Not ready for prime time

It is time for another episode of our recurring feature, in which we highlight letters to the editor rejected by our local paper.

A group of Republican legislators from both houses circulated a bill to create an “Official State Rifle”. Their argument was that they wanted to highlight a Wisconsin manufacturer, not that they wanted you to choose this weapon for your next mass shooting. We thought that there were other local manufacturers who deserved at least equal recognition.

I am so glad the state GOP has found a new way to keep itself occupied. Four legislators are circulating a bill to designate a state rifle. While you might want to criticize this on several levels, think of what worse things they could be doing with their time. This opens a whole new realm of legislation to honor products manufactured in Wisconsin. We could have a state refrigerator, a state pressure cooker, a state semi-trailer – and that’s just scratching the surface. Just think of all the ways they could own the libs.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

They highlighted (on the front page of the opinion section) an op-ed extolling the virtues of Daylight Saving Time, saying we needed more daylight late in the day because no one is up early in the morning anyway. He noted opposition to changing twice a year and thought the solution was to warn people a few days ahead of the change, as though it is always sprung on us as a surprise on Sunday morning.

I found David Prerau’s op-ed Monday, extolling the virtues of Daylight Saving Time, tremendously compelling. He states that DST “relocates an hour of otherwise wasted sunshine to a much more usable hour”. I couldn’t agree more. I hate to get up in the morning and have daylight. So much more pleasant to go to work in the dark every day! And I loved that hour on the deck this afternoon, basking in the 28 degree sunshine! Gosh, and his solution to the problems of DST is so innovative! Let’s talk about it for a few days before the change so we’re ready! Why hasn’t anyone ever thought of that?! But why do anything halfway? If we moved our clocks 3 more hours ahead of the sun, we could draw tourists by proclaiming ourselves “The Land of the Midnight Sun”! As an added benefit, even late sleepers could wake up in the dark!

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

The GOP periodically pushes new tax plans to lighten the burden on their base (the wealthy). The current plan is for a flat tax. The flat rate would actually be slightly lower than anyone currently pays, so they are able to claim they are providing relief to the poor as well. This is also a plan to get rid of the one-time windfall the state received from federal COVID relief funds. It would reduce taxes to eliminate that $6 billion surplus and cause an equal-sized shortfall long into the future.

Let me get this straight. According to Sunday’s WSJ, the Republican legislature wants to implement a flat income tax to be on par with other states instead of a “mediocre” progressive tax. Does Sen. LaMahieu understand the definition of “mediocre”? It means “in the middle”, in other words, like everyone else – exactly what he’s asking us to become. He says this is to attract business owners to the state. In other front page news, legislative Republicans oppose a new UW engineering building to relieve overcrowded, inadequate facilities. So we want to drive promising engineering students, those who might start companies and drive job creation, to other states. Which seems more likely? That an already wealthy person will move an existing business to WI because our taxes are just like what they’re paying elsewhere, or that a newly-minted engineer will stay where they have been welcomed and start a new business? I think LaMahieu and friends have it backward.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

Everyone complains about the roads here. Even this blog has complained more than once about deteriorating conditions related to the demise of the family farm. A major area of debate a month before the letter above was what to do with the surplus this year. The state has a “shared revenue” program, in which it returns money to local governments for infrastructure projects. Local governments are limited in their taxation powers – most income is from property taxes, which the state limits. They have also steadily cut the shared revenue formula, so local governments get less back from the state. As a result, there are referenda in almost every election cycle to keep school buildings from crumbling. Everyone likes to talk about infrastructure but it’s not sexy to fix stuff. Much of Northern Wisconsin has poor internet access. Fixing that is popular to talk about at election time but it costs money. It seems like there are some one-time expenses here that could use some of that $6 billion.

What to do? The state has a short-term budget surplus, thanks in large part to federal pandemic relief. We could fix the roads and bridges, provide broadband access to the northwoods, fix the shared-revenue formula so towns, cities, and counties can fix their roads and school districts don’t have to ask for money via referendum every election cycle. Or we can cut the tax rate for the wealthiest by more than half so that everyone pays at a lower rate than even the poorest do now. If you make $1000 next year, your tax rate would be the same as if you made $1,000,000. Gee, which do you think the GOP wants to do? Will the GOP legislature force your town to defund the police because there is nowhere else to cut services?

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

The paper ran an election-cycle feature claiming to be an analysis of each candidate’s stand on the issues. It was to be a refreshing change from the usual”horse race” election coverage. The Republican candidate for governor learned that the majority of the populace is pro-choice. He has been vocally anti-choice. Since the end of federal rights when the US Supreme Court overthrew the Roe v Wade decision, Wisconsin has a re-activated 1849 law that bans all abortion. How do you pander for votes in this environment?

Sunday’s front page story “A last look at their stands” was a nice try but fell short. Purporting to look at candidate positions, not just horse race politics, it came close. Tim Michels was noted to be willing to sign a bill allowing abortions in limited circumstances despite his strong anti-choice stance. What you failed to point out is the slim chance of such a bill passing the gerrymandered legislature. Likewise you noted his statement that he would never arrest a doctor for performing an abortion. You didn’t clarify that the statement has no meaning, as the governor has no arrest powers. Both statements are just a way to make him sound reasonable and pander for votes. They are campaign statements, not “a look at (his) stands”.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

Not to be outdone, our embarrassment of a Senator, Ron Johnson had to throw in his two cents. (It should be noted that his 2 cents are more like a penny or less in their value.) Johnson became a “self-made millionaire” by marrying the boss’s daughter. He campaigned as a “businessman, not a politician” and promised to run for no more than two terms. He is currently in his third term. He was an active supporter of the insurrection to overthrow the US government and hosted hearings to which he invited only the most crazed of election deniers. He hosted COVID hearings to which he invited testimony from only the worst crackpots. He decided that a complete ban on abortion in the state was no big deal, as a woman could always drive to another state for the procedure.

Senator Ron Johnson told the Wall Street Journal (the other WSJ), that overturning Roe v. Wade will not be “that big a change” because we can always go to Illinois for an abortion. When I was a kid we drove to Illinois to buy margarine. That was a big enough deal that state law was changed to legalize margarine in Wisconsin. Is Johnson telling us that margarine is more important than reproductive rights?

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

Every Sunday the paper re-runs an old editorial, partly to remind us of how long they’ve been around, and partly to show us how quaint we were back in the “goodle days”.

On Sunday, June 6, the WSJ reprinted an editorial from 1871. It was written about a “defeated, defiant rebel…a fanatic, a selfish, jealous, narrow-minded man.” The particulars of his treachery are different, but it could as well have been written about Donald Trump as Jefferson Davis.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

That’s it for this edition. I was once known (at work, anyway) for my letters to the editor. Now that I am a retired curmudgeon with more time to write letters, the paper chooses to ignore them. I’m sure we’ll have more to post in this space in the future.

How many shades of grey?

The University of Wisconsin released the results of a free speech survey. The survey was years in the making, as the first iteration was so clearly biased (it was funded by the Menard family) that students wouldn’t answer its leading questions. The survey was conducted on 13 campuses, with a 12.5% response rate.

An article about the results (in The Cap Times) says a majority of students reported self-censorship, choosing not to express views in class. Is this troublesome? Or is it a reflection of maturity? If it chills the free exchange of ideas, that could be troublesome. If it means that students are demonstrating functional frontal lobes, that could be a good thing. We all have some thoughts that are better not spoken aloud.

The Cap Times further reports that “students aren’t that likely to consider viewpoints they disagree with”. I overheard a discussion of the study in which the participants thought that being “not at all likely” to “consider divergent viewpoints” about abortion was a good thing. They saw two viewpoints: “pro-choice” and “pro-life” (to put them in the terms favored by those who express those positions, not that I consider “pro-life” to be an accurate term if one only supports forced birth and not quality pre-natal and child care, or if one also supports the death penalty and war). They saw no reason to consider the opposite viewpoint once they’d made up their mind.

At a quick glance, I came up with several potential viewpoints on the issue:

  • one could support a woman’s right to choose in all cases
  • one could support a right to choose with a requirement to justify a decision at a particular time point (such as fetal viability)
  • one could support a right to choose only in the case of threat to the mother’s health or life
  • one could support a right to choose in the case of sexual assault
  • one could support a right to choose in the case of fetal anomaly (which entails a range from defects that will be fatal to eugenics, so another path to go down)
  • one could oppose abortion, meaning that, abstractly/hypothetically, you would not choose an abortion for yourself; while still supporting the rights of others
  • one could think that abortion is killing but, as in other circumstances recognized in law, justifiable under particular conditions
  • one could consider abortion to be illegal and punishable by a civil forfeiture, like a traffic ticket
  • one could consider abortion to be illegal and punishable as a crime (misdemeanor or felony)
  • one could consider abortion to be murder and punishable by death (or life in prison if one were “pro-life”) for the woman and/or the doctor
  • [In another interesting take on the issue of the fetus, or “pre-born”, today’s paper notes a lawyer in Florida (is he the infamous “Florida Man“?) has filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus claiming that a fetus is being unlawfully detained. Said fetus is in the womb of a woman awaiting trial for murder. The article does not make clear if he is arguing for the release of the mother or just the fetus, nor does it address the argument if the mother were a convicted murder and not merely under indictment].

So, if there are more possible viewpoints than either/or, do we have an obligation to consider those viewpoints? Is it possible that we might revisit an issue over time and think differently?

When I worked in Nicaragua, most in my group were opposed to war in most cases. That ranged from opposing imperialist wars to opposing all wars. I suspect most of us opposed the US invasion of Southeast Asia. (I hesitate to call it “The war in Viet Nam”, since we know the US attacked Laos and Cambodia as well.)

When it came to the Nicaraguan war of liberation from the multi-generational Somoza dictatorship, we had more widely-varying opinions. When it came to the Nicaraguan defense against the CIA-instigated Contra war, they varied again.

We were once asked to help a nearby town with its defense preparations. A local Sandinista military officer came to our camp and explained the situation, then stepped back and said, “Let the polemic begin.” The project included building a bomb shelter and digging a defense trench around the perimeter of the town. The trench was to include spots from which the town’s militia could return fire on invaders. Some in the group were whole-hearted supporters of this weekend volunteer effort. Others were willing to build a bomb shelter but have nothing to do with defense trenches, as they saw that as a war effort. Still others chose to stay in camp on their day off, not wanting to participate in any way in what they saw as a war effort. Our organization’s motto was “Help build, not destroy, in Nicaragua.” They saw any effort that was not building houses as participating in destruction.

Life is easy when it is all black and white, good and bad. Nuance is confusing. Thinking is hard.

[Since I was told not to make any decisions today, or drive, or work – having been sedated for a procedure – this seemed like a good day to hit “publish” on a post that has been sitting in my drafts for a while.]

Mander Wins Big!

Gerald Mander (R-WI) was the big winner in Wisconsin politics in Tuesday’s election. Wisconsin is so heavily gerrymandered that nearly ⅓ of Republican candidates for the State Senate ran unopposed. Republicans won 12 of 17 seats up for election to retain a ⅔ majority.

In the State Assembly, 22 of 99 seats were one horse races (not counting a few write-ins or third party candidates). Republicans won 64 of 99 races to hold a nearly ⅔ majority.

The state is so effectively gerrymandered that Democrats, representing about 50% of the population, are crammed into ⅓ of districts, ensuring Republican control of both houses of the state legislature and ¾ of the Congressional seats. A Marquette Law School researcher calculated that if the overall vote were split 50/50, Republicans would hold just under ⅔ of the State Assembly and just over ⅔ of the State Senate. Surprise! Surprise! 64:35 and 22:11 are the current ratios. Ya can’t get much closer than that prediction.

This may not seem odd if this were a red state, but Wisconsin also elected a Democratic Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and a Republican State Treasurer.

Ron Johnson, best known for marrying into great wealth, which he has parlayed into even greater wealth since his election to the US Senate 12 years ago, won a third term despite his prior promise not to run. Attack ads called his challenger, Mandela Barnes, “dangerous” for Wisconsin. That’s code for “he’s a young Black man. If he’s not a criminal, his friends probably are.” When, at the end of a debate, each candidate was asked to name one thing he finds admirable about his opponent, Johnson said nice things about Barnes’ parents and then added, “with that upbringing, why has he turned against America?” Johnson is also an election denier, coup supporter, and backer of spurious and dangerous treatments for COVID-19. His Chief of Staff attempted to deliver a slate of fake electors to Vice President Pence’s Chief of Staff on January 6. He was told to stay away. Since Pence refused to accept the fake electors, and Johnson had his chief handle it instead of doing it himself, Johnson claimed the famous “Five Second Rule” to play down his involvement in the coup.

At least I didn’t have to publish what I previously wrote about gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels. We’ll settle for a photo of his $17 million Connecticut mansion. We’re not sure if he planned to run the state from there, or move back to Wisconsin. Now he doesn’t have to decide.

Tim Michels’ Connecticut home, photo downloaded from “Wisconsin Right Now” which obtained it from

Up in the air

After a valiant effort, Republicans were not able to propel Herschel Walker to victory and he will face a runoff election next month. Walker is best known as a football player. He campaigned as vehemently anti-choice despite allegations from two exes that he demanded that they abort the fetuses for which he was responsible. Both alleged that he paid for said abortions. In one of those cases, he was married to someone else at the time.

In his own defense, he said, “Everywhere I go, people say, ‘Did you pay for this abortion, did you pay for that abortion?’ How are you supposed to remember every single abortion? This is why people no longer trust the media.” To clarify, he added, “Let’s say you paid for ten abortions, or twenty, thirty, forty. You mean to tell me you’d remember every last one, clear as day? The answer is no, you wouldn’t. There’s no way a man could remember every single solitary abortion unless he kept an abortion journal, and I don’t know anyone who does that.” (The New Yorker 10/27/22. Emphasis added.)

Lauren Boebert’s race is still too close to call on Wednesday night, as is the Arizona gubernatorial contest featuring a former TV talking head turned follower of orange julius.


Of course the Republicans were right. There was massive fraud and the election was stolen. How else can one explain the elections of Ron DeSantis, Ron Johnson, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, JD Vance, Rand Paul, et al?

This makes much more sense than the allegations of fraud in 2020, when the Democratic party allegedly stole the presidential election but didn’t bother to steal any others.

It makes more sense than to think that we, as the American people, would be stupid enough to vote against our own interests to elect these clowns and charlatans.

Climate change, or weather?

For the first time in my long life, I ended a November bike ride with ice cream. It is not supposed to be 70º (21 C) in November around here. The first place I planned to stop was closed for the season so I had to hold that ice cream jones for another 4 miles.

I rode out to the marsh the other day with my real camera and big lens for some wildlife photography. The only wildlife around was of the human variety. I did get to try the lens out to capture an oak leaf in flight (since the hawk was too far away even for a 500 mm lens). The oak leaf was at 330 mm (f5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 100, for those keeping score at home). At least now we know I can track an object in flight, so stay tuned for bird pix in the future.

Three billboards outside of…Wyoming?

Republican candidates are falling over each other to declare themselves. There is the “Actual conservative republican” the “True conservative republican”, the “Constitutional conservative”, and then someone whose posters just say “Fossil fuels – yes!”

I’m not sure if any of those are code for “not a Trumper” or if they’re all code for “not like Liz Cheney”.

Then there is the billboard with a picture of a six month old baby asking “What about my choice?” This one is unclear on so many levels. First, by law a six month old baby has no choices. Its parents decide for it unless a court appoints someone else to decide for it. A six month old baby clearly is not capable of making many choices.

Clearly this is an anti-choice billboard. Do they know the difference between a zygote, an embryo, a fetus, and a six month old baby? Are they prepared to assume the care (physical, emotional, social, financial) of all of those children whose birth they want to force? It currently costs about ¼ million dollars to raise a child in the US. This does not include the cost of post-secondary education or training.

On another note, a Harley rider passed me the other day with a few gentle beeps of the horn and an enthusiastic thumb up. A semi passed with a quick toot of the air horn. A local cyclist going the other way gave a yell and a triumphantly raised fist. These moments sustain me for miles.

The cafe in the campground at Devil’s Tower opened for us with a special Cycle America menu. The best thing (not) on the menu was ice water. By 7:30 PM the temperature had plummeted to 91 degrees (33 C).

After a couple of Greg’s margarita’s (see 2018 post for “Reba’s Cantina” by Free Hot Lunch – this is “Greg’s Cantina”) and the second half of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I made my way back to my tent, getting lost on the way. It was well past my bedtime – nearly 10:30 when I got to the tent. I awoke before 5. All the water in the campground was shut down but came on at 5. I went back to bed, sleeping in until after 6. Gaspar and Dana were on the way to the airport by 7. We could not talk them into quitting their jobs to stay with us.

Small cave in Devil’s Tower

A front blew in over night – strongly enough to knock my bike over. I needed a blanket before dawn. A cool and pleasant morning with a forecast 15 degrees cooler than Saturday. (We’ve gone from 35 degrees in West Yellowstone to 98 degrees here in a week.) Nonetheless, we set out for the tower early. We hiked to the base of Devil’s Tower and followed a trail around the tower, stopping to watch climbers a few times. There are several named routes up the rock. In this heat, I would opt for one on the shady side.

Climbers lower left (atop tilted column) and slightly higher on right (atop straight column).

We hiked through grasslands and in and out of woods. The tower was closer than it appeared from the campsite, but disappeared and reappeared at intervals.

“The Window” – The missing section of rock lies just in front of us where it fell, as if calving from a glacier, some time ago.
Alien spaceship about to land on top of Devil’s Tower


Nothing like a KOA/RV park to bring a new focus to the trip. In the high country we saw a lot of Mercedes Sprinter vans, which seem like a civilized alternative if you have tons of money (tall enough to stand in, but not like the behemoths we see here). Here we saw an RV with a foldout deck in back with two different gas cooking appliances. Some of these RVs are big enough that the parents could have a cocktail party in the front while the kids have a slumber party in back. They have slide out sections to make them even wider. It’s scary to think that no special license is required to drive these monsters – how many drivers are aware of how long and how wide they are while driving?

Monday morning we climb out of this valley, cross the border into South Dakota, climb through Spearfish Canyon and prepare for Needles Highway, the Black Hills, and The Badlands.

Breaking news

Sunday night I was watching “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. (I hadn’t seen the beginning in years.) The sky was darkening dramatically onscreen as the real sky mimicked it. Lightning began to appear in the distance. My tent was open so I left the movie and walked down to the campground quickly. The wind increased dramatically. I thought better of a quick trip to the bathroom – good thing, as I think my tent would have been gone when I returned. I got inside and tried to hold the tent up against the onslaught. Hail began striking my hands so I held up the poles instead. The windward side of the tent was flat against my body. Hail began to pile up at the base of the rainfly – see photo taken once it stopped.

Minutes later it was over. A gentle rain fell. The moon shone in a clearing sky. Per the National Weather Service, the wind was 60 mph. Now to sleep?