Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

  • Blog
  • August 23rd, 2019

SUNNY DAY FORECAST FOR BIG SKY COUNTRY

By Joel M. Vance

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • August 16th, 2019

SOUTH OF THE BORDER

By Joel M. Vance

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Invariably I order a shredded chicken quesadilla.

 

 

 

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • August 9th, 2019

SOMETIMES LIFE JUST BUGS ME

By Joel M. Vance

 

By Joel M. Vance

 

            It was June and I was on a New Hampshire trout stream, armed with a fly rod, a box of miniscule flies and a permit.  The dark water burbled promisingly over rounded granite rocks, with deep pockets that simply shouted “Trout here!”  What more could an angler expect from life?

 

            The black fly, as it happened.  In the next few seconds I broke the world record   100-yard dash, wearing waders and a cloud of black flies.  I sat in the car with the windows shut, scratching myself frantically, thinking You’re not in Missouri anymore, Dorothy!

  

            The black fly was invented by the Devil to remind anglers that fishing isn’t all fun…or maybe that Hell is a blue ribbon trout stream with trophy trout but where, no matter how good it looks, the black fly is present and hungry…and you have no insect repellent.

 

            The calendar art of fishing depicts the angler in that most idyllic of moments, fast to a wallhanger, with nary a biting midge in sight (not that you could see it even if it were).  You won’t see a fishing supplies catalog with a cover shot of an angler wildly swatting at noxious insects. 

 

             Biting insects range in size from midges to horseflies, but you can see a horsefly which is a lumbering, awkward klutz that might be able to chew on a horse, nevermind where, but if a human can’t swat him before he begins lunch, that human should stay off the stream.

 

            But, ah! the biting midge!  It’s the Invisible Man of biting bugs.  I was in a camp in Arkansas, on the verge of falling asleep in my tent, when I began to itch.  Fierce itches.  Midges go through bug netting as if it weren’t there.  Think of a stampeding herd of bison charging through a chicken wire fence. This is the biting midge ignoring an insect screen on a camping tent. I clawed at myself and mumbled selected words from gangsta rap. 

 

            I had been attacked by little specks of insect with jaws like a great white shark.  No bigger than a grain of pepper, they have the penetrative ability of a .30-.06 bullet.  I stumbled around the camp in the pit of night, feeling one after another of the little demons ravaging my lovely complexion.  Finally I happened on a bottle of guitar polish and, lacking anything else, slathered it on my exposed skin.

 

            It worked.  Perhaps I have found one of those miracle products that, while developed for something else, makes a guy a millionaire from a peripheral use.  Yeah, and maybe pigs will learn to fly like biting midges. 

 

            Proving that some people never learn from experience, I was fishing on Wisconsin’s Chippewa River on a sunny day with blue skies, the river rippling and rushing over rocks in the rapids, still pools, eddies where the foam line simply screamed “Fish here!”

 

            My guidebook said there was a long stretch of fast water ominously named “Deer Fly Alley.”  Now, a comprehending person, one who had experienced black flies and biting midges, might approach this place cautiously.  That would not be Joel M. Vance.

 

            I barreled into the fast water, working hard to run the rapids without tipping over and quickly discovered a bit of natural history trivia that is more interesting if you’re reading about it; a whole lot less so if you’re experiencing it—that deer flies hover over fast water, just waiting for a canoeist who has both hands occupied.

 

            You’ve seen King Kong, clinging to the Empire State Building with one hand, swatting at airplanes with the other.  Picture Vance flailing at a swarm of biting flies with his paddle, banging off rocks, caroming down a long rapids like a pinball machine. 

 

            I bailed out, clinging to the gunwale with just my head above water.  Even that wasn’t good enough.  A head was as good a target as any.  I finally took a deep breath, ducked under water and rode the rapids out, hoping I would run out of fast water before my breath ran out of me.  Reluctantly the flies left and went back on station, waiting for the next gourdhead who refused to heed the guide book.  

 

           Years ago I was at a National Guard summer camp at Camp Ripley, Minnesota, protecting the rest of the country from invasion by people named Olson. We got to camp out like pioneers and shoot big guns and talk on radios like John Wayne in the movies. 

 

           Along with my socks and skivvies my barracks bag contained a tackle box.  We weren’t far from the Mississippi and Crow Wing Rivers and I told our commanding officer that I was going on a reconnaissance.  He was pleased to see me taking an interest in the military, since I never had before. Ostensibly, I was the Battalion communications officer, but I turned the radios off so I would become incommunicado figuring that I could blame my silence on faulty equipment since most of it didn’t work anyway. Thus, equipped with my very own vehicle and a concealed fishing rod, I was free to spend the day exploring Camp Ripley’s hidden fishing spots while my fellow troopers played John Wayne saves the world.

 

            My scouting expedition somehow wound up at the river where I paused to test the local waters for military significance.  I discovered that pausing for more than half a second was an invitation to the Minnesota State Bird, the mosquito, to home in.  So I slathered military issue bug dope on me and commenced to fish.

 

            Happily I hummed a tune in harmony with the humming of the insect population.  Then I noticed that my hands were curiously sticky.  I looked down to see the plastic handles of my treasured reel melting like ice cream in August. 

 

            Military fly dope keeps the bugs at bay, but it’s death to plastic and not only did my reel handles dissolve, so did every plastic lure I’d touched.  I had a Jitterbug that looked like the Phantom of the Opera with his mask off.  A Bass Oreno could have played the lead in Elephant Man. 

 

            Our family is fond of Spoonerisms, named for a legendary Oxford don who mixed up words and phrases for comic effect. Comedian Archie Campbell of Hee Haw fame used spoonerisms in such mangled fables as the “Pee Little Thrigs” and “Rindercella.” Thus, when our house in town, before we moved to a wooded area, was assaulted by termites, they became “mertites.” When our newly wed son-in-law, Ron DeValk, first came to visit, we told him about having had mertites and I’m sure that he felt he had married into a family occasionally beset by alien beings.

 

             No, just another form of noxious insect (they don’t bite people but do bite your house until it falls down around your ears— the mertites also ate the album cover of the only valuable collectible record I had “Word Jazz, featuring Ken Nordine.  I don’t miss the house because we were going to sell it anyway but I deeply regret the loss of the record album.

 

            Hands down, the most annoying little insect, although not a biter or stinger, is the gnat. Battalions of these little pests appear in midsummer and a walk on our woodland trail is an exercise in learning new ways to swear. A gnat is genetically programmed to do a one and a half gainer into your eyeball and swim around like Ryan Lochte free styling for another Olympic gold medal. Unlike most insects which have some ecological reason for existence, the gnat seems to exist for no other reason than to dive into your eyeball like kids at the park pool on a hot summer day.

 

            Nearly as pesky a summertime annoyance is spider time when tiny web spinners string endless virtually invisible nets across the trail and you can’t walk 10 feet without contacting face first something that the poor little arachnid has spent countless hours fashioning to try to catch dinner.

 

            I sort of feel sorry for the little guys or girls when their eight eyes see me coming.  No doubt the little web spinners think, Oh no! Another eight hours shot to hell! I usually take along a stick, not to use as a walking staff, but to wave ahead of me, hoping to fungo webs out of the way before I face plant them.  I look like Arturo Toscanini conducting Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at breakneck tempo and if the neighbors would happen to see me they would be even more convinced than they probably already are that they are bordered by a madman.

 

           Looming above all the other insectival pests is the tick. Ticks have evolved over the centuries to be a host to more diseases than are contained in a physician’s handbook of perilous afflictions. Ehrlichiosis is one that you could die from before you learn to spell it. At least Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Lyme disease bear names containing familiar words although neither of those or any of the other tickborne indignities contribute to fun time at the emergency room.

 

           Thanks to folks@consumerreporting.com who did all the testing, the most effective insect repellent is a bracelet made by Simple Natural Products. The main ingredient is citronella oil, a natural substance that, according to some, even will quiet barking dogs (possibly even better than threatening them with top of the lung cursing).

 

           I once knew a couple the wife of whom, when they returned from a hike outdoors, would squeal “tick check!” After which they would disappear for quite a long time. Apparently they had found a substitute for insect repellent.

 

          The most often prescribed tick repellent is any product that contains Deet, a repellent that dates to the mid-1940s when it was developed for the armed forces, and which came into use by the general public in the mid-1950s. Deet has been known to cause skin irritation and, in extreme cases, seizures. I knew a fellow who claimed that he reacted seriously after spraying his clothing while turkey hunting. The experts recommend wearing clothing permeated with permethrin which actually kills invading ticks, but how many folks shop for and wear permethrin- impregnated clothing?

 

           Instead, they grab for the nearest aerosol can of whatever repellent contains deet and spray away. If it kills them, at least they’ll be free of ticks when they go.

 

            There are times when the disease is worse than the cure. 

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • August 2nd, 2019

RUSH TO JUDGEMENT

By Joel M. Vance

 

The July 29 issue of the New Yorker magazine has a long article by Jane Mayer, a long time senior staff writer for the magazine, examining in great detail the circumstances behind the resignation of former Senator Al Franken after he was accused of sexually harassing a woman on a USO tour.  Franken entertained troops eight times on USO tours.

 

The New Yorker is one of the last publications where situations of significance can be examined in great detail by the best reporters in the business. No word bites here—only meticulous reporting. It is where Rachel Carson alerted the nation to the dangers posed by hard pesticides in an issue-long article titled “Silent Spring.” As a result of that reporting bombshell, a number of dangerous pesticides were banned and the nation’s symbolic bald eagle was saved from extinction. The same magazine devoted an entire issue to an article by John Hersey in 1946 about the horrific effects of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

 

It’s obvious that the situation involving Al Franken has nowhere near the significance of pesticides or nuclear consequences in the overall scheme of things, but Mayer’s piece nonetheless sheds disturbing light on today’s world where one after another prominent man falls victim to accusations of sexual impropriety.

 

Mayer’s conclusion? Al Franken was a victim of a media rush to judgment, a predictable and hypocritical faux outrage by the Republican right wing, and, most unfortunately, peer pressure from his Democratic fellow senators, calling for an immediate ouster from his seat on the Senate.  The Democratic call for Franken to resign was led by presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Some of the three dozen Democratic Senators who called for Franken’s resignation since have had second thoughts and have expressed regrets for their decision.

 

Mayer quickly followed her reporting job with a nearly hour-long interview with Terry Gross, National Public Radio’s venerable interviewer who is, in her field, as recognized as is Mayer in hers, as the best there is. Both women are staunch advocates of the Me Too movement and both are acknowledged reporters of significant cultural events who do not judge— they meticulously examine their subject and leave it to the reader or listener to draw his or her own conclusions.

 

It’s instructive to read Mayer’s article and to listen to the Gross interview, available on the Internet, or read the transcription of it. It should be impossible for anyone, having done that, to come to any other conclusion than that Franken was railroaded, out of the Senate, depriving the country of someone who had proved himself a highly beneficial and effective representative.

 

Without going into the details (leave it to Mayer to have done that and to readers to do their homework) the short version is that Franken was accused by a woman named Leeann Tweeden of having forcibly kissed her against her will, and having humiliated her by simulating groping her breasts while she was asleep, and mugging for a photographer. Subsequently, several other women also allege that Franken had, in the past, made them feel uncomfortable by word or deed.

 

It sounds serious, and in today’s sensitive climate, it is. But does what Al Franken did reach the same seriousness as accusations made against people like Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Cosby—or for that matter the president of the United States, Donald J Trump? There was no forcible rape, nor anything even approaching a physical invasion. There also is no doubt, after reading the evidence, that Franken behaved inappropriately and came off as a sometimes crude lout.

 

What he did was insensitive and stupid, but his account and that of many corroborating witnesses and people who know him starkly contradicts the account given by Tweeden, a right wing media commentator who comes across in Mayer’s reporting as a sloppy journalist and an opportunist out to create a sensational situation, no matter the cost to another person’s reputation.

 

Reaction to Mayer’s article has been both swift and widely varying—not to mention confusing. Jezebel, a feminist blog which has, in the past, been criticized by media observers for stepping over the accepted lines of journalistic integrity, jumped firmly on Tweeden’s side and was highly critical of Mayer’s reporting. The flip side of that was a reaction by Forbes magazine, a conservative media outlet, that was critical of the Senate’s rush to judgment against Franken.

 

The Nation, most liberal of publications argued both sides of the issue— saying that Franken’s behavior was marginal, but also that his reaction was “sullen” and belated. But the reaction from the magazine’s readers seem to tilt heavily in Franken’s direction with one comment summing it up, “I thought Franken took one for the team.”

 

The best analysis of and reaction to Mayer’s article is a piece by Emily Yoffe in The Atlantic magazine which you can read by going to theatlantic.com. “As a society, we are in danger of losing a sense of proportion, and a belief in forgiveness,” Yoffe concludes.  Al Franken could not have said it better himself.

 

If nothing else indicates that the entire episode was overblown, the fact is that the horrible Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein both attempted to buy off potential witnesses against them, whereas Al Franken demanded that his situation be investigated by the Senate ethics committee— and his request was denied. One senses a definite lynch mob mentality here and justice be damned. “He says, she says” situations rarely if ever are solved satisfactorily and almost always result inconclusively. It’s unlike sports events where you choose up sides and the winner is whoever scores the most runs or points.

 

The country is long past a time when it needs and deserves a woman as president. It’s pretty obvious  that a woman candidate is not going to come from the ranks of the Republican Party, a bastion of white male supremacy. Next year’s election has a better than usual chance of seeing a woman heading the Democratic party’s ticket. There are several outstanding female candidates among the more than two dozen Democrats vying for the party’s nomination and it would be more than unfortunate if none of the women is nominated, although the current front runner Joe Biden is just another white guy. He and Bernie Sanders represent the old guard, even with widely divergent political agendas. And, do we need another president (speaking as one of them) of a doddering old white guy?

 

The Democrats have a long and dreary history of nominating white guys who can’t seem to win— remember Michael Dukakis? Then came Al Gore and John Kerry. When it came time for the Democrats finally to choose a woman candidate, they picked Hillary Clinton who ran a fumbling campaign and who, to be honest, was roundly disliked even by many Democrats who grudgingly voted for her because the alternative was unthinkable. As unlikable as she is, she still drew two million more votes than the Groper in Chief we’re currently stuck with.

 

I was discouraged about the current crop of woman candidates when I read that two of the Democrat senators who vociferously demanded Franken’s resignation were Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris, both of whom are talented and intelligent and come across as far more capable of running the country than the fat bigot currently diminishing the prestige of the Oval Office. Gillibrand led the charge for Franken’s resignation and Harris quickly signed on. But, as I said, a handful of Democratic senators who pressured Franken to resign have since said they wish they had not done so.

 

My hope rests in the dubious intelligence of the Democratic Party’s nominating process to pick the one woman I see as having the backbone, the intelligence, the integrity and the demonstrated executive ability to take the reins and do what is right for the country— Elizabeth Warren. I have been a devout fan of hers ever since she headed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—a wonderful government entity created to do what government is supposed to do, protect the citizenry. Predictably, Trump, among  recent actions has destroyed the agency by firing all 25 members of its advisory board.  Ms. Warren had proposed the agency in 2007 when she was at Harvard Law School, before she became a United States senator.

 

With nearly as many candidates as there are hopefuls on a football squad, the Democrats seem dedicated to destroying each other. They remind me of a school of sharks turning on a wounded member and devouring it. Infighting and partisan squabbling merely plays into the hands of the Republicans and my fear is that another four years of Trump would see the end of the nation as the world’s leading democracy, and as the world’s most eminent hope for good.  If we let the 40% of the populace who support the evil con man now in charge take over the operation of the country, we are doomed.  All that we have achieved as a nation for a quarter of a millennium would be for naught.

 

If the Me Too movement truly wants to get upset about the treatment of women, let it put aside the sexual aspect for a moment and concentrate on the treatment of four freshman women Congressional representatives by Donald Trump and his misogynistic Republican cohorts. It has been widely reported, but not dwelled on nearly enough that he has demonized the four women of color, snarling that they should go back where they came from (ignoring the fact that all four are US citizens and three are native born). To me this egregious treatment of four women by a man who quite obviously believes that women are inferior beings is deserving of far more attention than the allegations of sexual harassment against Al Franken.

 

Some years ago, my wife and I stood in line for more than an hour to get Franken to sign his book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”. The senator-to-be wrote, “to Joel and Marty, Love, Al Franken”. He  smiled (not leered) at my lovely wife Marty when he wrote it and she didn’t feel a bit harassed, only honored and delighted..

 

 

 

 

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • July 26th, 2019

HAPPY NEW YEAR

By Joel M. Vance

 

Last week I wrote about observing the advent of a new year by getting locked out of my motel room in subfreezing temperatures, wearing only my jockey shorts. This week I’m writing about observing the advent of a new year by shivering in subfreezing temperatures on a gravel bar on Missouri’s incomparable and lovely Current River awaiting the arrival of the baby new year.

 

A digression: (Donald Trump says he can end the country’s apparently endless war in Afghanistan in 10 days, and he has an undisclosed plan for doing it. I have a suggested plan for him and I’ll share it with everyone — equip him with an AR 15 and a one-way ticket to Afghanistan, parachute him into the middle of a Taliban-occupied section of that Middle Eastern rock pile with the cheery farewell , “Will check back with you in 10 days.”)

 

Meanwhile, back on the shore of the Current River, the waning old year is silent, save for the almost inaudible burble of the moving water, the occasional mournful questioning of a barred owl, and the incessant and strident chanting of a whippoorwill.

 

For many years it had been the custom of the members of the Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club, a canoeing group based in Kansas City, to celebrate the end of the old year, the advent of the new year, by canoeing a stretch of the Current, camping out on a gravel bar and chastely partying away the last few moments of the dying year.

 

As wild parties go, it could not have been more tame. While much of the country was celebrating New Year’s Eve by getting snot-flying drunk, we were brewing tea and hot chocolate over a camp stove, and huddling around a welcome campfire, watching sparks eddy into the star shot sky. At least, I was not locked out of this celebration. Anyone with a canoe and a tolerance for odd celebration was welcome to join the group.

 

The culmination of the evening, as is true of all New Year’s Eve celebrations, was to welcome the arrival of the new year in some way. In New York City, thousands would be gathered in Times Square waiting for the celebrated ball to drop. More of the country would be gathered in front of a television set watching that same Manhattan ceremony in comfort— or doing what the Vances usually do on New Year’s Eve, watching the inside of our eyelids.

 

Another digression: (The other night I watched a classic 1950s sci-fi movie “The Blob” with Steve McQueen. The premise was that an alien gelatinous goo somehow got released in a small town where Steve was an unruly teenager, and began gulping town folk and of course no one believed the rowdy kid when he told them there was a monster on the loose. Our hero in this cinematic masterpiece discovered that the blob could be frozen by spraying it with the contents of a CO2 fire extinguisher. Finally he rallied the townsfolk and all the fire extinguishers available and flash froze the Jell-O gone wild. Considering that CO2 emissions are considered largely responsible for today’s global warming, the town’s wholesale spewing of it into the atmosphere was an ominous sign 60 years before we recognized the danger. The Air Force swooped in and lifted the frozen blob and flew it to the Arctic and dumped it there on the ice, presumably rendering it harmless in an eternal cocoon of ice. But, prophetically, McQueen wryly mumbled the eerie final line of the movie, “We’re okay as long as the Arctic stays cold.”)

 

Back on the Current River, I watched as the canoe group prepared for the penultimate moment of celebration. One paddler, garbed as the old year, tottered to a canoe, imitating an arthritic elder on the verge of life’s end, clambered into the canoe and drifted downstream, feebly waving farewell. Then, from the upstream darkness appeared a second canoe occupied by the baby new year— a spectacle which has lived in my memory for many years and never will fade.

 

Baby New Year was none other than Nancy Jack who had last worn a diaper decades before. There is no adequate way to describe Nancy, a legend among Missouri canoe drivers. A veteran newspaper reporter, she was a fierce environmentalist, an inveterate chain smoker, with skin the approximate texture of worn-out cowboy chaps.  Nancy was a beautiful person buried in a homely exterior. You were likely to run into her anywhere south of the Missouri River, but most likely deep in the Ozarks, and almost always either on or coming from or heading to a river to explore.

 

Despite her ferocious cigarette addiction, Nancy lived 80 years, all of them lively and fully realized. We greeted this small, homely legend representing the next 365 days with a cheer and hopes that those days would be as optimistic and fun filled as Nancy herself.

 

There, on the shore of the nation’s first National Scenic Riverway, I celebrated a frosty New Year’s Eve and I can testify that it not only was it the most memorable of any I’ve experienced but it was light years more preferable watching Nancy Jack in swaddling clothes than spending New Year’s Eve locked out of my motel room in my underwear.

 

A digression: (Donald Trump’s southern border storm troopers propose to employ Fort Sill, Oklahoma as a concentration camp for some 1200 asylum seeking children. In 1955 I spent six weeks at Fort Sill learning to shoot an M1 rifle, live in a squad tent with strangers and fully comprehend the meaning of misery.  And I wasn’t fleeing homeland wretchedness in search of a better life in the United States of America. I was ostensibly learning to be a second lieutenant in the Army. Since it began in 1869, the military base has served as a concentration camp for Geronimo’s Apache tribe, a concentration camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II, and as a concentration camp for Lieutenants Fuzz, hoping to become shavetail officers in the artillery. Neither me, Geronimo, or the Asian Americans had much fun there and I doubt that those poor kids interned by the immigration Nazis will either.)

 

My wife, Marty, and I spent an anniversary canoe floating on Huzzah Creek, a gem tributary of the Meramec River.  Other rivers have threaded through our family life since there was a family. Our daughter, Amy, will testify without much prompting that canoeing for her is a mixed blessing. She went on her first canoe trip in utero on the North Fork River about two months before she officially became Amy, and then seven years later on that same river she and I capsized in a rapids and tumbled downstream, me holding her out of the water while my back scraped along the rocks and I shouted “it’s all right, Amy!”  Even though it was painfully obvious to both of us that it wasn’t.

 

We survived that outrage with no more than a bent canoe and a declaration by Amy that she would never go canoeing again. Of course, that was not going to happen in the Vance clan, and a few years later she found herself in a canoe on the Current River attacked by a colony of ants which had taken up residence in the floatation chamber under her seat. She bailed out of the canoe, squalling that she was being assaulted by insects. We submerged the canoe until the ants floated free and drifted downstream inspiring a ferocious rise of feeding fish.

 

On gravel bar campsites, the family gathers around the fire pit and tells stories of past canoeing experiences, anniversary floats, New Year’s Eve celebrations, while Amy is waiting her chance to air her litany of canoe trauma.  I tell her the various indignities she has suffered are the inevitable result of having been the least ‘ un in a family of five kids and two adults who’ve never quite grown up.

 

Beyond ants, unforgiving rapids, and exotic holiday celebrations, our experiences on Ozark rivers (mine anyway) have occasionally had unnerving moments.  I remember a float on the Niagara River. We had left one vehicle at the take out landing and I volunteered to stay with our canoes while everyone else went back to the put in and picked up our other vehicle. I was basking in the sunshine of a cloudless day on the gravel bar beside the Niangua when a person emerged from the vegetation behind me.

 

If you have seen the movie “Field of Dreams” where the 1919 Black Sox materialize from Ray Kinsella’s Iowa cornfield, you can gain some idea of what I began to think when this guy appeared. I wouldn’t say he skulked but he did not inspire me to sociability. And he didn’t look as if he wanted to play baseball. Instead of a fielder’s glove he was carrying a pistol of a type and caliber last seen when Dirty Harry cleared the streets of San Francisco of bad guys. I studiously avoided eye contact, the way you’re supposed to do when a grizzly bear appears out of the brush. Do I hear faint banjo music? I thought, remembering what happened to four guys on a cinematic canoe trip down the Cahulawassee River.

 

The guy prowled the river’s edge as if looking for targets and I remembered a bit of wisdom from another movie “Jurassic Park” where the advice when threatened by a Tyrannosaurus rex is “Don’t move!”

 

After a couple of eons of anxious moments, the strange man with the hog leg shootin’ iron apparently decided there was nothing worth killing that day and, as eerily as he had appeared, he faded back into the brush. When the rest of our canoeing party appeared they perhaps wondered why I was singing the old folk song “Cotton Eye Joe”: “Where did he come from?/where did he go?” But I refrained from breaking out my guitar and strumming the opening chords of “Dueling Banjo.”

 

Just in case.

 

A final digression: (The Titanic sank in 1912 and it was 72 years before famed explorer Bob Ballard found it. Now 80 years after the 1937 disappearance of Amelia Earhart, he is mounting an expedition to find her airplane and whatever remains of her. It’s probably beyond the expertise of Ballard or any other intrepid explorer, but I’d like to see someone mount an expedition to find Donald Trump’s soul. We know the Titanic went down and we know that Amelia Earhart ran out of gas somewhere over; the Pacific Ocean.  But all evidence indicates that Donald Trump possesses no soul.)

 

 

Rivers of memory, rivers of the heart, rivers of the mind—they flow down the streambed of time. Perhaps some icy New Year’s Eve a ghostly canoe will drift down the dark shadows of the Current River with a silent paddler representing the incoming year. Very possibly this aquatic specter will be smoking a cigarette. Let’s just hope this visitation from the past is not instead brandishing a single action Colt 45 caliber revolver looking for streamside targets.

 

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • July 19th, 2019

DOG DAZE

By Joel M. Vance

 

The late great Joe South sang one of his own compositions “Don’t it make you want to go home.” The song possibly became an anthem, although I never heard it, for a multitude of motel managers whom I have managed to offend over many years of abusing their hospitality.

 

It comes with having been an upland bird hunter for many, many years which often has me involved in  seeking the hospitality of misnamed establishments, like Motel Eight— which implies that a room can be had for eight dollars. Perhaps in 1940, but these days of rampant inflation it’s more like “Motel— What! You gotta be kidding!”

 

The last time I stayed in a motel that lived up to its advertised price was many years ago deep in the Ozarks where, exhausted from a long day, I plunked down $2.50 for what amounted to a lumpy bed barely smaller than the threadbare room in which it was located. The room however did come equipped with a radio, just out of the era when you had to use a cat’s whisker to tune it, which, when I checked it out, hoping for a program featuring vintage John Coltrane jazz to lull me to sleep, instead  bombarded me with the only available station, featuring a hardshell Baptist revival preacher assuring me that I was destined for Hell if I didn’t change my ways.

 

I had no intention of changing my ways, although the preacher’s dire warning does seem a distinct possibility. At any rate (advertised or not) motels and I have had a long and uneasy relationship, mostly because I, and my hunting companions, do not represent the ordinary clientele of most transitory housing establishments.

 

There are at least two motels where I would not be surprised if the proprietors don’t have SWAT teams on standby in case they receive a reservation request from me or, God forbid, I should show up in person with a vehicle containing dog crates. I will not name the location of these motels to eliminate the possibility that they backtrack and find my home location and send hit teams.

 

One was near where I shot the first pheasant of my hunting life. I left it on the tailgate of my vehicle briefly and when I returned the motel owner’s large Labrador retriever was licking its lips, a telltale feather stuck to its gums. It had not, however, molested the several quail that I also had shot. Honest, Your Honor, I did not do this in retribution, but I did field dress the quail in the motel washbasin. Subsequently, through word-of-mouth telegraph, I was informed that there had been a drainage system stoppage due to a surfeit of bird feathers lodged in the motel room’s plumbing innards, which caused an overflow which caused flood damage.

 

While I may have been directly responsible for the mini flood, I was only peripherally involved in the other motel mini catastrophe. It happened because a member of our hunting party suffered a massive gastric upset which lasted much of the night and was manifested mostly by toxic eruptions rivaling that which last occurred in AD 79 when Mount Vesuvius exploded and wiped out the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. My hunting buddy subsequently recovered, but I’m not sure the motel ever did.

 

The place was optimistically named the Belle Air and I celebrated it in print as the “Foul Air” and apparently I had a wider readership than I thought because, once again, the word got around and the motel ownership failed to appreciate my feeble attempt at levity. Some folks got no sense of humor.

 

Unpleasant bodily effusions come in more than one form and another type occurred in a motel room after a South Dakota bird hunt. My son-in-law, Ron De Valk, has been the unwitting and sometimes unwilling participant in several of my motel debacles but he should admit that it was his idea that triggered this one. We both were worn out after a long day in the field, as were our two bird dogs.

 

As is usual, we figured the dogs were as deserving of rest in accommodations less Spartan than a Porta Kennel so we smuggled them into the room after we, not the dogs, had eagerly wolfed down a meal of prime rib. He may deny it, but Ron was the one who suggested to the waitress that we would appreciate a container of leftover meat juice. Obligingly, she fetched us what appeared to be a quart of prime rib elixir. Common sense for anyone else would dictate that you don’t flood a dog’s digestive system with that much rich additive, but we were tired and unthinkingly divided equally the juice between the two dogs and their evening meal. Of course they wolfed it down.

 

We woke simultaneously in the pit of night and it was not necessary to turn on the light to understand what had developed in the canine excretory system while we were dreaming away. There is an applicable Rodney Dangerfield joke here: “My dog must be Egyptian— he leaves a pyramid in every room.” There was the necessity to clean up after our Middle Eastern imitating dogs and the only implement in the room that appeared usable was the plastic scoop used to shovel ice cubes into a bucket.

 

It worked for the purpose, but as I’ve written before, “You might want to think about that the next time you stay in a motel and long for a cold drink.”

 

Ron also was involved in the great South Dakota motel room flood. If you recall the television show Northern Exposure, there was a Native American character, Marilyn Whirlwind, who was totally unflappable and summed up situations with wise counsel when disaster loomed. She was unfazed by any imminent catastrophe and I suspect when the series ended, she got a job in the motel where we stayed and flooded the bathroom.

 

We still don’t know how it happened—perhaps the Ogallala aquifer mysteriously backed up across eight states and wound up in our motel bathroom. Whatever the reason, Ron emerged as I was arranging my hunting equipment for the day’s activities and announced in panic “The toilet is overflowing and the bathroom is flooded!” Even as he spoke water was seeping around his boots into the main room.

 

Ron frantically dialed the front desk to report the commode tsunami and presently a Native American woman appeared and Ron squeaked, “we’re flooding!”

 

“Okay,” our version of Marilyn Whirlwind said impassively. And she might’ve added as Marilyn Whirlwind once did on Northern Exposure, “White people; they get crazy.” We gathered up our hunting gear and fled, and when we returned that evening the room was dry. Bathrooms tended to be traumatic experiences for Ron who, on his first visit to his new in-laws was startled when the family cat knocked a partition out of the wall in the bathroom and emerged suddenly (she often retreated into the walls to hide, being frightened of strangers in the house). It didn’t help when Ron, alarmed that perhaps the suddenly materializing cat was some sort of Phantom of the Opera, discovered that the door, which was tricky, was locked and he had to pound on it and beg for rescue.

 

Thinking back on it, many of these motel oriented disasters center around middle of the night bathroom breaks. Another one involved possibly the most bizarre New Year’s Eve celebration ever. My hunting buddy and I, not Ron this time, celebrated New Year’s Eve day with a long quail hunt. The motel where we were staying featured a plastic Santa Claus in the center of its courtyard, left over from the previous week’s Christmas. There was no plan to go out on the town for a few drinks in anticipation of another year’s arrival. All we wanted to do was hit the sack. My buddy liked to sleep cool, as I do, so he turned the thermostat all the way off. The dogs and we settled in for a restful night, or so we thought.

 

About 2 AM, the New Year having arrived not with a bang but a whimper, I awoke with my dog exhaling pungent breath directly in my face. I realized I was bathed in sweat and both the dog and I were verging on heatstroke. My buddy had not turned down the thermostat but had turned it the wrong way and the room was hotter than a Finnish sauna. It was Equatorial Rain Forest in the room and obviously something needed to be done.  The dog wanted to drain and we both wanted cooling. A quick trip outdoors I thought would be just the thing to let the dog pee and me chill out. My buddy slept on, somehow unaware of the searing heat.

 

I opened the door, stepped outside in my briefs, and the dog raced past me to Santa Claus where he proceeded to firehose it almost endlessly. I was dimly aware as I stood in the subfreezing temperature, beginning to congeal, of an ominous clicking sound just behind me which I realized, a moment later was the sound of the door closing and locking.

 

The dog finished desecrating Santa. We stood together shivering and I banged on the door trying to wake my comatose roommate and hoping not to rouse the motel owner or other sleeping customers who, I suspected, might not understand why an adult male would usher in the new year much as he had been ushered into life— near-naked, wearing naught but a diaper. Most babies do not come equipped with a bird dog. Finally my buddy stumbled to the door opened it, gazed blearily at me for a long moment and said, “Why are you out there in the cold?”

 

Had it been Marilyn Whirlwind who came to my rescue, she would’ve merely said, “White people; they get crazy.”

 

The Dakotas, over the years, have tended to bring out the worst in me.  It was a typical subzero day in South Dakota. All over the state brass monkeys were clutching their groins. Ron and I were freezing, looking forward to the warmth of the motel where we were staying. Between us we had five Brittanies. It did not occur to us that, all water sources were frozen solid and the dogs, therefore had gone a long time between hydration breaks.

 

The ground floor motel featured a long corridor and our room was about six or seven doors from the back entrance (which we were using so we could sneak the dogs in so they could enjoy the same conveniences as their owners). And they could, at long last, enjoy a leisurely drink provided by us from the washbasin into their individual dog bowls.

 

The dogs, however, had a different idea. When I key carded the back entrance and opened the door a tsunami of canine thirst burst past me, caromed down the hall— and bulled their way into an open door (unfortunately, not ours).

 

I hustled down the hall after them to the open door where I beheld a gentleman on the phone, dressed in a business suit and tie. The dogs, en masse had veered into the bathroom and were noisily drinking from the toilet, a sound I had last heard at the base of Niagara Falls. The man on the phone appeared to be on the verge of negotiating what for all I knew was a multi million-dollar business deal and, judging from the toxic look he shot at me, was not happy at this unforeseen interruption.

 

I gestured apologetically and whispered, “Come! Come!” The man glared even louder, if it’s possible to glare loudly. The dogs paid absolutely no attention, continuing to slake their overwhelming thirst. There was nothing for it but to separate dog from toilet and there also was no way I was going to corral five dogs at one time and remove them from the stranger’s room.

 

So I grabbed one collar and dragged that dog out the door, lugged it several doors farther down, managed to get the key card inserted in the slot with one hand, all the time wrestling the bucking and heaving thirst crazed animal with the other hand, threw the door open, tossed the dog in, and sprinted back up the hall to the stranger’s room for another dog. Five times this Buster Keaton comedy routine repeated itself before I ran out of dogs and, for the last time, out of the stranger’s room.  As I left the man’s bathroom with the last dog in hand, I glanced down. The toilet bowl was totally empty.

 

Never once did the man pause in his intense phone conversation to, perhaps, quick draw a 45 caliber pistol and begin shooting, although I wouldn’t have blamed him. Ron, who had been busy at the vehicle gathering up our hunting gear, came in to behold five dogs and me, all panting as if we had just finished a marathon. “What’s going on?” he asked.

 

“Just another day in the life,” I said.

 

 

p

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • July 15th, 2019

PENCE DEFENCE

By Joel M. Vance

 

Last week, Donald Trump sent his Uber Christian vice president Mike Pence to the southern border, along with a Washington Post reporter, representing all the media. Pence is quoted as saying, “I couldn’t be more impressed” by what he described as “the compassionate work” by border patrol agents. “Every family that I spoke with told me they were being well cared for.”

 

The Post reporter had a somewhat different take on the scene. He said 400 men were housed in sweltering cages so crowded that all of them could not lie down. Some shouted they had not had a shower, had been held in the detention facility for more than 40 days (a border patrol spokesperson said defensively that it wasn’t 40 days it was only 32) and that they were hungry. The reporter said the stench was overwhelming.

 

Pence, in typical geewhiz fashion, summed up the situation by saying “this is tough stuff.” Well, Duh! the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security described dangerously overcrowded conditions, including a situation with migrants packed so tightly into confinement that some had to stand on toilets.  Our compassionate president, said the facilities were “beautifully run.”

 

Trump persists in employing the tools of the bigot, the tyrant—demonizing his opponents. Every migrant at the southern border is a murderer or rapist (you have to watch out for kindergarten age kids overrunning the Southwest, bent on rapine and massacre.   And that little drowned two-year-old obviously was bent on invading United States of America to commit murder).

 

Trump has told four freshman women Congress people who happen to represent minorities to “go back where they came from.” Three of the four were born in American cities, and the fourth, who has become a target of every right wing troll is a naturalized citizen from Somalia, an African country characterized by Trump as a “shithole country.” It would be instructive to hear what the notoriously foulmouthed president says about Ilhan Abdullani Omar when the only listeners are his faithful toadies.

 

Trump desperately wants to divert attention from his own perverted misdeeds as other evil types have done in the past. We heard it in the days of the Ku Klux Klan—Black men obviously posed a threat to white womanhood so let’s lynch them. Tailgunner Joe McCarthy ruined the lives of many with his false accusations about communism creeping through our society, abetted by the weasely shyster Roy Cohn who would go on to be Trump’s lawyer. Shitbirds of a feather flock together.  It’s instructive to note that Tennessee’s Republican governor  Bill Lee recently signed a proclamation honoring Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a psychopath who helped found and was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

 

Echoes of segregation era outrages are becoming all too common in the Trump era and the administration’s concept of sweeping up asylum-seekers from infants to adults and refusing them not only asylum, but common decency,  officially reinforces the bigots infesting today’s political scene.

 

Our fine Christian vice president later after his brief tip toe through a detention facility was quoted as saying, “What we saw today is a facility that is providing care that every American would be proud of.” Is the man as nuts as his boss! Proud? How about ashamed? Pence and his all white inspection team studiously avoided eye contact with the confined asylum seeking, caged men and quickly fled without talking to any of them. They apparently could not hear the shouted complaints about the foul treatment they were witnessing.

 

Instead of feeding the hopeful immigrants, why not invite them to the White House for one of Trump’s infamous fast food banquets with which he attempts to honor the nation’s world championship sports teams? Stuff these underfed asylum-seekers with fat laden, cholesterol rich junk food and get rid of them by nutrition poisoning instead of spending billions of dollars building walls, cages, and equipping border patrol troopers with expensive equipment.

 

Just trying to be helpful.

 

If it were in my power to do so I would have Trump, Pence and all their right wing apologists, confined in chain-link cages down wind of a corporate hog farm on a hot summer day, temperature and humidity both in the 90s, for 40 days without benefit of toothbrushes, adequate food, or a place to lie down.

 

Words of more than four letters fail me.

 

Here is what I posted last week before the Pence trip. I would hope that readers would disseminate it as widely as possible. I encourage comments and so far there has been only one negative comment to the effect that my criticisms of Trump should apply instead to Barack Obama. I thought of replying to it by suggesting that the critic launder his white sheet but figured that would be no more constructive than trying to instruct a junkyard dog not to scratch fleas.

 

 

A Biblical fellow named John, possibly the first so named, quoted a friend of his, a fellow named Jesus, as saying “the truth shall set you free.” Another fellow, more recently, named Michael De Adder, found that the truth indeed did set him free—he got fired for it.

 

You may have seen it, but if not Google Trump golf cartoon and see what depicting the truth cost De Adder. He is a Canadian cartoonist who drew a political caricature of Donald Trump standing over the drowned bodies of a father and his 23-month-old daughter lying dead in the shallows of the Rio Grande River. Trump is standing beside his golf cart, club in hand, saying “Do you mind if I play through?”

 

De Adder’s contract with Brunswick News, Inc., was canceled. The company claims it was not because of the golf cartoon, but De Adder says “I had every reason to suspect it was over that cartoon. I was given no reason. I inquired and inquired.” He added every time he submitted a Trump cartoon, “it got heated every time there was a Trump in the lineup.”

 

The afore-mentioned Jesus Christ also said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Today, Donald Trump, who seems to suffer from a Messiah complex, would say, “Let the little children come unto to me…. And suffer.”

 

As I write, the president of the United States, fresh off having served his perverted ego with a parade on the Fourth of July, the nation’s birthday, during which he made a self-serving speech which included the curious fact that the revolutionary army, fighting to separate the American colonies from England in 1775, bravely conquered the English airports, and inspired the national anthem which wasn’t written until nearly 40 years later– and airport victories were sparse in colonial America.

 

Donald Trump is as much a stranger to historical fact as he is to the truth. The truth here is that the small child who died with her father trying to swim their way to freedom is a direct victim of the cruel policies of the man who daily desecrates the nation’s highest office. Another president, Harry Truman, said “the buck stops here.” George W. Bush, a more recent president, said “I am the decider.”

 

The point of both presidential quotes is that the person ultimately responsible for presidential policies is the guy in the Oval Office. And that, unfortunately, happens to be Donald J Trump at least until the nation’s electorate comes to its senses and kicks his ass out of office.

 

If we believe that to be true—if indeed the president is responsible for the consequences of his decisions— then there is no other conclusion to draw except that Donald J Trump is a child killer. That is a terrible accusation make against the person who represents the face and voice of our democracy, but there it is.

 

You have only to look at photos from the concentration camps at the southern border, read stories about children and adults being denied basic sanitary needs, being fed inferior food (if at all), having to sleep on concrete with insufficient bed clothing (if at all), and enduring a litany of indignities not seen since Nazi Germany was in full flower.

 

Certainly not seen in this country since the indefensible treatment of Native Americans herded into reservation slums because the ancestral mentors of Donald Trump coveted what the Indians had owned forever and were able to take it by force. How long will it be until Trump (who has implied he might indeed resort to it) authorizes the use of lethal force to kill off the asylum seeking migrants at the border? He already has a ready to shoot militia just itching to torch off a few rounds, and apparently a subset of the immigration and customs authority with a similar “kill them all and let God sort them out” philosophy.

 

It’s a truism that history repeats itself and it seems to be happening. Chances are there is no possibility there ever will be reparations to African-Americans for slavery, to Native Americans for the indignities suffered by them, nor for similar indignities suffered by Japanese-Americans during World War II. As a nation, we probably can’t afford to make up for past sins, but that’s no justification for committing yet another sin against humanity.  Trump, as I write, is not at work dealing with the crisis at the southern border— he is on a golfing vacation at taxpayer expense.

 

I am wearing a T-shirt with a circled caricature of Trump circled by the familiar diagonal backslash indicating something that is forbidden. Above and below the circle are the words “resist hate.” I admit it is hypocritical of me to endorse the idea of resisting hate because I fiercely hate Donald J Trump and all he stands for. Almost equally I loath the chinless wonder, Mitch McConnell, and his senatorial sidekick, the little dictator Lindsey Graham.

 

That unholy trio and their equally reprehensible Republican co-conspirators in Congress do nothing to alleviate the misery at the border, loudly and falsely blaming everything on the Democrats, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and any other Democrat within the memory of modern man.

 

I am forced, reluctantly, to admit they are faintly justified in blaming the Democrats because that timid party seems unable to get off its puny butt and fight for the right things. Instead, the Democrats seem to be paralyzed by infighting, especially among the nearly 2 dozen people who would be president, each of whom has an agenda largely varying from all the others.

 

Instead of uniting in common purpose, which the horrible border crisis demands, they unite only in trumpeting “Not Trump!” and then deviate into insulting each other. Meanwhile, hundreds of hopeful migrants, fleeing from oppression, danger, and virtually every miserable affliction human beings can imagine, are compressed into cages in sweltering desert heat, amid conditions that, if they were inflicted on farm animals would bring down outraged local law enforcement authorities en masse.  These are human beings, not stockyard cattle, not feedlot animals destined for the slaughterhouse.

 

If I were president, which thank God I’m not, I would gather unto myself the power of the presidency and, starting with an immediate visit to the border, start kicking asses and taking names. Instead of signing inane, idiotic, and largely inconsequential executive orders, I would put my name to ordering those responsible for fixing things to fix them. I would, as former Pres. Lyndon Johnson was wont to do, call in the ranking members of Congress, of both parties, get in their faces and demand both answers and actions.

 

Further, I would take the case against  the inaction of Congress to the American people, explaining that we are not a nation that treats people the way these migrants have been treated and reprise the famous outburst by the fictional television anchorman Howard Beale in the movie “Network”who told his viewers to “Get up out of your chairs, go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!’”

 

Further, I would challenge Congress to find the money to establish a viable economic Peace Corps, in cooperation with those who one time were our allies (most of whom Trump is managed to alienate) to revive the lives and hope for Ecuador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

 

Instead of cozying up to Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Chinese president XI Jinping and others of the world’s more odiferous dictators, why couldn’t Donald Trump call for a summit of the leaders of Central and South America, plus Mexico and why not throw in Canada, to brainstorm for ways to bring the devastated countries of Central America back from the brink of anarchy to civilized society?

 

I’ll tell you why— because such a summit would not be about solutions.  It also would not be all about Trump and he couldn’t stand that. Even if he were to convene the leaders among the Americas, I suspect he would insist on making it a celebration of him, probably with another freaking parade, and somehow would manage to piss off everyone but his bloodthirsty base.

 

Donald Trump’s solution to a humanitarian crisis is to build a wall. Robert Frost, perhaps America’s most beloved poet said this about walls:

 

 “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

   What I was walling in or walling out,

   And to whom I was like to give offence.

   Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

  That wants it down….”

 

Trump says he wants the press admitted to the concentration camps to see what the conditions are, despite having made every effort to deny press admittance. According to him, conditions are kind of like a summer camp and are better than the ones from which the asylum-seekers fled (which makes one wonder why, if things were so great at home, did women and children walk hundreds of miles under horrific conditions to endure more horrific conditions at our border?)

 

Tucker Carlson, Fox News mouthpiece accompanied Trump recently to North Korea for his schmooze session with dictator Kim Jong Un. Carlson, perhaps unwittingly (or half wittedly), had this to say about Un, “you got to be honest about what it means to lead a country, it means killing people.” If you can assume that Carlson, one of Trump’s pet talking heads, echoes the sentiments of his favorite president, what does it say about the man in charge?

 

The renowned Mayo Clinic lists the symptoms of a narcissist personality, a mental disorder similar to or associated with someone who is a sociopath. Mayo says those with this mental disorder exhibit these symptoms:

 

“Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration, Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it. Exaggerate achievements and talents.  Are preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.   Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people.  Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior.  Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations.  Take advantage of others to get what they want.  Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.  Be envious of others and believe others envy them.  Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious.  Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office. 

 

                “At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:  Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment.  Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted,  React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior,  Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior.”

 

If you can read through this depressing list of character flaws and not think of Donald Trump, you’re not paying attention. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to become convinced that we are being led by a person with a serious mental illness. We will all suffer the consequences of this, but probably not nearly as severely as those poor souls incarcerated at the border of our country.

 

Meanwhile, the right wing hate team is ramping up ahead of Trump’s reelection campaign, claiming that Kamala Harris has accused doctors of being racist because they wear white coats, and accusing Megan Rapinoe and the US World Cup champion women’s soccer team of stomping on the American flag after their victory. The Harris accusation is totally false—a damn lie— and the flag accusation is mostly false (a team member accidentally fumbled the flag for about three seconds, quickly scooped it up, and no one “stomped” on it).

Another meanwhile: a Public Policy poll (admittedly, a Democrat organization) showed a day or two ago that if the election were held now, and if Rapinoe were running for president against Trump she’d beat him.

 

Would that it were so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • July 10th, 2019

THE MADNESS OF KING DONALD 1

By Joel M. Vance

 

You may have seen it, but if not Google Trump golf cartoon and see what depicting the truth cost Michael De Adder. He is a Canadian cartoonist who drew a political caricature of Donald Trump standing over the drowned bodies of a father and his 23-month-old daughter lying dead in the shallows of the Rio Grande River. Trump is standing beside his golf cart, club in hand, saying “Do you mind if I play through?”

 

De Adder’s contract with Brunswick News, Inc., was canceled. The company claims it was not because of the golf cartoon, but De Adder says “I had every reason to suspect it was over that cartoon. I was given no reason. I inquired and inquired.” He added every time he submitted a Trump cartoon, “it got heated every time there was a Trump in the lineup.”

 

The afore-mentioned Jesus Christ also said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Today, Donald Trump, who seems to suffer from a Messiah complex, would say, “Let the little children come unto to me…. And suffer.”

 

As I write, the president of the United States, fresh off having served his perverted ego with a parade on the Fourth of July, the nation’s birthday, during which he made a self-serving speech which included the curious fact that the revolutionary army, fighting to separate the American colonies from England in 1775, bravely conquered the English airports, and inspired the national anthem which wasn’t written until nearly 40 years later.  Airport victories were sparse in colonial America.

 

Donald Trump is as much a stranger to historical fact as he is to the truth. The truth here is that the small child who died with her father trying to swim their way to freedom is a direct victim of the cruel policies of the man who daily desecrates the nation’s highest office. Another president, Harry Truman, said “The buck stops here.” George W. Bush, a more recent president, said “I am the decider.”

 

The point of both presidential quotes is that the person ultimately responsible for presidential policies is the guy in the Oval Office. And that, unfortunately, happens to be Donald J Trump at least until the nation’s electorate comes to its senses and kicks his ass out of office.

 

If we believe that to be true—if indeed the president is responsible for the consequences of his decisions— then there is no other conclusion to draw except that Donald J Trump is a child killer. That is a terrible accusation make against the person who represents the face and voice of our democracy, but there it is.

 

You have only to look at photos from the concentration camps at the southern border, read stories about children and adults being denied basic sanitary needs, being fed inferior food (if at all), having to sleep on concrete with insufficient bed clothing (if at all), and enduring a litany of indignities not seen since Nazi Germany was in full flower.

 

Certainly not seen in this country since the indefensible treatment of Native Americans herded into reservation slums because the ancestral mentors of Donald Trump coveted what the Indians had owned forever and were able to take it by force. How long will it be until Trump (who has implied he might indeed resort to it) authorizes the use of lethal force to kill off the asylum seeking migrants at the border? He already has a ready to shoot militia just itching to torch off a few rounds, and apparently a subset of the immigration and customs authorities with a similar “kill them all and let God sort them out” philosophy.

 

It’s a truism that history repeats itself and it seems to be happening. Chances are there is no possibility there ever will be reparations to African-Americans for slavery, to Native Americans for the indignities suffered by them, nor for similar indignities suffered by Japanese-Americans during World War II. As a nation, we probably can’t afford to make up for past sins, but that’s no justification for committing yet another sin against humanity.  Trump, as I write, is not at work dealing with the crisis at the southern border— he is on a golfing vacation at taxpayer expense.

 

I am wearing a T-shirt with a circled caricature of Trump circled by the familiar diagonal backslash indicating something that is forbidden. Above and below the circle are the words “resist hate.” I admit it is hypocritical of me to endorse the idea of resisting hate because I fiercely hate Donald J Trump and all he stands for. Almost equally I loath the chinless wonder, Mitch McConnell, and his senatorial sidekick, the little dictator Lindsey Graham.

 

That unholy trio and their equally reprehensible Republican co-conspirators in Congress do nothing to alleviate the misery at the border, loudly and falsely blaming everything on the Democrats, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and any other Democrat within the memory of modern man.

 

I am forced, reluctantly, to admit they are faintly justified in blaming the Democrats because that timid party seems unable to get off its puny butt and fight for the right things. Instead, the Democrats seem to be paralyzed by infighting, especially among the nearly 2 dozen people who would be president, each of whom has an agenda largely varying from all the others.

 

Instead of uniting in common purpose, which the horrible border crisis demands, they unite only in trumpeting “Not Trump!” and then deviate into insulting each other. Meanwhile, hundreds of hopeful migrants, fleeing from oppression, danger, and virtually every miserable affliction human beings can imagine, are compressed into cages in sweltering desert heat, amid conditions that, if they were inflicted on farm animals would bring down outraged local law enforcement authorities en masse.  These are human beings, not stockyard cattle, not feedlot animals destined for the slaughterhouse.

 

If I were president, which thank God I’m not, I would gather unto myself the power of the presidency and, starting with an immediate visit to the border, start kicking asses and taking names. Instead of signing inane, idiotic, and largely inconsequential executive orders, I would put my name to ordering those responsible for fixing things to fix them. I would, as former Pres. Lyndon Johnson was wont to do, call in the ranking members of Congress, of both parties, get in their faces and demand both answers and actions.

 

Further, I would take the case against  the inaction of Congress to the American people, explaining that we are not a nation that treats people the way these migrants have been treated and reprise the famous outburst by the fictional television anchorman Howard Beale in the movie “Network”who told his viewers to “Get up out of your chairs, go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!’”

 

Further, I would challenge Congress to find the money to establish a viable economic Peace Corps, in cooperation with those who one time were our allies (most of whom Trump has managed to alienate) to revive the lives and hopes for Ecuador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

 

Instead of cozying up to Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Chinese president XI Jinping and others of the world’s more odiferous dictators, why couldn’t Donald Trump call for a summit of the leaders of Central and South America, plus Mexico and why not throw in Canada, to brainstorm for ways to bring the devastated countries of Central America back from the brink of anarchy to civilized society?

 

I’ll tell you why— because such a summit would not be about solutions.  It also would not be all about Trump and he couldn’t stand that. Even if he were to convene the leaders among the Americas, I suspect he would insist on making it a celebration of him, probably with another freaking parade, and somehow would manage to piss off everyone but his bloodthirsty base.

 

Donald Trump’s solution to a humanitarian crisis is to build a wall. Robert Frost, perhaps America’s most beloved poet said this about walls:

 

 “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

   What I was walling in or walling out,

   And to whom I was like to give offence.

   Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

  That wants it down….”

 

Trump says he wants the press admitted to the concentration camps to see what the conditions are, despite having made every effort to deny press admittance. According to him, conditions are kind of like a summer camp and are better than the ones from which the asylum-seekers fled (which makes one wonder why, if things were so great at home, did women and children walk hundreds of miles under horrific conditions to endure more horrific conditions at our border?)

 

Tucker Carlson, Fox News mouthpiece accompanied Trump recently to North Korea for his schmooze session with dictator Kim Jong Un. Carlson, perhaps unwittingly (or half wittedly), had this to say about Un, “you got to be honest about what it means to lead a country, it means killing people.” If you can assume that Carlson, one of Trump’s pet talking heads, echoes the sentiments of his favorite president, what does it say about the man in charge?

 

The renowned Mayo Clinic lists the symptoms of a narcissist personality, a mental disorder similar to or associated with someone who is a sociopath. Mayo says those with this mental disorder exhibit these symptoms:

 

                   “Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration, Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it. Exaggerate achievements and talents.  Are preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.   Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people.  Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior.  Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations.  Take advantage of others to get what they want.  Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.  Be envious of others and believe others envy them.  Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious.  Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office. 

 

                “At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:  Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment.  Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted,  React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior,  Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior.”

 

If you can read through this depressing list of character flaws and not think of Donald Trump, you’re not paying attention. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to become convinced that we are being led by a person with a serious mental illness. We will all suffer the consequences of this, but probably not nearly as severely as those poor souls incarcerated at the border of our country.

 

Meanwhile, the right wing hate team is ramping up ahead of Trump’s reelection campaign, claiming that Kamala Harris, a leading candidate, has accused doctors of being racist because they wear white coats, and accusing Megan Rapinoe and the US World Cup champion women’s soccer team of stomping on the American flag after their victory. The Harris accusation is totally false—a damn lie— and the flag accusation is mostly false (a team member accidentally fumbled the flag for about three seconds, quickly scooped it up, and no one “stomped” on it).

Also meanwhile: a Public Policy poll (admittedly, a Democrat organization) showed a day or two ago that if the election were held now, and if Rapinoe were running for president against Trump she’d beat him.

 

Would that it were so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • July 5th, 2019

EGG ME ON

By Joel M. Vance

 

A long time ago, I wrote most of the manuscript on eggs figuring that there would be massive interest in buying a book about something that is so common to everyone—we eat them for breakfast, we even began as a form of egg inside our mommies. I had just read a book about peppers and figured that if a writer could profit from writing about jalapenos, I should be able to make a buck from writing about the morning scramble.

 

So far, the nation’s book publishers have disagreed with me, but I did collect a massive amount of information on eggs, including countless bits of trivia by which I could (and you can if you want) bore people to insensibility (either that, or convince them that you are way past time to be committed to a mental health facility).

 

So here, for your information or as evidence to be used when the man in the white coats come for you, are many tidbits of egg trivia. It’s been a slow week, it’s summer hot, and I think I’ll take a nap.

 

Samuel Butler, back in the 1600s, referred to something being “like nest eggs to make clients lay.”   “Nest egg” as used today means a savings account (or in cooking to describe stiffly- beaten egg whites into which the yolk is deposited for baking), but in the chicken world, it means an artificial egg to encourage a hen to lay in a preferred nest, rather than in a hidden spot.  Doesn’t much matter what color, size or shape it is, as long as it is roughly like a real chicken egg.

 

                One pigeon fancier experimented with different colors, shapes and sizes.  He first put black dots on the eggs, then red.  Didn’t matter.  Then he used other colors, applied in stripes and dots.  Same thing–pigeons accepted them as if they were real pigeon eggs.  He then tried a white Christmas tree light bulbs and a ceramic cylinder.  “They set it,” he said, “but with less enthusiasm.”  Pigeons have brooded small oranges, table tennis and golf balls and quail eggs, as well as eggs from chickens and even from a goose.  No wonder a cowbird egg doesn’t puzzle them.  The researcher said albatrosses will brood a milk bottle and recalled seeing a newspaper photo of a chicken brooding a nest- full of walnuts.

 

                Darning eggs are another egg-shaped device.  Drop a darning egg (often of wood) into a sock with a hole in it and it makes mending easier, either toe or heel.

 

                There are few egg quotations, but Shakespeare always is good for a quote on almost anything and eggs are no exception: “They say we are almost as like as eggs,” says Leontes to Mamillius in “A Winter’s Tale.”  Of course, if you consider the ostrich and the bee hummingbird, that simile breaks down bigtime. Cervantes also used the simile: “He is like one as one egg is like another.”  But either could have said, “We’re as alike as peas in a pod,” which someone else did.  Cervantes also adjured against keeping all your eggs in one basket. 

 

                The modern variation of the quote is: “Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket!”  And the corollary is that if you do put all your eggs in one basket…don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.  Robert Burton, who died in 1640, said someone was “going as if he trod on eggs,” which is the beginning of today’s “walking on eggs” cliché to describe someone proceeding very carefully.  Samuel Butler said, “A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.”

 

                A couple of more modern philosophers, Ambrose Bierce, the irreverent author of The Devil’s Dictionary, and humorist Dave Barry, also have explored eggs.  Talking about “sacred” scarabs, Bierce compared them to “tumble-bug” beetles.  “Its habit of incubating its eggs in a ball of ordure may also have commended it to the favor of the priesthood, and may some day assure it an equal reverence among ourselves. True, the American beetle is an inferior beetle, but the American priest is an inferior priest.”  Bierce also libeled a favorite egg dish, custard: “Custard, n. A detestable substance produced by a malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow and the cook.”

 

                And Barry invoked eggs while discussing the intricacies of fish sex: “…generally when two fish want to have sex, they swim around and around for hours, looking for someplace to go, until finally the female gets really tired and has a terrible headache, and she just dumps her eggs right on the sand and swims away. Then the male, driven by some timeless, noble instinct for survival, eats the eggs. So the truth is that fish don’t reproduce at all, but there are so many of them that it doesn’t make any difference.”

        

The description of someone as a “good egg” or “bad egg” goes back at least 150 years.  There are many references to people being bad eggs from the late 1840s on (and the phrase seems to have been common then).  F. Scott Fitzgerald used the phrase “a good egg” in his 1922 novel The Beautiful and the Damned.  Next time you see the original King Kong movie, ignore Fay Wray’s screams and listen for a character to say, “He’s a tough egg, all right.”  As a teenager I was far more interested in hearing Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer character describe the various women he loved and shot, but he did talk about “those two eggs” when describing a couple of lowlifes in “Lonely Night”.

 

                Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary is a compendium of waspish definitions.  He said, “They say that hens do cackle loudest when There’s nothing vital in the eggs they’ve laid; And there are hens, professing to have made A study of mankind, who say that men Whose business ’tis to drive the tongue or pen Make the most clamorous fanfaronade O’er their most worthless work…”

 

“Chicken manure is extremely rich in nitrogen which is needed in all plant life. It makes an excellent addition to the compost pile, which in turn helps produce better vegetables.

 

Egg tapping is a custom practiced during Easter in many places.  The principle of the game is to hold an egg firmly and tap your opponent’s egg without breaking your own egg.  The  rules for this custom varied from country to another.  This tradition is still practiced today in southern Louisiana during Easter festivities. 

 

China ranks as the world’s leading egg-producing country, and the United States ranks second. In Siberia people believed that shamans or witch doctors were hatched from iron eggs laid by a mythical bird. Eggs are symbols of life and fertility.  Easter eggs symbolize the Resurrection and the renewal of life that comes with spring. China’s best known eggs are called “hundred year old eggs” and they are a delicacy. The Chinese have decorated a baby’s crib with egg designs to attract good luck.

 

Decorating Easter eggs is considered a fine art in many parts of Europe, especially Hungary, the Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe.  To Carl Faberge, jeweler to Czar Nicholas II, egg decorating was a fine art.  This gifted artist created enameled and jewel- encrusted Easter eggs that were marvels of beauty and ingenuity.  The ancient Teutons believed that on Easter, rabbits laid eggs.  Thus the beginning of the Easter bunny.  To refuse the gift of an Easter egg was very rude.  It was the same as refusing the friendship of the person offering it.

 

An Easter egg with two yolks meant great luck and fortune for its owner.  Eggs blessed at Easter could ward off illness.  The Mayans believed the egg could free persons thought to be under the spell of the Evil Eye.  Medicine men would pass an egg back and forth many times before the face of the person believed to bewitched.  The medicine men would then break the egg, look at the yolk as though it were the evil eye, and immediately bury it in a secret spot.  The bewitched would be cured of the evil spell.

 

In olden days it was said that any egg laid on Friday would cure a stomach ache.  Easter eggs planted in vineyards were supposed to guard vines against thunder and hail.  Coloring and embellishing eggs was a custom during the middle ages in England.  Edward The First’s household accounts for the year 1200 showed an expenditure of eighteen pence for 450 eggs to be colored or decorated with gold leaf for distribution to the royal members of the household.

 

It is an old courting custom to present beautifully decorated eggs to a favored sweetheart or suitor.  Golden eggs symbolize great fortune to recipients. Chickens do not chew their food (I just threw that in case you’re getting hungry for an omelet). The food is moistened in the throat, and ground up in an organ just before the stomach called the gizzard. If a chicken is on the range, it will eat grit, hard particles like small stones. These particles are what the food grinds against in the gizzard.

 

                Does any kid today say, “Last one in’s a rotten egg!” when he’s making a running dive in the ol’ swimmin’ hole?  To be a literal rotten egg, of course, would be to smell really horrible, so a dunk in the swimming hole could only help.  How about “egging” someone on?  Does it mean you throw eggs at them to keep them in motion.  No–the word is a corruption of a Saxon word “eggian” which means to goad.

 

                Calling someone an “egghead” means he’s an intellectual, but it’s said derisively as if there is something wrong with being one.   You don’t want to be labeled an egghead, but you’d bask in the glow of being called “a good egg.”  No one said descriptive clichés have to be consistent.

 

The ostrich, the largest living bird, lays white eggs that weigh up to 3 pounds. In contrast, the Cuban bee hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird, lays eggs no larger than peas!  Oology (the collection and study of eggs) shows us that shapes and colors of birds’ eggs are often related to protective strategies. Birds that nest in holes or other cavities, like owls and woodpeckers, lay eggs that are rounded and white so they can be seen in the dark nest by the parent. Birds that nest on ledges, like seabirds, usually have a pyriform or pointed egg to keep them from rolling out of the nest. Birds that nest in the open lay colored eggs to camouflage them with the environment.  While birds are nesting and caring for their eggs, most reptiles are busy laying and burying them. Because they are usually buried and don’t need to be camouflaged, reptile eggs are white. To hatch from their eggs, snakes are endowed with an egg tooth that they use to cut their way out of their shell.  Some eggs are incubated internally.

 

Gastric brooding frogs will swallow their eggs and incubate them in their stomach until they hatch, then the young will be regurgitated. Suriname toads deposit eggs on the female’s back where a thin layer of skin soon grows over them. When the tadpoles are ready to hatch, they burst out from underneath the skin

 

                Eggshell porcelain has nothing to do with eggs.  It refers to the eggshell-like thinness of the porcelain.  The process is Ming dynasty (1403-24) Chinese and other Chinese emperors revived the style periodically.

 

                The only famous person recognized by the Encyclopedia Britannica named Egg is Augustus (1816-63), an English painter who was “famous in his day” which means no one remembers him today.  He also was an actor, equally forgotten by stage historians. 

 

Because of its connections with new life, the egg has been touted as both an aphrodisiac and fertility insurance. Central European peasants rubbed eggs on their plows hoping to improve the crops. The French bride broke an egg on the doorstep before entering her new home to assure a large family. Back before Nero practiced fiddle pyrotechnics, his consort Livia was told to warm an egg on her bosom. When it hatched, the sex of the chick would foretell the sex of her unborn child. All went as predicted and the Emperor Tiberius (as well as an old wives’ tale) was born.

 

                The longest distance an egg, presumably chicken, was thrown without breaking is 106 meters.  I doubt the egg was thrown in a gravel pit or the length of an Interstate highway.  Maybe thrown into a pit of goose down?  What group of eccentrics would gather to throw eggs and measure the results?  Who are these people and have we seen them on an X- Files episode?  I would hope the same group (it’s daunting to think of more than one such gathering) dropped an egg 183 meters without breaking it. A couple of other records that I’d rather not think about are for the most hard- boiled eggs eaten (14 in 58 seconds) and the most raw eggs eaten (13 in 3.2 seconds, a terrifying image).

 

                Egg use in art was widespread in the early Renaissance.  Artists mixed a witch’s brew of ingredients to get colors.  Called tempera, the paint might have had egg yolks (the process often is called “egg tempera”), calves’ hooves, various oils, clay and various powders such as ground marble and gold dust.  The eggs, to provide the best paint, should come from “city hens” as opposed to those from the country.  Presumably hens from the city were more cultured, perhaps taken to art museums where they could appreciate the exquisite application of their reproductive efforts.  Country hens, on the other hand, were accustomed to pecking in cowshit and could not be expected to appreciate Botticelli or Van Eyck, much less produce refined yolks for their use.

 

                Or am I making too much of this? Don’t egg me on— I’m ready for that nap.

Read More
  • Blog
  • June 28th, 2019

JOEL IN WONDERLAND

By Joel M. Vance

 

                It was a love-hate relationship for three decades between me and 150 acres of jumble so unproductive that no one would pay the taxes on it so it reverted to state ownership. 

 

                It’s a swamp in northern Minnesota, only you wouldn’t have known that it was public land unless you had a plat book from the county courthouse which marks ownership and, in the case of the Wagonwheel bore the familiar “Tax Forfeited” label.  So we hunted it because it was public land, open to anyone foolhardy enough to crash through it.

 

                I wouldn’t have told you where the Wagonwheel is, other than it’s north of Iowa and south of Ontario.  That’s because there’s magic in those mushy acres.  The middle of the Wagonwheel is a swamp, penetrated by fingers of slightly higher land.  Woodcock come in here as if it were Hollywood to an aspiring actor.  And there are ruffed grouse on the fringes where the alders and hemlocks give way to birch and pine.

 

                The covert was named, as all magic spots are, for something that identifies it (My favorite covert name always will be Wanda’s Wetspot). The fellow across the dirt road into the Wagonwheel had a mailbox mounted on an old wagonwheel, thus the name.  Years ago the wagonwheel vanished from the mailbox, but the Wagonwheel remained, as reliable, year after year, as it always was.

 

              The house across the road from the Wagonwheel and owned by the owner of the wagonwheel mailbox remained a work in progress for all the years that we hunted the Wagonwheel. It was a ramshackle building of uncertain origin—perhaps it had been a livestock shelter before it purported to be a house. From what we could see it consisted mostly of tarpaper slapped on whatever was beneath. From year to year there didn’t seem to be any improvement except perhaps the application of more tarpaper.

 

                It became tradition to hunt the first afternoon in the Wagonwheel.  Get the road kinks out, let the dogs remember what tough hunting is all about.  Because the Wagonwheel was tough hunting.  It’s a tangle of suck holes, alder blowdowns and clinging fern and, depending on the rainfall, over-the-boot wet spots or springy peat moss. An hour there is like a half-day in a more congenial place.

 

                I loved it.

 

                It was a magic spot.  I have more memories of this one covert than of any of many miles I’ve walked in the north woods.  There was the time I stopped for a break and ate an apple with my best friend, Guff, sprawled at my feet.

 

                He was muddy and festooned with dead, stinking ferns, but couldn’t have been happier because he had just pointed a grouse and I’d shot it and the bird was lying limp on an old log beside me.  Sunlight slipped through the aspen and spotlighted the bird and I smoothed its feathers with a tenderness that was ironic, considering that I’d just killed it. There is, in my cluttered memory, no single time more filled with bliss and grace than that moment shared with a long gone and sadly missed hunting companion.

 

                Another time our grandson Nickolas, on his first hunt, moved in behind his dog Muggsy and neatly shot two woodcock, bang! Bang! as they jumped, one after the other.  I haven’t done that and here was this 14-year-old kid with braces who showed reflexes like Michael Jordan.  And he did it with a 28-gauge double barrel that I had “loaned” to his mother who then “loaned” the gun to him.  A gun, obviously, that was not meant to be mine.  I keep hoping maybe they’ll “loan” it back to me. 

 

                A memory considerably less exhilarating was when Guff and I jumped a huge doe as we neared the county blacktop.  The deer took two bounds to reach the road and I heard a screech of brakes, a thump, and then the inspired cursing of a couple of guys who, though I couldn’t see them, sounded big and mean and mad.

 

                “Come on, Guff!” I hissed and we slunk back into the heart of the Wagonwheel where we could hide.  Presently the truck, possibly dented, restarted and faded into the distance. 

 

                Spence Turner was my frequent companion in the Wagonwheel.  We bulldozed our way through the tangles and got lost.  It’s tough to get lost in 150 acres most of the time, but the Wagonwheel is such a maze that being turned around is the norm.  There are two sets of tall pines that serve as landmarks in the otherwise featureless swamp.  One is toward the access road; the other at the opposite side of the swamp.  In a wet year the second set of pines (we call it the Pine Ridge) involves some careful negotiating to reach and, usually, wet feet. 

 

              There were times that I feared we might have to call out search and rescue teams to find errant members of our hunting party, adrift in the Wagonwheel, but we usually could locate them by the sound of heartfelt, top of the voice obscenity.

 

                But the rewards of challenging the Wagonwheel were an hour of almost certain action.  There was at least one grouse along the swamp side of the ridge, and perhaps as many as a half-dozen woodcock fronting the swamp.

 

                The grouse flushed into the pines and vanished forever—hunting grouse in those looming, dark conifers was like hunting the leprechauns at the end of the rainbow.  The woodcock flushed over the swamp and unless you shot quickly the retrieve involved a wet entry for you or the dog (if you could get him to look for the bird). 

 

                Once Spence took his, setter Mike to the Wagonwheel for the first time. Mike, a rangy, big headed setter, was, to put it charitably, as dumb as a bucket of rocks. You could pitch him a treat and, unlike most bird dogs who snap it out of the air like a major league second baseman fielding a pop fly, Mike would let the treat hit him on the head and bounce off to the floor, and then after a time lapse perhaps of canine contemplation, would open his mouth—better late than never.

 

            Mike ambled through the fringes of the Wagonwheel, as usual befuddled, and then a minor miracle occurred. A woodcock sprang over the watery interior of the place, Spence shot, and the bird tumbled dead some 20 feet into deep water. The choices for retrieval were few. Swim for it in what amounted to ice water, leave it unretrieved (something no ethical hunter ever does), or encourage poor mentally challenged Mike to go after the bird. Mike had seen the bird fall, looked at Spence as if for instructions, and then without command lunged into the frigid water, swam with powerful strokes to the fallen bird, grasped it in a gentle mouth, returned to shore and dropped it in Spence’s waiting hand.

 

             That night as we luxuriated in the depth of sleep, we were jolted awake by what at first seemed like an earthquake, an unusual if not unique phenomenon for northern Minnesota. Spence’s bed was heaving and lurching as if in the grip of some unseen science fiction monster, threatening to hurl Spence to the floor. After we got it sorted out, it turned out Mike had crawled underneath the bed and, perhaps in the grip of a bad dream, had come awake and lurched to his feet, thrashing in panic. Perhaps he was dreaming of the ultimate woodcock retrieve. It was somewhat of a relief to have the old Mike back.

 

                We hunted far more congenial places than the Wagonwheel—in fact every one of them was more congenial.  But the Wagonwheel rewarded hunter effort.  It was not a place for the Sunday hunter or the dilettante.  It was a blue collar operation, complete with sweat and dirt and muscle strain.  Sometimes I wondered if my appreciation for the place wasn’t like the guy hitting himself on the head with a hammer because it felt so good when he stopped.

 

                Several years ago my son-in-law, Ron DeValk, and grandson Nickolas went back for a season final hunt.  They had the usual boot camp marathon and returned to the truck tired and muscle sprung.  A woman was waiting for them.  “We’ve bought this place,” she said.  “It’s ours now.”

 

                So the Wagonwheel, after two decades, was not mine anymore.  I doubt that the family who now owns the place ever will hunt it for grouse and woodcock.  Chances are they don’t even know what unseen treasures live within its forbidding interior.  The Wagonwheel now is just another flyspeck on the huge map of northern Minnesota , but not my flyspeck.  I should be relieved that I don’t have to bust the brush and fight through the bogholes, often wondering just where I am.

 

                But I’m not.

 

Read More