Telling Good News & That Ain’t Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I’m kidding. I’M KIDDING!)

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From The New Yorker

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

No matter. Great tune. Ahead of its time.

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

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The Wishy-washy Need Not Apply

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

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

Article II. Purpose.

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

Constitution, dsusa.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Encore, Mr. Cohen?

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

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

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

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

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

Take nothing for granted.

Question everything.

Mottoes for a troubled time.

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Sunday Morning

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

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

Wikipedia

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

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From The New Yorker

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Willie and the Boys

On Sunday afternoon, having a few moments that were free of responsibility for the world’s turning, the sun rising and setting, the perfection of mankind and the like, I created a Willie Nelson radio station on Pandora. And then I sat back in a recliner and listened for an hour. Migod, what an hour that was. One great song after another, including duets with other legends of country music, spanning decades of songs that I had heard over basically my entire adult life. Mr. Nelson is 87 now, still putting out new music, and would undoubtedly be still touring if it weren’t for Covid-19.

Now, from time to time I describe myself as a “class act,” and I do so knowing that you folks know better and won’t be led astray by such a tremendous fib. But as a performer, Willie … he is the very definition of a class act.

Robin and I caught a concert of his down in Grand Island, Nebraska a year or two before we moved out here to Paradise. It was Nelson and one other musician playing steady on for 90 minutes. The time flew by and our lives were at least two notches richer for having been there and seeing him in person. I really started being a solid fan of his when the album Red Headed Stranger came out, around 1975. And the song from the album that hooked me (and never let go) was Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.

Being 87 means that he is a Grand Senior Citizen of country music, but to read the interview in the New Yorker you wouldn’t know it. If humility means you know very clearly that the planet and stars don’t come and go for you alone but for everyone, Willie Nelson is a humble man indeed.

Here he is in a video of Eddie Vedder’s beautiful song, Just Breathe, with his son. That boy Lukas, if he don’t sound like his daddy I don’t know what.

Now, seriously, how many country artists do you know who describe being heavily influenced by Django Reinhardt, the great Belgian jazz guitarist from the 30s and 40s? I can’t think of one other. Mr. Nelson is a man of many parts.

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A light snow on the backyard deck this morning, just enough for Poco to make tracks in when he stepped out to check the weather. Our predicted winter storm never materialized here in Montrose, we only had a sniff of it when the wind kicked up on Saturday for a couple of hours. But it soon settled down and the sun came back and that was that. It seems to be a common pattern, where weather systems head for us and then split just before they reach our little town, with the rains or the snows falling both north and south of the city.

I’m actually okay with that, especially in the winter months. If I have to get in the car and drive for half an hour to find snow deep enough to XC ski, why, that’s just about perfect. It’s called the “having one’s cake and eating it, too” type of winter.

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There have been rumors that P.Cluck might fire Dr. Fauci, who persists in his apostasy by telling the truth about our pandemic. If that should happen, and I were Joe Biden, I might step right up to a nearby mike and say: “Don’t worry ’bout it, Tony, you get your job back on January 20.”

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I read the article on companies incorporating insect proteins into dry pet food to Poco, who was initially incensed. I tried to explain that it had already been going on for years, but only very small manufacturers had been involved. The news now was that it was Purina who was trying it out. And Purina is a big guy on the street when it comes to pet food.

I also asked him if he could claim that in his entire life he hadn’t already chewed down a bug or two. At that he looked a bit sheepish and muttered “Well … .” Once past that hump I could take time to present the rationale, which included a better use of the planet’s resources and that there was much less impact on the climate as well.

He conceded all of these points, then countered with “Alright, I get it. I am willing to do my part. And when it comes available at the market I will happily eat my black-fly-larva kibble if you do the same. Because I happen to know that there are insect-based food products out there on shelves for humans as well.”

I just hate it that the cats have learned to read. They’ve been nothing but trouble ever since they started.

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And finally, this photo has nothing to do with anything I have said before. But it is an amazing picture. Everyone in it is reacting in some way to that ball that’s on its way. Reminds me of those old Norman Rockwell magazine covers.

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Listen Up

There was a wonderful article about Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in the Times of New York on Wednesday. It’s a longish piece so I won’t go into it much here, but these are two people devoted to their music and the human stories they have to tell.

These are not shiny, bling-y people. To me what they do transcends genres, and actually forces me to sit up straight in my chair and pay attention. No background sonic pap is to be found in their discography.

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Back when movie theaters were a recreational choice, if I was unlucky enough to see one of those mile-high plates of yellow goo and corn chips that were called “nachos” being purchased at the refreshment counter, my gorge would instantly rise.

Because I have tasted that golden mess and declared it “not food” in my mind. But at the same time I have repeatedly wondered if there was something called nachos out there that were actually worth eating, perhaps the food that they were before the waves of queso started flowing.

So when I ran across this story of the origins of nachos I found it very interesting and personally reassuring. These present-day piles of corn chips n’glue started out life as something made of honest-to-god ingredients. Even better, the article goes into the origins of the snack’s name.

Even more better, there is a recipe so that we can make our own honest version, just like Ignacio did back in the day.

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There are times when I sense that I am a terrible disappointment to my cats. This morning, for instance. Poco was following me around, meowing periodically. I had fed him, the litterbox was clean, the pet door was open to a beautiful November day, and we had already spent some early-morning quality time together. And yet at one point he stopped still in his tracks and his expression said so clearly: You have failed me. I give up.

Moments later, as I was sitting by the dining room table, Willow leapt onto the table (which she never does and knows that she is forbidden to do) and walked straight at me. With her face now only inches away from mine, I could see that she had the same querulous and disappointed look about her. “Can I ever trust you again?”, it said.

So I turned to the pair and declared: “You know, there are times when you two are no bargain, either.” We left it at that.

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The Chicks have a new album out, their first in 14 years. I’ve like them for a long time, smart and skilled musicians that they are. This time there is a cut that I find very moving, and it’s called March March. I present here the official video for the song, and also a version they did on Stephen Colbert’s late night program. I find that both are affecting, but in slightly different ways.

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As I write this, on an early Thursday morning, the national election is still undecided, although Mr. Biden leads in those anachronistic electoral votes. Best we be done with them and at long last use a system that requires no explanation. Obviously I have hopes that P.Cluck is eventually fired as president, and that he finally has the time to get the mental health counseling that he so evidently needs. Maybe there is a family plan where the entire unsavory family gaggle could be therapped grouply.

But I will stop here, because it isn’t over yet … and there is many a slip …

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So far our November here in Paradise has been outstanding. Sunshine in great abundance, with chilly nights and warm days. Much of the color has been drained from the landscape, leaving behind a palette of grays and browns. Robin and I have resumed our regular walks and roamings, and we are not alone out on those pathways.

Even after being out here for several years, I am still struck by the number of dogs that Coloradans own. I like dogs, really I do, but it is necessary for there to be 3.7 canines per person? And could we get a doggy diaper law, please? Because the honor system of picking up after one’s pup is definitely not working.

On the walking trail out in back of our home, we get to watch the passing parade every day, and it is obvious that the older a citizen gets, the smaller the pooch they own. There are no seniors with mastiffs, Great Danes, or pit bulls. Instead they parade around with a bewildering number of mutant and diminutive breeds I never heard of. What on earth is going on with all of these cocka-whatevers? Dogs that closely resemble the ends of dustmops, where the only way you can tell which end is which is to look for the eyes?

Yesterday on our river-walk we encountered a dog, at least that’s what I think it was, which was clearly assembled out of the spare-dog-parts bin. It was the size of a beagle, with legs like a bulldog, a face like a boxer, and ears like a jackass. I honestly have no idea what it was or what you would call it. Or why you would call it.

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All Hallows Eve

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

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

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

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

Life is techno-good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental Goulash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Potpourri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The man is the very definition of an empty suit.

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

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

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

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

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Sunday Morning

We’re heading home after a trip to Denver for a child’s violin recital. The event came off beautifully, attended by only ten people beyond Leina’s parents and sister. It was held outdoors, on the patio of the instructor’s parent’s home, which is a large house located on a hill overlooking the city.

Leina played the entire program without an intermission, I think there were nearly twenty short pieces. Each piece was followed by a deep bow, and when she came up there was this lovely little smile on her face. Like she might be thinking I nailed that!, didn’t I?

Under ordinary circumstances, we might not have traveled this distance in Covid times for an hour’s entertainment, no matter how precious, but this was not an ordinary time. Leina and her parents are moving later this month to California, which will quadruple the distance between our families. And no matter what spin one places on this (i.e. It’s only a two-day drive, or We can use our airline miles) it will make in-person visits more complicated than just getting in the car for a few hours.

That’s enough of a change to provoke some grieving, because it is in an unwanted direction. Seven summers ago we moved to Colorado to be closer to Robin’s grandkids, and for the most part, it worked out. That move was also a change. Closer to one side of our blended family, further from the other.

Buddhism talks all the time about change, stressing its constancy and inevitability. It encourages acceptance of that fact, and with that acceptance we are promised some serenity, some peace that can only be achieved by letting go of what it is impossible to hold onto. These blessings do not come without doing a bit of work, however. Often quite a bit.

Well-meaning friends will come up with cheerless statements (in trying to cheer us up) like “Change can be good” and they are both right and wrong at the same time. There is always a flip side. Each step of “progress” means something is left behind. Today I am eighty years old, and maybe, just maybe, I am a little wiser than when I was seventy-nine. I wouldn’t place a very big bet on that, but let’s pretend that I am for a moment. However, I also just dodged a fair-sized bullet a week ago, and now I am wearing a heart monitor and taking two drugs meant to encourage my platelets not to congregate with one another in unacceptable places. And in my own mind, a nice-sized chip was taken off of what remained of that sense of invulnerability that I started out with when I was born. This was change that I didn’t care for at all, no matter how much I accept it as a fait accompli.

So we wish our friends good luck on their move to the West Coast, and we will be happy with the successes they find out there, but the fact remains that they will be there, and not here. So we can be forgiven a few tears, a few chokings-up when telling the story, the moments of sadness in upcoming days and weeks. Letting go is a process.

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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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Sunday Morning

The breeze is peeling off the easy leaves, the handful of yellow ones hiding up in the green canopy that is the ash tree. It’s layering them evenly on the grass, my table, the deck. Piece by piece my sunshade is being removed until there won’t be anything between me and the autumn sun but … me.

On Saturday the smoke cover returned, completely obscuring the San Juans south of us. Pieces of California and of Oregon passing overhead. Parts of homes and forests that used to be. What a basket of sorrows is America this year for so many, more than enough for a full-bore lamentation. Can I have a that’s for damn sure, brothers and sisters?

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From The New Yorker

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I’m presently running a side by side comparison of Spotify and Apple Music, trying to see if one of them suits my warps and woofs better than the other. I think that I’m about done with buying music after three-score plus years of doing just that. The only time I have to own a tune is when I need one to put up on the Jukebox for you folks. Let’s say that I have maybe ten or twenty thousand songs on my hard drive … hey … Apple has 50 MILLION for me to listen to if I want to give them a few bucks each month. I was not a math major but I think that 50 million is way bigger.

Right now I’ve pulled up a Ry Cooder playlist on Spotify that goes on for four hours. I believe I won’t even move from my chair and I’ll have my supper served out here on the deck, s’il vous plait. Jus’ put my plate down over there and do it ever so quietly, there’s a dear.

But the idea of having a record library is so ingrained in me that it is a wrench to make this change. However, there have already been quite a few changes in recorded music that some of us have had to deal with.

  • Going from 78 RPM and 45 RPM records to those lovely 33 1/3 RPM vinyl LPs with all that great artwork on their covers
  • Evolution of tape players, first reel-to-reel, then 8 track, then cassette.
  • Making my own mixtapes – such a great thing for the compulsives among us
  • Advent of the compact disc – no more skips or static, but now that lovely album artwork was tiny and cramped
  • Online selling of music by the album or by single cuts (think iTunes)
  • Death of the music stores. R.I.P. Musicland, R.I.P. Tower Records, etc.
  • Advent of contract digital music services like Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc.

As hard as it is to contemplate not owning new music, it was harder back when I realized that if I made a mixtape or burned my own CD (same thing), no one wanted a copy any more. Why would they when they had access to these monster collections online?

[But something was lost when the mixtape went away. You picked out the songs, and then there was the all-important sequencing on the tape. If you made one for a girl you were interested in, you wanted to have her play it and end up thinking warm thoughts about you … it was half gift, half psychological implant.

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A friend reposted this stirring graphic on Facebook. Remembering that scene was a heart-melt for me. Possibly even more because of how well it fits today .

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Here’s the original clip.

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Backing Away From The Fire

The sky above me could not be bluer. The day could not be sweeter. And that’s because I am severely limiting my exposure to that part of politics that I cannot affect. I simply can’t deal with the maelstrom that is out there to the East. It’s too crazy. Too all-absorbing. Too toxic for me.

I have volunteered for phone call duty, perhaps some envelope-licking, and I read the Times in the morning. If anyone needs a ride, I will mask up and be there. If there are banners to hang or signs to stick into the ground, I am game. But for now I am done with watching any of the breathless ones with microphones in their hands. Personally, I don’t need to find another reason to vote for Biden/Harris. I already have hundreds.

You remember this guy, Travis Bickle. He got too close to the flame in a political campaign and you know how that came out. I’m definitely not going where he went, but I do understand how he got there.

When my mail-in ballot shows up it will not spend one night in my home but be filled in and rushed to where it needs to go by suppertime. If by some mischance I am sent two ballots I may do the patriotic thing and vote twice. If I see a ballot hanging out of a trash can I may pluck it loose, brush off the food scraps, and use it to vote straight BLUE. Ordinarily I do have more scruples than this, but 2020 is special. If it takes some creative chicanery to help unseat the Cluckmeister, I am not above doing my share. Perhaps my unmeritorious efforts will cancel out one Russian troll’s mischief.

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The song Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye has become a classic. Leonard Cohen wrote it. Wistful. Poetic. Beautiful. Feist’s version over there in the Jukebox is intimate and gorgeous. Perhaps that’s because she’s Canadian, as was Cohen. Maybe there is a cosmic Canadian consciousness that they shared. How would we ever know, not being from there, and presently not even being allowed to go there?

Feist

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On our recent drive to South Dakota and back we had hours and hours to look out the car windows for the signs of autumn. I would estimate that in the prairie states about 10% of the leaves have turned color, while here in the mountains it is closer to 40%. There were places in both prairie and mountains where instead of becoming colorful, the leaves were just becoming a lusterless brown and shriveling up, presumably due to the dry weather.

Colorado still has a statewide fire ban in place, and it would take a lot of rain to change that. Fortunately, even the drunken yahoos we met a couple of weeks back seem to take this admonition seriously, so our local fires are basically lightning-caused. We’ve not had any burning near us here in Paradise, and over the past couple of days the West Coast hasn’t been nearly as generous with their smoke cloud, allowing our sun and stars to peek through.

One thing we’ve been spared so far is a fire caused by exploding devices at a gender reveal party, unlike what happened in Arizona and California. Ahh … humans … can’t live with ’em, can’t live with ’em.

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From The New Yorker

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Andrew Sullivan wrote an excellent piece this week about tyrants, starring guess who? Sullivan’s a smart guy, and this article brings conflicting things together so well I highly recommend it. Unless your blood pressure is worrisome or your mind is about to snap with what you’ve already taken in. The piece is called “The Face of a Tyrant.”

And if your brain is not worn to a nubbin and you are still wanting more to think about, click on David Brooks’ name over in the Links list on the right. His latest piece is How Faith Shapes My Politics. A thoughtful op/ed about one man’s journey from atheism to belief and what that did to his political convictions. It’s pertinent to today where a candidate’s fitness for the SCOTUS is being at least partially based on answers to these same questions.

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Passages

A week. We’ve been gone a week and are more than ready to rejoin the rest of our clothes and to eat a meal we’ve prepared ourselves using something other than a microwave. Since we’ve not heard from our cat-sitter we ordinarily assume that the furry pair have been doing well. Yesterday we saw the first few patches of blue sky we’ve seen in all of that time, as the smoke blanket began to develop holes big enough to matter. We actually saw a few stars last night as well.

On our way home we passed through Denver and stopped for a few hours to connect with the Johnson family. It’s almost a certainty that they will take off on the first phase of their move to California by the end of October. Grandma ain’t happy about that. Philosophical, resigned, but not happy. Those grandchildren are among the loves of her life, and no matter what sort of narrative we construct, they will be farther away when this process is done. There are only two saving graces here, airlines and FaceTime.

Every once in a great while, something happens that prompts me to imagine what it must have been like in the late 1800s for my great-grandparents. Stepping onto boats in Norwegian harbors and bound for an America they could only wonder about. What painful goodbyes those must have been. Even if you could try to fool yourself into believing that you’d see those friends and relatives again, you would know in your heart that the chances were slim. That this was probably well and truly it.

Oh, there would be letters occasionally. Letters that took months to reach you. Until finally even the letters stopped coming, and your only connection was through others like you who had made this same journey, and who could sit around with you and talk about “the old country.” But stepping onto those boats, and looking back into those beloved faces on the docks. That would have been a hard doing.

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Today I will receive at least five emails telling me that unless I send in another $10.00 to (fill in the blank) ‘s campaign that Western civilization as I know it will be lost forever. That P.Cluck and his army of trolls and orcs will come to my home, tear up my lawn, break my windows, and shoot my cats with their Second Amendment AR-15s. That without my ten bucks there is absolutely no hope of the sun ever shining again, and no chance that the leaves will turn color this Fall.

These emails are coming at me from all directions, from folks like Nancy Pelosi, James Carville, Barack Obama … there’s quite a list of names of very important people who now correspond with me. I wonder that they can get anything else done, what with all the writing they are doing.

I have become resentful of the whole process. I know that campaigns need cash, but this electronic fear-mongering has gone from being amusing to annoying to distasteful. If one party collects more donations than the other in September, is that really all there is to it? Is money the only thing? Are we that easily manipulated? I’d rather not believe that, thank you very much.

So to Nancy and Jim and Barack – put a fork in it. Stop the hand-wringing over those dollars and spend your time reminding us what is really at stake here. Cluck may not be a Hitler, he may not even be up to being a Mussolini. But he’s a bad guy in the tyrant mold, and we need him out of there. America has work to do in this world and he and his cronies are standing in the way.

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An old friend declared the other day she that this political season has caused her to have occasional violent, even murderous, thoughts, which she found shocking.  I reassured her that she was not the only one to do so.  As a matter of fact, H.L. Mencken voiced those feelings very well back in the 1930s when he said:

Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.

Around this discussion table there were both men and women and no one under 65 years of age.  We also decided that if there was to be a revolutionary group taking up arms against those oppressors, it made a great deal of sense to use citizens much like the group we represented.

First of all, in the matter of assassin-ship, who better than a bunch of gray haired grandmothers to get past security and close to a target?  And if any of us were to be caught, well, how many years do we really have left? Might as well spend them in a righteous cause. The only problems that I could see were that our aim is probably not what it used to be. Also, because we’d all lost some hearing acuity we couldn’t depend on auditory commands and instructions, and when you start standing up and waving flags to get your co-conspirators’ attention, it’s quite possible that the Secret Service and the FBI might notice.

(Note to Homeland Security.  Before you load a couple of vans and come for us with those same thugs you sent to Portland, look up the word “satire.”  You might save some time.)

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Another woman that I loved has passed away. I first encountered Juliette Greco when I was seventeen and an undergraduate at the U. of Minnesota. My minor was French and one of my professors was Monsieur Renaud, a small but fiery man who turned me into an avid (and lifelong) Francophile. I practiced my accent for hours on end, I shopped in bookstores for French language titles, and I looked around in music stores for examples of what a real French person might listen to.

And it was there that I discovered Juliette. She was beautiful, she sang with passion, she hung around with Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, and she had been in the French resistance during WWII. What perfection!

Of course, she was nearly twice as old as I was at the time, but that was never an obstacle to infatuation, which is a toxic and febrile state that sniffs at realities like those.

So now she’s left us. But I still have some of her music, saved from the time of that long ago and very one-sided love affair. Today I will indulge myself and listen to some of it. And share a piece or two with you as well.

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Sunday Morning

I hereby promise not to complain about our piddly weather variations here on the Western Slope. Not as long as the West Coast is on fire. That is a problem, a heartache, a series of disasters. Our cold rains, too-hot days, dust blown in our eyes, early frosts … these are annoyances.

I may mention local meteorology, but I will not complain. Not that this will be a difficult thing to do, because I have a naturally sunny and forgiving disposition and a discourteous word rarely drops from these lips.

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From The New Yorker

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I know that I’ve told this story before, but no matter. If I were not to allow myself repetition this journal would grind to a halt very quickly. And we wouldn’t want that now, would we? (No answer required. A rhetorical question, that)

I first heard Recuerdos de la Alhambra at a concert when I was an undergraduate at the U. of Minnesota. I was a callow youth … actually I might have been the callowest of the freshman class, to be honest. But I had grand ideas of self-improvement, and one of those was that I would learn something about classical music.

So I coughed up the shekels necessary to attend a concert of the great classical guitarist Andres Segovia in Northrop Auditorium, which at the time was the premier performance space at the U, or in all of the Twin Cities, for that matter. I was in my seat early, because why would I take a chance on missing a single note that I had paid so dearly to hear? The concert was scheduled to begin at 8:00 P.M. There was a single plain wooden chair in the center of the stage, out in front of the gigantic maroon velvet curtain.

At precisely 8:00 Andres Segovia walked out to the chair, looked out into the audience, and saw people still streaming in through all of the doors. Without saying a word, he walked off the stage. The ushers looked puzzled, but they continued to seat attendees and the huge leather-accented doors to the hall remained open.

At 8:10 Mr. Segovia walked back onto the state and again stood by the chair. A few stragglers were still entering, and he silently walked off the stage into the wings. Again.

This time, everybody got it. The ushers slammed those big doors shut and if you weren’t already inside it was too bad for you. The seated audience realized what was happening and were ready to strangle the next trespassers with a thousand willing hands if they had to, in order to hear the music they had come for.

At 8:20 Andres Segovia walked onto the stage in an absolutely silent hall, sat down on that lone chair, and proceeded to play Recuerdos de la Alhambra. I never forgot the moment, and the piece has been a favorite ever since that night.

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The Abominable Showman

The vicious, immoral, psychopathic, lying, draft-dodging, oath-breaking, woman-abusing, racist, bigoted, rotten barrel of apples that we call a president is at his best/worst these days.

Like any tinpot dictator desperately trying to hang onto power he’s attempting to create a national fear of “them” being on the way to the suburbs where they will wreak all sorts of havoc.

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We are told that our wives, husbands, children, property are all at risk if the Democrats take over. But look there in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane … no, it’s P.Cluck and he is the only one who can save us from “their” grasping hands! Look out, white people, “they” are coming for you, is his repeated and thinly coded message.

Guess who “they” are? Well, I’ll give you a clue, they’re not Norwegians, Cluck likes Norwegians. He probably even wishes he could find Norway on a map.

It’s a tactic as old as our species. Create the dragon in people’s minds that only you can slay. What a pile. What an unworthy person. Time to wall him up in Mar-El-Lago with his poisonous brood and be done with them.

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One of my favorite things is to find a new version of a song, only a cover, but one that brings out something new about the lyrics, or the music itself. I’ve got one for you this morning.

A few days back I compared two interpretations of the Paul Simon song, Graceland. The first was by Simon himself, and the second by a woman named Kina Grannis. Grannis does a lot of covers (she also writes her own songs) and has a ton of material on YouTube.

When I ran across this one it surprised even jaded old me. It’s the old Nirvana tune, Smells Like Teen Spirit. First, we’ll give you a video of Nirvana doing it, and on the second one you can see how Ms. Grannis handles the material . (BTW, if Nirvana is not your thing, just watch a bit of it to see the contrasts. Humor me, okay?)

Soft and sweet, a Nirvana trademark.

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I know the differences are subtle, but you readers are a very discerning lot and I am certain you will see them.

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Tuesday was a day of blessed relief from the heat! The temperature never got above 75 degrees and the populace of Paradise walked about staring into the heavens and wondering what had happened. The other sweet thing about Tuesday was that our sky was back to a gorgeous shade of blue because the smoke had dissipated.

Sometimes it’s the littlest things …

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You know what makes me almost want to cry? The fact the the Clucksters have probed the CDC and found some weak ones in there who could be pushed into making unsound statements to the press. Even if they later retract or amend them, the damage to public confidence has been done.

I confess that I shouldn’t be surprised at all. Among my own former colleagues there were always (uncommon) individuals who were just waiting for their fascist moment to arrive. They were all ready with the slogans, the dogmas, their repetition of far-right nonsense phrases. I even suspect that some of them had black shirts in their closets to put on when the great day came and the latest reincarnation of Il Duce showed up.

So I guess that it shouldn’t come as a shock that there are some physicians within the CDC who were looking forward to being singled out by P.Cluck for bigger things. Bah! Shame on them.

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And last for today, just when you thought there was nothing more that you could possibly find to worry about, we are presented with a new danger to our health – the toilet plume! Yes, you heard me, the plume! I would actually advise you not to read the article … it’s one of those things than once learned you can never un-learn.  Even when the coronavirus is only an unpleasant memory, the plume will be with us.

This bit of information is provided by the AARP and they should be embarrassed for having done so.  Sometimes in life, ignorance is a thing to be treasured.  This would have been one of those times.

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… hate to see that evenin’ sun go down …

First of all, I didn’t take this photograph. I could have, if I hadn’t been cowering indoors away from the heat. What it shows is a magical sunset, a Star Wars sunset, that happened last week as the sun shone through the gray smoke which filled our sky for several days. The fire was a hundred miles away, but its effects reached a long way down the valley.

Here in Paradise we coughed more often, our air quality suffered in any way you cared to measure it, and experts told us (and rightly so) how unhealthy it all was. But, child, we did have some sunsets, didn’t we?

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Just a hundred yards from our home a couple of evenings ago Robin and I saw something special. Six buck mule deer in a group crossing Sunnyside Street. We see does frequently, but not the males. Not in groups like this. They were beautiful to behold. A bunch of graceful bachelors hanging out on a Saturday night.

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Sunday afternoon the weather was unsettled, but Robin and I decided to take our exercise hike anyway. It wasn’t long before we plucked our rain shells out of the daypacks and put them on as drizzle protection. It never rained hard, but just enough to provoke the gumbo gods and a thick coating of mud built up on the bottoms of our boots. But we persevered and were glad we did. Some of the joys of walking in the rain are experiencing the aromas of the plant communities, like the sage and rabbitbrush. Aromas that may be there on drier days, but our limited sense of smell doesn’t pick them up.

We took off our mud-encrusted boots before we got back in the car and placed them carefully in the cargo bay of the Forester, driving home in our stocking feet. Once back at la casa del Floms, I hosed the boots down and put them in the garage to dry. That gumbo becomes semi-concrete if you give it half a chance.

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This summer I have really come to love the sound of the Hawaiian slack-key guitar. I was formerly ignorant of the entire genre, but now prefer it to any of the more familiar sounds from those islands. The music has an interesting history, starting with a bunch of 19th century Mexican cowboys … but I’ll stop there, you might want to read more on your own. Wikipedia is a good place to start.

It is all in the tuning, apparently, and I have to trust those who know about such things, because the only musical instrument I ever learned to play was the stereo. The effect is to mellow me out so thoroughly that I am in danger of slipping right out of my chair and cracking my head on the way down.

But this sweet music fits perfectly into the languor of these hot summer afternoons and evenings.

Here’s a couple by Ledward Ka’apana: Pua Hana and Slack Key Lullaby.

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We Are Probably Incapable Of Learning Our Lesson Department

Against all odds and common sense we are planning a campout for the Labor Day weekend, most likely with Amy, Neil, and family. Since everything is pretty much buttoned up down here, we’re thinking about going up onto the Uncompahgre Plateau, a largely uninhabited and wild place where only the weakest minds venture to go and only the hardiest survive (definite hyperbole, there).

This time we’re planning on bringing sleeping bags, just for variety, and the sorts of food that if any of it drops on the ground you can pick it up and blow the dirt off and it’s good as new. Our camper has also been repaired and all of the poles work as they should.

There’s a small campground up on the plateau containing 8 sites of the first-come/first-served kind. It has a vault toilet, but no water. The daily camping fee is zero dollars, because they don’t patrol or pick up trash or much of anything, actually. But we’ve seen it, and it’s surprisingly tidy. It is also located close to some hiking/biking trails that are appealing.

But spill one’s chicken chili out there and it’s a long way back to Montrose for provisions.

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From the Skies

I don’t know if you missed it or not, but a couple of days ago there was a news item that stated there had been more than 12,000 lightning strikes in California in one week, which seemed to me to be an astoundingly high number. Especially since lightning strikes and wildfires go together. And there is no state that knows more about wildfires than California.

Then I thought … how do they know that there were 12,000? A couple of computer clicks and a phone call or two and I had my answer. There is a small office at the state capitol in Sacramento with lettering on the door that says Department of Revolting Environmental Developments, and yesterday I had a Zoom conference with the man who sits behind that door. His name is Arthur Schwarzenegger, who is a third cousin to the more famous Arnold, and is a holdover from that administration.

Mr. S. (we’ll call him that because Schwarzenegger takes way too long to type out each time) is a small balding man in his late fifties. His remaining wispy hair mostly sticks out from his head, forming a gray halo of sorts (and this is unnerving) and the hairs seem to almost writhe as we converse. His eyes dart constantly about the room, and he taps with a pencil on the desktop rapidly and without interruption. The muscles of his face twitch throughout the interview, independently of one another.

His shirt is badly buttoned and his cravat is tied poorly, which gives him a decidedly untidy appearance. We spoke under the condition that I not publish a word of the conversation, a promise that I fully intended to break at the time I made it, and this is the result.

Interviewer: Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. S, I know that you must be busy at this time of year. Am I correct in assuming this?

Mr. S.: Yes, yes, terrible busy. I can only give you five minutes.

Interviewer: Well, let’s get to it, then. I read that your state recently had 12,ooo lightning strikes in the space of a week. Is that number accurate?

Mr. S.: Yes, it is.

Interviewer: How do you know that?

Mr. S.: I count them.

Interviewer: You mean your office counts them?

Mr. S.: No, I do. Me. I count all of them.

Interviewer: Do you not have office staff to help out? Some sort of technology to assist you in this endeavor?

Mr. S.: No … it’s just me and a clicker.

Interviewer: But how … ?

Mr. S.: I sit out in thunderstorms at the place in our state that has the most strikes and click each time one comes.

Interviewer: And this is accurate?

Mr. S.: Very. I am warned of each upcoming blast by the fact that my hair sticks straight out from my head. So I never miss a one.

Interviewer: But, sir, you can only certify the lightning you can see around you, and California is a very large state. How can you …

Mr. S.: I extrapolate. Whatever number of bolts I see, I multiply by a factor to get the total for the entire state.

Interviewer: Is this factor a scientifically derived value?

Mr. S.: No. I made it up. Whole cloth and all that.

Interviewer: So this is a very soft number indeed.

Mr. S.: The softest.

Interviewer: Aren’t you worried about this? Your job, for instance, is that secure with you making things up as you go along?

Mr. S.: Look, I work out of this crummy office, by myself, with an ancient computer running Windows 95. When I am in the field, and I mean literally in the field, I wear rubber clothing, rubber shoes, rubber underwear, run wires from my hat to the ground as a precaution, and still I have been knocked down by lightning 37 times as of yesterday. What are they going to do to me?

At that, there was a crashing noise in the hallway outside his door, and Mr.S. dove under his desk with surprising alacrity for a man of middle years. He would not come out from under, and so we terminated the interview.

Even though my confidence had been shaken quite a bit, I was still impressed … 12,000 … that’s a lot of lightning, soft count or not.

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Paul Simon is one of those artists whose music has been part of my personal soundtrack, always playing there somewhere in the background, and coming up louder whenever needed. This has been so since the day Sound of Silence flowed out of my car radio, and when Bridge Over Troubled Water was released … Hoo Boy … he and I were off and we never looked back.

Then the Graceland album – totally excellent, nest-ce pas? – yes it was and the title tune was so upbeat and all that it was perhaps a year before I really listened to the lyrics. And then, I thought Paul – you really suckered me there, didn’t you? That’s a darned sad song with words to make you think about your own … but, hey … so I waited for someone to slow the tune down and let us in on the feelings held in those naked words.

And I found someone who did just that, and did it beautifully as well. Her name is Kina Grannis and I put her version up there with Paul’s.

Might as well add the lyrics, here … you can’t tell the players without a program

The Mississippi Delta
was shining like a national guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War

I’m going to Graceland, Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead
And she said, “losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow”

I’m going to Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I’m looking at ghosts and empties
But I’ve reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
“Whoa, so this is what she means”
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Well, everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

Ooh, ooh, ooh
In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Whoa, oh, oh
In Graceland, in Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland

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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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Adversities Happen

Just back in last night from our last camping trip for a while. Met up with Allyson and Kyle near Leadville, the highest altitude city in the U.S. We stayed at Father Dyer campground, a lovely small place in a pine forest on a crystalline lake. It was a family campground, rather than a place for parties, so quiet reigned supreme. A really beautiful setting.

Not too warm in the daytime, not too cold at night. Perfect.

Well, not perfect, not really.

You remember that I was recently stung a couple of times by a wasp. On Sunday morning my hand was twice its size, to the point that I couldn’t get my watch on and had to wear it on my right hand. But we packed up and drove from Montrose to the campground, and when we began to put up the rig, we discovered that the two replacement sectional aluminum poles we had purchased from the Sylvansport company after the originals were damaged in a Memorial Day gale were wrong. Just wrong. Both were too long, and one was clearly for another purpose entirely. We were able to put up the tent is a slapdash fashion, but it looked droopy and would probably not keep the rain out.

However, life is what it is, and we spent the afternoon with our friends, looking forward to some white lightning chicken chili I had prepared at home, and promised everyone for supper. Around six 0’clock I began to heat it up and decided that I had chosen the wrong size pot for the job. I set out a larger one and was transferring the chili when … I still don’t know how … the entire potful flew off the table, did a 180, and upside down in the soft dust it went. Complete loss.

So I cleaned up my mess, and instead took everyone out to supper in Leadville, which was only six miles away. We ended up at a little dive named Tacos del Mina, and ordered what turned out to be excellent bar food to fill up on.

On the way back from town, a sudden cold thought occurred to me. I turned to Robin and asked: “Did you remember the sleeping bags?” She stiffened and after a dread pause anwered: “No.”

There was a five minute silence as we separately thought about our options. We ended up with Robin sleeping in the car, where she had the option of turning on the engine for heat if needed, and I slept in the droopy tent with the Mr. Buddy heater at my side and a small car blanket over me. Fortunately the temperature never fell below 49 degrees that night, but restful sleep was hard to come by.

Monday we woke to a glorious day, had fun with Ally & Kyle, and then returned home a day earlier than planned. Home, where we had plenty of sleeping bags and a full night’s sleep was not only possible, but likely.

It may not have been the camping trip from Hell, but it was certainly the one from Heck.

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Once home last night, we had only time to watch Michelle Obama give an excellent and moving speech at the Democratic convention. I will say this for P.Cluck – he has made the distinction between himself and Biden crystal clear. An imperfect but clearly decent and capable man versus someone who is very nearly perfectly bad.

We (and the rest of the world) will get to see what kind of a people Americans really are when Election Day comes around, won’t we? As for myself, I believe in us.

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One of the regrets of my life is that I was a willing accomplice in the attempted murder of jazz. When rock came along, I left that more thoughtful music for something that appealed to my endocrine system instead of my brain. But jazz did not die, it continued to press along under the radar, and only in recent years have I begun to appreciate it once again.

KOKOROKO is a group of Londoners pursuing something called Afrobeat, and I really like their music. I’ve included a quieter example in the sidebar jukebox.

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An Aha Moment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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I, Racist

Usually I try to read as much junk literature as I can, but somehow I’ve started a serious book, one that deals with racism. It is entitled White Fragility. The book is on my Kindle, so I know that I am 15% of the way through, and I can already tell that it’s not a book that’s going to be easy to recommend to others. So far it’s one hard fact to learn after another, but it’s one of those books that shines a needed light into some of those neglected and shady corners of a person’s mind.

It’s been a very long time since the day that I admitted to myself that there was a racist in that mix of personalities that I call Me . What puzzled me at the time was this – how did he get in there? This book begins to answer that question. It’s quite simple, according to the author, who makes the case that the formative influences are subtle, invisible, and universal. I am racist because there is almost no way I could have been anything different.

Good book so far, at least the first 15%.

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Not to worry, folks, there will be a motorcycle rally at Sturgis SD this year after all. Something like 240,000 bikers and gawkers will descend on the town to drink, race their bikes, drink, listen to music, drink, brawl, drink, and have sex. At least what sex all of that drinking will permit.

Here is what Main Street Sturgis looked like in 2015, just to set the scene.

They will not wear masks because it makes drinking awkward, nor will they pay much attention to social distancing because it does the same thing for sex. The governor of the state of South Dakota, one of the dimmer bulbs in that state’s chandelier, is happy as a clam that the bikers are coming, and she hopes that they will bring lots of money to spend. She has difficulty believing in germs … they are so small, you know.

Once bike week is over the participants will return to their home states, some carrying newly acquired coronavirus with them, and many of them will not live to see Christmas. This is the bad news. The good news is that in about two months there will be a lot of well-cared-for used motorcycles on the market, probably at very good prices.

(As long as we’re talking motorcycles and mortal illnesses, I came across this article yesterday. Odd doesn’t do it justice.)

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Robin informed me that someone in Texas is suing the governor because he has mandated mask-wearing. Lord help us. One of the most unhappy things that this pandemic has done is reveal just how many fools there are among us.

And who is us? Why, the straight-shootin’, right-minded, honorable, brave, and intelligent Americans, that’s who. You and me, for starters.

Right?

Right on.

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Wandering this morning I came across this video from 1980. As I listened today, it seems a song so well-suited to our so very confusing and disorienting time.

Ripple in still water … when there is no pebble tossed … nor wind to blow

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Old and New

Okay, you know that I am fond of cartoons. At least the stranger ones. It’s why I had scanned and dropped into this blog some of the old work of Dick Guindon over the last several months. And why I went looking for more oddness in the archives of The New Yorker when it was still a simple thing to do and they hadn’t yet discovered how to foil the outright theft of their property by miscreants like myself.

So it was with joy this morning that I discovered that one of my old faves is back from retirement. Gary Larson, the creator of The Far Side cartoons, has recently established a website where one can get their fix of old strangeness and some new stuff as well. It’s his first new work since 1995, and he doesn’t appear to have lost his edge. The website is called, oddly enough, The Far Side. I’ve decided not to steal his stuff … for now … and let you explore to your hearts’ content on your own.

Oh, heck, just two … first, an old one:

And now, a new one:

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What in the world is wrong with me? Both Taylor Swift and Kanye West dropped new albums upon the world this past week, and I care not one whit. Must be my age … my outdated musical tastes … my subconscious racism (wait … no … that’s not it … what could be whiter than Taylor Swift?).

For whatever reason, the musical output of these two performers is as exciting to me as a freshly opened can of okra. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Just in case you need an example of my bona fides as a musical critic, here is one of my all-time favorites from the archives, for you to savor and enjoy. It’s Mule Skinner Blues, by The Fendermen. Ahhhhh, they don’t write them like this any more.

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Friend Caroline clued me in on a video I’d missed, and one that is worth seeing. You and I may have become numb to the dismal statistics and the almost unbelievable incompetence of the Cluck administration. But as you watch these young people from around the world being told the US story and they hear the numbers that Americans are living (and dying) with, the disbelief on their faces tells volumes.

Mass graves in the United States? Would you ever have thought that possible? Our national four-year flirtation with fascism has led to one abysmal failure after another. Failure in every aspect of our nation’s life. It turns out that populism has not improved over the generations. It still eventually comes down to government by thugs.

There have been many moments in the past when the arrogance and smugness of liberals like myself has annoyed the hell out of me. But I now look back at those times as the good old days.

This November, let’s work our butts off and bring back smug.

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Sunday Morning

On some Sunday mornings I become wistful, always a dangerous thing for a senior citizen because it can be the gateway drug leading to maudlin sentimentality. I will admit that when I want to, I can out-maudlin anyone in the room, but that’s not where I’m going this particular morning.

The following are all weekend songs. If you lean back with your coffee and let yourself go for a moment, maybe they’ll remind you of a time when you were starved for experience, and wanted more from a Saturday and a Sunday than any two days could provide. Way before you learned how to be sensible and the boundary between love and lust was still a bit fuzzy. When any evening was filled with possibilities you couldn’t even describe because you didn’t have the vocabulary yet.

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Tom Waits is so good at this. You’ve got a girl, you’ve got a car, and the road is open to somewhere you can’t quite imagine … a great something may be waiting for you out there tonight.

Well you gassed her up, behind the wheel, with your arm around your sweet one in your Oldsmobile. Barrelin’ down the boulevard you’re looking for the heart of Saturday night

Tom Waits: Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night

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Back in the day when I was a working-class kid, and known to tip a bottle or two or three on a Saturday night, Fats Domino could have been singing about any one of my work-weeks.

Sunday mornin’ my head is bad, but it’s worth it for the fun that I’ve had, but I’ve got to get my rest, ’cause Monday is a mess

Fats Domino: Blue Monday

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Etta James … so great. Here’s a wistful lament for you. Looking past the shininess of all the Saturday nights at something more …

I want a Sunday kind of love, a love to last past Saturday night …

Etta James: A Sunday Kind of Love

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I am the worst kind of fan for a certain kind of musician to have, I think. I want their blood, every time. I want to be stirred. A new singer or group emerges and their music is filled with a passion that you can believe in. Then they become successful and the passion is gradually replaced by professionalism. They still make listenable sound, but the hunger is gone and you can hear where it used to be. I stopped being interested in U2 after their remarkable album The Joshua Tree. But before that they were beautiful banner-carriers and up there on the barricades every time.

I can’t believe the news today, oh I can’t close my eyes and make it go away …

U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

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To me, this is perhaps the best Sunday morning song of them all, from a master teller of stories. I can see the guy stepping out the door of his apartment and onto the sidewalk, blinking in the sunlight and looking scruffy as hell. Hey, he looks a bit like yours truly … nah … but for just a moment there …

On the Sunday morning sidewalks, wishin’ Lord that I was stoned, ’cause there’s something in a Sunday, makes a body feel alone

Kris Kristofferson: Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

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Peace, Friend.

Dad(s) Rock

It was not too long ago that I first ran across the term “dad rock,” but I recognized it as the unflattering term it was meant to be immediately.

And resented it deeply (sniff). Because they were talking ’bout me and my confréres in a low and dismissive way.

According to the users of the term, people like myself were locked into the rock music of 20 years ago or more. To make things worse, our dratted tunes keep being played over and over on the radio, in commercials, in movie soundtracks, etc.

Apparently this drives some music critics nuts, so they have retaliated by coming up with the term dad rock. I will admit that there is a trickle of truth in what they are saying. Studies have shown that we bond with the music we played in our adolescence and young adulthood in a way that never occurs again in life. The music we’re talking about today was rock and roll being born, in the most messy and uncontrolled way. Out of that mess came a mountain of forgettable (and forgotten) sound, but also one marvelous and memorable song after another.

So I feel for those men and women who can’t stand dad rock, because they are probably stuck with it as long as our generation still has a pulse.

And as far as most of the music I link to in this blog … well … pretty much unadulterated you know what, I guess. But there are two good things about it for you readers. Firstly, you don’t have to listen because it doesn’t start automatically, requiring action on the reader’s part.

Secondly, it’s free.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

Biden Should Not Debate Trump Unless … by Thomas Friedman

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Dear Ragnar: Ragnar? Ragnar? RAGNAR?

Ragnar: Don’t bother me, boy, can’t you see I’m busy? I have to sign for something here.

Dear Ragnar: What’s in the boxes?

Ragnar: Mead.

Dear Ragnar: Mead?

Ragnar: And do I need it!

Dear Ragnar: Explain.

Ragnar: Why are you here?

Dear Ragnar: To ask you about our politics.

Ragnar: That’s why I have the need for mead.

Dear Ragnar: But you’re a spirit, right? Why should earthly matters trouble you?

Ragnar: Because I keep forgetting that I’m a spirit, so I pick up a newspaper, and by the time I remember I’m already nauseous from what I’ve read.

Dear Ragnar: I think I can relate to that.

Ragnar: You bet! Spirits have feelings, too. We’re only flesh and blood … wait … that’s not right …

Dear Ragnar: So can I ask you something?

Ragnar: Hit it, honey.

Dear Ragnar: If you were a registered voter come November, who would you vote for?

Ragnar: I’d go for Biden, myself.

Dear Ragnar: His age doesn’t put you off?

Ragnar: You’re asking a guy who is 400 years old?

Dear Ragnar: Sorry.

Ragnar: But let’s say age matters. So he’s got to get a younger person to run with him.

Dear Ragnar: Yes?

Ragnar: And he’s already said it will be a shield maiden.

Dear Ragnar: And?

Ragnar: Probably a good thing to have one of color.

Dear Ragnar: Okay, that’s been said

Ragnar: But … do you know any female candidates of color who are also Norsk?

Dear Ragnar: I don’t.

Ragnar: Me neither. Guess we’ll have to skip that category.

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We are back from our sojourn in the Silesca Guard Station, up on the Uncompahgre Plateau. Overall we had a great time, and found that the old cabin was only mildly full of allergens for Robin and I.

There was an oddness when we arrived. A very pleasant lady came out the front door and said that she had made an error, and thought she was also booked in through the night of the 8th of July, the day we arrived. She had just that morning recognized the mistake she’d made, and was in the process of feverishly working with her daughter to pack everything up. There was one slight additional hiccup. Her husband and son had left to go fishing at Ridgway (an hour away) early that morning, before anyone realized the problem, and now there was no way to contact them. This was at 11:00 AM, and we were finally able to take occupancy at 6:00 PM, when the fishermen finally returned.

Lizard track in sand

We didn’t waste all that time, however. During the waiting period, we decided to take a loop hike on something called the Buck Trail. It turned out to be a nine-mile loop, and by the end I was making tracks in the dust much like a lizard’s, feet on the side and tail dragging in the middle. But once the other family cleared out, it was all smooth sailing from then on.

The cabin was rustic, and is on the Register of Historic Places. The beds were comfortable – our sleeping bags atop their clean mattresses. The kitchen was well supplied and all appliances worked. There were two bathrooms, each with its own shower. Bathrooms and kitchen were in the basement, sleeping spaces and living room on the ground level.

Our view out the front windows was 0f a delightful meadow. Each visitor to the Silesca Cabin was expected to do the clean-up after themselves. There would be no one coming out from Montrose to help with that. As a result, it was all reasonably clean, although Robin did notice the need for a deep clean sometime in the near future.

Overall it was an interesting couple of days, and we developed more of an appreciation for the 2290 square miles of the Uncompahgre Plateau. A huge area for us to explore on future trips. Endless places to practice dispersed camping.

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Some photos from the Uncompahgre Plateau and the cabin.

The Buzz

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t.

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

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

On a plane.

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

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

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

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

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No Title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walt Whitman: Song of Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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Paradise Found

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

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

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

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

Not every moment during a pandemic is horrible.

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

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

What more, I ask of thee?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Something new this week …

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