Archive for September, 2019

  • Blog
  • September 27th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


When I was five or six years old, living in Chicago, my parents took me to the WLS Barn Dance downtown. My father socialized with a member of the Barn Dance orchestra and got tickets. It was my first experience with country music, although the Barn Dance was an eclectic mixture of all kinds of music. The Grand Ole Opry generally is thought of as the Citadel of country music, but the WLS Barn Dance truly deserves that honor (WLS stands for World’s Largest Store— the station was owned by Sears and Roebuck).

The Barn Dance debuted in April, 1924, and ran until 1968. Among its stars were Gene Autry and Red Foley (who would go on to become one of the stars of the Grand Ole Opry) I don’t remember who was on stage the night I saw the Barn Dance, but probably Arky,the Arkansas Wood Chopper, Lulu Belle and Scotty and maybe Rex Allen, a singing cowboy, who would become the narrator for Walt Disney’s anthropomorphic nature documentaries.


Ironically, George Hay, the announcer on the Barn Dance, later moved to Nashville’s powerful radio station WSM, where he drew on his experience with the Chicago down-home music show to originate what he named the Grand Ole Opry. He claimed to have originated the Barn Dance, but he didn’t and apparently used his experience there to help him get a job with WSM.


So the Barn Dance, sadly, vanished , overtaken by whatever social changes have made its type of entertainment obsolete. The Opry came pretty close to suffering the same fate in the 1950s when rock ‘n roll rolled over popular music tastes. Rockers, in combination with faux folk singers like the Kingston Trio almost doomed the music that I had grown to cherish.


Documentary film guru Ken Burns has compressed a century of country music into 16 hours of television. I watched all eight episodes, 16 hours carrying country music from about 1920 into the 1980s. I suspected that, although I was thoroughly engrossed by and, thrilled by what I saw, I would abandon Mr. Burns’ examination of country music at about the same time period I did country music in general.


When Garth Brooks and his ilk ushered in the smarmy goop that today passes for “country” music, I retreated to my Jimmie Rodgers and Carter Family recordings, punctuated by occasional detours into the more modern realm of St. Willie and a few of his fellow followers of real country (i.e. Waylon, JR Cash, Merle, and the Old Possum). In fact, I am wearing an old Possum T-shirt at present, a tribute to (in case you didn’t know) Mr. George Jones.


As an aside why, can’t anyone learn how to spell Jimmie Rodgers name? It even appears on a poster in the documentary as “Jimmy Rogers.” I was a teenager, crouched in front of the old Zenith upright radio, listening to the Ernest Tubb record shop broadcast past midnight on a Saturday in Dalton, Missouri when I heard the Texas Troubadour introduce a recording by his hero Jimmie Rodgers titled “Away Out on the Mountain,” an optimistic song about someone heading for the great beyond where things were bound to be better than where he was.


About three minutes later, I was hooked for life on the songs of Mr. Rodgers and have been ever since. I was born a year after Jimmie Rodgers departed life, having failed to— as he bragged he would in a song— whip that old TB. By that night in the 1950s I had become a devotee of country music and was eagerly seeking out records by the senior Hank Williams (whose turbulent career was just as short as that of Jimmie Rodgers.


The records of Ernest Tubb, Elton Britt, and Roy Acuff were omnipresent on the jukeboxes of the 1940s when we visited my mother’s birthplace in the tiny resort town of Birchwood, in northwest Wisconsin. The music of those good old boys echoed from the jukebox in Hud’s Bluegill Bar where my cousins and I lingered while the aunts and uncles drank Bruenig’s lager beer and talked about the war. The Japanese during suicide attacks in the Pacific were reputed to shout “the hell with Roy Acuff!” to rally their troops.


Years later, I would stop in Meridian Mississippi, Jimmie Rodgers’ hometown, where there is a modest museum in a city park, an old railroad car converted into a shrine for The Singing Brakeman. One of his Martin guitars is in a display case, though not the one with his name inlaid in pearl on the fingerboard. After a couple hours in the museum, I traveled out to the simple country graveyard where he, his wife, Carrie, and daughter, Anita are buried side-by-side. There was no one in the sunlit graveyard so much like the Asbury Church graveyard where my ancestors are buried, and I stood before my idol’s grave saw that some pilgrim like me had left a guitar pick on the gravestone and I kicked myself for not having thought of a similar gesture since the chances were slim that I ever would pass that way again.


I haven’t made a similar pilgrimage to Hank Williams’ final resting spot but I did work with Ed Mohr at the Alabama Journal in Montgomery, Hank’s hometown, for more than a year. Ed had been a radio announcer on a local station earlier in his career and had hosted an early morning show, featuring the usual format of many stations of the day— news, interspersed with livestock reports, and live entertainment from country music hopefuls. One of those unknowns was Hank Williams who would sometimes show up for his predawn appearance drunk from the night before or, as also happened, not show up at all. That left Ed, a refined and erudite fan of grand opera (with no Ole in the middle) with many minutes to fill ad lib.  He hated Hank Williams.


Nor have I made a pilgrimage to Graceland, the resting spot of Elvis in Memphis but I confess I have profited in a minor way from his meteoric and enduring fame— while I worked in Montgomery I haunted a record shop, featuring used discs from local jukeboxes. I bought a copy of Elvis’s first recording “That’s All Right Mama” backed with a hopped up version of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” for a few cents. Someone had mistakenly pasted the same label on both sides of the record and had written in pen the correct title (maybe Sam Phillips himself?). Several years later, I sold that 78 RPM record to a collector for $350. No telling what it would be worth today— like Elvis himself, it no doubt has appreciated in value better than most stocks.


The Ken Burns documentary has had the good sense to recruit three articulate and history minded spokesmen to comment on the early years of country music since those who could have related history firsthand virtually all have died. Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, and Ricky Skaggs all three grew up in the tradition of what I consider real country music, and are delightful commentators on the way it was. Willie Nelson pops up occasionally, looking older than dirt which he is, a last dinosaur from the glory days of country. Several of the commentators have died between the making of the documentary and its airing— Merle Haggard is a notable example as are Mel Tillis, Roy Clark and Larry Gatlin.


It’s not fair of me to categorize all today’s country music as Garth Brooks oatmeal. There have been wonderful singers scattered throughout the genre’s history from the Carter family to right now, but the fact is that all too much of today’s country music has an insipid sameness devoid of inspiration, overproduced, and so far from country music as I define it that it might as well be played in elevators or while you’re waiting on the phone to talk to someone in India who can tell you, incomprehensibly, how to fix a problem on your computer.


Trying to capture country music in 16 hours or 6000 hours is like the blind men trying to describe an elephant after feeling it with their hands. Today’s young fans think of country music as what they see on the CMA awards show which to me is like watching a Las Vegas casino extravaganza with show girls and Wayne Newton warbling and equating it with Pavarotti at the Met, singing the lead role in Aida.


Is folk music considered country music? All country music derives from it. The original Carter family, true children of the backwoods and hollers, obviously were folk and just as obviously laid the foundation for everything that came to be called country music. But Doc Watson who was to flat pick guitar what Earl Scruggs was to the five string banjo, was every bit as “folk” as the Carters. Woody Guthrie practically defined the itinerant songster and was an inspiration for an army of devoted Guthrie groupies, including Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. What about rockabilly, that crossbreeding of rock ‘n roll and country? Jerry Lee Lewis, the last dinosaur among country rockers, got no mention from Burns, only appearing in a photo of him, Elvis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash, the million-dollar quartet of Sun records. He is the last survivor of that historic quartet of superstars.  They don’t get more country than Jayree Lee.


There is irony in the fact that Chet Atkins, a performer so beloved by me that we named our first dog Chet also is one of the people most responsible for transforming traditional country music from country to whatever claptrap it is today. And it’s not as if Chet didn’t know what real country was— he was recruited as a young and almost unknown guitar picker by Mother Maybelle Carter to join her and her three daughters on their touring roadshow. When the Grand Ole Opry in turn, recruited the Carters but said they’d have to leave the guitar player behind, Mother Maybelle told them “no Chet, no us.”


The Opry backed down, Chet Atkins joined the cast, became a Nashville fixture, and later became heavily responsible for creating what came to be known as the Nashville Sound— which is what we have today– horns and violins rather than fiddles, syrupy backup singers, overproduction and a bland sameness with all the character of overcooked Quaker Oats.


However, just as I would be about to abandon the documentary as having progressed beyond my musical tastes, it would dive into another segment of musical history that can’t be ignored. Even as Chet Atkins and the Bradley brothers were transforming country music into the Nashville Sound, that same transformation included Patsy Cline who, along with Anita Carter (with her deep country roots), was an authentic country girl.  Both had angelic voices that melted the boundaries between hillbilly and Music Row.


Burns deserves enormous credit for documenting the rise of women as superstars in what had been a male-dominated music genre. Patsy Cline was among the first women to adopt an in-your-face, take no prisoners persona, followed by her protégé Loretta Lynn (I have seen “Coal Miner’s Daughter” where Sissy Spacek spookily channels Ms. Lynn numerous times and will again the next time it airs). There is a telling scene captured by Burns when Porter Wagoner pushes Dolly Parton off-camera so he can hog the mic and it’s too bad the fabulous and feisty Dolly didn’t grab the mic and cram it down his throat.


There haven’t been enough tragic deaths to end each segment of the documentary with a defining country artist’s final act, but Burns made use of existing ones to wind up at least three of the segments— Jimmie Rodgers funeral train winding the long way back to Meridian, Mississippi, to end segment one, the drug and alcohol addled end of Hank Williams in another segment, and the fiery plane crash that killed Patsy Cline to end a third. There is no mention of the ironic death of Opry star Dottie West who offered Cline a ride in her car back to Nashville instead of Cline flying in the fatal plane, only to die herself in a car wreck years later, at the entrance to Opryland, the glitzy substitute for the historical Ryman Auditorium, the home of the Opry for so many years.


Not present in the documentary is a film clip from years ago featuring Bill Monroe and Emmylou Harris clog dancing together, a magic marriage of the old and the new—perhaps the best single example of how country music can retain its historic identity, despite its evolution from the hills and hollers to the streets and skyscrapers. They can take the bodies from the Ryman to the roller coasters of Opryland, but they can’t totally kill the spirit of the music itself.


Just when  I was ready to dump the Ken Burns documentary for dwelling on Nashville Sound junk music, Burns shoved my musical nose in Kris Kristoferson, the chaotic romance of Old Possum and Tammy, Dylan and Johnny Cash together and an extensive look back at the smooth faced Willie Nelson, along with the manic pill fueled craziness of Roger Miller.  So Ken Burns’ documentary pulled me along through the years allowing me to fleetingly experience the lives of entertainers I have cherished for decades, waiting for the moment when, disgusted at the sloppy syrup of today’s country music, I would be forced to abandon it.


I decided I would watch until Burns trotted out the pudgy little guy from Oklahoma who, sadly, is today’s symbol of what country music has become to me. But if the Nashville Sound erodes what few brain cells I have left, I have an extensive Carter Family record collection and can always switch off the television set and listen to “Keep on the Sunny Side”. That attitude, worked for the Carters during the dark days of the Depression and maybe it will for me.

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  • Blog
  • September 21st, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


Our retired English teacher daughter recently found a whoopie cushion in a junk shop and joyfully brought it home. You kids might want to think about that when your grumpy old high school teacher gives you an unwelcome and unexpected assignment. Teachers are human beings. The same is true of retired writers. The teachers bring home whoopie cushions and the writers write about them—or at least what the sounds they make represent.

It’s rare when I can read something I wrote years before and say to myself, “I wish I’d written that— wait! I did write that.” The following was posted eight years ago. I hope to make my blogs educational as well as entertaining, and I’m reposting this one in the interest of adult education. Hey, I’ll confess— I laughed out loud at my own stuff. Either this means that it was pretty good or that I’m losing it. Whatever, enjoy it and if there are one or two new readers who have arrived at this website since 2011, it’s for you and, okay, for me. Pass it along to your friends who have airy ambitions. You might want to listen to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” while you’re reading.


“The dog did it!”

“Har de har har har!”

Flatulence is a laughing matter, save perhaps if one occurs noisily during a reverent quiet moment during a royal wedding ceremony.  There are low humor books dedicated to the release of rectal gas.  Google “farts” and you will find more methane media than you ever would have dreamed exists.


The fart is omnipresent.  We all do it and perhaps it would help the timorous to imagine Henry Kissinger cutting a chainsaw-loud blue darter.  How about the Pope, overdosed on Communion wafers?


On the other hand, farting is gross.  Consider the source.  Some things you just don’t talk about.  “Fart,” after all, is a four-letter word.  According to Wikipedia, the know-all web encyclopedia, “The immediate roots are in the Middle English words ferten, feortan or farten; which is akin to the Old High German word ferzan. Cognates are found in old Norse, Slavic and also Greek and Sanskrit.”


Not only does the word have a long history; it resounds in literature as well.  Everyone who has been assigned “The Canterbury Tales” in high school English (at least the guys) inevitably zeroes in on “The Miller’s Tale” which involves a particularly gross story of butt-kissing and fart-in-the-face low humor.  So who would say that England’s literary reputation began with Shakespeare?


The Bard was not averse to fart jokes either–“A man may break a word with you, sir; and words are but wind; Ay, and break it in your face, so he break it not behind” from “A Comedy of Errors.”  One of the stories from “The Arabian Nights” also concerns farts.


Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the most astonishingly complete of our founding fathers, sought a way to perfume gastric effusions so that even if a person couldn’t muffle the sound, he or she could make the incident as pleasant as possible.


His lovely essay on butt blossoms is preserved in a book “Fart Proudly” and the fact that his essay on farting still is in print after 200 years is comforting.  See if Harry Potter can last that long (maybe if there is a sequel Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Fart).


You can order bumper stickers saying “Bean Powered” or “Methane-Endowed and Proud” And Europeans say Yanks lack sophistication.  What could be more elegant than a wet T-shirt contest where all the dripping mammaries bear a “Club Methane” inscription?


Lighting farts is a time-honored form of low humor, equivalent to, but not as well- accepted, as a cream pie in the face.  Only once have I seen it and it was a moving experience.  I moved quickly to escape the blue flame.  A fellow dorm rat in college demonstrated.  He had the apparent intellectual capacity of Neanderthal Man and thought lighting a fart with a match was thigh-slapping funny.  Actually it was. He bent over and jetted his methane effusion into the flame of a match.  A blue streak shot a few inches off his butt and we leaped back, startled.  His fuzzy wool pants smoked for an instant.


I remember few things from my formative years.  Death, birth and other traumatic events remain in my mind…but so does that blue flame and I’m not sure whether it is a measure of the drama of fart-lighting or of my intellectual appreciation.


If you’re of a mind to find out all there is to know re gaseous gaffes, just Google “farts” and you will be inundated with enough information to make you persona non grata at every party where you trot out your awesome knowledge.  Better to keep it silent but deadly.

However, a few salient points:

  1. Men fart more than women (a dozen times a day on average, compared to a dainty seven for the ladies), possibly because men eat more fart-worthy foods.
  2. Everyone knows that a high-fiber diet is good for you. Also good for your fartability. Some avid consumers of fiber topped 30 FPD (farts per day).
  3. Cauliflower, eggs and meat all contain enough sulphur to stink up your farts, but beans which are notorious for producing butt blasts, have little sulphur and are not as apt to stink up the place.
  4. There are many, many more fart facts and, in fact, the most fascinating web site is Facts on Farts. You’ll find far more than you really wanted to know.


Mel Brooks, who is no stranger to low humor, celebrated the fart in a memorable scene from “Blazing Saddles” where a bunch of cowboys eat beans and sit around a campfire trading noisy farts.  There also is an equally memorable scene from a “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer is driving a Central Park carriage after having fed his horse a can of Beef-a-Reeno.  You don’t hear the horse farting, but the effect on Kramer and the couple he’s chauffeuring is hilarious.  George Carlin commented on the various farts, including the SBD (silent but deadly).


Carlin commented on every known humor foible, but none so risible as his riff on farting. He mentioned the Fizz, the Fazz, the Fizz-Fazz, the Snorter and the one that goes Whoosh!


History celebrates those who transcend their fellows with special accomplishment and none ever has approached the accomplishment of Josef Pujol, a Frenchman who turned his ability to fart not only on demand, but to create music with it (them) into a career.  He apparently had a limited range of four notes: do, mi, sol and do, but could do a visceral version of the French national anthem, the Marseillaise.  Born in 1857, he started his show business career in 1887 and began performing at the famous Parisian café the Moulin Rouge in 1892.


He performed other musical gymnastics such as inserting a tube in his anus so he could direct his farts through musical instruments.  At his peak he earned more money than Sarah Bernhardt, the most celebrated actress of the day (but one who, as far as anyone knows, never farted accidentally in public).


Pujol lived until 1945 which indicates a possible health benefit in letting it all hang out, so to speak.  As far as is known, he was no relation to Albert Pujols, the baseball star.  Pujol’s real-life career inevitably recalls the quintessential fart joke which concerns the farteur who appears in a booking agent’s office and claims to be able to fart the “Star Spangled Banner.”  He demonstrates and it is a glorious experience (with the windows open).  The booking agent lands a Carnegie Hall concert at which New York’s elite appear.  The hall is crammed.  The audience hushes, the star appears to thunderous applause, drops his pants…and dumps on the stage.  The outraged agent drops the curtain and screams at his client, “What the hell is wrong with you!”

“Well, geez,” says the farteur.  “Can’t a guy clear his throat?”


With that gross joke, it’s time to close the sphincter, so to speak, on this look at a universal but seldom examined facet of human behavior.  Next time you feel the urge in a grocery store, sneak around to a deserted aisle, and let it rip….and then turn around to see the Girl/Boy of Your Dreams standing there with an expression of horrified disgust, explain that, hey, the President does it, the Pope does it and so did Elvis.

Don’t count on it making a difference, though.


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  • Blog
  • September 12th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance

First, he wanted to drop nuclear bombs on hurricanes to change their course. Then he did it with a far less damaging Sharpie pen. If there was any doubt Donald Trump was losing bricks from a load which was some shy of a full load to begin with, his record dealing with hurricanes should make it painfully obvious that someone should line the walls of the Oval Office with rubber.


They’re now calling Trump’s second grade attempt at abstract art Sharpiegate after Trump extended the course of Hurricane Dorian on an official NOAA weather chart, using a Sharpie pen to draw a sloppy loop, to include a portion of Alabama just so he wouldn’t have to admit he was wrong when he originally tweeted that Alabama was in the path of the hurricane.


But adding a funny name to the Trump gaffe trivializes what actually is a serious concern (or certainly should be) to the country, especially to the 40% or whatever it is, which thinks that anything the president says is true, regardless of its obvious falsity. This credulous mob would vote for fat Donnie if he were wearing a black uniform with a swastika armband. He has them bamboozled every bit as effectively as Adolf Hitler bamboozled his ardent followers in the 1930s.


P.T. Barnum famously said “There’s a sucker born every minute” and Donald Trump is proof that 40 million or so mothers gave birth to Barnum’s statement. Barnum, merely was trying to sell phony sideshow gimmicks to a credulous public, and did very well at it. But that was county fair carnival baloney whereas, what Trump is selling, is the fate of our country.


The answer is to hold him to account, and I fear that waiting more than a year to do it at the ballot box gives him far too much time to wreak havoc on the nation. Almost daily he and his stable of downright evil minions dismantle yet another safeguard of our democracy. That’s the way it happens, in increments and almost imperceptibly, until you look around and nothing is left. The curse on someone who is, as I am, 85 years old is that we have known good times, and, more important, know what good times look like.


I was a kid at the tail end of the Depression, and an adolescent during World War II, certainly a traumatic time— but a time when the country was one, dedicated to preserving itself as the world’s leading democracy. As an adult, I lived through the terrible times when McCarthyism threatened to overturn decency (until  Tailgunner Joe got slapped down and eliminated from public life, as well he should have been). And I lived through the trauma of the 1960s when Bull Connors and his ilk turned fire hoses on peaceful demonstrators, who were seeking only equal rights under the law, and when evil white men killed civil rights workers and were freed by intimidated and indoctrinated all white juries south of the Mason-Dixon line.


I further survived the national trauma of the Nixon scandal(s). But Richard Nixon, for all his faults, was nowhere near the scale of Donald Trump as a failed human being. Nixon was paranoid, but not a poster boy for nuttiness. I don’t recall that anyone suggested that he be institutionalized, but increasingly critics as well as mental health professionals are suggesting that perhaps Donald Trump would be better suited to a sport jacket whose sleeves tie in the back.


After all, it was Nixon who presided over the country when several of the nation’s national resource protection laws came into being— the clean air and clean water acts, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. This resource protection legacy is exactly what the Trump administration is ardently seeking to destroy.


Nixon famously said “I am not a crook.” Donald Trump honestly could not make such a claim. He is a crook and if his tax returns ever are unveiled and analyzed I have no doubt they would reveal lawlessness of an almost unimaginable scope. I’m willing to bet he has laundered money for Russian oligarchs who, in turn, financially backed his presidential campaign. No doubt he has variously inflated the value of his properties to secure loans that otherwise would have been denied or devalued them in  order to pay lower taxes.


The mere fact of his Sharpie scribble on official weather map technically is a violation of the law, although compared to the magnitude of his other legal missteps is only a blip on the radar. But it is a symptom of his madness in that he has turned a piddling misstatement into a lingering presidential pout. Something that should’ve been ignored, apologized for, or dismissed with a deprecating quip, instead has turned into a lingering tantrum, involving at least one high-ranking naval officer, and federal weather officials who no doubt he pressured into reluctantly agreeing with his Sharpie silliness.


As if the entire fetid mess of Trump’s chaotic present lifestyle weren’t enough, the Trump reelection campaign, in an astonishing display of poor taste, is selling black marker pens decorated with Trump’s signature in gold, and is bragging about the fact that hey, they are made in America. Perhaps that is what the goofball president means when he brags about bringing jobs back to America. The discouraging fact is that Trump’s drooling followers will buy the damn things.


He persistently and consciously violates the emoluments clause of the Constitution and it is maddening to see the overseers of probity in government letting him get away with it. Trump Tower is replete with special interest renters pouring money into his pocketbook because, unlike any reputable politician, he retains control of his business interests and the money they generate.  Foreign entities routinely rent Trump’s facilities, doubtless in hopes of currying favor.


One minor news story involves an Air Force cargo plane landing close to his Scottish golf course for refueling with an overnight flight crew staying at a resort owned by him. Similar military flights routinely refuel at lower cost at overseas military installations, and the flight crews stay either on base or at much lower cost hotels nearby. Somebody much higher up than the pilot and crew of the plane had to issue orders for the diverted landing. Something is rotten, not in Denmark as Shakespeare would have it, but in Scotland and (see next paragraph) in Ireland as well.


Then of course there were Air Force Two flights with Irish officials in Dublin by Trump’s toadie vice president, Mike Pence, about 200 expensive miles each way so he could stay at Trump’s Irish golf resort, rather than at the site of the meetings where everyone else stayed. That’s what’s known as sucking up to the boss (who, coincidentally, suggested that Pence might want to stay at fat Donnie’s financially troubled resort). Any person of integrity would have trouble sleeping at night, stuck in a grimy situation like that. But apparently uber religious Pence had no trouble abandoning his Christian principles to serve his master. A guy named Judas had a similar trait long ago, except he betrayed, not served the boss.


It may be instructive here to list again as I did several blogs ago the Mayo Clinic list of the signs of antisocial personality disorder— in other words the signs of someone who is a sociopath.


 Disregard for right and wrong. Persistent lying or to seek to exploit others. Being callous, cynical and disrespectful of others. Using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or personal pleasure. Arrogance, a sense of superiority and being extremely opinionated. Recurring problems with the law, including criminal behavior. Repeatedly violating the rights of others through intimidation and dishonesty. Impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead. Hostility, significant irritability, agitation, aggression or violence. Lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others. Unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behavior with no regard for the safety of self or others. Poor or abusive relationships. Failure to consider the negative consequences of behavior or learn from them. Being consistently irresponsible and repeatedly failing to fulfill work or financial obligations.


It is impossible to read through that list of personality disorders and not think of Donald J Trump, the classic narcissist, among a multitude of other human flaws. Multiple sources within the administration are privately telling the media folks that Trump is veering ever closer to outright madness. He can call reporters “the lying media” all he wants, but that won’t stop them from seeking out the truth from folks who still remember how to tell it.


For the life of me, I cannot understand why Congress acts so powerless against this menacing nutcase. There are two avenues open immediately to rid the country of him— bring impeachment charges, or invoke the 25th amendment by claiming he is no longer able to perform the duties of president. But so far, the House of Representatives seems incapable of taking decisive action, allowing numerous subpoenaed witnesses in a variety of investigations basically to flout the summonses and, in essence, tell Congress to go to hell.  The Senate, of course, is dominated by Moscow Mitch McConnell, Trump’s bosom comrade in Russian meddling and as long as the Republicans rule the upper house it will take no action in calling the president to account.


As feeble as it sounds to me, the rationale for not launching and impeachment hearing is that the public is indifferent to the prospect. If that is true, first of all it doesn’t say much for the public at large. Secondly it poses peril l to the fate of the nation if apathy determines our future. Remember the old saying attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”


There is another quote written in 1920 by H. L. Mencken, one of my favorite curmudgeons for many decades. Mencken often was bigoted and when he targeted something he didn’t like, which was often, he used a pen dipped in acid.  But it’s pretty hard to argue with this prescient prediction  he wrote 99 years ago: “As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.”


Those of us who lived through the Nixon debacle remember that a Senate committee recommended an impeachment inquiry and the House of Representatives followed through. When the infamous Nixon tapes surfaced almost certainly the House would’ve impeached Tricky Dick and the Senate probably would have convicted him—but he cheated the political hangman by resigning. When Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel, it was widely reported that Trump moaned, “This is the end of my presidency.” So far, he has evaded that bullet and many others, including the infamous Billy Bush tape with comments about his treatment of women that are far more graphic than any of Nixon’s damning language. Give tricky Dick credit—he stuck with one wife, and two admirable daughters.


Resigning is nothing that Donald Trump ever would do because that would be the same as admitting he has made a mistake and he is incapable of that. If he can’t even admit misstating the path of a hurricane then he is incapable of admitting any mistake, including the biggest one of all—admitting it was a mistake for him ever to be born.

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  • Blog
  • September 6th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


I have a good photo of the Hooded Wonder but my computer has defeated me and I can’t figure out how to insert it into the blog. Perhaps Matty doesn’t want to be seen and has called upon her alien brethren to block me from showing her. Maybe she’s in the canine witness protection program. The truth is out there.



Mattie Vance can’t help it if she looks as if she is communicating with aliens from a different galaxy. Perhaps she is. Who knows what mysterious signals eddy through a dog’s brain, especially one who is, in human equivalency, 87 years old. That makes her roughly a couple of years older than I am and even I don’t understand what mysterious signals eddy through my brain, much less Mattie’s.


I’ve been trying to figure out dog thinking for at least half a century and can’t come close to tuning in on the canine wavelength.  I have decided that dogs think in two dimensions— yesterday and today. You have only to appear in hunting clothes for a bird dog to begin leaping in joy, certain that it is destined for a hunting trip, in other words summoning memory of past joyous times. The dog is thinking of yesterday and reacting today, but has no concept of tomorrow. Which is a good thing considering that dogs rarely if ever watch the news on television and thus cannot become as depressed as the rest of us.


The reason Mattie looks oddly unlike your normal dog is that she is wearing a plastic cone that looks like some sort of satellite receiver, designed to intercept signals from Out There. As we know from many episodes of “The X Files”  “The truth is out there.”  Fox Mulder would take one look at Mattie and exclaim “See! I tried to tell you!”


Mattie is a French Brittany with a checkered history. The reason she is wearing a plastic cone is to keep her and her kennel mates from licking a row of stitches on her right front leg where she somehow suffered a near amputation during a ramble on our 40 acres of woods which I thought were relatively free from canine antagonists wielding machetes.


Veterinarians seem to think that licking a wound is more damaging than a round of antibiotics. Of course there is a nagging thought that licking is free, whereas antibiotics create serious wounds in your wallet that can’t be cured by your dog licking it. I recall that once I made a joke in print about how I was financing our vet’s next vacation to an exotic location.  The next time I hauled the dog in for primary care, the vet chuckled and made reference to what I had written. At least I think he chuckled—it may have been a subdued snarl. He is long since retired, possibly to an exotic location.


To date, Mattie has endured more stitches than Dr. Frankenstein’s creation. Only a week before her leg trauma, she visited our vet to have both ears sewed up after returning from a woodland jaunt with her ears in tatters. She didn’t even retrieve a dead rabbit that time, a feat she occasionally performed in her younger days. I suspect age has slowed her enough that she can’t run down small game like the Mattie of yore, but I also suspect that doesn’t stop her from trying.


The obvious solution is not to let Mattie run free in our woods, but that seems to be cruel since most of her every 24 hours is spent in one of four kennel runs or an attached house. The alternatives would be to accompany her on her walkabouts, or to equip her with an electronic collar which, in the words of one of my hunting buddies is equivalent to “Ma Bell— you reach out and touch someone.”


You must understand that Mattie is not an A-type of dog. In the kennel hierarchy she is at the bottom, gentle, refined, unassertive and a friend to all. She is in all ways, a lady. She is the Mrs. Doubtfire of animals. She is Andy Griffith’s Aunt Bea as portrayed by Frances Bavier (although my late dear friend, Mitch Jayne, who was one of the Darling Boys on the show, said that Aunt Bea, off camera, would snarl and cuss like a Parris island drill instructor.


So Mattie normally is as soft and cuddly and agreeable as a child’s sleepy time teddy bear.  But when she is hunting , she becomes as devotedly feral as a timber wolf. Once the hunt is on, she is all business and her focus is on nothing but the game. That trait possibly explains why she occasionally returns from walkabout looking as if she has just been crossways with a Bengal tiger.


Actually, her most memorable (in the sense of the sinking of the Titanic being memorable) mishap happened when we actually were accompanying her on an outing. My wife, Marty, and I were close behind her on the trail that circles our acreage when she veered around a cabin we built on the backside of the place. She was no more than 20 yards in front of us, but by the time we reached the corner of the cabin, she had vanished.


I immediately began to call for Mattie but there was no response, no sign of the little lady. I have discovered over more than four decades of consorting with French Brittanies, an extremely intelligent animal (sometimes, I’m forced to confess, smarter than I am) that they have a remarkable ability to become totally deaf when asked to do something they really don’t want to do— like respond to “come!” –If there is something more interesting occupying them. The same hearing-impaired animal, however, can hear the faint sound of food being prepared at distances that would confound the acute ears of a turkey gobbler, listening for the seductive yelp of a horny hen.


Mattie did not respond and I hustled to the boundary line fence beyond which was an extensive pasture that, as far as I could tell, did not contain a small brown and white bird dog. Perhaps this was evidence of her possible alien origin. Perhaps she had been lifted from the face of the earth by a hovering UFO and taken to Planet X like those abducted citizens in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The truth is out there. An intelligent dog, of which Mattie is one, has the ability to learn more than 100 words, a vocabulary at least half again as extensive as that of Donald J Trump. That same dog also has the ability to switch off its auditory receptors when it hears words such as its name plus “come!” if it is otherwise engaged in an activity not sanctioned by its master.


Mattie’s uncle Scruffy, as a Brittany barely out of the puppy stage, once pursued a covey of quail at least a half mile from us and only the keen ears of my son, Andy, able to pick up the faint beep of Scruffy’s locator collar, enabled us to track down the wayfaring animal. Scruffy later in life vanished for four days, seduced by the scent of a lovelorn female, wafting pheromones on the vagrant breezes— or so we theorized. Mattie, having been surgically sterilized, was not a victim of lustful deprivation. Perhaps she pursued a deer or a flushed wild turkey and, by the time the sight and scent of the pursued critter faded, she had lost track of her whereabouts and simply didn’t know how to get home. We will never know.


We continued on our walk and I shouted until my voice was hoarse, expecting in any moment for Mattie to reappear as she always had before. Her brother Cap, her lifelong running mate (named as a pup Captain Adventure for his proclivity to explore when all the other puppies in the litter were zonked out) dutifully trotted out of the woods and fell in with us and obediently returned to the kennel. Night came and no Mattie.


That was it—no Brittany of the Baskervilles, no Sherlock Holmes in or out of disguise to solve the Mystery of the Missing Mattie. We slept uneasily, waking in hopes that a bedraggled and repentant dog would be at our doorstep as Scruffy had after his orgiastic Odyssey. Morning came, but no dog did. What had happened to Mattie? I felt like Dr. Watson, perpetually bumfuzzled, hoping for the great detective to come up with a solution. Only we didn’t have a great detective, only me without a clue.


That was it for three days and we had essentially given up the hope of ever seeing our dear canine Mrs.  Doubtfire. Then, on the evening of the third day, I got a phone call from a stranger who asked if we were missing a brown and white Brittany. He had found Mattie, an obvious lost dog, more than five miles away as the crow (or errant Brittany) flies. She had somehow traversed cross-country and, in the process, crossed  at least one County Road and a busy US Highway.


In an ironic twist, she turned up at a gun shop where her rescuer found her, checked her collar, and called the telephone number engraved on it. I don’t think she chose a gun shop to select a new side by side shotgun for her bird hunting master.


When Scruffy returned from his romantic ramble, he lived up to his name—he was scruffy, hungry and thirsty, but he had the knowing gleam of experience in his eye. By contrast, when we recovered Mattie, she was fearful and timid as if scarcely daring to hope that we actually were who she prayed we were.  When she realized finally that we actually were her loved ones she leaped into the truck more than ready to abandon the gypsy life. We profusely thanked the good Samaritans who had rescued her and returned Mattie to the bosom of her family and to the safe confines of her dog run. While she may very well know more than 100 words, I don’t think my heartfelt advice of “Don’t do that again” cut much ice— but perhaps the copious petting and joyous hugging had some lasting effect on her.


A long long time ago when I was an indigent (or is that indignant?) sports editor I wrote what I thought was a clever and literary lead sentence on a story about the local high school team losing yet another game. I quoted what I thought was a reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “the Raven” where the bird croaked (as I wrote it) “Not again Not again!” My wife, Marty, gently pointed out to me that Mr. Poe’s bird actually said, “Nevermore, Nevermore!”


It may be a reflection on the bookish education of sports page readers, but absolutely no one pointed out my mistake. However, it has become a family tradition, to shout “Not again, Not again!” when something unwanted happens. A couple of days ago, Marty and I went for a walk and we took the stitched up Conehead Mattie with us. I detoured into the house for no more than 30 seconds to get something or other. And when I returned…. No Mattie.


I shouted. “Not again! Not again!” Marty looked at me, as she has so many times over the years as if wondering “Where did I find this person?” I had visions of Mattie returning, covered in blood, and a trip to the vet for more stitches. But after many anxious minutes of me screaming “Mattie, come!” Frankendog ambled out of the prairie grass, her intergalactic receiver cone rattling against the big bluestem.


For the moment, all is well. Mattie lies at my feet and I gingerly scratch her stitched up ears. Another week and we can remove the cone. Presumably, by then the lacerated leg will have healed enough that Mattie can lick away to her heart’s content.


But sometimes, when we’re out for a walk (and me keeping a vigilant eye on her every move) I catch her glancing at the skies. Perhaps she is just looking at birds overhead—after all, she is a bird dog— but maybe, just maybe, she is receiving signals from outer space.


The truth is out there.








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