Saturday, August 26, 2017

Come Hell and High Water

Hurricane Harvey at 8 a.m. Saturday, August 26.
Hurricane tracking has always been a kind of hobby for me. Well, maybe not always a hobby; when I was a child, my life might have depended on it once or twice. I was the official “hurricane tracker” in the family. In second and third grade, I had dreams of being a meteorologist when I grew up, but I didn’t have the mathematical aptitude. Now, sitting at my desk in Minnesota, far outside the hurricane belt, I have all kinds of software for keeping an eye on the tropics when friends and family are in harm’s way. And Harvey is no doubt a family matter; I have three cousins who live near the Texas coastline.

My fascination with hurricanes comes from having survived two of the worst. My first was Betsy in 1965. I was about 4½ years old at the time, and didn’t know what a “hurricane” was. My second was Camille in 1969, which was much more memorable. For one thing, she was a freakin’ category five (though the Saffir-Simpson scale wouldn’t be published for another two years), and for another she was coming right at us! We made out a lot better from Camille than we did from Betsy. Camille veered north, passing us to the east and showing us her “weaker” side. After Betsy (whose maximum sustained wind fell one mile per hour short of the category five threshhold) we were without power for two weeks, and I learned that little ditty that rhymes yellow with mellow and brown with down. If you ask me, Betsy should be retroactively classified (the National Hurricane Center does that sometimes) to category five. She was as bad to New Orleans as Katrina was.

I usually put it this way: Betsy + Camille = Katrina.

But hey, this is Texas we’re talking about, and I’ll say one thing about Texans: they’re as proud, as strong, and as stubborn as they’re reputed to be. They’ve got this. Harvey’s about to learn for himself that ya don’t mess with Texas.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipse 2017 : A Review

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 has come and gone, and I wish I could tell you what it was like to see totality, but I can’t. It isn’t that I can’t find the words to describe it, but rather because we had the dumb luck to pick the worst place to watch from: St. Joseph, Missouri.

No offense, folks, St. Joe is a fine town with a rich history — it was the starting point for the Pony Express back in the day. It’s just that the weather sucked. Bigly. We were going to go to the event at Rosecranz Airport, but nobody told us it was a ticketed event and was sold out. After driving around a while, we ended up at Lewis and Clark State Park a little southeast of town. Things looked hopeful at first, and we were able to see first contact and the first ten percent of the eclipse before the clouds and rain moved in and persisted throughout totality. I never got a chance to see the corona.

I did see something. It still got real dark, not as dark as night because the clouds were diffusing the light (damned laws of physics) and off in the distance we could see eerie glow on the horizon, as we were looking out of the umbra into the penumbra, where the eclipse was only partial. Some people brought their dogs, and they started acting really skittish. (Animals react to eclipses, it seems.) Birds stopped singing and crickets started chirping, thinking it was night. A few minutes after totality, the clouds broke for a minute or so, and we were able to put on our eclipse glasses and see a thin sliver of the returning sun. Then it clouded over again. It didn't look like it was going to let up, so we left. We had dinner in town, and by the time we got back to the hotel, the sky had cleared and I got to see the end half of partiality. And of course I was wearing my eclipse glasses, a good sturdy plastic wraparound pair that I can hold onto and use again. I only got one picture of the sun before it was obscured by clouds.

The sun over Rushville, Missouri at 11:05, about
half an hour before the eclipse began.
Fortunately, with a little luck and a lot of medications, I’ll have the chance to use them again in about six and a half years, when another eclipse will cut across the United States from Texas to Maine.

April 8, 2024
The path of totality will cross over or at least very close to Austin, Dallas, Little Rock, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo, and Niagara Falls. The little town of Carbondale, Illinois will have the rare privilege of seeing two total eclipses in seven years, as it is the point where the 2017 and 2024 eclipse paths intersect. It’s probably going to be a really big show, even bigger than this one was. For reasons I’m going to have to ask my go-to astronomer, Phil Plait about, totality is going to be longer next time. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to see it this time without a rainstorm eclipsing the eclipse. Jim wants to go to Niagara Falls, but I’m trying to talk him into some place that won’t be as chaotic… like Sandusky, Ohio. Jim loves roller coaster, and they’re the roller coaster capital of the world. Cedar Point usually isn’t open in April, but I’ll be surprised if they don’t make an exception for the 2024 eclipse.

Even if there wasn’t going to be another eclipse in seven years, I’d still hold on to the eclipse glasses and binoculars. They can serve as a reminder of the brief, fleeting moment we all came together and forgot about politics for a while. Maybe it’ll come again in 2024, right as we’re heading into an election season. This could be interesting… because as Pink Floyd pointed out 44 years ago, “Ev’rything under the sun is in tune when the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Welcome to the Fourth Reich

Godwin’s Law states that as an online discussion progresses, it becomes inevitable that someone or something will eventually be compared to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis, regardless of the original topic. But that’s not what’s going on here. Calling members of the so-called alt-right (or as I prefer to call them, alt-wrong) Nazis isn’t just an ad hominem in this case. It’s the literal truth. They walk with their arms raised in Nazi salutes and carry the Nazi flag proudly through the streets. Even one of Richard Spencer’s favorite battle cries — “hail victory” — is literally “Sieg Heil” translated from German! All they need to do now is learn how to goose-step!

Does it feel like we’re living in the Twilight Zone? Because we literally are. Rod Serling saw this day coming forty-four years ago, and tried to warn us.

The so-called “leadership” from our so-called “president” has been, to say the least, almost more insulting than his silence. His response has been clueless and tone-deaf. He has to be shamed into saying the right thing (in the extreme close-up of his press conference, I half expected there to be a gun at his head, or maybe his fingers were crossed behind his back? He had the same look in his eyes as those prisoners forced to make propaganda statements against their will. Even if I had bought it at the time, he had to go right back and double down on his apologist crap, blaming both sides and asking why we aren’t taking down statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. So here’s a little history lesson for him.

The removal of Confederate monuments is not about slavery. It’s about treason. Yes, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. But they never declared war on the United States. They built this nation, while man like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee set out to destroy it. Just like that lunatic in Germany with the funny mustache whose flag they also pledge allegiance to. That’s the real irony here, isn’t it? Marching under the flag of the Confederacy is one thing, but really, the Nazi “blood flag?” Really? Really?

“Oh, but I wasn't carryin’ a Nazi flag!” whines the poor little snowflake who’s been disowned by his family and fired from his job. He just doesn’t get it. If these rebel flag-wavers were half the Americans they claimed to be, they’d have stomped those carrying Nazi flags and symbols into the ground. (They were the bad guys, remember? We had a war about this. The whole world was in on it, remember?) But instead, they’ve made a deal with the devil. If both sides are to blame, then why did their side draw the first (and so far only) blood?

I fully support the actions of those on the internet who are giving names to these faces, and when I hear of one being rebuffed by the rest of decent society, losing their jobs and families, the schadenfreude is exquisite. (How many of them had grandfathers who fought Hitler?) But I can’t make this any more clear: we should not respond to their hatred with violence. As repulsive as they are, we have to take the high ground here. (And if you must punch one out, be sure to keep your wrist straight so you don’t injure yourself.) The only respose to idiots like that is ridicule. Don’t give them the satisfaction of seeing your anger. And definitely don’t kill any of them. They’re not worth going to prison for, and the last thing we need is for them to have a martyr. It’s far more satisfying to expose them to the light, so they just wish they were dead. It’s their own fault. They laid down with dogs. It’s not our fault they got up with fleas.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Dogs of War

The War has begun. It started with the March of the Tiki Torches across the campus of the University of Virginia, protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, famous for losing the Civil War. It went on the next day with the Battle of Charlottesville, where a young woman named Heather Hyer became the first casualty of Civil War II, the Crispus Attucks of a new American Revolution.

Make no mistake. This is war.

It’s a war like no other, a war fought not with guns and bombs (at least not yet, but give it time) but with sticks and stones and baseball bats on the streets of our cities. It is a war being fought in cyberspace with flaming back-and-forths between the two sides. It is a war in which I only have two weapons: my words and my sarcasm. I’m not afraid to use either… or both.

Meanwhile, as the nation burns, Nero plays his fiddle. He dares not speak out against the Nazis who march in our streets and promote their prejudice through social media, because these are the deplorables — and yes, I said deplorables — who put him in office.

But we can, as Fred Small put it, show the bigots there are more of us than they have stones.

If anything good is to come out of this cluster-f’ck our nation has become, then maybe it will light a fire under those who don’t even bother to turn out and vote. This is important, America. There are no innocent bystanders anymore. It’s time to pick which torch you’re going to follow.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

My Letter of Resignation

This weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, we saw what might have been the first battle of the second Civil War. The white supremacists have thrown down the gauntlet and challenged anyone who isn’t their ethnicity to a war to preserve white power and privilege.

News flash. This white man wants no part of your war. I want neither the power nor the privilege they seem to think I deserve, just because I’m caucasian. (Though they probably hate me anyway ’cause I was raised Catholic and I’m gay.)

Anyway, it’s a moot point, because I quit.

I hereby resign from the caucasian race, effective immediately. They can keep their white sheets and burning crosses, and put their Confederate (read: losers) monuments where the sun don’t shine. I don’t care anymore. I’m sick of apologizing for them. I’m sick of being embarrassed by them. I’m sick of strangers assuming that because I’m white, I’m probably a racist. I’m sick of having to say I’m not one, because nobody believes that when have to you say it.

So I quit. From now on, when somebody refers to me as a caucasian, I will tell them, “No, I am not. I am a human.”

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Surreality Television

The theatre of the macabre that is the Trump Administration continues to play out on the 24-hour news networks like a non-stop binge of House of Cards that’s on every channel. The recent shakeup rivals the infamous Saturday Night Massacre, with a touch of The Godfather thrown in for dramatic effect. Seriously, doesn’t “Tony da Mooch” sound like a character from The Sopranos? He hit the ground running, taking out Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, then got the Judas Kiss himself before Stephen Colbert and Randy Rainbow even had a chance at him. On the bright side, “Bohemian Rhapsody” has never enjoyed such popularity.

It’s just like Celebrity Apprentice, only we don’t actually get to see The Donald look into the camera and say, “you’re fired.” He’s lied to the American people at every turn with a pitch that P.T. Barnum would be proud of, and now that he’s on top of the world, he doesn’t have the first idea what he’s doing. We’re just one tweet away from Defcon 5. Just. One. Tweet.

As his administration sinks deeper and deeper into the swamp he promised emptily to drain, it’s like he’s dumped toxic waste into the swamp instead. The lies keep mounting, and he doesn’t even try to be convincing. One example is his fabricated phone call from the president of the Boy Scouts telling him that was the best speech ever, when more likely the Scoutmaster In Chief wanted to chastise him using language a Boy Scout shouldn’t use. He wasn’t addressing the Boy Scouts, he was addressing the Trump Youth, at least in his mind, and basically took a dump on everything scouting stands for. Then he claims the president of the Boy Scouts called him to tell him it was the best speech ever. The Boy Scouts say they did no such thing. In a contest to decide who’s telling the truth, I’ll take a Boy Scout’s word over Donald Trump’s hands down.

At their next Jamboree, the Boy Scouts may want to reconsider their standing practice of inviting the President to speak.

The problem with Donald Trump is that he ran a campaign of ignorance and hate, and now that it got him elected, he doesn’t know what to do. So he’s just kept on campaigning, perseverating about how he won when nobody is challenging that fact. He screams “fake news” at every news story he doesn’t like, and my bet is the American people aren’t going to fall for it more often. Now he’s got Robert Mueller crawling up his ass with an electron microscope, and Donald’s panicked reaction is that of a guilty party who knows the jig is up. His approval is already hitting new record lows, even among the Republicans who voted for him. Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell. Donald Trump is going to have his Robert Mueller, and the sooner we drag the skeletons out of the Trump family closets, the sooner we can impeach this madman before his ineptitude gets us all killed, or worse.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

There Goes The Sun

August is here, and I’ve been looking forward to this particular August for several years now. It’s finally my chance to scratch something off my bucket list. I’ve always wanted to experience a solar eclipse for myself, and see it with my own eyes. I’ve come close a couple of times. There was a partial eclipse in 1979 that I watched from New Orleans wearing welder’s goggles (not advisable) and a near-total eclipse in Minneapolis back in 1995. I didn’t have the equipment to view that one, but the clear blue sky darkened noticeably at its peak. It turned purple.

On August 21, a total eclipse will sweep across the United States mainland, from Oregon to South Carolina.

This time I want to see the moon totally eclipse the sun. That’s going to take some travel… and a little bit of luck. The nearest place to see totality is St. Joseph, Missouri, which is about a six hour drive. Just about everybody is going to be there, but Jim and I had the foresight to book a motel room months in advance. I’ve also stocked up on all the equipment we’ll need: solar glasses, solar binoculars, and a solar filter for my camera. Now all we need is a little luck in the weather department. It’d suck if it rains that day.