actual conspiracies

Conspiracy theorists aren’t afraid of hard work.They’ll cheerfully concoct massively complicated theories with multiple interacting elements that require flow charts to understand how and why Hillary Clinton was responsible for the murder-by-plane crash of some obscure businessperson in Arkansas. But one of the many many problems with conspiracy theorists is they prefer fantasy theories that fit their worldview over actual theories that may contradict it.

Let’s take a very quick look at the arrest last weekend of former FBI big hat, Charles McGonigal (which is a lovely patronymic name, by the way; from the Gaelic Mac Conghaile, meaning the son of Conghaile which basically means ‘brave as a hound’). Your man McGonigal had what appeared to be a stellar FBI career, dealing with counter-espionage primarily. He joined the FBI in 1996 and was initially assigned to the New York Field Office, where he worked on Russian foreign counterintelligence and organized crime matters. When he retired in 2018, he was the Special Agent in Charge of the Counter-intelligence Division for the New York Field Office.

Why was McGonigal arrested? For money laundering and for helping Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska–a close friend and ally of Vlad Putin–dodge US sanctions imposed against him.

Right now, the MAGA crowd likes to depict the FBI as Trump-haters, largely because they searched Mar-a-Lago and found a hoard of classified documents that Trump had illegally taken and refused to release to the National Archives. But back in 2015-2016, when Trump was running for president, Trump supporters celebrated how much the FBI loved him. The New York Field Office in particular (and remember, McGonigal was in charge of a major FBI section of that office) was openly referred to as Trumplandia. It was the NY Field Office that got FBI Director James Comey to inform Congress (and therefore the news media) of the possible existence of new information that might lead to re-opening the closed investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server. Comey’s letter to Congress, which was written even before the FBI obtained a warrant to explore the possible new information, was made public ten days before the 2016 election. It almost certainly influenced the election result in Trump’s favor. And, of course, it turned out there was no new information.

It was McGonigal’s Counter-intelligence unit that handled the investigation of Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. Remember, Trump and most of his presidential campaign’s inner circle–his sons and daughter, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Rick Gates, and others–had major business interests in Russia. Many of them had business dealings with Oleg Deripaska. In fact, in 2016 Deripaska was suing Trump’s campaign manager, Manafort, for US$25 million over a failed business deal in…wait for it…Ukraine. Manafort was instrumental in changing the 2016 Republican Presidential Platform to remove support for supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine. Why was the US giving weapons to Ukraine in 2016? Because in 2014, Russia (on orders from Putin) invaded and “annexed” the Crimean peninsula and a big chunk of eastern Ukraine.

2016 is also apparently the year in which McGonigal began secretly working with/for Deripaska. That same year, his unit investigated allegations that Russia was interfering with the US election process in support of Donald Trump. Although that investigation was later conducted under the aegis of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel, it was McGonigal’s agents who continued to investigate the matter. Mueller’s report concluded the Trump campaign DID welcome Russian interference in the election and they expected to benefit from it, The report also noted that pervasive obstruction of justice by witnesses made it impossible for McGonigal’s agents to obtain sufficient evidence to claim Trump committed a criminal conspiracy. In addition, there was/is a policy against charging a sitting president with a crime. Mueller did, however, note that Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice (or other crimes) after he left office.

“Rabbits are ruining your garden!” shout the crows.

So just to recap. 1) Putin/Russia seizes parts of Ukraine, 2) Russia leans on the Trump campaign to resist helping Ukraine, 3) the campaign complies, 4) Russia interferes with the election to help Trump, 5) the FBI investigation into that interference is conducted by McGonigal, who 6) is secretly being paid by an ally to Trump, and 7) the investigation fails to find any criminality. Also? 8) in 2019, President Trump lifts most of the sanctions against Deripaska.

This is all well documented in several public news sources. This is an actual conspiracy, a broad and wide-ranging criminal conspiracy.

Can we expect Congress to investigate? Nope. They’ll be too busy trying to figure out how Hunter Biden’s laptop was used by Bill Gates to create a secret Satanic community of cannibalistic pedophiles by secretly releasing a phony ‘plague’ manufactured in China by the Deep State Uniparty to weaken the rights of parents to decide which books their children should avoid to keep them from being groomed by drag queens and harvested for the lymph nodes celebrities need to stay young.

Let’s give the next-to-last word to William Gibson:

People find conspiracy theories fantastically comforting not because they’re more frightening than reality, but because they’re less frightening than reality.

We have nothing (aside from dick pics) to fear from Hunter Biden’s laptop. We have a great deal to fear from people willing to undermine democracy in return for wealth and power.

warranted

This question/comment was made by a senior economist employed by a major economic policy center:

Seems if we had an attorney general who respected the law, he would send the FBI to ALL of Trump’s residences and tear them apart to look for every damn missing document, just like would happen with a drug lord. What happened to no one being above the law?

Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. And it shouldn’t–not to Trump, not to a drug lord. It’s not gonna happen because we DO have an Attorney General who respects the law. It’s not gonna happen because it’s fucking illegal.

I’ve heard similar questions/comments by other folks. Some of those folks are boneheads, some are smart folks, educated folks, folks who follow the news. I blame television. On television, all a detective has to do is say to some flunky, “I know in my gut that this guy did the crime. I just need to find the evidence. Get me a warrant to search his house!” and hey bingo, the detective gets a warrant.

That just ain’t how it works. Law enforcement–and I’m talking about everybody from the FBI down to officers from your local Mayberry police department–can’t just act on a hunch or a gut feeling. This is pretty basic stuff, and it’s right out of the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

No warrants shall issue. What the hell is a warrant, anyway? The term comes from the Old French ‘garant‘ out of the Frankish ‘warand‘ meaning ‘pledge.’ It’s also the root term for ‘guarantee’ and ‘guard’ and ‘warden’. It means a pledge or guarantee that the information written down has been attested or given under oath.

If the State wants to search a place, they first have to swear an oath that they’ve got a legit reason to do that. There’s a process to this search warrant business, and that process always, without fail, begins with the question, Hey, did somebody break the law here? Is it illegal for Comrade Ex-President Donald J. Trump to stuff classified documents down his pants and take them to Trump Tower or one of his many golf resorts? The answer, of course, is yep. Totally illegal. But you have to be specific; you have to be able to point to an actual criminal statute and be able to say to a judge, “That law right here, that’s the law we believe Trump broke IF he walked away with those documents.

Step two is another question: Did Trump do that? Did he stuff documents down his pants and walk away? This is where shit gets complicated. Obviously, you can’t prove Trump did that without evidence and you can’t get the evidence to show he did that without searching for it. But you can’t search for it until you can convince a judge that (okay, here’s some legal-sounding language) you have sufficient credible information to establish that Trump probably did that.

The judge will expect you to lay out what that information is, how you got that information, why you believe the information is credible, and your qualifications to justify your belief in the credibility of that information. So you tell the judge, “The Archives reports that Trump was supposed to give them all his shit after he left office, but there’s shit they KNOW exists and they don’t have it, so probably Trump does. The Archives haven’t ever lied to us before and we’re seriously experienced and skeptical FBI agents, and we trust them, so there.”

So yeah, you’ve shown that a crime was probably committed and Trump probably committed it. Now comes Step three: finding the damned evidence. Now you have to convince a judge that you’ve got good reason to believe the evidence of that specific crime exists and can be found in these specific locations. In the Mar-a-Lago search, the FBI told the judge, “We got us some witnesses who saw Comrade Donald J. Trump stuff like TWO truckloads of boxes labeled Classified Shit down his pants at the White House, and witnesses who saw those same boxes unloaded from his pants at Mar-a-Lago, and we’ve even got witnesses who saw those boxes in Trump’s basement and in his goddamned office, if you can believe it, where all sorts of loopy people go wandering through.”

The FBI had all that for Mar-a-Lago. So they were able to convince a judge to issue a search warrant and do the search. They apparently don’t have everything they need to get a warrant for Trump Tower or any of Trump’s other golf resorts. Not yet. But we know they’re talking to folks with information about those locations. So they’re working on it.

Why is this search and seizure business so complicated? To protect innocent people. To keep the agents of the State from wandering through anybody’s home or place of business on the off chance that maybe they’ll find something illegal. It’s to stop them from just walking into YOUR home or your office, opening YOUR drawers, snooping through YOUR closets, rummaging around in YOUR kitchen, or trolling through YOUR private stuff on YOUR computer.

The irony, of course, is that if Comrade Trump were ever to have power again, that sleazy motherfucker absolutely WOULD want to be able to do that.

fans

Most etymologists agree that ‘fan’ is a shortening of fanatic. But ‘fanatic’ comes from the Latin fanaticus, meaning “mad, inspired by a god.” This, in turn, is derived from fanum, meaning “a temple, shrine, or consecrated place.” In the 1880s, when the newly-invented game of baseball began to catch on, the term fan became associated with sports. It now applies to any form of entertainment. Fans are basically crazy people.

Here’s the important distinction between being a fan and being a supporter: fandom is about passion based on faith and group identity; support is grounded in agreement. Supporters encourage and promote a person (or a group or a cause) because they share the views of what that person is doing, with what that group believes, with that cause. Fans support a person (or a group or a cause) because of who they believe that person (or group or cause) is.

For example, nobody supports the Chicago Cubs because they agree with the team, or because they share the team’s beliefs, or because they agree with the Cubbie’s cause. The team (as opposed to individual players) doesn’t have a cause. The Cubs exist to play baseball–that’s it. Cubs fans love the Cubs because they’re the Cubs. Maybe it has to do with the city of Chicago, or because of the team’s history, or because of a specific player (who doesn’t love Ernie Banks?), or even because of the friendly confines their iconic stadium. The reason for fandom isn’t as important as the fact of fandom.

Chicago Cubs fans

Back in the 1990s, a researcher named Daniel Wann created a Sport Spectator Identification Scale–a series of questions to determine how deeply sports fans are invested in a team. He found strong correlations between identification with a team and a fan’s 1) self-esteem, 2) belief in the trustworthiness of others, 3) belief that the depth of one’s support can influence the outcome of a game, 4) consumptive behavior (the willingness to spend money, wait in line, consume media related to the team), 5) willingness to anonymously injure an opposing team player/coach, and 6) willingness to anonymously cheat to help one’s team.

Sound familiar?

Here’s a True Thing: Comrade Trump has few actual supporters; but he’s got a very large fan base. Trump fans aren’t all that different from sports fans. True fans (as opposed to weekend fans) will frequently change their lives to accommodate their fandom. They feel a powerful need to publicly demonstrate their membership in the fan base. They join clubs with other fans, they prefer to associate with other fans. They attend events (rallies, speeches, conventions, games). They wear hats and jerseys and scarfs to identify themselves as fans. They adorn their vehicles with fan stickers. Some will even fly flags showing their allegiance. They’re often loud and obnoxious in their support; they’re often louder and more obnoxious in their opposition to competing figures/teams.

Trump fans aren’t supporters of Trump’s beliefs (if he has any) or his political or religious ideology (if he has any) or his policies (if he has any); they’re fans of Trump his ownself. They want Trump to win, of course, but the thing about fan loyalty is that it doesn’t require winning. True fans (as opposed to fair weather fans) will continue to support a losing team; they’ll rationalize the losses (the referees are incompetent or corrupt, the home office is failing the team, the other teams cheat). Fans will even defend their team if/when it’s accused of cheating–even when there’s undeniable evidence of cheating. At the very least, they’ll justify the cheating.

Trump fans

When reporters ask people who attend Trump rallies, “How can you continue to support Trump when he has (fill in the blank with something awful and inexcusable)?” the answer lies in fandom, not reason or logic. And that’s a really big problem. Why? Because it’s almost impossible for a Cubs fan to stop being fans of the Chicago Cubs. That’s also true for Trump fans.

Remember this: groups of passionate sports fans can turn violent. Hell, the most common form of group violence among white men is the sports riot. This is true whether their team wins or loses. After the Detroit Tigers beat the San Diego Padres in the 1984 World Series, Detroit fans celebrated by a riot that left one person dead, eighty injured, and millions of dollars in property damage (the eight rapes that took place are often overlooked, because capitalism and misogyny place more value on property). The same thing happened in Chicago when the Chicago Bulls basketball team won the NBA final in 1991 (and again in 1992, and also in 1993, not to mention 1996 and 1997). We’ve seen similar sports riots in every nation with a passion for sports.

When asked why they rioted, sports fans usually claim they just got caught up in the moment. Which is also the most common excuse given by the January 6th insurrectionists.

That sort of unreasoned, passionate fan loyalty (and subsequent willingness to get ‘caught up in the moment’) applies to Trump fans. That’s scary in itself. It’s even more scary considering a LOT of Trump’s true fans are also true fans of the Second Amendment. The only thing worse than than a rabid fan is a rabid fan with a gun.

c’mon, we’re talking about elves here

In yet another episode in the continuing saga of Whiny-ass Complaints of Butt-hurt MAGA Fuckwits we learn there are people who are offended by the notion that elves aren’t necessarily White People. Seriously. This idiotic fuss is about the new Lord of the Rings prequel that has apparently just been released (see Editorial Note at the end).

“Casting a non-White actor to play an elf makes it more difficult for audiences to maintain their willing suspension of belief.”

No, it doesn’t. Casting a non-white actor to play an elf makes it more difficult for racist assholes to maintain their willing suspension of disbelief. The quote above was, according to CNN, from Louis Markos, who is apparently the author of From A to Z to Middle Earth with J.R.R. Tolkien.

This Markos guy gets at least three things wrong. First, of course, is he misquotes Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s phrase– the willing suspension of disbelief. Back in 1817, Coleridge suggested that if a writer introduced “‘human interest and a semblance of truth’ into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative.” This is why television viewers were willing to watch 12 seasons of Murder, She Wrote–they were willing to suspend their disbelief that Jessica Fletcher encountered more than 250 murders in the small Maine village of Cabot Cove. All fiction depends to some degree on the reader/viewer’s willing suspension of disbelief.

Second, Markos says casting actors of color as elves threatens the story’s ‘believability’ because Tolkien described elves as “fair-faced.” The term fair comes from the Old English term fæger, which when applied to living things meant “pleasing to the eye, attractive” and when applied to weather meant “clear, bright, pleasant”. Tolkien, remember, was an academic who studied Old English and Anglo-Saxon literature, and had at one time worked for the Old English Dictionary as an expert in etymology. He knew what ‘fair’ meant and how it applied to faces. Markos clearly doesn’t. Or–and I suppose this is a real possibility–he simply doesn’t believe non-White folks can be pleasing to the eye. It’s fucked up either way.

Wait…what’s this? Could it be? Elves of color? What?

Third, Markos claims casting actors of color “…is not something organic that’s coming out of Middle-earth. This is really an agenda that is being imposed upon it.” He’s almost got a point here. Almost. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is based on the Norse Miðgarðr, which they broadly described as the world “inhabited by and known to humans.” In the literature, Miðgarðr actually referred to the defensive wall around the world constructed by the gods from the eyebrows of the giant Ymir (which, by the way, requires some serious fucking suspension of disbelief). But Tolkien used Middle-earth to describe an imaginary period of the Earth’s past when peoples other than Men (elves, dwarves, trolls, hobbits, orcs, ents, etc.) still inhabited the planet, although in dwindling numbers. His Middle-earth did sort of correspond to western Europe in terms of geography.

But to my knowledge, there’s nothing Tolkien wrote to suggest peoples other than Men (and Tolkien used ‘Men’ to refer to all humankind) were necessarily White. I mean, we’re talking about elves here. If you can’t deal with Black or Asian or Indonesian or pick-a-race elves, then the problem isn’t your capacity to suspend disbelief. The problem is you’re a racist asshole.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I haven’t seen the show I’m talking about, which ordinarily would be a problem. But in this instance, the show itself is less important than the books on which the story is based and the credentials of the person who wrote them. I haven’t been inclined to watch the show, mainly because I had the misfortune of watching the first of Peter Jackson’s wretched interpretation of The Hobbit. That was enough to eradicate any desire to see any new visualization of Tolkien’s work.

But I’m actually hearing good things about this show from people who were as skeptical about it as I was. So at some point I’ll probably watch it.

Also? I usually like to include an image in these blog posts, and I did a quick image search for Rings of Power and saw some images of POC in costume, but since I couldn’t see their ears I’ve no idea if they were meant to be elves or something else. I didn’t want to just drop in some random image of a Black actor who may or may not be an elf, so…no image.

EDITORIAL NOTE 2: Thanks to Mark Alexander, we now have an imbedded image to demonstrate…well, I’m not exactly sure what it demonstrates. That actors of color can play non-human roles in fantasy stories? We already knew that. I guess it demonstrates just how fucking idiotic it is for racists to get frantic about Black actors getting gigs as elves.

well, here we are

I haven’t written here for a week or so — not because I don’t have anything to say, but because there’s SO MUCH to say. I start to write about this, which is necessarily tied into that and is deeply connected to this other thing. You can’t, for example, write about abortion without also writing about the political corruption of the Supreme Court, which means you also need to address the rising fascism of the Republican Party and the green grass grows all around, all around.

But here we are on July 4th. Independence Day, right? When we celebrate the decision by a group of colonists so fed up with a hostile government that subjected them to such “a long train of abuses and usurpations” that they felt it was necessary “to dissolve the political bands which have connected them.”

I think the operative term there is necessary. It’s from the Latin necesse (which meant ‘unavoidable’) and cedere (to withdraw, go away). Necessary, a thing from which there is no backing away. The colonists felt it was necessary to rebel against the government that oppressed them.

When we think about the Declaration of Independence, we tend to focus on the dramatic bits at the beginning. Mainly this line:

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

That’s powerful stuff, no mistake. Beautifully written. But we forget that the biggest chunk of the Declaration is a list of grievances — an inventory of all the shit the government of the King of England was imposing on the American colonies. That list includes stuff like:

— He has obstructed the Administration of Justice
— He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices
— He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us

There’s another small chunk of Declaration that gets overlooked. It’s just a paragraph that basically says, “Hey, look, we warned you guys about this. Repeatedly. We asked you nicely to knock this shit off. We have appealed to your native justice and magnanimity. But no, you fucking ignored all those warnings. You have been deaf to the voice of justice.

A lot of us today feel much as those colonists did almost 250 years ago. Instead of a tyrannical king or queen, we have to deal with a neo-fascist Republican Party. We have to deal with Republican at the state level who are actively manipulating laws to undermine the process of representative democracy. We have to deal with a Republican Supreme Court that ignores legal precedence when it conflicts with their personal religious beliefs or their political ideology. We have to deal with a former president who not only refused to accept the result of a free and fair election, but continues to foment sedition.

Those colonists had to choose — do we keep putting up with this shit, or do we act? We have to make a similar choice. We know basically what needs to be done. The Supreme Court MUST be made neutral. It MUST be returned to balance. Not a liberal Court (as much as I’d love that); just a Supreme Court that isn’t governed by any partisan ideology.

The Declaration of Independence was a revolutionary document. I mean revolutionary in every sense of the term. It sparked an actual revolution, it started a shooting war. We don’t want or need that here. We don’t need to turn the world upside down — at least not at this point; we just need to put it back into balance.

But one thing is clear. If we don’t act, if we keep putting up with this shit, if we don’t start electing Democrats who are willing to make some radical but legal decisions to balance SCOTUS, if we don’t do that in the very next election, then we may never see another free and fair election in my lifetime.

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.