The Trouble with Normal

Between Trump and Brexit, it’s time to revisit this:

The Trouble with Normal

Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs “Security comes first”
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Callous men in business costume speak computerese
Play pinball with the Third World trying to keep it on its knees
Their single crop starvation plans put sugar in your tea
And the local Third World’s kept on reservations you don’t see
“It’ll all go back to normal if we put our nation first”
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Fashionable fascism dominates the scene
When the ends don’t meet it’s easier to justify the means
Tenants get the dregs and the landlords get the cream
As the grinding devolution of the democratic dream
Brings us men in gas masks dancing while the shells burst
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

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When I was a kid growing up in Minnesota, Fireflies were a big thing for me.  On humid summer evenings it looked like some stars had come down to Earth.

I see fewer and fewer of them as time passes; could be the places I find myself in, or there could be smaller numbers of these critter about.

Last Saturday, T and I went to a party at a friend’s house and at one point, grabbed some chairs under a tree and started to do some music…and I saw a firefly.  T says she saw a whole bunch, but I was too busy playing guitar to look.

They’re still here.


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Why I Don’t Need an AR-15

Here’s a response piece I wrote this morning.


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Welcome to The Tin-Foil Future

In the series Firefly, there’s a wonderful line. When Wash complains that something he’s being told sounds like it’s out of science fiction, Zoe turns to him and replies “You live on a spaceship, dear.”

I had a little bit of that sort of feeling just a moment ago.  I’m sitting in an office where I need to spend some time waiting for people, so I’m watching the old film Logan’s Run, a 1976 movie based on a 1967 novel (most cringeworthy line, which could have come out of Tinder, c. 2016:  “Let’s have sex!”).

I remember the film fondly because in 1976, I took my then-girlfriend M to see it at the (no longer extant) HarMar theater in Roseville, Minnesota.  And because a few months later, when I entered the University of Minnesota, it seemed I had stepped into the future.

The movie is set in a world in which no one is permitted to live beyond the age of 30; your 30th birthday is your “last day,” on which you can compete to be “renewed” for additional life (an obvious premise of the movie is that nobody is ever renewed).  The film was largely shot in a shopping mall in Dallas, TX, and if you happen to remember 1976, well, that was close to the peak of mall growth.

So the setting was familiar, but spiced up a little bit with circular corridors all lined with shiny reflective material…it looked like tin foil but was probably chrome Mylar, a metalized film that was often sold with an adhesive backing.

The basement of the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union, which originally opened in 1940, has changed quite a lot.  When I was a student there, it featured a small cafeteria, a bowling alley, an arcade of pinball machines (that over my time there were gradually replaced with video games), bathrooms, notice boards, a sports equipment rental center, and the Whole coffeehouse (at which I worked for a few months).

The basement was mostly painted flat black, with a lurid carpet (something like this):


straight out of the late ‘60s.  And the corrider by the bathrooms?  Was round, and covered in chrome Mylar.  And (the late 1940s-1950s being the peak of the baby boom):

there was hardly anyone around who was 30 or older (even the graduate students!).

I had walked right into the future.

As I said, over next couple of years video games came to replace the pinball machines in the arcade—first, Pong and simple “bomber” games that scrolled side-to-side, then Space Invaders and Asteroids.  The mechanicals went away, and the electronics took their place.  Calculators.  Our classes were selected using punch cards, which I also used extensively during my undergrad career doing data analysis, and I lived for a time in the hyper-modern Sanford Hall.

The next summer, Star Wars was released, and I remember the glossy posters for the Tourney of Animation film festivals as well.

Anyway, all of this shot through my head while sitting at this stupid desk, typing at the keyboard of a tiny laptop computer that is probably certainly more powerful than anything that existed in 1976.  Sitting next to it is a device that is also more powerful than any computer of the day, and that is mostly used for sending messages and viewing pictures of cats.  I no longer carry around a chemistry set to test urine sugars–a tiny device on my thigh senses  blood glucose and transmits the results to a box about the size of a small cell phone, which displays them in sequence.  I no longer use syringes, but wear a small pump that supplies insulin for three days before needing attention.  I expect the two items to be fully-integrated within a few years.

The future creeps up on us.  It doesn’t appear all of a sudden.  It turns itself from something the size of a room into something the size of a brick and then it slims down and vanishes into our pockets.

And when we look back?  It looks silly.  Bell bottom jeans.  K-cars (OK, they were stupid at the time).  Typewriters.  Corded phones.  Punch cards. Troubadour sleeves.  Jar-Jar Binks.  The past looks silly because we don’t notice it getting old, and when we turn and look back, 35 years have passed.

You live on a spaceship, dear.


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Nationalism. How weird am I?

The other day I was working at my desk when I heard another lawyer exclaim into the phone “Hey!  Youre a ginzo!  Like me!”  I had never heard the term before, but I understood it from context.  The other attorney in my office was saying “You’re one of us!”

This always seems weird to me.  Perhaps that’s because I’m a mixture of Romanian, Ukrainian, and possibly Polish blood by way of (English-speaking) Canada.  I don’t identify as part of any of those groups.  Nor do I feel particularly white (though that is a much harder criterion to break away from) or straight or Mormon or agnostic.  I barely feel lawyer.

And yet our world is made up of groups.  Be it Italians and Irish and Jews and Catholics or jocks and brains and bunouts, it seems to be all about groupness.

I guess I do identify with some groups–with cyclists and musicians.  I would venture to say there’s a difference there (and perhaps I would have to include jocks, brains, and burnouts) because as distinct from nationalism or racialism, being a cyclist (or a brain) has to do not with where you came from but with what you do.

Perhaps because growing up, I saw nationalism as a bad thing rather than a good one…I read the stories of WWI and WWII, and watched Viet Nam unfold, and of course I’ve been a witness to the continuous crises in the Middle East.  I just don’t get it.  I’ve never seen my fate as being tied with that of any “national” group.

Perhaps if my parents had raised me in an area that lacked national diversity, it might have made a difference, but I grew up with Scandinavians, Germans, Italians, Poles, Serbs, Jews, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists…

I really don’t have much more to say about that, I guess.  I’s just an interesting thing that I was thinking about today.  Am I weird because I don’t get nationalism?


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Darkness, Rain, Spider

Saturday evening, I went to Lyric Hall Bike Night.  It was largely a show of funnybikes–bikes built out of bits and pieces of other bikes and other things.  All were functional, including a rather nice reel lawnmower bike built on a Schwinn “chopper” frame.

Not too many folks showed up, which was too bad.  Most of those who did were more “artsy” than “bikey.”  Which was also too bad, since there was some cool stuff.  I only grabbed one photo–this rather cool spider:


But that’s not what I’m writing about.  While I was at the show, it started to rain.  Lightly at first, so I went out and put a bag on my saddle, then heavier.  A lot heavier.  So, around 8:30 or so, I left.  I had about five miles to get home, the first on roads, so I lit up my bike and rolled out.

This was another one of those times I appreciated my dynohub.  I know, from personal testing, that most generator systems won’t slip in the rain, but the dynohub is psychologically reassuring.  I had no trouble with cars, and once I hit the paved trail, all was well.  With my light bouncing off the raindrops, it felt like I was running Warp Factor 7.  It was actually odd to get under some heavy trees and notice that the path was actually dry!

Anyway, the combination of rain and darkness made for fun riding.  I think my dynohub, lights, and (perhaps especially) my fenders made the ride even more fun that a bright, sunny day would have.


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I think I’ve made it pretty clear here that I prefer bicycles to cars.  Nevertheless, this post is on my new-to-me car, and why I like it.  Here it is:


Sorry, it’s a little hard to see.  It’s behind the 10 red containers and two cardboard boxes of frozen meat that it transported to Loaves & Fishes, the weekly food pantry distribution that I often work at.  Two of the regular volunteers also appear in the photo–great guys!

The car itself is a 2010 Honda Fit, which replaces the Y2K Bug (2000 VW New Beetle).

I do not generally even like cars, but I love this one.  To understand why, you need a little history.  I should note that almost none of the photos below show the actual cars I owned, but they’re as close as I could get.

The very first car I ever owned was a 1977 Audi Fox given to Spouse and myself in 1989 by my sister-in-law.  It was a wonderful car, and the first FWD vehicle I’d ever driven, having spent the period since moving out of my parent’s house ten years earlier entirely carless.  But we were moving from Chicago to Schenectady, where bus service was poor, and we had a child.  So we got this car.  It was fun, easy to repair, and many things didn’t work (including the gas gauge and one of the passenger doors.  It had acquired a dingy gray cast to its white paint, so one night, after seeing the first Batman reboot, I named it the Ratmobile.  I considered (but never followed through on) getting a length of tan garden hose to coil up on the trunk lid:1977-audi-fox-right-front.jpg

The Ratmobile was our trusted transport for a few years, but when child #2 was en route, we figured we needed another door.  We had (ISTRC) $12,000 to spend.  We visited various dealers,  but nothing grabbed us.  We knew we didn’t want a station wagon or van.  And then we wandered into Mohawk Honda and saw this:
1991 Honda Wagon

This was a 1991 Honda Civic station wagon, the last year they made it.  It was called a wagon, but it looked…different.  You sat upright, and looking out, could not see the hood.  You could take off the rear headrests and fold the seat down and put amazing things in the back.  We kept this car for 15 years, crossing the country multiple times with children 1,2, and 3.  The last time we did it, I bought a trailer mirror (because we got the base model without a right-hand mirror or AC) so I could navigate with the back packed full.  This was, and is, my Platonic ideal of an automobile.  It seemed so techno, so advanced after the Ratmobile that we named it “HAL.”  Child #1 picked out the color–brown, instead of white or gray.

But then Child 4 came along, and even HAL was not going to cut it.  We kept HAL, but supplemented it around 1995-6 with a 1989 (or so) Plymouth Voyager.  I got the ad off a noteboard at work (real paper–remember those?).  The seller was named Nixon C___–he had been born in the Philippines, where it was apparently not uncommon to name children after visiting dignitaries.  Poor Nixon!  The Voyager never really had a name that I recall, but it was blue, and made multiple trips up and down Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah:

1989 Plymouth Voyager

When we moved to Wisconsin in 1999, the Voyager was on its last-ish legs.  We replaced it in 2001 (if memory serves) with a very fancy late-’90s Grand Voyager:

1998 Plymouth Grand Voyager

This was the largest car we had ever owned.  In addition to all the seating (Child 4 had arrived in 1999), it could carry scads of stuff in the ‘wayback.  The engine was large and had a surprising amount of oomph (in the mid-00’s, we would discover that Child 2 had managed to exceed 100 MPH in it (admittedly, downhill, and that’s another story).  I don’t recall that ours had a name, and it was a “sable” color between brown and gray.  HAL Continued to abide…for a time.

HAL finally died around 2005.  A hard life had rusted everything that it could, and the final straw was that after the clutch pivot broke away from the firewall, the radiator cracked.  I was massively into cycling then, year ’round in Wisconsin, and so we donated HAL’s corpse to NPR (again, IIRC) and made due with just the Grand Voyager.  Then.

In 1997, I decided to go to law school, and Spouse decided that she would need to be the provider.  So she got a job teaching at a small school in Minnesota, and bought a small car to make her commute possible.  The 2007 Hyundai Accent, (sport package):
2007 Hyundai.jpg

Neither of us had ever liked automatic transmissions, and this was Spouse’s chance to get back to shifting.  Unfortunately, it was equipped with low-profile tires (“sport package”) that tended to be easily damaged.  Eventually, the alloy wheels also suffered.  We ultimately replaced these with smaller steelies and tires with more sidewall, and all has been well since.  The photo above accurately captures the fiery red of her car.

Not long after Chld 2 proved that the Grand Voyager could break 100 MPH, a check during an oil change showed that the front towers were almost completely rusted through.  Since Child 2 would only drive an automatic, Spouse made an executive decision and purchased Darth.  Darth was a black Taurus Wagon with tan leather interior, only a couple of years old:
2004-ford-taurus wagon

Darth was luxurious.  It was heavy.  And it was s. l. o. w.  Connecticut Route 15 has virtually no on-ramps, so you have to be able to accelerate up to speed very quickly, or you’ll get honked at and possibly killed.  You know how they say some cars are no slouch?  Darth was a slouch.  Zero to sixty felt like about 20 minutes.  And the weight was murder.  One day, the law school was closed due to a storm, but my partner and I had to work on a case.  I made it over, but on the way home, hit some black ice layered with powder snow, spun, and hit a tree, smashing the nose.  After two months in the shop, Darth had acquired a used nose, painted blue, and was thence known as Blue Tooth.  Insurance paid.  A couple of years later, Spouse was driving Darth while her car was in the shop and another driver ran a red and smashed BT’s front end to the tune of $3,000.

My spouse was philosophical.  She told me she knew that I’d always hated that car, and that we should try doing something else with the money.  We sold the remains at a bargain and I got a 10- or 11-year old 2000 VW New Beetle in Cyber Green (“George” or “The Y2k Bug”):

George was my move back to a manual, and the color demanded lots of bumper stickers.  George had many problems (not the least of which was mold) but accelerated far better than Darth/BT had ever done.  Alas, even with the rear seats down, interior storage was poor.  But George endured for four years, bits and pieces falling off here and there.  I told Spouse that when my law degree started paying off, I was going to get something better…

And it didn’t.  For years.  And then it did.  And I got Tardis:

DSCN0270 (003)

That is the actual beast, a 2010 Honda Fit named for its color and the idea that it’s bigger on the inside.  The Y2K Bug went to student for a very good price, and I bought Tardis from a family that was moving to Germany.  It’s not perfect, but it’s very good, and (as you can see from the very first picture in this post) carries a lot of stuff.  It has the same wheelbase as HAL did, and the same length, and while the layout is slightly different, it’s as close to that Platonic ideal as I think you can buy today.  It has AC and CD-ROM and MP3 players, but it’s a manual transmission, and I like it a lot.  It drives like a go-cart, it can accelerate onto ROute 15, and with the seats down, not only can it hold 10+ containers of frozen meat.

It can hold a bicycle.  Fenders and all.




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