Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

  • Blog
  • June 20th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


I owe an abject apology to Ireland, the country from which my family emigrated  a couple of centuries ago. In a recent blog I said that Northern Ireland was sympathetic to Nazi Germany during World War II. This is 100% wrong.


My good friend and faithful reader Paul Vang set me straight.”You might want to take another look at your reference to Northern Ireland supporting Hitler during WWII. I think it’s the other way, with Eire (Ireland) having sympathizers. Northern Ireland is an official part of the U.K. and is closely allied with England – or at least the Protestants are.” Paul obviously is a far better student of Hibernian history than I am.


I was commenting on Donald Trump’s idiotic proposal that the Irish should build a wall to separate Northern Ireland from Southern Ireland (Eire) as a solution to the country’s long and involved political and religious unrest. Trump is an idiot and I feel like one also for being so egregiously wrong. Northern Ireland pledged support and loyalty to the fight against Germany from the outset, while Southern Ireland, technically neutral, did harbor a number of Irishmen sympathetic to the Hitler regime.


Separation between the two parts of Ireland dates back almost a century.  The South now is called the Republic of Ireland or the Irish free State, while the North remained part of Great Britain, along with England, Scotland and Wales. The southern part of the country became the Irish Ffree State in 1922.


Northern Ireland served as a staging area for troops gathering for the 1944 invasion of Normandy, was host to a number of Royal Air Force bases, and contributed troops to the fight against Hitler’s awful regime. I can only offer my deepest apologies to the six counties that constitute Northern Ireland, although it probably makes no difference to any sons of Erin. If it’s any consolation to those whom I might have offended, I treasure the soothing taste of Bushmills or Jameson’s  Irish whisky, love the music of Da Dannan, and one of the earliest songs I learned to sing was Galway Bay (Johnny Cash, my favorite singer, also learned the song as a kid and does a touching rendition of it in a collection of homemade tapes, available on compact disc)


I hope I’m right in correcting my wrong. If not, I hope that Paul Vang will set me straight.


It is a slogan often seen in backwoods taverns: “Cheer up. They said things could be worse. And sure enough, they got worse.” There is good news from the White House. Sarah Sycophant Sanders is leaving her job as Press Secretary and as Donald J Trump’s favorite ventriloquist dummy, and Kellyanne Conway, the Wicked Witch of the West Wing, has been recommended by the office of the special counsel  for dismissal in for mixing political activities with her government job— a legal no-no. The bad news in all of this is that Sanders is being touted as a gubernatorial candidate for Arkansas. That’s especially bad news if you happen to live in Arkansas where her father was governor with a dubious record and where other politicians have had less than stellar personal lives (and I include Bill Clinton in any listing of dubious Arkansas politicos).


My home state of Missouri has had its share of boneheaded governors (the present one replaced Eric Greitens  who resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct and campaign fund shenanigans) but we’ve had no one who can compare to Arkansas’s Orville Faubus, way back when, then up to and including Clinton and Sanders One.


Conway, even if justifiably canned , no doubt will have no trouble finding a new job—perhaps as the Red Queen in a revival of “Alice in Wonderland”. And there’s always Mrs. Hannigan in an “Annie”-revival or the evil stepmother in “Cinderella”.


The Fourth of July is a few days away and here are a few thoughts about that event. Trump apparently is going to get his cherished parade and as I write this there still is scheduled a speech by the big baby boy himself. Without a doubt this unwanted talk will be nothing but a campaign speech larded by personal attacks against his favorite Democratic party adversaries. There may be a flyover by Air Force One possibly repainted with Trump’s latest campaign slogan. There are no plans announced as to who or how this parade will be paid for, but you can bet that the American taxpayers are going to get stuck for it— creditors still are waiting to be paid for some of our deadbeat president’s other nefarious escapades.


Donald Trump long has wanted his very own parade in Washington, featuring tanks, guns, and Army Navy and Marines. Rather than mobilizing the nation’s armed forces for the glorification of the Great Leader, why not just mobilize all the people who have been fired or resigned from the Trump administration and march them down Constitution Avenue. They might outnumber the sparse crowd on the Capitol Mall that attended Trump’s inauguration.


Protesters already are petitioning to hoist the Baby Trump balloon like the one that welcomed him to England recently — perhaps the one of him sitting on a potty. I’m sure that the English, now that they have gotten rid of the pudgy interloper, would be happy to loan it out for Trump’s extensive parade of former employees.  Trump initially had backed down on his parade idea, blaming the local politicians for not supporting him accusing them of inflating the cost in order to cast a pall on his megalomaniacal proposal.


It would be interesting to know what the average English person thinks about our American president who bragged in an interview that he not only would accept help from a foreign government to get himself reelected, but he actually had a conversation with (and I am quoting from one of his tweets) “the Prince of Whales. Sarah Sanders claims that Trump was chosen by God to lead our country— not only God but apparently the Clown Prince also has a direct line to Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.


“Abraham Lincoln was treated supposedly very badly. But nobody’s been treated badly like me.” That’s what Trump said to interviewer George Stephanopoulos.  Trump proposed that he make a speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on July 4, the most celebrated holiday we have, specific to our independence and our democratic system of government. Such a desecration of our proud heritage is so awful an insult to every citizen that even the most ardent Trump supporter should be ashamed. I wouldn’t be surprised if the iconic seated statue of Abraham Lincoln would slump over, much as Mr. Lincoln did in Ford’s Theater a moment after he was shot from behind by John Wilkes Booth. That sad event would seem to trump Trump as an example of being treated badly, but not according to poor pudgy picked on Donnie.


It seems there is no cherished institution of our democracy that Trump can’t throw mud on. Donald Trump the most narcissistic politician in the history of the country reminds me of the evil queen from Disney’s cartoon “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” who daily looks in her mirror and asks “Who is the fairest of them all?” To which the mirror is supposed to exclaim “Why, you are mama!”


Except that there comes a day when the mirror, which probably surreptitiously voted Democrat in the previous election, says “it ain’t you, baby!” Trump is far less charming than the evil queen and if he resembles anybody in Snow White it’s Dopey, the dimwitted dwarf— although Dopey is well-meaning and sweet tempered, attributes which no one believes about Donald Trump except that 40% of muddled voters who continue to support the old fruitcake , endorsing the cracked mirror into which he peers constantly.  I’m reminded of the Rodney Dangerfield joke “my psychiatrist told me I’m going crazy. I told him, “if you don’t mind, I’d like a second opinion.” He said, “All right, you’re ugly too!”


And then there’s another Trump appropriate joke about mirrors from Dangerfield, “I went to see my doctor.‘ Doctor, every morning when I get up and look in the mirror I feel like throwing up. What’s wrong with me? He said, ’I don’t know, but your eyesight is perfect’”.


My apologies to the late Mr. Dangerfield.


I can’t get over the sight of Trump hugging the furled American flag as if it were his own personal banner. Grinning like a deranged chimpanzee, Trump was photographed on Flag Day, of all things, which also happened to be Trump’s 73rd birthday. If any more evidence were needed of Trump’s mental disintegration, that photo, officially issued by the White House, should be ample proof. Once he pried himself loose from that unhinged embrace of Old Glory, Trump went on to attack Robert Mueller’s investigation into his campaign conspiracy with Russia, calling it “bullshit.” If anyone knows bullshit it is Donald Trump who daily spews more of it than a stampede of uncastrated male bovines.


Proving that Twitter is not the exclusive domain of Donald Trump, one veteran (which bone spur deferred Trump is not) commented on the goofy photograph, “That photo intensifies the disgust most veterans and active duty military feel when they see you treating our flag with such disrespect. The flag is not to be fondled like some porn star. Despicable.”


Apparently there is no institution of our democracy that Trump can’t diminish. Already he has ignored the constitutional imperative that no president may serve more than two terms by suggesting that somehow he is owed two terms plus two more years  because of the length of the Mueller investigation—and he has intimated that being president for life like Chinese dictatorXi Jinping would be just fine by  him. Of course, it is not going to happen and if there is a just God and a viable legal system in this besieged country he won’t even make it through one term.


It has been nearly 250 tumultuous years since this country officially separated from England and  became, however tenuously at times, the United States of America. There have been wars upon wars and the bloodiest of them involved a four-year squabble between the states as to whether they truly are United or not.


But still, despite a civil war, despite long-standing disputes over states rights, federal rights, and individual rights, on July 4 we celebrate our unity. We must do this to preserve the image that we have created of a nation where truth, justice, and the pursuit of liberty are triumphant.


We do this in spite of the most awful president in our long history, one who treats our most cherished documented=io tributes to those ideals as outdated pieces of paper to be ignored and scorned at his whim. We don’t hug our flag as if it were one of his pornographic girlfriends, we fly it high and free, rippling in the sweet wind of liberty.


Let’s just, for one day, ignore our would be dictator and salute our flag and our history, no matter how frayed it sometimes is, and proclaim loudly and proudly to whatever deity we believe in, “God bless America!”






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  • Blog
  • June 14th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


I’ve seen it attributed to Mark Twain but actually it was the rope twirling humorist Will Rogers who said “If dogs don’t go to heaven, when I die, I want to go where they go.” Considering the many moments of happiness and hilarity that dogs have given me over the past decades, I’m with Mr. Rogers when it comes to a vacation in eternity.


My first dog was named “Chaps” a literary allusion.  Chaps was a half cocker spaniel half springer spaniel who seduced my father as he was passing a pet store in Chicago, Illinois. He thought that having a dog would tame my juvenile tendency to create new ways to get in trouble. Of course, in later years, Chaps became his dog, a constant companion in the squirrel woods where she excelled at treeing the bushytailed critters so he could shoot them.


But I did get to name her as a puppy. I had been reading “My Friend Flicka” and there was a dog in the novel named Chaps which I thought was a good one for my new puppy. I also had been working on a balsa wood model of a World War Two airplane and had spent countless hours gluing the little pieces together until I had a lovely, but flimsy replica of a fighter I much admired because of its sleek and dangerous look. Unfortunately, with virtually no grasp of international warfare (I was eight years old), the plane I chose to build was a Focke Wulf German fighter bomber. The puppy, Chaps, obviously was far more patriotic than I was because as I passed by my bedroom en route to the supper table, I spied Chaps reveling in the wreckage of my cherished model which she had chewed to splinters and shreds of paper.


Flick was a Li’l Abner among dogs, a rangy French Brittany who seemed from the outset to believe that his purpose in life was to have a good time. Once, hunting with the late outdoor writer Nick Sisley, Flick had an exemplary morning, outshining the other dogs on the hunt, pinning pheasants to the ground as if he had staked them with a hammer and nails. All in the hunting party admired my flawless dog until just after lunch when our host introduced his dog to the hunt. “She’s coming out of heat,” he said, “but I don’t think she’s attractive to male dogs anymore—she’s been defused.”


Flick, however, disagreed and fell instantly in love and the only thing he pointed from then on was his new girlfriend. “He is,” Nick said, “a fun dog.”


Flick did love the ladies and his best friend among our dogs, was Tess, a demure French Brittany whom I called Lady Di because of her habit of peering somewhat seductively up at whoever was petting her, much as did the late Princess Diana. Tess and Flick loved to race each other until the day that Flick, a half stride ahead in the race, looked over his shoulder at Tess…. And ran headlong into a tree. He staggered back from the collision, shook his head— and then snarled and jumped on Tess as if to say, “it’s all your fault, bitch!”  Typical male reaction— blame somebody else when you do something dumb.


Not too long after that, Tess came in heat and she and Flick were united in canine marriage. Sixty three days later they became the parents of eight puppies. I have a photograph of Tess standing in the yard with eight youngsters hanging off her faucets as she glares at Flick, standing nearby, with an expression that clearly says, “it’s all your fault, you son of a bitch!”


Pick any given winner of Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club competition, especially if that blue ribbon dog is a pointer, a bird dog, symbol of the club for 100 years, and lead that dog into a field formerly occupied by cattle. Unsnap the dog’s leash and let it roam and within minutes, the dog will return covered with green slime from having joyously rolled in odious cow flops. There is no substance so noxious that a dog will not enthusiastically decorate himself and, if you’re not extremely agile at evasion, you.


I know this is true because our dogs periodically return from brief romps in our woods smelling not unlike the effluvia from a defective sewage lagoon. A dog’s nose, many hundreds of times more sensitive than that of a human, is a marvel of evolution— able to detect at unbelievable distance the faint aroma of something so odious that it would, to quote an old simile “stink a dog off a gut wagon.” Except, of course it wouldn’t—the dog would be in canine heaven, perfuming itself in an ecstasy of self gratification. The reeking dog invariably wants to share its bounty with you and display its undying gratitude by becoming a lapdog


The target of the dog’s ecstatic attempt to roll in the sludge not always is inanimate. Well-known is the penchant for a dog to dare the rear end weaponry of a skunk with disastrous results both for the canine and the canine owner. Once, on a grouse hunt in Minnesota, the owner of a Labrador retriever, belonging to a member of our hunting party and his fuming owner, returned to the motel apartment where we were staying, clutching in one hand a large can of tomato juice, and in the other hand the collar of the skunk-sprayed Labrador which he dragged rapidly through the room where we were eagerly awaiting supper, into the bathroom where he and the dog and the tomato juice wrestled in the shower.


The theory is that tomato juice defuses the awful stench of skunk but I can testify that is a fallacious theory much like that of the 1950s theory that if schoolchildren get under their desks they will escape the effect of an atomic explosion.  We banished the dog to a kennel in the back end of the owner’s pick up outside the motel where it proceeded to howl its dissatisfaction all night. Periodically, large and outraged truckers staying in the rooms below us opened their doors and snarled that if they ever could discover who owned that condemned dog they would exact corporal punishment. The least the guy who owned the Lab could have done was to sleep in the kennel with his dog— he didn’t smell like roses either.


Another time, closer to home, my late best friend Spence Turner and I were quail hunting when our two dogs went over a nearby rise in search of the elusive bobwhite. We heard a yelp and then both dogs returned bringing with them a veritable tornadic whirlwind of skunk stink. The temperature was about 20° and we were 50 miles from home—and we were in my car which was not equipped for distance traveling with reeking dogs. The only way we could survive was to roll down all the windows and by the time we got back to my house we both were verging on hypothermia. I got no sympathy from the family trying to explain why the family car turned toxic while daddy was trying to hunter gather supper.


Once I had a dog who, in one monumental hunt, committed the equivalent of a human breaking all 10 Commandments in one day. First, he acted as if his genetic imperative, rather than pointing birds, was to make them fly. He ran through grouse after grouse and I began to wonder if he had completely lost his sense of smell–until the moment he obviously scented the effluvia of a particularly juicy cow pasture and returned from having bumped yet another grouse, smelling like an exploded outhouse. By nightfall, when we returned to the cabin where we were staying, exhausted and exasperated, he had run through enough weeds and damp vegetation (and grouse) that the awful stink of cow flop had faded.


I was on the verge of forgiving him for his sins, figuring that even Michael Jordan had a bad game once in a while, and I even felt a twinge of sympathy when he flopped exhausted on my hunting partner’s duffel bag. I heard a faint hissing sound but it didn’t register until my hunting buddy moved the dog to get some gun cleaning material only to discover that the hissing sound had come from a can of WD-40 that he had laid in the bag nozzle up and that the dog had triggered when he laid down on it.


It wasn’t until much later that I remembered something that happened to me at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, when I was at ROTC summer camp, learning how to be an artillery officer. It was Friday night and we were to have an inspection the next morning before we could go on leave for the weekend. I had spent a couple of hours arranging my footlocker so that every item was neatly displayed, ready for the most rigorous inspection by the most rigorous inspecting officer. I was ready.


I also was ready for a moment or two of relaxation so, with several buddies, I went to town and indulged in a few cold ones. We returned late at night, worn out with a week of training, readying for inspection, and, not to mention, from a few cold ones. I opened the footlocker for one last look at my artful display only to be confronted with a tsunami of foam from a can of Mennen’s shaving cream which I had laid in the footlocker with the nozzle pointing up…. And then had closed the lid on the can.


It runs in the family.








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  • Blog
  • June 7th, 2019


                By Joel M. Vance


Pussycat, pussycat where have you been?

I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.


Far be it from me to make any risqué jokes about this old nursery rhyme in conjunction with Donald Trump’s recent visit to Great Britain where he hobnobed with the Royal family (those of them whocould swallow their disgust long enough to be seen with the worst thing to happen to Anglo-American relations since George III was King of England.


Trump was photographed with his hand on the Queen’s back and I will make no further reference either to the nursery rhyme or to Trump’s infamous campaign statement about how he treats women. It was bad enough to the dignity of the British monarchy to be seen with Trump much less be associated with his disgusting personal behavior.


The Internet is alive with a photo of Trump beside Queen Elizabeth, wearing a tuxedo that looks as if it were made for Danny DeVito. He is just about as elegant in his evening clothes as if he had slept in them.  Difficult to read what’s going on in the mind of the Queen because Elizabeth was conditioned from birth to be regal, but I can’t help but imagine that she is thinking “I would rather be treated like one of Henry VIII’s wives than to be encumbered with this Yankee lout, dressed like the Penguin from a Batman movie.”


You have to admire the forbearance of Great Britain’s longest lasting Queen in not swatting the pudgy jowls of this arrogant bigoted interloper for having insulted a member of the royal family, a new mother and one much admired by everyone not named Trump, by calling her “nasty”.


Trump sashayed across the ocean in his usual blundering way, raucously tweeting like a seagull scavenging off a garbage dump, scattering insults and incomprehensible falsehoods–in other words, business as usual. After bumbling his way through England, Trump shambled to Ireland the country from which my forebears immigrated (oh, that horrible word “immigrant”). Maintaining as usual that everyone loves him and ignoring the thousands of protesters who basically were saying “Get the hell out of our country!” He over flew those apparently invisible crowds of anti-Trump Brits, heading for the nearest Trump branded golf course in Ireland where he could, like the proverbial ostrich, bury his head in a sand trap and ignore the fact that lots of folks on the other side of the ocean from Trump Tower hate his bloated guts.


As is usual, Trump managed to make a bad situation worse by suggesting that Ireland, which is divided into two entities— six counties in Northern Ireland, and the rest of the country, known as Ireland should build a wall to separate the two. Both sides of the boundary between the two Irelands quickly tried to repair this diplomatic gaffe by assuring the uneasy Irish that there are no plans to build a wall. Trump apparently focused entirely on his reportedly cheat-laden golf game to the exclusion of knowledge about the tumultuous history between the two Irelands.


Possibly he was harking back to the days of World War II when Northern Ireland was sympathetic to Hitler’s  Germany (possibly more because of anti-English hatred  rather than affection for Hitler’s Germany). After all, he was partly in England to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion which resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany and presumably quelled the connection between Hitler and the pro-German Irish. But that is giving more credit to Trump for knowing  history than he deserves since he almost daily indicates that if it didn’t happen to him personally he has no knowledge of it and no interest in learning about it. Trump also chose a solemn commemoration of bloody sacrifice to personally attack Robert Mueller and Nancy Pelosi with the backdrop of thousands of crosses commemorating those who died fighting for freedom. This partisan political name-calling rant was just disgusting, a gut wrenching example of just how petty and cruel Trump is at his core.


For example, he gave a rambling interview on British television in which he said that one reason he didn’t go to Vietnam to serve in that bloody war was that “I wasn’t a fan of it” as if it were a sporting event, and then he said it didn’t matter because no one had ever heard of that country anyway. That despite the fact that polls   at the time showed that Vietnam was the number one concern of America’s citizenry. He carefully did not mention the fact that he received medical deferments so he didn’t have to serve from a doctor who was renting from Trump’s father. Is there something in this that doesn’t smell right?


In the interview with Piers Morgan, Trump briefly put on a hat identical to those famously worn by Winston Churchill during World War II. The anti-Trump twitterites instantly made great fun of his appearance in the hat (which made him look remarkably like Moe, Shemp or Larry) and the best of the twitter feeds was this which parodied a famous speech by Churchill: “We shall fight them on the beaches. We shall fight them on the landing grounds. When I say “we”, I mean you, as I’ve got a doctor’s note. Bone spurs, you see. The greatest bone spurs ever, etc.”


It would be hypocritical of me to totally condemn Trump for evading military service during the Vietnam War and taking advantage of deferments. I also had a college deferment during the tail end of the Korean War, but went through ROTC, was commissioned as a second Lieutenant, and spent 13 years in the National Guard. But my unit never was activated and I did not serve in Vietnam. I also was not a “fan” of Vietnam, but I didn’t burn my draft card, move to Canada, engage in antiwar protests, or otherwise actively lobby against what I felt then and feel now was a stupid incursion into the affairs of another country. Trump might want to consider some of those same concerns when he starts thinking about messing with Central and South America, Mexico, Iran or North Korea. It’s one thing to react decisively when attacked as we were at Pearl Harbor; quite another to engage in empire building (as we have done periodically over the last couple of centuries) or to interfere militarily with other countries because we don’t like them (as we also have done a number of uncomfortable times in our history).


I got out of the Guard 50 years ago but I think I still am in what they call the inactive reserve, meaning that theoretically I could be recalled to active duty in case of national emergency. Considering that I’m nearly 85 years old I doubt that I could be any more effective as a warrior than Donald Trump is as president of the United States.


It’s wrong as a national policy to become isolationist, but it’s equally wrong if not worse to ignore or insulate the country from the world. Once we had allies, once we were engaged with the world in an effort to help create a more peaceful and stable environment in which all nations could live and thrive without resorting to bloodshed. Trump seems dedicated to destroying alliances which have been carefully built and preserved for decades if not centuries, and to hobnob with the world’s most repressive and brutal regimes led by some of history’s nastiest dictators (and they truly are nasty as opposed to an innocuous English princess who has the good sense to know a bigoted, misogynistic and despicable slob when she sees one).


The Vance family name traces back to the Norman invasion more than 1000 years ago. According to family genealogists, we were named deVaux when we stormed across the channel to occupy Scotland and Ireland. The name morphed into Vans and ultimately into Vance. Somewhere in the 1700s, some of those Vances immigrated (oh, that horrible word again) to America and we’ve been here ever since, mostly in Missouri since the early days of settlement. The Vance immigrants, breeding like flies, spread all over the New World and soon there were Vances all along the eastern seaboard, what would become Ohio, and creeping over the Eastern mountains to Missouri.


I don’t know if any of my direct line deserves to be called either a son or daughter of the American Revolution, but my great grandpa and great grand uncle both served a few short months in the Union Army in the Civil War before they got captured by the Confederate forces of General Sterling Price. They were spanked on the bottom and sent home to resume their roles as Chariton County farmers. At least their hearts were in the right place even if their military training was not. My uncle Roy Finnell, who married my father’s sister, Lilah Mae Vance, was a sailor in World War I and his son, Roy Joe, was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne in World War II and parachuted behind German lines on D-Day, 75 years ago today (as I write these words). He brought home an English war bride—classic example of Anglo-American love.


Trump would tear apart this historic affection. He has called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) a bunch of freeloaders. He has strained relations with France, a country which supported the American colonists in the Revolutionary War and without whom we might well have remained an English colony. At the same time he has disparaged our traditional allies, he has been eagerly embracing his good buddy Kim Jong Un of North Korea and other dictators who routinely kill off anyone who displeases them.


Trump is a problem and you solve problems by offering solutions. It does no good to complain without offering remedies. Obviously, Trump can be voted out of office in 2020, but why wait that long? He could be impeached but that is a cumbersome process that might well stretch longer than the next election. Why not begin hearings in the House of Representatives that could lead to an impeachment trial? The only thing keeping that from happening is a timid Democrat controlled House. The Democrats need to get off their easily spooked horse and start asking questions— calling key witnesses, hearing what has transpired behind the scenes, and then acting on the information.


Dithering solves nothing and only plays into Trump’s pudgy hands. Those who could derail him routinely defy subpoenas issued by the House, thumbing their collective nose at the rule of law. Call Robert Mueller to testify and ask him what lies behind the many blacked out portions of his report on Trump’s misdeeds as well as the unredacted portions.  America’s voters are visually oriented these days, to their TV, iPad or other visual devices. They aren’t going to read 400 pages of Mueller’s report, but they will absorb his words spoken directly to them via a visual media. Once they understand the meaning of this damning report Trump’s already eroding power base should begin to crumble.


 And as far as those who defy House subpoenas, throw their butts in jail. The House should refer the defied subpoenas to the courts who presumably would call out the authorities to exercise forcible restraint on Trump’s scofflaws.  It would be nice to see at least part of Congress do something positive for a change.





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  • Blog
  • May 31st, 2019


By Joel M. Vance

            Among the many emails that daily flood my computer 99.9% of which I don’t want and instantly delete, is one called “A Word a Day.”  Supposedly learning all the words and definitions will increase your vocabulary to the point where you can drop words that no one ever has heard before into your conversations.


           While this may increase your vocabulary, it also is more  likely to decrease your popularity to the point where when others see you coming they will use words that don’t need explaining and that you have heard before.


           Recently the word “naupathia” popped up like a spring mushroom. Even though it is highly unlikely I will ever either encounter or use the word, I clicked on the definition and this is what it said “Motion sickness experienced while traveling on water.”


           I deleted the email instantly because it brought to mind a couple of life experiences that I would rather not recall. And, after I deleted the noxious word, I reached for a Tums to quell my rising gorge. The only person who can laugh at seasickness is someone who’s never been seasick…and he laughs at his peril because the nauseated one, laughed at, is likely to become dangerous when he recovers.


            And he will recover because no one dies of seasickness. They just wish they could.  Actually, seasickness is not confined to the sea—technically it’s motion sickness and I used to become queasy every time my father said, “Let’s take a spin in the ol’ Ford.”  What was spinning was my stomach. 


            There are remedies for motion sickness, including scopolamine patches which you wear behind your ear.  Scopolamine is an alkaloid which interferes with the nervous system—a sedative.  According to the medical books it can produce symptoms including dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, and dry skin, mouth, and respiratory passages.  Those are exactly the symptoms I had without a patch when Steve Griffin proposed to take me on Lake Michigan to troll for Chinook salmon.  Steve’s boat was about the size of my bathtub and this was one of the Great Lakes.  I am dubious about big water under almost any conditions (I hid under the theater seat during most of “The Perfect Storm”).


            We were on big water in a boat that would have had me singing, “Rubadub, dub, three men in a tub” if I hadn’t been scared speechless.  I thought of singing “The Edmund  Fitzgerald,” Gordon Lightfoot’s song about a ship that sank on Lake Superior with great loss of life… but singing was the least of what I wanted to do.  Howling like a frightened hound was more like it.


            And then Steve did the worst thing you can do to someone prone to motion sickness.  “You don’t get seasick, do you?” he asked.  Until that moment I’d been too scared to think about throwing up, but as soon as my imagination kicked in, the heaving waves were echoed in my stomach. 


            And then to make it worse Steve added, “How about some summer sausage?”   I couldn’t answer.  I was too busy swallowing noisily.  At that moment a 22-pound Chinook salmon decided that my lure was a sub sandwich (perhaps it was trying to lose weight) and the downrigger bounced and I was fast to the biggest fish of my life.


            Normally this would excite a person, but as the fish bucked and jumped, so did my stomach.  Steve kept giving me directions, but none were to the nearest emergency room.  “Keep the line tight!  Keep your rod tip up!”  Stuff like that was no help to someone undergoing a drastic medical emergency.  I needed encouragement, like, “Here’s dry land!  There’s a soft bed!”


            The fish jumped, then headed for where I wanted to be—the distant shore.  “Give up, fish!” I snarled, trying not to think of greasy summer sausage.  If only I had taken Dramamine.  Dramamine affects the way the middle ear acts and it’s the middle ear acting up that makes you want to puke to the moon.  Some researchers think long-term use of anticholinergics, which is what Dramamine is, can lead to internal damage.  I was already having that, so big deal.


            There are other seasickness remedies, none of which I had available.  The most intriguing one is an elastic band that applies acupressure to your wrist, more specifically to the pericardial meridian (a fact that you can use at parties to send your audience into wild apathy).  Scientists believe that the effectiveness is because you believe it works, not because it actually does—but then motion sickness occurs because you believe it does, too.  So the condition and the cure are all imaginary, just like the fish you’re after when you become seasick. 


             Now, if the imagination is the trigger then I’ve been underestimating dogs because many dogs become carsick and there’s hardly anything more fun than riding with a nauseous dog, especially since bird dogs are capable of producing enough waste to make another dog.


             You also can undergo acupuncture to relieve seasickness, but I’m not sure I’d want my fishing buddy to be jabbing me with six-inch needles on a heaving sea.  I’d rather do the heaving along with the sea. 


            So you’re fast to the biggest fish you ever caught in your life and the waves are rolling, rolling, rolling and your stomach goes up, then down and your eyes are trying to follow the shifting currents and…excuse me, I’ll be back in a moment.  I just have to sit down and take a few deep breaths.


            Motion sickness is because your brain, like mine, is geared to accept signals from your eyes and your inner ear.  Usually they agree.  But that stuff sloshing around in your inner ear (better not to think about it) sometimes sends a different message than what your eyes are seeing.  And your brain (well, mine anyway) says, “Hey, man, if you can’t get your act together I’m gonna make you orbit your cookies.”  And so it goes….


            The second memorable time that seasickness struck was on a schooner trip off the coast of Maine, aboard the Nathaniel Bowditch, a three master dating to the 19th century and named for a historic sailing master who wrote the book on oceanic navigation.


            The boat was beautiful, sleek and a living remnant of the time when sailboats ruled the oceans. I felt like Errol Flynn as Captain Blood as I strode the decks of this noble craft trying to repress the urge to shout, “Avast ye lubbers!” And “Up the mainsl’s, ye blaggers!” And other expletives gleaned from 1940s seafaring adventures, seen at the Rialto Theater, where I ate popcorn and stuck my bubblegum under the seat. But I figured that the response from the crew and fellow passengers would be along the lines of, “Up yours too, you dryland lubber!”


            All went well for a couple of days as we sailed with a fair wind behind us, anchored near an island, went ashore, not to conquer the natives, but to feast on lobster, bought fresh off the boat, steamed on a bed of seaweed gathered by us lubbers. It was heaven on earth—or at least as close as you can get to it off the coast of Maine.


            And then, on day three the wind picked up and the boat began to rock, not much certainly for those seafarers among us, but I felt a tremor in my nether regions. Suddenly, no longer was I Captain Blood, but Captain Barf. I explained to my fellow seafarers that I was suffering a tad of mal de mer, hoping that none of them knew enough French to translate that as plain old American “Excuse me before I upchuck on your loafers.” I retired to my bunk below decks, a claustrophobic enclosure about the size of a sardine can (and thank God no one suggested either sardines or summer sausage). I survived in time, but my enthusiasm for oceanic adventure subsided along with my bounding main belly.


             According to my emails the word for today is turtling: ” The art, practice or art of catching turtles.” Sounds like it might be fun. I might do it— as long as it doesn’t involve  getting in a boat.  I’m in good company—about half the astronauts suffer from motion sickness.  So I guess I’m made of the Right Stuff after all.


             If I could just keep it down….





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  • May 23rd, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


When God looks down from His\Her heavenly throne and beholds Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, He\She must grumble thunderously, “how could I have been so wrong!”


According to the Bible, God created woman from Adam’s rib. He or She must have used the wrong body part to create Sanders and as for those two guys, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, God must be wishing He or She had created a more lethal apple or a more venomous snake.


The Mueller report is out and while it never will supplant Gone With the Wind, to Kill a Mockingbird, or the Bible as a bestseller it does make for reading every bit as horrific as Stephen King’s most bone chilling novels. It lays out a roadmap leading from Donald Trump’s trashy presidency directly to the door of the United States Congress within which lies the power of impeachment to get rid of God’s creative stumble.


Predictably, Tubby Donnie trotted out his two female acolytes from the depths of the West Wing to parrot his tiresome denial of wrongdoing. Kellyanne Conway, the Wicked Witch of the West Wing,  appears, seemingly from nowhere, like one of the harpies from mythology. And then there is Sarah Sanders and invariably when the two of them descend on the weekend talk shows like those flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, I instantly think of count Dracula, so chillingly portrayed in the movies by Bela Lugosi, who always was accompanied by a couple of female vampires, ever ready to suck blood from the truth.


The sheer hypocrisy of Sarah Sanders is stunning. How can this woman, daughter of a minister, a professed Christian, so wholly endorse the misogynistic, bigoted, rantings of Donald Trump who, in his personal life, has violated virtually every moral imperative of the Christian religion? She epitomizes the old joke about politicians: “you can tell when a politician is lying— his lips are moving.” (Or hers)


It’s incomprehensible to me that any woman would associate herself (read that as “demean herself”) by associating with Donald Trump, the epitome of the misogynist. I could only shake my head when I saw a photo on the Internet of Trump at a rally in Mobile, Alabama, a state which itself is the epitome of much of society’s ill health. In the photo Trump is faced by a huge mob which, as far as I can tell, is 100% white, and right at the front of this adoring mob of supporters are several women.


One, directly in front of him, is a young woman clutching a baby. Trump is cupping the baby’s face with his pudgy hand (perhaps leaving the mark of the Devil upon it) and the presumed mother appears to be shrieking with delight at being this close to her idol. A couple of people behind her is another woman bearing aloft a sign reading “Thank you Lord Jesus for President Trump”.


After popping a handful of Tums to quell my rising gorge, I looked for a different photo, something more palatable— perhaps a pride of lionesses tearing apart the bloodied carcass of a wildebeest. The only saving factor in that Trump photograph is the baby is not old enough to vote for Donald J Trump. But give the kid enough years and it can qualify for membership in the KKK, the white Citizens Council, or the Alabama Republican Party.


That the woman’s idiotic sign thanks Jesus for Trump echoes the equally idiotic claim by several commentators on the far right that God has sent Trump to save the country. This mixing of religion with politics directly contradicts the intent of the nation’s founders that religion and our republic  have no business being intermingled. But that doesn’t stop the Bible bangers from claiming that God and country are intertwined. And that is one step from claiming that the United States of America should be a theocracy. Guess what? Iran is a theocracy and, according to Donald J Trump, we don’t want to be like iran. In fact, according to Trump’s closest advisers like John Bolton, we should just nuke Iran.


Back in 1950 the egomaniacal general Douglas MacArthur advocated separating North Korea from communist China by laying down a boundary line of atom bombs that would create a radioactive barrier between the two countries—too hazardous to cross. Cooler heads prevailed and, ultimately, after 50,000 Americans died, a form of peace prevailed as a truce which holds, uneasily, to this day—and MacArthur got fired by President Truman. It’s too bad Bolton and his ilk haven’t joined MacArthur as shady footnotes in American history. One can only hope it will come to pass SAP.


Back to Sanders: In February of this year she said “I think God calls for all of us to fill different roles at different times and I think that He wanted Donald Trump to become president and that’s why he’s there.” Apparently Sanders thinks her role in God’s plan is to be a sycophant for Donald Trump. If those of religious bent, those who believe in God (which includes Christians, Muslims, and Jews, not to mention other religions which believe in an omnipotent presence), can wrap their mind around Sanders’ outlandish claim that Donald Trump amounts to the Second Coming, it goes a long way toward explaining how televangelists over the years have conned the credulous out of millions of dollars to finance their lavish lifestyles.  If you’re gutsy enough you can claim that it’s God’s will that an old lady should donate her life savings to some evangelical flim flam artist and then go to the polls and vote for Donald Trump for president. Either way, the innocent suffer.


In an interview with the New Yorker, Sanders said, when asked how she reconciles her defense of a man who paid off a porn star to help his election chances, “No one is perfect.” I wonder if she ever has seen the wonderful movie Some Like It Hot, where Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dress as women and join an all girl jazz band to escape gangsters. Lemmon is courted by a rich goofball, played by Joe E Brown, who, when Lemmon finally confesses that he’s not a girl but a guy, replies, “Well, nobody’s perfect,” as he takes  Lemmon’s hand and leads him toward his yacht.


This claim that Trump is the Chosen One is the equivalent of a get rich scheme, perpetrated by con artists. That’s what Donald Trump is—a quintessential con man. Perhaps the earthquakes which we thought were caused by fracking for oil and gas merely is God shaking in his boots.


Sanders is the daughter of Mike Huckabee a Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas, another uncomfortable marriage of politics and religion. Huckabee acceded to the governorship when the former governor was convicted of fraud. As governor he pressured the state to release Wayne Dumond, a convicted rapist with a record of murder and sexual abuse charges going back a quarter of a century. Huckabee actually wrote this convict a letter saying “my desire is that you be released from prison.” Dumond was freed, moved to Missouri, raped and murdered a young woman.


Later, as a presidential candidate, Huckabee supported a man named Joshua Dugger who admitted he had molested children including his own siblings as a teenager.  Said Huckabee, “Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgustng things.”


If Huckabee said any undeniably true thing about these two cases it was about Dugger’s family, “They are no more perfect a family than any family.” She meant it as a tribute to a family she said was dedicated to Jesus. I wonder therefore what she secretly believes about the Trump family? As to Trump’s religious convictions and dedication, at least twice he has autographed Bibles as if he were a visiting author, inscribing his very own book.


If any evidence were needed about Trump’s unconventional view of religion it came during his presidential campaign when former Minnesota representative  Michele Bachmann, as nutty a human being who has ever served in Congress, lauded Trump by saying “Trump is highly biblical, and I would say we will in all likelihood never see a more godly, biblical president again in our lifetime.”


In response to that encomium I can only quote an old colloquialism: “it’s enough to gag a goat.”


The role of the White House press secretary is to convey as much of the truth as the administration deems possible to the nation’s press and ultimately to the nation. Press secretaries are no stranger to evasion, devious interpretation, and outright lies, but none have come right out and described it as eloquently as Kellyanne Conway did when she called her outright lies “alternative facts.”  A fact is a fact and there are no alternatives to that—anything else is a lie.


At least Conway has her husband George (who despises Donald Trump at least as much as his wife reveres him) to counterbalance her fabrications; Sanders has only a few despicable Republican politicians and, of course, her even more despicable boss invisibly standing with her at the press room podium (when she bothers to show up). Perhaps it is this lack of reliable support that has kept her increasingly absent from press briefings. Any honorable person would be suffering from moral agony by having to shovel out the Augean stable of White House manure on a daily basis.


It has been documented that Donald Trump has piled up lies during his half term presidency in the thousands. The fact here is not an alternative one— it is true that he is a natural liar. In one of her more laughable obfuscations about her boss, Sanders said “I can definitely say the president is not a liar, and I think it’s frankly insulting that question would be asked.” She since has repeatedly echoed Trump’s proved lies, therefore establishing herself as the flip side of Trump’s falsehood fantasies.


Politicians and political parties historically have looked for a song to epitomize their message. Trump repeatedly has stolen the Rolling Stones song “You can always get what you want,” despite the band’s repeated requests for him to shut his mouth and quit stealing their song. But outright theft and misrepresentation never stopped Trump before. Tom Petty threatened to sue George W. Bush for stealing his song “I won’t back down” before little Georgie stopped the music.


 You have to go back to 1936 to find the perfect song to epitomize today’s Republican Party and I would give everything I own to hear Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Donald Trump stand side-by-side at the press briefing podium and sing a duet of a song written in 1936 by a man named Billy Mayhew. The song since has been recorded by a multitude of artists especially, Fats Waller, the wonderful stride piano player whose birthday it happens to be as I write these words.


The song is “It’s a sin to tell a lie.” Equally famous is a recording by the Ink Spots which contains a monologue by their sepulchral bass singer Hoppy Jones who rumbles “Whole lotta folks hearts have done been broken just over a lotta foolish words that’s spoken.” Perhaps Trump and Sanders could get Conway and Mitch McConnell to join in a re-creation of the Spots.


The Ink Spots and Fats Waller have gone on to musical heaven, Fats playing stride harp and the Ink Spots harmonizing  with the angels. But the country can only hope that the day after the 2020 election (or, if justice prevails, sooner) we can all joyously sing a 1929 song which, in 1932, epitomized hope for a depressed and economically ravaged country with the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “Happy days are here again.”







Read More
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  • May 17th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


Late in life after Robert McNamara began to comprehend the enormity of his responsibility for the stupidity and cruelty of the Vietnam War, he explained it by referring to “The fog of war.” As if the confusion and wrong decisions made in the heat of battle somehow excused or moderated the vast human cost of what he had helped to create. “It was awful foggy out, officer, so I just didn’t see that little kid until I ran over him.”


Today, we still are mired in the longest war in American history— a fuddled attempt to bring order to a disordered and barely civilized rockpile named Afghanistan. We still are muddling about in Iraq and Donald Trump, apparently following in the stumbling footsteps of his predecessors, searching for his own war to claim credit for, is making threatening comments about interfering in Venezuela’s increasingly chaotic politics. Or maybe he can goad Iran into lobbing nuclear missiles back and forth.  The fog of war still is upon us and shows no sign of dissipating.


What to do then, when the fog of politics is too noxious to endure? Then it is time to go out in the sweet spring air and take a hike. So that’s what I’m doing. Somewhere, Donald Trump is tweeting inanities in his reprehensible, half witted and dangerous style, Sarah Sanders is preparing to echo him as if she were Capt. Hook’s parrot, perched on his doughy shoulder. And Kellyanne Conway, the Wicked Witch of the West Wing no doubt, is lurking in the catacombs of the White House, waiting for Count Trumplia to rise from his 24 carat coffin to dispatch her on yet another bloodsucking political hatchet job.


That’s the way it is in the hallowed hotseat of democracy, Washington DC, where duplicity substitutes for common sense. But I am walking across a lush carpet of green. A mini meadow established and meticulously maintained by our son, Eddie. At the far side of this emerald gem is a five acre plot of woods with trails sinuously winding through it. Eddie cleared the trail, carefully maintaining a semblance of remoteness— a marvelous engineering job that gives you the feeling of traversing a long wilderness path when really you’re never more than a few yards from the open meadow.


There is a replica coal mine in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry where you enter an elevator that seemingly drops you 1000 feet into a dimly lit shaft where you can see machines ostensibly extracting coal from solid rock. It’s all illusion and done so marvelously that you would swear at the end of the tour you have just emerged from the depths of a deep coal mine. That’s the kind of magic that Eddie has created in his tiny plot of woods.


Henry Thoreau was the spokesperson for the value of isolating oneself in the wilderness. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” Thoreau said but the portion of Walden Woods where he isolated himself was only 14 acres, scarcely larger than Eddie Woods and when Hank felt the need to go to town for a sixpack of Pepsi, he was within walking distance. And he also accidentally once set a forest fire that burned 300 acres of the woods.


But Hank got a memorable book out of his time in the 14 acres; I hope to get a website blog out of my time on Eddie’s trail. Eddie’s meadow, lush and green, has been nurtured by the same spring rains that have caused the Mississippi River to go on a rampage not seen in 150 years. As I write, the Missouri River is forecast to rise above 25 feet, some 4 feet beyond flood stage. In 1993, the Missouri achieved an epic flood that saw the stretch from Jefferson City to St. Louis become a massive lake.


It was, they said, a 500 year flood, implying that Missouri would not suffer the same fate for another five centuries. The water receded slightly and within days more rain came and the river rose even higher to a second 500 year flood— not 500 years later but about five days later.


Engineers have tried for more than a century to tame the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, largely without success. At its birth you can skip across the Mississippi on slippery rocks, risking sliding into cold waters halfway up your shin. The river is no hazard to man there because there are 10,000 lakes in Minnesota to disperse any floodwaters and few people live in the Mississippi headwaters, so few would be affected if there were floodwaters. Between Minneapolis-St. Paul and St. Louis there is a necklace of locks and dams designed to store floodwater and ensure a constant water level for barge traffic. It works fairly well, although the folks in presently flooded Davenport, Iowa, might disagree, but below St. Louis the river does pretty much what it wants to and when heavy rains fall, as they have recently, man’s expensively constructed levees crumble and thousands of acres become temporary lakes.


One of those 500 year or perhaps 1000 year or perhaps all eternity years happened in 1927 when the Mississippi River blew out of its banks in the most destructive flood in United States history. Some 27,000 square miles of land adjacent to the river flooded up to 30 feet deep. Most of the flooding was south of Missouri, and the 1927 disaster is what spurred levee building south of St. Louis to New Orleans.


The Mississippi River’s largest and most unruly tributary, the Missouri, also had its period of levee construction—not so much to contain floodwaters as to provide a uniform depth for barge traffic. There also is a system of dams beginning with Fort Peck in Montana and ending with Gavin’s Point dam in South Dakota. As far as I can tell, what the dams have done over the years is create a reason for river bordering states to scream at each other over who gets how much water when, where, how and why. Plus, below the dam system, every time we have one of those 500 year floods it blows out levees built ever higher over the years in a futile attempt to constrict the river. It doesn’t take a college educated engineer to figure out what happens when you squeeze a garden hose. The constricted water has more force and if you’re trying to blow that water down a narrower channel, inevitably it erodes what has been built up to try to hold it in place. In a word, levees.

So that’s what I’m thinking about as I squish through the soggy entrance to Eddie’s trail. But it’s not a day for thinking of environmental disaster. So I slog through a carpet of lush lawn grass and dandelions.  A friend shot a turkey gobbler recently, the crop of which was crammed with dandelion greens. I never knew that wild turkeys cherished dandelion greens, the curse of the gardener. Perhaps we can substitute wild turkeys for dangerous herbicides— they certainly are better for your health.


The Eddie Trail hike will be a muddy one but a blissful one of perhaps 15 or 20 minutes during which there is the possibility of spooking a deer, turkey or other wildlife. There will be birds, spring wildflowers, and possibly the occasional disease bearing dog tick. As usual I have forgotten to slather myself with insect repellent and probably will pay for it sometime by contracting a tickborne disease. No pleasure exists without threat, including a walk in the woods. Otherwise we would not have original sin.


I’m looking at the tracks of a deer now, stomped into the mud. There have been times on this trail when there were so many tracks that it looked as if there had been a cattle stampede. These tracks are so fresh that you’d think the deer still should be standing in them. But he or she has vanished, probably spooked by me just out of sight.


My shoes stick in the mud and slurp as I pull them loose. I punctuate the sound with snuffling—the pollen count is sky high from oak, hickory, mulberry. A mole tunneled across the trail in front of me, leaving a tiny levee in its passing. Once, we had a Brittany who was fond of of unearthing moles and retrieving them. Unfortunately, he was not nearly as fond of discovering game birds.


I pass an immature honey locust, bristling with lethal looking spines like an arboreal porcupine. Being speared by a honey locust is a painful experience—I swear, those stiletto-like barbs are dipped in acid. Honey locust probably would make good firewood— its cousin, black locust, is among the best burning woods available, but who wants to risk woodland wounding. A neighbor once wanted to use a pasture of ours infested with honey locust saplings which needed to be removed before the grass was usable (cows resist munching on hay laced with vegetative barbed wire). I was more than happy to donate the hay if the neighbor was willing to clean out the honey locust. I never heard directly from the cows but they seemed to smile as we passed them on the road.


Although I am less than 100 yards from Eddie’s meadow on one side and a county highway on the other, it is quiet here, as quiet as the bucolic peace Thoreau sought at Walden. “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” Thoreau said, but that makes you wonder about a man who discounts the friendship of his fellow man, preferring to travel life’s trail by himself. I suspect I would have found Thoreau a sour old man, somewhat unlikable, and not nearly as companionable as my hunting buddies. But it is good to be alone for a little while— just not all the time.


I didn’t find until after my walk that in ancient Greek mythology, a labyrinth was a structure built originally to hold the Minotaur, a fearsome monster.  The labyrinth which the English call a maze, was so complex that the Minotaur couldn’t figure out how to get out. I hope that I do not encounter a Minotaur on my walk, but did later discover that in modern times labyrinth patterns, inlaid on the floor, are used in hospitals for therapeutic relaxation. They also are used for private meditation, which certainly fits the reason for my excursion into Eddie’s unintentional version of the ancient labyrinth.


Minotaurs no, deer possibly. The deer tracks trundle ahead of me on the trail and perhaps the deer himself or herself is standing just outside my vision alongside the trail, waiting for me to pass. There is a small tree shaded pond to my right which dries up in the summer but which, thanks to the rain, now is flush. I spooked a pair of wood ducks off of it on a previous walk. An old stock tank is buried below the pond dam, nearly obscured by lush growth from seepage through the dam. Once, long ago, livestock grazed here but now the only livestock that ever make it this far back in the undergrowth are the cows that periodically break through the neighbor’s fence and trample the garden.


Here is a deer track where the animal slipped and nearly fell. The ground is peppered with deer tracks— if it’s just one deer it must be a virtual hoofed Fred Astaire. I come to the smiling piggy, atop a stump. Our daughter and son-in-law acquired a series of miniature figures in a junk shop which they placed along the trail to enliven the experience– a smiling piggy, a bird, and several other meaningless knickknacks. They add personality to Eddie’s trail.


The pig’s head is lifted to the sky with a cheerful grin as if it is happy to be there. Piggy is warmed by a shaft of sunlight and we share a moment of optimism. I pass a pair of plastic Scottish terriers nestled together in the crotch of a tree with the word “welcome” inscribed on the base that supports them.


I spy Mickey and Minnie Mouse waving cheerfully at me. They are the last of the figurines before the trail ends. It’s as if the two Disney characters are saying “Thanks for enjoying the trail with us and come again!”


I leave the trail at the edge of the dam across Eddie’s small pond. Cattails are beginning to sprout and will nearly clog the pond before summer is finished and the water will dry to caked mud. Now the pond belongs to spring peepers which chirp and croak in chorus, a jumbled non-Beethovenish “Ode to Joy.” Who’s to say that little frogs aren’t just as enthralled by spring’s exuberant surge of life as I am?

I leave the trail and the woods and the spring peepers behind and walk slowly toward home in the sunlight.



Read More
  • Blog
  • May 10th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


           Fishing tackle tradeshows are to the ardent angler the equivalent of the Super Bowl or the World Series to a sports nut. The largest of them currently is ICAST, a cute acronym which stands for the international Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades and this year was held in Orlando, Florida, the home of Disney World.


           Once I went to a similar show (AFTMA) which stood for American fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association, which was in Las Vegas rather than next door to Disney World. There, I did not see Mickey and Minnie Mouse, but I did see some sights every bit as enchanting as the Enchanted World.  The Las Vegas Minnies often were not wearing mouse ears like Mousketeers.  In fact they weren’t wearing much of anything.


          As an outdoor writer It was my duty to attend as a fishing writer and I stumbled into the Las Vegas Convention Center with the savoir faire of Joe Bob Goodolboy presenting his respects to Her Majesty, the Queen.  I wandered the aisles like Gomer Pyle, murmuring, “Wal, gollleee!” as hayseeds scattered from my hair like dandruff.  Or perhaps it was dandruff.


                Here was a booth with three comely ladies (actually, I don’t know if they were ladies or not, but there was indisputable evidence they were comely) who were demonstrating some item of angling equipment.  I think it was boob lures…er, tube lures.


                “I’ll take three of those!” I babbled to the manufacturer’s rep.


                “Why on earth would you want three Duo Duct Neverfail Triple Hedge Wad Cutter Suresink boat anchors?” he asked.


                 “Boat anchors!  I want three of them!” I cried, pointing at the lissome lasses who edged away with charming cries of alarm. He fixed me with a gimlet eye (and, Lord knows, at that moment I needed fixing, not to mention a gimlet) and sent me on my way.  I wandered down the aisle, singing “My Way.”


                Las Vegas is not exactly the home of the United Churches of the World.  The next table over at supper one night held the real-life counterparts of half the characters in “The Godfather.” I eavesdropped on the conversations of people apparently all named Vinnie and it was about “hits” and “rackets.”  I suppose they were talking about tennis, which is quite popular in Las Vegas. Most people do not come to Las Vegas to see the scenery (in fact I may be the only person ever to visit the city who actually has seen Hoover Dam).


                I spent three days in Las Vegas, came home poorer, but with some plastic worms that have a Velcro patch so they stick to the roof of a bass’s mouth until you can set the hook.  I am not making this up. Why not just use peanut butter?  It didn’t make much of a story, even at cocktail parties, and, reading over it now, I see that it still doesn’t.  But it does establish me as a working journalist on the fishing scene, one who has been there. I’ve even been on television.  Once I was watching one of the fishing shows on television and had a momentary wish to be a host, like the Babe or Jimmy Houston or Jerry McKinnis.


               Not, I can assure you, like Bill Dance— if sometimes you’re in the mood to go into wild hysterics, watch the several episodes of Bill Dance bloopers on You Tube. Guaranteed, you’ll laugh until you wet your pants.


                But then reason set in and I flashed back to a period of my life I had buried so deeply in my subconscious that Freud himself, peeling away the layers like a starving man going at an avocado, couldn’t uncover it.  But they say confession is good for the soul and mine needs all the help it can get, so here goes:


                I actually have been on television twice, talking about fishing. The first time was in the days of live local television when I substituted for the host of an outdoor show who was at Camp Ripley MN, on a National Guard holiday defending the country from invasion by people named Olson.


                I had a whammo show, or so I thought.  A friend had just returned from a Western states fishing vacation and I asked him to be my guest. “I don’t wanna,” he whinnied, becoming walleyed like a horse faced with its first saddle.  Stage fright, flop sweat.


                 “Hey, it’s no problem,” I said.  “All you do is talk about your trip.  I won’t ask you anything you don’t know the answer to.”  With great and, it turned out, well-founded reluctance he agreed.


                Came the evening and we sat beneath the hot lights, me the relaxed, assured host, him with a case of what appeared to be advanced rigor mortis.      “So, you’ve been out West fishing, huh?”  I asked.




                 “Tell me about it,” I said.  A long pause.


                 “Well, I went out fishing.”  He sounded as if he had a trout caught in his throat.


                “Did you catch anything?” I asked, my confidence running out like sand from an hourglass.


                “Yes.”     At the rate we were going, all my carefully-prepared questions would be answered in about 35 seconds, leaving us with slightly over 26 minutes of air time to fill (the “us” obviously being “me”).


                “What kinds?” I asked, praying desperately that he had caught 26 minutes worth of different fish species.


                “Mostly trout.”


                “Rainbows, browns, cutthroats, brooks?” I babbled, my voice becoming increasingly high-pitched.


                “Yeah,” he answered.


                “What states?” I asked, hoping for a list of 49 (I knew he hadn’t been to Hawaii).


                “Colorado.”  I glanced at the clock.  This awful show had not been going on for most of my adult life, as it seemed, but for only one minute and 13 seconds.  This was a nightmare where you’re naked at the Senior Prom and the school superintendent is roaring, “*Where are your clothes*!”  Finally, I remembered a mildly humorous anecdote he’d told me and prompted him and it pulled the plug.  He relaxed, told his story, then another one.  Hey, we were rolling now! We got to the first commercial break and grinned at each other. Nothing to this television.  A little slow at the start, but what could stop us now?


                “So, we’re back,” I said to the camera. “Tell me,” I said, turning to my guest, “I have my own opinion, but I’d like to hear it from an expert–do you fish upstream or downstream?”  If I had ripped his heart out and thrown it against the wall, I couldn’t have got a more dramatic reaction.  His mouth flopped open; his eyes took on a catatonic glaze and the color drained from his face.


                This was it, the ambush question.  Mike Wallace never jumped out of an alley and nailed anyone harder. Time rumbled on and on and on.  I had a brief, riveting flash of thousands, maybe millions of viewers guffawing in living rooms across the land, shouting, “Hey, Melba, come here and watch these two guys making fools out of themselves!” Finally, after civilizations had fallen and planets had changed orbit and the Universe had grown measurably older, my friend rasped, as if he hadn’t spoken in about two centuries and was running low on lubricants, “Sometimes … I … fish…upstream…and…sometimes … I … fish … downstream…”


                My other television experience was as a guest on a show hosted by my late friend Bill Bennett, outdoor editor of the St. Joseph (MO) Gazette.  Bill, who resembled Poppin’ Fresh with a beard, had waited for years to get even with me for calling him “the outdoor pixie” in print. I’ve always felt that I can talk for 30 minutes on any subject, whether I know anything about it or not and I was well on my way to proving that. I was distracted out of the corner of my eye as I saw Bill swipe at something in midair, as if he were trying to catch a housefly. He did it again and I was torn between trying to maintain eye contact with the camera lens, and watching Bill, who was just out of the camera picture.   I remembered stories by media acquaintances on how dirty tricksters off-camera would try to unsettle the on-air personality by making faces, obscene gestures or other tricks designed to discombobulate the talent.


                I remember once driving somewhere and listening to famed newscaster Lowell Thomas relating a story about Pres. Eisenhower visiting Hershey, Pennsylvania, home of the famed chocolate bar industry. “The president,” Thomas said, “enjoyed the hospitality of Hershey workers, both with and without nuts.” And then he and his engineer both began to laugh and they laughed uncontrollably for the remainder of the program. It’s not always those out of camera range who cause uproar. Sometimes we do it to ourselves.


              Not me, no sir! I thought.


              Then, about 10 minutes into the show, as I was deep into some show-off story, Bill interrupted and said, “You know, you’ve been a really rotten so-and-so for a long time now.”  Only he didn’t say “so-and-so.”


                They tell me my expression was that of a bass angler whose wife tells him she gave away all his tackle and his boat to the Salvation Army. It was a setup and many people (not me) have enjoyed looking at the tape.  But there is justice in the world.


                A few weeks later, a mutual friend was one of three guests on Bill’s show and, halfway through, Bill turned to ask him a question.  Jerry looked at him for a moment, said, “I didn’t want to be on this bleeping show anyway,” and got up and walked off the set, leaving Bill looking exactly the way I had.


                Bll stammered and stuttered and finally exclaimed, “You can’t say bleeping on television!”








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  • Blog
  • May 3rd, 2019


By Joel  M. Vance


            The French actor Maurice Chevalier sang “Falling in Love Again” and that could be my theme song when it comes to puppies.  I am a helpless romantic about my dogs.  A hunting buddy once said, “I don’t fall in love with my dogs, the way you do.”  He did—he just wouldn’t admit it.  He was the kind who went off by himself to cry over a dead dog; I do it in front of God and everyone.


           I once talked to another bird hunter who said, “If they don’t produce I put them down.”  I looked at him the way I look at cat vomit, but since he was far bigger than I was, I restrained my urge to put knuckle bumps on his head.  In my considered opinion the wrong animal got put down.  Like the kids my puppies are family, for better or worse, and they live out their lives, for better or worse.


           He was new 13 years ago and cute enough to melt the heart of Genghis Kahn.  Cap is his name and he is a French Brittany, appropriate for a French love song I guess.  As a puppy he was supposed to be a gift to a friend…but then, well, I fell in love and, like an echo of something that happened to me at the senior prom only this time it went my way, I cut in on my friend, stole his date, and he went home alone. 


           Cap was one of a litter of eight that was star-crossed from the get-go.  Mother Molly came in heat while her x-rays were somewhere in the limbo of the Orthopedic Foundation of America being checked for hip dysplasia.  She’d never showed any sign of the degenerative hip problem so we bred her.  And then the results came back: “moderate dysplasia.” 


            With that medical history I wouldn’t sell her puppies, but would give them to friends with full disclosure.  Molly swelled like a football and subsequently delivered.  One puppy arrived dead and one died shortly after birth.  The runt of the litter quickly became my favorite, the most outgoing and quickest to learn among the six survivors.   But he had a deformed esophagus, an incurable condition.  He couldn’t keep food down and despite intensive vet care, he died.


          I knew when we left him at our vet that he wouldn’t make it.  I cradled him on the way there, weak, but looking at me with faith in my ability to fix him.  I was heartbroken, took him in a tiny box across the lake and up the hill near the old log where our dogs are buried.  The grave was tiny and I watered it with my tears.


            Each time I visit the graveyard just off the trail I’m among friends who were more loyal, more trusting and more accepting than all but a handful of people I’ve known.  It’s one of life’s great injustices that dogs have such a shorter life than people.  We should age together and flicker out together.  That’s the way it should be.  That’s not the way it is.


        The surviving five grew exponentially.  One would go to our daughter and son-in-law, another to a young hunting friend.  A third was the one supposed to go to another friend, but he was the one that captured my heart.  He prowled the edge of the yard when the others were wrestling or looking for suck at their mother’s faucets.  He was a born adventurer.


            “Captain Adventure,” I said…and it made sense.  “Cap,” a good, sharp, short call-name and descriptive of his exploratory nature.  I looked at him more closely.  Long spaniel ears and a domed head.  He wasn’t a photogenic Brittany, like a couple of his brothers, but while they were dozing he was pulling up short at the flush of a butterfly, quivering with emotion. 


            I picked him up and scratched his belly.  He looked up at me, contented, his ear flopped over my arm.  Love flowered.  I heard Edith Piaf singing French torch songs—or maybe it was the tinnitus that plagues me from shooting too many shotguns for too long without ear protection.


            Cap’s explorations reminded me of Scruffy now long gone and who in his day was my best friend. In the kennel, he got picked on, but in the field he was his own master.  Possessed of the lungs of a Sioux warrior, he could and did run all day but without a shock collar to remind him of the humans he cherished, he might well have found new continents. Once she did vanish for four days and we had given him up until one night I heard whining at the door and there he was, tired and ragged and, well, scruffy. I theorized he had been pursuing pheromones from a lady dog in heat, but we never knew and he lived out his life without further odysseys. Scruffy was  a Type B dog with his kennelmates.  He sat next to me and leaned and wanted my arm around him.  I was his security blanket.  I’m was not going to bite him, the way his brother  did, or growl at him, the way everyone else did.  We were as close at those moments as brothers (“He ain’t heavy, Father—he’s my brother”).  Yet when I looked at him his eyes were searching the horizon.  I may have been scratching his belly, but his eyes were hunting.


            A few days after Cap’s litter discovered they had hind legs to go with the front ones they would burst from their kennel and flood into the yard like a furry tsunami.  Cap (then still unnamed) led the charge.  Cap gnawed on my shoelaces but also indicated that he wanted to be picked up and fussed over which I did.


            After getting his dose of sugar he wanted to go exploring.  There’s woods and a glade with a nice muddy wet area where a puppy can splash and make canine mud pies.  There’s a trail toward our son Eddie’s house where three huge Labradors waited to bark at intruders.


           Oh, the delicious fear of those bellowing monsters.  Tuck your butt and race wide-eyed back to safety! Whew!  What a narrow escape!  I held Captain Adventure’s nose to the Lab kennel fence, and he and the fearsome monsters sniffed and they were buddies great chew toys and more tolerant of upstart puppies than those adult Brittanies who have little patience for insolence.


           With me puppy picking happens a couple of ways.  I look for the dog with initiative and with energy.  Molly, Cap’s mom, not only was the most curious of her litter; she also was the last to wear out.  When the others were sprawled, napping, she still was prowling. 


          And then there is the love-at-first-sight factor.   Chubby, my best friend-ever, was the last puppy of a litter of eight.  The rest had gone to new owners and one little male sat with his ears down, his expression that of something that badly needed deep affection.  I picked him up and he nestled close and I told my wife, “There is no power on earth that will separate me from this little guy.”


            That remained true for the dozen years of his life.  He became my feel good dog.  More than once I got sick on the road and lay, feverish and miserable, on a lumpy couch while everyone else was hunting.  Chubby crawled up next to me, nestled close as he had when he was a miserable puppy, and we went to sleep.  When we woke, we both felt fine and we went hunting.


            Our son Andy’s first dog, Pepper, picked him.  Andy was 14 years old when we went to Iowa to watch a litter in action.  Andy drank a Coke, and then laid the can down.  The little pup picked it up and brought it to him.  “She liked me best,” Andy said simply.  Pepper lived 15 years and hunted to the last.  She became the boss bitch of the kennel and could quell uprisings among her rowdy youngsters with The Look, though they all outweighed her by a third.


            She could be willful and after that first pop can retrieve, she decided that retrieving was something she didn’t want to do and never could be persuaded otherwise.  But Andy never regretted his choice of a puppy and I never argued with him about it.  Her blood still enlivens the veins of our  French Brittanies, including Cap and his sister Matty and the newest of the bunch, two-year-old Millie who is, like Pepper, almost totally black colored and has the same boss bitch mentality— tiny in stature but a giant in confidence.


            Matty, the only female in the litter, was a unanimous choice.  We both wanted a female.  Except for that semi-annual three-week heat period, females have been far less trouble than males.  They don’t fight over trifles and they don’t pee on everything although that occasionally is justified.  Once my resident male dog hosed down the guitar case of a guy with a serious case of ego over inflation, to my great satisfaction, and the guy bellowed in outrage.  “It was critical comment,” I told him.  


            Of course there also was the time when I was pontificating to a group of field trialers about the intricacies of dog training, when I noticed their attention had wandered.  I couldn’t understand why—my eloquence was at a peak.  And then I followed their eyes to my leg where my dog was busy sluicing the leg of my britches.  


           Underlying any puppy-pick is the uncomfortable knowledge that Cap and Matty are aging.  Millie is our investment in the future.  We know the time will come when the older dogs simply can’t go anymore. 


            Dog work is the be-all for me when it comes to bird hunting.  It is at least 80 percent of the fun.  The way I shoot, collecting a full game bag isn’t much of an option.  But seeing dogs I’ve lived with, loved and trained do the right thing makes my sleazy shooting inconsequential.


            Way back when I took took all five of the resident Brittanies at the time to the field and one froze on point and the other four honored, locked in time and in my memory.  I moved in at that sublime moment as the dogs quivered with anticipation.  It was calendar art and I was immensely proud of them.


            I flushed a farm cat. 


            An outdoor writer once defended bird hunting without a dog.  I wondered if he’d ever hunted behind good dogs.  I’ll bet if he flushed a cat by himself the moment lacked a feeling of rueful satisfaction that at least he had experienced living calendar art.


            Before we even get to the farm cat stage there are months of drill on the simple stuff: “Sit!”  “Stay!”  “Come!” and, most important “Whoa!”  Puppy training is an exercise in frustration for dog and man.  Never long on patience, I do much grinding of teeth when a puppy just can’t get simple things like “stay” when it’s perfectly obvious to me what I want it to do.  But, I remind myself, I never could learn algebra either.  In fact I burst into tears and threw my college algebra book against the dorm room wall.  I count it a blessing that our dogs don’t hold us accountable for our mistakes.  We yell at them for busting a covey, but they accept it when we miss a meatball shot.  We snarl at them for pointing a rabbit, only to see a huge covey flush (which we salute with a pair of aimless shots). 


             Finally there comes the moment when the puppy sits, reluctantly, for a few seconds and I exclaim, “Okay!” and he comes to a treat and we both sigh with relief.  After all, a puppy does not want to sit.  He wants to run and wrestle and chew and have fun.  I did not want to learn algebra.  I wanted to run and wrestle and chew and have fun.


            Once I was demonstrating my training techniques for a cub reporter who wanted to do a feature story on an outdoor writer famed for his dog training expertise.  I was distracted since she was quite attractive (the reporter although Molly also was cute), therefore wasn’t thinking when I chose Molly as my demonstration dog.


            Molly had just been to the vet who had flopped her on an examining table so he could stick her with needles and otherwise violate her body.  As the reporter looked on  I picked Molly up and plunked her on a table which I built originally to hold beer and brats, not dogs-in-training.  Molly didn’t wait to see if someone in a white coat was approaching with a big needle.  She screamed like a violated maiden, struggled out of my arms and vanished into the woods.


            I grinned weakly, looking remarkably like the Mad Magazine covers featuring Alfred E. Neuman, and said to the bemused reporter, “I guess she doesn’t want to be trained today.”  Then one leg of the table came unglued and the whole thing slowly collapsed.


            Training now is a private exercise between me and our puppies.





Read More
  • Blog
  • April 26th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance

“I know wind,” he said and he spoke the truth because he is so full of hot air that he could power a wind generating electric grid all by himself. Unfortunately the wind he generates is like that which blows from the sewage collection system of an Iowa confined hog farm in mid July.


I speak, of course, of Donald J Trump, the politician who epitomizes what in olden times was referred to as a “big bag of wind.” He is the living representation of the cartoon figures editorial cartoonists used to draw of pompous, saggy gutted politicians who existed as a blight on the political landscape.


The Boss Tweeds, Tom Pendergasts, and other machine bosses in American history mercifully for the democratic process lumbered into whatever political hell awaits those who smear the grand dream that we like to think of as our unique and wondrous country. Unfortunately, Trump still is with us, still spouting noxious nonsense like that he recently babbled about wind energy.


“If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75% in value. And they say the noise causes cancer.” He amplified his vast knowledge of wind energy by adding that wind turbines are “a graveyard for birds. If you love birds you never want to walk under a windmill because it’s a sad, sad sight,” he said. The Department of Energy says that bird deaths caused by collisions with wind turbines are relatively rare.


The first great journalistic scoop of my career occurred in journalism school at the University of Missouri when I knocked on a door and asked the man inside if he had any news (that’s what we did in reporting in those antediluvian days— you were assigned a block or two as a beat and you knocked on everyone’s door like a Hoover vacuum salesman and asked if there were any news items and you hoped they didn’t slam the door in your face). It turned out the man was a wildlife professor.  He told me that there had been a rash of bird deaths the night before at the KOMU-TV transmitter tower. Migrating birds had collided with the tower, blinded and without the radar that protects airplanes from similar mishap and had suffered fatal injuries. The ground beneath the tower was littered with avian corpses.


My story made the front page of the newspaper, but it did not result in calls for an abandonment of KOMU as a hazard to bird health, or for an end to television in general. Bird strikes have caused airplane crashes but I don’t hear anyone calling for an end to air travel as a result. In fact a Missouri conservation department pilot once was forced to make an emergency landing at Swan Lake national wildlife refuge during an aerial bird survey when a duck flew into the air intake of the plane, shutting down the engine.


There was no subsequent call for an end to national wildlife refuges, wildlife management, or to end the encouragement of duck numbers by such conservation organizations as Ducks Unlimited.


It’s estimated that feral cats kill 1 billion birds a year in the United States, far more than the total killed by all the nation’s wind towers. Bird death is a concern, both of conservationists and of the wind industry. Wind energy production will continue to grow and so will associated bird deaths. But more energy-efficient turbines may result in fewer turbines needed to provide the required energy and other solutions may ameliorate if not eliminate bird kills.


We have two beloved cats, both of which are spayed and kept indoors. They both would love to be among the bird killers, but we restrict them to the occasional house mouse and if everyone would similarly encourage feline birth control and sequestration the feral cat problem would become far less serious.


Every one of Fat Donnie’s claims about the perils of wind generation is so much hot air. Hot air is not the only thing that this clown president is full of—he would fit right in on one of those hog farms and it would be difficult to tell him from the other piggies except that he would be the one carrying a golf club.


Speaking of Iowa and its ever present summer aroma of pig sewage (driving through the state in summer time with the windows down in your car is not recommended), if you travel north on Interstate 35, nearing the northern border of the state with Minnesota, you will pass through an area on either side of the highway dominated by wind towers, many to the east, many to the West.


Once, en route to Minnesota I couldn’t resist detouring to the West to see one of these wind towers close up. You really can’t grasp the immensity of them until you’re up close. I drove a mile off the interstate before I was close enough to realize what I was seeing. They’re big, really big. Each one thrusts more than 200 feet up. The three blades are more than 100 feet long and each seemingly slow sweep spans nearly 1 acre.


If there is a drawback to wind energy, it is that each tower occupies about 1.5 acres and that is one and a half acres that might have been wildlife habitat that no longer is wildlife habitat. No energy source comes without drawbacks. But wind energy, like solar energy is nonpolluting and, once the infrastructure is in place, basically is free. There is no toxic residue from a coal burning plant or concerns about how to store depleted nuclear plant residue. You don’t even have to worry about fish kills or flooding from hydroelectric generation, not to mention the destruction of rivers by dams.


According to the idiot Trump, if the wind isn’t blowing you won’t be able to watch television. Of course that would mean that Fox News would go off the air so, hey, there’s a little silver lining in every one of Donald Trump’s fictitious clouds. Of course he ignores the fact that when the wind doesn’t blow, or the sun doesn’t shine, wind and solar energy generation can call on storage batteries to kick in uninterrupted power.  But ignorance never stopped Trump before from making claims that, on the face of them, are ridiculous and easily disproved.


Iowa trails only Texas in the development of wind powered energy and by next year the percentage of wind generated electricity in the state is expected to reach 40%. Iowa passed a state law in 1983 that required electric utilities to buy a substantial amount of power from wind generated sources. Obviously, that encourages the development of more wind power generation. Iowa is ranked seventh in the country in potential for wind energy generation— meaning that at least six other states surpass Iowa as potential sources of wind generated energy.


While I am no fan of hydropower since dams often create more problems than they solve, at least water generated energy does not contribute to global warming, toxic residue, air pollution or the myriad other problems associated with fossil fuel extraction and use.


Wind farms are not all sunlight and breezes. Not only do the towers themselves occupy thousands of acres, but the transmission lines are even more damaging. Combined with the towers, especially in Wyoming, a hotspot for wind energy, they seriously threaten the greater sage grouse, a wildlife species that may well be poised on the brink of extinction— primarily because of habitat disruption from energy projects. My home, Missouri, currently is fighting a cross state right-of-way project which would transmit power from wind generation. Missouri has no sage grouse, but it certainly has plenty of angry landowners and legislators who would cheerfully tell the wind energy industry to blow it up its butt.


However, every time Donald Trump beats the funereal drum of fossil fuel extraction I have a vision of the devil gleefully rubbing his hands together as he contemplates coal stoking the fires of hell ever higher and hotter. Totally ignoring the overwhelming evidence of climate change—call it global warming if you want— and irritably denying there is such a thing, Trump continues to spearhead the call for evermore gas and oil exploration and evermore gouging the landscape for coal. John Prine’s evocative song “Paradise” should be the anti-anthem: “I’m sorry my son, you’re too late in asking/Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away” or maybe it could be Merle Travis’s “Dark As a Dungeon “Come all you young fellows, so young and so fine/and seek not your fortune in the dark dreary mine.”


As I write this, it is the Easter weekend, an event when God and mankind are supposed to be close. Donald J Trump is spending nearly 3 ½ million dollars of taxpayer money to play golf at Mar-a-Lago, and spend time with those who share his warped indecency. I wonder how he would feel if Mr. Peabody’s strip miners would come in and rip up his fairways, looking for soft coal to burn and further pollute the thin blanket of atmospheric protection between us and annihilation. But, hey, what’s important in life? Schmoozing with your rich butt buddies and playing golf, or protecting the planet?


Federal judge Brian Morris of the Montana District Court has ruled that Ryan Zinke, the resigned in disgrace Trump interior department secretary, acted illegally when he tried to lift an Obama era moratorium on coal mining on public lands. That is a first step in thwarting Trump’s rapacious war against the nation’s natural resources. Perhaps, if Congress fails in its duty to put an end to Trump’s dedication to a dirty planet the legal system will do it.  Let’s face it, Donald Trump is a bigot, a money-laundering crook for his Russian oligarch owners, a liar, and overall an ugly blot on the historic copybook of the presidency of the United States.


Amid the mountain of evidence collected by the Mueller investigative team, Trump’s love affair with fossil fuel and such idiotic claims as that wind power causes cancer, might seem as insignificant as plucking a bit of rotten fruit from the city garbage dump and calling it conclusive proof of both corruption and mental instability, but if nothing else it is yet another brick in a structure as tall as Trump Tower, pointing to the necessity that, if we want to protect our democracy, we need to rid it of this insidious idiot.


Do your job, Congress. Ignore the 40% of mindless drones, echoing every mindless tweet spewing from Trump’s addled brain and, if you want to restore what our country is supposed to be, send this evil twit south to Mar-a-Lago for good. It’s tee time for Donnie.


At the dawn of the 20th century, William Randolph Hearst was among the most powerful men in the United States, if not the world. He was the prototype for Donald J Trump— ruthless, power-hungry, and the builder of the West Coast equivalent of Trump Tower, San Simeon, a monument for a ruthless autocrat. He was feared and narcissistic— a strikingly parallel personality to Trump, even if he did represent a newspaper empire, therefore in Trump’s words “the enemy of the people.”


And yet, this historic role model for Trump, said this more than 100 years ago, about the future of the United States, “The powers of the wind, the rivers, and the sun will no longer be fouled with smoke for which men have worn out their lives in coal mines. The deserts will be seats of vast manufacturing enterprises, carried on by electric power developed directly from solar heat.”


Given that prediction, perhaps there is hope for Trump yet.










Read More
  • Blog
  • April 19th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance

When I was 10 years old, growing up in Chicago, on a sunny Saturday morning my mother would see me out the door of our Southside apartment, knowing that she would not see me again until late afternoon. I was headed for the Field Museum, a wonderland whose echoing halls held mysteries that were, to my adolescent mind as magic as anything ever conjured up by today’s artificial Disney World.


I rode the Illinois Central commuter train from a stop near our home to Loop in the heart of the big city, where the museum crouched on the shore of Lake Michigan like a magic castle, the entryway to a world never imagined by the Great Oz. For a kid with a mind filled with imagination and curiosity, it was almost too much to take in. My mother never worried about me alone in the city, but any mother turning her 10-year-old loose in a big city today would be lucky ever to see the kid again.


My favorite hall was dedicated to natural history and I sneaked glances at the bare bosomed manikins of Neanderthal families, trying not to gawp too much at the forbidden mystery of the female form. But it was farther along the row of dioramas where I always stopped to spend long moments looking at my favorite recreation of a scene I would never see in real life— a snow leopard creeping silently across a frozen landscape high in the Himalayas.


Years later, I would write a short story based on that recurring experience. It was during the Vietnam War, although it could have been written during the Korean War or any of the useless wars subsequent to Vietnam. It was intended not only as an antiwar story, but also as a tribute to the magic that the snow leopard created for me.


Recently, I watched a National Geographic special about how global warming is affecting the world’s wildlife. Among the sequences, was one involving a snow leopard creeping across a bare, brown rocky landscape, absent snow, trying to sneak up on an unwary mountain goat. The leopard was starving, its habitat ravaged by warm temperatures never encountered before in the world’s highest mountains. It was a sad moment, especially when the leopard, overcome by hunger, made its charge too soon and lost a chance for a life-saving meal. Will climate change doom the rare snow leopard, symbol of my childhood enchantment? Will the only thing remaining of that long ago exposure to wildlife, a world away, be a dusty diorama in a museum— or a short story written by a young man still enraptured by dreams of lands where mountains were snowcapped and inaccessible except to the lithe and beautiful creature who lived there?




             I spent my childhood Saturdays at the Field Museum of Natural History.  My friends were numbing their minds at the Southtown Theater, watching Zorro defy El Lobo, but I was prowling the echoing halls of the museum.  The museum fed a spark of wildness in me.  I was a city kid in reality, insulated from nature by miles of concrete, but I was a 10-year-old mountain man in my imagination.

                I loved the old museum with its clacking marble halls, its musty mummies!  I knew them all.  There was a mummy that you could X-ray.  Push a button and, magically, the funereal windings vanished and ancient bones glowed starkly in a black crypt.  It was an era of atomic innocence.  God knows how many roentgens I soaked up watching that Middle Eastern corpse reveal its skeletal secrets.

                Halls of pure magic gloomed in every direction.  I marveled at the monstrous knucklebones of Tyrannosaurus rex, an 18-foot-tall horror peering down at me with a bony grin.  Neanderthal man glowered from a diorama.  I glanced furtively at his bare-bosomed mate.  She was not exactly Miss America, but pre-pubescent kids take their cheap thrills where they can get them.

                But it was the animals that tugged me to them.  I took art lessons and wanted to capture them on paper.  I felt the onetime wildness in those musty creatures that triggered deep sympathetic vibrations in me.  I pestered my parents for sketch pads, water colors, oils, anything.  And I camped in the darkened halls sitting cross- legged to sketch elands on the African veldt, a cougar frozen in mid-swipe at a pesky Arizona hound, a mighty Alaskan brown bear at awesome attention.


                One animal pulled me to it again and again, a Himalayan snow leopard.  The mount had begun to go yellow and gray with time, but the taxidermist somehow had caught a remote fire in the glass eyes.  “High in the Himalayas,” the placard read, “the snow leopard prowls with regal grace.  He owns this lofty domain and bows to no other animal, including man, of whom he has little knowledge and no fear.”


                There certainly was no fear evident in the sleek cat who stared at me through the rippled glass.  He was posed walking away, three-quarter view, his head turned to look back along the line of his pawprints, which began at the glass.  Distant mountains mourned under veils of falling snow.  Snow crystals glittered under the leopard’s paws.  If there was anything to reincarnation, I wanted to return as a snow leopard.  But I couldn’t capture the essence of the creature in my drawings.  They looked like a cartoon cat, Tom of the Himalayas.


                Every Saturday I stuck my drawing pad under my arm, bought my ticket downtown, and rode the rattling train to the museum stop.  Each time I tried to draw the leopard and each time I tore the sketch up in disgust.   One day I was in deep concentration, trying to catch the line of the jaw as the animal looked back at me.  This is my country, the smoldering eyes said.  I live here in the lofty snowfields and you are an intruder.


                “That’s pretty good, kid.”  I jumped, startled.  I hadn’t been aware anyone but me was in the hall.  There was a soldier standing near me, nearly obscured by the gloom.  His face and uniform were sidelighted by the diorama.  He leaned on a crutch with an empty trouser leg pinned up.


                “No, it isn’t,” I said.  “I can’t make him look right.  There’s something I can’t catch.”


                “He’s special, isn’t he,” the soldier said.  “He owns that cold place, you know.”


                I looked at him, startled.  It was exactly the way I thought of the leopard and I nodded, eager because someone else shared my perception.  “It’s like he’s trying to say something,” I said, then was embarrassed.


                “That’s what I used to think when I was your age,” he said.  “I’d come down here every Saturday and dream away the day and I used to think this old cat was talking to me.”


                “Me too!” I exclaimed.  “I’ve been trying to draw him for a long time.”


                “I just liked to look at him and dream about the future,” the soldier said.  “I always wound up here with that cat.”   We were silent for a long time.  It was not an uneasy silence.  He understood the lure of the leopard.


                “What do you think he’s trying to say?” the soldier asked. 


                “Gee, I don’t know,” I said.  “Maybe that it’s his secret place and we ought to go away and let him have it.”  I thought about it.  “Or maybe that he wants us to follow him to his secret place–that’s why he’s looking back, like he’s waiting for us to catch up.”


                I stopped.  It was more than I ever said to adults and I was confused.  The soldier barked a short laugh, without humor.  I was hurt.  I thought he was laughing at me.  He saw it and put a hand on my shoulder.  “Hey, no!  I’m not making fun of you.  It’s just that I used to think he was asking me to come with him, too, just like you.  The way he’s looking over his shoulder like he wants us to follow him.”


                He made a clicking noise with his mouth.  “Kind of nuts, huh?”


                He took a deep breath.  “When I was your age, I knew I was gonna grow up and go to the mountains and climb up where that leopard lives and see him.  It was more than just a kid dream.  I really believed it.  Just like you believe you can draw him.”


                He was silent and I didn’t say anything. 


                “I wanted it more than anything,” he said.  “It’s still a dream, I guess.  But that’s all it is now.”  He shifted a bit on his crutches.  I didn’t know what to say.  We looked at the diorama and the snow leopard looked back at us.  The unbroken snowfield shimmered into the distance.  The leopard’s coat was frosted with the fresh-fallen ice particles and glittered in the diffused light.


                I looked into its golden eyes and delicious terror startled me.  I felt the chill fire of the high mountains and the hot predatory glow of the lithe cat.  For an instant, I was the cat, content with my sleek power, the urge to kill always present, but always controlled. 


                Then the fire faded from the cat’s eyes and it once again was only a moldy stuffed animal in a museum display.  I took a shuddery breath and licked my dry lips.  I remembered the soldier and looked at him.  There were tears on his face, glistening streaks highlighted by the light from the diorama.  The tears webbed the lines on his face with silver.


                He sighed and rubbed at his face.  “I hope you find your leopard, kid,” he said.  He turned and I heard the rubber tips of his crutches squeaking against the floor as he moved away, finally becoming only a dim shape in the shadows.  Then he was gone.


                A gaggle of girls broke the thick silence of the hall as they raced into it, giggling and shrieking.  They were about my age, a school class on a field trip.  “Oooooh!  Look at the pussycat!” one squealed.  “Isn’t it cute!   Wouldn’t you just like to hug it!”


                “It’s adorable!” exclaimed another.


                “Are you drawing it?” cried the first girl.  Several of them jostled each other, trying to look over my shoulder at the sketch of the leopard.  I turned the pad over.


                “I’m not doing anything!” I snarled.  “It’s none of your business!” 


                “Old grouch!” one girl whispered, and another shushed her and they all giggled and raced off to gawk at a polar bear, rearing to regard onlookers with haughty disdain.  I turned the pad back over and looked at my sketch, then at the leopard in the diorama.  The leopard was just another long-dead animal in a museum case, and my drawing was just another crabbed sketch without meaning.  I gathered my materials together, stuck the sketch pad under my arm, and started down the long hall, cramped from sitting for too long.


                Perhaps some day I would take out the sketch pad and open it to the drawing of the leopard and, with a sure hand, I would alter the stiff lines and bring to life the wild invitation.


                This was one drawing I would not destroy as I had the previous ones.  It was no better, no worse than the others, but it was different. 


                Perhaps when I had more knowledge, more experience, I could claim the spirit of the mountain cat and show it in my drawing.


                Perhaps some day I would find our snow leopard.


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