End of Mud Season

Spring was declared officially complete for Robin and I as of Sunday. For the first time this year we were able to take our hike on the Oak Flat Loop/Uplands/Rimrock Trail at the Black Canyon National Park, a walk that undulates along the sides of a mesa. Two weeks ago we tried this same route but had to turn back because there was still too much mud and ice on the shady side of the mesa wall. That may be okay when you’re walking on level ground, but there is precious little of that here.

But Sunday everything was cool. On our way we met three twenty-somethings, two women and a man, who had spent the night down on the Gunnison River. Which meant that they had clambered down 1800 feet to the gorge and were now clambering back up. We congratulated them on their achievement and made a big deal about it all because … well, because it is IS a big deal. Strictly for the sturdy, it is.

I believe that I might be able to make it down, but that would be as far as the adventure went. I would need to arrange ahead of time for a lumber drop so that I might build myself some sort of shelter at the bottom of the gorge, because that would be my address from that day forward.

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I will admit to having a streak of misanthropy buried in the affable and perennially charming person that I am. But even those who are more generous in their approach to our species have to admit one thing … there are too many of us. We overwhelm.

One evening in the late sixties, my former wife and I went to a meeting of a newly formed organization called Zero Population Growth. It was dedicated to informing society of the benefits that would accrue if our population numbers didn’t continue to mushroom. Unfortunately, we never attended a second meeting when we learned that the fact that we had four children at the time would put us into a sub-group of one in the organization, and we might be vulnerable to being labeled hypocrites.

I checked this morning, and ZPG is still around, although it has renamed itself Population Connection. The message is still the same. There are too many of us, and life would be better if that could be changed. The next time you read about what food might become in the future for our growing numbers, with all sorts of unappetizing sounding things like bug smoothies and earthworm pancakes, think of this: it wouldn’t be necessary if we bred less and thought more.

If Elon Musk is successful in building his ships to take a select few to colonize Mars as Earth collapses, the new pioneers would have to deal with the knotty subject of human fertility up front, way before anyone gets aboard that first rocket. Because that new world would be lacking in the flexibility that Earth afforded in the “old days.” You build a station on Mars for 1000 people, and that’s what it would have to remain.

Of course, since most of us won’t be asked to join Elon on his new/old planet, we might have to pay more attention to folks like Bill Burr, who has his own ideas about population control.

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Robin and I are watching the limited series “Underground Railroad.”

Some amazingly beautiful cinematography. Confusing at times. Strong performances. Brutal. All in all, it may be what some critics say it is – mandatory viewing for Americans.

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Roosters

Tuesday night we had people over for dinner. Just a simple get-together composed of comfort foods with no attempt at elegance or haute cuisine or anything other than what it was. A conversation with just enough food provided to keep you alive through the end of the evening. If there is anything that the Plague has shown us, it has been that what was most important about nights like these in the pre-viral days was always the connection with other humans, face to face and jabbering away. What a treat these social re-openings are!

The night’s menu included coney islands, cole slaw, a fruit salad, and roasted potatoes. I’ve mentioned this coney sauce before, I think. It is a highly seasoned ground beef mixture that you drape around a hot dog, add a few chopped onions and then squirt some yellow mustard on the whole mess. Unlike a chili dog, there is no tomato anything in this concoction. (Not to diminish the chili dog at all. Those are delicious in their own way, but this coney is a different thing altogether.)

So at the end of it all we counted the evening as a success, although we didn’t allow our guests to vote. We’ve found it better this way. Too many opinions and it all gets confusing.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I have returned to Gold’s Gym in an attempt to maintain something resembling muscle tone, and there are quite a few senior citizens who appear to be there for the same highly focussed reason that I am. They come in with serious faces, go quickly through their routines, then exit the building. We are a nondescript bunch, stepping into the ring with time and losing most of the rounds.

There is another group that is much more fun to watch. These are the guys who finish an exercise and then walk slowly about the room in their sleeveless t-shirts, chests out, nodding when they meet others like themselves, before returning to the machines for more “reps.” It is not as obvious behavior as in the case of the roosters below, but if you listen very carefully … it’s nearly subliminal … the crowing is there.

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Yesterday at the gym I decided that I was glad to be a guy for yet one more reason. Spandex. Or rather, the lack of it in a gentleman’s wardrobe. Although I was supposed to be concentrating on my grunting and straining, I was also watching the others in that space. Nearly all of the people that I could identify as male were wearing floppy clothes. Big shorts down to the knee and loose-fitting t-shirts, for the most part. Nearly all of the females were wearing Spandex either from the waist down or all over.

I marveled at the body confidence that it must take to wear such a material, where passersby could count the freckles on your posterior, if they so chose. Occasionally as I make my way to the shower I inadvertently see my nude self in the mirror and … there is no way that I would trade my formless garments for something more revealing of this lifetime’s worth of acquired defects. As far my own case is concerned, what is visible in the bathroom stays in the bathroom.

There is so much to observe and to think about on a visit to Gold’s Gym. Our human frailties and peculiarities are there for anyone with a quick eye to see. First of all, would we even be there if we were content with who we were? Secondly, the mating behaviors of the younger attendees are also right out in front – usually in a reversal of what is found in other species, where the males are the ones who provide colorful displays to attract attention.

I wear my mask during my workouts for two reasons. One is that there is the tiniest chance that I am still at risk from Covid. The other reason is that I think that my mask is annoying to the yahoos in the building … those who have taken the position that things like masks and vaccines and working toward the greater good are for lesser beings. If I can annoy those folks, even for a moment, it makes me happy. (Of course that is a petty attitude … have I ever claimed to be more?)

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Size Matters

I am very much a fan of folly … human, that is. A really good piece of silliness can make my whole day. This morning I was picking out a couple of eggs to cook for breakfast from a carton labeled “Large Eggs.” I noticed that they were at least 1/3 smaller than those in the last carton I purchased, which were also called “large.”Obviously the eye of the beholder comes into play here, but there is just too much spread … there is way more egg on the one hand than the other.

It doesn’t make so much difference if you’re scrambling up a breakfast, you can simply make an an adjustment based on how hungry you are and how much egg you’ve tossed into the pan. But how about when you have purchased two cartons of eggs from different suppliers to make deviled eggs for a picnic and one set looks like the tiny bastard children of the other?

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And how about olives? Here is one chart dealing with a naming system commonly used in the U.S. It is composed entirely of superlatives! There are no medium or small olives at all, instead we have “fine,” or “bullets,” or “brilliant.”

On the other end, outside of the wacky world of olives, how would you ordinarily rank Jumbo, or Colossal, or Mammoth? Which would you say is biggest?

Size apparently matters greatly in the olive business. So much they created extravagant nomenclature for it.

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Recently an educated and otherwise sensible-seeming woman here in Paradise was overheard to say that she had done her research and had decided not to receive the Covid vaccine. I had to wonder … where could she possibly have done that research? Fox and Friends? Gilligan’s Island reruns? The National Enquirer? This is folly of the most dangerous, unfunny sort. People like her are the reason that we will still be wearing our masks at this time next year. Perhaps in 2023 as well.

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The Oscars have come and gone and this year we didn’t watch the ceremony at all. But one of our favorite films of the year, Nomadland, did well, which gladdens us. There were no car chases, no shots fired, nor any of the blood-spattered excesses of the Tarantinoid variety in this quiet movie about nearly invisible people.

It is a movie that turned the lights and camera toward a part of America that I knew very little about. In a way, it reminded me of an old story that I have told here before, I think. No matter, repeating myself is an everyday thing.

There was a beloved and wise old man who lived in a small village. He was so poor that he had only a single possession, an earthen jar in which he carried water each morning from the village well to his little hut. The townspeople recognized him as a spiritual being, and loved and respected him very much.

One morning, as he was on his way to get water, he tripped on a pebble and fell. The jar flew from his hands and fell to the street, where it shattered. The other villagers were horrified and rushed to console him, but were amazed to see the most radiant smile upon his face.

“At last, I am free,” he said.

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Johannes Was Such A Caution

That little Google illustration yesterday was entitled “celebrating Johannes Gutenberg.” He was the guy who invented the printing press, right? First books and all, right?

Well, wrong. He was the first European to do this. You all probably already knew this stuff, but I didn’t until recently. The Chinese were at printing for quite a while before Johannes got into the act.

No one knows when the first printing press was invented or who invented it, but the oldest known printed text originated in China during the first millennium A.D. The Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist book from Dunhuang, China from around 868 A.D. during the Tang Dynasty, is said to be the oldest known printed book.

History Channel

That famous Gutenberg Bible didn’t roll off the press until 1452. What Johannes did that was special was to make type out of metal, and to develop inks that would cling to it. Previous types were made of wood or fired clay. So the Chinese beat the pants off everybody else way back then, much like today in that regard. Superficially it seems like so many instances in history where nothing really existed until a white person did it. The truth may be more complicated than this, but … seems like.

Johannes had some problems along the way to making that Bible. One of them was that the Church was basically opposed to it. Putting the Bible in the hands of lay persons didn’t seem to religious officialdom to be a good plan. Such proceedings would allow ordinary persons to make up their own minds about the Bible’s contents, and this was considered to be a very poor idea indeed. The Church was much happier telling people what to think. Kind of like today.

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We’re still involved in doing some limited remodeling here at BaseCamp, while a gentleman rips out the old carpeting from the living room and replaces it with planks that look like wood, but are clever imitations that require almost no maintenance. All of the L.R. furniture is piled up in other rooms, and life is mildly disrupted as a result. For me, it is a pleasure watching a skilled artisan at work. Total concentration, deft hand movements, years of experience being brought to bear at each step. All of those things that are so different when compared with my own haphazard approach to such projects. And completely absent is the application of colorful language that I would bring.

Our cats, who are quite unhappy creatures when their lives are being changed in any way, are letting us know that they are opposed to the project completely. Lots of complaining-style meowing being voiced right now, and threats of “we might just forget where the litterbox is located.” That last one is met with “well, we might just forget where the kibbles are kept,” or “what if that pet door got nailed shut with you on the outside … how would you like that?”

Such bickering, of course, gets nobody anywhere. When both parties are using their nuclear options, thoughtful discussion is the victim. It will look lovely when the installer is done, and once the furniture is replaced, I think serenity and good manners will eventually return to our humble dwelling.

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The George Floyd murder trial goes on. Yesterday the defense lawyers tried to assert that standing on people’s necks was appropriate police procedure. Perhaps if someone knelt on the necks of the defense team for, let’s say, twenty seconds, it might change their perspective.

No one has to compress any of my body parts to let me know that doing this is wrong from the get-go. Turns out that I have a pretty good imagination where suffocation is concerned.

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Human beings have the power of the gods, a fact of which I am periodically being reminded. The only problem is that we don’t always know what words to use to achieve our goals.

For instance, if it hasn’t rained for months, and the vegetation has all turned brown and crispy, you would think that all a god would have to say was something like, well, “RAIN!” But that’s not how it works. What you do have to say is “Okay, we’re going to have an outdoor wedding even though we have no backup plan in case of inclemency.”

Rain is almost 100% assured in instances like this. It’s finding the effective phrase that makes all the difference. Now in a more immediate case, yesterday mid-day it was so beautiful that Robin and I wheeled our bikes out onto the driveway to go for a couple of enjoyable miles. A light breeze played about our faces as we selected our itinerary. “Let’s go all the way to the Black Canyon National Park turn-off!”

We’d gone only two miles when a gale hit, nearly unhorsing us. The 30 mph plus wind that now smote us hip and thigh caused us to turn around immediately and head for home, half-blinded by the dirt and dust being blown into our unprotected faces. Mother Nature was only waiting for our cry to go “all the way” to unleash a bit of her forces.

It’s all in the words. The unfortunate part is that you only learn it by making one mis-decision at a time. To really acquire facility with the language of the immortals takes a lifetime, and this knowledge leaves the planet when you do.

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BTW. The electric bikes that we recently acquired are a gas. It’s like having a tailwind whenever you want one. Robin and I have very different styles when out riding. She tries to use the power as little as possible, getting the maximum aerobic work out of every cycling opportunity. I, on the other hand, punch the power up to legal limits just to see what the machine will do. My thinking on the matter is perfectly simple: why would I have it and not use it?

A hazy sort of plan is forming up that may or may not come to fruition in the Fall. More than a decade ago, Robin and I cycled the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota, a beautiful 109 mile trail that runs through the Black Hills from Deadwood to Edgemont. We took it slow and stopped to smell every rose along the way.

The idea of doing it once again, but this time on E-bikes, is a very appealing one. Lots of things to think about, but September can be a terrific time to be in the “Hills” no matter what the excuse.

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The Year Of Ernest Hemingway

Last night Robin and I began the three-part Ken Burns series on PBS about Ernest Hemingway. As we watched the first nearly two-hour segment, it triggered an avalanche of memories involving those books and stories.

The year that I turned nine was the year that my parents bought an encyclopedia. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I suspect that a traveling salesman came to the house and caught them at a weak moment. That was a periodic occurrence in our household, where vacuum cleaners, Watkins products, and other ingredients of life were brought to their doorstep by men with good smiles and better sales pitches.

At any rate, one day boxes and boxes of books showed up at La Casa Flom, and it was like Christmas. We gathered round as a family and first unloaded the National Encyclopedia, which I’m pretty sure you never heard of. It was a less expensive alternative to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and published by Colliers. Next to be unpacked was the Book of Knowledge, a series of books much like the “National,” but printed on better paper, and organized to be more interesting to younger readers.

As an inducement to buy these two excellent collections, my parents also received a ten volume set of novels by an author named Kathleen ?????? (can’t recall her last name), a large set of westerns by Zane Grey, and a similar extensive collection of the writings of Ernest Hemingway. It was a literary bonanza, and since I was at an age where I devoured anything in print that I could get my hands on, I started in that very evening.

I quickly tired of Kathleen ??????, and never finished the first novel, which seemed to me to have been written for girls. At nine I was a horrible sexist, and so I set these aside. But Zane Grey was amazing. The characters were brave men and women, the settings all in the Wild West, and the tales involved things like wagon trains, indomitable settlers, and landscapes described in ways to make a boy want to go there immediately – to walk those canyons, climb those mountains, and yes, take the land from those who were already there.

So not only was I a sexist at nine years old, but I had no problems with the Europeans invading and settling lands belonging to the Native Americans. That made me a racist colonialist as well. Quite the little beast, I was.

But it was when I reached the Hemingway books that I became a man. As reader, that is. Now I was in a literary world containing some of the most adult themes I had ever been exposed to, and I swallowed those books entire. Of course I didn’t really understand everything I read, but there was still a story in each that could hold my interest. The real kicker was the short stories, though.

There was a guy named Nick Adams, who lived in a country up north where there was nothing but forests and lakes. Where doctors paddled across lakes to attend deliveries of babies and where trout fishing could begin to heal a lad with PTSD. And there was one story called Up In Michigan. A story which I later learned that no less a personage than Gertrude Stein had pronounced unpublishable.

I read it one day, and at first I didn’t get it, but I knew that there was something about it that was illicit and therefore awfully attractive there. Then I read it again, and this time I got it. It was about s.e.x. What we would today call date-rape, actually. I remember being chilled and frightened by what I had learned about human beings through reading that story. Of course I couldn’t talk about it with anyone, especially my parents. They would have been appalled at where my reading had taken me. My peer group had little interest in discussing Hemingway, so I could expect no help there, either.

No, it was my first exposure to knowledge that I wasn’t ready to process, and had stumbled upon way too soon. The only thing that I could see to do was to get older, and that was what I did.

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From The New Yorker

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This is something called a radio-photograph, and is of a black hole which is out there 55 million light years away. I was interested in black holes until one day when I was listening to PBS that I learned some facts which turned me off completely.

It was when I became aware that if I were ever to approach one of these things, that my body would begin to accelerate to enormous speeds. The problem was that the acceleration would be uneven.

For example, if I were entering the black hole feet first, at some point my feet would be going so much faster than my head that my molecules would come totally apart.

The astronomer who was discussing these awful things right there in broad daylight said not to worry, our vaporization would all be over so quickly we wouldn’t even feel what was going on. I didn’t buy it. I’m pretty sure that if my feet started going faster than the rest of me that I’d notice. And I’d be extremely unhappy about the whole process, to boot.

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Things That Are Better Now

I have a tendency, as curmudgeons often do, to complain about aspects of modern life, comparing them to life in the golden years of the past (which I’ve often polished up a bit in my mind). So I thought I’d try to balance things out by listing a few things that are definitely better than in the “good old days.” A change of pace, if you will, and then I can get back to complaining, which is a much more natural posture for me.

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Milk. Milk is better. I don’t know exactly when homogenization of milk became the everyday reality that it is now, but it hadn’t hit my family of origin until I was of middle-school age. Before that, milk was not one thing, but two. Each bottle had a two-inch layer of cream on top that had separated from the skim milk below. You would shake the bottle to try to mix them together, which was more or less an effort that was doomed to failure, because they never really combined completely. (Like oil and water) In addition, the cream layer was a little gloppy, and those lumps of glop were now distributed throughout the milk after shaking. I hated those glops with a passion. Still do.

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Refrigeration. When I was a very small child, the cold food preservation system in our house was fairly primitive. It was called an icebox. Think of it as a picnic cooler that was too big to lug around. In one area you would put a large chunk of ice, and food was stacked in the other part.

Just like in a picnic cooler, there were colder and warmer areas of the box, you had to buy more ice almost on a daily basis in summer, and what happens when the ice melts? That water had to be hauled away.

ANY modern refrigerator is better than that.

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Car Tires. The modern automobile tire is a marvel. Its durability and reliability are in a completely different league when compared to those I had on my first car, which was a 1950 Ford two-door coupe. I recall shopping for Allstate Tires in Sears catalog and finding that I had three choices, and the best available was guaranteed for 15,ooo miles. My Subaru’s tires now routinely get 65,000 miles or more.

And in those 15,000 miles you could expect to have a flat at anytime. Because the weak link was the tube inside. Punctures, slow leaks, fast leaks, blowouts – all were part of a driver’s experience, as was having a patching kit along to fix a flat on the highway. If you ask me today where my car’s jack is, I couldn’t exactly tell you, but I would point vaguely toward the back of the car. In 1956 you knew exactly where that jack was, because you used it just last week.

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From The New Yorker

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Cars. While we’re on the subject of cars, their overall reliability today is wayyy superior to what I experienced with that revered 1950 Ford. In that era, if anyone claimed that their automobile had crossed the hallowed 100,000 mile mileage mark, we would all gather round the speaker worshipfully, to hear what pearls of wisdom he had to share. How often did he change the oil, what kind of oil, what kind of gas, was the car mostly driven in town or mostly on the highway, and what were his traveling speeds, etc. That kind of mileage was the Holy Grail at one time, now it’s barely worth a sniff.

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Socks. Socks used to get holes in them. Your choices then were to have them darned (sew the hole closed) or throw them away. That never happens today. What does occur is that all of the soft stuff that is in a sock wears off the bottom, leaving a nylon grid behind that is uncomfortable and eventually blister-producing. So it’s sort of a wash, I guess. The real improvement comes in the elastic material that holds a sock up. They used to fall down after a few washings, as the elastic material rapidly deteriorated. This meant that you would be tugging at them all day long to keep up appearances. Today they never, ever fall, but they cost fifty times as much as they did.

Worth every penny.

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Shoes. In families of modest means, or sub-modest means like the one I grew up in, buying a pair of shoes was just the first step in that shoe’s life. When the sole or heel wore down, your father would take them to the basement and do a repair. There were tools available with which to do this. Hammers and nails and cast-iron forms.

Because an ordinary family would never own a sewing machine capable of stitching that new leather sole onto the shoe, my dad would use a bunch of small nails to fasten it. At first these nails would not touch your foot, but as the new sole wore down the nails did not wear correspondingly, and eventually flesh and iron met in painful and bloody congress. But not to worry, you gave the shoes to your dad and he’d start the whole process over once again. You tossed out a pair of shoes only when your feet had grown to the point where they couldn’t be shoved into them any longer, or when the leather of the upper itself became too thin to hold things together.

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Hot sauces. In my family of origin, there was nothing hotter imaginable than Tabasco sauce. Not that anyone in my family actually owned a bottle, but they would sit around the table after supper and talk about people who they had heard about, people who had ingested the stuff and what horrible things had happened to them as a result … a stomach that never worked well again, bowels that became completely unreliable, et al.

Imagine my surprise when I started buying my own groceries and I first tried Tabasco sauce. It was certainly flavorful, but hot … what a disappointment. The era of jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, ghost peppers, etc. was still ahead for me. Also, for the longest time there was little availability of the interesting traditional pepper sauces from other countries around the world. Today I think you would never have to buy the same condiment twice if you didn’t want to, there are that many to choose from. And those international specimens have flavors that can be simultaneously flame-throwing and exotic.

(Keep in mind that this is being written by a Norwegian-American, which is a race born without the ability to metabolize or appreciate pepper in any of its many forms. I am obviously a hybrid of some sort, perhaps as a result of hanky-panky on the boat coming over to America, or to some serious “bundling” on a frosty January night back in the mid- 1800s in one of those lonely pioneer cabins).

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Indoor Plumbing. My family of origin never actually lived in a house without it, but as a child one of my favorite places on the planet was my grandfather’s farm, which had neither electricity nor bathrooms on the inside until I was about eight or nine years old. Now an outhouse is tolerable in good weather, but in the dead of winter … my, oh my … you gave a lot of thought to the phrase – is this trip really necessary?

The water in Grandpa Jacobson’s house was accessed with a small hand pump at the sink in the kitchen. That was it. If you wanted to take that Saturday night bath, you pumped as much water as you needed and warmed it on the wood stove. You then climbed into the big circular galvanized tub brought out for that purpose and you scrubbed away. It was pretty much Little House on the Prairie kind of stuff.

I am not nostalgic for those baths or those trips to the privy. Means to an end, my friends, means to an end.

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With the trial of the officer involved in the killing of George Floyd now underway, articles are appearing everywhere on what the scene of the crime looks like today. It has become a sacred space on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue … that intersection where I used to walk by on my way to Saturday morning movie matinees.

I moved away from that city in 1969, when the Air Force decided that my assistance was urgently required in Omaha NE if our country was to survive, and I never went back after that but for brief visits. One by one my personal ties to the town have gone away, but I still can be moved by its stories, even dreadful stories such as this one. After all, it was home for thirty years.

Robin and I are both wondering what the officer’s lawyers can possibly come up with as his defense. When you are photographed kneeling on the neck of a man for nine minutes … I’m sure that they will be as creative and imaginative as possible. When the evidence is so clearly damning, heavy legal smoke is definitely called for.

I also wonder is what is ahead for my old hometown, when the trial is over. No matter what the verdict turns out to be, it will create waves that wash through the entire country. Minneapolis has unfortunately become almost a metaphor for urban police violence.

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At The Store

Yesterday Robin and I went out for lunch. Together. To a local BBQ joint. Both of us ordered a hamburger. It was delicious. But it had been … I don’t know … more than a year since we had done that? Without even trying, our consumption of red meat has fallen so far off that we are no longer even counted by the Beef Producers of America as existing humans. Purged from the rolls we have been.

Cutting down on ingestion of this product line has been made easier by the fact that this genre of foodstuffs is in the most expensive section of the grocery store. Our local City Market has two uniformed officers stationed at the “Beef” section, wearing full riot gear, intimidating dark glasses, and carrying AR-15s with the safety off. They have been trained not to answer questions from customers, much like the guards at Buckingham Palace. One of our pair of guards was recently indicted by the FBI for having played a role in the insurrection in Washington DC on January 6 of this year. He was seen clearly on video to be selling street tacos on the steps of the US Capitol. Apparently he has been charged with nourishing rioters who were engaged in the performance of a felony. It’s a test case and he is being represented by the ACLU on first amendment grounds.

Because we are just down the highway from the ski town of Telluride, our food markets get a lot of trade from that economically advantaged population. Ergo, we actually have a small Wagyu beef section in our local store. Thus, although we live in the middle of ranch country we must import a proportion of our beef from Japan to feed those Tellurideans, whose palates are so refined that they cannot handle the Angus beef that is served to the hoi polloi here in Paradise. And who can blame them, really? Living among the ordinary folk is already quite a burden.

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From The New Yorker

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The entire national Republican Party has been rounded up this week and shipped off to a reeducation camp for group instruction and psychotherapy. In its present form the party has been declared a national menace by the Surgeon General, Dr. Windsock Carapace. Their symptoms include extreme moral turpitude, stage 4 mendacity, complete susceptibility to any and all conspiracy theories, and just plain being dumb as a load of fenceposts.

Dr. Carapace admits that this is a drastic measure: “But it was either that or have them put down. The nation can’t function with so many incompetents in the mix. Generally speaking, Congress will still work as long as the completely useless category does not get too high, but within the present-day Republican party we are at 96% and that is an unacceptable level.”

The nation’s chief doctor then added that once they have been rehabilitated, they will be neutered before being released. “Can’t be too careful where the national interest is concerned, we don’t want to be right back here in another generation,” said the esteemed physician.

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Have I mentioned that we are in the throes of a small home remodeling? The bathroom off the master bedroom just wasn’t making us happy anymore, so we called upon our neighbor Ed to come to our rescue. Ed is a contractor who does this sort of thing, and is an interesting mix of characteristics that is rarely found in modern humans. He is reliable, honest, and highly skilled. Almost takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

It took a while to get the project started, but once Ed showed up it was get out of my way and let me work. We should be able to use the room in another four or five days, and until then Robin and I are sharing the small bathroom on the other side of the house that I normally employ. This is quite a small space, not the palatial one that Robin is accustomed to, being about the size of the typical phone booth (you remember those, n’est-ce pas?). It is so small that I cannot have a full bar of soap in the shower, but must cut them in half.

But Robin is nothing if not a game gal, and the only complaint that I have heard from her in this whole affair was one day earlier this week when a plaintive cry of “Why me, Lord?” could be heard through the bathroom door. I wasn’t quite sure which of many possible calamities she was bemoaning, and did not have the courage to ask.

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Wanderers

It’s not all that often that I watch a movie that makes me feel that I am a better person for having viewed it. Of course, that isn’t really true, I am pretty much the same schlemiel today that I was before Robin and I streamed “Nomadland” Tuesday night, but my view of the world is just that much wider, more inclusive … maybe that is some small progress.

It’s a beautiful movie, starring Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, and an interesting bunch of normal people (non-professional actors, that is). McDormand is soooo good, as always. It’s a small thing, but if there were an Olympic event called “smiling,” I believe that she would take home the gold every year.

The film is available on Hulu.

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There is presently a small dustup in the world, one that can’t really compete with the big ones that rage all around us 24/7, but it’s interesting. A half-dozen of Dr. Seuss’ books are being quietly un-promoted, because they contain images that could, without too much imagination being required, be interpreted as racist.

There seems little doubt that Theodor Geisel (Seuss’ real name) harbored racist thoughts back in the early 1940s, and there is also quite a bit of evidence that he rejected those thoughts and writings later in life. This almost surgical excision of a part of his catalogue seems to recognize that even flawed people can produce worthwhile things, and throwing away everything that he’d written for those old errors would be a loss to us all. It also gives one hope that the belief in the possibility of redemption hasn’t gone away altogether.

We’re living in a time when figurative dunk tanks, burnings, and witch-hunts on social media are all over the place. Make a mistake sometime twenty years ago … fageddaboudit, you’re toast. This is not o.k. When there is only a single space between effusive acceptance and outraged rejection it is a hazardous time for those in the spotlights of the world.

It makes me so very glad that I am unimportant. No one is going through those old steamer trunks where my life’s words and actions are stored, looking for something to be furious about.

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Writing the above reminded me of a scene from a movie that I saw as a child, when my grandfather Nels took me to the Time Theater in Kenyon, MN.

The film was Stars In My Crown. The main character was a small town minister in the Old West, whose congregation included the owner of a saloon. When one of his congregation’s elite confronted the preacher about accepting contributions from the saloonkeeper … it was the Devil’s money, said the concerned member.

“Yes, it is,” admitted the minister, “but just think of all God’s work that I am going to do with it.”

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One of the most reliable signs of Spring has always been the aroma of tens of thousands of pieces of dog poop that have been deposited around the town during the previous winter, thawing all at once. It’s unmistakable, the day when that happens. No matter how blue the sky or how warm the gentle breeze might be, the cloud of scent can be overwhelming, often driving one back indoors.

But we’ve kind of lost it, that day. And the culprit is the people who insist that dog owners carry those little plastic bags with them and pick up every single dropping within seconds of its being dropped. It is estimated that in Colorado, if it were not for people picking up after their beloved canines, the entire state would be covered in pup-doo to a depth of six inches within a single year. Such is the pervasiveness of dog ownership here in Paradise.

So one more piece of my life’s acquired knowledge has become useless to me, and I must consult calendars just like everybody else, to know when Spring has finally arrived. Bah.

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Playing In The Freezer

When Robin and I planned to take a couple of days and go skiing on the Grand Mesa with Ally and Kyle, I did not see that as a challenge to the gods of winter at all. And when I wrote this on a blog post recently, I felt the same way.

The nice thing about Nordic skiing is that you are rarely cold. You generate enough heat that the problem is what to do with all those clothing layers you started out with.

Apparently the gods saw things otherwise.

When Ally and Kyle arrived on the Mesa last Friday it was 35 degrees and blue skies, and they had a fine afternoon XC skiing and exploring. Later in the evening they bunked down in the cabin we had rented together at the Grand Mesa Lodge, Cabin #15 to be exact. Then some sort of bottom fell out of the weather during the night, and when Robin and I showed up at the cabin the next morning (Saturday) the temperature was 8 degrees and a bitter wind was blowing in your face no matter which way you turned.

But we were there to have fun, even if it meant the possible loss of body parts to frostbite in the process. Our first stop was at some sled dog races that were being held just a few miles from the lodge. Cold people, cold canines, red cheeks, white noses, and only one trailer selling hot beverages. We spent an hour or two watching the dogs, all the while stamping our feet in a brave but fruitless attempt to restore circulation. From there we moved to the cross-country ski trail area and set off through the woods.

The snow was perfect. Four inches of powder on six feet of base. Originally I had plotted out a four mile loop, but our quartet voted very quickly to cut that distance in half, “then we’ll see if we want to do any more after that.” We didn’t. At that point it was back to the cabin to warm up, sip a little coffee, and look out the window at the abundance of snow that the Mesa had to offer. Later in the afternoon Ally and Kyle headed back to Steamboat Springs, and at suppertime Robin and I went up to the lodge where the menu in the restaurant was basically pizza. It was an excellent home-made pie, however, and we finished it up and then licked the plate afterward.

Not wanting to brave the weather any more that day, we turned in early. When we awoke Sunday morning, the temp was eight degrees below zero. Now I know that some of you in the Midwest have learned to love those sorts of temperatures, but Robin and I were not emotionally prepared for them, nor had I brought along nearly enough warm clothing to go playing in a freezer. So we scratched our original itinerary and returned home a few hours early.

If it hadn’t been so frigid, though, what a landscape was up there to be explored! More beautiful snow than anyone could ever want. Too brilliantly white to look at in the sunlight without eye protection. Aspens, evergreens, iced-over lakes, and a serious shortage of the scars of civilization. It is true that there were areas where snowmobilers were blasting about with their malodorous machines, but it wan’t too hard to get away from their noise. And left to itself, a snowy landscape is one of the quietest there is.

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Cabin # 15 Review

The cabin had originally been built in the late 1890s, but for some reason the original structure was taken down and a “new” one built with the same logs, in 1939. Its outstanding feature in 2021 was its slanting floor. The footing sloped in several directions making walking about the room interesting. On a shelf in the cabin was one of those notebooks where guests are invited to write a few words about their visit. The last entry was just a week before we arrived, where a gentleman offered these words of caution:

You are advised not to drink alcohol during your stay, because it is hard enough to walk here while sober.

Guest Notebook

There was a metal-framed futon in the main room, whose mattress did not do nearly enough to protect one’s posterior from the metal slats of the frame. The sitting surface was only inches from the floor, which meant that each time you were moved to sit down, there was no contact where you expected it to be, and a moment of panic until you finally crashed onto the thinly covered slats.

We found four chairs at the small table in the kitchen area, of the wobbly and untrustworthy plastic variety often found in tall stacks at Home Depot. However, if one moved slowly and didn’t wiggle excessively, the chairs did not collapse.

Kitchen facilities were more than adequate, with a good refrigerator, nice gas stove, and newer countertop and sink. Heat for the building was a large propane space heater on the front wall of the room. With the miserable outdoor temperatures we found ourselves dealing with, that heater never had a moment’s rest.

To get upstairs to the dormitory area, you climbed a very old-fashioned stairway of the kind that was common in Thomas Jefferson’s day. The angle of the staircase was 60 degrees from horizontal, making it more like a ladder, actually. It wasn’t so hard going up, but coming down you needed to pick your way very carefully to avoid the unpleasantness that could come from a too-rapid descent. The wood of those steps had originally been rough-cut lumber, but 81 years of people going up and down had worn them to a shiny and slightly hazardous slipperiness.

The mattresses on the beds were comfortable, but all guests had been told to bring their own sleeping bags. In Covid times, it was felt safer all around to use one’s own bedding materials, apparently, and so we complied.

I liked the place, of course, in its quaint basic-ness. There was not a trace of elegance to be found. The wind found its way in through scores of cracks and gaps, and many of the furnishings were just barely adequate to their tasks. In this it resembled some fly-in fishing camps where I have stayed in the past. But the views out the windows were serene. All in all, I was glad that Cabin #15 was there for our use, even if I had a few quibbles. We were there only for a few hours, but the cabin had been there in one form or another for more than 100 years.

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We took far fewer photos than we would have if it hadn’t been so cold. Here are the few we have.

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Legislation has been introduced to ban the use of Native American mascot-ery in Colorado. If the bill goes through, our local Montrose Indians will have to find a new name for themselves or face stiff fines. It’s way past time for this, nest-ce pas? Way past. What is one to think of the mental processes of our European forefathers, who first did their best to kill off the Natives and their culture, and then later co-opted their images and names as examples of courage and resourcefulness. A truly amazing and cruel affront.

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Television viewing suggestion: The limited series Pretend It’s A City is a hoot. Fran Lebowitz’ brain runs way faster by far than the average human’s does, and she is a superbly sharp-tongued curmudgeon. The lady is aided in this documentary program by her obvious fan and friend, Martin Scorsese. Each segment is less than half an hour, so take a look. It couldn’t hurt.

Here’s a sampling of the kind of stuff you might see if you tuned in.

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Flight of Ideas

We are all chattering like actors in Waiting For Godot here in Paradise. Put any two people within earshot of one another and the conversation turns inexorably to Spring. Is it imminent? How close? If a tree foolishly begins to bud in February (like the big maple across the way) is it a stupid tree? Is it showing off and heading for a fall?

If it weren’t such a serious moment in time, it would be more fun watching and listening to my age-contemporaries try to make sense of the planet’s odd weather and climatic happenings, using their life experiences as a guide. I hear phrases all the time like:

  • Did you ever …?
  • Have you ever … ?
  • This is the first time …
  • I can’t make sense of it …
  • When I was a (girl) boy …
  • WTF?

It turns out that when climate change steps in, much of our personal meteorological lore becomes a lot less valuable. Yardsticks have to be continually reset as one after another of those “hundred year events” roars past us.

What yours truly has noted, without ascribing any meaning at all to the observations, is that I no longer look for the peonies to be in full bloom on Memorial Day. In fact, that notable moment keeps inching each year toward April Fool’s Day. While I admit that it still has a ways to go, the direction is pretty clear.

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Here’s an observation about how serious we are as a species about one of the larger issues of our time. The one-percenters are rushing to showrooms to purchase electric vehicles that bear increasingly bigger price tags. And bigger engines. Electric cars of nearly 2000 horsepower are in production that can go from zero to sixty mph in less than two seconds. The planet’s need for cars like these is so obvious that I even hate to bring it up.

But they are zero emission vehicles, correct? Not totally. Not if you live in a country where fossil fuels are still big players in the production of electricity. There are lots of emissions involved in building those cars and in making the batteries for them, and also in producing what comes out of all those shiny new charging stations.

Lotus Evija

A scenario popped into my mind. A geronto-adolescent daydream. Somehow I acquire a couple of million dollars that I really have no special need for and I take myself down to a Lotus dealer and buy one of their 1973 horsepower Evija cars. I drive the vehicle very carefully to a deserted chunk of highway somewhere in rural America and pause the automobile. I look both ways for other cars and for people of the law enforcement persuasion, tighten my seat belt, and then tromp down fully on the accelerator, propelling myself way past my capabilities as an operator and into the nearest boulder, where I produce a mixed carbon-fiber and hemoglobin smear on the rock to mark my passage into eternity.

If that should ever happen, don’t cry for me, Argentina, I will not deserve it.

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The Thursday morning AA meeting at the Anglican church has become really interesting. Four years ago it was a larger group, with average attendance of perhaps 16-20 members. But in this pandemic year it really shrunk, to only four regular members. Other meetings in town have remained unchanged in number, but many of them are seriously flawed in that they ignore Covid precautions.

On our Thursday mornings one is required to be masked and to keep proper distancing in mind. Only four of the original group accepted these restrictions and continued to attend. Two men, two women, all seniors. None of us new to AA. Each week we dutifully follow the prescriptions and proscriptions as to how an AA meeting is to be conducted. Very gradually we have become more comfortable with one another, and new levels of trust have appeared.

It seems that we have done away with many of our pretenses, our usual shape-shifting, and we take part in a leaner and meaner dialog. Cutting to the chase, so to speak. All of this makes the sessions more valuable, at least they do to me.

And it’s not just learning about the others, but about oneself as well. Have you ever had the experience of telling one of your own stories when suddenly a bulb flashes and you your tale in a completely new and different light? An auto-epiphany, if you will. Fascinating when that happens.

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Robin and I are off later this morning for a day’s XC skiing on the Grand Mesa. The snow is good up there (six feet deep), the sun will be shining, and we are rendezvousing with Allyson and Kyle for some pretty safe and much needed socializing. We’ll stay the night in a cabin and come back on Sunday afternoon.

The nice thing about Nordic skiing is that you are rarely cold. You generate enough heat that the problem is what to do with all those clothing layers you started out with. Tie them around your waist? Hang them on bushes and come back for them later? Donate them to passersby? It’s a good problem to have, actually, in a winter activity.

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Nincompoopery

Robin and I went to the Friendship Hall on Wednesday morning to get our second dose of Covid vaccine. Everybody there was getting their second dose as well, and our age group was well represented. In fact, there was no one there who was not eligible for Social Security, and I suspect there were a few attendees who were actually present when the Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935.

So, this was a seasoned bunch, not generally given to much drama. No one jumped the line, no one indulged in Karen-istic behavior, everyone seemed grateful to be this much closer to being protected against you-know-what. In addition, there was not a single “Owee” uttered all during the time we were in the room. Those of us who were to be of The Greatest Generation tried to behave at least as well as those who were.

I have heard of seniors who have decided not to get the vaccine. To me this is almost unbelievably foolish, but since Covid is no respecter of nincompoopery, it’s all but certain that a year down the road there will be significantly fewer of them around than there are now.

Sadly, since they are well past their breeding years, these turbid-thinking persons will not be eligible for the Darwin Awards.

The Darwin Awards are a tongue-in-cheek honor originating in Usenet newsgroup discussions around 1985. They recognize individuals who have supposedly contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool through dying or becoming sterilized via their own actions.

Wikipedia

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From The New Yorker

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We’ve been lucky here in Colorado to have a sensible man for governor, Jared Polis. From the beginning of the pandemic he has steadfastly followed the advice of knowledgeable people and helped us to avoid stepping in the stream of claptrap issuing from the White House. Each week he is on public radio for an hour bringing residents up to date on Covid and other matters. His style is not showy or self-aggrandizing, but informative.

Of course we have our non-masked brigades here in Paradise just like everywhere else, but we have been presented with rational choices if we cared to make them ours. Like I said, lucky.

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A couple of years ago, I was shopping for a new pair of jeans at Murdoch’s, our local farm and home store, and found myself holding a pair of button-fly Levi’s 501’s. I was replacing them on the rack when I had the thought “Why not buy them? It’ll be fun. A direct line back into Levi’s history before those foppish zippers came along and replaced good, honest buttons.”

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Such was my internal conversation. And that misbegotten idea of getting back to those good ol’ nineteenth century days won out. I am, at heart, a romantic. It does not always work for me.

Ever since then, including yesterday, I have cursed them. It turns out that there was a very good reason that zippers took over way back in the day. They are quick and easy to use. Whenever nature called, it was a case of zip down-zip up and that was that. But with this older-fashioned item of clothing, it was now a matter of button-button-button-button-button down and then button-button-button-button-button up. Every day that I wore them, several minutes of my life flew away from me and were lost forever just unfastening and fastening the things.

So if I feel this way, why haven’t I simply washed them up and donated them to Goodwill or some such agency? This gets us to another of my characteristics. While it is undeniably true that I tend to romanticize things, it is also true that I am almost unbearably cheap. Like the character Joshua Deets in the movie Lonesome Dove, I am “not quick to give up on a garment.”

I do feel a little sorry for the the jeans. They are doomed to be worn by a man who doesn’t appreciate them until they completely fall apart. And I will always begrudge them their existence … they are so sturdy that it is entirely possible that I will be buried in them. Is that irony? I am never sure.

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Year of the Zoom

I wasn’t planning on posting today, but when I ran across this Doonesbury strip in our local paper I couldn’t pass it up. It so encapsulates the recurring mini-dramas of our (yours and mine) first Year of the Zoom.

It’s because we are (most of us) amateurs in this new common endeavor, and I find all of the errors both frustrating at the time and endearing in the aggregate.

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Okay, since you asked, one more.

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Lord, what fools these mortals be.

William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Up To Our Ears In Those Accursed Interesting Times

Tuesday was a day of light snowfalls. Stop … start … stop … start … all day long. It made our mid-day walk special, with those big near-weightless flakes caught up in the rabbitbrush and sagebrush along the way. And the colder air had a snap to it we hadn’t seen much of so far this season. The snow did make it harder to find safe footing, though, covering completely those little patches of ice on the path that were each one of them small threats to a pain-free life. A minefield of sorts for the more fragile of our citizens.

There were very few people in the park that day, and except for Robin and me, each person was connected to at least one dog. Coloradans hate being outdoors without a canine companion. One such person had a pitbull on a leash whose face was awfully fierce-looking, and he pulled the dog several yards off the trail as we passed him. He must have noticed the worried faces of others before us who upon seeing the animal noticed how much of themselves was within easy reach of those teeth.

Whenever I look into a doggy face like that I think back to the movie Stand By Me, and the scene with the junkyard dog, Chopper. The reality is not always as nasty as the mythology would suggest.

The truth is, I have never been bitten by a large dog, while my ankles bear the memory of multiple attacks by the sort of fluffy small creatures where you can’t tell which end is which. Dogs of the dust-mop variety.

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Robin and I watched a movie the other night, White Tiger, that was disturbing in many ways. It was a film made in India that dealt with class dynamics involving servants and masters in that country. I won’t go into the plot more than that, as I have no wish to insert spoilers. But on two occasions the main character made the point that the era of the white man was over, and the era of the brown and yellow man was upon us and would soon make Europeans irrelevant.

Caucasians have held sway in so much of the world for so long … when I think about pushing for an end to all the forms of racism, in my own mind the new society that would come from that is always a more benign one, with everyone truly on an equal footing. A brave new world of mutual respect, a band of brothers and sisters once and for all. Waaaayyy too many expectations, I know.

It is possible, though, that we could shoot right past that to a new reality where we simply trade colors, but keep the engines of oppressor and oppressed intact, but now with whites on the bottom. That would be a bad thing for all concerned. No one ultimately ‘wins’ in a master/slave relationship. It poisons the souls on both sides.

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One of the ways Mr. Biden cannot please all. At present there are not enough doses of Covid vaccine to treat all Americans that want one. People are complaining: Get us our shots! The lackluster distribution network that he inherited is trying to come up to speed, with spotty success.

At the same time those who take a broader look see that the wealthier nations are buying up the available vaccine supplies at a rate that would make it difficult for poorer nations to find any even if money was not an issue. Money, of course, is an issue. So the cry goes up that once again the poor suffer while the rich nations have the best seat at the table. Ethics and morality and a pandemic and politics and production limitations … what a fervent stew this is! No matter which way Biden looks there’s someone with an angry face and a brick in their hand.

Beyond this set of facts is that world economies, including our own, are tottering along on a duct-taped crutch and looking for at least a sturdy walker to steady themselves. If those economies should fail, who suffers most? The poor nations again.

Perhaps one spin would be that it’s like the situation in an airplane cabin where when the oxygen masks drop down, we are told to put the mask on our own faces first so that we are then capable of helping others. I freely admit that I don’t know the answer. But no worries, friends, because I’m not the president. (If I were to wake up tomorrow and find through some horrible mischance that I was, I would resign before my feet hit the bedroom floor.)

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Have you watched the series Peaky Blinders, on Netflix? We’ve finished the available five seasons, and await release of what promises to be the last one. We found that it drew us in very early on. Basically it’s a gangster story, but it is told so very well and photographed soooo beautifully. The ratings posted before each episode warn us that we might see nudity, gore, and smoking. As things move along we see a little of the first item, a good deal of the second, and the only way we could see more smoking was if the characters put cigarettes in their mouths, noses, and ears all at the same time. It was apparently a tobacconist’s paradise in Birmingham of the 1920s.

And, finally, Peaky Blinders just looks amazing. Beautiful production design can only carry something so far if the storytelling and filmmaking lag, but any lulls in the course of Peaky Blinders are more than accounted for by just getting to look at how wonderfully the series has resurrected Birmingham in the 1920s. Images like a woman walking away from the camera, snow drifting around her, or Tommy riding cockily through town atop his horse give the series a slightly ethereal feeling that makes it feel less like historical fiction and more like a particularly involving dream. It’s hypnotic.

Vox.com

Although the Reilly family are criminals, and might have been no matter what their prior history was, there is a strong thread running through the series about what serving in World War I did to the men. A very believable and powerful thread.

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You know, I wasn’t going to put in this photo from the New York Times “Styles” section this week. But then I thought … what the hell?

I sometimes make fun of the pretentiousness of the world of fashion, and the often outlandish creations that make the news. But this look … I could really get behind this one. And I think that I could carry it off really well.

It’s basically a red-orange hoodie that doesn’t know when to quit, isn’t it? It might be a one size fits all sort of garment, it’s hard to tell exactly. And there would be no worries about inseam lengths here because there isn’t one. Also, the quilted material would be great for packing around furniture on your next transcontinental move.

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I don’t think I would keep the huge lapel rose, though. It’s a bit over the top for me. But the hat! It’s a direct throwback to headgear of The Flying Nun, from 1960s television.

Makes me feel guilty for all the bad things I’ve said and thought about the fashion industry in the past. These are serious people.

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Take That, Pandemovirus!

We got our Covid vaccine (Moderna) shots Thursday morning. In a large exhibition hall. All in all it went well, without any big snafus and with adequate respect for social distancing. Everyone there had an “appointment” of sorts, so there wasn’t a mob milling around getting cranky. And we were all senior citizens from Colorado, a group of citizens that is renowned worldwide for our politeness and consideration of others.

By Thursday evening our arms had become moderately sore, and I was experiencing a not-quite-ill-but-not-quite-right feeling before I went to bed. I strongly suspect a psychosomatic illness, being fairly susceptible to those, what with my psyche being more than a match for my soma.

In four weeks we will be getting our second injections and then … not sure. I have no intention of declaring victory until the last Confederate-flag-waving and unmasked nincompoop is either vaccinated or transported to an internment camp on a large and mosquito-infested island off the coast of Alaska. One like in in the photo at right.

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My life has just improved by a pleasant notch. Maybe a notch and a half. Somewhere I ran across a review of a comic who has a ton of videos that anyone can watch, for free. Her name is Lilly Singh. Funny, smart, and no f-bombs at all. I’ll start you out with one video, and the rest is up to you.

Remember, all for free.

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How interesting that the FBI has been rounding up miscreants from the January 6 insurrection so quickly. Turns out that it’s much easier to catch crooks when they take the pictures themselves for their Wanted posters. This week this guy was identified and arrested.

It was only a matter of time, really. If I were from his hometown and saw this pic, I would have been dialing 1-800-FBI-GETM before he even got back on the bus to return home.

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And now for a story about electric eels that is a bit creepy. With video. Probably best to not watch it after dark, or just before going in swimming. I know that there are some things that I am not meant to see. And a fish climbing up someone’s arm like a mucus-covered, living taser is one of them.

Therein lies one of the conundrums of life. How to unsee what you’ve seen, or unhear what you’ve heard, when you found whatever it was so disturbing that you reached for your brain’s “Delete” key, only to come up empty-handed. My most recent such moment was just after the recent election, when I learned that so many millions of people had voted for p.cluck even after all we’ve learned about him, and all we’ve gone through because of him.

I am one of those persons whose opinion of the species Homo sapiens is a conflicted one. Buddhism teaches that within all of us is an essential goodness, but I admit that I am not always able to see that shining quality. Let’s forget for a moment about the serial killers and the Hitlers and the handiworks of the seriously maladjusted. On Election Day seventy million people voted for a man so undeserving that this number is literally fantastic. Unbelievable. Deeply depressing to those of us who tend toward the melancholy even on the sunniest of days. In my home district, Montrose County, two-thirds of voters went for a clearly Fascist regime. An administration that is the very definition of corruption.

When Covid finally eases up, and I can leave the house to move about freely and without reservations, I will be out there looking for that essential goodness, one person at a time. To do otherwise, for me, is to give over to cynicism, and I have spent enough time in that soul-destroying neighborhood, thank you very much. I have no need to ever return.

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From The New Yorker

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Same Dude Different Day

I’m starting to be concerned. Here we are two days into 2021 and I still feel like the same guy I was last year.

Is it because I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions? Because I didn’t. Not one. If you could paint resolutions blue somehow, a view from a small drone would show a trail behind me of little sapphire-tinted piles of broken promises to myself stretching all the way back to the horizon. I think that I can safely say that no New Year’s resolution of mine ever made it to February in one piece.

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The largest share of the exercise walks that Robin and I take are down along the Uncompahgre River, which passes through Montrose on its way to a rendezvous with the Gunnison River about 20 miles from here. Most of the scenery along those walks is very pretty, with trees and shrubs planted according to Mother Nature’s grand and seemingly random plan. There are areas, as there are along so many rivers I’ve seen that are close to towns, where the carelessness of past generations has piled up, with unattractive industry still making a mess of the shoreline. But there is so much of it here that it spoils a good walk.

This past week the birding has been exceptionally good as we stroll along trying our best to get those heart rates up. There are the usual scads of robins and legions of sparrows (that I haven’t bothered to learn to tell apart from one another), but we’ve also seen a great blue heron, a small flock of mountain bluebirds (seen two days in succession), and a group of Bohemian waxwings all fluffed up against the chill.

[None of these photographs are my own. But they have been purloined in a good cause.]

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The New Landscape Department

Things Will Get Better, Seriously by Paul Krugman
We Just Saw How Minds Aren’t Changed by David Brooks

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Colorado made the news this week for the wrong reason. Somehow the first case of the more contagious variant of the Covid virus showed up near Denver, in a guy who never went anywhere. To the medical sleuths, this strongly suggested that perhaps there was somebody else in our fair state who has it that we don’t know about as yet. That’s going out on a limb, I know, but these epidemiologists are a wild and crazy bunch.

So now I have a new level of paranoia, what with the new variant stacked on the non-masked multitudes, and all this atop the basic worrisome virus that you can’t see, smell, or taste and which at its whim can either kiss you lightly on your forehead or make you completely dead. Ach, himmel, what’s a guy to do? We already have our groceries delivered by workers in Hazmat suits, irradiate our incoming mail before ever touching it, and take regular Lysol baths. I even tried brushing my teeth with hydrogen peroxide but had to give that up when I nearly foamed myself into oblivion.

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I saw something truly stunning yesterday, and unfortunately I didn’t have my camera handy to record it. A shame, really.

We had decided to take a scenic drive just to get out of the house for a couple of hours and ended up passing through Redvale CO, a very small town with a very large number of Cluck flags still flying. That wasn’t the stunner. It was the old pickup with a camper on the box. A homemade cloth sign whose dimensions were about 4×6 feet was affixed to the side facing the street, and it declaimed in large letters: Burn Your Mask!

Just think for a moment of the depths of stupid and hostile that such a banner signifies.

Burn Your Mask! Good lord.

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Cold Hard Facts

I don’t know what went wrong, but we’re having a wee bit of Winter already here in Paradise. Saturday night it got down to 2 degrees F. Over the past few days several inches of snow have fallen and I actually had to shovel it away twice. Shovel. Me.

When Robin and I took our walks over the weekend we dressed in so many layers we looked like the kid in the movie A Christmas Story.

Even thought we might have looked a bit ridiculous, there’s no point in challenging the elements, is there? There are only two possible outcomes in such an endeavor … survival or frostbite.

We go for survival every time.

Sunday was cold enough that the cats were presented with a feline dilemma. Every instinct said “Go outside and do your thing!” And so they went through the flap on the pet door and were hit in their furry faces with the frigid reality that waited for them out there. They would try repeatedly but in less than a minute they were back each time.

Now, right next to the pet door is a bigger door meant for humans. Poco will make a run through the cat-flap, come back inside all disappointed, and then go stand in front of the big door meowing to be let out. Apparently he thinks that each portal leads to a different world, and maybe the next one will be nicer.

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I had only one experience with frostbite, but it was enough. At seventeen I was working part-time at a Red Owl grocery store in West St. Paul MN. I lived about a mile from the store, and walked to work rain or shine.

One snowy Saturday morning it was cold and windy and off I went to work, leaving the house at 5:00 AM and underdressed as usual. No hat, no protection for my ears, not enough jacket … you know the teenaged drill. When I reached the store my right ear was an unusual dead white color and felt quite firm when compared with its mate on the other side of my head. In the warm indoor air it now came back to life with a vengeance.

The appendage went from white and numb to red and painful in no time at all, but it wasn’t done with me yet. Within two hours it had swollen to twice its size. So here I was dealing with my duties and the general public looking all unbalanced … normal on the left and a crimson Dumbo on the right. By the end of my shift the thing was blistering and altogether nasty-looking.

It took a week for that ear to get back to normal. I guess that I was fortunate that it didn’t blacken and drop off, since it was sort of useful to have around, especially when it came to wearing glasses later in life. I did learn something, however, and never repeated my performance.

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The first Covid vaccine doses are on the trucks and planes and headed for everywhere. I am not too worked up about it, however. Each article that I read about who gets it first seems to move my personal category further down the list. As far as I can tell, if there are any doses left over in January 2025 I can apply for one and see where that gets me.

It’s starting to remind me of what the U.S. Air Force taught me about military triage. In civilian life, the person with the worst injuries, where survival is seriously in question, moves to the front of the line. In combat situations, they are placed in a category named “expectant,” and moved to an area where they are given pain relief but are out of view while resources are focussed on the more obviously salvageable. The idea being to get soldiers back to the front wherever possible in the shortest amount of time.

The ultimate goals of combat medicine are the return of the greatest possible number of soldiers to combat and the preservation of life, limb, and eyesight in those who must be evacuated.

https://ke.army.mil/bordeninstitute/other_pub/ews/Chp3Triage.pdf

So even though people like myself are in a high-risk category should we become infected, the medical powers-that-be have decided that since we can still walk ourselves right back into our homes we should just stay there until it is safe to come out, end of story.

I get it. I may not love the implications, but I get it.

I can wait until Hell itself freezes over. That’s another thing the military taught me.

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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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