These last few days have been astonishing. Literally astonishing. Astonishing in the oldest sense of the term. You know — stunned, made senseless by the crash of thunder. From the French estoner and the Latin tonare — to thunder. Astonish.

Last week we learned the newly elected President of These United States, who is under investigation for colluding with the government of Russia to disrupt and interfere with the presidential election, held a private meeting with the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office. In any other administration, that alone would be astonishing. But that’s not the most astonishing thing. In that meeting, Comrade Trump told the Russians that he’d just fired the Director of the FBI, who was heading the investigation into the campaign collusion. And no, even that isn’t the most astonishing thing. The most astonishing thing is he told them he’d fired the FBI chief because of the investigation.

Think about that for a moment. The target of what is essentially a conspiracy investigation tells the people with whom he’s accused of conspiring that he fired the investigator because he was investigating the conspiracy. And the target is the President of These United States.

That is just fucking astonishing. You’d be justified in thinking Clan Trump had fulfilled its monthly quota of astonishing things. But no. Trump went to Saudi Arabia. And he took his daughter. The tall, smart one with the long neck. And she spoke about women’s economic empowerment to a group of fifteen Saudi women described as “leaders in society, businesswomen and elected government officials”. Prepare to be astonished. This is part of what she told them:

“In every country around the world women and girls continue to face unique systematic, institutional, cultural barriers, which hinder us from fully engaging in and achieving true parity of opportunity within our communities. Each of you know this to be true. And yet the stories of Saudi women, such as yourselves, catalysing change, inspire me to believe in the possibility of global women’s empowerment.”

Yeah. Those 15 Saudi women leaders? The ones who inspire Ivanka as catalysts of change? They can now vote in local elections. Local elections. Of course, they need their husband’s permission to vote. No, wait — that’s not fair. They don’t need their husband’s permission to vote; they only need their husband’s permission to travel to the voting site. Women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive. As you almost certainly know, they can’t go anywhere outside the home unless they have the permission of a male family member — husband, father, brother, uncle, son (yes, that’s right — if no other male family member is available, a woman would have to get permission from her son). Oh, and they need to be accompanied by a male family member too. They also need a male family member’s permission to go to school. Or get a job. Or open a bank account.

The Saudis wore black, Ivanka wore powder blue.

And if they go out in public, those 15 women leaders have to abide by a strict dress code. At the very least, they have to wear a head scarf and a long cloak. But hey, they’re no longer required to cover their faces. Progress! Of course, most of the places these Saudi women can visit are gender segregated — public buildings, universities, parks, even amusement parks. If they go shopping, they’re generally not allowed to try on the clothes, because that would require getting undressed. In a private dressing room. In a gender-segregated shop. You can’t be too careful.

But hey, if they want to buy the clothes they can’t try on? They can use their own credit card! The one they received from the bank when they opened their account. Which they were allowed to open with the permission of their husband or father.

“Saudi Arabia’s progress, especially in recent years, is very encouraging but there’s still a lot of work to be done and freedoms and opportunities to continue to fight for.”

Oh, Ivanka. She’s so right. There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s so very encouraging. And yes, there are so many opportunities to fight for. Ivanka knows an opportunity when she sees one.

Speaking of opportunities, did I mention that after Ivanka spoke about the encouraging progress made by Saudi women, she announced that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had contributed US$100 million to a women’s empowerment fund? Oh, and did I mention that the fund was spearheaded by Ivanka Trump?

After Ivanka’s speech on empowerment and the announcement of the $100,000,000 donation, the fifteen Saudi women leaders left through the separate women’s entrance and, with the permission of their husbands or fathers, were driven home, where they’re allowed to remove their cloaks and head scarves.

Astonishing, isn’t it.

tip your little hat

Jackanapes (noun) 1 (obsolete) A monkey. 2. (dated, pejorative) a : an impudent or conceited fellow, an absurd fop, b : a saucy or mischievous child.

mid-15c., from ‘Jack of Naples‘, with ‘of Naples’ rendered ‘a Napes‘ in vernacular. Orig., a man who exhibited performing apes; an organ grinder and his tame monkey. Usage note: originally in the singular form: jackanape, Later ref. pertained primarily to the ape. Farmer & Henley say ‘originally, no doubt, a gaudy-suited and performing ape.’

Many people are saying the J. in Donald J. Trump stands for Jackanapes. I don’t know; I’m not saying it, but many people are. Many tremendous people. Maybe it’s the Chinese, or it could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs four hundred pounds, nobody knows. Probably not Russia. But many people are saying it.


A little advice for Mr. Trump. If you hear the music of a hand organ, look around. If you can’t immediately see the monkey at the end of the leash, it’s because you’re the monkey. Hold out the cup and tip your little hat. And don’t forget, Putin the Organ Grinder owns that little hat, and the cup. And the leash.

the black death, cheap pans, and trump

So last week Donald Trump promised to make a ‘big announcement’ about President Barack Obama’s…no, wait. First, we should probably talk about the social and economic upheaval that followed the Black Plague in the 14th century, because…no, wait. It might make more sense to explain the Dutch language spoken from about 1100-1500 CE is known as Middle Dutch. That’s only important because…no, wait.

Okay, let’s try that again. The Black Plague killed off a hefty chunk of the population of Europe, right? Right. One result of that was the loss of village merchants. Before the plague if you needed a pan, you’d walk into the village and buy a pan. No big deal, easy peasy lemon squeezy. But then the plague comes and your local pan dealer goes toes up, and suddenly there’s no place to buy a pan. And you need a pan, right? What are you going to do — cook your porridge in a boot?

Business opportunity! There was a surge of wandering pedlars who traveled from village to village in the Low Countries selling and repairing cheap wares: pots and pans, knives and scissors, cheap jugs and pitchers. These wares were known as hoken and the men who sold and repaired them were called hokesters. They not only sold and repaired pans, the best hokesters regaled their customers with news and gossip from other villages.

You need a pan? I got a pan. Such a pan, shiny, best ever, people tell me.

You need a pan? I got a pan. Such a pan, shiny, best ever, people tell me. People love my pans, I can tell you that. 

But there were also shady hokesters. They were basically con men who charmed their customers, played on their vanity, fed into their prejudices, encouraged their desire to win a bargain through haggling, said whatever they needed to say in order to sell them some cheap-ass, shoddy hoken that soon needed to be repaired or replaced. These asshole hokesters effectively created a revolving market. They’d sell you a shiny cheap-ass pan that dented easily or broke because it was good for business. They could either charge you to repair it or sell you another cheap-ass pan, which would also break soon.

Over time, the population of Europe recovered from the Black Plague. Honest pedlars set up shops in town, and you could buy a damned pan without much fuss again. Only the shifty hokesters continued to travel the pan circuit. The Middle Dutch word hokester morphed into the modern term huckster.

Which brings us to Donald J. Trump.

The news media is constantly baffled by Trump’s willingness to say completely different things to different audiences, without any regard to consistency. They continue to view him as a person running for political office — but he’s not. He’s just a huckster selling his product. Everything he says and does is said and done to move a product — and Trump’s product is his name. Not Trump as a person; Trump as a product. Here’s what’s important to remember: a huckster says whatever he thinks will entice the customers in front of him right now to buy his product. He’s not interested in what he said to a different set of customers yesterday. It doesn’t matter. He’s already sold them a shiny cheap-ass pan, and he’s moved on. A huckster shifts his pitch to entice the customer at hand.

What, your pan broke? It happens, pans break. Pans break. They break, trust me. If you want, I can sell you a better pan.

What, your pan broke? It happens, pans break. Pans break. They break, trust me. If you want, I can sell you a better pan.

Trump isn’t driven by ideology, or principle, or religion, or concern for the public, or any of the other motivations that drive politicians. He’s driven by the desire to move the product.

Is Trump a racist? Maybe, I don’t know. He may not give a shit about race. But he’ll play along with racists if he can sell them a shiny pan. Is he anti-Muslim? Maybe. Maybe he’s go no interest in religion at all. But if it helps him unload some cheap-ass scissors, he’ll say anti-Muslim shit all day long. Is he a patriot? Don’t know, but there’s product to be moved and if waving a flag will help move it, then he’ll be Betsy fucking Ross for a couple of hours.

Trump is a huckster, plain and simple. A huckster on a very big stage, but still a huckster. He’s selling shiny, cheap-ass pots and pans to chumps. There’s always somebody who’ll buy that shit.


trump, the slayer

This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. — Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

Well, okay — that’s it then.

Now the Republican party can drop all pretense of being serious about governance. Or diplomacy. Or hell, pick something. The GOP just isn’t a serious political party. They’ve become a frat house for assholes.

They’re pretty ecumenical when it comes to assholes, I’ll give them that. Assholes of all stripes are welcome. Religious assholes (“I’m not perfect, I’m just forgiven!”), economic assholes (“Tax breaks for the rich, fuck the poor!”), militaristic assholes (“Carpet bomb mosques, build more Hobby Lobbys!”), racist assholes (“Hey, somebody has to mow the lawns!”), stupid assholes (“Why can’t we make the Second Amendment the First Amendment?”), sexist assholes (“That was a compliment! What’re you, a lesbian?”), and free range raging assholes of all sorts. If you’re an asshole, Trump wants your vote.

Like I should care what sort of asshole you are? Just vote already.

Like I should care what sort of asshole you are? Just vote already.

Of course they picked Trump. He’s the distillation of the Republican party. There’s nothing surprising about it. Nothing strange about it. It’s not weird; it’s wyrd.

Okay, today’s etymology lesson. The modern term weird is derived from the Anglo-Saxon wyrd, which means something like destiny or fate — but more complex. Wyrd doesn’t refer to something preordained, something that is meant happen. It’s more a constantly evolving and shifting nexus of individual choices and decisions melded with the necessities of the universe. The wyrd brings various elements together, then riffs on whatever crazy-ass stuff happens next. It’s a sort of Viking jazz improv version of fate or destiny.

It’s like this: fate didn’t bring Buffy Summers to Sunnydale, home of the Hellmouth. It was the wyrd. There was a pool of potential Vampire Slayers out there in the world, and the universe needed a Vampire Slayer parked at the Hellmouth. The universe didn’t care who the Vampire Slayer was, or what supernatural lottery ticket had to be cashed in to become the Slayer. The universe didn’t care what actions and decisions (like, say, burning down a high school in Los Angeles) would bring the Slayer to Sunnydale. A Slayer was needed in Sunnydale; the wyrd got one there. It happened to be Buffy.

Wait, what? They're nominating who?

Wait, what? They’re nominating who?

Donald Trump wasn’t preordained to destroy the Republican party, and the Republican party wasn’t preordained to be destroyed. But the wyrd is at work. In a couple of months the GOP national convention will meet in Cleveland (city of light, city of magic — as Randy Newman says) and not even the wyrd knows what will happen. Maybe Trump will be given the nomination, maybe establishment Republicans will somehow nominate some other poor bastard, maybe the sun will turn black and Trump will transform into a giant snake who will be killed with a mystical knife wielded by Elizabeth Warren. Who knows?

Regardless, it looks like the GOP — the frat house of assholes — is about to die. Not even the wyrd can say what will happen. But we know where and we know when, and I know I’ll be watching. Because, to paraphrase Hunter Thompson, when the going gets weird, the wyrd turns pro.

Burn on, big river, burn on.


applause for the chain reaction

I watched the early part of last night’s debate between the Republican candidates vying for the presidential nomination. I watched and applauded.

Why did I applaud? I’ll tell you.

In 1913 a German chemist named Max Bodenstein had an epiphany. He was doing some research on the mechanisms of the chemical reaction between hydrogen and chlorine, and he…okay, wait.

You probably read the mechanisms of the chemical reaction between hydrogen and chlorine and immediately began thinking “Dude, I thought this was about the debate; maybe I should see if there are any new videos of koala bears playing bocce ball on Buzzfeed.” A little patience, please. There’s an actual point to this. I’m not just tossing German chemists around willy nilly. Honest.

Max Bodenstein

Max Bodenstein

Right, so Max Bodenstein was noodling around with some hydrogen and chlorine molecules and he noticed something interesting. That shit exploded. Now, you don’t have to be a German chemist to know that explosions are cool, but Max wanted to understand why that shit exploded. What he discovered was that — and okay, this is going to get a wee bit sciencey here — the reaction of the parent hydrogen and chlorine molecules created some new unstable molecules. Those unstable molecules interacted with the parent molecules in ways that were a LOT more energetic than the original reaction — and that created MORE unstable molecules, which reacted again with the parent molecules and dot dot dot hey, bingo, that shit explodes.

Max Bodenstein was the first guy to describe a chain reaction. Any time you hear the phrase chain reaction, you have Max to thank for it.

Why am I talking about obscure German chemists? Because what we’re seeing in the current campaign for the Republican party’s presidential nomination is the explosion that comes at the end of a slow series of chain reactions that began in the 1980s. And that chain reaction began in 1978 when an obscure Georgia politician named Newt Gingrich read James Clavell’s potboiler Shōgun.


Okay, now you’re saying to yourself “Dude…the fuck? First German chemists and now this? What?” I know this sounds like I’m going off on another tangent. Again, patience.

The novel is grounded in the rise to power of a crafty, patient, manipulative leader of a Japanese samurai faction. Newt Gingrich modeled himself after the character, and it changed his approach to politics. To that point, modern US politics was primarily about policy differences. Gingrich made the usual claims that his opponent’s policies were ineffective and possibly harmful, but he also began to accuse his opponents of actively and intentionally trying to destroy everything that is and was good about the nation. His opponents weren’t merely wrong in their policy positions, they were traitorous. He began to depict Democrats as an actual threat that needed to be stopped in order to save the nation. There was no more ‘loyal opposition.’ There were only enemies to be defeated.

And hey, it worked. Republicans began to get elected in greater numbers. It’s worked for about 35 years now. They stopped proposing serious policies and relied on talking points and accusations. They stopped practicing governance, and focused instead on expanding and maintaining their power. They turned Republican politics into mummery.



The problem, though, was that the Republicans were confident they could control the toxic chain reaction of their politics. And at first, it seemed like they could But each successive election created more unstable molecules, which interacted with the existing unstable molecules, creating still more unstable molecules and dot dot dot hey, bingo, that shit explodes.

We’re talking about a sudden, violent increase in pressure generating large amounts of heat and destructive shock waves that travel outward from the point of explosion and produce a loud bang. Like this:

A chemical explosion -- thanks, Max Bodenstein.


The Republican party is exploding in fairly slow motion right in front of us. It’s kind of sad, really. Inevitable and necessary, but still sad because they mixed the hydrogen and chlorine together without any thought that it would explode in their faces.

Sad, but also sort of funny and completely appropriate. Why? Because etymology! The term explode comes from the Latin explodere — the prefix ex– meaning ‘out’ and plaudere meaning ‘to clap one’s hands’ (the same Latin root gives us the term applaud). That’s right, folks — originally explode meant to make a loud noise to drive demons away or actors off the stage.

This is why I applauded last night’s Republican debate. The sooner these fuckwits get off the stage, the better.

every year, this happens

This happens to me every year. I know summer is going to end. I know approximately when it’s going to end. I know that when autumn is here, I’ll love it.

I know all that — and yet every year this happens to me. There are a few days when the shock of summer’s end makes me…what? Not sad, really. Because, as I said, I love autumn. Not melancholy; I’ve never been able to carry off gloom and brooding. I’m okay at a bit of foreboding, but gloom and melancholy just aren’t in my repertoire. I’m not even disconsolate, because I’m easily comforted.

end of summer part 1

Wistful. I guess that’s it. The end of summer makes me wistful. I am full of wist. Wist, by the way, used to be the past tense of wit — and I’m talking about wit as a verb. As a verb, it meant ‘to know, to be aware or conscious of.’ You see it in other words: witless, dimwit, unwitting. The term witness originally meant to formally attest to a thing you actually know to be true.

Wistful, then, meant to be keenly aware of something you once knew to be true. It’s only a small step from that to the more modern meaning: a pensive yearning for something now gone.

end of summer, part 2

I will miss grilling out supper. I’ll miss sitting outside on a hot day, drinking a cold beer. I’ll miss going through my entire day barefooted. I’ll miss the freedom and comfort of wearing shorts. I’ll miss picking herbs from my window-boxes and cooking with them. I’ll miss the heat — that deep, penetrating, bone-heat that loosens my aging joints. I’ll miss the long days. I’ll miss the whirring of my old box fan. I’ll miss the breeze coming through the open windows and screen doors. I’ll miss leaving the deck door open so the cat can wander in and out at will, along with occasional wasps and flies and twice this year, a butterfly.

Hell, I’m already missing those things, and summer’s only been gone about ten minutes.

end of summer part 3

But at some point this week, I’ll pack up my shorts and put them away. And I’ll unpack my sweaters and scarfs and gloves and caps and soft flannel shirts. Oh, and flannel sheets. It won’t be cold enough for flannel sheets until autumn is over, but lawdy who doesn’t love sleeping in flannel sheets?

And pretty soon it’ll be time to start cooking soups and stews. Time for cooking chili and cornbread. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I start baking beer bread again, and eating it warm with real butter. It’ll be time for eggnog before long, though it will annoy me that they begin selling it earlier every year (eggnog, by law, shouldn’t be consumed until the week before Thanksgiving). I look forward to walking in the woods, with all the dead leaves underfoot.

I love autumn. I’ll enjoy the hell out of it. I always do.

But still, I’ll have to wear shoes.


Okay, let’s address this ‘po-faced’ issue, shall we? I’ve been using this perfectly good term in conversation all week (well, for years actually, but much more often in this last week or so), and I declare, every time I use it people look at me like I’ve suddenly begun speaking Urdu.

I haven’t been speaking Urdu, people.

So, what does it mean, po-faced? In general, it means to be humorless and disapproving. But the definition doesn’t convey the richness of the term. To really appreciate po-faced you need to understand its origin.

There’s some disagreement about the etymology. Some claim the term is derived from ‘poker face’. I call bullshit. A poker face is one that’s devoid of expression; it’s a face that doesn’t give away any information. It’s a perfectly fine phrase, poker face, but it lacks the depth and emotional content of po-faced.

I favor the interpretation that suggests ‘po’ comes from pot de chambre. A chamber pot. It’s pronounced poe de shambra. Po-faced, then, refers to the expression on a person’s face upon encountering a chamber pot that’s — well, let’s say it’s after being used. A sort of mild attempt to disguise feelings of disgust and disapproval.

Wait. Maybe this will help.

kim davis

Po-faced. Any questions?