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.

That was the year that was (with apologies to Tom Lehrer)

January saw a tour of duty on the COVID unit and 20% of all patients in “my” hospital being COVID+. I spent a lot of time on the lake skiing or skating.

February saw COVID burn its way through our therapy department.

March was when I tapped the maple tree in my front yard and rode in shorts one day (73ºF, 23ºC), then in snow and 34º weather (1ºC) three days later.

April saw me giving up my bikes, kayak, and canoe for sports cars and a power boat in an April Fool post that fooled no one. It also marked my last tour of duty in the COVID-19 units, just after I announced my retirement.

May was for getting me and the bike ready for a major journey and tying up loose ends at work.

June was retirement, embarking on a coast-to-coast bike trip, contracting COVID-19, and almost giving up on the trip. On the morning of June 24, after 312 miles in three days, I wasn’t feeling great, though it was a beautiful morning. I rode in a paceline, pulled by two of the stronger riders in the group. I knew something was up but wasn’t ready to face the facts. Climbing Thompson Pass on my own, I knew I had COVID. I stopped at the County Health Department in Thompson Falls for a COVID test so I would show up in official statistics. They were closed. I tested postive in camp and took the next day (and half of the next week) off.

July marked my comeback. I made it over Teton Pass and decided I was in it for the duration. I celebrated my return with two flat tires on the 4th. July was marked by extremes of temperature and vicious wind storms, as well as COVID raging through the ranks of riders. It also included the most beautiful scenery of the trip and the pictures which made it onto jerseys and posters.

Endless gravel climb in South Dakota
Badlands photo by Adrian Amelse

The rain came harder and I stopped to put on a rain jacket. I also scarfed a bar, figuring I needed all the calories I could stuff into me for the final push. I figure that when 80% of the ride is behind me, I’ve got it made. Just past that point, the crosswind became too strong to ride safely. I feared I would be pushed into traffic. I got off and walked. A few more seconds and it was no longer safe to walk. Another few seconds and I could no longer stand. I crouched at the roadside and the wind picked up my bike. I was holding it by the top tube and it was standing out horizontally away from me at shoulder height, wheels toward the highway. If I let go, it would fly away. I would likely not see it again. I held on and got as low as possible to try to keep myself from becoming airborne along with the bike.

half-fast cycling club 24 July, 2022
The second or third windiest day of the month

August saw the hell of Michigan, even though we didn’t go through the town of Hell, Michigan. A few days to cross Ontario, a glorious week of the Adirondacks and Finger Lakes in New York (as well as a night in a milita stronghold of a campground), and arrival at the east coast.

September was to adjust to the idea of being retired without the structure of a coast-to-coast ride. A century ride in Door County and a new appreciation for bikes after flat tires on cars. The first of two (because we can, being retired, and because we couldn’t find a date we could all make) fall color rides.

October made me appreciate bikes even more with an expensive car repair in the works. The second of two fall color rides came the day after our first snowfall.

November started absurdly warm, with temperatures in the 70s (>21 C) to extend the long-distance riding season. The 15th saw the first accumulation of snow, with ski resorts set to open that weekend. I joined the ranks of indoor riders, buying a trainer (discontinued, on sale). I bought my previous trainer used 30 years ago.

December stayed warm longer than usual. Snow and cold arrived with a vengeance mid-month. I rode indoors (testing the new trainer) more than outdoors. One benefit of being retired was watching the last public meeting of the House committee investigating the failed coup of January 6, 2020. They recommended criminal charges against the former president, including conspiring to defraud the US, obstructing an official proceeding, and inciting, assisting, or giving aid and comfort to insurrection. And I finished the year with a performance of “Guys on Ice”, that ode to ice fishing and the guys who spend their winters in a shanty, sitting on an upside-down five gallon bucket looking into a hole in the ice. They taught us, in song, that “Leinenkugel’s beer ain’t just for breakfast anymore.” We celebrated the new year with a glass of Prosecco at midnight GMT.

“Who’s Next?” – Tom Lehrer on nuclear proliferation, 1965. From the album “That Was the Year That Was”.

Mole Poblano

A couple years ago I mentioned a story for another time. That time is here, so here is another story from the past, this one in Mexico.

I was working for a low-income housing co-op in Santa Clara, CA. On the side I was the Northern California Director of APSNICA (Architects and Planners in Support of Nicaragua). I quit the co-op job so I could move to Nicaragua and work full time, where we were building housing on cooperatively-owned cattle ranches.

I knew my Spanish was too rusty to live and work there, so I stopped off in Mexico for a refresher course at Cuauhnahuac, where I had studied Spanish several years before. I had three weeks to get up to speed. I brought my APSNICA slideshow along. As a self-imposed final exam I would present my 45 minute program in Spanish to the school. I had done it dozens of times in English, but this would let me know if I was ready to live in another country and work in Spanish. (I passed. Since I made up the exam, I got to grade it.)

The school placed students with families so we would be exposed to the language for more than the 6 hours/day we would spend at school. I was placed with a family with several children. The whole family slept on the living room floor to free up the bedrooms for students. One of the kids had had polio when he was younger. At 14 he wore a metal and leather long leg brace, which he took off to play basketball. A hoop (or maybe it was a literal basket, I don’t recall) was nailed to a pole in the street outside their house. Bad leg and all, he beat me more than once. (He called the game “basket”, as in – ¿Quieres jugar basket? -[“Do you want to play basketball?”]- but when he scored, he yelled – ¡Canasta! -[“basket!”])

I had a roommate, who was soon to start medical school -coincidentally in my home town. He said he wanted to be a family practice doctor and wanted to work with low-income clients who were not native English speakers. He knew that med school would present temptations to go into lucrative specialties and he wanted an experience to anchor him so he could resist those temptations. He would spend a few months volunteering in a clinic in a tiny mountain town in Puebla (home of Mole Poblano). A stint at Cuauhnahuac was first on the agenda, so he could talk to his patients.

We became fast friends. I was initially impressed by the maturity of his plan. I quickly remembered what I was doing at that age and how offensive it was when people were impressed by my maturity. I kept my mouth shut.

I went off to Nicaragua and Ken went off to Zacapoaxtla. We agreed to meet and travel together when I finished work. In those days, the only communication available was snail mail. International mail traveled at a snail’s pace. I wrote to Ken with a plan and date that I could arrive. I didn’t hear back.

I took a series of buses to get to Zacapoaxtla. I was the only gringo around. I found a clinic but no one was around. I found a hotel. When I went into the restaurant across the street for dinner, I was asked if I had come to town to see Ken, there being no other reason they could imagine a gringo being there. I said yes and that I had gone to the clinic but couldn’t find him. She told me he didn’t work in this town, but in the next village up the road, Tatoxcac.

After breakfast the next day I started up a narrow road winding through the mountain. I kept passing others walking up the same road, only to have to pass them again later. I learned that there was a path that left the road at every switchback and cut straight through the woods. The walk back down the mountain was much faster.

I made it to the little clinic. It was open but empty. I wandered through and then back outside and saw someone waving to me. The doctor walked up and asked if I were Steve. She said Ken was out of town and would be back the next day. She asked where I was staying and we made a plan for Ken to meet me for breakfast at the restaurant across from my hotel (the one that already knew who I was).

We had breakfast and hatched a plan to conduct a Mole Poblano tour. We traveled by bus from town to town throughout the state of Puebla, eventually getting to Puebla (the capital) itself. We ate Mole in every town. We ate in restaurants big and small, more and less fancy. We concluded that the best Mole Poblano was in a little village where there was a large open courtyard with big picnic tables. Surrounding the courtyard were individual open-air kitchens under a corrugated tin roof held up by poles. Whichever one you sat nearest fed you. The one we chose had two items on the menu – pechuga (breast) and pierna (leg). Either was served in a clay bowl covered in sauce and accompanied by a stack of tortillas. If you ran out of sauce before you ran out of tortillas, they refilled your bowl (no more chicken, just the sauce – but that was the best part). If I dug out my journal I could probably name the town. I could maybe find that market if I found the town. That’s not the point. The point was that we had a really good time eating a lot of really good food and had a great tour of the state in the process. And if we did it again, we might find the best mole somewhere else.

Ken went on to med school, became a family practice doctor, married another family practice doctor, went to work for a community health center (interestingly, the one which took over the clinic where I had volunteered in the 70s), eventually became Medical Director, and is now the CEO. I think his plan worked.


I watched the “One World: Together at Home” concert, with all of the artists recorded at home. I felt like a fraud. Everyone was lauding the heroic frontline healthcare workers risking their very lives. Yes, I’m a frontline healthcare worker. Maybe I’m in the second line. I dress funny nowadays, but mostly I just do my job. I don’t really do anything heroic. Maybe it’s like the old joke about the definition of a Yankee (the closer you get the more specific and nuanced the definition). Or the notion of a “war zone”. In the 1980s, many people in the US considered all of Central America to be a war zone. When you got to Central America, the war zone was in Nicaragua. When you got to Nicaragua, it was the Matalagalpa region. When you got to Matagalpa, it was out near Muy Muy and Matiguás. Where I worked, between Muy Muy and Matiguás, it was over the next ridge. I never saw the war zone.

I’m no hero. But it would be nice if the wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispensers actually had hand sanitizer in them. It would be nice if I hadn’t worn the same single-use mask for three weeks (and counting). It would be nice if I were allowed to wear an N-95 respirator if I saw a COVID-19+ patient – but those are reserved for the ICU and IMC patients. Since I work in an IMC (intermediate care center), I should be careful what I ask for.


This is not a word to be tossed around lightly. But Our Only President first asserted absolute power, then said that the authority rested in individual state governors, then tweeted LIBERATE MICHIGAN, where he doesn’t like the governor and where a shelter in place order is active. I don’t know about you, but I remember a lot of National Liberation Fronts. The point of that word was to overthrow the existing government. So when Trump tweets that we should “liberate” a state (Michigan isn’t the only one, and your state may be next) at a time when a demonstration has been called in that state (and who is organizing and funding those demonstrations?) we all know what he means. Sure, he can hide behind the words and claim he just wants to ensure our constitutional freedoms, but we all know what that word means.

Think about that. We have a president advocating for the overthrow of government – not the federal government, but individual states. He may not be technically committing treason, since he’s not advocating nor attempting to implement the overthrow of the US government; but he is advocating for the overthrow of governments within this country and there is news that funding is coming from people within his government, if not from him personally. We have a president who claimed absolute authority. Then he realized that absolute authority is accompanied by absolute responsibility. Since he has already said, “I don’t take responsibility at all”, he may have figured out that he didn’t really want that authority, as he has spent his career blaming others for his failings. As soon as he relinquished that authority, he began attacking those who took it on.