Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

  • 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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  • Blog
  • July 3rd, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


There is a photograph in the Vance archives of a man, his back to the camera, standing at the edge of the Macon Lake, a Shakespeare fiberglass fly rod in hand, tickling the edge of the water weeds with a popping bug, teasing the bluegills lurking there.


The man is alone, but not lonely. He is the perfect example of a man completely at peace with the world, with himself, and completely free of care and woe. It is a photograph that I treasure, because it is of my father, taken probably about 1960 by me, and developed and printed in my rudimentary home dark room.


My father was a passionate fisherman but not an accomplished fly fisherman. He never quite mastered the art of casting a fly of any type, never quite mastered the concept of the line doing the work, not the lure at the end of it. He had grown up first of all with a cane pole down on the Missouri farm from which he sprang, lobbing a chunk of chicken liver into the nearby Chariton River in hopes that a catfish would inhale it.


Later in life, he married a girl from Birchwood Wisconsin, a town embedded in the lake country of the North West part of the state. Nobody there knew much about fly rods either, save for a couple of strange types who eschewed the use of stiff steel Tru temper rods, equipped with casting reels, strung with fishing line that had to be hung up to dry after each day’s  fishing before you could use it again. You began the day by breaking off a foot or so of terminal line, figuring that it had weakened enough that sure as hell you would lose the trophy fish of a lifetime if you didn’t.


My father not only married the girl from Birchwood; he also married into that culture and abandoned his cane pole for his own True Temper rod and he sprung for an upscale Pflueger Supreme reel, at that time the Stradivarius of casting reels. He also abandoned the chunk of chicken liver for a Pikie Minnow equipped with 3 treble hooks as ferocious looking as a barracuda .


No more did he look for channel catfish; now the quarry was northern pike and walleyes. It was a day when Big and Little Birch lakes and their bigger cousin Chetac still contained large specimens of those fish which you can see in old photographs of grim faced anglers at the day’s end holding up either end of a laden stringer. The years would pass until day’s end would see, if you were lucky, a stringer of bluegills.  Birchwood became the Bluegill Capital of Wisconsin. Those photographs of yesteryear represented what we now call “the good old days”.


Among those old photographs is one of my dad and his fishing buddies grouped around a table in one of the several lakeside resorts, drinking from bottles of Bruenig’s lager, a brewery, now-defunct, located in nearby Rice Lake, telling stories of the day’s fishing. I was but a tadpole in those days of yesteryear, not part of the fishing club yet, not even close to being included in my dad’s piscatorial parties.


I longed to go with my dad, maybe trolling the shoreline of Birch Lake for bass or walleyes, but it was not to be. He had a two and a half horsepower Evinrude motor which somehow came loose from the transom one day and sank in 80 feet of water and to this day it resides in the depths of Big Birch . But while the big guys fished, rowing because of the loss of the little outboard, my cousin Pat and I were relegated to fishing with cane poles and worms off the town dock for bluegills and yellow perch. There is a photo of the two of us side-by-side, probably six years old, each holding a stringer aloft with one tiny bluegill, each the size of our tiny palm. They wouldn’t have been good bait for the walleyes and pike the big guys were hunting.


During most of the year my dad was caught between two worlds, working for a living in Chicago. Far to the north were his fishing buddies in Birchwood, and far to the South were his fishing roots in Missouri. In Chicago he had one of the Great Lakes, Michigan, at his doorstep and it was there that we connected as fellow anglers for the first time. The lake was several blocks from where we lived on the south side and a pier jutted out from the shoreline, always studded with pole and line anglers, perhaps reverting to their rural roots in the only way available to them.


Dad and I fished for yellow perch and what we called lake herring (ciscos). Both were prime eating fish, but neither were likely to appear in family photographs of triumphant days on the water. Those photos were reserved for the times that dad and his fishing buddies scored. Cousin Pat and I were lucky to have that one pitiful reminder of our fishing.


It wasn’t that my dad was an inattentive parent, but I suspect that in his initial life plan the concept of a child did not take center stage. It didn’t help that I was a whiny little kid, heir to virtually every known childhood disease—tonsillitis, measles, chickenpox, mumps and probably some others as well. I was the quintessential “are we there yet?” kid, and I’m sure it was a relief to both my parents when I preferred to play out of sight and out of mind (something that was possible in those long ago days), or to curl up with a book of outdoor adventures checked out of the local library. I spent far more time with fictional outdoorsmen than I did with my dad.  I would be a teenager before dad recognized that I was destined to become an adult and that perhaps I was old enough to be included as one- of his fishing buddies.


It has taken me more than 80 years to realize and appreciate how much my dad shaped my life. Father’s Day had not yet been declared a day to commemorate when my dad died in 1967. My mother was his life and I was a peripheral part of it for much of my growing up. It was not until we moved from Chicago to Missouri that dad and I began to share the outdoors. The Cutoff Lake, an oxbow of the Missouri River, separated from the main channel in the 19th century.  It became our playground for hunting ducks in season and for fishing during the clement months. It was a muddy old lake, devoid of pike and walleyes, but rich with catfish, carp, and other fish commonly derided as “trash fish.” But we set trot lines for them (being sophisticates in fishing, we declined to call them “trout lines” as the locals did). There was magic in running our trot line by the light of the moon, the silence of the summer night as deep and restful as sleep itself. The occasional thrashing of a hooked fish dragged to the boat was the only interruption in those moments. We didn’t talk much, not wanting to interrupt the tranquility of our isolation from the noise of daily life. It was just dad and me, fishing buddies.


We still visited Birchwood in the summers, but most of his old fishing buddies had been left behind in Chicago, had died, retired, or otherwise vanished into memory. So had the fishing for stringers of large pike and walleyes.  Overfishing for far too many years, left perch and bluegills as the fish of choice. Those tiny bluegills that Pat and I caught off the town dock (which also had vanished) were merging over time with the laden big fish stringers of yesteryear.  Even Bruenig’s lager vanished into the beer mists of time along with those big fish.


My folks moved to a rental house at the Macon Lake, the Missouri town’s water supply, when I was a sophomore in college and a new world opened up for dad and me. This was clear water as opposed to the muddy old Cutoff, and the fish were largemouth bass as well as the familiar bluegills. I swiped an old frog color Jitterbug from my dad’s battered tackle box, a relic of those halcyon days in Birchwood, and went fishing at the lower end of Macon Lake. I probably was casting with my dad’s Tru Temper rod and Pflueger reel, although lost in the drama of the moment I don’t remember. As the old plug burbled back toward me, there was a great sloshing sound and shortly I landed a seven pound largemouth, the largest bass I have ever caught.


Dad bought a car topper boat, a watercraft about as reliable for two fishermen as a surfboard. We were fishing a strip pit for bluegills and bass when for some reason we simultaneously leaned the same way and the next thing we knew we were submerged. The boat rocked back upright so we didn’t lose any tackle, but we surfaced at the same time facing each other, each clutching a fishing rod. My dad still had his cap on. We looked at each other for a long moment and then did the only thing that seemed appropriate—we burst into laughter.


Dad and I had a number of memorable years as fishing buddies until physical infirmity laid him low, and after my mother died in 1965, his life effectively ended.  He simply could not cope with the loss of the one person in his life who meant more than his own life. First, he lost a leg to phlebitis, and then he lost his will to live. Living 100 miles away, with a wife and three small children, I couldn’t be there for him and the one person he wanted to be there no longer was. It took two years for him to follow her, trying too often to ease his pain with alcohol which only delayed the inevitable return of overwhelming misery.


More than a quarter of a century has passed since my fishing buddy died and time has faded the inevitable grief but the memories that remain sustain me. In my mind I can see again the two of us surfacing after free diving the strip pit, breaking into laughter, a shared moment in an ignoble adventure.


And there is in a faded scrapbook of family photos a photo of a man at the edge of a lake lofting popping bugs over the weeds in hopes of hooking a little bluegill. A man, who at that moment, was totally at peace with himself, and with the world.  My dad, my fishing buddy .


A world of yesteryear that for a moment was frozen in time









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  • Blog
  • June 26th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


It is 1958 and a popular movie on the screens of drive-in movies all over America is “The Blob”, starring Steve McQueen.  A young couple is  frantically driving all around  a small town trying to convince people that a gelatinous mass, possibly of alien origin, is threatening to engulf the town. Nobody believes them of course; otherwise you wouldn’t have a cheesy movie to enthrall a less than enthusiastic audience.


For the younger folks, a drive in was an outdoor theater where dating couples could park their car in the dark of night and eat popcorn and drink Pepsi-Cola.


In Mid-America, where I rarely had enough money for a drive in ticket, not to mention that I didn’t have a car, the idea of a humongous mound of quivering gelatin was as alien as the supposed origin of the blob. It wasn’t until 40 years or more later when I sat down at a table in the basement of a Lutheran Church in northern Minnesota and beheld my first helping of lutefisk that I understood the terror of those folks in that fictional small town in the 1958 movie. Imagine if you will, a helping of lutefisk large enough to swallow a small town when, for a thinking person, a helping of lutefisk small enough to fill a spoon is impossible for that thinking person to swallow.


I have written about lutefisk before ranking it as the number one food that I never again want to see on my plate. Nothing has changed since the last time I profaned lutefisk in print. Those who practice lutefisk are of extreme northern heritage and some of them also practice taking sauna after which they beat themselves with a birch switch. The first requisite for a far northern inhabitant is the desire and ability to live there. Sauna flagellation and eating lutefisk comes later on. The same people will crouch over a hole in a foot of ice, facing the teeth of a 40 mile an hour wind right off the polar ice cap, drinking an ice cold beer, and calling it fun, you betcha.


Let us pause for a moment to examine the reasons lips that touch lutefisk shall never touch mine. First of all many if not most of the folks who gleefully plunge face first into a heap of lutefisk are Lutherans. I was baptized Methodist where white bread and processed cheese are considered gourmet delights. Beyond the religious aspect is the process by which a quiet, unassuming codfish becomes a gelatinous, quivering entity that almost certainly inspired the Steve McQueen movie.


Scandinavians who sailed across the ocean blue had no way of preserving food and there were no McDonald’s en route offering McFish sandwiches. Some demonic explorer came up with a way to preserve codfish in such a way that, while no rational person would eat one, at least the dead fish became something that technically was edible if your definition of edible was an incredibly loose one.


The bottom line in lutefisk preparation is that the fish involved is soaked in a lye solution. Lye is a component of toilet bowl cleansers. Enough said. If one good thing comes from lutefisk it is that it has given comedians material for countless Ole and Lena jokes: “Ole and Lena went to a lawyer to see about getting a divorce. “How old are you folks?, asked the lawyer. Vell I’m 96 and Lena is 92, said Ole. How come you are getting a divorce now? asked the lawyer. Ve vanted to vait until all the kids vas dead.”


Moving right along to the number two spot on foods I will never eat again is something that happened many years ago in Las Vegas, Nevada, where what happens at least in the case of what I offered to eat stays there, quite possibly in the porcelain throne in my room. I was at a board meeting of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and we had a dinner at one of the posh hotels where the waiter was dressed far better than I was. He circulated among us with a tray of appetizers and it was semi-dark in the room, so much so, that I took a couple of the objects without realizing what they were.


Most of my fellow outdoor writers declined l’escargot, but there I was stuck with two humongous bare naked snails. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I popped one of the things in my mouth and instantly remembered a time when I stepped out of the house in the dark only to tromp on a garden slug, crushing it beneath my foot and some sort of yellow slime oozed between my toes. The rest of the incident is hazy, buried among those memories that the human mind represses because they are too awful to contemplate. I remember that much garlic was involved in l’escargot and I can state that I have never been bothered by a vampire since that time. I dimly remember that I deposited the French delicacy in a potted plant and want to say that greenery instantly withered and died but I’m probably making that up.


Andrew Zimmern, host of the popular “Bizarre Foods” show on television thrives on eating exotic and often (to me) really disgusting food items.  He probably would’ve been in gourmet heaven when offered garden slugs as prelude to a really disgusting meal—for all I know, might have eaten the potted plant too. While I am not against experimenting with food that some people consider inedible, garden slugs and fish Jell-O are not on my list of preferred goodies.


While Mr. Zimmern may consider insects plucked from the garden a part of his dinner menu, fried grasshoppers are not going to appear on my dinner plate. Actually, garden slugs which look like escargot that’s been evicted from its shell technically are not insects—they are mollusks, kin to clams and while I ardently scarf down clam chowder, you are not going to catch me confronting a bowl of garden slug chowder. Clams resemble their fellow mollusks, the oysters and my concept of a blissful afterlife is a platter of oysters on the half shell, spiced by horseradish and a generous glass either of a crisp chilled white wine or, if I am in my big spender mode, a glass of champagne.


Some of my food aversions are not dictated by the appearance of the food, but of the origin. Years ago I was returning from a trip to St. Louis which, in itself, is enough to upset my stomach, but I was hungry and in a fit of desperation and a temporary loss of my power to reason, I actually pulled into a McDonald’s and ordered a big Mac. Shortly after I got home, my stomach felt as if I had swallowed a 10 pound sack of garden slugs and I spent the rest of the evening worshiping at the porcelain throne. I have not since darkened the door of a McDonald’s….. And you can throw in Wendy’s, Burger King, and all those other fast food Taj Mahals.


Likewise, add in the Olive Garden where I have eaten twice. It may be a coincidence, like being struck by lightning more than once, but both times I went home and shortly delivered my rigatoni a la barf to the bathroom receptacle in an attempt to hurl it all the way back to Italy.


In one instance my list of things I’ll never eat again is not a matter of disgust, but of sentiment. Over the years, we have had temporary custody of two raccoons. They were mere little kids when someone took them from the wild.  Conservation agents confiscated them and needed someone to nurture them until they were large enough to release to the wild where they belonged. One of the two became a playmate of a kitten the same size as it was and the two tussled and played young animal games endlessly, amusing both to them and to us.


But the coon quickly outgrew the kitten and it was not long until the little raccoon began to explore farther and farther and one day didn’t come back. It was where it had belonged from the beginning, back in its natural, wild world. But Bimbo the Clown, as we named him, was a different story. Bimbo gave every indication from the beginning that he would be perfectly happy to remain a member of the family forever. It couldn’t be—raccoons are wild animals and as lovable and charming as Bimbo was as a youngster, when he matured, he could (or we would) run the risk of him becoming wild and savage. So we took him to the middle of the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge and I lured him down to the edge of a swamp, waited until he got interested in piddling in the water with his agile front paws, and then raced back to the car and sped away. My last sight in the rearview mirror was of him standing in the middle-of-the-road on his hind legs looking after us.


A few years later I was at a wild game dinner and one of the items on the menu was barbecued raccoon. I took a small portion and a single bite. It was pretty good but immediately my mind was flooded with memories of Bimbo staring uncomprehending as his family abandoned him and raccoon cooked in any fashion immediately sprang to the top of foods that I never will eat again. The serving on my dinner plate might as well have been one of my bird dogs.


So, I will leave the exotic dishes to Andrew Zimmern. Let him relish the sautéed eyeballs and deep-fried intestines of critters that creep and crawl. When Covid 19 is a distant memory and the restaurants are open, let us repair there and order oysters on the half shell and toast culinary freedom with flagons of champagne. Until then, here is a bit of food wisdom to carry you through until dinner time.  A blind rabbit and a blind garden slug bump into each other in the forest. The slug touches the bunny and says “you’re soft and fuzzy. You must be a rabbit.” The bunny touches the slug and says “you are cold and slimy. You must be a politician.”


Okay, it has nothing to do with food but it made me laugh.


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  • Blog
  • June 19th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


I grew up in an era when the word “antifa” did not exist. In today’s surreal world, it means “anti-fascist.” It is used to describe a nonexistent organization, supposedly composed of left-wing, violent people, dedicated to civil unrest, looting, and anti-American activity. Among them, according to a tweet by the president of the United States, Donald J Trump (a.k.a. the Orange Cheeto) is a 75-year-old New York man, a longtime peaceful protester against anti-American values, who a Buffalo policeman shoved to the pavement so violently during a peaceful protest, that the old man cracked his head and lay in a pool of blood.


The Twitter Critter in Chief had this to say about the incident and the “violent protester” Martin Gugino: “Buffalo protester shoved by police could be an antifa provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”


Gucino was holding a cell phone, an obvious weapon of mass destruction designed to mow down the  Buffalo police. Obviously to Trump, the cop showed great restraint in not machine gunning the old man and anyone close to him.


I’m soon to turn 86, and I can honestly say that I have been antifa for almost 11 years longer than Martin Gucino. Back before that Buffalo cop even was born, there was a little thing called World War II where the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force were engaged in bloody combat against fascist dictators (think Adolf Hitler in Germany, and Benito Mussolini in Italy). Even as a little kid I didn’t like them and neither did anyone else living in America’s democratic Republic. Even at 9 or 10 years old I didn’t know what fascism was, but in common with every other United States citizen, I was anti-fascist.


The dictionary description of fascism is “fascist governments are dominated by a dictator, who usually possesses a magnetic personality, wears a showy uniform, and rallies his followers by mass parades, appeals to strident nationalism, and promotes suspicion or hatred of both foreigners and ‘impure’ people within his own nation, such as the Jews.” Substitute Muslims, Mexicans, and other nonwhite people for Jews, although don’t rule it out if Trump gets mad enough at his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and you have a pretty fair description of Donald J Trump.


Trump currently is lobbying for a mass parade on July 4 to celebrate the nation’s Independence Day. Desecrating the celebration of the nation’s independence is typical Trump. It’s not a parade to celebrate independence; it is a parade to celebrate Donald Trump. As for a magnetic personality, yeah, he has one, and it attracts the violent fringe of society, the bullies, cowards, and brainless riffraff who pollute the communal gene pool. Trump hasn’t yet resorted to a flowery uniform, but don’t rule it out. In fact, don’t rule anything out when it comes to this Sociopath in Chief. There is a depressing pair of photos circulating on the Internet. One is of the White House bathed in colored lights and beautiful in 2010; the other is of the current White House hidden by a 10 foot tall iron fence topped by coils of razor wire. This is the nation’s home, folks, a bunker compound occupied by an evil wannabe dictator.


So I proudly wear the label antifa in its full meaning “anti-fascist.” When I was 10 years old in the middle of World War II, in company with the neighborhood kids, my friends who included one from a Greek family, one from a Jewish family, one Polish family and others of mixed origin, we played soldier—not really knowing what all the fuss was about except that the country was bleeding somewhere overseas and we had relatives in the midst of that bloodshed. We hated Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito. We didn’t understand what they stood for, but we knew from the news and from our parents, that it was bad. We were fighting against fascism, even if we did not understand the word. Today we are fighting a different form of fascism, promoted by a grotesquely depraved Republican party, and its control of the administration, the Congress, and entirely too much of the court system.


Almost every day, the news carries examples of Trumpian fascism. If that Buffalo cop is not a graphic example of a modern-day Mussolini brown shirt, I don’t know who is. If the Minneapolis cop who knelt on the neck of a black man until he killed him, isn’t the modern-day equivalent of anyone who ever threw a rope around the neck of a black man and helped lynch him, then I don’t know who is. We are surrounded by social malignancy and if we are not vigilant it will prove to be a fatal cancer to the quarter millennium that this nation has endured and has been cherished.


Is the answer to do away with police departments entirely? Obviously not. They were established to protect, generally, the public from itself. Without law enforcement to rein in our baser instincts, chaos is only an eyeblink away. But law enforcement reform is an obvious need. How that should be done probably will be debated for many years and very possibly never will occur at all. Defunding is not the answer and does not mean withholding all money from law enforcement—but it does mean allocating that money usefully.


It seems to me that reform in law enforcement where it seems weak should start with the policemen themselves—and, if that is true, the Minneapolis area law enforcement folks are doing a hell of a poor job at it. There is a video of Anoka County cops slashing the tires of protesters and reporters in a parking lot in what they officially explain as “strategically deflated tires.” The Sheriff’s Department of Public Safety spokesman said, in a goofy explanation that “vehicles were being used as dangerous weapons and inhibited our ability to clear areas and keep area safe where violent protests were occurring.” The fact that the cars were parked kind of contradicts the idea that they were moving weapons of mass destruction. When it becomes difficult to tell the vandals from the accused vandals you have to begin to wonder who’s in the wrong.


Every law enforcement agency in the country should immediately begin to weed out potentially lethal officers. Every applicant for a police job should undergo a rigorous psychological examination looking for chinks in the mental armor which a good cop uses to protect himself and the public from dangerous impulses. We all have moments of blind rage; we just learn to control them, otherwise we would turn into savages. We spent a long time evolving from a Neanderthal brutality to the concept of civility and law abiding conduct. Now is not the time to return to caveman behavior.


Law enforcement applicants, beyond being screened for suitability, should have to undergo a drastically altered schooling before being released into the public on active duty. And they should be paid a salary equivalent to what they would get entering any non law enforcement profession. It’s an axiom that you get what you pay for and if you pay for cheap cops you’re going to get low talent cops. As usual after an unwarranted shooting of a black person by a white cop, there are promises of drastic reform, but has also is usual, the story quickly fades from the daily news and the minds of our citizenry which all too often has the attitude of “it didn’t happen to me—let someone else fix the problem.”


While William Barr, the Rottweiler jowled Attorney General, the nation’s top cop, has repeatedly praised the police response to demonstrations against the murder of George Floyd, he also has tried to blame the mostly peaceful protests on African-Americans: “while many police officers do their job admirably and well, it is undeniable that many African Americans lack confidence in our American criminal justice system.” Gee, wonder why that is? Maybe it has something to do with cops kneeling on the neck of African-Americans until they die. You think?


Lost amid the many protests against authorities involved in the Georgia bar murder, is the equally egregious murder of Breonna Taylor on March 13. Ms. Taylor was a 26-year-old African-American in Louisville Kentucky, an emergency room technician, innocent of any crime. Police broke into her home under a judge’s no knock order under which they were allowed not to identify themselves as police. First of all, she was in bed, and, according to police, her boyfriend shot at them with a licensed gun upon which they opened fire, hitting her eight times and killing her. The boyfriend said he feared for his life and thought that the unidentified men battering their way into the apartment meant harm to him and his girlfriend so he fired in self-defense. As is increasingly common in fatal encounters between police and the public, the officers’ body cameras were inactive. They were 10 miles from the apartment designated on the no knock search warrant. Ms. Taylor falls into the category of collateral damage.


Much of what Trump does is symbolic, but I don’t think he smart enough to create these subtle references by himself. I think it’s more in the nature of evil minions like Stephen Miller to come up with coded racism. Not that Trump is not a racist; he has demonstrated both by word and deed over and over again that he is, but it helps him to have someone feeding him insidious language.


Nothing is more blatantly symbolic than his choice of Tulsa as a location to reopen his beloved campaign rallies. It has been almost exactly 100 years since Tulsa was the scene of one of the most infamous race riot in the nation’s history. On May 31 and June 1, 1921 a mob of whites stormed into the black Greenwood section of the city, a thriving business district referred to as “Black Wall Street.”


It came after a black man was arrested for allegedly assaulting a white elevator operator, the African-American community feared that he would be lynched (this was a time when if a black man even so much as smiled at a white woman, he was in danger of being lynched).  Armed mobs of both races gathered and what followed was nothing short of a massacre. The white mobs swarmed into the black district.  Ultimately more than 800 people were hospitalized and 26 black people and 10 white died, but overall estimates range to as many as 300 dead. The white mob essentially destroyed the black community, burning it to the ground, as thoroughly as the atom bomb leveled Hiroshima.  Apparently bowing to public pressure and sentiment, Trump changed the date of his Tulsa rally, but the damage had been done. Having fathered the evil baby, he couldn’t stuff it back into the womb.


And the choice of Jacksonville, Florida, as the site of the Republican national convention is yet another suspiciously coincidental choice by the Republicans. It will be held on the 60th anniversary of a savage beating by a white mob of African-Americans with ax handles and baseball bats. And Trump’s acceptance speech apparently will be written by Stephen Miller. Miller closely resembles in word and action Heinrich Himmler, the most evil of Hitler’s henchmen.


Those sickening episodes are a couple of many examples of white brutality against black people, a persistent and disgusting stain on our national record. Even worse, was what happened to 300 black union soldiers in May 1863 in Tennessee. It’s called the Fort Pillow massacre. Instead of being treated as prisoners of war, they were massacred by Confederate troops. That is part of the heritage that today’s celebrants of the South side of the Civil War don’t point to when they laud the heritage of the old South. The old South in reality was one of slavery and degradation of African-Americans and the echoes of it today sound all over the Southland, no matter how hard the would be Johnny Rebs try to deny it.


Tulsa may be the most egregious example of Trump’s racist philosophy, but certainly not the only one. In the town where I went to high school, Keytesville, Missouri, there is in the city Park a statue of General Sterling Price, a Confederate General so venerated that there is every year a celebration dedicated to him. Nationally we are in the midst of a call to tear down statues of Confederates as symbols of treason, distinctly un-American, representing the losing side of America’s bloodiest war.


The presence of the statue never bothered me in high school or at any time since and actually a few years ago I was honored to be recognized as a notable Keytesville citizen during Price Days—got to ride with wife Marty in the back of a convertible down the parade route, waving at Keytesvillians lining the street, like an actual celebrity. The symbolism of the moment escaped me at the time, but it doesn’t now. I say take down the statue of Sterling Price, stick him in a dusty museum somewhere, and rename the park that he stood in for, let’s say, General Omar Bradley whose hometown was nearby Moberly—close enough. Or it could be general John J “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of American forces in Europe during World War I. He was from Meadville, just up the road from Keytesville. Close enough.


If I had a choice of who to replace Price in the park, I’d opt for Give ‘Em Hell Harry Truman. After all, Sterling Price’s rebel forces captured my great grandfather and his brother, both Union militia men, paroled them and sent them home. They were lucky that Bloody Bill Anderson a sociopathic, Southern sympathizing killer, who was roaming the same central Missouri countryside as was Price’s Army, didn’t encounter them and shoot them dead. I guess I owe more to Sterling Price for being here than I do the Yankee cause.


But removing statues or renaming locations that have a connection to the Confederate side smacks more of blame shifting, than it does of redressing centuries of racial injustice. What good does it do to take down the statues of Confederate generals or, for that matter, presidents who owned slaves which includes many of the founding fathers. I support trashing the Confederate flag and renaming military bases named for Confederate figures. The stars and bars is as much a symbol of repression as is the Nazi flag. But it makes little sense to me to remove the statue of Thomas Jefferson from the University of Missouri campus which has been the site of black protest in recent years. The University has rejected the idea. After all, Thomas Jefferson was a champion of many of the ideals that shape what we would aspire to as a country. He even donated his library to found the Library of Congress.


Donald Trump, of course, endorses the presence of these tributes to the leaders of the so-called “lost cause” and also is opposed to the renaming of military bases named for these same historic figures. Of course they are part of the fabric of the United States, and of its history. They should not be ignored nor attempts be made to erase them from the record because they existed. But that does not mean we should venerate them and recognize them as anything other than leaders of not a lost cause, but a lost rebellion.


Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore in one of history’s bitter ironies was the first sculptor asked to design and sculpt a Confederate Memorial on Stone Mountain, Georgia. He actually completed models of the sculpture. Borglum was affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan which was deeply involved in lobbying for the memorial, but he ultimately was fired over money issues. His next and most famous sculpture was…. Mount Rushmore.


I wouldn’t be surprised if Donald Trump’s most cherished secret wish is that he could order the carving of Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore be sandblasted off so it could be replaced by his face. Instead I would offer Stone Mountain which was opened as a State Park exactly 100 years to the day from the Abraham Lincoln assassination.  Symbolism seems to be the order of the day when it comes to bigotry.  It is where the heads of Robert E Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson loom over the adoring redneck masses below.  There’s room for Donnie to join them, if he’s looking for yet another Confederate racist symbol.  Perfect for Donnie and his bigoted followers to celebrate, so there it is.


Read More
  • Blog
  • June 12th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


There is little doubt that Edgar Allan Poe was no fan of the Corvidae clan, but ravens and crows probably were no fan of Poe’s either.  In his famous poem “The Raven” Poe described his avian visitor thusly: “ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the nightly shore.”


I have a fascination with the members of the Corvidae family which I might reconsider if I opened the door to a faint tapping to behold a great big black bird, ghastly grim and ancient. But unless or until that happens I’ll remain a fan, Edgar Allen Poe notwithstanding.


There is a factoid about ravens that is bound to cause the reaction “oh come on, get serious!” It is reported that ravens have been known to imitate wolves or foxes to attract them to carcasses that the Raven is not capable of getting into. I sometimes have to ask someone to open a can of food for me which, apparently, indicates that I am at least as intelligent as a raven. Nice to know. Although it is an uncomfortable memory that I once wrote a sports story lamenting the loss of the local basketball team by quoting (I thought) Edgar Allan Poe’s “Raven”: “Not again, not again, quoth the raven”I said.  My wife gently, (amid raucous laughter which sounded remarkably like a blue jay in full voice) guffawed “It’s never more, never more.”  Ravens are considered by researchers to be marginally more intelligent than their smaller cousins the crows, and I would add, remembering that sports page faux pas, considerably more intelligent than I am.


The Crow family includes that raucously obnoxious bird, the blue jay, which follows hunters, hoping to  hunt silently, through the woods, squawking high-volume warning to every prey creature the hunter is after. There are other members of the jay, family like the gray jay of Western states also known as the whiskey jack, which is fond of absconding with shiny objects—like your treasured Super Bowl ring if you happen to be a football star on a camping expedition. Jaybirds are the petty criminals of the bird world, but you have to admire their persistent nefariousness, kind of like the way you admire the class clown who gets away with tricks on the teacher whereas you don’t.


I once called in and shot a crow. It was classic lure and collect hunting—essentially the same thing a duck hunter does, even what a moose hunter does by issuing a challenging call in hopes of fooling prey into coming close enough for a shot. The intent varies. With turkeys, elk, moose, you are imitating a competing male to fool the living creature into believing a competitor is intruding and needs to be eliminated. With waterfowl you are inviting migrating ducks and geese to a banquet. A predator call imitates the squeal of a prey animal and invites living competition for the spoils. A crow call is essentially an invitation to a gang fight, a scene from “West Side Story”.


Sure enough, I imitated an agitated crow on the caller, perhaps one harassing an owl, something that crows are inordinately fond of doing, and soon enough a crow came sailing overhead, intent on berating the supposedly enemy, and I shot and the bird tumbled through the branches to the ground near me.


I never will shoot a crow again. I looked at the dead bird and felt nothing but regret. It was not edible, as are all the other birds I shoot—turkeys, quail, grouse, pheasants, doves, waterfowl. They are reduced to table fare, with thanks for providing me both with the thrill of the hunt, and the joy of consumption. But a dead crow? Just a heap of bloody feathers, once something living with purpose (even if that purpose was known only to the crow).Now shot from existence for no good reason. At least a reason that, in retrospect, I could justify.


Once I dated a girl from Ft. Cobb, Oklahoma, which, aside from the fact that it was her hometown, was notable for having been the site of what was supposed to be the largest crow roost in North America. The girl has long since disappeared into the misty realms of memory, and Ft. Cobb is pretty much the same when it comes to crows.  It’s estimated that in the nineteen fifties about 10,000,000 crows roosted near Ft. Cobb. Hunters came from everywhere to shoot the birds as they came to roost in the evening.


It was a slaughter somewhat comparable to the way hunters decimated the passenger pigeon millions to the point that in 1914 the population of passenger pigeons constituted one—a lone individual named Martha which died in the Cincinnati zoo. While passenger pigeons now are extinct, the crow persists, a tribute to the bird’s ability to survive. On a website about crow hunting in Oklahoma, someone asked about the Ft. Cobb crows shoot and the response was “the crows are gone. I don’t know what happened but there are not anywhere near the crows around Caddo County that there used to be when I was a kid. You could get a few around but nothing like the old days where you could shoot boxes of shells.” As if there was a mystery about what happened to the crows—you shoot them by the thousands for many years and, golly gee, there aren’t as many as there used to be.


It’s like Jimmy Driftwood’s song “the Battle of New Orleans.” “We fired our guns and they began to runnin’/there wasn’t now as many as there was a while ago.”


Crows have a special protection under federal migratory bird regulations. It’s sort of a wussy situation that kind of protects crows, but not really. For example you can’t hunt them from an airplane. And the hunting season is open almost all year except that it should not exceed a total of 124 days during a calendar year and it should not be permitted during the peak crow nesting period. Most places you can kill crows with everything short of a short range nuclear device. You can kill crows with guns, bow and arrow, and with a falcon. The latter method must be great consolation to falcons and other birds of prey which put up with harassment by crows year round.  The collective noun for crows is a “murder.” That pejorative description must have been coined by one of the other talking birds. Many birds do have the ability to mimic human speech. While Poe’s Raven is perhaps the most famous talking bird, many birds have the ability to mimic some human speech and the Guinness world record book credits a budgerigar named Puck with having a vocabulary of 1728 words which, judging from Donald Trump’s press conferences is more than he has. Still, these days it’s hard not to look at a murder of crows shouting avian insults at a hunkered down owl or hawk and not see a similarity between that and a Donald Trump rally.


There is a section of the federal regulation which caused my mentor and role model and hero John Madson, the best writer I’ve ever known, great merriment. It is that section which stipulates that you can kill crows that are in the vicinity of a cropfield and are “about to commit a depredation.” John scoffed, “There is no time during which a crow is not about to commit a depredation.”


Crows often are described as intelligent birds, but after all, they are birds. Referring to someone as “birdbrained” is not a compliment. But in the avian hierarchy, crows are right up there with the Mensa crowd. In fact, not too long ago, an article in a science journal claimed that crows are just as good at reasoning as a human seven-year-old child. Scientists have challenged crows with a battery of tests designed to understand their intelligence potential.


Try this test with your toddler: fill a container with water and drop treats into it that sink to the bottom. Crows learn on their own to drop stones in the water to raise the food to a level where they can reach it. It takes a human child about seven years before he or she can figure out the concept of water displacement to be rewarded with a treat.


A friend secured a suet feeder with twist ties only to find that crows after a couple of days had figured out how to untwist the ties and get at the suet. He then used carabiners as fasteners, only to find a couple of days later that the crows were obviously working to unlock the carabiners.


The researchers also have found that crows hold grudges. They trapped and released crows, an indignity that ticked off the crows. Two researchers were involved, wearing masks. Later, others walked the same route for the birds had been trapped, either wearing a mask like that worn by the trappers, or a neutral mask. At least one fourth of the crows they met cussed out the “dangerous mask” wearers, while ignoring those with neutral masks. Furthermore, some three years later two thirds of the crows reacted to the “dangerous” mask, which indicated researchers that the birds were passing along knowledge.


Native American mythology is rife with stories about crows. Most folks think that crows are symbols of doom and gloom, but that’s more Poe than Native American. Actually, the Indians consider crows as a symbol of good luck and, in common with the crow researchers, an example of intelligence.


By comparison, Poe’s Raven is pretty limited with his one word vocabulary of “nevermore,” (or, if you prefer, my version “not again”). However, I am one among what I hope will be an overwhelming number of voters in November who will give the bird to Trump. I pray that November 3 will turn out for Trump to be “a midnight dreary”, while he ponders weak and weary and there suddenly comes a gently rapping, rapping at his chamber door and when he opens it, “with many a flirt and flutter,” there steps a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.


And when the brilliant minded Donald Trump quotes Poe “on the morrow he will leave me as my hopes have flown before.” The bird, “this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore” will say “tough noogies, Donnie. Not again! Not again!”





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  • Blog
  • June 3rd, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


Clint “Dirty Harry” Eastwood recently turned 90. He is famous for growling “make my day” while fondling his Smith & Wesson.44 Magnum revolver in preparation for blowing away some bad guys. Eastwood, while one of the great movie directors of all time, is politically sometimes right of Attila the Hun, but you forgive him because he’s making great entertainment, not national policy.


Coincidentally, our local newspaper, a right wing rag which gives op-ed space to every raging conspiracy whack job in its circulation territory, and whose editorial page columnists trumpet the gospel according to Mitch, Lindsey and, and Dirty Donnie, recently headlined its Sunday front page lead story “Report: COVID 19 cost Missouri tourism 2.16 billion.” Buried on page five was the headline “Missouri reports 33 new COVID 19 deaths, making total 771”. There, in a nutshell, is how the paper and by extension the Dirty Donnie presidency views the Covid 19 pandemic— an unwelcome intrusion into what’s really important, the economy and making money for people like the president. Never mind more than 100,000 Covid 19 deaths nationally, let’s get business open and make money.


Intruding upon this less than noble pursuit of Mammon, is the infamous incident of a Minneapolis cop kneeling on the throat of a black man, George Floyd, until the unfortunate victim died, a murder which has triggered a subsequent rash of rioting in various cities around the country where African-Americans have been killed in encounters with police. Setting aside for a moment discussion about the demonstrations, let me quote Donald J “Dirty Donnie” about one demonstration which took place in front of the nation’s symbolic home, the White House.


Dirty Donnie using his favorite weapon, Twitter, tweeted about the turn toward violence in demonstrations after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Presumably from the White House (unless he was hiding out somewhere) Trump also threatened to turn vicious dogs loose on protesters, an echo of the nineteen sixties when Birmingham, Alabama, public safety commissioner Bull Connors sicced police dogs and turned fire hoses on peaceful civil-rights protesters. I had thought that might be the low point of the battle by African Americans for equal rights during the tumultuous Sixties, but I hadn’t reckoned on the emergence of someone like Dirty Donnie.


Nothing he has done so far is more symbolic of the chaotic condition the country Dirty Donnie has brought the country to was when he ordered his storm trooper bodyguards clear a path for him with rubber bullets and tear gas so he could pose for a photo, uninvited and unwelcome on the steps of an Episcopal Church, clutching a Bible for unexplained reasons. If ever in the chaotic history of the Trump presidency there was a moment when God should have smote him, it was that moment. You have to wonder if God hasn’t washed his hands of the whole unhealthy mess we have created of His creation, and left us to fend for ourselves while He has gone on to more successful projects somewhere else in the universe.


Trump so far has used the office of the presidency, not to lobby for calm and an end to the divisiveness which is fracturing the country, but instead has with obvious malice tried to shift blame for the national unrest to the governors, the Democrats, Black Lives Matter, and for all I know, the man in the moon. His  strategy always is “divide and conquer”.   He thrives on creating conflict and stirring up ill feeling. It’s not an attractive attribute in anyone, much less the president of the United States.


Trump threatens to (and maybe by the time you read this already has) mobilize active duty military personnel against demonstrators, apparently without regard as to whether they are peacefully assembled or not. Using the military as a police force within the United States is illegal, and would seem to graphically violate the First Amendment of the Constitution granting people the right to peacefully assemble and to “petition the government for redress of grievances”.


Setting the military against the citizenry would seem to be a short step away from a military dictatorship, something that until now would have seemed frightening and impossible. We’ve always had faith in Congress and the Supreme Court to stand in the way of a military takeover, but conservative majorities in both the Senate and Court raise the ghastly specter of them simply standing by while Dirty Donnie turns the United States of America into chaos.


A few days ago protesters set fires near the White House and in response, Dirty Donnie turned out the lights and retired to the White House bunker. Does anyone else sense an echo of a suicidal Adolf Hitler hiding in his bunker in his final few days or of Saddam Hussein being dragged from a spider hole by American troops? Before he ordered his troops to clear a path to the church so he could hold aloft a Bible which he certainly never has read and which in no way follows its precepts, he called Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, probably for instructions on how a dictator is supposed to act.


Dirty Donnie has done so many irrational and erratic things in the past few days that any explanation short of declaring him mentally unbalanced would be like searching for the proverbial pony in the proverbial heap of dung. There is no pony there, folks—just a pile of political manure. Dirty Donnie is a lethal threat to the integrity of the Democratic Republic, an unbalanced incompetent who has demonstrated intent to destroy the best of us. He has besmirched the legacy of a once noble Republican Party, probably dooming it to an ignoble footnote in the history of the country. More frightening, he threatens to take that, Democratic Republic down the same ignoble path. Do we want to be a military dictatorship? I pray not, but we better do something pretty damn quick to avoid it.


 I don’t recall any Birmingham cops strangling protesters as prejudiced as they undoubtedly were against African-Americans. I was working on a Montgomery Alabama newspaper at the time, encountering  virulent racial prejudice on a nearly daily basis. George Wallace and John Patterson were engaged in a political race for the governorship and it was a tossup as to which one was more deserving of damnation. White Citizen’s Councils were springing up everywhere in the South like poisonous mushrooms. They were an alternative form of the Ku Klux Klan and their repulsive beliefs of white superiority are active today in neo-Nazi and militia type groups that flourish on the fringe of society.


The White Citizen’s Councils formed in1954, predating my stay in Montgomery by two years. They were spawned in response to the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that in theory desegregated the nation’s schools (although in actuality the reality of equal education had to wait many years, and given the administration’s attitude toward public education today under the leadership of private school advocate Betsy DeVos is still not a given).


The objective of the White Citizen’s Councils not only was to oppose integration of schools, but to oppose voter registration in the South where the obstreperous groups were prevalent. Here’s what Wikipedia says about them “members use intimidation tactics including economic boycotts, firing people from jobs, propaganda, and threatening and committing violence against civil rights activists.” Does any of that resonate with today’s right wing philosophy?


The Councils at their peak had about 60,000 members, including all three members of the Montgomery city commission.  Today, militia groups are estimated to have perhaps 40,000 members nationwide. It was, for an African-American in Montgomery when I was there, an exceedingly uncomfortable time and, for me, a white person from Missouri which was no exemplar then or now for racial justice, who had a deep sense of racial injustice then and now, a continual deep feeling of revulsion.


Dirty Donnie has given today’s rebirth of the White Citizens Council types  credibility by calling them “very fine people” after a demonstration in Charlottesville a while back where a peaceful protester was killed, and in veiled language he has equated the peaceful African-American demonstrators in today’s protests with the looters (which mounting evidence indicates often are neo-Nazi and Confederate flag waivers from out-of-state). There always will be a segment of the population looking for a fight. Demonstrations against the killing of George Floyd have provided these gun waving rednecks with an excuse to get involved.


They may claim that they are sticking up for the police, but what they really are is just another disgusting example of the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens Councils, and roadhouse thugs, rebelling against authority, and what they perceive as life not giving them what they think they deserve because it’s what they want. In an old movie, “The Wild Ones” Marlon Brando, playing a motorcycle gang rebel says, in answer to a question about what he’s rebelling against, “whatdya got?”


There is no legal or moral excuse for resorting to violence, no matter the motivation. The cause does not justify vandalism, burning of private property or any other abuse of law or common sense. Neither does the rash of injustice justify Dirty Donnie feeding the flames, whatever his motivation—a celebration of exercising power, pandering to his base, or whatever dark and devious motives muddle his deteriorating brain. On the other hand, you have the increasingly prevalent belief that the police are a band of brutal storm troopers dedicated to breaking heads. There is no doubt that is simply not true, that the majority of police are dedicated to their jobs, and to keeping peace. But it only takes one rogue cop kneeling on the neck of a black man to inflame the country. While Dirty Donnie is completely out of his tree when he says there are “good people” on both sides of any given riot, it’s equally possible there are thugs on both sides.


The word “thug” has its origin in India, derived from a band of brigands where it means “swindler or deceiver” both of which would be more descriptive of Dirty Donnie and his cabinet than it would describe the swaggering, gun toting, wannabes shootists who have turned what should be peaceful demonstrations into barroom brawls. When Dirty Donnie uses the word it is code for black. Let us not forget that dirty Donnie’s father, Fred, was arrested on Memorial Day, 1927, for marching with the Ku Klux Klan in New York City. In a bit of historical irony, the Klan parade was to protest Protestant citizens being “assaulted by Roman Catholic police of New York City.”


The United States has a lifelong history of the oppression of minorities—African-Americans as slaves, Native Americans dispossessed of their lands, Japanese-Americans interned and deprived of everything they owned. No minority has been immune from it. We were founded upon lofty principles, but we seldom have lived up to them. As a democratic republic we have talked a good game, but as a largely white nation we have trod upon that idealistic dream from the beginning.


We are a nation founded on protest, not always peaceful. But usually, there has been a national leader  who stepped forward to calm the roiling waters of the violence and bring the nation back to some sense of where it intended to go.  If anyone is entitled to sum up the current situation and what should be done about it, it is Congressman John Lewis of Georgia who was savagely beaten during a freedom March from Selma to  Montgomery in 1965, a day that has become known as Bloody Sunday. It was a peaceful demonstration until Alabama state troopers broke out their bludgeons and turned a peaceful demonstration into an unforgettable dark moment in our history and yet another example of the white man’s ill treatment of African-Americans. Congressman Lewis said this about the current wave of demonstrations and violence, “I know your pain, your rage, your sense of despair and hopelessness. Justice has, indeed, been denied for far too long. Rioting, looting, and burning is not the way. Organize. Demonstrate. Sit in. Stand up. Be constructive, not destructive.”


Although most support Mr. Lewis in his uplifting thoughts, there is in an uncomfortable minority who say that the time for peaceful demonstration has passed, and that the only way to bring about change is by conflict. The white South tried that in 1860 and for the next five years the country was bathed in blood. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. At a time when all Americans, no matter the ethnicity should be bound by a dedication to fighting a pandemic, it is on the verge of self-destruction. Perhaps there is no answer, perhaps we will go on fighting among ourselves until we are done in by our own limitations, whether pandemic or embedded hatreds.


Congressman Lewis currently is undergoing treatment for stage IV pancreatic cancer. It is the spirit and the strength of voices like Mr. Lewis’s that the country needs today, not the feeble spouting of a sociopathic Dirty Donnie. Make his day, voters, on November 3 and send him back to the swamp that spawned him.

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  • Blog
  • May 29th, 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 the 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 in 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
  • May 22nd, 2020

Bring back the CCC


by Joel. M. Vance 

It was the last worst time, or so we thought. The United States of America had united, more or less, after a Civil War that killed more young men than all the wars before or since combined. We had survived a worldwide flu pandemic that killed an estimated third of the world’s population and an estimated 675,000 Americans, young and old alike.


We had muddled through the frenzy of the Roaring T helped along by copious belts of bootleg booze so we could throw our money into an economy the bloated rich guys told us would never cease to grow. Invest, invest, and never quit the mindless pursuit of wealth instead of stashing a few bucks for a rainy day. But the rainy days quit coming, especially in agricultural parts of the country that relied on wet weather to water their economy


Now we were mired in an extended drought that lifted the middle part of the country in great clouds of dust which hot winds blew all the way to Washington DC, murking the sun and dramatically gaining the attention of Congress. In October 1929, that bloated economy collapsed like a punctured balloon and the country was mired, not only in a seemingly perennial dust storm, but also the muddy ruins of a once overstuffed economy. They called it, variously, the Dustbowl, the Dirty Thirties, and the Great Depression.


The Dustbowl was an added burden to the Great Depression. The middle of the country dried up in a decade long drought and repeated windstorms lifted soil it had taken millenniums to create. In the most memorable of those storms April 14,  1935 now called Black Sunday, an amount of dirt estimated to be as much as was dug to build the Panama Canal blew off the plains as far East as Congress. The result of all these dust storms was an epidemic of “dust pneumonia” that killed an estimated 7000 people, men, women and children. It wasn’t a pandemic, confined as it was to the United States, but it was yet another burden added to the enormous challenge of reviving a beleaguered country that faced a new president.


A quarter of the country’s work force was unemployed, some 15,000,000 workers. Almost half the banks in the country had failed. The last worst time had arrived. The time was ripe for dramatic action to keep the ship of state from sinking. It would take bipartisan action, Democrats and Republicans alike, to come up with solutions, not just to unemployment, but to put that dirt back where it belonged atop America’s breadbasket.


If ever a nation needed its Savior who could walk on water that time was it—and a Savior appeared, but he couldn’t walk on anything. He was confined to a wheelchair. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an unlikely Savior. Elected in 1932 to replace Herbert Hoover, a Republican whose best attribute was that he loved to fish so much he even wrote a charming book about it. But as the leader of the Republic he was a total disaster. So this crippled (by polio, at the time an unpreventable disease for which there would be no vaccine for more than two decades) savior became president faced with what a thinking person would call an insurmountable challenge.


“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” FDR told the battered nation. It was a hard sell—the nationwas largely without hope and scared to death. What followed was a decade of the most progressive, unconventional, and imaginative legislation in the nation’s history. The programs that he devised, aided by what he called a brain trust, still exist today as the foundation of our society and the reason we have, until now, been considered the world’s leader in all things progressive and beneficial to the general welfare of the nation’s population.


A philosopher named George Santana said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If you doubt the wisdom of those words, read the front page of any newspaper today. And then go back and read the dire history of the Great Depression and the associated Dustbowl.


Now, instead of Civilian Conservation Corps or Works Progress Administration workers, armed with shovels and other weapons of construction, we have wannabe insurgents prancing through the Michigan State Capitol, armed with AK-47s, weapons of destruction. Instead of welcoming a modest salary in the interests of reconstructing a broken nation, these thugs threatened to shoot the state’s governor if she doesn’t open their beer joints so they can further soften their brains with booze.


If Donald J Trump had any vision beyond that of admiring his own image in a mirror, like the evil queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (who could, nowadays, be Trump’s cabinet) who constantly asked her mirror, “mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” At which the mirror was supposed to answer that the Queen was, he would lobby to institute modern versions of many of the progressive programs instituted by FDR in the nineteen thirties. Instead, he lobbies insistently and aggressively to dismantle what ones of those programs still exist—think Social Security.


Most don’t know (I didn’t) that universal healthcare was supposed to be part of the original Social Security program in 1935. In 1938, but it got derailed by negotiation, Republican objection, and other political obstacles. FDR tried again in 1938 to include it in his program. “A comprehensive health program is required as an essential link in our national defenses against individual and social insecurity” he said. Once again Republican opposition shot down the proposal. As we all know, we still are waiting for universal healthcare. It took 20 years after Roosevelt’s death before President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law. And it was another 25 years before another Democrat, Barack Obama, signed into law the Affordable Care act which the Republicans have shot at ever since. It’s instructive to recognize that all three of these proposed or enacted healthcare programs have been championed by Democrats, and all three have been vigorously attacked by Republicans.


So we have Donald Trump, dedicated to dismantling virtually every one of those programs that grabbed the country by its bootstraps in the 1930s and hauled it out of the despair of depression and almost universal hopelessness. Trump has plunged America back into pre-depression days and now we are faced with a plunging economy, millions of American workers looking for jobs, and a pandemic unlike anything we’ve ever faced, including the 1918 flu epidemic.


The CCC and the WPA put America back to work at a time when the nation’s workforce was jobless. At its peak in the late nineteen thirties, the WPA offered jobs to 8,500,000 people—and, if my information is correct, that’s about half of the workforce currently jobless. And there were far fewer people in the country then. FDR created the WPA in 1935 and it lasted until 1943 when, like the CCC, it was bled dry by the necessity to send those employed in the two programs to war.


By the time the United States entered World War II after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Depression was largely over and the booming wartime economy erased what lingering traces there were of the last worst time. Both programs were dedicated to exactly what is needed today to revive an economy tanking for some of the same reasons that plunged the country into depression in 1929. The WPA hired workers for public works, including building roads, bridges, schools and other public projects. Workers didn’t make much money, but it was better than no money at all. Among his many failed promises when he was elected three years ago, Donald Trump pledged to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. We’re still waiting for the beginning of any part of that promise.


Both the WPA and CCC were bipartisan projects, supported by Democrat and Republican alike. Unless you are very very old you do not remember the beginning and all too short but incredibly productive life of the CCC. Even I, who is older than television and either one of the callow youths vying for the presidency this November, do not remember when Franklin Delano Roosevelt fathered the CCC in 1933, an extension of an idea he began as governor of New York before he became president in 1932. But, the chances are pretty good that you have experienced the legacy of the CCC at some time in your life, especially if you are an outdoor oriented person.


Those enduring lodges, cabins, and other state park facilities you have enjoyed, those trails you have hiked, often were built by the CCC workers over the nine year history of the program.


Overlooked and often forgotten amid the deluge of progressive legislation that hauled America out of the despond of depression is the role of FDR in wildlife conservation. Before his death in 1945, FDR had overseen the creation of 150 National Wildlife Refuges—the largest such system in the world. In 1934, the year that I was born, FDR signed the Migratory Bird Hunting in Conservation stamp act. We know it today as the duck stamp, funds from which have bought and maintained the nation’s national wildlife refuges for more than 80 years.


Much of the work in the early years of the refuge system fell to the CCC which built water control structures, access roads, buildings and trails, picnic and viewing areas and other facilities to serve the public, as well as migratory wildlife. I’ve spent many hours on Missouri’s several national wildlife refuges— hunting geese at Swan Lake, bicycling at Squaw Creek, and searching for state record trees in the swamps at Mingo Refuge in Southeast Missouri.


As if that were not conservation legacy enough, FDR in 1935 established the Soil Conservation act, aimed at stopping dustbowl erosion and beginning the long process of reclaiming the Great Plains from the Dirty Thirties. From that act came the Soil Conservation Service (SCS which today is the ASCS). One comment summed the problem up, “sailors 300 miles off the Atlantic coast often needed to sweep Kansas soil from the decks of the ship.” The CCC quickly became involved planting shelter belts totaling more than 200,000,000 trees as windbreaks. Many were Osage Orange, providing wonderful shelter for quail coveys (I speak from personal experience, having hunted the remaining windbreaks for years). Sadly, modern farming has resulted in many if not most of those shelter belts being ripped up to make way for a few more yards of row crop farming.


We will never know the misery of the Dirty Thirties unless, God forbid , we endure a second Dustbowl. FDR said, “I shall never forget the fields of wheat so blasted by heat that they cannot be harvested. I shall never forget field after field corn stunted, earless and stripped of leaves.  For what the sun left the grasshoppers took. I saw brown pastures which would not keep a cow on 50 acres.”


In 1937, FDR’s administration established the National Grasslands, located in 13 states, covering more than 3,000,000 acres. Slowly, those acres regained some of the historic grandeur they had enjoyed before drought and the plow turned them to useless dust. The contrast between those restored grassland acres and, even today, overgrazed adjacent acreage often is stark and a continual reminder that natural landscape devastation is just around the corner if we don’t take heed.  Just one day of hiking a national grassland, chasing sharp tailed grouse or prairie chickens should be enough to convince any doubter of the value of undisturbed native grass prairie.


We seriously need a new New Deal and we’re not going to find it under Donald Trump whose whole administration is dedicated to destroying the legacy of the original New Deal. Take the AK-47s out of the grimy hands of the so-called “protesters” who are not in any way protesting anything but their supposed right to do as they damn well please, never mind the law and common morality, and put them to work. Let them rebuild the bridges, the deteriorating roadways, and other public works projects necessary for the common good. Maybe a year or two of mandated public service will cure them of their selfish, stupid, narrow minded, bigot laden attitudes.


Woody Guthrie, balladeer of the Dustbowl wrote this “you could see that dust storm and the cloud looked deathlike black/ and through our mighty nation, it left a dreadful track.” Guthrie would go on to write the enduring anthem of hope and celebration for the United States of America:


 “this land is your land/

this land is my land/

This land was made for you and me.”







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  • Blog
  • May 14th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


Many years ago, during my one trip across the big water to England, I spent a magical afternoon in the British Museum amid artifacts of history that have shaped the world we live in today. There was the Rosetta Stone that unlocked the secrets of the hieroglyphs in Egyptian tombs. But of all the earth shattering exhibits, two captured my attention more than all the rest.


One was the scrawled words to “Yesterday” by the Beatles’ John Lennon, and the other was a water stained page from a manuscript written along a riverbank on a day when it rained and smeared the ink on the words being inscribed there by guy named Charles Dodgson. He became considerably better known as Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice in Wonderland.” Despite the fact that Dodgson apparently had an unhealthy real life interest in underage girls, his pair of books about a little girl’s adventures in a fantasy world down a rabbit hole and behind a mirror, have captured the spirit, mind, and imagination of readers ever since and will continue to do so on into eternity (if, given the current state of a world, beset by pandemic, unending bloodshed, and bloodthirsty, power mad rulers, there is an eternity in our future).


I can easily visualize a modern-day tea party (not Newt Gingrich’s version of political insanity of a few years back but a Trumpian version with Fat Donnie as the screaming, incoherent red Queen, surrounded by such as the Mad Hatter (Stephen Miller), the drowsy, dimwitted Dormouse (Jared Kushner), and the dithering and ever behind the curve white rabbit (Mike pence). All gathered for a brunch of diet Pepsi and cheeseberders. And don’t forget Donald Trump Junior and Eric Trump as Tweedledum and Tweedledumber.


Even as Lewis Carroll was speckled by raindrops and energized by imagination, he could never have imagined the fantasies being realized today, far more goofy than anything Alice encountered. I am experiencing a continuing nightmare, epitomized by the sight of the president of the United States co-opting the nation’s monument to Abraham Lincoln to conduct a politically motivated interview with Fox News, while at the same time the Missouri legislature a shallow imitation of Donald Trump’s national psychotic rampage put aside matters of state importance (like the budget, for example) to legalize brass knuckles.


As if the issue of brass knuckles weren’t important enough, our Neanderthal state representatives, Republicans all, would like to legalize feral hog hunting, thereby loosing on the state a sort of porcine pandemic to go along with the actuality of coronavirus. It would make sense to me if the gourd heads of the right had made it legal to hunt feral hogs only with brass knuckles. That might weed out a few of the genetically disadvantaged folks who think that the science of wildlife management is better served by them than it is by trained and experienced professionals.


But those same folks, when they aren’t encouraging further infestation by rampaging piggies, will be gathering in mobs of well armed protesters against mandated or suggested limits to their imagined right to cloak the countryside with droplets of Covid 19 virus. If they were just infecting each other, I say have at it, but the insidious little microbes are not selective— they nail innocent and guilty alike.


So here we are, trapped in a modern society overpopulated by mindless acolytes of Trumpian philosophy, insisting on mythical rights to infect the innocent.


I’m currently reading a thriller novel titled “Summit” where one of the characters, perhaps channeling the philosophy of the book’s author, Harry Farthing, says “every time we build a pyre of alternative beliefs and kindle it with anarchy, it always ends up burning with dictatorship and racism.” Doesn’t that sound like what Donald J Trump and his evil minions have tried to create in our country? We have already experienced the ludicrous claim by the Wicked Witch of the West Wing, Kellyanne Conway, that there exists in Trump World “alternative facts” and Trump’s demonstrated aspirations to be a racist dictator are numerous.


He is monomaniacally dedicated to building a wall between the United States and Mexico. It consumed his tweet infested life until Covid 19 came along to divert his attention. He’s already tried to shift blame for a worldwide virus to the Democrats and the Obama administration. His hatred of Barack Obama is monumental—fueled by his innate racism, no doubt a legacy from his father Fred who marched with the Ku Klux Klan, and his hatred of anything and anybody who is better than he is.


As an example of just how evil this sluggish hell boy is, his Department of Justice, headed by the thuggish butt kisser, William Barr, is suing the century old Sacred Heart orphanage along the US-Mexico border, to grab 68 acres. For this blatant misuse of the government’s eminent domain power, the Trumpies are offering $100 in compensation for their intrusion. As Dana Carvey as the church lady on Saturday Night Live used to say in a syrupy voice, “isn’t that special!”


How can any citizen of the United States of America hear the president proclaim that he has been treated worse than any previous president, including Abraham Lincoln, and not go looking for a nearby bush to throw up? Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed by an assassin, you freaking moron! If you think that embarrassing questions asked by reporters about your embarrassing behavior is worse than an assassin’s bullet, you obviously are way beyond the definition of clinically insane.


The photo of Trump who forced the closure of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial to everyone but him and two Fox News lapdogs so he could conduct a three-person campaign rally, was absolutely gut wrenching. In my own fantasy world, I visualize that, like a scene from a nineteen fifties fantasy movie, the seated statue of Lincoln, would come to life, rise from the chair in which he is seated, and stomp the fat presidential imposter to oblivion, kind of like squashing a repulsive garden slug.


Trump hasn’t yet made a ludicrous claim, currently infesting the Internet and promulgated by conspiracy theorists, but don’t hold your breath that he won’t do it if he thinks he can get away with it (and apparently he thinks he can get away with anything). The claim is that the Bill Gates Foundation has patented coronavirus. It took about 15 seconds to Google that and find that it is as obviously false as you should think it is. Bill and Melinda Gates are among the rare billionaires who have dedicated much of their fortune to humanitarian outlets. Going years back, Bill Gates was warning that the world was in the sights of a pandemic. The New York Times found that there are at least 16,000 Facebook posts and 10 YouTube videos with some 5,000,000 views falsely claiming Gates is responsible for the Covid 19 pandemic. That’s 5,000,000 people who should have been sickened by the execrable claim whether they get sickened by Covid 19 or not.


In fact, the Gates Foundation has pledged $250,000,000 toward fighting the pandemic and toward developing and manufacturing a vaccine. Will Trump buy into this ludicrous series of attacks on Bill Gates and his foundation? Don’t count it out— Gates has been critical of The Donald and that’s all it takes to get on his dark side (is there any other side?)


For those who are protesting some imagined abrogation of their imaginary rights, I have no sympathy whatsoever. They are willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent people whom they might contaminate, just so they can pursue their normal routine which in all too many cases is dedicated to making trouble for the majority. The attitude of these people was summed up graphically on the front page of our local newspaper a few days ago when the state began tentative steps toward what they foolishly call “normalcy”. The photo was of a man getting a haircut (barbershops were allowed to reopen). He had just come from his job at Capital Region Hospital which just happens to be where our family doctor. and most of the other physicians we’ve had contact with in the last several years are located. So here is a guy whose job mandates that he be in the vicinity of Covid 19 patients and potentially infected surfaces on a daily basis who feels that immediately transporting his possible viral aura to the local barbershop is a peachy keen thing to do.


For all I know, the guy’s job is such that his contact with the virus is no more dangerous than anyone else’s, but his attitude certainly makes me a whole lot more wary of him and his like than I already was. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the wearing of a mask in public is not so much protecting you from Covid 19, but protecting others from you spreading it to them. Our president and vice president rely on the defense that they are tested daily—but each has had a close associate test positive in the past several days. Likewise, our governor in Missouri toured the local HyVee grocery store a day after throwing the state open to so-called “normal” activity, not wearing a mask and spewing potentially toxic Covid 19 droplets in every direction. Our leaders are setting a fine example.  “It’s a matter of personal preference,” he told the state’s citizens. My preference is that he be soundly defeated in November.


The obvious bottom line to the right wing approach to the coronavirus pandemic is not to curtail the disease, find a solution, or emphasize citizen safety, no matter the cost—but to protect at any cost (the cost being human life) Trump’s reelection campaign. God forbid that we should be deprived of the privilege of enduring four more years with Trump at the helm of state. And I hope God is in a forbidding mood.


The increasing frequency of positive Covid 19 tests on members of Trump’s and Pense’s immediate staff is beginning to give the appearance of a noose tightening. The two Bumblers in Chief have to be feeling the heat of retribution for their incompetence. It’s inhumane to wish pestilence on anyone but, damn, it’s sure tempting.


But for those who protest because they have been laid off or fired or otherwise prevented from making a decent living—in many cases enough of a living just to keep living, it’s impossible not to be sympathetic. The so-called stimulus checks are Band-Aids on a horrendous wound, a temporary fix to an insurmountable problem. In fact, I have yet to get mine and I suspect I never will, but so what—I have given it already to candidates who are pledged to defeat the Evil Empire of Donald J Trump and those who worship him. I can’t vote against Lindsey Graham or Mitch McConnell, but I sure as hell can give money to the people running against them and devote my evening prayers to the possibility that deadly duo and those who think like them will be sent back to the political sewage system that spawned them.


Charles Dodgson seemed like an amiable enough chap, certainly talented enough as a writer to have created several works that have endured for a century and a half, but there are several parallels between him and Donald J Trump that give one pause. There is a photo of Dodgson kissing 11 year old Alice Liddell, who supposedly was the model and inspiration for the fictional Alice. There is an almost identical photo of Donald J Trump kissing his daughter, Ivanka. Dodson allegedly proposed to the 11-year-old and had a lifelong fascination with underage girls—to the point that he, who became an accomplished photographer, took many nude photographs of them. Fat Donnie has said publicly that if Ivanka weren’t his daughter he’d probably be dating her..


Dodson was a political conservative, like Trump professes to be, but certainly was without the ability or the power to destroy his home country. Of those two exhibits at the British Museum, while I cherish the sight of the raindrop-battered page from the manuscript of “Alice in Wonderland” I think I’ll stick with the prophetic message of the Beatles “Yesterday”.


                                “Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away/

                                Now it looks as though they’re here to stay/

                                Oh, I believe in yesterday”

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  • Blog
  • May 8th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


Picture this: a moonless night in the Arkansas Ozarks, stars twinkling overhead, perhaps a distant call of a whippoorwill, a group of unshaven men gathered around a campfire which is slowly crumbling into glowing embers, the music from a guitar and mandolin having silenced because it is time not to listen to Jay and Ralph playing “Life Is Like a Mountain Railway” in perfect harmony, not to fashion rough edged stories of hunts past, or to do what most think rough edged men do when gathered in hunting camps (tell rowdy and profane lies to each other) but to listen to John Madson read an essay written a century earlier about the capricious Missouri River.


This was not a stuffy lecture in a stuffy lecture hall in a stuffy college, delivered by a stuffy professor who had delivered the same stuffy lecture to countless inattentive and bored students for decades—this was John Madson, raconteur supreme, mesmerizing his audience—and, to John, his audience was any number from one to a thousand or more (and I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that for John an audience was himself if an idea occurred and there was no one around to hear it).


It was a quarter of a century ago that John Madson left us heartbroken to entertain the angels with stories told only as John could tell them. The Arkansas woods may still have wild turkeys and knots of unshaven hunters gathered around campfires at night, but I am certain that there is no one in those fire lit circles being entertained by words of magic and stories that only Madson could tell.


John’s literary legacy is very much a family affair. His wife, Dycie, whom he met in college, was a talented illustrator. She illustrated John’s books and his son Chris, now retired as the editor of Wyoming Wildlife magazine, has created a reputation of his own as one of the most talented, thoughtful and perceptive conservation writers operating today. Chris has only one blot on his otherwise unblemished reputation— he is the only member of the vaunted Arkansas turkey camp gang ever to actually shoot a turkey. We threatened him with banishment for spoiling our spotless record of futility, but when he exhibited penitence and groveled enough, we let him back into our hapless gathering.


The Arkansas turkey camp was the brainchild of Jay Kaffka, a sprightly Arkansan whose great joy in life was serving as camp majordomo and woodlands chef. Jay didn’t hunt; he fussed around camp when he wasn’t playing backup guitar to the sweet mandolin of his friend Ralph Philbrook. One memorable day, Jay furnished the material for that night’s campfire story. In the midst of preparing  dinner, Jay swatted at an annoying insect and ran a Rapala filet knife completely through his bicep. John insisted that they go to town to have the wound checked out by a doctor.


The doctor examined the knife wound which miraculously had missed veins, arteries, or any other essential body parts and asked suspiciously, “you boys getting along all right out there?” En route back to camp they needed to replenish the camp water supply and stopped at a ramshackle cabin where an old man sat on the deck cradling a 22 caliber rifle with which, he said, he was shooting sparrows off his martin house. “The house was full of holes,” John said, “so he couldn’t have been very successful at it.  “He looked to be about two heartbeats away from a massive stroke. I asked if we could get any water and he said to help ourselves from a rusty pump. The water didn’t look any healthier than the man and I asked if it was all right and he said ‘Ah bin drinkin’ it all mah life and it ain’t hurt me none yet.’”


And there, with appropriate flourishes and judicious editing was that night’s campfire story.


John Madson was born in Iowa in 1923. He served in the  Army Air Corps in World War II and once told an enthralled group of us in the Arkansas turkey woods about trying to kick loose a bomb that had failed to release. It’s not considered wise to land a bomber with a live, unexploded bomb lodged in the open bomb bay. It’s also not conducive to longevity to be the airman delegated to hang over the open bay and try to kick loose the unexploded bomb. John did it and returned from the service to get a wildlife biology degree from Iowa State in1951. He edited the Iowa Conservation Department magazine  from which experience came a series of essays that later were collected into his first book “Stories From Under the Sky” published by the Iowa State University Press. For years I would order multiple copies of the book to give as gifts to people I thought would appreciate John’s incomparable writing about nature and conservation.


In a short essay from “Stories” John examined his approach to nature. He placed himself somewhere between Thoreau and a cynic who said when someone told her they were going for a walk in nature, “well, kick a tree for me.” John wrote “ Nature transcends love, goodness, malevolence or evil. It is simply a primordial force—shining, aloof and brooding, a vast sweep of power too awful to be imbued with human emotions, virtues or mistress. It is as presumptuous to adore nature as it is to kick a redwood.”


But John did not only love nature; he understood it. The evidence is in his book-long tributes to two towering ecosystems of Mid-America—”Up On the River” about the Mississippi, and “Where the Sky Began”, about the once vast tallgrass prairie.


Apparently I bought out the backlist of “Stories” finally after the book went out of print. It has been reprinted and is available from Amazon. Anyone who has not read Madson should immediately order a copy—not to see the early undeveloped Madson, because there is no such thing.


John’s son, Chris, updated me on the status of John’s books, including a rare series of booklets he did for Winchester on natural history and conservation. Chris says, “These days, the University of Iowa Press is publishing “Stories From Under the Sky”,” Up On the River”, “Out Home”, and “Where the Sky Began”.   While they’re not making much money, it is a tribute to their unique quality that they are still in print after all these years.”   You can find an extensive list of Madson books at (and several copies of the squirrel booklet indeed list for more than $300–but also there are far less expensive ones for sale).


John Madson’s prose was luminous from the beginning and remained so until his death in 1995.  John Madson was my friend, my mentor, my role model, and the best writer I’ve ever known. Once we shared a panel on writing at an Outdoor Writers Association of America conference where John told the audience, “there is no such thing as an outdoor writer; there are only writers who write about the outdoors.” And John did it better than anyone ever.


About his books, John once told me, with a deprecating grin, “I’m in the business of writing instant collector’s items.” To which I can only say anyone who has not collected John Madson’s books and cherishes them, is missing one of life’s great reading pleasures.


After a stint working as a feature writer for the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, John became assistant conservation director for Winchester Western and settled in Godfrey, Illinois, with the Mississippi River flowing practically at his doorstep. The Big River would contribute material for another of his wonderful books “Up On the River.”


It’s impossible to pick one of John’s books and as “the best” but there’s a good argument that “Where the Sky Began” is a strong contender. John was an Iowa boy born and raised in a state that historically hosted a wide sweep of windswept tallgrass prairie, now almost totally replaced by waving green corn stalks. You can’t read John’s book without gaining an appreciation for the tallgrass prairie even if you’ve never seen it, and chances are you haven’t because today what once was an enormous chunk of the country has been confined to relatively small remnants. Although it is named for a congressman, the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge, 8600 acres in southern Iowa just south of the appropriately named Prairie City, might just as well be named for John Madson, the most accomplished chronicler of what once was the dominant ecosystem of much of Mid-America.


It’s an irony of modern times that the refuge, now an attempt to recapture a fragment of what once was Iowa’s signature ecosystem, originally was intended to be the site of a nuclear power plant. Some years back, when the refuge was in its development stage, one of the intended exhibits in the visitor center was a tribute to John Madson. I was honored to be asked to comment on John for a film to be shown in the center. I don’t know if it’s still running or not, but to have been asked to pay tribute to my hero was a high point in my life.


You might say John’s life was circumscribed by his two greatest ecosystem loves. The Mississippi River forms the East boundary of his childhood home state, Iowa, and also the western boundary of his home in later life, Illinois. But not only was the Mississippi prominent in his childhood, more so was the tallgrass prairie that once blanketed virtually the whole of Iowa, a prairie wind billowing the tall stalks of big bluestem and Indian grass like the waves in an ocean.


In his prairie book, John wrote about an experience he had when he was a kid, just out of school on summer vacation. “I am 12 years old, rejoicing in the heady miracle of shedding both shoes and school—hurrying toward the Skunk River and into a summer that had six Saturdays in every week. There on the fence dressed to the nines in gold and black and shouting his howdies to every newly freed schoolboy in Iowa, perched a meadowlark. Inspired, I whistled back. My first try was almost perfect, and I’ve never forgotten how. The western meadowlark and I sang the same song that morning and we still do.”


Once John came to quail hunt with Spence Turner and me. We met in the coffee shop of a local motel and John confessed “I couldn’t sleep last night. I’m like a little kid when I’m going quail hunting. Later, in the field, my dog went on staunch point and we moved in behind him three abreast and a rabbit jumped and ran and I scolded the dog and we took another step and a huge covey flushed. Startled, no one took a shot. The dog’s expression was disgust; mine was embarrassed shame.


John would have appreciated that my two bird dogs when I let them out to stretch their legs before filming for the refuge exhibit spot were overwhelmed by a wall of pheasant scent and lost their minds, flushing birds and running wild to the dismay of refuge personnel and me.


John Madson can’t be summed up in any single word only by the phrase “one-of-a-kind.” He was my friend, my mentor, my role model. I still can hear him telling about the Illinois circus train whose elephant became defunct en route from one town to another, whereby the circus owner simply dumped it beside the tracks and moved on, leaving the nearby downwind town to deal with a rapidly decomposing and unwelcome problem. Or the story about the conservation agent in Iowa, when John worked there, who had a pet monkey and a pet cat. The scandalous story involved the monkey’s habit of trying to sexually assault the cat. Even writing about it is impossible. You had to hear John tell it.


 John had a talent for finding roughhewn characters and bringing them to life on the printed page. Just as he wrote with affection in one of his essays about the charm for him of a shrew, so would he write with affection about a river rat or some other scruffy member of society who had something to say that John was the ideal interpreter for.


If anecdotes were lacking John had a rare gift for creating his own. Once, at an Outdoor Writers conference John and I were sharing a beer when John spied Grits Gresham, a regular on the popular television program Wide World of Sports, sitting nearby. In a voice just loud enough for Grits to hear, John said “you ever watch that stupid program on TV with Grits Gresham? What a phony.” I was in a position to see Grits’ neck begin to turn red. John continued “I wouldn’t watch that show if you paid me. That Gresham makes up half the stuff he talks about.” Grits spun around ready for battle, realized who the speaker was and shamefacedly grumbled, “Madson, you old son of a bitch!”


He did it to me at another outdoor writers conference when he was launching clay birds for us on a trap range. I stepped timidly forward gun at the ready, well aware of my enormous shortcomings as as a shotgunner. John said “don’t let the fact that your peers are watching influence you. Remember, just concentrate and don’t think about what they’re probably saying about your shooting.”


By then I couldn’t have hit a bull elephant standing 15 feet from me, much less a clay bird launched out of a trap thrower. I don’t know how many in a row that I missed, but it was however many John pulled.


I met John about 1969 when I started working for the Missouri Conservation Department and John was doing a series of articles, gratis, for the Missouri Conservationist magazine, an essay about each month of the year. I know he didn’t get paid because at that time the Conservationist didn’t pay for freelance articles. He did it probably out of the goodness of his heart and because he was friends with my coworkers on the Conservationist staff. At the time, John was working for the Olin Corporation (Winchester Western) and was writing the series of booklets for them on conservation and natural history. Chances are, you’d never find any of those today, but I’m lucky enough to have what I think is a complete collection.


Chris adds information about the Winchester booklets, “In this era of internet services specializing in finding out-of-print books, it is possible to lay one’s hands on copies of the game booklet series.  I remember when Winchester finally quit sending them out free of charge because the demand was just too great. So they decided to charge a buck a copy. These days, the price runs from $4 for a beat-up copy of the pheasant book to $300 (!) for the book on gray and fox squirrels. For most of them, used copies in good condition run from $15 to $20. Wherever he is, Dad must smile when he considers that.”


One final John Madson story. National Geographic magazine commissioned John to write a piece about the Nebraska Sandhills. An assignment from national Geo is an acknowledgment that a writer has reached the pinnacle. If writers about the natural world dream of a heaven exclusive to them, it is that they be assigned there by Nat Geo when they die.


You tend to think of National Geo writers traveling to far corners of the known and unknown world where the natives are likely to be carrying spears, and the encountered wildlife is armed with fang and claw. But the Sandhills of north-central and Northeast Nebraska are a far cry from the jungles of Zimbabwe or the Masai Mara. This vast expanse of rolling dunes covering more than 19,000 square miles is a relic of the last Ice Age when retreating glaciers deposited sand which manages to grow sparse native grass covering strong enough to hold the sand in place. It’s an easy place to get lost— there are no eminences or other points of reference.


You can drive through part of the Sandhills on state Highway 20, sometimes called “the loneliest Highway in the United States.” Just south of the highway in Cherry County, the largest county in the state, is the Nebraska National Forest, established in 1908 as an experiment to see if a forest could be created in the treeless Great Plains. At one time, it was the largest such anomaly in the world, covering nearly 142,000 acres. It continues to exist as a man planted ponderosa pine forest, but the central question, given that the Cherry County sandhills are nature’s experiment in creating a completely treeless plains, the question about the Nebraska National Forest is why?


Anyway, John headed for the Sandhills equipped with notebook and a lavish National Geographic expense account. In his motel room he looked at the furnished Nat Geo book for listing his expenses. In typical over-the-top Geographic style, it was leather bound and contained pages for writing down every possible expense that an assigned writer could run into. In addition to the typical meals, housing, travel and other expected expenses, John ran across one page that brought him up short.


“Gifts to natives…..” What the hell? He wasn’t in deepest Africa, the jungles of South America, or any other place where trinkets or other tribute to the indigenous population would seem to apply. But the magazine did not reckon with the impish imagination of John Madson.


“I was riding around in a rusty old pickup one day, back in the sandhills,” John said. “I was wearing an old bush style jacket. I was with a local rancher and we were shooting the breeze about the country and living in it, when he said,’ that’s a mighty fine jacket you got there, John’ and the light bulb went on.”


That night, in his motel room, John opened the glitzy National Geographic, leather bound expense book and gleefully made a notation on the gifts to natives page: “one bush jacket.”


So there we were in the Arkansas woods, grouped around the campfire listening to stories of abandoned dead elephants and rapacious monkeys. The night sky glittered with an infinity of stars. I looked around at this scruffy group, enraptured by riveting stories told by an incomparable storyteller and I thought “John Madson, gift to natives.”


He was and always will be a gift to us all.






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