Telling Good News & That Ain’t Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I’m kidding. I’M KIDDING!)

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From The New Yorker

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

No matter. Great tune. Ahead of its time.

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

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The Wishy-washy Need Not Apply

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

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

Article II. Purpose.

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

Constitution, dsusa.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Encore, Mr. Cohen?

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

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

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

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

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

Take nothing for granted.

Question everything.

Mottoes for a troubled time.

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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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“The Problem We All Live With”

[An article Saturday on CNN online was prompted by the 60th anniversary of a little girl’s walk to school. It is both a description of some horrible behavior and a testament to personal courage. I reprint it here.]

60 years ago today, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges walked to school and showed how even first graders can be trailblazers

By Leah Asmelash, CNN

 Ruby Nell Bridges, 6, was the first African American child to attend William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans after federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools.

Ruby Nell Bridges, 6, was the first African American child to attend William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans after federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools.

(CNN)Sixty years ago, Ruby Bridges walked to school escorted by four federal marshals as a White mob hurled insults at her.Bridges, just 6 years old on November 14, 1960, was set to begin first grade at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. As the first Black student to attend the school, Bridges carried integration on her small shoulders.Her first day at William Frantz came four years after Black parents in New Orleans filed a lawsuitagainst the Orleans Parish School Board for not desegregating the school system in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which determined in 1954 that state laws establishing segregation in public schools were unconstitutional. The year Bridges walked into the school, Judge. J. Skelly Wright had ordered the desegregation of New Orleans public schools. The Orleans Parish School Board, however, had convinced the judge to require Black students to apply for transfer to all-White schools, thus limiting desegregation, according to the Equal Justice Initiative

US deputy marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

US deputy marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. 

That year, only five of the 137 Black first graders who applied to transfer were accepted, and only four agreed to attend, according to EJI. Bridges was among them. “For me, being 6 years old, I really wasn’t aware of what was going on,” Bridges, now 66, told NPR in 2010. “I mean the only thing that I was ever told by my parents that I was going to attend a new school and that I should behave.”

Once Bridges entered the school and arrived at her classroom, all the other students had withdrawn. The rest of the school year, it was just her and the teacher, she said. And crowds continued to show up, at one point bringing a small baby’s coffin with a Black doll inside.”I used to have nightmares about the box,” Bridges said. “Those are the days that I distinctly remember being really, really frightened.”But Bridges stayed at the school despite retaliation against her family. Grocery stores refused to sell to her mother, Lucille. And her father, Abon, lost his job, according to the National Park Service. The toll was so hard on their marriage that by the time Bridges graduated from sixth grade, they had separated, she told NPR.Eventually, though, Bridges made it to second grade. And when she did, the school’s incoming first grade class had eight Black students, the EJI said. 

Ruby Bridges speaks onstage at Glamour's 2017 Women of The Year Awards at Kings Theatre in November 2017 in New York.

Ruby Bridges speaks onstage at Glamour’s 2017 Women of The Year Awards at Kings Theatre in November 2017 in New York. CNN reached out to Bridges for comment but did not receive a response.

Bridges continues to be an inspiration for many. In 2011, she was invited to the Oval Office, where the painting commemorating her walk by Norman Rockwell — criticized when it first appeared on a magazine cover in 1964 — was on display.”I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be here today,” then President Barack Obama told Bridges during her visit, according to the White House archives. Lucille, who Ruby says pushed her to attend the school, died this week at age 86. In an Instagram post, Ruby called her mother a “champion for change,” adding that her actions altered the course of many lives.

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This is the Look magazine cover referred to in the article. It is of Ruby Bridges and her journey to school, and was painted by Norman Rockwell. Its title is “The Problem We All Live With.”

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Poco came to us as an outdoor kitten that we coaxed into our home. Later on, when we would attempt to retrain him and deny him access to the outdoors, he was so unhappy that it was a difficult time for all concerned, and we eventually stopped trying.

Case in point. In this pic, the outdoor temperature is a chilly 38 degrees, the wind is a blustery 20-25 mph, and here he is, sleeping out along the backyard fence. Even though the pet door is wide open to him, and only 25 feet away. Inside that pet door is warmth and loads of comfortable furniture to lie about on. But you see where he chooses to be.

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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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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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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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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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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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I Now Pronounce You …

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

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

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

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

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

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From The Mountains, To The Prairies …

The drive from Montrose to North Platte NE was remarkable only for the unending pall that hung over us. At no time did we see blue sky or an unfiltered sun. Smoke from those awful fires on the West Coast mixed with those of Colorado as we moved further east. Everything we looked at from the windows of our Forester had a look that was drained of color, and the horizon disappeared into the haze. It was all as if the cinematographer in charge of the movie we were in had chosen to provide us a palette common to horror films. One that was chilling and foreboding.

Our lunch stop was in Buena Vista CO, at the House Rock Cafe, a favorite of ours. How many places have you eaten in your life that were consistently good, never failed to satisfy? This is one of those. (Most of our visits to grandchildren in Denver involve passing through Buena Vista.) A warning – if that $13 charge for a burger seems on the high side, wait until you see the plateful of stuff that gets you, including a perfect green salad, some guacamole, fries that hold up through the whole meal, enough excellent sliced (and unusual) veggies to build a truly awesome sandwich … excuse me for a moment, I just drooled all over my keyboard.

We quickly found that the news of Covid 19 has apparently not reached western Nebraska as yet, as evidenced by the near-absence of facial masking. Fortunately our contact with this information-deprived populace was minimal, primarily involving asking for the location of the restroom. A notable exception was a late supper at the Runza restaurant in North Platte. The only masked people present were Robin, myself, and the blonde young woman behind the counter who greeted us. Immediately there was a problem in communication, due to the fact that the woman was masked, behind a plexiglas protector, and spoke at a speed I had thought impossible for human beings. It led to this exchange.

Wertoiaewroigafugfdoihr?
Huh?
Wertoiaewroigafugfdoihr?
Huh?
What.would.you.like. to.order? (Words delivered painstakingly slowly, as you might to a person you have judged to be an absolute dunce)
Oh, we’d like two Runzas, please.
Dwetoiraiogjignaergl?
What’s that?
Dwetoiraiogjignaergl?
Excuse me, what did you say?
Do.you.want.just.the.sandwich.or.a.meal?
The meal, please.
Tgtaghroiho;ihl;ihn.
What?
Tgtaghroiho;ihl;ihn.
Please?
That.will.be.$14.97.
(Pays for food)
Tatreiohohhohoiho;ita. Hasdlgsfbjblnby!
Could you repeat that?
Thank.you.for.choosing.Runza.Have.a.wonderful.day.

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A lot of the fun that I have in keeping this journal, and subsequently inflicting it upon you, is due to the years I spent reading the essays of S.J. Perelman. He was what used to be called a humorist, a category that has never had enough members to suit me. I remember reading his stuff during long boring shifts as the night orderly on an inpatient psychiatry station at University of Minnesota Hospitals. I used to own a couple of volumes of those pieces, but I think they have gone on to their eternal rewards by now.

So how does this make today’s writing fun? Because, in a very halting way I think I borrow from his style in some of what I put down on the screen. And this piracy, purloining, and pilfering – this clumsy hommage is somehow enjoyable to me. Here are some Perelman quotes for you to look over.

I guess I’m just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws.

Tomatoes and squash never fail to reach maturity. You can spray them with acid, beat them with sticks and burn them; they love it.

The dubious privilege of a freelance writer is he’s given the freedom to starve anywhere.

I have no truck with lettuce, cabbage, and similar chlorophyll. Any dietitian will tell you that a running foot of apple strudel contains four times the vitamins of a bushel of beans.

See what I mean? He’s in my head and I couldn’t get rid of him if I wanted to. BTW, if you should ever look up Mr. Perelman and peruse his material, you would find that there’s a bit more acid there than in what I do. He was, at heart, not a happy man, although a very bright one.

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By Friday evening we had landed in Yankton, unpacked our small collection of our stuff we’d brought along, and found ourselves ordering a sackful of Tastee-Treat loose-meat sandwiches, a home-town tradition if ever there was one. We took our treasures to Riverside Park and did some reminiscing there while we ate an al fresco supper. To finish off the evening we walked across the old lift bridge, all the way to Nebraska and back.

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On this Saturday morning, the auspices are good for an outdoor wedding. So many things have to come together for these exercises in blind meteorologic faith to come off with anything approaching grace. A day that’s too warm can wilt the proceedings and bring about an epidemic of the vapors, with the noise of people collapsing near you being a significant distraction from one’s appreciation of the ceremony. Any breeze over 20 mph begins to fray at the edges of the decorations until finally veils are flying and words of betrothal are lost in the roar of the gale.

And rain. What about that blessed water from heaven that can affect the rites more than anything else, and send the assemblage scattering like an nestful of rabbits, holding their wedding programs over their heads? All that effort spent on the bride’s hairdo comes to naught in a soggy instant, and those spiffy rented tuxedos are so far from looking their best in a downpour.

And all this because when the wind does not blow, the sun does not wilt, and the rain does not fall, it can be quite lovely and memorable. You rolls your dice and you takes your chances.

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Saturday Scramble

Margaret Atwood is something else, isn’t she? When I went looking for a particular quote of hers that I vaguely remembered, I found no less than six pagesful of them in BrainyQuote. There are some really sharp ones in there. The one that I had originally sought was this:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Margaret Atwood

The thing that brought this saying to foggy mindedness was a book review in the Times of New York of The Bass Rock, by Evie Wyld. The book’s theme is violence against women by men, which is as tried and true a theme as ever was. (I used to cringe whenever this subject came up yet one more time, being a lifelong member of the perpetrator gender, but as in so many other areas I found that ignoring it didn’t make it go away.)

This above all, to refuse to be a victim.

margaret atwood

I personally believe that this violence will not stop, or be significantly reduced until the topic has been laid out in front of us, bloody and raw, in a public square where we must walk by it daily and cannot turn our heads away. (How’s that for a metaphor?) Until we men are all absolutely sick to death of hearing about it and decide en masse to do something.

In this it is like the painful awareness of the systemic violence against people of color of that is today confronting Caucasians everywhere and around every corner so that we can only ignore it by complete denial of the nananananana variety. When we males (whites) as a group finally acknowledge the whole ugly mess as one we made and need to clean up all on our lonesome, it will happen.

The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.

margaret atwood

I think that I might have to read this book. The sharper among you may have noticed that I am not perfect yet, but I believe that there is still that outlier of a chance that I may still get there one day. No one will ever notice when I do, of course, because I will have become the quiet, flawless, and empathetic listener that I was meant to be.

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Warning! Watch at your own risk! The following short video is known to cause liberals to smile broadly, and even right wingers’ faces to crack in painful ways. It’s all about the shoes. Oh, yes, it’s also about a real person with a sense of humor, something of which the red-right is seriously short.

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I’ve never been a big Martha Stewart fan. Back a few years, when you couldn’t turn your head without seeing her face on television, billboards, or magazines, I chuckled slightly when she went to jail for a few months for cheating. Although I admit that I did respect her for not prolonging things, the way a very wealthy person is able to do seemingly endlessly, when she decided to drop the legal maneuvers and do her short time in the calabozo.

So when I read yesterday that she is bringing out a line of CBD products for both humans and pets, I smiled. Yes, we’ll soon be able to chew our way to health or whatever it is that CBD can do for us and we will know that they are being sold to us by a very reliable ex-con. Because there has never been a question about Martha’s super-reliability.

I smiled again when I read who her partner (and old friend) was in this new venture, because he’s someone we already know as well. It’s Calvin Broadus. Calvin Broadus, you ask? Why, that’s his birth name. You may know him better by his professional name, which is Snoop Dogg. (I couldn’t make this stuff up, folks.)

We will be in very good hands, here. Madame Stewart’s ironclad WASP-y solidity, and Mr. Dogg’s long personal experience with the hemp family. Love it.

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Eggs and tomatoes go together so well, and there are scads of recipes out there of various combinations. Recently I experimented with something so simple and delicious that in the last seven days I had it three times for breakfast. Three times. It’s really only a variation on Chinese stir-fried eggs and tomatoes, but I humbly offer it here.

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I ran across this on YouTube and I found it to be helpful and inspirational. I have a well-developed tendency to think in stereotypes because it’s so much easier. After all, that way I can deal with people in large groups, rather than as individuals. So when a bunch of Southerners come out saying that Black Lives Matter, it gives me a chill. Now I actually have to think, which can be quite painful for me, and makes me crabby.

BTW, I should mention that I am not a neutral party, being the proud son of a union man who grew up during a time when that meant sometimes dodging the billyclubs and fists of the goon-armies of the rich.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

When A Heart Is Empty by David Brooks
Trump Wasn’t Oblivious, He Didn’t Care by Paul Krugman

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I am presently re-reading Awakening the Buddha Within, a book that I first came across when I decided to see what the deal was with this thing called Buddhism. The book still interests me in its presentation of the main points of this “religion,” and also irritates in prodding me to accept karma, rebirth, and miraculous ideas that some schools of Buddhism adhere to. I am not a particularly good customer for miracles, it turns out. It’s one of my enduring quirks. Please notice that I said enduring, not endearing. This facet of my personality can be quite maddening to some.

It may well be that I am missing a great deal of the magic and beauty of life by insisting on a less colorful rationality, who knows? Even if this is true, I already find so much to admire out there … the world as I see it is so much more beautiful than it needs to be.

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A translation of the lovely song “Djorolen” goes like this:

“Cries out in the forest
The worried songbird
Her thoughts go far away
The worried songbird
Cries out in the forest
The worried songbird
Her thoughts go far away
For those of us who have no father
Her thoughts go out to them”

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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Are We There Yet?

Friday morning we are off to the Uncompahgre Plateau for a Labor Day campout. There is a single small campground on the south end of the Plateau, with only 8 sites, and we hope to be able to snag one of those. Otherwise it’s dispersed camping for us, and for the Hurley family who will be joining us on Saturday.

We have prepared for dispersed camping with the following necessary items in addition to what we normally carry with us on such forays:
1. lots of water, since there is none available where we will be
2. a portable toilet which is very stylish, compact, and discreet
3. a small privacy tent within which to use the stylish, compact, and discreet toilet
4. the usual prayers to the weather gods that we not freeze our tuchuses off

(We decided that pooping in the woods using a small trowel and a tree for privacy was okay when we were daypacking and nature caught us out, but on a three-day outing like this … something else was required. Ergo the portable commode. We’re getting soft.)

For the Hurleys there will be many opportunities for mountain biking, something that 3/4 of their family enjoys. For the Floms, there are endless places to hike, sit, or recline. Robin and I gave up on mountain biking after we discovered how unyielding the ground was this Spring when we each took a fall from our cycles. And that was in the heart of civilization! The idea of careening down a root- and rock-infested trail, wrenching our bikes into one turn after another in locations far from orthopedic care has less appeal than it once did.

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We are back, early, from our latest camping outing. Friday and Saturday were beautiful days. We found a roomy campsite in Iron Springs Campground, our friends Amy, Neil, Aiden, and Claire had joined us, and everything was going swimmingly. Until the sun went down on Saturday night.

Hours after we had retired, we were brought to unwanted consciousness by the roar of engines, banshee laughter, and shots being fired. All this coming from a group that had chosen a dispersed spot across the road from our campground for their party. Judging by their behavior, chemicals had been applied liberally to their central nervous systems during the preceding hours. The manic engines we heard were those of dirt bikes, ATVs’, and pickup trucks with cut-out mufflers.

In short, a large group of yahoos from Montrose County were having their fun, they had picked our part of the world to do it in, and one of the things they seemed to enjoy was driving around the loop of our campground in order to wake up and sow confusion among the ordinary citizens resting there.

Now we were 26 miles from civilization, and out of telephone contact with the rest of the world, including that of law enforcement. We therefore puzzled briefly over what to do? Robin was understandably not going to get back to sleep in this environment, and I was at the point where I was hoping that the shots we heard were at the very least reducing their number slightly. What we did do was withdraw from the situation. We got in our car and drove home in our pajamas, leaving our camper and gear behind. Later this morning we will return to the scene of the crime and recover our stuff. Hopefully it will be undisturbed. But that’s out of our hands. We are all safe.

Perhaps they would have continued with their stupid, drunken, and aggressive behavior for a short while and then left us all alone. Or perhaps they would have invented new things to do with us to brighten their early morning revels. We will never know. But it will be a long time before we spend another Saturday night out on the Uncompahgre Plateau, of that I am fairly certain.

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We do have a few photos, taken from happier moments on Friday and Saturday in what is a beautiful semi-wilderness area, that we will share with you.

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Sunday Morning

Zoom-church hasn’t quite been cutting it for many Christians here in Paradise. I overhear their conversations and there is a longing in their voices to come together, to share the words and songs in the way that they love best, in a place that is sacred to them. A virus has taken this away, this ritual assembling that is the beloved focus of the week in normal times.

Oh, they’ve been using video very well, as ministers preach to cameras in empty halls, “coffees” are held on Zoom, and bible studies are planned and conducted by people who are miles apart from one another. But the synod of Robin’s church has not given official permission for their congregations to meet as yet, not in the “old” way. That does not make these parishioners less restive. Indeed, they chafe at the uncertainty as to when religious life will return to something like normal. This month? This year … ?

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My own spiritual life has been a solo one for so long that Covid hasn’t really made a dent in it. Small town America is not filled with Buddhists, and although there is a very small local group that meets in homes, I am reluctant to join it. There are Buddhists that can be just as annoying as any hard-core evangelical Baptist who won’t leave you alone until you are saved three times over. Such followers of the Buddha will natter away on arcane subjects that hold no interest for me. The intricacies of karma and rebirth, for instance. Or the purity of their religious practice. Since I am not required to believe in these things I don’t, and therefore discussing them seems time ill-spent, pour moi.

One of the first books I read on these subjects was Buddhism Without Beliefs, by Jack Kornfeld, and it remains my “gospel.” The title says it all, I think.

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I was about to close this blog post when a headline on CNN caught my eye:

Yellowstone Warns Visitors Not To Get Mixed Up In Elk Mating Season

Now I don’t know about you, but for me this falls into the category of things I never needed to be told but knew instinctively. If you want to read the story, here it is.

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Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury …

I received a jury summons this week, scheduled for September 9. After never, ever, receiving such a summons for the first 74 years of my existence, I have now been sent three of them since moving to Paradise. The first two came to nothing, with the proceedings being called off the day before I was scheduled to appear. So I was not holding my breath on this one. I am impressed with the power that these people have to compel us ordinary citizens. Should I suggest to the court that they bugger off and leave me alone, I’m pretty sure that they would have a proper bouquet of unpleasant remedies to deal with my behavior.

So imagine my delight when I re-read the fine print on the summons and discovered that if I fell into a high-risk Covid category as defined by the CDC, I could be excused from appearing. It further suggested that I call a telephone number, which I did so quickly that the summons hadn’t hit the desk before I was connected to one of the sweetest telephone voices I had ever heard. She told me that I was indeed in a high-risk group and that I now had two choices. I could opt out for six months, or for forever.

My dear, I responded, we will still be masking up six months from now, so why waste time with Option #1? Just give me the lifetime exclusion and we can be done with this delightful little conversation. And so I am now out of the pool, until and unless the powers that constitute the court system decide to change their minds.

It’s their game, of course. They get to make up the rules as they go along.

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On Friday morning I read that eight University of Nebraska football players are suing the Big Ten because the fall season has been called off. I can understand the frustration of young athletes who see their chances at professional careers in the game being adversely affected by such a decision. This has to hurt.

While reading the piece, I recalled that when I lived in South Dakota, just across the river from the fine state of Nebraska, there was a standing joke that went around. It went like this:

Question: What does the “N” on the U. of Nebraska flag stand for?
Answer: Nowledge.

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From The New Yorker

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One of our appliances gets very little use in this viral age, and that’s our Weber gas grill. We might have lit it up once in early Spring, but that was all. It’s a medium-sized grill, too wasteful to use it for only two people. And so it sits there lonesomely under cover, probably wondering what it did wrong last year to deserve such shabby treatment.

For us, grilling outdoors is a social occasion more than anything else. People gather around the device and kibitz to their hearts’ content. Why are you doing it that way? Do you use it much? I wouldn’t put so much sauce on, but that’s just me. It’s comments like these that can cement relationships or sour them.

Once upon a time daughter Kari asked me: What it is about men and cooking on a grill? I blinked at her for a second or two and then responded with just the slightest tremble in my voice: Meat and Fire … Meat and Fire.

It doesn’t get more primal than that.

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That Gypsy!

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

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

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

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

Jerry Garcia

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

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

Willie Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Travelers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W.B. Yeats, the Second coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not okay.

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Sunday Morning

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

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

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

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

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

I think push is the way forward for yours truly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I, Racist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

Right on.

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

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

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Pancakes and Pandemics

The Times of New York has been running a series for a while now of obituaries of forgotten people, long since dead. The latest for some reason was particularly affecting, or interesting, or something, for me. It was of Nancy Green, who passed away in 1923 from injuries she received when a car ran into her as she stood on a Chicago sidewalk.

Ms. Green was the original spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix, a brand that Quaker Oats recently retired because of its racial symbolism. (A confession: when the company announced that they were doing this, I opened my cupboard door and there was Aunt Jemima’s benignly smiling face staring back at me. )

Robin and I retired our personal box of the pancake mix . It’s Krusteaz or Kodiak all the way from now on.

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Robin and I are in Denver visiting the Johnson family, doing the best we know how to see members of our family without passing along the plague to them and at the same time they are doing the same for us, since few people know if they have it or not. We’re staying at a motel nearby instead of at their home, following the same guidelines.

There’s little use testing ourselves, really, if we have no symptoms, because last week’s negative test can be rendered immediately moot by yesterday’s accidental and unintended contact. A few viral particles wafted my way by the flutter of a butterfly’s wing and I could be converted instanter into a modern version of Typhoid Mary.

So we all assume the dual roles of possible perpetrators and potential victims whenever we are in the same space, whether outdoor or indoor. It’s all so odd, yet becoming so familiar. I wonder, is there any possibility that I will ever look back on these days as anything but a prolonged bad dream?

Sunday afternoon, when we were all out in the back yard, chattering about nothing in particular, the two young children were sitting on the steps to the house, with their usual sparkling and engaging personalities inhibited by their masks (or perhaps by ours). They rarely spoke, and the look in their eyes was similar to that thousand-yard stare you read about on the faces of soldiers in wartime. For me personally, this ongoing pestilential interval is highly inconvenient and slightly threatening. But what is all this, for them? What learning opportunities are they missing that they might not get back? What joys?

Wait … I hear footsteps … where’s that damned mask … have I washed my hands … will the interloper respect my new six-foot personal space? So many questions.

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At one time in this ongoing process of aging, changes came at me one at a time. I look back at those days fondly. Today they come in mass charges, with trumpets blaring and wild-eyed slavering horses at the fore. It is impossible to catalog them once and for all because even the changes themselves are not static.

All I can say is that if one can step back and take a dispassionate look at what is going on, it’s a biologic maelstrom. Let’s see, Jon, let’s take the hair from your head and have it explode from your ear canals. And long after that smooth skin of youth has disappeared, let’s put a single monster zit in the center of a conglomeration of wrinkles and dewlaps. And oh yes, let’s have all of your endocrine systems fade and flare on alternate Tuesdays, providing endlessly amusing variations of bowel habits and temperature tolerances.

And so it goes. At such times it is crucial to keep in mind that the most important of the senses is not sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell.

It is humor.

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Who Was That Masked Man?

Governmentally-mandated masking is our reality now here in Colorado, as of a couple of days ago. Depending on the kindness of strangers sounded good, but there were still too many softbrains out there who thought wearing a mask was a Democratic plot to make their faces itch and in so doing drive them mad to the point that they drive their vehicles into the sides of mountains.

So now the proprietor of each business is a sort of hall monitor. If someone refuses to mask up, they are to deny them entry into their place of business. If the miscreant is already in the door and refuses to leave, trespass laws can be invoked and the gendarmerie can be summoned.

Clumsy? Clunky? Absolutely, but then what part of this whole pandemic thing is not?

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Do you know what these few cherry tomatoes that I picked Saturday represent?

VICTORY!

(Cue the music, Maestro – let’s have Happy Days Are Here Again, if you please!)

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As you know, I do not pad this blog with recipes very often, knowing full well that any of you who are doing the cooking already have a recipe library of your very own, and don’t require help from me, thank you very much!

But once in a great while I can’t help myself. The other evening I decided to try making mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. So I checked out a new recipe and dang it if they weren’t delicious. You can get the recipe here by searching through the excess verbiage that’s so much a part of recipe websites these days but it’s worth it, especially if you are thinking about low carb or paleo/keto eating.

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From The New Yorker

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We’re heading for Denver on Sunday morning, to practice a little social distancing with Justin and Jenny. Lots of outdoor stuff, staying in motels instead of their home, driving in separate cars, that sort of thing. I was thinking about the odds of survival for older senior citizens should they contract the virus. They are very similar to those encountered when playing Russian roulette. Which is another game, along with golf, that I long ago decided never to play.

There’s no real reason to panic, it would seem. Wash your hands, wear a mask, avoid crowds (especially indoors, where a crowd for me these days is a good deal less than ten), keep your distance, enjoy outdoor activities, etc. Since persons of Norwegian ancestry do not have much of a reputation as huggers, the social distancing thing has come fairly easily.

It’s all a great pain in the butt, and I will be the first in line for a vaccination when one finally arrives. And after I’ve had my shot, I will go right back to doing what I’m doing now until I see how things shake out. In general, rushing vaccine development has in the past not been considered the best way to carry out an immunization program. But these are not ordinary days, are they?

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Sunday Morning

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

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

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

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

Tom Waits: Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night

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

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

Fats Domino: Blue Monday

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

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

Etta James: A Sunday Kind of Love

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

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

U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

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

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

Kris Kristofferson: Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

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Peace, Friend.

Burning Perfectly Good Food

We’re having the Manns over for dinner tonight (Wednesday). Grilling outdoors and serving on the deck, where any stray coronavirus particles can be puffed away by the evening breezes before they have a chance to land. All of the distancing stuff will be observed, food preparation is being carefully done, and we earnestly hope not to share anything with our guests but clean vittles and our lovely selves.

It’s our first such social foray since the outbreak began. The Manns live just up the street, and are people who frequently pop into our minds as “We should have those folks over sometime and get to know them better.”

The evening forecast promises that it will be rainless, warm, and almost windless. There will be tunes, of course. What summer night would be complete without them? It’s a touch of the homely at an extraordinary moment in time.

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There is a form of cancer called a pheochromocytoma. It originates in the adrenal gland, which normally produces several hormones, including adrenaline (epinephrine), which is a fight or flight hormone. A “pheo” can over-produce these hormones, and occasionally if one unwisely presses too hard on the tumor during a physical exam there can be a dangerous flood of these substances into the patient’s bloodstream.

So where am I going with this? The P. Cluck gang seems to me to be the political equivalent of a pheochromocytoma. They are a cancer on our body politic for certain, but not just any old tumor. If it is squeezed or threatened in any way out comes all manner of violent and unhealthy behaviors and pronouncements which do further harm to our citizenry and our country. When the moment comes in November this neoplasm needs to be cut away ruthlessly from the corridors of power.

Too overblown a comparison? Perhaps. I do tend to overblow. It’s one of the things I like most about myself.

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The cookout went very well. First of all, the gods of weather cooperated by providing one of those soft summer evenings you dream of in February. And the company was excellent. Zoom has been a boon and we are grateful for it, but there is nothing like face to face conversation. For me, all substitutes pale before it.

Unfortunately and eventually twilight turned to dusk turned to darkness and our guests had to go home, where they feared to find that their new puppy had probably reduced some rugs to shreds. It’s the difference between puppies and kittens. (Although a kitten can take a nice couch and turn it into a ratty-looking mess pretty quickly.)

I had a friend while in the Air Force who told stories about raising a St. Bernard from puppy-hood. One day he and his wife returned home to find that their new charge had chewed the entire arm from their couch. And when describing paper training, he grimly volunteered that when your puppy weighs fifty pounds, its toilet habits present an emergency.

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Heroism comes in all flavors and sizes. My own experiences have taught me that over and over. I will explain.

When I was working in Buffalo NY in the late 70s, it was at a hospital that was transitioning from an old-line private institution to a county hospital. Which led to a disconnect. The buildings themselves were located in an older and genteel part of town, while the populations that it served were elsewhere. At the pediatric clinic, I worked every day with a succession of grandmothers who were bringing in their children’s children for well-child care.

These women saw to it that those babies received their immunizations and examinations even when it required taking city buses and transferring two and sometimes three times, through the toughest part of town, to get there. Summer and winter. Rain or shine, they suited up and showed up. My own children were still small back then, and whenever it was my turn to bring them to their pediatrician for the same care, I generally regarded it as a chore eating into my precious day and would whine about the time spent.

But not these women. They saw the same visits as important enough to the lives of their charges to spend most of a day in transit just to get them done. To me their actions were heroism, of a very quiet and uncomplaining sort.

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Are You Influenced?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers From Prison

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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