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Irregular Gone Regular, 1/30 NaNoWriMo: The Day the Earth Opened Up

The beginning, in which I think to myself, “Hey, I think I could write myself a novel during National Novel Writing Month!” …


Saint Patrick’s Day was the day the Earth opened up.

I still remember the day.  My brain has preserved it in colors that are brighter than they should be, like early Technicolor.  Amanda and Benjamin and Hannah and I had just crossed the little-two lane road that the old folks around here still dismissively call “the highway,” remembering the way that Main Street here and Elm Street there and Chestnut Street over there and Limekiln Street yonder had been connected, straightened, shouldered and turned into a section of Route 1 back in the Sixties.  Progress generated a continuous stretch of pavement running from Fort Kent in the North to Key West in the South.

If you think about that stretch for any longer than second, the scale of it is enough to give you the heebie jeebies.  Imagine for a moment that you’re a porcupine.  You’re on the East side of Route 1 over here, and you spot a juicy-looking bush with succulent leaves on the West side of Route 1 over there.  You could scamper across the road, at least as quickly as a porcupine can scamper, which is not that fast.  Or, if you wanted to avoid the pavement and the risk of getting flattened entirely, you could travel thousands of miles to get to those leaves, in a circuitous route that would make the Appalachian trail look like a casual jaunt.

Given these alternatives, is it any wonder that porcupines stay put on their side of the road and chew up outhouses instead (oh yes, it happens)?  Barring the presence of an outhouse, is it any wonder that we see so many dead porcupines by the side of the road?  They just couldn’t bother with a trip to Fort Kent and back.  They paid the toll.

The wild turkeys have got it easier.  All they have to do is haul themselves up into the air and fly twenty feet.  A turkey in flight may not be a glorious sight, but the turkey gets the darned job done.  You see more live turkeys by the side of the road around here than you see live porcupines, but you see many more dead porcupines and hardly ever a dead turkey.   Let me amend that; the more I think about it, the more certain I am that I’ve never seen a dead turkey on the side of the road.  Cats? Yes. Dogs? Yes. Crows? Yes. Raccoons? Yes. Porcupines?  All the time.  Never a turkey.

I’ve never seen a dead child by the side of the road either, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying about the possibility.  Could I survive my child being hit by a car and turned into instant roadkill?  What if one of my children saw the other one get hit by a car?  Is that the sort of incident that scars a young mind for life?  If I ponder these questions for too long, I start to ask myself even more uncomfortable questions.  If both of my children were in the road, which one would I run for first?  Or would I run at all?  Is it possible that I would just stand by the side of the road and yell?

There’s a saying that the moms at the park like to throw around as they watch little Aiden and Brayden and Caidan on the swings: “I’d jump in front of a bus for my child.”  That’s kind of a stupid phrase, if you ask me.  Buses aren’t the problem.  Buses are big and slow.  You can usually see them a mile coming.  Even if you can’t see them, you sure can hear them, air brakes and big engines and all.  Busses are easy.  It’s cars that are the problem.  Any schmuck who knows how to pass a multiple choice test and park without hitting the curb can drive a car.  If you drive a car, you don’t need to take a course and be constantly recertified like a bus driver.  You don’t need to pee in a cup in some unannounced random month to keep your car driving privileges.

Besides, let’s face it, cars are driven by driven people.  They’re always trying to get somewhere else, to move from where they are to where they want or wish or need to be, and just like people everywhere, some of those car drivers are late.  There are forty thousand reasons other than tardiness for a car to go too fast.  Maybe the driver’s upset, or maybe the driver’s listening to fast-tempo music, or maybe the driver’s got some compensation issues to work through (can you say “manual transmission?”).  Bus drivers are not like car drivers.  They’re yanking around the biggest sticks in the business, out where everyone else can see them.  Most of them don’t get to listen to music, at least not where I live.  Besides, bus drivers are already at their destinations.  This is where they’re supposed to be.  Oh, it might be that a bus driver was late getting to work in their car, but once they get in that bus, they have nowhere else to go.  The seat behind the big wheel is everywhere they need to be, and everywhere they’re going to be for a long while.  There’s no rush to get anywhere, because some government technician with a spreadsheet somewhere figured out how long it takes for a bus driving the speed limit to follow a route.  It’s all worked out in advance.  Just in case (and to qualify for lower insurance premiums) they’ve installed a little gadget called a “Governor” on the bus.  Even if the driver gets a little bit impatient and steps on the gas, the Governor kicks in and shuts off the gas supply, so there’s just no way to go over the speed limit.  Even if a bus driver figured out how to kill the Governor and drive at brakeneck speeds on the road, why would they?  They’d just have to wait around at the next stop.  My point is that there’s no point in a bus going too fast.   It’s just not going to happen.  Cars are the dangerous ones.

This is what I found myself thinking as I stood by the East side of the road holding hands with Amanda and Benjamin and Hannah, holding them back with a squeeze and a pull backward on the wrist as I looked for an opening.  All the careful drivers are evenly spaced, providing no room.  All the aggressive drivers see to come out of nowhere.  Wait, wait.  Now?  No.  Now?  No.  Now.

“All right, kids, let’s go!”

With those words and a shift in my body weight, the kids received the signal that it was time for us to scamper across the road, and unlike those sorry porcupines this human family knew how to scamper at high speed, yes sir.  Maybe it was the loud, accented way I barked that command.  Maybe it was the strain in my wrists as they jerked tight.  Whatever the cue was, Benjamin and Hannah were off like a shot, racing across.  I looked behind and saw Amanda more than a few paces back, practically sauntering, crossing the center line with an old Chevy no more than twenty feet away.  Her breezy smile was a tease as we waited for her to catch up.

“Ay ay, what’s rush?  Have you all got a train to catch?”  She was teasing, but the kids answered by making choo-choo noises as they ran off into the woods.  That was the rule: they had to be good when crossing Route 1, but after that they were on their own.  Home was down a gravel drive, through a field, past an old barn and over a stone fence.  It was all right.  There was no one left to slow them down and nothing left to hit them but splashing mud.  Amanda and I watched their blue and green bobble hats bouncing, smaller and smaller, as they weaved in and out through the skinny birch trees.  By the sounds of their shrill yells alone, we’d have known where they were if we’d been a half-mile behind.  They were heading in the right direction. It would be all right.  Amanda reached her hand into the pocket of my jacket and slouched against me as we walked through wet leaves.

“Hey, was that OK?”

“It was fine,” I replied.

“Are you sure?  I didn’t say anything stupid, did I?”

“It was fine,” I said again.

“I have no idea what they must say when we leave.  It’s like being home with my grandparents, running into these elderly neighbors all the time, you know?”

“Well, it’s…”

“I know.  You’re right.  Hey, here we are.”

With a casual step around barbed wire and through a gap in the stone fence, we came home.  The kids called us away from the house, their excited voices coming up the hill.

“They’re up!  They came up today!”

Time to visit the garden, then.  It had been a strange winter.  Only three inches of snow and an early thaw.  Don’t plant yet, the neighbors said.  It’s too soon, they said.  But it was in the mid-sixties and sunny on the first of March and I couldn’t help myself.  Just a few beans and peas went in the ground, my little bet with the family with sunk costs of $3.99 a packet.  I said it would be worth the entertainment of racing the last frost.  Amanda said it’d be fine.  The kids predicted a blizzard.  Every day after, Benjamin and Amanda had looked out the window, looking for the flakes that never came.  It looked like Amanda had won.

We smiled and strolled down the hill to more closely inspect the little green dots in the garden.  “We’ll have to start weeding soon,” I said to myself as I pulled ahead of Amanda and put on my most sincere, child-appeasing smile.

“Ulp,” came a sound from behind me.

I turned.  Amanda was on her back, arms akimbo.

Her left leg?  Gone.


… The end, at which I am not so sure that I have a novel in me this year.

Obama Puts United States Into Ground War In Syria

obama trick or treat halloween 2015

When politicians want the American public to ignore a story, they release the news on Friday. When they want to release news that they’re afraid will cause a huge uproar, they release the news on a Friday before a holiday weekend – like the Friday before a Halloween weekend. If they want to bury a story as far as humanly possible, they release the news on a Friday before a holiday weekend when people “fall back” out of Daylight Saving Time.

Here’s the story that the Obama Adminstration is using this triple-thick cloak of invisibility to obscure this weekend. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA ANNOUNCED ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON THAT HE WILL BE SENDING GROUND TROOPS INTO SYRIA.

If George W. Bush had put American soldiers on the ground in a war in Syria, Democrats would have expressed outrage. Today, however, Democrats are silent – even those who aren’t taking down frightening porch decorations or teaching their children how to take off their makeup so as to stop looking like the undead.

I’m writing this on Sunday night, when blood sugar levels of Americans has dropped, when they’re as well rested as they ever will be, when they’re just starting to pay attention to the news again, because this is a story that must not be ignored. Over the weekend, corporate journalists have buried the story under cute articles about girls dressed up as princesses, but at Irregular Times, we’re not letting it drop.

Americans elected Barack Obama to be President of the United States because they believed he would put an end to George W. Bush’s failed and flawed wars in the Middle East. Now, as we are nearing the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency, our military is still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Obama is putting troops on the ground in Syria.

This is not the Hope and Change Americans voted for in 2008.

If we liberals continue to ignore the Perpetual War, just because there’s a Democrat in the White House, the fighting could easily continue another 8 years after Obama is out of office.

Church Opens Doors to Refugees: Michele Bachmann Calls it “Tragic Stupidity”

A church in Oberhausen, Germany has decided to open its doors and house refugees within its walls.  Members of the church will not only welcome 50 refugees into their space to live while they seek more permanent shelter, but are also setting up bathroom and laundry facilities in the church square.

Some people might call this a charitable act.

Some people might say this is what Jesus would do.

Some people might point out Jesus’ own parents were denied refuge.

Republican politician Michele Bachmann shares her thoughts:

Michele Bachmann on charitable act toward refugees: The church will never go back to being Christian. This is surrender to Muslim invasion. Tragic stupidity.

Tragic stupidity indeed

Irregular Times Donation: Project Prakash

Irregular Times sells sweatshop-free political t-shirts to help spread messages we believe in, traveling from eye to eye on the backs of other folks.  We also sell the shirts to pay for the costs associated with a website.  A third reason for us to sell sweatshop-free political t-shirts is to, in a small way, help promote the kind of change we want to see in the world.

We refuse to sell sweatshop-made shirts because we don’t believe in exploiting the desperation of people born in the third world.  But to answer those who insist that exploitative sweatshops are better than nothing, we set aside a dollar for every shirt we sell to go toward helping desperate people outside the United States live better lives.

Our donation this time around goes to Project Prakash, which gives free treatment to blind children in India that allows those children to see again.  Too many children in India don’t have simple problems corrected because their families are simply too poor to pay for those corrections.  Cataract surgery can change a life.  Read this profile of Project Prakash in a recent issue of the journal Science to understand the profound impact such intervention can have on a blind child and, indirectly, on a community.


What? Your Company Is ISO Certified!?! That’s Amazing!

I just got sent a pitch that centered around the following story: “We are an ISO 9001:2008 Certified Web Design Company.”

That’s a short story, right?

The International Organization for Standardization claims that “over one million” companies and organizations are ISO certified.

Google shows 39 million web pages claiming ISO 9001 certification.

If there are 7 billion people on Earth, and there are 1 million ISO certified companies, that’s one ISO certified business or nonprofit for every seven thousand humans.

If there are 7 billion people on Earth, and 39 million ISO certified companies, that’s one ISO certified business or nonprofit for every 180 human beings.

Exactly where, between 1 million and 39 million, the actual number of ISO certified i, I can’t say. Even if we choose the lower estimate of ISO companies, however, there are more of them than there are citizens of country of Cyprus, or Belize, or Estonia.

Being ISO certified doesn’t really make a company stand out from the crowd. In fact, it suggests that the company would rather blend into the crowd than stand out. After all, an ISO certified company has agreed to comply with a standard set of standards, doing business in a rather predictable way.

That’s not what I would look for in web design. I prefer something a bit odd and scruffy, something individual. But then, I am among a company of irregulars.

Upcoming Protest in November 2015

Looking around the interwebs and fishing through activist discussion boards, these are the protest events I see coming together in November 2015:

Is there a protest event you know of that should make the list? Let me know about it by posting a comment and a link. Thanks for spreading the word.

Ritual Baiting By Journalists Follows Arrest In Pensacola Triple Murder

On July 31 of this year in Pensacola, Florida, the bodies of Voncile Smith and two of her adult sons were found. They had been murdered, by gunshot, bludgeoning with a hammer, and by the cutting of their throats. Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan quickly declared that the murders had been committed as part of a Wiccan blue moon blood ritual. Morgan claimed that the bodies had been found together in specially arranged ritual positions, and that the method of killing indicated a ritual. Morgan also asserted that the murder had been motivated by the blue moon that took place on July 31, and cited the Wiccan identity of a “person of interest” as reason to believe that the murders were part of a Wiccan ritual.

Quickly, art theorist and right wing activist Dawn Perlmutter declared that the crime was certainly a ritual murder. Perlmutter had not seen the crime scene herself, and has no professional background or education in criminal justice, but has claimed the authority of an expert in ritual murder. The national news media eagerly fed on the sensationalistic idea of a ritual murder, and repeated the claims of murderous Wiccan ritual traditions, but cooler heads noted that there is no actual tradition of ritual violence in Wicca, that blue moon ceremonies are not at all common in Wicca, that the murder almost certainly did not take place on the day of the blue moon, and that there didn’t appear to be anything ritualistic indicated by the crime as it was described by Sheriff Morgan’s office.

Yesterday, the Escambia County Sheriff’s office arrested Donald Hartung, a son of Voncile Smith and half brother of the other two murder victims, in relation to the crime. He will be charged with three counts of premeditated murder. A grand jury indictment of Donald Hartung will be sought within the next few weeks, and prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

It seems that, contrary to rumors in late August, Sheriff Morgan has not yet abandoned his belief that a Wiccan blue moon ritual was somehow responsible for the murders.

At a press conference yesterday, when asked by a reporter about his claims in August that the murders had been a ritual act of witchcraft, Morgan replied, “There were actually three prevailing theories that we were looking at, Amber, that you do in the getting together, and hopefully that will assist to the conclusion of the case. We were looking at, you know, was the DHS angle a part of, you know, a motive for this? Was the fact that Mr. Hartung was engaged in that, you know, the reason that I say that, there were some statements that he made, and there was some evidence that was found at his home that clearly indicated that tie in. That will come out, and I won’t speak to that issue… and lastly, a motive for possible financial gain. Those were the three prevailing ones that we had, and so is that still in play? Yes, it is.”

donald hartung

Bill Eddins, Florida State Attorney for the First Judicial Court, appears less enthusiastic about the ritual murder theory than Sheriff Morgan. When a reporter asked Eddins about investigations in to the motive for the murder, he replied, “We will review all aspects of the case as we move forward to ensure that the motive, the proper motive is addressed. There are some indications of what the motive is. Those will become clear as initial paperwork is made public. I really would not go into those at this time, but as the Sheriff said, there are two or three possibilities, and all of those will be explored and narrowed down when the case is presented in court.”

When Eddins was asked, “Are you claiming that his religion or anything like that had anything to do with?” the State Attorney replied simply, “We can’t go into that at this time.”

Once again, journalists are eagerly repeating the claim that Voncile Smith, Richard Smith and John Smith were the victims of a Wiccan murder ritual. A report by WFLA TV asserts cites the following evidence: Donald Hartung was said to own a book about Wicca, and has been described by family members as being “loosely” involved in witchcraft. Also, WFLA says, there is “the night of a blue moon, which is heavily referenced in witchcraft lore, and occurs once every three years.”

WFLA’s report doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the murder did not occur on the night of the blue moon in August. WFLA’s reporters also seem not to have actually investigated Wicca lore, which actually does not heavily reference the night of a blue moon. WFLA couldn’t even get the astronomy of the blue moon right. Blue moons don’t take place every three years. The next blue moon will happen early next year.

Sloppy journalism about this case isn’t limited to WFLA, however. The Pensacola News Journal still refers to the crime as a “ritualistic murder”, as does USA Today. Nina Golgowski wins the award for the most painfully inaccurate clickbait, with her headline for the New York Daily News: ‘Blue Moon killer’ murdered family in witchcraft-like ritual. Golgowksi arrived at her sensationalist inaccuracy by conflating yesterday’s press conference with a press conference held almost three months ago, pretending that no the critical examination of the ritual claims has happened in the meantime. She wrote, “A north Florida man slashed his family’s throats and beat them with a claw hammer as part of a ‘ritualistic killing, inspired by witchcraft, authorities said.” In fact, that’s not at all what was said at yesterday’s press conference.

WFLA’s report on the investigation yields one small bit of critical thinking: It acknowledges that Sheriff Morgan’s claim that the bodies of the murder victims had been arranged together into a ritual pattern is completely unsubstantiated. In fact, investigators tell WFLA, the murder victims were found in completely different rooms from one another. Nina Goglowski continues to perpetuate the rumor that the victims’ bodies were ritually displayed by the murderer, but that’s not actually what happened.

It’s not even certain that Donald Hartung actually considers himself Wiccan. We have a great deal more to learn about this case, and a great deal more will emerge about the Escambia County Sheriff Department’s rush to declare the crime a Wiccan blue moon cult ritual murder.

FBI Director James Comey Calls Racism Common Sense

A few days ago, FBI Director James Comey got some attention when he told an audience at the University of Chicago law school that protests against racist discrimination by police have led to a spike in crime in many cities. Anti-racism protesters with video cameras have “officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime,” Comey said, because they’re afraid that they’ll get in trouble for aggressively dealing with people engaged in criminal behavior.

jamescomeyThese statements confused many people, because they suggest that Comey believes that police can only control criminal behavior by breaking the law themselves. After all, police who follow the law in the way they deal with suspected criminals have nothing at all to fear from being filmed as they do their jobs. It’s only when police are caught on camera breaking the law by assaulting criminal suspects or otherwise breaking the law that they can get in trouble. Comey didn’t seem to think that it would be possible for police officers to do their jobs without having free rein to violate the law with impunity.

When he shared these ideas, James Comey wasn’t speaking as if he was just making a guess or offering his own opinion. He was speaking as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He spoke as if he was simply declaring the truth, after looking at statistical evidence that substantiated his claim.

Yesterday, Comey admitted that, in fact, he didn’t have any evidence that citizen filming of police officers had any causal relationship with increases in crime. Comey said that it was just “common sense” to think that when anti-racism protesters use cameras to record racist criminal abuses of citizens by the police, police officers will stop doing their jobs out of fear of getting in trouble.

“The honest answer is I don’t know for sure whether that’s the case,” Comey said, “but I do have a strong sense.”

A strong sense? Common sense?

What James Comey is saying is that he shouldn’t need to provide concrete evidence to support his claim that anti-racism protesters are causing a spike in crime across the country. Comey thinks we ought to just take his word for it.

Does Comey really not understand that this is the very attitude among law enforcement officials that anti-racism protesters are demonstrating against in the first place? Evidence proves that police in many regions of the United States regularly treat African-Americans as if they are criminals, even when there is no evidence of actual criminal activity taking place. Now, Comey is presuming that African-American protesters are encouraging criminal activity, even though he doesn’t have any actual evidence to support his case.

The FBI Director, of all people, ought to understand that it’s important to have evidence before making accusations against people. He ought to know that blaming citizen oversight for criminal activity is anything but common sense. If James Comey can’t come to grasp these basic ideas, it’s time for him to resign from his job.

Question Questioning

What are you unwilling to question?

question everything

NY Times Investigation: Police in 4 States Stop Black Drivers Disproportionately

A fascinating New York Times investigation was published yesterday and fleshes out the “driving while black” meme about racial profiling with systematic data. In the four states in which car search data is systematically, tracked, the Times reports that black drivers are stopped disproportionately often, even though officers are more likely to find illegal material when searching cars with white drivers:

Race and Car Searches

This is what racial discrimination looks like.

Update On Donald Trump’s Big Chill

Six days ago, Donald Trump issued an alarm that New York City was about to receive a “major freeze” weeks ahead of the city’s ordinary time for a first frost. Trump suggested that the early frost was a sign that global warming isn’t really something anybody needs to worry about.

Actually, the date was only one week ahead of New York City’s usual date for a first frost.

Actually, New York City didn’t even get close to a frost that day.

Actually, New York City hasn’t had any frost at all so far this autumn, and is forecast to have daily low temperatures between 10 and 30 degrees higher than would be required even for a mild frost – even to one week after the average date for a first frost.

donald trump wrong frost prediction

Donald Trump tried to use New York City weather to suggest that global warming is a hoax.

The actual data suggest that, in fact, New York City is having an autumn that is warmer than normal, not the frigid anomaly that Donald Trump tried to portray.

Of course, a few weeks in New York City doesn’t indicate much about global climate, even if Donald Trump gets it completely, horribly wrong. No, we need to look at global data to come to conclusions about global climate. It just so happens that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration came out with a report last week indicating that “The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for September 2015 was the highest for September in the 136-year period of record, at 0.90°C (1.62°F) above the 20th century average of 15.0°C (59.0°F), surpassing the previous record set last year in 2014 by 0.12°C (0.19°F). This marks the fifth consecutive month a monthly high temperature record has been set and is the highest departure from average for any month among all 1629 months in the record that began in January 1880. The September temperature is currently increasing at an average rate of 0.06°C (0.11°F) per decade.”

If Donald Trump can’t even read a local weather forecast accurately, how can he be trusted with data in more complex contexts, such as the national economy, foreign policy, congressional relations, and global climate change?