Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

  • Blog
  • September 10th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance



We all know the word. “Sacrifice.” It means it means different things to different folks. Thousands of years ago in what we like to call primitive cultures because they didn’t have cell phones and fast food grease pits, the word meant rounding up an available virgin, trotting her up a nearby mountain and performing elaborate rituals, involving blood, in homage to whatever God supposedly was operating the levers behind the curtain.


The practice faded over the centuries, possibly because of a dwindling supply of virgins, but the word remained. Biblically we remember Abraham being ordered by God to off his son Isaac to prove his loyalty to God. Even at the time, it sounded like overkill, especially to Isaac, but God reprieved the kid at the last moment, possibly chuckling “only kidding.”


Through those same eons since what would become man crawled out of the muck and started looking for the closest McDonald’s, humans have been involved in one form of sacrifice or another. Most of the time it doesn’t turn out well. Every war has demanded the equivalent of what God ordered Abraham to do— parents giving up their sons to the wrath of war or, in many cases, the sons giving themselves up to whatever God had in mind.


All of which is preamble to telling you what you already know. That we have a president, elected by less than a majority of the nation’s voters, to whom the word “sacrifice” means that those who elect, whether by choice or selection to offer their sons up to the grim lottery of conflict, are “losers” and “suckers”.


I’ve had three cousins who survived what the late Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, called “the fog of war.” One was a paratrooper who jumped behind German lines on D-Day in World War II, broke his back on landing, and had to endure the agony of his injury for several days until he was able to hook up with Allied troops and be evacuated for treatment.


Another was a Marine in the South Pacific who survived the hell of island battles in the Pacific, without being wounded in his physical self, but who suffered the mental agony of his experiences for the rest of his life. His brother chose also to join the Marines and fought in combat in the Korean War.


Only by the grace of circumstance and timing did I avoid the necessity of sacrifice in any of the wars beginning with the Second World War. I would not wish what happened to my cousins on anyone else, nor have I felt elated that it didn’t happen to me. I was lucky and can only be grateful that I didn’t have to make the choice of sacrifice myself, or have it made for me by the local draft board.


But never have I felt that my luck spared me from being either a loser or a sucker—only grateful and somewhat ashamed when Memorial day or Veterans Day or any other remembrance of those who served rolls around and reminds me that I have been merely lucky and that my cousins gained something as honorable men that I can never know.


Those cousins all three of whom have gone to whatever reward awaits fallen warriors, were in life, and are in memory, infinitely more valuable as human beings than Donald Trump ever has been at the best of his revolting life. That he would disparage those who sacrificed everything is so reprehensible that every voter, not just the ones who didn’t vote for him, but those who did should recoil in horror that we are being led, like lambs to the slaughter, by a sociopathic madman.


Among the many outrageous statements that Donald Trump has made, disparaging ethnic groups, women, and virtually every other entity in society that isn’t him, this has to be the most self-destructive. He’s gotten away with everything else, but if this doesn’t push him off the cliff, nothing will and we are all doomed.


When he insulted John McCain, saying that McCain was not a hero for having been captured by the North Vietnamese and imprisoned and tortured for several years, he got away with it. He didn’t like McCain, he said, because he got captured so therefore he could not be a hero and he, Donald Trump, didn’t like people who got captured. That caused a considerable ripple among his sycophants, but it didn’t last.


He insulted the family of a soldier killed in Iraq saying the Muslim gold star mother didn’t speak because her Muslim husband ruled the family and wouldn’t allow it. Even that didn’t sway the hatemongers among his brain-dead following because to them the woman was Muslim and therefore an enemy of Trump’s white redneck supporters.


It’s worth repeating the words that Khizr Kahn spoke at the 2016 Democratic national convention, igniting Trump’s volcanic anger at Khizr and his wife Ghazala,” have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing—and no one.” He offered to loan Trump a pocket copy of the Constitution which Khizr carried then (and carries now). “I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of the law.’”


Trump’s nonexistent and disgraceful disregard for actions to contain coronavirus has rocked the boat seriously for him because, after all, some of the nearly 200,000 dead Americans have been among his so-called base.


It’s inexplicable that the base continues to support him even as some of their ranks die of the disease that he totally has failed to combat. In their case the word “sacrifice” has no logical meaning. It defies logic that they believe in a fantasy “right” to  refuse to wear masks, stay at home instead of gathering in potentially infectious herds, or to do any of the preventive measures that other countries have successfully used to contain coronavirus. In the case of these self-righteous sheep, the word “sacrifice” is a self-destructive joke.


Instead, Trump is attempting to force through a largely untested vaccine against coronavirus before the election and simultaneously supporting the idea of letting the virus run unchecked in hopes that “herd immunity” will, in time, result in the virus burning out.


A few days ago I lost a long time hunting partner. When he was young, he dropped out of college to join the military, knowing that he almost certainly would be sent to Vietnam. He was deployed there, as a medic (he once sewed up a gash on my bird dog, as expertly as any veterinarian). He hadn’t needed to risk his life in a combat zone, but he chose to suspend his education for what he perceived as a greater good.


Later, after his discharge, he returned to college, earned a law degree, and spent the next several decades as a highly respected lawyer and became an exceptionally gifted outdoor writer with three fine books published. In every facet of his life, he put the lie to Trump’s description of “losers” and “suckers”.


Two of the groomsmen in Marty’s and my 1956 wedding a year later would be commissioned as Marine second lieutenants. Vietnam was just beginning to gain momentum (and casualty totals). Both knew that they likely would be sent into the heart of the gathering Viet Nam storm. Neither majored in military, but they put their futures on hold.  Sacrifice is the applicable word.


Both were wounded in combat. One, a helicopter pilot, was shot down and nearly died. The other, a foot soldier, chose to stay in the Marines as a career choice and retired decades later as a bird colonel bearing the scars of combat.  No reasonable human being would describe either as a “loser” or a “sucker”. Only one despicable exception I can think of would be so callous, so soul empty, so devoid of understanding or empathy as to use those terms to describe my friends. As the old saying goes you get three guesses as to who that individual is and the first two don’t count.


The last time the United States had a united populace forced to confront the concept of “sacrifice” was in World War II when everybody to some degree or another gave up something for the common good. “Sacrifice” even extended down to us grade school kids. We couldn’t volunteer with our cousins to go into combat, but we gave up what had been common food fare, suddenly rationed so the troops in the field could eat. Everyone made do with what they had when the war began—automobiles, the tires they rolled on, and many other items that people had taken for granted for decades. Kids saved rubber bands and rolled aluminum gum wrappers into metallic balls which could be used somehow in the war effort.  Kids donated millions of Buddy L and other cherished toys to scrap metal drives (which makes the toys today highly sought after collectibles because of their scarcity).


My wife’s folks had a lovely decorative wrought iron fence at their house and they donated it to a scrap metal drive. Certainly not a major sacrifice but everybody did something similar.


Trump’s latest outburst of unhinged fantasy is to accuse the military of starting wars so that the companies who make armament can profit.  “I’m not saying the military’s in love with me. The soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”


Trump says the soldiers are in love with him but chances are that a good many of the soldiers wearing stars on their shoulders are not quite as enamored. In a rage he once called them “dopes and sissies.” Apparently he judges all generals by Beetle Bailey’s General Halftrack (he should cherish Mort Walker’s cartoon general whose favorite pastime is escaping the office to play golf).


Trump continued, “But we’re getting out of the endless wars, you know how we’re doing. We’ve defeated 100 per cent of the ISIS caliphate. When I came in it was a mess, it was all over.  A year later I said, ‘Where is it?’ ‘It’s all gone, sir, because of you, it’s all gone’.”  This is the raving of a megalomaniac madman.  Anyone who doesn’t recognize it for what it is—dangerous nonsense—is as self delusional as Trump.


This week we found what Trump’s sacrifice is—the truth. In a new book, famous Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward quotes a recording he made during an interview with Trump. Trump confesses that he was well aware of the severity of coronavirus at the same time he was assuring the American public that the virus was no big deal and would go away.  The result of this sacrifice of truth to political gain, rampant vanity, or a simple inability to tell the truth, means that 200,000 Americans who might have lived if he had told the truth and combated coronavirus at its beginning is the price the country has paid for his bungling.


A cartoon currently is caroming around the Internet, depicting the ghost of Richard Nixon hovering over the little figure of a robe clad Trump, saying, “you know about Watergate and yet you let Bob Woodward record you, you effing moron!”


We are less than two months from election day, November 3, and this momentous event is approaching like a runaway train. More and more it appears that a mail in vote will decide who wins—Trump for what would be a catastrophic four more years, or Joe Biden who offers the promise of a return to sanity. Trump is doing his utmost to cripple the mail in vote, so it is vital to vote early.


The time to vote is now. Request your ballot for absentee voting now and return the ballot as soon as possible. I’ve already been waiting more than a week to get my absentee ballot and it’s only a 15 mile trip from the election office. The Postal Service is being systematically crippled so it can’t function as an absentee ballot delivery facility. In order to be counted do it now. Don’t wait! And be sure it is notarized if that is necessary and mail it back by early October. Theoretically you can mail it two weeks before the election to be sure that it is delivered by election day, but don’t count on that.



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  • Blog
  • September 3rd, 2020


By Joel M. Vance



So Donald Trump wants to debase and deface Mount Rushmore by adding his face to that of the four presidents already there. There’s room next to George Washington for him and room for Mike Pence next to Lincoln on the other side.


I have a couple of suggestions: why not carve the two evil ones where they want to be and then rent drilling equipment and donate many cases of dynamite to the Lakota Sioux and let them punch holes in the brows of the six (hate to lose Lincoln and Teddy, but freedom has its price), load the holes with dynamite and let the tribal chiefs press the button that will fire the shot heard round the world.


Or, conversely, carve the two Demons in Chief on Stone Mountain in Georgia next to the Confederate memorial already there and donate the afore mentioned drilling equipment and dynamite to Black Lives Matter, drill holes, load up, and shoot the moon.


This is the man, Trumpsters, that you support at his articulate best speaking on the problem of homelessness. “It’s a phenomena that started two years ago. It’s disgraceful. I’m going to maybe— and I’m looking at it very seriously— we’re doing some other things that you probably noticed like some of the very important things that we’re doing now. But we’re looking at it very seriously, because you can’t do that— it’s inappropriate. Now, we have to take the people and do something. We have to do something.”


 (It’s “phenomenon”, you dolt, but then so are you)


Anyone digesting this word mush from an interview with Tucker Carlson (and anyone listening to Tucker Carlson in the first place already is suffering an overdose of word mush) who still believes that Donald Trump possesses the remnants of an adult brain does deserve a memorial to him and I have a suggestion.


Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more appropriate, if they want to memorialize him in stone, to rent a bulldozer and push up a pile of rubble at the base of a former West Virginia mountain leveled by coal mining? Trump’s base could hold Ku Klux Klan rallies there and the upside would be that since they are already masked, they might actually be semi-protected from Covid 19.


Ivanka Trump, Donnie’s favorite Barbie doll, says she has seen “the pain in his eyes” when he’s told about the latest Covid 19 statistics. I have a feeling that what she mistakes as “pain” is “lust”. He’s even admitted in the past that if she weren’t his daughter he probably would be dating her. Parental pride is one thing, not only admitting to, but bragging about, romantic longing for your children is downright spooky.


Trump’s long history with allegations of dubious treatment of women is well documented and apparently extends, by his own words, to his own family.


We can expect for the next few weeks until November 3 to endure a constant barrage of pro-Trump campaign rhetoric to the effect that a Biden presidency would be an apocalyptic disaster. He already speaks of a Biden chaotic America as if it were already here. He seems to be speaking of the multiplying disasters of his own administration as if they belong to the person who probably will succeed him and will be tasked with fixing what he has inherited. Trump has spent the last nearly four years blaming Barack Obama for everything wrong in his own administration and claiming credit for everything right that existed when he took over.


The Republican National Committee recently issued a video with the narrator saying “this is a taste of Biden’s America,”  showing a bright fire and a person running across the screen holding a baton. “The rioting, the crime, freedom is at stake now and this is going to be the most important election of our lifetime.” says the narrator. The only problem with the video which also has been posted on Trump’s YouTube outlet is that it was taken a year ago in Spain and has nothing to do with any protest in the United States.  The only accurate part of the video is that, yes, it is going to be the most important election of our lifetime.


Trump points to the stock market as the indicator of a wonderful economy, ignoring the fact that he inherited a booming stock market which began in the Obama administration after a near cataclysmic debacle under the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush. And let’s forget the stock market as an indicator of national economic health—most people don’t own stock and measure their economic well-being by having a job that pays a living.


Unemployment is about three times greater than it was when Trump took over, the small business segment of the economy is teetering on the brink of collapse, the agricultural segment is suffering and the overall economic picture is of an oligarchy, owned by the rich at the expense of the poor.


And yet Trump expects the poor to line up on election day and vote for four more years of him. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a campaign ad reading “vote for Trump—my name is God and I approved of this message“. Trump already is annointing himself as God’s chosen (I thought we already had one of those).


It absolutely boggles my mind that evangelicals can continue to support this human trash given his multiple highly visible unChristian thoughts and actions.


Trump has been busy recently, touring the rubble left by the nation’s latest catastrophes. He surveyed the open wound left by Hurricane Laura in Louisiana and did everything but wave an imaginary magic wand. Wearing his inevitable MAGA hat, he assured the devastated Cajuns that “we will supply what we have to supply, you know what a lot of that is, a thing called green.” Presumably, he meant money, although he later supposedly was joking when he told some of the rescue workers that maybe he could sell his autograph for $10,000 a pop. Given his mega monomaniacal personality disorder, it’s entirely possible he was dead serious.


And then he went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, against the express displeasure of the state’s governor and the city’s mayor that he stay the hell home. Muttering further insanity, he claimed there had been a plane full of “thugs” garbed in black, headed to Kenosha to foment violence. The Fomenter-in-Chief was him of course because that is his only remaining campaign strategy—to bring the nation to the brink of Civil War in hopes that anguished voters somehow will be convinced that only he can wave his magic wand, sell  enough autographs and keep the thug planes grounded and thus make everything all cozy again.


The man clearly is insane.


One of the more egregious anti-Christian acts by self-styled Christians is the effort by a Christian fundraising outfit to raise money for the defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17 year old gunslinger from Illinois whose mother drove him and an AR 15 to Kenosha where he proceeded to kill two people and wound a third.  Trump says Rittenhouse was defending himself and would have been killed had he not heroically mowed three people down with his illegal gun, provided him from a mother’s love.


The “Christian” fundraisers say “Kyle Rittenhouse just defended himself from a brutal attack by multiple members of the far left  group ANTIFA. According to his Christian supporters, he was forced to take two lives to defend his own.”  As I write, the group has raised about $100,000, no doubt from ardent Christians who believe they are doing God’s work in defending a crazy whacked out kid with a record of drug abuse and delusions that he is a patriotic defender of law enforcement.


You never realize the credibility of human beings until some super con man comes along and bands them together in a fawning crowd of supporters who forgive any faults or inconsistencies. It’s one thing to whoop and holler for Elvis or Frank Sinatra or the Beatles—that’s harmless— but to do it for someone who can theoretically destroy the world is a scary thought.


We’ve had charlatans before but Trump trumps them all. Fraudulent doctor John R. Brinkley back in the nineteen thirties proposed to restore the virility of men by transplanting goat nuts into them. In the nineteen forties and fifties, Cajun con man Dudley LeBlanc hawked the therapeutic virtues of Hadacol which was 12 percent alcohol and certainly made those who bought and chugged it feel better temporarily. But so does bathtub gin containing wood alcohol until it kills you.


I don’t see a whole lot of difference in the Trump family and the Mafia “Family”. It’s significant to me that half of the dozen keynote speakers at the recent Republican convention were Trump family members. I’m pretty sure that no Democratic presidential nominee in modern history, dating at least to the FDR administration, had family members keynoting the conventions that nominated them. For that matter, neither have the Republicans until Trump. He is one-of-a-kind and we can only thank God for that.


FDR famously said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Fear is the cornerstone of Trump’s reelection strategy—create nasty fear that to elect Joe Biden would be to bring on the Apocalypse. Trump will be hammering that from now until election day –that a Biden presidency will be one of riot, a plunging economy and blood in the streets.  This is, Trump repeatedly trumpets, Biden’s America. It’s all he has. The Republican Party doesn’t even pretend to offer a platform. It has no ideas other than to scare the crap out of voters in hopes that fear will keep them from the polls, or confuse them into voting for the likes of Kanye West or Mickey Mouse or, if all else fails, accept help from Russia, Iran, or anyone else willing to aid in the downfall of Democracy. Trump threatens to send law enforcement to the polls to ensure no voter fraud, but isn’t that a veiled threat to intimidate voters?


Trump and Stephen Miller the weasel faced Heinrich Himmler of Trump world have adopted fomenting street violence as a campaign strategy. They feel that the more civic unrest they can endorse will be good for Trump’s candidacy as a self proclaimed “law and order” president. The fact that it is the President himself who is praising right wing rioters as “great patriots” should be enough to convince anyone with the faintest doubt that he is nothing but a lynch mob agitator. Kellyanne Conway, the Wicked Witch of the West Wing, came right out and said that the more unrest in the streets, the better for Trump. She is leaving the Trump camp to focus on family, she says. Does that include a family of flying monkeys?


Shouldn’t it be painfully obvious even to the most dense of his addled supporters that the end of times inevitabilities that he predicts are already here? We are trying to survive, not in a future Biden America, but in the present which is Trump’s America. The rioting, the plunging economy, the blood in the streets is leaking from the circulatory systems of peaceful protesters now as is the money from the wallets of middle-class America.


Benjamin Franklin said it long ago “we must hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” And, in 1858 Abraham Lincoln famously said “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was speaking of slavery and went on to say “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. It will become all one thing or all the other.”


Just two years later and for five more incredibly bloody years, the nation fought to resolve the question that Lincoln had raised. Much of today’s unrest is an echo of that same situation and if the solution is for a white cop to shoot an unarmed black man seven times in the back, we have not come as far from Abraham Lincoln as a  “law and order” president would have you believe.


This began as a blog about Trump’s fantasy of joining the faces on Mount Rushmore but has devolved in the morass of Trumpian insanity. It’s like quicksand—each step toward escape only makes you sink further into the muck.


United States of America is not united now.  We are in desperate danger of becoming a Humpty Dumpty society so fractured that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put us together again. The King, of course, would be the wannabe king Donald Trump. Rather than him as the self proclaimed king, I’d prefer to see him as the shattered fragments of President Dumpty.

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  • Blog
  • August 28th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


If dried fish are nutritious enough to fuel a sled dog a thousand miles on the Iditarod, you’d think a similar diet would be nutritious enough to fuel the average commuter to his office and back.  Fish are good for you. Every morning I pop a couple of fish oil capsules at a doctor’s suggestion, and at least twice a week we eat fish, salmon or tilapia. But, if Dr. Mark Morgan of the University of Missouri prevails, the food that propels sled dogs and me will become even more of a staple on the American diet than it already is.


The best lunch I ever ate was a fish sandwich in the Florida Keys, fresh from the ocean to my plate and palate. And a Cajun po’ boy sandwich ranks right up there with fish gumbo as food fit to make gourmands groan and wish they hadn’t eaten so much.


“Carp tastes good and it’s good for you,” Mark says.  “I just didn’t know how good until recently.  I’ve served carp to probably thousands of Missourians over time. But you know they can be a fickle bunch, so I’m always looking for something new.”  The “new” sounds at  first hearing like something from a science fiction story but hear him out.


Dr. Morgan, associate professor in research at the University’s School of Natural Resources, has been on a multi-year crusade to awaken the American public to the nutritional value of the invasive Asian carp–a fish that is a destructive presence in many American waterways, but a neglected visitor to the American dinner menu.


Let Mark continue the story: ““I got a mini-grant from SNR and purchased some slabs, salted and smoked them at MU. I took some down to Haiti and fed them to some of the villagers.  Let me tell you, Haitians loved my carp.  Before I left, they wanted to know when I was going to return.  It made me feel bad that I had a real job, and carp wasn’t it.


“I have a team of scientists which is interested in helping me – – from MU, Vietnam, and South Africa. No money yet but I think that’s going to change soon. Two grant proposals are in now. One is for Haiti and one is for South Africa.  The iron content of the fish alone is enough to save the lives of disadvantaged women and children who suffer from anemia.”


The Caribbean nation of Haiti is a glaring example of national despair. Beset by poverty, malnutrition, suffering  recurring natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. If ever there was a place that would welcome alleviation of any of its national miseries, Haiti is it.


Asian carp won’t cure poverty nor prevent hurricanes, but they do offer an opportunity to alleviate hunger.  Haiti has a population of 11,400,000 which is three million more than it had 20 years ago. About 59% of Haitians live in poverty and nearly half the population is undernourished. About 20% of Haitian children are malnourished suffering both physical and mental disabilities.  Obviously, there is an urgent need for nutritional aid.


Asian carp have most everything a person could ever want or need: protein, calcium, iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and essential amino acids.  It’s even got good N-P-K numbers for organic fertilizer. Further analyses are in the plans.


“I have no idea what’s in this, but nobody else does either,” Mark says. “For the time being, I’m going to say it’s liquid gold. Hey, there’s no law against dreaming. Or, as Lum and Abner used to say, “dreaming out loud”  For those of you who are older than dirt, as I am, Lum and  Abner were a comedy team who had a radio program back in the nineteen forties where they dispensed rural wisdom From the Jot ‘Em Down store in Pine Ridge, Arkansas.


Before you dismiss Mark Morgan as someone who has overdosed on fish oil capsules, remember that a fish diet long has been considered brain food. Remember that long ago the tomato was considered poisonous. Attitudes change. So Mark’s biggest problem is not proving that Asian carp are good for you (he’s already done that) but that they are good to eat, in whatever form science can develop.  


The University of Minnesota has appropriated more than $10 million to study ways to prevent Asian carp from infesting the state’s rivers and lakes. More than seven million of the money is to install electrical or bubble barriers within lock chambers on the largest rivers to slow the invasive species upstream spread.


Does it make sense to invest at least some of that money in studying how to utilize Asian carp as food rather than a probably futile attempt to eradicate them?


Fisheries folks on Kentucky Lake used electro fishing and sound to herd silver carp into nets, hoping to trap more than a million pounds in two weeks, an effort that they described as “a drop in the bucket”. Netting the high jumping invaders should involve hazardous duty pay for the fisheries people involved. Corralling a 25 pound carp that doesn’t want to be corralled and which is capable of leaping into the air is like sending a grade school football team into the game against an NFL line.


So far state and federal agencies have spent about $600 million to stop Asian carp since 2004 and the estimated cost of projects already in the works are estimated at $1.5 billion over the next decade.


There certainly is no lack of Asian carp. The Missouri and Mississippi rivers both are infested with the fish and the Illinois River is virtually wall-to-wall with them–a boat trip on the Illinois is like traveling through a thunderstorm with the raindrops being jumping fish.   In 1848, the Mormons left Illinois only to encounter a plague of locusts in Utah, but today’s Illinois residents are dealing with a piscatorial plague, trading grasshoppers for Asian carp. Supposedly, seagulls swooped in to eat the locusts and save the Mormon crops. It’s probably too much to expect an armada of birds to miraculously appear (perhaps millions of fish eating eagles) to rid the Illinois and the other mid-America rivers of the Asian invaders.  The Illinois River has the largest concentration of Asian carp anywhere in the world. It’s reasonable to expect that, given time, the prolific invaders will find a way into every major waterway, at least in Mid-America, and into their tributaries as well.


There is no practical way to control them. Electric or other barriers merely slow their inevitable progress en route to dominating the biomass of a given river,  They compete with native species for food and territory and the loser in that grim game inevitably is the native fish.


Carp of all fish species are a widely utilized food in Asian countries and the common German carp, an alien species in this country for more than 100 years, is widely used by those in the know as good food. Scaled, gutted, filleted and scored it is a fine fish fry menu item, and for those who know how, a smoked carp makes a hard to beat canapé.


For information on how to prepare Asian carp for the plate, visit the Missouri Department of Conservation website at and search for invasive carp control which will further lead you to YouTube videos on preparation and recipes for silver carp, the most numerous of the four invasive carp species now plaguing the nation’s major waterways (silver, bighead, black, and grass).


A hefty carp on the end of a fishing line offers a bulldog worthy tugging contest. I remember some years back when a hatch of periodic locusts inspired German carp to feed like piranhas and some anglers were able to catch them on fly rods, using bulky flies tied like fallen cicadas.


A fisheries biologist friend used cherry tomatoes as bait for grass carp, an invasive species that feeds almost exclusively on vegetation, and was successful in catching them. I ate some of the result smoked and it was delectable.  While you might catch the occasional grass carp with a cherry tomato, angling is no solution for the other Asian carp species–they don’t take bait, nor do they inhale a fly or an artificial lure.


Silver and bighead carp are “filter feeders” meaning they filter microscopic organisms in the water, rather than feeding on minnows, crayfish or other aquatic food preferred by most native fish species. But, for the sport minded angler, there are several ways to turn Asian carp collection into sport.


Perhaps the easiest way is to run your boat through a concentration of the fish and watch them drop into the boat as they leap. Might be best to wear a football helmet. Netting is the most productive, but hardly sporting–a meat gathering operation that will be the major method of large-scale harvesting if Asian carp ever become a viable food crop.


There is a weird hook and line method where a dough ball is inserted in a porous container studded with small hooks and suspended from a bobber. The dissolving bait attracts the carp who feed on microscopic particles of it and, you hope, gulp a hook in the process.


Bow hunters have been skewering German carp for decades. Since Asian carp tend to feed close to the surface, they are visible targets.


Bait for the common German carp traditionally is a dough ball which mostly consists of something like Wheaties (the Breakfast of Champions) mixed with a sweetener like sorghum molasses, and rolled into small bait balls. The upside of that is that if the fish aren’t biting, you can eat the bait. Anglers often seed a carp fishing hole ahead of time with canned corn or cottonseed cake, let it marinate for a day or two and then go back and fish. It’s a piscatorial version of shooting fish-in-a-barrel.


Leaping tarpon and sailfish have nothing on Asian carp when it comes to jumping free of the water. The carp leap when startled and there are reports of fatalities from collisions between airborne carp and people in the water.


In certain circumstances, associating with invasive carp, especially silver carp, is downright dangerous. Imagine barreling up or down a river in your speedboat when a silver carp leaps high in the air just in front of you. Being smacked in the face by 25 pounds of carp at 50 miles an hour is somewhat similar to having Al Capone pound you with a baseball bat the way he used to do his enemies back in gangster days.


Even if Asian carp never are turned into a featured entrée in upscale restaurants, there’s another possibility–their processed use as high quality fertilizer for food crops. Every little kid of my era learned in grade school history how the Native Americans told the first settlers how to bury fish in hills of maize to ensure a bumper crop. I used to bury the guts of fish in our garden for the same reason, until the dogs dug them up and rolled in them which curbed my enthusiasm for pioneer fertilization.


Carpe diem is Latin for “Seize the day” but in time that may translate to “Seize the carp”.  Might want to wear a first baseman’s glove, though.





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  • Blog
  • August 21st, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


I’ve owned but one hand gun in my life, a .22 caliber Colt replica in miniature of the famed six shooter carried by the many Western heroes of the black and white movies of my childhood when my eight-year-old peers and I haunted the local movie theater on Saturday, hollering at the screen bad guys, sticking our Juicy Fruit wads under the seat, dissolving Milk Duds and our teeth in almost equal proportions.


Fast forward half a century or more when I bought my Colt handgun. I somehow acquired a leather holster and ammunition belt, similar or identical to those worn by my childhood heroes, Hopalong Cassidy, the Durango Kid, Tex Ritter, Duke Wayne, and, of course, Roy and Gene.


I began practicing fast draw in our basement, the gun unloaded of course–I was stupid, but not completely unhinged–and decided to try it for real in the local National Guard armory shooting range.


I was the battery commander of the Guard unit and had access to the range anytime I wanted, plus an unlimited supply of .22 caliber shorts. So, I showed up at the armory and explained to the master sergeant office manager that I was going to pop a few rounds on the range.


I went into the range, pinned a couple of targets to the bracket at the far end, and backed off to the 10 yard firing line. I practiced a few quick draws to warm up and then decided it was time to join the ranks of my movie idols. I loaded all six cylinders of the pistol, snapped it shut and nestled it in my holster. I visualized Jack Elam, The quintessential Western movie bad guy, snarling at me, his hand hovering over his sixgun, daring me to go for it!


I saw him grab for his hog leg, and, adhering to the unbreakable code of the West which dictated you couldn’t shoot a guy until he went for his gun first, as quick as a striking rattlesnake, I grabbed my trusty sidearm and fired–right into the overhead ceiling light fixture which exploded in a shower of broken glass.


There was a deafening and protracted long silence, during which I carefully unloaded the gun, put it back in the holster.  Finally, after several centuries of embarrassment, the door opened and the sergeant. walked in and took one look at the debris scattered in front of me and quietly said, “Jesus Christ, Sir.”


Shortly after, I traded the pistol and a bunch of cash for a 12 gauge over/under shotgun. I can’t hit anything with it but at least I haven’t shot out any more overhead lights.


Having demonstrated that I was a menace to overhead lights with a pistol, I switched to the armory’s .22 caliber rifles that were set up for target shooting. I was pretty good with a rifle (certainly light years better than I was with a pistol) and began shooting the clothespins that fastened targets below a wire–more of a challenge than a paper target with a big ‘ol bullseye. My sergeant would come into the range after I finished demolishing his clothespins, regard the splintered remains, and say quietly, “Jesus Christ, Sir.”


The incident with the pistol convinced me that the idea of, like Gene Autry, shooting the pistol out of the hand of a bad guy, without otherwise injuring him, was impractical in the old West, more likely to result in Clean Gene being slung over his saddle on Champion and hauled to Boot Hill for burial.


Besides which, if some old West gunslinger was able to shoot the bad guy’s pistol out of his hand, the result almost certainly would’ve been severe damage to the hand, and there were no orthopedic surgeons in those days to make ligaments and tendons all better again.


The truth is that most old West gunslingers were notoriously poor shots and those fabled shootouts in the local tavern probably killed more innocent bystanders than they did the intended targets. More often than not, two guys would face off six feet apart, both draw, and blast away futilely without hitting anything other than the bartender, a couple of the ladies of the night, and the afore-mentioned innocent bystanders.


Discounting the fact that many gunfights resulted in more stray bullets than they did in effective ones, some of the reports of sharpshooting desperados are exaggerated but almost true (never forget that tall tales from history often are elevated in height by adding colorful details).


Reportedly Butch Cassidy could hit a coin thrown in the air (although I’m sure it was a silver dollar rather than a half dime). And both Butch and the Sundance Kid reportedly entertained visitors by drawing and shattering thrown beer bottles before they hit the ground. Another story is that Wild Bill Hickok once killed a running man with a pistol shot at 100 yards. I suspect more than a little inflation in that tale because, given the range and muzzle velocity of a cap and ball pistol, chances are at 100 yards, even if Wild Bill hit his target, it wouldn’t do more than at most leave a bruise.


I actually do have another pistol, an 1860 .44 caliber Army Colt that supposedly belonged to my great grandfather. The story is that he carried this pistol during a brief career as a Union militiaman in a Civil War company formed by his brother my great grand uncle, known as Vance’s Rangers.


Despite its heroic moniker, the Rangers were no more than a bunch of farm boys who got together to play soldier and found they knew as much of military tactics as the Keystone Kops knew about police work in the early movie comedies. The Rangers began life in the spring of 1863, and in the fall they deployed to Glasgow to defend the town against the real army of Confederate General Sterling Price. The general, who had been Missouri’s governor, but who chose the Confederate side, sent a detachment to Glasgow where they proceeded to capture the entire Rangers company in about an hour.


The Johnnys Reb, paroled my great grandpa and his brother and the rest of their motley crew and I’m sure in the custom of the day where parolees were involved, allowed the enlisted men to keep their rifles, but confiscated the sidearms of the officers.


Thus, I should not have a pistol belonging to my great grandpa. Perhaps he didn’t have it when he was captured or he bought the gun later after he ignominiously went home, possibly as a protection against the depredations of Bloody Bill Anderson, a Confederate sociopathic killer whose bloodthirsty band of bushwhackers was roaming the very same territory as Price’s Army at the same time as the Glasgow “battle”.


Nonetheless, I have the old Colt and have never fired it and never will. Family story is that my grandfather used to unlimber  the pistol on July Fourth and salute the nation’s independence by banging away, but I never saw it happen.


I managed to mess up the firing mechanism after I inherited the gun, and took it to a gunsmith to have it repaired and supposedly it is operable once again, but I have no desire to find out the hard way–the hard way being if the gun explodes when you squeeze the trigger, or the gun “chain fires”, a spectacular explosion by all six loads, each one setting off the next. The result of that is going to be at least equal in damage to the shooter’s hand, as to what happened to the bad guy in old Gene’s cowboy movies.


The Colt .44 Army and its smaller cousin the .35caliber Navy Colt were the choice weapons for many of the bushwhacker outlaws up until 1873 when Colt unveiled the first practical cartridge revolver. The older Colts and all their pistol cousins were cap and ball, almost impossible to reload in the middle of the pell-mell horse mounted gunfight. There were attempts to develop a dependable cartridge gun before and during the Civil War, but none were reliable enough to be useful in robbing a train or a bank.


Cap and ball shooting irons meant that once you shot six times (hoping the gun didn’t explode in your hand) you were out of firepower. Thus, many of the outlaws carried multiple guns–Jesse James was reported to have carried as many as six. The Colt cartridge gun, commonly known as the Peacemaker, was a revolutionary update for the arsenal, not only of peace officers, but also for the bad guys.


But the bad guys of the cap and ball era were, in every sense, often really bad guys, exemplified by those who rode with Bloody Bill Anderson during the Civil War, like Frank and Jesse James. Apparently Jesse was sick and not present, but Frank was when Anderson and his estimated 300 ruthless killers descended on Centralia, Missouri, September 27, 1864.


First, the bushwhackers stopped a train containing 23 Union soldiers headed home on furlough and killed them all , no doubt using cap and ball six shooters which was their weapon of choice.


Later that day a detachment of Union soldiers, from the39th Missouri Infantry Volunteers under the command of Major A.V.E. Johnson showed up in Centralia and, determined to exact revenge, pursued Bloody Bill’s bushwhackers. They sound about as competent as Vance’s Rangers, described as being mounted on horses and mules “most of them old brood mares and plow horses with some indifferent mules.”  Tellingly, only the officers had pistols.


There were 147 troops, five officers and three others. Foolishly, they charged into Bloody Bill’s ambush and came out of it with 108 fewer. Johnson thought his rifle armed troops could prevail over the bushwhacker pistols. That “we got ’em boys!” attitude was echoed some years later when George Custer charged over the hill to his doom at the Little Big Horn.


I still have the shotgun I traded the frontier Colt for many years ago and I haven’t shot out any overhead lights with it, but I have used it to frighten countless upland game birds. On one hunt, my dog caught two rooster pheasants before I managed to kill one–it doesn’t say much for your shooting prowess when your bird dog bags more game than you do.


At least I was one ahead of him when it came to shooting out overhead lights.






Read More
  • Blog
  • August 14th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


Indiana Jones summed it up so succinctly when he said “ why does it always have to be about snakes?” after he was dropped into a pit containing a couple thousand snakes, including a cobra with a bad attitude. Indy was harking back to a traumatic incident in his past which left him with an overwhelming fear of snakes.


Depending on your point of view snakes have been creating problematic situations for a long time. There was that pesky serpent who whispered provocative suggestions to Adam and Eve about what they could do with their spare time which, if you believe that led to sinful behavior, means either that sex or eating apples is bad for your health. On the other hand, without sex none of us would be here, and without eating apples every day, we wouldn’t be keeping the doctor away.


The fictional Indiana Jones actually was a contemporary of my mother (both of them, the fictional character, and the real one, my Mom, without whom I wouldn’t be here), were born and thrived about the same era the early part of the 20th century). Mom shared with Indy such a powerful snake aversion that she could not look at photos of snakes in books without shuddering and breaking out in a cold sweat. Where Indy managed to overcome his fear long enough to escape and indulge in other hair-raising adventures, my mother never conquered her fear of snakes and perhaps that is where I acquired my less overpowering aversion to elongated reptiles.


It’s not that I share the feeling that all too many people have that the only good snake is a dead snake. I recognize that they are citizens of the natural world, equal with me in their right to be there. Many snakes provide useful services including providing jobs for herpetologists. I like to think that snakes and I have a mutual understanding. I will leave them alone if they leave me alone. I welcome our mutual wish to eliminate noxious rodents and I share with every little kid on earth a fascination with snakes, especially if they are confined behind sturdy glass or remain out of sight, out of mind.( The snakes, not the kids.)


When I am exploring the wilds, I never think about the possibility of an encounter with a reptile, especially a venomous one, but it’s like the old saying that you can’t not think about elephants if someone tells you not to think about them. Either someone says, “watch out for snakes around here,” or I glimpse one and from then on my path through the wilds somewhat resembles the male half of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I have been known to leap tall buildings with a single bound.


I recall a dark and not stormy night on the Current River when a friend and I were returning after dark to our vehicle when he said “they say cottonmouth moccasins smell like watermelon.” Immediately my imagination kicked in and everything smelled like watermelon. The darkness was filled with the overpowering scent of watermelon like that at a Fourth of July church picnic. We were about 100 yards from the vehicle and it is entirely possible that I traversed the entire stretch of river without my feet ever once touching ground.


I also recall another possibly erroneous folk legend that moccasins tend to roost in trees overlooking the river, like birds, waiting only for an unwary canoeist to drift beneath the tree, whereupon they drop into the canoe and create the kind of havoc that only an imagination as fevered as mine can create.


Although I have paddled hundreds of miles on many rivers, I can only recall one time that I think I saw a snake in a tree above the river. I immediately recalled a story my father once told me about a time he was fishing in Wisconsin and saw a swimming snake and injudiciously cast over it and hooked the aquatic reptile which immediately began following the line back to its origin—the Pflueger Supreme reel in my father’s hand. Had it been me, I suspect I would’ve set a new record for how far you can throw a Pflueger Supreme reel, but with presence of mind, he cut the line. There are no water moccasins in Wisconsin, so the snake was undoubtedly nonvenomous, but who wants to take a chance with it being the first venomous immigrant from a Southern swamp? The snake I think I saw on the river, if it was there at all, may have been a harmless one, but I paddled at the extreme opposite edge of the river.


In fact there is one snake that I actually do think about periodically, like wondering whatever happened to an old friend. It is a small green snake that I found one day lolling in the sun above the door to our basement. For some reason, instead of looking for a 20 foot long stick with which to encourage the snake to go sunbathe somewhere else, I opened the door to go inside and the snake took that as an invitation to come live with me. It slithered into the basement and vanished into the clutter of my office which is, I confess, so cluttered that there may actually be people lost in there, as well as uninvited reptiles.


The snake may have died of old age by now or found some way to get out of the house (mice seem to have no trouble finding a way in when the weather turns cold) I can only hope that some of the invasive rodents have encountered the green snake which, while not noted as a rodent predator, Is welcome to munch on as many rodents as it wishes.


Then there is the black rat snake that took up residence in our sauna. Apparently this was a reptile that enjoyed social occasions. I built a sauna a number of years ago and it only took me a decade of occasionally cutting a cedar log fitting it into an approximation of a log cabin, installing cedar benches, siding and ceiling (you might infer here that I have a liking for cedar, especially if you see the sign at the entrance to our driveway “Cedar Glade” and the sign at the top of the hill for the blacktop which reads “Cedar Grove”). I cut a hole, installed a stovepipe and all it lacked was a stove with which to heat my sauna.


After another few years of searching junk-associated establishments, I spied a likely candidate at a yard sale in the Ozarks, negotiated a cheap price and came home bearing a cast-iron stove. All that remained was to fire it up, heated to many degrees, and park my puny rear on one of the benches and soak in the heat. The purpose of a sauna is therapeutic. The idea is to bake the body in hea After an extended bout of self-inflicted torture, one bolts for, in our case, the nearest body of cold water which is our pond some 15 or 20 feet from the sauna, plunge in, and rise from the depths, steaming and snorting like a grampus—or,in my case, a grampaw. That normally would send a sane person pell-mell toward the nearest air-conditioned ice cream parlor.


I enjoyed whatever therapeutic benefits there are in taking sauna and even enlisted the kids one time when there was several inches of snow on the ground. The idea was, after having absorbed great amounts of heat, we would roll in the snow and presumably live to be 100 or more. Instead of thanking their father for seeing to their health, in unison they cried “child abuse!” And, after threatening to report me to the nearest authorities, they fled to the house.


I even have witnesses as to how healthy the sauna made me. Once, emerging from a session in the heat, wearing only a grin, I heard a voice from above which at first I thought was God complementing me on self torture, kind of like a religious fanatic beating himself with whips.  The voice said, “looking good down there!” But when I looked toward Heaven, I saw only a hot air balloon full of gawking spectators perhaps 50 feet high, drifting over the pond. While mutual nudity is common in Scandinavian countries while taking sauna, the Vances have opted for swimming suits when entertaining company.


Aside from attracting folks who indulge in the equivalent of being lashed by a cat o’ nine tails, an unheated sauna often seems like an ideal home for members of the mouse family.  At the time we did not have a resident acquiring and installing a house cat and therefore lacked the requisite predator to restore nature’s balance in my sauna.  I considered loading the place with mousetraps, but knowing myself, I figured my toes would be the first victims . Acquiring and installing a family cat might have worked except that I once inadvertently shut the sauna door on the family dog and by the time I realized what I’d done and freed him, he was dehydrated and, not for the first time, gave me a look that made me happy it was me that carried the shotgun on our outings, and not him.


The solution to the mouse problem was apparent one night when I was luxuriating in the sauna heat and a six foot long black snake dropped out of the ceiling on the floor beside me. Never mind traps and cats, if you want rid yourself of a mouse problem, import a six foot long black snake. Mice are T-bone steaks to black snakes. I was more than happy to have the snake gorge on mice when I wasn’t in the sauna, but was more than a little uncomfortable sharing sauna time with the reptile. Apparently, he was not a snake of Scandinavian heritage, heat loving and brought up in the sauna tradition, because when I screamed and kicked the door open he quickly slithered out and vanished. That is a fact, established by empirical data, worth noting, because the chances are I will wind up in the eternal sauna of afterlife. While I may have to contend with little red demons with pitchforks, I’m pretty sure I won’t be dealing with snakes.


I figured that either the snake would abandon the sauna forever or, when I began to preheat it, would quietly exit without disturbing me. So, one night we invited two friends to share dinner and a sauna with us. I did take the precaution of telling our guests that we might encounter a snake, but not to worry about it because it would flee the heat of the sauna without an Indiana Jones moment.


We were luxuriating in the gathering heat of the sauna which was reaching the optimum temperature when we would exit for a dip in the pond when my reptilian resident dropped from the ceiling onto the shoulder of the male half of our dinner companions, draping around his neck like a scarf. Had that been me at that moment I would have created an instant alternative exit by ripping out a two foot by four foot section of cedar logs, averaging five inches in diameter. Instead, my guest gently disengaged the writhing black snake, stepped to the door pushed it open and set the snake outside, closed the door and sat back down. Indiana Jones, eat your heart out.


In the good old days of black and white television, the Conservation Department’s weekly show on KOMU TV, was broadcast live, no delay tape or chance for correcting mishaps. I used to sub for Woody Bledsoe, the regular host, when he was on National Guard duty and I can only be eternally grateful that I was not the host when what happened to him happened. For some reason he had a live rattlesnake as a prop on a show about reptiles and, in the middle of it, he dropped the snake on the floor of the studio. Whereupon his cameraman, abandoned not only the camera, but the entire studio. The camera was on a movable tripod so it could be adjusted. Without human guidance, the camera slowly began to sink toward the floor. Woody gamely followed the lens downward, contorting to keep himself in the picture. Before the producer was able to cut to an announcement, Woody’s nose was virtually on the floor. And then he had to corral the snake and secure it before they came back live on the air.


Another Conservation Department employee, a conservation agent, was a herp enthusiast from childhood. He often use snakes in presentations including rattlesnakes. During one presentation he was bitten by rattler, hastily wound up the presentation stopped at a nearby filling station for a bag of ice, kept the bite iced down, and had an no repercussions—apparently the snake had not injected venom.


But he was not so lucky when he was in the armed forces, stationed in California where he pursued snakes in his spare time. Reaching onto a rocky ledge, he was bitten several times by a rattlesnake, managed to get back to his vehicle and drove to his base, increasingly closer to death from the venom. He was flown to a naval hyperbaric facility in the ocean where he spent several days in a decompression chamber, a by-guess-and- by-God attempt to save his life—at the time it was only the second time it had ever been tried. It worked. He later became an undercover policeman, dealing with drug cases, involving society’s most violent criminals. Talk about courting danger!


Another friend, retired Conservation Department education consultant Rodney Greene, participated in the ultimate snake story one which, when I reported it, made him nationally famous. Rodney is a renowned teller of stories, many verging into the category of “tall” and he has been known to take the basic facts of an incident and gently amplify them to create a more entertaining storyline. But I believe implicitly that this happened exactly as Rod recounted it and as I reported it.


Rod was giving a natural history program to a large group of Girl Scouts and their mothers. He had brought along as a prop a bag full of nonvenomous snakes with which he intended to introduce the adolescent ladies to the world of reptiles.


First out of the bag was a bull snake which Rod had handled many times but this time snake perhaps having slithered out of bed on the wrong side, chose that moment to bury its fangs in Rod’s hand. Thinking to make this a teaching moment, Rod said, with blood streaming down his arm, “notice that the snake’s fangs are recurved, making it difficult to remove them. Would someone hand me a spoon so I can pry the god, er’ gosh darn thing loose?”


Gamely continuing on with his presentation Rod next delved into the bag and withdrew, shades of my sauna snake, a black snake of 2 or 3 feet in length. Like the bull snake, it had been handled many times and supposedly was docile. A moment later as Rod passed the snake across his body, it reached out and fastened on his crotch. Surprise, Rod let go of the snake dangled from him, swaying back and forth.


The little Girl Scouts in unison burst into howls of laughter while their embarrassed mothers dithered and shushed in the background. I wrote the story as a “light bright” item in the Conservation Department’s weekly news release package. Shortly, it appeared nationwide, including in the New York Times, and Sports Illustrated. “I heard from people I hadn’t heard from since high school,” Rod said.


During my 21 years working for the Conservation Department, I gave many programs, but I can say, with no regrets whatsoever, that none of them ever involved snakes. Thanks Mom and Indie.











Read More
  • Blog
  • August 7th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


A lawyer once sent me an opinion (most opinions I get from lawyers are like those I get from everyone else: “Why don’t you shape up and make something of yourself!”).   This one was different.  It was a court ruling from the Missouri Ozarks, rendered in 1960.  It was the kind of ruling to bring joy to a fisherman and make a woman’s rights advocate foam at the mouth.

        Lowell was asking for a divorce from Minnie because of “indignities.”  Among them was that she interfered with him fishing, hunting and trading livestock with his friends, often lubricated by Ozark painkiller. 

        The court said, “We will agree with respondent in his definition of Stone County freedoms that a husband has a “right” to go fishing.  And we will go further and say that this “right” extends to fishing without the constant and ever-present impediment of female presence and participation, if such be against the will of the husband.”

        Now, please don’t write me those nasty letters with words like “chauvinist pig.”  I didn’t say these things.  The Springfield Court of Appeals did, back in 1960.  “It is a wise wife who accords her husband that freedom–in  moderation–and a foolish wife who interferes,” the judges said.

        But they refused to give Lowell his freedom, saying, “The studied, constant, and repeated interference with that right over a long period of time could be, under certain conditions, an indignity, but two or three or four isolated instances of insistence upon going along, or insistence upon his not going (either fishing or turkey shooting) over a period of six years do not, in and of themselves, constitute a constant and studied course of conduct amounting to indignities which render life intolerable.”

        Of course, we don’t know Lowell’s tolerance level, but I’ll bet he was smokin’ when Minnie started hollering at Lowell *after he got in the car to go fishing”.  Most embarrassing because his friends Doc Young and Sheriff Walker were with him. 

        Sheriff Walker said, “I just don’t know all the words that was said, but there was quite a loud commotion going on, and finally, she told him that if he went on with us that she wouldn’t be there whenever he got back.  And of course he kept telling Doctor and I to drive on, and finally the doctor drove on off and left her.”

        The judges couldn’t help adding, “Note Lowell went on fishing.” Obviously Minnie was there when he got back or he wouldn’t have been trying to shed her in court, but I’ll bet she hided him good about it.  The judges, of course, had the perfect description: “To use a Southern Missouri expression, she wanted to tie the stake rope a little too short.”

        In today’s fishing, of course, it might well be that Minnie would have been the plaintiff, allowing that Lowell wouldn’t let her loose with the bass rig for a night of  jig-and-piggin’ it along the cliffs. 

        I shudder to think what Germaine Greer or one of the more militant feminists would have done to a judge who allowed that Minnie had a “smothering” effect on Lowell and “she no doubt found it difficult to compromise her sense of what was best with any great understanding or comprehension of what her husband’s views, habits, and masculine desires might demand.”

        Talk about asking for N.O.W. knuckle bumps!

        I’m not sure, given the equal rights climate today, that the judges would want their names given (there are large women out there beyond stylish stout, more into massive mauler).  But someone certainly deserves credit for the downright poetic description of an Ozark hillbilly.

        Minnie called Lowell’s relatives hillbillies and the judges decided that was a compliment.

        “An Ozark hillbilly is an individual who has learned the real luxury of doing without the entangling complication of ‘things’ which the dependent and over-pressured city dweller is required to consider as necessities.  The hillbilly foregoes the hard grandeur of high buildings and canyon streets in exchange for wooded hills and verdant valleys.

        “In place of creeping traffic, he accepts the rippling flow of the wandering stream.  He does not hear the snarl of exhaust, the raucous braying of horns and the sharp, strident babble of many tense voices.

        “For him, instead is the measured beat of the katydid, the lonesome far-off complaining of the whippoorwill, perhaps even the sound of a falling acorn in the infinite peace of the quiet woods.

        “The hillbilly is often not familiar with new models, soirees and office politics.  But, he does have the time and surroundings conducive to sober reflection and honest thought, the opportunity to get closer to his God.  No, in southern Missouri, the appellation ‘hillbilly’ is not generally an insult or an indignity; it is an expression of envy.”



                                *              *         *

        Let’s stay with the judicial theme for a moment.  Fishing, like everything, is guided by laws.  America is the land of the free, except when April 15 comes around, and if you don’t like the laws you change them.

        But those are laws that people make and not laws that govern how things happen, the laws of physics. 

        You can’t change the laws of the universe.  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Read it–it’s in the book (the one I threw against the wall in my freshman year of college because I couldn’t understand how a-plus-b could equal anything but ab).

        Bass fishing is a natural act, therefore subject to these laws.  What could be more natural than waving an otherwise useless stick that cost more than childbirth at a primitive life form which eats bugs?   We won’t go into the cost of bass boats….

        I have attempted to quantify (notice that scientific jargon) some of the more basic physical fishing laws that you may not be aware of.  But they do exist and they are as immortal as the planets, as immutable as nature.  They are universal truths.  When the sun starts coming up in the west, mosquitoes still will be the thickest and most voracious where you want to fish, and you still invariably will slip and fall noisily into the pool after a half-hour stalk to get into casting position. 

                Some of the other laws:

  1. Fishing success declines proportional to the distance from home you travel and the amount of money you spend. A thousand-mile trip, costing your savings and the eldest of your children will guarantee no fish.  You’ll be lucky if the car doesn’t break down and you don’t acquire an exotic disease that will cause your nose to fall off.
  2. Anglers who always catch more fish than you do and laugh about it should spend eternity being painfully nibbled by bluegills, but they won’t–they’ll just keep on catching more fish than you do and laughing about it. 
  3. Fish always jump on the other side of the river, lake, pond, etc. That is the side of the river that you cannot reach without crossing a bridge at least five miles downstream and hiking through stinging nettle to get to, only to find a seven-year-old boy already there, with a fish laden stringer.
  4. The fly you have on is the wrong one.
  5. The tackle shop is out of the right one.
  6. Dogs have eaten more fine fishing rods than they have cans of dog food. Most of the rods have been mine.
  7. The original code for matching fly lines to rods was formulated by Albert Einstein, and subsequent codes have become even more opaque.
  8. Seasickness is not a problem on a small boat in a large body of water until someone asks if you are prone to seasickness. The someone who is eating summer sausage.
  9. Water is always deeper than your waders
  10. There will be no witnesses when you catch the largest fish ever seen by you or anyone you know. If you keep the fish, no one you know will be home, and will not be expected for several days. The newspaper office will be closed and your camera will be broken.  If you release the fish, people will applaud you…and secretly think you’re lying in your teeth.
  11. If you are fishing with the most obnoxious person you know, the one you would give your first-born to wipe the nose of, he will catch both all the fish and the biggest fish.
  12. If you loan your favorite plug to anyone, kiss it goodbye.  There is no plug smart enough that it can’t be inhaled by a tree. 
  13. The proper retrieve is the one you’re not using.
  14. Fish prefer the colors of the plugs in the tackle box you left at home.
  15. Depth finders show you sandbars just after you’ve run aground on them.
  16. Braided line leads directly to God, while monofiliment tangles downward to Hell. 
  17. A snap swivel is only as strong as the weak link who forgot to shut it.
  18. Bass are easier to catch in the spring unless you’re fishing for them.
  19. The average bass boat costs more than a Somalian gunboat, but is not as hazardous to operate.
  20. Water you wade in invariably is one inch deeper than your hip boots.  And hip boots guaranteed not to leak, will.
  21. The only time you will catch all the fish is when you invite your boss.  You also will hook him in the ear and accidentally drop his tacklebox overboard.
  22. Outboard motors only quit at the farthest point from where you left the car.  The oars you need are back in the garage and the people you wave at, hoping for a tow, will wave back and disappear around the next bend.
  23. The legendary fishing guide you’ve just drawn, the one you instantly like, the one who is going to lead you through the finest fishing trip of your life, that’s the one you are going to hook in the ear on your first cast.
  24. Taking a date fishing is a sure way to end the romance.  You will: (a) Dump your tacklebox on the ground as you go toward the boat, thus giving her your inimitable impression of Stan Laurel; (b) call down from the Heavens the foulest weather in history, leaving as your legacy to her a vicious cold that will linger far past your final date with her; (c) swear at her because she loses your favorite and irreplaceable lure and then, trying unconvincingly to apologize, tell her that, yes, you do love her more than your Bass Hogger, but dammit, the thing had sentimental value! 

        There are many more fishing laws, but you know them.  If you don’t, remember the often-quoted advice: ignorance of the law is no excuse.  Next time you accidentally kick your boss’s new $150 bass rod and reel overboard in 80 feet of water, don’t try to tell him you didn’t know it was a fundamental law of nature that such a thing was bound to happen.

        Or, maybe you can use the law as an excuse.  “Tough noogies, Boss,” you can say, shrugging your shoulders.  “But it was bound to happen.” 

        He’ll understand….

                        *         *         *


        My dear friend, the late famed fishing writer Homer Circle once submitted an article written entirely in rhyme.  The subject was locating ocean fish by watching the actions of circling sea birds.

        “Why, Homer,” said his editors, “It’s obvious you’ve taken a tern for the verse.”






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  • Blog
  • July 31st, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


When Donald Trump sent me a check for $1200, I gratefully accepted–and turned around and donated it to the campaign of Nicole Galloway, Democratic challenger to Missouri’s Republican so-called governor, Mike Parson, who is a pale but passionate imitator and groveling toady for Donald J Trump. I can’t get at Trump directly, but the next best thing is to find people who can.


If Trump, in his infinite generosity, sends me some more of the American taxpayers money, I plan to donate it to the campaign of Joe Byden. It’s not that I couldn’t use the bucks myself, but in this age of Trumpian psychosis, it seems more important to oust the fascist nightmare that is looming on the horizon like a green storm cloud, harbinger of catastrophic damage.


You’d think it would be enough even for the dimwitted MAGA troglodytes who mindlessly follow and believe everything Trump says to disavow him when he appears in the White House, the nation’s First House, hawking cans of beans because the company’s bean counters gave him some money. Lost among an avalanche of Trump scandals is that he tried to pressure the British into moving the British Open golf tournament to his golf course in Scotland. That didn’t work, like most of his business ventures, so he has turned to bean selling


This is so far beyond accepted behavior of any politician, much less the president of the United States, that it dives headfirst into the realm of Banana Republic politics. It is so shameless that we all should be ashamed for Trump, since he is totally immune to self-criticism, and doesn’t see the inappropriateness of anything he does, including selling beans out of the White House.


Back to Mike Parson, who is running as a Republican for a second term as governor of Missouri. He hasn’t yet disgraced the governor’s office in the capital building by touting beans, but don’t count it out. His every statement as the Show Me state’s First Citizen, seems to be a whiny echo of something that Trump spouted off about a day or two earlier.


Just as Trump finagled the 2016 election in his favor, despite losing the popular vote by 3,000,000, Parson ascended to the governorship by default. The elected governor, Eric Greitens, resigned after he sank almost out of sight in a welter of misconduct, including financial hijinks, sexual misconduct, and a tsunami of public reaction against his antics.


Parson entered politics by defeating Russ Carnahan, son of Mel Carnahan, one of if not the, most popular governors in the state’s history. The younger Carnahan was a state representative, while the elder Carnahan died in a plane crash after having been nominated for a senatorial seat by the Democrats. It was too late to replace his name on the ballot–so he earned the distinction, probably unique, of being the only senatorial candidate in history to win an election after he died.


He was succeeded by his wife, Jean, the most gracious lady ever, who went on to an all too brief career as a Senator until Missouri’s ever capricious electorate ousted her in favor of Jay Ashcroft, who then went on to carve a career mostly memorable because it appears to be over.


My wife, Marty, and I stood in a solemn throng at the Capitol when Jean Carnahan, in company with some of the nation’s most revered politicians, led a solemn procession in a memorial ceremony for her husband. Think of the courage it must have taken her to hold up under such a public tribute to her husband. If there was a dry eye anywhere in that crowd, it had to have belonged to a Republican.


A few facts about Mike Parson that might help explain why I think he, as governor of my home state, sucks. Remember when Donald Trump pardoned Roger Stone his confessed , convicted and sentenced criminal bosom buddy? You may have seen a widely shared photo either in the news or on social media, of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the gun wielding Bonnie and Clyde of the St. Louis suburbs who waved firearms at protesters in front of their home, Prosecutors have filed charges against them and Parson says he will pardon them.  Parson’s role model in law enforcement must’ve been Roscoe P Coltrane, the buffoon sheriff  from every redneck’s favorite television series “The Dukes of Hazard.”


And, as is well known, Donald Trump wants to send American schoolchildren back to their classrooms possibly in an effort to win the vote of those disgruntled parents more interested in getting the kids out of the house than they are for the welfare of the children. Mike Parson, in a whiny echo of Trump is determined to force kids back into the classrooms, so they can bring coronavirus home to grandma and grandpa , their parents, brothers and sisters and anyone else unfortunate enough to rub up against them. Parson says, “Schoolchildren are at the lowest risk possible. And if they do get Covid 19, which they will–and they will when they go to school–they’re not going to the hospital. They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it.”


As usual Parson is following Trump’s lead in kicking the can down the road so he can blame someone else of things go wrong which they inevitably  will. In the matter of sending kids back to school, Trump said he would leave it to the governors to make the decision and Parson dutifully said he would leave it to the local authorities to make the decision. So, in today’s muddled political landscape, the buck doesn’t stop anywhere it should. It’s a hot potato that no one wants to handle and in the long run, the nation’s children suffer.  Tell that to kids who wind up on ventilators in the hospital that they were not going to go to, Mikey.


The Missouri governorship has been a muddled mess almost from the get-go. Missouri became a state in 1820 and has elected governors both good and bad from all corners of the political spectrum ever since. It was Thomas Crittenden, a Democrat, who pardoned Frank James, brother of Jesse, and a psychopathic killer, who certainly deserved to fry in the electric chair as much as any prisoner who ever made a final trip to the death house at the Missouri state pen, just down the street from the Governor’s mansion in Jefferson City.


In more modern times we have had a succession of governors whip sawing back and forth between Democrat and Republican, some good, some terrible. The first one I remember was long ago, memorable to me because he was reputed to have chased the lieutenant governor from a duck blind at the Dalton Cutoff hunt club with a shotgun. It may be apocryphal but that’s the way I heard it just up the road in Dalton where I was living in the nineteen fifties.


Besides the afore-mentioned and venerated Mel Carnahan, the Republicans elected Jay Ashcroft who later became an evangelical right wing Attorney General.  He was so offended by the bareboobed Spirit of Justice statue  in Washington that he ordered the offending nipple covered at a cost of $8000 for drapes, a bargain compared to the shower of money Parson demanded for transforming his digs when he got elected as Missouri’s Lieutenant Governor.


First off, Parson stuck the state’s taxpayers $8470 to replace furniture in his new office at the Capitol. Then he topped that off by spending $46,000 upgrading his suite of offices. This orgy of self-indulgence came at a time when he and Governor Greitens (before he was scandalized out of office) were lobbying for a reduction in funding for higher education and a reduction in healthcare for about 20,000 elderly and disabled Missourians.


A first impression of Parson is that he sort of an inoffensive dork, which would be acceptable if he weren’t the state’s governor. Ever following the Trump lead he has downplayed the need for wearing face masks as the state sinks deeper into the Covid 19 pandemic. He recently spoke at a dinner of the state’s cattle raisers, largely attended by elderly people seated shoulder to shoulder, none wearing face masks.


And he went to Washington to attend a dinner and pay tribute to the great orange leader with remarks almost as muddled and confused as those uttered daily by his idol. “Thank you Mr. President. You said when you come here, I ‘m just honored and humbled to be sitting here with you, the vice president, the First Lady and the Second Lady. The dreams you think about someday never imagining them to be a reality but here we are so it’s an honor to be here today.” Couldn’t have said it better myself unless I were a bumbling, babbling idiot. Melania is not the First Lady anyway.  She’s the Third Lady–you forgot about Ivana and Marla.


At present, the race for governor is considered a dead heat between Parson and Nicole  Galloway. If that is true, half those polled must’ve covered themselves with Ashcroft’s nipple drapes so they couldn’t see the facts. There simply is no comparison between the two candidates.  Parson should’ve shot himself in the foot with every parent in the state of Missouri by following Trump’s lead in insisting that children he forced back into school this fall, despite the overwhelming risk of infection from Covid 19, either to themselves or to those at home and around them.


Nicole Galloway is a virtual tornado of fresh air in Missouri politics. She is honest, super intelligent, dedicated, fearless . She is, in short, everything people profess to want in a politician and, especially, in a leader. She has one thing that far too many politicians lack–integrity.


No political pundit is maintaining that Galloway’s run for the governorship will be easy–if anything it’s a long shot. She’s running as an outsider, in a deeply red state, against an incumbent, who has a deeper war chest, plus the backing of the fatcat Republican special interests.  But she also has a history of being in the right place at the right time, and of comeback victories against the odds.


Don’t let her teenybopper appearance fool you.  At 38 years old, married with 3 children, she has the advantage of both youth and experience. She has been the Missouri state auditor for five years, appointed to fill a vacancy by Jay Nixon, a popular two-term Democratic governor. She is often described as “normal” and not in a pejorative sense, but in the sense of being a political outsider not beholden to any special interest. That may be an advantage in an election where people are justifiably suspicious of the good old boy network and are often inclined to kick them all out and start over.


The Republican establishment is almost certain to mount a vicious smear campaign against her in the weeks before the election, but that may be an uphill battle, defending a candidate with dubious blotches along his own political path


Ms. Galloway is a political anomaly in that she has been on an election ballot just one time, but that one time, in 2018, saw her win reelection to her auditor job. She carried eight counties, including Cole, my home county where I would have given her about as much chance of winning as I would have given myself. More typical of Missouri’s political tendencies in that same election, Josh Hawley, the twerp of baby politicians, defeated Claire McCaskill the Democratic incumbent, popular, intelligent, experienced, but unable to survive the red tide of Show Me politics.


Before her reelection, Ms. Galloway was the Boone County Treasurer, an appointed job. Thus, she was appointed to her first two political jobs, but then she made the Republican establishment uneasy by winning her first on-the- ballot race, and now she’s taking aim at the top job.  The Auditor’s job has been seen in the past as a launching pad for the governorship. John Ashcroft, Kit Bond, and Claire McCaskill all started as the state’s auditor (I voted for two of the three, Ashcroft being the exception). All three later became US senators.


Ms. Galloway is from Fenton, a St. Louis suburb, the daughter of political conservatives (her father is a civil engineer and her mother a registered nurse). Her father-in-law is a Republican lobbyist. She is Catholic, athletic (she won a soccer scholarship to Missouri AT&T where a former coach is quoted as saying “she might run over you, but then she’d help you up.”


At AT&T Ms. Galloway earned degrees in applied mathematics and economics and then went on to get a graduate degree in accounting at the University of Missouri and also became a certified professional accountant. At the University she also met her husband Jon.  They married in 2008.


As to her political beliefs, she is quoted as saying she supports ” working people’s values.” She supports civil rights for the LGBT Q people, and same-sex marriage and is pro-choice.  Ms. Galloway has been endorsed by a diverse group of political interests, including the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and the United Auto Workers.


She believes in (as do about 80% of Missourians according to polls) sensible gun regulation. That has earned her a 0 rating from the National Rifle Association, but the NRA has become synonymous with the gun wielding bullies, represented by the Bundy clan who illegally occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a while back.


The same shoot first and let God sort them out philosophy seems to be driving the quasi-government thugs who are tear gassing and brutalizing peaceful protesters in various cities across the country, purportedly protecting federal property while breaking bones under the direct orders of the Orange Thug-in-Chief.


As obsequious a toady as Parson is to Donald Trump, I fear a day when Missourians protesting about anything that is wrong with the country find themselves confronting paramilitary troops on the steps of the Capitol in Jefferson City.


No matter that’s state property not federal. The days when there was separation between state and federal authority seem to have vanished under the regime of the delusional would be king now disgracing our democratic republic with his porky presence and that of his equally disgusting minions like Mike Parson.


The only viable way to forestall the looming threat of fascism, represented by the Trump teargas crusade and its enablers like Parson is to vote them out, overwhelmingly, on November 3. That’s less than 100 days from the moment you read this.


Vote, folks.  Anyone who fails to vote is basically voting for the likes of Trump and Parson.





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  • Blog
  • July 24th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


Karl Miller and I were returning from Chicago’s Loop when we missed our stop on an Illinois Central commuter train near our south side room in a threadbare apartment hotel where we would exit the train, eat a $0.95 dinner in a rundown restaurant virtually under the elevated rail track, then trek back to our shabby room where we would watch wrestling on a rented-for-the summer- black-and-white television set.


We were on a great adventure before returning to college at the University of Missouri, a couple of hicks adrift in the big city. Our stop was near the University of Chicago, but somehow we missed it and the train rocketed on East, drawing ever farther from our $0.95 dinner.


“This is an express and there ain’t no more stops till the end of the line,” the conductor told us. We passed through street numbers in the seventies, eighties, and on up seemingly into infinity. I began to suspect that we would exit Illinois into Indiana and on ever eastward until we reached the Atlantic Ocean and, for all I knew, would be impressed on a ship heading towards Europe, with a commander whose last name was Bligh, and who had a parrot perched on his shoulder  that squawked at us, “stupid Missouri hicks, didn’t your mama tell you there ain’t no more stops between here and hell?”


This was at a time when the Kingston Trio had a best-selling record about Charlie on the Boston Metropolitan Transit Authority being trapped forever on a commuter train: “Did he ever return?/ No he never returned/and his fate is still unlearned.” I could see us as the Chicago version of Charlie.


Ultimately, we reached the end of the line where the conductor muttered a hearty farewell which sounded like “stupid hicks!” Although I may have misunderstood and he was merely thanking us for brightening his day by riding his beautiful train all the way to the end.


Despite the trauma of this incident, I have been fascinated by trains since childhood. You remember trains? They were these enormous things that rode on rails and went “woo woo” at road crossings. The age of the train, alas, is no more. Grass grows between the ties and what few rails remain are rusty, unpolished by the steel wheels that used to buff them as they rolled past. Well, you probably don’t remember trains unless you are well past the half century mark.


Rail lines spiderwebbed the United States long before there were such things as automobiles and, certainly, long before there were any airplanes. There is a famous silent movie starring Buster Keaton as a Confederate train engineer during the Civil War (in itself, enough, these days to be politically incorrect) fleeing pursuing Union soldiers. Railroad trains were vital during the Civil War and among the first duties of a military campaign, was to capture or otherwise compromise the enemy’s rail system.


In addition to Keaton’s “The General” trains have been featured in a number of famous movies. Alfred Hitchcock created two of them—one where he had two guys plot to kill each other’s relatives in “Strangers On a Train” and another in the closing scene of “North by Northwest” which was Hitchcock’s idea of a dirty joke–the train being a phallic symbol as it enters a tunnel.


And who can forget Jack Lemmon partying in the upper bunk of a sleeper car with Marilyn Monroe and a bunch of girls in “Some Like It Hot”? Burt Lancaster was the engineer of “The Train” filled with Nazi looted art, not girls which he and French resistance fighters were trying to keep from being sent to Germany


The Great Depression was the heyday of the hobo, more glamorously called a “knight of the road”, a guy (and virtually all were male) who hopped a freight train from wherever he was, maybe in search of a more lucrative life, or because, like the earlier mountain men, he merely wanted to see what was on the other side of where he wasn’t.


One of them was an uncle, my mother’s brother, who vanished from his Northwest Wisconsin home and was never seen again. My father hired a private detective who found that a man with my uncle’s identification, had either fallen or been thrown from a train somewhere out West. That’s where the mystery ended for the family who never knew whether Myron Soper had become a victim of an accident or murder. 


(Here’s a frightening thought for you if you believed that the incidence of collisions between people and trains has almost vanished, given the decline of railroads in general, a website called Operation Lifesaver claims that about every three hours in the United dates a person or a vehicle is hit by a train.)


Apparently peripatetic uncles run in the family because one of my great uncles walked out of his Missouri farmhouse one day and didn’t return for a decade. At least he came home, and the way I heard it, he never told anyone where he had been or why he left in the first place.


How the mighty have fallen. Riding a passenger train in the old days was a transformative experience, like being Queen for a day.  Comfort was the name of the game. You ate in a dining car, attended by helpful waiters, eating excellent gourmet quality food with heavy silverware off real plates.  Fresh-brewed coffee came in a stainless pot, as much as you wanted. Real cloth napkins were freshly folded.


In a sleeper car you could clamber into an upper or lower bunk just about wide enough for a fairly small NBA point guard, stuff your shoes in a mesh sling and drift off to sleep, lulled there by the clickety clack of the wheels rolling over rail joints. Really rich folks opted for a compartment which, as I recall, featured a tiny bathroom and foldout bunks. It was in  one of those that Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint cavorted (theoretically) as Hitchcock’s phallic train plunged into a tunnel


The last time I rode on a train, from Jefferson City to St. Louis, transferring to a second train to Chicago, not from a cavernous and ornate railroad terminal, but from a sun struck, shabby, and dirty platform. The setting seemed symbolic of what has happened to train travel since I was a youngster.  Food service had become what you brought with you and the whole experience had the taint of riding in a third world Hooterville Trolly in company with livestock, people dining out of paper bags, and a pervasive locker room fug.


Travel to my first job after college, Macon Missouri to Montgomery Alabama, involved a tinge of what has become modern train travel. I got on a train in La Plata, Missouri, a fly speck on the map, and transferred in the middle of the night to a train in Nashville heading farther south, befuddled, sleepy, exhausted and scared and wanting my mommy–actually, I wanted my fiancé, Marty, who, after we became a married couple, would join me in the last couple of train rides I have taken in the 64 years since.


After a short stint in Montgomery, it was time for me to enliven the United States Army with my presence at Fort Bliss, Texas. I hopped a different train in La Plata and as far as I remember there were no midnight hour transfers and the whole thing was an exercise in train travel right out of the glory years with dining car waiters, outstanding food, and first-class comfort.


I remember a good night sleep and early in the morning going to the dining car and sipping a cup of rich coffee somewhere in the Southwest and, as the train rocketed closer to El Paso, I saw paratroops landing on the sere plains we were bypassing. Either we were being invaded or I was closing in on my Army career. Apparently they were friendlies because I never heard anything about a surprise attack from the air.


The most memorable train trip I ever will take was from Sioux Falls South Dakota, to Spokane, Washington, on the Empire Builder. It was at the same time a mixture of the old and the new. Fortunately, it started with the new  and transitioned to the old. I boarded the Empire Builder in the middle of the night on a bare wooden platform in Sioux Falls. But after that the entire trip was glorious.


The Empire Builder is one of the gems of Amtrak and pays homage to the glory years of passenger railroading. From Sioux Falls, it plunges northward into North Dakota where it makes an abrupt left turn and heads across the endless Dakota wheatlands near the Canadian border until it reaches the incomparable Rocky  Mountains and Glacier National Park.


I sat in the domed observation car sipping a drink of scotch whiskey, lightly flavored with water and I could see through the window the front of the train curving around the shoulder of the mountain ahead of us and I could peer into the depths of a mountain gorge and pray that this was not the day the train decided to topple sideways into the abyss.


This was train travel from a dream and I hoped it would never end, but all train rides do eventually (except that damnable Illinois Central commuter train ride to the end of the line).


In 1948 we moved from Chicago to Dalton , Missouri, and  railroad trains became alarmingly part of our lives. We settled into a decrepit 17 room former railroad hotel that once had catered to traveling salesmen, overnighting in Dalton.


The decrepit hotel, bought by my father’s business partner in a moment of fiscal insanity, was our home because it was the only Missouri home we had a financial interest in. It also was directly across the dirt street from the town’s tiny depot and the rail tracks themselves, thus insuring a midnight interruption of sleep when a freight rolled through Dalton en route to who knows where?  The first night the sound of a rumbling freight was so close by that I thought the locomotive  might come through the window and get in bed with me.


You get used to it. After some time enduring nighttime visits from trains, sleep interruption became a distant memory. In my teen years I would sit at night on the crumbling deck and play my guitar and sing in pale imitation of my country music hero, Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music who started his work life back in the nineteen twenties as a railroad brakeman until tuberculosis sidelined him and he turned to singing as The Yodeling Brakeman.


Rodgers died May 26, 1933 in New York City where he recorded his last several songs virtually from his deathbed. A train carried him home to Meridian, Mississippi, as mourning fans gathered along the tracks all the way through the South,  saying goodbye as they, in the words of a Hank Williams song heard “that lonesome whistle blow”.


Railroad songs have been a cornerstone of country music almost since there were trains and people to sing about them. A few of us remember famous major league pitcher Dizzy Dean bellowing “The Wabash Cannonball” on ballgame telecasts. Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” celebrates the successful trip, but sometimes the songs are about ones that didn’t turn out so well. Think of “The Wreck of the Old 97” as the anthem of ill-fated trips. Fortunately, all mine have been successful in getting from where I was to where I wanted to be, although these days the trip often is far from luxurious.


Some years ago Goodman, composed “The City of New Orleans” (a train song) and wrote for David Allen Coe what Coe considered the perfect country song. The last verse goes this way: 


“Well, I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison/


And I went to pick her up in the rain./


But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck/


She got runned over by a damned old train.”


Most everything is gone now. The wandering uncles are gone, the old railroad hotel is gone, Dalton is almost totally gone, and the glory years of passenger railroading have nearly vanished into the memories of romantics like me. Now I ride my bicycle on what used to be the MKT, the Katy Trail, the nation’s longest rails to trails conversion. No more do glamorous passenger trains snake their way through the Missouri River Valley–just bicycles.


But I think the days when trains were more than dream vehicles need an elegy. A hundred and five years ago an eight-year-old African-American girl wrote a song that might be the anthem for those who love trains the way they used to be. Elizabeth Cotton was 90 years old before she introduced it to the public:




“Freight train freight train running so fast/

Freight train freight train running so fast/

 Please don’t tell what train I’m on/

So they won’t know what route I’ve gone.”





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  • Blog
  • July 17th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


It’s almost a part of the oath of office that a president of the United States must have a dog. But President. Donald J Trump turned down the offer of a dog for his son Baron possibly believing that one son of a bitch in the White House was sufficient.


There is also the possibility that the offered dog, variously reported as a labradoodle, a combination of Labrador and Poodle or a Goldendoodle, a mix of Golden Retriever and Poodle—both mixed breeds, considered among the most intelligent of all dogs, not only would be smarter than he is, but also for the good of the nation might organize, functioning as a good general would, a battalion of Rottweilers to attack him.  Voters, for your information, Joe Biden owns a rescue dog named Major, a German shepherd who has been described as looking a lot “like the dog version of himself.”)


Ivana Trump, first of Donnie’s trifecta of wives, reported that her Poodle, Chappy, would bark at The Donald when he approached her closet (why he would be approaching her closet is open to speculation—I wouldn’t discount the possibility that he was giving some consideration to emulating J Edgar Hoover who enjoyed dressing up in women’s clothing. Ivana said in her memoir about her time with Fatso, “Donald was not a dog fan.” She said to him “it’s me and Chappy or no one.” And shortly it was no one except whoever was next in line.


To be fair to Trump Ivana added that Trump didn’t object to Chappy sleeping next to her on their marital bed. And says that there is really no evidence to indicate Trump has a built-in aversion to dogs, even though he routinely uses the word “dog” to insult people—he once said Mario Rubio was “sweating like a dog” although if he knows so much about dogs, he should know dogs don’t sweat. And fact Donnie was photographed cuddling a Beagle, winner of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, who was invited to the White House. There is no record that he loaded up the dog on cheeseburgers and fries from his favorite fast food restaurant as he usually does for visiting athletes.


George Washington owned foxhounds named Drunkard, Mopsey, Taster, Cloe, Tipsy, Forester, Captain, Lady Rover, Sweet Lips and Searcher, among others. From Abraham Lincoln’s Fido to Lyndon Johnson’s beagles, Him and Her According to the Presidential Pet Museum, the White House grounds have hosted cows, chickens, a goat, a pair of bald eagles, Shawl Neck game chickens, at least one alligator and a tobacco-chewing ram. Calvin Coolidge alone hosted a black bear, a pygmy hippo, a bobcat, a donkey, a wallaby, a goose, a thrush, several canaries and two raccoons. Plus a pair of lion cubs, named — seriously — Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.


George Washington started the tradition of presidential pooches.  He raised and hunted foxhounds.  Mr. Washington kept his dogs in a kennel, not in the presidential home.  Not so the Ronald Reagans who invited Lucky, an 85-pound sheepdog, given to Mr. Reagan by a March of Dimes poster child, into the White House.  But Lucky, belying his name, used to drag Mrs. Reagan around as if she were a chew toy and he also misbehaved on the White House carpets.


Mrs. Reagan was less tolerant of such misbehavior than Mrs. Bush The First would be with Millie, with whom Barbara Bush wrote a best-selling book. So Lucky soon found himself far from the hustle and bustle of Washington, banished to the Reagan ranch in California.  His successor was a King Charles spaniel who, presumably, scratched at the door when necessary, and heeled properly on leash.


The choice of a first dog breed sometimes has been a matter of national significance as closely followed as batting averages of a favorite baseball player. There was much breathless speculation on what dog the Obamas would choose and even more discussion about their eventual choice of a Portuguese water dog.


As far as Trump is concerned, given his devotion to Vladimir Putin, I’d suggest the Russian dictator donate a Russian wolfhound fully equipped to transmit intelligence to the Kremlin right out of the box. Today’s dog can be equipped well beyond a simple collar. Many have microchips implanted with personal information designed to identify them but, through the miracle of miniaturization, a microchip can have enough wizardry imprinted on it to spy on every aspect of the White House including Trump’s thought processes if there are any. Electronic collars contain GPS systems so that the handler (i.e. Vladimir Putin) can follow every movement, not only of the dog, but the dog’s putative owner.


A built-in monitoring system in the collar could record and transmit every word spoken in public or private by Trump about the nation’s secrets. Although he probably would just blurt them out at a press conference , but if they already weren’t compromised by the Bigmouth in Chief they could be monitored by the Kremlin as if they actually made sense.


Russian dealings in presidential dogs actually has a precedent. Caroline Kennedy’s dog, Pushinka, was a gift from Nikita Khrushchev and no doubt had the most thorough vet exam in history to make sure the dog was not implanted with listening devices.  I can imagine the dog whispering into a paw-implanted transmitter, “Boss, the guy really does mean get those missiles the hell out of Cuba!”


With the revelation that Trump is not a dog fan and does not have a dog, historians have made much of the fact that he would be the first president in 100 years not to have one—the last dogless President before him supposedly was William McKinley, elected president in 1897 and assassinated in 1901. Besides being averse to dogs, McKinley was a Republican as is Trump and each had a five associated with his presidency–McKinley number 25 and Trump number 45. Trump terms himself a “war president”, fighting valiantly as only a war hero can against the Covid 19 pandemic, and not very well, while McKinley led the nation to victory in the Spanish-American War. Trump has no vice president who can lead the charge up San Juan Hill as did McKinley’s Veep, Teddy Roosevelt. He has instead Mike Pence. Who, if Trump ever stops suddenly, will break his nose.


George W. Bush had two dogs, a Scotty (shades of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous Fala) and Spot, son of Millie, the White House dog when the first George Bush was President, but you almost never hear anything about them.  Barbara  Bush,  wife of Bush One, actually ghost-wrote Millie’s Book, their springer spaniel’s autobiography,  which  earned more than one million dollars in royalties which Mrs. Bush donated to a foundation to endorse literacy (in people, not dogs).   Mr. Bush Sr., in a moment of election year pique, was reported to have said of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, “My dog Millie knows more about foreign policy than these two bozos.”


Few White Houses have been without a First Dog.  Bill Clinton had a cat named Socks which got entirely too much publicity until the press tired of writing about a cat, but his dog, Buddy, a Labrador retriever, rarely was mentioned.  Buddy, a tremendously handsome chocolate Lab, was killed by a car in 2000.  The first First Dog belonged to Maria Monroe, daughter of President James (1817-1825) who also was the first child in the White House and the first to be married there (at 17).  The dog was a spaniel of some sort, but she probably did not hunt behind it, presidential daughters not being noted for upland hunting enthusiasm.


 Aside from Trump and McKinley not all presidents have had dogs.  Benjamin Harrison had a goat named His Whiskers, which tells you quite a bit about Benjamin Harrison.  Once the goat ran away, down Pennsylvania Avenue, pulling a cart containing the President’s grandson, Benny.   Mr. Harrison chased the cart and the press had fun with it.   Obviously something is missing from politics today, at least at the presidential  level.   When was the last time you saw the president chasing a goat cart down Pennsylvania Avenue?


Another example of how things have changed is the story, possibly true, of a small boy who sneaked onto the White House grounds and was fishing for goldfish in a pond when King Tut, a German shepherd belonging to Herbert Hoover, grabbed the kid by the seat of his pants and held him until the gardener showed up.  Today you’d have a dozen Secret Service agents, a hovering gunship, a SWAT team and a detachment of Green Berets all over any little kid who even looked through the fence at the goldfish pond. If the kid even looked like he might be Latin American, Immigration and Customs Enforcement would stick him in a dog crate and ship him to Guatemala.


As you might expect, Theodore Roosevelt, the first and greatest of the conservation-minded, outdoor-loving presidents, had a virtual zoo in the White House, including six children.  All the kids, by accounts as wild as Mr. Roosevelt’s legendary charge up San Juan Hill, had ponies and lizards and rats and squirrels and even bears (a garter snake was named Emily Spinach because it was green and they had a friend named Emily).


For all Mr. Roosevelt’s hunting proclivities, apparently none of his menagerie was a hunting dog.  He probably had so many that they weren’t worth mentioning.   He did have a bull terrier, Pete, who was banished from the White House after he ripped the britches of the French ambassador.


Franklin Roosevelt’s black Scottie Fala was photographed almost as much as was the president.  Fala was a shameless camera hound and once tried to crash an inaugural parade by jumping in the car seat that Sam Rayburn, the longtime Speaker of the House, was supposed to occupy.  Mr. Roosevelt,  who loved his little dog (he once sent a destroyer back  for  Fala  after the pup had  been  left behind on the Aleutian Islands),  no doubt  would have  preferred Fala to the dour Speaker, but politics is politics and Mr. Rayburn got his seat back.


Another Scottie was Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s shared gift to his alleged mistress, Kay Sommersby, during World War Two.  The dog’s name was Telek, a combination of Telegraph Cottage, an English retreat for the future president, and the name Kay.


The most scandalous event involving a presidential dog was when Lyndon  Johnson  picked one of his two beagles up by the ears, igniting the outrage of dog lovers everywhere (his choice of names was somewhat less  than inspirational: he  called them Him and Her).  Presidents, being politicians, know the value of being considered dog lovers and Mr.  Johnson was a consummate politician, but he stumbled badly with the ear-pulling incident.   “Those Republicans are really bashing me about picking those darned dogs up by the ears,” he grumbled to his vice-president Hubert Humphrey.  There possibly were other issues involved in Mr. Johnson’s decision not to run for a second term, but Beaglegate certainly didn’t gain him any swing votes.


Mr. Johnson also had a mutt, found at a Texas gas station, who would howl duets with the President in the Oval Office. There are photos of the two of them with their mouths open, heads lifted in song.  That must have been almost as inspiring as watching Benjamin Harrison chase his goat.  Harry Truman defended his fellow Democrat over the ear-lift incident:  “What the hell are the critics complaining about.  That’s how you handle hounds.”  Mr. Truman also said, “If you want a friend in politics, get a dog.”   But Mr. Truman did not follow his own advice (or maybe did not want a friend in politics).  He didn’t have a dog (he was given a cocker spaniel as First Dog, but decided not to keep it).  Neither did Calvin Coolidge, who nevertheless said, “Any man who doesn’t like dogs and doesn’t want them around shouldn’t be in the White House.”  So the assertion that Trump and McKinley, separated by a century, are the only two dogless presidents would seem to be wrong.


Only once has a dog  become intimately involved in presidential politics,  other than as an attractive accessory and that was when vice-presidential  candidate Richard  Nixon,  hounded  (sorry for the dog pun) by allegations  that  rich backers were supporting him a luxurious lifestyle,  made  what became known as the Checkers speech in which he cried poor, using as an example his wife’s plain Republican cloth coat and  emotionally defended  accepting the gift of a cocker spaniel, which his daughter Tricia named Checkers.  “Regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it,” Mr. Nixon declared.  And Mr. Nixon remained on the ticket and Checkers became a presidential dog.


 Jimmy Carter was a longtime quail hunter, but his presidential dog was only part bird dog–a springer spaniel, mixed with genuine alley mutt.   Gerald Ford, a golfer, not a hunter, did own a hunting dog, a golden retriever named Liberty, who whelped in the White House (one puppy later became a Guide Dog for the blind.


So, presidential dogs have abounded (and bounded) and Trump and  his  successors should realize  there is great publicity value in fondling the soft ears of a loving dog while evading pointed questions from nosy reporters (just don’t use the dog’s ears as a handle).


There have been many country songs celebrating dogs. “Old Shep” and “Old Blue” spring to mind. But the most descriptive anthem for any unlucky canine ever to become Donald J Trump’s Dog One was written years ago by Jack Clement and sung by Johnny Cash “That Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog.”







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  • Blog
  • July 10th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


I can testify from first-hand observation that George Washington does not have nose hair or nose boogers. There may be some granite dust and stray pebbles but I didn’t see them. I can’t speak for Donald Trump’s nose condition since I haven’t been present when allegedly the White House doctors shoved a swab up his nostril to test for Corona virus.


As I write this, actress Eva Marie Saint is celebrating her 96th birthday. I wonder if she is thinking “Mount Rushmore certainly didn’t look like this when I was scrambling across the faces of the four presidents carved there, trying to escape bad guys with that hunk Cary Grant.”


Ms. Saint was never more lovely than when she was hanging by her fingertips, supposedly trying to climb down Mount Rushmore with the suave, handsome, Grant, who took time out from their perilous situation to propose to her.


To the great relief of moviegoers everywhere, the two lovers managed to survive their rock climbing experience and since, millions of moviegoers have thrilled to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 suspense movie “North by Northwest” which almost didn’t get made because of political differences between the master of suspense, the National Park Service, and South Dakota politicians.


Sen. Karl Mundt, a political power nationally, and South Dakota’s premier politician at the time vigorously objected to what Mundt called “An act of deliberate desecration of a great national memorial to even imply that a game of cops and robbers, for the sole purpose of producing movie thrills, has been played over the sculptured faces of our most honored presidents.”


This idiotic kerfuffle is only a footnote in the political history of South Dakota, but where were the protesters and the blustering politicians when the current sitting president of the United States chose the celebration of our national heritage, to commit an act of deliberate desecration of a great national memorial?


Anyone who pays halfway attention to the national news knows that Donald J Trump, the Orange Cheeto, who pretends to be President of the United States, stood in front of Mount Rushmore and delivered, not a speech of unity or a call to patriotism, but a campaign rally cry and an appeal to bigotry and disunity.


Somehow he managed to avoid talking about the country’s out of control Covid 19 pandemic or about his bosom buddy Vladimir Putin’s payment of bounties to Isis for killing  American soldiers in Afghanistan.  In Trump world those are merely annoying little gnats that interfere with his egomaniac fixation on himself.


Apparently lost in the mists of time is the unpleasant truth that the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, this “celebration of our national heritage” was an active supporter of the Ku Klux Klan , Whether he was a member or not. That fact should also be part of our national heritage, as is the equally odious fact that two of the four presidents pictured on the face of the mountain, were slave owners. And let’s not also forget the fact that the mountain itself was stolen from the Lakota Sioux Native Americans who revered it as a sacred spot.


The Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum was no fan of Native Americans.  He is quoted as having said “I would not trust an Indian, offhand 9/10, where I would not trust a white man 1/10.” In the interest of truth, it’s also true that Teddy Roosevelt another of the four presidents on the mountain, is quoted as having said “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe 9/10 are, and I shouldn’t  like to inquire too closely into the case of the 10th.”


And the fourth of the revered presidents, Abraham Lincoln, once proposed a separate country for African-Americans, although he did sign the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed enslaved black people. The ultimate truth probably is that no presidents are, or for that matter, is anyone else, free of occasional unprincipled action and thought. But the actions  of Donald Trump who seized on what could have been an opportunity to call for unity and cooperation and instead called for virtual warfare against anyone who disagrees with his bigoted ideology, are beyond excuse.


South Dakota is a beautiful state where I have spent many hours and days enjoying pheasant hunting, the hospitality of the fine folks who live there, the building of lifelong friendships, and in touring the incomparable natural wonders which abound.


Our sons, JB, and Eddie, and I once backpacked into the French Creek wilderness on a camping and fishing trip, dined on fresh caught trout from the little creek, saw elk and walked among Ponderosa pines that were far older than we were.   But, as a further example of how tangled the history of South Dakota is, French Creek is where an expedition led by George Armstrong Custer discovered gold which, in turn, led to the United States government ignoring a treaty with the Sioux nation and blatantly stealing the Indians’ land. Apparently, theft is not theft when the government does it–it’s “manifest destiny”. But, to a thinking person with scruples, it’s like an armed robber walking into a jewelry store and saying “give me all those diamonds  In the showcase because I want them.”


Security forces at the Mount Rushmore Trump lovefest teargassed Native American protesters and arrested some and if that there were not enough insult  the band played Garryowen, the theme song of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry. The stupid mostly all white Trump lovers doubtless had no idea of the significance of that in-your-face song to South Dakota’s Lakota Sioux, but the Indians certainly did. If nothing else, they can take solace in the fact that when Custer and his troops confidently marched over the hill at the Little Big Horn years later, Garryowen became a funeral dirge.

Borglum began his mountain carving on Stone Mountain Georgia after he was approached by the United Daughters of the Confederacy who wanted a sculpture of Robert E Lee on the mountain. That idea morphed into an ambitious assemblage including Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis.  Helen Plane, President of the Dixie girls, said “I feel it is due to the KKK that saved us from Negro domination and carpetbagger rule, that it be immortalized on Stone Mountain.” Real genteel southern ladies–soulmates of Scarlett O’Hara. Trump would’ve been right at home holding hands with any of them, or given his history of cozying up to the ladies, groping them.


Borglum got fired from the Stone Mountain project when they got tired of his obnoxious personality and don’t you know he bounced right back with the Mount Rushmore sculpting. Borglum didn’t live to see the completion of his South Dakota project, but it was finished in 1941 by his son whose name , ironically, was Lincoln.


Trump’s campaign strategy now for reelection in November is to go on the attack against anyone and everyone he feels is a threat to his monumental ego. If there was any way to carve an ego in stone, he would annex a mountain all his own just to display it. Perhaps some aspiring sculptor could spend a lifetime turning stone into Trump, possibly depicting assaulting a woman or engaged in some other activity showing any of the many sordid aspects of his revolting personality.


Here is some of the divisive venom that this repulsive spitting cobra of a president spouted in the shadow of Mount Rushmore: ” Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.  Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities”


The stalwart champion of our “most sacred memorials” is the very same champion who shrunk the Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and the Grand Escalante National Monument by nearly 50% and who has appointed people as public lands administrators who are without a doubt the worst enemies of the nation’s public land heritage ever to disserve in any administration.


He lost no time in laying the blame for everything he doesn’t like: “in our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate board rooms, there is a new far left Fascism that demands absolute allegiance.”


So, your child’s teachers are the enemy trying to shape their minds with, oh God, the horror of it! Ideas. Black lives matter? An idea promulgated by radical fascist, communist, and whatever other enemies you can conjure from your bigoted, fear addled imagination. Tear down the statue of Robert E Lee! We won’t let you deface this memorial to one of our revered heroes, unless, of course, you are a member of our favorite hate group, the Ku Klux Klan.


Bubba Wallace is the only black driver on the NASCAR circuit. When one of his team members discovered a noose in the team’s garage, the only one of nearly 1700 garage stalls used by NASCAR fitted with a noose,  and when NASCAR subsequently ordered that the Confederate flag be eliminated from display at NASCAR tracks, Trump seized on this as an opportunity to toss a double-barreled racist bone to his bigoted followers. He chided Wallace for what he called a hoax and demanded that Wallace apologize for it, and chided NASCAR for abandoning the Confederate flag.


How can four in 10 American voters (and fading, thank God) believe the nonsense this bloated fearmonger has adopted as a strategy to win a second term as the worst president the United States has suffered in nearly 250 years? You have to wonder as I do how anybody with half a brain can be so deluded as to believe this bullshit. His frighteningly faithful followers are but sheep shambling in the wake of a man who will go down in history as the worst thing that ever happened to this country–assuming there will be a history of a country that once stood as a shining beacon on the hill to the rest of the world.


As flawed as they were those four presidents who gazed from the stony face of Mount Rushmore in total had not even a fraction of the moral shortcomings that Trump exhibits nearly every day he serves as a disgrace to the office he purports to occupy–when he isn’t (as he has been for one of the nearly four years he has been in office) at one of his golf courses.


Now, as to the brief time that I spent as George Washington’s nasal inspector. I’m becoming increasingly suspicious that it ever happened, but my memory of it is so crystal clear.


I parked my car along the highway that bordered the monument, ambled through a grove of ponderosa pine (that Trump somehow managed to avoid setting on fire with his Fourth of July explosives) and, as the trees thinned, I found myself below Washington’s right nostril looking up.


But I can’t find any photos of that area, any evidence that anyone could do what I so clearly remember doing. And I doubt that I ever will revisit Rushmore and find out finally whether I actually did what I remember doing, or merely experienced a Hitchcockian brain fart.


The more I think about it the more inclined I am to believe that the whole thing never happened, that my overheated imagination conjured up a Hitchcock like incident, only lacking me and Eva Marie Saint. hanging by our fingertips from Washington’s nose.


But if my encounter with Mount Rushmore’s presidents is fiction, Donald Trump’s is not. His appearance there and in real life, is more frightening than anything Alfred Hitchcock, in his most fevered imagination, could have created. The only hope is that at midnight on November 3, the horror show that is Washington DC today, will go to black screen, leaving only the welcome words





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