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.

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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.

.

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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Kalsarikännit

On Sunday we tried Zoom videoconferencing with daughters Sarah and Kari and their spouses ( who also have perfectly good names and they are DJ and Jon). I think I made all the rookie mistakes in hosting the get-together, but after a few minutes had everyone settled in fairly well.

It went well enough that we’ll certainly try it again, with a couple of changes. Sarah and DJ attempted to enter the meeting from their car which was located in the parking lot at a McDonald’s restaurant, but Mickey D didn’t have the network bandwidth to make it run smoothly for them. It did come through, but was jerky-jerky at times.

So it was a learning experience for us, and we’ll all be pros the next time. The star of the show was Kari and Jon’s new puppy, who was on screen for only a few seconds but that was way long enough to win our hearts and minds. He’s a baby malamute with fur twelve inches deep and feet like snowshoes. He apparently also pees, somewhere, every 40 minutes.

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Ahhhhh, there’s good news today! The Finns have done it again. They’ve come up with a word to describe an activity wherein the isolation of these coronavirus days could be an advantage (at least for part of the populace), and that’s kalsarikännit.

The translation is “getting drunk at home, alone, in your underwear.”

No less a publication than the Times of New York has reported on this practice. (I will add that it is not restricted to those of Finnish ancestry.)

Being inspired by this story, I began experiments with being at home in my underwear but not drunk, for reasons that I need not go into. Obviously, I am also not alone, since pushing Robin out the door for hours at this time of the emergency when there is nowhere for her to go would be cruel. It would also be impossible, since she is much stronger than you would suspect of a 62 inch-high person.

The interesting thing is that Robin hasn’t even noticed that I am experimenting, since over the years I have apparently achieved a level of everyday slovenliness that has numbed her to my physical appearance.

When I pushed the envelope even further and went without clothing at all one day … nothing. Nothing, that is, for several hours until when I was going to fry up some bacon for lunch and she silently held out an apron for me to wear. Something she has never done before.

It warmed my heart.

She had noticed.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

Trump’s Narcissism Could Cost Us Our Lives by Jennifer Senior
Has Anyone Found Trump’s Soul? Anyone? by Frank Bruni

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Yesterday we went to do our taxes, at the HR Block office in Delta CO. Don’t ask why we drive 20 miles to do what could be done easily 2 miles away from home, but we got started with a woman we like and we’re sticking with her.

We had a 3:00 appointment, but when we arrived, we found they had adopted a “drop-off only” policy, where I simply stepped inside the door and handed them our papers. The receptionist received them into her latex-gloved hands, all the while looking like I’d just handed her a cow-pie, and told me that the file would be kept in quarantine for a day before our tax preparer even started on it.

No problem-o, said I, and off Robin and I went to Confluence Park, located on the outskirts of Delta. It’s a lovely little 265 acre chunk of naturalness that is located where the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers come together.

We wandered the trails in the park for more than a hour, and even though there were other people around, social distancing was easily accomplished. We were rarely closer than 25 yards from the next human being.

Spring is soooo underway out there. Even though this is truly the season of our discontent, the rest of the natural world cares not a fig for the coronavirus. We are the only species that is dithering about it – for everything else it’s just another spring.

Of course, the rest of the natural world has its problems here and there, too. Ask an American Elm how it’s doing if you can find one, or check out some of the forests here in Colorado where the pines are reddish-brown instead of green because of bark beetle infestation, or consider the wasting disease that is reducing deer populations all over the country even now.

But yesterday afternoon everything was as beautiful as it could be. The sky … impossible that it could be more blue than it was.

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Tempus Fugitting

We had a light rain this week, on and off over nearly 24 hours. The soil of Paradise rejoiced because our average precipitation is only 12 inches, less than a third of the national average.

The state of my acoustic senses is such that I can’t hear the rain while I’m indoors, unless it is a major downpour, one of the Everybody in the Ark right this minute! variety. Robin can hear it, of course, being the sweet young thing that she is who didn’t foolishly listen to most of the music in her life at the top of the volume dial.

So, younger and smarter.

The upshot of all this is that if I want to hear the rain falling as I drift off to sleep, I need to be in a tin-roofed shed or a tent.

Could be worse.

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Joe Biden continues to stretch out his lead, and you know, that’s okay. He wasn’t my candidate, in fact I had rather hoped he wouldn’t toss his hat in the ring at all, way back at the beginning of all this. To me he was a good man whose best time had already come and gone. But here we are, poised to run a good man against hardly a man at all. No contest.

My hope is that the firebrands behind Bernie will join him in supporting Biden if Joe is finally the candidate. So many of them seem to be of the all or nothing sort, where compromise is a dirty word.

I understand that outlook perfectly well, it was mine for quite a long time. In fact, I still get the feeling every once in a while that Mr. Mencken was talking about when he said:

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

H.L. Mencken

When those sentiments take hold of me now I retire to a corner facing the wall, sitting on my hands until the feeling passes.

It isn’t so much the slitting throats that gives me pause, but the fact that my getaway speed is just too slow.

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Yesterday Robin made a grocery run and was witness to this playlet. The woman pushing the cart in front of her stopped at the end of the aisle, and went around the corner to get something, leaving her cart behind.

A man came from behind Robin, reached into the temporarily abandoned cart, took out a package of paper towels and made off with it. Now, really, there’s petty larceny and then there’s larceny that’s just petty.

My diagnosis: the man has a soul the size of a dried currant.

Good luck to the thief when he gets to the Pearly Gates where St. Peter chews him out and everyone in line starts laughing because he’s such a piker.

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The Wipe That Smile Off Your Face And Let’s Get Serious Department

Fox to Address Coronavirus Crisis with Three-Part Series on Hunter Biden by Andy Borowitz

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Looking for good news? How about the utilities around the country that have stated they won’t cut anyone off if they can’t pay their bill during this emergency? Or the internet provider here in Paradise that has said the same thing, because they see the huge importance of a service that is being used to provide honest, clear information to the public?

How about the ordinary citizens who are lining up to volunteer to give out sack lunches to children who were dependent upon public schools for a significant part of their nutritional needs? Schools which are now closed.

How about the governors and mayors and city councils who have been providing thoughtful leadership to their states and communities, who know damn well that for the time being, they can’t look to the White House for anything but imaginary outpourings?

How about Dr. Anthony Fauci (my hero of the moment) who has the guts to stand next to the President at news conferences and fact-check him live and in living color, over and over? I’d love to give Dr. Tony a high-quality fly-swatter and have him smack Pres. Cluck with it every time he starts making s**t up on camera.

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Holy Moly! Check out my horoscope for today. Five stars! Awesome. But.

Wouldn’t you know I’d get this great prediction when I’m basically sheltering in place?

I don’t really know how astrology works … can I save this good one for some day in the future when I could possibly make better use of it?

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Which Wolf To Feed?

You know things have gotten serious when they close Aspen, Vail, and the other ski resorts where the one-percenters go to play, and that’s just what happened this past weekend here in Colorado. It apparently dawned on our government that these are very efficient distribution centers for a communicable disease.

People fly in, do their turns on the slopes, and then get back in their airplanes to sail off to somewhere else taking their wrinkled ski costumes memories and newly-acquired microbes with them. All over the world.

Folks in Denver, which is the largest village in our beautiful state, are wondering what they are supposed to do with these children of theirs who can’t be sent off to school any longer. Not only have they lost their 9:00 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. babysitter, but there’s no easy backup place to send them, what with all the closures of public spaces.

They are facing having to deal with their progeny 24/7, and that can be daunting indeed. A citywide overwhelming of mental health professionals is anticipated.

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Somewhere along the way I began to see that each painful experience in my life was not without some eventual benefit to me. Much was of the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” variety. I have been known to bore others with the remark that “I learned so much because of what happened, but it was tuition that I would not have paid.”

What we are being given today is an invaluable opportunity to learn deeply about so many things. Things like interdependence, cooperation, human fragility, the value of science and factual knowledge in general. To bring our innate courage and understanding to the recognition that being a human on this planet is always, every day, a hazardous enterprise. That everything works better when we have something or someone to lean on if and when we are just plain worn out.

The only thing different about the coronavirus threat as opposed to that posed by the pathogens that we are surrounded by every single day is its scope. It is new, it is dramatic (and in many respects America is a nation of drama queens), but when Covid-19 has passed into history most of us will still be here, straightening up the mess it left behind and applying the lessons we are being offered

[To keep perspective, let’s not forget the hazards which are not infectious diseases. The average number of people who will die in the USA today in car accidents is 3,287. Using last year’s numbers, 42 Americans will die today of gun violence and accidents.]

Was Franklin D. Roosevelt correct when he said that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself?” I think he was, and that he inserted a great truth into a memorable oversimplification. He was encouraging the American public not to fall into a panic which would make their daily lives a hell of useless worry and produce a paralysis that would prevent them from doing the next right thing, the necessary thing.

I love the following story, and you’ve probably all heard one variation or another on this theme.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Folk Tale

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I are well into the second season of Manhattan, the series that deals with the lives of the residents of Los Alamos during those intense times in 1943-45 when the first atomic weapon was being developed.

We very occasionally have watched more than one episode at a time of any series we’ve tuned in to, but we routinely sit in for a double feature with this one.

The series’ designers have done a terrific job with the sets, the clothing, cars, and the dust … the dust of New Mexico is everywhere. You can smell it.

[Spoiler alert: Even though this is an excellent and thoughtful series, the wretched public in 2014 didn’t watch it in the numbers that they should have, so it only ran two seasons. Still way worth it.]

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I found some interesting statistics in Wikipedia dealing with the present-day town of Los Alamos.

The median household income in Los Alamos is $98,458, and per capita income is $54,067. Income is significantly higher than the rest of New Mexico. 

Los Alamos has the highest millionaire concentration of any US city, with 12.4 percent of households having at least $1 million in assets. This is a result of chemists, engineers, and physicists working at LANL since the Manhattan Project. 

Only 6.6% of people are below the poverty line; half the rate of the United States, and one-third the rate of New Mexico. As of January 2015, there were zero homeless individuals.

Wikipedia: Los Alamos

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This is a small but great story. Small in the numbers of people affected … great in pointing out a creative way to help out in this unusual time.

A handful of distilleries are using some of their alcohol to make hand sanitizer and are giving it away. Yes, friends, for free!

The companies explicitly and strongly recommend that their free product not be used for making cocktails. They have a line of other bottles for that.

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Messages From Tatooine

My candidate dropped out of the race on Monday, Super Tuesday came and went, and somehow the earth is still rotating in the usual manner.

In the past 48 hours I neither lost nor gained weight, it continues to be winter in my neighborhood, the laws of gravity remain enforced, and toes still get stubbed in the early morning hours as we make our way in the half-darkness to the coffeepots of America.

Ergo, if we can break away from the breathless ones on political broadcasts, there are some reliable elements in this world of ours.

Temporarily, our lives here on Earth are being enhanced by something we can’t see with unaided eyes, and that is our second moon. It’s only the size of a VW mini-bus, and will probably be gone in a week or two, but if you really try you can imagine that you’re young Luke Skywalker … .

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Last year Robin and I read a book about the Manhattan Project, 109 East Palace, which told an absorbing tale. It recounted the story of the humans (as well as the bomb) who lived up on the hill in the group of huts and tents and trailers that eventually came to be the town of Los Alamos.

So on one of last summer’s trips to New Mexico we visited Los Alamos and took in one of the museums there. It was fascinating and immersive and enlightening, so when I discovered a new series on Hulu entitled Manhattan, we couldn’t resist taking a look. (Actually, it’s not really new at all, but apparently originally aired on WGN America in 2014.)

The first couple of episodes were pretty good, so I guess we’re in it for the duration. If there ever was a time and a situation that was a culture medium for growing drama, it was this one.

Take a large group of the most brilliant scientists in the world along with their families, put them in a primitive town created just for them up on a lonely mountainside, isolate the group from the rest of the world and all they knew, surround them with lies and subterfuge, and give them the job of creating the most horrible weapon ever devised by mankind.

Even I could come up with a good storyline or two, I think, given these ingredients.

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I’ve added a link over there on the right to one of the better sources for song lyrics that I’ve found (lyrics.com). It’s not a rare thing for me to need help deciphering the words of some tunes.

And that would be true especially for artists like Tom Waits, who often sounds like he’s pulled his sweater and jacket over his head and is singing through several layers of material.

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I mentioned the other day that we were simplifying, didn’t I? Well, yesterday I found some things in a box within a larger box upon a shelf in the Rubbermaid shed in the backyard that set me down to reflect. Brought things to a halt, actually.

The first was a small piece of driftwood that I had picked up on an overnight backpacking trip that I took with daughters Kari and Sarah in the autumn of 1975. We had set up our tent on an isolated part of the shore of Lake Superior, and it was just the three of us in an idyllic setting if ever there was one.

Into that piece of wood I had carved our names and the year, and then set it aside. This fine example of the woodcarver’s art had found its way to the bottom of a box and followed me from the UP of Michigan to South Dakota to Colorado, and had been lost to view until it surfaced again yesterday.

*

Then there were two scraps of paper from the time of my son’s funeral on July 2, 1993. One was the leaflet from the service itself and the other a poem I had written the night before the funeral on motel stationery.

On the inside cover of the leaflet was this passage from a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis that at the time I thought suited the occasion so well, and looking back I still do.

The name of this fine young man was written on the snow; the sun has risen, the snow has melted and has borne his name upon the waters.

Nikos Kazantzakis, The Greek Passion

And the poem … well, it was a time of great emotion and sadness for us all, and it imperfectly captured a part of what I was feeling that night.

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We finish today with this excellent piece of cover art that really says it all, I think.

.

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Interesting Times …

Well, this is a political season like no other in my lifetime. It absolutely brings to mind that old ( Chinese? Jewish? ) curse: May you live in interesting times!

We have a mentally defective would-be-king in the White House and a Republican party that has completely lost its way and whose behavior is anything but democratic. Add to that a Democratic Party presently going through its winnowing process to find their candidate, and starting out with a field that was at first very broad and interesting but is now rapidly on its way to becoming once again a group of old white men to choose between. But the old white men are even older this time.

And now season this spicy stew with today’s version of the plague* hovering around the edges of our visual field, inching its way toward center stage.

*[Really, it’s nothing like the Plague at all. Maybe it is worse than influenza, which we deal with every year, maybe not. But its hype has certainly been more dramatic.]

Let’s take a moment to revisit another time, and another story of panic about a different infectious disease. Before the vaccination for it came into being, every summer was a time to worry about polio. When cases began to appear in a town, schools were closed, swimming pools were shut down, and people were cautioned against getting together in large groups lest they come into contact with a person who could leave them paralyzed.

Some small towns even put up barricades blocking the roads in and out of their village to keep strangers away. All of this because since we didn’t have all of the information we needed to make informed decisions, we frequently gave into hysteria in all of its colorful forms.

Then came the scientists who developed the tools to study the disease in the laboratory, and they found something startling. Every American, from young adulthood onward, had been infected with poliovirus at some time in their lives. Every bloody one of them. It was a truly universal infection.

Think about it for a moment. This meant that since we all got polio, it was only a tiny segment of the infected population who went on to have paralytic disease. It meant that blocking the roads was a useless gesture, since the virus was already present on both sides of all of the barricades.

The focus then came down to a proper one, that of finding a vaccine. When that was done, all versions of polio nearly vanished from the planet.

So now we are putting up the barricades once again. This time they are in airports and … wait … what’s this? … where did this case come from? … and that one … and that one … ?

Until the scientists can provide us with the data we need, we will probably worry ourselves into all sorts of frazzles, just as we are doing right now. Perhaps a vaccine will come along eventually, but that certainly won’t happen for at least a year or more, well after this season has passed.

In the meantime I’m going to wash my hands, try to stop scratching my nose, and not visit the Louvre this spring. I’m going to focus on what is important, and that means living my little life, doing the least harm to the world that I can, and trying to keep my wits about me.

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Plague? Black Death? Here’s Monty Python to help us put things into perspective. Or maybe not, I dunno.

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Robin and I are about another round of simplifying. For us this means letting go of more things, more stuff.

Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.

Henry David Thoreau

I wish that I could say that we are in synch with some established wisdom, but our motive is much plainer. We are moving from “How can we build a bigger storage shed?” to “Do we need a shed at all?” The answer, of course, depends how much are we willing to leave off.

Simplify, simplify.

Henry David Thoreau

Fortunately for us in all of this, there existed a certain Mr. Thoreau who has published a guidebook to the process. Not so much in the particulars as in the when and why.

We might do well to keep his words in front of us as we begin.

I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.

Henry David Thoreau

My first step when we began yesterday was to take several objects from the shelves in the garage and transfer them immediately to the trash barrel. At first I could hardly stop congratulating myself for being so forceful and effective. That is, until I realized that all of those items were pieces of junk that I was supposed to have tossed out months ago, but never got around to it.

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

Henry David Thoreau

We’re thinking of selling off my motorscooter which has been sitting outside all winter under a cover, which protected it completely from wind and snow but somehow did not prevent the battery from going completely dead. So I plugged it into a charger for a few hours, put a key into the ignition, and it sprang into life in a flash.

When I have met an immigrant tottering under a bundle which contained his all — looking like an enormous wen which had grown out of the nape of his neck — I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry. If I have got to drag my trap, I will take care that it will be a light one and do not nip me in the vital part.

Henry David Thoreau

I have never owned any device of any kind that was so reliable, so bullet-proof, as this little scooter. It asks almost nothing of me in the way of maintenance or upkeep, but only sits quietly waiting for another chance to be of service. Much like a Labrador retriever with a 49cc piston displacement. It is only missing a tail to wag.

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The latest pet food recall by Purina is instructive. This time the abnormality was elevated calcium levels in a handful of products intended for rabbits and poultry. Too much calcium = stones in the urinary tract = illness and death.

If I were a group of turkeys pecking around the trough this morning, I would be seriously considering filing a class-action suit against Purina. When you are completely dependent on a limited array of foods and one of those foods is found to be dangerous, what’s a gobbler to do? The supplier needs to be held accountable.

A problem for these creatures is that historically such suits filed by turkeys have not done well in the courts. When you weigh thirty pounds and have a brain the size of a green pea, the legal system really doesn’t want to hear from you, no matter how valid your cause may be. And even if you do win, the judgements tend to be around fifty bucks at most, which does not attract the sharpest legal minds.

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From The Horses’ Mouth

Friends, today I am just connecting you with some information about coronavirus. I was prompted by two events. The first was listening to part of President Cluck’s news conference the other day, and the other by a rumor circulating here in Paradise.

About the first. In those dear dead days almost beyond recall, whenever a public health issue became alarming, administrations would find the most knowledgeable and authoritative person they could find, someone with impeccable scientific credentials who would meet with reporters and thereby get the straightest information out directly to the public. Such conferences were examples of how powerful responsible communication about the public health could be.

The idea that substituting the most famous liar in the country, a man who brags about his ignorance and abhors reading, and whose administration has consistently cut funding for science in general could accomplish the same goals is a perfect example of cluelessness.

Really, perfect.

The second instance was when a woman at a local AA meeting reported that “someone” had died of coronavirus infection here in Paradise, but it was being hushed up. Ay, ay, ay. Small unhappy people do love their conspiracy theories.

Sooo, how should we get our news about this looming threat? Where can we turn to when we know that our leaders are ignorant boobs? My suggestion would be the Centers for Disease Control, which has been doing this for decades, and in spite of the budget cuts they have been rewarded with for their good works still manage somehow to do their job, although at necessarily reduced levels.

And you can get to this information just by clicking on the image above, and then bookmarking the site it takes you to.

This is not some static site where the information never changes, but is one of fluidity and rapid response. Given the amount of public concern about this virus, it will continue to be the most authoritative place to go.

So if we are to seek good information about coronavirus, I respectfully suggest that we go to the horses’ mouth, as opposed to its other end.

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While you’re at the CDC website, take a look over at the right side of the page, just below the picture of the airplane, where you can subscribe to a newsletter about coronavirus disease. Be the most knowledgeable person on your block, or at the water cooler.

You will also find a very long list of newsletters on a wide variety of public health topics that are available to all of us for free.

It’s how government at its best can work.

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(Fear) The Reaper

Here’s a story about one of my favorite things – wherein a new species is described. No, not a new species coming onto the face of the earth, but traces of an ancient one that have only recently come to light. And they gave it such a great name:

Thanatotheristes degrootorum, or the “Reaper of Death

Now is that a label or what? For me, it’s right up there with the scientific name of the grizzly bear, Ursus horribilis. Let’s suppose that I’m a visiting alien and you tell me that there’s something named “horribilis” up ahead on the trail. Well, son, right away I’m heading back down the way I came, even if I’d never looked at a grizzly or even seen a photo of one. The title says enough all by itself.

And if you say I’m approaching a “Reaper of Death,” all that you’ll see of me is the cloud of dust that I leave behind.

My approach to dangerous creatures in the wild could be described as the polar opposite of Steve Irwin’s (the deceased Crocodile Hunter). While I have the greatest admiration for these animals I do not yearn for intimacy with them.

Decent boundaries involving the use of wood or steel barriers, or at the very least some respectable distancing makes for good neighbors here, I think. I’m pretty sure that other animals expect no less of me.

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Thomas Friedman wrote an op/ed piece this week that describes a “what would happen if” situation that could be so good I almost don’t want to think about it. He offers us a vision of a team of rivals that could bring a strength of leadership to our beleaguered nation that has not been seen in generations.

You could without too much exaggeration call it a dream team for Democrats.

The article is entitled: Dems, Want to Defeat Trump? Form a Team of Rivals

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Watched the Democratic debates last night. Apparently this was the last such get-together during this election year.

It wasn’t pretty.

The CBS newspeople didn’t have control of the evening. Outbreaks of booing from the audience were not dealt with, and candidates talking over one another were never properly admonished.

The first 30 minutes were little more than an undisciplined shout-fest on stage. All in all, there were not many grownups in the room last night.

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Twenty-five years ago, when I was just learning to type on a computer keyboard and the internet was a pale intimation of what it was to become, I ran across a website entitled: “BMW Drivers Are A*****es.

It was basically just a bulletin board where people would send in anecdotes of drivers behaving extremely badly who had one thing in common – they were driving BMWs.

I visited the site a couple of times, just for fun, and then never again. I fully agreed with the premise, and didn’t need further documentation.

So it was with interest that I found this article this morning on CNN, where the author reports on a new study that showed, well, here’s the title: If you drive an expensive car you’re probably a jerk, scientists say.

The worst drivers in this study drove German automobiles – BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz. Just another confirmation of what I had previously believed, I thought, with only one surprise. Drivers of the Prius also exhibited some of the unhappy motoring practices examined in the study at a higher rate than average.

Below is a graphic from another, but very unscientific, study where 7440 people were asked a simple question.

Now I only know one person who drives an expensive German car, and he is an a*****e of the first magnitude. But there is that grandchild and that good friend who are Prius owners and who are definitely in the very good people category.

So I conclude that ownership of certain cars is not a guarantee of being a miserable poltroon, but is a definite marker for persons having a weak constitution and no moral fiber to speak of.

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I leave you with this startling video, over there in the sidebar, wherein a young woman named Heaven Fitch wins a state high school wrestling championship.

It brings back memories of senior prom. I think I may have dated her grandmother.

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BS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Ragnar: What do you mean?

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

Dear Ragnar: Better stop right there, Ragnar.

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

Dear Ragnar: Explain, please.

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

Dear Ragnar: Go on.

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

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

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

Dear Ragnar: Yes, and why not?

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

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

Ragnar: Everybody else.

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

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

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

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

You were coming back, eh, Bill?

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

Wait a second, Robin is signaling me …

What? Huh? Nooo, really?

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

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

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

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Michael’s De-blooming

Watched the Democrats debate again Wednesday night. Couldn’t miss this one, actually, because it was the first to involve Mike Bloomberg. By the end of the night I had made an assessment of the man, and it was this: I found him to be a ball of smarm, and a self-righteous prig. Does that sound negative? I really tried to lighten it up a bit.

The basic attitude that came across from him to me was “Here I am, children, Daddy is home now and will tell you how things really are and I can do this because, you know, I am really really rich and that must mean that I am also smarter, wiser, better-looking, and the tallest man in the room … or at least I would be the tallest if I stood on a pile of my money.”

As for the rest of this febrile bunch, I am still sticking with Amy from Minnesota. Even in the middle of a shouting match, her razor-sharp focus on a topic rarely wavers, and she speaks in complete sentences. For a man like myself who cannot do anything but splutter in any heated verbal exchange, these are talents to be admired.

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Oh, good lord. Now there’s a controversy about Vitamin K administration to newborn babies. You hadn’t heard? Here’s the deal. There used to be a bleeding disease, some of the bleeding being milder (skin, circumcisions) and some very serious (brain, internal organs). You never heard of it? It was called hemorrhagic disease of the newborn.

By the early 1960s it had been discovered that these problems were due to a deficiency of vitamin K at birth, which could lead to bleeding. It was also found that giving one milligram of vitamin K as an injection shortly after birth just about completely prevented this problem. By the time I became a full-fledged pediatrician and firmly established among the medical elite of the nation, this was the policy in nearly all nurseries in the US of A. It was such a common practice that it was usually printed on a sheet of routine orders so that the doctor didn’t have to do anything but sign at the bottom of the page.

I only saw the disease once in my professional lifetime, and that was when I was practicing in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In 1975, I was called in as a consultant because a baby in the nursery was persistently oozing from his circumcision site. I was puzzled for a short time, but on going over the baby’s chart I soon found that there was no notation of the child’s having been given a vitamin K injection.

Asking further, I found that Dr. A’s patients were never given this medication. Now Dr. A was very very old, and had probably stopped reading medical journals long before that day so he may never have heard that you could prevent this type of bleeding by simply giving the vitamin K prophylactically, even though this had been widely known for more than a decade.

Not only was Dr. A not known for being on the forward edge of medicine at that time, it was in fact rumored that he had actually died in 1965, but no one had figured out how to stop his corpse from making rounds or how to force him to lie down and be quiet as a proper dead person should.

I quickly rustled up some vitamin K and cured this baby’s disease, a problem which he should never have had in the first place.

To read that there are now parents who are refusing to have their infant given the medication blows-my-fragile-mind. I really don’t get it. Why does wanting to have the birth experience be a warmer and more humane experience (which I completely understand) also have to include this tendency toward dangerous and deliberate dumbness?

I have to admit that if I were still practicing medicine and some parents asked me please would I not give their baby this vitamin I would probably have to be restrained from smacking them vigorously about the head and shoulders with a copy of the most current textbook of neonatology.

I can almost hear myself exclaiming: “You want to see bleeding? Here, I’ll give you bleeding! Stop running around the desk for a moment so I can get at you and you’ll see plenty of it!”

I have never suffered fools gladly*.

*2 Corinthians 11:19

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I suspect that most of us have some quiet dream that we don’t talk about much. One that we know will likely never be fulfilled, but it doesn’t matter. Just being able to fantasize about it is 99% enough.

But how many of those dreams improve over time? How lucky am I to be in that position! Since its inception in 1989, I have been a fan of the Mazda Miata sports car, pictured above when it was first brought to the public. I have sat in them at auto shows, followed their careers like any true fan would do, and delighted in one positive review after another in the automotive literature.

And here is that lovely creature’s most recent iteration.

My, my, my. I’m finding that the upgrade to my persistent reverie is more than one … well … could have dreamt.

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When I go to the gym, I need to have some vigorous music playing in my ears to cover up the sounds of my own gasping and retching that might otherwise trouble my concentration. I do feel for those people who are trying their best to ignore me when they are working out on nearby machines, but what can I do … we all have our burdens to bear.

Anyway, the songs on the right are from one of the playlists I’ve made up and was listening to yesterday, Gym #18.

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Ups & Downs

We of the Empire do feel sorry for the citizens of the United States. They are for the most part good people, but in the back of my mind I keep hearing that accusatory saying: “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

If that is so, one has to wonder what the Americans ever did to deserve swimming around together in the political chamber pot they occupy today.

Not that those of us in the Empire are above reproach, not at all. We’ve had our own ups and downs, although none of our downs have … but enough of this. Our neighbors are resourceful, and have dug themselves out of worst scrapes in the past.

Imagine being sentient and reading the newspapers in 1954 as Senator Joseph McCarthy went about his daily rounds ruining lives and fouling the nation’s waters. The US of A got through those times and came out the better for it.

Could happen again. We Imperial citizens sincerely hope that a sweet relief for our friends comes rapidly.

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Monday morning an article in the NYTimes told a story that was like … I dunno … a plot for a “B” movie starring Melissa McCarthy and Adam Sandler. Officials finally cleared the Westerdam, a cruise ship, in the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and hundreds of passengers disembarked to go sightseeing or shopping, while scores more jumped onto planes to continue their vacation travels.

The Westerdam

And then of a sudden one American lady triggers the thermal scanner, and later tests positive for coronavirus. But all these other passengers were out there doing their thing, some of them carrying their viral load to the far corners of the earth. An epidemiologic nightmare, nest-ce pas?

Imagine that you’re on a plane somewhere in the world on Monday morning, reading the Times story, while somebody across the aisle from you is telling the guy next to him how he had been quarantined on a cruise ship and just got released the day before in Cambodia and what a mess that had been. And then the guy coughs a couple of times.

Make you nervous just reading about it, doesn’t it?

Bill Burr might not be your favorite comedian, but while I was reading the Times piece I flashed back to his solution to the world’s population problems, and it involved cruise ships. Here’s a shortened version of that bit, from Conan O’Brien’s show.

Like I said. A “B” movie script idea if there ever was one.

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I found this animated GIF on the New Yorker site. It’s hypnotic. I keep waiting for something to happen … a dog running into the frame, or the bicyclist’s head to turn. But it never changes. The cyclist just keeps pedaling, the snow falls forever.

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The Boy Scouts of America have filed for bankruptcy as their sexual abuse lawsuits continue to pile up. This has become another sad and sordid story about yet another institution that didn’t do its job, didn’t protect the children under its care. Yet another group that had to be taken to court and forced to admit that it failed in its primary duty. Make room on the Bench of Shame, Catholic Church, here comes the BSA.

Is there a de-merit badge that the adults in scouting responsible for the offenses and/or the cover-up could be sentenced to wear?

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I do have a positive Boy Scout story for you. When I was working in Yankton, a teen-aged Eagle Scout came into the office with the complaint of pain in his chest.

He had been backpacking at the Scouts’ Philmont Ranch in New Mexico, leading a group of younger boys. On the second day out, he suddenly developed chest pain and shortness of breath. In spite of this he finished the trek, which meant another day in the mountains carrying a full pack, and then a day traveling home.

My examination and workup quickly showed that his left lung was nearly completely collapsed due to a spontaneous pneumothorax. It happens – a lung springs a leak and collapses, just like the inner tube on a bicycle. A physician then inserts a tube which sucks out the air from the space where it isn’t supposed to be, and the patient is usually good as new.

This kid, who was a Type AAA personality if there ever was one, hadn’t let a little thing like a collapsed lung get him down. He finished the job and then sought care days later.

As a person who feels that he should not be expected to walk whenever his little toe is aching slightly, I remember being suitably impressed.

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First They Came For The Socialists …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Niemoller

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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L’Etoile du Nord

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

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

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

And did I mention that I grew up in Minnesota?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pantry Hazards

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

Is Fiesta Ware radioactive?

Huh? Radioactive? What the … ?

So I clicked on the question and received this answer:

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Memento Mori Department

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

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

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An Apple A Day …

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

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

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

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

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

I love it when they hurt me.

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GUY FAWKES DEPARTMENT

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

Anyone But Trump? Not So Fast by Bret Stephens

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

The Myth of Middle-Class Liberalism by David Motadel

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Tripping

Composing entries for this blog when traveling can be awkward for the reason that some entries are made from a laptop and some, like this one, from a phone.

Typing on a phone with sausage-shaped fingers is troublesome as I can easily hit three characters at a time with one finger pad . This could make for awkward reading, since the reader would be faced with what looks like Enigma code. Inevitably there is an exceptional amount of backspacing and correcting that goes on. Enough to turn unintelligible gibberish into … another type of gibberish.

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Last week, just after dawn, I looked out my kitchen window toward the walking path between us and the row of houses beyond and spied the largest and most beautiful red fox I’d ever seen trotting along the concrete toward the fields on the west side of town.

(Not my photo)

It’s size made me glad that I could see our cats snoozing in chairs behind me. I’m not as worried about Willow who is probably at her physical peak, but Poco is more like me, where out-thinking a foe is much the better way to go when compared to running away or climbing a tree.

And you really can’t out-think a threat as immediate as a fox standing in front of you with lunch on its mind.

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On the drive to Denver from Montrose along Interstate 70, it has become commonplace for us to be delayed, sometimes for more than an hour. Once it was an accident that forced us to take a long detour through Leadville. Another time it was during a heavy snow, where there was an unscheduled avalanche abatement miles ahead of us somewhere out of sight. That one went on long enough to bring scores of us out of our cars to empty straining bladders in full view of fellow travelers in that long stalled line of automobiles.

On this trip we were alerted by one of those overhead electric signs which reach across the traffic lanes that I-70 was closed up ahead at milepost 116. Backtracking would have added hours to our journey, so we exited at milepost 114, which was in West Glenwood Springs, and found a Culver’s restaurant. There we learned that an accident up ahead was causing the delay, so we settled in and had our lunch.

We have an app on our phones dealing with Colorado road conditions, and there the accident was at 116, clearly marked by a red indicator on the map. So we finished eating and stayed in our booth until that red spot went away, then continued on without further trouble.

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George Will is one of those uncommon birds these days. A conservative of the venerable stripe, dating from B.F.N. (Before Fox News). In previous decades his sense of prissy entitlement sometimes annoyed the very hell out of me, but he hasn’t lost his clarity, and that’s something special in these garbled times.

I have found that for this often intemperate liberal (moi) there are few things healthier than to read well-considered pieces by conservative writers. My firmly held (but often thinly-derived) opinions are thus tested, and it is not unheard of for actual change to occur as a result.

People like Will, David Brooks, and Andrew Sullivan come to mind as examples of folks I have found worth reading. Mr. Fawkes has collected examples of all three for your enlightenment.

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Monday Robin and I went to the Denver Zoo, along with the Johnsons. It was a sunny, warmish day and about one hundred thousand other people had the same idea. Which made finding a parking spot a test of my equanimity. Just as I had reached the sputtering stage, a tiny space appeared that I was able to shoe-horn our car into, while still being able to open the doors wide enough to exit the vehicle.

Every time I visit a zoo I am torn. Certainly there are those successes where species are literally rescued from extinction and saved to eventually be returned to the wild. A good thing.

But even with ever-increasing amounts of space allotted to their “cages,” the universe for most of these intelligent animals is so tiny relative to what Nature formerly provided. We humans have so much to answer for … and so few excuses.

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Follow Me …

We couldn’t quite make it all the way through Tuesday night’s debate. By now the candidates’ soundbite strategies were pretty well established, and the 90 minutes that we did watch didn’t move my opinions much at all.

Except that Joe Biden’s age seemed to wear on him more than on previous evenings. He did make one strong point, though, when he said that of all the people on that stage he was the best at building the kind of coalitions that will be needed in November. And I think he may be right on that.

One thing. I really disliked how the questioners framed their questions this time. It was all “Why are you the best one to be Commander-in-chief,” or the best one to do this or that. We Minnesota Norsk-people are not brought up this way – to toot our own horns in public – so that approach didn’t sit well.

Let them tell us what they’d do if given the chance, and we’ll make up our own darn minds who’s best.

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Dear Ragnar: Do you have an opinion on this latest controversy? As to whether President Cluck had justification for killing that Iranian general?

Ragnar: What controversy? He killed him. End of story. Anybody who bothers to listen to Cluck tell us why he did it should have his belt taken away and somebody cutting up his food for him.

Dear Ragnar: I don’t think I quite understand.

Ragnar: Maybe this will help. I was reading some of your history the other day, the part where little Georgie Washington said: “I cannot tell a lie.” Now that may have been embellished slightly, but it made a nice story for the kiddies. This other guy, now, when the Golden Book about him comes out it will read: “I cannot tell the truth, so help me God.”

Dear Ragnar: So aside from that, you have no opinion as to the morality of this situation? Whether we should accept assassination as a legitimate political tool?

Ragnar: Really. You’re asking a Viking warrior’s opinion on slaughter?

Dear Ragnar: Okay. Last question today. Recently a member of our family made his own lutefisk. Went to all the trouble involved, but when the final product hit the dinner table, no one would eat it. Do you have a comment?

Ragnar: I’ll just say this about that. As soon as I was dead and had more choices, I gave up lutefisk as a bad idea. These days? Give me a big plate of butter chicken and I’m a happy Norseman.

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From The New Yorker

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More on the continuing and rapidly evolving saga of electric bikes and trikes. If they are not the wave of the future, they are at least a healthy ripple.

First, here’s the prettiest ebike I’ve seen yet, and it comes from the French.

It’s called the Angell, and hides its battery in the luggage rack. Its range is 70 miles, but if you bought one of these beauties, would you really want to get it dirty? I think not.

The second one is something truly remarkable. It is the Danish VELOKS MK3. It’s a recumbent tricycle that costs a bit over $6000, which exceeds my trike budget by about $5900, but here’s the deal. It’s top speed is 37 mph and it will go more than 400 miles before it needs recharging.

That’s 400 Miles!!

F-o-u-r-h-u-n-d-r-e-d-m-i-l-e-s!!

Of course, at the end of such an epic trike ride you might need to roll yourself straight to a chiropractor’s office to be extracted from the cycle and adjusted back into a standing posture. But what an achievement this is.

The one shown in the photo is a rear-wheel drive trike, but the company has front-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive models in the works. Amazing.

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Last night Robin and I watched A Marriage Story on Netflix. It was one of those well-acted, wrenching films that I never wish to see again. To watch two characters who had been in love, but now were less so, crack open the door to divorce and discover that they had no idea what things could be lurking behind that door … . The movie brought that scary territory into full view and did it very well .

My own divorce happened more than thirty years ago, and what a learning experience it was. This picture tapped into some of those old feelings, and even though its particulars were different in very many ways from my own story, I strolled through some old neighborhoods last night that I hadn’t planned on revisiting.

Good movie, though.

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