Here, Kitty Kitty

In my continuing efforts to try to satisfy the nutritional needs of the two furry gourmands who live at the same address that I do, I am daily swinging from elation to depression. No matter how eagerly they ingested the “Grilled Chicken with Liver” paté the last time I opened a can, today they may walk as carefully as members of a bomb squad might do to the same dish, give it a quick sniff, and then exit through the cat door, completely ignoring it.

And then the mess sits there gathering dust and developing an unattractive tough surface film that after a couple of hours pretty much guarantees that neither of the pair will ever eat it. They will then stand beside the rejected dishful and begin to complain that they are being ill served and would I please give them something to eat that is not revolting or poisonous?

The same goes for my homemade ground chicken mixture. It is vet-designed to contain everything that a cat needs to be healthy and happy, with proper attention paid to all of the known mistakes made in the past with regard to feline nutrition. Most days Willow will not touch it but Poco will clean his plate. Some days both cats act like they haven’t been fed in weeks and gobble it up with unseemly haste. Then there are the days when it doesn’t pass the sniff test at all, and both critters walk scornfully past their food containers and out the door.

Cats do scorn awfully well.

Ah well, it was so raising small children as well. They would have been happy with one bowlful of Lucky Charms (that toxically-sweetened and garishly-colored monstrosity of a cereal) after another, rotated with occasional platefuls of Kraft Mac n’Cheese or Spaghetti-Os at all meals and on all days and for years. It was when I tried to pay more than lip service to nutrition that I ran into trouble with them.

There are certainly no guarantees in parenting or pet care. My advice to the younger citizens of America is to acquire children or cats only after long and careful consideration.

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Yesterday our weather did an abrupt 180, going from sunny and nearly 90 degrees on Monday to 55 degrees and a cold drizzle on Tuesday. Wednesday morning is much the same. If I were in charge of things at the Celestial Department of Meteorology I would never do it this way. Humans are much happier when transitions are gradual. In fact, you can slip some pretty ugly weather into their lives if you do it one step at a time over several days or weeks.

My idea of the perfect September is 75 degree days while I walk about the town watching the leaves turn beautiful colors, each leaf remaining quietly on the tree for at least three weeks until the breezes finally carry them away. Maybe we’ll get some of that perfection, but here we are on the ninth day already … the gods better get cracking, is all I’ve got to say.

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It would appear that P.Cluck has completely taken leave of anything even remotely resembling decency, probity, or his senses. His public rantings are uglier than ever, his personal psychopathies more nakedly displayed. Who, I ask myself nearly every day, are these citizens who still eagerly follow him? Are they as degenerate and corrupted inside as he is? Is that what’s going on?

I am not able to sort it out, but the wondering makes me very sad some days. I very much want to think better of my own kind, but then I see pictures of the rallies chock-full of demented-looking Caucasians, applauding his vicious brand of nonsense.

My (distanced) mentor Thich Nhat Hanh would probably say that if I had grown up with different parents and had a different childhood that I might be in those stands wearing my MAGA hat and clapping my hands right along with them. And he would probably be right. But acknowledging that doesn’t make these people less dangerous or their attitudes less difficult to deal with.

On some days life is easier than on others, isn’t it?

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We are continuing to enjoy Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, on Netflix. It’s that little Japanese series (with subtitles) I mentioned a few posts back. It is sooo low-key, sooo kind-hearted, and if it occasionally wanders a little to the melancholy side it is never a downer. It’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, and that covers a lot of years of television.

You owe it to yourself to watch at least one episode. It will do your heart good. And you might find that your chopstick technique improves as well.

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Open Carry

We returned to the Uncompahgre Plateau on Sunday afternoon and found all of our gear intact and undisturbed. Packing up took less than half an hour and the camper is now safely stowed at home, our stuff cleaned and put away. End of story, right? Not quite.

Robin has stated that she’s done with camping for the year, maybe for good. Who can blame her? This year alone she has been buffeted by gales that wrecked tents and forced us to huddle behind trees. She has been chilled in a car with no blankets or sleeping bag to protect her. Her husband has plopped her evening meal into the dirt, and now a drunken mob made sleep impossible and created serious concerns about safety.

Perhaps as time passes these fresh scars will heal and she will see the positive side of this sort of activity once again, perhaps not. Either way, she’s a game girl for going along with me all of these years without plunging a dagger into my sleeping form and being done with the whole enterprise.

As for myself, I have been dealing with some odd thoughts that popped into my head. For the briefest of moments while packing up on Sunday, I wished that I had been armed on that Saturday night. This was the internal dialogue:

What sort of insanity is this? You think to bring yet another handgun into a world that already brims with them?

But if I’d had one, perhaps we would have felt more safe, more comfortable.

And what would you have done differently? Stood in the road leading into the campground in your fleece pajamas like a version of Walter White daring a bunch of drunken hoodlums to pass?

What if they’d taken up your challenge? What then?

.

I don’t know, I just …

You would have been a fool, that’s what. There could have been only a very few outcomes. That this sodden sorry group of miscreants would have run right over you in a fit of intoxicated bravado is the more likely. Another is that you might right now be sitting in some hoosegow staring out at a world forever changed for you because you did have a firearm and you used it.

Way less likely is that the mob would have been instantly chastened and would have sent a delegation to beg your forgiveness, then packed up their pickups and driven off into the darkness to spend the rest of the evening sobering up and pondering their misdeeds, pledging never to do such loutish things ever again.

And so it goes.

Most of my life I’ve not been a physically imposing person, and since I possess the martial arts skills of an amoeba my planned strategies for dangerous confrontations included first trying to talk myself out of the situation, and if that failed, I planned to run. I realized that this would work better against knives than bullets, but there you are.

Then the years started to pile up and eventually I had to come to grips with the fact that running wasn’t going to cut it any longer. The knees, you know.

So then what? By age eighty I had never come up against a life-threatening confrontation, not really, so what was I worried about? Well, all those articles that are published describing how certain unscrupulous persons prey on seniors preferentially, that’s what. That’s when the handgun fantasies first started creeping into my daydreams.

Like so many other unwanted mental safaris that my mind goes on, I put this recurring one aside each time with a rueful smile. As I will with this last episode. But I fully understand the pull that fear can produce, and why others might choose differently.

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A good story here. Seeds that were 2000 years old have borne fruit. And delicious fruit at that.

Happy news.

.

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Saturday the skies were the most beautiful shade of intense blue. Sunday they were hazy and the blue much less vibrant. Monday that hue was completely obscured by smoke, and our sunrise was a red one. This time they tell us that the smoke has traveled all the way from California. All day long the San Juan Mountains south of us were invisible, and on our drive up to the Black Canyon for a hike, the viewing was transformed.

In the photo Robin is walking on the Upland Trail and you can see the reddish/chocolate color of the sky. What smoke does do well is to reveal layers of hills in the distance, setting off each one from the one behind it in a striking fashion. A lovely effect, that.

Poor California. Each year the blazes seem worse. Even though we are not without our problems with wildfires here in Colorado, it is not on California’s scale.

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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.

.

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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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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Saddle Up!

Saturday morning we took our first bicycle ride since Robin’s fall a couple of months ago. Down to the Farmer’s Market we rolled to round up some of the finest peaches and sweet corn on the planet. Rode back home extra-carefully so as to bruise neither the fruit nor Robin.

All went well, and that’s a good thing because we’d both love to add those regular rides back to our exercise/fun schedule. Especially with the promise of cooler days in September. This summer of consistent high temperatures has definitely required some coping strategies. A lot more time indoors than we’re accustomed to.

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The Democrats have put away the party hats they never got to use, and are going about the everyday business of working toward getting their people elected. The Cluckian Party, which replaced the Republicans somewhere along the way, is gearing up for something of their own next week.

Because the stuttering young man who had been befriended by Joe Biden made such a favorable impression this past week, the Clucksters are trying hard to find someone (outside his immediate family) whose life has been bettered by contact with his Serene Orange-itude, but they are not having any success at all.

Word has it that they are willing to settle for hiring a few shills if they can find some that are convincing enough. So look next week for a line of suspicious-looking people throwing down their crutches and declaring I Can Walk! I Can Walk! after coming into the presence of P.Cluck hisself.

As for myself, I am allowed to watch only one political convention per year by order of my personal physician, Dr. Imperviosa Sanguinaria. Between us we selected the Democrats’ get-together as this year’s winner. It’s a matter of my blood pressure, she says. So whatever the Cluckians do, I’ll have to wait for the summaries a day later to find out. Or perhaps a week. Or two.

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From The New Yorker

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Several years ago I scanned some ancient photographs that Robin’s mother, Dorothy, had been keeping around in various shoeboxes. You know, the way everybody did before digital cameras came on the scene. Now I have them in our library, even though I know very few of the people in the pix, and that goes for Robin as well. I don’t quite understand it, but I enjoy studying antique photos, even when they are of people I don’t know.

Believing that everybody deserves their one day of fame and exposure, I will share a few of these vintage photographs with you.

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And lastly, this Sunday morning, something fierce. One woman’s poem chosen by another poet, and all purloined by me from the Times of New York.

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Some Girls

By Alison Luterman and Naomi Shihab Nye

This poem had already been selected when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed on the House floor her unforgettably powerful response to misogynistic insult. Now I read it with pride for brave people who speak out publicly for respect and justice, for passionate poets like Alison Luterman, for the people who live through “every kind of exile” … for all the awkwardness of trying on “new wings.” And for a country that has prided itself on being so forward-thinking without ever electing one of those girls to be even vice president, much less president. This poem feels like an anthem for “ferocious mercy” to come. Selected by Naomi Shihab Nye

Some Girls

By Alison Luterman

Some girls can’t help it; they are lit sparklers,
hot-blooded, half naked in the depths of winter,
tagging moving trains with the bright insignia of their
fury.
I’ve seen their inked torsos: falcons, swans, meteor
showers.
And shadowed their secret rendezvous,
walking and flying all night over paths traced like veins
through the deep body of the forest
where they are trying on their new wings,
rising to power with a ferocious mercy
not seen before in the cities of men.
Having survived slander, abuse, and every kind of exile,
they’re swooping down even now
from treetops where they were roosting,
wearing robes woven of spider webs and pigeon
feathers.
They have pulled the living child out of the flames
and are prepared to take charge through the coming
apocalypse.
I have learned that some girls are boys; some are birds,
some are oases ringed with stalking lions. See,
I cannot even name them,
although one of them is looking out through my eyes
right now,
one of them
is writing all this down with light-struck fingers.

Travelers

I’ve noticed that without any intention at all my musical selections over there in the sidebar have more or less settled into a mellower groove. There is so much noise elsewhere these days, so much shouting over one another – verbal violence to match the more physical variety being played out in the streets. Most mornings I have no wish to add to the tumult. However … I make no promises. I could break into something raucous at any time.

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I’m still making my way through the book White Fragility, page by painstaking page. I believe that I have found my sorry little self in every chapter, if not on every page. It turns out that reading it is akin to having a mental boil lanced, and that is a tender process. But I have confidence that when the probing stops I will be the better for it. Or at least I will understand more than I do today. People of my seasoned years may seem irrelevant to what it happening out there … but perhaps not … as long as we can vote, march, picket, and give aid and comfort to the enemy. My old and dear friend (who has never met me) Thich Nhat Hanh is fond of saying, if you want world peace, be peace. And one can do that at any age.

As long as the barricades aren’t so high they trigger my acrophobia I may be of some use in the struggles ahead of us. Ahhh yes, friends, there are some dandy struggles to come, even if Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris are solidly victorious in November. The cruel hearts of those rough beasts that slouched their way into Washington will still be beating, and dealing with them will require our best attention.

And to address systemic racism, troubled economics, a very nasty virus, not to mention climate change and working once more with the rest of the world … I think Joe and Kamala will not want for things to do.

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Poor Mr. Yeats, I keep trotting out his poem (or parts thereof) on so many occasions. When I first read it, the imagery was so striking to me, and it still is. If he is watching us: I apologize, Sir, for overusing, and quite possibly repeatedly misapplying, your bit of verse, but I find that I cannot come up with a better one on my own. Whenever times are troubling it seems such a good fit into matter what the cause …

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W.B. Yeats, the Second coming

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We’re expecting a guest in a couple of days. Daughter Maja is flying from Minnesota to social distance with us, and has come all the way from Peru just to do it.

Well, that’s not completely accurate. She needed a few weeks away from Peru’s hyper-rigorous lockdown, but the borders were closed. So she had herself crated up and placed in a container ship, the box having been labelled as some of those famous Peruvian textiles. Once in America, she chewed her way out of the box and thumbed rides all the way from San Diego to Mankato, having many adventures along the way. One of them involved a Maltese cat and a sack of onions … but it’s her story, and perhaps she should be the one to tell it.

So we are looking forward to debriefing her when she arrives in Paradise. In these uncertain days, learning new travel skills may come in handy down the road … who knows?

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A recommendation. Midnight Diner, on Netflix. Japanese, with subtitles. It has such … umami.

Each episode is under 30 minutes, so would it hurt you to watch at least one?

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Someone told me that they are not going to vote this year, because they abhor P. Cluck and they don’t like Joe Biden. I hope they rethink their strategy.

It would be great if our choices at the ballot box were as clear as between an awful candidate and a glorious leader, but how often does that happen in life? Sometimes in order to avoid the election of someone particularly distasteful, we must hold our nose with one hand while making our “X” with the other.

P. Cluck’s malfeasance may not yet have risen to the level of a Hitler or a Mussolini, but do we want to take even the most minuscule chance that he will be allowed to remain in office? Really, do we? And that’s exactly what not voting does. It improves his chances by one hair.

That’s not okay.

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… Nothing To Fear …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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He brought a camera.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Return from Hunt Lake

Robin and I are back, ladies and gentlemen, from our adventure in backpacking. The walk up and down the mountain was challenging, to say the least. But the body recovers.

Our final destination was a small lake called Hunt Lake, and the setting was gorgeous. We found several dispersed camping sites along the waters’ edge, and selected three of them close to one another. Justin and Kaia in one, the Hurley family in another, and the two of us in the third. The altitude at the lake was 11,480 feet.

Our campsites were in a sort of bowl, with Banana Mountain along one side. The part of that mountain facing us was basically a gigantic pile of scree which we did not attempt to walk about in. The chunks of rock making up the pile were too big, too sharp-edged, and the spaces between them looked full of hazards to one’s legs. But they were filled with pikas, those small alpine creatures who scurried about as if they weighed nothing and had suction cups for feet.

These guys were just as adorable as the one in the photo above, and a full-grown animal is the length of my outstretched hand. Pikas are in the family of lagomorphs, which includes rabbits and hares. So … a tiny mountain bunny-cousin.

Here are some pix from the trip.

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Imagine our surprise when we returned to Montrose and found that President Cluck was once again telling tales. New birther horse-doodle for his doodle-hungry followers. It was truly a journey from the sublime to the ridiculous. Such an unworthy man.

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Well, All Right!

Time has come today, sang the Chambers Brothers a few decades ago. And when I heard that Mr. Biden had finally made his choice for VP candidate, it felt that very right to me. Time has indeed come today. I can’t wait to put on a Biden/Harris button the size of a manhole cover and walk the politically red streets of Paradise.

Over the years I have at times been so frustrated with the Democratic Party … at one point I left them completely for many years and became an “Independent,” whatever the hell that is. And they are still a mess and all over the place, partly because we Americans are such a mess and all over the place. But compared to the set of sycophantic whoresons that is the GOP these days the Democrats are the absolute soul of what America means to me.

And now they have put up an Old White Man as presidential candidate, just like in most national elections. He is a decent and stable and honorable man to get behind. But Ms. Harris brings added excitement. She is smart, strong, successful, and she is seasoned. She is a woman of color who “does not know her place,” and I couldn’t be happier about that if I tried.

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From The New Yorker

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Thursday morning, just to break up the narrow routine that the Covid era has become, we are rendezvousing near CO with the Hurleys, Justin, and Kaia to go backpacking. Because of other commitments, Robin and I can join them only for one night. I don’t know who chose the route, but it is a 3 1/2 mile hike to a mountain lake. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? But in that 3 1/2 miles we will gain 2000 feet of altitude, ending up at 11,476 feet. There is some puffing and panting in those numbers.

I am not too fussy, but I know what I like, and one of those things is oxygen. I have learned that above 11,000 feet there is only one oxygen molecule per acre-foot of air, and there will be eight of us fighting for that one. I may be the oldest member of the group, and you would think that would make me vulnerable to the competition posed by youth and vigor. But I possess two other attributes in abundance – craftiness and ruthlessness.

So don’t worry about yours truly, I will be just fine. Worry about the others.

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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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Membership

Yesterday I was a couple of hours late in watering my tomato plants. And they had already begun to crumple. Looks like once a day isn’t quite enough, and the new twice daily schedule starts today. Nature apparently has an unending supply of 90+ degree days in its storeroom, and has not been shy about trotting them out this summer. Today it will be 93 degrees, with 0% chance of rain.

Ho hum, SSDD.

Our tomatoes are coming in faster than we can eat them, and we’re going to start the process of preserving them without actually getting involved in canning. We plan to convert them into sauces of one kind or another.

We did this last year, and with our present abundance we expect it to work well this year as well.

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P.Cluck has done so poorly in his last two recorded interviews that I’m beginning to be suspicious of his performances. In both of them he has come across as a complete dunderhead, and that may be all there is to it. Or could he be playing stupid, trying to lure a complacent Biden (and us) into a trap of some sort?

We’ll have to see … but after seeing his performance in the Axios interview, I think that Cluck might need help with basic living skills, like buttoning his clothes and flossing.

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This is a photo of the tomatoes I harvested just today. We have already eaten many, and there are so many more to come. And all of this from three plants.

I was so elated after picking this huge bowlful that I ran indoors to look up who the god of gardeners might be, so that I could pay my respects. Imagine my surprise when I found this:

PRIAPOS (Priapus) was the god of vegetable gardens. He was also a protector of beehives, flocks and vineyards. Priapos was depicted as a dwarfish man with a huge member, symbolising garden fertility. He wore a peaked Phrygian cap, indicating his origin as a Mysian god, and carried a basket weighed down with fruit.
His cult was introduced to Greece from Lampsakos (Lampsacus) in Asia Minor and his mythology subsequently reinterpreted. Primitive statues of the god were set-up in vegetable gardens to promote fertility. These also doubled as scarecrows, keeping the birds away.

https://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/Priapos.html

I had thought of placing a small statue of the god as a sort of cosmic thank you, but I’m afraid that I would have to make a request of our HOA before installing anything resembling a dwarf with a huge member.

There would definitely be talk.

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This is the summer that I discovered the music of Ali Farka Touré, and I love it. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the gentleman died in 2006, so I’m a little late to the party.

Touré was born just five days after I was, on October 31, 1939. He went on to become one of the world’s great guitarists, and I didn’t. He was tall, dark, and handsome, while I was not. Otherwise, we could have been twins.

Here he is in the last year of his life, showing us that it’s not the sheer number of notes that you play, but where and how you put them. Beautiful restraint.

Mr. Cool

I have not been one of Barack Obama’s biggest fans, more of a medium-strength enthusiast, I’d say. Of course, comparing him to the present occupant of the office of POTUS, he looks like a positive god sent to live among us mortals. But IMHO Mr. Obama liked the trappings of office a little too much to take the risks that might have moved America further along, and that was disappointing.

But he had heart and honesty, with style and charisma enough for two men. If only he had … but those are stories to tell and discussions to have around political campfires late into the night. This week he delivered a eulogy for John Lewis and it was a strong one, delivered in his best Baptist-preacher voice, one that the deceased might well have wished he’d stuck around another day or two just to hear.

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We have guests arriving tonight by airship from Minnesota – daughter Sarah, husband D.J., and granddaughter Cheyenne. We’re putting them up at a local hostelry, and we will spend the days trying to find things to do here in Paradise when the temperature promises nothing less than well above ninety degrees Fahrenheit each day.

But I think we’ll manage nicely, thank you very much, even though entertaining in the Covid era takes a bit more planning than it did in the good old days … way way back there … before February. Most of our time together will be outdoors, and even though the temps are going to be on the high side, our lower humidity makes them more tolerable, and we always have the option of doing some of the sight-seeing up at 10,000 feet, where it’s often a good deal cooler.

It will be so good to see them, making their first trip out to visit us. We have a great resource to use as hosts, in that Colorado is often a visually stunning state, and we live smack-dab in the middle of quite a lot of that.

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From The New Yorker

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Our guests arrived, all three with that odd sort of dull tiredness that one gets from sitting in an airplane. We forced them to stay up and talk to us but had to finally send them off to their motel when their heads started smacking one by one into the iron table on the deck. Fearing brain damage or worse we released them from their social obligations and off they went.

Today we’ll probably visit the Black Canyon, since it’s only 20 minutes from our home, and is always a good way to begin the Colorado conversation. In this state you’re either looking up at something very tall, or looking down into something that is scary deep. A trip to the Canyon affords opportunities for both.

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Now here’s something you don’t read every day. Scientists have found microbes in a deep part of the sea floor that may have lived there dormant for, let’s say, 100 million years! When they fed them a little bit of carbon and talked nicely to them, they woke up and began to reproduce.

This is all pretty fascinating, and we don’t know the end of the story yet, but here’s something to think about.

How many times have you seen a low-budget sci-fi movie where humans disturbed something at the bottom of the sea, and it woke to rampage through New York or Tokyo? Usually it’s a huge reptile or slug or something. But what if it’s really something very tiny, let’s say, like a microbe?

What is it isn’t Godzilla we should have been worrying about all this time? What if it’s really Bactilla that is going to knock down all those buildings and send the inhabitants scurrying in terror? So tomorrow those scientists will open the door to their labs and there will be these empty broken test tubes all over the floor …

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Last night, Robin and I had just settled into bed and begun our night-time reading when suddenly the most powerful aroma of skunk assailed us. So strong it was almost as if the animal were in the house spraying everything in sight. I cautiously went back out and did an interior inspection, then took a flashlight to the back yard and … nothing. Nothing but enough skunk scent to make you wonder where and what.

None of this would probably have bothered someone who hadn’t already briefly entertained one of these creatures in his living room, but there you are.

Once threatened, twice shy.

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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Counting Down

I’ve started a mental countdown to election day 2020, which is November 3. We’re hearing from the chattering classes that no matter what happens on that date, the Cluckmeister and his minions will claim fraud, and may not leave the building on the appointed date so that it can be fumigated properly in preparation for the next occupants.

Who knows? Maybe in those contentious days ahead there will emerge a brand new political class of creatures, let’s call them Republicans with Consciences, and that the transition period will go more smoothly than some predictions would have it.

Maybe.

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On our return trip from Denver, we stopped in a remnant of a town called Bailey, at what might best be called The Deliverance Cafe. The cafe itself was unpretentious and homey in a slapdash way, the proprietor couldn’t have been more cheerful, and the waitress was a credit to her corps.

But the other patrons were like citizens from the famous movie about four men taking a canoe down the Cahulawassee River, and the interesting people they met along the way. Our fellow diners would have been among those interesting people.

For instance, the table just behind Robin and I contained two older couples who spent the entire time discussing how many squirrels they had in their yards this year and what was the best way to prepare them as entrees. At one point the taller of the two women, apropos of nothing that was being said, blinked her eyes and burst out with “I don’t trust that Dr. Fauci one little bit,” before she lapsed back into silence and continued toying with her napkin.

Her escort was wearing a brand new cap, exactly as in the photo at right. I wasn’t sure whether the motto was an aspirational one for him personally, in that a shithole was something to be hoped for as an improvement in his life situation, or whether it was an anti-Democrat slogan.

Could have gone either way.

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Let’s see, where would this item fit? Perhaps best in the Nothing Succeeds Like Excess Department.

And yes, I do know better than to idolize power for power’s sake alone, I really do. But this critter is a whole ‘nother thing. It has 1,230 more horsepower than my Subaru Forester, which as everybody knows, is greased lightning. If I’d had this Mustang Mach-E 1400 in 1956, I would have owned the town of West St. Paul, consigned my high school classmates to eating my Mach-E-dust, and been deemed worthy of taking Sondra S. (possessor of 1000 sweaters) to the Prom.

We were quite the shallow bunch in 1956.

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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.

Are You Influenced?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers From Prison

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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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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Wildness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t wait.

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

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

Crime does not pay like it used to.

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

End of story?

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Signs of the Times

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

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

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

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Pandemic Puzzlement

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

Black Lives Matter

I get it.

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

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

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

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

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Born or Thrust?

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

Ay Ay Ay! Six percent! Madre de Dios!

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At last, he said, I’m free.

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Angst Galore

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

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

Studs could be me. I could be Studs.

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters And Papers From Prison.

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From The New Yorker

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Out & About in Coronaland

For the first time since the emergency began, Robin and I went out with our friends, the Evanses. Cautiously.

We chose an outdoor activity – bicycling – along the bike trail that runs from Ridgway State Park into the town of Ridgway itself. An eight-mile really lovely pedal along the river. On a golden sunny day in the 70s. Mostly we were safe distances apart, even though we relaxed our mask-wearing a bit.

At the end of the ride we had prepared a picnic lunch … actually … two picnic lunches. Each couple made and ate their own food, without sharing. Not quite as much fun as “you bring this and I’ll bring that” but it worked out okay, and guidelines were pretty much observed.

Interesting, though, was our table conversation. We’d all separately come to the conclusion from all we’d read and seen that we were all going to contract the coronavirus eventually. That it was inevitable, what with its silent spread through the population, lack of anything protective being presently offered, and the demonstrated infectiousness of the beast.

It was only a matter of when. We agreed that of the two choices – go ahead and catch it and get it over with vs. putting it off as long as circumstances allowed, we were all choosing the put-off strategy. There was always some small chance for a vaccine or an antiviral chemotherapeutic being developed.

And although the four of us are in the high-risk group, that still meant that as far as the statistics provided so far, we have an 88% chance of survival if we do come down with the disease.

It may not seem like cheerful table conversation, but at least there was no denial, no “it won’t happen to me as long as I keep on doing these magical things.” And facing what can’t be run from is liberating and requires much less energy than stuffing it away does.

So … four happy non-campers pedaling from country to town and back again. Good conversations. Great fun.

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On Sunday, we traveled to the Purgatory ski area near Durango and rendezvoused with Amy, Neil, & the kids. We repeated the social distancing picnic of Saturday and added a hike down the mountain (and back up) to the Animas River gorge this time.

Weather was excellent, the trail was strenuous and led us to beautiful overlooks, and the company was cheerful and energetic. The Hurley family are always good hosts, even under the present awkward circumstances.

There were no hugs on Mother’s Day for Robin, but she was still in the physical presence of some of her favorite people on the planet. Turns out that counts for quite a bit.

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From The New Yorker

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The standoff between the governor of South Dakota and Native American tribes over who gets to control access to reservation lands continues. The governor says the tribes don’t get to have their own checkpoints on highways running through the reservation, the tribes say it’s their only way to protect their vulnerable people.

The above photograph of the Republican caucus at a recent session of the SD legislature may go a long way in explaining why the tribes have lost confidence and taken matters into their own hands.

Governor Noem has also been in the news recently for having decided to let the coronavirus burn a swath through her own state rather have her office take a stand and interfere. As a result, SD has moved considerably up the list of new Covid-19 cases per capita.

Rumor has it that many people have tried to explain the germ theory of disease causation to her without success.

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The NYTimes has tried to help us out in our social distancing by reviewing stuff we could profitably watch on television. Monday morning one of the recommendations that newspaper made will make most of my family nod their heads and exclaim: “Yes, yes, there you go, New York Times.”

The author of the piece tells us all why re-watching Little House on the Prairie episodes could be a good thing for a person. Of course, I am about the only one in my extended household who needs such a reminder.

One of my problems, and I admit that it is a petty one, is that I could never get past Michael Landon’s hair. I knew that there never had been a pioneer Minnesotan/South Dakotan farmer with such a coiffure. So what other less obvious stuff was baloney as well, I would ask myself?

I know, I missed the point entirely, didn’t I?

But out Michael would come in his un-pioneer shirt and his big hair and my hands would instinctively reach for the remote.

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Living in this very awkward and tense time has very few positives … unless you’re a bit strange. Like myself. Speaking as a guy who dealt with infectious diseases for 35 years on a very basic clinical level, these are fascinating times.

This mindless microscopic bit of RNA has changed the course of life around the world for several months now. It popped up in Wuhan but quickly hitched rides on planes to places everywhere. Usually a new viral disease is of more local interest. The CDC gets a call and the experts get cracking while you and I learn about it only if we read the “science” sections of the newspaper.

But this time we’re all in the middle of it. There is no safe and dispassionate sanctuary to go to. We are all the guinea pigs. Social distancing, quarantines, “shutting down,” the quest for a vaccine and/or a therapeutic drug – the lot of us are darting around in a very big laboratory while scientists try to find where the light-switch is located.

And the variations in the clinical picture – the loss of sense of smell and taste in some folks, the “covid toes,” the widespread inflammatory disease that arises in some children who test positive, the people who don’t even know they are positive, the people who seem to be doing okay and then the bottom falls out and they move from one statistical column to another. These are all parts of a puzzle that Nature created and that brilliant minds are working overtime to solve. Watching that effort is elevating and fascinating.

For some reason this reminded me of that scene from the first Jurassic Park movie, where the hired hunter is stalking a trio of velociraptors and is drawing a bead on one of them when … well, watch the clip.

The analytic part of this man’s brain went into play immediately and he fully appreciated the drama of which he was a part. Even if not for long.

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Piping Away

When I first went off to college, at the half-ripe age of sixteen years, I was baby-faced and completely un-collegiate in my appearance. I decided that I should do something about that, and so I took up pipe-smoking. In my mind, this made me appear more like this gentleman, a rugged-looking individual who might have interesting tales to tell.

Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Any photos of me during those early years with the pipe in my mouth were so un-cool that I tore them up and burned the negatives, pledging whoever had taken the pictures to secrecy. Here is one that somehow survived.

As you can see, I did not achieve the result that I was going for.

But I kept at it, and eventually graduated with what would equate to a master’s degree in the black art of pipery. Along the way I burned holes in hundreds of shirts caused by sparks blowing back on windy days. I actually enjoyed the smoking part very much, but eventually I developed a cough that simply would not go away, and I began to experience the rumblings of a conscience about all those folks who traveled through the cloud of secondary smoke that trailed behind me.

It was with some small grieving that I gave up the habit and all of its attendant rituals. Rituals that included studying catalogs of beautiful briar creations, sniffing of hundreds (thousands?) of lovely aromas, cleaning the bowls of the pipes with special tools from London, and purchasing exotic varieties of tobacco with which to mix my custom blends.

Oh, yes, I was a snob when it came to tobacco. Just short of insufferable, I was.

Looking back, quitting was worth it, I know. My respiratory symptoms vanished and my shirts certainly look better. But … there are blue-skied autumn days when the air is crisp and the setting cries out for the pungent aroma of shreds of latakia smoldering in a briar bowl … .

(‘Scuse me while I cough into my elbow at just the thought.)

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I wonder what would happen if Cluck & Pence, our national pandemic comedy team, were rewarded for refusing to wear any sort of mask by catching the coronavirus. I’m not sure that even that would elicit anything like empathy from this ice-blooded pair, but there is the remote possibility.

They are the perfect examples of the let them eat cake approach of our plutocracy. Protected by wealth and position from any of the bad things that are happening out there among the hoi polloi, they pose and preen and posture and declare that they are put upon by life in a way that mere mortals can only guess at.

I think a proper bout of Covid-19 might be good for them. Oh, I don’t mean the awful variety where intensive care and ventilators are necessary. I just mean enough to scare them to death for a few days. To share the pain of tens of thousands of Americans in a decidedly non-metaphoric way for once.

I suppose it’s unworthy of me to think about such things. But there you are.

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From The New Yorker

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David Brooks has gone through a long period of navel-gazing recently, looking for the answers to the BIG QUESTIONS of U.S. society. So whenever he comes back to earth for a day or two I appreciate his insights. In the Times of New York recently, he posted this editorial: We Need National Service – Now.

Thoughtful and well-written, it goes over some familiar territory, and reiterates the fact that most Americans think that voluntary national service would be a good, perhaps a great, thing for our society. So the question always becomes – why hasn’t it happened?

I will own up to my personal prejudices here, in that I never thought that the military draft should have been stopped. In spite of the fact that the system was riddled with abuses, I thought that its benefits – those feelings of a shared experience that the majority of American men had – were worth it. And I also thought that having short-time soldiers like myself in the mix had a restraining effect on those in power. Not as easy to start a war when you know that you will receive some serious blowback from all those soldiers’ mothers out there, as happened in the Viet Nam war experience.

Instead of dropping it in 1973, I would have broadened it to include women, and done what was possible to reduce those abuses (most of which were due to people of various kinds of influence evading their responsibilities) and truly democratize the armed services.

But that’s neither here nor there, to coin a phrase. Wait … somebody already said that?

This new kind of national service could bring back some of that feeling of sacrifice and brotherhood/sisterhood that has been lost. Real, down-to-earth, tangible. Soooo valuable.

I’m for it. And if there was a branch of these new programs that made better use of the legion of wasted geezers out there as well … put me in, coach – I’m ready to play. Just make that obstacle course a little milder, and I’m your man.

[The sharp-eyed among you will notice those shoulder boards. Not American GIs, are they? Nope, they are Russian recruits on the obstacle course … but I loved the mud. And when you cover a man with mud, we all look about the same.]

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From The New Yorker

Pictorial Supplement

Scenes from a world gone slightly off its rocker. Protesting that somebody suggested that you wear a small bit of cloth to protect your neighbor’s health. Or maybe the fact that you are crazy, an idiot, a miserable S.O.B, or some combination of all three.

Is this the face of anyone you know?

Look closely here. Do you see anything resembling sanity?

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I do believe I’ve got the biggest gun at this here rally.

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We don’t really care about the coronavirus, we’re just your basic religious nutcases who saw the cameras and dug our sign out of the back of the R.V..

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Hey, you’re wearing the same cartridge belt as me. Damn.

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Logical stretch, anyone? Don’t all speak at once. Raise your hand and I’ll call on you.

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Check out the guy in the middle. “Goll-ee, are they taking our picture? Dang if I didn’t just shoot myself in the foot.”

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At first I thought she might be a wax figure, standing there with her three signs. Then I looked for hints of something warm and human behind those eyes.

I couldn’t find any. Can you?

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I know, I know, these are cheap shots. And I’m ashamed of myself for making fun of such thoughtful patriots. I am sooo bad.

But I do have photographs of some people that I admire. Very much. This group of ICU nurses who stood silently in front of a mob in Arizona. Women who had actually seen first-hand what the virus can do, and were testifying in their own quiet way.

You want a hero to follow? Here’s one. Standing in the street takes courage. But the real test kicks in when she turns around and goes to work inside that hospital. That takes even more guts.

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The Devil in the Details

My own laptop is in the shop in Grand Junction, so this day’s post comes to you courtesy of Robin’s machine. I doubt you can tell the difference, but what I type should be a lot more mellow, because I won’t have the aggravation that comes from working on a particular computer that was designed and sold to me under the auspices of the Deuce himself.

I have been buying and using Macintosh computers exclusively since 1984, and I don’t really know how many that makes, but it’s pretty close to fifteen machines, give or take a few. The one I have now is the first to irritate the blazes out of me, and the issue is the place where man meets code – the keyboard.

Mac came out with something called the “butterfly keyboard” the year I bought my present device. Over the next twelve months there were so many complaints that Apple basically offered a “recall,” and if you were having problems you could go in and they would replace the faulty keyboard. I did that last year, and here we are once again with the same problems, only now the “recall” is over and done and the customer is on their own.

What happens is that letters start to stick, so that you have to push down hard to make them work, which instantly reduces my typing speed from a hurricane-like twelve words per minute to three. Worse yet, at any moment, and no matter which key your fingers hit, the cursor may fly to a random place on the document. This happens irregularly, but each time it is enough to make one be seized with the desire to see just how far a laptop could sail if hurled discus-style.

The repair will be done by Friday, so for a few months all should be well, or at least better.

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Daughter Kari commented on a post the other day, and just in case you missed it I am reproducing it here. It was in relation to some drawings of alleged John Prine sightings. A sweet anecdote.

My favorite memory of John Prine while living in Nashville. Both of us needed eyeglasses badly but did not own a pair so we went to an optical shop together and soon thereafter picked up our glasses. We both were amazed at how strange the world looked. He performed at the Bluebird that evening and we kept catching each other looking around the room with wide open eyes and would giggle at one another. Lovely to remember an icon giggling.

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From The New Yorker

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With the flood of disinformation and outright tale-telling coming at us from the CluckHouse, FoxNews, and other eminent right-wing quackeries, it is even more important that we humbler folk speak the truth to one another.

For me, this sometimes means simply keeping my mouth shut, instead of blurting out a commentary that was little more than something I made up on the spot. A pseudo-fact pieced together on the fly.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s quotations that I remember well deals with the question of “How do we get to world peace?” His answer has always been the same: “by being peace.”

If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.

Thich Nhat Hanh

I think we could easily substitute the word “truth” for “peace.” Lies and dishonesty are violence against our minds. An assault just as real as beating our bodies with clubs. At best we may be only bruised and recover swiftly. At worst, we can be damaged for life by vicious blows.

One of The Four Agreements (taken from the book of that name, a book that has been singularly helpful for me personally) is “Be impeccable with your word.” People need to trust what we say, for peace and harmony to have any chance at all.

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And lastly, with joy and no apologies, I present somebody else’s hard work.

Ducks In A Row

I will go out on a limb here and say that Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are awfully poor examples of their professions. This disreputable pair sold their souls to the Devil and Oprah Winfrey long ago, but all they got in the deal was a tawdry sort of celebrity in the world of the suggestible.

(Robert Johnson allegedly made the same trade-off but became a terrific guitar player and bluesman as a result of his own arrangement with Old Nick.)

Phil/Oz have popped up recently on FoxNews weighing in with blatherous pronouncements and opinions about Covid-19. We knew that it was only a matter of time before those lips for hire began their dreadful flapping. It’s a perfect marriage of shoddy network and shoddy professionals.

Lord help us (and thank you again, Oprah, for your hand in getting them started).

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Ran across these on The New Yorker. See ’em, love ’em, share ’em, is my motto.

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When I read of the new Youth Poet Laureate, at first I felt badly because I didn’t know the former one. But then I learned that there wasn’t a former one. Amanda Gorman is the first.

Watching the following video made me somehow proud. Proud to be a tiny part of a country that gives people like Ms. Gorman a chance to have their voices heard.

Here she is on CBS’ Sunday Morning show, reading one of her works. The production is a little schmaltzy, but y’know, I can use a little more schmaltz these days.

Her words are inspirational, and what do you think about her performance? – to me she sounds like Maya Angelou, rapping.

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Almost everybody we know here in Paradise is Zoom-ing these days. All that was needed was a platform that was a little easier to use than its predecessors, and off went America into video-conferencing. Yesterday morning we connected with daughter Maja in Lima, and we were going to catch up later in the day with our grandchildren in Denver but that was postponed, because they were all Zoomed out for the day, having just finished an hour online with some other folks.

Robin meets with her church committees and book clubs in this way, and we both attend virtual AA meetings, all of these using the free version of the app. Pret-ty cool, I’d say, to be able to so easily fill in some of the gaps that geography and Covid-19 create.

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If you look closely, you will see that there is a duck, a mallard to be precise, in our front yard. He showed up Monday morning. This has never happened before, and personally I took it as an omen.

My only problem is that I don’t know what it predicts, or augurs. I have consulted all of my learned books, which are sadly silent on the subject of ducks. But it really bothered me, as who wants to begin any serious enterprise if it’s all for naught because the celestial plug has already been pulled … you just don’t know it yet?

So I turned to the only person I knew who might shed light on the subject – Ragnar the Imperturbable.

Dear Ragnar: Do you know anything about ducks in the yard? Is there any cosmic significance?

Ragnar: Ducks? You wake me up for ducks? By Freja’s golden hair I’ll …

Dear Ragnar: Really, I do apologize, it’s just that we’re all dithering out here, not wanting to do anything to mess with the gods’ plans. But again, anything at all?

Ragnar: Of course we have duck stuff. The only problem is sorting through it, there’s so much. I need to ask a couple questions of my own, first.

Dear Ragnar: Of course. Go right ahead.

Ragnar: Was it just the one … duck, that is?

Dear Ragnar: No, there was a hen, but she isn’t in the picture.

Ragnar: And what sort of bird was it? Could it have been a Mandarin duck? Or a Baikal teal?

Dear Ragnar: I’m sorry, we believe it to have been a common mallard.

Ragnar: And was it wearing anything … like an item of clothing … or spectacles, perhaps?

Dear Ragnar: No, nothing at all. It was very plain.

Ragnar: Was it up to quite a bit of quacking? More than a duck might usually be expected to do?

Dear Ragnar: It was a singularly quiet waterfowl.

Ragnar: Might it have been mute? That would narrow things down considerably.

Dear Ragnar: We really couldn’t say. We heard nothing.

Ragnar: Alright, here we go then. If a person finds a duck (or ducks) in their yard, nude, mute, and not wearing glasses, there is a very good chance that it might rain before twilight of that same day.

Dear Ragnar: That’s it? It might rain?

Ragnar: Well, what do you want? I don’t make this stuff up on my own, you know. It’s all there in the Book of Aqvavit, one of our most important sources to consult on weighty matters.

Dear Ragnar: Who in the world would bother about such an omen?

Ragnar: Well, let’s say you were planning on hanging out some laundry in preparation for pillaging England …

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Gotta Love Amendment #1

Above is a photograph of a group from an Ohio chapter of FoxNews watchers exercising their first amendment right to display their ignorance. They are protesting that the state government is doing a bad thing by trying to help save their lives and the lives of their neighbors. I halfway concur. I think the governor should focus on helping those neighbors and let these folks go their own way.

The governor could go even further by offering these stalwarts the use of an empty football stadium (lots of them available these days) where they could march around and shout at a television camera to their hearts’ content. Of course, this might mean that they all come down with Covid-19, but since the rest of us are sooo overreacting, where’s the harm?

I find it interesting that their mouths are all gaping at the same time. Like Christmas carolers caught in the midst of a rousing “deck the halls...” .

[I do have some views on the intelligence and/or mental stability of men who wear Trump hats, but this is a family blog]

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Fighting the Good Fight Department
The Age of Coddling is Over by David Brooks
Words for the Class of 2020 by Mark Shields

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There’s the slightest of drizzles once again this morning. Almost unnoticeable unless you really pay attention. This week has been chilly, but that’s okay because in April we keep our expectations low, remember?

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For years, Robin has wondered out loud whether she would ever have a clothesline of her very own outdoors. She already uses a pair of those folding metal racks, but they are cheaply made, tip over easily, and do not last forever. Robin prefers natural drying to that infernal machine available in our laundry room.

What she was longing for was a grandma-style set of lines straight out of the olden times when a nice dinner of passenger pigeon was still a possibility. Something that involved clothespins and breezes blowing and patterned house-dresses. Well … maybe not the house-dresses.

Now, after all these decades of suffering in near-silence, she has such a clothesline. A sturdy one made of wood and metal and with its foot firmly implanted in concrete. A line which can turn with the slightest of breezes, like a weathervane. And how did this happen? I’ll tell you how. I set it up while being assailed by a fear I’ve dealt with all my life, the fear of construction.

I was born without any of the carpentry talents of my father and grandfather before him, the sorts of skills that allow homemade things to appear on one’s property. Things like homes, garages, bookcases, birdhouses, cabinets, etc, etc.

At one point I consulted a famous neurologist, Dr. Myron Synapse, who did a PET scan and found that while most people have a small group of neurons in the hippocampus that are responsible for handiness, I completely lacked that group. There was, instead, a fluid-filled vacancy.

If you could retrace my steps through this vale of tears you would easily find the evidence of my deficiencies. There was the simple little walnut box in 9th grade shop class that never got finished. Not in an entire school year.

There was the carburetor that I rebuilt as a teenager, because my Ford coupe was running roughly and family experts told me that this was the problem. After my rebuild, the engine would not function at all. Eventually a real mechanic had to throw away the piece that I had rendered useless (he said that there is never a need for a five-pound sledgehammer in doing carburetor work – fancy that!) and install a brand-new one.

Oh, and the privacy fence I built in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that required a series of holes to be dug in the earth, each one a given distance from the previous one. If memory serves, I dug forty such holes, and hit water in twenty-two of them.

The cartoonist Al Capp created a character that used to grace his strips who was named Joe Btfsplk, the “world’s worst jinx.” Wherever he went ladders collapsed, tires blew out, and cars ran straight into one another.

Whenever I would start a project, Joe would stop by out of curiosity and we’d chat. I never drew the line that connected those brief visits with the inevitable failures that awaited me in a day or two.

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But this clothesline stands straight and true, and rotates just like it is supposed to do. I find myself staring at it in wonder, waiting for the hammer to fall. But so far, nothing.

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Solitaire

Got our taxes done and off in the e-mail. Our preparer is a down-to-earth woman who lives on a very small farm near Delta CO. She’s probably somewhere in her 60s, plain-spoken, always professional. Year before last she had gotten involved in raising sheep, but quit after a single year when “the coyotes got all the lambs.” The way she tells it, that episode broke her heart.

She’s the sort of person I have no problem visualizing on the seat of a Conestoga wagon heading West in the 1800s, reins in her hand and moving steadily toward an uncertain future and away from a grudging past. Her name is Darla Haptonstall and she’s a gem.

This year she doesn’t get to chat with her clients, which is one of her main reasons for getting up and going to work. Because of the emergency we all bring in our contaminated papers and leave them at the door, and she turns them into refunds, which are signed electronically. The work gets done, but is devoid of en face human contact.

I spoke with her briefly on the phone yesterday, and I’m not quite sure what I said but it had to do with toilet paper and it broke her up entirely. The poor lady must be starved for amusement.

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I don’t mind paying my taxes, because I know that our elected officials will use them prudently. If Pres. Cluck can take my few dollars and funnel them into some needy plutocrat’s pocket, why, isn’t that what he’s there for?

If I were to keep those pesos for my own use, I might squander them on fripperies like food and shelter and music and have nothing to show for them at the end of the day but a smile on my face.

No, it’s better by far that I send my shekels off to Washington D.C., where there are skilled people who know exactly what to do with large quantities of other people’s money.

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Here’s a touching John Prine story. If you’ve ever in your sweet short life known a 10 year-old girl, I guarantee you’ll like it.

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I am rereading Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. This will be the third time I’ve gone through the book, and this time promises to be the best of all.

I was a twenty-something living in Minnesota when I first read it, and had to try to imagine through Abbey’s descriptions what it was like living in Arches National Monument for those seasons. I read it the second time as a middle-aged South Dakotan when I visited Moab UT for a couple of days on a swing through the southern part of the state. I understood his book on a different level then, having actually seen some of the places he had written about.

But this time I know so much better all of those locales, especially Arches (which is now a national park) and the Moab area. I’ve spent an accumulation of weeks wandering about the red slickrock of southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado and have a deeper appreciation for that desert landscape and what it does for my spirit to be there.

To be there and to take the time to do nothing at all. To walk without any agenda that the land itself does not provide.

[Wikipedia has a particularly good review of the book that I can recommend to you.]

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