Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

  • Blog
  • October 17th, 2019

COME FLY WITH ME

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!”

 

 

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  • Blog
  • October 11th, 2019

I’M A PEPPER

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Blog
  • October 4th, 2019

A CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM

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.

 

 

 

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  • Blog
  • September 27th, 2019

COUNTRY BOY

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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  • September 21st, 2019

THE WINDS OF DISGRACE

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.

-30-

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  • September 12th, 2019

BATTEN DOWN THE SHARPIES–HURRICANE COMING

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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  • September 6th, 2019

SPACE DOG

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.

mattymatty

 

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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  • August 30th, 2019

DON’T DATE NO LIBERAL WIMMEN!

By Joel M. Vance

 

I was born in Chicago, Illinois, and spent the first 14 years of my life on the south side of the city, never venturing farther north than the Loop. The only landmarks I was interested in were the Museum of Science and Industry and the Field Museum and it wasn’t until I was living in Missouri and in college that I worked one summer in Chicago and ventured north of the Chicago River once, to Wrigley field where I watched Stan Musial rocket a line drive off the right field wall so hard that it bounced all the way back to the second baseman and limited the great Stan the Man to a single.

 

I’m not sorry that I missed one north side landmark, a small park within which the city’s mentally deranged would gather to harangue whoever they could entice to listen to them, with dire predictions of the imminent arrival of the Apocalypse, the End of Times, and, in more optimistic diatribes the Second Coming.

 

They called the place Bughouse Square because of historic adjacent mental facilities. If you want to listen to outrageous predictions, deranged pronouncements, and outlandish goofiness, Bughouse Square was the place to go. Today, Bughouse Square is more of a tourist attraction than a gathering spot for weirdos. But not to mourn for a lost opportunity to listen to the nonsensical rantings of the mentally ill— just take a trip to the Nation’s Capitol and wait. Shortly, Donald Trump will emerge from the building housing the nation’s leader and proclaim himself the son of God, the chosen one, the second incarnation of Jesus Christ. I am not making this up. He’s already done it.

 

If this sounds like a recreation of Chicago’s Bughouse Square, so be it. If there was any lingering doubt (certainly, not mine) that Donald Trump is mentally ill, he dispelled that the other day when he glanced heavenward, and told a gathering of media people, that he is the Chosen One. I suspect, more than one of the assembled reporters scrunched up their shoulders, expecting a lightning bolt to fry the fat boy in his tracks.

 

Trump wasn’t even chosen to be president by the people, much less to be the second incarnation of Jesus, losing by more than 3 million popular votes. He was chosen by the outmoded electoral college system, which allows a president to be selected by a minority of the states in the union, fertilized by the generous donations of special interest donors. And I say “his” because we haven’t yet had the good sense to elect a woman to be our president.

 

Except maybe Edith Wilson, wife of the last overtly racist president, Woodrow, who basically ran the government for the last two years of her husband’s presidency, 1919 to 1921, after he suffered a debilitating stroke. But then, she was not elected. She just arbitrarily took over. She once threatened to refuse the credentials of a foreign representative unless he would dismiss an aide who had made demeaning comments about her.  She sounds like the precursor of Trump.

 

Trump now explains away his claim to holiness by saying it was meant as sarcasm. “When I looked up to the sky and jokingly said ’I am the chosen one’ at a press conference, referring to taking on trade with China, little did I realize that the media would claim that I had a Messiah complex. They knew I was kidding, being sarcastic and just… having fun.” Somehow, Trump’s idea of “having fun” seems remarkably like a four-year-old “having fun” by pulling one wing off an insect so he can watch it flounder about.

 

So we have a guy who almost daily demonstrates that he should be standing on a rickety orange crate in Bughouse Square spouting nonsense before wandering off into the who-knows-where, muttering to himself.

 

To support his declaration of divinity, Trump “reposted a comment” by Wayne Allyn Root who said, “President Trump is the greatest president for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best president for Israel in the history of the world and the Jewish people in Israel love him like he’s the king of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God.”

 

An article in the magazine “Psychology Today” contains an interesting paragraph describing what they call “mission-oriented‘ serial killers. “Mission-oriented killers justify their murders as being necessary to rid the world of a group of people that they perceive to be undesirable. “Such groups may include prostitutes, the homeless or those who are different from the killer in terms of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.” Now I don’t mean to imply that Donald Trump is a latent mission-oriented serial killer, but think about that sentence for a while and think about the various groups against whom Donald Trump has demonstrated antipathy–African-Americans, Muslims, Latinos, LGBTQ,  makes one wonder (this one, anyway).

 

To deviate a moment from the mental instability of Donald J Trump, let’s examine the mental instability of Wayne Allyn Root. Root has not been a rooter (sorry about that) for other presidents. He called President Barack Obama “Marxist in chief” and described the Obama administration as “a gangster government.” I suspect Donald Trump would agree with that wholeheartedly–shitbirds of a feather flock together.

 

According to Root, Democratic members of Congress are “the druggie who has abandoned his spouse, kids and job to snort crack cocaine 24 hours a day.” The perigee of his ludicrous comments perhaps is his warning that men should not date a liberal woman who has cats because “She’ll cut your pee pee off, I promise you.” How the cats figure into this, I don’t understand, except that perhaps a virulent case of cat scratch fever, acquired when sometime in his muddled past, Root mistakenly dated a liberal woman and got crossways with her pet cat and it scrambled his brain. I won’t even speculate about what happened to his peepee.

 

Or maybe, like Trump, his brain ceased to develop in his early years in elementary school.

 

I recently watched a TV show about the discovery of King Tut’s tomb which said that the Boy King was only nine years old when he became pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire. The narrator speculated that, because of his youth, perhaps Tut’s mother did the actual running of the government because “who would choose a fourth grader to govern an empire?”

 

“We did.” I sourly snarled at the television set.

 

It’s not exactly comforting to realize that the president of the United States, rather than seeking counsel from wise men, those with long experience in government, those who have survived the rigors and perils of public life, instead hobnobs with, and takes his lead from obvious lunatics like Root. Never before has the warning (origin unclear but possibly from the weird movie “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari‘) that the inmates are running the asylum’ seemed so appropriate.

 

Trump’s diarrhea of self-aggrandizement is a bonanza for late-night talk show monologues and would be funny if it applied to almost anyone else, but coming from the leader of the free world, it is a lot closer to terrifying than it is to amusing.

 

Trump’s economic war with China where he fires a barrage of tariffs at China, and the Chinese launch a counter fire round of tariffs at the United States and the economy of both countries suffers as a result is yet another example of Trump’s chaotic administration. The latest Trump ploy is to demand that United States companies move out of China, an order which typically is more noise than possibility. Tough these days, to shop at almost any major retail outlet and pick up an item not made in China.

 

Whether you like it or not, that’s reality. What happens to those companies so dependent on their merchandise that to bar them from manufacturing in China would devastate not only them, but the American economy. It probably won’t happen anyway since there is no mechanism to enforce a ban on Chinese manufacturers and moving companies out of China to other countries is largely impractical and not likely. It’s just another Trump bluster like a fart in his windstorm of incompetence.

 

Satirists are having a ball suggesting that Trump’s next move will be to order Americans to stop eating Chinese food. Don’t count it out—that’s no more illogical than most of the harebrained ideas that Trump comes up with.

 

Nowhere is Trump’s lunacy been more obvious than it was in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton (not Toledo, you freaking moron) mass murders than it was when he visited the two cities, and especially the hospital in El Paso. “The people that were so badly injured that I was with, they love our country. And frankly, you want to know the truth? {An editorial aside—yes, you freako, we would like to know the truth for once if you would bother to tell it} they love their president. When I went to El Paso, and when I went into those hospitals, the love for me, and maybe as a representative to the country, but for me and my love for them, was unparalleled.  “Not only did they meet with me, they were pouring out of the rooms. The doctors were coming out of the operating rooms. There were hundreds and hundreds of people all over the floor, you couldn’t even walk on it.”

 

Where do you even begin to dissect that vomit of nonsense? Doctors leaving the operating rooms in the middle of surgery? “Here, nurse hang on to this scalpel while I go worship Donald Trump. No nevermind I’ll just stick it in the patient’s thigh.”

 

Not only did doctors and hospital personnel not scramble to kneel at the feet of the new divinity, but most of the shooting victims still in the hospital refused to meet with Trump, so he and his trophy first lady, Melania, hijacked a baby who had been wounded in the El Paso shooting so she could dangle the little kid for the assembled photographers. I had held slim hopes for Melania as a possible representative of the human race, but no such luck. She is just another Trump wife, past her due date.

 

Somehow I have gotten on the Trump-Pence reelection Facebook mailing list and being technologically challenged, I don’t know how to get off of it. But I was struck almost as dumb as Trump-Pence by a recent email that began “Will you tell me the truth?”  If ever there was a loaded question to ask me that was it.

 

The email began: “Joel, I know you are someone I can count on to tell me the truth…” Talk about having  an invitation to tell the truth, using foul language and inflammatory invective, this was it. Yes, Donnie, I will tell you the truth: you are an idiot, an incompetent disgrace to the human race, a bigot, a racist, and lots of other derogatory and defamatory things which in the interest of good taste I won’t go into. In summation, I hate your guts. Is that truth enough for you Donnie? If not, send me some more emails, and I will go into more detail, you fat, blathering nitwit.

 

Actually, I would be happiest if you would just send me instructions on how to delete you from my Facebook account.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • August 23rd, 2019

SUNNY DAY FORECAST FOR BIG SKY COUNTRY

By Joel M. Vance

Jack Ballard is running as a Democrat for the United States Senate from Montana.  “Say what?” You ask, followed by the second question: “And just who is Jack Ballard and why should I care?”

 

First let me tell you the why and then the who. The United States Senate presently is controlled by the Republican Party, by a razor thin voting majority of 51 to 49. Leader of the Republican pack is Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell (who has come to be known as Moscow Mitch because of his refusal to allow votes on any legislation designed to curb Russian interference in our elections and because of a large influx of Russian money into his home state of Kentucky) Considering that there is a 99.9% certainty that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is why today we are almost daily diminished as a nation of integrity and honor by Donald J Trump.

 

McConnell’s fellow Republican Senator and prime enabler is South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham who increasingly is being nicknamed Leningrad Lindsay. Apparently, neither of them is fond of being associated with Russian interference in United States elections (tough noogies), but the solution is to elect senatorial representatives who truly do represent their constituency and the interests of the country. Enter Jack Ballard, a person I have known and respected deeply for many years.

 

Jack and I served together on the board of directors of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and, as the group’s historian, I was supposed to keep my mouth shut, although I rarely did— as opposed to Jack who sat quietly amid a group of ego dominated communicators until he had something to say. And when he did say something it was thoughtful, intelligent and incisive. It didn’t take long for the board to realize that rather than chewing an issue to tatters, it saved time just to ask Jack what he thought, nod and vote in agreement, and move on to the next question.

 

If Montana voters choose Jack they will not just be gaining an outstanding Senator, they will be gaining a marital team that, it is not overstating to say, is comparable to the vintage Golden State Warriors or Chicago Bulls at their peak. Between them Jack, and his wife, Lisa, have teamed to pile up more accolades in their field of outdoor communication than the Warriors and Bulls did on the basketball court.

 

The two married six years ago after a romance that spanned two thirds of the country— Lisa Densmore at the time had established herself as a multifaceted outdoor communicator, specializing in cinematography, writing and as a downhill ski racer in the northeast’

 

A three-time Emmy-winning host and field producer, Lisa spent 20 plus years working in television and documentary film, covering mountain and water sports, outdoor recreational activities, nature, wildlife, adventure and conservation topics. Her television programs have appeared on virtually all the network and cable channels.  In addition to her television work she has been a writer since 1991 with hundreds of regional and national magazine and website publications to her credit as well as 11 published books.

 

In addition to being a professional writer she also has taken thousands of photographs from all over the world which have won many awards and have appeared in books, on calendars, greeting cards, advertising and websites as well as in her own books.

 

As if that weren’t enough to attract any prospective suitor, Lisa is a professional skier. She has been downhill skiing since she was a kid and now participates in ski racing camps as well as ski clinics. She also competes in downhill racing on the Masters circuit.

 

If ever there was anything to test the strength of a romantic relationship, it would be that last facet of  Lisa’s resume.  Jack says, “When Lisa and I got together, it was understood that a long-term relationship would require my becoming a skier, preferably an alpine racer (though I was candidly told not to try to keep up as all previous boyfriends had failed.)

 

“And so, seven years ago I started alpine racing. It’s what now motivates my fitness throughout the year and has become a primary focus in life. The only thing I really, really enjoy while skiing is arcing fast turns on an open slope. But alpine racing also has some hazards. Sustained injures along the way are as follows: sprained MCL (left knee), two broken ribs and torn sternum cartilage, dislocated pinky finger, sprained wrist with probable hairline fracture, severely sprained MCL and LCL (left knee), torn labrum (left shoulder), grade four AC joint separation (right shoulder – collarbone no longer attached), concussion, broken rib and a completely ruptured Achilles’ tendon. So what do you think, healthy addiction or no?

 

Here is a capsule biography of Jack from his website:  “I will do everything in my power to get money out of politics and get thoughtful, committed, middle-class people on stage,” he says.  “The “system is tilted toward wealthy people from the get-go.”  Jack is neither related to the Ballard Oil Co. family nor to the Orioles baseball player Jeff Ballard, who was born in Billings. “If it’s a Ballard who is famous or has money, they are no relation,” Jack says.  “Many people are asking how they can help. We can use lots of volunteers in Montana to get the word out nationally. And of course there’s that money thing… The campaign website is up and ready for donations. www.ballardformontana.com”

 

Calling himself an outdoor guy from Red Lodge, Ballard says one of his top concerns is the Trump administration’s management of public lands to benefit extractive industries, like mining and the oil and gas industry, to the detriment of native habitat and wildlife. He also chides Republican opponent Steve Daines for his proposal to release the state’s wilderness study areas from protection without first discussing it with constituents.  Jack says “It seems obvious to me we need to invest in better management and emphasize activities on public land that are better for wildlife habitat,”

 

He emphasizes the need to reduce medical costs for Americans. “Without cost containment there’s no meaningful health care reform,” he said. Among his health care ideas are to study what other countries have done successfully and consider a price  cap on services to contain costs.

 

As an example, Ballard pointed to charges he faced for a wrist brace following one of his ski injuries.  The brace’s cost was $226. A similar one was $65 online, delivered to his home. When he called the California-based brace company to complain, the company representative basically told him to pay up or shut up.

 

“We have a serious health care problem in the United States,” Jack says. “We pay much more on a per-capita basis and receive in some cases inferior service compared to many other countries.”

 

Jack is the second youngest of seven children and grew up on a ranch his grandfather homesteaded between Three Forks and Whitehall. He earned a master of arts degree in 1989 from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1994 he earned a master’s in education at Montana State University, Billings and then taught there for a dozen years.

 

He is now a full-time writer, sat on the board of directors of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and has published 13 books. He has been married to Lisa for six years and has three internationally adopted children from his previous marriage. “One of the most satisfying things in my life is trying to give those kids a way to be successful in a country that gives them more opportunity,” Jack says.

 

He  criticizes incumbent Senator Steve Daines for supporting President Trump’s tax cut, calling it a mistake for Montana while adding to the U.S. deficit at a time when the economy is doing well. In addition, Ballard said Daines has done “nothing to check”  McConnell’s “worst instincts on bottling up legislation.”

 

Although being a rancher’s son and a popular outdoor writer in Big Sky Country, Jack’s path to the Senate will not be a smooth one. Before he can challenge Steve Daines in November 2020, he has to get past two formidable Democratic challengers. Democrats Wilmot Collins and John Mues who both bring powerful resumes to the contest.

 

Collins is the first African-American mayor of a Montana city since the state joined the union in 1889. He also is a naturalized immigrant from Liberia a country from which he fled in 1994 to escape civil war. He won his mayoralty in 2017 by beating a four term incumbent with 51% of the vote. He was been a naval reservist for 20 years and worked for the state child and human services department, specializing in child protection.

 

Mues is a nuclear engineer and a graduate of the U.S. Navy Academy, trained as a submarine nuclear engineer. He is a fourth generation Montanan and after leaving the Navy he taught on the Fort Belknap Indian reservation for two years. Perhaps the most telling attribute of Mues is that the Montana Republican party has assailed him as “yet another Democrat running in Montana to represent the radical left and their socialist agenda,” and adding that Mues would oppose Trump’s policies.   The Republicans undoubtedly will say the same about Jack Ballard.

 

Of the three men standing between Jack Ballard in the Senate, Steve Daines the Republican incumbent might be the most vulnerable.  Daines is a first-term senator, elected by a weird set of circumstances in 2014. Basically he replaced Max Baucus, who was the longest serving senator in Montana history— nearly 36 years before he resigned in 2014 to become the United States ambassador to China. Here’s where it gets complicated. Montana Governor when Baucus resigned was Steve Block, a Democrat, who appointed Lt. Governor John Walsh to the vacant senatorial seat.

 

Walsh intended to run for a permanent seat in 2014 but then withdrew after he was accused of plagiarism while working for a master’s degree at the U.S. Army War College. The Democrats picked one term legislator, Amanda Curtis, to serve in Walsh’s place and she was defeated fairly handily by Daines in the general election

 

Jack’s fellow outdoor communicators have flocked to express support for his candidacy. Unfortunately, most of them don’t live in Montana so can’t vote for him. But they have outlined in print the reasons the country needs Jack in the Senate to fight against the incessant assault by the Trump administration on the nation’s natural resources.

 

It would be a mistake to think of Jack as a one issue candidate—protection of outdoor resources— when his platform is multifaceted, including dedication to other major issues like health care and education. The country needs a return to sanity and representation by legislators obligated to the common good, not to special interests. Jack’s values are what the country was founded on and what we aspire to be. But a return to that ideal begins at the ballot box.

 

Multi talented outdoor communicator Mike Furtman from Duluth Minnesota, said it as well as anyone could, “My friend Jack Ballard has announced he is seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate to represent the great state of Montana. Would I vote for him? Damn right I would. He’s the real deal. I hope my Montana friends will read his story, and follow his progress. If you like him, help him! Heck, even if you’re not from Montana, you can contribute to his campaign (Put it a black envelope – we can call it “dark money” like all the fat cats get!)”

 

And renowned outdoor photographer Tim Christie, who lives in neighboring Idaho, said this, “Jack Ballard is the real deal. He is well educated, believes strongly in promoting and preserving public lands, has been a college professor, and is a well regarded outdoor writer and photographer with 13 books to his credit. If you’re from Montana, or if you believe strongly in protecting private lands and outdoor pursuits like fishing, hiking, photography and hunting, check him out. In 2020 we need more people just like Jack Ballard to fill Senate seats.”

 

Teddy Roosevelt, our most conservation oriented President, and his equally able and natural resource oriented Roosevelt cousin Franklin Delano, have been gone a long time and we are way overdue and desperately need legislators who care about the health and welfare of the natural landscape and have the will and the expertise to do something about it . I’ve given money to Jack’s campaign and will give more. A dollar or thousand dollars all will help. Check him out on the campaign website BallardforMontana.com– and then send a check.

 

Beyond Montana’s need for a senator willing to fight for intelligent management of the state’s bounteous outdoor resources, the entire nation needs senators of integrity and intelligence, something woefully lacking in today’s lineup. Montana voters need to do what the Outdoor Writers Association Board of Directors did when Jack was a member— listen to what he says, quit chewing over the choices, and then vote for Jack. Both Montana and the nation will benefit.

 

 

 

 

 

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  • August 16th, 2019

SOUTH OF THE BORDER

By Joel M. Vance

 

When I was a teenager on summer vacation from high school I  often would stay up until the small hours  searching the a.m. radio dial for a station playing vintage New Orleans jazz records— Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, King Joe Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton. Or if the stars were aligned right, pick up the all night broadcast of Jean Shepherd from Cincinnati and thrill to his hilarious stories of his boyhood, eerily similar to my own experiences in Chicago.

 

 

Failing to find that treasure trove of good radio (of course on AM—(today’s omnipresent FM radio was barely out of the experimental stage), I would search the upper reaches of the dial where the border blasters lurked. Those were megawatt transmitters, located just over the border between the United States and Mexico, not subject to US limitations on transmitter power. Their signals rocketed through the atmosphere over much of the United States, subjecting listeners to seemingly endless commercials for baby chicks, miracle pills and salves guaranteed to cure the ailing, and for decorative portraits of Jesus Christ on black velvet.

 

I wasn’t in the market for baby chicks, despite my tenuous membership in the Future Farmers of America, but I did listen to those weird radio stations hoping to hear a static-warped song by the Carter family. After the breakup of the original Carter Trio, Mother Maybelle took her three daughters, teenagers Helen and June and adolescent Anita, to South Texas where they could commute across the border to perform on one of the border blaster radio stations.

 

Those were the days when a Yankee could cross the border into Mexico without fear of anything other than Montezuma’s revenge from eating a dicey taco. No need for intensive security checks, passports, identity cards, or anything other than Yankee dollars to feed into the Mexican economy. It was just as easy for a Mexican to cross into the United States to shop, visit relatives, or, for all I know, revel in the fledgling American fast food industry— a vacation from burritos.

 

Now, these many years later, Mexico is a country rife with drug related crime, often inhospitable to Yankees and suspicious of a US government seemingly dedicated to inflicting humiliation and economic mutilation on our one time friendly neighbor to the south. Not to say that there are not genuine reasons for tensions between the two countries, but the Trump administration has spent the past two years plus rubbing salt in an increasingly festering wound without working constructively to medicate the rift between the two neighboring countries.

 

Since those late nights of listening to South of the border songs by the Carters, I’ve been to Mexico a couple of times at widely spaced border crossings, including El Paso, which, according to Trump, is the current bad guy among the gates between the two countries. I remain unscathed.

 

A few years back I was in the recovery stage of a debilitating siege of pancreatitis, the low point of which was several months of being fed through a tube for quite a few hours every day a concoction of what appeared to be Purina Hi Pro dog food. This unappetizing remedy was thrust past my touchy pancreas through a tube inserted through one nostril and out the other, down my throat into my tummy. It was a less than pleasant experience but it actually caused me to gain a few pounds and did allow my ailing internal organ to heal. No aftereffects, except that I now have to suppress a desire to pee on trees.

 

Through it all I had one overwhelming desire threaded through the long hours digesting dog food—that was to attack a shredded chicken quesadilla lovingly prepared by a Mexican cook, and to savor every bite of it.

 

Decades ago, I was on active duty at Ft. Bliss, Texas, adjacent to El Paso. The several couples in our apartment complex on Fort Boulevard all were young marrieds who became close friends since we all were stuck in the same boat. We partied and we would journey across the international bridge to Juarez to shop for 90 cent a quart rum and, once, to visit a nightspot featuring well endowed strippers. We all were embarrassed. My wife and I spent one afternoon in the Cavern of Music, a club featuring twin pianos, manned by classically trained musicians who played lovely duets while we sipped icy rum and Coca-Cola. If there was crime and pestilence in the border city we never saw it. Afternoons and nights in Juarez certainly beat training exercises in the broiling heat and dust of the Fort Bliss reservation.

 

The Mexicans we encountered invariably were friendly and welcoming, even including the clamoring hucksters trying to sell souvenirs to us Yankee tourists near the entrance to the country. I even bought a bota bag which I filled with cheap wine so I could squirt it in my mouth from a distance. Don’t tell me I wasn’t cool in those days, even if I did miss my mouth most of the time and decorate my shirt with wine stains.

 

A close friend I had worked with on a newspaper had been stationed at Fort Bliss. He was fluent in Spanish and had wangled a job as the base commander’s interpreter and would frequent Juarez with his boss and in his down time would organize a baseball game with Mexican kids. It was through him that I learned both about the Cavern of Music and that Mexican beer was infinitely tastier than the watery stuff on our side of the Rio Grande.

 

Donald Trump’s’s latest effort to overturn more than 200 years of immigration law and deny immigrant status to anyone whose skin color is different than his (an unhealthy artificial orange) is a proposed regulation that anyone seeking immigration must be both wealthy and healthy. Forget it if you don’t have a happy pocketbook and private health insurance— if Trump has his way anyone who is poor, has health issues, or (unbelievably) might possibly ever seek any form of public assistance like food stamps, Medicaid, or any other social service assistance will not be admitted to the United States.

 

The words inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” would be replaced, according to Trump’s acting director of immigration services Ken Cuccinelli by adding “who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

 

Trump grumbles that we need more Norwegians and that immigration was designed for northern Europeans, not those shithole country folk who pollute Trump’s Aryan gene pool. A guy named Hitler had somewhat the same eugenic outlook on life. You remember him—he wound up committing suicide, somewhat like Trump’s dear friend and fellow party animal Jeffrey Epstein.

 

Skip ahead several decades to a trip to Brownsville, Texas, for a conservation conference just across the border from Matamoros, Mexico. Our tour group consisted of three Missourians who had driven the zillion miles from central Missouri to the Texas-Mexico border because my boss was afraid of flying and a fourth member, Arkansan Civil War buff Jay Kaffka who brought along a metal detector hoping to find minnie balls left over from a battle near Brownsville when Union forces tried to disrupt Confederate blockade runners along the Gulf Coast of Texas.

 

Jay found shards of a beer bottle and managed to put together enough to declare it an authentic Civil War relic. We were more interested in a cross-border foray into Matamoros to sample Mexican beer brewed more recently than 150 years ago.

 

We drove into Mexico, spent the afternoon in a cantina, delightfully cool, beating the intense heat back with several rounds of cerveza after which we went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. The food was superb (I don’t remember, but I probably had a shredded chicken quesadilla). Jay struck up a conversation with a gentleman at the next table who turned out to be the mayor of Matamoros.

 

Jay said that he loved Mexican spicy food, and there was no pepper hot enough to daunt him. Sticking up for Mid-America values Jay said that he often nibbled on jalapeno peppers while watching television. The mayor countered by saying that he would bet a fifth of tequila that he could furnish a pepper so hot that no one could tolerate it. Jay accepted, thus sealing a friendly cross-border challenge. The mayor produced a small bowl of an innocuous looking sauce and suggested Jay sip a spoonful of it.

 

I dipped my fork in the sauce touched it to my tongue and immediately felt my tongue and lips go numb. Jay filled his spoon stuck it in his mouth and swallowed. For a moment suspended in time he looked as if an angry bobcat were inside his mouth frantically trying to escape and sweat popped out on his forehead. After a few moments and a couple of hurried gulps of beer, he croaked “that’s pretty good.” The mayor gestured to a waiter and said, “Bring this man a bottle of the best tequila.”

 

Friendly hands across the border. The next day we were due to head home and stopped at the US border station where a burly customs agent who looked remarkably like Boss Hogg shuffled to the car and brusquely inquired “You uns Murricans?”

 

“Yes, Missouri” said the three of us from the Show Me State, and Jay who was small, swarthy and black haired said “Si”  visions of rotting in a Mexican jail flashed through my head! The border cop snarled, “And where you from, boy?”

 

In his best hillbilly accent Jay said, dragging the word out “Arr kin saw.”

 

“Get the hell out of here!” growled the border guardian and that’s the last time I have visited Mexico.

 

Mexico is not an enemy nation. Russia and North Korea are enemy nations despite Donald Trump’s cuddling up to them like a dog let into to the house on a freezing night which somehow winds up sleeping uninvited on the bed. Sure, Mexico has serious internal problems, but so do we. Instead of offering neighborly help, Trump is unswervingly dedicated to building a wall between the two countries and by inflammatory rhetoric dismantling any hope for rapport between us and them.

 

A question. What about the thousands, if not millions of Asians, Latin Americans, black people, and others who have brought their cuisine to this country as immigrants and have started restaurants? Add in Italians who, after all, are not northern Europeans. Are we so addicted to MacJunk food that we would deny immigrants a chance to start a business featuring unfamiliar food unless they come equipped with deep pockets and no possibility ever to need public assistance (something that is likely for any of us with immigrant northern European roots).

 

What an awful human being Trump is, as are those who support him. They will reap what they sow but unfortunately so will the rest of us and our children and grandchildren, potentially cut down by the scythe of history.

 

There is a small Mexican restaurant a few miles from our home in the heart of a solid red town where probably more than half the town’s population voted for Trump. It’s family-run— I think husband-and-wife and daughter. We eat there once a week because it’s convenient, inexpensive, and the food is excellent. Are the three of them legal residents? United States citizens? I have no idea and have no desire to find out. They are pleasant people, obviously struggling to attract enough customers in a community more attuned to eating MacAwful greaseburgers than it is to experimenting with anything Mexican except perhaps an occasional daring stop at Taco Bell.

 

I have a sinking feeling that this little experiment in bringing South of the border cuisine to central Missouri is doomed, but until such time as we go by for our weekly outing and find the place closed down, I’m going to gratefully enjoy their hospitality and their food.

 

Invariably I order a shredded chicken quesadilla.

 

 

 

 

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