Archive for November, 2010

  • Blog
  • November 25th, 2010


By Joel M. Vance

Leopards are beautiful animals but you wouldn’t want to sleep with one.  The same might be said about Sarah Palin, the present darling of the extreme right wing.  As nutty as she gets, she still can do no wrong in their bemused eyes, especially those of middle-aged, drooling white guys.  But she consistently proves that in her case beauty is only skin deep—ignorant goes right to the bone.

But even when she says dumb things like (let’s hope mistakenly), “We have to stand by our North Korean allies,” it’s overlooked by her fawning fans.  Now she’s attacking Michelle Obama’s campaign to slim down America’s slobby children.

The program is called “Let’s Move” and its aim is to get kids off their fat asses and into the world of exercise, as well as to encourage parents to feed them a sensible non-fat diet.  Sound like a good idea?  Not to Palin who sees it as government intrusion into the lives of her wheezing constituents.

“Take her [Mrs. Obama’s] anti-obesity thing that she is on. She is on this kick, right. What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat.

“And I know I’m going to be again criticized for bringing this up, but instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some politician or politician’s wife priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions and then our country gets back on the right track.”

Nowhere is the government dictating what kids should eat or parents should feed their kids, except in school lunch programs which should mandate healthy diets.  Anyone who says differently is a clueless dolt (nothing personal, Sarah).  To politicize the efforts of someone trying to better the health of young people is the height of hypocrisy and also an indication of just how stupidly tunnel visional the Alaska Flash really is.

Nothing illustrates how hypocritical she is as when she tries to whack a flopping halibut on her television reality show—she looks like a debutante trying to kill a mouse with a broom.  Just because she lives in an outdoor state doesn’t mean she really understands the outdoors—she endorses the Pebble Mine which would destroy the world’s largest salmon spawning ground in Bristol Bay (and had the audacity to name her daughter “Bristol”—why not “Mine Tailings Palin”?)

Many of the nation’s kids are similarly separated from the real world.  A friend visited with her six-year-old daughter who is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  Our grandkids, six, eight and 10, also were visiting.  The kids all went fishing in our pond.

It was as if the fish were cooperating in a memorable day for the little ones.  I was busy impaling bits of nightcrawlers and trying to avoid getting hooked by the wildly-swinging fishing lines.  Everyone was shrieking…except the mother who was unusually quiet.

Her daughter was too busy to be AD and all the kids were pretty much HD…or maybe they were just being kids.

We kept a half-dozen of the bigger bluegills and my friend asked, “How do you fix them.”  Never one to mince words, I said, “I bop ‘em in the head and filet them.”  She was even quieter and later, on reflection, I realized that she probably was appalled at my insensitivity and her daughter’s pre-adolescent bloodlust.  I just hope that she realized her daughter was a kid being a kid, connecting, possibly for the first time with the elements of life which include death.

For a kid with ADHD, the outdoors quite possibly is far more agreeable than Ritalin or some other chemical mood magic.  “Attention deficit” means the kid has trouble staying focused.  The outdoors is a vast world of sensory delights and if ants don’t claim the kid for a long time, maybe butterflies will or squirrels…or fishing.

The second part is “hyperactivity disorder,” meaning the kid is overly-full of energy that often is misdirected (many ADHD kids have problems with anger management).  I suspect the joy of discovery and the sensory overload of the outdoors bleeds off ADHD aggression.

In Last Child in the Woods, writer Richard Louv explores the calming effects of outdoors activities on children with ADHD, an area scientists have only recently begun to research. He says that “nature therapy,” as opposed to the many pharmaceutical fixes for hyperactivity, is “widely accessible, free of side effects, non-stigmatizing, and inexpensive.”

Today’s child is electronically leashed to a television set or MP3 player or some other disconnect from the natural world.  Louv tells of a family ski trip where the kids wore headphones as they skied (as if downhill skiing were not already a disconnect from nature).

Farm kids once belonged to nearly half the families in the country.  Now farm families are no more than two percent of the population.  Virtually everyone lives in cities or suburbs.

I was born in Chicago.  But I explored vacant lots as if they were wilderness areas, played cowboys and Indians and watched the adults return to their rural roots with World War Two Victory gardens.  It’s possible to experience the outdoors even in the biggest cities—New York has Central Park and some cities, like Minneapolis or Seattle, are cheek by jowl with lakes or the ocean.

The fact that parks and wildlife areas exist in most major cities is evidence that we realized historically that green is good for the soul.

On the other hand, millions of Americans live in developments that actively prohibit the kind of creative outdoor play that we enjoyed as kids—Louv talks about prohibitions against building treehouses or even climbing trees.

My friend Henry Domke, a retired doctor, with some friends, is building an elaborate tree house in the woods at the edge of a native prairie restoration on his property.  “It’s something we’ve talked about since we were in college,” Henry says.

For me as a Chicago kid summers brought a real trip to the outdoors, either to my father’s Missouri hard rock farm or to my mother’s small resort home town in Wisconsin.  Either way I was outdoors from dawn to dark and often later.   I saw farm animals mate, and I saw them butchered.

It was not a big deal for those who lived there and consequently it was not a big deal for me.  Today’s insulated city kid has no idea about blood and circling flies.  And neither do his parents.

In Chicago we didn’t have Little League or any of the other organized baseball programs.  We had a scuffed baseball and a couple of gloves and we tried to sting the other guy’s palm by throwing as hard as we could—called it “burnout.”

When it got too dark to see we chased fireflies.  In my mother’s Wisconsin resort town, we could hear a tiny Johnson outboard far out on the lake, far removed from today’s mega-horsepower bass boat engines.  Summer smelled like road tar.  On my father’s Missouri farm the stridulation of cicadas and the first tentative calls of a whippoorwill were the sounds of night.

There are alternatives for the most city-bound.  The famed naturalist Jean Henry Fabre spent his entire professional life, more than half a century of his 87 years, studying insects in his back yard.

And my friend Gale Lawrence, a Vermont naturalist, has a wonderful book called “The Indoor Naturalist” about the fascinating natural history of your house, from the origins of dust balls to everything you didn’t know about cobwebs.  Gale also has a book “A Field Guide to the Familiar” which teaches you (and your kids) to see, really see, what’s around us.

This is not a plea for a return to the 1940s but it is a plea for releasing our kids from the prison of modern homes into the outdoors where the real world exists…and weaning them from a Big Mac future.

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  • Blog
  • November 21st, 2010

Woman of Steel

By Joel M. Vance

I know how Lois Lane would have felt had she managed to get Clark Kent to the altar.  It would have been trying to be married to the Man of Steel and it is, for me, trying being married to the Woman of Steel.

Let my 75-year-old wife come within hailing distance of a metal detector and she sets off alarms as if she were Grandma bin Laden.  She has had two hip replacements, a shoulder replacement, and metal inserted in her spine.

Airport security people refuse to believe that anyone could walk around with a few ounces of metal in their hip region that isn’t a miniaturized AK 47.  Marty is the target of the wand wavers.  She has spent more time with her arms extended than an evangelist at a prayer meeting.

This is not Mama Osama; it’s Marty Vance, grandmother of five.  Tell that to the airport security folks where she is regarded as the Mother of All Terrorist Threats.

Marty is the most complete innocent flying today.  Once she left a pair of scissors in her purse which set off many bells and whistles.  While they were wanding her, looking as if they would rather be beating her with the electronic staff, an Arnold Swarzenegger look-alike got me to one side and grilled me about “the scissors in your purse.”

“I may look odd,” I said.  “But I don’t carry a purse.”

“Your wife’s,” he growled, looking at me the way I look at fresh vomit on the sidewalk.

“I don’t know anything about scissors,” I said, sensing the cell door swinging shut.  He held them in front of my nose and said, “You can go back past security and start over or we’ll confiscate them.”  Implicit was, “Or we can just haul you off now and you’ll never be seen again.”

Well, they were simple small scissors, probably $1.98 at Dollar General, so I said, “Keep ‘em.”

Marty rejoined me, having grudgingly been passed through the check point.  “You did what!” she exclaimed when I told her I’d given away her scissors.  “I’ve had those things for 20 years.”

Later, in full view of any security folk who cared to draw a Glock and practice swift justice, she held out a pair of folding scissors.  “Well, they didn’t find these!” she exclaimed with satisfaction.   I looked for a nearby rock to crawl under.  I still hear about the heirloom scissors I gave away.

At an outdoor writers’ conference I picked up a wilderness survival kit, a rudimentary collection of items designed to keep the backcountry emergency at bay, including a bite-sized Snickers bar (you can always stop a charging grizzly bear in its tracks by waving a Snickers at it).

There was a stub of candle and a couple of matches with which to light it.  The whole was sealed in a plastic bag.  Airport security, convinced those two matches were the entrée to airborne conflagration, slit the little plastic pouch open and removed the matches, thus rendering the candle useless if I happened to be trapped in a blizzard 150 miles from Nome.  At least they didn’t eat the Snickers.

The only time in recent years that Marty has been able to board an airplane without intensive security scrutiny was when she dislocated one of her bionic hips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota and had to be airlifted out.

Forest Service pilots slid her stretcher into their floatplane and off they went to the nearest hospital, no metal detector or aggressive questions.

But I don’t think I’ll recommend to Marty that she dislocate a hip so we can get to our plane quicker.  She’s still upset about me giving away her scissors.


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  • Blog
  • November 19th, 2010

I Guess I’m Just An Old Bigot

By Joel M. Vance

A recent news story said that the corporation founded by the late Paul Newman, that left-wing, liberal, socialist, communist bleeding heart tree hugger, has collected $300 million for charity, especially camps for gravely ill children.

Every cent of profit from this corporation goes to charity, none to lobbying or congressional bribery. Contrast that with Mitch McConnell, the minority leader of the Senate, who says the aims of the Republicans are to do away with health care, shrink government, cut spending (but not the military) and you can guess where the spending cuts will come….and make Obama a one-term president.

The country?  The good of the people?  Forget that crap—the aim of the right wingers is to do away with health care, to give to the rich at the expense of the poor and to grab power.  It’s our fault, us progressives who believe the Golden Rule is a pretty cool guideline, whether we’re God-fearing churchgoers or not.

I guess I’m just bigoted–see the comment below on Facebook after my comment: Joel committed to vote by November 2nd. “Because if I don’t vote to keep Democrats in office, the idiot Tea Party and the extreme right wing Republicans will take over and ruin what’s left of our democracy.”
October 29 at
12:02pm via Commit to Vote Challenge.

And the reply from someone I don’t know:

Diane Tschirhart Short: “This guy sounds like a real bigot. Per the election outcome it looks like most Americans believe in the “idiots”. May the God he doesn’t believe in guide our leaders. Amen.”

I guess I hope God intervenes too since whatever is guiding our leaders in recent years isn’t working so well.  We’ve been in one war for nearly a decade and we’re still muddling around in Iraq.  Sen. Lindsay Graham, one of the right wing’s tub thumpers, wants to attack Iran.  We gave George Bush II eight years to take a massive budget surplus and run the country into the biggest deficit in history.  We let the right wing emasculate regulations on bankers and investment giants so they could play fast and loose with everyone’s money like drunk gamblers at a Vegas crap table.

The 2008 election was supposed to change things.  “Yes we can” quickly became “yes, we might” and then “maybe we could” when the spineless Democrats frittered away a majority by “cooperating” away any possible social gains.

Meanwhile as the economy tanked, the extreme right blamed it all on the Democrats, nevermind facts, and a voting public too busy with reality TV and other evils of modern society, believed every lying, bought and paid for, trash advertisement by every nutcase candidate and elected them.

The Supreme Court, a right wing five vote majority, made it all possible with their ruling that a corporation is a person, protected by the First Amendment, and can give unlimited money to any sleazeball politician who promises to vote for corporate greed.  It’s legal bribery and it worked.

Voters elected some really strange folks who make Graham look almost moderate.  They did it because the voters who gave the left a majority in Congress and the nation’s first black president in 2008 failed to cast a ballot this time around.

So, I’m angry that those who voted for change in 2008 found something better to do than vote in 2010, allowing us to trade Russell Feingold for Rand Paul. I’m literally tired at my age of waiting for this country to quit acting mean spirited and un-Christian to its fellow citizens because they cost too much. Ms. Short undoubtedly thinks of herself as a true blue Christian and that McConnell, et al, are guided by God. Her version and that of the right wing of the Golden Rule is “do unto others before they do it unto you.”

I guess I’m just bigoted.  I despise hypocrites, individually and as a group and that makes me bigoted by definition.  I certainly despise the slimy politicians who are for sale to the highest bidder.  I despise the yellow Democrats who cave in every time a right winger threatens them.

That’s a lot of folks to despise and the only solution I’ve come up with is to go fishing.


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