Dave Pruett – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Wed, 19 Sep 2018 10:58:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Dave Pruett – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com 32 32 Cherokee Blood http://likethedew.com/2018/08/30/cherokee-blood/ http://likethedew.com/2018/08/30/cherokee-blood/#respond Thu, 30 Aug 2018 12:09:54 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=69713

“He’s overboard on the subject. Hasn’t shown any interest before, and now he spends every spare moment on it. It’s just not normal.” This was Mom talking about Dad’s newfound passion for genealogy. Funny thing was, she’d been overboard on the subject most of her life. Finally, after all the years, they could have had something to talk about, but instead, it was a turf battle. Dad had invaded her territory.

photo of the Pruett ancestorsCurious too how it happened. Shortly after his retirement in 1988, Dad purchased a computer. Before a year was up he’d clogged its forty-megabyte hard disk with software of every conceivable variety and was soon working on gagging the 120-meg drive of a new model. One of those programs was genealogical software that Mom had given him for a birthday, or Father’s day or some such day. Guess she created her own Frankenstein. Before long, he had eight-hundred names in the family tree, a lot of ‘em Pruett’s. Can you believe there are at least eight ways to spell “Pruett”?

To hear Mom tell it, all the relatives on her side were saints, preachers, or war heroes. She was in the D.A.R. and could trace back to Adam Keeling, a Virginia gentryman who fought in the Revolution. So I took more than a passing interest in Dad’s new preoccupation, secretly hoping he’d uncover a few riverboat gamblers, prostitutes, or maybe even a horse thief or two to balance out my blood line. But more than that, I secretly hoped Dad would find that Cherokee. According to rumors, there’s Indian blood in our family, and it’s been screaming to know its origins.


The Cherokee are a noble, resilient people. Their original territory encompassed all or parts of eight Southeastern states: the Carolinas, Alabama and Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee, the Virginias. According to the archaeological evidence, that stomping ground has been trod by Cherokee moccasins for at least four thousand years, probably a lot longer.

Like most Southeastern tribes, the Cherokee are matrilineal. And like the Celts, they are organized into seven clans, seven being a sacred number. Birth determines which clan. The only way out of one’s clan is to commit a crime so severe as to require banishment.

Following the end of the French and Indian Wars and the subsequent appropriation of vast French territories in North America, King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763. It prohibited colonial settlement west of the Appalachians, land that was to remain forever as Indian Reserve.

Among the first major tribes to face intense colonial pressure, the Cherokee naturally sided with King George when the American Revolution erupted a decade or so after the Proclamation. They paid dearly for that allegiance. In 1776, Captain William Moore, under the order of Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford conducted the infamous Rutherford Light Horse raid, burning six Cherokee villages east of the Appalachians, killing every living soul who could not escape, and dragging down Cherokee corn to starve the survivors.

The Cherokee sporadically fought colonial encroachment until 1794. But by the early 1800s, colonists were flooding Cherokee territory. Many “Tslagi” tried to acculturate, despite the difficulty of the transition. Men, hunters and warriors by tradition, held farming to be women’s work. Moreover, to farm, one must own land. Although the federal government permitted land ownership by Indians, southern states did not. Hundreds of Cherokee were forced off their own land with nowhere to go, particularly in North Carolina and Georgia.

Some tried to remain by cunning and enterprise. Recognizing that missionaries could help establish the notion of their people’s equality with whites, Cherokee elders encouraged missionaries and established missions. Prominent Cherokee sent their children to Eastern colleges. Others became successful entrepreneurs, owning toll roads, saw mills, even plantations.

Enamored of the “talking leaves” of the whites, and recognizing the utility of written language in the preservation of culture, the Cherokee silversmith Sequoyah spent six years developing a syllabary. When completed in 1821, it consisted of eight-six characters, each a phoneme. Within three years of the adoption of Sequoyah’s syllabary, ninety percent of the Cherokee were literate. It is one of but few instances in human history of a written language created intentionally from whole cloth.

Despite these and other efforts of Cherokee to acculturate, on May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act, which permitted the relocation of five “civilized” Eastern tribes to west of the Mississippi. Under Chief John Ross, the Cherokee fought the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and lost.

In 1838, federal troops rounded up 16,000 Cherokee from the mountains of their ancestors and forced them into temporary, unsanitary camps to await removal to western lands, principally Oklahoma. The months-long “Trail of Tears” began in the fall and continued into a winter so cold the Mississippi froze. John Ross’ wife died of pneumonia after giving her blanket to a child. Only 11,000 survived.

Today, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the largest tribe in North American, is 300,000 strong. These are the descendants of the survivors of the Trail of Tears.

Despite the atrocities faced by his people, Cherokee anthropologist Russ Townsend admits that circumstances conspired to make the Cherokee the “lucky” ones. He says this somberly, after roll-calling the names of numerous Eastern tribes whose peoples, languages, and cultures vanished without trace from the face of the earth.

The Cherokee village of Kituwah lies on a small flood plain at a bend of the Tuckasegee River. Even a non-Cherokee can sense the sacredness of the site. There, a broad burial mound marks the motherland of the Cherokee. Prior to the Trail of Tears, most families of the Kituwah Band, led by Major Ridge, voluntarily relocated to Oklahoma. By signing the controversial Treaty of New Echota, Ridge had ceded Cherokee tribal lands in exchange for promises of annuities and new land in Indian Territory. Many considered Ridge a sell-out, and enough bad blood persisted to get him assassinated following the arrival in Oklahoma of Ross’ Cherokee. Nevertheless, today, Kituwah descendants remain the primary keepers of the fire: Cherokee traditions and spirituality.

And thanks to Yonaguska, a portion of Cherokee ancestral land remains in Cherokee hands. Yonaguska, a chief known also as Drowning Bear, adopted a white son, Will Holland Thomas. Will learned the Cherokee ways and language, established a successful trading post at Qualla Town, studied law, and ultimately rose to become a North Carolina state senator. His fictionalized life is portrayed sympathetically in Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons. As a white man, Thomas could, by law, own property. And so, from 1821 until 1838, he quietly acquired enough adjacent tracks of land—purchased with Cherokee money entrusted to him—to create the Qualla Boundary, home today for 16,000 Eastern Band Cherokee, descendants of the eight-hundred holdouts who avoided the Trail of Tears.

Through some combination of luck and resilience, Townsend marvels, the Cherokee successfully preserved—against all odds—their people, their culture, and a small but representative portion of their native lands at the edge of the Great Smokies.

Dad grew up in Tazewell County, Virginia, where there was considerable comingling of whites and Cherokee holdouts. I have this photo of my sister as a high-school student of seventeen. Even without a feather in her hair, Barb could pass for Indian, no questions asked. Dark eyes, high cheekbones, beautiful bronze complexion, and hair flowing absolutely straight to her waist. And the men in the family are all barrel-chested with hardly a trace of body hair. My third cousins, the Neal* girls, of which Susan was my high-school classmate and friend, all look Indian, especially Cathy. And me? I’m more at home on a trail in the mountains than I will ever be in a civilized place. Animals I can talk to; it’s people I don’t understand. Nowadays, it’s much easier to embrace the Great Holy Mystery and the Thunder Beings than the babe in the manger.

The clincher about Indian blood in the family, though, was Grandma Sheila’s story that Granddad’s grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee. And so when Dad called to say he’d found an old sepia-toned photograph of Granddaddy’s ancestors, I got pumped to meet the long-lost Indian relative among all those Scotch-Irish from Tazewell county.

It didn’t turn out as expected. My wife Suzanne and I met my folks in Richmond, where Dad and I spent the day in the genealogical archives of the main public library. We didn’t turn up much, but had a good time together nonetheless. Earlier, on the steps of the library, waiting impatiently for it to open, Dad had shown me the photo. There they were: patriarch Benjamin F. Pruett, born circa 1835, and his wife, my great-great grandma Mary (Polly) Rose, born roughly 1838. There too was son Oscar Raleigh, my great-grandad, known for some unknown reason as “Doc.” And there also were sons Thomas and Sam Tilden and William, the latter being the namesake of Granddaddy, William Crockett Pruett, Sr., my wild uncle Bill, William Crockett Pruett, Jr., and my brother William Estil, a.k.a. “Willie.” And there was the lone daughter, Nannie Elizabeth Jane.

Well, now I’ve got to tell you that Great-great-grandma Polly didn’t look a bit Cherokee. Pale and more wrinkled than the state of West Virginia, nearly toothless, she looked more like an apple doll than a Cherokee.

There is something haunting about that photograph, though. Doc’s eyes bulge just like Granddaddy’s, a hereditary thyroid condition I’m told. All seven of those Pruett’s seem to stare right through me. It’s as if they’re all saying, “We know who you are,” but it doesn’t seem in their hard-shell nature to approve, at least not to let on. Patriarch Ben looks tired but mellowed by the years. There’s a trace of kindliness in him, and in Polly too. I can see myself in that photo. All the men, excepting William, have that deeply receded hair-line or semi-baldness I’ve come to accept. My wife says I look most like Thomas, my least favorite, because of the harshness on his face. Nannie, bless her soul, my great aunt and the Neal girls’ great-grandmother, looks worried, like she doesn’t want either the Pruett or the Neal kids to stray too far off the straight-and-narrow. I can’t read much from Sam Tilden, the youngest, maybe thirty at the time of the picture, and stone-faced. A few years without trimming and my beard could look just like Ben’s.

But where was the promised Cherokee?

Years later, still in pursuit, I spent several hours pouring over Indian census records at the main library in Cherokee, North Carolina. I was greeted with some suspicion, understandably given the number of whites who try to claim Cherokee blood for a cut of the tribal proceeds of the lucrative Harrah’s Casino at the edge of town. The records were tantalizing but inconclusive. On the Cherokee rolls, I found many of the names in our family tree—Rose, Neal, Webb. But important dates—birth, marriage, and death—failed to match decisively.

Well, there you have it. After biting Mom and then Dad, the ancestry bug bit me. The symptoms of the disease are countless frustrating hours suffused with occasional surprise, shock, confusion, disappointment, and satisfaction, in varying proportions. Through the historical records, I’ve now met some long-lost ancestors, and no doubt about it, I’m pleased to meet them. In a strange way, they’re all trying to help me along my path. But there is a restlessness in me that won’t quiet until I track down my Cherokee blood.

Grandma Sheila died in 1991. I still miss her. She had lots of good stories, and I only scratched the surface. There are so many things I would ask her if I could. But the first question I’d ask is: “Grandma, was that Cherokee on Granddaddy’s paternal or maternal side?”

Epilogue: First written in 1993, two years after Grandma Sheila died, this vignette was edited twenty-five years later. Mom died in 2011 and Dad in 2014. Two years ago, my wife gave me a DNA kit for Christmas. The results reveal just a faint trace of Native American ancestry. Damn. But then again, a trace is more than zero.

*Names have been altered to protect privacy.

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Hiawatha http://likethedew.com/2018/08/13/hiawatha/ http://likethedew.com/2018/08/13/hiawatha/#respond Mon, 13 Aug 2018 10:22:15 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=69578

Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
Love the sunshine of the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest,
Love the wind among the branches, . . .

Listen to these wild traditions,
To this Song of Hiawatha.

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Trail Marker by Dave PruettSince my early teens, I’ve loved the out-of-doors and spent many a good moment there, sometimes in the company of others, often in blissful solitude.

At the age of forty, beset by an unexpected urge to solo trek, I strapped on a JanSport backpack large enough for a bathtub, filled it with fifty-four pounds of gear and sustenance, and hiked north on the Appalachian Trail (AT) out of Damascus, Virginia, bound for the high country of Mt. Rogers and Grayson Highlands. After a schlep of nine miles, mostly uphill, I collapsed and camped right beside the trail, too exhausted to search for a better spot. Each day thereafter, I grew stronger. By day four, lugging a pack for fifteen miles seemed the most natural thing in the world, and taking it off at the end of the day occasioned the euphoria of feeling weightless. Dad, who had just retired, picked me up in the afternoon of the fifth day, and we spent a sweet night with Grandma at the family cabin, my halfway house back to civilization. I’d knocked off fifty-five miles in all—and had a glorious adventure.

Career and family intervened, and few such opportunities presented themselves until I semi-retired at sixty-four. Hiking the full AT and peddling across country remained on the bucket list, but was I over the hill? Most likely. Certainly my JanSport days were over. The external-frame beast and its archaic gear gave way to an internal-frame North Face, a lightweight down sleeping bag, and a three-pound MSR tent. Much as I loved that faithful brass Svea white-gas stove, it went to pasture, replaced by a 1.7-ounce titanium contraption atop a five-ounce propane canister.

In July 2013, the second summer into my retirement, my wife dropped me late one morning in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, the rough midpoint of the AT, and I naively headed south and uphill from the Shenandoah River with forty pounds of gear, including seven days of food. I’d hoped to make one hundred miles in a week and in the process convince myself that the twenty-five intervening years since my first solo trek had not robbed me of much stamina. Oh, was I wrong.

Rescues:

The route snaked over the infamous boulder-strewn “roller-coaster” that fatigues even veteran Appalachian Trailers, past the delicious Bears Den youth hostel—where thirty bucks gets you a bed, a shower, a washer, a pizza, and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s—and to the threshold of graceful Sky Meadows State Park. I showered at Bears Den, but left immediately, cognizant that should I remain longer, I’d succumb to the Sirens of Comfort.

On the morning of day five, with thirty-four miles under my belt and a painful blister at the end of a toe, I awakened to terrifying numbness along my right arm. Fearing heart attack, I popped a baby aspirin — always a companion — and called my wife to rescue me at Route 50. With no other symptoms of heart trouble, I calmed and began to explore other possible origins for the worrisome numbness. In the two hours it took Suzanne to arrive, an alternative theory surfaced. Years ago I’d damaged an elbow from regularly lugging a leaden briefcase to and from work. While navigating the “roller coaster,” I’d relied heavily for balance on a hiking pole in my right hand, the stronger one. The constant pressure along my arm had revived the old elbow injury and pinched a nerve. It wasn’t a heart attack, but it was time to throw in the towel. Three weeks elapsed before full feeling returned in the arm.

The next summer, expectations trimmed, I tried again, anticipating a three-day inaugural trek. Two buddies dropped me near Front Royal, Virginia, and joined me for a few miles as I hiked into Shenandoah National Park, headed south. Eight miles and two-thousand feet in elevation later, now alone, I set up the tent on rocky trail, moments ahead of a thunder storm.

On day two, I planned another eight to ten miles, but unwisely extended to twelve, lured by visions of a shower at Matthew’s Arm campground. Exhausted and eager to call it a day, I raced downhill to the campground, a descent of seven-hundred feet in elevation, pounding all the way. Alas, there was no shower, only a “comfort station.” Dejected, I rested at a picnic table. Ten minutes later, I could barely walk, my left knee stiff and agonizingly painful. The following morning, after a near-sleepless night of continual pain, I hobbled to the Skyline Drive to meet my long-suffering wife. Rescue two.

This time the injury was severe. I’d mangled the meniscus. For two months I limped in pain, then spent another two months recovering from arthroscopic surgery. It seemed my backpacking days were at an end. One orthopedist said: “No more; take to biking instead.”

That was no doubt good advice from a physical point of view, but deadly from a psychological one. Fortunately, my general practitioner recognized the dilemma and gave tentative blessings to continued hiking, with provisos. During the spring of recovery following surgery, pondering options, I sought a compromise with myself. Were I to limit the number of days per trek to three, the maximum pack weight to thirty pounds, and the maximum distance to eight miles per day, could I, just possibly, keep trekking long enough to complete the Virginia AT, a full quarter of the 2200-mile footpath? More to the bargain, with distance expectations diminished, might there be more occasions to stop and “smell the wildflowers” along the way.

I gave it a shot. The third summer, I completed five short section hikes, about twenty miles each, finishing the AT through Shenandoah National Park. By the end of a section, the troublesome knee was sore and stiff, but it recovered after a few days of rest and acupuncturist-recommended exercises to open the joint. Some prophylactic ibuprofen before hiking also helped tamp down swelling. And sure enough, a turtle’s pace had advantages. The experience became richer.

By the end of the fourth summer, having turned sixty-eight, I’d completed all sections of the AT between the Shenandoah and James rivers.  Most memorable was the high country near Cole Mountain, where the trail wound through open meadows.  Even in thick rain and fog, I found the meadows magical, a stark contrast to the cloistered, dark woods.
True confessions: summer four also required a rescue, this time due to August heat and a ten-mile section of trail without water. Thanks again, Sweetie.

Hazards:

Sometimes I hike with friends, but often alone. I enjoy both modes, yet admit that at advanced age the unexpected becomes more threatening when alone: a heart attack; dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke; copperheads and rattlers; insect stings; and bears to mention a few of the things that can get you. But the scariest hazard is a fall. In season five I dodged a bullet, and learned an invaluable hiking lesson the hard way.

The trail I was walking, slightly downhill, cut along a steep slope. As always, I relied on a hiking pole for balance. Planting it firmly at each step, I unwisely held it in the wrong hand, at the precipitous edge of the trail. Without warning, the pole cut through the berm, sent me tumbling ten feet down the embankment. Going down, my left calf cramped, the most painful part of the episode. Mercifully there were no rocks where I landed, only brush. I crawled back to the trail, bleeding from deep contusions on my right knee. When my wrist swelled, I realized I’d sprained that as well. No rescue this time, but my first-aid kit, unopened for years, was put to good use.

By now one might wonder whether the writer is a masochist. In addition to the aforementioned hazards, I’ve walked multiple days in the rain, endured thunderstorms in a tiny tent, packed up wet andn chilled to the bone, been consumed by blood-sucking insects. Though I don’t think I’m a masochist, I can’t honestly proclaim that these hikes are fun. Truth is, seven to eight miles a day— while carrying a load on rocky terrain that rises and falls through heart-pounding elevation changes d—is mostly an ordeal. A wet moss-covered rock or boot placed in the wrong spot can spell disaster. Being constantly on high alert is itself exhausting. , Were I able to remain out longer than three days, my body might adapt a routine where prolonged exertion, vigilance, and deprivation become “natural.” But age and knees no longer allow long excursions.

What I can say is this: my soul craves wildness. And then there’s the intriguing observation by my poetic and beach-loving friend Michele: “Salt cures all things: sweat, sea, and tears.” A good sweat is medicinal. In the recovery period after a trek, I sleep well, I’m more peaceful, happier. Admittedly, this enhanced state of being fades within days. But by planning and anticipating a section-hike each month during the summer and fall, I can projecte)) the benefits throughout much of the year. I’ve also come to recognize that the worst thing one can do to any machine, including the human body, is not to use it. I conclude that the risks of not g undertaking these hikes are worse than the risks of doing them.

Thru-Hikers:

Rhododendron tunnels, ever-changing rock formations, unencumbered vistas, rippling brooks, nighttime chirps, musty smells, and immense silence: these beckon my soul when reason and comfort say “no.” Still, for safety sake, it’s a relief to encounter other hikers on the trail. On the AT, there are day hikers, section hikers, and thru-hikers. Thru-hikers complete the entire AT in one long walk of four- to six-months. Two-thirds of those who set out never finish. If you’ve never attempted a multiple-day trail hike with a load, you can’t imagine how arduous the task.

The demographic distribution of thru-hikers is distinctly bi-modal. There are the young Turks in their twenties who haven’t started careers, and there are us retirees in our fifties and sixties with time on our hands. There are precious few in between.

Over the past five hiking seasons, I’ve developed some impressions of thru-hikers. They come in waves. The young, fit, and gregarious head north from Springer Mountain, Georgia, in late February or early March. They boogey, often knocking off twenty to twenty-four miles a day. Their wave crests near Roanoke, Virginia, in May. The last time I camped near a trail shelter, I encountered about twenty-five of them. It was hard to find a spot on the ground even for a 6two-foot by six-foot tent. This bunch can be rowdy and profane. I’m no prude, but somehow the constant F-bombs grate on me when sitting at a picnic table deep in pristine woods. Still, these guys, and almost as many gals, look after one another. They’re not a bad lot.

The older thru-hikers — and the more introverted ones, young or old — come in the second wave. They tend to start later (say, in April) to avoid the mobs in the first wave, and they pass through central Virginia late in the month of June. I admit I like these folks better. They’re not as likely to be burning up the trail. They’ll stop, make small talk, give you tips, and most of all warm you with a smile.

On the last day of my most-recent section hike, I encountered “Rusty,” resting on a rock during a water break. He looked to be about fifty, with a lean build, a bandana, and longish gray hair. We were headed in opposite directions, so I asked him if the trail to the south crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was due to meet my wife at milepost 74.9 around three p.m. My trail map was inconclusive about whether the Parkway and footpath physically crossed or were only proximate. Rusty happily opened the Appalachian Trail app on his iPhone to address my concerns. It revealed that, although the road and the trail did not quite cross, they were just yards (not miles) apart at the rendezvous point. As Rusty navigated the iPhone with dexterity, I noticed his mal-formed hands, and that he sometimes used a knuckle to tap the screen. I couldn’t help but wonder if his feet were similarly afflicted and how that might affect long-distance travels by foot. I didn’t ask, of course. Still something exchanged in both the silences and the words between us, and I felt a kinship. On that day I met several like “Rusty,” each a kind soul, a lover of “the haunts of Nature.” I felt more than ever that given a chance, nature can redeem the hearts of men (and women).

Two years previously, at a trail shelter, I met two brothers from Pennsylvania whom I still recall with fondness, though I can’t summon their names. The older brother, then over sixty, was a warmed-over hippy who’d hiked half the Appalachian Trail, north to south, in his twenties. He’d stopped at Harper’s Ferry and had longed ever since to complete the southern half of the trail. His brother, a few years younger, was an engineer in a titanium manufacturing plant. He’d lost several ribs to childhood cancer, but he’d survived and stayed fit. The older brother had talked the younger one into section-hiking the lower half of the AT, nibbling off a sizeable chunk each summer. The brothers were clearly close, and they readily took me in. I camped with them one evening and hung with them for most of the next day, but we parted when my daily mileage limitation required me to stop. Distance backpacking demands that each trekker follow his or her own drummer.

The kindly brothers were well-provisioned and well-prepared. They were the first to introduce me to an ultraviolet SteriPEN for water purification. I now use one religiously. Impressively, they’d freeze-dried their own camp food and processed their own beef jerky. Like most distance hikers, forced to jettison every non-essential ounce to shrink the ever-oppressive load, they’d realized they were over-supplied and offered me a pack of jerky. It was the best I’ve ever eaten, even better than Melton’s jerky from the Mennonite market in Dayton, Virginia. I sure hope those guys are nearing Springer Mountain by now. They so deserve to finish and celebrate.

Each passing year brings more “vintage” hikers to the trail. With the recent publication of Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, the numbers of older hikers will likely continue to swell. If you haven’t yet heard the story, Emma Gatewood was the first woman to thru-hike the AT, completing it in 1955 at the age of sixty-seven. She carried her primitive equipment in a sack slung over her shoulder. The next year she did it again. Then, for good measure, she section-hiked the entire trail the year after that.

Trail Names:

Thru-hikers assume trail names, losing their given names and non-trail identities. A trail name, I suppose, offers a useful blend of familiarity and anonymity. No one signs the log book at a trail shelter with their given name, and when you meet another hiker, you ask only for a trail name. Some trail names — say, “Montana”— associate the hiker with where they’re from. Others get identified with an item of gear or clothing, say, “Bandana.” Most earn their trail name in Native-American fashion, from some random trail event that seems a defining experience. The Appalachian Trail thru-hikers register of 2015 features “Wistful,” “June Bug,” “BonBon,” and “Dream Catcher,” among hundreds of others. The memorial Appalachian Trail “Foot” Bridge over the James River is so named, tongue-in-cheek, for William Foot, a dedicated Appalachian Trail maintainer and promoter. He and his wife, both thru-hikers, were collectively “The Happy Feet.” I’ve forgotten most of the trail names encountered this season. But among these are the long-haired, helpful “Rusty,” “Ramble On Rose,” and “Madiera.” A fortyish woman, “Madiera,” is thru-hiking the entire AT a second time, this trip with faithful companion “Ramble On Rose.”

Not being a thru-hiker, I don’t have a trail name. I’ve toyed with a few, but until recently none seemed to fit. My camping buddies sometimes call me “Dave of Tucson” in reference to where I went to graduate school thirty-five years ago — and my fondness for deserts. But having lived the second half of my life entirely in Virginia, “Dave of Tucson” doesn’t quite cut it.

Five years ago, two of those buddies and I were driven off the trail by a raging downpour in Grayson Highlands State Park. As we slunk to shelter in defeat, we encountered a sixty-year-old woman thru-hiker, plowing along happy as a clam in raingear. The following day we ran into a seventy-year-old former coach and long-distance section hiker. Acknowledging our lack of the Right Stuff, we good-heartedly dubbed one another “Wuss1,” “Wuss2,” and “Big Wuss.” But, damn-it-all, I can’t go through trail life with the moniker “Big Wuss.” A couple of years later, I bestowed upon “Wuss1” a far more fitting appellation: “Brave Fart.” He’s as good a trail companion as one could ever ask for, a solid rock in an emergency. Oh yeah, and at over seventy, he’s admittedly an “old fart,” but only in age, not disposition.

When I was a child, younger than the age of three when memory sets in, Mom read to me from Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha. Although I’ve no conscious recollection of those moments, what the epic poem now evokes in me is primal. I’ve absolutely no doubt that those words are connected in some mysterious way to both my affinity for all things Native American and my love of nature.

As I was parting from “Rusty,” having just learned his trail name, he enquired about mine. “Well, I don’t really have one,” I confessed, then added almost in the same breath: “But, I’m thinking of ‘Hiawatha.’”

“Hiawatha.” I like that.

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Charlie Brown http://likethedew.com/2018/06/25/charlie-brown/ http://likethedew.com/2018/06/25/charlie-brown/#respond Mon, 25 Jun 2018 16:24:53 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=69426

In the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I got my first car. My parents bought it for me, and so I must confess that as a doctor’s son, I was financially privileged. Privileged yes, but spoiled no. I didn’t ask for much, only something “with a reliable engine and brakes that work.” Dad looked at me with some disbelief, apparently wondering if I were as naive (or stupid) about automobiles as I appeared to be. Nevertheless, after a short speech that named several other important components of automobiles, among them tires, he acquiesced.

A trip down memory lane from 1967Within a few days I had located a used 1961 Volkswagen Beetle, cherry red in color, which we purchased for $600 from Johann Leipi, a German immigrant whose VW repair shop lay midway along the twelve-mile stretch between our town, Bluefield, and the next, Princeton.

I had operated a manual transmission on but one or two previous occasions, and my first few days of ownership were marred by frustrating moments stuck in the middle of major intersections searching franticly for second gear. By the end of the week, however, I had mastered both the clutch and the shift pattern and was as proud of my new wheels as if they belonged to a Ferrari.

I’d convinced my parents of the need for a car by promising to return on weekends from the rustic camp where I worked for the summer as a counselor. On the weekend following the second week of camp, while passing through Danville, Virginia, an ungodly racket exploded from the VW’s rear engine compartment, and the car abruptly lost all power. The symptoms suggested catastrophic failure, which the tow-truck mechanic confirmed. The crankshaft had broken. Dejected, I abandoned the car at a dealership in Danville, bummed a ride to South Boston where the camp staff had gathered for a weekend cookout at the director’s home, and with tail between legs, called home to inform Dad that the two-week-old car would now need a rebuilt engine to the tune of several hundred dollars.

Out of this disaster, came the name for my born loser of an automobile: “Charlie Brown.” Like Native Americans, who bestow appellations to acknowledge the spiritual essence of an individual, I had tapped unwittingly into the personality of this unique VW bug.

In truth, Charlie Brown possessed considerable innate personality. For starters, he had no gas gauge; early models were equipped only with a spare tank that contained precisely one gallon of fuel (or equivalently thirty-two miles of distance), which one accessed by flipping a lever in the firewall beneath the dash. The trick was to flip it quickly enough after the engine sputtered to avoid complete evacuation of the gas line, in which case a long trek on foot with a gas can was in order. Although I never once ran out of gas, I had several perilous close calls. The closest occurred in five o’clock traffic inside the nearly mile-long Liberty Tubes near Pittsburgh. Had I not been quick on the flip, I’d probably still be paying the fine.

Electrical systems have never been particularly reliable in Volkswagens. In the four years I owned Charlie Brown, his horn functioned for a cumulative total of perhaps two weeks, despite my repeated efforts to remove dirt and grime from the contacts. Curiously though, every time I pulled into the garage for a state inspection, the horn beeped faithfully. For other occasions when honking was necessary, I, the driver, developed a respectably loud “meep-meep,” mimicking the Roadrunner of the animated cartoon.

Another electrical problem that grew progressively worse over time involved the ignition system. Eventually, no jiggling of the ignition key would cause the starter to even budge. As a student, I could ill afford a replacement starter. So I learned to push-start Charlie Brown; that is, provided I had remembered to park on the level or a slight downhill grade. Upon releasing the hand brake, with the door open, I’d run alongside the car shoving heroically on the door post until the blazing pace of two to three miles per hour (mph) was attained, at which point I’d leap into the driver’s seat, plunge the shifter into second, and pop the clutch. Following a lurch and a cough, the engine sprang to life.

The problem turned out to be not the starter but the ignition switch, a relatively inexpensive fix. Unaware of this fact, for an entire month, I performed the Fred Flintstone impersonation each time I needed to drive. Most probably I’d never have replaced the ignition switch had I not stalled Charlie Brown at the bottom of a hill while on a date. None too thrilled, my date was pressed into service to push while I executed the clutch-popping routine.

Charlie Brown sabotaged other dates by playing hide and seek. When I was an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, the student parking lot was known derisively as the “Dust Bowl.” After a week in that god-forsaken lot, all 5,000 cars were the same damned shade of “Bleaksburg” gray. Worse, every tenth car or so was a Volkswagen Beetle, the preferred choice of students, and most of those in their natural states were red. Finding any given red Bug in a featureless lot required either exceptional memory or a game of chance. On one occasion, I arrived at the lot around 6:30 p.m. in sufficient time to make my 7:00 o’clock date in Radford. Unfortunately, it was after 7:00 before I located my particular accursed red Beetle.

A particularly bizarre personality trait of Charlie’s was his squealing speedometer cable. At first there seemed neither rhyme, reason, nor predictability to this phenomenon. Driving along normally, I’d suddenly be jolted to high alert by a violent twitching of the speedometer hand. Shortly following this visual aura emanated an unbearable, ear-piercing squeal, which could last for any duration from a few seconds to several minutes, or more. Eventually, the twitching and squealing vanished as unpredictably as they started. Once, the noise and vibration reached such intensity that the red and green colored lenses on the dashboard indicator lights dislodged and fell away, leaving only glaring white bulbs.

In time I learned that there was indeed some predictability to this odd behavior. It usually occurred when I was driving alone, late at night, on the verge of drowsiness.

Like its owner, Charlie Brown loved to wander. At the end of that first summer, my best friend Jon and I planned a week-long trip in the brief interval between the end of my summer camp and the beginning of his fall semester at West Virginia University. With not much more than $50 each, and my dad’s admonition not to drive when we were tired, Jon and I set out in Charlie Brown early on a Sunday morning, knowing only that we were headed west.

Five hours later we chugged through Knoxville, where Jon took the wheel and turned west on I-40. Late that evening, passing through Memphis, Jon glanced over at me and volunteered casually, “I don’t feel too bad,” to which I responded, “I don’t feel too bad either.” And so we drove on.

At around dinner time the following day, I called home. When my father answered the phone, I offered enthusiastically: “Dad, guess where we are.” Memphis, he conjectured. “No, we’re in Tucumcari, New Mexico.” “You’re where?” he gasped.

Thirty-eight hours from the outset, we pulled surreptitiously into a picnic ground on the flank of Sandia Peak outside Albuquerque and camped illegally during the remaining hours of the night. For the next four glorious days we explored Sante Fe, Albuquerque, and the mountain roads between.

On Saturday, our return date, we awoke before dawn, with the intention of crowning our New Mexico adventure with a sunrise picnic and early morning Tram ride to Sandia Peak—10,678 feet in elevation—accompanied by Barbara Gwen Starr (not her real name, who, my friends, is another story). That morning, while preparing to start the car, I placed my foot on the brake pedal. It collapsed to the floorboard without resistance. The braking system had mysteriously experienced total failure overnight.

Undeterred, we drove in third gear to our appointed 6:00 a.m. rendezvous at the Tramway, my hand never leaving the emergency brake handle. At about 1:00 p.m., one-half hour beyond the VW Service Department’s Saturday closing time, we pointed nose to the east on I-40 and headed out of town with a new master cylinder and very little money.

Midday on Sunday, giddy with exhilaration and exhaustion, while cruising along the oilfields on both sides of the interstate near Oklahoma City, Jon and I burst into uncontrolled, hysterical laughter when, at the split second he glanced into the driver’s outside rearview mirror, the entire mirror and stem fell from the car and bounced along the roadway behind us.

At 5:00 a.m. on the Monday morning when at 8:00 a.m. Jon’s father was to return him to WVU, we pulled into his parents’ driveway. The next weekend I called Jon to see how he’d fared. Unfortunately, for the three precious hours between the two trips, sleep had eluded him, denied by the high-pitched engine whine that persisted in his ears after thirty-nine continuous and relentless hours in Charlie Brown.

Charlie loved people, and they loved him. All except Ralph, that is. The second summer I owned him, I painted his Peanuts’ namesake on the driver’s door, which thereafter never failed to capture the attention and excitement of the children in the back seats of the station wagons that passed by in the fast lanes of the interstates, lanes Charlie and I seldom occupied.

After graduating from college, I spent a summer in New Jersey on a work camp with fifteen students from around the country. As one of the few with wheels, I did a lot of chauffeuring. For one particular evening outing, most likely just down the road to the Dairy Queen, ten of us piled into Charlie Brown. In the back seat were six, three abreast by two deep. Three of us squeezed into the front, where the one in the middle between the bucket seats provided a semi-automatic transmission by shifting on the driver’s command. Number ten, Jim, the scrawniest of our group, occupied the well behind the rear seat.

The following Fall, I entered the Air Force. Packing all my worldly belongings in Charlie Brown—except my bicycle, which went on the roof rack—this mountain boy struck out for the flattest place on earth, Rantoul, Illinois, for training in aircraft maintenance. I received many letters from friends during those first lonely months in the military. Most began: “Dear Charlie Brown” …

Oh, about Ralph. Ralph, also a part of the summer work-camp team, drove with me to the work site in coastal New Jersey. As I loaded the rear seat, Ralph began loading the trunk, which is in the front of a rear-engined Beetle. On that model, an elbow-like joint supported the trunk lid, which Ralph accidentally struck while moving suit cases around, collapsing the trunk on his left arm. “Dave, Charlie Brown bit me,” he proclaimed with some surprise, one arm deep in the jaws of a VW. Fortunately for Ralph, Charlie’s bite was as innocuous as his beep.

In the years since Charlie Brown, I have owned another seven automobiles, each of which I have tried to name. In all, only two names have stuck: “Charlie Brown” and “Farfy,” short for Fahrvehrnuegen, a faux-German term for “the joy of driving,” created expressly as an advertising gimick. “Farfy” was also a Volkswagen, a top of the line Passat, for which I paid twenty-five times what my Dad shelled out for Charlie. On the surface of it, the resemblance between the two automobiles stopped at the manufacturer’s name plate. “Farfy” was teal green and sleek, with a water-cooled engine, front-wheel drive, and air-conditioning. He was also sure footed, accelerated like a bat out of hell, and would top 127 mph according to the specs.

In contrast, the words “acceleration” and “VW Bug” in the same sentence coined an oxymoron. People used to ask me how fast Charlie would go. My well-rehearsed reply was that it all depended “on how high the cliff is.” But to be specific, with petal to the floorboard, Charlie’s forty-horsepower engine would propel us at exactly seventy mph on a level road with no headwind—and nothing in the rooftop carrier. A footlocker up top reduced the top speed to a law-abiding fifty-five mph. Passing a truck was life-threatening, because the VW Bug hesitated, as if lacking confidence, just as it encountered the high pressure wave off the bow of a truck.

Still, one can trace the bloodlines from Beetle to Passat. Both growled at low-torque, their engines lugging at low rpm. Both had radios that operated with the ignition switch off, both had firm high seats, both got thirty-two miles per gallon. Both windshields etched with every grain of sand, and the doors on both fit so snuggly they had to be slammed. It has always puzzled me how the Germans, a people notorious as zueruckhalten (reserved), can produce automobiles with such endearing character, especially when you consider that the People’s Car, the original Volkswagen, was commissioned originally by none other than der Fuerher himself.

After nearly four years of owning Charlie, with 98,000 miles on the odometer, 50,000 of which I had contributed (and a few more which were never recorded because I had once disconnected the speedometer cable to silence the unbearable squealing), I reached the sad conclusion that time had come to purchase a newer, more reliable, and safer automobile. Selling Charlie Brown was not unlike putting an old family dog to sleep. After all those years of faithful service, how can one turn his back?

In the end I put up a sign that said simply: “Home wanted for cute, lovable VW named Charlie Brown.” I like to think I found him a good home; I sold him to a mechanic for $50.

You were a good car, Charlie Brown.

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The Economic Cannibalism of the GOP http://likethedew.com/2017/12/25/the-economic-cannibalism-of-the-gop/ http://likethedew.com/2017/12/25/the-economic-cannibalism-of-the-gop/#comments Mon, 25 Dec 2017 15:46:28 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=68480

It’s official; the US is an oligarchy.

The GOP’s “Tax Cut and Jobs Act” is the most odious piece of legislation I have witnessed in my nearly 70 years. It codifies the economic cannibalism of the lower and middle classes by the oligarchy, and it will likely destabilize American society within a decade. Passed by strict party-line vote without public hearings, testimony of expert witnesses, or a single Democratic “yeah,” this bill is a wholly owned abomination of the GOP.

the Donnor Republican PartyVulture Capitalism vs. Economic Cannibalism

In January 2012, during the presidential primaries, GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich raised conservative eyebrows by accusing GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney of practicing “vulture capitalism.” Gingrich, it turns out, was being uncharacteristically charitable.

Vultures serve the ecosystem by recycling what is dead. Romney’s Bain Capital raked in its wealth by what could more accurately be termed economic cannibalism. Bain’s modus operandi: buy up healthy companies, saddle them with debt, wait for them to go under, and then “harvest” their assets. Think of a rogue doctor who willfully makes patients sick. The doctor then sells the patient’s organs when the patient dies.

The GOP tax plan now slithering toward Trump’s signature will inflict similar economic predation at the national level.

Heightening “Dangerous” Levels of Inequality

Wealth and income inequality in the US are at their highest levels since the Great Depression. Further upward redistribution of wealth will aggravate inequality already considered “dangerous” by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. Greater inequality will likely push America over the brink into economic instability and social unrest.

The “Tax Cut and Jobs Act” is a reverse Robin-Hood scheme. It’s a giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest on the backs of everyone else. Eighty-three percent of the tax benefits will go to the top one percent. And, whereas tax relief for individuals will expire, corporate tax breaks will remain.

Four hundred wealthy Americans of conscience recently wrote an open letter to Congress urging that their taxes not be cut. Why? “[We] oppose any legislation that further exacerbates inequality.”

Ballooning the Debt

Any opportunity to impose trickle-down economics – despite its forty-year history of failure – can transform a Republican deficit hawk (like House Speaker Paul Ryan) into a profligate spender in a New York minute.

The tax bill’s centerpiece is reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21. Republicans argue that corporate tax cuts will largely pay for themselves by stimulating the economy. On the contrary, the Penn Wharton School estimates that, even under the most optimist assumptions, the tax bill will add nearly $2 trillion to the national debt within a decade.

A second open letter to Congress—this one by economist Stephanie Kelton of Stony Brook University and colleagues—bares the fatal flaw in the GOP’s miraculous-growth assumptions:

The current tax plan will prove ineffective at best. More likely, it will further the collapse of wages and widen the already dangerous levels of income and wage inequality that become so obvious that both political parties referenced them during the 2016 presidential campaign. Our central problem is not insufficient profits for corporations. Consumers, not employers, are the real job creators [emphasis added] and cutting the corporate tax rate won’t jumpstart the economy.

Two-hundred credentialed economists signed Kelton’s letter, which further states that the only economic stimulus that works is trickle up. “Strong demand will only materialize if consumers are empowered with higher wages and relieved of their debt burden.” This assessment is supported by an extensively researched report of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) titled Corporate Tax Cuts Boost CEO Pay, Not Jobs.

If the reader needs hard evidence that Wharton, IPS, and Kelton are right, and the Voodoo economists wrong, then look no further than the economic debacle of Kansas. In 2012 and 2013, Governor Brownback and Kansas’ Republican statehouse, having drunk the trickle-down Kool-Aid, enacted massive tax and spending cuts, promising Kansans the same economic pie-in-the-sky now flouted by Steve Mnuchin, US Treasury Secretary. Five years later, the results are in. “The Great Kansas Tax Experiment Crashes and Burns” reported Forbes on June 7. Job growth is anemic, the deficit has ballooned to $280 million, public services have been decimated—especially education—and Brownback’s popularity has plummeted to 25 percent. Kansas is in economic shambles.

Sacrificing the Commons

When the GOP tax plan fails like the Kansas experiment, this time on a national scale, the economic cannibalism will begin in earnest. The social safety net will be sacrificed on the altar of conveniently resurrected fiscal responsibility.

The handwriting is already on the wall. In addition to appealing to financial black magic, the GOP is financing corporate welfare by plundering the commons. A provision of the tax bill eliminates the individual mandate of Obamacare, which will deprive an estimated 13 million Americans of healthcare and drive up rates for many others. And sequestration provisions already in effect will trigger automatic cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and federal student loans when deficits explode, as they are certain to do. A particularly diabolical provision limits deductions for state and local taxes to $10,000, punishing Blue states like California, Connecticut, and New York with higher taxes and more robust safety nets. Meanwhile, CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program), which serves nine million children, has run out of funds while the GOP prioritizes tax cuts for the wealthy.

This is a tax bill of, by, and for the oligarchs, the kingmakers who now own the GOP lock, stock, and soul. This so-called “tax reform” bill has fingerprints all over it, notably those of The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its corporate and billionaire patrons. It enacts a massive transfer of wealth to the super rich. It opens up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration at a moment of extreme climate peril. And it may well mark the beginning of the end for public education, national health care, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, all of which will become GOP-sanctioned targets once deficits explode.

You Can’t Fool All the People All the Time

Most Americans already see through the scam. A Quinnipiac poll of November 15 revealed that voters oppose the bill by a margin of 2-1. If there’s a silver lining to this vile legislation, it is this: the GOP is unmasked. For decades the party of the marauding plutocracy has masqueraded as the party of God and fiscal responsibility. So evil and irresponsible is this tax bill that “the scales will fall from their eyes,” and the American people will see, at last, the rapaciousness of the GOP that Rupert Murdoch, Fox News, and the Koch Brothers have wrought.

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Song of Hiawatha http://likethedew.com/2017/10/29/song-of-hiawatha/ http://likethedew.com/2017/10/29/song-of-hiawatha/#respond Sun, 29 Oct 2017 14:37:41 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=68128

Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
Love the sunshine of the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest,
Love the wind among the branches, …

Listen to these wild traditions,
To this Song of Hiawatha.

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Since my early teens, I have loved the out-of-doors and spent many a good moment there, sometimes in the company of others, often in blissful solitude.
Hiking Boots Appalachian Trail Survey Marker
At the age of forty, beset by an unexpected urge to solo trek, I strapped on a JanSport backpack large enough for a bathtub, filled it with fifty-four pounds of gear and sustenance, and hiked north on the Appalachian Trail (AT) out of Damascus, Virginia, bound for the high country of Mt. Rogers and Grayson Highlands. After a schlep of nine miles on day one, mostly uphill, I collapsed and camped right beside the trail, too exhausted to search for a better spot. Each day thereafter, however, I grew stronger. By day four, lugging a pack for fifteen miles seemed the most natural thing in the world, and taking it off at the end of the day occasioned the euphoria of feeling weightless. Dad, who had just retired, picked me up in the afternoon of the fifth day, and we spent a sweet night with Grandma at the family cabin, my halfway house back to civilization. I had knocked off fifty-five miles in all – and had a glorious adventure.

Career and family intervened, and few such opportunities presented themselves until I semi-retired at sixty-four. Hiking the full AT and peddling across country remained on the bucket list, but was I over the hill? Most likely. Certainly my JanSport days were over. The external-frame beast and its archaic gear gave way to an internal-frame North Face, a lightweight down sleeping bag, and a three-pound MSR tent. Much as I loved that faithful brass Svea white-gas stove, it went to pasture, replaced by a 1.7-ounce titanium contraption atop a five-ounce isobutane canister.

In July 2013, the second summer into my retirement, my wife dropped me late in the morning in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, the rough midpoint of the AT, and I naively headed south and uphill from the Shenandoah River with forty pounds of gear, including seven days’ worth of food. I’d hoped to make it one-hundred miles in a week and in the process convince myself that the twenty-five intervening years since my first solo trek had not robbed me of much stamina. Oh, was I wrong.

Rescues:

The route snaked over the infamous boulder-strewn “roller-coaster” that fatigues even veteran Appalachian Trailers, past the delicious Bears Den youth hostel – where thirty bucks gets you a bed, a shower, a washer, a pizza, and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s – and to the threshold of graceful Sky Meadows State Park. I showered at Bears Den at a midday, but left immediately, cognizant that should I remain longer, I’d succumb to the Sirens of Comfort.

On the morning of day five, with thirty-four miles under my belt and a painful blister at the end of a toe, I awakened to terrifying numbness along my right arm. Fearing heart attack, I popped a baby aspirin – always a companion – and called my wife to rescue me at Route 50. With no other symptoms of heart trouble, I calmed and began to explore other possible reasons for the worrisome numbness. In the two hours it took Suzanne to arrive, an alternative theory surfaced. Years ago I’d damaged an elbow from regularly lugging a much-too-heavy briefcase to and from work. While navigating the “roller coaster,” I’d relied heavily for balance on a hiking pole in my right hand, the stronger one. The constant pressure along my arm had revived the old elbow injury and pinched a nerve. It wasn’t a heart attack, but it was time to throw in the towel for this adventure. Three full weeks elapsed before feeling in the arm returned completely.

MSR Tent - Appalachian Trail Camp

The next summer, expectations trimmed, I tried again, anticipating a three-day inaugural trek. Two buddies dropped me at Route 522 south of Luray, Virginia, and hiked along for a few miles as I headed up into Shenandoah National Park from its southern terminus. Eight miles and two-thousand feet in elevation later, I set up the tent on rocky trail, just moments ahead of a thunder storm. On day two, I planned for another eight to ten miles, but unwisely extended to twelve, lured by visions of a shower at Matthew’s Arm campground. Knackered and eager to call it a day, I raced downhill to the campground, a descent of seven-hundred feet in elevation, pounding all the way. Alas, there was no shower, only a “comfort station.” Dejected, I rested at a picnic table. Ten minutes later, I could barely walk, my left knee stiff and agonizingly painful. The following morning, after a near-sleepless night of continual pain, I hobbled to the Skyline Drive to meet my long-suffering wife. Rescue two.

This time the injury was severe. I’d mangled the meniscus in my left knee. For two months I limped in pain, then recovered from arthroscopic surgery for another two. It seemed my backpacking days were at an end. One orthopedist said: “No more; take to biking instead.”

That was no doubt good advice from a physical point of view, but deadly from a psychological one. Fortunately, my general practitioner recognized the dilemma and gave tentative blessings to continued hiking, with provisos. During the spring of recovery following surgery, I pondered options. A reasonable compromise emerged. Were I to limit the number of days per trek to three, the maximum pack weight to thirty pounds, and the maximum distance to eight miles per day, I might, just possibly, keep trekking long enough to complete the Virginia AT, a full quarter of the 2200-mile footpath. More to the bargain, with distance expectations diminished, there’d be plenty of occasion to stop and “smell the flowers” along the way.

The plan worked. The third summer, I completed five short section hikes, each of about twenty miles, finishing all the AT through Shenandoah National Park. By the end of each section, the troublesome knee was sore and stiff. But each time it recovered after a few days of rest and acupuncturist-recommended exercises to open the joint. A little prophylactic ibuprofen before hiking also helped tamp down the swelling. And sure enough, a turtle’s pace has distinct advantages. The experience became richer.

By the end of the fourth summer, having turned sixty-eight, I had completed all sections of the AT between the Shenandoah and James Rivers. Most memorable was the high country near Cole Mountain, where the trail winds through open meadows. I traversed this section in rain and fog, however, no vistas to be had. True confessions: summer four also required a rescue, this time due to August heat and a ten-mile section of trail without water. Thanks again, Sweetie.

Hazards:

Sometimes I hike with friends, but often alone. I enjoy both modes, but I admit, the unexpected becomes more threatening when alone: a heart attack; dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke; copperheads and rattlers; stings; and bears to mention just a few of the things that can get you. But the scariest hazard is a fall. In season four I dodged a bullet, and learned an invaluable hiking lesson the hard way.

Appalachian Trail Rock TunnelThe trail, slightly downhill, cut along a steep slope. Like always, I relied on a hiking pole for balance. But I had the pole in the wrong hand, planting it with each step at the precipitous edge of the trail. Without warning the pole cut through the berm. Instantly shorn of support, I tumbled off the trail, stopping about ten feet down the embankment. As I went down my left calf cramped, the most painful part of the episode. Mercifully there were no rocks where I landed, only brush. I crawled back to the trail, bleeding from deep contusions on my right knee. I’d sprained a wrist too, which manifested after the fact as the joint slowly swelled. My first-aid kit, carried unopened for years, was finally put to good use.

By now the reader is surely wondering if the writer is a masochist. In addition to the aforementioned hazards, I have walked for multiple days in the rain, endured thunderstorms in a tiny tent and packed up wet, been chilled to the bone, and been consumed by blood-sucking insects. I don’t think I am a masochist, but I cannot honestly proclaim that these hikes are fun. Truth is, seven to eight miles a day – on rocky terrain, with considerable elevation change, while carrying a load – is mostly an ordeal. A wet moss-covered rock or boot placed in the wrong spot can spell disaster. One is constantly on alert. Were I able to remain out longer than three days, my body might adapt and slip into a routine where constant exertion, vigilance, and deprivation become “natural.” But age and knees no longer allow longer excursions.

What I can say is this: my soul craves wildness. While backpacking, the daughter of a friend observes, one is simultaneously “physically miserable and spiritually happy.” And then there’s the intriguing observation by my poet and beach-loving friend Michele: “Salt cures all things–sweat, sea, and tears.” A good sweat is medicinal. In the recovery period after a trek, I sleep well, I am a more peaceful, and I am happier. Admittedly, this enhanced state of being fades within days. But by planning and implementing a section-hike each month during late spring, summer, and fall, I can telescope the benefits throughout much of the year. I’ve also come to recognize that the worst thing one can do to any machine, including the human body, is to not use it. I conclude that the risks of not anticipating and undertaking these hikes are worse than the risks of doing them.

Thru-Hikers:

Rhododendron tunnels, ever-changing rock formations, unencumbered vistas, rippling brooks, nighttime chirps, musty smells, and immense silence: these beckon my soul when reason and comfort say “no.” Still, for safety sake, it’s a relief to encounter other hikers on the trail, and a bit of human interaction is appreciated. On the AT, there are day hikers, section hikers, and thru-hikers. Thru-hikers complete the entire AT in one long walk of four- to six-months duration. Two-thirds of those who set out never finish. If you’ve never attempted a multiple-day trail hike with a load, you cannot imagine how arduous the task.

The demographic distribution of thru-hikers is distinctly bi-modal. There are the young Turks in their twenties who haven’t started careers, and there are us retirees in our fifties and sixties with time on our hands. There are precious few in between.

Over the past four hiking seasons, I’ve developed some impressions of thru-hikers. They come in waves. The young, fit, and gregarious head north from Springer Mountain, Georgia, in late February or early March. They boogey, often knocking off twenty to twenty-four miles a day. Their wave crests near Roanoke, Virginia, in May. The last time I camped near a trail shelter, I encountered about twenty-five of them. It was hard to find a spot on the ground even for a 2’x6’ tent. This bunch can be rowdy and profane. I’m no prude, but somehow the constant F-bombs grate on me when sitting at a picnic table deep in pristine woods. Still, these guys, and almost as many gals, look after one another. They aren’t a bad lot.

The older thru-hikers – and the more introverted ones, young or old – come in the second wave. They tend to start later (say, in April) to avoid the mobs in the first wave, and they pass through central Virginia late in the month of June. I admit I like these folks better. They’re not as likely to be burning up the trail. They’ll stop, make small talk, give you tips, and most of all warm you with a smile.

On the last day of my most-recent section hike, I encountered “Rusty,” resting on a rock during a water break. He looked to be about fifty, with a lean build, a bandana, and longish brown hair flecked with gray. We were headed in opposite directions, so I asked him if the trail to the south crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was due to meet my wife at milepost 74.9 around three p.m. My trail map was inconclusive about whether the Parkway and footpath physically crossed or were only proximate. Rusty happily opened the Appalachian Trail app on his iPhone to address my concerns. It revealed that, although the road and the trail did not quite cross, they were just yards apart (rather than miles) at the rendezvous point. As Rusty navigated the iPhone with dexterity, I noticed his malformed hands, and that he sometimes used a knuckle to tap the screen. I couldn’t help but wonder if his feet were similarly afflicted and how that might affect long-distance travels on foot. I did not ask, of course. Still something exchanged in both the silences and the words between us, and I felt a kinship. On that day I met several like “Rusty,” each a kind soul, a lover of “the haunts of Nature.” Given a chance, nature can redeem the hearts of men (and women).

Two years previously, at a trail shelter, I had met two brothers from Pennsylvania whom I still recall with fondness although I cannot summon their names. The older brother, then over sixty, was a warmed-over hippy who’d hiked half the Appalachian Trail, north to south, in his twenties. He’d stopped at Harpers Ferry and had longed ever since to complete the southern half of the trail. His brother, a few years younger, was an engineer in a titanium manufacturing plant. He’d lost several ribs to a childhood cancer, but had survived and stayed fit. The older brother had talked the younger one into section-hiking the not-yet-completed lower half of the AT, nibbling off a sizeable chunk each summer. The brothers were clearly close, and they readily took me in. I camped with them one evening and hung with them for most of the next day, but we parted when my daily mileage limitation required me to stop. Distance backpacking is so taxing that each must follow his or her own drummer.

The kindly brothers were well-provisioned and well-prepared. They were the first to introduce me to an ultraviolet steri-pen for water purification. I now use one religiously. Impressively, they’d freeze-dried their own camp food and processed their own beef jerky. Like most distance hikers, forced to jettison every non-essential ounce to shrink the ever-oppressive load, they’d realized they were over-supplied and offered me a pack of jerky. It was the best I’ve ever eaten, better even than Melton’s jerky from the Mennonite market in Dayton, Virginia. I sure hope those guys are nearing Springer Mountain by now. They so deserve to finish and celebrate.

Each passing year brings more “vintage” hikers onto the trail. With the recent publication of Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, the numbers of older hikers will likely continue to swell. If you haven’t yet heard the story, Emma Gatewood was the first woman to thru-hike the AT, completing it in 1955 at sixty-seven years of age. She carried her primitive equipment in a sack slung over her shoulder. The next year she did it again. Then, for good measure, she section-hiked the entire trail the year after that.

Mountain-View from Applachain Trail

Trail Names:

Thru-hikers assume trail names, losing their given names and non-trail identities. A trail name, I suppose, offers a useful blend of familiarity and anonymity. No one signs the log book at a trail shelter with their given name, and when you meet another hiker, you ask only for a trail name. Some trail names – say, “Montana” – associate the hiker with where they’re from. Other hikers get tagged by an item of gear or clothing, say, “Bandana.” Most earn their trail name in Native-American fashion, from some random trail event that seems a defining experience. The Appalachian Trail thru-hikers register of 2015 features “Wistful,” “June Bug,” “BonBon,” and “Dream Catcher,” among hundreds of others. The memorial Appalachian Trail “Foot” Bridge over the James River is so named, tongue-in-cheek, for William Foot, a dedicated Appalachian Trail maintainer and promoter. He and his wife, both thru-hikers, were collectively “The Happy Feet.” I’ve forgotten most of the trail names encountered this season. But among these are the long-haired, helpful “Rusty,” “Ramble On Rose,” and “Madiera.” A forty-ish woman, “Madiera” is thru-hiking the entire AT a second time, this time with faithful companion “Ramble On Rose.”

And I’m eternally grateful to “Greeter,” who introduced me to the GutHook app for my phone, a wealth of information and a great comfort for a solo hiker.

Not being a thru-hiker, I don’t have a trail name. I’ve toyed with a few, but until recently none seemed to fit. My camping buddies sometimes call me “Dave of Tucson” in reference to where I went to graduate school thirty-five years ago – and my fondness for deserts. But having lived the second half of my life entirely in Virginia, “Dave of Tucson” doesn’t quite cut it.

Five years ago, two of those buddies and I were driven off the trail by a raging downpour in Grayson Highlands State Park. As we slunk to shelter in defeat, we encountered a sixty-year-old woman thru-hiker, plowing along, happy as a clam, in raingear. The following day we ran into a seventy-year-old former coach and long-distance section hiker. Acknowledging our lack of the Right Stuff, we good-heartedly dubbed one another “Wuss1,” “Wuss2,” and “Big Wuss.” But, damn-it-all, I can’t go through trail life with the moniker “Big Wuss.” A couple of years later, I bestowed upon “Wuss1” a far more fitting appellation: “Brave Fart.” He’s as good a trail companion as one could ever ask for, a solid rock in an emergency. Oh yeah, and at over seventy, he’s admittedly an “old fart,” but only in age, not disposition.

When I was a child, younger than the age of three when memory sets in, Mom would read to me from Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha. Although I’ve no conscious recollection of those moments, what the epic poem now evokes in me is primal. I have absolutely no doubt that it is connected in some mysterious way to both my affinity for all things Native American and my love of nature.

As I was parting from “Rusty,” having just learned his trail name, he enquired of mine. “Well, I don’t really have one,” I confessed, then added almost in the same breath: “But, I’m thinking of ‘Hiawatha’.”

“Hiawatha.” I like that.

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Revenge of the Nerds http://likethedew.com/2017/07/27/revenge-of-the-nerds/ http://likethedew.com/2017/07/27/revenge-of-the-nerds/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 13:10:10 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=67624 report: Sidelining Science Since Day One—How the Trump Administration Has Harmed Public Health and Safety in Its First Six Months. The value of science to policy making has been recognized in the United States at least since 1863, when President Lincoln, at the height of the Civil War, signed into law a bill establishing the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), charging it with the task of “providing independent, objective advice...]]>

March for Science, Washington, DC by Becker1999 (Paul and Cathy)

Earlier this month, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a damning report: Sidelining Science Since Day One—How the Trump Administration Has Harmed Public Health and Safety in Its First Six Months.

The value of science to policy making has been recognized in the United States at least since 1863, when President Lincoln, at the height of the Civil War, signed into law a bill establishing the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), charging it with the task of “providing independent, objective advice to the nation in matters relating to science and technology.”

A century later, during the Vietnam War, appalled at the misuse of science by policy-makers, scientists and students of MIT founded the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Since then the UCS has engaged tirelessly in advocacy for science-based public policy and for the de-politicization of science. The UCS, which remains independent, is highly regarded at home and abroad for its integrity and effectiveness.

When the UCS speaks, informed citizens should listen. Here are two excerpts from the executive summary of Sidelining Science:

A clear pattern has emerged over the first six months of the Trump presidency: multiple actions by his administration are eroding the ability of science, facts, and evidence to inform policy decisions, leaving us more vulnerable to threats to public health and the environment.

The Trump administration is attempting to delegitimize science, it is giving industries more ability to influence how and what science is used in policymaking, and it is creating a hostile environment for federal agency scientists who serve the public.

The USC report acknowledges that all modern presidents have attempted to politicize science “to some extent.” And when doing so, they have met stiff resistance from the UCS. But no former administration has taken science thrashing, trashing, and bashing to the extreme levels flaunted by the Trump administration. According to the UCS report, in six short months Team Trump has:

  • Sidelined independent science advice;
  • Appointed conflicted individuals to scientific leadership positions;
  • Left key science positions vacant;
  • Revoked science-based safeguards;
  • Misrepresented climate science and rolled back climate-change safeguards;
  • Weakened science-based pollution standards without scientific justification;
  • Undermined protections from hazards at work and home;
  • Altered scientific content on federal websites;
  • Reduced public access to data;
  • Restricted communication among scientists; and
  • Created a hostile environment for scientific staff.

The report cites amply and/or provides examples to support each claim. Space limitations permit addressing only the most egregious violations, but the full report is wonderfully presented and deserves to be read in entirety.

Regarding appointments, the Trump Administration appears to have deliberately selected individuals whose primary function is to undermine the very agencies they are supposed to shepherd. In particular, Trump has placed Rick Perry at the helm of the Department of Energy (DOE) and Scott Pruitt in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While running unsuccessfully for president, Perry called for the abolition of the DOE (a comment he now says he regrets). Pruitt (no relation I hope), like Trump, is a climate-change denier, whose recent actions to reopen climate “debate” seem a thinly-veiled pretext for overturning the EPA’s 2009 finding that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is harmful to public health. Moreover, Pruitt has allowed the reintroduction of the banned pesticide chlorpyrifos, despite its harmful effects on brain development in children. The decision, without scientific justification, was made shortly following Pruitt’s meeting with the CEO of Dow Chemical, a manufacturer of chlorpyrifos. Dow, the report notes, contributed one million dollars to Trump’s inauguration.

Regarding climate science, the world was shocked but little surprised when Trump recently withdrew the US from the global family of 195 nations committed to the Paris Climate Accord. Not only does Trump deny the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change and the vast consensus of climate scientists, on the campaign trail he maintained the position that climate change is a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese. The Chinese, on the other hand, are taking climate change quite seriously. In 2011 China boasted seven of the world’s top ten manufacturers of solar panels and by 2013 controlled 60 percent of solar market share. Moreover, the Chinese are now manufacturing wind turbines like gangbusters. So much for “America first.”

Regarding the hostility now faced by government scientists, on July 19, Joel Clement, former director of the Department of Policy Analysis of the Interior Department, turned whistleblower. Why? Clement is a scientist who has studied the dangers posed by climate change to Native communities in coastal Alaska, and he’s regularly spoken out on behalf of those threatened communities. In retaliation, Trump Administration officials involuntarily reassigned Clement and fifty other outspoken Interior Department officials. Clement’s new role: collecting royalty checks from fossil-fuel companies. These developments at the Department of the Interior follow a host of Administration-imposed gag orders at the Department of State, the Food and Drug Administration, and the EPA, among other agencies.

On pages eight and nine, Sidelining Science presents a timeline of forty-four Trump Administration “attacks on science” within its first six months, a frequency of nearly two per week. The report concludes: “When the federal government does not uphold principles of scientific integrity, our nation’s ability to respond effectively to complex challenges to public health, the environment, and national security is compromised.”

As an applied mathematician and scientist, I can attest that most scientists are introverts who like nothing better than to be left alone in their laboratories or at their computers to do what they love best: ferreting out the secrets of nature.

However, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. “The Trump administration is waging a war on science and on science input in the policymaking process, endangering the nation’s health, economy, environment, and leadership in the world.” The scientific community is pushing back: “standing up for science, calling out ‘alternative facts,’ articulating the importance of science-based policymaking, and marching in the streets.”

On April 22, 2017, 1.3 million scientists marched worldwide to “defend the role of science in policy and society.” It takes a lot to rile scientists, but look out if you do. Scientists are armed with the facts, and in the end, the facts ALWAYS win.

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Dancing with Wolves http://likethedew.com/2017/07/09/dancing-with-wolves/ http://likethedew.com/2017/07/09/dancing-with-wolves/#comments Sun, 09 Jul 2017 12:14:38 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=67531

1949 Durham NC Tax License of Charles D. Pruett

I worshipped the man.

Like a puppy, I waited expectantly his daily homecoming, ever eager to ask a child’s question: “What kind of day did you have?” “Oh, I had a good day,” he might say. Other times his face and his words told a different story: “It was a rough day.” If it had been a “rough day,” sometimes I’d ask why, but he never divulged much.

I worshipped the man. Even so there was a great chasm of silence between us, and when the silence was broken, his words were often harsh: “What happened here?” fingering the lone B on a report card of A’s.

Dad made his living as a physician, a career not conducive to backyard softball, or basement father-son projects, or patient help with homework. What time medicine left him, it contaminated. Constantly preoccupied, Dad lived in some remote place. Only on vacations did I see him relax and turn playful. Looking back, most of the moments we had together were in the car, him taking me to school on his way to early hospital rounds. And of these moments, what I remember most is deafening silence.

Dad’s mom, Grandma Sheila, died in September 1991, just shy of her eighty-second birthday. What transpired before her death was eerie. What happened afterwards was beautiful—at least to me—by its giving shape to that silence.

In the small hours of a Sunday morning in April 1991, I dreamt an intensely vivid dream. In it I walked down the center of the single lane of a high bridge. The bridge spanned the chasm between precipitous tree-covered hillsides. Wide enough only for a single car, the bridge was too delicate for vehicular traffic. Even on foot, I felt its flimsiness, and its height spooked me.

At first I walked alone, others far ahead. Midway across the span, I sensed someone walking behind, near the bridge’s threshold. Turning, I saw an old woman, shawl-covered, bent and wrinkled. I did not then recognize her. Curious, I waited for her to catch up. Hobbling to within steps of me, she veered abruptly to her left, lost balance, and fell over the railing. Shocked, I ran to peer over the side. Astoundingly, she clung to a sloping drain pipe several stories beneath the bridge’s deck, where I stood paralyzed, helpless to reach her.

For quite some time she held on. Then she fell into the water. I scrambled down the superstructure to the river, but upon my arrival, the river had become a wooden floor. And there a man indicated without words that the woman, whom we both knew, was now beneath the floor where he knelt. She was unreachable to either of us.

Later that Sunday morning, but still relatively early, Dad called. Grandma had suffered a stroke during the night and was hospitalized. Having already endured several heart attacks and congestive heart failure, this seemed a final blow. Grandma was alert, Dad reported, but her blood gases were terrible, and he wasn’t sure she’d make it. Still, he recommended against my coming home. “We might need you more later.”

Against the odds, Grandma held on. Uncertain what to do, I waited.

After three weeks of indecision, I flew home. Still hospitalized and feeble, Grandma seemed to be holding on for a reason. For several years I’d gathered stories from her recollections, and on this visit, I picked up real gems. I learned about the whole-life policy she’d borrowed against to send Dad to Emory and Henry, and how the Dale Carnegie course had given her, with only an eighth-grade education, enough confidence to become the principal buyer for Cox’s Department Store. I learned of “Pot” the dog, named by Dad when he was too little to articulate “Spot,” and of Grandma’s shame at hording eggs during hard times, when Dad, as a three-year-old, found the stash and broke them all.

Eventually Grandma left the hospital and returned to her modest apartment, where she required round-the-clock care and a constant flow of oxygen. In August, I saw her one last time. She lay in her robe on the couch, weak and gasping for each breath. In remarkably good spirits, she stated matter-of-factly that she didn’t want to live beyond the point when she became a burden to others.

Shortly thereafter, my once-fleshy, now wispy Grandma broke her hip in a fall. She survived the surgery and lived another two days. She died alert in the presence of Dad, her son, the first in our family to attain a college education, much less a medical degree.

In May the following spring, my parents came for a visit. Dad was pushing seventy, and although retired, he’d kept his medical license, which necessitated a continuing-Ed class now and then. Fortunately, this one was in Williamsburg, where Suzanne and I lived. Mom and Dad drove up in their big green Lincoln Town Car, the Mafia-car I called it. During his years of active medical practice, Dad had denied himself an expensive car, having overheard one too many comments about “them rich doctors” who drove Mercedes and Jaguars. Never of the Country Club set, Dad grew up poor and got educated on Grandma and Granddaddy’s insurance policy and the GI Bill, supplemented by a summer driving a taxi-cab in Durham, North Carolina, when he was a med student at Duke. Dad was always more comfortable with the plain folks he doctored and with the hospital staff (whom, with genuine affection, he called the “little people”) than with his more pretentious colleagues.

Late bloomers, my wife and I had just bought our first house, and I was admittedly anxious about my parents’ inaugural visit to our turf. Worse, my mother could drive me nuts, and I feared she’d expect to be entertained by a committee of one, myself, while Dad attended his meetings. This I resolved not to do.

The first break in the family dynamic came when we began to get genuine compliments from my folks about our new home. It was a simple rancher, but we loved it, and so did they, especially the deck out back. In didn’t hurt that our azaleas, which they didn’t have in the mountains, were not far past their glory.

During their visit, I intuited a subtle change in my father. Suzanne noticed it too. She’d received several heartfelt compliments from him. It was well into their visit before I saw it: the ring on the little finger of his right hand. When I inquired, Dad looked a bit sheepish before admitting that it was Grandma’s wedding band. I was both touched by his tender remembrance of his mother and humored, knowing that it probably galled Mom, who never could stand Grandma.

The final evening of their visit, we drove the Colonial Parkway to Nick’s Seafood Pavilion, the grand culmination of several evenings of sampling our favorite eateries. Seafood—as well as azaleas—is hard to come by in the mountains, and Dad loved to make up for lost opportunity when he was near the coast.

It had been a glorious day. The sun streamed warmly and obliquely in the late afternoon, rendering translucent the tender leaves of spring. We arrived at Nick’s early for our 5:30 reservation and passed the time wandering around the wharf.

I’m a glass-half-empty person. But as we entered the restaurant to be seated, I had the rare sense that everything in the world was exactly as it should be: the day, the waitress, the gaudy elegance of Nick’s, and the people at the table.

The meal was wonderful, our treat to my parents, which Dad uncharacteristically accepted. The conversation too was unusual. Mom typically dominated, sometimes to the point that no one could slip a word in edgewise. But she was on good behavior, and Dad and Suzanne did most of the talking, much of it on political issues, typically best avoided in our family. There too I sensed a new openness and awareness in Dad, a sea change for a man who still thought Nixon got a bad rap.

Contributing to the evening’s aura, half a century earlier, my parents had honeymooned in Yorktown, and there also Suzanne and I had experienced two magical evenings, this one shortly to become the third.

I drove home. Mom and Dad sat in back, with Dad directly behind me. Our topics at dinner had ranged widely. For some unfathomable reason, I followed up by asking my parents if they’d seen Dances with Wolves, the 1990 Academy Award winner by Kevin Costner. Suzanne and I had seen the film six months previously, thunderstruck by its beauty and power. In case you don’t know, it’s a three-hour drama about the demise of the plains Indians in the late 1800s, told sympathetically through the eyes of John Dunbar, a lone army officer at a remote outpost, who, as they say, “turns injun.”

Dad responded that Mom hadn’t seen the film, but that he’d watched it on HBO. “How’d you like it,” I asked, clueless as to how he’d respond. “I loved it,” he said, and followed with a riddle:

“Do you know who John Dunbar reminded me of?” I had no idea.

“You, Davey,” he said.

Upon those two words, something strange and warm began to flow through my soul. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” I said, uncertain how it was meant. “I meant it as one,” Dad said. “The whole time I watched that movie I thought of you.”

And then I knew. I knew and understood the dove and the angel’s message at Christ’s baptism: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased,” and all the years of silence before this moment were swallowed in a great Halleluiah Chorus.

Back home we spent the rest of the evening watching TV; I don’t remember what, and it doesn’t matter. Mom sat in the rocker and I sat on the couch between Dad and Suzanne. Dad had his arm on my shoulder and occasionally stroked my head. The TV flickered and made its noise, and there was occasional chatter among us, but I was oblivious of everything except the strokes and the blessing for which I had waited half a lifetime, the puppy at the door. Against that evening, every other experience in my life to that point paled in comparison: first sex, hiking the Matterhorn, or the blue-green pools of Havasu Falls at the Grand Canyon.

Later that evening, preparing for bed, Suzanne gently proffered, “Davey, your Dad gave you quite a compliment today.” “I know, Suz,” I said. “I know.”

###

 

Author’s Note: This reflection was written initially in 1993 as “Father’s Blessing” and extensively revised as “Dancing with Wolves” in 2017. Dr. Danny Pruett, a World War II veteran who helped liberate the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, passed away at 90 years of age in early January 2014, surrounded by his three children.

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Is Donald Trump Evil? http://likethedew.com/2017/04/06/is-donald-trump-evil/ http://likethedew.com/2017/04/06/is-donald-trump-evil/#respond Thu, 06 Apr 2017 10:48:33 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=66806 For evil to happen, all that is necessary is for good [people] to do nothing.”—Edmund Burke It’s a question that must be asked. Aristotle defined evil simply as untruth. By this yardstick, Trump—who revels in fake news, alternative facts, birtherism, and Breitbart conspiracies—qualifies as evil. But it’s far more complicated than that.]]>

Donald Trump on a psychiatrist’s couch is a composite image created for LikeTheDew.com

“For evil to happen, all that is necessary is for good [people] to do nothing.”—Edmund Burke

It’s a question that must be asked.

Aristotle defined evil simply as untruth. By this yardstick, Trump—who revels in fake news, alternative facts, birtherism, and Breitbart conspiracies—qualifies as evil.

But it’s far more complicated than that.

Twenty-six years ago, in an attempt to “lighten up,” I attended a humor conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. In addition to side-splitting plenary sessions–one of which featured comic pianist Victor Borge–there were numerous break-out sessions. I chose one on the psychological value of humor, led by a dynamic Jewish psychotherapist from New York, whom I’ll call Heidi (not her real name). During the lively ninety-minute session, Heidi’s story emerged in bits and pieces, ultimately shocking the attendees, who, like me, were seeking lightheartedness. Heidi’s mother was a Holocaust survivor.

As Art Spiegelman’s haunting graphic novel Maus underscores, extreme trauma often leaves intergenerational scars. Although Spiegelman’s parents “survived” the Holocaust, both were psychologically damaged beyond repair. His mother’s suicide and his father’s neurosis left Spiegelman with deep-seated angst.

In contrast, and against all odds, Heidi’s mother retained remarkable equanimity and perspective despite her dehumanizing internment in a concentration camp. “There are no evil people in the world”; Heidi’s mother believed, “there are only wounded people.” And so Heidi dedicated her life to healing psychic wounds.

Evil results from woundedness. Truth is, we’re all wounded to some degree; all are therefore capable of evil. Fortunately, humanity has developed guardrails to mitigate evil. One suspects that the Greek aphorism “know thyself” originated at least partly because self-aware persons are less likely to inflict suffering on others.

Religion too, at its best, provides guidance to restrain and redirect our worst impulses. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

What troubles me most about Donald Trump is that he is simultaneously deeply wounded and seemingly devoid of self-awareness, humane guiding principles, or principled advisors (save perhaps for his daughter Ivanka).

In a recent article titled “The Elephant in the Room,” Psychology Today describes the ethical dilemma of the nation’s psychotherapists, many of whom agonize that Trump’s “narcissistic personality type” is extraordinarily dangerous in a president. The affliction–which he fits to a ‘T’–is characterized by “condescension, gross exaggerration (lying), bullying, jealously, fragile self-esteem, lack of compassion, and viewing the world as Us-vs.-Them.” In other words, Trump’s woundedness, given free rein, could inflict genuine evil on multitudes.

To date, 26,000 mental health professionals have signed a petition declaring that Trump has “a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States.” They’ve done so despite the profession’s ethical standard not to diagnose by indirect observation. To these professionals the potential risks to America and the world of not speaking out far outweigh ethical considerations.

But what is evil?

In Paul Levy’s eye-opening book Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (2013), we find this definition:

. . . [E]vil . . . can be considered that tendency which—whether in ourselves or others—inhibits personal growth, destroys or limits innate potentialities, curtails freedom, fragments or disintegrates the personality, diminishes the quality of personal relationships, and creates divisiveness in the whole human family. It limits our ability to love, to grow, to evolve. . . . Evil is anti-life; it is life turning against itself. Evil diminishes the fullness of life. . . . It is the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of others . . . .

An ominous cloud looms over the Trump presidency and darkens daily. It bodes chaos: immigrant parents torn from their children; religions pitted against one another; a rise in white supremacism; scapegoating; a proposed build-up of the military-industrial complex at the expense of the social fabric including such basics as school lunches; nuclear saber-rattling; a disregard for the vital roles in a democracy played by the judiciary and journalists; a denial of climate change and the damage it has already inflicted on the planet and its peoples; and a nightly barrage of reality-denying tweets.

But, is Donald Trump himself evil?

It serve’s no good purpose to label another human being as evil, as Heidi’s mother understood. Calling another “evil” is often a projection of our own inner darkness.

It does serve a purpose, however, to recognize when another is so wounded that by their unconscious actions they may loose evil upon the world.

More to the point, the election of Donald Trump to arguably the most powerful position on earth is in reality a symptom of a nation and world gone mad, a world where greed, ego, and ruthless competition have been allowed to predominate. “Our species and its civilization are currently in the throes of a collective nervous breakdown,” says Levy. “If what we, as a species, are doing to ourselves isn’t collective madness, that what in the world is?”

In Donald Trump, we are reaping the whirlwind we have sown. A great evil is unfolding before our eyes. If we don’t stop it decisively, we’re all accomplices.

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(The author is grateful to Doug Hendren: sometimes muse or conscience; always friend.)

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Is America Ready for Fascism? http://likethedew.com/2017/02/13/is-america-ready-for-fascism/ http://likethedew.com/2017/02/13/is-america-ready-for-fascism/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:57:24 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=66342 mind you, the corridors of power are littered with Fascist leanings; anything to save the upper classes through disenfranchisement of the common man while allowing the common man to think you are on his side.” — Dr. Trevor Petit, a character in Jaqueline Winspear’s mystery A Lesson in Secrets Recently, I’ve stumbled upon two articles on fascism that are chillingly relevant as political darkness envelopes the nation.]]>

“— mind you, the corridors of power are littered with Fascist leanings; anything to save the upper classes through disenfranchisement of the common man while allowing the common man to think you are on his side.” — Dr. Trevor Petit, a character in Jaqueline Winspear’s mystery A Lesson in Secrets

Berlin’s Reichstag arson fire – the means of which Hitler came to power
Berlin’s Reichstag arson fire – the means of which Hitler came to power.

Recently, I’ve stumbled upon two articles on fascism that are chillingly relevant as political darkness envelopes the nation.

“When It’s Too Late to Stop Fascism” (The New Yorker, February 6, 2017) tells the story of Austrian writer and intellectual Stefan Zweig, who fled the German Anschluss in 1934. Zweig — so miserable in exile he took his life in 1942 — always lamented the inability of his intellectual circle to take Hitler seriously before it was too late. Regrettably, “. . . the big democratic newspapers, instead of warning their readers, reassured them day by day that the [Nazi] movement . . . would inevitably collapse . . . .”

Sound familiar? What poll or newspaper predicted that Donald Trump would finish the race?

The second article (The New York Review of Books, June 22, 1995), written by the late Italian novelist Umberto Eco (1932-2016), is titled simply Ur-Fascism. Eco, who as a youngster and adolescent witnessed the zenith and then demise of Mussolini, learned invaluable lessons about the soil in which fascism grows.

Eco identifies fourteen traits of Ur-Fascism (or Eternal Fascism), his terminology for a constellation of factors—some contradictory—that are latent in most societies. Under favorable conditions, the ripening of just one such factor can allow “fascism to coagulate.” What’s immensely troubling is that at least a dozen of the bitter fruits identified twenty-two years ago by Eco have ripened in today’s America. We teeter on the brink of totalitarianism. We’re not quite there, but the stench is in the air.

Because of space limitations, we’ll consider only a subset of Eco’s list. For coherence, these are re-ordered relative to Eco’s presentation.

  1. Historically, fascism arises from “an appeal to a frustrated [and/or humiliated] middle class, . . . frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.” The economic and psychic pain of America’s middle class—for whom the American dream has collapsed—is real. The hope that Trump, whose allegiance is to the oligarchy, will alleviate that pain is false.
  2. Fascism feeds upon fear, particularly the “fear of difference . . . . The first appeal of a fascist . . . movement is an appeal against the intruders.” Whereas Obama and Sanders appealed to our hopes, Trump exploits our fears: of ISIS, Muslims, Mexicans, blacks, immigrants, and refugees. Fear is a strong motivator, and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Trump is grandmaster of the politics of fear.
  3. Anti-intellectualism and “action for action’s sake” stoke fascism. Reflection, or navel-gazing, is seen as “a form of emasculation.” Trump is the anti-Obama; the former president was thoughtful and deliberate in all actions. Trump is incapable of reflection. It’s no coincidence that the first two weeks of the Trump presidency were variously described as a “demolition derby” or as a campaign of “shock and awe.” To take root, fascism needs a shell-shocked public. What better way to keep us reeling than an incoherent barrage of executive orders.
  4. Analytical criticism is anathema to fascist movements, which, as suggested above, are inherently anti-intellectual and anti-rational. Thoughtfulness, reflection, and analysis shine bright lights into the dark corners of fascism’s “structured confusion.” In constant need of adulation yet afraid of the light, Trump rampages in late-night Twitter storms against all who dare challenge him: the media, the 500,000 participants of the Women’s March, and judges who refuse to shred the Constitution.
  5. Charging ahead regardless of consequences requires a calculated recklessness; thus, machismo is a prized “value” among fascists. Whether it’s Trump’s bragging about grabbing women’s genitals or his brandishing of nuclear weapons, chalk it up to unbridled testosterone.
  6. Fascism thrives on enemies. “Life is permanent warfare” between good and evil forces. Armageddon is just around the corner. Anyone who is not for us is against us. This is the dark mindset of Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who is obsessed with an apocalyptic view of the future, including the necessity of World War III.
  7. To the fascist mind, “pacifism is trafficking with the enemy,” and anyone perceived as weak deserves only contempt. Trump’s list of “losers” is long and contains just about everyone—vanquished GOP presidential candidates, handicapped journalists, prisoners of war, the pope—save for Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, whom most regard as a thug.
  8. Propaganda is the fertilizer of fascism. Fascist regimes flourish in the intellectual fog of Newspeak, George Orwell’s term—from his dystopian classic 1984–for the inversion of the truth. Up is down. Good is bad. Love is hate. In Mein Kampf Hitler invented the “The Big Lie,” a fabrication so “colossal” it could not be doubted, for no one “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” Already, Trump’s propagandists, Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway, bombard us daily with “alternative facts’’ and “fake news.”

Looking back on the intelligentsia’s failure to thwart Hitler, Zweig was overcome with remorse for the belated recognition that “. . . there was a small window in which it was possible to act, and then [the discovery of] how suddenly and irrevocably that window can be slammed shut.’’

For Germany the window slammed after Berlin’s Reichstag fire by arson on February 27, 1933. Hitler blamed the Communists as a pretext to assume power.

Already, political seers, including Naomi Klein, Paul Krugman, Paul Waldman, and Chris Hedges, anticipate an analogous power grab by the Trump administration. Hedges, in particular, envisions this scenario:

We await the crisis. It could be economic. It could be a terrorist attack within the United States. It could be widespread devastation caused by global warming. . . . The crisis is coming. And when it arrives it will be seized upon by the corporate state, nominally led by a clueless real estate developer, to impose martial law and formalize the end of American democracy.

The window for action remains open, but the time to hobble Trump and reclaim the tatters of democracy is short. On the one hand, we may legitimately take heart that the resistance against Trumpian tyranny is well-organized and massive. On the other hand, flush with power, the GOP daily enables rather than restrains Trump’s worst impulses and abominable cabinet picks.

When the window of action closes, we will live in a fascist state. The only question is: What kind? Black Shirts or Brown?

Unlike Hitler, observes Eco, “Mussolini did not have any philosophy; he had only rhetoric.” Neither does Trump have an overarching philosophy. But Bannon, the Ueber-President, does. Whether we are headed for the fascism of Mussolini or of Hitler is anyone’s guess.

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An Open Letter to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee http://likethedew.com/2017/02/09/an-open-letter-to-the-chairman-of-the-house-judiciary-committee/ http://likethedew.com/2017/02/09/an-open-letter-to-the-chairman-of-the-house-judiciary-committee/#respond Thu, 09 Feb 2017 10:58:58 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=66326 Welcome Your Neighbors movement.]]>

Weloome Your Neighbors

Yesterday I attended a wondrous event: democracy in full-throated action.

Congressman Bob Goodlatte chairs the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives. It’s a position of considerable power, for good or ill. Congressman Goodlatte also represents Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District, which just happens to include Harrisonburg, Virginia, where I live, the home of the national Welcome Your Neighbors movement.

At a monthly “open-door” meeting sponsored by Goodlatte’s local office and normally attended by two or three people, more than fifty concerned citizens showed up yesterday. Unfortunately, Goodlatte himself was not in attendance, only a representative from his office. (”Where’s Bob?” asked the buttons worn by many grown accustomed to an inaccessible representative.) Nevertheless, although polite, informed, and amazingly articulate, the attendees were relentless in their criticisms of the disastrous executive orders of President Trump and of Mr. Goodlatte, who has become one of Trump’s staunchest enablers.

Here’s the (edited) essence of what I had to contribute:

The Immigration Ban Does Not Represent American Values

February 7, 2017

Dear Representative Goodlatte:

My name is Dave Pruett, and I live in Harrisonburg, Virginia, a city with a long track record of welcoming refugees and immigrants from diverse corners of the world.

Harrisonburg is among only thirty-three cities nationwide in which Church World Services has a refugee resettlement office. It is reported that fifty-six languages are spoken in Harrisonburg, and ESL is taught to more than fifty percent of public-school students. My daughter’s public pre-school class was truly international, which might help to explain why she is now majoring, as a college senior, in international relations. Before I retired, I was blessed to have colleagues from China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ireland, Lebanon, the Philippines, India, Palestine, England, Australia, South Korea, and New Zealand, beautiful people all.

Our Statue of Liberty is inscribed: “Gives me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free.” A rich diversity makes America unique, and great. In Harrisonburg, we take pride in that diversity. For two decades, on a Saturday in September, our small city holds an International Festival at Hillandale Park, drawing thousands in joyous celebration of our diverse cultures, customs, and cuisine.

It therefore feels like a slap in the face to our community when the POTUS imposes an arbitrary ban on refugees and immigrants. It is doubly troubling that that ban blocks refugees from countries like Iraq that were destabilized by US-initiated wars, and that persons who faithfully served American forces in those wars are being returned to countries where their lives are in jeopardy.

Our community considers this executive order so egregious that on Sunday, January 29, hundreds and hundreds of people gathered at Harrisonburg’s courthouse to protest the immigration ban and to stand in solidarity with refugees and immigrants in our community. It was perhaps the largest protest in our town in decades.

It is even more troubling that you, our representative, would allow your staff to help draft this ill-conceived ban. You chair the House Judiciary Committee, which is supposed to provide oversight of the Executive Branch in many judicial matters, including immigration. By allowing collaboration between the staff of the Judiciary Committee and the Executive Branch, you have helped undermine governmental integrity.

If the Judiciary Committee were really doing its job, it would pay heed to the one thousand career State Department employees who have risked their careers to sign a dissent letter expressing dismay and outrage at the ban. These long-term diplomats have concluded that the presidential order will have little or no benefit to American security, yet it will have many negative consequences. Soured relations with the Muslim world will undermine cooperation with allied countries in the fight against terror, and the ill will created by these measures will alienate citizens in the affected countries and fuel radicalization of the young.

Moreover, these diplomats oppose the ban simply because it “runs counter to core American values of nondiscrimination, fair play, and extending a warm welcome to foreign visitors and immigrants.”

Like our misguided internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War and our return of thousands of Jewish refugees to Nazi Germany, many of whom would perish in concentration camps, this ban is a stain on the American conscience.

That you, our representative, would applaud and defend the immigration ban is indication that you no longer represent the values of our community, or the long-held and cherished ideals of America.

Respectfully submitted,

Dave Pruett

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Wrong Man, Wrong Time http://likethedew.com/2017/01/16/wrong-man-wrong-time/ http://likethedew.com/2017/01/16/wrong-man-wrong-time/#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2017 21:45:29 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=66125
Franklin Roosevelt, Donald Trump, and Nelson Mandel
Franklin Roosevelt, Donald Trump, and Nelson Mandela

I’m no historian, but from the perspective of advancing age, I find fascinating that certain societies produce just the right leaders at just the right time.

Think Abraham Lincoln, for example, who evolved during his presidency from defender of the Union to emancipator of the oppressed, a transition marked by the Gettysburg Address, perhaps the greatest oration in American history.

Think FDR, who, despite his infirmities, shepherded the U.S. through back-to-back crises: the Great Depression and the Second World War. In the bargain, FDR envisioned a future worth living and fighting for, a future with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Think Winston Churchill, whose stirring wartime radio addresses—“have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”—steeled the British spine sufficiently to repulse Hitler against all odds, especially during the Battle of Britain, when “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Think Nelson Mandela, the only man on earth capable of preventing South Africa from descending into civil war following the end of apartheid.

And then sometimes a nation gets it exactly wrong, producing just the wrong leader at the wrong time. Think Donald Trump.

At a time when we are more divided than ever, Trump has exploited race, religion, gender, and ethnicity to further divide and conquer.

At a time when the mainstream media has fallen into “infotainment,” succumbed to “false equivalencies,” and “normalized” Trump’s pathological behaviors, and at a time when we drown in fake news, Donald Trump is further undermining the legitimate functions of the fourth estate. By praising Vladimir Putin’s intimidation of journalists (including assassinations), by threatening harsher libel laws and law suits, by berating news outlets that call out his lies, and by choosing as his chief strategist Breitbart’s right-wing propagandist and white nationalist Steve Bannon, Tweeter-in-Chief Trump seeks to preemptively eviscerate all critical analysis of his positions and actions.

At a time when bullying is endemic in middle and high schools, we have elected to highest office a Bully-in-Chief, whose gut response to any criticism, regardless of validity, is a juvenile one: to brand the source a “loser.” With President Trump, the ‘’Bully Pulpit’’ will take on literal meaning.

At a time when the viability of the planet hangs in the balance because of climate change, the Denier-in-Chief has appointed as Energy Secretary and Secretary of State persons determined to release every last molecule of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.

At a time when the middle class has been decimated by forty years of trickle-down economics, and the majority of Americans have lost faith in the American Dream, Trump is already shoring up the stranglehold of the oligarchy by stuffing his cabinet with Wall Street banksters and corporate cronies.

And at a time when the world seems poised on hair trigger, Trump proposes enhancing our nuclear arsenal beyond the current stockpile of 4,500 warheads, sufficient to reduce every major city in the world to cinders many times over.

“Make America Great Again” may seem a winning slogan to many, especially those hard-working Americans who’ve been left behind despite their best efforts. But it’s doomed to fail. Our nation is great only when it is good, and Trump has won office by appealing to our baser instincts rather our better angels.

Early indications are that Trump will govern using the same scorched-earth strategy by which he was elected. Accordingly, his transition approval rating has plummeted to historic lows.

Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, millions of Americans—through the Women’s March on Washington, Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution, a revitalized Occupy, or the Indivisible movement, among others—are organizing to resist Trump’s misguided efforts to restore American greatness by returning us to the Dark Ages of nuclear brinksmanship, rampant racism, gender inequality, carbon intensity, and “gilded-age” economics.

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Is America a Failed State? http://likethedew.com/2016/12/21/is-america-a-failed-state/ http://likethedew.com/2016/12/21/is-america-a-failed-state/#comments Wed, 21 Dec 2016 12:16:26 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=65936

American flag upside down

Immediately following the 2016 presidential election, I emailed four German friends: “After 240 years, the great American experiment has ended, badly.”

It’s a grim assessment. I arrived at this discomforting conclusion while raking leaves and talking to a neighbor who served in the Peace Corps in a former Soviet republic. She’s seen failed states firsthand, and America, to her, has that “feel.” And she’s worried her children will grow up in an oligarchy.

The U.S. is not headed toward failed statehood. The election of Donald Trump is proof that the ship of state has floundered.

We’ve elected to highest office a con man who has neither the temperament, patience, morality, nor experience to lead. He’s been elected with a minority of the popular vote, and only then with the help of Russian meddling.

We’ve elected a president who campaigned as a populist but is stuffing his cabinet with corporate cronies.

Many cast votes of desperation, hoping Trump would be an “agent of change.” Yet his tax plan promises more of the same trickle-down economics that have decimated the middle class.

This catastrophe is unfolding because our national checks and balances, brilliantly erected by the founding fathers, have failed. Although the failures coalesced in 2016, special interests have long worked to foil the safeguards, creating a perfect storm of failures.

Education: The nation’s fathers appreciated the foundational role of education in democracy. Observed Madison: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

While America pays lip service to education, it devalues teachers and underfunds education at all levels. As a consequence, our electorate is ill-equipped to think critically, to separate fact from fiction or truth from conspiracy theory. In an Internet age when anyone can post anything on any topic, this is prescription for disaster.

Closely related to our educational woes is the failure of the Fourth Estate: the press. Historically the watchdog of democratic society, the mainstream press has sunk into the business of “infotainment.” Said the CEO of CBS of the Trump campaign: “It may be not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Into the vacuum of sound journalism have stepped propaganda machines such as Fox News and Breitbart. With utter disregard for truth, these “news” outlets have paved the way for the election of a pathological liar.

Government as the problem: In his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan famously declared: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Since then the GOP has increasingly made its primary mission the destruction of the temple through the systematic delegitimization of the once-sacred functions of government. A supreme function of any legitimate government is the protection of the rights of every individual — no matter of what rank — from the economic predation of the greedy and the political repression of the powerful. Instead, the nation conceived as “of, by, and for the people” now ignores the needs of ordinary citizens while prioritizing the whims of lobbyists, multinational corporations, and the plutocracy.

The Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court in January 2010 underscores how upside-down our national priorities have become. Granting “citizenship” to corporations, Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporate interests to influence elections. As a result, billionaires like the Koch Brothers, who live in Arkansas, dump millions of dollars each election cycle to sway school board elections in North Carolina, tip the gubernatorial election in Wisconsin, or elect climate-change-denying congressmen in every state.

Donald Trump, a dangerously thin-skinned narcissist, will take office with the House and Senate in his camp, poised to load a politicized Supreme Court with ideologues. No safeguards here.

In principle, the Electoral College, the next-to-last safeguard, could have stopped Trump if enough electors had defected. On December 19, this safeguard failed too.

The last safeguard is impeachment, for which Trump is imminently deserving because of his conflicts of interest, habitual lying, numerous legal troubles, and daily missteps.

Failing impeachment, if journalist Chris Hedges predicts correctly (Truthdig), President Trump will quickly exploit the next major crisis to impose martial law.

When that happens, regardless of political affiliations, all will know that the ship of state, gallantly afloat for 240 years, has sunk.

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Has America Lost Its Mind and Its Soul? http://likethedew.com/2016/10/02/has-america-lost-its-mind-and-its-soul/ http://likethedew.com/2016/10/02/has-america-lost-its-mind-and-its-soul/#comments Sun, 02 Oct 2016 13:39:41 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=65194

Shortly after the advent of Christianity, the Church Fathers adopted a set of seven “Cardinal Virtues”: humility, charity, temperance, diligence, kindness, patience, and fidelity. These universally desirable traits, which establish the gold-standard for character, were borrowed partly from Greek philosophy and partly from the teachings of the Old and New Testaments.

Mirroring the Seven Cardinal Virtues are Seven Deadly Sins: pride, greed, gluttony, sloth, malicious envy, wrath, and lust. The Seven Deadly Sins characterize the degree of immorality — or depravity, if the individual’s personality exhibits an abundance of deadly sins. In truth, all of us are some mixture of virtue and vice. Most of us hope for more of the former.

No matter how objective I try to be, I see in Donald Trump a man who epitomizes all seven deadly sins.

An allegorical image depicting the human heart subject to the seven deadly sins, each represented by an animal.
“An allegorical image depicting the human heart subject to the seven deadly sins, each represented by an animal.”

Pride: Hubris is Trump’s hallmark, his life one long episode of puffing himself up at the expense of others. Time and again, he must remind us how rich, smart, healthy, and virile he is. He has no acknowledged need of advisors, preferring instead his own mercurial and irrational council. For example, he claims to know more about ISIS than all the generals on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and apparently more about the climate than the world’s climatologists. When legitimate polls reveal that he was trounced in the first presidential debate, Trump feeds his oversized ego from supportive but grossly biased online “surveys,” perpetuating the bubble of his alternate reality. Even Trump’s charitable foundation seems designed more for appearances of do-gooding than actually doing any good. In the Donald’s narcissistic mirror, he’s a winner and virtually everyone else is a loser.

Greed: When is enough, enough? For Trump apparently never. It may be conceivable for a billionaire to make his or her fortune legitimately, creating jobs for thousands, treating employees well, and creating things of value to society. Trump on the other hand appears to have built his empire by running rough-shod over the little guys. A lengthy investigation by USA Today — not exactly a liberal rag — has turned up hundreds of contractors who were stiffed by Trump. “That’s business,” bragged Trump in the first presidential debate. He’s admitted also to not paying taxes, because, he swaggers, “I’m smart.” Here then is a man who is all about taking and never about giving back.

Gluttony: Trump is a man of insatiable appetites: for wealth, attention, glitter, and women. When viewing online images of the Trump’s gold-plated, $100-million Manhattan penthouse, I am struck by a sense of déjà vu. In March, while visiting our daughter in Paris, my wife and I toured Louis XIV’s Versailles. How do people like Louis and Donald justify to themselves living in such gaudy opulence in the midst of so much poverty and need? And where there is opulence, there is almost always decadence.

Hall of Mirrors, Versailles
Hall of Mirrors, Versailles

Sloth: While Hillary Clinton was diligently preparing for the first presidential debate, Trump’s pride assured him that he could just wing it. As a result, Hillary mopped the floor with him, and his chances of winning the election have subsequently fallen by twenty percent. A man too lazy to prepare for a high-profile debate is too lazy for the intellectual rigors and nuances of the presidency.

Malicious Envy: Donald Trump is an unabashed and cruel bully. Fond of name-calling, he’s a man who attempts to build himself up by tearing down others. He is an equal-opportunity tormentor, whether bullying a former Vietnam POW, a handicapped reporter, the Muslim parents of a fallen hero, or a Miss Universe who put on weight. If his juvenile and vile tweet-storms originated from a middle-school student instead of a would-be president of the United States, that student would be immediately suspended.

Wrath: The Donald, easily baited, has a notoriously thin skin. He seeks revenge against anyone he perceives to have slighted him. At the writing of this editorial, he has been on a five-day Twitter rampage against Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe who has called out his bullying. In his lifetime, Trump has filed an unprecedented 3,500 lawsuits against others. How many normal people have filed even one?

Lust: In addition to three marriages, Trump has had numerous affairs. You might think that all these relationships with women would have at least taught him to respect them. Not so. Trump treats women as objects. “Fat. Pig. Dog. Slob. Disgusting animal.” These are terms Trump commonly uses for women. The UK’s The Telegraph has documented more than two decades of Trump misogyny. Here’s the link.

Dishonesty: It’s puzzling that the Cardinal Virtues don’t explicitly include truthfulness, so let’s consider it as an eighth virtue, and dishonesty as its fallen twin. Trump has exhausted an entire army of fact-checkers with daily torrents of half-truths, lies, and pants-on-fire absurdities, many self-contradictory. In comparing twenty prominent and current American political figures, Politifact found Trump to be the least truthful — by a long shot. Less than three percent of what he utters is unassailably true. Nearly eighty percent of his statements are “mostly false,” false,” or “pants-on-fire.” (Clinton, by contrast, is actually one of the most truthful according to Politifact.)

All human beings have flaws and feet of clay. Hillary Clinton is no exception. But the fact that forty percent of Americans and half our states are poised to vote for a man who is not only flawed but arguably depraved – based on Christianity’s time-honored standards for morality and immorality – is immensely troubling. Europeans are scratching their heads, wondering: have Americans lost their minds?

I fear something worse. Has America lost its soul too?

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Standing with Standing Rock and Sacred Stone Camp http://likethedew.com/2016/09/21/standing-with-standing-rock-and-sacred-stone-camp/ http://likethedew.com/2016/09/21/standing-with-standing-rock-and-sacred-stone-camp/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 21:55:34 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=65127 "Resistance to high-risk extreme extraction is building a global, grassroots, and broad-based network the likes of which the environmental movement has never seen." Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (2014) Something extraordinary and unprecedented is happening within the environmental movement. The epicenter of this "Earth"-quake is Sacred Stone Camp on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. For some time, a small group of Standing Rock Lakota ("Sioux") has gathered on the banks of the Cannon Ball River to protest the continued development of the "black serpent"...]]>

Standing Rock Indian Reservation

“Resistance to high-risk extreme extraction is building a global, grassroots, and broad-based network the likes of which the environmental movement has never seen.” Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (2014)

Something extraordinary and unprecedented is happening within the environmental movement. The epicenter of this “Earth”-quake is Sacred Stone Camp on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

For some time, a small group of Standing Rock Lakota (“Sioux”) has gathered on the banks of the Cannon Ball River to protest the continued development of the “black serpent“: the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). When and if completed, the 1200-mile, 30-inch-diameter pipeline will transport daily 500,000 barrels of crude oil from the Bakken Oil Reserve to Patoka, Illinois, where it will then be shipped to processing facilities.

Proponents of the pipeline tout the “efficiency” and “safety” of pipelines relative to oil transport via truck and rail. Opponents, principally residents of Standing Rock Reservation and other reservations along the DAPL’s proposed route, hold that pipeline construction threatens sacred ancestral lands, and that the pipeline itself — prone to eventual leaks, like all pipelines — threatens precious water resources all along its route, particularly the Missouri River, the nation’s longest.

Given that the developing conglomerate — Energy Transfer Partners — has nearly four billion dollars at stake, expect a fierce fight. Indeed, on Labor-Day weekend, the developer’s private security guards were caught on Democracy Now! video unleashing attack dogs and pepper spray on protestors. The video went viral, mobilizing resistance. North Dakota’s governor, Jack Dalrymple, has since called in the National Guard, and an arrest warrant is out for journalist Amy Goodman, who reported the event.

It’s a David and Goliath struggle, but the odds just might be on David. In a short time, Sacred Stone Camp has grown from seven teepees into a semi-permanent camp of several thousand men, women, and children. Two hundred fifty tribes from across North (and South!) American have joined the protest in solidarity. A GoFundMe website has collected nearly $700,000 to support the camp’s needs. Last week solidarity protests sprung up in dozens of cities across America, among them Phoenix, Boulder, Richmond, Sacramento, San Francisco, Denver, New York, Albany, Washington, and Kansas City.

“There are moments in history that can heal the past and the future. This is a healing moment. It’s extraordinary.” Carolyn Raffensperger, environmental activist (The Guardian, September 12, 2016)

What we are witnessing is the solidification of Blockadia, Naomi Klein’s term for the environmental resistance movement. Here’s a front-line post from Blockadia by “Tim.”

“I just returned from the Sacred Stone camp and it was one of the most powerful events of my life. I am a non-native white man from Connecticut with a backpack full of camera gear and a drone to document the event. I had no idea of how or if I would be welcomed by the Tribal members. Let me tell you, from the moment I set foot on that sacred land I was welcomed with open arms and open hearts . . . . These are quite frankly the best people I have ever met. Their connection to Mother Earth, their ancestors, and their community was something that truly left me in awe.”

As Blockadia unites groups that were once separate, it becomes an irresistible force. In New York, Black Lives Matter (#BlackLivesMatter) has joined #NoDAPL in the long overdue recognition that the struggles of African Americans and Native Americans are fundamentally conjoined. The same mentality that would poison the water in Flint, Michigan, to save a few municipal bucks, is hell-bent on profiting from oil and gas extraction that is jeopardizing water resources on Native lands, and in truth, nationwide. In some cities, Dreamers have also joined the resistance, as the social-justice and environmental movements begin to link arms, heeding the call of Pope Francis.

From the chapter “Blockadia” in Naomi Klein’s environmental blockbuster This Changes Everything:

“What unites Blockadia . . . is the fact that the people at the forefront — packing local council meetings, marching in capital cities, being hauled off in police vans, even putting their bodies between the earth-movers and earth — do not look much like your typical activist, nor do the people in one Blockadia site resemble those in another. Rather, they each look like the places where they live, and they look like everyone: the local shop owners, the university professors, the high-school students, the grandmothers.”

harrisonburg-protest

On Tuesday, September 13, I attended a sympathy protest in my locale: Harrisonburg, Virginia, a rural college town of 50,000 residents. The protest — which set up a symbolic teepee on the town’s courthouse square — drew one-hundred people, astounding for a city our size. Sure enough, as Klein suggests above, these protestors are salt-of-the-earth citizens: Mennonites, Quakers, and all manner of people of faith; children, high school students, and college students; professors from area universities; parents; grandmothers and grandfathers; a Central American Dreamer and an indigenous South-American shaman; lawyers and doctors; home-builders and activists; a homeless blogger and indefatigable truth-teller, and a few of the city’s well-heeled.

What unites us is simple: a love of the Earth and a love for the peoples of the Earth. Both are jeopardized by the fossil-fuel industry’s profit-driven insistence on business as usual at a time when atmospheric carbon is choking-off the very life-support systems of the planet.

Our best science tells us that the preponderance of fossil fuels must remain in the ground if we are to have any chance of stabilizing the climate and preserving a viable future.

When historians of the future — assuming humankind has one — write of the upheavals and transitions of the twenty-first century, the world’s indigenous peoples will be the heroes and heroines who, on the front lines of Blockadia, led the fight to preserve a livable planet.

May Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, bless them — and all those who stand in solidarity with them.

Mitakuye oyasin!
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What Economists Don’t Know About Physics — And Why It’s Killing Us http://likethedew.com/2016/07/02/what-economists-dont-know-about-physics-and-why-its-killing-us/ http://likethedew.com/2016/07/02/what-economists-dont-know-about-physics-and-why-its-killing-us/#comments Sat, 02 Jul 2016 18:20:45 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=64390 Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist. -- Kenneth Boulding The mantra of classical economists is "growth." So fixated are they on growth that recessions are often referred to as periods of "negative growth." The dominant economic paradigm: If we can keep growing the pie, everyone's piece will get larger. Never mind that, as the pie grows, the greedy cut monstrous pieces for themselves and slivers for the rest of us. The foundational assumption itself is flawed. The empty promise of perpetual growth is based on folly ...]]>

blue marble spaceship earth

Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist. — Kenneth Boulding

The mantra of classical economists is “growth.” So fixated are they on growth that recessions are often referred to as periods of “negative growth.”

The dominant economic paradigm: If we can keep growing the pie, everyone’s piece will get larger. Never mind that, as the pie grows, the greedy cut monstrous pieces for themselves and slivers for the rest of us. The foundational assumption itself is flawed. The empty promise of perpetual growth is based on folly — and on a fluke of evolutionary history that has allowed humankind to temporarily disregard the laws of physics.

For most of the time humans have inhabited the earth, our numbers were small, and the growth rate of our species was nearly zero. In other words, we were more-or-less in equilibrium with the natural world, as were most species.

The doubling time of the human population just prior to the Industrial Revolution was about 500 years. Following the Industrial Revolution, England’s growth rate shot to 1.6 percent, its population doubling every 43 years. What the hell happened?

In two words: fossil fuels. Fossil fuels propelled the Industrial Revolution, which in turn gave us mechanization, rapid transportation, the subjugation of nature, and industrial agriculture, all the ingredients for modern, urbanized, high-density societies. Powered first by coal, then oil, and now gas, the world’s human population more than tripled between 1950 and 2010.

Fossil fuels have been a Faustian bargain. Civilization as we know it has been purchased by mortgaging the future. To understand why we need some physics.

Thermodynamicists refer to isolated, closed, and open systems. An isolated system is hermetically sealed: it can exchange neither matter nor energy with its surroundings. At the other extreme, an open system can exchange both. With a semi-permeable boundary, a closed system, can exchange energy but not matter.

Save for a stray meteorite that might increase our planet’s mass by a tiny fraction, the earth’s mass is static. However, it’s surface is subject daily to an enormous flux of solar radiation (sunlight), most of which is re-radiated back to space. So, for all practical purposes, spaceship earth is a closed system.

Mainstream economists tend to think of the economy as an abstract, mathematical automaton independent of the physical world. But economic activity necessarily requires natural resources, which are in finite supply simply because spaceship earth is closed.

Fallacy number one: The notion of perpetual economic growth is absurd on face value because it demands an unbounded supply of natural resources and thus an infinitely large earth.

Fallacy number two is more subtle and involves the thermodynamic idea of entropy. Entropy is a slippery concept requiring care. Most commonly, entropy is a quantitative measure of disorder within a thermodynamic system. For example, uncork a perfume bottle in a sealed room, and then watch and wait. After several hours the densely concentrated perfume molecules will have diffused and dispersed all throughout the room. They will not then spontaneously reassemble themselves back inside the perfume bottle. The simple vignette illustrates nature’s most fundamental law — the Second Law of Thermodynamics — which states that entropy tends to increase over time in an isolated system.

On spaceship earth, the Second Law implies that the order and structure of the economy are purchased at the price of disorder and degradation of the ecosphere. Fortunately, the earth being a closed system (admitting energy), ecological degradation can be reversed, but only on a time scale that is long relative to a human lifespan.

With regard to energy, it is useful to think of entropy as quantifying the concentration (or availability) of the form of energy. Highly concentrated energy — coal, for example — has low entropy. Low-grade, diffuse energy — say, waste heat — has high entropy. Although energy is conserved, according to the Second Law, entropy tends to increase over time. For example, consider burning coal to produce electricity to power lights, stoves, and refrigerators. All the electrical energy used to power those devices eventually winds up as waste heat. Waste energy is not lost, but at high entropy, it is essentially unusable.

Think then of fossil fuels as concentrated sunlight, the products of millions of years of photosynthesis during the Carboniferous Period. Such dense, low-entropy energy is a fluke of the earth’s evolutionary history. Fossil energy has allowed humans to proliferate and civilizations to sprout at an abnormally fast pace, and for the degradation of the earth’s biosphere at a rate far beyond her natural ability to regenerate.

Our dependence on fossil energy therefore has us in a double bind. First, fossil fuels are in finite supply. If they run out before sufficient low-entropy replacements are found, civilizations will crash due to energy unavailability. But if we don’t soon quit using them, atmospheric CO2 from burning fossils will crash the ecosphere. We’re between a rock and a hard place.

The current economic paradigm of perpetual growth greatly exacerbates our dilemma. Having originated during the age of fossil fuels — when abnormal growth was the rule — classical economics ignores the fundamental role played by entropy in sustainability and suggests that we can simply continue business as usual into the future. Classical economic theory has thus placed on a trajectory toward catastrophe.

Fortunately, not all economists are blind to physical laws. As early as 1857, John Stuart Mill developed a non-growth “stationary-state” economic model. More recently, the Quaker economist Kenneth Boulding (1910-1993) proposed a theory of “evolutionary economics,” which considers human economy as a subsystem of evolutionary biology. And in 1977, Herman Daly sounded the clarion call for “ecological economics” with the publication of Steady-State Economics. Daly, a 2014 recipient of the Blue Planet Prize, is currently on staff at the Center for the Advancement of the Steady-State Economy (CASSE).

“Economics for a Full World” — Daly’s 2014 address in Tokyo — is lucid and accessible. It deserves to be read in entirety for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that he offers concrete and reasonable solutions for both our economic and ecological woes. Here are a few gems from Daly:

  • Because of exponential growth since World War II, we now live in a full world, but we still behave as if it were empty.
  • That richer (more net wealth) is better than poorer is a truism. The relevant question, though, is, does growth still make us richer, or has it begun to make us poorer by increasing “illth” faster than wealth?
  • Examples of “illth” are everywhere, even if they are still unmeasured in national accounts. They include things like nuclear wastes, climate change from excess carbon in the atmosphere, biodiversity loss, depleted mines, deforestation, eroded topsoil, dry wells and rivers, sea level rise, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, gyres of plastic trash in the oceans, and the ozone hole.
  • Their refusal to acknowledge [ecological limits] is why many economists cannot conceive of the possibility that growth in GDP could ever be uneconomic.
  • The economy should not be used as an idiot machine dedicated to maximizing waste.
  • Our vision and policies should be based on the integrated view of the economy as a subsystem of the finite and non-growing ecosphere.
  • And, quoting John Ruskin, “There is no wealth but life.”

Hope remains, but only if humans transition quickly from an unsustainable economic paradigm to one in which “humans and markets are not exempt from the laws of nature.”

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