Loose Lips Sink Ships

Once upon a time I had a friend who applied for a position with an intelligence agency. A brilliant person – decisive, thoughtful, athletically gifted … he had it all and was accepted for the job. He was fired within a month. Among his quirks (and who among us doesn’t have them of one kind or another?) was that he couldn’t keep a secret. This was such a part of his personality structure that he didn’t even know it was there.

Of course, if the agency had wanted to know this, they had only to ask me. After being burned a couple of times, and having information of mine broadcast which should have remained “off the record,” I simply adjusted what I would share with this person and we remained friends.

If you spend a professional lifetime keeping things confidential, as all physicians are supposed to do, you become quite sensitive when you bump up against your polar opposites. Working as a doctor in small towns there are quite a few people who would like get into your head, because they already know everybody and would like to know everything as well. So you learn to be cagey, much like a seasoned poker player, and not give away information either by words or by a “tell.”

Now, to be a little Machiavelllian about all this, if you should discover that you are acquainted with such a talebearer, you can use this when you choose. When you have some information you would like to get out there but don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, simply mention it to this friend and swear him to secrecy. Mission accomplished.

I first became aware of the small town gossip chain when I moved to Hancock, Michigan, popuation 4500. One day within my first month working there, I had ordered a laboratory test of a sensitive nature. The next afternoon I was distressed to hear the following conversation in a hospital elevator between a lab technician and another citizen.

Lab Tech: How ya doing, Charlie?

Charlie: Pretty good, a lot better than Fred, from what I hear.

Lab Tech: What do ya mean?

Charlie: That new doctor ordered a test on him for gonorrhea, right?

Lab Tech: Well, yeah.

Charlie: And it came back positive?

Tech: … well, yeah.

Charlie: That’s what I mean. Wonder who gave it to Fred?

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From The New Yorker

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Shortly after beginning my colorful and peripatetic college career, I enrolled in an American history class where the Turner Thesis was an important part of the readings.

The frontier thesis or Turner thesis (also American frontierism) is the argument advanced by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893 that American democracy was formed by the American frontier. He stressed the process—the moving frontier line—and the impact it had on pioneers going through the process. Turner begins the essay by calling to attention the fact that the western frontier line, which had defined the entirety of American history up to the 1880s, had ended.

Wikipedia: Frontier Thesis

Historians and sociologists since then have debated the Thesis but for the most part accept that Turner was onto something, and the fact that there was no more wilderness to invade and subdue (along with the people who were residents thereof) would impact the further development of America in unpredictable ways.

That’s an interesting topic and there’s much material to read on the subject in the libraries if it grabs you. But it strikes me that while the physical frontier might have ended, there are others barely touched.

One frontier, one place to start is for each of us to finally and at long last completely reject violence as a means of resolving debates or disagreements. I know, I know, impossible. But what could almost be called miracles were achieved by the non-violent campaigns of the civil rights era. These heroes offered a complete rejection of the tit-for-tat, the reactivity that has always been our way. And although many of the good things that Gandhi was able to achieve through his sturdy brand of non-violence have been lost or diluted over time there are those which persist, as is our memory of the power of that approach.

So what do we do when a Putin or a Stalin or a Mao or a Tojo or a Mussolini or a Hitler or a Pol Pot or a Duterte comes along? That is where having moved that particular frontier line forward comes into play. When we apply what we already know about living compassionately together we deprive those guys of their oxygen.

The alternative is to do what we have been doing ever since Glog came out of the cave having carved his first war club and gave Blech a resounding rap on the head with it. Of course, Blech’s friends immediately went out and invented the AR-15, et cetera et cetera et cetera.

Maybe our species isn’t anywhere near civilizable yet as a whole, but we don’t have to wait for 100% of us to get on board to take steps. Thich Nhat Hanh, that gentle and thoughtful man who recently passed away, said it so well. If you want peace in the world, be peace in your life.

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I’ve set sort of a serious tone so far, but before I leave it behind I wanted to play a song which is definitely in that same melancholy vein. Except that the genius of Bob Dylan and a wonderful arrangement by Daniel Lanois together pose the question: if all is truly hopeless where does a song like this that touches rather than depresses come from?

This morning I watched a video on YouTube of Ed Bradley interviewing Bob Dylan a couple decades ago, and when asked where did songs like Blowing In The Wind or Like A Rolling Stone originate, Dylan admitted that he didn’t know. One day, they were just there.

Not to compare myself with anyone else, especially including Bob Dylan, but there have been many times when I woke in the morning and read over what I had written the night before and thought to myself – where in the hell did that come from? (This happened slightly more often back in the days when I used to play spin the bottle with Mr. Beefeater, but still occurs.) I know that it was me that typed it into the word processor … but where … ?

Occasionally I will take such a piece of writing and run into the next room to show it to poor Robin, who then has to listen to it or to read it. At those times I don’t feel that I am boasting, or saying what a good boy am I. It’s more like I just came across a scrap of paper with these words on it laying there on the sidewalk and I picked it up.

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Looking out the windows in the back of the house I see the planters half-covered with snow that in the spring will contain food growing for our table. A microscopic amount of food compared with the great pile that we need to sustain life throughout the year. But some tomatoes, some greens … more of a reminder of how dependent I am on others. A favorite table prayer of mine is this:

Let us give thanks for the sun and the rain and the earth and someone else’s hard work. Amen.

So even though I tell myself that this year I will give myself a break and not plant anything it will probably not happen that way. Apparently I have not yet suffered the required amount of garden insects, fungi, and pathogenic bacteria that needs to happen to make me abandon the whole enterprise. Not to mention droughts, the blazing suns of global warming, and other pestilences.

So bring on the seed catalogs, the bags of soil guaranteed to grow tomatoes that taste like ambrosia and are the size of basketballs. I will suspend my disbeliefs for one more growing season and give it a shot. Once more unto the breach, dear friends and all that.

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From The New Yorker

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It is already Spring to the meteorologists and Tuesday morning promised a sunny and warm day. I was on laundry detail, so early on I ran the clothes through the washing machine and then chose to hang them outside. Out the door I went in Birkenstocks, pajamas, and a barn coat. The warm wet clothes were steaming in the 24 degree air. Somehow it seemed just the right thing to do today. I know that many of my friends don’t have this option because it is still so cold in the Midwest, although I do remember my mother hanging out laundry on days when the items froze stiff on the line.

We have one of those umbrella-type lines that don’t take up the entire yard. It was installed, believe it or not, by me. And it is still standing, even though setting it up required the actual mixing of a small amount of cement and keeping the center post at a 90 degree vertical while it set.

Who knew? Sometimes I surprise even me.

Mom’s lines were more like those in the photo at right. They would sag in the middle to the point where longer items could touch the ground. When that happened she put a wooden pole in the middle of the line, one with a “Y” on the end to catch the line.

This would all work well unless the wind or a passing dog bumped the pole and it fell down. On rainy days this could cause quite a maternal stir as the clean clothes now swung back and forth through mud puddles.

But we have no dog, it is not raining, and the breezes are gentle ones. Expectations are high that the garments will be warm, dry, and unsullied this afternoon when we come to gather them.

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