Hey, Listen To What I Say … Not What I Said

Joe Biden has been around American politics a long, long time. He is famous for making gaffes, sometimes talks like he’s eating a peanut butter sandwich at the same time, and no one has ever (to my knowledge) referred to him as an intellectual or a scholar. But the other day when he declared that Putin must not remain in power … I understood him clearly. No matter what disclaimers are coming out of Washington DC trying to explain those words away. He now says “I didn’t mean regime change, folks, really I didn’t.” I don’t buy it.

Of course my own understanding is that of a know-nothing yahoo from the prairies without a political credential to his name. And of course world leaders don’t want anyone suggesting that forcibly removing world leaders from office is a good habit to develop. But when Biden said For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power, I heard – take him out. Period.

There were moments in history when disagreements between tribes were settled by having the leader of each group square off in combat. If your guy won, that was a great day, but even if he lost … at least both villages were still standing and there was always hope for a better result down the road.

The evolution of warfare that we see on display in Ukraine finds instead the Russian armies destroying cities, non-combatants, and children. It’s not new, just the latest iteration of the horror that is war. All this to achieve goals that are not completely obvious to those of us in the yokel-universe. Reverting to having one-on-one combat would be so much better than this.

Perhaps Russia would put up Putin as their champion, perhaps not, but I definitely wouldn’t use President Joe to carry our colors. Why, the man’s almost as old as I am! And I wouldn’t suggest having any warrior that superannuated defending anyone’s honor or any country’s borders. Nope. Who I would want as our champion would be someone who was strong, unscrupulous, dumb as a bunch of rocks, and who could hold only one thought at a time in their head and that was winning the duel.

I would send Marjorie Taylor-Greene. If she won we could give her a pat on the back, a medal, a pension, and send her back to to where she came from. A win.

If she lost, at least we wouldn’t have to deal with her particular brand of idiocy any longer. A win.

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We didn’t watch the Oscar ceremonies this year. Our television usage is strictly streaming and non-cable, and all of the choices available to us involved signing up for a free introductory week on some service and then dropping out later in the week. It’s legitimate but a tiresome dodge.

Last year I tried to do this end-around with Hulu Plus but their computer found me out and I received the message “Hey, you did this last year and what good did it do us? So get on out of here, you deadbeat. No more free lunches at this bar.”

I read, though, that I missed something a bit out of the ordinary Sunday night, when Will Smith punched Chris Rock onstage. Usually the attacks in situations like this are verbal ones, small daggers slipped so deftly between the ribs that hours might pass before you even knew you were dead. To have a direct physical confrontation so publicly … .

Rock may have made a thoughtless joke at Smith’s wife’s expense (after all, he makes his living as a smart-ass) but Will Smith … for cripes sakeuse your words! And aren’t we past the time when powerful women need men to protect them from comedians at the Oscars? Jada Pinkett Smith is smart, not socially inhibited, and could have spoken up very well for herself.

It was a thug move on Smith’s part.

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Parker Palmer is an educator, lecturer, activist, author of several books, and a Quaker. Every once in a while I will come across a snippet taken from one of his books, or a short video on YouTube and I think “That is one thoughtful man, I should get busy and learn more about what he has to say.”

And then I am distracted, forget all about him, and go on with life in the maelstrom.

So I have no idea why I picked up his book A Hidden Wholeness this morning and started in reading it. In fact, I had no idea we owned the darn thing in the first place. But I ran into these paragraphs right there in the preface and I was hooked.

This seems such a great analogy, to me. The deadly confusion of a blizzard. The sometimes fatal consequences of being lost in one. I will admit to letting go of the rope at moments in my life, and to not always doing proper maintenance on those good old moral bearings.

This time … I will read Palmer’s book. Maybe there’s more good stuff on the inside. But, you know, at least I’ve read the preface.

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I have joined the Carhartt Universe. In fourscore plus years I have not owned so much as a bandanna manufactured by this venerable manufacturer of clothing for working men and women. Oh there were reasons … everything was this red dirt color, was constructed of the same material that they make heavy duty tarps with, and when wet the garments weighed enough to cause profusions of hernias to bloom.

Then there was always the potential for ridicule by people who actually worked with their hands and who might murmur “Impostor” under their breath as I walked by.

But Carhartt has broadened their lineup of products quite a bit in recent years – more colors, more styles, more sizes. So when we were at Murdoch’s yesterday I took the plunge and bought a T-shirt. It is sturdy, seems durable, and there is not one red-dirt thread in it. One small step for man … .

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Tonsorial Fables

When the pandemic first came to town, we had no idea where this was all going. For all I knew, within days we were all going to be boarded up in our homes, while the sheriff’s men patrolled the streets, shooting anyone who ventured out. I laid in a few sacks of beans and rice and hoped for the best.

Within short weeks, however, two problems emerged that I hadn’t counted on. One was that I couldn’t get my hair cut, and the other was that there was no toilet paper left in the grocery stores. The first could have conceivably been solved by simply letting my thinning hair grow out to my shoulders and beyond. But there was no simple remedy for the other.

Having spent months on my grandfather’s farm as a lad, I knew that if one was away from the house when Nature called, you could use a variety of plants to accomplish a clean-up. With time you learned which plants scratched, which were fragile, which caused intolerable rashes, etc. Highly unpopular was any plant that had the word “thistle” as part of its name. Each child was an amateur botanist because they had to be. In the outdoor privies back at the homestead they used magazines, catalogs, telephone directories and other printed materials to fill in for TP shortages. So no big deal in the early pandemic days. After all it was springtime and foliage was coming on plentiful. But the prospect of an autumn and (God forbid) a winter without proper paper products was not a comforting one. That, however is another story.

Upon learning that the salons of the area were shutdown, I made some enquiries. I found that a brisk black market business in men’s haircuts had sprung up under a bridge outside of town where an enterprising and sturdily-built woman named Gertrudis brought her tools, expertise, and a pair of Carhartt overalls . The lady accepted any customer with a $20.00 bill in their hand. There was no choice of styles, however, you had to take what Gertrudis had to sell or be off with you and bother her no more.

This is where I might mention that this enterprising woman’s day job was as a sheep-shearer. What with the Honda generator to power her clippers, and a leaf blower to blast away the severed hairs from your clothing, it was all very intimidating. Many customers might have bolted at the last minute, but they found that those strong forearms that Gertrudis had developed from years of restraining Shropshires were a match for most men, and you were restrained as in a vise by one arm while the other did the necessary work on your locks.

I don’t have any photos of actual customers, as they were quite alarmed at the prospect of having their picture taken in such challenging circumstances. I did find, however, a pic of a newly shorn Shropshire, and I can tell you that the human clients looked pretty much the same.

As for me, I couldn’t handle the situation. I was standing in line waiting for my first Gertrudis haircut when the customer in the chair let out a scream and ran away bleeding profusely. He had moved at exactly the wrong time, the big clipper had its way, and he now had only half a right earlobe as a result. That was all it took for me to reconsider my options, which I did while doing a full-tilt boogie away from the bridge and back into the sunlight.

Next day I studied a few YouTube instructional videos, dropped by a local emporium, and was soon the proud owner of a Wahl hair cutting set for the amazingly low price of $24.99. Combs, a clipper, a tiny booklet … everything I needed. That same day I gave myself my first haircut and have been doing so ever since. As opposed to what happened when I used to go to that exclusive salon called Great Clips where my appearance would swing back and forth between shorn and shaggy, I now give myself a trim every week and always look the same. Mediocre, perhaps, but the same.

The price has gone up a bit, but just for interest, the kit looks like this. Bulletproof, cheap, and my own earlobes are still intact. (Notice that the box claims that the guards provide “goof-proof haircuts.” This is not exactly the case. Any goof worth their salt can still mess things up)

There was a learning curve, however, I will admit to that. The front always looked okay, but the back was another matter for quite a while. Not being able to see what I was doing behind me, the rear of my head looked pretty much like I was recovering from various sorts of haphazard neurosurgery for about two months as I acquired necessary skills.

When the rules loosened up and salons began to open up once again, Gertrudis packed up her equipment and disappeared. I hear that she is still working sheep ranches in our area, living in a caravan with one of her old customers, a man called Harry Feldenfelden. Harry was a man of rare temperament who found that he enjoyed being handled roughly by Gertrudis, had several repeat shearings from her over that first spring and summer of the pandemic, and eventually joined her on her travels.

Harry took up the fiddle as a pastime, as you can see from the picture at left. ‘Tis a couple well met.

Get A Haircut, by George Thorogood and the Destroyers

(The story told above is 50% falsehoods, 20% true, and 30% polyester.)

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From The New Yorker

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Yesterday Robin and I were out for a constitutional, walking on the path along the Uncompahgre River, and I was paying particular attention to the human/dog combinations who were sharing the path with us. Somewhere there must have been a class named How To Be A Proper Coloradan which I missed attending when I first came to this fine state. Dog ownership must have been stressed in that class, because I swear there were 2.4 dogs per human on the walkway today.

Most of the canines were very small breeds of the sort that you must often remove from your ankles where they have attached their tiny teeth in a vain attempt to appear ferocious. This afternoon they were on their best behavior, however, and there were no such incidents. I have owned several dogs in my life, but was never tempted to acquire one of the “toy” breeds. There was just not enough dog there to be attractive to me.

Let me tell you about Lady, a sweet creature who lived with us when my kids were quite young. One fine Sunday morning during my stint in the Air Force, my former wife and children returned from attending Unitarian services in Omaha (I was on call) with a largish cardboard box. A parishioner with a devious mindset had brought a bunch of mixed-breed puppies to church to share with anyone who wished to complicate their life, and he caught my wife at a weak moment.

Lady was so fluffy that it was difficult to tell which end was which, you had to keep turning her until you saw the eyes to know for sure. She had a fine temperament, the kids loved her, and she instantly became the seventh member of the family. She eventually grew to be a medium-sized animal, long-haired and with one of those curly Siberian Husky sort of tails.

She was not a biter, tolerated the good-hearted abuse that young children always dish out to pets, and except for one quirk, was pretty easy to have around. The quirk was that Lady became furious when in the presence of anyone of color. When the black meter-reader would come by our house in Buffalo NY, there was so much savage growling and tooth-baring that we had to restrain her and shove her into a room until he left the premises. A youngster named Peter who lived just down the street was unfortunate enough to have a disease that made him perpetually jaundiced, with a pronounced gray-green color to his skin. Lady could not be in the back yard playing with the kids whenever Peter was around.

One day we had gone to a nearby state park for an outing and were returning home. We were all tooling along in our VW microbus, with me driving and Lady riding shotgun with her window nearly all the way down due to it being a hot day and the fact that VW microbuses were not air conditioned. We were cruising at around sixty mph when Lady saw a large butterfly going by and out the window she flew to try to catch it. We were all horrified when we saw her leave the car, and in the rearview mirror I saw her hit the ground tumbling over and over in a cloud of dust.

I pulled the bus to a quick stop and ran back to where Lady was lying on the side of the road, fearing the worst and hoping to avoid having the kids see their friend all bloody and awful. But by the time I reached her she was sitting up looking a bit dazed and except for missing a patch of fur under her chin, she seemed none the worse for her vain attempt at flight. No broken bones … no bloody hide … nothing, although she was very quiet for an hour or so. By the time we had reached home she seemed completely back to her old self.

Lady was never allowed to use that seat again. From then on she was banished to the back of the bus whenever it was moving. Once was enough.

Old Blue, by Joan Baez

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A Dick Guindon cartoon.

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The Doonesbury cartoon this week was particularly informative, I think. A no-nonsense guide to becoming involved in social media.

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We finally have some wintry weather this week. Oh, nothing really to complain about, compared with what our Midwestern friends have suffered, but when it’s cold, damp, windy, and the sleet is flying by … that counts for something. It merits at least a four on the nasty scale, I think.

What would a ten be? I think that an Old Testament-style blizzard* would fit the bill. Heavy snowfall, wind over 45 mph, visibility down to a few feet in front of you. The kind where farmers would leave the house to go to the barn and lose their way, their bodies found days later when the skies finally cleared. Where children in one-room prairie schoolhouses were marooned with their teachers, burning the furniture for warmth until help arrived. Where livestock might freeze to death standing up in the snowdrifts. Those would be a ten.

On reflection … maybe today’s is just a three.

*I know, I know, there are no blizzards in the Old Testament. There’s not even any snow. But given the rest of what’s in those stories, if it did snow it’d be a blizzard. And a doozie at that.

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Fiddling

The passage of time does some strange things. This morning I am grateful to former president Cluck. It is similar to the situation in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, where the rabbi is asked if there is such a thing as a blessing for the Czar.

I am grateful that since he was going to become our bigot-in-chief and a traitor (isn’t that what he is, really?) to our democracy that Cluck wasn’t any better at it than he was. His narcissism prevented him from looking much further ahead than any day’s newscast, and his careless tossing aside of one aide or staffer after another kept him perpetually weaker.

Weaker, say, than another would-be-autocrat of the past, Richard Nixon, who was potentially more dangerous because he aligned himself with two capable lieutenants in Haldeman and Ehrlichman. This trio could have gone on to do even more harm than they did to our Republic if they hadn’t developed the unfortunate habit of telling fibs and being caught at it.

What we are seeing finally on the national stage is the slow unraveling of the noose that Republicans tied around their own necks, where one of them after another is finally finding the drawer where they had put their backbones and the ragged remnants of their integrity and saying “No, that’s absolutely wrong,” to His Perpetual Orangiosity. Gratifying, at long last, to hear.

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As long as I’m tossing video clips at you, here’s another from “Fiddler.” As it begins, the milkman Tevye has just been told that daughter Chava has eloped with a Russian man and married outside of Judaism. What follows is for me one of the most moving passages in any movie I’ve ever seen.

There is much wisdom sprinkled throughout this film. This passage, however, is purest heartbreak. “If I bend that far, I’ll break.”

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The old Washington Avenue bridge across the Mississippi River had no cover and a rather easily scaled guard rail. The “new” one has a plexiglass cover from one end to the other. Walking to campus from the West Bank was much more pleasant using the new one, since the wind and whatever was falling from the sky couldn’t get to you until you were across and on campus, where ducking into warm buildings became a possibility.

There was one added benefit of that cover in that it made jumping off into the frigid waters of the river impossible. Why bring this up now? Because in the old uncovered days February was statistically the month of the jumpers. I never had a problem understanding this, because who isn’t sick of winter in Minnesota by February? If one’s mental health was a bit shaky in November, it was not benefited by seemingly endless gray skies, sooty snow everywhere, cars that wouldn’t start, repeated episodes of frostbite, and having been shut into small spaces by the cold for many weeks. So suicide by freezing leap was somewhere between commonplace and unheard of in frequency.

Sometimes when I was crossing the bridge to campus, collar turned up against the wind that seemed to be forever howling down the river in the winter, I would look over the railing into the dark brown water at that strong current and say to myself no way. To spend my last moments of consciousness even colder than I was at the moment I was peering over the rail … it was never going to be my choice for ending it all. If push came to shove I would always opt for something more genteel and above all, warmer.

Theme Song from the movie M*A*S*H, by Johnny Mandel

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Robin and I just finished watching Women of the Movement, one of Hulu’s offerings for Black History Month. This limited series dealt with the lynching of Emmett Till, and of his mother’s life after that horrific tragedy. Her name was Mamie Till.

I won’t put in any spoilers here except that by the end of the series if you could pass through that television screen and get at the killers and their smarmy protectors … you might be tempted to commit a couple of felonies yourself. The state of Mississippi in general does not come off well as it is portrayed in 1955, when the murder and subsequent trial of the killers took place.

When this incident was front-page news and that news reaching even as far North as Minneapolis, I was fifteen, only one year older than Emmett was when he died. And yet back then for me it was a dark story coming out of what I saw as another country altogether, the South. I had a lot to learn and a long way to go.

Retracing the events in the series, when Till’s damaged body was returned to his mother in Chicago, she declared that there would be no closed casket wake for him. She said “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.” Tens of thousands of people filed by the casket over several days. Millions of people saw the photographs of the body that journalists were asked by Mamie Till to take. As I relive the whole thing now through this series, it resembles nothing so much as scenes from some ancient play, where a mythic woman accompanies the corpse of her slain soldier-son as his funeral cortege rolls into Rome, or Athens.

About a hundred days after the funeral, Rosa Parks took her stand.

In Montgomery, Rosa Parks attended a rally for Till led by Martin Luther King Jr. Soon after, she refused to give her seat on a segregated bus to a white passenger. The incident sparked a year-long well-organized boycott of the public bus system. The boycott was designed to force the city to change its segregation policies. Parks later said when she did not get up and move to the rear of the bus, “I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back.”

Emmett Till, Wikipedia
My Name Is Emmett Till , by Emmylou Harris

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I’m being a good boy with regards to my visits to our local recreation center. Robin gets me moving and we’re out the door in the dark for a cold car ride to the gym. Once there I run the gantlet from machine to machine, sometimes with the numbers on the weights used being embarrassingly small. But hey – I’m moving, just the same.

Yesterday I visited all but one of my self-assigned torture devices, missing only the abdominal crunch. This was because the apparatus was occupied by an ancient citizen who seemed incapable of movement. Alarmed, I checked him only to find that he was indeed breathing and conscious to boot, but he required the passage of an eon between reps of the exercise. I finally gave up and went home. If I go back today, it wouldn’t surprise me if he is still there, laboring to bend the machine to his will. I gave him a perfect 10 for determination, and a lesser score for execution.

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Let us finish this today with some self-observation. In Tuesday’s Science section of the NYTimes was a piece which began with this paragraph:

It’s a dubious distinction in the fossil record: For the first time, a vertebrate has been found with fecal pellets where its brain once was.

NYTImes, February 8, 2022

I will let this sink in for a moment.

Imagine, if you will, that you have a satiric frame of mind in general, and a sarcastic one on occasion. Imagine that you are served up this savory bit of intelligence one morning, like a bit of meat tossed to a big cat, and are rolling it about in your mind, savoring it and wondering exactly what to do with it. Imagine further, if you can, that you have no journalistic standards or ethics, and are well-known for dipping into areas of bad taste when it suits you. So what are your choices?

Here are mine.

Ignore it … absolutely not.

Clean it up for readers … not today, son.

Exploit it … now we’re cooking, baby.

From my personal perspective, the crucial part of the sentence is “in the fossil record.” Crucial because we likely have scads of examples of just this problem right in front of us, not in fossils, but in humans walking around and going to work and eating and breeding and generally making a mess of things.

Of course we haven’t the luxury of popping open the crania of these men and women to examine the contents of their skulls, but we can certainly make some inferences from their behavior, can’t we? And it’s not as if we’d never suspected that something like this wasn’t happening. There is even a common vulgar phrase that goes: “S**t for brains.”

How can this knowledge be helpful? Perhaps mostly because it explains so much of what is puzzling about modern life, as it answers the questions: How could anyone believe that or act that way? Not having to wonder about this any longer will be a great timesaver for many of us, since we don’t have to waste precious hours trying to think through what seem to otherwise be inexplicable contradictions.

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Have You Seen My Castanets?

A good friend stopped by the other day and as we were sharing opinions about the weather I realized that the two of us were clearly not of one mind on the subject. She was bemoaning the fact that we have had very little snow so far this year, and that the days had been too warm for what snow did fall to last long enough to be enjoyed. As for myself, I was glad that this winter has been a mild one, with few of winter’s inconveniences.

For most of my life I lived in parts of the US where dealing with the harsher aspects of winter was just a part of the deal. Minnesota was my training ground for thirty years, with enough nasty temperatures and precipitation to make the sport of ice skating in cars a regular happening from December through March.

We did all sorts of things to keep the insides of our car motors warm enough to permit starting in the morning – plugging in heaters of various sorts to keep the engine oil or the radiator coolant warm. In the bitterest weather I recall carrying a spray can of ether for use when and if the carburetor “iced up” while I was driving to work or school. The scenario then was to pop the hood, take off the air cleaner, and spray this explosive material into the yawning mouth of the carb and then try to restart the vehicle. I should add that this playlet was often enacted in the middle of intersections and other highly inconvenient locations.

The high point with regard to snow was during my six years living in the Keweenaw Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. During that period the area set its local record for snowfall … 360 inches. What this translates into is that by the month of February the following had happened:

  • The snow surrounded our one-story house to a depth where when you looked out any of the windows, it was all you saw.
  • Leaving home through the front door you walked through a narrow snow canyon that you had created, to get to the driveway
  • The roof had to be shoveled off regularly so that the outside would not one day fall through to the inside of our home. By February, in the rear of the house, when you did that shoveling you were standing on the roof and throwing the snow UP onto a pile that was now taller than the building
  • The city and country would plow the streets and local highways only once a day, and that was early in the morning. After that, you were on your own until the next day, no matter how much snow had fallen. This meant that while you might get to work fairly easily, getting back home was another matter. This led to the purchase of my first four-wheel drive vehicle, which was a Jeep Wagoneer. I remember the salesman’s comment just before I drove that beast away from the dealership: “Now you can get stuck in places you couldn’t even get to before.”

Here is an Upper Peninsula gallery, just to see what I might be talking about.

Perhaps one high/low point of winter nastiness arrived one day when Robin and I were driving in southern Minnesota when the air temperature was well below zero. Something occurred that frigid day that I would have believed impossible until that morning – it rained. The rain, of course turned to ice the moment it hit the car, and the window defrosters could not keep up with the icing while you were driving. So every few hundred yards or so you and every other driver on that road would pull over to the side and sit there until the ice melted from the windshield. Then you would get back on the highway which was now one big hockey rink and try to proceed slowly in a straight line until finally you couldn’t see any more, whereupon you would pull over and repeat the ritual. This went on for perhaps an hour and a half.

So when my friend was wishing for a more vigorous winter I nodded in agreement. I get it. But for me the charm of living here in Paradise is that while the snow is typically scanty in the valley, within twenty minutes I can drive to where it is plentiful. I can have my snowcake without having to eat it every day.

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From The New Yorker

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On some of my trips to the recreation center I have the opportunity to observe people playing something called pickleball. Nearly all of the players are elderly, some are past the point where swift movement is a possibility … and yet they can all play and seem to be enjoying it.

I admit that when I first heard the name of the game, it sounded way too stupid for someone as cool as I am. But watching these people I find myself thinking that I might just give it a try. If you don’t know what it is, the game is like the offspring of a ping-pong father and a badminton mother. The paddles are similar to those used in table tennis and what you hit is a clone of a wiffle ball, so you don’t have to chase it very far if you miss a return.

It seems a simple enough game that a person with my athletic talents has a chance of succeeding (at a low level), all you need being a paddle, a ball, and a net. As usual, this being America and all, an industry has spring up to sell us stuff beyond the necessaries. The photograph below was provided by a company that sells attire deemed suitable for female players.

I hasten to add that none of these twenty-somethings are to be found on the courts at our recreation center. There is not a single varicose vein in this photograph. Our local afficionados, male and female, tend toward a more seasoned variety of beautiful.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I are mining the past for some of our TV watching this winter. As a pilot project we have taken up NYPD Blue. As a cop show it is as good as we remembered, and a couple of levels above many of the present-day similar series. I do recall that one of its controversial hallmarks when it ran back in the years 1993-2005 was some freeness with nudity, and so we have had the chance to see the backs and butts of many of the principal players already. These are of varying degrees of comeliness, just like in real life.

The show is set in one of the non-glittering areas of New York City, and each episode has several story lines running simultaneously. All in all it’s a good watch, with a broad slice of human behavior on display.

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An oversimplified but reasonably accurate summary of my political feelings at this moment in time.

Synonyms for disgusting

abhorrent, abominable, appalling, awful, distasteful, dreadful, nauseous, evil, foul, fulsome, gross, hideous, horrendous, horrid, loathsome, nasty, nauseating, noxious, obscene, odious, offensive, rancid, repellant, republican party leadership,repugnant, revolting, scandalous, shocking, sickening, ugly

Synonyms for feckless

abortive, bootless, counterproductive, democratic party leadership, fruitless, futile, ineffective, unproductive, unsuccessful, pointless, unavailing, plotless

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If We Make It Through December …

I’ve left that song by Phoebe Bridgers up for another few days. It moves me each time and I’m not quite sure why, but I suspect that it’s that the theme, of barely making it from month to month, was a recurrent one in my own childhood. “If we make it through December “… what a world of hurt and worry a phrase like that holds.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to play the poverty card here. I was never hungry, always clothed decently, always had a roof over my head. But the level of luxury in our family was often too thin to measure.

Dad was what sociologists of the time called an unskilled laborer. I checked this morning to see if there was some new euphemism that had replaced that unflattering term and found none, though I did come across these entries in a thesaurus which were interesting.

It wasn’t that the man didn’t have skills, it was that they weren’t marketable ones. He worked for most of his adult life at Archer-Daniels, a huge conglomerate, at one of their plants that processed linseed oil from flax. (A while back I purchased some linseed oil to do a bit of wood refinishing, and when I opened the tin I was instantly transported back to childhood, because that was what Dad’s work clothing always smelled like, and you know that the brain never forgets a scent.)

He had the kind of job you don’t hear much about any more, one with swing shifts. That meant that the plant never closed, that the 24 hours of any day was divided into three shifts, and you could be assigned to any of the three, in rotation. You might work days for a week, afternoons for another, nights for yet another. This sort of messing with the bodies’ wake/sleep cycles was not taken much into consideration back then. You never worked any shift for enough days in a row to ever become accustomed to the changes. Your body was expected to “handle it.”

Dad was a union man, a member of the United Mine Workers. Which was a part of the AFL/CIO. Which in the forties and fifties meant that periodically there would be a strike, and each strike was a severe family economic stressor. Usually Mom would take some job to fill in during these uncertain times. Sewing stuffed toys at home, selling custom-made foundation garments to overweight women, working in the sausage department at a meat-packing plant, etc. I honestly don’t recall if there was anything like “strike pay” back then, but if there was, it was miniscule at best.

So when my brother and I got our first bicycles one Christmas, they were used ones that Dad had reconditioned. There were homemade gifts in other years as well. But unlike in the song, there was never a year without a Christmas.

BTW, I hadn’t heard this tune before Ms. Bridgers brought it out, but I learned that her version is a cover of a Merle Haggard song. Just in case you’re interested, here is ol’ Merle doing his own thing.

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From The New Yorker

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An elderly gentleman like myself has had the opportunity to adjust to a passel of changes. Some of them represented progress, some absolutely didn’t, and there are some that I haven’t made up my mind about as yet. This category includes times when to adopt the new you had to give up something. Perhaps something that you liked or felt was important.

One item on this list is indoor plumbing. Being able to access drinking water safely and comfortably was a definite plus, and trading the privy for a set of well-designed porcelain fixtures seemed a no-brainer. But my spiritual life suffered because of indoor bathrooms. One of the first teachings of Buddhism is that there is suffering in life, and what we can do about it as travelers on this earth. This teaching used to be brought home on each visit to the outhouse in the wintertime. Several times each day I would be forcefully reminded – suffering exists.

Television is another item. What a resource it has been and continues to be as a doorway to learning and entertainment. The problem is that while that door is open quite a bit of swill washes in. Reference the entire Kardashian family saga, or the id-driven and air-headed Real Wives of various places, or one of the most unsavory of all, The Bachelor. Either they have had a negative effect on our collective intellect or they have revealed that our intellects weren’t so great in the first place. Lose-lose on this one.

A third example would be the plethora of appliances available that are designed to make life in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable, and they do all that until they don’t work. At that point you find that the manual for the appliance clearly states that “There are no user-serviceable parts.” That means either you mail it back to the company for repair or you throw it away. Typically a toaster that cost $39.95 initially will cost you $25.00 for postage to that service department plus another $35.00 for the repair. So economics dictates that you toss it out.

What you’ve lost is the feeling of accomplishment that came from getting out one’s tools and doing the repair. In the case of a toaster, for instance, after you tinkered with it you could hardly wait to test it out by loading it with a couple of slices of bread. You plugged it in and then had the chance to see a shower of sparks followed quickly by flames shooting out of the device as the innocent bread was converted to pure carbon. Those were the days.

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This year Robin and I have made the move to non-gifting one another. At least not a big deal gift. There will be “stocking stuffers,” of course, we are not Communists after all. We’re taking that money and making donations with it to favorite charities. Maybe some charities that we always wanted to help, but never got around to it.

We can do that because we really don’t need anything. There are lots of things we might want, but need … nope. We are roofed-over, fed, and clothed. We have luxuries, like this computer I am typing upon, but having a smaller home means you look carefully before adding to the pile of possessions already stacked there. Stuff in the garage or shed that you haven’t quite the heart to throw away yet, but that will remain warehoused until molds or insects take care of the problem.

If we decide to buy a new framed photograph or painting for our walls, for instance, something will have to go away to make room for it. A new shirt or sweater … same thing, because closet space is all taken up. If I ever start to feel sorry for myself, in that I would like to go back to bigger and better, I remind myself of a story told by a raconteur on the old (really old) Jack Paar television show. It went like this:

There was a holy man who lived in a small village and who lived so simply that he had only one treasured possession, a jar that he carried each morning to the village well to collect water for the day. The man was loved by all, so it was with horror that villagers saw him trip one morning and fall to the ground, shattering the water jar on the cobblestones.

As others moved to comfort the man, he raised his head from the ground and they were amazed to see the most blissful expression on his face. Seeing that their old friend was about to speak they crowded closer so as not to miss a single word. And this is what they heard him say:

“At last … I am free.”

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[I’ve told the above story before, I know, but this time I told it better.]

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A Very Merry Christmas to Everyone. May you and all those you love be happy and safe.

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Where Do You Get This Stuff?

A friend once asked me where I came up with the things that I put on this blog. I don’t recall what I said to her at the time, but it comes out of my everyday life, because every single day that I take a breath I am confronted with either my own ridiculous behaviors or those of other people. Each daily newspaper provides more than enough grist for my small mill. (Some of what I read does make me angry or depressed, and I try to avoid writing about those things. I admit to not being 100% successful in this.)

What I do enjoy writing about is when we are really being preposterous. With our pretensions, our guarded conversations, our raising of our eyebrows. And if nothing is happening in the world, the stream of thoughts that my brain generates produces some really amusing stuff if I just pay attention. Maybe one out of ten thoughts that I have are absurd or laughable (it could even be as frequent as one out of five). I have no control over them popping into consciousness at all. When I really notice them is when I am trying not to think, as in mindfulness mediation sessions. It is at those times that I see that what I have read is true – that the mind never stops going, but jumps from one branch to another continuously, like some monkeys do, giving rise to the phrase “monkey mind.”

And some of what my mind brings up for brief consideration is hilarious. At least to me it is. Occasionally I will stop the flow for a moment and think to myself – that was almost unbelievably arrogant. I must really be that pompous ass that people have called me at times. Robin would be the expert on whether I am or not. One of the most useful things she does for me at times is to gaze deeply into my eyes and repeat: “Pedant, pedant, pedant .. .

But it is exactly those flaws that I often find endearing. Our human sillinesses. Our foibles. Considering those and writing about them is part of my personal plan in order to hang on to the shreds of sanity that I still possess. I’ve been doing it for more than a decade now, and it is still working for me. Truth is, studying a well-executed pratfall does much more for my state of mind than anything I will likely find on CNN today.

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Public Service Announcement

The Surgeon General announced at a press conference yesterday that a food product has been declared so severely addicting that it will be handled as such. That product is Cheetos Popcorn. To quote the good doctor: “This is a snack combining the seductive flavors of regular Cheetos with those of one of the most popular snack foods of all time – popcorn. They potentiate one another so that the combination is much more potent than you might expect.”

It’s one of those cases where 1+1= 3. From now on you can only get this snack by prescription, and there will be severe limitations on quantities dispensed as well.

You may recall that old folk tune, The Blue-Tail Fly, that goes like this:

When I was young, I used to wait
On the master and give him his plate
And pass him the bottle when he got dry
And brush away the blue tail fly

Jimmy, crack corn and I don’t care
Jimmy, crack corn and I don’t care
Jimmy, crack corn and I don’t care
My master’s gone away

We now believe that this is evidence that the authors of this song had access to something much like Cheetos Popcorn way back in the 19th century. Perhaps they made it themselves out of the homely ingredients they had at hand and kept the recipe secret until now, when it has been unearthed and newly marketed. It is worth noticing in the song’s chorus that when you get some of that crack corn you don’t care. Typical addict behavior.

Fortunately there is an easily observable marker which will help us identify victims of this scourge and get them the therapy they so sorely need – their fingertips are universally stained a bright orange.

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There seems to be quite a buzz about the fact that television journalist Chris Wallace is quitting Fox News and moving to CNN. An interesting choice for him, with CNN being the most anti-Fox of them all. The running thread is that it is bad publicity for Fox News to have one of the rare “legitimate” newsmen on its staff leave off and move on.

That may be true. I have a slightly different take. For seventeen years Wallace cashed those checks while lending his name to what is essentially a journalistic hogsnort. For me, that’s taking an awfully long time to decide that you finally care about the s**t on your shoes at the end of every working day.

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We watched another Christmas story last night where the holiday was really just the subtext. It all started out that morning when I ran across a YouTube video taken from an episode of the series The West Wing. It was intriguing enough that I searched for the original episode and found that I was going to have to pay for it, which usually causes my interest to fall pretty precipitously. For some unfathomable reason I persisted. Good that I did, for Robin and I found ourselves in a story that was funny, intelligent, and so moving at the end that we turned to each other choked up and in tears.

The video was from Season 1, Episode 10, and entitled In Excelsis Deo. Here is the clip running on YouTube that attracted me to spending the considerable sum of $2.99. You can watch the clip if you like but be warned, it may end up costing you.

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I can’t exactly recall the day when I realized that the world was even more complicated than I had previously thought, but it could have been the day that I discovered that Velveeta didn’t require refrigeration. As I stared at that display of variously sized yellow boxes all sitting there on a grocery store end-cap without needing any special environmental care, the thought came to me that all that other cheeses needed to be kept cool … why not this stuff?

There is a list of answers to this and other Velveeta-related questions at delish.com if you wish to pursue your education further.

In the early 1900s, Monroe Cheese Company wanted to salvage its Swiss cheese wheels that were either broken or misshapen. So it enlisted the help of Emil Frey, a Swiss immigrant who tinkered with the scraps until discovering he could melt them together and add byproducts like whey until they melded back together in a velvety consistency.

delish.com

If you’ve ever worked with Velveeta, you know that keeping the loaf covered when being stored is supremely important. Else the stuff will turn into something completely inedible, and the now brick-like material is even dangerous. A five-pound chuck of dried-up Velveeta falling from an airplane at 20,000 feet would be traveling at more than 1000 mph when it hit the ground and would leave a crater 100 feet across. (I have no idea why it would be falling from an aircraft, but the point is to look out if it does.)

Another fact is that the knife you used to cut Velveeta into slices must be immediately washed. If this product dries on the blade, you can never get it off, and the tool must regrettably be thrown away.

Originally Velveeta was made from real cheese. Today, it’s mainly whey protein concentrate, milk protein concentrate, milk, fat, and preservatives. By the Food and Drug Administration’s standards, that’s not real cheese—which is why the FDA forced Kraft to change its label from “cheese spread” to “cheese product.”

delish.com

So why do we even buy it? Because it is delicious. Because it melts so very well. Because it makes some of the absolute best mac n’ cheese there is.

Robin and I were discussing this interesting stuff last night at supper, as we ate our non-Velveeta-based mac n’ cheese. We mused that foodies would probably never allow themselves to be seen buying a loaf of Velveeta. If they just couldn’t help themselves and felt they needed a couple of pounds of this liquid gold they would probably have to steal it, sneaking it from the store under their clothing to avoid being seen at the checkout stand as they made their purchase.

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Postscript: the kids in the photo are named Allyson, Justin and Amy. I am their wicked stepfather.

Postpostscript: by way of followup on my do-it-yourself follies discussed in a previous post, I have taken out a protection order against myself so that if I get within 100 yards of a hardware store I am immediately arrested and taken to the calaboose. Robin is the only person who has the authority to arrange my release.

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Sanity Isn’t Everything

The television series “Bosch” is over and done after seven seasons. No more years promised or hinted at. But it is still out there to be enjoyed, because this is streaming-land, where you can have a second chance if you missed it the first time around. And if you did miss it, here’s why you might want to take a moment to put it on your list.

Everybody looking nice and noir here in this poster.

It seems that there has been one police procedural series at a time that is clearly superior ever since “Hill Street Blues” came on the scene, and Bosch was one of those for Robin and I. Taken from a series of books by Michael Connelly, we got to watch characters rise, fall, stumble, surmount obstacles … to develop in ways that we might not have predicted.

Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch. A good actor gets a fine role. What’s not to like?

The lead character, detective Harry Bosch, had a childhood that was so unjust, so nightmarish, that it made him a crusader for fairness and justice in his police work. Crusaders can be prickly people, and his character is all of that. But most of his behavior is … admirable.

Watch an episode or two if you are between series. You may get as hooked as we were and be glad for it.

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I’m reading The Great Influenza, a book about the pandemic of 1918. Now (I can almost hear you asking yourself) why would a sane person read about one pandemic when they are in the midst of another one, the end of which is nowhere in sight? I think the answer is in the words “sane person.” Sanity, if you will search the pages of this blog going back as far as you want to, is not a quality I have ever claimed for myself. It’s not even a goal that I aspire to, to be honest.

My own variation of not quite on the beam does not involve the use of meat cleavers, AR-15s, or other violent tools and actions. It’s the kind of looniness that at its worst others probably find at worst irritating or annoying, at best amusing.

But about the book. If we think that we have it bad today, it is instructive to see what happened in 1918. Think bulldozers in Philadelphia digging mass graves to help alleviate the piling up of corpses in hospitals, morgues, mortuaries, and homes. Think what seemed like an ordinary influenza season turning into a nightmare as the virus mutated into something much worse, a killer of amazing swiftness and ferocity. Think a disease that hit hardest at the young and fit and was tolerated better by the infants and senior citizens of the time, turning the usual run of a disease on its head.

The author tells a good story, and he has a fantastic story to tell. For me, the introductory chapters on the development of American medical science were eye-opening. Where we went from backwoods medicine to the best laboratory benches in the world in less than a generation, and from the far periphery of science smack dab into the center, a position we still hold. Where doctors went from incompetent butchers to the gods of society that they became. This latter was especially interesting to a former doctor-god like myself, who had to turn in his celestial robe and scepter some time ago and who has been living contentedly as a mortal ever since. (I really don’t miss all that, although I will tell you that if you ever get the chance to party with the seraphim, you’ll never be the same).

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Back when I was in the process of becoming a divorced person, I sort of lost my mind for a while. I kept bad hours, slept too little and often ate things that were not fitten to eat. I would be up nights writing poetry, most of which I recognized the next morning as drivel, some of it as just okay, but then I would read one that was really good. One which contained ideas and writing that I recognized as not mine.

Out of these experiences came my theory of how my cranial contents, and perhaps yours as well, truly operate. First of all, this spongy bit of tissue tells me what to do to keep all of the nutritional substances that it needs coming in on a regular basis. It ponders odd things without cessation, and it does this without my bidding or leave, and often without my complete understanding. It prompts me to carry it around to different places, I suppose because its fairly confined life would be too boring if it didn’t have new things to look at.

But it has become obvious that what I used to regard as my brain I now realize is a brain. It doesn’t really belong to me, and is actually pretty independent of me. But I can “rent it” like a tool when I need it to tot up a column of figures or type a blog entry like this one. When my rental hour is up it doesn’t stop but keeps on going like that mad little bunny with the drum.

Anyone who has ever begun to meditate will recognize themselves here. You sit on your cushion, arrange your arms and legs just so, and then begin focussing on your breathing. Almost immediately your brain takes off on a tangent. You bring your attention back to the breath and in a few seconds that monkey mind is off again, following its own muse. You wonder why this is so, and why you don’t seem to be in control of your thoughts. Well … now you know what I think. Perhaps you have a better explanation?

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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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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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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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Stolen Moments

Since October 2020 is all about the moon, what with the Harvest Moon (October 1st), Hunter’s Moon (October 31st), and Blue Moon (also October 31st), I rounded up a handful of lunar-related cartoons. To get them I had to mug the gatekeeper at the New Yorker website, but I was careful and he will make a full recovery with only the slightest of headaches for a day or two.

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If you were to have recommended to me The Queen’s Gambit, a miniseries about life and the game of chess, I would probably have smiled politely and told you that I would run right home and watch it. But inwardly I would be thinking that watching paint dry might be a better way to spend a few hours.

And I would have been wrong, so wrong. Here’s a review from Vox that includes a trailer for the series. We were caught within the first moments of Episode 1.

On Netflix.

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Harvest Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday Morning

The breeze is peeling off the easy leaves, the handful of yellow ones hiding up in the green canopy that is the ash tree. It’s layering them evenly on the grass, my table, the deck. Piece by piece my sunshade is being removed until there won’t be anything between me and the autumn sun but … me.

On Saturday the smoke cover returned, completely obscuring the San Juans south of us. Pieces of California and of Oregon passing overhead. Parts of homes and forests that used to be. What a basket of sorrows is America this year for so many, more than enough for a full-bore lamentation. Can I have a that’s for damn sure, brothers and sisters?

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From The New Yorker

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I’m presently running a side by side comparison of Spotify and Apple Music, trying to see if one of them suits my warps and woofs better than the other. I think that I’m about done with buying music after three-score plus years of doing just that. The only time I have to own a tune is when I need one to put up on the Jukebox for you folks. Let’s say that I have maybe ten or twenty thousand songs on my hard drive … hey … Apple has 50 MILLION for me to listen to if I want to give them a few bucks each month. I was not a math major but I think that 50 million is way bigger.

Right now I’ve pulled up a Ry Cooder playlist on Spotify that goes on for four hours. I believe I won’t even move from my chair and I’ll have my supper served out here on the deck, s’il vous plait. Jus’ put my plate down over there and do it ever so quietly, there’s a dear.

But the idea of having a record library is so ingrained in me that it is a wrench to make this change. However, there have already been quite a few changes in recorded music that some of us have had to deal with.

  • Going from 78 RPM and 45 RPM records to those lovely 33 1/3 RPM vinyl LPs with all that great artwork on their covers
  • Evolution of tape players, first reel-to-reel, then 8 track, then cassette.
  • Making my own mixtapes – such a great thing for the compulsives among us
  • Advent of the compact disc – no more skips or static, but now that lovely album artwork was tiny and cramped
  • Online selling of music by the album or by single cuts (think iTunes)
  • Death of the music stores. R.I.P. Musicland, R.I.P. Tower Records, etc.
  • Advent of contract digital music services like Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc.

As hard as it is to contemplate not owning new music, it was harder back when I realized that if I made a mixtape or burned my own CD (same thing), no one wanted a copy any more. Why would they when they had access to these monster collections online?

[But something was lost when the mixtape went away. You picked out the songs, and then there was the all-important sequencing on the tape. If you made one for a girl you were interested in, you wanted to have her play it and end up thinking warm thoughts about you … it was half gift, half psychological implant.

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A friend reposted this stirring graphic on Facebook. Remembering that scene was a heart-melt for me. Possibly even more because of how well it fits today .

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Here’s the original clip.

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Looking For Mom And Pop

We’re off to South Dakota later this morning. Plans are to bed down in North Platte NE for the night, then drive on to Yankton SD the next day. The total trip distance (to Yankton) is 866 miles, give or take a foot. North Platte seems a decent little town, with the usual cluster of motels, restaurants, and gas stations along the interstate. We’ve chosen the Husker Inn, which came up #1 on Trip Advisor. It looks to be a typical mom-and-pop establishment … one level, each room opening directly onto the parking lot. Seems just right for traveling in the Covid era, with fewer opportunities to actually come in contact with other living and breathing human beings.

Even before the pandemic came along, these little places were my favorites when traveling. Not when the hotel is a destination, mind you, but when all you want is a clean bed in a clean room for the night. Forgot something in the car? Why, it’s no problem at all. Your vehicle is just outside your door.

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The weather here in Paradise promises nothing but sunshine for the next week, with very moderate temperatures. It’s the golden time of year, when all the windows can be open and neither the A/C nor the furnace are needed. Most of the flying things that bite you are long gone, and you can actually walk to the end of the block without needing a full canteen.

Our cats love this weather. They tolerated (because they had to, as did we all) the slow roasting that this past summer provided, but now they can sleep or stretch out whenever and wherever. It is what cats do best. Total inactivity interspersed with bursts of intense mouse-chasing. Last evening Willow caught three mice in four hours, bringing each one indoors and being instantly shooed back out. Robin and I are just not into providing living space for small rodents.

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I was sitting here with my second cup of coffee as companion, thinking back on the good parts of our camping season this year, which did have its negative aspects, I admit. But in between calamities there were moments of great beauty and serenity. There was also the feeling that I get at those times of being, I don’t know, sort of capable. We pick a spot, we erect a shelter, we cook our food under relatively primitive conditions. We eat a pine needle or two in our chili and call it seasoning. If a fleck of forest duff blows into my coffee cup in the morning I fish it out and keep on drinking.

We clean up after ourselves while paying attention to what needs to be done to keep bears honest (and alive). In short, for a few days we take care of ourselves with few barriers between us and the natural world. It’s sweaty and dirty and showers are hard to come by but we do profit.

You don’t need to go to the woods or the mountains to meditate, to get some perspective, but it is just so much easier to do it out there. At least it is for me.

When I leave home for these few days each year, the absence of distractions helps me to be mindful. I am ancient enough that I had my brand of ADD for thirty years before everybody knew there was such a thing. Robin can tell you that taking me out to lunch in a sports-bar sort of establishment is a bad idea. All those television screens going at once makes me crazy, and I don’t get back to full self-control until we’ve paid the bill and walked out. I may not even remember what I ate, and my shirtfront is occasionally covered with mustard.

But put me in the woods, and you can have my full attention. I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel everything. I am entirely present. The real trick? To be able to do that when I return home. When the student asked the venerable Zen Buddhist monk how to achieve enlightenment, his answer was: “Chop wood, carry water.” Meaning you can achieve peace in your life by doing everyday tasks and living everyday life, but doing it all mindfully.

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From The New Yorker

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On Wednesday I went to see my grandson, the ophthalmologist. No, he’s not really. My grandson, that is. He’s just that young. I had cataract surgery on the left eye a couple of years ago, but the right eye wasn’t bad enough to please the folks at Medicare. They have their criteria as to when they are willing to pay for surgical correction. Time passes and the cataract worsens and finally you qualify. For about six months now I haven’t enjoyed three-dimensional vision because the right lens is mostly clouded over. So today I gave all the right answers on the questionnaire and got on the schedule for surgery at the end of October.

The surgery should be pretty much a breeze … for me, that is. I don’t know how it is for the surgeon, because I see him only for a nanosecond and then somebody gives me something very nice to tumble me off to sleep. When I wake up this time I will see well out of both eyes, thank the nurses, and Robin will take me home. Piece of cake. A miracle of sorts, made possible entirely through technology.

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I moved my writing station to the front of our home this past week. It’s less private, but I do get to watch a different set of people moving around, some of them in their automobiles. You remember autos? Before electric vehicles came around, people actually depended on those smelly and noisy internal combustion engines which did so much harm to the environment.

To make things worse, they had no guidance systems, but were piloted solely through the skillset of the driver. Which varied so much that there were tens of thousands of citizens who were mowed down by their neighbors each year in horrific collisions of flesh and bone versus metal and plastic. Of course we still have the odd collision nowadays, when an onboard computer develops a glitch. Like last year when that semi-trailer plowed through a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and when the police approached the truck they found no one in the cab. Somehow its program had gone off and started the engine without any human input, and that was all she wrote.

At any rate, there are still a few of those things around here in Paradise, and since most of them are operated by senior citizens, be aware of that fact if you come to visit us and set your EV’s hazard control systems to “High Alert.”

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Are You Influenced?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers From Prison

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Finding

I woke Friday morning with the powerful scent of Mephitis mephitis in my nostrils. Somewhere out there during the night there had been an encounter, and this perfume on the air was left behind for us all to savor.

The aroma is an enduring one, and prompted two thoughts for me. The first is that I have read that skunk scent has been part of the recipe for exotic perfumes, at least in the past, because it lasted so long. This has been discovered by many errant husbands who returned home from a “night at the office” with a distinctly non-office bouquet about them. Any wife with a nose and half a grain of sense recognized this the instant the man walked in the door, and then wrote the rest of the story by herself.

The other was my own encounter with the skunk, in my living room, six years ago.

I’ve told the tale before, but have more perspective now, I think. Briefly, I was reading in my chair at four in the morning when a skunk wandered in through the pet door looking for the cat kibbles it could obviously smell. The creature came through the dining room and went around the corner into the guest bedroom where it began to loudly munch on what was in the cat dishes.

Ten minutes later, once it had eaten its fill, it retraced its steps and left the house, never to return.

All of this I watched from my chair, paralyzed by the thought that if I moved it might startle the animal, and I would be dealing with one of the more powerful fragrances in the world sprayed on the walls and furnishings of my own home sweet home. And what, I wondered to myself, does one do about that?

The skunk itself looked as big as a Great Dane when this happened, but I have since come to accept that this was probably not the case. Experience tells me that a Mephitis in one’s living room looks easily four times as large as an outdoor member of the species.

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We are presently watching a series called “A French Village,” which is about a village in France. Oh, you got that? Sorry.

It takes place during the Nazi occupation, in 1941. We are enjoying it, perhaps because it has a bit more subtlety than many such productions with WWII settings, which are more like jousts between monsters and angels.

Not that Nazism itself was anything but monstrous, but it’s likely that there were some German soldiers who were schlemiels like you and I but who were drafted and found themselves in the middle of a nightmare. There are a couple of those guys in this series. There are also French heroes in unlikely places, and collaborators who were venal as well as some who thought they were serving their countrymen the best way they could.

Like I said, more subtlety. It’s also not a stomach-churning torture-fest, for which we are grateful.

You will find the series on Hulu, if you’re interested. Subtitled.

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Okay, have I got an app for you. Avenza Maps. It’s like having a real GPS in your phone. You download maps to it, and from then on you don’t need an internet connection. It knows where you are.

Scads of the maps are free, as is the basic version of the app itself. If you can’t find a free one for the area you are going to, you can buy commercial versions, including those great National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps, to download.

Then you look on the map for a blue dot. When you move, the dot moves, and it keeps continuous track of where you are. Ot, at least where your phone is.

It’s a hoot! Friday Robin and I went hiking in new territory, and used a NatGeo map to find the trailhead and then to track our journey. Periodically I would check the map, especially at unmarked crossings, and we wandered valleys and hills and forests in terra incognita on the Uncompahgre Plateau for three hours and ended up exactly where we were supposed to be.

At the end our screen looked like the pic above, with the orange line showing our path.

If you are interested, read more at http://www.avenzamaps.com. It’s available for Android and iOS.

[I received no commission for this blurb. I tried, but had no success.]

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I am indebted to brother Bill for the link to this song. It is said to be John Prine’s last recording. Poet with guitar. Beautiful.

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Never Have I Ever …

We finished up the first season of Never Have I Ever, on Netflix, and get this – there were no bad people on the screen in this series. Not one. The parents weren’t unbelievably stupid and the teenagers weren’t unbearably smart. There were minority characters galore, but nobody made fun of them or resorted to stereotypes.

Sexuality is a big topic in this show. The main characters are adolescents, after all. But no one is exploiting or abusing anyone else. So is it a too-nice universe? Not to Robin and me. This is a light-hearted comedy, yet one that touches on many serious topics, including the death of a parent, expectations of mothers vs. those of daughters, coming out as gay, the confusion of being an adolescent, cross-cultural rough spots, et al.

It never preached at us, grossed us out, made us depressed, or patronized us. Pretty darn good for 2020.

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So far using Zoom has been refreshingly free from melodrama. Until Tuesday, that is. The service underwent a major update a couple of days ago, and friends Bill, Sid, and I bumped up against some significant confusion in our third shot at videoconferencing.

We finally gave it up for the day after a trying 45 minutes, and went back to our drawing boards to prepare for a future session. Too bad we didn’t have a video recording of what went on, it was a classic demonstration of three senior amigos doing their best to pry open the doors of the electronic age one more crack. And finding this face peering back at us.

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When I saw this photo on the CNN website this morning, I immediately knew I was going to steal it. It’s a full frontal of a cassowary. You know, that large flightless bird with the enormous claws on its feet? That highly dangerous feathered friend? The article went on to discuss interesting things about its feather structure, but it was the picture that nailed me.

It’s a mad, mad, mad gaze if there ever was one. Merciless. If you could choose what the last thing you’d ever see in this life would be, what image to carry with you into eternity, I doubt many would pick the cassowary’s face.

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I’m so confused. Somewhere in my past I received the instruction that one should place two spaces after a period and before the next sentence. My right thumb does that automatically. Double tap.

A few months ago I read an article that discussed the origins of that practice and its uselessness in modern writing. I ignored it, and kept on with what I’d always done. Double tap.

But now no less an expert on things typographic than Microsoft has decreed that if I do it while using their product, it will be flagged as an error. One space is all that any self-respecting writer should need, and there’s no need to continue with this nonsense, says the software giant. You must follow their lead if you want to avoid that squiggly correction line appearing on your page.

Regard the above three paragraphs. I’ve used two spaces on the first two, and a single space on the third. Which looks best?

I’m was going to stick with two. Squiggly lines be damned. A guy can only be pushed so far before a stand must be taken. Besides, we Macintosh people have always known that Microsoft was The Evil Empire, and instinctually avoid them whenever possible.

But then I ran across this graphic, strongly suggesting that I was not only wrong, but that I was a cliché.

I wonder if the rest of my day can be salvaged? Quite a setback, this is.

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