The Astral Log

10 May 2016

The West Virginia Presidential Primary

Filed under: The World In Which We Live, US-West Virginia — Andrew T. @ 23:00

Spend ETERNITY in West Virginia!

As you may have heard, Bernie Sanders won the presidential primary election in West Virginia. You might also be wondering why on earth a Jewish self-described democratic socialist could make headway in an small-minded, bigoted strip mine of a state that pulled for Mitt Romney in every single fucking county in 2012; where politicians routinely brag about being more conservative and more Jesus-soaked than their opponents, any concession towards environmentalism or a diversified economy is assaulted as a "war on coal," and almost every one of Sanders' financial and social policy points is unmentionable anathema.

I was born in West Virginia, I lived the first 22 years of my life there, and I feel qualified to comment about the state, its problems, and its peculiarities. The state is extremely rural and isolating. Most people regard church as their sole avenue of social interaction. People like the things that they're used to, and are extremely hostile about anything that challenges their 1950s-era preconceptions about the world. White people run the country, queers and atheists don't exist, coal seams will always be there to be mined, and you'll burn in hell if you disagree.

For decades, the Democratic Party dominated sub-national politics in the state...largely due to inertia; though also due to an older generation that remembered West Virginia's labor history and the corrosive effect that Republican policies have on human lives. Suffice to say, there's little of that generation left...and the shift in party identity among racist white conservatives that began with Nixon's Southern Strategy of 1968 has taken hold here, too. The Christian-nationalist Republican party now holds all three of West Virginia's congressional seats, the state Senate, and the House of Delegates.

Every change in West Virginia happens a little slower than in other states, though. Through the duration of the state's period of Democratic Party dominance (1932-2014), most critical elections happened at the primary level. West Virginia also has a semi-closed primary system, and changing party affiliations is cumbersome. Thus, it was advantageous for voters to register themselves as Democrats...even among staunch conservative people who would be Republican fringe in any northern state.

What this means is that many or most Democrats in West Virginia aren't liberal, and don't support the national Democratic Party. They didn't support the party in 2000, when they directly made George W. Bush President of the United States. Since 2008, every Democratic presidential primary result has been an act of spite: They voted for Hillary Clinton in 2008, when Barack Obama ran a superior campaign and was close to clinching the nomination. In 2012, almost half the state voted for a convicted felon as a protest vote for no reason other than to spite President Obama. And in 2016, they voted for Bernie Sanders.

For all his "socialist" credentials, Bernie Sanders' campaign has quite a few flaws. He responds to questions with vague generalities, not plans that can be implemented. He's done a poor job courting nonwhite voters. His view on gun safety (or the lack thereof, as people die) is a colossal blind spot. His ability to enact progressive legislation is contingent upon Democratic control of Congress, yet he refuses to raise funds for downlevel elections. He parrots right-wing talking points against his primary competitor. Six months ago, I was a Sanders fan...but over the last six months, Sanders' campaign has become so contradictory and corrosive that it's made my head spin.

As all this raged, Hillary Clinton supported Democratic congressional and state-level candidates, withstood adversity, and courted the diverse coalition that Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012. She's outlined plans to support clean energy and combat anthropogenic climate change. She's also attracted more than 2.7 million votes more than Sanders, she's the stronger and most electable candidate, and is well on her way to clinching the Democratic nomination.

West Virginia Democratic-registered voters aren't voting for Sanders because they expect him or want him to be President. They're voting for him because he's the weaker and less electable candidate. They want him to lose...because they've already made up their mind and the man they want to be president is Donald Trump. They want to vote for a man who plans to track and label Muslims in a Nazi-style database. They want to vote for a man who brands Mexicans as "rapists" and yearns for a wall along the border paid out of Mexico's pocket. They want to vote for a man who incites hatred and racial violence at his rallies. They want to vote for a man who earns endorsements from white nationalists...and reciprocates by selecting white nationalists as delegates. They want to vote for the frontrunner in the Republican Party...who embraces and crystallizes every position Republicans have strove to endorse in the last 50 years, and who epitomizes everything that is insidious and evil about mankind.

And that, in conclusion, is my two cents on the West Virginia primary.

7 March 2016

License Plate Finds

Filed under: License Plates — Andrew T. @ 08:00

Now that I've recouped some strength, what better way is there to wrap up the last weekend than to discuss the things I found? Most are tangentially related to my birthyear run, which is starting to spiral out of control.

[license plate]

As I alluded to earlier, I plugged the most embarrassing hole in my marriage equality run—Illinois—at the Peotone meet. Whether or not I'll actually finish the run in time to exhibit it this summer in Mike Pence's RFRA-cursed state is anyone's guess, but I can try...

[license plate]

And speaking of Indiana, here's a gold-colored plate intended for use on state-owned vehicles. I'm not entirely sure when this plate would have been manufactured or used; though the squared corners would appear to indicate 1973 or later. Most Indiana plates until the 1990s were made of steel; however these were aluminum as they were intended for long-term use.

I've long wondered why Indiana embossed painted rectangles in the corners of its plates for many years. It's one of the peculiar design idiosyncrasies of the midwest; alongside ideological rival Wisconsin's extraneous slots and grooves.

[license plate]

I believe that RV plates were the only Indiana non-passenger plates of the 1980s that were revalidated with stickers instead of being wastefully replaced every year. As if to reinforce the fact that there was something out of the ordinary going on, the sticker on this plate is yellow on red...a different color scheme from the passenger stickers of 1985, which were black.

[license plate]

Texas is one of those states that quietly issue dozens of arcane non-passenger classifications for every type of vehicle use imaginable. These annual "conservation" plates certainly fit that bill, and they were reportedly issued to soil conservation machinery. But it's more fun to imagine it hanging on the back of a Citicar or some other Texas-stereotype-defying transportation appliance.

I doubt more than a limited number of these were ever issued at any one time, and this specimen is in unused condition.

[license plate]

Another worthy subject for the "interesting non-pass" category: An Ohio county vehicle plate that was likely issued in the 1970s, but still in use in 1985. Horrible shape; but for a dollar, I couldn't lose.

[license plate]

I also decided to get one of those Oregon PUC permits that were once ubiquitous on the front of big rigs. 1984-85 was the last biannual issue and the last low-profile plate; measuring precisely 12 by 30.5 centimeters in dimension.

[license plate]

My most surprising find of the day was another deal in a dollar box, surrounded by uninspiring 1960s and 1970s scrap-metal fare: A 1946 Illinois fiberboard plate, made out of a soybean composition precipitated by World War II-era metal rationing concerns. Legend and lore has it that goats and other farm animals used to eat these off the bumpers, so maybe I should be content that this one has only a slight bite...

That's all for now, but there will be more someday.

4 March 2016

License Plate Displays... Peotone Style

Filed under: License Plates, US-Illinois — Andrew T. @ 08:00

While I debate whether or not I'll muster the patience to attend a local license plate meet again, here are some glimpses into the meat and matter of last weekend's event: The displays!

1956 license plates

One of the largest things on display was this 53-piece U.S. passenger run from 1956; the twilight era of inconsistent shapes and sizes. But there were 48 states in 1956: Where did the five extras come from? Alaska and Hawaii were both included in the run in spite of their territorial status, as was the District of Columbia (which ought to be a state, but which may never be). And West Virginia and Wisconsin were represented by two plates apiece because each design saw an equal amount of use during 1956. (Nevada could have been represented by two plates as well, but you can't win 'em all.)

California exempt plates

California exempt plates of the last 60 years, in both state (diamond-E) and local government (octagon-E) varieties. The numeric progression of these is rather haphazard, with serials in the 1980s and 1990s jumping between high and low serial blocks at random.

Tennessee license plates

A Tennessee run spanning years from 1926 to 1965; including a good sampling of the 21-year span of state-shaped plates: Good luck finding one of those that hasn't been priced in solid gold by now.

The most interesting portion of the display was the rightmost panel, which was a series of symmetrical plates belonging to a motorist from Overton County (#77) who evidently had connections! Tennessee used both county and weight class coding in this era and changed systems frequently; witnessed in the fact that the guy's number morphed from 77-77 in 1953-56 to 77-0077 in 1957 to 77-A0-77 in 1958, back to 77-0077 in 1959-61, and full circle to 77-77 again for 1962-65.

IL electric vehicle plates

What people collect demonstrates the type of people that they are, and I'd theoretically like to collect these...but Electric Vehicle plates are more difficult than hen's teeth to get; even if you live in Illinois and own an electric car.

Illinois in the year 1985

Last but not least, here's my display! The two panels were split thematically, with the left side expounding upon the idiosyncrasies of the passenger plates of 1985, and the right side cutting a swath across the non-passenger color schemes of the year. It didn't win an award, but I was happy about the way it came together.

In the future, I'd like to assemble a larger display. But I'm limited by the materials I'm easily able to find, and the length of what can fit in the back of my car. Are there any suggestions or good construction ideas out there?

29 February 2016

Back to License Plates Once More

Filed under: License Plates, The World In Which We Live, US-Illinois — Andrew T. @ 08:00

My license plate collecting interest waxes, wanes, and shifts. I find it impossible to be enthusiastic about the license plates of a state unless I'm enthusiastic about the state...and any last vestige of enthusiasm for Wisconsin was torched and burned when my adversaries spent three times handing the state to Governor Voldemort for the kill.

It had been a very long time since I had last attended a regional plate meet...since September 2014, to be precise. But when an invitation appeared on the license plate collectors' listserv to attend "the largest MAPA meet ever" in the northern Illinois map-speck of Peotone, I figured...why not? After all, it would be a chance to get out of town, showcase a display, be around people with similar interests, and find a few things for the themed runs I've been trying to put together. Right?

This is what a plate meet looks like.

I pulled myself out of bed at a ridiculous hour (4:20 in the morning) and pointed the car in a direction somewhere between Chicago and Kankakee. The temperature hovered around the zero mark (in the sensible Celsius system), with no snow visible until I was south of the Windy City. After three and a half hours, I was there...just in time to find people rushing into the building and snapping up all the closest tables before the "official" 8 a.m. opening time had even begun.

I lugged my two-panel display out of the back of the car and set it upright so that I could free my hands and fetch something else. Suddenly there was a gust of wind, and...CRASH! The display landed face-down on the pavement. Fortunately the license plates on it were little-damaged, suggesting that my decision to overbuild the display with thick rubber washers and protruding sheet-metal screws wasn't in vain.

Andrew in Illinois

To make myself easier to spot, I had dressed in a bright green T-shirt and bright green shoelaces. I wound up back-to-back with Roy Michalik, a collector from Michigan who outdid me in both wardrobe (his was a bright pink T-shirt) and travel distance. A third collector admitted to actually driving overnight to get to Illinois from Virginia; a sleepless shot from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It wasn’t fun getting up at 4:20 in the morning, but the tenacity that other collectors have in getting to their destinations continually surprises me.

What else went on? I was able to plug the most embarrassing hole in my Marriage Equality Run (Illinois) and found a few ancillary things to work into the birthyear collection. I was tormented by an equal number of near misses; including Nebraska and Ohio plates with expirations one month off from the DOMA strike-down of June 2015 and an Iowa that was three off from containing my ALPCA number. Unfortunately, close only counts in horseshoes. It only took an hour for me to comb through all the tables and traders ("largest meet" pronouncements notwithstanding), and by lunchtime, it was over.

The silver lining of the day? I actually sold license plates at this meet; enough of them to more than offset my admission fee and travel expenses. I don't know if I'll come back to Peotone, but maybe I should dress in bright green more often.

Wallace should stay dead

While I was there, one attendee went on a minute-long rant about her contempt for the poor and how much she hated the homeless and jobless people who beg for food on the streets of her city in Wisconsin: It's people like her who vote for Walker, applaud his sadistic food-stamp cuts, and measure the worth of politicians by the amount of cruelty they can inflict on "undesirable" demographics. A second collector made the point of sticking a "NOBAMA" bumper sticker prominently to the side of his trade box...a personal affront, considering that the target of his vitriol has done more to support my health and civil rights as a queer guy than any president in history. A third person was selling memorabilia from the 1968 presidential campaign of George Wallace...the opportunistic Alabama asshole responsible for the quote "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Multiple cars in the parking lot were bearing obnoxious license plates emblazoned with the exclusionary "In God We Trust" slogan; whether from Indiana, Missouri, or my unwilling home state of Wisconsin. There were no Confederate flags this time, but just about all the other squares on my "angry white Christian bigot" bingo card were filled in by the end of the event.

With an atmosphere like this, I question why I bother being involved in the license plate collecting community at all.

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