The Wishy-washy Need Not Apply

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

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

Article II. Purpose.

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

Constitution, dsusa.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Encore, Mr. Cohen?

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

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

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

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

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

Take nothing for granted.

Question everything.

Mottoes for a troubled time.

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Gratitude List

I have had a pretty lucky life, with a dash of adversity tossed in now and again to keep me on my toes. There was enough of that particular seasoning along the way to teach me that there was knowledge to be gained during those harder times that I might otherwise not have acquired.

For what I learned during those trials, I am now grateful (although I fully admit that I wasn’t when I was in the middle of them).

The last four years, seeing my idea of what America was being disassembled one piece at a time was so disheartening … but what a lot I learned about the workings of government and about my countrymen. Some of that knowledge I would rather not have, but my takeaway is I will never again take for granted that what I love about this country couldn’t be lost if we are not vigilant.

I am grateful for the several people who last October 3 took a confused and speechless older gentleman (yes, that’s me … please let’s not quibble about the gentleman part) and did all the right things so quickly that a frightening situation was turned around in something only slightly longer than a moment. In fact, if they hadn’t done exactly what they did, it’s likely that if I were typing at all today it would be gibberish. (A different sort of gibberish than what I put out there day by day. I know it’s hard to tell sometimes).

I am grateful that there may soon be an end to this long and difficult struggle with Covid-19. I recognize that it has been much more difficult for millions upon millions of others than for me personally, but being in a higher risk group does tend to make one suspicious and antisocial. Neither are pleasant states to be in.

I am grateful for family, for friendships, for music, and to whoever invented love.

Amen.

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P.S.: I am also grateful for mysteries, and this is a dandy.

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Here’s a personal gallery of things and places. I hope that you have a beautiful day, wherever and with whomever.

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Dialogue Before Dessert

We get to read the comic strip Dilbert in our local paper, but for some strange reason the editors hide the strip way back on the classified ad page, all by itself, and far away from the rest of the comics. This sort of quarantine preceded Covid, however, so we can’t blame the virus for the odd placement.

It’s as if the editors like the strip, but find it too subversive to be mixed in with the likes of The Born Loser or Alley Oop. Why they think that people who are scanning the Want Ads could be safely entrusted with its hit-the-nail-on-the-head type of satire I have no idea. But there you are.

I thought the one above fit our times perfectly. And me in particular. A couple of years back Robin told me about a practice that was going around the country where someone would hold a dinner party and deliberately invite persons who held viewpoints that were in opposition to theirs. There were some ground rules, of course, in that no weapons could be brought into the dining room, and personal attacks had to be limited to no more than 5 minutes of red-facedness and spittle-spewing.

When Robin told me about this “movement,” my first thought was how sweetly optimistic, and my second thought was who would ever waste a whole evening and risk terminal dyspepsia by engaging in such a quixotic pursuit?

That’s when I realized that one of my dearest and longest-held beliefs had been dealt a severe blow somewhere along the way without my even realizing it. A belief in the power and value of argument.

Argument: an address or composition intended to convince or persuade; persuasive discourse.

Dictionary.com

This is not a good thing to find out about oneself. What it meant is that a person has become the mirror image of the self-righteous blockhead they are trying to avoid. It could also mean that I am no longer someone who is willing to participate in a discussion and risk having my opinions changed as a result because I have made up my mind forever on the subject.

So far I have not been invited to one of these dinners. And I will be the first to admit that I would have to know that the food was going to be something special before I would accept. If I am going to do the work of actively and honestly talking to members of the opposition, I want to at least be fed well.

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About 30 miles south of us one can take a right turn, go up a dirt road for a few miles (suitable for 4WD) and then go over Black Bear Pass. No problem until you start down the other side of the pass, really. At that point it becomes a narrow, winding shelf road with a series of narrow switchbacks that look unnerving on the videos. If you make it to the bottom of this road you will find yourself in Telluride CO.

Each year thousands of Jeep enthusiasts travel this road to prove something to themselves, and I’m not sure what that is. The drivers are mostly older men with enough money to spend on a vehicle that is really only designed for outings like this and second or third best for anything else.

As for me, I am missing two things that would make this journey possible. The first is a Jeep. The second is a non-acrophobic state of mind. But I digress.

I ran across this short video that I think you will find remarkable. The camera is looking out the front window of a 4WD vehicle traversing one of those tight switchbacks, and then the machine settles into a straightaway for a short while. Keep watching to the end. Amazing.

The story is that the woman driving the red Jeep was seriously injured (no kidding), but not killed (whuh!).

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Sign O’ The Times

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Hallelujah! The General Services Administration has signed off on Joe Biden and his bunch. Until this past month I didn’t even know that they had anything important to say on the matter. This doesn’t mean that P.Cluck isn’t doing what he can to poison as many of America’s wells before he is shown the door. Isn’t he a caution? Who knew that a buffoon could be so nasty?

Actually, we all did. In horror films, what has ever been scarier than the clown face on a stuffed toy over there in the corner of the child’s bedroom? The supernatural malice of the clown’s perpetual grin comes through to us even before the creature makes its first move.

The thing about it is that soon we won’t have to look at this particular clown any longer, unless we want to. For instance, it’s been years since I wasted time on any of the characters over there in the far-right-wing crazy museum. The Limbaughs and the Ingrahams of the world will now be joined by the Clucks, in a space where they can fulminate all they want but don’t have their fingers on any of the major buttons.

I am supremely down with that.

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Honor and Betrayal

A headline this past week was quite moving, I thought. It trumpeted that the Boy Scouts of America now has more than 90,ooo pending claims against it for child sexual abuse. The story went on to detail the enormous financial drain on an already declining organization. No one knows how this will all shake out, but the central theme has by now become too obvious, hasn’t it?

Scout troop in Adams, Nebraska, 1913

If we take the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, and a whole lot of smaller organizations into account, what comes out of it all is that we must make a painful admission. We haven’t taken proper care of our children. Not by a very long shot.

So why do these ugly reports always seem to come as a surprise to us? Wasn’t this particular can of worms opened long ago? In the late sixties one of my teachers was Dr. Robert ten Bensel, who was a pediatrician on the staff at Hennepin County General Hospital. At the time he was probing disturbing reports of child sexual abuse and receiving little collegial support for his work. He was even thought of by some as being a little weird, because surely this involved a very small number of children and some awfully disturbed adults. So what was Dr. Bob* doing poking around in this nasty business as his career direction?

Within the next decade we came to know as a fact that abusing children was commonplace. And it was usually perpetrated not by a lurking stranger but by someone close to the child who had been entrusted with their welfare. It involved parents, relatives, teachers, clergy, doctors, nannies … and scoutmasters.

So the Boy Scouts failed big-time in their one of their major responsibilities – that of protecting the children in their care. If the organization goes down under the weight of these claims and lawsuits, it goes down. Nothing lasts forever. Let it happen and get on with life. But we must provide more safeguards wherever children are to be found.

(*Dr. ten Bensel went on to become an acknowledged expert in the field of child abuse, teaching and publishing for the remainder of his career until his passing in 2002.)

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We may or may not have a mouse in the house. Here’s how that happens.

Our senior cat, Poco, is done with all that. If a mouse ran across the room in front of him he would follow it with his eyes, maybe run over to where the creature had hidden itself and cock his head, but that would be it. He is quite content with the twice a day food service and a bedtime snack that Robin and I provide.

Not so Willow, who has two operating modes, sleeping and hunting. There has been quite a parade of rodents brought across our threshold over the years, most of them among the dead rather than the quick, but’s that latter group … .

Willow will bat them around a bit, then casually look away for a second or two. The mouse sees its chance and takes off, Willow in pursuit. Usually she catches them before they make it to a safe place, but not always. And a house like ours affords any number of such refuges. In the baseboard heaters, for instance, or under the wooden braces for the dining room table, or (nononono) in the workings of the hide-a-bed in the living room.

When that happens and she can’t get at them any longer, she will seek us out to help her. We’ve come to recognize a particular set of mewlings as saying something that goes like this: “Awfully sorry to be a bother, but I’ve a problem you might be interested in. You see, I’ve lost a mouse in the hide-a-bed and can’t seem to get at it. I know that you can help, though, because we’ve been down this same road before. So could you please come out to the living room, open up that contraption, and I’ll handle the rest.”

This time the rodent headed for our bedroom (Robin is the witness) and disappeared. That was three days ago, and we’ve seen nothing of it since. It could be gone, having wandered back across the living room and dining room and gone out through the pet door. Or it could have tried the same maneuver, been recaptured by Willow, and disposed of without her mentioning it to us. (When she dines on mouse, there are no leftovers to tell the story).

Or it could still be in the house, perhaps in the kitchen or pantry or somewhere where there is at least the possibility of finding food and water, items that our bedroom does not afford.

We may never know for certain where that critter went.

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Like some very large slug, His Malignant Orangeitude is leaving a nasty, rancid slick of a trail wherever he goes. But what we are finding is that America, although wounded, is coming through this long period of ugliness with most of what we hold dear intact.

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Our election process worked, in spite of many forces trying desperately to make it fail. Our populace voted in higher numbers than ever before, even if a dismaying number of citizens still marked an “X” in the box for Cluck.

Much is written about our division, that we are not a people of one mind, as if that were a completely new thing. They must not read much history. America was born in division.

Remember that not every colonist wanted to separate from England by a long shot, and there were years of violence between those factions as a result. Royalists versus Patriots, with not a red coat in sight. And the Civil War? Hundreds of thousands killed? Scars left that are still on display? How’s that for division?

Personally, even if it were possible, I would be very much afraid of a United States that was of one mind on everything. What grand possibilities for mischief there would be then.

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From The New Yorker

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Dumb and Dumber

My old home state of South Dakota is making the wrong sort of headlines these days. For those who aren’t familiar with prairie politics, it is basically a state run by Republicans. This hasn’t always been a bad thing, but perhaps the fact that the political gene pool is such a small one is catching up with them, because during the time I lived there each year watching the legislature perform was increasingly like viewing reruns of Dumb and Dumber.

Unfortunately the decline in the IQ of the leadership seems to have continued since I left the state nearly seven years ago. And now South Dakotans are suffering because of it. Literally, suffering. Governor Kristi Noem can now take credit for leading the state into some of the worst Covid-19 numbers in the country. However, the abysmal statistics have not caused her to waver in her anti-scientific-knowledge crusade even as the death toll mounts.

Wear a mask? You can if you want to, you silly person, but thank God that here in SD we still have our freedoms, and this means we are free to spew deadly germs into the faces of our fellow citizens if we so choose. (I have freely paraphrased the governor’s public pronouncements, here)

Of course, she couldn’t do all this harm by herself. Just like her hero, P.Cluck, she is enabled by the Republican majority in her state with its willingness to belly up to the bar and pass the Kool-Aid around. And the voters, don’t forget the voters.

The word “stunning” has been used so much this past year that I hesitate to employ it yet one more time, but what this nurse in the video below has to say pretty much qualifies as an example. Her stories of patients who had so completely bought into Cluckist rhetoric that they believed that Covid was a hoax, a liberal straw-man, not a serious issue, on its way out, etc. etc. So much so that when they were told that it was killing them they refused to accept their diagnosis. How could they be dying of a hoax?

It’s stunning, is what it is. Lordy.

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From The New Yorker

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I actually fixed something yesterday. The tempered glass protective cover on the face of Robin’s iPhone had been damaged, leaving criss-crossing cracks to look at instead of that much preferred smooth surface. When I called the Verizon store where we had purchased the phone they told me the cost of repair would be $50.00.

For removing the damaged piece of glass and replacing it with a beautiful new one. Fifty bucks.

Well, my strong cheap streak went into high gear right away, so I began looking into doing it myself, and found a whole world of how-to-do-it videos on YouTube. I also found that if I were willing to do just the teensiest bit of work, that the cost would be around $14.00 for not one, but three new pieces of tempered glass, one to use as the repair and two to put away for another day.

So Mr. Clumsyhands went to work and mirabile dictu, I did it in about five minutes total time. Piece of cake. No problemo. Easy as pie.

Now just where is that bomb you wanted disarmed? I’ll be right over.

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It is definitely soup season here at BaseCamp. One of the great things about the colder weather is that bringing out the kettle and heating up the kitchen as broth and vegetables and herbs do their excellent thing together is actually enjoyable.

We have a number of old stalwarts that we first make each year, and then we begin to try new recipes. Our most recent addition to the library was made of a mixture of white beans and squash. Really, it is awfully tasty, and it freezes well.

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Good Morning, Starshine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mental Lint

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

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

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

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

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A gallery of images of Senator Turtle

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

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

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Willie and the Boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can I Have A Hallelujah, Brothers & Sisters!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting paper.

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

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

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

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

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Broke

You have broken my heart, America. Oh, it’s not the first time it’s been broken, not by a long shot, I keep putting that hapless organ out there to be driven over, shot at, left behind … . It’s my own damned fault and I really should know better by now. The problem is that this has been my longest running love affair, going back as far as my memory can reach. I fell even before I knew that there was such a thing as a country.

The soundtrack to that affair was tunes like America the Beautiful, My Country Tis of Thee, This Land Is Your Land, God Bless America, and the like. Songs to stir the blood, to make a child stand taller and straighter at his desk in school.

I didn’t lose faith even when I realized that you had serious flaws, cracks in that beauty revealed by the lynchings, the racism, the wars … the obvious fact that your bounty wasn’t spread around evenly at all.

But this time you broke it. That so many of us could vote for someone so very bad. A Mussolini for our time.

My heart will heal, it always has. But after each fracture and repair, it was not the same as it was before the hurt came along. Sometimes it became a better heart … bigger, more accepting, more capable of love than ever … and that is what I can hope for now. For today, though, all that I want to do is to go somewhere and have a cry.

It will not be the last time that I have been a fool for love, I know. Time has proven that to be my curse and my blessing all at once. But I know that I am not unique in this … maybe some of you are similarly afflicted. I offer a well-distanced and weepy hug if you are.

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Stephen Colbert suited up and showed up and said it much better than I can, in the first 16 minutes of Thursday’s show.

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Listen Up

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Halloween De-briefing

Last Halloween we had … I don’t know, perhaps 40 trick-or-treaters at our door. This year we had one. One hardy soul who received way more candy than she had ever hoped for and staggered away under her sugar load. Unless her parents step in and limit her intake, she could end up in the ER with severe sucrose poisoning. Not our problem. We did our part to sabotage her proper nutritional habits.

After we decided that one visitor was all we were going to get this year, we settled in to watch our annual blast from the past, and we’d selected the movie Poltergeist, from 1982. It held up pretty well. One of the problems with re-watching a film from 38 years ago is that you are 38 years older and may have developed more of an awareness of holes in the plot that you would have back then. This family was waaaay not worried enough about things moving about the house in the first place, and waaaaay too slow to get the hell out of there when things turned nasty.

But it provided the spooky movie ambiance that we were looking for that night, and that’s all a persons can ask, really. I learned an interesting sidelight when I looked for info on the film this week, and that was this. The movie basically dealt with the problems of the Freeling family, which consisted of Mom, Dad, and two girls. The actress who played the older daughter was strangled by her boyfriend the same year the film was released, and the one who played the younger daughter died six years later (at age 12) of a bowel obstruction.

That’s sort of macabre all by itself.

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Tomorrow is Election Day. With the pre-election hype predicting everything from minor disturbances to outright civil insurrection as the results become known, one can hope that this is all overheated rhetoric. As happened in the year 2000, when we were told to fear that all of our computers were going to crash along with Western Civilization, as a result. Remember Y2K?

While there seems to be a significant concentration of crazies on the P.Cluck side of the ledger, not all of those who vote for him are completely nuts. Deluded for sure, suckers to the max, but not people who are violent in nature. We can hope that they will be the leavening if Biden/Harris are declared the eventual victors.

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All Hallows Eve

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

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

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

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

Life is techno-good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental Goulash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Garbage In, Garbage Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shots In The Corridors – 1946

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Love, No Tacos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More Stuff About Trees And Chicanery

Friday Morning

Daughter Maja will fly back to the Twin Cities later today, after having given us the chance to show her a bit of how Fall arrives here in Paradise. We spent much of our time together chatting on the small deck out back, under an ash tree that somehow managed to contain all of the leaf colors possible in a tree in October, and then Wednesday a wind came up that tore half those leaves loose and distributed them around us as we sat out there lost in conversation. A lovely moment.

Robin and I took our ballots down to the drop box Thursday afternoon, and that little container was a busy place to be at 4:00 P.M. Apparently the flow of completed ballots this year has been much faster than usual. We’re going to assume that this is a good thing. If Republicans hate it when lots of citizens vote, then what we saw must be making some of them uncomfortable. Members of that party deserve a good whaling for their four years of ignoring anything that didn’t make them richer or attempt to cement their power. They should be ashamed of themselves, but of course we have all seen how incapable of shame they are, many times over.

Does this mean that there are no miscreants who are Democrats? That they are incapable of doing embarrassingly self-serving things?

Nope.

In their case, however, it’s usually individuals who are the perps, rather than the entire party giving itself over to their worst impulses, as has happened lately. I look forward to a day when we will see reasonable and fair people once again leading the conservative opposition, people whose advice we could take and combine with progressives’ best ideas to use in the necessary work of America at home and around our planet.

Is that really possible? It’s a question that I ask myself occasionally, one to which I admit I don’t know the answer. It all reminds me of a line from the song by Mary Chapin Carpenter: “It’s too much to expect, but not too much to ask.”

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It seemed like a good time of year to play Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album. So I took myself out back and listened to it for perhaps the hundredth time. Here’s the blurb from Apple Music about the album:

There’s never been anything like Astral Weeks—not before or since. Parting with the straightforward, R&B-based rock of his past, a young Van Morrison embraced his love of jazz, blues, folk, and poetry all at once. The thrillingly transcendent journey finds him mixing bittersweet childhood memories and in-the-moment reveries like a folk-rock James Joyce. His soulful voice soars over a constantly shifting, almost impressionistic landscape of fluid, jazzy lines, gentle strumming, and shimmering orchestrations. The magic Morrison created here is as otherworldly as the title suggests.

If you’ve not listened to it for a while, it holds up beautifully. A love letter from 1968.

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After basically spending the summer lounging around our back yard, our old friend Poco has taken up wandering in the neighborhood as he used to do, especially along the irrigation canal that runs behind our property.

To find him all I usually have to do is walk up about 100 yards and call out his name while standing in front of a particular thicket. There will be an answering meow or two, and then out he comes. Above is a pic from September 2007, when he’d just arrived at our home, demanding admission and attention. He easily achieved both.

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I mentioned our first youth poet laureate several months ago, when she first appeared on the national stage. Her name is Amanda Gorman, and her work provides abundant proofs of the revolutionary power of poetry. In the video below she recites her work Fury and Faith.

Now this woman is way too young to be this wise, but there you are. Among these stirring lines there was one that stood out to me, and it was “The point of protest isn’t winning, it’s holding fast to the promise of freedom …”. This so reminded me of words from the last speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave the day before he was assassinated.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

I think we haven’t heard the last from Ms. Gorman.

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Potpourri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The man is the very definition of an empty suit.

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

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

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

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

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Hey, Buddy, I’m Ahead Of You!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Word From The Wise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gravity Is All-Powerful Department

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

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

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

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

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

The Night Migrations

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

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

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

and another one …

The Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

because what sound would it make,
passing through nothing?

Phobia du Jour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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Memento Mori Department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sermonettes In Great Abundance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

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

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

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

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

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

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Harvest Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Helpful Hardware Man, Yessir!

There’s but one day left of September, which has been a warm and undemanding month. A little hotter than we wanted on some days, but they’re all behind us now. Robin and I have finished our first week of self-quarantine, although we’ve had to break our own rules on occasion.

For instance, on Sunday I noticed that the water in the commode in Robin’s bathroom never stopped running. I removed the tank lid and started to fiddle with the floating ball that is supposed to stop the water flow, when the entire rod and ball broke off in my hand. Age and corrosion had done their work over time, and there was nothing for it but to take a trip to Ace Hardware for a new float valve apparatus.

Stuff like that happens. Otherwise we go out to pick up our groceries using the City Market system where we pick out what we want online, order it, and then stop by the store to have the worker put the food into the back of the car for us. We exercise outdoors instead of at the gym (which is a healthier option anyway), and basically avoid mankind.

BTW, we are sooo fortunate to have this hardware store in our town. It’s not a big one, but there is always someone waiting for me when I walk in the door who asks if they can help. Usually is it some older guy, and when I try (haltingly and incompletely) to explain why I am there, he takes me by the hand to just where I needed to be, hands me what I need to buy, and then leads me back to the front of the store. A real store with real stuff in it, and knowledgeable people to assist us. What a concept!

On Sunday my helper was a stooped elderly gentleman who led me to the plumbing section of the store and pointed at a slender box. There were at least five varieties of toilet tank water valves to choose from, but when he said: “This one is the easiest to install, and one of the most economical as well,” he had me at “easiest.” I fell to the floor on my knees in gratitude, but I think that embarrassed him, because he recoiled and said: “Get up, please, and never do that again.”

It’s also the sort of establishment that has a popcorn popper by the door, and you can help yourself to a bagful anytime you want, for free. All in all, it’s enough to give retail a good name.

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Tonight will offer the first of the “great debates.” Robin and I are pretty sure we won’t watch them, and both have the same reason for doing so. We can’t stand the sight and sound of P. Cluck. We wish Mr. Biden well, hope he’s been practicing, and know that the fact checkers will have their hands full. Cluck simply cannot open his mouth without making s**t up.

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Now that the name “Karen” has become synonymous with a certain type of clueless, white, woman of privilege, I found myself wondering how people who actually bore that name were faring. But in all of Paradise I could find no one who would admit to being named Karen. There were a few who I wasn’t able to talk to because they saw me coming and ducked down alleys and into waiting SUVs that whisked them safely away from my prying eyes and questions. So I suspect there are some out there, although I can’t prove it.

It reminds me of the problems that some Norwegians had with bearing the name “Quisling” during WWII. Now Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian bureaucrat who got along famously well with those pesky Nazis who were occupying his country. So well, in fact, that the word “traitor” became synonymous with his last name. It’s still the case today.

From 1942 to 1945 he served as Prime Minister of Norway, heading the Norwegian state administration jointly with the German civilian administrator Josef Terboven. His pro-Nazi puppet government known as the Quisling regime, was dominated by ministers from Nasjonal Samling. The collaborationist government participated in Germany’s genocidal Final Solution.
Quisling was put on trial during the legal purge in Norway after World War II. He was found guilty of charges including embezzlement, murder, and high treason against the Norwegian state, and was sentenced to death. He was executed by firing squad at Akershus Fortress, Oslo, on 24 October 1945. The word “Quisling” became a byword for “collaborator” or “traitor” in several languages, reflecting the contempt with which Quisling’s conduct has been regarded, both at the time and since his death.

Wikipedia: vidkun quisling

One hopes that the Karens of the world will one day be able to re-emerge from their closets and bring out their monogrammed items to wear with pride once again. Remember, folks – Karens are people, too.

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From The New Yorker

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People are covering outdoor plantings at night these days. Our temperatures have been flirting with that magical 32 degrees here in the valley. Each Fall we call on a local company called Rainmaker to service the in-ground sprinkler system that we inherited when we bought the house. And no matter when we call them, each Fall they schedule us after the first freeze happens, so that we have a few nights where we need to provide the above-ground components some protection. Last night was one of those nights.

However, this inconvenience has its bright side. No matter how lovely and summer-ish the days might be, we know with great confidence that it will freeze a day or two before our scheduled service. That’s helpful to know.

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Backing Away From The Fire

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

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

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

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

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

Feist

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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Passages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here, Kitty Kitty

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

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

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

Cats do scorn awfully well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Open Carry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I don’t know, I just …

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

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

And so it goes.

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

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

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

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

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

Happy news.

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

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

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

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