Friday, October 27, 2017

Roadkill

Red Fox was trailing behind his mate as she stalked a rabbit, when it happened. The rabbit hopped across the black ribbon of asphalt separating one part of the forest from another and the female fox followed. Usually she looked for approaching beasts, but this time she was focused solely on her prey, and failed to see the shiny four-wheeled beast approaching at an impossibly fast speed.

The beast struck her squarely, sending her flying through the air to land on her back in the gravel beside the ribbon of asphalt. Red Fox came to her side and waited for her to rise to her feet again. Perhaps she had just been stunned by the blow from the beast which had continued on its way with no perceptible change in speed or direction.

But there was no movement. The life spirit was gone from his mate, the love of his life. He stood over her body protectively as another of the four-wheeled beasts whizzed by on the asphalt.

They had raised five litters of pups together, all of them healthy. Once they left the den he had only seen one once. It was a male who came into his territory. He gave him a look of recognition, then the obligatory growl to make it clear he would defend his territory. The pup walked away, looking back only once. The pup knew him too, and would not challenge his father.

What would he do next? He had never imagined being without the love of his life. Since they first met and mated they had been partners and parents, always sharing their kills between themselves and with their young. Prey had been plentiful in the woods they chose as their territory. They had lived a good life. What should he do now?

He grabbed her lifeless body by the nape of her neck with his teeth, and dragged it to the center of the black ribbon of asphalt. Releasing her, he stood over her body, as if guarding the remains of his mate, and waited patiently for another of the shiny four-wheeled beasts to come to strike him and send his life spirit to join hers in whatever came after.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cuscatlán

I wrote this poem June 22, 1977, while I was living in Costa Rica as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). It is my only attempt to write a poem in Spanish. I wrote it to express my anger and frustration over the killing of a number of campesinos (peasant farmers) during a demonstration in Parque de la Libertad, San Salvador, El Salvador. I was a PCV in El Salvador from October 1974 until November 1976. Prior to the Spanish conquest, the region which is now the country of El Salvador was known as Cuscatlán.


nahuatl? ya no!
Tierra de la Infancia? ya no!
The country with a heart? YA NO!
(pero, sí, tiene corazón.)

Sí, tiene corazón, SÍ TIENE!
Como no va a tener, pues?
Echó sangre en el parque, no es asi?
En ... el ... parque ... de ... la ... LIBERTAD ...

Y en Santa Tecla, en Aguilares, en San Miguel ...
En Tacuba, en ’32,
una generación de hombres ...
(se perdió!)

Se perdió?
Dicen que fueron comunistas,
bajo influencia extranjera,
inflamados en contra sus patrones ...

Se sacrificó
una generación de hombres
fue sacrificada
PERO PARA QUE?

Para la lucha anticomunista?
Pues, por un lado, sí, tal vez,
porque resulta que desde entonces
los militares tomaron el mando acá.
(y son unos fuertes anticomunistas ... según dicen.)

Miren! es que yo fui anticomunista ... vaya!
Así nos enseñaron, pues!
Que el comunismo era la esclavitud.

Pero, Ustedes saben que se ha ido metiendo aquí.
La oposición politica a los militares, pues,
siempre era obra del comunismo
La organización syndical, también!

La Universidad, los intelectuales, los estudiantes (nuestros hijos!)
se han ido infestandose con ideas comunistas de tal manera que ...
han tenido que ...
sacrificarse (perderse)

Se sacrifica
una generación de estudiantes y intelectuales
es sacrificada
PARA QUE?

Para la lucha anticomunista?
Para mantener el orden en la sociedad?
Pues, tal vez, les digo yo
porque es que hasta los sacerdotes son comunistas hoy!
(varios, la mayor parte)

Para mantener el orden más que todo.
Digo yo, pues ...
el ... orden ... economico.
el café, el algodón, el azucar, la ganadería

La gente?
Es que gente siempre se consigue,
y barata!
La mano de obra es el gran recurso que tiene este país.

El gran recurso que tiene el país!
EL GRAN RECURSO!
Es que, patrón, ya no somos anticomunistas
YA NO!

Mire! es que en el parque ... mataron a madres y a niños!
EN ... EL ... PARQUE .. DE ... LA ... LIBERTAD!

Es que ya, todo lo que vale lo llaman comunista!
Seamos comunistas, pero lucharemos
PARA QUE?

Para que nuestros descendientes
tengan los derechos
de seres humanos.
Para la dignidad del pueblo Cuscatleco

El pueblo, sí, tiene corazón!
SÍ TIENE!
Y con su sangre ganará la libertad y la dignidad!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Don Pedrito

When I first arrived in San Isidro, El Salvador in 1975, it was the dry season and the area bore an uncanny resemblance to a scene from a movie western depicting the southwestern U.S. There were men on horseback with cowboy hats and spurs, and others driving teams of oxen pulling two-wheeled carts. A layer of dust coated everything. As I dismounted my motorcycle, a man in a straw cowboy hat approached me and said, “Don Pedrito was your brother, wasn’t he?”

First, I should explain that, in El Salvador, Don is a title of respect commonly used by rural people, and that Pedrito is an affectionate form of the name Pedro (Spanish version of Peter) such as might be used for a child or young person. So you might translate Don Pedrito as “young Mr. Peter”.

I, of course, had no idea who Don Pedrito was, but during the six months I lived in San Isidro I would learn his story, which I recount here.

Don Pedrito, whose real name was Floyd Miller, arrived in El Salvador on May 4, 1965 as a Mennonite missionary. Ten years later, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) there, it was still common practice to assign us foreigners nicknames that were easier to pronounce in Spanish than our original ones. My first name, Dean, was replaced with the nickname Dino. Floyd studied Spanish for six weeks in a town named Sitio Del Niño, and was given Pedro as his Salvadoran nickname. Don Pedrito arrived in San Isidro in mid June of 1965 to teach carpentry to the locals, and presumably save souls. His volunteer service was part of a land reform project in which peasant farmers were given 2 manzana (about 3.5 acre) plots of public land, from the government purchased former hacienda San Juan. With the training of Don Pedrito and others, the farmers built nice solid one-story houses of concrete blocks with wooden framing and corrugated steel roofs.

In November Don Pedrito took a trip to a beach near Metalío on the Pacific coast. Unfortunately, he took a swim at a place where the undertow is especially strong, and drowned in the ocean on November 25, 1965, just a month shy of his twenty-first birthday. The people of San Isidro, and his former students in particular, were distraught over the news of his death. One of his students, a young man, committed suicide.

A single-sheet flyer was printed for Don Pedrito’s funeral. Somebody gave me a copy. They thought I should have it, and I am forever grateful. At the top is a black and white photo of him. Beneath it is printed his real name, age at death and three paragraphs of text in Spanish. Information from the flyer that I haven’t already mentioned here includes the fact that he was born near Hutchinson, Kansas. His parents’ names are Enos and Mary, and he had four brothers and a sister. He belonged to the Center Amish Mennonite Church.

Don Pedrito is buried in San Isidro’s graveyard. Apparently the church and his parents made the decision to leave his remains where he had been working at the time of his death. We can only speculate whether their decision was primarily philosophical or financial. A young boy took me to see the grave. It was the most elaborate one in the small graveyard. The tombstone reads: Floyd "Pedro" Miller, Born: December 25, 1944, Died: November 25, 1965

That would be the end of my story, and I probably would not feel as strongly linked to Don Pedrito as I do, except that in late July of 1975 I completed my study of the peasant farmers of the San Isidro area and was reassigned to work at a demonstration and training farm near Metalío. Another PCV and I lived in a beach house for the ten months I worked there.

That means I was near Metalío, at the beach, on November 25, 1975, the ten-year anniversary of the day Don Pedrito drown. So, of course, I had to tempt fate by going swimming in the Pacific Ocean that day. Actually it was stormy, and the surf was rough, so I didn’t spend a lot of time in the water. On another occasion though, my housemate and I were taken pretty far out by a rip tide on the same beach. We were just strong enough swimmers to make it back to shore, but I doubt that either of us would have had the strength to go back in and save somebody who couldn’t make it on their own! I guess that is what happened to Don Pedrito, a rip tide took him out and there was nobody there to save him.

In Hutchinson, Kansas I doubt that anybody besides his surviving family remembers Floyd Miller. But in San Isidro, El Salvador, the story of Don Pedrito is a legend that will live on for generations. The people in San Isidro who asked me about Don Pedrito were right. He is my brother in every way that is important, and though I never met him, I’ll certainly never forget him!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ode to a Rabbit

I found a dead rabbit by the curb. He didn't quite make it across the road. Sorry to see you leave this world so soon. None of us ever knows when we will get clipped by a truck, or felled by cancer.

The morning birds are singing as I dig a hole and place your body in it. A glorious sendoff from this life. I can only hope that my own will be likewise.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Once again I’ve got the Citizens United blues!

Diane Hendricks and I are both citizens of the State of Wisconsin. We each have a single vote in the upcoming elections for president, senator and other public offices. But that is where our similarities end.

I am an enthusiastic supporter of Russ Feingold for U.S. Senator and a less-than-enthusiastic supporter of Hilary Clinton for President. I have given $50 to the Feingold campaign, and was appropriately punished by receiving a seemingly endless stream of emails in my in-box. If anybody (the FBI, wikileaks, Russian hackers) wants my deleted emails they are welcome to them - the vast majority are unopened.

Diane Hendricks, who owns her own company and has a net worth of $5 Billion, supports Ron Johnson for U.S. Senator and Donald Trump for President. Reportedly, she has already spent $4.7 Million on Trump for President TV ads and $2 Million on Johnson for Senator ads.

If you believe money equals speech, as the majority of Supreme Court Justices did when they made the Citizens United ruling, Ms Hendricks is just choosing to exercise her free speech rights more than I am. If, like me, you are more cynical, you might conclude that she is trying to impose her political choices on her fellow citizens of Wisconsin.

If this is not a strong argument for overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, I don’t know what is!

And then there is the case of the Koch brothers, who don’t even live in Wisconsin, yet are reportedly spending about $1 Million on ads urging that we elect Senator Johnson over former Senator Feingold. Do you call that free speech or legalized pay to play?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Do you remember

running away from home,
cowboy shirts and hobo bundles,
the sledding hill?

Do you remember
forts in the woods,
throwing tomatoes and rotten eggs,
running through fields of corn taller than us?

Do you remember
softball in the driveway,
playing star light, moon light,
swimming in the creek and the pond?

Do you remember
riding the school bus,
teaching newborn calves to drink,
showing calves at the fair?

No, dementia has stolen these and all your memories!
The remembering is left to me.
I feel so alone.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Remembering the Milwaukee Journal’s Green Sheet and Gerald Kloss

When I was growing up on a small dairy farm in Adams County in the 1950s and 1960s, we got the Milwaukee Journal newspaper every day. With 20-20 hindsight I can now state that it was the golden age of newspapers, but we didn’t realize that at the time.

Everybody’s favorite part of the Journal (as we called it) was the Green Sheet. Mom did the crossword puzzle, and I mostly just looked at the comics, but I also remember the "Slightly Kloss-Eyed" column written by Gerald Kloss. While a few of his columns passed right over my head at the time, most I enjoyed for his off-beat sense of humor and total irreverence when confronting facts and events that others took way too seriously.

Truthfully, there is no way that I can describe his writing that will do it justice. For those who never got a chance to read it in the old Journal Green Sheet, I can only recommend the archives of that great newspaper. But I offer this short poem by Mr. Kloss as a teaser:

“But after 40 years of hirement
Plus 25 more in retirement
I’d like to say my Journal years
Were high in grins and low on tears.”

Gerald Kloss was 91 when he passed away on Thursday, February 4, 2016.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sorry to see the demise of Wisconsin civil service exams.

Governor Walker claims that doing away with qualifying exams for State of Wisconsin civil service jobs will speed up hiring. Maybe that is true, although I believe the major reason State positions are hard to fill right now is mostly because Walker and the Republican legislature have significantly cut take-home pay for State jobs, while making them much less secure by essentially doing away with public employee unions. Whether his real intent is to make it even easier to make patronage hires (it was already pretty easy under previous administrations), is a topic for another day.

My first experience with State civil service exams was in 1978. I had recently returned from 3-plus years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Central America, and was looking for a job that would allow me to go back to college. I remember taking a number of different exams, and going to a bunch of interviews. I’d always been a good test-taker, and if I scored in the top five on an exam they were required to interview me for job openings. I remember thinking it was a bit silly to have a written exam for blue-collar jobs that really required very limited reading and writing skills. But it worked to my advantage, so I wasn’t complaining. Also, as anybody who has hired someone for a manual-labor job and then found out that the person was incapable of following written instructions, will tell you, literacy skills should not be under-valued!

I was eventually hired to work third shift as a janitor at the University of Wisconsin (UW) Memorial Union, and a couple of months later I switched to a second shift Building Maintenance Helper (If I could have the job of inventing official titles for State positions, I’d come out of retirement!) job at the UW Hospital and Clinics. The second-shift job allowed me to go back to college at UW Madison, taking math and computer science classes.

I didn’t finish a Masters degree, but acquired enough computer programming skills to get hired. My first programming job was in the private sector and my second in the public sector but out-of-state. Then my life took a detour for several years. I managed a dairy farm after my Dad passed away.

So here is where my story resembles that of the real or made-up one told by Governor Walker. I refer to the supposed short-order cook who was interviewed for a State regulator job due to a high score on a State civil service exam. Unlike the Governor, I don’t see any problem at all with this. In Madison, this short-order cook was probably working on an advanced degree in business or accounting, and would have made a perfectly good regulator, despite having no experience specific to the position!

In my case I was a dairy farm manager who scored high on the State exam for computer professionals (the title was Management Information Specialist). I went to several interviews (again, they had to interview me because I had one of the top five scores) before being hired by a small State agency.

This was the beginning of a 15-year career as a State information technology (IT) professional, followed by 13 years as an instructor in the Information Technology Department at Madison Area Technical College (MATC).

Would I have gotten hired to an entry-level job under a resumé-only system, centralized in the State Department of Administration (DOA)? Given that at the time I was being interviewed for that first IT job, all of the medium to large agencies I interviewed with passed on me, I seriously doubt it.

I offer my experience as food for thought. The last thing our State civil service system needs is more patronage hires, and the exams clearly were one way to counter that. “Were” is the key word here!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Is Wisconsin Supreme Court the most corrupt in the nation?

Maybe, after all a majority of the court declined to recuse themselves from the case known colloquially as “John Doe II” brought by Wisconsin Club for Growth, a so-called issue advocacy group which had provided major campaign support to each of their most recent election campaigns. And, of course they ruled in favor of the position supported by Club for Growth. If this not corruption, what is?

In laymen’s terms, the court (or at least 4 of its 7 justices) is bought and paid for by special interests and their “dark money”. And their (equally bought and paid for) colleagues in the State legislature have further loosened what pass for campaign finance laws in the State to ensure the dark money keeps flowing in their direction.

What ever happened to clean government in Wisconsin? Fighting Bob LaFollette has to be spinning in his grave! Is there any hope for our State?

Currently, our best hope is that the U.S. Supreme Court will recognize the problem for a democracy posed by justices who accept a ton of dark money from groups which do not even have to report who their donors are, and then feel free to rule in favor of those same groups when they come before the court.

Will the Court which decided that corporations are people and money is speech help us out here? Is the stench here strong enough to shame and embarrass even them?

Only time will tell.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Dios Tenia Miedo (God Was Afraid) by Vanessa Núñez Handal

Salvadoran author, Vanessa Núñez Handal, who lives in Guatemala, has written an exceptional book about the civil war in El Salvador. Below is a brief synopsis.

The civil war in El Salvador (1979-1992) was perhaps the last to be labeled by either side as a “cold war” conflict. While the Berlin wall was being torn down, and Mikhail Gorbachev was espousing the policies of glasnost ("openness") and perestroika ("restructuring"), the United States government was providing large amounts of military aid to the repressive government of El Salvador to battle rebels it labeled as communists.

Caught in the middle of this conflict were middle class urban families like that of Natalia, the protagonist of “God Was Afraid”. Natalia looks back upon her childhood during the war, feeling shame that her parents rigidly followed the government’s anti-communist line, while also recognizing that doing anything less likely would have led to either exile or death. The story of Natalia, her family and friends is told as a series of essays about experiences during the war and reflections about it afterward. It is an extraordinary in-their-own-words account of the Salvadoran civil war and the open wounds left by it that may never heal.

I found her book so moving, I wanted to share it with my English speaking friends. So I contacted the author and ended up translating it myself, finishing my first draft in February of 2015. So far we have not found an English-language publisher, but maybe some day!

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Six Word Poems

Five words are not enough.
Seven are just a bit too wordy.

Some six word poems:

Still, despite my best efforts, here.

If moving then shoot else done

Will, he looked up, you help?

Still you but without the memories.

Believe me, trust me, I lied.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Forgiveness is extraordinary

Hate is commonplace.
I hate the guy who cut me off in traffic.

Violence is the norm.
The arm that wielded the club now cradles the machine gun.

But the love of humankind, despite our flaws,
which allows a person to forgive the one
who murdered their relative or friend.

That is important.
That is transcendent.
That is extraordinary!

Thank you for helping me to once again believe
that we humans might be worth saving.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Latest News on Regents’ Restructuring of the University of Wisconsin - Madison

(The following story is not based on any facts. It is pure speculation and I sincerely hope it does not come to pass. But I didn’t think Act 10 would be enacted either!)

At their most recent meeting, the Board of Regents has ruled that all faculty and researchers of the University of Wisconsin - Madison departments of Biochemistry, Botany and Zoology shall be laid off, effective immediately. The three departments will be combined to form the new Department of Creation Science. A worldwide search for top-notch Creationist academics to staff the new department is already underway.

The University of Wisconsin Department of Medicine and Public Health and the University Hospital and Clinics have been instructed to lay off all researchers and practitioners involved in embryonic stem cell research or any applications of that research. Researchers investigating or using adult stem cells only may be retained at the discretion of the Department and Hospital.

The following words and phrases will not be used in any future University of Wisconsin publications or other documents, including lecture notes:

    evolution
    natural selection
    embryonic stem cell(s)
    climate change
    global warming

Existing publications and other documents containing the above words or phrases are required to remove them either electronically or by covering them with permanent magic marker.

The Morgridge Institute and Discovery Center is hereby renamed the Scott Walker Institute for the Dissemination of Creationist Thought, and repurposed to promote Christian values and creationist theory. Staff changes will be made as appropriate for the repurposed center.

Next week the Board will meet to discuss further restructuring of the University System, specifically in the broad areas of the humanities and social sciences.

Note: Several faculty members attending the Board of Regents meeting pointed out that the University of Wisconsin - Madison does not have a Department of Biology. Therefore the Board's resolution to replace the Department of Biology with the Department of Creation Science was altered to the wording shown above.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Still Jan, just a limited edition

My sister Jan Jefferson has been diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia (her preliminary diagnosis had been early-onset Alzheimer’s). She now lives in a memory care facility in the Madison area because she is no longer able to live by herself.

Unlike the protagonist of the book and movie, “Still Alice”, Jan was never a Harvard professor. Her story is much more blue collar, but equally compelling and equally tragic.

Many Madisonians will remember her as a 25-year Madison firefighter and paramedic. She saved lives, and comforted those she couldn’t save, in their last moments of life. She was part of that first group of women who broke the gender barrier to join the city’s Fire Department.

Prior to that, she earned a degree in early-childhood education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and taught at a local daycare. Later she worked at the General Motors auto assembly plant in Janesville, and played rugby with the UW-Madison club team.

But I mostly remember her as my cool older sister. The one who took the time to try to teach her nerdy brother to dance in grade school, so that he might be just a little bit cool, or at least less nerdy.

She was a highschool cheerleader - what athletic young women did in the pre-Title Nine days. But her passion was softball. She played on a summer 4-H coed team, and was a better player than most of the boys, including me.

When I joined the Peace Corps, after college, she wrote me letters regularly. This was in the pre-internet, pre-wireless days, and the towns where I was stationed had no phone service. She even visited me in El Salvador, and we spent a month traveling, and enjoying each other’s company.

I have so many great memories of Jan! How many memories of her incredibly active and useful life does she retain? It is impossible to know. She can still recite the lyrics to some old songs. She still loves little children, and animals, and visits from her old firefighter buddies and family.

But the bulk of the remembering, we have to do for her, because her dementia has robbed her of those memories. I’m sad for her and for all of us who know her. Too much of Jan has been taken from us way too soon!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Color Blindness

I've been trying to wrap my mind around the political catch phrase "color blindness". I get the basic idea that the phrase suggests, that we should ignore the color of each others' skin (and presumably the corresponding ethnic heritage) in our political dealings. In a utopian world somewhere, it would be that simple to ensure justice and fairness for all.

But in the world of the here and now, it's not that simple. First, how far does this concept extend? Are we also supposed to have "gender blindness", "religion blindness", "gender preference blindness", "disability blindness", "last name blindness", "clothing and jewelry blindness"? If one or more of these extensions strike you as absurd, you are experimenting a bit of the confusion that I experience.

Is the best way to handle diversity to ignore it, pretend we don't notice it, and expect (possibly demand) that others do the same?

We in the USA have always been a diverse bunch. From the Pilgrims, Puritans and Quakers; from the southern plantation owners and northern merchants; from the farmers, fishermen and sailors of our founding times, to the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of today. Rather than ignore it why not celebrate it? We are the most diverse nation in the world, and should be proud of it!

So let's relegate "color blindness" to describing an unfortunate genetic defect that limits the sufferer's enjoyment of the full spectrum of colors most of us enjoy. And stop the political usage which discourages us from a full appreciation of our glorious diversity.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

code poetry?

I’ve always been interested in writing. I even wrote a handful of poems in my pre-computer-geek days. But I never thought I could make a living “just writing” so, shortly after getting married, I went back to school in search of a practical profession.

It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon computer programming, and began a 30-plus year career writing code and being well paid for it. Eventually I even managed to get paid for teaching others to write code!

After retiring from the teaching position, I decided to take up writing again. But wait, had I really ever given it up? No, I’ve merely been writing in different languages (Fortran, C, Perl, PHP) instead of English; and for a different audience (compilers, interpreters and co-workers) instead of the general English-speaking public.

I’ve been writing code prose instead of English prose. I would not say that any of my code has risen to the level of code poetry, but I had no doubt about its existence. This was before I googled “code poetry” and discovered that an entire community and literature by that name exists. One can not question its legitimacy since it has a Wikipedia article, and one can easily find an example on the internet: “Black Perl” by Larry Wall. (Yes, the Larry Wall who created the Perl programming language!)

Still, I believe I will choose to pursue a somewhat larger audience than just compilers, interpreters and the code poetry community. Henceforth the bulk of my prose will be in English (y tal vez Español).

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Brothers

A youngest brother had an oldest brother who was harsh and brutal with him.

The youngest labored under the oldest long and hard, winning neither wealth nor compassion.

The youngest gave one hand to his labor, and the oldest returned no compassion.

Long years later the oldest died, and none grieved more than the youngest.

I can’t yet imagine the death of a brother.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What part of divide and conquer didn't you understand?

I used to believe that Governor Walker just wanted to take Wisconsin back to a 1950's economy. I was way too optimistic. His current budget proposal and the initiatives of his legislative allies make it clear he wants to go back a lot farther, like pre John L. Lewis, pre Teddy Roosevelt, back to the golden age of monopoly capitalism. We're headed back to the days of coal barons, railroad barons, lumber barons and those unregulated slaughterhouses of "The Jungle".

I address myself in particular to those of you in the labor force who were perfectly OK with Act 10. After all those public employees had it too good, were too smug, etc. State employees are such a convenient whipping boy!

I bet you didn't think "divide and conquer" meant you, did you? Now there are essentially no public employee unions left to help out in the fight against right-to-work. How can you possibly be surprised?

Governor Walker told his wealthy contributors exactly what he planned to do, and now he's doing it. Of course he didn't campaign on what he actually intended to do. As his buddy Scott Fitzgerald is now saying, you don't want to give those about to be conquered any notice. They would then try to defend themselves, and we don't want that!

I could go on... About how the DNR will no longer have scientists who could disagree with those in the employ of the monopoly capitalist and delay letting him do whatever. About how it is much safer for the monopoly capitalist if we get rid of that pesky Wisconsin Idea thing. A limited amount of training is all folks need to work for the monopoly capitalist, and we sure don't want a lot of critical thinking going on.

I could write my State Senator to complain, but my State Senator is Scott Fitzgerald. So it goes.

I sure hope you non-monopoly capitalists who voted for Walker wake up soon, while we still have a right to vote, even with photo-ID.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Yahoo Being Too Helpful

This reminds me of the infamous Microsoft animated paperclip. It would auto-correct my lowercase to init-caps and then appear on the screen to ask, "Are you writing a letter?" when I was trying to write some SQL code in Word (not having a good programming editor handy) and absolutely did NOT want it to auto-correct anything.

Anyway, it used to be that regardless of where I was in the world, I had access to the US English web page (you know the default one that is just www.yahoo.com). Now the clever Yahoo folks have decided that if their location data tells them that I am connecting from Costa Rica (which I freely admit that I am), I could not possibly really want the US English language site, so they override my selection and give me espanol.yahoo.com . I tried both the Firefox and Chrome browsers. Yup, they've fixed it! No more browsing the US English site from Costa Rica.

And there is not even a visible manifestation that I can direct my anger toward. No animated paperclip, just invisible, anonymous yahooligans busily fixing what wasn't broken. Thanks but no thanks guys!

But ha! I can trick you back, by impersonating either a Canadian (ca.yahoo.com) or a British person (uk.yahoo.com) I can have my Yahoo in English. Though I am left wondering what subtle differences you yahooligans incorporate in the site for the benefit of a Canadian or a Britain that would be different if you were able to treat me as a plain old US English speaker, regardless of my geographic location.

Monday, January 26, 2015

In Love

The two were not young and full of passion, nor old and in need of comforting

But within 30 seconds I could observe from the gentle touch of his hand on hers,

and the smiles of satisfaction she returned to him,

That the two were very much at peace with each other and the world.

Is it possible this is enough for some?

Do not conflicting passions or never resting curiosity upset the balance?

Are they Darwins, bold and never resting in intellectual pursuit yet reserved and content in sexual love?

Or have they made peace with all the universe as they understand it …

… living their lives out sans conflict.


Note: The couple I observed, “In Love” was a middle-aged couple that I encountered on the train during one of my many trips between Atiocoyo and San Salvador in 1975.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Translating is Not as Easy as I Thought

For the first time, I am translating a book from Spanish to English. How hard could it be? I’m a native English speaker, and I read and speak Spanish pretty well.

The answer is, it’s much harder than I thought. First, it is a book that I think is important enough that English-speaking readers should have access to it. So I am motivated to do the best possible translation, not just to be a bit better than Bing Translator (aka. Bablefish)!

Second, it is an in-their-own-words type of book, so there are plenty of slang and colloquial expressions. Fortunately, the author is Salvadoran, and nearly all of the voices she writes in are also Salvadoran, since I lived in El Salvador for two years and thus know much of the slang. But there’s always expressions I don’t know! I found a very useful online resource at: “Linguee” (http://www.linguee.pe/) When I think a phrase might be slang or a colloquialism, I enter it there. It has already helped me out quite a few times.

Third, you have to be careful about translating into slang and colloquialisms in English too. I’m sure there are some expressions I could use that would leave you scratching your head unless you happen to also be from central Wisconsin and within 10 years of my age! Yet you would like the voice in English to resemble the original Spanish voice, and not that of an academic explaining what the guy said!

I found a good Spanish/English dictionary online at: http://www.wordreference.com I find myself looking up more Spanish words than I would have expected. Even when I know what the word means in English, I often look it up anyway in the hope of finding a synonym that fits the context better.

The book I’m translating could be described as a historical novel, so I find myself trying to get additional information about the historical events mentioned. Wikipedia has proven to be a good resource for this, although I’m somewhat shocked at how much richer and better the description of Latin American history is in the Spanish version of Wikipedia than in the English version. If I ever feel like I don’t have enough to do, I suppose I could work on that!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Normalization of Relations with Cuba is Long Overdue

President Obama is (finally) taking steps to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. Why is this a big deal? We have normal diplomatic relations with our World War II enemies Germany and Japan. We have normal diplomatic relations with our Cold War enemies Russia and China.

The problem, of course, is that we have a community of Cuban expatriates in southern Florida who bitterly oppose this move. But frankly, those who oppose it most vehemently, those who actually lost their land or businesses in the Cuban Revolution, are mostly over 70 years old. Their children and grandchildren, and other younger Cuban-Americans do not feel the same way. Most of them would like to be able to exchange visits with their relatives in Cuba.

I worked as a translator at Fort McCoy, WI when some of the Cubans who participated in the Mariel Boatlift were there during the summer of 1980. Because the United States did not have normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, they were considered political refugees. Had they been from any other country in Latin America or the Caribbean, they would have been considered economic migrants, and returned to their country of origin. Not to mention that Fidel Castro would not have been able to send along folks from Cuba’s prisons and mental hospitals.

Our lack of diplomatic relations with Cuba allowed Castro to “play us” in 1980. It made no sense then and it makes even less sense now! What makes sense now is for the United States to position itself to be able to influence the political direction Cuba takes in the post-Castro era. For that we need to have normal political relations with Cuba. That’s the big deal!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tech Support

Back in the 1990s, when AOL (America Online) was still a significant ISP (Internet Service Provider), I took a job doing phone tech. support for a company I’ll call TelCo in Madison WI. We were sworn to secrecy about who we were providing support for, so hopefully enough time has passed that they won’t come after me.

I didn’t work there very long, in fact I did their two week training and then lasted about two more weeks before I quit ahead of being fired. I don’t remember much about the training, except that the point of emphasis was to get off the phone with a client as quickly as possible. Calls of less than a minute were good; calls of over five minutes were unacceptable. I later learned that if a call went over five minutes your supervisor would come to your desk and glare at you with as angry a look as they could muster, until you hung up, and then chew you out. Fortunately my supervisor Julie was actually a decent person, so it never came to shouting or actual verbal abuse.

My problem with doing tech. support the TelCo way was that I really was interested in solving the client’s problem, whatever it was, and had enough knowledge of personal computer (PC) hardware and software (from previous jobs) to have a shot at fixing many problems presented by the clients. Of course there are those folks who are hopeless as PC users. A story I’ve heard, which is probably more urban legend than truth, is about a user who called tech. support to say the monitor on his desktop PC had gone dark. The techie asks him to check that the monitor is both plugged in to an outlet and connected to his computer. The client responds that he can’t because it is too dark under his desk. The techie then asks if he can turn on a light or use a flashlight to check the cables, and the client responds, “ I could go look for a flashlight, but the power is off here so it’s hard to find your way around!”

I never had a client that clueless, and, frankly, most folks I talked to had legitimate problems – though most had nothing to do with the AOL software. The problem that got me “fired” is a case in point.

JoAnn called to say that her PC was “stuck” at a Microsoft Word error message screen. First names only was another TelCo rule; I’m Dan, by the way. She had turned off and restarted the PC several times and it always booted normally but went right back to the error screen.

Quite coincidentally, due to personal experience, I knew exactly what the problem was and how to fix it (but not in under a minute or even 5 minutes).

An engineer designing IBM desktop PCs had come up with a new feature the company called the Resume feature. When enabled in the BIOS of a PC, this feature allows the user to turn off the computer’s power switch at any time, then turn it back on later and return right back to where they were, with all the applications and documents that had been open, open again to exactly the same application screen and line in any open documents.

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? The computer stores a record of exactly what applications and documents are open automatically, so you can be doing your budget in an Excel spreadsheet in one window, while working on the next great American novel in another window, and when you’re done for the day you just turn off the power switch, secure in the knowledge that when you flip the switch of that PC tomorrow morning, everything will be right where you left it.

Obviously, this is the scenario the IBM engineer envisioned, and convinced his colleagues to buy in to. Great right? What could possibly go wrong?

Let me tell you. If any one of your open applications or even Windows itself should encounter a fatal error condition, your PC is stuck right there, forever, unless and until you turn off the Resume feature in its BIOS.

So, I talked JoAnn, a competent PC user who didn’t know what a BIOS was, through the fix. You turn off the machine, then turn it back on and immediately hold down the F8 key (sometimes it is F3, but hers was F8). Eventually, you will be taken to a screen labeled B-I-O-S. Using your keypad to navigate (make sure the NUM-LOCK light is on) through the different BIOS screens, find the Resume feature, select it and turn it off! Then navigate to the screen that lets you save your BIOS settings, do the save and exit.

After that the PC booted to the Windows desktop, JoAnn thanked me, and I hung up.

My supervisor, Julie, had showed up at my desk when I was in the middle of explaining what a BIOS was and why JoAnn needed to go there to fix her PC. It took a couple tries with F8 to get into the BIOS, and more time figuring out how to navigate in her BIOS, and changing the Resume setting also took some back and forth. So by the time I hung up, Julie had been standing over me scowling for about 10 minutes.

To her credit, she did not bother to chew me out. She just said, “You’re going to want to resign before next week so you won’t have being fired on your record.” I thanked Julie, finished the night and quit the next day.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Congressional Republicans Militantly Threaten To Do Nothing!

Can you poison a well that is dry? Congressional Republicans accuse President Obama of "poisoning the well" because he has (finally) decided to do something unilaterally about the nation's immigration mess.

What are these angry folks going to do about it? It sounds like they plan to do what they have been mostly doing since Obama was first elected, and certainly all they have done since his re-election 2 years ago, obstruct anything Mr. Obama tries to do and, other than that, do a whole lot of nothing!

Since they don't like what the President is doing to try to clean up the immigration mess, why don't they try passing some legislation for a change? I find it hard to believe that the American public will continue to re-elect them to keep doing nothing and blaming the President for it! They don't have Congressional Democrats to blame anymore, since Republicans control both houses.

Here's hoping that I'm wrong, and Congressional Republicans have a big portfolio of legislation ready to introduce as soon as the new session begins. But I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Crossword

Mom was a farm wife. When they coined the term ‘hard working’, she was who they had in mind. But the last couple years of her life she spent mostly in an easy chair in front of the T.V. Congestive heart failure robbed her of the strength to walk.

The daily crossword puzzle in the newspaper was always a favorite activity. Not even her failing heart could keep her from it. The last time I saw Mom, before she passed, she was sitting in her chair, seemingly half asleep, ignoring the T.V. Unexpectedly, she sprung into action, grabbing a pen from a nearby table and folded newspaper from somewhere in the easy chair. She wrote a word on the puzzle and returned pen and paper to their places just as quickly! That’s the way with crossword puzzles, you have to write that word when it pops into your head!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

John Doe probe of Walker recall proves only one thing!

What the John Doe probe of the 2011-2012 recall elections proves about Walker and his team is that they explicitly coordinated with so-called independent interest groups (501c4 groups), especially Wisconsin Club for Growth, to arrange large donations from right-wing individuals and groups. Such donations would have been illegal at the time if made directly to the Walker campaign.

But, the truth is, we have no meaningful campaign finance laws any more. Existing laws are so easy to circumvent it’s a joke. So, in all probability, Walker and his aids cannot be convicted of any wrongdoing. And the only thing Republican operatives have to say about it is, “So what, the Democrats are doing the same thing.”

So the $700,000 from Gogebic Taconite was not a bribe, just a shrewd business investment. And the fact that the company later won approval from the Legislature and Walker to streamline regulations for a massive iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin, is mere coincidence?

Get used to it. We are no longer a democracy; we are a plutocracy, which means “pay to play” is now the norm. The John Doe probe proves only that neither Wisconsin nor the United States have any campaign finance laws worthy of the name.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Political Philosophy

Recently I read somewhere that it is important to know what you favor in terms of solutions to political problems, not just what you are against. Otherwise you are not a political critic, just a complainer.

In recent years I find that I'm mostly expressing opposition to political events I don't like, such as the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling or the passage of Governor Walker's Act 10. So I decided to spend some time thinking about what I am for (in favor of) in the political arena, my political philosophy.

To give myself some guidance, I purchased a copy of "Chomsky on Anarchism", a series of essays and interviews by Noam Chomsky. Note that I would never label myself an Anarchist or advocate of Anarchism due to the very negative reaction the word (either form) elicits in the United States. But Chomsky is comfortable with both Anarchism and the closely related term Libertarian Socialism, as describing his political perspective. I find both his vision and his goals for human society to be quite compatible with my own.

My core political beliefs start with a Winston Churchill quote: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." Some take this as a cynical, even bitter, statement. I interpret it as just the hard-headed truth. When the people decide a question with their votes, they don't always get it right, but that is certainly preferable to some dictator deciding.

The one major problem with democracy is that the majority may decide to persecute a minority group, such as when the majority in certain states of the U.S. made it near impossible for minority African-Americans to vote. As a democratic republic, which recognizes certain rights as applicable to all citizens, even when they are in the minority, the national government eventually stepped in to enforce voting rights for all adult citizens. So my preferred form of government is a democratic republic which protects the rights of all citizens, not just those of the majority.

The United States is a democratic republic, at least when it comes to voting rights. But that is far from the complete story. The State of the Union Address to the Congress, January 6, 1941, delivered by President Franklin Roosevelt described "four freedoms" which he considered as essential to obtain for all people in all the nations of the world in order to ensure lasting peace. The four freedoms are (1) freedom of speech and expression, (2) freedom of religion, (3) freedom from want, and (4) freedom from fear.

The first 2 of these are covered by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, though recent Supreme Court rulings have transformed "freedom of speech" into a license for rich people and corporations (legally created people) to dominate political expression with their money.

"Freedom from want", which Roosevelt further defined as a healthy peacetime life, may have been a bit of a stretch. After all, I want many things I will most likely never have!

Seriously, "freedom from want" can be seen as justifying programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and National Health Insurance. One might restate it, much more modestly, as the freedom to pursue a reasonably healthy and potentially productive life without starving to death or dying for lack of access to treatment of diseases and conditions curable by the current state of medicine.

Even this very basic level of "freedom from want" - to the extent that it may currently exist - is threatened, even in a wealthy democracy like the United States, by those on the political right who seek to dismantle what they refer to as the "welfare state".

"Freedom from fear", which Roosevelt further defined as a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world, is certainly a long way from being achieved. Maybe the pure version of this freedom was forever doomed with the advent of nuclear weapons!

I guess "freedom from fear" is what some have used to justify our huge and powerful armed forces. But our idea of defense is somebody else's act of physical aggression. So the closest we ever got to "freedom from fear" was mutual assured destruction (back in the cold war years)! Today, the world seems infinitely more dangerous and less predictable.

But I'm not without hope. Democratic, libertarian socialism flowers like a cactus in the desert. I see co-ops of many kinds, farmers' markets and community sponsored agriculture (CSA) farms as examples of people organizing themselves in positive ways at the community level. I buy my food at a co-op, do my banking at a co-op (aka. credit union), and get my health care through a co-op.

Civil disobedience was rampant in the protests against Act 10. Some folks were mistreated by authorities, but nobody was killed. Read your labor history, many have been killed trying to assert and defend their democratic rights over time!

Democracy continues to be the only form of government that gives us any hope of eventually becoming a kinder and gentler world. We learn from great leaders in the politics of social justice including Ghandi, King and Mandela.

The struggle continues and will continue for many more generations. The times they are a-changin', always!

Friday, April 04, 2014

Plutocracy Now!

de-moc´ra-cy : noun, 1) government by the people. 2) political and social equality in general; belief in this.

plu-toc´ra-cy : noun, 1) government by the rich. 2) the influential rich.

Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission, January 21, 2010

The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions.

McCutcheon versus Federal Election Commission, April 3, 2014

The Supreme Court struck down limits in federal law on the overall campaign contributions the biggest individual donors may make to candidates, political parties and political action committees.

The United States transition from democracy to plutocracy is nearly complete. Rich people and corporations can spend as much money as they want to purchase the government that they want.

The only thing left is to find a way to quietly stop all the "little people" from voting. Currently too much money is spent getting them to vote against their own interests. This is inefficient, and since they can't afford to get their ideas heard in today's expensive media market anyway, it is silly to allow them to vote.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Remembering Mom

My mother passed away December 29th. For the last couple years of her life she was almost exclusively confined to her chair, a wheel chair, and her bed. But that is not how I choose to remember her.

I will remember her as the hardest working person I’ve ever known, and one of the most disciplined. She was a farm wife, which means she was a full partner with my father in the operation of the family farm - sharing fully in all the work, but receiving little of the recognition (such as it was). She drove tractor in the fields. She washed and sanitized the milking machines, bulk tank and other milk house equipment. She could feed and milk the cows if she needed to, but Dad usually did that.

In the non-farm realm, she did just about everything. She gave birth to and raised 10 children. Included with that were cooking, cleaning, raising a large garden (from which she annually canned and froze an impressive amount of produce), baking bread and cakes, sewing (both mending and making clothes), decorating (including flowers inside and out).

Some tasks that fell to Mom would fall in the "farm-related" category, such as going to town (often a couple towns down the road) in search of replacement parts for whatever machine was currently broken down - inevitably at the time it was most needed. Another farm-related task was keeping down the population of pigeons by shooting them when they perched on the roofs of the barns or silos. Mom was a crack shot with her 22 caliber rifle. The legend that she once killed 2 pigeons with a single shot is true - I witnessed it!

Another legendary story about Mom is that shortly after she married Dad, he had her go out to the field with him to try to kill some woodchucks. He had her drive the tractor while he used the 22 rifle to shoot at the woodchucks. Within a short time of having her around he figured out that she was better with the rifle than he was, so they switched roles, and had better luck killing woodchucks!

To say my Mom sewed is a huge understatement. She mended old clothes and made new clothes using patterns which she purchased and customized. She accumulated boxes and boxes of patterns! The new clothes were primarily for her daughters and herself. She made new matching dresses for the first day of school in the fall, for each of her daughters going to school that year. I've seen the "first day of school" pictures, starting with just one daughter and continuing up to five daughters, all in a row and wearing identical dresses (her first 5 children were all female). Of course, as they grew she also taught her daughters to sew! All seven daughters and one son eventually became proficient.

Later on she became a prolific quilter, making at least one quilt for each child and grandchild. She showed off her products at quilt shows and county fairs, winning more than her share of awards over the years. Her quilts and those she made together with the other members of her Homemakers club were frequently auctioned off for charitable causes.

In addition to sewing she also knitted, crocheted, embroidered, etc. When her children were in primary and secondary school she kitted them all mittens for Christmas, every year! There were also knitted hats and sweaters. While in college, I remember being on a plane and the flight attendant complimenting me on my sweater - which Mom had made for me.

Mom was well known among her children's primary school teachers for her fruit cakes. I realize that in the many years since, holiday fruit cakes have not just fallen out of favor, but become a standard laugh line - as in: "There is really only a single fruit cake that continues to be regifted year after year". However, back then, a well-made fruit cake was highly valued (really!), and my Mom's were legendary.

Mom was a 4-H leader, and for a time ran her own 4-H club, the Lucky Clovers. We used to meet at the Town Hall.

Did I mention that Mom was the Town Clerk for the rural township in which our farm was located? She inherited the job from my Dad's mom, and served for almost 50 years, eventually passing the job on to one of her daughters. She remained involved, unofficially, in township government until her death. What I most remember is that, during the Christmas season she would work late into the night calculating the Town's tax roll - since the tax bills needed to go out in time to give folks the opportunity to pay them (or pay half) in the current tax year if they chose to. I also remember her early calculators. They were heavy enough to give you a hernia!

Mom was a legendary baker. We had home-made bread and biscuits all the time when I was growing up. From her mother-in-law she learned to make Bohemian traditional breads including Houska and Kolache (which we called Kolachas and Kukan). Her pies were incredible. My personal favorite was blueberry, but she made pies of all  kinds from rhubarb to banana cream to pumpkin, with a flaky crust few restaurants can match!

Also, Mom was chief organizer and communicator in our family. She shopped for our birthday and Christmas gifts. Later, as we scattered around the state, the country and beyond, she sent letters and birthday cards to us. She had an incredible knack for getting those birthday cards to each of us on time regardless of where we might be - including such destinations as El Salvador, Central America; Arecibo, Puerto Rico; and Paris, France.

Are you impressed yet? Mom was not a great person or a famous one. She falls into that much less recognized category of good, hard-working people. Dad used to say, "Nobody will ever do for you what your mother already has." In my case he was even more right than he knew.

Bye Mom, I already miss you a bunch. I hope you are getting a good rest and having a beer with Dad.