In Which Our Heroine is Charmed and Frustrated By Turns

10 February 2003

I am so charmed by this picture. This is the town where my dad's mom spent her last days, and when we stayed there in a B&B, it turned out to be owned by her friend, who gave me a teacup that had belonged to the grandmother I never knew. It was wonderful. And now, this picture, Minnesota politics and Minnesota character plastered very firmly on my screen this morning. Makes me happy and homesick all at once.

'Course, the New York Sun would call 'em traitors, but that's because they don't have a very firm idea of the legal meaning of "comfort," so. At least we know not to listen to the New York Sun from now on.

I'm also charmed by Matt Ruff's Fool on the Hill, and I look forward to finishing it today. Before Wendy gets here, I hope, but it's not the only item on my pre-Wendy agenda. (There are lots of dogs in this book. That isn't its only plus, either.) Also there will be applesauce-raisin bars baked, laundry done, and waters muddied. See, right now in Dwarf's Blood Mead, things are too clear-cut. The main character needs to be in some doubt. So far I've done that by having both sides act like jerks, but only one side has also acted pleasantly. I need to give the other side a touch more in the way of good points, and I came up with a particularly evil excuse for one of the characters' behavior. It qualifies as water-muddying at the very least, and the behavior was previously pretty damning. There'll still be a time period when everyone is behaving either poorly or just strangely, and I think that's all right.

And I got scallops thermidore. What I didn't like about lobster thermidore, see, is that I'm lukewarm on the subject of lobster. I'll eat it, but it's not quite my thing. (And, really, should you ever feel obligated to eat lobster? I should think not.) I reasoned that scallops would not have such problems, and I was right. Also I had creamy asparagus soup and a chocolate mousse with fruit, hazelnut gelato, and espresso creme anglais -- yum. So I think that was good all around.

I've been shaking my head at various articles in the paper with a common theme lately. Here's the pattern: the state budget is in trouble. (This is the case in several states. California and Minnesota are the ones that pop up in my life the most just now.) Budget cuts are necessary. People protest cuts to their favorite program by commenting on how much money is spent on the military.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but generally the military is a federal thing. California doesn't have a big item in its budget for submarines or stealth bombers, is my general sense of the thing. You may believe that the federal government should pass on bigger grants to the states for libraries, schools, law enforcement, whatever, rather than spending that money on the military. Insert your favorite program here. But protesting the cuts in the current budget on those grounds doesn't make any sense, because the federal government is not going to instantaneously stop production on its latest plane and immediately fling those funds into your neighborhood school. If you have a current budget problem, you need to justify your program as compared to the other programs with which it's competing in the state budget. Not only that, you need to justify the amount of funding compared to the other programs' funding in the state budget. Or if it's a local issue, in the local budget, county or city or whatever. We might like to oversimplify government into "all the same people," but it doesn't work that way in reality. Your governor and state legislators and mayor and alderbeings don't get to dip into the federal coffers.

And every single program sounds like a good idea to somebody. I promise. There is no state program for which everybody says, "What? What did we need that for?" It's very well to say that budgetary committees should "trim the fat" and "weed out corruption," but unless you have it from a reliable source that the mayor is using the pothole cement to make his swimming pool, those are fairly likely to just be nice slogans. We don't agree on what's "fat." We want lots of stuff. Until we get the magical nanomachines* from happyland, we need to deal with not being able to have everything we want, paid for by the government or not (that is, paid for by ourselves directly or indirectly).

This seems so obvious I shouldn't need to say it. And yet. And yet it keeps coming up. In yesterday's Merc, there was a woman urging her teenage daughter (protesting education budget cuts) to make a sign reading, "Make books, not war." (Ah, that crucial s.) And the kid made one that said, "Education First" instead. Better. Much better. It's not like the school district was funneling textbook funds into an aircraft carrier, for heaven's sake. But scarcity still doesn't seem to have gotten through to a lot of people, and while they can spout slogans like, "Build schools, not prisons!", nobody actually wants the just-convicted rapist to be fined and let loose on their street. (And while the latest number the Merc gave for Americans supporting legalization of marijuana in at least some circumstances was 80%, a pretty small fraction of that 80% is willing to actually stand up and get those drug laws changed so that we don't have to maintain prisons for nonviolent offenders. Or willing to exercise their moral duty not to convict people they don't think should be fined/jailed. Or anything crazy like that.) They don't want to stand up and say, "I want schools to have money, not libraries." They don't want to say, "It is more important to me to have an art program for my neighbor's 15-year-old than to have the potholes filled in my neighborhood streets." But those are exactly the choices the legislators who make the budget have to make. It is a zero-sum game at this stage of the budget crises. And it's not fair to just keep making demands without being realistic about what we're demanding and how we will have to pay for it.

Grr. Sorry. I just feel like opposition to the impending war in Iraq is getting conflated with frustration with the government in way too many directions. And while it's totally valid to be frustrated with the government over the impending war in Iraq, that doesn't mean that everything would be bright and shiny and happy with the government if only we didn't have an impending war. There are other things wrong with it. There are other problems to address, too.

Ah well. My problems today are much smaller than state budgetary concerns, I think. Just the standard schedule-juggling, prose-churning, social-butterfly stuff. Much less cranky than this, I think. I hope.

* I do recognize that "magical nanomachines" is redundant, as "nanotechnology" effectively means "magic" in science fiction these days.

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