The Long and Winding Road – Following the Beatles Trail

I started this post in 2019, but now it’s 2021. Yes, it’s taken this long to get back to it,  and then get it sent out for your reading enjoyment. Hope you like it.

As of 2019, it’s been 55 years since the Beatles arrived on our continent to forever change the history of rock n’ roll. As I remember that year 1964, I’d found out that they were going to be on the Ed Sullivan show. My family was more interested in watching the Walt Disney show than Ed Sullivan. So I convinced my neighbor-friends, Patty & Linda, to watch the show. Huddled together in one of their bedrooms we watched the show, screaming with all the other girls across the country, who were also watching. Afterwards we spent months fighting over who would be Paul when we pretended to be the Beatles.

Although I spent most of my early life listening to and playing classical music, I quickly developed a love for the Fab Four and all their wonderful and sometimes quirky music. Knowing that most of my family originally came from the British Isles reinforced my love even more. I hoped that someday I’d get to go to their homeland and visit the places that were important in their lives, and places where they performed.

Read on

Looking Forward to Cannabis Regulation in Wisconsin

I applaud Governor Tony Evers for including taxation and regulation of cannabis as part of his budget proposal. In spite of generations of prohibition, the market for cannabis products has not gone away, and this authoritarian approach creates more problems than it solves.

Without regulation there is no quality control, leaving cannabis users vulnerable to mislabeled or tainted products. Prohibition erodes the trust level of law-abiding cannabis users toward law enforcement.

A well-regulated cannabis industry would offer a lucrative new revenue stream for family farms, small businesses and cash-starved state and local governments. Prohibition forfeits this industry to neighboring states and to the shadowy unregulated and untaxed underground market.

Wisconsin’s tax and regulatory structure for cannabis production must be optimized to support a large number of small producers while discouraging large corporate operations. Other states have seen mega-growers (many backed by the tobacco and alcohol industries) force small and artisan growers into bankruptcy. Wisconsin can do better.

Activists tell me that the biggest obstacle to a Wisconsin cannabis industry is the Tavern League. What if taverns were offered a “taste” of this new industry? Perhaps they could offer an alcohol-free cannabis-based beverage, or they could sell cannabis products “off sale”. Instead of competition, cannabis could give taverns new products to offer their customers.

If we do this right, cannabis regulation and taxation will bring rich new sources of income to our small farms, our corner taverns, and our tax bases. To brush this proposal aside is simply throwing money away.

Hoarfrost

Hoarfrost is not the look you get from a sex worker who just received a lousy tip.

It’s a word that describes the kind of frost you get during freezing fog. Normal frost is a layer of ice crystals deposited on a cold surface. When the crystals are built up into a deep and elaborate structure, you get hoarfrost.

On Sunday, January 3, 2021, we were greeted by a spectacular display of hoarfrost. In some places, it looked like a layer of snow that stuck to everything, but closer examination revealed its true structure.

It was early afternoon by the time we headed out with our camera, but we still managed to capture this rare event. Enjoy!

Joe Biden is No Socialist, But He’ll Have To Do

My family has been receiving weekly Republican Party mailers. With apocalyptic graphics, alarming language, and spooky fonts, they warn that Joe Biden has been “taken over” by “the radical left.”

The only thing more laughable than this desperate and pathetic fear campaign against imaginary boogey-men, is their waste of money sending mailers to people like me, part of this “radical left” they seem so afraid of.

During the primary I supported Bernie Sanders. Most Democrats like him, but many worried that during the general election Republicans would fear-monger over “Socialism”. I said that playbook would be deployed against any Democratic nominee. And here we are.

Socialists (aka Progressives) aren’t scary. We are simply good-hearted people who want a good quality of life for everybody. The morbidly rich may pay higher taxes, but in the end they’ll still be rich.

Joe Biden is not getting his marching orders from Bernie Sanders. He may listen to his ideas, but he will also listen to reasonable Republicans (if any remain).

My message to Progressives and to good-hearted conservatives is the same: America cannot survive four more years of Donald Trump. But we can handle four years of Joe Biden. He is the only viable candidate who will bring stability and credibility back to our government, and return us to “normal.”

But “normal” isn’t good enough. Once we get Biden elected, we need to hold his feet to the fire to build a country that works for all of us.

Shutting Down is Shutting Out

As our nation stumbles thru another primary election season, about half of the Democratic Party’s delegates have been pledged to one candidate or another, and (at this writing) Joe Biden has roughly a 55-45% lead over Bernie Sanders. Many pundits are characterizing this as “insurmountable” (I disagree, it’s only halftime).

But every time I see someone like James Carville saying, “it’s over,” or “we should shut this thing down,” I find myself angrily waving my middle finger at the teevee, and here’s why:

At this writing, there are 26 states and territories (representing 1532 delegates) still waiting their turn to vote. Let’s be generous and say that Joe wins 60% of the remaining delegates. That means Bernie would still get 613 delegates from the remaining states. If the primary were to be “shut down” today, all of those delegates would go to Joe.

So what Carville and his ilk are calling for is a convention without all of those pesky Bernie delegates. They want to shut us out, and to diminish our voice within the party. This is not only undemocratic, but it ignores some important realities.

There are down-ballot races where Democrats and other Progressives are counting on the big turnout that would be generated by a competitive primary. Here in Wisconsin, we have an important Supreme Court race. I’m sure other states and localities have their own races where turnout would vanish if we “shut this thing down.”

The biggest reality is that Bernie has won the battle of ideas. Exit polls confirm that vast majorities of voters favor things like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, free post-secondary education, and other elements of Bernie’s platform; but they think Joe is more “electable”.

Bernie’s ideas will not be represented by Joe’s delegates. Our party and our nation needs to hear from the hard-working volunteers who have spent the past several years promoting the winning platform. Bernie’s supporters deserve to have their voices heard at the convention in Milwaukee.

So for everybody in a state or territory still waiting to vote: The only way to vote for Bernie’s ideas is to vote for Bernie himself. Every vote will help toward adding another voice to Bernie’s delegation.

We may be behind, but we can still win, and we will not be shut out.

The Day I Almost Met Bart Starr

It was sometime in the spring of 1977. I was a recent college drop-out just settling in to what became a year of blue-collar work making candles at a factory in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and I had gone up the road to Appleton to visit my friend Steve, a recent graduate applying his education to work in a paper mill.

On this weekend visit, we were hanging out with couple of Steve’s friends, tooling around in an old topless jeep. One of them had been invited to a wedding reception in Green Bay (another half-hour up the road). Having nothing better to do, we all tagged along.

We found ourselves arriving at a place called (something like) the Green Bay Golf and Polo Club. We drove into a parking lot full of large and shiny cars with an open space right by the door. The surreal nature of the evening was just beginning with the hippies in the jeep getting the best parking space in this swanky lot. We hopped out and went in.

I should note that Steve and I were dressed for a Saturday of drinking and partying with the guys… our t-shirts and jeans stood out in the sea of fine suits and dresses. We found ourselves crashing a party of one-percenters and discreetly helped ourselves to the open bar and tasty finger-food (I remember the breaded mushrooms, a treat that I had not yet experienced).

In the midst of this posh swankiness, I turned to Steve in amazement at the kind of crowd we had found ourselves in. Trying to come up with an example of the pinnacle of the elite, I said, “I’ll bet the mayor of Green Bay is here.”

A few minutes later, I noticed an excited conversation among the other three guys in my group, and Steve turned to me and said, “Bart Starr is here.” This was less than ten years after the Ice Bowl, and the fond memories of his playing days were fresh in everyone’s minds. In fact, this was at the dawn of his time as Packers coach. So forget about the “mayor of Green Bay” being there. There was no bigger name in Green Bay (and arguably in the entire state of Wisconsin) than Bart Starr.

We slithered out of our discreet corner to see if we could spot him. While wandering about, we saw the bride and groom in another room. They looked over and noticed us before the bride turned to her new husband (Steve later said, “I could read her lips”) and asked, “Who ARE those two guys?” We retreated to our corner.

It didn’t take long for a bouncer to show up. He could’ve been one of Bart’s linemen. He was an “older” guy who towered over both of us as he politely explained that this was a private party and that we would have to leave. We huddled with our other friends (who WERE invited) to arrange to meet up later.

We ended up spending the rest of the night nursing beers in a nearby working-class bar, processing our glimpse into a world that had been unknown to us, and the lost opportunity to stand close to one of our heroes.

Jesus Wept for Notre Dame

I cannot begin to express the anxiety and heartbreak we are feeling over the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Tears have been shed. I feel a way that I haven’t felt since 9/11.

Notre Dame is THE iconic structure of Paris. When the Eiffel Tower was completed, Notre Dame had already been standing for over half a millennium. It is central to the city’s identity.

The only “good” news is that there was no loss of life (at least none known so far) and that this tragedy is not the result of an act of terrorism or war. It was an accident with horrible results.

But any other good news will be hard to come by. Medieval builders didn’t have access to strong fire-resistant building materials. In other words, there is a lot of old, large wood in that building that will joyfully burn until it is consumed. As I type, the roof is gone, and the stained glass is probably melted by now.

When we were in Europe in 2001, we saw many old churches and cathedrals that were burned by Henry VIII or bombed in the second world war, and all that remains are the stone walls and steeples. My worst fear is that this is what will be left of Notre Dame, and so far I haven’t seen any news to deny that.

If I Had a Time Machine…

…I’d go to Palm Beach, Florida in the late summer of 2000. Somewhere in the county government complex will be a public hearing (or comment period) on the ballot design for the upcoming national election.

It’s probably one of those low-level meetings held in a small windowless meeting room with hard plastic chairs, hosted by a sub-committee or a board with jurisdiction over this tiny niche of government. The committee sits at a table in the front of the room facing the handful of citizens in attendance… a reporter or two, maybe some government geeks with nothing better to do.

When the ballot design comes up, I would politely approach the committee and address the flaws in the ballot design. I’d work with them to find an improvement on the design that would make the ballot much easier to read, and much harder for a voter to make a mistake.

Let’s assume the committee worked in good faith and made the change. We now know that Gore had a net loss of over 6600 votes in Palm Beach County due to bad ballot design. If the redesigned ballot recovers only 1000 of those votes for Gore, then he wins Florida and with it the presidency.

Let your mind run wild for a minute about how different the world would be with Al Gore in the White House in the early ’00’s instead of George W Bush. Would 9-11 have happened? What would the Supreme Court look like today? Would this insane series of wars have ever started? Would we have seriously responded to the climate crisis long ago?

All because somebody showed up and spoke up at an obscure county meeting.

I have no reason to believe that this hypothetical meeting ever really happened (it could have and should have). What’s important is what this story says about civic engagement.

Political and community activism can be tedious. It involves sitting thru hours of mundane meetings in the dusty back rooms of government buildings. It requires a high tolerance for boredom, and an ability to comprehend dense bureaucratic documents.

But once in a while you can make a difference. You never know which meeting you go to – or which issue you comment on, or which action you take – will change the course of history.

So pay attention, show up, speak up and help out, ’cause you never know when you might save the world.

Don’t Go To the Mall, Go To the Attic

After seeing one too many ads for “Black Friday sales”, I feel compelled to say something about wasteful consumerism and what we can do about it.

Go to any dumpster, and you will find lots of stuff purchased as holiday gifts in years gone by. In many cases, this stuff never got used.. it sat dormant in a closet, basement, garage or attic until it was moved out to make room for the next round of new stuff. And then the new stuff sits unused until its time comes to get cleared out.

Think of all the material resources consumed to make all this stuff. Think of the human energy exerted to turn these raw materials into new things. Think of the fuel burned by the boats bringing that stuff from China and the trucks bringing it from the West Coast. All this energy is spent to produce and move stuff that may never get used before ending up in a landfill in a few years.

We don’t need more stuff. This country already has plenty of stuff. The stuff just needs to be relocated to where it can best be used and appreciated.

So at holiday time, rather than going to the malls or their electronic equivalent, we should find gifts in our attics and store rooms. Those toys your kids weren’t interested in.. maybe a friend’s kids would enjoy them. That dress that you hated might look good on your mother.. or your daughter. The stuffed animal you no longer have room for could delight the new toddler in your family.

I will briefly acknowledge the push-back that are sure to come. Some of it is related to kids’ obsession with the latest electronic gadget (let’s set that aside for another day); some of it is related to Americans’ prejudice against any gift that’s not new and shiny (get over it).

At the very least, my hope is that you consider a trip to the store room as one of your holiday shopping “stops”. So much has been consumed already, it helps when we don’t need to consume more.

 

Send the GOP to Time-Out

When discussing the lack of comity and collegiality in the halls of government, there’s usually someone who says, “both sides are responsible.” This is a myth.

We Democrats always try to “get along.” After all, that’s the kind of people we are – we want to make everybody happy.

Republicans used to be the home of reasonable civic-minded businessmen; but they’ve become a mob of mean-spirited bullies representing the wealthy elite and trans-national corporations.

Consider the corrupt lying blowhard now in the White House. He shares national security secrets with our enemies, kidnaps children and puts them in cages, incites violence against his critics… the list of atrocities goes on and on.

The Republican Congress is derelict in its duty to hold this president accountable. Their silence equates to complicity.

Something is gravely wrong with the Republican party. It has become the party of anger, cruelty, racism, hatred and ignorance.

We need parties that work together to solve problems, negotiating their differences in good faith to find solutions that work for everybody.

Steve Schmidt (John McCain’s campaign manager) believes that the only hope for the Republican party is to “burn it to the ground” by electing Democrats across the board. Eventually a more responsible party would grow from the ashes.

In this case, I agree with Schmidt. The Democrats are the only party who can defend America from the authoritarian impulses of the rich and powerful. For the sake of our country, please vote for every Democrat on your ballot.