OK, Boomer!

I am not a “boomer,” so I respectfully suggest that people stop referring to me in that way. I am older than a boomer, actually, because that group didn’t start until WWII was over, and I was born before it all began. I also respectfully ask that people not blame me for that war, it was not my fault. I was a baby and I didn’t know any better.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get on with more important things.

If you are streaming the television that you watch, there is an amazing richness of opportunity in places like Netflix (perhaps especially Netflix) to engage with material about and by people of color. Go to the company site and search under “black stories,” or “black lives matter,” and see what a treasury comes up.

Now not all of you may know this, because I am a modest and shy boy of Minnesota origins, but I am a white person. In fact, one day in the past my old friend Rich Kaplan said to me: “Jon, you are the whitest person I know.” Out of not quite knowing what he meant, I never asked Rich to clarify that statement.

At any rate, I have no excuse for there still being a gap between what I should know and what I do know with regard to race, racism, injustice, et al. The information is out there. All I have to do is take a deep breath and dig in. I know two things, that I will be the better for it and that I will find it hard to watch or read.

It’s not that I am completely clueless (although my children might argue with me on that). At age fifteen my cultural education really began with reading “Century of Dishonor,” a book about the horrific treatment of Native Americans by Europeans. In the early seventies I worked at a ghetto clinic in Buffalo NY, where nearly all of my patients were black. In the eighties I worked at a clinic on a Lakota reservation in Nebraska.

But looking back I realize that I didn’t take full advantage of what were wonderful opportunities for learning. My thought processes tended toward the clinical, as if I were an anthropologist and observing on a very superficial level. Instead of taking the clumsy instrument that my mind was and letting it probe deeper into what the experiences and lives of the patients … the people … that I met might be like or what they meant. Or at least trying to do so.

Not only do I not claim to know what it means to be a black person or a Native American or Hispanic or Asian, I even have trouble knowing what it means to be a white guy sometimes. But I can look at a specific situation and ask myself: What if that happened to me? How would I feel?

I strongly suspect that I would be angry … no, furious … all of the time.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil! by Charles Blow

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Monday morning I found myself humming songs from Carole King’s excellent album of 1971, Tapestry. Robin and I talked about how really perfect the group of songs were, and the tune You’ve Got A Friend is the best song about true friendship that I’ve ever heard.

Apparently our opinion is shared by a few other people because it’s one of the largest-selling albums of all time.

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Wednesday through Friday we’re headed for the old Silesca Ranger Station for a getaway. The building dates back to 1937, and was in use by the forest service until 1954 . At any rate, civilians can now rent them and spend time alone in the forests of the Uncompahgre Plateau. We are looking forward to sharing the space with the ghosts of another era.

I will bring back photos of my own, but here’s one of the cabin, taken from the web.

The cabins have a shower, flush toilets, and an electric stove. Really, not “roughing it” at all. During the day we will likely be occasionally annoyed by ATVs buzzing around, but the evenings should be great. It’s fifteen miles from civilization and Covid-free. Nothing to do but read, sit quietly, watch the forest animals parade by, and if one is uncommonly motivated – take a hike.

Ahhhhhh, Wilderness. The word reminds me of a saying by a Native American that I read decades ago, and have long since forgotten the source.

What the white man calls wilderness, we call home.

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Southern Fried

This Sunday July 5 promises to be a warm one, which means it doesn’t stand out much from what we’ve been served for the last month or two. Our Spring was foreshortened with the rapid transition from late Winter to mid-Summer we experienced this year.

Our 4th of July was quiet. There were no fireworks here in Paradise, but for the tame ones in a few backyards. I have to admit that in creating an illegal and unwelcome noise Yankton SD beats Montrose CO all to hell.

Where Robin and I lived in South Dakota was out in the rural and some of our neighbors made such a racket on this holiday that it took a week for our cats to get their frazzled nerves back in order. Fireworks sales in SD were a big deal, and while a man with deep enough pockets couldn’t really rival the municipal displays, he could certainly keep you awake well past your bedtime.

Governor Noem of SD made her own kind of noise when she welcomed P.Cluck and the gang to Mount Rushmore. She lost no time in telling us all in advance that there would be no common sense used at this event at all. No masks required, no spacing done.

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Wonderful. Let us give a shout-out to all the voters who let this happen back in 2016 when they knowingly voted for a tangerine-tinted liar, serial abuser of women, draft-dodger, oath-breaker and all around abominable person. We are all reaping what they sowed.

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Here are three more bands from Dylan’s latest album. Only one to go after these. Saving it for last.

Mother of Muses
Key West
Crossing the Rubicon

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We now have a gazillion green tomatoes on our vines. None of them seem to be in any hurry to ripen, however, but are resolute in their bright greenness. Unless the situation changes, we may have to turn to the Whistle Stop Cafe recipe book for inspiration.

A few seconds of research informed me that there is an operating Whistle Stop Cafe in the hamlet of Juliette GA, where the movie was made. In the film an unemployed general store provided the setting for the restaurant, and after the movie people left town, some residents thought they might have a good thing there.

Following the release of the film, the town opened up a real Whistle Stop Café set up just like the movie set. Local resident Robert Williams had inherited the building and partnered with his friend Jerie Lynn Williams to open up Original Whistle Stop Cafe. 

https://www.wideopencountry.com/

I don’t know quite what to do with this new intelligence, but it is a certainty that if I am ever in the vicinity of Juliette GA (you never know …) I will stop in for a plateful of those fried green tomatoes. To pay homage to that delightful movie, if for no other reason.

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Triple Plagues

My computer inbox is crowded each morning with reports on the three maladies du jour – Covid 19, racism, and Cluckism. Taken individually they are overwhelming. Taken together … what is three times overwhelming? Or is it overwhelming to the third power? My in-brain abacus must be missing a ring or two, since I can’t seem to come up with a sum.

These three plagues are interrelated in that the last one actively interferes with progress on the first two. Doesn’t prevent progress altogether, but presents a big speed bump for certain. I am long ago grown tired of wondering if today will be the day that P.Cluck puts on a mask. Who cares any longer? His chance to lead anyone but the clutch of cult members who follow him around is something he tossed away years ago.

Let’s have a moratorium on publishing his every tweet and/or fatuous self-promotion. Maybe every Saturday CNN could summarize these items in a single article for those of us who cling to sanity with broken fingernails and weakening grip. We could then clip out this section (metaphorically speaking) and place it in the bottom of a parakeet cage where it belongs. (The parakeet is also metaphoric. Would that make it a metaphorakeet?)

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Dr. Fauci isn’t sure that a Covid 19 vaccine will be as useful as it might. The number of people in a recent poll who said they wouldn’t get the vaccination when it is finally produced was about 30%. If the numbers are accurate, this would mean that the sought-after herd immunity wouldn’t have a chance to kick in.

It would be yet another instance where this anti-vaccine cohort would be depending on the rest of us to protect them as we do with measles and mumps and polio et al. No matter. If we have to save some of their ignorant lives to get the result we need, we’ll do it. Again. My own preference would be to isolate all of them in one or two states, perhaps Mississippi and Alabama, and let them live together in pox-filled peace and tranquility.

While I’m on the subject of the coronavirus, I am happy for two things. First, that our cats don’t have it. Second, that if they did, they aren’t like this guy. I’m not sure my protective mask would be up to the task.

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On Saturday my neighbor Ed and I are going to build a pergola-like sunshade that will provide some protection for people sitting in chairs in front of our home. At midday the sun out there is reminiscent of scenes from Lawrence of Arabia.

Ed is a knowledgeable and experienced construction person, which should balance out nicely with my cluelessness.

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My plan is for him to do the sawing, nailing, fitting, and planning. My role will be to hand him whatever tool he requires, much as an operating room technician assists the surgeon. I will also be in charge of the large box of Band-Aids necessary whenever I undertake any sort of carpentry chores. On the average I will lose 240 milliliters of blood per day any time that I take a saw in hand. My DNA is all over the place by the time that project completion rolls around.

If we do finish the thing, I will provide photographic proof of same.

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I’m going to close with a quote from my favorite cynic. It explains the speech of P.Cluck at Mount Rushmore quite well, I think.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Burning Perfectly Good Food

We’re having the Manns over for dinner tonight (Wednesday). Grilling outdoors and serving on the deck, where any stray coronavirus particles can be puffed away by the evening breezes before they have a chance to land. All of the distancing stuff will be observed, food preparation is being carefully done, and we earnestly hope not to share anything with our guests but clean vittles and our lovely selves.

It’s our first such social foray since the outbreak began. The Manns live just up the street, and are people who frequently pop into our minds as “We should have those folks over sometime and get to know them better.”

The evening forecast promises that it will be rainless, warm, and almost windless. There will be tunes, of course. What summer night would be complete without them? It’s a touch of the homely at an extraordinary moment in time.

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There is a form of cancer called a pheochromocytoma. It originates in the adrenal gland, which normally produces several hormones, including adrenaline (epinephrine), which is a fight or flight hormone. A “pheo” can over-produce these hormones, and occasionally if one unwisely presses too hard on the tumor during a physical exam there can be a dangerous flood of these substances into the patient’s bloodstream.

So where am I going with this? The P. Cluck gang seems to me to be the political equivalent of a pheochromocytoma. They are a cancer on our body politic for certain, but not just any old tumor. If it is squeezed or threatened in any way out comes all manner of violent and unhealthy behaviors and pronouncements which do further harm to our citizenry and our country. When the moment comes in November this neoplasm needs to be cut away ruthlessly from the corridors of power.

Too overblown a comparison? Perhaps. I do tend to overblow. It’s one of the things I like most about myself.

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The cookout went very well. First of all, the gods of weather cooperated by providing one of those soft summer evenings you dream of in February. And the company was excellent. Zoom has been a boon and we are grateful for it, but there is nothing like face to face conversation. For me, all substitutes pale before it.

Unfortunately and eventually twilight turned to dusk turned to darkness and our guests had to go home, where they feared to find that their new puppy had probably reduced some rugs to shreds. It’s the difference between puppies and kittens. (Although a kitten can take a nice couch and turn it into a ratty-looking mess pretty quickly.)

I had a friend while in the Air Force who told stories about raising a St. Bernard from puppy-hood. One day he and his wife returned home to find that their new charge had chewed the entire arm from their couch. And when describing paper training, he grimly volunteered that when your puppy weighs fifty pounds, its toilet habits present an emergency.

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Heroism comes in all flavors and sizes. My own experiences have taught me that over and over. I will explain.

When I was working in Buffalo NY in the late 70s, it was at a hospital that was transitioning from an old-line private institution to a county hospital. Which led to a disconnect. The buildings themselves were located in an older and genteel part of town, while the populations that it served were elsewhere. At the pediatric clinic, I worked every day with a succession of grandmothers who were bringing in their children’s children for well-child care.

These women saw to it that those babies received their immunizations and examinations even when it required taking city buses and transferring two and sometimes three times, through the toughest part of town, to get there. Summer and winter. Rain or shine, they suited up and showed up. My own children were still small back then, and whenever it was my turn to bring them to their pediatrician for the same care, I generally regarded it as a chore eating into my precious day and would whine about the time spent.

But not these women. They saw the same visits as important enough to the lives of their charges to spend most of a day in transit just to get them done. To me their actions were heroism, of a very quiet and uncomplaining sort.

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Freedom To Let One’s Face Hang Out

It’s 2 A.M. here in Paradise, and I’m sitting out back listening to the wind chimes. Woke up to use the loo, and couldn’t just drop back to sleep for whatever reason, so here I am. Just for reference, it’s quite dark at this hour, so if there are wild creatures out there with me in view and wondering idly how I’d taste, at least I can’t see them massing. And what you can’t see ain’t real, right?

Official Portrait of Ron De Santis, Governor of Florida

Scanning the news – so far today it’s not too noisy out there. Florida, that state of masterful ostrich-style leadership, which reopened its beaches a few weeks ago and now is being swamped by new cases of Covid-19, is going to try to close some of those same locations for the 4th of July. Naturellement*, the yahoos are out in full force complaining that their freedoms are being curtailed.

Here are those freedoms as outlined in a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his State of the Union address on January 6, 1941:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear
  • Freedom to bring a large cooler to any beach you want to, whenever

So I guess the yahoos are right on this one.

*An unfortunate habit of mine is to drop in a French word from time to time purely to show off and advertise that I had a minor in French as an undergrad.

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Our cats are with me out here in the dark on the deck, wondering:

What the feline ? Can’t he leave us alone even for a moment? Whenever he comes around it’s always Come here kitty and let me pet you? or Sit on my lap, won’t you? or some sort of mooning on how cute we are. He can’t just let us be. There are days when it’s enough to curdle one’s kibble.

I don’t blame them. Usually the night is their human-free time, where they can drop the little charades of polite social interaction and be themselves. Perhaps enjoy a tasty mouse or two and kick back.

Sorry, guys, I’ll stay here in my chair for now, the rest of the yard is yours. But at dawn, all bets are off.

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From The New Yorker

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Love the cartoon.

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I doubt this article shocked or surprised any of you. I’ve eaten chicken nuggets a couple of times, and on each of those occasions I knew that there was more than a little latex in those pneumatic lumps. Once when I attended a summer family picnic and saw them being substituted for shuttlecocks, this feeling was only reinforced.

I’ve read the story over a couple of times now, and am still in the dark as to just what the source of the rubber was. Old farm boots, discarded radial tires, erasers that were supposed to end up atop all those #2 pencils in all those classrooms … what?

The article goes on to tell us that the nuggets in question ” have a best-by date of May 6, 2021.” Apparently after that time you must have them recapped before you serve them.

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Robin and I are experiencing some of the heartaches of gardening this week. Some of our leafy children are being eaten or undermined by uninvited others. We find ourselves googling “diseases of tomatoes,” “diseases of chard,” and “diseases of spinach.” Wilted leaves, tiny beetles, wriggling larvae … all have threatened our small horticultural Eden out back.

What is the source of the impulses that drive us each year to complicate our lives by trying to grow a small portion of our own food? To put ourselves at the mercy of the weather, rainfall, insects, birds … all for a few salads and a BLT or two? If we truly learned from experience, we would toss those seed catalogs as soon as they arrived, get rid of the planters, and use all that time freed up to learn to play blackjack or something else more useful.

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This one is for Jonnie. Blister in the Sun, by Violent Femmes.

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The Buzz

You may have noticed that I haven’t complained about being stung by the yellowjackets that have terrorized us in our yard each summer that we’ve lived here in Paradise. The reason is that I think I’ve found the way, finally, to live an outdoor life at home without being annoyed by these aggressive bugs. I go for the queens.

In past years I’ve waited until the swarms arise in the warmth of the day and fly in malignant squadrons back and forth looking for innocent flesh into which to plunge their barbs. I never caught up, and was always two steps and a swollen forehead or finger behind the beasts.

But this year I put out the traps I have always used, but I put them out in March … before the little darlings even showed up for their summers’ target practice. These traps attract the insects and do them in, and I believe that in 2020 I got the devices out early enough to catch the queens wandering by with their retinues. Much more efficient to catch one queen than a thousand soldiers, I always say, or at least I will from now on.

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Here are three more cuts from Bob Dylan’s latest album:
I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You
Black Rider
Goodbye Jimmy Reed

For those of you of tender years out there … try to imagine your life without Dylan songs playing all through it … putting words to thoughts and emotions you were carrying around but were having trouble expressing … imagine it, if you can.

I can’t.

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Hey, friends, did you ever think that OUR ENTIRE COUNTRY would be regarded as so pestilential that we couldn’t go visit foreign countries any time we wanted to? That’s where we are today. Even Canada doesn’t want us bringing our stuff up there. And really, who can blame them? We’re a soggy, highly infectious mess that can’t follow common sense rules.

There was even an incident where an American airline traveler refused to wear a mask.

On a plane.

In that crabbed and crowded passenger cabin which is a microorganisms paradise.

[I heard that the problem was solved by relocating the gentleman to a new seat in Aisle 13z, which was on the wing, while the plane was over Wyoming. With the low population density that that state enjoys it was thought unlikely that he would hit anyone on his way down. I must emphasize that this is only a rumor, and hasn’t been independently verified.]

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These are the elements of my new office-on-the-deck this summer of the plague. Robin has begun to mock me gently by saying that the only one who spends more time in the backyard than me is our senior cat, Poco. But he does it quietly, sleeping over behind the tomato planters in the shade, while I create more of a disturbance.

I don’t have much to say in my defense. I can be quite a bother, sometimes. If I wasn’t so damned charming I’m pretty certain she would have shown me the door long ago.

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Are You Influenced?

This morning I came to a startling conclusion as I glanced at a headline about a YouTube influencer who is quitting her channel over a controversy about some of her past behavior.

I suddenly realized that I was more backward than I thought. I do not subscribe to any YouTube influencers at all. I wonder that I have the brazenness to even go out the door where others can see me, showing off what must be my monumental ignorance and poor make-up skills.

Behind their masks at the grocery store – what must those people whose eyes meet mine and then shift away – what are they thinking about me? Am I guilty daily of worse gaffes than if I showed up in an emergency room wearing yesterday’s underwear?

Do YouTube influencers aimed at senior citizens even exist? If they do, what are they touting or suggesting to the rest of us? Arthritis aids? Balance exercises? Constipation remedies? Plastic surgeons?

Does Axe have an after shave cream for me? Perhaps one named “Musty,” or “Who Cares?”

Perhaps there is a technique out there that I am failing to use which will make me look 79 again, instead of the 80 year-old who greets me in the mirror each morning. That would be a 1.3% improvement, which is not to be sniffed at.

I think that I’ll stay in today. I’m feeling very insecure at the moment.

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Permit me to repeat a quotation that I used in the blog in May. It’s from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. 

Against stupidity we are defenseless; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed, and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.

In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

It seems obvious that stupidity is less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions.

The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he speaks on behalf of an empowered group. In conversation with him, one feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans and catchwords that have taken possession of him.

The stupid man is under a spell…[And] having become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers From Prison

I’m repeating it because I saw a video today on CNN, taken at a public meeting in Florida that was truly stunning. The behaviors exhibited were so bizarre and disheartening that I sat back in wonder … and then I remembered the quote.

Below is the video – the first part is where we leave the planet and are in some sort of angry la la land. The second part is where two more rational human beings shake their heads in wonder.

These are not people who you can sit down and have a conversation with and maybe both of your minds will shift a bit. With these folks you can talk until you are strangled by your killer face mask and you will get nowhere. Their minds don’t live where the rest of us live.

And if Bonhoeffer is correct, some of them may be downright dangerous.

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I miss Jon Stewart. He’s not on my mind everyday, but anytime his name comes up, there is a pang right there under my ribs. Here is a video of Jon talking with Stephen Colbert that brought in a major ache.


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Friday night Robin and I went to the movies. Not just any movie, mind you, but the original Jurassic Park. At our local drive-in theater.

The movie didn’t start until well after 9:00 pm, when we are usually in bed already. We both stayed awake until the end (well, I do admit to a brief lapse just after the T.rex ate the lawyer in the bathroom). You can’t see enough detail in the photo above, but it’s the place where the owner of the park is explaining how they cloned the dinosaurs from DNA found in blood in the belly of a mosquito preserved in amber.

Of course you remember, don’t you? Hey, it was only yesterday (1993) that the film came out. As of today, it has earned just over a billion dollars at the box office. We added our thirteen bucks last night.

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Bedtime Follies

Need help explaining why Black Lives Matter fits the moment better than All Lives Matter? Perhaps these young ladies can be of some assistance.

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I’m still making my way through the Studs Lonigan trilogy by James T. Farrell. I’m about half-way through, but that’s not bad for a book on my nighttime reading stack.

My usual routine is to climb into bed with every intention of reading for an hour or so, as Robin does. I arrange the pillows, adjust the light on my nightstand, fluff the comforter and look about the room to see if there is anything left undone which would require me to leave this sweet nest I’ve created. Seeing no problems, I then begin to read.

Since my resting pulse is in the low 50s, I estimate that 37 heartbeats from the moment I open the book I have fallen asleep.

Becoming rapidly unconscious is never my plan, but there is nothing, believe me, that can stop this comatose juggernaut once it gets going.

But to get back to Studs. I mentioned that this series of books had such a powerful effect on the boy I was when I first read it, and was hoping that I would find out how and why that happened in the re-reading.

And finally, I think, I have it figured out. Studs was a tough kid from a working-class family growing up in Chicago in early 20th century. If you were to have met him in person you might have thought him supremely self-possessed. But the story is basically 95% told as his train of thought, and those thoughts are nearly completely fear-filled and insecure.

Fear of not being tough enough, of not being attractive to girls, of being thought soft by his gang, of being stifled by his parents’ wishes for him, of the Catholic Church and its many commandments (way more than the ten that were good enough for Moses), of not being handsome enough, not having enough money, etc. There are very few moments in the books where he has a self-confident thought.

Just like I was at the time I read them.

That was my connection with the character, and why it was so powerful a read. And why Studs’ premature death moved me in the way that it did.

Now, I don’t suppose that any of you are going to run out and get the books from the library, but if you do I hasten to add that there were quite a few differences between Studs and myself. For one thing, he curses way more than I do … really. And he is a blatant racist/bigot for all seasons.

Except for Irish Catholics, pretty much every other nationality or religion is described with words taken from the same lexicon where the N-word, the C-word, and the K-word et al can be found. Black, Jews, Protestants – some of you might have passing acquaintance with the words yourselves, although I know without question that you would never utter them.

So the identification of the young man in the photo below with Studs was not complete, but it was still a strong and a forceful one.

I get it now, I really do. I see what he saw.

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Occasionally when I am watching an old movie, I will wonder … what does those actors think when they see themselves walking and talking as a fifty-year-younger version of themselves? Sadness? Poignancy? Embarrassment?

I had a flash of an inkling on the subject when I included the old photo above, of myself reclining on a blanket sixty years ago. I had none of those feelings while looking at the picture. Instead, I wished him well.

Because I know his entire future, right up to this moment. And I have inside information that tells me he’s just flat out not ready for it.

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Guests are coming for lunch today! Amy, Neil and family are passing through Montrose on their way to an isolated cabin-vacation in the Black Hills and will be here around noon. They will be our first visitors since the plague began.

We’re going to serve the food as if we knew for a fact that we were both named Typhoid Mary. Lots of separateness, sanitizers, and plastic gloves. It’s awkward but do-able.

A small bit of quasi-normalcy in an unquiet time.

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No Title

Well, whaddya know? Less than 7000 of America’s finest showed up for the Cluckaganza in Oklahoma. The organizers were expecting … six times that number.

Turns out it was all the fault of outside protestors who were nasty radicals armed with unfriendly placards. And then there was the problem of the media that had told people to turn their cars around and stay home, and by golly, tens of thousands of them must have done just that.

All in all it sounds like a disappointing party. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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Robin said: Whatever you want to do, we will do. So on Sunday off we went to explore new terrain. First you drive to Norwood, which is 66 miles south of Montrose. Then you turn left and go south-southwest for about 15 miles until you get to a reservoir named Miramonte.

It’s set in the beautiful broad valley that you see in the photo below. We had a picnic, explored the area, people-watched for an hour or two, and then returned home.

For most of this trip we were out of phone contact, which is par for the course in this part of the world. Since the entire drive there and back was through beautiful country, and the destination itself also very cool (in its own spartan way), we counted the day as a complete success.

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Good news and bad news from the garden. Out tomatoes are doing wonderfully, with fruit-laden plants approaching the size of the carnivorous one in Little Shop of Horrors. I never get to close to them for this reason, and water from a respectful social distance. I have also warned the cats repeatedly not to get near the tomato cages.

Which is where the bad news comes in. Tomatoes are awfully thirsty plants to grow. Ours are set in containers, which only increases their demands for water. They require around two inches every few days, and more when the weather is hot. Since we have been blessed with little more than a soupçon of rainfall this summer, nearly all of that moisture must come from the tap.

But those of you who have been forced to read my past rants on the subject of commercially grown tomatoes (which I will mercifully not repeat today) know that my duty is clear. Pay the water bill gratefully and enjoy the fruit when it appears … and don’t go picking them without another person nearby holding a rope that is securely tied around your waist, to pull you out of danger should those plants get frisky.

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Bob Dylan has a new album out, of all original songs. The first such album in ten years. For a change, I’m not going to tell you what to think about them. It’s Dylan, and listening to his music usually asks something of us that is very personal.

I will mention something about the title I Contain Multitudes. The phrase seemed familiar but I couldn’t place it. I had to look it up, and found that it’s from Walt Whitman.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman: Song of Myself

Here are the first three bands on the album. They are: I Contain Multitudes, False Prophet, and My Own Version of You. I’ll dribble the rest along later on.

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There are times when I am in danger of being swamped by the examples of the horrors committed by members of our species, as in the litany of murders of black people that we’ve heard read off repeatedly during the past weeks. At such times, I need to step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that brutality is not the all that’s out there.

There is also beauty. Much of it created by other members of our same rough species. Beauty enough to wring the poison out of one’s heart and leave it open again to love and understanding.

For me it is poetry, music, and the natural world that I often turn to at those toxic moments. Or to the memories of everyday acts of heroism that I have personally witnessed. Or when I look deeply at those dearest to me and am warmed and humbled by the love and goodness that I find there.

It serves little purpose for me to turn away from the daily uglinesses – how can I begin to help in the repairs if I don’t see clearly what is broken? But I can’t look at them without using these resources to keep me from drifting into despair and cynicism.

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The Hills Are Alive …

Friday we left town to take a longer hike, and this one started out a few miles south of Ouray, at a place called Spirit Gulch. We’d done this one before, and found it to be a moderately strenuous walk over largely rocky terrain. Lots of those small stones that roll under your feet and try to upend you.

(Oh, yes, I am at heart an animist, and there are no rocks in this world that don’t have a mind of their own, and aren’t fond of their little jokes.)

But add to Friday’s excursion the following: dark skies, occasional rain, several bouts of sleet falling, and temperatures that never got above 60 degrees.

So why go? Because some of the views are spectacular and well worth the effort.

And when it comes right down to it why, what’s a little bit of sleet driven into your face, really? Think of it as an exfoliation, for free.

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From The New Yorker

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It looks like Robin will not be deterred from being nice to me today, Father’s Day 2020. She really is impossible that way.

Apparently we all have a gift-giving center in our brains that can be seen to glow increasingly brighter on PET scans as holidays approach. In Robin’s case, however, you don’t need any electronic hardware to observe this, as her entire body develops a sort of fluorescence. It is brightest at Christmastime, of course, when the light she gives off approximates the output of a 60 watt incandescent bulb. Those last few days of Advent I can’t even sleep in the same room with her as a result.

So a little while back when I was starting to go into my spoilsport spiel about the relevance of a holiday devoted to the (quite variable) virtues of male parents, and I noticed that her aura was already firmly in place, I gave it up as a lost cause.

Today I know that I will be celebrated. And just between you and me, and completely apart from whether I deserve it or not, I admit that I will very much enjoy it.

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From The New Yorker

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Wildness

I thought the latest New Yorker Magazine cover was so arresting that I had to stop and stare at it for quite a while when it arrived.

Its title is “Say Their Names,”. Clicking the link takes you to a media story about the illustration itself.

The same artist is also featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in the July issue. He’s having a good month, wouldn’t you say?

If you’ve a few moments to spare, and Google the artists’ name, Kadir Nelson, you can browse through the many images that come up. Quite a talent. Good stuff.

But I can stop talking now, because here’s the man speaking for himself.

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Do you sometimes feel as I do, that we are suffering a metaphoric death by a thousand cuts? And of course I’m talking about P.Cluck and his traveling circus. Every single day we are assaulted in some way by their words, their actions … their trashing of things we cared about and other worthwhile items that we might not have even known existed before they ended up broken and strewn about the floors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

When he is finally shown the door, it will take a while just to do repairs. I don’t think that my psyche has an unbruised spot left on it. But it will be a job worth doing and one that will be truly joy-filled after this long dark season.

Can’t wait.

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Alas, New Yorker Magazine has made it harder for me to steal cartoons to embellish this scanty effort of mine. I used to be able to easily search their archives but this week when I looked for that little magnifying glass icon in the “Archives” section, it was gone.

Oh, I can still page through more than fifty thousand images if I so choose, but they are arranged randomly and so far I can’t find any way to filter them. I’ve written to the magazine as an aggrieved larcenist, but have received no reply so far.

Crime does not pay like it used to.

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From The New Yorker

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I don’t know if this news item is the last word on the Christopher McCandless story, but it is a turning point of sorts.

McCandless is the young man who wandered into wilderness Alaska on a personal quest and died there, in an abandoned school bus. His story became the book “Into the Wild,” and a movie of the same name. It was a good tale – personable man of privileged background looking for a place away from consumer America, makes a series of poor choices, becomes very ill and eventually perishes in the wilderness. Dramatic. Romantic.

That old bus had become a touchstone for many other young adults, who traveled far to visit it, even though the way could be difficult and dangerous. Some of those pilgrims died on their trip or had to be rescued.

So this week, to try to put an end to the deaths and injuries, the Alaskan National Guard hoisted the bus below a huge helicopter and took it away. Perhaps we’ll find out where it is later on, when authorities have found a suitable location for it.

End of story?

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Up and Over

On our bike ride yesterday along the river, we met up with a dumb-butt who was fussing with his unleashed dog in the middle of the path, forcing Robin off the asphalt and into some sketchy gravel/dirt.

Trying to get back to solid ground she went down over the bars, hard and face-down.

I helped her up and checked her over, then we put the chain back on her bike and off we went in the direction of our first aid kit. Luckily the injuries were limited to scraped knees (2), scraped elbow (1), and sore wrists (2), one of which swelled up rapidly. All parts are feeling better today, but we’re watching that wrist. It needs to get better steadily or we’ll have to take our chances with the medical-industrial complex and all its vagaries.

Wounds of excellence, they call them. I do love riding this walking/biking path but it has become awfully popular, and even the most careful rider could have an accident brought about by unthinking pet-owners with their off-leash dogs and the unguided missiles they represent.

(BTW: Colorado is full of such pet-owners who apparently believe that municipal leash laws are for lesser creatures than themselves)

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Today we were in Delta CO when lunchtime rolled around. Robin insisted that I choose the place to eat. So I picked a family-owned restaurant I have wondered about for a year now – Tacos Garcia. (I could instantly see on Robin’s face as I said the name that she thought perhaps she’d been unwise to leave it up to me.)

It’s a tiny spot on Main Street, only a couple of indoor tables, with several more outside. It is not the typical Americanized idea of Mexican food.

The entire menu is in the photo at right.

Robin was game and ordered a couple of pollo tacos. After listening to the woman behind the counter go down the choices and describe each one I settled on barbacoa, which I learned was the meat from the cheeks of cows, shredded.

I waited apprehensively, hoping that I had not ordered some sort of gristle-pile that I would not be able to ingest. But it was delicious and not to be feared, even by a supremely fussy gourmand such as myself.

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So here’s a graphic of a mockup showing a new airline seating system that a man named O’Neill has proposed. I took one look at it and my ordinarily mild claustrophobia exploded. I had to go outside and take several hundred calming breaths. In such a move, the airline would put another nimbler human being above you.

Yes, dear friends, above you.

Now, I hasten to add for those of you who typically travel first-class that no one is suggesting that anyone do double-decking in your section of the plane, so you can relax.

But for the peons in the rest of the aircraft … that’s another matter entirely. Next step, I suppose, would be to do away with the aisle altogether and have us bodysurf on the backs of fellow travelers to get to our bunk-seats in the sky.

It just gets better and better.

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Paradise Found

(Right where John Milton left it. You can’t tell that guy anything!)

It is four o’clock on a cloudless afternoon with an air temperature of 88 degrees which is tempered by the excellent low humidity that one enjoys when one lives in a near-desert.

I am leaning back in a deck chair with my feet propped on the table, an iced tea at my left hand and an iPod at my right. The iPod is doing its Bluetoothing thing with a small red speaker sitting on the table, and the songs are set to “Shuffle.”

Sweet, sweet summer afternoon. Excuse me, but the song Born To Run just came up and it’s being done by the master himself and I have to pay attention. Talk to you later.

Not every moment during a pandemic is horrible.

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At some point in life I realized that the formula for happiness for a Minnesota boy growing up was very simple. There were only three elements:

  • It wasn’t snowing
  • The mosquitoes weren’t biting
  • You had your tunes handy

What more, I ask of thee?

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Charles Blow is a black man filled with anger which is tempered by hope. It must be hard to maintain both when you are a man with the broad knowledge of American history that he has. The anger is so easy to come by. It is thrust upon you, actually, by daily events.

But the hope … where does he get that from? How does he maintain it? As he outlines in this piece from the Times of New York, it’s not just the awful shootings that are the problem. It’s the everyday stuff of racism.

E.v.e.r.y d.a.y.

We can’t give African-Americans their freedom. On paper they already have that. But whites can help them, at long last, to be able to exercise those freedoms by ceasing to oppose them in the tens of thousands of ways that we do.

So Mr. Blow’s hope must come from pride at seeing what young people are doing in the protest movement today, at watching the power of it as it grows and the almost panicky responses of government and industry as they stumble over themselves trying to redress the most glaring wrongs.

He must have not only faith in the activist young people of color, but also those young white folks who are marching with them. It will take the best efforts of both groups to make it stick.

I most earnestly hope that he is right on all counts.

*

Here I have to include an excellent op-ed by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, entitled “How Do We Change America.” Robin sent me the link to the piece which was originally published in The New Yorker magazine.

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I don’t usually comment on the music selections over there on the right, because they change independently of the posts.

But I will today. Dance the Night Away is perfect Van Halen. It features guitar artistry (Eddie Van Halen), a great rock vocal (David Lee Roth-their excellent posturing popinjay of a lead singer), and a lyrically lovely break.

My advice is to crank it or don’t play it at all.

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It’s mid-June up on the mountains, which means that the alpine flowers are starting up their annual show. On our walk today at the Black Canyon (8500 feet elevation) we were surrounded at times by lovely gardens created entirely by nature. Many of the cacti were flowering, which is always special and way too brief a moment.

By July and August the open spaces above treeline will be amazing. If you’ve never … you really should.

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Something new this week …

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Miss It?

Even though I’ve been retired quite a while now, there are still times when meeting new people that I am asked what I used to do when I was a productive member of society. I tell them I was a children’s doctor. Their followup question is frequently “Do you miss it?”

I usually give the short answer “Parts of it.” And that seems to satisfy the stranger.

The long answer is that there are parts that I miss terribly, and some that I wouldn’t revisit for anything you could offer me. There are also parts, quite a lot of them, actually, that bored me to death.

I do not miss being the bearer of bad tidings to parents. Not in the slightest.

I do not miss the routines, where a well-tuned android could do the same thing that I did, perhaps better because they are sooo reliable and never forget.

I do miss the thrill of waiting in an emergency room for the ambulance to arrive, with a team beside me. Not knowing exactly what was coming, and worried/scared each time that I would not be up to the challenge. Then to be completely lost for a time in the struggle to sometimes reclaim a life and hand it back to the person. That, I miss. (Adrenaline junkie variant?)

For similar reasons, I miss the excruciating nervousness during a high-risk delivery, when the baby-yet-to-be-born’s vital signs had turned to merde. Waiting with the knowledge that there was no one else in the room with the skillset that I had, and wanting so achingly for the obstetrician to please get that baby out and give it to me so I could do what I knew to do.

That, I miss.

I miss the puzzles posed in differential diagnosis, where a patient or parent tells you a few things, an examination tells you a few things more, and perhaps the lab or x-ray departments make a contribution as well. And then it is you, using that mainframe in your head going over and over the data, back and forth, testing and rejecting hypotheses before you finally come up with an answer. Sometimes you have weeks to make up your mind, sometimes a tiny fraction of that time.

That’s a longer answer to the question.

The one that if I tried to give it each time I was asked, I would probably end up talking to the back of the stranger’s head as they walked away. We don’t always really want the answers to the polite questions we ask.

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I, Too

by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides, 
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

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Finding

I woke Friday morning with the powerful scent of Mephitis mephitis in my nostrils. Somewhere out there during the night there had been an encounter, and this perfume on the air was left behind for us all to savor.

The aroma is an enduring one, and prompted two thoughts for me. The first is that I have read that skunk scent has been part of the recipe for exotic perfumes, at least in the past, because it lasted so long. This has been discovered by many errant husbands who returned home from a “night at the office” with a distinctly non-office bouquet about them. Any wife with a nose and half a grain of sense recognized this the instant the man walked in the door, and then wrote the rest of the story by herself.

The other was my own encounter with the skunk, in my living room, six years ago.

I’ve told the tale before, but have more perspective now, I think. Briefly, I was reading in my chair at four in the morning when a skunk wandered in through the pet door looking for the cat kibbles it could obviously smell. The creature came through the dining room and went around the corner into the guest bedroom where it began to loudly munch on what was in the cat dishes.

Ten minutes later, once it had eaten its fill, it retraced its steps and left the house, never to return.

All of this I watched from my chair, paralyzed by the thought that if I moved it might startle the animal, and I would be dealing with one of the more powerful fragrances in the world sprayed on the walls and furnishings of my own home sweet home. And what, I wondered to myself, does one do about that?

The skunk itself looked as big as a Great Dane when this happened, but I have since come to accept that this was probably not the case. Experience tells me that a Mephitis in one’s living room looks easily four times as large as an outdoor member of the species.

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We are presently watching a series called “A French Village,” which is about a village in France. Oh, you got that? Sorry.

It takes place during the Nazi occupation, in 1941. We are enjoying it, perhaps because it has a bit more subtlety than many such productions with WWII settings, which are more like jousts between monsters and angels.

Not that Nazism itself was anything but monstrous, but it’s likely that there were some German soldiers who were schlemiels like you and I but who were drafted and found themselves in the middle of a nightmare. There are a couple of those guys in this series. There are also French heroes in unlikely places, and collaborators who were venal as well as some who thought they were serving their countrymen the best way they could.

Like I said, more subtlety. It’s also not a stomach-churning torture-fest, for which we are grateful.

You will find the series on Hulu, if you’re interested. Subtitled.

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Okay, have I got an app for you. Avenza Maps. It’s like having a real GPS in your phone. You download maps to it, and from then on you don’t need an internet connection. It knows where you are.

Scads of the maps are free, as is the basic version of the app itself. If you can’t find a free one for the area you are going to, you can buy commercial versions, including those great National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps, to download.

Then you look on the map for a blue dot. When you move, the dot moves, and it keeps continuous track of where you are. Ot, at least where your phone is.

It’s a hoot! Friday Robin and I went hiking in new territory, and used a NatGeo map to find the trailhead and then to track our journey. Periodically I would check the map, especially at unmarked crossings, and we wandered valleys and hills and forests in terra incognita on the Uncompahgre Plateau for three hours and ended up exactly where we were supposed to be.

At the end our screen looked like the pic above, with the orange line showing our path.

If you are interested, read more at http://www.avenzamaps.com. It’s available for Android and iOS.

[I received no commission for this blurb. I tried, but had no success.]

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I am indebted to brother Bill for the link to this song. It is said to be John Prine’s last recording. Poet with guitar. Beautiful.

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Signs of the Times

The people in our neighborhood are not given to posting signs in their yards, with two exceptions. The Trump/Pence Codger three doors down, and us. BTW, the Codger is an unpleasant man whose response when invited to the annual HOA picnic was: “I don’t eat with liberals.” We did not repeat the invitation the next year. Wouldn’t want to harass the old bugger and spoil his appetite.

Yesterday the BIDEN sign Robin had ordered arrived, and is already proudly displayed out on the berm. Unfortunately, we don’t know who his running mate will be, so we’ll need a new placard some months down the road.

In this basically “red” county, anything “blue” comes like a poke in the eye to the Republicans which we are glad to provide.

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Pandemic Puzzlement

As time goes by, it’s harder to understand the empty shelf spaces in grocery stores. Surely most of the hoarders are done by now (God knows they will never have to buy another roll of TP in their miserable lives, and will be able to pass them on to their heirs – “And to my son George, I leave my garageful of Charmin Special with Lotion …”).

But why shortages of canned goods? Frozen vegetables? These items are just sitting somewhere in warehouses … how are all of these supply chains being disrupted?

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From The New Yorker

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It occurred to me that the header photo would be a good visual metaphor for the ferment sweeping through the country right now. A high wind is blowing and sweeping many things before it.

Anyone who sees how much damage racism has done to this land is hopeful that this will be the time … that from this moment on no more knees will be placed on black necks by psychopaths with badges.

The call is out there for those of us who are not black to march, to write, to raise our voices in concert with those of people of color. Our silence has made us the passive accomplices of those brutes who continue to murder black men and women with impunity.

I use the rhetorical “us” in the above paragraph and that may be too general a pronoun. What I have written certainly applies to me, and that is all I truly know.

Black Lives Matter

I get it.

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Our gym (Gold’s) has re-opened, and we attended a couple of days ago for the first time. Their response to the emergency is to provide more materials (and encourage their employment) to disinfect each machine immediately after use. These were previously available but their usage was irregular to say the least.

The other major change, at least in the case of the treadmills, ellipticals, etc. was to retire every other station, creating a proper social distancing. Mask-wearing is left up to the client’s discretion.

At first I was disappointed in not being required to mask up, but then I thought more about it and realized that there were special considerations for some of us.

For instance, were I to wear a mask while exercising, there would always be the chance that I might inhale the entire contraption during some of the gasping that occurs. And I’m pretty sure that would not be a good thing for me.

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Tumult

It’s forty degrees this Tuesday morning, June the ninth. A light, cold rain is falling in the yard and on the streets outside my door. But I am on the safe, warm, dry side of the window that is providing me this weather report.

Yesterday when Robin and I took our exercise walk high up on a ridge overlooking Montrose we were battling yet more wind. There were places where the hiking path runs close to the edge of the escarpment, and I chose my steps carefully to avoid being puffed off into space.

After living in basically quiet air for the first five years here in Paradise, this breezy spring has been a revelation. Something to contend with, actually.

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Our new yard sign hasn’t reached us as yet, but we’ve already resolved to send it back. The story here is that Robin originally told me that she wanted to place a “Black Lives Matter” sign on the berm out front. To show solidarity with the Minneapolis protesters, even though we live a long way from my old home town.

In my wisdom, I suggested that perhaps one of those “All Lives Matter” signs might suit our community better since we have so few black citizens in Montrose County. So the order for the sign went in this way.

Shortly after that I became aware that not only was this a poor idea, it was a very very bad idea, and we were about to promote the opposite of what we meant. ALM has come to be the catchphrase of racists, white supremacists, and some of the other ugly varieties of homo sapiens, even though on the surface it seems admirable enough. And once you get into discussions that turn on cultural interpretations of a word or phrase, it can only end in confusion and rancor. One of the drawbacks of living in small town America is that it is easier to miss or be oblivious to those discussions of context.

So mea culpa. BLM it is from here on in. It’s what Robin was going to say until she made the mistake of listening to me. It’s not the first time she’s made that error. I keep trying to tell her … you’d think she’d learn by now.

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From The New Yorker

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P. Cluck recently made headlines just by walking across the street to church, as shown in this photo taken on the church steps along with some of his hangers-on.

Of course, the news was how he got across that street, which was by gassing and knocking down all of the troublesome people who were in his path.

“Cracking liberal heads is not doing them any harm,” said Cluck. “In fact, a fracture or two might let some sense in.” His staff was noted to nod continuously in agreement, reminiscent of a line of bobble-head dolls. In fact, they began to nod even before Cluck had begun speaking, and continued for an hour after he had stopped.

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Camping Report from Vega State Park for the Weekend of June 5-7

It stank. Wind and intermittent rain on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. Enough wind to completely wreck Justin’s tent and tear off a chunk from ours.

Enough wind to make fishing impossible. Enough wind to shrink down the window for safe kayaking/canoeing to about an hour. Enough wind to make hiking and biking nasty as sand particles whistled past (and into) your face at 50+ miles an hour. Enough wind to complicate cooking because your Coleman stove blew over unless you watched it carefully.

Steady winds of at least 30 mph with frequent gusts up to … don’t know for sure … but probably near 60-70 mph? However, on the positive side, we had no problems with insects. They were unable, poor creatures, to fly in such a gale.

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As this week we have been watching yet another act in the ongoing tragedy called Being Black and White in America, it helps me to look back to another era of great ferment. James Baldwin was a force in the sixties in our political and cultural life. His books, his essays, and his public speeches all taken together were basically a correspondence course on racism for a young and impressionable young American (like myself, for instance).

He was recorded at Cambridge Union in England where he debated William F. Buckley on whether there was a place in the American Dream for negroes. Mr. Baldwin’s oration was a milestone of a sort. The clarity of his vision and the strength of his intellect shine a light from that day all the way to the events of this past week.

Here is that speech for anyone who has 24 minutes to spare.

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Wait … Tom Who?

Unique. True. Real. Acquired taste. Honest. Genuine. Fascinating. Hurts so good. Melodic. Melodramatic. Anti-melodic. Treasure. Original.

These are all words that I could apply to Tom Waits’ art, and I would still be one of those blind men describing the elephant in the story. My son Jonnie led me to his music a while back, at a time when I was looking for something at the opposite pole from bubblegum.

The first time that I heard him, being an exceedingly shallow person, I wondered why anyone would ever provide a microphone to a man with such a voice, much less record him at the scene of the crime.

It was only when I finally was able to set aside one of my oldest personal demons, expectations, that I could start to appreciate what Waits was doing.

And, of course, it was life- … I was going to write life-changing, but that’s not quite it. It was life-seeing, and honey, once you’ve seen you can’t go back to being blind. It ruins you for that.

(In this, it’s a bit like one of those phrases you hear around AA from time to time. “AA didn’t always keep me sober, but it did ruin my drinking for me.”)

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Tuesday at five p.m. about a hundred souls gathered on the corner of Main & Townsend in 92 degree weather to witness for … what? For not-racism, not-murder, not-hatred, not-forgetting this time.

We were a long way from Minneapolis, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that injustice done anywhere hurts us all.

There were the usual honkers-in-agreement who drove by waving and signaling their agreement with the cause. And a couple of rage-filled people who shouted from their cars at us – so blinded by their choler they almost hit other cars.

Looking around the group … we kinda looked like America. Some white some black, some brown. Old, new, child, geezer. Young and cool side by side with the grizzled and the walker-bound.

[BTW: I created the sign with my own little hands. Only problem I had was with spelling the difficult word “the.”]

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Taking off tomorrow for a weekend camping at Vega State Park. Justin and Amy and their families will be there as well for a weekend of social distancing and trying to eat S’Mors through an approved mask.

The expectations all seem a bit unreal to me. Throwing four vigorous young cousins together outdoors and expecting that they will maintain the proper distance … on what planet does that happen?

But it will be good to get out and away. We camp on separate sites and each family prepares its own food. I will offer pour-over coffee in the mornings as I usually do, as long as the person brings their own mug. I figure if the coronavirus is so tough that it can survive a bath in boiling water we’re doomed anyway.

There’s a small lake at the park. In fact, it’s the reason for the park. Some sorts of fish live in that lake, and we’ll have to see about reducing that number.

We’ll be back in Montrose on Sunday evening, after a couple of days away from news sources. Try to hold the world together in our absence, would you?

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An Apple A Day …

My personal physician, Dr. Salvia Petitsfours, uses an interesting management style in her practice. Her nurse will ask me a few health-related questions and then take my blood pressure (feet on the floor, don’t cross your legs).

Later, Dr.B will come into the exam room, study the nurses’ notes (including any abnormal responses), do a “Hmmmm,” and then never again mention them. As if she’s telling me: “Hey, we found a problem, now go out there and fix it!”

Which I begin doing as soon as my feet clear the threshold of her office. I go home, drag out the laptop and fire up Google.

Case in point. The nurse measures my blood pressure, knits her brow, and asks “Have you ever been told you had hypertension?” When I answer “No,” she writes that down and leaves the room. Dr. B never mentions it during the rest of the visit.

After Google-ing, I drive to Walgreen’s where they are happy to sell me a marvelous device to monitor my blood pressure at home. I find that while my numbers are not screamingly high, they are also never “normal.”

Now you might well ask: “Hey, you’re a grown-up ex-physician. Why didn’t you pose more questions? You could stand up for yourself and not be so damned passive.” Or you might also ask: “Why would you continue to see a physician who doesn’t follow up on what she finds.”

That’s where you miss the most important thing. Since I really don’t want my doctor to find anything wrong, I am happy to continue to feign ignorance, even to myself. And as long as she doesn’t make a fuss, I can give myself permission to keep doing what I’m doing without a worry in the world.

Except for the blood pressure thing. It nagged at me, and so I returned to Dr. Petitsfours’ office a week ago with a sheet of paper containing a hundred BP measurements taken over a month. As a result I am now taking a medication that makes it necessary to urinate forty-two times a day, twenty-three of those times during the hours that I would normally sleep.

Other than that, I’m a happy man. Oh, and my numbers are quite a bit better, so there is that.

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There are times when I do feel sorry for modern parents. They’ve studied how to be successes at raising that child they brought into the world, and have the big items nailed down pretty well, at least some of them do.

But then life tosses something small at them, something that was never the subject of a focus group or a TED talk.

When I was working in Yankton SD, I spent a fair amount of time running to the Emergency Department for some of that small stuff. One summer afternoon, a young father brought his 7 year-old in to be seen.

The man was a sturdy specimen, wearing faded camo pants and a Cabela’s T-shirt. A guy who probably fished, hunted, camped … an outdoorsy person.

“What is the problem,” I asked.

“He’s got a woodtick on him,’ said the father.

I looked and found a tick on the boy’s back right around the belt line. I asked a nurse for a tweezers, then reached over and plucked the offending critter off.

The father looked at me incredulously. “That’s it?” he said.

“Yup, that’s it.”

The man was instantly angry (at me? at life? at himself?) and probably embarrassed as well. I didn’t get a chance to ask him about it before he bundled up the lad and took off. Nor did I get the answer to another question of mine, which was “How in blazes did you get to be an adult in South Dakota without knowing how to do this yourself?”

Another problem for today’s parents is that they don’t have Grandma Jacobson around. One of the things that happened to me regularly when I used to spend weeks living on my grandparents’ farm as a young child was that I would be stung by a bee or wasp. There was rarely a week that went by without a sting.

It may have had something to with the fact that I would be forever on the lookout for nests of these creatures, and then spend an afternoon tearing them apart. I would poke a stick at one and then run away at top speed. When the resultant hubbub died down, in I would go for another poke. The usual endpoint of all this was that one of the sneaky little devils would come up behind me and do his kamikaze thing on the back of my arm or neck.

I would then run to Grandma who knew exactly what to do. Stings required the application of a poultice, a large wet one, and it was made of … mud. Any old mud would do. Just plop a big lump of it over the injury and keep it there until the poultice dried. Then toss it all away and get on with your day.

I expect that other treatments would have worked as well. The main ingredients were Grandma’s perfect confidence and the fact that it always worked. (If you wait the time it takes for a layer of mud to dry most of the pain would be gone no matter what you put on it.)

If a child comes running to me tomorrow for comfort after being stung by a bee, I’m think I’m going to slather on chocolate frosting. That way when the pain has gone, he can scrape it off and eat it.

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From The New Yorker

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Across the street from the southtown City Market there is a small pasture. This Spring one of the occupants of that pasture has caused a small stir. People will park their cars at the store and walk across the street just to get a good look, and if they’re lucky, be able to pet it.

Yesterday Robin and I made a pilgrimage from home just to see her. Dang. What a beauty!

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The Rain Falleth

Saturday afternoon we had a rain with all the trimmings. Lightning, tonnerre, wind, deluge – everything our little hearts desired. It’s been sooo dry for sooo long. Yessssssss, the parched earth says.

Even the cactus looked happier, although I will admit that’s it’s hard to tell with cacti, they hold their emotional cards pretty close to their spiny vests.

There are two small places on our routine hike at the Black Canyon where the claret cup cactus can be found, and right now they are blooming. Their color is amazing, really.

You can’t tell sizes from the photo, but the blossoms are a little bit bigger than a quarter. We look forward to seeing them each year when they flower, but that time is quite short. Mostly within a week they are done with it, start to finish.

BTW, it’s the Colorado state cactus. Who knew there was such a thing?

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Saturday morning I decided to attend a local AA meeting that has been a part of my routine for several years. During the emergency I’ve only been to Zoom versions of that meeting.

My deal with myself was that if there were too many people in that room, or too many people not wearing masks, I would leave. I had no trouble making my decision, because when I went through the door and made my scan absolutely no one within view was wearing facial covering.

I spun on my heel and left. It’s not that scattered episodes of recklessness and irresponsibility are surprising during these uncertain times, but I don’t intend to join in with those who behave this way. My obligations to me and mine are not affected by what others do.

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Robin is installing a sign in our front yard. She hasn’t decided exactly where to put it, but perhaps somewhere near the garden Buddha would be good. Up to her, though.

I like the graphics and love the message. We have no quarrel at all with those who carry signs saying “Black Lives Matter,” and we praise and support their efforts. But here in Montrose County there are so few folks who self-identify as black that perhaps this phrasing is a better fit.

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Since I referenced our racial profile here in Montrose County, I thought you might find this graphic of our county’s makeup interesting.

Not quite monochromatic, but far from diverse.

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Let’s see. This Sunday morning we remain in the midst of a plague, racially-inspired violence is playing out across the land, and we still have that sorry-ass example of a president, who is of no help at all. One bummer after another, n’est-ce pas?

So where’s the brighter day, today? Hmmm … how to find something upbeat … ?

  • The plague will eventually peter out, one way or another, and most of us will still be here and complaining about the weather as always.
  • Although the last racist will probably not perish in this milennium or the next, it seems that the meanings behind the words Black Lives Matter have a strong toe-hold in our national consciousness. This is a good and necessary thing that must happen before we can get moving again toward justice and equality and mutual respect. (We keep on taking pauses in that march, some so long we tend to forget why we’re out there and where we want to be eventually).
  • November is coming and there is good reason to hope that P. Cluck and his merry band of world-ruiners will be turned out of office and dumped into the American History bin marked “Trash.” Once this happens we can begin to give his tweeting the attention it deserves, which is none at all.

There, now don’t we all feel better? I know I do.

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I Can’t Breathe

Something horrible happened in my old hometown, less than six blocks from the house where I grew up. A Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of another man until he caused the second man’s death from suffocation. Although onlookers told the officer to stop what was he was doing, he did not remove that knee until after many minutes had passed and it was too late. All the while, three fellow officers stood by. I will not display the photos, or videos, here. They make me ill. One can easily find them by typing the name George Floyd into any search engine.

A horrible scenario, and unfortunately not rare at all. The actors in these moments are always the same – the officer will be white, the victim will be black.

Angry citizens took to the streets of Minneapolis Wednesday night, burning and looting. That is ugly and criminal behavior, too. The one is not equivalent to the other, although they are certainly related.

This killing of a citizen by a police officer that we saw in the video should make all of us furious and afraid. The officer has been fired, and rightly so. He will be tried eventually, which might be of some comfort to the families of the victim, although the outcomes of such trials are always uncertain.

This was the behavior of a psychopath, a thug. A thug dressed up in a uniform and wearing a badge and a gun. He does not represent any of the brave and principled officers I have known.

No one is safe from such people when they use the power that society gives them in a perverted manner. While they tend to prey on minorities most often, no one is safe because they are without boundaries. And these days, these worse-than-I-ever-imagined-would-be-days, such persons are fed oxygen by the hateful speech that has emanated from P.Cluck and his supporters since the very beginning of our national nightmare in 2016.

Those of us who are white might think our privilege protects us, but that’s a false feeling of security.

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I keep trotting this famous short piece out, which dates from the days of the horrors of Nazi Germany. It fits so well in so many instances.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller

If we don’t stand with the victims at these times, who will stand with us when our turn comes?

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I am having such a deja vu experience this week, watching the rioting and burning on television. In the “long hot summer” of 1967, there were 159 race riots. It was such an intense time that President Lyndon Johnson established the Kerner Commission to find out why this was happening and what there was to be done about it.

The report’s most famous passage warned, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” The report was a strong indictment of white America: “What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.

Its results suggested that one main cause of urban violence was white racism and suggested that white America bore much of the responsibility for black rioting and rebellion. It called to create new jobs, construct new housing, and put a stop to de facto segregation in order to wipe out the destructive ghetto environment. In order to do so, the report recommended for government programs to provide needed services, to hire more diverse and sensitive police forces and, most notably, to invest billions in housing programs aimed at breaking up residential segregation.

Wikipedia: Kerner Commission

We’re at a different place today. Today’s riots stem from the fear of being killed for the crime of being black. Killed either by police or by white vigilantes.

When black parents today have “the talk” with their kids, what advice can they possibly give? How can they tell their children ways to avoid something so arbitrary and capricious as the violent gaze and deeds of psychopathic whites?

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Here’s Van Jones’ take as he provides some perspective and shares his frustrations.

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Murder Most Foul

High Sheriff: Awright, let’s have the story, you two. And let’s just skip the parts where you say it wasn’t your fault. That poor defenseless little thing is dead as a doornail, and I don’t see anybody else in the room.

Robin: I confess. Jon did it.

Jon: Whuh?

Robin: Almost as soon as we left the nursery that poor thing began to droop, as if she knew the fate that awaited her.

Jon: Robin … Dear … light of my life, there is no case against us if we remain mute.

Robin: I couldn’t face people any longer. You’d only go out and do it all over again. Admit it, Jon, you are a serial basil-killer and you need help. If jail is the only way to end this, then so be it.

High Sheriff: Okay, Mister – hands behind your back. You don’t have to say anything but if you do I’ll for sure tell it to the judge and CNN or anyone that cares to listen. It’s moments like this that make me glad to be a cop.

Robin: Could we make it quick, officer? I have a pedicure in 20 minutes..

Jon: (falling to his knees and whingeing in an unbecoming way) Oh thank you, Robin, for ratting me out. I admit that I killed that basil plant, one of the four that I’ve murdered this year. I don’t know why … something comes over me and I leave an air pocket down by the roots or I starve the plants for water.

High Sheriff: Ah, here’s the paddy wagon now. It’s off to the pokey for you, lad, and you’d better hope this news doesn’t get out, because we’re understaffed and if a mob should come for you …

Jon: I deserve whatever comes. I can still hear those tiny basil screams at night, when all is quiet. Perhaps I always will.

High Sheriff: You didn’t let me finish. If a mob should come I’ll just put you out on the sidewalk. No point in risking my staff for the likes of thee.

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I’ve switched from wearing annoyingly itchy blue paper masks to annoyingly itchy bandannas as part of my personal masking efforts. When no one is around, I can push the bandanna down, and I believe it gives me just that rakish look I’ve been seeking.

If you haven’t yet decided on what your masking style should be, perhaps this pictorial I ran across should help. I’ve chosen “The Hondo” for myself.

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I recently viewed a brief news clip about some folks in Great Britain who have volunteered to participate in a vaccine study being conducted there. They were both thirty-somethings, and without knowing more about the study details, I mentally commended them for their courage and thoughtfulness.

This started me wondering about myself. I did volunteer for a vaccine study once, and that was for the immunization against rubella, or so-called German measles. That was fifty years ago. The perceived risks were very small and it really didn’t require any bravery at all.

But now … there are many different coronavirus vaccines being studied, of very different types, from what I’ve gathered – and who should step forward, I wonder? Eventually some of us will have to receive that vaccine to make sure we don’t keel over just from getting “the shot.” That’s the part about safety.

And then will come the crucial part. We find out whether the immunization is effective as we compare the vaccinated subjects to unvaccinated ones when both are exposed to the offending agent.

Since the highest risk group from coronavirus is made up of my peers, shouldn’t it be people like me who are among those to come forward as volunteers? We who are members of the group that would benefit most?

But in general my age group would be excluded from drug studies. Hmmm.

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This woman’s name is Sarah Cooper. She is on YouTube as well as Twitter & Tik Tok. She positively nails her subject, which is P.Cluck. This one is called “How to Medical.”

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In general I have not been a fan of media physicians. You know, those people who show up regularly as guests or commentators. Robin was quite surprised at me earlier in our marriage when after viewing yet another piece of inaccurate trash I burst out at the television set: “Nancy Snyderman, you medical whore!”

And so when Sanjay Gupta came along, at first I filed him in the same waste basket with the rest. But that was a long time ago, and I have since retrieved him, dusted him off, and actually come to admire his media work. I think he honestly tries to get it right. He is neither smarmy nor arrogant – which are unusual qualities in his field.

And in our present troubles, IMHO, he’s done a very necessary job, being one of the voices of reason in the unfortunate clamor that often passes for discussion when the subject is Covid-19.

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Whether Wicker?

Robin has been on a quest. Our previous and never-admirable picnic basket fell apart after a brief life. It was a POC from the beginning and is not mourned. But its demise left us basket-less, and that simply will not do.

She would prefer something in a good strong wicker like the one in the lovely photo above, and there’s the problem. So many of these baskets look shaky in the store where you purchased them, and the handles start falling off before you get them home. Robin has found some online that looked sturdy enough, but we would have to take out a second mortgage on the house to come up with the down payment.

So what’s a person to do? Is there nothing between the poorly made and the preciously wrought?

Stay tuned.

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Mr. Biden forgot something. Nothing strange there, we all forget things from time to time, and with age that trait sometimes becomes bothersome. I can personally attest to that. But this time he forgot something very important while he was on an interview program … to keep his mouth shut when no words were called for.

We all wish he’d be more circumspect, but that’s not too likely, since not being circumspect is one of his persisting traits. This episode will pass, he’s apologized and all, but it wastes precious time and energy. Americans of color deserve better than wisecracks.

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A Dutch grandmother had to be taken to court to force her to remove photos of her grandchildren that she’d posted on Facebook. The plaintiffs were the children’s parents. Apparently there’s still one photo up there that she’s holding back on.

What in the world is the matter with Granny? Having to be sued? Over Facebook postings? Geeesh.

This story certainly supports Tolstoy’s oft-repeated comment: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

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Robin and I watched a streamed movie this past week that was so odd that at the end instead of wondering “What was the meaning of it all?” we asked each other “Why did we watch it through to the end?”

The movie was The Lighthouse, starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. All of the wonderful elements of drama that a lighthouse can provide were there. The isolation, the overriding importance of maintaining the light no matter what, humans thrown together into a completely foreign situation and what will come of that? All were there.

But then the characters and the movie all went bonkers, and by the end my own hinges were coming loose as I fruitlessly tried to make sense of it.

So we really can’t recommend it to anyone. Unless you’re brave or witless enough to try to take a good shot at it, don’t start. For myself, I started at full-bore witless and it got me nowhere.

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As rough a cob as that movie was, it did remind me that I have a favorite genre of films. A favorite that has persisted through all the generations I’ve been through so far. And that is where a group of people is completely isolated in one way or another, under stress, and we watch what happens to them all.

The setting can be an island in a hurricane as in Key Largo, or any number of diners in the desert cut off by wind and sand and distance from the outside world. The weather becomes a character, and the more violent the better.

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Our 28th wedding anniversary came and went this past weekend. We celebrated by ordering takeout from our favorite local restaurant and dining at home. Such is celebrating in the days of the plague.

I look at this photo and wonder … where did I go right?

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The Chain

There is a Buddhist table prayer that goes like this:

We are grateful for the sun and the rain and the earth
and someone else’s hard work.

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There’s often a lot of “fill” on the CNN website, but once in a while they serve up a really tasty media sandwich of excellent photographs between slices of good whole grain reportage.

One of those caught my eye this morning, and I recommend it to you if you haven’t already read it. It’s all about something that I give little thought to day by day, but which makes life as I know it possible – the food chain.

And the article goes on to relate how we are finding out just how elastic that chain might be and whether it will even hold. The reason, of course, is our friend the pandemic. A farmer plants what he think he can sell at harvest time. If he sells to restaurants … what will that market look like when those lovely plants are ready to sell? The crystal ball hasn’t been made that encompasses the coronavirus’ interruptions and dismantlings.

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From The New Yorker

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On Friday Robin and I broke the Covid laws and traveled, non-essentially, more than 10 miles from home. That morning we had snapped, and were each maniacally laughing at nothing during breakfast, unable to stop ourselves. At one point we paused, breathless, looked across the table and said: “We’ve got to get out of here!”

And so we did.

We drove in our Covid-resistant automobile to Twin Lakes, Colorado, a round trip of about 300 miles. We ate bagel sandwiches on the sidewalk in front of a small deli in Gunnison CO. We walked short distances on two hikes and marked them for future and more thorough exploration. We examined two beautiful rushing mountain rivers.

On the first of those mini-hikes I had a not-so-golden-moment. Foolishly I was wearing my plastic Birkenstocks, thinking … not thinking, really. I was walking on a slippery dirt hummock between two very large mud puddles on that old mining road when the Birkies lost contact with the earth. In less time than it took to type this I was lying on my back in three inches of water in one of those puddles.

I’m not sure what the water temperature was, but somewhere close to 40 degrees, I’m guessing.

At any rate, I was now well and truly soaked from shoulder to bum with a brownish water that added nothing to my appearance and turned my blue and white plaid flannel shirt sort of a rusty color.

I schlepped back to the car where I stripped to the waist and put on a fleece jacket that I had fortunately brought along on the drive. There was no replacement for the wet hiking shorts so they had to dry while being worn.

Robin could only watch and say things to herself about hiking with senior citizens and the vagaries thereof.

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From The New Yorker

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There are moments when I wished that I liked okra. The CNN story with which I opened this blog entry talked about the problems of an okra farmer. As I read it I thought of his product and shuddered.

I remember my first exposure to this vegetable quite clearly. A bunch of okra had been boiled up and placed in a serving dish. When the dish was passed to me and I lifted up a large piece of the stuff and saw the mucoid strings hanging from its limp green body I replaced it in the server and never picked it up again.

Years later I ordered a side dish of fried okra at one of those good ol’ southern cookin’ sort of places, and although there was none of that awful visual with the slime dripping down and all, one bite into the super-slippery innards of the piece on my fork made the words NOT FOOD pop into my mind in a bright neon color.

I fear that I may never try it again, and so cannot help that poor farmer in any way. He’ll have to depend on other customers who are not put off by eating large gobbets of mucus.

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Science: The place where we go to find out how the world is and works, rather than someone’s febrile idea about what He’d like it to be.

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AY AY AY! Two hair stylists in Missouri went to work with respiratory symptoms and exposed more than 140 clients to coronavirus. We don’t know anything as yet about those folks who were sent out the door with those spanking new bobs. Did they catch it? Did they become ill? Did they like their haircut?

But what we do know is that they worked for one franchise of the same exclusive chain of salons that I attended here in Paradise in the old days when I left the snipping of hairs to others. Great Clips.

Y’know, it’s really disappointing. You expect more from an upscale establishment. Sloppy work, that.

However, now that I have taught myself the fine art of mowing my own fur, I find that I don’t care quite as much as I would have. My plague haircuts are as pleasing to me as those I received at the hands of a long string of anonymous women over the years. What is missing, though, is the suspense.

Will this be the time that I get exactly what I want? Or will I look at myself in the mirror when she’s done and say once again: In a week it’ll be okay.

I miss that.

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Addendum: On a bicycle ride Saturday, I hit a snag in the sidewalk and the bike and I went in different directions. Small parts of my epidermis were left on the gravel along the path, but that was the extent of my injuries.

Robin, however, added this incident to the one of the day before, where I fell into a mountain puddle, to declare a new policy: No More Accidents. I would have tried to explain that accidents were just that, and could happen to anyone at any time, but there was a look in her eye that said:

Don’t mess with me on this one, Jon. Just wear the suit!

The garment in question is constructed entirely of bubble wrap, is suffocatingly warm in summer, and there is no way at all to deal with perspiration. After a couple of hours in there, the most euphemistic way of describing its occupant is rancid.

It would have prevented my two small traumas of the past week, however, because anything other than a stiff sort of slow-walking is impossible.

She’ll come around, I know she will. If I can just stay out of trouble for a few more days …

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… Not The Motorcycle

Among all the stories and articles dealing with Covid-19 there are sprinkled individual reports of a disease in young children who’ve developed inflammation of blood vessels in locations all around the body. Some of these kids have died of heart-related problems, and many of them are Covid-19 positive.

There is mention of the disease Kawasaki syndrome in some of these articles, because of many similarities between the two conditions. The pic below is of a child with Kawasaki syndrome, and he is obviously displeased with his diagnosis.

This disease was first described in 1967 in Japan, later spread across the globe, and as of today we still don’t know its cause. Which is what is so intriguing about the newer syndrome and its relationship to a specific virus.

I have a Kawasaki story. Well, two of them, really.

The first one is very short. My first motorcycle was a 400cc Kawasaki street bike. I loved it and would have kept it forever but one day I saw a Honda Gold Wing on the dealership sales floor and she twisted my mind and I followed her and left that marvelous KZ400 behind. I wonder whatever became of her.

.

The second story follows.

I was living and working in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when I first read about Kawasaki syndrome. That was in 1974, and the article was in the journal Pediatrics. Part of the disease’s presentation was a fairly dramatic rash, and the idea that babies with this condition were dying of “heart attacks” was alarming. I looked at the color plates accompanying the reports, and mentally filed them away.

Initially all of the cases were in Japan, but then there were reports from the Philippines, later Hawaii, and finally in 1976 there were kids on the west coast with the disease. It had traveled and been tracked making its way across the Pacific Ocean, and behaved much as an infection would.

And then there came a day in 1977 when I walked into an exam room in my office in remote Hancock MI and saw a child who had presented with a florid skin rash and a fever. My first reaction was “What the hell is this? I’ve not seen anything like … wait … yes, I have seen that rash somewhere before.” So I dug out the articles and yep, this child turned out to be the first case of Kawasaki syndrome diagnosed in the Upper Peninsula, sitting right there in a small room in the middle of the continent.*

By then several things were known about the syndrome. First, that unless you had heart involvement you were going to be miserable for a week or two but would most likely make a complete recovery. And second, if the vessels in the patient’s heart were inflamed, treatment with intravenous gamma globulin was very effective in reversing these lesions.

Since the UP was a pediatric cardiologic desert, I immediately sent the boy downstate to Ann Arbor, where they found that his heart was involved and the child was soon treated with IVGG, with a happy outcome.

So I will watch the present situation with both old and new interest.

*[This story is not told to point out how wonderful a clinician I was, although that is certainly true and I will be the first to admit it, but that the information necessary to make such a diagnosis was available to physicians even in remote and unlikely locations.]

*

When I was a pediatric resident, on Saturday mornings we attended Dr. Good’s Rounds. Dr. Robert A. Good was one of the few true geniuses that I’ve met, and each week we would present him a case as an unknown and try to stump him. We never did.

On one occasion, after the resident had laid out the clinical aspects of a case, Dr. Good began: “Well, the most interesting part of this child’s problems is the presence of those vascular lesions …” and he stopped to look around at our group. He began again: “By the way, you do know that eventually all diseases will be found to be infectious in origin, don’t you?” We nodded dutifully, even though of course we’d never heard such a statement before.

Kawasaki syndrome reeks of being infectious in origin, and the recent Covid experience only adds to that odor. So why haven’t we found the cause of Kawasaki syndrome after all this time? Because we need a new flashlight, obviously.

Let’s say that at some time in your life you went camping. Exactly an hour after everyone has settled down and is sleeping, you wake to find that you require the sort of comfort that a privy can provide. You reluctantly leave your warm sleeping bag and turn on that little easy-to-carry flashlight with the anemic amount of light that it provides and make your way to the outhouse, tripping over every root and rock in the path because you can’t see them clearly.

But you learned something from that negative experience.

So when you return to civilization, you make a trip to a hardware store and buy the biggest, brightest flashlight you can afford, and the next time you make that chilly trip to the toilet you see everything. The roots, the rocks, the raccoons, something ominous that slithered away into the underbrush – it’s all out there. Technological progress has improved your life.

*

It’s the same in medicine.

As a junior medical student I was required to attend a series of lectures on physical diagnosis. We were learning the art of eliciting information through touching patients’ bodies, listening to their hearts and lungs, and asking them to perform certain tasks. All terribly important stuff. Skills and knowledge that had been basically unchanged for a hundred years.

One day, after an hour of talking to us about stethoscopes and the alteration of the sounds you hear caused by diseases of the lungs, and of the art of percussion of the chest (the tapping while listening), the lecturing pulmonologist paused.

“Now,” he said, “I must tell you that everything I have talked about so far this morning is not worth the diagnostic value of a single chest x-ray.” And he closed his notebook and left the room.

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The discovery of x-rays was a revolutionary thing. It was the newest and best flashlight of 1913. But what amazing ones were to follow – the CT scan, brain scan, PET scan, MRI, etc. And that was just in the radiology department.

Each time there is a technical advance, we learn new stuff. Not just about what we might have been studying at the time, but other things as well. We’re unfortunately accustomed to the term collateral damage, as when a weapon kills innocents along with the intended target.

Well, there is such a thing as collateral learning as well. This occurs when a tool is developed and all of a sudden uses are found for it far from the original plans.** As an example, all of the diagnostic testing now being done for Covid-19 uses technology that didn’t exist when I started out in medicine.

Each time we get one of those new flashlights, people begin immediately shining them everywhere and oh, what things we learn. But so far, no new beam to shine on Kawasaki syndrome, not yet.

**[Steve Jobs was particularly conscious of this phenomenon. When he first presented the iPhone, he knew that it was a remarkable technical achievement, but that neither he nor anyone else could know how it would eventually be used. That was where we came in. And who could have imagined how useful it has become?]

*

BTW, as long as we’re on the subject, you do know what the world’s most powerful diagnostic instrument is, don’t you? And it’s been around for a thousand years?

It’s the retrospectoscope. With it you can look backward in time, and declare “I knew it all along!” to everyone who is within earshot and you believe may be susceptible to your unmerited self-praise.

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Of Earth

Our weather this Spring has been marked by sunshine and a dry wind that comes up mid-morning. It’s been a striking change for us, after six years here in Paradise where we largely were able to forget about those breezy prairie days back in South Dakota. It’s been this way for at least a month.

The wind blows hard enough that we’ve shifted some of our outdoor exercising from midday to earlier in the morning to avoid it. We love bicycling, but both of us find a 20+ mph headwind distracting. Plus, in this arid country any stiff breeze always carries a bit of the topography with it, and rubbing bits of Colorado out of one’s eyes quickly becomes tiresome.

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Out tiny garden is doing well so far. Blossoms on tomatoes and all that. Of course, if we didn’t follow the admonition “Just add water” nothing would survive at all. What the heavens don’t provide, we do.

Here are the plantings we’ve done this year, and I know these tender seedlings would appreciate your thoughts and prayers. When they see me come to tend them they must shudder inside, knowing the risks they are being exposed to.

  • leaf lettuce
  • tomatoes
  • spinach
  • basil (already died off of a chill)
  • kale

As you can see, we’ve focused heavily on plants containing lots of anti-oxidants. I think Robin and I need all of those we can get, since there are days when I think I am oxidizing way too rapidly for my own good.

It’s all for fun, since we basically eat the output as fast as it comes to maturity. Gardening the way we do it is much like fishing is for me. You don’t want to calculate the price of those fish per pound or you’d never get in the boat.

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The best gardener that I’ve personally known was Ida Jacobson, my maternal grandmother. Her husband Nels took care of the rest of the farm, but the garden was Ida’s baby. And it was not a hobby, not for Grandma J.

She used the garden to feed her family, and her small home on their farm had a “root cellar” below it for storage. (Like the one in Wizard of Oz where the family took shelter from the tornado.)

Rough board shelves lined the smallish space, and they were filled with cans and bottles containing pickles of various sorts, corn, squashes, peas, string beans, etc. Since there were several apple trees on the farmstead, many many jars of the most excellent applesauce were up there as well.

The floor of the cellar was earthen, as were the walls. When you went down into the dim cellar you shared the room with the creepy crawly things that called it home, and selected the jar or can you wanted paying close attention that you didn’t grab something that grabbed you back.

Grandma Jacobson’s gardens did not fail. They weren’t allowed to. They were luxuriant examples of how it could be, for me to remember and in my small way try to emulate today. Of course, she had access to all of the premier fertilizer one could ever want, gathered from barns and chicken coops, and she put those homely substances to doing serious work for those she loved and cared for.

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I spoke of fishing a few moments ago. Although I’ve purchased a 2020 Colorado license, the winds have kept me from doing much in this regard. I’m still a newbie to fly fishing, but have already learned that you catch no fish unless the fly hits the water, and when the air goes by at turnpike speeds that doesn’t happen.

Also, the fly will only go in the direction of the breeze, and that may not even be where the water is located. So until wind velocities come down a bit, I will not bother cluttering up the car with rods and reels. Patience is one hallmark of the true angler and I am well supplied with that. (Of course, skill is another hallmark, but you can’t have everything, can you?)

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This was Wednesday’s Google doodle. Lovely bit. From all accounts, a lovely man.

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Our governor said in his radio message Wednesday that he believes 50% of Coloradans are walking around carrying the novel coronavirus. Most of them (us?) are not ill.

He’s not a man given to rash statements, so his health advisers must have data that suggest this number is close to a true one. Let’s say that he is correct. Now the question is – how long does it persist on that healthy human being to the point that he or she could infect another person? How long before it fades away?

It’s like living in one of those old movie serials I attended as a kid, where the hero falls off a cliff in Episode 2 (he’s dead for sure now!), and then at the beginning of Episode 3 is shown clinging to a shrub until rescuers arrive (it’s a miracle!). It’s best that we don’t get too elated or depressed by news reports as each day passes. It will be some time before we know the whole story.

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Born or Thrust?

It had to happen. When you are destined for greatness, eventually the world discovers you, and everything you do is history-making from then on. Robin and I had our photos taken without our knowledge when we were out on a bicycle ride this past week, and the pic was published a couple of days ago in our local paper.

Not some little image tucked away somewhere near the public notices, mind you, but a huuuuuuge one on the back page.

The calls haven’t started coming in yet, but I’m sure that’s because all the talk shows are being broadcast from the stars’ basements. Yet come they will, you can be certain of that. The ball is now in play.

Rest assured that even when I have become an exalted personage that I will not forget all the little people who helped me along my way. You will still be able to contact me through my chief of staff, as soon as I get one.

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From The New Yorker

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On Monday afternoon it was 89 degrees here in Paradise. But there was a fine breeze out on the deck and it was all so pleasant that I checked the relative humidity. It was 6%. At the same moment it was 11% in Phoenix, and 21% in Death Valley!

Ay Ay Ay! Six percent! Madre de Dios!

If you looked carefully you could see the water molecules being sucked from our bodies and rising like heat ripples off an asphalt pavement in August. I then did what any sane person would do having been given this information. I went back inside and got a much bigger glass of iced tea.

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From The New Yorker

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You may have noticed that I don’t comment nearly as much these days on what P.Cluck is doing, even though he provides daily provocations.

That fool would like us all to waste our time parsing him, when we could be doing something much more useful, like finding where we put the Ouija board after the last time we used it, which was in 1969.

It’s probably in the box with the electric fondue pot, wherever that is. I strongly suspect that most of the treasures we can’t locate rest on the mildewy shelves at the Salvation Army store. Beginning when we left Sioux Falls, life has been one continuous divestment, and the thrift stores, Habitat shops, and landfills are the richer for it.

Once upon a time we had criteria for what to get rid of, but even those have changed. Now we are down to this: If tomorrow we were to both be wiped out in an auto accident, what might our children take home with them, and what would go instantly into the dumpster? We’ve decided to save them the dumpster trip and do it ourselves.

My own personal goal is to eventually keep only what could be carried by a reasonably healthy llama, and deep six the rest. It’s all in keeping with a story told by a man named Alexander King, who was a frequent guest on an ancient version of the Tonight Show which was overseen by Jack Paar.

There was a small village, and in the center of town was the community well, where everyone would come each morning to fill their jars with water for the day.

A very old, very wise, and much-loved monk lived alone in a cell just off the town square. He had a single possession in addition to the robe he wore – his water jar.

One morning as he was going to the well, he tripped and the jar flew from his hands, shattering on the cobblestones. The villagers were horrified, and they rushed forward to provide aid and comfort but instead found the monk sitting on the stones with the most rapturous expression on his face.

At last, he said, I’m free.

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Boundaries

Even that premier outpost of serenity and beauty and timelessness is caught up in the plague. It’s been closed up until now, and the details of just how it will open are being worked out as we speak. I’m talking about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, of course. The “BW.”

What it looks like is that all of the forest service campgrounds on its periphery will remain closed for the time being, but the wilderness campsites will be opened up. So if you can get your canoe into the water, you’ll be okay.

Out there fits pretty well with the rules of social distancing, since most sites are a rather long swim apart from one another.

It’s just another reason to be glad that we took our trip there with Aiden last year rather than this one. Adding such confusion to all of the other considerations would have been most irritating and/or anxiety-provoking.

Let’s toss in a BWCA gallery here, shall we? It covers nearly 50 years of visits to this evocative place.

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For Robin, there is a paradox in our present pestilence-based predicament. The days fly by, but the months seem to pass glacially slowly. She thought the past April would never end. For her, it was the longest one ever.

I get it.

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Living in coronaland … it’s all about boundaries, isn’t it? Since the enemy is invisible, we depend upon the measuring tape to keep us safe. Six feet apart is enough to reduce (but not eliminate) contagion, so that’s what we keep. My personal space now has a number, whereas it used to only exist in my mind. That number is the area of a circle with a six foot radius, or about 113 square feet.

I’m pretty sure that last week at City Market somebody trod in my space several times. Each of these intrusions happened behind me so I can’t be sure, but you sense these things, don’t you?

Yesterday I went to the market, and as I was filling my cart I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to put my mask on before entering the store, that it was still in the car and hanging uselessly from the rearview mirror. It was like finding that I was naked in public. An archetypal nightmare come to life. My face hanging out there for all to see.

I quickly paid for the groceries and fled the store. I didn’t meet anyone that I knew, but for certain the whole shameful episode is recorded on the store’s CCTV, and what if that got out?

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This month’s issue of Consumer Reports has a puzzling headline – How To Eat Less Plastic. Puzzling because my own outlook on the subject is to eat none at all.

Apparently that choice has been taken from me by the packaging industry. Unless I grow all my own food and throw away all our Tupperware and SaranWrap, I will be nibbling on polystyrene et al for the time being.

Then for no reason at all this morning I decided to read up on sous vide cooking, which is the new/old method that obsessive/compulsives are employing these days when they take to food preparation. One cooks meats at a precise and quite low temperature, in a water bath, and according to the gushing literature you ain’t tasted nothing until you have bitten into one of these things.

There are putative advantages to this method, including that each steak you ever cook will allegedly taste just like the previous one because you leave nothing to chance. I have not given it a try, but to me one of the interesting things in life is variability. When I go to cooking on the grill I really have no no clear idea whether I will be serving perfection or a sort of charcoal jerky.

Oh, I fuss about it and all, but it’s the gamble that’s all part of the fun of it for me.

And you probably caught that the meat is cooked in a constant temperature water bath – so how do you keep it from becoming a gray and tasteless blob? Why, you seal it in plastic, of course. Which brings us round to Consumer Reports, where we started out.

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Update on plague haircuts.

In these days of insecurity and more questions than answers, one of the interesting things is that getting a haircut at a salon is considered slightly dangerous. Here in Montrose, you go to the salon by appointment only, wait in your car to be called in, fill out a medical questionnaire, and cleanse your hands with Purell. You then to back to a sink where you wash your hands in the Happy Birthday manner.

Only then is it into the chair and on with the snipping.

But this only began again this week. Prior to this week, this has been the Spring where you either cut your own hair or went unshorn. As you know, I chose the former path, and am happy enough with the results than I may continue the practice out of a combination of sloth, a shortage of vanity, and cheapskatedness.

Even when getting a haircut becomes once again just that, and is not on the level of playing Russian roulette.

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Angst Galore

I was in my twenties when I read the Studs Lonigan trilogy, written by James T. Farrell. For me it was a turbulent read, one that left me not-the-same when I had finished.

Along the way I found that I had identified with the main character way more than I realized. He was an ordinary guy with good intentions, and that was how I saw myself. So when his life came to a too-young and unhappy end, I clearly saw that it was one of the directions that my own life might take. In fact, might be taking right then and there.

Studs could be me. I could be Studs.

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A result was that I was truly shaken by the death of a fictional character for the first time in my life. The author had made him more real to me than most of the actual people that I knew. To this day I greatly admire the writing skills that could do that, without really knowing exactly how it was done. A sorcery.

So it is with some misgivings that I’ve decided to go back through the trilogy. At the time of the first read, life was a universe of unknowns in front of me, a time both scary and exciting. Reading the books now will not be the same … but wait … life is still scary and exciting. There is still a broad universe of unknowns ahead. I’m really little more than an older version of that boy still trying to figure things out.

So I guess I’ll just read ’em and let ‘er rip.

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With all of the new books being published every day … why read some of the old stuff again? I can’t remember exactly when I realized that no matter what I did, I could never read all the books or listen to all the music that I wanted to. It wasn’t just the fact that I was starting to run short on time, it was that it always had been an impossible task.

After that epiphany I found that whatever I read or listened to no longer had that desperateness attached to it. I could fully enjoy each book, listen carefully to each tune, without the oppressive thought “I better get cracking, there is so much more to see and do.”

Now when I see something at a bookseller with a title like “500 Books to Read Before You Die” I am not moved to open it. I don’t need somebody else’s list, I’m pleased to be working on my very own, thank you very much. And the list consists of the book in front of me and open to the page.

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From The New Yorker

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In our daily lives today we are witnessing a kind of resistance to truth, to facts, to science, that are puzzling to some of us. How can they think that? is a phrase often heard and one that rattles around this cranium of mine like seeds in a castanet.

We see pictures of men with guns standing guard outside a bar in Texas so that the owner can open his business without regard for the public health. They’re standing up for the constitution, they say. How can they think that?

I read letters to the editor in our local paper which are nothing but rehashes of lies and gibberish extracted from Fox News, without evidence of any original thought on the part of the writer. How can they think that?

I look with shame and horror at our present government’s actions and policies, but my neighbor three doors down looks at the same steaming pile of horseapples and calls it beautiful. How can he think that?

So when I ran across these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer they rang instantly true to me, and provide an explanation for what we see. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and an anti-Nazi dissident at a time in Germany when both were very dangerous things to be. He was talking about Nazis in 1940s Germany, but they apply awfully well to our President and his followers today.

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in April of 1943 and hanged in April of 1945. He was a prolific writer, and his Letters And Papers From Prison may be his best known work. The following is from that book.

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease.

Against stupidity we are defenseless; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed, and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

It seems obvious that stupidity is less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions.

The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he speaks on behalf of an empowered group. In conversation with him, one feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans and catchwords that have taken possession of him.

The stupid man is under a spell…[And] having become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters And Papers From Prison.

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From The New Yorker

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