Let It Be

It’s been an emotional week here in Paradise. The Pema Chodron book that am in the middle of reading is so applicable to recent events in our lives that it’s uncanny. Each evening I finish one short chapter before retiring, and it helps me to clarify and to center myself. To be present with what is, rather than resisting it sounds so dry unless you are actively practicing it. Until you really need it.

Of course I ‘need’ it all the time, but I feel that poverty most strongly in harder times. I’ve heard said more than once in AA meetings that “he’s not the first person to find God in the back seat of a police cruiser.” Those hard moments are the ‘foxhole’ sort of events, where the supplicant tries to make his deal with the Universe for a specific purpose. When we realize that our ideas of control in our lives were mostly fictions. Stuff we made up.

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We’re already in the beginning of mud season here in Paradise. Yesterday Robin and I took our regular 4-mile walk on asphalt exclusively, with exuberant gumbo on both sides of the trail. On one occasion I saw footprints in the mud that suddenly vanished, as if the person had simply been swallowed by the muck. Is there such a thing as quick-mud?

Yesterday was the sort of day that our cats just gave up on. Not so cold, not so windy, not so rainy, but a little bit of all of these. So they became part of the furniture, changing their sleeping stations every couple of hours or so. Whenever they did step out for three seconds, they would come back indoors indignant, giving us an angry Rrrowwwrrr as if we were to blame.

I just hate being judged by animals, don’t you? And it’s so frustrating that they won’t listen to your explanation that humans are not in charge of the weather. They walk away even as you are talking to them, tail in the air, the picture of disdain. So rude.

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There are interesting little dialogues that are happening between people who are receiving the Covid vaccine. What they all come down to is: When you’ve had both doses, are you going to manage your life differently?

So far my answer has been: Nope. When most of the rest of the Coloradans have had their vaccines, then I will walk out the door without a care. But a new category of entertaining does open itself up. We have several friends up and down the street in our little part of town, all of whom are senior citizens, and all of whom will have been immunized within the next month or so. From my standpoint, I think that they would be safe to have over for dinner and a chat. Like in the good old days when I was blissfully unaware of the novel coronavirus’ existence.

The reason for persistent caution in approaching the general population is that the vaccine we received is 95% effective in protecting us, not 100%. That means that 5 out of every 100 people who receive their two doses are not protected, but they don’t know who they are, since no post-vaccine blood testing is being done. If I am one of those 5 people, it’s like I never got the shot.

It’s a numbers game, to be certain.

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Wrinkles In Time

I admit to having been practicing active denial in a variety of ways. One of these is aging. Whenever I can, I pretend that in spite of the fact that the number of candles on my birthday cake keeps increasing, perhaps I was like Mr. Dorian Gray. Somewhere in a closet there might be a portrait of me that was moldering away, while my actual face and body remained irresistibly attractive (poetic license taken here).

I have maintained this fiction by avoiding confrontation with any mirrors. I dress in the dark, brush my teeth with my eyes closed, and shower in a corner where there are no reflective surfaces. All was going well until this morning, when I rose a little later than I intended and hit the bathroom after the sun was up. My guard was down as I glanced up at myself in the mirror just before climbing into the shower and …. OMG … I saw that the wrinkle fairy has paid me a whole lot of visits.

So many that while I had foolishly hoped to see a plum, what I found in my reflection was decidedly a prune. Maybe all the good stuff was still in there behind the corrugations, but my packaging had definitely made a shift.

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I need to share something with you. Many of you have met my daughter Maja, and may know that she had been working in Lima, Peru for the past several years. After spending much of this past summer here in the States because of Covid problems in that country, she was returning to her South American home last weekend. Unfortunately she became very ill en route, and had to be admitted to hospital the very next morning with what were puzzling symptoms.

She has been in hospital in Lima now for five days, and has been diagnosed as having Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Some of her physical problems involve severe weakness, and it is so pronounced in her arms and hands at the moment that she cannot text or send emails. She can, however, receive both of these communications, and the nursing staff makes sure they get to her.

If you are moved to send something off to her, please keep in mind that there can be no replies until she is stronger.

Her phone number for text messaging is: +51 922 337 994

Her email address is: majaellenflom@gmail.com

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Today’s meteorological menu here in Paradise includes rain and snow. Outdoor activities will be limited due to the damp and dreariness. Hallelujah! Water in any and all forms (except steam, which would be awkward) is welcome in our parched land. Since Robin and I have no travel plans, we can huddle indoors and stare comfortably out the window at whatever happens. We might just stay in our pajamas all day … who knows?

It’s one of those delicious times when you are warm and dry and can look out safely at the contrasts just beyond the windowpane. Another such time is when you are camping and you couldn’t be more snug in your sleeping bag but you know that on the other side of those feathers or fiberfill is a chilly morning indeed. It’s a great feeling.

Which reminds me. One of our family homes, when I was a sprout, had a heating system that consisted of a coal-burner in the kitchen, and the warm air had to get itself around to the rest of the rooms in whatever way it could. My bedroom was above the kitchen, and had a register in the floor to allow the warmth to rise to the second level. Now my father was a practical man, and he knew that young human beings could survive quite a bit of chilling without permanent damage, so in winter he closed off that register to keep the ground floor of the house warmer and to conserve fuel.

All of this meant that from December to March I could see my breath in the air of my bedroom nearly every morning. I would take my clothes into bed with me and dress under the covers as best I could, only emerging when I felt protected against the elements. Every child has to develop his or her own coping strategies to survive, n’est-ce pas?

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Silver Linings

Robin and I consider ourselves among the lucky ones, riding out the pandemic here on the Western Slope of Colorado. We, like so many others, have given up socializing, mingling with friends, and the simple pleasure of just going out for an evening. Robin has had her church involvement and contact with fellow parishioners severely cut back, and it has mostly consisted of Zoom meetings. It’s an arid environment for people who are nourished by the company of other human beings.

But we have been able to double down on our time in the outdoors, and Colorado has a lot of that to offer. It’s only minutes away to walks along the beautiful little Uncompahgre River, an hour away to hiking in the San Juan Mountains or on the Grand Mesa. Spectacular Black Canyon National Park is a twenty-minute drive from our home. Forty minutes from us are Dominguez and Escalante Canyons, where the red desert begins.

There are camping opportunities in every direction. And although these places are more in demand now, we’ve been able to go pretty much where we want so far without being crowded out.

So don’t cry for us, Argentina, we’re doing fine. And while the location of the exact end to all of this coronavirus horsedoodle is not yet clear, our confidence that there will be an end has been increased by the prospect of putting real people in charge in just a few days. Perhaps we can go out to a movie (if there is still a theater to go to) this Fall, without considering it a potential descent into viral hell.

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Ohhhhhhhh man, do I look forward to a post-cluck universe. Tomorrow we move on. At least, most of us will, and for those who don’t? I’ll try to live up to this famous admonition: Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin is the most amazing person in many ways, and one of those is her networking with family. Nearly every week she will talk with her kids, the grandchildren on that side of the family, and a slew of others. And many of these calls last close to an hour. And then she joins me on those rare calls that I make to my own children.

I have watched this behavior week after week for more than 25 years, and she flaggeth never in her self-assigned duties.

Part of my amazement is the fact that I can’t talk on the telephone for more than three minutes without wondering how to diplomatically end the conversation. No matter how much I love the person on the other end of the call. It’s just that unsatisfying for me. To really enjoy talking to someone, I need to see their face and watch what their hands are doing. Anything else is at best a halfway measure.

This is off-putting to people who enjoy telephoning, and they find me boorish or rude (which I suppose I am) in this regard. I sometimes lamely try to explain how I feel, but … . If any of you have been on the other end of the line in one of my trademark abbreviated calls, think about this. The last time we were together in the same room, wasn’t there at least one moment when you wished that – dear God – would I please shut up? Of course there was.

Think about this when we next speak on the phone:

Hi, how ya doing?
Are you both well?

That’s good, what’s the weather doing there?
……….
……….

……….
I think there’s someone at the front door, and they appear to be on fire. Gotta go. Talk to ya later. Bye.

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On May 4, 1970 which was … like … only a month ago, there was an antiwar demonstration on the campus of Kent State University, in Ohio. National Guardsmen were there to maintain order, and suddenly shots rang out and four students were dead and nine were wounded. The photograph below was a very well-known one at the time. It was everywhere.

Mary Ann Vecchio gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student lying face down on the campus of Kent State University, Kent, Ohio on May 4, 1970. National Guardsmen had fired into a crowd of demonstrators, killing four.

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The above photo of the young man waving the flag was also published widely, and the student doing the waving was a man named Alan Canfora, who died this week. When those shots were fired, he was wounded.

That event was a major milestone in the movement against the war in Viet Nam. It even had its own song, Ohio, written by Neil Young.

Graham Nash vividly recounted the circumstances surrounding the creation of “Ohio.” David Crosby, his band mate in CSNY, excitedly called Nash and made an urgent request, which stunned Nash at the time: “Book the (recording) studio right now!” Nash recalled Crosby telling him. “I’m coming down tomorrow. Wait until you hear this song!”
Crosby had shown Young the famous photo of a young woman named Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over a fallen student named Jeffrey Miller during Vietnam War protests on the campus of Kent State University. Miller had been killed by a bullet fired by a member of the Ohio National Guard and the photo ran on the cover of Life magazine. Young saw the picture, and as Crosby told Nash, “I saw Neil walk off with his guitar into the woods. And he comes back an hour later with this song.”

Jon Friedman, Esquire Magazine, June 2020

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Fleurs du Mal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Same Dude Different Day

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

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

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

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

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

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The New Landscape Department

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burn Your Mask! Good lord.

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Please Pass The Bucket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Windfall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m looking forward to it.

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Jockeying For Position

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

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

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

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

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Sign O’ The Times Department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s The Myth That Matters

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

A sucker for Yuletide. C’est moi.

A couple of random recollections:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wikipedia

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

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

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Oxymoron Department

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

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

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Cold Hard Facts

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

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

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

We go for survival every time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The Nocebo Effect

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

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

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

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

How about the blood thinner?

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

Interesting. What of the blood pressure medication?

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

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

A person just knows these things.

How about the small orange tablet that you chew?

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

The orange pill is just a baby aspirin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gotta love this guy. Telling it straight.

Telling Good News & That Ain’t Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I’m kidding. I’M KIDDING!)

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From The New Yorker

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

No matter. Great tune. Ahead of its time.

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

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The Wishy-washy Need Not Apply

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

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

Article II. Purpose.

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

Constitution, dsusa.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hot. Spice. Baby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fighting The Good Fight Department

The Rotting of the Republican Mind by David Brooks

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

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

Wikipedia, Thanks For The Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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Good Morning, Starshine

Help! I’m being buried in a tsunami of wistfulness and I am not a strong swimmer! And it all started with an obituary in the Times of New York about an actress and singer named Lynn Kellogg.

Kellogg came into prominence as a performer in the musical Hair, which was definitely a “thing” when it appeared in 1968 on Broadway. Although Hair was an ensemble work, her songs were among the most memorable, at least for me. Listening to them this morning … all I can say is that it would have been better to take that trip in small doses rather than one big gulp.

By the time the music from Hair had drifted from Broadway all the way out to the Minnesota prairie it was 1969, which was kind of a big year for yours truly. It was the year that I participated in my last anti-war march in Minneapolis that year, accompanied by a pregnant wife, pushing a baby in a stroller, and trying to keep two pre-schoolers from wandering off and into trouble.

My son Jonnie was born on the last day of my pediatric residency, June 30. In mid-July I was inducted into the US Air Force, and later moved my family to Bellevue NE, which would be our home for the next two years. And although I never saw the stage musical, the music from Hair was playing in the background for these events and pretty much all others during that year.

So over on the right are some of Kellogg’s songs, and in the video here is the cast singing “Let the Sunshine In.” Lynn is the blonde woman who begins the number.

Unfortunately Lynn Kellogg died of Covid-19 this past week, at the age of 77 years. Who knows if hers, and how many of the other 247,000 Covid deaths have been unnecessary, and for which we have P.Cluck and his minions to thank?

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Of course, reminiscing is tempting for a lot of people, not just we dotards. Here is an article from CBS Sunday Morning on the 50th anniversary of Hair, along with another video clip which was taken from the Tony Awards show in 1969.

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Our lovely fall weather continues here in Paradise. Geese are beginning to gather on the local ponds, but so far I’ve seen none of those majestic vees passing overhead while pointed south. Their watchword must be why should we leave when we have it so good where we are, I guess?

Thanksgiving is now just 9 days away, but we are not panicked. We’re having it at our home this year, and are making plans for a crowd of two. It makes it so easy to pick just the right sized turkey, so today I am going to the deli and getting “one pound of that torn-apart and then glued-back-together sliced turkey, if you please.” It doesn’t require roasting at all, and if one wants to serve it warm, why, a few seconds in the microwave and you’re good to go. We do love our mashed potatoes, so I will purchase a single Yukon Gold, which should suffice. For stuffing, how about Stove Top mix, where you can measure out exactly what you want?

We will, however, not skimp on pie. We may make two of them, because why not? And we’ll have at least two full cans of Reddi-Wip ready to blast away, maybe more.

(All of the above is facetious, except for the observations on pie. While we will scale back a bit from previous years, there is no reason to let coronavirus spoil all of the fun, is there?)

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Mental Lint

This latest chapter in the nationally televised serial The Cluckshow is surprising even the gaggle of old hands who gather ’round the woodstove of a chilly morning. Yesterday the group, which hardly ever agrees on anything, unanimously came to the conclusion that there are a significant number of Americans who are perfectly daft.

No matter how many sober people come up to the mike and say that the election process wasn’t corrupted these misguided ones continue to believe the opposite and that somehow their champion will pull off a miracle.

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It doesn’t help that they are supported in their delusions by some very corrupt people indeed, people like Senator Turtle, who stand to gain by keeping governmental matters in a continual state of chaos. So much of the public chatter is how Cluck disrespects our traditions and the nation’s best interests (and he does) but Cluck suffers from serious mental disturbances. This gets him exactly one smidgeon of sympathy. Sen. Turtle does the same thing but is completely venal, which qualifies him for no smidgeon at all.

So the members of the hot stove club went home yesterday wondering how things ever got so bad that we all agreed on something. It was unsettling, to say the least.

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A gallery of images of Senator Turtle

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Yesterday as I was listening to NPR I found that I had moved even further down the list of People Who Will Get The COVID Vaccine First. When this all started I felt confident that my age and many infirmities would put me right up there after emergency room physicians. But as each new draft proposal comes out my number gets further from being called.

So after spending some idle moments reflecting, I have voluntarily assigned myself to a new place in that therapeutic line. I plan on waiting until I see that all serial killers in solitary confinement in maximum security institutions have been protected, and then I will step forward. I believe that in this way I can avoid most disappointments.

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Garbage In, Garbage Out

All of us who love movies, we who have been lucky enough to sit in darkened theaters of an evening and were changed by what we saw, can draw up a list of those films that were transformative for us. In my own case, these were films that went beyond being entertaining and taught me something powerful through the artistry of the army of people who contribute their talents to such an enterprise. One of those was Judgement at Nuremberg, which was released in 1961.

The other day I learned a new number, and it was 545. This is the number of children who were separated from their parents by immigration personnel and who have still not been reunited with their parents. As Stephen Colbert said it in the clip I posted on Thursday: “Cruelty was the plan.” It is a shameful number and the size of that number stands out. But the shame and the unnecessary suffering began with the first child who was treated in this way. With the first family that was deliberately divided by policies of our own government.

It called to mind a scene from the movie I mentioned above. Spencer Tracy plays an American judge at the Nuremberg Trials. Burt Lancaster plays a German judge, a man who in his official capacity went along with some of the Nazi injustices. Who believed that by going along over here you could prevent greater harm over there. When I first saw this scene I was stunned, and left the theater not ready to talk about it until I had some time to process what had been presented to me.

It changed the way the 22 year-old man that I was looked at life. As it turned out, that change was permanent. So much for a simple night out at the movies, eh?

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The above is an example of the randomness of how we learn and what we learn. Perhaps I should use a different pronoun, to stop using the “we” and substitute the “I,” but I suspect that many of you might have found it to be true in your own lives as well. A small part of my moral education was acquired in churches and during talks with my parents, but the greatest part of it was from movies, books, and the slogans I read on T-shirts in the Sixties.

My world view was pieced together like a tuna casserole from the ingredients at hand and baked at idiosyncratic temperatures. The result is me. A hodgepodge of ideas and prejudices and pronouncements, both good and bad, that embedded themselves into that pudding I carry around atop my neck. Did I set out to learn about personal responsibility when I bought the ticket to “Nuremberg?” Nope. Was I seeking a lesson on the fragility of life and the importance of childhood relationships as I watched the opening credits roll on Stand By Me? Not on your life. Did I have any idea when I picked up Kazantzakis’ novel Freedom or Death that it would color my landscapes from then on? No way.

In fact, if I had suspected that any of these things were going to happen, I might well have avoided all of these works, and looked harder for something completely mindless. Mindless has always been my default position.

So what lesson? What goes in through our eyes and ears may take root in our brains, whether that’s what we intended or not. That old aphorism in the computing world of Garbage In – Garbage Out! holds as true for people as well as for machines.

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My old home state of South Dakota is out there in front of the pack with regard to new cases of coronavirus. For this you can give Governor Cluckette a lot of the credit. Even as the groans of infected people keeling over on the streets of the capital city of Pierre are keeping folks awake at night, she still insists that all citizens need to do is wash their hands and remember to floss.

She relays the Cluckian message of no-mask to her underlings, and when anyone says “Cluck” to a Republican, as we have abundantly observed, it cancels out normal brain activity and that person will now accept any old basket of horse-apples as a tasty dessert.

I do feel sorry for the innocents in that excellent state, those being the Democrats and Independents who have very little to say in its governance. I also feel sorry for any sensible South Dakota child over the age of eight years, who can look at what is happening and easily see that their lives and fortunes are in the hands of fools.

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When was the last time you worried about polio? Did you ever? The first form of the vaccine came out in 1955, and the oral form in 1962. So if you were a toddler during that period of history or later, you grew up without ever hearing it discussed at the dinner table, nor would your parents have ever had to tell you that there was no more going to the swimming pool at the park this summer. The polio boogey-man had vanished from the Western Hemisphere.

He was on the brink of disappearing from the entire world more than 15 years ago, and would have been but for fears raised by anti-vaccine hysteria in Africa and Asia. Just yesterday an article on CNN brought up the concern that with our focus on Covid we stand to let polio back into the Americas because of declining immunization rates. The wild form of the virus is still out there, and the only thing standing between us and its recurrence is our vigilance.

Yes, dear friends, when it comes to infectious diseases we have to be able to chew gum and walk. Just because we are hunkered down in our homes this year because of Covid worries doesn’t mean that we can ignore our other problems. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we do have people we can turn to for advice and help … they are called ID (Infectious Disease) experts and they use something called science as a powerful tool against such potential plagues.

All we have to do is let them do their job and help them where we can.

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Shots In The Corridors – 1946

Most of my health care as a young child was provided by public clinics. And most of it consisted of being immunized. Well-child visits, if they existed somewhere in the mid-1940s, were not a line in the Family Flom’s budget.

At Warrington Elementary School it went like this. Notices were sent out to parents that a certain upcoming day was immunization day. They were asked to sign permission slips for their kids and that was it. There were no information sheets about what was to be expected in terms of benefits or discussion of possible adverse consequences.

No one needed a reminder of the “why,” only information about the “how.” The only routine immunization available was the DPT (diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough). Everyone knew what whooping cough sounded like, and every family tree had people in it who had died from the other two illnesses. The threats were immediate and known. Easy for parents to choose. No anti-vaccine movement back then. Not when these diseases were of more than historical interest.

For the kids, however, it was another matter. We knew that “shot day” was coming and our rumor mills went into high gear. Large syringes with barrels the size of cucumbers were described, with needles as long as #2 pencils. And the needles were blunt on the ends from years and years of hard use to the point where they had to be “shoved in” with great force by strong-armed nurses.

If you were getting your first set of doses, why, you were the lucky ones. It was the older children who were scheduled for that acme of pain, that Mt. Everest of suffering – the booster shot. It was well known among fifth-graders and above that the survival rate from such immunizations was quite poor. “Remember Junior Smith last year … they told us he moved away … not true. It was from the booster shot!”

Then the day came and we all lined up by home rooms in the hallways, filing past white-garbed nursing personnel from the county health department. The closer your place in the line got to the nursing station the higher the incidence of sniffling and trembling. Some children were sobbing quietly to themselves as they accepted the fact that these were probably their last moments on earth and they were doing the very best that a second-grader can do when confronted with their own mortality.

And then it was over for you, and you walked three steps forward into the sunlight of a brand new day, a day filled with joyful promise … until you saw a trickle of blood going down the arm of the kid in front of you in line and you fainted dead away. Just dropped to the wooden floor and had to be carried to a sturdy steel cot for recovery.

But the good news is, that after beating such odds, one became invincible.

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Watched the movie on Netflix: Trial of the Chicago 7. For the most part we enjoyed it, and I gave it a 4 Eyeball score (out of 5). This is a rating of whether the film kept me awake or not, and although this movie was not 100% successful, it did pretty well. The original trial was an amazing piece of theater in itself, and this movie brings us in on quite a bit of that.

The chanting in the background of some scenes of the phrase “The whole world is watching!” would be perfectly appropriate at todays rallies and protests. The whole world has been watching, and has been dismayed by our behavior. They thought better of us … so did we.

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From The New Yorker

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Wednesday morning I had a cataract removed from my right eye. The left one was done a couple of years ago. Because of my recent hospital adventures, the anesthesiologist preferred that I not be sedated, and in spite of my tears, pleading, and threatening to hold my breath until I passed out, that’s how we did it. And it went okay. It got a little creepy as the doctor narrated the procedure while I was fully conscious.

I’m going to be cutting a hole in your eyeball now, and jerking out the bad lens. After that I will shove this piece of plastic into the space where the old lens used to be, and I am crossing my fingers that it will fit. Don’t worry, it almost always does, but if you have unbearable pain in the next few hours, give the guy on call a ring and tell him your story. There’s nothing he can do, really, but whining about it might make you feel better. So here goes nothing … don’t move, don’t move, whatever you do … oops … what the … never mind. **

I’ll be glad to have that eye back in the lineup. I’ve been basically working with monocular vision for about 9 months.

**Never happened. It is my feverish interpretation of what was said. All of the surgical center personnel were very professional and exceedingly pleasant.

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The Lincoln Project has provided an interesting sidebar to this political season. Some of the videos have been more dramatic, but I think that this is my favorite.

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I think that Stephen Colbert is one of the smartest comedians working today. This clip, taken from one of this week’s shows, is comedy going so deep that it choked me up. Just like Colonel Kurtz said all those years ago … the horror … the horror.

No Love, No Tacos

Here’s a simple little story that was a total day-brightener for yours truly. It’s about La Carreta Mexican Grill, a small restaurant in Iowa that mixed politics with business and some of the blowback that resulted. My hat’s off to Alfonso Medina for his clear thinking in these murky days. This guy is the sort of citizen that will help bring us out of the mess we’re in. Someone who believes in the promises of America and acts upon those beliefs.

A man who is closing his place of business on Election Day so that his employees can vote, while he himself volunteers as an election worker. (BTW, he is also paying those employees their salary on that day.)

I wish we lived closer to Marshalltown IA … how could their tacos not be excellent?

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BTW, about Mexican restaurants. My first visit to a new one is always the same. I order their beef tacos.

I think of my “system” as a sort of biopsy of the kitchen output, if you will pardon the clinical comparison. It tells me what I need to know about the place. If that simple, uncomplicated item is not savory, if the sauces are lacking in interest and authority, if the shells are stale … why bother with the Camarones a la Diabla? They are very likely to be an expensive disappointment.

Oddly, one of my favorite tacos was served up not in a Mexican establishment but at the salad bar in the Bonanza restaurant in Yankton SD. I say “was” because try to find a Bonanza steakhouse anywhere today. There are only a handful left in the U.S., victims not of Covid-19, but of rising beef prices and changing dietary tastes.

We have a number of Mexican-themed dining places here in Paradise, most of which are interchangeable and unremarkable. Close your eyes and you wouldn’t know which one you were in. They have the same offerings, the same plastic menus, the same unadventurous menu items. No one with chiliphobia would be threatened by what what comes out of their kitchens.

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I have lived in Montrose for nearly seven years, and before that in Yankton SD for several decades. In all that time, I have not had what I would consider a thorough physical examination. The kind that I was taught to do in medical school. The kind that picks up problems when they are smaller and potentially more treatable.

Now, for me personally it has not been a disaster. I can fill in a lot of the gaps with my own self-exams, at least of the places I can reach. I can stand in front of a mirror and check probably 90% of my skin surface. In this way I try to avoid nasty surprises. Otherwise the physicians that I have encountered have basically looked at only what I was complaining about, and usually in a more superficial way than I was taught to do.

My present doctor, who seems a capable person, has never asked me to undress, but listens through my clothing to my heart and lungs, a poor second to placing the stethoscope directly on the skin. I could have a skin lesion the size of New Jersey and she wouldn’t know it unless I brought it up. During my very recent brush with a serious problem (and although I am soooo grateful for the excellent care that saved my personal bacon), no one ever did a complete neurologic exam, or looked at the rest of my body for indications of possible reasons I might have had a stroke at the tender age of only 80 years. This in spite of the fact that my disease was of the central nervous system.

On the other hand, I had two CT scans, an MRI, an echocardiogram, and beaucoup lab tests. It would have been hard for any occult disease process to make it past those inquisitors, so I am not too worried.

My own training was at a very different time, I admit. A time when we were much more dependent on the physical exam to help us come to a diagnosis. The CT scan, the MRI, and the echocardiogram were yet to be discovered. So it would seem that extensive and time-consuming physical examinations are not prized the way they once were, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe they are only artifacts of a dinosaur age of medicine.

But god forbid that these physicians ever have to go to work on a day when the electricity is off.

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In the Humor section of the New Yorker this week was a series of caricatures of “other otuses.” This was one of the most tasteful of the lot.

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Today I will haul myself to Grand Junction for a visit to the Stroke Clinic. I have a few questions for the neurologist, and also wanted to give him the chance to see me with pants on. I am a much more impressive person when fully clothed, and in the name of full disclosure, I think he deserves to know that.

Otherwise I am doing well and the only change in my life is a single new medication. I have no problems that I didn’t have before my adventure of two weeks ago, and those basically come down to remembering where I put my car keys and to zip up before I go out in public.

Yesterday I was on the phone with friend Bill H. and he asked if Robin and I planned to cut back on our explorations and hikes because of this hour-long brush with an alternative reality. The idea being that we might be sometimes hours away from the terrific care that I received this time. And in the case of a stroke, everyone knows that hours is too long.

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I have given that a lot of thought, and decided against making big changes. If I were to push this line of thinking all the way I’d have to rent an apartment across the street from the hospital and have my groceries delivered, just in case … . So we plan to live our lives as before, not out of some false sense of bravado, but because making sure that we’re never more than an hour from a stroke unit doesn’t work out well in real life. We will minimize the risks where we can, but there is really no risk-free existence, is there?

The number of ways that life could catch any of us unawares is infinite. So we all cover the bases we can, and then we lock the door behind us and go out into the that uncertain world, anyway.

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Hey, Buddy, I’m Ahead Of You!

Colorado has come up with a draft plan for distributing coronavirus vaccines when they become available. We are told to keep in mind that it’s a draft, and may require some creative tweaking. But at least it reveals active thought processes with regard to this virus, and those are to be treasured wherever they are found.

Of course I immediately searched to see which line I was standing in, and was disappointed to see that I won’t get my dose until you get down to Category 2B. And that, my friends, means that there is a huge number of people in front of me.

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Because those first two phases include about half the population of the state of Colorado. Of course I might be able to bump myself up the line by taking a temp job at an assisted living facility and getting into 1A, but … just joking. I never cut in line. I regard line-budgers as a lower category of humanity than horse thieves. Hanging is way too good for them.

Robin and I have stocked up on different sorts of masks to make their wearing less boring. Yesterday she asked at what point I would stop wearing one, and I answered possibly never. There will be some other demic coming down the road soon enough, even if it’s not a pan, and I might as well keep polishing these new skills I’ve acquired.

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Garry Trudeau has lost none of his talent for skewering over the decades. I’ve generally been a fan of his, but it depends a little on what I find in Doonesbury on any given day. This one I found sad, but ringing all too true. However, without apologizing for P.Cluck, he is not the only one who has treated our servicemen and servicewomen with disrespect and neglect, once they had served their military purpose. You can follow that story going back to the Revolutionary War.

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At least one of the companies presently working on a coronavirus vaccine is testing a product that must be stored at 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The problem is that deep freezes that can provide this temperature are at present few and far between. And even if you are the manufacturer and have such storage facilities, how do you get the vaccine from your plant to anywhere else, since it may be even trickier to transport the medication at such low temps?

Somebody recommended packing the vaccine in dry ice, and theoretically that sounds like it would work. Oh wait, it seems that right now we have a national dry ice shortage, so forget about that for the moment.

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I think that we are in for an interesting time as the multiple vaccines being tested come down to being ready for distribution. More than at any period in our history, we consumers will need guidance of a trustworthy kind, because we will all be traversing an unfamiliar landscape together. With all the pressures on to get a vaccine out ASAP, it is almost inevitable that there will be glitches. We can hope that there won’t be debacles.

In the meantime, anyone have a freezer sitting around that will go as low as 94 below zero? Plug it in, it might come in handy.

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A Word From The Wise

While I was enjoying my in-hospital vacation last weekend, I had an ultrasound examination of my heart, looking for places that might produce repeat performances of the stroke I’d had. The technician was a gruff old bird, a seasoned lady built like Jack Black who jammed the probe here and there with a force just shy of what was likely to crack ribs.

Between winces, I told her the story of how I had come to be in that bed, and when I had finished, she said in her take-no-prisoners voice: “Sounds like somebody needs to get somebody some flowers.” Seemed like a great idea … and so I did.

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Many of the folks I know haven’t heard of Gillian Welch,which is too bad for them. She’s an original, hard to classify into one genre. Some of her music is “alternative folk,” some could have been composed and sung in 1930. And then there are tunes that would be right at home in traditional forms of country music.

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Her albums basically consist of music being made by her and her musical partner of 25 years, David Rawlings, and that’s it. We love her stuff, here at Basecamp. Even though you will search in vain for “happy music” in her catalog, we don’t find listening to her depressing at all. More like thoughtful.

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I found out one thing by watching a half-hour of the vice-presidential debate (all that I could tolerate), and that was that Pence can lie with the worst of them. Prior to that evening, I really didn’t have an opinion about the man, and now I do, so I suppose that’s progress.

I was sorry to miss seeing the two minutes of Pence’s fly-on-the-head, though. That must have been hilarious. Wouldn’t it have been great if one of the production crew had rushed the stage with a can of RAID and blasted away? Or walked up calmly and swatted the VP with a rolled-up newspaper? One of those times when you think later about what you should have done, but didn’t follow through.

The thing that was strange was … how many times have you seen a fly stay in one place for two minutes? It’s mostly when they are perched on dead things, in my experience.

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When A. Hitler was in his bunker as the Allies roared into Berlin and overwhelmed what was left of the German army, he blamed everyone around him, including the entire German people, for failing him and his vision. Let them perish in the fire, he said (or words to that effect), they are not worthy of survival.

Does that remind anyone else of what’s going on in Washington DC right now? P.Cluck is not in a subterranean bunker, but he is lashing out in all directions, and seemingly careless of the harm he is causing our country. His attitude seems to be that if he can’t win, he can at least poison the well so badly that it will take years to clean it. Because that’s exactly what he is doing.

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Gravity Is All-Powerful Department

I attempted to purchase a pair of these pants, but my application was rejected by the company. It seems that they thought I might drag the brand down.

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I don’t spend nearly enough time reading poetry. When an American poet wins the Nobel Prize for literature and I’ve never heard of her – something is seriously amiss. That’s what happened just this past month, with regard to Louise Gluck’s receiving the prize.

So this morning I spent a little time reading some of her work. Just the tiniest smattering, of course, since her catalog is huge. But I’ve found that I could easily spend more hours hearing what she has to say. You know how people ask “What kind of music do you like?” and you have to come up with some lame answer but the truth is you like so many different forms you can’t pick just one?

No one asks what sort of poetry you like, but in my case, they well might. Because I like those that contain universality and precision, while I dislike sentimentality and weepiness. Life is hard for all homo sapiens a good deal of the time, and reading someone else’s teary descriptions of their personal mishaps … it might help exorcise their own demons, but it does nothing for me.

I’m also not crazy about poems that contain abundant references to Greek or Roman myths. I will admit it is probably because my education in these areas was so thin that I feel this way. (I could choose to educate myself instead of complaining about it, but that would require work, and there are times when sloth-ness dictates my every move.) Gluck is fond of this practice, so I had to dig around before I found these two:

The Night Migrations

This is the moment when you see again
the red berries of the mountain ash
and in the dark sky
the birds’ night migrations.

It grieves me to think
the dead won’t see them –
these things we depend on,
they disappear.

What will the soul do for solace then?
I tell myself maybe it won’t need
these pleasures any more;
maybe just not being is simply enough,
hard as that is to imagine.

and another one …

The Past

Small light in the sky appearing
suddenly between
two pine boughs, their fine needles

now etched onto the radiant surface
and above this
high, feathery heaven—

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine,
most intense when the wind blows through it
and the sound it makes equally strange,
like the sound of the wind in a movie—

Shadows moving. The ropes
making the sound they make. What you hear now
will be the sound of the nightingale, Chordata,
the male bird courting the female—

The ropes shift. The hammock
sways in the wind, tied
firmly between two pine trees.

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine.

It is my mother’s voice you hear
or is it only the sound the trees make
when the air passes through them

because what sound would it make,
passing through nothing?

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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The Best Laid Schemes O’ Mice And Men Ganging Aft A-gley

And here’s how the story went. Robin and I had a day completely open and I had heard that the fall colors were at their best right now on the Grand Mesa. So off we went on Saturday morning. We had some apprehensions about what we would find in terms of visibility because the smoke from western fires was heavy down in the valley. But as we drove up that few thousand feet it cleared beautifully, giving us blue skies and long distance viewing.

We hiked up the Crag Crest Trail for several miles and were rewarded with some of the scenes below. After we had come back to our car, we decided to take the long way home, going all the way across the Mesa and down into the valley leading to Grand Junction. There was even more glorious viewing there on the north side of the Grand Mesa. So inspiring.

At one point as we continued towards home and were on our way through the suburb of Clifton, Robin asked me a question and I found that I could not form words. I also had developed a sort of brain fog that left me unable to help her with her question even I had been able to speak. There was no discomfort, no thing sudden or dramatic. I found myself feeling very odd, so dissociated from everything around me and puzzled but about my being unable to talk. At no time did I ever think “stroke.” I didn’t think causation all, I was just disturbed at my loss of abilities.

Robin pulled the car into a gas station/C-store and talked to the attendant, telling him that there was something happening to her husband (that would be me) and could he help? The man had a nursing background and came right out to where I was sitting on the parking lot curb. After asking a very few questions, none of which I could answer, he called for the EMTs who arrived within minutes. They wasted no time in bundling me into the ambulance, starting an IV, and whistling down the road to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. All the while I watched while still in my fog, without any emotion or fear or curiosity. The feeling I had was that of an observer, rather than the person things were happening to.

When we reached St. Mary’s I found that when a suspected stroke victim comes through the ER doors, they go right to the head of the line. Before you could say “middle cerebral artery” I had a CT scan – BAM. Then a CT scan with contrast – BAM. Then into a room where a very fine nurse described what was happening to me. Robin had by then arrived and I was trying to communicate with her, but since speech was impossible I attempted to write things out. Some times the word I wanted appeared on the paper, sometimes I could scratch out only a few letters. The nurse who stayed with us (a man named Jay), put a med into my IV and less than a minute later and while I was trying to say something to Robin, suddenly my garbled vocal growlings became real honest to God words again. In the snap of a finger.

From then on – no problems, mate! Well, not quite. Turns out that a side effect of that miraculous medication was that you could literally bleed yourself right off the planet if you ever got started. So off to the ICU I went, bed-rest and all. The bleeding worries were over in about eight hours, but they wouldn’t let me off that bed for 18 hours.

So tomorrow I go home, at least that is tonight’s plan. My everlasting thanks go out to Robin who immediately recognized a new sort of gibberish from the sort I usually speak, the C-store guy, those EMTs. the ER crew at St Mary’s Hospital, and the excellent nurses who have put up with me for these two days. First class people all the way. (FYI: St. Mary’s Hospital is a Level I Stroke Center. Keep that in mind if you’re traveling through and don’t feel quite yourself.)

I do have one tip for you all, though. If you ever find yourself here in similar circumstances, do not – I repeat – DO NOT order the scrambled eggs for breakfast. ‘Nuff said.

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Taking off my smartass hat here for a moment. I do realize how lucky I was. Any delays along the way and at best I could have been looking at years of rehabilitation. Sunday night as I was making my way toward sleep I had a few moments where some of the fear I might have had earlier came in on me all mixed up with such a sharp sense of gratitude that I was sort of a weepy mess for a few minutes.

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And finally, my hat is off to Robin. She can drive me anywhere, any time. While we were sitting on that C-store curb, I was trying to tell her to take us home where we’d figure out what was going on. Somehow she knew what I was attempting to say and turned me down flat. She is so disobedient sometimes …

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One last thing. At left is a sign above the commode in my ICU room. I have two questions.

  1. Who puts their hand in a toilet?
  2. Who would ever sit on such a stool? “Sharp device that can cause injury?”no thank you very much! No part of my body is going anywhere near this thing!

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Sermonettes In Great Abundance

My Friends, this is being published a little later than usual today, and here’s the reason. This Sunday morning I am in the Neurological ICU at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, where I was brought last evening because I was having a stroke. The excellent med staff here gave me something miraculous and as far as I can tell, all of the stroke’s effects vanished in a minute. I will go on forever about it in Tuesday’s post, but just to let you know that I am fine, and probably going home tomorrow. Life is good, and although I continue to have all my bad habits, alas, I cannot play the piano.

(Of course, I could not play the piano before this happened, either.)

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It’s hard, really, to see much positive coming out of the Cluck years. You could describe them basically as a period where our country’s worst instincts, impulses, and ideas came to the fore. With his Imperial Orangeness as the cheerleader-in-chief. And you’d be right.

But he may have accidentally done this America of ours some favors, if we can survive them. We can’t blame him for creating the large body of ugliness that is racism, for instance, he’s just one part of the whole stinking mess. But without meaning to he has shown us how extensive it is, and how widely held those beliefs are. That’s a potentially good thing. It all depends on what we do with the knowledge. (BTW, when I say “us” I mean, of course, white people. Black people already knew)

And it’s not just the MAGA wackos I’m talking about. It’s Americans like me who were willing to let things be because it didn’t directly touch us. It wasn’t our houses that were burning and our children being killed.

We could turn from the front page of the newspaper to the comic section and so avoid truly dealing with the grim news that came to us day after month after year. We could send off a few bucks to the ACLU or the NAACP and get that righteous feeling that comes from performing a small good work. We could go to our clubs and organizations and come away believing that our chatter meant we were actually doing something about the injustices that we knew existed.

But we never got our hands dirty. Marching and waving a banner that said things like We Are Not Free As Long As One Man Is In Chains looked and sounded so good that it allowed us to think we had done our share in the struggle. But it was all so safe. So risk-free.

Now (and again, I speak only for myself and those like me) we johnny-come-latelys have a chance to help and must take it. By helping to rip out any rugs that can be used to sweep these horrors and unfairnesses under. By talking, by writing, by getting dirt and perhaps some blood under our fingernails as we join those who have never stopped working at these problems. As we become fully our own small part of the solution.

Think for a moment how glorious an America would be where there was true equality. No second-class citizens. Where we were finally one people where each member experienced the same degree of “liberty and justice.” We can get there, but not by going back to what was. I may not live to see this beautiful thing , but my children might. And my grandchildren will.

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From The New Yorker

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

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This morning my cats decided to play Let’s Kill Jon. It’s been the longest time since they’ve done this, so I was caught completely unawares, and they almost succeeded. They did it as a sort of tag team.

For those of you who don’t live with cats, it goes like this. You waken in the dark, perhaps because a cat is yowling in your ear or butting you with its head or is employing any one of the many tricks these creatures can use to get you up. You begin to walk toward the bedroom door when an invisible cat in front of you suddenly stops. You sense this as your right foot is swinging forward and encounters fur. At that point you try to do something that the laws of physics won’t allow, and that is to stop completely with only one foot on the floor while your body is out there ahead of it.

So you grab the door frame to halt what would certainly have been a fatal crash, and get another foot down. Then the second cat runs across your path just as you raise your left foot, and you repeat the performance, this time using a chair back in the living room. Repeat again and again , until you can find a light switch.

Next you turn the light on and confront your adversaries, both of whom have adopted “Who, me?” looks by now and are the very picture of innocence. But there is a tiny sound that you can only barely hear, and without being able to identify it 100%, you come to the conclusion that it is kitties chortling under their breath.

It’s a sometimes fractious friendship, this relationship between man and beast.

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I Now Pronounce You …

Although the wind blew and the smoke hid the sun, Amanda and Lee were married on the grounds of a South Dakota hunting outfitter in a very well planned ceremony. Bride and groom were cool as the proverbial cucumbers, while the bride’s parents were somewhere on the other side of the vegetable spectrum. Being a parent can occasionally be tough, and a wedding is one of those instances where you are called upon to exercise skills you were not given at birth, learned in school, or picked up at the coffee shop. In short, you are flying somewhere near blind.

Unless you can afford to hire a wedding planner, and even then there are hundreds of questions to answer and so very many checks to write

But it all went down so well. It was a lovely time, and Robin and I are very happy for the couple and wish them long and happy years together. They have already been through more trials than most newly marrieds and deserve a break. A good, long one.

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To bring things back to the ground a bit. We left the grounds shortly after the ceremony, skipping the reception and wedding dinner, which were to be held indoors. This had been our plan from the beginning and we stuck to it. There were only three attendees who were masked, and we were two of them. Our plan also includes self-quarantine when we get back to Paradise.

I don’t know about you, but we really don’t love this era of the coronavirus. It’s like a big paintball battle, but one where the opponents are invisible and the paint is poisonous. Sheeesh.

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Eastward Ho

This is the week (beginning on Thursday) where we will travel back to South Dakota, to attend the wedding of Robin’s niece. We will be driving, both because of Covid and because that is our preferred manner of travel. Flying is much quicker, for certain, but there is that sense of dissociation when you climb into a tube in one world and step out of that same tube into another. When we drive, we touch all of the places between origin and destination.

For instance. If it were not for driving I would know almost nothing about the entire state of Nebraska. And that would have been a shame, because I like Nebraska. At least I like it when you can get off of Interstate 80 and away from its bumper-to-bumper semi traffic. I especially enjoy traveling in the Sandhills region in the northwestern part of the state. And the butte country west of Chadron contains so much interesting history, including a plaque at the spot in Fort Robinson State Park where the Native American leader, Crazy Horse, was betrayed and killed.

It was in this part of the world that novelist Mari Sandoz grew up, and it is the place that served as the backdrop for her most famous book, Old Jules. If you ever thought your own father was a difficult person to live with when you were a child, you haven’t met Old Jules. To say he was a hard man is to seriously understate the case.

The wedding will be held outside of Yankton SD, which is of some concern, because South Dakota is one of those states with a mentally deficient governor who does not believe in anything she can’t see with her unaided eye. These pesky viruses are nothing but Democratic lies and fake germs to Governor Noem. Science – just more liberal booshwa! As a result, the state is one of the less safe places to be in America. But the wedding is scheduled outdoors, where we should be able to put some distance between us and the other attendees. At least that is the plan.

Ordinarily we would take some time to renew old and treasured friendships, but I would personally rather come back when the clouds have lifted and I can actually shake the hands of those friends, sit in their comfortable chairs, and lean back to safely inhale my share of that sweet prairie air.

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There are quite a few older citizens living in our small development here in Paradise, some even older than myself, if you can believe that. Across the street from us is a gentleman named Bruff, who moved here from North Carolina a few years ago and who lives alone. Bruff has diabetes and some neuropathic complications of that disease, so when no one had seen him for several days, and there was no response to serial knocks at his door, it prompted obvious concern. Add to this that the week before this one an ambulance had stopped at his house, for what reason no one knew.

So Robin and I appointed ourselves the investigators-in-chief, to find out if he was still among the living, and where he might be. Our local newspaper prints out very brief summaries of every police department call, and this is where we started our search. We found that on the 8th of the month the PD had indeed made a call to Bruff’s residence. There was just the notation of “Citizen assist,” whatever that might represent. So on Sunday we drove to the police department, and were fortunate enough to find a patrolman outside of the building, which was locked up.

He was very helpful, and although there were limits to what he could share with us, he did find out that the ambulance call was to pick up some things that Bruff needed, and that he was had been a patient at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction at that time. Of course, when a stranger calls a hospital they are not fountains of information in modern times, what with HIPAA regulations and all. Not like the “old days” when they would tell a stranger on the telephone everything they ever wanted to know about a patient.

But hospital personnel did admit that Bruff was there, and transferred me to the nursing station in the Critical Care Unit. A very pleasant woman said that she would be happy to connect me with the older gentleman by phone, but I should know that he was a “little bit delirious” and she wasn’t sure how well he’d do in holding up his side of the conversation.

Before I could process what “a little bit delirious” meant, and could tell the lady let’s not bother him, I was talking with Bruff on the phone. We spoke briefly, and I passed along our concerns and those of other neighbors here in the cul-de-sac. I wasn’t sure how much he would remember, but at least we know something of where, if not why. It’s enough for now.

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There’s a remarkable op/ed article in the Times of New York dealing with the coronavirus. The text is clear, the extensive graphics and animations are highly instructional, and it puts into perspective what is happening in the U.S. and the rest of the world with regard to viral spread .

The thrust of the article is that setting up a wall is an essential part of controlling the virus. It also states clearly that what Robin and I are about to do, travel to a high-risk state and return home, could put us in the position of being being unwitting vectors for the virus. Unless we put up our own wall, that is. Which means self-quarantine for two weeks. I hadn’t given that part of our plans as much thought as I might, but by doing so we can significantly reduce the chance that we will bring back more than our memories to share with friends here.

So why go at all? Because Robin has only the one niece, and that young woman has only recently finished a course of chemotherapy for breast cancer. All this makes it a rather special set of circumstances, we think, even if it means we must run in place for a while when we return home.

Good article, though.

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We’ve given away tomatoes to anyone whose lapel was near enough to grab, and there were still a bunch that needed to be dealt with before we left on our trip to SD. So yesterday was cut ’em up and boil ’em up and make enough red Italian-seasoned sauce to last the winter. This year there are NO home canning supplies available in our area. No jars, no lids, no rings … so we saw cooking the fruit and freezing the result as our only choice. Tomorrow I’ll probably do another batch and then that’s it for 2020. End of gardening for the year.

The tomato plants look tired. It’s been a tough summer for them. Lots and lots of stress, even though we kept them well-fed and well-watered. About 1/3 of the tomatoes developed something called “sun scald,” which is an injury produced by … well, you know … too much sun.

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That Gypsy!

Way back in 1999, Sean Penn showed up in a Woody Allen movie called Sweet and Lowdown, which was about a fictional jazz guitarist in the 30s named Emmet Ray who believed he was the greatest player in the world … except for … that gypsy! And the gypsy in question was Django Reinhardt. Now, Django was a real person, and is still regarded as one of the best guitarists … well … ever.

Django Reinhardt lost use of two fingers in an accident, but developed a unique style around his disability.

At that time, Reinhardt would have been playing with the group that he and a friend had formed up in Paris. One that had what has to be an all-time greatest name for a jazz ensemble: the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Is that great or what?

His technique is awesome! Even today, nobody has really come to the state that he was playing at. As good as players are, they haven’t gotten to where he is. There’s a lot of guys that play fast and a lot of guys that play clean, and the guitar has come a long way as far as speed and clarity go, but nobody plays with the whole fullness of expression that Django has. I mean, the combination of incredible speed – all the speed you could possibly want – but also the thing of every note having a specific personality. You don’t hear it. I really haven’t heard it anywhere but with Django.

Jerry Garcia

Wikipedia has a long biography of this guy, which makes interesting reading, but what does all this have to do with anything? I’ll you what – Django is who I’m listening to today out on the backyard deck, where the sun’s rays cannot get to me and the yellowjackets seem to have lost interest as well.

This was a man who changed my musical life by giving me a whole new perspective on the guitar and, on an even more profound level, on my relationship with sound…During my formative years, as I listened to Django’s records, especially songs like ‘Nuages’ that I would play for the rest of my life, I studied his technique. Even more, I studied his gentleness. I love the human sound he gave his acoustic guitar.

Willie Nelson

So how could I not share a couple of cuts with you today? Tiger Rag shows how fast he can play, Nuages how soulfully.

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Daughter Maja spent some time with us last evening, and it was so good catching up with her. She may have to return to Peru in the near future, although just how that will happen is uncertain. That country is right now experiencing very hard times re: coronavirus, in spite of a rigorous military-style lockdown from the get-go.

Maja explained the seeming contradiction there, and it directly relates to poverty. Forty per cent of Lima’s population are without refrigeration, and must go to market nearly every day. Plus the poor live in crowded homes, making isolation or quarantine difficult or impossible. Many of these homes are without running water as well.

Peru’s borders are still closed, but the bad guy is already in the house.

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Michelle Goldberg wrote an op-ed piece on some of the dilemmas faced by working parents in this time of the plague. Her perspective is that of a working parent worrying about what sort of school situation her own child will be in come this Fall.

How can you not feel for these folks with so many questions about the disease still unanswered, so many different approaches being suggested for try-out, and so little guidance coming on the national level? It is one tough time to be a parent, especially of younger children.

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I received a present from the Times of New York today, and it wasn’t even my birthday. A short piece about a favorite of mine since … dunno … before Time began. That person is Odetta Felious. What a voice. What a talent.

I’ve been collecting her music since I was a teen and I actually heard her sing in person at St. Olaf College in Northfield MN, in a small intimate auditorium. That would have been in the mid-sixties. So why the article today in the Times? I can’t think of any other reason than to please me. I really didn’t know they cared.

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… Nothing To Fear …

I find that in some ways I’m not a good person to discuss Covid-19 with. My internal sensors regarding exposure and risk are set differently from that of many other people that I know. I am missing some of the fear that they describe. Not all of it, but some. This is not due to courage, since I have no more of that quality than anyone else, but it comes from repeated experiences over a medical lifetime.

On Christmas Eve of 1966 I was a pediatric intern on call. A critically-ill infant had been admitted that day with meningitis, and I was covering for the physician responsible for her care. At around 10:00 P.M. she suffered her first arrest, and I began CPR immediately using an infant-sized bag and mask and chest compressions. At her second arrest an hour later, the bag malfunctioned and became unusable, and someone had to be dispatched to another area of the hospital to retrieve another. In the meantime, I used mouth-to-mouth respiration. We were once again successful in bringing the child around, but by midnight she had died in spite of our efforts.

The next morning the lab reported out the causative infectious agent as meningococcus. The members of the team that had worked with her were prescribed sulfonamide tablets as prophylaxis, and I dutifully took mine for the designated number of days and that was that.

There was no pause when the mask failed, I believed that this is what doctors did, this was part of the “contract” I signed when I decided to become a physician, even if I hadn’t thought it through as fully as I might have.

Over the years there were less dramatic episodes, but the theme was always the same. We (members of the medical team) would protect ourselves as much as was possible, but we entered those sickrooms, gave those treatments, did what was necessary to do. It was our job and we adapted to that reality in our minds.

So I completely understand the concerns and actions of workers in hospitals today who have to work with scanty protective equipment. You don’t prize your own life any less, but you took on the job on a sunnier day and now you are working in a hailstorm.

BTW, not every health care worker I have met feels this way. Some of them begin looking for the exit at the first sign of danger. I recall when Yankton SD’s first AIDS patient showed up at the hospital with appendicitis. It was early in the course of the AIDS epidemic, when information about transmission was still pretty sketchy.

It took a while to round up an OR crew to do the surgery necessary on that Sunday afternoon. Some personnel refused to answer the call. But others did, the operation went well, the young man went on his way, and his caregivers suffered no adverse effects.

So I protect myself, those around me wherever I can, and I limit my exposures. But I am intimately acquainted with the knowledge that there are perils in the world. A viral particle, a frayed bit of electrical wiring, a car being piloted by an intoxicated person. If you think too much about all the hazards that life provides, it could be almost paralyzing, couldn’t it? But we all open those doors and leave those safe spaces when the need arises. We suit up and show up. You and I.

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While I’m talking doctor stuff, I have a true short story for you. On a summer Sunday afternoon in 1967, a very ill six year-old boy was admitted to University of Minnesota Hospitals with fever, lethargy, and a dramatic rash. None of us assigned to this patient recognized the rash, so we stat-paged the chief resident on dermatology to come to the admitting examination room.

Now, for the most part, stat pages are extreme rarities in dermatologists’ lives. It is one of the attractions of the specialty, along with regular hours, weekends off, and freedom to vigorously nag anyone with a suntan. So when the derm chief resident heard the page, he grabbed a piece of equipment to bring with him to what would possibly be the only emergency call he would ever receive.

My question to you is: what did he bring with him? (Answer is below)

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From The New Yorker

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He brought a camera.

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We watched the Democratic convention again on Tuesday and Wednesday night, on ABC live. It’s interesting how the “meeting” is being presented, and of course it is basically all scripted and managed. But still some of the speakers come through those LEDs and LCDs pretty well. So far my favorites have been Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, and Jill Biden.

ABC has George Stephanopoulos managing a shifting group of commentators sitting at a long and socially-distanced desk. So long that not all of them are in the camera’s view unless one pulls it back a good distance. They jumped into the discussions whenever there were pauses in the “convention” schedule. I found them largely annoying.

For instance, at this point in the history of the republic, I don’t really care what Chris Christie thinks – about anything at all.

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Smoke is in the air this morning, so heavy that we can barely see the silhouettes of the San Juan Mountains to the south and the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west. And the closest fire (below) is a hundred miles away from us, north of Grand Junction.

Another large fire near Glenwood Springs has closed Interstate 70 for about a week now, with no predictions as to when that vital highway will be open again. East-west traffic is being rerouted in several directions, one of them being through Montrose along Highway 50. When we returned from Leadville a couple of days ago, there was heavy traffic both ways on a road that is usually lonesome traveling.

It is truly crispy here in Paradise. The amount of rain we’ve received at mi casa this year wouldn’t make two pots of good coffee.

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Made up a quart of ghee yesterday. Got into it while learning something about Indian cuisine a while back. It’s a simple chore that produces something which is priced akin to liquid gold in grocery stores. All you need is some unsalted butter, a saucepan, and about twenty minutes of your time. Ghee is great for cooking, since it provides buttery flavor but does not brown or smoke at ordinary cooking temps. And it keeps for months at room temperatures.

There’s a decent tutorial at this website if you’re interested.

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Sunday Morning

I love Sunday mornings, even though, being retired, every day could really be regarded as the same as the one before and the one after. But what fun is that? Sunday is the day for cool, for resting up, for getting repairs done on the body that you’ve been beating up for the previous 144 hours.

So that’s what I am doing. Doing Sunday. Sitting here in the early morning hours with my coffee on my left and Poco snoozing on my right. (Poco is here to see that I keep the faith, baby). My plan for today includes quite a bit of sloth.

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CNN had a story this morning that started sour and ended sweet. About a mom and daughter whose sidewalk writings were being disappeared each night … but I’ll let CNN tell you the tale.

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Want something positive to think about? How about getting our present emergency under control in six weeks? The Times of New York has published a thinkpiece on just that topic, with facts to back it up.

This is without a vaccine, or monoclonal antibody therapy, or any tools other than the ones we have right now. It’s good news, folks, so should we push for it or resign ourselves to months and months of the bass-ackwardness we’ve been living with since February?

I think push is the way forward for yours truly.

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In an earlier post, I included links to a video by the Grateful Dead performing the song Ripple. Good performance from forty years ago, fun to watch. I mentioned that I thought that the words fit our present time so very well.

So here are the lyrics. Take a look and see if they hit you the same way they did me. We are in this together, people say, but we each follow our own path through life, don’t we? Which makes us sort of all alone, together.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they’re better left unsung
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home

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