the election, and that Trump will still somehow overturn the result of the election and emerge victorious (to the sound of trumpets, hymns of great praise, an orchestra of angels, a flight of bluebirds, and the continental United States will smell like cinnamon rolls in the morning). Maybe they honestly believe that. It’s not clear.

“Call out the military and hold a new election free of FRAUD and the CCP! CCP interfering was an act of WAR!” — by doc maverick

CCP — that’s the Chinese Communist Party. Yeah, that’s right, they’re involved. NOT the Russians, the Chinese. They’re working with other Globalists (always capitalized) and the Deep State in the US to undermine Trump and destroy the government. The Deep State wants the government to collapse in order for them to…to do something that will give them the power to become…the Deeper State? It’s unclear. But obviously, Trump won the election.

“Stolen. As have been many elections in AmeriKa. O’Bunghole was installed as potus similarly. He has no right living in this country, much less, holding public office. He was potus because of voter fraud, just like creepy joe and crazy ho. We’re so hosed.” — by LouAvul

The FBI tentacle of the Deep State is conspiring with the Fake News Media to impose socialism on the US. This will allow them to…to…I think it’s to take away the guns of honest Americans? Probably. Take their existing guns and make it harder to buy still more guns, which is why there’s been an increase in gun sales these last few months before the Deep State can act. The problem, see, is that there are Republicans IN NAME ONLY who cooperate with…wait, maybe it’s the ATF? I mean, since they’re the ones who deal with firearms. I don’t know, it’s unclear. Anyway, there are Republicans who are part of the fraud they’re helping to steal the election from Trump.

“It’s sickening that most of these states that are in question with a plethora of fraud that is killing the country had majorities of REPUBLICANS at various levels within the states.” — by shanover

These same RINOs are also part of the Great Covid Hoax being perpetrated by the Deep State and the Democrats and China (obviously China). They want America weak and scared (which, by the way, is another reason to buy more guns) and distracted so they can steal the election while Decent Law-abiding Americans are too busy wearing masks and buying toilet paper (and guns) to notice that Hunter Biden’s pals in China inserted code into the voting machines which turned votes for Trump into votes for Biden. The illegal code was illegally inserted through illegal means, specifically by…by means of…well, it’s unclear. But the so-called pandemic was part of the plan, because of…of the economy, I think. Again, it’s unclear. But c’mon, seriously Trump won, it’s obvious and he should stay in office by any means necessary.

“The lockdowns must end ! By force if necessary ! TYrranical out of control demoncraps need controls ! Fire them !” by Truthoverpower

Seriously, how could Biden possibly have won the election (which, of course, was stolen from Trump) given that, at the order of the Deep State and Hunter’s friends in the CCP, he stayed in his basement? For months! Who ever heard of a candidate winning an election from his own basement? Or anybody’s basement? Or any subterranean facility? It’s impossible. UNLESS there’s fraud involved, perpetrated by the FBI and George Soros and other cannibalistic communist sex perverts! There are rooms full of affidavits and videos of Democrats cheating at the polls and bringing in fake Biden ballots disguised as pepperoni pizzas and takeout Chinese (China AGAIN!), and did you know Mitch McConnell’s wife was Chinese? Do you need any more proof that…that something unwholesome and fraudulent is taking place? I don’t think so. McConnell is in on…that thing everybody is in on. It’s not entirely clear what they hope to…well, you know, the cheating and all. Because it was a rigged election.

Trump was holding 3 to 4 rallies PER DAY for weeks on end with hardly a day off. Spontaneous “Trump Train” car rallies and boat rallies were all over the place with thousands and tens of thousands of people turning out, even without a star being there to draw people in. Biden, his execrable “doctor” wife, and Harris couldn’t draw flies. The number of times Biden spoke gibberish and slurred his speech was immense. He never once talked about his policies and vision for America. The press lobbed him softball questions about his favorite ice cream.

A liberty-loving, true-blue American patriot who gave up his retirement to save the USA versus a communist life-long political hack who is one of the meanest people in American politics. And the people voted for the communist? This whole thing is just preposterous beyond belief. — by ProtectOurFreedom

Anyway, there it is. Trump had ALL the boats and trucks, because he’s a friend of the working man. Once Sidney Powell gets a chance (as a special prosecutor) to finally present her unbiased evidence in a REAL court of REAL law, it’s all over for Biden and then Nancy Pelosi will get what she deserves in GITMO. And Michelle Obama too. And all the loud-mouthed girls, they’ll all get what they deserve, which is…well, it’s unclear. Well, it’s clear, but it doesn’t do to say so out loud. But when Trump is inaugurated for his second term, they’ll be able to take care of troublemakers and burn the Deep State and disband the FBI unless the FBI comes around and Democrats will have to eat bugs in prison. That much is clear.

“Once Powell has the information, Biden is screwed.” — by rdcbn1

Anyway, that’s life in FreeRepublic. Trump won. Biden cheated. Covid’s a hoax. China is bad. Russia is our friend. Democrats should be imprisoned, if not shot. (Disclaimer: I made up that bit about the bugs. I never actually saw anybody who wrote that Democrats should be forced to eat bugs. Sorry.)

Tangent: Okay, you’re probably thinking ‘Greg, old sock, what is this whole kettle of fish business? Doesn’t seem to make any sense, don’t you know.’ This is why I get paid the big bucks (or would, if I got paid at all). There’s an explanation. Two explanations, actually. The most common explanation is that years ago in the UK a poaching pan was called a ‘kettle’, and it was apparently a common practice to feed large gatherings by bringing a kettle to boil and then — and I’m not making this up — they’d toss live salmon into the kettle and I don’t like to think about it after that.

A different kiddle of fish.

The explanation I prefer, though, is that the kettle in question is actually a kiddle, which is another term for a fishing weir. And now you’re thinking, ‘Greg, old sock, what is this weir of which you speak?’ A weir (which is also known in some places as a ‘fishgarth’ if that helps, but I suspect it won’t) is a sort of trap placed in rivers or streams which fish can easily swim into but can’t easily swim out of. At the end of the day, a weir/kiddle may have a lot of different sorts of fish swimming around in a muddle. So the expression ‘a different kiddle/kettle of fish’ refers to a separate and distinct muddled mess.

Aren’t you glad you asked?

pioneer cemeteries

A week ago I posted the following photograph of a dirt road leading back into field that held a pioneer cemetery. It sparked a number of folks to ask a perfectly reasonable question: Dude, what the hell is a pioneer cemetery? I asked the same question the first time I came across a pioneer cemetery. I’m here to give y’all the answer.

Road to Sams pioneer cemetery

Let me amend that. I’m here to give a couple of answers. I mean the obvious answer is simple: a pioneer cemetery is a plot of ground where pioneers are buried. But that leads inevitably to the question: Dude, what the hell is a pioneer?

Let’s start there. The term ‘pioneer’ comes from the French pionnier, which originally referred to a type of specialized foot soldier — troops who were furnished with digging and cutting equipment and sent into new territories to prepare the way for an army. The root term is much older, medieval Latin, pedonem, which meant ‘foot soldier’. That’s also the root for the term ‘pawn’. In chess, pawns always move first; they’re essential, but disposable. The same applies to pioneers; they go first, they’re essential, but disposable.

Sams pioneer cemetery is located on the rise by the trees.

In the US, the term ‘pioneer’ has a vaguely heroic connotation. I suppose that’s warranted because it takes a sort of courage — or maybe desperation — to take your family into unknown territory. And that’s what the early US pioneers were. They weren’t soldiers; they were mostly families of immigrants and first generation Americans. At the time, they were called settlers, or homesteaders, or sodbusters. They were families who loaded up wagons with their few possessions and pushed into largely unmapped territories, fording rivers and streams, in the hope they could find land they could farm. When they came to land they felt was promising, they stopped. They chopped down trees and built cabins out of the logs. They cleared trees and stones from the land by hand or with the help of livestock and created fields for crops. They planted and harvested, and they died and were buried.

Sams pioneer cemetery.

Pioneer cemeteries are plots of land, often on family property, that these small, loosely formed farming communities agreed was sufficient to bury their dead. They’re the graves of the thousands of unremembered, ordinary people who turned wilderness into settlements.

We have to acknowledge the pluckiness of these pioneers, but we also need to be aware there was a very deep ugliness in what they were doing. In the US, pioneers were the leading edge of the concept of Manifest Destiny. The idea was promoted initially by John O’Sullivan, the son of an Irish immigrant. He wrote it was the new nation’s “manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” In essence, manifest destiny was a nice way of saying the expansion of white Europeans and their culture across the continent, displacing or killing the native tribes who’d actually lived there for centuries, was not only inevitable, it was also justified by god.

Raridon pioneer cemetery in the middle of a field.

There you have it. The pioneers were intrepid settlers struggling to create a life for themselves. And they were also sanctimonious invaders who were comfortable with the idea of pushing the indigenous people off their land, stealing it for themselves, and killing those natives who resisted.

That’s who the pioneers were — settlers who were almost as expendable as the natives they dislodged and supplanted. But not everybody buried in a pioneer cemetery was an actual pioneer. The pioneers created the conditions for permanent settlements; permanent settlements inevitably bring disputes; disputes require some forum for resolution. That means a bureaucracy, and bureaucracies demand definitions.

The Enterprise pioneer cemetery has only a single marked grave, a simple cross by a tree.

Which brings us back to the original question: Dude, what the hell is a pioneer cemetery? The bureaucratic answer depends on where you live; different states have different legal definitions of ‘pioneer cemetery’. In Iowa, where I live, the law defines it as a cemetery in which there have been no more than twelve burials in the preceding half century. In neighboring Nebraska, a pioneer cemetery is defined as an abandoned or neglected cemetery that was founded or situated on land “given, granted, donated, sold, or deeded to the founders of the cemetery prior to January 1, 1900.”

There is, I think, something weirdly admirable about a bureaucracy making a deliberate decision to recognize and honor the ordinary people who lived and died in small farming communities dating from the late 1700s. The bureaucracies may not care about the individual pioneer cemeteries, but they care about the notion that there are people buried and memorialized in remote, semi-forgotten patches of land.

This pioneer cemetery could only be reached by steep path through overgrown brush under a canopy of old trees. Yet it was beautifully cared for by a local Boy Scout troop.

Most of the pioneer cemeteries I’ve visited are lonely places on patches of farmland or meadowland. They’re generally located on a low hill, most often with a small grove of trees. Some are only accessible by overgrown paths, or by vehicles with high ground clearance. A few pioneer cemeteries are well-tended; most aren’t. Many are overgrown with grass and weeds. Most have gravestones that are damaged, weathered, unreadable.

But all of them are full of stories. There are graves of soldiers — Civil War veterans, veterans of the world wars. You can tell by the dates which ones died in uniform. There are graves of wives who outlived their husbands, graves of mothers who died in childbirth, graves of the children they bore. There are lots of graves of infants, often with the number of months or weeks they lived.

Trester pioneer cemetery

All cemeteries and graveyards tend to be quiet. Pioneer cemeteries are more than quiet. They’re silent. And yet they’re full of stories. Untold stories. Forgotten stories. The first person buried in what would eventually become the Slaughter pioneer cemetery was eight-year-old Hester Slaughter, who died of ‘the fever’ in the summer of 1846. She was buried in a corner of the family farm. There was no lumber mill in the region, so there was no sawn lumber to make a casket. Instead, the family split the trunk of a tree that had been chopped down to clear the land; they hollowed it out, placed poor Hester inside, closed it back up, and buried her. A total of 69 people would be buried in that small plot of land, including three Civil War veterans and a veteran of the War of 1812.

Among them is Bluford Sumpter, who served in the 39th Iowa Regiment in the Grand Army of the Republic during the Civil War. We don’t know the details of his story, but we know the 39th was active from November 24, 1862, to August 2, 1865. We know they were involved in a great number of battles and skirmishes. We know the 39th helped chase Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (who would survive the war and help found the Ku Klux Klan) into Tennessee and suffered many casualties. We know they eventually deployed with Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in his brutal and savage march across the South that essentially ended the war. We assume Bluford Sumpter survived the war (since it was uncommon then to ship bodies home for burial), but there are no dates on his tombstone, so we don’t know when he died. We only know he was eventually buried in the Slaughter cemetery in Jasper County, Iowa.

Slaughter pioneer cemetery in the grove of trees in the middle of a field.

Also buried nearby is William Wimpigler, who has his own story. Wimpigler served in the Iowa 48th Battalion during the Civil War, He was one of the Hundred Days Men — a troop of volunteers raised in Midwest during the final days of the war; they agreed to serve one hundred days in order to free experienced troops for combat service. The 48th spent its hundred days at the Rock Island Barracks in Illinois, coincidentally guarding Confederate prisoners taken during Sherman’s campaign.

Both of those Civil War veterans are buried near eight-year-old Hester Slaughter in her hollowed out log coffin on what was once an unused parcel of her family’s farm. Every grave has a story. But we only know about those stories exist because the graves exist, and we only know those graves exist because some unnamed person in a bureaucracy decided it was worthwhile to officially recognize and record the existence of pioneer cemeteries.

That unknown bureaucrat has a story too. We all do. Few of them get told, but all of them are worth telling.