Stop Me If You’ve Heard This …

J: So glad to see you again, Ragnar. I treasure our little chats, they come around so seldom.

R: Well, being a disembodied spirit is not all fun and games. I’ve got lots of territory to cover.

J: There’s a great demand for your advice?

R: You better believe it.

J: Enlighten me.

R: The problem most people have is perspective. But when you can call on a man with centuries of experience, well, what can I say – it sharpens things up a bit.

J: As in?

R: All this fuss about January 6, 2021, for instance. The whole story just makes my axe-arm itch.

J: Yes?

R: The problem is with the lawyers dragging things out, you know

J: I do, indeed.

R: Back in Kattegat, where there were none of those, we would have had this all settled by January 7. It would have been clip-clop and the whole business would have been behind us. Then we could get back to pillaging as quickly as possible.

J: I see.

R: And for a Viking, pillaging is where it’s at, you know. We’re men of action, not farmers.

J: There is poor soil in Norway?

R: You bet. I’d rather have freezing salt water in my face for a week than scratch in the dirt for one hour.

J: I didn’t realize you felt that strongly about it. But could we get back to the January 6 proceedings? What would be your advice to the United States?

R: Clip-clop. And the sooner the better.

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I have almost reached maturity, and am of an age where I believe that I don’t have to make any accommodation to b.s. any longer. If I am at a public gathering and someone begins to spout nonsense, I grant myself carte blanche to get up and walk briskly to the door. If I see any in print, that page goes to the bottom of the birdcage.

These days it is hard to decide where in our fine country that the greatest amount of b.s. is being produced, but right up there hustling for the #1 slot has to be the state of Texas, which is presently trying to enshrine in law statements that should be a complete embarrassment. That providing evidence-based medical care to children with gender dysphoria is child abuse. The hearings are a circus, where the sputterings of clownish M.D.s with no experience or expertise in the field are being put up against the testimonies of doctors who are actually knowledgeable.

At some point in my long career I began to notice that many of my colleagues were dunces. Oh, they had made it through med school and residencies, but that can require little more than a good memory and a willingness to put in the time. Getting that M.D. degree does not at all guarantee that you are a thoughtful person. Many of these ignorant bozos are now testifying in Texas. There is no reason to give more weight to the utterances of such men and women than to those of somebody you find sleeping it off in an urban doorway. (A problem for M.D.’s especially is that if enough people listen to you, you begin to get the idea that what you have to say is important. Not just on subjects that you know something about, but on everything.)

Who knows how the mess in Texas will come out? It is one more instance of the anti-science and anti-knowledge campaigns that have become so popular on the political right being passed off as truth. It’s not really about the care of children. People are using the issue to press their claims that there are men and there are women and that’s that. No variations allowed. Unless Bobby and Sally have a regular old nuclear mommy and daddy it gives these people such a headache. To try to sort out trans from cis and gay from straight … well that’s just too much trouble.

I confess that I am unsure as to what is the very best way to raise an LGBTQ child. I am also unsure as to what is the very best way to raise a straight child. But in both instances, I have no confidence at all in the ability of a clot of politicians to inform me.

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The Story, by Brandi Carlile

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On the well-worn subject of bathroom confusion. Signs like this one that are popping up I find amusing, and perhaps say all there is to say. No matter who wanders into the restroom that I am using, as long as they don’t bother me they are welcome to the next stall. If they need paper because their dispenser is empty, I will help in any way that I can.

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Reading a fluff piece this morning, it was about a man who was described as a soccer player, entrepreneur, and influencer. It came as a sudden shock to me as I read it that I am so far out of the mainstream that I am no longer being influenced. By anyone.

I am basically a shoddily preserved version of my 1950s self. I’ve only changed my haircut, and that had to happen because the amount of scalp hair had thinned to where I was forced to do something different to avoid being snickered at as I passed.

And one absolutely hates being snickered at when one passes.

But here I am wearing the same styles of clothing, listening to the same sorts of music, using the same slang phrases that I did in high school.

Maybe I should be looking into some of the modern alternatives. Tighter pants … looser pants … higher or lower rise jeans … more bling … this scent or that … exploring the world of mascara … it’s exhausting to think about.

But, I ask myself, why bother? Who would even notice or care? To tell the truth, if I were to show up nude in the public square the shopkeepers would probably call animal control.

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to be locked into the 1950s after all. At least the parts like where Bill Doggett’s most famous composition was drifting over the hot asphalt of the streets of West St. Paul MN on summer evenings in 1956.

Honky Tonk Part 1, by Bill Doggett
Honky Tonk Part 2, by Bill Doggett

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OFFICIAL NOTICE

The Christmas Village is now up and running on the sofa table, which declares the holiday season open here at BaseCamp. At one point, several dwellings ago, we had around 30 buildings in the set. We’ve given most of them away as our living space has grown smaller, and are now down to the ones you see here.

There are going to be no further reductions. No mas. Even if we moved to a tiny home or a remodeled shipping container, we are bringing these with us.

To us it’s the small stuff of Christmas that we enjoy more and more each year. A little Christmas Village here, a pine garland there, bake a few cookies, you know the drill. No longer are we the prisoners of competitive home decoration, outlandish gift wrappings, and having to bake enough cookies and pastries for the regiment. It’s good riddance to all of that, as far as I’m concerned.

This is going to be an unusual Christmas, since we will actually have several guests over the holiday. On one day or another, we are hosting Ethan, Sian, Justin, Jenny, Kaia, and Leina. That will be lovely, but even when it’s just Robin and I, we happily sit ourselves down and talk over Christmases past with one another. Not only the ones we have shared, but all the way back as far as our individual memories can take us, way before we got together.

It never gets old for me. Of course part of that is because my memory has so many holes in it that I hear every story for the first time. When a friend says “Stop me if I’ve told you this one,” I never stop them. It’s all brand new.

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Being A Nobody

We’re having another of those wee small hours of the morning snowfalls as I write this. Poco came in a few moments ago with something he just had to talk about right then and he woke me up to discuss it. When I reached over to pet him, hoping he’d go back to sleep, my hand ran through wet fur which meant he’d already checked out the weather and found either rain or snow out there in the beyond. Grumbling to myself, I got up to check.

Pure white flakes, quietly dropping straight down through the beams from the porch light. Pretty mellow thing to see, even at one a.m. .

My most profound experiences with snow came when I lived in the UP of Michigan. Snowfalls there were gorgeous things, usually windless, and amazing to behold. The only drawback was that one snowfall could literally go on for days. That meant that even as you stared in wonder at how lovely weather could be, your delight was marred by knowing that someone (you) was going to eventually have to go out and dig pathways through that stuff in order to escape to the larger world.

It also meant that when you answered a three a.m. call and made a trip down the hill to the hospital you might not be able to get back home when you had dealt with the problem. Because the snowplows only went out in the morning … one time … and you were on your own after that until the next day. There weren’t enough dollars in the local treasuries to cover plowing snow all day long.

The most snow our family saw in the UP was the year that the record was broken. Three hundred and sixty inches that year. By February the only thing you could see from the windows of our one-story house was piled-up precipitation, front and back. Even our snow blower was overwhelmed … where do you blow it to when you are in a narrow canyon that is seven feet high?

But this morning I can watch without worry. When daylight comes I will scrape away the couple of inches that have fallen, the sun will melt away whatever I miss, and life will go on without all that drama.

These few photos below are not mine, but they do show something of the flavor of the area in winter. For some reason during those UP years, I never felt like taking pictures of the stuff. Probably hivernal depression.

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50 Words for Snow, by Kate Bush

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Granddaughter Elsa shared with me a couple of restaurant reviews to brighten my morning. She is well acquainted with my dry and occasionally twisted sense of humor, as well as my delight whenever I run across particularly heartwarming examples of human quirks and oddnesses. She found two restaurant reviews that dealt with the Cracker Barrel chain.

What is great about both of these is the sort of detail that you might expect in a review of a Michelin three-star establishment. Only here it is applied to a chain that has no stars at all.

I have always loved Cracker Barrel, even since I was a kid. I even happily worked there for several vears and in two different states. But since founder Sam Evans passed away they have been declining and this visit was better than some but still not up to the quality Cracker Barrel standards. I will start with the positive.

First our server was very nice and she kept my tea filled. My husband’s coffee was kept filled and warm as well. The biscuits were like delicious pillows. It’s been a while since I have had them that good. I liked that even after sitting on the table for awhile the gravy and grits didn’t turn thick like paste. Okay now for the not so good parts. When we first walked in even though they were not busy nor was the dining room full by any means but the hostess seemed to be moving in slow motion. We asked for a kids menu and were given 2 but no cravons.

Instead of seating making sure we had space were seated right next to another table which is fine if your busy not when you are half empty.

My bacon came out visibly burnt. The hash brown casserole which is one of my favorites was mushy and had no texture. The dining room was very cold especially for a rainy spring morning. The divider wall next to use didn’t look like it had been wiped down in quite awhile as seen in the photo included. I did not once see a manager enter the dining room.

robandmere

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I had the grilled rainbow trout with mashed potatoes, green beans, one corn meal muffin and one biscuit. I also had the peach cobbler for dessert with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Everything was delicious. The rainbow trout looked dry, but it was wasn’t. It was moist and perfectly seasoned. The mashed potatoes were also moist. And so were the green beans.

My peach cobbler was mainly several slices of warm peaches in a dessert bowl with a lot of peach juice, and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. There was very little crust. It was very good. The portion sizes of the meals at Cracker Barrel are small in comparison to what they use to be before the economy shut down due to COVID-19. And the prices of their meals have either stayed the same or increased. The price of my meal was $13.09. The price of my dessert was $3.99.

NM

My favorite line might be “the rainbow trout looked dry, but it wasn’t.” This observer most certainly has special fish powers.

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There are days when I rejoice that I am a nobody. A blessed state where absolutely nothing about my life would merit being made into a biopic. Today is one of those days.

Robin and I are watching The Dropout, a limited series streaming on Hulu. It deals with the saga of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, the company she founded. Pieces of this story have been in the news for several years, and she was recently sent off to prison for fraud.

Two thing about this series. I’ve never thought much about Amanda Seyfried as an actress. I just didn’t see what was there. But in this series she displays some serious acting skills, as well as something you don’t find every day – a beautiful woman willing to appear haggard and harrowed for long periods of time.

The other thing is the part that makes me rejoice this morning. If someone made such a film about me, and took the dramatic liberties with my story that must have been taken to create this series, it would drive me mad.

My anal-compulsive nature would rise up until it overwhelmed the fragile behavioral cobweb that I call my sanity. Watching the movie I would be muttering continuously “No, I never said that,” or “That never happened,” or “Yes, I said that but meant something entirely different from the context here.” In short, I would have a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, just like Alexander in the children’s book.

So I can sympathize a bit with Ms. Holmes. Not only does she have to go to jail, but there is this to deal with. Maybe she’s lucky and doesn’t have television viewing privileges where she’s incarcerated. I’ll wish that for her.

Phone Call From Leavenworth, by Chris Whitley

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Got Them Ol’ Tryptophan Blues

Friday Morning, Two A.M.

I am writing this post from flat on my back on Cot 137 in the Gastric Recovery Unit at Durango General Hospital. It is the place where those who are suffering from eating way more food on Thanksgiving Day than the human stomach was meant to hold are sent. Think of it as hospice for gluttons. You are assigned to a cot, rolled into some sort of gymnasium, and left to either get better or perish. The ER staff could really, I mean really, care less. They are having their own problems with that rarest of medical syndromes, pumpkin-spice burnout.

From my cot I can see the dim outlines of my gymnasium-mates stretching on for a hundred yards, and we are a pathetic sight. I feel sorriest for the kids, the young ‘uns who are here for the first time. Bewildered, disoriented, and wearing what they ate for dinner, many of them are crying out: “Mama, Mama, I didn’t mean it! I didn’t even like their pie, I don’t know what got into me. Please, Mama … come and take me home.”

For myself, this is not my first rodeo. I’ve seen it all, believe me. Today marks my 64th tour. They don’t tell you at the recruitment centers about scenes like this. No one would ever sign up. We all like to think of ourselves as tough and above this sort of behavior, and then somebody … someone who you used to think of as a friend … slides you a slice of pumpkin pie the size of a trashcan lid and in you go, knives and forks blazing. Next thing you know, you wake up in a place like this.

It’s brutal, it’s disgusting, it’s nearly unbelievable. But it is life in the gustatory trenches, and we’re better off facing the truth, I think. Excuse me, they are passing the antacid tray, I’ll catch you later.

Poor, Poor Pitiful Me, by Warren Zevon

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From The New Yorker

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This morning I read an article about the state of the art in driverless trucks. With all the fuss in recent years about autonomous automobiles cruising around the country and occasionally running into harmless citizens I had never thought about a driverless Kenworth or Mack. How could I have missed these stories?

It gave me a chill.

It all started long ago with a short story* by Stephen King entitled “Trucks,” where a group of people are terrorized by evil semi-trucks operating by themselves. Ever since then, any mention of an 18-wheeler on the road without anyone visible in the driver’s seat is an automatic nightmare for me. There was a film made from this story back in the 1980s which was called “Maximum Overdrive.” I did see the movie (one so poorly done that Stephen King apologized to Emilio Estevez for directing him in it), but it was the original story which is a permanent implant in that pudding between my ears.

Imagine for a moment that you are seeing this in your rear-view mirror. Imagine that you have just realized that they are purposefully threatening you. Imagine that when the sun is just right that you see that there is no one at the wheel. Imagine that it is dark out.

Now go have your own nightmares.

So I am not kidding when I say that if it takes another twenty years to get these self-driving monsters on the road, that will be just fine with me, thank you very much. By that time I would hope that those I love have wrenched the car keys from my withered grasp and I am off the roads for good. I care not a whit how much commercial sense driverless trucks might make.

And BTW – when all of us are replaced at our jobs by robots and computer programs, who will buy the crap that the machines are making and the trucks are hauling? Moneyless people?

* The story is in the book Night Shift, King’s first published collection of short stories.

**

Below is a graphic from an advertisement for the movie, Maximum Overdrive. Perhaps you can get the feeling for why reading the short story might be a better use of your time.

Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man, by The Byrds

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Last evening I spent an hour talking with a friend who is a devotee of Quentin Tarantino and of his movies. At the end of it all I felt like the small child in the fable who says “… but the Emperor has no clothes on.”

As far as I can see this director made one or two movies that were interesting in a way (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), but even they were marred by an obvious adolescent infatuation of the director with gore, torture, and rampant profanity. The next seven are copies of the first two in those same regards. It was blood for the sake of blood and the N-word for the sake of saying the N-word, along with f-bombs for those moments when he couldn’t come up with something more original. And this means a ton of f-bombs in each film.

Not one of his movies has a heart or a moral sense, which makes them little more than repetitious and uninteresting splatterfests. But, like I said, maybe it’s just me, and Tarantino really is wearing those beautiful robes that get so much print notice. But all I see is this middle-aged schlockmeister in the buff.

Wait … there’s at least one more of us who feels this way, the other being the author of a piece in the National Review entitled: “Quentin Tarantino is the Most Overrated Director in Hollywood.”

Recently Tarantino announced that he will be making only one more movie, and then he is going to quit. The choruses of “Oh Dear God, Quentin, say it isn’t so,”are making entertainment news these days. His fans wonder why … why?

I’m going to make a guess, and this is probably not the case, but I can imagine him waking up one morning last month, looking in the mirror and saying to himself : “Wait a minute! I just realized that I have spent my whole creative life making dreck! Well, it’s off to the monastery for me! I need to do some serious penance and to beg the forgiveness of the moviegoing public.”

Like I said, probably not the case.

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From The New Yorker

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I came home from the gym feeling decidedly overweight and unfit. Mocking myself, I turned to Robin with my arms akimbo and said: “What you may not realize is that beneath this jiggly layer is the body of a Greek God!”

Without missing a beat or cracking a smile she said: “I know that. I’ve always thought so.”

How many times can a guy be smitten?

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Gracias Por Todo

Doppelgänger
noun
a ghostly double or counterpart of a living person.

Dictionary.com

I think that I found my doppelgänger in today’s Sunday New York Times, and it is the actor Charlie Hunnam. I don’t usually read articles about celebrities, but something drew me to this one.

The first thing you might notice is the obvious physical resemblance … chiseled body … devilish good looks … but here is a list of some other things he and I have in common:

  • Favorites in music include Tom Waits, Van Morrison, and Leonard Cohen
  • Loved the book Shantaram
  • Appalled by the nature of modern journalism
  • Thinks that Apple dropping the iPod from its line was a serious mistake
  • Admires Joseph Campbell and his writings
  • Prefers being out in the natural world to urban settings
  • Appreciates the virtues of cats

You can see why I might have been mildly stunned to learn all this at once. What with all those similarities, I can only hope that he doesn’t move to Colorado. People would be confusing us all the time.

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As we watch (unable to avoid it) the Twitter debacle, keep in mind that the man in the picture is the same guy whose company puts out the Tesla automobile and who wants a select few to accompany him to the planet Mars.

The car, perhaps. The Mars trip, fageddaboudid. Too small a craft to share it with just anyone.

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Life’s Been Good, by Joe Walsh

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A Dick Guindon cartoon. It’s a Minnesota thing.

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Tomorrow is our only national holiday devoted to eating too much. Oh, there will be lip service paid to gratitude said at tables around the country, but we’re really there to stuff ourselves, aren’t we?

Hey, could you please send the turkey down this way … please?

Maybe that’s exactly how it should be. Someone like myself doesn’t respond well to being told how they should feel on just one day in November. What I need would be a smartphone app that pops up every day and says: Here’s a reason to be appreciative, you ungrateful bozo!

Would someone wake up Dad, he’s face down in the gravy boat

I’m not going to reveal my personal gratitude list, it is way too long for casual perusal. And actually, it’s not important that you read it, but it is essential that I am aware of what’s on there.

You’re kidding. We’re already out of whipped cream? Who can eat pumpkin pie without whipped cream?

Why? For one thing, to cut down on my whiny days, when I go off wishing I had more stuff, or more people liked me, or that I was taller, or that I wasn’t so creaky in the mornings. I can tell by the expressions on the faces of my disappointed listeners that my whinges are often too petty to be believed.

Does anybody hear us? We need the stuffing here. Don’t make me come over there!

I can only speak for myself, but I believe that there has never been a day that there wasn’t something that I should have/could have been grateful for, even if it was just the strength to get through a rough patch.

Look out, will you? I’ll never get that cranberry stain off this shirt. Oaf!

So thanks to all of you for your gifts to me. If I can’t pay you back directly, I do promise to pay it forward.

Everybody look at the camera … George, have a care, there’s broccoli all over your teeth … Josh, sit still or I’ll have to slap you … seriously, are those the best smiles you have? … whose feral child is this, for god’s sake? … here we go … eyes all open now … CHEESE!

Thanks For The Dance, by Leonard Cohen

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From The New Yorker

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How about a dose of pure delight. Sharing the joy of a couple of scientists in the New Guinea bush who found the bird they were looking for . The video tells its own story.

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(It is not a simple thing to find a short prayer of thanksgiving on the internet. So many of them go on and on, stanza after stanza. But I did find one that seemed modest and humble. There was no author listed.)

*

All that we have is a gift.
May we be thankful.
May we celebrate.
May we share.

*

Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin) by Sly and the Family Stone

M. S. F.

(I am pretty sure that I am repeating myself with this post, but no matter … I will boldly go where I have gone before).

Now this will definitely give some of you a chill, but I actually used to teach medical students. In fact, I did so at some level during my entire time in the trenches. During my last few working years, I was heavily involved in the pediatric junior clerkship at the USD School of Medicine, where every eight weeks or so a group of innocents were ushered into my presence, and then from on high I would pass along one imperishable dictum after another, some of which I had made up only that morning.

There was, however, one story that I told nearly every group, and it involved a recitation of the first few lines of the poem by Rumi, “Cry Out In Your Weakness.”

A dragon was pulling a bear into its terrible mouth.
A courageous man went and rescued the bear.
There are such helpers in the world,
who rush to save anyone who cries out.
Like Mercy itself, they run toward the screaming.

Rumi: Cry Out In Your Weakness

I would tell the students that since they had deliberately chosen to be among the helpers who run toward the screaming, that they could give themselves a pat on the back for making that choice. That the best of them would spend their careers running to help those who were bleeding, vomiting, seizing, or losing it in ten thousand other creative ways. Events that many people might cross the street to avoid.

(Of course, not all physicians are noble souls, but in my lecturing I was addressing the better angels of the students’ natures).

There is one entire group of physicians that I have long admired greatly, those working in Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). These folks not only run forward to try to save the bear, but they go right into the dragon’s mouth to do it. In my tiny way I have supported this organization ever since I first became aware of its existence. Whenever money became available for charitable donations, MSF was at the top of my list of good places to send that dinero along.

Where does MSF do their good works? In more than 70 countries, as this 2021 graphic shows. If you are curious to learn more about them, clicking on this link to their website may be of help.

If you look closely at the graphic you will see that there are no MSF clinics or outposts here in Paradise. Of course not. This is Paradise.

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We all know that the human population world is divided into two major groups, and those are morning people and evening people. I have always been in the former group. I personally think that this is the better of the two, but if you were to poll my own children, you might get different results. When they were growing up and too young to defend themselves, all four of them were evening people. To hear them tell it, living with me was therefore by definition a form of Hell.

One day one of my daughters let me know that having to answer such probing questions as How’s school? How are things going? What are you doing today? before breakfast was just too much to ask. Hunched over her beverage she looked up at me and said: Dad … get a life.

During her last two years in high school, I had admired what seemed to be another daughter’s industriousness. She would rise early, get herself dressed, and be off to school often even before I took my place seated at the kitchen counter. But years later I learned that she did this to avoid having to encounter me in my role as Mr. Smileyface, waiting like a garrulous spider at the center of my web.

Since then I have learned to temper my approach to the early hours of the day. I am no longer annoyingly exuberant, but quietly composed. Inside, however, I am churning with all sorts of cringe-inducing salutations and subjects that just have to be explored right this minute. If you ever stay overnight with us, be careful what you say to me anywhere near the coffeepot at dawn. I am easily triggered.

One More Cup of Coffee, by Bob Dylan

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Former president Cluck has surprised … no one … with his announcement that he is once again a candidate for our highest office. On Tuesday he spit out a mouthful of embalming fluid and spoke at an event where he shared the astounding and completely unexpected news with a number of his followers.

Now those among us who still have some of our critical faculties in working order realize that this man’s previous performance as POTUS should disqualify him from running for anything but commissioner of cucarachas. But we live in a time where a narcissistic huckster can hijack a major political party. However, it was that same party of political masochists who opened the door and invited him to come in and beat them up … please. A party that now can’t get him to gather his cronies and thugs and go home. Cluck is one of those bad companions that their mothers warned them about.

I have little sympathy for the Red Party in all this. They collectively forgot what their job descriptions were. Something to do with supporting the Constitution and serving their country, I think it was.

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One afternoon, after an exhausting session of trying to chew gum and walk which ended up with my going in circles in my own garage, I resolved to answer once and for all – do I have any chance of acquiring multitasking abilities? Because up until this time I have been a consistent failure at doing what many others seem to take for granted.

So I sent away a blood sample, specifically asking: Do I have any genetic material that would suggest that multitasking is something that I might learn, given enough time?

The answer came back almost indecently swiftly: NO. In fact, Mr. Flom, you have almost no such material at all. This is quite amazing, with your levels being about the same as the average axolotl, an amphibian so dim that it never learns to breathe on land.”

“In fact, we at the laboratory were wondering how you managed to type the letter accompanying your sample. Did you have help? Are you quite recovered from the effort it must have been for you?”

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I prepared a lengthy reply to the sarcasm that was so obvious in the lab report, but while walking to the mailbox to post it I forgot what I was there to do, and so the envelope remained in my rear pants pocket until it had gone through the wash. At that point I abandoned the whole project.

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And finally, if you have the sneaking suspicion that your doctor is ruder these days, you might be (gasp, cough, choke) correct. Medscape performs an online survey where they ask physicians if they have witnessed certain behaviors in their colleagues, and this year there was a small uptick. Here are the numbers from this years’s survey.

(Now keep in mind that the numbers below do not mean, for example, that 86% of physicians were bullies, but that 86% of physicians surveyed reported seeing such behavior during the year.)

  • 86% Bullying or harassing staff
  • 84% Making fun of patients
  • 55% Using racist language
  • 44% Being physically aggressive with patients
  • 43% Inebriation at work
  • 34% Lying about credentials
  • 30% Trying to date a patient
  • 27% Embezzling or stealing

When I looked over the list I thought back over my own professional lifetime and realized that I had seen all of these but embezzlement. In fact, when I was working in northern Michigan there was a situation where a small-town doctor was unmasked as an impostor. He had never gone to medical school at all, but had falsified the documents he was asked to produce. He had been working in this community for nearly ten years when he was exposed.

The most interesting part of the story was that while the medical societies and the legal authorities were going about prosecuting the man, the town itself wanted him back. They thought he was doing a terrific job. They went so far as to present a petition asking for his release and allowing him to return to the community.

Apparently a good bedside manner goes a long way. Sadly for the village, their petition was denied.

Vaseline Machine Gun, by Leo Kottke

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A Word From Betty Crocker

I don’t know how many of you know the song Miss Otis Regrets. It is a tune about a lady who last evening down in lovers lane she strayed. When she woke up and found that her dream of love was gone she decided to take things into her own hands. She ran to the man who had led her so far astray and from under her velvet gown she drew a gun and shot her lover down.

Later a mob came and took her and dragged her from the jail only to string her up on that old willow across the way. Being a woman of gentle birth and elevated social standing, the moment before she died, she lifted up her lovely head and cried, Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.

It’s a durable song, composed by Cole Porter in 1934. Its exact origins are a bit obscure, and the curious among you can read varying accounts of how it came to be written here.

There are scads of covers available, but the one I chose for you is by an Englishman, Lonnie Donnegan. I’ve been a fan of his since 1957, when he brought out an album entitled An Englishman Sings American Folk Songs. I literally wore that record out.

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Miss Otis Regrets, by Lonnie Donnegan

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From The New Yorker

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Just yesterday, while I was out puttering in the garage, I heard a large flock of sandhill cranes flying over, making their dinosaur noises. They were so high that I could only see them when the sun reflecting from their bodies was just right. ‘Tis always a wonder to see and to hear them, even at such distances.

Sandhill Cranes flying by

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Last night we had a baked potatoes with our supper. Those with the requisite flaky insides and an outer skin so crispy and leathery that you could make handbags out of them. They were great. The reason for that success was that I finally gave up on decades of trying to divine how to do it properly, and followed a recipe. That simple. Truly a “doh” moment.

But while I was blissfully chewing away my brain chose to remind me that this was how all of the baked potatoes were served in my family of origin. Mom was not a gourmet cook, but she was a good cook. Everything she made tasted delicious, even if it did not break any new ground in the kitchen.

Her mainstay was the Betty Crocker cookbook, a looseleaf contraption in a ring binder with traces of food and/or vegetable oil on nearly every page.

My spice rack contains perhaps sixty little bottles of herbs and seasonings, but Mom did what she did with a much smaller armamentarium, less than a quarter of that. Condiments included ketchup, mustard, Heinz 57, A-1, and soy sauce. No gochujang, no tamari, no duck sauce, no hot sauce of any stripe, no chili-garlic sauce, no oyster sauce … you get the picture.

One of the reasons that so few seasonings worked that casserole recipes don’t generally call for much more than salt and pepper. And it was the casserole section of the cookbook that took the brunt of the wear, while the “how to cook the juiciest tenderloin” section was still pristine when she retired from cooking.

When you are feeding a very hungry family on a very limited budget, the casserole comes in awfully handy. There were mushroom casseroles, tuna casseroles, hamburger casseroles, salmon casseroles, SPAM casseroles, chicken casseroles, mac n’ cheese casseroles … the list has no end, being the product of whatever was in the refrigerator and how many cans of cream of mushroom soup were available.

And when we went out to eat (basically in Lutheran church basements rather than restaurants) there would be new casseroles galore to choose from. When my own children were small, I didn’t do much of the cooking, but I distinctly remember making a liver casserole one day that nobody would try. The five of them refused to even consider it as food. The dog and I were fine with it, although we did not take seconds.

So being one of the two cooks in my present family, I have a new appreciation for what Mom did with so much less than I have to work with. More respect.

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From The New Yorker

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Poco (cat) and I (human) are age-mates as well as old compañeros. Next year we will be exactly the same age, according to the calendar on the Purina website. Even though our lineage and DNA profiles are quite different, it seems we share more and more of life’s pleasures as time passes.

For one thing we are both increasingly scruffy with the passage of each new year. Our fur has become finer and can’t be brushed to anything close to the luster of the past. It also has developed the unfortunate habit of sticking out in directions that are completely uncalled for.

We both often walk into a room and then stop stock-still, knowing that we came in there for a reason but no longer having a clue as to what that was. At that point we invent something else to do now that we’ve made the trip. This strategy works pretty well except on the occasions when we have walked ourselves into a closet.

We both like very much to lie about in warm spots in the house, especially now that the colder weather has set in. The south-facing windows let in way enough sunshine for the two of us, making squabbling and competition unnecessary.

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Sometimes when Poco looks directly at me he seems startled, with wide eyes and dilated pupils. I was putting this off onto being a symptom of feline dementia when it occurred to me that there was another possible explanation. He could be thinking to himself: “… and I am dependent on this guy for food and shelter? May the saints preserve us!”

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How ’bout one more cut from An Englishman Sings American Folk Songs? For those who still think of themselves romantically as ramblers (although they might have forgotten how they used to do pull that off).

I’m A Ramblin’ Man, by Lonnie Donnegan

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Talking Heads

To anyone who is bewildered by the hyper-nationalism, anti-immigrant stances, and vicious sexual politics of our present-day ultra right-wing politicians, I have a suggestion.

There is a book by William L. Shiner that was published in 1960 and is entitled The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Now before you go all nubba on me with cries of “There he goes with the Nazi comparisons again,” that is not what I am saying at all. What I am saying is that the book details excellent examples of what political extremists of all stripes routinely do to get and retain power.

Their programs are completely predictable. You can almost write their speeches for them.

  • Find a group to demonize, and blame them for whatever serves your purpose (Jews, people of any color but white, gays, immigrants, etc.)
  • Attack the media as a pack of dishonest and unpatriotic jackals
  • Tell one lie after another until the public gets so confused they can no longer tie their own shoes
  • Claim that Armageddon will be here before we know it unless we elect their candidates
  • Enlist the aid of aimless knots of sociopaths to beat up opponents when all else fails
  • Wrap yourself in the flag and religion whenever possible; and for good measure always refer to your opponents as traitors, pedophiles, or pedophilic traitors

Shirer focusses on what happened in Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s , but this process has been repeated all around the globe for seemingly forever. It is always the same story. And while it may work for a while eventually this house of cards tumbles, often to be followed by yet another house of cards from the other side of the political spectrum.

It is up to us ordinary folk to keep our heads when those “leading” us seem to be losing their minds. To realize that the extreme wings of any of our political parties are really never on anyone’s side but their own. It is in the boring middle ground, the unexciting centrist wad, where the important but unsensational work of true governance gets done.

Shirer was not a historian but a newspaperman. What this means is that the book is readable and rarely drags. It is amply annotated and referenced, and even though it is now a 62 year-old publication, it gives truth to the words of the song telling us that “everything old is new again.”

Everything Old Is New Again, by Peter Allen

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From The New Yorker

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I am doing a small amount of indoor painting. I put it off for as long as possible, but when I finally found Robin packing her bags to go look for a husband who was more responsive to our home’s needs, I relented.

I submit that this is a classic case of misdirection of resources. At the art of house painting I am awkward, distractible, and just the littlest bit untidy. I can without batting an eye cause dripless paint to drip. On the other hand, I excel at supervising others who are doing the work for me.

Me: look over there in the corner, I think a bit more paint is called for

Painter: Why, yes, thank you for pointing that out

Me: And have a care there, but you almost dripped on the carpet

Painter: Please pardon my almost-carelessness, I will be even more careful, if that is possible

Me: Is that quite the proper brush to use with latex paint? I thought something in a synthetic bristle was called for to avoid those ugly stroke marks

Painter: Do you see this brush in my hand? Not only is it perfect for using with this material, but it is also good for stuffing into gaping apertures, if you get my meaning.

Me: Taking umbrage, are we? You know that you are not the only contractor in town. Many others would be happy for the chance to do this job

Painter: Could you please retrieve my estimate for this work? That’s the ticket. Now would you cross out the final total, and write in a new one that is 50% higher? That is what I am adding on for all this help you are providing. And I advise you to take care … it could go much higher.

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From The New Yorker

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A tale of a father and a son, containing two tragedies and two memorable songs.

Tim Buckley was a talented singer/songwriter who had many failings, one being that he was not much of a family man. He left his first wife shortly before the birth of his son Jeff, and had very little contact with the boy after that. When Jeff was 8 years old his father died of a heroin and alcohol overdose. Along the way Tim may have recognized some of his shortcomings when he wrote the song I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, which referred to his first wife and his son.

I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, by Tim Buckley

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Jeff Buckley also grew up to become a musician and a singer/songwriter and went on to have a distinguished career of his own in music, releasing his first album in 1994, which was entitled Grace.

Grace won appreciation from a host of revered musicians and artists, including members of Buckley’s biggest influence, Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page considered Grace close to being his “favorite album of the decade”. Robert Plant was also complimentary, as was Brad Pitt, saying of Buckley’s work, “There’s an undercurrent to his music, there’s something you can’t pinpoint. Like the best of films, or the best of art, there’s something going on underneath, and there’s a truth there. And I find his stuff absolutely haunting. It just … it’s under my skin.” Others who had influenced Buckley’s music lauded him:  Bob Dylan named Buckley “one of the great songwriters of this decade”,  and, in an interview with The Village Voice, David Bowie named Grace as one of 10 albums he’d bring with him to a desert island.

Wikipedia: Jeff Buckley

One of the cuts on Grace was a cover of a Leonard Cohen song, Hallelujah.

 His rendition of “Hallelujah” has been called “Buckley’s best” and “one of the great songs”  by Time, and is included on Happy Mag’s list of “The 10 Best Covers Of All Time”,  and Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

Wikipedia: Jeff Buckley
Hallelujah, by Jeff Buckley

In 1997 Jeff went night swimming in the Mississippi River near Memphis when he was caught up in the wake of a tugboat. He was swept out into the river channel and drowned, dying at the age of 31 years. His father, Tim, had passed away at the age of 28 years.

Two young men gone too soon. Two fine performances left to remember them by.

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It turns out that democracy did not come apart at the seams during this past election. The galloping herd of people who get paid to talk about things have now veered off toward shouting that the Republicans are so despairing that they might be willing to accept a replacement blowhard named de Santis as their standard-bearer.

There is way too much breathlessness in all of this.

I can begin to understand what a problem it is to come up with fresh stuff while serving the 24 hour news gods. I get it. For instance, if I were a newsworthy individual, my chores yesterday might have sounded like this on CNN:

Alan: Well, it has all come down to this moment. Jon has opened the paint can, assembled his tools, and masked off the areas he wants to protect. It looks like we’re finally going to get some movement on this project. What do you think, Buffy?

Buffy: Alan, we’ve all been here before, haven’t we? Remember only this past June when he promised to shore up those uprights in the backyard fence and then quietly put everything away and we haven’t heard from him since? Well, until he actually puts the brush to the wall, it could go either way.

Spencer: Let me jump in here for a second, if you will permit me. We may be missing the larger picture here. Have you looked at the color of the paint? It’s white all over again. Even when he’s done, it will be nothing more revolutionary than white on white. The rest of the world seems to think that mauve’s time has come, and yet this guy still doesn’t get it, does he? His color palette is firmly stuck in the 90s.

Buffy: I couldn’t agree with you more, Spencer. Time has definitely passed him by. Back to you, Alan.

Alan: Will you look at that … while we were talking he put way too much paint on the brush and now there’s a gob on the floor. What’s he going to do about this? Does he even notice?

Spencer: He seems to be oblivious to the facts on the ground, Alan. This paint dries so quickly that he might now have a major clean-up job staring him in the face. Only time will tell.

Buffy: Look at that! He forgot himself and scratched an itch without thinking, and now there’s paint in his hair! I can’t watch … could somebody please help him? Somebody?

Ad nauseam.

One of the things that older citizens like myself miss about the news reporting we experienced in “the good old days” was the dearth of drama queens among the newscasters themselves. Walter Cronkite, who was once described as “the most trusted man in America,” had a style of reporting that was like having your uncle sitting in that chair by the window look up from reading his newspaper to tell you something, then going back to reading his paper.

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Flames did not shoot from his ears, he did not shove his microphone into the face of whoever he was interviewing, and Walter had obviously never taken a single acting class in his life so that was almost no Dramatic Posturing to be seen anywhere.

To me the shift came when the Tom Brokaws and the Dan Rathers of the news world began to think that their opinions were what we had tuned in for. They were much like the Kardashians of their time, where developing their personal brand was what it was really all about.

Empty suits and talking heads. Lord, have mercy.

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I Swoon, Therefore I Am

This past weekend we spent on a quick visit to Durango to catch grandson Aiden in his high school’s performance of the musical “Anastasia.” It is a reworking of that durable romantic notion that somehow one person survived the massacre of the Romanov family in 1918. It’s been pretty conclusively proven that no one did survive, so we can be done with that now, I hope. Even the Russian Communists finally admitted to the slaughter, although apparently there is still some finger-pointing going on as to who was ultimately to blame in the whole nasty episode.

But the show was thoroughly enjoyable.

We chose to take the less hazardous route to Durango, passing through the towns of Rico, Dolores, and Mancos. Lovely drive … all canyons and mountains and clearwater streams … and the wildlife sighting was also very good en route. The roadkill sighting, while considerably less inspirational, included a cow.

But it was the Steller’s Jay which stole the show. We saw them everywhere. A beautiful bird, flashing an iridescent blue in the sunshine as they flew by.

These creatures are not rare, but we saw sooo many on this trip, almost to the exclusion of other bird species.

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Watched the Netflix production of All Quiet On The Western Front last night. Since it was a story taking place in the trenches of World War I, it was grim and bloody, with no happy ending for anyone. But as a film, it is that well done.

Way way back in the mists of time my Grandfather Jacobson took a small boy (moi) to the movies at the Time Theater in Kenyon MN. Going to movies with him was not a common occurrence, and making it even more rare was that Grandma Jacobson went along. Afterward I remember her talking about the last movie that she’d attended before that night, and it was the original production of All Quiet On The Western Front. She shook her head in telling her story, saying that the film had not been quiet at all.

Later when I was a college freshman I found a used copy of the book by Erich Maria Remarque that had been the basis for the film. It impressed me enough that I sought and found a used copy of another of his books, Three Comrades.

I should mention here that although both books had a strong effect on me, I was at a supremely impressionable stage of life, and could often be brought to epiphanies by the Burma-Shave signs along the highways of Minnesota. Also, I read these two books at a time when I was supposed to be reading about chicken raising and other sorts of animal husbandry, which no doubt contributed to my washing out of pre-veterinary medicine school.

But if you want to take a long good look at the glories of war, this is an excellent way to do it. I don’t know how we keep forgetting the madness that war really is. The flags fly, the martial music plays, the old men come out and clap on the back the young people whose bodies and minds are about to be sacrificed. One solution is offered in this clip from the original version of All Quiet … , from 1930.

War always represents abject failure. Failure of diplomacy and failure of memory. Failure to realize how small and crowded our planet is, how intertwined our lives are with those of people ten thousands of miles away who we have never met and never will. Mankind to date has operated on the principle that if I want something and you have it I must take it from you, no matter the cost. In this system, there have to be winners and losers.

There is a different game to be played, one where we all win. Recognizing that our personal best future lies in that world where all boats rise. It sounds trite and soft and not martial at all. But we’ve been doing the alternative for all of our existence and the suffering never stops. What’s to lose by trying something new?

War, by Edwin Starr

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Earlier this week Mimi Parker passed away. She was drummer and vocalist with the unique rock group Low. They made slow and thoughtful music by lowering tempos and egos. I was introduced to Low’s music several years ago by daughter Kari and became an instant fan. At certain moments in life, it is just the thing.

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Here are three of their songs, featuring the vocals of Ms. Parker.

Especially Me, by Low
To Our Knees, by Low
Laser Beam, by Low

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It is only relatively recently that I realized how many people are out there who can be told the earth is flat and whose response is “Everyone knows that.” If you had told me this before the 2016 election I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have probably laid it off to a streak of pessimism that I hadn’t noticed in you previously.

But here we are in some version of la-la land where half the folks out there on our streets actively seek out nonsense to use as their credo. It appears that you can tell them almost anything you want as long as it isn’t true and they will clap and ask for more. In fact, the more preposterous, the better.

  • Landing on the moon was faked? Everyone knows that.
  • Democrats have a chain of pedophilic pizza parlors? Everyone knows that.
  • An entire election involving more than 100 million people was stolen, in an age where an amorous couple can’t even have a proper affair in a rented shed without the world finding out about it? Everyone knows that.

There are moments when I quite get a case of the vapors thinking about this situation. At such times I look ’round me and honestly, can you ever find a fainting couch when you need it?

I haven’t a single friend or acquaintance who owns one. Even as vaporous a man as myself has no such couch in their home. One has to lie on a futon, or a sofa, or some other make-do piece of furniture whenever a swoon is in the offing.

I’m pretty sure that it is all a plot. That there is a cabal of right-wing furniture makers in North Carolina who decided that the way to sap the strength of the political left is to sell them futons impregnated with hormones that weaken their resolve and cause them to lose the ability to balance their checkbooks and make other important decisions. So when you go shopping for living room furnishings be sure to check the tag. On safe sofas they contain the secret symbol.

I know that this sounds far-fetched, but “Q” told me himself that it was all true just the other day. And if you can’t trust “Q,” well, I just don’t know.

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Time

We’re coming up on that moment that arrives with great precision each year … the end of daylight savings time. We did our “spring ahead” thing last March, and now we get our reward … the hour that we lost is returned to us. This means that I will be an hour early for any appointment that I have on the days of November 6-7, since it usually takes me two days to get it together.

During the years that immediately followed my divorce, a time when I clearly couldn’t blame anyone else for snafus in my scheduling, there were two events which transpired each year. The first occurred on a Sunday in March when I would arrive at church just in time to see everyone else leaving. And the second event was in November when I would arrive at the same place on yet another Sunday and find the door locked because nobody else would be coming for another hour. I never got it squared away.

This two-act farce only ended when I stopped going to church. Maybe I’ll be oriented to time when I awaken on November 6, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Time, by Tom Waits

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Possible ER Scenario on November 6

Mr. Flom, you’ve had a nasty bump on your head and I’d like to ask you a few questions, if that would be okay?

Sure, go ahead.

Do you know what time it is?

Haven’t a clue. Next question.

Do you know what day it is?

Let’s see, hmmmmmm … feels like a Tuesday

The month?

It comes after Halloween, I know that.

Do you know who’s president of the United States?

I know who isn’t, and that’s Donald Cluck. Good enough?

Do you know who and where you are?

Now we’re getting somewhere. Which of us, and I ask you this sincerely, really knows the answer to that question?

Nurse, I think we’re going to admit Mr. Flom for observation. And could you arrange for a room with a lockable door until psychiatry has a chance to look him over?

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From The New Yorker

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Robin had a birthday this past Thursday, on a cold and rainy day, which is nothing special for November, I’m afraid. We were supposed to have traveled on that day to Durango, to attend a performance of a musical that Aiden acts and sings in. But the weather (sleet and heavy snow at altitudes) brought out the latent chicken in us and we remained at home.

I think that at some point in their lives, if a person’s birthday falls in a chilly and transitional month like November, they should be allowed to choose a new date. Perhaps something of the May, June, or July variety. The new birthdate wouldn’t have any legal bearing, of course, changing that would be … is impossible the right word here?

But we could call it a new social birthday without too much fuss, eh? An email to friends and family and it’s a done deal. This would also help out those friends and family, because it would open up new choices for gifting. For instance, if I wanted to give Robin a new pair of sandals let’s face it, November is a lousy time to do it. The things would sit in a closet until all the sleet had melted away in March or April, and by then some of their special-ness would have worn off for certain.

This exact thing happened this year. Robin had wanted a new non-electric bicycle, so we found an excellent one available locally, and her conditions were that this would be her birthday gift for 2022. I think that she was able to ride it only three times, and now it is stored away in the corner of the garage until Spring.

But if her social birthday had been in June … if I have any point at all, have I made it?

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot

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This past week I had the unusual experience of having a new problem solving an old one. A local group is collecting warm clothing to be sent to Ukraine, where the coming winter promises much hardship. The sponsors requested no cotton garments, but only those made of wool (personally I think that they should have added fleece garments, which are almost as warm, easier to keep clean, and dry much faster when wet, but, hey, it’s not my party).

My old problem was that I had more lovely sweaters and heavy shirts than I needed, accumulated as gifts over many years. At the end of the last winter season I realized there were several that I hadn’t worn at all, because my go-to garments were so often made of fleece. So the folks in Ukraine who are my size will be receiving those sweaters and shirts that were causing me to feel guilty. Those people will be warmer, and I still have more than enough to cover my corpus when the winds howl about the homestead this December.

Win, win.

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What’s Up, Doc?

Physicians are sometimes loosely described as “healers.” I was a practicing physician for more than thirty-five years. Thinking back over all of that time, I struggle to find a single episode where I healed anyone. What I did at best was to help create the conditions where the body could heal itself.

Examples. We all learned as children that if we cut ourselves, the cut didn’t last the rest of our lives, but that our bodies would immediately begin trying to repair the damage. There would first be a clot, then a scab, then perhaps a slight scar as the process ran its course. If we contracted influenza and survived, we did so because we were protected by our body’s immune system, where antibodies and white blood cells would rush to the site of the infection and kill off the invaders.

Without those systems in place, there is little a physician could do but commiserate with the patients’ families. In fact without those systems in place, there would be no physician, no families, no adults of any kind, and our species would have represented only a blink of the eye of time as it appeared and disappeared from the face of the earth.

Because the earth is at once a beautiful and a hostile place. Example. Each day of our lives we are in contact with bacteria that could destroy us, whether within our gastrointestinal tract or upon our skins. We live because our skins and the linings of our gut protect us, working in concert with that immune system I brought up a few lines back.

So in the past if someone wanted to give me credit for their recovery, I would gratefully accept it. It was easier than going into a long-winded discussion of what really happened, and let’s face it, I am not immune to praise (even if undeserved). But if I had been completely honest I would have said: “I accept this award on behalf of the body’s own recovery apparatus.” And then I would have humbly left the stage.

I Don’t Need No Doctor, by Ray Charles

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I sat down and voted yesterday. Yes, we sat down at our own kitchen table to fill out the ballot and place it in its envelope, because Colorado is one of those states that make voting so easy that one has to be a complete lunchbag not to get it done. No lines, no standing in the rain, no breathing the November viral-laden air exhaled by fellow voters. No fuss at all.

Colorado has been doing this since 2013, and without a hint of the scandals that that good ol’ Parti Rouge keeps flashing us as a bogeyman. The ballots are sent to each voter by mail, which puts us in the 21% of states that conduct their elections this way.

There are so many good reasons for mail-in voting, not the least of which is to avoid seeing those armed yahoos lounging by their flag-festooned pickup trucks in front of polling places. It must frustrate the hell out of them in states where voting by mail is practiced. One could almost feel sorry for this confederacy of bozos in such a case. After all, they had to get dressed up and everything to come out to take their shift, and finding a clean shirt seems to be a challenge for some of them.

And then if nobody shows up to be intimidated … what fun is that?

Don’t get me wrong. I may jest here, but these people are not harmless. I strongly suspect that they were not the leaders of their class in high school, but it doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to load and fire a rifle. Someone with more forgiveness in their heart than I possess needs to take each of them aside, gently relieve them of their weapon, and give them something else to play with.

What’s Going On, by Marvin Gaye

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From The New Yorker

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Last night as I prepared to climb into bed, I automatically hung the pants I had worn during the day on the back of a bedroom chair. But this time I thought … how long have I been doing this? The answer was since 1966, my internship year at the U. of Minnesota Hospitals. Early in that year I began keeping my uniform close at hand because it was a common thing to get a call in the middle of the night requiring that I dash down the long hallways from the on-call room to wherever I was needed, and it was considered bad form to show up at an emergency situation without one’s pants. It sort of marked one as not a serious person.

The habit became so ingrained that it continues today, even though it has been a while since I needed to get dressed in ten seconds. But on the other hand it harms no one, and I am ready for conflagrations, break-ins, and the revolution whenever it should arise.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, by Gil Scott-Heron

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I was reminded by an article in the Times of New York that there is an antidote for global warming. Scientists have a discovered some decent-sized asteroids that had been hiding in the sun’s glare. Big enough chunks of space stuff to be, using the scientist’s own words, “planet killers.”

If one of these were to collide with Earth, there would be such a dust cloud raised that it would block the sun’s rays for … well … more than our lifetime, which would likely be brutal and short. Because the result of such a cloud would be significant cooling and a rather drastic alteration in flora and fauna. (Remember those dinosaurs that were and then they weren’t?) Our species would be one of those severely affected, since we have no fur to keep us warm and GrubHub wouldn’t be making any more deliveries.

Therefore, should such a collision occur, we could stop worrying entirely about our present climate problems. That’s the good news.

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Can Sheep Be Trusted?

One day this past week we set out to drive across the Uncompahgre Plateau from east to west, eventually to end up in the hamlet of Nucla. We were defeated by snowy and muddy roads that threatened to turn our outing into a “Now what do we do!” sort of situation. We made a wise decision, I think, when we turned the car around and returned to Montrose.

On the way out, however, we had a moment.

A group of sheepherders were moving a flock from one pasture to another, using the road we were on. There were two herders walking, two herders in trucks, two dogs, and a couple of hundred sheep involved in the maneuver. When you encounter a flock like this there is nothing for it but to sit and wait. Unless you happen to have a video camera, that is.

At no time, being safely enclosed in the car, did Robin and I feel more than mildly threatened by these beasts. They streamed around the vehicle without incident, and when they were finally behind us, we continued on. I know that sheep seem docile enough, and that fatal encounters are unheard of, but there is always the threat of being masticated as long as they are close by and in large numbers.

And, really, no matter how infinitesimal the risk, would you want this to be the last thing you see at the end of your life?

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From The New Yorker

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Speaking of unpleasantness, how grateful we will all be when the present election cycle is over. Even though we know that it will be only seconds before the next one begins.

When you see articles with the following titles in the same issue of a publication, you know that the reporters haven’t a clue what the results of the election will be, and have reached the stage of making stuff up.

Democrats fear Republican landslide over price of chicken thighs.

Republicans can’t sleep at night without their blankies since former Pres. Cluck yawned at political meeting.

We’ve had a small kerfuffle here in Paradise, where one candidate has accused her opponent of having an affair, and then using his position on a municipal board to change his vote to avoid being blackmailed over it. The vote-shaving turned out not to be true, but one of the features of the affair was that the lovers were alleged to have conducted their trysts in a rented storage shed.

Having rented quite a few storage sheds in my life, I really have trouble visualizing the whole thing. Let’s see, a guy approaches a shed, unlocks it, then pushes up the overhead door to enter. He then closes it and sits there in the darkness until his inamorata comes along to hoist up the same door to join him. There are no windows, a few boxes, and nothing clean to sit or lie upon.

I would have thought that staying in cheesy motels would be the low point in having an affair. That is, until this story came along. It made me wonder if there is a whole world of luxurious sheds out there of which I am not aware? If not, what can a person really do in the way of decorating a tin box with no insulation? One could only be unfaithful in at most three seasons under these conditions, I would think. Winter would be out of the question.

And then there is the matter of that overhead door. For a few seconds you are pretty vulnerable to discovery when it is up, unless you raise it only a few inches and then crawl under. Whereupon you would be all dusty and how attractive is that?

My take on this story is that if one is tempted to have an affair that they should at least save up until they can afford a proper NoTell Motel in which to conduct it. Standards must be upheld.

We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning, by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris

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From The New Yorker

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Thursday Evening

We’ve had a snowfall today, about four inches. A very civilized weather event which did not inconvenience travel or commerce, but which did play hob with outdoor recreation.

There’s not enough of it to play on, and too much of it to play at anything else. The cats are quite put out, as am I. The three of us spent the day staring out the window and grinding our teeth, hoping that the weather would gather its wits and bring those lovely autumn days back once again.

I know that these days of cold and austere living are supposed to build character, but at my age how much more character do I really need, anyway? I’m practically brimming with the stuff and it affords me little comfort when the wind blows chill.

Poco and Willow are even more grumpy than I am. Sitting in the windowsills and looking out at a landscape that only yesterday was everything a cat could want, their eyes wide as owls, with facial expressions that could only be interpreted as: “Don’t mess with me!”

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Snow, by Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain soundtrack)

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Just a note. I know that many of you regard me as a fashion icon and influencer, and I completely understand that. I rarely am seen with a single thread out of place, and as for being avant garde … well … in my case it is pretty much a given.

But I am hereby publicly severing any connection with the Yeezy brand, having little enthusiasm for contributing to the enrichment of antisemites. While it may cause me the loss of tens of dollars in income, at some point you have to say enough. To announce to the world that Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise!**

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* The header photograph was not taken by me, and I didn’t want you to think that it was. Therefore, I put the letters NMP (Not My Photo) in its description as a way of indicating its origins. I will try to always do this, but as a guideline, if you look at a photo and it is absolutely superb, it probably wasn’t taken by me.

**Actually it was Martin Luther who originally said that, and I’ve always admired his turn of phrase.

Ghosts in the Headlights

Saturday

A weather shift is underway and announcing itself by gusts of wind that are strong enough to rock the house ever so slightly. The time is not long after midnight, and I have the sounds of that wind to listen to all by myself. Robin and the cats are all fast asleep. It’s just yours truly listening to some fast-moving air. It’s a grand feeling to be in a place where the wind can blow all it wants out there, as long as I am in here where it is warm.

Snow is expected later today, quite a pile of it above 7000 feet, but we will likely have rain here in Paradise. Robin and I took advantage of the dry days last week and went for a hike on the Uncompahgre Plateau. We walked down an old dirt track past an abandoned cow camp, where the bunkhouse still stands as well as a shed where cut wood was stored.

There was an ancient gate at that shed which was closed through an ingenious use of what was available to these isolated cowhands. An old horseshoe fastened to a length of chain. The shoe would be looped over one of the gate poles to hold it closed.

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Robin and I went to a movie matinee on Saturday last, where we watched what we think is the worst film we’ve ever seen. It’s called Halloween Ends. It’s no more than a confused mishmash of a gross-out/slasher. Save your money.

Here’s a part of Richard Roeper’s review.

Despite the iconic presence of Final Grandmother Jamie Lee Curtis and a few attempts to frame the saga of Michael Myers into some sort of big-picture analysis about society’s need for a villain and the tendency of some to blame the victims for crimes, this is a cheap-looking slashfest that asks returning characters to behave in ways that make no sense, while adding the usual array of obnoxious nitwits who exist only to annoy us before they’re sliced and diced like entrées at Benihana.

Richard Roeper: Halloween Ends
Piece of Crap, by Neil Young

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From The New Yorker

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[Intercepted email found during ongoing FBI search for Jimmie Hoffa’s body]

To: God

From: Jon

Dear God,

I think that I am finally ready for adolescence now, if you’d care to send it along and give me a second chance. I would understand if you don’t because I pretty well muffed it the first time, but hey … which of us got an “A” in that course?

I was not able to handle the inflammatory combination of: growing several inches in two weeks, a brand new voice entirely, a penis which became erect whenever it felt like it (as when giving book reports in front of class), and an interest in the female gender that drowned out nearly every other sort of intellectual curiosity. I think that at long last I’ve rounded up enough wisdom and common sense to weather those storms.

Now I know that there are countless examples of elders of our tribe who seem to be repeating parts of their adolescence, and ending up embarrassing themselves as a result because their hormones have derailed them, but I think you can count on me not to follow in their footsteps. I’m a Buddhist now, and if there is anything that Buddhists have lots of it is perspective. We simply reek of it.

So if it’s okay with you, I could use a couple of additional inches in height, I could deal with being a baritone at long last, and I don’t need the whole schmear but just the smallest boost in my testosterone level. That would be lovely.

No matter what you decide, I thank you in advance for your consideration.

Jon

P.S. If you could also stop the hair from growing out of my ears and nose, I’d appreciate that as well

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From The New Yorker

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I would like to offer a correction to something President Biden said this summer, when he called out the MAGA crowd as “semi-fascists.” Seems to me that being semi-fascist is a little like being semi-pregnant. A difficult feat in either case.

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This song is for my children. Listening is mandatory for them. The rest of you can skip it without penalty.

That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, by the Everly Brothers

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Robin and I had some business to attend to in Aspen on Monday morning, so we drove most of the way the night before and caught a motel in Glenwood Springs for the evening. The trip was a refreshment course in winter driving, with either snow, hail, fog, or rain to deal with along the entire route.

It was our first snow of the year. Big flakes coming at you by the zillions.

I was reminded of times sitting in the back seat of a ’42 Pontiac and watching the snow in the headlights as my father would drive us back home from visits to relatives in the rural.

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Seeing those ghostly flakes enter the lightbeam and then sweep left, right, and overhead as they were pushed aside by the cushion of air that the car created was hypnotic to a backseat kid. Still is.

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Periodically I will have a Warren Zevon moment, even though he passed away in 2003, having been carried off the planet by a cancer in his lungs, mesothelioma. I was having one of those moments this morning, and went looking for a song from his last album, The Wind. It’s a beautiful song and many excellent covers exist, but I was attracted by this one today, performed by the group Trampled By Turtles.

Here is their official video of the tune, perhaps the simplest music video I’ve ever seen.

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Blowin’ in the Wind

The two ash trees in our backyard were absolutely gorgeous this Fall, after shading us all summer like the botanic troupers they are. With our mild weather, the leaves remained in place for weeks. But the honeymoon is over. Those leaves are now on the ground. They cannot stay.

If I leave them there, the breezes will not move them onto my neighbor’s property (I have always liked the sound of that) because our yard is enclosed by a five-foot tall fence. What they will do is congregate along the fence on the eastern side in unsightly and mouldering piles. So that was out.

There have been years when raking and bagging them was the thing to do. Until my back started aching just thinking about rakes as a species, and I began to look for other solutions.

Next I tried mulching them with the lawn mower, which was fine as long as you didn’t mind stopping and emptying that collection bag every twelve feet. Also, it seemed that everything I am allergic to was contained in that bag, so that each emptying was accompanied by a tsunami of sneezes.

Finally I came ’round to using a leaf blower. I purchased an electric version and it works very well. In fact, blasting those leaves into piles is almost (not quite … I have not completely lost my mind) fun. Just slapping that battery on, pulling the trigger, and wading into them has been my go-to method for three years now.

My next step will be to find some slightly dim but strapping young lad walking on the path that goes by the house and try to pull off the Tom Sawyer Gambit. That’s the one where I regale him with the joys of using a leaf blower and offer to let him take a turn if he is careful. Then I could sit back and supervise, which is where my strengths really lie.

Tom Sawyer, by Rush

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From The New Yorker

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At last we have it. The electric car that will expose the gasbags, the drugstore cowboys, the sitters on the fence once and for all. There is no longer any excuse to not drive an electric car. How can I make such a bald statement? Because on Wednesday, dear readers, Rolls-Royce unveiled the Spectre. The first all-electric vehicle from that company.

It is said that the starting price is only $413,ooo, but by the time you add the tea tables, modify the walnut dash to suit you, and finish decorating the servant’s quarters in the boot, it will undoubtedly be a bit more than that. But if you were avoiding going electric, and have been using as an excuse that the previously available models just didn’t do it for you, you are now outed. Exposed. You have nowhere to hide.

Pony up the 500 grand or be revealed for the poser that you are.

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Over a lifetime I have made numerous contributions to the Make Stephen King Even Wealthier campaign by purchasing and reading his books. I’ve lost track of just how many. Mostly they are not what you might call great literature, but also mostly they are entertaining, can be read on any longish airplane flight, and each one contains handfuls of astute observations on the human condition. What I have also found charming is King himself, and his lack of pretentiousness.

I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.

Stephen king

This past month I went back to the extensive list of novels he has written and read The Green Mile for the first time. I had seen the movie back in the 90s somewhere, but never picked up the book. For myself, I think it is the best thing he’s done. A mixture of horror and magical thinking that also evokes a time and place that is completely foreign to me. Think: death row in a small southern prison during the Great Depression.

I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.

Stephen King

As long as Mr. King keeps writing books I’ll probably keep reading them. I’m not proud, either. I even forgive him the gross-outs, although they are not my favorite parts.

But if you want your mind boggled, here’s a stat for you. As of today there have been 51 movies made from short stories or novels he has written. Fifty-one, including Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, and one of my flat-out favorite films of them all – Stand By Me.

Fifty-one … gawd.

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From The New Yorker

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Daughter Kari sent along a link to a longer video recorded of Richard and Linda Thompson, which must have been done shortly before their marriage fell apart. The video quality is not of the best, but the performances come through beautifully. Of course this pair should have stayed together if for no other reason than I wanted them to, but they didn’t and that’s all there is to that.

Music is such an interesting thing. I play no instrument, know nothing of music theory, could not tell a glissando from a turkey leg even if I was threatened with defenestration. But I am one of what I suspect is a large cohort of people whose life is punctuated by times that music helped get me through.

Music can make me cry for no apparent reason, stir up hormones that might be better left unstirred, and if for some cosmically inexplicable reason I were ever sent into battle I would do it if I could have a bagpipe player to walk behind me to fire up what specks of courage I might muster.

As when the tune Highland Laddie was played by Private Bill Millin on Sword Beach on June 6, 1944, during the invasion of Normandy. There is a statue of him there now, kilt and all, to commemorate his deed.

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Legend has it that the German snipers didn’t shoot at Millin even as his comrades fell all around him. They thought he was crazy.

Highland Laddie, by The Regimental Pipes and Drums of the Calgary Highlanders

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Got Them Smart Balance Blues

On our recent Minnesota trip, we stopped in St. Paul to see daughter Maja, who is recovering from a prolonged and serious illness. The visit was a short one because she tires easily, but we were able to attend the local farmer’s market and have a lovely lunch together.

When I was young, I didn’t think much about parenthood, not really. It was something that happened to a person almost accidentally. Where you had these children, you fed them, clothed and sheltered them, and dithered about them more or less constantly. Eventually the children would grow up and move away, and then you would go back to what you were doing before all of this occurred. That’s what I naively thought it would be.

Not so. It turns out that you are always the parent, as long as you live. And while your own parents are still alive, you are always the child as well. When Maja first became ill, she was living in Peru, and Peru was in lockdown because of Covid. No one was allowed into the country. Fortunately she received excellent medical care, and some of our anxiety back here in the States was allayed by episodic reports from her caregivers.

But in a way, it was similar to having a child fighting in a war zone thousands of miles away. You knew their life was being threatened, but so far away and so little you could do.

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Cartoonist/satirist Garry Trudeau has been doing his thing for fifty years. I have been enjoying him for exactly that long. During the era of the Viet Nam War, his was often one of those lonely voices of sanity crying: What are we doing here?

Viet Nam Blues, by J.B. Lenoir

There is a consistent thread through his career, and that is concern for the men and women who serve in our armed forces. The U.S. has a long history of praising these folks when we need them, and forgetting about them when the shooting stops.

This strip is an example of Trudeau’s pro-veteran writings. Humorous, insightful, and rueful all at once. (Here is more to read about RTM.)

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Battle fatigue, shell shock, combat disorder, operational disorder, combat neurosis, PTSD. All of these are terms that have been used over time trying to classify and describe what happens to a normal man or woman who has been in a combat situation. What they all point to is that being under fire and doing what must be done to survive changes people in ways that are not visible, but are very, very common.

How could it not be so? War is such a pathologic situation, that even preparing for it is mind-altering. One goes from a world where killing another human is forbidden except under the most dire circumstances, to one where it is expected that you will do so, and you are trained in the multitude of ways that this can be accomplished.

If we are serious about making a difference in the lives of these warriors, we need stop saying that “if you have a problem, come and see us.” We need instead to start with the premise that we know that what we have asked them to do changed them. A little or a lot, but changed them. Then make help available in adjusting to civilian life, to all.

Here’s a well-known philosopher discussing how language can obscure rather than illuminate.

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Gather ’round children, and I will tell you a tale of a giant, about a foolish thing that it did, and the wonderful events that happened when The People rose up against it. A tale of overreach and of hope.

Once upon a time there was (still is, actually) a giant whose name was ConAgra. ConAgra made food for The People and put it in packages so that it could be sold everywhere. Most folks never gave the origins of that food a thought, and they were not aware that it came from the giant at all.

One of these products was called Smart Balance, and was a spread used to make bread easier to eat and not get stuck in your throat. It was tasty and seemed a good and fairly healthy thing to put in your stomach. Until this past September, that is, when millions of The People who had been eating this stuff regularly noticed that it had changed. It didn’t taste as good, it didn’t melt as well on your toast, and when you tried to fry an egg with it there was a barrage of spatter that came from the pan.

So The People rose up, took their pens and computers and wrote angry letters to the giant, saying all sorts of unpleasant things and threatening to stop buying Smart Balance at all. They were upset and articulate, which are two things that giants seem to really dislike.

Then Conagra sat in its cavernous hall and pondered the situation. It had changed the spread to save a little money, but now it seemed that might not have been the best idea they’d ever had. It saw only three things it could do to get out of the mess that it had created:

  • Deny that anything had changed and that The People were full of beans
  • Admit that they had changed the stuff, but it was for the good of The People and they should be grateful
  • Admit that they had made a bonehead play and were going back to the old formulation of the product

Surprisingly, for giants are not particularly fond of admitting mistakes, ConAgra backed down and said that they would get the old spread back on the shelves as quickly as they could.

And The People rejoiced and were glad.

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News of the drying-up of the Mississippi River has finally reached Paradise. Stories of landmarks and of trading ships are testimony to the severity of the problem. I read of a young lad named Huckleberry Finn who had been preparing to take a cruise down to the Gulf with a friend of his, but has put the trip on hold because his raft might not have shallow enough draft to get there.

He seemed quite put out about the whole thing.

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Rain in the Valley, by The Steel Wheels

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Free At Last

On our last day in the Omaha area, I had wanted to visit the area around Offutt AFB just to see where my family and I had lived from 1969 t0 1971, during my stint in the Air Force. We couldn’t find my old address on Apple Maps at all, so I turned to Google’s version and there it was: 12433A Turner Circle. The problem was that when we got there we found nothing but grasslands and trees that were at least a quarter-century old. It was not just our old home that had disappeared, but the entire neighborhood had been obliterated and replaced by greenery. No houses, no streets, nothing remained.

The amazing app Google Earth echoes the map’s deception. Here is the view with the option “Streets” selected. The streets as drawn here do not exist any longer.

Here is the same view without “Streets” being selected. It’s like the Air Force had been embarrassed by having anything at all to do with me and decided to eliminate all traces of my former existence.

(BTW, that building in the left lower corner is Fort Crook School, which my two oldest kids attended.)

Anyway, I’ve fully recovered from that shock now, and will go on with life as if this whole unsettling business had not occurred. And just in case you’re thinking that all this is a figment of my imagination, nothing but a delusion mantained over a very long time, here is a photo of two year old Maja, child of mine, standing in front of the building that we once lived in.

Oh well. Tempus fugit, and all that.

Homeless, by Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo

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Here’s something for my kids, the rest of you readers can safely ignore them. They were all taken during those Air Force years.

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At a recent checkup on my car, the computerized screening found that one wheel was out of camber, whatever that is. The service advisor came out to ask me:

Have you been in an accident?

No.

Did you hit some horrific pothole, perhaps one that might have separated one or two of your vertebrae?

No.

Are you quite sure?

I think that I would remember.

Well, we can’t figure out how this could have happened. There’s no sign of damage to the undercarriage.

Yes … ?

Are you sure? No accidents?

Wouldn’t that have showed up in your inspection?

Why, yes it should have.

Why then, these questions?

I’ll get back to you.

Apparently the problem can be fixed, but the repair requires special equipment, which will put us on foot for a day. But one never wants to be out of camber, does one?

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The statistics are bad. Even worse than what one finds in medical care, my old profession. If you take your car in for repairs, there is a too-high likelihood that you won’t get what you needed done, or alternatively, that you will be charged for work that you didn’t need at all. So I always have a bit of concern when I place my precious automobile in the hands of strangers.

Back in the seventies, I purchased a new Volkswagen Squareback sedan. It was a beauty and a pleasure to drive but for one quirk. You might be happily cruising along and suddenly the motor would stop completely, leaving you no choice but to coast to the side of the road. Each time the motor could eventually be restarted, but only after sitting there for several minutes while I walked around the vehicle kicking the tires unmercifully.

I gave the VW people, with their computers and their snappy striped coveralls, three opportunities to fix the problem, but since it was episodic they couldn’t find the culprit when I brought the car in, because it was running normally. When I couldn’t bring the car in because I was stuck out on the road somewhere, they weren’t available. When the issue couldn’t be resolved by looking at their computer screens, they thought it might well be me, and that I was some madman who was wasting their valuable time.

So in near-despair I took the poor thing to a run-down looking auto shop across the street from the county hospital. The name of the business was Traufler & Wisniewski, Mechanics. I walked over to the shop and was greeted by Mr. Traufler himself, who was wearing a coverall that was a testament to grease, as no part of the original material’s color could be seen anywhere. The same was nearly true of Mr. Traufler.

He listened to my tale of woe, and when I had finished scratched his head and said: “You’ve got a loose wire in there somewhere. I can find it, but you’ll have to pay for the time I spend looking.”

I gave him permission to begin, and less than an hour later he called to say he’d found the offending wire, tightened it up, and could I please come by and pick up the car. The charge was $20.00. A pittance for having been aided by a master of his craft.

Why Can’t You Fix My Car?, by Leo Kottke

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Very good column by David Brooks in Friday’s NYTimes. The subject is race and how we think about it. For myself, I have started not answering “White” or “Caucasian”on questionnaires. What sense does it make in a country like ours to maintain these categories? Better to say “Other” or more delicately “Don’t care to answer,”perhaps.

Some of my “white” friends have had their DNA examined and guess what? They have X% African in some cases. So what race are they? What box do they check?

I’ve never had my DNA looked at, in part because the Neanderthals roamed entirely too close to Scandinavia for me to feel complacent about what I might find. (Not that I have anything against Neanderthals, mind you)

I have no data, but I suspect that our resident population of white supremacists is not among the crowds paying to find out about their ancestry. Easier to remain ignorant, like myself, than to have to explain an uncomfortable result.

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Absolutely Positively Mind-Blowing Department

Yesterday I ran across something on the World Wide Web that changed my life. I know that this phrase is bandied about quite a bit, but by now you know that I am not a man who bandies lightly. I was looking for a better way to peel fresh garlic, an odious job if ever there was one, with those slippery little devils hanging onto their coats as if their lives depended on it.

And then this video popped into my search window. At first I was unbelieving, so much so that I grabbed the head of garlic in our cupboard, followed the instructions, and it works. IT WORKS.

The only words that could express my feelings were these: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

[BTW: if you don’t have two metal bowls, you can do it with any metal saucepan that has a lid.]

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Follow the Red Brick Road

It’s five o’clock on a Monday morning, I am first one up as usual, which is my curse for not buying that old and gnarled woman’s wares along that dusty road all those years ago. Each year I rise earlier, and if this keeps up, before long I will meet myself getting up as I am going to bed. No matter. It’s five a.m. in Omaha and I am looking out the window at Howard Street in the Old Market area of town.

Robin and I are sharing a third-floor loft with daughter Kari and Jon, a space which AirBnB has graciously supplied to us in return for our sending them a shekel or two. Our plans for the day include a trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo, which is a great place to spend a sunny day. We will be here in Omaha for the next two days, then the four of us will return to our respective homes and the routines of life.

The garbage trucks are now making their way through this part of town, and getting mixed reviews. It’s a good idea to pick up the trash when streets are not jammed with people and cars, but the robotic method of collection creates a perfect symphony of din while mortals are trying to sleep.

It’s all so urban. Living in the provinces as we do, one forgets the delights of cities at night. It’s not only the garbage collectors at 5:00 a.m., but the intoxicated passersby at 2:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., and even 4:00 a.m. who take the streets as their own, talk in very loud voices, and in so doing add large dollops of local color to our otherwise drab existences.

Life is good.

Monday Monday, by The Mamas and the Papas

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I’ve lived half my life in large cities, and half in smaller towns. I found that I am much more suited to the village than the metropolis. Primarily because it takes so little time to get out and away from the smaller venues. From my home in Paradise it is a matter of a five minute walk and I am in the countryside. Out where the birds sing, there are the sounds of cows lowing and of sheep bleating, and where you must clean the bottoms of your shoes before you re-enter your house.

It’s all part of a package, isn’t it? Like when you buy a new car these days. Let’s say you want heated seats to take the shock off getting in the car when temperatures are nearing absolute zero. You can’t get just heated seats, but must purchase a package that includes a sunroof (rarely used), faux-gold license plate brackets, and lighted mirrors on the visors to apply the lipstick that you could have put on before you left the house.

So you move to the rural to get the ease of moving across town, the decrease in annoying and sometimes life-threatening traffic, and if you’re lucky, the lessened chances of being accosted by footpads, highwaymen, and pickpockets.

In return for these benefits, you must accept reduced opportunities for shopping, fewer art galleries, smaller symphony orchestras, and the aromas of the countryside which range from the sublime (new-mown hay, wildflowers) to the ridiculous (manure in its seemingly infinite variety).

Citiest People, by Melanie

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The Old Market area of Omaha is easy to like. It is a small area of only a few blocks square where sleazy and stylish rub noses without coming to blows. The building that our BnB is located in dates back to 1887. There are horse and carriages rides to take, violinists on street corners, brick streets galore, and an interesting mixture of tourists and locals.

Buildings within the Old Market have served a variety of purposes, and were built during various eras. Originally built to sell groceries wholesale and retail to the city of Omaha and beyond, the Old Market district was preceded by the Market House in Omaha’s Jefferson Square.

Old Market, Wikipedia

After supper last night, we wandered in and out of shops that were … eclectic might be the best word. The Hollywood Candy Shop was a museum of schlock, with chipped statues of Elvis Presley and the Blues Brothers hanging around dented pink Cadillacs and circa 1936 popcorn-vending Model T truck. I knocked over a yellow sign that read: Danger: Wet Floor and even though I immediately set it back up I was rewarded with the best stink-eye I’ve received in decades, aimed at me by the guy with the mop in his hands.

There was one shop seemingly entirely devoted to decks of cards, plates, fridge magnets, dishtowels and other bric-a brac that had one common thread. Each has something written on it that you wouldn’t want to be seen on your coffee table when the bishop came for tea. For instance, we found an entire table of varied items that all had an F-bomb in their name or slogan. I think the name of the shop might have been Tawdry R Us.

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Color My World

Robin and I are presently traveling to outposts of the Empire to visit some of our children. We’ve chosen to travel by car, even though gas prices are unpleasant most everywhere we go. For those of you who are new to this outstanding literary effort of mine, ours is a blended family. Robin brought three children into the new mix, as did I. Her kids live in Colorado and California, while mine have found Minnesota to be irresistible, and occupy dwellings in Mankato, St. Paul, and Eveleth.

We started out on Monday Oct. 3 by traveling to the Denver area, where we rendezvoused with son Justin for supper. It started to rain while we were eating, and that continued as an off/on drizzle for the next 36 hours.

Next stop was Mankato, where we bunked with daughter Sarah, husband DJ, two dogs, and a cat. Congenial company all, and excellent hosts.The 1100 mile drive to this point was outstanding. Autumn’s colors everywhere and either at their peak or two days from it. So far it has been a gentle Fall, without windstorms, ice storms, snowstorms, or any other climatic mischiefs, so the foliage has been allowed to slowly gather its reds, oranges, golds, and browns without being disturbed. The leaves are 99% still still hanging in place, and we gawk at them as we do each year. Somehow each autumn comes as a brilliant surprise, taking our breath away at the beauty Nature can provide, if we are wise enough to let it do so.

Robin, Sarah, DJ and I took a walk Wednesday afternoon, on a footpath that ran along the Le Sueur River. When you drive past forests you get the larger picture, but for me it is perpetually fascinating to take individual leaves and study them up close. Pick up a sumac leaf and realize that if you could take that home and preserve it as it was you could look at it for years and still be filled each time with a sense of the magic that is at work here.

Autumn Leaves, by Eva Cassidy

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A trip like the one that Robin and I are on puts me in a reflective mood, a dangerous one for a senior citizen to be in. I am visiting my three daughters, one at a time, and there are occasionally waves of memory that come along, some big enough to carry me off if I forget to set my anchors properly.

In AA there is much talk about not regretting our past, but using it to remind us where we can improve, where we might help others who are still drowning. While I accept that using my mistakes as father, husband, friend, physician, citizen (you pick the category) can be helpful, I have never found that phrases like “we don’t regret the past” to be anything but poppycockery of the first order.

Of course I regret parts of my past. Great chunks of it, to be honest. In all of the categories I listed in the previous paragraph I have made serious mistakes and the ones where I fell shortest were the personal ones. The ones where being a good husband and father called for someone who had a very different skillset than I was granted. That’s not a proper alibi nor is it an excuse, but simply an observation.

Let me provide an example. A recurring stressful situation for any pediatrician is during a “code,” or cardiorespiratory arrest. The stakes are high and the possibilities for error are everywhere. For the healthcare workers present in the room, working in a coordinated fashion is mandatory. My emotional makeup was such that I could enter that room, join the hastily assembled team, constantly reassess what was happening and what was needed, and do this without any sense of panic. In other words, I rarely “lost my cool.”

And in those situations it was a kind of behavior that worked well, so if everyday life was one code after another I might have done better. But there were so many times when that clinical and analytic approach, that keeping of an emotional distance that served me so well in the ER or delivery room was ill-suited to what was called for at home. Where I provided logical (to me) but often useless suggestions instead of the caring hugs and expressions of concern that might have been better choices. My strength in one place was my handicap in another.

But like Popeye the Sailor, I yam what I yam. Try as I might over the years to become a more thoughtful human being, I realize that my default positions haven’t changed as much as I had hoped.

Cat’s In The Cradle, by Harry Chapin Jr.

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Question for the Day, October 6, 2022

On CNN today, a panel of three talking heads were discussing the fact that an open mike had caught President Biden uttering an F-bomb. The context was not clear.

My question for the panel is: Is this news? Really? With half the world under water and the other half parched and withering, with all the things that are seriously amiss in American life, with the cost of Cheetos rising almost daily, does his use of a coarse word in a private conversation need three experts to discuss it to absolute death?

Holy s***! There go my political aspirations right out the f****** window!

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I don’t know if you all are ready for Amythyst Kiah, in fact I’m not sure that I am. But the lady doth bring the news.

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On Thursday we moved on to St. Paul which is where daughter Maja now lives. We were able to get together with her for an excellent lunch on Saturday afternoon. The weather had changed for the chillier and the windier. We are staying in a BnB on the north side of town in a very small older home. We have the entire house, but I’m guessing it is no more than 600 square feet in area. It’s a one-bedroom that would have worked better as a studio-style cabin, I think. What it didn’t have was laundry facilities, which by this time we needed. The first laundromat we checked out was in a dismal part of town, appeared not to have been swept since the Roosevelt administration (Teddy’s), and the change machine was broken. Exeunt Robin and Jon.

The next one was its opposite in nearly every way. Change was available, machines would operate with credit cards, and it was obvious that someone with a broom and dustpan in their hands had come by … say … in the 70s sometime. The name of the place was “All Washed Up Laundromat.” That’s a reassuringly modest name, non?

There was an Indian restaurant nearby, where we had supper. I tried a dish that was new to me, aloo matar, which was potatoes and peas in a thick sauce. Pretty delicious. Robin was happy with her palak paneer, which is a favorite dish of hers.

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We have suffered many disappointments in restaurants, but both agreed that, to date, no Indian establishment we’ve visited has ever let us down.

Famous last words, eh? Having now uttered that which was better un-uttered, I suppose I can look forward to a plateful of gutpunch vindaloo somewhere down the road.

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Water, Water, Everywhere …

While Robin was away for a couple of days in Durango, doing grandma stuff with Claire, I stayed home in Paradise and took the opportunity to re-watch the movie Das Boot. It’s a movie made in Germany, with a German director, a German cast and highly inconveniently, everybody speaks German in the film. Fortunately the DVD manufacturer provided some little words in red across the bottom of the screen so we had some idea of what everyone was saying and could follow the action. They called these words “subtitles.” It occurred to me that there are quite a few American-made films that could use subtitles as well, especially those made in New Jersey (mumbling and jargon) and Alabama (accents and jargon).

But I digress.

Rotten Tomatoes gave it 98%, the audience gave it 98%, so it’s credentials are pretty solid. It’s a movie that takes place during wartime, but is really not about war. It is about men doing an extremely difficult job under what to me are some of the most stressful conditions imaginable. Take a person, put them and 40 other men inside a long narrow metal tube with only one exit, submerge the tube in the ocean, and then drop bombs on it repeatedly.

Well before the first depth charges went off, my claustrophobia would have kicked in and the rest of the crew would have had to duct-tape me to a torpedo to get me out of the way. It is also likely that I would need to be gagged so that my screaming wasn’t a distraction to other crew members as they went about their duties.

Myself, on being told that I couldn’t just leave the ship and go home this very minute.

When it comes to warfare I don’t want to be up in the air or be underwater, and even when appropriately stationed on terra firma I would immediately request that the only weapon I be issued was a word processor. Other than those limitations, I’m your basic warrior material.

The movie is one of the greats, and it is 209 minutes long in the “director’s cut.” So … a very long and often claustrophobic movie that takes place in wartime, with 99.9% male actors … not eye candy for everyone.

Did I mention that it was entirely done in a foreign language? Oh wait, there was a recorded song played as background a couple of times : “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary.” English was used there.

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A little local mountain story. Paradise abounds in what are called “jeep roads.” Translated, this means trails that are a little wider than needed for two elk to pass one another, carved out of solid rock, and which at one time carried supplies to and from the thousands of mines in western Colorado. These days they are for adult children to play on with their toys. They are typically narrow and have severe drop-offs on one side, as in the photo below.

Not all of these roads require that you own a Jeep vehicle. Some are navigable by SUV, some by passenger sedans. The Camp Bird road is an SUV road located a few miles outside of Ouray CO. At one point it narrowed to a single lane that had a picturesque overhang.

Landmark overhang before the rockfall

But a couple of years ago, one day when no one was (fortunately) near, a big chunk of that overhang fell off. In a relatively short time the road was cleared, but something had been lost.

Rock debris after overhang collapsed

Then earlier this summer, a woman and her grown daughter signed up for a Jeep tour with a seasoned operator. They took off up the road and for reasons as yet unexplained, the vehicle left the road and tumbled down a couple of hundred feet. No one survived the crash.

Jeep vehicle being raised from canyon

The point? That even knowing the ropes doesn’t guarantee a good outcome every time. I went up the Camp Bird Road in a Subaru Forester the year before the rockfall, and when I had brought the vehicle back down to civilization, Robin had to use up a whole can of WD-40 and a small prybar to get my fingers off the steering wheel.

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All sorts of stories coming out of Hurricane Ian’s visit to the U.S. Destruction, heartbreak, loss. Heroism, unselfishness, kindness, sacrifice. The storm surges have hardly begun to recede before the accusation surge begins, where public figures berate one another for alleged incompetence, malfeasance, halitosis, and generally bad behavior.

Florida can’t get a break. Each tropical storm is a small respite from the daily assaults that humans make against a fragile ecosystem. There’s quite a bit of fuss in recent years about the state’s infestation with the invasion of Burmese pythons , which are eating up native wildlife at an alarming rate. Their depredations, of course, are small potatoes compared with what our own species has already done to the state with overdevelopment and ignorant land usage.

So far, the pythons haven’t started gobbling up Floridians, although some of the snakes have grown large enough to be worrisome. Here’s a photo of an 18 foot long, 215 pounder recently captured in that state.

My, my, my.

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I don’t know about you, but if one of these wandered into my campsite of an evening, it would provoke quite a bit of excitement. It would also prompt a careful head count once the creature had left the area. Billy? Jimmy? Heather? Bob? Fluffy … Fluffy … Fluffy … ?

Snake Drive, by the North Mississippi Allstars

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From The New Yorker

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I would like to thank The New Yorker magazine for being an unwitting contributor to this blog over the years. Of course I am referring to the fact that I “borrow” cartoons from their archives on a regular basis and publish them here. It’s a contemptible practice, I know, and if I have an immortal soul I am certainly placing it in jeopardy with each episode of this petty pilfering.

I salve my conscience by adding the phrase “From The New Yorker” before each cartoon. And even though I was taught long ago that my repentance is meaningless if I fully intend to go forth and sin again, which I do, I offer up a lament every day. My confession goes something like this:

Lord, I am sorry to be here for the numpteenth time confessing that I swiped yet another cartoon from New Yorker magazine for my personal use, without giving anything back to them but a measly attribution. However, Lord, if you had given me any artistic abilities at all, I wouldn’t have to steal, so who’s really at fault here?

At such times I turn to my religious mentor, Father Guido Sarducci, for guidance. Here is a videotaped sermonette of his that seems to apply, at least a little, to my situation.

If Sarducci is right about these things, I believe that an episode of cartoon larceny should be worth about … maybe … 35 cents an image? But like he says … they count up.

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The Play’s The Thing

When our granddaughter Elsa visited us a couple of weeks back, it was at the time that the few tomato plants we were managing were doing their utmost to bury us in goodness. So Elsa made a French tomato and mustard tart, a food that I didn’t know existed but which turned out to be delicious and beautiful to look at as well. A dish designed to give the tomato top billing, with the other ingredients as supporting cast. What you can’t see underneath those lovely red circles is a great gob of Swiss cheese and a generous helping of Dijon mustard.

At this point those same backyard plants are still providing too many tomatoes to eat fresh and too few to can. Robin stepped up to the plate and a couple of nights ago we had another new dish that was both a delight to look at and to eat – a tomato pie.

In this case there is also beaucoup cheese, but this time it’s on top and it’s the tomatoes that are hidden. The seasonings are different as well. Look at that thing – a Bon Appetit magazine cover if there ever was one!

And what, you may be thinking, is yours truly doing while females are going to all this trouble, taking all these culinary risks?

My answer is this. What would a play be without an audience?

And I think that I am filling that role in the larger picture quite well, thank you very much. I come into the kitchen as these delights are baking with my nose twitching like a rabbit’s, exclaiming “From whence cometh these amazing aromas?”

I then grab a fork and a plate and sit myself down at the table, quivering* in anticipation.

The part I play may seem passive and more than a little lazy, but I repeat – why make these wonderful dishes if there are no appreciative layabouts hanging around to gobble them up for you?

*I hasten to add that under normal circumstances I rarely quiver. It primarily happens when I am under the influence of my salivary glands.

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Nurse Ratched has passed away. We are finally safe from further abuse at her hands. It has all come too late to help Randle McMurphy, but then, it is extremely difficult to win them all.

Louise Fletcher played the sort of villain that made one want to climb through the screen and throttle her bare-handed. Thinking about her portrayal of a sadistic nurse who had the power not only to make or break your day but your life still gives me the creeps 47 years after I first saw the film.

Nurse Ratched (full name Mildred Ratched in the movie, also known as “Big Nurse“) is a fictional character  and the main antagonist of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, first featured in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel as well as the 1975 film adaptation. A cold, heartless tyrant, Nurse Ratched has become the stereotype of the nurse as a battleaxe. She has also become a popular metaphor for the corrupting influence of institutional power and authority in bureaucracies such as the psychiatric treatment center in which the novel is set.

Nurse Ratched is the head administrative nurse at the Salem State Hospital, a mental institution where she exercises near-absolute power over the patients’ access to medications,  privileges, and basic necessities such as food and toiletries. She capriciously revokes these privileges whenever a patient displeases her. Her superiors turn a blind eye because she maintains order, keeping the patients from acting out, either through antipsychotic and anticonvulsant  drugs or her own brand of psychotherapy , which consists mostly of humiliating patients into doing her bidding.

Nurse Ratched, Wikipedia

The nurse from Hell itself. For Hell itself. So why does it still creep me out? Because I know that there are versions of Nurse Ratched still out there, doing their thing.

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Where Was This When I Needed It Department

When Robin and I went to Wally World to get our latest Covid booster, the product at left was being sold on an endcap in the pharmacy right next to the vaccination line.

My first thought was: Do we really need to introduce our kids to drugs so early that we need gummies to do it?

My second thought was: Where were these things when I needed them?

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Times when giving Junior a chewable Mickey Finn might be useful would be:

  • Whenever you want to sleep, but the child doesn’t
  • When the child is totally sugared up and it took hours to coax them down from the streetlamp
  • When it’s been raining all day and the kids are careening through the house all the while screaming at a decibel level incompatible with sanity
  • When you and your spouse want a little alone time, and don’t want the bedroom door flying open at awkward moments that might require hours of explanation
  • Any day that is “the day from Hell”
  • Any day whose name ends in “y”
You Can’t Always Get What You Want, by The Rolling Stones

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There was a time in history when there were only a handful of books available to read. An affluent dandy could conceivably read all of them in a lifetime. That is definitely not the case today, where an impecunious and ill-dressed fellow like myself will not have time to read even a fraction of the books I’d like to. For one thing, I keep falling asleep in my chair, book in hand.

An author who has completely escaped being read by me is Joan Didion, who wrote an extraordinary book call The Year of Magical Thinking following the sudden death of her husband. I know that it is extraordinary because critics have told me that it is, and not because I have read it. It’s on that imaginary bedside table of mine, I think at position number 107 in the pile.

What I have read of hers are quotes which suggest that if I can tear myself away from reading crap for a while I would benefit from making the effort to spend time with some of her stuff.

The first quote is from The Year of Magical Thinking.

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

I admit to going more than a little crazy a couple of times when a personal loss seemed overwhelming. When I couldn’t see past it to another side … any side.

The second quote of Didion’s is one that I absolutely love. As a person who believes in thinking pretty carefully about the options when making choices, over time I’ve adopted a philosophy similar to that expressed here so tidily by Didion.

Whatever you do, you’ll regret both

Joan Didion

There you have it. Short and sweet. Words to live by.

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For those of you who play the game Wordle at the New York Times website, this graphic will have meaning. This is how it went for me on Friday morning.

Excuse me, but I’m going out to buy 100 lottery tickets and will not be back any time soon.

I Feel Lucky, by Mary Chapin Carpenter

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There’s An App For That

I took one of those online “quizzes” this morning where you fill in your height, weight, age, and level of activity, and an app comes up with a “personalized” fitness and diet regimen for you. I knew I was in trouble when the menu they provided and from which I was to select my age only went as far as 80 years.

Apparently beyond that hoary limit there is no longer any point in trying so those so afflicted might as well crawl under the covers and lie back to await the approach of the spooky guy with the scythe in his hand.

(What this actually reveals is the age of the author of the software. Someone so young they are incapable of imagining that there could be life after eighty years. )

I reminded myself that back in medical school there was a day that I ran across a brand new word in my readings. It was apoptosis. This is defined as the scheduled death of a group of cells in the body. The word scheduled seemed alarming at first. I mean, I was willing to take my chances like everybody else, but if parts of me were already programmed to perish at a certain time … what parts were they and when was it going to happen? The whole business quite put me off my feed for at least a day.

(A-pop-TOH-sis) A type of cell death in which a series of molecular steps in a cell lead to its death. This is one method the body uses to get rid of unneeded or abnormal cells. 

Apoptosis, National Cancer Institute

Not to worry, said the book I was reading. It’s all good. The example given was that when we were embryos our fingers and toes were not yet separated, but only became so when some cells between those digits passed on to their eternal reward and voila! we could now pick up a pencil and our thumbs became apposable.

A few cells die, a few phagocytes come by to gobble them up, and life goes on. (I’m not sure this is what happened with my scalp hair follicles or not, but if not, it is certain that the ones that are there are not earning their keep.)

To get back to that previously mentioned app, it also came up with 1500 as the number of calories that I was allowed to consume per day and it seemed like quite a few until I counted up and realized that there were 1266 calories in an eight ounce bag of Cheetos. And you know how long a bag of those lasts … .

So I did the only sensible thing I could and trashed the app, with extreme prejudice. It had been free to download and to enter data, but if I wanted to use it for further guidance it was going to cost me $6.00 per month as a subscription.

I thought, why pay money to something that didn’t even acknowledge the possibility of my existence? What else might they have got wrong?

You Don’t Know Me, by Madeleine Peyroux

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From The New Yorker

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Just look at this, will you? I have developed early signs of carpal tunnel problems in my right wrist and am forced to wear a splint to try to stave off further difficulties. And why is this happening?

Because I am a slave to my art and have typed myself right into a disease. Yes, friends, I have been sacrificing my body to bring you these bi-weekly blatherings that if printed out properly (and on decent paper) can be used to line the bottoms of bird cages anywhere in the world.

So the next time you read something I have typed in this blog, remember that I was in great pain when I did it. It is also possible that I was hemorrhaging somewhere as well.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin mentioned she’d heard on NPR that squirrels forget the locations of most the nuts they bury. It’s not something I had ever thought about, not for a single nanosecond. What I did know about squirrels was that they had superpowers when it came to climbing, leaping, walking tightropes, etc. I guess it seemed to me that any creature which could walk a power line like it was a six-foot wide sidewalk wouldn’t have any trouble at all locating a few acorns.

While it might be frustrating for squirrels to lose their carefully hidden nuts, it can be beneficial for other organisms. In particular, it can help the forest itself! A study done at the University of Richmond cites that squirrels fail to recover up to 74% of the nuts they bury. This misplacing of so many acorns (the seeds of oak trees), the study says, is likely responsible for oak forest regeneration.

Why Do Squirrels Bury Nuts?, Smithsonian Science Education Center

Shoot, I can do that well. Or nearly so. I could find fifteen per cent at least, I’ll bet. But that power line? Fageddaboudit.

No Roots, by Alice Merton

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The Farm

Once upon a time, any given lad had two sets of grandparents. When divorce became more acceptable and common, this number could easily double … at least. But when I went through my childhood, there were two, the paternal set and their maternal counterpart. Nice people all. As the first of the grandchildren to come along, I was treated like royalty by all four of them. Love enough for a regiment was my happy lot. (So much so that I often wonder – how did I get so screwed up, anyway?)

But I digress.

Back then, if you had offered me a week with either pair of grandparents, and I was given the right to choose, the one on the maternal side would nearly always win. And there was a reason for this.

The farm.

The farm was only 120 acres, with perhaps only slightly more than half of it arable, but to a child from the city it was a mythic place. A place where many of the rules of city life were suspended. For one thing, there were no fleets of cars or trucks to be dodged. For another there were no parents to natter at you all day long.

The domestic animals on the farm included draft horses, cows, the occasional fearsome bull, chickens, hogs, sheep, ducks, myriad cats, and geese. A small child could feel quite important if he were given the chore of assisting in the feeding and care of any one of these groups.

There was a traditional barn, with a big haymow. Anyone of you who has ever had the chance to play in one of these will remember the mountains of loose alfalfa and timothy hay with their sweet/dry aromas, as well as occasional litters of half-wild kittens to be discovered tucked away in shaded places.

We went barefoot all summer, which meant the bottoms of our feet were more like hooves by August. We walked behind the machines as the men plowed fields, the plow leaving a smooth area about a foot wide as it carved the furrow, smooth and cool and damp even on the warmest summer day.

When it came time to harvest the grain, there were the rituals of cutting and binding the grain into bundles, which were then stacked into shocks. On threshing day, the shocks were tossed with pitchforks into wagons and hauled to the threshing machine, which was a metallic version of a dragon if there ever was one. We climbed onto the machine and watched the newly separated grain flow into a hopper that emptied itself periodically into an auger system that piped the grain into the high-sided box of a waiting truck.

Potential child-gobbling machine in action

Thinking back, I can picture dozens of places for a child to be injured on a threshing machine. But we kids climbed up and walked on the top of this pitching and jumping beast without a command from any adult to “Get down.”

It was not at all unusual for farmers to be missing parts of themselves that had been lost to machines at a time when safety guards were often a novelty. Most of those losses were fingers. My former father-in-law got his bib overalls caught in a gear one day on a harvesting machine. Fortunately he was wearing an old and threadbare pair of overalls because the clothing was ripped from his body, leaving him standing there in his underwear but with his corpus intact.

There were animal birthings galore to watch and sometimes participate in. There were slaughterings we were allowed to observe, usually involving chickens on their way to becoming Sunday’s dinner, and there were others of a grimmer variety that we were not invited to attend.

Do you get the idea that we weren’t being closely supervised? You are exactly right. Most of our days on the farm we wandered where we wished, only coming indoors for meals. Speaking as a former kid it was a great thing to be on your own in this way . That is, for those of us who survived childhood.

Now if you were to ask my opinion as to whether the not-always-so-benign neglect in those days was inferior to the hovering by many of today’s parents, my answer would be no, I don’t think it was.

For instance, we were never taught to be afraid of the world, but instead learned how to cope with it. To accept that there were hazards and avoid them when we could. To learn to walk on uneven ground wherever we found it.

It wasn’t fair that my mom’s side of the family got more attention from me just because they lived in the rural. Not fair at all. But it was the way that it was.

These Are The Days, by Van Morrison

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President Biden said the other day that the pandemic was over. That may be so, even though hundreds of our citizens are still perishing of Covid every day. It’s all definitional, isn’t it?

Perhaps I should feel more comforted by what the President said, but Joe doesn’t always know what he’s talking about. Nor does he always know when to talk and when to be be silent. So I will wait for confirmation from a more authoritative source, thank you very much.

And then I will still go and get the latest booster shot available to me. Be a shame to be the last person in the U.S.A. to kick the bucket Covid-style.

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Our tomatoes are done for the year. Those bright green and florid vines that grew into a miniature jungle have gone to a stringiness and a yellow-brown color. This was a good year for them. The sun was nowhere near as punishing as last summer, when gardeners despaired all over Paradise as the plants grew tortured fruit with inedible burns.

So we feasted for nearly two months on BLT sandwiches, homemade pasta sauces, caprese salads … anything that would put the flavor of the tomatoes front and center. A friend gave us a couple of plants which produced a bright yellow fruit half the size of a golf ball that had an intense and pungent flavor like nothing I’d ever tasted before.

The famous vineyards label their products (and price them) by year, knowing that each year’s fruit will have its own flavors which have a little to do with the name of the variety but everything to do with the unique combination of sun and rain and soil that came together that year. The same thing happens in our gardens – a less exalted venue, perhaps, but a place where something special and un-reproduceable happens nevertheless.

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Shuffling Off This Mortal Coil Department

Hilary Mantel was only 70 when she passed away this week. She wrote a great many books, among them a very popular trilogy dealing with Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, and Anne Boleyn. Two of them won Booker prizes. Two were made into an excellent television series starring Mark Rylance as Cromwell.

There are apparently a whole lot of people like myself who find this chunk of English history fascinating, and gobble up literature and dramas about it by the carload. To me Mantel’s writings were the best of the lot.

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Wikipedia has a rather long entry about her life, but I particularly liked this paragraph.

The long novel Wolf Hall, about Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell, was published in 2009 to critical acclaim. The book won that year’s  Booker Prize and, upon winning the award, Mantel said, “I can tell you at this moment I am happily flying through the air”.  Judges voted three to two in favour of Wolf Hall for the prize. Mantel was presented with a trophy and a £50,000 cash prize during an evening ceremony at the  Guildhall, London. The panel of judges, led by the broadcaster James Naughtie, described Wolf Hall as an “extraordinary piece of storytelling”.  Leading up to the award, the book was backed as the favourite by bookmakers and accounted for 45% of the sales of all the nominated books. 

It was the first favourite since 2002 to win the award.  On receiving the prize, Mantel said that she would spend the prize money on “sex and drugs and rock’ n’ roll”.

Hilary Mantel, Wikipedia

The old girl had spirit, no?

I’m Henry the VIII, I Am, by Peter Noone

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Changes

The leaves are starting to turn in Paradise, at least above 7000 feet they are. The dominant color is yellow, but even the aspens are not monochromatic, often shading all the way from gold to a lovely red on the same tree.

A brown and curled-up leaf fluttered to the backyard deck yesterday and is still lying there, waiting for Willow to bring it in as her offering. She will carry it in to just inside the door and quietly place it on the kitchen floor. Willow is a humble gift-giver and doesn’t hang around waiting for praise. Instead what we find is a single leaf or twig waiting for us to discover it. It’s a signature move of hers.

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I have no idea what sadistic person first came up with the term “the golden years,”to describe the December of our lives. But they were more than a bit off base. Probably worked writing treacly verses for Hallmark Cards as their day job.

Golden years, my sweet patootie is more reflective of my attitude.

Lest I come off as a crybaby, there are many good things about not having to go to work, not having to get up early if you don’t want to, and having grandchildren come to visit, not to mention acquiring a library of experiences over a lifetime to help guide us on our way, etc. But the list below makes golden seem not quite the right word.

(The photo at left is of a typical person well into their golden years)

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Here’s the list:

  • joints hurt
  • hair thins
  • heartburn
  • dry skin
  • shrinking stature
  • constipation
  • urinary tract difficulties
  • fragile bones
  • hair springing from unwanted places
  • cataracts
  • hearing loss
  • dental problems
  • can’t remember squat
  • et al, et al, et goldarned al

Like I said, something less than golden … . And that doesn’t even consider the more serious occurrences, like heart attacks, strokes, and cancers of endless varieties. Plus, just think … you could have massive tufts growing out of your ears AND a stroke at the same time! And there is no limit on afflictions per day per customer!

There is, however, a good side to that string of hits in the list. They prepare us for the day when the time for shuffling off this mortal coil approaches. It’s easier to walk away from a basketful of miseries than it would be if one was in their prime. The process is similar to what happens when Mother Nature prepares us for winter by throwing sleet in our faces now and again in October and November.

However, despite this mournful set of circumstances, each of us (the golden ones), bravely buckles up our swash each morning and ventures forth as if it were the best morning we could possibly have.

And if the Buddhists are right, it is.

Old Folks Boogie, by Little Feat

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Former Pres. Cluck needs to go to jail. Period. And everyone who voted for him needs to be taken to the woodshed and given three sharp strokes with a willow switch. After which they would be sent to bed without any supper, as we do with anyone who has done a particularly bad thing.

All of Cluck’s business holdings should be gathered together and sold at auction, with the proceeds going to a foundation devoted to promoting the study of democracy and honesty in political discourse.

Melania Cluck should be returned to the replicant factory where she could be disassembled and her materials recycled. In addition, her particular model line (the Stepford-27b) should be retired as a product with no legitimate use whatsoever. If she does not surrender voluntarily, we would then send a blade runner to bring her in. End of story.

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An esthetic crime has been perpetrated against America by the substitution of graceless steel buildings for the artful wooden barns of yesterday.

Without our permission or any warning at all, these …

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… have been replaced by this:

Shocking, no? And it happened right before our eyes, one barn at a time. I know, I know, those metal buildings are eminently practical and economically justifiable. And I know that no farmer needs a haymow any more, not with modern hay storage methods. But jeez, these things have all the charm of a $2.00 mailbox.

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Suddenly that river of sweet and juicy goods from local farms has dried up. No more excellent sweet corn from Olathe or succulent peaches from Palisade. Oh, there are substitutes shipped in from elsewhere on the planet, but let’s face it … they are not the same.

What we have available to us locally these days is a nice selection of roots. But while I like a good parsnip now and again, I have never quivered in anticipation of eating one.

But wait … there is one last flood of delectables to come, and this is one that endures for more than a few short weeks … apples. The orchards of the Cedaredge area bring their best to their Apple Fest in October. It’s my favorite of the local festivals, not that the others are unworthy. But the aromas once you hit the park in Cedaredge could drive a person mad.

Mark this. You are actually allowed to purchase warm slices of … can’t go on … too choked up … fresh apple pie. One of the most fragrant desserts in all of Christendom. Alternatively, you can walk up to those booths in broad daylight and say: “Give me the pie. Not a slice … but the whole darned thing. And one of those flimsy white plastic forks as well, if you please.” And they will sell it to you! (No extra charge for the fork.)

What a great country we live in!

Next step is to find a spot on the grass to eat what you have purchased, which can be a slight problem because of all the bodies lying about. These are people who bought just what you did a few moments ago, ate it, and are now slumbering in an apple-pie induced coma, all wearing foolish smiles on their faces, and bits of piecrust at the corners of their mouths.

Not to worry, it’s a self-limited disease. In an hour or two they will waken, find the fronts of their shirts and blouses encrusted with pie juices, and slink home to toss their clothes into the laundry basket. They might feel the slightest bit of shame that once again they have succumbed to their appetites, but that quickly passes. The taste will linger, however, oh yes it will.

Milagro, by Dave Grusin

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Ailurophobia Alert

*Ailurophobic: a. a person who has an abnormal fear of cats; b. a person who detests cats.

I watched a documentary recently about cats. Their history with humans, characteristics that the large and small cats have in common, and stories of some remarkably exceptional animals. The program reinforced what I had already read elsewhere, that modern cats are so close to the original African ancestor that we can regard them as wild creatures who have deigned to live among us. This, in exchange for regular rations and shelter against the storm.

It’s one of the things I like most about them. I admire their independence and the fact that they only stay with us because they want to. Need us … probably not.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see similarity in the expressions on a tabby cat’s face when compared with that of a Siberian tiger. I have looked carefully into our own cats’ gaze at times while imagining that I were a mouse and that this was the last thing I’d see on this earth. Chilling to do this, it is.

Siberian vs. Tabby

Study the tiger’s face for a moment. A dozen years ago Robin and I were visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, on a cold and rainy autumn afternoon. We entered the building containing the big cats and were completely alone in the subdued light of the tiger exhibit, where a Siberian reclined, staring out at passersby. As we walked past this magnificent animal, his head slowly turned, his eyes fixed upon us.

It was unnerving, even though he was behind a wall of serious glass. I found that I was not comfortable being the object of a tiger’s curiosity, no matter how safe I was and how idle the curiosity.

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There is an asymmetry in the completely unnecessary debate about which is the better pet, dog or cat? While dog fanciers can frequently be heard to say: I don’t like cats because they [fill in the blank], you almost never find a cat owner who feels that they have to denigrate dogs to justify their fondness for felines. I wonder why dog owners are so defensive about their choice?

One of those “dog people” was my friend, Rich Kaplan. Every once in a great while, he would say something like: “Well, you would say that, you’re a cat person.” At those moments I would respond with this litany: “I have owned perhaps eight dogs in my life, six gerbils, four hamsters, fifty tropical fish, two parakeets, twenty rabbits (started with two), a horse, and a clowder of cats. Which am I, then, a cat person, a gerbil person? A goldfish person?”

I always found Rich’s comments illogical and told him so. I thought they must be prompted by ancient archetypal fears. Perhaps his ancestors had been plagued for centuries by sabertooth attacks, I suggested.

For myself, if dogs did not require so much more upkeep, I might have one as a pet today. I admire them and enjoy their company. However, I do admit that I’m not too partial to those breeds which slobber profusely, and prefer the tidier ones.

(My favorite “dog,” I have to admit, is not a dog at all. it is the timber wolf.)

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The tiger is my personal favorite of all the wild creatures. It’s the biggest of the cats, the most beautiful (IMHO), and is capable of impressive feats of strength. These attributes and more make it #1 in my book.

gaurs and water buffaloes weighing over a ton have been killed by tigers weighing about a sixth as much No other extant land predator routinely takes on prey this large on its own

After killing their prey, tigers sometimes drag it to conceal it in vegetation, grasping with their mouths at the site of the killing bite. This, too, can require great physical strength. In one case, after it had killed an adult gaur, a tiger was observed to drag the massive carcass over a distance of 12 m (39 ft). When 13 men simultaneously tried to drag the same carcass later, they were unable to move it.

Wikipedia: Tiger
Tiger Rag, by the Mills Brothers

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FYI, this is a gaur, the largest wild cow on the planet. It can weigh up to 3300 pounds. This beast is not to be trifled with, nor is it easily dragged.

Rumor has it that gaur milk is particularly tasty, but there are presently no gaur dairies in existence, primarily because they keep kicking over the milk pails and chasing the workers out of the barn.

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The following video clip, taken from the movie “Apocalypse Now,”displays what I think would be my reaction to meeting my favorite wild creature on its home ground. Prudence and respect are the watchwords, my friends, prudence and respect.

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Pity The Fool

I read a story this morning in which a particular actor was described as a narcissist. I’m sorry, but is it news to anyone that actors are self-absorbed? It all reminded me of a Mark Twain quote:

Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.

Mark Twain

Their lives could be regarded as one big selfie, as they ramble from one role to another, each time pretending to be somebody other than who they are. And the better they are at deceiving us, the more praise they receive.

Henry Fonda, who conned me dozens of times

At some point in human history, actors were regarded as a very low class of people, indeed. Little more than decadents traveling in the company of other decadents, riding in a gaily decorated wagon as they traveled from village to village. But in our present day, some of them have been raised to god-like status through our odd fascination with everything they do. It is now quite possible for a “major” star to become unbelievably wealthy by doing the same thing that got them ushered briskly out of towns on morals charges in the past.

If they play a role of an intelligent person, we impute intelligence to them. If they portray a brave person, bravery. But they are hoodwinkers at heart, and little more than that. And while it can be amusing to let oneself be bamboozled, it’s a good idea to know what we are doing and keep our heads when we leave the theater.

As a preteen I attended a Saturday afternoon matinee nearly every week, provided I could round up the 12 cent cost of admission. Most of these were “cowboy” films, usually accompanied by a newsreel and a cartoon. When I left the movie house, I would feel taller and braver as I strutted on my way home because I had temporarily adopted the persona of the hero, and didn’t let go of it when I hit the streets. Usually this had worn off by the time I finished the six-block journey to my home territory, but not always. I’m pretty sure it amused my parents to have a three-foot tall version of Roy Rogers or Gene Autry come walking in the door every Saturday, with no six-gun at his hip but tons of attitude.

I was, and I remain, a susceptible. I am exactly the sort of person these con men and women are looking for in the audience. A mark. A chicken ready for the plucking. A sucker to the end. Fool me once, fool me twice? … I am waaaaay past that.

King of the Cowboys, by The Amazing Rhythm Aces

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From The New Yorker

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The Queen is dead. Long live the King.

The lady Elizabeth was queen for nearly my entire life, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I bothered to learn what her role really was in the English system of government. What power she had came from maintaining an image, a persona, and she knew it. My own feeling is that she did it awfully well.

It seems that whenever the subject of British royalty comes up, there arises in the media a boring repetition of the game that is criticism of the monarchy followed by support for the institution. Back and forth. They never get anywhere. I find myself wishing that the Brits would decide one way or another and quit nattering about it. Elizabeth’s job was to be a symbol, and a fine symbol she turned out to be.

[To me, the only really interesting royal in the last fifty years was Diana, and that was because she was naughty.]

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From The New Yorker

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One of the joys of harvest time is eating produce that is grown where you live. Fruits and vegetables are never fresher or tastier than when the truck brings them to the store from a farm down the road. In this part of Colorado we can gorge ourselves on peaches that I’m pretty sure are very close to what we will be served in Heaven. Fruit so juicy you need to eat it at the sink, leaning forward to keep the front of your shirt dry.

And a nationally famous brand of sweet corn, Olathe Sweet, is grown in fields just ten miles away. I wish corn were slightly more nutritious because I would probably eat only that from mid-August to mid-September if I could survive the month without getting scurvy or beri-beri.

Blessings you can eat. Life is good.

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All this fussing and dithering about if we should or shouldn’t stick ex-pres Cluck in jail for his offenses against the U.S. I have no problem with him going to the pokey, but of course I have never been one of his fans. The guiding principle that no one is above the law is all I think I need to justify my position.

In fact, I am such a vengeful sort that I think we should dig former President Nixon up and stick his coffin in solitary for a couple of years for all the bad stuff he did. Pardon or no pardon. Gerald Ford thought it would be too traumatic for the country to prosecute Nixon way back then. Baloney, B.S., and balderdash … I said it then and repeat it now. It might be painful to lance a political boil, but not doing so allows it to continue to do even more damage.

Maybe if we placed a few politicians in the juzgado when they deserved it we could improve the overall health of the genre, as when we cull a flock of chickens to get rid of those who aren’t laying eggs. I have no data here, and I could be only blowing smoke once again. But could we try it … just once … starting with “the Donald?”

In the Jailhouse Now, from the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack album

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Lastly, a link to a thoughtful NYTimes article on the subject: “Would human extinction be a tragedy or a good thing?” Whatever your answer, it’s unutterably sad that anyone might seriously pose such a question.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/17/opinion/human-extinction-climate-change.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

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Red Dirt Days

Robin and I took off with granddaughter Elsa on Wednesday morning for several days in southeastern Utah. I will preface this thrilling travelogue by saying that each day’s weather was exactly the same – 65 degrees on rising, 88 degrees by noon, 98 degrees by 1600 hours, 78 degrees at bedtime. No rain or wind. Nary drop nor flutter. For this and a host of other reasons, we did not attempt anything epic.

First stop was Goblin Valley state park. This is an amazing place if you like to look at thousands of hoodoos in one place. Fortunately for us we were hoodoo people. Unfortunately, in less than an hour walking around in the noon-day heat had sapped us. It’s not that we couldn’t have continued but there wasn’t a bucket of fun to be had in continuously sipping at our water tubes and staggering from goblin to goblin.

So it was back in the car to find air conditioning and safety until after supper when we returned to the park. Even though the temps were still in the 90s the sun’s lower position made things less brutal and now allowed us to comfortably hike for a couple of hours. Driving to our motel after dark we spotted a couple of jackrabbits. Hadn’t seen one of those for decades.

To bed at the Whispering Sands motel in Hanksville, Utah.

Peaceful Easy Feeling, by The Eagles

Next morning we found something unusual in the motel parking lot. A Harley-Davidson motorcycle with something intelligent written on it.

Usually the only script found on a Harley either suggests all sorts of mayhem that will befall you if you touch it, or extols the virtues of having bugs on one’s teeth. This was a pleasant surprise.

Onward we went to share the joys of walking in slot canyons with our granddaughter. We went up Little Wild Horse canyon for about an hour until the scrambling took its toll on knees and we turned back. Always amazing , those narrow and sometimes truly claustrophobic places.

Next it was on to the city of Moab. For those of you who have not been there, Moab was a boomtown when uranium prospecting was a craze in the late 40s/early 50s. But instead of drying up and blowing away when that was over, some entrepreneurs thought to themselves “Let’s see if we can talk a bunch of people into coming to this godforsaken part of the US by telling them that it is fun!”

And they have been successful.

Today you come to the town to hike, mountain bike, drive 4WD vehicles everywhere imaginable and many places where you shouldn’t, or to climb into rafts and run parts of the Colorado River. If you are of a more sedentary persuasion, there are scores of merchants with their arms full of t-shirts to sell you.

We spent most of the rest of the day exploring by car in the upper part of Canyonlands National Park. Stunning. Vast area of cliffs and canyons and valleys. As difficult to really take in as the Grand Canyon has proven for me.

Later we encamped at something called the OK RV Park, and according to the advertisements, we were “glamping.” It was a huge teepee which contained two beds, two swamp coolers, a fridge, a flat-panel television, a table, and a lamp. It was really kind of fun, and the teepee seemed much larger on the inside than a glance at the exterior would indicate. So consider me glamped, I guess.

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There was one jarring note on this trip. In the rest rooms in Canyonlands, this sign was posted. Please ponder it, as you mull over the fact that all of the instructions given were most likely prompted by instances of citizens not doing things the proper way.

I can see that the first and the last suggestions are pretty much common sense. But the rest … especially that middle one … who are these people and who let them run free without their leash?

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Lastly, a quote that we found on a national park sign which we all found particularly meaningful. And from a surprising source, President Lyndon Johnson, who I think of more as a rougher cob than as the author of such beautiful and prescient words. As he was signing the Wilderness Act of 1964, he is quoted as saying:

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” 

Lyndon Baines Johnson

It’s possible that Lyndon didn’t write this, he had many excellent speechwriters to help him in this area. But he definitely said ’em. If only we had listened and acted on what he said. Those last eight words … .

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ZPG

As we read daily about climate change and its oh-so-painful rollout, as we contemplate a future where we will live in vertically oriented housing, as we begin to accept that somewhere down the road we might have to eat insects to get the protein we need, there is one thing that is too often left out of the discussion.

There are too many of us. Too many already, and too many more potentially on the way. Like some aggressive weed, humans have overgrown the planet, and our world increasingly suffers for it. It seems to me that any “solution” that doesn’t deal with this is doing nothing but applying a Band-Aid to set a broken arm. It won’t do what is necessary and will ultimately fail.

But what would “dealing” be like? Who in the entire world is so naive or foolish as to trust their government with an issue as emotionally loaded as “How many kids can we have, Mr. President?”

For some thoughtful people, voluntary limitation of family size is the only real hope for a sustainable future. And this means education, education, education. Back in 1968 an organization was formed named Zero Population Growth. Its aim was educational, tying to knit together many of the loose threads in our social and political lives into a working philosophy of action. Twenty years ago it renamed itself and is now known as Population Connection.

In 1970 a young Air Force physician (that I know very well) went with his wife to attend a ZPG meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. That night this couple learned two things.

  1. The problem was worse than they had thought, and was world-wide, urgent, deserving the immediate attention of every human on the planet
  2. They were the only people in that whole room who had children. Four children, to be exact.

At the end of the evening, they quickly and quietly left for home before they were discovered and exposed as the raging hypocrites they seemed to be. Even though everybody at the meeting seemed quite pleasant and progressive, there was always that nagging worry about tarring and feathering to be concerned with when you are dealing with true believers.

But the problem hasn’t gone away. And it is a faint hope that education will do the trick. In the meantime I’ll be looking for a nice high-rise where I can get a closet-sized apartment on the 184th floor. Someplace I can sit myself down every morning to a good nutritious breakfast of cockroach flakes.

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From The New Yorker

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Let me share something personal with you that you may find helpful. Especially if you live with a person who is given to long-windedness and self-righteousness. It is very effective.

There are times when I start out in a dialogue with Robin but along the way it turns into my monologue and something quite near to a lecture. At this point my spouse will simply turn to me, and in the sweetest possible way utter a single word: Pedant!

If this does not slow me down, one or two repetitions of the word (Pedant! Pedant!) will always do the trick, and I slink away chastened. I have not yet found an adequate comeback. My problem, of course, is that I am such a knowledgeable fellow and feel the obligation to share that knowledge with the world. Even when the world may be unwilling to listen.

It’s a conundrum.*

*Conundrum is a word commonly used by pedants, I am told

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Sunday Robin and I drove up to Telluride to walk about on the third day of the famous film festival. We’ve been to previous festivals there on several occasions, always in the freeloader section of the attendees. It’s easy for us, we live only 75 minutes away from Telluride. If you don’t want to spend a ton of money, you can crowd-watch and perhaps see a real live celebrity, or you could sit on the ground in Elks Park and listen to a panel discuss some aspects of the world of movie-making, or you could stay to watch a free film at an outdoor venue at twilight.

If you are feeling particularly well-heeled, you can buy a pass to get into a variety of movie screenings, parties, etc. They range in price from $390 to $4900.

But. Read on.

The Patron Pass ($4900) Includes a tax-deductible donation of $2,900
Admission to all events in all sites. Priority seating at all theatres. Guest of honor at the Guest/Patron Brunch on Friday morning. Access to the ‘Patron’s Preview’ of an important new film on Friday afternoon on a first-come, first-serve basis (seating not guaranteed).

Official Website of the Telluride Film Festival

So even with a five-grand ticket in your hand, there are still events that you may wait in line for and be denied seating. What fresh hell is this?, I say. If I’m plunking down that sort of cash, I not only want to be guaranteed my seat in the theater, but to be carried from event to event in a howdah.

On the day we visited, the noon outdoor panel-in-the-park contained no Hollywood-style movie stars, but three foreign directors and an actress from Iran. Bummer, we thought. No flesh to press that we might later brag about.

It was the best of all the panels we’d ever attended. These were passionate people with stories to tell and imaginations to inspire us. One director was from Chile, one from Iran, and another from Mexico. The actress had been Iran’s most popular daytime television star until a sex-tape of her and her boyfriend was made public. Now, the life of a woman in Iran is no picnic at best, but at that point hers rapidly became hell on earth until she was forced to leave the country.

What we heard was an hour of discussion of ideas by bright and interesting people. And that, my friends, doesn’t happen every day.

An aside. Like the character Deets in the television series Lonesome Dove, I am not one to quit on a garment just because it’s got a little age.”

The shirt I am wearing here on a Sunday at the festival is the shirt that I wore on my first date with Robin more than thirty years ago.

Until it rots and falls off the closet hanger of its own accord, I will continue to enjoy its company. It’s really only now just broken in.

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From The New Yorker

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One of the themes discussed at the noon seminar in Telluride was the very thorny business of identities, and its effects. Not just in film-making, but in everywhere in our lives. Right now there is a dustup surrounding a new television series dealing with the world of the Lord of the Ring legends. Actors of color are being used in the series, and some Tolkien purists are up in arms.

There were no black or brown elves in Tolkien’s stories, is their cry, and they are right. Everybody knows that elves are not only white, but the palest shade (reference: Orlando Bloom) in that colorless palette at that. That is right, isn’t it? I would ask an elf myself just to be clear on the subject, but I keep running into that proverbial brick wall because they are imaginary creatures. It is therefore exceedingly difficult to interview them.

But I do admit that there are stories where the person’s color or gender or nationality are essential parts of the drama unfolding, and it would be awkward to cast the roles otherwise. For instance, submarine crews in World War II were entirely males; the fight for women’s suffrage necessarily involves women in central roles, there were no white slaves on southern plantations, Custer’s command was not rubbed out by a tribe of Swedes, etc.

But we are talking about actors. They are paid to represent somebody other than themselves. That is what they do for a living. For me, personally, it will not be off-putting to see actors portraying elves of color. I can handle it. I am experienced in the art of suspending disbelief.

Way way back when recently deceased Anne Heche had just made the news as Ellen Degeneres’ partner, she starred in a movie along with Harrison Ford entitled Six Days and Seven Nights. When I went to the theater to see it, I remember thinking: “Well, how in the hell am I going to be able to believe in a romantic setup here? A straight guy and a gay woman on a desert isle?” Within minutes that problem ceased to exist, because the skill of the actors involved made the film’s characters come to life, and their actual lives were irrelevant.

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Triumph And Disaster

If someone had read Rudyard Kipling’s poem to me when I was sixteen.

If he had sounded like Sir Michael Caine when he did it.

If I could have then set aside my mistrust of anyone older than myself to actually listen to what was being said.

If when I finally discovered the poem years later, even then I had applied its lessons to my life.

If I could have read it to my own children when they reached an age, and if they possessed more patience and understanding than their father had at the same life stage.

I dunno … what if? These are some good words strung together in a particularly good way. Although the poem ends with the words “You’ll be a man, My son,” there is nothing in the rest of it that couldn’t be applied to humans of all varieties. And to my antiquated way of thinking, we’d be the better for it.

One line stood out as I heard it read it this morning.

If you can meet with triumph and disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same

If, by Rudyard Kipling

There is a mote of Buddhism here, suggesting (Buddhism never demands, you know) that since both of these extremes are illusory and transient, we give them only the slightest nod and go on with our lives.

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From The New Yorker

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An adult granddaughter is coming to visit us for a few days next week, and we have been busy planning things to do while she is here. We had scheduled a couple of motel stays, and were feeling quite good about ourselves until the weather, which was supposed to cool off (read: Autumn in New York) decided instead to turn to scorching (read: Death Valley Days).

Here’s the really amusing thing. Many of those plans we made involved sightseeing in southeastern Utah. Which is a desert. Where it will be 100-plus degrees during her stay. The kind of territory where the highway signs read: “Welcome to Utah! Senior citizens please cower indoors at all times.”

Now this young woman, who we will call Elsa, is a very resilient person. She’s had her share of travel snafus, and even more important, she is fully aware of my limitations in putting together pain-free vacation itineraries.

So if it comes down to a three-person cribbage tournament in an air-conditioned room at the Whispering Sands motel in Hanksville UT, she will do just fine, I am sure.

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I’ve mentioned Hanksville before in this blog. It is a small town that has not quite regained the hustle and bustle it had when everyone was prospecting for uranium here in the 50s, but it still has its hopes, I am sure. If you go to its official website, and click on the menu item called “Attractions,” you will see a drop-down list which contains this item: Mars on Earth. Click on that and these bits of prose come up, giving you a pretty good idea of what you will find there.

The complex terrain of Wingate, Navajo Sandstone, Mancos Shale, Morrison and Chinle formations that surround Hanksville, has attracted the attention of the Mars Society, which believes it to be a good candidate for an imitation of the red planet.

While the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) does not take visitors, their presence here shows how similar Hanksville’s surrounding terrain and climate can be to the Red Planet. If you’re looking to explore the wonders of Mars, but can’t wait for the advancements in technology needed to get there, explore the surrounding areas of Hanksville. With the bentonite hills, sand dunes, rocky outcrops, unique geological phenomenon, and desolation you’ll feel like you’re on another planet. 

This area has served as the film set for several movies set in space, most notably Galaxy Quest (1999), Star Trek (2009), John Carter (2012) and The Space Between Us (2017). As you can see, the area surrounding Hanksville bears an uncanny resemblance to the red planet, making it the perfect place to film movies set on Mars. So next time you’re looking for a place to explore that feels out of this world, head to Hanksville.

Mars on Earth, Official website for Hanksville, Utah

I suspect that when the author of this particular bit of puffery sat down at their computer to compose it, they overlooked a possible dampening effect on the reader, since we are still looking for signs of life on Mars.

Rocket Man, by Elton John

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From The New Yorker

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Friday’s Times of New York featured an important guest column written by Ashley Judd which I can recommend to you. It recounts what happened after her mother’s suicide in April of this year, when police investigators and reporters descended on the family at a time when they were trying to process what had just happened. Coming to grips with how much their life had just changed.

Privacy. It’s what they hoped for at that awful time, and are now fighting in the courts to maintain. A suit to keep videos, tape recordings, and transcripts of interviews from being made public. Not because they contain state secrets, but because of the privacy all of us deserve, and which is so fragile.

I don’t know that we’ll be able to get the privacy we deserve. We are waiting with taut nerves for the courts to decide. I do know that we’re not alone. We feel deep compassion for Vanessa Bryant and all families that have had to endure the anguish of a leaked or legal public release of the most intimate, raw details surrounding a death. The raw details are used only to feed a craven gossip economy, and as we cannot count on basic human decency, we need laws that will compel that restraint.

Ashley Judd: The Right to Keep Private Pain Private, New York Times, September 2, 2022

The lady writes exceedingly well. When my son took his own life, those of us who loved him and were left behind to wander stunned and adrift. It was a hard time indeed, but we were spared the public scrutiny that the Judd family is still going through, because we were not celebrities. The Judd family has all my sympathy and I hope their suit is successful. The public does not always, and in every case, have “the right to know.”

[This morning I’m feeling quite self-righteous re: the Judd story, but honesty requires admission that there have been times in the past that I have been a part of that “craven gossip economy.” Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.]

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A friend of mine has suggested enuff awreddy with the versions of September Song I’ve been sending your way. Not only is he obviously tired of that song, but he suggests September Morn as the better alternative.

His suggestion follows quickly on the heels of Robin’s tactful observation the other day that in her opinion It is time to stop with the September Songs altogether. It was a cute idea that quickly wore thin, I am led to believe.

Two against one. I surrender … September Morn it is!

September Morn, by Neil Diamond

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This is getting to be an awfully long post, but just moments ago I ran across an obituary in the Times of New York. That of Archie Roach who died at the age of 66 years. He was an aboriginal folk singer from Australia who came to international prominence in the early 90s on the strength especially of this song from his first album, Took the Children Away. The story of Europeans taking away the native children and sending them off to schools for cultural re-education is a familiar one. It’s not just Australia’s story, but a source of national shame for the U.S. and Canada as well.

Here’s Roach as a young man, telling his story and that of so many others.

September Song 3

My mother had very few musical favorites, but one of them was Billy Eckstine. Might have had something to do with him being a good trumpet player, or bandleader, or vocalist. Or maybe it was just because he was so damned handsome.

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September Song, by Billy Eckstine

September Song 1

It’s September, to my mind the best of the twelve. And it seems only fitting that the best month has the best song. Here’s the very first recorded version, by Walter Huston, all the way from 1938. Yes, yes, they had electricity and recording devices in 1938, which was an entire year before I came to the planet.

The wonderful actor Huston introduced this ageless Kurt Weill-Maxwell Anderson tune in the 1938 play “Knickerbocker Holiday.” You’ll note that the lyrics on this first recording of the song are quite different from what we are accustomed to hearing. Huston’s beautiful 1944 re-make for Decca includes the less personal, more familiar words.

The original 78rpm single was issued on Brunswick 8272 – September Song (Anderson-Weill) by Walter Huston, orchestra conducted by Maurice De Abravanel, recorded October 19, 1938

The 78 Prof

There you have it. Listen to be entertained as well as edified. In a day or so we’ll share the 1944 remake.

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