Archive for October, 2019

  • Blog
  • October 26th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


I wouldn’t say that my home state of Missouri is the second coming of Jurassic Park, but we do have our moments. It seems that every decade or so some alien creature surfaces in the news. Some critter that may belong somewhere else, but definitely not in the state of Missouri.


In 1972, Louisiana, Missouri, (not the state of Louisiana, but the town) was the site of a spate of reports of a creature that became known as Momo. Momo was described as being about the approximate size of an NBA center (7 feet), covered with fur and topped by a large head like a pumpkin— fitting perhaps, in this, the Halloween season.


Momo also apparently was in serious need of powerful deodorant. There were a number of sightings of this weird primate up and down the Mississippi River corridor before it vanished into legend. One Lawrence Curtis, identified as director of the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, examined tracks of the critter and said it was an unknown primate.


One immediately thinks of Bigfoot from the Northwest United States, and the yeti of the Himalaya Mountains. Missourians, routinely, do not think of anything that size that doesn’t anchor the offensive of line of the Missouri Tiger football team.


No one knows if Momo was a native born citizen, perhaps on vacation from the coastal forests of the Northwest states, or an undocumented alien from Nepal or Tibet. Whatever, he—it— vanished from intermittent sightings and hasn’t been seen as far as I know for about 50 years.


Missouri seems to be a nexus for visits from creatures that are not supposed to occur in the state. Once, bears and mountain lions were among those mammals thought to be long extirpated from the Show Me state, but an influx of black bears, probably spillover from stocked bears in Arkansas, and fairly recent sightings and traffic fatalities involving male mountain lions indicate that we can’t count them as creatures only existing in history books.


Far more common are sightings of creatures from other states, but not ones routinely populating us. Once, when I was the sports editor at the Mexico Missouri Ledger, someone reported running over a porcupine in Monroe County, the next one North of us. The porky was at least 500 miles from where you expect to find him, alive or dead, and one theory was that he had hitched a ride on a log truck which, for reasons never explained, had come a long way south perhaps from Minnesota.  Another time a lone timber wolf migrated hundreds of miles into North Missouri from its origin in Wisconsin.


But such anomalous excursions are rare, but not unknown. Randy male animals, seeking love are known to travel long distances in search of romance, often far from their native habitat. That probably explains what occasioned the marathon trek of The Missouri Kid.


When I was working at the Missouri Conservation Department, there was a continuing saga of a bull moose which appeared first in Iowa, following a southward course completely through that state into North Missouri and ultimately as far south as the Missouri River where it vanished—the theory being that someone armed with a high caliber rifle had reduced what writer Bil Gilbert in Sports Illustrated magazine dubbed “the Missouri Kid” to freezer meat. Unlike Momo who appeared only sporadically and briefly, the Kid was seen by countless people along his extensive odyssey and, when he vanished, was mourned by all (except, presumably by whoever bagged him, and by many conservation agents who, to this day, would like to know the identity of the moose assassin.


Conservation agents were similarly baffled many years ago when a farmer in Osage County, on opening day of deer season, shot what he thought was the world’s largest trophy buck, only to find that it was an elk. It was an honest mistake and he wasn’t ticketed but the major mystery was the origin of the animal (elk historically were native to Missouri and actually have been reintroduced in the Ozarks, but at that time they were absent from the state). The elk had been tagged in Yellowstone National Park, so its origin was known, but not how it made its way 1000 miles cross country to die along the Missouri River.


There is a suspicion that just perhaps the animal had been a resident in a St. Louis Park, appropriately named Lone Elk Park, and had made a break for it, migrating along the Missouri as far West as the farmer’s barn lot in Osage County. How it came from Yellowstone to St. Louis is the original mystery and one theory is that it was elknapped, a wildlife violation of major magnitude, but as cold cases go that one is positively Arctic.


Another elk once went AWOL from a location in southern Iowa and traveled south into Missouri where apprehensive agricultural officials insisted that the animal be tranquilized and tested for brucellosis. The results were negative, but the animal overdosed on tranquilizer and died. It had been consorting with area cattle who possibly held some sort of bovine memorial service, like refugees from a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon.


So far there have been no violent encounters between these alien wildlife creatures and Missouri mankind, although I know of an instance where a biologist with the Conservation Department was attacked by a captive buck deer when he entered a fenced in enclosure which the animal, inflamed by rut, considered its own.


The beleaguered biologist grabbed the antlers of the buck and held on for as the cliché says “dear life” he also shouted for help and several wildlife workers pinned the animal down some 20 feet or more from the fence…. and safety.


As they held on to the struggling animal, one logically asked “So, what do we do now?” They decided that they would, on the count of three all let go and run like hell.  “One! Two! Go!” Collectively they eclipsed the world record for the 20 yard dash and chain-link fence hurdle. Only to find, when they reached safety, they were one person short. One, apparently had  gotten tangled in the antlers.  So they all clambered back into the pen and did another deer takedown. “Okay, pay attention! One! Two! Go!” This time, they made it barely ahead of one seriously angry and disappointed buck deer.


Perhaps it is a function of climate change, but for whatever reason when there are several warm years successively Missouri sees an invasion of southwestern wildlife species and, if global warming continues, this trend undoubtedly will intensify. Armadillos, road runners, and scissor tailed flycatchers are the most common immigrants from Oklahoma and points southwest. I’m waiting for the first report of the chupacabra, a mythical Mexican wolflike critter, but perhaps Donald Trump’s so far mythical wall will keep it south of the border.


If politicians are so dead set on deporting undocumented aliens, they could start with some that have been around for a couple hundred years. I don’t mean your great grandma and grandpa, I mean ones that have four legs or, in some cases, two legs and a couple of wings. But any attempt to rid the country of some of those undocumented aliens would run into heavy opposition from, for example, ringneck pheasant hunters. Attempts to introduce pheasants into the United States date to the time of George Washington.


Certainly we all are the legacy of undocumented immigrants. Way back when, some Vances came over from Ireland and Scotland and settled in the New World. None of them had documents attesting to their legitimacy or their qualifications for entrance into what would become the United States of America. Not only that, but the Vances were themselves immigrants, probably undocumented, from France before they became Irish and Scot. God only knows what they were before that but almost certainly they were without papers and any documentation might well been carved on a wall in a Neolithic cave.


Of all the alien critters to have chosen Missouri as new settlement territory, none was as intimidating, not to mention terrifying as what happened in Springfield in August , 1953. Momo was a maybe threat; the Springfield incident was real and potentially lethal. Here’s what happened:


A teenager named Carl Barnett bought an exotic fish in a Springfield pet store, but the fish died and Barnett wanted to be compensated. The store owner refused and Barnett, on his way home, noticed a crate and opened the lid. Instead of harmless snakes, the crate contained a dozen cobras, a deadly venomous reptile that you don’t want loose in your home city.


Barnett kept the secret of his not so harmless prank for 35 years before fessing up. The first of the liberated snakes appeared in a homeowner’s yard on August 15. The homeowner killed it with, of all things, a garden hoe. Another snake appeared across the street from that homeowner and also encountered deadly force. By now, the garden hoe was becoming a weapon of choice in the great snake confrontation. Hoes did in the third and fifth snakes, while the fourth succumbed to someone running over it until it was no longer a threat. The pet store owner captured the sixth snake but the seventh was more of a problem— it was thought to have slithered beneath someone’s house.


By now the city was all a-dither. It was time for the cops to get involved.  They first tried to lasso the errant reptile and, when that didn’t work, they tossed a tear gas grenade beneath the house which flushed the snake out, whereupon the cops shot it five times, failing to kill it— but they used the ultimate weapon to dispatch the snake. A garden hoe.


Ultimately 10 cobras suffered an untimely death, most to garden tools, but the 11th finally was captured alive October 25 and taken to Dickerson Park Zoo where it became a featured attraction. News stories vary, some say 11 snakes died, one captured, others ten snakes defunct. However, even if one survived the great escape, it takes two to tango, reproductively speaking, and it has been almost 70 years since anyone has encountered a cobra in Springfield and folks there have retired their hoes to weeding garden produce rather than as big game hunting weapons.


These days, Missourians live with their indigenous venomous reptiles— rattlesnakes, cottonmouth moccasins, and copperheads, and so far the Show Me State is free from invading alien snakes.  Florida trappers have captured a record-setting python, an alien species, in the Big Cypress National Preserve west of Miami. The huge snake measured 18’4” and weighed almost 100 pounds. Even at that, it was only the second largest non native python ever caught in the wild in Florida. The Associated Press commented, “The Fish and Wildlife Commission said hunting female Burmese pythons is critical because they add 30 to 60 hatchlings each time they breed.”


As of now, climate change a.k.a. “global warming” has not encouraged pythons to migrate as far north as Missouri—or at least, no one has reported encountering 18 foot long snakes in the Missouri wild.







Read More
  • Blog
  • October 17th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


In 1861 Mark  Twain traveled across the Great Plains to Nevada territory and wrote about it in his first book “Roughing It” which made him famous. In 1939 John Wayne starred in “Stagecoach” his first major movie and it made him famous. Obviously, there are definite advantages to stagecoach travel not available in today’s marketplace. The choice for long-distance trips for most folks is to climb in an airplane and trust that the mystery of flight once again will prevail.


On the other hand, a stagecoach is not suspended 30,000 feet above the Earth’s surface, held there by aeronautical magic. And in order to take advantage of this enchantment, one has to traverse the myriad pitfalls that strew the path of the weary traveler between home and boarding the airplane. Just negotiating the minefield of security check in would make old Sam Clemens and the Duke long for a comparatively easy set to with irritable Lakota Sioux warriors.


Scratch any air traveler today and you’ll uncover a festering wound of previous mishaps and the repeated mantra of he who has flown: “Never again! Never again!” But we do, of course, we entrust our lives to invisible flight crews whom we don’t know and whom we can only hope know what they are doing, semi-secure in the knowledge that “Hey, they’re up here too and are just as eager as I am to get from here to there without becoming a headline.”


Wikipedia says that firewalking, the act of hiking across a bed of smoldering coals, is “a test of an individual strength and courage, or in religion as a test of one’s faith.” For me, the equivalent of tiptoeing across sizzling briquettes is traversing the security checkpoint ordeal at the airport. Once, I heard a Catholic woman explained that when she was about five years old, she went to her first confession, so scared that she confessed to sins she didn’t even know the meaning of. “Forgive me, father, I have committed adultery!” she babbled to the astonished priest. That’s pretty much the way I approach a security check looking as guilty as someone bulging with 50 pounds of gelignite. “Honest,” I want to blabber, “it’s just old guy flab! I gotta start exercising more!”


Actually, after divesting myself of shoes, watch, metal belt buckle, (praying that my britches don’t fall down and moon my fellow passengers), five dollars worth of loose change, half a dozen Tums tablets and a handful of pocket lint, I stumble through the security portal, every muscle tense, certain that sirens will sound, uniformed security personnel, guns drawn, will descend on me wielding truncheons and handcuffs— only to arrive on the other side unscathed and able to breathe once again. Where I wait while my wife, Marty, undergoes the inevitable.


Marty, has a habit of bringing confusion to the professional lives of the TSA screeners. Some years back, she, in her early 60s, a grandmotherly Midwestern white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, former cheerleader, former Yearbook Queen, not exactly the prototypical terrorist, was flagged down when the x-ray machine detected a tiny pair of cosmetic scissors in her luggage. She underwent a body patdown, and the confiscation of the offending weapon of mass destruction before they let her go.


Barely past the screening station, she rummaged in her purse and held aloft another pair of scissors. “Well at least,” she said, “they didn’t get these!” I grabbed her arm and hustled her down the hall, exclaiming “Haysoos!”, practicing pronunciation in the language prevalence in the confines of Guantánamo Bay, figuring TSA already had a suite reserved there in our name.


A couple of flights ago, Marty, confronted with her first body screening booth, and doubtless recalling her days of terpsichore at Louie’s Sweet Shop as the boogie-woogie queen of Macon High School, stood on the footprints in the booth and, possibly imagining she was auditioning for a spot on “Dancing with the Stars” executed a nifty fast dance step. “Stand still!” Growled a TSA attendant, who doubtless had grown up deprived of boogying to vintage rock ‘n roll at Louie’s.


So, I approach every security check in, sweating and no doubt looking as guilty as someone who just graduated from Bomb Making University, but I always manage to negotiate through the various indignities without being patted down in places where I’d rather not be patted down, questioned by interrogators or pinned against the wall by your basic law enforcement chokehold aficionados.


Only once have I undergone a rigorous grilling by the security guys and that was upon entering Canada on a fishing trip. The copper was nice, polite, and the kind of guy you’d like to share a cold one with. But he was thorough enough to ascertain that my intentions within the borders of our northern neighbor were not to threaten the indigenous ice hockey culture (I concealed the fact that I am a St. Louis Blues fan), and he finally let me go.


More common than intimidating experiences with the security system are my sometimes frightening experiences once in the sky where, if something dramatic happens, the results are even more serious than a pat down or having your cuticle clippers confiscated.


Since I saw an episode of “The Twilight Zone” where an airline passenger looked out the porthole window and saw a gremlin clinging to the wing of the plane and looking back at him I have been hyper alert for the high-altitude equivalent of things that go bump in the night.. Anytime I have a window seat, I keep a wary eye out for creatures strolling on the wing at 30,000 feet and several hundred miles per hour. So far, the wings have been bare of hideous monsters, but you never know.


Then there was the time, the cabin as they call it (my idea of the cabin is a cozy enclosure of logs, with a comforting fire in the stove, a hunting dog sprawled on the carpet, and a beaker of Scotland’s signature soothing elixir in my hand) filled with smoke. I didn’t think it was coming from a comforting fire in a wood stove somewhere between where I sat and where the pilot sat and neither did anyone else among the passengers, who began to stir uneasily. Shortly, a disembodied voice, came over the intercom saying “there seems to be a problem folks, but don’t worry, we think it’s something with the electrical system and we will have it fixed shortly.”


Shortly was not near soon enough for me, considering that we were midway between Memphis and St. Louis where landing strips for 737 passenger jets are nonexistent. Gradually, the fog of smoke dissipated but we completed the flight in a collective condition commonly known as “tight ass” and we landed in St. Louis and taxied a considerable distance from the terminal, surrounded by emergency vehicles. My seatmate, a large fellow who looked as if he might have been a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, said, “I know where I will be tonight— I will be in church!” I didn’t get to slide down the canvas emergency chute, the only disappointment in the entire experience. And we had to deplane and walk all the way to the terminal.


Another problem confronting the frequent flyer is that of his or her luggage being sent, for example, to Montréal, when the passenger is headed for San Francisco. Perhaps that is why airlines charge exorbitant fees now to check your luggage—to pay the extra cost of reuniting you with your clothing. I once spent three days in the same pair of shorts and T-shirt waiting for the arrival of fresh clothing. Did I get an apology from the airline? Recompense for smelling like a high school locker room? A nice check to replace the grungy shorts and T-shirt? No, I got my luggage at long last on the morning of our flight home, no apologies issued.


Once I had to frantically search terminal wide for my missing fishing rod case which apparently to the TSA folks looked like a rocket launcher and I can only imagine them summoning the bomb squad to defuse what turned out to be an assortment of fishing rods. My shotgun, locked in a hard case and labeled, also once went temporarily missing on a hunting trip but fortunately was found before I went more ballistic than my treasured double-barreled 12 gauge.


I caught a 28 pound Chinook salmon in Oregon and had it flash frozen. I packed it in the middle of my suitcase wrapped in many layers of insulating clothing. It would, I pray, remain frozen for the couple of hours in the air to Kansas City’s International airport, and another couple of hours on the road home where it would join other wild game in our freezer and later be served as a baked entrée for an appreciative audience—not only in tribute to my angling expertise, but also as a tribute to my generosity in sharing it with my adoring family and friends.


Never let it be said that common sense is a major attribute in my short range planning. At the Portland airport, a harried airline functionary announced that our flight was overbooked and he would offer a free ticket to anyone who would take a later flight. Free anything is a magic phrase to a cheapskate like me and I snapped up the offer and it wasn’t until our original plane was in the air that it occurred to me my trophy salmon was heading home without me.


Visions of a once frozen salmon liquefying in the middle of my luggage!


We arrived at KCI to find the terminal absolutely deserted—apparently nobody was coming or going at 1 AM. Marty and I stood in the middle of the cavernous baggage claim area and I sniffed like a pointer to see if I could detect the scent of rotting salmon. Then, a door popped open in a distant wall, and a munchkin like figure appeared and said, “you must be the Vances.” He produced our luggage as well as a driver for a search vehicle to take us on a tour of the long term parking where our car was.


The long drive home was fraught with my incessant sniffing, praying that dead fish stink was not seeping out of my suitcase. Was this noble fish whose only wish was to swim upstream and find a girlfriend destined instead for a shameful final resting place in a dumpster?  I opened my suitcase like a member of a bomb squad dealing with a suspicious package, and…. The fish still was frozen as solid as a mammoth on the Siberian tundra.


Tomorrow, we fly from Missouri to the Far West, (coach class) following the path of the historic stagecoaches, only 30,000 feet up. “Okay, Rowdy, Head ‘em up and move ‘em out!”



Read More
  • Blog
  • October 11th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


The scene is the Spring River in Arkansas, Horseshoe Falls, a U-shaped ledge that drops several feet into a plunge pool. A long time ago several canoes were congregated at the falls waiting their turn to run the little rapids. Just as my canoe was committed to the drop, a canoe with two girls slid into the pool from the side and I T-boned them, spilling both young ladies into the near icy water (it is a trout stream).


Somehow I managed not to capsize but did bail out of the canoe to make sure the two girls were all right.  They surfaced spluttering and, as it quickly transpired, were more (according to me and my buddies) more than all right.


Obviously, they were soaked to the skin–I say obviously because one in particular, a lissome lass was wearing what now was a soggy T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “I’m a Pepper, You’re a Pepper.” There was, in one time, in American culture especially among the drooling, misogynistic male population, a deep appreciation for what was called the “wet T-shirt contest.” Okay, I admit to guilt for transgressing the bounds of propriety and indulging in improper art appreciation, but the bottom line is I developed an instant gratitude for Dr. Pepper, not only as a soothing soft drink, but also as a wonderful example of effective marketing.


If I had not been a fan of the T-shirt before that magic moment, I certainly have been ever since. I am a devout collector of T-shirts which have become iconic in our society. Not one of my vast collection refers to Dr. Pepper but the memory of that long ago river encounter does linger. T-shirts, emblazoned with advertising, slogans, or other decorations, are a fairly modern innovation on an article of wearing apparel that dates back more than a century.


According to Wikipedia, the first T-shirts surfaced in what they call “the Mexican American war” in 1898. Actually, I’m sure they mean Spanish-American war since the Mexican American war occurred in 1846-9. Wikipedia is a wonderful source of information, but you can’t always trust what you read (especially, these days, if it originates with Fox News). Anyway, according to the Wiki guys, T-shirts became an issue clothing item for the U.S. Navy in 1913.


Possibly the most cherished T-shirt I have ever had was one originally worn by the adolescent son of a canoeing buddy. I spied it on him during a Current River float. It was decorated with a tribute to Willie Nelson or, as I know him, Saint Willie. “Can I make you an offer for that T-shirt?” I asked the tot.


“How much you willin’ to give me?” instantly responded the avaricious little grifter. Obviously, the kid would grow up to become a successful used-car salesman. We finally struck a deal and whatever the terms were, I’m sure I was on the short end— except that I did get the T-shirt which was basically worn out anyway. The shirt looked remarkably like Willie Nelson has looked for the last couple of decades but I cherished it like the Kohinoor diamond until it finally fell into tatters and had to be consigned to the ragbag cemetery for defunct clothing.


Who can forget America’s favorite hunk, Marlon Brando, bellowing from the New Orleans street “Stella!, Stella!” in Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Brando’s burly character, Stanley Kowalski, was wearing a sweat stained T-shirt and looking buff, unlike the porky Godfather of years later. In a memorable scene from the play, Brando strips off his sweaty T-shirt, and replaces it with a fresh one while Blanche Dubois tries to repress a seductive drool.


Thus, Brando, the role model for all us wannabe sex symbols, established the T-shirt as the in-costume for Cool Studism. It was not to be, of course, and most of us are reduced to bartering with eight-year-old kids for Willie Nelson T-shirts and, while Willie is a saint on earth he never will be mistaken for Brando at his Studly epitome.


 T-shirts today are emblazoned with all sorts of filthy slogans and I’m happy to say that none of mine bears any sort of profane or improper suggestions. Most are on the order of sly humor like the one that is attributed to Groucho Marx: “Outside of a dog, a man’s best friend is a book. Inside of a dog, it’s very dark.” That certainly is in the spirit of the irrepressible Groucho, who said in a movie, “This morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.”


Back in the 1950s, sweathog types were not considered completely dressed unless they wore a white T-shirt with a pack of Camels rolled up in the sleeve. That, combined with a duck tail or crew cut haircut, a pair of blue suede shoes and blue jeans without—God forbid— any worn spots or holes that are mandatory on today’s jeans, was the uniform for he who would be cool, but promisingly dangerous to hot chicks.


My pack of Camels, vanished more than 50 years ago when my father died of a smoking related illness, and I quit smoking the next day. My blue suede shoes lost their fuzzy nap and ultimately, became consigned to the dustbin of time. And, as far as appearing promisingly dangerous to hot chicks I had a number of problems. I didn’t even suggest promisingly dangerous to our family dog, who rarely obeyed anything I yelled at her (and her name wasn’t Stella anyway), and my circle of acquaintances included only hot chicks who were already affiliated with large, muscular, and easily offended significant others. But I did retain an affinity for T-shirts which endures to this day. I have drawers filled with a variety of short-sleeved T-shirts ranging from plain to those decorated with a variety of colorful emblems.


(Confusion reigns— I just found a T-tshirt in my collection which reads “Lady Jays Soccer.” I have never been a member of the local high school women’s soccer team, nor do I expect to become one in the future. I have no idea where the T-shirt came from but I suspect I inherited it as a cast-off from our daughter, Amy’s, family which includes two girl graduates of Helias High School– also curious, because the Jays are the symbol of the local public school, not Catholic Helias. Amy’s husband, Brad, is a graduate of Jeff city high where he played football, not soccer. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say.)


Political slogans seem to be endemic on today’s wearing apparel.  Our modern culture is dominated by a president who functions, part-time, as a weatherman, erroneously predicting the path of hurricanes to suit his mendacious mumbling, and who wears a ball cap Inscribed MAGA (I have studiously avoided memorizing what that stands for, but I suspect it means “Make America Goofy Again”)


Vilifying anything inscribed on a T-shirt seems to me an example of national disunity and insecurity.  But there it is— an Indiana middle school girl was disciplined by her principal for wearing a T-shirt to class with an inscription condemning racism and homophobia. This would seem to be a no-brainer in a civilized society, but we’re talking about Indiana, once a bastion of the Ku Klux Klan, and a state where the nation’s current vice president and former governor Mike Pence, has a record of opposition to gay rights as a member of Congress and as governor and has long been a champion of so-called “conversion therapy” which maintains that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured— an idea that has been discredited by the American medical Association and the American Psychological Association.


So, picking on a, teenage girl, for advocating racial tolerance, and for acceptance of another person’s sexual identity would seem to be par for the course for Indiana (remember, the Hoosiers also spawned  former vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle, who couldn’t spell, in common with Donald Trump, who has been known to misspell his wife’s first name).


My home state, Missouri, in common with Indiana, is known for causing the pundits to race for their red paintbrushes when they describe our political orientation. Once, Missouri was reliably Democrat, but for far too long the stubbornness of the legendary Missouri mule has ruled the political landscape (occasionally veering into commonsense territory as it did when it elected Democrats Mel Carnahan, governor, and Claire McCaskill, as a senator). And I shouldn’t downgrade mules which have far more commonsense than most humans and, quite possibly, more intelligence than the average Trumpian.


But I confess to being more than a little uneasy when I wear my favorite T-shirt of the moment which has a caricature of Donald Trump enclosed by a circle and the slash mark indicating a forbidden action, like a highway sign, and the words “Resist Hate”. I’m too damn old, weak, and chicken to put up much of a fight if, in a public setting, some beefy redneck wearing a MAGA hat snarls “I don’t like your shirt and I’m gonna rip it offa you!”  I wear the shirt proudly in a local Mexican restaurant, theorizing that if any of the workers there happen to be undocumented they may very well approve of my choice of wearing apparel. As social protest goes, it ain’t much, but it’s all I’ve got. (*See afterword)


Elsewhere, maybe I’d better wear my “Old Possum” T-shirt, a tribute to the eternally wonderful late honkytonk deity George Jones. My chest and back are equal opportunity body parts, open to varying points of view, although, I do reserve the right, to limit my haberdashery to causes that I believe in.


No matter what T-shirt I wear, or how weird it is, it won’t come close to matching the costume recently worn by Ivanka Trump on a visit to Bogota, Colombia, where she looked like a refugee from a 1950s sci-fi movie. The dress , which reportedly cost $1650, flared in the wind, giving the first daughter the appearance of something that just sailed in from Jurassic Park. By contrast, my most offensive to the Trump regime T-shirt cost less than $20 and “”Old Possum” was free, a gift from our daughter, Carrie, who has more fashion sense in her little finger, than the windblown human Barbie doll.


When I’m not wearing my “Resist Hate” T-shirt I wear another favorite which reads “There is no such thing as too many books.” My next favorite T-shirt buy will be from the same outfit with an illustration featuring what appears to be a hedgehog with an open book in his lap and an inscription reading “I read books— and I know things.” The animal could easily be a possum perhaps related to George Jones, or maybe a relative of Pogo Possum, the Walt Kelly cartoon character who famously said, “We have met the enemy—and he is us.”


Or maybe I’ll just order a brand-new Willie Nelson T-shirt with an illustration endorsing fealty to the smoking of processed hemp. But, although, I never would take up smoking anything again, including cannabis, I do endorse the growing of hemp as an alternative agricultural crop. It once was vital for the manufacture of rope, and currently is providing fibers to be processed into beautiful flooring that is stronger than oak. Thus, it saves valuable trees from destruction, provides the nation’s stressed farming community with an economic alternative to corn and beans and other monocultures, and, for all I know, can be used to manufacture Willie Nelson’s T-shirts as well as his reefers.


Stella! Stella! Are you listening? I’m wearing my blue suede shoes and don’t you dare step on them!


*Afterword: the Mexican restaurant is closed, probably forever. Did Trump’s immigration Gestapo round up the nice Latino family and send it to one of the Trump government’s concentration camps? I’ll probably never know, but we have lost a fine food destination, the local community has lost a small business and I’m just damn bitter about the whole thing.











Read More
  • Blog
  • October 4th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


The book of Isaiah in the Old Testament has this quote according to the King James version of what allegedly was said hundreds of years before the king decided to make the Bible his own. “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the goat,  and a little child shall lead them.” The Biblical prophecy is that if salvation for the world is to happen, sworn enemies will quit their traditional enmity and fall in behind the human symbol of innocence—a child. Or at least, that’s the way I read it.


If it is true that innocence will triumph over ignorance and evil in the long run 16-year-old Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg may very well be the beginning of the realization of Isaiah’s prophecy. She is a leader among a growing group of young people who are fed up with the way we alleged adults are leading the world into an environmental catastrophe. In a nutshell, Greta has told the leaders of the world in blunt terms that if they don’t address climate change immediately she and the generations following her will inherit unimaginable devastation.


In August, Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from England to New York in a 60 foot racing yacht equipped with solar panels. It was a one-way trip for the teenager and a co-skipper.  A sailing crew plans to fly to New York to sail the yacht back to Europe while her co-skipper also flies home. Greta, herself, has given up flying because of the carbon emissions that airplanes contribute to the overall detriment of the environment.


Her inspiration for school climate strikes came from teen survivors of the Parkland Florida high school shooting who organized what they called the March for our lives in support of sensible gun regulation in the United States. When her idea for a student climate strike was met by the apathy that seems to infect adults worldwide, she decided to do it by herself, sitting outside the Swedish Parliament with her sign “school strike for the climate”. She also handed out leaflets saying “I am doing this because you adults are sitting on my future.” That scatological insult was enough to get the attention, not only of adults, but of her fellow teenagers.


I can see a parallel between what this courageous Swedish teenager and an increasing number of fellow teens have done to similar acts of revolt and disobedience by young people in the 1960s to protest the Vietnam War. Teenagers then burned draft cards and carried protest signs, and were dismissed by the establishment as long-haired hippies and anti-Americans. But they got results and Vietnam became a defeat for the military industrial complex, but a victory for morality and justice.


Since, the youth of America have become complacent, more interested in consumerism than in activism. It has been tough to get out the vote among young people, but just perhaps the example  one Swedish teenager has set will energize the typical American teenager of voting age to get off his or her lazy butt and go to the ballot box when the next election comes— an estimated 4 million teenagers will reach voting age before the 2020 election.


Greta has what’s called Asperger’s disorder which she describes as “a gift” rather than a disability. Asperger’s is considered a high functioning form of autism rather than a debilitating mental condition. Among the attributes that those with Asperger’s have are, according to what I’ve found about it, are remarkable focus and persistence, aptitude for recognizing patterns, and attention to detail.


If that doesn’t describe the remarkable personality of Greta Thunberg, I don’t know what does. Think of the focus and persistence required to have done what she has done. She is a teenager, a time of life when most youngsters are more focused on the boy of their dreams, the high school sports team, or other activities associated with becoming adults.


Greta has skipped that awkward time of life and has gone directly into adulthood— certainly more adult in behavior than virtually all the people in power whom she has encountered and challenged.


Cal Thomas, a syndicated right wing opinion writer, dismisses Ms. Thunberg ’s right to state her views in a column headlined “knowing at all at 16” in our local newspaper. “How much credibility should we give to a 16-year-old when considering her qualifications to lecture adults about science and an end of the world scenario?” snarled Thomas.


He goes on at length to dismiss her as an attention seeker, offering as his source of rebuttal the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank.  That group denies the reality of climate change, as do those who disagree with the bulk of scientific thinking— and of the views of a 16-year-old who can see the future more clearly than does Cal Thomas.  Thomas grumbled that Thunberg should be back in school. The fact is that at 15 years old, she took time off from school to spend her school days outside the Swedish Parliament holding up a sign saying “school strike for climate” that energized other students and which soon became a movement, lead and energized– by teenagers— since it was increasingly obvious that the adult world was content to pass along the climate crisis to generations yet to come.


Fox News, which always can be counted on to go low, in the words of Michelle Obama, “When they go low we go high” unleashed one of its right-wing attack dogs Michael Knowles to call the teenager “a mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and by the international left.” Isn’t that a hateful comment by an adult against a child? And that’s nothing, compared to some of the Facebook comments by extremist right-wingers who (speaking of mentally ill) have exposed themselves as the human scum they are.  Fox News did apologize for Knowles’ toxic rant, saying it was disgraceful.  “We apologize to Greta Thunberg and to our viewers.” But I haven’t seen any apologies by the Facebook hatemongers.


If Fox News wants to disparage someone who is mentally ill, let them start with the President of the United States who exhibits so many facets of abnormal mental behavior that a rational person (assuming there is anyone rational among the commentators at the Fox network) would have to assume that the guy is as crazy as the proverbial shit house rat.


Greta Thunberg is bilingual, fluent in English as well as Swedish, and certainly more articulate in either language than the ignorant hatemongers who have posted invective on Facebook against her.  It’s worth reading what she said at the United Nations to the assembled world leaders all of whom presumably are the wise heads of the planet. Given the choice, I would opt for her wise head in preference to the majority of those old and entrenched thinkers.


Said Greta: “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back at school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams in my childhood with your empty words.” An alert photographer captured the quintessential “one picture is worth 1000 words,” an image of Greta fixing an oblivious Donald Trump at the United Nations with a look that should have transformed the fat climate denier into a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, another Biblical malefactor.


Greta Thunberg is the daughter of an opera singer and an actor.  Her paternal grandfather is both an actor and a director. Her parents support her activism and her father is quoted as saying, “We respect that she wants to make a stand. She can either sit at home and be really unhappy, or protest and be happy.” Greta has published a collection of her speeches on the climate problem and has donated the profits to charity


No one, including those who believe in climate change as it currently is affecting the world, would argue that climate change has not occurred before, since the Earth formed. The Ice Age obviously was a major change in much of the Earth’s climate. And where jungles once flourished, climate change extinguished vegetation to create what today are deserts. If you believe the Bible, Noah and a bunch of animals, built a boat to escape the ravages of a titanic flood, one of the possible results of the climate change that today threatens the future of the planet.


But all of history’s climate changes occurred when there weren’t billions of people exhaling carbon dioxide, billions of motorized vehicles exhausting greenhouse gases, long before rapacious developers stripped millions of acres of rain forest and other leafy vegetation, allowing bare land to heat and contribute to global warming, long before billions of farm raised animals likewise began contributing substantially to the overall effect. All these factors did not exist before man crawled out of the ooze and bought his first SUV.


Even someone allegedly as educated and intelligent as Cal Thomas should be able to weigh all the factors of modern life that contribute to the undeniable evidence that the planet is warming and, instead of dismissing Greta Thunberg as a dumb teenager, should sign on to her agenda and lobby for solutions.  This petite teenager has managed to mobilize an estimated 4 million of her peers worldwide in marches calling for action to reduce carbon emissions far sooner than the adults of the world seem willing to consider.


Being of Irish origin, I was pleased to read an editorial in the Irish Times that that told it like it is. Writer Jo Connell said, “when democracy is under assault, she hints at the emergence of a new kind of power, a convergence of youth, popular protest and irrefutable science.” Estimates are that at least 4 million people worldwide took part in September 27 protests demanding action on climate change. Mayor Bill DiBlasio, of New York City, excused 1.1 million students from class to participate and an estimated quarter of 1 million of them did. Greta Thunberg was among them. “This is the biggest climate strike ever in history and we all should be so proud of ourselves because we have done this together.”


In Berlin an estimated 270,000 people participated and another hundred thousand in London. The first climate strike in March drew an estimated 100,000 people in the United States and 1.4 million people worldwide. Obviously, the word is out and if crowd size is applicable, the climate change deniers are seriously outnumbered.


“You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency, but no matter how sad and angry I am I do not want to believe that,  because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil, and that I refuse to believe,” Greta said in her UN speech.


I’ve rarely if ever heard a comment with more grace and perspicacity about a situation that threatens, not only the person making the statement, but humanity in general. One person can’t change the world— but one person can mobilize the world to change. If humanity is lucky, that person will be the right one at the right time.


If the climate deniers need any examples that one person can change the world, they exist throughout history. Check the history books (and don’t forget the Bible). Maybe, just maybe, a petite Swedish teenager is the latest addition to the roster of those heroes who fight against the truism once articulated by Pogo Possum, “We have met the enemy…. And he is us.




Read More