Tuesday, August 29, 2023

7 States Later . . .

Spring desert poppies in Arizona
Last February we said goodbye to our home in St. Augustine, Florida, and drove across lots of states until we reached the snowy forests of central Arizona. I am still trying to adjust to this new home--which explains the nearly eight-month absence from this blog.

Old as I am, it became clear soon after the moving van dropped off our stuff and left that my flexibility for so much change ain't what it used to be.  Everything is different in this town we chose: 

  • Elevation (we went from 36 feet above sea level to 5000 feet [and there are consequences to that])
  • Summer, spring, winter, and a fall
  • An appalling lack of bagel shops
  • Most major retailers don't seem to know about this place
  • Limited medical services
  • Five trash collection companies you have to somehow pick among and hire one
  • Jaw-dropping panoramas along any highway
  • Friendly people
  • Lots and lots of dogs
  • Granite-based soil you can't push yard decorations into without power tools
  • Troops of elk that roam the town and help themselves to your roses and pear trees
When we left St. Augustine we lost our right to brag about living in America's oldest city. I knew I was going to miss that. But now we live in a town that hosts the country's longest-running rodeo, which of course we went to see last week. Few shows can match the spectacle of women racing their agile steeds around barrels in the dark brown dirt or young men hanging on desperately while thrashing broncos try to throw them to the ground.

We are beginning to learn the politics of the place and the layout of the local Walmart, but we have a long way to go. All of you who have moved a long, long way to a very different home know what I mean. 

More later from the Grand Canyon State.


Friday, May 27, 2022

In Praise of Dracula

I speak not of the creature, but of the book. If you have not yet read the original tale by Bram Stoker, first presented to the world in 1897, then you can be sure you do not know the story at all. I thought I did, having enjoyed Bela Lugosi's famous portrayal of the fiend, as well as Frank Langella's mesmerizing interpretation of the bloodthirsty count. 

But none of this Hollywood mishmash presents Stoker's actual tale of knee-buckling terror, courage, and faith. It's an important story for our time, as evil seems to loom larger than ever today over what we were used to calling normal life. Daily we hear of dark goings-on at a scale we can hardly grasp, frightening machinations hidden in the shadows, unholy deals struck behind a screen of deceit. 

Halfway through Dracula, Dr. Seward records in his diary a conversation with Dr. Van Helsing, the one man who understands fully what they are up against with the vampire:

"Dr. Van Helsing, are you mad?" [I asked]. He raised his head and looked at me, and somehow the tenderness of his face calmed me at once. "Would I were!" he said. "Madness were easy to bear compared with truth like this." 

Have we not felt the same at discoveries we make while reading the morning's news (and I am not referring to stories found in the mainstream misinformation media)?

While Dracula is a masterful tale of terror, it is much more. It is a story of heroic bravery in the face of incomprehensible darkness, of men joining forces to defend their women from ruin, of the triumph of this solidarity, armed with the sword of Christian faith, against terrible odds. Sound relevant?

Stoker tells his story in a collection of diary entries, letters, and other writings all penned by the various characters as their adventure unfolds. This intricate account of their contest, the struggle for the very souls of their loved ones, offers as many lessons today as it did more than a century ago.

Pictured: The Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Dracula by Bram Stoker, 2003. Quote, page 209.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Who's Bombing Whom in Ukraine?

Apartment building in Mariupol, ca. 2019.
We should certainly have learned during the last two-plus years of Covid drama and deception that things are not always what our unified press would have us think. 

Now we are asked to believe the reverberating story of unmitigated Russian aggression against an innocent and helpless Ukraine. Little to no background information appears in the mainstream media about the history of this conflict, about Ukraine's war against the separatists in the eastern part of their country who want to rejoin Russia (or at least get to speak their language and live a normal life), or President Zelensky's tactics since gaining office in a landslide three years ago.

Meanwhile, Zelensky issues impassioned pleas to the West for more arms and ever-tougher sanctions against their attacker.

Into this vacuum, the ever insightful and straight-talking Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano has released his take on the conflict. It's long, fascinating, and fully footnoted. You can read it here. You'll be glad you did. 

Allow me to provide a few highlights from the essay. First, Vigano provides a link to Zelensky's campaign spot when running for President of Ukraine. It shows his machine-gun (literally) approach to anyone in his government who was allied with a "corrupt" Russia. The fact that Zelensky was an actor and comedian cannot soften the horror of this ad: Campaign spot.

Apparently, his campaign strategy worked. In 2019 Zelensky won the presidency and promptly got to work. The Archbishop's essay tells us:

He [Zelensky] liquidated the ministers of the old guard, first of all the powerful Minister of the Interior, [Arsen] Avakov. He rudely retired the president of the Constitutional Court who was acting as a check on his laws. He closed seven opposition TV channels. He arrested and accused of treason Viktor Medvedcuk, a pro-Russian sympathizer but above all the leader of the Platform of Opposition – For Life party, the second party of the Ukrainian Parliament after his Servant of the People party. He is also placing on trial for treason former President Poroshenko, who was suspicious of everyone except for those who got along with the Russians or their friends. The mayor of Kiev, the popular former world boxing champion Vitaly Klitchko, has already been subjected to several searches and seizures. In short, Zelenskyy seems to want to make a clean sweep of anyone who is not aligned with his politics (here).

Zelensky is a member of the mighty World Economic Forum (crafters of The Great Reset) and has admitted that one of his heroes is Justin Trudeau of Canada. (If you followed Mr.Trudeau's approach to "caring" for his population during the last two years, this will tell you a lot.) And last year, "on February 4, 2021, the Ukrainian president shut down seven television stations, including ZIK, Newsone and 112 Ukraine, all guilty of not supporting his government." They were accused of being "under malign Russian influence."

Vigano also discusses the Nazi organizations in Ukraine. Any country can be home to such extreme groups, but in Ukraine they are recognized by the government and tasked with assisting in military operations. This includes employing the brutal Azov Battalion, an extreme nationalist group that the U.S. Senate suspended our help in training, until the CIA overruled that decision and brought them to our own shores to learn to become even more effective at crushing their opposition.

The press has been reporting here in the U.S. that the Russians have been bombing Ukrainian cities mercilessly since February. Maybe that's true. But what are we to make of footage shot by French journalist Anne-Laure Bonnell back in 2017 in the Donbass region of Ukraine showing the grim remnants of residences bombed by the Ukrainian government, of families huddled underground, of grieving parents of murdered children? They are indistinguishable from today's images of blackened apartment buildings that the Russians are supposed to have incinerated. Watch the 2017 video here (in French).

 And in a recent report from the ground, Ms. Bonnell attests pointedly that the destruction she was witnessing in Donbass was at the hand of the Ukrainian army rather than the Russian army. Watch here (in French).

So this war is very complex, and as in many wars, looks can be deceiving. Someone once said that in war, the first casualty is always the truth. May God help and comfort all the innocent people caught in the middle of this one, and bring the truth forward.


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Accidentally-on-Purpose Broken Supply Chain

Sec. of Transportation Pete Buttigieg*
This morning a couple of news stories pulled together for me what might underlie our growing supply shortages. One story described the chaos in a California port city, where shipping containers, now being unloaded from ships on a 24-hour schedule thanks to the resourceful Biden Administration's plan. They were then being parked on residential streets after being emptied since the trucking company had no more room on its lot for the empty containers.

The article from Breitbart quoted Pete Buttigieg, who's just getting back to work after a long paternity leave. Two things our Secretary of Transportation said raised crimson flags for me, as he tried to explain why things were such a gosh-darn tangle right now:

"There are so many pieces to the supply chain, and most of them are in private hands." Pause. The only word missing from that sentence is unfortunately, but it is implied. Would shipping and delivery work a lot better if the government ran it? Maybe Pete and his colleagues are angling to solve our supply chain woes by the sure remedy of sovietizing the complex business of getting product to market. 

He continued: "The Administration can act as an honest broker, and that's what we're doing . . . . There are $17 billion in port improvements in the President's infrastructure bill, and they're urgently needed."

Bingo. So pass that (grotesquely inflated) infrastructure bill if you want to see this supply situation get any better! is what he's saying. I see Pete has this nailed down.

Then I looked at a Fox News story that gave us man-on-the-street reactions, from a Costco parking lot, to half-empty grocery shelves and distinctly higher prices that these shoppers were seeing. One was a man who ran a grocery store himself. Unable to get product delivered to his store (he felt the supplies are going primarily to the very large retailers), he was buying cartfuls of groceries in an effort to stock his own store's shelves, while having to raise his prices 10 to 20 percent.

If the small merchant was not run out of business by a prolonged Covid lockdown, he now struggles with an embarrassingly small inventory and sharply higher prices for his customers; not to mention being understaffed due to the mad labor shortage. This is not a prescription for success in the retail world.

So if any of us suspected that the lockdowns unfairly targeted small businesses (I do), the current supply chain fiasco is dealing them another mighty blow. Debacles at this level are almost never accidental--to wit, the Afghanistan withdrawal. 

Of course, none of these things are really a problem if we just, as the Administration advises us, lower our expectations. But how low do we have to go, Joe? I'm sure he is going to show us.

Update 10-21-2021: We must spread the credit where due for today's shipping troubles. The World Bank and IHS Markit, in their ranking for efficiency of more than 300 ports around the globe, put the L.A. and Long Beach ports near the bottom. Also, California's Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) has been credited with throwing that state's trucking operations into tumult since 2020. Port operations, of course, rely heavily on the truckers who take the products away, making room for more unloading.   


*Photo credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri




Saturday, October 9, 2021

Please Wear a Mask in the Living Room

Legendary Okefenokee Swamp
My husband and I just came back from a brief getaway to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. I've always wanted to see that legendary wetland. We had reservations for the night at a charming bed and breakfast nearby but were surprised, when we arrived, to be greeted by the proprietor in a mask. His wife soon joined us, also in a mask. Oh yeah, I remembered, we're not in Florida any more.

Our hosts seemed a little nervous as they welcomed us to their B&B, and at the end of a brief tour of the home, the husband mentioned that when we use the common areas, that is, the living room (the only room in the inn with a television, by the way), we will need to wear a mask. "Oh," I laughed, "we'll be in our room. Once you read the scientific reports on masks, you won't want to wear one again." He chuckled in a puzzled way but asked no questions. 

We carried in our slight luggage wondering how intelligent, competent people at this point can still think that wearing cloth masks makes any difference in the battle against the virus. We ran into this delusion again when we visited the main visitors center at the swamp, which is run primarily by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife folks. Feds, that is. Here again we had to don the useless face gear to explore their exhibits, look around the little gift shop, and book a boat tour of the swamp.

We enjoyed getting to know the blackwater swamp, though, and the small neighboring town of Folkston. (Supper in the local fried chicken diner gave us a good meal and a comfortable feeling of life in a smaller place, where everyone who walked in greeted people they knew and entered into animated conversations about shared interests and enterprises.) 

By Georgia's famous Folkston Funnel tracks
Then there were the long freight trains that sang to us in our bed, not too loudly, as they rolled through the dark town. 

We headed home to the Sunshine State the next day and were again grateful for living here, where rules and regulations involve more common sense than in most of the country, especially when it comes to the virus.

There's no doubt that many people everywhere are still afraid of the virus and will follow disproven protocols "just to be safe," as they tell me. When will all of this pretending finally end, and people be able to look reality in the eye and say what's true about the virus and what measures work and which absolutely do not? We continue to wait, taking some comfort in such things as the magnificent and timeless Okefenokee Swamp and the dutiful trains that continue to run through Folkston, Georgia, taking things where they need to go.