First Flake

We’ve had our first snow, a few flakes mixed into the light rain that was falling on a 34 degree morning. They hit the ground and melted instantly. But the San Juans got a more extensive covering at the higher altitudes. We can follow the progress from here in Paradise as the white creeps down from the peaks to the shoulders over the next several weeks. Just put your car on Townsend Avenue facing south and it’s all there in front of you even though they are 50 miles away.

Whether they come rapidly or slowly, changes are on their way that involve long sleeves, long underwear, and the occasional short temper. I am often heard to say that I prefer living in a part of the country that has four seasons. However, I almost never say this in February, when my conversations on the subject usually consist of a series of sighs and grunts.

But the fellow in the purloined cartoon above is happy as a clam with his wagon and his wood, as is evident from the big smile on his beak. Possibly that’s because there is no wind to whip those flakes up his feathers and against his tender skin. Snow falling straight down can be a beautiful thing … walking about on a moonlit night at such times can be almost a spiritual experience. Snow falling sideways, on the other hand, is quite another matter, and it is best viewed through a window when one is safely indoors.

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This whole business of sending billionaires into space for a few minutes is drawing a bit of comment from the media. It is an obvious distraction from the awkward aspects of life here on planet Earth, and … let’s just say it is a bit of showing off by people who simply are so wealthy that they don’t know what to to with their fortunes. My only real complaint about these self-congratulatory performances is that the spacecraft eventually returns.

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On Monday morning I found something on CNN that made me smile. This is unique, since CNN usually makes me frown, occasionally nauseous. Spencer Tunick is at it again. He’s the guy who has been doing mass nude photo shoots in famous places for more than a quarter-century now. He always has an artistic explanation to offer for what he is doing but for me it is the amazing playfulness of the entire enterprise.

For instance, this time he took around 200 Israelis to the Dead Sea, which is disappearing (who knew?). He painted them white and then posed them variously. You might, upon hearing about the project, think that eroticism is part of his plan, but take a look at this photo and tell me, does it stir you in that way? Or does it make you wonder instead how they all avoided colossal sunburns?

Look again for a moment – over on the right there’s even a stooped-over guy who is using a hiking staff to get around in that desert, just so he can participate. Giving it his all, for art. While just looking at the picture is giving me a rash.

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Ran across an interesting article in the Times of New York about aging drivers. New research showing that they are safer in their driving habits than people much younger than themselves is slightly reassuring.  

Although there are now more older drivers than ever before on American roads, it seems there’s never been a safer time for those in the upper decades of life to drive a car. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that drivers aged 70 and older were less likely to be involved in a fatal car accident than those 35 to 54.

Jane Brody: Keeping Older Drivers Protected On The Road, NYT October 19, 2021

I say “slightly reassuring” because we superannuated operators of automobiles still have to share the roads with those multitasking, distracted, overreacting, and overconfident younger drivers. They, as we already really knew, are the dangerous ones. We, on the other hand, are merely annoying as we chug along at legal speed limits and wait interminably at roundabouts for our turn to come.

Yesterday I was behind a Buick at a roundabout and I swear that the driver had time to knit a small sweater before the stars and planets were enough in alignment to for them to move forward. Everyone knows that there are certain vehicles that are notorious for being piloted by older folks, and Buicks are right at the top of the list. I will go blocks out of my way to avoid being behind one of those cars whenever I have a choice of doing so.

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But, I digress.

We never really had to “take the keys away” from my own parents, who had become so infirm in their later years that the question really didn’t come up. Illness sidelined them before we even had to think about it. And I am living so far away from my own children that they have no idea what my driving habits are and are insulated from the decision.

Robin is the one that I have to worry about, and I have hidden a set of keys away just in case she gets any ideas in that direction. Of course, the chance that I will remember where I have hidden those keys should I ever need them is completely another matter.

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Header Photo

Grandmothering in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 2005

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Saving Graces

I’ve been reading a few of Garrison Keillor’s posts on the Writer’s Almanac this past week and they made me morose. It turns out that my own writing could easily be called a thin imitation of his, even though I didn’t realize it when I put fingers to keyboard and typed away in the early morning hours of any day you care to choose in the past decade. The major difference is his skill in arranging the exact same set of words that I have access to. Ah, me. Why didn’t I use that phrase … would have been so much clearer … or that one … or that one?

But we do what we can with what we have, as anyone who lived through the Great Depression will tell you if you give them half an opportunity. I try not to do that if I find myself across from someone who survived the Thirties, because the stories are pretty much the same and if I haven’t heard them all yet I lack curiosity about those I might have missed. Being born in the very last days of the Thirties I missed that excellent decade when what is now called recycling was then referred to as everyday life. You threw nothing away unless you absolutely couldn’t find a use for it, even if what you planned for it wasn’t anything close to its original employ.

Got a leftover anvil? Why just look at what a swell paperweight it makes. It would take a hurricane to blow those papers off your desk now. And those old jeans that you’ve been using for paint rags because they are full of holes and rips? Wash them until you can’t smell the turpentine any longer and then slap them onto your body. They are now called vintage clothing. And if parts of your anatomy are illegally revealed by those gaps in the material, why, you have only to wear attractive underwear, perhaps something in a cunning polka dot or stripe.

When we cleaned out the basement of my parents’ home, at the point where neither of them was ever going to be able to go down to there any longer because of infirmity, there was a virtual museum of old iron things that my dad had accumulated. Enough nuts and bolts to repair any fallen-down freeway bridge in Minneapolis, I would think. Angle irons, broken pocket knives, screwdrivers of all sorts, chisels without handles … everything was the same color due to being completely covered with rust. I doubt that Dad ever threw any part of any tool he’d ever owned away, just put it in a box to store because who knew it might be just the thing you needed? And when you moved to a different house it all came along with you.

There wasn’t as much of Mom’s stuff in that basement. It turns out that except for kitchen implements much of what she used from day to day wore out. A broom without bristles isn’t kept for some rainy day in the future, but is as useless as anything you care to imagine and is junked. All of her pots and pans and dinnerware were still in daily use, so they hadn’t made the trip to the basement yet. And that included a very old aluminum kettle with so many dents in it that was impossible to keep it level on the stove burner. Clothing? It either had fallen apart or was cut into pieces that became patches on some other aging garment.

So I’ve heard enough Great Depression stories, I think. If you are older than I am and want to tell your tales one more time before the Reaper stops by your house, I might not be the audience you are seeking. One of my problems these days is that I don’t always make the effort to look interested when I’m not. That faraway look comes into my eyes as … wait a darned moment! I saw that look just yesterday afternoon when I was sharing one of my vast collection of tales with grandson Dakota. He is so polite that he didn’t run away screaming when I came at him with yet another fascinating yarn, but you could see in his eyes that the man was off sailing in the Outer Hebrides even as I was nattering on about some random element of my past.

I better watch it. It’s so easy to wear out an audience, and damned hard to get them back once they’ve strayed.

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From The New Yorker

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I have returned to the backyard deck after a few week’s absence. After having that moderate but annoying illness for nearly a month my enthusiasm for sitting outdoors had waned, since any little breeze set me to shivering whether it was a warm day or no. An odd month, but behind me now. The body has such amazingly fine-tuned and really very adaptable systems, but put the wrong virus in the wrong place and nearly anything you can imagine can happen. There are a thousand things that can go wrong in a situation like that, but all I did was see double for a few hours and that was pretty much all she wrote.

So yesterday I returned to the gym for the first time in a month. Everything was going well until I encountered this seriously crazy-eyed woman who was flitting from machine to machine and never cleaning the ones she had used. (There is a gym policy that we do that, and a small sign at each station reminding us to do so.)

So I told her to please clean up after herself, and of course she completely ignored me because who in blazes am I to give her instruction? But the next time I see her, if she is still being a gym slob, I will ask the staff to talk to her. Even if we can’t change her behavior, maybe we can get her back on her meds. Those eyes … unsettling, to say the least.

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An article in the Science section of the Times gave me an entrepreneurial idea. Researchers have evidence that ancient peoples in New Guinea raised cassowaries for food. Cassowaries are largish birds, weighing up to nearly 60 pounds in adulthood, and were a potentially large source of protein – probably seen as a good thing back there a thousand years ago. The only problem was that you had to pay close attention to their growth, since an adult cassowary is considered by some to be the most dangerous bird on earth.

The problem is those feet. That large talon is several inches long, and can quickly create openings in the body that were never meant to be there. Persons messing with adult birds are thus occasionally converted to dead people instantly.

Thus, my idea of starting a cassowary farm poses issues that raising ordinary poultry doesn’t. Almost never do you read of fowl/human confrontations that end in fatalities. However, if you can get past that wrinkle, the sky is the limit because of the novelty of being able to sell cassowary burgers and cassowary nuggets to adventurous clients. I do not have any information on the flavor of the meat, but until more information comes in, I will assume that it tastes like chicken. Nearly everything does.

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The weather this past week here in Paradise has been, well, heavenly. Daytime temperatures in the 70s, enough sunshine to satisfy anybody, and breezes so gentle that they barely ruffle the prayer flags in the back yard. Out in the mountains the trees are peaked or peaking in color, although here in town our foliage change is a couple of weeks behind them.

We’ve adopted the pleasant habit of taking our meals outdoors on the deck, unless it is raining or some of those damned yellowjackets choose to rise up from hell to bedevil us. It is somehow disconcerting to bring one’s fork toward one’s face and find oneself staring at the countenance of a stinging insect perched right there on one’s casserole. Try as I might, I have not been able to love all of Nature’s creatures, and these wasps top my personal list of persona non grata.

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Lawrence of Montrose

Those who know me well know that my favorite movie of all time is “Lawrence of Arabia.” It jumped to #1 the moment I first saw it in 1962 and has yet to be displaced. I am not shy about sharing my opinion with others, and introduce this fact into the conversation at every opportunity. Sometimes on the most threadbare of pretexts.

Other Person: Man, is is hot today!
Moi: Hoo Boy, if you think this is hot, you should see them sweat in Lawrence of Arabia, it comes off in buckets.

O.P.: Sometimes I wish I didn’t own such a big dog. I swear he’s eating me out of house and home.
Moi: If you think that’s bad, what if he was a camel, like in Lawrence of Arabia? Think of that pet food bill!

O.P.: You seem thoughtful today, is anything the matter?
Moi: I was thinking about the final scene in Lawrence of Arabia, where everything has fallen apart and Lawrence’s work has come to naught.
So sad.

So when I ran across these video comments by two of the larger talents in the movie industry, I had to share them with you. Because you can exist in only three possible states:

  • You never saw the movie. WHAAAAAAAT! Just do it. What kind of mother did you have anyway?
  • You saw the movie, but it was a long time ago. What are you waiting for? It’s time for a re-viewing. Treat yourself. You know you want to.
  • You saw the movie recently. Come over for coffee and we’ll talk about it until you can’t stand it.

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If you’re teetering, be aware that it is available for streaming on Amazon Prime for the measly price of $2.99. Less than three bucks for one of the best films ever! In the safety of your own home! Where the popcorn is so very reasonably priced!

This scene alone is worth the $2.99 to watch on a bigger screen. Okay, that’s all I have to say today.

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From The New Yorker

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The recent change in recommendations for mask-wearing seems to have sent a lot of people right to the crazy department. In order to put some perspective on the situation, I’ve asked Ragnar to chime in. Wearing facial covering is old hat to this gentleman, he’s been doing it for centuries.

Dear Ragnar: I know that you’ve been paying particular attention to our behavior during the pandemic, and have just finished a fact-finding tour of the U.S. Do you think we should be wearing masks these days or not?

Ragnar: Well, first of all, let me tell you when I wear one. When I go to war. Simple as that. It protects my face from contacting annoying things like swords and clubs. Back in the day we didn’t worry about the kind of stuff you’re dealing with, like viruses, because they hadn’t been discovered yet. Not that it wouldn’t have been handy to know about them. Could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble when we were sacking cities and burning monasteries and all.

Dear Ragnar: But now that you do know about viruses, what do you think?

Ragnar: It’s pretty obvious that my old mask wouldn’t be worth beans today against Covid. Although it was awfully ferocious-looking, and the sight of it would sow fear and confusion into the hardiest of English hearts, the present pesky coronavirus particle would sail right through the holes and get me every time.

Now this mask would be better for what you’re dealing with today, but forget about sowing fear and confusion. No one’s afraid of the Minnesota Vikings. Also you can forget about it guarding against anyone lurking around town with a halberd that has your name on it.

Dear Ragnar: So we should continue to wear masks as we have in the past? Is that what you’re saying?

Ragnar: You know what I think? That the good news and the bad news are the same thing here – I think you are all going to do what you want to do, no matter what anyone says.

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The cicadas are coming, the cicadas are coming! But not quite yet. Apparently it’s been chilly in the part of the country where Brood X is due to emerge, and the actors in this drama are waiting for that sunny day. I can completely empathize with them.

Think about it. You’ve been looking at nothing but dirt for seventeen years. You are on the brink of your big moment in time – when you will pop out of the ground, shed your old clothes and put on beautiful shiny new ones, sing your “I’m lonely here” song for all the world to hear, mate with the love of your life, and then … die.

Why rush into it? Why not wait for just the right day? I know I would.

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Ahhhh, Them Last Chance Power Drives

Sleepily listening to the radio the other day I was jerked awake by the opening salvo of Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen. I listened to the words carefully, and it is a wonderful hymn to a way that I once felt. That time was at the peak of adolescence. A time when my thoughts ran to stylishly morbid (not going to live to age 25) and my hormones were the very definition of chaos. A time when cruising the summer streets with the car window rolled down and a song like this cranked up would alter my DNA to the point that when I stepped out of the car I was at least temporarily a whole new character. (One that was much more interesting)

This song was a perfect anthem. One that could have made me feel taller, stronger, indestructible … all those qualities that I was looking for at age eighteen. The only problem is that it came out when I was thirty years old. By that time I was married, had four children, and was temporarily the property of the United States Air Force. So instead of being the song that made me feel like a contender, it was now a wistful reference to an earlier time.

It’s a great song, though. Telling the story of a last chance power drive … man oh man … can you dig it?

(NB: note deliberate use of ancient cliché)

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From The New Yorker

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We probably all have our own private mythologized places. Locations we have visited once or many times and which for some reason occupy their own special space in our minds, one that is often both haloed and hallowed. One of mine such space for me is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota. I’ve been there on trips with my own children, a grandchild, and perhaps thirty times with Rich Kaplan, an old friend. Robin and I have paddled and camped in the BWCA several times together. I go there every year in my head, even if it’s only every several years that my body tags along. Everything I use on these trips becomes a part of the mythological whole.

One of these items is Dr. Bronner’s soap. I first purchased a bottle for a canoe trip long ago because it was such a quirky product. Piragis Outfitters of Ely MN was happy to sell me a bottle, which I used as hand soap, body wash, and shampoo for the next several days. Since then it has become a regular part of each trip’s outfitting. At some point I discovered that you could get the stuff in local grocery stores pretty much everywhere, and that was all she wrote.

Now every time I shower using Dr. Bronner’s soap, I am gifted with some random recollections of the BW, and they are all good, even those involving drenching rainstorms and a wall of mosquitoes that you have to hack through to get to the water. Above is the label from a bottle – as you can see, it contains homilies and exhortations as well as a list of ingredients.

Like I said, quirky … but quirky good.

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Here’s a little gallery of pics the BWCA, taken over a fifty year period.

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Two years ago I followed the advice of online home repair enthusiasts, and attacked the two outdoor faucets of our home, which were leaking. All of the gurus I encountered told me that the repair was so simple that any fool could do it. So I purchased kits, watched the videos, and although it didn’t go quite as smoothly as the in the pictures, when I was finished the faucets did not leak and seemed to work just fine.

Until this Spring, when the backyard faucet failed me. Little more than a dribble comes through when I crank it up, and I have the uncomfortable suspicion that my work was not as successful as I thought it had been. Apparently there is a special variety of fools who cannot do this repair properly and I am one of them.

The plumber comes later today.

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The Hero

Like Sam Elliot? Who doesn’t? Last night Robin and I stumbled across a little movie in which he stars, rather than supports. Title: The Hero. It’s got what you might call a short dramatic arc, but it crams a lot into that space. Fatherhood, aging, death, poetry, the often baffling elements of love. It may not be a great date movie, nor it is aimed at the adolescent mind (whatever that bewildering thing was … sheesh), but if you want a quiet and lovely film with Sam in it, and a fine performance by a lady named Laura Prepon, it’s on Hulu right this minute.

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Did somebody say poetry? Two of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems are featured in the movie. The first one I knew, the second one, I didn’t. Why didn’t I know the second? And why do I know almost nothing about Edna St. Vincent Millay? There’s no excuse, it is because I’m a philistine, and there you have it.

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First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

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Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

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But not everything in the world is so solemn. Some of it is beautifully silly, like this moment on the Conan show. Where a perfect man with turkey legs can wish things were different.

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A member of my family who has been hospitalized for two months returned to her apartment in Lima, Peru this week. She still requires help in many things, but the direction is clearly toward getting better. Those of us who have watched and waited at a distance are very grateful for the recovery she has made, and look forward to seeing her in person later this year.

There have been many times in this life of mine that I have been forcefully reminded of just how fragile a “normal” existence really is. And what a mistake it is to take any day for granted, when all it takes is a phone call to turn a sunny day into a tragic drama in which we are the players.

Sometimes the metaphor that occurs to me is the proverbial thin ice. Sometimes it is that of a marionette and all those strings it takes to keep matters going well. Drop even a single string and it’s a brand new day.

One that you didn’t see coming at all.

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Wanderers

It’s not all that often that I watch a movie that makes me feel that I am a better person for having viewed it. Of course, that isn’t really true, I am pretty much the same schlemiel today that I was before Robin and I streamed “Nomadland” Tuesday night, but my view of the world is just that much wider, more inclusive … maybe that is some small progress.

It’s a beautiful movie, starring Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, and an interesting bunch of normal people (non-professional actors, that is). McDormand is soooo good, as always. It’s a small thing, but if there were an Olympic event called “smiling,” I believe that she would take home the gold every year.

The film is available on Hulu.

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There is presently a small dustup in the world, one that can’t really compete with the big ones that rage all around us 24/7, but it’s interesting. A half-dozen of Dr. Seuss’ books are being quietly un-promoted, because they contain images that could, without too much imagination being required, be interpreted as racist.

There seems little doubt that Theodor Geisel (Seuss’ real name) harbored racist thoughts back in the early 1940s, and there is also quite a bit of evidence that he rejected those thoughts and writings later in life. This almost surgical excision of a part of his catalogue seems to recognize that even flawed people can produce worthwhile things, and throwing away everything that he’d written for those old errors would be a loss to us all. It also gives one hope that the belief in the possibility of redemption hasn’t gone away altogether.

We’re living in a time when figurative dunk tanks, burnings, and witch-hunts on social media are all over the place. Make a mistake sometime twenty years ago … fageddaboudit, you’re toast. This is not o.k. When there is only a single space between effusive acceptance and outraged rejection it is a hazardous time for those in the spotlights of the world.

It makes me so very glad that I am unimportant. No one is going through those old steamer trunks where my life’s words and actions are stored, looking for something to be furious about.

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Writing the above reminded me of a scene from a movie that I saw as a child, when my grandfather Nels took me to the Time Theater in Kenyon, MN.

The film was Stars In My Crown. The main character was a small town minister in the Old West, whose congregation included the owner of a saloon. When one of his congregation’s elite confronted the preacher about accepting contributions from the saloonkeeper … it was the Devil’s money, said the concerned member.

“Yes, it is,” admitted the minister, “but just think of all God’s work that I am going to do with it.”

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One of the most reliable signs of Spring has always been the aroma of tens of thousands of pieces of dog poop that have been deposited around the town during the previous winter, thawing all at once. It’s unmistakable, the day when that happens. No matter how blue the sky or how warm the gentle breeze might be, the cloud of scent can be overwhelming, often driving one back indoors.

But we’ve kind of lost it, that day. And the culprit is the people who insist that dog owners carry those little plastic bags with them and pick up every single dropping within seconds of its being dropped. It is estimated that in Colorado, if it were not for people picking up after their beloved canines, the entire state would be covered in pup-doo to a depth of six inches within a single year. Such is the pervasiveness of dog ownership here in Paradise.

So one more piece of my life’s acquired knowledge has become useless to me, and I must consult calendars just like everybody else, to know when Spring has finally arrived. Bah.

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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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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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Can I Have A Hallelujah, Brothers & Sisters!

Our national Disgrace-in-Chief is being shown the door, at long last. This time he lost the electoral college as well as the popular vote. Of course he’ll still be in the White House for another couple of months, but in January he will walk that last long stretch to the podium and be forced to turn the keys over to rational and compassionate beings. And our nation can get on with all of the important work that was put on hold for the past four years while Nero fiddled.

We are rejoicing here in Paradise, or at least a minority of us are doing so. Montrose County went for Cluck more than 2:1 over Mr. Biden. How sweet is is to see those wilted campaign signs out there, those pickups still festooned with gigantic but impotent flags promoting the loser-guy. Out of consideration for those of our benighted neighbors who are Cluckians, we have now taken our own signs off the lawn. But I have a confession to make. What I really want to do is find the biggest freaking Biden/Harris banner available and put it up like a Buddhist prayer flag, where it stays for years as the sun and weather slowly break it down.

However, that would be shabby behavior, wouldn’t it? Gloating. And I am totally a class act.

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But, Dr. Frankenstein, what if you are successful? What if this … thing … does come to life? What will happen then?

Following the principle that everything in life has two sides, two faces, we now have some hints that the crazy interesting laboratory tool called Crispr-cas9 might not be an exception. After one paper after another over the past several years about the positive potential for an instrument that can go into a genome and replace defective genetic material with a previously unheard-of surgical precision, we get a paper that has an un-smiley-face sticker on it.

When researchers began applying Crispr-cas9 techniques to embryos those embryos did not appear to take it kindly, tossing out large chunks of the chromosomal material in soberingly large numbers. A commentary on this paper was in the Times of New York on Saturday morning. It adds to an ongoing discussion of the ethical implications of working with embryos versus completed human beings.

For example, If I am born and I have a genetic disease, replacing the bad part of my genes affects only me. But if you tinker with those genes much earlier in development and I grow up to beget children, my children are potentially affected, and their posterity as well.

Interesting paper.

In general, the body public has a say in what research will or will not be done through our elected representatives. Funding can be advanced or withdrawn. Regulations can be drawn up or not. Sometimes just because you can doesn’t mean that you should is a useful watchword in scientific communities. But whether we do have a stake in this research, and articles like this one help us stay informed.

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Friday evening we welcomed a whole lot of very nice people to our home for a celebration of Robin’s birthday via the Zoom app. For a short two hours friends and relatives entered and left the group and I thought it all went very smoothly. Grandson Ethan brought along a bunch of custom backgrounds for his image that went from the pastoral to the macabre and back again.

By the time the group was assembled, we had participants in all four time zones across the U.S. You know, it was definitely not the same as all of us being in the room together, physically. But when you consider that in-person was impossible, it is hard to call a video conference second-best. What it turned out to be was a creation all its own, made possible by technology, which resulted in a very enjoyable evening. I’m liking it.

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I am indebted to Sister Caroline for sending me this video link. It’s a rousing Sunday morning piece of music cleverly updated. Have a great day, my friends.

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All Hallows Eve

Today is Halloween and I’m not ready for it. Not in any way. Some cherubs will show up this afternoon with their bags open looking for us to drop safe treats into. In our part of town all of the costumed kiddos are quite young, so their raids occur in the afternoon and once the sun goes down everything is quiet.

When they do show up I will take my masked self to the door and hand them something with either a gloved hand or a thoroughly sanitized one. It’s like the trick-or-treating is happening on an infectious disease ward, where we are the patient in isolation and the staff parade through our sickroom looking for sterile handouts.

One of the enjoyable aspects of Halloween could be setting something up frightening outside the door. A disembodied voice moaning and chains rattling from a hidden speaker, perhaps. Or a scarecrow that comes to life and reaches out a bony finger to tap the child on the shoulder. But, it’s daylight! Nothing is scary in daylight! And even if I could pull it off, these are really young kids and who wants to send them screaming into their parents’ arms and then have to face those same parents’ anger at their darling ones being scarred for life by my insensitivity?

So it’s bite the bullet and pass out the packages of Skittles for me. Later, when we are safe from further visits, Robin and I will watch our carefully selected Frightening Film of the Year. We haven’t chosen one yet, but there are so many classics to pick from, aren’t there? Let’s see … Halloween … The Exorcist … Poltergeist … The Shining … Haunting of Hill House … Dracula … etc. etc. It’s one of the great things about the streaming movie era we are presently living in. Most of these will be available somewhere, even if there’s a small fee to pay. And we can watch them whenever we want, pause them whenever nature makes demands on bladders, and replay passages where we find the dialog hard to understand.

Life is techno-good.

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BTW, I should mention that I am a sort of Halloween version of Scrooge. Dressing up and masking has always seemed a silly business to me. By careful planning and artful refusals throughout my life I have avoided all but one of the costume parties that I was invited to attend. And that one only confirmed me in my apostasy.

It could be because on the other 364 days of the year I am already continuously playing roles, and don’t feel further need to play-act at a new one just because demons are up and about. What roles, you ask? Well, how about conscientious citizen, son, father, student, physician, etc. Perhaps is is enough to say that however I may appear to others (and to myself?), I suspect that there is a full-fledged Dr. Hyde running around in my internal community and looking for a way out. I have no wish to encourage him, not in the slightest.

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Here is a sampling of how movies and television have seen Mr. Hyde throughout the years.

For most people, when their Mr. Hyde comes out, he looks a good deal more ordinary than this. In fact, it’s often hard to tell by appearances when he’s in the room.

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Yesterday P.Cluck took on the medical professions as eager to profit from the suffering brought on by Covid-19. It was only a matter of time before he got to them/us. Now, not every doctor in the U.S. has had to sacrifice because of this disease. My ophthalmologist, for instance, does everything he can to avoid being exposed to the infected. As does my neurologist. Even my family doctor makes me wait in the hallway until I answer a few questions and then have my temperature taken. Only then can I enter the waiting room. If I don’t pass her quiz, it’s go home and we’ll call you.

But if I were one of those, like ER physicians, who cannot avoid working with the afflicted, I would be so pissed off reading today’s headlines. Because they are taken from a speech delivered by a man who cannot understand people who would take such risks because it that is what they do. Because that is what they signed up for. And the unworthy things that he is saying are not only undeserved but will make their job harder.

Whatta guy. His spot in Hell is prepped and ready.

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Now here is something that for me is as Halloween-y as it gets. Gave me nightmares when I was a child … doesn’t get any better than that.

Mental Goulash

We finished up the limited series The Queen’s Gambit last night. Thoroughly enjoyed every one of the seven episodes. The writers gave the main character some choice lines. Like these two:

Do you always drink this much?
No … sometimes I drink more.

It’s one of those moments where you come to the last minutes of the series and want there to be more episodes but at the same time realize that the creators of the series did it just right, that this is where it should end.

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A long time ago I decided that I should learn to play chess. At the time I didn’t personally know anyone who played, so I turned to books with titles like Chess for Beginners. (Chess for Dummies hadn’t been invented yet, so I made do with what I had). Basically I learned how the pieces move, but when it came to strategy it all seemed hopeless. The authors of the book would describe in detail how if I did this move and then that then checkmate would happen six moves ahead.

The problem was that I couldn’t see it. I never reached a stage where such far-looking (and beyond) was possible. One move ahead was it for me. If the woman in the TV series Queen’s Gambit was the Einstein of the game, I was at whatever the opposite pole would be called. (The Dimwit of Chess?).

I eventually tried to play a few games against actual human beings but all of them ended the same way, my trouncing in less than twenty moves. So I gave it up, having diagnosed myself as having a Chess Learning Deficiency and going on to other things less painful than those repeated drubbings. It wasn’t being beaten so much as it was the not being able to learn from the defeats that finally got to me.

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Speaking of not learning anything from experience, P.Cluck is the poster boy when it comes to this particular malady. As we close in on a quarter of a million dead in America due to Covid-19, he complains that if we didn’t do so many of those darn tests we wouldn’t have so darn many cases.

Of course if we followed his instruction, the published Covid numbers would be better but the corpses would still be piling up at exactly the same rate. Such is our leadership. Lord help us.

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Ahhhhh, the internet has come under attack because we have discovered that it is just as easy to spread mooseberries as it is knowledge using this medium. Why this is a surprise? Didn’t we already know this from written literature going back hundreds of years? With a good printing press you could put out a cookbook or you could print Mein Kampf. The press itself was neutral, it didn’t care how it was used.

Mr. Zuckerberg tries to sell us the idea that Facebook is completely neutral, that posting is neither bad nor good, and that the right stuff will always rise to the top, like cream in a bottle of milk. Maybe if he were dealing with rational creatures, instead of our awkward species, that would be the case. Maybe.

So Congress, that bastion of rationality, is now investigating Facebook, Google, and Apple. Looking to see how much influence this tech triad really has and how much we can mess with the First Amendment before it cracks under the strain. Right now, Facebook is jam-packed with people shouting FIRE in the proverbial crowded theater. So what do you and I do while we wait for Congress to save us?

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Always good to finish on a high note. The Times of New York mentioned this guy and this video, and I am passing it along. I just love pretending to be cultured and au courant, don’t you?

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Potpourri

Robin and I have a guest here at BaseCamp, daughter Maja has rejoined us for a few days. We are employing the package,* as always. Yesterday the weather permitted us to spend the late morning and all of the afternoon outdoors chatting away like blackbirds settling in for the night.

We even completed a project. Coming back from a walk in the park, we stopped at a roadside stand and purchased three pumpkins which were later decorated by carving or painting. The day flew by, and before you know it we were saying goodnight, as Maja returned to her motel to rest up.

BTW, that warty pumpkin that Robin is working with was something new to us all. Its flesh was so hard that she gave up trying to carve it and did a beautiful job of painting it instead. Nice recovery, that.

*The Package = masks, social distancing, hand washing, disinfection

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The rapper Megan Jovon Ruth Pete wrote an op/ed piece about her defense of black women that I thought was awfully good. So what is the opinion of an aged white male worth in such a case? Very little, I admit, but this is my blog and I get to say stuff. The lady’s professional name is Megan Thee Stallion, and what a title that is.

Here is a photo of the lady in performance. She is not a shrinking violet, it would appear. Nor doth she shrink in her writing.

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Lindsey Graham is having a real fight in his bid for reelection, and for many reasons I earnestly hope that he loses. He has publicly moved from one sycophancy to another, a decision forced upon him by John McCain, who was ill-mannered enough to die on him and expose him as a character without character. So when Graham stopped being the anti-Cluck and took his place at the feet of the Grand Posturer, it was no real surprise.

The man is the very definition of an empty suit.

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I am indebted to friend Caroline (and to Scotland) for this addition to our vocabulary. It’s yet another example of the fact that what we think is all new today has not only happened before, but there is already a word for it. Such a word is cockwomble.

It goes right up there with kakistocracy, or government by the “least suitable or competent citizens of a state.”

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Our ballots arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon. We saved them for later today, when I will open mine with as much eager anticipation as if it were Christmas. I am going to savor every single X that I put in every single box that will help retire the gang of thieves presently in office, up to and including P.Cluck himself.

If ever there was a bunch of politicians that deserved to be put out to pasture it is these people. They forgot long ago what they had been elected to do – the nation’s business.

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Phobia du Jour

I didn’t mention that I had my first MRI during my recent hospitalization. At least I think I did. When my physician told me that he had ordered the study for me I laid out a scenario for him that included my going completely out of my mind with an attack of acute psycho-killer claustrophobia. This is an as yet undescribed medical condition of which I would have been the first example in the universe.

I told the good doctor that if he put me in that tube without medication of some kind that I wouldn’t be responsible for what transpired, but I sensed that it would not be pretty, and that there would be a need for some significant cleaning up of the MRI room after whatever happened had happened.

Dr. Thompson paled, recoiled, and then scribbled “Versed” on the order sheet. As a result, I recall being rolled onto the elevator as we were heading for the radiology department, but I have no memory at all of being rolled off the elevator. What happened during my drug-induced blackout … I have to take people’s word that I actually had the study done.

I’m not particularly afraid of pain, although I will avoid it when I can, but try to confine me in a small space and you will find yourself looking at a different man indeed. My transformation from Dr. Jon to full-bore Mr. Hyde can occur in an eyeblink.

I dimly recall an episode when I was very young where I was rolled up in a small rug, as a joke. I can’t remember who did it or any other particulars, but the absolute sense of helplessness and of not being able to breathe properly were powerful enough to still affect me today. The recent horror stories in the news of the “I Can’t Breathe” variety … I am unable to read them without rousing that deep fear, down there in the sub-basement of my psyche.

Oh, the MRI itself? It showed a tiny area of injury which may slightly impair my ability to order from menus in Albanian restaurants. I can live with that.

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The Science section of the Times of New York had something interesting to say this morning. It’s about a virus – don’t worry, this is a good one – that causes a very destructive plant fungus to become a very nicely behaved fungus indeed. Botanists are trying to figure out why it does this at the same time as they study how.

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We do live in the most interesting world, don’t we? It’s pretty obvious that while our knowledge is impressive, our ignorance is on a much larger scale. But hey, don’t let it get you down. It means that there will always be something new to learn. Like today.

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From The New Yorker

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Memento Mori Department

As my own memory process becomes gradually more creative over time, quite possibly making up stuff when it can’t come up with the true facts, there are interesting little blips here and there that I know, positively know, are true. Maybe.

Johnny Nash (1940-2020)
One of those blips is the attachment of a piece of music to a particular event in my life. It happens all on its own, and those attachments are indelible. In 1974 I packed up my family in Buffalo NY and went west, driving across a good-sized chunk of Canada on our way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On one of those travel days the song “I Can See Clearly Now” came over the car radio. The song was not new but was still getting a bit of airplay at the time. Johnny Nash sang it and it was my introduction to reggae music. Nash passed away yesterday, but each time I hear the tune I can vividly revisit a Canadian morning, zipping through what seemed like endless forests in Ontario.

Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)
When Mr. Van Halen ran up against the limits of what he’d learned about guitar playing, why, he’d invent new ways to do it. His superpower was fingers that could move faster than those of mere mortals, almost too fast to see. What came out of his art and leadership was a passel of very memorable songs over a career that spanned nearly thirty years. One of my favorites was “Dance The Night Away,” which came out in 1979, as I was preparing to pull up roots and haul that same family to South Dakota. Here is a video of the boys doing their rock and roll thing, with all the excess and theatricality we came to expect of them.

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Well, the world is certainly going to hell in a handbasket, whatever a handbasket is. Here is a pic of two women who shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry for using something called Crispr to engineer DNA. (Bravo, I say, and is there any possibility that I might have some of my genetic code re-engineered to make me taller and better-looking? Or has my Crispr moment come and gone?)

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And last night a female candidate for vice-president who is also a person of color did a number on her opponent, who is male and as white as white can be. Women have forgotten their place entirely and the world is upside down as a result.

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And finally, there is the matter of the recent editorial of the New England Journal of Medicine, which all of the journal’s editors signed, and which damns the present administration’s job performance re: the novel coronavirus.

Now, the NEJM almost never takes political positions, which makes this so very unusual. Its attack is based on the fact that our Covid response, as a nation, has been a colossal public health failure. I republish the editorial here:

Covid-19 has created a crisis throughout the world. This crisis has produced a test of leadership. With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.

The magnitude of this failure is astonishing. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases and in deaths due to the disease, far exceeding the numbers in much larger countries, such as China. The death rate in this country is more than double that of Canada, exceeds that of Japan, a country with a vulnerable and elderly population, by a factor of almost 50, and even dwarfs the rates in lower-middle-income countries, such as Vietnam, by a factor of almost 2000. Covid-19 is an overwhelming challenge, and many factors contribute to its severity. But the one we can control is how we behave. And in the United States we have consistently behaved poorly.

We know that we could have done better. China, faced with the first outbreak, chose strict quarantine and isolation after an initial delay. These measures were severe but effective, essentially eliminating transmission at the point where the outbreak began and reducing the death rate to a reported 3 per million, as compared with more than 500 per million in the United States. Countries that had far more exchange with China, such as Singapore and South Korea, began intensive testing early, along with aggressive contact tracing and appropriate isolation, and have had relatively small outbreaks. And New Zealand has used these same measures, together with its geographic advantages, to come close to eliminating the disease, something that has allowed that country to limit the time of closure and to largely reopen society to a prepandemic level. In general, not only have many democracies done better than the United States, but they have also outperformed us by orders of magnitude.

Why has the United States handled this pandemic so badly? We have failed at almost every step. We had ample warning, but when the disease first arrived, we were incapable of testing effectively and couldn’t provide even the most basic personal protective equipment to health care workers and the general public. And we continue to be way behind the curve in testing. While the absolute numbers of tests have increased substantially, the more useful metric is the number of tests performed per infected person, a rate that puts us far down the international list, below such places as Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia, countries that cannot boast the biomedical infrastructure or the manufacturing capacity that we have. Moreover, a lack of emphasis on developing capacity has meant that U.S. test results are often long delayed, rendering the results useless for disease control.

Although we tend to focus on technology, most of the interventions that have large effects are not complicated. The United States instituted quarantine and isolation measures late and inconsistently, often without any effort to enforce them, after the disease had spread substantially in many communities. Our rules on social distancing have in many places been lackadaisical at best, with loosening of restrictions long before adequate disease control had been achieved. And in much of the country, people simply don’t wear masks, largely because our leaders have stated outright that masks are political tools rather than effective infection control measures. The government has appropriately invested heavily in vaccine development, but its rhetoric has politicized the development process and led to growing public distrust.

The United States came into this crisis with enormous advantages. Along with tremendous manufacturing capacity, we have a biomedical research system that is the envy of the world. We have enormous expertise in public health, health policy, and basic biology and have consistently been able to turn that expertise into new therapies and preventive measures. And much of that national expertise resides in government institutions. Yet our leaders have largely chosen to ignore and even denigrate experts.

The response of our nation’s leaders has been consistently inadequate. The federal government has largely abandoned disease control to the states. Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls. Instead of using those tools, the federal government has undermined them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was the world’s leading disease response organization, has been eviscerated and has suffered dramatic testing and policy failures. The National Institutes of Health have played a key role in vaccine development but have been excluded from much crucial government decision making. And the Food and Drug Administration has been shamefully politicized, appearing to respond to pressure from the administration rather than scientific evidence. Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government, causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed “opinion leaders” and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.

Let’s be clear about the cost of not taking even simple measures. An outbreak that has disproportionately affected communities of color has exacerbated the tensions associated with inequality. Many of our children are missing school at critical times in their social and intellectual development. The hard work of health care professionals, who have put their lives on the line, has not been used wisely. Our current leadership takes pride in the economy, but while most of the world has opened up to some extent, the United States still suffers from disease rates that have prevented many businesses from reopening, with a resultant loss of hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs. And more than 200,000 Americans have died. Some deaths from Covid-19 were unavoidable. But, although it is impossible to project the precise number of additional American lives lost because of weak and inappropriate government policies, it is at least in the tens of thousands in a pandemic that has already killed more Americans than any conflict since World War II.

Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.

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Harvest Moon

Welcome to October, where we start out cool and end up frosty, and here in Paradise right now it is peak time for Fall color. To make today even more special, tonight there will be a harvest moon – natural light to give the farmers additional hours in which to gather their crops. Of course, the headlights on modern harvesting machines and tractors have made this heavenly illumination less crucial, but it’s the thought that counts.

Some of my best personal memories of time spent on my grandfather’s farm have to do with grain harvesting. It was quite a different process when I was a child, a very labor-intensive one. But there were beauties and drama that the modern machines do not provide.

The first step was to pull something called a binder through the field, a machine which cut the grain and tied it into bundles. When I was very young, the power to pull the binder was provided by a team of horses, who were later replaced by a tractor. Next step was for the farmer to gather eight or so of these bundles and form them into a “shock.” The sight of a field of these shocks on a golden fall evening was nothing short of beautiful.

On threshing day, the farmer would drive a wagon through the field and manually collect these bundles, which he would then transport to the the threshing machine and toss into the maw of that mechanical beast. Therein was the drama. As a kid, I fancied the machine was a steel dragon which “ate” the bundles, separating the grain from the chaff and blowing the straw out into a pile.

Here’s a short video, for those who are interested. Notice the man standing on the heaving, bucking threshing machine. Notice all the bare belts and pulleys. Notice the lack of any safety devices anywhere on it. Now picture a ten-year old boy up there. That would have been me.

The hazards of farming were (and still are) very real. But this was a time when children were taught how to stay alive on the beast, rather than kept far away from it. Feel free to judge which was the better way. Thinking back, I wonder that I am still here to type this thing.

Grain was collected into a hopper on the threshing machine, and periodically discharged into a pickup truck or wagon to be hauled away for storage. The very last year that my relatives used the threshing machine, before they purchased a combine which changed the whole process greatly, I was given the honor of filling up a wagon with bundles and pitching them into the thresher. I have never in my life felt more pride than I did on that day. Doing what I thought was truly an adult’s work, among men who I admired.

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Robin and I didn’t watch the first presidential debate because we thought that it should never have happened. We didn’t believe that P.Cluck would observe any rules, act with anything approaching decorum, or tell the truth except in rare moments. Turns out we were right, apparently, in all respects.

There shouldn’t be a second one. Why should there? It will only be a repeat of the first, which was a rehash of the last five years. Let’s stop having these debates right now and give the money that would have been spent to coronavirus research, or prison reform, or any of the other thousand worthy causes that could be helped. Another two such fiascoes will serve no purpose other than Cluck’s own.

This television series deserves to be cancelled. It’s a flop. It could never have been anything else.

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Speaking of television – we’re enjoying the series “Away” which stars Hillary Swank, one of our favorite actors. Great supporting cast as well. For me it could be just a tish less soap-y but the overall story is a gripping one. It’s about the first humans to go to Mars.

I’ve never really thought through what such a mission would be like, and what sacrifices would need to be made. Sailing off to another planet on a flight that would take years. Never mind the hazards, even if everything went as well as it could possibly go, being away from friends, family … completely out of all of those loops … for years. What would that be like? Which of the people that you loved would not be still among the living when you returned? Which of your relationships might not survive such a separation? When you have done something so extraordinary, how do you cope with the mundane? Which people around you could begin to understand what you went through?

I talked a couple of posts ago about the emigrant experience, stepping off the dock onto a ship that would take you to a new land from which you would likely not soon return. Going to Mars would be like that. But the stepping off would be even more dramatic and irreversible.

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I don’t know whether to admire those individuals around the world that are making plans to go to Mars and to live there, or to consider them as not quite right in the head, as my grandmother Ida Jacobson might have said. There is more than a little hubris in the thinking of those very creative individuals, like Elon Musk, who are working on this.

To think that somehow a group of humans could be selected and transplanted to another world and make it work, when very similar creatures haven’t been able to do that on the world we now occupy … do enlightened people exist in numbers adequate to the job?

As for myself, a person who I regard as extremely enlightened (move over, Buddha), I have no plans to join such an expedition, even if I was asked, nay, begged to join the group. I don’t want to live anyplace where I can’t pee in the woods without wearing a special suit.

As I understand it, Mars does not offer such opportunities.

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The Times of New York reviewed “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in Tuesday’s edition. I think it’s one of the best reviews that I have ever read. Can’t wait to see it (Netflix). So interesting to get Denzel Washington’s and Viola Davis’ takes on how the film came to be. Washington’s statement that he plans to spend whatever career he has left to bring more of playwright August Wilson’s works to life was very moving.

He is one of those actors whose face reflects intelligence while his body says that if you don’t get it the first time, he is fully capable of cracking your head during your continuing instruction.

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An Aha Moment!

Our local excellent public ratio station, which has something for everybody … except those who love boring corporate music playlists (which don’t exist on this station). If you’re driving through our area some day, tune to KVNF (90.9 or 89.1). You may not hear your absolute favorite tune before you get out of range, but you may discover something new and terrific.

For instance, today I was catching up on some alt-country sort of stuff as I was cruising to Home Depot and suddenly this amusing (and thoughtful) composition popped up, by an artist previously unknown to me.

Here’s a video starring the artist, Susan Werner, and it may answer many of the questions you have always had.

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Out back in my al fresco office it is 89 degrees, and the humidity is 9%. Scores of midwesterners have told me over the decades that it’s not the heat, but the humidity. And darned if they weren’t right! How did they know? Some of them had never been more than forty miles from home in their entire life.

For those of you who have lived in the mountains forever, here is what it is like along the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers in August.

Sit on a chair in a ninety-five degree room. Have someone pull a large plastic bag over your entire body, into which a hole has been cut and a hose inserted. Have that same helper now pump steam from a heated vaporizer into the bag. Keep up the infusion until the bag clouds over and sweat rains into your eyes, down the center of your back, and all of your clothing becomes a sodden mess. By now your hair will have plastered itself onto your head and your breathing become slightly labored.

Now rip all the paraphernalia off and dart into a shower, where you will find that it is impossible to towel yourself off properly afterward, since even the towel on the rack is moisture-laden and you never become completely dry. Then exit the bathroom and put the plastic bag back on. Repeat until sundown.

There, got it? Any questions, high desert dwellers?

Some day, for the midwestern contingent, we’ll go into what it means to live in a dry mountain climate, where one must continuously slather oneself with creams and lotions to avoid becoming so many pounds of animated jerky, but that’s a topic for another day.

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A River Runs Through It

Relentless. The sun is just that. It really requires that we don’t miss a beat, that we inject some discipline into those lazy, hazy, crazy days of sum-mer, those days of peanuts, and pretzels, and beer.

If I don’t water my patch of garden every 24 hours, it will begin to die. If we don’t wear sunscreen, we will sauté. If we don’t carry water whenever we go for a walk, even a short one, we will wither until we either find water or pass on to our great reward. There’s no laying about the porch and sucking on a grass stem this year. This is serious sunshine.

Our cars are air-conditioned and Covid-free pods (we hope) that we use to move about the landscape to avoid stir-craziness. Yesterday we moved our bubble to Ouray, where we found other humans getting out of their bubbles to buy necessary things. Like beef jerky, T-shirts, and portobello wraps with fries.

Everybody in our own bubble is masked, even though we all like each other. We can’t trust each other, however. Not completely.

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Monday afternoon we rented inflatable kayaks and ran down the Uncompahgre River from Lake Chipeta and through the rapids in the city water park. Robin and I were in one tandem boat, with DJ and Cheyenne in the other. It’s basically a Class II river run. The only problem was that I have Class I river skills. And so I managed to crash into the branches of an evil Russian Olive tree that sought my life, wedge our boat so firmly against a stump in the current that it took a small army to free us, and run at least half the river either backwards or sideways.

Somehow we ended up unharmed at the take-out place near the Main Street Bridge. The equipment was all in one piece as well so I guess it was a success, but I’m glad there isn’t any video anywhere of my performance.

Granddaughter Cheyenne loved it! So score one for Colorado!

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Here are Cheyenne and DJ coming through the Water Park section that runs through a park here in Montrose.

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Tuesday morning our guests are leaving to return to Minnesota. It has been an excellent visit, and we wish them a complete bon voyage apiece. Traveling these days has some similarities to that popular parlor game, Russian Roulette. Your odds are undoubtedly better than one in six, but the problem is you don’t know exactly how much better.

What about that woman in the window seat? Is she okay? She looks peaked. I think I can sense she has a fever from way over here on the aisle. Good God, is she going to cough? I’m heading for the bathroom if she does, until that droplet cloud settles. Poor b****rd next to her. He’s a goner, I’m thinking. That’s it, I’m outta here as soon as the wheels hit the ground.

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Finding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Never Have I Ever …

We finished up the first season of Never Have I Ever, on Netflix, and get this – there were no bad people on the screen in this series. Not one. The parents weren’t unbelievably stupid and the teenagers weren’t unbearably smart. There were minority characters galore, but nobody made fun of them or resorted to stereotypes.

Sexuality is a big topic in this show. The main characters are adolescents, after all. But no one is exploiting or abusing anyone else. So is it a too-nice universe? Not to Robin and me. This is a light-hearted comedy, yet one that touches on many serious topics, including the death of a parent, expectations of mothers vs. those of daughters, coming out as gay, the confusion of being an adolescent, cross-cultural rough spots, et al.

It never preached at us, grossed us out, made us depressed, or patronized us. Pretty darn good for 2020.

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So far using Zoom has been refreshingly free from melodrama. Until Tuesday, that is. The service underwent a major update a couple of days ago, and friends Bill, Sid, and I bumped up against some significant confusion in our third shot at videoconferencing.

We finally gave it up for the day after a trying 45 minutes, and went back to our drawing boards to prepare for a future session. Too bad we didn’t have a video recording of what went on, it was a classic demonstration of three senior amigos doing their best to pry open the doors of the electronic age one more crack. And finding this face peering back at us.

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When I saw this photo on the CNN website this morning, I immediately knew I was going to steal it. It’s a full frontal of a cassowary. You know, that large flightless bird with the enormous claws on its feet? That highly dangerous feathered friend? The article went on to discuss interesting things about its feather structure, but it was the picture that nailed me.

It’s a mad, mad, mad gaze if there ever was one. Merciless. If you could choose what the last thing you’d ever see in this life would be, what image to carry with you into eternity, I doubt many would pick the cassowary’s face.

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I’m so confused. Somewhere in my past I received the instruction that one should place two spaces after a period and before the next sentence. My right thumb does that automatically. Double tap.

A few months ago I read an article that discussed the origins of that practice and its uselessness in modern writing. I ignored it, and kept on with what I’d always done. Double tap.

But now no less an expert on things typographic than Microsoft has decreed that if I do it while using their product, it will be flagged as an error. One space is all that any self-respecting writer should need, and there’s no need to continue with this nonsense, says the software giant. You must follow their lead if you want to avoid that squiggly correction line appearing on your page.

Regard the above three paragraphs. I’ve used two spaces on the first two, and a single space on the third. Which looks best?

I’m was going to stick with two. Squiggly lines be damned. A guy can only be pushed so far before a stand must be taken. Besides, we Macintosh people have always known that Microsoft was The Evil Empire, and instinctually avoid them whenever possible.

But then I ran across this graphic, strongly suggesting that I was not only wrong, but that I was a cliché.

I wonder if the rest of my day can be salvaged? Quite a setback, this is.

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Out, Out, Damned Cartel

This was our nighttime sky on Tuesday evening, supermoon and all.

[The photo was stolen outright from the Montrose Daily News electronic edition]

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John Prine passed away on Tuesday, of complications from coronavirus infection. He’d beaten cancer a couple of times, but this little twisted bit of ribonucleic acid did him in. He’s written many excellent songs, but my favorite is Angel From Montgomery, which you can listen to here.

Vale, Mr. Prine.

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We finished the third season of Ozark last night. It’s basically your everyday Shakespearean tragedy grinding along toward disaster, and last evening’s episode took some long steps toward that conclusion.

Jason Bateman has done a great job playing an unflappable man who might be better off flapping once in a while. His wife, played by the excellent Laura Linney, does her Lady Macbeth thing, being able to switch from an expression of deepest horror to a reassuring smile and honeyed voice in less than a single out-breath.

The rest of the cast is very good, but I do have a small suggestion for the guy who plays the head of a Mexican cartel – take the melodrama down from 10 to about seven. I think it will work better for the character. If you want to see what I mean, watch a few episodes of Narcos – Mexico on Netflix. Menace is more interesting than rage.

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Beans and rice tonight for supper. When I saw this whole Covid-19 drama unfolding back in January, I didn’t really start to hoard (being a classy person, I am incapable of doing tawdry stuff like that) but did buy enough dried food, including pinto beans and rice, to last a week or two. At the time all the grocer’s shelves were full, hugging had not become the don’t even think about it! thing that it would, and toilet paper never came into a conversation.

Most of those dried provisions are still on the shelf in the garage, and I figured we’d better get going on reducing the pile. Ergo today’s (and many tomorrows’) menu.

I think I shared this recipe for pinto beans back a few months ago, when our Instant Pot was still new and we were wondering what to do with it. It’s still a winner.

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There are a few fruit trees blossoming here in Paradise. Many of them are apricots, a popular planting hereabouts. We’ve thought about putting one in our front yard, but there is one thing holding me back. Such a tree, if successful, will always produce more apricots than a person could ever eat, and somebody has to pick up the hundreds that fall to the ground.

You can walk barefoot on the apple seeds from last year, but not apricot pits. Far too sharp and pointy, they are.

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Well, just when I thought things in the Executive Branch couldn’t get any dumber, they did. I know the words “perfect storm” have been greatly overused since that movie of a few years ago, but there is now a perfect storm of quasi-medical horseapples rolling down the streets of Washington D.C., which if we don’t watch out could engulf us. Or at the very least get all over our shoes.

The reason … President Cluck and Doctor Oz are presently on the same collaborative page, advising people to go out and treat the Covid-19 (that they may or may not have) with drugs never tested against the disease.

You all remember Dr. Oz, don’t you? He’s the former surgeon who long ago left medicine, his integrity, and what wisps of common sense he was born with behind and became a full-time shill for diet crazes and a hundred varieties of snake oil.

You might say, hey, if someone’s dumb enough to take the advice of this pair of bozos, they deserve what’s coming to them. And you’d have a point. Perhaps we should look at it as a tool of evolution, where a handful of these easily-led citizens remove themselves from the gene pool by following the advice of such popinjays.

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The header photo is of Robin paddling up Pagami Creek, in the Boundary Waters wilderness area of Minnesota. Two months later what you are looking at in this picture was engulfed in fire, one of the biggest the BW has ever experienced.

This all happened nine years ago, so time and the inexorable forces of life have done much to repair the damage that a lightning strike caused. Pagami Creek is green again, although the new trees are smaller, and are mixed in with the blackened reminders of 2011.

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BS

Well, Mr. Sanders is a tough old bird, for certain. Not even having a heart attack during the campaign can make him take time off. He obviously desperately wants to be president – enough to gamble with his life.

Now, we need to re-emphasize the obvious here, and that is that no normal person wants to be POTUS. Period. End of story.

We, the people, can hope that the particular pathology of the one that gets the job doesn’t sink us altogether. The present holder of that office is currently involved in some serious foundering of the ship of state, so his time is up by any reasonable standard (mine, of course, being the most reasonable of all).

But Bernie? Can he lead? Who will follow? I remember too well when a charismatic and decent man with a fervent (and younger) following was nominated by the Democrats and went on to one of the worst electoral defeats in modern political history.

I couldn’t have been more thrilled on the night when George McGovern was nominated, nor more saddened at the magnitude of his loss the following November. And that loss was at the hands of a crook. So you’ll have to excuse me if I dither a bit about Bernie.

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Dear Ragnar: So, Ragnar, how does the American political landscape look to you today?

Ragnar: It’s fun to watch, but then I don’t have to live there.

Dear Ragnar: What do you mean?

Ragnar: Well, you’ve got this tangerine guy in charge who is just begging for someone with a strong right arm and a broadaxe …

Dear Ragnar: Better stop right there, Ragnar.

Ragnar: Okay, then. But then there is this other guy with the unfortunate initials, BS, who is running for the wrong job.

Dear Ragnar: Explain, please.

Ragnar: Let’s say we were picking a crew to get on the boat for a raid on England, one of my all-time favorite countries to attack.

Dear Ragnar: Go on.

Ragnar: Now who would I want to lead the charge once we hit land in Britain? I would want the fieriest member of the crew, the one with blood in his eye … and that’s BS.

Dear Ragnar: I’m beginning to see where this is going

Ragnar: So take this superheated guy and give him a sword and three cans of Jolt and turn him loose! Then you’d be playing to his strengths. But … and this is a big one … don’t let him do the planning.

Dear Ragnar: Yes, and why not?

Ragnar: Because when the chips are really down, the rest of the crew wants a cooler head to run the show. They’re all in the boat together, and as much fun as a good battle can be, eventually they’d like to get back to home and hearth and a flagon or two.

Dear Ragnar: So, Ragnar, in your estimation, who is that cooler head for the Democrats this time around?

Ragnar: Everybody else.

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These next two pics are for my brother Bill, who has fond memories of driving his pickup camper up Camp Bird Road to this famous rock overhang.

Spooked on the way up. Spooked on the way back down.

This past month a large chunk of that overhang fell off, and local jeepsters are lamenting its loss.

So unfortunately for Bill, it won’t be there for him to drive under when he returns to Camp Bird Road.

You were coming back, eh, Bill?

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Took in the Sunday matinee and saw “The Call of the Wild.” We enjoyed it. It is remarkable for having a Harrison Ford that is completely CGI’d, and a wonderful canine actor as well.

Wait a second, Robin is signaling me …

What? Huh? Nooo, really?

Well, dang. Apparently I had it all wrong, and it is the dog that is CGI’d and not Harrison.* Coulda fooled me.

I suspect that Jack London might have a quibble or two with the storyline of this latest adaptation of his famous novel, but no matter. No one has heard from Jack lately. It’s like he just disappeared.

*(I dunno. Robin’s usually right, but look at the photo. Who looks most like they are computer-generated, to you?)

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First They Came For The Socialists …

Robin and I had to do it. We forked over $3.99 to Amazon and watched the 2019 Oscar winner for best movie – Parasite.

It was totally worth the slightly less than four bucks, even though it was in the Korean language, and at the end of the film our eyes suffered from that flicking-up-and-down fatigue that goes with spending two hours in subtitle territory.

Yes, folks, the Oscar-winning best film of 2019 contained no examples of God’s language, not a single syllable. There wasn’t even any Coca-Cola product placement. And all of the actors were foreigners. And the cinematographer was a foreigner. And the director needed an interpreter at the ceremonies in order to thank people for his award.

Why in the world did we ever fight the Revolutionary War in the first place if not to get away from all that foreign influence and be able to do our own thing? We might as well still be talking British, for God’s sake!

But all of this booshwa aside, it was a very good movie, and you might even like it. We did. But be prepared for dark.

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These are trying political times, not just for those who are flaming liberals like myself, but for Americans of all political stripes and persuasions. Because the gang in power right now has forgotten what it means to be a democracy, and cares only to hang on to and increase their power with any tool at hand.

The people who support our immoral and unbalanced president think that their MAGA caps will save them if and when his goons come calling.  But the truth is that he is a friend to none of us.

I think the the story of Martin Niemoller reveals some parallels with our present situation. Niemoller was a U-Boat commander in World War I. When the Third Reich rolled around, he thought it was a good thing for Germany and was an early Nazi advocate. The growing anti-Semitic activity didn’t bother him much, either, because he really didn’t like Jews.

But as the Third Reich became increasingly savage, he began to see things in quite a different light, eventually becoming a Lutheran pastor and undergoing a complete change of heart. After the war he crafted a poem of great strength, which many of us have memorized.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller

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Coronavirus has landed in the USA, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s only a matter of time until it gets to Paradise. But Robin and I are making preparations that we are confident will carry us through.

For instance, now that primate experimentation is largely a thing of the past, there are lots of these old space suits lying around in NASA storerooms just collecting dust.

We purchased two of them, and although some alterations were necessary because our knuckles didn’t drag on the floor, and they do ride up in the crotch a bit, in general we are happy with them. We especially like the banana holster.

We’ve also rented a storage shed and laid in a modest supply of pinto beans that we believe will make trips to the grocery store unnecessary until the local epidemic has passed us by.

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As you can see, we’ve thought this through pretty well, including making these alterations to our home. But you know, a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do.

Might I suggest that you call before you come over, just to be safe. And please have your hands well above your head as you come up the walk.

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Each year I bring up Valentine’s Day, the national 24 hours set aside for tender and romantic feelings, and then say something smartass about the history of St. Valentine himself.

I’ve decided that this is really beneath me, and will not repeat my tawdry and childish performances of the past.

I will only mention that this is the man’s skull, which is on display in a church in Rome. Only the head is displayed, which may have something to do with the manner of his departing from this vale of sorrows.

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It’s a fact that it’s generally painless to become a saint in modern times, but back in Valentine’s day it usually involved many tribulations followed by a fairly violent demise. Valentine lost his head, not over some maiden of the time, but quite literally.

Interesting that while the man is associated with romance he is also the patron saint of epilepsy. Both states involve temporary loss of control of body and mind. The major difference is that there are medications to help with epilepsy, while no one knows quite what to do with the man in love.

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Our Friend Oscar

Watched the entire Oscar ceremonies Sunday night. Three-plus hours. Was it worth it? Who’s to say?

There is some pleasure in watching beautiful, famous people having a good time. And a couple of the musical numbers were exciting, especially the opening one where Janelle Monae and a score of dancers really put on a spectacular show.

This year we hadn’t seen a few of the movies that were competing for best film. We totally missed Parasite, for instance. which only played here in Paradise once, at noon on the day of the Oscar ceremonies, when I was under the weather and could not attend.

For somebody who has cut the cable cord and only streams their video, tuning in to the Oscar ceremonies is a bit of a shuffle each year. What you have to do is find a service, like Hulu, and take advantage of their “two weeks for free” offer for the night and then cancel the next day.

But when you come back next year, Hulu remembers that you took them up on that offer in 2019, and won’t let you do it again. I think that we are now out of options, having been through Hulu, SlingTV, YouTubeTV and others, unless something happens to change this picture. I have no idea why we “streamers” have to play this game, surely our numbers by now must qualify us for something better than third-class status.

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Over the years there have been all too frequent reports of nutritional injury to pets who are fed commercial foods of one kind or another. As example, a couple of years ago, there were warnings issued after many dogs died or developed heart damage through deficient foods. Last summer the FDA issued alerts regarding 16 different commercial dog foods that put pets at risk.

So where is this going? I don’t even have a dog! But I have been feeding a mixture of commercial dry and wet foods for the life of our pets, and I have taken to reading their labels. (There are almost none that don’t have vegetables and /or grains and soy as part of their makeup.) I have not fed any one of them as an only food because I have learned that in the veterinary world no one knows if there is one perfect food that a cat can eat exclusively without developing disease.

Except the cat. If they are out there running around, they eat no vegetables at all, but mice-y creatures (mice, gophers, voles, etc.) and small birds. Now, no one knows if soy, veggies, and grains are bad for cats, they have just not been tested over centuries. We don’t know about them.

What we do know is that cats in the wild are are pure carnivores. They have been that way for at least 10,000 years, and their digestive and biological systems are tuned to those food sources.

So, the upshot of all this blather is that I am making my own cat food. It’s a mixture of barn swallows, hummingbirds, and meadow voles … naw, not true, I lied. Each batch I make starts out with three pounds of chicken thighs and goes on from there.

The additions are some vitamins, oils, minerals, and taurine, an essential amino acid. The recipe comes from a level-headed veterinarian’s website.

I don’t have freezer space to make this the only thing my kitties get to eat, so I’ve compromised by feeding the home-made product in the morning, and commercial foods at night.

Poco loves the stuff, and has gained a good (and needed) amount of weight since we started feeding it.

Willow … can take it or leave it.

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Heard a song on the radio that made me want to run right home and look it up, so I did. It is Willow, by Joan Armatrading. From 1977. Lord, the music that’s out there is an endless treasure chest, just waiting for anyone to stir it around and find something new.

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Robin has discovered the joys of listening to podcasts. She also owns a pair of wireless earphones.

These two facts have led to a new scenario at BaseCamp. One where Robin and I are sitting in adjoining chairs, me jabbering away as she quietly knits. It’s only when I pose a question and there is no response that I realize she hasn’t heard a word I said. Looking closely I spy the tiny pieces of hardware in her ears.

But am I affronted by this? Nay, nay, say I. I am way too centered and mellow a person for such petty piques. Often, I am actually happy about the situation, because now I get to tell my story all over again, to a fresh audience.

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Awright – we all have some Neanderthal DNA in our genome. No matter where we came from on the planet. This news is making scientists around the world buzz. My take on this particular part of ancient biology is what’s the big surprise?

We all know how it could have happened. Let’s say there’s a party thrown by a bunch of homo sapiens. They’ve already discovered fermented foods, some of which produce alcohol and are being served in gourds around the cave. Everyone gets a little tipsy and late at night the guests wander away into the darkness.

Next morning, some of them look over at the spruce bough next to theirs and – whuh? – oh no, really? Is she from the village across the creek? Now how do I get out of this one? Maybe if I tiptoe quietly away, no one will ever know?

That’s it. I’ll sneak out into the savannah. Jeez Louise**, if any of my friends ever find out, I am so dead. Gotta cut back on my drinking … .

(**Yes, friends, the phrase Jeez Louise dates that far back.)

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Paul Simon’s wonderful album, Graceland, introduced many of us to the a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, from South Africa. Beautiful voices and harmonies.

1987: Joseph Shabalala at left, baby Paul Simon third from left.

The leader of that group, Joseph Shabalala, passed away this past week, and his obituary was in the NYTimes. The song Homeless is from that album, and displays the group’s distinctive style.

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L’Etoile du Nord

Robin and I watched the Democratic debates Friday night, and we stuck with it for two hours before fatigue set in. And since Friday morning a viral infection of some sort had exploded in my nose, I am thinking that I deserve special recognition for watching as long as I did … perhaps a presidential Medal of Freedom … now that President Cluck has cheapened that award by giving it to a man whose only claim to fame is several decades of homophobic, racist, and generally ugly verbiage.

But I digress. After the dust of the debate has settled, who is my candidate on this fine Sunday morning? Why, Amy, of course. And Friday night, baby, she crushed.

Solid, smart, sensible, and from Minnesota. Neither too old nor too young, a proven record of accomplishment, and did I mention that she’s from Minnesota, where children grow up strong and resourceful and a credit to their species?

And did I mention that I grew up in Minnesota?

(L’Étoile du Nord is a French phrase meaning “The Star of the North”. It is the motto of the U.S. state of Minnesota.)

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Our system of sharing the outside world with the slavering monster-cat next door is working out … sort of. On the even-numbered days when we can let our pets roam, we feel fairly secure, with only all the other hazards there are for outdoor cats to worry about. On the days when ours must be kept in, we put up tolerantly with their complaints, especially those of Poco, who is by far the most vocal.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a workable compromise for now. Of course, being a very small-hearted person, I find myself daydreaming about all sorts of mishaps visiting that nasty animal.

Like a collision with our recycling truck, or an unfortunate encounter with a coyote, or coming into contact with an unusually disagreeable strain of kitty-coronavirus.

In all of these scenarios I wish for the end to come swiftly, so perhaps I am not unredeemably bad.

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It took nearly six years, and I had almost forgotten how flat-out stupid South Dakota Republicans can be when in the herd. But I was reminded of all that when I read yesterday that the SD House recently passed a bill which would make it illegal for pediatricians and family docs to provide gender-affirmative medical care to children under 16 years of age. Fines and/or imprisonment await the physician who attempts to do the right thing for their patient.

Lord, lord, who dresses these people before they leave the house in the morning? Who cuts up their meat for them?

How in the world did a major political party become opposed to knowledge?

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I don’t do well with illness, even minor ones, like the “cold” I am dealing with right now. I am like a silent film actor, exaggerating my movements and expressions to obtain the maximum amount of sympathy from those around me, to the point of falling into a faint if that’s what it takes. (I have had the vapors too many times to count.)

Not for me the stoic and the long-suffering Norseman. I want people to know that my cold is the worst cold any human being ever had, and that a person with a weaker constitution would probably have already been put into that long pine box you’ve heard so much about.

Suffering in silence? Why, I ask you, why? Where’s the profit in that?

But say, while you’re up, would you move that box of tissues closer to my recliner? That’s a good friend. And the fruit in my bowl is starting to look a bit tired, could you be a love and freshen up the grapes?

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Pantry Hazards

Every once in a while you come across something that is just plain startling. Out of the blue. Completely unexpected. Such was the case this morning when I was shopping online for some additional pieces for the set of Fiesta Ware dishes we use every day. In my Google search this question popped up:

Is Fiesta Ware radioactive?

Huh? Radioactive? What the … ?

So I clicked on the question and received this answer:

Homer Laughlin, the maker of Fiesta, resumed using the red glaze in the 1950s, using depleted uranium. The use of depleted uranium oxide ceased in 1972. Fiesta Ware manufactured after this date is not radioactive. Fiesta dinnerware made from 1936-1972 may be radioactive.

Amazing. My head was spinning. How would we ever have suspected that our dinnerware was the reason that our family now glowed in the dark? Oh sure, it was handy sometimes, like when you entered a darkened house and were looking for the light switch. Or if you wanted to read late at night but didn’t have a lamp near the chair you were sitting in. But overall, it mightn’t have been that healthy for us to be walking night-lights.

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Once again the Grammys have come and gone without me. Except for “Old Town Road” I knew none of the tunes that won awards. I barely recognize the performers.

In fact, I am so far out of that loop that the Grammy committee now calls me and asks that I not watch the show. Apparently my profound ignorance and indifference leak backwards through my television screen and are off-putting to the people who are on stage.

So out of respect for the music I don’t tune in. It’s better this way.

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From The New Yorker

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The commedia dell’politico that is playing in Washington DC at the moment is bringing back John Bolton for encores. You remember him from the “W” administration, n’est-ce pas?

He’s the guy who has parlayed a large mustache and a cranky disposition into a long and undistinguished career.

Can’t wait to hear what he has to say, can you? The squeaking of yet one more rattus norvegicus who has left the listing ship of state.

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Monday it snowed lightly all the livelong day, and we ended up with about three inches of perfect whiteness in the village. Robin and I had planned to go to the Grand Mesa for a bit of XC skiing, but we turned back when the road up the mountain was too icy for comfort. It’s one thing to go up an icy mountain road, it’s quite another to come down one.

So we took a snowday. All four of us (kitties and humans). We’ve worked out a truce with the next-door neighbors who own an unprincipled cat that is bullying felines up and down our street. I’ve tried to tell these poor souls that their pet is a spawn from hell, but they remain unpersuaded.

Since they are reluctant to do the right thing and call in an exorcist, we’ve worked out a schedule with them: they can let their monster outdoors only on odd-numbered days, and ours can then enjoy a demon-free environment on the evens. Monday being an odd-numbered day, we were a quartet of shut-ins.

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Okay, here’s something that will make reading all the way to the bottom of this page worth your while. It’s Amy Klobuchar’s recipe for a hot dish, as reported in the NYTimes on Wednesday.

Having grown up in a home where the question “What are we having for supper?” was met 50% of the time with the reply “Hot Dish,” I can completely relate to this story.

Of course, “hot dish” could mean almost anything, since all you had to do was to add some protein to some starch and blend cream of mushroom soup into the mixture and you had supper. If you wanted to get frilly, toss in some frozen vegetables. Green peas were especially popular at our house.

All of this just gives me one more reason to consider Amy’s candidacy. Anyone that can serve this much melted cheese with a straight face deserves my vote.

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Memento Mori Department

Bob Shane, the last surviving member of the musical group The Kingston Trio, passed away this week. Younger readers might say “Who?,” and who can blame them, but at one time this trio was probably the most popular such group in the world.

Here are a couple of their early hits, Tom Dooley, and Scotch and Soda, both featuring Mr. Shane. In the photo, Bob is the guy on the left.

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An Apple A Day …

Thursday CNN posted an article on some behaviors by Apple that have annoyed me over the past decades, even thought I am a great fan of their technology in general. That behavior is an idiosyncratic one, whereby the company decides when they are done with something and then just take it away. Forever, in most cases.

My new laptop, purchased just under a year ago, still has a headphone jack. That’s gone in some newer models. But my computer has no regular USB terminal, no MagSafe charging cord (loved it), no hard drive of its own, and who knows what else I don’t have that I don’t even know about yet.

It’s what Apple does, and they don’t apologize for themselves. So I now have had to purchase a portable hard drive for more storage, a superdrive that can read/burn CDs and DVDs, and a pair of dongles so that I can use them with the basic machine.

The computer itself is slimmer and sleeker, but the bag of stuff that I need to carry along with me keeps growing in size.

But what do I know? Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world. Ever. And I am just one lonely fan that they can poke in the eye with impunity. One day they may poke me in both eyes at the same time, and then I’ll finally go over to the dark side and enter the world of PCs, but … not yet.

I love it when they hurt me.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I have a favorite Indian dish, saag paneer. Basically it is stewed greens containing chunks of a fresh cheese that doesn’t melt away. We’ve been successful in making the greens at home, and I’ve mentioned that recently, but the paneer (the cheese) was another matter. No one sells the stuff here in Paradise, and even though there are recipes on the web that tell me how easy it is to make for myself, so far my efforts had only produced a rubbery substance that wouldn’t hold together to save its life, but crumbled away at the touch.

Turns out I wasn’t squeezing it hard enough in the process of making it. Yesterday I made some passable paneer here in our kitchen using my tofu press to get that last little bit of fluid out and it worked.

Little victories, as the great philosopher Robert Seger has observed, can be among the most satisfying of all.

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Robin and I have been watching the series “Outlander” for the past couple of weeks. If you haven’t, it’s a costume drama about a woman who touches a special stone and through some strange magic finds herself transported back through time to Scotland in 1743 A.D.

Now she’s a resourceful lass, and after having a bit of a shock at the change in her circumstances, begins to make plans to return to her own time. That is, if she can figure out how she got there in the first place.

In the meantime she is regarded with suspicion by the highlanders who have taken her in, and suspicion also by the British who are occupiers of Scotland. Apparently people don’t just drop out of the sky (while wearing only a shift) into clan Mackenzie’s lands on a routine basis, and her explanations as to where she came from are vague, to say the least.

But even so, there are lots of bonnie laddies and brave lassies, enough kilts that each man has at least one to his name, and some exploration of the time and place that highland Scotland was way back when. And all was going well until last night, when nearly the entire episode was about a wedding and a bedding. A whole hour with little swordplay other than that which took place in the bedroom, if you take my meaning.

I felt betrayed! I’d been soap opera-ed once again! So I checked and there it was, the clue I’d missed, that the series was taken from a group of novels written by … a woman named Diana Gabaldon.

So now I suppose there will be more of this sensitivity and gentleness that I saw last evening. Where characters take each other’s feelings into consideration.

And I thought it was going so well … so burly and plaid and all.

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Ordinarily I am pretty lukewarm on the subject of mountaineering, not breathlessly following the exploits of climbers up one peak after another. It’s a very hazardous undertaking, lots of people die doing it, and in my parochial view, those deaths are very close to pointless.

Who cares, I say to myself, if yet another climber is swept away by avalanches or perishes in yet another storm? They were there by their own choice. And all this talk about “conquering” the mountain? Poppycock. All of those immense piles of rock are standing as they have always been, while tiny humans clamber up and down about them over the decades and are mostly forgotten.

But then I come upon a story like this one, told in a very visual way, and I am caught up in it. CNN took some pains with tale-telling-technology in informing us about a group of Russian women who died while climbing a peak I never heard of, in 1974. For a few minutes I care about those women, as I learn the details of their semi-suicidal struggles.

They were young, they were strong, and they were brave. Were there better places to apply that youth and courage and energy? For me, the answer is yes. But that story would not be nearly as dramatic. And perhaps that hunger for drama is the point that I keep missing about this whole enterprise.

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GUY FAWKES DEPARTMENT

Well, here’s a couple of interesting pieces. The first one poses the question: Is Anybody but Trump a valid way to decide how we cast our votes? It’s a mildly shocking perspective.

Anyone But Trump? Not So Fast by Bret Stephens

And next, does being middle-class mean that you’re also liberal in your thinking? Turns out that it’s not a given at all.

The Myth of Middle-Class Liberalism by David Motadel

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Story of Tito and Amanda

My friend Bill sent along a news clipping from Florida. I include it below:

The article speaks eloquently for itself, and I only have a couple of comments to make. First, some mental aberrations are much funnier than others. Apparently Tito and Amanda believed in their product, and they might make a case for police harassment of an innocent vendor. Maybe. And since it’s pretty common knowledge that when Jesus wants to meet up with someone he often does it behind a KFC, there is that.

Secondly, the article doesn’t mention it, but I strongly suspect that the purchasers of those golden tickets were some of those barmy evangelicals who support President Cluck so strongly. If they’ll buy him, they’ll buy anything.

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Let’s play with this a little longer. If there were planets made entirely of drugs, what would they be called? I have four suggestions to offer. Perhaps you have others.

  • Crackitopia
  • Morphinia I
  • Cocainatus Prime
  • Methamphorian

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The critics are not quite unanimous, but almost, in panning the new movie Cats. I think the Rotten Tomatoes rating was down below 20% at one time. But Robin wanted to see it no matter what and off we went.

We really liked it.

Not that there weren’t flaws, but there was also a lot of music and energy and some really appealing characters. Who cares if the cinematography looked like it was shot through a lens of strong coffee when you get to see Judy Dench strut her stuff, and watch Ian McKellen in cat-drag?

There were excellent dance numbers, especially a tap-dance number along a railroad track that was terrific.

Forget about plot. The original musical’s plot was always pretty hare-brained but you were able to forget about it most of the time, because … it was forever about the music and it still is!

Songs like Memory, Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats, and Mr. Mistoffelees, f’rinstance.

So nya-nya-nya and pish-tush to those critics who are unable to find the fun.

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Our fearless leader may have finally gone and done it this time. Those of us who have worked at keeping our wits in a witless era have known that when you have an immoral and foolish person as your president, eventually he will do something irretrievably stupid on a grand scale.

Ergo – assassinating a general and then threatening to blow up cultural sites if the Other Side does anything about it.

The Day After War Begins in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni
Congress, Stop the Rush to War by the NYTimes Editorial Board

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The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions Department

We had an old Canon photo printer that we hadn’t used for several years because it would no longer play with our computer’s OS. I thought: Rather than throw away something that had been working, we’ll take it to Goodwill and maybe there’s someone out there using an older PC or Mac that can make the thing fly again.

So I stuffed the printer’s power cords into a plastic bag that I thought already contained some unused ink cartridges for the machine, and went to the Restore where they gratefully accepted the donation.

After returning home I was dismayed to find the bag of ink cartridges still in the car … what in blazes was in the bag I left at the Restore? I asked Robin and after checking the car she told me that I had given away a brand new pair of exercise pants that she had purchased only yesterday.

Back I went to the Restore, where the I found that the administrative person who screens donations had decided that they couldn’t use the Canon after all, and it had been trashed. The young man who had helped me at my earlier visit then showed up and told me he knew where the cords were. Together we went outside to a gigantic dumpster, whereupon he climbed up to a precarious perch on the side of the beast, leaned way in, and retrieved the bag and its contents from the top of the pile.

I thanked him profusely and then drove back home, where I returned Robin’s pants, which seemed none the worse for their brief visit to the dumpster.

Memo to Myself: Always check the derned bag.

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New Year’s Eve

The snow piled up until we were able to do something that’s never been possible in the six winters we’ve spent here in Paradise. We buckled up and went XC skiing right from the door of our garage. There’s a biking/walking path starting there that leads to open fields a quarter-mile away. It wasn’t a groomed trail by any means, but our skinny skis had more than enough white stuff under them to make it fun.

Something we both like to do is read the animal tracks in new snow. Day to day we don’t see much of these creatures, like the foxes, raccoons, rabbits, and skunks, but they leave clear traces of their night’s travels in the snow.

We have a neighbor a few houses up the street who has a video camera scanning his back yard at night, and each evening he puts out a dish of kibbled food. I asked him yesterday if anything new or noteworthy had shown up on the video recording, and he said: “No, mostly it’s just trash pandas and a couple of feral cats.”

Trash panda is his name for raccoons.

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As I was musing the other day … musing being something that I do quite a lot of since it requires so little energy and I hardly break a sweat … I thought how much repair and maintenance the process of aging requires of us.

Each morning there are the bathroom rituals that we must perform so that when we exit that safe space into society we don’t look as muddle-headed as we feel. Many of those rituals involve hair. Not the hair atop our heads, which grows alarmingly thinner with time, but that which pops out of places it needn’t and in directions it shouldn’t. So some shaving and plucking is often in order.

Then those modified hairs, which are the fingernails and toenails, come into focus. During each day they look for ways to chip and fragment themselves, having become brittle and unreliable. If one doesn’t give them proper attention each morning they will go about their business of snagging on anything they can, socks and sweaters being regular victims.

Did I mention the slathering of ointments and creams on one’s integument to stave off that parched look? The swallowing of tablets guaranteed to reduce the chance of croaking before the end of the day by 0.124 %? And fiber – don’t get me started on fiber! Suffice it to say that the Metamucil years are in full flower.

I could go on. Actually, I already have, and since there is no end to this sort of dissertation, I will simply stop here.

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Our Buddha’s hat has been added-to. He remains serene as ever.

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Today is New Year’s’ Eve. The last time we threw a party on this date, not one person attending was still present at our house by midnight, all of them having already headed home for those beds that called so strongly.

At least I think they were all gone, because by 11 P.M. Robin and I were fast asleep. And that was nearly two decades ago. Somehow the fascination of watching the ball drop at Times Square has diminished. And looking at the crowds on television I no longer imagine how exciting it must be to be a part of that expectant throng, but instead I think: What a field day it must be for pickpockets.

As you can surmise, a party animal I am not.

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A New Year’s Eve recollection. I was a kid, staying at Grandpa Jacobson’s farm for the holidays. The day being a special one, I was allowed to stay up until midnight with the adults, listening to radio broadcasts of celebrations in New York City.

The heat in that small dwelling was provided by an oil burning stove in the center of the living room. A black pipe led from the stove to the wall and thence the chimney.

At the stroke of midnight, Grandpa would take a piece of blue carpenter’s chalk and write the number of the New Year on that pipe. That number would remain there until 365 days later, when it would be wiped away and the new one inscribed. The year I am remembering the number was 1949.

I’m pretty sure that by 12: 05 I was sound asleep.

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