Mea Culpa, Already

It is a fact that I pilfer regularly from the archives of cartoonists, principally those who draw for the New Yorker magazine. In my defense, I nearly always attribute them properly, and in a way my larceny is a form of respect. You don’t ordinarily steal what you don’t value.

I wouldn’t have to do this if I were able to draw. But my attempts at even the crudest sketching would have been rejected by the original people in charge of the Lascaux caves as being unworthy. Any child’s sidewalk scribble outshines me. I have a clear memory of art classes in first and second grades where for years I would draw the exact same thing and turn it in. I don’t recall my teachers as ever calling me on it, and I was very happy when by the third grade we no longer had to do this activity.

This was the piece that I drew over and over. Part of a house, part of a tree, and the sun. Occasionally I would add a few blades of grass, but that was it.

No people or animals. The sun, the tree, the house. This was my best work. I look back at it fondly.

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So whenever I have need for something graphic to add life to my blog pages, I must resort to piracy. I am quite sure that you readers would quickly tire of the dismal artistic triad shown in the drawing above, and be less forgiving than my early childhood teachers were. In uncharitable moments you might easily refer to it as pathetic.

But here we go again …

From The New Yorker

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On Thursday I once again sallied forth to do a little stream fishing. In brand new boots. What I failed to mention in a post a few days ago is that I had outgrown my old boots to the point where walking about in them was uncomfortable and gave me insight into the ancient Chinese practice of binding feet. There are so many jokes that Mother Nature has in her repertoire, and one of them that I hadn’t heard of until I experienced it was that while aging shortens so many things, including one’s height and memory, it lengthens one’s feet. Yes, they keep growing. I imagine that if I lived long enough, eventually my baseball cap would rest upon a huge pair of shoes, and inside that cap would basically be me.

At any rate the new footgear performed flawlessly.

There was something odd, however, that happened on this particular Thursday. I hooked two trout. This was completely unexpected, and both times it caught me so off guard that I allowed them to escape. In all of my lifetime of hours spent angling upon the waters of this great land of ours, I am rarely interrupted by fish.

This has been especially true of fly fishing, something that I had barely tried before I moved to Paradise. But the attraction of these beautiful mountain streams was too strong, and so I purchased the basic equipment and now I try to go to places where it is unlikely that I will be observed in my flailing.

Initially I took a few lessons, one of which involved turning over rocks in the streams to see what grotesque creatures were clinging to them, the idea being that this would give me an idea what the local fish had available for eating. I could then choose what flies to tie on, thus greatly improving my chances of catching something. Since those early days I confess that I have not turned over a single stone. I will admit that I am beginning to think that my poor performance in streamside entomology might have something to do with my regularly empty creels.

But hey, this way I don’t have to worry about the size, number, or variety of the fish I don’t catch. If I wish to embellish a story or two, there is no evidence to the contrary. I always practice catch and release wherever I go, even when it is not required, sez I to questioners.

[So here is a photo that I did not take of a fish that I did not catch. No matter.] Landing this behemoth was such a struggle, you wouldn’t believe it . There I was, all alone in the wilderness, when the vicious thing lunged at me even as I stood on the shoreline. The gnashing of its razor-sharp teeth was a horrible thing to hear … its murderous eye enough to strike fear into the heart of the bravest man … .

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From The New Yorker

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I have a plan. After P.Cluck is impeached for the second time, he should then be tried in the civil courts for his numerous offenses against man and God. Once this process is over, his sentence would include lifetime housing for him and his noxious clan in this luxurious but drafty thirty bed bungalow. There would, of course, be no internet access or electricity, and I would give him the new title of Permanent Goatherd and Latrine Orderly.

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Fleurs du Mal

Here is how the Covid vaccine process is shaking out in Greater Paradise (otherwise known as the state of Colorado). Phase Ia vaccinations are underway, and Phase Ib will be upon us when … well, we don’t exactly know. What is happening is that people in Phase Ib are asked to sign up to establish themselves as part of the group (we did ours online), and then one day we will receive some sort of notification as to when and where we can be vaccinated.

Robin and I are in group Ib by virtue of age, as you can see in the diagram below.

After reading about the mentally unstable Wisconsin pharmacist who deliberately left 500 doses of the vaccine out to spoil, and someone else’s idea that to make the supplies go further we reduce the amount of vaccine given, I am not quite sure what to expect. It could conceivably go like this:

Policeman: Awright, keep the line straight, you guys, stay on the north side of the rope. And stop moving about back there.
Vaccinee: But it’s cold out here, good lord, the wind chill is zero degrees.
Policeman: You don’t like it, Mr. TenderBody, well, you can just go home if you want to.
Vaccinee: Naw, naw, never mind, I’m stayin’.
Policeman: Here’s the nurse now.
Nurse: Would everyone from the man with the lavender beret to the woman with the decorative layer of cowpoop on her boots take one step forward. Okay, now roll up your sleeves, if you will. Well now, sir, let’s just draw up your medicine.
Vaccinee: Is it supposed to be green?
Nurse: The color is immaterial, good sir, just relax and all this will soon be over.
Vaccinee: What’s that funny odor?
Nurse: I don’t smell anything out of the ordinary.
Vaccinee: It’s coming from the green stuff.
Nurse: Sir, could you please stop with the comments? You are making the people in line behind you nervous.
Vaccinee: I think I’d like to go home and think about it.
Nurse: Too late for that. We have quotas to fill, you know. Barney and Vito, will you grab him?
Vaccinee: But I don’t want the shot any more.
Nurse: Is that all this is about? Don’t worry, sir, all you have to do is sniff the vial. There will be no injection at all.
Vaccinee: Sniff it? Does that work?
Nurse: Not quite sure, but we’re all learning together, aren’t we? Now if you’ll just let me wipe off your nose with this alcohol swab …

(Just to be clear, when my dose becomes available, no matter what its physical characteristics may be, I’m taking it. Enough, already!)

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On Monday morning there was an earthquake in Tyndall SD, which is about twenty-eight miles from our former place of residence in Yankton. It was only 3.1 on the Richter scale, but already the insurance claims are coming in, claiming substantial damages. Earl Putz says that fifty-two of his prize-winning steers fell into a huge crack that opened up and then closed again. Mabel Pergola says that her mental health has been permanently altered by the event, and that aftershocks are occurring on the hour in the middle of her abdomen, one centimeter to the left of the navel.

Ms. Pergola is also claiming loss of consortium with her husband, Elbert. When our reporter asked how she could ever have noticed this, since the earthquake had occurred only two hours prior to this conversation, her reply was: “You don’t know Elbert.”

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I will mention the events of Wednesday only briefly. They are at the point of being dissected minutely, and we may all be feeling even more ill by the time this process is over. Or we may feel exultation.

The first is the riots, encouraged by P.Cluck himself and his Republican enablers. A merry band of traitors they are, and they deserve anything unpleasant that may happen to them in the days to come. At supper last evening the title of a book of poetry by Baudelaire came to mind. It was Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil). Cluck and the boys have been planting the seeds of those flowers all along, and you know what – I told me so. The part of my brain that never sleeps, that keeps me breathing and my internal organs churning away, knew that this moment was coming. Even while the part that reads and writes and signs checks said: “No, not even they would go that far.” I will have to give my gut more credit and listen to it more carefully in the future.

The second is the Democratic wins in Georgia. It makes it possible to finally get past the McConnell roadblock that has held America back for so many years. Imagine how long it might have taken to achieve something as straightforward and necessary as the assembling of a cabinet by Mr. Biden, had this not happened. Bless everyone who had a hand in these victories, because they were victories for us all.

It is sunrise in America, mes amis. What kind of day will it be?

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There’s A Man Goin’ Round Takin’ Names

Let’s do this. Let’s get rid of the electoral college once and for all. Let’s shrink the time between the election and the swearing-in of the new President. Let’s make sure we write down the names of everyone who has supported this Frankenstein of a POTUS. We don’t want to forget even one of them. Let’s remember the names of that handful of Republicans who have spoken up along the way and been driven out or into silence by the jeers and threats of today’s modern equivalent of Italy’s good ol’ Black Shirts. They were the good ol’ thugs of their time, waving flags while running around and clubbing people who disagreed with them.

Italian blackshirts, circa 1920

Let’s get a copy of the Constitution and read it, along with its amendments, to embed into our hearts those words that help us all to remain safe. That should keep us busy for at least a couple of days, and it’s something constructive to do during the Great National Confinement , otherwise known as the coronavirus pandemic.

[It might help to remember that the Constitution was not created as the rules for a club consisting entirely of thoughtful gentlepersons. It was designed to help keep a bunch of unruly and often unsavory bastards from killing one another. Ir provided the set of generally agreed-upon rules which enable us to live together as Americans and that is no small thing.]

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I have reached that point in the year when I have the conversation with myself that goes something like this: I am now officially tired of winter and would like it to go away, please. A month of it is really long enough to learn all that one needs to learn about self-discipline, tolerance for meteorologic adversity, and fortifying one’s soul by inserting enforced self-denial into spaces that used to contain pleasures.

Yep, a month of it would really be enough. After all, that would be 8.33333333% of the year. Do we really need more?

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From The New Yorker

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Yesterday the temperature soared to 43 degrees here in Paradise, so of course I went fishing. I rounded up the necessaries and trucked myself down the hill to the Uncompahgre River. I was dressed in more layers than I needed, expecting to feel chilled walking around in that icy water. But I didn’t, not at all. It was an altogether excellent couple of hours that I passed, flailing the bejabbers out of the poor fly I’d selected.

With my Tenkara equipment I found out two things right away. When you are a beginner, and the rod is twelve feet long, it is very easy to hit things overhead, like trees and bushes. It is also quite easy to hit one’s target in the stream, as long as the target is at least six feet in diameter.

The sun was shining and the water was clear and fast. A group of four mallard ducks was dabbling away just twenty yards from me, apparently not too concerned about the clumsy beast upstream with the stick in his hand.

I was far from alone out there, I counted three other men who were similarly engaged on that stretch of the river. I also counted the number of fish that the four of us hauled in, cumulatively. None. But the number of contented faces was the true measure of the day. And there were four of those.

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For those of you who fish, the Davy knot may be a new one for you, as it was for me. I can attest that it holds very well, and is as easy to tie as any of them. I like the lack of bulk in the finished knot, which should be helpful in other types of fishing as well when deception is especially important.

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This gallery may be of no interest to any but my kids, but here are a few scenes from a trip to Cape Hatteras, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which took place in 1972.

Tripping Badly

Robin and I watched the movie Phantom Stitch the other night, a film in which mushrooms play an important role. Now, one of the basic hazards of life (for listeners) is that when a person attains a certain age, nearly everything reminds him or her of something in his or her past. So here’s a personal mushroom story.

I was living and working in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and had been there for a couple of years. There was a substantial “counterculture” contingent living up there, who enjoyed the natural gorgeousness and lack of close supervision by authorities.

One summer afternoon I was taking my turn covering the Emergency Room, when I was called to see a young man with a beard and shoulder-length hair, attired in well-worn jeans and a faded flannel shirt, and who had ingested some mushrooms that had made him quite ill. He had been vomiting for hours and was moderately dehydrated as a result. I examined him quickly and then turned to the nurse, who happened to be a person who had quite a lot of knowledge of local fungi.

“Did he bring in any of what he ate?” I asked.

“No, but I’ve been saving what he threw up in case we need to send it away for study,”the nurse replied.

“How to find out what it was … ?”

At that point, the patient, who had been lying there motionless but for the rise and fall of his chest with his breathing, eyes closed and looking as completely miserable as you care to imagine, said two words in a low and groaning voice:

Amanita muscaria.”

Amanita Muscaria is not “poisonous” per se, rather it is a hallucinogen/narcotic. When you eat it dried, freshly cooked, or drink water it has been cooked in, you will become intoxicated, or possibly just get sick and vomit all over the place.

Forager Chef.com

Et voila! It turned out that the man had been seeking hallucinations by ingesting that fungus but instead ran headlong into a common effect which was to become extremely nauseous. He was provided with intravenous hydration, moved into a quiet space, and discharged a few hours later in good condition.

Amanita muscaria

So the first and last case of mushroom poisoning I ever saw was diagnosed by the patient himself, and that diagnosis communicated to me in Latin. You might not believe this, but that didn’t happen every day.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Love this song, from 1986. The video is by a group called ‘Til Tuesday, which was fronted by Aimee Mann, a very talented woman who has gone on to do some beautiful things in music.

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Same Dude Different Day

I’m starting to be concerned. Here we are two days into 2021 and I still feel like the same guy I was last year.

Is it because I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions? Because I didn’t. Not one. If you could paint resolutions blue somehow, a view from a small drone would show a trail behind me of little sapphire-tinted piles of broken promises to myself stretching all the way back to the horizon. I think that I can safely say that no New Year’s resolution of mine ever made it to February in one piece.

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The largest share of the exercise walks that Robin and I take are down along the Uncompahgre River, which passes through Montrose on its way to a rendezvous with the Gunnison River about 20 miles from here. Most of the scenery along those walks is very pretty, with trees and shrubs planted according to Mother Nature’s grand and seemingly random plan. There are areas, as there are along so many rivers I’ve seen that are close to towns, where the carelessness of past generations has piled up, with unattractive industry still making a mess of the shoreline. But there is so much of it here that it spoils a good walk.

This past week the birding has been exceptionally good as we stroll along trying our best to get those heart rates up. There are the usual scads of robins and legions of sparrows (that I haven’t bothered to learn to tell apart from one another), but we’ve also seen a great blue heron, a small flock of mountain bluebirds (seen two days in succession), and a group of Bohemian waxwings all fluffed up against the chill.

[None of these photographs are my own. But they have been purloined in a good cause.]

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The New Landscape Department

Things Will Get Better, Seriously by Paul Krugman
We Just Saw How Minds Aren’t Changed by David Brooks

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Colorado made the news this week for the wrong reason. Somehow the first case of the more contagious variant of the Covid virus showed up near Denver, in a guy who never went anywhere. To the medical sleuths, this strongly suggested that perhaps there was somebody else in our fair state who has it that we don’t know about as yet. That’s going out on a limb, I know, but these epidemiologists are a wild and crazy bunch.

So now I have a new level of paranoia, what with the new variant stacked on the non-masked multitudes, and all this atop the basic worrisome virus that you can’t see, smell, or taste and which at its whim can either kiss you lightly on your forehead or make you completely dead. Ach, himmel, what’s a guy to do? We already have our groceries delivered by workers in Hazmat suits, irradiate our incoming mail before ever touching it, and take regular Lysol baths. I even tried brushing my teeth with hydrogen peroxide but had to give that up when I nearly foamed myself into oblivion.

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I saw something truly stunning yesterday, and unfortunately I didn’t have my camera handy to record it. A shame, really.

We had decided to take a scenic drive just to get out of the house for a couple of hours and ended up passing through Redvale CO, a very small town with a very large number of Cluck flags still flying. That wasn’t the stunner. It was the old pickup with a camper on the box. A homemade cloth sign whose dimensions were about 4×6 feet was affixed to the side facing the street, and it declaimed in large letters: Burn Your Mask!

Just think for a moment of the depths of stupid and hostile that such a banner signifies.

Burn Your Mask! Good lord.

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Please Pass The Bucket

There is a little story behind the header photograph. Robin and I had met up with her kids for a short skiing vacation over the New Year Holiday. We chose a very small town not far from Winter Park CO, and took rooms for a couple of nights. Skiing during the day, enjoying the company in the evening … that was the plan.

But on New Year’s Eve, one member of our party (whose name is withheld to protect the innocent) became ill with gastroenteritis at midday, and her condition progressed to moderate dehydration over the next several hours. At that time we didn’t know much about the medical care available in Tabernash, so our rooms became the E.R.. Late in the evening her vomiting finally quit, and slow improvement began. But by then we had let go of any ideas of joining the party scene that we could see down at the ski lift area. So we stayed in and celebrated quite modestly instead.

But the party was watchable from our window, and this pic was of a moment in time, when the sounds of retching had subsided and our collective worries began to diminish.

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At one time in my life New Year’s Eves were an excuse for getting sozzled to a degree incompatible with having a pleasant New Year’s Day, if you get my drift. Fortunately for me (and others in the room) I no longer try to pickle myself by midnight on this holiday. In fact, I am no longer awake at midnight at all. Robin and I will pick an hour well before that and call out Happy New Year along with Japan, or some such nation well to the East.

And we have found that no matter how she and I celebrate the evening, quietly or uproariously, the year changes right on schedule.

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In the later years of their time together, my Grandpa and Grandma Jacobson lived in a small house across the farm road from the larger one that they had occupied for most of their married life. It was heated by an oil burner in the living room, and a plain metal pipe ran from the device to the chimney. On New Year’s Eve in 1950 I was their guest, and on the stroke of midnight Grandpa performed his routine which involved picking up a piece of blue carpenter’s chalk and writing the number of the year on the pipe. It was his way of marking the turning of the year. Simple and quiet. And then it was off to bed for all of us.

I do have such a piece of chalk somewhere, because hardware stores have no scruples about selling it to anyone whether they have any carpenter-ic skills or not. But I hesitate to start writing on things in our living room. If I should get started there is no telling where it will stop.

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Found this tune, New Year’s Prayer, by Jeff Buckley, in my library. Strange little thing. Lyrics follow.

Oooo
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, fall in light.
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
As you now are in your heart
Fall in light
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel it as a water fall
Fall in light, ooh.
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, ooh.
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, grow in light.
Stand absolved behind your electric chair, dancing.
Stand absolved behind your electric chair, dancing.
Past the sound within the sound
Past the voice within the voice.
Ah. Ah. Ah.
Leave your office, run past your funeral,
Leave your home, car, leave your pulpit.
Join us in the streets where we
Join us in the streets where we
Don’t belong
Don’t belong
You and the stars
Throwing light
Ooo (repeat)
Fall, fall.
Ooo
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, ooh.
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, grow in light.

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Oh, and yes, may a Happy New Year be there waiting, for all of us.

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Windfall

I received wonderful news this morning, and it came just in time to take care of those pesky Christmas bills and quite a bit more. I’m thinking new car, home remodel, trip to some country that will accept Americans … . It all started with this message in my inbox. It’s the second such note that I’ve received, but instead of just deleting it, I pondered.

At first I thought “scam.” And then I thought, how lucky for Mr. Landolt (if it isn’t a fraud). And then I thought … maybe I am Mr. Landolt. There are seven letters in his last name, and there are seven letters if you combine my first and last and name. Perhaps it’s a code. That’s it! It’s possible that I am now 850,000 dollars wealthier than I was at breakfast.

I can hardly wait to hear back from the folks at financialtrustfunds024 about how the funds are to be transferred to my personal accounts. So if I owe any of you a debt that I have somehow forgotten, this would be the time to remind me. Otherwise I can be found online later today trying to spend 850,000 dollars in the most imaginative way. Let’s see … is foreign travel even a possibility yet … ?

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Well, I have a new car ordered to be paid for through my windfall. I wanted something reliable, economical to operate, good-looking, and comfortable. This is what I chose.

It’s a Rolls-Royce Phantom, which gets surprisingly good mileage, comes with pretty much everything you could imagine as standard equipment, and they even send a small British man to live with you who can adjust anything that goes amiss. On long drives you keep him in the boot. The only problem is that I think it’s a foot longer than my garage.

The runner-up was this thing in the pic below, which the salesman guaranteed could just about get me anywhere I wanted to go, and came in an armored, bullet-proof version. It also has enough ground clearance that it could run over a medium-sized cow (a recumbent one) without hurting the animal. But it was seriously deficient in the cupholder department, so I went with the Rolls.

And after all, how many times a week do you need the capacity to drive over livestock?

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Next I plan to turn to my physical appearance. Imagine my delight when I found that I could purchase six-pack abs! Here is a before and after of a patient who had such a plastic procedure done. The process is called abdominal etching. And you don’t need to do a single sit-up or plank to get them. Just be appropriately wealthy and slightly nuts.

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I see no reason to stop with the abs, if you can afford it, and can have your entire body “etched”all over. My only problem is that all of the “before and after” shots that I found are of men who are fifty years younger than myself, and I’m not sure what the surgeon would do about that. Maybe better think about it for a while longer … .

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The Covid vaccination programs are, of course, being reported on minutely, and there are screwups galore in who gets one and who doesn’t, plus the ethical problem of rich countries buying up all the doses and leaving poorer nations scrambling for help. I said “of course” because this is a never before type of massive human endeavor and how could we not be clumsy at it? The important part is that they are getting the vaccine out there, people are being immunized, and if it takes longer than was originally planned that’s unfortunate, but the direction is clear. At some point during 2021 we will be able to walk out our front doors, unmasked, and greet our fellow humans with handshakes and hugs and in so doing catch influenza just like in the good old days.

I’m looking forward to it.

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One For My Baby

A couple of weeks ago, when gas for my car cost me $0.25 a gallon, and I was earning the princely amount of $0.75 an hour at a part-time job, I heard a song on the radio sung by a man I’d never heard of. It was a smooth and soulful rendition of One For My Baby, and the man turned out to be Josh White.

I set out to find and purchase that recording for my very own, and eventually succeeded. You have to remember that once upon a time, there was no internet, no Google, no iTunes, and no Spotify, and this kind of research was a slow process. What took the place of all these things was locating a record store with a knowledgeable owner. A person with a headful of what you needed to know, and who could point you in the right direction.

But let’s get on with it. Josh White became a favorite, and I have quite a few of his songs in my library. Where I can listen to them whenever I need to, even if the internet goes down and I am far from everything but electricity. There are days when his music bears me up, brother. It bears me up.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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On Saturday we rendezvoused with Allyson and Kyle at Rifle Falls State Park. Perfect weather for it. Winter picnic included hot soup and cheese. Life is good.

Jockeying For Position

We’ve learned (or at least it has been alleged) that Russian dissident Aleksei A. Navalny was poisoned. By his underwear. Vladimir Putin, who by the merest of coincidences has the Jockey Shorts franchise in Moscow, firmly denies having anything to do with it, claiming that if he wanted to poison someone they’d be dead, especially if they were wearing a well-constructed brief in a tasteful plaid print.

I, for one, have no trouble at all believing the Navalny story. In fact, I’ve never met a conspiracy story that I didn’t like. But this one rings true, and we all know it. Is there anyone reading this who has never been attacked in some way by their underclothing (you need not raise your hands)?

As for myself, I have nearly been cut in two by underwear that aggressively “rode up.” I have been given rashes whose discomfort rivaled being covered with fire ants by wearing shorts that had been washed in toxic detergents. And the first time I saw someone wearing a thong at the beach I called the police to come rescue her from what looked to be a murder in progress. In short, I am well acquainted with the potential uses of underpants as tools by homicidally inclined persons.

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So my advice to Mr. Navalny from here on in is to go commando, for God’s sake, whether you return to Russia or not.

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Sign O’ The Times Department

Robin and I were enjoying lunch in a local restaurant (we felt safe as there was only one other patron in the entire room) when I noticed this instruction and thought it worthy of bringing to your attention. I can’t recall ever seeing anything like this before, but then this has been a year of “firsts.”

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The states of this country may be united politically, but in many ways they are quite a ways apart from one another. For example, in Florida a geezer like myself would be right at the front of the Covid vaccination line, while in Colorado I am more toward the middle of the pack. Florida isn’t following any guidelines put out by infectious disease experts on this planet, but then Florida’s Republican governor De Santis has one of the more shameful records in this regard.

I briefly considered moving to the Sunshine State until I realized that even if I were to get my two doses of meds and survive the particular hazard that the novel coronavirus poses, I would then be in … Florida … with summer coming on and mosquitoes heading for me in stabby phalanxes. So I think I’ll stay here in Paradise and wait my turn rather than suffer the death of a million micro-punctures, way off there in a strange land.

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Each year I allow myself to dig into Christmas-themed music for one month, turning off the sentimental tap on the 25th of December. Each year I also allow myself to purchase the equivalent of one album of such music, which means I’ve piled up a few holiday tunes. I say “equivalent” because I now pick and choose from among several artists rather than just one person or group, as it was in the days before streamed music.

Since I now have way more than enough versions of the stalwarts, like The Christmas Song, or I’ll Be Home For Christmas, or Adeste Fideles, I now tend to look for music that gazes at the Christmas story or the season itself from a slightly different vantage point. They may be old or new recordings, but they are all new to me. This year two that I added were Phoebe Bridger’s Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and Patti Smith’s We Three Kings. One soft and dreamy and the other sort of harrowing.

I know, I know, it’s horribly old-fashioned to think of owning music, rather than renting it, but hey, what am I if not an old-fashioned person? That’s what it says on my name badge. OFP.

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The Best Eve Of Them All

Ahhhhh, of course it is Christmas Eve of which I speak. There is no other eve quite like it. Compare it with All Hallows Eve, for instance, which has only a handful of songs and the possibility of a mere bag of candy as a prize. Christmas fair knocks it! Some of my clearest childhood memories are associated with this day. I think that I can recall someof those thoughts verbatim, actually, from one of those December 24ths.

Ohhhhhh, yawnnn, it’s cold in here, wish Dad would turn up the dang furnace … I’m not getting out of bed until …wait! It’s Christmas Eve! Presents! Mixed nuts in a bowl! Presents! Special supper! Presents! Singing around the tree! Presents! Perry Como 78 rpm records on the phonograph. Presents!

What time is it? It’s eight o’clock. If we start opening presents at six o’clock that is … ten hours from now. I can’t stand it. How can a person wait that long? Lunchtime … only six hours to go. I’ve got to think about something else. I’ll go outside and play for a while. That’s it! Play outside. Where there are no presents under the tree to stare at. Supper? Why? Can’t we just skip it? I’m not hungry at all. We can eat any day, but this is CHRISTMAS, for God’s sake! What? I can’t believe what you’re saying. You’re going to wash the dishes before we open presents? That is so dumb. Leave them. Cover them with a towel if you can’t stand the sight of them. Even better, toss them out and get new dishes tomorrow! NOOOOOOOOOO! You can’t be serious. We’re going to sing carols? I hate carols. I hate singing. Where did you go to parent school? This is torture. I want a new family.

Ohhhhhhh, everything is just what I wanted. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

And if you see her, thank Aunt Clothilde for those (bo-ring) socks, would you?

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One day, as I was in a particularly idle frame of mind (one of my more common such frames), I wondered: where is the exact opposite, on the globe, of Montrose CO? And through this remarkable thing called the internet I learned where it was, and what it was called … the antipode. Every single spot on the planet has its antipode.

And there is ours. The red dot represents Port-aux-Français, a tiny town on an island in the South Indian Ocean (actually, the true antipode is a spot in the water a bit north of that, but Port-aux-Français is the closest city).

I learned that it may not be one of the great cities of the world, not if the Wikipedia description is accurate.

The port station is located on the Gulf of Morbihan. The station has about 45 inhabitants in winter; the population can rise to more than 120 in summer. The location was selected in 1949 by the chief of mission Pierre Sicaud because of its sheltered position which was suitable for a runway that was never built.

Wikipedia
Port-aux-Français

So planning for a visit to the Port? … maybe in the summertime when it is really bustling at 120 residents? If you were planning on flying in, remember that the runway was never built. I will suggest that as an alternative you could come visit Robin and I here in the antipode of Port-aux-Français.

Much closer. Runway operating. And we are such nice people. Just bring your vaccination certificate along, would you? There’s a dear.

(BTW – do you know where your antipode is?)

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Tuesday morning I spent a couple of hours sitting in the waiting room at our Subaru dealer, getting some repairs done on our car. My guard was down and as I was looking out their showroom windows at the cars lined up in the parking lot, I caught the fever. The ‘I should really have a different car‘ fever.

I was in a vulnerable state for several reasons. Our little Forester has been making an irritating noise whose source is as yet unknown, and it has just under 100,000 miles on its odometer. I am quite sure that the noise represents something that will completely break down in the middle of the desert somewhere near a sign that says “No services in any direction for 100 miles.” I see us hiking through tumbleweed forests on windswept two-lane roads with buzzards circling and we are passing what used to be diners or gas stations but are now abandoned victims of changing tastes and needs.

I see all this so clearly. So it’s really a matter of life and death, isn’t it? Think I’ll amble over to that salesperson and ask a couple of questions. Couldn’t hurt. He looks harmless enough. What’s that? My car’s ready? I’ll be right there.

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From The New Yorker

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Merry Christmas, Friends. We wish you the very best for this holiday season, and for every season that follows. Although we may be physically celebrating apart from one another, in our hearts we are with you all. And one day with care and good fortune we will be able to do all of that corny and necessary stuff that we could before Covid rearranged all of our agendas. We’ll do it right, next year. I believe it.

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Flyover State

We’ve been treated to the sounds and sights of a great deal of traffic here in Paradise since the first of November. Aerial traffic, that is. Every day flights of Canada geese pass by. Not huge flocks, but many, many smaller ones. And periodically high up above the geese there will be a string of sandhill cranes passing overhead, with their very distinctive croaking calls.

The number of cranes migrating through our area is small compared with the huge flocks that pass through Nebraska and the Platte River area. They are fascinating birds who have been around much longer than we humans.

Sandhill cranes have one of the longest fossil histories of any extant bird.  A 10-million-year-old crane fossil from Nebraska is said to be of this species, but this may be from a prehistoric relative or the direct ancestor of sandhill cranes. The oldest unequivocal sandhill crane fossil is 2.5 million years old, older by half than the earliest remains of most living species of birds, primarily found from after the Pliocene/Pleistocene boundary some 1.8 million years ago. As these ancient sandhill cranes varied as much in size as present-day birds, those Pliocene fossils are sometimes described as new species. Grus haydeni may have been a prehistoric relative, or it may comprise material of a sandhill crane and its ancestor

Wikipedia

If you spend a few moments watching them you have no problem with thinking about sandhill cranes as descendants of dinosaurs. Everything about them says ancient, from their appearance to their voice.

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Sandhill cranes are not on an endangered species list, and therefore hunting them is legal in Colorado. It’s one of those times when I must scratch my head and wonder why? What is it about those people who upon seeing birds like these makes them want to grab a gun and kill them? For sport. For fun. I don’t get it.

I am reminded of an old joke, one of those that are slightly cringeworthy because of the truth within them.

A man is arrested and brought to trial for killing a protected bird. He pleads with the judge, “Your honor, I was lost in the wilderness for three days without food, and the eagle attacked me. I fought back in self-defense, and I ate it because I was starving.” The judge listens to the tale and rules that the man is not guilty. But he turns to the man and asks, “Well, now that we’re done with all that, I admit that I am curious to know, what does bald eagle taste like?” “Well, your honor, it’s like a cross between a snowy owl and a whooping crane.”

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Only two days until Christmas Eve. My letter to Santa went out weeks ago, trying to account for any sluggishness in the mails. Picking and choosing what to ask for used to be difficult, because although there were thousands of things that I wanted, there was very little that I needed .

And there was that phrase from the Bible that had nagged at me for years, found in Luke 3:11, which goes like this: He answered them, “He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.”

(A confession is in order here, because I still have more than two coats as of this writing.)

And so some years back I asked my family to direct their gift-giving impulses from me and toward those whose needs are greater by far than my own. One of the needy groups that I know a little about and have admired for a long time is Medecins Sans Frontiéres (or Doctors Without Borders).

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If there are any physicians who are more courageous and less guided by self-interest than those who work for this organization I don’t know who they are. These men and woman take their skills to work in areas where I would tremble to even drive through. My hat is off to all of them and to the indigenous helpers who make their work possible.

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Here are a few pix from our walk up at the Black Canyon National Park on Sunday afternoon. Weather = perfect. Snow = clean and pristine.

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Is There Life Without Bacon?

[Only slightly edited version of a conversation inspired by comments made at yesterday’s lunch,
where cream of broccoli soup and a simple greens salad were the déjeuner du jour. ]

J: You know, I could go vegetarian today, and never look back. Look at this nice meal, and after I put away a meatless meal I always feel good, I never have that heaviness and the ‘Oh lord I ate too much again’ feeling.

R: You could, eh?

J: Yes, and I think that it would be easy. There would be a transition where we’d have to make a serious effort to acquire a repertoire of vegetarian recipes, though, because my head is already full of meat meals that I’ve been eating all of my life. I’d have to learn ten ways of cooking brussels sprouts, for instance. Like I learned ten ways to cook a pork chop.

R: Would you give up dairy?

J: … No, I don’t think so. While it is true that the cows are being exploited in dairy farming, no one would be killing them. The same with chickens and eggs. So I would be an ovo-lacto-vegetarian. That’s it … no beef, no pork, no chicken, no turkeys … that would make a personal impact, wouldn’t it?

R: How about fish?

J: You know, I could probably continue to have fish in my diet. I admit that I don’t have the same feeling about fish that I do about warm-blooded creatures. As long as I watch for bones and don’t eat too many from mercury-laden pools, I would be alright. So what would I be … ovo-lacto-pisco-vegetarian?

R: What about bacon?

J: ……………………………………………………. Okay, I would be an ovo-lacto-pisco-baco-vegetarian, and that’s it! Gawd, I feel better already!

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Recipe for the soup that inspired the dialogue.

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Robin and I have watched two movies in the “Christmas” genre in the past week, both of which we can recommend. I think that I already mentioned Klaus, the really superior animated film on Netflix, but the other night we tuned in to Jingle Jangle, a musical. This movie has a couple of production numbers which were so energetic that I had to lay back on my fainting couch to rest for an hour after viewing them.

It is also on Netflix. Both of these films are suitable for kids. And adults.

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Storms – What’s Not To Love?

It’s been more than a year now that I’ve been making food for our cats. I had come across a slurry of articles extolling the virtues of doing so, mostly to avoid some of the nightmare situations that pop up in the news from time to time where a pet that is fed only this or that commercial food develops some damaging or fatal nutritional deficiency.

The recipes for preparing the food are primarily based on chicken, which is ground and then mixed with a vitamin/amino acid/mineral supplemental mixture. Sounded good. Poco liked it. Willow totally ignored it. But I continued to provide the concoction to both animals and over time Willow came around. Still being mistrustful of the safety of feeding only a single food (and one that I made, to boot), I continued to offer commercial varieties alongside the homemade stuff.

Then something interesting and unexpected happened. Poco is about 14 years old, and has developed some of the infirmities of age, including arthritis. Slowly over the years he had slowed down more and more, to the point where he was rarely running or climbing. Within a few months of starting the homemade food, both Robin and I noticed considerable improvement in his mobility, which was not something we were anticipating at all. Improvement that persists. Not that he is scampering about like a new kitten, but he is so obviously more comfortable than he was that there is now no question of our stopping these feedings – even if we should tire of the minor mess of preparing them.

All this time I had been using an attachment that came with our Kitchen-Aid mixer to grind the chicken, which was putting a strain on the machine. It was never intended for regular strenuous usage like this. So this month I made myself a gift of a sleek and powerful tool that is pretty much dedicated to grinding food for our pets.

May I present the Weston #12 grinder >>>>>>>>

I’m not suggesting that anyone out there follow this path. When you are conducting an experiment of the n=1 variety, it’s basically nothing more than an anecdote. And there are concerns about feeding a raw diet to any pet. But in this house, our old friend is enjoying life more these days, enough so that we’re not about to go back to our old practices.

[And in the bargain I have something new to play with. The instructions that came with the Weston suggest strongly that I not allow my long hair to dangle anywhere near the device, nor should I wear a tie while working with it. No problem on either account. I don’t even know where my ties are, and my tresses have completely lost the ability to dangle. ]

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Many of the places where Robin and I like to go on our exercise walks are down along the Uncompahgre River, which is about two miles from our home. Yesterday as we trucked along in 34 degree gray-sky weather, we came across a guy standing out in the river fly-fishing. I had to admire his grit in doing so in such chilly weather, and he was suitably attired in waders and boots and quite a lot of clothing to keep his core warm.

But I found myself wondering about one thing. Tying knots. Whenever I have fished in colder weather, this has been a stumbling block for me. You can’t tie a knot with gloves on, and you if you take your gloves off and plunge those digits into freezing water you only have a short time before they don’t work and need to be warmed up all over again.

Even in the best of weather my sausage-like fingers are not the greatest knot-tying tools to bring along on a fishing trip. There has been more than one occasion in the past where I wished that I could have secured the services of a knot-tyer who did nothing but sit in the boat with me until I needed him.

And it’s not that I don’t practice tying those darned things. In the YouTube age there are scores of videos to show you just how to construct a proper Palomar knot or Perfection Loop or Uni-knot, even to the point of offering animated lessons which couldn’t be clearer. But in none of them is the person doing the deed using the ten bratwursts I must work with. Additionally, it would seem that I have only rudimentarily apposable thumbs.

So looking at this man standing in an ice bath and fishing with tiny flies that will likely need to be changed during the course of the day, I was filled with both admiration for him and a personal wish to get back to our warm vehicle as quickly as possible. While my cold-weather manual dexterity leaves something to be desired, I am a master at making good use of heated spaces.

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A Dick Guindon Cartoon

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Living in the Uncompahgre Valley has a lot going for it, as long as you are comfortable with the semi-desert environment. There are no hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados or other severe natural disturbances to worry about (not that they haven’t happened, but soooo rarely). Winter and summer temperatures avoid the extremes found elsewhere in the country. In our six years here I would say that the word that best exemplifies local weather is moderation.

As a result the area is a draw for older folks who resent being blown across the street and into buildings by violent winds, or falling into gigantic cracks in the earth that weren’t there a moment ago. These were not the reasons we moved to Paradise, but life is a tad easier when you don’t have to remember which basement wall to huddle against as a tornado moves through your homestead. This is a good thing, especially since so many homes out here have no basement, including our own.

Storm on Lake Superior

But this morning I was thinking about the exhilaration that storms have given me for as long as I can remember. And how long it has been now since I felt in peril from them. When I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it was a fifteen-minute drive to the Lake Superior shoreline when thunderstorms moved in from the west. I would drive out to watch them, to get the spray in my face as the turbulent air took water from the tops of the huge gray-green breakers coming in and threw it at me. Of course I was safely on land, and might have felt differently if I had been out on a boat at those times. But the sense of the awesomeness of the world was never keener than in moments when I was not quite safe. To fully experience the realization that natural forces could crush me like a berry under a boot at any time, no matter how special I thought I was.

When tornados approached and the sirens went off, I was often the last guy into the basement. Not because I’m putting on some sort of macho display, but because I wanted to see it. I wanted to feel that odd stillness of the air around me while the skies went berserk. I understand those idiots who we see out on the shore on television news programs, romping in the face of hurricanes. I know why they are there, and it has nothing at all to do with common sense. For those nincompoops and for me, it is definitely an adrenaline rush. A feeling that I can’t describe, that is completely other.

That sense of danger is missing from Paradise. Oh, I can easily frighten the bejabbers out of myself if I want to by hiking on trails that teeter along ledges in these mountains that surround me, but that’s different. I can go or not go … I have a choice. The awesome thing about the turbulent moments that I have been describing is that they happen whether I want them or not. They are out of control.

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It’s The Myth That Matters

Ok, time for truth-telling. I am totally a Christmas guy. On the outside I’m slightly Bah Humbug, but on the inside I am a gooey tower of sentimentality and memories which reach back before the last ice age. I love the lights, the trees, the carols, the Silver Bells sort of feeling I get when shopping on Main Street in a light snowfall.

A sucker for Yuletide. C’est moi.

A couple of random recollections:

The Christmas Eve two families slept on the Jacobson farm in Grandpa and Grandma’s very small home. I would have been about 4 or 5 years old. Every flat space had a body sleeping on it after gifts had been exchanged and we all bedded down. My brother and I had each been gifted with lambswool slippers a few hours earlier. The floor was filled with dormant bodies. I awoke with the need to use the bathroom. In grandpa’s house the toilet facilities were either the pail under the bed on the second floor bedroom or the out-of-doors. It was cold out there. I was awfully young. I couldn’t face the weather and having to step across all those people on the floor so I did the next best thing (in my mind) and used my brother’s furry slipper. He discovered it right away in the morning, of course, when he found himself sloshing around the farmhouse.

( There is a version of this story where I am the victim instead of the perp. Truthfully, it was so long ago that I don’t know which is the more accurate, but myths will endure)

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I was seventeen and had been nominated to make the trip to buy the Christmas tree, on a Saturday night when I had a date and my mind was completely elsewhere. I bought one and brought it home, then left to pursue my romantic ambitions. When I got back around midnight, I found that a tree had indeed been put up and decorated, but not the one I had purchased. When shown the one I’d selected earlier … a sorrier tree there never was.

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Monday the first doses of Covid vaccine were administered in the US. We’ll be hearing a lot about the ups and downs of the various vaccination programs around the country for a while. We’re a big country, and there’s room for endless variations on the story. It’s huge news, of course, and coming just when a wave of illnesses is still rising up ahead of us like a virologic tsunami – well, let’s just say we needed a morale boost.

I don’t know if President Cluck will ever realize what an opportunity he missed to go down with some measure of greatness attached to his legacy. He seems to be lacking in a lot of normal human reactions and emotions. But if he’d empathized with us instead of lied continuously, if he’d taken rather than opposed the common-sense measures that needed to be adopted, if he’d ever said to us: “This is something extraordinary, folks, it’s way out of politicians’ areas of expertise but we’ve got some of the best minds on the planet working on the problem and you can count on my administration to follow their suggestions.”

If he’d done these things, maybe he still would have lost the election, but how many fewer empty chairs at family tables would there have been this Christmas? I might even feel a bit sorry for him. But he has richly earned every gram of ignominy that will be forever attached to his name.

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a Christmas song  written by the lyricist Kim Gannon and composer Walter Kent and recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby, who scored a top ten hit with the song. Originally written to honor soldiers overseas who longed to be home at Christmas time, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has since gone on to become a Christmas standard.
The song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II, writing a letter to his family. In the message, he tells the family he will be coming home and to prepare the holiday for him, and requests snow, mistletoe, and presents on the tree. The song ends on a melancholy note, with the soldier saying, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”.

Wikipedia

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I’ve read quite a lot about becoming a senior citizen, in order to prepare myself for some future date when that title applies to me. And one of the things that those geezers seem to have trouble with is balance. As a result they fall down way more than it good for them. Things get broken. Sometimes they stay that way.

This article by Jane Brody in the Times of New York is one that I will add to my files labeled: What I Might Need To Know When I Become An Old Person. It’s all about postural training as a way to stay afoot. Good reading.

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Oxymoron Department

The Donald J. Trump Presidential Library. One that I think appropriate as a monument to a person who does not read.

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Ending on a sweet note. A certain person living in this household follows the evolution of the Oreo Cookie very closely. For myself, I was never able to figure out how these new flavors came and went, nor was I motivated to investigate. This morning that information fell into my lap and I pass it along to you. The answer to the question: why is the Oreo not always the Oreo you knew.

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Cold Hard Facts

I don’t know what went wrong, but we’re having a wee bit of Winter already here in Paradise. Saturday night it got down to 2 degrees F. Over the past few days several inches of snow have fallen and I actually had to shovel it away twice. Shovel. Me.

When Robin and I took our walks over the weekend we dressed in so many layers we looked like the kid in the movie A Christmas Story.

Even thought we might have looked a bit ridiculous, there’s no point in challenging the elements, is there? There are only two possible outcomes in such an endeavor … survival or frostbite.

We go for survival every time.

Sunday was cold enough that the cats were presented with a feline dilemma. Every instinct said “Go outside and do your thing!” And so they went through the flap on the pet door and were hit in their furry faces with the frigid reality that waited for them out there. They would try repeatedly but in less than a minute they were back each time.

Now, right next to the pet door is a bigger door meant for humans. Poco will make a run through the cat-flap, come back inside all disappointed, and then go stand in front of the big door meowing to be let out. Apparently he thinks that each portal leads to a different world, and maybe the next one will be nicer.

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I had only one experience with frostbite, but it was enough. At seventeen I was working part-time at a Red Owl grocery store in West St. Paul MN. I lived about a mile from the store, and walked to work rain or shine.

One snowy Saturday morning it was cold and windy and off I went to work, leaving the house at 5:00 AM and underdressed as usual. No hat, no protection for my ears, not enough jacket … you know the teenaged drill. When I reached the store my right ear was an unusual dead white color and felt quite firm when compared with its mate on the other side of my head. In the warm indoor air it now came back to life with a vengeance.

The appendage went from white and numb to red and painful in no time at all, but it wasn’t done with me yet. Within two hours it had swollen to twice its size. So here I was dealing with my duties and the general public looking all unbalanced … normal on the left and a crimson Dumbo on the right. By the end of my shift the thing was blistering and altogether nasty-looking.

It took a week for that ear to get back to normal. I guess that I was fortunate that it didn’t blacken and drop off, since it was sort of useful to have around, especially when it came to wearing glasses later in life. I did learn something, however, and never repeated my performance.

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The first Covid vaccine doses are on the trucks and planes and headed for everywhere. I am not too worked up about it, however. Each article that I read about who gets it first seems to move my personal category further down the list. As far as I can tell, if there are any doses left over in January 2025 I can apply for one and see where that gets me.

It’s starting to remind me of what the U.S. Air Force taught me about military triage. In civilian life, the person with the worst injuries, where survival is seriously in question, moves to the front of the line. In combat situations, they are placed in a category named “expectant,” and moved to an area where they are given pain relief but are out of view while resources are focussed on the more obviously salvageable. The idea being to get soldiers back to the front wherever possible in the shortest amount of time.

The ultimate goals of combat medicine are the return of the greatest possible number of soldiers to combat and the preservation of life, limb, and eyesight in those who must be evacuated.

https://ke.army.mil/bordeninstitute/other_pub/ews/Chp3Triage.pdf

So even though people like myself are in a high-risk category should we become infected, the medical powers-that-be have decided that since we can still walk ourselves right back into our homes we should just stay there until it is safe to come out, end of story.

I get it. I may not love the implications, but I get it.

I can wait until Hell itself freezes over. That’s another thing the military taught me.

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Sunday Morning

I don’t know who picks the Poet Laureate, but they did an awfully good job this last time when they selected Joy Harjo. Spirituality, earthiness, magic, and reality have all found a home in her work.
Each one of her poems is like a prose work condensed to its absolute core. The one I reproduce here is a novel in which we already know all of the characters.

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Perhaps the World Ends Here

by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Joy Harjo is the present Poet Laureate of the United States.

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It seems that there is no escaping the fact that Neanderthals and modern humans dated way back when, and occasionally went all the way. DNA archeology has shown some small amount of neanderthal DNA to be present in most of us, and if a person is curious a few dollars spent on a lab test would show them just how much they owe to these folks. For myself, I think I’ll skip that step.

This is a scientific reconstruction of what a neanderthal man looked like, as found in a diorama.

This is a photograph of my great-great-uncle Trygve Einar Flom, taken on his 35th birthday.

It may be my imagination, but there are some subtle similarities here, enough that I don’t think that I need to spend the money on lab work.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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The Small Screen

Robin and I watched an excellent movie the other night, entitled “Mank.” It’s a biopic about Herman Mankiewicz, who was a brilliant screenwriter with a strong self-destructive streak. He’s the man who wrote the screenplay, along with Orson Welles, that became “Citizen Kane.” Some people think that “Kane” is the greatest movie … ever.

On Netflix. The superb Gary Oldman plays the title role. ‘Twas two hours well spent. I will watch it again one day soon.

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Thursday night we had a lovely snowfall that began around suppertime. Now when I call a snowfall “lovely,” I am not talking about the kind that catches you out on the highway and turns an ordinary drive into a white-knuckle enterprise. Nor am I referring to the sort that howls around your home and rattles the shutters, obliterating everything beyond two feet in front of your eyes.

Nope. I am talkin’ ’bout the variety that produces those big flakes that drift slowly down in the yellow light of a streetlamp. Where the total accumulation amounts to little more than a quiet inch or two of snow on the streets and sidewalks. Everything gentle.

Just enough to change the way the world looks and sounds.

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From The New Yorker

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What a horrorshow out there in Washington DC. If my father were still alive, I think he might take that old GeHa bolt-action shotgun of his, load it with buckshot, and go hunting Republicans. He never had much love for the way members of that party used to behave, way back before they outed themselves as the spineless and blatant enemies of democracy that they are today.

I wouldn’t let him go, of course. He’d just get himself into a whole lot of trouble, and he was never a very good shot, anyway.

(If you’re reading this, Dad, I love you, but … let’s be straight here … your strengths were many, but marksmanship was not one of them.)

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These days we are living in a world where all manner of ugliness has been unleashed.  Where we find the foulest words coming out of the mouth of the person who lives just up the block, where public servants are threatened for doing their job, where our basest impulses are encouraged. A world where lies so big we should be laughing at them are taken seriously by thousands, perhaps millions. 

It’s fascism of a neo-Mussolinic variety that we thought was dead, but have now found that no one had driven a proper stake through its heart because here it is on the street again in all of its violence and vileness.

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Honor, honesty, truth, courage, compassion … these will win the day once again, but it will not be without a painful struggle.  Now that this assemblage of demons and succubi have been released it will be the very devil to put them back in their box.

 And then … what do we do with this new knowledge we’ve acquired about some of our neighbors and “leaders?”  Those people who have been willing to go along with or enthusiastically support these last four years of monstrous behavior?  Can we ever trust them again?

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Sacrifice For The Good …

There are a lot of frustrating moments involved in reading the Times of New York on a regular basis. It’s worth it, of course, because then you are able to say “I saw in the NYTimes this morning,” a phrase that immediately stamps one as a person of culture, discernment, and general superiorness (at least to one’s own way of thinking).

But you have to wade through quite a lot of dross to sort out what you came there for. You have to read about hundreds of plays that you will never see, poetry readings that you will never attend, restaurants where you will never be seated, and excellent-looking movies that will never make it across the Rockies.

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You end up reading all-too-frequent love letters to NYCity written by residents of NYCity who really can’t imagine why the rest of the country has to exist at all and what kind of dullards would ever live anywhere but NYCity? There are the stories about weddings that you missed where the couple was too charming for words, real estate that only the 1% could aspire to owning, and a food column that is at least one-third about the intricacies of which wine you should be buying at which shop (wine may be a lot of things, but it isn’t food).

So when I say “I saw in the NYTimes this morning,” I hope you all realize the sacrifices that I make in reading this newspaper just to be able to name-drop an article or two each week.

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There is a song by the group Talking Heads that deals with those of us who don’t live in NYCity. It’s called “The Big Country,” and the chorus goes like this:

I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.
I wouldn’t live like that, no siree!
I wouldn’t do the things the way those people do.
I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to.

The Big Country, by Talking Heads

I have liked the song since first I heard it, snobbish little ditty that it is. It is almost perfect in its attitude, and helps keep my sense of humor honed.

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I saw in the NYTimes this morning that there are people lining up to be upset about Joe Biden’s cabinet picks. Of course they are. They should be. We really aren’t simply divided into red and blue factions, but to all shades of those two colors, each with its advocates for a point of view.

So when Biden picks a retired four-star general for Secretary of Defense, he stirs up any shade of blue that thinks the man is not as civilian as he should be to hold this post. After all, we have a long-established principle involved here, the control of the military by civilian authority. I think personally that this principle is a good thing, and find it helpful to be reminded of it through the present controversy.

Whoever Biden picks for whatever cabinet post will not please all of us. It’s possible that when they have all been selected that each will be a disappointment to you, or to me, in some way. From then on, we will watch to see what they do, won’t we? I wasn’t happy when Robert Kennedy was chosen by his brother as Attorney General, even though I liked JFK. I thought – NEPOTISM – in all caps. But in his abbreviated career his actions pleased me in too many ways to count.

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It’s not common knowledge but my navel is off slightly more than one centimeter to the right. And I lay it all off onto the medical/industrial complex.

When I was retiring from practice, I had excellent health insurance, so I decided that before I left for parts unknown that I would have as many of my defects repaired as time would allow and my insurance would cover. It turned out that I had a hernia in many of the places that a person can have one, and they totaled three. So I visited a surgeon of good repute and we made the required arrangements. One of those defects was at my umbilicus, where during the repair the physician would tunnel in and patch the problem area with … I don’t know … some burlap or pieces of recycled radial tire belts.

The surgeries were all small ones, and I went home a happy man. Until I took a shower later on, and noticed that I was no longer symmetric. Either my navel had shifted to the right or my entire body had shifted to the left, but something unplanned had happened. At my first post-op followup visit, I brought this up to the surgeon.

I don’t know if you noticed, doctor, but my umbilicus is askew.

Why, so it is. Has it always been that way?

No, not until my surgery.

Have you proof of this?

Yes, many photos in my family albums show an admirable centering.

Well … ?

I didn’t want to talk bout legal action, but I remember reading about a woman who had a similar problem after plastic surgery, and she received a handsome settlement.

I know of the case. Of course, she was an attractive woman in her forties, while you are a rather plain man in your sixties.

Your meaning, sir?

There’s not a jury in the country that will think that the proposition that you are less attractive than you were holds any water. In fact, the case could be made that you are now more interesting than ever.

So I should be grateful?

Indeed you should, especially since there will be no additional professional fees involved.

Thank you so much, doctor, you are exceptionally kind and considerate.

Don’t mention it. On your way out, could you send in the next post-op patient? He’ll be the one whose right ear flops about something terrible.

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Things Are People, Too

From time to time I will make some small mention in this space about my growing belief that the inanimate world isn’t. Inanimate, that is. Let’s say, for instance that you have been struggling to open a jar for twenty minutes. Blood vessels are bursting in the palms of your hands from the effort, and just before you consign that infernal glass to the garbage heap your wife quietly asks “Mind if I try?”

You hand her the object with a curl in your lip and wait for her to fail just as you have when … she hands you the open jar. She has not even broken a sweat. Now there is no way in hell that this could happen unless the jar itself was a participant, and had a bias toward your wife.

Here is today’s example. In my email inbox this morning I received this message:

I had to grab my right hand with my left to keep it from clicking on the link, a la Dr. Strangelove. Who in the world wants their motoring license to be terminated? And because of irregularities in my profile? What’s in there that could have such an effect on my driving freedom? And then I saw that the note was addressed to akillaly@icloud.com. I don’t know who that is, but I am fairly certain that it isn’t me.

The whole thing reeks of scam-ness, but what’s important is that somebody sent akillaly a message in the UK and I received it here in Paradise. A piece of hardware between the scammer and myself is probably quite pleased with itself for its contribution to the befuddlement of mankind.

So … that shoe that you stumbled over this morning before dawn … you know that you put it away last night … you are sure of it. But, my friend, once you put it down that shoe had choices to make.

BTW: I would strongly suggest that no reader copy or click on the above link. It is likely that there is something noxious waiting there for you including a pack of viruses, some ransomware, and a phone call from an aluminum siding salesperson.

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Bob Dylan just sold the rights to all of his songs in one big package. The buyer had to come up with a bundle, rumors are that it was around 300 million dollars. And what do I say about this? Whew and God bless is what. Now I can stop worrying about Mr. Dylan’s well-being, since 300 million dollars should be enough to carry him through, even if his life proves to be very, very long.

So here he is in 1961, before becoming famous. One has to wonder if that grin says that he knew all the time how this story was going to turn out.

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From The New Yorker

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Plague Notes

The oddest Christmas is nearly here, and I admit that I don’t quite know how to process it. On the one hand, we are hours away from the closest grandchild (which is how distances are measured) and that hasn’t changed for a long time. So there was never the possibility of seeing all of our family in any given season, even before Covid. But today, even when we can make the effort …

Later today we are delivering presents to the kids in Durango. We’ll drive down there, eat lunch together with the Hurleys outdoors somewhere, and then return home. No physical contact to be extended, no less than six feet away from one another. It’s like having a Zoom conference but everybody is physically in the room. We can’t trust ourselves not to infect those folks, nor trust that they won’t do us harm. Bizarre days, verging on the surreal.

So here’s a few tunes to take your mind off viruses, if you need a break. Tried and true people singing songs that were recorded before the plague set in, eons ago.

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The Nocebo Effect

Just about everyone knows about the placebo effect, where people given a pill report improvement even when the pill contains only inert material. But you may not have heard as much about its opposite, the nocebo effect, where patients describe negative side effects when they are taking those “sugar pills.”

I bring this up because I was asked about such things by the neurologist at my last appointment. One by one he inquired about my experiences with the several medications I am now taking:

So let’s go through them one at a time. First, the cholesterol medication.

Well, I don’t know for sure, but I think it causes me heartburn, halitosis, and borborygmi.

How about the blood thinner?

I’ve noticed that the cowlick on the back of my head is bigger, my back aches all the time, and I have flatulence that you wouldn’t believe … can’t keep papers on my desk in such a gastrointestinal breeze.

Interesting. What of the blood pressure medication?

Lord, Lord, don’t get me started there. My feet itch, my nose won’t stop running, and every day I have ten new wrinkles on my face.

My, my, Dr. Flom, many of these effects have never been seen with these drugs before. How can you be certain which medication is causing which symptom?

A person just knows these things.

How about the small orange tablet that you chew?

That’s the worst of the lot. It gives me hallucinations. Just yesterday I thought I read that the President was going to pardon all of his children, even though they haven’t been charged with or convicted of anything. Sort of a Get Out of Jail Free Card that’s good anywhere. That couldn’t be happening. It must be the orange pill.

The orange pill is just a baby aspirin.

So you say. But how do you really know what they put in those little bottles? If the government really wanted to mess me up they might put nasty stuff in my pills, wouldn’t they? Stuff that would make me forget what I know about aliens and Area 51. Oh yes they’d love that, wouldn’t they? But, heh heh heh, I still remember everything and one day … what was that noise? I know that I heard a voice coming from behind the bookcase …

Nurse, could you be a dear and give psychiatry a ring for me?

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My old home state of Minnesota is now the worst in the nation re: Covid statistics. I knew it would happen, and I know why. When I was growing up there, I don’t remember ever bumping into a Republican. There were only Democrats, everywhere, and the local version of the party was called the DFL … the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. What a nice, comfy, and inclusive ring that name had.

But then they fluoridated the water, and over time more and more Republicans began to appear until they actually became a major political force in the good ol’ Land of 10,000 Lakes. Residents of the state were faced with a choice – they could have better politics or better teeth, and to my chagrin they chose teeth. That was about the time that I was drafted into the USAF and sent away to another state, and it’s only gotten worse since then.

So when the coronavirus came along, and only one political party started wearing masks and practicing their social distance pas-de-deux, well, it was just a matter of time.

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Here on the Western Slope the Covid numbers are rapidly getting just as unpleasant as they are anywhere else. Our geographic isolation no longer keeps us out of trouble in this department. The combination of tourists passing through town, increased travel out and back by our own citizens, and poorer mask-wearing performance is bringing our numbers up, and up isn’t the direction anyone with a functioning cerebrum wants them to go.

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Friday Robin and I added a chunk to our usual hiking route. It was a steep stretch, maybe only a hundred yards or so in length, but at an angle where your boots slipped backward a little with every step. Without the trekking poles we use I’m not sure I could have made it to the top. At two very brief points the path wandered to the edge of a modest cliff that I could not look down, but just knowing it was there tickled my acrophobia a bit.

I was interested to try it and now I don’t have to do it again. ‘Twas not worth the fright.

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Gotta love this guy. Telling it straight.

Telling Good News & That Ain’t Bad

On Tuesday I went to the neurology clinic in Grand Junction for my last followup visit. The good doctor had just finished a session with a patient where there was only terrible news to share, and for me to be able to tell him only good things was at least some small relief in a trying day.

You remember that I wore a heart monitor for a month after my time in hospital? My neurologist had the results and they were normal but for one interesting feature. When I sleep, my heart rate dips into the low 30s. He asked me if I had noticed this on my own, and I told him that since I was sleeping at the times these low rates occurred … no, I didn’t.

So when I got back to the car and talked with Robin, I mentioned the low heart rate. I suggested that if she ever woke at night and wanted to see if I was still among the living by taking my pulse that she give it a while before calling 911. And we agreed that she would always wake me and ask if I wanted help before starting CPR.

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Covid is ramping up here on the Western Slope. Grand Junction is in the red zone, while Montrose is still on orange status. If the number of bare faces we encounter on our uncommon trips away from home means anything, we’ll be red here soon as well. Merchants in town all have a sign on the door indicating that a mask must be worn before entering, but not one of them enforces it once the person is inside their establishment. The instances of violence around the country when people were admonished to put a mask on appear to have given them pause.

I think that I have a solution for this. If a shopper or store employee sees anyone above the age of consent wandering in the aisles without a mask, they should be allowed to walk up and tase those persons and then call to have their limp forms hauled out the front door. You would hear on the overhead sound system:

Attention WalMart security – please bring a freight cart to the candy aisle for removal of another bozo.

Seeing a stack of stunned persons on the sidewalk outside the store would at least give other potential no-mask miscreants something to think about.

(I’m kidding. I’M KIDDING!)

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From The New Yorker

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There was a piece in the Times of New York on Wednesday about the musical group The Kinks and their most famous and enduring song “Lola.” It might be the first rock and roll tune about a transgender person, and is still in regular play around the world. Ray Davies thinks that it grabbed straight listeners by the ear and they grew to like it before they actually puzzled out the lyrics and realized what it was about.

No matter. Great tune. Ahead of its time.

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Lastly, this is the kind of article that I am inordinately fond of. About a huge collection of rock art discovered in the Amazon and the fascinating story that it tells. For whatever reason the article was in the “Style” section on the CNN website. Go figure.

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The Wishy-washy Need Not Apply

Monday morning I was peacefully reading the Times of New York when I came across an article that mentioned the Democratic Socialists of America. I don’t really know much about those folks and therefore I spent a couple of hours wandering through the website of the organization , and it was interesting.

They are serious people, passionate people, and … well, I’ll let you read a paragraph from their Constitution to get the flavor of what they are about.

Article II. Purpose.

We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power, discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability status, age, religion, and national origin, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo. We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships. We are socialists because we are developing a concrete strategy for achieving that vision, for building a majority movement that will make democratic socialism a reality in America. We believe that such a strategy must acknowledge the class structure of American society and that this class structure means that there is a basic conflict of interest between those sectors with enormous economic power and the vast majority of the population.

Constitution, dsusa.org

I won’t claim to have read everything on the site, but what I did go through left me feeling that perhaps I wouldn’t join up, that a group of 70,000 such firebrands weren’t out looking to recruit wishy-washy octogenarians like myself as members (I could be wrong in this). While I agreed with a great many of the points they made, there was a doctrinaire flavor about their prose that reminded me of … Strelnikov.

You remember Strelnikov, don’t you? He was a character in the film Dr. Zhivago who was a true believer. Now, he was also a Communist, not a Socialist, and I do recognize that they are very different entities, so using him as my illustrative example is unfair from the get-go. But that flavor …

But hey, let me introduce (or re-introduce) you to Commander Strelnikov, who I found to be one of the most fascinating characters in a movie filled with them. Here he is in his office in a train car, interviewing Zhivago, a person who his soldiers have just arrested.

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I know that I have talked previously about the book, The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer. Hoffer was a longshoreman who had an amazingly fertile brain and a keen eye for the quaint habits and delusions of human beings. It was published in 1951 and was one of those you have to read this sort of books in that decade, especially for college types who were practicing their intellectual pretensions, as was I.

It’s a book that may help explain Cluck’s populism to those who are still puzzled as to the why? of the past several years. True Believers are not troubled by inconvenient opposing facts, they just run right over them as fables of the other side.

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For a piece of good old-fashioned far-left-wing music, I offer you The Internationale for your listening pleasure. It is played here by ani di franco. Don’t worry about being corrupted by it, it is an instrumental. As to the words, well, it depends on which translation you are following. There is a long article on the song, in Wikipedia, that makes for very interesting reading.

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Monday morning I went back for my last checkup following cataract surgery. You could tell how pleased the clinic staff and the surgeon were that I got such a superb operative result, so I’m glad that I kept the appointment, if only for their sake. I will still need glasses, and still do not have Superman’s X-ray vision, so at this point in life I think that I’ll finally give up on that particular fantasy. It was a much more intriguing concept to a young man … these days I really don’t care to see my friends without their clothes, nor do they, I suspect, have any hankering to see me au naturel.

I may have mentioned that the eye surgeon, whose name is Bennett Oberg, looks to be about twenty years old. He is tall, good-looking, slender, youthful … let me just say that you would have no trouble telling the two of us apart. In fact, he appears to be so young that as I was leaving I leaned over toward him and said in a conspiratorial voice: “Just between the two of us, Oberg, you’re not really a doctor at all, are you?

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You may have noticed in the weather box in the sidebar that some of the outposts of the Empire are becoming quite chilly. This morning, for instance, the Evelethians will be getting dressed while huddled around the woodstove, in their six degree air.

Of course, such an experience can be oddly pleasant, except for the person who has to get out of bed first, to stoke the fire in the stove. To all such stokers in the world, we offer a hearty thank you.

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Encore, Mr. Cohen?

After writing and publishing a paragraph or two on Saturday about Leonard Cohen’s last album, I ran across this video which is a short movie. It’s of a little more than nine minutes duration, and is about how the music came to be recorded. It is a lovely little thing in its own right.

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We are coming to the end of four years of a political administration that has been a disaster. It will still gasp and wheeze for another couple of months, and wreak the kind of harm that a gushing firehose can do if you drop it, whipping its head back and forth willy-nilly and threatening everything in its vicinity.

But on January 20 we move into some other gear. We don’t know what it will be, not exactly, but the first set of appointments that Mr. Biden has proposed have been both reassuring and worrisome at the same time. They are capable and tested people who will probably not make some of the blunders of the Cluck years. They are smarter than that.

The worry comes from the fact that so far they are all members of the club. Comedian George Carlin used to say in his act that America was not a free country at all, but fully owned and controlled by those who wielded corporate wealth and power. He would admonish his audiences with the phrase: “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it!” Perhaps I wouldn’t mind being controlled by these folks (I might not even notice … I’m not the most perceptive person on the planet) if the world were going along really swell. But it’s not.

So we should all pay close attention to Mr. Biden, to his appointees, and to how they conduct themselves in the months to come. We should not just hope for better things from his administration, we should demand them.

Take nothing for granted.

Question everything.

Mottoes for a troubled time.

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Hot. Spice. Baby.

Well, darn if my present favorite hot sauce company hasn’t gone and been acquired, and made the news by doing so. Just as the article in CNN online relates, I began to see Cholula’s distinctive bottles in restaurants several years ago. I tried them there, liked them, then added them to the condiments on our dinner table and never looked back. So far I’ve sampled five of the flavors offered, and they have all been excellent.

But in case you are looking for something to sear your palate and fry your tongue, I suggest that you don’t go to Cholula. It’s spicy but not a blast furnace by any means. What I find attractive are more the subtleties in its flavor, rather than the heat, which is modest. You won’t be able to brag about how many Scoville units you just ingested, not if you ask for the bottle with the wooden top (although I have not tried the “sweet habanero,” so cannot vouch for that one).

(No payment was offered or accepted in return for this endorsement. However, that does not not mean that it wouldn’t have been welcome. I can be bought so easily and cheaply it would make your head swim … )

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Thanksgiving Day arrived and went away on schedule. We entertained a single guest, the gentleman across the street who is a near-shut-in due to health issues. He lives alone and we felt would be a safe person to share a space and a meal with us. We also thought that we would be safe for him. In both cases there was some very small risk, of course, but probably less than we experience when grocery shopping.

The meal was a testament to tradition. No side journeys into the wide world of gastronomy for us, not on T-day. At a time when the rest of life is upside-down, who needs more variety than that?

Our menu was this: a large roasted bird symbolic of a large symbolic Thanksgiving feast hundreds of years ago, mashed white potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, stuffing crammed with the legal limit of butter, cranberry relish, pumpkin pie, and all the while I carried a gigantic can of Reddi-Wip at my side, holstered. I do have a permit to legally carry such a can, and want you all to know that I am a responsible Reddi-Wip owner, and would only use it for nutritional purposes.

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Fighting The Good Fight Department

The Rotting of the Republican Mind by David Brooks

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A little bit about the song “Thanks For The Dance,” from the album of the same name by Leonard Cohen. It is his last album, finished after his death through the efforts of his son.

The songs on the album comprise “sketches” left over from the sessions for Cohen’s last previous studio album You Want It Darker that were finished by Cohen’s son Adam Cohen in a “garage near his father’s old house”.  Regarding the tracks, Cohen noted: “Had we had more time and had [Leonard] been more robust, we would have gotten to them. [We had] conversations about what instrumentation and what feelings he wanted the completed work to evoke – sadly, the fact that I would be completing them without him was a given.”

Wikipedia, Thanks For The Dance

I played the song while Robin and I were preparing dinner yesterday, and Robin said that it made her feel so sweetly sad, and how could it not? The song itself is a meditation on aging and life which is all made even more poignant because Leonard never got to hear the beautiful tune he wrote. At least not in its final form. The man spun gold from the straw of life, and left all of that treasure behind, for us.

Thanks for the dance
I’m sorry you’re tired
The evening has hardly begun
Thanks for the dance
Try to look inspired
One, two, three, one, two, three, one

There’s a rose in your hair
Your shoulders are bare
You’ve been wearing this costume forever

So turn up the music
Pour out the wine
Stop at the surface
The surface is fine
We don’t need to go any deeper

Thanks for the dance
I hear that we’re married
One, two, three, one, two, three, one
Thanks for the dance
And the baby you carried
It was almost a daughter or a son

And there’s nothing to do
But to wonder if you
Are as hopeless as me
And as decent

We’re joined in the spirit
Joined at the hip
Joined in the panic
Wondering
If we’ve come to some sort of agreement

It was fine, it was fast
We were first, we were last
In line at the Temple of Pleasure
But the green was so green
And the blue was so blue
I was so I
And you were so you
The crisis was light
As a feather

Thanks for the dance
It was hell, it was swell
It was fun
Thanks for all the dances
One, two, three, one, two, three, one

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From The New Yorker

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Gratitude List

I have had a pretty lucky life, with a dash of adversity tossed in now and again to keep me on my toes. There was enough of that particular seasoning along the way to teach me that there was knowledge to be gained during those harder times that I might otherwise not have acquired.

For what I learned during those trials, I am now grateful (although I fully admit that I wasn’t when I was in the middle of them).

The last four years, seeing my idea of what America was being disassembled one piece at a time was so disheartening … but what a lot I learned about the workings of government and about my countrymen. Some of that knowledge I would rather not have, but my takeaway is I will never again take for granted that what I love about this country couldn’t be lost if we are not vigilant.

I am grateful for the several people who last October 3 took a confused and speechless older gentleman (yes, that’s me … please let’s not quibble about the gentleman part) and did all the right things so quickly that a frightening situation was turned around in something only slightly longer than a moment. In fact, if they hadn’t done exactly what they did, it’s likely that if I were typing at all today it would be gibberish. (A different sort of gibberish than what I put out there day by day. I know it’s hard to tell sometimes).

I am grateful that there may soon be an end to this long and difficult struggle with Covid-19. I recognize that it has been much more difficult for millions upon millions of others than for me personally, but being in a higher risk group does tend to make one suspicious and antisocial. Neither are pleasant states to be in.

I am grateful for family, for friendships, for music, and to whoever invented love.

Amen.

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P.S.: I am also grateful for mysteries, and this is a dandy.

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Here’s a personal gallery of things and places. I hope that you have a beautiful day, wherever and with whomever.

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Dialogue Before Dessert

We get to read the comic strip Dilbert in our local paper, but for some strange reason the editors hide the strip way back on the classified ad page, all by itself, and far away from the rest of the comics. This sort of quarantine preceded Covid, however, so we can’t blame the virus for the odd placement.

It’s as if the editors like the strip, but find it too subversive to be mixed in with the likes of The Born Loser or Alley Oop. Why they think that people who are scanning the Want Ads could be safely entrusted with its hit-the-nail-on-the-head type of satire I have no idea. But there you are.

I thought the one above fit our times perfectly. And me in particular. A couple of years back Robin told me about a practice that was going around the country where someone would hold a dinner party and deliberately invite persons who held viewpoints that were in opposition to theirs. There were some ground rules, of course, in that no weapons could be brought into the dining room, and personal attacks had to be limited to no more than 5 minutes of red-facedness and spittle-spewing.

When Robin told me about this “movement,” my first thought was how sweetly optimistic, and my second thought was who would ever waste a whole evening and risk terminal dyspepsia by engaging in such a quixotic pursuit?

That’s when I realized that one of my dearest and longest-held beliefs had been dealt a severe blow somewhere along the way without my even realizing it. A belief in the power and value of argument.

Argument: an address or composition intended to convince or persuade; persuasive discourse.

Dictionary.com

This is not a good thing to find out about oneself. What it meant is that a person has become the mirror image of the self-righteous blockhead they are trying to avoid. It could also mean that I am no longer someone who is willing to participate in a discussion and risk having my opinions changed as a result because I have made up my mind forever on the subject.

So far I have not been invited to one of these dinners. And I will be the first to admit that I would have to know that the food was going to be something special before I would accept. If I am going to do the work of actively and honestly talking to members of the opposition, I want to at least be fed well.

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About 30 miles south of us one can take a right turn, go up a dirt road for a few miles (suitable for 4WD) and then go over Black Bear Pass. No problem until you start down the other side of the pass, really. At that point it becomes a narrow, winding shelf road with a series of narrow switchbacks that look unnerving on the videos. If you make it to the bottom of this road you will find yourself in Telluride CO.

Each year thousands of Jeep enthusiasts travel this road to prove something to themselves, and I’m not sure what that is. The drivers are mostly older men with enough money to spend on a vehicle that is really only designed for outings like this and second or third best for anything else.

As for me, I am missing two things that would make this journey possible. The first is a Jeep. The second is a non-acrophobic state of mind. But I digress.

I ran across this short video that I think you will find remarkable. The camera is looking out the front window of a 4WD vehicle traversing one of those tight switchbacks, and then the machine settles into a straightaway for a short while. Keep watching to the end. Amazing.

The story is that the woman driving the red Jeep was seriously injured (no kidding), but not killed (whuh!).

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Sign O’ The Times

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Hallelujah! The General Services Administration has signed off on Joe Biden and his bunch. Until this past month I didn’t even know that they had anything important to say on the matter. This doesn’t mean that P.Cluck isn’t doing what he can to poison as many of America’s wells before he is shown the door. Isn’t he a caution? Who knew that a buffoon could be so nasty?

Actually, we all did. In horror films, what has ever been scarier than the clown face on a stuffed toy over there in the corner of the child’s bedroom? The supernatural malice of the clown’s perpetual grin comes through to us even before the creature makes its first move.

The thing about it is that soon we won’t have to look at this particular clown any longer, unless we want to. For instance, it’s been years since I wasted time on any of the characters over there in the far-right-wing crazy museum. The Limbaughs and the Ingrahams of the world will now be joined by the Clucks, in a space where they can fulminate all they want but don’t have their fingers on any of the major buttons.

I am supremely down with that.

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Sunday Morning

A new recording just came out that some of you might be interested in, entitled Crossroads Guitar Festival 2019. These events are held irregularly, but often feature some outstanding music.

The Crossroads Guitar Festival is a series of music festivals and benefit concerts  founded by Eric Clapton.  The festivals benefit the Crossroads Centre founded by Eric Clapton, a drug treatment center in Antigua. The concerts showcase a variety of guitarists, selected by Eric Clapton personally.

Wikipedia

Today I picked out two classics, Layla and Purple Rain. I could easily have picked a dozen others. Enjoy.

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From The New Yorker

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Honor and Betrayal

A headline this past week was quite moving, I thought. It trumpeted that the Boy Scouts of America now has more than 90,ooo pending claims against it for child sexual abuse. The story went on to detail the enormous financial drain on an already declining organization. No one knows how this will all shake out, but the central theme has by now become too obvious, hasn’t it?

Scout troop in Adams, Nebraska, 1913

If we take the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, and a whole lot of smaller organizations into account, what comes out of it all is that we must make a painful admission. We haven’t taken proper care of our children. Not by a very long shot.

So why do these ugly reports always seem to come as a surprise to us? Wasn’t this particular can of worms opened long ago? In the late sixties one of my teachers was Dr. Robert ten Bensel, who was a pediatrician on the staff at Hennepin County General Hospital. At the time he was probing disturbing reports of child sexual abuse and receiving little collegial support for his work. He was even thought of by some as being a little weird, because surely this involved a very small number of children and some awfully disturbed adults. So what was Dr. Bob* doing poking around in this nasty business as his career direction?

Within the next decade we came to know as a fact that abusing children was commonplace. And it was usually perpetrated not by a lurking stranger but by someone close to the child who had been entrusted with their welfare. It involved parents, relatives, teachers, clergy, doctors, nannies … and scoutmasters.

So the Boy Scouts failed big-time in their one of their major responsibilities – that of protecting the children in their care. If the organization goes down under the weight of these claims and lawsuits, it goes down. Nothing lasts forever. Let it happen and get on with life. But we must provide more safeguards wherever children are to be found.

(*Dr. ten Bensel went on to become an acknowledged expert in the field of child abuse, teaching and publishing for the remainder of his career until his passing in 2002.)

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We may or may not have a mouse in the house. Here’s how that happens.

Our senior cat, Poco, is done with all that. If a mouse ran across the room in front of him he would follow it with his eyes, maybe run over to where the creature had hidden itself and cock his head, but that would be it. He is quite content with the twice a day food service and a bedtime snack that Robin and I provide.

Not so Willow, who has two operating modes, sleeping and hunting. There has been quite a parade of rodents brought across our threshold over the years, most of them among the dead rather than the quick, but’s that latter group … .

Willow will bat them around a bit, then casually look away for a second or two. The mouse sees its chance and takes off, Willow in pursuit. Usually she catches them before they make it to a safe place, but not always. And a house like ours affords any number of such refuges. In the baseboard heaters, for instance, or under the wooden braces for the dining room table, or (nononono) in the workings of the hide-a-bed in the living room.

When that happens and she can’t get at them any longer, she will seek us out to help her. We’ve come to recognize a particular set of mewlings as saying something that goes like this: “Awfully sorry to be a bother, but I’ve a problem you might be interested in. You see, I’ve lost a mouse in the hide-a-bed and can’t seem to get at it. I know that you can help, though, because we’ve been down this same road before. So could you please come out to the living room, open up that contraption, and I’ll handle the rest.”

This time the rodent headed for our bedroom (Robin is the witness) and disappeared. That was three days ago, and we’ve seen nothing of it since. It could be gone, having wandered back across the living room and dining room and gone out through the pet door. Or it could have tried the same maneuver, been recaptured by Willow, and disposed of without her mentioning it to us. (When she dines on mouse, there are no leftovers to tell the story).

Or it could still be in the house, perhaps in the kitchen or pantry or somewhere where there is at least the possibility of finding food and water, items that our bedroom does not afford.

We may never know for certain where that critter went.

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Like some very large slug, His Malignant Orangeitude is leaving a nasty, rancid slick of a trail wherever he goes. But what we are finding is that America, although wounded, is coming through this long period of ugliness with most of what we hold dear intact.

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Our election process worked, in spite of many forces trying desperately to make it fail. Our populace voted in higher numbers than ever before, even if a dismaying number of citizens still marked an “X” in the box for Cluck.

Much is written about our division, that we are not a people of one mind, as if that were a completely new thing. They must not read much history. America was born in division.

Remember that not every colonist wanted to separate from England by a long shot, and there were years of violence between those factions as a result. Royalists versus Patriots, with not a red coat in sight. And the Civil War? Hundreds of thousands killed? Scars left that are still on display? How’s that for division?

Personally, even if it were possible, I would be very much afraid of a United States that was of one mind on everything. What grand possibilities for mischief there would be then.

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From The New Yorker

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