Friday, June 14, 2024

And Another Thing

     You may believe American are insufficiently Godly.  Or you may believe they are sufficiently Godly, or that they are far too much so.  It's a range of opinions that may be held by any resident of this country - and not just held, but expressed.

     You might even be of the opinion that our governments -- Federal, state, local, whatever -- ought to be involved in that.  You can think it, you can say it, you can write to the newspaper about it.  It happens to be wrong; we've got a First Amendment that covers the precise issue and a pack of clamoring, competing religions, secular organizations, sects and denominations who want to make sure Uncle Sam doesn't back the other guy's horse.  Nevertheless, you can have your own opinion.

     If you happen to be a U. S. Supreme Court Justice, you get to have your own opinions, too -- but you're expected to be mindful that your every word potentially carries the weight and might of the Federal government behind it; you're expected to be circumspect; you're expected to have thought the whole thing through.

     So when I hear of a Justice being a-okay with the idea that "We've go to return the nation to a place of Godliness," I'm gobsmacked.  Our government is a secular affair, and they're not supposed to be putting a thumb on those scales.

     It's ugly when the Justices are found hobnobbing with wealthy pals who have axes to grind and. occasionally, cases that come before the Court; they can be dazzled.  The black-robed Nine are making about $300,000.00 a year,* which would delight me, but is modest by Washington-attorney standards or compared to a gazillionaire oligarch's lifestyle.  It's worse when they appear to be committed to ideologies they hold higher than the Constitution of the United States of America.

     I used to have faith that even when I disagreed with the ruling, the Justices would have carefully considered their positions, and would support them with honest reasoning based on foundational documents and sound jurisprudence.  I'm not so confident now.
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* A little more for the Chief Justice and a little less for the others, and it looks like they even have buy their own lunch at the cafeteria in the Court building if they didn't bring a sandwich from home.  If we could better secure the independence of their thought by paying them far more, it would be cheap at the price; but it's extremely unlikely to help.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

501(c)(3)

     Your church -- and many other organizations -- probably doesn't pay any Federal taxes.  And any donations you make to it are likely tax-deductible.  It's a 501(c)(3) organization to the IRS; they had to file some paperwork and prove they really were a church in order to get that status.

     The history is murky.  26 U.S.C. § 501(c) has been around as long as the IRS but the detailed test IRS uses to help figure out if an applicant is a church or not only dates to 1980.  I'm not finding any quick and easy history of the sixty-seven years between 1913 and '80.

     501(c)(3) status comes with a caveat: the church (or other organization) can't get involved in partisan politics, which IRS reads to mean they can't be for or against any particular candidate or party.  If your church wants to open up for even-handed debate, or make sure people know where their polling places are and what the ballot or voting machine will look like?  Great, go for it!  They just can't tell people who to vote for.  They can't hold rallies against or in support of a party or candidate.  If Pastor Smith wants to hold forth on the evils of being intolerant, or of being too tolerant?  Fine; IRS can't say boo.  But he can't extol the virtues of one candidate or lament the failings of another.

     So I was interested to note recent news that a mega-church in Arizona had hosted a town hall sponsored by a partisan political organization and featuring a candidate for President.  There was some shocked -- shocked, I say -- commentary that the candidate had said a bad word, and the crowd had chanted it back in response, but that's nobody's business but his, the crowd's and the venue's; maybe they're wide open to the wildest of free speech.  Maybe they think it's fun to cuss in church.  On the other hand, while IRS doesn't go hunting around for 501(c)(3) violations, this one is on video and is getting attention.

     Here's how they put it: "The IRS may begin a church tax inquiry only if an appropriate high-level Treasury official reasonably believes, on the basis of facts and circumstances recorded in writing, that an organization claiming to be a church or convention or association of churches may not qualify for exemption[...]."

     Anyone who has been seriously crosswise with our Federal tax officials can tell you: it's no fun.  Why any group would want to wave a red cape at a Federal bull is beyond me, especially when there are plenty of halls to hire that don't have that particular eagle-with-an olive-branch-and-a-balance hanging over them.  Might as well toss an illegally-possessed handgun in the trash and call the cops.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

In The Interest Of Fairness

     Since I did write a single piece on former President Trump's recent trial and conviction, I'd better give the trial and conviction of Hunter Biden (not a former or current President and has never held elected office) the same.

     He lied on a BATFE 4473 form and got caught; it went to trial, the prosecution presented the facts and he was held guilty.  Simple as that.  The surprising thing that he was found out and prosecuted; skylined by having a President for a father and addicted to a particularly stigmatizing drug, his odds of skating by were worse than most.  In a country where 38 of 50 states have legalized a Federally illegal drug (marijuana), 24 of them for recreational use, there must be stacks and stacks of 4473s with entries constituting a felony, just ticking away -- something it would be reasonable for a jury to expect a man with a law degree like, oh, Hunter Biden, to understand.  It's not as if BATFE made it a trick question:
     "21. f. Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?
Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside."

     While the Feds periodically update the form (it now includes a tickbox for "Non-Binary" in the answers for question 14, which makes sense given that they want ethnicity, race, height, weight, hair and eye color, too, all so they can pick you out of a crowd) they've wanted to know if you were breaking Federal drug laws for as long as I've been filling out those forms, and they ask because Uncle Sam has decided drug users shouldn't be owning guns.  You don't even have to be an addict to get the downcheck.

     So the bottom line is, if you're smoking the Devil's cabbage (et illegal cetera), don't go buying guns.  It's a Federal crime to lie on the 4473 form and it's a Federal crime to possess the firearm.  If they can do it to Hunter Biden -- and they most certainly did -- they can do it to you, too, and you're probably not an attorney nor especially rich, and it's a cinch your Dad isn't President.*  Sure, maybe they'll overlook you (it usually takes an arrest for something else first), but I wouldn't count on it.
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* Even if he was, he'd probably do the same thing Joe Biden has done, and refuse to pardon you.  Call it a strong moral stance or call it a cynical ploy, the result is the same.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

So Much Stuff

     I didn't post yesterday.  My first day back at work after a week off, after dealing with the flea mess (relief is underway, but I have bags and bags of pillows and quilts to wash, most of them marinating in a spray of cedarwood oil flea destroyer) was too much distraction, especially with Tam out dog sitting for most of last week.  She's back today.

     The flea issue prompted me to replace the curtains and Roman blinds on the windows the cats enjoy sitting in, and what a change it has made!  I didn't expect it would be so striking.  I wanted more opaque blinds in the library and wow, did the place end up darker.  And the complicated, Victorianesque triple curtains (light floral-pattern sheers facing out with heavy green-brown Arts & Crafts-pattern tapestry curtains on the room side and a matching valence) in the living room have been replaced by simple Roman blinds with a striped pattern; I was sorry to take them down and the cats loved them, but they were a flea circus -- a Dry Clean Only flea circus, at that.  The old curtains kind of pooled on a couple of windowsill-high cabinets; I added a pair of washable cat beds on the cabinets instead and that's working out.

     It's been a lot of work and expense I wasn't expecting.  I haven't been quite able to zero out my credit card since the pandemic began, and it's not going to happen this month, either.  Clearly, I need to finish and sell a novel.

     Of course, I also need to keep working on bookshelves.  That's what I had planned to do last week.  It didn't happen.  Bookshelves and other types of shelves -- I have ambitious plans and have gathered prices at the lumberyard.  I've got wood for a small bookshelf for one end of the window seat and the other projects all need to be budgeted.  I have found that drawing software is a huge help; Visio and LiberOffice Draw let you work at scale and I can figure out raw materials and minimize left-over pieces right on the screen, creating a shopping list as a part of the process.  (I have mentioned the book Nomadic Furniture in the past, James Hennessey and Victor Papanek's 1970s book on DIY furniture; the ideas and especially the principles they wrote about have been a huge influence on how I think about and build furniture.  It's still in print -- use Tam's Amazon link for brownie points -- and has aged far better than bellbottoms.  My first copy, forty-plus years ago when the book was between printings, was a bootleg photocopy.  I have since made that up by buying the genuine article.)

Sunday, June 09, 2024

N. B.

     "You're just as sweet as paint chips," might not be a compliment.

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Worrisome

     When I go to the home-improvement store and I am looking around in the lumber section, the last thing I want to be smelling is woodsmoke.

Friday, June 07, 2024

Knocked Out

     Oh, not literally, but dealing with the flea infestation is really taking it out of me.  This week was supposed to be a relaxing vacation.  Tam is away most of the time dog-sitting, and all I had to do was sleep, eat, and breathe (etc.)

     Instead, I'm not getting good sleep, I've got laundry running most of the time, and I need to hang multiple new curtains -- after I take down and bag up the old ones.  Which will happen after I have stripped the bed, bagged the bedding and pillows and treated the mattress.  I've bought curtains, a pillow, and various flea treatments.

     I've been through worse; when Tommy the cat and his sisters were little, well over thirty years ago, my well-carpeted duplex was swarmed with fleas; my next-door neighbor was just short of being an animal hoarder and the little black cat who was Tommy's mother had been feral (and ran away to that life as soon as the kittens were weaned).  Back then, I slept with flea collars on my ankles for a month (don't do this now, they've changed the chemicals), while cycling everything washable through the laundromat at least twice.  But it's no fun to deal with, even with my very own washer and dryer and no next-door source of replacement fleas.

Thursday, June 06, 2024

D-Day

     It was on this date in 1944 that the Allies began to take back Europe from Nazi Germany -- and it probably wouldn't have been possible even then if the USSR hadn't been pushing back, hard, for a year and a half in the east.*

     The successful invasion of Europe came at a terrible cost in human life, and it took nearly three months of fighting to cover what is now a three hour drive from the landing sites to Paris.  Victory in Europe took eleven months from D-Day, and left smoking ruins.

     There is war in Europe again today, with an authoritarian regime invading a smaller, weaker neighbor.  The United States is beset by "America First " isolationists and a small, vocal contingent of outright fascists, just as we were in 1939 - 41.  Along with our European allies, we're providing materiel support to the invaded nation, while trying to stay clear of the fight.

     Will echoes of the events of WW II -- which themselves echoed the Great War only a generation earlier -- ring across Europe again?  The price of inaction is paid in blood, in labor and goods lost in the flames of war, and it is always high.  Civilization won last time and the time before, but victory is never certain.

     Remember the past.  Understand the present.
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* A source of tension between Russia and the rest of the WW II Allies that persists to this day is that the USSR lost around eleven million soldiers and seven million civilians, and Russians don't think the other Allies ever fully recognized the extent of their losses.  It's a resentment Vladimir Putin exploits now, when he demonizes NATO.

Fleas!

     I knew the cats were itchy.  I was a little itchy, too, and for two days, I thought it was allergies.  Huck was especially miserable, scratching and grooming almost all the time, and I ran a lint roller over him, just in case.

     It collected a fine crop of fleas, some still twitching.

     After consultation with the vet, last night they got the approved treatment, and as of this morning, everyone is doing better, even me.  There's rather a lot of vacuuming and laundry in my immediate future, though. I don't know where they came from; Tam and I both take long walks; many of mine in the open fields of the North Campus at work. We've both done yard work and since she likes to take a long lunch and write at nearby eateries, she meets a lot of people's dogs. And both of us have been keeping screened windows slightly cracked on cool days and nights, where long-haired Holden Wu likes to nap. Any of those things could have let fleas get in.

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Step Forward!

     It looks as if we've once again got volunteer tomatoes in the backyard garden patch here at Roseholme Cottage.  They're probably the small, fast-ripening cherry tomatoes that came back last year.

     This is a pretty good trick.  Tomatoes are not a perennial; they're not even close.  Originally a jungle plant, tomatoes are not a natural fit to most climates in North America.  The little cherry tomatoes have a couple of tricks: they are very dense, so it's easy to miss the little tomatoes until they are too ripe -- and they go from ready to eat to overripe in a twinkling.  I tend to bury the too-ripe ones where they fall, or chuck them along the fence, where I'm hoping another patch will take root.  So far, the fence weeds have defeated my efforts, but the roughly circular garden patch, dominated by a sprawling and overly aromatic sage plant, has paid off.  I let the autumn leaves pile up on it and try not to disturb it until late Spring.  (We're in that three-week interregnum, after the beginning of meteorological summer but with astronomical spring lingering until the solstice.)

     The sawtooth-edged tomato leaves are distinctive, as is the tiny-tree structure of the new plants.  There may be some lookalike weeds fooling me -- nightshade is a close cousin* and the young plants look similar -- but I didn't have any in the patch around the sage last year, so my hopes are high.
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* But not that close, at least around here.  It has a less-dense structure with purple flowers and fewer of them, compared to the bushy leaves and yellow flowers of the tomatoes.  The fruit is mostly empty, too, with prominent segments.

Monday, June 03, 2024

Speaking Of Outraged Screeching...

     I can't wait* to see what our far and loony Right makes of the outcome of Mexico's Presidential election.  No doubt they'll be hopping mad, hopped up on conspiracy theories, and ready to leap into war -- though somehow the pundits and politicians manage to never have to hump a rifle and full pack into battle personally (PDF).
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* By which I mean it will be boringly predictable and I certainly can wait.  The annoyingness of, "Let's you and him fight," is only increased by stirring in desperate blood-and-soil blather.

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Trials And Tribulations

     I'm not going to dwell on the latest twists and turns in the long, convoluted story of Donald Trump, former President of the U. S. and current candidate for that same office.

     My attention is not on the trial so much as the necessity of the trial.  People seeking the highest elected office in the country should refrain from the kinds of behavior that necessitate paying hush money -- or at least, having done so, they'd better play it straight and not try to hide that they've handed over a large sum of money that could be counted as a campaign expense.

     Just as the discovery of a large trove of classified documents in Mr. Trump's possession appears to have prompted President Biden and former Vice President Pence to check their garages and attics for similar papers -- and they found a few, and turned them over without fuss -- I would like to hope the current crop of candidates are pondering their dalliances (or sighing in relief at the lack thereof) and whatever they may have done to try to keep them out of the public eye.

     But I would prefer that the vast majority of office-holders and candidates have conducted their lives with no more than the usual set of speeding tickets, overlooked items, and no genuinely lurid fooling around.  My biggest objection to the present set of circumstances is not the trial or its outcome, or the other pending litigation; it's that people running for the job ought to have refrained from the kinds of behavior that would land them in criminal court (or civil court, for that matter, and it might be interesting to review the personal legal histories of past Presidents as a standard of comparison).  I don't care if the person running for office is a suit-wearing combination of Jesus, Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson: if they can't keep their nose clean, they shouldn't be running for office, period -- and their political parties shouldn't let them.

     Outrageous, you say?  Too high a standard?  And yet you have managed it.  The majority of my readers will have never faced any criminal charges greater than a misdemeanor; personally, I even managed to get crosswise with the IRS and clear it up without being charged with an offense.  Avoiding criminal activity isn't that much to ask, especially of any citizen above the poverty line.  If a candidate for office stole bread to feed his starving children, we'd all have to parse the situation -- but it hasn't happened yet and it is unlikely to in the future.

     Mr. Trump's last two trials have hinged on tawdry behavior, stuff you wouldn't tolerate from a family member or a guy running for dogcatcher.  Having millions or billions of dollars and loads of cheering followers shouldn't excuse it.  "Oh, "They're out to get him?"  Then he shouldn't have done the kinds of things he could be "got" for.  Not banging porn stars and having to hide that you're paying them to keep shut up about it, not sexually assaulting women: this isn't the kind of thing that a guy getting an office tower or casino built could just fall into over a misplaced decimal or comma.

     And that's my opinion.  I expect the usual screeching, emotional nonsense and thinly-veiled threats in response.