Turning a Bad Health Care Plan Into a Total Wreck

I stole the title of this post from Kevin Drum who posted today [not today; I forgot to publish this on the day of Drum’s post] about theEssential Health Benefits (EHB) that the Republican health plan (ill-health plan would be a more apt term) would have taken away.  Here is what he says about EHBs:

Essential Health Benefits. These are things which every health care plan is required to cover, and Obamacare spells out ten of them:

  1. Doctor visits
  2. Emergency room visits
  3. Hospital visits
  4. Prescription drugs
  5. Pediatric care
  6. Lab services
  7. Preventive care
  8. Maternity care
  9. Mental health care
  10. Rehabilitation services

The Republican health care bill is still having trouble getting enough votes to pass, so Paul Ryan is thinking about placating conservatives by repealing all of these EHBs. This means that a health insurer could literally sell you a policy that didn’t cover doctor visits, hospital visits, ER visits, your children’s health care, or prescription drugs—and still be perfectly legal.

What it means to me is that conservatives and Republicans do not want you to have any health care at all if you can’t afford it on your own.  You can just die or go into bankruptcy.  Who cares?  You got cancer because you’re a bad person.

Harry Truman

Check out Kevin’s blog.  He is posting a storm about the farce that the Republicans are trying to foist upon us all.  Hopefully, they will fail miserably [they did!!!], thus preserving the status quo that is far, far better than anything the Republicans have been able to come up with even though they’ve had at least eight years.  More like 70 years if you go back to Harry Truman’s attempt to implement health care that was, of course, foiled by the Republicans.

 

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T-Shirts and Shorts

I look out the window and see people running in t-shirts and shorts, sweaters tied around their shoulders, no longer needed.  And it’s only mid-morning.

I stroll downtown and hear the growl and roar of over-large motorcycles, a curse on our small river town and a sign of spring.

I guess it must be spring ’cause my windows are wide open. and will probably remain so until November.  But that’s too far in the future to worry about.

In fact, why worry about anything but today.

In fact, why worry at all?  Alfred E. Neuman* wouldn’t.


*  fictitious mascot and cover boy of Mad, an American humor  and satire magazine

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Trust and Good Faith

Michael Hann at The Guardian recently wrote about what he has learned after 16 years as The Guardian’s music editor.

Of course, there are spivs and money grubbers, as there are in any industry that has historically promised large and fast returns. But pretty much everyone I’ve met who works in music does so because they love it, and they don’t make fortunes from it. Music is a remarkably uncorrupt world: there’s an awful lot of trust and good faith involved. And it ignites the passions, still. The surest way to get an interview with one of the old lags of rock off to a good start is to ask them about the music they loved when they were 17. You can see their eyes light up as they recall how they fell in love with music.

His point that music still ignites the passions started me thinking about what I loved when I was 17, and 27, and 37, and, God forbid, 67.  I remembered many highlights.  Here are some in a tediously long list.

Church music, always, from my earliest memories onward.  Listening to my Dad in the Senior Choir at church.

Going with Mom to hear the Minnesota Symphony at the junior high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  Early 1960s.

A band from the Twin Cities playing at the Telemark Ski Resort near Hayward, Wisconsin, circa 1965.  The band featured an organ – definitely cool.  Great music mixed with skiing and my fellow teenage skiing buddies.

Rural beer bars in north-west Wisconsin, 1960s.  In those days, there were rural areas where those under 21 years of age could drink in taverns that served only beer.  Some of them had live music.  We had some fine times at the beer bars (they always had dirt parking lots) and are lucky we never crashed our cars on the country roads after a night out.

The Beatles, Bloomington, Minnesota, August 21, 1965, at Met Stadium, the old ballpark where the Minnesota Twins played in the 60s and 70s.  The stage was set up on second base.  I don’t remember much about the concert except that we almost left the tickets at home.  I, my girlfriend, and two other couples.

A country tavern on Long Lake in Chippewa County, Wisconsin owned by an old German with a heavy accent.  I think his name was Maxie and the tavern was Maxie’s; I don’t remember.  On request, he would get out his accordion (or was it a violin) and play for us.  Late 1960s.

Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, late 1960s, Madison, Wisconsin.  This was straight out of the movie Animal House although we didn’t realise it at the time.  We just thought we were cool.  On two or three Saturdays a month we would have beer parties with bands from Milwaukee or Chicago – black soul bands; the frat was all white.  We drank and danced up a storm; my frat brothers and my girlfriend.

Music festivals in the Woodstock era.  I went with a girlfriend to Sound Storm, Wisconsin’s first outdoor rock festival in 1970 outside Poynette in Columbia County a bit north of Madison.  Here’s what a Wisconsin Historical Society essay says about Sound Storm:

About 30,000 people attended Sound Storm, the majority sneaking in through the woods without paying. [I think we paid, but I remember climbing over a barbed-wired fence.  Perhaps my memory is shaky.]  The Columbia County sheriff, seeing his officers exponentially outnumbered by hippies and bikers, wisely decided to ignore misdemeanors such as nudity and drug use. LSD and other psychedelic drugs were everywhere, along with marijuana and cheap, screw-top wine. Medical students staffed first aid and “bad trips” tents [that I had to visit after ripping my thigh open on the barbed-wire fence], volunteers from the Hog Farm commune in New Mexico helped as stage announcers, and Madison’s Mifflin Street Co-op provided free food. Throughout the weekend, ecstatic dancers whirled before the stage. When undercover officers infiltrated the crowd, Pete [the event organizer] dropped 10,000 fliers from a helicopter urging the audience not to harm them. Fans frolicked in nearby Rowan Creek, even crowning their own “Mud King.” Two members of the band Northern Comfort got married on stage. At night, the York farm sparkled with hundreds of campfires. Only a handful of injuries or arrests were reported.

A block party in Madison, WI, early 1970s.  A band called Virginia Rose (or was that the name of the female lead singer?).  This was when I was discovering country music under the influence of early country-rock bands like Poco.  Virginia Rose was great.

Johnny Cash, Champagne -Urbana, IL, early 70s.  I and my girlfriend drove down from Madison to visit friends from high school and see the man in black.  Johnny only got better and better in the succeeding years.

Nights at the Birchmere in a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, DC. , mid-to-late 1970s, The Red Clay Ramblers, great stage show; the original Seldom Scene with Ben Eldridge, John Starling, Mike Auldridge, Tom Gray, and John Duffey.  More beer drinking with my latest girlfriend, my best buddy Bruce, and a few other cronies from work.  The best bluegrass ever!

The Annual Indiana Fiddlers’ Gathering in Battle Ground just outside of Lafayette, IN, summer of ’79.  At the time, a small bluegrass festival, today in its 45th year.  The first time I saw people bring pieces of flat, thin, smooth wood to a festival that they would put on the ground as a surface for flat dancing or clog dancing (not sure what is the correct name for this style of dancing.)

Stumbled on a free, outdoor show by The Whites (Buck and daughters Sharon and Cheryl) in Georgetown, Washington, DC.  I think they were then called Buck White and the Downhome Folks.  Sharon later married Ricky Skaggs.  They are now in the country hall of fame.

A Holiday Inn in Lafayette, Indiana, 1978.  A bluegrass band.  I’ve tried to find the name of the band only to come up with a number of possibilities.  I think the band included Rickie Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and J.D. Crowe, but would such hotshots of bluegrass and country be playing in a Holiday Inn in Indiana?  Can I trust my memory?  They were wonderful musicians and well-known in bluegrass.  Keith would die too soon.  Rickie would be swamped in the Nashville scene but later escaped to return to something closer to his roots.

National Folk Festival, at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, an outdoor music venue near Washington, DC.  Many stages set up throughout the rolling countryside of is Vienna, Virginia.  Great music, non-commercial music.

Springfield, IL, 1998, driving home from Atlanta, my wife and I stumbled on an old, brick, two-story Italian restaurant in the university neighbourhood.  We ate upstairs where there was a wandering fiddler.  We listened for a long time and, because we were almost the only ones there, we had the fiddler to ourselves for a long time.  He played everything we requested.  A similar experience with my wife at the Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter (circa 2000) in Stillwater, Minnesota where we were entertained by the house accordionist.

Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, MN: late 80’s, early to mid 90’s.  It’s still there and going strong, but I, unfortunately, haven’t been back in too long a time:

  • A group of Hawaiian slack-key guitarists and singers.  They didn’t know quite what to make of the winter.
  • Robin and Linda Williamson, tremendous in person.
  • Pat Donohue, the long-time Prairie Home Companion’s guitarist
  • John Hammond, blues man

I shouldn’t have started this list.  I now realise how little live music I’ve heard in the last two decades.  I have partially made up for this by spending lots of time and money on building a home library of music.  It’s now all digital, but in the past, for financial reasons, I’ve sold a large collection of LPs and two large collections of CDs.  How I wish I still had them, some of which were a bit obscure and might be hard to find these days.  For example, in the late 70’s in a record store in Georgetown, Washington, DC, I bought an LP – a very fine LP – by Country Ham, a group I had never heard of when I bought the record.  I can find no records on iTunes by a band called Country Ham.

A German beer and dance hall in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC with my Czechoslovak girlfriend Vera, 1978.  My first experience waltzing.

Connecticut Ave, NW in Washington, DC, near the zoo in what was then a block or two of small retail, bars, and restaurants, circa 1976 – 77.  I think one of the first metro stations was built in this block

  • Donovan’s.  One night a week a band called Sheepshead Bay played.  I sat at the bar (once again drinking beer) thoroughly enjoying their mix of folk and political and cultural satire (Reston Isn’t Resting Anymore).
  • Right across the street, Ireland’s Four Provinces where I first tasted the pleasures of Harp Lager and listened to the best Irish music I’ve ever heard.
  • Also across the street was the movie theater where I saw the very first Star Wars in 1977.

Madrid 1973 in a tapas bar.  I and an acquaintance I met on the overnight train from Paris.  A three or four man combo strolls in off the street and blow our socks off with Spanish songs.

Mykonos, Greece, 1973:  listening to Greek music and watching the locals do their Greek circle dances.  Seemingly impromptu, but probably staged for the tourists, maybe a bit of both.

Blues Saloon in Frog Town in St. Paul.  The stage was on the second floor of an old, wood frame building.  One got upstairs using a seedy-looking staircase.  No frills in the concert room.  Just loud, raucous blues.  It reminded me of the movie Devil In a Blue Dress based on the first of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books.  The movie was my introduction to West Coast Blues, Jump Jazz, and other music of the black neighbourhoods in southern California in the years after World War II.  The movie didn’t get much attention and still doesn’t but is one of my favorites in part because of the music and a good performance by Denzel Washington.

Small Italian Restaurant on the far outskirts of N. VA suburbs of DC.  Bluegrass on weekends.  An old time, family group, I think a wife and husband singing.  As usual, I am at the bar drinking beer, eating pasta,  and soaking in the music and vibes.  On the rural fringe of the urban area.  An out of the way spot that I stumbled on by accident.

And still, above all, listening to music, dancing to music, working out to music, being brought to tears by music, fighting the blues (bad, bad blues) with music, smiling with music.

Let’s play on!

 

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Something Odd In the Forest

What Is This?

I spent the afternoon at the Fish Lake State Wildlife Area, a typical afternoon on the trails and in the woods except for the odd object I discovered on the forest floor, no more than a few inches high but looking very malevolent.

 

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Bottoms and Barrens

On the Old Railroad (now bike) bridge over the Chippewa River

I’ve been exploring the Chippewa River this spring and late winter in the stretch of river between Eau Claire and the Mississippi River near Pepin, Wisconsin.  Much of the terrain along this part of the river is barrens such as the Dunnville Barrens and bottoms such as the Dunnville Bottoms.  And yes, a bottoms can be a barrens.

Bottoms, as in bottomlands, are “low-lying land along a watercourse”  [Merriam-Webster.com].  Barrens are “level or slightly rolling land, usually with a sandy soil and few trees, and relatively infertile.”  [dictionary.com.]  So bottomland can be barren but not necessarily, and barrens can be on bottomland, but not necessarily.

This is part of the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area within the Dunnville Bottoms.

This is a fun area to explore.  It encompasses the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area, Dunnville Bottoms, the Dunnville State Wildlife Area, and the Dunnville State Rec Area and Sandbar (great for swimming).  The Red Cedar State Trail runs along its southern edge, crosses the river on an old railroad bridge, and ends at its intersection with the Chippewa River State Trail.  The Chippewa River State Trail runs along the river between Eau Claire and Durand.

 

 

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Color and Graffiti Downtown

Downtown Stillwater, Minnesota on a sunny Spring Day.

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A Soul Ripped Apart

Emmylou Harris

Have you ever listened to a song that reaches inside and shreds your soul?  I listened to one this afternoon on my way home in the car – an Emmylou Harris song.  The germane lyrics are below.  I think that a song can cause such anguish only when one has experienced what the song describes.  That was the case with me this afternoon.  I was near tears.  I don’t know why I am choosing to share this experience.  Maybe I’m trying to expiate my sins (for all the love I never gave her) as I enter gingerly into old age.  If I don’t do it now, maybe I’ll never have another chance.  Who knows?

He never thought he would marry
Too many women to explore
And even standing at the altar
He knew, somehow, he wanted more
Until the night he almost lost her
He kneeled beside her bed and cried
For all the love he never gave her
He felt so ashamed inside

He cried, my darling, please forgive me
I’ve been been lost and I’ve been blind
Trying to fill the empty places
While you’ve been waiting all this time
One true thing is all I want
One pure light to shine on through
Oh, my darling, please forgive me
I didn’t know it was you

Emmylou is one of the best singers of the last fifty years, regardless of genre. She is the best duet singer.  Anyone can sound good singing with Emmylou.  (Well, perhaps not myself.)  She can impart more emotion in a song than anyone else I am aware of.

I heard Emmylou on my iPod routed wirelessly through the car speakers.  I had the iPad set to shuffling through a long playlist.  The imp in my iPod who manages the shuffling followed up the song that shredded my soul with another weeper, this one by Rhiannon Giddens.  Then the imp, out of over a thousand songs to choose from selects another sad Emmylou song.  The probability of that happening by chance are similar to that of being hit by a meteorite just after you’d hit big on the lottery.  My iPod imp is mean!  I’m thinking of contacting Apple support and asking for a new imp that’s a bit more pleasant.  Has anyone had any luck with that?

The second Emmylou song wasn’t so wrenching.  The song, All That You Have Is Your Soul, has a message:

Hunger only for a taste of justice
Hunger only for a world of truth
‘Cause all that you have is your soul

The imp redeemed herself or himself (do imps have gender?) on the rest of the drive home.  Sweet Soul Music by Arthur Conley:

 Dancin’ to the music
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Soul Man by Sam and Dave, another classic from the sixties:

Got what I got the hard way
And I’ll make it better each and every day
So honey don’t you fret
‘Cause you ain’t seen nothing yet

Eventually, the imp played Walk Through The Bottom Land by Lyle Lovett.  Guess who accompanies Lyle on the song.  You’re right, Emmylou Harris.

François Jaques: Peasants Enjoying Beer at Pub in Fribourg

François Jaques: Peasants Enjoying Beer at Pub in Fribourg

I’ve blathered on enough.  I’m in a low dive on Main St drinking beer.  I’m going to sit back and enjoy one more.  Just one more, I promise.  Then I’ll go home.

Goodnight, sweetheart, well, it’s time to go
Goodnight, sweetheart, well, it’s time to go
I hate to leave you, but I really must say
Goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight

The McGuire Sisters

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Universal Law Of Geography

Sundown On the River Bottoms (1)

I mapped my hike before setting out today.  According to Google Maps, it would be 2000 feet from the parking lot to the river, 2000 back.  However, the universal law of geography kicked in not long after I started the hike.  I learned this rule in college on the first day of Geography 101.  The rule is that in nature, the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line.  There are always intervening ravines, impenetrable thickets, fierce and angry thorns, deep woods, wet ground, mean bulls (happened to me once, I swear).  Columbus ran into a continent.  Don’t forget the next-ridge corollary to the universal law.  When you finally reach the ridge you’ve been straining for, there is always one more ridge to go.

The universal law kicked in today.  I knew  I would be hiking over level ground and open fields with a band of trees along the river.  Should have been easy, even for me in my febrile old age.

Later:  I am now seated at the bar of a Mexican restaurant, an oasis for an exhausted, muscle-sore hiker trying to recover from what ended up a challenge.  Even so, I’m glad I went and finished the hike.  I captured some decent photos for my project on the Chippewa River.  Here is another universal law I learned in college but not in the classroom:  a cold beer (in this case Dos Equis Lager) never tastes so good as when one is tired and dry.  It tastes great and you can tell yourself that you’ve earned your beer, and the next one, and . . .

Here are some other photos from the hike in the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area southwest of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

 

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Wilted Lily With Pollen

Wilted Lily With Pollen

 

 

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Take Care

Simon Legree

America has never seen a party less caring than 21st-century Republicans

– Lindy West, The Guardian, 03/29/2017

This is the headline of an opinion piece in The Guardian.  Ms West’s article contains many spot-on quotes describing today’s debased version of the Republican party.  I will provide a few but suggest that you read the article in full.

I don’t know that America has ever seen a political party so divested of care. Since Trump took office, Republicans have proposed legislation to destroy unions, the healthcare system, the education system and the Environmental Protection Agency; to defund the reproductive health charity Planned Parenthood and restrict abortion; to stifle public protest and decimate arts funding; to increase the risk of violence against trans people and roll back anti-discrimination laws; and to funnel more and more wealth from the poorest to the richest. Every executive order and piece of GOP legislation is destructive [emphasis added], aimed at dismantling something else, never creating anything new, never in the service of improving the care of the nation . . .

[There is a] void at the heart of the [Republican] party, that loss of any tether to humanity . . .

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White Lily, Red Anthers

White Lily, Red Anthers

 

 

 

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Don’t Lose That Idea

Brain Pickings

I copied the following from Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s fine website:

The current of the river of life moves us. Awareness of life, beauty and happiness is the current of the river.

Agnes Martin in Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances as quoted by Maria Popova in the Brain Pickings weekly newsletter, 03/26/17

I had been fiddling with the idea of putting together a talk on creativity.  My thoughts weren’t very serious, more like daydreaming or fantasizing – who would want to listen to me talk about creativity?.  I’ve been thinking differently since reading the above.  I am 68, soon to be 69, years old.  I have a lot of experience in and knowledge about creativity that I am beginning to realize might be more than for most people.  I’ve studied creativity and am deeply engaged in creative activities.  Why not try to share?  I and I suspect a lot of others, tend to denigrate my own skills and creativity.  I have no credentials in photography other than a ribbon or two from one year at the county fair.  No art or photography degrees, no professional experience, no fame, fortune or celebrity.  I also come from Scandinavian stock and a Lake Wobegon upbringing, so I’m supposed to practice modesty and be self-effacing.

Enough of that!  I think a key to creativity is being able to recognize, accept, and do something with one’s ideas.  Don’t forget them or neglect them.  Some will be not worth pursuing, but some will be and may turn into something wonderful.  Carry a notebook or use a note-taking app on your smart phone.  I use a Samsung Galaxy Note that is great for note taking.

Consider a voice recorder.  Last week while in the midst of a two-hour drive, I was awash in ideas for blog posts.  Perhaps some were good ideas.  I had a blog post mapped out in my head, a post that would have had a lot of personal meaning for me.  The heart of the post was to have been a song lyric.  By the time I got home, I only vaguely remembered the lyrics.  I think the song was by Emmylou Harris.  I read the lyrics of dozens of her songs and could not find what I remember.  I eventually drafted the blog post, but it remains unposted because I CANT FIND THE SONG.  Drat!  If I had had a voice recorder I could have recorded the relevant information in 30 seconds.  I could have pulled over to the side of the road, but I was tired after a long day and didn’t.

Don’t lose Your Idea. It May Be a Good One.

The moral of this short story?  I lost an idea that could have been polished into something good because I did not record the idea.

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Parnell Prairie Preserve

I went out in my car around 4:00 PM.  I wanted to try to walk to the Arcola Railroad bridge from the Wisconsin side to photograph it.  No luck; there were no-parking signs along the road and the railroad right-of-way was posted with no-trespassing signs.  I could see the bridge through the bare trees.  It looked very high and impressive.  The branches were too thick for photography so I never got a photo of the bridge.

Parnell Prairie Preserve

I turned to Plan B.  I didn’t actually have a Plan B, so I extemporized.  The Parnell Prairie Preserve is just a few miles from where I was.  I’ve driven past the preserve many times and drove into the parking lot once but never stopped.  It didn’t look very impressive from the road.  So I went to the Preserve and discovered a sweet spot.  Nice trails.  Very pleasant.

There was an old, decaying very large tree trunk sawed into pieces near the road.  It looked like it had been there, decaying and moldering into the earth, for a long time.  All the things that grow on or around a decomposing tree stump provide lots of subjects for photography:  vines, lichen, moss, fungi, leaves, stems, thorns.  Much texture and color.  The color isn’t as showy as in wildflower season but it’s there if you look closely.  Tiny, bright red things on stalks held over green moss.  I don’t know what they were, but the red objects shone out in spite of their tininess.  Purple and red vines.  Old, decaying wood of a deep orange.

Most of the preserve is a rolling meadow.  Last year’s meadow grasses are still standing and are a fine golden, yellow-orange color.

The red stems of sumac with buds just waiting for some sun and warm weather.  A cluster of berries ranging in color from bright red to golden brown.  The silhouettes of bare trees and pine trees on a hilltop.

 

 

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Myths and More Myths

I got an e-mail today from the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Below is the meat of the e-mail.  Note that every statement of fact is well documented.

The fear of foreigners, the belief that refugees and immigrants are dangerous, the desire to keep them out — none of these things are new. But as our Teaching Tolerance project wrote this week in an updated post, these fears are often based on misinformation and lies.

It’s a myth, for example, that immigrants don’t want to learn English. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 56% of first-generation immigrants speak English “well” or “very well,” and the demand for English instruction actually far outstrips supply.

It’s a myth that immigrants are violent or criminal. According to a new report by The Sentencing Project, immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens. Higher levels of immigration may even have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates, researchers say.

In the run-up to both Muslim bans, perhaps the most widely circulated myth has been that refugees are not screened before entering the country, that banning them will keep the U.S. safe from terror.

But we know that refugees undergo more rigorous screenings than any other individuals the government allows in the U.S., and we know that no deaths in the U.S. have been attributed to people from the countries covered by either executive order in the last 30 years.

All of these myths, however far-fetched, are based on the same dangerous falsehood: that immigrants and refugees are somehow not like us. That they’re not students in search of an education. That they’re not families trying to make ends meet. That as “somebody else’s babies,” they don’t belong here.

Some of my own thoughts:  We Homo sapiens have been moving, migrating, traveling, wandering, fleeing since we became Homo sapiens.  Migration and movement are among the most fundamental currents in human history.  Migration has never been stopped in spite of numerous attempts to do so.  Migration will never be stopped.  The Romans tried.  The Chinese tried.  We Americans have tried in the past.  These attempts have never been successful.  It looks like we’re about to embark on an expensive, foolish, futile attempt to do so.  An attempt doomed from the start to failure.

Why not tear down the walls? (Didn’t a Republican president say something like this?)  ACCEPT immigrants and allow them to become a productive part of our society instead of condemning them to be outcasts on the peripheries.

 

Well, I’m not an immigrant, but all of my grandparents were.  All Americans can make a similar statement.  Even Native American ancestors came from Siberia.

 

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Wrinkles, Discolorations, Blemishes

I enjoy photographing botanical subjects that are past their prime.  Flowers, leaves, other things that are starting to show their age; wrinkles, discolorations, blemishes; such things can add character to beauty.  Perhaps I have this penchant because I am (this is hard to admit) beyond my prime and have wrinkles and age spots aplenty.  At this time of the year in my neck of the woods, everything outside is past its prime. Everything is dead.*   This morning I bought primroses at the grocery store.  Some of the flowers are starting to wilt.  I thought the wilt spots add interesting new color and texture to the already beautiful flowers.

Wilting Primrose

Wilting Primrose

* A paraphrase of Charles Dickens from David Copperfield:

I looked at her earnestly.

‘When you came away from home at the end of the vacation,’ said Mrs. Creakle, after a pause, ‘were they all well?’ After another pause, ‘Was your mama well?’

I trembled without distinctly knowing why, and still looked at her earnestly, making no attempt to answer.

‘Because,’ said she, ‘I grieve to tell you that I hear this morning your mama is very ill.’

A mist rose between Mrs. Creakle and me, and her figure seemed to move in it for an instant. Then I felt the burning tears run down my face, and it was steady again.

‘She is very dangerously ill,’ she added.

I knew all now.

‘She is dead.’

 

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Stumbling Around In the Woods

Trail On the Ridge

Trail On the Ridge

I wrote this post a year ago, March 21, 2016.  For some reason, I forgot to publish it.  Better late than never.

I went to the Wind In the Pines Nature Park yesterday.  As has happened before in the park, I was unable to follow the trails.  The trail map in the parking lot showed that to follow the route I chose, I should go left at the first fork and left again at the next T-intersection.  I didn’t find either of those things before coming to the end of the trail.  I tried to follow what seemed an obvious alternative.  The alternative was a very faint trail, but judging by the terrain I thought I was at least in the right area.  The trail faded in and out but I was always able to find some sort of trail, sometimes very faint.  I eventually came to an easy-to-follow trail marked by stone cairns.

Lo and behold, I came out in a different parking lot in a different natural and scientific area that I never knew existed.  That explains why so many signs I saw were facing the wrong direction.  The area I stumbled upon is the Falls Creek State Natural Area managed by the Minnesota DNR.  By the end of my hike, I hadn’t taken very many steps, but I ended the days with around 40 floors of vertical movement according to my Fitbit, most of it in crossing and re-crossing what I think was the same gulch in the forest, one that carried a very nice, small stream.

Most of the better photos I took were of small things.  I was often on my hands and knees or sitting to get close to the subject.

 

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Things On Stems

A few things on stems plus some odd photos.

 

 

 

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Vegetables

More lightpad photography.  See my earlier posts with flower photography  and photos of winter’s detritus for more about this technique.

More of winter’s detritus

Street Pickings

Vegetables

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Winter’s Detritus

Winter’s detritus are the bits of last year’s plant matter left over after the winter cold and snow.  Everything is dried and shriveled, but there is still a lot of character and color if one looks closely.  I walked through a community garden and filled a basket with detritus.  I took the stuff home and put together some compositions.

 

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Flowers

Artograph LightPad 930

Artograph LightPad 930

I’ve been cooped up most of the winter, so I’ve resorted to photographing indoors.  I’ve set up a makeshift studio on my kitchen table.  My two most important pieces of equipment are a Manfrotto tripod and an Artograph 930 light pad.

I was inspired to try the light pad for photography by the beautiful photography of Harold Davis and Robert Llewelyn.

I’m posting a few of the flower photos I’ve taken this year for some of which I used the lightpad.  In two future blogs, I’ll post photos of vegetables and what I call winter’s detritus.

Here are the flower images:

 

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Still Possible

The SiegeEven after a winter of discontent,  everything is still possible.,  My winter of discontent has been trivial in comparison to the first winter of the siege of Leningrad (now St.  Petersburg) as described in The Siege.  People in the book starve to death, thousands of them.  People freeze to death.  I’m over-weight and never have to worry about heating my apartment.  What do I have to be depressed about?  What, me worry?  The following, from one of the last pages of the book, takes place during the spring after the first, terrible winter of the siege.

The sun shines.  Everything’s possible now that the sun is here, warming flesh and drawing dandelions and nettles out of wasteground.  As long as you can still walk, no matter how slowly, and pause from time to time to hold up your face to the sun and let a haze of glowing red soak through your eyelids, everything is still possible.

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Kingsolver: Another Country

kingsolver-quoteThe great Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Tree books, published an article today in The Guardian – a call on everyone to marshal their talents and decency to fight the onslaught of hate, fear, all sorts of phobias, lies, and bad government.  I quote at length, but please read the entire article.

. . . we can’t hole up for four years waiting for something that’s gone. We just woke up in another country.

. . . Losses are coming at us in these areas: freedom of speech and the press; women’s reproductive rights; affordable healthcare; security for immigrants and Muslims; racial and LGBTQ civil rights; environmental protection; scientific research and education; international cooperation on limiting climate change; international cooperation on anything; any restraints on who may possess firearms; [any] restraint on the upper-class wealth accumulation that’s gutting our middle class; [any] limits on corporate influence over our laws.

. . . We’re in new historical territory. A majority of American voters just cast our vote for a candidate who won’t take office. A supreme court seat meant to be filled by our elected president was denied us. Congressional districts are now gerrymandered so most of us are represented by the party we voted against. The FBI and Russia meddled with our election. Our president-elect has no tolerance for disagreement, and a stunningly effective propaganda apparatus. Now we get to send this outfit every dime of our taxes and watch it cement its power. It’s not going to slink away peacefully in the next election.

What is to be done?

. . .wear something on our sleeve that takes actual courage: our hearts.

I’ll go first. If we’re artists, writers, critics, publishers, directors or producers of film or television, we reckon honestly with our role in shaping the American psyche. We ask ourselves why so many people just couldn’t see a 69-year-old woman in our nation’s leading role, and why they might choose instead a hero who dispatches opponents with glib cruelty. We consider the alternatives. We join the time-honored tradition of artists resisting government oppression through our work.

Kingsolver continues with what to do for journalists; consumers of art, literature, film, TV and news; teachers; scientists; women suffering from sexual assault or body image disorders; Facebook users; workers.

As she says we must all

refuse to disappear. We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good trouble.

Trump’s election is not the continuation of normal American politics.  We all need to step up.  I can do my part, even if it is a small part, by writing more regularly in my blog about politics and current affairs.  Today, for example, I can write about and link to Kingsolver’s article.

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The Mighty Pen

Keep Me Singing

Keep Me Singing

From Van Morrison’s The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword:

You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the sword
You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the law
Every man is me, every man is you
I can’t tell you what you have to do
You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the sword

westFrom Lucinda Williams’ Word:

Screaming and throwing your weight around
My words choose knowledge over politics
You can’t kill my words… they know no bounds
My words are strong and they don’t make me sick.

They still remain my only companion
Boiling truth to the very end
They’ll never ever completely abandon
Ever give up the paper and the pen

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Lucky Accident

I bought mums at the grocery store a few days ago.  When I was putting them in a vase, all the petals of one flower fell off in a bunch and plopped onto my kitchen counter.  I just let them be, something I often do with messes in my kitchen.  The next day I noticed that they looked striking sprawled on the counter, so I set up my tripod and snapped a few shots.  Here is one.

Painted Mum

Painted Mum

 

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Gone Too Long

For most of the last four months, I’ve been inactive with some sort of undiagnosed illness.  My doctor can find no cause – all my tests come back normal.  The conclusion:  it’s all in my head, although it sure feels like it’s in my body.  Anyway, I have posted very few blogs during this time period and have not taken many photographs.  I have done some, so I’ve decided to post my best shots from the last few months.

I think I’m going mad, Ted [obscure line from the Britcom Father Ted]

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Going To the Movies

popcorn-boxMy earliest memories of going to the movies are of total chaos.  Imagine a large, old-fashioned movie theater on the main drag of my hometown during a Saturday matinee for grade schoolers.  The theater is packed.  There is a cartoon, an episode of a cliffhanger serial like Buck Rogers (to be continued the next week), then the main feature, often a black-and-white western.  The kids are not quiet.  When they finish their popcorn, they fold the box flat and sail it out over the crowded theater.  Soon the air is filled with gliding popcorn boxes.  The noise and chaos didn’t bother me at all.  Oh, but it was fun!

Yesterday I started watching the Stars Wars movie that is first in the series in chronological order.  I star-wars-textwas surprised how poor it was, dependent heavily on special effects and quirky characters.  The plot was as weak as day-old coffee and so lame that even the good actors couldn’t overcome the hackneyed dialogue.  I could only manage thirty minutes of the movie before turning it off.  There are a million better ways to be bored.

I often start a movie without finishing it.  A waste of money for sure, but also for me an indication that there are not many decent movies being made these days.  I’m not interested in movies based on comic book characters, so that excludes seemingly half the movies made these days.  Include the re-makes and there doesn’t seem much room left for original movies.

Going out to see a movie used to be one of my favorite things.  When I lived alone in Washington, DC and had yet to make any friends, I went to the movies at least once a week and enjoyed myself even if the movie wasn’t very good.  Now I never see a movie in a theater.  It’s not because there are no movies I’d like to see (not many but there are some),  it’s because the sound is often overwhelmingly loud, an assault on a person’s senses.   So I no longer subject myself to movie theaters.  I wait until I can get the DVD from the library or from the one-and-only, surviving DVD rental shop left in town.  I may never again set foot in a movie theater.

There is a lot of junk available on the internet.  Truly awful movies that exploit all possible human weaknesses.  I’ve gotten sucked in by too many such movies.  In my defense, I can say that I’ve rarely if ever finished any of the trashy movies, but I have to guard against temptation.

tempted-mouse

 

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Punk in 1970s New York

city-on-fireI’ve recently read or watched two items that involve the punk scene (or should I say punk-rock scene?  I’m not sure.) in New York City in the mid-1970s:  The book City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg and Spike Lee’s movie Summer Of Sam.

City On Fire is a long book, almost 1000 dense pages.  The nexus of the plot is the murder of a young woman in a New York park on New Year’s Eve 1977.  The book describes in great detail the lives and relationships of the people who were involved in one way or another with the murdered woman.  It jumps back and forth in time from the early sixties to the start of the 21st Century while also jumping back and forth between characters.  Many of the characters are punks participating in the New York City scene that apparently started in the mid-1970s.  I cannot speak from experience about any aspect of punk.  During that time period I was moving in the opposite direction; exploring bluegrass, country, and mountain music.  So while the punks in this novel were moving away from the musical (pop) mainstream and finding punk, I was moving away from the mainstream and finding bluegrass.  Given what I learned from the book and movie, I’m glad I moved in that direction.

City On Fire also covers the massive and  complete blackout in New York City in the summer of 1977.  Some of the book’s climactic events happen during the night of the blackout.

summer-of-samThe movie Summer of Sam uses the background of the Son Of Sam serial killings to depict life in New York when David Berkowitz was on his killing spree.  It focuses on the punk scene and on life in the city’s Italian neighborhoods.  City On Fire presents more of a political and artistic picture of punk as a search for a sort of anarchistic freedom.  Summer Of Sam, in contrast, focuses a lot on the sexual goings-on within the punk and club scenes.

I’m not sure I would recommend watching the movie or reading the book.  I was often irritated at the book’s author for jumping around so much.  I kept wanting him to stick to the plot line in which I was engrossed.   Eventually, I just wanted him to wrap things up and tell me what happened to all the characters whom except, I think, for one, were strung out on drugs or alcohol.  They were all drinking excessively, strung out, shooting heroin, dropping pills, sometimes doing it all in one day.  I did not think it was possible for a person to use as many drugs and as much alcohol as some of the characters.

Watching the movie left me feeling like I had besmirched my soul.

eye-and-tear

 

 

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Fast Art

Teju Cole in the essay Double Negative from his book of essays Known and Strange Things, says that

Photography is a fast art now, except for those who are too old-fashioned to shoot digital.  But for most of the art’s history – until about fifteen years ago – most photographers had no choice but to be slow. . . .   A certain meticulousness was necessary for photographs, a certain irreducible calmness of temperament.

Creating a good photograph is not fast, especially if the photograph is in the genre called “fine art”.  (Who decides whether or not a photograph is fine art?)  The only time shortened by digital photography is development time, what I consider feedback time, the time between clicking the shutter and seeing the photograph.  Whereas in the film era, I dropped my film off at the camera store and came back a couple days later, I can now see the digital photo within seconds of activating the shutter.  A good digital photographer takes no more or no less time before clicking the shutter than a good film photographer.  A good digital photographer then often takes considerably more time with some sort of processing software to complete a photograph.  A good photographer is just as meticulous – if not more – in the digital world of today – then when shooting film.

Photography has always been a fast art; that is one of the reasons I’m attracted to it.  I used to draw.  I found drawing too much of a slow art.

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West Coast Blues

I watched the movie Devil In a Blue Dress in 1995.  The movie is based on the book of the same name by Walter Mosley.  It is the first book in the Easy Rawlins series of mysteries.  The book and movie take place in Los Angeles in post-World War II 1940s.  The movie soundtrack is music from the period, and it’s from that soundtrack that I first heard examples of West Coast Blues.

The West Coast Blues is music of the African-American exodus from the Jim-Crow south.  As described beautifully in The Warmth Of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, African-Americans from the western part of the former slave states migrated to California.  The musicians, particularly those from Texas, played important roles in the West Coast Blues.

West Coast Blues are very different from but much less familiar than the Chicago Blues.  I am not a musicologist, so be careful about quoting me as an authority on West Coast Blues.  With that caveat, I think West Coast Blues owes more to the jazz and swing dance music of the era than Chicago Blues.  Musicians from the Mississippi moved tended to move north towards Kansas City and Chicago.  Chicago Blues is more tinged with gospel and the country blues of the Mississippi Delta region south of Memphis.

Here are some songs you might check out.

Good Rockin’ Tonight – Wynonie Harris

Blues  After Hours – Peewee Crayton

Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’ – Louis Jordon

Ain’t Nobody’s Business – Jimmy Witherspoon

Old Time Shuffle Blues – Lloyd Glenn

T-Bone Jumps Again – T-Bone Walker, an example of Jump Blues

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Series, Series, . . .

Careless In RedI finished another Elizabeth George novel today, one in her series of mystery novels.  I’m stuck in the series.  I ‘ve often been stuck in such series and have churned my way through many of them.  I like best the ones wherein the novels in the series are sequential and characters change and develop from book to book.  One of the best such series going today is the Easy Rawlins series of mysteries by Walter Moseley.  I’ve also liked some series that are not sequential and in which the protagonist(s) are the same in every book – they just do their thing and don’t change from book to book.  One such is the Lew Archer mysteries by Ross McDonald.  Coincidently, both the Archer and the Rawlins mysteries take place in southern California in the mid-twentieth century.

Other than mysteries, I’ve been engrossed in series with military themes, the most notable of which take place during the Napoleonic Wars and have British heroes:

  • The Aubrey–Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian, about the British navy in the age of sail
  • The Hornblower series, also about the British navy in the age of sail, by C. S. Forester
  • The Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell.  Sharpe is a rifleman in Wellington’s armies in India, Spain, and eventually at Waterloo.

I could list lots of others, series by A. Conan Doyle, Martha Grimes, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham,  E.E. “Doc” Smith (science fiction that my brother and I were plowing through at the same time), John D. MacDonald with his Travis McGee series, Rex Stout with Nero Wolfe, and on, and on, and on.  I know I’ve read others, but you can’t expect me to remember them all although I did just remember some from my high-school days; the adventure yarns of Alistair MacLean and Ian Fleming’s James Bond books.  If I go back a bit further I would have to throw in series for young readers like the Tom Swift books and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan books.

I have to stop writing.  I keep remembering other series.  I’ll never finish this post unless I just come to a full, abrupt stop.

What series have you enjoyed?

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Spider

Old Prison Guard House

Old Prison Guard House

I live in a condominium development on the site of a former prison built around 1860.  The outermost prison walls still stand, part of which is what looks like a guard post.  I’ve included a picture of the guard post as it looks during the day. Spiders, with their impressive spider webs, take over the guard post after dark.  It’s probably a great spot for a spider since the lights attract lots of bugs.  Here are a couple of photos from the last few days when I’ve walked past the guardhouse on my way home after having a beer or two downtown.

Spider and Its Home Sweet Home

Spider and Its Home Sweet Home

A Spider's Lair

A Spider’s Lair

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